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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?

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