If Love Were Only Part of the Equation Chapter 16

By K'Arthur

 “Be good and you will be lonesome.”—Mark Twain 

Happy laughter was the last sound Gregory expected to hear coming from Nash’s suite, but it still caused a smile to spread over the old man’s face as he paused outside the half-closed door. Given all the gloom and doom around the Guild lately, it was refreshing to see that even Nash hadn’t lost his sense of humor.  Still smiling, the ageless mage pulled the door and stepped through, but did not interrupt the vibrant conversation still going on in the parlor around him. 

“Well that’s not how I remember it,” Alex said. 

Nash grinned as they both looked at Kyle, “Nor I.” 

“You’re both making this up!” Kyle shouted in mock anger. “I never did anything like that!” 

“Come on now, its harmless. Just admit it!” Nash teased. 

“Harmless?  Do you have any idea of what something like that would do to my reputation? ” Kyle said as he glared jokingly at his friends. “These accusations are pure crap and you know it!” 

“Hey, we all saw you dressed like a girl!” A shrill voice coming from above the group shouted. “Don’t lie about it!” 

“I’m not denying it happened, you miserable rat with wings! I’m denying that I enjoyed it!” Kyle said, making futile attempts to grab the white dragonet flying tight circles just above his head. The creature dodged him playfully, and then shot across the room—right into Gregory’s face. 

“Aiyee!” The small dragon screamed as he came nose to nose with the old man who came to an even more abrupt stop as the leathery wingtips brushed against his cheeks. 

“Looks like you’re in trouble now, Nall,” Alex said with a grin. 

“Gregory!” Nash exclaimed as he stood up, surprise and embarrassment mixing on his face. “How long have you been there?” 

With a chuckle the older mage dodged Nall’s flapping wings and moved around him.  “Long enough to know that Kyle likes to dress like a woman.” As the large man started to object, he added: “Don’t worry, Nash. I won’t tell your friends about any of your little idiosyncrasies.” 

“Oooh,” Alex said. “Now you’ve got me intrigued.” 

Gregory gave a wink to his son as he moved towards the center of the room, with Nall still fluttering nervously over his head. “Let’s see…how about the time I threw you out of class for—“ 

Suddenly Nall shrieked as he made an attempt to land on the Illusionist, his wings buffeting the salt and pepper hair as his tail attempted to curl around the old man’s shoulder to give him a more solid grip.  

Nash looked at the two of them, clearly forgetting whatever it was they had been discussing before the shrill interruption. “What’s wrong?” 

“This guy smells strange!” The cat-like creature panted in near hysteria. 

“Nall!” Alex corrected sharply as the animal launched itself from the tentative perch on Gregory’s shoulder and flew just above his master’s head, ruffling his russet hair. 

“Its true,” the dragonet retorted as he took to a higher, safer, altitude. “He smells very weird, not right… not human right.” 

“I’m very sorry, sir. I wish I could control his mouth--” 

Gregory gave a humble smile. “No need for apology, Master Alex. I understand your predicament.  It’s a common problem for the very young. They tend to blurt out things before thinking them through.” 

The room held a collective breath as Nall found a perch at the top of a bookshelf, where he began cleaning his wings. Once the troublesome creature had released himself from the center of attention, Nash spoke. “So what brings you here, Gregory?” 

“Ah, just coming by to see if you needed any help with your endeavors.” 

“Not at the moment. The items I ordered should be ready this afternoon.” 

“Where did you find them?” 

“One of the merchants here. His name was Roland Morstrum.” 

Gregory felt his face darken at the mention of the name. He knew this man, and he knew him too well for his own liking. He looked at Nash, “Let me pick them up for you. Enjoy your time with your friends.” 

“You don’t need to do that Gregory. Besides, if we get caught, I should be to be the one to get in trouble.” 

Kyle interrupted, “What could you get in trouble for, Nash?” 

“A lot of things, more than I want to think about.”  Nash said, his face holding a frown for only a second before he covered it with a small smile.  “But for the moment I’m doing, or rather, trying to do, something quite underhanded to Mia—for her own good, of course.  I just wish knowing that made me feel less like a heel for having to do it.” 

“You’ll have to explain that to me later,” he said and then backed up to stand quietly near Alex, who was also wearing a puzzled look. 

“Yes I do need to help you, son.” Gregory said sternly. “Besides I know Roland from before your time. Perhaps I can talk him into a discount for you.” 

“I’ve already paid for them in full.” 

The old man shook his head as he continued. “With Roland, nothing is paid in full. Trust me on that. Now go, have lunch with your friends and don’t concern yourself with this matter any more. I’ll let you know once I have them.” 


“Don’t argue with me,” the Illusionist interrupted, more sternly than intended. 

Nash didn’t flinch at the change of the old man’s voice but still gave a quiet response. “I was just going to say that if you need some extra money, you know where I keep it.” 

Gregory nodded, but before he could answer or curse Roland’s name, the door to the suite creaked open. The hesitant entrant lingered outside a moment, and then finally stuck her head into the room. Upon her notice of the group, she just said, “Oh, you are busy, Ashu. I will come back.” 

Sooner than Nash had a chance to invite her in, the redhead had disappeared. By the time he had reached the door, she was gone from the hallway entirely.  

“Who was that?” Asked Kyle. “I saw you with her last night, but you must have forgotten to bring her down to our side of the table.” 

Nash scratched the back of his neck, and gave the answer with a grin. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

The large man grinned as he teased the mage. “Of course I wouldn’t! I don’t know why a woman would spend any time with you, unless you’re paying her.” 

“You’re disgusting! Shut up!” Nash spat, the coldness and obvious outrage in his voice killing any and all humor left in the room.  

Kyle swallowed the laugh that was forming on his lips, apparently unaware that his comment would enrage Nash so much. The air was tense as the two stared at each other, one waiting for an apology and the other actually showing some degree of remorse. 

Finally, Alex spoke gently. “Although he was being tasteless, I don’t think Kyle meant any harm.”  

The ageless mage chuckled deeply as he reached out to touch his son’s shoulder.  “You know he’s right, and I’ve heard worse from you.”  

The others smiled and turned to look at the young mage, who was still gritting his teeth in infuriated silence. It did not last long, for a moment later, Kyle and Nash were shaking hands, and the three departed for a much-needed and friendly lunch. 


Standing in front of the Guild Manor gave Gregory a view of an entirely different landscape. Set up at various points around the city wall were ropes, pulleys and other pieces of equipment he couldn’t name. Apparently Artie and her team were working quickly to fulfill Mia’s wish. Too quickly he thought to himself.  He shook his head in disbelief. It was all too surreal. 

He strode out of the square, and through the city’s gate, until just a few lengths beyond, someone caught his eye. Artie was leaning against the wall, taking a sip from a flask, and cursing at some invisible enemy. A grin formed on his lips as he approached her, praying that the news she had for him was good. 

“Learn any more about these things?” He asked as he gestured to the enormous canister lying on the ground about ten yards away. 

“Not much,” she replied as she put the flask back on her belt. “But a little.”

“Such as?” 

“First off, there are thirteen of them. Twelve that look like that one--about five foot in diameter and maybe twelve feet tall. The last one is taller and wider. I was instructed to put that one in the town center. The rest are to go around the wall as if the city were a clock.” 

“One on each hour?” 

“Yeah.  I don’t know, it just feels… odd.” Artie replied as she yanked her bandana off her head and used it to wipe the sweat from her face. 

Gregory ignored her statement for a moment. “Who gave you the directions?” 

“Gravitt, of course,” she said, her tone cursing his name. 

“How fast are they going up?” 

“Too fast. Since yesterday, three. We’re working on the fourth now. We’ve gotten a system down, but I wish I had a way to discourage some of the enthusiasm. These people don’t know what they’re in for.” 

“A system?” The Illusionist asked skeptically. 

It was a rote explanation that came from the tired engineer. “Yeah, my guys dig a hole a foot deep while Mia’s guards unload them off the carts. Then my men string them up to the pulleys while the guards use a lever to give them some incline, and then we all just pull on the ropes until they settle into a vertical position.  Then we just lower them down into the cavity.  A few hours with wedges and crossbars to lock them into place and we’re done. Sounds easy, but its pretty heavy manual labor.”

 Gregory’s eyes narrowed. “Mia’s guards are out here with you?” 

The young woman gave a crooked smile full of disbelief. “Yeah. How some of these folks made it into her elite guard, I’ll never know.  I mean, I grew up working on the docks and I thought I knew stupid. I was wrong.  Some of those ‘elite’ guards would lose to a rock in a spelling contest.” 

“I don’t like this at all.” 

“Which part of it?” Artie asked as she replaced the bandana to its home atop her head. 

“All of it, but the most disturbing issue at the moment would be the fact that our Guildmaster is walking around a city full of strangers completely unprotected.” 

Artie actually looked a bit remorseful. “I told her I didn’t need them all, but she snapped at me and said ‘get it done.’ She’s really been on the rampage the last few days.” 

“Yes, I’ve noticed.  I’ll go see Alastair about this right now, since I doubt he would allow it to happen. But before I do, have you learned anything else about that metal?” 

“I haven’t found it mentioned anywhere else—or the stones for that matter. I wonder if they even exist or if this is some sort of enormous illusion.” 

“No, its not. Its very real.” 

She leaned back against the wall, gazing at the old mage and perhaps starting to wonder how he could sound so sure. “Incredible. I don’t understand this. First Ghaleon destroys Vane, and now some other loony is trying to do the same thing.  And both times they seem to think they’re doing us a favor.”  She frowned for a moment, shaking her head.  “Even crazier—this time I’m helping!” 

He frowned, “We’re not exactly sure what Gravitt wants, but I don’t think we’d be any value to him as rubble.” 

“Maybe. But these things aren’t safe. They just don’t feel right. This whole idea to make the city fly again just doesn’t feel right.” 

Gregory couldn’t argue with her. All of the legends surrounding the Floating City gave it a specific purpose—to protect the Goddess and her tower. Neither existed any more, so why should Vane fly?  

“Master Gregory?” She asked, a little aggravation in her voice. Apparently she had been posing a question, and he wasn’t paying any attention. 


“You think there’s someone else involved? Someone on the inside?” 

The thought had crossed his mind, but he wasn’t ready to leap to that conclusion.” I don’t know. I wouldn’t like to accuse any of our own when there hasn’t even been a crime committed yet.  Well, perhaps I should say at least not without some proof or an idea of who it could be.” 

Artie took another sip from her flask. “Yet being the operative word. I saw what that small one did to Nash. There’s no way even Vane can keep them powered—especially considering how big these things are.”

An idea suddenly came to him. “Do you have one of those demonstration canisters?” 

“There’s the one in my room that Nash was walking around with. Why?” 

“I know someone who might be able to tell us some more on these.  I’d like to borrow it for a bit, if you don’t mind.” 


All of the merchants Vane’s Festival had attracted were gathered on the streets, using tents and wagons to peddle their wares. It took Gregory a good bit of time to retrieve Artie’s canister, talk to Alastair about the guards, and then locate the man he was looking for amidst all of the commotion. It wasn’t that Roland was hard to spot—quite the opposite actually—but just getting down the packed street was a challenge as he tried to avoid the pickpockets, over-zealous tradesmen trying to make a sale, and the piles of trash and dung that had be deposited by the animals of the visitors. This is a disgrace…We’ll have to get a crew out here to take care of the mess before tomorrow’s ceremony. 

Finally the Illusionist saw the tent he had been looking for. It was rather large in comparison to the others, but Roland’s signature colors of black and white made it stand out against the carnival of brighter hues.  

Pushing back the curtain, his eyes fixed hard on the merchant. Their history was a long one, dating back decades, but nothing had changed about either of them. Roland was still a man too large for his ego, and Gregory still disliked him intensely.  

“Good afternoon, Roland,” the ageless mage said flatly. 

The white-haired merchant turned around to face his new customer as a smirk formed on his leather skin. “Gregory Telka…it has been what? A lifetime? Two?”  

“Not nearly enough of them, if you must know.” 

Roland waved him to a seat at the small table in the center of the tent, and then took his position on the opposite side. “I see you’re still sore about our last encounter, yet you’re still willing to do business with me? You must be more desperate than I had thought, considering your feelings about me after that unfortunate incident.” 

Sitting down, Gregory raised an eyebrow, but didn’t let the man fluster him in the slightest. “Not quite. Let’s just say, that at the risk of flattering you, I know your work and I know it is good.” 

“Indeed.  I rarely have a dissatisfied customer.” 

Gregory snorted at the other’s arrogance.  “Few that survived to complain, anyway.  Do you have it ready? The object Nash ordered?” 

“Objects, you mean. Yes, they are here and they’re yours as soon as we’ve settled a final issue or two.” 

“Payment has already been made.” 

“Ah, no. Just a deposit, since the young man hasn’t paid for my silence.  That is often the most critical part of any transaction.  As you may recall, it is usually twenty five percent of the purchase price.  Or, if important enough, a bit more.” 

“I refuse to pay such a ridiculous sum for silence I don’t need.” 

Roland flashed a mendacious smile. “Ah, but what is stopping me from running to your Guildmaster and telling her that her heirloom jewelry is a beautiful fake?” 

Gregory frowned. “I’d like to see you try. You’d have to get through a dozen guards, myself, three other Council members, and a very impulsive Premier before you could even talk to her.” 

“Tut, tut. Don’t insult my intelligence old man. I’ve noticed that her guards are out working on a project, the Councilors (not unlike yourself) are running ragged to keep order, and this new Premier is very good at making himself scarce.” He smirked again, his teeth set like daggers waiting to be thrown. “I always know my customers, Gregory.”          

An angle he didn’t want to use was becoming necessary. “I disagree. You seem to have forgotten that you owe your life to me several times over.  As such I would think an exception would be made in your despicable business practices.” 

Roland considered a moment and then spoke, “I knew you were desperate, and desperate people—“ 

Gregory rose slightly out of his seat and leaned across the table. “Silence! Split all the hairs and spout all the rhetoric you want at me, but remember what you are and what I can do to you. How about an image that never leaves you…one that feeds on your darkest fears for an eternity!” 

The merchant was clearly not expecting his opponent to lose his patience so quickly, but still countered in a bored tone. “Bringing up bygones is not going to get you results, and the last man who threatened me wound up with a knife in his eye.” 

The Illusionist had reached his limit on dealing with his individual. Pressing his palms together, he began to chant. It was a spell the merchant knew well—it was the spell that almost killed him the last time he had tried to swindle Gregory Telka.  

Before he could protest, the spell had been cast. Roland was standing with his back to a pike, surrounded by flames—scorching, biting flames. Fire. He loathed it! He’d rather freeze to death than touch a damn fire! And here it was, trying to consume him! He wanted to scream, but the smoke was filling his mouth and nose. He gagged at the stench of his own flesh burning, as the fire turned blue with intensity.  

An annoyed baritone voice broke through the hell. “Are you ready to be reasonable, Roland?” 

He forced a nod, and immediately the delusion vanished.  Roland knew it was an illusion, but was obviously questioning the intensity of it. Why were his robes still smoldering? Why could he still taste the brimstone and tar?  

Gregory smirked at him. “Remember those Tribesmen that that wanted to kill you when you sold them fake charms two score ago?  I imagine they would be very amused to learn that you are deathly afraid of fire, and less so to learn you’re still alive.” 

Roland was still sweating as he pulled on the collar of his black shirt. “You shouldn’t have been able to do that. I wear charms against such spells.” 

Gregory grabbed him around the neck. “I know magic for which there is no defense. I would be glad to demonstrate some more of it if you’d like.”  The ageless mage suddenly looked younger than his sixty or so years as fingers stronger than iron bands locked around Roland’s throat. With a smirk, he waved his free hand, which glowed in an unearthly black hue. 

The defeated merchant held up his hands as more perspiration fell from his face. He stuttered his reply through dry lips. “Fine. Strictly as a gesture of our long friendship and the respect we share for each other, I will forgo my usual…consulting fee and any profits from other parties involved in your scheme.” 

“A wise decision,” the Illusionist said. As he released the man, the glimmering mist surrounding his other hand faded into nothingness and he gave a stern warning. “Keep to your word about your silence or I will be forced to let that image play out fully for you.” 

As fast as he could move his large frame away from the mage, the white haired merchant disappeared from the table to rummage behind a chest at the back of the tent. He quickly returned with a large ornate box that bore the seal of the Ausa family. Sitting back down, he slid it to the other for inspection. 

Gregory opened the package and looked down at its shimmering contents. Inside was a gold necklace, with a large, heavy, crimson stone set in the center. It was simple, yet elegant. Also in the box was a golden crown, with another red heartstone at its center. Wrapped around and trailing away from this gem were rows of diamonds, perfectly fitted into the tiara. Both were exquisitely made, and beautiful to behold, but most importantly, the magic he sensed from both objects was purely neutral. 

Smiling, he set the jewelry off to the side and glared again at Roland. “They are satisfactory, not up to your usual standards, but acceptable given the short notice. Now, I need some information.” 

“That has always come at a price,” Roland said, a tinge of fear catching in his voice. 

Gregory placed twenty silver on the table. “That is expected.” 

“What is it you need information on?” The merchant asked as he drew the coins towards himself. 

“It’s a who. Gravitt of Briggatt. As someone who deals in gems and jewelry of questionable origin, I’m sure you know of him.” 

“Of course I know of him, I know him quite well, actually. Business has been slow in his area, but I’ve made sure not to burn any bridges.  Not that I expect to return there any time soon, given the way he’s run the place into the ground.” 

Gregory raised an eyebrow, waiting for the other to continue. 

Roland glanced down at the small pile of silver, obviously resisting the temptation to try and increase its size.  “You know that for the last thousand years Briggatt has been a thriving city with some of the finest jewel mines on Lunar, but ever since Gravitt’s been in power there the place has gone to hell in a hand basket.” 

“Example?” The Illusionist asked as he drummed his fingers on the table. 

“Example. No one lives there, save a few loyal followers, and the slaves those followers oversee for him. The honest citizens fled for their lives the night he killed his father.” 

“Are you sure of this?” 

“It’s a rumor, but one that I can believe. There are other rumors, too.” He said, glancing down at the pittance before him. 

Gregory placed another twenty silver in front of the man. “Tell me.” 

“Let’s see now…” He paused for effect before continuing.  “Well, how about the rumor that many of the small towns out that way are said to have been leveled by him and his group?” 

“Leveled?  You mean Destroyed?  How?” 

“The rumors have little in common, some claim by fire, some by landslide, others… simply became empty.  One day a crowded and happy village filled with happy people, the next, not a living soul in sight.  Sometimes, not even any rubble.” 

Gregory glared at him again, fire flashing in his eyes. “Your information is becoming less interesting by the moment.  Rumors of death and destruction are part of life.  And like most I suspect largely made up by braggarts and liars seeking attention.”  He hesitated a moment and then asked, “And by what group?” 

Roland winced at the real sparks, which for only a brief second, dashed in his nemesis’s eyes. “Group is perhaps too large a term, since I gather the actual numbers are rather small.  Some of them…” He paused again, this time looking down at the pile of silver.  “Come to think of it, I recall his father telling me about a purchase that he made that might be of interest to you.” 

Gregory didn’t reach for his purse. “You said there were other rumors and I have paid for them, yet you’ve only given me one.” 

“But this is a fact. It comes at a higher price.” 

Reluctantly, Gregory added another ten silver to the pile. 

“Ziggratt bought two Tribals with unusual magic as children to be playmates for his son. The slavers that sold them even warned him about them. Apparently they were too much for their respective tribes to handle.” 

Gregory gritted his teeth. “Slavery of any sort disgusts me, but I fail to see the connection.” 

Roland stretched as he feigned boredom. “I’m not surprised. Sometimes you are really unobservant, Telka. You sat next to one at last night’s dinner. The other is here as well.” 

The Illusionist felt his anger rise and his heart sink. Still, he controlled himself. Information was key, and this man, no matter how disgusting he was, peddled it generously. “He didn’t free them?” 

“Ziggratt told me that he agreed to free them on their eighteenth birthdays, but Gravitt went back on his father’s word apparently because they still follow him. Unless of course, its by choice.” 

“I don’t think so.  I can’t conceive of anyone willingly remaining in slavery if given any choice in the matter.” 

This time Roland had the mage’s attention and he knew it.  “Or…well, it could…be…”  

Gregory frowned and pulled the leather pouch from his belt.  Another ten silver were thrown to the man, who smiled.  

The merchant swept his hand down over the coins, as though pulling them towards him.  With the gesture they vanished and he continued.  “It could be the fact that the child they travel with is Gravitt’s.” 

The Illusionist stood up. “Give me my money back. The woman was married to Gravitt’s brother.” 

Roland flashed his best smile as he leaned back in his chair. “I knew Ziggratt his entire life and did much business with his city when their mines were producing. I can say with one hundred percent certainty that Gravitt was an only child. Whoever told you otherwise is lying.” 

Gregory sank back into his chair, now feeling sick to his stomach at this information. Something must be done if Sabre and her companion were indeed slaves. And the child…what about that sweet little boy?  

He knew Roland was going to exploit this for all it was worth, but still tried to compose a well-practiced hardened look of boredom. “That’s all interesting, but it does me no good. Tell me of a star sapphire—one that closely resembles your work.” 

The leather-faced man waved a dismissive hand. “If I ever made a sale of such a rarity, I don’t remember it.” 

The Illusionist raised his hands into a casting gesture, the black color of his aura forming between them. “I thought we were done playing games, Roland.” 

With a defeated sigh the other conceded. “Yes. I sold him one. They aren’t natural you know, and I only carry the best. Those who were making cheap imitations long since stopped trying.” 

Gregory raised an eyebrow wrought with irritation. “A beautiful sales pitch, but I want to know when he bought it and what spell you affixed to it.” 

“He bought it from me last December, in some forgettable Prairie Town. He was very specific that no magic be attached to it.” 

“No magic?  I find that difficult to believe, you never make anything without leaving at least a small tag within it so you can trace it, and it’s actions.  Where did you get the metal for it?” 

Roland gave a theatrical sigh at Gregory’s litany, choosing not to respond to his statement but to answer his direct question. “Provided by the buyer, about six months prior.” 

“What sort of metal was it?” 

“I’m not sure. I’ve never worked with it before, but it was quite malleable. It’s a shame I haven’t been able to find more of it.” 

Gregory smirked as he pulled Artie’s canister from his robe. “This is the same metal, then?” 

Roland’s eyes lit up as he reached for the object. “Yes. Are you willing to sell it?  I can offer you a very handsome price.” 

“No,” was the cold response. “I want you to tell me all you can about it.” 

“In exchange for it?” 

“Minus the stones within it, perhaps.” 

“Very well,” Roland said as he took a magnifying glass from his pocket. “The metal is indeed whatever it was that Gravitt brought me last time, though the workmanship on this is exceptional, I will have to ask him where he…”  He glanced up at Gregory’s stony expression and let that line of thought go.  Not hearing a demand that he not, he opened the canister and poured the green stones out, and began examining one under the glass. “These have been cut from a much larger stone, and they are extraordinarily clear of any defects. I’ve never seen anything like them.” 

“Are the runes on the container familiar to you?” 

Still excited at the possibility of retaining the fabulous metal, Roland prattled on with no hesitation. “No, but I know of only one person who could have created such a flawless piece of work. I was fortunate to have met him once and was able to admire his ability with magic and machine.” 

Gregory’s eyes narrowed. “His name?” 



“Gregory, this is the most deceitful thing I’ve ever known you to do!” The arrogant healer protested as the two of them crossed through the paths of late afternoon light shining into the Guild’s windows.

 A smirk crossed the old man’s face as he glanced at the woman walking next to him. “You give me far too much credit, Robin.” 

“Indeed. But I can’t believe I let you talk me into this. I don’t like being dishonest, you know.” 

He turned to look at her, “Neither do I, but we have little choice in the matter at this point, especially now that we know who made those things.”  He frowned before finishing; “I know it goes against both our ways, but sometimes we must deceive those we wish to help, if only for a short period.” 

The two Council members stopped at their destination and nodded to the pair of guards who flanked the opulent door to Mia’s office. Without a word, one of the sentries disappeared inside and returned a moment later to offer entrance to the elders. Gregory stepped forward, and curled his fingers around the box he was carrying. A whispered prayer crossed his lips as he hoped the plan would not fail.  Linny, please let this work.  It’s your granddaughter we want to save

Robin led the way into the office where they found the Guildmaster sitting at her desk, frowning over some piece of paper. She nodded to them and rose to her feet, but the brilliant smile she was famous for greeting people with did not appear. Instead she glared at them and said coldly, “What is it you require, Masters Robin and Gregory?” 

The Illusionist bowed, “Just a moment of your time, Majesty.” 

Mia crossed her arms over her chest in a most unattractive manner. “Granted.” 

Robin bowed again, “We have something for you, Majesty.” 

The young woman cocked an eyebrow. “Well, what is it?” 

Gregory opened the box bearing the Guildmaster’s seal as reverently as he possibly could, and held the sparkling contents out such that the woman could see them. “The crown jewels of the Ausa family, Majesty. By tradition they are worn only on occasion of major importance. We thought you would want them for the ceremony tomorrow.” 

Mia slowly reached into the box and lifted out the exquisite tiara and examined it closely. Gregory winced as he saw her face cloud with mistrust. 

Robin supplied a quick remedy to the woman’s suspicion. “We thought you might want to wear them today, to get used to the weight. They are rather heavy.” 

The reply from the small woman was quiet, almost pensive as she replaced the crown into the container and deferentially lifted the necklace out for scrutiny. “My mother told me of these, but I never saw them for myself. I thought they might have been destroyed in the Fall.” 

“They are kept safe and secure and taken out for only special occasions,” Robin said, obviously irritated that she had to repeat herself.  “They are very carefully protected.” 

Gregory was almost done with the job Nash had given him to do, but it was still too early to celebrate. He handed the box to Robin and summoned his most silken voice. “Allow me to put the necklace on you, Majesty. If it is too long or too tight, we can have it resized tonight.”  

Mia nodded, still transfixed at the beauty of the gems. Gregory smiled as he removed the troublesome blue jewel that she wore and slipped it into his robe pocket. In another gentle motion, he placed the golden necklace around her neck and fastened it. Almost instantly, the woman’s shoulders sank and she leaned forward to grasp her forehead. 

“Are you all right, Majesty?” Asked Robin as Gregory caught the Guildmaster in his arms. 

Mia straightened herself up as best she could, but was still leaning on the Illusionist for support. “Yes. I think so. My head hurts, and I am suddenly very tired.”  

“You’ve been working extraordinarily hard, Majesty,” Gregory said as he steadied her. “Perhaps you should rest before the rehearsal tonight?” 

“Yes,” Mia whispered as her eyes fluttered in exhaustion. “I think I shall.” 

The healer waved a hand bathed in her soft blue aura at the young woman, and then grinned at Gregory as if to say that their job was done. Relieved, the Illusionist audibly sighed, and he and Robin escorted Mia to her rooms for a much needed nap. 


Gregory was so eager to leave Mia’s suite with the horrid object in his pocket that he almost teleported Robin and himself out. Instead, hoping not to raise any suspicion, the two conspirators walked calmly back to his room after seeing that Mia was safely in her bedroom and under careful guard. Waiting there, as planned, was a very nervous Nash.  

The Illusionist stared out the window for a moment, contemplating what, if anything, to tell Nash about Roland’s information on Sabre. While Gregory knew the merchant to be devious, he still believed that all of it was true. Times were troubling as it was, and he didn’t want to upset Nash with simple rumors. With a sigh, he decided not to divulge until he had a moment to ask the Tribal girl her side of the story.  

“You’re sure she’s all right?” The young man demanded rather than questioned of the healer.  

“Yes, I checked her just as we left.” 

“But if what Gregory learned is true, and Taben really made those canisters—“ 

Robin cut him off, her tone more exasperated than usual. “We’ll need to remain calm and just wait for Mia to sleep off the effects of that necklace. We need our Guildmaster, and we need not speak of Taben in public. The last thing we want to do is panic everyone.” 

“What about the headache and the sudden exhaustion?” Asked Gregory, as he grounded himself into the current conversation. 

“It was probably a side effect of that thing,” Robin said as she pointed to the silver and blue necklace that Gregory had placed on his desk. “Or of removing it. You just can’t take off some magically cursed stone and not expect at least some sort of reaction.  We were fortunate that it wasn’t worse.” 

“So you don’t think there was any permanent damage?” Nash asked, agitation still weaving through his voice. 

“Highly unlikely, but I’ll have to give her a full exam to be sure, and right now she needs rest, so that will have to wait.” 

Gregory was surprised to see the brusque woman put a hand on his son’s shoulder. Somehow Robin’s undeniably efficient bedside manner broke for that moment. “I will do my best work. She will be fine in the long run. Don’t worry yourself with it.” Then, as if realizing she had shown some shred of humanity to another, she pulled her hand back and added quickly, “I am impressed that you came up with this scheme, but I hope you didn’t waste too much of the treasury’s money on those jewels.” 

“No,” Nash said quietly as he moved away from the woman. “I didn’t spend any of the treasury’s money. I sold some paintings. That’s all.” 

Robin tented her fingers, “Paintings from the treasury? I’m surprised that Alastair let you near what little remains from our collection.” 

The young mage glared at her. “I didn’t involve Alastair. I sold some I had done on my own. There were plenty of people willing to buy them at the festival.” 

Gregory added, “If you’ve never seen his work, Master Robin, then you have deprived yourself a rare treat. It’s amazingly good, and a shame that he hasn’t shared it with more of us.” 

Nash looked away; he was embarrassed. A moment later he said softly, “I’m going to go find out how Artie is doing. I’m hoping she hasn’t placed many of those canisters.” 

Gregory gave him a nod, “She had four up this afternoon, but then Alastair called Mia’s guards back in, so she lost some man power.”  

“Perfect,” Nash said. “Plus, she has to set up the stage for tonight. I’ll go make sure she remembers that, and I’ll tell her to take her time with it.” 

“Good idea. That should buy us some much needed time.” 

“Yes,” Nash replied as he headed towards the door. “That and the reception tomorrow will give us at least twenty four hours before another one of those damn things goes up.”  

Gregory nodded to his son in agreement and then grinned. “Good luck. You know Artie can be a handful when she’s got a hundred things to do.” 

“Do I ever!” Nash said with a smirk as he excused himself from the room. 

Robin watched the door close and then picked up the object that had caused them all so much grief. “So are we going to destroy it?” 

“No,” Gregory responded as he took the necklace from her and placed it in his desk drawer. “We have much to learn from it. I also want Alastair to look at it. He supposedly affixed a protection spell. I’m beginning to wonder if the necklace was somehow made to backfire on him when he did so. Someone would have to know Alastair’s skill, and how he tends to cast his spells in order to capture it so accurately. And that would mean that our friends Gravitt and Taben have someone working within our ranks.” 

“Yes. Do show it to him, and Tamora as well.”  

“I’ll take care of it tonight, after the rehearsal. Speaking of which, we have some planning to do for that.” 

Robin nodded reluctantly as she sat on the small couch. “I suppose we have to do this, don’t we?” 

“Don’t make it sound like you’re making preparations for a funeral, my dear.” Gregory teased as he set paper, pen and ink on the small table in front of the sofa. 

“I might as well be, if half our fears are justified and our survival rests in the hands of your…son.” 

“I find your insults to my family quite rude and uncalled for, Master Robin,” he growled. 

“Of course you do. But answer me this, Gregory: Are you only supporting Nash because your family lost its chance to claim the position of Premier when you declined it?” 

“No,” was the harsh reply as he took a seat next to her, but didn’t give her the honor of eye contact. “I find your audacity at bringing up a history you are absolutely ignorant about quite heinous.” 

Robin seemed to almost laugh at him, not taking the obvious pain in his voice at face value.  “Even for you those are very large words.  And my concerns weren’t meant to be hurtful, but they are well founded and you know it, since we both know of your past.  Or do we?”  The woman suddenly began to look at ageless mage with a different expression on her face, one of curiosity rather than the usual irritation. 

“A fact I do not wish to discuss,” Gregory said flatly.

Still she pushed him, her tone full of rancor. “I can see why. You made a great mistake—one you truly regret—and now you are trying to live your life through another. It is a sad state of affairs, my dear comrade.” 

He leaned over to her, pressing his nose almost up to hers, as he felt his last thread of patience snap. “Silence, Robin! I could bring up some of your exploits! I remember a pretty little blonde girl sitting in my classroom who had her eye on an attractive young man. I remember a romance blossoming between the two, and then the boy apprentice decided that while he enjoyed this young lady’s company, he preferred the company of a prettier, much more personable girl—“

“You’ve made your point,” Robin said dejectedly as she cut him off.   

Gregory reached over and put one of his hands on hers, actually feeling sorry for the woman. “I know, and I shouldn’t have.  No harm meant, Robin. Now, let’s get on with business, shall we?”


Sunsets always held a special meaning for Gregory, and today was no exception. Although the Illusionist knew the rehearsal would be starting in a little less than an hour, he indulged himself with standing on the roof of the Guild and watching as the sky painted itself before embracing the night. While the endless cycle of death to life each day held an intangible fascination to him, it also was also one of the things he had shared with someone not too long ago. It’s all going to work out, Linny. Your city will be what it once was, that was what I promised you. A slight grin crossed his face as he whispered, “If only you could offer me some guidance on how to parent hard-headed little boys.” 

As the last streaks of gold and crimson washed themselves across the massive palette, the ageless mage spread his hands in front of his waist and with a small wave created two perfect tiger lilies. Stooping down, he placed them at his feet, just as he always did when he would come here. A gentle smile crossed his lips as he arranged them such that one was crossing over the other. As he stood up, he found the thought he clung to everyday—something she had told him once. Flowers die, candles go out, but as long as the heart remembers, love is forever. 

Gregory smiled once again as he glanced back up into the fading light of the horizon.  “I must leave you now, Linny. I have someone I must deal with, although I assure you that your company is much preferred to that of my obstinate son.” He hesitated on that last word, but winked at the distance nonetheless. “That boy drives me all but insane, but your granddaughter has taken a liking to him, for Althena-knows-what reason.” As he felt her response within his heart, he laughed, and then bowed before pressing his palms together. In an instant he felt himself become nothing, and subsequently reappeared in front of the Manor, where the rest of the Faculty had gathered for practice of tomorrow’s ceremony.

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