Next chapter will be a Miller interlude that I’m particularly excited about. Less evangelizing about The Power of Math. But a particular set of dumb jokes. I’m really looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks of them.
It’ll be going live early for Patrons at our patreon. If you want to see it 11/15/2021 then we made a tier that only requires 1$. That way everyone can get post alerts, vote in polls, request side stories, and tell us what they would like to see explored.
Yam held his lips closed, nodded his head, and repeated his new mantra.
‘Do not correct the barbarians. Do not educate the barbarians. Politely, allow a barbarian to be barbarous.‘
“Your mother would be ashamed and your father should disown you. What forsaken god cursed you with bargaining skills like that.”
Well, he had tried.
Neal, for his part, laughed and gave Abomination an extra head scratch from where baby blue monstrosity had fallen asleep on his lap. The qupee was so fluffy and relaxed that it looked like a cloud from an illuminated text.
A promiscuous cloud. A cloud that would give his belly to any mage off the street.
Was it Neal who cleaned up Abomination’s messes? Was it Neal who bought strawberries with his own coin? No. Of course not. But the qupee was still willing to get on its back and beg for belly rubs at the first hint of attention.
“Promiscuous little slut cloud,” Yam muttered under his breath before lifting his eyes and examining the barbarian across the table from him.
They were, of course, at the Wandering Len. Yam had become familiar with its thick wooden tables, and the comforting way light passed through its window sand formed shafts of illuminated smoke (how could a tavern afford glass? Istima really was strange). The inside always tasted like a cook fire and a freshly lit pipe.
He also found it funny that he, a true man of the caravans, had routine sedentary meetings at the Wandering Len.
Neal had laughed when he first saw the name. Then the black-furred human had taken to his free meal with gusto. Luckily, Neal had enough tact to not order the most expensive food available. Just a cut of meat which was slightly more than Yam wanted to pay for. Which Yam, of course, respected greatly. He would have done the same were their positions reversed.
Now the two of them were nursing drinks, and he was fixing the full weight of his focus on this man who represented an in-road into the world of elementalism. And Neal, the aforementioned in-road, was smiling as he looked across the room at a physically fit woman of the Summer Court.
“Trousers,” Yam sneered, following his gaze and imagining what the elders in the caravan would have said about clothing that tight.
“Trousers,’ Neal sighed, making the word sound like the penultimate line of a poem.
“Yes, well, trousers aside,” Yam said, while Neal muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like a wistful, ‘if only’, “your tutoring rates are absurd.”
“I beg to differ.”
“And I beg for the moons to drop drams and libraries to rent bedrooms. Neither seems to have changed reality. For instance, you are failing to account for all the benefits I would provide you as a student.”
“And you are failing to recall how deeply embedded in court politics one can become should their tutor be of poor temperament.”
Yam took a sip of his drink. It was an interesting puzzle. He was certain that there were many Winter Court students who needed money and would not bury him alive (again). But Neal not only seemed to have a good disposition but, more importantly, he seemed to have a massive weakness for women.
He needed to have connections to more mage’s with glaring weaknesses if he was going to steal magic from all the different courts. Also, for a barbarian, Neal wasn’t that bad. He had a particular kind of self-aware shamelessness that made playing a game of words with him much more enjoyable.
“I’m just a poor boy—”
“From a poor family?” Neal interrupted with a mocking grin, clearly seeing an attempt to undersell.
The young Len sighed and watched his qupee use its stubby forepaws to cajole Neal into more belly rubs. Maybe the other mage would spare him a life with that monstrosity. They seemed to be getting along well.
Either way, there was nothing to do but change the rhythm and take back control, “What all would you teach me for that much gold? How many secrets would I be purchasing for the ensuing privation and poverty?”
“Secrets? None. Information not available to the great majority of people? A huge amount.”
“Like what for instance?” he said, trying to get some commitments out of Neal before he began taking them for granted and pushing for more.
“Well my friend, I would be a poor tutor if I presumed your goals without consulting you. What do you want?”
“Power enough to crush the earth, sunder the skies, and heap fortune on me and mine.”
Neal, to his credit, didn’t blink. “We can certainly work on the earth part. But how, pray tell, would you specifically like to go about learning to ‘crush the earth’? What component lessons would lead to your dominance over our lovely lady Nature?”
Damn. The geomancer really wasn’t giving him much to work with.
The trick would be to ask for more than Neal would agree to, but not so much that his opponent immediately left. Anything else would leave no room for negotiation.
“I need tutoring on energy control, using my earth affinity, enough skill to leave permanent changes to stone, combat techniques, to raise a traveling shelter from the ground, and applicable information on how the Winter Court creates familiars.”
“Energy control, better geomancy, and familiars I can do.”
His heart pounded viciously against his chest, but he couldn’t give ground. “I don’t need improvement, I need results.”
“Well, I don’t know how much time it will take you to reach those results. I can hardly commit to teaching you until achievement when I don’t know if it’ll be two weeks or twenty years.”
That was… fair.
Yam Hist did not want this to be fair.
“Are you so uncertain in your knowledge?”
Neal beamed, “Of course not! I’m a delight and a prodigy. I do however have a very healthy doubt about everyone else. And, to be frank, there can only be so many young geniuses per year and I’ve already met one. The odds of you being another are perishingly small. Perishingly small, just like my little friend here!” he said, voice going higher as he started playing with Abominations paws and cooing.
Yam sneered and almost said that he wished the monstrosity was small enough to actually perish. But he held himself back with his trademark tact and social acumen.
“I’d no more pay you for a vague non-promise about questionable results than I’d pay jewels for copper. What, in most usual students, would I expect to take from these tutoring sessions?”
“Charming company and camaraderie of the highest tier?”
“Will this second teacher cost me extra?”
Neal winced and mimed pulling a dagger from his heart.
Yam grinned. But now was not the time and he was not a child. He hid the expression behind a manly quaff of manly ale and proceeded with his business negotiation. Like a man.
“If you already know a genius, maybe you should just direct me to him. You wouldn’t have steady pay, and you wouldn’t be able to count on having gold to burn as you studied. But a modest finder’s fee is better than getting absolutely nothing and being left despondent, penniless, and otherwise bereft, right?”
He stared at the other student and smiled a poisoned smile, waiting for the inevitable capitulation.
Until Neal tipped his head back and started laughing.
“You — HA! You want to study with Lyssana!”
The human roared with laughter to the point that Abomination woke up and scurried across the table to hide in Yam’s clothes.
“Well,” the young Len sniffed, “I have no idea what’s so funny about that. I’m certain that any reasonable mage—”
“Reasonable, Lysanna! HA!”
“I’m sure,” he said, teeth grinding, “that any reasonable mage would welcome my company and my coin. This Lyssana would undoubtedly— STOP LAUGHING!”
After settling on terms he went immediately toward his new quest.
The Night Court opened around him with its colored lamps —purple in this area— twisting roads, impossible buildings, and tasteful topiaries.
As always, the strongest students carried non-reality in their wakes. Though some were more stylish about it than others. And Yam, for the most part, focused on finding the first landmarks that he recalled from his visit to the elder Len.
It was more difficult than he remembered. The lights fought valiantly against an unending night, but he still felt like the buildings were hard to see clearly. Which made them all seem different than he recalled even though he knew he had taken the exact same turns. There were also the distractions.
Immediately upon entering, several students offered him free reading material and food until he realized that they were trying to recruit him into a cult.
And none of them were even able to give him better directions than the florist he had first spoken to. Neal needed an iridescent nightbloom flower. It was the keystone of their final tutoring deal. And, unless Yam was willing to go to a different country and into the feeding zone of an infamous magical predator, the only location they grew was in the night court by a certain fountain. One Yam vaguely recalled from his last journey.
The florist had no sense of magic to her and had been understandably adverse to retrieving the flower herself. Yam would likely be terrified if his first visit here hadn’t shown how harmless these people were. Most of them just wanted to get inebriated, think about reality from a different perspective, and pass their classes.
And now he stood, waiting for a dress-wearing man to stop speaking and wondering if he was being too subtle about wanting to find the flowers immediately. But the tambourine playing student he had asked directions from just kept talking.
He had promised to help Yam find the flower. Before that though, he was curious if Yam had ever read anything about madra? About how it could be used to increase his spiritual awareness, sexual performance, and connect him to a higher being. All it would take were some free meditation classes. Maybe a few private sessions with their teacher and some completely optional donations to their research group.
A research group that, Yam discovered after a few questions, was studying a deity and how to praise it.
Aside from the cultist lying to him, which was an insult worth blows by itself, it reminded him of his father’s situation. Which had led the young mage to becoming just mildly piqued.
“So tell me,” Yam hissed, eyes narrowed to slits, face inches from the flinching cultist, “after I’m done with you and your stitches have healed, will your god still want you then?”
The boy shook his head, face pale and hands twitching. It made Yam want to scream and break something. No more comments on what an ‘angry little fella’ he was now? No more laughing like Yam was joking or asking him to, ‘just calm down and lower his voice.’
“You’re pathetic,” he growled, shoving his way past and only pausing long enough to kick the fallen tambourine.
Despite the show he had just put on, within a few steps another greasy-haired human called out to him, “Hello, my spring court brother. You look like you could use a guide. My prices are the most reasonable of all—“
“Eat dirt, human.”
“Well,” the boy laughed, “that would cost extra. But it’s better than braving dangers like the—“
Yam whirled around and twisted space. In a single step, he was standing chest-to-chest with the human, head craned upwards so he could stare him in the eyes, “If another human tries to swindle me then I’m going to dig my claws into you and toss us both off the side of the school. And I’ll make sure that you land on top when we hit the ground. That way you’ll survive long enough for something to smell the blood and fucking find you.”
Before he could get a response, an Aketsi wearing clothes dyed in a psychedelic swirl of colors cleared his throat, “I noticed you say that if a ‘human’ tried—“
There were no known sentient species that looked like a faintly glowthing, anvil-sized floating blob of flesh tone gelatin. That did not stop one from zipping through the air towards Yam.
“Yeah! Scram you boney bint!”
The rage in his chest felt like it was going to cook him alive. Even seeing shape shifting and self levitation, which he had only heard of in stories, barely made him pause for a second.
He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to speak as calmly as he could.
“I don’t want any guide. I have been to the court before.”
“Ah, but getting lost here is a costly—”
“I am no child!” he finally screamed, his rage only increasing when his voice broke.
“Calm down, friend.”
Magic he did not remember summoning suddenly filled the air around Yam and the lamps shifted from purple to a blazing orange.
“Have you EVER succeeded in calming someone down by telling them to, ’just calm down’?” He didn’t wait for a response, ”Of course not! No one has!”
“I was just trying to—”
”No! Listen closely. I will give you NO money, NO goods, and NO form of compensation at all! But I will give you pain. Pain if you respond by telling me anything other than where I can find an iridescent nightbloom flower. Got it?”
The blob’s glow became dimmer, its color slightly darker.
“… bold of you to assume I can feel pain you bone-sausage looking, calcium supremacist, motherfu—”
At first, he thought he was lost because he was still reeling from the Blob’s anger. But, formidable as its magic was, Yam realized that his guess was wrong very quickly.
After turning a particular corner and seeing the statue of what appeared to be a living candle holder overthrowing and stepping onto the face of a human, he realized his mistake. There should have been a building with a tooth-filled door there.
That was concerning.
When he went back around the corner to check his route and found that the walkway no longer led to the same street, it was no longer merely ‘concerning’. At that point, it was, officially, a Problem.
Luckily he had spent most of his life traveling, so it was not a Big Problem. There was some amount of pride that needed to be swallowed after having just lost a fight with the Blob because he didn’t want a guide. But asking for directions was just a part of life. City maps were for city guards, and he had never stayed somewhere long enough to know all the sordid alleys and streets in the perverse way humans did.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said to an older woman wearing wolf skin instead of a cloak. ”I’m trying to find a fountain. It has iridescent night bloom flowers around it. I’m told it is a massive tunnel-sized pipe that appears from a place you cannot remember looking at and leaks vaguely glowing water.“
“Sorry, I haven’t got a route there.”
“A route is the root of the problem, but I’ll be rooting for you.”
She walked away cackling, and Yam asked several more passersby.
It was predictably unproductive. At best most people seemed unhinged to one degree or another. And, at a few points, thet even made him feel unsafe. Some of these mages looked at him and he could all but see the label ‘lost’ and ‘vulnerable’ being written over his head.
It did not pay to be a lost and vulnerable Len in a city full of humans.
He refined his search and avoided those people who seemed clearly intoxicated, eccentric, or otherwise unattached to reality. For obvious reasons, it meant that he spent more time than he wanted to trying to get directions. There were just too few normal people in this court.
Though his parameters did loosen when he tried to see how much time had passed and found that he couldn’t use the moon or sky to help him.
No matter how much time he spent in the Day Court, something about not being able to tell time made him feel untethered. Like he had taken a step down the stairs and found himself falling instead of his foot ever catching solid earth.
So he didn’t hesitate when he saw a human male who walked with slow deliberateness and clean clothes. There were no stained wolf hides, no noxious glass tubes, no inebriated stagger. Just perfectly pressed clothes and dark, intense eyes.
“Excuses me, sir. I’m looking for a particular fountain.”
The man listened intently while Yam spoke, neither muttering to himself or having his face writhe with uncomfortably strong emotions like the other mages he had spoken to.
“Well,” the man said, lips quirking upwards as he scratched at a beard that was trimmed with the immaculately straight lines of a military cemetery, ”you can never stand in the same river twice, aye? You can’t expect to walk into the same Night Court without working for it.”
“I don’t understand. Isn’t that a metaphor about the changing nature of time?”
“Yes, but not here. If you know a route to be true, or have the will,” he said “then any path will lead you to where you believe it will go.”
“So I need to will a mage path?”
“Ahh,” the man said, weighing Yam with his eyes, “Forgive me. I sometimes forget how odd our talk can come across to outsiders. You can use magic or mental power to make any series of streets take you to the same place. At least for most public places. Otherwise, you just need to follow someone to a location and inherit the route they used.”
“Inherent,” he nodded. ”Belief is magic. You already know and believe that route to be true. No mind games or tricks of perspective needed. They take less will to make it true next time you use them.”
“Would you be able to show me a route to the fountain I need to find?”
There was a pause as the man looked around them with his serious eyes. His lips were still tilted in the impression of a smile. But those dark, intense eyes were clearly focused inward as he considered Yam’s request.
After an achingly long pause, the stern man with his perfect beard responded, “I don’t have a route that leads from here to there. But, if you would like, you can join me for a span. I’m putting a few routes together so I can get to a site I need for a spell. If you’re willing to help me collect some supplies then I can drop you off at the front gate along the way.”
Yam felt a burst of trepidation, but it was unlikely that any of the guides would recognize him from his outburst with the Blob. They probably had already found clients and were busy anyway. “I would appreciate that greatly. Thank you.”
“Don’t fret about it,” the man said, turning towards a particularly dark alley, “I’m sure your help will be invaluable.”
“Really? What exactly will I be helping with?”
The man glanced at him, “I’m summoning myself a new familiar. It’s a bit of a passion project of mine. Will that be an issue?”