Clovir: An Overture

Part VIII: Red Adharmi I

This here is another three-parter, each installment being released in each of Clovir: An Overture, An Atikan Interlude, and The Liserian Chronicles. It is all about the Red Tradition, the order of Mages plays an integral role in The Yoga Trilogy. It is also set before The Yoga of Strength. I hope you enjoy!

Much love,

Andrew


Red Adharmi I

And we felt like we were returning
To our land rebels
And the shepherds of the sea.
— Wash it Away, Nahko and Medicine for the People

Timothy Chiron regarded the scene before him. It was the same as it always had been: red and desolate. The Crooked Spears were nothing if not majestic, but it was a sight best beheld on one’s way out of Thrairn and into Liseria, or vice-versa. Only a fool would stop, to try to make a life here. So perhaps that is what the Red Tradition consisted of – fools. And as a Novice at the Red Keep, Timothy was an apprentice fool.

“Novice Chiron,” boomed the familiar voice behind Timothy, “we do not have all day. Do or do not, but do not waste my time.”

Timothy whirled to look upon his teacher. He had barely seen more of his face than the stubbly grey hair of the man’s chin over the course of his six months of training, so wedded to the hood of the Red Mage’s robe was Marius Robinson. As one of the three Crimson Viziers, the Vizier of Divination, he was basically in charge of the Red Tradition. But he was still subject to the rules, and the rules said that each full Mage was to always have a Novice beneath them.

Timothy had always assumed that he was chosen at random by Marius, a fresh warm body to fill the necessary role in the cold Mage’s life. And what a life it was – there were whispers among the Novices that Marius Robinson did not age, that he had mastered some illicit secret of necromancy to keep his body young. Still, rumours were rumours: Timothy had never seen any evidence of it – and he spent most of his time with his master.

“You know the words, so either attempt the spell, or let us return down below,” continued Marius after a pregnant pause. “But if we do go without even an attempt, you will be scrubbing alembics and phials for a fortnight – believe it.”

Timothy knew too what would happen if he tried and failed the spell: alembics and phials for a fortnight. Christ-man, what a bastard his master was! Timothy tried to push thoughts of wrath and revenge from his mind, preparing to speak the words of the spell. He brought his hand up next to the other one, focusing his mind on the point between his fingers as he was taught to do. Opening his mouth, a great gust of wind whipped up past the pair to whistle between the space where they stood, atop an elevated platform connecting the minarets of the Red Keep. It was called the Testing Square, and it was used for practicing spellcraft in a manner that posed little danger to the rest of the Red Tradition.

“Christ-man,” muttered Timothy, losing his balance and reorienting himself.

“Five seconds, Novice Chiron, or we are going back.”

The flame of rage returned to Timothy’s chest as he glared back at his master.

“Four… Three… Two…”

Quis ut Ignis!” roared Timothy, splaying his hands towards the mountain.

-----

A screech of pain was followed by a thumping sound. Timothy Chiron had fallen off his cot again. The Novice assigned to tend to him, a severe young woman by the name of Kathryn, sighed, slammed shut the cover of her book, and stood from the desk in the infirmary.

“What is it this time, Timothy?” growled Kathryn, pulling back the sheet hanging from the ceiling that separated the Novice’s cot from the rest of the infirmary. Timothy Chiron was on the ground, uttering muffled screams into a satchel and gingerly holding on to his left shin. “It was only a superficial burn, Chiron. It is not that bad. Not so bad that they had to fetch a Chirurgeon to repair the damage, anyway.”

“The poultice: it does fuck all!” Timothy responded, pulling his red face out of the leather to greet her own nonplussed features. “With all the fancy fuckin’ magic in this place – fireballs, ice, lightning, fortune-tellin’ – you’d think there would be a healin’ spell or two.”

“That is not the way it works,” said Kathryn, “and you know it.”

“I know what they fuckin’ tell us! Sometimes I wonder whether they’re tellin’ us the whole fuckin stor- ouch! Christ-man!”

Kathryn removed her booted foot from the bandage on the man’s wounded leg. “I did not press down hard – not that hard, anyway. You had better be wary of the way you speak. You would not be the first Novice expelled for speaking of rebellion against the way things are done. And expulsion from the Red Tradition is not something you would even want to contemplate.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Timothy, gripping the side of the cot and pulling himself up on his good leg. He attempted to reach for the poultice, which had slipped off his shin and sloughed off a layer of skin in the process. Before he could bend himself too much, Kathryn was on him, pushing him back gently onto the bed. She picked up the muslin bag filled with herbs, placed it in a basin, and fetched a boiling kettle from another section of the infirmary. The boiling water was to ensure that the wound did not turn septic, she informed him, pretending like he had not been taking classes on wound healing at the Herbarium for the past six months.

“You should be proud,” said Kathryn, pulling the poultice out of the steaming water with tongs and letting it rest for a moment. “Most students take at least a year before they are able to cast their first spell. You clearly have an affinity for fire magic.” She paused and gave him a sardonic grin. “Even if proper aim eludes you for now.”

The wounded Novice grimaced. “Proud as a fuckin’ peacock am I.” Timothy paused, letting his face slip while he gathered his courage. “I heard you arrived here already able to cast – and some strange mix of ice and fire, too!”

“Frostfire,” said Kathryn coolly. “I am not exactly pleased that my reputation precedes me, but I suppose gossipers must gossip.”

If Timothy took offence at the thinly-veiled slight, he did not express it. “You’re a legend – unbeaten at the Pyramis, they say.”

They need to keep their fucking cards closer to their chest, Novice Chiron,” Kathryn muttered brusquely, slamming the barely-cooled poultice onto Timothy’s wound and pulling the drape back across his cot.

The man uttered once more his agony.

-----

“There is a certain structure to things, Novice Chiron,” said Marius, standing over his apprentice’s cot with his hands on his hips, “a completely invisible thread that weaves the world together, one of just desserts for actions that inescapably moves reality towards Balance. That is the Truth, though knowledge of this fact of life is intransmissible through normal means.”

“So, what are you telling me?”

Marius stood stone still and glared, his piercing eyes boring into the supine young man.

“So, what are you telling me, Master?” Timothy was careful to hide his dissatisfaction with the way his teacher insisted on proper address.

“What I am telling you, Novice Chiron, is that you earned this. As certainly as night follows day, there was something that you did or did not do that resulted in the physical state in which you find yourself. The Kashyans call this natural law ‘karma.’ You acted wrongly, and now you are being punished. Perhaps it was not in this life, perhaps it was in one previous. These Kashyans – they speak too of reincarnation. Souls must develop from ignorant base things into beings of pure understanding. You carry your miserable karma with you from old lives. You, it would seem, are on the lesser end of things. Perhaps you were a toad before you were born, Novice Chiron. Yes, a toad. That would fit very well.”

Marius’ arrogance was a bitter pill to swallow. Every chance he could, the elder made Timothy feel the space between them, between Vizier and Novice. Timothy often wondered whether he was a noble. Back in Isha, nobles engaged in similar practices, extracting wealth from commoners before grinding them beneath the heels of their imported leather boots. Timothy was of low birth and had grown to hate the nobles for their excesses. Now, that hatred was distilled and focused on Marius.

“How do you know that the Kashyans speak true, Master?” said Timothy, allowing his anger to spill through. “Perhaps the Thrain adherents of the Christ-man know better. They say that we are all subject to Original Sin and can only be saved by belief in the Christ-man. Perhaps every soul is damned unless they pay the priests their tithes. How do you know which is correct?”

Marius smiled, a rare occurrence with the man. “There you go, Timothy,” he said warmly. “Finally asking the right questions.”

-----

A few days after the mishap on the Testing Square, Timothy was finally released from the infirmary. He was happy to be out, though it meant more struggle under the tutelage of Marius. A dirty pile of alembics and phials in the elder mage’s laboratory were waiting for him. He got to work immediately, carefully rinsing the vessels with this powder or that elixir. It was work as dangerous as trying to cast spells, given the propensity for the compounds to explode when mixed with the wrong reagent. But Marius was quite particular and ensured that all items of like reactivity were matched together. Before long, the vessels were finished and Timothy got to work on the laboratory surfaces themselves. He was kneeling on his good leg, scrubbing the polished red rock of the floor, when his master reappeared.

“Novice Chiron,” said Marius, standing over him and ignoring the pile of sparkling clean glass and brass on the countertop “Come with me.” In one brusque movement, the elder Mage had moved to the door of the laboratory and exited.

Limping, Timothy Chiron stood and followed his master. Neither said a word to the other as they traversed the grounds of the Red Keep. For his part, Timothy was glad to be permitted to keep his own counsel, fuming at the figure in the fluttering robe ahead of him. Every step was an agony and it took every ounce of self-control to prevent himself from crying out or hissing his displeasure.

When they had finally come to a halt before a small door, Timothy was fully adrift in his red emotion. It was Marius’ deep baritone that pulled him out of his ruminations.

“The Pyramis Magisterium,” he began, “one of the greatest creations of the Red Tradition. Greatest, that is, if you are a simple creature with a penchant for base pleasures.” Timothy looked at his master, shock evident on his face. “I am merely pulling your leg, Novice Chiron, I am no hater of the place” Marius said, breathing a guttural laugh. “The Pyramis is the setting for one of the most beautiful displays of art upon Clovir.”

“I thought that the door was up there,” said Timothy, pointing to a pair of massive black doors with ornate patterns carved into the wood and gilded handles.

“That is the door to the gallery,” Marius stated, rolling his eyes. “This is the door that one enters when one competes.”

Timothy’s eyes widened. “You’re- you’re not going to…”

“Fight you?” Marius asked. “No, Timothy, I am not going to fight you. It would be more of a slaughter than anything resembling sport. There is something I want to show you.”

Marius opened the door and ushered his charge into a narrow torchlit corridor. After several paces, the hallway opened up into the Pyramis proper. They trod upon the red dirt of the Combat Floor. Above them, the seats of the gallery stood empty. A massive sapphire crystal, suspended from the apex in a golden frame and shaped to look like a crescent moon with an infinite number of facets, cascaded a shower of glints in the torchlight.

“The Heraclytans had their own version of this,” said Marius with a dismissive snort. “Some place where heathens beat upon each other with clubs and dull iron implements, rending flesh for the delight of the unwashed masses. They called it an arena.”

“How-“

“How does this differ? Simple.” Marius walked to one of the walls of the Combat Floor and pulled a brass bracer from a shelf lined with several pairs of them. He snapped it around his left forearm and threw the other of its set to Timothy. “Put that on.”

Timothy gaped again. “I thought you said you weren’t going-“

“Stop speaking like a fucking commoner this instant, Novice Chiron! You are an initiate of the Red Tradition, try to act like it!”

“I am sorry, Master. I forget my speech training from time to time.”

“It seems to me,” Marius said, drawing up a dozen feet from his apprentice, “that you only forget yourself when you are scared.”

“I- I- I think you are correct, Master.”

“I know that I am,” Marius finished coldly. “Like most men who have lacked import in their lives, you are fearful of the consequences of your actions. You feel that if you say or do something that is not in accord with what has been given to you as the truth, that you will somehow fail in your efforts. What you do not realize, Novice Chiron, is your own power. Now, snap on that bracer and cast your spell.” Marius paused and pointed at the spot between his eyes. “Aim it right here.”

Timothy stared dumbly.

“You have seen the fucking fights, Timothy. You know that everyone who conjures against his brothers and sisters in the Pyramis survives. That is what these bracers are designed to do,” Marius added, tapping the brass with a curved finger. “They permit a Novice to summon magic just as well as a Vizier and prevent either party from suffering any lasting damage. So, say the words and try to break free of your boring gods-damned cowardice.”

It would be difficult to describe the internal processes that went on inside Timothy Chiron’s person with this latest in the litany of insults heaped upon him by his teacher. Suffice it to say that within the furnace of his heart, rage, fury, frustration, indignation, shame, guilt, and all the other emotional instruments of Separation bubbled up into a heady brew that screamed for an outlet. The young man stretched his hands out and loosed an initial volley of daggers from his eyes at Marius before saying the words.

Quis ut Ignis!”

-----

“It is appropriate that your affinity is with red fire, Timothy,” said Marius, looking up from his desk upon which several wood-bound books lay open. He placed the rainbow-feathered quill down next to the one onto which he had been writing as he took stock of his apprentice. “You have all of the temper of an inferno, even though you are loath to let your rage escape through action.” Marius paused, seeing something betrayed in Timothy’s face. “You think anger to be a bad thing?”

Timothy pointed to the ancient Heraclytan script that was etched into a tablet on the corner of the desk. “The Heraclytans, they tell us so, do they not? And we get our instructions on how to cast spells from them. And, given the closing of the Rift-“

“We must accept the knowledge of our elders without question,” Marius said, finishing Timothy’s well-rehearsed idea. “Yes, yes. I know that the books written before the formation of the Red Tradition tell us that a calm resoluteness are necessary to cast spells properly. That our belief must be cool and rational, that we cannot let out baser instincts to emerge.” Marius stopped again and stared at the young man.

After a few moments of this, Timothy felt so uncomfortable that he was impelled to speak. “Why do you do this to me? Why is it that you cannot allow me a moment’s respite? I look at the way Novice Marsh and Novice Logan and Novice-“

“Who gives a fuck about the others!?” Marius shouted. “They are not my students and Elders Indigo and Redmond are not your Masters! I am your Master. And you will learn in the way that I prefer to teach!”

“Teach?” said Timothy, feeling the familiar sensation build in his chest. He let it emerge. “You teach nothing but humiliation! You wish me to feel small and idiotic, every chance that you get! Even when I have my triumphs, they are the piddly victories of a child to you. I learned to conjure fire, and you say it is a parlour trick. I learn to brew Omphale’s Visor, a potion that can allow one to see in the dark, and you tell me that it is a simple matter that could be mastered by a mentally deficient. I learn Heraclytan in four months and you tell me that when you were a Novice, you did it in two! Nothing is ever good enough for you and you-“

“Enough!” bellowed Marius. “You are most certainly a child! And have learned nothing from me! Do you want a pat on the head when you complete simple tasks? I am not your mother, you weak wretch.”

Timothy closed his mouth and clenched his fists. His face was as red as the robe he wore around his body, cinched with the frayed black rope belt of the Novice. Crimson like the walls, made of rock hewn from the Crooked Spears that surrounded them. As scarlet as the fire that he had conjured on the Testing Square and in the Pyramis with his master. Timothy Chiron thought he might die of the appropriately red emotion that was coursing through every inch of his body.

And then, as if a switch had been thrown in some deep wet cavern within him, he relaxed. Marius was not the one at whom he was mad. It was about this whole thing – the Red Tradition. This breeding ground of arrogant bastards, these secret knowers of things that thought that they were better than everyone else. Timothy had thought he was lucky at first, to have been discovered by the Mage in the fields outside Isha, ignorantly warming rocks in his hands as if by magic and giving them to other kids to toss in the Pond of Sacrifice where they set the water to boil. They could have left him alone, to let him live his life with his family. His father, a blacksmith, had begun to apprentice him at his forge. He had thought the life dull at the time, but he would give anything to be back in the sweaty heat with his old man, shoeing horses and crafting tools.

But no, these fucking Mages had to interfere. To pluck him like a beast from his home and take him to suffer under this miserable grey-beard.

He would escape, he decided. He was not sure how, he was not sure when, but before long he would be out of the Red Keep and back to sanity. He could not go back home, that much was certain. They would know where to find him. But he had walked past village after village on the way to the Red Keep. Surely one of those little hamlets could use a new blacksmith. Timothy had learned enough from his father before he was abducted.

“Novice Chiron – Timothy, are you feeling alright?”

Timothy looked up, utterly shocked to see concern on Marius’ face. It was genuine, too. It was in the way that his head was slightly angled to the side, the way his eyes drooped as they stared directly into Timothy’s own. All of Timothy’s ruminations stopped for a moment, as he shared one of the few truly human moments he had had in what seemed like an eternity with his cold master.

“Y-Yes, Master.”

“Good,” said Marius, care making itself known in his voice. “Very good. I think it is time for you to see something.”

Marius stood and led Timothy out of his study, down the halls once more. The Novice remained mute as Marius spoke. He was barely listening, caught up as he was in dreams of escape.

“You have not learned everything there is to know about magic on Clovir. That was by design. I have used the techniques passed on to me by my own teacher, when I was in your position. Its purpose was to stoke rage within you, to inflame your passions, to get you to a place where you can grasp hold of the reins of your own emotion. A true Red Mage uses his anger, corrals it like an animal to do his bidding. You can be both utterly angry and utterly in control at the same time, Timothy.”

“Think about it,” the elder Mage continued, “nothing happens in this world except by force. Men and women would kill each other for scraps of food if there was no threat of force. The King on his throne, he would not be able to maintain Order if he did not have his White Guard, his Coloured Orders, his City Guard. And Order must be maintained. Order is that which keeps us from slipping into darkness, into a world where every human being on Clovir could use magic with impunity.”

Marius stopped, turning to yet another door. On this, the only word, writ large in painted gold Heraclytan script, was the word “Magisterium.” He whirled to face his charge.

“As human beings are harnessed by Order, so too is magic. Magic itself is a reaction, Timothy. All these books and words are fine, but the real work is within. To become Red Mages, we need to reach a point of frustration such that you go so deep within ourselves that you find your power. You must be able to harness that feeling and learn to direct it outwards. When you do so, you will finally understand what the words in the books are supposed to signify.” Marius paused. “There is a reason we took you away from your family, Timothy. When a sprouting magical adept is left to his own devices, he might not learn the ways of Order. If he does not, he might fall to Chaos. And from Chaos will come the dissolution of Clovir. So it is prophesied.”

Marius threw open the door and waited for Timothy to enter. Within, great shelves protruding up to a ceiling far above, lined with books and scroll cases and tables, allowed for a very narrow passage through to an open circular area with an ebony desk, before which were two wooden chairs made of the same dark material. Seated behind it was an attendant, a fat bald man wearing the scarlet robe of the Red Tradition. Smoking a pipe as he leafed through a folio, he was tapping it empty when his eyes met Timothy’s. The shock that erupted on the man’s face was almost immediately replaced with a narrowing of his features as his gaze dropped to his black Novice’s belt.

“Novice!” he roared. “You know that you are not permitted in this area! To whom are you apprenticed? I shall see you-“

“You shall see nothing, Olaf!” returned Marius, squeezing past Timothy. “He is my Novice, and I say that he shall be permitted within the Magisterium. Are we to have an issue?”

“Uh, Vizier, I uh,” stumbled the portly Mage, dropping his pipe in the ashtray and getting laboriously to his feet, “my apologies.” Then, catching his obsequiousness by the throat, he added with a small measure of defiance, “You must know that this is highly irregular. If the shade of that belt he is wearing speaks true, he has not yet been initiated!”

“Yes, yes,” said Marius, “I know protocol. But I also know that, as Vizier, my word is law, is it not?”

“You are correct, Vizier. My apologies.” The Mage paused. “Is there anything with which I can help?”

“Certainly,” said Marius, closing the door and motioning to Timothy to follow him into the lighted circular portion of the chamber.

Within, Timothy noticed that there was a grand total of eight bookshelves, arranged around the middle chamber like the spokes on a wheel. The spaces between the stacks were empty.

“Olaf,” began Marius, “you know that you are not permitted to smoke back here.”

“I- um, yes, Vizier, my apologies again,” he replied sheepishly. “A-an oversight.”

“See that you do not look over such a transgression again. This place might be constructed from bear ash, but if you were to set the documents alight down through your negligence, the Shackles of Vulcan would be the best punishment for which you could hope. And even that would be unlikely. You yourself would burn.” Marius paused, watching Olaf wilt before him with visible pleasure on his face. “Now, why do you not instruct Novice Chiron on the source of magic?”

Olaf looked at the Vizier of Divination, torn. To teach a Novice this information was forbidden, according to the Tome of the Law, the book upon which the Red Tradition had been built. But that was comprised of words on a page, and before him was a Vizier, part of the triumvirate that controlled the Red Tradition. Not to mention that, in a way, the Red Tradition controlled all of Thrain, though common folk would be as ignorant of that fact as they would be of the existence of magic in the realm.

Timothy, for his part, was completely checked out of what was occurring before him. He had had it with listening to anyone, including this fat librarian. The first moment he got – the very first – he would make his escape. Fuck Marius, fuck the Red Tradition, fuck whatever this Magisterium was.

Olaf made his decision and began to speak.

“Magic, Novice Chiron, is the very fabric of reality. It exists everywhere and nowhere at once. The essence of creation, it can be bent to the will of an Adept as simply as one might learn to speak. Ignorant folk call this force God, or something along those lines. They bow down to its awesome power and think that it rules their lives. And it does, after a fashion. The thing about this force, though – it responds to belief. If you simply believe in it, you will come to know its power.” Olaf paused, glancing down at extinguished pipe and licking his lips.

“Do not forget my warning, Adept,” Marius said dryly.

“Yes, yes, of course,” replied Olaf, allowing a pained expression to blossom briefly. “As I was saying, magic responds to belief. It comes from a place beyond ours, a place that is timeless, a place where the notions of good and evil, light and dark, even Chaos and Order, are utterly moot. It is beyond all of that, but it is shaped by our world. A long time ago, before the Red Tradition and the Kingdom of Thrairn, it flowed in harmony with nature. It was equal parts good and evil, its light was evenly matched with shadows, and, more importantly, its Chaos was matched by Order. Men grew up from this place, taking what they needed from the land and giving their lives back to the soil in short, desperate measure.”

Olaf paused once more, but this time to sit down in his chair. Marius and Timothy followed his lead and took their own seats.

“The problem, Novice, was that Order, equally balanced with Chaos, was not enough to prevent the world from nearly slipping into dissolution,” Olaf stated, his eyes darting to the pipe. He began to twiddle his thumbs. “In the time of the Heraclytan Empire, there was an Emperor, a man named Traximus, a Mage who managed to do something unthinkable. Deep in the heart of the Crooked Spears, he sliced the fabric of reality and opened a Rift that allowed Chaos to pour through in a deluge. Kronos, the god of Chaos, nearly destroyed us.”

“Order requires that we learn, that we practice, so that we might use magic,” Olaf said, opening a drawer in his desk and slamming the pipe and ashtray inside. “Chaos would allow us to tap into it with impunity. Anyone with a beating heart and functioning brain would be able to cast spells - anything they might dream up, really. When Traximus opened the Rift, Chaos was the result. It meant lawlessness, it meant anarchy, it meant the dissolution of civilization. The Red Tradition was a reaction, a vow to restore Order, to restore control of the world before we all killed ourselves.”

“When our forebears killed Traximus and closed the Rift, we had to make sure that it did not happen again,” Olaf continued, somewhat assuaged by the lack of visual stimulus from the pipe. “We used magic to seal the Rift, to make he sway of Order stronger in the land that surrounded it. It meant that only those trained by the Red Tradition might use magic. It meant that only those who spoke the proper words – Heraclytan, of course – be able to subjugate reality. There are those who are unhappy with the fact that this excess of Order has placed limits on magic – we cannot execute magic that heals flesh, for example – but this is better than the alternative. The first members of the Red Tradition knew it, and so we know it now.”

“This is why we use anger,” Marius interrupted. “I want you to understand this, Timothy: I did what I did with you because you needed to feel the burn. Deep within yourself, the result of anger is a desire to control. You have desired to control me, to force me treat you kindly. Or to kill me, if the former proved impossible. This is what Order is: the desire to control made manifest. The anger within you is strong – some of the strongest I’ve seen. That is why I chose you as a disciple.”

“Chose me?” Timothy said, shocked. “I thought that I was thrust upon you, a gnat that was to annoy you until he was subject to the Rites of Initiation.”

“That was a part of the fiction, of course,” Marius said, laughing. “My indifference was the grindstone that I used to hone the blade of your fury. I saw that my efforts bore fruit this morning – I saw the shift within you. You are a different man, now. One who has reached into the fire for the bridle with which he might control his anger. Use it, Timothy, for rage is the ember that shall ignite your abilities.”

Timothy sat stony upon his chair. The words of the librarian and his Master had washed over him like a torrent. The months upon months of hardship were for Timothy’s benefit, and nothing more, if Marius’ smiling face was to be believed. Part of him – the majority, even – breathed a sigh of relief. But there was something, a shard buried deep within the ore of his soul, that was not satisfied.

“You said that magic must be taught, Adept,” Timothy said, turning to face the unsettled librarian. “Yet I was taken from my home because I developed a crude understanding of this force without the intervention of the Red Tradition. How do you explain that?”

“Ahem,” Olaf said, looking at Marius for a moment. Marius nodded gently to the Adept. “The work of our forebears, of utterly sealing Chaos off from the land of Thrain… it was incomplete. Or it failed. Or it simply could not be done. No one is certain exactly what the issue is. But whatever the case, Chaos does eke in to the land from time to time. This might result in a special child learning something brand new on their own – like heating a rock up to boil a pond – or it might manifest in other ways.”

“Consider the city of your birth: Isha,” Olaf continued. “The Aquesters have ruled Thrairn since the death of Traximus and the fall of the Heraclytan Empire. There have been no challenges to the throne, no civil wars within the borders, no attempts on the lives of the ruling families. That is because Order reigns, and Order reigns strong. But, recently, the Thieves’ Guild has managed to cast out the City Guard from a motley hovel known as the Purple Run.” Olaf paused. “Obviously, that speaks of a lack of Order. But the spell upon the Rift remains strong, so we know that there will be no further incursions of Chaos. We let this lie, confident that it will be – that it will remain – the only problem in the realm.”

“What’s all this, then,” Timothy asked, pointing to the books and sheaves of paper scattered on the desk, then waving his finger across the stacks. “Why all this paper?”

“A Tradition needs a way to pass down its traditions, Novice,” Olaf said, smiling. “What better way than the written word? All of the knowledge of the ancient elders, right here, unassailable.” The corpulent man shifted and grew serious. “Be warned: there are those within our Order that would see a change, perhaps some return to a world of Chaos. A reopening of the Rift, even. There have been… attempts… at this in the past. They all failed, of course. The elders of the Red Tradition wrought impenetrable magic. That said, if you should ever find yourself tempted, know that all of those who ever trucked with Chaos burned-“

Marius cleared his throat. “Thank you, Olaf. Your skill in recitation is noted, as always. A better orator the Red Tradition may never have seen.” His face hardened. “A few bad habits, of course, but perfection is a difficult quarry to trap in this world.” The Vizier looked to Timothy. “Come, Timothy, we are going.”

Timothy stood and followed his Master out of the Magisterium.

-----

In the days that followed, Marius changed towards Timothy. The newfound respect and humility that Timothy had seen exercised within the man at the Magisterium stuck around. There were still the formalities, of course. Marius resumed calling Timothy ‘Novice Chiron,’ for one. But the winds had shifted, and things became easier. Timothy was ready to forgive and forget.

That is, except for one little piece within himself. It looked out at what the Red Mages had wrought with their thirst for control, and it bellowed rebellion. A spark had been ignited, one that Marius had understood to be his apprentice’s dissolution into rage, a first step down a path that Marius himself had trod when he was in Timothy’s shoes.

The truth was easy enough to miss. So close were they to the heart of the Crooked Spears that the presence of Chaos was all but assured to be absent. Nonetheless, that spark remained. Until it caught and nearly destroyed the Red Tradition in a conflagration that shook the ancient order to its knees.

But that, my friends, is a tale for another day.