tagSci-Fi & FantasyCollegium Ars Magica - Prologue

Collegium Ars Magica - Prologue

byhighshine808©

Prologus~

the Feast of Fatus Majorus~

Neophytes are Summoned

Trevethall, the capital city of the Western Reach, bustled with celebratory anticipation. This was the day of the Feast of Fatus Majorus, the great decree, the yearly recalling of the Codes of Assumption which were revealed to the forebears of the Shining Realm, whereby they were bound in mutual allegiance and consolidated sovereign power, allowing them to raise themselves out of the warring chaos of the Tempus Fractus. With these Codes, the Magistrates had governed the people of the Shining Realm for many generations of relative peace and prosperity under the direction of the Hegemon Magi, the ruling council of senior mages.

The sandstone ramparts of the city were festooned with the multihued banners of the various guilds, trading consortiums, and the territorial Liege Brigade. The Grand Boulevard was traversed by throngs of excited celebrants wandering into the avenues and alleys, lined with temporary mage and merchant booths and drink stalls, which surrounded the covered Central Plaza where the Magistrates conducted the Benedictions of Assumption. Even this early in the day libations were flowing freely and the din of merriment and revelry resounded through the channels of the cobbled streets.

Eriad watched a troupe of dancing girls plying their skills in a small plaza to the accompaniment of a small band of street minstrels busily straining their lutes, pipes, and tambores. The girls looked fresh from the countryside, plump and ruddy cheeked, reeking of rustic charm. No doubt they were intent on making the most of their time here, perhaps hoping to catch the eye, and prospectively the heart, of some urbane gent who might provide the means for a more durable enjoyment of the city's finery. At the very least they'd be after a pocketful of coin and a good tupping to sate their provincial lustiness.

The youth chided himself for his jaded assessment of the scene; he supposed it was to be expected, the result of his upbringing under the influence of his beloved mother Neris, one of the city's preeminent courtesans. The machinations of carnal pursuits had been paraded before him from his infancy, dulling the sense of intrigue that must permeate the experience of these ingenues momentarily distant from the mating corrals and rough herdsman of their village. Yet, it was something much more rarified and enigmatic, more proudly preserved than the easy virtue of these salacious young wenches, that held his unflagging anticipation.

Magic. More precisely, the opportunity to devote himself fully to its pursuit in a formal program of instruction under the guidance of some of the most highly esteemed mages of the realm. For following the dedications and incantations of the assembled Magistrates in their liturgical capacities, just before the Benedictions of Commencement that would open the official feasting, would come the Official Summons of this year's selection of inductees into the local Collegium Ars Magica.

Eriad had shown great promise from an early age and Neris had employed the best young journeymages she could arrange for to tutor her son in the understanding and manipulation of the aethers to cultivate his natural talents. Of course there were limits to what journeymages would teach; sworn as they were to guard the inner sanctum of the seats of magical power, they were hesitant to divulge much more than the common tricks one could pick up from any common street sorcerer or hedge witch. Yet they had set the lad to tasks which honed his innate sensitivity and acuity and given him a good deal of theoretical background without the practical formulae that could open the way to more potent, and potentially hazardous, channeling of arcane energies.

Less than a fortnight past, Eriad had, by dint of recommendations by past and present tutors, been granted audience for assessment by several adepts of the local Collegium. Use of magic was not uncommon; it was after all a natural ability latent in most people, requiring only the dedication and focus to perfect its use, as with any skill. Yet few had the drive to pursue its perfection, people as they are generally beset by myriad distractions and following the path of least resistance in life, and so only those with exceptional talent and the dedication and means to develop it would raise their abilities beyond the level of parlor tricks. Even fewer managed to secure an invitation to apply themselves to serious study with access to the well guarded occult resources ensconced within the Collegia of the Shining Realm.

Eriad's interview with the mages had carried a great deal of promise for the youth, and he truly believed he had comported himself admirably and demonstrated both his maturity and his resolve as well as his technical skill. They seemed satisfied with his abilities in spellings and numerics, his working of cyphers, and his recital of selections from the Canon of Codes. He had answered all their questions easily, even a rather cryptic query by the Adeptus Fratus Dander regarding the nature of certain denizens of the Meso-Astral, bringing what he thought was a brief reaction of surprised approval from the Adeptus Sorus Rogan.

Still, the competition for invitation was stiff; the Collegia pursued quality over quantity and there were always scores of candidates for the handful of available openings each year. Yet with no clear criteria for admittance, preparation for the assessment was mostly guesswork without the guidance of the initiated journeymages, an edge he did not underestimate. However, no indication of individual placement was given to the supplicants prior to the final convening and deliberation of the Adepti, which was happening now, so all Eriad could do was wait for the coming Summons, still a few hours away; even a peak into the Astral wouldn't let him look forward across the time between now and later.

With a final appreciative glance to the sweating dancing girls, their faces shining and bosoms heaving as they laughed heartily to their assembled onlookers, Eriad turned and headed toward his mother's villa, hoping to rest a while before the coming moment of truth.

***

Brook of Hamen began feeling quite self conscious amidst the hordes of increasingly inebriated and jubilant celebrants shortly after the Magistrates had finished the lengthy intoning of the Fatus Majorus and Codes of Assumption for the gathered throngs. She was certainly out of her element here in the hot, arid, dusty city, so different from the tiny, placid river village in which she had previously spent the entirety of her life plying the ferrybarge with her father, Joras. The humid stench of humanity was nothing new to her; she'd spent so many hours in close quarters with sweaty travelers in the incessant shuttling from bank to bank that marked her days. But at least there was always the river, there to merge into at the slightest urge, basking in the cool embrace of her native element, feeling the slow steady pull of the current renew her inner being.

Mother had warned her of course, not that she had any direct experience of the travails of the urban environment; in all her great many years she'd never been more than a few arms-length distance from the river to which she belonged, in whose coursing flow she played with her sisters, in whose depths they slumbered and dreamed. But Flira had impressed upon her offspring her great dread of her being captive in the fortress of stone so many miles from running water of any kind. She'd even heard that the people in the city had to lower buckets into deep holes in the earth to raise up water for drinking and bathing, and even then it was not fresh enough to drink without first boiling it.

Joras had told her of his own visit to the capital many years, more than her lifetime, ago, when he was a gamey youth venturing out of the arid Northern Wastes seeking his fortune. He had partaken in the Feast of the Fatus Majorus himself, tho his magical abilities had seemed too paltry to garner any hopes of pursuing them, (little did he know he had only to reach a wild river to discover his unique talent). He recalled the excitement as that year's Neophytes to the Collegium Ars Magica were announced, followed by raucous cheers from the throngs interspersed with prayers for their rapid advancement and beneficiance. He also recalled the public fountains in which revelers had waded and gently splashed to cool themselves in the heat of the mid-summer day. Now if only Brook could find one of those fountains...

She closed her eyes and listened intently for a couple of heartbeats before she felt the sound of the water. It was strange, she hadn't noticed it before because of the odd shape of the flow as it was directed thru pipes to the fountain, so strangely monotonous and lifeless compared to her own native river that pulsed in time with her heartbeat. She let the odd, droning hum pull her toward it, weaving her way gently but quickly thru the crowd, like a stream flowing around rocks in its path. After a short while she began to smell the water distinctly, its aroma quite thin and bare, and she realized it must be coming from an underground aquifer deep in the local sandstone. She wondered if it was Artesian (she'd never heard it sung before but Flira had told her that her great grandmother had been fluent in it); that steady pressure might account for the monotonous, droning quality, somehow eerily solemn to her wild trained ear.

Shortly she came upon the fountain and she laughed sharply to herself when she saw what was causing the strange shape of the flow she felt. The water arced in tight streams from a rotating sculpture of three golden geese meeting with their long necks twining together in the center; from their open bills the jets of cool, crystal clear water spurted, the streams rising and falling in a slow, steady cadence apparently fixed by whatever mechanism governed the rotation of the piece also cycling the water pressure slightly. She imagined what kind of magics were involved in its creation, from the elaborate Shaping of the brass with its intricate inner plumbing and mechanation to the Kinetics that kept it steadily turning. She wondered if she might truly get a chance to learn more about these strange abilities, so different than her own. That's why she was here.

Even mages have to cross rivers sometimes, and all but the highest tend to follow the natural path of least resistance, that being a bridge or a barge. So Brook had met her fair share of mages thruout the years of ferrying, and some of the more curious ones, especially the younger journeymages, would question her parentage once they sensed the Fey in her. She still felt a bit self-conscious about it, even tho Joras had always encouraged her to be proud of her heritage, and Flira certainly espoused a general sense of superiority over humans (except for the one who had serendipitously summoned her with his bone whistle while resting on the bank of her river for the first time and immediately bound her soul to his with its plaintive wails.) Perhaps that was just it, her mother's prideful disdain, the cold disregard that could easily manifest in almost carelessly dragging a mortal to their death in the murky depths; she certainly hoped that these strangers wouldn't think she was that sort of a lady just because her kin were.

"Da's a summoner, but it only works with naiads," was her stock answer. "Tha's why we stay here on the river, to be with Ma and her kin' so she don't go to pinin' away and hurt someone."

"Makes a ferryman's work a lot easier when he's got the river on his side." Joras would add in with a wink and a broad smile creasing his sun bronzed cheeks under his straw hat, leaning lazily on the rudder as the ferry continued to move placidly straight as an arrow across the wide river, seemingly unaffected by the current.

"'Sides, Da han't n'er had but one drownin', an that early on in all his years; once Ma seen how sad it made him, she swore to personally keep all the ferry riders safe. 'Course, now the river has a reputation for being a bit more...hungry...a ways upstream and down, so mos' folk are happy to pay right good for a safe passage." Her smirk would let on that she understood the nature of the racket she was involved in and had come to accept it. Often the mages would laugh and congratulate her Da for finding such a creatively practical application to make a steady living with a rather restricted magical talent.

One morning a pair of older Magisters dressed in subdued robes, a man and a woman who appeared to be near her father's age, had arrived for passage and the entire ride Brook had strongly felt their awareness intent on her and the operation of the barge. They had passed back and forth across the river twice that day, each time paying, each time ranging a ways up and down the banks to huddle together repeatedly in what seemed suspiciously like a divining ritual, each crossing keeping their attention intensely fixed on her, before finally journeying off in the direction from which they had first come without a word.

"What was that all about Da?" Brook had asked as the pair trailed away.

"Well, can't say for sure, Droplet, but they was certainly very interested in somethin' around here." His voice attempted to sound unconcerned but Brook could feel the rippling undercurrent of concern.

"Da, it felt like they was trying to look inside me whenever we was crossin'."

"Well I'd reckon they'd see yer Ma in ye for sure, tho they was a bit uppity to ask direct; they was probly jus' curious, jus' like them others get." he paused, unsettled.

"Da, yer worried, what is it?"

"Oh, ain't nothin' for sure, Droplet...I just, well, I hope they ain't got them designs on buildin' a bridge here..."

"Oh Da!" she gasped. "Whatever would we do then?"

"Well I suppose we'd go find another spot to make the crossin'. I'd just hope yer ma would let it go without getting all riled; I don't want no one getting hurt on our account."

"Do you really think that's why they came, Da?"

"Can't rightly tell, Droplet, but I s'pose there ain't fer to do 'cept wait and see what come downstream to us day by day, just as we always have. Just ye don't worry yer sweet self about it none til there's a sense to worry o'er it, which there ain't hardly never." He lightly chucked under her chin with a leathery knuckle and tipped her face up to his to kiss her gingerly on the tip of her pert nose, then he went to set a fire to fry up the fish he'd caught for dinner that day.

They hadn't had to wait too long for the mystery to resolve itself, for seven-day later the pair of Magisters returned, and this time most of their previous reserve was missing. They approached the ferry with gentle smiles, the woman producing a small, tight scroll bound and sealed with bright red wax all around its middle. "Grace and Benedictions," she intoned in a rich, cultured voice, "we come with Official Summons for your daughter; we'd like have a word with the two of you for a moment?"

Brook glanced worriedly at her Da, who just placed his hands on his hips and shifted into a tense pose. "Well we warn't plannin' to go nowhere 'cept 'cross to th'other side when we get a fare, an' you two seem to have got an understandin' a how that works by now." He stood his ground, mouth set in a thin line.

The man suddenly laughed sharply, "My apologies dear fellow, I suppose our previous behavior may have seemed a bit suspicious without making a point to introduce ourselves. You may address me as Fratus Dander and this is my colleague Sorus Rogan; we represent the faculty of the Collegium Ars Magica in Trevethall. To be to the point, well we've heard stories about your...ah, operation here and your charming daughter, so we came to make an examination of our own and I must say we were quite impressed..."

"And just what might ye be examinin' for?" Da bristled.

The lady stepped forward slightly, extending the scroll toward him. "Can't read, so ye may's well just spit it out."

Sorus Rogan grinned, turned toward Brook who quickly dropped her eyes to the ground, then after a brief pause she spoke: "It seems to us that your daughter possesses quite a bit of unharnessed magical potential; we've come to invite her to join us in Trevethall for an assessment and a chance at entering the Collegium as a Neophyte come the day of the Feast of Fatus Majorus."

***

Ardo wasn't quite sure how or why it happened, but he had a strong suspicion that he had just fallen in madly love. He'd been expecting that he might manage to wind up in a love-tussle this eve, after all it was a feast day and the opportunities here far exceeded those available in his clan's hold. Yet he'd never anticipated the force that shook him inside as he watched the glorious figure of feminine grace moving before him; silver haired, sheathed in a simple shimmering blue tunic gown, bending to cup a double handful of water from the fountain's pool, lifting it prayerfully to her lips then gently laving it over her face, down her sinuous neck, and over her full, browned shoulders. He stopped still in his tracks, transfixed. His heart thundered, feeling almost as if he were on the verge of the bersark shift.

'One...two...three...' he counted down slow breaths to ease his pulse back down from the dizzying edge, the red fading away from the edges of his vision. Despite the damping exercises his uncles had taught him, the impulse was still wild in him, especially with the rich strange tapestry of stimulus here in the city, and it could come unbidden at the slightest provocation of extreme emotion. Yet this current emotion was the likes of which he'd never felt before. He was pretty sure that dropping into a bersark fury might prove embarrassing, if not downright lethal, in this context and likely prohibit the unfolding of the destiny his virile imagination was presently concocting.

Until this moment, he'd been feeling a bit anxious about the possibility of being Summoned by the Collegium Ars Magica; Surnus, the elder BoneMan of his clan had chuffed Ardo affectionately upside his head following his dawn casting of the rune engraved knuckles, which had indicated a 'fortuitous outcome' for the event. Of course divination was never a sure thing, just an indication of probabilities that could be further influenced by supplication, focused will...or balking. Besides, 'fortuitous outcome' had always seemed to Ardo a bit too vaguely subjective to be truly decisive either way; who's to say that leaving his clan hold to study magic among these dainty thinskins would not prove to be eminently frustrating and end in failure? He himself still felt unsure about his unruly magical abilities, tho others seemed to be impressed with his wielding of the vital force and ensured him that training to discipline and harness his talents was just what was needed to enhance his power.

But now he had suddenly stepped into a snare he hadn't sensed, hadn't even conceived of, and in this moment the last thing he wanted was to get free of it. No matter what it cost him, he simply must woo this woman, claim her as his rightful mate; even the potential invite of the Collegium, a once in a lifetime opportunity, suddenly paled in comparison to this new primal and primary directive.

The maiden reached her hands out toward the fountain, one palm down, lowered to the pool in a gesture of benediction, one palm upward in a gesture of supplication. suddenly the water of the fountain began to pulse in a strange new way; it wasn't a change in the interval or range of the rhythmic spurting, rather it was a shimmering of the water itself both as it arced lazily thru the air and as it rested in the pool. Ardo doubted that the lesser senses of the nearby thinskins even perceived the subtle change; certainly none of the others surrounding the fountain showed any sign that they noticed anything special about the maidens's interaction with the water, but then most of them were deep into their cups at this point. As he focused his senses, Ardo realized that the new pulsing of the water matched the pulse of the vein at her throat. 'She's a water witch,' he thought, 'matching the water with the beat of her heart.'

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