This story contains graphic sexuality and in this very chapter includes scenes of (non-sexual) violence. If such things offend you, feel free to direct your browser elsewhere.
Thanks for reading and welcome to the final Episode of Adventure School!
If you like the story, hate the story, or want to plead for more sex: find me at troublemonkee at gmail dot com. Feel free to stop by: Theeroticledger.blogspot.com for more info and terrible sketches. OR follow me at: @eroticledger [so many ways to get in touch!]
Adventure School, Episode Three:
It is physically impossible to traipse through foot deep snow.
Two months later...
"No. That was pathetic. Do it again."
The steel came swinging wildly and Skip found himself screaming without intending to. He caught the first sword stroke coming down at an angle with the edge of his spear and pushed it away. He used the momentum to swing around and lash out with the butt of the long weapon. He caught the swordsman in the face and dropped him with a single blow. It was quiet for a moment except for the grunts of the swordsman as he checked his mouth for broken teeth. Skip breathed a tuft of frost and ignored the pain lancing through his lungs. The air was frigid, but at least he didn't have to fight without shoes with holes anymore.
"Better. Not exactly artful, but better. Next time try to really use the distance afforded to you by a longer weapon." the instructor explained and then tossed Skip a pair of ragged boots.
Skip collapsed in the snow to put them on. This had been his life for the past five weeks. Fighting for every scrap of food, for every tiny luxury. He'd had to go through at least a dozen drills without a single mistake during the first week before they'd let him use the privy. By the time he'd earned the right he was almost disinclined to visit the reeking pit. However a near encounter with an ice wolf put him off the wilderness again.
The mysterious, beautiful boy promising glory and begging for his help had failed to mention that he would be leaving the comforts of the Signatori for the company of the Templars. Once he realized what he'd done, Skip tried to take it back but it was too late; he'd been conscripted and the fate of deserters was death. Predictably.
With the boots secured, Skip stood and headed back to the camp. Currently they were situated at the bottom of a deep, snow covered ravine. Skip had learned in the weeks he'd been with the Templars that they moved quickly. They took long, hard paths in order to avoid patrols from nearby cities, Signatories, Machina servicemen, or other elements. They traded only when they absolutely had to and did whatever they could for themselves. At first Skip was underwhelmed by the ranks of the Templars: they numbered no more than about three dozen. It was later that he learned that they represented only a small exploratory force whose main function was recruitment. The main body was far north in the hinterlands of the great ice floe.
Skip tried not to think about travelling further north. It was already far too cold. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of the seal skin parka they'd given him when the cold became too bitter for his cottons and leathers. As he approached the cook fires, someone called him over and he came closer to the warmth. The man who had called him over was wearing a thick woolen cape wrapped around him and a thick cap, but seemed barely affected by the cold. It was a wonder his pale features did not redden in the hard frosty air.
"Cold enough for you, Tamateh?" Skip asked. He already knew the answer: Tamateh was never cold.
The pale man shrugged, "could be colder."
"Will be colder." Skip looked up the ravine. Two hulking walls of ice and a long, thin path of snow between. He shivered.
Tam's eyes shifted brown to green.
"You're worried," the empath stated, "are you concerned about the journey north? Or something else?"
Skip looked at the fire and didn't answer right away. Tamateh Sidoe-Moon was clearly of the Moon clan. The shifting colors of his eyes confirmed it if the ghostly pallor of his skin did not. However he was from a branch family and his abilities lacked the sophistication of the direct bloodline. They said that even the youngest member of the main-line, Tazarak Useth-Moon, could navigate emotional and intentional currents like a sort of mind reader. Tam was not so gifted, the spectrum of colors and emotions he could perceive was limited. Still, Skip found it uncanny and occasionally disturbing to have the empath poking around his feelings.
It didn't matter anyway, Skip saw no reason to be dishonest.
"It's been a strange, hard time recently. Things have changed so quickly. I suppose I'm wondering who my friends are."
"Friends come and go. Some stay longer than others. If you've lost your friends then maybe it's time to make new ones."
Skip looked over at him. The Moons were contractors of a sort. Their progeny were traded on a whim by the head of the family. They were expensive to be sure and selective, but ultimately the Moon clan seemed like more of a labor force than a family.
"How do you do it? How do you make friends when you're shuttled around like that? Changing hands like currency. How do you trust anyone?"
"You asked about friends, not about trust. You have the luxury of being close to someone without ever really knowing them. Fucking someone without knowing what they're feeling, who they would rather be with or who they're imagining during the act. Trust is too broad a concept for a Moon to believe in wholesale. For example, I trust my family to keep me safe by selecting contracts where the chance of harm is low. But what if the contract will bring great political or financial gain? Harm becomes a flexible factor. After all, I'm just a member of the branch family after all. The truth is that if it comes to it I am expendable. So my trust in them is flexible as well. Trust must be flexible or it isn't useful."
Skip winced discreetly. At first he thought that it must be a horrible life, but then he thought of his own role as an adventurer and realized that their lives might not be so different.
"Do you ever get angry with them? For casting you away. For not seeing your value as a person?" Skip asked.
"I was born for this. Does the cleaver hold a grudge against the chef?"
Skip was about to respond when a third person entered the comfort of the fire. He called himself Mou and was supposedly a demon in hand-to-hand combat. Skip had never seen him fight this way. No one would fight the scraggly boy unless he was armed. He was decent with weapons and still won many bouts, but he wasn't an exceptional soldier. Skip didn't know what had happened before his arrival and he hadn't asked, but they seemed frightened of Mou. Skip, who had never had to fight him, was not scared of Mou and Tamateh seemed to disdain the notion of fear altogether; as such, the three of them seemed naturally inclined to spend time together.
"The Templar wants you," Mou directed at Skip as he thrust his hands out to the fire. He never bothered with greetings. His manners were...circumscript.
Skip nodded. Though it was a Templar camp and full of the righteous warriors, he knew who Mou was referring to. He put his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket and pushed them as close as he could to his body before setting off. The tent he needed to find was the furthest away from the camp, the furthest north. Skip trudged through the snow in his new ill-fitting boots. Though he was grateful that these did not leak water and snow it was difficult to make progress when every step was followed by the fear of losing your shoes.
He muttered and griped his way to the large tent and declared himself loudly when he reached it. He was invited in and pulled the flap open to step inside.
The tent was warm. A warmth that did not exist this far north without magical intervention. Skip didn't need to see the glyphs and runes painted on the sides of the tent to know they were there. He was grateful for the warmth, but the potential cost of invitation to such luxury made him wary.
The Templar was sitting patiently with his legs crossed in a riot of carpets, throws and pillows. His broadsword sat nearby in a garish gold sheath which matched its owner's eyes.
"The drill master tells me you've been improving steadily, Archer. You have a body that's perfect for the spear," he said gazing at Skip in frank appraisal.
"Did you call me here to discuss my body, Celad? Or did you actually want something from me?"
Celadon d'Alain sucked air slowly between his teeth and settled into his lupine grin. "My masters chose well with you, I think. You've edge upon edge. But you're right, this isn't a social call. I have need of you."
"With what exactly?"
"The rest of this company is going to continue north, but we're going to break off. Tonight. I need you to help me hunt a monster."
A massive hand pined Zophir's throat to the ground. His breathing cut short, his vision spun stars and flares of half-light. His limbs felt heavy and distant as his head felt increasingly light. Warmth flooded his face and neck. He stopped struggling. The pain in his arms -- pinned hard behind him -- became less of a concern. He was free to focus on other things.
"More," he choked out.
The man fucking him replied in the brute language of force. His cock slammed harder into the magus who gasped and pressed his eyes shut. Zophir's own helpless stiffness, already thoroughly precum soaked, began shooting in earnest as a blunt orgasm was forced out of him. The other man rode him hard through the extended climax and finished with a growl as Zophir's pulsing hole milked volleys of fluid from him. When it was done, he released Zophir from his grip and when unsupported the magus slipped panting to the floor.
Zophir was breathing hard and didn't move for a long moment. Eventually he rose from the wooden floor and began to compose himself. Trell was already sitting propped up against the bed. His softening erection was still thick and long and impressive. The handsome giant stared at him with those dark, murky eyes.
"Feel absolved?" he asked.
Zophir closed his eyes, sighed deeply, and ran a hand through his light brown hair. He had cut it short and it was just beginning to push out again at its frayed edges.
"How do you mean?" Zophir asked as he stood.
"To be dominated. To be brutalized. Is it a form of burning through your sins?" Trell asked while reaching up to the still-made bed -- they'd spent precious little time there -- for his clothes.
Zophir ignored the comment. Trell didn't know him well enough to be making those kinds of assertions. No one did. They had only been fucking each other for a few weeks. The Scorian hammerman had a rigid physique and dark features, his neat beard complimented his look and the slight music in his accent was disarming. Zophir was wise enough to know he wasn't the only person at Obsidian who had been ensnared by the foreigner's charm.
The Scoria students were a welcome distraction for everyone following the attack. The headmaster had declared an official emergency, the second in the school's history, and information about the nature of the attack was being released at a glacial pace. The death toll sat near sixty with hundreds of injuries. In the course of a few hours dozens of magi were killed, leaving a massive dearth of magic users at the school.
Zophir and Selim were given temporary faculty-level information clearance as the two most powerful remaining student magi, but what the Signatori actually knew about the attack was all the more lackluster from within their confidence. The three students sent from Scoria to aid in the reconstruction came into the midst of this uncertainty and were treated like celebrities.
Trell was their hammerman. The hammer was highly favored at Scoria where it was said they trained by trying to fell the great gnarled trees in the jungle with a single dread blow. Looking at Trell, one could believe it, his arms were powerful and his tall, muscular frame was beyond imposing. He was set to work hauling debris created by the attack and helping rebuild fallen structures.
Prana was their magus. Her long, straight dark hair, almond shaped eyes and sensuous lips sent many of Obsidian's men (and women) into instant uproar. Her voice was the most richly accented of them all and to watch her use magic was like watching a lover undress. Her craft was so embodied and rapturous as to almost seem erotic. She was a genius of defensive spell-casting: barriers, wards, leashes and containment spells. Within days of her arrival she was charged to co-manage the restoration of the elaborate defensive spell-network around the campus that was decimated during the attack.
Ix, the last of them, was the most complicated. He was an echo-user. A rare, difficult specialty that combined several disciplines: arcane studies, inter-planar travel and a dense knowledge of particle theory. Combining these fields, Ix was one of few humans able to travel (somewhat) freely across vast distances without expending massive amounts of magic. Other creatures from elsewhere, like Dean Ru, were able to move freely through space and time, but the secrets by which they could remained their own. Ix became a crucial delegate between Scoria, Obsidian and the other remaining Signatories.
The three of them represented an unprecedented cooperation between Signatories. It signified fear. Something had attacked an adventure school and the pedigree of their magic, weapons, and personnel made little difference. Overnight the world had become a more dangerous place. Of course, Signatories had been felled in the past, mostly due to internal conflict or elaborate wars with hostile nations or powerful monarchies. This kind of decimation was unprecedented, terrifying, but Zophir had other things on his mind.
He watched Trell pull down a white tank top over his bulging pecs and chiseled abs. It was very nearly a holy experience.
"Are you going to the memorial?" Trell asked as he pulled on his pants. Zophir watched his magnificent cock disappear behind the material.
The memorial for the students and faculty who died had been postponed twice in order to speed the recovery effort. Eventually it was decided that it could wait no longer. The reclusive headmaster was said to be attending in order to conduct the proceedings himself.
"No. I have other business this afternoon, unfortunately." Zophir answered.
Trell raised an eyebrow.
"What could be more pressing than seeing off your comrades?"
"I'll leave the sentimental remembrances to others. I'm on the business of the living."
"Hard words, magus. In Scoria we learn siblinghood is the utmost form of love." Trell chided gently.
Zophir didn't answer. Instead he shrugged into a pair of clothes that didn't look too wrinkled and went to the door of his dorm room. He had relinquished his atelier and moved out of the room he had shared with Skip after his erstwhile roommate had gone missing. He was among those assumed dead. His name would be one of the first honored at the memorial.
Zophir opened the door.
"Trell," he said quietly, "please get out of my room."
Winchester Clifton Zeigger straightened his cravat with his right hand. His left was still bound in a hard cast. It was an awkward process to be sure, but he refused assistance. Today was the ceremony. The thought of it unnerved him slightly and made him respond testily to anyone to approached him.
After the attack on the Obsidian Signatori, they no longer had the power to intimidate Machina. The two factions entered peaceful, but fraught negotiations. In return for building materials and some financing for their recovery, Obsidian returned Cliff and their other hostages (the extraction team sent to retrieve him) to their masters.
Cliff was unconscious for several weeks. When he woke, the doctors explained that he'd been affected by a neurotoxin they had never seen before. His recovery was, they said, the closest thing to a miracle that the First Machine City had seen in a very long time. Cliff expected to be court-marshaled for his failure to retrieve the grimoire and prepared himself for the brutal words.
They promoted him instead. He had failed to report back to the First Machine City after initializing the grimoire, he had failed to retrieve the grimoire after being order to, and he had gotten himself nearly killed after all that. Yet they promoted him.
They ceremony would be private, but in attendance would be a dizzying number of top brass. Part of Cliff wondered if it was a sick joke, or a way to dismiss him privately. Either way he figured -- as he tucked a single out of place hair -- it was his duty to go and see what he was in for.
Maybe it was nerves and preoccupation, but when Cliff was ready he simply walked out the door. He left the brand new, unopened bottle of silver pills sitting on his bathroom sink.
Kyla was dressed modestly for the meeting of the Deans for the first time in five years at her post as Dean of Tasks. As the day-to-day manager of the operations at Obsidian it fell to her to control the image of the Signatori and to do that she had to control her image. In five years she had never been forced by anyone to change a thing about the way she dressed or presented herself. She had never been inclined to hide the sleek, alien paw that was her left hand. But now she hid. She hid the extent of her injuries, bound in thick layers of gauze at her side under a loose, shimmering dress. Her paw was tucked out of sight in one of the dresses pockets as she sat on her desk.
The salamander magus looked like he hadn't slept in some time. The attack had been hard on him. It was largely due to his efforts that they creatures had been driven back, some of them destroyed. He had saved Kyla's life and many others. His reward was more work. Kyla wanted to know why the creatures suddenly dis-animated in the early hours of the morning on that terrible night. She wanted to know where they had come from and how best to kill them. She wanted to know a lot of things and she had tasked him with finding her answers.
"My findings support the preliminary evaluation. There is no lingering enchantment in the cloth that we've examined. Whatever was animating them did not just cede control over them, it was sucked out of them. It should have left some kind of identifiable residue, but it didn't. We can't be sure how and to be honest with you, all of our working theories are rubbish. None of my staff has any idea and the farsight expert we brought in didn't do any better than Selim while trying to scry the cloth for more information."
Kyla frowned. "So we don't know anymore than we did six weeks ago? Is that what you're telling me?"
Drago was silent.
Kyla turned to Tazarak.
He looked beyond tired. His pallor seemed to have become translucence. His cheeks were gaunt and his eyes hollowed out. The undulations of color were muted, weaker than normal.
"How is the campus, Tazarak?"
"Stable," he said, "the emotional net is picking out the worst of the impulses: suicides, violent tendencies, major depression. The increased strain of this incident has caused these pockets of psychic unrest to spread, but I -- for the moment it is contained."
Kyla nodded. She couldn't afford to be empathetic. She had the feeling that everyone was running on duty alone. To bring sympathy and emotion into it could cause the system to collapse. She couldn't afford more collapse.
"Any luck finding Ru?" She asked generally.
Drago shook his head and Tazarak's eyes flitted down gently.
"Well, we always knew that his motives were his own and his tenure here was fleeting. I just wish he hadn't disappeared when we could use him most," she thought for a moment, "and what about the Scoria kids?"
Drago answered. "They haven't done anything unseemly. They've been helpful and seem to be integrating well."
"Should we trust them?" She asked.
"No need to distrust them. They're here for a purpose, I suggest we let them do it and then send them back to Scoria. As our dealings with Machina in the past weeks have shown, the less we can deal with outside influences the better off we'll be."
"And the Templars? Any news of them?"
Tazarak spoke up.
"I haven't felt any unfamiliar emotional signatures. If they are about then they are hiding themselves exceptionally. I'm inclined to seriously doubt their presence."
Kyla rubbed the bridge of her nose.
"Alright then. Let's keep an eye on things, gentlemen. We can't afford further failures right now. Everything has to be perfect from this point forward. No conflicts. No issues."
Skip wanted to spit, but the extreme cold made the gesture impractical. Instead he worried after his bow. He had never been in such cold and he was afraid that the cold would cause the bow to crack. The very idea made him sullen and terse. He was following Celad up a steep incline, to who knew where, in the middle of the night. The Templar was quiet and predatory, he moved like an animal newly freed. If Skip was honest, it was a little creepy how fluid his movements were even in all his cold weather gear. Skip tried not to clamor along awkwardly, but the odds were stacked against him; until recently he hadn't even had boots.
When they reached a certain height on the incline, Celad stopped and pointed to a hollow in the rock. He approached it slowly, calmly and looked around. When he was sure it was safe, he called Skip over and they sat in the hollow. They had been walking all night so far and it was good to rest.
"Aren't you curious about where we're going?" Celad asked suddenly after they had been sitting awhile.
"If I was, would you tell me?" Skip shot back.
Though his mouth was covered by fur, Skip could see the smile in the crinkling at his eyes.
"A monster. We're hunting a monster."
Skip swore into his furs.
"What fucking monster? Is it the monster that attacked Obsidian?" He asked.
"No. This is something else. You have to understand. The thing that attacked your school inhabits this world only partially. The rest of it is...elsewhere. In order to hunt it, one must hunt it in both places," Celad gestured with his hands, "think of a plant. There's powerful regeneration ability there. Cut off a limb and in time, it will likely regrow. If not, well there are seeds, and it will propagate elsewhere. If you want to kill it, you uproot it."
Skip thought of the cloth monsters tearing and regrowing, changing shape and contorting to avoid blows.
"How do we do that?" Skip asked.
Celad's eyes crinkled again.
"We use the ichor, the demonic blood, of another monster to pinpoint the exact location of the creature. Once we find its true self, its root, we can kill it dead."
"So this monster. It's here?"
"And we're going to kill it?"
"Alright. So what are we waiting for?"
Celad looked out into the sky. In the crisp, freezing night the sky was dense and indigo, but the stars were spread magnificently across the sky. It would have breathtaking on another night, in another place, but tonight it looked like a battleground.
"We go now." Celad stood and left the hollow. Skip scrambled to follow him.
The rest of the climb wasn't bad at all. The incline of the steep hill finally began to level as they neared the top. As they approached the summit, Celad ducked down and looked Skip in the eyes.
"Kill them all. If even one escapes our operation is compromised. Understand?" He whispered fiercely.
His joking gaze had become frosty and serious. He was a different man. Skip nodded and drew his bow. He nocked an arrow and waited for Celad to make his move.
When Celad burst up onto the summit of the hill he did so silently and Skip followed his lead. He saw figures moving in the dark and the diffuse star light made it possible to aim. He fired off an arrow, then another, and prepared another. The first two struck their targets and the man shaped monsters went down to the ground silently. Celad approached one and unsheathed his broadsword. The creature didn't have time to respond before the blade whipped across his throat and separated his head from his body. The dark blood splashed on the rocky ground.
Skip was readying another volley of arrows when he realized what was happening, but he fired anyway. The monsters were not monsters, they were men, shouting in Skip's own language, harried with fear and surprise. But it was too late for empathy. Adrenaline and panic drove part of his mind while the calm of experience settled over his hands and he took aim and felled two more men as Celad whirled and sliced through their ranks.
Eventually a few of the men were able to find their weapons and confront their attackers. One of them had a long-barrel gun of some sort and took aim at Celad, Skip tried to shoot him first, but he got off a shot too soon. Skip's cry died in his throat as Celad reached out a hand and the bullet exploded into a burst of blue flame. Celad flicked the wrist of the same hand and the shooter was flung with force off the side of the hill into the dark. Skip forced himself to go back to shooting despite the feeling growing in his gut that he was a part of something that he didn't understand.
Three more men died with arrows in their hearts and throats before Skip broke had to break cover and run into the fray headlong. Multiple shooter had identified his position and bullets peppered his location. He had to get somewhere safer.
He spotted a large metal crate with a sniper behind it reloading his gun. Skip honed him on the man and was close enough to watch the terror growing in his eyes as Skip leapt on him. They collapsed together into the snowy ground and both spent a dazed moment wrestling free of each other only to begin grappling again once the sniper reached for his gun. They struggled, punching and kicking as both fought for control of the weapon. Finally the sniper got both hands around the gun and Skip sunk a concealed knife into the back of his neck. Blood stained the snow terribly as the man died in the cold. Skip had never killed someone from so close before. A monster yes, but not a person. He swallowed the sick rising from his throat and redrew his bow. A group of shooter was pressing Celad whose blade was stuck in the ground as you used both hands to draw furious protective sigils. The bullets were all immolated before they struck the Templar, but his magic was growing sloppy.
Skip took aim at one of the shooters and took him down. Another went down before they realized that he was a threat and started shooting at Skip instead. Celad, freed from their aim, pushed back with offensive magic. One of the shooters burst into flames and another was sent hurtling away from the hill, his gun shooting uselessly as he fell. After that it was just clean-up. They picked off a few huddled men and Celad executed one man who had thrown his weapon down. There was no mercy on this battleground, it made Skip feel dizzy and confused. His ears burned and his eyes shed unwanted, unexpected tears.
Celad identified the one remaining man and drew him to his feet. He had been cowering behind a crate, defenseless. Skip wanted to object to killing him, but found no words. To his surprise, Celad pulled the furs away from his mouth and began speaking.
"Your rank and affiliation, if you please."
"Field Officer Corbin Pinnell. Machina, Steam and Metallurgy." The shivering man uttered.
Skip felt sick. Then abruptly began throwing up. Celad ignored him.
"Where is it, Officer Pinnell?"
"I don't know what --"
"Lie to me again, Officer Pinnell, and I will gut you. I know it's here. I'd rather not spend all night looking for it, so I'll ask again. Where is it?"
The officer pointed to a crate a not too far away from where they were standing.
"Skip, if you wouldn't mind, please crack that box open and check its contents."
Skip moved with as much authority as a golem. He was in auto-pilot. His mind-reeled with possibilities. He had just helped kill a full cohort of Machina soldiers. It was tantamount to a declaration of war. He had just helped declare war.
He opened the box by banging the butt of a nearby gun against the lid several times. He had pulled the gun out of a dead man's arms. The lid gave way and he plucked out the object inside. It was a small metal orb that fit snugly in the palm of his hand. It was surprisingly lightweight and warm. He could feel it vibrating subtly.
When he brought it over to Celad, the Templar smiled widely and nodded to the officer in his arms.
"Thank you, officer Pinnell."
The officer looked at the orb, then at Skip, and then he spat in the archer's face.
"Death to all enemies of progress! Death to --"
Celad stabbed the man viciously in the stomach with a long knife slipped from his waist and ended his life mid-speech. He let the body fall and turned to Skip.
"What you hold in your hand is a piece of a vast network. One fragment of a monstrous machine. Machina calls it the Intentional Spectrum Analyzer, but it's closer to their god. They use it to detect global shifts in intention and emotion. It directs their actions. Touching it is probably blasphemy," Celad smirked at that, "but we can use it to find the creatures that destroyed your home. To kill them."
"What does it do? How will we do it?" He felt numb.
"A clever empath can tap their network, direct the machine. Their ISA can analyze multiple planes, it can do things they can't even dream of. Wherever it hides, whenever it moves, we can find it and stop it from shifting, from escaping."
"How do you know all this?"
Celad's smile widened.
"I've been hunting these things since I was ten. You'd be surprised what you can learn in that time."
Zophir summoned a book from across the room and furrowed his brow when it did not come. He had to reform the thought in his mind and extend his will into the aether before the book levitated neatly from the table and floated over. It had been weeks since the grimoire bled him dry and his command of magic was still not fully recovered. He found himself having to restate formulae and redraw sigils with distressing frequency. His power was still there, but it felt like his command of it had evaporated. He shook his head and cracked the book open in mid-air, outlined something with his fingers and then sent it back. He made a note in his own journal and then summoned another book.
"Is there a missing volume here?" Zophir asked as the second book drifted over.
Selim looked up from his own notes.
"The series Magica Obscura, is there a volume missing? I was expecting to find the White papers on material divestiture."
Selim checked his notes and then looked up.
"I haven't used it in my research. So I suppose I haven't seen it. What did you need from it?" Selim asked.
"I'm not sure. I think I might have overlooked a formula for disenchanting objects. It would be helpful should we have to confront another set of cloth monsters."
Selim made a thoughtful noise and then returned to his papers. They'd been working closely together under Dean Drago's direct supervision in order to formulate strategies for future encounters with unclassifiable creatures. So far their work had uncovered few methodologies, but --
"Selim?" Zophir asked.
The magus looked up again, slightly miffed about being disrupted. It was late and they'd been at it all day.
"Don't you think it's strange that we've never encountered anything like these creatures before?"
"How do you mean?"
"We have entire histories of magic theory and practice going back hundreds of years, but not once have we seen anything about these monsters. Isn't that strange? I mean, they have to come from somewhere, right? They have to be somewhere in history."
Selim cocked his head. "I suppose, but that doesn't mean that we would necessarily have evidence of it. Our histories have their limits."
"So where can we find more histories?"
Selim shook his head slowly. "I don't think that's a good idea, Zophir. Our relations with Machina are tenuous right now. Is it in our best interests to try to rifle through their libraries again?"
"Who said I was talking about Machina?"
"...I'm not sure I follow you, Zophir."
"The Templars have histories on every religion, god, monster, and creature they have ever declared anathema. If they've ever encountered these things then they'll have information. Valuable information."
"From bad to worse!" Selim cried, "you want to involve the Templars? Those xenophobic zealots? What makes you think they'll help us?"
"We'll be doing them a favor if we can hunt these things down," Zophir explained, "beside. Do you have a better idea?"
"This doesn't seem like a sound plan. I doubt very much that the Deans will like us getting in bed with Templars."
"You're right as always, Selim," said Zophir, "that's why I don't think we're going to tell them."
Selim's frown deepened.
"This isn't a joke, Zophir. The campus is in a state of emergency and we've been given faculty-level clearance. If we go against their instructions at this point it's sedition. We're liable to be hunted and executed."
"Selim. We have no leads, no idea what attacked us or how to fight it. We don't have the slightest clue what to do next. Should we sit here and wait for another attack? Is that why you became an adventurer? To sit on your ass and wait for the next horrible thing to happen?"
Selim narrowed his eyes.
"No, Zophir. I came to Obsidian to become a master magus. Something that I can consider all but dashed if I go galavanting with you on some crazy trip," he lowered his voice, "I'm sorry, but I just can't see how it makes sense to pursue this."
"They need you here, Selim. Your farsight is crucial at a time like this. But me? What am I doing here, right now, that a dozen other magi couldn't?"
Selim didn't answer so Zophir continued.
"All I need from you is a day. In one day you can tell the Deans what I've done and you can even help them track me down. All I need is a day before you 'realize' what happened and tell them everything."
"Selim, this is --"
Selim raised a hand to stop him.
"Have you thought about who might go with you?"
Trell was hauling the last set of stones away from the northern wall along with a golem who wasn't much company. The sun had already set and everyone who had labored with him throughout the day was too worn out to continue. He sent them all to their beds while he hauled the fallen stone away from a large gap in the wall. He enlisted a sturdy golem to help with with the last of the stone. The solemn automaton was almost more trouble than it was worth. It couldn't process complex instructions and had to be told in minute detail what it was supposed to do. The string of narration required to direct the thing made Trell's long patience wither. He was about to follow his own good advice and quit for the night when he saw someone approaching.
At first he thought it was one of the members of his crew checking on him, but it turns out he was wrong.
"Zophir," Trell said in surprise and wiped his dusty hands on his pants, "I thought you wouldn't want to see me after throwing me out earlier."
The magus didn't even have the decency to look apologetic.
"Listen, Trell. I think I need your help."
Zophir looked less harried than impatient.
"I'm listening." Trell offered.
"It's a long story, but I need to leave tonight. I need to meet with the Templars."
Trell laughed. Zophir did not.
"You're serious," the hammerman eventually said, "you seriously want to stalk off in the middle of the night to go find some Templars? Are you mad, Zophir?"
"I'm not going to stand here waiting to die. "
Trell looked around, lowered his voice.
"Zophir," his features looked darker in the starlight, "reconsider. Going out into the middle of nowhere in order to seek a hostile, half-mad order? And without the sanction of the faculty? This can only end poorly."
"I don't see that I have a choice in this. We're at a loss here. We know as much about the attack as we did while it was happening. The Templars pride themselves on hunting the unknown. If they know something about what happened and why, then it's irresponsible not to seek their knowledge."
"At what price?" Trell asked sharply.
"At any price."
Trell put both hands out. "Why me? We hardly know each other, Zophir. After this morning I didn't even think you wanted to see me again, much less ask for my help."
"I'm a decent judge of character. You pick it up when you screw around as much as I do," Zophir said lightly and then, catching Trell's look, revised his statement, "You're the strongest person I know. I need someone who can fight. Someone whose skills I can trust. As for the rest, consider it a leap of faith."
"So now you rely on faith?"
"I'm relying on the fact that if you were going to turn me down you would have done it already."
It came down to a silence between them. Zophir standing with his arms crossed over his chest and Trell with his dusty hands at both sides. The burly hammerman looked defeated.
"Let me get my weapon."