<--Chapter 12


 

Master Kestrel walked away from the tent shaking his head and thinking about what he had heard. “The advantage you find shall not be the one you seek.”  Now what did that mean? At least the fortune was good—if it was even real. Well, time would tell, let’s see what pops out of this hat.

 

He continued on his way, without any further difficulty or harassment, apparently doing business with Madame Zorba had set him off limits or something. He headed into the purple forest and began to look for some kind of sign to tell him where to go. He had never personally entered this part of the island and for some reason the trees were fairly thick on the edge. There was a clear path in, though. It was as if to say, ‘We don’t want you in here except for business.’ Or maybe that’s just the way the trees grew. He kept on the path, he had a Duty, and wasn’t wandering around for the fun of it.

 

For some reason, probably to confuse people, the path curved and wandered until he reached a small clearing. There were three paths leading out of it. One had a sign with an eye above a triangle, one with an eye below a triangle, and one with an eye inside a triangle.

 

“Well, what am I supposed to do here?” he said out loud, “They could have put regular signs instead of magic signs that only they know the meaning of.”

 

The eyes on all three signs blinked at him. Magic signs indeed.

 

“Well, then, they really are magic signs. I’m trying to hire a Thinkamancer; which way should I go?”

 

Two of the eyes closed, the eye inside the triangle remained open.

 

“Thank you, good day.” Now why on Erf did I thank a set of signs. They’re nothing more than a Signamantic spells, not even the mind of a turn-old stabber. Master Kestrel took the center path. The trees here were more widely spaced, and here and there were little paths leading off the main one to huts hidden among the trees. He didn’t see anyone, however, so he kept to the main path.

 

The path led eventually to a large clearing filled with casters. Most of them were seated in several small circles, either facing each other or with one in the center of the circle. In the center of the clearing was a blue pavilion with a heavy-set older-looking man slouching in a large chair. On his lap was seated a female unit with some of the youngest signamancy Master Kestrel had ever seen feeding him grapes one at a time. Kestrel didn’t see anyone else who looked like they had any real authority, so he went over to the man in the chair.

 

The man looked him up and down dismissively and then asked, “What do you want from me, Hat Magician?”

 

“I don’t know, maybe nothing, who are you?” Master Kestrel was about to introduce himself, but if he was going to be rude, then Master Kestrel was going to make the other caster introduce himself first.

 

“Courtesy demands that the guest introduce himself first.” He squeezed the woman in his lap.

 

“If courtesy mattered to you, you would have greeted me courteously.” Master Kestrel folded his arms inside the sleeves of his robe.

 

“Very well.” He sat up and shoved the woman onto the ground. “Greetings traveler, I am Headmaster Humbert Hubris and I welcome you to the Thinkamancer’s Glade. How may the Thinkamancers of the Magic Kingdom aid you?”

 

“Thank you for your kind and courteous greeting, Headmaster.” Master Kestrel nodded and took a deep breath “I am Master Kestrel Tinnunculus, Chief Hat Magician to his majesty Utha Panjandrum, by the Grace of the Titans, King of Prytain. I seek the help of a Master Thinkamancer to aid me and my apprentice in a linkage intended for the creation of a magic item to help us win a war against a vile and unjust invader.”

 

The headmaster gave a sickly, sarcastic smile while looking at the woman that had been in his lap. “Of course, of course. Dolly, go use your talents and inspect the adepts. See who is connecting with their students the best. And leave the grapes.” He turned back to Master Kestrel. “It is convenient having a Date-a-mancer around. Now on your request, more precisely this time, what do you need?”

 

Master Kestrel outlined the plan for the Operator hats and how they wanted to go about it, as well as their concerns about what had happened the last time they had hired a Thinkamancer. Headmaster Hubris shook his head at the last.

 

“I do empathize with you over the thoughtlessness of Thinkamancer Cato, he was not ever very helpful. There is, alas, no redress possible, as he has recently croaked on another contract. But this is not why you have come today.” He paused to eat a couple of the grapes. “On the matter you bring before me today though, I really must ask, do you think me a complete idiot?”

 

Master Kestrel looked at him stunned for a moment, “What do you mean? It’s a clear enough contract.”

 

“If these Operator Hat things get too widespread, it could completely kill the thinkagram business. Why would I want my dear colleagues to starve? I have an obligation to Thinkamancy after all.” Headmaster Hubris affected an oily tone, Master Kestrel was unable to tell if he was serious or not.

 

“But—but, there are so many more contracts for Thinkamancers than just communication.” Master Kestrel stuttered “And as much as it pains me to say it, the communication from a Thinkagram is much more potent and faster than a Hat Message.”

 

Headmaster Hubris smiled, “I know that. You know that. There are rulers who would merely look at the shmuckers and decide to go with this new Operator concept. I have others to think about, and it really does not do much to advance the Art. I cannot help you. And I have enough authority to ensure that no-one else in the Thinkamancers’ Glade will either. If you would like to hire one of my adepts or apprentices for some other purpose, say—standard communication work for example—then I would be happy to help you. Otherwise… Good day.” The Headmaster popped a grape in his mouth and crushed it, this time with his lips wide open.

 

Odious toe jam! “It seems we have wasted enough of each other’s turn. I leave you to you school. I shall seek another solution, if possible.” Madame Zorba’s words went through his head. Well, I didn’t get what I wanted, let’s see if I can use my imagination to get what I need. Master Kestrel turned and left the glade without another word or a glance at the Thinkamancers there. He needed to put his Thinking Cap on, and he’d left it behind in Caer Melyn. He hadn’t gone far from the glade, however when he was stopped by the sound of someone running up behind him and calling out to him.

 

“Master Hatter, Master Hatter, please stop!” A gangly, slightly balding unit in black garb with yellow cloth on the shoulders and a badge Master Kestrel didn’t recognize was running up behind him. He wore a clumsily made metal headband that glowed very slightly of hat magic. So slightly indeed, that only a Master Hatter likely could have detected it.

 

“What do you want? Does your Headmaster want to insult me further?” Master Kestrel adopted his most imposing stance.

 

“N-No, Master.” The running unit skidded to a stop. “He doesn’t know I’m here. At least I hope not. D-Do you think this thinking cap will slow him down.” The unit raised his hand to his head.

 

“At least until he starts looking for you. Remarkable bit of cross-class casting if you’re a Thinkamancer. Who are you and what do you?”

 

“My n-name is Reggie Daycart. I heard you talking with the Headmaster and I think we can help each other.” He looked like he was about to burst into tears. “Please help me get out from under him. P-Please?”

 

“Let’s talk as we head to my side’s portal. If I like what you have to say I will encourage the king to grant you a contract. Tell me more about yourself.”

 

There wasn’t much to tell. Or at least much positive. The apprentice Thinkamancer’s former side, The Federation of Islands, had been invaded by a huge pirate armada, The Barge. He was popped during the war, and he had only survived due to him doing research in the Magic Kingdom when their capital fell. That had been many turns ago, and Headmaster Hubris had only allowed him enough contracts to barely maintain upkeep. Apparently, the pavilion he was seated under was a magic Item that amplified his powers and ability to control others. He kept all the junior Thinkamancers under his sway while the more senior ones kept away from him.

 

“His powers don’t extend far from the Pavilion, all the other Thinkamancers stay on the far side of Portal Park from him. I’m close to becoming Adept, I can feel it, but he won’t give me challenging work. If I was Adept I’m sure I could make a living with the others. But as is…” Reggie looked down. “I’ll never go anywhere. I worked on this headband with spare juice while I’ve been on missions. It’s the only way I was able to break free of his control long enough to chase after you.”

 

“A sad tale, I agree. But we are at war. I’m not sure His Majesty would be wanting to take on hard luck cases in the middle of it. What can you do for us? As a high level apprentice, I mean.”

 

“Oh, I’m not asking to turn, that would be too much like being under Headmaster Hubris again. What I can do though, with my slight abilities in Hat magic, is do a bi-link with you. That way we could make hats together faster than you could alone. I could also put a sort of mental unfinished end on them. Then when I form a separate link with your apprentice, we could weave her spell into it more tightly. This would also be much safer, you’d each end up with a headache, but there would be no worry about croaking.”

 

“And what do you want in return? I’m thinking more than basic upkeep.”

 

“Well, there would be an initial charge for my part in the spell, at least tbe first time it’s proven to work since it would be a different spell than you were thinking of. I’d want some additional general fee that we can agree on later. Most importantly, if this spell doesn’t raise me to adept, I’d want a contract for basic upkeep and complex work until it does.”

 

Master Kestrel thought carefully about this last condition. There was no guarantee that this apprentice would make adept other than his own word. No guarantee, but there was a good chance: after all, he could do more hat magic than Lady Nimue could.  Any caster that could cast outside their Discipline, much less outside their class, as Reggie seemed to have done showed great promise. The real question was that phrase ‘complex work’. That included too great a chance of getting Sided secrets, and who knows who a barbarian would sell them to?

 

“That might mean combat casting, Apprentice Daycart. Are you up to the risk?”

 

“I’m up to any risk that gets me out from underneath Humbert Hubris’s thumb.”

 

“Well we’d better hurry, I don’t know what excuse you gave the Headmaster for leaving, but it can’t last for long. That headband of yours won’t survive a determined search of any strength. You’ve made it clear you don’t want to be caught by him. I will speak to the king in favor of this contract.” And may the Titans help us all if this doesn’t work. He added silently to himself. The two of them quickened their pace and continued the rest of their trip to the Prytani portal in silence, each in his own thoughts.

 


 Chapter 14-->


 Notes

 

As I said earlier, this is far before the rise of the GMTTA. Headmaster Hubris is one of the reasons they were formed, because of the way he limits the freedom and advancement of those around him. His Date-a-mancer’s Signamancy and Class prevented her from getting much work, and he kept her very close to starvation after meeting her, completely dependent on him for her upkeep. The rest of the Magic Kingdom? Well, he’s in charge of the Thinkamancers, he gets to choose. If any of them don’t like it then they can just leave. The Magic Kingdom is not a very friendly place at this point.

Comments