The Black Crook of Dawn
Terynn glared at the wooden ceiling of the carriage as it bounced along the cobbles of the busy street. Forced to travel to this foreign city at sword point, by his father no less, there was practically nothing that could have made him any more irritated. Glancing out of the window as the curtain flicked back, Terynn scowled at the stares of the people on the street. Despite being considered very pale by the people of his home city of Astar, Terynn was still tanned in comparison to the people of this city; yet another reason for people to stare at him, besides the blindingly obvious scar on his face. The pale circle started just below his chin and stopped just below his nose, entirely encircling his mouth, leaving only his lips their normal color.
The carriage rolled gradually to a halt, the rhythmic bouncing over the cobbles turning to a slow irregular lurch before finally stopping. The horses whinnied and snorted as the coachman stepped down from his seat and opened the side door to the carriage. “The horses won’t go any farther sir. I’m afraid you’ll have to go on foot from here” the coachman said, folding out the steps from the carriage door to the floor. Terynn scowled again, not at the coachman, but at being forced by circumstance to appear in public. It was the place where people stared the most and their gazes made him both angry and uncomfortable.
Stepping down the steps and out of the carriage, Terynn immediately saw why the horses wouldn’t continue on any farther down the street. There was no street. It ended in an abrupt cliff face no more than 15 paces from where he was standing. He took his satchel from the coachman and slung it over one shoulder, glaring pas t the cliff. “I’m sorry I can’t take you any farther your h-“
“Do not call me that. I am not my brother” Terynn said, interrupting the coachman. The coachman nodded and climbed back up onto the coach. Walking up to the edge of the cliff as the coach turned and started rolling back down the street; he stared at the building in the distance past the end of the cliff. That was his destination.
Hyper aware of the eyes of people sharing the street with him, Terynn walked briskly to the edge of the cliff and stepped calmly over the edge. For a brief, awful, moment he was falling. A narrow stone path flashed into place just below his foot, stopping his decent abruptly. “Cliffstone isles would be a better name for this place” Terynn muttered as he moved along the path, his pace brisk. The cold, salty sea air lashed at him as he walked, making him wish he’d worn something other than the white & gold trimmed clothes he was accustomed to wearing. Reaching the first isle, he sighed as he realised he still had to cross 4 more along with the creepy bridges in between them.
The sun has just kissed the edge of the world, marking the end of the day, when Terynn reached the end of the last bridge from the last isle. He stepped hurriedly through the stone archway, completely ignoring the inscription on its front side, eager to be out of the harsh sea winds. A large bell tolled as he crossed the boundary, alerting those inside to his arrival. Walking down the well worn path towards the buildings before him, Terynn frowned at the sudden lack of sea wind despite getting whipped by it less than a moment ago. A short, round, grandmotherly women came around the corner of the nearest building and walked up the path towards him.
“It’s customary to send word of arrival if you expect people to be aware of your presence” she said, crossing the remaining distance between them. Terynn blinked as he got a good look at her. Her eyes were completely white, not even a touch of color. She was blind. “It’s ok this time dear. I saw you coming”. Terynn frowned gently at her, opened his mouth and closed it again. The grandmother woman just chuckled, “I may be blind, but I can still see. I am Seriana, magister of the Skybound Academicos”.
She gestured to him with a crooked finger and started walking back towards the main cluster of buildings. Terynn followed; he was eager to get started so that all this stupid business could be over and he could go home. Moving with a rapid wander gait, Seriana wandered down the pathways, swerving away from walking into the walls of several buildings at the last second. Terynn watched her dodge with mild concern, wondering exactly how a blind old woman managed to find her way so easily. They stopped in front of a multi-levelled rectangular building. “This building will be your home while you stay here” Seriana said, clasping her hands together and tilting her head towards the building. “You’ll need to speak to the Archmage before you get settled in, but other than that, there isn’t anything else you need to do” Seriana explained, walking past the building and rounding a corner.
The room was still as the middle aged woman sat quietly behind her desk, reading through and signing pieces of paper with her red feather quill. Other than the desk, the room was bare except for a narrow bookshelf filled to the point of bursting with black leather handwritten journals. She glanced up at the door and sighed. She was waiting for a knock. The door opened and quietly closed itself, without a knock. A blue furred cat the size of a large dog lazily walked around the desk and put its head in the woman’s lap.
“Hello Rorarn” the woman said, gently scratching the cat between its left pair of ears, since it had a pair on each side of its head. It made a melodious humming noise. “They’ve been waiting outside for several minutes now Asa” the creature said, its voice source less but still present. The woman known as Asa sighed again and put her quill back into its inkpot. “Please send them in already, I’m a busy woman and I need to get this over with” Asa muttered in frustration. Rorarn hissed softly, feeling a large part of Asa’s frustration too. He padded over and yanked the door open with a flick of his tail.
A trio of very nervous looking people slowly filed into the room and stood before the desk. Two middle aged men, one short and one tall with the third member of the trio a woman who looked young by comparison to the other two. They nodded in unison and each gave a mumbled “Archmage” deference to Asa. Folding her hands over the desk, Asa looked each of them in the eyes and got straight to the matter at hand.
“Senior Magisters, last night the vault was breached and an artefact was taken. I await your reports on the actions you’ve taken since then” Asa said, her face stony and cold. The other woman was the first to speak.
“I’ve replaced and tripled the number of wardings and barriers on the vault Archmage. This will never happen again”.
Asa nodded her approval and the woman let out a small breath of relief. “Thank you Senior Magister Lucille”. The shorter man took the next turn to address the Archmage.
“I’ve borrowed the scribes from the library. They’re taking inventory of the vault as we speak. We’ll know what’s missing by dusk tonight”.
Rorarn purred in appreciation, he was a huge fan of all the free mice in the library. Entirely aware of his reason for purring, Asa resisted the urge to smile. The final member of the trio cleared his throat. Raising an eyebrow, Asa regarded him with her stony gaze. The tall man swallowed nervously before speaking.
“I’ve conferred with all the servants and the only person who is currently missing is Magister Synne” he said quietly, not quite meeting Asa’s gaze.
Standing up slowly, Asa shook her head. A theft of this scale was unprecedented, and she’d read the journals of every Archmage since the founding of the Academicos three thousand years before. “The artefacts in the vault have good reason to be kept there. As the 3 most capable Magisters present, I am sending you to track and retrieve the artefact. If it was Synne who stole it, you will also bring him back with you to face his magisterial court trial” Asa said, giving her best look of dead seriousness to the trio before her. “Rorarn will accompany you to ensure that nothing goes awry”. The cat stopped purring sharply. Sitting back down, Asa waved her hand in dismissal, the only informality she’d made all day. The trio filed out, followed by Rorarn who closed the door as he left.
Gently massaging her temples, Asa turned her attention to the remaining paperwork on her desk. She picked up her quill and immediately dropped it again as the sound of a knock on her door startled her. She called out to the door, “Come in” and was pleasantly surprised to see Seriana’s kind face poke through as the door opened. “I know you’re busy, I saw it, but we have a new arrival and it is custom for him to meet the Archmage” Seriana said, gently opening the door fully. A smile spread across her face as the first good news she’d heard in a long time sunk into Asa’s mind.
Terynn walked quickly around the outside of the buildings, keeping the hood of his cloak up to avoid the gazes of anyone who might happen to be looking out the window as he passed. It was a significantly longer route to where he was supposed to be going, but the extra time was a fair trade in exchange for not being stared at by the surprisingly large number of people on the island. Being stared at just made him angry and it also made him feel totally out of place.
Arriving at the correct building, across a bridge to a smaller island halfway across the main island, Terynn followed the small group of people inside. He walked into a large open room with two long curved desks in one half of the room and a desk covered with a variety of strange objects adorning it. Oddly shaped vials and flasks containing small creatures along with 3 bundles of cloth were the most noticeable of the strange objects.
Terynn completely ignored practically everything in the room, instead walking to the farthest seat at the other end of the room and taking it for himself.
The other people in the room began talking amongst themselves while they waited. Terynn undid the button that held the bottom of his hood closed and rested his head on his crossed arms over the desk. He glanced at the other people in the room and immediately regretted it. Several of them were staring at him now that they could see his face. Scowling, Terynn closed his eyes so he could pretend that they weren’t actually staring at him anymore.
The door opened loudly, causing Terynn to startle and open his eyes again. It was the bizarre grandmother woman, Seriana. She walked in her haphazardly way across the room, narrowly dodging the edge of the wall, along with one wall and a circular strip of paper that flew past her head. She stood in front of the desk in full view of the rest of the room, with her back to everyone else. “Hello everyone, I am Magister Seriana” she said, still facing the wrong direction. A young woman coughed loudly. Seriana jumped and spun around to face the people sitting behind the desks.
“Anyway, today I will be introducing you to the first step to the talents which many people refer to as magic” she said, carefully opening the cloth bundles on the table. Utterly disinterested in what she was saying, Terynn laid his head back down on the table and tried to shut out the voice of the woman who he was certain was an elaborate charlatan. Continuing with her introduction, Seriana passed the objects to the first person on the other side of the room, explaining their purpose as she did so. “That little cube is wiszenwood. Those of you with the talents of a magician may get a soft glow from it as you hold it in your hands. This scale was taken from the belly of the last known leviathan in the seas; those of you whose talents lean towards familiars may hear the sound of waves. And finally, this chunk of metal is star silver. In the hands of a sorcerer or sorceress, this metal burns with heavenly blue light.”
The door banged open a second time, once again causing Terynn to bolt upright as he was startled by it. Giving in to the urge to stare at the latecomer in annoyance, Terynn turned his head to look towards the door. It was a man. He had green eyes with thick black hair on his head and on his face in a short, well trimmed beard. Terynn noticed that he had a build similar to that of a bodyguard; tall, broad shouldered and heavily muscled. The man opened his mouth to say something but Seriana cut him off before he could. “Sit down dear, you’ve not missed anything terribly important” she said, gesturing with her hand towards the group of seats near Terynn. The man closed his mouth, nodded and moved towards the empty seats. Terynn stared at him as he walked over; subjecting him to the same torment that other people subject Terynn to. This made it come as quite a surprise when the man returned his gaze. No-one had looked Terynn in the eye since he’d gotten his scar all those years ago.
Seriana followed the objects around the room as they were slowly passed from hand to hand, talking to and writing in a small journal about the people who got a reaction from an object. Turning away again, Terynn put his head back down on the table, totally ignoring everyone in the room. He didn’t even react to the sound of the chair next to him moving as someone sat down in it. Terynn sighed as he became aware of someone staring at him; it was an entirely useless talent, as it told him what he already knew whenever he wasn’t by himself.
Unable to doze peacefully with the feeling of being watched present, Terynn opened one eye and glanced around the room to find out who was watching him. It took him a few moments, and a quarter turn to the left of his head to see who was looking at him. It was the latecomer. His green eyes were on Terynn, he was not watching as someone looking at a freak, as Terynn was accustomed to, his gaze was something…else.
The first of the three objects slid across the desk from the closest person to the latecomer, causing him to shift his gaze away from Terynn and onto the carved cube. He didn’t even have to pick it up. The second his pointer finger touched the cube it emitted a green glow bright enough to be seen clearly even in broad daylight. Seriana let out a quiet gasp, apparently ‘seeing’ the glow despite her clouded eyes. Scribbling quickly into her journal, Seriana beamed a bright smile at the latecomer and took the cube from him, placing it down in front of Terynn. He didn’t even bother trying the cube, knowing instinctively that it wasn’t for him and leaving it on the table.
Seriana only gave Terynn a brief frown before making another scribble in her journal. The latecomer turned his gaze back to Terynn for only a brief moment before the next item slid across the desk to him. Compared to the cube before it, the scale was dull and lifeless in the latecomer’s hands and also in Terynn’s. Neither Seriana nor Terynn was particularly surprised by this lack of a reaction in the scale. The latecomer looked slightly disappointed but mostly curious about the properties of the scale. He picked up the last of the three objects and turned it over in his hands, really examining it thoroughly before passing it on to Terynn.
He didn’t even have to touch it to get a reaction out of the little chunk of star silver. It made a faint humming as his hand got near. Terynn frowned as the sound and proceeded to pick it with a swift snatch. A brilliant blue light spilled out from between his fingers as the humming increased in volume to become an eerie melody which drifted across the room. Seriana dropped two things at once, her journal and her lower jaw. The sound of the journal hitting the floor caused Terynn to look up, come back to his senses and realise that literally everyone in the room was now looking at him, staring in fact. A feeling of anger overcame him and Terynn let the chunk tumble out of his hand, off the desk and onto the floor. He turned away from their intruding gazes and pulled his hood up over his head, entirely done with being stared at.
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