Jennifer sighed as she left the room, there was still no message from Oswald. It had been a few days now and she had hoped to have heard back again from him. But she knew him as well, he was probably entirely absorbed in some old bibles or such. The fool. And yet, she still felt uneasy about the whole thing, her intuition told her to worry and Jennifer did just that. No matter how much logic she applied to the issue.
Frustrated she left the room behind, she would return later today to check back on any left messages. But for now, she should focus on Sam and Finn. Master Thomas had told her to teach them both the basics about spellcraft. At the very least it would keep her mind of things.
“Are you two ready?” Jennifer asked as she walked in, finding both of them already waiting for her.
“Yes,” Sam said, smiling. She was sitting closely next to Finn. Jennifer felt a prang of jealousy and nostalgia. It had been a long time since she had felt like that.
“Good, so I have taken a look at the work I gave you. Finn seems to be a bit more advanced than you, Sam, in the art of Grammerie.”
Finn smirked at Sam and she gave him a glare.
“But both of you are still very inexperienced and green behind the ears. So please pay attention today. I’ll give you some more work to do in your own time as well. I expect you to greatly improve, okay?”
“Yes!” They both replied in unison.
“Good, because the Master wants you both to be ready for some work in a month or two. Which is fast, really damn fast. He gave Oswald and me a lot more time to get our skill base worked out. But I assume he’ll have his reasons.” Jennifer wondered about what those were though. It probably had to do with this bond they had. She just hoped he wasn’t forgetting that they were still kids.
“Um, what for?” Finn asked.
“I don’t know. I think he is still working out what exactly he is going to do with the two of you. But the stronger you are, the better. So focus.”
They both nodded and Jennifer started going over the work they had done before. Showing them where she corrected them, why and how they could do it better. She also went over some additional exercises that they could do to improve their grammerie level as efficiently as possible. It made them not only just write down the glyphs and experiment with them, like the way Finn used and had thaught Sam to use. It forced to dive deep into each glyph as well, to make them understand the glyph first and after that move through various iterations of possible use cases for the glyph. It would, Jennifer told them, roughly make their progress 50 per cent better and faster. She taught them about the Glypharium as well, and also gave them some lessons on the Aurem. Sam had already learned about this, of course, so she worked on her Aurem while Finn was given a crash course in it. He couldn’t use his Aurem yet, but the theory would serve him later on when he got to it. After all, it was possible he would unlock his Aurem soon as well. She also took them through a rather advanced class on their existing spells, making them better, more efficient. And they ended with another class on their spell rot and how they fought it. Making little changes to the methods that had come up with after the previous classes. All in all, Jennifer was impressed with the both of them, they each had their strengths and weaknesses, but they complemented each other so well, that together they formed a pretty strong front. If they lived long enough, Jennifer could see them become a strong entity in the Player world. As much as she hated to admit it, together they had more potential than her and Oswald. Amused she wondered where Master Thomas got his knack from for finding Players like this. In Oswald he had found a prodigy of Scripture, Jennifer herself was a savant when it came to anything magical. And now these two with their mysterious bond. Their little gang already had enough potential and skill to stand toe to toe with some of the bigger Guilds in the Player world. And with each year passing by, they would get stronger and stronger. Jennifer often wondered if her master had the intention of starting a Guild himself. He never had voiced such plans and when asked about it he never confirmed it. But Jennifer knew that her master sometimes missed and longed for his old days when the Circle was still a Guild instead of a loose connection of masters. But it didn’t matter, he would inform her about when she needed to know.
“Okay, that includes the lessons for today,” Jennifer said, both Sam and Finn sighed in relief. “Oh, no worries. I have plenty of tasks for you to do in your own time. The kind of progress master Thomas demands is only gained through rigorous and remorseless training. You’ll feel broken by the end of the month.”
“I already feel broken,” Finn said.
“You only think so, wait until the month is over,” Jennifer said with a smirk. She gave them both of then a few papers, detailing all exercises and tasks they had to practice on. “You have a few days to work on these, I will need to work on something else for master Thomas in the meantime. After you are done I expect results.”
They both nodded and thanked Jennifer as she left. Then they sighed and loosened their pose a bit.
“God, this is going to kill me,” Sam said.
“I know, what did we get ourselves into?” Finn asked as he laid down on his back.
“A little bit of hell.”
“At least we’ll get a bit of Heaven once this is through,” Finn said, sitting back up.
“Or more hell. I mean, we both know what kind of world is waiting for us out there,” San said, looking a bit defeated.
“Hey,’ Finn took her hand and squeezed in it. “No matter what is waiting for us there, we’ll face it together. And we are enough. Okay..”
Sam smiled and then rested her head against his chest for a moment. “Thanks.”
“For what?” Finn asked
“For being here, for being you,” Sam said.
Finn chuckled and hugged her. “My pleasure.”
“Let’s get started with these huh?” Sam said, breaking the embrace after a few moments and picking up the papers. Finn nodded and they started their exercises. Working themselves to the bone for the better part of three days.
Jennifer was hurriedly walking across the narrow hallways of the keep, just barely not running. When she arrived at master Thomas’ room, she knocked and already entered before the sound of her last knock had subdued.
“Master!” She exclaimed in between swift but deep breaths.
“Yes? Ah, and come in by the way,” Thomas said as he got up from his bed, he had been sitting in Lotus pose. Meditating, or in his mind castle.
“Sorry,” Jennifer said as she flushed. “But I have important news! About the Nordic brotherhood!”
Jennifer had been busy for the last couple of days with some tasks that Thomas had given her. One of those was talking to some contacts that Thomas had in the brotherhood, and asking around. She hadn’t really known what to expect, but what she had learned alarmed her.
“Ah, perfect, let’s hear it then,” Thomas said as he sat down behind his desk, waving at an empty chair for Jennifer.
“It is bad master, really bad,” Jennifer said as she sat down. “The first two contacts didn’t tell me much. Just some base stuff about the brotherhood, nothing that I did not know. But the third contact,”
“Mikhauld?” Thomas asked.
“Yes, him! He was more open and receptive of me.”
“I expected as much, Mikhauld was a member of the Circle back when we were an actual guild. We consider each other friends, but what did he say that got you this stressed out?”
“He talked a bit about the Brotherhood first, and then the investigation that is going on because of your inquiry. He then started to talk about how it was being held back and postponed and slowed down because of the power struggle.”
“What power struggle?”
“Exactly what I asked him, he explained to me that, for a while now, there has been a power struggle going on in the Brotherhood. It started with an argument between some of the leaders and has been fought mainly in the higher echelons. But over the past few months, the struggle has spread itself throughout most of the brotherhood. With members picking upsides in even its most remote outposts. Only a few remain neutral, like Mikhauld, but even those are slowly gravitating towards a side as the struggle lasts on. It is starting to look like the Brotherhood is slowly being torn apart.”
“A few months already? Why didn’t I hear about this?”
“I asked that too, Mikhauld said he had just gotten back from a long mission, and that many other high-level Players had been sent on similar missions as well. The Brotherhood has also given out a no talk command about this whole ordeal, one that the lower level Players did not dare to breach. Mikhauld is just one of the few that actually dares to go against such a command and does it as well. This news hasn’t really spread outside of the Brotherhood yet and Mikhauld asked me specifically to not leak it. He said that they are very vulnerable now as a guild. Due to the struggle commands would take much longer to be decided upon and given to the right people. A frontal attack now could very well cripple the Brotherhood.”
“Incredible… Stealing some of their ancient Grammerie wouldn’t be hard in that case.”
“Exactly, Mikhauld told me that we could just as well as assume that it happened. The Brotherhood is in no situation right now to be able to police itself enough to prevent such leakages. Or even to investigate one after the fact, as it seems.”
“Damn it!” Thomas slammed his fist on his table, a rare display of his anger and displeasure. “They need to go through their member list, see who joined lately, just before the struggle started. They need to investigate it and see what created this divide in them, instead of fuelling the fire.”
“Mikhauld told me that a few are doing just that. He is one of them, but due to the political environment in the Brotherhood right now, they are working in the shadows. Many would frown upon what they are doing, and some of the higher-ups might even go as far as to punish them for it. They haven’t found much lately, but they have been able to cross off every fresh member of the Brotherhood. None of them has the skills, level or the means to do something like this. Mikhauld said that if this was the result of external interference, the guy on the inside would have been there for a long time already.”
“That is almost impossible to imagine, I know the Brotherhood, how rigorous they are in their methods and codes. To imagine somebody to join them and take part in their doctrine without actually believing it seems a stretch. But in this world, anything is possible I assume. Although I think it is more likely that an existing member has been corrupted or somehow turned or used.”
“Mikhauld said that as well, some of his investigation group are looking into that, they are checking on all higher up members of the antagonizing side of the struggle. See if they are perhaps blackmailed or otherwise driven by an external force.”
“And what are they exactly fighting over?”
“Mikhauld was hesitant to answer that and only explained a little. It is still pretty vague but perhaps you understand it better. He said that they are fighting about something in their core codes. Something that is written in the ‘five codexes’. The way he talked about it sounded a lot like Oswald talks about his bibles.”
“Yes, to the Brotherhood their codexes are like works of God. They follow them to the point. It is what defines the Brotherhood. The five Codexes are like the first testament. It is what their Guild was build upon. Their root cause, did he mention anything more?”
“He said that it had to do specifically with the first and third codex. He couldn’t tell me more than that as he was already breaking many rules. But he hoped you would understand.”
“I do…. My God, this is worse than I had expected. I couldn’t have dreamed this up. Damn it!”
“Master…. What is it?” Jennifer asked.
“The first and the third codex, they specifically dictate how the Brotherhood should behave and interact with the rest of the Player world.”
“So that means how they stand in this world?”
“Yes, but more than that too,” Thomas said as he massages his temples. “It dictates whom they help, what they see as ‘right’ and ‘just’ and what they see as wrong. It dictates whom they see as an ally and whom as an enemy.”
“What! But how could they have a struggle about that! The Brotherhood has been one of the better guilds since ages. Why would they want to change that now?”
“I don’t think they are arguing about becoming like the predatory guilds. It probably has to do more about becoming more isolationist. Fending for themselves, focus on bettering themselves more, instead of moving out into the world and helping others.”
“Ah, but why? Why would they change like that?”
“I have no idea, but if they do make this change, this would be a disaster. The Nordic countries alone would have a total power imbalance suddenly. Any new Players there will be prey, Awakening there will go from the best situation to one of the worst in the whole world. The Nordic brotherhood is the only Guild there that regulates. But not only that, they are so big that their impact reaches out all over Europe and even the rest of the world. If they suddenly change their stance on things to neutral and defensive, this will allow plenty of other guilds to jump on the vacuum it will create. This will bring forth a storm of chaos. New Players will be the least of our worries, this will start wars between guilds. Without the Nordic Brotherhood, the few Guilds that are left that try to regulate aren’t enough anymore. They will need to decide between shrinking their area of control or overstretching their resources. And even if they choose, there is a big chance they will be under attack by other Guilds for a while. It will take months for this storm to settle down.” Thomas groaned as he slammed his fist on the table again, this time weak and meek. When he looked up, Jennifer saw the worry in his eyes, and something else. Something she hadn’t seen before in her master. She saw despair.
“Damn…” Jennifer said as the reality of it all started to sink in. “Master, what now?”
“I am not sure,” Thomas said as he frowned, his mind racing. “The ancient Grammerie being stolen, the brotherhood divided over this, the Angels having access to it. It seems just too much to be a coincidence. Somebody is moving behind the curtains. Putting things in motion. And I haven’t noticed it up until now, nor have any of the Circle. That is the really dangerous thing about it. If none of us saw it, then they must be very skilled. Or…” Thomas hesitated.
“Or?” Jennifer pushed on.
“Or, this is more widespread than what we are thinking about now. Perhaps even some of the Circle are caught up in it.”
“Master, that can’t be! They are your peers, your equals!”
“And still human, still fallible, still bound to change. No, Jennifer, the biggest mistake we can make right now is to assume the members of the Circle are infallible. We need to operate from now on with the notion that anybody can be compromised, we can not trust anybody. But we need to get to the bottom of this. This might end up being something much bigger than any of us thought. Something that can and probably will further define the Player world for decades to come.” Thomas was looking at Jennifer now.
Jennifer nodded slowly. “We also haven’t heard back from Oswald, do you… do you think he is in danger?” Her voice cracked up a bit.
“No, Maruza is a tight community, it is near impossible to get in there, let alone to corrupt it. And even if he faces any trouble, Oswald is among the stronger Players among the faithful now. He will be safe.”
“You are probably right, but then again, can we even be sure about things anymore?”
“We must operate under positive circumstances as long as we don’t hear back from him Jennifer. We give it a few more days. If he hasn’t sent word back by then, I will go look myself.”
Jennifer nodded, visibly more at ease after hearing that. If master Thomas went, Oswald would be unharmed, Jennifer was certain about that. “So what now?” She asked.
“I need to dive into this, but I’ll have to talk with the young ones first.”
“Have you found something about this bond of theirs?”
“I have, it is quite exceptional. And there is something they need to hear. The rest is best if they find it out on their own, but I can give them the means to find it out. After that, it is up to them. I trust you have given them enough work to be able to advance further on their own as well? So that they can continue without our intervention for a bit?”
“Yes, I have given them all of the essential exercises they need to further their magical skills. I have taught Finn about the Aurem as well, although so far he has yet to show an inkling of potential for being able to make one.”
“Oh, he will, trust me. It is an essential part of their bond for them to have both the ability to form an Aurem. This piece of advice that I have for them has to do with it as well.”
“Ah?” Jennifer’s interest was peaked.
“I’ll explain it later, for now, prepare to leave the keep. Make sure you are ready to leave and have anything you need to be away for at least a month.” Jennifer was about to say something but Thomas cut her off. “If we haven’t heard back from Oswald by the time we leave, I will make sure we can take the whispering well with us. That way his messages will still reach us. So do not worry, for now, just prepare to leave.”
“What about the kids? Will you leave them alone in the keep? For a month?”
“No, the keep is a safe haven, but also a target. Especially if things move faster than we are expecting them to move. I am going to send them back home. They will need to leave behind their family soon enough, the least we can do is give them a bit more time to spend with them.”
“They have decided then?”
“They haven’t told me yet, but I am sure they will. You have seen the look in their eyes too. They love their families, but this is a new world, and they are in it together. They were probably close before, but all of this has welded them together. It is them and the world now, and after they have done what I am about to tell them, that feeling will only grow stronger. It is in the nature of their bond, that they will stand together, always. If not, it will be their end.”
“That sounds… both beautiful as sad and tragic.” Jennifer said.
“I know, but it is up to them now on how to treat it and work with it. All we can do is guide them. And we have done plenty of that already. Now go and prepare. I will come to look for you once I am done with the kids. I will also leave a message for Oswald in Koblin Kai and make sure somebody takes it to him when he is back from Maruza.”
Jennifer nodded and left, leaving Thomas alone. Thomas sighed and shivered. His blood was rushing, his mind chaos. This all meddled with his plans, were his plans even still on the table? Probably not, at least not for the foreseeable future. He looked up again and cursed.
“Well played, again, Daphne. Always ahead of me. But not for long. I swear to you.”