While Ivy settles in at the underwater base, other things are happening that will eventually have consequences for the Leaders. This is one of them.
As everyone knows, true magic is forbidden in the Asonian Empire. Mages have always wrought havoc for Ason, bringing firestorms, plagues, floods, or legions of undead on any Imperial citizen who happened to annoy them, so it isn’t surprising magic is illegal.
But outlawing magic doesn’t make it impossible, and using magic to fight the criminals who use it would make the kings and queens who used it just as guilty. Therefore, the Imperial Academy of the Lesser Magics was established to create and teach completely non-magical methods of equaling the skills of mages.
Our story begins at that Academy, on a March afternoon in early first semester.
A foyer somewhere in the Citadel of Illusion. A scattering of upholstered cubes serve as seats, a few of them surrounding a small round table in the centre of the room. To the left are three sets of double doors for lecture theatres; to the right a corridor leads past a set of stairs and out of view.
A window in the rear wall looks out through the branches of a tree. Most of the rest of the wall is white, but a student is lethargically painting over a jungle-themed mural that covers one end of the wall.
Hi. I’m Darrabin.
JULIET Shakes hands
Juliet. Pleased to meet you.
Takes out a pack of cards, and starts to shuffle them
You mind if I practice this on you? I have to learn a card trick for Sleight of Hand.
Sure. You’re doing Illusion too, then?
What are you studying for? Legant or Adept?
Legant. Illusion and Resourcefulness.
Offers him the pack
Pick a card.
DARRABIN Takes the top card from the pack, looks at it, and then balances it carefully on his head
What’s Resourcefulness like?
Enter a tall, black-haired student, wearing a rather distinctive, up-to-the-minute hat. Her face looks slightly odd, as though reflected in a curved mirror. She stands by the window and watches the conversation.
Resourcefulness? Okay. Lots of taking things apart and putting them together again. I never realised just how complicated a ballpoint pen was.
Shuffles the pack
Okay, put it back in.
Darrabin does so; she starts to look through the cards
You doing a Legancy as well?
Illusion and Trivia — basically just memorising long lists of random things. Not that bad, but the exams suck. Did you want to know what card it was?
JULIET Draws a card out of the deck and holds it up
The six of clubs?
Pretty good. But I saw you turn the pack upside down. Try practicing it on someone who isn’t doing Illusion.
I would have, if you hadn’t been an Illusionist.
To the student with the hat
JULIET Offers her the pack
Um… Would you mind having a go at this card trick?
Sure. Iolillia Biamin, but you can call me Lily.
JULIET Shakes hands
Iolillia takes a card and looks at it.
Now put it on your head.
IOLILLIA Takes off her hat, revealing long, pointed ears
Oh, and I should probably have mentioned I’m an elf.
Puts on a silly accent, and talks while fiddling with the pack and making ‘mind-reading’ gestures.
Now, I shall attempt to read your mind.
IOLILLIA After a few seconds of gestures
Takes the card out and offers it back to Juliet
Just put it back in the pack.
Waits for her to do so, then shuffles it again
Now, as you can see, I could have no idea where in the pack your card
Spreads the cards out on the table
Do you see your card?
IOLILLIA Looks through the cards
No. It isn’t here.
Opens the box the cards came in, and pulls one out
The Eight of Diamonds?
Yes. That was quite impressive. I wish I could do that sort of mind-reading after the study I’ve done.
I’m doing Comprehension; just finished the Legancy exam for it last year. It’s nowhere near as impressive as that, though.
I suppose. Isn’t Comprehension all about being able to tell what people are thinking?
Well … sort of, but not the way most people think. It’s not the sort of thing you do as a party trick. Would you really want me to know what you’re thinking of right now?
DARRABIN Thinks about it
No, I suppose not.
JULIET Looks at watch
I’d better get going. I’ve got a Resourcefulness lecture I
don’t want to miss. Surviving in a Wild Environment or something.
IOLILLIA Pulls out a latest-model mobile phone
I think I’m in that as well.
Exit Juliet and Iolillia
Darrabin waits until the other two are well out of earshot, then goes back to painting. He pulls out a watercolour paint set and starts adding to the mural he was erasing earlier, periodically sneaking a look down the corridors. After a while, he packs away the paints and leaves for a lecture.
Still in the foyer
Enter a person wearing a trench coat and heavy black hat, with a backpack. They pull a tall cloth package out of the backpack, put it on the table, and unwrap it while carefully avoiding looking at the contents. Eventually, the wrapping is simply draped over the package, at which point the person turns away, reaches back, pulls of the cloth and walks off with it, never looking back.
Revealed on the table is a tall glass preserving jar, containing a shriveled reptilian creature floating in yellowish liquid. The creature appears to be some sort of lizard, except for what looks like a pair of wings on its back.