It was still the morning, barely, so sunlight poured in through the large windows that lined the outwards wall and illuminated everything. This meant none of the mage lights that lit the hallways of the guild during the night were lit.
Cervessa rudely brushed past anyone who got in her way, and ignored any complaints or calls for her to slow down. Normally she would consider such rash behavior to be far too undignified for her, but not right now. She was late, and Archmagus Rastilio Fer Grehmar the Supreme Master of the Endless Heavens Guild was waiting for her.
She was one step away from panic, and only a finely ingrained sense of decorum kept her from breaking into a sprint and racing to his office. It wouldn’t do at all for a mere junior researcher like her to keep such a man waiting. As she was a mage and disciple of the Endless Heavens Guild the Archmagus had almost complete control over her life, and more importantly her research funding.
She clutched her notebook to her chest as she reached the doorway to the staircase that led to the top of the spire, and the Archmagus’ office. She had to lift her blue robes up so that they didn’t trip her as she bounded up the stairs, and there were a lot of stairs. The spire towered over the surroundings and was one of the tallest buildings in Hulgaron city, which made it among the tallest in the entire country of Hulgaron.
The Archmagus had his own way up that didn’t involve climbing a seemingly endless amount of spiraling steps. It was some sort of mechanical lift powered by an ingenious mix of crystal mechanisms, but that wasn’t Cervassa’s department so she knew next to nothing about it. However, one thing she did know was that she really wished she could use it right now, and not have to climb all these stairs.
She was panting and out of breath when she finally reached the top. Still on the edge of panic she only gave herself a brief second to recover and fix herself up, before pushing open the door and stepping into the reception room on the other side.
The Archmagus’ middle aged secretary looked up from her desk and frowned in disapproval as she entered. Cervessa flushed in embarrassment as she gave the secretary a polite nod in greeting. The room around her was small but comfortable looking with plush furniture for visitors to sit in.
A window to one side had a magnificent view of Hugaron city, but Cervessa had seen it many times before. She just stood there by the door uncertain about what to do with herself for a minute before the secretary spoke.
“Go right in. He’s been expecting you,” she said with an amazing amount of scorn packed into those few words.
“Right, thank you,” Cervessa replied before nervously walking across the room.
The door to the Archmagus’ office was on the wall beside the secretary’s desk. Feeling a surge of dread that made her heart skip a beat she pushed it open and prepared herself to meet the master of her guild, and one of the most powerful people in the country.
Archmagus Rastilio Fer Grehmar turned and gave her a welcoming smile as she entered the room. Cervessa felt herself relax as she took in his calm cheerful eyes and friendly demeanor. She was extremely relieved that he didn’t seem angry. Maybe she would get out of this with some research funding after all.
The Archmagus had been standing by his window and taking in the view, which was much larger and fancier than the one in the waiting room. He was an older man of average height with a clean shaven face.
His white robes of office didn’t quite conceal the fact that he was a bit on the pudgy side, and he was clearly in the advanced stages of going bald. Most men of his rank would have tried to hide their baldness or at least covered it up, but he did no such thing. She wondered why.
His gold ceremonial chain and amulet hung around his neck, and his incredibly ornate staff was leaning up against one wall. The amulet was studded with several crystals of different colors and sizes. Cervessa had never seen some of them anywhere else, and had no idea what they did. She had heard several wild rumors though, each more impressive and unlikely than the last.
“Ah, Cervassa Mas Dhallia how good it is to see you again. I believe it’s been quite a while since our last encounter. Which is a shame, you’re one of our youngest researchers and I do believe your father is the head of house Dhallia,” he said with smile.
“Yes master, that’s correct. My father is indeed the house head, although that has nothing to do with why I’m here,” she replied uncertainly.
“No, of course not. You’re here to ask permission to begin work on your thesis, and by tradition you must get my approval. I must say I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve chosen. Why don’t you take a seat,” he told her as he moved to sit behind his desk.
Feeling very relieved that he wasn’t mad about being kept waiting a few minutes Cervessa returned the Archmagus’ smile, and took the seat across from him.
“Before we get down to business, why don’t you tell me how you’ve been finding the accommodations here since you were promoted to junior researcher?” he asked her.
“Oh they’ve been wonderful, everything I could ask for. Alchemy is such a delicate and expensive science but the equipment here is perfect for my needs,” she exclaimed enthusiastically.
“I’m glad to hear that. I must admit to being a little out of touch with the junior ranks of our guild. There are just so many other demands on the Archmagus’ time that I can’t keep up with everything I would like,” he said.
“I’m sure someone as important as you has better things to do anyway,” she replied politely.
She imagined the Archmagus must spend a lot of time dealing with politics and administrative duties. The guild had to constantly deal with the King, his court, merchants, and the other mage guilds. Idly, she wondered if he ever really had any time for research of his own, or if these interviews were as close as he got anymore.
“Speaking of which, let’s get down to the science shall we? Why don’t you tell me what your thesis is on?” he asked with a glimmer of enthusiasm in his eyes.
“Yes, Archmagus, gladly. My chosen topic is entitled: A study of chromatic variations in natural forming hydrophilic vital crystals, and how they relate to the mineral composition of their host ore deposits,” she answered.
“Oh, interesting. Chromatic variations are of course a highly studied area of research, as mages are always looking for new types of vital crystals. If we understand how the minerals a crystal absorbs as it grows affect its coloring then we can better reverse engineer the process to clone existing samples,” he mused aloud.
“Yes, and it might even help us understand how to use those vital crystals, or even how to tweak them to produce slightly different controlled effects,” she added passionately.
“Hmm, but why hydrophilic crystals? They are already a type of crystal our guild understands quite well. Why I just received a report from the King about how useful our combat mages on the Teshuran front are for drying things out. I understand it can get quite wet there. In a pinch the spell can even apparently be used as a rather messy close quarter weapon,” he asked her.
“Um, I wouldn’t know anything about that. I’m the furthest thing from a combat mage imaginable, but I chose hydrophilic crystals because I had a recent breakthrough in that area,” she replied.
“I haven’t heard anything about this. What do you mean a breakthrough?” he asked her excitedly from across the desk as his eyes narrowed with interest.
“Well, I was making some minute changes to the chemical composition of the nutrient solution for thermal crystals in my lab. Purely as a side project out of curiosity you understand. I had just filled the glass incubation beaker up and introduced heat from the burner to speed the growth, when a thought occurred to me,” she told him.
“I get the occasional thought myself,” the Archmagus interjected jokingly.
After a quick second of nervous thought Cervessa decided she was better off ignoring his remark, so she kept on speaking. As she explained her research she grew more excited with every word she until she was practically shaking.
“My thought was that there were many examples of opposite effects existing in mana crystals, and a statistically significant amount of the time one of the pair will be significantly darker than the other. Like heat absorbing and heat radiating crystals for example. What if there was an exploitable pattern in this?” she continued.
“Oh, very interesting,” her audience of one mused.
“So, I went to the archive and begun to study the chemical differences between such pairs. Unfortunately I didn’t find anything concrete enough to serve as a general rule, but I did do some experimenting. A common difference between opposite effect pairs was the presence of higher concentrations of sulfur and lower amounts of nitrogen. After a series of rather exhaustive trials on several different mana stone types my idea bore fruit. I managed to reverse the effect of hydrophilic crystals and grow hydrophobic crystals instead,” she exclaimed proudly.
The Archmagus was silent for a few seconds and stared at Cervessa with an unreadable expression. The junior academic began to grow nervous as she waited for him to say something. Had she said something stupid?
“That is some very impressive alchemy, young lady. It is very rare for me to be at a loss for words, but you managed it just now. You are a credit to our order,” the white robed man told her as he beamed proudly at her.
“Thank you Guild Master, I’m honored by your high praise,” she replied happily, and with more than a little relief.
“To think you have not only discovered a new sub category of crystal, but perhaps stumbled upon a new underlying principle as well. It is truly astounding. Although I must admit I’m currently at a loss for any practical purpose a hydrophobic crystal may serve,” he said.
Cervessa’s smile dimmed slightly, and she cringed in an embarrassed fashion.
“Ah, I’m sure someone will think of something. I mean just off the top of my head they could be used as rain shields or to keep things dry instead of just drying them out,” she told him hesitantly.
A chuckle escaped from between the Archmagus’ lips, and his happy smile turned into an amused grin.
“You want to create a thaumaturgical umbrella?” he asked her with unconcealed amusement.
“Yes. Um, I mean no,” she replied as her face turned beat red in embarrassment. The Archmagus’ was laughing at her. She wanted to crawl under her chair and hide. If only invisibility stones were a thing!
“Oh I’m sorry my dear, I didn’t mean to upset you. You’re truly a genius alchemist. It’s just that I find the idea so very funny,” he told her,
“Yes, Archmagus,” The mortified woman said.
“Your work has the potential to be of great use to us. Some of the other mage guilds don’t think very highly of us because we specialize in support magic, but magic isn’t just about flashy nonsense or blowing things up. With young mages such as you in our ranks it is our Endless Heavens Guild that shall have the last laugh,” he told her proudly.
“Yes, Archmagus,” the young researcher replied again.
His high praise was making her blush in embarrassment. She couldn’t take such high praise from such a great man. The Archmagus appeared to recognize her difficulty because he gave her understanding look.
“Now then, why don’t you tell me some of the specifics? What were the exact changes you made to the nutrient solutions,” he asked her.
Immediately Cervessa felt more comfortable and straightened up in her seat. She found herself eager to discuss the technical details of her work.
The two of the discussed her discovery for a few more minutes before the Guild Master had to dismiss her so he could meet with someone else. Much to her relief she was easily able to not only keep her research funding but actually secure more!
Cervessa was practically hopping with excitement as she passed the receptionist and descended the spire stairs. She had actually been praised by the Archmagus!
She exited the stair well, and made her way back out into the second floor hall.
Most the students from earlier had either gone home or were now busy in another class, so the hallway before her was almost empty and she could stride unimpeded down its length. Only the occasional strolling lecturer or staff was in sight… well them and the Mage Guard.
Usually she just ignored the Mage Guard. As usual two of them were guarding the main entrance to the hall. Both were tall men and dressed in the white and blue hood and surcoats of their order. Swords hung from their waist, but their real weapons were the long mage staffs they held in their hands and the magical amulets on their chest.
As a researcher Cervessa recognized the stones imbedded within those items, and knew the forces they could call forth. They had the power to both protect the user and to lay waste to their enemies. The men themselves were nothing special though.
They might be the elite among the combat mages but they were still just muscle, and thus little better than the foot soldiers the guild trained for the king. They sprung from common stock, although she supposed they must have had at least a few connections to end up in the Mage Guard, instead of in the military. They were undoubtedly necessary, but they weren’t real mages.
Even if they had the mage gift and could burn mage stones to cast spells they had no real understanding of what they did. They would be utterly useless without the real mages like her.
She walked through the doorway between them without giving them a second glance. The guards didn’t react to her presence at all, they remained unmoving and at attention. At least they were professional.
She exited the building and entered the Heavenly Spires’ main courtyard. She smiled as she took a deep breath of refreshing air and gazed at the lovely scenery around her. It never failed to cheer her up.
Before her were dozens of ornamental gardens, which were full of countless colorful flowers that thrived in the warm weather of the capital. Exquisite marble statues rose from the center of the gardens, many of which were of various famous mages
Grey brick paths wound all throughout the area, and lovingly pruned trees provided shade for the people loitering on the lawn beneath them. In the center of the courtyard a large marble fountain was positioned. Pure water streamed forth from the center and up into the air, before coming down again in a graceful half sphere. All and all the courtyard was larger than many villages.
Encircling the courtyard were several elegant multi-story stone buildings. Behind them small stretches were visible of the high wall and parapets that enclosed the campus and kept it isolated from the outside.
The Heavenly Spire was almost a city within a city. Someone could live there and never have to leave, and Cervessa knew many people did just that. Most of them had little choice in the matter.
Cervessa sighed as she walked over to the nearest bed of flowers. She didn’t regret becoming a mage or a researcher. She loved her life, but it was not without its drawbacks. The Mage Guard she saw scattered around the courtyard did have one great advantage over her. They were allowed to leave the Heavenly Spire.
Once someone was educated by the Endless Heavens Guild and entrusted with their secrets they were never allowed to leave the Guild Keep without permission and an escort of Mage Guards. The secrets they possessed were simply too valuable.
There were no shortage of factions and groups that would resort to kidnapping, torture, and even murder to get their hands on her or any other research mage. In all likelihood she would never again leave the Heavenly Spire, except for a few heavily escorted trips out into the safer areas of the capital.
Cervessa had never really had any desire to wander the world or travel much, but the loss of her freedom still sometimes made her feel depressed. She understood why it was necessary and even logically agreed with it, but her heart didn’t always listen to reason.
She took a seat on the edge of the flower garden. A smiling statue of a pretty young female mage loomed over her. Cervessa smiled up at the unpractical and revealing clothes the statue wore. She had never seen any of the other woman in the guild wear anything like that.
The sounds of laughter and good cheer filled the courtyard around her as she leaned down to smell the scent of the flowers beside her. Their sweet and honey like fragrance filled her nostrils as she took a deep breath. It reminded her of home and of youthful days spent in her mother’s reading room. She would undoubtedly never see it again.
With a sigh Cervessa stood back up and started making her way to her office. She had a lot of work to do, and didn’t have time to waste feeling melancholic. Her breakthrough was just that, an opportunity to dig deeper and work harder.
As she came up to the faculty building she threw one last look at the gardens and happy people behind her. At least the cage she had chosen for her life was very beautiful.