From the journal of Arcanus
I entered Eolca under a spell of illusion. It wouldn't do to be caught here. I was the empire's greatest enemy. Never had I envisioned strolling the Via Circuita with its stunning view down the terraced extinct volcano, not without compelling reason.
That reason was curiosity. The invitation came from none other than Wayacth, the empire's greatest sorceress. I had clashed with her before over the desert skies of Guyeveh. Her fellow Red Claws hit hard and fast, much to our detriment. This could be a clever trap--save for that legendary Red Claw honor. If she assured my safety, it would be so.
I ascended the busy steps up Mount Nuerca. The heights were dominated by lavish villas, which clung to the mountain beneath the lofty fortress of the Sybils. Once admitted through the gate by an elderly maid, I dropped the illusion, much to her horror. "Announce me to your mistress. I am the archmage Arcanus."
The scurrying maid cast back fearful glances, bringing us into a cool foyer lined with antique weapons. Presently Wayacth entered from a side chamber, hair regally piled, dressed in gauzy lavender. She led us to a study with a glorious view of the Pedale Sea. We faced each other on matching white divans.
"You rate," she began, "at the seventh tier. Do you know mine?"
"Of course: the sixth tier, highest in the empire."
"No longer. I am back at tier one."
Shocked, I awaited the story as the maid brought in a platter of rose custard and baso wine, that bitter test of Red Claw stoicism.
Wayacth was the victim of a high-level sleep spell in the senate. On awakening, she felt something was wrong, a fear borne out by failure to conjure a simple mage light. She paused, testing me.
"Your magic link was severed," I said. Practitioners of the psionic arts are capable of it, and are frequently employed by the anti-magic Inquest fanatics."
"I have restored it," she said bluntly.
I clutched my staff. "Impossible. Unheard of!"
"It happened thusly: I have my grandfather's ability to sense magic links in academy candidates. Unlike him, I can visualize links--even my own."
"Astonishing!" I must learn the secret of this. It would be my price for whatever she wanted of me.
She went on. "I ordered my maid Sapillia to turn away all visitors, and see that I was not disturbed during the long night. Partly in the dream state, I repaired the link with agonizing slowness."
"Whom do you suspect of the crime?"
Again I reeled in surprise. "The imperatrix?"
"I believe her responsible for her husband's death. She now fears the Red Claws, and has ordered our base here relocated to Daumastia."
The imperator's dragon flight had been ambushed over the frozen Yaglukk region by dark realms raiders.
"And what," I asked, "has this to do with me?"
"I must re-learn all my spells, and in record time. I need someone to spar with, one who will truly challenge me."
"You speak truly about the punishing challenge, girl. And if you regain your tier six?"
"Then I will settle with Yisrilla." She gave me a moment to digest this. "You have no more liking for her than I. Her reckless courting of the dark realms endangers both our eastern borders."
I laughed, releasing the pent up backlog of surprises. "I know you for a determined woman, Wayacth. You have already achieved the impossible. We will begin your comeback at Khot, City of Thieves, as neutral ground."
She grimaced: an aristocrat in such a slag pile?
"Agreed, Arcanus. But don't expect me to call you 'master'."