Prelude IV

Porter breathed in the mountain air. Crisp and cold, up above the clouds and amongst the sky. He occupied one of the platforms which lead between the buildings atop the mounts. He found himself leaning out against the railing.

Déjà vu, he thought, in a lot of ways.

It’d been years since he’d stepped foot in the Monastery, as those acquainted with the place called it. Some thought of it as the University, but Porter knew it differently. The Monastery, placed so high the ocean of clouds showed the curvature of the world, was the home of the Mage’s Guild. There was an Abbot, a spiritual leader and orchestrator of studies, then there were the Professors. Council appointed Magi who would have beneath them a progressively shrinking number of Disciples, or students. It was a competitive atmosphere, where every Professor was at risk of being canned if his Disciples didn’t perform. Every Disciple presented an original thesis, choosing their own approach to magic, which was at its heart an interpretive art.

Each and every one of them was beholden to a single price. Should they be needed, the Disciples could be called to arms. Brought out to face down any threat which extends beyond what science could solve. And their Professors would be behind the entire operation, were they chosen as well.

Porter still wore the same maniacal grin.

He half expected Christopher to show up out of nowhere and join him against the railing while he looked out, but he was alone on the platform.

He went on his way, climbing the stone steps which led up and around a spire of rock, towards the Abbot’s tower. As he went, a young man with long brown hair and a concerned expression nearly collided with him. The two passed, without apology.

Porter stopped in his tracks, the other man continued off. He looked around, suddenly sensing something was wrong. The same feeling he’d felt in the tunnel.

He shrugged it off. It was a weird place, after all.

O

Kendall was sweating bullets. He walked at a hasty clip up an exterior flight of steps, cursing the fact that ninety percent of the walkways on the Monastery were outside, in the cold. He slid by a man in a really antiquated blue three-piece suit on his way. Nobody he recognized in passing.

He was headed for Professor Cobb’s building, the current tyrant who ruled over his life. The man to whom he was a Disciple.

He’d been summoned, as he knew he would be today. Kendall had marked it on the calendar some time ago, and the occasion alone was enough to freak him out. He wasn’t making strides with his thesis, and Cobb knew.

Everything had changed this morning. He’d made a stride. A very, very dangerous stride towards being exiled. The go-to punishment in Utopia.

There was some thing in his lab. And it wasn’t properly bound.

It wasn’t even his.

And yet…

Oh, I am so screwed.

HE took a breath, in too deep to stop now. Nobody knew, not even Aku knew, which was a little terrifying, frankly. He bounded up the last few steps to the platform which led the way to the front of Cobb’s building. It, like every Professor’s building, was a dome of glass which melded into the mountainside.

Cobb’s Sanctuary.

The double doors slid aside as Kendall entered. The room was huge, the floor cut from he stone of the mountainside. There were dividers, rises of granite which set parts of the Sanctuary above others. Testing areas, labs, common areas, food dispensers, all part of the singular room which was wholly and entirely Cobb’s domain.

Kendall’s peers stood or walked about, many headed for, or coming from, their sleeping quarters. Those saps shared a single lab, Kendall remembered.

He’d been granted a private lab, a space of his own among the lower rock formations. It meant a hell of a lot of steps to climb, but it was worth it. Not that he had a say in the matter. His lab was separate because his work was deemed ‘bat-crap-crazy’, by most standards.

Kendall marched up a ramp of rock which led to a craggy outcropping from the walls, which on the far side of the Sanctuary were entirely stone until they met the glass about fifty feet up. This outcropping had a door and one-way mirror which allowed for viewing of the entire Sanctuary.

He rapped lightly on the door once he’d ascended to its place above.

“Enter, Mister Blackthorn,” Aku said from a black sphere inset beside the door.

He so did get tired of hearing that voice.

Kendall entered the dark, cave-like space of Cobb’s office, which was illuminated by torches on the wall.

Cobb had something against tech. Believed it affected his practice.

“Sir?” Kendall asked. The menacing leather chair which presided between Cobb’s desk and the glass wall was empty. The mahogany desk had a single book on its surface. Kendall walked over to it.

Time Immemorial, it read.

Kendall’s phone rang and he pulled it from his pocket. Aku spoke.

“Professor Cobb is that way. Last door at the end of the hall.” A three-dimensional arrow was displayed on his phone’s screen. At the back of Cobb’s office was a hallway, which led away from the Sanctuary and deeper into the rock.

He went to the back of that hall, passing as he did the open wood doors to Cobb’s living quarters and kitchen. The last door had a rounded top and old engravings.

Does Cobb make these? Is carpentry still a thing, or were they matter printed?

Knowing Cobb, he probably had them made by hand.

The door creaked open. Behind it, a flight of stairs went up to a threshold from which stars could be seen. Kendall carefully climbed the dark stairs and came out into a stone courtyard.

The ground was made up of obsidian and marble tile carefully laid out in a pattern Kendall didn’t recognize. In the center of the circular design, on an elevated rock, sat a man in white robes.

Ugh. Kendall could hardly stand the mysticism some Magi strived for.

“Sir?”

“Silence Disciple… Do you feel it?” Cobb asked, his voice like gravel.

“Attunement is not my specialty, Sir,” Kendall said. He went to stand behind Cobb, who kneeled before the view.

Cobb’s place of meditation let out on the top of the mountain’s spine. Since his Sanctuary was placed on one of the outer mountains, the only thing beyond was endless roiling white cast in starlight. The sun was on the horizon to their backs.

“Neither is Conjuring, apparently,” he said, deep and foreboding.

“I wanted to talk to you about that, seeing as this is my review-” Kendall started.

Silence,” Cobb said. Kendall bit his lip.

Nothing happened for around five or six minutes. He simply waited.

At last, Cobb stood, his robes unfurling to ripple in the wind.

Sigh.

“There’s news,” Kendall blurted out.

“Something is coming,” Cobb spoke, all vague and mysterious.

“That’s not what I meant-”

“It matters not then. You are dismissed from my tutelage.”

“You see, I-…” Kendall failed to continue as it got through to him what Cobb had just said. “You- you mean I’m out of the program?”

“Your methodology has proved unfruitful and I disdain your philosophy.”

Kendall was required to write papers on Metaphysics Theorem and he leaned towards naturalistic explanations. Something Cobb disdained.

“I- okay. But my fishing technique succeeded, that’s big!” He was lying through his teeth.

Cobb turned to look at him, revealing the face of the shadowy old man, hooded and bearded. “What spirit did it yield?”

“Not exactly a spirit, per se-”

“So you accidentally pulled through some poor mortal, whom I am going to have to try and put back?”

Kendall shook his head. “No, I just haven’t classified it yet.”

Cobb scowled. “Dangerous.”

Dangerous as fuck, he mentally agreed. Still had no idea what’d happened this morning. Who the black suit was and why he was there just as Kendall’s rune caught something. But all of it was fucktastically bad.

“Please, Master. I know that Conjuring Law and bindings are a profitable field of study. We can cut so much waste-”

For the fourth and final time, Cobb cut him off.

“I will no longer tolerate you, Kendall. Go and inform the Abbot you’ve been released from me.” Cobb turned away his head and bowed it.

Just like that.

He wanted to throw him off the cliff but suspected he would probably have some way to kill him if he tried. Some random power.

Fucking Mystics.

Kendall left.

Everything he’d worked for, an entire year of study under Cobb and two decades of interest prior, was for nothing.

He walked in a haze all the way out of the Sanctuary and onto the paths outside. He was crossing over a bridge, on his way to the Abbot’s tower, when a cute girl stepped into his path.

He would have been thrilled if he weren’t dead inside.

“Kendall Blackthorn?” She asked

“Yeah,” he said.

“I’m Megan. Can we step over into the cove? It’s kinda windy to talk.” She pointed to an alcove in the grey rock, just on the other side of the bridge.

“I guess.” Again, dead inside.

They went.

“Okay, my name’s Megan.”

“I heard.”

She giggled. That wasn’t funny?

“Well, I was told you’re authorized to take unclaimed spirits? Your Thesis is listed as…” She closed her eyes, trying to remember. “‘Summoner and Conjuring based?”

There was a difference.

“Look, I’m not…” Not a student anymore. He couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“Can you take a low-level Elemental Spirit? Tier one?” She asked.

Kendall just stared at her, deciding what to say.

He left.

So not dealing with this right now.

She called out but Kendall just sped up a little. He angrily fast walked to the central platform. When he got there he passed a group of Students standing around and went up towards The Tower. He took his time on the steps, dreading each one.

He opened the Abbot’s door without knocking.

The Abbot, a spindly middle-aged man with a short beard, wore a button up shirt, coat and slacks, not robes. He sat in his office chair, up in the top of his tower which, like everything else around here, was glass.

But that wasn’t what made Kendall lose his train of thought.

The Blue Suit sat comfortably in one of the chairs in front of the Abbot’s desk. He quirked an eyebrow at Kendall, while the Abbot glared.

“What’s the meaning of this interruption?” the Abbot asked. “Kendall Blackthorn, isn’t it?”

“Blackthorn? Was he on the list?” the Blue Suit wondered aloud.

“Yes,” the Abbot said quickly.

“I’m supposed to-” Kendall started, but like so many times today-

“How’s your Thesis coming, Kendall?” the Suit asked.

“He’s struggling. I don’t think Cobb is the right fit for him.”

“You don’t say.”

“Yes. But why is he here?” the Abbot redirected, still glaring.

Kendall didn’t know why, but he lied his ass off. “Honestly, I’ve forgotten.” He wasn’t great at lying, really.

“Well, it’s good that you are,” the Suit pulled the conversation back in the direction he wanted, not caring why Kendall was there. “My name is Porter.”

“He’s a new Professor here,” the Abbot added. He leaned back in his chair.

“Hi,” Kendall confusedly replied. “My Thesis is actually going well… I added two subjects to my unit today.” He threw in the wind spirit.

“Really?” Porter asked.

“Yeah, I, uh, snared one and got another.”

“In one day. Why not?” Porter looked to the Abbot. “I’ll take him.”

“In that case,” the Abbot gestured to the second chair. Kendall came and sat. “Would you be willing to change programs, Kendall?”

“I’d allow you to continue your Thesis,” Porter said. “It would set you back some, in terms of how close you are to graduating, but-”

Yes! I would love to join your program. Porter?”

“You’ll call me Mister Porter.” He looked pleased as he said it. “And I’m excited to say, I think you’ve made the right choice.”

“Yes. We’ll contact you first thing tomorrow with the relevant information,” the Abbot said. “In the meantime, I expect you to make sure your bindings are secure and you remember to knock next time.”

“Will do, Sir.”

He left the room as soon as he had his leave. He froze outside the door, starstruck. For a few moments, everything eluded him.

Then he wasn’t bewildered anymore. He was weirded out.

He meandered back down the steps and came to stand on the edge of the giant main platform, where there was nothing between him and the precipice.

This had been the oddest hour of his life. He’d been cut, just like he’d been dreading for so long.

And then that’d happened.

He may have had emotional whiplash, but he didn’t care.

I’m still in.

Kendall howled into the afternoon twilight.

Fuck yeah…” he said and hung his head.

Someone was standing beside him. Kendall bit the bullet and looked at the person in his peripheral vision, already afraid of who it was. It was him, the intruder.

“What did you do?” he asked Christopher.

“I did this.” He gestured at Kendall, whose smile was fading. “Saved you.”

No, you left a naked guy in my lab.” Christopher went to stand beside Kendall, on the edge of the platform.

“Oh yes, that too.” He gave a wry grin.

“What is it?”

“Special. Good. He’s a gift to you and the Omniverse. I’m a student here Kendall, not some demon with a dastardly master plan,” he said.

“Seriously? Whose Disciple?”

“Wulff. Though I’m left to my own devices almost entirely. As it stands, I think they won’t graduate me to Professor because I make the old men jealous. Some of them are less than human, at this point. Don’t want them mad.”

“So…” Kendall tried to puzzle this out. “Why the naked guy?”

“Because my field is Metanarrative History and not Conjuring. So you’re going to take care of him for me, so I don’t get in trouble.”

Like that answered the question.

“And why would I do that?” Kendall asked, still trying for information.

“Because we’re friends, Kendall.” He seemed all too pleased with that answer. “And it benefits you. As we’ve demonstrated.”

Kendall grinned. He was right, everything had gone perfectly. He’d gotten out of Cobb’s reach and gotten in with a new Professor, which meant he would be safe for a while from expulsion.

And he’d gotten two new subjects.

He was still reeling. It had all happened so fast.

Out on the edges of the earth, the sun was beginning to crest the horizon, setting the sky ablaze. For only moments a day the sun peaked above and turned the heavens all manner of colors. Kendall liked to take a break from whatever he was doing and watch.

Judging by the silence that followed, so did Christopher, who watched in appreciation.

“We’ll meet again,” Christopher said after a while.

“Um, okay, I guess.” Kendall didn’t turn to see but he heard him walk off, unceremoniously. He let out a sigh of relief.

He watched the end of the sun cresting by himself.

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