The Adventure Society offered a limited, if valuable, array of services. The Magic Society, by contrast, provided all manner of magical amenities to anyone with the money to pay for them. The main lobby of the Magic Society services building was quite large, with many comfortable chairs. Those who could afford their services were accustomed to luxury.
An elven man in expensive clothes approached. Rufus noted a brooch in the shape of hand inside a circle, the Magic Society emblem.
“Lord Remore,” the man said. “Such a pleasure. I’m Pochard Finn, deputy director of the Magic Society here in Greenstone.”
Rufus stood up and shook his hand.
“It’s just Mr Remore,” Rufus said. “One of my ancestors made rather a point about refusing title, and it’s become something of a family stance.”
"Very principled, I'm sure," Pochard said. "Please, allow me to be your guide to our humble branch. Not as magnificent as what you are used to, I'm sure."
“I wouldn’t want to trouble you,” Rufus said.
“No trouble at all,” Pochard said. “If the director were not indisposed off-campus, I have no doubt he would greet you himself. He certainly wouldn’t want you waiting out here with the ordinary people. Title or not, I can comfortably assert that you are far from an ordinary visitor.”
“I’m just here to use a communications channel,” Rufus said. “I wouldn’t want to miss my father because I was socialising.”
“Your father,” Pochard said. “Will he be visiting our fair city?”
“He will not,” Rufus said firmly.
“A shame,” Pochard said. “At least allow me to guide you to our speaking chambers.”
“Very well,” Rufus said. “Lead on.”
The speaking chambers were accessed from a long hallway, where a series of doors led into each chamber. Pochard showed no hesitation in explaining how excellent they were.
"A man of your background is naturally familiar with speaking chambers," Pochard said, "but were you aware the very best chambers are constructed from watergreen marble? We may just be a remote branch, but our speaking chambers are a point of pride."
“Watergreen marble?” Rufus asked.
“Watergreen marble is one of the higher-grade stones quarried right here in the Greenstone region. It has a strong water affinity, which makes for an excellent connection.”
Rufus thought that Pochard was just talking up his facility, but when he stepped into his assigned speaking chamber, it really was grander than he anticipated. It was larger than others he'd seen, although the layout was normal. Half the room was covered in a pool of water, the dry half with a low, circular platform to stand on. Rather than the usual surfaces, the floor was covered in blue and green tiles, the marble walls had lush plants set into alcoves, while the roof was a colourful mosaic in shades of green and blue. The light in the room was shimmering blue-green, the source of the light being located under the water pool. The air was moist, but fresh and pleasant, with the scent of the sea. Walking into the room felt like stepping onto the ocean floor.
"Mr Pochard," Rufus said. "I must confess, I didn't give much credence to your claims about your speaking chambers. Consider this my apology for doubting your words."
“Gratifying to hear, Mr Remore. I will leave you to your call.”
Rufus turned and shook Pochard’s hand before the elf departed.
“Thank you,” he said with a smile.
Pochard left, closing the door to the chamber behind him. Rufus stood on the circular platform on the floor and waited, enjoying the pleasant atmosphere. He’d spent enough time in plain, cramped, humid speaking chambers to genuinely appreciate the difference.
Finally, the pool of water started stirring, indicating the connection was being made. The light coming through the pool started wildly shimmering. The water rose up from the pool, surging into the shape of Rufus’ father. Colour appeared in the water as if someone had tipped dyes into it, fleshing out the image to a rather excellent facsimile of his father’s features.
Pochard hadn’t been understating the quality of the connection. The image of Rufus’ father, Callum Remore, was startlingly lifelike. When the image shifted from water statue to animation, it replicated his expressions and body language with startling accuracy.
“Son,” the water representation of Callum said. “Good to see you.”
“Father,” Rufus said.
“I know that tone,” Callum said. “What did I do?”
“You’ve been spying on me.”
“Of course I have,” Callum said. “You almost died out there on some nothing contract.”
“Which you only knew about because you were spying on me!”
“It wasn’t spying,” Callum said. “I was only having a few updates sent back. Then you almost got yourself killed and I started spying. I’m surprised Danielle told you.”
“She didn’t tell me,” Rufus said. “I figured it out.”
“Son, if that woman doesn’t want you to know something, you’ll be as ignorant as a newborn babe. If you figured it out, it’s because she led you to water. You only think it was your idea to drink.”
“Well, you need to stop.”
“Of course, son.”
“Did you just lie to me?”
“Of course, son.”
Rufus let out a weary groan.
“So,” Callum said. “Tell me about this outworlder of yours.”
“He’s a bit odd,” Rufus said.
“They’re all odd,” Callum said. “What’s he actually like?”
“Do you remember the first time you told me about outworlders?”
“Hmmm. Wasn’t it when we had that one stay with us at the academy? The pretty one that you-”
“I remember the one, Dad.”
Callum’s water image let out a gleeful chuckle.
“This is a good connection,” Callum said. “I can see you scowling.”
“Dad, do you remember when you told me there were two kinds of outworlders?”
“I do,” Callum said. “The ones that die immediately, and the ones that survive and thrive.”
“Jason is definitely the die immediately type,” Rufus said, “but he survives and thrives anyway.”
“That is odd,” Callum said. “Sounds like trouble.”
“Are you telling me to back off?” Rufus asked. “Because I won’t.”
“Of course you won’t,” Callum said. “Heading for trouble is the whole point of being an adventurer. Otherwise, what’s all the training for?”
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that,” Rufus said. “I have a proposal for the academy.”
“Not having someone looking over my shoulder has been an education,” Rufus said. “As an adventurer, I’ve gone from thinking I knew everything to realising how much I don’t.”
“That’s good,” Callum said. “A few close scrapes, some costly mistakes. It’ll turn you into a real adventurer.”
“That’s exactly my point,” Rufus said. “It wasn’t until you released me into the wild that I realised how far I have to go. It’s why the Gellers keep training their family here at the south end of nowhere. They can let them loose to make their own mistakes.”
“So, you’re proposing we start sending people there?” Callum asked.
“I am,” Rufus said. “We could establish a graduate station here. The Geller family facilities are well developed, and we could arrange an exchange. They help us get off the ground, and we help them refine their training programs.”
“Have you put this to the Gellers, yet.”
“No,” Rufus said. “I wasn’t going to reach out before clearing it with Grandad. Not to mention that I’d also need specifics to take to them. I’d never make an approach without knowing what I could and couldn’t offer.”
“Good lad,” Callum said. “Alright, I’ll float it to the family. For now, you and I can start having weekly meetings. Being our man on the ground will be a good chance for you to step up in the academy. A project like this won’t be small or quick.”
“I’m not sure how long I’ll be here,” Rufus said. “Emir could arrive any day. I suppose could extend my stay; I don’t have to go back with him when he’s done.”
Callum started sheepishly rubbing his chin.
“I was meant to tell you,” he said. “Emir won’t be there for a little while.”
“How little a while are you talking about?” Rufus asked. “And why? We found what he was after.”
“Well, we know you think you found it,” Callum said. “But can you really be certain? One of his other teams found something really promising in the Godspear Islands, so he’s heading there to check it out. So… two months?”
“Three, at the absolute most,” Callum said. “Well, maybe not the absolute most. And that’s from when he leaves here, obviously. Call it four months.”
“Four months,” Rufus said incredulously.
“Well now you have your project, that works out,” Callum said.
“He doesn’t know that. Did you say he hadn’t left Vitesse yet? What is he doing?”
“There’s been a lot going on,” Callum said. “It’s a busy time.”
Rufus narrowed his eyes at his father’s projection.
“Isn’t it time for the flower wine festival?”
“Is it?” Callum asked, innocently. He wouldn’t meet his son’s eyes, even through the projection.
Rufus ran a hand over his face.
“Alright, Dad,” he said wearily. “Weekly meetings?”
“I’ll send you a message with the times.”
“No, I’ll send you a message. You can work around my schedule.”
“Give my love to Mum. See you next week, Dad.”
Rufus stepped off the circular platform and the image of his father broke apart, splashing into the pool.
“Four months,” he muttered to himself. “Alright, then.”
Rufus stormed through the back gate into Jory’s courtyard. Jason was seated in a meditation pose on a mat while Farrah sat on a chair reading. Gary was cooking meat skewers on a grill fuelled by magic fire.
“Farrah,” Rufus said sharply, “get the book out.”
She glanced at the book in her hands.
“Not that book,” Rufus said. “I mean… the book.”
“The book book?” she asked.
“Yes,” Rufus said. “The book book.”
“What’s the book book?” Gary asked.
Jason opened his eyes.
“Why is everyone making chicken noises?” he asked.
“It’s time for you to get your hands on a martial art skill book,” Rufus told him.
“Ooh, nice,” Jason said, getting up and brushing his legs with his hands.
“Wait, that’s what you want the book for?” Farrah asked.
“What book?” Gary asked.
“You know,” Farrah said. “The book. From under the lake.”
“Didn’t we decide to give that to Emir?” Gary asked.
“We did decide that, yes,” Farrah said.
“The contract from Emir wasn’t to find a book,” Rufus said.
“Giving it to Emir was your idea,” Farrah said to Rufus. “You talked us into it.”
“That’s true,” Gary said, prodding at the cooking meat with a fork. “We wanted to sell it.”
“Well, Emir won’t be here for four months, so he’s missing out,” Rufus said.
Gary, poised to shove a whole skewer in his mouth, stopped to look at Rufus.
“Four months?” he asked.
“From when he leaves,” Rufus said.
“He hasn’t left?” Farrah asked.
“Flower wine festival,” Gary mumbled around a mouthful of meat. “You weren’t kidding about this marinade, Jason.”
“One of the others teams has a promising lead,” Rufus said. “He’s going there to check it out first.”
“Which team?” Farrah asked.
"Are you kidding me?" Farrah asked. "Mirabelle and her army of idiots? Of course, they think they found it."
She got up from her chair and started pacing.
“That isn’t the place,” she said. “This is the place. We found the place.”
“I know,” Rufus said.
“What place?” Jason asked.
“It isn’t like we’re just confident this is the place,” Farrah continued. “This is the place.”
“It is,” Rufus said.
“Then why is Emir sailing off in the wrong direction?”
“Well,” Rufus said, “they know we think we found it, but…”
“I hope his boat sinks,” Farrah said.
“That’s pretty unlikely,” Gary said.
“So the book?” Rufus asked.
Farrah’s stone chest erupted out of the ground. She opened the lid, reached in and came out with an absurdly large book. It seemed like she should be staggering about, but her small body contained a powerful strength. She slammed the lid of her storage chest down and dropped the book onto it with a resonating thud. It was almost as large and thick itself as the stone chest lid on which it was resting. Bound in thick leather, embossed into the front of the book were the images of two scythes crossed over a skull.
“That’s a hefty and sinister tome you’ve got there,” Jason said, moving to look closer.
“We each agreed to give you a gift,” Rufus said, “as thanks for saving us. Farrah’s you’ve already received. If the others don’t object, I’d like this to be mine.”
“Works for me,” Gary mumbled.
“Well, you were always going to get him a skill book,” Farrah said. “I have to assume this one is better than most.”
“It’s obviously special,” Jason said. “Where did it come from?”
“We can’t tell you that yet,” Rufus said.
“You’re giving him the book,” Farrah said, “but saying where it’s from is where you draw the line?”
“The book wasn’t in the contract,” Rufus said. “Keeping our mouths shut was.”
“So, can I use this?” Jason asked, reaching a hand towards the book.
“Not so fast,” Rufus said. “Now that we’ll be here for a while, we don’t have to be in such a rush. I can make sure you’re ready before letting you use it.”
“And when will that be?” Jason asked.
“I told you when we started,” Rufus said. “There’s going to be a test.”