Chapter 2 Cloaks in the Dark

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Something passed close enough to his face that it brushed his beard and momentarily blocked the spinning mass of energy from mundane sight. He had spent the entire day using magical sight, so the fine flows of energy he was controlling remained constant.

As he tied off one of the flows, so it looped around the construction and fed from the artificial artery of power he was building, he spared a bit of concentration to glance at what had touched him. One of the masters was swinging a sword and was coming back around for another pass.

Seriously, you expect me to worry about that? Every wizard knows how to and does — maintain a personal shield all the time.

A split second later, another thought brought a healthy dose of adrenaline and sent a shiver down his spine.

That diurdin sword passed within my shield, and this isn’t a training exercise!

Holding the minute flows under control, Lebuin diverted more power to his shield and shifted his attention to the attacker.

Cune! When did he get back?

His mind raced for more defenses as he realized who was attacking. A smirk grew on Cune’s face as he saw that Lebuin knew it wasn’t going to go well. That pass had been just a warning, so Cune could gloat over Lebuin’s failure. The one rule to the test was that some effort should be made to not kill the candidate.

Urdu, I thought he was out of the country. How did he get back here so fast? For that matter, how did he find out I was going to take the trial?

Cune did not give him any further time to wonder about the situation; he struck hard, fast, and on target. Lebuin dodged while sending a hard blast of energy, as much as he could spare without losing the artifact he was constructing. Brushing aside the magical blast as if it were nothing more than a fly sent to pester him, Cune finished his strike. His blade sang as it passed, unhindered by Lebuin’s strengthened shield, right through his left sleeve, cutting a deep gash in his arm. Pain exploded from the wound, and his hold on the artifact’s power flow wavered, threatening to ruin the entire construction and thus, signal a complete failure.

Looking down, he saw that blood was already soaking into the fine goldenrod silk of his shirtsleeve, and some had splattered on his doublet.

You ruined my best doublet! And I almost dropped the power flow. No, you don’t, you bastard. You’re not going to take this from me!

Reaching out to the earth line, he tapped it, adding its power to the air and water energies he was already channeling. Spinning around to face Cune, he waited for his opponent’s next move.

Cune either didn’t detect the additional power he was pooling, or more likely, he didn’t think Lebuin would be able to do much with it. He danced the dance of a highly trained Blade, his weight and balance shifting smoothly, remaining well distributed and low. Cune brought the sword around again for another attack, lunging hard and fast. Almost too late, Lebuin released all the pooled earth mana, aiming for the floor where Cune’s front foot was going to land. The ground disintegrated in an explosion of dirt and rock. Cune, caught off guard, dropped halfway into the hole before his forward momentum brought his gut into contact with the edge of it. He hit so hard he folded in half, causing his face to slap the stone floor with enough force to smash his nose. The sword broke free from his extended hand and skittered to the far wall.

Dirt, dust, and debris parted around Lebuin as it moved to fill the room. A murmur from the observation deck could be heard as Lebuin cautiously waited for Cune’s next move. As the dust started to settle, he saw Cune still lying where he hit. Expecting a surprise attack at any moment, Lebuin approached his nemesis, who lay half in the deep hole, half face-down on the stone floor, with blood pooling around his head.

Lords, have I killed him?

Bending down, he could see Cune’s chest rising and falling with breath.

A laugh escaped his mouth. “He’s knocked himself out!”

The murmur of conversation in the observation deck got louder.

“Laughing over a fallen enemy is not finishing the work. He might have had some hired Blades with him, or worse, Daggers,” came the sobering comment, reminding Lebuin that wasn’t a simple practice session.

Turning, he scanned the area for any signs of additional attackers. Seeing none, he looked back at his construction and was proud to see that some of the effects were already manifesting, as the dust hadn’t touched it.

“Is he the only threat, then?”

“Life is ever shifting, and the world is full of dangers.”

A chuckle or three floated down from the observation deck.

Meaning yes, he was it. They didn’t expect him to knock himself out cold, especially after only one real strike. All that remains is completing the construction, and I am a full Journeyman. Smiling, Lebuin turned his attention back to completing the artifact. The energies were still holding. Good thing Cune’s strike didn’t come a few seconds earlier; I might not have been able to hold it together while dealing with his attack.

Keeping an eye on the unconscious figure on the floor for any sign of movement, he returned to the fine work of tying all the pieces together to make the incantations hold their shape. Working with air and water magics was tricky. Still, he had spent a great deal of time figuring out that particular set of incantations and had been practicing them for almost a year.

Next, he took up the carefully selected gems he’d spent two days creating as part of the trials. Each gem was meticulously cut to the precise size and shape for the incantation it needed to hold or focus. He arranged the gems on a clasp of silver in the predetermined pattern. The silver clasp had been ordered to exacting detail and adjusted earlier that day by Lebuin as the initial part of the final segment of the trials. Holding the physical pieces together, he moved the energy construct down and into alignment with the clasp and its gems. With an almost audible snap, the incantations bound themselves to the gems, the flow of energies melding gems and silver into one — the energies that once existed only because his will burned their patterns into the gems and silver. The individual parts of matter and energies became a single artifact.

Taking a moment to relax, Lebuin looked closer at Cune’s unconscious form. He remained right where he had been, except the blood had dried.

He’ll never forgive me for this. Not that he needed much else to hate me for.

Seeing his own dried blood on the fine goldenrod silk, he sighed.

My best doublet ruined; what am I going to wear to the ceremony? Cune owes me far more for this. It will take years and a few more humiliations to make up for it.

He turned and saw his master, Magus Andros, approaching the doorway to the chamber, which was unsealed. Eyeing the observation deck two stories above, he saw that most of the Magi there had already left; the rest were chatting as they filed out.

Servants rushed around his master to Cune, lifted his body out of the hole, and carried him out of the chamber. Magus Andros walked up to the silver clasp on the bench and began to examine it in detail.

“You realize Magus Cune will retaliate for this.”

“He had to have volunteered to be part of the test.”

“True. He practically demanded it. I believe he was planning on bleeding you nearly to death and smashing your construction.”

“As I have said before, Magus Cune has set himself against me and has taken active steps to cause me…issues.”

“You did notice that Magus Cune did not just spear you. You were unaware of his entry, approach, and initial attack. He would have been allowed to stick you like a pig on the first strike.”

“Yes, I realized that,” Lebuin lied.

Urd, even when I beat him he still manages to ruin my efforts. Come to think of it, how did he get that close to me? I should have sensed his approach.

A quick mental tour of his almost unconsciously maintained incantations found everything as it should be.

My alarm incantations and shields are still up.

With a start, Lebuin realized that his master was still talking. “...volunteered to be tester, he lobbied hard to convince the council to choose him, which was understandable, considering your long-standing adversarial relationship.” Magus Andros looked over his shoulder to make solid eye contact. “If he was truly the evil nemesis you claim he is, would he not have poked you in a non-fatal, but painful spot first?”

He shook his head. None of you understand it. He is more than evil. He is devious, intelligent, and calculating to a fault.

“You may have a point.” Keeping eye contact with Magus Andros, Lebuin decided to continue planting the alternative seeds he had been working on for the last few cycles. “After this embarrassment, he will now be even less helpful to any of my endeavors. He might even attempt to undermine me.” Lebuin couldn’t help showing a small smirk, and his master didn’t miss it, either.

Magus Andros smiled. “You really have an interesting mind.” Turning back to the silver clasp, he continued his examination. “I must say, this is more extravagant than most candidates manage to create. I note a number of formulas that I would venture to guess are unique.”

Lebuin puffed up in pride.

Yes, it does have a number of entirely new formulas. I have been developing those for years. I think you are going to be impressed when you notice the twist. A twist that isn’t exactly new, but a variation on a little-known pattern.

Lebuin recalled the day, many years ago, when he had returned to his rooms to find three old tomes. Attached was a note instructing him to keep them hidden, take care of them faithfully, and to pass them on, with wishes from an anonymous supporter that they’d help with his ‘challenges’. All three books were copies, and yet, they were faded and crumbling with age. They were the research memoires of a Magus Seriel of Elraci, who lived so long ago that no records existed in the Guild libraries of either him or the city of Elraci he had come from.

They had been written in the Magi’s language, or at least an early root of it. It took him nearly two years of intense page-by-page work to copy, cross-reference, and translate them into his own journals in the modern Magi’s usage. After that, he had read them repeatedly, each time writing hundreds of notes and ideas of research to do. Those books had provided the foundation for many of his innovations, most especially the workings of his trial artifact. Not once in his twenty years of study at the Guild had he seen another formula similar to the key of his artifact.

Lebuin wondered who his anonymous supporters were. There were times when he had nearly failed, or when Cune had thwarted one of his tests or projects. Each time, some small trinket or library book had appeared, with a note suggesting it might help with his difficulties. The notes were all in a different hand, using different grammatical patterns. He had found a way to use the aids to overcome the difficulty, or at least rebalance his course. He often suspected one or two Magi, especially when the anonymous support stopped coming after Magus Gezu died. He also hadn’t had a near-total defeat or even a serious challenge since the Magus’s death.

A soft grunt of surprise pulled Lebuin back to the present. He smiled wider, knowing that Magus Andros had found the key. “This is remarkable work, Lebuin.”

Magus Andros picked up the clasp and fastened it to his tunic, which Lebuin noted was made from wool.

A perfect, if not exactly elegant, conduit. I have a beautiful light samite and ermine cloak ready for this.

Lebuin relaxed his mind and flexed his vision into magical sight. He watched the clasp begin to work, the energies subtly flowing down the tunic. The way it moved was interesting, and he concentrated on areas where the effects pooled, moving in an odd path. He noted that the energies moved well through the cloth’s weave, as he expected. However, there were places where it had been mended with a cotton thread, and in those places, the incantation had to move around the repair, causing odd anomalies.

I’ve never seen it do that before, but I don’t have any clothes with repairs. He has had that tunic a long time. I never noticed it had so many rips and repairs; I wonder that he hasn’t replaced it by now. He certainly has no need to be a spendthrift.

Eventually, the entire garment was evenly infused with the energies of the incantation.

Praise the Lords and Ladies, it reaches full coverage. I need to not show surprise on the initial pooling effect around the repaired locations.

Lebuin schooled his look to appear interested and worried, as anyone in a testing situation would be.

Magus Andros was also watching the effects. When the energies had stabilized, he nodded. “This is very interesting, very interesting indeed. I am surprised you held the construct together as it was when Magus Cune attacked. The only poor mark from today is that you failed to notice Magus Cune until he purposefully got your attention. Still, this was an excellent test, with a remarkable defense and an extraordinary construction. I presume the council members will be as impressed as I am.” Patting the clasp, he added, “I shall have to take this construct with me to show them. I’ll return it to you, along with their ruling, later tonight. I don’t think it is too far out of line to congratulate you now, Lebuin. You should have your archive token with you, unless you want to use this.”

Lebuin’s thoughts spun fast.

He liked it! I passed! After today, I can choose my own lines of work. After all this time, I am finally a Journeyman Mage.

Turning and walking out through the portal, Magus Andros shook his head, looking back at Lebuin. “Only you would put so much effort into creating a device to keep yourself dry, clean, and at a comfortable temperature. Most would have tried to make a protective shield with this formula, given the tasks ahead.”

Lebuin’s thoughts were so far distracted by the compliments and his achievement of Journeyman Mage status that he didn’t even register Magus Andros’ parting comment.

I need to change before anyone sees this mess on my sleeve.

Checking the hall, he hurried out and moved like a ghost towards his rooms. Oddly, the corridors were empty.

I wonder what time it is. I know construction takes time, but most of the work was already finished. I thought I’d be done before sunset. This feels more like late night.

He reached his room without seeing anyone but servants. Stepping into the small chamber, he moved to the second of his two wooden armoires. Pulling a key from his pouch, he unlocked the brass-inlaid lock. The doors swung open on their well-oiled hinges without a sound. Inside were four cabinets, two large drawers on the bottom, and a full-length silver mirror attached to the inside of the left door.

Seeing his reflection in the mirror, he shook his head. He was marginally above average height at 5’11”. His dark green eyes looked tired, and his normally pale skin looked a little whiter than usual. Without thinking, he took the brush and worked it through his sandy brown hair, fixing it to fall mostly on the right. His hair hung to just past his shoulders. Putting the brush down, he stripped off his clothes and threw all of them in the trash basket. With another glance at himself, he sighed.

I wish I wasn’t so skinny. Without clothes on, I look like a starved beggar.

He moved over to the water bowl. He warmed the water with magic before taking a hand towel and moistening it. As he scrubbed the wound, he saw it was pretty shallow. It still stung. He moved back over to the open armoire, pulling out a small vial of clear fluid. He dripped some on the wound, watching it bubble a pinkish-white. Wiping the foam from his arm with the wet cloth, he then took another vial with an oily pink fluid, which he opened and drank, placing the empty vial and cap in a special basket on the desk for such items. The warmth spread through his system quickly. He watched as the wound on his arm closed, still bubbling. After a minute, he wiped it with the cloth again, removing all the foam and blood. The wound was gone, and no scar remained. He finished cleaning up.

Unlocking and opening the other armoire, he revealed two cross-sections of clothing hanging on bars, with another set of four drawers on the bottom and another full-length mirror. He examined the clothes and selected a sea blue shirt, matching loose trousers, and a sleeveless doublet of gray silk, with silver cording that would show off the shirt’s pleated sleeves. To that, he added riding boots that had never seen a horse, or even a dirty road. Pulling down the samite and ermine cloak, he put it on. He added a complementary blue ribbon to tie his hair back and nodded to himself in the mirror, satisfied.

A skeleton with large tired-looking green eyes, lovely sandy brown hair neatly parted, dressed as fine as any baron, stared back at him.

Why can’t I bulk out like my brother?

His brother was a real bull of a man, standing a full six feet tall and weighing in at two hundred pounds of pure muscle. Practically every girl in town swooned when he walked by. They barely acknowledged Lebuin’s presence, which was why he had started learning about fashion. By dressing with flair, he had managed to find a means to attract some attention from the ladies. Of course, it turned into more than a means to meet women. He truly loved his clothes and was immensely proud of his sense of style. He had broken up with his last girlfriend, because in spite of her amazing beauty, she refused to dress well in private favoring frumpy comfortable clothing, which drove Lebuin crazy.

It’s silly for Journeymen Magi to gift the Guild with a token of their making that is never used. Traditions can be so silly; it is a wonder we continue to uphold them.

Reaching to the top cabinet, he took out the crude artifact that he had selected to be his token long ago, when he had learned of the gift tradition. Until now, he hadn’t given it a second thought. It was a small silver ship fused to a piece of dark blue geode, which reminded him of his family. He had made it as part of his training in artifact creation. It contained a simple incantation that caused the crystal to glow, making it beautiful at night. Putting the glowing ship into his pouch, he closed the doors and relocked them.

He walked to the library in a slight haze. He could have ordered some food and dined in his room, but he truly lived in the library. Since the age of three, when he first entered the Guild, the library had been a place of comfort and enjoyment for him. He spent every spare minute there.

Finding one of his favorite nooks empty, he sat down in the large comfortable chair. His thoughts roamed over the trials. The tests had been difficult, but the last one he would ever have to take was over. From then on, he was a Journeyman Mage, able to choose his own work and set his own path under the direction of no one other than himself.

He wasn’t worried about passing. The construct demonstrated techniques only few magi had ever mastered, such as the ability to bind and draw the energies necessary from anyone, so long as they were within a few feet. The other incantations were variations of the minor comfort formulas taught to every candidate to help them remain healthy, as well as provide safe practice for maintaining continuous incantation and energy channeling. Of course, he had added some nice twists, such as the self-adjusting temperature, which shifted between warming and cooling as needed, strengthening the dirt repellent to the point that the protected cloth would remain sterile. It caused all the effects to spread out enough that a medium-length cloak would provide the protection to the entire body.

A servant silently placed a glass of wine on the table next to him. As the man started to move away, Lebuin pulled his attention to the present and raised his hand. The servant stopped. “Do you require anything, sir?”

“Yes. Bring me some fresh-cooked meat, cheeses, fruit, and a full loaf of bread. Also, bring me a bottle of sharre.”

“Hello, mighty Master Magus Lebuin.” As the servant moved away, a sandy yellow head of hair appeared, leaning into the nook’s entry, accompanied by the sarcastic greeting.

Lebuin laughed and gestured at the adjacent chair. “Hello, Finnba. Sit down.”

Finnba said, “Am I now only an apprentice to be ordered around, Sir Magus Lebuin?” He plopped down in the chair, smiling.

Lebuin took in his friend’s appearance, noting that he was still wearing the same leather slippers, old soft brown pants, patched gray linen shirt, and tired, loose, sleeveless green cotton doublet he always favored. He shook his head, thinking, The man has no sense of style. I wish I could get him to wear some of those nice outfits I gave him. I can’t believe he dresses like this even when we go out in the city.

“You’ll be taking the examination yourself pretty soon. Then we’ll be able to speak more like equals. But don’t forget I will still have seniority over you.”

“You’ll have seniority over me forever. Of course, a year’s difference won’t mean much after ten years or so. I bet I am promoted to a higher position than you before too long.”

“You can have your bureaucratic office. You always were a quill boy. Also, you might be only a year younger than I, but I entered the Guild a full five years before you did.”

“Ah, yes. Well, we can’t all come from fabulously rich merchant families with noble-house relations. Besides, you are only one year ahead of me in training. Don’t forget you had to grow up a bit first.”

Lebuin didn’t comment on that; it was an old jibe. His family was wealthy and owned many ships, and yes, his cousin had married some remote relative to a barony. His mother had died giving birth to his sister. He was so excited to see his baby sister for the first time that lights danced around the room. Lebuin was three years old. His shocked father had called the Guild for help, unsure of how to deal with a magical son so young. The Guild had taken control of him, and he had grown up in that Guildhouse. He visited, and was visited by, his large family, but although he loved his father and siblings, he only ever felt at home there in the Guild.

He knew he was unique in his abilities and powers. In fact, he was extremely proud of how much power he had to control. Every so often, someone was born with magical abilities from the start. Those people usually became great wizards. As one of those unique people, Lebuin knew that his early training had been more about controlling him than teaching him how to use his powers. His first eight years at the Guild had been spent in a private wing, being taught individually by two instructors at a time. He was never allowed to play with the other children alone. He recalled that many of the others had avoided him out of jealousy, and he long ago decided he didn’t need them, either. So he learned to live in solitude, which became a theme for his time there. Even after he had learned enough control over his emotions and powers to be moved in amongst the normal students, he was shunned by his peers. He had ignored everyone else, staying in the library, reading and researching when not required to be in classes. Only Finnba had managed to get to know him and become a friend.

He had spent so much time at the Guild with Magi and Journeymen that initially the Guild had skipped his introductory training, thinking he had already gotten it. It was discovered in his third year of training that he had not learned some of the anchoring techniques, so he had been put with the entry-level classes just as he was starting on his fourth year.

The teachers rotated so much that he didn’t repeat anything. And he was grateful for the restart, because it gave him the knowledge that there were numerous points of view to magic. I liked the repeat lessons. They were not boring, because the other instructor brought an entirely different view to the lessons, giving me a better grasp of magic than others. Perhaps when I am more respected, I might recommend making that repeat loop part of the normal training for most, even though it would add three years to the training time.

“Is Magus Cune really so smashed up that you can’t recognize him?”

Finnba’s question brought Lebuin back to the present. “What? No. He did smash his nose pretty badly and bled a lot from it.”

“Huh. I figured the rumors were a bit exaggerated.”

“Rumors? Really, there are rumors already? We finished the exams not more than a mark ago.”

“Are you daft? You know a mark is ancient history in rumor time.”

“No, I just can’t believe I am the subject of one.”

“You mean again. Well, of course, you are. When someone manages to blow a full Magus out of their construction trial without losing the construct, people are going to talk.”

Rolling his eyes, Lebuin looked closer at his friend.

He isn’t exaggerating. That is really what they are saying. How could a full Magus spread such an exaggeration? Maybe it was the servants. Cune is going to be impossible to avoid after this. I’ll have to find some way to distract him from seeking vengeance.

“I didn’t blow him out of my test. I made a hole for him to fall into. He knocked himself out on the floor, falling into it.”

“Seriously? Oh, that is so much better.” Finnba’s eyes brightened with humor. “Tell me what happened.”

A servant brought in a platter of food with two glasses and a bottle of sharre already opened. The food was set on the table between the two magicians, and the wine was poured. Lebuin barely noticed, but did start eating as he related to Finnba the events and Magus Andros’s comments.

After the story, and when, unsurprisingly, the bottle of sharre was empty, Finnba stood up. “Well, I’m off to set some rumors straight. This is far more entertaining than the whole flamboyant Magi battle described to me.”

Lebuin pointed at his friend, laughing. “Don’t blow it too far out of proportion. I still have to deal with Magus Cune for many years.”

Smiling, Finnba gave him a fake shocked look. “Blow it out of proportion? Me? I only tell the precise truth, especially when it is far more entertaining than some silly yarn.” He stepped out of the nook.

Hunger satisfied and mind clear from the talk, Lebuin considered what to do next. He stood and stretched. He needed to do something while waiting for the council’s decision. He walked over to the window and looked out on the south street. Leaning against the sill, he drank from his still full glass of sharre and watched the people two stories below moving back and forth on the road. It was interesting to imagine what the people were like, what they did, and what they might be up to, although it wasn’t hard, as most were sailors, workers, or peasants.

Lebuin was about to go to his room when he noticed a rather graceful lady walking down the street past the Guild. What really caught his eye was the smooth flow of her calf-length cloak, with its rust-colored, fur-trimmed collar matched the dusky, almost-black red cloth. The hood pulled over her head was of the same material, but lined with a dark gray fur, which set off the entire look. It was elegant, but functional. Safely out of her line of sight, he watched her moving past, enjoying the flow of her movements and the shifting of the garment. She wasn’t someone he had seen before, he was sure of that. The way she moved was unique, especially in the city of hard-walking, jostling dock workers and merchants.

As she was directly across the street from him, passing the narrow alley, someone hidden in the shadows grabbed her and threw her to the ground, out of the light. Lebuin yelped in surprise and stood up to get a better view. In the near-perfect darkness, he couldn’t see the assailant or the lady. Almost unconsciously, he invoked another long-practiced incantation to enhance night vision. His vision became far better than an owl’s and sharper than a hawk’s. Everything about the scene below became crisp and clear.

The lady was helpless, face down, four feet into the alley. The man attacking her was kneeling on her back with one knee, his other leg braced to hold her in place. He had her right arm twisted up and behind, being held by both his arm and knee. The attacker pulled a glass vial from a pouch and was concentrating on opening the stopper with his thumb and forefinger. Something else bothered Lebuin. His vision slid from the man’s cloak, which appeared to merge with the dark shadows on the pavement, making it impossible to tell where it stopped and the shadow began, even with his enhanced vision. That was no ordinary mugger or rapist.

Lebuin was preparing one of the few offensive incantations he knew when the unexpected happened. The lady bent herself backwards, practically in half, kicking the assailant off of her back. Lebuin was so shocked, all he could do was stand and stare with his mouth open like a fresh-faced school boy. Her attacker, caught off guard, landed in a heap, his cloak making half of his body seem to be missing, as if he was some kind of creature crawling out of the shadows.

Lebuin stared, dumbfounded, incantation forgotten, as the lady continued the back-folding motion over her head. She pushed off with her free hand, snapping over to end up standing in an attack posture, facing the villain. Her cloak spread out behind her from the motion like some silly romantic bard’s tale. The villain started to stand, the effect similar to a demon dragging itself into reality from the shadows. The lady, unfazed, took a step towards him and then jumped sideways, over him. In that move, she caught him in a neck hold, braced by her other arm, which must have been screaming in pain from the abuse it had endured. Her weight, motion, and hold did their job, breaking the man’s neck.

She stood over the body and then grabbed it by the boots and dragged it farther into the alley. Lebuin was still trying to come to grips with a brutal attack being turned on end by that amazing woman. She stripped him of a belt, a pouch, and even his boots, but she left the cloak. She then moved back to the alley entrance and glanced around. With no one looking, she stepped back onto the main street. She pulled her hood — soiled with alley grime — back up to cover her dirty, but elegant oval face and continued walking in the direction of the docks.

Lebuin watched her go and then looked back at the body in the alleyway to confirm what he’d just seen. There was a pouch still on the body, and it was smoking. Within seconds, the body was consumed in a strange green fire that didn’t burn up so much as in. A minute later, both fire and body were gone. All that remained was the cloak and a black charred spot on the alley floor in the shape of a body. It still faded into the shadows. If it wasn’t for the impossible shadow it caused, it would have been invisible.

Lebuin glanced around; he was still alone in his safe library nook. He reached up and unlatched the window. Swinging it open without a sound, he cast another incantation. He watched the street, picking a moment when no one was looking, and then reached his mind out to that cloak. With a perceptible reluctance, the shadows released their cousin and it flew to the open window. Once he had it in his hand, he let it dangle outside as he extended his incantation for dust and dirt repellence to it. Ashes, dirt, and slime fell to the grounds below. Once it was clean, Lebuin pulled it inside and closed the window. In the library light, he could see it was a dark gray silk, with a hood. Lebuin looked it over closely and smiled. He even liked the color. Folding the cloak into a neat package, he started back towards his room.

I cannot believe what it must be like to live out in this city. People always out to one-up you if you let them. Pick pockets, thieves, muggers, rapists, and worse prey on the innocent.

Shaking his head, he replayed the memory of the lady flipping backwards.

From helpless victim to efficient killer in less time than it took for me to decide what incantation to use to help her. I am so glad I don’t have to live out there. I am too much the scholar to try to deal with those kinds of challenges.

On his way back, he met a well-dressed servant coming from the opposite direction. “Master Lebuin,” he said, stopping him.

He panicked like a child caught stealing biscuits. He clutched the cloak a little tighter. Get a hold of yourself. You’ve done nothing wrong, and this is just a Guild servant. He forced himself to relax, so his voice was only slightly more excited than normal. “Uh, yes, do you need something of me?”

“Yes, Master Lebuin. I am instructed to bring you to the council immediately.”

Thoughts of the incident in the alley were pushed away as he recalled that he was waiting for news on his Journeyman trial. “Oh, yes, of course. Let me drop this package off in my room, and I’ll go to their chamber.”

The man nodded and fell into step with him. “I could have someone take that for you.”

“We are only a few steps from my door. No reason to bother anyone with this.”

The servant followed him to his room and waited outside while he put the cloak into his armoire. Then, despite the fact that he knew where to go, the man led him through the corridors, to the main stairs, and down to the first floor. Instead of turning towards the council’s chamber, the man indicated he should follow him towards the main audience chamber. That could only mean one thing, and Lebuin stood a little taller as he walked behind.

Lebuin smiled as they drew near. Before the great doors stood ten Magi in two rows, who watched as he approached. He scanned the Magi’s faces, recognizing almost everyone. Oddly, Cune was not there. A gong sounded, and the doors swung inward. The servant who had escorted him stepped forward. “I present Apprentice Lebuin of Llino.” He turned and made a sweeping gesture to Lebuin.

Lebuin looked into the large hall. It could hold two hundred people, and he was shocked to see it was full of other Magi and apprentices.

I really should have attended some of the other candidate trial ceremonies.

Laughing at himself inside, he managed to maintain a straight back and smiled wider.

You’d think in twenty years, I would have had time to go to at least one. But they sounded boring, and I always had three books, which were far more interesting, waiting in the library. From what Finnba said, all I have to do is follow their lead.

Unsure about what to do next, he was grateful when the man smiled and indicated he should walk in.

I know him from somewhere.

He rarely noticed servants; they came and went like ghosts. However, that one was about his height, wearing a well-fitting Guild uniform of traditional dark gray pants and a soft light gray button-down shirt with purple piping. On the front left and right chest corners of the shirt was the Guild sigil: a stylized dragon with the five waves behind it, embroidered in silver thread. He had light brown, almost golden eyes, and was a middle-aged Karakian. As Lebuin recalled, his name was Ditani, and he was the personal servant for Magus Gezu.

I haven’t seen him in the three years since Magus Gezu died. He cried at his funeral pyre. After that, he disappeared. I wish I could talk with him, but this is not the right place or time. I’ll have to find him after this is done, but right now, I have more important things to pay attention to.

Taking the cue, he walked down the middle of the chamber. He heard the Magi who had waited outside fall in behind him.

What are they all about?

Ahead, at the end of the aisle, were the five seats of the council set in a semi-circle on a raised dais. The council members stood before four of the seats. The fifth seat was always mysteriously empty. It had a large Guild sigil at the center of its backrest and was more of a throne.

I don’t think I should kneel; only foreign trade ambassadors have done that.

He stood tall and looked at the council members.

“Apprentice Lebuin,” Councilor Nillo said in his deep baritone, “we have reviewed the reports of all your trainers, your mentor, and the trial coordinators.” The councilor’s eyes locked onto his. “In all cases, you have been deemed ready and worthy of the badge of Journeyman to the Guild. The council has reviewed and inspected your works through the Journeyman trials and found your craftsmanship to be of a worthy level.” Breaking the eye contact, Lebuin could swear something more than ritual words and a hard stare had happened. Councilor Nillo looked around the room. “Do any Guild Magi have cause or concern with advancing Apprentice Lebuin to the rank of Journeyman?” When no one answered, Councilor Nillo gestured to his right. “Magus Cune, you were the final trial judge. Do you approve the advancement of this apprentice?”

What? The trial judge has direct approval of advancement? So that was his game. I should have guessed he wouldn’t stand by and let me advance.

A shuffling sound came from his left, and Lebuin looked over. Magus Cune stepped down from the platform where he had been standing and approached Lebuin. He stood shoulder to shoulder with him, facing the council.

Cune smiled and gave a slight bow to the council members. He then turned and faced Lebuin. “Council of the Guild, I wish only to publicly acknowledge Apprentice Lebuin’s achievements here, and I am pleased to report he is ready to hold the badge of Journeyman.”

There go my chances for another year. Lebuin sighed in acceptance of defeat.

“Apprentice Lebuin, you are found ready, worthy, and recommended for the badge of Journeyman. You will now deposit with the Guild a token of your own creation.”

Wait, what just happened? Lebuin’s thoughts raced in circles. Cune didn’t veto my advancement? But that means I am going to be a Journeyman. Why wouldn’t he stop it? Looking at Cune, he saw the same evil smirk the Magus had worn during the test. It was another instance of extreme pleasure for Cune at Lebuin’s expense. But Lebuin couldn’t figure out why.

Realizing the ceremony would be stopped until he produced a token, he pulled the ship out of his pocket and held it out. Two of the council members, Nillo and Crawstu, eyes crinkled seeing the artifact. It floated up from Lebuin’s hand and hovered between him and the council. Cune moved back to his position in the crowd as all four of the council members held up their right hands, and an aura of power enveloped the ship. It reached out then to all the assembled Magi. At last, it reached out for Lebuin. When it touched him, he felt it resting on his shields, which he dropped. It connected with his skin at the center of his torso. The energies filled his whole being. His vision shifted involuntarily to Magi sight, and his little ship was enveloped in a sphere of energies with tendrils floating out to all the Magi present and himself. One other, almost invisibly thin, went straight up. Glancing up, he noted that it went through the ceiling and beyond his ability to perceive.

Councilor Crawstu spoke first, her voice bouncing off the walls with a resonance Lebuin had not heard before. “Do you, Lebuin, voluntarily accept to abide by, support, and if necessary, enforce the Laws of Magic of the Guild of Argos Magi, from this day, until the end of your days?”

“Yes, I do,” Lebuin said. He felt a vibration in the magical connection through the token.

Councilor Dicha’s light tenor voice also vibrated off the walls. “Do you, Lebuin, voluntarily accept the duties, badge, and rank of Journeyman Mage of the Guild of Argos Magi?”

“Yes, I do,” Lebuin said as he felt another vibration.

Councilor Mica’s normally silky-soft voice practically shook Lebuin to the floor. “Do you, Lebuin, voluntarily accept the rule of Lord Argos and this, the Guild of Argos Magi, in the name of Lord Argos, from this day, until the end of your days?”

“Yes, I do.” That time, a part of his core was pulled from Lebuin and passed through the connection to each Magus. As it came back to him, a small fragment broke off and went up the tendril, through the ceiling. The remainder returned to Lebuin. He was shocked to have a feeling for where every Magus in the area was. It wasn’t like being able to see them, but more a general feeling that someone was close and a sense of their direction.

Councilor Nillo’s deep baritone almost rocked the foundation of the building. “In so accepting the Laws of Magic, the rule of the Guild, and the duties and rank of Journeyman Mage of the Guild of Argos Magi, you are so made Journeyman Mage of the Guild of Argos Magi.”

The connection swelled with power, and then all of the threads snapped into the small geode ship like a frog’s tongue. The ship and geode glowed briefly with a faint white radiance.

The Council Magi stepped down in turn, touching their right hand to the small ship, still floating in front of Lebuin. They then each touched Lebuin and offered congratulations or wise-sounding advice.

Councilor Nillo was last, and he plucked the ship from the air. “Congratulations, boy! You finally managed to get out of this place. You’d think after more than twenty years, you’d be stark raving mad. I look forward to hearing what you’re planning for your Journeyman quest. You can tell me in the morning. I expect you’ll be leaving tomorrow or the day after, at the latest.” He laughed and moved on as the procession of other Magi lined up to congratulate him.

Lebuin stood there, trying to recover from the final pull of whatever that incantation had been. It wasn’t until half the Magi had congratulated him that Nillo’s words sank in.

I have to leave on a quest by tomorrow! What quest? What was he talking about?

Lebuin wondered if he had misheard it, but then he realized many of the Magi congratulating him on the badge were also wishing him a safe journey.

Magus Cune grabbed his hand firmly with that smirk. He congratulated Lebuin, then leaned in close and whispered, “To make things more interesting, I placed a rather large bet with a less-than-upstanding, but influential friend of mine that you could complete the quest.” Then he turned, laughing, and walked away.

As the rest of the Magi and apprentices congratulated him, it occurred to him that he didn’t know a single Journeyman Mage who had ever stayed at the Guildhouse before being made a Magus. As he grasped the idea that he would have to go out into the world for something as yet unknown, Cune’s parting words registered.

Lords of Light, what just happened?

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