Crow inhaled. He was standing in a large round hall. It resembled that one of opera. There was almost no furniture here, but all along the walls, doors were standing. They looked intimidating, sinister even. Their dark metal surfaces were covered with various runic inscriptions. Seldom they sparked with ominous lights.
Hardly any people were here. Figures looking surreal in dim blue light given off by a massive chandelier. Crystals, each being the size of Crow’s fist, were replacing light bulbs on it.
Chamber of Doors was the name of the location. The very heart of “VDD.”
Crow was entranced by one of the doors. Light emitted by its inscriptions bewitched him. It was calling to him, whispering in his ears, voices sweet like honey. It took Crow a remarkable effort to break out of that trance.
He shook his head and headed over to large marble counter.
“Crow! My old friend!” Gilbert’s loud voice echoed, attracting everyone’s attention. Standing behind the counter, his figure was the tallest.
“Nice seeing you Gilbert.” Crow nodded. “Never would’ve imagined you work here.”
He lied. At the time, before Crow’s authority was denounced, he made background checks on everyone working in Void Diving Department. Gilbert was one of few people who, Crow was hoping, could assist in his dive.
“Have you come here for sightseeing? If you wish, we can take a stroll into my office and have a little chat about our university years.”
“It would be my pleasure, Gilbert.”
Gilbert whispered something in the ear of his colleague, and casually waved Crow, to follow him.
They went through several large corridors and stopped near one of the doors. The holographic display on that door was showing “Vice-Head of the Void Diving department, Gilbert Wace.”
Vice-Head’s cabinet looked massive, with luxurious wooden furniture, prized works of art and bookshelves filled to the brim with books, scrolls and various figurines of creatures from lands far and beyond.
While Crow’s face was not showing any signs of emotions, deep inside, he felt disgusted. Gilbert belonged to nobility. With poor talent to magical arts, he still was accepted into Tokyo’s Royal Academy of Arcane Arts. Barely passing exams, he still landed in such a high position. Empire will undoubtedly fall in some few hundred years. People like Gilbert were first visible signs of its decay.
Nonetheless, he comfortably landed on one of the chairs in front of Gilbert’s desk. It was littered with various magical crystals, and ancient scriptures, and other magical items. Amongst this mess, metal monitor panel could be seen, hidden in the desk. What could someone like Gilbert do with all this stuff? Waste of precious resources.
Mandatory portrait of Royal Family was right behind Gilbert’s Chair. First Emperor was looking down on everyone in this room. One could almost feel the Emperors gaze on them, but it was not of the oppressive sort. It was appraising one, judging your potential. Empress, on the other hand, was staring in the direction far away. Her face was calm, but it felt like, she was preparing to face a gathering storm.
Gilbert and Crow chatted for a bit, recollecting their university days, and how life treated them after that. Crow was quite succinct, on the latter topic. Even if he really wanted to pour his heart out to Gilbert, he simply couldn’t. Most of his job was classified, with no right to speak about it. His adventures, on the other hand, he preferred to keep them private. Crow visited some ancient places of power, and would not discuss such matters with anyone, but most trusted friends.
“And, well, here I am. Waiting for you to lead me to redemption” Crow half-smiled.
Gilbert already inquired about why Crow was sent to VDD. War-criminal. He could bet it was an internal affair, Crow was climbing the ladder way to fast. In their youth, Gilbert avoided crossing Crow’s road. Crow was like a comet, his potential unrivaled, his talents unmatched. It was evident to vice-head that his acquaintance would become a high-flyer. What he could never guess, is that he would be the one to guide Crow to the spatial room. He grinned in his heart.
“As I understand, you already had an introduction lecture, to diving.”
“Yeah. That, and everything I could learn through other means. Which isn’t much.” Crow stared directly into Gilbert’s eyes.
“Hmph. You see Crow, I would love to help you, but there isn’t much I can tell. For almost a century, that “VDD” is running, our research bureau made little progress in improving the dives themselves. It’s not to say we aren’t doing anything, but mostly it’s about observing and collecting data.”
Gilbert took a sip of his tea, then continued.
“We failed in everything we tried. Marking and communication spells, equipment preservation, group transportation, master-slave matrixes, you name it.” His face was gloomy.
Crow’s lips twitched. “Is there really nothing, that can help me?”
It was obvious that Gilbert felt reluctant.
Crow didn’t bother to break the silence. He only coldly stared at Gilbert.
Finally, before silence threatened to feel awkward, Gilbert gave up. “I hope you understand, that we never discussed this matter.”
“I owe you one” Crow nodded. Gilbert believed in the “one hand washes the other” proverb. There was not much risk involved, either. Worst-case scenario, Crow just dies in another part of the universe. On the other hand, if Crow was to return one day, and without Gilbert’s help, Gilbert would make himself a frightening enemy.
“Well…” Gilbert lowered his voice. “There are some rumors. What do you know about body imprinting?”
“As much as everybody else. It’s only a theoretical possibility. Your knowledge contradicts mine?”
“Not exactly. Experiments in this area are still fruitless. No wonder, considering that, experiments on intelligent beings are taboo. But there is a particular branch of this research that can be of use to you.”
“This experimental branch, at first tried to imprint items to animals. I don’t know the details, but as I heard, it was quite gruesome. Although their experiments were not considered to bear favorable result, it still gave researchers some insight. And then, someone proposed to imprint familiars. Guess what? It was successful.”
“What is the success rate?” Crow felt encouraged.
“Each and every attempt, Crow. That is not to say, there are no difficulties in the process. You see, for some reason, familiars don’t accept every item you want to imprint on them. Every familiar has a unique list of item categories. Trying to forcefully imprint something else, will permanently banish familiars from master’s domain, and damage the domain itself.”
“Then, what item categories there are?”
“Just about anything that exists in this world. Wands, swords, chairs, plants, candles… shovels. However, mostly it’s useless to master.” Gilbert sighed. “The current understanding is that you don’t want to imprint items to carry your luggage. It’s quite a useless undertaking anyway. Unless you are going to dive, that is.”
“Then, imbuement?” Crow guessed.
“Correct. Familiars slowly devour imprinted items. Although they don’t become stronger, it is speculated that maybe such a method can be used to empower spellcasters natural gift to magic!” Gilbert’s face suddenly darkened. He got carried away and told too much.
It was understandable that such data is classified. New ways to improve natural gift, are very sought after.
“Don’t worry Gilbert, dead men don’t speak too much.” He smiled reassuringly.
“Oh, but I sincerely hope, that you will join the ranks of those, whose names are written on the Wall of Valor.” Gilbert relaxed a bit. “I hope, this information will be helpful to you.”
“Can’t make a wager on, but this is still better than not knowing anything.”
After talking a bit more about the matter, Crow was escorted by one the guards to his “apartment.”
Crow was sitting on a bed, in a small four by four. His prison cell included a small table, freezer, computer and a bathroom. A small catalog was laying beside him. “Void diving safety guide.” He bitterly smiled.
Void diving holds an immeasurable risk. Once regarded as a pinnacle of exploration methods, it quickly became a “redemption” for those who failed to serve the Empire. It holds multiple death traps hidden within it.
Crow could die in a thousand different ways, only within the first stage of diving, the summoning. Then after the summoning stage, the destination world should have enough oxygen in the air, food to sustain his human physiology, and water to drink.
He felt dispirited. If survival were guaranteed, during the first stages, Crow would be resourceful enough to succeed. But even thinking that his life was dependent on a coin-flip made him aghast.
Nonetheless, he decided not to run away from the Empire. Chances of not encountering a magebane squad in his bedroom one day were too small. While describing success rate of a void-diving program with words like slim, were making it a huge compliment. Crow still counted his chances in diving as fifty-fifty. Forty-nine percent more, then if he tried to flee.
He began chanting a short incantation in his mind, and black fog started to appear before him. Shapes of a bird slowly showed up in it. The fog was feeding this bird, becoming thinner and thinner. Then after a silent *flop* could be heard, the last remnants of the fog suddenly disappeared leaving a huge dark raven behind. It was almost twice the size of its brethren. Its eyes could gaze straight into one’s soul.
“Crow.” Bird lowered its head.
“Bragi, you old fart! You owe me an explanation!” Crow yelled, yet he couldn’t hide his smile.
“Who do you call an old fart?! You have a death wish, maggot?” Bragi chuckled. Then studied his surroundings. “Are we still on Earth?”
“Yes. And it so happens I received unique information about your abilities. Care to elaborate why you never told me about familiar imprinting?”
“I never open my mouth, if not asked directly, and you know it.”
“You could have made an exception, for such a situation.” Crow countered. “Then, you can consider this, as me asking.”
Bragi was Crow’s familiar, ever since Crow first summoned him during his school-years. Bragi was different from other familiars. While most familiars derived their knowledge directly from their masters, Bragi possessed insight of his own. He never wished to explain this anomaly of his. Crow never pursued the matter. He was contempt with bits and pieces of information Bragi taught him once in a while.
“Good. As I am aware, Gilbert told you enough of the basics. At least for the time being. I will shed some light on the imbuement process later. It isn’t something you are prepared to do, though, so don’t think this matter will rise again anytime soon.”
Bragi jumped his way to the computer table and was studying the shining handles on the desk.
“While I have around five hundred categories of imbuement materials.” He continued. “There is only a small bunch of items, you can consider to be useful. They are swords, alembics, and scrolls.” Bragi let out almost human-like sight. “Boy, you were smart enough, to avoid such troubles. Now, because of your mistakes, your familiar has to become a bellboy.”
“I understand, Bragi. The struggle for power has blinded me.”
“Crow, you aren’t stupid. If this were the case, I would’ve never answered your call, all those years ago. But take this lesson to heart. A lot of talented people met their demise while trying to push their limits too far. Don’t be one of them.” Bragi was gazing at Crow with his right eye.
“I’m not the one to make the same mistake twice. That’s if I will even have a chance to do so again.”
“Don’t try to squeeze the pity out of me. If you die, you will be the one to blame.” Bragi was always sharp with his words. But he was right.
With the help of his unique raven familiar, his innate gift to see magic, and an infuriating amount of sheer luck, Crow was climbing the ladder way to fast, walking over a lot of people, attracting a lot of attention, and making enemies in the process.
Slowing down and keeping a low profile for some time would’ve eased the tensions. But promotion to the outer circle of Royal Family’s Personal Task Group was deemed far too valuable. Promotion to knighthood would’ve left his adversaries in the dust. But Crow was neither fast enough, nor slow enough. And for this, he had to pay dearly.
After silently pondering for some time, Crow asked.
“Before I get the scroll out of the vault, I am wondering, would you be kind enough to teach me alchemy?”
“With that minuscule talent of yours, properly studying alchemy would take hundreds of years. Ask me again, when you reach your first millennia.”
“And don’t forget to say ‘Thank you, Bragi’ when you warp your ass out of someone’s stomach. The scroll is more valuable in given circumstances.”
Indeed, this was the case. Crow’s talent to alchemy was non-existent. During his first attempt, he blew up half of the laboratory in his school and was relieved from alchemy lessons altogether. He never touched alchemical alembic afterward. But lacking so much in one area, he excelled in the other. His talent for inscriptions was unequaled.
Swords were out of the question. He learned how to fence. Just enough to predict his enemies’ movements, and increase his chances of survival in close quarter combat. As a long-range specialist, he was more inclined towards bombarding his enemies from afar.
Only scrolls were left, and Alzerai’s Scroll of Warping was just the item to hold in your sleeve. Shame he could use it only once.
With this in mind, he called one of the guards, to escort him to the vault.
While searching for the Scroll of Warping, Crow couldn’t feel more regretful. His vault cell was crammed with various items. They represented decades of amassing wealth. Fifteen foci specialized for numerous cases. Sources, scrolls, potions, crystals. He was very resourceful, and this trait saved his life countless times. He would never have left all of this behind, if not for void-diving restrictions.
The process of summoning can’t transfer items, divers have on them or in their dimensional pocket. It even destroys any synthetic implants, they might have. Only the diver himself, and contents of his domain can survive translocation.
Crow gave one final look to his vault cell, before exiting. He felt weak. Abandoning his stuff here, undoubtedly changed his perspective on his own power.March 27, 2017, 9:15 p.m. 0 Comments Report Embed 1
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