Tala glanced up as she walked back out into the market, noting the ever-present dome of magic above her head. She’d decided that she liked the view from this side much more and found herself smiling as she basked in the magical glow that few, other than she, could easily see. What Mage would spend their inscriptions to stare at the sky?
Despite her revelry, she walked quickly through the market, looking for her final purchase of the day.
She found a barrel seller near the western end of the market, and was able to purchase a small, iron-bound keg and two glass jugs for two silver. The keg was just small enough to fit into her belt pouch and had a top ready to hammer into place, once it was filled. It was advertised to be able to hold just over two gallons, and that was perfect. The jugs were each just over a gallon, so the contents of the two would fill the keg quite nicely. Until then, they had sturdy, swing-top closures to seal openings that were almost wide enough for her to fit her hand in.
Those purchases complete, via stone slate rather than coinage, she moved towards the inn in which the others were staying. No reason to take the time to hunt up accommodations when others have done the work, in advance.
She asked several people that she passed where she could find the Wandering Magician, and she was given unerring directions.
She’d almost asked Brand for his tailor recommendations, but she could deal with that tomorrow, when she got back. Right now, she wanted nothing more than a meal and her own room.
The streets were busy, but not crowded, and she enjoyed peoplewatching as she moved through the city.
There were definitely a higher proportion of Mages, or at least people with some inscribing, than she was used to. She had to remind herself that while most people got inscribings of various kinds at some point throughout their lives, only Mages were devoted to perfecting the Magical arts, and only they received a Keystone inscription. More than half her time at the Academy had been devoted to her understanding of that one, complex spell-form. It’s what truly set Mages apart and allowed the truly impressive magics to function.
She smiled, bringing herself back from her musing. The amount of magic in the city, and the area at large, was staggering. I could get used to it, here. That is, if she didn’t have a job… There are caravans to and from this city once a month, or so. I could come here quite often, if I wished. And that was just from Bandfast. I could go through other cities, as well… It bore considering.
Finally, she arrived at the inn, and found it to be a four story, sprawling complex, set within small, but well appointed, grounds. “Inexpensive, huh?”
The sign over the gate proudly proclaimed the name of the establishment, along with an iconograph: a simple image of a staff with a star shining from the top.
An Archon star? That was unlikely. It was probably just an easy way to symbolize power.
Before passing under the archway, she noted a guard standing to either side, watching her.
Tala passed under the sign and heard someone call out to her. “Oy! State your name and business. We’ve no use for vagrants, here.”
She turned to the man, frowning. I’m obviously a Mage. Why can’t he…oh… She hadn’t really noticed the fading light of early sunset, because her eyes didn’t need nearly as much illumination and adjusted so smoothly it didn’t merit her attention. Now, in moderate twilight, she would be little more than a vague shape to their eyes. A tattered shape at that. “I am Mistress Tala, Mage of the Caravanners’ Guild.”
That earned a surprised exclamation.
“I am here in search of food and lodging. Have I come to the right place?”
“Let me get a look at you.” The man who had spoken pulled out a round bit of wood, and Tala saw power swirling around it, evoking the concept of light. Sure enough, as the guard moved his finger across the item, light blossomed forth.
Wonders never cease. It appeared to be an artifact, as no inscriptions were ready-to-sight.
“Oh! My apologies, Mistress, we didn’t see you very clearly and…”
Tala grinned. “I look a bit like a vagrant, in the dark?”
The man cleared his throat. “No offense intended, Mistress.”
“None given. I’ve had a long week, but my wardrobe has seen the worst of it. I’m just glad I didn’t have to walk in here naked.”
The guard colored just slightly. “Yes… well, that would have been… bad.”
Tala paused for a moment, before shifting slightly. “May I…?” She glanced further into the complex.
“Oh! Of course. You have a wonderful night, Mistress. Welcome to the Wandering Magician.”
Tala gave a nod of acknowledgement and strode up the path to the main building. It was a grand structure, clearly built to weather the centuries, but it maintained a sense of elegance despite its age. The massive double doors opened as she approached, and she found herself walking into a quiet lobby, what looked to be a pond taking up one side of the relatively large space.
She focused briefly, scanning the water and saw that there were, indeed, many fish. In fact, if she understood her sight properly, some were quite old but still vital. She wouldn’t be surprised to find out that some of the fish had been there since the founding of the city. What a horrible existence…But probably really nice for a fish? No predators and all.
She didn’t give it a further thought.
An older woman with silver-white hair and a straight, strong posture stepped forward to greet her. The matron scanned Tala with discerning eyes, before nodding. “Mistress. Welcome to the Wandering Magician.”
Tala gave a slight bow. “Thank you, Matron.”
“A room for one?”
Tala thought for a moment. “Yes, please. Something on the ground floor would be preferred, on the exterior of the building’s east side, if it’s available at no extra cost.” After a moment, she continued. “I would deeply appreciate a bath, if one is available, and food.”
The matron nodded to each request. “Could I send for a seamstress, and commission some garments on your behalf?”
Tala hesitated. What she was requesting already felt very expensive, and someone else doing her negotiating felt more so. “I am still a new Mage and…”
The matron held up her hand. “I am familiar with the…constraints felt by many new Mages and magelings. We will consider cost in all our services to you, and keep you apprised of anything that may not be in keeping with this aspect of your desires.”
Tala blinked at her. That was quite politically worded. “Thank you. If I may, so I have a basis for comparison: What will three nights here, cost?”
The Matron smiled. “A room is 5 silver ounces per night, use of the baths is an additional one ounce, silver, per night. Meals are two for a silver, though if you wish, we will sell you one at no mark-up.”
Tala nodded. Tonight, tomorrow, and the night after; baths, obviously; dinner tonight, breakfast and dinner tomorrow, three meals the next day, and breakfast my final morning is seven meals…21 and a half silver. I can do that. It was expensive, but it should be worth it, if she used her time effectively.
As Tala was thinking, the Matron waited patiently, when Tala seemed to return her attention to the older woman, the woman spoke, again. “There are, of course, the additional facilities available to our guests. We have several training rooms and courtyards, as well as quite a number of peaceful places for meditation. These are complementary, and any of our staff would be happy to point them out, or help you find one that best suits you.”
Tala nodded, smiling. “I think that sounds wonderful. Thank you. I would like to stay for three nights and have use of the baths all three nights. I’ll start with four meals and go from there.”
“Very good, Mistress. Would you care to pay now or upon departure?”
Tala hesitated for a long moment. “You let people pay afterwards?”
The Matron nodded. “Mages often earn their way, while here, and only have the funds for their lodging after their work is complete.”
“Huh… I’ll pay up front, thank you.” That seems open to abuse, but I suppose it works for them? They likely required a binding contract, so the danger would be minimized somewhat.
“Currency or account?”
Tala quirked a smile. “Account, please.”
“And were you interested in speaking to a seamstress?” The Matron pointedly did not look over Tala’s state of dress, again.
“It would be no charge for me to set up a meeting.”
Finally, Tala nodded. “Tomorrow evening, after supper? Would that work?”
“It can. I could also have her drop by after supper tonight, if you prefer.” The Matron pulled out a stone tablet from her pocket and manipulated it briefly before handing it to Tala. “Acceptance at the bottom, if you please.”
Tala glanced over the contents of the slate, verifying that they were correct, and pricked her finger, allowing a drop of her blood to vanish into the stone. She was getting very used to pulling her defenses back in order to confirm such transactions. “I think I can do after dinner tonight. Thank you.” Twenty silver, gone in an instant.
The Matron likewise pricked her own finger to certify the transaction and smiled after the confirmation turned the stone briefly green. “Welcome, Mistress…?”
“Oh! Welcome Mistress Tala. I believe that you have companions who are staying here as well?”
“I believe so, yes.”
“They asked that you join them in the dining hall, upon your arrival. Shall I notify them that you will join them promptly, or do you wish to bathe, first?”
She briefly contemplated delaying, but her stomach rumbled rebelliously. “I think I should eat now, assuming I’d be allowed in the dining hall as I am?”
“Our guests are allowed to come as they are, Mistress.”
“Thank you. Can you lead the way? I assume I can go to my rooms, after?”
“That can easily be arranged. Right this way.”
Tala followed the matron down a side hall and to a large, vaulted room with many varied tables, artfully placed throughout. Each was both easy to see and retained the privacy of a bit of distance, occasionally utilizing a support column, or half wall, to add to the separation.
“I trust that you wish dinner, now, to be one of your meals?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“I will have it brought to you.” She pointed towards one corner, where four figures sat at a table built for six. “Your companions are there.”
“Thank you. I hope that you have a good evening.”
The Matron paused for a heartbeat, then smiled. “Thank you, Mistress. You as well.”
Tala nodded her thanks, turned, and strode across the room, towards where Trent, Renix, and Atrexia were sitting with a stranger.
Renix saw her approaching first and waved. “Mistress Tala! Welcome. I’m glad that you could join us.” He looked fully recovered from the concussion. Glad to see that.
The stranger glanced her way, then to Renix, and finally met gazes with Trent before cocking an eyebrow.
Trent rolled his eyes before turning to wave to Tala as well. “Come, join us.”
Tala smiled. “Thank you, I will.” As she pulled up a chair, she regarded the stranger, obviously a Mage, but found herself unable to interpret his spell-lines.
“You know, young Mage, it is rude to use your mage-sight on another without permission.”
She hesitated for a moment before sighing. “I can’t actually turn it off. What sort of defense is that? I’ve never seen anything, save iron, that was impenetrable to my sight.”
The man grinned widely. “No deception? No arguing?”
She shrugged. “What’s the point? You are clearly knowledgeable and unless you were fishing, which I don’t discount, you already knew the answers anyways. I try not to burn bridges, before I know if I’ll need to cross them.”
“That is almost wise, Mistress Tala.” He stood, holding out his hand across the wide table. “But I have you at a disadvantage. You may call me Grediv.”
Tala pulled out a glove and slipped it on as she stood, before taking Grediv’s hand. “Good to meet you, Master Grediv. I assume that’s your name…or?”
Grediv was giving her hand a strange look. “Yes, it’s my name. Why the glove? Do you fear I will cast something through contact?”
You can do that? She supposed that made sense, but she hadn’t really considered it before. More the fool, me. “No…I’ve just been told that contact with my skin is…unnerving for my fellow Mages.”
“Really?” He tilted his head quizzically. “May I?” He offered his hand, again.
Feeling a bit hesitant again, Tala pulled the glove back off. She started to reach for his hand then paused briefly. Well, in for a copper… She clasped his hand, and she felt a mild spasm in his fingers in response.
“Fascinating. You are somehow reflecting the lingering traces of magic present in my body back into my fingers.” He frowned. “But only from the back of your hand?”
Tala nodded. “That was my understanding. Then, are you a lightning Mage as well?”
Grediv bobbed his head noncommittally. “I’ve been using lightning magics of late, given the saturation of such in the region. I imagine that is why your friends, here,” he indicated Trent and Renix, “were recruited for the voyage to our fair city.”
She nodded. “So, a Guide, then. Material?”
They both returned to their seats. Grediv was sitting between Trent and Atrexia, and Renix was sitting between Tala and Trent. “So… to what do I owe the pleasure?” She looked to Trent.
“He is the head of the local Archon Council, and we have requested he meet you and examine your…creation.”
Tala gave a slow nod, silently making an ‘Oh.’ She’d been expecting this, if not quite this quickly. “Well, no time like the present.” She stuck her hand into her belt pouch, reaching in up to her elbow.
The others at the table gave her an odd look as the pouch was clearly not large enough for how she was using it, but they each almost immediately realized what it was.
As before, even through the iron vials, she could feel an odd connection to her Archon star-like creations, and so she was able to find the vials without issue, despite not actually looking into her pouch. Though, she’d thought the storage would be deeper? I’ll examine it more closely later.
She pulled both out and handed them to Grediv.
He frowned, taking the vials. “What is this?”
Tala gave Trent a long-suffering look. “Didn’t you tell him?”
Trent shrugged. “I figured it would just start an argument, which could be avoided by him seeing for himself.”
Grediv sighed. “Please, just tell me what these are?”
Tala pointed to the one to which she could feel a slightly greater connection. “Those are both stars. That one is stronger, the other weaker, about half the strength, give or take.”
“I know you didn’t make an Archon star out of an iron vial. So, why are they in iron vials?”
“Two reasons. First, safety: I’ve really no idea what they are, and I don’t want them affecting the environment as such.”
“Wise enough, given your lack of knowledge. The second reason?”
“They are liquid. I have to have them in something.”
“Impossible-” Grediv trailed off, then glanced to Trent. “This would be that argument, yes?”
Grediv grunted. “I suppose it’s easiest for me to look.” He looked between the two, then gave a little shrug, setting aside the vial containing the smaller star. He took a breath, and Tala felt power moving across his face at the activation of his mage-sight. She still couldn’t see it, which was a bit unnerving, and she realized that this is likely how other Mages felt around her.
Huh, who knew?
Thus prepared, Grediv pulled the cap off the vial he still held and looked inside.
There was a long moment, during which he just stared. Then, he moved the vial in a circular motion, clearly swirling the drop around. “It’s liquid.”
Tala smiled. “Seems to be, yes, though the surface tension is unbelievably strong.”
He grunted assent. His eyes flicked over the table, and he reached out to pick up a spoon before tipping the vial and pouring the drop of magic-infused blood onto it. Once it was there, he continued to examine it, his gaze occasionally moving to her, before returning to the blood. “This is…odd. You made it with your own blood?”
Tala nodded. “That’s right. Though that one is a combination of two, which I made separately…Oh! And they absorbed another drop of my blood that I had previously infused with my power, as for a magic density test.”
Grediv’s mouth opened, as if to object, then closed. It opened again, then he glanced down at the spoon in his hand. “You’re serious.” He glanced to the other vial, then back to her. “Do you mind if I pour the other onto this spoon, as well?”
Tala shrugged. “Sure. I can make another, if I need, but I still don’t actually know the purpose of these.”
Grediv chuckled. “I’m glad for that, at least. We can discuss it, later, along with many other things.” He carefully set down the spoon, and opened the other vial, glancing in to confirm its contents before pouring it out into the bowl of the same spoon.
The two stars moved towards each other like magnets, and as they contacted, there was a flickering flash of both power and visible light. It wasn’t bright, no more than would have come from striking a flint with iron. When it passed, there was a single, marginally larger, drop of blood.
“Fascinating. It must be a property of the medium in which it was created.” He looked up to her. “May I use my mage-sight on you?”
She nodded. “But I don’t think you’ll see much.”
He shrugged, and she felt the power moving around his eyes once more. “You do have a layer of…something encasing you. It is quite resilient.” The sense of power coming from him increased, and she thought she saw flickers in the air around him. Green? It seems similar to the glimpse I got of Holly’s yellow.
Tala felt her skin heating up under his intensifying gaze and realized that it had something to do with his mage-sight interacting with her iron salve. “That’s actually a bit uncomfortable.”
He seemed genuinely surprised. “Really? I apologize.”
The feeling both of heat on her skin, and of power coming from him, vanished immediately. All flickering traces of green in the air around him vanished.
“The little I was able to see tells an interesting story. You can perceive inside yourself with your mage-sight, correct?”
Tala squirmed a little. “Are you going to leave me any secrets?”
Grediv held up a hand. “My apologies. I am simply intrigued. I’ve never seen mage-sight scripting that detailed and powerful before.” He hesitated. “Well, I’ve never seen them on a subject that lived through their activation.”
Tala snorted. “It was not pleasant, that’s for sure.”
He smiled wryly. “I’d imagine not.” He looked to the others at the table, who’d been listening closely. “Mistress Tala is right, however. I’ve been too free with her secrets, and I think that should cease. Thank you, Mistress Atrexia, Master Trent, for bringing this to my attention. It is, in fact, an Archon star, though not of sufficient power to qualify her for raising.” He glanced down at the spoon. “Though, with this oddity, she could get there, fairly easily.” He chuckled, as if to himself. “I can imagine some of the oldest on our Council would be…obstinately cross about the method, however. They’d also refuse to believe it possible, so it wouldn’t be too much of a hurdle. Bandfast might be better, if she had a local sponsor…” He seemed to have devolved into talking to himself. He also seemed to notice that and brought his attention back to the table at large. “Apologies, again. Ah! Dinner is here. Mistress Tala, would you do me the honor of a short walk, after we eat? I think there are few things I should convey.” He tipped the spoon, dumping the blood drop into one of the vials before sealing it and returning both to her.
She smiled. “That sounds wonderful. Thank you, Master Grediv.”
As he’d said, dinner was indeed ready, and three servers brought out their food. It turned out to be a quite extensive, four course meal that reminded her of something Brand and his cooks would have made, if they expected a city-lord in attendance.
It was delicious, filling, and utterly satisfying. So much so that conversation virtually died while they ate, each new course coming out precisely when it was most anticipated, keeping the meal flowing smoothly.
In the end, Tala pushed herself back, sighing contentedly. “That was well worth the price.” There is no way I could get a better meal for half a silver. She briefly considered seeing if she could take some with her but thought better of it. I’m full enough. She’d have to content herself with the single bottle of unopened wine she’d slipped into her belt pouch, when she was fairly certain no one was watching. The others had drunk the bottle brought for them, individually, so she was sure it was meant for her in any case. Not stealing if it’s mine.