Fireballs Among Friends: Part Seven
Yvenya sniffed as the four Order mages followed Seradar up to the second story of his tower. The old Xweetok said, "Hardly behavior becoming of a mage and a king." She was likely referring to the fact that Jazan and the twins were all sleeping downstairs after Jazan finished his story for them.
Seradar said, "You didn't feel that branch of the spell. Those twins are brimming over with magic. He had his work cut out for him just managing them, not to mention his own contribution."
Of course Seradar would defend Jazan. He had come to help Seradar. Grimjon, Yvenya, and Miskal had come to show Rasala and Seradar up. The mention of the twins did silence them, though Rasala disliked Grimjon's speculative look almost as much as the Qasalans would have.
Rasala had actually liked the story. She hadn't said anything, for fear of some derisive comment to the effect of, "well, you're still young enough for bedtime stories," but she'd enjoyed it. She had never heard the tale of Melchior the Old. She'd known the name, and that he was the first king of Qasala, but nothing more. She liked the idea of a general becoming a city-builder, of a man of war becoming a man of peace. Wasn't that was she was trying to prove that she could do? Wasn't she trying to prove to the Order of the Red Erisim that she was more than a battle-leader?
At the door to the second floor, they found the pile of dust and oddments that was all that remained of the automaton. Seradar trembled slightly as he opened it, but the room beyond seemed undamaged by fire – papers were scattered across the tables and the floor, but that was the only damage. Seradar nodded. "Good."
Miskal asked, "What have you been working on, Seradar?"
The woodland Nimmo most likely hadn't meant offense – he wasn't bright enough for that – but Seradar bristled anyway. "My treatise on magical pedagogy! My life's work! I was a teacher of mages for longer than you were alive, boy! I taught two generations of Brightvale's nobility! But because of the Order, there's no one in Neopia who'd give two beans for my opinions on how best to teach magic!"
Grimjon snapped back, "Because you used black magic! You said for yourself that it has affected your powers."
Seradar looked up at Grimjon, sticking his long muzzle directly into the Kougra's face. "All I did was stand in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the Darkest climbed into my brain. All I could do was watch as she used my powers, my face, to attack Roberta. You try living with that. You try watching from behind your own eyes, a prisoner in your own body, as someone else does things you would never do!"
It didn't matter how much trouble Rasala got in with Grimjon. She was sick of his behavior, sick of his condescension and his attacks against a harmless old man, and she was utterly incapable of creating what Alshemar always called a "diplomatic mask" anyway. She reached out to the older wizard and took his outstretched hand. "I'm sorry."
He said gruffly, "Not your fault, girlie. You were still an apprentice when it happened."
And just that morning he'd been willing to blame her along with the rest of the Order. Rasala was glad that she'd been able to prove herself to him.
Grimjon was markedly less so. "Rasala, as you insist on reminding us all, you are the First Mage of the Order of the Red Erisim. This is conduct unbecoming your station."
Rasala retorted, "What is conduct unbecoming my station? To see that the Order of the Red Erisim has wronged someone, and to work to amend that?" And now the bit that was likely to get her in trouble. "Seradar never should have been expelled from the Order in the first place – and next time we have a general meeting, I'm going to be prepared with an argument for his reinstatement!"
There was an instant of stunned silence before Grimjon cried, "Are you mad, Rasala? Did too many fireballs at the Obelisk fry your brain?"
Rasala couldn't help it. She laughed. "What are a few fireballs among friends?"
Yvenya said, "I remember the Lady of the Black Veil. Do you wish that sort of ruin to come upon us again, Rasala?"
Rasala said, "Of course not. I merely maintain that in cases where true culpability is in doubt, as in Seradar's, or cases in which an individual has shown time and time again that they have reformed, as in King Jazan's, our bylaws ought to give us the ability to consider their cases intelligently instead of dismissing them out of hand."
Yvenya frowned thoughtfully. Rasala might have convinced her! Miskal appeared to be confused – he looked back and forth between Yvenya and Grimjon, clearly wondering whom he was supposed to side with.
Seradar grinned wolfishly. "You don't do things halfway, Rasala. Now I thought that since I had to let you people in, you wanted to see the tower! This is the pen-and-ink workspace. The magical workroom is upstairs. I've always liked having two separate rooms. It stops corrosive potions from spilling onto valuable scrolls."
Rasala liked that idea. She had a few different tables scattered around her own workroom, to try and keep official correspondence away from magical writings away from experiments, but it might be useful to make the division more firm. She remembered when she was an apprentice and knocked an invisibility potion onto a long letter that had taken Alshemar most of a morning to compose and copy out neatly. He had not been pleased. She hadn't caused any such catastrophes in her own workroom, but one couldn't be too careful.
As they ascended the next set of stairs, Seradar said, "This is my mage's workroom. The top floor is my bedchamber, to which this tour does not extend."
Rasala knew what the others were doing – the same thing she was doing herself. Sensing for signs of black magic. She didn't believe that there would be any – she believed that Seradar was still a good, if embittered, man. But she had to be careful. Petitioning for Seradar's reinstatement would put her neck on the line, and if he turned out to have gone bad Rasala's credibility would be lost as well.
Of course, Grimjon would know that as well, which was why the gold Kougra was probably hoping for an army of wraiths behind a cupboard door somewhere.
Much of the material laid out was clay-working tools – there was clay everywhere from building the automaton, which was another good reason to keep paper and ink separate. Shelves of jarred potion ingredients took up much of the wall space – Seradar's were labeled in some sort of code, which Rasala supposed was good if he was worried about bandits. He really was well-organized – there were numerous cupboards and drawers, all of which were labeled in the same code. Some even had glass fronts so their contents could be seen. Rasala said, "This is laid out really well. I like it!"
Seradar nodded proudly. "One of my lessons about teaching is that a mage needs to keep his or her space organized. Can hardly fault an apprentice for mixing the wrong ingredients and blowing something up if they couldn't tell which herbs and powders were the correct once, can you? Of course, it would look better if I'd had time to clean up the clay. Blasted stuff gets everywhere – what in Fyora's name do you think you're doing?"
There was a string of amulets around the door – Bori protective charms. She'd learned to make them back on Terror Mountain in the ancestral caves before she'd been apprenticed to Alshemar. Grimjon had taken one and was examining it closely. He asked sternly, "What is this, Seradar?"
Seradar snapped, "Protective charms based off the Bori to keep Petpets out of this room. I don't mind a Scamander or Scarabug in the kitchen now and then, but they need to stay out of here."
Rasala nodded. "I recognize them, Grimjon."
Grimjon continued, "I've never seen such as this."
Rasala was tired of that Kougra. She wished that she'd studied more transformation spells – she'd heard that King Jazan could temporarily turn people into Scamanders, which seemed like a useful skill to acquire. "Because you've never come to my tower. I use them in several areas – they aren't very strong, but they're perfect for pest control because they don't need much maintenance. Please don't tamper with them!"
Rasala could feel it coming in the soles of her feet – another surge, like the one that had disrupted the automaton, though it was somewhat camouflaged by the howling of the sandstorm outside. It reminded her of blizzards, and one reason she'd been very glad to leave Terror Mountain and apprentice herself to Alshemar had been to get away from the blizzards.
Grimjon held up the central cord that all the charms were strung on, and began to work a spell. Rasala shouted, "There's a surge coming! Don't!" She tried to spell it to come out of his hands, but Grimjon was gripping it too tightly.
Seradar was preparing a counter-spell, and Rasala could tell that Yvenya was preparing a spell to try and nullify the surge's effects, with Miskal lending her strength.
Then the surge hit – and Jazan had been right. It was unlike anything Rasala had felt at the Obelisk. It was as if there was something hostile in it, malevolent and alive. She felt the wrenching of all the spells in the air being pulled out of control – out of anyone's control.
And then the form appeared over the table. It was nebulous, not entirely any one race of creature – and it was made entirely of fire. It opened its jaws to reveal a brighter mouth and snarled at them.
Grimjon swore, "Sweet Fyora!"
Rasala could feel him gathering power to himself as quickly as he could – before she could do anything to stop him, he'd disappeared, likely taking himself back to the safety of his own tower. She cried, "I'm going to get you, you rat!"
Of all the people, it was Miskal who shouted, "Downstairs! Downstairs! Now, now, now!"
Seradar was shouting spells and waving his arms as they ran down the stairs – she could tell he was trying to activate as many wards as were left. Could those stop the thing that had been made of their spells and the surge? How powerful was it? What sort of monster had their attempts to stop Grimjon's folly unleashed?
She didn't know, but she knew they were going to find out.
To be continued...