Jartor sighed, letting his wide shoulders sink. Dipping his feet into the bath, one of the few times when he was allowed true solitude, letting the boiling water kiss pleasantly against his skin. Tyr had always been irascible and hardheaded, but their latest conversation had been difficult for both of them. There was a wisdom that came with age. The father had it, but not so the son. And Tyr seemed intent not to understand, almost a point of pride to the child.
Tyr had angrily demanded to know why so many villages lived in poverty when it was clear that tribute and tax spared Riverwood had led to such prosperity. It wasn't that his son was wrong... Necessarily.
He was just ignorant to the grander scheme of things. Men were so incredibly imperfect, their freedom and agency was important but there truly could be too much of a good thing. It was a hard thing to understand if one didn't, and Tyr had refused his explanation and named them excuses. Seeing only an enabler of the cruel class system that dominated Haran.
There was truth in that, but there were a surface the whole sea does not make. Men could not be trusted with their greater fates. If they could, the office of primus would be unnecessary. Jartor wasn't greedy for it. He didn't rule – not truly – only guiding and overseeing, controlling from behind the scenes and letting the nobles feel like they'd done it themselves. Something between authoritarian Octavian and the hands off approach of Alexandros. Greater wealth to the masses would mean greater consumption. Greater consumption led to greater sin. Greater sin led to weaker men, and worse things besides.
Hard men. Strong men. Men of steel were born through struggle. To see his citizens clothed and well fed was enough – they did not need more unless they went out and earned it. There was no need to commit wholesale luxury to every town, castle, and village in the empire. That would be the greatest mistake, but Tyr refused to see it that way.
With the convenience of magic, life could be easy. Haran was rich and capable. It would be an easy thing to replace all the labors of all men with magic. Jartor could point, and it would be done. Magic to cut the trees, magic to shape the earth and create great things. Magic to grow the crops, enrich the land without much more than a flick of the wrist. Practically every industry would be run entirely by mages, there would be nowhere safe. Those born to magic would live like kings while those without it, while less busy, would become second class citizens. Nobody would breed with them, speak to them, and eventually... Worse would happen.
It had happened before, elsewhere. Man was industrious in a way few races were. It was never enough.
Haran had both the coin and influence to see it happen – but there were many reasons it hadn't. Jartor had been similar, once upon a time. Tyr refused to recognize it, but he saw the boy from his own youth in every word and action his son took. Less hard, he'd been. Less dark. More bright eyed. Tyr had lost those eyes when he was still so young, which had been another mistake.
But he seemed to be getting better. It was a great balm to Jartor's internal struggle that his son seemed to care for the common folk. It was so easy for them of a greater power and higher purpose to see humans as nothing more than livestock. Some primus' had. And some primus' weren't with them any longer.
Riverwood was a thought experiment, and he'd allowed it to continue, one small village out of thousands. To grow rich and fat and wealthy. Eventually, it would fail, like all things did. When men were given an inch, they would take a mile. A need for further improvement would always arise and their desire to consume all around them would never be sated. Ever. That was the duality of man. It wasn't a hard hand that kept them pressed to the dirt. It was a gentle hand that ensured they were well and that they not fall into the repeated cycle of greed that was their great doom.
They'd been happy, well, and wealthy in all the ways that actually mattered. Men did not need paved streets and bathhouses to live. Nature provided. The river was their bathhouse, the game path was their paved road. They had been full, only those completely bereft of ambition might starve in the empires. The chaff, in Jartor's mind. Food was common, so common that without a fiercely manipulated economy all farmers would be dirt poor and all food vendors worse off. In a world where meals could be stored perpetually in dimensional rings, and fields burst into life at the whim of a mage.
If this were to extend to all Harani. The empire would fall. It might take centuries, but it would crumble and fall into decadence and sin as all others had before. This world had not always been Haran and Varia. There had been as many kingdoms as there were primus' once. But none had lasted as long as his house had, nor that of the Longinus and Stalvarg. Because they understood.
For that reason, Jartor and Octavian both would see Amistad fall. A culling was necessary. They always were, at the turn of an age a need would arise and they would allow it to happen. It could only stand to benefit mankind, and there was no greater purpose given to a primus than that. Jartor didn't hate magic, but he understood the dangerous. It hadn't just been man, either. Orik, Altan, Saurid, Kijin... So many examples of great empires existed. Haran didn't need to be great, it needed to be. As long as possible, and if any threat ever surfaced that might end it – the primus' would be there. For their land, and for one another. That was enough. To live and breathe was enough, man did not need to depredations of rampant consumerism. Inventing industries that had no need to exist. Allowing the necessary evil of a noble class was bad enough, and that was where it'd end. An end that most certainly justified the means.
“He was very loud today.” Charlotte chuckled. Jartor gave her the respect she was due, but it perturbed him to no end that she seemed destined to follow him around wherever he walked. Humans were bizarre. Their women even more so. So bold, and he respected that, even if it irked him. They had an imperceptible strength that defied their assumed position.
“He's always loud.” Jartor allowed her to lay hands on him, massaging his temples before moving down to his back. Through the linens so alike that which were constantly worn by his son, the mans flesh was as hard as steel. If he was a man at all. “He's an...”
“An idiot.” She finished with a wry smirk. “He's not so bad. He's still young.”
“You're young.” He avoided rebuking her for not understanding her place. She was incredibly competent and wise beyond her years. Not her place as the silent wife, but rather the fact that she would never understand the struggle of both father and wayward son. Jartor didn't even understand Tyr's own, let alone a normal person. He was pleased that Charlotte would be here for the boy after he had left, hopefully. “But yes. He is too alike to me for comfort.”
“But you are wise.” Charlotte purred, giggling at the stony faced look he gave her. She did not fear Jartor as others did, and she could tell he preferred it that way. Her fate was a gray one, but she wasn't miserable. It was a great honor to serve as empress and oversee the vapid old men that sat around doing nothing all day in court. “I find it hard to believe that you and he are anything alike. He's free, like the wind. And you're... You. No disrespect intended, my husband. You are the earth, unyielding as the mountain. Steadfast and trustworthy.”
“You'd be surprised. Both at myself and of my son. Do not pretend to know him, because you couldn't – and never will.” Jartor chuckled, a deep rumbling noise. Every time he saw his son, he saw all of the adventures and mischief he would get up to in his younger years. Less red, not so full of vengeance, but worse – arguably. The things he and Octavian had done in their youth would surprise many. Before the call had come, and they'd been forced to open their eyes to greater things.
The end of the first semester was upon them. Grades were given quarterly, but only announced in the twice a year. Tyr had yet to open his 'report card', expecting some great doom.
“Let me see that.” Micah was a mischievous one. Tough when he wanted to be, chair and all, rarely balking in the face of Iscari – let alone Tythas who was significantly... Lesser. Not so much in looks though, a source of endless annoyance to the other boy. Especially since they were all in their growing phase waiting for that last spurt to make round them out into proper adulthood.
“All A's...” Micah felt like he might spit blood at any moment. “All A's!” He waved the report card around, tossing it to Brenn while Tythas buried his head in his hands dramatically. Though, clearly, he was pleased with the events unfolding.
“Wow... Even an A+. Necromancy though...” Brenn did spit, right on the library floor, receiving a look of scorn from the librarian who now had two reasons to be cross with them beyond the noise they were making. “What about you?” He turned toward Sigi who presented her own. Mostly B+'s, though an A in transmutation was a good sign. The Red Dragon was not a lesser academy, everything was competitive and the grading system was harsh.
That which would earn them an A or better in other academies weren't so impressive, but she was happy with the result. Surprisingly, the 'ditsy' Astrid possessed mostly A- grades, and Alex was similar to Tythas. Though equity was not what she'd been looking for. Iscari had trumped them all and it frustrated her a great deal given the fact that he didn't even have to take proper exams. An injustice, she called it. At this point, the only person who's grades had not be announced were...
“Tyr? C'mon man, don't look so bashful.” Micah laughed, taking the offered envelop from his friends hand and cracking it open. Tyr blushed, but he followed their lead. He didn't want them to read it, but they'd all shared. They were his example for 'normal' behavior. Only Iscari was not present. Busy as he was with other things, but he'd made sure to let them know before he'd taken off.
“...Oh.” Micah said softly. Calmly folding the paper back up before returning it to Tyr, without letting the others see it. “Well, it's not all bad.”
“Let me see that!” Alex growled, snatching it before it could be returned. “For all the time you spend in the library it can't be that bad...”
One would expect him to have better grades. Yet between the wild tasks Abaddon had sent him on, and the fact that he performed inadequately in practicals – the only reason he hadn't been failed entirely was likely because of his status as a prince of Haran.
Intermediate Mana Theory: C
Enchanting 201: D+
Light Magic Workshop: C-
Runesmithing 201: SS
“But...” Alex was not impressed, not until she reached the end of the parchment. Before that, Tyr had grades that could easily get him expelled from the academy if he was any normal person, every semester dozes were cut if their GPA was significantly below their class average. “Runesmithing... SS? You can get two S's? What does that mean?”
Tythas raised his eyebrows. “It means he's performing beyond satisfactory for his year, which would mean he's rated as well beyond a normal runesmith.”
As in, well beyond a career mage. To receive an S was to reveal incredible talent, but an SS was – naturally – to go even further. In fact, Tyr was already well aware that he'd be receiving an award and forced to speak before the student body as the number one ranking student in a vocation. An event he most assuredly would not attend. Even if it meant failing.
“Guess you've found your talent.” Astrid smiled softly. Even an entire life of study under her mother, she'd only received an A+ in divination. Granted, she did get an S rating in the light magic workshop, but she hadn't shared that with the others. Tyr had only just begun his study of magic, and was already so highly regarded even in a lesser study. In her opinion, and most of them, contrary to Tyr's embarrassed look – his grades had been the best. Better to be a master of one trade than a jack of all, that was how mages found great fame and success. Magic was science, and in science sometimes failure was preferable to a luck success. Failures could answer far more questions than the alternative.
Tyr sighed. He didn't know whether to be ecstatic or to spit on the floor as Brenn had. With all of his prided work ethic, he'd still under-performed. The librarian huffed again as Okami made his way atop her desk to sniff at the pages of the book she was reading, pointing at a sign that said - “NO FAMILIARS, NO MAGIC BEASTS”. As expected, Tyr ignored her. Soon, she had forgotten her offense and began stroking his snow white fur. There was no denying Okami, and for all the old ladies irascibility, she was no stranger to the law of cuteness. The pup sprawling out, belly up and panting at her compliments about how gorgeous he was. Calling him 'such a good boy' and all of that.
He was much better at making friends than Tyr was. Even now, he only had 'the boys' and 'the girls' as Iscari termed them – though he couldn't be sure that those girls were his friends at all. Regardless, he'd noticed the changes. Endlessly thankful that Iscari had done such a great favor for him. To allow Tyr to see the world in a different light.
All of them were so full of life. Bright eyed youths. Making Tyr feel a world apart, yet they called him friend all the same. With Brenn jumping on his back between classes and Micah constantly harassing him in an attempt for him to 'teach him the secret ways of men'. Magnus was rowdier than all of them, though he contained himself here in the bounds of the academy. Not much could convince him to dishonor his father, remaining well behaved until separated from prying eyes. Usually thumping Tyr painfully on the arm and speaking more inappropriately than anyone else.
“Thanks.” Micah sighed, leaning back in his wheelchair and humming contentedly.
“...For what?” Brenn asked. They were all confused. Micah had a way about making every situation about himself – a predilection for attention seeking – but they could immediately tell this wasn't it.
“For being my friends.” That was honest. Micah had felt lost, his only gift being spatial magic. A rare talent, but it only separated him from most other students – his primary course only had four in attendance. “Before this, I never thought I'd have any. With this chair and all, not many kids my age care much to speak to me. I know I'm a lot to deal with, but I'm very thankful. You've made this year really fun so far. I almost don't want to go on break.” He laughed, tears welling up in his eyes.
He'd never had 'friends' before. Never. Not disabled as he was, always looked down upon. Those who treated him kindly did it out of pity, not equity, and he hated it. Things had happened in the past... Things he would never speak on, and he'd thought they'd curse him forever. He almost felt like he didn't deserve this.
“Don't be an idiot.” Brenn, always the insensitive one, waved his 'thanks' away. “You're a real lecher, but I am glad we're friends too. Right guys?” He looked up to the others. They'd all become closer. True friends and allies in such a cutthroat place as the academy. They nodded, smiling at Micah.
Tyr could only grin and mimic them. Swearing that as soon as he found a way to fix Fennic's tongue, he'd find a way to allow Micah to walk tall and proud out of that chair of his. Rules of magic be damned, there was a yearning in him to see the man experience happiness, or at least freedom of movement. A conviction, a small one added to many.
The following year proceeded much the same. They all grew closer, with Tyr perpetually feeling on the 'outside' despite being a part of their various hijinks. No longer did Alex glare at him. In fact, she'd scarcely leave him alone. A source of endless annoyance, almost finding himself wishing that things would go back to normal. Their relationship had been so much more definitive when she'd just been rude and ignored him.
“What are you doing now?” She'd ask. “For what class?” She'd ask. “Okay, let's go here...” Or there, or anywhere. Mostly in the library, but today was different. Today, she'd followed him all the way to his dorm and let herself feel at home. Tyr was in the midst of his truest growth spurt. Humans typically hit their peak of maturity around their sixteenth year, but it wasn't so rare for one to be a 'late bloomer'. He's always been tall, but now... He wasn't sure how tall he'd end up. Every time his spira refined itself to an acceptable point, it'd happen again. Little by little, he felt like he might one day challenge Iscari in terms of beauty, though he doubted it. In any case, he was still growing, despite the question hanging in his mind if he was human or not.
“What are you reading?” She asked. Her eyes were low, laying on his bed and staring at him reading from a book on his desk. It was odd, things had changed so fast and she'd become a constantly part of his day-to-day activities. Iscari was busy most of the time, but Alex did not share his responsibilities. Giving her plenty of time to harass him like this.
“Petral's Binding of the Elements.” Tyr replied absentmindedly. It was a dull read, all theory on enchantment. So dry. He felt his own exhaustion setting in, both mental and physical after a particularly rough forging experiment with Valkan. Abaddon was missing in action, he hadn't seen the professor since their return. “And you're doing...?”
“Nothing.” She replied. “I've finished all my prep for finals and I'm bored. Leda is busy tending to the flame, Astrid and Sigi are in labs. Why, am I bothering you?” For the briefest moment, her customary arrogance returned to her voice. Only for a moment, before fading away into a yawn. Tyr wasn't sure how to feel about it. He'd figured she'd hate him, but it seemed to be the complete opposite. “Lets...” She paused. “Let's do something.”
“Something?” Tyr exhaled. “I could use a break. Want to get a snack?”
She shook her head mischievously. “I was thinking about doing something that might build up a sweat. Any ideas?”
Tyr was as block-headed as ever. Much about him had changed, even improved, but not that. “Sure. We can go to the sparring hall and practice magic. Or spar. I don't care.”
“You are so incredibly stupid, I was making innuendo.” She laughed, dropping onto his bed and sighing. Alex was built long, with dark hair sprawled around her, framing her face like a storm cloud. Tyr wasn't the only one who had blossomed into maturity, doing his best to avoid staring. Despite all his quirks, he was still very much a man. That fact had never changed, but she was Alex. “Hey.” She whispered.
“Hello...” He replied.
“I don't hate you. Do you know that?”
“Oh boy, what a relief.”
“Why did you pretend not to know who I was back then? When we were first married. I'm not mad, I'm over it, but I've always wanted to know.”
He didn't, and he said as much. Multiple times before, and again. Tyr's memory of his childhood was jumbled. He didn't remember her, and he didn't remember Iscari. Nothing had changed, but she'd never accept it. Until now. Instead of indignation, the only emotion plain in her eyes was sorrow.
Tyr knew it. He was mixed up and twisted inside. Because of what he'd done and what he'd seen. Once the anger was gone, there wasn't much left but a boy – and a lost one at that. Once she'd given him a chance, Alex had seen it as well. He was bizarrely naive for such a 'hard man'.
Tyr closed his book with finality, turning in his chair. “Trust me, the fact that I have such a large span of missing time is pretty concerning to me too. I mean, who wants to wake up one day and be told they should have memories that they don't? Near everything not concerning my father before I turned ten years of age or so is gone. I don't even remember what my mother looks like. It's not personal, Alex.”
“Why?” She asked. “Do you know how this happened? Is it a symptom of being... Well, you know.”
He shrugged. No idea how to answer her. He'd asked the same question of the master cum psychiatrist known as Varinn. And as before, he was aware that primus' lost some time over the ages, but he'd never awakened and this couldn't explain it “A man that I trained with for some times said that I've repressed trauma because of the past. I don't know. He always talked about the soul and subconscious, but I honestly have no idea what any of that means.”
“Is that why your hands shake?”
“I don't know.” Tyr wasn't sure why, but his eyes were burning. As soon as she'd mentioned it he'd felt a weight in his throat. He didn't know why he felt that way, why he'd have to excuse himself from completely normal conversations and sequester himself in his room until it stopped. He'd tried to better himself through 'therapy', and they'd told him to 'get a hobby'. Not very helpful, he was doing that, repressing it as fiercely as he could.
“Can I help? Is there anything I can do to...?” Tyr was a real mood killing machine, what with his near complete lack of personality at times. Everything seemed last minute with him, as if he improvised everything he did, allowing it to define him.
“I doubt it.” He sagged in the chair, rubbing his tired eyes and sighing. “There's a lot, you know? A lot has happened, and more will happen. I just wish I knew when. Maybe it's anxiety, they keep giving me pills but they never work. Even when I swallow the whole bottle I feel no different.”
“More... Like what?” Alex leaned forward, interested. Something weighed heavily on his mind, and she wanted to know... “Is that why you were studying the black book, to fix yourself?”
“Do I need to be fixed?” Tyr asked.
“I don't know, Tyr. I wish I did, or how. I just wish you'd talk to us. I'm sorry that you feel the way that you do, I guess I never thought about it. Losing your mother must've been hard.”
Contrary to her expectations, Tyr was unconcerned with the revelation that she knew about the Book of Solomon. A very real, and very capital crime had been committed – and he didn't care. Speaking on it with a flat face as easy as one might talk about what they had for breakfast. More than that, he spoke to her with an honesty he hadn't adopted for so long.
He told her everything. It was soothing, to get it off his chest. Not many people knew, and he wasn't keeping it a secret necessarily. More like he was far too gone in his pride to admit a weakness, inadvertently alluding to the fact that he was crying out for help. But he was, or at least he needed to. He was dying, and nearly a year had passed since he'd found out. Having refused the only lifeline given to him. He didn't know when it would happen, couldn't even feel it. He just knew, and it was heavy. Tyr had no qualms about killing most others, but he wasn't ready to die.
“I'm at the end of my rope. Abaddon thought I might be able to control my own anima, but I've tried that and it doesn't work. I can summon air, earth...” He flew through all the basic elements. Even darkness. They were weak motes of magic compared to his fire, but they were real. He'd obtained a clumsy control over all of them by now. “Except anima. I can't project it. I don't know why, but I know that's not the answer. Like with the others, I...” Tyr tried to figure out a way to phrase the thing. The way he used mana was different than her and other people. The best way to say it was that he asked, and they came to him.
The strings were there, if only he'd grasp them, and ask for their assistance. Akin to a prayer, it was necessary for him to commune with an element in order to use it. No spells, just his will, but he must've had a frail will indeed to remain so incredible weak. Tyr toyed with his mothers bracelet, staring at the floor before a voice came from behind him.
A voice full of angst, sadness, and a hint of betrayal. “Why didn't you tell me? I could have helped you, or...”
“Iscari...” Tyr sighed, somehow missing his entry to their conversation. “Our fathers have spoken about this. It's congenital, not even Octavian has any idea how or if it can be fixed. One day, my core will collapse.” He couldn't mention the spira. Varinn had been clear to avoid revealing his knowledge of it. While Iscari likely knew of it, Alex most certainly did not. “I didn't tell you because I have no idea where to start looking. I've tried everything. An artificial focus built into my body, anima theory, all failures. Nothing works.”
There's only one solid way, and I'm conflicted. If killing a thousand men didn't bear much fruit or improvement... How many would it take? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? I can't do that. But there were thoughts he couldn't share. A secret they couldn't know, or at least she.
“That's because you didn't have us.” Alex snorted. She refrained from showing any of the anxiety welling up within her. Having had no idea of how long he'd known this, she assumed the entire time they'd known one another. As long as he'd been alive, and she'd been terrible to him. Alex wasn't prone to guilt or empathy, but she felt a lot of both at this very moment.
“Yes.” Iscari nodded, full of confidence. He was, even in terms of his best friend and sworn brother, the best. If there was a challenge, he would conquer it on Tyr's behalf, he knew he would – and could. Nobody else could match him. “I will find an answer and do what my father could not. You can trust us. Well, I'm not sure about Alex...” He joked, trying to lighten to mood perhaps. Or maybe he was truly just that vain. “But you can count on me. Because that's what friends do, Tyr. They show up, and I'm going to show up for you. I promise.”