Alastair Coleman wiped his sweaty hands against his ceremonial robe. He hated these calls. The secure email had come through from Magus Rex an hour ago. That the head of the Collegia Artes Magicas wanted to talk to him was unlikely to be a good thing. He wracked his brain to work out what had prompted this call; nothing came to mind. Since Alastair had been exalted to Magus Princeps of Australasia too much of his time had been wasted in the administration of the Collegia’s interests. Such a shame that the prior Princeps had had the gall to disappear into twilight.
He’d gotten up at midnight after getting the urgent message. He’d spent most of the time deciding which ceremonial robe to wear; then hurried in to his study to await the call. His wife and the apprentices slumbered elsewhere in the house. Huldah would be worried if she knew Magus Rex had called an urgent meeting. She was proud of his exaltation to Magus Princeps; she didn’t see the stress that came with it. Which, he supposed, wasn’t all that surprising as he hid it from her. She had the stressful job of raising and training the apprentices.
His thoughts were broken by the warbling of the Skype ringer and the shock of fear that came with it. He steeled himself and took the call; after a moment Magus Rex appears large as life on the screen before him. He still found the Rex’s bald head and lack of eyebrows disturbing. His sheer skin seemed paper dry. His grey eyes bored into Alistair’s soul.
But the worst thing was his teeth. At some point Magus Rex has had them filed to points, like shark teeth. Or maybe he used magic, whatever he did they had the desired effect. Alastair suppressed a shudder as Magus Rex grinned through the screen at him.
“Magus Princeps!” he boomed, Alistair lowered the volume a little “We have a problem that your conclave is uniquely placed to remedy.”
“Really?” A knot of worry formed in his gut; he was sure that the Conclave had been keeping its commitments. What had they done wrong?
“Quit worrying you fool!” Magus Rex barked. “A situation will develop in your conclave city and you need to take advantage of it for the good of the Collegia.”
“Recently an independent mage…” Magus Rex did air quotes around independent. It looked so silly that Alistair almost lost his composure. The Collegia generally did not approve of independent magi even though The Code and Articles allowed for them in specific circumstances. Magus Rex hated anything that he couldn’t control. Independent meant anathema to him.
“…met an unfortunate end…” Magus Rex’s gave a shark-like smile. “Her husband is a coward and a traitor to the college who left our society under the umbrella of her protection. They had a child. A girl. I have it on good information that they are returning to your Conclave city and the Collegia needs you to ensure they return to our society and the girl is sent to me for training.”
Alistair suppressed a shudder; he could think of nothing worse than spending 10 years as Magus Rex’s apprentice.
“uhh, okay, um…”
Alistair took a deep breath. “When are they arriving?”
“Tomorrow morning at 11am. I’ll have Magus Secundus send through our file on the father. Don’t disappoint me in this Magus Princeps; I take a rather dim view of failure.” He grinned his feral grin; “but on the other hand, your reward will be great if you complete this for me.” With that Magus Rex simply hung up.
Tomorrow! Any chance of sleep vanished. He needed information and to get spies on the ground fast. He checked his email. Secundus hadn’t sent the information through yet. Typical! Secundus had never liked him. The feeling was mutual. She had made an unreasonably tough task master as his Magister when he was apprenticed. Still, better being apprenticed to Magus Rex though.
There was no use complaining about the missing files as Rex would see it as weakness. And the only thing that Magus Rex hated more than independence was weakness.
Alistair went to the kitchen to make coffee, he was going to need it to get through the night ahead. As he waited for the coffee to brew on the stove he considered his options.
He’d need eyes at the airport to spot them as they left. Then he’d need to be able to follow them to their destination to know where they were staying. Then, ideally, he’d need to watch them for a while to profile them. He knew, more than most, that knowledge is power, the more he knew about them the more successful he was likely to be. But there was a fine line. For someone reputedly so old, Magus Rex wasn’t the most patient of men.
There really was only one solution. He could use his knowledge of Air and Life magic to summon some local seagulls and command them to watch for, and follow, the father when he arrived. He calculated there was a slight chance of detection if they ended up staying somewhere further from the sea, but given this city it was unlikely that anyone would really notice a few out of place seagulls.
He grinned. Yes, this would work. It would require some resources to empower the summoning. But once he had the father and child safely in the society of the Collegia and his conclave the reward should more than cover any expenditure. He poured his coffee, appreciating the rich dark aroma, it mirrored his thoughts.
He was wondering what Magus Rex found so interesting about the girl that he wanted to apprentice her directly when his computer dinged. Rex already had an apprentice who must be rather close to her initial exaltation. Perhaps he just needed another lackey.
He took his coffee and checked his email. The file from Secundus was meagre. A photo of the Father; Sebastian Sweet, and his daughter Evangeline, and the deceased mother Emmelina. A profile of the father. Trained under Magus Secundus. So, a brother apprentice then. Apparently from before Alistair’s time. Sweet purportedly was corrupted by a powerful weather witch who had invoked Articles of Independence; at rather significant cost to the order.
That must have really burned Secundus! And that Alastair would bring Sebastian Sweet in would burn her even more. Alistair grinned. A fall from grace for Secundus could mean exaltation for him.
The file didn’t say how she’d died, but from Magus Rex’s tone he felt that Rex, or his minions might have something to do with it. Alistair decided he needed to put some time into finding out more about the Sweet family and what might make someone like Magus Rex so interested in them. He made copies of the photos of the father and the girl to burn during the ritual. It was critical the birds knew who to look for.
He gathered his ritual materials, athame, waterproof chalk, seagull feathers, electric lamp, and crystallised mana and went out into the back yard. It was a foul winters night; a freezing southerly wind drove the rain into him with manic ferocity. It was going to be miserable out here for the next couple of hours while he completed his ritual; but he was used to discomfort in the pursuit of his magical arts.
There, in the centre of the garden was a large circle of concrete. Air and Life weren’t his strongest domains, but he was sufficiently competent for this. He started drawing the circle on the concrete and muttering to himself in Latin.
By the time he’d finished the ritual Alistair was wet, freezing, hungry and tired. Dawn was breaking and the baker’s dozen of seagulls were winging their way towards the airport. He went back inside to change and saw the youngest of their three apprentices, Kayden, watching him from the kitchen window.
“What are you doing Magister?”
“Nothing to concern yourself with boy.”
“I think it was Life magic, was it Life magic? And maybe Air?”
Alistair had to resist smiling. The young apprentice reminded him of himself when he was studying under Magus Secundus. He promised himself he wouldn’t be as cruel as Secundus was, but discipline was crucial to successful wizardry.
“Filus…” he used the formal honorific for a male apprentice “…this is not the time, nor the place for you to indulge your curiosity. Perhaps if you are diligent in your studies this week I might explain what I was doing. Put some coffee on for me and we can use your early waking to go over your Latin and Greek.”
Kayden groaned “Yes Magister.”
Magus Princeps headed for the shower grinning tiredly. It was a good day. He had set his plan in play. He could leverage this favour for Magus Rex into significant new freedoms for him and his Conclave; maybe even a further promotion. He had some grand plans for influencing some of the politics of the region which, while strictly speaking was against the Code and Articles, he was sure he could get Magus Rex to give him dispensation on.
Yes. He needed to ensure this went well. Every challenge is an opportunity. That’s what Secundus had literally beaten in to him. This was an opportunity he wouldn’t miss. No need to tell the Conclave yet. No need to worry them at the attention from the most powerful Archmage in the world. No need to share this opportunity. He pondered telling his wife. Huldah would only worry. No. Better to seek to consolidate the power and then present it to her as a done deal.
He’d need the Conclave soon enough. If he was to ensure that the father and the girl returned to the society of the Conclave they’d need to be on board. But there was no need to bog them down with the details of his arrangement with Magus Rex. No. No need at all. He chuckled to himself.