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‘Nobody steals from Mad Marrowyn,’ Stilt said dismissively, tossing another stone off the pier to plop in the river below them. Hadrick scoffed.
‘What will the old man do? It’s not like he can kill us or anything,’ the fat boy assured. ‘The Archmagisters wouldn’t let him do that.’
‘There are worse things than death,’ Aleryas said drowsily from his branch. The youth reclined in the bend of a nearby oak, one copper leg dangling, barefoot as he often went. Hadrick ignored him.
‘Plus,’ Stilt added, drawing himself up to his full gangly height, ‘even if we could get the Seeing Stone, and somehow avoid being expelled from the College, what would we even do with it?’ Hadrick rolled his eyes.
‘What would we even do with a stone that shows you the future?’ he mocked. ‘Is that what you’re really asking?’
‘I don’t want to see your future,’ Sneed grumbled from over his dusty tome. The bookworm was camped at the bottom of Aleryas’s tree, dully turning pages, hoping study would bring him wisdom. But Aleryas knew wisdom didn’t come from books. Hadrick bristled at the suggestion that he might not make it—at the College or otherwise, and moved to confront Sneed, but Aleryas cooed.
‘The stone does not show one the whole future,’ he said, opening one green eye. ‘But glimpses, suggestions. Dangerous things for the ambitious.’
‘What does a chimera know about magic stones anyways?’ Hadrick grumbled. Aleryas merely stretched and turned over. They called him the chimera because he was a little of everything—copper skin from the south, green eyes of the north, dark curly hair from the east. His father had been a minor noble, the boys assumed, or a sea captain, or a spice merchant, but Aleryas never told. Nobody really wondered who his mother had been. The assumption of illegitimacy might have worked against him elsewhere, but at the College only skill won out, and Aleryas had plenty of skill.
‘Plus,’ said Sneed, ‘Magister Olovander says Magister Marrowyn isn’t playing with a full deck these days. Too many trips to the east. They say he’s too unpredictable, so they keep him away from everyone, let him steward their collections.’
‘If he was so dangerous, why would they trust him with powerful artifacts?’ Hadrick said pointedly. Sneed looked puzzled, but eventually looked back down to his books. ‘Plus, Olovander can’t remember what he had for breakfast this morning, what does he know?’
‘More than you’ll ever know,’ Sneed spat. Hadrick rolled up his cuff and stalked towards the smaller boy when Stilt came between them.
‘Look. I say if we’re gonna do this, then Aleryas should do it.’ That seemed to placate Hadrick, and Sneed, looking up at the chimera, looked as though he were considering it.
‘I mean, you’re the only one he talks to,’ Stilt elaborated, ‘you could slip into his chambers, say you want to check out an object—like a scrying mirror—then when he goes to get it, snatch his stone!’
‘I don’t condone thievery,’ Sneed said, ‘but I also wouldn’t snitch if somebody, hypothetically, did something similar to that.’ Hadrick stared at the chimera’s back. After a few moments, the fat boy bent down, picked up a stone, and tossed it at his dark-haired friend. Rather than hit him, a copper hand struck out, snatching the stone out of the air. They were always testing Aleryas’s reflexes.
‘What do I get out of all this?’ he said sleepily, dropping the stone.
‘Um, a cool future-stone?’ said Hadrick. ‘I mean, we all get it.’
‘And why would I share it if I had it?’ Hadrick went to say something, but came up short. Stilt scratched his head and Sneed went back to reading. The chimera sighed and uncoiled, stretching his long, lithe limbs in the spotty sunlight that poked through the canopy.
‘Fine,’ he said, ‘I could do this thing. But each of you owes me quite a favor.’ Hadrick merely scoffed.
‘I thought chimeras grant wishes, not demand them.’
‘Chimeras don’t grant wishes,’ Sneed said. ‘You’d know that if you paid attention to Magister Olf’s lectures.’
‘Whatever,’ the fat boy said, ‘are you doing it or not?’ The chimera popped his neck and slid down from the branch, limp and silent as a cat.
‘Meet me at sundown in the rotunda. I’ll have the stone.’ The boys watched their friend’s retreating back with mixed admiration and jealousy. Each was jealous of Aleryas in some way. Sneed, for all his studying, was jealous of the swarthy boy’s memory and ability to cheat. Stilt was jealous of his athletic and alchemical skill. And Hadrick was jealous of his good looks. Indeed, Aleryas knew the other boys admired him for more than just his skill. There were no girls for miles around, and randy boys cooped up in a mage’s college with dusty old books and dusty old men would do anything with each other, let alone one with androgyne beauty like the chimera’s. Boys and girls, men and women alike eyed him, made advances, made suggestions, but he turned them all down. To be wanted felt fulfilling to the chimera. Fulfilling other casino şirketleri people’s desires seemed boring. He would much rather be desired by all than had by any of those.
Aleryas padded through the soft grass up toward the looming towers of the college. At eight and ten, he was at an age with most of his peers, but a year ahead in most of his studies. At this rate he would earn his healing rod in two seasons, his poisons rod in four, and be ordained a Magister in a little less than six years, far ahead of bookish Sneed and lazy Stilt. He would be surprised if Hadrick survived another year before being ejected.
He slid under the archway to the Reliquary Tower, a glorified warehouse for old, defective or dangerous artifacts. Magister Marrowyn was Keeper of the Tower—a sinecure foisted on the moody Magister to keep him out of the other mages’ collective way.
He moved silently, except when he left his feet scuff the smooth stone, and even then the soft sound of his bare feet was only a whisper. He loved how clean and polished the College’s floors were. It allowed him to go shoeless as he preferred. Novices and pupils being punished polished and mopped and swept day and night. He had done his share of cleaning. ‘Building discipline,’ the Magisters called it. So save for the errant scuff of soft flesh, he moved like a shadow.
His father had taught him skill with bow and dagger at a tender age, and the footfalls that cannot be heard on the forest floor as well. They had become his normal gait, rather than a means of stalking prey. Marrowyn had called his movements ‘predatory’ once. He liked that.
At the top of the spiral stair to the Reliquary Tower stood a pair of imposing doors wrought in iron with motifs of dragons, dancing skeletons and twinning serpents. A poor deterrent for curious youth, he thought. The old men don’t remember what it was like to crave adventure. Rather than scare students away, such sights attracted them. It was up to Mad Marrowyn to do the scaring.
Aleryas pushed in the two great doors and they gave way with a long complaining squeal. Beyond was a round antechamber with several identical doors, but he knew which one Marrowyn made his laboratory in. The big oaken door was ajar. Aleryas peered through the crack and saw the mage hunched over a parchment-piled table, seemingly asleep. Or he’s gone and killed himself with one of his silly experiments, he thought. Pushing the door open slowly, he crept in, closing the door behind with a soft click.
The mage’s wide back and burly shoulders were all he could see. Creeping forward, he readied himself to startle the old fool. Slowly… slowly.
‘Boo!’ Aleryas jumped, whirling on the voice from his left. Marrowyn burst into deep, smoky laughter.
‘Gods, Marrowyn,’ the chimera cursed as his heart rate dropped slowly. He turned to look at the table where he had believed he saw the mage, but there was nothing.
‘Do you like it?’ Marrowyn said, adjustive an array of lenses and glowing crystals. Aleryas squinted into the assembly, which was no bigger than a pumpkin perhaps, and saw that the center-most crystal had within it the reverse image of the one he had seen—the Magister hunched over the writing desk.
‘An optical illusion?’ Aleryas said with only half-disguised wonder.
‘A little magic too, but yes,’ Marrowyn admitted, as he adjusted a few of the lenses and crystals on the contrivance. He was a big man—powerfully built, with a close-cropped dark beard streaked with salty grey, and short curls of the same conceit. He had the beginnings of what might one day become a gut, but as of yet he was still athletic for all his scholarly pursuits. His powerful chest almost strained against the belted shirt he wore in place of a robe. His face was wind burnt but handsome in its way, square of jaw with a wide, honorable forehead. His brown eyes were lustrous and shifty, made for concealing rather than revealing. ‘A little something to while away the hours.’ Aleryas smiled.
‘How did you know I was coming?’ Marrowyn turned back to his device and scoffed.
‘Once you’ve traveled the world as I have, nothing can surprise you,’ he said with a mischievous smile. The chimera raised an eyebrow. ‘I saw you out the window,’ he admitted, gesturing to the open shutters. Aleryas smirked.
‘So what are you here for? Need a potion? A tip?’ His countenance soured a bit. ‘Olovander send you to chide me? Wretched old prude, can’t stand the stink of him—piss and dust and jealousy, that’s all he is.’ Aleryas had heard it all before, of course. Marrowyn was decades the junior of any of the old men that presided at the College, but these little rants reminded the chimera just how crotchety his friend was. The twist his handsome features took when he got that way did not do him any favors, but instead made him look much older—and sound much older, too. But on the whole, Marrowyn was an excellent teacher, a hard drinker, and all round good company. It was his instruction that Aleryas owed his speedy casino firmaları studies to. Few of the novices had Magisters who sent so much of their precious time on individual students. Then again, few Magisters had so much time as Marrowyn.
‘Some of the novices dared me to break into Mad Marrowyn’s tower and steal his Seeing Stone,’ the chimera said, his drawl silky. The gruff Magister gave him a playful sidelong glance.
‘It was the fat one, wasn’t it? What’s his name—Fatrick?’
‘Hadrick,’ Aleryas giggled.
‘Shatrick, that’s it. And the gangly one. Silt.’
‘Stilt.’ Marrowyn rolled his eyes.
‘If you remembered your transmutation squares as well as you remembered the names of burnouts, you’d have your rod by now.’ That wasn’t exactly fair, Aleryas thought. They weren’t burnouts yet, though to a man with an eye for such things, whether they burned out now, three years from now, or the day they arrived, made no difference. And he certainly did have an eye for these things. Magister Marrowyn had taken to Aleryas for that very reason.
‘Remember,’ he growled, winding a key in his crystalline contraption, ‘the match does not burn because it is struck—’
‘It burns because it is flammable,’ Aleryas finished. He crossed his arms and rolled his eyes playfully.
‘No amount of striking will light a herring.’ Marrowyn stopped a moment and sized the youth up—his shoulder-length black curls, his shapely nose, his piercing green eyes—trailing down his long legs and bared calves and feet. He nodded, eyes returning.
‘Exactly,’ he said, turning back to his work. ‘Once you’ve worked with enough elements, you get an eye for which will transmute, and which will not,’ he was saying. Aleryas strolled along the counterspace that wrapped around the circular room. ‘No amount of education can fixed what’s wrong with most men—and those boys are wasting their time.’ The chimera had heard this all before. Sometimes he wondered if Marrowyn’s mind was going—but he was always like that.
‘And what about me?’ he said, feigning offence. His luminous green eyes scanned the tools and ingredients and bottles and boxes. He could almost name each one now. Sometimes he really did slip in when Marrowyn wasn’t looking and borrow some tools for his own experiments.
‘You? You’re arrogant, distracted…’ He had heard that before, too. ‘But you’re also clever, too clever for your own good. But wisdom isn’t built on a foundation of mud. It needs stronger stuff to grow. Fuck up and make that mistake, and you end up with perverse old ghouls like Olovander. Men whose mistake knowledge for wisdom. Everything about them is dead—their imaginations, their magics, even their dicks.’
By this time, Aleryas had come full circle and was looking over Marrowyn’s shoulder.
‘So can I borrow it?’ He whispered, too close to the Magister’s ear. He couldn’t be certain, but the chimera thought he saw Marrowyn’s eyes flutter ever so slightly. Marrowyn turned to his protégé and arched one thick eyebrow.
‘No,’ he said flatly. ‘But I have something even better.’ He spun around and rifled through rolls of parchment, tipping bottles and sending knickknacks rolling this way and that. ‘Here it is,’ he said, lifting up a silver chain, at the bottom of which dangled a milky crystal half the size of a hand.
‘What is it?’ Alryas said in his characteristically bored drawl.
‘A little artifact cooked up a few hundred years ago by Magisters in this very College to put the fear of the gods into novices like your little friends,’ he said, swinging the talisman slightly. ‘Its creator called it the Mirror of Dagon, but I call it the Fool’s Oracle. It was made to imitate in every respect just the relic you came here, but with a twist. Instead of glimpses into the future, the querent will see a terrible fate. The images aren’t real, mind you, but besides a brown stain, it’s sure to leave the little bastards with a decent respect for the arcane.’
‘That’s terrible,’ Aleryas giggled.
‘Of course.’ Aleryas slid forward to take the stone, but Marrowyn flung it into the air, letting it wrap about his hand several times before he caught it in his palm and closed his powerful fist around it.
‘And what do I get out of this little scheme?’ the Magister said with a devilish smirk. Aleryas rolled his eyes and stretched, twining his fingers above his head, arching his back and stretching his long legs.
‘Whatever could you mean?’ he said coyly, placing one hand on the back of his neck while bringing the other down to drag a lace from his shirt. His collar fell open to reveal his shapely collarbone and the glossy red-brown flesh of his chest. He knew Marrowyn enjoyed these little games as much as he did, although the older man was much less skilled at them.
Marrowyn smiled a thin, heavy smile. His eyes lidded and his face grew stormy. He was an easy man to seduce. Aleryas had known as much before he had ever met him. ‘Men like him,’ güvenilir casino said Archmagister Olovander, ‘will never taste the pleasure of love until they have abandoned the love of pleasure.’ When the chimera sidled forward and pushed the older man down slowly into a large, padded chair, he was thankful that Mad Marrowyn had not in fact abandoned the love of pleasure.
Now, with the writing desk at his back, Aleryas loomed over the seated mage. He slid his shirt over his head and tossed it over his shoulder with one fluid movement. After a toss of his shiny black locks, he gazed down at his teacher once more. He had always felt liberated without clothing, but certain formalities had to be observed—even if he did not observe all of them. He gave the shirt a backward kick across the floor and moved to straddle the Magister’s expanding lap.
‘Now there’s a sight,’ Marrowyn said huskily, his huge chest rising and falling. Aleryas could feel his warm breath on his flat stomach, imagine the tingle of his bristles on his soft flesh. The chimera reached down and pulled up one of the Magister’s huge, calloused hands and placed it to his chest. Aleryas closed his eyes as the fingers began to work, the palm began to travel about his pec, squeezing and rubbing, massaging and pinching. A bassy sigh rumbled in the youth’s throat as Marrowyn leaned forward to kiss the vulnerable flesh of the lad’s lean belly. He groaned exquisitely at the rake of thick bristles and the suck of those full, if chapped, lips. The other hand came up to occupy the same spot on the other breast, and soon Aleryas was rolling his hips and groaning as the older man sucked and bit, rubbed and pinched. He found a nipple and began to suckle.
‘Mmm, that’s not fair,’ the chimera sighed, but his lover made no reply. He continued his ministrations, one hand caressing the curve of his lithe back, the other cupped under the arm, rough thumb circling one nipple. Aleryas ground against the older man’s lap, feeling his sex rise beneath him, strain against his breeches. The chimera was thoroughly enjoying himself, but soon became aware that Marrowyn’s mouth had pulled away and his other ministrations had slowed. When he looked down at the older man, Marrowyn’s stormy gaze was trained on the growing curve of Aleryas’s own lust. He chuckled deep in his throat.
‘What is the first tenet of alchemy?’ he said, taking Marrowyn’s hands into his. He pressed them against his chest, gyrating.
‘As above…’ the mage began, looking up with cold fire in his heavy-lidded eyes.
‘So below,’ Aleryas finished, drawing his lover’s hands downward, past the nipple, over the soft, rippling belly, past the navel…
He took hold of the older man’s fingers, guiding them as they unlaced his knee breeches. One long pull, and the front fell away, and his half-erect cock sprung out slowly, lifting even as they both looked down at it.
Even half-erect Aleryas was much larger than Marrowyn, but the chimera didn’t mind. He had come to appreciate every part of his instruction. Marrowyn let out a hot, shuddering breath, and Aleryas’s length twitched. He leaned back as the older man gripped the base of his cock and began to stroke, softly at first, then harder, always twisting his wrist the way Aleryas liked.
The youth leaned back, braced himself against Marrowyn’s knees with both hands, and gave his lover free reign. The older man licked his lips and leaned forward, taking Aleryas into his mouth up to his fist. The chimera gasped as the mélange of sensation swirled—the prick of bristled lips, the rough but firm grip, the warm, wet rush and suction of the more-than-willing mouth. The mage did not believe in slow builds. He attacked his prize with an eager determination, gulping and swishing, moving his mouth in a corkscrew, all while pumping with that immense fist. His other hand massaged up the boy’s thigh and stomach, occasionally coming up to circle a nipple, then back down it went, warm, rough palms on soft, smooth skin.
Aleryas felt the game coming to a close and made his move to prolong it. He forced himself back into the world, leaned forward and took his lover’s head in his hands. His cock slid out of Marrowyn’s mouth with a wet pop, and no sooner had it gone than it was replaced by the boy’s own moist lips. Their mouths searched one another, bit, sucked, smacked, all the while the chimera’s deft hands unlaced the older man’s shirt string by string, all but tearing it open to reveal swirls of dark hair and the musky valley between his large pectorals.
Next his hands moved to the belt about Marrowyn’s waist, and that he defeated in mere moments. Breaking their bond, Aleryas looked down at his lover, cupping a rugged cheek with one hand and trailing a finger down his chest with the other.
‘Let me see you,’ he hissed, and Marrowyn’s chest rose and fell for a few beats before the older man grabbed the bottom of his blouse and pulled it over his head. The spare, now-sweaty cloth practically peeled away from the round, smooth muscle of his shoulders, revealing the heart-shaped patch of hair that covered his immense chest and trailed down his hard belly to the navel, then spread again in wisps, all oriented to his sex which now strained against his breeches.
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