At first The Wandering Len hadn’t let him in. But, once the representatives arrived, Yam was quickly able to secure himself a room.
A private room.
With a view.
He was very conscientious about not smirking at the bigot behind the counter.
His first visitor, the Summer Court, had not seemed terribly interested in him as a student due to the purity of his magic. But, with more game than was necessary, they implied rewards if he was willing to give them information on whichever court he chose to participate in.
After showing them to the door the young Len was finally given enough time to breathe. Slowly he walked towards the table, bent at the waist and pressed his entire upper body against the tabletop.
He groaned. The cool of the wood slowly oozed through his fur and helped his fevered skin. With no one to observe him let the shakes run their course. His magic reserves ached, his legs felt like he had run for miles, and he would punch a Rock Orc for some sleep.
Still even as his muscles quivered a smile spread across his face. He had never been able to burn so much gold before. Only small pieces at a time for practicing. Without doubt his channels would feel raw and stretched the next day, but it had been worth it. Not just the feeling of so much power running through him, like lightning being born in his veins, but seeing what he could do with that power.
The warm memory was interrupted by the sound of a set of sentient avalanches mating.
Before his stomach could voice itself further the young Len vaulted over the table and began assaulting the platter of complimentary finger food. He inhaled it, barely noting the taste. Immediately the faintest trickles of power being dribbling back into his reserves. The warmth in his channels did him good and the shaking in his hands decreased. Once done, he spent just enough time to brush aside the chunks of food that had fallen onto his chest and took an additional minute to comb his fur. When he was finished, he had a small ball of stress-shedding in his hand.
It was a surreal moment.
Standing in the private room of a tavern in the Istima, trying to play all the courts against each other, stomach full of snacks he had bluffed out of an angry shopkeeper, and barely any magic left in his reserves.
Yam looked at the ball of hair.
“Fortune help me, I hope I don’t go bald in this place”
He stuffed the fur ball under a cushion and opened the door to the main tavern with his bartering face firmly in place.
The bartender was massive, thick-knuckled, and had almost as much wiry hair on his arms as a mammalian Len. He spotted Yam exiting the private room. The man’s spine straightened and he looked left and right. As the young Len approached the bartender seemed to realize that there were no members of the Estival Court watching. His back slouched and a scowl bloomed. And that was the only word for his expression, it did not blossom like a flower, it bloomed like a mold.
The man was serving him, but did appear older. So he did not drop his eyes, but he did keep his words polite,“Excuse me, sir, would you mind sending in more food?”
The bartender locked gazes with him and something ugly stirred behind his moldy scowl.
A quiet voice came from next to them, “Yes, that would be nice”
Both the massive bartender and the slender Len turned to see two students on the verge of adulthood. They wore a combination of worn linen, well used leather, and overstuffed side pouches. They accessorized with strange tools, dangling monocles, and faintly visible scars. One of them, a short woman, had picked darker colored fabric and had a roll of tools strapped to her belt. The bags under her eyes were dark enough that it made Yam wonder if she had been in a fistfight.
The other student, a tall, pallid young man with flaxen hair was standing with his back to the bar. He was fiddling with a pair of leather gloves and staring at the stairwell, “We just came from a practicum. So, if you wouldn’t mind…”
With some reluctance the pallid young man turned from the stairwell and faced the bartender. His eyes were dead and small flecks of blood showed on his lighter clothes.
“You have such lovely capillaries,” his companion muttered to the bartender.
Yam watched in silence as the hirsute man went pale. Which caused the young woman to frown at his veins shrinking back from the surface of his skin. In a whirlwind of condolences, and wrung hands Yam was ushered back into the private room with three plates full of nuts, cheeses, thinly sliced apples, and other miscellaneous foods.
The two students barely sat before attacking the platter in front of them. Had Yam not recognized the style of the Spring Court he would have sworn that the two students wore their leather aprons for no reason other than the way they ate.
But he did know better. It brought a new set of shakes to his hands and forced him to keep a tight grip on his bartering face.
The male student spoke without lifting his eyes from the plate, “You’re an osteomancer”
“We could use more of those.”
That, it turned out, was the most conversation he was able to pull from either student. He tried to offer food, accommodations, information, Yam even hinted at favors, but nothing stuck. It became quickly apparent that neither student completely trusted the other. No matter how he spoke he could tell they were always tracking each other out of the corner of their eyes.
They ate every scrap of food available and handed him a parcel inviting him to speak with a professor in the near future. As soon as he had the message in his hands, they recovered the envelope with the wax seal of the professor and set it on fire.
Once both of them were independently certain that Yam knew where to go, that the professor’s seal had been completely immolated, and that there wasn’t a scrap of food left in the room, the duo made their exit.
Next was the Autumn Court. Immediately Yam felt a connection to them. Partially because of their simple name, the Autumn Court, actually sounded similar to their proper name, the Autumnal Court.
Much easier to remember.
He was also in favor of their garb. Flowing robes, pointed hats with various decorations, and ink stained hands. They looked like wizards, and the robes were close to the great wraps civilized people wore.
The representative he spoke to was named Thomnas and he was one of the people who had sat near a person of real power during testing. Yam had noted him for his overly expressive face, and for being trusted with papers but little else. He seemed the sort of easy to read person who would be handling information above his station.
Given a drink, Thomnas seemed willing to share much of what he knew. The problem became coherency. Thomnas was the Underviser to the Grand Siren of the 12th enclave in the 3rd branch of Admissions and Sanitation.
The young Len chose not to inquire how the two duties overlapped. At least not yet. After much plying with drinks, sympathetic conversation, and complaints about how hard it was to be a young man in an old system, the Len was left with a massively thick set of instructions and papers. Only some of it was directions to the Autumnal Courts office of admissions.
He filled out five forms and was guaranteed a meeting in a few business days. Apparently a wait of less than one week was very difficult to come by. By the time Thomnas left Yam had absolutely no idea what his job was or who he worked for. But his new friend had also very covertly conjured up even more paperwork.
Papers that usually took months for a member of the Autumnal Court to request, but were absolutely trivial to someone who was an Underviser he was informed with a drunken wink and puffed chest.
Yam could bludgeon a Wraith Rider with the stack of forms. Still, he stored them carefully, taking special care with the pages where Thomnas had written advice on what answers to put in certain sections so he was more likely to gain library access.
The final visitor was the Night Court since the Winter Court had refused to do more than have a letter sent to him. The Night Court representative spoke quickly and after confirming Yam’s skills provided vague instruction for how to meet with someone higher up in the court. When the young Len asked for directions that did not include phrases like, “turn away from the feeling of falling and towards the sound of yellow”, the man stared at him for close to a full minute before carefully saying he would understand once he was there.
Throughout that entire conversation Yam kept his mouth in check and his eyes down turned. The Night Court representative did not have a true Presence like a Len, but he exuded a palpable presence none the less. A near tangible sense of authority and force of will.
When Yam stood to show him to the door the man had just nodded to him and very calmly walked through the wall of the building like it was a heat mirage. There was a muffled curse as several massive dogs began barking from outside the tavern. The wall rippled in a disturbing fashion as the representative sprinted back inside the buildings, and made his way around the corner without stepping outside of the usually solid matter and risking attack by dogs.
The Young Len kept his face blank and his eyes down, hands folded in front of his waist until the sense of power was far, far, away. Only then did he make his way to the door.