I'm not really happy with how this chapter reads, although I can't really put my finger on it. The library scene doesn't read very well to me. Oh well, maybe I'll revise it one day.
Alari hummed quietly to herself as she strode down the corridor towards the Spellseers quarters. She always enjoyed having the time to tutor the Novice Spellseers personally. The class was relatively small; the Cathedral of Alliine only took new members once every two years, and of those only a handful at most would ever be of a standard to even enter Novice training with the Spellseers.
Four years ago, Alari herself had sat nervously amongst the Novices. At that time, she had no idea of her own potential, and had been awed by everything the elder Novices had shown her. Of course, she had soon outstripped both them and her tutor, leaving the ranks of the Novices in a matter of weeks. A number of those who had impressed her so much when she first arrived were still members of the class.
Alari arrived at the classroom almost without realising it, her mind wandering to various memories from when she first arrived at the Cathedral of Alliine. She took a quick breath to compose herself. Despite her standing and power, Alari was always slightly uncomfortable with public speaking. Even a small gathering like the class of Novices, a class she enjoyed teaching, had the potential to make her nervous. After a moment, she pushed open the door and walked in.
"You're late Alari." A matter of fact voice cut across the room before she had even taken a step.
"I said noon Messe." Alari replied. Messe was one of her best friends within the Order. The tall young woman with striking silver hair had entered at the same time as she, and had joined the Spellseers with her too. Her magical talent was moderate; she was likely to move on from Novice training within the year. However, one thing she excelled at above all others Alari knew was her ability to gather and store knowledge. Messe, in the four years since they had arrived, had made herself almost as indispensable to the Spellseers as an Archivist as Alari herself had as the leader. "It is now noon."
"We are all here before noon." Messe replied coolly, "Ready for the session to begin at noon. Which it won't do, because you won't be ready."
Alari chuckled inwardly to herself. There were six new Novices in the classroom, and they all stared at Messe with looks showing a mixture of shock and horror. All save Aseme at least.
"You are right of course Messe." Alari said, "I apologise for the three minutes my tardiness will cost you."
Messe nodded, accepting her apology. The corner of her mouth twitched up in a smile only Alari noticed; that only Alari was meant to notice.
Walking over to her desk at the front of the room, Alari took a moment to study the class. As ever with a new intake, the class was as full as it ever was. Over the course of the next two years before the next intake some would progress into full Spellseers, some would decide they did not have it in them and leave. The class now contained fourteen girls, two of whom had been there longer than Alari had been within the Sisterhood of Alliine. The newest girls were clustered towards the front of the room, looking excited, nervous and attentive at the same time. The others mostly spoke quietly amongst themselves as they waited for Alari to begin.
It did not take long for Alari to organise the new Novices. She assigned to each of the new girls a more experienced Novice to act as her partner. Before she did this, however, she took Messe aside for a moment.
"You want to pair me up with the powerful girl?" Messe was reading even as she spoke, her eyes skimming lighting fast across the pages. It sometimes disconcerted Alari to see how easily Messe predicted her, but she had long since grown used to it.
"Yes." Of all the Novices in the class, Messe was the most capable and level headed, not to mention someone who Alari trusted implicitly. "But I'd like you to be a little…delicate with her. She's had a bad childhood I think; she's worried and mistrustful of people."
"Delicate?" Messe looked up at her and cocked an eyebrow, "You realise delicate isn't my forte."
"Please Messe." She sighed, "This girl could be very important to us in the future. I need your help with this."
"Fine, fine." Messe said, "I'll try not to be too rough with her."
"I'm away a lot these days. I'd like you to look out for her too."
"Alari." Messe's voice was reproachful, "If you're really concerned for the girl you don't want to rely on me for that. I get dragged away to the Archives at all hours."
"I know Messe." Alari sighed again, "I'm hoping her roommate can watch over her too. But I'd like you to at least be around to talk to her when she wants."
"You're not playing to my strong points here Alari." Messe sighed.
"You're comforting, in your own way." Alari smiled at her friend.
The new girls seemed pleased with the prospect of partners, save Aseme who as ever showed no reaction, keeping her eyes downcast. The room was shuffled around slightly to allow the new pairings to sit together. Granting the girls time to get to know each other, Alari wandered the room to speak with people individually.
"Faelin, Yalanne." Alari greeted the cheery blonde and the small olive skinned girl she had paired her with.
"Good day, High Priestess." Yalanne replied, her voice low and quiet as ever. Faelin squeaked an acknowledgement of her own. Yalanne was one of the more powerful Novices within the class, and diligent in her studies. It would not be long before the noblewoman from the far off Gurritin Peninsula was ready to move on.
"How are you coping Faelin?" Alari said gently.
"I'm fine – wonderful! – High Priestess." The girl said enthusiastically.
"She is very keen to learn." Yalanne smiled, and Faelin blushed slightly, "We shall have no problems, I assure you High Priestess."
Alari nodded and moved on.
For the most part the new Novices seemed to have settled down well, appreciating the help of the older girls. After she had spoken with each of the students, she returned to Messe to see how she was getting on with the reticent Aseme. Messe had taken the girl to the far end of the room, away from most of the other Novices. To the High Priestesses surprise, the girl had a suppressed grin on her face as she sat silently, Messe talking animatedly with her, arms waving.
"So how are things going on here?" She asked, standing beside the other two young women.
"We're getting on fine, right Ghost?" Messe poked Aseme in the shoulder. The young woman did not respond.
"Ghost?" Alari asked, dubiously.
"Ghost." Messe affirmed, "I've never known someone so keen on dodging attention."
Alari sighed. Messe was, as ever, not at her most tactful.
"Being noticed just brings trouble." Aseme said, her voice scarcely a whisper.
"Tell me about it." Messe slumped down in her seat next to the other girl, "I can barely go ten minutes without someone insisting I help them find something from the Archives. If only Alari would allow me to use my invisibility spells…"
"It was Uvalas who banned you, not me." The High Priestess protested, "And you were hiding for days! An Archivist can't do that."
"I did my job." Messe grinned, "Just no one could see me doing it."
"You know invisibility spells?" Aseme was looking askance at Messe now.
"Of course." Messe vanished suddenly, drawing a gasp from the other Novice. Alari could still sense her friend's presence of course, but only faintly. She had always been impressed with the quality of Messe's illusionary spells; it was the one field of magic in which she excelled.
After a moment, the silver haired young woman reappeared, seated in the chair on the other side of Aseme.
"You're the real ghost Messe." Alari said.
"Alas, no longer." Aseme jumped at her voice, coming from the other side. Messe sighed and stretched out her long arms. "But I'm sure my apprentice here will torment Uvalas enough for me." She said patting Aseme's shoulder.
"Apprentice?" Aseme stammered.
"She's just joking." Alari said.
"Oh am I?" Messe leaned close and whispered something to Aseme. The girl regarded her carefully, looking surprised.
"You'll be the death of me Messe." Alari threw up her arms. Her friend simply grinned in response to that.
They spent a further two hours in the classroom, mostly getting to know one another. Towards the end, Alari demonstrated a number of simple spells to the amazement of the new girls. Some of the older girls, as if taking this as a cue, showed similar things to those they had been partnered with. Thankfully, there were no mishaps, and the class concluded satisfactorily with arrangements for the next meetings. Feeling content, the Mistress of Spellseers made her way to her offices, back to the numerous other jobs waiting to dampen her mood.
Aseme walked back to her room with Faelin in silence. The other girl talked enthusiastically about her experience with the Spellseers. Aseme listened half heartedly, using the time to think.
It had been a strange day indeed. The young woman, Messe, had been overawing, even compared to the High Priestess herself. She had seemed so comfortable in her surroundings, so confident in everything she did that Aseme had been intimidated. Her bluster lessened when the High Priestess was not watching, strangely, as if it were partly a show for her benefit. She had offered much to Aseme, without asking for anything in return. A friend in the Cathedral, someone to listen if she was having problems, help if she ever got into trouble, training if it was required. Aseme was wary; people were never so open in her experience, not without some ulterior motive. But the woman had offered to teach her invisibility, which interested Aseme very much.
The next few days proceeded at a sedate pace. Much of a Novices time was taken up learning the ways of an Aliinen Priestess. Aseme was dutiful in her studies, if unenthusiastic. Her reading ability was patchy at best; having grown up alone she had only rarely been in a position to learn such things. Faelin had offered to help teach her to read the common tongue, and she was not alone in being taught by the Priestesses.
Aseme appreciated the reading lessons. Even were she to be thrown out of the order, reading and writing skills were highly regarded among the underclass in which she lived. It may just provide her the means to eke out a living for herself.
"Oh, you girl, you're one of Alari's new ones aren't you?" Aseme was sat in a small room with two other girls. The priestess who was tutoring them at that time had stepped out, leaving them to study the tomes they had been assigned for a while. Assuming the woman was speaking to one of the other girls, she continued reading.
"I say girl, I am speaking to you." The voice was coming from before her now. Aseme glanced up nervously. A large middle-aged woman stood over her, hands on hips.
"May I help you, Priestess?" She asked quietly.
"You are a Novice Spellseer, yes?" The woman asked.
"Very good. I need you to go to the Spellseer archives for me and fetch a book for me."
"Of course, priestess." It was not unusual for Novices to be commandeered for menial tasks by elder priestesses.
"The book is A Study of the Fourth Reunvirate." The woman said, "Bring it to my secretary in Spellseers quarters at once."
"Uhm." Aseme said quietly, "Who should I ask for?"
The woman glared at her a moment. "I am Neesil of the Third Wing. You would do well to remember that if you are to do well with the Spellseers."
The woman turned to leave, stalking briskly out of the room. Aseme carefully marked her place in the book she was reading and returned it to the desk at the front of the room.
"Would you tell Priestess Imarreil where I have gone?" She asked one of the other girls in the room nervously. The girl nodded.
The Spellseers archives where an entirely separate library from the large main Cathedral archives. Many of the books contained within related to magic and demonology, fields that were the preserve of the Spellseers. Few of the normal Priestesses ever had call to visit them.
Despite being considerably smaller than main archives, the room was still formidable. Entering through the large, ornate double doors, Aseme was greeted by an intimidating sight. Books lined each wall; shelves filled much of the floor space. Towards the centre of the room a spiral staircase wound upwards towards another section. Corridors lead out and away, further into the archives. Looking around nervously, Aseme made her way towards the stairs, where she knew an Archivist would be working.
Only, it was deserted. Books lay scattered over the over the desk, along with a quill and a scrap of paper covered in crab like writing. Glancing at it, Aseme was only able to ascertain that it was not the common tongue.
Feeling dejected, Aseme stared around. She had no idea where to start looking for anything. She could barely even read the titles of most of the tomes. Sighing, she wandered aimlessly towards one of the side rooms, examining the books that lined her way as best she could.
The room on the other side of the first door she opened offered nothing, just further unintelligible books. Unsure, she followed one of the three corridors leading away. The archives, it seemed, where almost like a maze, and she was soon lost.
A cough alerted her to the fact that someone else was around. Following the sound, Aseme came to a small, candlelit room, lined with books as all seemed to be. Seated at a desk, three books open before her, was Messe.
The young silver haired woman looked unhappy; stressed. Her eyes darted between the three books, pages flicked seemingly at random. Every so often, she noted something on a scrap of paper before her.
"Uhm." Aseme cleared her throat. She felt bad bothering Messe – she was clearly very busy – but she couldn't think of what else she could do.
Messe's eyes flicked up, full of annoyance, and then softened.
"Oh, hello Ghost." She said, "What are you doing here?"
"A Priestess told me to fetch a book for her, but I don't know where to start." She managed, "I think I'm lost."
Messe sighed; "What is the book?" She said, "I'll find it for you."
"Oh thank you." Aseme said, relieved, "It was called, ah, A Study of the Fourth Re…something."
"Reunvirate?" Aseme nodded. "Who on earth wants that?"
"She said she was called Neesil." Aseme replied.
"Oh, right." Messe rolled her eyes, "Follow me then, that book is in the Grey Archives I'm sure."
"Grey Archives?" Aseme asked curiously, falling into step with Messe as they wound their way back through the dim corridors of the Spellseers archives.
"It's just where all the really old books are kept." Messe replied, "Well, the one's nobody ever needs. I think I am the only person who has stepped foot in there for the past few years."
Aseme nodded, and they continued on in silence.
The pathways of the Archives were dim and winding, with seemingly no cohesive structure. Messe strode confidently, taking each turn without pause. Aseme trailed slightly behind, eyes cast down as she walked.
"Where were you born?" Messe asked as they walked.
"Naggimar, I think." Aseme replied.
"Hmm, you don't look like a Nagg." The silver haired woman replied, "But then, I don't look anything like an Irton."
"Irton?" Aseme asked, surprised. The Irton were renowned traders, and she had seen many during her time in Naggimar. They were usually small, dark haired, wiry people, nothing like the tall, pale Messe.
"My father was a diplomat." The older girl said, "My mother…well, I take after her more than him."
A diplomat. Given Messe's knowledge and command of languages, that was not so surprising.
"Oh." Aseme said quietly.
They continued on in silence for a moment longer.
"Are you not going to ask about my mother?" Messe said, exasperated, "Really, Ghost, you're impossible."
"I thought you would say if you wish to." She replied quietly.
"You have much to learn." Messe shook her head, "It is a secret, of sorts. Alari knows, and Dellicia, but no one else that I am aware of."
"Why would you tell me then?"
"Why, you're my protégé, and I need you to be in awe of me." The silver haired girl grinned at her, eyes bright. Aseme felt herself smile slightly in spite of herself. "My mother is an Ethereal."
Aseme stared at the other girl in silence for what seemed like a long time. An Ethereal. The strange beings of legend, who were said to exist outside the bounds of the world, similar to that of demons, yet so very different. The few mentions of Ethereals throughout history were often spoken of as great heroes or powerful forces for good. In other cases, some had been known to wander the world at will, strange, enigmatic presences that seemed concerned with little beyond enjoying themselves. Aseme had not heard any story involving an Ethereal that was not at least one hundred years old.
"I don't feel very Ethereal." Messe continued, frowning, "I take after her in appearance, and not a lot else."
"All the Ethereal stories I have heard are very old." Aseme said.
"My mother isn't the stuff of stories." Messe laughed, "It always boggles me that she is so satisfied just to follow father around the world. But that is her. You wouldn't know she was an Ethereal to speak to her."
As they walked Messe probed gently at Aseme's past, but upon receiving little in reply, settled back on speaking about herself. Aseme much preferred this – Messe's life as the child of a diplomat was interesting and vibrant, so far removed from Aseme's own painful memories of her own childhood. Messe was also an accomplished storyteller, weaving in amusing anecdotes and what had to be vastly embellished stories of wars averted, battles fled from and more. Aseme marvelled again at the size of the library – apparently the smaller of the two libraries within the cathedral – and it took a little time for them to reach their destination.
The grey archives seemed to live up to their name, with a claustrophobic atmosphere, stale air and dust covering many of the shelves. The archives were entered through a low door Messe had to duck to go through, and were so contrasting to the main library that it was as though the doorway was a portal to a different building entirely. The roof was low, scarcely enough space for Messe to stand up straight, and each bookcase reached up to the roof. The shelves themselves were tightly packed such that there was barely room for two people to pass in the space between. Lanterns hung from the ceiling, but they were spaced far apart and did not penetrate the gloom very well at all.
"Tread lightly around here, or you'll kick up a whole world of dust." Messe said softly, beckoning her to follow.
From what Aseme could see there were little to markings on any of the bookshelves, but Messe clearly knew exactly where she was going. Aseme trailed behind, glancing around, feeling nervous glancing down the long passageways between shelves, shrouded in foreboding shadow.
"This place is not very nice." Aseme murmured.
"It's not so bad." Messe replied, "It's a bit dark and packed in, but there are so many wonderful books here nobody else ever sees." The older Novice shrugged, "I suppose you have to be an Archivist to appreciate it. Ah, here we are."
Seemingly at random, Messe turned left down one of the innumerable gaps between shelves, running her hand along the right hand bookcase as she went. Aseme scuttled after her, her eyes scanning the books that lined the way. Coated in a thick layer of dust, Aseme could barely distinguish one from another. Messe hummed a tune as she went, clearly well at home in the cramped conditions of the Grey Archives.
"Here we are." The tall, pale haired woman came to an abrupt stop, "A Study of the 4th Reunvirate." The book Messe retrieved from the shelf was thick and bound with a brown leather cover, but otherwise indistinguishable from any other tome. There was what Aseme assumed to be a title of the cover, but not in any language she had ever seen.
"Thank you." Aseme said quietly, taking the book.
Messe waved her on and they were soon out of the Archives again, to the relief of Aseme. She hadn't felt scared, not with the reassuring presence of Messe, but it had been an uncomfortable experience.
As the young woman guided her through the winding halls of the main library, Messe talking merrily as they went, Aseme reflected on how quickly she had started to feel comfortable around the older Novice. Messe was open, quick to point out fault but quick to praise as well; it gave her an air of honesty that drew Aseme in. She was friendly and had offered to help Aseme seemingly unconditionally. However, Aseme was wary of trusting people, and the growing closeness she felt with the other Novice troubled her.
I need to keep my guard up, even around Messe. She glanced back towards the library as she shuffled away to see Messe still at the door, a grin on her face and one hand held up in a wave. Especially around Messe...