Lesieme Concias moved swiftly but quietly through the marble hall towards his quarters, flame-red robes billowing behind him and hands clenched in fists.
Though he would have preferred absolute silence, he could not prevent the muffled click his pointed black shoes made as they contacted the red carpet leading through the Fire Wing of the halls of the Grandmasters. He hoped Lillian was already asleep, for he knew the aged Grandmaster of Fire would ask him what his hurry was so late at night, and he could not currently afford that. Renard Concias had not raised a liar as his son, and yet the truth was very nearly as bad.
Two hundred and one...two hundred...one hundred and ninety-nine...
He would have to sleep as soon as possible. Lillian would surely chastise him if he were to yawn in the middle of his training, and he doubted that she would not inquire as to why he was so tired.
One hundred and eighty two...one hundred and eighty one...one hundred and eighty...
The time drew close to the eleventh hour of the night. The Apprentice's emerald-green eyes flickered back and forth between the solid alabaster wall directly to his right, and the more-decorated one opposite him. Where the only objects of interest on the adjacent wall were the wooden doors that led to different parts of the hall, at least Lesieme could take comfort in the colorful red and black tapestries available on the other. The stories they told he had heard many times over, and yet they never ceased to capture his interest.
He was reminded of his duty, however, when an ornate brass grandfather clock passed quickly in and out of his vision. He silently thanked Benjamin, the previous Grandmaster of Fire, for taking the time to furnish the Fire Wing. To his knowledge, the hallway had been almost bare before his time. And it was beneficial as well, in that Lesieme now knew how soon he would need to fall into bed.
At last, the slight click of his shoes came to a stop as he turned himself to face a wooden door identical to all the rest. This one, however, he recognized. His nimble fingers dug into the pocket of his robes, retrieving a faded bronze key and quickly inserting it into the brass lock of his quarters.
Even before he had stopped hearing the creak of the door's brass hinges, the Apprentice had begun to shuffle out of his dark shoes. They weren't uncomfortable, but they certainly weren't the type to walk large distances in. It seemed almost counterintuitive that he was provided formal shoes to trudge around the halls in on a casual day.
Sadly, this night had turned out to be less than casual. The young Apprentice was more than observant, and the need had come to his attention to place a certain number of guard spells around his quarters and the offices he frequented throughout the day. Thirteen years old and already embroiled in politics; Renard Concias would be proud.
The shadows moved against him. Lesieme knew that, and hence why he was awake so late at night placing guard spells in seemingly random locations throughout the halls of the Grandmasters. Who did they think they were? Intruding in a sacred building just to get to him? He would have none of it. He had come to learn and study, and to hope to be made into one of the greatest wizards to walk over the face of this planet. Lesieme was not here to fall victim to a shadow.
But then if they were moving underneath his nose...who were 'they'? Who was making the shadows move? Who was placing the chess pieces in the proper positions on the board? Who was moving to attempt a checkmate against him?
Perhaps it was best that he sleep as soon as possible. As if on cue, the Apprentice's throat exhaled a long and drawn-out yawn as the second of his pointed black shoes left his feet and was placed neatly beside its twin at the foot of his bed. Lesieme's emerald-green eyes peered up at the ceiling as he willed himself to relax. The protection spells would hold, he was sure. For now it was best that he not be too tired for his practice tomorrow.
O O O
There once was a fledgling kingdom by a great sea, many hundreds of years ago.
The Grandmasters never argued with the nobility.
And rightfully so; if such powerful magi knew they held no sway over the affairs of the kingdom, who were they to violate their own principles? It was, after all, a strict policy of these aged men to not attempt that which simple logic held to be impossible. These wise old men may have been powerful in their own right, but they remained just that: Wise old men. The noblemen were so unlikely to base their actions on the ideas of bumbling old men in long robes that, in all practicality, it was held to be impossible.
As for the commoners, the only time any of the Grandmasters interacted with such low-ranked individuals was during the selection ceremonies. This was not due to any sense of superiority; the Grandmasters held no man to be higher than another simply because of their possessions. The situation was due to their policy of simply not interacting with anybody at all, outside of official business and ceremonies.
This kingdom was ruled by a kind and just king, who loved his subjects as if they were his own children.
The Grandmasters of the Ancient Magics were the only individuals in the kingdom who held more power than the King himself. Self-controlled as they were, it was not unheard of for their organization to speak out against injustices committed by the government. That isn't to say such injustices occurred frequently; in fact, the Grandmasters had not issued a Statement of Grievance for nearly one-hundred years.
Indeed, the King of this land was a kind one; His Majesty Thomas II was beloved by his people for, among other things, his rescinding of a law instituted by his grandfather, James II, which granted the nobility a lower tax rate than non-titled individuals, as well as immunity from certain crimes. Thomas was the first king in nearly one thousand years who chose to openly interact with his own subjects; he could often be seen at a local pub, laughing and jesting with those his grandfather saw as inferior, not a bodyguard in sight. He was loved by his people, and he loved them in turn.
The king had a friend who he had known since childhood, and that he still visited. Both of them were incredibly skilled in the most fantastic of magics.
His Majesty was, however, not immune from anger. Several years after the death of his father, Thomas I, and before he had truly established himself as the ruler he was now known as, the young Thomas was approached by a nobleman by the name of John Grey, who requested that Thomas reinstate the law he had rebuked nearly immediately after the beginning of his reign. Thomas was outraged, and had Lord Grey arrested and stripped of his title, and ordered him executed by hanging. On the day this was to take place, however, Thomas had a change of heart; as the former Lord Grey ascended the stairs to the gallows, he called out to the executioner to halt the proceedings, and spoke directly to Grey.
"I will not take a man's life for his opinion," he said, "for I have many of my own. You will return to your home content to be alive, and that shall be the last I see of you." And it was.
The only thing Thomas truly feared in his own kingdom was the society of the Grandmasters. Their power, both political and magical, was greater than he could conceive.
The Grandmasters held an advancement ceremony to determine their future successors once every one hundred years. Here is where our attention turns to a certain individual, one who we will focus on for a great deal of this story: A young boy, no older than thirteen years, by the name of Lesieme Concias.
There were others in this kingdom that were skilled in magic, and in all nine of them stood out as exceptional. Together, they formed a society of friends, pledging to aid their kingdom in its time of need.
Few in Vilia knew him by name, preferring instead to call him simply 'the Apprentice of Fire.' Each of the Grandmasters took an Apprentice as dictated by their policies; Lesieme was the Apprentice of Lillian Concias, a distant relative of his. Accounts varied as to their exact relation, but the most accepted among the Grandmasters themselves was that she was the granddaughter of Lesieme's great-great-grandfather.
Lillian had grown quite aged before Lesieme had even become her Apprentice, four years previously; at the time of Lesieme's birth, she was ninety-four years old, meaning she was now well beyond a century of age. Her incredible longevity was attributed to her status as a Grandmaster, the magic flowing through their bodies believed to greatly extend their lifetime and virtually halt visible aging beyond adulthood. Despite her incredible age, many remarked (correctly) that she did not look any older than forty years, the first faint traces of wrinkles beginning to show on her face.
The Grandmasters were each attributed to a certain natural element, the magic in their bodies tuning itself to match their alignment. During an Apprenticeship, the wizard's power is capable of retuning and realigning at the user's whim, though this was only permitted when changing masters, and was forbidden entirely upon becoming a Grandmaster. Lillian, the Grandmaster of Fire, demonstrated a greater attunement with her element than had been expected by her mentor, the late Benjamin Minia: A few months after her selection all those years ago, a training mishap occurred wherein Benjamin had summoned a sentient flame in the shape of a small bird. When he asked Lillian to do the same, the resulting ten-foot-tall flaming dragon laid waste to the building they had been practicing in, and soon spread to a nearby library, destroying or damaging hundreds of historical texts and paintings. Though they both survived, Benjamin was severely criticized by his fellows for not recognizing the extent of Lillian's abilities and the danger they could pose when uncontrolled; Lillian was removed as his Apprentice, and asked whether she would like to replace him as the Grandmaster of Fire. She angrily refused, having become close friends with her mentor, and not only did she support his actions and teachings but, upon being given a choice of element to realign to, she chose to return to Fire.
But there is no such thing as a perfect paradise. Power corrupts, and there was one among them who was corrupted beyond salvation: The Grandmaster of the element of Void.
Sadly, Benjamin Minia passed away shortly before Lillian was to succeed him, having been killed by an arrow fired by a royal soldier who had mistaken him for a foreign official. The Grandmasters, as well as Lillian, were not the only ones furious at this event; King James II was enraged that one of his soldiers was so readily prepared to fire on a diplomat, and ordered him imprisoned for twenty years, later extending this to thirty at the behest of the Grandmasters.
Lillian had told the story of Benjamin's death numerous times to Lesieme, and he listened intently, having always been fascinated by history. He was most interested in one particular story, a folk tale passed through the society of the Grandmasters.
"There once was a fledgling kingdom by a great sea," she always began, "many hundreds of years ago."