tagMind ControlA War Dawning Ch. 03

A War Dawning Ch. 03

bySaddleRider©

Bryana closed the last book just as there was a knock on the door to break the silence. She was almost glad of it as it cut off the impending sigh of frustration. "Come."

Deres entered with Elan just behind and he looked upon her with sympathy. He knew that look, and he let her have a bit of silence to continue to work through her frustrations before offering, "You look annoyed."

"Very observant, love." She took a moment to escape her frustration, "You look...rested." her eyes darted between the two. She liked that Elan, shy as she was in most cases, did not shy away from that.

"We simply took your advice," he deadpanned. "A meal and a bath worked wonders." He walked behind her to press his fingers in slow circles to her shoulders and her long neck, the tension pushing back against his fingers as her golden blonde curls caressed his fingers in return.

Her breath caught for an instant as she began to let the tension go, if but for a moment. Her loves were her peace and she let herself feel that before bringing her hand up to caress the back of his, "Actually I did find something that we need." As she spoke, she opened the ledger to the weathered yellow page held by the black ribbon. Deres peered over her shoulder while Elan walked to her right to examine the book. It wasn't language as she understood it. It was more a seemingly random collection of symbols and freehand writing that Bryana had once explained were cobbled pieces of long dead languages used to create a coded shorthand to hide their dealings should anyone find the guild mage strongholds.

"I am willing to bet that this is her." She pointed to a specific reference near the middle of the page. "A nameless woman came here for healing within hours of the attack."

"She would have had to," Deres said plainly. "Even the darkest avenues of the southern quarter wouldn't hide her for long once news got out, even if just to sell her out in the hopes of a bounty." He knelt down next to her. "Why is this not good news? We have a place to go."

"If it were simply that, I would rejoice." To punctuate her dismay, she flipped through to several pages of the ledger and pointed to what she needed them to see, "See these marks? They are the names we give to those without names. Lian has met with this person and more than once for 'consultations.'"

"So, this Lian has done work for Wyrnn, or put her in touch with people who have," Elan concluded, her mind reflexively studying the code, looking for common symbols, as she had always had an affinity for puzzles. They were quiet ways to spend the day as a girl. She and her siblings could wile away a snowy day with them. She could already see links between bits and where the common vowels might be, but the texts looped back upon themselves sometimes and it was complicated indeed. In fact, she knew enough to know those commonalities could easily be false keys. She bowed to those who had developed it over, quite probably, generations.

Bryana nodded. "Add to that there is no reference to what the consultation entailed and it...is a cause for concern. There would be...something, if even vague. That there is nothing beyond the most base references suggests that he didn't want it seen."

"Why then enter it at all?"

She looked to Elan, "Because inexplicable disappearances would invite talk or investigation from the Guild Master or from those seeking opportunities over rivals. It's less conspicuous to simply jot down vagaries. All guild mages take jobs like that from time to time, but, obviously, these circumstances are different from most."

She shook her head before closing the book yet again. "He has always been impetuous and arrogant."

"Arrogance comes with 'mage' in this part of the world," Deres said.

Bryana sighed. It was closer to truth than not. Deres having been found as an orphan in the southern quarter of Erette, but raised in Adar, a city of near-literal myth deep in the wastes beyond the mountains. Driven out of the known lands because they freely practiced magic and explored all the ways they could mingle it with science they used both to make lives where no human was meant to live. Stories of a gleaming city with spires that touched the sky returned with some of those few that sought it out or sought simply to survive the wastes. Few believed the stories, but they took on a life of their own until they were fairy tales to be read or as a punishment to be doled out to disobedient to children to be sent away to Adar never to be seen again.

With mages in the known kingdoms, arrogance was indeed a component of things and not entirely without cause. Many acted as though others were beneath them because they could see and interact with the world in ways no one else could even though at least the latter was true. For Adaran mages, it was just a tool. Certainly there was pride amongst those who could master it, but all tried not to allow that to lead them to darker places, as magic was not to be trifled with and could corrupt just by being used, as all great power could.

"It does," she said with some resignation, "but there are limits." She rose to pace the room. I've been content to have his little side projects as others do, but other Guild Masters have hinted to me over months that I should keep him close. He has attempted to recruit others from other guilds to start his own without sanction. Perhaps if I had leashed him more and let him know it, this might not have happened."

"Or you could have just taught him to hide himself better and leave us with no one to look to," Deres told her to console her, even as it was the truth.

"Do you know where he is now? Shouldn't we go get him?" Elan sounded reserved, but her hand went to one of her daggers to feel the security of it. As much as she prided herself on her control, she wanted to act.

Bryana glanced over her shoulder in the direction of the ledger. "His last entry states that he went to Honn village to attempt to collect a debt for a client. "I expect that, without incident, he should return soon. I think we should wait a reasonable time for him to do so before we attempt to hunt him." She looked to Deres, trying not to react to his lopsided grin. "What?"

"The queen dare not show weakness by chasing after him."

Her eyes showed rare uncertainty, "I object to 'queen,' but that is my thinking, and not without cause. Do you think differently?"

He noticed the tension in Elan's body and understood it as he drew closer to Bryana. "I would like to say yes. I would like to act quickly, but it would arouse his suspicions if we gave chase, so...a reasonable time to wait for his return seems wise."

"And if the entry is fake? If he simply fled or fled with her?"

"Then we chase them down," Bryana assured Elan. "But my instinct says it's not fake. I've met the man from Honn. He runs a gambling den and uses the guilds frequently, and Lian often. Aside from that, we're guild mages, everything we do is done in shadow and is perceived as evil. Mages simply don't often see as vile the things that others do. That doesn't mean we are all amoral, it's just that, as we live with shades of gray, our morality also tends to be less rigid as well. There is likely no reason to flee because, in his mind, he has done nothing wrong."

Elan shook her head slowly, but didn't comment beyond that.

"I had done many such things before that one drew me into his snare," she said, tilting her head to Deres. She stiffened, decision made. "I have rounds to make, so I'll do that and perhaps find some of that stew I smelled coming in."

"It has kick, you'll like it." Deres assured, watching her go.

"You know me so well." Her voice carried the smile even if he couldn't see it.

***

The remainder of the day passed and the night as well. Morning came, though it was impossible to tell through the underground bunker that was the guild sanctuary. Many of the sanctuaries were similarly situated, so in her years, as she'd moved from one to another to take work or to learn, she had developed a nearly uncanny sense of time. She simply woke up when she needed to more often than not. Maneuvering carefully by feel and memory she lit the small lamp anchored into the wall which gave enough flickering light to make out the furnishings in the room without details . She wanted to wake and adjust her eyes without disturbing her bedmates overmuch. Also, she simply didn't want to leave them.

As soon as she settled back into the fur blankets, she felt his strong arm wrap her tightly, seemingly just as unwilling to let her go and she was content in that. She didn't need to look to know that Elan was on the other side of him.

That reminded her of home and it pleased her. It wasn't uncommon for her to bookend a coupling such as this with him and it gave her comfort even though it also served to remind her of how much she missed Neral. Ordinarily it was she who preferred the middle and Bryana took pleasure in being able to turn to touch that strong but feminine frame and look into those dark pools. She worried for the situation back home even knowing that Neral would have contacted them had it turned for the worse. Bryana knew the game was still being played and anything could happen, and, as much as all that concerned her, she knew that Neral was clever off the battlefield as much as on it. She would handle things with all the skill of a Jaye, which was considerable.

Still...

Rather than dwell on things she could not control, she decided to act on the things that she could, she turned to kiss Deres on the cheek while letting her hand slide down the back of his head. "I'm just getting up, no worries."

He let her go, his eyes closed, but his voice sounding fully awake. "Right behind you."

"Take your time, love."

She padded to the door, opening it to find their freshly laundered clothes neatly folded into bundles and tied together. Bringing them in to set them in her place on the bed, she opened the closet to find her formal outfit; an all black affair, layered so the creases in the material conveyed a sense of velvet softness. When she put the heavy cowl over her she looked like she'd been swallowed by the night. She put on the thin silver belt, the buckle of which was a sigil of her guild: a rather demonic looking feline. She placed around her neck a pendant of the same, relishing its weight.

It was in these moments when she felt what it must feel like to actually be Neral. Responsibility had weight and she felt it here of all places. In ways though, her burdens were greater. She had to protect the guild and its members from being rooted out and literally put to death for practicing their craft. She had to sometimes protect the individual mages from themselves. And she had to do what she could for all the guilds in using what influence she had to keep them from the darker paths.

Bryana started her day with a quick breakfast before meeting with other mages regarding their own tasks and primarily making sure nothing had slipped by her. It was something of a balancing act to walk the line between here and home and Lian served as a warning to her to make certain she knew everything that she thought she did. Seeing her in full dress had the desired effect. She carried herself in a more imposing manner and projected that power.

In return, she saw deference and respect. She had oftentimes led them unconventionally over the years, but she led well and profitably with this guild being one of the safer ones to be part of since it, like some others shunned factions and backbiting. One of the parts she most enjoyed were the lessons, passing knowledge from one generation to the next. Having been under the instruction of Deres for a number of years, she was nearly his match, which meant her skill far exceeded theirs. As such, she was careful in what she taught so as to maintain balance amongst the guilds, usually preferring simply to help perfect what they were already doing.

Morning spread into mid-afternoon and she was in the midst of one such lesson, helping Vale, a pudgy, yet attractive enough young mage learn to modulate her use of magic in levitation. Bryana's hand was outstretched and feet before them a chair hovered, being spun in a slow circle. "Do you see the lines of force, Vale? Do you see how I move them into an ever more fine point until the whole of the weight rests on that point?"

She stared intently. "Yes, Mistress."

"This magic is powerful. It is so when it is a club, but arguably more so when it is a dagger. Match me."

"Yes, Mistress," she said with more conviction than she felt as as she stretched out her hand and called upon the energy around her.

"Good. Bend it gently now. It's not natural for it to do as you are asking it to." Her eyes traced the lines that no layman could see. "Better. I am going to give you control now. Ready?"

She wasn't sure of her confidence in that either, but she nodded anyway.

Bryana pulled her will from the object and watched the strain on Vale's face as she sought to keep it spinning as deftly as Bryana had, and, for an eye blink or two it had worked before Vale's jaw tightened in frustration an instant before the chair crashed into the wall, sending the larger pieces to the floor and splinters everywhere else.

Vale stared down at the floor, not daring to look up to see the disappointment that she was certain was there. "Apologies, Mistress. It's just...difficult for me. I try, but, as you say, the energy does not wish to bend to the will."

"It will bend. It's that you get frustrated, dear, and then you overcompensate, which far amplifies the force used." She put her hand tenderly on the smaller ones shoulder. "But you did manage it. You need to learn control and patience, and you will."

Her dark green eyes finally looked up and hopeful. Some of her other instructors at other guilds were not nearly so forgiving. Indeed, this was the first one she ever experienced where the guild master ever took an interest in anyone other than the most supremely gifted. "I will."

Bryana's lips parted for a soft smile. "We just have to see to it that you learn before we run out of chairs."

The embarrassed blush was sweet, but she didn't look upon it long, seeing Trace move hurriedly into the room. She didn't need magic to know what he was about to tell her. "Lian has returned, Mistress."

Bryana gathered herself before nodding. "Thank you, Trace. Find something to do for a few minutes, then tell him I wish to see him immediately in my office."

He gave her a quick snap of his head as a nod, "Yes, Mistress."

She patted Vale's shoulder. "Practice, girl." She gestured her hand towards the remains of the chair, "Spend the next hour trying to lift the smaller pieces individually."

Vale looked at the task before her and responded firmly even though it seemed beyond daunting. "Yes, Mistress."

"Even if you fail, you will start to see better what you need to do."

"I'll do my best."

Bryana spoke as she walked away. "Your best is all the guild demands."

***

Elan eyed Deres critically as they sat together in one of the many small alcoves that served as libraries in the guild. It was a small room, well lit by lamps with a single circular table with five chairs, one occupied by Elan, now in her full leathers as Deres tried to busy himself looking at the books. "You know she must do this alone."

"I do."

She heard the trepidation in his voice and she shared his worry on more than one level. She liked Bryana and that friendship was reciprocated. "There is likely to be no more than discussion. Having us over their shoulder undermines her position."

He tilted one book forward towards him as though he might pull it out before putting it back. "I know. I get to worry anyway."

"Just trying to keep you in touch with the truth of things."

"And I appreciate it." He looked to her to make sure she could see the truth in his eyes. "I do. You have a love of practicality and I like that."

"You honor me," she told him. "My parents wanted us to focus on reality and all the things that were actually achievable for us in life rather than dream our lives away hoping for things that will never happen." She crossed her arms, "Practically speaking, they are likely to simply talk. If that changes, she can take care of herself."

He knew it was true.

He worried anyway.

***

She sat at her desk, updating her own records, not bothering to look up at him and not doing anything to hurry herself. He could wait and she would make him. He wasn't the mage she was even without the expanded knowledge that Deres brought with him and shared with her. She had no illusion that he'd taught her everything he knew and she would never have expected him to, but she liked the extra security that came with knowing that in virtually any gathering of her kind, she was the most powerful in the room.

His own dark brown and cream cloak hid his thin, but well-proportioned frame. His cowl pulled away to let his brown hair accent his boyish looks. Lian enjoyed letting assumptions that came with those looks and the shy charm he cultivated with it help him along in whatever the task was at hand. It aided him in such ways that often he didn't need magic to get some of his tasks done, and it caused his enemies to underestimate him, sometimes fatally.

Bryana finished her last entry with a flourish, closing the book and looking up at Lian as though seeing him was nothing but a pleasant surprise. "How are you, Lian? I trust your trip to Honn was without incident?"

He dipped his head in acknowledgment before returning the pleasantries. "I am well, Mistress. I trust the same can be said for you?"

"It can, thank you."

"My trip went well and as expected. Several debtors needed to be convinced to pay what was owed." Lian enjoyed the memories of the convincing. Usually indirect displays were enough. A nearly inborn fear of mages made that all that was necessary...usually. Those that required more convincing were their own pleasure. "You asked to see me, Mistress."

She rose casually, not wanting to give him the passive dominance of forcing her to look up at him. "I should like to discuss some of your more...informal dealings?"

He didn't hide his puzzlement, "Mistress?"

She kept her tone deliberately non-confrontational. "You know I don't begrudge anyone side work. It helps one pay their guild tributes, and, more importantly to me, it helps a mage hone their various skills, which benefits all. I have asked you here because I wish to talk about one of yours."

"Which?"

"The person you have served as a consultant for in recent weeks. The one you have last marked as anonymous in the ledger."

He took a breath to compose his thoughts. He'd learned long ago how to properly mollify a guild master. That Mistress Bryana generally didn't take to it didn't mean that it was a complete waste of time. He bowed slightly again and met her eyes with a soft grin that came easily. "I, for one, am truly grateful, Mistress, for the freedom that you offer those in your guild, not to mention the fact that your required tributes are more than reasonable. Those are just two of the reasons that I consider myself fortunate to be able to be associated with this guild."

"However, and with all due respect, I am completely within my rights to not divulge that information. My client wishes to maintain their anonymity and they have paid well to maintain it."

She approached the front of the desk as she spoke. "I understand that, and, ordinarily that would be enough. But extraordinary events are happening around us. A direct attempt was made on the life of Queen Evaline of Erette."

"Indeed." His face betrayed nothing that might hint at his true feelings either way. "That is most distressing."

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