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|Author||The Academy Shuffle|
|One month ago the portal of time shut, denoting success of the expedition. Not only did all venturing heroes and researchers make it back home safely, but in fact, happy faces of many wizards, from Abu-Bakir to Sorish, were indicative of a large progress in their fieldwork.|
Naturally, grim faces weren't amiss either, and of their owners Grammith, the warlord of the Empire who never even tried to conceal his misgivings about such kind of tourism, was first. He had quite some ground to be skeptical - he had lost a large detachment of personally trained elite guardsmen in one of such ventures. Besides, he was growing wary of playing the hero every time, saving Abu-Bakir's life from the portal's deceivingly charming voracity. He once threw himself into the portal to pull Abu-Bakir out by his cape literally instants before it shut. And the last time was no exception - yet again, only his outstanding reaction rescued the careless wizard from randomly spawning ancient Infernals. And speaking of those Infernals, he was crossly determined to sort things out this time.
Without further ado, he followed Abu-Bakir to his office and, menacingly calm and hypnotically persuasive, inquired what had happened in the "recent" past.
When the Court Wizard, staggering and dropping his eyes, carefully explained him that to develop the mechanism of the portinite orbs, to make the portinite substance function as he needed it to, he had recurred to principles of demonic gating technique, it took Grammith moments to connect the dots. Indeed, strange behaviour of modern Empire demons, relentless fury of the ancient ones, the red markings on the ground where the orbs were broken - everything indicated at that. Deeply vexed by being so unobservant, the warlord raised his voice in demand to put the orbs away until the time of the next Portal of Time opening into the Cryptorium, a classified archive vault for storing banned, dangerous or unexplored items. Few even knew of its existence, and only selected few were allowed inside.
One of such selected ones walked down the corridor of a boundless hall along shelves and stands crammed with boxes and chests of every kind. His path was gloomily lit with a faint spark on top of his wand directed at a strongbox floating in front of him. He stopped a dozen of paces into the hall and placed the strongbox on a pre-allocated space using his magic. He then reached his hand for the box, took one portinite orb out of it and quickly hid it in the wide sleeve of his attire. If someone had been looking at him at that moment, he would have observed in the fading light of his wand how his face quickly transformed first into a nebula of pure darkness, and then consequently into a face of an all different humanoid with a cunning grin on its face visible out of his hood. But no one was there to witness that phenomenon, and the very next moment pitch darkness absorbed the Cryptorium again...
|Several days after the mentioned events, the Empire faced the first examples of tragic events that quickly intensified over a few weeks, clashing the military class of the citizens against each other and putting the country on the verge of internecine feud. Heroes and clans of heroes, remaining under constant pressure of the relentless Survilurgs, conflicted in both strategy and stratagem over a rich fruit - lucrative facilities all over the Empire. They contested their rights as ones with better preparation and greater strength, held profuse talks of necessary evil for the honour and welfare of the Empire, and to all that history will render due judgment. We shall now focus our attention on a place of much less limelight nowadays.|
King Cyrus, the supreme wizard, summoned his old friend and formerly his most favoured advisor, Abu-Bakir, and Sorish, the one who succeeded him in that position when he was commanded to the Empire Court to represent the Sunny City. They were to appear in the palace and hold a council upon an urgent matter.
Abu-Bakir had to travel further distance to get to the palace, and yet when he stepped into the reception room there was still no sign of Sorish. Knowing the wizard etiquette to perfection, Abu-Bakir chose to wait for his associate outside the council hall rather than going in first and laying stress to his successor's delay. Sorish teleported in soon, and after exchanging restrained greetings, they both walked into the hall in silence.
Cyrus spoke about their secret research, and of the particular breakthrough their academics had achieved during the latest portal event. He regretfully observed that lately, the goals of the Academy of Magical sciences in their trips to the past were becoming subject of inquiries and discussions much more frequently than he would have preferred.
"King Cyrus, I can truly not imagine what else to do, I am staying meek and mild. It's actually your!” Sorish turned to Abu-Bakir, emphasizing the word and leaving a pause prior to continuing, "Students snooping around".
"I object", the Court Wizards took his defense imperturbably, with a slight head twist, "The multitude of Empire heroes and lords who visit the Academy to come in possession of the tomes of battle magic to fill the newly-built magic guilds in their castles are far more inquisitive on the subject than mere cheerful alumni seeking a professional magical career".
"Enough", Cyrus stood up, and both wizards closed their mouths aiming retorts at each other, one showing respect and another - obedience. "All we need is to turn the attention away in a most inconspicuous way. What is our cover, Sorish?"
"We are collecting Crystals of Time to have a solid supply for at least two future portal openings, my King".
Cyrus rolled his eyes. "And that... is all our cover?" Faint notes of disappointment could be heard in his voice, hurting his advisor. "When I enjoined to make sure our research is covered, I meant something to hold the mark! You are a confidant to the King of wizards, not his storekeeper!"
"King Cyrus, if I may speak", Abu-Bakir stood up to Sorish's defense, "Harvesting crystals of time requires sizeable proficiency; and moreover, we use them for many purposes aside from opening a portal of time. It is, I assure you, a truly important part of our agenda in our journeys to the past".
Cyrus mused for a minute, and then finally spoke up with an enlightened face.
"So, we provide crystals for the Empire? Fine, let us provide them then. I just had a thought, and I'm sure the heroes will like this idea during the Empire Anniversary celebrations. Sorish, have the Academy golems isolate a territory of a thousand square yards with a permanent barrier shield, and install four portals. No, the usual portals, not the time portals. The Sunny City will give its tribute to the celebration".