Baelin was as still as a statue, seeming like a flesh-coloured gargoyle that someone had draped rich robes over. He wasn’t breathing and—in a moment of wild imagination—Alex thought he might have somehow died right before his confession.
Then he saw the chancellor’s eyes: they were moving, as though rapidly reading something in the air that Alex couldn’t see.
“…I see,” Baelin finally said, his tone unreadable. “I see. Perhaps you would like a seat.”
“Yeah…yeah that would be great,” Alex said, quickly going to sit down at the desk. The suspense was killing him, but try as he might, he couldn’t read what the chancellor was feeling or thinking.
Baelin rounded his desk and sat, with one large hand stroking his beard. He stayed in silent thought for another long moment before looking directly at Alex.
“First of all, I want to thank you for telling me. This is a great deal of trust you are putting in me. It was not easy, was it? Did you debate it for some time? Consider who you could trust first, then at last settle on me…aaaah, Minervus.”
The ancient wizard nodded to himself. “I see. Death has caressed a life near you once again, and shifted your perspective…is this not why you are sharing now?”
Alex froze, feeling as though—once again—the chancellor had seen right through him. “Yeah…uh, you’re right. It…I wanted not to do it, and I wanted to do some other stuff…” He waved his notebooks, which Baelin watched with curiosity. “And I…but…Minervus.”
He realized he was still trembling.
“Here,” Baelin said.
A large goblet of hot cider was suddenly in front of Alex, and he hadn’t even felt it coming. “Th-thanks.” He reached up and took it with a shaking hand.
The warmth and tart sweetness of the drink helped. “S-so what happens to me now?”
“Now?” Baelin said. “We chat about it for a bit now, then I shall get back to work. You will go get a meal, go home and get some sleep because you look exhausted, and then we shall chat more in the upcoming days.”
“R-Really?” Alex stammered.
Baelin cocked his head. “Of course, we will need to speak of this at length. And I doubt that a quick discussion at the end of a veeeeery long work day would be sufficient. But, I can see this is urgent, so we will speak some now and that will let me formulate what we shall need to discuss…and do later.”
A stab of guilt went through Alex. It was the end of a very long workday for Baelin: on top of his regular duties he was likely dealing with the aftermath of Minervus’ death, mana vampire problems, and the ongoing hunt for whoever summoned the demon.
Alex knew that if he had to deal with all that, he would have about as much ability to think at the end of the day, as a plate of fried eggs.
He appreciated the chancellor taking some of his time to talk to him tonight, in spite of everything he had to do, and he was really hoping the conversation wouldn’t end with him being told that The Watchers of Roal were on their way to remove him from campus.
“I’ll…I’ll answer all of your questions,” Alex said.
“Mm,” Baelin nodded. “Am I to understand that your Thameish brethren would be searching for you?”
Alex paused. Already they were going into one of the topics he feared most. “Um, yes…yes. That’s right. Our priests—that’s to say the priests of Uldar—can apparently sense any of The Heroes when they get close: their holy symbols begin to sing, like a choir. Apparently.”
Baelin raised an eyebrow. “Hmph, singing holy symbols how…very deific. And have any priests discovered you here in Generasi?”
“No,” Alex said.
“I see. One of the books on the lower floors of our library describes a certain divine ward placed upon your realm to stop both monsters of your Ravener and Heroes from leaving. How did you get past this ward?”
Alex gulped, reached into his bag and pulled out the book that The Traveller had clutched in her hands. “This…well, have you heard of The Cave of the Traveller in Thameland?”
“Yes, one of the professors in the Department of Conjuration brought it up at a conference earlier this year as a point of potential study.” He thumbed his beard. “So, you crossed into the cave and materialized in Generasi.”
“No.” Alex shook his head. “In the Rhinean Empire. Then I took a ship to get here.”
“There’s more. There was a dungeon and…well, it’s a lot to explain but I’ll try and make it quick,” Alex said.
He jumped into an abridged recounting of how he, Theresa, Selina and Brutus journeyed from Alric, met The Chosen and fought the silence-spiders in The Cave of The Traveller. He told him about the dungeon core and how he’d broken it.
“Hold now.” Baelin raised a hand. “You said that you were able to control this dungeon core? You caused it to change terrain?” He paused, his eyes turning distant and seeming to look at something that Alex couldn’t see. “Nothing in the original research mentioned this, at least that I can currently recall.”
“There’s nothing about it in our history either,” Alex said. “From the legends, it should be impossible. Completely impossible. But a lot of things don’t make sense about The Ravener and The Fool, at least as far as I know.”
“Yes, indeed, which brings me to a further question.” The chancellor was examining him closely now. He snapped his fingers and a massive book appeared, floating in the air. A quill hovering above it, dipped into an ink well on Baelin’s desk then began rapidly scratching a note into the book.
“I have read about the Marks, including The Mark of the Fool, and my predecessor has met one of your Sages, but you have lived experience so please, correct me if my understanding is incorrect. In searching my memories of Thameland’s lore of The Heroes and The Mark of the Fool, I recalled that this Mark hinders your spellcraft, ability to fight, and any chance to pursue divinities, is that not correct?”
“Yes, Alex said.
“I see. And this…limitation-”
A sour note entered Baelin’s voice, and Alex’s heartbeat quickened. Was that sour note sympathetic? Was it against Uldar or was it against him?”
“-placed on you by your god should—according to what I know of The Mark—completely preclude you from studying here at Generasi. So, how is it that you are here, and well...studying?”
“Well, it seems there’s…I don’t know how to describe it. There’s some loopholes in The Mark’s hindrance, and even some ways to push through it.”
He then explained his experiments with The Mark and what he’d done to come as far as he had in wizardry.
“I seeee, I seeee,” Baelin continued to seemingly look right through him.
The pen kept scratching away in the book.
Alex gulped, noticing something about Baelin. As the evening went on, the darkness deepened in the room and now and then, Baelin’s eyes caught the receding light and seemed to flash like a cat’s—or Brutus’—in the dark.
They flashed red.
“Ah, it is getting dark in here, is it not?” the chancellor said, and—far from being increasingly exhausted—he seemed to be growing more fascinated and energetic as Alex continued his story. “Here, let me fix that.”
With a snap of his fingers, Baelin conjured a roaring flame in a massive fireplace that Alex was half-convinced he’d never seen before. Yet, there it sat in the corner of the office as though it had always been there.
Alex told himself he must have missed it, but then again, the university had moving benches: a fireplace that just appeared on command in the chancellor’s office would be easy to believe.
“That brings me to another question: why Art of the Wizard in Combat?” he asked. “It would seem that with these…limitations, it would have likely been the worst course in all of Generasi for you to partake in.”
“Oh no way,” Alex said. “I’m pretty sure that course would be Battle Magic: spells that directly attack kind of double The Mark’s interference, since its both combat and spellcraft.”
Scrtch. Scrtch. Scrtch.
The quill wrote faster.
“I see, but still The Art of the Wizard in Combat puts you in great danger, and forces you to face foes. Why take it at all?” Baelin frowned. “Was it due to it being ‘the chancellor’s course?”
“Uh, okay this is a bit awkward.” Alex scratched his head, his mind suddenly pointing out that he hadn’t cut his hair in six months. “So, I actually had no idea that you were the chancellor until the assembly where you announced investigating that potion explosion.”
Alex wasn’t sure, but he thought that the chancellor looked pleasantly surprised. “I see. Then why?”
“Well, it seemed like the perfect course for me: it would teach me how to fight using all my resources, mind, and ability to adapt to win a fight and defend myself without having to hit anyone. Like…after getting attacked by those monsters in the cave that the dungeon core spawned, and that mana vampire on the ship I took to come here: I figured I could use a course like that since The Mark doesn’t let me just punch or kick my way out of bad situations...Especially if like…I dunno, there’s some kind of interest in keeping it quiet that dungeon cores can be controlled by people.”
The quill continued to write.
“Well, I can certainly say that such a discovery did not exist in Generasi’s past research on dungeon core remains…likely if that information were known, our Potions Department and other alchemical divisions would have been clamouring to get to Thameland and source more samples hundreds of years ago. And is this all you found out about it?”
Alex winced. “No…I uh, kinda sorta have been doing some of my own research on the dungeon core remains.”
Baelin’s eyebrows went up. “Truly? On your own?”
“Uh…kind of…” Alex said nervously. He presented Baelin with the notes on his dungeon core analysis. “I’ve had some extra projects for Professor Jules’ class, during some of those, I…did some analysis on the remains.”
“She would not be amused by that,” Baelin said flatly.
“I know, I know,” Alex said. “But…I just…I really thought if I could analyse it, then I might be able to come up with something that could help my friends, family and kingdom. But like…with all the stuff I already found out…oh, by Uldar, how do I put this?”
He paused, thinking about how to phrase it.
“I don’t mean to offend you or anyone at Generasi, but I didn’t know who I could trust. I…maybe you have to be Thameish to understand, but The Ravener is our great enemy. The biggest. We’ve had different wars with different realms in our history, some rebellions, and a really bad civil war, but those are all like…tiny potatoes. Finding out what I did was huge. It would be like finding out that demons were originally supposed to be pets for mortals or something. It all seemed impossible to me. Like all of our history is just wrong on The Ravener and stuff.”
He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts again.
“And then, like, I came here. And I didn’t know if people would say that The Mark would mean I was a danger to the university, or that I was just too hindered by it to succeed at Generasi, and that I should go back to Thameland. I didn’t know who might want the priests to know…but I wanted to get the research done and then find a way to present it.”
Alex rose up in his chair and rotated his wrists, continuing to try and get his thoughts out.
“I thought that maybe if I came to you with as much of the analysis that I could do, then maybe you would see more value in it…and I gotta admit, me. There’s also useful properties in it and…yeah.”
“And so you examined an unknown substance right under the nose of your alchemy professor,” Baelin said, and his words made Alex wince. The chancellor was squinting at the analysis Alex had written in his notebooks.
The floating quill was writing very, very fast now.
“And if I’m not mistaken, then the authorities and priesthood of Thameland should still be searching for you?”
“Yes,” Alex said, his mind imagining Baelin suddenly throwing him out of his office for putting the school in danger. “A classmate from Thameland said that they were looking for The Fool…it’s why I’ve been avoiding the priests, and I’m very…uh very glad that you keep them off the campus.”
“Truly, that is quite the boon to you.” Baelin nodded, glancing at Alex’s golem notes and The Book of the Traveller with an almost hungry gleam in his eye. “Might I assume those are for me to examine as well?”
“Go right ahead,” Alex said.
The chancellor took both the notes on his golem crafting process and The Traveller’s book, going over them in detail. For a time, it was like he had forgotten Alex was even in the room. He silently read both books—at the same time—first giving most of his attention to Alex’s notes on his golem crafting process, and then turning his attention to The Traveller’s book.
“Well, this is interesting,” Baelin said.
“W-what’s it say?” Alex leaned in, also afire with curiosity.
“That is the interesting part: I haven’t the foggiest clue,” the chancellor gently closed the book.
“Oh,” Alex said, trying to hide his disappointment.
Baelin gave him a pointed look. “I know many languages, Alex. Many, many languages. But this…this I have no experience with. I must say, I have not seen anything similar to it before,” he said, looking at the book almost like a child that had found a new toy. “A member of my cabal might have, but…”
The goatman paused, then turned back to Alex, placing his hands on the desk and lacing his fingers together. He’d let go of both books, and they’d neatly closed and stacked themselves near Alex. “Apologies, back to the point. Let me sum up.”
He began to list things on his fingers.
“You are a chosen Hero by your god, meant to combat a menace to your kingdom. Your power gained for this duty is not useful for direct combat with enemies. You uncovered aspects of your history that seemed false, made a discovery about dungeon cores that shook your understanding of your kingdom’s conflict, continued your studies here because—it seems you truly wanted to be here—”
“Absolutely!” Alex nodded vigorously.
“—and you anticipate trouble coming for you due to your role, and so you decided to secretly research and expand on your discoveries. Do I have all of that correct?”
“Yes, that uh, that sums it up,” Alex said. It was a more abridged version of the story he’d told Khalik, but Baelin had neatly summarized the points.
“I see, I see,” Baelin nodded. “Well, I suppose this entire conversation must be making you verynervous. And I congratulate you on your courage in coming to me with this, even if it was caused by recent tragedies. It’s clear you had a lot on your young mind.”
He tapped his fingers on his desk. “Unfortunately, I cannot wave a magic wand and fix all of your problems, if that’s what you're hoping for.”
“It’s not,” Alex said. “So…what are you going to do?”