Ghh, yesterday was terrifying.
A mandatory assembly for all third-year students.
That was bad enough, but then everything else. They were standing up there reading off some boring announcement about duels and the importance of being a magus and changes to classes. Blah. Like they’re fooling anyone. Everyone knows they put all the third years in the same room, so we’d all challenge each other.
‘Pfft, as if.’ Cradling Cat’o. They were just killing time until there were enough challenges issued. They even paused as Alberta challenged one of the nobles. Then looked around like they were waiting on more.
I made sure everyone saw me with Cat’o. Two other apprentices stopped to tell me how cute Cat’o is and ask to pet him.
Weaving a strand of shadow into Cat’o making him look around and nuzzle me. No one even suspected.
I noticed Callie walking around. Gods she’s cute. Legs squeezing together causing a jolt of pleasure. Sigh.
It looked like she was about to talk to me, at least until that orange smoke covered everything. Everyone started sneezing and yelling. Acting like they didn’t see Galvin open the orange potion bottle as Lewis cast a wind spell.
When the screaming and running started, someone bumped into me, spinning me around, and I almost dropped Cat’o. I managed to snag him and looked up to see Callie beside me, bend over and coughing. It was so bad she was having trouble breathing. Tears were running down her face. She looked like she was about to pass out. I wrapped Cat’o up, grabbed Callie’s arm and lead her out of the smoke.
Whatever it was, it affected her worse than the familiars.
Hugging Cat’o, legs squeezed together, slick gathering. I lead her out of the smoke. Like I was serving her. I mean saving her. Definitely saving her. She couldn’t really see me, but she did hold my arm until she caught her breath.
“Here.” Handing Callie part of one of my wraps.
Callie, still bent over, tears streaming, wipes her face and coughs into the cloth.
Handing her a purifying vial of water. She splashes water on her face. “Blah, what was that?” Wiping the water off, Callie hands the water back. “Thanks.”
One of the professors cast a spell to condense the smoke into a bead.
Standing straight, Callie brushes her hair back. Sniffing sets her off on another round of coughing.
Gently patting her back, I give her more water.
Wiping her face again. “Thanks.” noticing Cat’o “Magus . . .?”
“Um, oh, Dav, um I mean Davina. Magus Davina.” Nodding and smiling.
“Looks like that finished the assembly for today.” Pointing to the stage and the gathered professors. As Callie looks up, I grab the cloth and drop into a shadow.
Tucked away in a shadow outside the assembly hall, I watch everyone leave, most headed to the main dueling circle. Callie, still sniffling, walked by without seeing me. Releasing a long sigh. I mean if I were going to take a familiar it would be her, um, them.
I head to Evon’s Hut to washed and dry the cloth. Once finished, folding it into a flower I attach it to Cat’o’s collar.
Aaa’choo. Still sneezing from yesterday.
You’d think healing everything would have taken care of it, but whatever it was that orange smoke coated everything.
Aaa’choo. Blah. Wiping my nose.
Probably didn’t’ help that I had my enhanced senses active. But how else was I supposed to track down the apprentice?
The assembly should have been perfect place to find her. I arrived early and waited outside the entrance. When Mansel’s group showed up he made an ice wall so I couldn’t see to challenge any of them. ‘Hee’, that only lasted until a professor saw it, melted the whole thing and handed out a tongue lashing.
I did catch her scent a few minutes later. A whole group showed up at the same time. Three magi and their familiars and the same number of trailing apprentices. I was too busy watching Magus Solona’s familiar, Lara, to pay attention to the others.
She’s the only familiar I’ve ever heard of being made into a marilith. Six arms and all. She’s impressive and can raise herself up on her tail to tower over everyone, but she was down low following Solona. I could taste the need from her on the air. It was strong enough to overwhelm the nearby apprentices’ scents.
The other two magi both had cats. Spoiled little things being carried by their magi. Well, one was little the other was draped over the magus’s shoulder.
Smiling at the memory.
She was in that group. So close and I let her walk by. When I realized she’d gotten past me, I hurried in. I spotted Lara and her mistress, Solona, easily enough. And one of the other magi was with her but the rest of the group had split up.
I spent the first few minutes picking out her scent from all the needy familiars. I know the reputation of a magus and their new familiar, but damn. I think they’re all keep in estrus, at least all the familiars act that way.
Once the assembly began the administrators gave a few speeches. Long winded boring things. They don’t even make us pretend to listen. Half the crowd was just milling around gossiping. Everyone knows these are for unchallenged apprentices.
I managed to pick up her scent. She was standing there talking to the other two apprentices. The first a tall chestnut-haired young woman and the second a shorter blond. Ramona?
The three of them must be friends because I could smell that enticing scent coming from the group. I circled a couple of times to make sure when it hit me. I’ve got other senses. Casting organic scan, I peeked at them. You could have knocked me over with a feather. The familiar wasn’t alive. It was a dummy. She was marioneting it.
The apprentice I’d been searching for was standing in front of me.
That’s when Alberta stopped me. After she explained I sent her to Grace.
I’d lost sight of the group and had to find them after that. It didn’t take long but when I was about to interrupt there was this bright flash on the other side of the auditorium. Then some familiar began screeching and hissing. A few seconds later this orange smoke rolled over everyone.
Aaa’choo. Even the thought of its bad. Everything it touched smelled like burnt pumpkin and cabbage cooked with sour milk and then left outside in the summer heat for three days. Blah.
She helped me out of the smoke and all. Then vanished, dropped straight down, before I could challenge her.
At least now I know her name.
The feel of a challenge binding dissipating wakes me.
Breathing quieting, sinking inward until I feel my magic flowing through me. Two challenge brands remain.
Stopping to check one of the announcement boards almost made me late. Per the board, assuming they’re working again, there should be thirty-eight third year apprentices. Running my hand down the list trying to commit as many names and faces to memory as possible.
Running up the stairs of the main assembly hall, Master Rin greeted raises an eyebrow at me. “Another few minutes and we would have activated runes.” Nodding to the half-closed door.
Nodding my thanks while simultaneously catching my breath. I manage to scamper in. I make my way around the entrance hall to the main assembly area. Taking a spot standing near the wall behind the back row, looking over the gathered third year students.
When I hear a voice ring out issuing a challenge. I didn’t manage to catch who but the way the quiet spread through the hall as it was issued is telling. Moments later the noise is back as everyone is talking.
On stage, a few administrators step forward and take their places. On steps to the podium and being speaking.
“We’re here today in part to honor Alistar Sinslar the namesake of this institute. While he didn’t discover the soulbound, it was his fore though that enabled the ritual. . .”
The speech starts to drone. We’ve all heard it before. It’s the same one they give at the beginning of every year.
Turning my attention to the other side of the assembly hall. A large group of third year have huddled up into concentric circles with a few apprentices in the center. The two outer rings are magi and their familiars. I don’t see Galvin or Lewis but everyone else in that circle is one of Victor’s flunkies.
Continuing around behind the group I climb onto one of the benches and try to peer into the group. The top of their heads all appear the same. That can’t be right. They’re all exactly the same. Its an illusion. Victor is hiding under an illusion.
If that illusion is being cast by a magus, I’m going to need help. Scanning the crowd for friendly faces. I spot two tall familiars together a marilith and a lizardman. There are other tall familiars but most of those are ponies. The ones that really stand out appear both aggressive and protective. I spot a sphinx, minotaur, bear-man and even a gargoyle all following around new healer magi.
Scanning the rest of the hall. The marilith is Lara, familiar to Solona and the lizardman is Kazz, familiar to Mei. The minotaur’s magus is sitting atop his shoulders. And Callie is stalking someone.
Magus Rayne’s words echoing in my ears. I head to Callie.
“Hi.” Raising a hand as Callie angrily whips her head around. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Callie shakes her head, “It’s not that. I been tracking an apprentice that keeps vanishing on me.” Partially turning toward Alberta.
I quickly explain what I’ve seen with Victor’s group.
Callie listens. “I can help with the distraction, but not the illusion.” Pointing. “Talk to Grace. She’ll do it just to annoy him.”
I turn and spot Grace, in a fine riding dress, seated atop a nude kneeling on all fours, grace.
Smiling, Grace nods to a nearby bench. Standing and slapping grace on her bottom prompting grace to assume another position. Taking a seat on the bench, Grace pats the seat beside her.
Sitting I begin to explain about Victor.
Grace sighs and holds a hand up. “Will it annoy Victor?”
“I’m in. I’ll watch for your signal then dispel the illusion.”
Next I head to the two tallest familiars.
“Mei, Deiman and um.”
“Solona.” The young woman with a dark purple streak through short metallic silver hair replies with a smile.
“I don’t mean to interrupt but, I’d like your help.”
The magi exchange a glance then Mei turns back and says. “Lets’ hear it.”
I quickly explaining what Victor’s done and my plan and Grace waiting on a signal.
Grinning, Solona replies, “What are we waiting for?”
The plan worked.
We made our way around closer to Victor’s circle, then Kazz and Princess, Deiman’s familiar, got into a fight. All hissing and spitting and clawed swipes. The magi fell back from them clearing the area on one side of Victor’s circle.
From on state, “Hey! You can’t. . .” as one of the professors started down the stairs toward the fight.
Lara raised me up for a clear view. The illusion drop revealing a nude Grace standing in the mist of the circle.
“. . . I challenge you . . .“
The advancing professor stopped.
I managed to challenge two nobles before a commotion behind us caught my attention. Orange smoke rushing toward us. Turning back I managed to challenge one of the apprentices from the circle fleeing the smoke.
Princess and Kazz rushed back to their magi as Solona erected a wind barrier around us.
The administrators cleared the smoke, but Victor’s group had fled.
That pretty much stopped the assembly. Most of those challenged headed to a dueling circle with others trailing along to watch. Even the ones that had been hiding. There were more challenges at the circle.
The administrators never did bring up the familiar’s fighting.
The second challenge brand dissipates less than an hour later as I’m eating breakfast. Followed almost immediately by the third.
Laying my head on the table I begin to cry.
Pacing, from the desk to the door and back. The apprentice dorm room too small to vent frustration.
The desk is littered with a misused alembic, goopy remains crawling down the side of a burnt crucible, a hastily inscribed formation plate and a stained alchemy text.
The silence is broken as a flask shatter, joining the other detritus on the desk.
“Aaaggh!” A wordless scream as a stack of books fly across the room from a haphazard kick.
Its Noel’s fault. If she’d made me enough scent suppression potions before she was challenged, I wouldn’t have had to make the obscurement elixir.
Stomping back to the door and turning.
I didn’t spend two years learning the delicate art of fine manipulation to play craftsman.
Leaning over the desk, breathing heavily, hands splayed out. A furtive at the door at someone walking in the hallway. Deep breath. The footsteps don’t stop.
They can’t track it back to me. At least Galvin and Lewis won’t talk. But Mansel. His damn familiar. I should have made Mansel brew more scent suppressant. His familiar was an alchemy student after all.
But No. He’s been hold up in his rooms in the magus dorms. And an apprentice can’t enter the them! Another kick aimed at the bed. He’s probably passed out right now after playing with Brute.
Damn familiars! They should be kept out of the way. Keep them locked in a cage as an animal.
Brining the aura forth, tendrils wave about, seeking more to throw and break. Eyes falling on the bed. The tendrils are woven together, more and more, forming a large tentacle. Mass bunching at the end thinning as its pushed away from the main body, forming an axe blade. The blade is moved, hesitant at first, but with more force as it grows more familiar.
Slash! Again and again as it’s brough down until the mattress is shredded, the frame nothing more than a collection of kindling.
Victor, breathing heavy, steps back.
A plan. I need a new plan.
First the Familiar and now Alberta. Someone is targeting me. They have must be working for the same ones. They can’t be planning all this on their own. They’ve got to be sending messages. The question is how. Dropping down into the desk chair.
Galvin said he saw Alberta talking to Rayne the other day. Rayne came down from the north and targeted Renatus. He was from a noble family loyal to the Hawks.
She can enter and leave the academy since she became a magus. She’s got to be their contact. Those northern savages must be planning something. I should bring it to Father’s attention. Who knows what else those savages will do?
We’re going to need more information, if I could best either the Familiar or Alberta, I could command them to tell me everything. That’d pacify father since there aren’t any more elementalist.
‘Bah.’ The Familiar is the best duelist remaining and I don’t want a repeat of last week’s debacle. I’ve a higher standing than Alberta, but she’ll fight like a cornered rat.
Standing. The pacing resumes.