2.1 Prelude - Cygna

The maga nova Cygna stood in her future laboratory, deeply contemplating a table. Although it was carelessly covered with a meager assortment of Hermetic accoutrements, she couldn't help but feel that it was just a hair out of place. After several minutes of careful deliberation, she knelt and moved the table two fingers-breadths closer to the wall. She got back up and slowly circled the table, carefully working out the next thing that was just a shade off.

As she reached to move one of the glass apparatuses, the bell in her antechamber rang loudly. She started and knocked the contraption to the floor. She let fly an oath as she looked at the shards, ignoring the deep chuckle from one side, then stormed out of the lab and through the antechamber.

She threw open the door and glared at the young page waiting nervously. “What is it, Edgar?”

“Begging your pardon, Kater...I mean Maga Cygna, but you're wanted in the Council chambers.”


“Magus Vucar did ask that I bring you to the chambers, so I believe so, yes.”

Cygna huffed. “Very well,” she said as she reached for her cloak. She strode toward the Old Tower, her hood pulled up against the chill drizzle. Her long legs forced Edgar to almost run to keep pace with her.

She waited impatiently outside the Council Chamber as the out-of-breath page informed the Council of her arrival. It was only a moment later when Edgar opened the door. He ushered her in and announced her to the Council of Magi of the Covenant at Riversedge, then closed the door as he resumed his post in the foyer.

“You sent for me, Princeps?” she said to Vucar. She tried in vain to fight down the resentment she felt at being summoned like a mere apprentice. It had been over a month since she had passed her Gauntlet, and though she expected the magi of the other houses to be slow to accept her as an equal, she had thought better of Grus and Vucar (the former being her mater, the latter her uncle).

It was possible, she thought, that they believed that more of Adorjan Megidézó had rubbed off on her than they thought in all the seasons she was forced to serve him. She unconsciously clenched her fist at the thought.

As Cygna looked around the council chamber, she noticed the Redcap Aristella, who had been to the covenant countless times in the past, seated against one wall.

“Relax, Cygna,” Vucar said. “You're not here to face an inquiry. Aristella has a letter that she will only read if all the magi are present.”

“It had better be important,” grumbled Petros of Verditius. “I am on the verge of a breakthrough on Androcles.”

“I am certain that Aristella is well aware of the value of everyone's time, my friend,” Vucar said. He then looked around the room. “I believe that this all of the magi. Cygna, if you wish, you may have a seat. Aristella, if you would?”

Cygna took a seat against the wall nearest her mater as Aristella reached into her pouch. After removing a parchment, the Redcap rose to her feet. She then proceeded to read the letter detailing the invitation from Phoenix Covenant for full membership to any member of the Order, in exchange for their votes at Tribunal.

As she finished, the magi's reactions ranged from apathy or ignorance to impressed surprise to indignation that they would try to buy a magus away from Stonehenge.

“I have no further information about the offer,” Aristella said to forestall any questions. “I will be leaving the letter here for your perusal and examination.”

“Have any of the other magi of Stonehenge accepted their offer, to your knowledge?” Grus asked.

“As you are most certainly aware, Maga, I am not permitted to reveal the contents of anything I am given to deliver. And, in case anyone's forgotten, as a member of House Mercere, I am under the full protection of the Oath we have all sworn.”

“We all remember,” Vucar said coldly.

Aristella placed the letter on the table and returned to her seat. After Vucar adjourned the council meeting and the other magi went their separate ways, Cygna continued to sit thoughtfully.

boy I'm glad I got that done.

Final word count ≈ 2,378. Killed pretty much my whole day, but worth it, I think.

Cygna looked out her window that evening at the heavy rain and thought about not taking dinner with her family. She quickly decided that their company might be a welcome respite, however, and cast a spontaneous version of Cloak of the Duck's Feathers on her cloak. Not for the first time, she wished that her knowledge of Ignem was such that she could dispel the chill of early winter.

She passed her chambermaid in the hallway. “I will be dining with my family as usual, Celestria. Please be sure the fire is stoked when I return.”

As Cygna left the New Tower, her uncle fell in step beside her. “Is there anything you would like to talk about?” he asked in Russian.

“What do you mean?” she replied in the same tongue.

“The letter from Phoenix. The look on your face when I left the council chambers. It is a very tempting offer, yes?”

Cygna looked at Vucar. “Are you thinking of going, Uncle?”

He looked up at the light of the waning moon without answering for a long moment.

“I thought about it,” he finally said, coming to a stop and turning to face Cygna. “Phoenix is a powerful covenant in the Iberian tribunal. But I have responsibilities here. Both as Princeps and...well, my mundane obligations as well.”

“And I don't?” Cygna shot back.

Vucar looked at her sternly. “No. No, you don't.”

Cygna turned and quickly walked the short distance to her parents' cottage before Vucar could continue. Throughout the meal, the family could tell that there was more tension than normal between the two, but chalked it up to “something wizard-y” and didn't pry...which took a supreme effort of will on her mother's part.

After dinner, Vucar silently walked Cygna home. “Would you be so kind as to let me finish?” he asked after he followed her into the foyer.

“You might as well,” she said, crossing her arms.

“As I was saying,” Vucar said more calmly than he felt, “I do have responsibilities to the covenant, to the Council, and to our family. That includes you, by the way.

“Riversedge is, by Hermetic reckoning, a relatively young covenant. And yet, with Stonehenge as chaotic as it is, we find ourselves in a precarious position. We need steady leadership to make a difference. And if our Princeps was to abdicate his office in search of greener pastures, Riversedge could find itself as irrelevant as Burnham.

“And you know how I feel about my brother and his wife. And I hope you've seen that I care for my nephew and my nieces as though you were my own children.

“I'm not going to tell you how to chose. But I will say that if I were a newly gauntleted magus, and an opportunity like this were presented to me...I suspect that I would greatly regret not accepting the invitation for years, if not decades, to come.”

With that, he excused himself and made his way back to his own sanctum.

As Cygna prepared herself for bed, she caught the all-too-familiar scent of brimstone, but thankfully saw and heard nothing more.

The next afternoon, while no warmer than the day before, was drier. Cygna was continuing the painfully tedious chore of setting up her laboratory when she heard a knocking, followed by the low murmur of voices in the outer room.

Celestria knocked on the inner door and waited to be acknowledged. “Your pardon, Maga,” she said, “But Maga Grus is here to see you.”

“I'll be there in a moment,” Cygna replied. After making a couple of adjustments, she greeted her mater in the foyer with an affectionate hug.

“Let me guess,” Cygna said. “You're here to talk about the offer from Phoenix.”

“You are quite astute, filia. Would you care to join me for some tea?”

Cygna said that she would, as they had had many meaningful discussions over a pot of herbal brew, and walked with her former master back to her home.

“I assume you've been thinking about the letter?” Grus asked as she poured a cup of tea for each of them. Cygna realized that Grus had planned this in advance, as the tea had already been prepared for them, and Grus's husband was nowhere in sight.

“Yes, I have. In fact, I reread the letter to be sure I hadn't missed anything.”


“As Vucar said last night, it is a very tempting offer.” Cygna paused to take a sip of the slightly bitter tea.

“What do you think I should do?” Cygna asked when she realized that Grus would not pepper her with questions.

“Are you asking me what to do?” Grus raised a brow.

“No, mater, far from it. I'm asking your advice,” Cygna replied with a smile.

Grus nodded, looking somewhat pleased. “I think you should do what is best for Cygna.” She then held up a hand before Cygna could say anything.

“You are young, filia. You have an infinite vista before you. And that vista is yours and yours alone.

“It has been many, many years since we were your age. Think of those who founded the covenant. All of us save Petros were as children when we came here. And we came from across Europe. Petros from Rome, your uncle from Novgorod, Adorjan from Transylvania,” (she said the last with more than a hint of distaste) “and me. Would we have been better served to have stayed in the covenants of our apprenticeship rather than explored the horizon?”

Grus fell silent as she drank her tea, giving her filia time to think.

“I daresay you find yourself in an enviable position, Cygna. Not entirely unlike the one Vucar found himself in all those years ago. Except that you would be coming into a well-established covenant, and you would not have to wait out the probationary period that our Charter calls for. From what I hear, Phoenix is quite wealthy and influential. I find myself a little jealous.”

The magae finished their tea in reflective silence before Cygna rose to leave.

“Know this, filia,” Grus said as she rose as well, “no matter what you decide, I will support your decision. And should you choose to leave, I will always be here for you.” Grus hugged her warmly before the novice left to return to her own sanctum.

Cygna spent the rest of the day deep in thought, merely going through the motions of setting up a laboratory that she was unsure she would ever use. She had even taken her supper in the Great Hall for a change, to avoid being unduly influenced by her vulgar family.

When she returned t her chamber, she saw a dark hooded figure standing before her mirror, hands clasped behind his back. Red embers glowed where his eyes had been. A few steps away, Celestria tended the fire, blissfully ignorant of his presence.

“Get out,” she growled in Latin.

“Pardon?” Celestria replied.

“Would you excuse me for a few minutes, Celestria.” Cygna's tone made it more of an order than a request.

Celestria said nothing as she hurried from the room.

“That's no way to treat the chattel, Katerina,” Adorjan said. “I must say, I'm impressed I didn't think you had it in you. There may be hope for you yet.”

“What do you want?”

“I simply came to give you counsel.” Adorjan turned to face Cygna. “And I must say that I am quite hurt. You sought advice from Vucar and Grus, but not from the man who's done the most to bring out your full potential?”

“I don't think I particularly want your advice, Adorjan. Good bye.”

“You're getting it anyway, child.” He moved closer as he spoke. “Do you really think you can flourish here, under their thumbs? Do you honestly believe that you can become even a fraction as powerful as you can be, here?”

“I quite caring what you thought a long time ago. Now, leave.”

“Katerina, surely you know by now that I will never leave you until you're able to make me leave. Perhaps the change will do us both good.” Adorjan nodded thoughtfully. “Yes. You will become more powerful, as will I...unless you figure out how to stop me. I honestly don't see that happening any time soon, though.”

“We stopped you before.”

“By betraying my trust, child? By depriving me of my magical power? By tricking your masters into slaying me?

“You were using your magical power to invite demons into our homes!” Cygna shouted. “You were using me in your hellish rituals! And you were slain for murdering a member of the Order!”

“She was a Redcap, child! That doesn't count!”

“Your life was forfeit several times over! You should be grateful that you were granted a quick and merciful death!”

“Bah!” Adorjan waved a hand dismissively. “You call this merciful?” He snorted with amusement.

“Well, I will leave you to your deliberations, Katerina. I will give you one piece of advice this night, and ignore it at your peril. Do what you and I both know what you must.” Adorjan then faded away.

Cygna screamed in rage that the fiend had escaped once more, and that was still powerless to stop him.

Two days later, Cygna handed a sealed letter to Aristella, mere moments before the Redcap left to continue her circuit.

“To my esteemed Sodalis Jamie Lanister, of House Flambeau and of Phoenix Covenant, does Cygna filia Grus of House Bjornaer send greetings,” it began.