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  1. Professor Desterra paid his phantom thief student no mind as he strode into the classroom, right past her awkward waiting frame, proudly swinging around a stick with a pink ribbon. Nina felt her heart sink. Her fingers tightened on the stolen artifact. If he was acting this laissez-faire, ignoring her, she thought, grimly studying the floor, then surely he was about to either praise or to humiliate her in front of the entire class. She wasn’t sure which was worse. To cool off, she paced around the corridor, considering the benefits of just throwing the staff towards him and running. Desolately, she eventually shuffled inside the room, to her bench, and with trembling fingers proceeded to take out and rearrange her pencils multiple times. Criteria shifted from usefulness as skin tones, common woodland colors, brightest to darkest, most intense to pastels. What she wasn’t expecting was all her pencils turning to snakes. Dozens of tiny snakes slithering under and over her hands. One fell in her lap. The pencil containing pigment #121, ‘pale geranium lake’, wrapped around her middle finger, its code turned to binary patterns on its cold skin. Nina let out a quick, sharp yelp. Illusion or not, it had been too much, too fast, too close. She barely had enough wits left about her to see the professor move. Surely he wouldn’t- What she really wasn’t expecting was Venepot Desterra trying to use her uniquely non-magical stick to cast a spell. The ripping sound of broken spellwork, a sound to which she was more sensitive than many, made her curl in her chair as if she’d been struck. For a moment there was silence and then, slowly, Nina stood up. “I am very, very sorry. This is entirely my fault.” She spoke in a shaking tone. It wasn’t like her to speak out of turn in class, or attract avoidable attention. But someone had to take responsibility. Barely turning, she grumbled between clenched teeth. “Six, cut. It. Off.” Her shoulders slumped. “It’s not funny.” Then the girl turned back to Venepot, although she dared not meet his eyes and instead looked down at her fingers. Her pencils were scattered in a jumbled mess that accurately reflected her feelings. She mechanically maneuvered out of her bench and started towards him, holding onto the wizard’s staff as if it were a viper. “I’m the one who stole your staff, professor.” She continued. “I…I meant to test my distraction spell, but now I’m realizing…it was a rotten thing to do.” Her voice cracked. “Even if nothing had happened, it would still be the worst sort of theft. It’s something that is important to you. Like a musician’s instrument, like a writer’s manuscript, or my pencils.” Her voice got smaller and smaller as she went on. “I fear that my behavior might’ve also encouraged Six, who is less-familiar with the etiquette in Mageside, to copy me.” Six. Gods damn, Six. She was going to have a serious talk with him. It’s not as if she’d told him of her plan. But even though the little man hadn’t commented on her thoughts anymore after their initial encounter, the way he silently studied her and the other people around him frightened her sometimes. Could he have been reading her mind all this time?! Was it a coincidence? Nina thought of how she was unusually sensitive to magic, and wondered how morals would apply to one unusually sensitive to other’s thoughts. Of how seeing all that smoldering, unreserved pettiness could warp a mind. “I will leave the class if you’d prefer me to, or otherwise submit to the disciplinary action you decide.” Nina whispered, shoving the staff towards Venepot while staring at her toes. The anxiety made even the smallest pauses feel like eternities. “Professor? Are you feeling all right?”
  2. Update post: Still looking for people to write with! (character details in my first post; Genesaris-based) For another example of my writing, here's a recent thread. (Lhoth, if you read this, I would still like to write again with you in the future, as we talked about, and your Crystallo Stella idea sounds amazing - link here for those interested - but I'd also like to try writing with other people)
  3. ‘During its history, the Tower has been home to a varied array of assassins. Many men and women would specialize in various crafts, ranging from poisons, to disguises, to hand-to-hand combat. My own Master, for instance, may-his-name-be-forgotten, would craft potions that could make minutes feel like hours, or snuff years of life in a second. The historical figure nowadays only known as the Mother of Shadows was outstanding for her espionage network.’ ‘In that case, Gray, why pick me?’ Nina grumbled, slightly louder in the memory than she’d originally dared. ‘All that’s outstanding about me is your yet-unresolved death.” ‘Why, apprentice. You have many positive traits. They just need a bit of…sharpening.’ “Go back?” Nina repeated Tatjana’s question. She supposed she missed her grandparents, and worried about them, but she wasn’t about to risk Gray finding out more of her strings to pull. “Who knows. Maybe one day.” She shrugged. “For now I’m more oriented on moving on from the castle.” The question as to why remained unresolved in the subsequent arrival of the soldiers. In the brief discussion that followed, Nina remained silent, not feeling like she could fend off any possible questions about her accent, or lack of. After the group left, Nina was filled by the overwhelming need to chuckle. Yet instead what she did was to take in her surroundings – the forest on the right, a sharp cliff face on the left, with a tree in the distance hanging on to dear life on what looked like a shelf of dirt jutting out from the cliff edge. She moved in a zigzag across the road, taking everything in very carefully. “I’d be happy to get you two some snacks,” she said. She doubted that they’d want to eat with her once they found out she’d lied to them. Maybe, just maybe she should tell them now. Nina opened her mouth. For a couple of minutes she remained fairly quiet, but anyone watching her would guess that she was struggling with something. But it was already too late for that. As the thumping of hooves on the dirt road behind them returned in a gallop, Nina grabbed the seafood bucket from Jayla’s frozen fingers. “Leave this. Go! Trust me on that. Be quiet.” She grabbed Tatjana by an arm, and pushed both of them up the slope. The way the road carved the edge of the mountain flooded the road edge with more light than the forest would otherwise get, allowing thickets to grow. There was still a chance that they’d be missed, with the soldiers facing the sun. “Just go.” Nina strode up the road for a few more steps, carrying both buckets, and stopped at the base of an old, gnarly tree at the edge of the cliff, with a thick branch growing over the road. Just as the hooves went past the closest turn in the road, Nina scampered up the tree, and rested one of the buckets in the gap between two forking branches. She crouched down on the branch crossing the road. If this was nothing, then she was going to feel supremely silly. “Look for the others.” The captain gestured to one of the men, and the girl missed being silly. Nina finally let out her laugh. “That disguise outlived its usefulness.” She said. There was something different in her tone, a certain sharp edge. “Besides, this is what you’re looking for, isn’t it?” The captain motioned the soldier to stay. The coin appeared in her hand. Glowing with a softly pulsating light, it spun between her fingers before twirling through the air, and landing back in her palm. There was a rag protecting Nina’s skin from its touch. “I see the Shadowmaster’s pawn is meddling already.” The captain coldly commented. “Unlike the noble Natamyra pawns, who arrive fashionably late to the party.” Nina smiled warmly. “Just at the right time, it seems.” That dangerous warmth seemed contagious. The captain shrugged, a near-invisible gesture under her armor, and looked up and down the road. There was a certain finality to his words. “There’s no one else here.” He addressed his men. “Secure the area.” He was considering an ambush, Nina guessed. She would as well. Why else would she be all out in the open? ‘Because you’re an idiot,’ her mind helpfully answered. Well, she was going to keep him guessing. Nina raised her hand beside her lips in a faux-gossip gesture. “You…told them, didn’t you?” She asked, in an unexpectedly serious tone. “About the Tower. Traditionally, once you belong to the Tower, failure is not an option.” She let that sink in. There was no need to tell them that Gray was hardly traditional in his methods. He didn’t even swat her on the head. She looked at each of the soldiers in turn, as they surrounded her. “It’s not too late. Think very carefully about the consequences you’re willing to live with, beyond just your lives. You can still turn back.” “Regrettably, you cannot.” The captain said. And that was the answer. “Dead men tell no tales, huh? You’d think that I would know that better than anyone.” As she mused, the captain ordered the soldiers to capture her, alive, ‘if at all possible’, and they got close. Too close. Nina mentally apologized to Tatjana and Jayla for not being able to buy them more time. She stood up on the branch. “I wish Gray would for once let me keep at least a witness. Wouldn’t you agree?” And with that, Nina kicked the bucket towards the closest soldier, unleashing a splash of water and colorful sea creatures on the only unprotected part of his body, his face. In the next breath she jumped, taking advantage of the distraction to sneak past his now-jumpy horse. Many of the poisonous creatures she’d collected didn’t act by touch, but with a bit of luck he’d have something anywhere from a bad sunburn, to an incredibly painful swelling, if the sea urchin managed to dig its spines in his skin. She broke through to an unguarded area. As it happens, the area was less guarded because it was right near the cliff face. Nina turned around, saw a lance blocking her escape on one way, a sword one the other, and slowly raised her arms in surrender. Then, she fell backwards off the precipice. A thump sounded far below. By the time the first of them dismounted to have a closer look (horseback riding making the sharp viewing angle otherwise difficult), there was nothing to see apart from a faint glimmer of blue caught somewhere in the canopy below. “Go after her!” The captain ordered. “I saw a goat path just down the road,” one of the soldiers commented, as they hurried away. Nina listened to the orders spoken above her, feeling like her elbows were slowly dislocating. Was it the coin they wanted, or her? She tried to keep her breathing still. She was hanging on to the roots of the gnarly old tree, which protruded from the lip of rocks and soil just under the precipice. She’d been afraid that they would hear her, but… Gray was right – a large move hides a small move. First rule of magic. It had worked, whether it was juggling with the coin as a way to recover the piece of fabric she’d wrapped it in, or letting that clump of fabric fall. The thump had been accidental, if fortunate – just a rock she’d dislodged from the roots. With difficulty, she moved from root to root, using her chin and nape of the neck to support herself when needed. Despite her training, she didn’t really have the core and arm strength to carry her own weight. Adrenaline was drumming loudly enough in her veins that when she looked down, the deadly depth was simply a metric. At the edge, the roots grew greener and thicker around a round hole just under the road. A drainage pipe, large enough to accommodate the heaviest rains of the season. She’d seen it before, and had thought that the flowers growing from it would make a nice sketch. It was only after she balanced herself into the pipe, that Nina questioned whether it was large enough to accommodate her. She had to keep her shoulders at an angle to advance, and in places it was necessary to wiggle herself into the foul slime at the bottom in order to get any traction. When a horse galloped above her, it felt like someone was punching her in the ribs. She remembered that the captain had kept at least one of his men around, patrolling the immediate stretch of road. They didn’t trust her. Suddenly, the horse slowed down, and the hoof-beats echoed along the length of the pipe, moving towards its mountainside end. Nina held her breath, as her hopes sank. There was no way that she would able to sneak her way out this tight spot once they saw her. The horse stopped right at the edge of the buried pipe. The girl could hear a man dismount. She saw the glint of armor in the opening, and heard a muffled swear. He was close enough that they could almost touch. She questioned how easy it would be to stab him. “I can’t believe it…” The man grumbled. She saw his face for a moment, as he dunked it in a small basin built for collecting rainwater. Afterwards, he splashed it a few times more, and wet a handkerchief for later. Of course. The poison. Had to be uncomfortable. Nina held her breath for a minute, until he left, then waited a minute longer, before pushing herself out. Full of mud and half-rotten leaves and crawling with things that she didn’t want to think about, Nina made for the forest above, quietly at first, then faster. She kept her eyes open for signs of her unwitting companions.
  4. OOC note: I apologize for breaking the posting order. I am happy to re-write this in story format for the class, but I thought it might make more sense for Venepot to determine what was the outcome of this story. I guess I was just feeling particularly inspired and couldn't get it all in my first post. I'm happy to edit/remove if people prefer! The heist How had it all started? Oh yes- “Are you trying to kill me?!” Nina had hissed, the instant the miniature man flooded her with magic. Knees buckled under her and the next moment she was on the floor, nerves screaming in agony. She’d sensed that he was somehow different; the fact that he’d grasped the spell so easily, the uneasy suspicion that his illusion had so much magical force put in them that they stopped being illusions, marked him as one of the strongest students. A stronger magical effect was easier for her to sense, which is why she’d picked him. Trying to enlighten herself, she’d played with fire, and gotten engulfed by the flames. When he recalled his power, it left her feeling as if her nerves had been scalded. Nina accepted that it hadn’t been intentional, just like she accepted, with increasing discomfort, that he was a telepath. She struggled not to think of particular things and so, in the nature of thoughts, they flashed right to the forefront of her mind. A circular staircase. The method to open a secret entrance in a wall, somewhere. Moving clockwork. The sensation of someone ruffling her hair. Images of various people she thought were attractive, in various states of undress. That time she accidentally stole something. That time she intentionally stole something. Eventually, she focused on her steps to push the thoughts out of her mind. After which, that evening, she collapsed. For days she struggled with tiredness and chills, sometimes sleeping as much as sixteen hours a day. She missed classes, and basically lived between the library, the mess hall and her room. In her dreams, she thought she heard the ticking of a clock. Still, throughout all this, she planned her heist. Her plan was simple. There was no way that she could cast the spell as it was. Even without her current condition, she didn’t have the strength. But what she had instead was a grudge. Ideally, she would have spent more time tracking Venepot Desterra. Figure out his habits, find the place best suited for the trick. But her condition meant that by the time she got the spell to a usable level, it was already the day of the class. On that day, still, perhaps, she might encounter him. In an open-space room – the mess hall, perhaps, or the library – a room with many people which were not really paying attention to each other. But any place where the wizard would temporarily let go of his staff, and ideally be focused on something else, would do. Clink. Nina used her own staff as a cane now. It got tiring to walk very far. Which, strangely enough, helped her magic. There was a thing called Hiker’s High, which she’d encountered in her years walking across Genesaris. A point where exhaustion sharpens one’s mind to a pinpoint, where nothing exists apart from one thing. In this case, it was her spell. The repetitive movement of one foot in front of the other, the clinking of the staff on the stone floors, melded together in a kind of self-hypnosis or walking meditation. She’d spent some time walking across Mageside, trying to get things right. Clink. Her magic was very faint. Even using liquid dust which Gray had given her for training, she could barely move a few particles at a time. To compare, liquid dust was so sensitive to magic that its surface rippled along leylines. So what she did instead was observe her classmates go about their homework, note down patterns she saw with colored pencils, and slowly unravel the weave of the Zalizo spell until there remained a single thread. That thread, at the core, was something she could use. Clink. She crossed the room, just one student among many, such that she would walk right past her teacher’s chair. As she did so, she focused on her simpler spell. It turns out that even a small sound can be concerning if you have the accuracy to place it right inside someone’s ear. There was no need to modulate much – the crackle and touch of a simple mote of magic would, from her experience, sound vaguely insect-like. All she needed was a little…twitch. Clank. Nina continued walking. Except now, if she hadn’t already been turned into a pile of dust, she would have Venepot’s staff in her hand, with her scarf between it and her palm just in case of protective spells. Her own staff, with a large pink bow on it and a calling card explaining the prank, would be left in its place. She’d offer to exchange them just before class. Clank. After all, no one could argue that she didn’t do her homework if her spell was good enough to fool the teacher, right? And if he turned her into a salamander, then she didn’t have to do her homework either way.
  5. “That’s a clever thing to ask.” Nina said, thoughtful yet unable to answer Jayla’s unspoken question: ‘Just what exactly is wrong with me?’ There was a hollow in the pit of her stomach as they walked. So many years of pain, hanging in the air behind them, and the nagging feeling that if she didn’t escape the Tower fast enough, she would be made to cause pain as well. Maybe even be made to enjoy it. She walked in the pleasant sunlight, while Jayla spoke of diseases that couldn’t be fought. “Some ailments are without cure, I know.” Nina answered softly. “But I wonder…I wonder if that’s partly because the knowledge required, or the knowledge that would lead to that knowledge, is so scattered.” She raised one hand to the sky. “Many of the city doctors are so jealously protective of their craft, while being dismissive of the village healers, and that keeps those pieces of knowledge apart. It’s really sad, isn’t it? Male doctors in particular tend to be dismissive of women’s pain and say, that’s just how it is, but I wonder…Before anyone knew how to set bones back together, wouldn’t it be ‘how it is’ and ‘the will of the gods’ for me to lose an arm if I just fell on it funny?” Her left hand twitched. She remembered Gray dislocating her pinkie when she’d tried to kill him, bringing her howling to her knees. She remembered the countless anatomy books in the library of the Tower. That man wasn’t a bookworm, he was a straight-up book-dragon with a hoard. He’d put her finger back so swiftly that the injury left no trace. She listened to tales of the village, and felt suffocated just thinking of it. This was what she’d always tried to escape, wasn’t it? That peaceful life. The sort of place to visit, work in, enough for a few meals and a change of clothes, then move on. “Gr-“ Nina swallowed her words. “Someone I know told me that in these islands, tradition may weigh more heavily than the law.” It was still something that tripped her up often. Even the Duke, while working on his reforms, would bow to tradition to the point of never wearing a color combination that was inappropriate for the season. The subtleties eluded her – whether Jayla’s expected spinsterhood was a punishment for her illness, or a reward for the work she did – but nevertheless, she did her best to listen. No matter how powerless Nina felt, knowledge remained her weapon. Then Jalya asked her about home. Her home. Nina tripped and paused, for a moment, trying to remember what she’d already told Gray. When he interrogated her. She wasn’t letting any new words risk going back to the dark cloak. “It was…Wild.” She eventually spoke. “In the summer, the sun would not set for days, and the vegetables would grow as tall as me. In the winter, it was so cold, and so dark, and all you could hear was the howling wind. It was like living inside your head for months at a time.” There was something in her voice that seemed to come straight from the soul, and a spring in her step. “I…I guess I wasn’t fitting in from the start. Always longing for the horizon. I…I started delivering post at first. It was a long way to go between villages. Sometimes I wrote people letters myself, and read them to them, because it made them happy.” In the distance, she caught sound of hooves. From reflex, the girl moved to the side of the road. As the sounds approached, they slowed down, and she looked up. Perhaps it was her past as a travelling painter which put her on guard whenever he didn’t have a clear escape route from people with swords. The clanking of hooves slowed down even more to a walk. She smiled, and nodded in greeting. That blazon…hadn’t she seen it around the castle before? She closed her eyes. She remembered places better than people, but colors and patterns were a close second. Natamyra. That was the name, wasn’t it? That crest. Stylized white lizard on a black background, biting its tail. One of the Duke’s advisors. Not one especially highly valued, she guessed, but then, it was impossible to tell for sure with the cloying politeness that ruled over most of the court.
  6. Nina

    Genesaris AMA.

    Interesting, that sounds like something I'd love to explore in writing!
  7. Nina

    Genesaris AMA.

    Is it known (or rumored) what happens to bastard children and children with disabilities after they are taken away? Is it blood sacrifices or human experimentation? It is stated in Code 1.3 of Article IV of the Imperial Edict that bastards, those without families able to support them and children born with handicaps are to be turned over to the State. The phrasing doesn't specify it one way or another, but it sounds as if it's expected to happen as soon as possible after birth or the discovery of the condition rather than at a specified time in the future (although I assume children of poor families may be older when the family loses the capacity to take care of them; also, many disabilities are not immediatly obvious upon birth). If it was older children, I'd have assumed soldier indoctrination and training for the most physically and mentally able, as happened with the Janissaries. But there's no age specification, so it sounds like newborns might be taken too. Considering the huge pain of taking care of babies (wet nurses etc), combined with the risk of ill-will from the population (yes, I realize Spartans throwing weak babies off cliffs was a thing, but they had a relatively small and culturally homogenous society, compared to a large and culturally diverse Empire, so I can only assume ill-will is also a thing that exists), this leads me to believe that they have to be valuable, and potentially in a way that doesn't involve taking care of them for very long. So, off the top of my head I thought human sacrifices and/or human experimentation, but I'm not at all familiar with the lore, so I don't know if I'm thinking of this the right way. So...like I said, I wonder - is it known or suspected what happens to children after they are taken?
  8. There was something unsettling about the way Lhoth seemed to take in stride whatever came his way. From a crying girl, to being engulfed in bark and then suddenly deciding to travel halfway across the world, it seemed to be all in a day’s work to him. Was it an elf thing, or had he merged with the forest to the point where his free will was as much as an illusion as a puppet’s gestures? Nina couldn’t tell, especially not when she had been hit with enough secrets for several lifetimes herself. She pressed her left arm against her abdomen. The strings, the named sword, Yaga’s monstrous travelling hut…She guessed that the hut was, or contained, the Clocktower artifacts she’d felt in the forest. Still, one look at how that pile of metal and plants looked, or had looked in the past, had been enough to cure the girl of the wish to get any closer. It looked like it could bite her in two with its window blinds. Besides, if Yaga had been so vehement in protecting this place from the Clocktower, it might be wise to stay away until she figured out what the thing inside her actually did. Yet even though she had questions she couldn’t answer, perhaps she could answer some of Lhoth’s. “Crystallo Stella? All the way in the Rising West, I think. I recommend packing well.” Nina carefully spoke. She sat down, holding her head. “I owe you immensely, but I don’t think I can join you just yet, Lhoth. Not past the first or second split of a main road.” Her lips felt dry as she spoke. “I’m expected all the way in the other direction, in Mageside.” Back to being played on strings, back to a game that she didn’t understand. A game that she started to doubt that anyone alive fully understood. “Would love to meet again someday.” She smiled. It was strange to hear being referred as a friend by someone she barely knew. But then again…can there be another term once you’ve shared your soul with someone? “Would love to meet again.”
  9. Wait, what? After less than five minutes, the class was already over. Staring at her sparse notes, Nina wondered whether Mr. Desterra was one of those people who were incredibly talented mages but incompetent educators. She forced a smile to hide her frustration. To think he’d unleashed what was essentially a prank war among the less mature of his students. Not for the first time, she felt a hollow in her stomach. Perhaps she didn’t fit here, in the Advanced class. In Mageside. She didn’t have the aura strength. She didn’t have the training. She wouldn’t be getting the training unless she essentially taught herself, it looked like. Yet so many Mageside teachers would only teach the talented, ignoring those who didn’t succeed from the first try. In that moment, Nina decided to ignore the fact that she couldn’t muster enough aura to burn her eyebrows on purpose, never mind on accident. For her assignment, she would make Venepot Desterra her target. “Excuse me.” As students began to trickle out of the room, she stopped near the desk from where she’d heard the apology. If she were to understand this spell, she needed more data. At first she thought the student who’d managed it had left, and looked desolately around, but eventually noticed the little man atop the desk, and only fell backwards down the stairs of the amphitheater in surprise a little bit, barely not breaking her neck. Cautiously stepping back forward, she brought her eyes at about the same level as the head of the palm-sized being. Part of her had wondered whether he was a homunculus, a construct of some sort, but it would have been rude to assume. “I’m Nina. Was it you who…” She gestured. “Could you please do that again? I find it more helpful to have more examples.” “I wouldn’t want to assume, but, uhm,” she awkwardly smiled, “if you’d find transportation helpful, I’d be happy to carry you to wherever next on campus you’d like to go.” She imagined it might get dangerous to exist at the same level as everyone’s ankles. “Myself, I’ll be heading to the mineral museum in the west wing afterwards.” Hopefully to catch some sleep in the fancy armchair if the cat didn’t get to it first. All this sensing was draining her. “There’s an alchemy primer on ores later on.” As Nina left the room, regardless of what her new acquaintance decided, she’d add: “A couple of other students and I will be having a study circle later this week. It might be too basic for you, but feel free to join us if you’d like.” The tiny powerful wizard wasn’t the only student invited to the study circle. Anyone who might like to join would find a few already gathered in one of the smaller meeting rooms, sitting around a large mahogany table piled with books, papers and pastries, and be invited to have a snack. A girl in a long ruffled dress offered healing cream to any who may need it. Most of the people there had singed eyebrows. “There’s two main types of illusion spells,” Nina said, among the faint crackles of eating a croissant, sketching a diagram on the paper in front of her. “There’s illusions that create effects in the real world, such as puffs of wind, noises, weaves of light and shadow. For simplicity, I will refer to those as ‘prestidigitation’. And there are also the so-called ‘true’ illusions, those which affect the mind directly. Both of these have their pros and cons.” With colored pencils, she listed them. “Typically, mental illusions are seen as less constrained by reality, and easier to scale up to multiple senses. They require less energy on average, but much more focus. A strong point is that at higher levels, they can affect emotions directly, essentially turning a target’s mind against them. However, they’re often difficult to scale up to multiple people, and may be challenging to deploy against people with some level of mental training.” “Now, prestidigitation feats on the other hand…Their strength is in their simplicity. They’re less subtle in their effects, and sometimes that’s precisely what’s needed. They aren’t affected by personal shielding spells because their effect, insomuch in that it affects the senses, is real. The complex ones require more energy than a ‘true’ illusion of equal scale, but usually less than a genuine effect. Think of it as…A painting, potentially highly realistic but paper-thin, versus a folded paper object, three-dimensional but largely hollow, versus the genuine object.” Nina exemplified this by showing two artistic interpretations of an apple, alongside the real object. “Hm….” A girl who was carefully drawing on purple eyebrows on herself looked up from her mirror. “What if you combine these? Paint over the surface.” “Brilliant.” Nina grinned, and snapped her fingers. “Now. I suspect that’s Zalizo. The reason I suspect it’s such a difficult spell, is because it combines elements of the two. I think it employs an outside sound, and uses mental effects to embellish it.” Nina folded her fingers. “If it works right, the outside sound startles the unconscious part of the brain enough for the mental embellishment to sneak through, and that in itself is simple enough that the mind has difficulty seeing it as an illusion when it’s reinforced by reality.” She clenched one of her hands, fingers still folded. “If it goes wrong, well…The directing of energies in two directions can get a bit unpredictable.” “Individual mages may lean more towards one end than another, but the potential is there; I suspect it’s built-in. Kiran, you’re an ice mage – my guess is that you’re creating your distraction noise by largely freezing air, which causes air to move very fast. Yes, I know it sounds silly, but I’ve read it in a meterorogy…meteorogy…weather scholarship book.” Nina flailed her arms, spreading croissant fragments all around. “Cyra, you’re a shaman. Your aura is uniquely fit to interact with others, so when you cast this spell, the main glimmer of power is a reflection on others’ auras. I think this is also why you two can’t agree on the correct pronunciation-“ “It’s Zá-lizo!” “Zali-zó!” Death glares were thrown. Nina raised her arms defensively. “Both. Instinctively, I suspect, you’ve slipped into slightly different variants of the same spell that are less likely to blow up in your face.” “Well, aren’t those variants just better?” The ice mage asked. “I wonder. It’s certainly useful to know your strengths, but the complexity is good to keep in mind. Quite elegant, really.” “Have you even tried it?” He snorted. “You have two too many eyebrows for someone who talks so much.” “Not yet.” Nina grinned. “But I have a plan…”
  10. “I am grateful.” Summer was cooled by the fresh breeze of spring, which grew harsher and colder until Nina cowered under the blows of the wind, watching the ice seep from the ground around her heels, grow into snow and then float up into the sky. In the background, seed pods clinked closed. Seasons turned, in reverse, faster and faster, until their succession became just the blur of a bird’s wing. There was something melodic in it – the beauty of a life lived – but even so, even with Lhoth’s mind providing the transition between her and what would have been an alien mind, it was too much. How could one find one significant event in the haystack of hundreds of years? She wrapped her fingers around the letters itching under her skin. If this was part of the Clocktower, then, perhaps she could use its aura pattern to look for- “You know, don’t you?” The voice behind her nearly made her jump out of her skin. She moved out of the way barely fast enough to dodge the heavy sword coming down, in the place where she’d previously felt the scar in the root. The speaker knelt, his face hidden by the hilt of the sword. It was clear that they were using it as some sort of conduit to interact with the tree. He was a young, sickly-looking kid with silvery hair and a voice hollow of expression, that Nina knew well. “The Tower is like this forest. It builds its power from complexity. Artifact over artifact, hundreds of them, crafted over hundreds of years. Some components are the gears and springs within its clock mechanism; but many have been scattered all over Genesaris and, rumor has it even beyond…Some of them are here. Tell me, Elder. Why?” Nina cried, feeling the pain of the tree at the sword digging deeper. Deeper, into the past, just like them. Shadowy figures with pointy ears darted in front of them. “They say that the Black Forest is expanding again out the Valley, up North.” One of them said in hushed tones. “The human tribesmen have told of some of their own dragged into the forest by moving trees. They ran as fast as they could here, seeking help from our elders, but when Hellebore got there, the victims had already turned to wood.” “Those poor trees. Twisted in that manner.” The other speaker clenched her fists. “It would’ve never happened if Yaga had been turned away. If that witch hadn’t been allowed to pervert our teachings.” “Shh…This tree was-“ The first speaker’s voice was lost, as they flickered out of sight. Time swirled. Nina’s mind held on to the strings inside her, as if they were a compass. While Lhoth drove them deeper into the tree’s mind, she was just about able to navigate the blur of rolling time to pockets of connected memories. They heard rumors of a giant lumbering monster, with joints of gears and a breath of steam, rampaging through the forest. Years apart, she smelled smoke. In the distance, a tall man, with the same long sword and dark grey cloak as the boy before, stepped out of a fire. His voice had a velvety feel. His appearance had the translucent nature of something remembered from other’s memories. “Yaga might’ve told you what this is about. The Clocktower feeds on death and pain. You get me what is rightfully mine, or this place will be razed to the ground.” Nina cried, realizing that she’d seen that fire engulf the forest just before. Yet she held on to the string. Years turned like the flickering of the seconds hand on a clock. In the sky, there was a star she’d never seen before, which merged into the glowing arcs of the spinning canopy. Rumors flickered around them, as shadowy figures darted around, but never anything solid. Every now and then, there would be a glimmer of a particular sword in the distance, or the shadowy movement of a grey cloak. Fearsome sounds of machinery approached the tree a few times, but Nina saw no more than a giant blur. The tree started to grow not only noticeably thinner, but also shorter. Lhoth’s glowing eyes felt intimidating to behold as he carried their minds ever deeper into the past. Was there nothing to come of this? There was nothing here to find, nothing, nothing at all. Until the fearsome sounds approached once more, sounding like a breath or the huffs and puffs of pistons and boilers, and this time Nina saw it, in the shape of a giant, gap-toothed mouth of metal and plant which broke out from the undergrowth, with legs of metal that clanked as it moved. Nina was just about to grab Lhoth’s arm and drag him away from the monster, unsure of how safe being stomped to death by a memory would be, when the beast stopped, lowered its head on its metal paws, its mouth opened like a door and a raisin-faced old woman picked up her skirts and hiked up to the now much younger tree. Nina followed. “I am sorry, friend. I know this weighs heavily on you, but someone has to remember.” She said much more, but Nina couldn’t catch it all in the whirlwind of time. Her face and figure changed shape as she spoke, a mature woman with braids curled around her head, a young woman with thick braids running down her shoulders. This wasn’t a single moment in time, but a friendship that had gone over years. Even though she carried no sharp-pointed hat, there was something about her that felt both witchy and familiar. “If I fail, someone has to protect what I left behind. Someone has to know why those of the Clocktower have to die, if they can’t be distracted away.” “The records said Yaga stole from the Clocktower.” In the far distance, the ghost of the forest-burner spoke. “The records lie.” Behind Nina, the boy with the large sword said. “The Tower is built on fear. Out of fear, the past is changed, to the point that we wouldn’t know the truth if it jumped out of a sewer grate and bit us in the ass.” That atonal sarcasm was something that Nina had grown very familiar with. “Even Yaga’s story might not be the full truth.” “Listen.” The old-young woman said, raising her palm. And Nina understood that even though these people had lived decades or hundreds of years apart, they were connected, like her, and connected memories, especially those most significant, often come with commentary. This was where it all started. “I was once a prisoner of the Tower. I was once its Master. I had attracted the ire of a Warlord back home, on an island so forsaken it didn’t even have a name. I think I ran in front of his horse, and spooked it. I was tortured. Forgotten. I was only a child.” “One day, I was taken out and led to a different room than usual. There was food, and I ate. There was an old lady, who looked much unlike the masked torturers. She looked as frail as a paper figurine.” “She presented herself as the Mother of Shadows. She ruled with an iron fist and poison-spiked velvet gloves over the Tower and its network of assassins, torturers, seductresses, spies, many of whom were her grandchildren and great-descendants. She had lived long past a normal human life, she said, sustained by the magic of the Tower. But now even that magic was beginning to crack. She said she would grant my freedom if I did her a favor. I wasn’t in a position to bargain,” the woman, which now Nina understood was Yaga, said with a grin, a wry grin that remained the same across decades. “But what she said next surprised me. Kill me, she asked.” “You said that I have to kill you to stop you.” Nina whispered, suddenly turning to the silver-haired boy. The memory didn’t answer. “You see…” Yaga continued. “The Master of the Clocktower, also known as the Master of Shadows (or Mother, as it was the case for her), is more than a title. It is a bond. It connects someone to the machinery of the Clocktower, giving them insight into its workings. Giving them access to incredible power. With incredible risks. That’s why it’s passed on the way it is.” “But that’s a lie, isn’t it?” The boy who was a younger Gray said. “It is passed down from master to apprentice, more precisely to the apprentice skilled and daring enough to kill their master,” Yaga continued. “The Mother of Shadows said, <<I might be one of the few to die in my bed, due to a healthy mixture of love and fear I’ve instilled in my Shadows. That would leave it up to the Clockwork to decide. And regardless of what you think of me, I love my children enough that I don’t want them killing each other for power before my body even cools.>>” It hurt Nina to maintain her focus, when the conduit enabling her focus was inside her. It felt like she was pulling on her own nerves. Then she saw Lhoth engulfed by vines, and realized there was no time. She finally heard his voice. Her focus broke, and she ran through a disconnected jumble of memories to reach the elf. “Stop! Lhoth! Go back!” She shouted. “The Tower isn’t what everyone thinks it is,” Yaga said. “If I have to destroy it gear by gear in order to be free, I will.” Gray spoke. “Why? Why did you go back there?” Nina asked, fighting tears, as she ran. “<<Perhaps if you carried the title away, lost it, far away from here,>> she said-“ The story went on. But Nina had reached the Mystic, and grasped the stems encroaching on his chest. “It’s enough,” she said. She tried to get the vines off him, at first with as much force as she could without breaking them, and then, if that didn’t work, by ripping them off. “Don’t be stupid!” She grumbled. “Keeper-of-Words, tell him not to take absurd risks for people he’s known for a whole of fifteen minutes!” Could the older tree even hear her, still?
  11. Accepting head pats.

    1. Velindrel


      *bro fists* instead cause thats cooler hahah.  hope your nights going great!

    2. amenities
    3. Mystic_Lhoth


      -Pats lovingly.-

  12. Why do I come circling back? Slowly did the memories clear Of ancient wars, of friends and foes, but never of my purpose here. Still I sharpened my three-fold skills for use in some unknown game, Only knowing that, age upon age, my enemy was still the same.
  13. She placed her hand over Lhoth’s hand, and reached out with her mind. It felt like pushing her brain through a dark, narrow gap while someone was propping the door open. When she looked again at the tree, it seemed to have grown to encompass the whole world. The flowers burned brilliant white, the spines looked sharper, the dark ivy around them looked strong enough to poison by sight, and the scent merged with the glimmer of the slowly rolling mist to create a space where Nina couldn’t tell up from down. When the tree spoke, she felt it like a rustle of leaves behind her ears, like a pulse of sap in her chest. And she felt something more, cold metallic strings binding her from the inside and disappearing far behind her and, in the distance, the ticking of a clock. “Greetings, kind Mystic and -ah.” The elder tree sighed. “Master of the Clocktower. We meet again.” Overwhelmed, Nina barely found the will to speak. “You’re mistaking me.” “Seasons come, seasons go. One who bears the mark of the Tower turns up sooner, or later. Do you not bear the mark?” In that rustling voice, she felt the weight of rolling time. The girl looked down at herself, to see strings glimmering all throughout her body, as fine as spider-silk. The glimmer got stronger around where her heart would be. Ever so faintly, she heard the tick…tock. “I was not told about this.” Her eyes went uncomfortably wide, as she tried to cope. The days where she’d been bed-bound. The hot tea and the fresh sponge cake left on the nightstand. She’d thought Gray had cared for her out of some sort of responsibility for her having saved his life…but instead he was keeping an eye on some sort of sick experiment of his? “I did not agree to this.” Her pitch rose. Down on the inside of her left arm, she saw the strings curl into letters and she read: <<Good luck. You sure as hell will need it.>> Nina shuddered, and decided she couldn’t deal with all of this right then. “Tell me, elder, what is your name? And can you tell me about Yaga?” She asked. “Names…You tiny people are all about names, and not enough about bonds.” The tree huffed. “To tell my true name would require time, much time, and trust that we don’t yet share. For the purposes of our conversation, you can call me Keeper-of-Words. “And…hmmm…Yaga, yes. Once again, that question is asked. But why do you seek the answer?” Her eyes momentarily flicked to Lhoth. Did all trees talk like this? “I want to escape.” Nina said. She looked down at the letters as if she could rip them out with her eyes. “Once again, that answer. But the fact that it is still asked means that none of the previous ones fully succeeded.” “I-I don’t understand.” The girl felt ice slowly dripping down her spine. “The Tower is just some place on an island that no one knows of. An assassin lives there, yes, and he has some magic items, but this is Genesaris. It would be more surprising to have a country without some sort of magic shenanigans.” Panic gradually grew in her voice. This was growing into something much larger than she’d expected. “Why do you know so much?” “Once, I promised a witch to kill all those of you of the Tower who might come for her.” The tree spoke, matter-of-factly. The ivy glimmered darkly. “Luckily for her, and for you, I’ve since grown to, hmm, act on a more case-by-case basis.” “The memories you wish for are buried deep.” The tree said. “Reach down, little human. Do you feel it?” Nina’s fingers brushed along a long gash left across the roots of the great tree, and nodded. “It’s a mark left by a sword. Do you know its name?” “Everything Ends Here,” Nina whispered. The sword that Gray carried. It had to be. “Correct. I’ve tried to heal, and I’ve buried memories I thought were no longer needed.” The tree sighed. “It would take years for me along to bring them back to the surface. I’d thought it was over…” Was it just her, or did the tree sound…tired? “If you still wish for them, go ahead. Step deeper into my mind, if you dare.” As the tree spoke, Nina grew aware in a shift of the branches. “But remember. Not all wisdom brings joy.” Now the branches looked like platforms, spiraling around the trunk, or spiraling around other main branches, each following one slightly further away than the one before. Some of the ones at the edges swayed in a distant breeze, enough for Nina to feel unsteady on her feet. She had to jump all the way up? Her gaze flicked to the Mystic. “I hope you like watercolors,” she grinned. “You’ll be inheriting my stash if I die.”
  14. Nina


    Greetings, and welcome! (As someone who loves stories and books, and briefly visited Dublin, I have to say I am in love with the Book of Kells exhibition ^_^ That place is bookworm crack...)
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