Chapter 3
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I startled awake to the sounds and smells of Nisto cooking breakfast. My back ached from having fallen asleep at my table yesterday, face pressed into a book. I furtively closed it and tucked it away. Of all the literature I own, this one was more precious to me than any others by far. I have written many tomes, from research journals to instructional guides, but only one like this one. I’ve noticed that many powerful humans engage in the practice of writing their own biography to detail their adventures and experiences. Not I. My tome is almost the reverse of this, as each section in it is dedicated solely to my memories and experiences with one of the many people in my life who are gone. Sometimes I mockingly call it the ‘Book of the Dead’, a dismissal of the arrogant titles necromancers give their tomes. When I returned yesterday afternoon, I’d taken a few bites of an excellent roasted pheasant Nisto cooked for dinner before becoming involved entirely in recording my recollections of Ram. It was, to some extent, both a cathartic and obsessive habit.

The smell of breakfast sausage sizzling kept me from completing my entry at the moment. I preferred solitude when I wrote of the departed, as it better enabled me to fully picture the moments in time I recalled as I wrote. With breakfast imminent, I considered the things I needed to do today. Nisto indicated that the [Wagoneers] would be arriving this morning, and I imagine my retired adventurer token to be delivered early as well. I needed to return to the academy, visit the bank and wanted to attend the orphanage. A quick trip to the market to ensure that I traveled with everything I needed—no. Nisto would take care of that for me, all I needed to do was prepare a list, which I could do easily.

Soon, a plate of fried sausage and roasted root vegetables appeared before me. A steaming cup of Asrid Flower tea beside it. Nisto took away last evening’s leftovers, the plate I accidentally overlooked this morning. Halfway through my meal, a ruckus outside followed by a knock at the door signaled the arrival of the [Wagoneers]. I continued to eat as Nisto answered and brought the man to stand before my table. I knew I should have taken the time to wash and change. No doubt my hair was a mess. Regardless, I offered the man a seat using my hand to gesture as I continued to chew.

“I’d prefer ta stand milord,” he answered. He stood ramrod straight and seemed uncomfortable in my presence. Which was understandable, wizards of the 4th tier being rare sights. Likely afraid I’d turn him into a frog or some such nonsense. He wore the work clothes one might expect for a tradesman focused on moving things and possessed a bulkiness to his form that suggested a human lifetime of lifting and carrying heavy objects.

“Suit yourself,” I waved my fork around motioning to the room in general, “I expect packing this won’t take long. I plan to depart tomorrow and will be staying at an inn tonight. I’d prefer my furniture not be damaged, so if your choice is to stack it improperly or use another wagon, I’d suggest you get the other wagon. Also, despite my proper use of our language being superior, please keep in mind I am not part of the nobility. I do not wish to engage in any conversation that would come about should a noble hear such a term be used.”

He nodded, so I felt he understood and turned my attention back to my food. It was three bites further when I noticed he was still standing there.

“Uh. Um. Uh. Sir…” The man hedged nervously.

“Yes?” I asked, after I chewed and swallowed, of course.

“My L—Sir, we haven’t yet ta discuss where we’re taking yer stuff or how much it’ll be.” He followed his statement with a glance to Nisto, a look that seemed to be some kind of plea for help. How was this difficult? If you have a question, you just ask!

“Certainly. I will be headed first to Eiston in Eistoni, and then further into Larkley. I plan to stop in Lark to decide where to head from there. I assume distance and time are a factor of your charging rate?”

The man gulped and nodded, “Aye, Sir. It looks like we could use three large wagons, with fourteen men to move your goods—”

“Great! It sounds like you know what you’re doing. I’m glad to hear that. I’ll be meeting you at the western gate tomorrow morning, just after sunrise. Please also prepare me a carriage to ride in.”

Luckily the man didn’t seem to perturbed I’d interrupted him, but I wanted to get started on the things I planned to do today. The longer we conversed, the less time either he or I had left in the day to work.

Finished with my heavy breakfast, I headed to my room. A quick clean and a change into a silken yellow robe with white trim has me ready for the day. It didn’t go as well with my hair and beard as the dark green from yesterday, but brighter colors do tend to distract from my orange eyes. I’ve yet to meet a human with my eye color. I passed by the [Laborers] moving furniture and stop only to quickly write out the shopping list for Nisto before I’m on my way.

The morning still held the chill of yesterday but lacked any breeze. This allowed me to enjoy the warmth of the sun on my back as I walked. By the time I’d made it to Academy, my full stomach felt lighter. Inside, I met with Scot to sign over the assorted documents he had prepared, and was surprised afterwards when he motioned for me to follow. In the courtyard outside, awaited two students. Or one student and a recent graduate, both bowing formally to us as we walked to meet them.

On the left, the [Apprentice] student was a young woman with short curly black hair and blue eyes who wore only the plain black student robe. The sleeve emblems showed her to be in her second year. She looked eager to see me, but an innocent eagerness that I often saw in children. The lad on the right, a recently graduated [Mage], displayed obvious coastal heritage. That is, his skin was sand-colored, his eyes tan, and his hair a dirty blonde that seemed somewhere between the two. His mage’s robe, a grey of slightly nicer make than a student’s uniform, lacked any of the embroidered symbols that would announce he graduated a particular focus in any single element. A standard 2nd tier [Mage], then. I recognized them both as students that came through my orphanage program, more from my time spent at the orphanage than any interactions here at the academy.

“Master Fargus,” they greeted me using the school’s title for instructor.

I waved their greeting aside, “No need for that now. As I’m sure you’re aware, I’ll be leaving the school.”

The two shared a look, before the younger spoke, “We heard and wanted to say thank you for the opportunity before you left. We know you’ve heard it before, but wanted you to remember that we appreciate all you’ve done for us.”

“And I wanted to inquire if you would be willing to be my mentor.” The lad said the words formally, but had a cheeky grin.

“What?!” The girl turned to him, “You never mentioned that!” She huffed and bowed to me a second time, “I’d also like to inquire,”

I weighed the request in my mind. To take a journeyman mage as an assistant was common practice. A disciple was much less common. The two were different. While an assistant was paid, usually around fifty gold a year in the city, they would serve under a more experienced mage as support, much like a [clerk] or [scribe] would support an [administrator]. A disciple was more often used when a wizard wanted to pass down their knowledge and served without pay. It came with both the expectation they would receive one on one training and that, when completed, the disciple could act in the name of their teacher. A relationship that normally lasted a lifetime. I, however, would outlive any disciple and felt no need to pass along my amassed knowledge at the moment. It would be unlikely any human disciple would live long enough to fully inherit what I could teach.

“I am not taking any disciples in at the moment, though I could find a use for an assistant. I could offer a hundred a year, with the possibility to extend for a second,” I answered the young man. This would leave him with enough money for a modest home in the fourth circle, should he spend it all in one place. While it was twice the going rate in the city for an assistant, he would be traveling to work with me, so I had to take that into account.

“Yes!” He jumped in excitement.

I turned away from his annoying youthful exuberance to give the girl a critical eye, “As for you, young lady, I know you aren’t requesting personal tutelage prior to completing the normal course of study at the Arcanum, are you?”

She showed the good grace to look ashamed, “No, Master Fergus.”

“Good. We can revisit your request once you have graduated. Provided, of course, that you graduate in at least as good a standing as your compatriot here. Now, child, what is your name?”

Now, with a sad but hopeful look in her eye, she opened her mouth to speak but Dean Scot interjected, “My apologies, I intended to introduce them but it seems we got carried away,” he chuckled, “We have [Mage] Walker, who graduated with honors no more than two weeks ago, and [Apprentice] Leslie, both of whom come to us from your sponsored orphanage. I expect great things from them both.”

It seemed backwards to hold introductions at the end of the conversation, but humans do unusual things all the time. I’ve long grown numb to that. So, taking it in stride, I nodded, “Good. I hope you’re right. [Mage] Walker, with me. Good day [apprentice], and farewell dean.”

My new assistant was quick to follow on my heel as I left through the administrative building to continue on my way. “[Mage] Walker, I’m heading to the Royal Bank and then to Ellorian Orphanage. From there, I will be taking a room at the Scholar’s Delight for the evening. We’ll be departing from the western gate just after daybreak tomorrow. Will you need to attend to any personal matters today in order to depart tomorrow?”

“No, master.” He answered cheerfully. I’d expected as much. Many of the orphans find it difficult to place themselves immediately after graduation. Most don’t take long to notice that a fully trained 2nd tier mage is an incredibly valuable asset to both adventurers and the military. Those not suited to combat find themselves eagerly hired as assistants to professional mages. It did beg one question, though.

“Will you be requiring a room as well?”

This time, he hesitated before answering almost sullenly, “Yes, master.”

“Hmmm,” I’d need to break him of that hesitation. Also, I considered immediately deducting the cost of his room from his future earnings, but dissuaded myself. That would not do for a good initial impression on me.

The Royal Bank didn’t take too much of my time. They did inform me they could not provide for me to withdraw the entirety of my balance immediately as they would need to cart the coinage from the King’s Vault. I have always been diligent in keeping track of my earnings, so I wasn’t surprised by this. Instead, I took their offered amount of thirty thousand in gold coins and gems in a bag of holding they provided. I’d need to return for the remainder at some point, but I was able to withdraw a good third of the amount of my savings. I could regale you with tales of my financial capabilities, but, in truth, I only hold the worth of a medium-sized merchant company. The problem with investing money is that the nobility seemed to guard that industry with zeal. I suspected the bank may have intentionally overestimated the value of some of the gems provided, but I felt no inclination to inspect them today. After all, I was an enchanter. I could do much more with those gems than simply trade them—although, I kept that piece of knowledge to myself.

The day’s journey continued to the edge of the fourth ring. Near a gatehouse to the fifth ring was the path leading towards the orphanage. The uncobbled dirt walkway led directly between a brewery and a tannery and the path looked nothing more than a trail trampled in grass for supplies. This was entirely by design, as sometimes the various gangs or thieving rings would come further into the city from the fifth ring. Not that there would be much to steal where we were headed, but who could expect a street tough to know that? The orphanage was in sight, when I stopped in place and motioned for Walker to join me by my side. The building itself was a plain two-story that could have easily been confused with a warehouse except for four weathered religious statues space equaling against the building facing out. Tall carved [Paladins], each the height of two men stood forever vigilant, even as moss seemed to overtake them.

“As we approach, I want you to use your [Mana Sight] and tell me what you see,” I instructed.

He nodded and before long I heard the sharp intake of breath that would mean he saw what I wanted him to see. “What are those?” he asked.

I used a finger to point them out. “Those four statues are tier two golems. I’ve altered the cores to draw in natural mana for self-repair when not activated. The large rocks in the yard are all stone elementals, contracted to guard any being under tier 1 from any threat 3rd tier or higher. In two years, when you return, it’ll be your responsibility to ensure these are properly maintained. Hopefully, by then you’ll know how.”

Soon enough we were knocking at the door, which a surprised nun opened. “Master Fargus, you aren’t expected for another two days,” She said by way of greeting.

“I hate to interrupt, but I will be leaving the city soon and hoped to spare one last visit with the children. I don’t know when I’ll be returning you see,” I answered her nonquestion with words and a feigned helpless smile.

She gave a slight bow of her head, just enough to be considered deferential, and opened the door wider to allow us in. The nun, apparently not the head nun who wasn’t in at the moment, was a waspish forty-something with her hair and figure hidden behind customary holy robes and head piece. It was nice to see that some things hadn’t changed. I recall that same outfit from my childhood.

We entered into a small foyer, rectangular in shape. The floors were worn, faded by time and thousands of small feet. At the far end, a closed door led to the nun’s bedrooms. That door was shut now, but I may have visited those three rooms once or twice in the past. Not all nuns were capable of holding to their vows, especially when presented a handsome young half-elf. On the right side of the foyer was a plain wall with a singular mounted holy symbol. This, the half-sun shaped symbol of Ellora, goddess of Light and Love. She held sway here now, but it wasn’t always the case. The left side was even more plain, adorned with only hooks for raincoats and an opening that led further into the building.

“The children are this way, Mr. Fargus,” she said and turned to lead us. For a moment I tried to think of her name. I have visited once a week, every week, for at least a century—provided something like a war didn’t interfere with my schedule. Unfortunately, faces and names tended to blur together after so long. It was fortunate that she didn’t seem interested in a conversation that would make my ignorance telling. Not that I’d be embarrassed, I don’t remember the last time I felt embarrassed forgetting a person’s name. More that I didn’t want the awkwardness of such a moment to stain any memory that today would leave them with.

She led us first through the enormous dining room, which consisted of one long wooden table and equally long wooden benches on either side. On the far end of the room, there was a set of stairs that led up to the kid’s bedroom, likely still filled with barracks-style bunks. To either side of the stairs were two rooms. One for learning, with desks and scrolls visible through the open doorway, and the other for children too young for such studies. In the very center of the back wall of the dining room was a heavy wooden door that led outside, the wood still sturdy even though it was splintered with age. It seemed held together mostly by the iron banding in the center, though that banding speckled with rust. A stone propped it open, allowing fresh air to flow in from outside, bringing with it the smell of spring.

We followed her outside to find another nun, in the same outfit, watching over a large group of children that seemed to be squealing and running wild. Behind the orphanage was the same little park I remembered. Walled on two sides with a short picket fence, and on the far side by part of the fourth circle wall standing tall and made from thick light blue stone. The park itself was split into two parts, one being a semicircle of stones about knee high with a waist high stone in the very center like a little play lecture hall. The second part lay closer to the fourth circle wall, a small grove of trees that provided excellent shade in the heat of the summer.

“Mr. Fargus!” “Walker!” Kids called both my and my new assistant’s name as they noticed our arrival. Soon I’d made my way to sit on the waist-high stone and tell one of the many children’s tales I’d memorized for this very reason. By the doorway, Walker stood smiling and confident, as he discussed something with two of the older boys and a girl. The three seemed only a year or two from aging out of the orphanage, so hopefully he was expounding on the benefits of joining the Arcanum.

I was halfway through my children’s tale, when that darn lad pointed to the sky and released a glowing magical dart that immediately garner close to forty excited faces, and two very unhappy nuns. Realizing that that his unintended magical demonstration was stealing my audience, I could only reply in kind. Using one of the lesser [Illusion] spells, I brought my story to a more vivid re-enactment. From past experience, I knew that the nuns didn’t appreciate this, as they would be the ones fielding excited questions on the nature of magic for the next few weeks. Questions they didn’t have the knowledge to answer. Still, this would be my last visit in a long time, so I may as well try to leave a long-lasting impression on the kids.

Of course, leaving the children with a fond memory was my entirely benevolent reason to show the battle between a forty-foot dragon and myself, now a flying sorcerer of some minor renown. Not that I’d actually battle or even seen a dragon, but it was still an interesting twist that left a majority of the children running around with little sticks in their hands and making whooshing noises. It also didn’t stop me from secretly enchanting some of those very sticks into wands of minor illusion that activated under a spoken whoosh noise. Or zap noise. I may have also left a few enchanted wooden rings that let a person jump a little further.

I left the now incredibly excited children running around like that after my story, and went to thank the mildly irritated nuns. I looked for Walker, who was approaching me with his three friends as a group.

“Master Fargus, that was a wonderful demonstration of an illusion spell!” He said with a smile.

Which immediately put me on notice that he wanted something. “I’m glad you thought so, it was one taught in our curriculum, after all.”

“Right, right.” He nodded, then turned motioning behind him, “This is Unger and Runner and my sister Lilly.” He said as he motioned to both boys and then the girl. All of them showed the same coastal features Walker had, the sand-colored skin, tan eyes, and yellow hair. I gave a smile and nod as a greeting, then waited for him to continue. Which he did after an awkward moment. I felt no urge to make whatever he was going to ask for easy for him to ask.

“Well, both Unger and Runner are a year from leaving the orphanage. Unger is taking the nun’s offer to be a paladin. Runner wanted to take the test to see if he could join the Academy.”

I looked at Runner and said a quick, “Good.”

“That leaves Lilly here without any real friends, and I was wondering if—” Walker tried to continue.

I cut him off, “I won’t be adopting any children today [Mage] Walker.” It was a curt, but unemotional response, I thought. A clear line.

“No… not… well, I mean, I wanted to know if I adopted her, if she could travel with us? Two years and she would be eligible to return to the city to take the test for the Academy.” He spoke faster than normal and was squeezing his hands nervously.

“That’s a big responsibility, Mr. Walker,” I said. I weighed the decision. On one hand, it meant I wouldn’t be able to have him assist with any truly dangerous experiments. On the other, it meant that I could train two people to prepare my tea instead of one. Two years was such a short time to me, I’d probably barely notice.

After giving it some thought, and then just enough of a stretch of time for him to grow even more nervous, I answered, “I don’t see how it’s any of my business what you do in family matters. If she is traveling with us, you will be responsible for any missing tutelage as well as normal care.”

This, apparently, was a joyous thing for Lilly because she crashed into Walker, knocking him down with one giant hug. The other two boys started laughing and before I was somehow further involved in a conversation between teenagers, I made my exit.

I considered reminding him of the name of the inn I would be staying at, or that he may want to take his sister shopping for clothes and toiletries, but shook myself of the thought. He is a graduate of the Arcanum. Should he forget, then he’ll learn from the consequences. I hired an assistant, not adopted a child. I have to be careful not to develop too much fondness for these two. Either hold them at arm’s length or pay the price when they inevitably pass away. I dislike adding chapters to my Book of the Dead.