It was a day just like any other in the capital of the Old Empire. The mage had long since grown accustomed to the resplendence of Arshaka. Caszire Omarosa was very much fond of the finer things that this world had to offer but they did tend to dull after a time. He wasn't so unambitious that another bauble or two would leave him complacent. The Empress only knew that there were more than enough nobles who fit that description. It was no wonder that many of the other territories had become so bold. The mage honestly could not find any fault in their course of action. However it was their misfortune that Caszire was loyal to the Empire, at least for the foreseeable future.
Today was only slightly different in that it held the promise of mild amusement or extreme irritation. On second thought, it was very much business as usual. He could only hope that it did not turn out to be the latter. This time he would be dealing with another member of the Blooded and that always made things tricky. They were not the types you could simply dispose of should you get annoyed. That being said, House Omarosa had very nearly been in that position when Caszire was young. Their situation had certainly improved but precarious nonetheless.
The mage was distinctly cognizant of the fact that his family's fate rested entirely on his shoulders. Caszire had never even cared much for the idea of his family's prestige or influence. In fact, he very much wished his father would take a long walk off a rather short pier. His mother however did not deserve such a fate. Furthermore, simply keeping his House afloat was enough to irk those nobles who had so readily spat in his face. A momentary smile crossed his visage in knowing that a few of them had unfortunately disappeared; taken with the Shifting States from what he heard.
Eventually he found himself at the the residence of Magistrate Ischyros, a man who once served as the Emperor. Caszire would very much preferred to have never come here again. The old bastard had a way of getting on his nerves. It didn't help that the one task the Magistrate assigned to the mage before had nearly seen Caszire flayed. The guards stepped aside immediately upon seeing who was before them. He was surprised to see the old man had at least informed them of his arrival.
Caszire was swiftly led to one of the waiting rooms where he found his task waiting for him.
"Lady Phaedra, I assume your father has informed you as to the reason for my presence," the mage stated casually as he ran a hand through his raven-black hair, a noticeable tinge of irritation in his tone.
A smooth voice snapped at her from behind as she stared out the floor to ceiling window of the room that looked out over an elegantly tended garden. It often felt like a cage within the walls of this mansion. Almost like she was trapped here, awaiting her father's orders. Which in all reality she was. She had a personal tutor to help her grow her shroud magic, she had all the servants here to tend to her every need, but she had no friends, no companions. At first, after her twin's disappearance, she hadn't wanted another tie like that. Her heart had felt like it had broken the first time. Now she felt just the loneliness and seclusion that she'd been forced into first by her mother and now by her father. How she'd not recognized the ring ore pendant surprised her. She felt lighter without it, though it was probably all in her head.
She turned to face the man behind her. He had long black hair and green eyes and was taller than her. His clothing was well made, evidence of the wealth. She spent a few more moments looking the man over and trying to see how he felt about being here. From the emotion on his face, she could tell that he was not at all pleased.
"Lord Omarosa," she replied with a small curtsey. "I have to admit, I'm not fully aware of what it is my father has planned." Her father hardly shared anything with her other than his eternal disappointment. "I just am aware that you are here to help with my education, in whatever form that looks like to you I suppose."
"Figures, that stingy bastard always liked to make things difficult," he replied with a small sigh. Caszire seemed completely unworried by the fact that he had just outright slandered a former emperor. This had certainly not been the first time he had taken such a risk and he doubted it would be the last. His green eyes found the other noble and he studied her for a moment before nodding his head. Honestly he was surprised not to be met with more hostility. Her father had never liked him and Caszire could only suspect that his daughter would feel the same. Granted, there were a rare few who welcomed his presence with genuine enthusiasm.
"Education? Yes, I suppose we could call it that."
He looked around the room for a moment.
"Your esteemed father feels that your abilities would progress more swiftly if used in a more practical manner," the mage explained. "It pains me to agree with the man but his logic is sound in this instance."
Learning magic in the safest environments was all well and good but it rarely pushed the boundaries. One could not truly test the depth of their connection to the Shroud in a tone of placidity. Caszire had learned this poignant lesson when he had enlisted in the Mage Corps. Talented he may have been at the time, it takes a different mind to be successful on the battlefield. He doubted that the Lady here had any intention of joining the Legion but the Empire had a way of ignoring one's wishes.
A small smirk touched his face.
"Now as to why the Magistrate chose me, your guess is as good as mine."
Probably for his own bloody amusement.
"We shall head out of the capital as soon as you are ready. There's nothing of value to be learned here or that you haven't already discovered for yourself. I imagine it will be a fortnight at least before we return."
Caszire waited to see if the woman had any objections or questions, though they were unlikely to make any difference.
His distaste for her father became clearer as he spoke, but aside from the disdain he showed he didn't seem like one to ultimately revolt against the magistrates. Which was probably true of most of the other blooded nobility families. The magistrates were former emperors and her father was likely the oldest emperor still alive. That required a certain amount of respect after all. Enough respect to be willing to take a young, untried woman god knows where. Which was more than terrifying. Her eyes had gone wide, she'd never been out of the city walls before. She wasn't even sure what to bring? Did she have anything that could even withstand being out in the elements for a fortnight? There was a slight panic.
"I guess I should have someone pack for the excursion then?" She paused, a slight hesitation before she asked. "What exactly is necessary for such a trip?"
Would she need food in addition to the clothes? A horse? A weapon? It was then she began to realize just how sheltered her mother had made her after her twin's disappearance into the shroud.
She bit at her lip and squared back her shoulders, she could do this. If it would make her stronger in her training, if her father thought it would make her stronger than she would do this, without complaint. A small nudge in the back of her mind whispered that her father was tired of her failures and had arranged this to send her to her death.
The fear written on the woman's face was clear as day. Caszire was hardly surprised. He wondered how many of the Blooded actually left the gates of Arshaka. To her credit however, she did manage to recover rather quickly. The magi could at least take some solace in the fact that he had not been saddled with someone who was completely useless. Whether Phaedra would be able to maintain this level of clarity while in a truly dangerous environment still remained to be seen. Caszire had made it clear to the Magistrate that if she proved completely inept, he would send her back and happily incur the old man's ire.
"You will need a steed and some clothes. If you have training in any weapon, that will serve as well. I've made arrangements for the rest," explained the magi with a dismissive wave. He gave her a closer look and then let out a small sigh. Her father may be a proper ass but so far she had done nothing to deserve his contempt.
"To be clear, you are coming along to assist with my duties. I do not make a point of sleeping in the mud unless absolutely necessary. We will be visiting a number of nobles and their respective estates. Decisions may be made in the capitol but the people who keep the Empire on its feet are very much outside these walls."
Caszire wondered if the woman realized at least that much. In any case, she was certainly in for a few lessons once they left the borders of Arshaka.
"We may not be going as far as the outer territories but this a volatile world, Lady Phaedra. Only a handful of guards will be accompanying us. How much you gain from this little excursion will be up to you."
He inclined his head slightly and then turned to leave.
"Meet me at the West gate in two hours," the magi called out before making his exit.
As she watched the man leave she couldn't help thinking what the hell her father was trying to teach her here. Perhaps he'd finally come to the conclusion that Phaedra wasn't worth keeping around and this was meant to be how she found her end. It was less messy than him having to kill her on his own. She'd heard that other siblings of hers, siblings from other wives and marriages in the past, had been removed, disappeared, perhaps even just straight murdered once her father had believed them to be unworthy of their position within a blooded house. He didn't want anyone to taint his precious bloodline. Phaedra was scared of what might happen should she ever prove to be such a disappointment and maybe she had. The young noble finally moved to hurry from the room in order to find her maid in order to begin packing for this trip. She'd have to be as prepared as possible to survive.
It was just a few hours later, a little over the two Caszire had given her. Nobility had the bad habit of arriving late to things after all. Though this wasn't entirely her fault. Phaedra had honestly tried to be ready on time, but the household staff was as shocked as she was at the news that she would be going out of the city on some kind of excursion. She had no clothes that made sense for such a trip, silks and chiffons would be no protection after all. They had dug through everything before managing to find a simple cotton gown, still finely made but at least more durable, some of her old riding leathers, light blouses, and a heavy riding corset to help keep her warm. It was likely not what Caszire had in mind when he'd first given her the instructions, but with such short notice, it was the best that he could hope for.
Phaedra stood up in the stirrups of the well-bred, blue roan looking to see if she spotted her guide anywhere. Finally, she spotted him waiting just by the gate atop a cream colored horse. There was a wagon nearby and a few additional soldiers just like he had said. Phaedra led her horse over to the man. "I apologize for being late." She said with an apologetic grin. Her clothes were all in a finely made saddlebags strapped to the back of her saddle, there was also a few books on the shroud, and likely some food that the chef had added when no one was looking. Chef Marie always did have a soft spot for Phaedra and felt that while the girl had a plush life in the mansion, it was not one of sunshine and roses. The magistrate was neglectful at best and cruel at worst to his only child. So the cook tried the best she could to make things at least a little better with delicious food.
Largely everything seemed in order, she hadn't brought a trunk full of clothing with her after all, though one maid had tried to insist on such. The only thing that seemed to be missing at all was a weapon, as Phaedra had nothing of the sort at least visible on her person. In fact, she was carrying no weapon at all.
Caszire had a number of stops to make after he left the Ischyros manor. There were certain details that he still needed to confirm. Messages to gather. Final preparations to be made. The first order of business was to retrieve the blade he had ordered; his previous sword had been shattered not too long ago. He favored standard imperial steel and that was often not the best for withstanding magical attacks. The magi did consider acquiring an enchanted blade for himself but had yet to find one that truly struck his fancy. He supposed he was holding out for the chance to come across one without the need to pay a senator's ransom, perhaps off the corpse of some unfortunate soul.
A normal weapon would be suitable for the time being. He retrieved what was required and headed to the west gate. The magi found that his retinue was already waiting with the exception of Lady Phaedra. Caszire verified that all was in order with the guards as he waited for the other noble. Fortunately for them, the weather was good and would hopefully remain that way.
"Best not to make a habit of it," he replied with a shrug. "Or if you do, make sure that you are not in a position to be criticized."
The magi himself was not exactly known for being punctual either. It was partly because he didn't care to be but oftentimes it was merely a tactic to unsettle others. Quite efficient if leveraged properly. Caszire said nothing more on the matter, but it would be these skills that Phaedra could learn if she recognized the value.
He motioned with his head towards the gate, and set off with the others in tow.
"We'll be heading northwest and then up along the coast until we reach the Grimikalka Shipyards. It seems that the construction of the Navy's latest vessels is going slower than some of the Magistrates would like. They wonder if the governor has been remiss in his duties," explained the magi once they were out of earshot of the city. The nobility never missed a chance to try and undercut each other wherever possible. Of course their beliefs could be well-founded but Caszire suspected he was simply being sent as a reminder, as was oft the case.
"Considering it is a major thoroughfare, we are unlikely to have any trouble but it is not entirely unheard of for bandits to come down from the mountains if they're desperate."
He paused for a moment, surveying the road ahead before speaking once more.
Which I suppose brings us to the matter at hand. Best to let me know now what you can actually do and we'll go from there."
Surprises could be amusing but they were noticeably less so when they got you killed.
Phae had never had the need to actually be on time for anything before, besides perhaps the coronation event for the Red Empress. No one was late for that. Otherwise, most of her life she'd just been able to show up whenever she wished. It was just important that she make an appearance, not that she was punctual. However, she just nodded at the tidbit of wisdom her guide was providing. This was supposed to be a learning experience after all.
Caszire gave a signal and their little party began to move. She kept her horse nearby his unsure if there would be lessons along the road or not. At least if she was close she could hear whatever he needed to say. There was some silence between them for a few minutes until they were a bit further down the road. Without turning to her, he spoke explaining their first stop and the purpose of it. She knew of the shipyards, after all knowing the geography of the empire had been a lesson she'd been responsible for learning, that along with the governors who ran each area as well. Their names, titles, and standing. Her father wanted her to be perfectly aware of who would be a worthy ally and who was just the pawn of another Magistrate.
She listened until he finished. "My affinity is for shadow magic." She stated, assuming by "what she could do" was in reference to her magical skills. It was kind of surprising what element she seemed to gravitate toward, but it wasn't like she really had a choice. One could learn any shroud magic, but there was always something that seemed to be a bit more natural. Plus her father was particularly skilled with the shadows as well. It was the one thing that they seemed connected with. Not that it did much to endear her to him. "I can blend in with the shadows, create shadow beings to fight on my command, and create weapons of shadow." Those probably didn't sound particularly useful, but when creating a weapon it gained a strange sense of solidity. Same with the shadow creatures, they could attack and defend as if they were solid and when they'd taken too much damage they would just dissolve back into the shadows from which they were created.
"Is this entire trip about intimidating the governors? Or will you be teaching me about the shroud in addition to how to properly scare a governor into submission?" That seemed an entirely odd way to handle the situation. Almost brutish. Was that what Caszire did for the Empire? Intimidate those who weren't meeting the Empire's standards. But if it got the matter taken care of, then the end justifies the means?[/sbox3]
"That is," he paused for a moment as he searched for the right word. "surprising."
The magi knew that the woman could have learned to manipulate other elements should she have wished. However he knew that individuals tended to have a strong affinity to a specific area. The one that came most natural to them when they originally touched the Shroud. It seemed that Phaedra had not gone beyond her native element. Caszire honestly believed that it was better to focus on what one was most gifted in. He had met his share of magi that boasted a wide range of skills. Oh they had displayed all manner of cantrips; fire, water, earth, and a hosts of other magiks. Funnily enough, many of them could no longer be counted among the living.
He raised an eyebrow at the other noble's sudden sarcasm. Normally Caszire would have been quite irritated but once again he found himself somewhat taken aback. Maybe this would not be a complete waste of time after all.
"For all your disdain, you seem well-suited for this life. Possibly even more than I," he stated with a grim smile. She could manipulate shadows and more importantly didn't seem to shrink before him. The girl may not have enjoyed the idea but she was well on her way to being a useful tool of the Empire. Well, if she was lucky then maybe her father would die before he realized that particular fact.
"Threaten is more appropriate. And no, hopefully that should not be necessary. Don't fool yourself, Phaedra," he began to say, dropping the pretense of honorifics at this point. "You are a noble of the blood and the daughter of an Emperor. I know you are not so naive to believe that the Empire functions out of pure loyalty. If that was so, the entire continent would be under its firm control."
Caszire's words could have very much been construed as treason should someone wish it.
"I am no Planewalker, I do not make a study of the Shroud. Nor am I here to provide you with any lectures. What I can promise you is that your connection to the Shroud will remain stagnant if you remain within walls of the Arshaka."
Not feeling the need to explain any further, he urged his mount forward.
"Surprising?" She questioned curiously. She'd never quite had that reaction. Mostly it was disappointment that she hadn't learned to use the shroud even further than she already did. She was hoping that others would share a bit of their knowledge of how exactly they use and manipulate the energies so that she could really see how others put to use the resource. Learning from the experienced was much better than attempting to learn from books and was certainly way better than learning from her father who could be a cruel teacher at the best of times.
Phae blushed slightly as she was, almost scolded. She knew that the empire couldn't run off loyalty alone, but threads seemed a strange fallback. Was it really best to rule by fear? Caszire rode forward before she had a chance to inquire just how simply venturing from the capital's walls would be enough to grow her connection to the shroud. The capital was located around some of the strongest condensing of the shroud in Rhaiden. She was sure there were other locations in the world that had almost an equal saturation, but the capital was strong. So going away from it, would then mean it would be more difficult to call upon the magic? Or perhaps that is what would make her stronger, that she could succeed when it was harder. She continued their ride deep in thought as she pondered what exactly it was that Caszire intended to teach her.
It was a few hours later when a halt was called. Phaedra was very ready for a break. She slid off the back of her horse awkwardly landing on the ground. Her legs were stiff and sore as she hadn't ridden on a horse like this in a few years. Mostly she just rode about the city or maybe for a short while around the walls with a guard, but never really far and never really long. They'd been riding for about half a day at this point. The young noble walked her horse over to the small creek that ran alongside the road allowing it to drink as she leaned against its side half wondering if she could walk over the next bit of distance or if she even could walk with how stiff she felt. Others around her were letting their horses drinking and chatting very calmly, obviously, they knew each other having worked together before or were a part of Caszire's squad. She considered going to talk to one of them about their commander, to get a better understanding of the man, but she didn't think any of them would be too keen on talking to a noble. Much less a noble with no experience and probably the youngest person among the party. She wondered how they felt about her joining them at all. Did they dislike that a magistrate was forcing her upon them or did they largely not care at all?