Multifold Manus Chapter 17

	From the sky, a downpour of powdery, white snow came. Inside the safety of the library on a cold, snowy morning, Suzie Bottomhill took her time going through her notes. Every so often, she would pause and check her phone, quickly going through her various social media accounts. Cat pictures, book releases, art, gnomish parables, and dwarvish metal sculpting and artistic reliefs, all things she enjoyed. She frowned and her stomach rumbled, her favorite kind of coffee was back in stock at her favorite coffee shop according to her browsing, but she had no way to get it for herself. Not unless she planned on hoofing it for ten miles there and back or paying for a taxi just for some coffee. She couldn’t do that, Suzie knew, she was more sensible with her time and money. She grumbled and cursed in dwarvish to herself as the gnomish language had no real bad words to use, “Where is he?” She growled, starting to feel hungry and perturbed.
	“Pray forgive me for being late,” Fredrik quickly announced his presence as if he had heard her, “I made a trip into town. My car does not handle snow very well.”
	“What could you have possibly needed in town?” Suzie groaned, “We’re supposed to be studying–” A large drink set down on the table in front of her instantly shut her up. She could smell it, the peppermint infused with coffee. Steam came off the piping hot liquid caffeine, inviting her with its warmth. Suzie removed her warm, wool-lined gloves and tentatively wrapped all her fingers around the plastic cup, letting its warmth travel up her fingers and hands. She brought it to her lips and sipped it down, sighing with relief as the hot, steaming drink slid down her throat and into her stomach followed by her blissful sigh, “How did you know?” She quietly and sheepishly asked.
	“I remember the fuss you made last year. And the year before that. And maybe the two or three before that. Plus, if you recall, I got you some last year when you got debilitatingly sick, hopefully you recall that nicety,” The golden wizard explained. He had a small cup of black coffee of his own, “Did you eat? I had a sugar craving as well,” He placed a box of fresh glazed donuts on the table between them.
	“I suppose I could eat one or two,” She said in a faux-disinterested tone before smiling ear to ear. She took one and bit into it. It was delightfully fluffy and sweet. The glaze was maple flavored, contrasting the pepperminty coffee she drank, enjoying the almost sickeningly sweet flavor.
"How is it? Fredrik asked, his vibrant blue eyes ever watchful through his mask. Suzie hummed her approval as she chewed, before it dawned on her that the Golden Wonder was only watching her eat.
"Aren't you going to have some?" She asked after swallowing, "There's plenty for both of us."
"Yes, well, I ate on the way over." He admitted, "I just could not wait, I know, bad habit and all that. Personally I would be happy if you took the whole box with you after we study," Suzie eyed him curiously before continuing to eat her maple donut. Instead of opening his books for study the wizard in gold kept watching the gnome. Something fishy was going on, was Fredrik always so attentive? Suzie wondered. He had always been the conscientious type looking after his fellow students, but there was something different that had come to her attention. Fredrik was always going on about his 'muse,' but no one even knew who it was and he refused to tell a soul. It was a secret almost as closely guarded as his face. He had been doing this for weeks– maybe months, now– teasing the idea, but never acting any differently. Only now it didn't seem that way to the gnome. Suzie had seen him act this way with one other person: Sophia. At the time he was head over heels for that cat-witch. Suzie recalled when Sophia had broken off their relationship, Fredrik had been so distraught he had shut himself away for weeks. She really felt for him, doing her best to cheer him up, so she was relieved when he came back twice as outgoing and doubly dazzling. 
"Suzie?" The sound of Fredrik's voice startled the gnome and snapped her back to reality.
"Y-yes, what is it?" She asked, trying her best to act casual.
"You have been eyeing me for some time now, is there something on my mask?" He asked innocently. The gnome shook her head before putting the last bite of her donut in her mouth. It was time for another mode of attack, she thought. "Nope, not a thing. Say, Fredrik?"
"Yes, Suzie?"
"I know you don't want to give it away, but could you tell me anything about this muse of yours? Any little tidbits or hints? You know I wouldn't tell," The gnome asked as casually as she could as she went for another donut. Fredrik was silent for a time, which only drove Suzie's wits up a wall until he cleared his throat.
"Well… if you promise to absolutely tell no one," He began. Suzie nodded furiously as she took the first bite of her second donut and sipped more peppermint coffee for a chaser. Fredrik leaned in close to the gnome, her ears perking up as his mouth drew near. 
"I've known her for a long time." His soft-spoken voice had Suzie wondering for a moment if it was the warmth of her coffee or something else that was making her ears tingle.
"D-do I know her?" She dared to ask, trying her best to keep her voice down. Fredrik nodded in reply before going back to his side of the table, "I-Is she in the same class–"
"Ah, ah, no more questions, I would not like to spoil the surprise," She could hear the smile in his voice. Was he teasing her? Something in the gnome's heart told her she knew who it was, but she was afraid to even guess.
"Well, when are you gonna surprise her?" She pressed him. He looked away, pretending to play with his curly hair for a moment and hum before he answered.
"Well… shouldn't be too long now. I was thinking at the beginning of spring."
"That'll give you both some time," Said Suzie timidly, "W-what are you gonna do?"
"I have that all taken care of, worry not. I have made reservations at a local establishment and have a plan to get her answer on availability," Fredrik proudly announced, "Now really, no more questions unless we are studying."
"R-right. Where are your books?" Asked the gnome.
"I seem to have forgotten them, may I share yours for today?" The wizard inquired, scooting his chair beside her.
"S-sure," Suzie squeaked out, her face flush with something besides hot coffee in the winter.

	. . . . .

	Headmaster Xavos blew a spray of hot flames from his staff across the grass in front of his tower. He hated the winter. He couldn’t garden, he struggled to maintain his lawn under all the snow, and worst of all it was much too cold to sit out on his porch. He sighed after clearing a small section of his yard and went back inside. The humid warmth of his tower did wonders to reinvigorate his old bones. The outside cold made his joints ache and his nose numb. It was Friday morning and Xavos refused to teach classes on that day, preferring to keep it as a day for chores and tasks and Sunday as a day for rest; he was Catholic after all. Saturdays were mostly up in the air as for what he did. Make up chores he missed, tutoring, catch-up grading, and meetings were just a few of the things he did on Saturday. 
He retrieved his tea kettle along with a list stuck to his fridge by magnets with the faces of his grandchildren and great grandchildren on them. He went over the to-do list again, 'Order the delivery of groceries, a birthday gift for a grandson… speak to Galahad Loxley about the altercation on Monday,' Xavos sighed, he wanted to smooth everything over after his students had caused such a fuss with the poor lad. This was the very thing he meant when he told Zucarius about his distaste for house politics. Needlessly obstructing a student willing to learn, and the teacher in charge never put a stop to it herself. Xavos thought to have a word with her too, she was only a student but would need to be spoken to as well and corrected. The whole ordeal had pushed another student away from learning a different school of magic, and Galahad was only one of many this had happened to. The bad blood between his house and Karak-Albrac would only spell disaster as their president continued to shirk his responsibility. The old wizard decided then and there that he would not put this off, today would be the day he made amends with Galahad Loxley. It was late into the morning already, he had to move quickly as he was mostly unaware of the Karak-Albrac duelist’s schedule beyond his friday afternoon dueling club. 
Xavos quickly placed his tea kettle back on the counter and grabbed his red robes and hat, wanting to look the part of the Fritz'Eleo Headmaster. He hurried to the top floor of his tower up a spiral staircase. At the top was a dark room, only illuminated by a red glow from a stone in the ceiling once he waved a hand. This room held small shelves carrying tiny magical objects for various high level incantations. Dragon scales, dried mandragora, bubbling troll fat, diamonds and other gems, a bar of fools gold, a cursed genie lamp absent a genie, and a few hairs from a lich’s nose along with that lich’s toe bones– just to name a few of the many curiosities he owned. In the middle of the room was the centerpiece, a rare item that was not made too often anymore. The methods had been lost to time and new, ‘more efficient’ methods existed now. Xavos snorted at the thought as he removed the crimson cloth from atop the item. An enchanted crystal ball, a relic of the old world. Unlike modern crystal balls this orb was possessed with the soul of a minor demon, though imprisoned and not nearly as pinpoint accurate it was much more powerful than the contemporary equivalents. They simply weren’t imbued with such power, merely a mundane glass orb that a divinationist would cast a spell to imbue it with their own mana for a short time. Maybe it was more efficient this way, but Xavos wasn’t a diviner and he was going to do it the old fashioned way, dammit. The evocationist rolled up his sleeves and began to ponder the orb, a red mist filling it as he rolled his fingers across the top. The words of power were muttered; rather than politely asking the artifact, Xavos demanded it do as he willed. As always, the orb’s own will pressed back against his, only to be beat back by the wizard’s superior power. Images flashed in his mind as the orb showed what he willed, first it was a map of the school within the orb,  with Galahad’s face being projected into the wizard’s mind. A red dot blinked at the Seeker’s house, letting Xavos know Galahad was there, or would be in the next ten or so minutes. Xavos pushed his thoughts on why he might be there from his head quickly. He hurriedly began to scry the wizard’s next moves. Within thirty minutes, he would be moving to the library judging by the thickness and richness of the deep purple-plum leading from that house to said library. He would walk right past his tower on the way.
	Xavos grabbed the cloth and concealed the orb again, “Enough time to finish my tea,” He told himself.

	Twenty-eight minutes later, Xavos had ventured onto his front porch with a cup of warm tea in his hands. He shivered despite the thick clothes he wore under his headmaster’s robes. The headmaster stood as he saw a small cluster of students walking toward the library. The tallest of which was the golden masked wizard he had seen around along with Galahad who was only a few inches shorter, “Act naturally Xavos,” The professor whispered to himself as he finished his tea. He stood and left his porch, intercepting the slow moving group of seven easily, “Ah, rare to see so many students wandering the grounds in this weather,” Xavos nonchalantly gave them a smile as he leaned on his staff. The six armed fey-witch, the gnomes, and another man all gave the headmaster a quizzical look. Most of them had Karak-Albrac armbands mixed with a Maximillion and Hamilton armband.
	“Can we help you, Headmaster Xavos?” The fey-woman asked. Xavos struggled to remember her name for a moment before shaking his head, grumbling at himself.
	“Well, to be honest,” He dropped the facade quickly, “I wish to speak with Mister Loxley. Privately.”
	Everyone looked at Galahad. The young man shrugged, “I spoke to Zucarius and Miss Manus here about the little fight I had in that evocation class already. It won’t happen again, sir.”
	“No, no, I had other topics to discuss beyond that. Could you spare a few moments of your time?”
	Galahad looked at the fey-woman, “Looks like I’ll be a little late, Miss Club President,” He teased, “Fine, I can talk, sir.”
"Come, walk with me," Xavos beckoned him, "I won't take up too much of your time."
The young duelist stepped in line with the red wizard, the two of them strolling back down the path. Xavos waited for them to be out of earshot of the other students before he cleared his throat, "I actually wanted to apologize to you, young Loxley. The conduct of my house has been… regrettable," He said looking at the young man, studying his expression.
 Galahad shook his head, "You don't owe me an apology, sir. As I understand it, you’ve been gone for quite some time."
Xavos shook his head and sighed, "Oh but I do, while I may not have been here in Fairgarland for a time, House Fritz'Eleo is still my responsibility, in part. I find it utterly reprehensible that a young lad such as yourself was made to feel denied the ability to learn. That is why you're here, after all, not to engage in witless feuds between houses. Am I correct?"
"You are, sir." Answered Galahad.
"So, as you recall, I have seen your duelist club and I approve of it," The old wizard continued.
"How could I forget," Galahad chuckled, "You aren't planning another impromptu duel are you?"
"Goodness no, at least, not yet,” Xavos chuckled, “Let me cut to the real reason I wanted to speak with you," Xavos stopped in the middle of the path and turned to Galahad, "You wanted to learn evocation and I assume you still do. Would you be interested in learning it from me personally?"
Galahad's face was a mix of excitement and worry, "I would, but I don't know if I have the time," He exhaled, exacerbated, "I switched into another conjuration class, actually. I also have my two clubs, my tutoring and my council member duties…"
"Is that all you're worried about? As a headmaster I can give you credits, if you need them.”
	Galahad sighed, “Well, as nice as those would be, I don’t think I really need them.”
	“If you have time on Saturday, we could spend an hour in the morning with your tutoring, leaving you quite a time for the rest of the day,” Xavos offered, “We could take as long as you like, months, years, decades if you find you like it! I wish to see you learn my field, as I understand it you are adept at abjuration. You even casted a sixth rank spell in the duels despite never taking an abjuration class here.”
	“Ah, come on,” Galahad chuckled, “That ranking system is way out of date. It's a lot easier now than it used to be. The maze spell I trapped Harold in is merely the ace in my sleeve. It was the highest level spell my father knew.”
	“Then let me teach you further. A powerful abjurationist will easily pick up evocation. Will you not at least give it a try?”
	The duelist finally relented, “Sure. We can try it. But I would like the credits, it’ll make my later years here easier.”
	“Wonderful! Will I meet with you tomorrow morning at eight in the arena?”
	The student nodded, “Of course, I’ll see you then. I gotta run, I’ll be late for the club. See you then, headmaster.”
	“Yes, yes,” Xavos nodded and watched him go. He would kill two birds with one stone tomorrow, teaching Galahad evocation and seeing if he could determine who’s son he might be through casting technique.

	. . . . .

“Master Harold, you have hardly eaten your food,” The old live-in butler, Thomas whispered to the prince who simply waved him away. Harold sat at the far end of a long table that stretched from one end of the dining hall to the other. His chair was the furthest from the head where his grandfather Garnalga Babarry sat overlooking the spread of the family Thanksgiving feast. Harold’s father, Horace Babarry sat to the right of his grandfather at the head of the table, his eyes never once passing over him.
	“He has the right of it, Harold, you had best eat,” His younger brother, Edgar urged from beside him.
"I'm not hungry," Harold grumbled.
"Is… something the matter?" Another of his brothers asked. It was Stewart, only a year older who sat across from him. His worried expression gave Harold reason enough to at least try some of the food set before him. He quickly stuck a cut of the turkey in his mouth and chewed.
	“There, now cease your worrying, both of you.” Harold said between bites. 
	“And why shouldn’t they be worried,” Said Gregory, the eldest brother, “After all, they have such a disappointment for a brother.”
	“That’s uncalled for, Gregory,” Stewart hissed at his elder.
	“Is it? If the papers are to be believed, then he has disgraced the family name once more,” Gregory replied before taking a sip from his wineglass.
	“Is it true?” Their father spoke from across the table, “Were you really bested?”
	Harold’s head hung low as he willed up the courage to reply to his father. He swallowed, forcing himself to look up, “It is true,” The face of his father reddened, his brow narrowing, “He is no normal man– if he is one at all! He could best Gregory, much less me!” Harold tried his best to convince his father, but it was already too late.
	“Gregory was not the one who was bested, you were! You let some vagabond waltz all over you and tarnish our good name!"

At once, Harold's eyes snapped open and he was awake, lying back in his bed, in his dorm at Fairgarland. Though it had been a dream it was a reflection of the reality he had lived only a few weeks ago. His father had been livid, nearly throwing him out of the house before his grandfather interrupted him.

"A young man with fiery-red and orange eyes, if I recall," Garnalga Babarry had silenced the room with his commanding tone. The head of the Babarry family stood from his chair and walked over to Harold, instructing that he alone should follow him to the library.

Harold sat up in his bed, going to his nightstand and opening the first drawer, where he held the book his grandfather had given him. It was a census much like the one he had read before, only his grandfather knew something was wrong with it.

"Tell me, Harold, have you already looked into this Loxley fellow?" Garnalga Babarry had asked him as he opened the book.
"I have, but I found nothing in my own copy. No noble family had such a son named Galahad." Answered the prince, "Though he could easily be lying about his name."
His grandfather stroked his beard for a moment before giving his reply, "I thought as much myself, however I know you are more clever than your father would care to admit. Have you any leads?"
Harold felt a swelling of joy in his chest, an eagerness returned to him, "I have a few. As I said, he knows how to chain his spells together in quick succession. Only nobility and war-magi of the old world know how to do that."
"If what you say is true, you are correct in your assumption. Good. To cast so swiftly in the heat of a duel is something few know, I shall narrow it down for you further by marking off those who do not know such skills." Garnalga took a wand from his coat pocket and began making scratches in the book on several pages, crossing out many of the families with a magicked red 'X' over them. "Your copy is newer than my own, however there is a discrepancy between them," He explained before closing the book and handing it to his grandson.
"You know this?" Harold asked meekly.
Garnalga Babarry nodded solemnly, "I do, though I do not yet know to what extent. I merely perceived that the book had been magically altered some time ago."
"Altered? It cannot be just your copy then." Harold surmised.
"Indeed, I had the same thought and cross-referenced the books of my subjects and peers, each having been similarly altered."
The surprise on Harold's face was plain,  "Was this done legally?"
"No doubt, and by quite the powerful wizard, but that much is obvious. Take my copy and find the discrepancy, then perhaps you will learn who this Loxley is… and save face within the family."
A smile crossed the prince's lips and he held the book tight against his body, "Thank you, Grandfather! After I learn who he is I will redeem myself in our next duel!"  
"Do not be so certain. There are some of those families even I would struggle to match." His grandfather warned. "Now go, before you and your father ruin our Thanksgiving supper."

Though his grandfather seemed harsh at times, it was he who thought to help him along, not his own father. It was any wonder to the prince that he liked the old man more. Looking at the census Garnalga Babarry had given him, he quickly grabbed his own and began comparing them again. He had already gone at least a hundred pages through. Though his grandfather had narrowed it down there was no reason he should not be thorough. He would look over the nobility again when he had finished his initial comparison. Hours passed and yet he found nothing even up until the end of the census. Harold glowered at the pages, flipping the books over and going back to the front of both. A moment passed while he rubbed his eyes and groaned, what was he to do if he found nothing? When he opened his eyes again he realized he was looking at the front matter of the census. Curiosity took hold of the prince and he opened the same page on his own copy.
Nothing. Nothing had been changed, nothing was different, nothing came up short-- but then something did. The book counted every single citizen in the country, the births and deaths of everyone in two simple, summarized counts. It was a census after all, and though Harold's copy was 'newer' it was merely a reprint of the same census. There should be no difference in births or deaths, and yet the count in Harold's copy registered one person less than his grandfather's. It was as Garnalga Babarry said: they had actually done it, whoever they were they had actually removed Loxley from the census. Harold quickly turned the pages on either book, matching up each noble family and war-magi. The list now was only six different families, two of which were fully demi-human. The possibility of being adopted persisted but they would come last. He would narrow this down further, family by family until he had his answer. First he would reconfirm his suspicions in those fiery red-orange eyes.

	. . . . .

	A sleek black car with a single gold line along either side slowly rolled through downtown Lindiburg. Fredrik sat in the driver’s seat with Galahad riding shotgun. In the back was Suzie, Rald, and Manus. The fey-witch’s eyes were glued to the window of the sportscar, staring at the snowy, sleepy town around them. She watched every building as they went by, wondering what they could hold beyond their dim windows.
	“I bought too much candy,” Suzie mumbled to herself, “Probably enough for the whole term.”
	“Did you find anything good, Rald?” Galahad asked.
	The goblin nodded and dug through the bags at her feet, “I found some neat candy at that store Suzie blew her tuition at, a dress for the summer dance, and a cute new set of robes that should keep me warm.”
	“Oh, those robes were wonderful,” Miss Manus agreed, “Mayhaps I should have bought something for myself.”
	The goblin smiled, “I can’t imagine you in anything other than those comfy looking, fluffy robes. But if you want to go back sometime, I’m sure Galahad will take you. Maybe you could come over again too, a few of my siblings thought you were ‘totally cool.’”
	“Me? Cool?”
	Galahad smirked, “Hear that Miss Manus? You’re popular now!”
	“We’re here!” Fredrik interrupted, “Thank you for riding with Jeoffrey chauffeurs, please gather your belongings and trash before exiting the vehicle and have a good day.”
	“Are you going to do that when we get out too?” Suzie asked, “See ya later, Rald!”
	“I’ll see ya at school, Hills, Lox, Manus, and Fred!” Rald called with the others returning the good-byes. She stepped from the car, a bag in both hands as she hurried inside and out of the freezing air. 
Her father, Crud, stood behind the counter of his store even though it was a slow day, “Hey, lil’ greenie. Have fun with your friends?”
“Yup. Here Dad, catch!" She reached into her bag and threw a piece of hard candy his way.
Crud caught it and looked it over for a minute before smiling, "Ohh, I haven't had a Gut Buster in years!" The old goblin's smile widened when he looked back to his daughter who was now showing off the clothes she had purchased.
"Lookin' to score a man with those?" He teased, raising a brow. 
"Daddy!" Rald groaned, "These aren't for that!"
"Then what's with that one?" He pointed to the dress, "That one for keepin' ya warm?"
"It's for the summer dance, Dad. I don't know why I'm even explaining this," Rald nursed her head, "Where's my blockhead brother?"
"Blud? He's upstairs with that San girl, practicing." Said Crud, pointing a thumb back at the stairs.
"Practicing?" Rald parroted her father, "Practicing what?"
"Can't you smell the cooking? They've been at it all day," The old goblin grumbled, "My stomach's been growlin' the whole time."
	Rald frowned and headed to the back and up the stairs into her home. Her shoes came off and she hurried to her bedroom before her siblings noticed her. The goblin’s father was right, the scent of gore, blood, and fresh meat hit her nose. Despite the dumplings and ice cream she had gotten with her friends, her stomach growled. Within her private bedroom she quickly set about putting everything away. By human standards it would have been quite small, but to a sub four foot, green-skinned goblin, she could easily be cozy. She had a little half-sized bed with a low frame, a fluffy pink down comforter, with numerous pillows. A single stuffed manticore plushie lay on her bed. It had a grotesque, snarling face, a mangy looking mane, and a soft spine on its tail all pointing to its years of use comforting the goblin. There was also a small TV on a dresser with a dusty, disused, hand-me-down VHS and DVD combo player. Rald had intended to put her purchases away, but the scent of food was getting to be too much and now she needed to see if she could eat something. 
	A few of Rald’s siblings were crowded by one of the entrances to the kitchen, all staring with wide eyes. The goblin-witch heard before she saw, “GO!” San hollered.
	“Yaaah!” Blud’s warcry was followed by a squelch. Rald poked her head over her siblings. A tarp was laid across the floor with blood streaked across it and the white drawers. The sink was full of sinew and half eaten eyes. Blud had driven a massive axe into the neck of a dire boar’s corpse. Blud panted and released his enchantment, “Trollspit! I can’t keep this up, San.”
	“You must! Doing well!” San encouraged him with a smile, “Last meal good. Go on Culinary Cooking Champion soon.”
	“There’s no way we’d win on that human run crap. Maybe on Malgar’s Mean Cookin’.” 
	“Not if we don’t cook boar! Chop! Chop!” She grabbed a glaive and took a big slice out of the boar. Blud sighed and did the same. The two skinned and chopped up the boar, the goblin set about skinning the meat. Some of the boar was prepared to boil, the rest would be grilled into pork chops or cooked into a big slab of meat. They didn’t do as much with the innards as most orc cooks did. 
	The pots and pans full of meat and innards were plopped down onto the stove top and into the oven. Both casters drew their implements and looked at one another. San glared while Blud took hold of his feelings. Fire burst from the stove top and oven, quickly and surprisingly cooking the boar meat quite well. Blud used his magic again to draw out the meats and held them in the air while Reccoa slashed through them with a polearm before both of them worked to plate it up and garnished with pineapple and butter. All of it was moved to the table where the goblin’s younger siblings as well as Rald hurried to devour the delicious morsels with Blud and Reccoa leaving some for themselves, “Alright…” Blud wiped his brow, “Done?”
	“Again. I collect deer next,” The beetle woman excitedly said.
	The front door opened and closed down the hall, “I’m home!” Root called, “Something smells good!” 
	Blud slowly looked around the blood stained and bone covered kitchen, “Oh no. She’s early.”
	“Early?”
	“Blud? What are you–” Root stopped and looked around her precious kitchen, a silence ran through the room so thick you could hear a pin drop, “My beautiful kitchen…” Blood and gore covered everything as well as the two chefs who stood timidly in the center of the room.
	“Mom, I–”
	“Blud. I’m going to go downstairs,” The mother goblin slowly and calmly said, “This kitchen had better be SPOTLESS when I return, or you’re going to have to find a dorm on campus,” Root left quickly, stomping over to the stairs, “And you better have a plate of whatever you made ready for me!”
	“Hurry,” Blud ordered Reccoa, “Please,” The panic was obvious in his voice as he started to frantically get out the trash bags. 
	Rald chuckled, “Better start burning everything! Ash might be easy to clean up!”
	“Yessums! Good idea!” Reccoa replied.
	“SAN! NO!” Blud shouted before the room was bathed in a surprisingly gentle fire.

	. . . . .

	Every member of Karak-Albrac took their seat at the table. The scent of fish was overpowering, even over the sweet perfume that Suzie wore, “Can’t believe ya picked a place like this,” Holmit grumbled.
	“Afraid of a little fish?” Suzie teased.
	“Nay. Just never got much of a taste for it. Eastern food neither,” He continued as he examined the conveyer that went around the room.
	The floor, walls, and ceiling were all a sanitized white tile. The booth they sat in was red and plush, and the table was a fake marble color and texture. Holmit was bewildered as a plate with a little cover went by with a piece of raw fish above a roll of rice bundled up in a piece of seaweed, “By Raggald-Berak’s holy beard, they mean to poison us with raw meat,” He hissed.
	Fredrik shook his head, “I understand you have not done this before, but I can assure you it is safe to dine on. Lots of safety measures are in place for this. Reminder to keep the plates you eat off,” He grabbed two yellow ringed plates for himself. Salmon and cucumber rolls.
	A waiter approached in a bright pink apron, a human woman who bowed for the table of wizards, “Can I get drinks for anyone?”
	“A bottle of sake for the table,” Todd requested, “Can I get a sashimi dinner plate, please?”
	“Of course! Anyone else?”
	“A plate of Philadelphia rolls for me,” Galahad requested, “Manus?”
	“Uhm,” The fey-witch felt overwhelmed by all of her options, “Just some tea for me. I will partake of the food going around the room.”
	“Can I get a bottle of that Japanese soda? With the glass marble tops? Uh, green apple, please,” Suzie quickly requested. 
	All eyes turned to holmit. He was even more overwhelmed than Manus had been. Fredrik nudged him, “How about a salmon and tuna donburi? It is cooked.”
	“Ah, that sounds wonderful,” He quickly agreed, “And a second bottle of that alcohol for me.”
	“Got it. I’ll bring that all right out,” The waiter bowed again and left, writing everything down.
	The mono-eye looked very hungry, the most hungry Galahad had seen him, “Thank you for picking this place. I love their food,” Todd smiled.
	Fredrik nodded and chuckled behind his mask, “I recall your requests to be driven here for lunch!”
	“T-that was four years ago… I was a lot smaller then,” He tapped his fingers together timidly, “I have to request an open cart to ferry me into town now.”
	“There is nothing to be ashamed of,” Miss Manus assured him as she checked another plate of sushi, “Ready to start our short meeting?” There were multiple nods around the table. The fey-witch cleared her throat before continuing, “Thank you all for reinstating me as your president. I will not let you down, just like every year before this. Next, in house news: our duelist has healed and is making great strides in teaching every house about dueling. He still has not yet had to put his power to the test against another house. Tensions with Fritz’eleo are rising. A few houses are taking our side like Zucarius, but most remain neutral. Pranking on our students has decreased dramatically, either due to our alliance or the focus on Mr. Loxley for pranks,” She smirked at him before returning to her speech, “You all passed your classes and are continuing on your way through your studies. Anything I missed?”
	“There’s rumors of those red bands wanting to replace Harold,” Suzie pointed out as she grabbed a plate from the carousel, “But his council is too chicken to go against him.”
	“Rumor mongering again?” Holmit grumbled, “I would suggest getting involved, especially Galahad. But I’m sure I know what you all will say.”
	Fredrik nodded along with Manus and Todd, “It is not our place to intervene. If one of them approaches us for help, perhaps our duelist will be willing.”
	“If not,” Manus continued, “We can only motion for the collection of presidents to impeach him.”
	“Whata’ya think, Loxley? Care to go toe-to-toe with him again?” Suzie jested.
Galahad shrugged, “I know his mana now. Maybe I could three-to-zero him.” 
	“Now that’d really rile him up!” The gnome laughed, “I wonder when the rematch of the century will happen. Ah, anything else?”
	“Well, I would like to see who is willing to replace me once I have graduated and transitioned to a full-time teacher,” Miss Manus quietly explained, “Fredrik? Suzie?”
	“Not I?” Holmit grumbled.
	Fredrik shook his head, “I understand her decision. You are in your seventh year, compared to Todd’s eighth and Suzie and my ten. Not to mention Miss President’s dozen. You are a good transmutationist, and command a deal of respect. We simply have the experience.”
	The dwarf’s sigh signaled his concession, “I understand. But I’ll get my chance in a few years.”
	“Well,” Todd continued, “I think Fredrik might be a good pick. A more gentle hand for our house.”
	“What’s that supposed to mean?” Suzie sneered at the mono-eye. 
	“I like Suzie,” Holmit declared, “She should keep the riff-raff in line.”
	Eyes turned to Galahad. The duelist was staring at the menu’s desserts while picking at his ear. He looked up at the council, “Huh? Me? In my opinion, I shouldn’t really have a say, I've only been on the council for little more than a month. Let Miss Manus break the tie.”
	The fey-witch thought for a few moments, folding her many arms and frowning, “I believe I need more time to decide. I was hoping one of you would decide they did not want the position to make it easy. But, as neither of you have, I would request more time to mull it over.”
	“You do have two terms to decide,” Fredrik nodded in agreement, “It appears our food is here.”
	Before long, everyone had their food, either ordered or from the carousel around the room. Cups of alcohol were poured for all, and friendly, warm conversations were abound. For once, Miss Manus felt like her council meetings weren’t something that just had to be done, it was more like spending time with friends like she had only recently learned to do.

	. . . . .

	Sean Reagal had retreated to his private sanctum for the night, fatigue from a busy day within his house left him tired. Bookshelves lined the walls, each one holding old, dusty tomes and scrolls of parchment within tubes. He wrote slowly in his journal, cataloging the various goings on throughout the campus over the week. There had been three fights over the last few days, higher than usual. An orc and a mono-eye had gotten into a fistfight in the snow but made up quickly after one of Sean’s task masters intervened. Another was two wizards, each only getting one spell off, putting each other to sleep. The third slightly concerned the president. Galahad had a little spat with the evocationists in a classroom. The duelist had turned himself into the dean who merely gave him a slap on the wrist along with the evocationists, but what if he got into a bigger fight? Galahad could easily demolish most who would try him. Sean was worried, unsure if even he could stop a rampaging Galahad. He wrote as much into his journal.
	With a sigh, he set aside his journal. A handwave snuffed out all the candles and he stepped through a doorway and into the main room of his dorm. The living room was decorated with expensive art pieces, paintings and a designer couch with a matching coffee table. At the couch, a man sat, reading through a thick tome and making marks, “Harold,” Sean greeted, “What is the occasion for you barging into my dorm?”
	“No hospitality for an old childhood friend?” Harold frowned and mock sighed, “I wish we had the friendship our fathers have.”
	Sean rolled his eyes as he went to his mini fridge and grabbed a bottle, “Funny for you to say that. Aye. Would have been nice. But your mad grab for power and fame has spurned all your friendships.”
	“I do not know what you are on about,” Harold brushed off his fellow president’s comments.
	“Me, Rita, Shanessa, Sophia, and even Manus. I remember when we were all the best of friends in the boarding school here at Fairgarland! Visions of grandeur, power, and what have you all got into your head,” Sean hissed as he poured himself a mug of rum with soda, “Tore us all apart.”
	“I am NOT that Harold! I am now like my father. Powerful and respected,” He protested.
	“Respected? Feared maybe. You lost a fight once and you completely changed. If I didn’t know better, I would say this recent Galahad situation is what’s changed you again.”
	“Sean. Please, I am not here to fight with you,” Harold quickly changed tones as he interrupted the other president, “I wanted to extend an olive branch to you. We, my house, have fallen on hard times. Our enemies all unite against us and even you have thought to join them.”
	“‘Enemies?’ I’ll ignore that, but aye. I have.”
	“Sean. I want to be friends with you again. Manus and Shanessa have completely spurned me. I hear Rita helped Galahad win against me and Sophia has not spoken to me in years. But you, you and I were like brothers, weren’t we? You must feel the same if you came to see me two weeks ago,” Harold stood with his friend in the small kitchenette, “A small token. From my father’s reserves, the first of two gifts,” He handed over a bottle of dark, red wine. 
Sean’s eyebrows raised as he checked the label. Rosegold Meadows, one of the fifty some bottles brought from the old world to this one. Indeed, it was marked with a twelve. He had only had a sip of this wine once in his life, “I am listening,” He put the bottle in a cupboard, “What is it you want with me?”
	“The olive branch, like I said. Our houses are both strong and will be stronger together. I will not ask you to go against the others, just have our backs.”
	Sean nodded, “Fine. We have little quarrel between our houses, to be honest.”
	“And my second gift, I would like to assist you with garnering a guest speaker for your school of magic,” Harold explained, “Pull some strings and such for you.”
	“Oh? Who did you have in mind?”
	“The namesake of your house of course! Arthur Maxamillion: grandmaster of abjuration and hero of the new world,” The evocationist flourished as though he were introducing the man in question.
	Sean nearly spat out his drink, “He is the only grandmaster of abjuration alive! How will you get him!?”
	Harold chuckled and poured himself a shot of rum, “Ye of so little faith. Lady Hamilton was not the only benefactor they had. Both our fathers worked to aid them. The disgraced wizard king and his wizard scholar advisor. That could be the two of us some day. I am sure my father could get his attention,” He assured his friend.
	Sean tapped his foot, “I see no reason to say no. I pray you can work your magic. Or your father’s magic.”
	“Wonderful!” The prince downed the shot and shuddered before chuckling again, “We should find a day to… hang out, as they say.”
	“Yes. We should.”
	Harold nodded and smiled, “I should take my leave. You need your sleep for a long relaxing weekend.”
	“It has been a tiring time,” Sean admitted, “My council meeting today–” He stopped himself from over-explaining, “Forget it. Have a good night Harold– I mean, friend.”
	“Same to you,” Harold stepped from the abjurationist’s dorm with a smirk on his face.

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