A couple days after The Boston Consortium
It was a brisk day at Safeholme. The sky had been overcast all morning and afternoon, and the overall feeling of the day could be summed up as damp. Most all of the students were studying indoors on this particular day; whether that be in the manor, at the dorms, or in a cozy cottage. Willow Fairburne was in the latter, studying basic magical theory. Or at least, that is what she was supposed to be doing. Instead she was idling in the upstairs study by messing around with some of her recently discovered abilities by sliding a quarter back and forth across the floor. Downstairs, Willow's mentor Ruarc Flynn had constructed a small fire to expel some of the damp feeling from within the cottage. He had spent the better part of the last week sedentary after a weekend mission had left him battered and fairly bruised.
"Hey hey," Willow said, her voice breaking the close silence that sets in on drizzly days. "Do you s'pose Mr. Flynn has any more of those snack cakes we could swipe?"
Drysi looked over her shoulder, a furrowed scowl poking out from beneath a hood of blonde curls, a fairly warm judgement considering the triclops was still studying.
"We've already burned through them," commented Drysi cooly, looking back at her notes with feigned disinterest, "Ms. Laoise hasn't been around, and it seems Mr. Flynn isn't making any either... Everyone seems like they're slacking off lately..."
"I know right? You'd think they'd have some other responsibilities to take care of, even when in recovery," the British lass said with a chuckle as she continued to mess around with the quarter. She seemed to be playing a game of how close can I get the quarter to the wall without it touching. The look of concentration on her face would be admirable, if it was aimed at studying for exams. "What do you s'pose happened to them? To beat Mr. Flynn up like that, and even Ms. Laoise seems... different."
A sigh rolled over the stack of notes. Drysi flattened her hands over them and gestured them into a neat pile with her paper-magic, an art she had become more comfortable using idly.
"If I tell you, will you get back to studying?"
Willow's eyes lit up in sudden curiosity, but in turn her attention drifted away from the coin. The small disk met the wall, flipped flat against the surface, and Willow was suddenly met with a force equivalent to her own body weight pushing against her. With a small yelp of surprise akin to leaning a chair back to far, Willow toppled backwards before quickly scrambling back up onto her knees with a slight blush on her cheeks. Drysi's head was turned the other way, as if she missed the whole incident. There was a calculated pause, before the triclops brought her eyes back around.
Clearing her throat to put a full stop on the matter, Willow brought back some of the curiosity to her face.
"Do you actually know what happened? Tell me!" her face was bright as she asked her colleague to share. What concern Drysi had immediately melted into her usual, cold countenance.
"It obviously has something to do with Mr. Flynn's brother," explained Drysi, resting one of her arms over the back of her chair. "He recently came to the school, and since all the injuries and weirdness no one has seen him. Probably some sort of big fight with big magic."
"Wow," Willow said, a sense of wonder and understanding dawning on her. Her imagination loved picturing what a big magic fight might look like, but mostly her mind drifted to picturing Mr. Flynn with a big beard squaring off against a fire demon. She gave a chuckle at how silly the thought was.
"Do you think we'll need to fight things someday?" Willow asked as she reached her hand out in front of her. The quarter against the wall zipped through the air and into her waiting palm. While she hadn't exactly agreed to Drysi's deal, fair was fair and she sat her notebook back in her lap.
"No," answered Drysi flatly, her sense of imagination locked away for very private moments. She already had her notes back out, before inching her chair closer to Willow. "Our parents sent us to a magic school to learn the art the proper way. There are six hundred wards on the campus alone, violent beasts in the forests, and golems spread through the property. If we're fighting something it's because someone wants us to."
The triclops eyed the spark in Willow's eyes, before sliding some relevant notes over to her, "At least I'm not fighting anyone, you can grow up and become an Inquisitor if you want."
"Oh c'mon! We could be a team! Dynamic duo! You the brains and me the brawn!" the now grinning Willow threw some fake punches at the air before taking Drysi's notes with a polite nod and a thank you. "Besides, I'm sure Harry, Ron, Hermione weren't expecting to fight anything at their magic school either, but it was practically a thrice yearly occurrence."
"Because Hogwarts was dangerous, and Harry had a bunch of enemies," corrected Drysi firmly, raising her Pottermore studying hand. "Mr. Flynn has gone to great lengths to ensure the campus is safe. The only trouble you could end up in is whatever you make yourself. And! You don't have any enemies. Everyone likes you. No weirdo is going to come across the world to settle some immature debt."
"It's amazing what a sparkling personality and a quaint British accent can get you in this world," agreed Willow as she decided to lay on the floor, Drysi's notes held above her. "So does Mr. Flynn have enemies? We don't hear all that much about what he does off school grounds, but word is that he has been in a few scrapes."
Drysi turned in her chair, looking as though she were about to admonish Willow for her constant misdirection. Instead, she stood up, and walked across the open area, before gently pushing open the door to Mr. Flynn's room. The triclops disappeared within for a moment, and returned as silently as she entered with a frame in her hands.
She plopped down next to Willow, showing her what was a portrait of five mages raising their staves and wands. There was a younger Mr. Flynn, a one-armed mage with a fierce look in his eyes, Ms. Jane with a pair of pistols, Ms. Alstad floating above them, and the witch that the world had come to know as the Ice Queen.
"I recognize most of them," whispered Drysi, before pointing at the witch in blue, "but that's Kagami Miyuki, and she's never seen anywhere that isn't anything less than a catastrophic threat."
A look of amazement was on Willow's face. In part because of the photo and what Drysi knew of it, but also in part because Drysi had just barged into the one part of the cottage they weren't supposed to go in. "Wait, wait. So, Mr. Flynn hangs out with powerful mages like that? That's really impressive!" Willow chimed, thinking that while she had heard a bit of her mentor being an impressive mage, she hadn't seen much in the way of his actual abilities.
"Do you s'pose..." Willow had started to ask, but from downstairs a knock sounded on the heavy oak door of the cottage. Her attention diverted momentarily, she was curious who was out in the weather. Mr. Flynn could be heard grumbling, scooting his chair away from the table, and opening the door. There was a pause.
"G'day Mealla, and g'day... uh, Sir?!" their mentor said to the persons at the door.
"Drysi? You ever hear Mr. Flynn call somebody Sir before?" the Brit changed her question. The triclops wasn't there to answer the question, when Willow looked back, she was coming back out of the bedroom. With a careful concentration, she closed the door quietly.
At that she got very low to the floor, coming up to the edge of the stairs, the look on her face indicated that she did not know anyone Ruarc called sir.
Drysi beckoned Willow over, putting a finger to her lips.
Willow eased her way to the stairs as well. From downstairs it sounded as though Mr. Flynn was caught off guard as he was hurrying around straightening things in the kitchen. A woman, whose voice she vaguely remembered from months prior, was laughing and giving Mr. Flynn some light heckling, but the other visitor seemed to have not spoken yet.
"Ah'm terribly sorry about the state o' things 'round 'ere at the moment. Ah'm recovering from..." Ruarc explained, sounding winded.
"It is quite alright, Keeper Flynn. You need not excuse yourself to guests," a British man's voice said. His voice was smooth, but carried a weight behind it that Willow could feel from upstairs. "While I would have expected you to keep a tighter ship, it can be overlooked."
"Yu're too kind, Sir. Can Ah offer ya tea, perhaps coffee?" the Irishman stammered.
"Tea," the man replied dryly.
"Relax, Flynn. Your accent is slipping in. And, tea for me as well," chided the woman.
"Of course," responded Ruarc, clearing his throat.
"I am certain you are curious about the sudden visit, but are too nervous to inquire?" spoke the man with assurance. "Simply put, I was curious. We've never met face to face, yet your name has crossed my desk more than once. Between you and this odd little pet project you call a school. Figured it was time I came to see the first Druid institution to be founded in the Far East."
"Beggin' your pardon?" Ruarc asked. Heavy booted feet stepped in a steady cadence around the cottage, surely the man inspecting Ruarc's home. Willow was getting anxious. "Oh! And, uh, tea's ready, Sir and Ma'am."
The boots, which had been nearing the staircase, stopped and turned before moving back into the dining area. Chairs slid on the floor as the guests took their seats.
Willow, knowing there was a corner wall blocking the direct line of sight from the table and the stairs, carefully took the lead and began to tiptoe down to the ground floor. Drysi's hand shot out, grabbing Willow's sleeve.
What are you doing!? The triclops mouthed the sentence mutely, her spindley clutches like iron.
"I. Want. To. See." Willow mouthed back. Nodding her head down the stairs, beckoning Drysi to come with. Whoever this man was, he had completely unnerved the ever stoic Mr. Flynn with just his presence. "Just a peek?"
The gears seem to be turning behind Drysi's glasses, and she pushed the frames up her nose before joining Willow on the stairway. Her hand was still buried tight on the girl's sleeve, but she was incredibly quiet nonetheless.
"I do not make it a habit of repeating myself, Keeper," the man spoke again as the sound of water being poured and spoons clinking against china sounded from the table. "You are a Druid. You founded a school. Therefore this school is within Druid jurisdiction. Thus, I deemed it worth my time to come and inspect said school, as well as get a measure of the man in charge of it."
His tone was level, and while his voice was smooth the weight of his words now felt like they were crushing. Willow could only imagine how Mr. Flynn must be feeling right now.
"Of course, Sir," Raurc started. Willow, who had been looking back at Drysi, continued to make her way down,and used Drysi's grip on her sleeve to try and coax the triclops to follow. Waiting for her mentor to speak again, she hoped his voice would mask any errant footsteps from being heard. "But, well, you see the fact in the matter is, uh, while I founded this school it was with the intent of training, well, all manners of magic. Not just my own."
The man did not respond immediately, and Willow paused at the base of the stairs. It was then that Drysi pulled back against Willow, realizing that she was being guided along. The fingers were tightly clasped, but the triclops wasn't very strong.
"I suppose you think that to be virtuous?" the man asked finally, the clink of a tea cup telling that he had been taking a drink. "I will say, however, that it is quite peculiar for a member of our order to take part in such... intercollegiate academics."
"Is there and issue with that, Sir?" Ruarc seemed to be gaining his feet in the conversation as his tone seemed more firm. Willow inched forward again, Drysi inched back. The man once again did not answer right away.
"In and of itself? No. There is not," the man responded after a few more moments of thought. Oddly, the man let out a light laugh. On its own, like his voice, it sounded like the man would make for a pleasant partner in conversation while waiting for a trolley, but the way he spoke lent to his gravitas. Willow thought she was starting to piece together who this man could be.
"C'mon. Just a peek!" Willow mouthed over her shoulder to Drysi. If this man was who she thought it could be, it might be her only chance to see him in person. The triclops had much less curiosity burning in her chest.
"Don't," Drysi mouthed in return, her eyes deadly serious. The way her lips moved, it looked as if she had much more to say, but there was no room to say it. Willow held Drysi's gaze before nodding. Relenting, Willow moved to start heading back upstairs.
"I do apologize if I startled you at all, Mister Flynn," the man spoke again, a hint of laughter still in his tone. "When one gets to my position it can be fun to do things unannounced. As for the school, I'm actually quite intrigued by it as a premise. The roots of the concept can be seen in some of the earlier reports I had seen about you. Back during the Caoranach Incident."
"Caoranach Incident?" Willow mouthed, her curiosity springing up once more. The two girls looked back down at the base of the stairs with renewed interest, but Drysi still seemed reticent to push forward.
"Terrible business, that," he sounded genuinely remorseful. "Between the loss of one of your companions, and the actions taken by Alexei. I remember having a pit in my stomach for a week from the mere thought that one of our own could behave in such a manner."
At that point, Drysi grabbed Willow's hand, and held it tightly. Willow was unsure as to why, but held her friend's hand in a comforting grip.
"Yes, terrible business, that," Ruarc repeated, his tone darkening.
"But, as all clouds have silver linings, so to did that matter," continued the man, as he seemed to be more long winded now that his game was finished. "In coming to Japan to stop Caoranach, you met said companions, you fought together, and bonded. Mages from all walks coming together for a common cause, and in the silver lining you in turn began this school. Teaching the same bonds and values to the next generation. I am glad to see you were the right man for the job."
"Uh, thank you, Sir," Ruarc responded, sounding a little off balance again.
"Yes. Every report from you that Miss Brennan brings to my desk is one I eagerly read. You are willing to go above and beyond to see that a job gets done. Your current state can act as proof, I fashion. That is what I... nay, what we will need in the coming days." The man now spoke at length, and Willow could picture hands gesticulating enthusiastically.
"I'm sorry, Sir, I'm afraid I don't quite follow," Ruarc interjected hesitantly.
"Quite right, I seem to have gotten ahead of myself," the man agreed. "Why, just earlier this year you did a service to the Order in helping retrieve long lost tomes, and..."
"Mr. Clarke," this time it was Mealla interrupting, her tone concerned. The air in the kitchen seemed to freeze.
"How... did you end up hearing about the books, Sir?" asked Ruarc. There was electricity in his words, and the hair on the back of Willow's neck stood on end. Looking back at Drysi, she gestured for them to head upstairs, and going so far as to start nudging her. There was tension in the air. Drysi didn't move, looking still a bit shaken from earlier. Something dark moved behind her eyes before she seemed to snap out of the trance she was in.
Willow caught a fierce look of 'I told you so', and the two girls started to press back upstairs as quietly as they could. The man, this Mister Clarke, sighed.
"Brennan," he started, his voice once agains feeling heavy as the two girls crept back to the safety of the upstairs. "You know how I feel about being interrupted. I do not have time to take part in this silly game of espionage young Mr. Flynn thinks he is playing."
Willow crested the top of the stairs as the man finished speaking, and a long pause followed. Ruarc remained silent, and Willow looked visibly distressed from the atmosphere the newcomers created. She continued to hold Drysi's hand as the triclops began to scoop up their things under her arm. The other girl seemed to have something in mind.
"Mr. Flynn. Ruarc. You are no longer a child. You are a full member of the Druid Order, of my Order, and I trust you to behave accordingly. I permitted your little game for months, waiting patiently for you..."
"How," interrupted Ruarc, his voice firm. "Did you know?"
The was another palpable pause, the girls could feel the air downstair becoming still; even the fire seemed to no longer be crackling. Drysi quietly opened the door to Ruarc's room as Willow turned to follow.
"I. Do not. Like to be interrupted," the man said at last, his voice as smooth as a polished steel sword. "If you wish to behave like a child, then I shall treat you as a child. You are a promising individual, I would hate for you to become another failure."
"What? Like my father?" Ruarc interjected, his own voice sounding as firm as bedrock.
"No, like Alexei," the man returned. "He had such promise, but was ultimately worth little more than a mongrel on a long leash. You showed much more promise, up until Alexei ignored orders and killed that girl. Look at you now; your progress was set back years over some petty squabble."
"Petty squabble!?" Ruarc's voice shook the floor beneath the girls' feet. "I loved her!"
"What could a child know of love?!" the man's voice rose uncharacteristically. "You were a child playing a game, you lost, and the fit you threw cost my plans years. Now sit down and behave yourself. Set aside this rivalry, before you become just another mongrel. Events are in motion that cannot be undone, but I believe I still have time to replace you and try someone else. I hear you began teaching a handful of pupils. Are either of them here?"
"No!" Ruarc replied at once, before the sound of a chair shifting under weight could be heard. "No. They are off studying in their room."
"Shame," the man was back to cold steel. "I would have liked to meet the future generation. Of course, I can put that off if you agree to play nice and behave. Am I understood?"
"Understood, Sir," Ruarc's reply was quiet, and barely audible upstairs.
"Good. Now, would you be so kind as to provide me with the final book of the Histories?" asked the man.
"I'm sorry, Sir, but I do not possess the book currently," Ruarc now spoke in a subordinate tone. "An ally of mine has it, seeing what he can decipher."
"Then contact this ally and tell them to bring it," the man was sounding impatient.
"He has consistently been difficult to find, more popping up when you least expect him," Ruarc said back.
Another pause, punctuated by a sigh.
"Very well," the man was sounding tired.
"May I ask what is so valuable about them?" asked Ruarc. "I had fully intended to return the Histories to the Archive, but after four of the volumes were stolen..."
"Retrieved by other means," interrupted the man.
"...after the other four were... retrieved by other means... I determined they had value beyond historical importance. A reason why these tomes in particular were stolen during the Fall," finished Ruarc.
"Aah, see? You are quite the bright lad. You accomplished something that had only been dreamed of since before the days of Charlemagne," the man's voice has become warm, like that of a proud school teacher. "I would be happy to tell you, so long as I can trust you to be on my side in the coming days."
A chair pushed away from the table, and the man's booted steps moved in a circle around the table before stopping. Willow, who had been burning tin to better hear from their new position in the master bedroom could barely make out the next words. "Can I trust you, Ruarc Flynn?"
Their mentor swallowed hard as he cleared his throat, putting resolve behind his words. "Yes, Sir."
"Good," a clap punctuated the word before the boots moved towards the kitchen. The sound of spindley triclops hands struggling with the window latch was making it hard to listen.
"The tomes, on their own, are simply just that; a collection of histories. But! All of them together bear great importance, for these tomes were written by the longest lived of all our Order's Great Sages. Scattered throughout the detailed prophetic visions he received in his dreams. Long ago, I too received similar dreams, but I am no Sage. I was told merely that dire days were ahead, and the knowledge contain within our lost histories would hold the key. I was a young Druid Keeper myself at the time, and had no clue as to how I would ever find the tomes. My skills lay in leading, not in academics. I tried to recruit others to my cause, to no avail. That is how I came by the service of Alexei. A master hunter and tracker; he seemed perfect. But his mind was far to twisted for the delicate task required of him. More years passed, and Miss Brennan here suggested a one, Mister Ruarc Flynn. She's always had a knack for seeing potential. You, after some delay, did the impossible; and in grand universal irony it seems I had no need to send Alexei to follow after you, as you would have returned them all on your own."
"So, Alexei is still in your service? I thought he was branded as having gone rogue?" Ruarc asked. Drysi had managed to get the window open, but at this point stopped. Instead, she quietly turned, her eyes drawn back to the stairs.
"Officially, yes, but as I said, I merely keep him on a very long leash," the man answered. "Think of him as Druid Black Ops, to reference modernity. An answer to some of the enforcers the Occultus employs. Regardless, you lose track of you own questions. Do you still wish to know about the Histories? Or shall I merely answer any question that rolls off your tongue?"
"Sorry, Sir," Ruarc said in a low tone.
"Can hardly blame Flynn for your own love of tangents," added Mealla. This line seemed to upset the triclops, her face turning red in anger as the conversation shifted. She almost forgot any pretense of stealth, and made her way back to the window, climbing out. Willow, distracted with her ear to the floor, was too late to stop her friend, but made to follow her out into the drizzling weather.
"Right, right. As I was saying, I was driven to find the histories... Oh, the bit before that... The Great Sage. Ahem. Once all the histories are together, you can piece together the prophecy. From the tomes I do possess, I can decipher a terrible conflagration, the likes of which this world has not seen since it was born in fire. The end of the world, Ruarc. Doom's Day. Combined with my own dreams, I believe it can be stopped. It would require the magics of the world coming together and acting as a unified force. You can see now why I had... have... such high hopes for you and this school. There are a few hiccups to deal with however. First, the History your ally possesses. I believe it details the possible timing of when the event might occur. While ultimately trivial, it would be nice to know how much time we are working with, as the alternative is acting with haste. The second hiccup, the dogmatic Occultus. They seek to keep magic hidden from the world, but once when the world was young magic coexisted with all life. For as long as the Occultus maintains its grip on the throat of mages as a whole, we can never come together as a whole to stop the coming fires. That. Is why I need you on my side, Master Flynn. A war is coming. We shall be at a disadvantage, but ultimately I believe we can win and break the shackles placed upon us. The Druids, not the Occultus Magica. will lead the world into an age where we are once again living in harmony with all life. An age where the world can stand against its prophesized end."
The man finished speaking, and silence permeated the cottage like a vacuum.
"I trust you will return the tome, as soon as it is back in your hands," the man said. "If not, then I will simply maintain my accelerated schedule. Now. Unless there is anything else you would like to discuss, without the History here I have no further business."
A chair shifting, and the booted feet stepped towards the door. "Oh! And Ruarc, I trust you to keep what has been spoken here in confidence. Should I catch wind of you betraying this trust, well, let's just say you're status as a Druid shall be in question, and in lieu of a mentor, I would be required to assign someone new to watch over your pupils. Good day."
Downstairs, the door opened. Willow burned a bit of pewter and pulled Drysi back inside the window before peeking over the sill. Mealla Brennan exited first so as to open an umbrella, and the man followed after. Catching their first glimpse of Ruarc's superior's superior, the Brit held her breath. Standing probably close to Mr. Flynn'sheight, he was neatly groomed with long hair combed back on top and trimmed close along the sides, a waxed mustache accentuated his jaw and sharp nose. His clothing was tailored a fit perfectly on his average build, appearing to be a blend of druid cloak and bespoke suit; and the way he carried himself suggested he held little doubt about his authority. And, as it so happened, Drysi felt like she could recognize the man from somewhere. A spark of memory, and she could recall a portrait of the man in the very same magazine she had referenced to formulate a plan to bring down Mr. Flynn during their training exercise. The man was Silas Clarke, the second strongest evoker in the world.
Adjusting his leather gloves once he was beneath the umbrella, he looked back at the cottage; and he eyes darted up to the bedroom window now sitting ajar. "Flynn. You forgot to close your window."
Willow was breathing heavier than she should have been as she lay on Mr. Flynn's bed with Drysi. Before the man had looked their way she had had a bad feeling and pulled the triclops down and away from the line of sight. Downstairs, a soft thump on the tabletop suggested Ruarc bracing himself, and Willow could hear a shaking sigh.
The triclops was trembling in Willow's arms at what felt like fear, but a glance at her face revealed that her shivering was not of shock or horror.
But of rage.
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