"I still don't understand why Professor Gammel trusts him so much. I mean, he's a devil, and he has to be a pretty powerful one, too, judging by the things he does in class," Margarita Surprise said.
"If he is, he's using a false name," replied Bartido Ballentyne. Margarita's fellow student at the Silver Star Tower was a handsome, dark-haired young man. He was a little too sure of himself sometimes, but the easy confidence also made him attractive.
"Oh? How do you know that?"
"I got curious, so I tried looking him up in the library. They've got most of the standard references, magical and religious both, on demons and devils. None of them mentions a devil named Advocat."
"He's quite right. I tried the same thing and I was unable to find the name."
The third student's name was Hiram Menthe. Pale-haired and wearing spectacles like Margarita did (though hers were pince-nez), Hiram dressed like a respectable gentleman and was generally the kind of calm, sober person that suited his appearance. He lacked Bartido's arrogance, but also the other boy's humor.
"So he's not really 'Advocat.' Why would he do that?" Margarita asked.
"Knowledge confers power," Hiram pointed out. "If we knew who he was, we'd know the kind of tricks and traps he likes to play and be on our guard."
"I wonder if the other professors know."
"Maybe. Professor Gammel would have to, to have bound him here as a teacher," Bartido said. "You should ask Ms. Opalneria, Hiram. She's always poking around in Dr. Chartreuse's business, so maybe she does the same for Advocat's?" This last was obviously a barb directed at Hiram, and sure enough he rose to the bait.
"Don't talk about Ms. Opalneria that way! Her intentions towards Dr. Chartreuse are sincere. How can you suggest that she would consort with that devil?"
"Whoa!" Bartido said, holding up his hands. "I didn't say anything about her having anything to do with him that way. I was just talking about how she keeps turning up while we're trying to do stuff, not why she's doing it. Advocat...that would just be creepy."
"That's barely an improvement, calling her a busybody," Hiram shot back at him. Margarita burst out giggling. The boys were friends, but due to their virtually opposite personalities were the kind that squabbled a lot, either because Bartido was teasing Hiram, or Bartido got up to some antic that made Hiram have to rein him in before things got too out of hand. The fact that Hiram had a serious crush on the necromancy professor, maybe even more than a crush, that he wouldn't admit to just played into Bartido's hands.
"You two ought to have a floor show," she said, and they both looked a little sheepish at that.
"Nah, there's nobody to perform for since the last batch of practical students graduated three months ago," Bartido said. "If I'm going to perform for an audience, it needs to be big enough to make me a star!"
"Though you don't need any help to make yourself a ham."
"Not bad, Hiram. That was almost funny. Keep working on it and we might get you to crack a smile by Christmas."
"There's a difference between smiling and being a clown, Bartido."
"Enough!" Margarita cried, caught between exasperation and laughter. "Could you ask Ms. Opalneria, Hiram? It could be important, somehow, and...well, I just don't feel safe with that devil around. Every time I have a sorcery lecture, I feel like he's...I don't know, looking into my heart or something like that, like he can see every bad thing I've ever done."
"Hey, that's all right," Bartido said, resting his hand lightly on her shoulder. "Mr. Advocat creeps us out, too, and neither one of us came from a village full of Dissenters claiming that there were devils under every bed and that any kind of magic was a mortal sin." His voice was soft, gentle even.
"I wish I could just quit his lectures."
"Why don't you?" Hiram suggested. "I'm sure that Ms. Opalneria would be glad to have an extra student, and necromancy is the most useful magic to protect you against devils, too."
"I'd like that, but Professor Gammel thinks that I should learn the basics of sorcery, because of my background. He thinks it would be useful in showing me the truth about devils in magic, so I'd know what was real and what wasn't."
The two boys glanced at each other.
"Maybe..." Bartido murmured.
"If Professor Gammel thinks so..." Hiram echoed.
"Still, it's too bad there's not an easier way than learning from Mr. Advocat."
"But remember, if you ever need our help, just ask. Right, Bartido?"
"Of course." He flashed her an insouciant grin. "A man has to step up when a lady is in trouble."
She grinned at him. He could be silly like that, but she could tell that they both meant their offers sincerely.
"Thank you, both of you."
"We'll see you at dinner, then," Hiram said.
He waved, and the two of them turned up the corridor that led to Dr. Chartreuse's lab.
It's too bad that I have to deceive them like this.
Only after their footsteps had receded beyond earshot did the frog sitting atop Margarita's head, perched on her lace cap, speak up.
"That was well-done of you. Playing on their existing fears will make it all the easier for them to believe you." His voice was deep and rumbling, incongruous for the creature's small size.
"I wasn't lying, Surely; I don't like Mr. Advocat, either. I don't trust him at all."
"He is a powerful devil. By his very nature, he is untrustworthy except as he might be bound by a contract. Perhaps those apprentices can help you discover his secrets. As an ally of Gammel Dore, he could be a powerful enemy when the time comes. If he can be neutralized, it will win us great favor."
"Mr. Advocat is dangerous, though. I don't want Hiram and Bartido to get hurt."
"They are enemies of our Archmage, the apprentices of the magicians who opposed him," Surely said offhandedly. "You should not waste your time worrying about them."
"I...I guess you're right."
The truth was that Margarita had come to the Silver Star Tower under false pretenses. She was working with the remnants of Archmage Calvaros's followers, who had scattered and gone into hiding when Professor Gammel defeated the Archmage. They had arranged for her to be caught practicing magic by the authorities of her sharply conservative home village, then made sure Gammel learned of it. When he rescued her from being burnt at the stake for witchcraft, he had invited her to come to the Magic Academy as a student...exactly as they'd planned.
Margarita's job was simple. The Archmage had been defeated by Gammel, but he had not died easily. The necromancer Lujei Piche had trapped his soul as a ghost, preventing him from moving on to the next world, so that he could be interrogated about the location of the Philosopher's Stone, the ultimate talisman of magical power. Because of this, though, if Calvaros's followers could free his soul, the Archmage could be restored.
Advocat didn't scare Margarita because he was a devil. Or rather, he did, but that was not the true reason she wanted to avoid him. He was teaching her sorcery—but Margarita already knew sorcery; she was actually better-trained with it than the glamour that was ostensibly her specialty. Her master among the Archmage's remnants had taught her, since sorcery was the most powerful art for straightforward violence and as such a key weapon of the group. The problem was that she shouldn't know of such things, and having to feign ignorance for Advocat wasn't easy. She was always afraid she'd slip up and reveal that she knew more than she should and that the devil teacher would notice. He would notice, she was sure, and then what?
"If we knew what Mr. Advocat was up to," she said, not for the first time, "then we might be able to make a deal with him, or be able to stay out of each other's way, at least."
"Sorcery is the natural enemy of necromancy," Surely contributed. "You have seen how the boy Hiram reacts to the devil, taking his cue from his mistress."
"If we can get the soul container, he's an obvious suspect with whom to distract the other teachers so we can get away safely." She'd actually found out where the Archmage's spirit was trapped; Ms. Opalneria kept it hedged round with necromantic warding Runes.
Getting to the soul container was another matter entirely. Ms. Opalneria was an excellent choice to guard it, because her necromancy was the strongest weapon against the devils and sorcery that the Archmage's minions most often used. The obvious solution was glamour, to use the magic of life and nature against the powers of the dead, but it would take more powerful Runes than Margarita knew.
"Escape is pointless if we have not accomplished our mission. You should concern yourself more with finding a way to get the soul container."
"I'm looking, aren't I? Every night I sneak out to see what I can learn. That witch's ghost nearly caught me last night!" She shuddered. Margarita wasn't sure if being caught by Advocat might not be the gentler fate, compared to being caught by Lujei Piche! The ghost witch was certainly as terrifying as any devil.
But then, that was the problem, wasn't it? The fear. It had started back when she was twelve and she'd awakened to her magical powers. That was when she'd been introduced to the danger of having those abilities in a village that hated them. That had been scary, but it had also been exciting, to have a dangerous secret that made her someone special.
She didn't feel excited any more.
Being arrested for witchcraft, tried, and sentenced to be burned, the experience had been horrifying. And now the fear of being found out by Advocat or Professor Gammel, and what would happen if she was revealed to be the Archmage's witch...
She'd accepted this work because she'd believed in the Archmage's cause, in building a world where magic didn't have to slink in the shadows, afraid of a pack of fanatical bigots. But the longer she spent at the Tower, the more she realized that Gammel was seeking that goal as well, just by slower methods.
Margarita didn't want to be afraid of Professor Gammel. It might have been due to a trick, but he'd rescued her in good faith, because he was the kind of man who did such things. She'd thought of him as good but shortsighted.
Now she wasn't so sure about the latter part.
"What...what if we're wrong, Surely?" she asked. It came out plaintively, almost a whine. "What if Professor Gammel is doing the right thing?"
"What are you saying, Margarita?" The frog sounded genuinely shocked, as well he might be.
"At home," she said, "all I saw was the bad side of things. I saw people who were scared of magic, scared of its power, scared that it meant trafficking with the Devil." She wished that Mr. Lemon was there, her master in both the study of magic and the Archmage's resistance. It seemed so clear, so obvious then, that the only way to free the kingdom from such bigotry—to free herself from lurking in the shadows—was through violence. The Archmage had not been a man of peace. He had led a violent rebellion, attempting to carve out his own domain by force. But that had been necessary, hadn't it? She'd believed it had been, then. She didn't want to cower in hiding forever. "But here, I've had the chance to talk to people like Hiram and Bartido, people from other parts of the country, and hear what their lives were like. It wasn't the same for them. The longer I'm here, the more it seems like Caithwood is just a...a backwater that hasn't caught up to the rest of the kingdom. It's not solved, but...Professor Gammel's plan is working, to make things better for magicians."
"What are you saying?" the frog asked, a warning note entering his voice.
"I'm just...well, is this something we even need to do? Archmage Calvaros...the stories they tell about him here, he was a tyrant. And now he's a ghost!" Margarita shuddered.
"Stupid girl! Are you going to betray us? The people who saved your life?"
"I know! I know what Mr. Lemon and Mrs. Mint did for me, but..."
"We've all put our trust in you."
"I know that, Surely, I know, but—"
"And if you betray us, you will be burned at the stake."
"Isn't that the truth?"
"You were convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to burn. You were saved by Gammel Dore, but you are a fugitive from justice. If you are caught, you will be returned to your village for your sentence to be carried out. That is the law you have suddenly developed a love for. Do you think that the witch-hunters of your home have not circulated your description? Or do you intend to hide in this tower forever?"
Margarita blanched. She hadn't thought of that. But then again, she hadn't really thought of anything. She'd just been afraid—of being found out as a spy, of having to fight Opalneria's Runes, of the stories of the Archmage. She'd hoped, she supposed, that she could hide from it all behind the Grand Magician's robes like a child might cling to her mother's skirts.
But now she had a new fear.
A reminder of the commitment she had made to the cause.
And how, she thought, that cause would be happy to tell the authorities where to find me. To betray her to the witch-hunters. She could see it, if she abandoned the mission, for them to abandon her.
Maybe this was a road that she could not turn back from. She'd chosen to travel it, and whether her reasons for doing so were good or not...she would have to follow it to the end.
~X X X~
A/N: This story is more-or-less a direct sequel to "The Prices One Pays." When writing that story, I got to explore Margarita's motivations and those of the Archmage's remnants vis-a-vis the witch-hunting conservatives of her home village...except that in the game, Margarita doesn't seem driven by those sentiments. Instead, she's largely driven by fear. Indeed, Surely specifically threatens that if she doesn't help, she'll be burned at the stake (which threat I've included here and tried to explain). So I knew I'd have to write another story—this one—to complete the transition and show how she moved from "misguided idealist" to "minion controlled by fear."
I've used the term "Dissenters" as a pejorative for the Puritanesque religious culture of Margarita's home village in reference to Anglican history (readers of my previous stories will have noted that I also use the terms "High Church" and "Low Church" in reference to a similar split). Obviously, since they are applied to a fantasy culture (albeit one that is strongly tied to real history), these terms do not exactly match up with real life usage. For example, IRL the "Dissenters" included a wide variety of religious movements and Protestant denominations in the 16th-18th centuries, as opposed to a single movement; similarly, in the stories, the difference between High and Low Church movements is largely liturgical, while IRL it extended into more substantive areas of belief—and also changed meanings over time.