Navigating through the city with her hood pulled up, Amaranth moved with purpose through the residential districts, choosing to duck behind houses instead of moving down the snow-shoveled pathways. She crunched through deep snow, uncaring of the cold but mildly irritated by the dampness of her shoes. They would dry quickly anyway– her body heat being so high, it would dry her slippers in a few minutes just as surely as setting them out to dry on warm hearthstones. Still she sighed in relief when she was out of the deep snow, passing through an alleyway to an open area paved in cobblestone.
She pulled her hood down further over her face as she moved through the marketplace in the center of the city. Ducking behind various stalls and groups of shoppers and merchants, she took a roundabout way to the city’s hub, the Grand Arcanist’s Tower. It was the seat of rule in Daoulaive, currently where the Warlord resided and directed his warbands in various tasks. Prior to the council of houses choosing a Warlord, the city was run by an archmage, the Grand Arcanist. Before Amaranth was born, the last Arcanist was deposed and the current Warlord was put into power. As Amaranth had been told, at the time a more aggressive approach to meeting the citizen’s needs was desired. Their lives had been turned upside down by a seismic event that shook Daoulaive loose from its foundations and sent it sliding across the frozen north on the back of a moving glacier. While magic was keeping the place in one piece, warbands were needed to raid and hunt for food since their normal resources were gone. And so, the Warlord took over leadership of the city from the Grand Arcanist.
Amaranth stepped into the tower, lightly stepping into the foyer and up the main hallway as if to petition the Warlord, like a handful of other people were doing. But, just off the main hall before reaching the courtroom, a side passage led off at a right angle. She looked around to make sure no one took note, and slipped around the corner and down that narrow hallway. Continuing down it a ways, she eventually reached a small stairwell leading up, with a door tucked under the stairs. Putting her hand on the knob, a small leaf-shaped sigil glowed above the door before she opened it, and passed through it.
On the other side was a wide, curving hallway whose outer wall was lined with stained-glass windows that glowed with sunshine no matter what the time of day was. The floors were carpeted in green and were lush underfoot, made of growing moss. The inner walls were woven from branches, like trees were coaxed into those shapes and upward. The leaves on those trees were broad and changed colors occasionally, but never fell. The layout of the hallway and the summery-springtime weather inside of it were both illogical and impossible. The door Amaranth had passed through lead to a magical space somewhere else.
At the end of the curving hallway, where it would seem like it had come full circle, it terminated in a large doorway made of intertwined branches and leaves. The wood parted for her as she approached, leading her out to an open meadow with a bright blue sky above. She wasn’t uncomfortable here, despite the summertime appearance of the place. If she’d stepped into a grassy meadow in the real world, she’d start suffering heatstroke. Snow Elves weren’t built for this kind of weather at all, and required a frozen landscape to survive. Amaranth still thought it was beautiful, and had gawked in awe the first time she saw the meadow.
In the center of the meadow was a giant tree, bigger than the Arcanist’s Tower itself. Its branches arched across the sky, creating a broad shady swath at its trunk. The trunk was bigger around than most houses, and its bark seemed to encase a warm golden glow, the light pulsing between the cracks of the bark where it was thinner. Amaranth walked toward the tree, shuffling the picnic basket she carried to sit more on her hip.
“Lady Amaranth. What brings you back so soon?” A voice rang out from the tree, just before a figure passed through its broad trunk as if stepping through a nonexistant door. He was tall and lithe, dressed only in a green vest and brown trousers rolled up to his knees. He was barefoot, his skin pale as snow and his eyes the blue-white of ice. He had a fluffy cloud of white hair curling around his jawline. A Snow Elf just like her, but where she was dark he was pale, the height of what was considered Snow Elf beauty.
“Teegin! You were absolutely right about the warlock’s tower. Right where you’d said it would be!” Amaranth bounced up to the tall man who lived in the tree, and threw her arms around his neck. He laughed, bending down to indulge her in her enthusiastic hug. When she stepped back, she smiled and told him, “I brought your payment!”
“Venison stew?” Teegin asked, looking to the basket on Amaranth’s hip. His mouth was already watering, and he imagined he could smell it already.
“You bet! And a bottle of wine too.”
“You’re too kind, my lady.” Teegin said, reaching out to take the basket. Amaranth handed it over, and as Teegin turned with it, roots of the great tree wound upward from where they lay to form a table just in time for the white-haired elf to set the basket on top. Roots tangled into two woven chairs situated around the table, and the pair took a seat to dine. Teegin unpacked the meal, setting one vessel of stew before his chair and the other in front of Amaranth, the bottle of wine between them. He provided the tankards– or at least, the magical tree did, in the form of broad leaves growing from the table in the shape of deep drinking bowls. Teegin and Amaranth just snapped the leaves free from the wood, and poured the wine.
“I didn’t expect you to return with breakfast today. Figured you would return with your payment once you were ready for your next scrying.” Teegin commented, just before lifting a spoonful of stew to his lips. Once the morsel passed them though, he froze in place– and struggled not to make a face. Gulping hard, he swallowed the stew, and forced a smile at Amaranth.
She was already digging into the stew like nothing was wrong. “Well– what if I went to the warlock’s tower and you know… died? I figured I should pay you, first.”
Setting his spoon down smoothly, Teegin scoffed. “I wouldn’t send you to your doom, Lady Amaranth. If I’d forseen your death in that place, I would never have told you about it. It’s certainly dangerous, but I’ve sensed that there’s a series of events that must unfold there. When do you plan to go?”
“Today! After I leave here I’ll head home, armor up and gather my new warband. Then I plan on leading them straight there. We’ll arrive by the afternoon and have the place ransacked by sunset. It’s so close by we won’t even have to camp for the night, we can just ride straight home and be back in town by midnight.” Amaranth answered, setting down her spoon to take a few sips of wine.
“That’s fantastic. I wish you all the best of luck, Lady Amaranth.” Teegin said. He made no move to continue eating his stew, but picked up his wine to salute her before he sipped it.
“After today it won’t be just ‘Lady’ anymore, I’ll be a Magus.” Amaranth told him proudly. “Magus Amaranth… ugh. Doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?” She grimaced.
“Interesting that they kept the old titles of the magliarchy, but chose a Warlord. Using ‘Magus’ as an honorific was something they did back in my day.” Teegin commented, rubbing his bare jawline as if he were scratching his beard in thought.
“Back in your day?” Amaranth asked curiously. She still hadn’t been able to suss out how old Teegin was– he was anywhere between thirty and three hundred, judging by the way Snow Elves aged. If he remembered the magliarchy, that put him over sixty or seventy at the least.
“Mm.” He confirmed wordlessly, but didn’t elaborate. Instead, he changed the subject, “Something else they did back in my day– a Magus would operate under a moniker, usually denoting their favored school of magic. An evoker might pick ‘Magus Ignis,’ heralding that he was adept at fire magic, in the old arcane tongue.”
“Ooh! That’s what I need! I’m an Abjuration specialist– what’s the old word for ‘shield?’” Amaranth asked excitedly.
“Uh… ‘scutum.’” Teegin and Amaranth both made a face, not liking the sound of the word.
“Yeah, no. Something else then… something fierce!”
“PERFECT! That’s what I’ll be called– Magus Ferox! I can’t hardly wait!” Amaranth picked up her bowl and slurped down the rest of her stew hurriedly, putting the empty vessal back in her basket. Then she noted Teegin’s lack of progress on his own stew. “Not hungry?”
“Mmm… not just yet, I suppose it takes my belly a while to wake up in the morning.” He chuckled and smiled in answer, lips pursed in an attempt to hide his polite lie.
“Oh, okay. I’ll just leave the bowl and the wine with you, and I’ll pick up the empty vessels next time I come back for a scrying! And you can bet I sure will, knowing exactly where to find treasure is a scavenger’s dream come true!” Amaranth told him, slinging the basket over her shoulder and rising to her feet. “Want me to bring you more stew when I come back?”
“Mmm… no, I think I’ll crave another dish by then. Apples are fine and all, but I do miss having a varied diet. I haven’t had fish in ages, maybe that…” Teegin said thoughtfully, hoping fish was an easier dish for Amaranth to cook.
“You bet! See you later, Teegin!” She waved to him, half turning as she trotted down the pathway back the way she came.
“Safe travels, Magus Ferox.” Teegin answered with a wave, and Amaranth– Ferox– squealed in excitement at hearing her new title and moniker. She passed through the doorway, the branches closing in behind her.
Once she was out of his sight, Teegin hummed to himself, and then held out his hand. An apple dropped down from the tree above him, landing directly into his palm. Taking a bite of the fruit, he chewed and hummed thoughtfully again, his ice-blue eyes glowing with magic as his gaze turned to other times and places.