There was once a time, to be sure, when the occult and the impractical held greater import in the daily affairs of men. And though the texts of the time have fallen into disuse and the old ways forgotten out of convenience, it shares with all things unfashionable the fringe interest of the unmentionable outliers of society. And so did the marvelously leathered works of such minds as Athereos and Yllgread, who was the Star of Winter Dawns, fall into the undeserving hands of frail recluses, never to see the sun again.
In such a day, in the midst of a century devoid of Magic, an impromptu sage rode through a countryside of autumn scent in a carriage of darkling varnish. Golden leaves made a carpet before him, and he looked out the window with a dull glimmer of contemplation in his gaze.
More interesting, perhaps, was the tome between his restless hands, bound in a time immemorial, with uncut sapphires indenting runes of summoning for a creature long dead. He glanced at it from time to time, his mind roaming to its ancient possibilities, to dragons swirling in the crisp blue sky, setting ablaze the ripening fields.
Yes, it was good to dream.
There came a noise beside him in the carriage, a polite noise, uttered by a proper youth in a trim black suit and copper-rimmed spectacles.
"If I may, Mr. Glend?"
The sage turned at the sound of his name. "Eh?"
The boy arranged the papers on his lap, drawing forth another few documents from a manila folder on the seat beside him. "You were talking before about your records on the Reckoning. I was wondering if you might continue."
"The Reckoning . . ." The sage blinked slowly, pushing through the cloak of age to recall the conversation. "Con men," he muttered vaguely. "Crooks and rogues, in suits and robes." He peered at the boy with eyes graying with thin cataracts. "Suits like yours, I reckon. The Marquis wore a suit like that, I think -- with a scarf. Do you have a scarf?"
"Not on me, I'm afraid."
"Just as well."
The carriage shuddered, passing from dirt roads to the first cobbled streets they'd encountered in 50 miles. The city's heights came into view in the distance, jutting like spears the size of mountains, outlines made blue by shadow and smoke.
"Did I tell you about my grandfather? He was a great man, Marquis. A great man! Thrice the value of all your line and sons, if that. He could summon lightning from the earth and tremors from the sky."
The boy nodded. He'd been called many names along the ride, ranging from a cobbler that the sage had known in his youth, to the Kind Tyrant of Halmsvale. Ignoring the appellation, he pressed on with his questions.
"And again for the record, your grandfather was the mage Elferton?"
"That is true, lordship."
"Holder of a seat in the Assembly?"
"One of the Eleven, yes. Eleven to a hundred, but they were fierce old men all the same."
Judging his host to be properly ruminative, the boy pushed forward once more to the subject of his most burning curiosity.
"And what happened, Mr. Glend? What happened, exactly, to the great Elferton?"
The sage blinked fiercely, and his lower lip curled upward in something that could've been a sneer or a grimace.
"You're the only one that knows," added the boy hurriedly. "You're the only one with the surviving records. The libraries in the south burned a hundred and fifty years ago."
"Betrayed. . . ."
"But by whom?"
"Crooks and rogues . . . every last of them." Mr. Glend flipped aimlessly through the book in his lap, and before the boy could deter him, he began muttering slowly in a dead tongue, twisting his hand in arcane gestures through the air before finishing with a flourish.
There was no sound but the clattering of hooves on stone, birds in the fields. The wind made patterns in the golden wheat as the sage fell back in his seat with a sigh. "Dragons," the boy heard him mutter. "Fire and flood."
The boy, experienced as an interviewer despite his age, decided it was best to change tactics. "What bout the embassy?" he asked. "Elferton was a part of that as well, was he not?"
"Yes, yes. It had pillars of gold, you know. Real gold. Glowed like . . . like. . . ."
"Rivers of moonlight and poplar. So you've said. How did it burn?"
"Burn? Yes. They burned that, too. They were jealous, you know. Jealous of the old ways. Jealous of the Eleven. Shame on you, Marquis!" The old man was breathing hard, and leaned against the carriage door with a rattling sigh and a burning glare. Soon he was deeply asleep.
The boy sat back in his seat, frowning. The problem wasn't that the old man had been stubbornly unhelpful, nor did he truly believe that Mr. Glend knew nothing. If anything, even from his disjointed interview, it was clear that he knew more than every other fanatic obsessed with magic that the boy had interviewed. He had just carried a particular hope for the sage, which now was dying fast.
They rode to the city in silence. An hour passed, then two, with the old man snoring and the boy writing furiously on long sheets of parchment. It was a report to the Secretary of the Assembly, stating that magical history was a department best left to the Prythenians, if those desert-dwellers ever found the heart to ransack the old repositories under the sand.
As the carriage pulled into the sleek roads of the city, lined with buildings of towering stone, the boy ordered the carriage to pull over before the Ans Secretarial. He exited slowly, stretching his aching legs, and looked back only once, at the frail old man with the book in his arms, come to this place of his anathema for reasons unknown. He smiled, a little bitterly, a little sad, that such great knowledge of the world had gone so long disregarded. That its guardians were not noble men of esoteric knowledge, but strange ascetics with addled minds, cast aside for justifiable reasons by a society that had no more use for them.
"Goodbye, Uncle," he murmured, and the carriage set off once more, rounding a corner beside the marble pillars of the Bank of Sterl, before disappearing into the throng.