A Week After the Descent into the Maw
Friday was a fun day for the students and teachers alike at Safeholme. Some students would take time to rest and relax, enjoying extra-curricular activities or personal pursuits apart from class. Other, more studious academics put extra work into their schooling, getting ahead and securing their places in the high rungs of scoring testers. Teachers organized lesson-plans in the hour after release, and often went home for the day if they had no research to attend to. Even those that did stay to grade tests or do some work on personal projects left early on the last day of the week. The mid-afternoon saw a lot of people leaving through the front gate of Safeholme, passing under the watchful eye of a silent, fiery guardian.
Watching this procession of people were two men, sitting out front of the Groundskeeper's Cottage, sitting in handcarved chairs, a table between the two of them. A hot-kettle of tea rested on a handcloth, and set of cups carried piping hot tea fresh for the day. Ruarc Flynn, the Keeper of Safeholme, and Percival Caxton, the Ascendant of the Elementalia Magicus enjoyed something that most mundanes took for granted: a quiet afternoon. The one-armed Alchemist sipped his tea, and thanked the Dove familiar that had served it as cordially as he could. The grizzled Druid rested his nose over his cup, his thanks known instinctively, especially for being able to enjoy an orderly moment at his home.
Percival opened his mouth to speak, preparing to say something to Laoise, posing to give his thanks for the twelth time this week for a different service rendered. He was silenced by the appearance of a fourth actor in their play of a pleasant day.
As hellish as the past few years had been, Percival had not become accustomed to the Faerie Queen's presence, and apparently, neither had Laoise. The mischevious royal of the emerald lands made her approach for Ruarc before her path was immediately cut by the Dove. Whether emboldened by the presence of others, or her recent escapades, she stood firm in the greater entity's way. It was apparent that both Laoise and Percival seemed to have a similar opinions of Ruarc's delightful counterpart.
"So..." Percival broke the silence at the table asthe two women began to exchange barbs. He paused, sampling his tea again, he quite enjoyed the Dove's tea. "You're not going to stop them?"
Ruarc reclined in his seat, a far-off, wizened look settling his features.
"Nah, it's good for them to work it out. I'm just here to make sure they don't resort to magic or break anything."
"Speaking from experience with ethereal entities," Percival paused again to poise his thoughts, quite taken by the bitterness of his brew, "that's exactly what's going to happen, and it won't be pretty."
The Druid waved off the Alchemist's suspicions.
"Nah nah. It might get to hair pulling, but all Carrie needs to do is remove Laoise's pendant and she goes back to being a dove, at which point it becomes pretty one sided."
"Mm hmm, spiteful deity on top of a defenseless dove," Percival's eyes trailed up into the trees, the discussion between the two primal entities remained at a manageable level. "I wonder how that'd turn out."
The one-armed man's penchant for worst-case scenarios seemed to chip at that relaxed druid's demeanour. Still, Ruarc waved that as well, a restful aura settling over the table.
"She's not that spiteful," said the druid, sampling his tea as well, "and Laoise has a history of going for the eyes."
"If only I could trust my little gods as much as you do."
"To be fair, Laoise has never been turned against me, and Carrie... is persistent."
"Just because it's never happened doesn't mean y'should never consider it, Rook. Next thing you know... you got a godly infection brewing in your stomach." A sigh rolled off the younger man's lips, becoming a bit chagrined at the ease his friend exuded, "... then again, I'm the suspicious one in this relationship."
"I s'pose another factor is that, for Laoise, her powers aren't exactly suited for hostility as far as we have tested. And Carrie had about 95% of her power sealed away ten years ago, so she mostly deals in illusions now. Not exactly on par with Aurus I'm dealing with!"
The two men laughed, wry grins on both their faces.
"Not quite vomiting molten lava, is she?" asked Percy, arching a brow, "No widespread corruption in the soil? No thirst for the blood of the magical?"
"Nope," answered Ruarc, thoughtfully rubbing the stubble of his chin, "worst thing done was Carrie making it look like my entire garden had wilted."
"You druids have odd priorities."
"...You aren't wrong."
Caoranach began to press at Laoise's buttons, but the Dove was as much perceptive as the woman across her was cunning. Still, their voices raised a bit, a bit of defiance here, a carefully concealed insult there, all mixed in with the dialogue involved of who had business being where. Percival didn't know how his primal brother coped with all the attention, people wore him out rather easily. He pulled his attention away from the growing disagreement, and began to think on a bit of the work he had been compiling. After things had settled down last weekend, he began getting messages and calls back from the networks he used to probe before he went underground. Most of his connections had whithered in the time he was gone, but there was some fruit to be had.
Six of his contacts had begun producing information, one of them had something that would concern the Keeper.
"By the by," started Percy, making a careful transition, "are you still apprenticing two students?"
"Aye," Ruarc stared on, not paying much mind to the confrontation for the moment, "Willow Faireburn and Drysi Maelgwyn."
"Faireburn... Maelgwyn..." mused Percy, "The first one's from a mundie family, isn't she?"
Willow was of a powerless line, but the family itself was well-enough to support their daughter attending a unique institution. A scholarship had been necessary to seal the deal, but the Druid Order was willing to forward the support in order to cultivate a new member in their society. The girl had been scouted by none other than Mealla, plucked straight from a mundane life, and thrust into an awakened world. The man wanted to dig deeper to investigate further, but Mealla was a 5th Branch Druid with more grease and smiles to move palms than any of her predecessors or peers, the Alchemist stayed wary of her.
Ruarc gained that thoughtful look again, seeming to peel back a page on his memories.
"Indeed," he said, "Haven't found any mages in her immediate family tree."
Neither did Percival.
"Maelgwyn, however... Hoo..." hummed Percival, dancing around his own point as he tried to recall what he knew, "Have you been keeping tabs on... Er... What was his name... Sergei...?"
"Sergei?" Ruarc met his brother's gaze, "Do we have a Sergei at Safeholme?"
"Ah," the Caxton man scratched his chin, trying to get the name right, "Alexei."
The name soured the Druid's demeanor like a curse, for good reason.
"Now why'd ya have ta go bringing up Alexei?"
"Because I thought you'd like to know the connection he may have to your apprentice."
Ruarc seemed to be drawn out of that lustrous comfort, and Percival caught the oaken gaze of the Druid. The mask of Mr. Flynn had fallen off, that one the druid wore in front of the kids and their parents. There was a small amount of satisfaction of seeing the transition, the Alchemist loved to guess whether it was the man's real face or not.
"What're you getting at, Percy?"
A cuffed hand set a mostly finished tea-cup on the table, before it straightened a sage tie.
"Fiends like to cooperate, Rook," commented Percival, "and your apprentice has a grandmother who's been said to interact directly with the Wolf."
"Wait," the Druid raised a hand, "Drysi's grandmother is in contact with a rogue druid?"
Memories of the pictures taken at the scene flashed in his mind, the information that was written down. The tea-cup was taken up again, another sip of the dregs was made. "Was."
"Who was her grandmother? Didn't think anything was out of the ordinary from what I heard. What evidence do you have?"
"Just some Occultus after-action reports, and a few pieces of a recovered correspondence..." Percival tipped back the last of the Dove's tea, "... and a witness."
"Fascinating. Details of what happened?" the Druid's attention was rapt at the moment, despite the growing consternation of the two women ahead of them. He grabbed his chin with a callosed finger and thumb, connecting lines before Percival could explain them, "It was likely back before Alexei was considered rogue, I'd imagine."
"Bleddyn Maelgwyn, a true inheritor of the Cardiff arts. Their earliest messages go back a few years, so it's likely they knew each other for a while. Power trading, academic theft, secret brokering, and general black-hat witchery. You know, the usual underground magicks..."
Sacrifice. Blood Rituals. The Unspoken Power. Soul Magic. The discussions between the two were a practical academic trove for the unbound community. Percival sighed, having finally finished his tea. He turned the cup over and set it down on the table, "That all ended a few months ago."
"A few months ago?" nodded Ruarc, that cutting look searched below his glasses.
"Right, I was still floating in an egg at the time, but the file I've read says that she was murdered, a potent Razor Wind rune judging by the assensing notes. The witness of the incident claimed it was done by a long-time friend fitting the Wolf's description."
The Razor Wind was the killing blow. It wasn't a part of the fight that took place beforehand. The crime-scene looked like a band of hedge-mages had wrecked the place, and left an old woman dead on her back. They didn't find the witness until she came forward a couple days later. The Maelgwyn apprentice's Grandmother was no saint, but Alexei was a monster. Everything Percival read on the man filled him with a staunch dread.
Then, the druid pulled him straight from his gloom.
"Wow," Ruarc scratched the stubble on his chin again, "this took quite a turn from Laoise and Carrie fighting."
The two looked over to the disagreement, only to find Laoise pinning Caoranach. Words had failed the two a minute ago, and only now did the two men actually notice what was going on.
"I've been meaning to tell you, but... ah... about that wit-- ooh..." Percy tried to start, before he saw Caoranac make a particular nasty swipe, making the Alchemist wince, "That looks like it's getting ugly."
"Yeah, better go break it up."
The groundskeeper pushed himself out of his chair, getting the two women up and separating them. When the fight seemed broken apart, Laoise punched him in the solar plexus. The fight began to break out in earnest again, only this time the hapless man was caught inbetween instead of being a spectator. Against any manner of reason, Percival knew that Ruarc preferred it this way, as chaotic as it was. His dove and his faerie, his family, the people that meant the most to him close by and healthy.
The kettle was picked up again, and Percival poured what was left of the tea into his cup. He saw the druid's apprentices approaching from the gate, and knew that the last lessons of the week were going to take place soon. With a sip of the warm brew on his lips, he reflected on the things he knew, and what he needed to share with his brother. Seeing the two girls laughing at the spectacle taking place at their master's home reminded him that not every moment needed to be life-or-death. There were many things that stared at this school from the dark, but not all of it needed to be laid upon the table to see. Today, the sun was a bright orange on the horizon, and the forest began to make its hearkening calls into the evening.
The Welshman's eyes rose towards the trees, staring at the sky between the leaves, and took a page from the druid's book.
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