Quest The College Life

Tathra

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Silence.

In the halls of the College of Elbion, students normally came and went according to their studies or the whims of a faculty member. Today, the regular shuffles of the passing students were not to be heard in the halls. Not that students weren’t coming and going, nor faculty attempting to hold conversation; but only the faintest of sounds, like a cat’s padding about were able to be discerned.

Meanwhile, in a classroom that doubled as a casting chamber, a handful of students were being deafened by the collective cacophony generated in the halls. After only a few moments, the spell abated, with noise levels returning to their normal levels throughout the college. The Raaka standing at the head of the gathered assembly began writing in the air, in observance of the damaged hearing of the foolish that did not heed his warnings. The script flowed easily from the crook of the birdman’s staff.

“As you can observe, a spell magnified by ideal casting circumstances can have potentially devastating and unforeseen consequences. Note our simple silence spell. When magnified to cover the halls of the campus, an already risky proposition given the power and focus required for such a task, you can see new and destructive problems emerging.”

The Raaka turned away from the gathered students, and began to draw several advanced arcane sigils in the air before he continued, this time attempting to talk to his students while writing.

“The cost of Magic is not always apparent. In a normal silence spell, any number of physical components may be used. But when you attempt a spell at a magnitude far greater than its initial design or intent, then you can run into complications. Now I used the silence today because it is known to have this effect on such a huge scale, but even this tamest of spells can act unpredictably. Caution and knowledge will defeat raw power in the field of magic almost always. Anyway, next week, we’ll be covering slowing and speeding, and how to do both without touching the untouchable.”

After the class disbanded and the students departed, the Raaka left the chamber and sealed it with a spell and key. The seal was policy, though he was sure many beyond the faculty could dispel it given time and preparation. The lock was his own touch. Most spent years delving into the mysteries of magic here, and very few thought of how to pick an ordinary lock.

He made his way to a small office, located not far from the classroom. Down some stairs and a hall, his office was cozy. At least that’s what he liked to say. It was small. He couldn’t even get his wings to spread fully from corner to corner. But he enjoyed his work here. He was able to teach what he knew to less experienced mages; but more importantly to him: he was able to study magic extensively.

It was to this that he now sought to gather a group of interested individuals. When the appropriated time came, the door opened, and the group slowly filtered into his tiny office.

(This is a group primarily meant for Teodron Stonecutter to get their teeth cut, but other acolytes, guards, etc. associated with the College of Elbion are welcome to join)
 

Teodron

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Teodron had been deep in a tome on intermediate wards—and how to break them—when he happened to glance up at one of the many timekeepers (both magic and mundane) in the College of Magic. When he realized he was running late for a meeting with a professor, he shot to his feet, horrified at the thought of keeping a full mage waiting. Although he’d been enrolled in the college for a while now, he still thought of himself as one of the basic initiates, and probably would even after he was a Maestar of the First Order.

He dashed over to the librarian’s desk, and checked out the volume he’d been perusing. Then, he shoved it into his bag and set off for a trot for Professor Tathra’s office. At least the half-dwarf had the foresight to look up where the office was in advance; the College of Magic could be difficult to navigate, especially given all the magical experiments going on there. He ignored the annoyed looks as he spun around corners and darted up and down stairs. Getting to Tathra on time was more important than social niceties.

Finally, the sight of the professor’s door and a small group of people greeted Teodron. Luckily he didn’t recognize any of them, though many gave him amused looks as he approached. He skidded to a halt, and made a futile effort to fix his clothes and his hair. Unfortunately, there was very little he could about the sweat beading on his brow or the slightly labored breathing. Still, better that then keep Tathra waiting. Of course, that’s exactly what this group seemed to be doing, waiting. Teodron stood there for a while before realizing he might have to take some initiative and knock. The half-dwarf gulped, but stepped up to the door.

Summoning up his courage—Teodron wasn’t one of the most talented students at the college, so he was always surprised to be called upon and still didn't quite trust that he was here—he raised his hand, prepared to knock politely. Of course, at that exact moment, another member of the group simply squeezed past him and opened the door, and they all began to filter in, leaving the half-dwarf foolishly standing there, with an arm raised for no reason. Recovering what little shreds of dignity he had left, Teodron shuffled into the office, the last one, and closed the door cautiously behind him. The others were already settling in to the cramped office (fairly typical for the college), so the half-dwarf made his way quickly over to the professor. “Thank you for the invitation, sir. I’m honored to be included,” he mumbled politely, before perching on an uncomfortable stool in the corner farthest from Tathra. Hopefully, that would allow him to stop drawing unwanted attention to himself, even if the stool did wobble a bit, one leg shorter than the other.
 
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Shelav strode down the hall, moving with her usual purposeful paces. Everything she did was done with diligence and dedication, which was not always a benefit when she was making a mistake. All the same, the arcane guard strove always to take care, serious in her charge of defense of the younger, newer students. She had been at the college almost fifteen years now, though she had arrived rather young. Her skills with her sword were complimented by a very particular bent of college magic: Shelav practiced almost exclusively spells of warding and protection, meant to protect those around her even at the expense of her own life. After all, she had used her own blood and vitality to fuel some of the more powerful wards she'd ever created on several occasions.

It required control to do what she did, balancing on a razor's edge between the draw of magic and the need for strength with a blade. Fortunately, that diligence gave her the requisite steadiness. She still absolutely made mistakes, but those would become less common with experience and tutelage, both things readily available at the College. Sometimes she wished things were slightly less safe, but whenever that feeling cropped up, she could volunteer to escort a mage beyond the bounds of the grounds. The world could be a dangerous place, after all.

Maybe that was why Professor Tathra had requested her presence. She knew less him and more of him, because the arcane warrior occupied a gray area between student and guard, splitting her time between studying the art of the sword and the art of abjuration magics. She was allowed to study spells, but served her function for the College's needs as a warden of the place. She rather liked things that way: it kept her feeling useful.

As the door opened, she gestured for the young student to enter ahead of her. He seemed either excited or agitated, which she supposed was to be expected. The good professor hadn't made precisely plain what this was about, so it would be natural for a student to be both.

Instead of taking a chair, Shelav shifted to stand as a sentinel at the side of the door. She wore her armor, the color of polished bronze, over blue cloth. The mark for her rank was on one shoulder, the symbol of the College on her breastplate. When it was cold and she was out of doors, she wore a surcoat, but she preferred not to and the weather was fine today. The sword she wore against her right thigh was not the longest, the blade only the length from her fingertips to her shoulder. It was more suited for fighting in hallways, she'd found.

"Professor Tathra, I am here as requested," she said just loud enough to be heard. Shelav was not known to be boisterous or loud and had not shouted once since she arrived at the College, which prompted some whispering students to question if she could or if there was something wrong with her voice. Her gaze flicked over to the young mageling. She didn't recognize him, but there were enough students of magic in the College for that to be normal.

She did offer Teodron a small, polite bow and a smile she hoped would be steadying. Given that her soul was more suited to an earth elemental, she could shore up most people. "Greetings."
 
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Tathra

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Professor. A title he had never truly acquired a taste for in all of his years here. Having only recently made it through the grueling process of becoming a Maester of the Third Order, Tathra was only a short decade into his career as a professor, if it could be called a career. Of course he loved it here, among so many resources for his studies, but he was surrounded by people. Students, teachers, even the occasional mercenary or noble found its way into the great halls of the College. For Tathra, a Strigi Raaka from the Spine far to the East, the halls and crowds did not settle well with him.

But all of the problems he had with the place, he did consider it his home. A home filled perhaps with unwanted relatives, but home nonetheless. It was for the sake of that home that he now risked so much to call in a Blade Maester and an apprentice. There was a foul air about the College, and evidence of it had to be gathered before he could take it before the council.

Tathra smoothed his feathers and straightened himself when the two arrived. He had been ready for their arrival at any time, but punctuality was a great virtue among the collegiate so he wouldn't complain.

"Ah! Welcome, welcome! Teodron, I see your results are improving, no doubt a sign of your persistent study." Tathra had noted the book at the top of his bag: Ynger-Eis' Treatise on the Use and Application of Simple and Complex Wards. "An excellent choice of materials, though I did find Maester Ynger-Eis to be lacking in imagination, his book was and excellent overview. My apologies, neither of you came here because of my hobbies. Well, actually I guess you did."

He offered a taloned hand to Shelav to shake. "I don't believe we've had the pleasure Shelav, though you have an impressive record, and I think that you'd be up to the task. I brought the two of you here today to work with me in finding the truth of something. There is trouble at the college, but my eyes can only see so much. As a Third Maester, my movements outside of my usual schedule are being watched. The gaggle of students out of these doors are for such suspicion. I have called many here for the rotation of the wards. You two I would trust with the truth. The wards around the lower levels have been tampered with, and not in a blundering manner either. The passages below are not watched as regularly, and I suspect we have us a smuggling ring with restricted components.”

Tathra stood up and paced as far as he could squeeze and then turned around and did the same, letting the information and proposition sink in.

“I know it is not an easy thing I ask of you, keeping secrets from other Maesters. You both are smart, you cannot say that three accidents involving students who acquired manticore venom, a controlled component, is an accident.”
 
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Teodron

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When the guardswoman—at least, from her armor, which included the mark for the College of Magic, and her sword Teodron assumed she was a guardswoman—bowed and smiled at him, it was all the half-dwarf could do to stop his jaw from dropping He wasn’t someone others should be bowing to. Indeed, even as a half-dwarf he was viewed as a curiosity at best, as they were thought to lack magical talent. Besides, she literally kept the people in these walls. If anything, seeing her standing and being seated himself made him feel nervous, and he fought the urge to fidget, only partially successful. “Hello,” he responded quietly and politely, but he couldn’t meet her eyes for more than a moment before her looked away, fiddling with a stray thread from his clothes.

Of course, if the student was surprised by the Guardswoman’s respect, he nearly toppled from his stool when Professor Tathra spoke. Teodron blinked, shocked at the Raaka’s recognition of both the half-dwarf’s diligence and at the book he’d picked up just before coming here. “T-thank you, sir,” he stammered, not quite prepared for any of this, especially in such short succession. Unfortunately, he didn’t recover in time to engage with Tathra on the theories in Ynger-Eis’ volume (if he had, he would’ve noted that he was interested in the contrast between Ralintin’s theories and Ynger-Eis’s); by the time the apprentice trusted himself to speak, Tathra had already moved on to the Guardswoman. Her name was Shelav, Teodron told himself firmly. After the entrance and impression she’d made, he’d definitely remember her.

Of course, then the shocks kept coming: someone could’ve knocked Teodron over with a feather-duster when Tathra began speaking of trouble, of contraband material, and of the wards being disrupted. Maybe the half-dwarf shouldn’t have been so surprised, given that he had his own suspicions about the college regarding the events surrounding his mother’s disappearance. But harboring secret concerns that were only half-formed was one thing; having a full mage, a Maestar of the Third Order at that, tell them that there was something going on behind the scenes was another thing entirely. In fact, Teodron almost didn’t like that Tathra had confirmed that not all was well at the college. It painted a picture the apprentice didn’t particularly like.

Eyeing the Guardswoman warily, wondering how she would take this news, Teodron considered his response. If there was a plot afoot, he definitely wanted to be a part of uncovering it. On the other hand, he didn’t want to act on Tathra’s paranoia—not that the apprentice thought the professor was paranoid, but it was quite an accusation—without some sort of proof. After all, Teodron could be jeopardizing his hard-won spot here.

Drumming his fingers on his leg, the half-dwarf considered his responses. “Are you sure, sir? I mean, can we say the incident with the venom wasn’t an accident?” he found himself asking, voice threaded with uncertainty. “I mean, isn’t it possible one of the students snuck the venom in for an ill-advised prank?” Every apprentice knew there were ways around the wards as long as one was willing to be creative, spend some time on it, and not get a little dirty. The college turned a blind eye, since they’d all been students once. This group needed to at least consider that possibility before jumping to conclusions. Although Teodron would be loathe to explain to Shelav that there were gaps in the defense, albeit small, individual sized ones.

As for the wards, well, even the strongest magic faded with time. It was entirely possible that was going on here, but it was such a basic tenet of magic that Teodron was sure the professor had considered it. “When you say tampered, sir, do you mean that someone has actually altered the framework, they’ve been drained or assaulted somehow, or someone’s been neglecting to renew them?” If it wasn’t in ‘a blundering manner’ then that meant Tathra should have some idea what had been done to them. While the half-dwarf didn’t know how the college maintained its wards—students weren’t really supposed to help with that for a variety of reasons—presumably as a Maestar, the Raaka should have some sense of how this was done.

A smuggling ring implied coordination between a lot of individuals. First, the smugglers to actually bring in the goods; second, the mages to tamper with the defensive spells; and finally the guards and staff, who were presumably in charge of patrolling and watching the tunnels and halls of the university. Students being closely involved in that somehow seemed unlikely, unless they were studying under mages, or unless it was quite widespread. Looking between Shelav and Tathra, Teodron drummed his fingers on his leg, all traces of nervousness forgotten as he thought about the puzzle. “Guardswoman Shelav, forgive me for asking, but has there been any change in the patrol routes and schedules lately? If so, that could explain why you’re seeing fewer patrols down there, professor.” It was certainly the simplest and most likely explanation. And those were usually the correct ones.

Teodron wanted to believe there was a nefarious group infiltrating the college, but he was afraid that was his personal bias coming into play. However, he was sure of one thing: he would not pass up the opportunity to examine the best wards in the world. “Professor, I don’t know about smuggling, but if you wish me to accompany as you check on the wards I’d be happy to do so.” Happy was actually far too tame a word, but the half-dwarf was worried about showing too much enthusiasm. Of course, that enthusiasm was quickly tempered by doubt. “Though I’m not sure how much I can actually help, sir,” he added. It was true that of the three of them, Teodron was probably the least important and least useful to their endeavor.
 
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The arcane guard shook Tathra’s clawed hand without a second’s hesitation. The raaka who encountered the College had contributed a great deal, Tathra in particular. She knew that they had a mixed history with other races, but Shelav had no chip on her shoulder for anything. Grudges were a waste of energy and frequently led to an unclear head.

Shelav’s expression was calm and contemplative for a brief moment. “I know the guards tasked with keeping an eye on those wards. Unfortunately, they are not the most attentive or...committed. Still, they would be a good source of information in what they tell and do not tell.” She disliked speaking ill of her fellows, but some did not measure up to her admittedly perfectionistic standards. She was a firm believer that the College’s guards should be devoted in their duty to protect and serve. Some seemed to forget that was their place in the world, more focused on the personal gain that their status could accrue.

There was a more pressing problem than her fellows who had lost their way, however. “Those wards must be repaired,” she said firmly. “A weakness could be exploited by any number of those with less than charitable intent. And if students are being harmed, there is the possibility that the supposed smugglers are malicious enough to pose serious danger.”

Even the idea of students under threat, real or just rumor without substance, stirred her native protective instincts

“I have a great deal of experience with wards, though I cannot conjure equal to those that defend the College,” Shelav said. “The theories of abjuration magic I am very familiar with, so perhaps I may be of some assistance beyond physical defense.”

She studied the young half-dwarf for a moment. If Professor Tathra thought so highly of him, she had every reason to extend to him her respect. He was not impressive on the surface, rather meek and skittish, but the best mages came in such packages. She was not aware of the extent of his abilities, but that would become clear in time. He was newer on this road than she was and so she gave him plenty of room for missteps as he tried to find his way.

She offered Teodron another small smile when he said he might not be able contribute much. “Undoubtedly you will do your best, Teodron. That is all one can ever ask.”

Shelav looked to Tathra. “If this must be secret, I trust your judgment. When shall we go investigate the situation below?”
 

Tathra

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Tathra sighed. He was barely old enough by his people's standards to be an adult, and yet he found himself leading a counter to the exploiters of the College. He had though it a great achievement for one a young as he to make it into the Third Order of Maesters, and it was, but command was never his strength.

"Teodron, while I cannot guarantee that the venom wasn't a prank, it would have been a costly prank indeed. As for the wards, I have taken a personal interest these past months to do the maintenance myself. Each of the tampered wards was set to allow more in without informing the faculty. I can assure you, it was the work of a master, or at least an incredibly talented amateur."

Tathra took stock of the two, then pulled out a large piece of rolled parchment. "As for your task and usefulness..."

He unrolled the parchment on his desk, its surface covered with a detailed map of the tunnels beneath the College. He pointed to a rather large chamber with all manner of entrances and exits. "This is our destination. Not easy to get to, but that's by design. It was meant as a casting chamber and still retains the properties of any of the casting chambers in the College proper. Officially, it was sealed decades ago, shortly after I first started here."

The looks of inquiry bid him continue. "It was used for the study of the darker magics. A place to practice in secret away from those who would persecute them for their discipline. I have studied the ward disruptions at length, and I believe that whatever is being done, could be done from that chamber if the caster knew where the wards were. Not a difficult jump, given many of the guard staff and faculty know exactly where most of the wards are."
 

Teodron

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Both Tathra and Shelav were treating this situation as deadly serious.

Teodron gulped, suddenly very, very worried. If both a professor and a member of the staff—a Third Maestar and a Guardswoman, of all people—thought there was a plot afoot, then there was almost certainly something wrong. And that was not to be taken lightly. If Tathra had examined the wards himself, then Teodron believed the professor that they’d been tampered with, and this wasn’t a natural occurrence. The Raaka was considered an expert in the field for a reason. Shelav at least seemed to think the wards needed to be repaired, and she was apparently a skilled mage herself. There was no reason not to believe either of them. “I’ll keep it a secret too,” Teodron responded. At least, he’d keep quiet until he’d gathered as much information as he could.

Between the professor and the guard, the student still wasn’t sure what he, personally, might contribute beyond a third set of eyes, but he’d help in any way he could. Maybe there was a spell that required three casters for some reason. Such things were not unheard of in magic.

It was hard to wrap his mind around what they were about to do. While the half-dwarf had experienced misgivings about the college, he’d thought it was simply that some individual mages hadn’t wanted to be blamed or admit fault in his mother’s disappearance, not that there might be a whole group of rogue mages operating right under the college’s nose. The implications were staggering, and the apprentice was trying his level best not to freak out too much, especially since both his companions were remaining completely calm.

Still, the half-dwarf couldn’t pass this up: it might be his only chance to not only help the college in a significant way, but also to find out just how deep the corruption might go. Already, he was learning a lot. First, that there was a potential smuggling ring. Second, that there was at least one secret, sealed room. From the looks of the map—which didn’t look like it matched the map he’d been given as a student, though his recall wasn’t perfect—there might be more. “Where’d you get this, sir?” Teodron would love to get his hands on a copy, though he found that unlikely. It was always worth asking, though.

Finally, and most worrisome, was the mention of dark magic. “So, you’re telling me dark magic was practiced here as recently as a few decades ago?” For some reason, the student thought the prohibition had been in place far longer than that; then again it was entirely possible this hadn’t been sanctioned, and it had been sealed as soon as it was uncovered. That, of course, raised the possibility that other mages were studying dark magic in secret, a chilling thought.

Taking a closer look at the map, Teodron glanced between Shelav and Tathra. The half-dwarf wasn’t entirely sure on what they were doing here—plus he was being asked to participate in a secret and potentially risky mission—so they’d have to forgive him for asking a few clarifying questions. “So what, exactly, is the plan? Shouldn’t we just repair the wards remotely and then keep watch on the room to see who might enter?” It seemed much safer to do that than try to make their way into a potentially dangerous chamber, but perhaps Teodron was missing something here. Then the half-dwarf answered his own question. “We don’t know how they’re getting in there, though, do we? So I guess we need to go in ourselves.” He'd really been hoping to avoid that, but it seemed inevitable.

Now that he had a problem to solve, and wasn’t simply just worrying about the dangers involved, all traces of uncertainty had disappeared from the half-dwarf. He drummed his fingers on his leg as he thought of how best to proceed. “Professor, how was the room sealed? I assume they used both magic and more mundane means? And, if there is a group of mages involved in this, how likely is it that they put their own defenses in place?” That last possibility scared Teodron, but he did his best not to let his concern show too much. Between three mages that were skilled in protection magic and wards—which was surprising, really, given that it wasn’t the most popular discipline—he thought they could probably survive any traps or offensive spells, but breaking in might prove difficult. He was already running through what runes might be useful to them, especially the ones oriented towards offense and utility, since defense was already covered.

That, of course, presented another problem. Teodron didn’t know what he’d been expecting from this meeting, but it certainly wasn’t this. So, while he had that book on warding, and his journal, and some basic spellcasting apparatus (what he might use in class), he wasn’t exactly prepared for...whatever this was. Blushing, he looked at Shelav in her armor with her sword, and then at the professor office, which no doubt held all sorts of prepared spells. “Would it be possible to stop by my room so I can pick up some supplies before proceeding? I uh...hadn’t really planned for...any of this.” Again, the half-dwarf was trying not to think too hard about what they were about to attempt.

Instead, he focused his mind on what he had that might be useful. His staff, for sure: it was carved with some basic runes to strengthen it, and it was also the only weapon he had any skill in; some pre-carved stone runes with basic magical effects; blank parchment and charcoal and blank rocks and a small chisel so he could write or carve more specialized and complex runes out in the field; and finally some rope, some food, and a torch. While that last bit might be overkill (hopefully this wouldn’t take too long or be too difficult), Teodron knew from personal experience that it always paid to be prepared. Maybe he was going overboard, but he didn't want to let Shelav or Tathra down. More than that, though, Teodron didn't want to consider what might happen if something went wrong along the way.
 
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Shelav considered the questions Teodron raised carefully. He was a fine advocate of caution, which she appreciated. Judging by Tathra’s map, this was an area Shelav had not been aware of. There were stories of dark magic practiced in secret, as more power was a tantalizing proposition and avarice was a part of mortal nature, across races and times. She was tasked sometimes with curbing such inclinations, which usually involved removing access to knowledge or supplies. She had yet to draw her blade on College grounds with lethal purpose. The same could not be said of the world beyond, however.

“Chambers with taint are usually sealed with magic and mundane means in collaboration. Mages can seldom contend with physical security and others without grasp on the Art can seldom contend with magical protections. I do not know if this door was sealed so, but if it is, we will need to obtain the key. Captain Soames likely has it. He’s in charge of the lower levels.”

She paused before saying thoughtfully, “I believe you are correct, Teodron,” she said in her calm, quiet way. “We must be prepared for defenses set up by these mages if they are truly involved. If you need to return to your room to prepare, I have no objection. If you wish, I can accompany you.”

Shelav doubted anyone would target the half-dwarf so soon, without him pushing back against them, but her offer of protection was sincere all the same. Maybe it would acclimate him to her presence and the protection it brought. She bowed her head to Tathra. “Whatever the case, we can begin whenever you wish, Maestar. I have no need of more than I possess now.” Her helm was attached to her swordbelt, the only other piece of armor she felt she might need in combat.
 
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Tathra

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"I've kept a record of my time here as best I can, and maps of any accuracy are worth far more than many tomes on magic theory. In regards to the darker magics, I daresay I'm sure that there are practitioners at the College today. They weren't always forbidden here, and not all who practice give into the temptations that they provide. But we shouldn't digress. Remote observation magics are easier said than done, Teodron. You should know this. If the individuals responsible are as skilled as their handiwork suggests, then we would be loathe to attempt any of this from a weakened position."

Tathra began moving about the room, gathering a variety of supplies and scrolls. Then he came upon a small rod kept within a glass jar, carefully suspended in the middle. He gently placed it on his desk before turning to continue while facing the others.

"Yes. No doubt there will be both physical and magical barriers up in place if the individuals in question are being at all cautious. Getting the key from the captain might be a good plan. Would he be willing to part with it? As for your gear Teodron, by all means. I will proceed down into the tunnels and meet you two here." He pointed to a junction closer to the edge of the tunnels. "With luck, I will have a little more information for the two of you come then."

 

Teodron

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Well, the revelations kept coming, and they kept getting worse and worse. Not only had dark magic been practiced recently at the college, it might still be practiced, albeit in secret. “Surely the faculty and staff would quickly root out any dark magic here,” the student responded, but his voice was anything but sure, and he looked between Shelav and Tathra, as if for confirmation. The student gulped, suddenly wondering if any of the professors or any of his fellow students were dark magic practitioners. It was a sobering thought (not least because the half-dwarf had some vague notion that rogue and evil mages would be easy to figure out) and made the already suspicious student more worried about who he could and could not trust.

Indeed, there was no way to know if Shelav and Tathra were telling the truth. Granted, neither had given him any reason to distrust them—and both seemed honest, as these things were—but if Teodron had was their word, the half-dwarf was right to be concerned. Still, he’d come along on this task. But he’d keep his eyes and ears open, and hopefully his judgment clear.

Eyeing the rod the professor handled delicately, Teodron listened to the guardswoman and the Raaka as they discussed their next steps. The slight rebuke from the Maestar stung (of course he knew remote observation was temperamental at best), but the half-dwarf wisely stayed silent. Now was not the time to worry about his pride. Besides he was much too worried about hostile mages and what exactly he’d managed to get himself into to care that a professor might think he was less than well-versed in magic theory.

Glancing at the map, Teodron memorized the location Tathra indicated. Then the student turned to Shelav. “I’ll think I’ll be fine, but thanks for the offer. Go get the key and I’ll meet you both there. See you soon.” As a student—and not a particularly well-known one—the half-dwarf was practically beneath notice. And it had nothing to do with his height.

There didn’t seem to be anything else to say after that, so Teodron stood up, brushing his suddenly sweaty palms on his clothes. Then, giving what he hoped was a brave smile, but was afraid simply communicated his worry, he departed, weaving his way through the familiar halls to his room. He tried his best to look nonchalant, as if Tathra hadn’t upended everything the half-dwarf thought he knew about this place; professors were supposed to facilitate learning, but Teodron almost, almost wished he’d never found out the truth.

But not quite, because now he had a chance, however small, to start unraveling the real conspiracies afoot in the college.

As soon as he arrived in his room, the student dumped out his pack. Then, he began replacing it with all the supplies he’d identified before: runestones, both blank and unprepared, charcoal and paper for either rune magic or scripture magic (which Professor Bellerose had been instructing him in), and finally the more mundane supplies. Securing the pouch of runes on his belt, he added a belt knife as well before scooping up his staff. Then, he hesitated, his eyes tracking to the gap between the bed and his floor.

Kneeling down, he pulled out a pickaxe. His father had given it to Teodron—half in jest, something about not forgetting his dwarven roots at the fancy college—and they’d both laughed about it. But holding it made the student feel more secure, weirdly. And while it was an odd tool to bring along, there might be some use for it.

So he secured it to the outside of his pack, which was now commonly large compared to his small frame. Still, an overburdened student was a common sight in the halls of the college, and he had a certain stout strength to his frame, so it wasn’t difficult to carry, just awkward at times. If he had to, he could dump some of this, but he felt better having it all, so he simply left his room and made his way down to the agreed upon meeting space.

Hopefully the other two hadn’t changed their mind about bringing him along, because in their shoes he probably would.
 
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Shelav bowed to her new associates before stepping out, striding towards the stairs to the lower levels. Getting the key was not actually going to be as simple as it sounded. Soames, advanced in years and bull-headed as ever, was not likely to relinquish it willingly. She turned the matter over in her mind. If she told him the truth, it would probably sting his pride by insinuating something was going on under his watch. She sincerely doubted he would be involved: Soames was too world-weary to be taken in by promises of power or riches and too cantankerous to be intimidated into cooperation.

Fortunately, she had something of an idea by the time she reached his office. She rapped on the door with precision and heard him call for her to enter. Shelav stepped in and offered the old man a serious nod, heels clicking together when she stopped in front if him.

Captain Soames was probably in his sixties, more dried sinew than muscle at this point. His face was scarred from actual fights and training sessions alike, with prominent ears from having them grabbed or hit so many times in fights; and lines carved through his leathery complexion like cracks in shattered tile. He was tall and had been big once, but he was fading in his strength—part of the reason he was now in a captain’s role, more administrative and commanding than physically confronting threats. Still, he was tough and wily, more than enough to defeat many a foe still.

He steepled his fingers as he studied her thoughtfully. “Shelav, what brings you my way? Last I heard, your assignment placed you at the warding of the young apprentices.” He paused and then shook his head slightly. “What a waste.”

“Myself or the apprentices?” Shelav asked in good humor.

He chuckled. “A guard like you should be watching something worth watching. Anyway, what’d you need?”

“One of the professors requested access to a sealed chamber. Some experiment or another without causing too much noise upstairs. I thought I’d request use of the key, Captain.”

Soames scowled. “Why didn’t they come to me?”

“You’re a very busy man with an important job. Besides,” she said, trying not to grin, “you make the mages nervous when you frown.”

“Still,” he grunted, though there was a flicker of amusement. He regarded her seriously. “The lower levels are patrolled and secured for good reason, Shelav. I can’t just give you a key when you’re not assigned to me.”

“I can report to you for the duration of our business,” she said. Thoughts of asking him about the wards were at the tip of her tongue, but she stopped herself. “You would be getting a mage off my back and I would owe you a favor.”

A glint appeared in his eyes. “I might have a favor in mind,” he said. “Which chamber?”

When she told him, he produced the key. “Thank you,” Shelav said.

“You have it for 24 hours. We’ll discuss the favor when you return it,” Soames said.

It didn’t leave her with a great feeling, but she suspected that at worst, orchestrating a vicious prank might be in her future. Unless she was wrong about Soames, anyway. Regardless, she went to meet the others.
 
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Tathra

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Tathra finished gathering the components he thought he would need, then folded up the map. But just as he was about to put it in his satchel, he hesitated. He cast a potent ward about it, separate from his satchel, and then tucked it into his wrap. This was a delicate situation, and he decided it best to be cautious. He picked up his staff, and after a quick look over the office, and he locked it up and left.

It wasn't long before he reached his destination. After all, he knew more ins and outs than most in the College, and he had the will to use them. The intersection was quiet, and likely would be so until his two aids arrived. For all of Teodron's worrying, Tathra was fully confident in his abilities. In fact, if it weren't for the restrictions placed on advancement by time, Tathra would've nominated him for advancement by now. But that tradition was done away with decades before even Tathra's arrival. But it wasn't just skill that Teodron and Shelav possessed, but Integrity. He couldn't rely on just anyone from the students and staff.

Tathra began to inscribe a ward of locating on the ceiling with his staff when he heard the approach of footsteps. Without turning from his work, he leaned back and said,"Oh good! Was worried that you might not show."

"Expecting me, were you?"
A familiar yet unexpected voice caught Tathra by surprise. He immediately stopped what he was doing and spun around, throwing up a minor spell of detection. He caught at least two figures that were hidden from sight, in addition to the pale Human male in front of him.

"Maester J'hroan, an unexpected pleasure." J'hroan's greying hair was pulled taut against his scalp, just as his skin was to his bones. he was adorned with the traditional garb of a Maester of the Second Order, and in the deathlike grip of his left hand, he carried his staff. Having assessed the situation well enough, Tathra continued, "I sent a group of students to observe the integrity of the wards in the lower halls. A work-study if you will."

The other Maester rolled his eyes, and then fixed them on Tathra. "You have no students nearby, Maester", J'hroan nearly spit the last word, then pointed his staff at Tathra. "You're here to meddle with affairs you know nothing about. And I still owe you for taking my rightful position!"

In a flash, the two were throwing spells, Tathra mostly with wards, and J'hroan with a long series of attacks. But Tathra knew his position. He was facing down another mage with at least two pieces of backup. He could easily keep the other mage's attacks at bay indefinitely, and he could likely disable one of the invisible targets, but both? Tathra wasn't best known for his offensive capabilities, though he had written at least one book on wards.

So he did does best, and managed to drop the invisible map to the ground just after clocking one of the invisible assailants with his staff. And within moments, he let a ward slip and the other seized him from behind and began beating him.

"Stop! Not here! It's too visible." Tathra heard his assailant protesting. "Bring him back to the chamber. It will be the perfect opportunity to see how it interacts with the Raaka..." There was more, but his vision began to swim, and then blacken. All he could hope for now, was that he selected the right help.
____________________________________________________________________________​

The scene at the intersection was a mess. Scorch marks covered the walls and ceilings, and a half-finished ward in the center. And for the two keyed to Tathra's plan, a folded map had slid up against the wall.
 

Teodron

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Teodron didn’t know what he expected when he arrived at the designated meeting point, but it certainly wasn’t the sight that greeted him: scorch marks, half-finished spells, and numerous other signs of a struggle. Most distressing of all, there was no sign of either Tathra or Shelav.

Immediately the student retreated from the hall. He didn’t know exactly what had happened here—though his heart was beating so hard he felt it would burst from his chest—but given all the talk of dark magic and conspiracy they’d been discussing, it was hard not to jump to conclusions. Doing his best to complete one of the numerous calming breathing exercises the college taught all students (meditation was important to many magics), the half-dwarf’s hand darted towards his rune pouch. Rummaging in it for a little, he eventually identified the two runes he wanted from touch alone. It was one of the benefits of his art, that he didn’t need to rely on visual aids at all times.

The first was a slightly more powerful protection rune than the generic charm on his necklace. Instead of blocking attacks, this one would twitch aside any projectile or spell thrown at him. While it still might connection, it was better than nothing and required only the barest sliver of his power to maintain compared to something that would stop an attack in its tracks. He added it to his necklace (most of his runes had small holes for that very purpose) before he activated the other rune that was clutched in his hand.

This one was a detection rune, and he was sickened to see it glowed a soft red. That meant hostile magic had been used or was being used in this general area. However, as he squinted at it, he could see it fading fast, so presumably the rune was simply picking up the traces of whatever skirmish had occurred here. Or...well...whatever had occurred here, which he now knew wasn’t good.

Still, between the fading glow and the protection spell he’d thrown up, he felt comfortable enough creeping out into the hallway to investigate. If there’d been anyone around he would’ve asked them what they’d seen—though even as he thought that, he realized he couldn’t trust observers. Maybe not even Tathra or Shelav, given that no one was supposed to know about their plan. His breath caught at that thought; if there was a traitor in their trio, he might never know.

He was acting paranoid, jumping at shadows. All he knew for sure was that the wards were supposedly weakened, and dark magic was afoot. As long as he kept his eyes open and his wits sharp, hopefully he could emerge from this unscathed.

Either way, he needed more information, so, steeling himself (though his heart still beat rapidly and his palms were sweaty with fear), he walked into the corridor. Combing through the entire area, he didn’t find much to explain exactly what had gone down. However, a scrap of paper caught the corner of his eye. Crouching down, he held out the detection rune, but it glowed a soft blue as it approached the parchment, which meant there was magic, but it was either neutral or benign. Taking that as a sign that it was safe, he picked it up.

It was the map Tathra had shown them earlier. At least the student knew that the professor had been here. Of course, that meant that the professor had been here. Given the distinct lack of Raaka in the area, that meant something or someone had probably attacked Tathra, and taken him away.

Teodron tried not to think too hard about who could take down a Maestar so easily, and how woefully unprepared the half-dwarf was to take on this responsibility.
 
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Shelav knew something was wrong as soon as she caught that familiar smell: the remnants of magical assault. The arcane guard drew her sword and held it down against her leg in the hopes that it could give her a strike from surprise, her fingers on her other hand were already dancing, sketching the sigils to a powerful ward. Instead of releasing the spell and creating the ward, she kept the energy pent up in her palm like a glowing seed.

Sure enough, she rounded the corner to catch clear sign of a struggle. Teodron was there, something that both relieved and worried her. As for Tathra...there was no sign of the raaka. She didn’t like the way that realization sounded in her head. Something was very wrong. Anything that could take on a Maestar and win was at least as dangerous.

She stayed on high alert. There was a student here who needed protection, doubly so if someone had taken or even (she hoped against hope this was not the case) killed Tathra.

A stray thought, a stray doubt, echoed in Shelav’s head. Can I do this?

The response to that was a simple, purposeful reminder that right now, she had to.

“Teodron, are you alright?” Shelav said as she approached Teodron, sheathing her sword to put him more at ease. She kept the ward balled up in her hand, ready to release it if an enemy arose. Not everyone could manipulate wards in that particular way, but Shelav was a devoted student of them with a decided bent. “Did you see what happened here?”

Her tone was still soft, volume only conversational, though more worried now than her usual serenity. She caught sight of the paper in Teodron’s hands, which gave her some hope. Whatever it was, if it had been here, it was a clue.
 

Tathra

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On closer inspection after he found his stomach, Teodron noticed a handful of details that were lost on a cursory scan of the area. The first was the nature of the rune in the center of the intersection. It was a rune that he was somewhat familiar with, having seen Tathra and other maesters use it from time to time in the classroom: an advanced rune of location and detection. When keyed, it could be used to find the location of a person or item, as well as indicate the presence of keyed and unkeyed individuals. Usually used for attendance in classes, it seemed that Tathra had intended to use it in a more tracking function.

The second detail, perhaps better noticed by Shelav, was the presence of boot prints in the burn marks on the floor. It was two, maybe more, and judging by the scrapes on the walls, the were several staves involved.
 

Teodron

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Teodron was hardly the best person to be examining the aftermath of a battle for clues. Indeed, he didn’t catch much from looking at the marks left behind; all he noticed was one of those runes that was used for attendance.

Frowning, the half-dwarf knelt down to trace the image. He wondered who had put it there, and why. If it was Tathra—and there was no reason to believe it was, except for the fact that he couldn’t think who else would leave it here and why—then Teodron couldn’t figure out why the Raaka would spend some precious moments creating it. If, however, it was the people who’d attacked and, presumably, taken the professor, then Teodron was equally confused. It didn’t have much use beyond telling the caster who was where.

That thought was percolating in the back of his mind when Shelav arrived. The half-dwarf whirled, startled at her approach, heart beating in his ears. If she’d been someone with hostile intent, Teodorn would’ve probably lost the fight then and there. Thankfully, she wasn’t, but it took him a few moments to calm down.

He was way out of his depth here.

“I’m fine,” he responded softly, trying to keep the fearful tremor from his voice. “And no, I didn’t see what happened here. Did you?” He ended on a hopeful and plaintive note; maybe Shelav had gotten here before him and had scouted ahead or something. It wasn’t likely, but stranger things had happened in the College of Elbion.

Biting his lip, Teodron took out the map and handed it to her. “All I found was the professor’s map, which I assume means he was here and someone...attacked him.” Somehow, saying it out loud made it sound all too real and he gulped, trying not to freak out too much. Tathra was relying on him. Besides, the half-dwarf didn’t want Shelav to feel like she couldn’t rely upon him. As far as he was concerned this would take both of them. Whatever this was.

Pointing at the rune, he added. “Beyond that, there’s this rune. It...well, it’s a location rune, but mostly it’s used to see which students are in class.” It didn't seem that relevant.

He felt like an idiot as inspiration struck him. Once again, saying something out loud clarified it. This time, however, he felt himself growing excited. “Of course! I can't believe I missed it earlier." He knew he was tripping over his words, but he couldn't help himself. "It’s a location rune. So it stands to reason I should be able to use it to find the professor." Well, maybe: it was more advanced than many spells he tried, and divination was a tricky art under the best of circumstances, but he knew the theory behind it and the spell wasn’t too complicated.

If he gave himself too much time to think about it he’d psych himself out. So, without further ado, he sank into a cross-legged position by the rune. Taking deep breaths, he used every meditative technique he knew to clear his mind, trusting Shelav to watch his back (though he still wasn’t sure he could trust anyone at this point). Once he was as centered as he was going to get under the circumstances, he turned his mind to Tathra.

Bit by bit, the half-dwarf built up an image of the Raaka in his mind: the man’s feathers, his voice, the way he’d complimented Teodron on his choice of reading. Once he’d finished the picture, he breathed out, and imbued the rune with a measure of his power.

Time to see if all the half-dwarf’s extra studying would pay off.
 
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Shelav studied the marks on the wall and the floor more closely, a knot forming in her stomach. She did not like the way this looked. Multiple mages and assorted others would be a difficult or worse battle if it came to that. If they found Tathra and he was in any condition to aid, that might be more survivable, but it was still not a deck stacked in their favor and it was no guarantee that Tathra would be healthy and willing to battle it out.

She worried at her lower lip with her teeth as she scanned the area for more signs. If she was going to be responsible, she would escort Teodron back to safety and then grab Soames and a handful of other guards to search the lower areas. She didn’t want to put the young mage into harm’s way and she wanted more shields at her back than none.

Cautious as she was by nature, however, she knew that time was not something they had an abundance of, and Teodron would be far more efficient at locating Tathra with the rune than she would be even with a dozen guards canvassing the area.

She nodded to Teodron, moving to stand as sentinel. “I will stand watch,” she said quietly.

When she stepped close to the wall with the marks, she felt a faint current of pain through her side despite the numbing comfort of the wards. Even as a fading after-flash, dark magic could spark an echo in the old wound. Like appealed to like. Reflexively, she put a hand over her side and whispered a few syllables, increasing the power in the web of wards inside her body stabilizing and containing the shards buried in her spine and the wound that brought them there. Her father’s blow had never healed, the pieces of his staff’s end still resonating pain and corruption in time with every beat of her heart.

Magic had a lifespan, but while she was no divination mage, she could sense no loss of potency. Whatever his malice had worked, it was long-lived. Perhaps she would even die before it ran its course.

There was a reason Shelav had never minded a blow struck too hard in training. That pain was far easier to deal with than what the wound had been before she’d studied enough into wards to know they could potentially have interior utility. Her first attempts had been far from perfect, but she’d improved tremendously with plenty of motivation.

She needed them to hold up if she was going to hold up taking on that particular magical demon. Teodron and Tathra were both depending on her.

She exhaled in a sigh and prayed that the half-dwarf was as bright as he seemed. She didn’t know Teodron, but she was at peace with the notion of trusting in his abilities until proven incorrect.
 
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Tathra

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The rune, completed now and empowered by Teodron, flared to life. Despite the complexity of the runes, the young half-Dwarf found the runes surprisingly easy to empower and maintain. Their complex forms took a fair amount of knowledge to use correctly, but they enabled such an easy flow of magic that Teodron barely could note the strain on his reserves. This was real magic, potent and yet easy to wield, truly the work of a master.

The magic showed Teodron images, tunnels and doors, and the path that led to the Raaka. The room was poorly lit, probably by magic. It was a large chamber with what appeared to be new additions, the stone and wood being of newer make than the old stone walls. Walkways, and pits beneath seemed to be new. There were people, only a few, and Tathra’s hooked staff was on some altar or table, it was unclear.

Then, there he was, down in one of the holes, a pole lashed across his wings. He was-is worried. The calm on his face beginning to slip. He had traced some runes on the floor, but they were weak and easily scuffed. Then, for just a moment, Teodron caught something out of the corner of the sight: hair, and teeth, and angry...so angry. There was a flash of magic from above, and then nothing.

Teodron knew the path, but the way from the map was off. The old tunnel had still been sealed. A new access had been carved, and it appeared warded.
 

Teodron

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Teodron hadn’t been expecting the spell to work so quickly, or so well: he was transported through the halls of the college, down corridors he’d never seen before, to a hall where Tathra was held. The professor was alive, which was good. However, he didn’t appear to be in great shape. Doing his best to channel the spell—the spell was brilliant, it was his focus that was the problem—he tried to turn from the professor to get a look at the room the Raaka was being held.

As the son of a mason, Teodron knew new construction when he saw it. There was something in the center of the room, where the professor’s staff lay; underneath, there appeared to be a dig site of some sort; the whole of it was suffused with magic both old and new. There was a ward on the door, a strong one, but Teodron couldn’t tell if there were more mundane defenses. Or even if there were any people other than the Raaka there.

Even as the half-dwarf thought that he became aware of some...presence. Something dark, and dangerous, that didn’t like the intrusion from the scrying spell. Almost immediately after, something targeted the location rune, and Teodron abruptly found himself thrust back into his own body.

He breathed heavily for a few moments, trying to banish the image of that thing’s teeth from his mind. Although he didn’t quite succeed, he managed to calm his racing heart. Then, he steeled his nerve.

Teodron wasn’t brave, not really. He had no interest in facing down monsters and mayhem, of mounting was would likely be a doomed rescue mission. But he couldn’t stand by and do nothing while Tathra was in danger. And Teodron couldn’t allow whatever evil was contained in that room be let loose upon the school. So while he couldn’t be brave on his own behalf, he’d do it for the sake of others.

With that thought burning in his mind, he pulled out the map and held it up for Shelav, who’d kept watch over him. “This is off.” He pointed to a spot next to the one Tathra had indicated, which didn’t show much as far as the half-dwarf could determine. “I don’t know if they dug a new tunnel, or if they stumbled upon one, but the main entrance is still sealed.” Biting his lip, he glanced up at the armored woman. “But I know the way.”

Standing up, Teodron gathered his supplies, using the familiar movements to soothe his nerves. “I can’t really explain it. The location rune basically showed me the path, but it’d be too difficult to translate it into directions.” He wasn’t lying: Teodron would love nothing more than to hand this problem off to someone else.

But—and the ridiculousness of this wasn’t lost on the half-dwarf—he was the professor’s only hope.

Well, not quite. Shelav was here too, and Teodron would tell her everything he’d seen. “Professor Tathra is being held in a pit inside the room. He’s alive, but bound, and he can’t perform any magic. They’re building something in there, or digging, though I couldn’t tell quite what. The entrance to that room is warded, and…” here the half-dwarf shivered, his fear finally getting the best of him again, “there’s something in there with him. All I got was an impression of teeth and hair and...anger, before something shut down the spell.”

That could be a problem, actually. “If it was an active counter-spell, or even a passive one, and not just the location rune running its course, they might be aware of us already. Or not us, specifically, but s-someone.” They’d already been planning to move stealthily, but they might not be able to rely upon the element of surprise.

But they had to go. So Teodron rubbed his sweaty palms on his robe, picked up his staff, and turned to Shelav. “Let’s go.” Without even waiting for her response, he set off, following the path burned into his mind by the rune. He was afraid if he waited too long, it would disappear from his thoughts, and all would be lost. Time was of the essence, in more ways than one. And even despite the seriousness of the situation, there was a sense of haste that the half-dwarf couldn't quite shake.
 
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