There are strangers here. The building can feel them; their footsteps on its floors, their breaths in its air. They are talking but the building cannot make out the words from the vibrations. Then there is a push. Magic yet unknown to the building attempts to work its way into it. The building shudders and forces the magic back out of its walls. The building can feel the strangers begin to speak again. It strains to hear them. To understand them.
“Sir the building has, rejected, our spells,” a young woman says. Even inside she is wearing the heavy dark green cloak that denotes her membership to the organization, her hood pulled up to obscure her face. The others around her, all in the same cloaks, whisper amongst themselves. Their covered forms huddle together until it looks to be just a swaying mass of green within a room of light wood and stone. At the edge of the mass a man turns. His good is pulled down to show narrowed blue eyes, one milky and dull. He reaches a shaking hand out to run it across the smooth planes of the wall. His head tilts as a trickle of magic ebbs and flows into and out of the building.
“This building has been Awakened,” the man says. His voice is low, creaking like the boughs of an old oak tree. Silence falls over the group. All eyes are focused on him now as he continues to poke and prod at the building.
“There is a Weaver here?” The young woman who spoke before asks. Whispers once again erupt amongst the group. Their attention does not waver even as they whip themselves into a frenzy of sharply spoken words. Servants who work within the building hesitate as they enter the room. Their arms are laden with trays or their arms are occupied by tables or chairs that get clutched closer to themselves. A wrinkled hand rises and the group quiets. With careful steps the servants continue their jobs. Uneasy glances keep getting shot over to the group before sliding over to its leader.
“Our job is to ensure the protection of our Lord. Do what you can to endear yourself to the building and its staff, I shall report the possible presence of a Weaver to the High Mages,” the man steps away from the wall. He picks up a cane from where it had been hooked into the arm of a nearby chair. The cane clicks against the stone as he walks. The group disperses throughout the room. A few walk over to nearby servants and begin speaking to them in low tones. Others clasp their hands together and bow their heads as if in prayer. One walks away to stand by the fireplace. Their right hand presses into the wall behind them. Sparks of magic dance along their fingertips. Not pushing in or forcing control, but asking. The building takes notice of this particular stranger. They are polite in their request for an audience with the building itself. Patient as the building shifts to allow for them to slip a thread of their magic inside.
Within the web of the building’s created consciousness the thread changes. It coils around itself, twisting and turning, pulling and tying until a humanoid shape stands. The shape resembles that of a human woman whose left arm has been severed beneath the elbow. She stands with her right hand curled around the joint of her missing arm and her left hip cocked. The two entities watch each other. Sizing each other up while waiting for the other to speak first.
“Your creator is in danger.” The words are less said than projected as pure information. Strings of consciousness round on the projection. They rise and flare like a threatened snake.
“Not from me,” the woman continues, “but from the others in the green cloaks. They want to hurt your creator. Maybe even kill them.” The building rumbles. The woman can feel her physical body shake along with everyone else inside. She winces, blinking around to watch the reactions of the other mages. They are alert but non hostile as of yet, their magic flaring only in defense of themselves, and the servants. With a sigh she returns to the building which has taken to pacing around her projected form.
“If you lead me to your creator I promise to protect them. I know these people and I know how to avoid them. No harm will come to your creator as long as they are with me.” The building pauses and she feels the full force of it watching her. Judging her intentions as best it can. Eventually a single tendril reached out to wrap around her pinkie finger. It tugs lightly but insistently. The woman smiles as she allows the building to lead her. She ducks her head and steps carefully around the other cloaked figures. Murmured greetings and apologies spill from her lips as she passes people scurrying around as they work.
The building is a large, rustic lodge that resides on the edge of a vibrant forest at the base of a mountain range. It is a popular destination for nobles looking to spend time away from the city, either for business or pleasure. At all times the building is busy, full of staff and guests alike. Without the building’s help the woman would have found herself lost in its halls. Searching for a person she knows next to nothing about. Otherwise locked doors open without her even touching them. Hallways with unlit sconces appear as clear to her as if the sun was shining into them. The further the building leads her into it the fewer people also walking the halls. Those she does pass do not seem to notice her. She relays her thanks to the building with a brush of her fingers against the wall. The building responds with a pulse of happiness and pride.
In the farthest corner of the eastern wing of the building a young man toils away. He hums as he works and magic pours from him. Thrumming with energy the room dances. It bounces the furniture and swings the shutters. Celebrating the life the young man is giving it. The woman’s steps falter as she gets closer. She can hear the commotion from down the hall. With her connection to it she can feel the web of the building’s consciousness grow larger and more complex. As she reaches the door it opens and the building releases her. Inside the young man has turned to stare at the doorway with wide eyes. He can feel the building tensing around him. It pulses feelings of fear and uncertainty up into him through the floor. From outside the room the woman pulls down her hood, revealing frizzing red hair and almost silver grey eyes.
“Hello there little Weaver,” she says in greeting. The young man takes a step back. His hands tighten around the broom he holds.
“How do you know about that?” He asks.
“A Mage Lord is coming to visit so his underlings were here to set up wards. Your building rejected their spells. That’s kind of a tip off. Luckily for you I was amongst the group sent to do the wards,” her smile is sharp and conspiratory, “and I am not exactly a proper member.”
“Who are you then?” His grip has eased on the broom though he has made no other move.
“The Protector, and I am here to take you somewhere safe,” she holds out her left hand that is covered in a black silk glove that reaches up past her elbow. Threads of moonstone coil around it like fractured stone. The young man stares at the outstretched hand. His foot taps against the stone floor in rapid movements.
“I’m Aethos,” he says as he grasps her hand.
“A pleasure to meet you kid,” the Protector says as she tugs him along back down the hallway. “Say goodbye to your building. Maybe tell it to lay low too, yeah? We do not want it being purged now do we?” Aethos gives her a wide eyed stare. His brown eyes shine even in the lack of actual light in the hallway.
“They would do that?” He asks.
“The King does not like things he cannot control himself, and he pushes that ideology onto his people. So to answer your question, yes, they would.” A distressed noise escapes the young man’s throat. He stumbles to a stop and slaps his free hand against the wall. The Protector stops with him and waits. She watches as he sways closer until his forehead is pressed into the wall as well. His eyes flutter shut, his breathing slows until it resembles that of someone deep in sleep.
The building groans as it shifts and settles. Mourning what is about to be the loss of its creator. But it understands. It does not want him harmed any more than it wants to be harmed itself. It promises to stay silent. To stay safe. It pleads for its creator to do the same. Aethos whispers the promise as he pulls away. The hand holding on to the Protector tightens while the other scrubs at his eyes.
“Okay. It will try to cover us as we leave and then go dormant. That will work, right?” He looks to the woman as he speaks. She hums turning her head to look down the still empty hallway.
“Probably. Without the building acting against them the mages will figure out that something changed. Which will lead to them learning that you left especially after a few days of you not turning up to work.” She tugs on him to start moving as she muses. Aethos stiffens. His footsteps falter and grow heavy. The Protector glances behind her to see his face grow paler.
“It’s the best that we can do. As a whole mages are smart and these ones,” she tugs the hood back up over her head, “are Royal Wardens.”
“So they’re real smart?” His voice is quiet. Subdued. With a sigh she slows her steps.
“They are. But predictable. They like to know everything about any given situation so they can be rather slow acting. We can use that to get a head start away from here,” she shoots the young man a smile and shrugs, “though that means we won’t be getting a whole lot of sleep the first few days. Sorry.” Aethos returns the shrug and a smile tugs at the corner of his lips.
“Is there a back door or something else like it?” the Protector asks. Aethos nods.
“Through the storage rooms, there’s a door where we get our supplies and special orders.”
“When we get close you will need to lead the way but I can keep the mages off our tail.”
They walk side by side through the building. He is shorter than her, his head only coming up to her shoulders. She has released his hand, tugging her own back to hide beneath the folds of the cloak. Her other hand goes up to tug the hood further down her head. Obscuring her features further. She takes a larger step to get in front of the young man as they reach the more populated areas of the lodge. Aethos ducks his head, brown curls falling in uneven waves over averted eyes. He dogs the Protector’s steps. The pair weave through the lodge’s common area. Avoiding the hustling workers as they move with the sole purpose of earning their day’s wages. Green cloaked mages are scattered through the sprawling rooms. Sometimes in pairs, other times alone. Their voices are a constant hum as magic suffuses the building. Aethos flinches as a wandering mage walks towards them. The Protector reaches over to nudge him behind her, hiding him as the mage turns to face her.
“Have you any luck in getting through to the building or its Creator?” The mage’s voice is a monotonous drone.
“It pains me that I have not,” the Protector replies in the same tone. The mage’s hood bobs as they nod. They move along without another word, working their way to a pair of mages bent together in the corner of the room. The Protector watches them until they three appear deep in their conversation. She nudges the young man and hisses at him to keep moving. He takes a shaky breath and obeys. Getting to the store room does not take them long. The route Aethos takes them on avoids the rest of the guest occupied areas and the building aids them in keeping other servants away. The Protector walks into the brisk late autumn air. A gust of wind threatens to pull down her hood but her gloved hand shoots up to hold it in place. She looks over her shoulder to see Aethos lingering at the door. One hand is gripping the dooray, the knuckles turning white. His lips are moving rapidly though she cannot make out the words he is saying. Slowly, finger by finger, he releases his grip. His feet sink into the dirt of the worn path as he returns to the Protector. She regards him with a neutral expression, head tilted beneath the hood.
“Is there anything you want to get from your house?” she asks. Aethos shakes his head with a wry smile.
“Little late to,” he sighs, “I lived in the servant quarters.” The Protector tsks.
“Should have mentioned it before,” she walks back through the door, pausing to look back at him with narrowed eyes. “Stay here, try to stay out of sight, what do you want?” Aethos blinks at her.
“Answer quickly or you’re not getting anything.” He jumps. “Um, there’s a little lockbox beneath my bed. Just, that really,” he stammers. The Protector nods sharply and turns to walk away when he stops her.
“Wait, how will you find my room? Or even know which bed is mine?” She heaves a sigh, reaching out to brush her fingers over a brick.
“One last favor,” she replies. He watches her disappear back into the building. Whining softly he huddles just outside the door, pressing himself up against the wall. Closing his eyes, he allows himself to slide back into the building’s consciousness. Through it he is able to follow her progress as she takes all the right turns to reach the male servant’s bunks. He knows there are people in there but her steps do not falter. The door swings open. It hits the opposite wall with a bang. The servants inside that are changing for their shift jump. They stare at the hooded figure that strides with purpose to the third bed on the left. In a fluid motion the Protector reaches beneath the bed and retrieves a dented metal lockbox. One of the servants in the room opens his mouth to speak but is silenced by the Protector whipping her head around and snapping something at him. Aethos frowns, watching as the servants flinch back and spin around. They stay that way even after she leaves, walking with the same power and purpose back through the building. He pulls himself away from the wall when she returns. The box is thrust into his face, forcing him to scramble to grab it before it falls on his feet.
“What did you say to them?” Aethos asks. The Protector has already started walking away. Long legs carrying her across the grass. He hurries to follow her, hefting the and cradling it closer in his arms.
“Nothing really. A small threat that will hopefully make them less likely to answer any questions the mages ask.” She does not look at him as she talks, too busy scanning the horizon.
“Where are we going?”
“To get my stuff first. I hid it a few hours out past the town. Then we will be moving south as fast as possible. The sooner we get out of the Kingdom the better.”
The pair circle around the lodge in a wide arc. They keep to the shadows afforded by the tree line until they can break off and go for the well traveled road. The lodge is not far from a small town at the northernmost edge of the Kingdom. While the town is mostly self-sufficient, surviving off of hunting and farming, it is able to stockpile the revenue it gets from the visiting nobles for the harsher seasons and any unforeseen disasters. Most of the people who work in the lodge come from the town, and nearly everyone knows everyone else.
“We are going to move through quickly, no time to say goodbyes. We can send a letter after we are out of the Kingdom,” the Protector informs Aethos as they get to the town’s edge.
“I don’t have anyone to really say goodbye to anymore.” His voice is small and he clutches the box closer to himself. The Protector hums in response. A sound that is both questioning and distracted.
“Mother worked in the lodge. I don’t know who my father is but there have always been rumors that he was a noble but as far as I know he never came back. At least, he never claimed me, even if he did. Mother,” a shaky inhale, “mother died when I was still very young. The stuff in this box are what little I have left to remember her by.” Moments pass as they just make their way through town.
“You are, very forthcoming with information about yourself. I suggest not being that.” Aethos’s jaw drops at her words. He huffs, clicking his mouth shut and puffing out his cheeks. He takes a step away from the Protector and looks away from her. If his arms had not been occupied she knows they would be crossed as well. Her smile is hidden beneath the hood though her hand does come up to muffle the giggle that threatens to spill from her lips. Townspeople follow the pair with curious eyes. It will not be long before there are a myriad of rumors about them. A lodge worker and a Royal Warden? The imaginations of the people will run wild and when other Royal Wardens come through to ask about the Weaver they will be bombarded with a number of assumptions and possibilities. It will not take long for the mages to conclude them all as false, but it will buy them some time. At least, that is the hope.
It takes only an hour of walking before Aethos drifts close to the Protector once again. The previous insult not forgotten but forgiven, and the intent behind the warning understood. He has loosened his hold on the box, his fingers stroking over the dents and divots that decorate its surface. Snippets of songs begin to escape him. The Protector glances down at him. Her fingers twitch, an aborted motion towards the box. She clenches her hands into tight fists for a moment before releasing them and shaking them out.
“So what’s your name?” Aethos asks.
“You can just call me Protector, or the Protector if you like the article. It is as much a title as a name now.”
“Okay. Did you have a name before you got to be the Protector?”
“I did but what it is does not matter. Names are powerful things, little Weaver,” there is a smile on her face but her tone remains neutral. “While we are on the topic of names please do not be offended if I do not call you yours. I will admit that it has become a habit to forego the use of them.” Aethos snorts a laugh.
“That’s okay. I’ll get over it.” The hood scarcely moves at her nod. A few minutes pass before the Protector veers off the road, heading to a cluster of rocks. Aethos follows her. He peers over her shoulder as she crouches down. Her right hand appears from beneath the cloak. Golden beads of light drip from her fingers. They hover in a circle beneath her palm, following as she passes her hand over a patch of tall, unmoving brush. Aethos gasps as a field shimmers into view before immediately disappearing. The Protector pushes the grass away and reaches into a gap between the rocks. With a sharp tug she is able to free a bulging pack. She swings it over her shoulder and grunts as it impacts her between her shoulder blades. When she turns back to her ward she finds him staggering backwards.
“You’re a mage?” The question is high pitched and breathy. The Protector rolls her eyes.
“I would have thought that was obvious, couldn’t have communed with your building otherwise,” she says as she walks over. He takes another stumbling step back away from her. She pauses and sighs.
“I spoke true, back within the walls of your Awakened building: I am here to bring you to safety,” she pulls the hood off and bends her knees to look Aethos in the eyes. “I am a mage, yes, and a very good one at that, specializing in protective magic. I am not a member of the Royal Wardens. In fact the two of us are in a similar position in that if they catch us, we’re dead.” She pulls away to once again stand tall before the young man.
“If you want to go back to your building and try to hold out there you are free to. Or you can come with me to safety. It is your choice.” With that she turns and starts walking. Aethos turns back towards where the lodge resides then looks back at the Protector. He watches her go until she nearly disappears beneath the dip of a hill. His feet move before he can think. He nearly runs into the woman in his hurry to catch up to her. Her lips twitch upwards, gloved hand reaching out to steady the young man. They walk in silence for a few minutes. Nothing but the wind between them.
“Where is safety?” He asks.
“Far to the south. Outside the Kingdom, beyond its neighbor, there is an island. I have friends on that island. That is safety.”
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