“Beifallsruf, Brother,” Ardarrion said as he shook the hand of one of the other men. He and Eyiel had sat down at a small table to eat, a table occupied by two other people. After the other returned the greeting and they finished shaking hands, he repeated the gesture with the other man that was seated at the table. Eyiel observed that one of them was the man she had picked out of the crowd before.
“And who is this lovely vision?” that man said. He was fairly aged, older even than the man who was giving the presentation. She looked at their hands, and noticed they were wearing numerous signet rings, but each were wearing a ring identical to the one Ardarrion wore, and the one he gave her. She herself was not wearing the ring at the moment, hiding it on a chain around her neck as he had instructed her earlier.
“This,” Ardarrion said with a smile, as he put his arm around her shoulder. “This, Brother Ingarn. This is my dear Eyiel, my lehrmädchen and student. And wife, to be joined shortly.”
The statement, oddly enough, was met with roaring laughter from the other two. Eyiel pouted, and Ardarrion waved his other hand in the air back and forth, still smiling.
“Can you believe, Corthus,” Ingarn said to his companion. That main was heavier set than his fellow, however was a good deal younger, with firewild hair. “Can you possibly imagine wild young Ardarrion, the trickster of Dynania, settling down with a companion?”
“It's been a long time since Dynania,” Ardarrion said, chuckling. Eyiel decided to relax, and began eating the meal. There was various foods prepared, a major assignment for the students no doubt, and she herself had grabbed some of an unusual spiced meat, a milky pasta, and some fire bread. But not wine, she thought as she drew her lips out to a thin line, which occasion little allows for normally. He thinks there is still danger and so didn't want either of us to become clouded.
As if reading her mind, the three suddenly became more serious. “Apprentice, then? If she is your lehrmädchen,” Corthus said quietly, than didn't say any more. Instead, he held his hands together, ever so subtly fiddling with the ring of the Order. Ardarrion nodded, and she nodded as well.
“She has much skill,” Ardarrion said, switching the subject for a moment. “Or, rather, much flow, but little skill to control it. On several occasions I have had to restrain her power to keep her from injuring the other students.” The others laughed, and she blushed, nodding shyly at the events.
“So,” Ardarrion said, lowering his tone a little. “Which of you did I have the pleasure of responding to the invitation from?”
The table at in silence, as the three of them looked at each other grimly. “I see,” Ardarrion said. He picked up a slice of bread from his plate and chewed on it slowly.
“Have you heard the rumor, dear friend?” Ingarn asked, looking significantly worried.
“I have,” he nodded. “Do we know what he looks like?” Eyiel looked at him, curious. That would mean, she realized, that the person responsible wasn't present in this meeting.
“I've heard a description,” Corthus said, after finishing a bite of a thick potato soup he had grabbed. “But I haven't been able to confirm it. We have lost at least two already, perhaps more.”
“It is good that you have an apprentice, then, she may be needed. However, we would need more blades, it would seem the man has been stealing them.”
“Stealing them?” Ardarrion said, curious, as he leaned back in his chair. It was clear to Eyiel that it clearly wasn't a statement he was expecting, since he hadn't had his Messerweiß stolen and had passed it to her. As a crowd talking loudly moved past the table, he switched topics once again. “So what about this pendant? What do you think, do you think it works?”
Corthus laughed and shook his head. “Highly unlikely, there's no way to suspend a spell like that. You'd have to be actively pouring some sort of energy into it, it can't be always working.”
A few clicks were heard from the side of the table, and the man from the podium walked over to lean on it. “For shame, Corthus. You don't believe me?”
“What you propose, Kibios,” Ardarrion said. Slowly, Eyiel noticed, perhaps carefully choosing his wording. “Is somewhat far-fetched. Nevermind Corthus' reservations about storing magic energy, how, exactly, can you be sure someone is using such magic?”
He looked at Ardarrion, laughed, and swatted him on the back a couple times. “Ardarrion! I never thought I would see you at one of these mettings, not with the way you were at Dynania.”
“It's been a long time since Dynania,” Ardarrion replied, now voice somewhat terse with annoyance. Kibios simply laughed and slapped him on the back again.
“That it has, Ardarrion, that it has. Well, if you three want a demonstration, I would be certainly happy to show you. Meet me in the clearing to the west, in one half hour, and I shall show you how the detection works.”
With that, he laughed again, and left the table to talk with some other people. The four of them looked at each other, and nodded without saying anything else on the matter. They returned to their meals, passing the time with other idle talk, and left separately to head out to where they were told to wait.
* * * * * * * ** * * * * * * *
It was still before midnight, and only one of the moons was high in the sky, beginning to wane in phase. The second had begun rising from the southwest, but would not be overhead for several more hours. Eyiel and Ardarrion stood in the clearing, Eyiel clutching onto his right arm as they looked back at the town.
Corthus and Ingarn were there as well, both standing behind them at opposing points of the clearing, they collectively making a triangle to cover everything. Ingarn was now showing more of his age, and was leaning on a curved cane, wooden along the shaft and metal covered on the bottom. Kibios had not yet himself shown up, and it was now almost an additional half hour past the time they were told to meet him.
Eyiel had tried asking about the Dynania place they had spoken of, but he had told her it was a discussion best left for their trip back, saying only for now that it was a school much like her own. He didn't want to say anything else, only looking on toward the town sternly.
“Why, thought,” she asked quietly. “I thought you said we didn't want to say anything to any other members?”
“I didn't,” Ardarrion replied, seriously. “Not exactly. The Order has a number of initiates, the lehrmädchen, that know of our hunting of the technology, but not of the Messerweiß itself. We always refer to it as a 'blade', which, while technically a close translation of the word, is known to the lehrmädchen as a ritual enchanted athame certain of our members carry for destroying technology. As far as they know, you're simply a normal apprentice, and know nothing of the Messerweiß.”
Kibios finally approached, carrying in his left hand a large trunk. “I apologize for not being prompt,” he shouted to them as he struggled with the case, clearly heavy. “It seems some of my own magic students decided they were hungry, and raided the place and removed all the food. I had to scold them significantly, and then put them to work doing grunt work for the cooking students to they could prepare additional food.”
“I see,” Ardarrion said simply. Kibios finally caught up, and took notice of Eyiel for the first time.
“Forgive my rudeness earlier,” he said, bowing. She returned a gesture of greeting. “I tend to get caught up in excitement discussing my work, and I hadn't noticed your loveliness there.” He looked up at Ardarrion and smiled slyly. “It's hard to believe Ard-”
“There will be no further talk of Dynania,” he replied tersely, and Kibios laughed. He then walked passed the two, into the center of the triangle, and motioned for them to all move forward.
He set the case down on the ground, and reached into his pocket to grab the pendant again. He pulled it out and held it up, high for everyone to see. “Unfortunately,” he said, voice somewhat somber, “the only way for sure to be able to detect the energy was for me to learn how to do it myself.”
“So,” Ingarn said with a chuckle, “you are exactly the person you warned us about?”
“Don't be so flattered, Brother Ingarn. I captured one of my students, who was able to summon the beasts, and forced him to teach me so that I could device a method of detecting the magic.” He reached with is free hand to the top of the crystal, and twisted something. Small bolts of lightning flew down the gold traces to the bottom, and the crystal began emitting a weak light from within.
“Unfortunately,” he said, looking at it. “The way it is right now, it will always light, because of the small amount of energy flowing through the air for the beasts all the time. I have to adjust the sensor further.”
Eyiel noticed the three had all raised their eyebrows, but at the sentence, and not what he did immediately following it. Ingarn held out his hand free hand, palm plane to the ground, and closed his eyes. A spell circle appeared on the ground, the writings intermixed with letters that were impossibly glowing black. The crystal began to glow much brighter, until it was nearly painful to look at it.
As a strange, quadrupedal beast began to form from the darkness, he motioned for Ingarn to take the crystal. He stepped forward quickly and did so, avoiding the forming beast, and stepped backwards again. As he did, the crystal began to dim in brightness, but still very bright.
“That,” you see, as he closed up his palm and extinguished the life of the creature growing, and the spell circle vanished. The crystal returned to it's original level of light. “That is how it works. It gets brighter the closer it is to the caster. With some work, I should be able to mount a second light in it, and have the sensor adjust them separately. Then it would become a compass, the brighter side always pointing towards the individual.”
Ingarn sighed, and shook his head. He brought it up to his eyes to look at it closely. “Old world technology,” he said quietly.
“I figured that would be your reaction. That's why I didn't let anyone else see it. The final version will have the materials completely transparent, so they can't be seen.”
“This is illegal, you know.”
“An old law,” Kibios replied, disdain in his voice. “For an old time. And for old people. There's no reason that we should still bind ourselves with that old way.”
Ingarn through the crystal to the ground, and brought the metal tip of his cane down on it, shattering it. The light went out completely. Kibios simply shook his head, though clearly angered by the action.
“The Tribunal would say otherwise,” Ingarn said, looking him dead in the eyes.
“The Tribunal are crocks, so wrapped up in bureaucracy that they would never come to a decision. Then again, that's why there's the Order, isn't it?” Ingarn stepped back, as Kibios grinned a dark, sinister grin, and reached into his coat again. He pulled out another crystal, and switched it on. It instantly burst to life.
“What is this?” Corthus said, and stepped backward. Ardarrion motioned for Eyiel to step back as well, and they both stepped back.
“Corthus, Ardarrion,” Kibios said, madness slipping into his voice. “If you would imagine, your old 'friend' here is part of a dark Order, one which has been using forbidden technology themselves. They use it's power to destroy others trying to advance our world, and steal their technology for themselves. They are the true government, the true punishment. An exalted Inquisition, they are judge, jury, and executioner.
“But know, Ingarn,” he said as he dropped the crystal and reached down for the trunk. “We know. We can find you. And not with this parlor trick, either, we can find you. Your days are numbered, we have the power to break the order.”
He opened the trunk, and a strange metal skeleton rolled out of it and began to unfold. It was a quadruped, and was large, standing with its spine at the level of Kibios' chest. As it shook, it began to gather a dark energy to it, filling it out with muscle, and a strange, leathery skin.
Ingarn backed up, and raised his hands. In front of him appeared energy plates, and he tried forming them into a thick shield. “Useless,” Kibios laughed, completely maniacal. “See our invention, and the power it has. Go forth, Polonium Black!”
The beast let out a loud screeching roar, like the scraping of nails against a metal chalkboard. The others covered their ears to try and drown it out, and the beast jumped forward after Ingarn. It went right through the plates, as if they weren't even there, and raised a large paw to bat him up into the air. He flew up ten feet or so, then landed back down on the ground.
Coughing, he tried to get up, but was unable to. Kibios closed his eyes, and a dark spell circle appeared underneath Ingarn, shooting dark beams through him. The plates from the Messerweiß began to blink in and out of existence. Kibios laughed, and walked forward to lean over the old man.
“Enough,” he said as the beast began to approach again. It grunted and went and sat by the case, and began to unform just as it had formed before. Kibios reached into the folds of Ingarn's cloak, and pulled out a small, black dagger.
“Heh, the Athame of Lies.” Kibios laughed, and used the blade to slash down through the man's clothing, from the slit in the neck. It revealed the silvered device, and he left the blade lying on the old man's stomach. “No, this is the true blade, the White Knife. Messerweiß, as you call it in the old language.”
“If you,” Ingarn wheezed. “Take that. You wouldn't. Be able. To use it.”
Kibios laughed, and yanked hard on the bottom part of the device. Ingarn screamed in pain, as the forced removal tore small holes in his skin along the edge where it was attached. “Use it? No, we have no use for it as you know it. But it can be dissected, improved upon. We can engineer a new era. But you all have to be eliminated for that.”
He tossed the Messerweiß to the ground, and picked up Ingarn's cane to smash it. It broke into many pieces, and he left it there, in a heap. Finally, he turned to Corthus and Ardarrion.
“You see, comrades!” He laughed, and pointed down to the ground. “This is what the older generation has done, they hold control of everything, self appointing themselves to take care of the 'evil' of technology, while they themselves use it!”
He smiled, and raised his eyebrows at them. “I'll tell you what, I'm going to send you both the second crystal as well, the one that can detect this device.” He went over and picked up the crystal off of the ground, and locked up the trunk, which the skeleton had rolled back into at this point. “Huh, well I guess since the effects of it don't wear off for the user until a while after that spell has been cast, the crystal won't go out until after that time either.”
He smiled to them again, and picked up the trunk to head back. “I want you to let me know if you find anyone else. I will send the two of you both crystals. Our main threat is the people controlling the shadow beasts, but as they continue to gain power, we will fall less and less able to defend ourselves unless we can advance as a people. And this 'Order' of which this old man was part of is preventing us from being able to do that.”
Saying nothing more, he walked back towards the town. The three of them rushed over to Ingarn, to try and help him.
He was leaning up now, but they could tell from the marks of bruises on his skin that he was injured beyond what they would be able to do to help him. “Forget about me, you both need to get out of here. He'd expect you to run in fear of what happened anyway, so you have the perfect cover.”
“But Brother Ingran,” Corthus tried pleading, but Ingran held up his hand to stop him.
“I'll die from my injuries no matter what you do. It's better you leave me here, I might be able to do something with magic before I pass on.”
He looked up into the sky, trying to follow the stars to tell his direction. Finally, he pointed, away from the town, to the southeast. “Down there, about ten or twenty miles, is a small Bard Lodge. Go there, they are our allies and will hide you for the night.”
He waved his hands again, indicating his urgency, and Corthus and Ardarrion nodded, then turned to head off. “If you would wait, young lady,” Ingran said, and she nodded, staying behind. The men moved out of the clearing, but not out of view of her and Ingran, just in case something else happened.
He motioned for her to lean in close, and she did. “Nobody else will be able to tell,” he whispered, “but I can tell you now have Ardarrion's Messerweiß.”
“I have a unique magic ability to detect metal,” he whispered, chuckling, and then coughing. “Take care of him, if you would. He was one of my best students. And while this one wasn't aware of it, others probably know that he is of the Order. If they discover he is already without Messerweiß, masquerading around under false pretense, they will kill him immediately for wasting their time and resources.”
She nodded, gravely understanding. He reached down to his stomach, and handed her the knife. “Take the athame,” he said, pushing it into her hands. She looked at it, and saw that it had a raised figure, equivalent to the signet ring she was still wearing around her neck. “It's enchanted with a spell that can teleport you both out of danger, should you need to. You fit the ring to it, and speak the old word zurück to activate it.”
He waved her on, indicating he had nothing more to say to her. She nodded, hid the blade in the folds of her cloak, and headed back to the two men waiting, so they could all run towards safety. Everything has just gotten worse, she thought to herself as they ran, everything has just gotten worse.