“This is an excellent promotion, Lindin. To be a Watcher is a great responsibility. Many covet such a position of authority as this. You should be honored.”
The words seemed shallow, almost forced. Lindin knew his mentor’s candor well. Ten years of study under Archmage Velsyph had taught him much, not just in relation to the arcane. The older man stood before him, wearing silken robes in bright blues and golds. Compared to Lindin’s own navy blue cloth, it appeared almost regal. His gaunt, hollow face seemed far younger today. Despite his words, every feature seemed to radiate a joy few ever witnessed in the old wizard.
The room around them may have contributed to his appearance. To an outsider of wizardry, it may appear foreign, even stark. No chairs, no tables, no paperwork to be read or reviewed. Not even a window adorned the walls. Line upon line of glowing runes ran across the stone floor, then running up and around the vaulted ceiling. Pale blue light glittered from their etchings, filling the room with a gentle, albeit unnatural light.
The chamber itself was a marvel, even beyond its appearance. Had a window been available, it would have granted the two wizards a view of the city of Arhals so spectacular as to defy the commonfolk’s description. Hundreds of similar towers floated above the capital city, supported by little more than the will of their creators. It was from these majestic edifices that the wizards of the Argantin Empire ruled his domain.
“I know, archmage,” Lindin responded, forcing a smile of appreciation. “I was hoping for another assignment, beyond the highlands.”
Velsyph smiled, his aged eyes focused intently on Lindin. “I understand,” he said. “Remember that you are young.” He spoke with his hands, gesturing to Lindin’s face in time with his words. Waving them outward, he added, “The Empire is vast, Lindin. You are still so small in comparison. Few attain the title of High Mage at such a young age.” He laughed, lowering his hands to his side. “In fact, when your name was presented before the Arcanum, there were many who believed it to be a joke.”
Lindin frowned. A joke? “Then how was I approved?” he asked cautiously.
Velsyph laughed again, straightening his posture. His laugh echoed through the chamber, contorting into a hacking, coughing noise. “There was a very persuasive archmage who made a powerful case on your behalf.” He smiled broadly.
Lindin smiled as well. “Thank you.”
Velsyph waved off the words. “Don’t thank me yet,” he cautioned. “Now you are a high mage. Much will be required of you. This assignment is nothing like being an errandboy for a tired, old archmage. High Arcanist Harsen is not a guildmaster. You are the one that must show respect to him, not the other way around. Am I clear?”
“Yes,” Lindin answered. “I understand.
Again, Velsyph waved him silent. “I want to be sure that you understand fully. When you were in my care, we did not follow the protocols carefully. You are like a son to me, Lindin. I could never have asked you to bow or such nonsense. But remember how the commonfolk treated you.”
Lindin remembered. Far below the floating citadels of the wizards, the commonfolk of the empire went about their lives, blissfully unaware of what took place above. To them, the wizards were as messengers of the gods. And why not? Their master was Argantin, the God of the Arcane, Founder of All. Wherever the wizards went, whatever their duty, they were emissaries of the All-Knowing. Were they not, then, deserving of such praise?
During his apprenticeship, Lindin had often acted as a courier between Velsyph and the merchant guilds of Arhals. Those he had spoken with had treated him with awe, as one who had journeyed amongst the stars. The merchants had kept their heads bowed, their eyes lowered. None dared look directly upon the face of a wizard.
Velsyph continued to speak, “You must remember to treat Harsen the same as you were treated in the city. Keep your head bowed until asked to speak. Do not speak first. Remember that his word is final, no matter how you may feel.”
Lindin nodded. “Yes, master.”
“Do mind to keep your impulses in check. You are no longer in my house. This is not the place for idle curiosity.”
Lindin nodded again. He tried to respond, but Velsyph kept going. Lindin knew the rules, of course, but it was not for his benefit that the archmage repeated them now. At last, when he had finished, Velsyph smiled again. “Do let me know how you are doing from time to time.”
“I will,” Lindin promised.
“Good. Good.” Velsyph sniffed. Lindin saw tears welling in his mentor’s eyes. “Now, I must be going. There is much work ahead for me, especially now that I am without my apprentice.” He placed his hand on Lindin’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine, Lindin. Just remember all that I have taught you, and all that you learned besides. If there is anything you need of me, do not hesitate to ask. I will always have time for you.”
At last, Lindin recognized the emotion in Velsyph’s face. It was pride, a personal pride in Lindin’s accomplishments. “Thank you,” he answered, the words inadequate even as they left his mouth.
Before another word was said, the old archmage patted Lindin on the shoulder, and exited the chamber. Somehow, without his master’s presence, the room felt smaller, diminished somehow. Nothing had changed, of course. But the difference remained.
The wizard paced the small chamber, running his hand against the stone wall. The runes were nearly imperceptible under his finger’s touch. The power, on the other hand, was obvious. Flecks of power glinted in the air as they followed his movements. Lindin had never experienced such a room as this.
“High mage Lindin.” A voice boomed from the door to the chamber. Lindin spun to face the entry. Standing there was a man much younger than the archmage. His hair was cut short, giving him the appearance of a soldier. A trimmed beard covered his face, its edges precise. If it wasn’t for the red robes of a high arcanist, Lindin would have no idea this was high arcanist Harsen.
Lindin bowed in an instant. “Yes, master?” he asked.
The man approached, although Lindin could only watch his feet. He reached Lindin, standing a few feet from him, but said nothing. Lindin kept his head lowered, waiting.
“Well, aren’t you going to get up?”
Lindin snapped upright. His face flushed red, but he maintained his composure.
“Better.” Harsen smiled faintly, satisfied. “Who was your teacher?”
“Archmage Velsyph,” Lindin responded.
“Ah, that’s why the old fool was here,” the high arcanist mused, placing his hands on his hips. “That explains everything.” He looked into Lindin’s face, frowning. “You don’t seem old enough to be a high mage. How old are you?”
Harsen continued to frown. “Too young,” he said, lowering his gaze, his eyes intense. “What is the Arcanum doing, sending me someone so inexperienced.” He paused, grinding his teeth. After a moment, he looked back to Lindin, “I would prefer that you could be transferred anywhere else for at least the next five years. I don’t have time to train someone who should still be an undermage.”
Lindin remained silent. Harsen continued to study him, his eyes moving from head to toe. Lindin sensed the touch of magic as the high arcanist’s gaze bored into him. At last, Harsen sighed wearily. “Well, you’re here. Tell me, high mage, if you could have any assignment in the Empire, where would you go? What would you do?”
“I would request to be an ambassador of the Empire,” Lindin answered.
“An ambassador?” Harsen asked, raising his eyebrows. “Why? For what purpose?”
“To see the far reaches of the Empire,” Lindin explained. “To meet with the elders of Seralia, or negotiate with the dwarves of Tha’Haral.”
“Interesting.” Harsen raised his hand to his chin. “Do you think you could resolve the conflicts that harm those lands? Do you think yourself greater than those already seeking to ease the tensions there?”
“No, high arcanist,” Lindin admitted.
“Do you even comprehend the threat to the region by the invasion of Baralen? Or the history that led to these events?
“No, high arcanist.”
“Then why would you go? Would it be to see the mountains, or the plains?” Harsen sighed. “Remember what your duty is, high mage.”
Duty to the Empire. Duty to the Arcane. Duty to the World. Lindin knew the words well. He nodded. “Yes, high arcanist.”
“For the time being, your duty to the empire is here, in this room. You will watch over the city, and ensure that it remains intact, both in physical and magical terms.” He paused, considering Lindin again. “Perhaps, when you have proven yourself here, Argantin will see fit to send you out into the greater World. But today is not that day.”
Lindin nodded. “Yes, high arcanist.”
Harsen smiled. He clapped Lindin on the back. “Welcome to the Watchers, Lindin.”