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About this blog

Follow the life of Cel as she rises from the humble stature of an ascetic monk to one of the legendary Nine Masters and beyond.

Of course, every journey has its difficulties, and Cel is no stranger to a particular golden sort of trouble...

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I consider this to be an indirect series - there is an identifiable chronology between individual stories and an overarching storyline, but each individual story is able to stand on its own and will make sense without having read all prior ones. I may release stories out of chronological order for this reason.

Entries in this blog

Masterful

The crowds packing the halls of Medru Dalach dispersed instinctively at Cel’s approach, first-years who didn’t know any better being dragged aside by upperclassmen. Nobody made eye contact with her – they had enough problems already without provoking her one way or another. Of course, it wasn’t like she went around trying to pick fights, but even so, by now people knew better than to disturb her without good reason. It wasn’t all that easy to socialize with her anyways, and while she did have a handful of close friends (hardly any of whom she’d met at the Academy) she’d made it clear that the distractions from her studies were not appreciated.                 So she walked in silence, with the confidence of someone who’d committed a map of the grounds and halls to memory. This was Cel’s seventh year at Medru Dalach, of course, and while it was quite large it was very intuitively designed; not at all hard to navigate. Most of the difficulty in getting around was that there were so many people, but that had long since stopped applying to Cel. She walked into a room without even looking at the signage to confirm which room it was, and moved directly to take a seat at what would be her desk the entire year.                 This room was something of a laboratory, large with one wall covered entirely in windows, and filled with a sprinkling of large tables that could easily seat a dozen people each. Shelves full of books and assorted magical and miscellaneous items lined the wall opposite the windows and in the middle of the room was a furnace and a handful of anvils. Cel’s seat was at a desk on the far side of the room from where she’d entered, beneath a large chalkboard with a handful of old paper diagrams stuck to it. She was the first to arrive – well before anyone else would even consider showing up – and as someone had already come in to light all the lanterns in the room she had plenty of time to look over her notes. It may have been her first day back this year, but that didn’t mean she had any excuse to be unprepared.                 Come to think of it, it was her first day for a lot of things. As with most other members of her Order, she’d normally wear loose-fitting golden robes, but now Cel adjusted the collar of her new white shirt, undoing the top button so it didn’t feel like she was being choked by her own clothes. Her pants weren’t much better – they weren’t too bad, but they were tight and always seemed to be in an uncomfortable position. She really wasn’t used to wearing stuff like that, since beyond her armor which she’d maybe only wear for an hour or two at a time once a month, she’d always worn robes and skirts with nothing under them except the minimum required to maintain decency. But now she had an appearance to maintain, and this was the way to do it – even if it meant she’d have to stuff herself into constricting garments and show off a little more of her modest figure than she would have liked.                 For an hour the only sound in the room was that of papers being moved as Cel consulted her notes, checking over diagrams to ensure they and the descriptions of them were accurate. The first few students to arrive didn’t even seem to notice her presence as they found seats at the large tables and similarly looked over whatever important documents they had with them. But as the room filled, they started talking to each other, and the few times Cel looked up to survey the room she could see one or two of them pointing in her direction and talking in hushed tones. Whatever they were talking about, though, she didn’t care. It was probably true anyways, and either way she was well aware of all the rumors about her that had been circulating for the past few years. No need to waste her time trying to suppress them when they weren’t doing her any harm.                 The room had filled well before the bell in the Council tower rang out – these were seventh-year students, and by now they had no excuse to be late to the first class of the year. When it stopped ringing, she stood up and moved out from behind her desk, all eyes now on her and the room dead silent.                 Cel spread her arms and gave a little bow of her head before breaking the silence. “Well,” she said. “Here we are again, huh?” Then her arms folded and she continued. “I already know all of you and you already know me. And you know that I don’t want to waste any time here. Whatever you’ve heard, you heard right. Especially –“ She tugged lightly at the blue sash she was wearing. “If you’ve heard about this. Now, my status may have changed but my expectations haven’t. You show me respect, do what you’re here to do, we’ll get along fine like always. You make trouble…” Cel gave a little chuckle. “Well, you already know how that would turn out, don’t you? Anyways, all you need to know is that this is not going to be an easy class, but we’re gonna do a lot more practical work than theory, so we’ll have a bit of fun with it. But that’s enough talking. Let’s get right into it, unless someone has questions…?”                 A single hand went up near the front of the room, and the person to whom it was attached stood up when Cel pointed at her. Cel was familiar with her – they’d had adjacent dorm rooms for the past six years. “Well, uh, excuse me Ce- er, Councillor, but…” The woman was a good eight years older than Cel and was tripping over her own words. “Uh… don’t you think it, eh, it’s a bit… weird… that you took our class specifically?”                 Cel shook her head before answering. “Of course not. Nobody else – not the other eight, not any of the professors – knows you guys as well as I do. I’m sure it’ll be a little uncomfortable for a little while, but trust me, it’ll be worth it. Who better to teach you than someone who was, hardly four months ago, your peer? I know what’ll work, what won’t, so we won’t have to waste any time figuring it all out. And speaking of wasting time…”                 The Councillor’s eyes scanned the room for a moment. The woman whose question she’d answered had sat back down and nobody else seemed to have anything to say, so Cel turned around and picked up a piece of chalk. For the next couple of minutes the only sound was of the chalk rubbing against the board, until finally Cel turned around again, now standing in front of a complicated diagram and a few unusual equations.                 “This should be a good place to start,” she said, pointing with her thumb over her shoulder. “Divine alloy, mystic alloy, whatever name you’ve heard for it. We’re gonna make some. I’ll show you how to do it and then, well, you do it. I’ll need, uh…” Cel looked around for only a moment and pointed at two different people. “You, and you. Get over there.” She waved a hand in the direction of the forges, and the two elves she’d chosen hurried over without a word. Cel herself took a moment to browse the shelves for a handful of different metals before joining her two assistants and laying out the metal bars on an anvil.                 Cel lit one of the forges and got to work immediately. For ten minutes, she worked with the bars she’d brought, running her hands across them and moving them into and out of the forge, all the while narrating her process. Her assistants added their magic on her orders, and eventually Cel was magically pulling a blob of liquid metal with a peculiar bronze color.                 “Now, you’re supposed to be able to do this regardless of what sort of magic you’ve got. If you can’t, you did it wrong. But if you did it right, you should be able to…” The metal gradually took on a more corporeal shape as Cel’s hands moved about, eventually settling into the form of a razor-sharp dagger which Cel grabbed out of the air. “… give it whatever shape you want. Once you’re satisfied with its shape,” she said, stuffing the knife into some compartment in her new robes. “You can solidify it, and you’ve got yourself a more or less indestructible whatever-you-made. You can’t reshape it once you’ve locked its form, though. Nobody’s figured out how to do that, so… Well, if you somehow manage to do that I’ll definitely need to know about it.” Then she clapped her hands together once and said, “Now go ahead, sort yourselves out, and get to work. There’s… a good forty minutes left to this class. Should be plenty of time.”                 Cel spent the rest of the class at her desk, carefully watching over her students to ensure nothing was getting out of hand. It was a bit disorderly, as she’d expected – only one of the groups had no more than the minimum six people, and all the others had an extra mage of one element or another helping out. None of the groups had gotten it quite right, but everyone was talking to each other trying to figure out what went wrong, so as far as Cel was concerned the lesson was working.                 She took a drink from the waterskin she’d had hanging by her hip, attached to a piece of her robe that served as a belt. It was almost entertaining watching people who just last year were her fellow students now running around following her orders. Councillors didn’t have to teach classes, but Cel was very much enjoying her decision to do so. This was what she’d been working towards for twenty years. She raised her waterskin in a little toast to herself, and took another drink. Having this sort of power was fun, and it was power she’d damn well earned. Though, more importantly, of course, was the responsibility of being part of the joint leadership of the Academy, and Cel certainly wasn’t about to let that get the better of her after everything she’d done to get there. It would be a bit of a learning experience, but then again, what wasn’t?                 Cel stood up at the exact moment the Council tower bell started ringing. The class, which would have normally been prepared to leave ten minutes ago after becoming so familiar with the Academy’s schedule, seemed to be taken by surprise and rushed to clean up after themselves. They hesitated to leave, though, only hurrying out the door once Cel gave a little dismissive wave of her hand. She stayed behind until the last of them had left, giving the room a quick last survey to ensure it was clean enough for whomever would have it next before she left as well.                 She took her sweet time in the halls, not having anywhere in particular she needed to be. She’d decided to work her way over to the Council tower, but there wasn’t any pressing need for her to be there just yet. Soon enough Cel was the only one in the halls, the tower bell signaling the start of the next class. Nobody wanted to be late, after all, especially not with her prowling around. And with nowhere to be and no truants to chase down, Cel now had an opportunity to admire the architecture of the place. She’d never really gotten a good look at anything before, always in a hurry to get to one place or another, but now she was looking at every little detail while she wandered along in whatever direction she was headed.                 For a bunch of five-thousand-year-old buildings, Medru Dalach sure did look nice. A glance out one of the hallway windows gave a view of the marble outer walls of the other buildings, and inside the walls were a beautiful light bluish-gray stone with some intricate designs carved in where they met the dark wooden floor. Bright lanterns hung from the ceiling and were mounted on the walls in places.                 Cel made her way down a flight of stairs made of the same stone as the walls, down a short hallway and through some large doors leading to a mess hall. It was quiet this time of day, with only a handful of students and possibly even a professor or two hanging around with nothing better to do. None of them gave Cel any more attention than a quick glance in her direction, and she didn’t pay them any heed either, making her way over to a counter set up with various drinks. Having already had breakfast, Cel simply made herself a cup of tea and walked right back out into the halls with it in hand. Her slow walk continued, and she stopped every so often to take a sip or two of her tea, working her way to the Council tower.                 She eventually got to the plaza that connected all the buildings on campus, taking one last break on a bench near the Academy’s central lodestone, an obelisk taller than some of the buildings around it, to finish off her tea. Once that was done, Cel decided to skip the rest of the walk and a great deal of stairs – primarily the excessive amount of stairs – and simply touched the lodestone, closing her eyes for a moment. There was a brief sensation of wind rushing past her, then Cel found herself standing near a little shrine on one of the tower’s higher levels.                 Across the room there was a desk, at which was seated a silver-haired elf wearing the same robes as Cel. He was hunched over what seemed to be papers of some kind, only looking up once Cel reached the desk.                 “Ah, there you are,” he said, standing and offering a handshake which Cel readily accepted. “There’s a lot to show you. Would have done it earlier, of course, but you’ve thrown that off a little by taking a class already.”                 “Was that not what you were expecting?”                 “Not particularly,” the other Councillor said. “But it’s not an issue really. Come, I’ll… show you to the proper offices. Just up these stairs here.” He passed through a doorway to a staircase, Cel following close behind, and the two continued to talk on the way.     “I must say, Cel,” he said. “You seem to have adjusted quite well to your new station. Many of us never teach classes, never mind that being the first thing we do when we get here. Seems we were right about you.”                 Cel stopped briefly to give a deep bow of her head. “Why, thank you, Master.”                 The response was a light chuckle. “Oh, but it seems it’s not so easy for you to drop the formal tone with us, is it, Maestress?” The last word had a teasing emphasis on it.                 “Old habits, Varassus,” Cel said, mimicking his tone. “How long did it take you to start calling Theryl or Sentagon by their names, hm?”                 “Sure, fair enough. Though in my defense, they’re forty years older than me, and it’s very hard to act like people so senior to you are your equals. Ah, but, here we are.” Varassus stopped to hold a door open for Cel and followed her into the room. Aside from the space occupied by the stairwell and what seemed to be a handful of closets, the room took up the entirety of this floor of the tower and as such was a massive circle. Some desks were scattered around, organized into strange shapes with many of them piled high with any number of things. One of the desks was occupied, and four more Councillors stood over a small table at which the last two were seated. Varassus went directly to this table, and Cel followed quietly. Cel recognized the two seated Councillors as Esgobion and Teragon. Esgobion had been the sole vote against offering her a Council seat, and Teragon had said only a single word during Cel’s trials – he had a bit of a reputation for saying as little as possible, a trait Cel could sympathize with. The two were playing a game with which Cel was not particularly familiar, and though she’d seen it played at the Academy from time to time she didn’t know its name or its rules. All she knew about it was that a square board was laid out on the table, and had a grid of squares that alternated between light and dark painted onto it. The two Councillors were moving a little army around, one black and one white. Varassus leaned in close to Esgobion, and Cel could hear him quietly say “Ng5,” whatever that meant, to the other elf. Apparently, it didn’t mean anything of value, as in response Esgobion shoved Varassus aside with one hand. “What? Why would I do that? Do you see his queen? Get out of here.” “Bah, you never take my advice.” Varassus turned back to Cel and vaguely gestured out towards the rest of the room. “Well, you can go ahead and find an empty desk or two or ten. Get yourself set up however you like. Not too much work to do just yet, so relax for a bit, then when you’re ready one of us has to show you how to set up the trials.” And with a curt nod, he headed back downstairs, leaving Cel to wander the office on her own. She headed first for the only occupied desk, where a Councillor was busy studying what seemed to be essays of some variety. “How’d you end up stuck with paperwork on the first day, Madrelos?” She was looking over his shoulder has she spoke, and though he seemed to jump a little in his seat he was mostly unphased, only giving a brief glance back at Cel. “Council applicants,” he said with his impatience clear in his voice. “We get a good few during the off-season, and we’ve got to sort through them all, toss the ones we don’t want to bother with, and set up the interviews for the ones we do want.” Then he shrugged. “Pain in the ass, but someone has to do it.” “Couldn’t we just stop taking applications for a while?” Cel folded her arms. “There’s a mile-long list of people who already passed the trials, isn’t there?” Madrelos sighed. “Sure is. Consider yourself lucky you got an invitation and skipped the line. You and Theryl are the only ones here who managed that. The rest of us had to wait a good three years or so.” He dropped his pen and turned around to face Cel properly. “And we were lucky to wait any less than fifteen. There are people on that list who’ve been on it longer than you’ve been alive. But, we close off applications, we’re blinded to new talent. Sure, some people will die waiting to get in, but I’m sure you’re well aware of how high our standards are. It’s one thing to be good enough to get our attention and pass the trials, but if someone better comes along afterwards, we’re taking them first.” Another sigh and he turned around again. “But we’d never know if someone better might come along later if we close applications. Nobody likes sorting through them, but sometimes you strike gold and that’s what makes it worth it. Now, uh, I’d like to get through at least a tenth of this before the day is out.” “Yeah, have fun there.” Cel took only a few steps away from Madrelos and examined the room. Things seemed to be strewn about at random – the desks that had anything on them didn’t have any logical placement in the room, and most seemed to be two or three separate desks all pushed together. The unoccupied desks were almost as bad, relegated to the edges of the room but still positioned without any care. Though the edges of the room also featured some very nice, if unremarkable, windows. It wasn’t so much the windows themselves that were impressive, of course – sure, they were made of flat, clear glass, which even a King would consider a luxury anywhere else, but that was standard at the Academy. And those simple blue curtains pulled out of the way of the sun’s light weren’t anything to write home about either. But that view… Cel grabbed one of the free desks and dragged it over to a nearby window, shoving the desk right up against the wall below the window. Then she found a chair and brought that over, and sat down to watch the outside world. This side of the tower looked out on the bulk of the campus, and at this height any observer would have the perfect angle just far enough above all the buildings to properly admire the size of Medru Dalach. It could be a perfectly functional city if it really wanted to, and from here it was easy to see why. But Cel couldn’t just sit around staring out a window all day – her body had other plans, for one, and while it currently seemed to only be making a suggestion and not a demand, it would be wise to take care of that little problem before it became an actual issue. She’d still have business to take care of afterwards, of course, and it wouldn’t make much sense to add unnecessary distractions. So she got up, calmly smoothed out her robe, and went on a bit of an adventure to see what was in all the side rooms on this floor of the tower. Most of them were storage space, as was expected, but one was exactly what Cel was looking for. It was a small room, with little in it beyond what was necessary – though it was a little ostentatious for just the bare minimum. The Academy, after all, made unique use of running water indoors, thanks to some sort of ingenuous use of magic that allowed fresh water to be carried around through pipes in the walls. A marked improvement over having a bench with a hole in it that led who-knows-where. Cel’s hands found their way under her robe to drop what was there to the ground, then she took her seat. She couldn’t help but think that the whole setup was a bit strange, even if she did know it helped keep things around the Academy a lot cleaner and healthier. There was just something inherently not right about the muted sound of her urine striking water beneath her even if only for a few seconds, and the cold ceramic seat wasn’t exactly comfortable either. But then, comfort wasn’t the primary purpose here, was it? When she finished, Cel stood up and negotiated her clothes into a position where she could return her pants and underwear to where they were meant to be and drop the blue robe to cover them again. A few steps over to another wall and she was standing before a mirror hung over a stone counter – the counter had a bit of a bowl-shape carved into the middle, and a pipe came from the wall and aimed directly at the hole in the center of the recession. Cel turned a knob on the pipe, causing it to issue cold water in a manner not at all dissimilar to what she herself had done seconds before. A moment to wash her hands, turn the water off again, and straighten out her short black hair, then Cel left the little room behind. Then she went straight back to her desk – her own desk, in the Council tower! – and stood by it, leaning a little over it with both hands planted flat on top. More to stop them from shaking than anything else. The feeling struck her almost out of nowhere that this must have been a dream; a dream that she would have wet herself out of by now with her little bathroom trip, but a dream nonetheless. But no, it was real. Surely it was. Wasn’t it? ‘Deep breaths,’ Cel told herself, looking straight at her hands for some anchor in something she could be sure was true. After all, how could everything around her be real? Six years. That was it. How could all this happen in six years? Seven years ago, she was celebrating becoming a proper adult, going off into the world on her own as an absolute nobody. Two years ago, she had respect. She had a name; not a big shot by any means, but she’d made a name for herself. And then… last year. That sixth year. That was it. The year that took this nobody girl from nowhere and ensured the entire world would know her name. Cel brought up one arm and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. She was proud of herself, and she damn well had every right to be. She’d worked hard, not just for the six years she was a student at the Academy, for her entire damn life, all twenty-two years of it.  And this was her reward. She hadn’t thought about exactly what that meant before now, and it was all a bit overwhelming. Years’ worth of sweat and blood and now suddenly Cel was one of the nine most powerful people on the planet. The youngest person to ever be one of the nine most powerful people on the planet. Just a few years at Medru Dalach and she’d made history all on her own. ‘But it’s not over yet, is it?’ Cel answered her own question with a little shake of her head. She couldn’t afford to have people start second-guessing her reputation – her life’s work – when it was all she had. ‘No… No, this is where it starts.’ She may have already proven herself, but now she had to fight to keep everything she’d already fought so hard to get. ‘Because, if I don’t-‘ “Cel?” The young Maestress was pulled from her thoughts by a familiar voice off to her side, and she turned her head to find its source. “You alright?” Sentagon spoke calmly, his concern obvious in his tone and the creases of his aged face. Cel nodded and took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m… I’m fine. Just… Just, uh, haven’t quite totally accepted that, eh… that this is real, y’know?” Sentagon raised an eyebrow, and watched Cel search his eyes for some hint that he knew what she wouldn’t say – but if he did, he wasn’t saying anything about it either. “Yeah, it is a bit overwhelming at first,” he said, offering up a cup of tea he’d carried over – Cel took it with a quiet word of thanks and took a few sips while the elder Councillor continued speaking. “But, here we are. We dedicated our lives to magic, and this is where we ended up. It’s always hard to understand that we really have done it. You just need a little help adjusting.” “Thanks, but, uh… I don’t need help. What I need is to get to work. Soooo,” Cel dragged out the last word before cutting it off with another sip of tea. “If you really want to help, you think you could show me how to get the arena set up?” “Hah, I should have expected as much from you,” Sentagon said, putting a hand on Cel’s nearest shoulder. “Just follow me, I’ll show you everything.” Then he left, and Cel followed, still working on the tea she’d been given. They passed by the board game again – this time it was the unparalleled strategist Renagor who was sat across from Teragon – and went back down the stairs without a word. Cel didn’t mind being left to her thoughts, so long as she could avoid the darkness Sentagon had stopped her from falling into again. She didn’t like that part of herself, but it had a point. Cel’s name was everything to her, and if anything should change to make people think less of her, her life would be ruined. It was a terrifying concept, a dreaded future Cel had worked hard to avoid. That darkness had driven her ambitions, led her to Medru Dalach, to the Council. But it wasn’t welcome – fear was no true motivator. Sentagon was one of a rare few who Cel trusted completely, one of the few she could be her real self around, and perhaps the only person outside of her own kin she could turn to when the darkness resurfaced. The two had stopped in a side-room near Varassus’s desk so Sentagon could make more tea, and while Cel leaned against a wall by the door she considered voicing her concerns and asking for advice. But she couldn’t find the right words, and in any case she really did mean it when she said she wanted to just get right to work – work would help her. It would be something to do, something to focus on. Even better, it would be difficult, and that sort of pressure would keep Cel occupied and happy. Sentagon would teach her how to handle that pressure and ensure she knew what to do, and she would do as he showed her even when he was no longer there to see or care. But for now Sentagon was here with her, ready to teach her the ways of the Council, with cups of tea in hand for the both of them. Cel had already finished the first one she’d been given – it hadn’t been full when she got it, so overall it went by faster, but it was still gone either way – so she took the second with a quiet nod. She wasn’t really thirsty, but this tea was special and reminded her of home. And, well, of course it did, because this tea was from home. Though Cel had been there just last week, and she was by now used to home being halfway across the world, the taste of something made by the priests of the Celestial Order was deeply comforting. Sentagon clearly thought so, too – a brief search of the room while the two spent some time quietly drinking revealed he had a lot more stuff from home stored here. Cel helped herself to some of his bread, absentmindedly working on a slice while her tea gradually disappeared. “Oh, uh, I should probably mention…” Sentagon spoke without the conviction Cel had come to expect from his ancient voice. “We’ll actually be having a brief meeting today, right after lunch. It’s nothing terribly important but if you’d like to get a handle on things around here you’ll want to get yourself ready for that.” “Whah? A meeting?” Cel’s voice was muffled by the bread she was trying to speak around, until she swallowed it, followed up with some tea, and continued. “A meeting on the first day? That never happens.” “Not normally, no, but, eh… Like I said it won’t be anything major, nothing we’d need to get too involved in, so it’s better if we get that out of the way first so it doesn’t keep us from real business later in the year.” “Huh. Well, it’s something, right? Nothing interesting, then?” Cel looked into her cup and finished off the rest of her tea all at once. Sentagon shrugged. “Eh, it rarely is anything interesting. Today it’s just some people looking for funding for their research…” He put a hand on his chin and pointed vaguely as he spoke. “And we’re also meant to see High King…. whatshisname… Ontarius. He’s bringing his sons to… Ah, well, I don’t remember what he said they’re coming along for, but it’s just a routine visit, nothing special.” “Uh…” Cel raised an eyebrow and set down her teacup. “Sorry, I got a bit lost when you said ‘High King’. I’m not quite understanding how a visit from the man on the Bleeding Throne could be called routine.” “Hah, yes, I suppose you wouldn’t be used to things like that yet, would you?” The elder Councillor crossed his arms. “It’s pretty simple. A High King shows up around here about every fifteen years to get up to speed on things we’ve decided in the time since the last visit. They like to adjust their laws to stay in line with our rules, and it’s not rare for leaders to do things like that. Used to see the same thing with the Cysgod Emperors, but they’ve not come in person since Renagor joined the Council. Not much reason to come all the way out here when you’re related to one of the Nine, I suppose.” Cel nodded slowly and quietly. “That… Yeah, that makes sense, I suppose. But, um…” She motioned with her hand towards the door. “Trial caves?” “Right, right. Just come with me, then. We’ll get this wrapped up real quick for you.” Sentagon left the room when he finished, and Cel followed closely. The two went directly to the shrine Cel had teleported to earlier, Varassus paying them no mind as they passed him. Cel stood back for a moment while Sentagon went first, walking directly towards the shrine and sticking his arm out in front of him so his hand brushed against it, never slowing down. He seemed to dissolve into dust and then vanish completely as soon as his hand touched the shrine. Cel waited a bit before approaching more carefully, stopping when she got within arm’s reach of the shrine and only then laying a hand on it. A moment passed where nothing happened, then her vision faded and she could hear the roaring of intense wind, and when her vision returned she was clearly underground. Her surroundings were familiar, though she didn’t remember them as well as she did the rest of the Academy – she’d only been down here once before, for this was not a place to which one came often. Still, it was perfectly recognizable as the trial cavern, or at least its entry hall – the arena itself was beyond a few rooms carved from the underground. In front of Cel was a gate she couldn’t see past, but knew blocked off a little residential area with all the necessities for a single person to spend a few days living in. Past that was the simple preparation area that had little more than a bench and a table in it, and farther still ahead was the great arena, a large empty circle with an observation room somewhere far above. But the gate was sealed, and nothing beyond it was of any use just now. Sentagon spoke from somewhere behind Cel, and she turned to see him sitting cross-legged against a wall. “Figured you’d be down here,” he said. “You’re going to have to get used to teleporting into the box, you know. But for now here’s as good a place as any to explain how this works.” The young Maestress took a seat next to her elder, and looked over at him. “I’m listening.” “Well,” Sentagon started, taking a deep breath. “It’s simple, theoretically. You’re familiar with soulbinding. It’s the same concept, except instead of binding clothes or armor or a weapon, you bind the entire arena so you can call on it again later. Which, unfortunately, means anything you need for any trials you set up you need to bring with you all the way down here, or else set up some teleportation network for them. I’m sure you’ve seen it doesn’t do much to limit our creativity, but it does get rather inconvenient.” Cel nodded. “Right. But if that’s how it works, where did stuff like Attraeon’s lodestone come from, or the obelisk Teragon had for me?” “I’m not entirely sure where Attraeon got the lodestone from. You’d have to track him down and ask him. As for Teragon, though, I’d imagine what he made for you was made from the arena itself. Use the cave’s stone to build whatever you need. And I know what you’re going to ask, yes, you can use earth magic on the arena. Teragon was blocking it during your test for him but that’s not something that happens often and there’s nobody to stop you if you’re here alone anyways.” “Makes sense. And I’d have complete control over what I put in the arena?” Cel shifted around a little bit to get more comfortable while she spoke. “Wiiiithin reason. You can’t, of course, design a trial for someone that they’d never be able to pass. If they fail, it has to be because of their own shortcomings, not the test itself. And you can’t do anything that’s particularly likely to kill the applicant either. What Renagor did for you is basically as far as you can go with putting people in danger, and that was really only acceptable to begin with because you’d have failed and ended the test if you couldn’t pull up some bound armor. If things get too dangerous, we have to intervene and that just doesn’t end well for anyone. So… just don’t be an idiot.” He got a chuckle in response. “Ah, geez, I’ll have to try really hard then.” Sentagon wasn’t laughing. “Please don’t joke about this. You’re a smart woman. You know how serious this is.” “I know, I know, I’m sorry. Now, um, is there anything else I need to know?” “Actually, yes.” Sentagon reached into his robes and procured a small, simple gemstone. “The arena configurations are too complicated to soulbind to yourself. Back in the early days, the Council came up with these things to channel the binding through. These stones will keep track of everything as long as you know how to work the magic that way. It does get a little more complicated, however...” “How much more?” “Do you know how to associate binds with words, or images, or something like that?” Cel shrugged. “Probably. Never had to do it, but I bet I could. That’s how those work?” “In a way. You know hard it is to unbind something. These stones remember a lot of trials and with how many applicants will actually take the trials each year it gets very hard to keep track of them. So the most common thing to do is to associate a particular arena setup with the applicant’s name. Makes it very easy to recall. If we were up in the box I’d show you the test I had for you right now.” “And all I’ve got to do besides that is keep that thing in my pocket?” “That’s… an option.” Sentagon handed the stone to Cel. “Most Councillors have theirs made into jewelry. The magic on the stones doesn’t weaken if the stone is cut, so it’s perfect for rings or amulets. Of course though, neither of us are very comfortable wearing jewelry, are we?” When Cel gave a light shake of her head, he continued. “So I just had mine fitted into my belt. I’d recommend you do the same, or find some other article of clothing you always wear that you can keep it on.” “Okay, yeah, that all makes sense. But there’s gotta be more, right?” Sentagon stood and extended a hand to help Cel up. “Eh, no, that’s about it. There’s just a little bit to explain with the enchantments up in observation but you can figure that out when you’re actually overseeing a trial. Until then you just have to familiarize yourself with the stone and practice binding things to it. You’re already teaching classes, and you’ll see how to handle our meetings soon enough. I’d say you just have to find a way to kill some time before lunch.” “I suppose I’ll get this stone figured out then,” Cel said, rolling the magical gem around in one hand before eventually shaking Sentagon’s hand with the other. “That would be wise. If you need anything, I’ll be in the tower.” Then he disappeared in a cloud of dust, and Cel turned to the arena gate. An hour or two past noon, Cel found herself sitting at an elevated crescent table with the other eight while they all listened to some windbag researcher beg them for a sizeable loan to fund his studies. Something about an explosive powder that he thought could be used to launch projectiles more efficiently than any siege engine. While the concept was rather interesting, Cel couldn’t bring herself to pay attention to his droning explanations about what he would do with their gold. It didn’t sound very practical, especially not when mages could already do far better than what this scientist was describing. And she had more important things to focus on anyways. She’d stayed in the arena until noon learning how to use her new binding stone – which for now was tucked away in a pocket – and all the tea she’d been drinking meant she’d needed to make a detour to relieve herself beforehand, but that was hours ago now. It probably wasn’t helping that she drank quite a lot while she practiced, and went directly from the arena to lunch without stopping anywhere. At the time she didn’t think it necessary, and though she was aware of her need by the time she’d finished her meal – which she’d paired with just a touch more beer than normal – it didn’t concern her enough to bother standing in any lines. Returning to the tower wasn’t much better of an option at the time considering she’d then have to lurk around doing nothing of value until the meeting started. So now she found herself surrounded by her Council peers, conducting mind-numbing standard business, with a decidedly full bladder. It still wasn’t quite uncomfortable yet, but it was enough to give Cel another reason to want to get out of the meeting as soon as possible. These researchers never seemed to shut up… This one eventually did, though, and when her turn came Cel gave a little wave of her hand and said “No”, though she seemed to be outvoted and not long afterwards the researcher left the room to go find whomever would give him his money. Cel could hear Varassus sorting through papers to her left, and to her right Theryl had stood up for a moment to stretch. She didn’t pay either of them much heed, instead just absentmindedly chewing her fingernails while she waited for someone else to come into the room. Hopefully there wouldn’t be too many more and they’d all get right to the point. “One more for today…” Cel heard Varassus muttering as he looked over his papers. Soon enough everyone else settled down and Cel folded her hands in her lap and tried to make herself look like she wasn’t about to fall asleep. Varassus called for the next person, and Cel watched the door. When it opened, three men walked in, one clearly older than the other two, and all of them dressed up to look important. The eldest wore a long red coat trimmed with white fur, and his brown hair was marked with streaks of gray that matched the color of the silver coronet on his brow. The other two men bore a remarkable resemblance to him, and must have been his sons – they were dressed like their father, only their coats had less fur and were a slightly darker red. Cel watched the three of them settle in before the Council, and briefly looked one of the sons dead in the eye. He turned away with a red face as soon as he noticed she was looking at him. She leaned back as Varassus spoke, no longer paying much attention as he described what the meeting would entail and the High King introduced himself and his sons. Cel settled in with her elbow on the arm of her chair and her hand holding up her head while Varassus rattled off a list of Academy policies that had changed recently. Once again, she was barely paying attention, listening only enough to understand what the First Councillor was saying while waiting for the meeting to end. High King Ontarius would interrupt every so often with questions, and one of the Councillors would waste yet more time answering him. Cel, fortunately, was not expected to actually speak here – questions seemed to be answered by the Councillor with the greatest expertise in the relevant area, and Varassus was as much of an expert enchanter as she was. She could sit back and let him answer any questions that she would otherwise have needed to speak up on, leaving her free to ignore the discussion and look around for something interesting or some other such distraction. This meeting certainly had dragged on for quite a while though, and while Cel was still certain she had everything under control, she knew she definitely needed to leave soon. And not just because she needed to pee, either – that prince kept looking at her, and as amusing as it was to give him a death glare and have him hurry to look elsewhere, she really didn’t like being gawked at like that. Cel didn’t much appreciate being stared at by some royal as if she were an exotic novelty. It was like he’d never seen a woman before. Nor did she appreciate how long and uneventful all this was. Perhaps if it were something entertaining she’d be able to keep her mind off her bladder for a while, but it was the only company she had while time dragged on. If she’d known the meeting would take this long, she’d have gone beforehand just to be safe, but she had made her choice and had to live with it, as annoying as the results were. It wouldn’t be a problem if they’d just wrap up soon… Eventually they did, after who-knows-how-long, just as Cel was starting to believe it to be impossible. Varassus said something that sounded pretty final, and all the Councillors stood up. Cel followed along with them as they worked their way around the table to get down to where the royals were still hanging around. Ontarius greeted the Masters one by one, introducing each of them to his sons, but for one of the Nine he reserved a special greeting. The High King approached Renagor, and gave him an awkward hug – awkward only because Ontarius, who was not by any means a small man, stood at eye-level with the Councillor’s chest. “Renagor,” he said afterwards. “It’s good to see you! I think I may have missed our last family reunion. How’s your nephew?” “Arianwyn is doing well,” was the response. “Or, Tywyll now, I suppose. Even after nine years I still haven’t quite gotten used to calling him that.” Renagor gave a half-hearted chuckle. “He’s doing his best to live up to his father’s name, but, you know, he’s just not the man my brother was. He’s not the Emperor my brother was, but I can at least hope that he’s taking his job as seriously as Tywyll did.” “I’m sure he’ll be great. And you’ve been well yourself, then?” Renagor gave an affirmative answer, then Ontarius turned to look at Cel, who had approached while the two were speaking. “Oh, and is this the new Maestress I’ve heard about?” “Cel of Korohn,” the young Councillor introduced herself, extending a hand. She almost recoiled in surprise when the High King took the hand, bowed, and kissed it as one of his vassals might do to him. “Er, right,” she said when he’d finished, wiping that hand on her robes. “And I take it you are Ontarius Variisar.” “Indeed I am, Maestress,” the High King said, bowing his head. “And these are my sons, Orelion…” This prince performed a similar bow when his father motioned to him. “…and Zacarius.” Zacarius gave a nervous salute – he was the one who kept looking at Cel, and his face was as red as his coat now. Then he quickly straightened up and attempted to put on a formal look. “Right.” Cel paid Zacarius no mind, focusing on Ontarius… and her body’s calls to leave, which had become quite loud. She couldn’t get caught up in a conversation now, and though she’d heard the High King say something to Renagor that had piqued her interest, she reluctantly had to let it go and deal with more immediate concerns. Renagor himself could explain later, anyways. “Good to meet you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should be going…” Ontarius gave Cel a quick look up and down, hopefully not noticing the very slight fidgeting she was now doing. “Of course, Councillor. I won’t keep you.” He stepped aside, clearing Cel’s path to the door. “Enjoy your day.” Cel gave a little wave as she left, moving directly for the stairs to get back down to the offices. Sure, she could just teleport down to that floor, even directly into the bathroom, but overreliance on magic like that was lazy and irresponsible and possibly even a serious invasion of privacy. Plus, it wasn’t that far down anyways, and the exercise would be good for her.                 So, a quick jog down the stairs and… Cel was slammed into by some student who nearly tumbled back downstairs, grabbing the railing to keep from falling while Cel found her own footing again. “Are you blind?” The Councillor composed herself and tried to step around the reckless student and get on her way again, the sudden shove of a whole person colliding with her not doing her any favors, but before she could the student’s voice stopped her. “Ah, sorry, Maestress,” she said, quickly, Cel just now noticing that she looked out of breath, her eyes wide and hands trembling as she held onto the railing. “But there’s… uh…” She stood panting, trying to say something, but Cel interrupted her attempts to make sense. “Calm down,” she said, as if it were an order. The other woman – probably no higher than a fourth-year, considering she looked to be around Cel’s age – nodded and tried to force her breathing to slow down enough to speak properly. Cel followed up with another order. “Now, tell me what’s so important.” The student stammered for a bit before she could finally say something coherent. “Um, there, uh… some girls got into a fight in the dorms, and… it got a little out of hand, and…” “Out of hand? Was anyone seriously hurt?” “I don’t know, I didn’t see anything. I was just told to get a Councillor.” Cel nodded. “Right. I’ll go take care of it. Go tell the others what I’m doing, then get yourself a cup of tea or something. You need to relax.” Then she disappeared, magically jumping to the little shrine below the offices, then from there to the plaza lodestone, and then from there straight to the entrance to the women’s dorms. ‘How does this shit happen,’ Cel thought while she ran in the direction a passing student had pointed her towards. ‘On the first fucking day?’ Her full bladder reminded her that it needed attention, but she forced herself to ignore it for now, despite each step jolting the organ and sending even louder signals that it needed to be dealt with. But it had to wait. This was more important. Slowing down when she reached a crowd, Cel pushed her way through, occasionally giving orders for people to move, until she reached the front, where a professor was trying to keep the crowd in check while doing damage control at the same time. Cel couldn’t see much other than a charred door lying in the hallway. “Professor,” she said, sharp and loud enough to get his attention. “What happened here?”                 He looked at her quizzically for a moment, muttering “Cel? Okay,” before clearing his throat and answering the question. “Well, uh, Councillor, what we have here is… I don’t know exactly what happened, but I am told a relationship… fell apart, let’s say, and one of the girls involved went to cry to someone else about it, so she went to go confront the ex-girlfriend, and then nobody seems to have seen what happened, but, long story short, there’s extensive damage to those two rooms, and we’ve got one in the infirmary burned pretty badly. I have been told that she will be fine.”                 “Alright,” Cel said. “And everyone involved was… how old?”                 “All third-years, I believe, Maestress. Young. I think they’re younger than you, even.”                 Cel nodded. “Okay. Anything else? Where’s the one who… did all this?” She waved in the general direction of the broken door.                 “Got her under watch in that room there.”                 Nodding again, Cel headed silently for the door the professor was pointing to. She stopped just before opening it, taking a deep breath and preparing herself – not for what might happen on the other side, but for the additional wait she’d need to force her bladder to endure despite its demands that it be emptied immediately.                 She closed the door behind her once she entered the room, which as an office for the overseer of this part of the dorms was fitted with a desk, a few chairs, and more than enough bookshelves. The window on the opposite side of the room illuminated from behind two guards in gold-trimmed plate and a very angry-looking woman sitting unbound in a chair. ‘Tying her up wouldn’t stop her magic anyways,’ Cel mused to herself while considering the humor of keeping such a dangerous individual under watch without any restraints.                 The guards bowed their heads towards Cel as she approached, stopping just outside of arm’s length of the woman in the chair. “So,” she said, crossing her arms and trying to stand still and sound serious despite her pressing need. “What made you think any of that was a good idea?”                 “I’m not telling you anything, bitch.”                 Cel shrugged. “Fine. You don’t have to. You can always just accept being banished from campus. Or you can explain what happened here and hope that’ll be enough to get me into a merciful mood.”                 “Fuck you. You wouldn’t expel me. Do you even know who I am?”                 The Councillor scoffed and rolled her eyes, discreetly pressing her legs together. “No, and I don’t care. You could be a King, and it wouldn’t change anything. All I know is,” she said, leaning forward slightly. “That someone’s recovering from major burns because… What? Because you couldn’t handle getting rejected by your girlfriend?”                 “I dumped her, moron. And is it supposed to be my fault that she went crying to her dumb friend about it?”                 “Uh, yeah, kind of.”                 “Oh, fuck you. I’m the heir to Elien, it’s my right to keep a harem. She’s the one who thought she was special.”                 “Right…” Cel’s patience was wearing thin, on two fronts. “Well, if you’d prefer to just keep digging yourself a deeper and deeper hole, be my guest. Your inheritance doesn’t give you the right to assault people and try to blow up a building, and if you think it does, you can fuck right on off out of here. You’re lucky to get away with just an expulsion after what you’ve done, you entitled little-”                 Cel was cut off by a punch to the gut, leaving her bent forward cradling her stomach. It didn’t hurt that much, but she’d been hit in exactly the right place to cause her underwear to become uncomfortably damp and warm. She groaned, still feeling the impact well after she’d regained enough control to not soak herself. When she straightened up again, the ex-student was in the hands of one of the guards, her own hands forced behind her back. She just glared at Cel and struggled against the grip of the guard.                 “Uh…” The young Councillor tried to sound tough again. “Ah, right. Put her on the first boat back home, and make sure her mother hears about what happened.” Giving what she thought was a wicked grin but was more likely just a strained, vaguely-angry expression, she added, “I believe attempted murder and assault are grounds for disinheritance in the Elienid Matriarchate, right?”                 The ex-student’s eyes went wide and she struggled to break free as she was dragged out of the room, screaming at Cel, “You can’t do this to me! I’ll make sure you suffer for this!”                 “Sure you will,” Cel said, watching the door slam as the guards left. As soon as they did, Cel sighed and crossed her legs, jamming a hand between them. The short skirt of her robe was pressed against the white fabric of her pants, now far tighter and even more uncomfortable than usual and by some miracle still white. “Oh, fuck…”                 She was running out of time, there was no denying that. If she could come up with a plan, she could still make it, but she had to act fast. Was there anything in the room to help her? No, not even a potted plant. And the dorms didn’t have bathrooms like other parts of the university, since every room already had accommodations. No, wait, it did have bathrooms – bathing rooms, actually, and it was a very well-known secret that baths all over campus were often dyed yellow when lines were too long or a better solution was too far away. Yes, that was the perfect solution. The baths would recycle and clean the water on their own using old but effective technology. There wouldn’t be so much as a hint that Cel had even been there at all.                 Wait, no, that wasn’t an option either. She’d never make it if she tried to run that far, and she couldn’t keep herself under control and teleport at the same time. There had to be something closer. Something private, if that was at all possible. Something like… her own room! She’d lived on campus as a student, and since she technically hadn’t reached her tenth year at the Academy, she would still own the room she lived in until then. And if Cel’s memory could be trusted in her current state, it was just down the hall, down a flight of stairs, and around a corner. She could make that. She would make that.                 Giving herself one last squeeze, Cel straightened up and put her hands to her sides, then took a deep breath and walked out of the office. There was still a bit of a crowd trying to figure out what was happening, but she simply commanded “Move,” and a path was cleared for her. Some people tried to talk to her as she passed, but she ignored them. She ignored everything except her plan.                 She walked slowly but confidently down the hall, careful not to spill anything but certain that she could hold on long enough, shoving people aside who wouldn’t move when she asked them to, and receiving no complaints when people realized that she was a Maestress.                 Her certainty faded as she got closer to the stairs she needed to take. This hall was a lot longer than she remembered, and her bladder wasn’t letting up on its insistence to be emptied. Very much the opposite, in fact. Not too far from the staircase, Cel stopped and pressed her legs together as discreetly as she could, though it wasn’t enough to stop another leak. And then another. And then she used all that was left of her strength to stop, standing frozen with her hands trembling at her sides and her legs shaking as they refused to separate from each other. Cel felt weak and tired. She refused to believe it was possible, but she legitimately couldn’t do anything anymore. If she so much as took a single step, she’d lose all control. Tears started to appear in her eyes and she hoped nobody was watching. She was out of options. Out of time. She shut her eyes and felt her last ounce of control slip away from her, as her muscles failed her and left nothing stopping her bladder from draining itself into her pants. In a final, hopeless attempt to do anything, she clenched her fists tight, groaning from the effort of doing even that. She didn’t know if it was going to work. She didn’t expect it to work. It shouldn’t have worked. But, somehow, against all odds, her magic had saved her. Her fists maintained a water spell, holding back her urine where her body wouldn’t anymore. It was dangerous. She shouldn’t have done it. She’d regret doing it later. She was probably already hurting herself. But she was dry, almost, and as long as she could keep up the magic she would remain dry. Cel took a tentative step forward, then another, and when she realized her magic was enough to keep her flood at bay while she walked, she started moving as fast as she could to the stairs, then down. She forced herself to not start crying while she walked, trying to suppress all the thoughts about what had very nearly happened to her, and what could still happen if she should drop her magic. She was exhausted and her head was starting to hurt, but she had to dig up just a little bit of energy, enough to last the rest of the way. If she couldn’t… Then she would disgrace herself, literally pissing away twenty years of hard work as her entire reputation fell apart because she wet her pants like a child. She’d already done that once in public. People could excuse that happening once – it happens to everyone, once, after all. And she’d done it again with an unexpected audience of a single person, during the most important tests of her life. But her sole spectator swore to take the secret of what he witnessed to his grave, and he didn’t even really seem to care that it had happened in the first place. But to have it happen in public, as a Maestress on the Council of Nine, after all that… She would be absolutely ruined. She didn’t want to think about it, and tried very hard not to, but she couldn’t help it. It was the only thing that came to her mind over her short walk to her room, because even the thought that she just wanted to get somewhere she could properly take care of her bladder just led back to those thoughts. Cel didn’t know where she was getting the energy from, but she was glad that she’d found some source somewhere to save herself from the greatest shame imaginable. When she finally got to her room, she brought one quivering hand up to grab the door handle, her other hand balling up tighter to compensate and her body pushing against the door itself, causing her to stumble into the room. The Councillor looked around through a haze of tears, recognizing vague shapes that she could identify even in the dark. Her free hand rubbed at her eyes and she took a few weak steps towards the bed, falling forward once she was close enough. Then with one hand, still trembling, she started to probe around under the bed, feeling for what she knew was there somewhere. Her vision clouded again, this time purely because she felt like she was going to pass out if this didn’t end soon. She tried to reassure herself that it would, and actually cracked a smile when the hand under the bed felt the familiar cold metal, dragging the pot out far enough to use it. On her right hand, Cel’s nails pressed into her palm as much as was physically possible and she forced herself to stand up. She was so close. All she needed to do was get her pants off. Her left hand shakily pulled her skirt up to her belly, and she whined a bit as she looked down at what it had previously been covering. Even after all that, her bladder was visibly bulging out, but that wasn’t the worst part. Just a bit lower, the front of her white pants had become translucent, a big wet patch extending a little bit down her thighs and leaving very little up to the imagination. Cel was even pretty sure there was a hint of what was beneath even her smallclothes, but she didn’t have the time or energy to find out for sure. Slowly moving her right hand up to hold her skirt in place, praying that her magic would be able to hold out through the change in position, Cel slid her left hand down to do whatever it could to unbutton her pants so she could finally relieve herself. It was tough, of course, seeing as how she only had one hand to work with and that one hand couldn’t be kept still. She knew she could open a button like this with just one hand, but it definitely wasn’t going to happen if her fingers kept slipping away whenever she tried to get a grip. Cel groaned as she tried everything she could to get her pants open. That was all she had to do. Her insides felt like they were on fire from the artificial pressure put on her bladder. She just had to get her pants open and down and she’d be fine. But why was it so damn impossible? She wished she could do something to at least alleviate the pressure while she struggled with the button, but since she’d technically lost control quite a while ago, there was nothing she could do but release her magic and wet herself. And even in private she couldn’t bring herself to do that. Eventually, her wrestling with her pants was enough to get them unbuttoned, at which point, taking sharp breaths, Cel pushed her pants down to her knees – just as far as she could get them without bending over. Then she got into a clumsy squatting position, hoping she was over the pot, and hooked two fingers around the drenched white fabric of her panties. She didn’t stop to consider that she could already see quite clearly what was under them as they clung uncomfortably to her, instead just holding her breath as she moved the crotch of her smallclothes out of the way and opened her right hand, releasing the magic barrier between her bladder and the outside world. She started breathing again when she heard liquid furiously striking metal below her as her torrent immediately started at full power. Her breaths came deep and through her teeth as she kept her eyes closed and let her right hand drift down to the ground so she could hold her position. There was no doubt in Cel’s mind that she had gone well beyond all rational limits. It didn’t even feel good to finally relieve herself. No, there was just a stinging sensation and a dwindling burn within as her organs settled down from being overworked. She hoped she hadn’t caused any real damage, but even so she knew she’d have to rest for quite a while to make up for how she’d tormented her body. And she definitely couldn’t use her magic like that ever again. It had saved her from destroying her reputation, but at the same time it forced her body to do things it was never meant to, keeping her urine inside well after all her muscles decided it was time for it to come out. Cel opened her eyes after a minute and looked down at herself. Every part of her was shaking and she was honestly surprised that she was able to maintain her position, especially considering it wasn’t even really that good of a squat. She tried to cut her stream off so she could shuffle around to get more comfortable, but her body wasn’t listening to her anymore. Instead she moved slowly, careful to make sure she didn’t accidentally aim outside of the pot she was quickly filling, and eventually worked her way into a position where she didn’t have to hold herself up with one hand. She then brought her now-free right hand up in front of her face. It was trembling of course, and like most of her body drenched in sweat. There was also a hint of blood from where her fingernails had dug into the skin, though surprisingly it didn’t hurt very much. That hand then came down to rest on her thigh and Cel sighed, trying to relax and hoping it would be over soon. It took another minute for her stream to taper off unceremoniously, trailing off into a few final spurts and a couple of drops to indicate that she was finally empty. Cel sighed and stayed in position for a little while longer. Her bladder felt sore, and she knew it would for quite a while. At the very least, she figured, she’d actually emptied herself out completely. Though that wasn’t exactly a good thing – from her limited prior experiences, Cel knew that when she lost control, she usually only got about halfway empty before stopping again and being unable to drain any further for a while. If she’d actually fully emptied her bladder this time, that meant she’d gone even beyond her normal limits and worn out her muscles enough that they just wouldn’t shut her bladder down again until there was nothing left in it. If nothing else, she was lucky she only felt a little sore, and not in any real pain. She’d pushed herself too hard, yes, but not hard enough to break anything. Not that she ever planned to get to that point, but still, it was a little comforting knowing she hadn’t done so yet. Now she was just more tired than anything else. The strain from holding for so long and all the energy she’d used maintaining her magic had completely exhausted her. With a deep breath, Cel released her panties and stood up, kicking off her shoes and getting to work on fully disrobing. She pulled at the little silver clasp on her shoulder, and when it came apart the blue robe over her clothes unraveled into little more than a sheet. She tossed it onto a little side table next to her bed, then bent down to slide her pants the rest of the way down her legs, dragging her panties along with them shortly after. These she simply left on the floor – they’d need to be washed very thoroughly anyways, so it wouldn’t do them much harm. And finally she got to unbuttoning her shirt, starting from the top and working down until her shirt was open, exposing without showing any details the fact that she wasn’t wearing anything beneath it. She probably should have, but for right now she was grateful that she didn’t have anything else to take off. The shirt came off and was laid down next to the blue cloth that went over it, and Cel stood naked while she contemplated the situation. She started to push the chamberpot back under the bed with her foot, but realizing how weak she would be for the foreseeable future, thought better of it and left it easily available. It wouldn’t be able to hold much more, but if she had to relieve herself again she wouldn’t have very much to contribute anyways. Then the Councillor’s attention was drawn to her legs, which were still wet with her urine and still had trails running slowly to her feet. She wanted very much to just pull the moisture away with magic and toss it somewhere it wouldn’t cause problems, but she was entirely out of energy and couldn’t bring herself to do that. But she did have to dry off somehow. Perhaps she had something lying around… Cel walked slowly towards the dresser she had against one wall, her devastated bladder leaking a few drops onto the carpet as she walked, having found a little more to let out. Cel either didn’t notice or didn’t care, and just kept walking until she got to her destination. Then she absentmindedly opened and closed drawers, looking for something helpful while she continued intermittently dripping. She didn’t have a whole lot there, perhaps as a consequence of her traditionally-ascetic lifestyle, so most of the drawers were empty and the ones that weren’t only had a spare set of underwear or two for if she ever needed them. She was too tired to want to bother with finding a proper towel or washcloth, though, so when she found a drawer with a set of old panties she never wore anyways, she grabbed them and gave her legs a good wipe down until she was… well, she wasn’t exactly dry, but she was dry enough. So she balled up another set of wet underwear and headed back to her bed, tossing the spare panties into the same pile as what she’d just changed out of. Then she simply fell into bed and crawled under the sheets. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she really shouldn’t just disappear into her old room, not as a Councillor who might be needed on important business. But she was too tired to care, and honestly she was already falling asleep. She’d had a long, hard day, and she’d certainly earned a little rest. So Cel got herself as comfortable as she could, pulling the sheets tight around her body and pretending she had someone else there to cuddle. She drifted off to sleep easily enough, and let herself forget about everything that had happened throughout the day. Though perhaps it would have done her well to remember that she hadn’t shut the door... It was closed now, yes, but only because some unseen spectator wanted to cover their tracks.

Sake

Trials of the Nine

“You really don’t have to do this, you know. No shame in giving it a bit of time, coming back later. The offer is always open.”                 “No, I’m thinking I do. Remember, you lot are the ones that offered me the position in the first place.”                 “Well, yes, we did, but I’m not sure the others fully understood what they were doing. Sure, you’re good, all of us agree on that, but you’re only twenty-one. You haven’t even finished your term at the Academy yet. Do you really know what you’re getting yourself into here?”                 “Oh, your lack of faith hurts, Councillor.” Cel put a hand to her chest and made an exaggerated pouty face. “No, but really, I know full well what’s going to happen here. You lot are going to kick my ass with these trials, and at the end of it all I’ll be right up at the top of that tower of yours with all the rest of you. There’s nothing you nine can do to stop me.” She paused briefly, then spoke quickly, bowing her head. “Er, all due respect, Councillor.”                 “Honestly, Cel, your confidence is disturbing.” The Councillor crossed his arms and turned around. “But I suppose that’s what the others liked about you. Just send us a signal when you’re ready for the trials to start.” Then he left, leaving the balcony above Cel empty, with her alone in the arena. As alone as she could be anyways – somewhere even farther above, the Council of Nine was watching her, to keep an eye on her performance. Were they anything less than professionals, she would have been concerned that they were watching her dress. It would be quite the show, for Cel was no longer wearing her usual conservative robes that flowed elegantly down her body and hung just loosely enough to conceal her figure in the process. Rather, her clothing now consisted of a sleeveless tunic and a shorter, more practical skirt (both still in the traditional yellow), completed with the sort of boots a farmer would wear in the winter and simple hand wraps that were only now being tied up. Suffice it to say she was showing quite a generous amount of her fair brass skin, which her peers at the Academy would no doubt have enjoyed despite her remarkably average appearance.                 In any event, there was no chance of spectators seeing the curves Cel so rarely displayed. The Council trials were conducted in a private arena, overseen exclusively by the Nine themselves, and the Nine had no reason to take interest in someone wearing sparring gear they’d seen a million times before. And as if a million times weren’t enough… With all her clothing in order and dark hair arranged just so – it was short enough to keep loose, but it couldn’t just be left to its own devices – she stepped out into the arena proper, draining the contents of the waterskin she’d brought with her on the way out. She didn’t know what exactly the trials would entail, or how long they would last. Best to start well-hydrated and not worry about it later.                 Standing in the center of the arena, Cel raised a hand and produced a golden flame, which she flickered a few times before dropping entirely. Up above, she could see a figure walk up to a window in the cavern wall, and a magically-amplified voice rang out.                 “Ready? Fine. You stand before the Council of the Nine Masters of Medru Dalach, to prove to us your worth to serve at our side.” This Councillor was known to Cel as Varassus, and he sounded incredibly bored as he droned on with his announcement. “Each of us has prepared for you a test designed to push your knowledge and skills to their absolute limits. You must successfully complete each of the nine trials, then you will be tested in a tenth challenge arranged by the entire Council. As any one of us does not know what the content of the other eight trials will be, you are on your own. We are not allowed to provide guidance or aid, though we will intervene to the best of our abilities if it is absolutely necessary. If you leave this cavern, your trials are forfeit, but there are otherwise no rules or limitations. You must complete the tasks set before you by whatever means possible.” Councillor Varassus cleared his throat, now speaking with more energy. “And, official speech aside, on a more personal note, Cel, remember that you are here because we believed in your skills. You are young, yes, but don’t worry. We won’t let that cloud our judgment. You will be subjected to the same rigorous tests as anyone else and held to the same exalted standards. There is only one advantage you get here today, and that is that if you pass these trials now, your position among us is secured – you will be immediately granted the next seat to open, as we have already discussed. But remember that if you fail and come back to try again, we cannot extend this same offer.”                 Then the world went dark and the Councillor continued to speak. “Anyways, your first trial is something I’m sure you’ll find relevant to your studies.” When Cel’s vision returned, Councillor Varassus had retreated from the window, and in the arena a forge had appeared alongside a table, on which lay an assortment of metal bars. Cel recognized silver and gold, and a few others known for their ability to take magic like a sponge.                 The Councillor was right: Cel’s studies had primarily focused on enchantment, and now she was being asked to create one of the enchanted metals. The only problem was that the two most well-known metals were beyond her abilities – literally impossible for her, as they demanded a type of magic she couldn’t use. But of course Varassus wouldn’t expect her to make either of those, knowing that. That would be too easy, anyways, just a case of melting the silver down, imbuing the molten metal with energy, then turning it back into a bar.                 No, it had to be something involving more than one metal. That would make it the hardest to not only enchant, but also to reform to a usable state. But that had its own problem too. Cel had heard of an enchanted metal that made use of everything she’d been given here, but it still needed magic she didn’t have access to. It would theoretically require at least one other person, though realistically she’d need the help of two of the Councillors, which was obviously out of the question.                 That just left one alternative: a complex enchantment that normally needed four people, but Cel’s magic allowed her to do alone. It wouldn’t need all the metals she’d been given, though perhaps that was the trap – assume they want all the metals used then ask for help because the task is impossible alone, then instantly fail for not seeing the alternatives. They’d have to try harder than that if they wanted Cel to fall for their tricks. Indeed, she simply grabbed up the metals she’d need and headed to the forge, where she worked at melting down each piece individually. Drop one bar in, and feed the forge fire and air from her own hands. When it became malleable enough, she’d imbue it with energy and move on to the next piece, until she had four so enchanted.                 And then there was the hard part. All four pieces had to be melted down again, and re-enchanted at the same time. Done incorrectly, the resulting mess would just be a worthless blob of mildly-magical metal. But with skilled hands, such as, say, those of someone who’d spent the last six years studying every form of enchantment known to man – including several supposedly invented by the dragons of ancient myth – it wouldn’t be difficult so much as it would be annoying. Little details needed to be just right, like when the forge should be fed or fanned, and when each energy should be added.                 But, of course, in time Cel pulled out a bar of metal that almost looked silver, except for its golden shine. She waved it over her head and felt its weight leave her as her vision faded again and the next Councillor spoke.                 “Hm, how about something a little more energetic? Mine is a combat trial. The test begins when you have armed yourself.”                 When Cel could see again, the arena had been cleared out entirely, devoid of everything but its own walls and floor.                 “Clever bastard you are, Renagor,” Cel muttered. There were no weapons available, even in the preparation area which was still open. “I have to arm myself but you don’t give me weapons? And if I ask for one I fail. I see how it is.” She laughed quietly as she continued talking to herself. “Good thing I know what the real test is here, hm? How’s this for armed?”                 With that, she raised her right hand over her head and drew it back, a line of dust following the path and taking the shape of Cel’s favored cross-spear. Then she slammed the spear on the ground in front of her and crossed both arms over her body as black iron enveloped her. And when she brought her arms back to her sides, the Second Councillor’s voice sounded again.                 “Ready? Ah, good. This is a little trick I picked up from my nephew, believe it or not. I’ve found it to be very convenient. You should find it quite the opposite.”                 There was a pause after he finished speaking, during which he was presumably waving his hands around or some such thing, then three dark figures seemed to crawl out of the shadows. All three took the shape of Councillor Renagor, and all three carried traditional elven weapons. One had a glaive, another had a staff, and the last brandished a warhammer and cowered behind a tower shield.                 The one with the glaive moved first, surging across the arena with such speed that it simply turned into a cloud of dark smoke. Not even a second later, the mage shadow lifted its staff, and by the time it struck the ground the first shadow had materialized again. Its strike prompted a hasty defense from Cel, who managed to get the shadow’s glaive caught between one of the lugs on her spear and its head, but she was hit from the side by a ball of dark energy before she could take advantage of this.                 She recovered quickly enough to block another attack from the first shadow, this time grabbing its weapon in her left hand and kicking the shadow away. The glaive disintegrated on its own accord and Cel wove around a few more attacks from the mage shadow, then grabbed the cross of her spear with her free hand and drove it into the shadow she’d disarmed. The shadow at first crumbled into the attack like any normal person would upon being violently impaled, but after a brief moment exploded into dark smoke which went to rejoin the shadows cast by the arena walls.                 The remaining two shadow figures didn’t seem the least bit unnerved – unsurprising, considering they were merely magical constructs – and they both went straight to work as if nothing had happened. The one with the hammer had moved in front of the mage to provide cover, and the mage had its free hand in the air.                 Cel started to move in a wide circle around the two shadows, and when the mage finally threw the energy it was collecting, she jumped out of the way with more than enough time to watch the blast crash into the arena wall and dissolve with no effect. Then she just went back to what she was doing, weaving around the barrage that the mage was now unleashing, until the one with the shield was just at the edge of her spear’s range.                 The mage refused to yield, so Cel kept herself low as she stepped forward and hooked the edge of the other shadow’s shield with the cross of her spear. The shadow saw this as an error, so simply took advantage of this to shove Cel’s spear aside while the mage prepared another assault. Unfortunate for the shadows, then, that that was exactly what she wanted, using the momentum she’d been given to swing her weapon around past the shieldbearer, slicing into the mage with the spear’s head. The mage burst like the previous shadow, and now the shieldbearer was left alone.                 Alone, but not without options, of course. The last shadow brought up its shield again and charged straight for Cel, ramming into her before she could bring her spear back around to defend. The shadow immediately followed up by striking her with its hammer before she could regain balance.                 Of course, her armor was well-made and properly-fitted, so the blow didn’t hurt, exactly. But then all the plating and padding didn’t quite cancel out the force of the hammer either. That wouldn’t be much of a problem on its own – Cel could deal with a little blunt shock – but things had aligned in just such a way that getting hit in that particular location brought her attention to a more personal issue, if only for a moment. Good for her that it was an issue she could ignore, at least for now, because she couldn’t spare the moment to give it any more thought than simply acknowledging that this was the result of keeping herself hydrated.                 The shadow’s intervention only served to prove that there was no time to think – it had thrown another strike at Cel, though this one she was able to stop with her left arm. The shock of the impact was enough to indicate that maybe doing that again would be a very stupid idea, and that she was extremely fortunate to be wearing armor at that particular moment.                 Even so, Cel was able to immediately turn around and grab at the shadow’s hammer, though before she could take it for herself she was struck in the chest with the shield and forced to release the weapon. This time she recovered quickly enough to back off out of the shadow’s range before it could do anything else, and retaliated with a few two-handed jabs, though each collided harmlessly with the massive shield. The shadow responded with a wide swing of its hammer, and Cel grabbed its arm to stop the attack. The shadow, in turn, moved to bash her with the shield, only to have it collide rather harmlessly with her spear. Cel kept hold of the shadow’s weapon arm and moved her spear such that the cross was hooked around the edge of the shield. Now in control, Cel threw the shadow’s arms open and quickly drove her spear into where its heart would be. The shadow staggered backwards for a moment, then started a swing aimed directly at Cel’s head – though just as the hammer would have struck the side of her helm, the shadow dissolved like the others.                 Taking a deep breath, Cel dropped her spear, and it faded away before it could hit the ground. Then she took a little step forward, stretching her arms out from her sides while the armor dissipated as well. A moment later, Councillor Renagor’s voice rang out again.                 “Hm. Very physical. Interesting. Obviously I’ve heard of your order from Sentagon, how your people avoid using magic unless it’s absolutely necessary.” He paused for a second. “Admirable, I must say. You’re taught to respect the magic – to fear it, to fear your own power. If only everyone could have such discipline. Ah, but now… Attraeon?”                 Renagor’s voice faded out as he spoke his last sentence, and shortly after he finished speaking, there was a different voice. “Yes, yes, right.” This Councillor coughed before moving on. “Ah, well. Excellent progress so far, but you’re coming for my seat, and I’m sure you know how hard it is to impress me.” Cel’s vision faded again and the Councillor kept talking. “But this… This is special. I don’t just want to be impressed. No, what you have to do…. Suffice it to say that even I haven’t ever actually done this. Nobody has. Not in centuries.” The darkness passed, and the Councillor finished as Cel gazed upon a massive obelisk in the center of the arena. “Enjoy being the first.”                 The obelisk was a simple stone pillar, inhumanly smooth and apparently made out of the same material as the arena itself. This sort of monument was fairly common – there was a much larger version of the same thing up on the surface, out in one of the central plazas of Medru Dalach’s campus, and there were a great deal of them scattered around the countryside and at the edges of cities in most places. Cel knew exactly what this was, so as she looked at the pillar and considered the challenge, all she could do was stare and silently mouth the words “what the fuck”.                 And there was good reason for that – structures like this obelisk were so widespread because of their magical properties. These things acted as conduits for teleportation, enabling travel over long distances to those that had the skills. And in the Fifteen, at least, the obelisks – lodestones, the locals called them – had stood for nearly a thousand years, spaced a few miles apart to cover almost the entire continent. None of them had ever been disabled, and because they covered all the important areas save for more recent constructions like Oraculum, nobody ever bothered to build more.                 The Councillor definitely wasn’t exaggerating – this was extremely special, and enchanting a lodestone would be beyond impressive. It’d be legendary. But of course, there was a reason for that as well. Because it had been centuries since the last time one had been enchanted, nobody knew how to do it, strictly speaking. No doubt Councillor Attraeon knew it, in theory, but especially with something like this, theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge were two entirely different things. Even Cel theoretically knew how to enchant a lodestone, as a consequence of studying enchanting at the world’s most prestigious magical academy. But the problem was: how could that knowledge be applied? Just one way to find out.                 Cel approached the inert shrine and gently laid a hand on it – it certainly felt devoid of all power, so this would need to be done from nothing. She circled around the obelisk a few times, leaving her hand to brush against it. When she finally stopped, she put her free hand onto the lodestone as well, and leaned forwards into it. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and just as her head was about to touch the pillar, her body turned to smoke and reformed on the other side of the obelisk. She took a few steps to regain proper balance, then turned around to look at the stone again. It didn’t seem to have changed at all, so she shrugged, took a step forward, and teleported back to the other side, the smoke weaving around the pillar. Of course, still nothing had happened.                 “Hmph.” Cel fell into a sitting position and folded her arms, the motion leaving what was under her skirt visible for just a moment before everything settled into place again. There she sat for some time, her head tilted slightly and the fingers of one hand drumming on the opposite arm. Perhaps she was there for only a few minutes, perhaps for a few hours. It was nearly impossible to tell for sure, but eventually she did stand up again, and approached the lodestone again with a sigh.                 This time, she held both hands out at her sides, and when she brought them forward to touch the pillar they had a yellow glow about them. Another deep breath and Cel leaned in as if she were trying to push the lodestone away, moving her hands in small circles over the stone.                 She stood like this for some time, and was about to give up and try something else when the pillar started to glow with the same aura that she was projecting herself. Seeing this, Cel pushed off against the lodestone and jumped back, and with her hands still in front of her she unleashed a stream of yellow energy at the stone; the energy initially struck with no effect, parting to move around the pillar, but when it did that it simply got absorbed on the other side. A few seconds of that, and the assault was cut off, Cel running forward again to strike the pillar with one hand. The resulting glow was even brighter than before, and when her hand was removed, the light of ancient magical symbols shone briefly on the stone before fading away. Then she teleported to the top of the pillar, balancing on its tip for a moment, then jumping off and striking it again while she dissolved to teleport back to the ground.                 When her body reformed, she took a deep breath again, crossed her arms over her chest and bent forward slightly. With one quick motion, she straightened out and her arms flew open, releasing a blast of the same golden energy in all directions, which the lodestone absorbed before any of the energy could hit the other walls of the arena.                 Then, it was a simple matter of just approaching the stone and touching it. If all went well, all Cel would need to do was focus.                 Indeed, upon touching the stone, Cel’s vision blurred and her ears were filled with the sound of rushing air, and when she could see again, the Nine had her backs to her. From this position, she could just barely see the top of the lodestone below. It didn’t take long for the Councillors to realize what had happened, and they all turned to face her – their reactions varied from shock (be that because she had actually succeeded, or because she teleported into the observation room to prove it) to utter indifference. Cel responded with a simple, smug bow before disappearing into the arena again.                 “Um, well, I’m not sure that was necessary, but…” Even Attraeon’s sigh was amplified. “Yeah, fine, good work. Now, even if you fail, you can say you’re the only person alive who’s ever done that.”                 The next voice had an accent Cel had only ever heard at the Academy – thick and tinted with the age of both the Councillor and his native tongue. “Now let us see,” he said. “Here is something else special for you. Very important to my people, these are, but to you, perhaps it is just a slab of rock.” The world went dark again, of course. “Even so, to be a Councillor you must know magic from all parts of the world. I am sure you know much that comes from the Origin of Man, so let us see just how far this knowledge goes.”                 When Cel could see again, the obelisk had been replaced with almost exactly what the Councillor said it would be: a slab of rock, essentially a large stone table. It brought back memories of the altar in the temple back home. But obviously the challenge wouldn’t be so easy – surely Councillor Nemthuur would have known about this, especially with one Star Priest on the Council already. No, this particular altar had a different purpose.                 Whatever it was, Cel was getting those all-too-familiar signals from her body that it’d be best if she figured it out quickly. Sure, she could leave now – no penalty for leaving the arena to deal with things like that so long as she stayed underground – but for now, she could wait just fine. As far as she was concerned, she’d have to anyways. Something so mundane wasn’t about to interfere with the most important tests of her life. Though, she would have to drink something pretty soon, and with no way to tell how long the remaining tests would take, that could very well cause problems.                 Problems to deal with when they arise. For now, the problem was figuring out what the Councillor’s altar was for. If it was like the others Cel had seen, it likely had some sort of teleportation functionality, or perhaps it was an amplifier that needed the correct ritual to activate.                 Too bad for her that Councillor Nemthuur was very much aware that ritual magic like this was her weakness – especially with something so foreign. Sure, if he’d just given her this slab and told her to enchant it to do whatever it was supposed to do, she could do that well enough, but just reaching out for it demonstrated it was overflowing with magical energy. Getting an existing enchantment to actually do something, especially without knowing what it did in the first place? That was a challenge.                 A challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Cel walked up to the altar and laid a hand on it, closing her eyes to try and figure out what all that energy was trying to do. Something about it felt wrong, so Cel frowned and put her other hand on the altar as well. A few minutes of concentration revealed that the energy felt as though it were coming from somewhere else – where exactly, who could say, but that meant one thing: the altar summoned something.                 Specifically, whatever was on the other end of the connection. A reverse teleportation enchantment, essentially. No doubt this was a simplification of what Nemthuur would have used in his homeland, but what chance had anyone from any other part of the world to figure out the real ritual?                 Of course, being easier than it could have been wasn’t saying much – sure, the altar could summon something, and it was already linked to whatever that thing was, but summoning was a fairly peculiar skill, rare if not nonexistent everywhere except in Nemthuur’s homeland of Vinumur. It wasn’t even taught at Medru Dalach, for all their notoriety, because it was so utterly useless outside of obscure religious rituals practiced only by the oldest civilizations. Well, it was useful for that and Council trials, because it wouldn’t be a proper test to become a master among masters if it didn’t test one’s skills at things one would never need to know again.                 Cel stayed in that position, hands on the altar and eyes closed, while she considered how to do what needed to be done. Theoretically, she could just pull the energy through and hope that whatever was on the other end of the connection would come along with it – but that was just as likely to destroy the altar, the connected thing, or both.                 But wait – if it were already connected, perhaps the teleportation idea wasn’t all that far off. Teleporting was already essentially just taking something – one’s own body in practice – and putting it somewhere else. That concept could easily be applied in the opposite direction, as long as there was a way to tap into the energy of whatever needed to be moved.                 Conveniently…                 Cel waved one hand over the altar in a large circle, holding the other steady just above it for a moment, until there was a burst of flame that forced her to pull her arms back. The flame rose from the altar, assuming the form of, according to the legends, a dragon. It continued to rise for a brief moment, then disappeared in a bright flash and a shower of embers.                 “I did not expect that to be so easy for you.” The Councillor’s voice confirmed that was supposed to happen. “Interesting. If you maintain this, we will speak again for your final trial.”                 His voice faded, followed shortly by Cel’s vision. It returned as usual, and the edges of the arena had become a pool of water. There was quiet for a moment, then a woman’s voice, ancient and monotone, was heard above. “Do something useful with this.”                 Useful? Well, it was useful now – for Cel at least, whose first choice was to kneel in front of the water and get herself a few handfuls to drink. She was already being made well aware that she’d regret that soon, but such things were far better problems to deal with than dehydration.                 Anyways, what could Councillor Theryl have wanted? Surely a ninety-year-old legendary alchemist would know better than to give an enchantment trial to a skilled enchanter with no concept of humility. But then, unless Cel were to somehow magically pull together a brewery, there was very little useful to be done with water otherwise.                 Plus, Theryl was definitely the sort to lay traps for overthinkers, especially when she decided to teach classes personally. “Oh, this is too obvious, it must be something else,” her students would think. “There must be something else she wants us to do.” Then they’d fail because she actually just wanted them to brew tea.                 Usually they didn’t fall for that more than once. It was her special way of inducting the first-years into a system they’d likely never seen before. But Cel was in her sixth year. Seeing one of Theryl’s traps at that point was, to say the least, odd, especially when she was testing to find someone that she’d be working with.                 Ah, but she wasn’t looking for skills, was she? No, this was a logic test. To see if Cel could be tripped up not by Theryl’s traps, but by the context of the trials. Everyone knew what to expect from the Councillor in a classroom setting, but surely those expectations wouldn’t apply to a test to join the Council. And that was the trap.                 In any case, the water had already been enchanted while Cel was considering these things – she’d been absentmindedly waving her hands around, as something as trivial as making healing water had become second-nature to her – so by the time she’d finished her thoughts she couldn’t see anything anymore. Theryl hadn’t said anything, unsurprisingly, and presumably she was nodding in approval up in the Council’s little spectating room. The next Councillor was entirely silent, too, leaving Cel staring at a segmented pillar when her vision returned.                 It had old runes carved into it, the sort that Cel couldn’t read but everyone with magic knew vaguely what they meant. One of them was glowing, the one for fire.                 Cel cocked her head and muttered “Fire?” Then she shrugged and made a quick swiping motion in front of her with one hand. She’d launched a small golden fireball at the pillar, and when it struck the rune that segment rotated away and a different one lit up. Air.                 ‘Is that all this is?’ Cel audibly groaned and finished her thought. ‘Great, this isn’t going to end well at all…’ With a sigh, she gave a quick punch with her right hand, and across the room the pillar changed again. Water. Slightly more complicated, but all it took was a bit of a circular motion to pull some of the moisture from the air and send it at the pillar. Then it was earth.                 Cel stomped with her right foot to bring up a rock to throw. Except that never happened. The ground stayed firmly in the ground, so she tried again, and still nothing. She reached out to pull at one of the walls, then the ceiling, and even the other walls, and nothing happened.                 “Yeah, of course.” Cel sighed, rubbing her forehead for a moment, then putting both arms out in front of her and focusing. Her hands started to shake after a little while, and then a bit later pebbles started to form from apparently nothing, eventually coalescing into a rock just large enough to throw.                 So, of course, that rock was immediately hurled at the pillar, which was apparently satisfied and turned to show the fire symbol again. Cel raised an eyebrow and threw another fireball at it, but this time that did nothing. She tried again, and again, no response. Cel leaned back slightly and put out her hands in a motion that on its own said “what is this nonsense?”                 Further consideration, though, caused her to direct one of those hands to her face as she realized that this solution was obvious. She widened her stance, took a deep breath, and started to move both arms in wide circular motions. The first hand started near the ground to make a spark, and the second caught the lightning in front of her and dragged it out even more, eventually leading back to trade the energy between both hands a few times. Then one foot suddenly shot out and her stance had changed entirely – where her body had been facing the pillar before, now she was turned to face the wall with the Councillors’ viewing window, both arms stretched out in opposite directions. The same instant, there was a deafening crash and the lightning Cel had been working on was gone without a trace, save for Cel’s hair now being significantly less orderly.                 Cel relaxed and went back to her normal stance, but the pillar changed again. It was still the symbol for fire, but now it was glowing white, not red.                 “Is that-“ Cel whispered, eyes wide, watching the pillar to make sure it was correct about what it wanted. “They don’t really- Naaah, fuck.” It was. They did.                 Cel took a moment to calm herself down – deep breaths, closed eyes, she’d even sat down again – and went back to talking to herself. “Alright, well, that’s… How am I going to do that? They’re not going to take anything less than perfect, for sure… But can I even do perfect?” She brought her elbows to rest on her legs and let her hands support her head. “Well, not like there’s all that much of a choice. If they really want to see it… I’m going to give them perfect.”                 She stood up, breathed deep again, and held her hands out to her sides. Golden flames appeared in each, and she brought her hands to her front and tried to press them together. The flames resisted, of course – part of why getting this perfect was so difficult; it was hard to even do it at all to begin with – but Cel wasn’t about to give up. She simply tried harder, the effort and heat causing her to break a sweat for the first time in her trials. The flames started to swirl around each other as she focused on nothing but the task at hand.                 But then she suddenly jumped back a bit and dropped the fire as she felt warmth somewhere that the flames couldn’t have affected. Cel’s body tensed and she pressed her legs together for a moment, not daring to check to confirm what she already knew had happened. She looked over her shoulder at the entrance to the arena. It was still open, she could leave now and come right back without penalty. She could, or she could finish what she’d started.                 Well, that was hardly much of a choice, was it?                 Without any further hesitation, Cel had her fire in hand again, right back to what she’d been doing – though this time with a slightly tighter stance and a divided focus – to make it seem like she’d made some mistake the last time. Perhaps they’d think she’d burned herself a little, or something.                 She’d duck out in between tests once this was done. Leaving in the middle of one was just unprofessional. This would just… take a while, is all. Certainly not long enough to be a problem if Cel paid attention.                 At any rate, she’d already committed to the test, and now that she’d doubled down on it, things were going well, if slowly. It did take a few minutes for the flames to join into one, and from there it was a (theoretically) simple matter of compressing that even further. More effort, more focus. And a little bit of focus on making sure that cold spot didn’t get warm again.                 The flame eventually became a white ball resembling a small sun. But it still wasn’t good enough. More effort, more focus. The ball was still hot, still glowing. That wouldn’t do. That wasn’t perfect. Cel threw her arms out to her sides, ripping the ball in half, then forced them back together just as quickly – keeping her head turned so that the resulting blast of heat only warmed up her ear a little bit. Then she pressed her hands even closer together, gradually closing in around the ball until her hands met. When they opened again, she was carrying that ball of energy in her left hand, feeling around it with her right and being very careful to not actually touch it. The absolute lack of any heat – or light, for that matter – coming off of it made it far more dangerous than any regular fire, but also confirmed one very important thing.                 It was perfect.                 And so it was thrown, and when it hit the pillar, the runes stopped glowing and the pillar retreated into the ground. Cel’s vision faded with but a single word from the Councillor: “Impressive.”                 The next one was more talkative. “I must say, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone get this far so quickly and so easily,” he said. “And, of course, we’re not supposed to give you any help, but I’m sure the other eight will agree with me when I tell you…” Cel’s vision returned during the Councillor’s pause, and in the middle of the arena there was now a collection of tables covered in alchemical instruments, plants, and bottles of various liquids. The setup was completed by a lectern off to the side, the book on it already open to a particular page. “If I didn’t give you the directions, you wouldn’t stand a chance at finishing this trial. So I’m not looking for you to know anything. No, this is actually fairly straightforward, and I’m sure this trial is going to… Well, it may just beat the arrogance out of you. I’m actually hoping otherwise; this place just wouldn’t be the same without someone like you around.” He paused for just a moment. “Eh, anyways, just do what the book says.”                 Cel had already made her way over to the book while the Councillor was speaking and had already scanned the page by the time he’d stopped. It actually was fairly straightforward. One very simple task: make the potion described in the book. No tricks, no distractions. Just a potion.                 Or, more specifically, create the single most powerful and complicated potion ever to have been made by human hands. Trivial, really.                 After all, everything Cel needed was out on the tables, and the book told her exactly what to do. That of course didn’t change the fact that Cel’s heart had nearly stopped when she first read the list of ingredients. This particular potion left absolutely no room for error, and there were only enough materials for a single attempt. If even one thing was ever so slightly off, the entire thing would be ruined and the trial failed. In retrospect, perhaps the cold fire didn’t need to be perfect, but this absolutely did – the end result literally could not possibly exist in any state other than perfection.                 But this was fine. Cel just had to pay attention to what she was doing, be careful, and it’d turn out alright. She didn’t even need to enchant the water herself, all she had to do was work the instruments and mix the ingredients.                 There would be no way to stop once she’d started, though. Even looking away for longer than it would take to blink would mean potentially missing a vital timing. Logically, this would be the perfect time to do whatever needed doing – especially pressing concerns that had brought themselves up in the prior test. But, come to think of it, Cel wasn’t really feeling it all that badly anymore. Perhaps it was just the strain from trying to work the cold fire that had set things off. There’d be nothing like that here, just staring at tubes and putting leaves into things. And if it wasn’t all that critical, it could wait until later…                 Cel glanced at the exit – still open – for only a moment as she picked up the book and moved it to the workbench, setting it down directly in front of where she’d be standing for the duration. Pouring out the contents of a bottle into one of the strange vessels and lightning a fire below it marked the point of no return, and from there she set about doing whatever else the book instructed her to do. Crush this plant, put this thing over there, pour this onto that, light this on fire, turn this valve…                 If not for the fact that everything had to be timed and portioned exactly correctly, this would actually be fairly monotonous. It did boil down to just following directions, after all. But that was part of the difficulty of doing this alone rather than with the traditional team of maybe a half-dozen alchemists. Everything was important, every sound, every detail. All the bubbling from the various reactions would be background noise anywhere else, but here, the sound from each individual vessel meant something. Dismissing those sounds as the typical droning of an alchemist’s workstation would mean disaster.                 Ah, but, perhaps something else should have been held with the same regard…                 Of course, that would be a far less significant disaster, but with everything going on now Cel was starting to regret having ignored her needs for so long. Now she couldn’t leave and was stuck watching things boil and drip. Her situation could have been better, to put it mildly.                 Though, honestly, it could have been worse too. At the moment she was standing fairly normally, just with her legs pressed together and occasionally a slight shuffle. If she could risk dividing her attention, she’d probably have forced herself to stand still and proper, but it was better to let her body take control of holding on while her mind concentrated on what would hopefully become the panacea she was supposed to be making.                 Things were looking good on that front, at least. Everything had gone well so far, and right now it was just a series of slight adjustments to things that had already been set up earlier. That certainly didn’t mean she could pay any less attention to it, though: a “slight” adjustment could mean something so minute that whatever needed to be adjusted would be changed too much by touching it a little too intensely. But it was still a nice bit of a break until things needed to start being brought away from the heat, at which point it was business as usual again.                 Near to usual, anyways, as the strain on Cel’s body had only been increasing the entire time, and with both hands needed to work the alchemical instruments…                 Well, better to not think about that – especially since she literally couldn’t afford to think about anything else anyways. Still, it had gotten to the point where even if she could dedicate any willpower to it, she wouldn’t be able to stop the constant motion of her legs. And because she had to focus on the trial, she couldn’t actively suppress the pressure down there either – just let herself feel the dull ache for a while, minimized only by the fact that it wasn’t the most important thing at the moment.                 As time went on, though, things were only moving in one direction, and with her mind focused on the potion, Cel’s body was left to its own devices. Only her inseparable legs and subconscious willpower were keeping things (mostly) dry below, but everything has a breaking point… Cel was finding it increasingly difficult to stand still as the trial dragged on, forcing her upper body to remain mostly steady by pure necessity while her legs shook and tried to dance.                 Cel was aware of the warmth when it appeared, but she could do nothing about it and was forced to feel the wetness expand before it stopped on its own. She was running out of time, but fortunately so was the potion. It would be close, and she was already wet, but there was a chance. There were only a few steps left in the preparation, and the only evidence of anything having gone wrong was under her skirt, which nobody with a brain would risk provoking her ire to check. Cel’s legs crossed tighter as the warm spot was freshened up and she forced herself to finish the potion as quickly as the procedure would allow. That was all she had to do. All the hard parts were over already. Just finish the damn potion.                 It probably would have been easier if “finish the potion” meant anything other than “pour these liquids together in specific amounts that need to be measured out exactly.” Suffice it to say that pouring things into other things was not exactly what Cel wanted to be doing if she couldn’t pour things from her own body into… well, anything would do, really, so long as it wasn’t her own clothes. Not that her body was giving her much choice in that matter – her bladder was burning and its patience wearing thin, leaving her wet spot with no time to cool off and a puddle at her feet that could hopefully be passed off as excess fluid from the instruments. Not much longer, though…                 Cel’s control was slipping for good by the time the final potion was getting bottled, and by the time it was finished she was producing a steady trickle, so as soon as she was done she dropped the potion onto the table and threw herself at one of the arena walls – the one with the Councillors above, so they couldn’t see her given the angle. The Councillor whose challenge she’d just finished said something she wasn’t listening to, and when her vision faded to confirm that her potion was correct, she gave up. Back against the wall, legs spread out slightly, Cel let go.                 Her already-wet black panties were destroyed almost instantly, the flood creating a puddle that quickly reached to her boots. Before she could even see again, Cel closed her eyes, sighed, and lowered herself to the ground, hiking up her skirt to save it from the damage she was doing to everything else. Some part of her found some humor in this situation – this hadn’t been the first time something like this had happened, and of course she hadn’t learned from then. Though, at least now she wasn’t in public, and there wasn’t even anyone around to see her. Her torrent died down quickly, though despite both the volume she’d released and how long it’d taken, Cel knew she wasn’t quite done – she never was, when something like this happened; she’d always end up only letting out about half of whatever was in her if she was pushed to the end, just enough to feel better immediately, but also enough that she’d still need to deal with it properly soon anyways. As far as she was concerned, though, she was done. She wouldn’t be able to force anything else to happen just yet anyways, so she stood up, sliding off her ruined delicates as she did so. She wrung them out into the puddle she’d made as best she could then attempted to use them to dry off her legs (to minimal effect) before summoning up a magical fire to destroy them.                 And then she looked up. The next trial had been prepared with a very simple setup. A small circular platform and a table nearby with various sacred oils and ritualistic instruments. And the next Councillor was standing in the arena, too, with his back to Cel, clearly very uncomfortable. Cel’s face immediately turned red and she looked around for some way to explain what had just happened. Technically it wasn’t against the rules to piss on the floor of the trial arena, but it was shameful, and went completely against the image Cel had tried to create for herself at Medru Dalach. She was already practically a kid to everyone else at the academy, and while everyone could overlook one public incident, another happening for the exact same reason would be devastating for her.                 But there was nothing Cel could blame but her own pride, so she cautiously approached Councillor Sentagon without a word. He turned around to face her when she got close, and they both seemed to be actively avoiding eye contact. Sentagon spoke first.                 “Um, well… you, uh… you do know that wasn’t the kind of limit we were testing for, right?” He gave a half-hearted chuckle. “But, ah, are you alright? Do you need to go wash up or something first?”                 “N-no, sir, I’m fine.” Cel’s legs came together again, if only to hide the fact that she was now bare beneath her skirt.                 “You sure?” Sentagon cleared his throat. “Alright, well, I’ll just, uh, not tell anyone about this, and we’ll both pretend it never happened, yeah?” When Cel nodded silently, he went on. “It’s no big deal, this stuff happens. You see it a lot in ninety years, trust me. Ah, but, anyways.” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Back to business. I’m actually down here because it’s the only way to figure out if you’re doing this correctly. Could have sent anyone down here, really, could even have you work with one of Renagor’s shadows, but I honestly don’t trust the judgment of anyone but myself with this. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want to perform this particular ritual on anyone not of our faith anyways.”                 “And this ritual is…?” Cel tugged at the front of her skirt. Suddenly it felt too small.                 “You’re going to act like I’m being initiated as our High Priest. I expect you to perform this ritual exactly as if it were real, so do be careful with it.”                 Cel leaned back a bit and raised an eyebrow. “Really? That’s…”                 “Monumentally rare, yes. Even, eh, even our Hierophants, we actually need to know it, but we’re never expected to do it. You were never expected to learn it, you never would have had to do it, but I know you know it and can do it anyways. So, am I right?”                 There was a fierce nod from Cel and she spoke with her usual conviction. “Damn right, sir.”                 The Councillor chuckled. “That’s the spirit. Now…” He reached up to his shoulder and untied the blue sash that served as part of his uniform, tossing it aside and letting it dissolve. Then he worked his way out of the white button shirt beneath, letting that disappear to the same place as the sash. “Whenever you’re ready,” he said, turning to face the entrance to the arena and falling to one knee, his gaze immutably directed to the ground.                 Cel walked over to the table nearby and set about looking through the bottles and tools upon it. “So, I don’t suppose you’re allowed to talk anymore, huh?”                 “No.”                 “Yeah, figures. Now, what was… Ah, yes…” She picked up a small vial of oil and a piece of yellow cloth from the table, ripping the cork from the vial with her teeth and soaking the fabric in its contents as thoroughly as possible. Then she brought the cloth to the Councillor and drew it down his back several times, hesitantly muttering in a long-forgotten language as she did so – she didn’t know what the words meant, hardly anyone did, but they were important. When she spoke the last word, accidentally making it sound like a question, the Councillor responded with conviction in the same language.                 The cloth was left draped over Sentagon’s neck as Cel brought a bowl of water from the table. She lifted it above herself with another ancient word, waited for the Councillor’s response, then poured the contents over his head. She took a knife from the table and came around to Sentagon’s front – he was still staring at the ground as before, but now lifted up one arm. Cel drew blood from his hand, and Sentagon looked up slightly, with eyes shut – she took with two fingers the Councillor’s blood and pressed those fingers into his forehead, then did the same with her own blood. The cuts weren’t deep by any possible description, but she still pressed an open hand against each. Sentagon’s only response was a sharp breath as Cel’s hand grew hot enough to seal the wound, and she reacted vocally when she did the same to herself.                 Then the cloth was brought over to cover Sentagon’s face, and he was pushed back so that his body was straight and his head was pointed towards the ceiling. Cel pressed a hand to his chest and there was a yellow glow for a moment, then the cloth was removed and more instruments brought out – this time a plain white cloth, a brush, and ink. The white cloth was used to remove the oil from Sentagon’s back, then, with the brush coated in ink, Cel drew sacred symbols onto the Councillor, slowly and carefully, while speaking another ancient prayer just as slowly. Sentagon responded firmly when she finished, then he stood and looked straight ahead.                 A staff was brought out from the table, Cel bringing this to Sentagon’s front. They each held the staff with two hands, and Cel gave one last chant with her eyes closed. She let go of the staff when she’d finished, and the Councillor bowed his head, speaking a single ancient word.                 Then he handed the staff back to Cel and stretched, a golden light removing the ink from his body and a swirl of dust returning his clothes to him.                 “Alright, yes.” He reached up to his head and magically pulled the water from his hair, tossing it aside. “Fine, very good. I just need to check what the others saw you draw. It felt right, but I am clearly not in a position to render judgment on something I have not seen. You’ll hear the results soon.” Then he dissolved into a cloud of dust that shot up towards the observation room.                 Cel took advantage of the downtime and used one of the spare cleaning cloths on her legs, which had only been made more wet by her earlier attempt at drying them off. There was a quiet gasp from her as the cloth found its way under her skirt, apparently also finding a sensitive spot – but there was no time to fool around with that, so she moved on and tossed the cloth to the side when she was done. The rest of her spare time was spent looking at the excess materials left for her, including a bottle of clean water that she downed – presumably it had been intended for refilling the bowl if something should have happened, but now it was a drink.                 Her vision faded almost as soon as the bottle met with the table again, and the voice was that of Varassus this time, not Sentagon. “Well, that was… a rather unusual trial. I won’t pretend to know what Master Sentagon was thinking, but I trust him when he says he rendered you no aid, and I trust his judgment. Of course, all eight of us were watching and he requested our opinion to aid in his decision. Perhaps we are not the best at explaining what we saw, but Sentagon found our input adequate to render judgment on your trial.”                 Cel’s vision returned, and her heart sank when she saw the arena was empty. Her mind was filled with thoughts of what she might have done wrong, and she hardly heard the Councillor’s announcement. She heard something, and froze. What was that he said? It didn’t sound like “failed”.                 There was no time to consider this, though, and the next voice that rang out put her mind at ease. It was the last Councillor. “Well, I must say,” he started. “I am sorry to have ever doubted you, Cel. Honestly, I am… amazed at the challenges the others have given you today. And I’m equally amazed at how absolutely none of them seemed to be of any challenge at all. I’m also disappointed, because I know that there is nothing I can give you at this point that is going to stop you from joining us. I may have underestimated you, but now… Now the world is going to know who you are, and all you have to do is clear two more trials. There is no way that I can see that you would fail them, so consider this a break. Something simple that will allow you to rest in preparation for your last test.”                 There was a blinding flash, and when it passed the arena was filled with what seemed to be walls made of light, waves of energy assembled into blocks that seemed to interact and intersect in impossible ways. There was only a little bit of clearly-visible ground in front of Cel, and all the rest of the arena was warped by the light-walls.                 Clearly, it was a maze designed to get the occupant even more lost than a regular maze. And as just about anyone knew, a maze was trivial to someone who could teleport – therefore, teleporting would presumably be rewarded with a failure. How the Council would know, Cel wasn’t sure, as the light-walls formed a dome over the arena, blocking the Council’s view of the situation below. Still wouldn’t be a great idea for her to find out what would happen, not after getting this far and nearly humiliating herself once already.                 So she just started walking. The opening to the maze was blocked off by a light-wall once she was inside, and Cel kept her eyes to the ground to avoid being distracted by the view through the walls. Or, she did, for a little while, until that turned out to be disorienting as well. She ended up getting horribly lost going around corners, so she decided to instead keep her left hand pressed against the wall, which was far more solid than it seemed. It was still hard to see any turns that weren’t immediate, but it would help with navigation somewhat. And for a while, Cel wandered around quietly through the maze with that as her tactic.                 She wasn’t sure how far she’d gotten through the maze when she realized that things had caught up with her – the water from the previous trial, however necessary it was, had not reacted well with the fact that she was still half-full from her incident. Cel moved slowly and kept her legs close together. Hopefully the end was somewhat close. This time she’d surely get away for a break before the last trial began, just as soon as she could get out of the maze.                 Whenever that would be.                 Definitely seemed to be taking a while, and the walls of the maze meant it was impossible for Cel to tell if she’d already been to a particular part of it – no doubt she’d ended up walking back and forth through the same area for a while. And with things moving quite a bit faster than Cel would have preferred, she had to find a way out of the maze very soon. There was no way to tell time in the cave, of course, but however much time had passed between the end of the eighth trial and now, Cel had progressed to the point of having to stop every so often to press her legs together, occasionally letting a hand join in – nobody could see anyways.                 Speaking of nobody to see…                 No, she couldn’t do that. Well, she could, technically, but she wouldn’t allow herself to. It was bad enough that she’d let that happen just two trials ago, she was definitely not going to relieve herself somewhere inappropriate if she could help it.                 That was starting to be quite a big “if”, though.                 Before long, Cel had one hand that was quite content to remain wedged between her legs while she attempted to orient herself and escape the maze. She was reduced to a bit of an awkward shuffle, but she could last until the end.                 Never mind that if she were to put a hand to her belly, it’d be ever so slightly inflated and harder than normal, or that the hand stuck between her legs was already getting wet. She’d be fine.                 As long as she could find the exit soon. Had she already seen that corner? Was that even a corner? Everything looked the same, and the only indication that she’d already been to an area was that she was starting to leave a trail. But of course she could ignore that, it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be a problem once she just got out of the damn maze.                 Not much longer, she kept telling herself. Not much longer…                 Too bad for Cel that her body was saying the same thing. She managed to pull her hand out from its position, only to double over in instant regret when her body realized there wasn’t anything left to physically block its relief – she did recover quickly enough, but not without getting a trail down her legs. She took a deep breath once she’d composed herself and looked down at her skirt. First off, it needed a good ironing, but more importantly there was a conspicuous dark patch on the front. Cel just groaned and tried to smooth her skirt out with her wet hand, creating a lighter streak.                 After taking a moment to look around – for all the good that did – Cel stumbled forward, leaning on the wall to her left to maintain some sense of direction. Both hands were against the wall, one slightly ahead feeling for turns, the other serving to keep Cel some degree of upright. Each step added to the trail running down her legs and to the trail on the ground behind her, and before long she could have stood on dry ground and still have her feet in a puddle. Yet still she went on, until she rounded a corner, only to feel the walls turn her right back around again.                 Rather than following the path out from the dead end, though, she stood there for a moment, legs trembling, and looked around in vain. “What…?” She started muttering, incoherent even to herself. “But, I don’t…”                 She backed up against one of the walls surrounding her, closing her eyes and breathing heavily.                 “Ah…”                 There was no attempt to stop the wave of desperation that overtook her, and caused a large spurt to soak her legs and boots even further. Cel opened a single eye to look down and inspect the damage, and then her only reaction was to spread her legs and give up. She brought down a hand to move the front of her skirt out of the way just before the torrent started, then sighed as she soaked the arena floor for the second time in mere hours.                 “Haah…” After a minute, Cel opened her eyes and looked around again. The puddle at her feet had already reached her boots and just seemed to be getting bigger, but considering they were wet on the inside too, there was little reason to adjust her stance. The walls were all as nonsensical as before, except… “Ah… W-wait… What’s…?” She stuck her head out as far as possible without moving from her spot, squinting and looking at the wall across the way. Something looked off about it, even moreso than all the other walls, but she wasn’t in much of a position to investigate. “Huh.” She leaned back and sighed again, keeping an eye on the suspicious wall while her stream gradually slowed down. Another minute and it had been reduced to occasional dripping, so Cel released her skirt and stepped out of her puddle, shaking her feet as she did so.                 Her legs quickly grew cold and her feet were wet and uncomfortable as she headed toward the strange light, prompting her to pull at her lower half with magic in some attempt to clean herself – most of her urine came off and she tossed it aside, letting it strike a wall with an outlandish noise, though what was in her boots couldn’t be removed until she washed them later.                 When she reached the wall, looking at it up close confirmed it was darker than its surroundings, and ever so slightly more transparent. Cel reached out to touch it and it rippled when her hand made contact, and when she pushed, the wall disappeared and she nearly fell over.                 “What in th- Fucking kidding me?” When she regained her balance, she looked around mouthing “What” repeatedly and making exasperated hand motions. “Really that fucking close, right,” she muttered, “of course it would be. Fuck.”                 Indeed, she needed only to take a few steps forward after breaking through the wall for a bright light to overwhelm her, taking the maze with it when it faded. Soon after, a cloud of dust formed into the Nine, with Varassus stepping forward once they were all present. Cel stepped back slightly, hoping he wouldn’t be able to smell what had happened.                 If he could, he made no indication, instead giving a nod and a smile. “Excellent work, Cel. Yes, that all was… quite interesting, I must say.” Some of the other eight behind him either nodded along or gave Cel looks of encouragement. “Now, you’ve passed all nine of the individual trials. This tenth and final one is administered by all of the Nine Masters at once. We will do our best to stop you from joining us, but…” Varassus shrugged. “At this point I highly doubt there’s anything we can do to that end. Do you… need a moment to prepare?” He raised an eyebrow and looked Cel over, his gaze lingering a little on the dark spot on her skirt, which she quickly covered up with a hand.                 Cel blushed and attempted to respond to the Councillor. “I, uh… I…” She took a deep breath and continued. “No, I’m ready.”                 Councillor Varassus stretched out his arms to his sides. “Then let us begin.”                

Sake