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- [+] SPOILER
- -----------Day 532-----------
The hardened professor watches his adversary take cautious steps, as the two circle each other around the arena. All eyes are on them right now: he cannot be distracted, and he cannot hesitate. For as much as he relates to his opponent, and in spite of all the good times they shared, he cannot lose this battle, nor can he show any softness. The adventurer is bright and skilled, but he has more experience. Far more. He studied for decades, perfecting his craft and developing his abilities since before his foe reached adolescence. He cannot allow the youngster to win this match.
- It's time to show me what you've learned, Tomas. - Dorbus says, as the two of them prepare for combat.
- Indeed, my friend.- The Mage responds. - Indeed, it is.
Tomas, the Wanderer, as he is known in Thuram, is a very odd one among the members of the Wizard's Guild. The vast majority of its numbers consist of very old, wise men and women who have climbed their way to the top of the Guild during a lifetime of dedicated effort, and a multitule of scribes and apprentices, young and undisciplined students who can hope to perhaps one day, make their own way up the hierarchy and become powerful wizards as well. Tomas, however, stands out: the Wanderer is a foreigner, which by itself is an extremely rare sight in the city of Icemist itself, let alone the ranks of one of the Kingdom's most powerful organizations. The majority of members of the Wizard's Guild have been trained since birth to become powerful magicians, and learned through study and discipline within the walls of Icemist. Tomas learned through the harsh reality of Varannar: he and his companions have reached far and wide across the whole Isle, slain countless beasts and monsters across the Kingdoms, and earned for themselves a nearly legendary status among the common people. This gave him the chance to develop his skills in real life scenarios and situations. They say life is the only true teacher, and in Tomas' case, it most certainly does not disappoint.
The Wizard's Guild was always a free organization, allowing its members to pursuit their own goals and ends. But Tomas is an especially loose member: it is unlikely that he will ever be assigned to a task, say, at one of the Enclave Towers. Instead, the Guild calls upon him to do jobs not suited for the bookworms that make up most of the Guild's numbers: retrieving magical and historical relics, dispatching renegade wizards threatening populations and more often than not, cleaning up the mess of a secretive experiment gone terribly wrong. This makes him a true oddity among his fellow Magi: he's more of a permantly hired mercenary than an actual member of the Guild, basically. Understandably, this makes his authority within the Guild extremely limited, if not entirely unexistant. However, he has earned the trust of so many Magi of the institution, and inspired so many of them with his tales and achievements, that his words still carry weight, at least in spirit, if not in practise. It is because of this that several nobles and Guild members appeared, stating that they wanted to see in action this adventurer that everyone was talking about. And thus, he was challenged by his old friend Dorbus, one of the most prestigious teachers of the College. It was perhaps for the best that Queen Breddanna decided not to bother to show up, given the already tense situation between the two since Tomas saved the man she apparently condemned to die in the Underlevels.
It's not every day that such an event as a fight takes place in the city. The Hall of the Traveller Wizards serves as the stadium, with a deactivated portal as an arena. The rules are simple: knock the opponent out of the circle. The two will fight one on one, without scrolls, potions, summonned creatures or their personal equipment. Magic is still permitted, but not the use of wands or any other weapons, dueling only with the strenght of their physical bodies and the power of their arcane capacities. As the two fighters stand in the portal, the crowd is astounded by what they see: a with plain, non enchanted outfit that offers a bare minimum protection, they see that Tomas is a lean man, not very muscled nor particularly athletic as they had thought. Because he had a reputation for slaying monsters, even earning the title of Dragonslayer in the southern kingdom of Varsilia, the nobles thought that underneath the robes was a mountain of muscle.
Those who did show up to see the fight are a varied bunch: the aristocracy of the city make up the majority of the audience, with quite a split regarding who to support: some say that Dorbus will be the clear winner, given that he has trained for much longer than the Wanderer, over the course of his whole life. Others say that Tomas will emerge victorious, since he has much more experience in actual combat. They even seem to be placing bets on the fight. However, the Wanderer has a few clear supporters.
Among the crowd is Lady Ilemma, representative of the Icemist College of Magic. She herself recruited Tomas into the Guild, and she has always seen in him great potential. Dorbus is a great teacher, but she doubts he is a great fighter, and sees the Wanderer as the most logical choice for the winner of this match.
Amarisa is one of the Travellers, in charge of handling the portals. Because this is their Hall, she has the privilege of seeing the match. Not many people know that she is, in fact, Tomas' sister, and has come to support her sibling.
Away from the mass of noblemen and women, a lonely figure clad in dark armor leans against a wall, carrying a magnificent greatsword within an especially designed sheith on her back. Grissenda Mae'Ran is a Varsilian noble who recently restored her honor and influence with her kingdom. She is also the Wanderer's long time companion in his many adventures, not to mention his lover. Beside her, a man carrying a strange, stringless metal bow grins towards the upper class audience. Adaon, another close friend of the Mage, is known to be one of the best rogue archers across the whole of Varannar. The two of them smile ever so lightly as they stare at the arena, confident in their companion's success.
In the Tower of Tremadan, the 3 adventurers gather together. This time, for a training exercise.
- Is this really necessary?- The mage questions, as he raises his fists in preparation.
- It is, Tomas.- The warrior responds. - That teacher of yours may not be a fighter, but he's still a powerful magician, who you can't fight with your usual tactics and gear. Besides, you neber know when this will come in handy. Very few can hope to beat you when you have your fancy staves, wands and clothes. But if you ever lose your weapon, can you honestly say that you are safe?
- I carry more than just a single weapon, Grissenda.
- You know what I mean. You must know how to hold your own in close combat. You can't always rely on just your equipment.
- Fine. Let's just do this.
- Trix believes in Master!- The joyful Sparkling says, jumping in excitement. - Master will beat his friend!
The two of them stare akwardly for a few seconds towards Adaon.
- Sorry, dude. My money is on her.
The fight is over barely after it's even begun. Tomas takes a defensive stance to hold against the attack, but with sheer force, Grissenda throws him off his feet and knocks him into the ground.
- Well...that went exactly as I expected.- Adaon laughs. -Told you, Trix. No hard feelings.
- Oohh...- Disappointed, the elemental lowers his head and gives the rogue 20 coins.
- I think I broke something...
- Yeah, your ego, brother. You were just beat up by a woman! If you ask me, that's pretty...OOF! - Adaon is interrupted mid sentence by a punch to the stomach.
- Alright...- Grissenda takes a step back after hitting the archer, and starts putting her armor back on. - Clearly, you need physical training. I'm sorry, Tomas, but your strenght is not that great.
- Yeah, I was aware of that. - Tomas passively agressively replies, getting back on his feet.
- But you can change that! Tell you what: start exercising. Try to train your muscles: lifting, running, boxing... these things help improve your strenght. And when you feel like you're ready, we can try this again. There's still plenty of time before yoir match with the College professor.
Grissenda notices the sun through the floor's open window. Specifically, how low it is.
- It's getting late, I should be going now. Eirenda and I agreed to meet in New Garand.- she finishes putting on her armor, grabs her weapon and kisses Tomas goodbye. - I'll see you guys in a few days.
- Goodbye, Griss.
With that, she steps into the portal.
- Lifting, huh?- Tomas sighs. - Fine. It can't be so difficult.
- Now hold on just a minute.- Adaon steps up. - Tomas, I think Grissenda is right in that you need to train your close combat. But I don't think her way to go about this is the best.
- Truly? Why?
Out of nowhere, the rogue throws a punch at him, which the wizard blocks as fast as he can, and just in time.
- Hey, what was that for?!
- Yeah, just as I thought. - Adaon takes a step back. - You're not hopeless at all!
- Grissenda wants you to train your strenght. I can't blame her, that's her style. But I don't think you were cut out for it. You're a lean guy, not very broad, just like me. But we still kick just as much ass as Griss does. Why is that?
- Because...we don't rely on sheer force.
- Exactly. You use your magic from a distance. You can use a little "magic" when close as well. I've seen you in combat: you dodge enemy arrows like it's nothing, and it's not often I see you miss a shot from your wand. Sure, you're no assassin, but you have the moves. You just need to learn some tricks. Say, where are your gloves?
- Right over here. - Tomas digs through the pile of his equipment, pulling out the technological gloves from under his robes. The two garments of metal linked by a rubbery substance glimmer in the light as Tomas puts them on. - I think I understand what you mean, Adaon.
- Oh, really? What is it then?
- I'm not the strongest of men...- The wizard turns for a quick attack, but Adaon jumps out of the way just in time to escape. -...but I'm a fast learner.
- Haha! Now you're talking! - the archer reaches for his own equipment. The Ark of Lothasan is an abundant source of these powerful trinkets, and has no sign of running dry any time soon. These advanced gloves correct the wrong movements of the user's hands. Sometimes, the link between mind and body is frail and unreliable. It can happen to the best. In a moment of crisis, a sharp reflex isn't necessarily followed by the appropriate response. In the heat of the moment, the instinctive action may not be the most well thought out strategy. With these fine garments, that is changed: mind and body are as one. Stances are taken much faster. Responses are dealt much more reliably. Since the two have a pair of Automated Gloves, a real fight could go on for hours. And only skill, combined with the tiniest bit of luck, could hope to break it.
- These gloves make all the right choices for me.- Tomas continues. - I'll watch how they move. I'll learn what works, and what doesn't. Then, I'll try to replicate it out of my own thought.
- I see great minds think alike! - Adaon takes a stance. - So you're ready?
- Let's do this. Bring it on.
- Trix still trusts Master. Master can do this!
And so it begins.
As their bodies move, Tomas' mind is somewhere else. Adaon merely appreciates the adrenaline, the heat of the battle itself. But the Magus is much more focused on detail. He's used these wonderful trinkets for a while, but he never paid this much attention to how they work: it fascinates him how his hands move to block Adaon's punches, and strike towards him after. It is but an elaborate dance. Utter perfection of motion. Such a complex balance of factors beyond imagination, all playing out in real time.
It's not just the hands. Tomas observes how Adaon moves about, how his legs stand when still, how his steps are taken. Before long, he starts to mimick what he sees, acting as a mirror of his opponent. The rogue takes a step back, and the Magus takes on forwards. He tries to take one forwards, the Magus steps back. Sometimes, they try to trick each other into thinking they'll be going somewhere they're not. They'll make their foe find himself kicking and punching at the air, while they take him off guard and ultimately win. It's the most obvious, yet important realization: combat is all about deception. It's about knowing what the enemy will do, and preventing him from realizing your own planned course of action. The reading of facial expressions, the tensing of muscles, the sudden shift in the center of balance: all of the subtle cues give away the most likely possibilities for the split second action Adaon might take, giving him just an instant of opportunity to end this.
And then, another epiphany: the control of movement. If you know what the enemy thinks, you might be tempted to influence his actions. If he thinks you'll be doing something specific, but this is only a deception, the advantage is all yours. It is possible to control the movement of the whole engagement. And being in control, means victory.
Tomas unsuccessfully attempts to make Adaon put himself in a vulnerable position several times. Thankfully it doesn't backfire, as he is prepared for the worst: hoping he'll take the bait, but expecting he won't. This keeps the mage away from danger as the fight goes on. The both of them start getting tired, and slightly erratic. Then, finally, a successful trap: Adaon takes a wrong step, and his hand takes too long to react to Tomas' advance. He kicks the foot from under him and throws him ever so slightly off balance, just enough for the spellcaster to push him off his feet entirely.
-Well, well...Look who's learning! - Adaon laughs, as he jumps back up. - That was a lucky hit, you know!
- Yeah, of course.- Tomas grins back.
- How long was it?
- About...ten minutes?
- Good, good. Wanna try again?
- This time...- Tomas removes the straps that bind his Automated gloves to his hands. -...let's see if I really learned something new.
-Alright then.- Adaon takes off his own alien technology and throws them away. - You really want to do this? We can use the gloves a couple more times.
- If I fail to replicate it, we'll try again.
- Fine. Serious this time. Sorry, Tomas, but I'm gonna have to kick your ass.
- You're free to try.
Their actions are ever so slightly more hesitant. Of course. They no longer have the advantage of the gloves that basically think for them. Instead, they must make their own calculations, making the duel ever so slightly slower paced. However, the both of them still absorved valuable information, especially Tomas: with or without gloves, deception is still key to success.
- You know, Adaon? I just realized something. - Tomas says between deep breaths.
- Oh? What is it?- He questions, but without letting his guard down.
- The whole point of fighting like this is because Grissenda thinks I'm not that great of a fighter without equipment.
- Yeah. So?
- Well, Magic isn't equipment!
Before he can react, Tomas shoots a small lighting bolt in Adaon's general direction. It doesn't hit him, but the light blinds him for a second, and as he opens his eyes again, he sees the Mage rushing towards him at full speed. He tackles the rogue and throws him down once more.
- Looks like...I was the one to kick YOUR ass, Adaon.
- Yeah...- Adaon pulls himself together. - It really does, huh? Damn it, Tomas.
- I kinda forgot about the Magic, really.
- Actually, me too.
- Boy, we are dumb.
- A bit, yes.
The two share a laugh, and then sit down to rest.
- This can very well work.- Tomas reasons. - If I keep doing this, I just might actually be an effective fighter.
-Well, thankfully, Griss doesn't come back for a few days. You think we got enough time to do this?
- Now that I think back to it, Grissenda's moves were a bit rash. I could've dodged it quite easily...- Tomas turns back towards his companion. - Damn right we can do this, Adaon.
- Nice... Hey, in the meantime, you wanna use your powers to reach Friguld and bring us some of their fine rum?
- I mean, you technically lost the fight so, how about I take us there and you pay for it?
- Meh. Seems fair. You in, Trix?
- Nah. Elementals do not drink.
- Fine, suit yourself.
- Are you sure about this, Tomas?- The knight lifts her fists for the confrontation. - It's barely been a week since you started training.
- Trust me, Griss: I'm ready.
- Yeah, don't worry, fella's been working out. Gonna have to put my money on him this time!- Adaon takes a gulp of left over Friguld rum.
- Forget it.- Trix replies. - Trix won't bet anymore.
- Sure, sure. Let's just get on with the fight.
- Alright. I hope you know what you're doing, Tomas.
- Don't go easy on me.
The two circle each other for a short bit. Suddenly, Grissenda steps forward. She swings her arm and rushes towards him, ready to put all her weight behind a single blow.
Tomas takes the opportunity to side step her heavy handed attack, grab her arm and trip her leg. The woman falls down and rolls over, before getting back up in shock.
- Wow...- She gasps. - You didn't even try my suggestions, did you?
- Sorry. I guess it just wasn't my style.
- Oh, you'll regret that, you!
She charges for another round. Before she can reach him, the Magus casts a blinding lighting that forces her to close her for a couple of seconds. In a surprising move, instead of standing idly, Grissenda reacts to this by spinning violently fast and kicking in the general direction of her opponent, hoping to hold him off long enough to focus once more. And it works: she opens her eyes again without having taken a single hit from him.
- Nice try, Tomas! - She victoriously shouts. - But not quite enough to trick me.
- Truly? - The spellcaster smugly lifts an eyebrow.
Without warning, a high pitched laughter, followed by something jumping on top of Grissenda's back, takes her completely off guard. A Familiar? Tomas managed to summon a familiar?! Clever. Dirty, but clever.
- Ah! Get off me!- She struggles to rip the tiny creature off her body, grabbing its limbs with both hands as it tries to dish out minor eletric charges through its punching and scratching.
It takes too long to subdue the summoned being, however: Tomas takes the opportunity to charge. He put his opponent in a vulnerable position. As such, he can afford to rely on sheer power with minimal concerns about a counter attack. He puts his whole weight towards a single strike, and runs into Grissenda full force. It is not strong enough to throw her down, but it does ruin her stance, and makes it easy to kick her foot from under her while she throws the Sparkling flying. Once more, the knight falls to the floor, defeated again.
- I don't know, Grissenda...- Tomas laughs, while he lends a hand to help her up. - I certainly don't regret not listening right now!
- He did it!- Adaon celebrates.- You did it, Tomas!
- Master won!- Trix runs in circles uncontrollably. - Master won!
- Thanks, guys. I couldn't have done it without your help, Adaon.
- So, if you ignored my advice, what did you do all this time?- The warrior questions.
- Learning with these bad boys.- Adaon shows his trusted Automated Gloves. - They really do wonders, you know.
-That's...actually smart. Learning from your equipment, so you can work without it.
- Something like that yes. - Tomas continues. - I think I did quite a bit of progress. I'm no expert but, if I lose my trusted staff, I just might not die.
- And isn't that what it's all about? - Adaon rambles in his drunken state. - Not dying?
- Well, I suppose so.
- Great, then! Say, how about we hit the tavern at New Garand to celebrate?
- I think you might've had enough already.
- Well, you're not the boss of me.- He walks to the portal. - I'm going with or without you. So, see ya!
And just like that, he's gone.
- Sometimes, I wonder why I like Ada...
Tomas is interrupted by his companion, who leans in to kiss him pationately.
- Well, that was sudden.
- I'm glad you learned to handle yourself in close combat, Tomas. You know, a lot of Varsilian nobles only really respect a man who can beat them in a duel.
- I can't say I'm out to conquer the hearts of the aristocracy. But I guess leaving a good impression is usually favorable.
The Magus embraces her around his arms and smiles...but then is suddenly thrown off guard by the elemental, which is intensely looking at them both.
-Huh, Trix, could you...- He stutters. -...not stare at us like that?
- I'm sorry, Master. Trix is just happy that Master found love!
-I...I appreciate your support, Trix.
- Love is very precious! It helps to have someone beside you to share the imoortant moments, maybe forget about the inevitability of death and the uncertainty of life.
-Hmmm. OK, friend. I...
- The End is really impossible to overcome, after all. What else but Love to give us any sense of purpose in this uncaring world? What else to help us aspire to be anything but the ash we all become? What else to...
- Alright, Trix, we get it! By the powers...
- Sorry, sorry...Trix will go clean downstairs.
The friendly monster runs off to the lower floor.
- I'm starting to worry about Trix.- Grissenda remarks.
- Yeah, me too. Maybe he's been feeling sort of lonely ever since Tremadan died.
- Any idea of how to fix it?
- Not right now, but I'll think of something. For now, what do you want to do?
- Well, Eirenda and I were invited for a ball in Kingsbridge. Maybe you'd care to join us?
- You know what? I will.
- I will not lose today, Tomas. - Dorbus declares. - I refuse to be defeated by a pupil.
- Don't be so sure about that, professor. - He replies. - Arrogance could be your downfall.
Tomas is confident. He eyes his opponent with determination, and tries to get a reading off him. Dorbus looks focused, and his gaze is threatening an attack. His hands are up in a fighting stance, but not closed into fists. In addition, their position relative to the body would provide very low coverage, should Tomas deicde to strike. Dorbus is unexperienced in combat, but certainly not to such an extent. The poor stance most likely indicates an offensive magic spell, given that the way his fingers move signal the flow of mana throughout his body, ready to be released.
Sogarad, representative of the Traveller Wizards, stands in the edge of the arena, preparing to signal the beggining of the fight. Yet, just as he is about to do so, he notices that the Wanderer is mumbling something to himself, which he can't quite discern. The old mage shrugs it off, raises his hand and announces:
- Ready. And...fight!
As soon as he hears the call, Tomas drops down and rolls out of the way. Just as he had suspected, Dorbus planned to win the fight right away by unleashing a single, devastating magical attack. A powerful lighting bolt storms through the arena, only to miss its mark entirely, as its caster did not antecipate the target's prediction of his actions and failed to redirect the attack in time, as he saw the Wanderer dodging. And before he can even attempt to cast another spell to throw him off, Tomas speeds towards Dorbus and kicks him to the ground.
While he's down, the adventurer grabs his legs and starts dragging him towards the edge of the arena, winning the fight by throwing him off. However, the professor resists with all his might, holding on to the floor where he stands and kicking back at his former student. Eventually, he manages to break free before being dragged out, quickly crawls away, jumps back up and faces the wizard once again.
Standing in the limits of the arena, Tomas moves along the edge to dodge another lighting bolt thrown by Dorbus. However, after the second missed magic offense, the professor runs at full speed towards the Wanderer, distracted by his own steps, taken carefully to prevent putting his foot down outside the line. He does have enough time to notice the sprint, though, and activates his magical Barrier. As Dorbus tries to tackle him, he is thrown backwards, with a mild electric shock. This stuns him a bit, and allows Tomas to close the distance between the two. Just before the professor has the chance to het back up again, Tomas grabs him by the arm pits and shoves him back towards the edge. Thankfully, Dorbus isn't a particularly heavy man, and Tomas manages to throw him just far enough that he is in danger, but still within the limits of the arena. Finally, he prepares a spell of his own. He hasn't practised his Ice Storm skill for a while now, but in the split second he had the idea, it seemed like a good one. Normally, the spell casts a small ice storm that can't be truly controlled by the magic user, and wanders around for a bit before dissipating. With a few changes to the way the spell is cast, what is essentially the same attack can be used for a different application, much more useful at the moment.
As Dorbus steps back up, preparing to throw his whole mana pool into a single, final effort blow that the adventurer won't see coming, he is met with a surprise of his own: Tomas casts the Ice Storm, yet instead of summoning a fully formed storm, using his mana to create a self sustaining construct, he focuses the whole of the power and directs it onto a single direction. The result is a powerful, ice cold wing, that blows over Dorbus. The magic emanation rips him off his feet and sends him flying for a second. The cold is damaging, but such is only a minor side effect: the wind threw him off the arena. When he lands flat on his face, he is just outside the limits.
- Dorbus is off the portal! - Sogarad declares. - Tomas, the Wanderer is the winner!
The reactions from the noblemen are, understandably, mixed. The half that cheered for him are excited and praise the victor, while the other half reluctantly claps hands at the man that just cost him a few hundred gold coins. The money is exchanged swiftly between hands and the whole of the aristocrats congratulate the winner of the match, taking turns and praising him individually. Much like the usual shenanigans in Varisilia usually go, the Mage gives them an akward smile while they explain in great detail how he reminds them of themselves in their youth, going on tangent after self aggrandizing tangent about their own respective ancestral lines of supposedly talented duelists. Eventually, Lady Ilemma makes her way through and congratulates him.
- You fought with creativity, and discipline at the same time, youngster. Something very few seem to achieve. - She remarks. - I noticed a few stances during the final moments that could be improved upon, but other than that, you did wonderfully. Your victory is well deserved.
- Thank you, Lady Ilemma.
After some more small talk, the Wanderer manages to get the audience off his back and they disperse. Then, he notices that Dorbus is still there, seating on the floor, looking down.
- Hey...- He approaches his former teacher, who looks up at him and sees his hand reaching out. - That was a good fight, Dorbus.
- Truly? But...none of my attacks even worked.
- Maybe, but that's just because I trained like Hell. In fact, I haven't practised so much to beat a single opponent for a long time now. So, you did very good.
- You think so?- Finally, he takes his hand and uses it to get on his feet. - Well, you have come a long way since we first met, for sure.
- And I can partially thank you for that, my friend.
- Me? But, I only taught you how to be a better Summoner and how to use the Gate spell. You didn't use either of those.
- You taught me much more than that, Dorbus. It's not about the spells, it's about the mentality that you gave me. Before I came to Icemist and studied in the College of Magic, I was more rash. I didn't properly tap into my power. When you taught me those skills, you also taught me how better collect myself, how to feel the flow of energy through me. You helped me lay the foundation for development, and I only truly reached into my full mana pool after that.
- Oh. I see...
- And besides, - He holds out his hand again. - for an old man, you sure fought tooth and nail.
- Hey, come on now, I'm not that old!- Dorbus laughs, takes his hand and shakes it. - You were a great student, and you are still a great friend. I'm glad to have taught you.
- And I'm glad to have been taught by you.
They share a brief smile, before Tomas turns back and walk away, towards his companions.
- That was a great fight, my man. - Adaon says.
- Yes, it was a good demonstration of skill on your part. - Grissenda continues, handing back to Tomas the trusted gear that he had to take off for the match.
- Thanks for being here to see me, guys.
- Oh, you know, I couldn't miss it. Expecially since it happened right here. - Amarisa responds.
- Say what, folks. I think this calls for a celebration.
- Sure does, Adaon. - Tomas rolls his eyes. - I suppose it's a valid excuse for you to get wasted again.
- Yes! Now you're speaking my language! Let's get outta here!
The archer then drags the whole crew to the Magic Flagon, where he hopes to be served the finest and hardest of magical liquors the capital has to offer.
A couple of hours pass, and the Travellers' Hall is mostly empty. Sogarad alone is there, sipping on a cup of tea as he watches over the silent Hall. Then, Amarisa and Tomas come in.
- That was fun!- The Traveller exclaims. - But I need to get back to work now.
- I understand.- Her sibling says. - Portals won't fix themselves, after all.
Amarisa returns to her station, where she is currently renewing the worn off enchantement of a secondary transportation rune within the Hall. As he is about to leave, Tomas notices the old wizard sitting alone by the corner, and turns back.
- Sogarad, my fellow Magus. - He greets the Traveller. - It's been while since we last talked.
- Indeed it has, Thorenheim. - Sogarad replies. - Do you have time? Aren't you busy with your friends?
- Well, Adaon left the inn to spend the night with a noble lady he met there. Probably gonna banish himself from the city by the morning...- He rolls his eyes and utters under that last bit under his breath. -...and Grissenda seems to be enjoying herself stopping drunken brawls at the tavern before they get too serious. So, I'm free.
- Care to join me for a soothing drink, then?
- That depends. What are you having?
- Murpleweed tea. Truly, that tiny blue plant has the most varied multitude of purposes: alchemy, scented candles...and it also makes for the finest relaxing beverage.
-Huh. I never tried to use it for that. I had no idea. - Tomas takes the seat facing his friend. - I suppose you learn something new everyday.
- Try it. - Sogarad opens the small cabinet behind him, and grabs another cup. He pours a dose of the hot tea from his kettle, allowing the Wanderer to taste it.
- Very good...could use some more heating, though. - He firmly grips his hand around the cup, and a tiny flash of light signals the use of a fire incantation. After a few seconds, he takes another sip. - Perfect.
- I take it tea isn't the usual beverage for an adventurer like yourself.
- True enough. As I said, making tea out of Murpleweed never even crossed my mind. My fellows stock themselves with liquor, beer and rum. I keep myself functioning with magical brandy and mana potions through most of my expeditions.
- Haha. It's not that different in here, to be honest. But once in a while, you need something like this to clear your mind and focus.
- That's understandable.
- Say, Tomas...can I ask you something?
- What is it?
- Well, when I was announcing the start of your fight, I noticed something odd about you.
- Odd? How so?
- Your lips were moving. Were you saying something? Talking to yourself?
- Oh, you saw that? It's nothing important.
- Don't tell me you were casting some sort of spell before the fight began. You know that's forbidden.
- Nothing of the sorts. If you really must know, it was just a mantra.
- Yes. A small speech for focus and clearing my mind before the match. Helps keep my head cool during the heat of the moment. Like tea, if you will.
- I see...so, like a prayer?
- Well, not that different from a prayer, I guess. Only I don't appeal to deities to help me out. It's just self reassurance.
- Do you mind if I hear it?
- I don't see why not. It's very simple, actually: " I look beyond the illusions. I see the nature of things, their reason for being, the final cause of all their motion.
I see that nothing comes into the World given purpose. Fear does not cloud my vision. I see the true form of Matter. I see the essence of Energy. I see the Truth of all that is.
And I know I am the World's catalyst. I the ultimate vessel. It is through me that comes Change."
-Hmmm. Interesting. So, reciting this helps you?
- That's odd. I mean, you haven't been a man of faith for as long as I have known you. I've seen how that foolish priest of the Three eyes you. Why would you do something so similar to praying?
- I don't agree with the fundamental ideals of the Church. That doesn't mean I can't use their tactics.
- But why use that specific tactic? I thought you didn't believe it to work.
- That's not what I mean when I say "prayers don't work"
- Well then...what do you mean, exactly?
- Prayers work in the same sense that my mantra works: it gives those who say it a peaceful state of mind. A sense of tranquility. Which in battle, is a valuable asset. That's it. If I expected my mantra to do my work for me, I'd be an idiot. It simply gives me the ability to actually do what needs to be done myself. In the same way, priests who rely on prayers to hack and slash at the Undead for them are bound to find themselves amongst the armies of the Dead sooner than they think.
- Oh. So, you don't actually believe in Divine intervention?
- It's not that I don't believe in it. More like, I don't want it. I used to travel with a priestess of the Three: I've seen her calls for help to her gods work a few times.
- Oh? Then why don't you want that?
- Because many other times, I've seen that they don't work. That's the thing with gods: they can choose to help you or not. I will not trust my life to the arbitrary whims of some deities with so called "Greater Plans" for me. When I do something, I expected a reliable, tangible outcome, without having to worry about pissing off Arbenos for not being "honorable enough" with my battles, or Nivaria for not being "compassionate enough" for my adversaries, or Thelume for not seeing "the bigger picture". That's why, between praying for the Three to save me or grabbing a dagger, I choose the dagger every time. Because the dagger can't arbitrarily choose not to cut and stab when I tell it to. That's also why, when their lives are at steak, people only pray when they're really desperate. Deep down, they know they're playing a gamble.
- Huh...Well, I'm just gald you didn't fall to the temptations of those pesky Ilmarans with their gods.
- Me too. I'm also glad I didn't take the other poison either.
- Other poison?
- Dark Magic, the likes of which a lot of Thuramian wizards seem to fall into these days.
- You don't say? Do you think it's just as bad?
- Exactly as bad, and exactly as dangerous. Do you know what distinguishes Dark Magic from regular magic, Sogarad?
- Well, Dark Magic is an older, more archaic practise. The term goes back to the original inhabitants of Andoria, before the Empire, and deals with...
- You're going off on historical footnotes, Sogarad.
- What? But, you asked me.
- Dark Magic is an umbrella term for all the taboo forms of Arcane practises. Naturally, because taboo is subject to culture, what is and isn't considered Dark Magic is entirely dependent on who's asking. Hell, the most basic of healing alchemies is by all means Dark Magic to superstitious morons and snake oil salesmen. See? Didn't need to trace back the origins of the word to define that.
- Alright then, but basic healing alchemy isn't harmful. Dark Magic is supposed to be.
- All Magic is harmful if you don't know that you're doing, Sogarad. If your Travellers didn't understand the basics of Teleportation magic, they would explode this Hall into oblivion every time they tried to fire a spell. Is Teleportation Dark Magic then? Because by this logic, every Magic is.
- Well then, we need to better way to define it.
- I have one. Dark Magic is any magic that deals with fully sentient entities capable of free choice. Spirits? Dark Magic, becayse they can screw you over. Summoning? Not Dark Magic, because the summon is always subservient to the summoner, and can't attack you. A portal into an elemental Plane? Dark Magic, because the elementals are not subservient to you when you don't properly summon them, and they might attack you. That's the difference: with regular Magic, you do exact procedures, and you can expect exact outcomes. No luck involved. Once you throw beings capable of thinking for themselves into the mix, then it's Dark Magic, because your exact procedures may not result in the outcome you expect after all.
- But by that definition...
- The Three and their blessings are Dark Magic, yes. Poetic irony, if you ask me.
- Saying things like that, it's amazing you stayed in good terms with the Church for as long as you did.
- You know what? I often think the same thing. Anyway, I hope that answers your questions.
- You make good points. Personally, I always preferred the use of proper Magic over relying on false Idols anyhow.
- Proper Magic?
- Of course! As a Mage, I'm sure you think the same, no?
- I do, actually. I mean, it's sort of weird for me to be a Mage, considering Magic doesn't exist by definition, but I'm not complaining, I sure love my powers.
- What!?- Sogarad nearly falls over. - You just said you don't believe in...Magic!?
- Well, do you?
- How could I not!? It's my profession, it's the foundation of our whole kingdom!
- Is it now? Let me ask you this now, Sogarad. What is the definition of Magic?
- Exactly. It's as if we all have this intuitive understanding of what Magic is supposed to be, but we can't put our fingers on propers terms.
- Now that's quite a conundrum.
- Indeed. I've seen plenty of definitions: for example, some say Magic is the study of the Supernatural. In fact, this seems to be the most universally accepted definition. Which is why it confuses me, given how much of an awful one it actually is.
- You think? I don't see the problem with it.
- You don't, huh? What is the Supernatural, Sogarad?
- Supposedly, it's the suspension of Natural Laws.
- And if something suspends natural Laws, how in the Hell are you supposed to study it?
- Formulate a question, test, get the answer to the question you originally asked. That's how we usually go about discovering things. This is reliant on the assumption we live in a consistent Universe, bound by strict Laws that we can use to accurately predict the future and explain present events. If something breaks the Laws of Nature, how do you study it? Actually, scratch that: how do you even know any Laws are being broken in the first place, and that you're not just simply ignorant to what's going on? Because "I'm missing something here" seems a lot more plausible to me than "The World doesn't work anymore".
-I...I... - Sogarad rubs the back of his neck, then laughs nervously. - Tomas, it seems you are poking holes at the very fabric of our understanding here. And I honestly don't have many answers to give you.
- It's fine. These philosophical thoughts come to me once in a while, during transit between two towns, or when I patiently wait for something. Sometimes even when I go to sleep at night. I've had a lot of time to think about this. I think I found some solutions.
- Well, do tell. I'm very much enjoying our conversation. And you can't just put all these doubts in an old man and leave him without an answer.
- That's fair, I guess. So, I know I criticized you for gasping at straws with your historical analysis, but I think that's exactly what we need to do to dissect the situation here, and give us some insight into the problem.
- How so?
- Basically, it's all just a problem of language.
- Language? Please, elaborate. Are you suggesting our definition of Magic is off because of semantics?
- That's exactly it. See, the origins of the word "Magic" comes from our tribalistic past. Back then, we were like children, even more so than we are now. We didn't have much understanding of the world we live in. Our knowledge was all but instinctive and crude. The word Magic was used to refer to phenomenona that defied Natural Law. But in truth, no phenomenon actually defied Natural Law, merely our understanding. And our understanding being so limited, that explains the need to use that term.
- I suppose it makes sense from a savage's perspective.
- We were not very well versed, but still, as humans often are, we were arrogant. We assumed that, because we couldn't understand it, then there was nothing to be understood in the first place. Such a narrow mindset brought us here, to this conundrum that's actually quite easily fixed.
- How? If Magic isn't real, how do we describe what we do?
- We decide what words means, Sogarad. There's nothing intrinsic about language. Magic can exist if we just define it properly. It's just that, to the common man, Magic has a lot of negative baggage that needs to be dismissed in order to properly use our terms.
- Baggage? Such as what?
- They think there's a fundamental difference between Science and Magic. There isn't. Magic IS science. We observe natural phenomena, formulate reasons as to why they happen, test our thoughts, and use the results of our experiments to then dismiss or corroborate our initial hypothesis. Then, we use our findings to construct elaborate models that organise our current knowledge into theories, which we can use to explain the events that happen, and predict those that will happen in the future. It's the exact same process used in Science. There's simply no difference between the two. In fact, Magic is just another field of scientific endeavour. There's nothing supernatural about it, because supernatural things aren't real. Hell, that's why common folk are so scared of Mages: they think they're running around with prohibitive knowledge that will be the Doom of them all, when in reality, their knowledge is as normal and accessible as that of their local alchemist.
- Well, that still leaves us to properly define Magic then.
- That's the only problem I still have: I can't. Whenever I come up with a definition, I can already think of several holes to poke at it. There's a difference that I think needs to be established between Magic and Alchemy, as they're two different things. Healing potions aren't Magic, they're alchemy. I think Magic is linked to mana, its purpose, and its application.
- Then, are mana potions Alchemy or Magic?
- Ha! See? The problems keep piling on. I think it tends more towards Alchemy, but I can't be sure. And that's alright: two guys sitting at a table, sipping tea during the night aren't supposed to figure everything out themselves. That's why I intend to write a Tome.
- You? At such a young age?
- I won't finish the damn thing until I'm 60, that's for sure. But that's usually the way these things go. Plenty of Mages start compiling their thoughts around my age, they just don't publish it until much later. With any hope, future generations of Mages, philosophers and critics will pick my Tome apart. They'll discard what they think doesn't work, and hopefully, they'll think at least some of my ideas are worth keeping.
- Heh. You have big plans, I see. I sure hope you manage to fulfill them.
- I do so to. And you know what? That's why I prefer being a Mage, and despise priests: we have tomes, they have holy books.
- Is it that different?
- Very much. A holy book can never be wrong. Every word is correct, unquestionable and you're a heretic if you say otherwise. Tomes can be wrong. They're meant to be written, examined, and then read again with a critical eye. I don't hope literally every word in my Tome is correct. I'll try my best, but I'm not perfect. No one is. I take solace, however, in the process of peer review: when many different people read my Tome and think about it from different angle, they're bound to find errors. They'll discard the errors, and keep the rest. That's how knowledge evolves, Sogarad. We build off each other's work, striving towards ever better understanding and insight into the functioning of the natural world. Those damned clerics don't do that: you can't discard anything, no matter how ridiculous it is, because that would be heresy. The result is obvious: they go through tedious amounts of pretentious reinterpretation of documents and crazy sorts of mental gymnastics to justify how their incoherent, internally inconsistent and hap hazardly cobbled together mess of a belief system is perfectly fine, when it clearly isn't. It's why they rely on the existence of their Gods to keep to whole thing from falling apart. If their objects of worship were complete and utter fabrications, like it happens with some other religions, it simply could not hold itself apart at all. They are a taint upon the Arcane arts, and I long for the day their whole world comes crashing down on them. At the end of the day, our system works and theirs doesn't, because we do not value Gods. We value Nature: hers is the final word, and hers is the only game in town.
An akward silence follows his speech. Tomas simply finishes his tea, and puts down the cup.
- It was great talking to you, Sogarad. - He says, standing up. - Thanks for listening to my ramblings.
- Ah, no problem, Thorenheim. You're taking your leave now?
- Yes. I'm going back to the inn and get some sleep.
- Alright then. Goodbye, Tomas.
- Goodbye to you too.
Tomas walks back to the Flaming Flagon.
It feels nice to share some thoughts with a fellow Magus, that understands his ideas and sees them as something more than the incoherent jargon of a madman. Adaon is much too disinterested in such matters to pay attention, so is Grissenda. Other than the talk he had with his lover in Castle Mae'Ran, Gwyden and Sogarad are the only two people with which Tomas ever truly talked about the nature of the world, in such elaborate detail.
Once he returns to the tavern, he glances at Grissenda, currently separating two drunk mages, one step away from hurling fireballs at each other and burning the place down. The iron golem serving as a security is quick to come to her aid though, and kicks the both of them out into the streets of Icemist. As Tomas walks through the crowd, he sees Adaon, with a red mark of his left cheek and a look of disappointment. He can only assume the rogue's efforts to take that noblewoman to bed fell flat somewhere along the way.
- At least you tried, partner. - The mage puts a friendly hand on his shoulder as he walks by.
- Not gonna let this bring me down, mate! - Adaon cheerfully replies. - More fish in the sea!
Tomas cracks a smile. "That guy will never change", he thinks to himself.
Once he pays for a room and lies down in the upper floors of the inn, the sound of music and talking distant enough not to bother, he closes his eyes and falls asleep.
As a wise man once told me on Twitter:
The secret isn't knowing what you're doing. It's knowing who you are.