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The Academy of Magic [center]Like the Academy of Arms, the Academy of Magic is where anyone whether commoner or noble can learn the fine skills of the Spellcrafter. Everything from Necromancy to Divine magic is taught here, with an enormous library and laboratories. [/center]

The Importance of Magic

Joined: June 22nd, 2017, 3:21 am

March 18th, 2018, 5:23 am #1

(OOC: This still feels a bit disjointed in places to me, but I can't keep revising forever! Here's Pyx's first general short story.)

Professor Tuilaire paced in front of the class near the end of his lesson, his hands clasped behind his back and his long mustache twitching ferret-like as he spoke. "This week's assignment will put into context the subjects you have studied in your first year at the Academy," he said, peering intently at each student as if their capacity to sustain attentiveness until the final minute of class was under scrutiny. "Each of you will be drafting an essay explaining the Importance of Magic. Although this may be interpreted as a subjective task, in order to receive top marks you will need to incorporate a clear thesis outlining your argument, a through background review, a minimum of five references, and a section discussing how the importance you identify applies to your future magical career. The minimum length is six pages, and I will not accept more than eight. You may consider incorporating interviews with..."

Pyx discretely stifled a yawn as the professor's back turned. A throbbing pain emanated from behind his eyes, and the lights in the room seemed excessively bright. He scrawled a few notes outlining the requirements of Professor Tuilaire's assignment, but his eyes were so strained and bloodshot that they could barely focus on the page. It had been two nights since he'd slept at all well, and even the prospect of an afternoon nap held little hope of relief. His thoughts were elsewhere, trapped in an anxious loop from which there was no escape.

A letter postmarked from Cascadia had arrived two days ago, its contents heralding what was likely the end of Pyx's time at the academy. The unfairness of the situation was aggravating, inescapable, and completely irrelevant, yet he found himself resisting the temptation to tear the letter to bits each time he opened it. The small, folded paper was pressed between the pages of his textbook, and its words smoldered angrily in the forefront of his mind:

Dear Pyxidus,

I hope all is well. I am writing because your uncle's ship is due to arrive in Striberg on the last day of the month. I needn't remind you of the generosity Eamon has shown in the past by allowing you to apprentice under his senior merchants on several occasions. Please greet him on my behalf and give him a full account of your current endeavors in Striberg. I have every confidence that your work will be successful enough to do me proud.

Your mother asks that I send her best wishes. We look forward to your reply.


Pyx's father's brother was the most successful merchant in the family - one of Cascadia's elite - and it was a constant in Pyx's life to be compared to his high standard. Pyx happened to love his family's trade, but he held a somewhat different philosophy than his father regarding how a successful business was defined. A success to Pyx was more about the journey, and while the goal was to turn a profit eventually it seemed better to do something well and beneficial than to focus on the quantity of gold earned. Alas, Pyx's father had only begrudgingly allowed Pyx to attend the Academy, and under the condition that Pyx not be idle during his time there. Thus, Pyx had passed all of his spare time over the past two terms divining a plan to turn a business profit while somehow managing to pass all of his classes.

Pyx had conceived the idea for his business about a month into his first term. He had taken out loans to secure a lease on the shop and purchase stock, cast spells in trade to learn basic carpentry so he could retrofit the building himself, and hired two local women to run the business. Pyx had also missed classes, turned in late assignments, lost an untold amount of sleep, turned down social invitations, cut and sprained himself, and sacrificed the entirety of his financial savings for one little nook of a shop in town, and until last week he had glowed with pride for all he had accomplished. Now he could only despair, for the cost to run the shop was currently greater than its profit, and by his father's definition thereby a failure. Should Pyx's uncle disapprove of the shop, or discover the truth about Pyx's financial status, Pyx knew his father would cease to loan him the money for Academy tuition and demand repayment of everything Pyx had invested.

Professor Tuilaire must have dismissed the class, because the other students suddenly stood and began packing their bags. Pyx followed suit, filing in with his usual crowd as they chatted enthusiastically on their post-Tuilaire route to the dining hall. His brooding mood was distracted by his classmates' enthusiasm, perhaps more easily than it ought, but he was not the only one of his friends who struggled at the Academy and it imbued a common sense of determination between them. Janus did not posses the magical aptitude of his parents, and yearned to attend art classes rather than continue to struggle with the most basic spells at the Academy. Martia had barely managed to scrape together enough tuition for the current term, and would likely have to take a full-time job through the next to save enough for another. Vlen's mother was gravely ill, but his family had worked hard to send him to the Academy and they wouldn't hear of his coming to visit until the end of the term. And poor Cadmir, who fell in love with a different girl every other week, had such anxieties that his friends feared for his health.

The small group of classmates laughed and chatted as they walked, complaining about the assignment and discussing how they would spend their free afternoon. As they approached the entrance to the Archive tower, they encountered a mob of students solidly blocking the Archive doors as well as part of the hall. There was a commotion just inside, and Pyx heard the distant booming voice of Professor Valence scolding some poor student within. He and his friends stopped to indulge their curiosity, and discerned that the Archive entrance had been closed by the school staff and a number of students within were prohibited from leaving. Shouts of protest were audible, both from the students trapped inside and the ones who couldn't access the Archives to complete their assignments. Pyx and his classmates exchanged theories as to what might be going on, the most likely theory that a student had done magic in the Archives, which was forbidden.

Pyx was considering whether he should indulge his curiosity by trying to sneak up to the doors or indulge his stomach by heading to the dining hall when he saw a tall, brown-robed figure enter one of the offices across the hall with much haste. Janus followed Pyx's gaze, and huffed with displeasure as he recognized who it was. "Wels. That prig. What's he up to?" Pyx shrugged, and stepped quietly away from the others to peer inside the office. Wels Ravensberg, Professor Valence's teaching assistant and one of the most talented and celebrated of the Academy's senior class, was rooting desperately through the seemingly endless shelves of books in the professor's messy office searching for something. His eyes fell on Pyx the instant the younger boy stepped into the doorway, and his eyes lit up excitedly. "Pyx! Thank heavens, you've saved my hide. Do that trick with the books for me, would you? I'm supposed to find one in here, but it's not on its shelf."

'The trick with the books' was one of Pyx's few unique magical talents, and while it paled in comparison to the grand illusions and magical constructs of his peers, it was uncannily useful in a library. "Sure, Wels. What does it look like?"

"Blue, about an inch thick, with Veritas written on the spine in gold letters."

Pyx closed his eyes and pictured the book Wels described. An image formed in his mind, and once it was strong enough he released his will, calling the book. It flew out from under a dusty stack of papers on the professor's desk and landed in Pyx's hands.

Wels took the book from Pyx, relieved. "Thanks, mate."

"Anytime," Pyx replied. He cleared his throat, consciously keeping any signs of mischief from reaching his eyes. Now was the the perfect time to press for information. "Do you know what's going on in the hall?" he said nonchalantly. "It looks like the Archives are closed. I was hoping to get some work done on an assignment later today."

Wels winced. "You haven't heard? I thought the entire school would know by now. It's not as though they've managed to keep it a secret, though I know they wanted to. This is the fourth theft from the Archives this month. Professor Valence is investigating, and he's holding all the staff and students inside for questioning. I'm on my way to help." He paused, considering Pyx's question. "Knowing Professor Valence, it might be better to wait until tomorrow to do your research. Who knows how long we'll be in there."

"Thanks," said Pyx, finding himself pitying Wels and the other students who would be trapped in the tower for the rest of the day.

Wels left the office, and Pyx followed him out into the hall and leaned against the wall. His friends were still gathered near the entrance, trying to see what was going on inside. He took a silver Cascadian mark from his pocket and began rolling it between his knuckles idly, as he was often wont to do when he was thoughtful.

--------------------

Several days passed, and although Pyx managed to be less sleep-deprived he still lacked a viable plan to impress his uncle. Given sufficient funds Pyx could have hired a few dozen customers to patronize his shop on the day of his uncle's arrival, or paid off a successful shop owner up-town to allow Pyx to act like he owned the business for a day. Alas, both ideas were well outside his budget, and about equally likely to result in complete disaster if his uncle saw through the farce.

Pyx strolled casually down the streets from the university into the town, stopping at a market en route and filling his shopping baskets full to bursting. It was a sunny day in Striberg, but the pleasant weather contrasted sharply with the snowy winter's day outside the magical city if one's eyes wandered too far on the horizon. He made his way down to his shop, which was in an old wooden building along the main thoroughfare between the docks and the city. A painted sign hung over the open door with the image of a man in a cloak of red, seeming to turn from the left side of the sign to the right as he changed to a shorter cloak of blue.

There were two customers in the shop, and Pyx suppressed the urge to drop his baskets, leap into the air, and crow like a rooster. Instead he let himself behind the counter, nodded a greeting at the woman who was assisting the first customer, and tipped his hat at the woman waiting in line. "Sorry for the wait, ma'am," he said charmingly. "I'll be right with you."

The shop itself was relatively small, and although the lease included a second front room Pyx hadn't been able to purchase enough stock to fill it. The main room was filled with coats from front to back, with heavy winter coats on the left and light spring coats on the right. Most had been purchased secondhand, but his staff was slowly working to make new coats to be sold. Two rooms were in the back, one a sewing room and one a bedroom. A woman in her mid-50's sat upon a stool at the counter, which divided the front rooms from the back, and sewed when she wasn't helping customers.

Pyx took a moment to remove his hat, set his baskets down, and extract from his purchases a fresh bouquet of white flowers, which he placed in a simple vase upon the counter. "Now then, m'lady," he said, addressing the woman who'd been waiting. "How can I be of service?"

"Yes, you see I've only just arrived, and I've never been to Striberg before. I wasn't expecting... the weather, you see. It's much warmer than one would think."

Pyx nodded in agreement. "Yes, I felt the same when I first arrived. Are you looking for something in particular?"

"Well, I haven't much time to browse, but I was hoping for something in a green color..."

Pyx was able to deftly and efficiently produce three green lightweight coats of appropriate size, two second-hand and one new designed and sewn by his staff, for the woman to try. She enthusiastically selected the new one, and Pyx felt a glowing pride for the artistic talents of his staff. "But this is wonderful," she said, pleased with her success. "If only I didn't have to carry these heavy fur coats back to the inn."

"If it pleases m'lady, we do also have a check service. We'll hold your coats until you're ready to leave the city, and even see to cleaning and any needed repairs."

She beamed. "That would be fantastic, thank you." Pyx took the coats and escorted her to the door, adjusting her new coat and tucking one of the flowers from the counter, its stem freshly trimmed, into the button-hole of her lapel.

Once both customers had left, he rushed over to the woman at the counter and kissed her on both cheeks. "Adi! My dear, my genius seamstress. What a wonderful day it is - at last we have customers!"

"Aye, master Pyx," she said, blushing a little and chuckling at his enthusiasm. "And then a few more. Four yesterday, and that's the sixth this morning. All your hard work is finally bringing in a few souls to try us on for size."

Pyx scoffed. "You wait and see, they'll be returning for your amazing coats and cloaks before long. Now, tell me where has Helena gone to this morning that you're running the front? I've bought the thread and fabric she wanted, along with lunch for us all. Is she out on an errand?"

The joy left Adi's eyes, replaced by a concerned look. "No, master Pyx, I'm afraid she's in the sewing room. I've set her to mending the second-hands. She's in no fit state to see customers today."

"What ever happened?" Pyx asked, but before Adi could answer he turned and started walking towards the sewing room door. He opened it to find Helena inside, weeping quietly while mending an old wool cloak.

"Helena?" he asked, and she started and began wiping her eyes self-consciously. "Master Pyx," she said apologetically. "I wasn't expecting-"

"Don't be silly," he said, finding a spare bit of cloth and passing it to her as a handkerchief. "There, now, tell me what's the matter. Is everything all right?"

"No, sir. It's my brother Pel. The one who works at the Academy, you've met him?" Pyx nodded, the boy worked for the groundskeeper, and Pyx saw him at the school often. "Well, it seems something's been stolen, and they think it was Pel who took it. He didn't come home last night, and mum and da are worried sick. They tried calling at the school, but no one would tell them what happened beyond they thought he'd stolen something."

Pyx was quiet, and his expression darkened. Helena and her family, including young Pel, were hard-working folk and just about the least likely thieves he'd ever met. He softened his anger and put his arm around Helena's shoulder. "There now, don't worry. We both know that Pel hasn't stolen anything, and they'll realize the truth sooner or later." Helena nodded despondently. Pyx grew more determined. "Look, I'll head back to the Academy early today and see if I can find out where he is, all right? I'm not very important up there, so I may not be able to learn much, but I'm definitely quite a bit smarter than whoever is accusing your brother of stealing, so there's hope."

She smiled a little at his jest, and he returned the grin. "Now, do you want to stay here with Adi today, or go home to be with your mum? I know we've had some customers, but it's still few enough that I'm confident Adi can manage them herself."

He left the room a few moments later, Helena having decided to stay at the shop, as working helped keep her mind off her missing brother. He unloaded his shopping baskets, giving Adi her week's wages and leaving Helena's in her coat pocket. He kissed Adi's cheek in farewell. "Look after her, Adi, and I'll send word as soon as I learn anything."

"Of course, sir. Good luck."

-----------------------

Pyx spent hours that afternoon at the Academy offices, requesting to see as many of the staff as he could and pleading the case of poor Pel. Most of the professors he spoke to seemed sympathetic, but knew nothing of the incident. Professor Valence, alas, was indisposed. By evening the offices were closing and Pyx was forced to concede defeat.

Downtrodden, Pyx stopped at the dining hall for supper, then fetched his notebooks and headed to the Archive tower. There was nothing more he could do for Pel, and he had plans for a late night amongst the stacks researching his assignment from Professor Tuiliare.

The Archives were busy, with dozens of students working on end-of-term assignments. Pyx queued up behind a short, brown-haired boy about his age at the assistant's desk. The other student wore a fine blue cloak with a white collar, which Pyx noticed as he had learned to appreciate such things of late. The student assistant, Mia (Pyx had met her several times), asked him what he was looking for.

"I'm working on a history project on magical artifacts with medicinal properties," he said. "I'm hoping to find references describing known artifacts and their owners, and I'd like to look at any artifacts we might have here in the tower."

That was odd... Pyx's magical senses told him that the student had lied. Why lie about such a mundane class project? The boy seemed nervous, and he blushed a little when Mia directed him to a section of the Archives. Pyx rolled his eyes. Faking a class assignment to flirt with the student assistant? Really?

He cleared his throat. There was homework to be done.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know someone was waiting," the other student said. "Uh, bye Mia. I'll see you next time?"

Mia, oblivious, nodded without making eye contact. Pyx chuckled and stepped forward. "I'm in professor Tuilaire's first-year class. My assignment is on magically enchanted mustaches, and how to get them as wriggly as possible."

Mia burst out laughing. Pyx looked after the fine-cloaked student, but he was no longer in sight. "It's the Importance of Magic essay, right?" she said, smiling. "Most of your classmates have been here today. I've got a list of historical texts that make good references here. There's also some good references in the practical sections, if you have time to look there. And the professor likes it when you include creative interviews."

"Oh? Who did you interview when you wrote yours?"

"The kitchen staff. Turns out there are more than 430 known spells to poison someone. I guess he thought that was pretty important, because I got an A+."

"Good to know. Thanks."

Pyx headed for the indicated sections on his card. The Archives were enormous, so this was several minutes' walk up the staircases and through a maze of stacks of books. The brown-haired student from the queue had taken off his fine cloak and was looking for a book on the far side of the floor. Pyx turned down one of the rows of stacks and startled when he nearly tripped over Wels.

"Oh, hi Pyx," Wels said. The upper classman sat on the floor between the stacks surrounded by open books, and looked exhausted.

"Hi Wels," Pyx replied. "You're in my section. Find anything interesting?"

"Not really," he sighed. "I'm thinking of moving on to another section, I haven't gotten anywhere for awhile."

Pyx sat down next to Wels and started thumbing through the books on one of the lower shelves. "What's your assignment?" he asked. "Anything interesting?"

Wels winced. "It's more of a project. 'Something memorable'. We're supposed to present it to Professor Valence before the end of term. Points are awarded for uniqueness and impact."

"That actually sounds really fun," said Pyx, thinking what he could do with his magic that would be memorable enough to earn top marks... without getting expelled.

"Yeah, it seems up your alley. But I prefer working out of a cookbook to thinking outside the box. This is a tough one."

"That's okay," said Pyx. "You're pretty good at what you do, from what I hear."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Wels replied, putting the books away and standing up. "I'm off, then. Good luck with your research."

Pyx settled in, pulling books off the shelves and thumbing through them, occasionally taking notes on sections he might be able to reference in his essay and unconsciously rolling a Cascadian mark in between the fingers of his left hand as he read. Hours passed, and as it grew late the Archives became unusually still. He stood and stretched, wondering at the hour, and having made reasonable progress with his work he decided to stop for the night. He returned all the books he'd been reading to their shelves and headed back towards the stairwell.

There was a scuffling noise to his left, and a shadow passed across the high window on the tower wall. Pyx frowned. What could that have been?

The alarm sounded so loudly and suddenly that he jumped several feet, dropping his notes to free his hands to cover his ears. It sounded like a hundred cats being skinned, and it came from everywhere at once. He grabbed his notes and ran towards the stairs, hoping to escape the overwhelming noise, and collided straight into Professor Valence at full speed. The groundskeeper was there as well, and he secured Pyx by his hooded cloak with a victorious expression. Professor Valence spoke a few inaudible words and gestured with his hands, and the noise ceased. Pyx gratefully uncovered his ears.

"Well then," said the professor. "Could this be our thief, at last?"

---------------------------

Something had been taken from the Archives, just moments before Professor Valence's magical alarm had sounded. The professor rounded up everyone in the tower, which at this late hour summed to exactly five students: Pyx, Wels, Mia, and two upper classmen that Pyx didn't know. They were seated around one of the large study tables in the main hall, looking nervously at each other and wondering what would befall them. Only four of the students actually seemed to be suspects, for Professor Valence had exchanged several casual conversations with Wels during the last hour. The professor had asked Wels' opinion about the likelihood that each of the others was a thief directly in front of them. To Wels' credit he was embarrassed by the professor's questions and kept his answers unbiased, although the other students shot intense glares in his direction, and he now sat somewhat apart from them.

Professor Valence made them wait for two hours before questioning them, supposedly while the Archives were searched for hidden students or additional missing items. Everyone was half-terrified and half asleep when he finally went around one by one and grilled each student (other than Wels, of course) on their purpose in the Archives, what they had seen, and whether they had stolen anything. Professor Valence asked for explicit details, as if trying to catch them in a lie, and it took more than 30 minutes to complete his interview with each student. By the time he'd finished with Mia she was in tears, terrified she would be expelled for theft. Pyx's magic told him that all of the students were telling the truth, and he knew Professor Valence must know the same. Why was he tormenting them?

At last it was Pyx's turn, and he glared at Professor Valence defiantly. "Now then, Pyxidus," the professor began, "according to your records you are a first-year student, earning average marks, with nothing extraordinary to your name except a penchant for trouble. Tell me, why did you steal from the Academy? Trying to earn a profit to satisfy your merchant father?"

Pyx glowered, but held his temper. "I didn't steal anything from the Archives, professor."

"Is that so? Then, if you would oblige, please describe were you doing on the tower level where the alarm sounded when the item in question was stolen?"

"I was doing research for a class assignment." Pyx said. He then tediously answered each of Professor Valence's questions about what his assignment was, where he had been in the stacks, which books he'd read, and what notes he'd taken for his research. "I heard something just before the alarm sounded, like a scuffling noise," Pyx said, thinking that he must have heard the thief just before the alarm. "And then I saw a shadow. I think someone might have gone out the window."

Professor Valence's expression was unimpressed. "You think you heard someone? I see. And did you sense anyone performing magic at this time?"

Pyx considered this, but he definitely hadn't sensed any magic. "No, professor."

"I see. So, if I understand you correctly, you believe that the thief climbed a sheer wall to a window 15 feet high, exited the tower, and dropped more than 100 feet onto the street below, without using magic?"

"Um," Pyx stammered, now doubting himself, "I think so? He must have. There's no other explanation."

"Ohhh, I think we have another explanation. Thank you, Pyxidus." The professor started to turn away, and Pyx stood up from his chair.

"So, you suspect one of us?" he said loudly. Professor Valence turned back, his face stern and controlled. "Then where's Pel?"

"I'm sorry, where is whom?"

"Pel! The groundskeeper's assistant. You suspected him yesterday, and I assume you have him locked in a room somewhere because no one's seen him since. If one of us committed the theft, he couldn't possibly have done it. That means you're going to release him now, right?"

Professor Valence's lips smacked irritably. "You are surely not referring to that ordinary boy, who cannot even do magic? How I conduct my investigation is no business of yours. Now, you and the others will wait here quietly while-"

"I will not wait quietly! Pel's parents were here yesterday and none of the staff would tell them where he was. This is certainly his parents' business, and I'm asking on their behalf. Why would you continue to hold Pel when you know he couldn't have committed the thefts? Unless you're trying to prove to everyone that you're making progress with this idiocy, when you have no idea how the items were stolen?"

Pyx's eyes widened in shock at his own words. Whoops. Too far. Even Wels winced. Gods, he was tired, so much that he couldn't filter his own mouth. Professor Valence's brow furrowed severely. Pyx sat back down as humbly as he could manage. The professor continued to glare at him for a full minute, as if contemplating whether he was going to skin Pyx alive or just expel him from the school.

At last he turned away. "Wels, please come assist with this, if you would." Wels nodded tiredly and stood, and Pyx noticed a fine blue cloak with a white collar hanging on the back of his chair.

Pyx stood up again, realizing who else had recently been on the same floor of the Archives as he. His chair scraped across the floor loudly, causing Professor Valence to turn back around. "Professor, I-"

"Pyxidus, you will hereby refrain from speaking again until I say otherwise, or face suspension for the rest of the term. Am I making myself clear?"

Pyx swallowed nervously. But the cloak... He sat back down, keeping silent.

----------------------------

Pyx and most of the other students were released from the Archives with less than an hour before their first class, but Mia, in tears, was told to stay behind. Pyx managed to arrive at his class on time, but he subsequently fell asleep during the lecture and was assigned detention.

When his class ended Pyx ignored the pangs of hunger in his stomach and raced back to the Archives. Professor Valence and the others were gone, and students were filing in and out as if everything was normal. He went to the table where they had been sitting, but the blue cloak was gone. Cursing and exhausted, he kicked a chair spitefully.

"Can I help you?" asked one of the student assistants, who looked concerned that Pyx might lose his temper and start breaking shelves.

"Sorry. I was looking for... that is, I left my favorite cloak here last night, but it's gone this morning. Is there any chance you've seen it?"

"Hmm, no, I haven't seen it. But you can check the lost and found."

Pyx's eyes lit up. "Thank you!" he said, unnecessarily sprinting the 30 feet between the study table and the front desk.

The cloak was there. He described it perfectly to the staff, and they handed it to him without question.

----------------------------

Pyx sat upon his bed, staring intently at the blue cloak lying before him and trying to solve its mystery. Was this boy even a student at the school? Pyx was starting to doubt this fact, for anyone could walk into the school, and what magically inclined person would scale sheer, dangerous walls when he or she could use magic? He'd searched the cloak's pockets, but turned up no hint as to the person's identity. The seeking spells that allowed him to pull library books from shelves across a room required knowledge of the object or person being sought, and his brief interaction with the cloak's owner the previous evening was not enough to seek the boy's location. He sighed, feeling he'd made a huge leap of progress only to be brought to an impasse. He had no way of tracking down the owner that he could conceive.

Pyx didn't typically go into town on a day when he had classes, but he felt it was important to check on Helena. His classes were done for the day, and Pyx quickly changed out of his school uniform into regular clothes, snatched up the blue cloak, and stuffed it into his school bag.

The walk to the shop passed quickly. Pyx entered to find that the shop was empty of customers, but Helena sat at the counter in her proper place, looking much more cheerful. "Master Pyx!" she exclaimed, "I'm so glad you've come, I've such good news. Pel returned home this morning."

Pyx breathed a sigh of relief. "That's wonderful, Helena. And he's all right?"

"Yes, he said they did suspect him of theft, and pressed him with many questions, but another theft was committed while he was under guard and they knew it couldn't have been him, so he was free to go. He can even resume his old job with the groundskeeper."

"You don't say," Pyx said, smiling.

Adi emerged from the back room upon hearing their conversation. "Master Pyx! Come to check on us mid-week, have you?" Her eyes twinkled with approval. "You look tired, boy, is something the matter?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes, everything's fine, I just didn't get much sleep last night. Say, I was wondering if you and Helena could take a look at something for me?" He pulled the blue cloak out of his bag and set it on the counter. "I've found this cloak, and I'd like to locate its owner. It's quite distinctive, with the white on the collar, and I thought you might have some idea who made it?"

Adi took the cloak, examining it. "Well I don't know that I can tell you much, but let's take a look. Sometimes there's a mark..."

A young boy raced in through the door with the exuberance of a bumblebee, his wings outstretched and his volume at maximum. He came to a screeching halt when he reached Pyx. "Master Pyx!" he exclaimed excitedly.

"Hi there, Dae," Pyx said, crouching down to eye level and mussing the boy's hair. "What are you today?"

"A pirate airship! ARRR!"

"Ah, of course. Any conquests?"

"We've found the buried treasure, but the navy is in pursuit! All hands on deck!"

Pyx laughed, feigning trying to catch the boy as he raced around the shop. He stood, and Adi sighed. "I'm afraid I don't see anything, Master Pyx. No one I know made this. I'm sorry I can't be of more help."

Dae bounced up onto one of the stools, and joined them at the counter. Seeing the cloak, he turned to Adi and Helena. "Are you going to work at the calf-ay?" he asked. Pyx, Adi, and Helena all looked at him, confused.

"What's that?" asked Adi.

"The calf-ay. They wear those uniforms. The owner's really nice, he always gives me a biscuit with my copper for running messages. But you should stay, I think it's nicer here."

Pyx, Adi, and Helena exchanged surprised glances. "Can you tell me where this cafe is, Dae?" Pyx asked.

"Sure, it's in up-town, right by the Academy. You haven't been there? I thought most of the students knew about it."

Pyx shook his head. "Nope, I save all of my coin for you three precious folk. How would you like to earn a few extra coppers, and take me there?"

"Will that be the buried treasure? Hurry up, before the navy finds us!" He shot out the door at top speed.

Pyx quickly collected the uniform and slung his school bag over his shoulder. "Sorry to leave in a rush. Helena, send my best to your family, will you?"

The two women laughed as he ran out the door in pursuit of Dae.

----------------------------

The Cafe de la Glace was a lovely spot, close to the Academy with expansive views across the city. Pyx lingered nearby for some time watching the entrance, and noted many professors and students entering and leaving, but no sign of the thief. When he finally ceased his reconnaissance and approached the entrance, just at sunset, he nearly repeated the previous day's collision with Professor Valence, who was just leaving. The professor, in conversation with a colleague, didn't even notice him.

Pyx entered and removed his hat, looking around. The cafe was filled with small, candlelit tables. The brown-haired thief was waiting tables on the veranda, wearing a uniform cloak that didn't quite fit his shoulders as well as the one in Pyx's bag. Dae had been right, the thief worked here.

The day was growing late, and there were few patrons remaining. Pyx sat himself at a prime table at the edge of the veranda. Most of the other patrons were students and professors, although some townsfolk were there as well. Pyx looked at a menu, and when the thief came round he met the other boy's eyes. There was no sign that he recognized Pyx from last night. Pyx placed an order for seafood stew and tea.

The grounds of the Academy extended along one side of the cafe, just opposite the garden, and the lights of the city were far below. Pyx leaned out past the edge of the veranda and looked up above the cafe awning, and he could see the walls of the Archive tower and the windows where the thief had entered, far above. The moon was about half full, and in the dim light he wondered if he could make out a figure climbing the walls. Probably, but only if he knew to look. Pyx wondered if the thief had been inspired with the idea, standing here.

He resumed his seat, and looked around the cafe. It was decorated with eccentricities of Striberg: fishing nets, flowers, driftwood carvings. And on the mantle, hidden amongst the driftwood in plain sight, a healing totem that Pyx was certain he'd seen in an Archive case. Pyx fought the urge to laugh, and looked around eagerly for other stolen items. On the ceiling, strung in one of the fishing nets, was a metal box marked with a magical seal that blended in perfectly with the ocean debris in the net. He didn't see anything else, but Pyx would've bet what was left of his savings that all of the stolen items were here, in plain sight, where the professors would never notice them.

Pyx was developing a keen respect for this thief.

The thief arrived with Pyx's order, and placed the stew and tea on the table with rough, calloused hands. Pyx chose not to divulge his awareness of the thief's work, staying quiet and enjoying what was possibly the best stew he had ever had. He rolled a coin between the fingers of his left hand as he ate.

When he finished his meal, Pyx paid his bill and left a generous tip on the table - a silver Cascadian mark.

----------------------------

Pyx waited outside the cafe until the thief's shift ended and he left for the night. The hour was getting late, and Pyx's excitement and anticipation of the encounter was the only think keeping him awake. When the thief emerged Pyx allowed him several minutes' head start, and then whispered a few words, concentrating on the silver coin he'd kept in his pocket since he arrived in Striberg. It was a familiar object that he could seek easily.

As Pyx had expected, the thief took a route that led away from the Academy. He was not a student, then, but a resident of Striberg. Pyx followed the pull of the coin to a house in lower Striberg, where the rent was less expensive compared to the area near the cafe. Pyx sensed that his coin was around the back, and he followed a path to a separate partition that must serve as a rental. Pyx knocked on the door, and the thief answered. "Yes, who are you?"

Pyx extended his hand. "Pyx, from the Academy. I'm a fan of your work. Is there somewhere private we can talk regarding a potential offer of employment?"

The thief looked critically at Pyx, and for once Pyx thought it was to his advantage to appear scrawny and unthreatening. Nodding, the thief allowed him to enter. "All right, then, what's this about?"

Pyx reached into his bag, and pulled out the uniform cloak. The thief froze. "I found this in the Archives, after you left last night. I thought I'd heard someone go out the window, but Professor Valence declared it to be impossible. Yet there was the coat, and here you are, working at a cafe decorated in stolen magical artifacts, with a perfect view of the Archive tower windows."

The thief was silent, barely appearing to breathe. Pyx continued.

"Now, don't misconstrue my intentions. As a rule I generally applaud any effort to fool ignorant, condescending professors and rub their noses in it. And you, my friend, are damned clever and impressive, if you'll pardon my saying so. They would never conceive that someone with, if my assumption is right, no magical abilities could possibly achieve such an incredible feat. But I think, perhaps, that you may not be aware of some unintended consequences of your actions."

The thief maintained his silence, but from his worried expression Pyx thought he was likely on the right track.

"You see, the professors have been looking for you, and as they fumbled around in the darkness of their misconceptions they accused the wrong people of the crime. A boy a few years younger than us, Pel, with no magical abilities, was held for two days when they thought he'd committed the thefts. He's been reprieved, but his family was worried sick. And five of us students were held and interrogated for nearly seven hours last night. You remember Mia, the library assistant you were flirting with? To my knowledge she has yet to be released. She was in tears when I left. Do you think she deserves the anxiety of worrying she'll be expelled for a crime she didn't commit?"

The thief's eyes widened with apprehension. He started to stammer a defense, but Pyx raised a hand to stop him. "I realize that you likely intended nothing of the sort. But I think it's time to end this before the situation gets worse, don't you?"

To his credit, the thief did not argue. He sat upon a chair, conceding defeat. Pyx sat opposite him, waiting patiently, as the thief visibly struggled with some internal conflict, placing his hands on his head and breathing strained breaths. "It's not fair," he said. "The only talents valued in Striberg are magical ones. No matter how incredible someone is, they are ordinary in comparison to someone who can light a stupid candle or lift a pencil with a spell."

Pyx nodded his agreement. "Which is why someone like you doesn't belong here," he replied. "Why haven't you left, and tried your luck elsewhere?"

"I can't afford passage. Besides, where would I go?"

Pyx grinned. "Anywhere, if you're as good as I think you are. Tell me, just so I can hear it from you, did you really climb the Archive tower? Without ropes, or magic?"

The thief hesitated, but nodded his assent. "It's called free climbing. I learned from some fishermen out on the seawall."

Pyx grinned mischievously. "Would you do it again?"

---------------------------

Three days later, Pyx stood at the docks in the late afternoon as his uncle's airship floated in on a light breeze. Water dripped from the ship's sails as the warm Striberg sun melted the snow and ice that had frozen there in the storm that raged outside the city.

Although he had apprenticed to Eamon's merchants for several seasons, Pyx had only met his uncle twice before, as a youth in Cascadia. He recognized the tall, once-handsome man who strode down the walkway more from his resemblance to his father than from memory. Eamon had mostly gray hair that had been recently brown, crow's feet at the edges of his eyes, and bright red wind burn upon his face. He stopped for several minutes to make arrangements with the dockmaster before making his way to the end of the docks, where Pyx awaited, and extending his hand in greeting.

"Pyxidus! How are you, boy? You've grown quite a bit since I last saw you. I can't believe my own nephew is attending the Academy. The first in our family, as far as I know. Well done!"

"Thanks, uncle Eamon," replied Pyx. "Father sends his greetings."

"Mm, I'm sure he does," Eamon said, his eyes glinting with understanding. A bead of sweat trickled down his brow, and Pyx found himself ecstatic to see his uncle sweating in his own heavy overcoat. "I don't suppose you know a good place to get a bite to eat in this place, do you?"

Pyx grinned. "That I do. But I have something to show you first, if you don't mind a brief delay?"

"Ahh, this must be the new business your father wrote me about? Of course, let's see it then! Lead on, lead on."

Pyx led his uncle down the docks, out onto the main road, and to his shop. Eamon eyed the sign curiously, and Pyx ushered him inside.

There were two customers in the shop, and Pyx hadn't even paid them to be there. Adi and Helena were both tending the front in anticipation of Eamon's visit, and Adi quickly passed the other customers to Helena and approached Eamon. Pyx leaned quietly against the back wall while she greeted him, explained the shop's service, took his heavy winter coat for cleaning, and fitted him with a new, red overcoat that he could wear during his time in Striberg. Pyx might have informed her of his uncle's size and favorite color in anticipation of this occasion.

The exchange took less than five minutes, and then Pyx and Eamon exited the shop. Pyx drew a deep breath. "Well, what did you think?"

Eamon looked down, considering his new coat. He smiled broadly, and clapped Pyx on the shoulder. "This is the most clever business idea I've ever heard of. I don't suppose you're looking for investors?"

Pyx laughed, relieved, and shook his head. "I'm afraid not."

"That's too bad. How's business, then?"

Pyx shrugged. "We've only just opened. I wouldn't take it amiss if you mentioned it to all your friends?"

It was Eamon's turn to laugh. "Done, my boy, consider it done."

Pyx hired a cart to take them uptown to the Cafe de la Glace, where he'd reserved a table at the edge of the veranda. As the sun set, he recommended the seafood stew to his uncle. They enjoyed a hearty meal, and Pyx was generous with the wine. He glanced around the room when he thought his uncle wasn't looking. The totem and magic box were both gone from their hiding places.

"Uncle Eamon, are you hiring crawlers for any of your airships?"

Eamon nodded. "Always. Tough to come by someone who will hang a few thousand feet in the air to repair a ship without losing his nerve."

"I've an acquaintance here who I think would be a good fit. He's a bit of a prankster, but he's a talented climber and a hard worker. I thought... could we give you a demonstration, while you're sitting here?"

Eamon laughed. "My, you've become an ambitious one, haven't you? By all means, boy."

Pyx picked up his wine glass and stood, gesturing for Eamon to do the same. They walked to the edge of the veranda and looked out at the Academy tower, watching the walls and waiting.

Minutes later, a dim, gray-clad figure began to scale the sheer walls up to the tower window.

---------------------------

Wels paced nervously back and forth in Professor Valence's office. The thief had just left, and everything was ready. Pyx had assured Wels that everything would go well, citing some reasoning about the professor's character and saving face. But was Wels really so desperate to gain high marks on this assignment that he was trusting his fate to a first-year student?

Professor Valence arrived, and settled in the seat behind his desk. It was too late for Wells to change his mind. He swallowed nervously as the professor spoke. "Good evening, Wels. What is it you wanted to discuss?"

Wels took a deep breath and cleared his throat nervously. "It's my assignment, professor. I think it's time to reveal myself as the culprit and hand it in."

"Come again? Is this your assignment for my class?"

"Yes, professor. I struggled to come up with something memorable. I truly hope this hasn't been inappropriate. You see, I've managed to spell several items out of the Archives. I thought for certain you'd made me the other day when I was caught in the tower with the others and we were all kept overnight, but you seemed to think me above reproach. You never asked if I was the one who took the artifacts, to catch me in a lie."

The professor looked shocked. "It was you?! That's impossible! But, where are the artifacts?"

"Right here, sir. They never went far." Wels indicated a number of artifacts that were hidden carefully in plain sight around Professor Valence's messy office, much as they had been at the cafe. Every missing item was there, as if they had been right in front of the professor's nose the entire time. Which, to be fair, they had been.

"Well, I'll be. I'll be," the professor said, stunned. He considered, pacing back and forth and muttering to himself, as Wels shifted nervously. "Brilliant! It's brilliant. I can't imagine how you did it, you had me completely fooled. I'll remember this for a long time, yes, that's for certain. Top marks, Wels."

Wells beamed.

-------------------------

Several days later, Pyx bid farewell to his uncle, and the thief, whose name he'd learned was Mikael. Eamon had eagerly agreed to hire Mikael and train him as an airship crawler. Pyx looked at Mikael and thought he had never seen anyone as excited in his life.

Later that day he sat in Professor Tuilaire's class, yawning again, as his fellow students presented their theses on the Importance of Magic. Janus spoke of innovation, and the importance of curiosity and discovery. Martia was the most eloquent, and expounded on the importance of the healing arts. Vlen excitedly justified the importance of magic to the balance of power in the realm. And Cadmir spoke of prosperity and the contribution of magic to everyday life.

Pyx hopped casually up to the front of the class when his name was called, cleared his throat, and read from the first page of his essay:

"On the Unimportance of Magic.

Magic is the tool of mages, and its power exceeds that of any other natural force we know. Yet we rarely consider magic as a tool, for we are too humbled by its vastness to demean it so. But as with swords, ships, spears, or medicine, magic is yielded by fallible men and women, and there is a great responsibility upon us that often goes unchecked. I maintain that it is not magic itself, but the magician, who is the fulcrum balancing this power, and we cannot undervalue the importance of humanity and compassion to the effect we have upon the world."

Pyx placed his essay on Professor Tuiliare's desk as the professor gazed at him with a raised eyebrow, and returned to his desk.
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