Zorian stared intently at the two sheets of paper in front of him, methodically going through every single line of text and marking down the matches and differences between the two documents. Zach sat beside him, watching him work with a thoughtful frown, not saying anything.
Despite the oppressive silence and serious mood, the two papers were simple lists of names. Classmates, teachers, public officials… each of them had listed anyone they considered even remotely important on their own sheet of paper, with no input from the other whatsoever. It was Zorian’s hope that by comparing the two lists with each other, they could see if there were any other obvious holes in Zach’s memory. Or Zorian’s memory, for that matter – it was unlikely, but Zorian didn’t entirely discount the idea that his own mind had been tampered with too.
“Is this really necessary?” Zach asked him. “Maybe I just forgot the guy?”
Zorian looked up from the two papers to give Zach an incredulous look.
“Hey, I’m just saying!” Zach protested. “I mean, it has been a pretty long time since I’ve been stuck in this time loop, and he was expelled before the time loop even began. I’d have to specifically seek him out, and what reason did I have to do that? We apparently didn’t even like each other, if I understood you correctly.”
“Please,” Zorian scoffed. There was no doubt in Zorian’s mind that Zach’s curious inability to remember anything about Veyers Boranova was artificial in nature. “I can understand you putting the jerk completely out of your mind. Hell, I pretty much did that myself. But to completely forget that he existed at all and everything about him?”
Yet that was precisely what happened, if Zach was to be believed. Zorian could only conclude someone had scrubbed Zach’s mind clean of everything related to the Boranova heir.
He wasn’t sure why Zach was so unwilling to accept that conclusion, though he did have his suspicions…
Zorian returned to his task of matching names for a while, eventually stumbling onto a name on Zach’s list that he was unfamiliar with. That was not very surprising, though – Zach’s list was way longer than Zorian’s, as the other boy was far more social than he was.
“Who is this Ilinim Kam guy?” he asked Zach.
“He’s was a student in one of the other groups during our first two years in the academy,” Zach said. “We used to hang out together sometimes. You weren’t very friendly back then, so that’s probably why you don’t remember him. I don’t think you ever mingled with the other groups, did you?”
“No,” Zorian admitted. “I was always very busy back then. I barely interacted with my own classmates, nevermind people I had no reason to talk to. Still, I did take a brief look at the other groups, back when I was investigating our classmates for potential Red Robe candidates. I don’t remember ever seeing any Ilinim Kam.”
“Well, I did say he was a student,” Zach pointed out. “He failed the certification exam and dropped out of the academy.”
Well, that would explain it. He had completely ignored people who failed to advance into the third year, thinking them irrelevant. That’s how he’d missed Veyers too, actually.
“We’re going to have to make a list of people like that and see if it holds any more surprises for us,” Zorian noted. Scanning the names below Ilinim, he noticed quite a few names from other student groups. “That said, I can’t help but notice that you know quite a few students outside our class…”
“I know what you’re getting at,” Zach interrupted him. “You’re going to point out how I can list half of our year mates on demand but can’t remember a guy that went to our class.”
“And?” Zorian prodded. “Your response to that?”
“You’re right. There is definitely something abnormal about me forgetting this Veyers guy like that. You happy now?” Zach said resignedly.
“Yes,” Zorian nodded. “Now tell me who this Anixa Pravoski girl is…”
For the next hour and a half, they slowly went through the two lists of names, searching for any peculiarities. The good news was that Zach didn’t have any other glaring holes in his memories, as far as Zorian could tell. Only Veyers seemed to be a total blank.
“So… do you think Veyers is Red Robe?” Zach asked cautiously.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Zorian said, taking off his glasses and inspecting them for dirt. It was mostly a way to waste some time while he thought about what he wanted to say.
“Yes it is,” said Zach slowly, as if talking to an idiot. “So why don’t you try answering it.”
Ugh. So impatient.
“It’s possible,” Zorian said. “But I don’t know. I’m kind of bothered by some things about this.”
“Like what?” Zach asked curiously.
“Like the fact Veyers apparently wiped only himself out of your memory,” Zorian said. “That is so… amateurish. I would expect more from Red Robe. I mean, if it was me doing something like this, I would have blanked out your recollection of another four or five random students to muddy the trail a bit.”
Zach gave him an unamused look.
“You know, Zorian, sometimes I can’t help but wonder if you’re actually Red Robe,” he said.
“You saw both of us in the same room, though,” Zorian pointed out, completely unconcerned by Zach’s words.
“I already know Red Robe can make simulacrums, so that proves nothing,” Zach said, folding his hands over his chest.
Zorian made a mental note to ask Zach to teach him how to cast the simulacrum spell, since it was unlikely that Zach had never learned the spell in all the decades he had spent in the time loop and Zorian really wanted the spell. They had more pressing issues at the moment, however, so he reluctantly set the idea aside for the moment.
“The second thing that bothers me is that it’s hard to swallow that someone like Veyers could be the relatively discreet and patient Red Robe,” Zorian said, dragging the conversation back to the topic of Veyers. “I mean, he lost his temper at a disciplinary hearing, for gods’ sake! He is even more impulsive than you are!”
“Hey…” Zach protested.
“Then again, neither of us are very similar to the person we used to be before the time loop, are we?” admitted Zorian.
“There are plenty of similarities,” Zach said, shaking his head in disagreement. “But I do think that him having a short fuse before the time loop proves little. You were also rather unpleasant to interact with before the time loop, and look at you now…”
This was probably payback for Zorian’s earlier comment about Zach’s impulsiveness. He supposed he did kind of deserve that…
“I had reasons for behaving like I did,” Zorian noted.
“Who says Veyers didn’t?” Zach asked. “I’m sure he felt his behavior was totally justified, too.”
That was true, Zorian conceded. In fact, it could be that the nature of the time loop removed most of Veyers’ problems and allowed him to calm down. Much like it did for Zorian himself.
“I suppose you’re right,” said Zorian after a pause. He shook his head to clear his thoughts a little. “I think that, in the end, it doesn’t really matter whether Veyers is Red Robe or not. The fact you have no memory of him means he’s someone Red Robe didn’t want you to interact with, which makes him automatically important. We have to check him out.”
“Oh, no argument about that,” Zach nodded. “Though this makes me wonder… if Veyers really is Red Robe, what will we find when we track him down?”
“Depending on what method Red Robe used to leave the time loop, we would expect his counterpart in this world to be either a soulless corpse like the aranea or an unaware person no different from the rest of the people around us,” Zorian said.
“Why a soulless corpse?” Zach asked, baffled.
“Well, I’ve been thinking of the ways Red Robe could have tricked the Guardian into letting him out of the time loop reality, and I realized he might have just asked for his soul to be shoved into his real world body,” explained Zorian. “For a necromancer like him, it might be fairly trivial to just eject his old soul out of the body and continue as normal from there.”
“Would the Guardian agree to do that, though?” Zach asked. “Can it even do that? It did claim it would have to switch souls if the body in the real world already has one.”
“I can’t give you an answer to any of that, obviously,” Zorian huffed. “I don’t know enough about either necromancy or the Guardian’s capabilities to say if it’s possible. It’s just an idea I’ve been considering, that’s all.”
For a while, they kept throwing various possibilities at each other. It was all just wild speculation, however, so they gave up on that discussion as pointless soon enough. They would have to wait until they found Veyers before they could properly consider the issue.
A brief silence descended between them, each of them lost in their own thoughts.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to take a look at your mind?” asked Zorian after a while.
“What?” Zach asked with incomprehension, jolted out of his musings by Zorian’s question. A second later, when he finally processed the question, his face contorted into an annoyed glare. “No. Absolutely not. I’m sorry, but I already had my brain scrambled by one mind mage and I don’t want to be at the mercy of another. Besides, what would be the point? I may not be an expert on mind magic like you, but even I know there is no way to restore magically erased memories. I’d be letting you rummage through my mind for nothing.”
“Well, it’s true that a properly blanked out memory is irrecoverable,” Zorian admitted easily. “But why assume Red Robe executed the mind wipe flawlessly? I saw his mind magic in action at one point, when he tried to use it against me, and he wasn’t all that good with it. There is a good chance he missed something.”
“You have a very skewed image what constitutes as ‘good’ when it comes to mind magic,” Zach told him. “It’s not Red Robe that’s bad, it’s you who is terrifyingly good at it. And the answer is still no.”
“What if I tell you that you could still be under the magic’s influence?” Zorian asked.
Zach gave him a surprised look.
“What the hell do you mean by that!?” Zach asked him with a raised voice.
“It’s hard to believe you never encountered anyone mentioning Veyers in one of the previous restarts,” Zorian pointed out with a sigh. “He’s not often mentioned, but people do talk about him on occasion. At some point over the decades, you really should have noticed there was a guy everyone in our class knew of, yet you have no memories of.”
“Well… I was only rarely in class after some point…” Zach tried.
“Zach, you’ve been strangely evasive about Veyers this entire time,” Zorian told him bluntly. “Hell, not long ago you again floated the idea you may have just forgotten the guy. As if it hadn’t been abundantly obvious by then that the guy had been purposely deleted out of your memories. I would have expected you to be excited about discovering something so important, but instead you seemed really keen to dismiss the whole thing.”
“Zorian, you’re overcomplicating things again,” Zach complained. “Please speak plainly.”
“Fine. You’re probably under some kind of compulsion not to focus on the topic of Veyers,” Zorian said. “And possibly forget about it after a while, if it was ever forcibly pointed out to you. We’ll have to see if you still remember this conversation tomorrow.”
“Don’t even joke about that last part, Zorian,” Zach warned him.
“It’s what I’d have done in Red Robe’s place,” Zorian said, shrugging. “But I have a feeling you don’t have to worry about that. If Red Robe didn’t bother masking his memory wipe better, it’s likely that he didn’t bother with something so relatively sophisticated. The compulsion to dismiss the topic itself might have been enough, anyway. I mean, if it hadn’t been for me being so pushy and insistent about the hole in your memory when it comes to Veyers, you’d have likely dismissed it and eventually put it out of your mind.”
Zach hissed something under his breath that Zorian didn’t quite catch but which he was pretty sure were insults and swear words directed at Red Robe. Something about his canine ancestry and fondness for male genitals. Regardless, Zach spent the next several minutes pacing around the area and muttering to himself.
He looked dangerously unstable, if Zorian was to be perfectly honest. And it wasn’t the first time Zach had done something like that, either. It occurred to Zorian that all those decades Zach spent in the time loop, with only limited ability to interact with other people, must have been harder on his fellow time traveler than he had supposed.
How much worse, then, would he have ended up if the time loop worked as intended and he stayed inside for hundreds of years or however long it was supposed to last? Maybe the Ghost Serpent was onto something…
Finally, Zach stopped his pacing, ran his hand through his hair in a frustrated manner, and turned to Zorian.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he said. “I really can’t, but I don’t seem to have a choice. Zorian?”
“Yes?” Zorian asked, curiously. Was Zach finally going to let him take a look at his mind? Probably, he couldn’t imagine what else-
“I want you to bring me to Xvim again,” Zach said, a sour expression on his face. “I’m going to need those mind magic lessons after all.”
“Oh,” Zorian said, blinking in surprise. He didn’t expect that. “Yeah. Sure.”
He wasn’t sure whether to be amused or annoyed by this outcome. It wasn’t what he had been trying to do by broaching the topic, but at least it was bound to bring plenty of amusement to him in the days to come.
* * *
The next three days proved to be rather frustrating. On the bright side, Zach did not forget about Veyers after a while, so any compulsion he might be laboring under did not extend that far. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ended. Their search for Veyers had gone nowhere. They knew the boy’s name, what he looked like and where his home was, but they still couldn’t find him. In the end Zach and Zorian blanketed the entire city with divinations, and they still couldn’t track him down. Either Veyers was under some heavy anti-divination wards, or he was not anywhere near the city of Cyoria.
To make matters worse, nobody seemed to know anything about the guy, not even the various authorities. Zorian knew from questioning academy officials (and reading their minds when they refused to give him an answer) that Veyers had never interacted with the academy again after his expulsion, even though he was supposed to come and sign some documents to finalize things. The academy sent a message to Veyers’ House to complain about that, but received no response whatsoever. The police, for their part, received no report that the boy was dead or missing, despite the fact Veyers hadn’t been seen in weeks.
They even tried contacting Noble House Boranova directly to see if they could arrange for a meeting. Sadly, their representatives told them to get lost. Not in those words, admittedly, they were actually rather polite, but they had still made it clear they didn’t want to talk to them.
All in all, investigating Veyers was proving to be a lot harder than Zorian initially thought it would be. At this point in time, however, Zorian didn’t find that either surprising or particularly disappointing. When was anything about this time loop simple?
Though it was a long-shot, Zorian decided to ask their classmates about Veyers to see if they knew something. At the very least, Benisek was bound to have heard some rumors about the disgraced Boranova heir, even if there was no telling how accurate any of them were.
“You’re on time for once, I see,” Akoja told him as he approached the classroom. She marked his arrival on the attendance sheet she was holding in her hands. “A positive sign. What’s the occasion?”
Zorian thought about pointing out he was actually incredibly early, but decided not to. Let her have it her way this once.
“I actually wanted to talk to you,” he said.
“Me!?” she asked incredulously, giving him a wide-eyed look. “Err, I mean, sure… what did you want to talk about?”
“Veyers Boranova,” Zorian said.
“Him?” she asked in distaste. He felt a twinge of disappointment coming off her. “You really know how to pick a topic, Zorian.”
“Sorry,” he said, genuinely a little remorseful. He probably gave her a bit of false hope he would ask her out or something, if the feelings he got from her were of any indication. Not what he had intended. “I just thought you might know something about him, since you’re the class representative and all.”
“To be honest, I did my best to put him out of my mind,” she said. “I can’t tell you how glad I was when I heard he got expelled.”
“Well, about that… do you know what exactly he did on that hearing to get expelled?” Zorian asked.
“No. Nobody does,” Akoja said, shaking her head. “I heard people saying he attacked one of the judges, but that’s probably rubbish. That’s a little too much, even for Veyers.”
As much as Zorian didn’t like the guy, he had to admit there was truth to that. Veyers usually had some restraint around teachers and other people that had power over him, so he probably wouldn’t have done something stupid like attacking a judge deciding his own fate.
But he wouldn’t put it past him, either.
“So you’ve never seen him lately?” Zorian asked. “Never heard about anything about what he did afterwards?”
“No and no,” she answered, giving him a suspicious look. “Why the sudden interest in Veyers?”
“Zach wants to talk to him about something, but can’t find him,” Zorian said. “I agreed to help so I’m asking people if they know something.”
He sensed a twinge of annoyance from her when Zach’s name came up. Him being suddenly friendly with Zach didn’t sit well with her, he could tell, but to her credit she didn’t say anything about it. One of these days he really had to ask her why she disliked the boy so much.
“Maybe his House placed him under private arrest when he got expelled?” Akoja offered. “It was quite a scandal for them, so they probably don’t want him walking around in public for a while. At least until things died down a little. Knowing Veyers, he probably couldn’t handle people talking behind his back and mocking him. He’d lose his temper and make things worse than they already were.”
“Maybe,” Zorian agreed. It was also possible that Veyers was currently a soulless corpse and his House didn’t want that to get out for whatever reason. He and Zach were definitely breaking into the Boranova estate at some point if they failed to find any other clues to Veyers’ location. “It would make sense, but his House didn’t seem to care about his outbursts before, so…”
“Yes,” Akoja agreed, nodding. “It’s shameful how much they let him get away with. I can’t even imagine what my parents would do to me if I tried to behave like that. Getting myself expelled? I would probably be sent away to one of our rural relatives as punishment. I bet Veyers would have learned how to rein in his temper real quick if he had to work at a farm every time he did something stupid.”
Wow. Akoja’s parents were pretty strict apparently. No wonder she turned out the way she did.
“How do you think your parents would react if you got expelled?” Akoja asked curiously.
“I… honestly don’t know,” Zorian admitted. “Truthfully, I think I’d be too afraid to find out. They already don’t like me much, and academic success is the only thing I really have going for me in their eyes. If that happened, I’d just gather all my savings and portable belongings and leave the country or something. I wouldn’t even bother coming back home.”
Akoja stared at him in surprise for a moment, at loss how to respond.
“Ah…” she finally said, a little uncomfortably. “I see…”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Zorian. “It’s all highly theoretical, since there is no way I’m getting expelled like Veyers. One last question. This may sound strange, but do you know what Veyers was capable of?”
Akoja still stared at him thoughtfully for a moment, probably still focused on his previous admission. He was tempted to take a quick peek at her thoughts to see what she was considering, but managed to restrain himself. If he started looking at people’s surface thoughts for no reason, where would it all end? Besides, looking at the thoughts of a girl that had a crush on him was probably a bad idea to begin with.
“I assume you mean magically speaking,” she said finally. Zorian nodded. “Well, his atrocious behavior aside, I do know he was actually doing well in terms of academics. I’m guessing his House hired some private instructor to teach him, or maybe even did the teaching themselves. I also know he could make fire without chants and gestures, and really easily too, but that is probably not unusual for a Boranova.”
Zorian nodded. Noble House Boranova was famous for their mastery of fire magic. The orange, slitted eyes that all core members of the House shared hinted that this was a result of some bloodline or enhancement ritual, rather than secret training method, but there was no publically available information on the specifics of it. Houses were notoriously secretive about such things.
Thanking Akoja for her time and patience, Zorian continued on into the classroom. There were still a couple of people he wanted to try his luck with.
* * *
“Hello, Benisek,” Zorian said, sitting down next to the boy. “Do you mind if I ask you about something?”
“Ah! So the great Zorian finally deigns to come back to his old friend!” Benisek said. “And here I thought you had replaced me with Zach!”
If Benisek hadn’t been smiling widely when he said that, Zorian might have been actually worried that the boy felt slighted. As it was, he just thanked his luck that Benisek was a very laid back person who didn’t take things personally.
It also helped that they weren’t terribly close friends, in all honesty. Though that was Zorian’s fault more than Benisek’s.
“Don’t be so melodramatic,” Zorian told him. “You can have more than one friend, you know?”
“True, true,” Benisek agreed readily. “And you look way happier this year than you usually are, too. Got a girlfriend too, perhaps?”
He wiggled his eyebrows at Zorian suggestively, causing Zorian to roll his eyes at him.
“Fine, don’t tell me,” Benisek scoffed. “You know I’ll find out on my own soon enough, right?”
“Do you know anything about Veyers?” Zorian asked him, ignoring the question.
“Veyers?” Benisek asked. “Ah, I guess you only now found out why he’s not with us this year. I keep forgetting you live in the middle of nowhere and don’t really talk to people. Anyway, yeah, he lost his temper on his disciplinary hearing and got expelled. I guess even Noble Houses have only so much political capital to burn on people like him.”
“Do you know what he actually did?” Zorian asked.
Benisek didn’t. He knew all sorts of speculation about it, such as the one that he set fire to one of the written witness testimonies or the one where he slept with the daughter of some high-ranking academy official and bragged about it during the hearing. They were all ‘heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend’ sort of story, though, and Zorian didn’t put much stock to them.
Unsurprisingly, Benisek had no idea where Veyers could be at the moment. That’s not to say he didn’t have anything useful to offer in regards to the topic, though.
“You know, you’re not the only person asking for him,” Benisek said. “I heard there are people discreetly asking people about his whereabouts for a while now. They’re offering money to anyone who can prove they’ve seen him.”
“Do you know who they are?” Zorian asked.
“I’d already have mentioned it if I did,” Benisek said, shrugging. “But looking at the most likely suspects… I think it’s his House that hired them. If it’s not them, it’s unlikely they would let someone basically offer a bounty on one of their own.”
“Maybe they don’t know?” offered Zorian.
“If I know, there is no way they missed it,” Benisek said, shaking his head. “I’m just a curious amateur. Noble Houses all have actual professionals on their payroll.”
So Veyers’ House was looking for him too? Curious. Strange that they could not find him – if Noble House Boranova had its own intelligence network like Benisek claimed, they really should have tracked him down by now. Especially since they were his kin, and thus presumably knew him far better than Zorian ever could.
He thanked Benisek for the information and moved on.
* * *
“No, I don’t know what Veyers did to get expelled,” Tinami said. “It didn’t have to be anything particularly heinous, though. If the academy actually puts you through a disciplinary hearing, they are already thoroughly sick of you. He probably shouted at the judge or something similarly minor, and they decided it was as good an excuse as any. It’s really a shame he couldn’t control himself more, the last thing his House needs is something like this.”
“Why?” Zorian asked curiously. “What’s wrong with his House?”
“Noble House Boranova is a military house,” Tinami said. “They suffered a lot in the Splinter Wars.”
“Oh, is this something like what happened to House Noveda?” Zorian asked. “Were they too robbed of their assets?”
“Ah, you know about that…” she said. “No, it’s not like that. They weathered the Weeping without losing too many people, unlike the Noveda. But they still suffered crippling losses in the dissolution of the Old Alliance, and they’re a long way from recovering. Having the designated heir of the House behave like that… that’s not going to help the other Houses take them seriously again.”
Hmm… so House Boranova was weakened, but not so much that people could loot them the way they did the Novedas. It probably wasn’t in their interest for Cyoria to be destroyed, so why would Veyers support the invasion?
“Perhaps he just doesn’t care about his House?” Zorian mused out loud.
“I’d normally scoff at the idea of a Noble House heir that doesn’t care about the House they had spent their entire life being groomed to take over at some point, but there is clearly something funny going on with Veyers,” Tinami said. “So I don’t know. It’s possible.”
While her explanations were interesting, Tinami ultimately couldn’t tell Zorian where to find Veyers. And since Tinami was the last of his classmates he had planned to ask about the quarrelsome boy, this was the end of his current investigation. It had been… surprisingly helpful.
He left the class to go find Zach and report his findings. The other time traveler had decided to talk to Xvim about getting mind magic lessons instead of accompanying Zorian to class, but he should be long done by now.
* * *
Surprisingly, when Zorian actually reached Xvim’s office he found that Zach was still inside. That could be either very good or very bad.
He didn’t have to wait long, thankfully. About fifteen minutes after he arrived, the door opened and Zach stepped out of the office.
“So, how did it go?” Zorian asked.
“Surprisingly bearable,” Zach said. “He was still kind of insulting, but he didn’t outright provoke me this time.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much his real personality as far as I can tell,” Zorian said. “So did he agree to teach you?”
“Yes,” Zach confirmed. “It was easy. We hashed out an agreement about that in the first fifteen minutes or so.”
“So what have you been doing all this time?” Zorian asked curiously. “Did he decide to hold your first lesson right then and there?”
“No. Yes,” Zach said. Zorian gave him an unamused look. “What I mean is, he did give me a brief lesson there at the end, but that’s not why it took so long. We spent most of the time arguing about your theory I have a compulsion placed on me. He thought it was stupid of me not to have someone check up on me right away to see if there is any truth in that.”
“Well, he’s right,” Zorian bluntly told him. “Even if you don’t trust me to do it, you should at least go pay one of the certified mind mages in the employ of the Mage Guild to examine you. They’re quite reliable. I used their services myself at one point.”
“I actually trust you more than I do ‘experts’ like those,” Zach said. “It’s just… I don’t want anyone using mind magic on me. Having someone looking through my thoughts is a last resort as far as I’m concerned. This compulsion, if it even exists, clearly isn’t a pressing issue. It’s pretty much rendered irrelevant at this point. I’d rather take the time to learn how to deal with this myself.”
“If you say so,” Zorian said. They had this argument before. There was no need for another rehash. “In other news, I’ve been asking around our class about Veyers…”
He told Zach about the scarce few things he found out from questioning their classmates. The most important fact, of course, was that Noble House Boranova appeared to be searching for Veyers as well.
“Damn,” Zach said. “I guess there is no point in breaking into their estate, now, is there?”
“If we still can’t track down Veyers by the end of the restart, we should still probably do it. Just to make sure, you know? But if they really are looking for him, then he obviously isn’t there.”
“I don’t understand,” Zach said. “A person like him is too distinctive to just disappear. His eyes alone ensure most people would note his passage wherever he goes. Yet it’s like the earth swallowed him. Maybe he physically walked out of the loop?”
Zorian frowned. Theoretically? It could happen. The copies of people inside the time loop were every bit as real as their counterparts in the real world. Barring Guardian intervention, it should be possible for a copy to simply step out of the time loop reality and into the real world.
“I guess it’s possible, but we shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” Zorian said. “Let’s try to locate him first and see what happens.”
“I don’t see what we can try that we haven’t done already,” Zach shrugged. “Aside from breaking into the Boranova estate, that is, and we already know that’s probably a dead end.”
“The restart is still young,” Zorian said, though he largely agreed with Zach. “We’ll wait and see if he turns up somewhere. Perhaps his House, with their greater manpower and resources, can track him down for us.”
It wasn’t like they didn’t have anything to do in the meantime.
* * *
Over the next week, both Zorian and Zach slowly advanced their lessons with Xvim and Alanic and kept an eye for Veyers. Sadly, the Boranova heir never turned up anywhere and their attempts to find him went nowhere. They even visited many of the nearby settlements near Cyoria in their search, only to come back empty handed.
Zach floated the idea that maybe Veyers purposely went somewhere far, far away instead of sticking to the city and its surroundings. In that case, they may have more luck in tracking him down at the beginning of the restart, before he had time to get too far from familiar ground. It was as good idea as any they had, but it was of no help to them at the moment. And it also didn’t explain why Veyers would want to do something like that.
Despite their issues with finding Veyers, Zorian was happy. They finally had a real clue about Red Robe’s identity, Alanic agreed to teach him more about soul magic and his personal projects were going along nicely. He had even managed to convince Taiven to accept him and Zach as time travelers, despite being very suspicious initially.
Initially, the point of making Taiven aware of the time loop was so that they could continue with their project of making a perfect training plan for Taiven. However, once Taiven was actually convinced he was telling the truth, she decided she could also help him by finding him someone of his own skill level to spar with – she claimed it was the best way to really practice combat magic, and that he was going to start stagnating if he only kept fighting training dummies and dungeon monsters. To that end, she first pitted him against her two teammates and then against some of her former student peers that she managed to convince to spar with him.
He won about half of the fights. He could have won them all, of course, but using his mental powers or various magic items was against the spirit of the spars.
“I’m tempted to ask you for a spar,” Taiven told him one day. “But a real one, not these ones where you limit yourself to invocations. But I have a feeling I’d get my butt kicked and I don’t think my pride can take that.”
“Yeah, if I took you on with no holding back I’d just batter down your mental barriers and blast your mind into unconsciousness,” Zorian said. “You don’t have the power to take me down before I dismantle your mental defenses. You did once, but not anymore.”
“Yeah, I figured it was like that,” she nodded. “And don’t even get me started on all those bombs you’re carrying. I’ve seen the tests you and Kael did with all those experimental potion grenades. You could probably beat me just by saturating the entire area with those, considering how many of them you made. Are they as expensive as they look?”
“Worse,” scowled Zorian. “The grenades themselves aren’t that bad, but the experimentation needed to refine their recipe into something that effective is murder on my money stash. I’m actually running out of cash these days. Looks like I’ll have to start robbing the invaders after all.”
Taiven shook her head ruefully.
“You say that so casually,” she said. “I think this time loop thing is having a bad influence on you.”
“Funny, most people think the time loop improved my behavior,” said Zorian with a smile. “But yes, I guess in some ways I really am getting worse.”
After a brief discussion about the morality of the time loop and permissible behavior for people aware of the restarts, the two of them said their goodbyes to each other and went to their respective homes.
The next morning Zorian and Zach entered Xvim’s office, thinking they would be having yet another routine lesson from the man. But they were wrong, because once they arrived, they found the office already occupied by someone.
It was Alanic. He and Xvim were casually chatting with each other when Zach and Zorian arrived, sipping tea and generally behaving like long lost friends that were finally reunited.
“Ah, mister Kazinski and mister Noveda,” Xvim said. “Just the people we were looking for. Go ahead and sit down. Mister Zosk and I were just exchanging some very interesting stories…”