Dagger Of Kija
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2003-06-09

Nestled in the corner of the Kugnae Palace grounds was a small stone building. Although less than half the size of the Library, almost everyone in the Kingdom thought it was remarkably large, considering that its building was entirely privately funded.

The PteriDae Magic Research Facility or Pteri's School, as it was known amongst the students, was two small lecture halls and four tiny laboratories, separated by a row of offices. Tonight, the whole building was dark except for one lantern burning in a corner office and a small candelabra lighting one of the small labs. In that lab a bored fellow patiently counted the clicks of a metronome, as he watched three glass jars progress from a simmer to a boil.

As soon as the tops of the jars popped off from the accumulated steam, the student recorded the time in a journal. Every time he recorded a number he frowned, and every frown was just a bit deeper than the last.

Finally, in obvious disgust, he snapped shut the journal and left the lab, walking quickly to the only other inhabited part of the building. Although the door to the office was open, he stopped to knock respectfully before entering.

"Master?" He peeked around a pile of scrolls. There at the single small desk sat an elegant lady. She was engrossed in some dusty tome, probably trying to elicit a clue to a variety of magic that didn't even have a name yet.

"Krin, how many times have I told you," the lady looked up at her apprentice with a smile. She carefully rolled up the scrolls she was writing on and closed the ancient book. "Call me Pteri. I am in charge here only because they couldn't find anyone else."

The young student chuckled.

"Maybe just a bit due to the fact that you paid for the building?"

The lady smiled, again, small creases forming around her eyes. Krin thought she looked tired and much older than she was. Although a stunning beauty, at least in his eyes, lately she had been acting as though some nameless malady had plagued her. Every day Krin got to the School only to find her already here and when he left, like as not, she would remain, studying in her office. The young poet hoped she would rest soon.

"Perhaps," Pteri's smile became slightly tense as she motioned for the young poet to follow her out of the building. "Might I guess that you are having troubles with the experiment?"

"Troubles?" Krin squeaked. He had to run to keep up with the long-legged Mage Master. Her ground-eating stride quickly took them out of the Palace grounds and down the path to the Mage Guildhouse. "You told me to measure intervals of time, but the 'results' I got were random! Something has gone terribly wrong. I suspect the samples you gave me were corrupt."

As they entered the Guildhouse, Pteri stopped for a second.

"I prepared the samples myself," she said simply, then proceeded inside.

Krin's cheeks flushed in embarrassment. If she made the samples, there was NO possibility that they were bad. Somehow it was his mistake.

Distracted by thoughts of the experiment and by the possibility of having blundered in front of the boss, Krin didn't realize at first just where they were. Looking around, he wondered why the Mages of the city didn't decorate better. In the Poet Guildhouse everything glittered with precious stones and gold. He shook his head slightly.

"Mages," he said to himself, disapprovingly.

Pteri stopped in front of a magical simulacrum of the Guildmaster Haedu. The real Haedu had no doubt gone to bed long before now, but as some ambitious Mages needed to be taught spells in the middle of the night, he had left this image of himself to help them out.

"Hello, Haedu," Pteri bowed politely. In a realm where the Gods often walked among the people, it never hurt to be polite, even to a puppet! "Teach me the spell Hellfire."

"I cannot do that," the simulacrum responded automatically. "You already know the spell Hellfire."

Pteri smiled grimly.

"He seems to be working properly," she said quietly, mostly to herself, then turned back to her assistant. "Tell me about the experiment."

The young fellow cleared his throat, preparing for a recitation as if he was in class. It seemed ironic that all the time and effort he had put in to get to the highest ability as a Poet was virtually ignored when he started at her University.

"I re-attempted an experiment designed and run by you some months ago," he began, wondering if he was being graded on this. As her assistant, he didn't THINK he was still receiving marks, but you never know. "To measure exactly how much heat was generated by Mage, Rogue and Poet fire spells. You cleverly removed the triggers from the spells and... hey! Have you ever considered using that technique to make tea?"

Pteri cleared her throat impatiently.

"Yes, I have," she replied. "Now, please, tell me what happened tonight."

"What happened?" Krin's cheeks flushed with embarrassment again. "Nothing good. In fact, everything went wrong. The Mage spell timed differently EVERY trial and the Poet spell kept over-heating the vials... and that darned Rogue spell! Why, half the time it worked and half the time it didn't do anything!"

Pteri opened a small bag she had carried with her and began to fill it with odds and ends from her own backpack. Krin saw small shiny objects, quite a bit of gold and other items began to fill the bag. She had obviously come prepared for something.

"I know it's hard to say," she asked, continuing her counting out of items. "But if you had to explain it... what could cause such results?"

Krin watched his teacher finish counting several thousand weight in small gold coins, tossing them into the bag as if they were merely chestnuts.

"Uh," he began, clumsily. "A wild guess would be, magic has gone kaflooie!"

Pteri stood up and handed the bag to Krin.

"Kaflooie?" She arched one eyebrow. "I like that. Hold onto that bag for a second."

She turned again to the simulacrum of the Guildmaster.

"Krin, tell Master Haedu to teach you that Mage spell."

The young Poet tilted his head at Pteri, puzzled.

"What do you mean?" He asked. "I am a Poet. He won't teach me anything. Wrong Path."

"Just say the words, that's all," she commanded. "The same ones I did."

Krin recognized that tone. She was running an experiment. The fact that absolutely nothing would happen meant nothing to her. Perhaps he was the 'control', he thought. He shrugged.

"Guildmaster, teach me Hellfire."

"You have the necessary spell components," the simulacrum intoned, and Krin's bag suddenly felt light and empty. So THAT is what she put into it. "You have reached the correct level of insight."

"Yes," Krin thought, sarcastically. "For a POET spell!"

He smirked a bit.

"If you misuse this spell," the Guildmaster threatened. "I will rip it from your mind."

Suddenly, a swirl of magic surrounded both Krin and the Guildmaster's simulacrum. As the glittering veils of color faded, Krin realized that he felt... different. Before his eyes a small nearly transparent flame flickered. As Krin stared at it, it grew feeding on the Poet's not inconsiderable Will. Will that until now had been the power behind a Poet's healing ability was now being... redirected. Somehow, he knew that if he released it, there would be a burst of Hellfire!

"I just learned Hellfire!" The amazed Poet shouted. "How is that possible?"

"You explained it yourself," Pteri said, turning towards the Guildhouse door. "Magic has gone kaflooie."

After she had gotten back to her quiet hut, Pteri realized it was only a matter of time before the whole Kingdom awoke to the fact that something very strange was going on. With young Krin running around, demonstrating his new spell on hapless squirrels and his own friends, the news would travel even faster.

The experiment with the spells that Krin had repeated was only a formality. The real experiment had been Krin himself. If he could learn a Mage spell then the divisions between the Paths was eroding or gone completely.

Pteri's brows knitted together in worry. It was NOT just a matter of new spells for everyone. There was an essential difference between the Paths, especially as to how they worked magic. Mages controlled their spells with Will and used their Mana like fuel. Poets also drained Mana, but as healers, it was the strength of their spirit self that controlled the magic. Rogues and Warriors used reservoirs of Might and Grace to power the 'lesser' magics they controlled.

Somehow... and this was the really scary part, Pteri was certain reality had changed.

Pteri rested her head on her arms and shut her eyes. The almost constant sense of foreboding that had been plaguing her for the last few days had steadily increased until it had given her a splitting headache. Somehow, she knew that something very bad indeed was about to happen.

Almost as if summoned by her very thought, the door to the hut opened noiselessly, revealing a hulking shape that nearly filled the doorway from side to side and threshold to lintel. As silent as a shadow, the shape seemed to float across the floor towards the resting Mage.

Pteri's nose twitched.

"Gareth?" She lifted her head, revealing to the lantern light eyes red-rimmed and strained.

"How did you know it was me?" Asked a particularly large area of shadow. "I wasn't making any noise."

Pteri smiled thinly at the empty place her husband's voice emanated from.

"No, your Do Masters would be proud of you," she commended, only explaining because she knew he hated mysteries left unsolved. "But you have been out fishing for a week. I could smell the sea... and fish."

A disembodied chuckle filled the small hut and then a very large man dressed in simple peasant garb, dyed red, of course, stepped out of the shadows into the lantern light. He held a wicker creel and fishing pole. On his head was an outrageously large straw hat.

Pteri raised an eyebrow at the hat, but withheld an opinion.

"I know it's ugly," Gareth explained anyway. "But we have been having freakishly hot weather lately and I have too much skin to risk a sunburn!"

Pteri's smile looked a little more relaxed; as her husband went on to tell her about his 'fishing trip'. His companions were unusual, but then they always were, she thought. This time he had collected an old hermit that lived in an ice cave and a young cooking student he had taken on.

Mote, the young poet, presumably did all the cooking and cleaning while the two older men fished, drank and talked.

"Have I met the hermit?" Pteri asked. "He sounds familiar."

"Ermm..." Gareth began, uncomfortably, trying to attach his outrageous hat to the wall of the hut. Pteri thought that flattened out, it did look rather like a woven wall decoration. Or a floor mat. "Strange you should mention that. I asked someone to stop by that may help explain a few things that have been bothering you lately. I have pretty much come to terms with everything in my head, but I guess as you do so much more thinking than I..."

The large man smiled at his wife, but she remained staring blankly at him. He could tell that she had another of her headaches and he guessed that they were coming more frequently now. He attributed it to the memories, but supposed it could be something else.

"I should have mentioned this earlier," he continued. "But as you will see, it is rather a lot to swallow at once. My fishing trip was a chance for me to verify a few of the things I had learned."

Pteri's eyebrow was getting tired of all the up and down, but gamely arched again.

"Whatever are you talking about?" She asked. "I am too tired to have visitors tonight. I'd say I am feeling my age, but I am not THAT old! I really feel older, though."

"That, too," Gareth added cryptically, and then sat down next to his wife.

Almost immediately there was a delicate knock at the door.

"See? Lately she always knows when we are both here and awake," Gareth walked over to the door. "An amazing woman."

To Pteri's surprise, the visitor Gareth led in was none other than the Dawn Shaman! That wrinkled old lady, who had spent innumerable years returning the spirits of the foolish or unwary to their bodies, was seldom seen outside her hut. It was said that she and her sisters had founded the Shaman order and together with King Yuri had created the magic that held people's ghosts to the Kingdom. She was reportedly an incredibly strong Mage, though secretive as all Shaman were, Pteri had been unable to get more aid from her on any research project than a warm smile and a listening ear.

Gareth, however, had found her weakness. Although everyone made their way to the Shaman's hut eventually, few ever stayed to visit. Over tea and cakes, made by Gareth, of course, the curious Do had learned much of the Shaman path and even more of the history of the land.

The Dawn Shaman sat down at their large dining table and raised an eyebrow at Gareth, who flushed as red as his clothes, then quickly began making tea for his guest.

"Don't get up, dearie," the Shaman said to Pteri, although the later had made no effort to do so. "You have been working too hard and I bet I know what is worrying you."

Pteri's curious eyebrow arched again, as she considered the elderly Shaman's statement. It irritated her to think, that after all her careful experiments, with results tabulated and double-checked, analyzed by mathematical means, some of which Pteri had to invent just for this, yet without performing a single experiment, somehow this old lady knew what was wrong with magic in the Kingdom?

"You do? She asked in disbelief. Secretly, she bet herself that the Shaman was going to say that 'magic had gone kaflooie'.

A loud drawn out noise, like a huge wave crashing on a beach came from the kitchen. A small, dense bank of fog rolled out of that room into the main dining area, quickly dispersing. A slightly damp and very sheep-faced Gareth followed it.

"I guess I found the kettle you prepared for morning tea, dear," he explained. "I am sorry, Madam Shaman, but your tea will be delayed a bit."

Pteri looked at her husband with concern, but even her weak healing senses could tell that he was not hurt. Besides, she thought morbidly, what better time to die than when you had a Shaman over for tea?

"I am sorry, dear," she apologized, weakly. "I forgot to tell you that I set a trigger spell on that kettle. By morning enough power would have leaked off for it to be safe."

The Shaman nibbled on a flaky fish roll that was evidently all Gareth had managed to find. Pteri professed to like her husband's cooking, but when left alone would eat anything vaguely edible. He guessed that she must take her meals somewhere in town. That is, when she remembered to eat at all.

"Bring out another kettle, dearie," the Shaman requested. "Perhaps we can salvage some tea."

Although both Pteri and Gareth's hair was as much gray as black, they both found themselves being treated as youngsters by the elderly Shaman. Gareth, at least, took this well. Pteri's attitude towards authority was well documented, as she often treated anyone less than a God with little respect and less patience. As she got older, she seemed to be getting worse and Gareth had remarked that it was well for them both that Immortals seldom walked the world anymore.

Gareth set a new teakettle on the table, filled from the jug in the kitchen.

"Dearie," the Shaman addressed Gareth. "As a cook, you should know that you always start with cold water straight from the well. Tea is better when the water is heated from cold to hot."

"I am sorry, ma'am," Gareth apologized. "I was in a hurry. I will fetch water now."

Pteri glanced from one face to the other, then sat up a bit in her chair.

"Never mind," she instructed, lifting one delicate hand. Quickly a nimbus of blue magic formed around her fingers. There was a popping noise as the brass kettle suddenly went from room temperature to nearly freezing. Beads of condensation formed on the kettle quickly rolling down the sides to soak up into the tablecloth. "There you go, cold water."

"Amazing! Ice magic," the Shaman exclaimed and the corner of Pteri's mouth curled up just a bit.

"That old lecher Sute is good for something," she explained.

"However did you get him to teach you that?" the Shaman asked, still astounded at this casual display of nearly unknown magic.

"Its easy," Pteri responded. "Just dress warmly and don't leave until he talks to you."

The Shaman turned her attention back to the huge warrior.

"Dear," she said. "Your wife, amazing as she is, seems to doubt that I can explain anything about what is troubling her. Perhaps you can convince her by making the tea?"

There is more of this chapter...

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register