Chapter 7 – Just Happened
Tiers likened to lightbulbs. One tier represented one lightbulb. The heat the bulbs produced would be the mana that mancers used to weave their spells. A mancer, then, could use spells until all the heat emptied and the bulb "broke," resulting in a rest period where the mancer had to wait for the self-repair, unable to use their mancy. Tier two represented two bulbs, three for three, all the way up to tier six.
Tier five was known as the start of the upper echelon tiers because of how the mana interacted with each other. Five lightbulbs would produce enough heat that it would buff each other and gestalt into stronger heat, loosely similar to two people huddling to stay warm in the cold. Therefore, starting at tier five, the number of spells a mancer could use would increase exponentially. Both because of the gestalt heat, and because that heat wouldn't drain from the bulbs as fast, allowing the break to happen much later. Ultimately, that meant mancers could forgo counting the number of common spells they had for each day.
"Is that what we're doing, then? We're lighting up the world with these bulbs?" Seti asked.
They were sitting on the patio outside, enjoying the cool morning air. Henry had a piece of paper out and drew lightbulbs to describe the difference in tiers. Shanna sat next to the counselor while Faulkner was nowhere to be seen, busy with other things after last night's meeting.
"The analogy isn't completely accurate, but it'll best describe why you'll be fine at Prestige despite the rank of tier one," Henry said.
"Yes, these pictures are the best. Don't you agree, Shanna?" The blind wind adept leaned forward to look at it.
"Very artistic," said the blindfolded woman.
Henry furrowed his brows, and then widened his eyes when he realized something.
"It appears I've made a mistake. I'd forgotten that you're blind. It keeps slipping my mind since you're capable of eye contact."
"It's a lovely drawing, though," Seti said.
"Very precious," Shanna supplemented
"Even Shanna makes fun." Henry chuckled.
A day had passed since Seti learned about his place as a champion. Not everyone was on board with the newest Serio member representing the entire family, and Seti himself had concerns about his role in everything. He would wait for a meeting with Faulkner to voice his thoughts.
Regarding Seti's blindness, Henry put it off again and said they could discuss it after the counselor had a chance to talk to the sleeping Dora. The little girl was apparently the one that sneakily scanned Seti without him knowing it. Vivamancers were going to be the bane of his existence.
The family did well to care for Seti. His room had its own bathroom and fridge, and felt more like an established hotel over a guest room. The butlers and maids made the family seem like nobility, rather than a gang of criminals that was often portrayed.
Shanna still wore the sleeveless sweater and the jeans she took from the Maybell mall. Seti was beginning to wonder if she really didn't have any other pairs of clothes other than the business suits. Though, he had a suspicion he knew why she wore these new clothes. The blindfolded woman was leaning towards Henry.
"You said this lightbulb analogy goes up to six. Why six and not eight? Isn't tier eight the height of power?" Seti asked.
"That is often misunderstood by many," the theorycrafter said. "Tier six is the final stage of how much mana a person produces. In a sense, you could say that a tier eight person has the same amount of mana as a tier six, but they are more efficient."
"Does this have to do with the grit training that you guys were talking about yesterday?" The wind adept recalled how the elders reacted when mentioning a tier one having that special training. Faulkner ended up saying that Seti could become the strongest tier one user in the world. He wasn't sure how he felt about that, yet. It was true that just being a higher tier didn't guarantee victory over a lower one, but just how high can the first tier go? He couldn't cast a single spell.
"In a way. Ah, look who decided to finally show up." Henry looked to the side, seemingly at nothing since Seti's vision didn't extend beyond the ten-foot mark. Faulkner stepped into view. "A demonstration will explain better than I could. Faulkner, we're talking about rankings above six. Show him an example of efficiency."
Faulkner slumped next to the Earth Dragon, so that all three older adults sat opposite to Seti.
"Not even a minute break," Faulkner complained, but complied as he held up his hand. Nearby air swam into his palm and was forced into a compact ball. It shaped again and another set of wind came and enveloped the ball like a shell, rotating so fast that any air that tried to escape the core would be caught by the outer shell and forced back down. It hummed silently as it spun. "This ball is visible to the naked eye, in case you're wondering. Now, I want you to perceive what's happening around it."
Seti wasn't sure what the Wind Dragon meant by that. From his view, it was just a ball of air, spinning in place. But he remembered the lesson he learned the first day they met. It was when his omniview was still just a wind light—the air flashlight. Faulkner had taught him how to expand his wind by perceiving his air as individual dots, which he had successfully done by applying a "filter" to his sight. He did the same now, sensing for what he wasn't able to see.
Something appeared. It was residue air that floated uselessly around the sphere, not participating in any way.
"I see unused air, if that makes sense. I'm not sure if it does make sense, especially when we're surrounded by air, yet only those particles are pointed out with my perception."
Faulkner smiled. "That would be because the useless ones you're sensing is my mana-controlled air. Except, as you already said, it's unused. Most mancers can't detect the excess mana they waste when weaving spells. In this case, I'm wasting an additional twenty percent to make this ball, but without perception I'll just assume it's part of the cost. Now remove that," the unused air then either floated into the ball, or vanished entirely, "and you become more efficient than the tier six version. Spells become cheaper and more durable."
He made his hand into a claw, where he paired the outer fingers together and held the thumb out wide, then turned the sphere to the table and slammed into it.
Screech! A loud wail ripped through the air. The ball sliced into the table, sending slivers all over the place.
"Watch it!" Henry smacked the aeromancer's arm. He brushed off the junk that landed on his clothes.
The sphere had cut through the solid table as if it wasn't even there. It looked like it steamed a little after. Shanna reached over and touched the damaged spot. The hole closed, while the table legs thinned a fraction.
"How can that air ball do that?" Seti asked, bewildered. He understood that a tornado could destroy houses, due to the sheer force of all the wind. But this was just a ball that could fit into the palm of a hand.
"I'm famous for this one. My Wind Claw spell." The sphere disappeared, but Faulkner's hand still had the claw shape. "Perception training leads to grit training, and grit stabilizes spells so much that they become a force of destruction."
"What's the point of the claw-shaped hand?" Seti asked. "Does it help with the shaping of the wind?"
"Not at all," Faulkner smiled. "I named it the Wind Claw, so I fashioned my hand after a claw. There's no reason behind it other than the dramatic effect."
Seti rolled his eyes.
"It's important you learn to act the part," he continued. "Too many are defeated in combat because they talk too much and reveal their secrets. Keep them guessing and soon you'll be fighting off multiple people at once, simply because they don't know how to approach you. So make it a habit."
"Is that why you're always lying?" Seti asked.
"Definitely." Faulkner took out a cigarette from his pockets. "Never drop the act."
"Right. So perception training and grit training sounds mega useful. Why don't people learn how to do that right away?"
"This is where you have the advantage," Faulkner said. "Tell 'em, Henry."
Henry described perception training. It was an advanced technique that couldn't start until tier six, or rarely five. At six, using the lightbulb analogy again, would be when there was enough residue heat that the untrained could slowly sense it in a new way. Using that knowledge, the mancer could redevelop their abilities to the point where they would reach an entirely new tier. The number of people that can't develop that sense limited how many could walk into the realms of the seventh tier.
In Seti's case, he was able to see with his wind, which extended to sensing mana as a tier one user. He would be able to begin the efficiency training only upper echelon tiers could do. That would be especially useful, since a tier one would need all the help they could get. Combine that with the grit training mentioned, which should allow his spells to be more effective, then Seti's own Aerial Slash should be stronger and cost less than a higher tiered person.
Something disturbed him, though.
"Okay, either I'm the luckiest person alive, or something else has to be going on here." Seti thought back to the events that happened to him so far. "Are you telling me that I just happened to have the niche that just happened to react appropriately to a remembrance geas that just happened to be done by a healing adept who just happened to know how to make one despite the laws against it. And all that even started because I just happened to become blind from Dream Eater who just happened to want revenge against someone who just happened to know me! Anyone else bothered by all these coincidences, or is just me?
"I've mentioned the chaos theory before, haven't I?" Faulkner said.
"This feels less like a butterfly flap creating a tornado years later, and more of a 'the planets are aligning' kind of scenario."
"Maybe I could shed some light on this," Henry said. "There's a tall tale around the theorycrafters; the story of Paul Benton. It's a lesson for us, but applies to you as well. As the tale went, Paul was a child who went to his tiering ceremony and reacted to the first element that was tried: water."
Yet, despite water reacting to the boy, Paul could not weave any of it. They tried many different methods that they knew, but Paul still couldn't move a drop. He was disappointed and decided to do what he could to activate his ability. As a result, he fell in love with the seas. Paul sailed, and made a living out of it.
One day, a storm caught Paul and he struggled to remain afloat. Unfortunately, the storm turned the boat over, and Paul sank. It was the end for the young man. When his breath finally ran out, Paul inhaled—only to learn he could breathe water!
The new hydromancer decided to give back to the community. With the ability to breathe water, he joined the rescue teams to help others who were lost at sea. He came across a fiery boat, and went inside to save all that he could. The walls collapsed, and Paul found himself trapped. The fire surrounded the man. He gave up and was glad that he lived a good life—only to learn that fire couldn't hurt him!
Paul Benton was neither a hydromancer, nor a pyromancer. He was a vivamancer. He could adapt his body to the elements of the wild.
"Now, I should mention that this is not how vivamancers work at all," Henry finished. "This is a tall tale, and obviously some points are exaggerated."
"I don't like that story, too bogus," Faulkner said.
"Every story, and by extension every person, has something of value."
"How does this relate to me?" Seti asked. As far as he knew, this was a story of someone finding their identity, and learning at each step that there was more to it than previously suggested.
"It's a farfetched way of someone learning that they were truly a vivamancer all along when the original assumption was something else," Henry said. "But the right conditions paved a road for that discovery. He was always out at sea, and eventually he would run into a scenario where he'd breathe in water. It's the same for you. When your air was more compact, the emotion niche was always active. Can you imagine the effects you made for those around you? Even when you were younger?"
Seti thought about it. When he first arrived at the wind temple, Faulkner suggested that his emotion niche helped convince Melvin and Dora to let him inside. The Wind Dragon had then said that the wind tried to create a desire to train the young adept. Perhaps the effects went even deeper. Aiden, known as the "school bully" at Lambsgard University, didn't like Seti specifically because of how his wind felt. His sister, on the other hand, liked the way it tasted.
Sydria may have liked it because, when they were children, Seti would often tell stories of what he would do when he got stronger, and would constantly blow his air around. His excitement would have moved her to be excited as well. His parents would have been excited too, or should have been. Instead, they ended up divorcing because his mother wanted to pursue a career in her mancy over the family life—
…Pursue a career in her mancy?
He lost his breath. Seti slammed his hands on the table as he stood up. His heart went cold. He just realized it. The divorce—his father's reaction to his wind. All of it made sense now! His eyes glazed over the three adults looking at him. His niche did affect the life around him. No, it was better to say that it ruined that life.
"You knew?" Seti asked Henry. "You knew how it changed my family, didn't you?"
Despite Seti's demand to know right now, Henry waited a bit before replying. "We cannot know for sure, but…" The counselor nodded slowly. "I suspected, once I hypothesized what you could do."
"It was me! I caused my parents' divorce! My excitement for mancer things—it invaded other people's emotions—my mother! She divorced my dad because she was drugged, by me!"
The realization hit him like a hammer. He had always loathed his mother for leaving them when she pursued her career. Their family changed drastically after that. His father made it plain that he didn't want Seti to use his air around the house. No doubt because of the excitement that came from the wind. It would have been too much of a reminder of the divorce. It changed Seti's life permanently.
Seti slowly sat down. He had forgotten what point they were trying to make.
"I'm sorry this happened to you. Had the niche been discovered at your tiering, it would have prevented a lot of your heartache," Henry said. "But now, as you can see, your niche set the stage for your life, like in the tall tale. It shaped how people responded to you, to the point where someone eventually stole your eyesight. All of that could be likened to Paul Benton sailing at the sea. Eventually, you were going to run into a scenario that would shake things up. The coincidences don't pile as high as you may have originally thought."
It didn't matter to Seti anymore. His abilities altered the way his life could have been. Maybe he could've walked a different path. How different would home have been if his mother stayed? She was a real mancer and could have taught him some tricks to help him out.
Faulkner picked at his ear. "Don't be so depressed. All the 'just happenings' brought you here. Now you'll become my disciple, and the champion for who-knows-what."
"Faulkner, be silent," Henry said. He was watching Seti carefully, but the wind adept offered nothing. "Let's have ourselves a breather and meet up later."
Having a pond in the yard was overkill, especially since the hot springs were in the backyard. But that was the benefit of having a large house and presumably several hydromancers. Seti rolled up his pant legs and let his feet rest in the water. He wondered how clean the pond was and if any fish swam nearby.
Seti had hated his wind because it was so weak. Then he was glad to learn that he could forge a path with it using the emotional niche. Now, after learning more, he wondered if it was too… Too what? Unethical? Powerful? He couldn't think of the right word. People weren't meant to be manipulated. He had known that, of course, but dismissed it because he wanted to join the mancer world. What did he think about it now, though?
He felt a pit in his stomach. It made him think about Sydria. She likely had it the worst. With her emotion affected by his wind, did she change into a different person? Did he know who she really was? What if the sibling relationship was falsified from the beginning because of him? What if her visits were more akin to being addicted to drugs rather than sisterly love?
Seti heard the crunch of grass before Faulkner shaped into view.
"Still an emotionless prick?" Seti spat back.
Ah, he hadn't meant to say that. Faulkner shrugged it off.
"I thought about what Henry would say in this situation. He told me to leave you be, but I wouldn't be annoying if I did that. So here's my attempt to console you." The aeromancer flashed a grin, but switched to a mock serious face. "Fire is dangerous. It can destroy lives with almost no effort. Fire can also give life if used properly. You are that fire. Yes. I should become a counselor."
"Are you a pyromancer or an aeromancer? Why are you using fire as an analogy?"
Faulkner tried his best Henry voice. "Every element is useful, and by extension, every advice I give."
Seti felt a small smile creep to his face. He resisted it.
"Why me? Why am I the family champion? You guys just met me, so why me over literally anyone else in this neighborhood? Do our ideals match? Am I so trusted that you'll expect me to do what you guys want? Or is this another one of those things where my air is ruining decisions and personalities?"
"Well, according to Henry, the plan was to see if we could send you to Prestige as a contingency, without you ever knowing who we really were, which meant you would be an unofficial champion. Alas! The Shepherds got involved, and there was that skirmish at the mall, so I was forced to make a move. Things didn't go quite as he planned."
"But still. How do you even know I'm going to do what you want? We just met. Or have I proven myself to be such a selfless person?"
"And what do I want?" Faulkner challenged. "For that matter, what do you think the Serio family wants?"
"Isn't it peace? To prevent war?"
"Ask around. Go meet some people here. Find out what they think about the noblesse's death and what we should do. When you're done, come back here."
Seti didn't have an issue talking to strangers. Each person was a potential networking partner, according to his father. Some of the best ways to start a conversation were with a compliment.
"Lunch was delicious today. The seasoning was perfect!"
The chef was a bigger woman. She gave him the side eye. "I won't be making ye something special. Wait like the rest."
Seti was in the kitchen. The main reason that was the first stop was that it was the few locations he knew. Other cooks came in and out, carrying bags of something.
"I'm not here for food, Faulkner sent me to ask questions. I'm his disciple."
She gave him a proper look this time, eyeing him up and down. "Ye got that coin yet?"
Seti furrowed his brow. "No, I wasn't given any coin."
The chef returned her focus to the ladle at her mouth and tested the contents. She shook her head and pinched something into the pot. "Have a question fer me?"
He didn't know anything about a coin or what it had to do with discipleship, but made a note to ask Faulkner later. "Yeah, I was wondering what you thought about the whole noblesse dying thing."
"Ah, the poor master. I knew the two of them from littlehood, ye know? Always coming and sharing meals."
"The noblesse and Faulkner?"
"Ye. Jonny, was he name. Sun Dragon, they name he. Big and scary, but not scary here. The master and Jonny be like brothers. Jonny helped everyone, and united all the families. But we thinks the Shepherds hated him; killed him, even."
"Why would they do that?"
"Jealous, or maybe scared. Jonny could fight that divine Shepherd some, see?"
"I see. And what do you think we should do as a response?"
"Same as everyone, methinks. Head for head. They whack Jonny, we say hello back."
Seti learned that the mansion also had a library within. He found a maid and had her guide him there. For whatever reason, his omniview didn't default to looking up her skirt. It was uncertain why it behaved like that. Maybe it was a gentleman. Or, on further reflection, it could be because he had already decided he wouldn't fall into the perverted lifestyle.
The library itself was filled with books that did not have covers with dented out titles. As a result, Seti was unable to see the kinds of literature that were available. It didn't take long for a young man approach him. The librarian.
"Joneleth was a hero amongst us," the librarian said. He had books trailing behind, floating in pairs of two, with at least six stacks. From what Seti could see, the man was using a dense amount of air to keep them up. They passed by a cart that could carry far more books and required no mana, but the man ignored it. "There's a lot of discrimination against the families. People refusing to serve you, or upcharging the moment they find any affiliation. Joneleth helped create a culture for all of us that didn't want to sacrifice our rights for safety."
"What rights would be sacrificed?" Seti asked.
"Submitting to the Guild Association. Registration to determine if any part of the mancy should be illegal."
"But shouldn't some be illegal? Wasn't there a mass use of geas during the Second Age?"
"Why, of course some should be illegal or controlled—hence the United Accords. But where do we draw the line? Majority rules the decisions, and the majority of the guilds are in the lower echelon tiers. There's a bias against mancers with unique abilities. If it's too different and has no preexisting guidelines on record, you can expect your niche to become illegal, rather than researched."
Considering what Seti's niche could do, he could understand the guild's view. His ability would be able to alter people's emotions, and some may compare it to geas, as Seti had done. Had the guilds discovered his niche at the tiering ceremony, would Seti have been marked as an illegal user? How would he, as a child, have reacted to that?
"But fear rules their decision, not reason." The librarian continued. He hovered his hand over one pair of books and slowly lifted that pile into the air. The books went into an open shelf space. Seti sensed residue air round the book-carrying spell, and if what he saw was correct, the librarian was wasting two-fold more mana than needed. "The First Age ended when the primals nearly won, so we let the divines rule the Second Age. Then that age ended when the divines all around the world went to war with one another, and now we're trying to control everyone with excessive laws."
"Some good comes from it though, doesn't it?"
"Definitely, but again, at what cost? Anyone who doesn't line up will miss on most of the privileges of life."
"But that's how countries work," Seti said. "You follow the rules or you get imprisoned or kicked out."
"Except this country established their own government by force, and expected everyone to follow or leave. Think of it like a classroom where the teacher went missing, so a student decided to teach the class. What right do they have to rule over their equals? Those that didn't play along were called criminals. A few families protested against it, and were powerful enough that they were a rallying point for the likeminded."
That wasn't how Seti remembered history being taught. The Guild Association had been established long before the families tried to separate themselves. Sounds like both sides were telling the tale that best suited them.
The librarian continued. "Then a few years ago, Joneleth finally united the families, who had been too stubborn to follow any one person until now. We're like two nations sharing the lands on a smaller scale. Now his death happened, and we don't think it was an accident."
The Sun Dragon's death was public knowledge. It was during an A rank primal attack—the siege of Tennor. It was reported that the mafian Dragon died, but nothing more than that.
"How is that the Shepherd's fault?" Seti asked.
The librarian gave an appraising look. "It was an ice primal, so the Shepherd's sent Spitfire and we sent our Sun Dragon. Spitfire came back just fine, and Joneleth died from burns. He was nearly immune to fire and they're saying it wasn't Spitfire—the lone pyromancer in the country that could hurt him? Nah, no one intelligent would believe that. They took a shot at us and now we want a shot at them."
When he said burns, Seti pictured ice burns, but he probably wasn't referring to that.
"If that's the case, why aren't people asking for justice against Spitfire?"
"Because Spitfire is only the Octet's third seat. We won't be satisfied by exchanging our strongest for their third strongest."
When Seti finished questioning the librarian, he stopped before leaving. "Those books you're hovering, what tier does it take to do that?"
"Two, but I know some exercises that help it carry up to four pounds. I could show you, if you'd like?"
Even something as simple as carrying books took more than what Seti could do now. Perception training could make him more efficient, if Henry and Faulkner were to be believed, but surely it wouldn't make him be a sudden master at aeromancy. How was he to go from his current level to the level of Prestige Academy?
"I'll have to check later with that, thanks."
Throwing himself at the task Faulkner gave him was a good distraction from the pit he felt. He decided to keep asking around to learn what he could. Suspiciously, none of the other servants offered anything new. Seti found some that weren't busy to get their thoughts, but it seemed they had a rehearsed response ready for him. It was similar to a child mimicking what their parents said. But maybe that's exactly what it was—repeating the thoughts and words of the elders.
So then what did the elders want? War? Peace? It was hard to collect any more data since the mansion had little traffic outside the few people Seti already knew. When he asked about it, he learned the mansion was home to the pure-line family, the direct biological line. Everyone else was considered the branch line. The tradition of changing last names to the family name could cause confusion, so there's a bunch of little rules to clarify some things. For example, if someone had same first name, they would differentiate between the two by using their old name and a hyphen. So Seti would be Seti Tutt-Serio.
He wondered if he would have to call Melvin his cousin, or Shanna his sister. Sydria was the only person he could consider a sibling, despite joining the Serio family. Maybe that would change over time.
He passed by the hot spring changing room and saw a bigger maid inside. She felt motherly—not that he would be an expert on it since his own left years ago.
"Tamara is my name," said the maid. She was folding towels and restocking items.
"What do you think about Joneleth dying?"
"Oh, that," she slowed her speed just a bit. "The shepherds are… evil for doing what they did."
Seti had a distinct impression that she wasn't being wholly truthful. None of the servants really were when he had asked them, but she was the weakest to hide it. He wondered if he could force her to be honest, with his emotion niche, but decided against it. It reminded him too much of accidentally using it on his own mother and driving her away from the family.
But sometimes mancy was overkill when there were other ways.
"I am Faulkner's disciple. Do not lie to me."
Tamara's eyes went wide. She stopped folding the towels entirely and looked at him.
"Forgive me! I did not know." She bowed low and held that position.
Seti was about to tell her to stop, but made a last-second decision not to. "What do you really think about Joneleth dying?"
She didn't move from her bowed spot. "I've never met him, but I know he was like a brother to Master Faulkner. I think he was devastated after it happened; he vanished for a little bit."
"Vanished?" Seti recalled how the servants reacted when they arrived by the Lightning Dragon's long-distance teleportation skill. They talked as if they had not seen him in a while. "How long was he gone?"
"Since the family exile started."
He asked her a few more questions, about the exile and whatever else she could offer, and then made his way out. She was still bowing by the end of it.
As he walked down the hallway, trying to find the exit that would lead him to the pond, a figure shaped into view. The long and thin bearded man was waiting for him. Thankfully, the beard was so unique that Seti could recognize the man quickly.
"Hello, Elder Poe."
The old man nodded. "I heard a new face has been asking questions, regarding our history and culture, and thought to myself that perhaps I could share a piece of wisdom."
"That would be welcome." Seti was reminded of the last time he spoke with Elder Poe in length. It would have been the dinner at the wind temple. The hamburger meal. There were things he thought of after the discussion that he wanted to say. "You remember that philosophical question you brought up when I mentioned I didn't like the Shepherds? About what has greater worth: one life versus two, two versus four, and so on?"
"Yes, I remember. Let's go for a turn."
The two made their way down the hall and went outside. Seti heard the chirpings of birds that he could not see. Every now and then, the breeze would pick up, ending his omniview, but Elder Poe made no mention of it when they stopped for the wind to die down.
"I didn't like that discussion," Seti said. "Life can't be measured so simply. You guys have a king of sorts, the noblesse—"
"The noblesse is your king now, too. Continue on." Elder Poe smiled gently.
"Right, we have a noblesse, the boss of bosses, king, or whatever. I'm sure there are many people who would've been willing to sacrifice a ton of people for him. Especially now, with everyone wanting revenge. Could you really say you wouldn't trade two maids for him?"
"It is interesting to note that you used the phrase, 'especially now.' You are referring to the potential break of war, and referring further still the lives at risk. So, in truth, the scenario isn't two lives for one, but two lives for one so that many more could be saved. The life of one man could be weighed as multiple."
It made sense, but in reality, sometimes people would simply pick those they love over a multitude of others. "I have a hard time agreeing."
"Perhaps because of your bias against the Shepherds? It's good to be objective with ourselves, Seti. It helps us grow. Though I should add one thing, I do not recall ever stating my position in the matter." He flashed a happy smile. "I only posed a philosophical question as a means to help understand why the Shepherds do as they do, since the context was that healer friend of yours, who was forced into Shepherdhood."
Elder Poe took a moment to enjoy the scenery, and then continued. "You've heard from many already what they would want done, with the death of Joneleth. I do not think the guilds are evil, and I believe they have done far more good than harm. No government is without fault. I believe the real reason between the split of the guilds and the families, and possibly your dislike for the Shepherds as well, could be summed up in a single riddle."
"If you have three of this, you have three. If two, then two. On the contrary, if you only have one, then you have none. What is it?"
Seti was not in the mood to solve riddles. His first thought was the tiers. A third tier was still a third tier mancer, and a second was a second. But a tier one adept had nothing. He knew, though, that wasn't the sought answer.
"I give up, tell me."
Elder Poe smiled. "Options."
Seti went to the pond where he had originally spoken with Faulkner. He rolled up his pant legs again and let them rest in the cool water. Faulkner wasn't in the area so that left his mind to wander. The thoughts of his life-changing childhood crept back up. He wondered what choice he would make if he had a do-over; would he be willing to exchange his mancy to keep his mother from leaving? Before he could get too deep into it, the boss of the Serio family appeared.
"At risk of being called an emotionless prick, done moping yet?" Faulkner smiled his large smile. He had no ill will.
"One can never mope too much," Seti said sagely. "How can you always be in a good mood? I heard you and Joneleth were close friends."
"They probably said a lot of things, including Jonny being the best thing since hydro-cleaners. The dead are always remembered as great stuff. But don't be fooled, Jonny was an angry man. Consider me his opposite, the always-happy man."
Seti watched the aeromancer closely. Something was off about Faulkner. It wasn't that something was off now and not before, but rather something had always been off. Most mentioned what should be done on a political level, as if Joneleth's death was a distant thing for them. But it wasn't distant for Faulkner, who had grown up with the noblesse. He suspected the Wind Dragon hid far more than he showed. Even the regular meetings at the wind temple, the ones he had with the elders that he tried to get out of…
"You aren't an emotionless prick," Seti said, piecing everything together. "You're angry. You've been angry these past few months. Ah! Is that why the first thing you made me try with my niche was to make you happy?"
Faulkner laughed. "Listen to you, trying to channel your inner Henry." He waved his hand dismissively. "So, tell me what you've learned. What does the Serio family want?"
Seti thought to the collective voices. They were united in their opinion. "The family—or should I say some elders?—wants the head of the Shepherd leader."
"At least you were able to put that together. And Elder Poe, when he visited you, what does he want?"
"Shame on you for spying. And he didn't say whether he was for or against war, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't want war." Considering Elder Poe's talk about viewing things from the other side, and that the guilds were an overall good force, that's what made sense.
Faulkner nodded. "The elders are split on their opinion. The daily meetings are just a repeat of everything they've already said. Now, what do you think I want?"
"You're hard to read. I don't know. I guess if I had to say something… Not war?"
The aeromancer reached out and waited for three pebbles to float to him. Seti was puzzled at how Faulkner could use geomancy, but then a further look revealed he was using air to move the pebbles with precision. Each pebble had an air ring circled around it. He juggled them aerially over his palm. The power of each air particle had to be something amazing to do that so effortlessly. Except for one thing.
"You're wasting mana," Seti said. "About half, actually."
The aeromancer looked at the three pebbles, circling in the air. "Am I? And here I thought my spell was perfect. I suppose there comes a point where perfect perception is simply impossible. Unless you're you, of course."
Seti felt a small nibble at his foot. He kicked around the water reflexively. Seemed like fish were in the pond after all.
"I've decided to not decide," Faulkner said.
"Not decide? For the war?" The adept looked up at him. "Isn't that a bit hypocritical? I remember you saying a person who doesn't act is just as bad as the person who does the evil."
It was an early lesson Faulkner gave, when Seti voiced the dilemma of forcing his niche on others and compared it to geas. The lesson was definitely relevant again after learning what he had done to his childhood. He liked those words. Even if his niche damaged his life up until now, maybe he was still obligated to do good with it. It could be that he absolutely had to, because of what had happened.
Except that was a lie. That's not what Seti thought at all. Obligation wasn't what drove him. Those were just fancy words he told himself, to coat his desire with good deeds. An excuse to go forward despite what he had done and what he might do.
It's good to be objective with ourselves, Seti. It helps us grow.
Elder Poe's words rang in his ears. The truth was, even considering what had happened to his childhood, Seti wouldn't want to trade away his wind abilities. He didn't want to stop using them no matter what. He was curious to know how deep the desire went.
"Yeah. Even with advice in mind," Faulkner continued, "I have decided to not decide. I'm not indecisive, but I don't trust whatever decision I may come up with. I want peace, but I also want to hurt someone. I don't envy our new noblesse. Did you know that after Jonny died, everyone looked to me to start marching against the guilds?"
"I've heard, yeah. You vanished shortly after."
Which slowed down war talks, so that was the likely reason Faulkner did what he did. But Seti figured he also needed to express his feelings in a way that wasn't irrevocable. He probably left to vent.
"I did say that when I returned it would be with a response to everything," Faulkner said. "I don't think I'll remove the exile just yet, since it could still snowball into war. But once the country learns you've become my disciple, eyes will be on you. The new noblesse will definitely be interested as well."
The thought that he would be center of attention was somewhat intriguing, except for the part where he was only a tier one.
"What's so special about being a disciple?" Seti asked. "I get that you're the Wind Dragon and all, but why should it cause so much attention? And what's this about a coin? One of your chefs mentioned that."
"Right—the coin. I'll have to give that to you by the end of the week. It's proof that you're mine. Being a disciple of a Dragon is different from being one to someone else. It's a declaration that the Dragon handpicked you to one day become a Dragon yourself. A nascent Dragon, if you will."
Seti froze. That didn't add up in his books. "Me? You don't even know me, and how could I possibly get that Dragon title at tier one? And why me? Because of my niche? I'm not a good person, you know. I didn't think twice when I used my abilities on Melvin. In fact, I'm pretty sure I thought 'damn the consequences.'"
Faulkner burst out laughing. "That's why. When I heard Melvin started the fight, I knew it was you. Ah, that was the best." He looked up and smiled at the sky. It was a while before he spoke again. "It's time for me to be honest, for once. Me picking you has absolutely nothing to do with the war or the exile. You're like a bug fighting its way out of a faucet. A tier one bug. There comes a point where someone trying hard to change makes others want to help. I want to see if you can succeed, despite handicaps."
"You have a way with words." Seti deadpanned. "Then what about the whole Prestige thing?"
"As I've said, I don't trust myself to make a decision I can say I fully support. Henry was right to have no faith in me. He's doing everything he can to prevent a war, and I respect him for it. But me? I only want to see what you can become—that's a decision I can trust. You were mentioning all the 'just happenings' that you experienced? Our lives are just a series of happenings. So fight. Fight past every obstacle and force your way into the mancer world. If you prevent a war to do it, then that's what happens. And if war starts? Well, doing nothing will likely lead to a war anyway."
Silence took the scene. Seti reached down and felt the calm water to his hand. He knew what he wanted to do. Being an aeromancer meant making tornados, flying, and making a difference with their abilities.
"Champion Seti." The wind adept tried on.
"Sounds stupid," Faulkner grinned.
"Who am I representing, if not the Serio family? I mean, if the new noblesse is asking for champions…"
"We still don't know exactly what he wants, but if you must represent something, represent yourself. Or the weak mancers of the world. I'll support whatever you decide."
Seti stood up and shook his legs to dry them off. He stretched after. The arm that had been numb from Sydria's paralysis had recovered, he realized. The path to Prestige was before him, and he might be able to prevent a war while he attended. All his daydreams as a child, to do amazing things, could be summed into this moment. It was unfortunate that Joneleth died and people were angry, but nothing was purely bad or purely good.
"We have less than a week, right? Let's start."