Tala was pleased to find out that, not only was Ingrit available, she was the one to greet Tala when she entered.
“Mistress Tala, welcome back.”
“Mistress Ingrit, I’m glad to be back.”
“I assume that you have more questions?”
Ingrit let out a bell-like laugh, smiling as she did so. “Well then, right this way. We can sit in an alcove.”
The Archon led Tala to a small, secluded table with a cushioned seat on either side. Tala looked at the seating warily.
“It will hold you, Mistress. We are aware of your increased weight.” After a moment’s hesitation, she continued. “We would love to learn if that is beneficial at all. There is quite a bit of debate on the merits of the idea.” She gave an apologetic smile. “Though, I will say, most think you are causing yourself quite a bit of inconvenience, for little to no gain.”
Tala shrugged. “I’ll let you know when I figure it out.” She sat, Ingrit settling across from her.
“Very well.” The other woman seemed to consider the matter closed. “One moment, please.” She placed her hand on the edge of the alcove, and Tala watched her feed power into a hidden script.
It seemed to seal off their seating area, preventing others from listening in. “What do you wish to ask?”
“I assume you can discern the…protection I now have on my skin?”
Ingrit’s face almost showed a hint of power, before she nodded. “Yes.” She frowned for a moment. “Iron, with some sort of emulsifying agent to help it bind both to the medium of application and to your skin?”
“Yes.” Tala cocked her head, frowning in confusion. “What?” Tala found herself blinking, trying to process what Ingrit had said. There is no way she was able to tell that, just by looking at me. “How could you possibly know that, with that level of specificity?”
“If I was to say it was due to the exact way power reflects and refracts around you, would you believe it?”
Tala frowned. “That’s pretty hard to believe.”
Ingrit hesitated a moment, seeming to consider. “Would you believe it’s obvious by the color of your skin?”
Tala almost laughed, given the twinkle of mirth she noticed in Ingrit’s eyes. “No.”
“Would you believe I’m a very good guesser?”
Tala did laugh then. “Well, not now, I wouldn’t.”
Ingrit grinned. “Well, my perception helps, but there was a recipe logged by a local alchemist, which stated that it was for ‘unknown purposes.’ The uses of that would theoretically match close enough to the effect I see around you.”
Tala grunted, still smiling. “Fair enough, I suppose.” They really do get records of virtually everything… “Wait. Why wasn’t it restricted to the Alchemist Guild, or some such?”
“He noted that he came to the exact formula due to a Mage working outside of guild affiliation. Thus, it wasn’t theirs to claim.”
“Ahh.” Huh, surprisingly honest. Not that she’d expected anything else. Even so, it was nice. Well, he’s secured a loyal customer. That was probably part of the purpose.
“So, what’s the question?”
“Oh! So, Master Grediv was able to see through the iron on my skin. How?”
“Well, as it is a mundane effect, I think I understand what you mean. If you were using an inscription, I would have to study that to provide the answer.”
Tala nodded. That makes sense.
“So, most magic is like a child’s ball. Your iron, as it is currently applied, acts like hog-wire.”
“A fencing made out of steel wire, arranged in a grid with moderately sized holes.”
“Oh! Alright; I think I’ve seen that.”
“Good. So, what happens if you throw a leather ball against such a fence?”
“It bounces off.”
Tala hesitated. When nothing further was stated, she cocked an eyebrow. “So?”
“I’m not a book, Mistress. You should do some intuiting, yourself.” The glint of mirth was back in the other woman’s eyes.
“Fine…So, was Master Grediv forcing his mage-sight through the fence?”
“But it didn’t feel the same as when others have seemingly been able to see through it.”
Tala sighed. “So, their magic is finer? It fits through the fence?”
Tala grimaced. “Is the patronization necessary?”
“No, but your reactions make it entertaining. I’m not required to be here, after all. I have to make my own fun.” Ingrit winked.
Tala snorted a laugh. “Well, I guess: thank you?”
“You are most welcome.”
“So, does that mean that some magics could pass through those defenses?”
“Absolutely, and obviously so. Any Refined, and many Fused will be able to brute force their way through, if they know they need to. You should get some forewarning because of that, though. A Paragon, such as Master Grediv, will be able to power through as a matter of course. Above Paragon? They could easily push through that defense as if it weren’t there, assuming they target you directly, even if they aren’t aware of the iron before they act. They might even be able to burn it away, entirely. Keep in mind I’m speaking of blunt spell-workings. I wouldn’t let anyone try to heal you through that iron unless they are at least Ascending.”
I suppose that makes sense. “And, what about finesse?”
Ingrit thought for a long moment. “A Fused who specializes in fine workings will be able to get through that defense one time in ten? If they know it’s there, that ratio might go up. It is an impediment, which is why Master Grediv likely had to force his way through. Also, he’s not seen the need to update his mage-sight recently. The time of reduced efficiency just isn’t worth the marginal improvement to him.”
“Improvement? So, we have to redo our inscriptions fundamentally as we advance?”
“Hmmm? Oh! No. His mage-sight is simply an older generation of the form, and we’ve made fairly significant advancements in that particular working, since he last modified his inscriptions.”
“Ahh, ok.” Speaking of Grediv… She pulled out one of the books the Archon had given her. It was still locked against her. For some reason… “How can I implement wards such as this? I’m learning a lot of…sensitive things, and I like to take notes.” Speaking of which… She pulled out a notebook as well and began writing down the highlights of the answers she’d already gotten.
Ingrit took the book and opened it. “Yes, this should be locked information for you.” She nodded. “It is sufficiently guarded that I won’t be required to confiscate it.” Ingrit passed the book back.
Tala’s eye twitched even as she tucked the volume away. Right… Don’t let my guard down too much.
“So, to enact these, yourself, you must be a Paragon.”
“I am sorry, Mistress Tala, but I cannot tell you how.”
“Oh, I understand that. I want to know why. Why do you have to be a Paragon to enact these?”
Ingrit hesitated, seemingly contemplating. “I think I can share a piece of that.” She nodded, smiling. “A Paragon’s soul is utterly cleansed of impurities, allowing for a much better connection both with the realms beyond, thus the incoming power, and with this world, through their likewise pure body. That increased connection is required for workings such as this.”
“…I didn’t understand that at all.”
“And yet, that is all I can say.”
“Very well…Is there something similar I can do?”
Tala leaned forward, smiling expectantly.
“If you use an Archive-linked slate, you can lock your notes to you and you alone. Though, we would appreciate a death-clause, which would allow us access in the event of your passing.”
“Oh…” That was disappointingly simple. And expensive. Then, she processed the last sentence. “A death-clause?”
“Oh, yes. It is incredibly irritating when a brilliant researcher has their notes locked because they ‘aren’t quite ready, yet.’ Then, they do their ‘final’ experiment and die, their life’s work forever lost.” She shook her head, sadly.
Tala straightened. Brilliant researcher, eh? That was quite a kind thing to say.
“One day, you might have one or two interesting things to contribute, and we’d prefer that you already had good habits in place.”
Tala deflated. And good feeling gone. Terry shifted on Tala’s shoulder and Ingrit’s eyes flicked to him, briefly. Well, that’s as good a transition as any. “Has anyone ever made an arcanous animal into a familiar?”
Terry’s eyes opened, and he regarded Tala for a breath, before turning to look at Ingrit.
Ingrit regarded them for a long moment before shaking her head. “First off…Please don’t. Not right now.”
Ingrit looked vaguely uncomfortable, as she shifted in her seat, a slight grimace on her face. Finally, she sighed. “I’m not really permitted to comment on the wisdom of soul-bonds.”
“But you just did.”
“And I shouldn’t have…”
“Alright then… So, an answer to my question?”
“Yes. Many have tried.” She was giving Tala a very disapproving look.
“How did it go?”
“In general? Very well.”
Tala frowned. “I don’t understand…”
“Traditionally, if an Archon desires a familiar, they find a young arcanous creature, ideally less than a year old, and raise it until they have a strong emotional bond. If that doesn’t happen within a year, it’s too late.”
“And if they bond emotionally?” She tossed a bit of jerky for Terry.
“Then, they give the creature an Archon star.”
“So… what’s the issue?”
“The issue is that being soul-bound radically changes the development of the animal. Their intelligence is shifted dramatically, as well as their innate capacities for Magic. Through the power of the connection, they also become magical creatures in truth.” She nodded towards Terry. “His density is already high enough that he should have transitioned into a magical beast. I have no idea how he has so much power in such a small space and doesn’t spontaneously become a being of magic.”
Because he’s really much bigger, and you’re just seeing the power in a condensed form? That was probably an oversimplification. But that’s Terry’s secret, not mine. “Alright…so what would happen?”
“Most likely? He would immediately become a magical beast, and his strength would be greater than yours. If I’m seeing correctly, - and let me emphasize that it’s troublesome that I’m unsure of that - he would immediately be able to take full control of your gate. Through your gate, he would control your Bound body. If he wished, you would be little more than a human puppet: an extension of his will.”
“But only if he wanted that.”
Ingrit sighed. “Yes. But you must realize, he will have an immediate, fundamental change to his intelligence. Even if he was utterly devoted to you now, down to his deepest impulses, those could alter when a greater than human intelligence reprocesses every event in his life, all at once.”
Tala frowned, confused.
Ingrit made an irritated face. “How different would you be if you could suddenly re-process everything you’ve ever experienced, as you are now? From your birth up until this moment?”
Tala hesitated. That would be…weird. But would it change her? Maybe? “I think I understand the danger.”
“Likely not, but I’ve already skirted the edge of what I am allowed to say.” Her eyes had an almost pleading look to them.
Tala nodded, considering. “When would you advise I consider soul-bonding Terry, for best result?”
Ingrit grinned. “That is an excellent question. I would suggest that you be well on your way to being Refined, before you truly consider that step.”
Fair enough, I suppose? How long could that really take? Then, she thought about it. Ahh, yes. That could take a while. “Thank you for the advice.” Well, I’m on the topic of bonds. “So, speaking of soul-bonds brings artifacts to mind.”
“Oh?” The librarian had an air of wariness about her.
“If I wanted to grant sapience to an artifact, say a dimensional storage, how would I go about it?”
Ingrit gave her a long, long look. “You cause a lot of stress in those around you, don’t you?”
Tala leaned back at that. “I…sometimes? How is that relevant?”
Ingrit was rubbing both her temples. “Anything with sapience can exploit a soul-bond and make a play for mastery of your soul.”
“So…avoid that.” Ingrit dropped her hands and shook her head. “You likely don’t even want that, if you truly consider it. Once soul-bound, a dimensional storage will perfectly do what you need it to, when you need it to. Why would you want it to have a separate sapience? Why would you need it to have its own personality, which could, and likely would, oppose you, on occasion? Best case scenario, you’ve just created a cognizant slave, with no agency.”
“That is a good point…”
“I’m glad you feel that way. What is your next question?”
Tala grinned. So much for not giving an opinion on soul-bonds. She supposed that the information hadn’t been about the bond or bonding, directly. “Where are all the older Mages?”
Ingrit cocked an eyebrow at her. “That is much too vague a question. You are currently talking to someone older than this city.”
“Yes, I know that Archons are long-lived. I mean non-Archons?”
“Ahh.” Ingrit thought for moment. “If I understand your question, you are curious how many non-Archon Mages die of old age? That would be those with keystones and conscious control over their inscription activations, but without soul bonds.”
“No? That isn’t what I was asking, but that’s probably an interesting statistic.”
“How is that possible?”
“Those that don’t become Archons, or die of one thing or other, eventually make an attempt at integrating an Archon star, usually in their late eighties. None have the strength-of-will to resist attempting, in the end. Roughly one in a hundred succeeds, at that time. The rest begin the process of becoming founts. I’m glad that you know of those, already. Most Archons do. Interestingly, this process ends up making up a good chunk of Archons, overall.”
“So, all the secrecy is for nothing? Mages still all end up there, in the end?”
“After decades of service and life. The secrecy gives them that. Would you take it away?”
Tala hesitated at that and at the severity of the response. “I…no. I suppose not.”
Ingrit gave a single, firm nod.
Tala cleared her throat. Her question hadn’t really been answered… “Oh… a Mage in that age range still looks quite young, don’t they?”
Ingrit nodded. “They are, physically, comparable to mundanes in their early fifties.”
Well, the life expectancy of those dying of natural causes is around ninety, so… “What is the oldest a non-Archon Mage has reached?”
Tala blinked at that. “That old?!”
“He was a singularly spectacular individual. He had his keystone and mage-sight removed when he turned a hundred and fifty. That lessened his abilities to the point that it took a hundred and fifty years before he was able to create an Archon star. He was also one of incredible will-power, especially with regard to mental temptations. Despite seven Archons attempting to assist his integration of the star, once he forged one, he lost the battle and succumbed.”
“Why did he fail?”
“We have no way of knowing what went through his mind, at the end, but from what we know of him, he had a love of nature and of balance. The temptation he faced in the end was probably one of feeding the planet, feeding the cycle of nature. He seemingly chose to do so.”
Tala didn’t understand how that would be tempting at all. “Why didn’t the Archons take the star away, preventing the attempt?”
Ingrit gave her a long-suffering look. “To prevent the attempt forever, we would have had to imprison him. Is that a life you’d want? He had a chance, and we helped him the best we could.”
Tala felt very conflicted about that. It sounded like Ingrit had given her a very abbreviated account. I’m not really interested in the minutia… Happier topic, please! “So, how long do Archons live, then?”
“Refined do not age, and even regress in appearance to a more idealized version of themselves. Before that? Bound appear to age at close to a tenth the rate of mundanes, Fused a tenth of that.” She shrugged. “Is that what you are asking?”
“So, those Refined and above never die of old age?”
“None have, to the knowledge of the Archive.” Her tone seemed to indicate that meant it was a fact.
“Fair enough. Then, are there any Archons still alive from the first city, or the times around then?” Tala immediately began imagining meeting the heroes of myth and legend.
Ingrit sighed. “I’m sorry, that is information that I cannot share with you.” But there was sadness in her eyes.
“Oh…” Tala felt a bit of sadness, though she wasn’t exactly sure why. If they were dead, wouldn’t she be allowed to say? Tala didn’t know.
“I need to get to other work, soon. Was there anything else?”
Tala nodded. “I’ll try to go faster. Are regenerative potions possible?”
Ingrit barked a short laugh. “In theory, yes, but we don’t know how to make them. Those in the stories were based upon the earliest Mage healers, who used arcanous plants as facilitators for their magic healing of those they treated. To our knowledge, no true regenerative potion has ever been created.”
“Oh…alright then. I’m about to go to Makinaven; what are the best harvests on that route?”
“I’ll get you a list. I assume you prefer that to me simply telling you?”
“Yes! Thank you.” She was still taking notes, but a pre-made list would be faster.
“What is known about eating harvests?”
Ingrit opened her mouth, then frowned. “Huh…well, I can tell you that ending-berries used to be consumed by our ancestors, but they began to fall out of fashion with the invention of modern inscribing, around the time of the first Leshkin War. They do not work for modern Mages for many, complicated reasons.”
Unless you have modern inscriptions, based on how they work. Tala didn’t smirk, not even slightly.
“Other than that…” Ingrit’s frown deepened. “Why would this be restricted information, through the Inter-Guild accords?”
Tala cleared her throat. “It isn’t important, I suppose.”
Ingrit shook her head. “Well, only information on mundanes consuming harvests is restricted, which means that I must tell you to drop it, as it is not for you to pursue that subset of knowledge.” She was still frowning. “In any case, it is ill advised for Mages to eat harvests, but so long as the consumed item isn’t naturally toxic, and doesn’t have an elemental or similar type of power in it, eating it shouldn’t be harmful.”
“What about elemental harvests that align with the Mage’s spell-forms?”
Ingrit took a long moment to consider. “So, this is an area of great debate. Some maintain that consuming such would enhance the Mage, others claim that the harvest’s power would clash with the inscriptions, and lead to magic poisoning.” She nodded once. “My opinion would be that, unless there is perfect alignment between what is ingested, and the Mage’s inscriptions, there would be a high likelihood for some magic poisoning.”
“And if there was perfect, or near perfect, alignment?”
“Then, it would likely strengthen the natural pathways within the Mage, and make the power pulled from the harvest vastly more effective and potent. The result would likely strengthen the Mage’s inscriptions as well.”
Good to know. That’s why the ending-berries work so well, for me. “Alright, thank you.” She thought quickly, to change the subject. I need to go faster. “Oh! Other sapient species.”
“There are many. We collectively call them arcanes, though they have many, separate names for themselves and they see the term ‘arcane’ for the pejorative that it is.”
“An insult, dear. Calling them arcane is a reference to arcanous beasts. We’re saying that they are little better than animals.”
“Ahh…alright, then…What can you tell me about arcane cities?”
“Don’t seek them out.”
“You would be forcibly turned into a fount, enslaved, or killed.”
“Even if my aura was perfectly hidden, likewise hiding my gate?”
Ingrit hesitated. “I have no information to share on aura-shrouded humans, entering arcane cities.”
Alright, so it’s possible, but the information is restricted. “Final question, then: Thank you, by the way, for all the time you’ve taken.”
Ingrit smiled and nodded. “Of course. The pursuit of knowledge is something to be encouraged.”
“So, in that vein, is there anything you feel I should know?”
“That is an interesting question…” Her eyes unfocused for a long moment. Finally, she nodded to herself, and returned her gaze to Tala. “In your place, I would join the library and learn all I could.” She gestured to herself. “As I have. But being you?”
“You should listen to the senior Mage protector assigned to you. She will do an excellent job instructing you where you are lacking and directing you as you need.”
“Huh…alright, I suppose.”
Ingrit deactivated the privacy barrier and pushed herself out of her seat. “That really is all the time I have, right now. Do you need an escort out?”
“No, thank you. I remember the way.”
“In that case: Take care, Mistress Tala. I look forward to your next visit.”
“Thank you. You take care as well, Mistress Ingrit. I hope to see you again, soon.”