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Feb. 24th, 2010

Takeshi

2 Eleasis 1372 - Morning

Mount (Conjuration). Material Component: a pinch of horse hair (note: do not literally try to pinch hair from a horse, as Terro found out once. Man, that halfling can fly). Summon a horse to serve as your willing mount for a limited duration. Unlike a spell like Summon Monster, the creature does not appear to be extraplanar in nature, but merely appears as if it were grazing over yonder, from behind a corner just out of sight. This spell has never ceased to produce a genuine horse for me, whether I be in the city, out in the woods, or inside a professor's office at the university. Jonah and I once had this long, protracted debate as to whether or not one could summon a horse if one were standing on a rock in the middle of a lava field, or on a boat, or in mid-air. (Of course you can. Don't ask Jonah though. It gets him very sad, passionate, and angry at the same time. I had to give in and agree that Mystra probably wouldn't allow a newly summoned horsey to fall to certain doom, just so he'd shut up about it).

Morning. The princess's mood has decidedly not improved. I can tell by the way she storms up to me when I emerge from the tent.

"Well?" she demands.

"Well what?"

"That spell that you so kindly volunteered for us. Let's see it."

"Now?" I ask. "But I just got up."

"That's not our fault. The rest of us are about ready to go." Seledra nods behind her, where I can see Ralenthra burying the remains of our campfire and Dorn knotting up the top of his pack.

"But what about breakfast?"

"We've already had it."

Belatedly the smell of bacon fat wafts toward me. My stomach growls.

"Fine," I say. "But what about our tent, smart girl? We still need to put that away."

Seledra snaps a finger, and Kronk reaches for something at the top of our tent and snaps it. With a whistle not unlike a deck of cards being shuffled, the tent collapses. The big guy starts rolling up armfuls of canvas into a ball.

The druid smiles. "See? We're ready to go."

"My stuff was still in there."

Kronk calls out, "Is tent supposed to make squishing noises?"

The smug look leaves Seledra's face.

* * * * * * *

Eight minutes later...

My pack is now outside the tent, safe and sound, if a little more battered for the wear.

"Is your spell ready?" asks Seledra again. "Tense Floatey Disk?"

I sigh. "You can at least use the proper nomenclature. Tenser's Floating Disk."

"Whatever."

"If that's too hard to remember, just call it 'The Big D.' "

Seledra narrows her eyes. "The Big D."

"Well, technically, it's 'The Other Big D,' " I explain. "Normally, when I say 'The Big D' I'm referring to my—"

"You can shut up now," says Seledra.

Ralenthra approaches. "Are you sure you don't want me to shut him up, Ledra?"

Seledra snaps, "Just summon your big floating disk!"

Kronk snickers. Even Dorn cracks a slight grin.

"Anything for a lady," I bow. The slightly translucent plane known in some circles as The Big D appears.

Ralenthra squints at it. "Magnos, are you sure it wasn't bigger yesterday?"

"What do you mean?" I ask.

She shrugs. "Up close, it doesn't strike me as particularly...big. I've seen bigger."

"Oh, it's plenty big enough for our purposes," I say. "Just watch."

Kronk takes the haphazardly rolled up tent and dumps it onto Big D. Even packed up, the tent's girth extends beyond the edges. The effect is akin to an oversized pancake hanging precariously over the lip of its dish.

Seledra frowns. "Kronk, try putting your personal pack on top of the tent to keep it secured."

Our barbarian sullenly obeys, carelessly dropping his gear onto the tent. The added weight seems to cause the disc to hitch downward another foot or so. The balance seems a little askew now. Big D is looking a little like an injured bird fighting a strong breeze.

Seledra eyes me. "Is it supposed to do that?"

"You mean carry the ponderous weight of Kronk's rock collection? No, I doubt the ancient elven originators of High Magic had that noble end in mind," I say. "But it will manage. Are we ready to go now?"

She gives the sagging Big D another skeptical look and then turns away. "Let's hit the road, people," she says, drowning out Kronk's defensive, "Kronk no have rock collection."

Dorn shakes his head and assumes the point position. Following him, the others move with the stiff gait of the sore-legged.

They're perhaps twenty yards away when Seledra looks back. "Magnos, are you coming?"

I ignore her to finish my incantation. Tendrils of the Weave burst outward and dissipate into the cool morning air. In the distance there's a whinny, followed by the clattering of hooves.

My summoned mount appears from over the nearest hilltop, and stops obligingly by me. My companions approach, filled with equal parts admiration and envy.

Well, maybe not equal parts.

Seledra shakes her head. "What. Is. That?"

"It's my ride," I grin. "All this walking gets a bit old, don't you think?"

"I presume you've got another four horses waiting beyond that hilltop?" Ralenthra asks.

"My dear pickpocket," I say, "Why would I waste valuable spell slots on five instances of Mount? I've got to keep some combat-utility magic at the ready, of course."

"Of course," says Seledra through gritted teeth.

"Please let me kill him," whispers Ralenthra.

"Me second that idea," adds Kronk.

"But if you'd like to ride my stallion, you're more than welcome to join me," I offer to Seledra.

Seledra looks as if she were about to acquiesce to Ralenthra's request, but this startles her. "What?"

"You may ride my stallion, Seledra," I repeat.

Ralenthra snickers. "Stallion? More like a pony.

"This mount is sturdy, faithful, and—aptly—hung like a horse. I'm sure my mount can...accommodate Seledra."

Dorn speaks up, "I think your mount is a mare." When Kronk looks confused, Dorn tells him, "It has girl parts."

Kronk grins, "Ohhh. Heh."

"Mare, stallion, whatever," I say. "My offer's to Seledra. She's a big girl and can decide for herself."

"Decide to 'ride your pony'? So you can have more opportunities to grope her, Magnos? I don't think so." puts in Ralenthra.

"Grope? Me? How improper. And difficult, since she would be riding behind me," I say.

Seledra slowly shakes her head. "I don't think that's a good idea, Magnos."

Ralenthra nods. "That's right."

"Suit yourself. I simply assumed that all of us would understand the importance of keeping our spellcasters well-rested in anticipation of any danger we might encounter. After all, we had a very long march yesterday, and it's much easier to make the somatic casting work when your legs and feet aren't exhausted.

When nobody says anything to that, I nod toward the road. "Shall we?" And give my horse a commanding squeeze of its sides, and we start at a trot, Big D floating obediently behind.

* * * * * * *

Ten Minutes Later...

"I'm warning you, Magnos, you better not grope me."

"Relax, Seledra. My hands are up front, remember? Do try to be respectful when you hold on to me," I say. And then, "How are your feet?"

I hear the glare in her voice. "They're a little sore."

"Well you can relax now. My astral steed here has everything under control."

"You mean you don't even know her name?" Seledra asks.

"She never told me. But I was thinking of calling her...Magic Horse. What do you think?"

Behind us, Ralenthra groans.

* * * * * * *

One Hour Later...

The sudden clatter startles us. Magic Horse shies skittishly for a moment before I manage to turn her around. The dislodged contents of Kronk's pack lie unceremoniously amidst the various tent parts scattered along the ground.

"What happened to your disk?" asks Seledra.

"I don't know. Did Kronk's rock collection fall off?"

"Kronk already explain he has no rock collection," growls our friendliest companion. Then he rubs his chin, as if making sure. "He thinks."

I dismount and step past a crouching Dorn, who's trying to gather up the spilled contents. Can't sense Big D's presence anymore. It's definitely gone from this plane.

"What's the matter, Magnos?" asks Ralenthra. "Can't keep it up?"

"I can keep it up," I retort. "I've just...never had to for this long before." Honestly, I was feeling a little tired. Once, I saw Master Arken summon a Floating Disk for an entire afternoon during a particularly lengthy lecture where he had needed extra table space. It didn't seem to bother that old shelf-rat. Who knew that keeping an invisible surface summoned for more than an hour could be so difficult?

"So it's a matter of duration then?" asks Seledra, still sitting on Magic Horse.

"It might be," I admit.

She looks at the animal, then dismounts herself. "I think I'll walk."

I raise my hands, motioning her back. "What, you don't trust Magic Horse?"

Seledra shakes her head.

"You're hurting her feelings. Look, she's perfectly safe." I start to raise myself back onto the saddle.

The druid puts a hand on my shoulder. "Maybe you shouldn't either. Like you said, we need our spellcasters well-rested. And preferably uninjured."

"But I used a spell for this horse!" I protest. "We can't just waste it."

Ralenthra grunts, "We won't." She starts packing tent parts on top of Magic Horse. Kronk hands her his pack, which she adds to the side, like a saddlebag.

"C'mon," says Seledra. "We've still got walking to do if we hope to make the monastery by noon."

The rest of the party moves onward. I take a moment to mutter, "Stupid walking," before joining them.

* * * * * * *

Another Hour Later...

At least Magic Horse had the decency to somehow slip free of her saddle, bridle, and pack lines before bolting. Our supplies land on the dirt road with another resounding crash, prompting Kronk to cry, "No! Kronk's rock collection!"

When we stare at him, he casts his eyes downward. "Oh right. Kronk forgot."

"Do all of your spells result in the destruction of teammates' property?" asks Ralenthra.

"Only the mean teammates," I say.

"Good thing I'm sweet then."

"Like Menzoberranzan poison."

"Oh, you've had it?" she grins.

Seledra walks to me, dragging the even-more battered tent behind her. "You told me you could help transport this stuff. You carry it the rest of the way."

"That's not fair!" I protest.

"I agree," puts in Dorn. The others stare at him in surprise. He's standing atop a small rise in the road ahead of us. "It'd be fairer if we had more walking to do." He points to the road ahead.

The abandoned monastery stands before us, blackened and fell like a burnt corpse.

Feb. 23rd, 2010

Takeshi

2 Eleasis 1372 - Early (or Late 1 Eleasis)

I am absolutely freezing. I don't know how that's possible, in a tent barely large enough to accommodate an oversized snoring half-orc, myself, and the hot-tempered elf girl who has stolen most of my blanket for herself. Yet here I am, shivering.

I reach for the edge of my blanket with a cautiously polite tug. That doesn't get me anywhere, so I try a slightly harder tug. She mumbles something and then rolls so that she's now slightly farther away from me than before. The girl's wrapped more snugly in that blanket than a bug in a drider's web.

The etiquette for this situation is not quite established. Yes, we're sleeping together, in the adjacency sense of the term, but we're not sleeping together, if you know what I mean. I can't just sidle up to her and attempt to slip under the covers beside her.

Can I?

She did read to me out of her Heartwarder book. That has to count for something, right? Plus, she rode my Disk. We're practically a couple. Isn't this us, sleeping side by side in a ridiculously cramped tent that's optimistically supposed to hold four normal-sized beings but is currently dominated by the bulk of a mouth-breathing barbarian with a whistling snore? Yes. This is.

Pulling one side of the blanket out from beneath her with verve, I slip underneath to the blessed warmth, nestling against her form.

And am promptly shoved away.

"What. The hell. Are you doing?" Seledra sits up, suspicious.

"Getting under my blanket?"

"That's not what it felt like."

"Did it feel like ice-cold limbs? Because that's what I was feeling without any blanket to cover me!" I counter.

Her eyes narrow. "Are you calling me a blanket thief?"

I raise my hands placatingly. "I was just trying to get warm."

"By feeling me up?"

I guffaw. "You think I was feeling you up?"

"When a man answers a question with a question, it's a sure sign he's lying," Seledra says, hands on hips.

"Or it's a sign he's dumbfounded!"

"I agree with the first part of that."

"That it's a sign?" I ask.

"What?" she says, wrinkling her brow. "No, you meathead! I was agreeing with the part where you're dumb!"

"I never said I was dumb."

"Yes, you did!" she says, standing. "You said you were dumbfounded."

"I know," I say, rising to meet her, eye to eye. "That doesn't mean 'dumb.' "

"I know it doesn't mean 'dumb.' That's why I said I was agreeing to the first—Ugh!" Seledra waves me off. "You're not answering why you felt me up."

"Believe it or not, Your Attractiveness, not all of my actions center around you. Like I said, I was trying to get some blanket."

"Then why didn't you just ask?" she challenges.

"Because you were really deeply asleep. And snoring."

"I do not snore!"

I shrug. "Have it your way."

Seledra sniffs, "Elves never snore. In fact, we usually simply trance."

"Then I'm sure that what I heard was simply very loud trancing."

"I'll have you know that I was sleeping merely in order so that you might feel comfortable!"

"Well you weren't doing a very good job of it, were you?" I point out.

"Some of us are trying to sleep here!" Dorn's voice cuts through the tent.

"Sorry!" yells Seledra in his direction, then she turns to me, her cheeks aflame, and whispers, "Now see what you've done! You've woke up the guy who's supposed to be helping us out on our mission!"

"Me?" I whisper back. "You were the one freaking out because I tried to get underneath the blanket!"

"Well if you want your blanket so much, you can have it!" She throws it into my face.

"And what about you?"

"I. Don't. Need it." She sits down, cross-legged and facing away from me.

"You're just going to sit there?"

"No," she says. "I'm going to trance."

Something about her body language tells me that her mind is made up, so I lie down and arrange the blanket atop me. "Fine."

"Fine," she replies.

"Try not to snore while you're trancing."

A shoe whistles past my ear and hits Kronk's bulk. He grunts and mutters, "Quit it, Serd," and then resumes his tremendous snoring.

I shake my head and stretch luxuriously in my newly swaddled warmth. I'm sure she'll come to her senses in the morning.

Feb. 22nd, 2010

Magic Man

Midsummer (late evening)

Shield (Abjuration). Creates an invisible shield that floats around and guards you for a few minutes. Mostly known for its automatic effectiveness against Magic Missile, although Jonah once used it to successfully navigate unscathed through a food fight that we may or may not have provoked at the Lady's College once. (It was really Scamp's fault).

"Recite the Distinctions again," growls Fenris. We're in another small town, an hour before his next performance.

I sigh.

"Evokers summon energies from naught but purest Weave.
The necromancer does not shy from picking through the bones.
Enchanters are your oldest friends, if they're to be believed.
While those who trust in conjuration never are alone.

The art of transmutation favors change above all else.
Illusionists prefer to fight with trickery and guile.
The wise man knows that divination pays in awesome wealth.
But Mystra saves for abjurists the kindest of her smiles."

"Very good," says Fenris. "So which school is the most useful?"

"Divination!"

My master rubs his forehead, as if in pain. "And why would you believe that to be the answer?"

"Isn't it obvious? Awesome wealth!" I grin.

"And you didn't hear the part about Mystra smiling on abjurers?"

I nod. "I did, but why would I want some girl's smile? I'll take money any of the ten days!"

Fenris rubs his forehead harder, groaning.

"Master Fenris?"

He doesn't say anything.

"Why do I need to remember all that, anyway? It's easier just memorizing real spells."

He looks at me. "Real spells?"

I nod, instinctively backing away.

But instead of lunging for me, he sifts through his component bag. "Fetch me three leather strings and a bit of rabbit pelt."

I rummage through the large chest he takes with us on every trip. Feathers, rocks, carefully wrapped powders, rolls of parchment, glass cordials, seed bags, bits of cloth and leather, jars filled with various nuts and dried berries, rolls of copper wire, and pouches filled with rattling bits of bone of unknown origin. All of these Fenris keeps on hand in this trunk. I find the requested items and hand them to him. He drops them wordlessly into one of his belt pouches.

Then he raps me on my skull with his knuckles.

"Ow!"

Fenris looks directly in my eyes. "Do you know why I hit you?"

Embarrassed by the tears starting to well in my eyes, I shut them and shake my head.

"Because you don't recognize the importance of defense, boy." He pulls out a pocket mirror to check his stage makeup. "Mystra loves the Weaver who can defend himself, because that's the Weaver who respects the ebb and flow of magic. Sure, you can take and take and take from the Weave, but in protecting yourself and others, you're giving back to Mystra.

"Plus, there's the extra benefit of living to cast again, " he chuckles at his reflection. "Abjurers will keep their hides intact where all others will be naught but decorative bones in some wyrm's lair."

"And if you kill the wyrm first?" I wipe my eyes surreptitiously.

Fenris raises an eyebrow and I instinctively make to dodge, but the second blow does not arrive. "Kill the wyrm first?" he roars. "Well then, my boy, not only does Tymora—rather than Mystra—smile on you, but everyone else will know to steer clear of you!"

I start to smile.

"Not because you're a powerful mage," he continues, "But because you'd be powerfully stupid, foolhardy, and reckless. An idiot most likely lacking the common sense to quit while he's ahead."

* * * * * * *

Captain Tagen is tall for a moon elf, with deep-set blue eyes that focus on me, unblinking. He doesn't look too much older than me, which probably makes him six-hundred and eighty-two years old. The light from the single flickering torch in the room creates a soft halo around his long dark hair when he towers over me like this, standing where the table he just overturned used to be, asking questions gently with just the slightest hint of menace, as I sit on this uncomfortable wooden slab of a chair. Girls would probably fall all over themselves for this guy if he ever learned to talk outside of interrogation settings.

After Tagen's men had returned the drow called Ralenthra to her cell, he had pointed to me. "Bring him in."

"With pleasure, sir," replied a large, dark-skinned human. I recognized his deep voice from earlier. He unlocked my cell with a grin. "If you would kindly follow me. The captain does not like waiting."

"That's the truth, ain't it, Vasher?" chortled his cohort. "Remember the sod who stopped to tie 'is shoe in the 'allway? Ah nearly broke mah neck when ah tripped over 'is tooth two weeks later!"

"I'll break your neck if you don't shut up, Griggs!" roared the first guard, lifting an enormous halberd threateningly.

The interrogation room was behind the thick wooden door at the end of the hallway. The air tasted unusually stale as I approached it and it took me a moment before the answer suggested itself: additional spell wards. Even with a fully loaded component bag, freshly inked spell scrolls, and a staff charged by Azuth himself, I couldn't have cast so much as a fizzling sparkler in this area. Maybe Captain Tagen could be impressed with card tricks?

I gritted my teeth and entered.

"Have a seat, Goodman," the tall figure's back was turned toward me, as if examining the mortar work of the stone wall.

Surprised by the name, I blurted, "Excuse me?"

Tagen whirled toward me, eyes blazing. "I said, 'Have a seat!' or are your senses so addled by your betrayal of the fair city of Silverymoon and her Spellguard that you've lost command of simple words as well?"

Goodman. Spellguard. This was no accident. Well, my being here was an accident, but the rest? Maybe I could play their ignorance to my advantage. I shut my mouth and took the proffered Chair of Ass Numbing at the equally crude Table of Massive Splinters.

Tagen ignored his chair on the other side of the table and began to pace. "What am I missing, Goodman?" he asked. "You're a good student. You've got excellent marks."

"They could be better," I shrugged. "Especially in Sortann's Spellcasting Theorems."

Tagen didn't appear to hear. "Your work in the Spellguard has been marked by diligence, conscientiousness even."

"Why, thank you."

He raised an eyebrow, but continued. "Your friends and acquaintances are of good repute—"

"I should hope so."

"—save for your association with one Magnos of Rel Astra, who is, according to our files, noted for his general neglect of the Silverymoon Spellcasters' Code of Honorable Conduct and his, I quote here, 'fantastic disregard for the immense potential he first displayed as a student at the College,' end quote."

"That's not how I'd put it."

Tagen stops pacing and scowls at me, his eyebrows curling down toward the bridge of his nose. "You're a young mage with a lot of future ahead of you, Goodman. Do you want to see that future as a respected contributing subject of the Marches, or do you want to spend it locked in one of these cells, wasted away like the future of your good-for-nothing friend?"

"Do I get conjugal visits?" I asked.

And that's when he overturned the table and stormed in front of me, nostrils flaring and eyes all angry-like.

I'm beginning to get used to that look.

And just as abruptly as he threw the table, his manner shifts. "Look Jonah," he says. "You seem a reasonable young man. Under different circumstances, we'd probably like each other, maybe even share some ales together."

Confused, I nod.

"You've been caught with a lauthaul token on your person. This is a very serious offense. Tell me how it came to be in your possession."

I think hard. Who would benefit from my being caught with this on me? I smile. "I don't have proof, but I have a hunch."

He leans forward. "Oh?"

"Do you know Selcar Galacia? He calls himself a bard but there's something really suspicious about him—"

Tagen lifts a hand, interrupting. "Selcar Galacia?"

"That's right."

"Mr. Galacia has been helping us with our investigation and is a close personal friend of Taern Hornblade himself. Maybe you'd like to tell me that Lady Alustriel is also out to get you?" He mistakes my smile at that for disrespect. Toward him, I mean. "Or perhaps Elminster Aumar?"

"Look," I say. "If you give me a chance to get you some proof, maybe talk to him, you'll see—"

Tagen shakes his head. "We're not getting anywhere like this."

"We're not?"

"No. I didn't want to have to do this, because I like you, but I'm afraid the next step is going to be a bit more painful. For you, that is. Not so much for me." He turns to the door. "Vasher!"

"Yes, Captain?" says the deep-voiced guard.

"Send in Galloway."

"Yes, sir."

The door unlocks and a short, middle-aged human wearing Spellguard robes and an officious expression enters.

Tagen grabs his chair and pushes it back against a corner behind Galloway before sitting on it, a relaxed air about him as he stretches his legs. "You see, Goodman, I've had a very long day, so I'm not as patient as I'd normally be. Normally, I'd ask you where you got the token a few more times, let you come up with a story or two, then I'd walk outside, let you sweat, come back, trip you up, and go home in time for a nice, filling bowl of stew.

"I can't do that this time."

"There's a nice place in the Market District that sells curry beef stew all night," I offer.

"Ah been to that place! Wut's it called again?" Griggs' voice carries inside.

"You be quiet!" orders Tagen, before fixing his glare at me again. "I'm out of patience and you're out of time. Galloway!"

The short wizard jumps to attention.

"You will test him according to the specifications we discussed earlier."

"Yes, sir."

"Continue testing him until he drops or until he gives me the answer I desire."

"Yes, sir," nods the mage.

"Oh, and Galloway?" says Tagen.

"Sir?"

"Make it hurt."

I say, "Wait. What?" before the first Magic Missile hits me in the chest.

Contrary to popular belief, Magic Missile is not a harmless cantrip learned by all beginning wizards and sorcerers. One: it actually qualifies as a full-fledged spell, not a cantrip, a word whose etymology roughly means "Novice's Trick." Two: Taking a Magic Missile to the chest is most definitely not harmless. It is full of harm. Take enough of it and you can die. It feels like getting hit with a bucket of ice water that leaves you stinging like everything there went to sleep. Only worse.

Gasping, I throw myself behind the overturned table. It shudders from the force of additional magical energy striking it, but the sturdy wood holds.

"Not bad," calls Tagen, "But you can't hide behind that table forever and Galloway can cast Magic Missile all night."

"He can? Isn't that against the rules?" I ask, but Galloway's response is to lob another missile at the table.

Think, Magnos. What are your options?

Maybe I can fight fire with fire. See how he likes a little Burning Hands in his smug face. I start the somatic part of the spell but quit immediately. The air still tastes like a dwarf's laundry basket. The spell ward is still functioning.

Then how the devil is Galloway casting spells? I chance a quick look above the table and nearly get my head blasted off. However, the good table takes the brunt of the blow, splinters flying and chips of wood scattering against the floor around me.

"Hope you've got an answer for me, boy," says Tagen, sounding as casual as a man filing his nails.

I know what he really wants. If his pet wizard actually wanted to hurt me, he'd have blasted or burned the table away by now. The repetitive reliance on one spell can only mean one thing: they're testing me.

That's it. Shield.

I taste the air again, trying to ignore the increased shuddering on the table's part. Dulled, yes. Evocation's definitely out. Necromancy for certain. They wouldn't want to risk actual death, not with how expensive Resurrection can be. Illusion? Almost certainly not an option. Enchantment as well. So that rules out trying to enchant Galloway into attacking Tagen.

But Abjuration?

I sniff again. Hard to say. Mystra may smile upon abjurers but why the goddess would want to smile on a bunch of safety-obsessed do-gooders is beyond me. (Sorry, Jonah.) So casting Shield or anything from that school is out of the question, even if the spell wards are currently disarmed toward it. Plus, I never learned any abjuration spells. (Shut up, Jonah).

More blasts buffet the table, which begins to creak ominously.

"You hear that, Goodman?" calls Tagen. "Slaad got your tongue?"

Peering through a newly unblocked knothole in the table, I look at Galloway again. Hand motions—yes. Verbal components—there. He's definitely calling upon the Weave. He can cast from the Evocation school, but I can't. So he's got something that allows him to ignore the wards. Likely some kind of badge or token. It would have to be on his person.

They want me to cast an Abjuration spell because they think I'm Jonah, so they've opened the gate a crack. The air's not quite the same as it was in my cell.

Hmm. Divination? I don't need to be able to see the future to know there's nothing there I can use against my foe.

Conjuration? No, feels like they've blocked that.

Transmutation? Maybe I can cast Enlarge Person on myself, thereby transforming into...a much easier target for Galloway's missiles. Great. Besides, feels like they've blocked Transmutation, too.

Wait.

No they haven't. Not at its cantrip level.

Another magical burst knocks the legs off the table; it won't last another hit.

"Well, it's been fun, kid," says Tagen. "But your brilliant gambit of cowering behind a table has about outlived its usefulness."

I peer through the knothole one last time, studying Galloway. If I were a self-satisfied little Spellguard lackey, where on my person would I keep a valuable, ward-ignoring artifact?

I smile. Probably right next to my vitals, close to the component bag. The mage shifts his weight, his robes parting to let me glimpse his belt: component bag and—there!—a small, unobtrusive looking pouch with something in it, perhaps the size and shape of a fig.

The table sunders, collapsing around me.

Tagen stands up, stretching. "Any last words? You know, something helpful like, how you got that lauthaul token?"

"You want to know how I get tokens that don't belong to me?" I ask, extending my fingers. "Mage Hand."

The object leaps from Galloway's pouch, a golden glyph glittering on it under the torch light as it speeds into my hand. The cracks and crevices of the walls stand out in exaggerated relief and the pores on Tagen's suddenly sallow face seem large and distinct. A trickle of sweat shines on Galloway's left cheekbone.

The Weave is with me. All of it.

"Now let's not get too hasty here," says Tagen, hands held up appeasingly.

"Shut up, Nimmy. You," I point toward Galloway. "Are you going to help me out of here or is it my turn to practice casting Magic Missile on you?"

The door opens.

"That won't be necessary," says a commanding voice. A grizzled looking half-elf steps inside. Dark-haired, older but dangerous-looking, in no small part due to the eyepatch over his left eye, he smiles crookedly at me.

"Are you going to help me get out of here?" I say.

"You could say that." However, he doesn't stand aside. "You're clearly not Jonah Goodman. That must make you...Magnos."

"You could say that." I keep my eyes flicking between Eyepatch and Tagen and Galloway.

The half-elf follows my eyes, then nods toward them. "Stand down, you two. Why don't you come with me, Magnos? I have...a proposition for you." Without waiting for an answer, he turns and exits.

"Okay, but I'm holding on to this token," I say, following.

"That's fine. It doesn't work outside that room anyway."

"What?"

I feel Vasher's huge hands grip my shoulders tightly. "You weren't planning on leaving us so soon, were you?" he smirks.

Tagen steps beside me, hand out. "I'll have that token back."

"It's really not my type anyway," I tell him.

"Funny. I could say the same about you."

Ahead of us, Eyepatch stops. "Keep him."

Tagen's mouth opens. "I'm sorry. What?"

"Keep him. He'll do nicely."

Tagen recovers and nods smartly. "Yes, Eaerlraun."

"Does that mean we're still on for tomorrow night?" I ask Tagen.

He shoves me toward my cell, drawing an amused snort from Kronk.

Tagen glares at the half-orc. "You're next."

Kronk looks over at me, appraising. "They hurt magic man?"

I shake my head. "They save that for women and furniture."

Vasher shoves me into the cell before Kronk can reply. I land on the floor, wincing.

What do they really want from us?

Sep. 2nd, 2009

Magic Man

Midsummer Festival

Silent Image (Illusion). Focus: a bit of soft, cuddly fleece. You may create a visual illusion (as opposed to the other kind) of an object, creature, or force (unless it's an invisible force, which defeats the purpose), as visualized by the spellcaster.

"I should be out there, looking."

"Magnos, will you please stop saying that?" Kylie Moonbrooke says, her elven eyebrows sharpening in disapproval. "We've already established that your best place is here, out of sight, so you can search for Hedwig through your empathic link without being spotted."

"Out of sight, yes, but here? Terro's store room of Stinky Smokeleaf?"

From the front of the tent we hear Terro yell, "That's Antkiller's Emporium of Exotic Herbs! Get it right!"

"Even if I could fashion an empathic link, I probably wouldn't be able to think straight enough to get anything useful out of it. Not here."

"Still not getting anything from Hedwig?" she asks.

I shake my head. "She's either not here, or…or worse."

"Don't think like that." She puts her hand on my shoulder. "Selcar has nothing to gain by hurting Hedwig. Didn't he say that he just wants you out of the way?"

"And out of Susan's way," I mutter.

"Oh yeah. Susan." Kylie sits beside me on a long hay bale. "Far be it from me to question your taste in women, but I don't know if Susan's worth all the worrying." She hurries on before I can interrupt. "Sure, she's pretty, rich, and talented, but--"

"You're not doing a good job of persuading me she's not worth my time."

"Look. I've seen her. You can't miss her just floating by, hair glowing in the sun, and she's surrounded by a gaggle of admirers, and new ones every week."

"Still not seeing the problem here, Kylie."

"What happens to the old ones?"

"What old ones?"

"The ones who were admiring her last week? Or the week before?"

"Are you saying that she gets around?" I smile. "I get it. You don't like her. That's okay. Maybe you're even a little jealous of her. Perfectly understandable. Like you said, she's gorgeous, quick-witted, and has the taste to appreciate me. It's no wonder she could be a little intimidating. But you don't have to worry; she puts her dress on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us…or is it two legs? I can never remember…"

"Magnos," Kylie shakes her head. "For such a bright wizard, you're an idiot sometimes. Have you heard the phrase 'Breg tuiyo, breg narcho'?"

"No, but you're going to tell me all about it, aren't you?"

"It means 'Quickly grown, quickly torn.' It's why we elves take so long to make friendships."

"Is that why it took three months for you to start saying 'Hello' back to me?"

"That and because it was amusing to see you with that disappointed look on your face," she smiles.

"What?"

"Never mind that. My point is that girl leaves a trail of broken hearts behind her a mile long. She probably doesn't mean it, but--"

"But what?"

Kylie shakes her head. "I don't know. I know you're not exactly a stranger to women, so you're not going to listen to me anyway. I just don't want to see you get hurt."

I stand up. "Don't worry about me. I can--"

"Take care of yourself," she finishes, exasperated again. "Yes, we all know about the great and powerful Mag--"

"Hey, you're a wizard, aren't ya?" The rough voice comes from outside the tent.

Terro replies, "Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not. But the real question is how I can afford to sell you the finest Dalelands Masterwork Leaf at such incredible prices. It can only be…magic!"

"Never mind about the leaf. Have you seen a wizard goes by the name of Magnos? Magnos a' Rel Astra?"

Kylie and I exchange looks.

"If he's a competitor, I can assure you that his prices and quality are no match for ours. We offer a complete satisfaction guarantee that--"

"Enough already. Lousy wizards…" The rough voice fades.

Terro rushes into the tent, arms flailing. "Magnos, they're looking for you!"

"We heard. Can you possibly yell my name any louder?"

"Sorry."

"What's taking Jonah so long? He should have been back by now."

"Quiet!" says Kylie, hands at a ready spellcasting position. Someone is approaching the tent.

Jonah steps through the entrance and we relax. Except for Terro, who releases an electrical beam that nearly ignites a nearby stack of Luskan Blue.

"What in Toril are you doing?" cries Jonah. "You nearly hit Scamp!"

Terro doesn't reply, as he is occupied with stomping out the flickering slips of flame that dance on the grassy floor.

"No sign of Hedwig at Selcar's?" I ask.

"Signs, yes. Hedwig, no. Scamp and I checked the entire place."

"Did anyone spot you?" asks Kylie.

Jonah begins to shrug.

"Shh! I thought I saw him go in there!" This voice is male and urgent. It is also not coming from one of us.

"That answers that. We'll cover for you," Kylie whispers.

"Go!" adds Terro, who, having finished stamping out the last of the flames, walks out the front of the tent. "Ah, customers! Might I interest you in some of Neverwinter's finest--"

Jonah and I are already wriggling under the tent fabric away from the voices.

We scramble to our feet, shaking the dirt off our robes, heedless of the curious stares we draw.

"Split up and meet by the food stalls!" I say.

"Take Scamp with you. The empathic link will help us stay in contact," says Jonah.

"Good call." Scamp hops onto my shoulder and curls around my neck obligingly, and we dash in opposite directions.

Behind me, I hear Terro yelling, and an unfamiliar voice shouts, "There they are! Get them!"

I rush between a couple holding hands, prompting an angry "Hey! Watch it, kid!" and I overturn a display of gnomish clocks as I turn the corner.

Into an even more crowded thoroughfare.

"Sorry! Sorry! Excuse me! Very sick animal with me! Highly contagious!" At this Scamp nips my shoulder. "Ow! He's very aggressive! Keep clear! Hellooo, are you here alone?" This last is directed toward a wide-eyed young brunette who flinches when I talk to her. Pity I'm being chased by Selcar's thugs, so I resume running.

Right into a haughty elven matron carrying a number of satchels and bags laden with newly-purchased clothes, parasols, and even more bags.

"Well I never!" she sputters.

"I know! Your husband told me! Very sad!"

Scamp, having leaped to safety on top of a nearby stall, clucks urgently and flees into the crowd.

"Scamp, wait!" I pick myself up and follow, oblivious to the apoplectic elf's protests.

Ignoring me, the ferret clambers onto stall tops, leaping from post to post as I struggle to keep up at street level. He dashes onto a tent, then clambers through a seam along its edge, and I follow through its main entrance.

The interior of the tent is lined with carts and shelves bearing loaves and sweet rolls and pastries. Figures that the little weasel would think of his stomach when we're being chased. Still, the smell here is heady, redolent of honey and cinnamon, recalling Katherine and Mother bustling in the kitchen, and yet…

Movement from behind one of the tall carts returns me to the present.

"Scamp?"

"I'm assuming you mean the ferret here?"

The voice is so close to me that I jump. A young half-elf holds Scamp by the scruff, while the wiry little bugger munches contentedly on a sweet roll.

"Yes, unfortunately. C'mere, Scamp. You know you're not supposed to be eating grains!" I take him from the stranger. "Crazy guy's always finding new ways of getting into trouble. What's a law-abiding guy such as me supposed to do, right?"

The half-elf smiles slightly. "He's a beautiful animal. You don't see too many silver ferrets in Silverymoon."

"I guess not," I say, placing Scamp firmly on my shoulders. "He's all right. When he's not running away and stealing stuff."

This elicits a laugh. "Are you his owner?"

Glaring at Jonah's companion, I say, "I don't think Scamp thinks of himself as being owned. Ownership's a weird word where familiars are concerned."

"Ah! You're a mage!" He seems impressed. Why shouldn't he be? I do cut a pretty dashing figure when I aim to.

I bow as best as I can with a ferret clinging to my head. "At your service. Here is some coin for the trouble Scamp has caused."

The half-elf smiles again, but the smile doesn't seem to reach his eyes. "Oh no! I couldn't accept that from the owner of such a beautiful animal." Scamp preens. Maybe I was just imagining it.

Returning the coins, he says, "Keep them. A token for having brought a measure of happiness to me today. A bright Midsummer's Day to you, good mage."

This has to be the nicest stranger I've met all tenday. The coins feel heavy as I slip them into my money bag; maybe he refunded me a little more than he intended. Who am I to refuse such kindness?

When I reach the corner stall owned by Bred for Breading, Scamp's nostrils quiver, and he leaps forward before I can grab him.

"Not again!"

He darts between the legs of a constable, behind the skittering feet of two little girls, and up and into the arms of his waiting master.

"What do you mean by 'Not again'?" asks Jonah, stroking the muzzle of his pleased familiar. "Did you run into any trouble?"

"Only of the baked variety. What about you?"

"No, they were mostly interested in catching you, Magnos. You're a wanted man."

"A burden I bear willingly for the sake of women everywhere. Speaking of baked trouble, look yonder."

Across from us stands the outpost manned by Heavenly Queen Bakery. Though "manned" was doing its proprietress, a pale-skinned beauty with raven hair and luscious lips, a disservice.

"Ooh. That is trouble," declares Jonah. "I love their cream horns."

"Yeah, I could definitely look at those cream horns all day."

"Look at? I'm going to do a lot more than just look at them, I can tell you that," he says, walking toward the stall.

"Jonah, wait!" I grab his arm. "Aren't you being a little too forward? I know, coming from me, that doesn't mean much, but Azuth's wand, man! You're verging on the lewd there."

"For a cream horn?" He narrows his eyes. "I don't know what you do with them, but here in Silverymoon, it's customary to consume them. With one's mouth. Like so." Jonah demonstrates a chewing motion.

"Oh. A cream horn. Well sure, everyone knows that."

"What were you thinking I was talking about?"

"Nothing. Cream horns. Mmm! Flaky pastry products!" I join him in line.

The lovely bakery girl looks at us expectantly. Jonah starts to order, but I interrupt. "Pardon me, but do you like pineapples?

She looks confused. "I'm sorry. What?"

"Don't worry about it," says Jonah. "He says that to every girl he meets."

"And this is what you say to every girl you meet." I stare at him, wide-eyed, my nails to my mouth like I were biting them, and hold that pose for five seconds.

I turn back to the girl. "My friend and I were having an argument, and we were hoping you could settle it for us."

"We were?"

Kicking him, I say, "Regarding the consumption of the cream horn, what is the best way to eat one? Because he believes the most efficient technique involves going for the middle, directly to the delicious cream filling, like some hillside savage, whereas I maintain that the proper method involves--nay, demands--that one start from the tip and work down."

Hesitantly, the dark-haired girl says, "Well, I like to start from the end--"

"Aha!" To Jonah, I declare, "You see? Reason and civilization triumph!" To her, I say, "Please. Demonstrate."

"Excuse me?"

"The proper technique. Go on. It's for my friend's education."

"Magnos, that's really not necessary. I'll take one cream horn, please," Jonah says.

Blushing, she takes his money and hands him a cream horn. "And for you?"

"The same. But if you ever want to share my cream horn," I hold the pastry between us, "All you have to do is ask."

Jonah grabs me by the shoulder and tries to drag me away. "Stop harassing the poor girl. We have work to do, remember?"

I sigh. "Very well." As I start to turn away, the girl looks around to see if anyone's watching, then dips toward the cream horn, giving it a quick lick lengthwise, followed by a slower enclosing of her lips around its tip, and finishes with the most delicate bite. Furiously blushing now, she looks me in the eye and smiles.

Uh, Magnos? Jonah's voice is coming from very far away. Magnos?

"Magnos!"

I shake myself, willing my jaw back to its usual closed position.

"C'mon," he's saying. "We have to keep moving."

"What? Yeah, okay."

Jonah starts to guide me away. I look back and the bakery girl offers a quick wave and a smile. I manage a wink and, I'm sure, the most dazed grin by way of reply.

As we walk away, Jonah asks, "What's wrong with you? We're out looking for Hedwig and you're busy trying to get a serving girl to bite your cream horn."

"Oh, she did take a bite out of my cream horn. And it was delicious. So very delicious."

"Be that as it may, we're still missing your owl. She wasn't at Selcar's place, although there was a new birdcage that had been recently used."

"So she's got to be near," I say, coming to a halt.

"What is it?"

"She's near. I got it."

"What?"

"The empathic link! I can sense her; come on!"

We cut through the dwarven workshops, their shouted ire curling and angry like their forge fires. We skirt sideways past the glass-blown wares reputedly shipped from far-flung Evermeet, their flutes and handles tapered like a girl's waist. When we clear the last glass-laden table, we break into a full-out sprint, crashing through a display of scrolls, their imbued magic flaring and dissipating as the torn paper consumes itself from within. The shopkeeper shakes his fist to our laughter.

"Dancing Lights?"

"I know!"

"Who buys Dancing Lights?"

We're through the spell shop and outdoors again, running roughshod over a merchant's cabbage cart. At the next intersection, I stop, listening for that shred of consciousness.

Jonah drops his hands to his knees, puffing. "Where…where is she?"

I turn to my right and point toward a flash of brilliant blonde hair. Resplendent in finery, Susan and Selcar, stroll toward the concert area arm in god-forsaken arm. Susan is wearing a strapless petal-pink dress that both clings to her torso and flows in the breeze. Selcar has on a foppish waistcoated thing with a lute slung over his back. And a broadsword that looks bigger than him strapped to his waist.

"Shouldn't that be peace-bonded?" asks Jonah. After a moment, he adds, "And no, I am not talking about her breasts."

"Thanks for clarifying."

Selcar notices us and nods at two burly humans, one bearded and one not, who start striding toward us.

Jonah groans. "More running?"

"Unless you think we can take these guys in a straight fight."

My friend straightens as if ready to flee.

"I think we can," I say. "You with me?"

"Let me see. We're spellcasters. All combat spells are neutralized on account of the spell wards that protect Silverymoon. Our collective hand-to-hand combat knowledge is pathetic. Well, I have a ferret who can probably outfight me."

Scamp perks up.

"But not them."

Scamp lowers his head.

"So other than retreating, I'm out of ideas, Magnos. What have you got?"

I reach within my cloak and withdraw a wand with a dramatic flourish that startles some nearby pigeons into taking flight.

Selcar's men pause, cautious now.

"That's your Wand of Mending," Jonah says, disgusted.

"They don't know that. Follow my lead."

"This is a bad idea," he says, but he draws a crumpled scroll from his sleeve.

"Dancing Lights?"

He nods glumly.

Selcar's men have picked up their pace, moving carefully now, dipping behind displays, using the crowd as cover.

Jonah mutters the incantations on the scroll, which begins to curl and brighten as the spell activates. Bright lights encircle our bearded opponent, who tries futilely to beat them away. Nearby patrons scatter from the strange man swatting the light orbs, giving me a clear shot.

"Mend!" The bearded man's trousers begin to knit together at the hem, effectively tying his legs.

While he topples over, his partner sprints past Jonah, knocking him aside to charge at me. Before I can repeat my trick, he reaches for the wand and snaps it in two. "Gotcha!" he grins.

Behind him, his bearded companion, having managed to tear his leggings free, has Jonah in some kind of restraining hold, keeping my friend's hands held together. A curious crowd gathers around us.

"It's okay, everyone," a sonorous voice calls. Selcar breaches the crowd's perimeter, Susan a little behind him. "It's okay. These two hooligans are wanted for breaking and entering, property damage, and wanton destruction across the festival."

"Hear! Hear!" calls a wrinkled old shopkeeper. "They's the ones what trampled my spell scrolls!"

"And they ran over my beautiful cabbages!" chimes in someone else.

"First off, it was only one spell scroll, and a weak one at that," I begin, ignoring Jonah's frantic motions telling me to shut up. "And secondly, since when did you join the High Guard, Selcar? You're not exactly an enforcer of the Realms."

Smiling, Selcar whips out a parchment from his waistcoat. Snapping the scroll open, he reads:

"To Whom It May Concern,

"The bearer of this note is an esteemed guest of the city of Silverymoon and has been granted the rank of Deputy Knight in Silver and is entitled to the esteem and privileges associated therein. On behalf of the authority granted me by High Lady Alustriel, please confer all respect and deference to Selcar Galacia, honored friend of our city.

"Signed,

"Taern Hornblade"

"Squirrel nuts," mutters Jonah.

"Come quietly, Magnos," says Selcar. "You've caused enough trouble today, haven't you?" Behind him, Susan stares at me incredulously. Selcar's clean-shaven cohort begins to drag me away.

"Not as much trouble as you," Jonah retorts. "Why don't you mention the part where you kidnapped his familiar?"

"You did what?" says Susan.

"Nonsense," replies Selcar. "I realize you wizards look down on a lowly bard such as myself, but…"

I'm not listening to him. Hedwig's very close. I can practically hear her hooting, but from where? No backpack on Selcar, just the frippery outfit, very shiny boots, and that ostentatious sword. Is she on Susan? There's no way that dress could hide anything. Although I wouldn't mind checking…Focus, boy! Master Fenris's voice lashes at me. It's right there! Magnos! Magnos?

It's not Fenris. It's Terro, whispering, but he's not beside me. The Message spell always produces an echo-like effect that's impossible to produce in an outdoor setting such as this.

"Magnos?" he says again.

I nod.

"Kylie's figured it out. She says he's using an illusion spell, probably Silent Image. You got that?"

"I got it," I say.

"Huh?" grunts my captor.

I check with Jonah. "You got it?"

He nods. "Scamp, now!"

The ferret scurries into the clearing, hops up Selcar's leg onto his shoulder, and dives for the lute, which comes slightly undone from its owner's back.

And then transforms into a trussed and groggy snowy owl.

"Hedwig!" I say.

"Selcar!" yells Susan.

"Get it off me!" cries the bard, reaching for Scamp to no avail. Jonah's familiar expertly nips at the remaining bonds, sending my indignant owl sprawling to the grass.

Hedwig wriggles free from the last of her binds and soars aloft.

Go home, Hedwig, I command empathically, hoping she's alert enough to pay attention. She shakes herself as if to squirm out from some last invisible snare and turns, wobbling, toward the city.

"I'll stop her!" yells Jonah's captor, tearing a crossbow-like mechanism free of its peace-bond from his back. He aims it and squeezes the trigger just as Scamp leaps headlong at it. Netting explodes from its stock, wrapping around the struggling ferret and knocking him to the ground.

"Scamp!" cries Jonah, as the bowman swears and tries to reload.

The clean-shaven man starts chasing after Hedwig, but trips and hits the ground hard. Behind him, Susan withdraws a graceful leg. Hedwig recedes toward the horizon and I breathe easier.

The thug picks himself up and whirls at Susan. "Why you--"

"Stand down!" commands Selcar.

"But sir, she--"

"Silence! Remember your orders and…" Selcar trails off.

His lackey is mumbling a slack-jawed response but he's not listening. And neither am I.

Silverymoon possesses an intricate spell ward system to protect its citizenry from the malicious and the reckless. Combat-grade spells are subject to the equivalent of an anti-magic field throughout the city. It feels slightly different to every magic user. Jonah says everything feels more humid, while Terro claims it makes his leaf lose most of its taste.

For me, the biggest difference is color. When Master Vihuel releases the safeties at the College so we can practice the Art, it's like where there had only been shades of gray, now the whole world blazes, reborn in color.

Like it is now. The spell wards of Silverymoon are down.

Selcar's henchman is repeating his question when we hear the screaming. A nearby stall explodes as a mottled green troll tramples through it. It grabs the nearest human, the man who had accused us of ruining his cabbages. "Nooo!" he screams, before being thrown into a large wooden house-sized cage that the troll's dragging.

As people panic around us, Selcar raises his sword, ordering, "Protect Susan!"

"What?" she snaps, but his men obey immediately, charging at the creature. It swats the bearded one aside, knocking him into a thick oak tree. The other man has a little more success, bashing its leg with a club, but the troll doesn't seem to feel it, and it simply plucks its assailant and deposits him in the same manner it did the cabbage vendor.

"Stay behind me!" Selcar cries to Susan, keeping a careful distance from the troll.

She brushes back a lock of hair from her forehead, glaring at him. "Oh, for crying out loud!" A fiery beam erupts from her hand, engulfing the monster. It screeches, stumbling blindly past us, but two more of its kind approach, perhaps drawn by its cries.

One raises its hand as if to swat Susan, but Jonah shouts in warning, diving to knock her out of harm's way. The troll's fingers grasp his ankle, swinging him aloft. "Magnos, help!"

I gesture at his tormentor, "Grease!" The resulting pool causes it to lose its footing, flailing its arms in an attempt to stay upright. Jonah is sent flying from its grip.

Straight at me.

When next I open my eyes, we're splayed inside the wreckage of a haberdashery. Jonah's wearing a brilliant bejeweled and feathered headdress worthy of the finest Mulhorandi queen. I hear distant crashes, but I can't tell if they're from the battle or from my head.

"Thanks for breaking my fall," Jonah is saying.

"Thanks for breaking my ribs," I groan.

"Did we beat the trolls?"

I shove him off of me and peer in the direction of fresh shrieking. Susan has cast Burning Hands on top of my Grease spell, igniting two more creatures.

"No," I say, "but we provided a valuable distraction."

The roof above us is ripped away. A pair of slimy hands reaches in and grabs us.

None too gently, the troll drops us through the opening at the crown of another gigantic cage. We tumble in front of a wizened dwarf who peers at me from behind a cracked pair of spectacles. "Hmph," he shakes his head. "From your high-pitched screaming, I expected some girls."

"That was Magnos," Jonah points at me. "My screams are much more masculine."

"They are not."

"Are too."

The dwarf cackles, "Ye both be beardless wenches!"

"And you're small enough to make a bite-sized troll meal," I say. That shuts him up and earns me a scowl.

"Look." Jonah motions to the prone figure on the floor.

Selcar.

"Oh, the gods love me," I say, drawing near. "Why you smooth-talking, owl-napping, dirt-eating little wretch…"

The old dwarf is back, placing himself between the bard's still body and myself. "Easy, lad. Yer in a large enough mess without makin' things worse for yerself." This draws nods from the other cage occupants.

"But this slimeball stole my owl!"

"I dinnae know about any fowl play, but this man's a hero, and ye best be treating him as such."

"Hero?" scoffs Jonah.

"Aye. He wielded a ferocious sword to keep the beasts at bay from us."

"He didn't do too great a job, considering you're here. Did he even hit anything with that sword?"

"Well, no," admits the dwarf. "But that was 'cuz his glorious stand came to a premature end when a troll fell on him. Dinnae know where all that grease came from…"

"Yeah," I say. "I hear his stands tend to end prematurely."

"C'mon," says Jonah. "We can deal with Selcar later. Let's figure out a way out of this cage."

"No problem," I answer. "This stuff's made out of wood, right? I can Burning Hands through it."

"Too dangerous. The fire might spread to us before it weakens the wood sufficiently."

"Okay, how about Enlarge Person? I'll cast it on you, and you could come ripping through the frame like a raging storm giant! That would be awesome!"

"And what if you miss my clothes and I end up like a really naked storm giant? I don't think so, Magnos."

"That was only once."

"And they still remember it. No. Way."

"Fine. You think Knock might work?"

He shakes his head. "Where's the door, genius? Besides, I used it up getting into Selcar's place. Let's just burn our way out."

"Fine."

I begin the incantations to summon the fire when the world goes flat again. "Damn it!"

"The spell wards are working again!"

"No kidding? Look at the genius now!"

"Don't start with me, Magnos!"

"If I'd started, you'd be a hulking beast of destruction busting us out of here in a blaze of glory right now."

"I told you, I'm not running around town naked!"

"Will you two ladies shut up?" cries the dwarf.

Scowling, we take seats at opposite ends of the cage, arms folded.

"What was that?" says one of the other captives, holding his hand to his ear.

The sounds of battle have diminished, and the horns of Silverymoon's defenders resound through the air.

Selcar moans and stirs. He rises to his elbows, rubbing his head. His eyes focus on me, and he tries to rise, snarling, "You!"

He falls down again, and I bow courteously.

"Steady, lad," says the dwarf, easing Selcar to a sitting position. "Ye don't want to try yer feet too soon. Ye've had a rough day."

"Yeah, Selcar," says Jonah. "Listen to your friend. You're a hero now, after all."

"What?"

"That's true," I add. "Not many could have fallen beneath a troll the way you did. Bravo." Jonah and I clap.

"Where's Susan?"

I shrug. "Doing your job for you, protecting herself. Quite capably, too."

Selcar scowls. "Very funny. You're trapped in here, too, same as the rest of us."

The clopping of horse hooves causes all of the cage's occupants to stand and press near the bars. Soon, Silverymoon's finest are working at the cage, shouting in reassuringly officious voices, "Coming through! Stand back! High Guardsmen here! We'll get you out shortly!"

As soon as they cut an opening, the officers block it so we can't leave. "One at a time, please!" We need to check you for your own safety. Please cooperate!"

Selcar shoves his way up front. "Please. I'm a deputy Knight in Silver. You have to let me out. Here's my identification." He reaches inside his torn waistcoat, then checks the other pocket, goes through the routine again, and moans. "It must have fallen out during the battle."

"Wait your turn, sir. We'll have you all out shortly."

The dwarf guides him back to a seat.

While they interrogate and free us, one by one, Scamp squeezes in between the bars, clucking excitedly at Jonah.

"Scamp! You're all right!" Jonah nuzzles the ferret, while Selcar makes a gagging face.

The reunion catches the attention of the officers. "You there! Come here."

Jonah walks over with Scamp in his arms.

"You're Jonah Goodman of the Spellguard?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good. Do you mind if we check you?"

Jonah looks dubious, then shrugs.

One of the officers pats him down, checking his arms (while Scamp hops onto Jonah's shoulders, scolding the officer), his torso, his belt, and around each leg.

"Remove your cloak and boots, please."

Jonah looks even more dubious, but the request is delivered very firmly, so he complies. The officer double-checks his cloak, looks inside and beneath each boot, then turns each one upside down and shakes them.

The man exchanges confused looks with his cohorts, then hands Jonah back his belongings.

"Mind telling me what that's about?"

"Sorry, Mr. Goodman. Just being careful. You have a nice day."

"If it's all the same to you, I'll wait until you've released my colleague there." He nods toward me.

The officer shrugs and motions to me. "Next!"

Expecting the worst after their treatment of Jonah, I begin kicking off my boots and shrugging out of my cloak.

"What do you think you're doing?" the guard asks.

"I'm getting searched. Do you need me to remove my robes?"

"Uh…no. You can put your cloak and boots back on, too."

"You sure?"

When he nods, I put them on again. He searches me quickly, almost carelessly. When his hands reach the bags hanging from my belt, he asks, "What's in that pouch?"

"Spell components."

"Can I check?"

I hand it over, and he glances perfunctorily through it.

"The other one?" he points.

"My money pouch."

"Anything in it?"

I pass it to him. "Never enough."

He laughs, emptying its meager contents into his hand.

My heart drops into my stomach. A small shiny silver trinket shaped like a shield glints among the fell dull coppers in his hand. Why would a lauthaul token be in my pouch?

"Put your hands on top of your head where I can see them!" he orders.

His partners, who had been standing around in the bored manner of men assigned to menial tasks, snap to attention and surround me. I'm conscious of the stares from the cage's occupants, most notably Selcar's.

Hands roughly reach for the cloak I had just re-donned, tearing away wands, parchment, and owl treats. Somebody rips my component bag off my belt, while someone else forces my hands behind my back, where they're bound at the wrists.

Jonah protests, "What are you doing?" trying to push toward me, before his progress is blocked by two barrel-chested guards.

The officer points at me. "Take him to the prisoner transport!"

Jonah yells, "Where are you taking him? He hasn't done anything wrong!" followed by "…that I know of."

"You're not helping!" I say, getting pushed out the cage past him.

"Sorry! What do you need me to do?"

"Get home and check on Hedwig before Selcar can." A guard's hands shove me toward the nearby road.

In the cage, Selcar presses against the bars, triumphant. "I always knew you were trouble, Magnos!"

Behind him, the old dwarf hops excitedly. "I knew it, too! Yer trouble, young one! Trouble!"

I should have set the cage on fire when I had the chance.

The prisoner transport turns out to be little more than a glorified cage on wheels, just tall enough for me to enter standing if I hunch. The driver's seat outside the cage consists of a bench covered in worn leather. The interior, where I am unceremoniously admitted, is less comfortably furnished, with naught but a bare wooden bench barely large enough for two. At least they had freed my hands before pushing me in, sparing my teeth the indignity of catching my fall.

Outside, the sounds of battle have disappeared entirely, succeeded by the sounds of people going home.

A child's voice inquires, "Who rides in that carriage over there, Mama?"

"Bad people, Garen. You mind yourself so that you don't end up there one day."

"Bad people should get the gallows, Mama."

I grab the bars lining the nearest window and shout, "Some of us are innocent, you know!"

The boy and his siblings shrink behind their mother, who glares. "You awful, awful man! Come along, children!"

A guard bangs the carriage with his club. "Quiet in there, prisoner!"

"Bad people should get the gallows," I mimic. "Little monster. If only Hedwig were here to aim for his head…"

I hope Hedwig is okay.

Perhaps a quarter of a bell has passed when I hear activity outside. The guard warns, "Keep away from the door!" so I obligingly slide to the farthest spot on the bench.

The door swings open and a red-headed elven girl is tossed inside.

"Hey!" she protests, stumbling and falling backwards onto my lap. She smells nice, sweet but not cloyingly so. Familiar even. Fancy dress, but torn in places, leaving a lot of skin exposed, especially from the thighs down. I like.

Suspiciously, she looks back at me through windswept strands of hair. Her eyes widen, panicked. I wink, hoping to calm her. "Haven't we met before?"

She jumps off of my lap as if it were aflame, which is only partially true. Her hand grasps at her side for (a weapon, I think) something that's not there, her stance alert, dangerous. This is a girl who could dropkick Selcar three ways without breaking a sweat. I really like.

"N-no," she stammers. "I don't think we've ever met."

"Well then allow me to introduce myself. I am--ow!" Forgot how low this ceiling is. I sit back down, rubbing the offended part of my skull.

She arches an eyebrow at me, then turns to the door. "Guard, there appears to have been a mistake."

The reply was swift. "I already told you. I don't care if you know Lord Methrammar. You're still under arrest!"

"It's not that." She hesitates, then looks back at me. "This carriage is already occupied. I think you meant to send me somewhere else."

"Did you hear that, Griggs?" the guard says. "This carriage is already occupied! The lady was meant to be sent somewhere else!"

"Tha's 'orrible, it is," says a second guard outside. "Ya fink 'ere's been some sorta mistake?"

"Undoubtedly. Summon the royal stable. A princess shouldn't have to share her carriage with the common lowlife."

"Hey!" I yell, aggrieved.

The girl has her hands on her hips. "I know when I'm being mocked, you know."

"A thousand-and-one apologies, your 'ighness," replies Griggs. "Won't 'appen again."

"They're a helpful lot," I comment. "Industrious yet clean-smelling."

She ignores me, scanning outside intently.

"What are you looking for, anyway? There's nothing worth seeing out there. Last time I looked outside, a little kid made a face at me."

"You probably had it coming," she replies, then stiffens as if she regrets having spoken.

"Only if it were a nice face."

When she doesn't answer, I ask, "So you're a friend of Methrammar's?"

Her tone is deliberately neutral. "And if I am?"

I shrug. "That's great. I hear he's a great guy."

"He is."

"Well, actually, I hadn't heard that. But I heard his mother is great."

No reply.

"Looking," I add.

"What?" She turns and faces me this time, her eyes narrowing.

"Nothing," I say. "I just heard she's a looker. You know. Attractive. In the face. And the rest of her body. Well, I didn't hear that, but from what I could tell. By the pictures of her. Around town. Because she's…famous" Her eyes are practically squinting now, and my voice falters. "She's kind of…hot."

"You should stop talking now," the girl says.

"Oh, I get it," I stand, hitting my head again. "Son of a…'Zuth's balls, that hurts!" When the stars clear, I continue. "Look, clearly you think I'm some sort of ill-mannered brute, but you're wrong about me."

"I don't think you're an ill-mannered brute."

"You don't?"

"I think that would be unkind to ill-mannered brutes," she smiles archly.

"You're not the only one who knows when they're being mocked."

"Then let me know when such a person arrives, so that I may commiserate with them."

"So it's like that, is it?" I call outside. "Guards? Has the princess's carriage arrived yet? Us lowlifes are getting pretty crowded in here!"

"Keep it down, you!" comes the reply.

Before I can respond, she's grabbed me by the ear. "I'm not a princess, you boorish lout! But I do have the common decency to not embarrass myself around others! That's a lesson you would do well to learn." She releases me.

"Ow!" I rub my reddened ear gingerly. "Looks like your common decency has really taken you far, hasn't it? Oh wait, no. You're still locked in here with me!"

She starts to speak, then scowls. "A temporary condition, I'm sure."

"Look," I sigh. "We got off on the wrong foot."

"Got off?" she says, looking aghast.

"What? No! Not like that. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with the notion…" I see her hand start reaching for that invisible sword again. "Unless it bothers you. In which case it's very wrong. Extremely wrong."

She relaxes a little.

"I just wanted to say, 'Hey, you look pretty tired. You can have a seat if you want.' " I gesture to the cramped bench. "You don't have to sit next to me. I’m a man; I can stand up. It's completely okay."

"Thank you," the elf says. "That's kind of you." She doesn't move to accept my offer.

"Truce?" I offer her my hand.

She hesitates, then accepts my hand. "Okay."

"Great," I smile. "Please, take the seat."

She shakes her head. "No, that's all right."

"It's okay. I don't mind at all."

"You've already bumped your head twice. You should sit."

"I'd feel terrible if you stood," I say, tugging her gently. "I insist."

The girl looks irritated by this. "I told you already. I don't want to sit!"

"I'm just trying to be courteous. You don't have to lose your temper!
"
"I'm not losing my temper. Will you just sit down?" she yells, shoving me into the bench. Surprised, I grasp her wrist as I fall, pulling her with me. She twists away, but she's too small to keep her feet, and she lands seated on my lap again.

"Quiet in there!" the guard calls. "Keep clear of the door!"

The door opens, and a small figure, not much larger than a ten-year old child, but womanly in shape, steps in.

A drow.

She looks surprised at the sight. Her mouth curls upward. " 'Ledra, am I interrupting something? Because I can come back." She turns as if to exit. "Guards?"

They slam the door closed. "Shut up, you lot!"

The redhead springs up from my lap. As do I. "It's not what it looks like, May," she says.

"You know her?" I ask the redhead called "Ledra."

She looks at me warningly. "Don't you dare start--"

"Yes," I tell the drow girl, who's wearing a lavender, low-cut gown. "It was what it looked like: a beautiful shared moment between two souls, trapped by circumstance, or what some would call fate. But since you two know each other, who's to say it shouldn't be…three souls?"

Jul. 18th, 2008

Magic Man

18 Flamerule (very early)

Invisibility (illusion--that is to say, the purview of skulking, cheating, no-good bastards who deceive. And lie. And are bastards). Material component: an eyelash placed in some gum arabic. What the hell is gum arabic anyway? I don't have time to be sorting through piles of guano and dragon bile to figure out this nonsense. Did I mention I hate cheating bastards?

"Keep your hands high so I can see them."

Normally, the sight of Jonah gagged and looking terrified would be cause for much teasing, but in this case signifies that maybe I should do what the man is telling me.

"Good. Now walk slowly, slowly, to that chair, keeping your hands high. The moment I catch you even thinking about a spell and we see how sharp this knife really is. Got it?" Whoever he is, he's wearing perfume. The cold tip of the blade interrupts my observation.

"Got it." I inch over to the chair next to the one Jonah is currently tied to.

"Sit."

I obey and my hands are immediately yanked behind me and the chair's frame. The man wraps twine around my wrists, then loops them around my thumbs before completing the knot. Why didn't I sign up for Master Vihuel's Asomatic Spellcasting course? On the bright side, the blade isn't at my throat anymore.

"So uh, is this some kind of hazing? Because in that case, technically I'm senior to Jonah here..."

My captor steps in front of me for the first time and starts to pull his hood back.

But Jonah has worked the gag off his mouth and manages to spit out, "You've been a student longer but I have more credit hours, Magnos!"

"That's only because you kissed up to Sortann in Spell Theorems!"

"I keep telling you, that was extra credit."

"What, so kissey-face counts as coursework now?"

The hooded man steps between our chairs, looking back and forth at us as we argue.

"Magnos, you're a clown. If Sortann were going to go kissey-face at a student--which, by the way, is a frightening and nightmarish thought--she'd probably want a student who doesn't cringe every time she looks at him. Someone like you."

I open my mouth to object.

Then I close it.

Our captor steps closer as if to speak, but I squeal my chair legs around to face Jonah more squarely. "Well maybe if you studied more, you wouldn't be petrified every time someone called on you!"

"Studying! You should be talking about studying with all the time you spend on other activities!"

"Well when you can recite the Seven Underlying Tenets of Conjuration backwards in the original Netherese, then maybe you can skip the occasional class and treat yourself to something fun once in a while!"

"Fun?" snarls Jonah. "You mean like leaving your best friend to lug your stuff across town so that you can chase after pretty little Susan Drake?"

The man between us holds his hands outward and yells, "Enough! You--" he points to Jonah "--need to shut up and put that gag back in and you--" he points toward me "--need to stay away from Susan!"

This quiets us enough that we pay closer attention to the intruder. I know that voice. And so does Jonah.

"Selcar?" he says.

"I told you to shut up." Selcar pulls back his hood and leans against Jonah's desk, his shoulders sagging.

"Smelcar," I say, "I realize you feel close to Susie Drake, but she is a grown woman with grownup needs and she has the right to make decisions for--"

"You need to follow your friend's example and shut up," says Selcar, pointing at me with his knife. "You have no idea the consequences of your actions tonight. Don't deny it," he says when I open my mouth to deny it. "After I convinced the guard of my innocence it wasn't exactly difficult to detect your particular tracks of interference in that affair."

I shrug. "What can I say? My art requires a signature style. Anything less--" and Selcar's warning waggle of his dagger convinces me to leave the rest unspoken.

"Do you know who Susan Drake really is?" he asks.

"A nubile, sweet-lipped sorceress whose legs you can't wait to feel wrapped--"

Jonah starts to guffaw, but Selcar strides forward and backhands me across the jaw. "You are clearly an idiot. Not only do you insist on provoking someone who holds every tactical advantage over you, but you dare to presume that Miss Drake is no different than any of the local bar wenches you cavort with so freely. Trust me," he says, "You don't want to get on my bad side, wizard."

The taste of blood still in my mouth, I ask, "What would you do? Sing me to death?"

Jonah bursts into outright laughter this time. While Selcar's glare turns to him I take the opportunity to try to work free from my bonds. They're tight, but I can feel the slightest bit of give to them.

Then Selcar's attention is back on me. "Arrogant child. But is this the arrogance of youth, or that of something else, I wonder?" Past him, I see my roommate, who clearly has the same idea, jostling his arms behind his back.

"Maybe it's the arrogance of knowing that I'm going to make you regret hitting me?" I offer.

Selcar ignores this thrust, putting his hand on his chin while he begins to pace. He spins toward Jonah, who stops working on his restraints. "Tell me, Magnos," Selcar asks, "Have you ever been to Waterdeep?"

"No, but I hear it's lovely this time of year: shopping, dining, people who don't ambush you in your room and tie you up...except for foreplay."

"Charming," says Selcar. He repeats the question to Jonah, who asks if Selcar has ever been to the beautiful town of Go-Do-Something-Anatomically-Impossible-To-Himself. I resume my wrists' struggle against the twine when a silver glint of fur flashes in a moonlit corner of the room. It's moving toward Jonah.

I interrupt Selcar. "What's this all about, anyway?"

He steps back toward me. "I ask the questions here. Who are you working for?"

The small furry form reaches Jonah, who stops struggling and nods at me. Keep talking, he mouths.

"You want my resume?" I ask. "Because currently I'm self-employed. Listen, if this is some kind of audit, I can assure you that all of my licenses are in order with the necessary documentation for a Class Three Merchant, Unrestricted Magical Wares--"

"Cut the drivel," snaps Selcar, pointing his knife very closely to my chin. "I want the truth, and I am willing to go very far to obtain it. Understand?"

"Oh, you don't have to worry about going too far with Magnos. He puts out like nobody's business."

We turn to Jonah, who stands freed from his restraints, the wand in his hand pointed directly at Selcar.

The bard starts toward Jonah, knife extended. Before he can advance, however, Jonah flicks the wand. An arc of blue lightning leaps from it, striking Selcar's knife, crackling around the blade, then curling up his arm and around his torso. He screams, then drops. The knife clatters on to the floor beside him.

Jonah stands there with his wand drawn, then raises his eyebrow and says, "My escape appears to have shocked him."

"Jonah?" I say.

"Yeah, Magnos?"

"No."

"Come on. You just wish you had been the one to say it."

"No. I just wish I were able to unhear it. Hey, Scamp," I call. "Nice going!"

A silver ferret emerges from behind Jonah.

"Yeah, Scamp. You were great. But I? I was..." Jonah's grin widens, "...electrifying."

I roll my eyes. "A little help here?"

Scamp pads past his master and gamely sets to gnawing at the twine. I nod toward Selcar's supine body. The smell of perfume seems stronger now. "Is he, you know, dead?"

"I doubt it. It's not that strong a spell. Still, in the hands of a skilled user, it can be..." Jonah pauses dramatically.

By this point Scamp has made quick work of the knots and I stand. "Speaking of skilled users, just let me know when you find one, okay?"

"Hey!" Jonah scowls.

"And keep an eye on our elven friend, will you?" I step toward the knife and kick it into the far corner of the room, underneath Jonah's desk. Can't stand blades. Ever since Father asked me to help him with the onions once...

Selcar moans. Jonah and I whirl toward him. My roommate's wand arm is ready, and I take a second or two to fumble in my cloak before retrieving a Wand of Mending. If I use it, it will do a good job of defeating the scorch marks on Selcar's sleeve, but otherwise won't inconvenience him a trifle. But he doesn't need to know that. I hold my wand out in what I hope is a suitably menacing posture.

The bard lifts himself up to his elbows and knees.

"Easy now," warns Jonah. "You don't want another taste of the fury."

I mouth The Fury? at him. He shrugs.

Our former captor rolls over so that he's in a sitting position, hands propped on the floor behind him for support. "How the devil did you--"

"Now, now. We ask the questions here, tough guy," I interrupt. "First, what in Azuth's name are you doing in our room, besides annoying us?"

"That's right," says Jonah. "A man's room is his castle, and we don't take too kindly to being invaded!" Scamp climbs on to his shoulder and wraps himself around his neck. The only way Jonah could look less threatening right now would be if the wand in his hand transformed into a feather duster.

Selcar doesn't look too impressed either. "You really don't know, do you?"

"is it because all the smart kids go to wizard school and you wanted to learn how to breathe through your nose and not your mouth anymore?"

He sighs. "I hate wizards. Insufferable, the lot of you."

"Skip to the part where you're telling us why you're here," suggests Jonah. Scamp nods his head.

"That's simple enough. I'm here to warn you--" he nods at me "--to stay away from Susan."

When he sees our quizzical looks he says, "Did she tell you who her father is?"

"Yeah, some important doctor or something in Waterdeep--"

"He's more than some important doctor. In addition to being the Guildmaster of--"

"--of Apothecaries and Physicians," I offer. "Yeah, I heard."

"So she shared this information with you then."

"We did a lot of sharing," I say, my eyes locked on his.

His face darkens. "Stay away from her, Magnos. In addition to being the guildmaster, her father holds considerable sway with the city proper--" Selcar cuts short, then smiles. "It is not important to you. What is important is that he is a powerful man with powerful enemies. Enemies who would think nothing at harming an innocent girl should doing so suit their purpose. And your little stunt tonight endangered that girl! Do. You. Take. My. Meaning?"

Jonah cuts in. "The only danger she was in with Magnos would be from dwarf clap."

"Go to hell, Jonah!"

"Why? They got a cure for it there?"

Selcar clears his throat. "Are you two quite done?"

I shake my head. "Listen Selky, you've clearly mistaken me for someone who would actually obey you. I'm seeing Susan again, even if her daddy's the Lord of Toril himself, and you can't stop me. Beside, I think she likes me. You wouldn't stand in the way of true love, would you?" I grin.

"Fool human, did you think I was asking?" Selcar begins to stand. Our wands follow him. "Magnos, shouldn't you be wondering why your pet owl hasn't returned home yet?"

I look toward Hedwig's favorite spot, a makeshift roost by my bed. There's no sign of her. I concentrate, feeling for the empathic link.

Nothing.

"You condescending string-plucker, what have you done with her?"

"You're calling me condescending?" Selcar laughs.

"Tell him what you've done with Hedwig, or I'll fry every last charge from this wand on you!" thunders Jonah, his eyes blazing.

"She's perfectly safe. Which is more than I can say for the one that I'm supposed to protect, "counters Selcar. "Listen, Magnos. You know the upcoming Midsummer's festival?" When I nod, he continues. "I've received word there's to be an attempt on Susan then. I need to be protecting her--by her side--at all times, and the last thing I need is you bumbling around getting in the way, or worse, having me thrown into questioning so that you can sneak longing glances down her blouse!"

I try to swallow my anger. "Selcar, we can help each other on this. I'm far more useful as an ally than an enemy. Just give me back Hedwig and we can double the eyes--"

"Triple," says Jonah. Scamp nips him. "I mean quadruple."

"Quadruple the eyes looking out for Susan," I finish.

"You're assuming that I'm working alone," smirks Selcar. "No deal, wizard, save this: you stay out of my way--which means out of Susan's way--for next week, and after the festival is over, if you've kept your end of the bargain, I'll return your bird to you."

"How about we make you a counter-offer?" asks Jonah. "You lead us to Hedwig and your buddies, and we'll trade your mostly-unsinged self in return for her. Got it?" His wand points menacingly.

"I like Jonah's plan." I remember my Wand of Mending and give it a few threatening swishes.

"Then it appears we are at an impasse," replies Selcar, spreading his palms outward while shrugging. "Or, as the Waterdhavians like to say: Contego Fallere!"

And Selcar vanishes.

"Invisibility! He's still here!" shouts Jonah, aiming his wand frantically.

"Yeah! I know!" I reply, casting off mending spells as fast as my wand will let me. Discarded articles of laundry begin knitting together, as do the previously separate blankets on my bed.

"I don't know where to shoot!"

"Just guard the d--" Something shoves me aside and I hear cloth rustling past me as Selcar makes for the door.

It opens as Jonah cries, "No you don't!" and a fierce crackle of lightning jets into the hallway and through the door opposite ours. A voice from that room yells through the newly created hole, "What the?!" but I'm picking myself up and following the sound of rapidly receding footsteps.

Selcar reaches the stairwell at the end of the hall before Jonah and I can leave our room, but I tear toward it like a lion in pursuit of prey. I hop the length of the first half-flight of stairs, turning on a copper to leap to the first-floor entrance below.

Where the lion comparison dies painfully when I crash through the doorway and trip over Terro Antkiller, the collision sending me sprawling onto the sticky lounge floor.

"What's the matter with you, Magnos?" groans the halfling, pulling his cheek off the ground with a grimace.

Jonah appears from the stairwell, huffing. "You okay?"

I turn to Terro. "You see an invisible guy run through here?"

Terro looks at me just long enough to make a point, then finishes gathering himself off the floor. I'm not fully up yet, so when he walks over to me, we're eye-level to each other. "Magnos," he says, "Stay away from my leaf." Then he limps past us to go upstairs. "Goodnight, Jonah."

Jonah helps me to my feet. "We'll get her back."

"I know."

"Midsummer's Fest isn't too far away."

"No," I say. "And we're going to be there."

Jun. 29th, 2008

Takeshi

17 Flamerule 1372 (cont'd)

Two bell tolls later, the thought occurs to me that this girl really likes to dance. Susan must catch a hint of that thought because she yells over the music, "Do you want to take a break?"

Trying not to look too grateful, I nod, and we walk toward the outer courtyard wall.

"Poor wizard," she says. "All that physical exertion must be getting to you.

"Not--not at all," I reply, making certain not to wheeze. "All the time we spend in libraries poring over gigantically heavy tomes tends to train one's physical capacity for--for--"

"For being full of hot air?" she smirks. "And speaking of hot air, you seem a little short of it. Come on. Let's get you something to drink."

At the refreshment table near the entrance, she hands me a mug of sweet cider. Gulping it down, I say, "You seem pretty comfortable here."

"Is that your way of asking if I come here often?" she laughs.

"I hadn't thought of it that way, but I could be asking that if you'd like. I could also ask, 'Did it hurt crashing through the Planes? Because I've never met an astral deva before."

"Ugh, Magnos," she hits my shoulder. "Please tell me you've never used that line on anyone. Or anything."

"No! Of course not. Never. Certainly not in recent memory. Or distant memory. Probably. I mean probably not. I can't remember. Maybe?"

"Magnos!"

"But even if I had said such a thing, I would never use such a line on you."

Susan puts her hands on her hips. "You just did."

"No, I offered a hypothetical; it wasn't actually offered in earnest."

"I see."

"I only offer the highest quality lines to you. Nothing cheesy."

"I'm so relieved."

"And flattered?"

She laughed. "Maybe a little."

The band begins a new number, but neither of us move to join the dancing.

She nods toward the mug in my hand. "Are you feeling better?"

I raise my eyebrows. "Who says I was feeling worse? I'm tireless like a dwarf!"

"A narcoleptic dwarf."

"But as a narcoleptic dwarf, I'd never be tired, because I'd always be current on my sleep!"

She shakes her head, then brushes her blonde locks out of her face. "I thought wizards were supposed to be smart, but that might well be the dumbest thing I've ever heard." But she's smiling as she says it.

"And I thought sorcerers were supposed to be nice, but that was simply cruel, Miss Drake."

"Who said we were nice, Mister Rel Astra?" she counters.

"Well, I'd always heard that they learned through being touchy-feeley, doing what comes naturally and all that."

"And you've never heard that being mean comes naturally to many people?"

"I simply never would have suspected it of you," I offer.

"Flattery," she says, "will get you everywhere."

"In that case, may I start by walking you home?"

Susan pauses, then flashes me a brilliant smile.

*******


Even at this time of night, Silverymoon isn't quiet, especially in the university district. The pubs are still crowded, and the carousing shouts are punctuated by the singing of drunken dwarves.

"Don't you just love the openness of this city?" Susan is saying. "It's so different from home."

"Where's home?"

"Waterdeep. People there are a lot more uptight, with all the secrecy involving the Lords, or the constant threat of Halaster throwing a tantrum, or drow invasion." She shudders. "I think I fear the drow most of all."
"What, the knowledge that an exceedingly powerful and completely insane mage with countless tools of destruction at his disposal right beneath the city doesn't bother you?"

"Should it?" she smiles impishly. "Father always says that Halaster just wants to be left alone, that if damn fool adventurers didn't bother him he wouldn't bother anyone."

"Your father doesn't sound too fond of adventurers."

She shakes her head. "He says they're only good at lining merchants' purses and Halaster's walls. You're not planning on being an adventurer, are you?"

"Me? No," I laugh. "I prefer steady employment, sleeping on actual beds, having easy access to pubs--"

The nearby fluttering of wings startles me. Susan, however, tilts her head to allow more room on her shoulder. A moment later, a bright-eyed raven alights there. "Susan! Susan!" it calls.

"Hello, Grace," she says, nuzzling the bird. "This is Magnos! Magnos, meet Grace."

"Hello, Grace," I greet it.

"Hello, Ugly," it nods solemnly.

"Your familiar just insulted me!"

"Sorry. She's like that with everyone," Susan says. "Except me, of course." She reaches into her pocket and offers the raven a dried berry. "You're my sweet raven, aren't you?"

We continue walking, Grace interrupting from time to time to ask for food or to insult me (Birdbrain! Gnome-licker!)

"So what's your pa got against adventurers?" I ask. "Did he used to be one or something?"

"My father an adventurer?" she laughs. "Oh no. He's far too busy with his work for adventure."

"What does he do?"

"Oh, he's a physician." After a moment, she adds, "He's also the Guildmaster of Waterdeep's Apothecaries and Physicians. It sounds more important than it is."

"Guildmaster of Apothecaries and Physicians? Sounds pretty important."

"It's not. It just means he's always busy doing stuff he's not allowed to talk about. Meeting guild members, arranging deals, going off to meetings all the time. I love him, but I wish he weren't so invested in his work." She looks at me. "What does your father do?"

"Oh, the same, I guess," I say. "Only without the guilds and the meetings and the investment into work. He's a lumberjack. He's okay."

"A woodcutter's son! I never would have guessed you as one."

Nettled, I ask, "What would you have guessed?"

"I don't know. For some reason I was thinking maybe a son of artists, or maybe a bard."

I groan.

"What?"

"Hmm? Oh, something I ate."

We reach the front of her quarters, a tall and handsome building that houses many local bards and sorcerers.

"Well," Susan says. "Here we are."

"Yes."

Grace flies upward toward some window shutters on the third floor.

With the raven gone from her shoulder, I feel free to step closer to Susan. "I had a good time tonight."

"Me too," she says.

Stepping in closer, I say, "We should do this again some time."

She tilts her head toward me. "I'd like that."

The third-floor shutters that Grace had flown near open. A dark-haired girl with a tired expression sticks her head out the window. "Finally you're home! Elwyn's been by twice looking for you. Tobias wants you to see him when you get in, and Hobie's dropped off your books. And some flowers." She sees me then. "Oh."

"Thanks, Trina," calls Susan, who seems unfazed. "Thank you for the lovely evening, Magnos," she says, kissing me on the cheek. She goes upstairs and disappears into the building. A moment later, Trina's head also withdraws from sight.

*******


My room is in a building we call The Farm, situated a few blocks away. It is a boarding house catering to students at the College, and, not coincidentally, is also a terrible place for a student at the College to get real studying done.

The Farm's entrance opens to a messy lounge dominated by a massive fireplace and the odor of spilled drinks, stale foods, and several varieties of incense. Terro Antkiller, a halfling Evocations student, is finishing off a pint when I enter. "Magnos! You're in late. Had a fun night?"

I think of the previous morning, waking up naked in an unfamiliar room. "I've certainly had worse."

"Me too!" Terro hops off a chair designed for someone twice his size and accompanies me as I head up the stairs toward my room on the second floor. "Me and Kylie were practicing ventriloquism (and here I interrupted with an "Oh yes! That's a useful spell!") on this drunk half-orc passing by outside, getting him really mad, only I messed up the incantation on the last one and he saw us and pulled out this huge axe and came charging at me, only Kylie cast Reduce Person on him and then we told him he had entered the domain of giants and he got confused because I was still about his size but we told him I was just a kid giant so then he walked away but then he didn't watch the street and got hit by a passing wagon. You should have seen it!" he says.

"I wish I had." I peek in the keyhole of my room. Dark. "Jonah must be asleep," I say in lowered voice.

Terro nods. "That's what I should do." He turns, not toward his room, but back down toward the lounge again, probably to have at another pint. He's chuckling to himself, saying, "It was hilarious!"

Crazy halfling, I'm thinking, as I tiptoe into my darkened room. Still, it was pretty funny.

Which is more than I can say when I see Jonah tied to the chair, and feel the cold touch of steel at my neck.

Jun. 15th, 2008

Magic Man

17 Flamerule 1372 (cont'd)

Ventriloquism (illusion). Focus: a piece of parchment rolled into a small cone. It’s called ventriloquism. What do you think it does? Only it’s magical. So one can throw one’s voice from greater range, height, depth, around corners, inside barrels, or whatever else is handy. Tried this on Jonah once while we were walking past a graveyard, and let me tell you, my roommate may not look particularly athletic, but he is fleet.

The air inside is thick with the heat of the crowd and the sound of conversations rising above the music. The smell of roasted meats mingles with Daleland leaf as I push (gently, mind you) past the people crowding the entry way.

“And that’s when the dwarf dropped his gem bag…”

“…for one of the Chosen, she certainly gets around…”

“…ever been with three halflings?”

I look toward that speaker and make eye contact with a young halfling wearing a corset and leather leggings and not much else. She smirks at me before turning back to the recipient of her remark, a blushing half-elf. Lucky bastard.

The halls beyond the entrance sprawl in three directions; the center one is most appealing as it leads to a cooler, less claustrophobic open-air courtyard. The rain from earlier in the evening has stopped, leaving behind a refreshing crispness. In the courtyard, competing conversations surrender to the voice of a silver-haired elf whom I recognize as one of the more popular bards in Silverymoon, Davkas Nightfall or Darkwatch or something like that. Blackbelt. I can’t remember. He’s playing his lyre while singing something about a mage who loses his lady love in pursuit of forbidden magical knowledge. Seems like a trite enough song, but he’s holding an audience of about sixty strong, many of them dabbing at their eyes.

One of them, to my horror, is Mistress Sortann, the teacher of my Spellcasting Theorems class, and the strictest instructor at the Lady’s College. She’s so tough that Jonah switched his specialization in order to avoid taking her again. While she isn’t crying, she seems to be enjoying the show, her eyes closed, lips moving to the lyrics as she sways side to side. Definitely do not want to interrupt her little moment here.

I move to slip unobtrusively past her, but my pack has other ideas. As I draw within a few paces, the iron pieces within it clink together. Her eyes open, first in severe annoyance(an expression I’ve seen frequently before and one that would have caused Jonah to recoil) and then in recognition. Curse those elven senses!

Our gazes were too direct for me to pretend not to see her, so I suppress a grimace and nod. “Mistress Sortann.”

“Ah, Magnos,” she replies, keeping her voice low so as not to disturb the other concert goers. I have to step closer so as to hear her. “Magnificent, isn’t he?”

The bard continues to lament the foolishness of his ways, drawing out the word “love” so that it has three syllables and lasts ten seconds. I nod. “Oh yes. He’s quite,” I glance at the enraptured women in the audience, “evocative.”

Sortann grins, which is enough to make me jump a little; it’s an unusual sight and one that, in the classroom, usually signals the impending public evisceration of some poor student’s ego. Still swaying to the music, she turns toward me and leans in, so close that I can feel the warmth of her body. “I wouldn’t have expected to find one of my students at a Davkas Nightdown performance.”

“Uh, well,” I say, “I wouldn’t have expected to find one of my teachers at a Fochlucan party.”

She lowers her voice to a whisper so that, despite my every inclination against doing so, I have to draw nearer. “I suppose we’re both of us discovering new sides to each other tonight, hmm?’ She licks her lips.

Sweet. Sune. No.

“Yes, and it’s been great! I’d love to stay and learn more from you but I told a friend I’d meet him here.” I utter a nervous laugh that draws an angry shush from a nearby patron and I’m backing away fast as lightning. I wonder if it’s too late to change my specialization.

Sortann raises an eyebrow and I turn to scan the crowd. “In fact,” I say hopefully, “there he is right now. Enjoy the show. Nighthawk is the best!”

As fast as I can walk without seeming too unnatural, I approach the face I recognized, my burly ladies man of a customer from earlier tonight. He’s speaking entreatingly to a bored-looking girl who seems more interested in Davkas than in his advances. He'd have had more luck if I hadn’t run out of Eagle’s Splendor early in the evening (as I always do), but there are some customers whom I’d just feel guilty selling it to. Prince Charmless here, for one.

Still, an escape route is an escape route. “Comrade! I did not expect to still see you here!” His pleading suitor expression gives way to a quickly curling lip, so I press on before he can develop that. “After all, Camille and Larissa were so disappointed to have missed you; I fully expected they’d have taken you off to some cozy unoccupied corner around here, no?” I slap his shoulder heartily, watching his eyes shift from hostility into confusion.

“How rude of me. I was interrupting.” I turn to the girl. “This man…is incredible. I hardly get to see him because he’s so busy hanging around his female friends. It is my good fortune to catch him now, considering how popular he is. In fact—”

The man grips my shoulders and whirls me away from her. “Look,” he growls, “those metal bits aren’t helping me at all tonight! What are you trying to pull, anyway?”

Keeping my voice as low and casual as I could with my shoulders thus held, I reply, “Those metal bits, as you call them, aren’t intended to help you to the bedroom; they’re supposed to help you in the bedroom! Just keep sweet-talking her and you’ll see.” With that, I extricate myself and turn to the girl again. “I can’t help but keep talking about him; look at those piercing eyes, that devil-may-care grin! You’re a lucky lady. And you,” I face him again, “are an animal. Tempus help us!”

Leaving them in the courtyard with those words, I venture deeper into the bard college.

The next corridor branches out into another courtyard. Before I can enter, Hedwig inquires as to what is taking me so long. Not in so many words of course, but the telepathic link does convey a sense of impatient curiosity on her part. I send a mental image of home to her, indicating she should return to our quarters at the Lady’s College.

The bard here is finishing his song, and couples in the main courtyard are finishing their dances. On the periphery, others lounge, either watching the musician or conversing with companions.

“Thank you,” says the woman on stage. “You’re such a wonderful audience. We’re going to have an intermission for now, but don’t stray too far, because after that our very own Matthias will be following me, continuing his tale of the Prince of Calimshan!”

Polite applause follows, and near the center of the courtyard, I see them. Hard not to, between Selcar’s flamboyant rainbow cloak and Susan’s long blonde hair. He’s grinning, whispering something into her ear. She smiles and shakes her head. Probably doesn’t want to see his handharp.

Not seeming offended, he says something else, then leaves her to head down the corridor opposite from me. Which does seem as fine a time as any to approach.

The crowd in the courtyard is shifting as some of the dancing couples exit, and others clearly wanting to find seats for the next performer assume their spots. The transition permits me to approach her more easily.

“Hey.” She doesn’t hear me at first, due to the noise, so I repeat it.

Susan Drake turns, startled. “Oh. Hi. I didn’t see you.”

“I should hope not; I just got here.”

She smiles, but it’s quick, uncertain. “I thought you were still working for your friend?”

“With,” I raise a finger to correct her. “With my friend.”

”Ah.”

“Business slowed down. Nobody wanted to buy anything after a naked gnome ran through the street.”

“A naked gnome?”

“You’d be surprised how often it ends our evenings. The gnomes are a proud but debauched people.”

“I see,” she says.

“Is ‘debauched’ a word? I don’t have much cause to use it. The gnome does, sadly. Me? Not so much.”

“Um, I think so.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come up and start talking to you about naked, debauched gnomes. I mean, unless it fascinates you.”

“No,” she shakes her head. Is that a smile beginning to crack? “I mean, it’s interesting, your gnome, but—”

“Not my gnome. He belongs to Silverymoon. Our at least, to the care of the Silverymoon constables,” I say. “At least, I hope he does, by now.”

Okay, that was definitely a chuckle. She says, “Magnos, I thought you weren’t coming here.”

I grin and shrug. “I didn’t think I was, either. I was planning on helping Jonah until—”

“Yes,” she interrupts, laughing. “I know, the gnome.”

“That, and the rain was kind of making things unpleasant. You and Selcar made this sound so much more interesting, so I figured, why not visit? I’ve never been inside Fochlucan before.”

“Really? I’m surprised. There are so many interesting things inside. I mean, the performances are fun, but the amount of lore within, I would have expected a wizard such as you to know all about it.”

“Well, we wizards are all-knowing about lore and uh, books, and whatnot…”

She looks amused, then frowns. “I thought you were angry at me earlier. You seemed upset when we started talking about the party.”

“Oh,” I say. “That! No, that was something else. Plus, knowing I had already promised to help. You know, Jonah. With the gnome and all.”

“I thought the gnome interrupted your evening?”

“And how. Did I mention it was debauched?”

“Magnos,” she puts her hands on her hips, “you’re avoiding the subject.”

“Only a little. It was mostly the gnome’s fault.” I raise my hands in mock defense when I see her raise her hand. “Okay, you’re right. I was upset about not being able to go to the party. But it wasn’t because I was mad at you. I was mad because I’d miss out on getting a chance to spend some time with you. It sounded a lot more fun than, well, you know, selling stuff with Jonah.”

“And the gnome.”

”And the gnome.”

Her frown softens into something else. “Magnos, are you—”

“What’s this I hear about a gnome?”

For a bard, Selcar has an atrocious sense of timing.

“Hello, Selcar.”

“Magnos, aren’t you supposed to be outside?”

Before I can reply, Susan answers, “He decided to join us. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Yes,” Selcar replies. “Quite.”

He looks at me, then shrugs. “So, Susan. You were telling me about that time that Arkhen nearly lost a classmate after he reduced him?”

She brightens and starts talking when Hedwig starts chattering in my head again. This time, it’s so loud that it’s almost like being physically struck.

“Magnos, are you okay?”

“Sorry,” I rub my forehead. “Must have been something I ate.” Now that I’m expecting it, I can make out what she’s telling me. Images of the Knight in Silver. He’s entering Fochlucan. Persistent fellow. “Can you excuse me? I’m terribly sorry.”

I separate myself from them, telling Hedwig to keep an eye on things, as best she can. The guard is making his way through the college, moving with a sense of purpose. Pulling my hood over my head, I stake out a shadowy corner of the courtyard.

Soon enough, the patrolman enters, standing at the hallway from which I entered. He takes a moment to survey the room, but his eyes pass over me and move toward the audience in front of the stage. Perfect.

Making sure nobody’s in earshot, I mutter the incantation, making certain to keep the man focused in my sight. If I do this right, it'll be like someone's chattering right in his ear, only he'll be the only person who can hear it.

Bingo. The spell takes hold and the air around me seems thinner, quieter, as if I were encased in a soundproof bubble.

“This stuff is wonderful! I feel at one with the music. Where did you say you got it from?”

The guard stands straighter, alert. He stares intently, searching the crowd.

“That guy in the rainbow cloak; he’s the main man!”

That does it. The guard starts moving through the crowd, pushing past patrons to get toward them. He reaches Selcar and Susan, where he says something to Selcar, then, with hand clamped on the bard’s shoulder, guides him back toward the entrance.

Casually, I make my way back toward Susan. “Sorry about that. I really did not feel well. Hey, are you okay?”

“I’m not sure.”

“What’s wrong? And where did Selcar go?”

“I think he might be in trouble. This Knight in Silver just came and asked Selcar to come with him. It sounded really ominous.”

“How strange! You don’t think he’s in trouble, do you?”

“I hope not. Selcar doesn’t seem like a trouble-maker at all.”

I suppress an eye-roll and nod. “Yeah. It’s…surprising.”

She still looks troubled, so I add, “I’m sure it’s nothing. Jonah and I were answering some questions for a Knight in Silver when that gnome came running. They’re always poking around, trying to keep the city safe. That’s probably what’s happening with Selcar right now.”

“Yes,” she says, “that’s probably what it is.”

The people around us start quieting, as a half-orc begins clearing the stage of props, presumably for the next performer.

Susan looks to the exit. “Do you mind if we leave? I’ve already heard this story before.”

“No, not a problem. I feel like stretching my legs anyway.”

We wander back toward the first courtyard I passed through, and as we approach it I hope that Davkas isn’t still performing, and more importantly, that my teacher isn’t still there.

The former seems unlikely. As we approach, I can hear the quick rhythm of drums and gongs, followed by the fast stirring notes of an accompanying yarting. Definitely not Davkas. When we reach the entryway, there’s barely enough room to pass through; the entire crowd seems to be dancing. And not just the little hip-shimmy either, but jumping, arms held upward, joyous spontaneous cries with the music. Say what you will for elves, but they don’t hold back when it comes to dancing. And, judging from the rest of the people here, neither do they.

Susan yells into my ear and I can still barely hear her. “I don’t think we can make our way through here!”

I look back, nodding. Then I yell back, “Then we’ll have to dance our way through!”

She looks at me, considering. Then her eyes sparkle and she dashes into the crowd, but not before grabbing my hand.

Jun. 8th, 2008

Magic Man

17 Flamerule 1372

Silent Image (illusion). Focus: a bit of fleece. The image one visualizes materializes, albeit in image form, sans scent, sound, or any other aspect of a corporeal state. This image lasts as long as one concentrates on maintaining the illusion, or until touched, prodded, or poked.

After that first night’s performance, I finished my chores in haste so that I could arrive early. I assisted with the setup of the plank seating for the audience, as well as the frequent fetching of ales for Fenris. In return, he permitted me to flutter excitedly in his periphery while he checked his component bag, arranged his props, and donned his regal-looking robes, which blazed crimson in the late afternoon sun and seemed to dance and blend with the shadows cast by the torches that illuminated the evening shows.

Frequently between the various activities involved during preparation, Fenris would idly fan a deck of playing cards fluidly onto the makeshift table, the arrangement circular like the tail of a peacock, and then—equally smoothly—he’d gather them into a neat stack held within his hand.

I cleared my throat.

Fenris looked up. “What is it, boy?”

“Can you, um, well, I was wondering, could you show me how to do that, Mr. Fantastic?”

“Show you what? Oh, this? That’s nothing; just a standard flourish. You understand what flourish means, boy?”

The small garden outside our cottage—untended these last two years—sprung to mind. “Um, doesn’t it mean when plants grow?”

“What? What was that you said? When plants grow?” Fenris scowled so fiercely I took a step backward. But then his brow crinkled not unkindly. “Ha! Yes, you could say that. There’s growing involved, certainly.”

He leaned forward across the table and lowered his voice. “So you wish to learn, do you? How to make a flourish?” And the sense of fear and thrill pulsing through me was so powerful I could barely hold still, much less nod.

“Well then, have a seat, young Master…what did you say your name was again, boy?”

“I didn’t, sir.”

“Eh?” He cupped his hand to his ear. “You’ll have to project better than that. I’m too old to listen to halfling whispers.”

“M—Morgan.”

“Morgan, hrm.” He pinched the tip of his beard. “You’ll need something better than that if we’re going to teach you about flourishes.”

“Sir?”

“Never mind that. Sit down already; I don’t have all day.”

I obeyed, slipping gingerly onto the barrel across from him. He slapped the deck of cards onto the table.

“Cut it.”

Having seen my father playing Three Dragon Ante at the tavern before, I did as he asked.

“Now peek at the top card—ah, ah!—don’t let me see! Did you get a good look at it? Keep it in your head. Now shuffle the deck, but thoroughly.”

Clumsily, I shuffled them the cards as best I could, nearly folding several of them in the process. My cheeks burning, I returned the deck.

The mage did not seem to notice my discomfort, but stared intently at the cards, then took them and in the same gesture fanned them in the same pattern I had marveled at earlier.

“Now then, you still recall which card you chose earlier? Good. Hold that image in your mind.” I pictured the card—druid, scythe in hand. He extended a hand, finger pointed, toward the arrangement, pausing over a card here or there before moving again, then alighting upon one, his hand steady. “Ah. Here we go. See for yourself.”

Holding my breath, I reached for it, flipping it to reveal the three of the white dragon.

Fenris leaned back, satisfied.

“It’s not the card.”

“What?” His smile faded.

“That’s not the card I chose.”

“Of course it is; are you certain?”

I nodded.

“Hmm.” He looked at the arrangement again. “Aha! I see the problem. The planes were in slight disarray. Clearly, I meant to choose this one.”

A flip of this card revealed green dragon’s number nine. “Well?”

I shook my head.

“This is preposterous. Surely, something must be amiss here.” He began flipping over the cards several at a time, none of them revealing the druid. His scowl returned, and he glared at me. “Are you sure you didn’t tamper with the deck?”

I shook my head again, wondering if a clumsy shuffled counted as tampering.

“You didn’t hide the card, thinking you could make a fool out of Fenris the Fantastic?”

“No sir,” I protested, “I couldn’t have hidden it if I tried.”

“You are correct, young Master Morgan. You couldn’t have hidden it from one such as I. Empty your pockets.”

I turned the pockets in my worn leggings inside out. He shook his head. “No, clearly not…but wait! Inside your shirt, by your heart.”

Skeptically, I grasped at the fabric, then frowned. Something was there. Reaching inside, I discovered a card, the druid staring stoically into the distance. How had that gotten there?

Before I could ponder further, Fenris interrupted. “Impressive! Perhaps you’ve a bit of the Art after all.” He reached behind my ear, pulling yet another druid.

“In fact, you seem to be filled to the brim with it!” He pulled another card deftly from behind my other ear.

“One might say,” he gestured, his hands held directly before my eyes, “that the Art seemingly explodes from you!” and his fingers spread outward and the two cards became many, scattering from his hands like fireworks, each of them bearing the same imprinted design.

Fenris smiled. “Close your mouth, boy, lest you swallow a card accidentally.”

I closed it.

“You believed I had failed, didn’t you?” He gestured toward the scattered cards on the table; they began to organize themselves back into a coherent deck. “You want to learn the Art, then here’s lesson number one: magic is a sale. They want something; you sell it.” He sat back and released a long, satisfied belch. “Whether they knew they wanted it to begin with is a question for another time.”

* * * * * * *

Mystra’s breasts, I hate bards.

Fochlucan. The House of the Harp. Another evening, another night of revelry. Although I’ve no fight with revelry. It’s having to work during it that’s grating. That, and the sudden determined rainfall that caught me before I could get my wares gathered and relocated beneath a nearby awning. The scroll of Ghost Sound didn’t make it, unfortunately, and the occasional sound of laughter that bursts forth from the crumbled remains of the paper startles nearby passersby.

From a tree branch somewhere above me, Hedwig wants to know why I’m not inside with the rest of the humans, somewhere dry and warm. I sense curiosity more than concern through the link; she’s perfectly content where she is, but she’s thinking her master is acting rather foolishly, and I can’t say I disagree.

“Hey! Magic man. You got any love potions for sale?” The questioner’s a burly, heavyset human, I think, although with his size and smell I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a touch of orc somewhere back there.

“‘Fraid I’m fresh out, my friend. Besides, a man with your talents doesn’t need any help; am I right? You’re probably fending them off.”

Big, tall, and hairy nods and starts to make toward the party across the street.

“But hold up. Once you do choose the lucky lady, and you want to impress them, I’ve got something that’ll help you out.”

I hold up a curiously curled piece of iron. “This, my friend, helps ensure stamina and, uh, girth, during all your most, er, social, of activities.”

He stares at me. Then his upper lip curls. “Are you tryin’ to say I’ve got problems in bed? Because if you are—”

“Of course not! I’m saying once you show them your sword—and I’m sure it’s impressive enough as it is—then, when you’ve got this, trust me, the ladies will never want you to sheathe it, if you take my meaning.”

He’s still scowling, but he asks, “How much?”

“Three for ten silver or ten for twenty.”

He snorts and starts to turn away.

“For you? Three for five silver.”

“You saying I need more than one?”

“They’re single-use. Sure, if you’re only planning on giving a girl one good time, that’s fine. But what if your evening is particularly busy? I’ll cut you a deal on the set of ten. Ten for seven silvers, what do you say?”

He says, “One. For one silver. And it had better work.”

“Oh, it’ll work so well you’ll wish you had bought ten.”

“It better,” he says, handing me the coin.

He saunters toward the party and I wonder if Fenris was talking about this when he called magic a sale.

“Did I just hear you praising that fellow’s sword?”

“Jonah.”

“Magnos,” my roommate grins, rubbing his hands together in the cold. “Tell me all about that man’s sword. I’m dying to know.”

“I wouldn’t know. But if you’d like I’ll have Hedwig pass along a letter to him, telling him about my friend who would love to learn more about his sword firsthand.”

“And I’ll tell him your little trinket’s got all the magic of a burnt pork chop,” he laughed. “Where did you find those things, anyway? They look like components from failed spell-casting attempts.”

“That’s because they are. I found them after one of Miresk’s transmutation classes.”

“I thought they looked familiar. Oh, hello Hedwig,” Jonah said, as my familiar fluttered onto his shoulder. She bobbed her beak at him and let him pet her briefly before she took to higher branches again.

A pair of partygoers approaches. “Hey, Magnos. Do you have any of those Bear’s Endurance potions tonight?”

“Saved one just for you.”

Jonah frowns as I pocket the change. “You really should rejoin the Spellguard. It beats hawking wares to the partygoers of Silverymoon. And it’s more noble—”

“And if by ‘noble’ you mean ‘unutterably dull’ then we are in complete agreement.”

“Serving the city is an honor that most of our classmates would crave!”

“And they’re welcome to it,” I say, beginning to pack my things. “As for me, there are only so many hours I can stare at a protective ward making sure it’s still there before I start to go mad. You know, I’ll bet that’s how Halaster got his start…”

“Magnos,” he says, but before he can continue lecturing me, someone else on the street says, “Magnos?”

I groan and try to finish packing some potions into a knapsack.

“I didn’t know you were coming to this party,” says Susan Drake.

“Yes,” her companion joins in. “How lovely to see you in my neck of the woods.”

“Well, I promised my friend I’d help him sell some of these trinkets,” I nod toward Jonah. “You know how expensive those conjuration classes can be.”

“Hello, Susan,” my friend interjects eagerly. Then, less so, “Selcar.”

“Juno, right?” returns the bard amiably. “Always a pleasure.” He picks up one of the iron fragments to examine it. “Whatever are you doing with this rubbish?”

“Decorative jewelry,” I say. “They’re apparently quite popular with the bard crowd. You can have some. On the house. I mean, if that’s okay with you, Jonah.”

He shoots a look at me and then says, “Yeah. I mean, sure. Glad to give you some.”

“Those look familiar,” muses Susan.

“Yes, well,” I pack the rest of them quickly. “Jonah and I really must get going. Rain’s getting bad and all that.”

“Of course,” says Selcar. “Come along, Susan. The night is still young,” he grins.

“I’ll see you around, Jonah,” she says. Then to me, “It was nice seeing you again,” before she relents to Selcar’s grip as he walks toward Fochlucan.

“I hate bards,” I mutter, as I finish gathering the last of my wares.

“Huh?” murmurs Jonah, his eyes still fixed on Susan. “What? Oh, Selcar? Forget him.” He claps me on the back. “We’ll head to the Syphilitic Gnome and have our pick of the finest dwarven cleavage the Marches have to offer! By the time we’re through, they’ll have renamed Mithral Hall—”

I give him an urgent shove.

“What’s the big deal?” he starts to say. “Oh.”

A patrolman in the distinctive gear of the Knights in Silver approaches. “Your pardon, sirs, but would you happen to be selling gear of augmentative power to the local civilian populace?” he inquires.

“Augmentative?” I reply. “That’s really a question subject to conjecture—”

“I was speaking to the friendly neighborhood merchant here,” he cuts me off, pointing toward Jonah.

“What?” he cries.

“I distinctly observed you offering goods of a magical nature to that couple just now,” the guard says.

“Well, I wouldn’t quite say magical, but…”

“What else is in that pack? Let me see now.”

“Look, they’re not mine. They’re his.”

“I don’t care whose they are; if you’re selling potentially dangerous magical artifacts on the street without the Lady’s charter, I’m hauling you in, do you bloody well hear me?”

Jonah shoots me a panicked look; fortunately, at that moment, one last wheeze of laughter bursts from the discarded scroll on the street. The guard, startled, checks over his shoulder for the person who isn’t there. That gives us an opening.

Jonah points. “Look! That gnome’s running around naked!”

“What?” The guard—obviously in lack of better judgment—does just that, and while he does, I manage the incantation; curse Jonah for putting that image in my mind. Sure enough, a gnome with an obscenely large nose and an even more prominent endowment waddles in the distance, stumbling from alcohol, or perhaps the imbalance of his proportions.

“Stay right there!” the man orders us before running toward the illusion. I send it scurrying into the distance and around a corner.

“Why in the Nine Hells did you say those were my wares?” says Jonah.

“Relax. Now you can tell that girl in evocation how you dodged the Knights in Silver while you were partying at the House of the Harp. She’ll be eating out of the palm of your hand.”

“You think so?” he says, brightening. Then, “Don’t change the subject, Magnos! That was not the act of a friend.” We hear the shouts of the guard in the distance. “We should leave the area. Come on.”

I start to follow, but I hear other shouts, these coming from the party. Bursts of song, happy conversation. A distinctly female laugh. “You go on,” I tell him. “I’ll catch up.”

He yells at me, tells me not to be foolish or something like that. The rest of it is drowned out as I enter the din of Fochlucan.

Jan. 25th, 2007

Takeshi

16 (I think) Flamerule(pretty sure), 1372 (Azuth, I hope so)

Charm Person (enchantment). Material components: none, save a lack of shame. Makes a humanoid (very important--do NOT attempt on livestock--ask my friend Jonah about that one some time...or maybe don't, he can be quite touchy) view the caster in the most favorable light. Also the most popular wand enchantment among my female customers, for some reason.

Bed's not mine. Sheets were too rough and not as recently cleaned. Ugh. My head. Judging from the dry mouth and the breath that smelled like troll toes...let's try to get up.

Ohhh. kay.

Forgive me, skull. Might I introduce you to the bedside table? Table, skull. I see you've already met.

Yes.

Hangover.

Elf wine. With a hint of cheap local moonshine in the bouquet and something else in the aftertaste. Something...spicy. Could it be?

Let's try this vertical thing again.

The sheets slipped to the floor, and for a moment my legs thought about joining them, but I managed to steady myself against the bed.

Ah yes.

That's my old friend. What's that, friend? You're feeling tired, too? Yes, well, you're quite busy lately, aren't you? Off running with this one or winking at that one, I can't say I'm surprised. And if I do say so, you look, well, smell really...a little...triumphant? But if that's the case, where's the lucky lady?

The room was, aside from the sturdy bed and aforementioned table, the usual drab affair you find in little dives looking to supplement their coin beyond the largesse of the local drinking population. Cheap rug, generic picture of a unicorn traipsing across lush meadows, complementary proselytizing book from the good folks from Lathander. It also appeared to be devoid of any females, which was a little odd, as usually I'm the one trying to find my clothes as stealthily and quickly as one can without the aid of a Light spell.

Hmm. I wonder which one it was. There was that saucy half-elf with the come-hither stare and the slit skirt. No, that wasn't yesterday, was it? And she had children my age, which was really quite disconcerting. Maybe it was Susie, although I think she's still angry from last week. Although that's another story.

Oh right, clothes. There they were, strewn across the floor by the foot of the bed. Magnos, you animal. Couldn't you at least have draped them across a chair so they wouldn't get wrinkled?

I was reaching for my breeches when the door opened. "Ah, there you are! I've been wondering why you'd leave the bed so early in the morning!"

"Mayhap cuz it's afternoon near gettin' on evening? And th' room's only paid 'til high sun?" The voice was deeper than I expected. And quite a lot more masculine.

I spun, haphazardly holding my robes in front of me. But it was a dignified spin, really, if you can picture it.

Innkeeper type. You know what I mean. A few stubborn graying strands of hair plowed desperately over the pate, with an overabundance of hair on the forearms and peeking out from the chest from behind ill-buttoned vests and half-buttoned shirts, along with a protruding gut the size of a beholder, if you're lucky. Why can't my innkeeper ever be a smoky redhead with a wicked smile and an even naughtier figure? Just once, I ask you.

"Paid til high sun?" I tried to shrug into my clothes while talking. It's a lot easier when you're not being stared at by a burly, hairy man standing between you and the doorway.

"Aye."

"Well if that's the case," I managed to get the breeches on, if not buttoned, "I'll just be leaving then. Thank you so much for your patience. You've a lovely place--"

As I started to pass him, he stretched his hand in front of me, leaning it against my chest. "Hold it right there, boy. I said t'was paid 'til high sun. That was 5 bell tolls ago." He showed a grin marred by tobacco and a self-confidence too strong to bother with the vanity of dental care.

"How much?"

"Fifteen silver."

"Fifteen silver?"

"Y'heard me."

"For five bell tolls?"

"Y'pay for a full day, no matter if y'only use a portion of it. We're not one of them low-class places."

"I can see that!" Fifteen silver pieces. Maybe for some place which offered a mirror in the room. Not some common tavern like... "Say, what place is this, anyway? The Stallion's Mount?"

He shook his head and started to open his mouth.

"Bucking Mare? No, I can always tell them by the lacey windows. No wait, don't tell me, the Penetrating Spear?"

Another no.

"The Caravan in the Tunnel?"

"The Friendly Dwarf?"

"Sword and Sheath?"

"Halfling's Pride?"

I'd have guessed again, but he interrupted, "The Dancing Goat."

"Dancing Goat?"

"Aye."

"Doesn't ring a bell." I must have been drunker than I thought.

"Doesn't matter, lad. D'ya have my fifteen silver or do I have to call for the town guard?"

"Oh wait! Now I remember! The Syphilitic Gnome!"

"What?" He looked surprised for a moment, then fierce enough to call the town guard right that moment.

Crap. That was Jonah's name for the place, after some of the wenches we'd seen at this place once. Nothing against gnomes, mind you. Even the syphilitic ones. They've a tough burden to bear and nothing but their ingenuity and their gaping sores to get them through.

"Sorry. I had the wrong place in mind. Was a different place and a different time. Not classy, like here."

He stuck his hand out, waiting.

"Very well," I sighed, then searched through my pockets. Then searched again. Oh no. Whomever it was, my friend had slick fingers. At least she'd left me my clothing.

Now it was the innkeeper's turn to sigh. "I can see how it's going to be, lad. C'mon. Nothing like a short gaol visit to learn you of the dangers of copperlessness."

"Wait! I've got something. It's just going to take me a moment to get it." I slipped my fingers underneath the robe's folds like I was going to search through them again and hoped my fingers didn't get caught on the fabric. "Hold on." I started muttering the incantation. With luck, he'd mistake it for another language, maybe a dialect from the southern lands or even elvish. "Lepor lepos amibel per dilis..."

He screwed up his face as if he were trying to understand me. I stopped speaking and waited.

A smile grew on his face. Mine as well.

"My friend!" he exclaimed, grabbing me in a bear hug.

I tried to keep my shirt, which wasn't quite fastened, from falling off. "Dearest of comrades!" I sputtered.

"How can I even think of charging you, after the generosity you've shown me!"

"Well, it really wasn't much...generosity, you say?"

"Aye, lad. The way you and your lady friend were throwin' coppers around last night! Did my heart good to see young love!"

"Yes, well, we did it all for you...Jasper." I caught the poorly lettered name on a grimy tag on his lapel.

"Ho, ho! That's kind words from you, but I can tell you had some enjoyment in the matter as well!"

"Yes, well, you wouldn't have happened to have seen my lady friend today, would you?

"Of course! She and her friend just left this--" a shadow crossed his face.

"What's the matter?"

"Funny thing, lad. Got the damnedest feeling I shouldn't mention it. But she's around a lot. I'm sure you'll catch your lady friend around again soon enough."

"I'm sure I will." That's the problem with the spell. You can make them like you, but you can't make them do things they wouldn't normally want to do, like jump in front of swords for you. Well, not unless you're especially persuasive. Not wanting to press the limits of the spell, I grasped his hands gingerly, but with as much warmth as I could muster. "Jasper, you're a fine man. I'm afraid I'm running a little behind schedule this fine...afternoon."

And before he could protest, I left the room, fastening my clothing more securely about me.

Jan. 21st, 2007

Takeshi

8 Flamerule 1372

Prestidigitation (universal). Material components: none. Grants the user the ability to perform minor magic tricks such as limited levitation, transmutation, and conjuration of small trinkets. Often used as a simple way to practice one's spellcasting skills, heat one's food quickly, or impress non-magic users (often into bed).

The first time I thought about becoming a wizard was during a town festival, Highharvestide or the Feast of the Moon, I can't remember which. The town had employed a visiting mage to provide entertainment to its people, and being a child of about ten, I was entranced by the man's ability to create wonders out of nothingness: glowing spheres of light that circled our delighted heads, figures out of twigs and branches that walked as if they were miniature treants, before falling into a heap on the makeshift stage, only to be brushed aside and out of sight by conjured tiny whirlwinds that then rustled into the audience, causing the women to shriek and the men to whistle as skirts (and in one case, a hairpiece) blew upward.

His name was Fenris the Fantastic. Or at least, that's how he billed himself. After the show, I detached myself from Father and Katherine to tremblingly approach the great man.

"Mr. Fantastic?" I asked him. His back was turned as he knelt on the planks, collecting the various coins that had been tossed their by the audience. When he did not respond, I repeated the name, much louder this time.

"Hrum? What is it, young man?" At close range, I picked up a scent not unlike my father's: tobacco and whiskey, and something I didn't usually smell on the proud, lumber-working men of Quaervarr--perfume.

"Do...do you think I could...I mean, how do you know how--"

"Speak up, fellow! At my age, the hearing's not as sharp as it should be." And indeed, at this distance I could see that the magician was much older than he had appeared from a dozen rows of benches away, where he had conveyed the air and vitality of a young man. Here, I could see the strands of gray hair that had been artfully pushed back beneath his hat, the crows' feet underneath the eyes.

"Can anyone do that magic you do?"

His brow furrowed and I winced at the baleful look that appeared. "Can anyone do that magic? Hrumph! Why, do you think skills such as mine come naturally to just anyone?"

I shook my head, wondering if I could catch Father's attention so that he might rescue me.

"Can you lift this pebble with the power of your very mind?"

I eyed the floating stone with dread, shaking my head.

"Have you ever caused the very fabric of our reality to shift, boy?"

"Um," and I thought I felt his eyes boring into my brain, judging it, and finding it wanting. "I ripped my new shirt this morning. Father yelled at me."

"He did, hrum?" His glare seemed to soften. "Well, he was right to do so. You have to be careful if you're going to be a practitioner of the Art."

I had never heard the phrase before, much less the word "practitioner," but a thrill coursed down my spine when I heard it, and I nodded.

"So you want to learn the mysteries and wonders of magic, do you?"

"I think so."

"You think so? You think so? You're not sure?"

"I'm sure. I want to learn!"

"All right. I don't pass on my secrets to just anyone, mind you. But I'll tell you one." I started to thank him with all the gratitude my limited vocabulary of that time could muster, but he cut me off. "...if you can complete a quest for me, young man."

I gulped, wondering what horror an initiate to the world of magic would have to brave, and nodded.

Fenris leaned in. "You know that stall over yonder? The one by the bonfire?"

"Aye, the Whistling Stag's?"

"That's the one. Here's some coppers. Fetch me some of their apple mead. The smell of it distracted me throughout the whole show."

"That was your first teacher?"

Susan Drake stared incredulously at me, all bright blue eyes and slightly mocking smile. This was two weeks ago. Helmer's Wall, the local student drinking hole, bustled. Truth be told, most of Silverymoon did, courtesy of the Annual Ale Festival, a newly concocted party sponsored by a nearby brewery.

"Not really. Although he did perform some mean levitation tricks."

"Magnos, that's like the first drill they teach you at the Conclave!"

"It may take only a minute to learn, but it takes a lifetime to master." My drink coaster lifted from the table, and undulated in front of her.

"It does not!" Her smile deepened and she poked the coaster with her finger. It floated toward me, and then combed a stray lock from my hair before settling back next to my mug.

"Aha! So you've got it prepared, too! My roommate Jonah says it's utterly rubbish as a real magical application. He refuses to even keep it in his spellbook."

"Oh right, you wizards and your books and learning. You take everything so seriously." She leaned back and sipped delicately from her drink, a strawberry ale.

"Seriously? Me? You must have me mistaken with that gnome over there, or perhaps the poor girl sitting with him trying to look interested."

She laughed at that. "Magnos, that's a terrible thing to say..."

"I thought it was accurate, but then I realized that he was talking about some other girl, and not yourself, Susan." A shadow crossed our table, and I looked up to see Selcar Galacia--a classmate, though he attended the House of the Harp--grinning over us.

"Selcar, I thought you must be approaching. I saw people fleeing past us, their eardrums bleeding."

Susan tried to say something, but he smiled, "Cute. I'm merely dropping by to invite the two of you to the masquerade they're having at the Bright Blade later in the evening. It should be absolutely enticing!"

"You mean like the one we attended last month?" said Susan, brightening. "Do you remember that silly gown I wore?"

"Of course I do," laughed Selcar, seating himself onto the bench, next to Susan. "It wasn't nearly as silly as mine, so you don't need to be embarrassed. Well, too much." Their laughter took on a conspiratorial quality.

"That was a lot of fun. This one tonight should be, too," said Susan. "Don't you think so, Magnos?"

"Of course, the admission charge is five silver. And that's not including the costume," said Selcar, looking pointedly at me. "But I'm sure you already knew that, being such a clever diviner and all, didn't you?"

"Well, I--"

"That's not bad," said Susan. "At home, we have the most elaborate dances sometimes, and the expense some people go through for those--oh!" She stopped suddenly, catching Selcar's look. "Magnos, if it's a problem for you, I can cover your fee. And I'm sure Selkar has access to some lovely outfits through the Harp..."

Selcar nodded. I didn't need divination to gauge the welcome, or lack thereof, in his face. "That's very kind of you. Both of you. I'll be fine, thank you. Besides, I've some research I need to complete this evening."

"Are you sure?" asked Susan. "Because it would be no problem, really it wouldn't."

"Yes, please," said Selcar. "I'm sure we can do something fabulous with you back at--"

"I think I can manage fabulousness without your charity, Selcar. I really need to get going." I stood up.

"Are you sure, Magnos?" she said.

"I'm sure," I said. "You know us wizards and how seriously we take things. It's all books and no music. Here," I tossed enough coins on the table for both of us. "Have a fun night." And I turned quickly, but not so quickly that I couldn't see the hurt on her face.

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