Cóir observed the barely controlled chaos around him as Ventur was led away by flustered but well-meaning teachers and the Vampire child had been calmed down and shown to the nurse’s office for the Vampire equivalent of a hot tea and a biscuit. The fake headmistress had disappeared soon after the real one had arrived, much to the relief of everyone involved. He studied the Headmistress, his sightless gaze taking in everything. She was clearly terrified and completely out of her depth. She had no idea what was going on or what to do, she was in need of a scapegoat and fast. Cóir wasn’t surprised when, after managing to stay calm in front of both the children and staff, she rounded on him like a maddened Harpy.
“I don’t know what you think you’re playing at, Master Cóir, but this has gone too far! You’re traumatising my children now and I won’t stand for it! I know you do not approve of how I run my school but that is no excuse to attack innocent children! As soon as I get back to my office The Emperor is going to hear about this and you will be escorted from this building immediately!” She even stamped her foot a bit. Cóir raised an eyebrow and watched as the Headmistress puffed herself up and, to her credit, met his unseeing gaze head on.
He snorted in derision. Spoilt and delusional, great. He tilted his head slightly, thinking. “Understand one thing Catherine, I am no’ some little child y’can intimidate with your whining and bluster. I do not traumatize children for fun. Now, I should pay close attention to the lil’ Vampire if I wer’ you. It looks as if she’s coming into her power an she’ll need someone t’help her understand, ‘else she’ll be givin’ you an even bigger headache than I am.” If things had been different, watching this Headmistress slowly fall to pieces in front of his eyes would have made the whole six month secondment worth it. As it was, it appeared that bigger things were happening and Cóir needed to focus. “Y’think it wer’ me tha’ conjured you up in ther’ I take it?”
“Don’t you take that tone with me! You may be a Master Hunter but in here you will treat me with the respect that I deserve, I am the Headmistress of this school and you will speak to me as such! And of course I think it was you that created that thing, it sure as hell wasn’t one of the children!”
Cóir shook his head and started to walk back to his office ignoring the pompous woman behind him in a way only a veteran Hunter could. He needed to consult his data banks. If he was correct, he had just found exactly what the Emperor was looking for. Their situation might be salvageable after all, but it would need far more diplomacy than he cared for. Still, he felt the first stirrings of hope well up from the depths of his otherwise cynical soul. The situation could be salvaged. They weren’t lost anymore.
“Don’t you walk away from me!”
Cóir stopped, angry now. He had work to do, his priorities had changed and he couldn’t afford to lose any more time. If he let the Headmistress follow him back to his office (and in her present state she would, he was sure of it) he would never get anything done. Thunder sounded around the nearly empty corridor as Master Cóir turned. His face had set into hard lines and his usually casual stance solidified into that of a far more dangerous individual. His voice was low and Mistress Schoolhouse had to take a step back as he advanced upon her. “I do no’ harm to, endanger any, nor even spook one innocent but cross me little missy or put one who has no’ caused any harm t’another in harm’s way an’ I’ll act without hesitation or mercy. I am the Emperor’s Justice Mistress Schoolhouse. D’you understand wha’ that means? I am Justice an’ Justice is no’ merciful Headmistress, Justice is Just an’ so am I. I would’ne harm a hair on an innocent’s head, unlike you, an’ my patience is wearin’ thin. If you feel I‘ve wronged you then feel free t’write to The Emperor, she does love t’hear from those who disagree with her methods. Until then, I have work that needs doin’.”
“Now…” Mistress Schoolhouse stammered.
“Now nothing girl. You just witnessed a Vampire come into her powers, attack a fellow student an’ all you’re concerned about is my tone of voice an’ your title. The fact tha’ I’m no’ haulin’ you in front o’the courts for child endangerment should be enough for you to be dancin’ in the streets not screamin’ at me like a demented heradin. Housin’ Vampire kids in with humans was one of the stupidest ideas I’d ever heard of but for some reason the school council backed yer so called reforms. Now I can’t stop it, ‘tis not for me t’decide who lives where, ‘tis the council’s decision, but if you ever let anythin’ like this happen again it won’t end well Mistress, that I can promise.”
“I will write to The Emperor about this, you mark my words Hunter. I’ll have you out of a job for sure and if you so much as breath another insult in my vicinity you’ll be out of this Empire and into the Midlands before you can,” Mistress Schoolhouse sneered “blink. You are terrorising not only myself but the children of this school as well and it will stop. That council you are so keen to mock happen to be very powerful and I happen to have very well connected friends. Threaten me again and it’s you who won’t like the consequences, Master Cóir Hunter.”
All Ventur could remember from the days after Rheandra had tried to hurt him was being held in Mistress Sage’s arms whilst he shook and cried. He could remember the feel of her cool healing magic working its way through his body, fixing anything that was broken and soothing away his distress ever so slowly. It seemed like forever before she had let go of him and even longer before a surly but gentle aid came to take him to a new dorm room. All Ventur’s things had already been moved and the aid had introduced himself as Albin before showing him where his belongings had been placed. He had helped Ventur settle onto his bed and then sat quietly in the chair next to him. Albin had pulled out a rolled up paperback book from his jacket pocket and begun to read, occasionally snorting in amusement at something on the page or else shaking his head sadly. Ventur hadn’t wanted to think about what had happened and so he’d watched the old man’s white and bristly beard twitch and ruffle in reaction to the words. He’d listened to his chuckles and watched the way his big wrinkled hands had turned the pages of his book ever so carefully.
He’d been scared at first when Albin had come to meet him in the Sage’s office. The room was warm and the light green of the walls had made Ventur feel safe, like he was hiding in his favourite part of the forest again. Mistress Sage had held his hand as he had reluctantly climbed down from her lap to look up at the old man slowly walking towards them. He had a slight limp and his white hair and spiky beard made him look, to the five year old Ventur, like he’d been playing with plug sockets and lost. It was sticking up all over the place. His skin was tanned a light brown like the gardeners and it had wrinkles all over it. His light blue eyes were looking directly at Ventur as if he were trying to read his mind. Ventur didn’t like it. He scuffed his shoes against the aged wooden floor and tried to hide himself behind Mistress Sage’s legs, turning away from the strange new man in front of him. He wanted to fade away, he wanted to hide but he knew that he shouldn’t. He’d tried fading when he was holding onto someone once before and it hadn’t worked out well at all. He didn’t want the old man and Mistress Sage to find out and tell him off so he simply tried to fit himself even further behind his teacher. He was looking at the old man’s polished black shoes when he saw them stop their slow shuffle like walk across the floorboards. He looked up and into his staring blue eyes again. The old man was smiling. The crinkled lines of his face curving and the eyes that had seemed so terrifyingly focused before had softened and melted. Ventur gasped and the old man chuckled a low growling laugh. He held his hand out for Ventur to take and as Ventur looked up to Mistress Sage for direction she smiled as well and nodded for him to take it.
The old man’s hand had been surprisingly gentle and his gruff “hello” had had a warmth to it that Ventur hadn’t expected. He’d been led to his new dormitory in companionable silence because he hadn’t known what to say to the stranger but it hadn’t felt bad. The man had held his hand the whole time and he had felt oddly safe in his company. Things weren’t bad when the old man was around. The shadows weren’t scary and the odd noises of the old building didn’t bother him like they had been starting to. So when Albin had settled himself into the chair next to Ventur, he’d let out a silent thank you and relaxed. He wasn’t being left alone.
“What are you reading?” Ventur had asked him after hearing Albin laugh again.
“A book about an old Hunter who goes to The Midlands for one last adventure. It’s my favourite. Wanna hear it kiddo?”
“Oh yes please! Would you read it to me? I can’t read very well, I get bored.”
Albin chuckled again. “I know what you mean, them books they give to you could put anyone t’sleep. This is the real thing. This is what I call a good story.” His face crinkled into a smile again, he coughed to clear his throat before marking the page he had gotten to and turning back to the first one. “The Adventure of Herakuleze the Brave,” he read “Chapter One: You have to start at the beginning.
“Herakuleze the Brave was an old, old Hunter. He had been on many adventures in his life but this was going to be his biggest and his most daring yet. It was also going to be his last.”
Ventur listened, spellbound as Albin brought the words on the pages before him to life. He could see the old Hunter as he fought with wolves and assassins; as he kissed pretty ladies and saved doomed warriors from evil plots. He lay, safely cocooned beneath his bedsheets, warm and happy as his mind wandered, guided by the words of the story, to beyond The Line and into The Midlands.
Rheandra was angry, very angry. Yes she had been scared and yes she had cried for a bit but now she was angry enough to rip something apart. Her teachers had told her that this was perfectly normal and that all she needed to do was keep drinking her blood supply and distracting herself until everything settled down. How stupid did they think she was? She wasn’t a baby, she knew what was happening to her. The first few teachers that had tried to explain to her that she was coming into her powers early had used that special ‘talking to the baby’ voice that grown-ups always used when they talked to anyone smaller than they were. She had shouted and gnashed her teeth until they had left her alone. Then the Deputy Headmaster had come into her room and told her that she had behaved very badly and that they understood she was upset but that this was no excuse to be rude. She had glared at him throughout his lecture. It wasn’t until she started to wonder what it would be like to sink her teeth into his neck that she realised her newly formed fangs were starting to poke out over her bottom lip. The Deputy Headmaster left quickly after that.
Now she was alone in her room. The grey stone walls that she used to think were quite pretty suddenly felt as if they were trapping her in. The delicate lacework of her stained glass windows stopped looking artistic and now looked weak and foolish, so very breakable. How was that supposed to protect anyone? The glass had been painted and put together to look like a sunrise, why? Why couldn’t they just look at the actual sunrise? Her bed-springs creaked as she sat down on them. She flinched as the sound that was normally so comforting grated on her newly improved senses. She hated it all.
She didn’t want this, any of it. She didn’t want to be forever the pitied little Vampire Doll. She would not let that happen. She would find a way to stop this. She would not come into her power and be trapped in a five year old’s body forever. She was strong, she was powerful…otherwise this wouldn’t have happened now. Yes, that was it. Her head snapped up as her door opened again, Master Cóir stood there and he did not look pleased at all. Well, that made two of them.
“What?” Rheandra said petulantly.
“Start as ye’ mean to go on lass, that’s the spirit.” Cóir walked further into her room and closed the door behind him.
Rheandra bristled. “I’m not scared of you. I don’t care what everyone else says, just because you work for The Emperor doesn’t make you a big deal.”
Cóir looked down at the child sat, her legs dangling off the side of her bed, a cup of blood in one hand and a headless doll in the other. He’d been told that her name was Rheandra and she was one of the most promising Mages that the school had seen in awhile. He could well believe it, coming into her power at such an early age was rare for a Vampire and was not to be treated lightly but it wasn’t so uncommon that the teachers had to treat her as if she were the reincarnation of Magda. He’d seen a lot of things in a thousand years and had seen many Vampires come into their powers, at many different stages of their lives. This kid wasn’t unique. She was powerful yes, she was indeed quite clever, but she certainly wasn’t unique.
“So, you do know who I am then?” Cóir asked
“Of course. I’m not stupid, so you can stop treating me like a baby.” She threw the rest of the doll onto the floor to join its head.
“I’ll be treatin’ you exactly as you deserve t’be treated lass, an’ right now the dirt on the bottom of‘me shoes deserves to be treated better’n you.” Rheandra glared. “That’s right” the Master Hunter laughed “glare me to death. That’ll work.” Steam began to rise from the cup of blood Rheandra was holding. “I’d be careful of that if I were you” he nodded to the cup “if it gets too hot it’ll shatter and then you’ll have a lot’a cleanin’ t’do as well as a lot of grumblin’.” Rheandra glared some more but eventually put the cup down on her bedside table.
“What do you want?” She asked again. “I was busy.”
“Looked it.” He pulled up a chair and sat facing her at the end of her bed. “I was told ye’ managed to scare off all the other teachers. They ain’t used to little brats like y’self comin’ of age so early. They dragged me away from some very importan’ work because you wouldn’t let ‘em explain what’s hapnin’ t’ya. They want me to explain everythin’ instead. Apparently only I’ll be able t’get through to ya.” Cóir had just pressed the ‘send’ key on his initial report to The Emperor when a rather flustered messenger had arrived asking for his assistance.
Rheandra’s glare became more pronounced at the word ‘brat’ but otherwise she kept quiet. Cóir heard the grinding of her teeth and could almost feel the tension rolling off her small body but was grudgingly impressed that she managed to keep herself quiet. Maybe there was some hope for her after all.
“Good” he praised, “keep that up an’ we might get somewhere. I’m Master Cóir Hunter” he held out his hand for her to shake “and your name is?”
“Rheandra.” Bitterness still laced her voice but she was at least making the effort to be civil. Cóir smiled again as she shook his hand.
“Ok, to business. I don’t have long an’ there are things you need t’know before you find out the hard way. Obviously you’ve already been told tha’ you’re coming into your power, but I doubt that your teachers stuck aroun’ to explain exactly what that means.
Rheandra shook her head.
“When a Vampire comes into their power it means tha’ their body has reached a certain level o’magical maturity. All Vampires ‘ave innate magical gifts, you, for example seem t’ave an affinity towards fire an’ heat magics. Others of our kind will be drawn towards light or nature magics. Others still may be able t’manipulate thoughts an’ emotions. D’you understand?”
Rheandra had stopped glaring and was now looking right at him. She nodded when he asked if she understood and so he continued.
“Right now yer body will be in overdrive. Everything’ll be heightened and everyone’ll be the most annoyin’ person on the planet. It’ll pass, trust me. Give it a week or so an’ the world’ll right itself again.
“What they don’t tell you in all the textbooks is what comes after tha’. You’ll need to learn how not t’break things when you pick ‘em up an’ how not to hurt people when you tap ‘em on the shoulder. You’re stronger now than anyone else ‘round you. Turning a door handle’ll require you to concentrate. You need t’learn how hard you can grasp things an’ how much pressure you’ll need to use to turn and push with.”
“But, I’m fine. I can hold things fine, look?” Rheandra picked up her cup again and held it out for Cóir to inspect.
“It’s not been a week yet kiddo. Just you wait’n see. Your body’ll get stronger an’ quicker, your mind too. If y’think the kids around you sound stupid now, give it a few weeks. Your headmistress has reminded me tha’ yer just a child an’ to treat yea like I would me own kid. Yer Headmistress is an idiot, pardon my Angorathian. She presumes tha’ all violence is bad and tha’ ‘innocent little children’ shouldn’t ‘ave any knowledge or idea abou’ it fer as long as possible.
“This is, of course, blatantly stupid. All kids understand violence, yeh only ‘ave to watch ‘em playin’ with toys t’know tha’. What littl’ens like yerself don’t understand is the idea of consequences. That’s what I’m ‘ere to teach ya, an’ the sooner you can truly understand the idea tha’ all actions lead to consequences the sooner you’ll grow. It’ll take time, ‘alf the adults ‘ere don’t properly understand it, but get it right an’ yer ahead of the game.”
I have a new assignment for you. Be in my office in 20 minutes. The message was from The Emperor and had been sent via secure comms unit. Meladath finished up her meal for the night and threw it to one side. The message had flashed across her vision for just long enough to be read, taken in and acted upon but it was just what she had needed to brighten up her somewhat monotonous evening.
She had woken up early and rather hungry. Alcibiades was out chasing a Wilder who had managed to gain allies within a minor arm of government and she was facing a long night alone. She was mission-less and bored. Her quick eyes glanced towards the updated Wanted panel that hung on the wall beside her bed. There were three names flashing red; Wanted for murder. Resting her hands behind her head Meladath almost smiled. Alcibiades may not be around but she could always play with her food.
Tracking down the three murders had not been hard but as a Darksbane it was her job to remain unseen and undetected at all times. Each target was an opportunity, for her as well as her enemies. Every time she left the base she was never to be seen, no one was to know she even existed. She was death in the night and that was how she liked it. The noise and fuss of the people that buzzed around her had never appealed to her in the same way it did to Alcibiades. For him it was like swimming amongst a warm sea of life filled with secrets, hopes and ideas. For her it was more like a cloying fog that could never be shed. He loved the drama of it all and playing puppet master was what he lived for. She detested the monotony of everyday life and could not understand how people could actually enjoy routine. His drug of choice was power, hers was blood. The appeal of people for her was that of a doughnut to a sugar addict. They were both food and drug in one pretty package.
She had just closed in on the last target when the message had glowed across her vision. She made short work of the slight Elf trapped within her arms and, looking up to make sure her path was clear, jumped up onto the nearest roof-top before heading straight for the Palace. It wasn’t a long walk and the night air was sweet with dew after a recent rainfall. The night blooming flowers were making the most of the warmth and Meladath watched the moths and bats as they flocked to the brilliantly scented Moon Flowers in the gardens below her. The moon was beginning to make it’s long climb up the sky and the rain clouds were starting to clear as Meladath felt the shimmer of the Palace wards allow her into the Emperor’s upper garden terrace. From there she made her way through a series of magically concealed passageways and spires before pausing to knock on the ornate wooden door of The Emperor’s office.
The door was opened by a Palace Guard who nodded to acknowledge her arrival then silently left the room, closing the door behind themselves. The Emperor was sat behind her oak desk, leafing through a rather large and somewhat dry tome about Illusionists. This was going to be interesting.
“You know,” The Emperor said “If it weren’t for Master Cóir I would never have believed the Illusionists were real. I’ve lived for coming close to 500 years and there haven’t even been rumours of one’s existence. I have heard all the stories of course, who hasn’t, but they were just that, stories. What’s your take on the rumours Darksbane?”
Meladath coughed quietly and paused to think before delivering her answer. “As far as I was aware they were all dead. As you said, Mistress, there haven’t been any for coming on 600 years now. I’ve spoken to a few individuals who have claimed to have seen Magda but there accounts were rarely consistent and most of these individuals are now dead, so they cannot be asked to repeat their tales. The Elves seem to have the most reliable account of all. They say she could alter the world around herself. Make people see and hear things that weren’t there, believe that they were feeling things that weren’t happening to them or be eating food that never existed. They said she was a formidable warrior in her own right but that she was almost impossible to kill because she would simply vanish from the vision of anyone who tried.”
“Yes, I’ve heard those stories as well. The Elves claimed it was almost as if she faded from memory when she faded from their vision but you know what Elves are like, they have the story-telling gene built in at birth.” The Emperor sighed “As if it weren’t bad enough that the Angorathians have made a move on the Pestle and Mortar but now this.” The Emperor pushed Cóir’s report across her desk towards Meladath. Read it and tell me what you think.
Meladath had barely blinked when The Emperor had dropped the bombshell of the Angorathians attempt to gain access to one of the Elements of Power and instead focused on the printed out message in front of her. The Emperor didn’t just accidentally let slip information like that, something far bigger was happening. As she read she considered the possibilities.
Master Cóir Hunter U0672156 for the Urgent Attention of Emperor Mistress Aelsong 1st.
Report: We have an Illusionist in the City.
I have made a study of a rather unusual five year old child by the name of Ventur who resides in the West Quarter School. There is no doubt in my mind the child is an Illusionist and a very vulnerable and naive one at that. I have observed him on many occasion slip from both the sight and minds of his schoolfellows as well as summon up a projection of the Headmistress that was so lifelike that it caused the real one to accuse me of magical trickery.
Thankfully no one at the school has yet realised what is happening and the child is still young enough that he thinks his powers are a fun way to get him out of class and nothing more. He hasn’t yet learned to use them offensively but unless something is done about him soon he will. As I write this he is sat outside my office on my bench. No teacher or student who has passed it has seen him and he has been there for nearly an hour. I have no doubt that you will understand the significance and urgency of the situation as well as the possibilities available to us as a nation. I will stay here for the remainder of my time and make a thorough study of the child. I request that you send someone to aid me in this and that they be someone who is able to sense the child using something other than their eyes. He hasn’t yet developed the skill to confuse the other senses and if we can teach him slowly enough we should be able to learn the magical signatures to look out for when he is using his powers.
He is a promising Hunter and enjoys trying to stalk me around the complex. We can most certainly capitalise on this.
Meladaths first thought was shit swiftly followed by oh hell no. “May I just say at this time, Mistress that I acknowledge I have considerable skills with regards to Hunting and Stealth but I lack any form of affection for children or most adults when it comes right down to it? I have no patience when teaching amateurs and, well, there is a reason I became a Darksbane.”
“Well spoken and I do appreciate how you feel in this matter, however, I currently do not have anyone better suited for this position at my disposal. The other Hunters in the city right now are all human and do not possess any magical skills whatsoever; I trust you can see the problem there. The Stalkers are out tracking down the individuals involved in the, shall we say, incident that occurred the other week and of all the Darksbanes you are the only experienced teacher.” The Emperor paused and smiled to herself “Besides, I’m sure you would welcome the chance to educate and mould the worlds next Illusionist. I’m sure I would.”
“Surely there are some teachers who”
“I said there is no one else. You are uniquely talented and have the training required to fulfil Master Cóir’s request and my assignment. I trust that you will not fail me in this mission Darksbane because the fate of our entire Nation may well rest upon its success. The Angorathians are not to know of the existence of this child and he is to grow up fully equipped not only for battle but to fight for The Empire. He will fight upon my command, do you understand me Darksbane?”
Meladath dropped her gaze to the floor “Yes my Emperor, orders understood. I will carry them out as and when you wish.”
“Very well. Report to the Wordsmith for your renaming. You will be Meladath Hunter until the child graduates.”