The party proceeds to Bathory Park—a large suburban district, filled with plenty natural scenery and shrubbery. Statues of several kings and queens dot the landscape of extravagant houses and manors. Named after the ruling Bathory family, it is home to the majority of the upper-middle class inhabitants of Ambstalt.
James gives a sly grin. “Somebody draw a funny face on those statues.”
Ben rolls his eyes. “If you want to get your hands cut off and hanged, then be my guest.”
“I’m wearing armored gloves,” James says, flashing his hands at Ben. “How will they cut my arms off?”
“Yeah, because a suit of armor will stop ten guards from beating you to a pulp and stripping you of everything you own. Don’t do dumb shit—you may be a human, but with the group you’re traveling with, they’ll treat you the exact same way they treat us.”
“How are they gonna keep you in chains without hands?”
Ben lets out an exasperated sigh, rubbing his eyes and strolling a ways ahead from the group. He inhales deeply, taking in his surroundings and the fresh sights—as a resident of the Block, he hardly ever got to visit this part of the city. The neatly-trimmed shrubs and pristine homes are emblematic of a luxurious life—for those who can afford it. The stark contrast to the packed-together, dingy structures of the Block is maddening…
Ben grits his teeth and looks down at the ground, muttering swears beneath his breath. Even the slightest sense of awe and wonder at what stands before him seems to have been beaten out of him by his contempt. “Not even a change of scenery helps things, huh…?”
Valse takes in the scenery, eyes wide in awe. “I can see why they say that this city is the pride of humanity. It certainly rivals even the great dwarven fortress of Ur.”
James punches Valse lightly on the shoulder. “I believe the point has been made that your society is advanced. Now please stop explaining how the dwarven race is the far superior race in craftsmanship and this alleged technology.”
Valse gives James the side eye. “I’m speaking as an outsider as well, y’know. I’m from a village near the outskirts of Kur. I’ve only been near these sorts of cities a few times. Though… from the looks of your race-based assumptions, you might fit in here just fine…”]
“The city looks nice and all,” Norixus says, “but it feels a bit lopsided with the whole uh… chopping block place.”
Ben turns to Norixus with a sarcastic grin. “That’s only if you know about it.” He points to the extravagant manors and forces out a chuckle. “To them, the Block and everyone inside it is nothing more than a myth to get your kids to behave.”
Joe closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. “In the forests, swamps, and whatnot; there is never such inequality. All beasts live on an equal playing field. If only these cities could be the same…”
Norixus sighs. “Let’s just get to the academy.”
As the party moves across Bathory Park, the academy fades into view on the horizon. It appears to be built on an archipelago of floating islands, with streams of magic sparking and glowing as they drip down. Its architecture is a mix of both university and castle, seeming every bit mystical and regal as it is scholarly.
Ben sighs and smiles slightly, looking up at the academy; memories of gazing up at it from rooftops playing out warmly in his mind. “That’s a bit of a sight for sore eyes…”
“Well, any ideas on how we could get up there?” Criollo asks. “Here’s hoping for an airship.”
The party moves into the next section of the city, known as the Corridor. The buildings here are several stories tall and lined with various business and offices. The aroma of fresh street food wafts through the air. The streets are filled with people of various races, horse-drawn carriages, as well as a few strange-looking four-wheeled contraptions that whirr and hum, steam billowing from their rear.
“W-What is that?” Norixus says, pointing at the strange contraption.
“Witchcraft,” James replies. “Ask Rognalad, he’s the go-to for that.”
Rognalad nods. “That is pretty damn cool if I do say so myself.”
“In the slums we called them monsters, with the noises they made,” Ben says as he chuckles and shakes his head. “Automobiles, if my memory serves well.”
The party proceeds towards the academy, ascending a large hill. The sky is busy with activity; mages flying to and from the academy above. At the summit of the hill is a large circular platform surrounded by strange ornate columns. In its center is a large arcane rune that glows and hums with magic—the sign adjacent to it reads: “Teleportation Rune”.
“Huh, so do we step on this?” Norixus says as he places one foot on the rune. With a flash of light, he disappears into a stream of particles flowing up towards the academy.
“Woah, what the—” Ben says, eyes wide at the sudden spell.
Criollo shrugs. “Oh well, here goes nothing.” He steps onto the rune and disappears.
“Wooo!” James runs onto the rune with reckless abandon.
“Teleportation! I Expected such from a place like this,” Joe says as he steps on the rune.
Ben chuckles and starts to grin with child-like awe. “Hell yea!” He runs over and steps on the rune, smiling eagerly.
Rognalad smirks, and leaps face-down onto the rune, landing on it with his pelvis.
Moments later, the party arrives at the Academy, in a large courtyard.
Ben blinks and starts laughing to himself. “Holy crap! My entire body feels like its tingling…” he gazes at his hands, the sensation starting to fade. “That was wicked…”
“I mean,” James says, “it felt like my body was split into a thousand pieces to get sent here.
The party looks around the courtyard. Several buildings line its rim, including what appears to be a main reception area. At its center is a statue of a man wielding a staff, a small dragon perched on his shoulder. Norixus recognizes the man… it appears to be a statue of Leonard Brimstone, the dragon-whisperer. He was an ancient hero of legend who ended the Great Dragon Hunt, and is partly responsible for the continued existence of dragonborn.
“Amazing…” Norixus says. “The hero who ended the hunt… Leonard Brimstone!”
Rognalad arrives at the academy, and immediately begins feeling a searing pain in his nether regions. Looking down, he sees that half of his penis has been severed, blood squirting from the severed stump.
Norixus turns. “Oh there yo—GOOD LORD!!”
Criollo’s eyes widen. “Gods, what happened?! Norixus, do something!”
Valse’s eyes land upon a nearby sign. “Please remain upright and keep as still as possible while teleporting… huh, I wonder what that means.”
“I uhh…” Norixus frantically places his hands near Rognalad’s nether regions and begins channeling his magic—unfortunately, his knowledge of healing magic is too primitive to reattach such a delicate organ.
“By Katigda… I’m… sorry, Rognalad.”
Ben’s eyes are alight with joy, and the smile on his face is genuine. He reaches out, spreading his arms and closing his eyes, feeling the wind blow against his face and through his hair. “So… this is what we dreamed of. This is what freedom feels like…” he mutters to himself, oblivious to the commotion behind him.
“Man, these doors were fine crafted, wouldn’t you say?” James says as he admires the architecture. “In fact, this entire academy is made with such skill I’d argue it was made without the intent of it being an academy.”
Norixus frantically flips through his spellbook, trying to find any spell that might aid his ailing friend. “Ah… maybe this spell? But where am I going to find two lodestones…”
Valse looks around the courtyard. “Um… we are at a magical academy, right? Surely they must have something for him…”
Ben opens his eyes and blinks away the tears, reality finally returning to him. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly, turning to the group. “Hm? Did something happen?”
Criollo looks up at Ben. “Hey Ben, you know if this academy can reattach severed cocks?”
“What kind of…” Ben gives him a strange and disgusted look, turning back to the scenery. I’m gonna forget you said that…”
James gazes down at the gory mess before him. “Looks fine to me. I’d say it’s fair anyways—the guy nearly killed us three times.”
Valse’s eyes dart between the party. “Uhh, let’s just go to the reception area and see if they can direct us to some sort of medical bay or something…”
James’s eyes land on a small hunk of flesh in a pool of blood. “Just like, keep the other side of his… shortsword.”
Criollo raises up Rognalad’s body to Ben. “Come on, it’s time we headed inside, Ben.”
Ben sighs. “You guys had to ruin this for me… fine, let’s just go in already,” he mutters beneath his breath.
Norixus looks at the party hesitantly. “So… uh. Who’s gonna carry the uh. How do we say this…?”
Valse sighs, clasping her hands. “Oh Firmaren, give me the strength to endure these tough times…” she gingerly picks up the severed piece of flesh from the ground.
Norixus lets out a sigh. “…By Katigda, I thank you for carrying this burden.”
“I envy your courage,” James remarks.
Valse holds her nose. “By no means am I enjoying this, but the will of the gods must be done…”
James raises an eyebrow at Valse. “How is picking up a cock their will?”
“Well, the book told us to come here, and that everyone in this party is to be tested… so I suppose the most good and lawful thing to do would be to… help him out…”
“Yeah… let’s just go in already.”
The party proceeds into the next building. It seems to be a well-kept lobby with exotic potted shrubbery. A lady with a set of fine-rimmed glasses sits at the front desk.
“Hello, welcome to Ambstalt Academy, how may I—” She gazes at Rognalad’s sad state. “Oh dear…”
Criollo waves a blood-soaked hand. “Hello, do you happen to have any sort of medical bay within this place?”
“Indeed we do; accidents happen every once in a while. Take the corridor to your right and you should be there.”
“ONCE IN A WHILE?” James shouts. “You’re telling me severed shortswords happen often?”
“Only when people don’t read the signs. Most our clientele are good readers.”
Joe gives James the side eye. “You cannot expect everyone to use the teleporter correctly, James.”
“Most of us didn’t read it, we just didn’t use our cock to teleport—like actual people.”
Ben gives the receptionist a warm smile. “Thanks for the help, and don’t worry—the rest of us are… normal.”
The party ferries Rognalad’s body to the medbay’s emergency room…
As they walk through the halls, Ben thinks to himself. “I had a buddy who always wanted to attend this place… I wonder if that dream went anywhere—though I doubt it. I’ll be sure to tell her about this if I see her again… excluding Rognalad’s accident, of course.”
A team of nurses spots the party, and immediately begin making strange motions with their hands. Rognalad’s body is lifted into the air, along with his severed member, and begins traveling down the hall into an operating room.
Ben grits his teeth. “Yep… that’s going to be burned in my memory until the day I die.”
“Well, he’ll be in there for a while,” Criollo says. “In the meantime, let’s check out the rest of the academy.”
“Hm, perhaps we should check up on the book…” Willington takes out the magic book, opening it to read what it says.
“Meet a representative of the Order of the Golden Lance.”
Criollo peers at the book. “…Anyone familiar with this organization”
Ben furrows his brow. “Mm, I’ve heard a little about them from my younger days; most of it I forgot though.”
“If there’s any place where we could find all the knowledge in the world that we needed, it would be here, wouldn’t it?” Valse asks. “Why don’t we ask the receptionist?”
The party returns to the reception area. The receptionist smiles at the party. “Hello again! I take it everything went well…?”
“Yep, we had it dealt with,” Ben responds. “My friends are a bit curious about a library—as for me, do you have a log of all the students admitted to this academy?”
The receptionist nods. “Indeed, it should also be located in the library. You’ll find it on the opposite side of this courtyard—it’s the small two-story building with the vines on it.”
“Awesome,” Ben gives her a warm smile and an appreciative nod. “Thanks for all the help, ma’am.”
“Anytime. Enjoy your time at the academy!”
“I’m sure Rognalad is having a good time,” Ben says to himself, snickering.
“I doubt there’s anything here about learning magic,” James says. “My hopes aren’t very high here anyways. I hit things.”
“All of us could stand to learn a simple spell or two, even if some of us aren’t proficient in magic,” Criollo responds.
The party arrives outside the building. It seems awfully quaint and small for a library—no more than a couple hundred square feet, and built with very old vine-encrusted bricks.
“Hm, seems small,” Willington begins. “Bet there’s some sort of magic behind it.”
“Maybe…” Ben says. “Well, the only way we can find out is if we go in!”
The party enters the library. Looking around, they see an endless array of shelves with ladders propped up against them. Staircases spiral upwards and downwards as far as the eye can see—in every direction, vertical and horizontal, shelves form labyrinthine halls down endless corridors.
“Wowie,” Willington says, his eyes wide.
“Goodness!” Joe says, eyes gleaming. “This is one incredible library!”
Suddenly, the party feels their pockets grow heavier. They check their pockets—inside each is a pendant. Upon feeling it, a thought flashes through their minds—“To return to the entrance from which you came, simply hold this pendant and wish to return.”
“Huh…” Ben says, turning the pendant in his hand.
“This library seemed small from the outside,” Criollo says, wandering around. “You’d think we wouldn’t get lost here. In any case… I think we should take some time to look for books that pique our interest, eh?”
The party separates, with each member seeking out different types of books within the vast academy library. Ben begins searching for any books that hold records of the many students admitted to the academy. As he wanders the shelves, he feels a sudden instinct to reach for a random book. Upon grasping its leather binding, he flips it open—it appears to be exactly what he was looking for.
“Oh sick!” He pops it open, and looks at the table of contents, flipping to the F section. “Freya Lockhart… Freya Lockhart…” he mutters to himself, scanning the pages for the name. Eventually, he finds the name—too many names, for that matter. An entire page filled with F. Lockharts. Freya A. Lockhart, Freya B. Lockhart…
“Shit,” Ben mutters to himself, rubbing at his eyes. “I guess that was to be expected…” he scans the book further. “Freya E. Lockhart… come on…” At last, he finds it—three different Freya E. Lockharts on the list.
“Eh, I’ll take what I can get…” he says, shrugging. “If any of these are her, she’ll still be attending the school. I’ll have to ask around a bit later.”
Criollo ascends one of the many staircases, looking around the hanging shelves. “…Man, I’ve barely used this greatsword. I need to learn how to use it effectively before I accidentally kill one of the others with it…” He reaches out for a book on the shelf. It seems to be a sales catalog of various swords, titled: “Great Swords! Fighting Equipment for Various Techniques!”
He sighs. “Maybe if I had the gold for these…”
Joe wanders through the library, humming a happy tune—an old folk song that his mentor in the woods taught him as a boy. He ponders about what sort of information he seeks. “Recently my skill with the quarterstaff has been lacking… maybe there is a book that can fix this.”
As if the library were a genie, he feels the instinct to check a book on a nearby shelf. Flipping open its contents, it appears to be a book about extending the length of stick-like objects.
“Hmm… simply cast this spell to extend the length of any stick-like object by one. One? One what?” He casts the spell upon his quarterstaff. Magic swirls around it in arcane green runes, before dissipating in a burst of energy.
“Huh…? Did it not work?” The quarterstaff doesn’t seem any longer…
“Hmm…” Joe stands the quarterstaff at eye level. “…I see. Looks like it’s a millimeter longer… maybe…”
Norixus roams the library, browsing the shelves. He reaches out for a book—only to hear a click as it stops halfway out of the shelf.
He lands deep into a dark passage, collapsing onto a pile of loose books and paper. Standing up and fixing his wounds, he looks around for any interesting books. As he follows his desire upwards among the dusty shelves and staircases, it seems almost as if space and reality itself were warping and changing…
“What… is this?”
Norixus treks through the strange library, not quite sure of how much time has passed. Before long, his eyes settle on an ancient, rotting tome—at least 1000 years old. Flipping it open, it seems that most its pages have rotted away—yet one spell seems legible… “Call Dragon”.
“Amazing…” Norixus says, his eyes aglow with wonder. “A spell Leonard used… it’s a shame that dragons have been extinct for centuries, though…”
James wanders aimlessly, twirling one of his swords in his hand. “Hmm… perhaps I should find a book about actual swordfighting styles instead of just swinging my two swords around like a caveman.” After what seems like hours, he stumbles across a book—stained crimson with blood, and a dagger lodged through its cover and pages.
“Oh, swag. Let’s see what’s in this baby,” he pops the book open, unfazed by the ominous dagger and blood.
“Huh. Three-sword fighting style…” he smirks. “Sounds right up my alley.”
Slowly, soft piano music whispers on the air, creeping from the bottom of the library.
Willington walks briskly through the library, strumming on his lute. “If only there were some sort of songbook filled with more tunes for me to play… it’s been a good while since I’ve gotten some use out of this thing.”
He walks down the endless twisting corridors for miles. Hollow footsteps echo throughout the vast spaces of the library. His mind wanders. His feet wander—until they lose their footing.
Willington tumbles down a flight of stairs, collapsing on a lower level of the library. Groaning, he crawls to his feet, clenching his fist dramatically. “I won’t let a stair trip delay my book searching!”
Following his heart’s desire, he traverses deeper into the library, even further down the stairs. The darkness surrounds him now—no light from the above floors can be seen. The only light to navigate by is the light from the glowing text on the spines of a few specific books on the shelves—dimmer than a firefly.
At last, he finds the book he is looking for—a tome bound in crisp paper with warping text along its spine. He opens it—as he reads its contents, the words translate into music, ringing through his mind. It seems soothing… inviting…
“Hm…” Willington’s feet begin to shuffle. “Now this is some good music!”
An uncontrollable urge to dance overtakes his entire body as he dances his way downstairs. His feet seem to have a mind of their own as he twirls his way down the hall. As he continues, the shelves seem to grow more threadbare and decrepit. Though his sober self might’ve had second thoughts about venturing this far, when one is so caught up in the feel of the music, one’s mind has no such time for such things.
Willington’s dancing takes him to a large concert hall located in a remote part of the library. Several dusty instruments sit about the stage—each instrument paired with a mannequin adorned with an orchestra uniform.
“…What’s this, a stageplay?” He asks, the music in his mind starting to fade. “Seems… interesting. I wonder if there’s any sheet music to play around here?”
Looking about the instruments, Willington’s gaze focuses on an elegant piano on the far side of the stage. Despite how old the rest of this part of the library appears, the piano is dust-free and in immaculate condition. Resting upon it is a set of sheet music…
“Huh… never played piano before, but… might as well give it a shot!”
Willington sits down on the bench, and places his hands upon the keys. Despite having never played, he feels a strange intuition in his fingers as he begins playing. It takes a moment for him to register that the beautiful music emanating throughout the hall was produced by him. Like riding a bike, it was as if he was a virtuoso in a past life.
Suddenly, the lights to the stage turn on! The mannequins get up, ready their instruments, and take their seats in dramatic flair. A mannequin stands at the conductor’s podium, and begins to conduct. Willington beams with joy. So powerful… so talented… so popular! He can feel the music flow through every atom in his body… The music rings out loud, reverberating through the library…
Ben’s ears perk up. “What the hell…?”
“This tune is wonderful!” Joe remarks.
“Oh boy…” Criollo mutters. “That doesn’t sound foreboding at all…”
James sprints towards the direction of the music. After several minutes, he finds a wall that the sound seems to be coming from—but there is no discernable entrance.
“Shucks.” He knocks on the wall. “Yes! Hello?! I am here for the sound!” No response.
The music rises. The mannequin has no face, but Willington is sure it’d be smiling at him right now. As the music hits a crescendo, the stage begins to rumble and levitate. Willington can feel his heart beat to the tempo, his mind sing with the chorus… he feels so, so alive—like the music was made of pure magic.
As the music changes, Ben feels a sharp ringing in his ears. “Gah! Fuckin’ hell!” He covers his ears, gritting his teeth. “I’m gonna wait for the others outside.” He takes out his pendant, and wishes. In a flash of loose paper, he disappears—reappearing at the entrance.
“…Finally. Wait… where’s the door?”
Ben looks about. It seems the exit has entirely disappeared. He chuckles grimly, looking at where it would’ve been. “You’ve gotta be mc… fucking… KIDDING ME!” He yells out in anger.
With a gust of loose pages, Norixus appears near Ben, pendant in hand. “Hey, Ben!” He waves.
Ben waves back. “You have any luck finding what you were looking for, Nori?”
“Well… you could say that.”
The music begins to rise once more.
“Woah…” Norixus looks about. “Do you hear that?”
Ben gives him a nod. “Yea… I heard it, and I heard it earlier too. Let’s see if there’s another way out…”
A wave of magic slams into the duo like a punch.
“Gah, jeez!” Norixus says, clutching his stomach. He recognized the feeling, recalling his training. “Remember, Norixus—the center of magic and spirit is the liver. If you feel a sudden pain in your liver, like a punch to the gut, check around for a potential magical or spiritual attack.”
“Fuckin’ hell…” Ben inspects the area closely, finding the outline of a door. “Wait… maybe…” he charges Ki into his fist, giving Norixus a coy smile. “I could punch us a way out, if you really want.”
“Probably not the best idea right now.”
Ben chuckles, waving off his concerns. “Only messing with you. I think we might be able to find a book that could help us out in this situation.”
“Hmm…” Norixus says, pulling out a random tome. “Well, let me check this… book of history, then.” He flips through the pages, reciting a passage. “Ambstalt Academy was founded by Leonard Brimstone, the dragon-whisperer. He designed it based on the old homelands of the Dragons in the mountainous floating islands of Draconia in South Kur.”
Norixus places the tome back on the shelf. “Well, that’s interesting. But… not useful to us right now.”
James continues to descend the staircase—out of little more than morbid curiosity. Before long, he is completely enveloped in darkness, with each further step little more than an educated guess. Striking his shortswords together, he lights a torch from his pouch. As he continues descending, the nearby books begin to glow a dim ember red.
Slowly walking over to the red books, he grabs one by its spine. It feels warm like a body, thrumming and pulsing in his hand. He begins to carefully open its heavy cover—yet as soon as it was opened even slightly, a huge jet of blood begins spewing out of it! It blasts James in the face, drenching him in metallic viscera.
He wrestles the book to the ground, heaving his body weight on the cover until it snaps shut.
James coughs up blood—not his own. “But WHY?!”
The library begins to rumble and churn… pages begin to fly out of random books and start soaring through the air. Every room, every hallway is filled with swarms of ink-covered pages.
Another wave of music hits.
“FUCKIN’ HELL!” Ben shouts out in anger, gripping his ears. He frantically searches the books, but keeps getting papercuts from the flying pages. “Nori!” He calls out, pointing to the outline of the door. “We need to find a way to open that damn door—preferably before shit gets even worse!”
“Hmm…” Norixus begins frantically searching the shelves, pulling out books and checking their titles. None seem to help this situation.
“Yeah, I got nothing.”
“Wait…” Ben thinks for a moment. “This is a magic library. Why would there be a physical way to open the door?” Ben sighs, rubbing his eyes. “Fuckin… I don’t know a lick of magic, outside my Ki—if that even counts.”
James continues to wring blood out of his clothing. “Fuck this place… let’s see what I can do…”
“My father always called me a dumbass!” He takes out his greatsword and slams it directly into the blood book. Blood begins spewing out of the book like a fire hose. The library rumbles and convulses as books begin to whirl around. Like a flood, blood seeps through every shelf and tome around James, pooling around his ankles and knees.
James begins to frantically climb and swim away from the rising blood. Dashing up three flights of stairs, he enters a random room. “Maybe there’ll be a way out in here…”
Opening the door, he finds a room entirely full of cats.
“How?” The cats meow at him. “Hm… at least they seem friendly…”
James feels something wet against his foot—the blood continues to rise, seeping through to his foot level.
The cats all leap onto him to avoid the blood.
James collapses under their weight into the rising blood…
A cloud of loose pages flashes into existence before Norixus and Ben. Out of it steps Criollo, amulet in hand.
Ben’s ears perk up, looking over at Criollo. “Yo! Welcome to the waiting room.”
Criollo holds his hands to his head. “Gods… this noise! Can we deafen ourselves somehow?”
“I doubt it, remember when it first began?” Ben responds. “It was like I felt it in my soul, even though the music was playing in my ears.”
Another massive wave of magic crashes into the party.
“GAH!” Norixus collapses—Ben and Criollo follow suit.
Willington continues to play the piano. He can feel his fingers adapting, growing stronger… his mind, growing sharper. The piano feels like an extension of his own body, its keys more natural than bare skin. Looking out to the stage, he sees an audience before him! They seem to be cheering him on, clapping in admiration. Willington beams, and plays with even more emotion and intensity than before…
James, Norixus, Ben, and Criollo awaken in the audience of the concert hall.
“What in the—” Norixus looks around. His arms and legs appear to be bound to the chairs—as do those of the other party members.
“I am genuinely just so sad,” James says, tearing up. “I feel so fucking STUPID right now.”
Norixus looks up at the stage, squinting—he spots a familiar face. “Oh my gods… WILLINGTON STOP PLAYING!”
Ben looks at Willington, anger rising to his core. “YOU FUCKING BASTARD!!!” He screams, trying to sit up, but finding his arms have fused to the chair.
Willington looks up. It appears the cheers and applause from the audience has suddenly gotten louder! He smiles and waves, continuing to play.
Norixus deadpans at Willington. “…Great.”
“BY EVERY LAST GOD THAT HELPED CREATE THIS WORLD AND EVERY INHABITANT INSIDE OF IT, WHEN I CAN MOVE, I WILL SHATTER EVERY LAST ONE OF YOUR RIBS UNTIL YOU’RE COUGHING UP BONE FRAGMENTS FOR THE NEXT FUCKING MILLENNIA!!!”
“Haha… bravo indeed, dear pianist…” Criollo claps rapidly, madly, overcome with the hopelessness of the situation.
Norixus glances over to Ben. He can’t comprehend most of the words coming out of his mouth… but they seem to be mostly four letters long, and very very angry.
“Huh… didn’t know he knows this many swears…”
“All we wanted to do, was to check out a library…” Criollo mutters to himself.
Another wave of magic washes over the library.
Valse and Joe wink into existence in the adjacent seats.
James sobs, snot dripping from his nose. “I managed to get a large mass of cats most likely killed. Like, eight cats. The felines are dead…”
“WILLLLLINGGTOOOOONNN!!! I’LL RIP OUT YOUR FUCKING VOCAL CORDS AND FASHION THEM INTO A LUTE FOR YOU TO PLAY, YOU DIRTY FUCKING PURIST!”
Norixus has lost all capability to express anything than a deadpan face. “…This is definitely a show… but it’s a bit overshadowed with overwhelming rage…” he says past gritted teeth.
Criollo sighs. “Hey… you guys ever wondered why this giant orchestra setting would be in this quaint little library?”
James gives Criollo the side eye. “I mean, for the same reason I found books with hearts? And blood? And a room of cats?”
“RAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!” He continues to squirm in his chair, no longer forming coherent sentences and screaming in nothing but pure and unadulterated rage.
Suddenly, a violet portal opens in the ceiling above the stage. A small gnome girl, about 3’1”, drops out of the ceiling. She’s wearing full black mage robes that billow strangely in windless air, a set of thin-rimmed circular glasses, and a wizard’s hat with a golden lance emblem on its brim. She’s carrying a staff that’s nearly twice as tall as she is, ending in a glowing green-and-violet sphere that shimmers with strange magic.
She points the staff at Willington—the space before the staff distorts and warps strangely.
All of Willington’s fingers instantly snap and fly off.
“Wh-WHAT?!” Ben takes in the sight before him, before grinning wickedly. “HAHAHAHAHAHH!!”
The strings on all the stringed instruments in the room instantly break.
The pipes of all the wind instruments are bent shut. The mannequins melt into puddles of plastic, their clothes sizzling aflame.
“What a shame, and the music was getting good too!” James remarks.
Willington gazes down at his stumpy palms, speechless.
The rest of the party separates from the chairs—it seems they are able to move again.
Norixus lets out a sigh of relief. “Oh good, I have feeling in my legs again.”
Criollo whimpers. “I just wanted to check out some bloody books, and look where that got us…”
James smells iron in the air. He turns, looking at a nearby doorway. “Guys… there’s blood slowly rising into this room…”
The girl turns to look at the blood. With a twirl of her staff, it evaporates…
Ben rises slowly out of his chair, a dark visage staring deathly at Willington. A pure murderous aura swirls around him, and a truly monstrous grin spreads like a sickle.
“Willington.” He says calmly, walking towards the stage. His fist glows orange, Ki flowing into it.
“Willington!” He calls out, in a cheerful, mocking tone. The Ki within his fist glows white with power as flames of pure soulfire lick up and down his arm. The air surrounding his fist shimmers and vibrates with energy.
“I don’t care what’ll happen because of this…” he says as he takes a wide stance. Each footfall sends rippling cracks through the wooden stage floor and rumbles the entire room. “First comes rock…”
His entire body is enveloped in soulfire. He clenches the power of a dying star in his fist, itching to erupt in a supernova.
The air around him sparks and jitters with overflowing power.
Willington starts laughing. “The finale…” he takes an evasive stance. “Come on! SHOW ME WHAT YOU’VE GOT!!”
Willington can feel his eyebrows singe off and his retinas scream as Ben’s fist flies at him at inhuman speeds, like a star had been brought down to earth and crammed into his fist.
When the heat and light clears, Ben’s fist hovers inches from Willington’s face, surrounded by a cage of warping blue magic. The gnome girl’s staff points directly at it, a single oscillating beam of violet magic connecting the two.
“What the…” Norixus’s jaw drops. “Did she just stop Ben’s fist?”
Willington stares cross-eyed at the fist. “Hahahah… wow…” he falls to the ground. “Whew… what a rush! Hahah…”
Ben’s grin drops, and he looks at his fist. A soft chuckle begins to ring throughout the room. “Ah… I see.”
The gnome girl sighs, pushing her glasses up and stomping over to the party.
“…you lot have gone and caused quite enough trouble now, haven’t you? I wouldn’t go and anger the library even more.”
“Anger the library?” Norixus asks.
“We have done very little!” James shouts. “I mean, I broke open a blood book and tried to save cats, but that’s about it!”
Ben slowly turns to the girl, gazing at her with pure contempt, his eyes blazing with overwhelming rage. “And you would be?”
The gnome girl sighs, adjusting her glasses. “Unwashed idiots like you shouldn’t just go off wandering into the library like this. It requires knowledge and finesse to navigate…”
“…as well as RESPECT, and DISCIPLINE!” she shouts harshly, slapping Willington and James with her staff as she spits each of the two words.
“A—” Willington accepts the slap and falls over onto his back.
Norixus eyes Willington. “Well to be fair, Willington deserved it. Don’t know what James did.”
“I don’t know what I did either,” James says, rubbing a growing welt on his head. “But I’m guessing it was bad.”
“You lot just wander in here, thinking you can grab whatever knowledge you want for free, huh?” The gnome girl says, her face flush with anger. “Nothing is free. The library is generous enough as it is.”
Ben takes a step towards the girl, his cloak of fury still simmering. “Oi. You stopped me from delivering well-deserved justice. You better have a damn good reason for it.”
The girl stares coldly into Ben’s eyes. “Attacking an agent of the Order of the Golden Lance is an Alpha-class felony, you know. They’d never hear from you again…”
Norixus puts a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “Ben… let’s just listen to her for now.”
"Hmph.” The girl stares holes right through Ben. “Seems you’d fit right in with the likes of the gangs in the Block… what with your kind of attitude.”
Criollo puts his hand to his face. “…Oh, god damn it. We sure made a good impression here…”
Ben cracks a smile and begins laughing. “HAHAHAHA! You’ve got one hell of a tongue, lady.” He waves her off, giving a coy smile. “I was only joking, I wasn’t planning on doing anything!” He puts his hand behind his head with a sly grin, exhaling slowly, trying to calm his anger. “Oi, can you do us a favor and put our buddy’s fingers back on? He kinda needs ‘em, being a bard and all.”
The girl rolls her eyes and waves her staff. Willington’s fingers fly back onto their stumps with a squelching sound.
“You lot have some nerve,” she scoffs. “You types are all the same. All talk, no bite. Just bumbling around and causing trouble in ways you can’t even fathom.”
Ben gives another coy grin, an inferno of anger boiling behind his eyes. “Mhm, you seem to know so much about us, huh? I’d love to see how you fair in a fight without your awe-inspiring magic,” he says, words basted in sarcasm, shaking his head and chuckling.
She turns her head slightly, a devilish grin as she stares Ben down. “Are you sure about that?”
Willington tests his fingers. “Ben, you saw what she can do… you wouldn’t want her to take your fists off.”
“Meh, I’ve been on the brink of death more times than I can bother to count.” He takes a stance, shrugging his shoulders. “Go ahead. If you knock me off my feet then I’ll back down—it’s how we solved disputes in the slums.”
The girl lets out a laugh, before sighing and shaking her head. “Figures. You gave the feel of a Blockhead from the moment I saw you.”
“Ah, an elitist!” Ben bows mockingly at her. “I remember seeing a lot of you ending up with a knife in the gut, begging for help from the back alleys. Come on! Or are you going to keep talking shit?” He looks the gnome girl up and down. “What’s your name, anyways?”
The girl scoffs. “Saelihn Zinnelis. Clearly you must not be from around here.”
“Ah, I apologize, my excellency,” Ben says, getting down on his hands and knees before her and kowtowing. “I am but a lowly street rat—I was too busy trying to survive in this OH SO GREAT city that I had had no time to learn your name…”
Saelihn deadpans at him, pushing her foot against his head. “Clearly if you spent more time accumulating knowledge instead of accumulating sass, you might’ve not almost caused a catastrophic emergency here.”
“Ah, but you are poorly mistaken, m’lady… I was just trying to learn of the whereabouts of an old friend of mine… or is your idea that we all clearly had a part to play in this incident?” He rises up from his display of mockery, his brow furrowed. “Whatever, I can’t be bothered with this shit anymore. Can we just get the hell out of here? I want to find my friend.”
Saelihn smirks. “What, no brawl anymore? Where did all that ego of yours go?”
Ben’s eye twitches. “You’re really starting to piss me off, and I’ve got better things to do than argue with a garden decoration.”
Norixus firmly plants the palm of his hand onto his forehead.
Saelihn waves her hand dismissively. “Get new material. I’ve heard it all before.”
“Yea yea, whatever you say, my mistress,” Ben retorts. “So are you going to continue to talk your shit, or will you finally say something worthwhile?”
Saelihn strikes the bottom of her staff against the floor. “Y’know, alright. Fine. Let’s settle this first. All of you, versus me. I won’t use magic.”
“Urgh, this’ll end horribly…” Willington groans.
“This is ridiculous,” Criollo mutters.
Ben stretches, popping his joints, grinning slightly. “Trust me lads—the only time someone says something like that is if they’re stupid, or if they know they’ll win. We’re gonna lose, so don’t get your hopes up.” His grin widens. “As long as I get one good hit off though, I’ll be more than happy.”
The party prepares for combat. Willington walks over to the piano. “Hmm… I think I might know how to use the magic music of this thing as a weapon…”
James takes out his two shortswords and his greatsword. Stabbing his greatsword into the ground, he wields the two shortswords—then hefts the greatsword with his jaw. Ben takes a glance at him, doing a double take at his odd style. “The hell is that?”
“I learned it from a book!” he says through his teeth. “It’s high-risk, high-reward!”
Criollo heaves his greatsword up, letting loose a powerful downswing at Saelihn. As the blade approaches, she suddenly shifts out of its way in the blink of an eye!
Ben blinks. “Did… did anyone else see her move?”
“Barely,” James replies. “She was a blur.”
“…Aw crap…” Norixus mutters.
Ben starts to grin wickedly, his eyes blazing with joy as adrenaline jolts through his veins. “This… IS GONNA BE AWESOME!”
The party swings their weapons and fires their attacks at Saelihn—but it was like trying to kill a fly using chopsticks. With every move, she was able to dodge faster than the eye could see—with every opening, she would strike at their weakest points with her fists.
James leaps in the air, spinning his body like a top. His blades slice down like a chainsaw at Saelihn. She leaps backwards, kicking off the flat of his blade up at the ceiling. Pushing off it, she buries her elbow into his spine with a crack.
Ben lets out a giddy laugh as James collapses, unable to keep himself from shaking with joy. “I can barely keep up with her movements, even after all my rigorous training… this is… this is… AWESOME!”
It wasn’t long until the fight was finished. Though they had the numbers advantage, her sheer speed felt like she they were each fighting two of her at once. With every punch, every swing—she was already ten steps ahead. Yet it was not a total defeat—they did manage to land the occasional blow—a punch here, a cut from a greatsword there. To Ben, at least, that was more than enough.
Saelihn wipes the sweat from her brow, blood seeping from a cut on her cheek. “You lot put up a good fight, I will admit…” She raises her staff as it begins to shimmer green. Tendrils of green energy flow from it, enveloping the fallen party members like a spider’s cocoon. Blood flows back into wounds that seal shut. Fractured bones realign and fuse whole. It was as if their bodies were undone back to how they were at the start of the fight…
Ben wakes up with a jolt, looking around for Saelihn. The moment he spots her, he scrambles to his feet, sliding to a stop and kneeling in front of her. He keeps his eyes on the ground, grinning uncontrollably. “Thank you for fighting us.”
“Not too bad yourself. I certainly didn’t expect you all to put up this kind of a fight.” She clears her throat, and lowers her head. “My apologies for my earlier attitude. This library is just near and dear to me… she’s quite a beauty.” Saelihn begins stroking a nearby book.
Ben’s entire body shakes from giddiness, and he gives her a respectful nod. “It’s no issue, and I apologize for my rude behavior too. It’s been a while since I’ve had someone kick my shit in like that.”
“I see… but I have a question,” Norixus says. “You seem to refer to this library as a living thing. Is it… alive?”
“Of course it is alive. It was created through high-level ontolomancy by the great Margaret Bathory herself, 500 years ago.”
“…Excuse me, WHAT?! I—BU—TH—” Norixus sputters, his mind freezing up.
“Ignore the dragon—he’s a journalist,” James quips. “Anyways, I saw some cats before Willington’s music knocked me out in a pool of blood. Are those cats alive?”
“The cats are part of the library’s internal ecosystem. They’ll be fine.”
“Quick question,” Willington asks, raising his hand. “What is this performance room anyways?”
“Ah, yes…” Saelihn says, gazing around the room. “This used to be the place where Ms. Bathory would enjoy concerts. The instruments here are quite splendid.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what exactly is ontolomancy?” Ben asks.
“Ontolomancy is magic that warps reality itself. It usually involves spatial and temporal distortion. It’s rare, and a form of restricted knowledge. Only a few number of people in the world may wield it—I’m one of them. Hence, why I’m a member of the Order of the Golden Lance.”
“Is that how you move fast?” James asks.
“Actually, my movements are a result of me incorporating my knowledge about reality with some reflex-based physical combat training. None of it was magic, really. I utilize pressure points, quick reactions, and erratic movements to exploit enemies’ attacks.”
“Oh!” Ben perks up, looking Saelihn in the eye. “Actually, I was going to ask about that…” he touches his fingers together, giving her a coy grin. “I’ve never seen anyone move that fast before—not even the old man who taught me all that I know. Is there a way you could teach me some?”
“One of my fellow Lances is the expert when it comes to that stuff. He says he got it from learning from the Faeries, off in the Forests of Ilyun. It’ll be harder due to your larger size, but you might be able to learn something or other about it.”
“Awesome… what’s this Lance’s name?”
“Reynold Marten. As a matter of fact, you’ll likely meet them… her Majesty Janet Bathory herself has requested an audience with you lot.”
“Wait, what?” Norixus says, confused. “…Who is Janet Bathory?”
Saelihn blinks. “Wow, you really aren’t from here are you… she’s the Queen of the city and its territories. Ambstalt has dominion over most of western Yomi.”
“But why does she want an audience with us?” James asks.
“It’s regarding your discoveries surrounding Amber Fall. Her Majesty has eyes and ears everywhere—word gets around quickly.”
Norixus squints at her. “…Someone hasn’t been stalking us, right?”
“It’s not normally good policy to reveal our methods… but you remember that kobold, don’t you?”
“Wait, what?” James asks. “He died, though…”
“His hat contains a concealed scrying enchantment. We’ve been watching you ever since you found him.”
“Wait you guys… gave Big Hat his hat to spy on us?” Norixus asks, puzzled.
“We leave concealed scrying enchantments in many goods that we have reason to believe are going to questionable clients.
Ben thinks for a moment, the implications setting in. “You didn’t happen… to hear everything we’ve said so far, right?’
Saelihn smirks. “We’ve heard whatever you think we’ve heard.”
Willington nods. “Hm… probably heard my piano performance too, huh?”
“The effects of the memetic instruments here are confined to the library only. Though…” Saelihn squints at Willington and taps him with her staff. “It does seem you’ve picked up a thing or two from them.”
Ben turns to the party with a grim face. “I’m probably going to be executed after we meet with the Queen, lads. So…” he tears up slightly. “I just wanted to say it’s been fun…”
“Meh, we’re probably gonna get royally pardoned if we do something about those elves,” James shrugs. “If not, you’re a monk. Go out in a blaze of glory.”
“Ben, look me in the eyes,” Norixus says, placing both hands on Ben’s shoulders. “We’ll be fine.”
“YOU’LL be fine, man…” Ben says, tears streaming down his face. “They heard every last bit of hate I have for this city—like hell the Queen will let that slide.”
“Why would she grant us audience JUST to execute us?” Norixus says, shaking Ben. “She could’ve just asked Saelihn to execute us, probably.”
Saelihn twirls her staff. “It wouldn’t be difficult, I suppose.”
Ben shakes his head. “Nah man… that’s how they do it. Lull you into a false sense of security and then… WHAM!”
Saelihn chuckles. “I assure you that her Majesty means no ill will… despite your unflattering remarks. For the record, if I felt I was truly in danger, I could’ve atomized all of you in a single spell.”
Ben smirks. “TRUE remarks, if you ask me. You seem to be quite knowledgeable about the slums, so you know exactly what happens there.”
“…So how quickly will we have to get to her Majesty before she gets too impatient?” Norixus asks.
Saelihn shrugs. “I can teleport you all there if you wish. As for the slums—some policies are necessary evils. Some situations have no happy endings.” Saelihn points her staff at the broken instruments and molten mannequins, and begins to fix them back up. “Please do not attempt to take any books from the library, by the way. She will get quite angry.”
“Saelihn, are you the head of this academy?” Ben asks.
“I’m not the head of the academy, no. A desk job is not for me. I am, however, one of its most esteemed graduates.”
“Do you at least know the most recent students? There’s someone in specific that I’m looking for.”
“Hm… I should know, yes.”
“Her name is Freya Lockhart, she’s a half-elf like me,” Ben says, pointing to his ears. “Brown hair and beautiful blue eyes if that helps.”
“Hm… I do recall seeing someone similar.”
“Really?!” Ben’s ears perk up, and he starts to grin. “Could you point me in the right direction, maybe?”
“After we handle the necessary official business.
“Aw… alright, then.”
“Saelihn, you look like somebody who actually knows how to fight,” James comments. “Do you have like, one tip about my god awful fighting style? Just one?”
Saelihn smirks. “Cut yourself less.”
“Jeez, James, you’re still on that?” Ben says. “I’m telling you man, you’re better off just getting piss drunk and using the usual amount of swords.”
“Ben, I have a greatsword and two shortswords. I feel inclined to use all of them.”
“Wait, how do you even wield all of them at once?” Norixus asks.
“Incredible jaw strength.” James grins.
“Actually… Saelihn, since we’re on the topic…” Ben says. “That move I attempted to use against Willington—Rock. What did you think of it? Any tips?”
Saelihn twirls her staff, tilting her head. “Perhaps don’t telegraph your attack so obviously. Hm… though… you’re a monk, are you not?”
“Yea, I learned everything I know from an old man in the slums. I forgot his name though… I’ve been calling him old man for as long as I can remember.”
“One of my fellow Lances, Abigail Enphyra, is a monk herself. She has her own style of fighting—she calls it the Way of the Ouroboros.”
“Oh? I’ll have to meet her then!” Ben says excitedly. “Can you tell me anything about this fighting style?”
“It’s a style focused around Ki management, involving techniques such as Ki siphoning, Ki displacement, et cetera.”
“Alright,” Ben says, turning to James and Norixus. “Hey, you two saw the entire thing between me and Willington, right? I was so angry I wasn’t even focused on what happened. Just how much power was packed into that thing?”
“You kinda… destroyed the entire room,” James states.
“Maybe around a few gigajoules,” Saelihn says, closing her eyes briefly. “It was pretty nice.”
“I…” Ben slowly looks at his hand, both in awe and fear. “I’ve never summoned that amount of strength before…” A wicked grin starts to spread upon his face, his eyes blazing with a familiar emotion. “I wonder what would happen if I ever end up in a state of anger so strong that my Ki spikes like that again…” he mutters to himself.”
“I wonder…” James says, rummaging through his sack to find the gold and white book. Flipping it open, he reads the contents of the page: “Handle Janet Bathory’s request.”
“Huh. Well, we should get going then, right?” James says, tapping his foot. “Don’t wanna stall her highness any longer.”
“Wait, one more thing,” Norixus says. “Can the library hear us?”
"The library doesn’t communicate through speech,” Saelihn replies. “It communicates through your thoughts and wishes. It’s how the pendants function—if you disrespect the library, it can choose to just not let you leave.” Saelihn aims her staff at a patch of open space—moments later, a portal pops into existence. “In any case, we should go.”
“Alright,” Willington says, standing up from the piano bench.
“…Could we come back here again someday?” Willington asks.
“Pff, after what we did to the place?” Criollo scoffs.
“Whether you can return is between you and the library.” Saelihn says. She then walks over to a shelf and begins stroking it with one hand, repairing the damage to the stage with her staff in the other. “It’s okay my widdle sweetheart… I’ll come back for you later…”
James blinks. “I won’t question it.”