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For the first time, Tyr felt real regret. Mysteries left to him in the past started to make a bit more sense, even through the jumbled mind of that alien being. A great doom had befallen the world, but from where? 'Beyond the rift' wasn't an answer. If he'd have merged with Jurak and accepted her offer of a gift, maybe he'd know these things and be cured. Instead of just wondering. Then again, he was also left with the question of if all of this even mattered.

His arrogance had blinded him. Arrogance and pride, the need to do it all for himself. There was an inconsistency though. If, as the Fomorians believed, all of the gods had been killed... How were there gods now? Astarte offered his power freely to those who followed the path of flame, but his power was not magic as magic was understood. The churches called it a reflection of faith, but what element did that fall under? None of them, not truly, or perhaps their own unique brand of energy. Thanatos, at the very least, was not a being that could be explained with the easy excuse of 'magic'.

He was sure that gods existed. Or nature spirits, or celestials... The Fomorians had considered them 'friends', revered but hadn't worshiped them. Like honored protectors or ancestors. Tyr had seen through the eyes of that creature all the races, and there were no men. It had never acquainted itself with a human before, like they hadn't existed...

“Hey man... You're looking scary again. Whatcha thinkin' about?” Tyr's face was stone hard and gloomy, concerning Micah a great deal. He'd been doing that a lot these days, glazed over eyes staring into the distance, worse than normal. “Exams?”

“Yeah.” Tyr grunted. “Exams.” The first year was nearly over and most of his time had been spent on one task or another with Iscari. Allowed to roam free from the academy based on their status and support of their fathers. “...What were uh... Yours?”

Tyr didn't know Micah exceptionally well, but everyone else was participating in their practical finals. Both were finished with theirs by now. Sitting here alone with him, it made Tyr realize how little they'd spoken directly. It was a bit awkward, but Micah didn't seem to mind, always quick with a word of encouragement. Or a dirty joke that was nowhere near as funny as he thought they were, but it was the thought that counted sometimes. Supposedly. Tyr liked breasts as much as the next guy, but Micah had a very real and concerning obsession with that particular part of the body.

“All easy. Well, relatively. I'll never been an S rank student but at least I've got a pretty profitable affinity. I've already got job offers. Isn't that crazy?” Only a first year student and he was inundated with requests. Dimensional magic was still a relatively new field and those with an inborn talent for it were in high demand, and the pay was nothing to scoff at.

“That sounds nice.” Tyr tried his best to keep the conversation going, pausing awkwardly. “I, er... I don't think anyone is just hiring fire affinity mages, you're pretty lucky.”

Micah smiled widely. “Maybe not in the same capacity, but fire affinity is good for energy projection so you can always get work in a reactor. And there are always runesmiths that are looking for forge hands, people pay quite well for refined flame. Especially inscribers, flame with meta affinity are consistently in demand. Not as flashy as making gates for fine lords and ladies, but I don't think the salaries are bad. My offers are just for apprenticeship and I've already gotten one as high as eighty credits a month.”

“Oh?” Tyr had received a handful of apprenticeship requests, but Valkan had denied them all. As per his 'master', a proper smith worked for himself and nobody else. Only through individual sacrifice or effort could one benefit the world around them, and Tyr already had two masters. No need for another, the academy had asked him to become a part-time forge hand but he didn't exactly need the money. “Any you're considering seriously?”

“No way, man. Two in Milano, one in the republic, one all the way in Assyria. Not a chance.”

“Why?”

“Do you really think I'd abandon the boys for some coin. Sure, the girls will like me better when I'm fat and wealthy – but I'll stick around. You'll help me get a job when you graduate, right? Maybe we can all go back to Varia since Iscari doesn't have a choice.”

Tyr chuckled. “You should follow your own destiny. You have a talent. Why would you follow us around? I'll return home to H... To Oresund, eventually.”

“Can I come?” Micah had heard the tales of northern women. Two in their group were examples, and so was Tyr. Whatever woman had given birth to him had to be a looker. A bit violent for his tastes, but he could make do. If he had breasts... The bigger the better, that was Micah's motto.

“Well... Sure man, but why? It's cold in the north and I'm sure there are some accessibility issues.”

“Not a problem.” Micah grinned, depressing a button on his chair, levitating in the air just shy of three feet. “With this bad boy, I can go anywhere. I've only had two friends my whole life before you lot, and their names were mom and dad. Don't ditch me. Seriously, it's too cruel. Leaving your disabled friend behind after you all finish up here. Do you have no shame? Aren't we friends?”

Friends. It had been such an alien word to Tyr not so long ago. He was changing, maybe he had changed quite a bit. When he was with them, despite their relative uselessness, his hands shook less and his conflicted mind calmed itself. It was hard to put a finger on the security they offered. Tyr considered that he might be leeching off their companionship and easy going attitude, but he'd do it shamelessly. Iscari was like the sun but everyone else had their own sort of light.

Micah, with his woman obsessed, lecherous gaze. Dirty jokes and taking advantage of Iscari to frighten anyone offended into backing off. Hiding his insecurities behind wit and humor. Get a flagon in his hands, and he'd be thanking everyone around him for being his friend until they wanted to knock him out of his chair. A crude boy, but a grateful one. Asking if they'd eaten that day or if they'd slept well the night before. He liked to talk, a lot, at the very least.

Brenn, with his wide shoulders and calm eyes. Always competitive and proud, but never slow to showcase humility in his honest compliments. Listening to all of their problems and offering advice where he could. If not, at least he'd listen. By far the least selfish of the lot, doing what he could to make their lives easier. Almost like a big brother of sorts.

Tythas, who had a sharp mind and a more grounded approach to magic than the others. Freed from his insecurities by his own gifts and the benefits they brought, he remained humble and infinitely helpful if asked a question. He nitpicked a lot, though. Sometimes he just wouldn't let the others hear the end of it, and he would pick very strange hills to die on, so to speak. Very argumentative if he thought he was right, but he usually was and his grades reflected it.

Magnus, who was even quicker to humor than Micah, though his jokes were more often than not actually funny. Mischievous and roguish, always sneaking this or that beverage accessible only to the nineteen year old's when Alex would refuse to do it for them.

All were valuable in their own way. Tyr wasn't sure if he liked them because of the utility they offered or because it was a collection of honest, platonic relationships.

“Alright Micah...” Tyr returned his grin, finding the whole thing too bizarre. It stood to reason that if they could make flying discs and other objects, that his chair would be no exception, but this was a bit much – and the librarian let them know it. No flying in the library. “I'll get you a job.”

Hells... Maybe I'll hire him. Not many mages in the blackguard. Not sure what the point of them is anymore, though. I wonder what they've been doing?

Probably something more fine individuals would consider improper. Mikhail liked to gamble and womanize, the rest who yet remained were surprisingly wholesome. Fennic was probably drinking tea and reading. Ever since he'd been taught how he'd taken up an interest in foreign culture for whatever reason. Samson was just standing somewhere menacingly, and Tiber was most certainly training every day and cleaning his quarters even when they didn't need to be cleaned. Doug was just Doug, doing the things that Doug did. Watching birds or playing with the children of the servant staff, Tyr had a habit of forgetting he existed.

The proper school year ended and the two men, Micah and Tyr, were spending most of their time together as the others completed this or that task. Runesmithing was graded consistently throughout the course as it was more hands on than other vocations. And Tyr had turned in his 'class project' a long time ago – those being the spellbreakers. Graded on what effort he'd put into it as it was commonplace for enchanters to collaborate throughout all the various disciplines. What with Tyr's private lessons, he'd passed with an S again.

A worthless grade for him, since Valkan had done most of the work on the second pair. They were superior to the first iteration, but with Abaddon missing in action it was impossible to really say just how much better they were. Tyr wasn't completely fluent in his runes just yet, understanding 'purpose' but not 'significance'.

“Where are you going?” Micah asked, rolling on account of his limited mana supply. The device could do as he'd demonstrated, but Sigi was still a bit too inexperienced to make something so efficient as to carry him aloft everywhere he went.

“My estate.” Tyr responded, Okami padding along behind him with his tongue out and enjoying all the looks of adoration he was given by the other students. To the prince they were all some faceless shapes in the crowd, but the wolf had some fans and would run off to greet one or another under his watchful gaze.

“...Estate?” Micah asked. “Are you actually rich? Can I come?”

“I thought we'd discussed this. Since you and Brenn aren't returning home over summer break, you'll be staying with us.” It was better than sleeping on a church cot, which is where both of them would've ended up. The initial plan the two had shared with the rest before Astrid had vehemently refused. It was her estate too, in any case.

“Us?”

“...Alex, Sigi, Astrid, me... Did you really not listen to anything we said? Or were you too busy rolling after any girl that smiled your way? The Ebonfist's are a Great House, it's common sense that my family would have money.”

“C'mon man, that's unfair. I have goals! Dreams! To give rise to a great magical house. I've got to network, but they aren't for marriage. My main goal is to blow up and act like I don't know nobody. Ah, and after that I'll be visiting the northlands to find a nice elven maiden. One with big ti--”

“Shut up Micah.”

“Okay.”

His chair wasn't only for flying, it was equally capable of unfolding into something resembling a saddle. A bit heavy to sit on your average horse, but Okami was fine with it. Much larger and stockier than the typical mounts found in the area, he lowered himself placidly in exchange for a thick slab of meat and a belly rub.

Tyr had to admit, the chair was incredible. It had so many functions. One day, it might even be able to become a pair of braces that would allow Micah to walk. Ungainly, without sensation in his legs, but it was possible according to Sigi, just expensive. Every joint had to be fitted with pistons and hydraulics beyond what she was capable of at the moment. Micah was, for all intents and purposes, her guinea pig. Not that he seemed to mind. In the question of whether or not he was an 'ass man' or a 'titty man' – one that had never actually been asked of him – he had elaborated the Sigi was the ideal woman for both.

Perhaps she'd taken it so well due to his infirmity. Tyr didn't know. She had laughed, violently patting his head until his neck was sore.

“You want me...” Micah cleared his throat nervously. Okami was always around, following Tyr and snoring in the back of one class or another. Nobody seemed to mind when he was a puppy, but this was the first time he'd seen his real form. A dangerous magical beast with jaws that could easily bite him in half. Not exactly 'pettable' at this current moment.

“To ride Okami? Yes. How do you normally get around?”

“A rented carriage...”

“It's fine. He's just as much one of the boys as you lot. Aren't you, partner?” Okami snorted, wagging his tail aggressively until a cloud of dirt and loose grass was torn from the path leading up to the academy. Tyr rubbed behind his ears until the big wolf was panting and drooling all over the road. “He's not scary.”

The prince could scarcely believe anyone would think that way about the wolf. They were bonded of the soul which was a rare thing. Initially, an entire litter had been offered in tribute but it had been plain obvious one of the direwolves had taken to him more immediately than the others. All magical beasts were like that. Without this bond, there would be no gryphons or wyverns by which the knights of Haran and Varia respectively might patrol the sky.

Okami was a dope, but he was well mannered and incredibly friendly. Affectionate even with strangers, and never hurt anyone unless they tried to hurt Tyr first. In fact, some hunters and adventurers on the periphery had been so frightened as to attack the wolf, and Okami had done nothing about it. He was incredibly intelligent, and Tyr felt inferior to him in that regard.

Tyr nodded in contentment and hoisted Micah onto Okami's wide back. It wasn't a perfect fit, but after some slight adjustments it would do just fine.

As long as we go slow...

Okami was wise. He felt what those around him did as easily as he breathed air, but he didn't have much in the way of a concept regarding 'slow and steady'. Bolting down the road at a breakneck pace as soon as the saddle was secure. Half cursing, half laughing, Tyr following the screaming Micah down the road on his own horse, finding it no match for his partner.

It didn't take long to reach the city at that speed. Twenty minutes at most. Okami was waiting patiently with a green looking Micah that surely would've fallen if not for all the buckles securing him into place.

“You okay?” Tyr asked, sighing at Okami. There was no scolding him. He wasn't a pet or a dog as some might see him, but a tremendously powerful magical beast and valuable partner. A friend. Protecting Alex for many years before returning to his bonded brother and doing the same for him through all their adventures.

“...That...” Micah bent over, vomiting and receiving no less than a score of dirty looks from those standing before the gate. His curly hair was risen at the ends, a loose mop of frizz. “...That was awesome!”

He'd never traveled by steed before, let alone a magical beast. Okami looked too relaxed to have just bolted so many miles through the countryside, up the lip of the crater and down again. His powerful chest rose and fell calmly, looking down at the pile of vomit with a squinted eye before edging away from it.

“I've never felt the wind in my hair before!” Micah laughed, still green, spilling what was left of the contents of his stomach out onto the ground again.

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Jartor

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