Another tower stood not far from Ed's home. Unlike Ed's tower, however, this was not a residence. It served as a gateway for the Pentacle.
The tower's heavy front door swung open. A strange purple dust swirled from the doorway, embued with the scent of cinnamon, and a soft, white light was emitted from within. Behind the door seemed to be an endless corridor.
Two people stepped from the entryway as the purple dust wafted about in the breeze. One was an older man who looked to be in his twilight years. He wore regal red robes, and his face was barely visible from within the folds of a hood. He leaned heavily on a gnarled wooden walking stick that was warped from age and use. Long strands of white hair fell in an unruly mass around his wizened face, traced with lines and wrinkles.
To his left stood a tall woman in deep purple robes. Her violet hair was cropped below the ear, with short, spiky locks that flared out at irregular intervals. Her amethyst-hued eyes flitted about the area, scanning intelligently with quick, analyzing glances, and there was a vivacious curl to her lips.
Her body seemed built like a runner's, lithe and toned, with sinuous muscles that were just barely revealed under her robes. She stood confidently erect, in contrast to the old man's posture, her back straight and chest held high. Her robes were cut long to suit her stature, and the outlines of youthful breasts were visible beneath them.
When they exited the portal onto the graveled ground near the white stone road, she walked ahead and scanned the area briefly. "Why are we here?" she asked. "Aran the Grey should be handling this himself." Her gaze raked the area as she tossed her head with an air of arrogance.
They left the enclosed grounds of the tower, turned onto Fenrin Lane, and walked toward the intersecting roads on the main street of the trade district in roughly the same direction that Penndarius and Soren had just headed. Around them were tufts of spring growth, and the trees were sprouting new, green leaves.
"You speak rashly, young apprentice!" the older magus snapped with unconcealed irritation. "Aran knew full well what he was doing when he sent us," he insisted and then started to wheeze into his robes.
She pushed her fingers through her brightly tinted hair. "Speak clearly, old man!" she said, and her voice had an edge of exasperation.
He raised his head, and his eyes lit up. Unlike the rest of his appearance, they seemed remarkably young.
"No! I will not! You must first look for the meaning yourself, search for the inherent truths in the macroscopic view of topics at hand and then delve deeper to find correlations that can be perceived within the microscopic examinations of the same ideas," he instructed, and when he raised his head, his eyes sparkled with excitement. "Young apprentice, I ask you to think before you speak!" the older man snapped. As he finished talking, the strength in his voice gave out, and he began to cough violently for a few moments.
"Academic talk serves no purpose other than to sooth idle egos," she replied with a heavy sigh. “I can speak in academic complexities, just like you, but the local view of a topic is just as important as the world view, or so I have found. And you are right," she said with reluctance. "I should think before I speak."
"Good. Now I have your attention. We have been brought here to oversee talks between the anthras and the rahliens," the older magus informed her, suddenly seeming to become noticeably tired.
The apprentice shook her head. "How can we negotiate and remain neutral?" she asked. "Are we also supposed to decide who is right and wrong?"
The older conjurer finally smiled at her inexperience. "Aran the Grey sent us as diplomatic representatives of the Pentacle, and our job is to remain impartial when no one else will, regardless of creed, race, gender, or religion," he responded. "And what if we are forced to take a side?" she persisted. The older magus rapped the tip of his staff against the ground with a loud crack to forgo further conversation. "Someone takes a side, and someone else takes the opposing side. Argument begets argument, which begets more argument. This leads to war and death. Our job is to remain above all that and study the world around us, to improve society, discover the undiscovered. Never confuse this with weakness!" he insisted and then sighed as the weight of his words crept into his body. “Take me away from here, young apprentice," he asked and proffered his arm. "My old bones creak with weariness.”
"I have a name," she said, slightly irritated. "So?" he asked with amusement.
"Do you know it?" she asked in frustration and scowled.
"Yes," he replied, as his smile slowly broadened in direct correlation with her widening scowl.
"Will you use it?" she asked.
He started chuckling, and eventually his chortles became a full-blown, wheezing laugh. He finished with a dry, hacking cough. Then he started walking again. "We have a meeting to keep, young apprentice."
"You never answered my question," she said obstinately.
"My apprentice...," he replied with a strangely approving smile.
"Azlea," she said almost to herself with a small sigh, "as if it matters."
"...come. We have a meeting with High Chancellor Mariweather, and we must not be late," he said.
Azlea walked after her master, and he stopped and added, "Many apprentices seek my tutelage. They desire my teachings and my presence. I have turned them all down...but you," he said without a hint of sarcasm. "I will give you a name when you earn one," he added simply and walked on. “A chance to do so is better than they ever got.”
She sighed, but his words did make her feel a bit better.
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