Homeward Bound

We decide to tell DeRudio what happened, so I send him a message saying that Chirina took the package, and asking what he wants us to do. I also ask if she was working for him. He replies back that she wasn’t and to catch her if we can, but to come back to Rome either way.

So, we have another discussion about how we could possibly find her. She was the only reason we made it as far as we did around this country. We could just go back to Rome and see if she shows up at her “uncle’s.” Maybe our hosts could get us off Sicily and back to Rome? Remy asks. In return, he asks for all our remaining mana, but Mr. Young speaks up and he agrees to get us to Rome at no charge. Mr. and Mrs. Young are going to come back with us and get back home with Philomena whil we conclude our business. Our host lets us know that if we ever need to deal with the Family back home, to contact Santo Costa in New Gnosis. He’s as trustworthy as they come in the Family. Mr. Young says Santo is the reason he was able to get us free passage.

In short order, we are bustled down to the docks, onto a fishing boat and ferried off to Rome. The first night on the boat, Nat dreams of blood and fire in an alabaster city, with no way to stop it. The second night out, Chirina appears to us in a flash of light. She apologizes for running off the way she did. We toss questions at her. No, he’s not her uncle, but also no, she didn’t hurt him. She suggests we abandon our path, because the man we have a contract with is not who he says he is. She is taking the research back to its rightful owners – the Keepers of the Pact of Silk and Iron. She has made arrangements for us to get home and left a package with the boat. We will receive the package whether or not we take the boat. She thinks the best way to fight this knowledge is to spread it around, so copies have been made and we will be getting one. She suggests we find the Liquidita with Captain Gio Zamora when we get to Rome and just get out of Italy. She insists she’s alright and to call upon the Black Swan should we ever need her.

Once in Rome, Philomena and her parents say their goodbyes and head off to book passage home. Klyce insists on hanging out at the docks until he sees them board the ship and the ship sets sail. After that, he insists that we go meet our contact, whoever he may be. He doesn’t want to be looking over his shoulder, rather sit right down in the trap. First, though, we decide to go check out the Liquidita, and see what Chirina has left us. So, we go meet Captain Gio Zamora and First Mate Joanie Rivera. The captain is ready to leave whenever we want, and brings us out a chest. It is full of gold, a doodle of Ceres, a copy of the research, and intelligence for our “American masters.” We lock it all back up and head to our meeting.

We are welcomed much as before, to a banquet hall. A strange man joins us and welcomes us. He confirms that we were unable to get the research from Chirina. Yes, sorry. He says that he has found out that she was working for his employers, so the job is done. He has lost some face for not getting it done himself, but it worked out in the end. He couldn’t tell us until we were face to face, and apologizes if we felt threatened. He offers his hospitality, but encourages us to get out of Rome as soon as possible, so we head back to the ship.

The crew all thought we wouldn’t be back until morning, so they’ve all gotten drunk. That’s alright, we set watches and get some sleep ourselves before sailing out the next day. On the way, Nat practices picking the locks on some manacles, and Remy reads over the political papers. It’s a long sail, but we help as we can. We head into port in New Gnosis, and Remy gave the captain some money to get someone on the dock to deliver our trunk to the house. He looks at us oddly until we explain we’re likely to be arrested as soon as we dock. Which we are. There are eighteen police, three mages, and Marybeth waiting for us when we sail in. They take us to the Tower of Justice.

Aleria, Etherion, Weist, Pyrus, and Rictus are all waiting for us there. Klyce takes the lead on the report. Explaining the situation, as well as everything that happened. Remy offers up the research and the political reports, explaining that this is just a copy of the research. Klyce tries to take all the blame for us going against orders, but Rictus isn’t buying it. He enumerates our crimes against the government. He’s mostly angry that we have attracted the attention of the Pact of Silk and Iron, decades before they were ready to face them. He says he wishes to avoid imprisoning us and has a compromise if we will agree. We do, the rest of the Primes do. We are sentenced to three years in the service of the Mages Corp, at the rank of Captain. Dalish, who he forced to go, and Marybeth, who didn’t go, will be awarded the rank of Major, to keep us in line. We will be shipping out soon, and are dismissed.

Klyce, Remy, and Marybeth all head to their respective families to convey the news. I write my parents a letter. Nat asks me to send a message to her Grandmother about getting more tea. She wants me to send to her brother as well, but I’m not so sure about that one. Baba says the mushrooms under cow patties are what Nat needs, so when she goes hunting. Nat offers to help Klyce’s sister the same way she helped Mrs. Youg, but it doesn’t work the same for her. When I try to send to Nat’s undead brother, nothing happens. I’m not sure which of the various reasons is the problem.

We report in to our new commanding officers the next day. Colonel Bronson and Lt. Colonel Durance. They tell us our responsibility will be watching over a new machine. It is a double-sized tanker wagon, with a familiar console up on top. It is a Mana Resupply Device and will be full of mana, so we are to keep it from being shot. Our job is to keep it safe and full.

Oh, Dawnmother! What have they done?!? Nonononono! We can’t! It can’t! Oh No!

Remy goes up to the console, and sets his hands on it. It looks just the same. I go up to the tank and put my hand on it. It hurts! Oh Dawnmother, it Hurts! I try to scream, but they have built a silence spell into the whole thing so no one can hear the horror that is happening inside. We have to stop this. We can’t do this! We have to convince them not to do this! We have to convince them it’s wrong so they don’t make more of these.

Dragging ourselves away from this horror, we meet the other mages in our group. Providence, Rebecca Nash, and Victor Strang. But we’re in too much shock to talk much to them. We are heading south to find Royalists, and stray mages that stand against us. Eventually, we’ll get to New Calais, the alabaster city which Nat says will burn to the ground.

Madmen and Duels

I woke up secured to a table with Nat secured on another table beside me. What the fresh hell is this? Professor Garian came into my vision, glad to see me awake. He says he doesn’t usually use humans down here, too messy. I try to tell him that Nat isn’t like me, that she won’t be useful to him, but he just laughs and says I’m not the only special one.

He wiggles his fingers and strange little man appears, floating above his hand. What are you? I wonder in the strange monster tongue, but it just giggles, and together, they walk over to a glowing orb. Oh man, not another one. The strange little man puts his hands on the orb and everything goes white with pain. There is only screaming.

For a very long time.

After an eternity of pain, Maribeth’s voice creeps into my head. I must be hallucinating, and all I can do is scream in response. Over and over again. Her voice comes and goes, time doesn’t mean anything. Eventually, mercifully, darkness claims me.

Then I am awake, removed from the table. There is fighting all around, but I can barely stand. Nat is still unconscious, so I go to her. She’s still breathing, but barely. I pull her out into the hall, away from all the fighting and shouting. I think Malden is in there with all my friends, but I cannot bear to look.

Soon enough, they all come out into the hall wondering if it is finally over. That’s when Professor Rictus arrived. Everyone starts arguing about killing us for knowing about Garian’s experiments. Rictus starts to cast a spell on all of us, but Malden blocks him. Challenges him to Certimun. Nonononono! Not Malden! He can’t die for us! He’s the only one who cares about us, who believes us.

Rictus leaves and everyone babbles at Malden, but I just stare at him, unable to process the words. He ushers us all up to see Raltus in the infirmary, and I have to levitate Nat to get us there. I don’t know how I manage it, but I do. Everything is a blur until I wake up the next morning.

This can’t be real. Nothing about the last six months can be real. I didn’t get magic. I didn’t go to mage school. I haven’t been putting my life in danger every damn day to save people. This is not my life. I don’t get charged with Treason. I’m just a silly little girl. This has to be a dream. No, not a dream, a nightmare worse than every nightmare I’ve had so far. Treason? Certimun?

The others scramble to study and learn – trying to find a way to help. Trying to decide if we should run. Run now, or run if things go poorly. We can’t. There’s nothing we can do. Rictus is too powerful. We head down for breakfast. I decide, since it’s my last day on earth, that I get to eat all the sweets I want. I spend the day in the dining hall, drowning all this year’s pain in pastries.

When evening comes, I put on my most formal dress and we all head to the Theatre. It is packed full of people. Even my parents have come, along with everyone else’s. The don’t look concerned, though, just confused. James, Philomena, even Klyce who didn’t come with us, is there. We all have to stand along the back of the stage. Aleria, once she gets us in place, waits for Rictus and Malden. Malden is slow to arrive, his age weighs on him. He looks so weak beside Rictus.

Aleria tries to get Rictus to back down, but he will not. Malden refuses as well, he will not let us be killed. Aleria has the basin filled with mana, now more precious because we have destroyed the machine that fueled the fountain. She casts the ritual, closing the circle, and the Certimun begins.

Malden immediately animates, moving just as quickly and fluidly as Rictus. The battle rages fast and furious. Too fast for us to follow. To fast to know what is being cast and countered. We’ve been in fights before, but nothing like this. Nothing that took this long. They cast and counter, cast and counter faster than we can turn our heads.

The mana is nearly gone when they both pause to take a breath. Malden casts a single line of blue at Rictus, and rejoices in his hit. Rictus, however, seems unphased and casts a green bolt at Malden. Malden begins coughing. Coughing up dust. Dust and more dust, and then he begins to turn to dust. Malden’s entire form turns to dust and then nothing.

There is a stunned moment of silence before Aleria steps forward and announces Rictus as the victor. Rictus smiles for the first time, and turns to all of us, raising a hand. A blue light flashes behind his eyes, and he turns away, back towards the crowd.

He declares that he has no further grievance with us, that we are innocent of all charges, and under his protection. Any who seek to harm us must first go through him.

Everyone stares, stunned. Maribeth and I start sobbing, and the boys usher us all backstage. There is a babble of voices around me. He did it? He dominated him? Can it be broken? What does this mean? We should stay out of trouble. We don’t need to deal with the fae that escaped. We should just go to class tomorrow. I don’t understand, I just cling to Maribeth as we head back to the dorm and to bed.

In the morning, they tell everyone that classes have been cancelled indefinitely, due to lack of sufficient professors. If they can’t find enough professors, the year will be declared complete. Those who wish to stay, may do so, as the school remains open until a final decision has been made. Professor Rictus has taken a sabatical of indeterminant length.

What do we do now?