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.
No Easy Answers
The Machina water-runner was a hulking mechanical spider. Well, not specifically a spider, but in the arachnid family certainly. Its long iron legs were splayed out during land travel, keeping the body (or the cockpit) close to the ground as the legs scurried across the ground. During water travel, the amphibious machine raised itself off the ground, extending its legs to full height and tiptoed through the water. It was ingenious really, at least Skip thought so, Zophir sat with his arms crossed and scowled at the machine as it skittered diligently.
The cockpit was a cramped affair. Machina apparently didn't give much thought to luxury, the seats were rough and shoved together. Zophir and Alistair sat in the back seats with their legs curled up under them while Skip and Cliff, the Machina officer who piloted the thing, sat in front. Cliff explained that the machine was never meant to hold more than two passengers; a pilot and a gunnery officer. Zophir scoffed, but Alistair launched into a volley of questions: how did the thing run? Who first invented it? What fueled it? How fast could it go? Ad nauseam. Cliff was good-natured, answering what he could and cloaking the rest behind Machina secrecy.
Through the little port holes in the side of the vast machine, Skip watched the world pass by. The highlands surrounding the Library Mechanica steepened and then flattened a few miles out and forest land raised in its stead. The water-runner traveled a wide path through the forest that was obvious cleared for this very purpose. Skip imagined that it must have taken years for them to cut a swath through the thick sequoias that were indigenous to the region. Machina was, if anything, diligent.
Skip was lost in his thoughts when Zophir sent him a message.
We're being followed. He sent.
Skip tensed slightly, but kept his face placid. Who?
Not sure, but they've used a 'seeing' so I think we can rule out Machina. It was a good one, delicate, crafty. If I had to guess I'd say someone from one of the Signatories is tracking us.
One of ours? Skip asked.
No way to tell. I only felt it for a moment about an hour ago. I've been trying to get a sense of who it was, but their trace is like sand -- the more I try to hold on to it the more it slips through my fingers. Whoever it is their ability level is nearly comparable to mine.
'Nearly comparable to mine.' An incredibly skilled magus was tracking them. Skip shuddered. He didn't like the thought of confronting a magic-user as powerful as Zophir without a full cohort and a lot of pre-planning. Certainly not with a Machina officer at his back. There were too many variables.
They're aren't many magi at your skill level. Doesn't that narrow things down a bit?
Zophir gave the equivalent of a psychic shrug. No, there aren't. But if this person is as good as I am then I won't be able to unravel their signature. At least not without a few days work.
Skip returned his attention to the window. The green forest was stately in the sunlight. Somewhere inside it there could be agents with unknown allegiances tracking them down for any number of reasons. It made him feel exposed, endangered.
Fuck it. Let them come. We'll deal with it when we have to.
It was a few hours before the water-runner actually encountered water. Cliff informed his passengers to brace for some "turbulence" but aside from the clicking of gears and a long hiss of steam, there was little change as the machine switched over to aquatic mode. Alistair stared eagerly through the porthole as the body raised off the ground and the legs came in under the cockpit. A moment later they were moving forward through the depths of the lake water with only the slightest hint of resistance against the machine's long legs.
"The island is only a few leagues off the coast. It shouldn't take us very long to reach it." Cliff explained as he looked down at the Machina sealed map splayed open on his lap.
One of the first things that Machina had done during its inception was to task dozens of historians, cartographers and theorists in a burgeoning field called geology to build inclusive maps. Copies of those maps were highly prized and even being near one made Skip tingle with jealousy. He casually plotted ways to steal it.
As they disembarked the water-runner, Skip took in his surroundings. The island was little more than a long thin sandbar in the middle of the huge lake. As he climbed out of the cockpit and onto the beach, water and sand squelched up under his boots. The unsteady feeling of being on half land / half water did not sit well with him. Alistair followed, leaving the cockpit awkwardly and landing face first in the wet sand. Skip shook his head and helped the redhead onto his feet. He considered what Zophir had said about leaving him and reconsidered his position; it was Alistair's discovery that led them to this moment, but if the worst should happen he would be a liability. Skip shook his head and put the thought out of his mind. If something happened, he and Zophir could handle it.
Zophir came out next, followed by Cliff who looked around with a look of confusion.
"This is...it," he said hesitating and checked his fancy map again. "This is definitely it." Another pause. "Somewhere."
I can feel it, Skip. It's here. This place is...charged or something.
Look, I can't describe it. You wouldn't understand even if I did. But the book is here. At least, I'm pretty sure it is.
Skip cursed. Suddenly everyone was 'pretty sure' instead of actually sure. If you couldn't shoot an arrow in it then it wasn't sure enough.
"You're wasting my time, bolt-fucker," Skip swore, "did Machina lose the book or what?"
Cliff shot him a look of plain disgust. "You should be honored that you've even got this close to a Machina relic. Show some respect."
"A stolen relic. I don't recall Machina having much to do with legendary magi." Zophir chimed in sharply.
Cliff ignored the comment and began searching the sandbar. Skip was disinclined to help and Zophir refused to uncross his arms, so Alistair shuffled around as well looking through the sand without even a hint of what he was looking for. The two of them looked through every inch of the sandbar before Cliff yelped in pain. His foot had struck something hard and when he reached down he found an iron pipe jutting up from the ground. He dusted the sand off around it and found that the iron piping was the hub of a large metal wheel in the ground. Alistair came over to help and together the two uncovered the spokes branching out under their feet.
Cliff looked up triumphantly and withdrew a little metal timepiece from his pocket. He placed it in the hub and it clicked into place. He turned it a few times then a few more in the opposite direction. Finally he stood up and kicked it.
Then the ground opened up underneath them.
On a tide of water and sand the four adventurers slipped and slid down an incline leading underground. The smooth surface underneath them provided no traction and no hope of stopping or slowing. Skip's arms flailed uselessly as his quiver and bow detached and slipped away from him. Zophir was doing equally poorly, any grasp of spells and charms flew out of his panicked mind as he slid down into the hole in the ground. Alistair's frenzied 'oh fucks' were almost drowned out by the collective screeching as they tumbled.
It seemed to go on forever, sand scraping grasping hands and any exposed skin while water dumped on top of them and their legs fought pointlessly for purchase on the frictionless incline. Eventually there was no more incline and Skip found himself flailing through air instead. His body locked and animal panic seized his breathing, his stomach flopped and he fell.
The impact was a painful relief. After only a few feet, Skip hit the ground back first and pain shot through his spine and the back of his head. He watched as Alistair, Zophir, and Cliff were dumped out into the air. Cliff was launched off on his stomach, grasping at the ledge futilely and ended up landing on his ass. Alistair curled into a ball mid-air and just barely managed not to land on his head. Zophir, finally clutching at some shred of magic, managed to slow his fall just enough to land on his hands and knees without too much of a bang.
The sandy water however kept dumping on top of them as they recovered from their fall. Skip looked around from his place on the ground. It was dark, really dark, the light from above was diffuse and was only enough to get a sense of how large the space was that they'd found themselves in.
Zophir clapped his hands three times and fluttering shapes flew out of them. The firefly like creatures burned brightly in a variety of colors, casting their brilliance around the room and illuminating the space.
The first thing that became clear to Skip was that they were in a man made space. The ground was a lattice of metal grates, allowing the water pouring in from above to sift through and down into the murky darkness below them. The space itself was fairly wide and fairly high. The walls were quite a distance apart and there was nothing to speak of inside the cavern beside...
"The journal." Zophir exclaimed when he caught sight of it.
It was just lying there on the other side of the cavern, a book writing by a magus of extraordinary power just dumped on the ground. Zophir rose to his feet and went toward it as the other three stood and shook off their hurts. Skip went over to Alistair and made sure he was alright before check in on Cliff begrudgingly. The slide had been rough on all of them, the abrasive sand and the speed of the fall had scratched Alistair's face and arms, tore the sleeves off of his shirt and scraped his cheeks raw. Cliff's nose was cracked and bleeding and his neck was pretty badly cut. He had tied what was left of his ascot around it but blood was already seeping through. Skip imagined that he didn't look much better: he could feel his left ear bleeding, blood was caked on his forehead and his left hand would need to be looked after soon. Since his shirt was already in tatters, he tore a strip from it and bandaged his hand the best he could.
When he was satisfied that they would all live he went looking for his lost gear and eventually found his bow, quiver, and a few of his arrows - the rest of them had seemingly fallen through the spaces in the grating. He sighed. Eight arrows left and he hadn't fired a single one.
When he was done he walked over to Zophir where the other two had already gathered. The magus had taken the least damage in the fall. His shirt and pants were ruined and his hands scraped, but he didn't seem to be bleeding. Skip wondered, briefly, if he'd used magic to heal himself before remembering his roommate's embarrassing scores in basic healing skills.
Zophir was hunched over the book, flipping through its pages and making opaque noises. Cliff asked a question that went ignored and Alistair tried to touch his shoulder, but his hand was slapped away with a subconscious burst of magic.
"Perhaps we ought to leave him to it," Skip said, "it could be a while."
Even as they approached the sandbar in the middle of the lake, Selim knew something had been uncovered. The taste of the air was different and his skin itched. It was an uncomfortable feeling that he would have liked to back away from. But duty was duty. The Dean of Tasks had handpicked him to watch group - knowing they would attempt to pursue the secrets of Baal Shiron at any cost. Still, whatever they had unearthed in this place was repellent to him. He wished that he didn't have to go toward it.
Cadict was silent as he rowed their small kayak across the lake. Night had fallen and the water was dark and quiet. The water barely parted as he expertly slid his oar into the water, gently pulling them closer to the island.
"Magus." Cadict said.
"We are not alone."
Selim looked about, but saw nothing: dark water, the sandbar island growing larger in the distance and stars in the sky above. Yet he did not doubt his companion. Cadict was not a magus himself, but he was a swordsman of the four seasons. The elements were his companions, they sang to him, held him above others, and gifted him with sweeter senses than others. Though one day the temperamental forces of nature would exact their due, he was now in their favor and his senses were to be trusted.
"What are they?"
Cadict was silent for a moment as he rowed. Selim already knew the answer.
Cadict continued rowing. The island grew closer and Selim's mouth filled with a bitter metallic taste.
"Your orders, magus?"
Selim spat. He hated spitting. "We'll buy them time. Keep the Ran'Aka from descending upon them."
They continued rowing, enjoying what was left of the quiet.
Zophir handled both books feverishly. Skip hadn't been aware that Zophir had brought the book Alistair had discovered, but here it was alongside its twin. Zophir flipped through their pages in tangent and made notations with his fingers that stayed illuminated on the page once he removed them. Alistair sat off to one side of the cavern applying a salve to his face while Cliff cleaned the lake water out of his weaponry. When the Machina officer caught Skip looking, he waved him over.
Cliff moved his hands so that Skip could see what he was doing. The weapon was a strange metal pipe-like thing that extended when Cliff flicked his wrist. Or at least it did, he explained, before the water got in it. He dismantled it quickly and showed Skip where the mechanism was affected by the water before taking a part of his shirt and rubbing it dry. When he sealed the machine up again, he did a practice flick and the thing extended to a six foot length. Skip jumped back when it did.
"It's a fairly standard weapon. It can do other things, too. But I don't want to go giving away all our secrets." Cliff winked.
The discovery of the text and Zophir's intense work on it made the atmosphere more nervous, but somehow lighter. Suddenly the tensions between the Signatories and Machina weren't an issue. All that existed outside. In the cave there was only the book and whatever secrets it was about to reveal.
Skip was about to ask Cliff if he could flick his weapon when Zophir cried out:
"I think I figured it out."
Everyone came running. Zophir, with his wasted sleeves rolled up and his purple hair in his eyes, looked tired but pleased.
"Both of these books are parts of a whole. They can't be read separately. Not in their entirety. They have to be combined using an enchantment detailed in this book." He indicated the one they'd found in the cavern. "I can do it."
"Should you?" Alistair asked.
"What?" Zophir shot back. "Of course I will. We came all this way."
"Do you know what the content of the book is? Is it a journal after all?" Skip asked.
Zophir shook his head. "Better. It's his grimoire."
Cliff raised an eyebrow. "Grimoire?"
"Yes, yes! A grimoire! A textbook of spells. All the knowledge of an arch-magus contained in a single location. This would be the first of its sort discovered in hundreds of years. How could I not put it together?"
Zophir looked over at Skip.
You know we have to do this, right? This is what we came for. We're making history.
"Do it." Skip said.
And with a word Zophir did.
The pain was clean and clear like a lightning bolt cleaving his mind in half. The muddled half-focused discomfort of the pills emptied out of him in an instant. He thought he would throw up, but didn't somehow.
When he opened his eyes he saw a man standing in front of him. He had strawberry blond hair and Cliff instantly recognized him as the man from his searing vision. The one kissing him and stroking his neck. They were standing in a sunlit room and the other man was not pleased.
"You idiot!" He shouted. "You bloody...FOOL!"
"Those stupid pills. They wouldn't let me in."
"Who are you?"
"The book! You have to stop the book."
"We only have a moment, just a moment more. Tell him to lock it away. Contain--"
There was a noise. A screech. The blond man looked over. Cliff followed his gaze and
woke up on the ground. He looked over and the redhead, Alistair, was above him extending a hand.
"What happened?" Cliff asked as Alistair pulled him off the ground.
"You fainted. Zophir says that it was probably because of a burst of residual energy from his merging of the books into a single grimoire," he smiled sheepishly, "I don't really get it, but Zophir knows his stuff. Anyway, he says you'll be ok."
Cliff looked over at the magus who was staring at the text in front of him. The grimoire was levitating a few feet off the ground and had become a different book entirely. It was a gorgeous, hefty black leather book with golden spinework.
The book. Stop it. Lock it away. Contain.
"Zophir." Cliff started. "I think this book, something about it. Maybe you should contain it somehow."
Everyone looked over at him.
"What are you ranting about?" Skip asked sharply.
Cliff balked. How could he explain what he'd just seen?
Don't worry, boy. They won't believe you anyway.
Cliff spun around. The voice had come from nowhere, but somehow he knew exactly what it was.
"Seal the book, Zophir. Do it now." Cliff shouted.
A force struck Cliff so hard in the chest that he launched through the air. He came down hard on the metal grating and rolled to a stop some eight feet away from where he had stood. Skip drew his bow, but had nothing to sight it on. Alistair turned white and stepped away from the book. Zophir stood his ground.
"The Grimoire is sentient?"
"Bravo, human child. I ought to thank you for putting it all together. I'm glad it was you and not someone with real skill who discovered me."
The voice seemed to come from around the grimoire. The exact location of the sound moved around, but stayed in the generally vicinity of the floating tome. Zophir's face turned red with either embarrassment or anger. Probably both.
"Are you Baal Shiron?" Zophir barked.
The grimoire laughed. At least Skip thought it sounded like a laugh.
"Baal Shiron! Baal Shiron! He could not have become arch-magus without my help. Without my guidance. And as a reward he broke me in two. Left me at the mercy of any filthy fingers that happened across my pages."
Skip could not believe this shit.
"Zophir. Reverse the spell." Skip ordered.
"Don't speak unless spoken to." The grimoire snapped back.
And Skip suddenly found himself unable to speak. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Even his breathing was silent. In anger and panic he nocked and arrow and fired it at the book. The arrow should have hit, his aim was impeccable. But somehow the bolt was redirected mid-flight, spun around and shot back full force into Skip's side. He cried out, silently, as he hit the ground.
Zophir cried out and tried to go to him.
"Magus!" The book called and Zophir turned to it. "I offer you immortality. I offer you freedom from the confines of your own ability. You are nothing now, but I will remake you. You will learn to truly see the world. All I ask is that you lend me your body, just a corner of your mind and I will whisper to you all the secrets of power. Magic that has not been cast in a millennia or more."
Zophir looked at the book. Then he looked over at Skip, writhing in pain on the ground.
"Thanks, but no." He answered.
The spell was complex, but already full formed in Zophir's mind, it was just a matter of drawing the burning sigil in the air. His fingers moved quickly, not quickly enough though to escape the notice of the grimoire. It levelled a force against him, but Zophir easily brushed it away like an errant thought. The grimoire had underestimated him and worse, it had pissed him off and bruised his ego.
"Reconsider, magus. This is your last chance at --"
The sigil was complete and Zophir focused his intentions on a single point. The book exploded into a shower of charred pages.
Zophir sighed. He had to shake his hands vigorously to get rid of numbing tingle of residual magic. Such a powerful spell would linger on his skin for hours if not days.
Once he had his mind clear enough to think he went over to Skip whose wound was not as bad as it looked. The arrow had entered cleanly and missed anything major, at least Zophir didn't think it hit anything. Regardless he isolated the arrow and pulled it out using his influence rather than his hands which were shaking. If Skip could have screamed he would have, so Zophir waited until after he finally shut his mouth again to undo the spell keeping him mute.
"Are you ok?" Zophir asked, then added. "Generally."
Skip bit his lip and nodded. "Go check on the others."
Zophir stood up and went. Cliff was still out cold, but Zophir figured he would wake up eventually. He had never been much of a healer. He had failed Basic First Aid Casting twice before requesting and receiving a special dispensation to skip the required class. He regretted that now. He kind of regretted it anyway.
As for Alistair, Zophir took his time going over to Alistair. He was lying flat on his back with his eyes open. Zophir couldn't tell from a distance if he was conscious. As Zophir neared him, he could feel the effects of the spell. With little time to waste, Zophir had to use a containment spell on the grimoire. There was no other choice. But without a vessel, the spell was useless. He'd chosen the best option. The only person Zophir for a fact had absolutely no magical aptitude.
When Zophir stood over Alistair he saw that the redhead's eyes were open. His left was blue, same as it always was, but his right was black - the pupil like a pinprick. Alistair blinked. Twice.
"Bravo." The grimoire said and raised Alistair's left hand and looked at it. "You locked me in here with the boy. He has no access to magic. Not even a little. How ridiculous."
"When we get back to the Signatori I'm going to lock you up even tighter."
The grimoire rolled Alistair's eyes. "Tough talk, human. I'm immortal."
With a gesture Zophir took Alistair's voice away.
"Better." He said
And he smiled.
Episode One Epilogue
Selim was laying on the ground, looking up at the stars. His breathing had finally slowed and his wounds had the vague tingle of nerves deadened by tonic. His magic was depleted. He'd pushed himself further than he thought possible. It was good to know he had it in him, but he hoped that he'd never have to fight so hard ever again. He knew that somewhere nearby Cadict was lying in the sand as well, his hands bloody from wielding his blades and his body beyond tired. He thought about looking over, but in the end his head wouldn't move.
So he laid there.
Dozens of Ran'Aka had descended upon the tiny island. Cadict's arms became a dervish of blades as he fought them, slicing through their inhuman flesh and defending Selim as he readied spell after spell. They fought in tandem through the burden of growing exhaustion. In the end they defeated the last of their assailants. They successfully defended their classmates as they tampered with forces beyond their mettle underground. Selim didn't know what he would tell the Dean of Tasks. He didn't want to think about it.
So he laid there.
After a time, the group emerged from the cavern beneath the sand. The Machina officer came out with the archer's arm around his neck, Skip hobbled his way out and winced in pain with every step. The redhead emerged with the magus at his back, his arms tied behind him with a silver thread of hard magic. Something was different about them both. Selim thought of a half dozen spells that could divine the difference. If only he could move.
"Zophir." Selim croaked out. His voice sounded horrible. The magus looked over, there was no surprise in his features.
"Selim ibn Taal. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Selim chuckled, but it sounded like choking. "We just saved your skin from a set of Ran'Aka. What have you been up to?"
"Loosing ancient evils on the world."
"Well, you've got to keep busy." Selim answered.
"You look like shit, by the way."
"Well, like I said, we just fought off a dozen Ran'Aka." Selim smiled. "I should be dead."
The sun was coming up. Selim wondered how long he'd been lying on the sand.
"Let's go home. I hate this place." Zophir announced.
"This place is the worst." Selim agreed.
Author's Note: So yeah, that wasn't supposed to take that long. Sadly life intervenes sometimes despite our best of intentions. Thank you if you've been keeping up so far and welcome if this is your first run through. The good news is that I have a few more parts ready and waiting to meet you so they'll be up as soon as they can be.
While you're waiting for new content feel free to peruse my fresh new blog: TheEroticLedger.blogspot.com, for Adventure School news, snippets, spin-offs and other content entirely. Insert metaphor here pertaining to monkeys and barrels.