Chapter II - A Lost Cause
Hisvii was almost amused by Mathon’s difficulty accepting the necromancer. The elementalist had refused to drop the subject at the beginning of the next day’s meeting, but after several hours of arguments, talk finally turned to old business. Discussions of who should be allowed to study magic, which towns needed assistance, and when to assign apprentices seemed to drag on endlessly. Hisvii took the first opportunity to call for a break.
“My stomach tells me it’s close to noon,” he said. “We should invite Toth to join us for our midday meal if he hasn’t returned home yet. He might even give us another peek at those intriguing skeletons.”
Mathon scowled at him. “The boy’s long gone by now, and good riddance. He’s disrespectful, overconfident, and stubborn.”
“Traits common among most wizards.”
Hisvii rose from the table and stretched, quickly pulling down the sleeve of his robe when it bunched up near his shoulder. His skin was almost as wrinkled as Lassinar’s was.
“Perhaps,” said Mathon, “but at least some of us follow the rules set by the council. Toth has blatantly disregarded them, just like his master, Ogma, and I dare say others in this room.”
“You must be mistaken,” said Hisvii. “None of us would violate the council’s trust.”
“Of course not.”
While the rest of the wizards tucked their chairs beside the table and headed for the door, Lassinar and the alchemist split from the group to gather around Mathon. They’d both seemed ready to claim the necromancer’s work as part of their own school as soon as they saw the animated bones. Hisvii smiled to himself. If they were willing to open their minds and try something new themselves, they wouldn’t have been forced to rely on anyone else’s research to bring excitement to their mundane lives.
“The young wizard should be disciplined or even barred from practicing magic if he doesn’t comply,” said Mathon. “Our predecessors would have done nothing less.”
“Toth will listen to reason,” said Lassinar. “Be patient with him.”
“Not everyone seeks to change our ways.” The alchemist squeezed between them. “Once we determine if the skeletons are spirits or golems, we can assign the necromancer’s achievements to the proper school. He’ll accept the decision or he’ll be banished like his master, Ogma.”
“I hesitate to share your optimism,” said Mathon, “but either way, we should watch him closely. He already has both of you calling him a necromancer. I don’t trust him.”
Hisvii left his chair where he’d pushed it out, brushed past the other two, and slapped Mathon on the back.
“You don’t let anyone through your hard shell, and for that reason alone I like the boy. I volunteer to spy on him.”
“Do what you like,” said Mathon as he returned Hisvii’s chair to its proper place at the table. “You always do.”
Hisvii blocked him from following Lassinar and the alchemist out of the room, closing the heavy door after they were alone.
“Your talent as an elementalist is undeniable,” he said, “but you still have much to learn. I was already a master transmuter while you were learning to walk. If you continue to force your will upon the council, you’ll gain powerful enemies.”
“My will? I’ve done nothing but follow our ancient traditions,” said Mathon. “The council should be enforcing the rules it set ages ago, but it appears to be my job to remind everyone about our responsibilities. Since when has preserving the law become an attack against you or anyone else?”
“I have no problem ensuring our laws are obeyed, but you were going beyond that. You implied that I was violating the council’s rules.”
“There’s no reason to be defensive if you have nothing to hide.”
“So you believe I’m hiding something.” Hisvii grabbed his arm. “Do you have proof of any transgressions?”
“Not yet,” said Mathon, pushing him aside to open the door.
“Then stop accusing me in front of the council and I’ll allow you to enforce our rules as you see fit. I’d support any decision you make about the necromancer.”
“Sorcerer,” said Mathon.
Hisvii watched him disappear down the corridor toward the mess hall. There was no chance that Mathon would ever leave him alone.
After the Wizard Council had convened for the year, Hisvii rushed to his nearest laboratory. He’d been foolish to tell anyone about its location, but that was many years ago, long before he’d become interested in questionable areas of research. One day, the council would acknowledge the enormous benefits he could offer, but until then, his activities would have to remain secret.
He gathered his belongings into a heavy canvas sack. There wasn’t much to pack, but one small shield caught his attention. He gazed at his reflection in the polished metal buckler, the only memento he’d kept from his childhood. His hands looked more like his father’s than his own did, and a few more wrinkles had carved their way across his face.
King Tharain had given the ceremonial buckler to his father for outstanding service defending the land against their aggressive neighbors. Eventually the king ushered in years of peace by uniting several rival clans. These days, almost nobody remembered the times of constant bloodshed and warfare.
Hisvii shoved the tiny shield into his sack along with anything else that was small enough to carry. Soon the room was empty except for his bed, firm but functional and easily replaced.
He tossed the sack onto his cart with the rest of his equipment, tied it all down with sturdy twine, and returned to the old laboratory for one last look before his long journey north.
The outer walls of the building were smooth, blending with one another seamlessly at the corners. The roof appeared to be an extension of the walls that continued upward at a slight angle until it came to a sharp point in the center. Although he’d completed the work many years ago, he couldn’t have done better today. He caressed the doorframe as he entered the laboratory.
The ceiling, despite being solid wood, was transparent, allowing sunlight to nourish hundreds of plants growing in the large room. It had taken months of research and experimentation to allow such a transformation, but it had been worth the effort. His garden received all the light it needed without being exposed to prying eyes unless someone chose to scale the slippery walls onto the roof.
The main chamber had been organized into a dozen square sections separated from one another by stony ridges three inches high. Each section held a different type of plant growing directly out of the dirt floor. If he’d ever found the time, he would have hired an elementalist, other than Mathon, to help him irrigate the room. Taking care of the plants was time consuming given the distance between this laboratory and Kroflund, the nearest town in Tharain. Although he hadn’t conducted research here for more than a dozen years, he returned frequently enough to care for the plants.
As he followed a winding path around the garden, he examined every stem, leaf, and flower. Each plant was a combination of two or more species. There were small maple trees with yellow fruits hanging from their branches, multiple species of oversized flowers in every color imaginable, and two creeping vines that sprouted violet beans.
Several sections of the laboratory were empty. Hisvii had already sent the mature plants to local farmers to help them increase their yield through difficult seasons. He was especially proud of his hardy tomatoes, which grew twice as much fruit with less water than usual. The patch of dirt where he’d nurtured the seedlings was barren, but there would be no new seeds planted today.
After one final glance at his garden, Hisvii shut the front door behind him, lingering beside the entrance. His new greenhouse wouldn’t be ready for months, but if he dug a temporary garden nearby, he wouldn’t have to leave anything behind. He only needed an extra horse and cart to carry the remaining plants in a single trip.
He placed his hands on the ground on either side of the entrance and closed his eyes. The cold earth beneath his fingers almost came alive, waiting to bend to his will as he chanted, “Aweaxan stan lang, fasoun mestling awendan.”
Small stones in the area merged and expanded upward, thinning out as they covered the door and walls in a layer of rocky armor. When he was satisfied with the protection, he climbed onto the cart and urged his horse into the woods. Although he’d left his plants alone countless times before, today he felt as if he were abandoning them. He’d do his best to return in two days.
Through the trees, a flickering orange glow lit the night air as the faint smell of burning wood tickled Hisvii’s nose. He jumped off his cart, leaving both horses behind, and dashed through the forest to the clearing where his laboratory was aflame.
A man in a long red robe leaned against a trunk in front of the burning building.
“My precious plants,” said Hisvii. “What have you done?”
“Proved my suspicions and then some.”
Mathon held out a purple beanstalk that had been shoddily transplanted into a clay pot.
“No wonder you were so defensive at the council meeting. You’ve been experimenting on living matter.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Hisvii. “That’s nothing more than a hybrid vine. Farmers have been creating new fruits and vegetables without magic since before the Wizard Council existed. They simply select a few plants with desired traits, place them close to one another, and cross-pollinate them. I’d be happy to introduce you to some more successful farmers of Tharain. Perhaps they can provide guidance to your less adept friends in Cyllin.”
“This is no cross-pollinated bean plant.”
Mathon shook the pot, causing a handful of soil to spray into the air.
Hisvii winced as the young plant’s leaves flailed about.
“How can you be sure? Has living among farmers made you an expert in the field?”
“I can tell the difference.”
“The same way you can tell the difference between a skeleton and a forest spirit?” asked Hisvii.
“Why don’t we speak to one of your farmers and find out?”
“Such knowledge is quite specialized,” said Hisvii. “There aren’t more than a handful of people in all five kingdoms who could confirm your suspicions, and even then, it would only be possible if they had prior experience with the exact species in question.”
Mathon threw the plant to the ground, shattering the pot.
“You might fool the rest of the council with your nonsense,” he said, “but I know the truth.”
“And what do you plan to do with this so-called truth?”
“I might not be able to convince anyone of these violations yet.”
He pulled several other plants from his pockets, tossed them aside, and wiped his hands on his robe.
“You know just enough about farming to cast a measure of doubt on my words, but I’ll be watching you closely. It won’t be long before I have the proof I need.”
Behind him, fire had broken through large sections of the wall, and the roof was collapsing. Thick smoke rose from the building, obscuring most of the stars in the sky.
“You shouldn’t have focused your aggression on those innocent plants,” shouted Hisvii as he dashed toward the building. “They’ve done nothing to deserve this.”
A wide hole led under the front wall where Mathon had exploited the building’s only weakness. Hisvii jumped into the hole, praying that a few plants had been spared, but bright orange flames pushed him back.
“You protected the outside from flames but not the inside,” said Mathon with a satisfied smirk. “Soon, this entire structure will be reduced to ashes, a deserving end to such evil.”
Hisvii calmly approached him, collected the plants that had been tossed to the ground, and placed them in an empty pocket.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said.
“We both know what you were doing in there,” said Mathon, “which is why you won’t discuss this…accidental fire with anyone else.”
“An accident—what else could it have been?” said Hisvii.
He had to convince Mathon to leave him alone.
“We all make mistakes. You should be more careful in the future.”
“Do not ignore the council’s rules again, or I’ll end your research permanently.”
With a few words, Mathon summoned a wind strong enough to lift him over the trees. Hisvii returned to his pair of carts, unloaded a few empty containers, and filled them with soil. The plants in his pocket had been yanked from the ground more than an hour ago, but there was a good chance they’d survive. He turned the horses around and headed east instead of north. After Mathon’s threat, he had several more relocations to complete.