Wizards, being largely powerful and powerfully odd to the rest of the world, took it upon themselves to build their own city where upon they could be autonomous and secure. This city, eventually named Kelfax after the first High Grand Master Magician Sorcerer Elite Hedgar Kelfax, sat squarely in the center of three countries converging borderlines.
After some strenuous negotiations which had only a little bloodshed as these things are measured, the city was given it's own country as well. A very small country that extended only a half league in any direction from the city itself, but still a country.
The Council of Eight proclaimed themselves to be far too busy governing this country (named Kelfax as well for ease of directions) to bother meddling in the affairs of the rest of the world. In truth, the Council was so busy muddling up the rest of the world, that the autonomous city had to set up a separate and discrete government just to get things done at home.
This other government (known as The Rank and Vile) held all the true power in Kelfax. The Council, held a large portion of power in Kelfax's three disgruntled neighbors so that between the two governments peace, prosperity and only occasional bloodshed were the norm. The Council, as any group is want to do, often argue. Indeed rarely can they agree on anything and so nothing gets done and the world continues on greatly unmolested.
As one might imagine of a city built by wizards for wizards, Kelfax was large, grand, magnificent, and other synonyms for huge. It was designed in a series of concentric rings, with each ring being built largely of a different material and height, and the individual buildings in each circle interlocking to each-other in various ways. At the center most ring stands the Akademy. The school for all great wizards, the Akademy has nine towers, eight evenly spaced in a tight ring surrounding the tallest tower at the very center of both the city, the country and to the magically inclined, perhaps the very world.
The Council, being a convenient eight members, resides within the Akademy and commands the towers, teaching up and coming wizards all the schools and philosophies of magic. The ninth tower being so very tall and very important, is closed. Since the completion of its initial construction not a single person has been granted access inside, and even the Eight together are not permitted to crack open the door.
Hedgar Kelfax had been a great wizard. However he was not a great architect, so while Kelfax the city was organized and aesthetically pleasing from the sky (the view commonly used on maps), getting anywhere involved going under, over, through and around the warrens of buildings, tunnels, walkways and canals that made up such vital systems as water, heat, road and waste.
Most students at the Akademy choose to specialize. This makes them seem more credible in their field, and they don't have to walk very far for all their classes. Zeke, having no ambition and very few goals in life, chose to take the less common route and learn as much as he could about everything. This labeled him a looser, a geek, and a perpetual student who by the age of twenty-six turnings had only made High Wizard.
Every wizard, knowing that pomp and circumstance also play heavily in magical politics, play up their abilities, specialties, and familiars. Zeke, being not only not-ambitious, had the most unique familiar in the history of magic and therefore played up nothing at all. His robes were mostly black or gray, given that those colors hid various stains well. and he wore no hat, simple but broken in boots rather than pointed toed slippers, and his 'wand' was a walking staff.
Zeke was also missing the smallest finger of his right hand. He knew exactly where it was of course, it simply wasn't where it ought to be. The missing digit usually bothered him not at all as he was left handed and only slightly vain about his appearance. Zeke's vanity, and indeed much of his energies lay in the gathering of knowledge and to this end he had his own small tower at the edge of the country. Within the stone walls were an impressive library, an observatory, laboratory, kitchen, dungeon and bedroom.
The dungeon had been added during the months of his last exam studies and he hadn't been aware of ordering it at all, but used it as a place to store his dirty laundry.
Zeke was not one for deep introspection. Considering that had he been one for it he might not have Decimate, and that Decimate had just saved his life by killing twelve bandits, a lack of inner speculation might actually be a survival strategy.
Certainly Decimate was not one to complain about Zeke's flaws.
Zeke complained enough for the both of them about most everything.
"Bandits. Four days out of Aceina and there's bandits on the King's highway. I thought this country had a damned army! What are they doing, pissing in the moat?!"
Decimate cleaned his claws with silent laps of his tongue and listened with one half cocked ear to Zeke's ranting.
"Of all the things to hold us up... You know I should just leave their bodies here on the road for the next person to clean up? I really should. It would probably be the damnable knights of King 'Fuck the Wizards' anyway!"
Decimate snorted softly in reply.
Zeke worked his way through the corpses, taking whatever few coins or personal effects were on them before casting Wytch Fyre over them to destroy and cleanse. It was one of the more effective spells for that sort of business, but Zeke couldn't cast it indefinitely. After setting the twelfth corpse, his coppery-tan was washed out and he sat on the ground next to Decimate hard.
"I mean, is it too much to ask that if it's the King's road that the King take an interest in people being able to travel it?"
Decimate whuffled softly and draped a warm feathery wing over Zeke's shoulders. After a moment the minute trembling in Zeke's body subsided. Decimate bit back a disgruntled grumble at the fact that there was trembling to subside, but Zeke never listened to anyone about pushing himself too hard.
"Alright. Well, that was some excitement but we really do need to get back on the road." Zeke muttered tiredly.
Decimate eyed the sky and estimated they'd been attacked perhaps an hour before full dark, which meant that as far as distance was concerned, they weren't going a long ways. Which was just as well, since Zeke needed to eat something and Decimate would undoubtedly be awake the entire night because the road was patrolled so poorly that anything might attempt to snack on them in the darkness. Provided that 'anything' had no brains, no sense of smell, no survival instincts, and no magical awareness to speak of.
Decimate whuffled again and shook himself all over, the heavy saddlebags strapped precariously to his back threatened to slide right off.
"You want to camp here. Where we got ambushed by bandits. Right here?" Zeke's tone was dubious at best.
Decimate gave him a long look over one shoulder and licked his muzzle.
"Fine. Anything that happens tonight is on you then, I wanted to keep moving and try to hit Banelk by the eighth day."
Decimate rumbled a soft sigh as clever fingers started undoing the pack straps and massaging rumpled fur back into place. For all Zeke's noise, he was a very doting man, patient and careful, and Decimate wouldn't trade him for the world.
For a nicely grilled goat at the moment...
But not for the world.
Zeke had no real qualms with fiend hunting. Many strapping young things with more muscle than hope made a tidy sum from the business. Usually enough to stop and do something moderately less dangerous later on in life, like get married and have kids. It was also a glorious and honorable tradition among knights to count lord tithes in fiend hides. (A nice way to suppliment the grain harvest in particularly poor years, especially if the fiends tended to eating the peasant farmers.)
All that aside Zeke would rather leave the job to someone else. It was messy, tiresome, again dangerous, and Decimate took far too much glee from attending the task in as gory a fashion as possible.
Zeke was a wizard, not a knight. And even if he wasn't much of a wizard he was definitely less of a knight.
“Grrrow?” Decimate inquired, fangs still black with fiend blood. Zeke shook his head and sighed.
'Sometimes I wonder if you weren't meant for a battle mage.' He thought to himself, setting grimly to the task of collecting what whole hide and liquid blood he could gather here unsupported. Meat, bone and fang were all too poisonous to meddle with out here. The blood and hide, while carrying toxns, held less than the rest and could be rendered safe enough after a few days in the sun. He'd have to burn the rest.
Whatever Decimate didn't eat at least.
Zeke mentally added more glass vials and obsidian flakes to his shopping list for when they got back to a decent market. Along with tea, cotton satchetts and more flaxen thread. The one real decent thing about fiend leather was it's sturdyness. Once properly worked it stayed true to form, water proof, fire resistant and age defying. A good leatherman could make it into nearly anything and charge three times the price of the raw skin itself.
“If you're worried about us being poor, you could leave a bit more of the skin intact.” Zeke pointed out, waving a broken stone flake at his gorging familiar.
“Mhmphgrrhmph.” Decimate replied distractedly, ears flicking back as though he was truly paying any attention to anything other than his gullet.
“Mhmm. You don't care as long as you can eat.” He sighed. “At least you won't be starving when we get to Bunara.” Livestock, Zeke had found out, tended to be horrifically expensive.
Stripping the hides as quickly as he could, he pondered the novelty of trying to salt or smoke fiend flesh to the ecstatic sounds of crunching bone.
His gloves were stained and spotted by the time he was done, and he wagered he had enough hide to replace them, with perhaps the rest as trade. If not he'd sell the whole lot and buy another cheap pair from yak leather.
Bunara was known for it's yaks. Not much else as far as he knew, but this was his first time being sent out so far.
The more remote the township, he'd found, the more welcome a wizard. Any wizard. Even one with a familiar that ate fiends. Sometimes they were especially welcoming for a familiar that ate fiends.
Zeke had never focused on battle magic studies, indeed he'd been hard pressed to focus on any one spell for too long. They all held appeal. The minor incantations and spell works he'd readily mastered in his time as a full-fledged student were all useful little things like location charms to find his shoes or one book out of the library, or preservation wards to keep delicate old papers safe from the elements, or even slight animate spells so his quills could take his notes while he read.
WytchFyre, Ironstaff, Quicken were all spells he's had to learn quickly once out of the safe halls of the akademy. Decimate had lost quite a few feathers in those first hectic months.
By rights Zeke should have been studying battle magics for years before learning those three spells, but necessity made many difficult things possible. Of course now in his spare time he tried to speed through the intermediate spells and charms. Some were easy enough, and some gave him fits until he learned a lesser charm from another school that made things make sense.
He'd picked up quite a few things he'd never thought of before. Neph had been very pleased with his growth as a mage the last time he'd been in the Akademy to catch up. Of course, Neph had been very pleased just to see him alive so everything else was a bit of a bonus. Zeke didn't feel like much more of a mage than before he'd left, certainly he didn't feel any more powerful, regal, or confident, all valuable characteristics of a good mage.
Jeorge ha hinted that he ought to look into taking the next level of Akademy exams, but Jeorge had a disproportionate appreciation for Zeke's person, rather than his actual skills.
“That's not opal, that's moonstone. I'm not making a fertility charm, I'm working on an animus spell.” Zeke argued, shoving he stone back at the startled shop keeper. “I don't need moonstone.”
Zeke brushed his hair quickly, yanking the brush through the curly strands. He neither loved nor hated his hair, growing it long enough to keep held back in a thong out of his face, rather than spending the time and effort to constantly cut it short enough to stay out of his eyes.. he was lucky enough not to be prone to facial hair, needing only to scrape off the random bristles every few days, or as often as they wandered through civilization. The soap and cleansing spells he'd memorized helped with the worst of the tangles, but the mane his mother had cursed him with rarely allowed him to do much more than pull it back.
Not that Decimate really cared, and he was the one with the sensitive nose that had to spend the most time with him.
Decimate seemed more than happy to groom him actually, if he gave his familiar half a chance. Decimate was just that sort of cuddly, leech like character who tended to scare people with his affection.
Not that Zeke had ever been afraid of his familiar. Not even that first awful moment that they met; Decimate black as midnight, covered in the shredded remains of Zeke's older brother. He'd been horrified, sickened, but not afraid. Decimate had the same honey brown eyes as his dear little bastard brother. The same eyes he'd seen every day looking back at him from the mirror.
Neph had been the only one of his teachers to accept Decimate as an equal familiar to anyone elses. Neph of course was only one of hundreds of mage teachers however, The Akademy refused to allow Decimate in classes or near other wizards, so Zeke was forced to leave his familiar alone in his private tower on the borders of Kelfax, a state neither of them appreciated.
Neph's solution had been to start sending them on mage missions, special assignments contracted out from other countries or mages who wanted something done without having to do it themselves. Zeke earned credits for every completed assignment and spell craft mastered along the way, however until Zeke stopped long enough to take a comprehensive examination, he wouldn't actually be recorded as having earned anything.
Wizard rankings were based on spell mastery, skill level, innate power and arcane knowledge. As far as the Akademy was concerned (and therefore everyone who dealt with paper over people) Zeke was a low rank wizard of little innate power, unskilled and largely problematic. (The people who knew Zeke had heir own ideas, mostly dissimilar and unshared with anyone so lazy as to base assumptions on a bit of writing.)
Zeke had no true opinions on his skill or ranking, happy to gain knowledge from any source available and ecstatic when that knowledge saved him from ending up on something's evening menu.
Decimate and bathing were long affairs of intense work. Things started out with lots and lots of water, usually cold since there were few tubs big enough for him to soak in and fewer natural springs not already claimed by some band of humans with sharp, pointy objects and lots of cleanliness issues.
Which was slightly ironic since cleanliness was the very thing they were trying to work on with constant bathing but Zeke had learned that people as a whole were greatly stupid no matter how educated they claimed to be.
So lots of water, and soap, of differing strengths and makeups, and elbow grease. The last was the most important due to there being ever so much of Decimate to go around and so very little of Zeke. First they tackled the fur with a liquid sort of soap made from the saps of many various sweet smelling herbs and the rendered oil of a low spreading legume. This lead to a very heavy lather and much fur coating everything along with Decimate, and changing the water a few times if not done in a moving stream or deep lake. Then came a lighter liquid oil from a bulbous flower, and this went to the feathers of Decimate's wings. The soap there wasn't so much a cleaning ritual as a mending one, Zeke's fingers deftly repairing any damage to the heavy pinions and soothing the irritated skin under the interlocking barbs. Decimate's wings were largely water resistant, but the leading edge that should have been sheathed in tiny feathers was covered instead in the same coarse fur as the rest of him, which left many of the initial layer of down wet and ragged.
After feathers and fur came the horns, claws and teeth, all scrubbed with a boar bristle brush until they gleamed and the beast's breath was no longer another of his weapons. Decimate appreciated this last scrubbing the least, hating the overly strychnine taste of the mint and pine paste Zeke purloined for them from the herbalists, but Zeke never relented until his familiar was gleaming from every angle.
The length of Zeke's own soaking bath was usually proportionate to the amount of struggle Decimate gave him to that last indignity.
Zeke didn't think he ate any differently from anyone else given what he had available to eat on any given day. Or who he had to compete with for that food. Decimate would devour anything put in front of him. He loved fruits more than vegetables, and meat more than anything else, and grains any time he could get them. Zeke tried to feed him as much as possible, often forgetting himself to eat until his bod ave up sending the hunger signals and simply started making things especially difficult to accomplish.
At about that point Decimate tried to sit on him and feed him whatever was in reach, up to and including leaves and tree bark. Zeke took that as the broad hint it tried to be.
However, once in a place of civilization large enough to ave restaurants of at least chefs and cleaning ladies, things became a bit more dicey. Most people who worked and made their livelihoods at creating food for others, usually refused to lend their services to Decimate, on account of the teeth and horns and claws and massiveness. While they might otherwise feed Zeke, they fairly fainted at the amount of food he would order, and then get very upset that he didn't intend to eat any of it, and instead let his familiar at whatever feast he wrangled up.
Those people rarely served Zeke twice, no matter what he was willing to pay.
Zeke, being above all a good person above being a good wizard, refused to eat without making sure his familiar was fed as well.
To this end Zeke ended up forking out many pretty coins for terrified livestock that thus ended up, if not tasty, at least filling for one if not both of them. Out in the wilds things were both easier and harder, in that they had no one trying to deny them food where they found it, but on the other hand they had to find it. Zeke was not a naturalist in any measure of the definition. He could identify many plants of various toxicity and benevolence, and even make use of a few of them, he'd taken to carrying around a blank diary to fill in with notes on what was and was not edible near the myriad places they ended up.
Midwives and hedge witches helped him fill out many of those pages with their local herbal lore, and pointed him at many more books with better notations than what he'd previously acquired from the Akademy libraries.
He was willing to go with the idea that he'd simply not known where in the libraries to find those sorts of books, being as the libraries were organized by year, author, mystic school of thought (or closest equivalent) popularity of edition and then cross referenced by some method known only to the head librarian and his staff of helper iguanas that made finding any particular book an epic quest or an hours worth of interpretive dance. (The iguanas were very helpful indeed, if they understood what you were asking for, but had a poor grasp of human language and even poorer eye-sight for the flat letters of human writing so communication was an adventure and a half. Many thesis had been written on the best way to accomplish this and the best, or at least most entertaining, was enchanting a fly or grasshopper to find the book first and then lead the iguana there by hunterly instinct. This was of course impossible as the whole point of the iguanas would be moot and the head librarian would have to train a whole flock of short lived, book eating insects.)
Zeke's own library kept threatening to explode out of his small tower. It had migrated out of the room meant for it, creeping into Zeke's bedroom, Decimate's bedroom, the laundry room cum dungeoun, the laboratory and the fiddly bit of architecture that couldn't decide to be an attic or an observatory. Books covered every flat surface and piled up on the floor and if he'd had the money to spare he'd look into hiring someone to organize the poor things. His spare coin went to getting more books however, and saving up for a dead horse.
Location charms were his life savers when it came to finding anything in the chaotic mess.
Jeorge had offered to reanimate the horse for him, should he meet the man's discounted price. (Jeorge's discount was still so far above Zeke's pay grade as to be laughable but at lest the necromancer was willing to help him at all. Death Magics were expensive and difficult to learn and Zeke had no desire to step too far into that school in order to learn the craft and raise the horse himself. Not because he disliked anything about the death magics, but because he simply had so much else on his plate the notion left him staggering.
Decimate probably wouldn't appreciate the experiments and potions and long time spent gathering obscure ingredients either. For so peaceable a soul he got bored and distracted easily and hated being cooped up for too long in one place.
They still managed to gather plenty of things along their journey that Jeorge needed or asked for, but whether these trinkets and ingredients were adding up to any dent in the total price, Zeke was awful at remembering to ask.
The largest and most useful spell Zeke had ever learned for his travels was 'Enlarge Holding/Transference'. This spell let him put an infinite amount of things in his small pouches by transporting them to a set location after a small amount of time. The drawback was that everything made a one way trip, and the spell was not designed for anything alive.
He'd learned the spell from three different books, each dealing with different aspect of the trasnportation issue. Great wizards in history had the ability to move themselves and their belongings great distances without actually moving. The last recorded instance of this however, was the Great Kelfax, founder of the country of Kelfax, who had taken the entirety of his private tower from the outskirts of the Hinterlands to the central tower of the Akademy, a journey that would have taken a man walking over ten years with a team of a hundred wagons. (Or so the most common mythos of the tower said, Zeke privately doubted this as the central tower wasn't completely built until fifty years after the wizards death from consumption. Of course most of his peers scoffed at the idea of o powerful a wizard dying from something as measly as a little illness, so the exact means of Kelfax's demise were shrouded in rumor as well, such that getting a single straight story was more impossible than summoning down the three moons at once without destroying the planet.) *Another thing the great Kelfax had been accused of trying to do, in his wild and youthful days.
Decimate's opinion on any other wizard's work besides Zeke's ranged from absolute boredom to outright hostility so few ever tried to discuss the matter with him. Indeed except for Zeke very few people ever spoke to Decimate outright, preferring the bizarre means of talking around him as though he were completely unable to understand a word they said and then expecting him to somehow have something to contribute through Zeke, as if Zeke were some form of translator between beasts and people. This was sincerely not the case, Zeke only understood Decimate because they talked so frequently and with such casual fluency that they might always be said to be speaking to each other whether or not either of them said a word.
(That this was indeed how most beasts communicated with the world at large passed over both of their heads completely.)
Decimate was of course Zeke's familiar as has been stated countless times, but the nature of familiars has been under represented so far so allow me a moment to elaborate. Every wizard worth his hat had a familiar sometimes after they mastered their first great spell. In Neph's case, it was a tiny song-bird called a mimic, who could reproduce any sound it heard, and which it did, often and without regard for harmony or discretion. In Jeorge's case the familiar was a large, bony black hound who constantly appeared to be three missed meals away from permanent fixation in the backyard. Zeke had never heard it bay, bark or yowl, nor had he seen it do more than blink a sleepy eye at whatever disturbed its rest, and often he checked just to make sure that it was indeed still breathing.
Familiar's carry a great deal of mystic power within the wizarding community for they acted in part as a miniature (usually) representation of their wizard's personal character. Or so most believed. A familiar was composed of equal parts Fate, Magic, and Will, and came into their wizard's life regardless of the wizard in question wanting, needing or asking for them. Much like a cat. In fact many wizards of lesser rank had cats, and it wasn't uncommon for them to snipe at each other over who's was more cat like.
Zeke had no opinion on music or dancing, neither were very wizard like things, and he'd never made much effort to learn more than a few basic chants and rotes that were geared for remembering set spell orders.
However as he spent more and more time out in the wilds with common people he found music to be a common denominator. Music bridged the gap of language, united people in the urge to dance and sing, and brought about friendships where otherwise would be strangers.
Music had a magic all it's own that worked regardless of the singer's talent, the knowledge of all the words, or the order of steps. Dances could be as spontaneous as someone having an instrument at hand, festivities always had to have at least one singer, if not the entire town participating in the music somehow. It was a powerful force that Decimate grasped long before Zeke, at least in that he accepted it and it's influences. Decimate could neither dance nor sing, being built entirely wrong for either practice, but he would sway and thud out the rhythm with his hail and rumble approvingly when a song struck a particularly strong chord with him, and for this Zeke first started paying more attention to music and then for the music itself.
He couldn't sing, and his dancing was universally inept, but he found that when presented with a chance to learn and a half decent instructor, he could play a small clay flute rather well. It entertained him for many miles, learning to replicate various tunes they'd heard, and then making them up for himself when he ran out of the ones he already knew. In fact it was entertaining enough he pondered the notion of learning a few more instruments in his spare time, small and simple ones that wouldn't cost him much in the way of coin.
Of course after that came the pondering of adding magic to the music itself and trying to come up with a new form of spell work. Decimate wasn't too thrilled with that whole line of thought and informed him of it by expedience of growling long and low whenever Zeke mentioned the thoughts out loud.
It was certainly not anything the Akademy had ever looked into to Zeke's knowledge. Of course, the Akademy was divided so much over the seven 'true forms of magic' that the notion of trying to make a new school was almost guaranteed to get him tossed out and his wizarding title stripped for the impertinence.
He filled a few notebooks on the subject and went back to learning how to catch water from rain and purify it for drinking through the use of a filter spell. It would help clear up quite a few nasty cases of parasites in the last village they'd passed through.
“Willow bark, some mint, some poppy, hrm, I thought for sure I saw sage earlier...” Zeke tried to keep his herbs stocked up, with how often they had to eat on the road and how inept he was at identifying anything in it's natural state without using his books and adding a lot of wasted time to their journeys.
Jogpur was a bustling metropolis filled with people from all over Valeria. There were wizards all through out Jogpur, most calling themselves 'witches' in traditional fashion. As many women as men claimed the title, something Zeke wasn't used to at all, Kelfax ruled entirely by male wizards and females with mystic power relegated to 'hearth witch' status. Zeke's own noble mother had been a hearth witch, magically uneducated and capable of merely lighting a few candles around the manor or finding her boys when they were in trouble.
Women in Kelfax were ambitious, but they were never supposed to admit it, as Zeke understood things. They were not admitted to the Akademy, and while most of the higher wizards, including the council, were married, their wives and daughters were not permitted to know anything about the inner workings of government or magic.
How true this was in the grand scheme, Zeke had never bothered thinking too hard on, content in his male privileged role. The greater world brought many things to light he'd never considered.
“Sage, there we are. Oh, and rosemary and some lemon grass. Yes, a bundle of each of the dried please.” He smiled and bowed to the little old lady selling her wares straight from her garden and store room most likely, in a small tent on the street. Apparently this was typical of Jogpur, and Zeke thought it much more efficient and motivating than the huge share-crops and tithing system of Genine, Valeria's southern neighbor.
Decimate was waiting at the home of their current employer, an aging witch by the name of Gertie, who had asked for someone to come and teach her grand daughter the more common spells and charms for tending a house and garden, as well as infusion charms and possibly some nature craft if the girl showed any skill.
It was a request no one else in Kelfax would have taken, and Neph took some sort of perverse pleasure in sending Zeke out to fill it. Gertie had taken one myopic look at Decimate and remarked that Zeke had a mighty fine horse, it would have to stay in the barn. Her granddaughter had screamed and tried to drag the old woman away while Decimate hunched and tried to cover his abused ears.
On the whole the granddaughter's reaction was depressingly typical. They'd managed to work out a compromise where Decimate had the barn to himself, and Zeke would stay out there with him in the upper loft, and the girl would take her lessons in the courtyard. Zeke wasn't looking very forward to the next three months, which was the shortest amount of time Neph had deemed appropriate to cover the basics.
Gertie, increasing age and blindness aside, was quick witted and a hard task master. She'd seen Kelfax training as a good way to increase her granddaughter's status and chance to find a decently monied husband, so even though there were plenty of witches who could have done the task, she'd accept no one but a wizard straight from the Akademy. Even if he came with a monster fiend for a familiar.
Decimate stood taller than a battle stallion when he straightened his spine and went back on two legs. He was covered in black fur, thick as wool, and had rust-brown feathered wings that stretched out wider than eight men standing shoulder to shoulder. His head was shaped somewhere between a wolf's, a horse's and a hawk's, having a long muzzle and wide forehead, that sloped up sharply from his jaws. Crowning his head were three twisted black spears of horns, razor sharp. His long tail was tipped at the end with three black spines in mimic to his horns, and his claws were constantly re-edged on the bones of fiends.
His ribcage was barreled like a mans, but his hips were an awkward mix of ape and cat, allowing him to run very fast on all fours or fight on two legs. His eyes and tongue were slit like a serpents, his teeth the back facing dagger curve of a lizard. All in all, Decimate resembled a little of everything and matched nothing.
To Zeke's studied eyes he certainly didn't resemble a fiend. Fiends were pitch black all over, not feathered at all and while they had horns they only had two. They had neither fur nor scales but skin like that of a man lacking any hair anywhere. The largest fiend was perhaps Decimate's size, but those were few and far between, rarely found near humans and their magics. The smaller ones could be up to the size of a man and hunted in packs of two to three usually, though upwards of nine had been spotted together in the wilds. They stood and moved on their back legs, and had a build not dissimilar to humans, excepting for their heads being shaped more like a reptiles or chickens, each eye set to the side of the face so that their range of vision was nearly completely around. Their mouths were meant only for rending flesh from prey and emitting feirce howls that chilled the blood of any other creature.
The worst thing about fiends was their intelligence, they often communicated great hunting grounds to each other, would patiently stalk caravans for weeks and would gather many of their numbers together in a 'swarm' to over take smaller villages. Their most devious weapon lay in their inhuman eyes. When given opportunity, they would lock eyes with their prey and use an intense, spell-less magic known as 'Mesmerize'. The unlucky soul to be so caught would stand there dazed and helpless while the other fiends moved in and took their time feasting upon his flesh. Indeed so strong was Mesmerize that a man would not feel pain nor death until the fiend released it's gaze. Only then would the sorry fate of himself be revealed.
It was reported, though only in careful company, that the remains often showed other hungers had been sated upon a mesmerized human, before the driving urge to feed overwhelmed.
Zeke had heard those hushed whispers and snorted heavily, having run into no few fiends upon travels. The simplest trick to fighting them was to do so with one's eyes closed, and this should prove no handicap for a wizard well versed in his arts. Decimate, perhaps uniquely, had never fallen to the evil Mesmerize, though in the course of events Zeke could never recall if the fiends they faced had ever tried to sunder him that way.
It is the case of familiars that while they contain no small portion of their mage's magic power, they also have individual drives which allows them autonomy when their mage falls susceptible to some ill-fate. So had Zeke even been foolish enough to fall for a fiend's gaze, Decimate would quickly have ended the threat through judicious violence.
“Alright. Now, Imbue charms are very simple and require only focused concentration and incantation. They are useful for a number of things, from making furniture more sturdy to keeping clothes from wearing out to making simple items prettier.”
“How does that work? The spell doesn't change anything right, it just...”
“It does change the item just a little. It doesn't change what the items is made out of, but it increases the properties of whatever material is there. For instance, a leather coat will still be a leather coat, but imbued with 'sturdiness' it will last longer out in the elements. The leather itself takes on a more worked and oiled property. Imbuing a plain ceramic vase with 'beauty' does not change the vase, but it makes it a bit shinier, more symmetrical, removes whatever flaws might have occurred in casting and thus the vase is more beautiful to behold.”
“It sounds like a way to cut corners on making a decent coat or vase.”
“It can be, but a well made coat or vase can still be improved through the Imbue charms. Now, the great things about charms are hey are easy to cast, and don't require you to be very powerful or study a long time. The draw back is that they need to be recast on a schedule corresponding to the strength of the caster. So, if you Imbue a coat to make it last longer, and you aren't very strong, you may need to recast that charm every other week.”
“So it'd be better to just buy a new coat every few years! What's the point of this?”
“So, you can always afford a new coat?” Zeke arched a brow at Marhgie pointedly. “Because I can't. And I'm a wizard who makes quite a few coins. I have to spend those coins on food, shelter, medicines, clothes, books... You'll have expenses to, and husbands are just like other people, they aren't made from money, they have to make it, and spend it wisely. A wife who can budget is better than a wife who is pretty.”
Marhgie put great stock in her looks, but not much in her housekeeping skills. While that might earn her a place in a noble's or merchant's bed, it would not be enough to convince someone of status to take her in vows. Zeke knew that much just from the various marriage contracts he'd witnessed his peers making back in the Akademy. A good wife was a partner in the marriage, not a leech. Even if they weren't supposed to have any power.
Wet fur and feathers smelled... well they just smelled really. Zeke thanked the herbal soaps and oils for cutting down immensely on the odor. He would wager that the scented stuff wasn't as pleasant for Decimate as for him, but his familiar hadn't complained much after the first bath which involved lots and lots of scrubbing, massaging and petting so it was possible that Decimate saw a trade off involved.
For Zeke, his own soap was a harsh bar with flecks of volcanic stone in it, mixed with herbs and smelling over-all of various decaying leaf matter. It was hardly pleasant over all, but it got him cleaner than anything else he'd found, and worked as well on hair as skin.
“I'm not sure what this exam is covering.”
“Everything a High Wizard needs to know, and that a High Great Wizard already knows.”
“That doesn't tell me anything!”
“Just do as you're told and try your best and you'll pass for sure.”
“But what am I supposed to be studying? How do I prepare?”
“That's the worst advice ever.”
The first part of the exam was easy, it being a full list of all the books he'd read with pointed questions on the contents, major theories and the counter arguments made by other wizards. It took a long time, but when he finally go to the essay section he was feeling rather confident. His reading list was eight times longer than the prescribed minimum. The essays were also easy, although he ended up take three scrolls to complete each one, rather than the half a scroll they'd given him, and the test taker kept shooting his handwriting dirty looks.
Zeke's script tended to flow across the paper in a near messy scrawl, especially if he spent a lot of time thinking about what he was going to write, and was passionate about the subject. He refrained as much as possible from the extravagant cursive or curliques of some of his peers, who thought their writing should look as pretty as their words sounded. Zeke thought if it could be read that was good enough.
Zeke stared at the sailor and cleaned his ear, certain he'd heard that wrong. “I'm sorry, what did you say was the price of passage to Nabradia?”
The man leered and opened his mouth, took a look over Zeke's shoulder and went white as a sheet. “...f...fie...fiend!”
Zeke looked around, saw Decimate looking rather non-plussed, and sighed. “No fiends, this is Decimate he's...”
The sailor was running for the docks and didn't care at all that nothing was chasing him.
“Well. I suppose we didn't want passage on his ship anyway. Honestly it sounded like he said 'ass or grass', what in the name of Kelfax do you think he meant?”
Decimate grumbled and scratched at a horn.
Iron Staff was great, except that he wasn't a battle mage and so swinging his staff around tended to get him in more trouble than sitting back and calling down lightening. Which was why Zeke was here in Nabradia, trading magic lessons for fighting ones. Earl/Duke/Lord something or other title at least Rabenath wanted his son to master elemental magic, which Zeke was not an exert at, but could give starting lessons until his real teacher got through with his job and meandered his way up to the northern country.
Rabenath Jr. was a fine young warrior of fifteen, capable of calling the breeze to lift girls skirts and setting fire to horses tails to see their riders tumble swiftly off the panicking animals. Zeke didn't expect to hammer anything like mystic manners into the teenager, but meeting him for a long, bruising spar with the quarterstaffs at least put them both in the equal mindset of murder.
Zeke's rule was that for ever round he lost, he'd teach the boy one trick. For ever round he won, the child had to confess to his father what use he'd been putting his knowledge to.
The first week Zeke met the dirt more often than he liked. The second week he improved enough not to drop his staff when his hands went numb. By the third week he'd managed to trip the gloating little snot into a pile of manure and after that outright war was declared. Rabanath Sr. was as impressed with their viciousness in the yard, as he was unimpressed with his eldest heir's decisions to turn his powers into the terrorizing force of the household.
Zeke tried not to get involved overly with affairs like the running of person's homes, or the raising of children, but it warmed something in his heart to hear the whelp sobbing as he counted out the belt strokes to his backside for drawing out all the water from the well to 'wash' the visiting peasants with their monthly tithes in a sudden rain shower.
Neph smirked, twirling a long strand of hair around his carefully lacquered nails. “I see. And this is a mission for my tower why?” Neph was the head of the Yellow Tower of the Akademy. Of the six towers, each was comprised of different stone work and thus a different color. Each tower was also the 'seat' of learning in a particular school of magic. Yellow Tower was built around Charms, Red, Elemental magics, Black, Necromancy, Blue, Battle magics, Green, Prophesy, and White Tower taught the rotes of healing.
The seventh tower of course stood empty. The Gray tower, the seat of all arcane lore and Kelfax's last achievement.
“Er, that is...”
“That is that no one else wants to dirty themselves with the matter and so you come to the last school that might bother themselves and hope that we are so desperate we can't refuse?” Neph arched a brow, head tilting a little as his mimic-bird stared at the messenger over its wicked beak from his shoulder.
“This... this is a major issue! Acadia...”
“Acadia is a friendly country to Kelfax, but it's government should be responsible for taking care of it's own citizens. If it were fiends, you'd be petitioning the Blue Tower. If it were so progressed that disease was rampant you'd be at the White, so, this is a minor issue that your government is willing to pay a minimal sum to see taken care of without getting their own hands dirty.” Neph's smile fit a well-fed cat that was still debating killing the impertinent mouse just to play with it. “The answer is 'No.'. The Yellow Tower has better thing to do than tour Acadia's sewers. No matter the price.”
“You're sure about this?”
“Of course. You're my student, it's my job to know when you're ready.”
“Alright. Lets get this over with.”
The first part of the exam was written, and easy enough. The second was harder, in front of the lesser heads of council he was questioned and recounted truthfully as much as he could of his travels, what he'd learned, what he'd mastered, what he'd read... They questioned him on everything, wanting details and numbers and was the lord's coat blue or purple and the hardest part was keeping his temper through the process. Some of the questions were impossible to answer, he didn't know what her name had been, he never asked, and some were just stupid, what did it matter if he'd taken holly from a tree eight days after the sage ran out or nine?
The third part, the comprehensive exam, that he'd been looking forward to. Doubtless it would be difficult but he'd been practicing his magic constantly for months now. He'd expected them to tell him Decimate was to stay out of the exam, and so before stepping into the Trial Area, he gave his familiar a good brushing and spent some of his last coins on a fat goat. Decimate was still unhappy, trying to crowd him away from the gate and shield him with his wings, but Zeke ducked and squirmed away, promising to return as soon as everything was over.
The Trial area was a huge flat circle surrounded by floating stone stadium seating that could be magiced to hover further or closer, depending on the perceived threat of the magic display going on. Today the stands were exceptionally close and Zeke wasn't sure if that meant they expected him to fail, or if everyone present just wanted to be able to see Neph's pet project pupil up close.
Charms were not notorious for their displays, and he was officially of the Yellow Tower, though he'd spent as much time in the other ones and the vast underground halls as anywhere else in the Akademy really. Not many had decided to show, Zeke recognized only Neph and some of the secondary heads that had been at the second part of his exam. Maybe thirty in all. Typically one's whole Tower at least had the decency to arrive if only to cheer encouragement. His brother's advancement exams brought the whole school out, sure of a grand spectacle.
Zeke had never really been part of his Tower though. Or a true part of the Akademy. Not since his brother died and Decimate was born.
“Well, I did warn them I've been practicing.” He muttered to himself, letting his travel cloak fall to the sandy ground, staff up. Breathing deep he centered himself, took hold of his staff in both hands and traced the carved runes of his favorite spells. The dark gray ironwood was nearly black under the tiny, circling script.
Quicken first, then Imbue Diamondscale to the stands, then Earth-shake. Dancing Wind, Iron Staff, Refresh, and Bird Summon. Lilting Tune to play the clay pipes while he danced around his invisible attackers, lightening and fire at either end of his staff dispersing the tornados he called, the hawks, the ravens. This was Zeke's moment, his magic. Charms weren't notorious for putting on a good show, but Zeke wasn't playing for an audience. This was for Decimate. His partner. His familiar.
He would be a wizard worthy.
Neph smiled widely and accepted the startled murmurs and gasps from the secondary council heads as his due. Zeke was his of course, but they were all free to covet and wonder at his luck. He'd been sure that the boy was something special all those years ago when he first tripped his way through the Akademy halls in over sized slippers. Landier had been a glittery gem of a child, all sparkle and sharp edges aimed to wound. His brother though, was a strangel-vine flower, slow to grow, blossoming on the bodies of those stupid enough to stay still and underestimate that vicious weed.
Decimate was the violent flower on top of those tangled strands of clinging, choking vine. So many people saw Decimate, and forgot there was something out there even more dangerous.
But that was the way Neph liked things. His little conspiracies worked out so much better when the masses were nicely ignorant and stupidly self assured.
He wouldn't admit to anyone that Zeke had blossomed far beyond what he'd expected. The boy wasn't just talented and hard working, he was driven, pure and simple. Driven to undo what his brother had wrought, driven to make things right, no matter what the personal cost was. And Zeke's personal costs were something to give an army of accountant fits. Neph tried to balance a few scales where he could, and had Jeorge make sure the boy wasn't running himself into a grave.
Neph had plans that required he have a pulse for quite a while.
Neph was tall and slender, with ebony hair straight an silken straight to the floor. He had charmed everything in his boudoir to help him tend to the long tresses.
Every morning he put it up in elaborate styles, and every evening he brushed it out, washed it, and let it dry over the heated floor of his sitting room as he reviewed the scrolls for the day and plotted. He spent a lot of time, relatively speaking, plotting. Everyone knew that. The matters of his plotting were up for high debate however.
Neph was one of the six on the council of course. But he was also one of the six heads of the Rank and Vile, the true government of Kelfax. He had a lot on his plate. Sending Zeke out to smack things would be simple enough, but unsatisfying. Zeke was much more useful in upsetting people's world views and forcing others to think, rather than just smiting fiends until he died.
Not that the fiend smiting didn't earn him a lot of points. Oh there were so many points there, and so many lordlings and earls now pondering the applications of chimera warfair on the evil bastards. If the fiends could be reduced in high numbers, more of the wilds could be tamed, which meant fatter peasants, fatter purses and more wizards getting out of Kelfax when they got their highest rank. Neph considered that last a very grand achievement indeed. The rot creeping through Kelfax's governmental systems could stand a thurough scrubbing via removal of petty little sycophants and young idiots.
Especially idiots that weren't Neph's.
Neph smirked into the black glass mirror in his private bath. It was an elegant thing, made of polished black glass and set quicksilver, the frame a heavy and simple black iron he'd had cast with curls to hang his combs and jewels from.
But its looks were not what made this mirror special, nor Neph's favorite. He'd had to fork over a hefty sum to Jeorge for this mirror, along with a good portion of Zeke's leash. Trailing the tips of his black lacquered nails over the smoky glass, he watched Landier scream soundlessly into the air, body broken and writhing on thick steel hooks.
“I warned you that meddling in the Soul Magics would get you into trouble, my little pretty murderer.”
“Ahem. The Rank and Vile requests your attendance at the next meeting. You know where.” his little familiar growled out, neatening its feathers from his window sill. With a chuckle he sat and pulled a set of fine silver combs, their teeth hollow needles filled with poison from the mirror.
“Of course. Just let me make myself presentable.”
Somewhere in the forsaken realms, what was left of Landier's soul bled and wept while Neph looked on, his reflection a vague shadow overlaying the inner images.
Someday he may leave the mirror for Zeke, as a gift. If the boy managed to succeed in his quest. A more perfect reward Neph couldn't begin to imagine.
Zeke stared in awe at the pile of books that greeted him. They were everywhere, stacked high to the cavern ceiling, in untidy mounds, dusty and forgotten and hoarded... Zeke's personal treasure trove. He could spend months here, sorting and charming away the grime and reading everything he'd ever wanted! He might even find something to help Decimate!
Decimate who was growling and looking not at all pleased by the piles of books.
Zeke sighed and thumped his staff to the cave floor. And for a moment there he'd honestly gotten his hopes up. Damned dragons and their Lure spells.
A dragons hoard could be a great treasure trove. It could just as easily be a pile of broken armor from idiots who went stumbling into caves and ended up a snack for the hungry beasts. Or it could be an epic ton of pyrite which, while glittery and minimally useful, didn't yield a lot in the way of coins. Most of the money in dragons came from the butchery of the beasts actually, and since this was a rare skill set to have, taking a specialist with you when you went hunting them was a good idea.
Zeke hadn't expected to run into any dragons, so he hadn't taken that precaution and as such was now debating the best way to handle things. Decimate's opinion was to eat the dragon, of course. Zeke thought that rather appropriate, excepting that there was a lot more dragon than there was Decimate and there might be some coins to be had past his familiar's next meal.
Dragon scale, dragon horn, dragon heartstring all gathered a fairly decent price if he remembered right, and there were places that bought the organs. With a sigh he waved at Decimate to start in on the carcass and tried to remember the best preservation spells for the fiddly bits.
Deep enough in the cave to have been overlooked by the less curious (or the more directionally oriented), there was a small stash of gemstones and broken armors, some fairly decrepit weaponry and what looked like a lady's personal carriage worth of ripped clothes and baubles. Zeke went ahead and dumped everything that looked worth a few coins through his transportation pouch and left the rest for any looters willing to haul it all out.
Either dragon corpses didn't fetch as much as he thought they had, or levitating the entirety of the remains and hauling it back to the nearest township broke some taboo he hadn't been aware of because it took nearly three hours before he was able to sell off the half devoured carcass and even then Decimate grumbled about loosing his latest chew toy.
Zeke had harvested and saved some of the longer bones for him, so hopefully he would be forgiven for being such a skin-flint when it came to the spoils of battle.
Armor for Decimate was a strange concept, Zeke honestly hadn't really thought about it since few familiars ever needed it and most that did were from the Blue Tower, wolves and large cats and raptors and the occasional huge riding lizard. Nothing like Decimate. But when Neph casually asked if he was saving up for a decent smithy, Zeke's mind got to turning.
Something light, to let Decimate move, but solid, to ward off grasping claws and teeth. Covering for the back and chest area, and something for the major muscles of for and aft legs. Easily buckled on and off, and leather or cotton padded to keep from abrading the fur and the sensitive skin beneath it.
Scale work he finally decided, and mithryl scale at that, expensive, very very expensive, but the best that could be forged without magic. Then he'd enchant it within an an inch of it's atomic structure.
Zeke had no patience for priests. As far as theory and philosophy went, one religion seemed as good as another but when decorated with details and spewed by madmen who'd read only one book in their lives, they became another symptom of social disease. Zeke had been outspoken as a student, a trait that had only driven in the wedge between himself and his father. Zeke knew that educating the masses even unto simple basics of mathematics and literacy could only improve their lot in life and to improve the lot of the lowest class could only improve the lives of their lords.
Zeke's father had seen only wasted time that could be spent tilling fields or tending herds, and more complaints. Eventual uprising. “Men are meant to be led, peasants by lords and lords by kings and kings by divinity. Contentment only comes with acceptance of one's place in life and satisfaction in their tasks. Never will a man be at peace with the world or himself until he internalizes those truths!”
Wizards of course, were an exception to those truths because it was always a wizards place to question, to seek better, stronger, faster means of things. A wizard answered only the lords to whose land he passed through or attended, and ultimately to the council of the Akademy. The council answered to no one, a power of their own to rival any king. They made treaties and agreements with any kingdom that sought their aid, and sent their wizards to the lords and ladies of those realms that had reached accord with the Akademy.
Those lands that refused magical aid either prayed to a very benevolent and protective god, or were lost to the Wilds. It might be different, Zeke knew, if any of the numerous religions in the lands could come to an agreement, unify, and preach a singular message. If that happened, then the priests he met would have more influence. A single unified religion would be a political force equal only to the Akademy or one of the Great Kings. But so far in all the years of the Akademy which were counted as over 8000, there had never been a single acknowledged religion as the True religion.
Probably, because none of them were based on anything more than ideas and social rules. At least magic was based in fact and the natural laws. Belief in some almighty figure creating the world from dust and nothing? Who actually fell for that crap?