Dauntless: Origins

by

Jartor

Chapter 74 - Nuance and Many Future Migraines

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By the end of the first year, students in the school of evocation were required to have developed at least five of their own level two personal spells. Clumsy things more often than not, something nobody would use in the future. In the more advanced lessons, spells developed for mages by others became rarer. For most mages, personal spell development was considered the hardest part of it all.

It required a grasp of meta magic, the sophistication of which was seen as a measure of their talent. To freely pull the threads of an element toward one end of the spectrum or another, or combine separate elements into a fusion.

Spell casting, spell weaving, and spell projection. All different things. Average mages would cast, forcing strings through a magic circle to generate a phenomena. Alex on the other hand, was a sorcerer. It didn't mean a normal mage couldn't properly weave spells, but it came easier to her, and thus she was more easily able to peer into the infinite depths of spellcraft. As long as one had the aptitude and knowledge for it, the spells they could create were only limited by their imagination.

She kept it simple. Wind, earth, and space. Triple weaving each element until it took on the form of a ball of scintillating lightning. A level three spell, one of her own making combining the teachings of the colleges with those of the academy. “Vipers nest!”

An odd name for a predominately lightning spell. An orb of ionized dust, held in place by a spatial barrier to contain it all. The air magic inside of it that aided in the friction of particular to ensure the energy stayed consistent and balanced. The world had little consideration of the science behind it, only enough to make it happen. The words didn't matter though. Long cantrips in the ancient language were an old myth replaced by the modern system.

All that mattered was mental imagery and the ability to pluck the right strings at the right time, for the right purpose. Her spell wasn't a fusion, it was three separate elements each with a purpose.

Battle magic was predicated on quick casting time, and mages would spend days or weeks rehearsing the steps necessary even at the lower level. Not unlike swordsmen who practiced one particular form or stroke, until it was as easy as breathing. The effort by which a mage used to summon a spell could be that imagery, words, or hand motions. Alex was skilled at calling the magic but used her body to guide it, whereas most other mages would utilize less movement or foci to do the same thing. Everyone was different and that diversity was exactly what the professors wanted to see.

The law of equivalent exchange. A level three spell, the standard for a career mage, was taxing enough that she could feel the mana leaving her body. Not enough to fatigue her, but enough to notice the expenditure.

The orb shot toward her target, streaking through the air before expanding into a dome just above it. Bursting into a swarm of serpent shaped lightning bolts, rattling around in their cage until the dummy was reduced to shreds. Charged bits of earth riddling the target served as conductors for the lightning, positively charged and ensuring that as many hit the target as possible.

“Triple casting. Level three. Battle magic. Form was crude but time necessary to manifest the spell was satisfactory. Seven out of ten. Very good work.” Kael nodded in contentment. She was talented, but it was an arrogant spell. Students would seek to overcompensate in terms of 'creativity' to create these flashy, ridiculous things. Trying too hard, and while that might please the average evocation professor, it wasn't suited to proper battle magic.

A few students clapped, congratulating her for a job well done. Thus far, Kael had given nothing beyond a 'five', and most students were only capable of reaching the level two stage to fulfill all of the requirements of the practical. The grade didn't dictate a pass or fail, a personal spell was a personal spell no matter how bad, but the mark given would give them access to a more wide range of advanced classes in the already over-saturated field.

“A seven!?” Alex huffed, finding it much too low. She'd always been a perfectionist, and that which would get her all sorts of praise in the colleges was a '7' here... It was irritating.

“I've assigned a bonus point for having the foresight to add tracking capability to your spell. Smart, but yes. Four seconds to weave, two to release. One to reach the target. Seven seconds and it works just fine on a target dummy, but what about a living thing capable of dodging or shielding them from the stones? Your lightning would miss them entirely. What if they used water to envelope the spell and contain the spell and control its conductivity? Air to blow it away? Earth to block it? Every element, baseline, could easily counter such a complex phenomena with far less energy needed. Next!”

“Ah...” He was correct. Kael was an archmage and master battlemage. He had demonstrated it many times. Alex had fallen into the trap of overthinking her spell, only to arrive here unhappy with the result. Metamagic could be powerful, it could create great things, but seven seconds was a long time in a fight... Especially when one considered how easily disrupted it was. It wasn't so impressive after all.

There were those who called themselves 'war mages'. Taking up to a minute to cast a spell to bring down a castle wall, or erase a battalion. Living siege engines, and rare. Typically, it required multiple mages casting through an array or artifact. Instead of leaving, she turned around and targeted one of the remaining dummies.

Pressing her fists together, she took a deep breath before opening them – index finger to index finger – wheeling her arms around in a circular motion. Pulling at the balance between elements, she spun fire and wind together, extending her middle and pointer fingers in a crisp piercing motion. Darkflare, a college spell built for utility rather than creativity, finding balance in its complexity.

A single bolt of lightning wreathed in dark flame and as thick as her arm shot from her extended fingers with a thunderclap. A fist sized hole was punched through the dummy, while the rest of it was eaten away by darkness imbued flames. Much faster, cleaner, and ultimately more effective.

“Dual casting. Level two. Good utilization of the lightning to add speed to the projectile, darkness metamagic. Form was much cleaner. Three seconds to cast, generate, and strike. Better, I'm glad that you're learning. Clean evocation and silent. Eight out of ten, but a point deducted for wasting my time and pad your ego. I can deduct another if you want to protest my scoring system?”

All magic assessment was contextual. First year evocation and battle magic was more about teaching the 'meta' and serve as a jumping off point for experimentation. All in all, it had its downfalls. Against a magicless target, it was deadly, but fire and air, while complimentary, had the same counters. A real mage could have easily warded themselves with earth in order to disperse the energy. Or water magic, distilled water was one of the poorest conductors of electricity in existence.

Countering or just plain defending was almost always easier than attacking. It would've been an eight in context to his expectations if she'd not put everything into one single strike. A better spell, more thought given to it, would've had more diverse secondary effect. Some duality or trickery too it, like adding a kinetic barrier or some sort of redundancy.

“What'll it be, girl? Six or seven?”

Alex shook her head, there was no need to make her grades even worse. She'd have to settle for the seven, waiting outside of the sparring hall for the others to finish their practicals.

Sigi had a different approach to magic. Most battlemages were evokers but the whole point was to... Battle. Students of any school predicated on generating phenomena capable of this was welcome, though some might be less appropriate than others. People could drop out of or change from the evocation school and stay a battlemage.

After long study, she found conjuration and transmutations to be far easier schools and was currently in the process of displaying her power to transmute the elements rather than evoke them. Unlike Alex's spell, hers was not so complex in purpose. Earth, air, and water. Earth for power, air for speed, and water for flexibility necessary to bear the internal changes to her body. Calling on the rich mana suffusing the academy, she stomped a crack into the ground and bent backwards at the waist. Gripping the javelin in her hand, she roared a challenge. “Prepare to feel your skull crushed flat betwixt mine thighs, fiend!”

Strange... Considering that she'd silent cast the spell, the words were totally unnecessary, leaving Kael a bit perplexed.

Once the spell was manifested, she called on the anima. Resulting in her upper body ballooning into rippling muscle that would have torn her uniform if not for its elastic properties. Heaving the javelin with all her might, it split the air with a booming sound, vaporizing both.

“A combination of conjured battle magic, elemental infusion via transmutation, and good use of anima. Level three... Six out of ten. Only because you used all of that energy just to throw something. Do you understand how this spell could be improved? I won't deduct a point for the rather... Er... Bizarre choice of words – but I guess it works.”

Sigi nodded. She preferred a more physical approach and wasn't so good with generating projectiles. Instead opting to throw something as hard as she could. Enough to pass, but the spell itself was not very useful. Eventually, her supply of javelins would run out and she'd be forced to recover those which had not ruined by the impact.

“Good.” Kael smiled softly at the explanation, good enough. He would've perhaps maybe suggested going without the words, or a more full-body anima transmutation, but that was true as well. “Fifty points to Sigi Stalvarg. Next!”

Astrid was next in line, opting to exercise her ability on the other side of things. Defense. Unlike most others, she faced off against a professor that fired a storm of level zero cantrips against her arrayed defense. Divination to detect the projectiles without need for her to look around, and conjuration to summon shields of various elements that intercepted the spells based on their affinity. Not quite so flashy, but the best offense was a good defense – and any mage worth their salt needed to know how to protect themselves and others.

“Very well done!” Wilhelm cried, the professor opposite her. Never moving, despite throwing all of those spells at her. Well muscled arms crossed, claps abounded throughout the training hall, lots of 'oohs' and 'aahs'. There was something to be said for aesthetics, and it wasn't all for the ego, her constructs danced about like a swarm of multicolored dinner plates. In a combat scenario, interference was important, and it was hard to tell where the gaps were. Naturally, she could've summoned a wider shield of a more appropriate series of hexagonal shapes, but the bigger a shield got the easier it was to break. This was harder, and arguably more effective. “Nine out of ten, but only because... Why do you think?” He asked.

“Because the space element has no counter other than itself and if you'd used any kind of space or dimensional magic my wards would have failed?” She tried to answer the question, blushing and wondering if her friends would be cross with her since she'd scored the highest. Their exams were all performed together, and she tested as a battlemage despite not being one herself. An option provided to her, either a written or practical exam.

“Not quite, but a good observation.” Wilhelm shook his square head. Everything about the man was muscle, far larger than most mages and not quite so skinny as someone like Kael with his swimmers body. A very rare physique among the vocation. “Being able to manifest an attack spell with dimensional magic is exceptionally rare, and not possible in most places due to wards. I've only docked a point because you missed a spell. Otherwise, it was perfect.”

Only then did Astrid notice the small pebble of light hovering just behind her head. “Light magic?”

“A light construct. Because it's not dangerous by itself, your divination ward wouldn't have sensed it.” Wilhelm responded with a wink. “Equally capable of flying into your ear, mouth, or eye to disrupt your casting and focus. You'll understand why little things like this can be so dangerous when you move on to next years course and learn about mana barriers or elemental mana skins. Don't let it get you down, you were very impressive. But never forget that light magic isn't just for healing, it is capable of great things in the right hands.”

“I don't think we're supposed to be here.” Okami had slowed considerably upon entering the city streets, thronging with people and carriages bearing passengers or the goods of merchants. Micah bobbed back and forth on his metallic saddle uncomfortably. Gradually they moved toward the center of the city, and with it the traffic died down considerably until there were few others on the finely paved pathways. “This is the council district.”

“It's where my estate is.” Tyr turned to him, eyebrow raised.

“House Ebonfist must be pretty important and powerful to afford a place here...”

Clan Ebonfist, technically.” Tyr corrected. “There's a difference. House is a direct line, clan is a wider family. All Ebonfist's are Ebonfist's. Unlike most of the southern states where one might take the last name of another upon marriage. Or a satellite house that takes on a new name and only claims distant relation. Make sense?”

“Ah, I guess. But I thought you guys were just merchants?”

“Not so, young man. House, clan, I don't care – my nephew is too anal about these things. We Ebonfist's are the closest family to the great Stalvarg's and have been their sister clan in war as many times as trade. Just merchants? You'll find we're a whole lot more than simple tradesmen.”

“And you are...?” Astal, bottle in hand, was perched on the apex of the gate set before the estate proper like some sort of predatory bird.

“Uncle...?” Tyr frowned, staring up at the man with a mix of concern and irritation. The estate was huge, all manner of places to get drunk. And he'd chosen to do it here overlooking the thoroughfare?

“Uncle Astal Ebonfist, at your service. My wife wants a divorce! Can you believe that!? The gal on that woman, after twenty years of marriage. She claims I'm never home and says that now that our children are grown she wishes to pull me into some kind of ultimatum. Granted, she's my second wife and far younger than I, but I've not been so negligent as to not take offense at such a ridiculous request!” He was clearly very drunk.

You aren't ever home... As far as Tyr was aware, Astal had been away from his clan lands for nearly nine years. Nearly half of the time he'd been apart from... Uh... Aunt Lytta? Perhaps it was time to brush up on his knowledge of the family tree.

“Oh... Alright... Tyr? Why is your uncle loitering on the gate of a Harani estate? Isn't this...?”

“Just shut up, you'll understand.” Tyr had told them a hundred times who and what he was, and they'd always treated it like a joke. Even when Iscari backed his claim, they'd grown solemn and asked him never to lie about such a thing, lest they tempt the 'heir primus of Haran'. Recounting tales and rumors they'd heard of an undead primus who'd eaten entire armies and slain sea serpents with his bare hands. A cold blooded killer who tortured and murdered nobles for fun. Even down here, the bards sang of Tyr's exploits, except they didn't... Their songs in the past year had gravitated away from the truth and became incredibly unrealistic.

According to them, Tyr had sired a child with a manticore and married an orc princess.

Micah was in shock, gray in the face and thinking back to all the times he'd mocked or prodded at Tyr for his grades or lack of ability. Never so far as to be called bullying, just banter. But still... If his legs yet worked, he'd kick himself for his foolishness. Iscari was so kind, but Tyr... The one-eyed prince himself... There was no way!

“I'm still the same person you know. Stop gaping at me like that, it's strange.” Brenn and Micah alike had the same face once they'd entered. Open mouthed and wide eyed, lost first at the sight of the grandiose estate and later in the revelation that Tyr was a servant of the Harani primus. Perhaps even a knight. Or... Something... It was hard to take in, even a single marble brick of which the floors of the vast structure were made out of was worth more money than they'd ever seen.

“No. He is literally Prince Tyr Faeron.” Alex shook her head with a look of disbelief on her face. How could these two be so dull in the head...?

“You're telling me that our Tyr is the one eyed prince?”

She nodded.

“The immortal primus who had his head cut off and came back from the dead to seek vengeance on all those who were complicit in his mothers murder?”

Another nod. This time, Alex was a little less sure, but there was some truth in it.

“The same guy...” Brenn gulped. “Who killed ten thousand barbarians and liberated the border of the foglands from their occupation. They call him Asmon's butcher. No way!”

“It wasn't ten thousand!” Tyr's exasperated cry split the foyer, with the blackguard and northern bodyguard alike laughing aloud. “It was only... Nine hundred and sixty something bounties that I collected. The rest of them are in one of my dimensional rings.”

“...What? Ew! Why!?”

“Dunno.” Tyr shrugged. “Figured they'd come in handy some day. Count Asmon ran out of money to pay off the bounties and I didn't know what else to do with them.” He left out the part where Iscari had taken them off his hands for an 'experiment'. It was better if they didn't know, but it wasn't like an interest in anatomy was that strange. Bit stranger that it'd been Iscari in the first place, but he'd had Tyr drain them of blood so maybe that was where his revulsion lie.

“Wait... Seriously...” Micah has a strange look in his eyes, a little too interested, truth be told. Brennwulf slapped him over the back of the head, causing him to wince and step back before he started drooling. “You're the prince of Haran? The wolf? The dragon slayer? Asmon's butcher?”

Tyr snorted. “I've only killed one real magical beast and it was a lindwurm. Completely by accident, I didn't defeat it, but I did kill it...”

“A lindwurm!” Micah cried. “How can you be so... Calm. A lindwurm! How'd you do that! Did he really do that?”

The girls shrugged. They huddled around hot tea and biscuits in the lounge, doing their best to ignore a debate that had been raging on for hours. A finely carpeted room with walls of marble and a ceiling far overhead crafted of what appeared to be a single pane of pyramidal glass. Everywhere were signs of absurd wealth. Rich furnishings and thick books of real paper. Desks and sofas of baby smooth leather. Even a statue of Tyr present on the rear wall of the room. That should be enough to remark him as the owner of the place, one of the only depictions of him in the known world what with his fathers strange paranoia of letting people know what he looked like.

It wasn't perfect though. Too wide in the shoulders and heroic, with a squareness to the jaw that did not match his own. Short hair and dappled light dancing all around it from the mosaic glass overhead.

“I got gated inside of it. I... Guess? I dug myself out with a knife after that. Carved through its body and it just kind of died afterward. I didn't mean to kill it. But it definitely wasn't a dragon, no wings.”

“Dragons don't exist, Brenn.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“What the hell kind of half-assed fantasy creature is a flying lizard that breathes fire? Get real. This is all very derivative, but have a little pride in the story you're a part of.”

“What?”

“I said these biscuits are excellent.”

“Okay. Well... This is a lot to process...” Brenn felt dizzy, unsure if he should bow, or... All primus' were the children of gods, that's what the churches taught and the custom he was expected to follow. Seeing the indecision in his eyes, Tyr had experienced the same situation unfold the first time the man had met Iscari...

But Tyr was a bit different. A bit... No kneeling, just behaving as they always had. Instead of seeing deeper to Tyr's raw disdain for lowering oneself, a misunderstanding blossomed in Brenn's mind. One of a great humility, and how Tyr had almost certainly been the one to convince Iscari to act the same.

In all actuality, Harani did not lower themselves before anything or anyone. Knights could bow and kneel if they wanted to, but it was typically seen as dishonorable. If you were kneeling, it's because you were about to be punished. It depended on context. People might kneel before Jartor himself, pages or knights – and that was their right as servants sworn to the crown. It was a, uh... It could be either a dishonorable action, or the opposite. Like one had to earn the right to kneel, most assent was given in shallow bows or salutes though. Kneeling in court was exceptionally rare for Harani men.

Like all societal custom, it was complicated. Paladins of course would kneel, before their gods or the primus, but they were no longer 'Harani'. It was done in true supplication and faith rather than cowardly peacocking. You had to earn the right to do so, or it would be rude. As if expecting Jartor himself to take responsibility for you, or insist that he was awaiting an apology. Frankly, Tyr had never understood it, but it was one of the few customs he could truly get behind.

Something about straight backs. Harani bent at the waist if at all, the most common salute was a clenched fist over their heart or a shallow dip.

“I shall serve you until my dying day.” Brenn's eyes were glowing, slamming his fist against his chest with enough force to startle Micah and the puppy for of Okami resting in his lap. “I swear it. You are a true child of Vestia. So humble and uncaring of how others consider you... I am brought near to tears at your boundless grace. To think I've insulted you, forgive me for my disrespect.”

“Dear gods...” Tyr groaned. The girls were laughing at him, with Sigi in particular clutching her midriff and howling in mirth. Something had changed, and he'd put all his effort in the future towards fixing it.

Micah sighed wistfully, face sinking into a gloomy mask. “To think that I'm friends with not one, but two heir primus... Two! And you can't even get me laid! Society, man...”

There was a man who rarely had much more than one objective on his mind. Tyr could appreciate the honesty, if nothing else...

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Jartor

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