”But remember, for those of you just starting out to use this ‘surge’ of action sparingly” the illusion warned. “But as you advance, your core will be able to hold more in its reserve, and with proper training, this technique can be used more often between periods of rest and reflection”.
Merrick made the gesture Lucien showed him to halt the illusion. It had been a lot to take in, but he welcomed this novel instruction method. He shook his head slightly at the thought of how it compared to the tutelage his “uncle” had given him growing up. Say what you will of whoever these people were that built this place, they certainly appeared to revel in detail. When he had asked the librarian if they had anything he could read regarding martial arts and arms, how their eyes glowed, (more than usual).
Not only did they have books and scrolls diagramming all manner of techniques, but Lucien appeared to be bursting at the seams to introduce him to the “training program”: apparently a joint student project with an illusionist and what Lucien called an “eldritch knight”.
“A wh— never mind.” Merrick felt he had enough to take in already and let the question take up the rear of the line. Because now he felt invigorated after a very efficient set of illusionary tutorials; complete with fully fleshed visions in all demensions (not pressed flat on a page), the ability to repeat the actions with perfect repetition, and to stop it mid-stride so that the curious can walk around it to see every angle. It was leaps and bounds better than any instruction he could ever hope to receive from some magic-shunning ex-guardsman you manage to bribe with ale to give you pointers in close combat next to the stable.
It certainly smelled a lot better, that was for sure.
“Remarkable, isn’t it?” Bael says from the doorway. His eyes are sparkling, alert, even though he has neither slept nor ate since holing up in the Library; when asked, he says he’s devouring books, inhaling ideas, digesting knowledge, which is more than enough for him. His smile is lucid and bright as he steps forward. “The things they knew–the advances in technology, magic, interplanar physics, the sheer scope of it–it’s mind-bending! Every aspect of learning, every school of thought. For those like Sumara and I, this is Paradise…or it’s mirror, in any case.”
He adjusts his pince nez on the bridge of his nose and tucks an overlong forelock out of his face. His winding, obsidian horns catch the light as he walks beneath the windows. “I wanted to thank you for protecting Al when I could not,” he says. “It means the world to me. And I would thank you for it.”
Merrick almost reflexively answered “Think nothing of it”, but stopped himself short. He could see in his eyes that Bael took Al’s well-being very seriously. He paused, thinking of how best to express his thoughts.
“I may be new to this company, but I can tell clearly how much you two care for each other. Sometimes, I find that when defending another, those who would feel their loss so much more sharply than I begin to feel a sense of guilt for not being the one there when needed. I’m glad that this isn’t the case here.”
Merrick got up from his spot on the floor among a number of scrolls and tomes he had splayed out around him. “But, if it’ll help ‘even the score’ with regards to who owes who favors…” He gave a smirk as he gestured toward the nest of literature he had built himself, only noticing now how bizarre it must seem; a man-at-arms buried in books.
“I would welcome your council on what is shaping up to me an important career decision.”
Bael’s brow quirks at the implication, but smiles easily enough, nodding at the accumulation of knowledge on the floor. “Just so,” he says. “This is more my bailiwick. How might I be of help?”
“Well…” Merrick begins to slowly circle the pile of materials he had gathered “it seems that I have a lot of doors open to me. The people who built this place have quite a knack for instruction, it seems.” He gestures towards a contraption not unlike the one that displayed the illusionary message the group encountered the level below the library. This one, however, had it’s ‘display’ resting face-up on the floor in a hexagon. With a gesture, a life-sized, three-dimensional figure appeared above it; a rather stocky human with a curious style of facial hair and simple but impressive armor.
“I have had a fair amount of experience with magic, by proxy at least. My childhood friend growing up was, rather adept. Got me familiar with some of the basics. Not enough to do any casting myself, mind you, but it helped me know what to do when defending a spellcaster while in the thick of things; staying out of their lines of sight to enemies, minding how close you were for certain gestures, that sort of thing.”
Merrick brow furrowed and not with a little frustration, regarded the pile of books in front of him. “Trouble is, I had no idea that what I *thought* was a fork in the road when it came to specializing my combat style was more an eddy in front of so many branching rivers than a squid has arms!”
Among the pile can be seen books with titles for Archery specialists, Champions, Brawling, etc. Merrick picks up an tosses aside his rejected options as he speaks. “I may be fine with a bow, but my style is a little more close quarters, and I’m not much for fighting for my own sake, and I’d prefer to keep things a little more orderly than a brawler, therefore I’ve narrowed it down to two: The Battle Master, and something new to me. Something this ancient culture called an ‘Eldritch Knight’.”
“Although casting spells is intriguing, I thought it best to talk with you about how many in our little company are already casters, and if my talents would be of better use if aimed towards tactics and strategy. Any thoughts?”
“Many thoughts,” Bael says, tucking his hands behind his back. “I am often entertained by many thoughts! If any I can share would be of use, all the better!” He strides along the edge of the amassed information, taking it in. “I respect your approach to magic as it closely resembles my own–I was trained in how to approach and channel magics long before mine manifested. I was taught to keep in mind all the possibilities I could imagine in order to be prepared. It was a lesson I thoroughly embraced, well and so, now that I’ve been touched by eldritch powers, I have a better understanding of their applications than if I had accepted them unknowingly.” He listens to what Merrick asks–said and unsaid–and considers those he knows. “Well, quite a number of us in Hope’s Bastion have access to magic–either inherent or learned or recently realized–but that does not abjure anyone from being an asset to the group as a whole. There are few without magic of some sort or another, even if only wielded or worn, like Thundercaller or Ursa, although neither would enjoy being labeled ‘magic user.'” He says with a grin. “And yet there are few of us who have taken the role of tactician; myself and Taz being chief among them. Whereas he’s had centuries of experience serving the Raven Queen, I merely have my cunning and a distinct willingness to think outside-the-box, as it were.” He lifts up one of the books on martial practice and places it atop a tome of elemental spell theory. “Already you have been outfitted in more magic than I possessed upon setting foot in the West! A fine suit of admittedly garish armor and an incredibly fine blade–who is to say whether following the tributary of magic or battle best suits? Your feet have stumbled on prosperous times and generous company! Enjoy it. In my experience, I have found that no one path journeys as far afield of another opportunity as one might think.” Bael’s voice dips with a mysterious smile. “Ask Al.”
“As for our company, specifically, there is Anatolla, our resident noble lady and Paladin of Angels and Spring who wields Anthony, a jealous sword that thirsts for justice. She and Sumara occupy the topmost suite of the estate; Sumara is a wise magic-user, an elf, who has been to the Shadowfell and back. Taz is from there as well, cyclically bound to serve his Queen along with Echo, his familiar. There is Raylan, a cleric of thunderously sunny disposition, and Thundercaller, a mighty fighter who hails from the cold north, and Ursa, like a bearess incarnate, from a land of wild, volcanic beauty, and if we could pry Maia away from her studies, she would show you a thing or two about magic as well as the beasts at her call. Pix is our most recent resident, a young bard proficient with lute and lyric as well as an unusual weapon. Among you now are Ghislain, follower of Rao, Leon, our storm-bringer bard who has recently accepted a Pact, Al, whose expertise shines in blades and stealth and whose god, Moquol, has now chosen him for service. And then there is myself, Baeldranis Eliazur no Dastor, a humble student of Whitespire.” He gives a little bow. “But there are many others who live in the town of note, but none possess magic, but impressive skills, nonetheless. Most notably Cash, to whom I am apprenticed somewhat at her forge, and Hannah, a charming friend, who is excellent at potions, elixirs and the like. And then there is the Mayor–ex-Mayor–well…he’s a Marid, now freed. That is a rather long story that should be recalled over drink. With or without the accompanying tooth.” He gives an elaborate shrug and laughs at himself. “Have I been at all helpful? Or merely loquacious?”
Merrick lets the last question linger a bit for the sake of humor. He had definitely asked the right person. “Helpful. Most definitely helpful.” he eventually says with a wry smile. “To be honest with you, I’ve always had the offer of studying magic just a little out of reach in the past. Being faced with this ‘Eldritch Knight’ path felt a bit like opening an old wound.” Merrick winced, thinking of his childhood companion. He briefly entertained expounding on it, but thought it better a tale told over heavy drinks than in a library.
“But” he quickly added “You’re right. No path in life ever ventures far from other opportunities. If magic is truly in my destiny, it knows where to find me.” With a sigh of relief, he turns to the illusionary display and reaches down among various labelled tiles and lifts one up and reads aloud:
“‘To a Battle Master, combat is an academic pursuit, a search for understanding of war and conflict resolution that can be found on and off the battlefield.’ Yeesh, and that’s just the title. *That*, my new-found friend, is loquacious.” he adds with a wink.
Bael chuckles and gestures at the pile of books and scrolls. “Just so. And you seem to have begun its academic pursuit in earnest! No true opportunity is ever beyond our reach, even if it may get waylaid for a while–” he adopts the de soto voice again and a grin. “Ask Leon.” He straightens, then. “As for the study of magic, I find that out here in the West, we’ve been learning best from one another. There is a plethora and great variety of knowledge and experience among our fellowship.”
He pauses for a moment, considering Merrik, his questions, his research, and–most importantly–his subtle cues. Bael couldn’t ignore his training even if he wished it. “You seem both…intrigued and bothered by the idea of magic. Please know that there is no requirement for any to pursue those arts in order to find success or welcome here in the West–in fact, I have found it rather freeing to be away from preconceptions and unmet expectations. Pix would be an excellent person to speak to about that as well as their experience in Hope’s Bastion.” Bael looks momentarily abashed. “In any case, I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression you *have* to be anything, or decide now, so take your time investigating your questions, explore the possibilities–I certainly intend to do so to my heart’s content!”