Chapter 13 – Veritas
There were hundreds, and quite possibly even thousands of primal gates around the world. No one knew how to close one permanently. Fortunately, new ones didn't appear to randomly poof into existence either. They formed before the First Age, and there just wasn't much recorded history from before that time. Their modus operandi was simple...these cracks in space would remain inert until a seemingly random time. Then, multiple gates would become active after being ripped open by the primals coming through.
Sometimes, it was only one primal coming through a gate, and other times, it was ten. The amount of how many primals came through didn't matter as much as the strength of the primals that appeared. Practically, this meant that each primal would be classified a letter based on how powerful they were. For example, if five primals appeared, all five primals could each be a D-Rank, whereas if a single primal appeared, this one primal could be an incredibly dangerous A-Rank.
Once the final primal would come through the gate, it would close. Then, the siege would start in earnest. Mancers could prepare by setting their forces near the gate before the assault. They just had to hope (and some to pray) that this particular gate wouldn't be an A-Rank, which required tier eights to enter the fight.
Naturally, if a Divine participated, the primals wouldn't stand a chance.
The four Serio members were driving to the abyss gate in New Vox. Dora said she wanted to see it up close, but Seti wasn't as enthused. Given his condition, he wasn't capable of seeing it as a dome-like barrier surrounded every individual gate in the world. It was reminiscent of a phasm barrier.
It was believed that each gate's barrier was the result of a supernatural event and not created by any mancer. No one knew if it was reality trying to fix itself or if each barrier came to be to prevent the tear in space-time from spreading. Maybe a primal created the barriers to protect the gates. Some had speculated that a mancer was involved, and more specifically an unknown divine crafter from ages past. But…who could say?
While the barrier did act to prevent anyone from approaching the gate, it was also a kind of warning system. If it glowed green, then the gate was inert and thus safe. If it was crimson, however, then mancers needed to be ready for an upcoming assault. Like clockwork, the barrier would vanish after the primals walked through and the gate closed behind them.
Before long, their vehicle came to a stop and the butler lowered the window to pay the entrance fee. Dora bounced excitedly in her seat. After all, wouldn't seeing a crack in reality be something completely awesome to see? On top of that, when the New Vox abyss gate's barrier was green, the surrounding area was open as a scenic, beautiful park. It was clear why Dora was so excited, with so much grass to roll around in.
The car came to a stop again. It looked like they had arrived. The butler came around and opened the doors for everyone.
The parking lot was smooth, without a loose rock in sight. Excluding the distant sounds of traffic, it was quiet. There were few people around, save for the tourists that appeared to be enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon.
A pathway guided them past several memorial mounds that adorned each side as they walked onwards. Several tourists stopped to read them. Each one had engravings with a date, a primal classification, and the names of any mancers that fell.
Seti appreciated engravings on stone-like objects. People should do that more.
A lot of the dates were from years past. The further they walked down the path, the more recent the dates had become. The last mound they saw was from two years ago, with only one name listed. Perhaps it was luck, or perhaps it was fate, but no one else had died since then. Seti remembered the attack, too—a B-Rank shark-octopus that stood on two feet. While each primal was unique and no two were ever the same, this one was particularly memorable. This water primal was twice as tall as any human, and its legs (did it even have any?) were covered by a water robe. Its head was shaped like a hammerhead shark's, and it had a multitude of hydro-tentacles rather than arms. The tentacles all had a mind of their own, reaching out as far as thirty feet and fending off multiple mancers from a distance. The beast had been named the Monkfish.
The Monkfish was particularly dangerous because it summoned forth an intense storm comparable to an instantaneous hurricane. During its attack, it almost caused wanton devastation and threatened to obliterate the surrounding area. Its ranking was nearly bumped up to an A-Rank primal, until the Blue Dragon had appeared. She single-handedly kept the storm at bay, prompting a counterattack by the brave mancers that fought back. Almost miraculously, only one mancer had died during that battle. While even one untimely death is a tragedy, it was either fate or pure luck that many more potential deaths didn't turn this attack into a statistic.
Several debates arose as a result of this incident, lingering for several weeks afterwards. Was the classification system really about the primal's strength? Why was the Monkfish kept as a B-Rank when the Blue Dragon, the strongest hydromancer of the families, was tied up just to keep the torrential storm back? Accusations went out, claiming the rank system was based on how much financial damage a primal could do and not necessarily their actual prowess.
It made Seti think about Tobias' proclamation last night. The Noblesse declared that the families would not participate in any primal assault until the champion business ended. If Blue Dragon had not participated in that Monkfish battle, what kind of damage would have occurred in New Vox? The B-Rank would likely have ramped up to an A-Rank, which was a command for eighth tiered mancers to appear.
The death toll for primal sieges were going to go up.
Dora walked off in the distance, towards the tear in space. Her mouth was agape in awe. Elder Poe casually followed behind. Seti lingered back, not too eager to see his omniview stop at the gate's barrier. He spent his admiration towards the grass and flowers in the area instead. The aroma was light and pleasing to his nose.
He let his thoughts wander to the text conversation he had with Henry the night before. The topic was Seti's niche and the surge of emotions he had felt. The theorycrafter had theorized several reasons why that may have happened. It could be that his niche always returned emotions back and made him feel the amplification he sent to others. Alternatively, it could instead originate from the emotions that didn't stick.
This left him to think about every event where he had used his niche and what had happened after. Seti had made Melvin attack Cyrus at the Maybell Mall, and he himself "attacked" Elder Narn (albeit verbally) during a meeting that same day. He had difficulty blaming his niche, though. It was more likely that it was just in his personality to speak out.
He used his niche several times at the Exceptions exam. He first made people feel the need to work together—which Seti admitted he also felt when he was with Tobias in a burning building. But honestly…couldn't that just be a result of not wanting to be separated from the pyromancer keeping him alive? Seti then tried to make the judges feel amazement (he doubted it had worked on Tumgar or Shepherd Christella), and after that, he amplified Abigail's aggression. Both of those emotions were ones he felt last night when he blacked out.
Seti didn't like the uncontrollable feeling he had when the emotions surged back to him. It bothered him, and it would be problematic if it happened during an unsavory time. He decided he would put his niche on hold until he could safely test it to get more information.
The Serio members had left his omniview for a bit now. Seti strolled forward, not expecting to see the distortion of space-and-time itself. Regardless, he thought he may as well see what the barrier felt like. Elder Poe shaped into view, standing with his hands behind his back. Seti stepped forward next to the elder and saw it.
"It's green," Seti whispered.
Elder Poe nodded. Then confusion. He turned to Seti. "Green?"
Seti's eyes were wide.
He saw the green barrier.
He saw green.
He saw color.
It had color!
Seti didn't move, as if fearing the color would vanish if he did. The green barrier was a wall that set itself into the colorless ground and extended higher than his visual range. His omniview hasn't seen any color until now. Not black, nor white. It was simply his air pressing into objects, then sending the information back to his mind.
But this barrier was different.
Seti finally moved. He ran up to it and touched it. It had no temperature, as it was neither cold nor hot. The barrier was solid and gave no push. It didn't look like anything beyond a transparent sheet of light green paper. It was light green. Light green! He rubbed it like a genie's lamp. Snapping out of his trance, he fumbled for his phone.
He quickly called Henry Adams.
The phone rang three times before the recipient picked up. Seti's mind seemed to be frozen like an ice cube. Forming basic, coherent sentences proved to be a challenge at that particular moment in time.
"Seti? Is everything alright?" Henry asked.
"Color! I see it—light green—barrier—I can see the color's barrier—err, the barrier's color!"
"What barrier? Slow down. Take a breath. You're seeing color?"
Seti nodded, and then realized Henry couldn't see him. "Yeah. In New Vox. The abyss gate. The barrier around it is light green. Like a leaf. Leaves are green. Not sure what happened, but it's color!"
"I can feel your excitement from here." Henry chuckled. "That's great news. It could open up a new world for you. Hmm… Can your air pass through the barrier?"
"No." The light green wall was just that, a wall.
"How does it look like to you? Transparent or solid?"
"Transparent, but I can't see beyond it. Like I know if I had eyesight, I could see the gate itself. But instead, it's a see-through wall that I can't see through. Don't know if that makes sense?"
"I'm curious to know the science behind it. Let me think for a second."
If Seti could see color, even if it was just the barrier, then maybe he could see in color, like he used to! Henry would be the guy to figure that out. Elder Poe was listening a few feet behind him. Dora was elsewhere.
"Okay. I have some ideas."
"I hope one of them lets me see in color again! Is Faulkner there?"
"No, I've returned home. Let's take this one step at a time before setting up unrealistic expectations," Henry said. "We know you weren't able to see color until now. We also know your omniview sees so much information that it can translate some incorrectly. Do you remember when I first arrived at the Serio home? I told you that your air was filtering data incorrectly. It was gathering more information than you could process."
Seti nodded. "Yeah, I remember that."
Henry had said that after asking whether Seti mistook an object as something else. The original question was whether he saw a dog as a cat, or vice versa, but what actually happened was a bit more substantial. He had confused Dora as a drawer when he woke up from a nap, and Shanna consistently causes him to jump if she doesn't move for too long. The concept was similar to a non-blind person seeing something in their peripheral vision and thinking it's something else. For his omniview, which could see everything in detail if he concentrated, this same flaw operated differently. Fortunately, he hadn't experienced it again since then.
"I have two main theories off the top of my head. We know that the barrier triggered your color perception. This indicates it has some special property that nothing else can compare to, at least with respect to the things you've come across. With that being said, my first theory is that the barrier is exerting a special…something, and that information is unique. This would be bad news to you, as this would mean you still wouldn't be capable of seeing color for anything other than the barrier itself."
Seti felt his heart drop. The barrier was so special that people couldn't pinpoint its origin. If other objects could project color, wouldn't he have seen it by now? Color was a large part of the world.
"The second theory is similar to the first, but differs in its conclusion. The barrier would still exert information in a way that your omniview translates as color, but that same info could be obtained from other objects. Perhaps the barrier is so pure in its…what-have-you, that your visual prowess has no choice but to express the information in a colorful manner. It may be possible that all objects exert this information and your mind simply filters it out as unnecessary. At the same time, it could also be that only mana-based objects exert this information, just more muddied in comparison to the barrier. Your perception is unique, so it's hard to say anything definitively."
There was hope! "How can we confirm? What do we have to do so that I can see color again?"
Henry paused for a moment. "I'm not sure. Knowing you can see color in at least one way could be enough to trigger your mancy to sort for that specifically. But, as I said before, our mind wasn't made to absorb all the potential information your air carries."
Their conversation ended shortly after. Elder Poe and Dora walked around the park to get their full money's worth. Seti stayed with the barrier, circling around the dome. It was wide enough to have covered a small building. He tried to make his air filter for something…anything, including residual mana, in an attempt to obtain new information. Nothing really stood out.
Seti put his head against the dome. He really wanted to figure this out. His entire life may be forever changed if he could just—
"Seti," said a voice just outside his omniview's range.
Seti turned around as Elder Poe approached him. It was time to leave.
"You could return for a future visit, to learn more," Elder Poe suggested.
Seti nodded. He wasn't sure if there was more to learn. How would he make his air capable of perceiving color, as he had before he lost his sight? Where would he begin? Until now, everything he did with his mancy stemmed from just a desire for it. His niche would amplify people's emotions by simply willing it. Air obeyed and molded at a moment's thought.
They returned to the vehicle and were on the road again. Seti's thoughts were consumed. He mostly daydreamed what it would be like to see color again. Henry thought that his air might be capable of filtering for color, now that he saw an example of it. But, no matter how much Seti stared a hole into the seat before him, it remained colorless.
His phone vibrated. Seti took it out in a flash. A text. It was likely Henry coming up with a solution. There was no reason to put in earphones to block out the blind app's voice, since those in the vehicle were Serio members.
"Contact: Mindy. Sunday, 12:34 PM. Someone told me they loved how I can throw on whatever and not care what anyone thinks. I do—exclamation point. Frowny-face. I thought my clothes matched—exclamation point. Frowny-face."
Seti blinked. He felt the embarrassment rise to his cheeks.
"Fascinating," Elder Poe said.
The butler smiled. Dora sensed the lighter mood and let out an over-the-top laugh.
"Oops, I thought it would be Henry," Seti said as he plugged in his earphones to send a reply.
The interruption had pulled him out of his deep thoughts. Seti felt some tension leave his mind. He didn't need to worry himself with brooding on the topic endlessly. A solution would surface, eventually...
Seti changed his focus back to the task at hand. They were going to meet up with Shepherd Cyrus, among a few others. Their destination: Benediction. Benediction wasn't just a vivamancer guild; it was the vivamancer guild. The guild's size was large enough that they had a branch in every major city. It was one of the super guilds on the Guild Association Council, with all other official vivamancer guilds acting as a sub-guild to them.
It took them about twenty minutes to arrive. They walked through a set of glass doors to the counter. Seti had expected the place to have a sterile medicinal smell, but this felt more like a corporate office. The actual hospitals must have been somewhere else.
The secretary asked if they had an appointment.
"Yes," Seti said. "With Natalie, Shepherd Cyrus, and the Lamb Cassie."
"Let's see… I have a one o'clock appointment for Seti Tutt. That's you? Okay, please fill out this form."
Paper. Seti's greatest weakness.
He looked at it and pretended to read over what it said. His phone's app could read what it said, but Seti was too self-conscious to use it in public. Fortunately, Elder Poe saved the day.
After the elder filled out the form, the three of them received their guest passes. The secretary made a call and informed them that Natalie would arrive shortly. As they sat on some rather comfortable cushioned chairs to the side, employees came and went to lunch, but otherwise there was no other traffic.
Natalie came through a security door. She dressed business casually and had a laminated ID clipped to her breast pocket.
"The Shepherd team hasn't arrived yet," Natalie said as she beeped them into the building's interior. "Cyrus usually arrives ten minutes early, but I suppose we caught him on an off day."
They arrived at her office. The engraved plaque by her door said Viva Natalie Inkage – Tier 7 – AVC Division 2.
Tier Seven. Seti fidgeted in his seat. They sat on the three chairs opposite Natalie's desk, while she typed on her computer. Both Faulkner and Henry may think that high tiers weren't the end all be all, but it was still intimidating. In an attempt to bring his attention elsewhere, he started some small talk.
"AVC stands for… Anti Viva…" Seti racked his brain trying to remember what Cyrus said a while back.
"Anti Viva Cult," Natalie said. "Cult's a strong word, but that was a reflection of people's emotions back then."
"Are you capable of making a geas?" Seti asked.
She nodded. "I did a veritas test on Cassie Carter a few days ago. I recall Cyrus saying he mentioned it to you. Is this correct?"
Seti remembered. The veritas test, or more aptly put, the veritas geas was a method to force someone to speak the truth. While geas was illegal, and there were some constraints used to prevent their usage, exceptions were made when trying to counter known incidents.
"I remember Faulkner saying only tier eight mancers could create a geas," Seti said.
"The Wind Dragon should have also told you that exceptions exist, as you yourself have experienced. Let's see who we have registered for this…" Natalie said as she look at her computer screen. "The Serio family sends Poe and Dora. True lineage…" She paused. Her eyes went wide as she looked at them again.
Natalie stood and walked around her desk. She held out her hand. Seti nearly shook it, thinking it was for him, when it instead continued to Dora.
"Dora Serio!" Natalie beamed. "I thought you would be older."
"I am older!" Dora replied, taking the hand. "I was younger earlier."
Natalie leaned against her desk. Elder Poe didn't seem to think Natalie's reaction was out of the ordinary.
"You should've been here last week. Lynliss made her rounds in the area. That would've been quite the meeting," Natalie said.
Dora tilted her head in confusion.
"Lynliss?" She tried again. "Lynliss Garne? Octet's seventh seat? One of the best vivamancers in the world?"
Dora exaggerated a shrug. "I'm going to be better."
Natalie chuckled. "She may take you up on that challenge."
The phone rang on her desk, shifting her attention. She apologized to them as she answered. Seti thought it was strange that a member of the Benediction guild would show special attention to Dora. While he didn't know what they thought of the little Serio girl, shouldn't there be some bad blood between them? Perhaps it was simpler than the idea of a feud; it could just be one vivamancer acknowledging another. Enemies and rivals could do that.
Natalie informed them that the Shepherd team had arrived. With everyone available, they left to meet them. Shortly after, all six of them were in an interrogation-style room. The room had a single table in the center with a recording device, and seats lined against each wall. Seti and Natalie sat on opposite sides of the table, while Cyrus and Cassie sat opposite Elder Poe and Dora.
"Before you start recording," Shepherd Cyrus began, "it may be prudent to inform you of Seti's new identity."
"Are you referring to his last name becoming Serio? That's nothing I wouldn't have guessed, considering who's representing him," Natalie said.
"Not quite," Cyrus said. "He is the disciple to Faulkner Serio. The Wind Dragon."
Natalie raised a brow. "Since when?"
"It went public yesterday," Cyrus finished.
She hummed to herself. "Goes to show how up-to-date I am." She paused and furrowed her brows. "Wait—but aren't you a first tier?"
Seti whispered to himself, "One day people are going to stop saying that."
Natalie used her pen to write something down on the paper before her. "I can see where your concern is coming from, Cyrus. The Serio family finds a random tier one and then has him debut on the same day as Tobias Vescio's declaration. However, it ultimately doesn't change anything we'll be doing today, although it's good to have it on record. Thank you. Okay, let's begin."
She pressed the recorder and spoke to it, starting with a summary of the events at Lambsgard University, where Cassie had originally given him the geas. When directed, Cyrus gave his testimony of the Maybell mall incident and his dialogue with Faulkner (excluding the champion bits, Seti noted). Once those legalities were finished, Natalie began describing the process.
"This'll be a two-step procedure. Once I establish contact with the patient, I'll inject a veritas tendril at each potential sabotage location. When everything is complete, we will begin the questionnaire. Before I go into the safeties and privacy rights, I should first put on record that Lamb Cassie Carter, pupil to Shepherd Cyrus Everstone, will be shadowing me. As she is a tier three adept, we will use the wound method to gain access. Seti, are you familiar with the wound method?"
Seti shook his head.
"Let the record state that the patient gave a response in the negative," Natalie said.
She then went into an explanation of the three methods vivamancers used to access a person's body. Seti listened intently, as he wanted to know how to ward them off. The problem of accessing a person's body was a simple power equation: the vivamancer's mana versus the recipient's innate defense. If the vivamancer was strong enough, they could just brute force their way past these defenses. This was inefficient and would be wasteful to Cassie's limited mana, who would view the veritas geas after the questioning as part of her shadowing, so they wouldn't do that.
The second method was piercing. When a vivamancer learned to control their mana in such a way, they could simply pierce through any innate defenses and gain access without wasting too much mana. Unfortunately for Cassie, she wasn't capable of that just yet. She technically shouldn't be capable of that, period, given she was a third tier. However, her niche would allow it, similar to Seti's omniview allowing him to hone his grit, despite being tier one.
This left a third and final method, wounding. When a wound was made on a body, the vivamancer could bypass the outer innate defenses and gain access immediately. Seti was reminded of Cassie pricking his finger with a needle back at Lambsgard University.
"As for your privacy rights," Natalie said, "you'll be given keywords that will bypass the soon-to-be-established geas. When I place the veritas, you will lose the ability to lie—which is defined by your understanding of the word. Any question we ask will force a verbal response. If a verbal response is not physically allowed through circumstance, such as a mouth gag, the veritas will not require a response. If you feel the imposed question is self-incriminating, you will be allowed to say the exit phrase: 'I plead the accords.' The veritas will not require a response when the exit phrase has been verbalized. If the exit phrase has been stated, and the Shepherds feel the avoided question is intrinsic to their investigation, escalation to the higher courts may occur. Once the veritas has been established, the representing party of the patient may confirm its contents. When confirmed, the questioning may begin. Are there any questions at this time?"
Seti zoned in and out during her long-winded and somewhat boring explanation of the legality to what he was about to endure. Most of it was self-explanatory. If she placed the veritas and Shepherd Cyrus decided to ask about, say, Faulkner's weaknesses, Seti could simply say he pleads the accords (which was ironic, considering the current state of the United Accords was a game of picking and choosing). To ensure no foul play was at hand, Dora would also double-check the veritas prior to his questioning.
All of this seemed excessive when compared to Dora identifying geas usage. She had simply touched him and done her scan without him even knowing. Seti wondered if she was an eighth tiered vivamancer. That would depress him, considering her age versus his.
With no questions asked, Natalie began the procedure. Instead of using a needle, she simply touched his finger and made it tingle. A scab appeared at the point of contact.
It was at that moment an idea had come to Seti. Wouldn't this be an opportune time to test his divine mode's defense against a vivamancer? It was something he wanted to learn about: how his mana marble affects his grit, and how his grit reacts against a vivamancer. So, he decided to try it.
Seti inhaled the one mana marble that spawned for the day, reducing his marble count back down to zero.
Natalie touched the scab and frowned. Seti felt a tapping sensation around his skull (the sensation sent a pleasant shiver down his neck), but it was light. A few more taps. Then it felt like a suction cup attached itself in several places. He felt like wires were plugged into his brain.
"Are you sure you're a first tier?" Natalie asked when she broke contact.
Seti felt a desire well up within. The word yes wanted to come out.
"Yes," he said, and the desire vanished.
Shepherd Cyrus crossed his arms. "Were there complications?"
"Yes and no," she replied. "I managed to attach the veritas at the necessary locations, but his defense reminded me of an upper tier mancer. I don't see how Cassie could benefit from shadowing this patient. She would burn through her mana just attempting to stay inside."
Cassie tilted her head in confusion. "What do you mean? I've been inside already—it's what you'd expect."
Seti smiled. He gained the information he needed. Divine mode came to an end shortly after.
Natalie noticed the smile and asked, "What did you do?"
"Activated my divine mode to resist you," Seti said as soon as the desire prompted him.
He hadn't meant to say that.
"Divine mode!?" Cassie stood to her feet. "You're a divine? He's under the veritas now, right? He can't lie?"
Oh crap. Seti felt a desire to respond again.
Elder Poe stood. "Do not answer any more questions. Plead the accords."
"I plead the accords," Seti said, which extinguished the urge to answer.
"Please refrain from asking questions outside the business at hand," Elder Poe said. "Further pursuit down this line of questioning will result in negative feedback."
Seti scratched the back of his head. "Negative feedback? Sure, if you mean Faulkner's going to come here to wipe this place out." The room's occupants gave him a horrified look. "It's a joke! I'm allowed to joke while under the veritas, yeah?"
"To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure," Natalie said. "Patients typically don't joke during the procedure. I would ask if you were joking about the divine comment, but Poe is correct. If we may continue? Dora Serio, you may confirm his status."
Dora hopped off her seat and walked to Seti. Ignoring the scab on his finger, she poked his cheek at the same time Natalie touched the scab. They waited. And waited. And waited. Seti wondered if Natalie had seen the "scar" that Dora mentioned to Henry, but perhaps not, if she made no remark on it. Dora nodded and they both halted their physical contact.
Dora returned to her seat and Natalie placed her elbows on the table. The questioning began after that.
It was phrased in such a way that Seti wasn't sure what keywords they were looking for. They asked if he wanted to join the Serio family out of his own will and if that will was changed forcefully at any moment. The questions acted as a measure to identify things that Seti himself might have forgotten or would have usually dismissed.
Eventually, Natalie came around to the original subject.
"What were your thoughts on Cassie using a geas on you?" Natalie asked.
"Didn't like it," Seti said. "It was forced on me, but I understood her."
Natalie looked up, appalled. "Why would you understand it?"
"What do you mean why? Her reasoning made sense."
Seti noticed Cassie's reaction with his omniview. She was taken aback once again, like she had back at Blue Castle when he said he didn't mind her shadowing him. Was the concept of understanding someone so foreign? Or maybe she never had an ally regarding her desire for anything geas related and felt like he fulfilled something.
But Natalie's posture also changed. It was like...she was angry about something.
"Has your stance regarding geas' changed since receiving Cassie's geas?" She asked.
"Well… Yes." It was the truth. Seti had considered a few things after hearing her point-of-view. Not that he supported it in its entirety, but perhaps a discussion wasn't out of the question.
"Then is it fair to say your personality started to change after receiving Cassie's geas?"
The urge within Seti cried out yes, but he so desperately wanted to add more to it. "Yes—but that's because—"
"Would you agree that Cassie deliberately and purposely inflicted you with a geas, all while being fully aware of how it could change you?"
That question was so vague. The urge to say yes crept up again, but Seti consciously pushed it down so he could say something else. "Personalities can change due to circumstances involving a geas without the geas itself being the direct cause… But yes, I would agree."
Natalie nodded as she took a glance at the recorder. "I am inclined to say my thoughts at this juncture. I believe Cassie's Prestige application, and her Lamb status, should both be revoked until future questioning is allowed to take place."
Cassie jumped to her feet. "You can't do that!"
"Natalie, your verdict is out of the question," Shepherd Cyrus said.
"I will not be challenged," Natalie said. "As the Second Division's AVC Enforcer, this is my jurisdiction. I have reason to believe this matter should be investigated further."
"But, don't I have an immunity now?" Cassie tried weakly.
"It does not apply if new evidence suggests you may have deceived us to sway our claim in error," Natalie said.
Cyrus attempted to argue back regarding the interpretation of the law, but Natalie wouldn't budge. When the Shepherd relented and suggested that they start questioning Cassie now, the Benediction vivamancer refused, announcing that a new set of questions needed to be written up.
Cassie slowly sat back down. The look on her face caught Seti's attention. It wasn't sadness or shock, but rather the light leaving her eyes as darkness took hold. The feeling of the world's rejection pressed into her.
She would become another Libby.
"Your assessment is flawed," Seti said, going on the offensive. "Your assumption is based on the idea that her geas was somehow involved in my personality changing, but your questionnaire was purposely and deliberately intended to invoke an affirmative response. You have a bias against geas'."
"It's in the job description. This won't change my mind. I have made my verdict."
Seti hesitated with what he wanted to say next. Faulkner had said to keep his cards close. Going down this path would force him to speak on a matter he would rather not disclose. But didn't he just make a decision to stand up for people in these types of situations, acting as their champion? To delay their despair?
The darkness that threatened to blanket Cassie had paused. She was looking at him. Hopeful. It was the push that drove him forward. Something within him had changed, as if a switch had been flipped.
It was time for the Champion to speak out.
Champion Seti leaned back on his chair and crossed his legs. "Your verdict doesn't stand if I say my personality change is due to an overwhelmingly powerful mancer's attack on me."
"Seti," Elder Poe warned.
The Champion held up his hand to silence the elder.
"An absurd claim," Natalie retorted.
"Yet, it is a claim while under the veritas."
"If you think absolute truths are the only thing you can speak under the veritas, you are incorrect. While the veritas doesn't allow you to lie, you are capable of believing things that are false. As a tier one, I imagine a great many things seem overwhelmingly powerful to you."
Champion Seti held his hands forward as if he was holding out a gift. "Let's put it this way: the mancer was so powerful that Dora Serio, the one whom you claim to be in the same category as the Octet's seven seat, was unable to resolve the problem. The Wind Dragon and the Earth Dragon both helped combat what that powerful mancer has done, which resulted in me becoming the Aero Dragonspawn."
That statement regarding Faulkner and Shanna was partially true… They had helped alleviate the burden of being blind, but wording his statement like this implied they were more involved with Dream Eater than they actually were.
"And why would this 'powerful mancer' attack you?" Natalie asked.
Champion Seti smiled. "I plead the accords. Let's just say...my previous comment referring to the divine wasn't a joke."
The reason for Dream Eater's attack, and Seti's divine mode, were not directly related. But implying that they were, while under the veritas, drew far more attention to him than it would to Cassie.
Shepherd Cyrus kept switching his look from Seti to Elder Poe, as if he could find a clue to help fill him in to more details. When Natalie didn't speak, Cyrus took the opportunity to jump in.
"I think it is fair to say that the previous ruling on Cassie Carter still stands," Shepherd Cyrus said.
"We cannot let him walk out after all these...claims!"
"That is not your jurisdiction," Shepherd Cyrus said.
"Let's finish this," Champion Seti said, examining his fingernails in an act of boredom. "I have places to be."
A wrinkle appeared on Natalie's forehead. She pursed her lips.
"A remembrance geas is typically used to recall a memory with accuracy. Was your memory altered in some way?"
Elder Poe opened his mouth to speak, but Seti beat him to it.
"I plead the accords," Seti said. "Rephrase the question so that it's specific to geas usage."
Natalie didn't miss a beat. "The event that caused Cassie to use a remembrance geas on you...was a geas involved in that?"
"No," he answered truthfully. It wasn't a geas that altered him, but necromancy (as the current working theory went).
Seti thought Natalie would put up more of a fight, but she instead leaned back in her chair, motioned to Cassie sloppily, and found an interest in the wall. The healing adept was allowed a look at the veritas before Dora removed it. Once the scab on Seti's finger was healed, Natalie declared that no harm with geas was done. The official investigation was now over.
As they left the building, both parties faced each other.
Thank you, Cassie mouthed, unwilling or unable to vocalize the words.
The stress of the meeting had faded. Seti felt like cracking a joke to balance the world.
Shepherd Cyrus crossed his arms. "I'm not sure what to make of this meeting. All divines have their eyes glow when they use their mancy. You cannot be one."
Seti flashed a smile. "You're correct that their eyes do glow. But as for me? The only thing that glows is my personality."
Cassie rolled her eyes.
"So you lied," Shepherd Cyrus said. "You lied by only speaking true words."
"A wise counselor once said I had a problem with authority."
"If I recall correctly," Elder Poe started, "all AVC meetings require the Benediction's vivamancer to write the report. It would be troublesome if the wrong impression was made."
In short, Elder Poe was asking for a favor. Or maybe it was the other way around, where the Shepherd was the one in debt to the Serio family. In any case, Elder Poe wanted the outgoing information to be controlled in some way.
Shepherd Cyrus didn't say anything. He looked past them while his mind turned. After the long pause, he nodded.
And with that, they turned to leave.
Their next destination was Prestige Academy. Elder Poe asked if Seti wanted to visit Sentinel, the guild where his mother resided, but Seti declined. He couldn't pinpoint the exact reason for his decision or separate the mixed emotions he felt. His mother had left them to pursue a career in her mancy, but her real reason for leaving was Seti pushing his emotional niche on her unknowingly. Seti was the reason for his parent's divorce. That wasn't something he wanted to address today.
The group arrived at the ticket booth station. This was where Seti would part ways with the Serio family. Non-students needed a special pass to enter, which none of them had.
Trains were the only method to access Prestige Academy. Normal vehicles weren't allowed, and there wasn't a route for them, anyway. Several geo-bridges connected the chasm, and trains made use of them all.
"A flying mancer could still get in," Seti commented.
"Wouldn't matter," the ticket-booth guy said. He had a name tag, but Seti couldn't get a read on it. "Luminaire would activate and throw them back."
"Luminaire?" Seti asked.
Booth Man gestured towards the chasm, which was too far for Seti to see. "Luminaire—the static around the island. It's quite the powerful self-sustained electromancy spell and the second line of defense, after the chasm. Here we go—stupid computer was acting weird. Name and representing party?"
"It should say Seti Tutt from Lambsgard University."
Booth Man typed at the computer and frowned. "I see an Aiden here from Lambsgard, but I don't see a Seti."
"That's what I used at the Exceptions exam, though," Seti said. Maybe the information wasn't completed on Prestige's side?
"One moment," Booth man said. He typed some more. "The Exceptions list does have someone named Seti, but the last name…"
"Oh, yeah, Seti Serio, then. My representing party probably switched to the Serio family, as well."
Henry had said it would take several business days for the last name to update, but perhaps someone on the other side decided to speed up the process.
Booth Man nodded. He kept his eyes on the screen. "Are you the new Dragonspawn? The tier one?"
"The one and only. Can I get my ticket?"
Seti didn't want any complications to occur before he made it inside Prestige itself. The sooner he boarded the train, the better.
"Right, of course. I assume you'll be wanting a compartment all to yourself?"
"Yes," Seti said, but then corrected himself. "Actually, no. Is there another Prestige student onboard?"
"There is," Booth Man confirmed. "He didn't actually say he wanted to be alone. I could put you with him."
An interesting word choice, Seti noticed. "That'll do. I want to get a feel for the students before school actually starts."
The ticket printed, which Booth Man examined, paused, and then gave to Seti, who couldn't read the ticket.
Fortunately, Booth Man said the most important part of the ticket. "You're at C3."
Seti gave thanks and walked away from the ticket booth to stand with Elder Poe and Dora. This would be their goodbye.
"I suppose things get serious once I get on that train, huh? When do you suppose I'll see all of you guys again?" Seti asked.
"It may be a while," Elder Poe said. "Not long from now, we'll mail you a few necessary items. Study well, grow both as a person and as a mancer, all while enjoying yourself during your focus on the other matters at hand."
They said their farewells and Seti boarded the train. It wasn't a clunky metal train, but a sleek wooden one that seemed to be in impeccable condition. He was fortunate that each section had the letters and numbers carved out. Seemingly insignificant details such as this were insurmountable to him.
Seti walked past the compartments until he found C3, and then opened the door to enter. Within was a single male staring out the window. His hair was completely shaven and he had a vertical scar that started from the side of his chin, went all the way down to his chest, and finally disappeared into his clothes. The male wore a baggy hoodie. He didn't even look at Seti.
Seti sat on the opposite side of the compartment, placed his bags on the spot next to him, and let his feet rest on the other side.
The male finally took a casual glance at Seti, and then froze when he did so.
"You!" The male stood. "It be you!"
Seti was at a loss. Did someone recognize him for being Faulkner's disciple already?
"Hi, I'm Seti," he said.
The male took one step forward and grabbed Seti by the collar. "That was a cheat you did! You didn't beat me!"
The voice was familiar…but not the haircut. Seti didn't know anyone with a shaven head. When he squinted his eyes in confusion, the male took offense and raised his arm. Thinking a strike was about to happen, Seti raised his arms defensively. The male's arm turned. A phasm material began to appear around it to form a drill. It hummed silently when it spun.
"Oh… Hello, Tyronn! Nice haircut," Seti said.
Tyronn pointed his drill-arm at Seti's face. Seti flinched back and hit his head against the wall behind him. Tyronn, seemingly satisfied, smirked and made his phasm drill vanish.
"You didn't beat me," Tyronn said again, looking down from above.
"You're right," Seti said, raising his hands up slightly in surrender. He pushed calm on Tyronn—despite promising himself he wouldn't use his niche. "You didn't lose to me because you're worse than me. You lost because of your friends. They pressured you into taking my hit. You should've taken me seriously."
Tyronn's breathing slowed. He seemed to accept Seti's words and sat back down.
"How did you cast a spell?" He asked. "You be a tier one?"
"I am." Seti nodded, feeling the bump form where he hit his head. "But it might be better to just assume I'm not a first tiered mancer. Anyone that thinks otherwise will suffer pretty badly."
Tyronn automatically reached up to his chin, where the scar started. Seti felt a twinge of guilt. It was reckless of him to use Aerial Slash without testing it first. Spells were different with him and needed to be defined properly.
The drill-crafter crossed his arms and legs and looked out the window. "I be careless. Me loss."
Seti rested his foot on the seat. As for Tyronn, he didn't expect the quick attitude turnaround. The crafter was proud, but perhaps he also was less unreasonable than he seemed.
"Oh, I be remember," Tyronn said, turning to Seti. "Your last name?"
"Serio," Seti said.
"No, before. Tuff?"
"Aye, Tutt. I met Lady Tutt at the base. You know she?" Tyronn asked.
Seti scrunched his face together. Tyronn had met his mother at the Sentinel base—which shouldn't be surprising, considering that guild had recommended him at the Exceptions exam.
"Yeah, she's my mom. Did she mention me?"
Tyronn shook his head. "I didn't say it. She no knew I know."
The compartment shook when the train rumbled to life. The train blared its horn. They were about to depart.
"My master from home be saying Dragon and Dragonspawn dangerous strong. Tell me to not fight."
Seti nodded. He wasn't sure what to say.
"Not enemy," Tyronn said as he stretched out his hand.
Seti was taken aback for a moment. When he collected himself, he shook the crafters hand.
"Not enemy," Seti agreed.
The train moved. They were moments away from their destination. Prestige Academy.