Fan fiction:The Mage Academy of Gea Kul/Chapter Twelve
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It didn't end there, of course. The Academy's reputation had been tarnished, students had died, and the General in charge of Gea Kul was furious that three of his men had been incinerated during Zia's escape from the city. It had been a century since the King Valashan had granted our clan one of his smaller palaces for our training Academy. The gift had been made in perpetuity, in gratitude for supporting him in a war, but maintaining the autonomy the Academy had been granted was a matter of constant political maneuvering. The events with Zia put us into a terrible position, and only by calling in favors and issuing various bribes did I keep the General from stationing soldiers within the school, and the Prince from doubling or tripling our taxes.
Once that situation was stabilized, I called a full meeting of the Maesters and used it to resign my position as Archmaester. Though I had some supporters, my offer was accepted, and the vote was not close. There was a general sentiment that someone had to be blamed, and who better than me? I'd been Zia's close friend and advisor. I'd formulated the educational program that had so backfired. I'd pushed her into the fifth level with all of those male students. All those dead students.
I didn't mind. I agreed with them. It was my fault. I'd failed the Academy, I'd failed the Maesters, I'd failed the students, and I'd failed Zia. I offered to go into exile, to go off into the field and fight 'til the death for the glory of our clan, to vanish into research and never again show my face. Whatever the assembly wished. My acceptance, my passivity, drove away my few remaining defenders. Even loyal Shien looked at me with disgust, as I knelt before the company, ready to accept any punishment my enemies could devise.
Perhaps the offer was too tempting, and when no consensus could be reached, I was commanded to remain in the school, given some beginner courses to teach, and told to wait for such punishment as would best fit my crimes. I agreed. Better men than I could lead the school, and decide what to do about Zia. I simply wanted to withdraw; to never need make a crucial decision again. I'd had my chance, and I'd failed the greatest test I was likely ever to face.
At times, during the dark weeks that followed, I wished that Zia had met me on her rampage out of the Academy. She would have turned me inside out, boiled my organs within my body, and that would have been a suitable end for me. I'd failed her, after all. It was my fault she'd had to flee into the night.
Several months passed, while the Academy gradually returned to normal. A new Archmaester was chosen, and Maester Gutherie now ruled the assembly. Literally ruled, from what I heard. I did not attend any of the conclaves, keeping to my new, much-reduced quarters on the lower level, but I heard my fellow Maesters grumbling about Gutherie's ego and his cronyism. He'd made conflicting promises to secure a majority of the vote, then turned on all of his new supporters the moment he was Archmaester. His friends were living in the best quarters and dining on the finest fare, while those who had vied with him for the leadership were suffering with poor teaching assignments, small quarters, and few privileges. It was no way to run a fraternity based on egalitarianism, and Gutherie was sure to be voted out when his term ran out, but he had five years to enrich himself and punish his enemies, and he seemed likely to use every moment of it for just that.
Surprisingly, he did not single me out for any further unpleasantness. I had expected him too, but the man had always been a keen judge of character, and he likely realized that I wanted to be punished. That I would have welcomed it. That my greatest enemy was free time to contemplate my failings. So he ignored me entirely, save for cutting back on my teaching schedule and assigning me to boring menial tasks such as the lonely night watch on the outer walls. Where I had nothing but time, to think over my failings.
Events might have continued that way indefinitely, had not some surprising news reached the Academy in early Fall, four months after Zia's dramatic disappearance. Demons were invading the mortal realm, pouring out of crimson Hellgates that were popping up all over the northern half of the Western Continent. They were far from our city, but every mage clan was sending battle mages off to prove their mettle in combat. Other humans were resisting as well, including large numbers of Barbarians. The Hellgates were far to the east of the wild lands they called home, but the Barbarians felt a bond to all the Northern lands that others called the Dreadlands, and they would defend them from all invaders. Especially demons, for their kind felt that Baal's forces had been responsible for the destruction of their sacred Mount Arreat some two decades before.
Like all mages, my clan felt an instinctive dislike for Barbarians. They were savages, prone to uncontrolled violence, and their great strength and natural resistance to the elements made them dangerous to face in combat. This made it all the more remarkable that the reports all agreed that an unknown female mage was working with the Barbarians and leading the defense against the demons. Her power was said to be matched only by her bravery, and all who met her came away enchanted by her remarkable beauty and strength of will. One report even mentioned the double-cross scar on her shoulder blade. Archmaester Gutherie reportedly put the most stock in that one, but I thought it nonsense. Surely some sailor had come with the tale of this witch, and when asked if she bore a certain scar on her shoulder, he'd been quick to confirm it. For an extra silver or two.
Still, brand or not, there was no doubt that we'd found Zia. Fled to the North, allied with Barbarians, and according to Archmaester Gutherie, flaunting the secrets of our clan where all could see them. Something had to be done; the humiliation to our Academy was absolute, and a death squad was authorized. I did not witness that vote, for I attended none of the gatherings unless directly compelled by an order from Gutherie or one of his minions.
Just such an order came down to me the next morning, and after finishing the class and bidding the Firsts good day, I marched up the long flights of stairs to the new Archmaester quarters. Gutherie had claimed the top two floors of the palace and had them renovated to a palatial state. He kept me waiting an hour, giving me time to appreciate his taste in comfortable furniture, before Maester Richelieu, Gutherie's second, ushered me into the Archmaester's presence.
I expected threats and insults. Instead I received orders. Gutherie must have sensed that nothing he could say would touch my soul. Nothing but the mission he charged me with. To lead the death squad, to take four of my fellows over the sea and into the Dreadlands. We were to seek out Zia, and kill her. Gutherie did not put it so bluntly, of course, but the meaning was the same. I was to find her and to mutilate her body, tearing off the brands and tattoos, which I was to return to the Academy, where they would be tanned, dried, and displayed as a warning to others.
I accepted the mission without complaint, asking only to be allowed to choose my four fellows. Gutherie denied this, telling me they'd already been selected. Richelieu handed me a list of their names, and I was not surprised to see that all were enemies of the new Archmaester. Happily, all were experienced battle mages. I'd been afraid that Gutherie would load me down with scholars, but even he was not such a fool. He knew Zia's powers, and he wanted her dead. This was not a hopeless mission, one intended solely to remove some of his enemies.
It would almost certainly do that, of course. Even if we five could survive the perilous warzone and track Zia down, she would not offer us her throat. Five Maesters should be strong enough to defeat her, but could we kill, or escape, her Barbarian comrades? I thought not, and I knew Gutherie would have agreed with my assessment. He hoped we would kill Zia, restoring the honor of the Academy, before we were killed by the Barbarians, the demons, or both.
Grim though our prospects seemed, I did not object or complain, and asked only when Gutherie wished us to depart. "On the morning tide," said Richelieu, his tone that of a man who had waited long to utter that phrase. I simply looked at him, and enough of my old fire must have remained that he quailed and fell away.
"By your leave." I muttered as I turned to go, not pausing to wait for, or acknowledge, any parting orders from the Archmaester. Eager though I was to leave his presence and his quarters, my thoughts turned suddenly to Maester Shien, the list of my four doomed fellows held in one hand. I'd not spoken to Shien in months, not since shortly after I'd resigned my position. As best I could remember, she'd tried to cheer me up, or talk some sense into me, but I'd had no interest in cheer or sense, and after cajoling, then raging at me, Shien had stormed out, disgusted by my disinterest.
I should speak with her, I thought. I should speak with her before I depart on this mission.
I did not, my cowardice and self loathing enough to send me creeping past the classroom I knew she was teaching in, at that hour. Two of the mages I sought were teaching nearby, but after a few words with me they both dismissed their classes and headed straight to their quarters to pack. I found the other two down in the library, and they were as quick to drop what they were doing. I made ready with similar haste, and we five walked away from the main gates just before the supper hour, heading straight for the docks where we were to secure passage on the first ship sailing north or west.
Just as we left the grounds, I heard a familiar female voice. "Yun!" she cried out, anguish in her tone, but though I knew it was Shien, I did not slow, nor turn. I'd put all my heart into trying to help Zia, and what had that gotten me? My heart had grown too cold during my months of solitude to thaw now. Better that I parted silently from Shien, with nothing to remind us of our younger days.
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