Chapter 17 - The Center of Knowledge
The Centers of Knowledge are more than simple schools; they serve as universities, research centers, and even provide a certain amount of public services for the country in which each is established. All Centers have facilities for both magical studies and technological development, but most favor one or the other. The Center in Muonsol favored magic; though it was home to a fairly robust technology department, the school as a whole offered much more to the aspiring mage than it did to young gadgeteers.
Jeronem and Mikaen raced through halls that smelt heavily of potion reagents and musty old books. As he gave chase, Mikaen caught a glimpse of some of the labels on the classroom doors: 'Elements of Energism', 'Studies of Streaming', 'Witchcraft: Basic Potion Brewing', and more.
A loud ring resounded through the halls, startling Mikaen from his thoughts. Almost immediately, every doorway in the hall slammed open, each practically expelling a torrent of people both young and old. In moments, the hallway was flooded with students and teachers, effectively blocking Jeronem from view.
Mikaen, scourge of the Revs and hero of Homestead, found himself struggling in vain against the relentless flow of students. The sudden noise was more jarring than the sudden appearance of the throng; silence had given way to hundreds of loud conversations, each trying to be heard over the din.
After a few moments of trying to force his way through the crowded hallway, Mikaen gave up his pursuit and ducked into the nearest open classroom. Silence once again descended as he shut the door behind him, prompting him to give a sigh of relief.
"Quiet!" A female idestan with a pinched face shot an annoyed glare at Mikaen for a long moment before turning to the only other person in the room, a young Galden child who was pointing a wand at a table floating in mid-air.
"That's right, Daniel," she coaxed, "Now let it down slowly."
Sweat dripping down his face, the child motioned the table down with a little too much emphasis. The table hit the floor with a loud crash that made all three of them jump.
The teacher spun around to face Mikaen. "See what you did?"
"I didn't mean-"
"Daniel has a hard enough time concentrating on his spell work without distractions! He stayed after class so he could have half a chance to pass his levitation test, but you just had to screw it up!"
Daniel hung his head and said something to the teacher that Mikaen didn't quite catch.
The teacher sighed, saying, "It's okay. We'll try again tomorrow, Daniel."
Nodding silently, Daniel gathered his books and headed toward the door. Just before he left, he looked at Mikaen intently. He didn't seem angry; the look on the boy's face was more curious than anything.
As the door closed, the teacher waved a wand at the table. As the splintered halves of the table reassembled, she asked irritably, "Is there something you want?"
"I'm trying to find the Seed's office."
"Well, I'm afraid I can't help you."
Raising an eyebrow, Mikaen asked, "Why not?"
The teacher sat down at her desk. "Look, Mister …"
"Mikaen will be fine."
"Mister Mikaen, I can tell you aren't a resident of the Center, so I can't expect you to understand the intricacies of the way the Center of Knowledge. To put it in a way your unenlightened mind can comprehend, Trystan only sees people who he wants to see. Therefore, if he wanted to see you, you'd already be seeing him."
Looking down at her books, she said, "Good day."
"But …" Mikaen began before he thought better of it. With an exasperated sigh, he left the room, making a point to slam the door behind him.
Daniel was standing just outside the room, staring down at his shoes silently. After waiting a moment to see if the boy wanted to say something, Mikaen walked away, feeling strangely unsettled. He hadn't gone more than a couple of steps when he realized that the boy was following him.
"Probably heading the same way," Mikaen reasoned. Nevertheless, he quickened his step.
Reaching a fork in the hallways, Mikaen stopped a moment to consider when he felt something tugging at the edge of his shirt. He turned to see the young boy's intense eyes staring up at him.
Sighing, Mikaen began, "Look Daniel, I'm sorry I messed up your test."
"You want to see the Seed?"
Mikaen's eyes widened. Kneeling do beside the lad, He asked eagerly, "You know where he is?"
The boy motioned for him to follow. He led Mikaen through the winding halls of the Center, passing through several secret passageways cleverly concealed through a mixture of optical illusions and enchantments. It soon became clear that the teacher had not been joking; Mikaen would never have found the way on his own.
Mikaen and Daniel entered a curving hallway with no decoration or windows, save the ceiling lights that served as illumination. After about five minutes, Mikaen realized that they were going in a continuous circle.
"Hey, wait a sec …" he said, stopping instantly.
The boy turned and stared at him questioningly.
Trying to ignore Daniel's wide, soulful eyes, Mikaen asked, "Why are we going in circles?"
Daniel didn't reply, but deep, jovial laugh suddenly filled the air.
"Very good, Sir Mikaen! It took my last guest well over an hour to realize that she wasn't getting anywhere."
"Begging your pardon," Mikaen said, looking around for the source of the voice, "But where are you?"
A well polished wooden door with a shiny silver handle appeared before Mikaen's eyes. Somewhat hesitantly, he reached for the handle and pushed open the door to the Seed's office.
It was a great deal less organized than Mikaen had been expecting. Books were everywhere; piled on the table, crammed into every shelf lining the walls, and even stuffed into the open visor of a large suit of armor that stood in the corner of the room. Potions and vials of all hues were scattered about a makeshift alembic in one corner of the room. There was a target on the right wall practically covered with scorch marks, thorns, and crystalline shards.
The room was much larger on the inside than the outer hallway would have suggested, but that didn't surprise Mikaen. The Knights had been experimenting with creating small pocket dimensions as well, though Vinta's magic community obviously had found more success with it. In the center of everything was a large desk covered with what appeared to be various magical artifacts, save for a small space with an open notebook.
The Seed rose from his chair and in just three strides had reached the two of them. Ignoring Mikaen for the moment, the Seed lifted Daniel and gave him a massive hug.
Mikaen could only stare; the Seed was a giant of a man, easily eight feet tall and built like a bear. A mass of wild black hair hung down his back in one thick braid, and glowing sigils were visible on his muscular arms. More than anything, however, he looked younger than Mikaen had expected, appearing far closer to Mikaen's age than to the wizened old wizard the knight previously imagined.
Setting Daniel back down, Trystan asked, "So, how is my favorite grandson doing?"
Daniel's face split into a grin very reminiscent of his grandfather.
Turning to Mikaen, Trystan said, "He's my youngest grandson. Same age as my youngest daughter, actually."
"Indeed." Mikaen wasn't quite sure what else to say.
Trystan let out a booming laugh, and clapped Mikaen on the shoulder hard enough to knock the breath out of him. "And you must be Mikaen! Have a seat, my young friend! Oh, you can just toss the books anywhere."
As Mikaen dropped Elduran's pack by the suit of armor and staggered to a chair, Trystan knelt down beside Daniel and bent his head low so that he could speak face to face. "That just leaves Jeronem. Danny, could you go find Elduran's son and show him to the testing facility? He's wandering around the library right now, and I promised Elduran that I'd make sure he wasn't late for his testing."
Daniel bowed his head and hurried off.
Trystan sighed as the door closed. As he walked back to his seat, he said, "Ah, kids. They're so cute at that age. Oh, can I get you something to drink?"
Mikaen shook his head, still having trouble catching his breath. Despite his answer, a tall glass of amber liquid appeared before him.
Sitting back down, Trystan said, "Drink up. I need to check on something real quick."
As the Seed began thumbing through the book on his desk, Mikaen picked up his drink and took a sip. As he set the glass down, he could feel stream energy thrumming at his fingertips.
"Like it?" The Seed asked.
Mikaen nodded. "What is it?"
"Crystallic cider. Crystallic forms in areas with heavy stream concentration, usually where there's a lot of stream-based technology. The crystals dissolve instantly when they contact the tongue. Different colors taste different, but they all enhance the consumer's lifestream energy. They've been harder to find since the mines in Ronisgald shut down, but I keep a few bottles of the good stuff on hand for special occasions."
"Thanks," Mikaen replied, "though I don't know how special I am."
Trystan chuckled. "Despite what you may have heard, we don't get many off-worlders on Vinta. The Galden and Rimstakken space programs have visited a number of worlds both here and in our neighboring star systems, but they've yet to find another world with intelligent life. Ah, here we go."
Trystan set the open book down on his desk. "Elduran told me your story, and as impossible as it seems, I believe him. Now, I have a few questions for you Mikaen, if you don't object."
Mikaen shook his head. "Of course not. Ask away."
Looking at the book, Trystan asked, "You have no memory prior to the event you know as the Devastation, correct?"
"That's right," answered Mikaen, "My first memory is waking up at the rip in Bridges."
"But you must have existed before then … or did you wake up as an infant?"
Mikaen shook his head. "No, it was only two years ago. Syrin told me that the constant flow of lifestream from the rip kept me in suspended animation. I don't remember anything from before then."
"I'm assuming you've tried to awaken these lost memories and failed."
"I had a psionic back home try to find out about my past. She told me that I had no memories, hidden or otherwise prior to my awakening. If I did before, they were wiped clean."
"That never bothered you?"
"Not really. With Earth the way it is, survival's been more important than finding out who I might have been before the Devastation." Mikaen paused for a moment before adding, "I wonder every now and then, but given the state of Bridges, I doubt I've any living relatives left."
"I see." Trystan said, nodding, "Have you experienced any back pains lately?"
"I've had back problems since before I came here. I just presumed it was work related. Do relay missions in the Rocky Mountains long enough and it'll happen to you too."
"Has it been getting worse?"
The questions were starting to worry Mikaen. Was something wrong with him?
Doing his best to hide his growing anxiety, Mikaen answered, "Yes, but I don't have the pains very often."
"Good to hear that." Trystan gestured at Mikaen's head. "Has your hair always been like that?"
Mikaen's hand brushed across his hair. "Is my hair sticking up?"
Trystan laughed. "No, I mean the color. Has your hair always been white at the tips?"
Crossing his arms, Mikaen asked, "No, it started doing that a few months I arrived here. What exactly are you getting at?"
Trystan stared at Mikaen for a long moment before saying, "There are three ways a portal could've brought you here: One, a sentient created a portal to your world which you happened to fall through. That's not likely though, since a sentient would have to have been to your world before creating a portal. Two, you were a victim of a random magical fluctuation on your world. I don't think that's it either; a magical flux-created portal could have easily brought you literally anywhere on or even in the planet … into the Myriad Abyss, for example, or into the middle of the Cleftan Region."
Trystan gave him a somber look. "A sentient created a portal not to, but from your world."
"You mean a sentient on Earth sent me here deliberately?" Mikaen asked, feeling a bit bewildered.
Trystan stared at Mikaen for a long moment. "Okay, let's try this in a different manner. Your hair fades to white at the tips, you're experiencing odd back pains that started fairly recently, and your eyes change color according to your mood."
"My eyes change color?"
Trystan held out a small mirror. Sure enough, Mikaen's eyes were a brilliant orange. He never thought much about the color of his eyes, but he was sure Maria had once told him that they were brown.
That is when the last piece clicked into place. Mikaen's jaw dropped as the realization of Trystan's implication fully hit him.
"You think I'm a sentient?" He blurted out.
Trystan nodded, a satisfied look on his face. "Ah, now he gets it."