Adventure School, Episode One:
The Supposed Secret Diary of that one Legendary Magus
This story contains graphic sexuality and will eventually come to include scenes of (non-sexual) violence as well. If such things offend you, feel free to direct your browser elsewhere. If you have questions about distribution of this text outside of Nifty, please contact me: troublemonkee at gmail dot com.
'We had to bring Alistair. It was his discovery. There was no choice.'
'I don't think so. We could have just left without him. You're so incredibly softheaded sometimes!'
'And you're a spoiled child. Is it impossible for you to be nice?'
'Nice? Please. What if I was 'nice'? You find 'nice' as boring and patronizing as I do.'
'Sometimes I don't, Zophir. Sometimes nice is a decent change of pace.'
Skip abruptly smothered the connection. He did it to make a point, but the effect was something like a bowstring snapping back; a metallic taste filled his mouth and the onset of nausea was instant. Zophir shot him a spiky look, though he must have felt the same the magus was skilled at hiding the effects caused by the practice of magic.
Their mental link had been established years ago, when a younger, less confident Zophir worried about failing an examination on the spells necessary to dominate another person's thoughts. Skip allowed Zophir to practice on him by creating a direct bridge between their thoughts. It remained ever since. Skip wasn't a particularly private person and it was useful for communicating across moderate distances. It occupied roughly the same amount of space in Skip's thoughts as a cherished memory, he noticed it sitting there every few days or once Zophir jumped on the line to begin complaining or sending him lewd suggestions. Still it was important for Skip to kick his friend out of his head and reestablish boundaries every so often.
Skip ignored Zophir's sulking and turned his attention to the landscape. The three of them had been travelling since sundown the day before and it was already near dawn. As the only one of the three who had decent field experience, Skip lead the cohort and set a brutal pace in order to put as much room between the three of them and the Signatori as possible. They had - after all - left on less than...authorized terms. He doubted the Signatori would send anyone after them, but even the vaguest possibility was reason enough for caution. He started obscuring their trail by going west instead of north. After a half-day's travel they had just crossed the desert's western most edge into 'dry country': a long stretch of dried, cracked earth that was once the site of some horrific war or another. The landscape was barely changed from the desert, it was said that the ground had been salted and that once it was lush and green. But the dry country was slowly becoming part of the desert, year by year the sand stretched further and the scorched ground was covered over.
"What a waste." Alistair said under his breath as he looked out on the vastness of dry country.
Skip nodded in agreement and Zophir made a hand sign signifying deference to the dead. Having acknowledged the place Skip led the group toward a depression in the ground. Neither Alistair nor Zophir had noticed it from a distance. As they came closer, the depression took shape and revealed the shallow mouth of a small cave. Skip started down toward it and Alistair shared a quizzical look with Zophir before they followed him down.
Skip explained as he made his way down. "We're going to stay here and wait until afternoon. With the sun high in the sky we'll lose time to exhaustion and expend more water than necessary. It's best we navigate by moonlight at night when it's cooler. It'll also make us harder to spot."
The inside of the "cave" was no more than fifteen feet deep and five or six feet wide. The three of them snuggled inside it and curled up their legs in order to fit comfortably. Skip shrugged off his pack and began rationing out his morning meal, Alistair started doing the same, but Zophir was already asleep. They had only just sat down for a few moments and already the magus was snoring gently. Alistair stifled a laugh and Skip shook his head.
The two ate a modest meal of bread, hard cheese and lemon flavored water in silence. Skip offered to take the first watch (to make sure that they weren't in some dangerous animal's home) and the graciousness of Alistair's saccharine smile threatened to make his color rise. Skip pulled a hunting knife from his boot and began to whittle away at a tiny bird carving he'd been working on.
"That's impressive. Where did you learn to make things like that?" Alistair asked.
Skip didn't look up to answer. "I had an uncle who was good at it. He taught me a few things, but I was never a very good pupil. Good eye for the shapes, but no follow through."
"In order to make something really beautiful you have to be willing to make bold cuts. Like here," Skip stretched out the shape and Alistair looked where he pointed. On close inspection it was clear that the wood had been shaved down on the birds wing. It looked dull and un-lifelike. "A better craftsman would have cut here, defined the wing instead of screwing around and making it look cheap. I guess I'm afraid of fucking it up in the end."
"But you're not always like that. You're an excellent archer."
"It's different when there's blood at stake. It's a little easier to be impartial. It's all reaction at that point."
"What are you afraid is going to happen?" Alistair asked. "If you mess it up, you can just start over. Right?"
"I suppose." Skip said thoughtfully as he nicked the wooden bird again and again. "Anyway. Go get some sleep. We've got a long day tomorrow."
The Library Mechanica was not as big as Cliff expected. After just a few days of travel he disembarked the steam engine and now the Library lay in front of him. It encompassed a squat, but laterally sprawling main building and two awkwardly jutting wings. It was inelegant, but well guarded. Cliff passed through three security checkpoints before being admitted into the building, filled out a letter of intent and had his signature verified by a machine that sent written information back to the First Machine City. It was a dizzying process and at the end he was dumped into a long hallway in front of a door that (supposedly) led to the inner sanctum of the Library.
Cliff adjusted his impeccably tied ascot and put an errant hair back in its rigorously ordained place. He shifted his little circle glasses and gave a calm, authoritative knock that he felt belied his commanding, efficient work ethic.The behemoth double door opened noiselessly and already he was impressed. He stepped inside to a menagerie of books: Iron spiral staircases lined with leather-bound tomes, elevated walkways dozens of feet in the air leading across the wide room to stacks of books lining both east and west walls, glass pedestals with ancient, decaying parchments and scrolls sealed tight against the world. Sunlight streamed down from conspicuously placed skylights above lighting a golden path toward the single desk in the room. Cliff thought the whole effect was a bit much. A certain level of pride in your work was not undue, but surely this was egregious.
He approached the desk and the man sitting behind it looked his way. Briefly. Then he went back to his book.
The Reference Administrator of the Library Mechanica was a solid man on the back-end of his middle years with patches of white casually blended into his cropped black hair. He wore a vintage Machina uniform, one of the first, a sort of jumpsuit with a steam engine crest emblazoned across the breast. Cliff was caught between respect for the long years of service given to the organization by the man before him and revulsion at the inherent vanity of holding on to a uniform that was out of fashion. It was counter-progress.
The administrator addressed him without looking up.
"Vice-Controller Winchester Clifton Zeigger, Adjunct-Liaison of the First Machine City. Welcome to our dusty outpost. The Library Mechanica. Home to all the knowledge you can stand."
Cliff gave a salute that was not returned. The Administrator was his superior and as such deserved his respect, but the older man was testing the limits of his patience with his garish nonchalance.
"Sir. It's a pleasure to be consigned to this historic location."
The administrator looked up at that. His eyes were a hard blue. Like ice about to crack.
"Historic? Well, surely." He folded the corner of his book, put it on the table and stood. His uniform was suddenly imposing as he stretched out to his full height. His thick build, rigid stance and well-worn jumpsuit gave the effect of a man used to warfare. Cliff flinched.
"You're standing in the site of what would have been the Second Machine City before they found a better place for it. We fought for this ground. Men died securing this place from the Signatories, from the Ran'Aka, from the zealots, from bandits. Only to have the holy machine oracle, our mystical ISA, deem the site 'faulty'." He spat the last sentence.
The administrator rose his arms and gestured at the books surrounding them. "You're looking at all the knowledge that we hoard and ignore. Progress without wisdom."
What the fuck am I doing here? Cliff wondered, not for the first time, as he followed the administrator's gaze around the room. Questioning the usage of the Intentional Spectrum Analyzer was bad enough, but to question progress was to question the foundational philosophy of Machina: Ever-forward.
When Cliff looked back, the Administrator's eyes were on him again.
"So that brings us to you, Vice-Controller. You're the first delegate from the First Machine City to arrive on my doorstep in over twenty years. It begs the question. What are you doing in my house?"
"I was given orders to come here and work at the discretion of my direct superior. I am yours to command, Sir."
"Truly?" The administrator licked his lips. "Then I have your first mission."
"Get out of my face. Stay out of my way."
"Excuse me --" Cliff said, gawking slightly.
"You'll learn that I don't repeat myself, boy. You're dismissed."
Twelve? No. Fifteen. A bad number. Skip reached up and counted the arrows in his quiver. Eighteen and one with a twisted shaft, it wouldn't shoot true over too much distance. Fifteen Machina soldiers were pacing the perimeter of the Library Mechanica. He had a good tactical position on the bluff above the Library, but he could take out maybe six soldiers before they raised the alarm and more came running.
Force isn't an option. He sent to Zophir.
There was silence for a moment and then the air crackled with the magus's answer.
I know. They have machines that can detect enchantments. Possibly even their own magus on-site. If I use any tricks they'll come running.
"So what's the situation?" Alistair asked anxiously. Skip occasionally forgot that no one else could hear the conversations conducted in his head.
The two of them were lying on their bellies looking out over the bluff onto the library. Zophir had gone another way, trying to find an area not covered by the Machina detectors. Either way it seemed that if they forced their way inside it would turn out badly for them. An archer, a magus and a civilian would be little more than target practice. Skip explained this to Alistair who blushed furiously.
"I'm hardly a civilian." He muttered, clearly wounded by the accusation. Skip ignored him.
So...we just walk in and ask to read their books? Skip asked Zophir.
Something like that. He sent back. I'll head down.
Wait? You'll do WHAT?!
Before Skip could raise any objections, Zophir, his ridiculous, beautiful, ridiculous best friend was walking up to the front gate of a hostile stronghold with his arms curled behind his head.
"That's..." Alistair pointed.
"I know. Let's go."
"Go where?" Alistair turned pale. "Down there?"
"So you mean to tell me that you came all this way to read one of our books?"
The grunt addressed them. A Machina soldier wearing the matte brown jacket, gloves, pants and goggles of his station. His jacket was festooned with decorative brass nuts, bolts and screws - presumably a part of Machina's indistinguishable commendation system. None of it makes him any harder to kill, Skip thought, but still he managed not to reach for his bow.
Zophir was cooler. "That's exactly what we did. The Signatori told us not to come, but we came anyway. We have an offer to make."
Skip looked over at the magus. He was standing up straight, his hair was maroon, and his black cotton shirt was open to the center of his chest. He grinned. He hadn't said anything about making an offer to Machina.
The magus didn't answer. He just gave the grunt his level look. Continued grinning.
"Well, you'll make your plea to the Administrator. He'll decide what to do with you lot." The grunt said.
The grunt turned toward the new voice, so did Skip, Alistair and Zophir.
Cliff's brain was near on fire. The black pill was taking it's sweet time working its way through his system. As he approached the trio in the courtyard only his tight scowl and rigid sense of physical discipline kept him from crying out.
"Well, you'll make your plea to the Administrator. He'll decide what to do with you lot." He overheard the grunt saying.
One of the three young interlopers was making his mind burn. He had first noticed it an hour before their arrival, shortly after his rude dismissal. He was sitting in the barracks and a violent migraine came upon him. Despite dosing himself at three times the normal prescription the pain only grew worse.
Eventually he was doubled over in bed with his hands on his head and the pain began to subside, to change form. It became directional. It tugged and urged and prodded. It punished when he sat still and alleviated when he moved toward...toward what? He didn't know. But now standing in front of the three adventurers, it was clear that his mind was pointing toward one or all of them.
"Actually," he started. "I'll take it from here."
The grunt gave him a look that was obscured by his dark goggles, but his mouth twisting gave the question: who do you think you are?
"You may report their presence to the Administrator. I'll take over the questioning of these gentlemen." Cliff said pointedly.
The grunt took the hint and saluted before sneaking another look at the trio and then heading off.
Cliff gave them all a good look.
One of them was a bowman. His body was taut, prepared, his dark hair cropped efficiently. His silver-oak bow looked well used. Cliff took note of his right hand floating near his shoulder, ready to nock an arrow at a moment's notice.
Another of them was purple haired, relaxed in his casual, clean garments where the other two were dusty from travel. A magus, most likely. A good one if his cocky grin was any indication. Cliff wished he had brought a dampener with him. They could be good for momentarily disabling their troublesome breed.
The last was not a problem. A nervous redhead playing at bravery. His shoulders were square, but he seemed uncertain of what else to do with himself. Useless in a sudden conflict, Cliff guessed. He addressed the bowman, the magus made him skittish.
"You've chosen a dangerous place to trespass, friend."
The bowman shrugged minutely. "It's a dangerous time."
Not much of a talker. Cliff could have guessed that. He switched directions.
"The Administrator is likely to treat you harshly. I could offer myself as mediator."
"Why?" asked the bowman.
Why indeed? Cliff asked himself.
"He's no friend of mine and I find myself curious as to your purpose here."
The magus started. "We want to read a book. A book by Baal Shiron. A magus of some renown. If I can decode it, I might unearth knowledge lost for over a hundred years. And knowledge is the seed of progress, is it not?"
"Some knowledge. Not all." Cliff corrected. It was presumptuous of the magus to quote the Machina charter. If he had brought his weapon he might have drawn it. "But I don't expect a mystic to understand our higher purpose."
The insult sizzled the air between them. The bowman stepped in.
"Can it be done? Are there rules by which we might read it?"
They were interrupted by the shuffling of a grunt's boots across the courtyard. He stopped and saluted to Cliff. He thought it might be a different man than the one he had sent to the administrator, but he wasn't sure.
"The Administrator requests all of your presences in his office." He looked over at Cliff. "Immediately."
It was the same grunt. Cliff committed the curve of his lips to memory. He did not enjoy being spoken to like an idiot.
The Administrator of the Library Mechanica looked like he hadn't been laid in a very long time. At any moment he looked primed to stand and order someone shot; of course, he didn't. He just sat down in his chair behind his desk and stared at the four men in front of him. It went on like this for at least twenty minutes. Skip was beginning to regret not forcing his way into the building, at least he would not have had to wait around.
"You're here for the journal. Baal Shiron's journal. Are you not?" He asked at last.
"Yes. We are." Zophir offered before Skip could think of a more tactical response. Skip wanted to strike him.
His eyes were hard. "I don't have it."
"You're lying." Skip accused before he could think better of it. Alistair visibly recoiled.
The Administrator looked over and assessed him. Then abruptly shifted his gaze to Zophir.
"You have my dispensation to search for the book, but you will not find it here. The book was removed twenty years ago. Keeping it was a liability. It drew undue attention."
"I don't recall --" The young Machina officer began.
The administrator silenced him with a hand.
"You waste your time and mine. The book is housed on an island a few dozen miles from here in a sealed Machina vault. If you want it, go get it."
"How do we enter a sealed Machina vault?" Zophir asked.
The administrator looked at the the officer.
"He will take you in one of our water-runners. The codes of entry are standard Machina first class."
"Why are you doing this?' Skip asked, eyes narrowed. It was too easy.
"Maybe because I'm too old and cranky to give a shit. Maybe because since this 'Library' opened we've done nothing with these books except stockpile them in the name of progress. Maybe because whatever you're looking for has already caused me too much of a headache and sending a completely expendable team to go look at it couldn't hurt. Or maybe, and this is the most likely case, my motivations are my own damn business. Now do you want to read this fucking book or not?"
Selim saw the three of them leave: the redhead, the archer, and the magus. What he hadn't expected was the Machina officer leading them out of the Library and toward one of Machina's amphibious land/water machines. Cooperation between Machina and the Signatories? Unheard of. He continued to see as they loaded their meager belongings onto the machine and he struggled to decipher their direction. Determining intention required more than just seeing so he pushed a little further, tried to open his mind to all possibilities. A glimpse teased him, but he could feel it immediately slipping through his fingers. A physical awareness started clawing at him and before long it dragged his incorporeal self crashing down into his body.
He grunted his way free of the trance and his long lashes fluttered open. Selim looked down and grinned sleepily. His companion's tongue worked eagerly at his member, licking gently at the ridge of its swollen head as a hand worked its thick fingers around the base. Cadict, with his dark skin and white hair, twisted and jerked Selim's cock expertly and quickly swallowed a pearl of precum that oozed up out of his hardness. When he noticed that Selim was awake, he grinned and made eye contact as he guided the rigid dick into his mouth. Selim groaned softly as the orgasm bubbled out of him, it was a pleasant warm sensation that tinged from his toes upward and then exploded in a decentralized burst of pleasure flooding his body. When it was over, Selim lay back while his companion licked his lips greedily.
"So what did you learn?"
Selim yawned. His divination was exhausting. It required a protracted state of sexual languor to leave his body and travel through the aether. A tense and consistent application of pleasure could keep him suspended for a while, but to approach orgasm meant crashing back down into his body. It was frustrating and draining. Even the best sexual partners could ruin a delicate 'seeing' with too much eagerness, not enough pleasure, or a moment's lapse into disinterest. Cadict was distinguished in that regard. His patience and admirable skill had kept Selim suspended far beyond his usual ability. It yielded interesting information.
"Our classmates are heading somewhere in a water-runner with a Machina officer." Selim explained.
Cadict rose an eyebrow. His dark brown eyes gave nothing away.
"Curious. Shall we intercept them?"
"I don't think so. Zophir is a dangerous, slippery magus and the archer has more than a little battle experience. It's best for now that we trail them. See what they're up to."
"I concur." Cadict said swiftly.
Selim favored Cadict with a smile as he dressed himself. The two moved quickly to break their makeshift camp and did so without further need for words.
Part Two. fin.
Author's Note: Aha! The second installment. Each 'episode' will have three parts to it, so the third part should see a conclusion to this particular adventure. Thanks for your emails so far in response to the story - they've been positive and all-around awesome. Hope you continue digging my work as much as I love writing it.