Chapter 4: Richmond
Richmond waited with his team at the Alevenian harbor for Magister Farleau, who had been in deep conversation with a Magister from Darmycia. He wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but Magister Farleau looked like he was trying to puzzle out what he was hearing. As he and Berna stood and waited they heard a shout from behind them. They turned to look and saw an apprentice with short blonde hair standing by himself with a sheepish look. They gave him a disconcerted squint and turned back towards Farleau who was coming towards them.
“Is everything alright, Magister?” Berna inquired.
“Yes, quite alright, child. It’s nothing for an impending Magister to worry herself about. Come along now, we must make haste to the Capital.”
Richmond’s team and the Magisters boarded the skyrider at harbor station and rode it north through the city to the Capital Gate. From there it was a short walk to the Savior hold outside the city, and a day’s run to the Capital after that.
Berna came up beside him. “So what do you think it’s like?”
Richmond raised his eyebrows. “What what’s like?”
“The Ascension Ceremony. Do you think the Archons will remind everybody they’re still alive?”
The Archons were alive, Richmond knew, just….dormant. They had been for hundreds of years now. They never moved, never said a word, and reacted to nothing. And yet they were very alive. There was no decay on them or the putrid stench of death. Their visage betrayed their age, however, as their withered skin looked like an apple that was left to bathe in the Coil for too long. And their eyes moved. They looked at you. Their eyes would follow you when you walked. It had been the first thing Richmond noticed when they were being sent off from the Capital to begin their Walk of Wisdom. The Archons just sat there, in the room but seemingly somewhere else, while their “blessing” was bestowed in the form of a few encouraging words from one of the Magisters. When they started to leave though, he could see their eyes following them out the door. It was kind of creepy.
“Not likely, all they do is sit there. Apparently they’re content to let the Magisters govern the continent, and why not? They’ve done a bang up job for centuries.”
They climbed into their Saviors and adorned the Transfer Caps. Once everyone was suited up they started their final lap as apprentices. Once in the Capital they would be feasted like kings and queens. They would have brand new robes presented to them at the ceremony. They would be recognized as full-fledged mages, all but for one person in each group who would rise directly to Magister. It was a great honor to be chosen as a Magister during the Ascension Ceremony. They would then be assigned to either Darmycia, Alevenia, Raxid, or Inquilaris to help oversee the governance of the city. The ones selected as mages were also assigned to a city, however, but their task was to travel to all of the villages, hamlets, and farms in a specified region. They would listen to the wants and needs of the common people there, and then return to the hub city with a list of items to bring to vote. This process would continue for the mages until they were selected to replace a deceased magister, or death claimed them, instead.
The Capital was just coming in to view when Sanda and Fillian ran up beside Richmond in their Saviors.
“So, big guy, do you think you’ll be chosen as Magister?” Sanda asked.
“Heh, not likely. I did pretty well in Alevenia, but it’s the mage’s life for me. My struggles in Inquilaris will see to that.”
Inquilaris had been the worst two years of his life. It was far to the south, nestled on the largest island of the Kelana Archipelago. Part of the Pursuit there was accomplished on an even smaller island to the southeast, and two islands smaller still beyond that. The observatory was on the largest of the small islands, and he had struggled mightily there. He could not get a grasp on what he saw through that lens. And then of course there was the perpetual darkness. The gargantuan sun lamps around Inquilaris made life there tolerable, but there was no such luxury at the observatory. Worse than the darkness was the cold. It was a cold that sunk deep and made it feel as if your very bones were frozen. Richmond was pretty sure he didn’t get completely warm until he had been in Raxid for a year already.
“Yeah, that place is pretty rough on everybody their first year. Unless you were born there, then it probably wouldn’t be so bad. I did pretty well there, myself. Fillian, too. The Magister’s spot is between Berna and I though, sorry Fillian.”
“Whatever.” Fillian had always been kind of strange but Richmond had become accustomed to his sense of humor after a while. They had ended up poking fun at Sanda behind her back for the best part of their walk. She was stuck-up, selfish, and felt the world owed her something. It irritated Richmond to no end.
They arrived at the Capital, the largest city on the continent, north of Alevenia situated on a raised portion of land by the coast. The vistas here at the coast were breathtaking Richmond had learned on his first visit, wishing at the time that he could just stay here and abandon his walk. That was not an option, however. Once chosen for the walk there was no denying it. Being selected was a great honor, and to decline was to spit in the face of the Archons.
The travelers descended from their Saviors and entered the city. Their customary escort was waiting for them at the top of the large staircase that led up from the gate. The escort was to deliver the apprentices to the great hall where they would have all manner of foods to choose from. They would have their fill and then be escorted to their rooms for the night. First they would have to get to the Marble Towers in the center of the city. They walked through the marketplace where merchants had set up shop for all manner of wares. There were green grocers at nearly every street corner. The Capital was the most orderly city Richmond had ever seen. All of the roads were straight and perpendicular to each other. All of the buildings were two stories high, the second floor being the residences of the people who worked below them. The streets were wide enough for thirty people to walk abreast. The cobbles were made from veilstone brought from the mountains to the east. It was the red variety of veilstone they used. It put the ground in stark contrast with the polished white marble buildings with their gilded facades.
When they reached the Marble Towers, Richmond was so tired he would have been happy to skip the feast. That would never do, he knew, as he was expected to be there for the Magister’s congratulatory speech. Richmond entered the great hall and sat down at the table next to Berna. She was dissecting the table, trying to figure out what types of food were where, likely trying to find the table that had the meat on it. Berna loved to eat meat. Chicken, beef, fish, hell, she’d probably eat Ravager if it was offered.
Once the feast was complete, the Magisters came in and said some words that Richmond was too tired and full to understand. They said a lot of words. Then there was some clapping and handshaking. Richmond withdrew from the hall as quickly as he could, before anyone could come over and prevent him from getting to his bed. Many would stay here for a good part of the night drinking and dancing and celebrating. Richmond was too full to drink, clumsy on his feet on a good day, and his idea of celebration right now was to stretch out and bury his face in a pillow.
He was almost at his room when Berna caught up with him. “Thought you could run off without me noticing?”
He should have known she would follow him. Berna liked formal events about as much as he did. If he had said goodbye to her before he left she probably would have stayed at the hall. Or maybe not. He was never really sure with Berna.
“No, I’m just really tired. It’s been a long day.”
“Yeah, it has. So you’re going to bed then?” Berna was eyeing him mischievously. “I thought you might wanna, you know, spend one more night together in case we don’t see each other for a while.”
Richmond smirked. They had never had much of a romantic relationship over the years, but now and again they would happily serve each other’s needs when the mood struck. It was a good relationship they had. There were no expectations and it didn’t affect their time together otherwise. Richmond moved towards Berna and grabbed her. He pulled her close and pressed his lips to hers. They stood in the hallway of the mage’s quarters, paying no mind to their surroundings, each focused on the other.
Richmond pushed Berna against the wall beside his room and grasped for the door handle. Berna was untying his robe, making it exceedingly difficult to get the door open. He finally found the handle. The door swung wide and slammed against the wall, knocking over a vase that held vibrant blooms of coilsgrace as they pushed through. Berna closed the door, turned back to Richmond, and pushed him down on the bed.
“This might be our last time together. You better make it count.” She untied her robe and threw it on the floor. Richmond watched it tumble to the ground as she jumped on top of him.
The next morning, Richmond woke up and Berna was gone. He got out of bed and threw his robe back on and panicked. His pouch of vorilium crystals had been in an inside pocket of his robes and they were nowhere to be found. He searched the room, looking under the bed, the tables, and the chair in the corner. He checked his pockets again to see if he just missed them with no luck. Berna. Did she take them? Why would she? That was the only thing he could think of. He supposed he could have dropped them somewhere else without noticing, but he was sure that he could feel them while Berna was pressed up against him last night.
He canvased the room one last time to no avail. I need to find Berna. He stormed out of his room and raced over to Berna’s. He hammered on the door. “Berna! Wake up!” He slammed on the door three times with a fist. The door opened and there stood Berna, dressed in her new robes. Richmond pushed his way past her and closed the door.
“What’s up, Rich?”
“Did you take my crystals?”
“What? No. Why would I take them? I think you’re crazy for still carrying them around, honestly.”
For whatever reason, Richmond believed her. Even though there was no one else who would have had access to them since the last time he knew he had them. “I don’t know where they could’ve gotten to. They’ve been on me since we got off the ship in Alevenia.”
“Maybe the person who dropped off your new robes took them. When I got back to my room this morning somebody had put these robes in my room.”
Richmond had not even noticed if his new robes were in his room. “That’s just great. Who drops the robes off?”
“I have no idea, Rich. Look, I need to finish getting ready. It looks like you need to do the same. You’re a complete mess this morning.”
“Yeah, alright. Sorry about all this. I’ll meet you outside the great hall.” Richmond felt terrible about accusing Berna but he didn’t know anyone else could have been in his room. He needed to find out who dropped off the new robes.
“Sounds good, Rich. Relax. Once this is over we’ll look for them together.”
Richmond raced back to his room to get ready for the ceremony. Sure enough his new robes were sitting on top of the dresser. So someone else was in here. Who brings the robes to the rooms? Who would I ask to find out and not rat myself out at the same time? Questions ran through his head and anxiety through the rest of his body. He tried to take a deep breath to slow his heart rate. You’re fine, Rich. It’s not like you needed them. They were just a nice souvenir, that’s all. Besides, if I did drop them it’s not like anyone would know they were mine. Just take it easy and get ready for the ceremony. I can look some more afterwards.”
He threw on his new robes as quickly as he could and ran to the great hall where Berna was already waiting.
“Did you find them?” Berna looked amazing this morning. He never knew how she managed to always look the same no matter the time or place.
“No, I’ll have to look for them after this is over.”
Berna looked at him intently. “Sounds like a plan. I’ll help you look if you want.”
“Thank you, I’d appreciate it. There’re really only so many places the pouch could be. I know I had it when we got here so they must be in this building somewhere. We’ll deal with it later, they’re calling us in.”
They were brought in to the Apex Tower, the tallest tower in the world. It rose in the center of the four smaller Marble Towers and it was where the Archons kept their seats. They had been in those seats for hundreds of years now, silent and solemn. The four teams were lined up so that each was centered towards one of the Archons. Richmond fell in line and looked at the Archons seated above him. The Magister approached his team and spoke.
“Congratulations, Alevenians. You have successfully completed your Walk of Wisdom, and today you will be recognized as mages. With the power entrusted to me by the Archons I will also elevate one of you to Magister, replacing the Elder Magister, whose time has come to an end and remains only to give the Archons their wisdom.” The Magister turned towards a dais behind him and grabbed a piece of parchment. “Alevenians, you all have valuable knowledge that you have acquired, but only one will use that knowledge for the governance of one of our great cities. The newest Magister in our ranks will be… Richmond.”
Richmond gasped. That’s not possible. Berna and Sanda were better choices, maybe even Fillian, too. What’s going on? “I…I don’t know what to say.” Richmond looked across at his teammates. Berna was smiling at him. Fillian was nodding at him lazily. Sanda…
“There must be some mistake,” Sanda yelled out. “All three of us are better suited to be a Magister. Why him?”
“He gained the most knowledge from his hometown of Alevenia. The Pursuit tested in your hometown is weighted more heavily than the others.” The Magister explained. “Not that this is for you to question, Sanda. Please remain silent while we continue the ceremony.”
“But he’s a thief! I can prove it.” Sanda reached into her robes and produced a small pouch. “I found this in Richmond’s things. You would think someone who did so well learning his rocks and minerals would know that he’s concealing a pouch of vorilium crystals.”
A murmur went up among the apprentices and Magisters. Sanda handed the pouch to the Magister for inspection. He dumped the contents out into his hand and studied them. Richmond knew he was in trouble. He was trying to come up with something to say; some kind of defence, some version of this story where he was not guilty. Nothing was coming to mind, though. Richmond looked over at Berna, hoping that she could bail him out once again. She looked at him as if she was about to speak. Then, crestfallen, she turned her head away and said nothing.
“Richmond, you are to be detained and sent to the northern quarry for stealing and concealing property belonging to the Archons. You will serve the customary ten years at the quarry as punishment for your crime. Take this filth away.”
Richmond looked at Berna one last time, hoping she was about to come up with a witty story that would absolve him. The only thing he saw in her eyes was pity as they grabbed him by the shoulders and started shoving him forward. As he left the chamber he looked up. He saw something familiar, a sight he remembered from the first time he left this chamber: the Archons with their cold, dead eyes that seemed to chase him out of the room.