Guildmaster’s Guidance (Part 6)

Lannon and Landed

Lannon was in the workyard when Aer met him. His feathers, a smattering of dyed reds golds and greens, puffed up at the sight of the guildmaster, a guilty look flickering across the toothed maw.

Akri, were, perhaps, his favorite mortal race, barring the Grey elves. As someone else who had managed to flee from the long arm of dragonkind, he found a slightly camaraderie with the feathered killers.

“Conductor!” Lannon squeaked, dropping the weights back on the ground with a whump.

Not on the tile or the floor, at least, so Aer didn’t reflexively snap at him. “Lannon,” Aer said. “I’ve heard tale that your last mission didn’t go so well.”

Lannon’s eyes flicked around the workyard. A few trainees still hovered about, but nobody that Aer had gotten particularly attached to. In this line of work, you remembered names when they managed something great.

Even if he treasured the individuals members of his hoard, he only learned their histories once he was certain they’d stick around. That was just good business practice.

Though he hatred describing them that way.

“I… don’t know what you mean, Conductor,” Lannon said. His teeth clicked together. He knelt down, tail flicking behind him, and picked up the weights, walking across the yard to return them to the heavy bench Aer had marked, exactingly.

“Your cap-” Aer corrected himself. “Conductor mentioned that you were having trouble reading the directions provided by the client.”

It’d been a bit of a shock to realize that the mortal races often couldn’t read, or had trouble doing complex maths. How did they keep track of finances? How did they see the myriad of possibilities for their world?

Lannon sighed, tilting his head down. “Can we have this conversation in another room, Conductor?”

Aer looked at the yard again. Nobody was looking over in interest yet… but even as he looked, people were starting to stare.

He drew attention. All were looking to see what he’d do.

He enjoyed that. Lannon didn’t.

With a nod, he drew Lannon to the side, sweeping past the halls and into some of the less used rooms. Aer thought, perhaps, one of the wizards that had been in his service had roomed there once; he could smell the delicate smokes of failed transcriptions still hovering, clinging to surfaces.

Magic had a nasty habit of failing around Aer. Wizard magic, at least. That Dan persisted was something admirable; perhaps an exercise in subverting the influences on very precise wizard spells.

“There’s nobody else around,” Aer said. “Let’s talk.”

Lannon slid into the room, his feathers puffing up. Then he sighed, swallowed, and smoothed his feathers back down with the side of his arms, pressing the painted ornate images back into place.

“Conductor…”

“Aer,” the guildmaster corrected. “We’re talking face to face. There’s no need for formalities.”

Lannon breathed out, and took a seat in one of the open backed chairs. “Aer… Wiregrass, that’s strange to say. Can I call you conductor?”

“I am not acting as your employer,” Aer said. “I am acting as a concerned mentor.”

Lannon sighed. “This is about the last mission.”

“Your squad conductor mentioned that you were having trouble reading the map, when told to navigate.”

Lannon tilted his head down and away from Aer’s vision. “I was.”

The guildmaster sighed. “Lannon… You’re not in trouble. Nobody was hurt, and there was someone else who could read the map.”

The Akri continued to avoid his gaze, and Aer changed tactics entirely.

Aer tilted his head forward. “I understand that you came to Scoured Reach with your sister.”

“She became the deputy, but there wasn’t enough room for me, so I picked up work with you,” Lannon confirmed.

Aer wasn’t upset about being a second choice. To critique someone for choosing him would be stupid at the best of times.

“You failed to mention that you had trouble reading,” Aer noted.

Lannon looked away. “I don’t… I just have trouble reading the Queen’s tongue.”

“You speak it just fine,” Aer noted.

“Lots of practice,” Lannon said. “Most of my comrades said I started speaking like I had marbles in my teeth. Who would even put marbles in their teeth? That sounds like a fantastic way to dull your teeth.”

Admittedly, Aer had to agree there. Who would put marbles in their mouth?

Aer breathed. “Lannon, being able to read the Queen’s tongue is…”

“I’m a fighter,” Lannon said. “I don’t need to be able to read.”

“You are in the Queen’s Grasp,” Aer reminded gently. “Being able to read is equally important if and when you go into the Blight.”

Lannon perked up. Aer blinked in confusion. “You really think I’ll make it out there?”

Aer’s reptilian mind, cool, calculating, caught on something and tugged at it. “You certainly made it to Scoured Reach in one piece. Most of the Akri cities are far to the south.”

“My sister makes negotiations easy,” Lannon said. “But…”

“You still made it,” Aer pushed. Self esteem issues wouldn’t be tolerated among his people. Not if he could help it.

Lannon ducked away shyly, his talons clicking against the edge of the chair. “I did, I guess.”

Aer looked away, eyeing the door out of the quarters. “What’s the problem with the words?”

Aer vaguely remembered, some centuries ago, that the Queen’s tongue had given him a bit of trouble. The letters were looped together and grouped haphazardly at the best of times, some articulated bit of letter lore stapled together into a workable written script. Disrupted, of course, by the loss of some of the biggest universities in the world, nestled in the shadow of the dragon mountains.

A great loss by any metrics.

But Aer couldn’t let centuries of knowledge get in the way of this situation in front of him.

“They just muddle together when I look at them,” Lannon complained. “All of the letters look the same, even when I’ve learned the alphabet, and the language changes how the letters link together half the time, and-”

Aer looked down at his carefully filed fingernails, then back up at Lannon. “Lessons.” He decided.

Lannon blinked. “Lessons?”

“With me,” Aer clarified. “We’ll work on your numbers later, I just acquired a new tutor, you can be a test for him.”

Lannon’s feathers puffed up. “I’m getting lessons with you!?” he squeaked.

“Yes,” Aer said. “I gave lessons to Lyn when she first arrived as well.”

Lannon’s eyes grew even wider at that. “You did?! Is that why she’s so… Lynish?”

“Not at all,” Aer dismissed. “She’s been Lyn the entire time I’ve met her.”

“I uh…” Lannon stammered. “What should I tell the others, Conductor?”

“The others?” Aer quirked an eyebrow, then considered. Aer put literacy at the top of the list for what his guild members should have.

There was no reason after they left his service that they shouldn’t be able to defend themselves, and if they got snared by a predatory contract, well.

That was just bad protection on his part.

But if Lannon was nervous about it…

Aer’s eyes flickered over the red-green-gold of Lannon’s feathers. “You’re working with the spear, correct?”

Lannon’s pupils dilated in their big predatory sockets, and he stared at the guildmaster. “Yes sir. You understand Akri colors?”

“Of course,” Aer said, though he could hardly explain that he’d started out his mad quest among the Akri cities, searching for the dispossessed and the weary. “Every two days, when you’re not on mission, we’ll meet in the courtyard.”

Lannon leaned into the words, listening to each flick of Aer’s tongue. “Yes?”

“Bring your spear. I’ll bring the books. We’ll hash something out.” It’d take his mind off of what he knew was a brewing conspiracy. The border was open, full of bandits, crawling snapping beasts, and who knew what else.

And someone wanted to blame the whole thing on dragons. This soon after his sister had left…

It didn’t bode well.

“Yes, Conductor,” Lannon said, flicking his feathers in what Aer took to be acknowledged submission.

Aer would have to fix that too. He didn’t need servants.

He wanted heroes.

—–

The frontier of Queen’s Grasp was a strange place that had the distinguished quality of having the most diversity of anywhere in the entire queendom (ignoring it was currently ruled by a queen, just a technicality). This, unlike what many people thought, was almost directly from the presence of adventuring guilds along every major town. Money brought people and cultures together like nothing else.

It only fit the sheriff didn’t match up with the rest of the Queen’s Grasp either.

The sheriff was an older man. A balding spot had taken most of his hair as it had expanded, exposing the pale skin of a northerner, a long winding scar from the jumping leeches of the river winding its way through snowmelted tundras and treacherous passages to meet the top of Queen’s Grasp that had the nasty habit of rotting off body hair from the anesthetic dripping from elongated fangs.

Lyn recognized him. That didn’t bother her.

His deputy had changed since the last time she’d been there.

An Akri shuffled through papers to the side, purples and greens dappled in her feathers. The sheriff’s army issued sword sat mounted to the wall, right next to the plaque speaking of exactly how honored he was.

Dan trailed behind Lyn, nodding politely to the Akri, who narrowed two predatory eyes at him, then nodded back. “Tanie,” Dan spoke.

“Dan,” Tanie smiled, barring a few too many teeth.

Tanie’s eyes flicked over to Lyn.

“It’s good to have you back in town, Lyn,” The sheriff said, sitting up. “Here to register for any crimes…? Any long lingering guilt on your mind?”

Lyn tasted the air for a long moment, her tongue flicking out from between two thin lips. She cocked her head to the side. She didn’t taste any guilt.

The sheriff raised an eyebrow, thankfully untaken by leeches. “Well?”

“Not particularly,” Lyn reported. “Perhaps another day.”

“Curses,” The sheriff said, leaning back. “My cells would be blessed to finally contain a Grey-priest.”

“Are they blessed that way?” Lyn asked.

“No,” The sheriff said. “I expect some obligation, or perhaps societal burden would keep you there.”

Dan sighed. “Can you two… not do this? We’re actually here for a reason.”

“Who am I to deny my old sparring partner a few jabs?” The sheriff asked.

“It was hardly sparring, I recall you were earnestly trying to kill her,” Dan muttered sourly.

“Isn’t that sparring to a Grey-Priest?” The Akri asked.

Dan rolled his eyes under the brim of his protective hat. “Lyn, could you perhaps be less memorable next time?”

“I assume you’re here to apply for an explosives permit, Dan,” The sheriff decided. “Tanie, if you could…?”

Tanie sighed and started digging through her desk.

“No, actually,” Lyn said, deciding to cut the point. “Matt, we need to find some more guards for the border,” Her voice went low in what she hoped would be a serious tone. It was always hard for her to find it intentionally.

Matt quirked an eyebrow, the sheriff looking up. “So this isn’t a pleasure meeting at all. You come into my office for business, as usual.”

“The watchtower’s been raided,” Dan said. “We’re going to need to start up patrols for beasts from the Blight.”

Matt sighed, and a hand came up to rub at his temples. “That was almost exactly what I didn’t want you two to say.” His eyes flicked up and settled on Lyn, then rolled off of her to rest on Dan. “I’ll assume you want me to use my Evocation to contact the capital?”

“As soon as possible,” Dan said. “We don’t want to be accused of delaying any longer than necessary.”

“No,” The sheriff said. He reached into his desk and dug for a moment, then pulled out an ornate chunk of metal. Scrawled with geometric shapes, carved precise enough to make Lyn’s eyes water; a symbol of the old craft’s god.

Even that god had left long ago, but an evoker could still coax magic from the old relics, if he was good enough.

Matt was good enough to be a sheriff for a town that was close enough to the frontier to be a raiding target, and far enough away from the Capital that it’d take weeks to get a proper cadre of reinforcements rallied from the king’s personal trouble shooters.

Dan tilted his head forward, squinting at the artifact, and Matt’s fingers closed over top of it. “Not for your eyes, Wizard,” The evoker snapped.

Dan looked away, sighing.

“But you’ll send the message?” Lyn asked.

“Tell me what you know, and I’ll send it to the Craft god’s temple,” Matt swore. “We can’t have the border unprotected for long.”

So Lyn told him.

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