It’s Friday! As promised, here’s the next post of the story started here.
Dryden cursed as he pushed through the crush of silk-clad guests. What had convinced him to study Duchess Escadia Lockheart in her “natural” environment?
While possession by a demon of Rashallee seemed the most logical reason, the truth was he didn’t believe Escadia was nearly as gifted in magic as the Mage Council thought. Before he accepted her as an apprentice, he needed to see her true capabilities when she didn’t know he was looking for them.
He wasn’t about to be saddled with another politically connected but unskilled apprentice. Not when the Night of Ursius was within two solar cycles.
The archmage couldn’t waste any more time with idiots and dabblers. He had to find a true wizard. Not just capable, but gifted. Someone that could help him channel and mold the raw power they’d need to complete the spell. And he had to find them soon.
Two nobles pranced past wearing ridiculous mage robes strewn with jewels and embroidery. He doubted either could cast more than a rudimentary spell, and their personal wards were lackadaisical.
Snorting in disgust, Dryden had no doubt why the Elven empire was crumbling. They were too busy playing wizard to train as one. They spent their time longing for what was lost rather than doing the hard things that were needed.
Might be heresy to even think such a thing, but Dryden knew the humans could teach his people a lot about getting things done.
He sucked in a breath, and the archmage grimaced and buried his nose in his sleeve. The thick scent of too much perfume, poorly crafted magical wards, and sweet wine was amplified by the heat of a thousand bodies.
At least Lord Oakenvale’s cavernous ballroom accommodated the crowd. From the gilded crystal chandeliers, to the rare orchids in jeweled vases, and the heavy marble floors, it was designed for ostentation and massive gatherings.
Good thing, as it appeared half the elven nobility was at the ball.
Dryden reinforced his personal wards. Even at the edge of gathering, he felt exposed.
By Ionex’s third eye, how he longed for the quiet of his tower. The birdsong. The wind. The rising and setting of the sun and moon. He couldn’t even see the stars from within the ballroom.
Elven homes looked more and more like dwarven dwellings, or even human ones, as they walled themselves off with brick and stone.
Perhaps that’s why wizards were increasingly rare. The elves were losing their connection to the flow of magic and replacing it with false promises of security after the Great Cataclysm.
A giggle to his left focused him on a debutante and her mother. One scowl had them backing away, but several other elves stared at him and started to approach. A quick teleportation spell saw him across the room and beside the wide doors that led out to the expansive gardens.
Such a raw display of magical power was gouache, perhaps, but he no longer cared. He was there for one thing, and being married off to a nitwit wasn’t it. Dryden was again reminded why he hadn’t attended a social function in decades.
Glancing back towards the receiving line, he didn’t yet see the duchess. Escadia Lockheart was known for many things, but punctuality wasn’t one of them. She was proving the rumors correct on that account, at least.
Having enough of the heat and crowds, Dryden excused himself to the gardens. None were foolish enough to stand in an archmage’s way, and he was left alone to prowl the pathways.
As he rounded an exotic tree heavy with crystalline flowers, he caught sight of the line of carriages waiting to drop off yet more guests. Dryden almost turned and walked away when he saw two women disembark from an especially elaborate conveyance. Looking closer, he realized it bore the Lockheart crest.
Pausing, he studied the young women. Their magical wards were impeccable, but even through them, he felt the thrum of her magic. It’s faint whisper a heady concoction that had his own heart beating faster.
His derision at her tardiness fell away. She was everything the Mage Council had said. Everything and more.