Chapter III Part XXI

The tea was a more traditional blend… Darjeeling, unless I missed my mark. A pleasant surprise considering the only way I'd get Darjeeling in the realms was if I made it myself. I'd have to pilfer their stores later.

"Please take a seat," I motioned a hand to a free chair for Siesta. Now would be an excellent chance to observe how my two would-be apprentices would interact with one another. The results would best tell me how much of their progress I could reveal to one another. A friendly rivalry was a good motivational aid, but a bitter one tended to hinder growth at best, and lead to bloodshed at the worst.

Siesta flushed, looking down and not meeting my eyes… a curious turn from her earlier behavior. "Ah!... My apologies, but I really shouldn't Mr. Moxt… it isn't proper."

I frowned, eying the behavior of the other servants on the yard. The vast majority seemed to simply be waiting at attention, though a few were running to and from the kitchens.

I frowned for a moment, "Nonsense. Why should you be forced to stand waiting all day when there are still two perfectly good seats still available?"

Louise was watching the exchange very carefully, good.

"Ah! But I'm supposed to wait for your orders…" Siesta explained.

I countered, "And you have to stand to do that? Unless of course my Master has any problems with it?" I trailed off, giving Louise an opening.

The way her face scrunched up in internal debate was actually pretty cute. "I… suppose it would be fine," she consented.

I grinned widely as my student passed my secret test. Good, I could definitely work with this.

"Well maybe…" Siesta chewed on her lower lip cutely.

"Excellent!" I stated, pulling a chair out for her.

Louise shot her a look at that.

For a moment I felt worried she'd grow hostile, but Siesta seemed to take it for the opposite, smiling brightly back, "Well if you insist…" she sat down.

Louise smiled back at her at that… maybe I had misread the situation? I was still unused to the local social signals after all…

"Familiar!" Louise began, "Why don't you tell me a bit about your homeland? From what you've said it's very different there. You were a nobleman yes?" She turned to face me.

I blinked, hadn't she wanted to learn more about my magic? Oh, well, I could work fine with this.

I discarded the nobleman title, in some points of view it was accurate, in others, not, "my homeland Milady? If you wish… it's very different from this land, from what I've seen and read. You don't find developed nations quite as often, more likely city states. It's in general a great deal more dangerous a place to live," I explained.

The answer didn't seem to appease her all that much, "then it is more like the frontier. An unexplored land not yet settled," Louise extrapolated. "You said you were a scholar? You where there as a teacher then? Or maybe to record all the new findings?"

I shook my head. "No no… well yes, I did work as a teacher now and then, but the land of Faerûn was a long settled land… just a great deal more… hostile." I stated lamely, a little off balance. "Humans and elves alike are both rather far from the top of the food chain. Terrible monsters roam the land, and between them and all the infighting between different nations… well let's just say it wasn't exactly a fun place to live."

Louise seemed surprised at this, but Siesta all but lunged for me, grasping my hand and pulling it close. "Oh, that must have been so awful!" she exclaimed, looking at me with wide dark eyes. "Horrible monsters everywhere and no were safe to run? How did you get by?" she shot a glance now and then to my master.

Louise in turn was twitching, "Yes, Familiar, how did you survive?" she asked, slowly, in a warning tone.

I blinked at the reaction, not fully comprehending the exchange… was Siesta somehow setting me up to anger my master? No, that didn't go with her previous personality at all… maybe I was misreading the situation?

I hurried an answer, unsure if I was sparing myself a young girl's tears, or another girl's wrath. "Well it wasn't [i]that[/i] bad. Most monsters keep away from civilization proper," they were content to pick off those who lived on the edge. A far easier meal, "So long as you kept a powerful escort, travel between towns wasn't that risky," though less so for those not gifted with supernatural speed and stealth, "and the build up for a war is rather easy to spot, if you keep an ear to the local news. Making them rather easy to avoid unless one's a true patriot." Disregarding any and all enemies whose actions could not be easily monitored, such as the Drow, hostile outsiders, some of the faster moving Orc tribes, any uppity necromancer with enough power…

Yeah… my home realm kinda sucked. There were reasons why even a King Serpent such as I tended to keep my head down.

That brought a frown to Louise, "So you're a coward then. Run at the first sign of danger?" She did not seem pleased at all by the prospect.

"Pretty much!" I admitted shamelessly. "I mean… it's not like I've never fought before. I still have my principles, and sometimes it's really unavoidable, but I'm just not really a fighter."

Louise scowled at that, "I thought Elves were fearsome warriors." She seemed more disappointed then anything.

I shrugged at that. "Some are. Elves live a long time. Those that make the grade tend to become pretty epic over their careers. Well, if they're not killed off early, and actually have a chance to put those lifespans to use, but not everyone's meant for war. Heritage only takes you so far. A lot of guys like me have to try their best to even just scrape through."

She slumped slightly at that, upset, but accepting. "So all you are is a glorified bookkeeper then?"

Pulling my hand free now that Siesta's grip had loosened some I went back for my tea. It had cooled slightly, but was still warm enough to be good. "And researcher, linguist, healer, and instructor, but essentially yes… I told you that when we were hashing out our contact remember?"

She looked down, "I guess…"

Siesta interjected, "Well I think it's good that Mr. Moxt likes to read more than fight. People should reach for their dreams if they can." She beamed at me.

I couldn't help but smile back a little at that, though my focus was still mostly on my wilting master. Should I try to cheer her up? At this point in time I wanted to keep myself considered a minimal threat if possible. Still, wasn't there someway… ah, that could work.

"You know, if you really want to hear of a powerful warrior, maybe I could tell you about my last apprentice? Jono Elfson. He was a half-elf and probably one of the most powerful sorcerers I've ever had the fortune of meeting. Of course, when we first met he was little more than a spear bearer with a few magic tricks…" I watched carefully as I spoke.

Sure enough, when Louise's eyes flickered up at the mention of a competent battle mage I knew I'd hit paydirt.

The only thought now, was what to do with this division of interests in my pupils? Siesta seemed content to follow a more academic path, but Louise seemed to crave adventure… if I was to continue my experiment I'd need to root one of them along the path of the other.

The question was, which path should I support?

Chapter III Part XXII

I watched their reactions carefully as I went over the tale. I spoke of the young mage, and how he had sought me out, a master of the old arts of magic, when his own family's discipline, wizardry, had proven contrary to his abilities. Of how I myself, at the time, near destitute, took him on as a student at price. Of the 'secret' dungeon crawls the young man had attempted to pay off the monstrous tuition I'd laid on him, and my own unseen guardianship in his short trials.

Of course, as I did so I downplayed just how firmly I'd manipulated the boy, how often, and to what extent I'd 'dealt' with the creatures he really was not ready for, and above all, just how dangerous the occupation really was.

The girls gobbled it up like a dwarf would ale, a few snarky comments offered to my 'teaching style', aside.

I spoke of my time with Jono, the development of his talents in evocation, and conjuration. How I'd repeatedly been forced to step up my own skill in the latter art, just to find new things for him to learn, and how in time, he'd come to assist the research of my arts, until he was fully my equal, and I could teach him no more.

And then of the friendship that extended afterwards.

"…And then of course, the lucky fool stumbles right into my lab right as I'm in the middle of trying to banish the blasted thing. He took one look at the elemental, blinked, then all but passed out, right as the beholder came swinging into view. Zapped the overgrown firefly before I had as much as a chance to try weaving a spell. Well, of course, I couldn't use my magic, but I was still fresh, I had a good blade on hand, and the multi-eyed git had already gone through the thresher of what Jono could whip into it. I might not be in the best of shape, but finishing off a half dead lump like that was well within my skill range." I finished the tale with only minor embellishments. In truth that 'multi-eyed git' had put up a bit more of a struggle then I had hinted… but at the same time, I'd been significantly better armed than it given I'd just had my polymorph spell stripped off.

"Of course, it wasn't until I'd healed up the poor boy that he told me he'd earlier had to face an entire brood of the things. Bahamut's breath, it's no wonder he'd ended up running back to me so often… No sense of moderation with that one." I sighed, in truth, crusader or not, I missed Jono… he was one of the few friends I'd had who'd accepted me even when I was scaled up. Never one to judge that one… then again his own heritage as the bastard son of a drow and a slave likely aided his perspective.

"Well, what happened then?" Louise asked riveted. The story of my elsewhere apprentice seemed to appeal to her. It was understandable enough, the boy lived an exciting enough life, and was a classic take of a young man forging a path of his own, being the first sorcerer of his line.

I sighed, "Last I saw, he'd managed to link up with an adventuring party topside, that same one he'd 'accidentally' rescued with those antics. Good enough people, from what I'd managed to read. He'd sent me a few letters since, but given how often both of us tend to move… well we lost contact around twenty years ago." I'd actually tried to hunt the boy down now and then. Not an overt attempt of course. Questions like those tended to inflict a bit more attention then I'd wish to bring down on the young mage's head.

Siesta blinked, "And you didn't think of joining him?"

A pause… "Well… yes… for a time I did," I admitted, and then looking at them, decided to offer a limited truth.

"I didn't largely for his sake… as you might have noted by now, nether he or I often visited cities at the time. This is for a good reason. Drow… my kind… they are not well liked on the surface." Technically true, both drow and my kind had a bad reputation to put it mildly…

This got there attention. "We're feared… and for good reason. Dark elves are not kind to their enemies, and not picky about making them. I learned most of my morals from a human couple, and as such, act largely human… or at least more human then I should. I still have to live with the stigma of my species though." I eyed their reactions. They seemed surprised, but not overly so… the elves of this land truly had to be nightmares to simply wave off such things as a given.

"Jono was half human. A half elf acting as a human would garner some mistrust as a given, but could still be given the benefit of the doubt. I, on the other hand… well, really the only chance I'd have to blend into a crowd is to use magic to change my appearance. I could manage it, for a time, but well, experience has taught me, such deceptions always fail in the end…" though I could make 'a time' stretch out a good long while by this point, and had every intention of doing so.

"So you stayed behind." Siesta murmured.

I shrugged. "It's why I travel a lot. I find a place, learn what I can, and move on largely. I've been to half a dozen magic academies," about half of which I stayed in exactly as long as it took me to swipe their best spell books and theory texts, "Mostly I just try and stay out of sight. I've been in a few large fights, some overtly, more than a few in less obvious ways. Really, you nailed it Louise… I'm really just a big coward when it comes down to it. I slink away the moment anything that scares me rears its head." I smirked at that.

Louise flinched back as if struck.

I blinked. "Eh… it's rare for me to be so open like this. I guess I've taken this chance to vent a bit. I mean this land seems… so different then mine. A fresh start, you know?" I asked, offering her a slightly warmer smile. "You really did me a favor calling me here… and not just because you pulled me out of the latest fire I'd stumbled across."

"I… guess I did." The pink haired girl replied, smiling weakly, and looking up at me.

"No guessing about it," I said firmly. "More and more, this really looks like it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I owe you a little honesty for that if nothing else," I stated to her, ignoring the sharp pain in my stomach.

Not yet… this was a test. I didn't know how far I could trust her with things like this… but maybe…

Maybe….

"So what else do you want to talk about? Or is it my turn to ask questions? I have dozens at this point," I asked looking between the girls, and taking a drink of my tea, wincing as I noted it'd gone cold at this point.

"Ah! Well… I'd be happy to answer some questions!" Siesta volunteered.

Louise looked happy to bow out on that, but shot the maid a look once more… really what did that look mean? It couldn't imply what I thought it did, hostility just didn't hash out with what I was seeing… maybe some kind of challenge?

Bah, that was a silly idea, what on earth would these two have to challenge each other over?

Chapter III Part XXIII

I looked at the girl before me, Siesta, and considered what to ask. Another chance to answer some of the nagging questions in my mind.

One of the foremost details I wished to uncover was information on that dragon she mentioned summoned before. I had not read anything on the local dragons and what references I'd moved across under the assistance of the Lovely Lady Longueville had confused me further rather than answer anything.

Still, an inquiry there didn't seem to mess with the interests I'd decided to openly display… I could find out further detail later.

Arcane theory? No… it was one of my open interests, but Siesta herself likely couldn't offer much assistance there. At least, not yet. I also wanted to maintain my appearance as 'wise capable magus' in her eyes until she had graduated beyond cantrips…

That left ether herself, or the world I'd found myself in…

Glancing over at my master, and noting how she seemed to be stewing in her own juices, a mischievous thought crossed my mind. Perhaps both.

"Well why don't we start simple… why don't you tell me of you home?" I asked the maid, "you said you lived in Tarbes?" I recalled the mention of her siblings.

I near twitched as I heard the sound of a person on approach, fighting down the urge to call to power. Who would desire to approach from my blind spot? Another servant? They had seemed wary of me while I was down in the kitchen…

She blinked in surprised at the question, "My home? Well… it is your normal village I suppose…" she chewed on her lip again, ether hunting for answers or holding some sort of internal debate. More likely the latter given how she kept flickering looks over at my master. "We mostly farm, though we only have a small acreage so only about two thirds of us work at home."

The presence was taking it's time, from the scent the perfume laced through the natural odor of 'female human' I'd wager someone well off… not likely a servant then. That left faculty or another student.

"That would explain why you're working here," Louise observed dispassionately. "Working for money to help your family get a bigger farm?" she guessed, an eyebrow raised, attempting to look regal as she did so.

And she actually seemed to be pulling it off to some extent… or at least managed to seem a bit aristocratic.

Siesta however did not seem impressed. "Yes, I am," she stated, looking the pink haired girl in the eye for a moment before lowering her gaze respectfully. "Forgive me if I am out of line for saying so Lady Vallière, but I see nothing wrong with trying to help your family."

That brought a frown to my face, and I interjected before Louise could reply. I didn't want whoever this was to catch us in the middle of arguing, at the very least it might get Siesta in trouble I couldn't talk her out of… "Now none of that," I said as I shot a look at the both of them. "While we're sitting at this table at least the three of us act as equals. I'd like this to be an opportunity for me to interact with two of my friends, not my contractor and a fellow servant."

That seemed to take both girls back.

"A rather bold statement for a self proclaimed [i]Servant[/i]." a new voice interjected. The new presence had finally made itself known.

Xsiol! Little late on the draw it seemed. Oh well, it seemed time to do some damage control then.

I turned my head slightly, an eye glancing over as the figure continued, "Really Zero, can't you control your familiar?" her eyes bore into my master's haughtily.

She was a good looking girl, I'd give her that, deep smooth caramel skin, amber eyes playfully half hidden under long ruby red locks, and a figure that'd knock a dwarf off his feet. If she hadn't apparently just verbally assaulted my master I might have even tried to hit on her.

As it was, I felt my hackles raise, and the strong urge to bite off her face came to the fore. That was… odd.

I glanced down at the runeset on my hand, no visible reaction, but I had definitely felt a spike of… something, shoot into me from it.

I really needed to decode this thing. It was becoming more and more probable that it was messing with my head somehow.

Oh well, it didn't seem that concerning, I could look into it later…

Right, definitely messing with my head somehow.

"Kirche-" Louise twitched, hostility bubbling up from the surface.

I looked at the redhead with a raised eyebrow. "Control me?" I questioned. "That's a rather bold question yourself. You would fault my Master for respecting the advice of a mage a century her senior? You would prefer then that I act as nothing more than a dog to heed her whims?"

"Familiar!" Louise interjected, apparently attempting to display said 'control'.

'Kirche' recoiled as if struck, apparently the venom in my words hitting a bit harder then intended.

Or was it intended? My emotions were being meddled with. To an extent I didn't know yet. I'd need to work hard on being rational with this until I could extract more information on just what this glyph did.

The dark skinned beauty laughed as she backtracked, showing some skill as she did "Oh no, of course not!" She gave me a grin that would melt steel, and added an overt lustful tone to her voice, "I simply do not see why someone who burns with such an exotic fire would submit himself to someone like Zero." She flicked her gaze to my master distastefully, before outright eyeing me up, "You could do so much better."

I almost felt dirty just from that look alone.

Well, dirty in a good way.

These conflicting emotional signals were already more than a little annoying.

"You dare!" Louise seemed ready to pop, and I felt another spike of anger surge…

I crushed it under a century of self control.

"An interesting offer… but Milady Vallière has been kind enough for me to owe her some loyalty, I would think," I countered with overt amusement. Reaching out I touched Louise's arm, attempting to calm her.

It worked… for all of five seconds, as the amber eyed woman took note, "Oh! I didn't realize you were like that," she stated, grinning slyly, "I had no idea you had it in you, Vallière!" she teased, with… approval?

I twitched.

"No!" Siesta yelled out in… despair? "It's nothing like that! Nothing like that at all!" she shook her head furiously, "Mr. Moxt would never..?" she looked to me suddenly a pleading look in her eyes.

I blinked, twitched, and sat there horrifically confused.

"Kirche!" Louise was about ready to blow, eye ticking, face flushed with embarrassment and anger.

Right, sort out That kettle of fish later, step in now before the other magi in the group started trading fireballs.

"I… believe there has been a small misunderstanding," I interrupted before things could go any further. "The relation between myself and my master is primarily that of one of Teacher and Student. The Lady Vallière, you see, has rendered me a great service, so I in turn have offered to teach her a few of the arts of my homeland," I explained.

That seemed to relieve Siesta… though moments later the maid's eyebrows shot up in surprise or recognition, then shot my master a look.

That at least I understood. Siesta now knew she had a rival. Excellent, she seemed the type to only be bolstered by such challenge.

The redhead pursed her lips, apparently disappointed, "A service?" she questioned, eyeing me. "What could the Zero have done for you?" a slightly eager tone set into her voice as she spoke.

Curious… another seemed to want me in their debt, this at least I understood well, though the reasons were still unknown. "A grace of chance really… you see right before she summoned me here, I had found myself in a rather unfortunate situation, if she hadn't called me right then I may very well have ended up dead and skinned," I grimaced, "Or perhaps the reverse if they were sufficiently eager."

I'd never seen a person go from red to green that quickly.

"Skinned!" Louise shouted… she seemed to be doing that a lot today. Really we had to work on her social skills… after deciphering the runes on my hand.

I had to forcefully remind myself that. Whatever effect this was, it was subtle, and potent. It was a good thing it seemed to benign…

Or was it?

Chapter III Part XIV

I was broken from my musings as Louise reasserted her question, "What do you mean by skinned!" she asked, grabbing the hand I had earlier reached out to her with.

Suppressing the urge to shake Louise I turned my attention to her. "Well long story short some people got to the idea that I might have been a King Serpent and thought that they might be able to kill me while I was in my 'vulnerable form', and claim my hide, blood, teeth, fangs, and all other sorts of things when I 'changed back'." I added an annoyed tinge to my voice.

It was more genuine then you would expect. Really, running around as twelve feet of scaled muscle, magic, and bone, might have seemed the smarter idea, but as a drow I could hide far better than as a darastrix. Given my goal had been escape, not conflict, I was far harder to catch in that state.

Which was why they had started hitting me with anti magic… blasted shortsighted, murder addicted, sycophant fools! Worms claim them.

That brought a little confusion. Louise turned contemplative, "A 'King Serpent?' Another of these 'monsters' you talked about?" she asked.

I nodded. "And not one I'd want to get in a fight with. Honestly I'm not sure what they were thinking. Even if I was in a guise that rendered me weaker, if I was a King Serpent raring for a fight, even if they came loaded for anything they'd have taken terrible losses before I had died." It had been fortunate for all of us that I certainly had Not been interested in any form of conflict.

"Something that can kill multiple elves?" Kirche asked eyebrows raised, "With the Elves getting the initiative?"

"Yes." I said simply, my face flat. "There is a reason they are called King Serpents. That's what they are. The Serpent Kings." I expanded with equal flatness in my voice.

A small part of me was giddy to show off, even in this indirect way. I wanted them to understand that there was always a bigger fish, and to humanize this mask of mine a little more in their eyes. An immortal ages old magus was a handy role to have, but it held certain expectations that I was just not willing to fulfill at the moment.

The thought that this particular method of 'humanizing' would open up the option to suddenly become a horror even greater than their nightmares was a rather nice ace to conjure up at the same time…

That wasn't to evil was it? It was just proper planning… wasn't it?

I tensed my rune clad hand, and went ahead with my newest ploy, as Louise interrupted, apparently having decided to become a more active member of the discussion; "Kings? Kings of what?"

I looked over at her, and sighed reluctantly, "Well I did agree to teach you… very well," I drew a breath and wondered if I was being a bit overdramatic, "King Serpents, also known as Darastrixi or Darastrixi'Vis, and as high or true dragons in the mortal tongue, are-"

Louise exploded out at me, "Dragons! Your telling me your big bad monster is a Dragon?" she looked at me like I had just told her of a house cat who could slay a grown man in single combat.

Then again, some cats…

Shaking my head, partly for the act, partly to clear my head of the image I scolded her, "High Dragons, as different from lesser drakes as you are to a toad in a pond." I shot her a look at that.

Looking away, slightly, "When I looked through your history texts I caught no mention of them… outside of some odd references to something called a Rhyme Dragon."

"Rhyme Dragons? I thought those were extinct?" Kirche questioned, she seemed to be lapping up my story rather well, but all these interruptions were disrupting the mood I was trying to set.

"So I noted," That was news to me… definitely something to investigate, "They may or may not be what I've known of Wer Kitril'Vis. But I will tell you this, if Darastrixi were to nest in this world… you would have had note of it." Time to step up my game.

Silent Spell: Silent Image

I flicked my hand casually over the table, calling power as I did, casting without incantation was an overly flashy, and an overall expensive trick, but it always helped to set the move, and served better as a casual display of power better then even doing so with no gesture at all. There was just something about creating visual effect with a simple movement of one's hand.

Likewise for effect, I started with one of the big boys, the iconic Red Dragon, the elf-eating psychos might be some of the most messed up mentally of my kin, but they did strike a regal picture, and they were one of the largest breeds with both vibrant coloration, and a close to 'standard' body type.

The illusion turned its head to face them, eyeing them curiously, in a manner half that of a bird, half that of a grown man examining a particularly interesting or annoying insect.

"Dragons… True dragons, are another thing all together from just a dangerous animal." The image smirked at them, having apparently found its answer.

"They are intelligent, a mixture of natural cunning, and inherited instinct and memory, refined over a life that can span millennia. A high dragon hatches knowing more languages than many scholars learn in their lifetime, more about magic than a centuries old magus, and more battles, than any man who's lived to tell the tale…" the dragon reared up proudly, a dark amusement crossing it's face.

"Of course, uncovering and applying that knowledge is another matter." The red shot me a harsh look at that, "But when one lives as long as they do, you tend to have a lot of time to refine one's skill set."

The red rolled its eyes at me, and padded over to the tray, reaching over and tapping it, the surface rippling, as the view of a vast city set in a mountainous countryside came to view.

"Holding these minds are forms that are only loosely definable as mortal. A dragon's scales are far tougher then the strongest steel, its bones and sinew even more durable. It's strength is that which shatters boulders, it's senses as sharp as a hunting bird, it's speed akin to an arrow in flight, and it's fortitude such, that one can hold a rushed march for [i]weeks[/i] without tiring."

The Red dragon touched the illusion, and bid it rise, and so it did, pouring like a liquid out and over the table, overgrowing it, until the creature floated lazily over the illusion city it had apparently called on a whim.

"And these are only the general traits that all true dragons share. Darastrixi'Vis come in many forms, separate 'clans' or blood groups, each with their own talents layered upon those held by all their kin."

The red's form rippled, to the stockier well muscled form of a blue dragon, then to a bronze, silver, before finally melding into the massive elegant form of a adolescent gold. The now golden dragon leaned in its head and seamlessly came to flight over the city side, circling idly.

"All these abilities be they biological, or mystical, an inherent power, or developed skill, only grow stronger with age," As I spoke, the dragon continued to develop, it's body growing out of the relatively gangly form of adolescence, to the full shape of maturity…

Then it grew beyond that, horns growing longer and curving into a regal crown, beard and frills stretching out, as its wings spread further. Its entire form continuing to gain mass and volume until it was larger than most of the buildings it was circling.

"By the time a dragon has reached the title of Wyrm, they stand a living legends; able to slay entire armies single handed, and changing the fates of nations at a whim. Their power is like that of small gods walking the earth and if they should choose to use that power in malice…" I trailed off.

The regal form of the Wyrm decided on a location to land, and a hastily gathered militia moved to stand in almost token challenge. The swords they wore on their hips were not even quite the length of the creature's claws.

"Needless to say, people tend to be understandably cautious when dealing with dragons of any kind, even those of the more benevolent bloodlines. Despite this, conversation is still possible."

One of the militia men, silently argued with his apparent leader for a moment, before discarding his spear and helmet in a huff, marching out ahead to face the dragon from within its considerable striking range.

The gold observed all this with dispassionate amusement, bowing its towering neck to meet the man in a semblance of eye to eye.

"After all, for all their power… for all their secrets… Darastrixi are still just people in the end. Dangerous yes, but still people." I smirked as the dragon did, matching its expression as closely as my flesh mask would allow.

"And the payoff on those ventures that prove successful…" I trailed off for a moment, as the man and dragon struck up a silent conversation, all the while, the nervous guardsmen watched in the distance.

Finally, in a surge of arcane power and luminescence, a gold haired woman stood were the dragon once did, clad in regal robes, her eyes the same burning shade of gold that she had worn in her draconian form.

A part of my chest ached a little at that, but it was a lesser pain, nothing to worry about.

"The rewards are numerous, and invaluable. Forgotten knowledge, both mystic and mundane, a powerful ally, and of course, a potential friend." I did my best to keep my voice from turning bittersweet… I did not believe myself fully successful.

Never the less the gathered student's were quite thoroughly entranced. Good, time for the big finale then.

"Still, it is no small risk. Dragons hold their own agendas, their own motives, and of course, their own enemies." As I spoke, another red dragon, aged, and almost as large as the golden queen in her own innate form came swooping down, arcane power surging up in and around it's form as it drew back breath.

The gold dragon looked to the sky, and her face set to meet the challenge.

With a surge of light, she broke her spell, giving silent signal of her intent. Without hesitance her massive frilled form rose up in the sky to meet the challenge.

The battle was joined.

Chapter III Part XXV

"The wrath of an elder Wyrm is a terrible thing, and when they war, only destruction can be left in the wake. As such only similarly terrible creatures dare call them their foe, and when dragons clash…"

The first strike was the Red dragons, a burst of chilling frost fire; arcane energies changing heat intense enough to burn iron to plasma momentarily, shifted to a hellish cold just as intense; the air itself chilling to a liquid state in its wake.

The gold countered with its own flame, unmodified, the heat, burning at roughly one hundred and ninety thousand degrees ignited the still liquid traces of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen, as it clashed with the heat eating fire blast.

The explosion rocked the city below, knocking the guard off their feet, and cracking the building under it like an egg. A dust storm flaring up violently from the clash, spreading through the streets like blood through veins.

Charging through the air burst the gold struck a sudden and vicious blow, her fanged maw shooting out of the fireball to clamp down on the Red's neck.

The Red had been expecting it, and raked its claws along the gold's own throat, crimson blood splashing out into the air.

The gold countered with a tail slap, as one of her own claws raked across the red's chest, the other smashing into the red's forelimb, drawing a bloody price for the earlier strike, and gaining a grip for leverage.

The Red let out a silent roar of rage, its own teeth striking for the base of the Golden Queen's neck.

A tail slap knocked that idea out of its head, battering the lethal fangs aside.

Seeing that the melee was not going its way, the Red King forced a retreat, smashing hammering blows with its wing's forelimbs directly into the gold's own shoulders in a desperation ploy.

The titanic creatures began to fall, the final strike separating them, drawing bleeding lines along the chromatic dragon's captured limb.

The Gold Dragon crashing down into, and through a stone building as large as she was, rolling across a street, and crushing half way through another shop, before her momentum broke.

The Red King landed hard, but stably, claws digging through a nearby tower to slow its descent. The building falling in its wake as it came to a near perfect four point landing.

Uncoiling, the Golden Queen rose back to her full, proud height, rubble falling off her scales like rain drops off stone.

Neither of the titanic creatures seemed at all hindered by their injuries.

On some unseen signal both shot back into the air, both calling on arcane energies as they did, the Red tainting the air with its power, the gold, calling forth a small legion of glowing white lights.

Amidst it all, a solitary bolt shot up from the ground at the red dragon, guided by an arcane glow, it struck one of the few weak spots left in its armor by the initial clash.

The Red dragon snarled, and its attention was torn.

The source was the boy who had originally spoken with the dragon, now diligently reloading his crossbow,

And that is when things… Changed.

The still gathering army, the noble arcane crossbowman, the city itself stilled, as I loosened the hold of my aura of terror slightly in time with the appearance of the red dragon's own.

"There can be only fear. Fear, and Death."

The skies ripped themselves open, lighting slashing down in huge chaotic arches, as clouds formed in the time it took to take a single breath, winds gathering from nothing and picking to a hellish speed, as cyclones began tearing paths along the city and skies.

Men were bodily lifted and thrown across streets, buildings fell, and the city began to burn.

The Gold dragon screamed silent rage as she crashed into the Red King full bodied, claws, and teeth rending as she threw herself fully into the fury, abandoning all tactic and grace in mindless hate at the actions below.

It had been what the aggressor had wanted, switching to the defensive. It began fighting to draw her back, all the while lashing out with debilitating blows, now aiming to cripple over kill.

It suffered for it, scales were raked free, hunks of flesh torn from its bones, and it blood flowed like water. Its lame arm was broken nearly to the point of being ripped from its body. The tiny lanterns that the Queen had summoned swarming it like angry wasps, unleashing dozens of their holy bolts unto its hide.

Then its strategy finally paid off.

Throughout the physical slug match, where no spell could be cast for fear of leaving an opening, one magic had remained steadfastly active, and drawing in closer.

The Red King's personal overpowered weather-control spell.

And by this point there were nearly a dozen cyclones ripping across the skyline.

The Golden Queen overextended, and the Red King grabbed and swung hard, throwing her unto the vortex of wind.

The Gold Dragon swung hard, attempting a wingover, to fight the ever-hungry maw of air, but the battle had claimed its toll on her once more, and the still bleeding rips along her wings, cost her too much of her grip.

She was sucked in, and hurled down unto the ground, the violence of the motion enough to shatter her left wing, and leave her dazed and concussed.

Almost contemptuously, the Red King cast another spell, mending its wounds wholesale, as it spiked its aura again in turn with my own.

The Lanterns scattered for a moment.

That was all the time it needed.

Drawing deep, the crimson beast loosed its flame once more, baking the air, and lighting the sky red, as it turned its head, roasting the summoned swarm into a tiny fragment of its original mass.

As this happened, The Crossbowman scrambled through the wreckage to the wounded queen, extending a hand out to her.

A slight flash of light, her wounds mended, and her eyes came back into focus.

The Red King turned its gaze back on its fallen foe, the annoyances dealt with.

Just in time for her jaws to clamp down right onto its face.

Her wings smashed into his own in mimicry of his earlier strike, her tail lashed out, and captured his own, claws struck out and down trapping and pinning his limbs to keep him from striking anything but her wings, in a violent parody of an embrace.

And then she played her ace, and the spell she had begun casting mid flight took hold.

The Queen turned from Gold to Steel and in her position over the red, her full weight, now amplified eight fold bearing down upon him.

The Red twisted hard, but his position was no good, he couldn't utter a spell with his mouth sealed shut, and couldn't direct it with all limbs forced away. His strength was lower than hers to begin with, and in the body of a draconic iron golem, was now so far below what was needed to resist that he might as well have had the muscles flayed from his bones.

They crashed again, rocking the city for one final time.

Squirming, screaming, the broken form of the Red lay pinned under the dominating Queen atop it, for once in its century's long life, completely helpless.

The Crossbowman approached one final time, blade in hand. The vicious exchange, above had rocked him much like the city he had survived in, but he still stood strong, still stood proud.

Still stood ready to offer one last effort of aid to the city's defender.

I let my aura of terror drain away, regaining my hold on it, and suppressing it back to the state of near nonexistence, as the scene played out before all watching eyes,

In one case for the second time in their life.

"So yes… dragons are a bit of a big deal." I stated in mirthless deadpan, looking up as I allowed the illusion to fall apart.

Only to realize that my audience was largely unconscious, having passed out after I had loosed my own frightful presence.

I sighed, cursing my inner drama hound once again, "Perfect."

Chapter III Part XXVI

I had apparently been surrounded at some point, or at least, drawn enough attention to wipe out the majority of the yard.

Really a thirty foot range didn't seem like a long distance most of the time…

Alright, I had control issues with the thing. About twenty some years ago a… shall I say 'close friend' of mind, had grafted on an Aura of Terror spell to my normal draconic frightful presence. It was a 'coming of age' gift, given I would be having to flee the area shortly.

It had been experimental, power intensive, and had burnt through the total of both of our reserves, but it had worked.

My only real complaint was that the blasted thing tended to flicker on full force the moment I got even a 'little' over-dramatic.

Damn it! I'm a spontaneous spellcaster! Ham flows in my veins like blood!

I could keep the effect suppressed with focus, but even the best out there had their little slips

And this little slip likely insured that no one even caught my big dramatic finale.

I open up like that and show one of my deepest…

With a sigh, I got up and took stock of the damage, noting exactly how many people were passed out in less than comfortable positions.

I checked the sky, it was clear. Good, I could just set things up a bit and leave them were they lay then, little sunshine wouldn't kill any of them by the time the effect had worn off. I'd likely have hell to pay later but at least no one would come to any actual harm from this little incident.

At this point I noticed that one person had apparently shaken off my aura wholesale, something that hadn't happened since my little 'upgrade'.

I mean heck, I'd managed to make even my former 'patron' flinch, when I'd let lose that one time!

This… I had to investigate.

Approaching at a casual pace I took stock of the pair. The first was a girl, I recalled her as one of the few who hadn't been outright stunned by my rather flashy arrival. Sitting near the girl was a sky blue drake not quite as long as I was outside of my flesh-mask, though a good bit broader, and…

That was no drake.

"Svabol uoinota?" I asked breathlessly, coming to a halt about seven feet away from them, just out of the darastrix's striking range

I was staring at a dragon. It… She was fairly young; you couldn't judge a dragon's age by their features, or their size, we're too diverse for that. But the one reliable tell, her eyes, hadn't even taken on much of the infamous glow of a mature dragon's, though she had gotten to the point that her pupils and sclera had become indistinct.

That put her… anywhere between her twenties and her eighties actually; depending if she was an early or late bloomer, though something told me to ballpark low.

Diverting my attention to her 'master' I looked over the small girl. Blue hair, slight of build, glasses, used a staff not a wand, from what I knew of the local foci that implied a certain level of raw power in her not commonly found.

This was a pressing revelation given said staff was currently pointed in my direction.

Not good.

I raised an eyebrow, what exactly had I done to deserve such hostility?

…outside of pump out an aura of terror on par with a lesser wyrm knocking out all of her classmates.

Really needed to get better hold of that…

"I mean no harm." I offered hands up fingers spread and displayed clearly, after all, every spell I had cast so far had required specific gestures.

And the fact I could cast without those gestures was something I was going to keep saved for a rainy day.

"Why." The girl was keeping her eyes solidly on my chest, a wise enough precaution; there were a lot of attacks out there that could only be managed by eye contact. Admittedly, I didn't have any such attacks, but it was a good habit to have when facing anything supernatural.

"Ah… this?" I waved a hand out, "That was an accident, a momentary loss of-"

"No." she tensed slightly, showing only the barest hints of aggravation. Her eyes flickered to the table before locking back on me. "Why."

I blinked, and then suppressed the urge to look back to the dragon at her side, who was curled up behind the magus, eying me with a mix of curiosity and… nervousness.

Well that was interesting, maybe… no it would be best to confirm things first.

I quirked an eyebrow and spoke fluently in converse for the first time since I'd arrived in this strange place, "Tiric ghoros've'jaciv vucot douta gemuth ir'ghergo?" I questioned aloud as if musing. "My little illusion play then?" I directed at the bleunette.

The younger dragon perked up, looked at the girl, then back at me, then back at the girl, back to me, she seemed to be wagering a debate, then bowed her head in the draconic analogue of a nod.

"Yes." I wasn't sure how long the Mage Girl's patience would last, she showed little sign of cracking, but that only made her an unknown.

That made me curious, maybe if it just…

No! Bad ego! Back to your room! You've done enough damage for today…

"Ah… forgive me." I offered a slight bow of my neck in apology, a bigger gesture then one might suspect, "when I spoke I didn't realize I was hinting at any secrets beyond my own."

She gave just the tinniest flinch along her staff arm, a small tightening signaling the trigger of her flight or fight reflex, though her face remained impassive.

She was good, but I could still read the surprise on her. Was she surprised I knew what her companion was? Or had she not realized…

Damn it looked like I might have just given up a secret I didn't have to…

Oh well, her companion would have let her know anyway, and honestly I felt better offering some mode of trust after apparently accidently hinting at a secret not my own.

Didn't mean I wouldn't have fun with this though, "Or didn't you realize?" I questioned her.

The girl was silent, but seemed to almost demand an answer from me.

"Testy testy… I already told you I meant no harm. I'm just surprised you didn't recognize your familiar's first language when you heard it." I smirked.

"Why?" there was finally some inflection to her voice on the third repeat, though I could sense more than anything else her patience wearing thin.

Oh well best throw a bone or two out there anyway, if I wanted answers I might as well explain myself. "You really want to know? Very well, I was making myself an option." I explained, "At the moment I appearing as a monster of legend ill suits me. Appearances aside I don't really like standing in the spotlight, but I know the advantages of being feared. If the situation sufficiently warranted it, I wanted the option of showing the world just what they were dealing with." I narrowed my eyes slightly and let a trickle of my aura of terror loose, just enough to give across the point.

Switching tracks I returned slipped on a polite, but openly false smile, "Now that I've answered your question, may I ask a few of my own? You see I'm rather curious as to why your friend there is fearful to speak to me on her own." This time I let lose a bit more than a trickle of my aura; sharpening my posture to the most overtly threatening I could manage without being impolite.

Manners were important after all.

Chapter III Part XXVII

There was a moment of silence as I became acutely aware of the people laying prone around me. If things went bad I'd have to keep them in mind when it came to my spell selection…

Lead off with a polymorph; and if that failed silence. Stunting an opponent's ability to talk might be vital against enemy spell casters, but it was really hard to fight as a newt. If both those fail, conjure up some darkness, summon spam, then drop drow form and get into melee…

The sky blue dragon behind the girl shivered, and looked between me and the little magus, more and more. Fear and panic crawling onto her face, as she made wobbling noses.

There was a moment, just a moment were a surge of excitement rushed through me, at the thought of fighting this girl, the one who had weathered through my most powerful technique like a stone in the rain.

She tensed, and I could taste the power she had already gathered up ready to meet any aggression on my part.

"Noooo!" A child like voice cut through, "Don't hurt Big Sister!"

That snapped me out of it like a slap to the face.

What in the nine hells was I doing!

"Slyphid." The blue mage intoned warningly, keeping the young dragon to her back. That action was the one clear signal of the girl's intent.

Protect her charge.

The realization froze me in place. My eyes flicking back from the human girl to the young dragon, and back again, a frown working its way to my face.

"Big Sister?" I questioned in the native tongue, then turned to address the dragon, switching to my native one. "You speak now little one?" I asked, carefully using the native language while keeping tabs on the girl's reaction.

The dragon rippled her neck, as she looked nervously from me to the mage girl before me, then back again, torn between speaking or no.

"Slyphid." The girl spoke again, softer this time, "Stay back."

"But!" The dragon warbled.

"Back." The girl ordered once more, still not taking her eyes from me.

"Enough." I intoned; my relatively neutral expression taking a grimace of distaste crossed it. "It seems… I may have been a bit rash in my judgments." I raised a hand to show I meant no further harm. "I mean no harm, only concern."

She eyed me warily… or at least as warily as one could while keeping up that emotionless expression. She didn't trust me, nevertheless she eased back her staff.

Looking from the mage child to the one she was guarding I took time to draw in her features. Sky blue scales, mixed with white, green eyes, large, short neck, short tail, powerfully built for her age, and lanky in limb, with shortish wings. Likely didn't have to much stamina in flight, but I'd wager she was more agile than most… Large but not huge, one of the midsized types given her age then, I couldn't quite identify her defining element, likely one of the more exotic types like myself… I'd never seen another dragon like her.

Could she be one of these 'Rhyme dragons' I'd heard about?

"Forgive me. I have been rude, allow me to introduce myself," with that I offered a bow, keeping my reserves ready for any sneak attack, well aware of just how many openings I was leaving, "I am Levethix'Moxt, Darastrix, and bound familiar to The fine Lady Vallière on yonder table." I gestured grandiosely as I rose, a mischievous smile on my face, "My true nature is of course, currently not largely known… and I am most willing to keep both it, and 'Slyphid' was it? 's own well under wraps… to be honest it'd be troublesome to be considered anything other than a foolish elf who has managed to get himself bound to a young noble."

A calculated move largely, it left me a little vulnerable, but that was part of the intent. I wanted to befriend these people, not engage them in mortal combat.

Well at least at the moment I did.

The Girl paused, and then removed her free hand from her staff putting it back to a 'resting' position entirely, "Tabitha." She introduced, and then motioned back, "Slyphid."

A shark like grin blossomed on my face, "Excellent! I must say I was surprised to see another…" then the sound of stirring came to my ears, and I stopped to glance back, noting that my master was near waking. "Hum… well it seems that the time to be careful with words has again come upon us… Perhaps we can meet and exchange stories another time…"

Tabitha nodded, Slyphid was now eyeing my little master at a distance. "Later," The blue haired mage agreed.

Never the less she didn't take her eyes off me until I had turned my full back to her.

Testy one this 'Tabitha'… she'd be a tricky one to crack I could already tell. Her behavior in and of itself set off all sorts of alarm bells.

But really, this was just too interesting to pass up!

Keeping my senses sharp I did my best to keep 'track' of the pair as I returned to my master, finding her still unaware, but slowly surfacing back to the waking world.

I suppressed a smile of pride; it seemed my little master had managed to shrug off the effects of my aura in record time. Good, willpower like that would serve her well in learning my arts.

"Up now Master." I coaxed, helping her unconscious form rise up. "It's time to go."

"mmm…." She murmured, one eye opening up lethargically, "…Familiar?" she questioned, blinking her eye as the other opened with it.

"I appear to have gotten a bit carried away," I said sheepishly, "and would rather not deal with the questions that result." I glanced around at that.

She blinked again, mind still in the process of fully booting back up to normal, "The dragon!" she blinked a few times, "What was that? It was so real…" she was lost in thought for a moment.

"Illusion magic… a personal specialty as it were," I waved off. "Honestly I didn't expect something as mild as a little supernatural fear to put you all out, it was just supposed to highlight the tone of the play." I let my disappointment shine through there, as we made our way across the field.

"Play?" she blinked, though I think she was now finally fully aware as she was walking unaided.

"An underappreciated art of my homeland… bah, everyone loves to hear the visiting Bards tales, but you try and actually Show them the scene, and suddenly it's far too real." I waved off annoyed, pleased to note that no one else looked like they'd wake up in the next minute or two while we were almost at the door.

"That was magic!" she accused me, eyes wide. She looked about and realized most of the people were in a state of dead faint.

I nodded, "A few minor illusions, combined with trace amounts of an aura based fear effect." I explained, "Nothing harmful."

"Everyone's asleep." She observed.

Glancing at where Tabitha sat reading; I gave a partial agreement, "Well most people."

Her eyes widened as she stopped cold, "I'm going to be in so much trouble!"

"Nonsense! It was their own fault for butting into things not their own business! And Tabitha over there can explain what happened if anyone asks." I smirked slightly at that, lightly tugging on her sleeve to get her to move again.

"Tabitha?" she asked, still a bit in a daze, as she began following once more.

I was leading her around a lot recently, I noted… "Yes we had a bit of a chat after everyone decided to take their nap. She was reading at the time and as such didn't catch any of it I image." A scenario that actually had some possibility to it… hum, why didn't I think of that the first time around?

Louise looked at me oddly at that, "So she didn't pass out?" she asked, looking back at the door.

I nodded, "In fact you were the first to awaken! I have to admit I'm actually rather impressed with that…"

"Impressed?" she asked turning her attention back to me, with that.

I nodded, "Your strength of will is considerable… well for one your age and experience. I suppose I should have factored that in with the play…" I mused, "So used to dealing with hardened adventurers… Anyway, I believe you're ready to begin your lessons tonight."

"Lessons!" Surprise shot over her features as realization sank in.

Her reactions to rapid fire statements and observations really was adorable, "Yes Master… It's time for me to start teaching you some magic..."

Chapter III Part XXVIII

We journeyed back to her room while I began explaining the bread and butter basics, a basic review of methods of magic drawing, spell casting methods; namely the regulation, shaping, and use of one's own inner well of mana.

I motioned to her bed, and almost immediately she was sitting on it… truly the sudden bursts of speed my master was capable of were certainly impressive.

Taking my default location in front of her, I began my lecture. "The most important thing to recall with my school of magic is that a spell is not what you are trying to manifest upon the world."

That brought a blink of confusion on her face, "It's not?"

I nodded, "No, it isn't. No matter if a spell is meant to mend injury, produce images, or conjure up a wall of flame, it is always just that, a spell To do something. It is a tool, a device, which produces a result, not the result in and of itself. A spell is a crafting of magic, a construction of your power designed to impose your will upon the world. It is these constructs themselves, which produce the effects. This is how counter-spelling works; by disrupting a rival's spell before it has time to act."

She blinked. "Counter-spelling?" she asked confused.

I raised an eyebrow, "Disrupting a person's spell with your own spell?" I proposed.

She shook her head slowly, "I've never heard of something like that."

I grinned, "Interesting…" that could prove quite useful information in the future… "Well you might just end up becoming a pioneer in the art of it then. Counter-spelling is a simple enough trick… in theory anyway. In practice there's a good bit more to it. You take a chunk of your power, proportional to your opponents, and basically throw your proto spell into their own, disrupting the casting. Naturally this requires you to properly judge what you are attempting to disrupt, how much power is needed to disrupt it, alongside the skill to aim your counter, all in the time before you enemy has a chance to cast."

She raised both eyebrows at the list of exactly what was needed to pull off such a feat. "Sounds difficult," she frowned at that, weighing the practicality of such a trick.

"No more than casting any other spell, less so in truth, where I come from counterspells are the main reason spellcasters are brought to the field in the first place. One has to make sure your spell slingers can make sure the other guy doesn't have his magic users call up a horde of demonic monsters, or have the sky rain fire down upon your troops." I smirked slightly at that, "I always found it somewhat ironic that the fear of magic led to its propagation so heavily in civilizations."

She blinked, "Fear of magic?"

"Ignorance as always breeds fear;" I explained, "Those born into magic are a great deal rarer back home… closer to one in a thousand then one in ten. Though we've developed a great number of ways to compensate."

"Continuing on with my lesson;" I started back up before she could continue questioning, "While counter-spelling is an art I'll help you in time master, we should get to actual spell work before we go into possible ways to disrupt it no?"

Slowly she nodded, though she shot me a warning look. I could already sense her inevitable interrogation coming.

"Right, well a spell itself is formed internally, at least in this method, wizards spend a great deal of time every morning preparing each spell, saving only the minute details of preparation unto the actual casting. Being an innate user of magic you hold the advantage and inbuilt function to form magic on the fly." I informed.

"Of course, you can't just use any spell you see on the fly; even the most skilled of magi could only dream of such an ability; like all skills, it takes practice, effort, and understanding," I continued. Such was the basics of sorcery, and something I hoped she wouldn't limit herself entirely to.

She nodded, eating up my words, eyes burning with a steely resolve. "Alright! So how do I do that?"

I grinned, "Ah, I was hoping you'd ask that. See this is where things become interesting. I could show you a number of basic tricks that would get results swiftly, but I personally now use a different system; a mixture of conventional sorcery, and wizardry. Through understanding the nature of magic, how different parts of a spell interact with each other on fundamental levels, I've greatly augmented my ability to manipulate, and learn magic. I don't just have to rely on what things I can put together instinctively, because I know what my instincts are doing, and how to best direct them."

Pausing, I made my offer "I could teach you… but such a path is daunting, and it's taken me decades to get to where I am, though I'm personally very pleased with the results." Though my personal hope was that she'd go with my next suggestion.

Louise was indecisive, she seemed torn between options at the moment, and unless I missed my guess, elated just to have such things to be torn over.

I shrugged suddenly, "Or we could simply start with the basics, and then work in the more advanced theory as we go. I personally was a conventional sorcerer for the beginning of my career. Having a solid practical grounding may even help discern the more conceptual aspects of the theoretical," I advised, as if the thought had just come to me.

She pounced, and I fought the urge to beam. "That!" she stated at once, "Let's try that… I mean it's not like it'd slow me down at all right? And I'd be able to use magic right away?" she asked.

I nodded, rubbing my chin as I did in thought, again lamenting this elven body's inability to produce suitable facial hair. "Well, not right away, but I wager I could have you using a few cantrips by week's end. As I said, it could likely even aid you, provided you are a more practically inclined learner… if you work better off theory, well I will be there explaining everything as you go, so I suppose we'll figure out which your more suited to easily enough."

She rose from her bed at once, "Alright then! Can we start now?" I noted with some glee that as she asked she did so with deference to my expertise…

No! Bad darkside! No abusing my cute little pupil's trust in me… well not any more than I needed to.

I shook my head slowly. "That would not be wise. While this is secure enough, I doubt you'd be happy if some spell went awry and ended up demolishing something valued." I minded, "Experimental spell work's a dangerous game… even with a mentor. I can't tell you the number of attempts that have blown up in my face." I shook my head.

Louise actually blushed at that. Cute.

"Ideally I'd throw together a lab of some kind, a solid stone structure, isolated from the main body of the school, though close enough to be able to gain aid fast if something should go wrong… perhaps I can talk with the headmaster on commissioning one later… for now I suppose the open ground near the lake will do. I could even head down to the kitchens and prepare us a bit of a picnic!"

She mulled it over, blush slowly fading, though she did seem to have suffered a slight blow to the ego going by her expression. "Well… I would like to start right now… but if it could really be that dangerous." She eyed her desk, and the large mirror on it, then the large set of drawers that contained the bulk of her clothing.

I nodded, "Not that I expect anything to go too wrong, but a little precaution never hurts."

She nodded, seeming well… not really soothed at all, but pulling herself together amicably. "So when do we go?" she asked, a ting of that eagerness creeping back into her voice.

That bought up my own musings… it'd be six soon, Siesta's scheduled lesson… I could work with this.

"Around Eight thirty to nine… enough time for the sun to have set. It should help ward off eavesdroppers this time around," I put on an amused smirk at that.

That brought out a giggle in her.

Ah… good, well it was good to know at least one person was growing comfortable in my presence.

Chapter II Part XXIX

I left the room with only a few words of passing, making my way swiftly to the kitchen, sticking largely to the shadows to mask my passing.

Really that last bit was more a habit than anything, it's not like I needed shadows to be invisible anymore, and hiding in and of itself was largely unnecessary at this juncture…

Unless someone freaked at the sight of me because of the whole illusion thing, anyway.

Well, maybe some paranoia was justified this close to the event in question…

Sliding into the kitchen with all the stealth of a cookie seeking eight year old, I scanned over the residents until I spotted my target.

Siesta seemed lost in thought; at the very least she wasn't paying much if any attention to her surroundings, simply washing a dish over and over that had been long since cleaned.

Hum… it seemed time to investigate then.

Stepping out of the shallow shadow cast by a cupboard I eyed the dish pointedly. "I don't mean to pry, but I do think that one's done."

She almost jumped at my voice. "Mr. Moxt!" she started, then turned on me, eyes lighting up, before something crossed them and she put on her best 'you're in for it now' face.

Head Chef glanced over at the sound, and seeing me standing beside Siesta, sent a sympathetic look.

I didn't have time to contemplate that before my mouth moved on autopilot, "What?"

"Humph!" set down the dish to dry and crossed her arms, "Don't what me! I have every right to be upset with you."

I raised an eyebrow, "Is this about that little play of mine?" I questioned carefully, knowing on some instinctive level I was already treading on thin ice.

Really, what was the big deal with scaring a group of apprentice magi silly? Such things happened three times a day at some of the more 'practical' academies; I'd visited.

"You left me out in a field of collapsed nobles!" she accused.

Ah… that.

I winced. Tricky… how to come at this?

I led off with basic logic: "If I had taken you with me, it would have drawn more attention to you than if I'd left you there."

Siesta, The normally kind and reserved maid, was not amused in the slightest. "Not. The. Point!" she poked me in the chest with each word, "You still scared me half to death! First that terrifying… 'play', and then when I wake up, you're gone with that horrid master of yours!"

Her accusations did not help my conscience at all.

Namely as they were accurate…

Still what could I have done? Leave a note? Putting aside from the fact anyone who woke up could have read it before she came to, I didn't speak a lick of the local language. It was only Translation magic that let me speak easily to begin with!

"Well… you look to still be among the living… and I thought you were getting along with Louise!" I once more defended, though this time taking refuge in humor and diversion over logic… something told me this was going to be a losing battle.

Very bad humor; really, I should have just stuck with logic while I was ahead.

She frowned at me, and gave me a look of anger, hurt, and betrayal.

I sighed, "All right… I'll admit that wasn't one of my better moves… can you forgive me?" I put together the best 'I know I made a mistake but I'm really, really, sorry' look.

She eyed me for a moment, tapping her foot, and weighing the issue, before sighing as she rolled her eyes. "I suppose so…"

I beamed at her, "Great! Then I can give you your gift now." It was a little early, but I had left her out in the sun.

That made her blink. "Gift?" she asked.

I nodded, and reached into my book bag, fortunately the thing had survived the disjunction effect, or it'd have certainly burst!

My eye caught my stolen prize, and reminded me I had yet to plunder its secrets…

Another time.

Finding the tome I had intended, I pulled out the book. It was rather small, and only mildly in enspelled, but still one of the most valuable items I carried.

Well not strictly so monetarily, but at least in sentiment.

I took in its appearance; it was leather-bound and simple, with a small chemical burn off to the bottom left corner where I'd spilt one of my first attempts at proper alchemy. There was a cat-tattered tassel of a bookmark still wedged in it. It had weathered its age and travel well considering the shear time and distance it had traveled with me… a bit over half a century's worth of adventures now. "This was one of my note books when I first attended an Academy not unlike this one. It doesn't have that many actual spells in it, but it does contain a lot of the intricacies of the mechanics to how you gather magic, refine it into a useful form, storing it, and of course, casting it as a useful spell. Now it obviously can't teach everything you'd find at a proper school but…"

Pragmatically the book wasn't very useful, I knew every detail in it by heart, and I could even write a more efficient and comprehensive guide with half the pages…

"...Well, It's rather valuable to me. More importantly, it's got a translation effect on it," I reminded myself, "As I don't actually speak the local language at the moment. It's all I can offer as a guide in the hours I'm unavailable."

"A magic book?" Siesta asked, surprised, as I placed the book in her hands.

"A Grimoire," I corrected. "A book of shadows, of histories, mysteries, and mechanics in magic. A Wizard's Grimoire is their life, their power. Without it they are little more than a normal mortal. It takes years of blood, sweat, and tears to complete one. Do not take such things lightly."

She blinked, again, and looked down from the battered old book to me, "and you're giving it… to me?"

"I'm entrusting it to you," I stated firmly, then softened my features "That book is a key to power… with it, even if I should disappear, you will be able to find your dream," and with that I let its weight rest fully in her hands, withdrawing my own.

Putting my normal careless grin, I motioned her to open it. "Come on now! I only have the next couple hours free! We'd best make the most of them."

Chapter III Part XXX

I took the time largely to go over notes, making good use of a few choice cantrips to prepare a meal as I did.

Siesta it seemed, was a natural. A bit scatterbrained, but once she got focused on something she stuck to it with the determination of a bloodhound. I had to forcibly curb her more than once from taking a step too far, but caution would come with time, experience, and more than a little pavlovian therapy.

We toiled away, the simple pleasures of practical teaching shining through to me for the first time in far too long.

To be honest I got lost in her enthusiasm, if I didn't notice my second use of 'prestidigitation' run dry I'd have likely gone far over clock.

Always impressed me just how many uses that little trick had.

Bidding farewell I rushed though the last of my preparations and made back for my master's room, noting someone had lit the torches by this point. I was slightly curious as to if their nature was magical or mundane, they certainly didn't smell quite like any torch I had ever encountered before.

Maybe I could 'borrow' one for study later, my alchemy was getting a tad rusty, and even if it was 'simple' spellwork you could never have quite to many ever burning torches.

Reaching Louise's door, I debated the merits of knocking over simply stepping in.

I'd already set a bit of a trend of coming and going as I pleased, at the same time, it never hurt to be polite.

Reasoning that this was not quite my typical entrance I struck the hardwood door trice.

The sound of scuffling wood and movement drew my attention, as I waited patiently.

Really should have just walked in, I'd done so in the past, and it helped build a sort of casual air to my comings and goings. After all I was Louise's familiar, regardless of other titles, I literally had as much right to come and go as she did.

Did the runes on my hand just itch?

Glancing down at the runes that I believed had just sent a pulse of something into me. My earlier thoughts on the arcane writings came back to mind.

I debated wasting a little power to Identify the thing when the door finally opened.

Louise looked up surprised, "You're early!"

I gave a slight smile, "Just a little. Food's good to go, you ready?" I asked.

Her eyes widened for a moment, a flash of emotions crossed her face; shock, embarrassment, excitement, nervousness. She barely got out a "Just a minute!" before promptly shutting the door in my face.

I blinked at that. Well that was… not entirely expected.

The sounds of more scuffling, now accompanied by the hurried ruffling of cloth, opening and shutting of drawers and lighter cabinet doors, the fluttering of paper, and of course small noises and curses of annoyance.

Really what was she doing in there?

I could make out a bit of what was occurring, a mixture of deductive reasoning, and what hearing I could manage out of my sharp, but still rather reduced hearing range.

Really becoming an aerial predator kinda spoils you when it comes to senses, 'superhuman' really is a far broader term then most suspect with such things.

It actually brought to mind the idea of just being frank about my nature to my master. She was my master after all, and I was limiting myself rather heavily remaining in elf form all the time. The power requirements for maintaining the shift through my sleep alone…

The door opened, and Louise stood at the ready, she was in some sort of elaborate summer dress, rather elaborate in its embroidering, but it looked to offer a considerable amount of maneuverability…

"Well what do you think?" she asked, nervously, looking decidedly Not at me as she asked.

Was a bit leery on the neckline, though, I'd admittedly seen far, far more daring. Still, the idea of Louise wearing anything at all that drew attention her bust just didn't quite sit right with me…

Gods above, I really was starting to go paternal on her… I swore one day I'd end up making some lucky psychologist a small fortune.

Or end up driving the poor bastard insane.

Externally I raised an eyebrow, "It's rather late for a dress like that… won't you get cold?"

She froze in place, and then began twitching.

The urge to flee started building within me, though for the life of me I didn't know why at the time.

I would soon learn.

"You, you!" she twitched, reaching for her wand, "Who cares what you think!"

A half formed explosive spell, that admittedly held little actual damaging force, sputtered explanation/apology, followed by another more painful apology, and the acquisition of some sort of traveler's overcoat later, we were out by the lake.

I started her off with something basic; Mage Hand was an easy enough cantrip, simple in function, and design, while not taking much power at all to use. A good starter into learning the arcane arts.

Sitting back and watching her get to work moving a bit of water about, using basic channeling methods I'd demonstrated, I kept silent watch on her progress.

I had been forced to confiscate her wand before she lapsed into old habits. It had provoked a bit of an argument between us, but in the end she had seen reason. This was a different style of magic, it used different methods and different tools.

Eyeing the foci, I debated its function, was it some sort of generalized spell catalyst? A purely focusing device, or some sort of short cut through most of the else wise complex somatic components to spellcraft?

Louise hadn't really spoken a word when she hit me with that little spell of hers, then again it had been more a spontaneous burst of mana, no real force behind it… though it had held some sort of odd anti magic function to it. If I hadn't shored up my polymorph right then and there, it'd had likely stripped my disguise right off me…

Really I should have been more upset with her then I was, even if it was little more then the mystical equivalent of a slap to the face…

Again I could all but feel the itch from the mark on my hand, perhaps something had gotten knocked loose with that spell?

I caught the urge to just move on before it took hold this time, my own experience with mind magics helping recognize the compulsion.

No. No more of this. I was finding out what this thing was now.

"Identify" I intoned tweaking the spell even as I cast it, on the runes branded on my hand.

Louise glanced up at me, dropping her attempts at the basic cantrip as she did.

The runic array seemed to begin unwinding before me, a simple enchantment effect designed to alter my disposition in favor to Louise… Understandable enough considering the runes were originally meant for use on sub sapient animals. The effect was mild, more a subtle prodding, nothing that would overtly effect my will, certainly nothing able to turn my mind aside.

"What are you doing?" Louise asked, head tilted as she tried to get a better look at the runes I was examining.

"Studying this mark of yours… I have a basic catch all spell to identify basic traits of magic items and artifacts." I explained, casually, watching her reaction, "Perhaps you could answer some questions I have about it?"

She flushed slightly and looked down, apparently still embarrassed over her earlier overreaction. "Maybe? What do you want to know?" she asked.

I raised both eyebrows at that, not a reaction I was expecting of her… "Well mostly I've been acting rather out of character as of late… I think it's playing with my mind a bit."

Her eyes shot wide at that, and she looked at me, "With your mind!" she went white in a flash, blood draining out of her face like I'd held a sword to her throat, "What! But I didn't! I wouldn't!" she was panicking.

I could actually feel that now, having become more aware of the link I could now sort my feelings from her own. Well at least now I knew if I found anything suspicious that it was not placed with forethought or malice.

"Relax," I assured, "This thing was meant to bind an animal to you loyally, I expected a few minor enchantments." Admittedly, ones I expected to be able to throw off like rain on a stone, "So far all I've found is the typical empathic link, and a minor emotional suggestion, not even anything powerful enough to simulate the basics of a bond of friendship or family, which was much closer to my original assumption." I explained, leaving out my suspicions as of now. "I'm going to try casting it a few more times though, see if I can dig up any more… and you should be practicing." I added pointedly.

She took a few breaths, "So… you don't mind?" the concept seemed alien to her.

I paused on it, "Well to be honest, I think at least some aspect of its blunting my potential outrage."

She went back to pale so fast it couldn't be healthy, letting out an "Eep!"

"Still, I don't think you did anything harmful intentionally… though I will be altering or destroying this mark if I find anything to distasteful." I warned.

"Destroy it!" she started.

I nodded, "Don't worry too much on that. Regardless of the rune itself I intend to retain my role. We did agree on a verbal contract before any mystical one was put in place you might recall."

That eased her a little, but she still seemed rather distressed, "Alright… so but you're only going to break it if it's doing something you really don't like?"

I nodded, "It's a proof of contract after all. Even if I do encounter something I consider harmful I'll try to edit it out if I can."

She nodded, slowly, "Can… I stay?" she asked, "I mean if this is messing with your mind…"

That brought a small smile to my face, though a genuine one. "Your concern is touching, but this is not the first time someone's messed with my head. It's not even the first time someone's done so unintentionally…" A thought crossed my mind, "Still this might make a decent lesson… Alright watch closely."

"Identify!" I went over the motions slowly, drawing out power shaping and releasing it in a staggered function. Teaching Sorceresses really was a lot easier then Wizards… at least at the beginning. It really was much more simple practice, and gentle guidance then outright instruction. I'd pay for it in the late game when she started building up all the theory to go with her power, but for now at least, it was a nice respite from other tasks…

Like peeling apart this binding… Let's see there was that empathic link, hum interesting, it extended to share senses it seems. I wondered if that would translate to allowing her access to my decidedly sharper set… Again harmless, if anything an improvement on the normal function.

"Identify." Some sort of power shunt… from her to me, interesting, to advanced for such a simple spell to discern, but definitely something to look into.

Calling up more power I cast again, "Identify!" I tried to get a closer look at the power shunt function, only for something else to grab my attention… another mental effect.

Huh, apparently part of this rune set, a basic part of it… was devoting to suppressing part of my mind.

Now that… was not so harmless.

Chapter III End.