“It is time.”
“Yes, thank you, Tari.” The older, yet shorter, man closes the book in front of him. He exhales, then stands. “Are all ready?”
“Yes, Archmage Menethi.” Tari nods. She tucks her hands into the light green sleeves of her robe. “The other Archmagi wait for you in the outer chamber.”
“I am late, is what you are saying.” He chuckles softly at the rush of color to her face. “I merely jest with you, Tari. You should not let Xylar work you so hard as you lose your sense of humor.” He tucks the book into the bag on the table, then shoulders the bag.
“What? No. Archmage Xylar would never…” She stops, frowning. “You are jesting with me again.”
“I am.” He smiles at her. “You will make a fine mage, Tari. Do not lose your humanity in the process.”
“I’m not.” She draws back, inhaling sharply.
“Good. A sense of humor is necessary.” He picks up a rune-inscribed staff, taller than he is. Made of a mahogany wood, the runes gleam faintly blue as he grips it.
“This is a serious matter, Archmage.”
“Even more of a reason to find what joy we can.” He steps forward, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Go. Join the others. Make certain the knowledge will not be lost.”
“You will return.” Her voice is fierce, though quiet.
“Camarin willing, yes. Preparations must be made, however, should that not happen.”
“You have spent so long working on the solution!” She throws her hands outward, small sparks fluttering from her fingertips.
“Yes, Tari. We have. And you and your fellow apprentices have helped us in that. However, just as one must always find the humor and joy in life, so must one accept that he is not omniscient nor omnipotent.” He squeezes her shoulder, then releases her. “Go, now. Find the other apprentices. They will need you to complete the task at hand.”
“Yes, Archmage.” She shoves her hands back into the sleeves of her robe. She inhales deeply, staring at him.
“Is there something else?” He tips his head to the side.
“No.” She turns on her heel and darts out of the room, her voice breaking on that single word. Menethi hears her footfalls hammering on the stone floor as she flees deeper into the tower.
“Ah, Tari. I hope you find a balance.” He exhales. Exiting the room, he draws the door closed behind him. He walks swiftly through the hallways, his mind not on his path, but on the task before him. Broxim has the crystal. Ixor carries the ritual they’d written as a group. Azius and Silme were….
“Oh! Archmage, my apologies.” A young man, barely 18 winters, jumps back, flushing darkly. “I did not mean to…” He winces as the staff crashes to the ground. He crouches, picking it up. He hands it back to Menethi.
“Seorom.” Menethi smiles at the young man. “I was not paying attention to where I was going.” He takes the staff back from the young man.
“Still. I’m sorry. I just… the others wanted to know…”
“Yes. Tari told me.” He reaches out to rest a hand on the young man’s arm. “Are you prepared, young curator? To look after our apprentices and the tower itself?”
“Oh! Yes! Yes, sir!” He nearly salutes, but thinks better of it, shoving his hands into the sleeves of his deep blue robe. “I made several lists, just to help me keep track of all of the daily chores and checks.”
“You will keep an eye on the Lexicon?”
“I thought the apprentices would be in charge of that?” Seorom, frowns, his face contorting. He drags a small notebook from within his robe sleeve. He flips it open, looking through the pages.
“They will.” Menethi moves his hand to grasp the young man’s wrist. Seorom looks up, exhaling quickly. His shoulders relax. “If you could just help them by looking in every once and a while, I would appreciate it.”
“Of course, Archmage.” He makes a quick notation in his book, then returns it to his sleeve. “I shouldn’t keep you.”
“Take care of them, Seorom. We are counting on you.” Menethi releases him.
“Do they…. Not know?” Seorom tenses again.
“They know. However, they are in denial, believing, that against all our calculations, we shall return.”
“Oh. I would like for you to return, Archmage. All of you.” Seorom looks at the floor. “You will try?”
“Seorom, we discussed this at length, which is why you have so many lists.”
“I can still hope, Archmage.”
“Yes, Seorom. You most certainly can. Now, I suggest you join the apprentices. They are working with the Lexicon and the other books of power and knowledge. They will need you.”
“Of course, Archmage. Camarin watch over you.” He inhales a deep breath, looking at Menethi. He bounds forward, wrapping his arms around the older mage for a brief moment. He releases, then bounds down the hallway, leaving a blinking man in his wake.
“Just when I wasn’t sure we’d picked the right curator for our absence….” He shakes his head, continuing his journey out of the depths of the tower. He climbs the last staircase, pausing near the top. He reaches out with his staff and taps a quick tattoo on the ceiling. It opens, allowing him to finish his ascent. He steps into the outer chamber, looking at the group gathered before him.
Tall, lanky Broxim confers with the smaller, dark-haired Ixor over a book. He smiles faintly, noting they appear to be having an argument over semantics – again. He finds Azius stretched out on the floor, eyes closed, arms behind his head, seemingly calm as can be. Silme sits near to Azius, her eyes closed. Her dark hair falls around her face, a rare sight. Menethi hears Xylar, though does not see her. He tips his head to the side.
“Where are Hope and Araedni?”
“They are up here, with me,” Xylar answers. “We were discussing which provisions to take with us.”
“Mmmmm. You should not need much, I would think. The journey will not be long.”
“Says you. We have no way of knowing exactly where it is.”
“We know.” Azius responds, opening one blue eye. “It is advancing on the capital. If our calculations are correct, we can intercept it Bird’s Wood.”
“Always thinking with your stomach, eh, Xylar?” Azius chuckles faintly.
“Nothing wrong with liking to eat.” She sniffs.
“Gather what you feel you need and come join us down here. We should start the teleportation spell.”
“Mmmm. I’ve been thinking on that,” Silme says. She opens her eyes. “It should not take all eight of us, but for best effect, at least four of us should channel the spell.”
“You are the expert, Silme. You choose.” Menethi gestures widely.
“Mmmm.” She bounces to her feet, looking among her companions. “It would be best if Ixor, Broxim, and Hope helped me.”
“As you wish it. Hope, you will have to leave Araedni to finish the supply discussion with Xylar.”
“Coming, coming.” There is the light tread of feet moving quickly down the stairs. Araedni appears behind Menethi, tucking her arms into the dark green sleeves of her robe. Her deep blue hair spills freely around her elfin face.
“You have never explained how you get that hue, Araedni.” Silme waggles a finger at the other mage. She makes a frustrated face as she receives only a serene smile in return. “Maddening!” Silme throws her hands in the air, then laughs. “Come, let us do this outside.” She heads out of the main door, Araedni following her. Ixor and Broxim do not break off their conversation as they follow after the other two.
“I tell you, you will need to include the mention of the binding as we cast the spell, Broxim!”
“But why? The crystal itself is a binder, and is etched with binding runes. Why include the binding words in the spell as well?”
“I do hope they agree on something by the time we need to cast the spell,” Azius notes as the two vanish out the door.
“I would agree with you.” Menethi sits on the stairs leading up to the next floor. He carefully sets his staff against the wall.
“Why did you not leave that behind? For your apprentice?”
“We will have need of it.”
“Will we?” Azius’s eyebrows lift. “If you say so.” He shrugs, then settles back.
“We have finished,” Xylar declares as she comes down the stairs.
“She has decided against bringing everything on floor two,” Hope adds, following Xylar. Two bags follow them, floating through the air.
“Ah.” Menethi gets to his feet, moving away from the bottom of the stairs to allow them passage. After they, and the bags, pass him, he resumes his seat. “How much did she pack?”
“Enough for a week,” Xylar responds. “We will either be finished by then….”
“Or dead.” Azius comments.
“Most likely both,” Menethi murmurs. “Tari is not taking it well, Xylar.”
“I tried to explain it to her….” Xylar frowns. “I thought she understood.”
“There’s understanding… and there is accepting, Xylar. We have come to terms with the latter. Seorom has also done so. I am not so certain the apprentices have done so.”
“They will need to carry on for us after we have gone,” Hope says. “They will need to be ready.”
“They are as ready as we can make them. There is no time left,” Azius comments from his position on the floor.
“Azius, why is it you are always napping?” Hope exhales on a huff.
“Getting the last bit of rest in that I can before we go off to save to the world.” He smiles faintly. “There’s little else left, joy wise. Would you take this from me as well?”
“Hardly.” She moves to nudge his side with her booted foot. She chuckles as he squirms.
“Hey. I’m sleeping here.”
“Sleepers do not speak.”
“Some do,” Xylar interjects.
“You hardly count. I would swear you are awake when we have those conversations.” Hope snorts.
“Maybe I am.” She grins sweetly.
“Pfft. You are not. You never remember them. I could get you to promise me anything… but it wouldn’t count because you would not remember in the morning.” Hope crosses her arms over her chest. “It’s very frustrating, you know.”
“I wouldn’t, actually. I’m never awake.”
“Oh!” Hope stamps a foot. She looks down as Azius laughs out loud. She shoves him in the side again. “Hey! That’s not funny!”
“It is. Really. It is.” He opens his eyes to look up at her. “Especially since you don’t really need Xylar to promise you anything while asleep. I’m pretty sure she’s already given you everything she is.”
“Yes, well.” Hope straightens her robe, her cheeks coloring. “That’s… another matter.” She looks to the door as it opens.
“Archmagi, we are ready,” Silme says. She swings the door open wider. “If you would come outside, we will begin channeling the spell so that we might get started on this endeavor.”
“Of course.” Menethi gets to his feet. He retrieves his staff, as well as his bag. He watches as Hope crosses to Xylar, taking her hand. The two put their heads together, whispering to one another as they exit the outer chamber of the tower. The two bags of supplies follow them out. Azius grunts, then gets to his feet. He stretches his stout frame, then heads outside as well.
“Menethi?” Silme looks to the last mage.
“Of course, Silme. My apologies. Just…”
“A last look? I understand.” She smiles at him. “I did much the same this morning. Said good-bye to a large number of inanimate objects. Why, I’m still not sure.” She shrugs.
“Did it help?” He asks, shouldering his bag.
“Oddly enough, it did.” She nods. “But, we should go.”
“Aye, Silme. You are correct. After you. I will close the door behind myself.” She nods and turns back to the outside. Menethi pats the wall of the tower. “Take care of them. All of them. We’ve done all we can.” Menethi exhales, then follows Silme out the door, closing it softly behind him.