In the bright morning, it would have been easy to forget the discomfort of the previous night, but the scent of unfamiliar magic still lingered on the air, un-missable in its strength. At least the night had given Lavinia chance to collect her thoughts, and decide upon their next course of action. She settled herself down in the drawing room, and waited for the others to wake.

Already their usual routine was out of turn, for Lavinia was rarely up before Percival, but when Blake entered the room only a short time after her, it was clear that it was going to be another unusual day.

Lavinia: Dear Blake! You look like you have barely slept at all!

Blake: Bad dream. Well, a few of them, actually.

Lavinia: This whole situation has really troubled you, hasn’t it?

Blake: That’s putting it lightly. I know I can be a bit on the argumentative side at the best of times, so I know it’s probably hard to tell, but this is different. It frightens me, Lavinia. Frightens me the way I do…

Lavinia: Oh Blake… Here, sit with me. I know there is little I can say to console you, but please, you must know that I care very deeply for you. I’m going to do everything in my power to keep you safe, to keep all of us safe, in this matter and any other. You have my word.

Blake: Thanks, Lavinia. Sometimes it’s nice that you’re always so serious.

Haneul: Morning, you two. I haven’t missed anything, have I?

Blake: Not yet, no. Heh, you at least look like you’ve had no trouble sleeping.

Hanuel: Not one bit! I thought I’d consult the cards, last night before I went to bed, and I have to say, they’ve left me feeling much better about the whole thing.

Blake:  Not that you needed convincing. Go on then, what did they say? Wait, let me guess, he’s actually the prince of a faraway kingdom and he’s going to fall hopelessly in love with you and carry you away to his castle in the mountains.

Hanuel: Blake, really? At least pretend to be interested! Though I have a good mind not to tell you now.

Blake: Go on, you know I want to hear it really.

Haneul: Right, well, here’s the thing: we’re going to reshape the whole of Esperant! Now, I won’t pretend to know the details, but the cards have made it very clear that everything we do now is going to change the way the entire country carries itself. And in a good way, I should add! We’re going to be famous!

Blake: Ok, I can see why that would put you in a good mood.

Lavinia: And this is all thanks to the arrival of Amalric?

Haneul: Pretty much! Like I said, I don’t have any details, but he’s the start of it all!

Lavinia: Interesting. Well, try not to let that colour your judgement too much, Haneul; we still have a lot to ask him before we can decide if we’ll be maintaining this new friendship.

Haneul: I know, I know. But I’m going to let you do most of the questioning anyway, so my day-dreaming’s not going to do any harm. Oh look, here they come now!

Percival: Good morning all.

Lavinia: Ah, Percival, Amalric, good morning. I trust you slept well?

Amalric: Most certainly so. I must thank you again for the hospitality you have shown me, Lady Lavinia.

Lavinia: You’re very welcome. And it shall continue for as long as you have need of it. You must be very far from home.

Amalric: Indeed I am, though no distance could put it far enough behind me. I’m afraid I am not in Esperant on good business. Not at all.

Lavinia: You’ll forgive us for asking then what brings you here? The state in which we found you suggested this was not an ordinary sort of visit.

Amalric: Gladly I will tell you, though I fear you may not believe the whole of it. Worse yet, you are not the only people I need to tell. I need to get this message to your king…

Blake: Whoah now! That’s not suspicious at all! Just who the heck are you, anyway!?

Amalric: I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. I have given you my name, I’m afraid that’s all there is to know as to who I am. I have no title or family with which to elaborate. I am a Sorcerer, as I believe you have already guessed, and I have come from a small land of no name or prior history. A keep in the mountains to the west of Florinye. No, not a keep… A temple. It was a temple…

Lavinia: A temple? To whom, Amalric?

Amalric: Arach’lor. It was a temple to Arach’lor. But also a keep, a fortress of sorts. He is there. Arach’lor, Himself, He is there. In flesh and blood. He is the reason I have come here. I have to warn your country. I have to stop Him…

Blake: Ok, slow down, you’re still not making any sense. So you’re saying that you’re a Priest of Arach’lor?

Amalric: No! No, please, I am nothing of the sort. They wanted me to be, they trained me to be, but I am not. I am not! I fled before they could make me. I fled so that I could warn Esperant…

Percival: Careful, you’re still not fully rested yet, please, try not to move too suddenly.

Amalric: I… Thank you, Percival, thank you. You are too kind…

Lavinia: We’re not accusing you of anything, Amalric. Please, continue.

Amalric: … …. …. I don’t know how best to explain it, but please, I swear to you I speak the truth. They are using magic to sustain Arach’lor’s mortal body, to build power within it, so that he may act as he wishes. I am one of many mages that they held there, but they are running out. They kill the ones that they cannot take much from, and train those of us that are more useful to them alive. But they are running out. It’s not enough. They’re going to have to act soon, and they have chosen Esperant as their target. It’s magical blood that they’re after, and there is so much of it here…So much of it…

Lavinia: I see. Then, what would you have us do..?

Amalric: I… I don’t know. I don’t know much of Esperant, I haven’t been able to plan it. I have ideas, but they are just that, ideas. But we have to do something. The country must be warned, and quickly, while she still has chance to defend herself. As it stands, every single person here with the slightest hint of magic in their blood is at risk…

Blake: And that might as well be the whole country…

Lavinia: We will need to speak to the king after all. Even with our power, this isn’t something we can just quietly work towards.

Hanuel: What about Lord Hyperion? We should probably tell him too.

Blake: And Peninnah, the Dean at the University.

Percival: How long do you suppose we have before they trace you here, Amalric?

Amalric: Before they find me? Not long. A couple of weeks at best. But it will take longer than that for them to act in full. As I said, their numbers are limited; they won’t risk any great action until they are thoroughly sure of the circumstances.

Blake: So we get a bit of a head start at least… But this sort of thing, this is war we’re talking about, surely!?

Lavinia: War against who? If they have no nation, who are we fighting? I don’t know that we shall have to prepare for it as though it is such, but diplomatically speaking, we’re in a much trickier situation. I don’t doubt Amalric’s words for an instant, but we would need far more to convince Florinye or Valescha to aid us, and Esperant has never been at war herself before.

Amalric: I could show them… I have ways of doing it… But it’s risky, and at this stage, the power is better spent elsewhere. I’ve saved what I can up to this point, but for even my simplest plans I haven’t enough on my own…

Lavinia: That we can help with. And I might just be able to get us a meeting with the king.

Haneul: I can get us a meeting with the Dean, for what that’s worth?

Blake: Can’t say I’ve got any useful contacts for us.

Percival: Nor I, but I shall help in any way that I can.

Blake: Exactly. Count me in. Even if all I can do is fetch books.

Lavinia: Actually Blake, that may just be the very best place to start. If we can approach His Majesty with some sort of plan already in the making, then he may be more inclined to listen to us. Percival, find us any books you can on magical defences. Hanuel, you’re on wide or grand-scale magic. Blake, I want you to look into whatever you’re able relating to the Dark Elf War. Amalric, if you could please begin to outline some of your ideas to me, we can work out which would be most suitable given Esperant’s location and magical diversity.

Blake: On it.

Hanuel: Consider it done!

Percival: I shall do my best.

Lavinia: Thank you. Let’s give it three hours, then we shall meet back here to discuss our options. Hanuel, you’ll probably be able to find a fair few things in the library here. Percival, you might also, but it’s less likely. Blake, I’m afraid I’m going to have to send you a bit further afield.

Blake: I’m not putting my cloak on as a fashion statement, Lavinia, I’d already figured that much.

Haneul: Well get out the door a bit faster then!

Amalric: Thank you, Lady Lavinia. Truly, I could not have found myself with better people. I confess, I hadn’t much hope for Esperant before I came here, but now I think that she just might be able to save herself.

Lavinia: I only hope you’re right. Hanuel has said for some time now that she thinks our little group may have established itself to serve some greater purpose. I think perhaps that this is it.

Amalric: You may well be right. In which case, I don’t think it is any coincidence at all that you are the ones who found me. Fate has a loving way of putting people in the right places and at the right time, even if the circumstances themselves might seem peculiar.

Lavina: That it does. But we have no time to waste. Please, tell me what you think we can do.


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