Almos Story: Valgarde

“You’re certain of this?” Olfa asked, the Elf looked more troubled than Avara had ever seen her.

Watcher Krix nodded.

Avara had to applaud the mage for his cool head. He sat before the council of Archmages for the city-state nation, each of whom was also a teacher at the legendary University for Almos’ magically inclined.

Olfa, Sage of Time and Keeper of the Hourglass; Avara, High Archmage and Keeper of the Keystaff; Yurin, Master Elementalist and Keeper of the Five Gems; Hessa, the Blessed and Keeper of the Shield; Kasha, Sage of the Isles, and Keeper of the Storm Stone; and, lastly, Vyn, Sage of Nature and Keeper of the Tree.

They were, each of them, some of the most powerful sorcerers in the realm, though Avara didn’t kid herself in the belief that they were absolutely the most powerful.

After all, she already knew of one sorceress who was certainly more powerful than she, in spite of the fact that as the High Archmage, Avara was generally regarded as the most powerful magic user in the lands.

Thurma would have been bored to death of politics. She could have easily held Kasha’s title if she wanted, her powers over the seas and storms were unparalleled, but she had absolutely zero ambition for it.

Most everyone in Eteras knew of Avara’s mentor, though few knew that she was Avara’s mentor, or that she was anything other than Mad Mage of Dushwyn. Formally, she was considered a Legacy of Eteras, a title bestowed on only a few souls in the University’s history. That alone should have been an indicator of Thurma’s power, but people saw what they wanted to see.

“Aye, Professor.” Krix continued, “it was the Silverwood Sentinels that attacked the Night Pack. All of us saw it. Though the Night Pack activated their guardian first.”

The six Archmagi looked at one another, as though an answer might make itself evident on one of their faces. Avara closed her eyes.

“Damn the fools. They knew what they were doing,” Avara said, loud enough for everyone to hear, but in hushed tones nonetheless. “Vrana must be told.”

“Doing so could cause Hallia to crumble into civil war,” Hessa warned.

Avara turned his gaze to the Angellic woman, the only such being in Eteras. Avara couldn’t risk offending her, but it was clear that Hessa’s foremost priority was Hallia, not Eteras, or, in this instance, Almos as a whole.

“If we don’t warn her, Vrana rushes headlong into a conflict that could tip the balance of the entire continent.” Yurin responded before Avara could.

Vyn cut in next, “we must inform Woth, and the Wandering tribes as well.”

“Quiet!” Avara did raise her voice, before the situation devolved into an hours long debate.

“I clearly have more faith in Vrana than you do. I don’t think civil war is likely, she will find a way to avoid it. As for the rest of Almos, yes, we must let them know.”

Avara looked around, sighing. “We don’t have time for this, the new semester is starting. Nevertheless, if we don’t act, the semester may end up canceled anyways.

“I will travel to Eila to speak with Vrana. Vyn, you will need to make the journey to Woth. Kasha, you must take the Keystaff and journey to the Shrine in my stead.”

That caused a stir.

“The Keystaff is your responsibility. High Archmage, you must go to the Shrine. I will inform Vrana.” Hessa said.

“No one needs to go anywhere,” Olfa said, “we have means of contact right here in our University.”

“The mists of Woth prevent scrying,” Vyn responded heatedly.

Avara stood up and rubbed her face in her hand. There was nothing else to be gained from further debate. The voices quieted when she did.

“The Keystaff is my responsibility, but that also means I can do with it as I please.” Avara walked out to the middle of the circular room and held out her hand.

Moments later a staff, as tall as she was, made of a brilliant blue metal with a pointed blue gemstone settled in the four pronged forks that rose out of the straight, cylindrical base. Avara turned and looked at Kasha, “Keeper of the Storm Stone, please approach.”

Kasha was a tall, willowy woman with long blue hair. She favored purple colors and wore lilac robes today, trimmed in a deeper purple, reminiscent of amethyst. She stood and walked over, a small smile curled on her purple lips. It was slightly wry, but her blue eyes were kind.

“I answer, High Archmage.” She said simply.

“I bestow upon you the Keystaff. I entrust it to your care until we both return to Eteras.” Avara took in a tense breath, then handed the staff over and let out a small sigh.

“I shall honor and pledge my life to it.”

“It is done, then.” Avara said with a sharp glance at the other members of the council. “Those of us with journeys ahead of us should select our best students to tend to our duties while we’re gone. I call this meeting to an end.”

Avara watched as Krix departed. The young wereowl seemed amazed to be in the presence of so many powerful magi, but, while the other members of the council took their time responding to her dismissal, there wasn’t a hint of such insolence in him. She favored Krix with a smile before returning her gaze to watch the others leave.

Vyn left first, pausing for a moment next to her. “Is it time?”

Avara felt her pulse quicken a bit at the question, but she mastered her expressions and kept herself impassive as she gave a simple, terse nod.

Vyn didn’t even acknowledge the answer, he simply left.

Next were Hessa and Yurin, neither did more than glance at her. As always, Avara found herself slightly entranced by Hessa’s wings. They were pure white, but in the right lighting they almost appeared as if they were lined in gold. Yurin’s pointed beard and sharp eyebrows lent his face a severe aspect which served his expression well as he left.

Kasha favored Avara with a sly smile as she departed.

Last was Olfa, who walked right up to her.

“Yes?” Avara asked, unable to entirely hide how unnerved she was by the woman’s piercing blue gaze. She was an Elf, but her eyes were wider than that of most of her kind and humans as well, an aspect of her wereowl nature that was at once as lovely as it was disconcerting.

“I assume you will want to increase the Watchers along the borders.” Olfa said simply.

“Yes.”

Avara watched as Olfa shifted her form. Wereowls were fairly androgynous, their feathered bodies looking much the same as one another. As such, Olfa’s robe shifted into a skirt and left her torso bare, making it easier for her to spread her wings. However, for the moment, though snowy white feathers covered her entire body, Olfa’s arms remained, ending in taloned claws which grasped her tall, wooden staff.

Watching always took Avara’s breath away.

There was something sinuous and beautiful about lycanthrope transformation. It was true that most graduates of Eteras could change their form or appearance at will with a simple spell, but the change was always such obvious magic as to be slightly crude in nature. While lycanthropy was certainly magic as well, it was magic of its own kind and its shifting completeness held a beauty no mere spell could hope to match.

Avara was a bit jealous, but not completely so. Lycanthropes were only completely accepted in Woval, though the Wandering Tribes were fairly tolerant as well. Valgarde was… more tolerant than Morland and Hal’la. Both nations were notorious for their prejudice against the shapeshifters. She knew that neither nation outright killed or otherwise banned them, but they tended to keep the Lycanthropes segregated.

Valgarde wasn’t quite as bad, for which Avara should have been proud. However, Olfa was a rare example of someone who had broken the ceiling. Lycanthropes could attend the school, they could do well in their classes, but they would almost never hold positions of authority, in Valgarde, or Morland, or Hal’la.

The room was empty, so Avara made her way over to one of the large windows that peered out over the floating city-campus below. They were only a couple thousand feet up, but magic spells sustained a layer of clouds surrounding the rocky base below.

However, the city-campus itself was a vibrant landscape of spindly white towers, low-domed buildings, and soaring bridges. Most of it was white marble, but there were colored stones too, arranged in geometric shapes or arrayed in fantastic mosaics. She’d been at the school for almost two decades, yet every time she looked at the buildings in a different light, at a different angle, or just in a different mood, she saw things she’d never seen before.

If one was unfamiliar with the city-campus, they might have accused the stones of moving and rearranging themselves of their own volition. However, while the stones were filled with plenty of magic, as High Archmage, Avara was privy to its secrets, and none of them had magic to rearrange.

Avara considered Vrana her friend. They’d known each other for over eight years. She didn’t want to believe that Vrana could be capable of such an escalation of violence, but even if that were true, it only made things worse. Vrana couldn’t tolerate disloyalty, her vengeance on the Werewolves would be decisive, leaving the nation vulnerable to a blood-thirsty Morland.

However, as it stood, Hal’la had the stronger military might behind them. They could easily seize Morland territory and while that might make Vrana happy, it would shift the precarious balance between the nations, a balance that Valgarde had done its best to help facilitate as the neutral buffering party between the two. If Hal’la pushed too far, would Valgarde be drawn in?

As much as she could see from the window, Avara couldn’t see enough of what she needed to see. High up in the clouds, the rest of the world was remote, and the campus-city of Eteras itself was continuing on much as it always had. Rumors were like a fire in the wild, and she was sure most of the students knew about what was going on, but even if full war erupted, it wouldn’t have immediate impacts on the current semester.

Avara sighed and turned away from the window. She waved her hand in a loose swirling motion and then snapped her fingers. A small, artificial construct appeared from behind the double doors leading into the chamber and trotted over.

Its strange, artificial voice asked, “what is your service, Mistress?”

“We need to begin packing.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *