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Exiled to the Couch
Fic Draft: Spectral Dance
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Fic Draft: Spectral Dance
Like "Suffer Not a Witch," I don't have a title for this one as yet. Actually, I wrote this chapter about three years ago, then stuck it away in my file (which may explain the initial set-up's similarity to "Suffer"...), only to pull it out yesterday and think, "Hey, I could write some of this!" So I started working on Chapter 2, and figured I'd share Chapter 1.
The soft blue light bathed the dark room in its radiance.
"Sara? Is that you, Sara?"
The light flickered and faded, dying out.
"Sara! Sara! No, my darling, don't go! Sara! Bring her back! Please, by all that's holy, bring her back!"
~X X X~
It was good to be home, Bartido Ballentyne decided. The misty highlands and heather-strewn meadows of Albion were where he'd grown up, and despite the way the months he'd spent abroad had seeped into his soul, it felt good to be back again.
His superiors, the men who'd sent him as a spy to the Silver Star Tower, weren't happy with his failure, of course. Bartido had infiltrated the Magic Academy and became Dr. Chartreuse Grande's apprentice to recover the lost Philosopher's Stone. Possessing it had made the Archmage Calvaros nearly capable of usurping control of his nation by magical force alone; it would have made Albion forever secure from attack or allowed it to build an empire to rival the long-since-fallen Imperium.
He hadn't been able to obtain the Stone, but he had been able to confirm its destruction, so he could at least reassure his employers that no one else would be able to use it
Albion. That was something. And honestly, he preferred it that way. The Philosopher's Stome was too much power, more than anyone could be expected to bear. Human nature was what it was, and Bartido suspected there were more Calvaroses and Lujei Piches than there were Gammel Dores in the world.
That business was finished, though, and he was back home. He didn't mind the experience; while he hadn't accomplished his goal he had for the first time in his life gotten to test himself against a real-world situation, not an academic one, gotten a chance to see how he handled himself in a crisis, and had the opportunity to study alchemy under Dr. Chartreuse, one of the geniuses in the field.
The truth is
, he said to himself as he strolled along the arching stone bridge that crossed the Avalon River,
I miss it.
Not the place itself, but the work—the idea that each day he was doing something significant and real, whether it was performing experiments that stretched the boundaries of alchemical knowledge or scheming to preserve his cover while hunting for a state secret. Somewhere he'd crossed the line from boy to man, and the everyday life of an Albionese gentleman seemed like a retreat from that.
Huh. I'm getting so serious-sounding that I might as well be Hiram.
His best friend at the Tower had been a good guy, smart and dedicated and honest, but frivolity and humor weren't really part of his makeup. He wondered how Hiram was doing, whether his budding romance with necromancy professor Opalneria Rain was working out. They'd probably do well together; she was damn hot, but a woman that intense and driven was so not Bartido's type. He preferred someone more fun-loving, with a sense of humor, but doubted Hiram would find Ms. Opalneria's lack in that area to be a flaw.
He wished he could write and find out, but somehow he figured that correspondence between an Albionese spy and the third prince of the kingdom—and hadn't
been a shock?—wouldn't be viewed too kindly. Probably by people on either side.
Thinking of Hiram and romance made him think of Lillet Blan, another apprentice from the Tower. He'd had quite a crush on the pretty blonde witch, who was not only cute but quick-witted and witty, exactly the kind of girl he went for. He'd thought she felt something of the same attraction, but events had started moving fast before he could do more than flirt a little. And then he'd been sent home and she'd graduated—after she'd taken up with Dr. Chartreuse's pet project, the homunculus Amoretta Virgine. Though "taken up with" could have a lot of meanings, since after all "love" had a myriad of them and it was love in
form that Amoretta needed.
Bartido wondered if he'd ever see the doctor, or Hiram, or Lillet, or any of the others from the Tower again. It all seemed so far away now, but he had a feeling that someday he would. The bonds he'd formed and the events they'd shared were the kind, he thought, that made a permanent connection between people, the kind that drew them back together over time.
He strolled on across the bridge, not really sure where he was bound, his path drawing him towards a coffeehouse on the far side with the curious name of the Red Badger. He paused when he saw the sign, wondering just how the place had earned the appellation, when he heard a voice call out to him.
Bartido turned his head to see who'd called, and saw that the cry had come from a couple of tables away from where he stood.
"It is! Bartido Ballentyne, as I live and breathe."
Bartido broke into a grin as the sandy-haired young man his own age got to his feet.
"Michael! What's it been, three years now?" he exclaimed as he clasped his friend's hand in a firm grip. "I see there's been some changes," he added, plucking at the collar of Michael Carstairs's black cassock. "You stuck with the seminary, then? I was half-convinced you were going to quit and tell your father what he could do with himself."
"Well, that's what I thought at first, but after a couple of months something strange happened. The more I studied, the more I trained, the more I knew that this was the right place for me to be. I guess you could say that I felt the call."
Bartido and Carstairs had known each other since childhood. Their families' estates had run alongside, and they were both in similar situations, the younger sons of landed gentry, caught by the expectations of their class: "one for the land, one for the army, and one for the Church," as the saying went. Bartido had played off his magic studies to avoid having to choose between a lieutenant's commission on land and a midshipman's berth at sea, while Carstairs had been intending to leave the seminary for a life on the stage once he'd saved up a little money.
Funny how that worked out.
Bartido had ended up serving his country anyway, and Carstairs had ended up ordained. But then, there was a difference between a couple of fifteen-year-olds chafing at expectations and eighteen-year-olds who'd figured out at least some of what
wanted out of life rather than only knowing what others wanted of them.
"That took some guts," Bartido decided.
"To go ahead and do what your father expected of you. That had to take some courage to face up to that idea."
"That would have just been my pride talking—which it took me quite a while to admit, I'll add."
"But it gives you an example from life when you're delivering a sermon on the topic," Bartido countered, making his friend grin.
"There is that consolation. But please, join me for a coffee and we can catch up on the past few years. Unless you have pressing business elsewhere?"
Bartido shook his head.
"No, nothing at all. In fact, that was part of what I've been bemoaning lately, having entirely too much free time on my hands since I've gotten back in the city."
He let his friend lead him back to the table, and a moment later a buxom waitress approached, her dark skirt, frothy scoop-necked blouse, and cross-laced corset looking much like a barmaid's, only considerably cleaner. Bartido ordered an iced cinnamon roll with his coffee.
"So then," he said once the woman had retreated to the kitchen, "if it's the cassock for you, what brings you to the city?"
"I'm a curate at St. Helena's, just three blocks from here upriver. They're not fool enough to set pups my age loose alone on an unsuspecting parish."
"Or an unsuspecting parish loose on you," Bartido joked. "So you're serving your apprenticeship here in a neighborhood full of wealthy artisans and traders, then? That must be an easy billet."
"Maybe not so much as you think. You see, the well-to-do tend to be educated. Literate folk read scripture, not just have it preached to them, and they take it out of historical and spiritual context when they do, sometimes. There's quite a few who have some interesting notions about what they read. It's nice to see people who think for themselves—in fact, it's vital, since if you're just obeying by rote, how can you say that you really understand the choice you're making between good and evil?—but too often I see people parsing Holy Writ like it was a literature study and ignoring the message entirely."
"I guess I see what you mean."
The waitress returned with his coffee and cinnamon roll.
"Here you go, sir. One coffee and one sweet roll. Let me know if there's anything else you'd like." She flashed him a flirtatious grin and he smiled right back.
"I think I see something else sweet I'd like right now."
"Aw, get off with you," she said, blushing faintly.
"Well, I wasn't moving
fast, but if you insist..."
She laughed, her blush growing, and spun back towards the kitchen.
"I gather by that exchange that you still have yet to fall in love?" Carstairs said dryly. Bartido grinned shamelessly at him.
"Nope. I thought that I was close to it, a couple of times, but no, not as yet."
"Just remember that lust is a deadly sin for a reason. It leads you into making foolish and shortsighted decisions as well as devaluing its object."
"You sound just like Hiram. Tell me, Michael, why is it that all my close friends end up being such sticks-in-the-mud?"
"To balance you out, of course. Moderation in all things, Bartido." Both of them laughed at that. "So who's this Hiram?"
Bartido sipped his coffee.
"A friend of mine from the Magic Academy. Good fellow, even though I don't think he'd recognize a joke if it bit him on the leg. Though I don't think the lady he fell in capital-L Love with would either, so they're pretty well suited."
"The Magic Academy," Carstairs mused. "So you kept up with your studies in that area?"
"Uh-huh." He paused as a thought hit him. "You're not going to start in on that, are you? A few words about my eye for the ladies is par for the course, but if phrases like 'witch-burning' start getting tossed around—"
"Nothing of the sort!" the priest interrupted, holding up his hands. "Blast it, Bartido, I found a vocation for the priesthood, not to be the village idiot!"
"Damn, I'm sorry." Bartido rubbed the back of his neck, feeling a little sheepish. "The priests back where I've been studying aren't so generous as the Church hereabouts."
The religious response to magic was by no means a settled matter, particularly as it started to come out into the open as a respectable and scholarly craft. Arch-conservatives considered magic to be the Devil's work, an absolute evil which had to be purged from the world, preferably by fire. More moderate clergy saw magic as being dubious, playing with forces perilous to a person's soul. The most liberal on the point saw magic as merely another expression of God's creation, which could be used for good or evil depending on the intent and actions of the magician. The Church in Albion tended towards the last attitude, though by no means had that always been the case.
"Apology accepted," Carstairs said, but his expression did not lighten. If anything, it became more serious; he drummed his fingers on the table pensively.
"I really am sorry, Michael," Bartido repeated, afraid that he'd wounded his friend more deeply than he'd first believed, but apparently that wasn't the case.
"What? Oh, no, that's not it. In truth, I was trying to think of how to ask you for a favor."
"What's so hard about that? The one thing I've got far too much of right now is time on my hands and nothing to fill it. What's that line, 'idle hands are the Devil's playground' or something like that? You should consider it your duty to give me something productive to do. Not to mention an act of friendship."
He took a gulp of coffee. He'd missed that taste while at the Tower, where tea was the standard hot beverage.
"You may not think that way once you've heard it," the priest warned.
"Maybe, maybe not. I'll worry about that once I
heard it. Go on and tell me." He took a bite of his cinnamon roll.
"What do you know about raising the dead?"
Bartido tried not to choke on the roll, managing to swallow at the last minute.
"Can't be done," he forced out between crumbs.
"What?" Carstairs seemed genuinely shocked.
Bartido gulped coffee to clear his airway.
"It can't be done," he repeated. "Dead is dead. The natural order of life and all that. You want to start breaking the laws of nature, you need a miracle, not a magician." His gaze narrowed. "Michael, you ought to know that."
"But I thought magicians summoned ghosts and spirits all the time?"
"Ghosts? Oh, is that what you meant? I'm sorry; you said 'raising the dead' and I thought you meant bodily resurrection. No, ghosts of various types are the basic work of necromancy, one of the four arts of magic."
"Why is that any different?" Carstairs asked curiously, momentarily distracted by the point.
"You're asking me? I'm a lousy necromancer. Alchemy's my best field. The simple answer, which is all I know, is that when a necromancer summons a dead soul, it's still dead. It comes from Purgatory into our world, but it's just moving around, not changing." He wondered if it would be possible to create an Amoretta-like homunculus with a deceased person's spirit as the core, to effectively restore a dead person to life, but even if so it would be granting someone a
life, not resurrecting them into the old one. "When a dead soul inhabits or possesses a corpse magically, it doesn't make it alive, just the corporeal undead like a zombie or vampire."
"I see." Carstairs finished off his own coffee. "Well, in this case it is the spirits of the dead that we have to deal with."
Carstairs shook his head.
"No, a spiritualist."
"I don't think that I know the word."
"That's not surprising. I think that they made it up. 'Spiritualism' is a kind of practice—I suppose you might call it a cult, in its way—that teaches that people can contact and communicate with the spirits of the dead. They say that death merely represents the ascension of the soul to a higher 'plane of existence,' whatever that means."
"Sounds like Heaven," Bartido commented offhandedly, hazarding another bite of his roll. The remark made his friend scowl.
"To the layman, perhaps, which is part of the problem. These spiritualists preach that on the Other Side, the burdens and cares, the human concerns of this world are shed. It's a rejection of the nature of sin, of free will, of the existence of objective definitions of good and evil. Much of the guidance is the same, but the underlying theology is completely at odds with the Church."
Now Bartido frowned. He wasn't the most religious person, but as someone who'd come face-to-face with devils, he'd be the last person to deny the existence of objective evil, evil that a person could choose to embrace or reject. A sorcerer who lost sight of what devils were soon found himself lost, seduced into darkness.
"As proof of their claims that they understand the metaphysics of life and death," Carstairs continued, "they say that they can put people in direct contact with the spirits of the deceased, to allow people to talk with their loved ones who have passed on. They hold 'seances' at which a 'medium'—their word for it—brings forth the deceased to manifest before them. You can imagine the effect this has on people who are grieving, lonely, desperate for solace that there truly is an afterlife."
"Proof as opposed to faith," Bartido noted.
"Exactly. So how do they do it? Is it a scam, a confidence trick based on the same principles as a sleight-of-hand performer uses? Or is it magic, necromancy? Whether their ultimate aim is a heretical cult, or to bilk innocent people out of their money, they need to be exposed as frauds."
"And you'd like me to do that?"
"Yes. You're a magician, after all. If this is nothing but a confidence trick, then with luck they can be exposed for it. If they are using necromancy to summon the actual spirits of the dead, then with a magician's knowledge you can show how it was done."
"I kind of hope it
necromancy, in that case," Bartido said. "That's something that can be easily proven. If it's a different kind of trick, then I'd have to figure out their apparatus, which could get difficult. Still, hey, it's something to test my wits on." He grinned confidently at his friend. "I'm glad I ran into you. Until today I've done so little real living since I got home that it feels like you need necromancy to talk to
Hmm, well this should be interesting to read. Something tells me there is more then mere Necromancy going on, possibly with horrific Alchemy being involved if Bartido's thought on the idea is acyually tried by those who don't know or can that the result will be as he predicted. It should be interesting anyway, since you have Necromancy as something he admits to being terrible at, playing a likely major role. The fact that Necromancy and Alchemy are not the advantageous counterpart of the other by nature is neat, though Alchemy only has Homunculus able to harm Astrals.
*happy dances* I cheered when Bartido appeared
Glad to see he hasn't lost his touch
Most intrigued by this new cult - even though it seems like a faith vs empirical proof argument in the making, I'd like to see how they support their interpretation of afterlife. Is it falsifiable?
Spiritualism is a nice way of exploring the links between our world and GG in any case!
Also, Bartido's last line is gold
Still no title, but at least there's another chapter?
“I tell you, Bartido, it will completely change the way you see the world! Open your mind to the tyranny of priest and pulpit!”
Bartido looked William Laird up and down. He wasn’t the only one; the young man’s own sister was giving him the same kind of looks.
“Exactly how much absinthe did you drink, Will?” said sister asked. At twenty, she was two years older than her brother, but they both shared the same olive complexion, rust-red hair, and ready smile.
“The two of you are nothing but sticks in the mud,” Laird said primly. “I tell you, once you’ve experienced one of Madame Prosecco’s seances, you will never see the world the same way again.”
Bartido shared a look with Victoria Laird, openly grinning at the young man’s assertions.
“Well, Will,” he said, clapping his friend on the back, “you’ll get the chance to prove what you say tonight. And making us eat our words will be fun for you, right?” As he said it, he winked at the girl, who smiled back. He liked Victoria; she was unattached and fun-loving. Bartido doubted that anything would go past flirtation; she wasn’t
careless of her reputation and he had a job to do. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy her company.
Especially when it was the work that had brought him into her orbit in the first place.
It was only a favor he’d agree to do for Michael Carstairs, but he thought of it as work anyway, just as if it had been an assignment from the Foreign Minister. After all, Carstairs had come to Bartido because Bartido was supposedly good at this. It was his professional skills that were called for, and he would use them.
That was what had led him to the Lairds. The spiritualists weren’t hiding or secretive, but they were low-key, not advertising themselves in the broadsheets or anything so crass as that. It had been easy enough to find them, though. Attend a couple of the right parties, drop the right phrases into a few casual conversations, and he had the names of a handful of gentry who’d had encounters with or interest in spiritualism. Of those, he’d picked William Laird to approach because...
...Well, because he had a pretty, personable sister. But it wasn’t strictly a question of the fringe benefits, although he was more than happy to enjoy their meeting. Rather, it was because by approaching Victoria as an interested man, he could work his way up into Laird’s acquaintance without either of them knowing what his real goal was.
And just as expected, they were on their way to a seance. Three days of cheerful socializing and he was in.
The seance was apparently being held at a home in the Thumb, the district of the city formed by a U-shaped bend in the Avalon’s course. It was an old district, the city center for centuries due to its natural defenses whether the current wave of invaders were ancient Imperial second sons carving out a colony, Lusatian vikings, Gallanese conquerers, or something else entirely. Albion had a long history of being invaded, then defeating its invaders not by military might but by absorbing them into the whole. As the rural saying went, “Barons come and go; the earth remains.” Maybe that was why Albion tended to be friendlier to magic than some countries; in its way the Church was just another invader.
Religious fulminations weren’t like Bartido, particularly not in the company of a pretty redhead. Probably it was because Carstairs was a priest, and matters of life and death naturally prompted thoughts of religion by their fundamental nature. In these shadowy streets where guttering torch lights illuminated ancient, ill-fitting cobblestones and the large, sagging ghosts of what had once been the townhouses of noble lords and wealthy traders, it was easy for such thoughts to surface.
Bartido grinned at himself. Truth be told, he loved it. The Gothic atmosphere entertained, and it felt very good to be
something again, not just lounging in coffeehouses and absorbing idle chitchat. His senses were alert and his energy up in a way they hadn’t been in weeks; he’d been starting to feel as dull as the Charlie slumped in his watch-box they passed, the deep rasp of his drunken snoring a clear signal that the criminals he was supposed to be looking out for had free reign.
“Hope we two are escort enough for you to feel safe, Vi,” Laird said, jerking a thumb towards the sleeping watchman.
“I think it’s more that
should hope we can watch out for you,” his sister joked. “After all, we’re not the ones who are seeing ghosts!”
Bartido shook his head.
“We should give Will a pass on that one. After all, I believe in ghosts, too. Indeed, I’ve seen them.”
“Good man, good man...wait, what?” Will slurred, the thought having to catch up to him.
“Just what I said; I’ve seen ghosts before.”
Victoria, with a clearer head, caught on first. She snapped her fingers to announce that the thought had struck and the sound echoed through the canyon of narrow streets and tall buildings.
“That’s right; you’re a magician, aren’t you? You’re talking about necromancy.”
“Oh, that’s not the same thing at all,” Will sighed.
“Probably not,” Bartido granted, “but at least it does mean that I do accept the reality of ghosts, of the spirits of the dead summoned back from Purgatory.”
Will shook his head. He was far enough in his cups that his body followed the lead and it made him stumble a bit, but he caught himself before falling.
“No such thing,” he declared.
“As Purgatory?” Bartido picked the only point of the sentence he could imagine being challenged.
“Right! A bogey tale, nothing more. Something to frighten us into being good little boys and girls. Serves a purpose, of course. Still, can’t let ourselves be duped.”
Bartido had been more intrigued than righteously upset at the idea of spiritualism interfering with the Church’s teachings. But it seemed there was more to it than just Carstairs getting his knickers in a knot over potential blasphemy, if someone like Laird could come away from a seance asserting that basic concepts of afterlife theology were wrong.
“What do you mean, duped?”
“All that hellfire-and-brimstone stuff. Bad form, really. Folks ought to know better than dip into that.”
Victoria looked past her brother at Bartido and shook her head.
“He’s not even clear about it when he’s completely sober,” she said, “so don’t blame the innocent alcohol.”
“Deuced hard to explain metaphysics of life and death and all that. Go on and listen to Madame. She can explain it properly.” Laird wasn’t self-conscious at all about it, taking it as perfectly natural that he couldn’t give a concise explanation. As a sporting gentleman he wasn’t a scholar and couldn’t be expected to be one, he’d probably have said if asked.
“Besides, this is it. Number 14.” He stopped and gestured up at the house before them.
“On the surface, there was little to set Number 14 apart from the other buildings around it. The glass in the lamp kept burning at the side of the door was intact, and the front steps had been swept clean of dust and mud. A brass nameplate threw back the lamplight in gleams from its polished surface, saying only
Prosecco, Spiritual Counselor
Laird took the ring in the iron lion’s mouth and knocked three times. The door was opened by an elderly man in severe but threadbare black livery.
“May I help you?”
“M’name’s William Laird. We’re here for the seance.”
“Come in, please.”
They gave their cards to the butler, who showed them into an anteroom. Bartido had expected the decor to remind him of the presence of death—dark velvet hangings, dim candlelight illuminating skulls, a somber atmosphere of gloom and sorrow. It seemed, however, that this was not the case; perhaps spiritualism was unlike necromancy and did not run to the morbid. Or it had nothing to do with either art and Opalneria Rain just had creepy personal tastes which colored Bartido’s assumptions.
But the antechamber was actually decorated with subdued good taste in light colors, albeit inexpensively. It was the kind of room one would have expected from a middle-class professional of some kind.
Three other people were already present when they entered, a well-dressed couple in late middle age and a sharp-featured gentleman of around thirty-five with curling brown hair. This man rose from his seat upon the arrival of the new entrants and smiled, extending his hand.
“Good evening, my friends,” he said. His handshake was firm and strong, the kind that implies an open and forthright character, and yet Bartido was reminded of nothing so much as a clean-shaven version of Advocat, the devil teacher from the Magic Academy. Maybe it was the slightly antique look of his clothing, with lace instead of loose fabric at the cuffs, or maybe it was the open, frank expression and the handshake. These were things Bartido had been taught to mimic to help win people’s trust.
Or maybe he just didn’t like the look of the man.
“I am Domenic Prosecco; welcome to our house. Mr. Laird, how good of you to join us again. This lovely young lady would be your sister, then?”
“That’s right, Victoria. And this is m’friend Bartido Ballentyne.” He leaned forward and whispered in a tone that was nearly as loud as his speaking voice though probably not meant to be, “Skeptical fellow, him. But Madame will set him to rights soon enough.”
Bartido grinned, and was surprised when Prosecco met his smile with one of his own.
“You are not the first skeptic to visit us,” he said aimably. “The explorations we perform here are new. They challenge established beliefs, ways of thought that have endured for centuries. We do not pretend to know all there is to know of the spirit plane. We are but travelers, drawing the veil aside the tiniest bit to give us a glimpse of what lies beyond. All we ask of you is that you give us the chance to show what is possible.”
“So you don’t mind that I’m not a true believer?” One of the most classic excuses of charlatans and snake-oil dealers when they couldn’t perform their alleged magic or miracles under close scrutiny was that the presence of unbelievers disturbed the necessary forces, created a disharmonious atmosphere, or some similar rot. That kind of talk was the surest proof of a phony. Real magic came from natural laws created by God, and worked with the same immutability as gravity pulling a stone to the earth.
“Of course not. All we ask is that you allow yourself to keep an open mind and accept the evidence of your senses. After that, the truth will take care of itself. But let me introduce you to your fellow guests. These are Mr. Edward Guinness and his wife Francine.”
The middle-aged couple and the young trio made the necessary introductions.
“Is this your first time attending one of these...explorations?” Bartido asked, using Prosecco’s term for it.
“Oh, no,” Mr. Guinness replied. “We have been here several times.”
“It has been such a comfort to us,” his wife added. “To be able to speak with our daughter again after so long, to know that she is happy even if she cannot be with us...”
“I see...” Bartido responded neutrally, but the gentleman only gave him a benign smile.
“Oh, I understand, young friend. You need not be careful for fear of offending me. Indeed, I was at first a skeptic as well. But you will see the truth for yourself tonight, and then you will understand.”
“I certainly hope so. My friend has promised me a rare experience tonight.”
“It is not some entertainment!” Mrs. Guinness hissed sharply. “It is a sacred matter, touching on the mysteries of life and death!”
“Now, Francine,” her husband said, taking her hand and stroking it as if gentling a horse. “He means no harm by it, and cannot be expected to know.”
“And the pain of losing a loved one...” Victoria began, then broke off and shook her head. “It’s not something anyone can see the depths of without experiencing it. Seeing it second-hand isn’t enough.”
The red-haired girl’s words had surprised Bartido; her attitude so far had been irreverent and critical of the experience. So why was she now suddenly full of gentle sympathy, a complete sea change from her previous manner? It was impossible to miss, though, the connection that passed between the older woman and the younger.
Bartido glanced at her brother, but Laird only gave a quick shake of his head, as if to say “not now.” Since a serious look had flashed on his face to do it, Bartido set the matter aside for the moment. Anything important enough to push through both Laird’s jovial mood and the absinthe’s effect had to be handled with care.
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended,” he offered, trying to smooth things over. While the strategy of tossing a rock into the fishpond and seeing what splashed up wasn’t necessarily a bad one, in this case he was pretty sure that the splash would be him getting the heave-ho before he’d even started. Carstairs wouldn’t be impressed by his friend’s so-called espionage skills, then!
“It is only that you cannot understand how important this experience has been for us,” Guinness assured him. “Our daughter, Sara, she was taken from us over twenty years ago. She was only six.”
“That must have been awful,” Victoria said.
“It was indeed. The measure of that loss...” He broke off, shaking his head, and clutched at his wife’s hand. Clearly, it was not only she who’d felt the depth of that pain. “For years we have carried that wound within us. But now, thanks to Madame Prosecco’s abilities, we can at last know peace, be assured that Sara is safe and happy where she is and even be able to have her with us again, however fleetingly.”
“Then the spirits of the dead truly do come back at these seances? You can see them and speak with them?”
“Of course,” Laird said. “Anyone can wave a hand around and
the dead are there. What Madame does is real, it’s powerful.”
Bartido glanced towards Prosecco, who had watched the entire exchange silently thus far. There was a smile on his face, not a smirk but simply a benign expression without a trace of smugness. If he was acting a role, he was doing it well.
At the side of the room a curtain rustled, and what Bartido had taken for closed drapes were pushed aside, revealing an open archway rather than a window. The woman who emerged was tall and stately, in her mid-thirties. Her features were slightly aquiline, putting Bartido more in mind of a sculpted Madonna than a carnival fortuneteller or a hedge-witch. When she spoke, she had only the barest whisper of an accent to suggest anything at all foreign or exotic about her.
“Domenic, everything is prepared. I am ready to begin.”
“Thank you, Addeline. I am sure all our guests are eager.”
She inclined her head in acknowledgement.
“It is good to see you again, Mr. and Mrs. Guiness. I hope that we may once again have success tonight. And Mr. Laird, this must be the charming sister I have heard so much about.”
“Victoria Laird, Madame Prosecco,” the girl introduced herself.
“It is a pleasure. Your brother’s good heart I already know, and I can tell already that you are cut from much the same cloth as he is. And who is your friend?”
“This is Bartido Ballentyne,” her husband was the one who made the introduction this time.
“Charmed, I’m sure,” Bartido said, bowing over her hand. Madame Prosecco chuckled.
“I think perhaps it is you who is used to doing the charming, Mr. Ballentyne. I hope that Domenic shall not have to keep a close watch upon you.”
“I’m sure that Mr. Prosecco has to keep a close watch all the time.” He glanced at Laird and added, “You didn’t mention our hostess was such a captivating lady.”
“Really, Bartido,” Laird said, rolling his eyes. But Bartido thought the act worth it if he could fix the impression with the Proseccos that he was nothing but a society fribble out for a good time. (Now, flirting with
, on the other hand, that required a different kind of acting, to hold back from making any serious advances while he was working. After the business was resolved, perhaps...)
Prosecco cleared his throat, drawing everyone’s attention.
“If I may, I daresay it is time to begin. The hour of midnight grows near, when the planes of the living and the dead draw closest.” He gestured to the archway, and his wife took the first step in that direction.
She froze, though, when the door was thrown open.
“So! About to try another of your games, are you?” a young man’s voice cried. “Well, you’d better be prepared, because it’s going to be the last one of these tricks you play!”
Bartido needed more love; glad he's got another appearance (and a turn as protagonist!) under his belt.
We'll certainly see how well Bartido's second foray into espionage goes.
Also: Damn you for so quickly turning my inner shipper on.
*drops in* ....cliff...hanger.... >.<*
Also, I note that Victoria is a redhead ;D
Originally Posted by
Also: Damn you for so quickly turning my inner shipper on.
Oh? Whom are you shipping with whom? (Though Bartido would be one of the few characters I'd consider an OC ship with in a story, because he's a James Bondesque player and it's properly in-character for him to have a short, ephemeral relationship with the girl of the week.)
Originally Posted by
Also, I note that Victoria is a redhead ;D
Okay, I'll bite...relevance?
Originally Posted by
Oh? Whom are you shipping with whom?
Bartido/Victoria. Since Lillet/Amoretta is canon (for your 'verse, if not directly), and Margarita/Bartido.... doesn't work in my head, Bartido is OC-able.
Fuyu no Sora
Originally Posted by
Okay, I'll bite...relevance?
One of two things: Either yui is particularly fond of redheads and so likes the fact that young Miss Laird is one...or she's making a reference to *sigh*
Victoria, who also happens to be a redhead.
Nice story you have going here, Dezo!
I was especially happy to see Bartido being the protagonist. His perfect knowledge of his charms and his use thereof are a delight to read, and it's lots of fun to see him act like a frivolous socialite while plotting how to win the trust of the people he's infiltrating so he can expose them. I also loved his (probably unintentional) little jab at Miss Opalneria, what with thinking that her personal tastes were creepy and had made him have assumptions toward the gloomy when spirits are mentioned.
Here's looking forward to the next chapter!
Originally Posted by
One of two things: Either yui is particularly fond of redheads and so likes the fact that young Miss Laird is one...or she's making a reference to *sigh* Twilight's Victoria, who also happens to be a redhead.
Geez Sora. Who's in a crabby mood today? No need to stoop to THAT level *hmpf*
I made note of Victoria's hair colour because Margarita's hair colour is red (or very reddish-brown) and I'm a shipper who likes to see inferences that don't exist! (The inference being that Bartido approached Victoria because she in some way reminded him of Margarita.)
Now, see, *I'm* not the one who somehow made the Twilight connection *whistles innocently* Heck I don't even know who Victoria is in Twilight... assume she's the protagonist?
Love the story! Bartido is in his element and I
Victoria's line: “He’s not even clear about it when he’s completely sober,” she said, “so don’t blame the innocent alcohol.” That cracked me up!
Loving the Gothic atmosphere!
I'm also curious as to who the young man at the end is: is he a disgruntled former client of Madame Prosecco or something decidedly more...
? *Ominous Latin chanting is heard in the background*
Looking forward to the next chapter!
AGH!! *Takes out an aluminum baseball bat and flattens
.* Killed it... killed it dead.
*Walks off, whistling*
(Bartido: "I'll try my very best to satisfy all of your various desires to see me together with assorted different women.")
Victoria is an evil vampire in
. Also, if I ever intentionally name a character after a
character in a non-parody fashion, you may stampede a herd of sheep at me.
Even though I actually didn't dislike the movies...
Have a chapter! Because chapters are fun and stuff.
"Tobias, what are you doing here?"
Surprisingly, the sharp-toned rejoinder came not from either of the Proseccos, but from Edward Guinness. There was nothing soft or retiring about his voice; rather, it was forceful and challenging.
The young man did not back down, either.
"You know very well why I'm here, Father: to keep you from wasting your money on these charlatans!"
Quite frankly, Bartido didn't think that Tobias resembled his parents very much. His hair was pale, almost blond, while theirs was gray, and he had soft features and a plump build, almost running to fat, compared to their lean angularity.
"You shame yourself with your cupidity, boy," his father shot back. The immediacy with which he'd suggested a motive meant that either this was a long-standing argument or the relationship between the Guinnesses was troubled. The former was the more likely, given the boy's willingness to make a public row out of it.
"And you with your credulity."
"We are not credulous. We have seen Madame Prosecco summon forth your sister's spirit. You have not so much as attended a séance, and yet you have the arrogance to dismiss our experiences out of hand because they are not convenient for your purse."
Tobias's chin quivered in apparent offense.
"I care nothing for the money, but for a natural desire to spare you from squandering it on criminals."
"The only criminal act here tonight," Prosecco spoke up, stepping forward, "was committed by you in forcing your way into my home. I would prefer not to embarrass your parents by having you taken in charge, but if you do not take yourself off without further ado..." His nostrils flared in anger, showing a temper he'd previously given no sign of possessing.
"Pardon me," said a second man coming into the room behind Tobias, "but I think we would all be served by reining in our tempers and letting cooler heads prevail."
The newcomer's voice was certainly the kind that suggested control over emotion and a cool head. Indeed, it was hard and stern, the kind that suggested a general, a king, or a particularly exacting professor. As a matter of fact, the last of these was the closest to the truth: Bartido recognized the short, slightly stooped figure, the thin face dominated by a narrow but large, hooked nose like a raptor's beak, the blackwood cane capped with an etched silver knob at once.
"Master Dundee," he said, bowing slightly.
"Oh? Young Ballentyne, is it? I'm surprised to see you caught up in this foolishness. I thought you were abroad."
"I was, up until a few weeks ago." Bartido was astonished the other man remembered him at all; he'd never met Nathan Dundee socially or studied under him directly. That Dundee not only remembered who he was, but details of his career was remarkable.
"You know this fellow, Bartido?" Laird asked curiously.
"He's one of Albion's leading magicians, our acknowledged master in the art of Necromancy."
"Exactly!" Tobias crowed. "And he's here to reveal the tricks by which you've been cheating my parents," he shot his challenge at Prosecco. Another exchange of insults was broken off, though, when Dundee struck the ferrule of his walking-stick sharply on the floorboards.
"I am here," he stated, "because of the things I've heard from this young man and others concerning the purported summoning of the dead. As Mr. Ballentyne has already observed, by magical specialty is the study of that field, and the claims that spiritualist practice put forward are of great interest to me."
And that explained that. Just as Carstairs had sent in Bartido to investigate, so had Tobias brought Dundee as his expert. Frankly, he couldn't have made a better choice. Like Bartido had told his friend, this matter really called for an expert in necromancy, and Dundee was
expert, at least within Albion's borders. Practically speaking, Bartido would have put his skills on par with those of Ms. Opalneria from the Magic Academy, though he wasn't nearly as decorative.
Prosecco didn't look happy at all about the intrusion.
"Our explorations are not a carnival show to be gawped at by a crowd of thrillseekers. We are sincere men and women seeking to find the true guiding path that leads through life and death and all the stages of the universe."
"Then as such you should welcome observation and the presence of reputable witnesses."
"I see only a young man who begrudges his parents the comfort that can be brought to them, as well as the—"
"Domenic." It was only one word, said softly and gently, but Prosecco fell silent at once. His wife stepped through the crowd to stand before the magician. "Please forgive my husband, Master Dundee. He seeks only to protect his wife from the insults of those who would accuse us of being fakers or frauds."
"I freely admit, madam, that my expectations are not high in that regard. The things you claim to do and the metaphysical underpinning for them runs counter to religious teaching and magical practice alike. I can't claim expertise in the former, but I have devoted my life to the latter, and in this particular field besides, so I think I can claim good authority for my doubts. But"—he held up a hand to forestall Prosecco from interjecting—"I'm not willing to condemn without evidence. I've lived long enough that I've lost count of how many times the established explanation for something has been wrong."
Unlike Tobias, there was no rancor in Dundee's voice, little emotion at all. He laid it all out as plain fact.
"I see." A knowing little smile played around Madame Prosecco's lips, as if she found it all terribly amusing. Maybe she did. It reminded Bartido a little of when his mother would listen solemnly to something he or one of his siblings thought was deeply important but that was ultimately trivial from an adult's perspective.
It was kind of a disquieting thought. Addeline Prosecco was coming off as something not unlike a pagan mother-goddess: patient, wise, gently ushering her worshippers forward towards eternal truths as they were ready to accept them.
He wondered if she meant any part of it, or if she was merely a very good actress.
"Then you have no objection to my observing?" Dundee confirmed.
"None at all. We welcome any seeker to our explorations, so long as they do not seek to interfere with the proceedings." Her eyes slid meaningfully towards Tobias.
"You expect me to just stand by while you blind my parents with yet more of your nonsense?"
Dundee struck his cane on the floor again.
"Boy!" he snapped. "You brought me here because you wanted to consult my expertise. Is that or is that not so?"
described his response well.
"Then calm yourself and permit me to exercise it in such manner as I see fit."
"I'm not sure whether to feel sorry for him or not," Victoria murmured under her breath, so that only Bartido, standing next to her, could hear.
"I know what you mean." Was Tobias motivated by greed—a pampered son of the gentry watching the inheritance he already thought of as being his slip away? If so, right or wrong about the spiritualists, he was contemptible. Or was he an honest son worried about his parents? His anger could have been solely at the evil he perceived to be at work, and at his own frustration. Guinness's accusations might be coming not from a sound assessment of his son's character, but in response to the attack on his faith. It was impossible to determine just yet.
One thing that the conflict between the Guinnesses did reveal, though, was a facet of what the Proseccos were doing. Tobias might have been greedy, or not, but the fact that they were arguing over his greed told Bartido that money was changing hands somewhere along the way. The spiritualists' talk was in terms of faith, opening ways, inspiring changes in the perception of life and death, but somewhere along the way they were taking in hard coin.
Which wasn't to say that they were necessarily running a con, as legitimate groups needed money for their work, but it was a solid reminder for the young man to keep himself from paying too much heed to Madame's manner.
Tobias huffed a bit, like a hen with ruffled feathers, but gave in with bad grace.
"Very well, I'll hold my tongue, but only so that you'll have the best opportunity to show these frauds up for what they are."
"Please accept our apologies for this, Madame," Mrs. Guinness spoke up. "I'm terribly sorry for this disruption. And bringing in a direct challenge to your honesty like this. You should not have to be put on display like...like some specimen in an alchemist's laboratory!"
"Do not worry," Madame Prosecco reassured her at once. "It is none of your doing. And if Master Dundee is as fair-minded as he says, then your son's intervention will be the vehicle only for good in the end." The necromancer's eyebrows went up at this rather provocative remark, but he said nothing. "But now, we should forbear further conversation and begin. The propitious hour is passing quickly, and we want to lose none of its time."
No one, not even Tobias, saw a reason to challenge that remark, and they let her lead the group through the curtained archway into the next room.
In contrast with the rest of the house, here at last was the unusual décor Bartido had been expecting. The séance chamber was windowless, whether by original design or adapted for the purpose by the new owners. He suspected the latter, from the dark wood paneling that looked relatively new. There was only one source of light: a cut-glass lamp hanging from a chain in the room's center. Directly beneath the lamp was a round table, covered in an elaborare purple brocade tablecloth embroidered in gold with stars, planets, and other symbols of the kind one might find on a wizard's robe. More gold made a fringe around the edge and occasional tassels, while eight chairs ringed the table.
"We are nine tonight," Madame observed. "Domenic, if you would please bring another chair?"
"Is it going to be a problem, having an extra person?" Guinness asked. "If it will disturb the spirit emanations, surely one of us should wait outside."
"I thank you for your concern, but it is not at all necessary," she reassured him. "The number of seekers present should have no bearing on the outcome."
Bartido was reminded of his earlier thought about how charlatans would often protest that a disturbance or negative atmosphere would disrupt whatever it was they were trying to accomplish. At the least, the spiritualists had passed that test.
Prosecco returned, carrying one of the chairs from the anteroom. It matched those already surrounding the table, straight-backed and with a cushioned seat but no arms. The irreverent thought struck Bartido that they must have bought in bulk to outfit the room with extras in case they were needed, before realizing that the seats were probably just taken from the house's formal dining room. Perhaps that had even been the original purpose of this room and the large table.
"Come, let us sit," Madame invited, and they sat. To her right was placed Mrs. Guinness and then her husband. At her left hand was William Laird, next to him his sister, and Bartido beside Victoria. Tobias had been placed next to Bartido, followed by Dundee, and finally Domenic Prosecco at Guinness's right. Prosecco had closed the curtain when making his second entry into the room; he now before taking his seat reached up and turned down the lamp's wick, plunging the room into shadow. A theatrical setting, Bartido thought, but also one suitable for summoning the presence of the dead.
"Everyone, please join your hands upon the table with those of the person next to you," Madame instructed. Victoria's hand was soft and cool in Bartido's, while Tobias's was slick with sweat, perhaps with nerves at what was about to happen, or what he could lose if this gamble did not pay off for him. "Whatever occurs, you must not break the circle. We are joined as one will, one purpose, a single strong beacon sent into the by-ways of the other side, to draw to us those with whom we would speak. If that unity is broken, then our beacon is scattered, no longer shining as one, and the séance will fail."
Tobias shifted in his seat, and Bartido could tell that he wanted to say something, but he mastered himself and kept silent.
"We are reaching out, calling into the unknown future that lies ahead for us all," Madame Prosecco continued to intone. "We are seekers after truth, looking into the divide between planes. Our hearts are open and yearning. There are those here who are lost and searching. Those in need of comfort, those who feel the sting of loss. We ask that you come to us, that our call reaches out to you who have passed beyond the veil, that you would hear and come to us for a time, that we might feel your presence."
Bartido's eyes flicked around the circle of faces, taking in those whom he could see. Eyes closed, Madame had the bearing of a priestess, her manner little different than if she was performing a sacred rite. She looked so expectant, it was easy for him to start to believe a little, to think that
unusual was about to happen.
Surely the Guinnesses could feel it: their faces were rapt, caught up in an almost dreadful eagerness. It was the look of a drunkard watching a waitress carry a bottle to his table, that fierce, desperate sense of
that went beyond mere desire to become a thing as essential as air. Bartido wondered if William Laird now bore a similar expression, if he too had something to find here that was of such importance to him.
Prosecco, for his part, looked merely interested, with only faint traces of satisfaction to disrupt the whole. He might not have been as good an actor as his wife, or it was simply his character. Certainly, he showed no trace of nervousness or fear at being put to the test by Dundee. The necromancer, for his part, merely looked on impassively, showing no sign of what he might be thinking—though it was possible the look did in fact reflect what was going on in his mind, a cold and unemotional absorption of the facts.
For all of them, the flickering of the low light cast weird shadows across their faces, outlining them in stark relief, sharply emphasizing what was there, giving unnatural life to what Bartido saw. He couldn't help but to wonder what, if anything, lay bare upon his own face.
"We beseech you, o spirits of the departed; those who loved you and cared for you in life are calling out. Come back to us. Follow our call back to this mortal plane."
The lamp flickered and guttered as if it caught a wind, sending crazy shadows racing around the table. Bartido could feel a heaviness in the air, a pressure throbbing against his temples. It wasn't spellcasting the way he knew it, but there was something there, something present in the atmosphere, vaguely familiar, even.
Bartido's time at the Magic Academy had accustomed him to the presence of power. It wasn't just the direct force of magic and Runes. It was something different, the aura that people like Gammel Dore or Advocat or Lujei Piche projected around them. Particular places had it, too, even objects, and he could feel it there at the séance table, the gathering of force, the idea—the
that something was about to happen.
And then it did.
It was there all at once, floating in the air above the table, not in its exact center but to one side, directly in front of Madame Prosecco. It was a dancing cloud of flame, a will-o'-the-wisp the pale blue of St. Elmo's fire playing about the rigging of a ship. Within the fire there were spots of a slightly different shade, making the hinted outline of a face.
In short, it was a ghost.
Creatures such as this were the most basic of necromantic familiars. Bartido himself, though his skill at Necromancy was very little, knew how to summon them from the Hades Gate rune. So the ghost's presence was not by itself remarkable, other than that it proved that genuine magic rather than pure trickery was at work.
remarkable, though, was the fact that to all apparent purposes, there had been no magic. No Hades Gate Rune had been drawn, nor did its telltale glow shine forth. And while Bartido's knowledge of ritual Necromancy was virtually nil, he would be willing to bet that even Dundee, with his vast expertise, would not have recognized the séance performance as being any kind of magical ritual.
He could feel his heart racing, his blood pounding. If he was to try and put a name to his feeling, it would have been exhilaration. The utter thrill of taking action, of having a genuine problem to confront and solve excited him.
How was she doing it? What was her purpose?
And if that purpose was malign, how could he stop it?
"Spirit who has come to us, please reveal yourself! Show us, as we who seek your guidance, the way forward. Bring hope and comfort to the ones who love you!"
In response to the medium's command, the outline of the ghostly figure wavered, shifted. It elongated slightly, then began to resolve itself into an image, a translucent Astral figure with defined features and identity. Bartido had been expecting a girl, from what the Guinnesses had been saying, the spirit of their lost child. But this was not a child, rather, it was an infant, a baby. Drifting over the table, it turned directly to face Victoria Laird, gurgling happily, a smile plain on its face.
"Ah!" she gasped, her hand clenching on Bartido's.
It drifted closer, its glowing hand extending towards the girl.
"Is...is it really you?" she whispered in a voice unlike any he'd yet heard from her.
The spirit did not answer, but only moved closer.
"Are you...are you happy where you are?"
The infant gurgled again, and laughed. Its hand brushed Victoria's cheek in a gentle caress.
"I'm so glad," she sighed, her voice thick with emotion. "I'm so glad."
The ghostly infant cooed again, drifting back from the young woman.
"Wait! Don't go! Please...please let me hold you, just once..."
"Do not break the circle!" Prosecco instructed at once, but it was too late. Victoria had already pulled her hands free from Bartido's and her brother's, but the moment she reached out for the spirit it faded away, vanishing.
"No! Don't go..."
"It is too late," Madame said gently. "The spirit has returned to its plane."
"That's...that's all right," Victoria said. She plucked a wisp of cambric from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes. "This was more than I had ever imagined. Thank you, Madame. And you too, William, for bringing me tonight."
"Do you feel well enough to continue, Miss Laird? It would be easier to continue with the same circle that began our exploration, but I understand if you need some time to yourself."
"No, I'm all right. I'm...I think that I'm more all right than I've been in some time."
Bartido wasn't at all sure that he could say the same.
Well that was .... freaky :x For some reason the act of brushing its hand against Victoria's cheek made the ghost infant ever so disturbing XD Like... well, like it had far more maturity and motor control than a regular infant.
I agree with yui. That ghostly infant brushing its hand against Victoria's cheek was
disturbing! Gave me the chills. *shudders* Bartido's reaction is interesting: Victoria's all right with it but he is not. Seems to me that he's caught something that the others missed. Hmmm. Makes you wonder.
chapter! Deliciously creepy and exciting! Looking forward to the next and finding out just what's really going on here.
Fuyu no Sora
Hmm. Very interesting chapter.
I wonder if the circle that Madame Prosecco had them make was something like a summoning circle, sort of like the equivalent of a Rune. Instead of being drawn, it'd be enacted by the linked people...but that doesn't quite make sense, seeing as Runes are not just circular drawings, but have specific symbols that relate not only to their arcana, but also to the purpose of said Rune. The markings are essential to enable the summoning or synthesizing of creatures...so how did Madame Prosecco manage to invoke anything? There's something fishy going on here, and I agree with Bartido's uneasiness. He should tread carefully in this investigation, as he's not only venturing into unknown territory, but also his specialty is weak against Astral beings, so he's at a magical disadvantage.
Wonderful chapter, Governor.
Looking forward to the next!
so he's at a magical disadvantage.
Alchemy and Necromancy are neutral/balanced/even according to lore. (And Alchemy's answer to Necromancy is painfully obvious: the Homunculus)
Creepy chapter is creepy. Seems like Bartido has an ally if things go off the rails this evening, though, and that's good.
But without Homunculi, Alchemy is in real trouble: Gargoyles and chimeras can't hit Astrals at all without clairvoyance (can Golems? I always forget...), and I don't think that Gum Drop works on Astrals (it
, based on the description...). On the other hand, one Psychic Storm will reap whole armies of Astrals in seconds, so...
(I wonder if Tahlea can Psychic Storm? I write her as having Clairvoyance as a normal homunculus power, so maybe...?)
Fuyu no Sora
Long time no see! Also, I remember reading somewhere that you're getting married, so my heartfelt congratulations!
I hope everything will go well, and you'll be happy.
In the lore maybe, but in tactical terms, Alchemy is at a woeful disadvantage against Astrals. Since most Alchemical creatures
touch the summons of Necromancy whereas the reverse does not apply at all...well, you can see the problem. As Dezo mentions below your post, if you don't
Homunculi or they're out of mana and all you have is alchemical creatures, you're toast. Gargoyles, Chimeras and Golems' attacks are useless if you don't have Clairvoyance bridging the two planes. Granted, Psychic Storm is devastating...but a Skullmage's Astralize plus their natural anti-ghost attacks can easily lay waste to Homunculi. They're strong but their stamina leaves a lot to be desired. Also, Mana Burn hurts like a giant hammer, but that's Sorcery.
Nope, no Alchemical creatures, except for the Homunculus, can harm Astrals. Gum Drop doesn't work on them either.
(The only one that can decide that is you, Dezo, but in my opinion she should be able to. Amoretta's handling of human magic would naturally blunt some of her skills
a homunculus, but since Tahlea has a different spirit, I don't see why she shouldn't be able to. Unless her own Fairy core, by its very nature, would
blunt her skills as a homunculus...)
Thanks for the clarification, Sora; I thought that was the case but I wasn't 100% sure. (Hmm...that's interesting, since Golems are throwing magma fireballs by their description. In that case, it would seem that the basic fact is that Astrals are like D&D monsters that require magical weapons to hit; Glamour and Sorcery familiars would to some extent
magical in their existence, speaking here of Unicorns and Demons, while dragon breath, fairy arrows, Talisman and Guardian attacks, starchilds, and grimalkin spells actually are various kinds of spell or spell-like abilities.)
Poor squishy little homunculi. I wonder why no one's ever been able to make them bigger. Maybe it's the flask problem: even a six-foot homunculus would still be dependent on an item made of glass for its existence; it's not a problem of dealing enough damage to kill the life form but of breaking the glass. And a Tahlea-grade homunculus not only requires another creature's soul/spirit as its core, but the materials costs and mana expenditures appear to be prohibitive for mass production. And there's no way to use them as combat familiars without being able to reduce their creation to Runes. (Maybe that's part of what the bad guys are working on in
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