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Bindings, Part I

After days on the ocean, Cruz, at last, heard the loud "land-ho" from above deck. Stretching from the uncomfortable position he was in from laying down in a cramped ship, the young tabaxi began to gather his things. There wasn't much, just a pack with an extra pair of nice clothing and a small bag of coins from different kingdoms that his uncle had given him when Cruz left the Isles for his journey. Once everything was packed, he made his way to the poop deck. Even though he knew the captain of the Pride's Hope would be annoyed at him for getting in the way of the crew, Cruz was not willing to pass on a chance to see the huge cliffs that marked the entrance to Stormhaven Bay. He had heard tales of it from some tribesmen at home: a pair of natural walls two hundred feet tall with three ship's widths of space between them, stopping any powerful waves from storm fronts from hitting the Hazran capital city of Stormhaven. This was not to mention the temples dedicated to Artival, god of storms, that were placed atop them.

  As it turned out, Cruz could have waited a long time before going up. They were just following the coast and were still an hour away from actually getting to the giant wave breaks. The sunlight was nice though, and the extra time let Cruz plan what he was going to do once he arrived.

  Not that I need to think about this any more than I already have. Cruz thought, staring at the surf below him.

  He had run it through his head time and time again on his two-week long journey from the Lilting Isles to Stormhaven. Get to the city, find a wizard willing to train him at the Council Magorum Academy, and learn enough about magic to give his tribe a chance at standing out during clan-meets. All of this was easier said than done, finding a Magister or Mage that did not already have an apprentice was difficult due to the sheer number of people who were looking for the same thing. He couldn't afford to enroll as a regular student though, so he had no choice but to try it.

  His uncle Raml, Cruz's teacher and the only other spellcaster in the tribe, had told Cruz he was ready though and had learned never to doubt his uncle. He had practiced every day for eleven years and learned all of the spells that his uncle knew. He had even begun to create variations of the things he learned so that he could impress the wizards at the Magorum. Cruz was proud of his work on the Fog Cloud spell in particular, which he could change the color of at will. He was confident it would impress the people he was going to try and get an interview with once he was in Stormshield: Nabeta, Farhemm, and the Worn Post.

  Of the three, Nabeta was the most famous. He invented several electricity based spells that enhanced battle magic and certain types of alchemy. His signature spell, "Nabeta's Electric Eel", is able to hold people in place while electrocuting them. The uncomfortable thought always made Cruz squirm a little, but he figured he could look past it if the man could teach him how to construct a spell as complicated as that one. His second choice was Farhemm, an eladrin woman who also taught battle magic but mixed with tactics and military tradition. Most of her apprentices quit after a month because they were too exhausted to continue their studies, so Cruz was hesitant to ask for her tutelage. Last was the Worn Post, a wizard so secretive that they had managed to hide their identity from the magical community for decades by use of illusion and clever misdirection. While Cruz had the most interest in learning from them, he was doubtful he could meet them let alone apprentice under them. Even if none of the ones that he heard about on the Isles worked out, he was sure there would be other wizards that were looking to teach someone, so if he did not impress them he still had a chance.

  Cruz continued to watch the waves while he waited, going over principles of safe spellcasting in his head and leafing through his old, torn up spellbook. It was a present from his uncle, who had owned it before him, and the book was the most valuable thing Cruz owned. The magical ink that laid out the spell instructions and runes easily made the book worth three times its weight in gold.

  A tap on his shoulder broke him from his thoughts. Cruz started a little and turned to see the captain, a short and rugged human named Hojiti. The crooked smile on Hojiti's face widened at the realization that he had spooked Cruz. The man seemed to like mischief too much for Cruz's taste but he was nice enough so Cruz went along with it whenever the captain teased him.

  "I fig'red you came up 'ere t'see the cliffs," He said, pointing to the shore. "But you've been starin' at nothin' for a while so I thought you might need some 'elp."

  Sure enough, the cliffs were within view now. Cruz realized they must have been for a while, judging by how close they were, and he had just been too busy "starin' at nothin'" to notice.

  "Thanks for letting me know captain. How long until we dock?" Cruz asked, not looking away from the impressive view.

  "'Bout a 'alf an hour, but most of it'll be waitin' on other ships t'move out of the way."

  Cruz nodded, still transfixed. The temples were larger than he had thought they would be. They stood a hundred feet tall making the uppermost sections just over three hundred feet above sea level. He marveled at the architectural strength. In his clan, the largest building was a meeting hut in a tree. It was nothing compared to these majestic structures.

  Looking down, Cruz saw that small boats directed and ferried larger vessels through the small gap into the bay, ensuring there were no collisions. He was surprised at how smoothly everything was run considering that hundreds of ships docked here each day.

  There's so much room for chaos, Cruz thought, watching one of the small boats raise a flag that signaled a ship to follow it. But these people run it like it is the easiest thing in the world!

  A dozen ships were able to enter and leave in a short period of time, and after waiting for a large merchant ship named Gold Memory to depart from their assigned space, they were docked. Cruz used the time waiting for the ship to be lashed to the dock to change into his nice set of clothing below deck, a light blue button-down shirt, dark brown pants, and a hazelnut colored leather vest. He always thought the blue looked strange against his black fur but his superstitious uncle was insistent he wear this specific outfit, saying wearing blue brought luck, so he went along with it against his better judgment.

  Bidding the captain a good day, Cruz stepped off of the ship. Stormhaven was just as massive as all his sailor friends had said. At over a hundred thousand people, it was by far the largest city in Arheim, and it showed. The docks were like an ant's nest, with people moving in an unseen order that only the locals knew. Gondola's moved through the many small canals that led to various parts of the city, and larger barges full of cargo and workers moved up and down the large river that bisected the docks.

  The movement was almost too much for Cruz, who stood there stunned for a minute before remembering that he was in Stormhaven for a reason. He pulled at a whisker to take himself out of his haze and headed northeast towards the Magister's District, where the Council Magorum Academy's campus was located.

  The city amazed Cruz more and more as he walked through it. He passed under a huge aqueduct that supplied the lower portions of the city with water, he saw strange people from the deserts of Smiltis along the riverside, and street vendors sold everything edible that Cruz could think of and more.

  This city could fit the entire population of the Isles twenty times over, and there would still be room. He thought as he made his way through the throng of people.

  After nearly an hour of walking, Cruz could tell that he was entering the richer districts in the city. The crowds began to thin, and the buildings turned from painted wood to stone or brick. The clothing that people wore looked nicer too. Much Nicer. Instead of undyed or bleached linen and burlap, most people wore tailored suits and dresses of silk and cotton. The eladrin he saw had even higher quality clothing, wearing thin gossamer cloaks over shear undershirts and soft looking pants. Cruz had known that his clothing would not be as nice as what the wizards at the Council Magorum wore but he did not think it would be this big of a difference. Knowing that nothing could be done about it, Cruz pressed forward.

  He knew he had arrived in the Magister's District when he saw a young boy throw a ball of light in the air and catch it. Besides there in the Magister's District, the city banned the use of magic in most areas unless you had a license, and he figured it was a safe assumption that a twelve-year-old had not filed the proper paperwork to get one. Cruz took his time walking through the district, asking a stranger for directions to the academy campus on occasion. He saw dozens of people using magic of all types and skill levels as he walked, and after a while, he decided to take a rest to watch some people practice. Cruz sat at an open area meant to act as a training ground and watched for a while. Most people stayed for a short time, using all of their energy in a quick burst. Most of the more powerful magic users stayed at the academy after all, so Cruz thought it made sense that those with less stamina practiced here instead.

  Just as he stood up to leave, he saw something strange out of the corner of his eye. A dwarf woman whose face had splats and smears of ink on it was dragging a wooden mannequin that was two feet taller than her into the training space. Cruz decided to sit back down and waited to see what she planned to do with the thing.

  In a few moments, the mannequin was standing in the center of the training field with the dwarf a few feet away. She took out her spellbook and with a flamboyant wave of her hand and a few words Cruz was too far away to hear, the air around the dummy began to waver like distant grass on a hot day, making it look insubstantial. The mirage-like effect stayed with the dummy as the woman walked further away. She reached the edge of the training ground, turned, and held her hands out in front of her, as one might do if they were pushing a crate. Nothing happened for a few moments, but just as Cruz wondered if something had gone wrong, several flashes of yellow light shot out from her open palms in quick succession. The five darts of light hurdled towards the mannequin before crashing into the strange barrier she had created one after another. After the third dart, the shield failed and the mannequin fell over from the final pair hitting it straight in the chest.

  She repeated this several times, each time walking over and repairing the mannequin with a Mending spell after her assault. By the fourth time, the novelty of the woman's magic wore off and Cruz stood back up to resume his trip to the academy campus. He was much closer than he expected, taking him less than five minutes to get to the edge of the Council Magorum Academy. It was quite large with over a hundred buildings, dozens of practice areas, several small parks, and over three thousand resident members. Now that he was here, it occurred to him that he had no idea where to start. He figured wandering around and getting his bearings might be a good idea since he was planning on being here a while, not to mention he still had a few hours before the sun went down anyway so he had time. Selecting one of the walkways filled with busy members of the Magorum at random, he set off to explore.

  An hour later, after Cruz had started taking less and less traveled paths, he was stopped by a human guard that was barely taller than a dwarf and half as stocky.

  "Stop right there tabaxi, you've been loitering around here long enough. You're obviously not a student or on official business so leave the premises!" He ordered, trying to sound intimidating but failing due to his small stature.

  "I'm not loitering, and I am on official business. I'm looking to apprentice under a wizard but I don't know where to go to find a list of people who need one."

  "List? There ain't no list tabaxi. It's recommendation only. No self-respecting wizard would take an islander on anyway."

  Cruz's mouth opened in shock. He knew that a lot of the other races looked down on tribesmen from the Isles but he had hoped the Magorum would be above that in the pursuit of learning. Pushing on, he replied "I may not have a letter of recommendation but I was told by my previous instructor to seek out Nabeta and Farhemm to ask for their tutelage. I would also point out that no self-respecting guard captain would take on such a small man, but it looks like exceptions can be for you, so why not me?"

  If looks could kill Cruz would be dead, but the tabaxi was not about to let this man talk down to him and the guard had started it anyway.

  "You're lucky I don't arrest you tabaxi. Now get off of cam-"

  The man was silenced by the appearance of another guard, an eladrin with bronzed armor.

  "Doni, I hope you aren't inconveniencing this man." They said, with a voice that could be either male or female. It was always hard to tell with them.

  "N-no, sir! I was just telling him that he could find Magister Nebeta researching at the Arboretum at this time of day." The man said with a nervous expression, hoping Cruz wouldn't tell the eladrin the truth since he had given Cruz what he wanted. The eladrin looked at the guard for a moment, seeming to not believe his statement. Then turned towards Cruz as if expecting him to deny the story.

  "And I was thanking him for his help," Cruz replied, not wanting to risk being kicked out of the Magorum because of a racist guard. He gave an awkward salute to both of them and started walking toward the arboretum, having passed it just a few minutes before.

  The building was a grand structure, with a raised glass roof with thin steel supports woven throughout and brick and mortar walls that were almost crimson red. The roof also had panels that could be opened to allow for airflow, though since it was early in the fall a good number of them stayed closed to protect the plants inside. Cruz took out his spellbook and held it tight, preparing himself to meet one of the most famous wizards in Arheim. He took a few deep breaths and walked in behind a group of students holding easels.

  If the exterior was impressive, the interior was breathtaking. Shrubs, trees, flowers, herbs, and everything in between were growing either in organized and labeled pots or large beds of soil. Trees so tall that they touched the glass ceiling bloomed overhead, their yellow and orange flower clusters swaying in the breeze coming from up above.

  Not knowing where to go, Cruz followed the students while looking for someone that could be described as a powerful wizard of international renown. All he knew about Nabeta's physical appearance was that he was tall, but Cruz figured that he would know the man when he saw him. He stayed with the group of students, listening to their joyful banter while keeping a few feet back to avoid being noticed. Cruz was busy wondering how long he was willing to follow them, especially when he had no real idea where they were going when he bumped into a young woman as she stopped to set up her easel to paint. Cruz gave a few words of apology to the startled student and left the painters to continue his search.

  Soon after, Cruz saw a man hunched over a shrub, poking it with a metal rod that was emitting orange sparks. He had short blond hair that was going gray, giving it an ethereal quality when he moved. His steely eyes were focused on the shrub, and he muttered what Cruz assumed was an activation word for the metal rod under his breath every time he jabbed the poor plant. If there were any question to his identity at this point, the final clue was his robes, which were a deep red with golden thread embroidering an arcane pattern into it. It was one of the most resplendent pieces of clothing Cruz had ever seen. He was sure this was the man he was looking for.

  Making himself louder to avoid startling the man, Cruz approached. When he was a few feet away and the wizard had still not seen him, the young tabaxi cleared his throat. The man shot up to his full height, bearing down on Cruz with a suspicious, calculating stare.

  He's just as tall as they said he is. Cruz thought, noticing that the top of his head did not even reach the neckline of Nabeta's robes.

  "What do you want?" Nabeta asked in a harsh tone.

  "Magister Nabeta? My name is Cruz K'tari. I traveled from the Liltgale Islands to train under a master wizard and I was hoping you would allow me to apprentice under you. If you want to, that is." Cruz winced. He had a speech planned about how useful he could be to him and all the magic he already knew from his uncle, but the man's penetrating gaze had panicked him.

  "Is this a joke? Did Jor send you?"

  "E-Excuse me Magister? No, he didn't." Cruz fumbled with the book in his hand for a moment before holding it in front of him. "I have a spellbook as proof. I've mastered everything inside and can cast any of them as proof if you need me to. I am the total sum of all of my tribe's knowledge of spellcasting. It isn't much, but I th-"

  Nabeta raised his hand, cutting Cruz off just as he had begun to regain his nerve. He grabbed the spellbook from Cruz's hand and began to go through it.

  "And you're not joking? This is a serious offer?" He asked, still flipping through the spellbook.

  "Yes, sir." Cruz gulped. The man almost had him shaking and he had been speaking to him for less than two minutes. But he had come all this way, so he had to at least try. "I know there are others that have more experience with magic than me, but I doubt there are many who have the drive that I do. I would work hard to make sure you don't regret your decision."

  Nabeta looked up from the book and stared deep into Cruz's eyes. There was distinct malice in them that Cruz had not been expecting. Without breaking eye contact, Nabeta tossed Cruz's spellbook behind him and snapped his fingers. In an instant the book was aflame, burning away in less than a second under the intense heat of the magic. Nabetu leaned in close to Cruz, still staring deep into his eyes.

  "There is no chance in the nine hells that I, or anyone else here, would ever teach a filthy, lowborn islander like you. Your people can't even make a proper spellbook much less cast meaningful magic. There is a reason people call the wretchedly stupid 'tribal', tabaxi, and even standing on the grounds of the Council Magorum insults its good name. Now leave before I call someone to make you leave."

  Cruz could not think of a reply though his mouth had gone slack at the verbal assault. Not only did this man just destroy the one spellbook his tribe owned, but he had just ruined any hope he had of being an apprentice at the Magorum. Nabeta stood back up, made a shooing motion at Cruz, and turned to go back to shocking the shrub with the metal rod. Cruz walked off in a daze, not knowing what to do with himself. Without that spellbook, he had less than what he started with. It felt wrong to Cruz to leave the academy grounds just yet though, since he had traveled so far to see it, so he found a training area at the edge of the campus that no one was using and sat on one of the nearby benches, trying his best not to let the tears spill from his eyes but failing.

  Hours later he was still in the same spot. It was past sundown and he knew he could get in trouble for staying here this late but his body felt too heavy to move. He considered looking for Farhemm to ask her to help him learn but now that he was without his spellbook he realized that no one would take him as an apprentice since a grimoire was one of the requirements to become a member of the Magorum. He hoped that Captain Hojiti had not left yet so he could make a return trip with him.

  "Stuck on one of Magister Jor's exercises?" a husky but feminine voice called out behind him. Cruz hesitated at the sound, but soon after he turned his head toward the voice to see the woman he had watched practice magic earlier that day, though her face was now free of ink.

  "I don't know who Jor is, but if you need to practice I'll leave." He replied, cautious of the woman.

  "Well it's clear that you don't," She giggled. "If you did, you would never forget his title... Or rather, he wouldn't let you." The woman hopped up onto the bench beside him. "And no one trains at night unless there's an exam coming up. I'm Erendira." She offered, giving a friendly salute.

  "Cruz," he said, returning a halfhearted salute in response to her own. "If you aren't here to train, why did you come up to me?"

  "To see what the matter with you was. I passed by here earlier on the way to a meeting with a colleague and you were sitting here. I wouldn't think that strange since the weather was so nice today but you were still here over an hour later in the same position so I figured either Magister Jor had you doing some stupid exercise involving patience or something had you upset. So, since we've established it isn't the Magister, what's wrong?"

  Cruz looked at her with suspicion. The last few people he had talked to had been far from nice to him, but she seemed genuine in her interest. Deciding that he had nothing to lose, he told her what had happened, trying to recount everything as best he could.

  "I should have known I wouldn't get in, and I can't afford to pay to stay at an inn for more than a few days. What was I thinking? Of course, no one would want some nobody tribesman." He finished, leaning forward and putting his hands to his head.

  Erendira was quiet for a while. She had looked livid as he told her what Nabeta had said to him, but now she seemed more pensive. Cruz wondered how long she had been here, and realized that since she was a dwarf she could have very well been a member at the Magorum for over a century, though he doubted it since she did not look or act old in any way.

  Tearing him from his thoughts, she suddenly looked up at him and asked, "If you had the supplies for a new spellbook could you reproduce what was in the old one?"

  "Sure, I knew everything that was in that book front to back. I actually made copies back home using regular ink so I could memorize the patterns and incantations."

  Erendira hopped off of the bench and brushed the fabric of her checkered skirt smooth.

  "In that case, I think I can help. Follow me."

  Much to Cruz's annoyance, Erendira wouldn't tell him how she could help, telling him to be patient every time he asked. Producing a spellbook was expensive, and even just the supplies to make one would cost well over what he could make in a year. Was this woman going to buy the materials to make a new one? Sometime later they arrived at a small two-story building in the northern section of campus. Erendira pulled out an overfull keychain out from one of her many shirt pockets and unlocked the front door. She opened it up and led Cruz inside.

  The room was a cozy study of sorts, with books piled everywhere: on the floor around a squat reading chair, on a couple of desks, on the stairs that led up to the second floor, and every other place that a book could be placed. Everywhere but the actual bookcase, which had many glass vials and jars of various viscous looking liquids displayed in it instead.

  "I have tools here that will be more than enough to make a proper grimoire," she said, pointing to one of the desks at the back of the room.

  Looking closer, Cruz saw that the desk, in the area that was not covered in books, had tools used for bookbinding placed upon it, and he realized the jars on the bookshelf must have been various types of ink.

  "It just so happens that I'm in charge of repairing damaged spellbooks as well as making new ones. I teach basic defensive spells to classes when their regular Magisters are sick too. Aanndd,"

  Erendira flashed a mischievous smile. Cruz began to smile back, guessing what was coming next. "To pay me back you can be my apprentice. It will, for the most part, involve book repair but I'm sure I can spare some time teaching you how to defend yourself when we have some downtime. Now before you accept my offer, Hrgghh!"

  Erendira's sentence was cut off by a large and choking hug by Cruz, who was so relieved he was laughing out loud.

  "OK," Erendira said in an out-of-breath voice once Cruz let her down. "First off, never do that again. Second, it's late. There is a small cot in that closet over there that you can set up upstairs. Go get some rest, and we can talk about the details in the morning."

  After giving an overenthusiastic military salute that provoked an eye roll from Erendira, Cruz carried the cot upstairs, leaving the dwarf alone in her study. She smiled to herself thinking about the look on all of the uppity Magister's faces when they saw Cruz with a student pin on his lapel. Then she sat at her bookbinding desk, cracking her knuckles while she did so, and prepared for a long night of work. It takes time to make a decent spellbook, after all.

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