As promised, an excerpt from book three below!
As one comes closer to the base of the library fortress, the shops open into a great square around it, offering a fantastic view of the many towers stacked atop one another leading to the main spire that stretches far into the sky, blending in with the peaks of the mountains on the horizon. The square is not so much a gathering place for buskers and street merchants, as it would be in most cities, but is an oddly calm location almost devoid of any except tourists who have come to gawk at the imposing seat of arcane majesty. In the aftermath of the God-Sorceror’s defeat in the Arcane Wars, such visitors were rare. The tension was amplified by patrols of spellswords, bedecked in plate mail and with many plumes extending from helms and spears of bright shades of red, green, and purple. Though they were wondrous looking, like some heroic figures of fairy tales, they were exceptionally dangerous and, despite their gaudy dress, stern and foreboding beneath their armor.
The square features little in the way of shops or taverns, but there are a few that line the edge and are frequented by apprentices and wizards alike. It was to one of these establishments that Diaga chose to go first, in search of a former teacher he knew to have frequented the place. If she were still actively working in the fortress, he expected he’d find her there during the day.
The shop was known as The Scroll Binders, and was an old and highly regarded establishment for the ancient practice of rune and sigil etching. The walls inside were covered in parchment bedecked in the language of the arcane, some single characters and others several words in length, all made with exquisite calligraphy. These were demonstrations of the work the proprietors could perform, each with a price listed at the corner of the scroll. They ranged from simple wards against pests or alarm systems to shield from thieves, to more complex and potentially harmful wards intended to seal illusory walls or ignite the unwary person who had triggered them. Diaga scanned the walls and then began to make his way through the tightly placed shelves covered in more reams of paper as well as a few physical objects that had been etched, everything from skulls to silverware.
At the back of the store, he saw exactly who he expected sitting at one of several desks, practicing the precise strokes to form a singular rune. She had a stack of papers, blank, to her left; and she had a smaller stack of those she had completed, but in some minor way imperceptible to Diaga, not up to par. She had long grey hair tied back with a simple leather cord and wore heavy robes of blue, faded with use. Rather than a staff, which was traditional among most wizards, she had a wand set off to one side made of finely carved bone. As she turned to pick up the next blank piece of paper, she caught sight of Diaga over her shoulder, squeezing his way past a massive trunk that stood on its side.
Raising her hexagonal spectacles, through which she had been studying her work, she narrowed her eyes, and then her aged face broke into a massive grin. “My gods, Diaga Cursair? Child, you’ve come back!”
Despite himself, Diaga smiled. “Mistress Indra, it’s so good to see you.”
She prevented further conversation by rising, with some haste even given her advanced years, from her seat and hugging him tightly. “I was afraid I wouldn’t see you again in my lifetime, short as the remainder may be.” She held him by the arms and stepped back to study him, her face growing suddenly concerned. “Why, Diaga, something horrible has happened. What is it?”
Though they had never known Neep at Ozmandias, Diaga felt certain that Indra would understand. It was thus that he spent the better part of the next two hours seated on a bench next to her, explaining all that had transpired since he had left the wizard school. Indra never interrupted nor posed questions, nor did her old hands leave his own which she had sandwiched between hers. Diaga did not, could not, tell her everything, but he told her enough. He found, for the first time in months, that he could say Neep’s name without halting his words. It was unclear to him if that was progress.
When he had finished, Indra removed her spectacles fully and set them aside. “Well, my boy, you’ve been through quite enough for several lifetimes. I am so sorry, Diaga.” She leaned back a bit and studied him once more. “But you aren’t here to have an old woman take pity on you. What is it that brought you back?”
Diaga hesitated. He needed Indra’s help to reach the fortress and see Q’thal under his own terms, but he also knew that if he told her too much, Q’thal would learn the same. Whether she wanted to tell him or not, Q’thal would get from her what he wanted through careful study and inquiry, and Indra would likely never even know she’d betrayed her beloved pupil. “Have you heard of this Lord of Legocia? That’s my friend, Jovanaleth Blade, who I was telling you about. He means to do something about the Nerothians terrorizing the continent, and I am here to ask for help.”
“From the Prime Wizard himself?” Indra could not help narrowing her eyes in obvious distaste. “Q’thal is not a man who concerns himself with what he sees as minor matters, and as extreme as things may have become in the north, they don’t even warrant a meeting of our staff to address.” She gave Diaga a sympathetic look. “I wish I could give you more hope.”
“I just need to see him and do what was asked of me,” Diaga said with a smile. “No more or less.”
“So why come to me? Q’thal would see you in a heartbeat, his prize pupil.” Her tone, though it feigned confusion, could not hide the glint in her eye. Diaga and she both knew full well why he would not go directly to Q’thal, but they kept up the deception between one another.
To that end, Diaga played along. “I have some friends that I wish to bring in as well, and it would be far easier to be invited than to petition the Spellswords.”
“Ah, of course. Too much paperwork and chance of rejection; I understand. Who are your friends?”
“Khaliandra, a priestess of Endoth; Aenallanos, a Revenant;” he paused a moment and pressing his lips together in obvious concern he added, “and Gervina, a Rift Sweeper.”
“A Rift Sweeper?” Indra’s voice was scandalized. “You may as well ask to bring an assassin into our midst, or one of those Wizard Hunters from the Sirrion Sea.”
“She may not even be a Rift Sweeper any longer. We found her wandering the streets here, and she’s in poor health. I don’t think she’s a danger to anyone but herself.”
“You are asking quite a bit, my dear.” Indra’s serious face faded in short order. “Though, I am certain I can get you in. Where would you like me to contact you when I have the matter settled?”
“I’m staying at the Drunken Wizard.” Indra cocked one eyebrow in mock surprise. “It was the cheapest place we could find for two rooms. I’ve not grown wealthier in my time away from Ozmandias.”
“Expect word from me by tomorrow then, and please keep Gervina’s former, or current, allegiance between us. I don’t want to have her tossed in a cell as soon as she gets into the fortress.” Indra smiled once more and patted Diaga’s cheek. “It will be good to have you back, if only temporarily.”
“Thank you, Mistress. I look forward to it.”
“Now, let’s see how you have kept up with your studies.” She handed him a blank sheet and quill. “Start with an ice ward, and we’ll see how steady your hand is.”
Diaga was going to protest, thinking he ought to get back to the others sooner rather than later, but her stare and tone brooked no argument, and he sat down with, in truth, little resistance; to become a student once more.