Chapter 215 - Bluefire's Box

Got a new home page up. Let me know what you think down in the comments; if enough people think it’s terrible I might go back and change it, but I think it’s a bit more user-friendly than the old home page. Also, in the upper left of the page on the desktop page, and the lower left on phones and tablets, there’s a list icon which will open up the site’s navigation menu. That isn’t new, but I think there have been some people who haven’t noticed it.

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“… and this is the only object seized from the Bluefire Guild that matched the description you gave us, Your Highness,” the young fourth-tier knight said to Prince Trajan.

“This is it, I’m sure of it,” the Prince replied, looking down at the simple black box in front of him.  The box wasn’t that large, only as big as a decent-sized book, but Trajan knew that it contained the single most valuable item that the Bluefire Guild possessed.  “Thank you, you’re dismissed,” Trajan said to the knight.

“Yes, Your Highness,” the knight replied, and he left the Prince’s office without another word.

The Prince waited for the knight to leave before he turned back to the box.  He picked it up and walked over to a nearby couch by a fireplace.  He could feel a staggering amount of magic contained within the box, and it was clear to him that he would need some time to get the thing open, so he wanted to get comfortable first.

He laid the box upon the table in front of him and, by brushing his fingers over a few small runic circles at the edge of the table, activated several magic lanterns in the ceiling above the table, illuminating every side of the box.  ‘Now tell me, little box, how do I open you?’ Trajan thought as he covered the box in his magic sense, scanning every square inch of the thing and examining the runes carved upon it.

The runes flared in response, glowing in every color and scattering Trajan’s projected magic.

‘This thing certainly is locked tight…’ Trajan thought with a hint of frustration.  He glanced out of the window of his office at the setting sun, deciding at that moment that he wasn’t going to bed until he opened the box and acquired what was inside.

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Leon, Anzu, and Alix walked into the keep exactly on time the next morning.  As usual, they made their way to Trajan’s training room, but when they entered, they found it completely empty.

“Huh…” Alix muttered.  “I wonder where His Highness is?  He’s never missed a training session before…”

“No idea,” Leon responded.  He considered letting loose with his magic sense to try and find the Prince, but he knew that not only were there plenty of people around who would sense his projected magic and might be bothered by it, but also the enchantments in the keep likely wouldn’t allow for that, to begin with.  “Let’s wait for a little while and see if Trajan shows up.  We can spar in the meantime,” Leon said.

“Sounds good,” Alix replied as she hopped on over to the sandpit and took up a strong stance.

Leon quickly followed her and got himself ready by taking an aggressive stance while Anzu laid down at the edge of the sandpit for a quick nap.  Alix paled a little, as she had been sparring with Leon for long enough to recognize the stance he took; he was going to rush and stun her as fast as he could in the first few seconds.  Knowing that there was no way she was going to be able to dodge or start her own attack in time, she clenched her teeth and shifted to a more defensive stance.  Her only hope to stand against even a regular fifth-tier lightning mage—let alone someone as skilled as Leon—was to tank the first hit and try to counter-attack.

Alix raised her training blade just in time, meeting Leon’s swift attack head-on.  Her blade shook in her hand enough to leave it feeling slightly numb, but she ignored that as she tried to step to the side and deflect Leon’s blade away.  Unfortunately for her, Leon stepped in the same direction, keeping the pressure on her blade and forcing her back across the sand.

After several long moments with their blades locked together, Leon flicked his wrist and tore Alix’s sword from her hand.  He then brought his blade down on her head, stopping just short of actually touching and stunning her.

Alix stared at the blade less than an inch in front of her face and asked, “Is it really necessary for you to go so hard right from the beginning?”

“Of course,” Leon immediately answered.  “I would never hold back in an actual fight, so why should I when training?  Besides, my father always trained me like this, though he was typically a little more showy and arrogant about it.  The point of it is to ensure that the weaker person never loses perspective.  It wouldn’t do for you to grow arrogant, plus having experience fighting someone stronger is never a bad thing.”

“You make some good points, I guess,” Alix said with a cheeky smile.

As she walked over to pick up her weapon, the door of the training room opened, and both young mages turned toward it expecting to see Prince Trajan.  Instead, they saw a fourth-tier knight that both recognized as one of the Prince’s assistants.

“His Highness has ordered me to escort the both of you to his office,” the assistant respectfully informed.

“I see, then please lead on,” Leon said, restraining himself from indulging his curiosity at what was keeping the Prince by asking the assistant.

The assistant did just as requested, leading Leon and Alix down one floor to the Prince’s office in the back of the meeting room that they first met him in.  Upon arrival, the assistant led them past the meeting room’s raised dais, directly opened the door almost hidden away in a dark corner, and held it for Leon and Alix.

The Prince’s office was as spacious and splendidly decorated as would be expected—though dimly lit—but the only thing the two saw upon their entrance was a somewhat haggard Trajan hunched over the illuminated table in front of his couch.  After glancing up at the sound of the opening door,  Trajan said, “Ah, come on in, have a seat.”

Leon and Alix complied, sitting in a pair of nearby armchairs.  Leon curiously looked at the box that still sat unopened in front of the Prince.

“I apologize for not making it to today’s morning training,” Trajan said, “but I was busy with this damned box.  I’ve been working on it since last night.”

“What’s in it that would take up so much of your time?” Alix asked, her own curiosity overriding her usual reticence to speak in front of someone so much higher in rank than her.

Trajan didn’t mind—though it might be a little different if they weren’t in private—and explained, “That little box contains the greatest treasure the Bluefire Guild possessed: their own founder!”

“This box contains a corpse?” Leon asked with a look of confusion.  “Was the founder cremated and the box contains their ashes?”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” Trajan said with a chuckle.  “The founder of the Bluefire Guild reached the seventh-tier before he died—he was strong enough to have been named a Paladin if my Royal Grandfather wanted to press the issue, but he was also very old when he managed to ascend and so was left alone until he died of old age.  However, just before he died, he projected his magic body outside of his physical body and attached it to an enchanted gem, and that is what is within this box.”

“Why would he do that?!” Leon passionately asked.  “I would rather embrace death completely than be so trapped!”

“I don’t disagree, but I also don’t know his reasons,” Trajan said.  “I’d have to ask him to find out why he did what he did, and that’s part of the reason why I want to open this damned box!”

Leon shivered as Trajan turned his attention back to the box.  He knew that a mage got his magic power from two places: absorbing it from the environment or producing it in bone marrow after ascending to the third-tier.  Most of that mage’s magic power is then stored in their soul realm, while the magic they can use at a moment’s notice is kept as mana, fused with their blood.  Since the soul realm exists within the physical body, and a magic body doesn’t have blood, then it’s nearly impossible for a mage to utilize magic with nothing more than a magic body; if Trajan was right about the founder of the Bluefire Guild continuing to live as a magic body attached to an enchanted gem, then the founder would be little more than an impotent ghost, able to use no more magic than was in their environment.

But, of course, that wasn’t the end of it.  Without a physical body to attach to, a magic body is incredibly fragile and weak.  Its intangible nature makes a magic body completely untouchable for a mage beneath the fifth-tier without enchanted weapons, but any mage capable of using elemental magic would be able to destroy it with an almost comical lack of effort.

‘Why would anyone choose such a weak and defenseless existence?’ Leon thought to himself.  ‘It must be a deeply profound reason for a powerful mage to stick around in such a diminished state…  It couldn’t be because he simply didn’t want to die, could it?’

“How long has the Bluefire founder been trapped in that box?” Alix asked as her face contorted in horror at the prospect of such imprisonment.

“Decades, at least,” Trajan said with a look of complete seriousness.  “He supposedly died about a century and a half ago.  I suspect that he wanted to stick around in this manner to continue to advise his successors, but if they were actually consulting him, I doubt that the higher-ups in the Bluefire Guild would’ve attempted to steal payments from their mages.”

Leon leaned forward to examine the box closer.  His curiosity was now piqued and he wanted to hear why the Bluefire Guild’s founder attached himself to a gem.

“This enchantment…” he muttered almost without realizing it.

“Hmm?  Do you see something, Leon?” Trajan asked.

“I’ve read about enchantments like these in one of the books I have,” Leon said, keeping his knowledge relatively vague.  One of the books he’d brought out of the archives beneath Teira actually described in great detail locking enchantments exactly like what he now saw on the box.

“Can you open it?” Alix inquired, her eyes almost glittering at the prospect.

“Maybe…” Leon said noncommittally.  “Is there any paper around?”

“Over there,” Trajan said, pointing to a small desk in the corner of the room.  Alix immediately sprang up and walked over, pulling out several sheets of paper, a quill, and a small pot of ink from the drawers.

“Thank you,” Leon said as Alix handed him what he’d asked for.  He then turned his eyes back to the box and began to scribble on the first sheet of paper.

Trajan watched Leon work like a hawk watching a mouse.  He was never that great at enchanting and the box had completely stumped him.  He had been almost at the point of summoning an enchanter who worked for the Legion and putting them to the task of opening the box.

After about five minutes of watching Leon work, though, Trajan was just as confused.  “Are you just copying the enchantment?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.  Indeed, what Leon had drawn on the paper was what appeared to be the beginning of a copy of the glyphs on the box.  However, if Trajan was more familiar with enchanting, he’d notice that Leon’s copy was more of a sketch; Leon hadn’t focused on accuracy, and so was just scrawling some of the runes onto the paper.

“Kind of,” Leon answered.  “To the best of my ability to see, this particular enchantment has several layers of fake glyphs stacked on top of one another, which are slightly defective runes.  These fake layers still have magic coursing through them, so they’re hard to distinguish, but once an enchanter sees past them and discerns the real enchantment, then it shouldn’t be that difficult to unlock the box…”

“That… what?!” Alix asked, her face scrunched up in confusion.

“Think of it like this,” Leon explained, “If a rune is a letter, then an enchantment is like a paragraph.  This technique disguises the real ‘words’ of the enchantment behind several layers of other ‘words’, like disguising the contents of a letter by drawing or writing over what you’ve already written… Well, I make it sound easier than it is, but that’s the general idea, anyway…”

“And you can see beneath these fake layers?” Trajan asked, his face breaking out into an expectant smile.

“I think so, I just have to identify the runes that have been written incorrectly, which isn’t the easiest thing to do.  Some of them are only defective in extremely minor ways.” Leon replied as he turned his attention back to the box.  Neither Alix nor Trajan disturbed him again, and about ten minutes later, Leon sat back with his sketch completed.  He carefully scrutinized every rune he’d copied down, and after glancing back at the box several times for reference, Leon said, “This should do it…”

He leaned forward and began to tap the box in several places, channeling his magic into the enchantment and destroying a few key runes.  A couple of seconds later, all three of them heard a soft click come from the box, indicating that it had been unlocked.

“Huh,” Leon said.  “I wasn’t actually expecting that to work…”

Trajan, with a huge smile on his face, quickly opened the box, revealing the enchanted gem the Bluefire Guild’s founder had sealed himself within.

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Efflorescence - Kyle J Smith

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Chapter 216 - Bluefire Guild Founder

Chapter 214 - Xaphan's Request