Hero the Escape
Chapter 7: Boons

Copyright© 2019 by Shaddoth

After a meal at the reasonably priced diner with large portions around the corner from my apartment on the main boulevard, I stopped a guard on the way to the city district and asked for guidance to the Justiciar’s office. Questioning me and accepting my response of an appointment with Dana, he gave me concise directions to her office. I had passed the building the night before but didn’t know its purpose. One of the few all stone buildings, it towered above the nearby official offices with an imposing three story box shape.

I dressed in my non-descript, light gray, drake’s hide leathers and carried a small headed mace at my side. Never did care for swords. They deformed too easily. Give me a good staff any day, not that they were always suitable for all occasions. Entering the Justiciar’s building was easy, the two soldiers in front were mainly there for show and to keep people from leaving that weren’t supposed to. Not to prevent anyone from entering.

A few clerical types roamed the hall, one guided me to Dana’s secretary. A well dressed large man in front of me was audibly grinding his teeth in frustration. “I had an appointment with Justiciar Hershim. You even confirmed it yesterday with my representative. Now you are saying it has been postponed and you can’t even tell me when it will be rescheduled?”

“My apologies, Sir Martin. The Justiciar herself informed me just an hour ago to clear all appointments for the rest of the week. She has an unexpected visitor arriving.”

“Who?” demanded Sir Martin.

“You know I don’t give out that information.” Dana’s secretary admonished. “You wouldn’t want me to give out yours and I won’t give out theirs. When she has an opening for you, I’ll send a messenger. That’s the best I can do for now.”

“Alright. But time is money, I can’t afford to delay.” He capitulated before turning around, seeing me standing there. “Eh, one of the noble br ... youngsters?”

“Nice catch. Not a noble though. Sir Martin, is it? Don’t blame me, I don’t even know what she wants me for.”

“Didn’t I see you at the Inn last night with some adventurer?”

“Sir Martin. The young Master is being summoned by my lady. Please question him at a different time and location.” Interrupted the secretary.

“Alright...” he passed me, in not an unfriendly way. Thankfully he didn’t seem to hold his canceled appointment against me. Not like it was my fault to begin with.

“Master, are you done antagonizing Sir Martin?” Antagonize? I didn’t do anything. Eh, whatever.

“Does she want me now or should I come back?”

“Please follow me.” the fit middle aged woman, led the way behind her desk through a plain but sturdy door after knocking twice. The interior of Justiciar Dana’s office was lined with books, mostly law, from my quick glance, and stone cabinets. Most likely, enchanted for storing and preserving documents. A simple ward was minutely engraved on the face of each bookcase. Her desk was orderly, as expected, with a table off to the side that could seat two comfortably. The large room had the feeling of; while being lived in, still functioned toward its stated purpose. This was an Imperial Office and Dana an Imperial officer.

“Good Morning, Master Hermit.” Greeted Dana.

Master again? “Did I get a promotion?” Soundlessly the door closed behind me, Justiciar Hershim’s secretary never entered. It occurred to me that the meeting might take a while. I plopped down on a stuffed leather chair with more arrogance that I normally showed friends. I was not happy with the spying over the last two years. Sitting stiffly as if in the presence of a competitor, I broadened my perceptions.

She noticed the difference in my attitude, “Is there something wrong with the title of Master? We can change it.”

“How you address me is of little concern. Is there something that you wanted Justiciar?” I can be formal too you know.

“I was going to ask about the boon you offered but I am not so sure that is a good idea right now. Did something happen?” The concern was obvious. Of course, she was not informed of the scrying. Someone as honest as her would argue against it, nor stand for it unless directly ordered by the Empress.

“I am sorry Justiciar Hershim. But your Empire decided to not accept my offer.”

“How can that be? No imperial forces have entered that area since you occupied the island. Can you tell me what happened?”

“Are you familiar with a seven story circular marble tower on the west side of a place named Rose City?”

“What did they do?” She instantly recognized the Mages Guild by my brief description.

“At first it was master level scrying and not obtrusive but it was still a daily occurrence. After fifteen days, the ability of the ones spying downgraded to journeyman quality. That lasted for around one month. After that, apprentices were tasked to follow me daily for an hour at a time at random intervals each morning.”

“When I left the isle wandering, one of the journeymen took back control and became more active in their spying. Two years. If they decided to scry one of your nobles in the bath, bed and toilet for two years what would be the consequence? Let alone daily activities. You tell me. Do I owe you a boon?”

“No, you don’t. I am sorry that you had to deal with that.”

“I would like to formally bring charges against all the people responsible. There were three masters, five different journeymen. As for the apprentices, no need to worry about two of them those two won’t be doing it again. Also, the one that ordered the masters should be held accountable, but we both know that would never happen.” I finished my little rant and waited her reaction.

Dana pinched the bridge of her nose. “What would you have me do?”

“I am considered to be on par with one of your visiting Greater Nobles, correct?”

“Yes.” She could see where this was headed.

“Then treat the incident as it happened to one of them.”

“Nothing else?” She asked in concern?

“Nope as long as the law is followed, then I am content. I will accept your word on the final matter. As long as you overview the results and accept the judgement, I will agree.”

“Still...” Taking a breath, she asked. “Do you have proof?”

“Yes. As of yesterday there would be two diviner apprentices that both had their eyes burned out and a face full of crystal shrapnel that needed emergency healing. It would be from the trap I left at home. Any scrying would release a lightning zephyr that would follow the divination to its source and attack. The ward was activated twice, on the day after I left for this city: one in the morning and the other later in the afternoon.”

“You burnt out the eyes of two apprentices?” she was aghast.

“If someone entered my house without permission or announcing themselves and I killed them, why should I be blamed? Besides there needs to be a trail to follow if charges are to be pressed and proof gathered. Unless someone kills both apprentices right away, one of the churches would be involved and would have records of it. Unless they too have been ordered to destroy them.” I shrugged. “Either way it’s not my concern anymore.”

“Not your concern?” she had an even worse feeling about this.

“Nope I got rid of the intruders, now the law has to deal with their organization. Not I. And don’t forget Polus informed me of your Imperial Mandate, that was violated too... hmm... “ I paused as if considering something for the first time... “Unless the one that ordered them was someone that could override the Mandate. Then the mages have nothing to worry about. Would they?”

“You’ve known about this for two years. Why didn’t you say something earlier?” Dana knew that he knew that the one that ordered it had to have been someone in the Palace. And she now knew that I know that she knew it.

Gods what a mess.

The room was quiet, while she considered her options. I relaxed into the chair while she thought. I liked her, she was honest and true, but her Empress or Mage Guildmaster screwed her, over leaving her to deal with the fallout.

“If you didn’t want me to come here all you had to do was say so. It’s not like any of the other countries wouldn’t welcome me. I have killed no one since I came here nor harmed anyone that hadn’t come at me with ill intentions.”

“Justiciar Hershim. What would you have me do?”

“I was asked to get you to teach a group of promising children. I’m not so sure if that is a good idea anymore.”

“Did you ever think it was a good idea or weren’t you asked?” She gave me a wry smile. I knew she wasn’t consulted. “I could be willing if they are worthy and compensated appropriately. Are they promising nobles or promising students?”

“Nobles, as for students, I only know one of them. Livia shows promise as a student.”

“Shall we go while you are still considering what to do with me?” I unbalanced her with my casual acceptance of possible students. She looked at me strangely and led me out of the office.

“You don’t come across as one that mercurial. Why the sudden change?” Suspicion marred her chiseled features.

“What do you mean? I said I would leave the law to you, didn’t I? Without law and justice there would be anarchy and chaos. No one wants that do they? It would be terrible if the peasants got uppity, now wouldn’t it?”

She scowled at me “You made your point.”

“Seriously, they didn’t even consult with you on the boon or the candidates?” Not even hinting at being the least bit surprised. “That doesn’t show much awareness, does it? How have you been? I heard that there is a new administrator, yet your workload has significantly increased.”

“Your source isn’t far off.” Polus, she knew I only had one real point of contact within the city. Or at least she hoped I only had one. I didn’t have another but didn’t need one. I hadn’t cared until now.

“I don’t even know who the Administrator is. Never asked.” Dana briefly looked at me while we walked to the keep seeing if I was serious. “No reason to.” I replied to her unasked question with a shrug.

The gate opened and she led me past the unquestioning guards and into the keep proper. The stone keep’s walls were bare and unadorned, the effect was closer to a military outpost than a residence for a governor, unless it was held by a military governor. Which meant that this city was being closely watched and guarded by the Queen and her cronies.

Justiciar Dana took me to the main dining room where a dozen girls were busily chatting away. Dana stopped at the doorway and observed while I stood right behind her and looked over the candidates.

Early teen to mid teens, all dressed well, none were eating but interacting in small groups. All except for one, a young girl appeared to be writing in a thin book. I didn’t see an inkwell by her so she had to have an enchanted stylus. I tapped Dana on the shoulder to let me pass, entering the room.

“Twelve malleable minds and bodies of age and with some promise... Supposedly.” I opened. A couple of them glared at me but the rest quickly stopped talking, even scribe girl put her stylus down.

“Go to the ballroom and move everything against the walls. We will be there shortly. Justiciar, please clear out the rooms surrounding the ballroom of people. I won’t be responsible for anyone’s safety if they are too close. Seeing no one besides the Justiciar moving I clapped my hands loudly and raised my voice. “Move girls.”

The server in the corner warily watched me approach her. “I need a guide to the ballroom and a large pitcher of alcohol at least 50%. I don’t care about the quality. Oh, and make sure all the servants are at least ten meters from the room after I close the doors. The area won’t be safe after that. When I turned around no one was left in the room besides two servants.

“Denis, will you take Milord to the ballroom, I will see to the rest of his requests.” The young man agreed to the senior servant’s request. I followed the meek servant while paying attention to the keep’s layout. The ballroom was on the floor above and to the west of the main entrance. The spacious formal area was more than large enough for what I wanted. The girls had servants move the chairs and tables out of the center while standing around not helping. A few were even sitting in the chairs against the walls.

“Unless you are here as a prospective student. Drop what you are doing and leave the area now.” I called out on entering in even tones. The white and gold liveried servants all rushed to follow my orders, setting down the remaining chairs leaving the single large table where it was. The server from downstairs brought me a crystal flask of golden brandy for which I politely thanked her before dismissing the woman.

I sliced the back of my hand with a knife and added four drops of my blood to the flask and swirled it around mixing it with my finger. I did hear a gasp followed by ‘blood magic’ from one of the girls but chose to ignore it. This was hardly blood magic, by any means.

Starting on the outer wall I drew a quick circle and inscribed a rune of privacy with a five point star link. Same to the north and south walls leaving the east last until Dana joined us. When she did, I closed the door and placed the final rune beside it before activating the matrix.

I started towards the center and noticed that the table was only half moved and some chairs were still where the servants left them when I chased them out. “If the table and chairs are not out of my way by the time I finish the circle on the floor I will be leaving. Alone.” I commented. They chattered irrelevancies about servants’ work with me ignoring them.

This last runed circle was separate from the others. The first four, one on each wall were to make sure no one peeked in on us. The main circle was much more intricate and a great deal larger. A double circle, one two meters across with the inside half that. Circle drawing was the easy part, I had done more than I could possibly count to this point. The runes had to be exact though. Not that I hadn’t also done each of those uncountable times.

There was muttering among them while I worked, but I needed to focus, so didn’t make out what they were saying. After finishing the last rune, I checked the circle over to make sure it was to my satisfaction. It was.

Finding a comfy looking chair, I relaxed in it and poured myself a glass of brandy from the same decanter than I used to make the circles. A few watched me in horror, remembering that I dropped my blood in it. “Line up there, tallest on the right and shortest on the left. Stay out of the circle in the middle for now.” A couple moved but two glared at me and one protested with the unholy phrase of: ‘do you know who I am?’

“Nope and could care less which of your past relatives did something to get the favor of the past higher ups. I was told you were here willingly in the hope of convincing me that you are worthy of being instructed by me. If this is untrue, save us all time and effort and just go home. You leaving won’t matter to me in the slightest.” Dana gave me a grimace from across the room but didn’t protest.

As for the one who protested. She turned to go but one of her friends punched her on the arm and told her to ‘quit it.’ That confirmed to me that they were ordered to be here by their parents. Twelve girls of marriageable age, bright, pretty, with strong ability. This was a marriage interview not a teaching arrangement.

They got in line. Finally. Justiciar Dana stood by the door alone watching expressionless. Only one looked worriedly at the circle and not me. The rest watched Dana mostly for cues and me secondary. The one staring at the circle raised her hand timidly.

“Ask.”

“How did you make that so fast? And why did you use your own blood?”

“Practice. Lots of practice. As for using my blood. It saves on mana usage.”

“Blood Magic is Forbidden.” Stated one of the middle girls.

“Silly twit. In the first place that is not blood magic. Second, blood magic is when one uses their own blood along with part of their own soul to bind others or objects, not using blood to power one’s own spells. Third, the one who is distributing incorrect information is doing so for power over others. No reason exists besides that. Magic is a tool. See this knife? If I stab you with it, it was used for evil. If I cut a snake bite with it to drain the venom, it’s used for good. Now answer me is this knife good or evil?”

“Blood magic is evil. The knife is a weapon that can be used for good. No blood magic can ever be used for good, it rots the soul of the user.”

I fake applauded. “Since you already know everything. Why are you here?”

“I was told you are a great power and could teach me. But I won’t stand for evil.” she passionately declared.

“So little miss know-everything, if your teachers are so great why send you to me to learn?”

“Danica. My name is Lady Danica Weathersburg.”

“I did state that I could care less about your names or titles or positions. Now why are you here if your teachers are infallible?”

“I refuse to learn under one so evil. Blood magic is evil.” Following her beliefs, she left the room.

“Anyone else want to leave?” No one moved. “Since the use of blood was brought up. I shall elaborate. Mana is life energy. Is there anyone that doesn’t agree with this premise?”

Three of the girls looked at me blankly, two nodded and one seemed confused. The rest were unsure. “You the confused one in yellow. What is it about that statement that is confusing?”

“I was told that mana is a gift from the Gods.”

“And? Can not both statements be true? Isn’t life a gift from the gods?” ‘Oh!’ she blushed. “Anyone else have a question about this?”

The tentative one raised her hand again. “Ask.”

Umm ... are you saying that mana is life and our blood is also life?”

“Continue with your thought and ask a real question.”

“Is blood mana?”

“Not quite. Blood carries mana in a condensed form. Like freezing wine and removing the ice will increase the alcohol percentage of the liquid, the body does the same thing with blood.”

“What about undead?” asked a slightly chubby brunette at the far left.

“Bones. Same principle, for the skeleton types, just not as efficient. The types without body fluids use their spirit or souls.”

“Mind you if one is not careful, one can burn their life away if one doesn’t allow time for the body to recover the lost resources.”

“Are you saying that I can cast spells even if my mana is gone by using life force?”

“Yes. But at your age and experience, if you do it wrong or uncontrolled you will die.”

“Now as I stated earlier, you have to prove to me that you want to be here. At any time, you are free to leave. Does anyone have an issue with that?” A chorus of ‘No’s, followed my question.

Strip and one at a time stand in the center of the circle with your arms and legs apart, count to one hundred and then exit. You may redress after.” I poured mana into the circle and it lit with an amber glow. “You may leave your jewelry and any amulets on.”

Unsurprisingly the little scribe didn’t hesitate to disrobe, nor did a rogue type. A few others did though and complained loudly to Justiciar Hershim. Dana refused to participate or respond. The confused one stripped, like she had done it many times before in mixed company followed by a few more until there were two girls left fully dressed. “You two have two minutes to decide. If you don’t follow instructions, you will be excluded.” Every girl other than the tall blonde confused one, covered the groin area and their breasts. A few even half turned away from me. The confused one still didn’t show any concern with nudity.

I admitted to myself that all of them were above the pretty level and most were on their way to the beautiful end of the scale. Just that I still considered them all children, not that they knew that. Both of the dressed ones left, unable to undress in public. Even if it was just the few of us behind closed doors and a Justiciar overseeing the process that would witness their nudity.

After the ward reset behind the two. “Those four wards on the walls prevent scrying or any outside person from viewing anything or hearing anything inside this room.”

“Why didn’t you tell them that? Margarette might have stayed.” Complained one that tried to prevent her friend from leaving.

“This will be one of the easiest tasks I will set. Cowards are for others to teach, not I.” She didn’t like her friend being called a coward but couldn’t refute my logic.

“Right to left. Enter the circle and count to one hundred with your arms at shoulder height, feet a foot apart.” The tallest confused one did. I stood and walked around the first girl noting if any anomalies showed up. None stood out too much for this one. The second one did though, it was a tattoo at the base of her spine in the image of a God’s symbol. One like I had seen all too often in the beginning of the war. So too did the fifth, have the same restrictive tattoo, both starbursts. The rest were clean.

While the first one dressed, I inspected the next one. My intent was not to humiliate or force my attentions. “You may redress as soon as you are out of the circle.”

Both mages had Restrictors on them placed by the same church. Interesting. The churches work the same on this world too.

The churches did it on my old world too. I wasn’t surprised in the least.

And all of these noble children had incomplete tracking wards on them. Probably they were set with orders from their parents in case of kidnappings. The incomplete bit sent signals of corruption to me.

I would have to consult with Dana before I removed the Restrictors from my students.

“Look at all of the others here. I assume that you all are familiar with each other?” nods and ‘yeses’ came from everyone. “I will wager that all of you are second or third children and were ordered to come here.” none denied it. “The training will only get harder. Consider this: none of you even worked up a sweat and three had already quit. I will test your beliefs, your bodies and your minds.” At body, four had a full blush spontaneously engulf them. “I will work you hard. Time off is not something you will get. No dances or balls or fun events that young nobles normally enjoy unless we happen to visit in an area that has one and I choose to allow a night of revelry.”

Taking a sip of the decent brandy, mostly for effect, “Days off are earned. Baby fat will disappear.” There were only a few that had any left, the scribe girl and one of the priestess wannabees. “Skills learned that you wouldn’t consider learning.”

After a long breath and a remembrance, “Some will fail just because they are not good enough. Not everyone is capable of being the best, but as long as you persevere, I will keep teaching. All of you will hate me, sometimes daily, sometimes hourly. All of you will hate each other at one point or another. Again, sometimes more than daily. Some of you might even die. I will do my very best to prevent that and it won’t be from my lack, if you do. If you want pampering, go somewhere else.”

None of them said a word. Two looked scared. One looked intrigued and one didn’t believe that I would follow up with my threats.

“If you bow out now you can go back to your easy life with only a scolding from whomever sent you here. If you stay, I will be Master, you student, regardless of your family connections. My word is Law, until you formally quit. No one outside will be able to intervene, even your Queen. If you don’t believe, me ask Justiciar Hershim.” Gesturing at her and breaking the spell of worry that overcame the previously spoiled girls.

“I will return in an hour. Those of you that stay I will be taking with me. It’s your choice. It’s your life. The Justiciar will be here to answer whichever question she cares to. Remember there will be a price. For those that care, the price might not be what you think or expect it to be.”

“We were told we would be training in the keep.” The one that showed the most fear spoke up.

“They never asked me. I will be training elsewhere.” With those words I left, found a servant in the dining hall and relaxed with tea and a pastry or two. The third sweet was not eaten by me ... really. I unwound for the next hour, laughing aloud for a while at the end. This was certainly different than my last life. Teaching a perspective harem. I grinned some more. I could picture Marnie telling me not to abuse them too much. And Glib sneaking them out to play. Dale would have hunted down, little miss-know-it all and...

My friends, I miss you.

****

I told you to personally observe Him, not delegate it to your apprentices. He is at least top tier master rank. Of course, he will have ways of scry detection. Novices with lesser spells would particularly stand out and get detected. I can detect your journeyman when they do it. Why did you think He wouldn’t have been able to? Go somewhere, don’t tell me where just go all three of you and take your useless helpers with you. I will deal with those two apprentices. Leave before the Justiciars come and start an investigation. Make sure you’re out of the city before nightfall.” Lazy incompetents.

Next, she had to pay off the High Priestess. Greedy bitch. Disposing of the two apprentices would have to be done quietly. Both were blind and sending them into the mountains to the west should suffice. Permanently.

F•©king male pride. If only they did it themselves, He wouldn’t have known. Any information we gathered was tainted since he knew we were following him. Now, He is supposed to get second hand brats to teach which will make him an even harder target. An unknown attack ward versus scrying could be bypassed if we had time and understanding but with those three away ... Yolanda decided to reconsider her plan.

Those unique spells the Hermit showed must become hers. The Duchess forbade a direct confrontation. Hero my ass. There was no such thing as a Hero. I bet he even has more unknown spells hidden. The Mage Guildmaster moved to remove the traces of the apprentices and explore other options.


A retired Adventurer entered the Academy, seeking out the archives. “Archivist can you help me find any information on Margret Jonge? She was a monk that lived about four hundred years ago and founder of the Elementalist Monk Academy?”

“Follow me.” offered the young archivist. The monk section seemed to be busy lately with outsiders, so she already knew where to look. That one historical figure in particular, had been inquired about many times over the past month and thrice in the last two days. Not that she would divulge that information, but Master needed to be informed.


The ballroom lost three more applicants while I was gone. The tall disbelieving one and two of the quiet ones. That left six including a priestess acolyte. She wouldn’t quit. Her orders were different than the rest of them, but then so was she.

“Six of you. Half left in only two hours. Do any of you have an adventurer’s Plaque?” None did. I handed one gold to each. “Go to the Guild and register. I suggest you pay the extra and have the Guildmaster privately register you. Your choice if you do, its two gold for that service. After you register, pair up and do a lap around the town outside of the walls. Then come find me at the Hall of Justice.”

“The brown haired un-shy one, gave me a funny look. “Doesn’t the wall go to the bay’s edge?”

“Yes, swimming will be necessary. Oh and no magic use or help from anyone other than your chosen partner until you complete the lap.” Some muttering between the four, the clueless one and the bookish one were silent, but no dissension occurred.

I closed the door after they left and checked the privacy wards. Still some time remaining. “Not good. Do you want the good news, bad news, worse, worse yet or the terrible news?”

Justiciar Hershim put down her stylus and replied good news first.

“Three show promise and a fourth might, if she is willing to broaden her view point further than she can imagine right now.”

“Which ones?”

“The scribe, the rogue and the warrior.”

“Not the knight?”

“No, she is too aloof and too narrow, a year of poverty would do wonders. But she has too strong of a backer, I’d guess.”

“The bad news is six left after two hours. Asinine. One had to have been told to leave early. So that made sense. The rest? No sense at all. There was a complete breakdown of who was chosen, no real candidates ... or someone bought them off and had them quit.” hmph ... Justiciar Dana agreed. “Really would you or anyone you ever trained leave under such a light provocation?”

“I agree, someone intervened.” She made a note in her notebook.

“All those girls had a locator ward active. Not a big surprise for noble children. But the wards were all incomplete. Either whoever made them used a bad template, wasn’t skilled enough or deliberately left a hole in them. Every one of those children had the exact same ward, so I hazard to guess that one person or group does it for all the noble children. Not my worry; have fun with that one.”

“How sure are you?” She intently regarded me. If it went beyond this small group and continued throughout the Empire, we both knew it could be a disaster if not treated correctly.

“Five or six hours at worst it would take me to come up with the correct ward. I’ve seen what it is supposed to look like, just never made one before.”

“Goddess! You said it gets worse?” She inquired.

“Both mages had a Restrictors placed on them by the Church with the Sunburst. That’s what the magical tattoo at the base of their spines were. It prevents them from casting light and dark spells above the beginner level and reduces their use of personal mana by around twenty percent. That last effect varies depending on the person’s affinity to dark and or light magic. The stronger the affinity, the greater the reduction.”

“Twenty percent or more? How do you know this?”

“I have dealt with that particular blood magic brand before.” She blanched. “Removing it is easy, painful for them but easy to do. But if the church that applied it checks for those Restrictors again, they will hunt and kill the person that had it removed and any link to those that removed it. Just because they follow a ‘good’ God doesn’t mean that they are not in it for the power, money or fame. And you can bet that they aren’t the only church that does that.”

“I have never heard of higher Light magic. Why would the church restrict it?”

“Overlap. Some high end Light magic can heal or reproduce priest spells. Same with Dark magic. Be cautious,” I warned. “The mage guild top masters would have to know about the effects. I would bet that they all have a fake tattoo in place. There might even be an agreement with the church on that, like they aren’t allowed to remove it until the master level, and still are not allowed to practice high level dark or light magic publicly. I don’t know for sure. It’s a guess.”

“A guess...”

“How much would you wager that the neither the Archmage or any of her council have fake tattoos?”

She unwillingly agreed, knowing Yolanda, the current Archmage. There was no way that I could find it that easily and the top mages wouldn’t know about it. “Less competition ... Yolanda for you. Greed personified.”

“Yolanda is the Archmage?”

“Yes.”

“There is a chance that your Empress also is involved.”

“Why would She ... It reduces the strength of the Empire.” Dana considered the situation. “Oh, if all the nations around us have the same restrictions, then She gains from the churches.” She swore. “Politics.”

“Next. The Priestess acolyte that stayed. She isn’t who you think she is.”

“How so?”

“She is older than I am. It’s in her eyes. Her eyes are too old with too much depth to them. Also, her movements are too smooth, even with disguising it. I have had more than enough interaction with assassins to recognize them. Long term sleepers are the dangerous ones. The ones like her who change assignments frequently all have tells. She isn’t a fighter type. Magical assassin would be my first guess. The rest of her magical Disguise was extremely well done, I believe that she has been enchanted by a few high level spells. Items that disguise are too easily discovered under the artifact level. My High Scan didn’t find anything off with her but I would wager that a Greater Scan would tell me exactly which spells and who she really is.”

“She isn’t here to kill me. If I were that weak, a hidden church assassin wouldn’t be needed. That one is either here to find if I will do anything against her church or she is here to kill one or all of the students. Those are the only options, I can think of right now.”

“What will you do about her?”

“I? Nothing. But she will not be invited to train with me. Or anywhere near the students. How you get rid of her, is your task.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” A single decisive nod told me she would handle it.

“That is only five of the six, what about the last one?”

“The white haired mage? No clue. She didn’t make an impression but it’s early still. But its obvious someone messed with your selections.”

“Yes. I will be starting with that assassin in a closed interrogation.” Pausing from her assassin worries, “What do you plan on doing with those five?”

“Make them grow. But you know what they say.” “Growth is painful.” came from both of us slightly out of sync. I chuckled, but she wasn’t in a mood to laugh. “Shall we go, the wards are out of time? Someone should wash the floor and walls to remove the residue.”

“Let’s meet at my office in a half hour.” I agreed and stopped by a fish on a stick stall for munchies and ended up waiting for Dana at her office. Dana returned with an older soldier who she introduced as the Administrator; General Tallus, a grim faced gentleman even older than she.

The first pair of girls returned. The knight and rogue, the two in the best shape, I believed. I was seated inside the room with the general standing next to the door when the second pair entered. It was as suspected; the warrior and priestess. As soon as the false priestess acolyte crossed the threshold the administrator backhanded the imposter across the face with his closed gauntlet causing her to stumble backward into the strike at the back of the head by the Justiciar, knocking the assassin out, much to the dismay of the other girls who were startled with the sudden attacks and spattering blood. The priestess was shackled gagged and bound with a leather sack over her head, before the administrator carried the assassin away somewhere for interrogation. The third group didn’t even arrive in time to see the show. Those two mages needed an extra hour to complete their lap.

After the two mages crawled in exhausted, I closed the door and locked it. Then I explained that their friend; wasn’t. That she was an assassin in disguise. No clue what happened to the real person, maybe one of the Justiciars would find out later. Not that I cared what happened to her. Their politics wasn’t my concern.

Further shocking them, I explained that I couldn’t be the assassin’s target. They were. Two were scared and the other three were furious. Both were normal reactions in my view.

“Now, let me see your Plaques. You first.” I pointed at the knight. After quickly reviewing each, I commented aloud that they all were still considered apprentices with their basic classes and skills. “From now on, daily exercise will be normal. The days will be long and each will learn more about yourselves and the others. As a group, we will go and retrieve your personal belongings before heading to my island. There we will stay until I believe you won’t die easily. Any objections?”

Besides a Humph from the knight, none of the girls said anything. They were too accommodating. Didn’t make sense, especially since the rest dropped out all way too fast. The return walk to the keep was noisier as they questioned me continually. Not that I gave them any satisfactory responses. Those would wait until we were home and couldn’t be eavesdropped on.

Unsurprisingly, each of the noble brats brought along a single traveling trunk large enough to house a family of four. But those fit in my inventory, barely. A large wind Elemental carried us home after a prep spell on each passenger. Only the auburn haired warrior got physically ill in transit feeding the fish from above. Air Elementals weren’t known for the smoothest flight.

The five students were dismayed at not being allowed to enter my house or the lack of accommodations ready for each. Surprising me again, none of the five mentioned a peep about servants. For temporary housing, I placed a tarp down and used their trunks as walls three on one side and two on the other while stretching a second larger tarp across it. “For now, this will be your tent until you five make a better cabin, or a set of individual ones. Your choice.”

“Everyone learns outdoor skills first. But you also will be training every day in a variety of other skills. I am a firm believer in swimming for overall strengthening of the body, so get used to it. I do expect the five of you to get along as well as you can. Verbal disagreements are expected now and then. Please settle those between yourselves. I will not tolerate violence in any form between my students.

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