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Isaac 1: The Web (Pt. 1)

"Magoviste is the smallest, coldest, poorest backwater province I've yet had the displeasure of overseeing. The people here subsist off of tubers and goat and, if they're lucky, the occasional bit of honey or milk a neighbor may have had. The laborers and lumberjack and mine workers dull their pain with that dreadful cranberry liquor, that foul suc de merisorare. It's only saving grace is that university in the capital. Despite it's founding by the Red Saint, it has proven to be a bastion for great minds to escape the ravages of the Scourge. Just heed those minds are heedful of their true masters."

Letter from Imperial Legate Veronika Ivanova to Headmaster Daniel Lupu, of Magoviste University, 5th Era/Year 48.

4th of Steidomanner, 5th Era/Year 49

Isaac Muller jerked awake from the dream, half-formed nightmares fading from his vision as gray daylight shone through the railcar's window, and he was hit with the sudden silence of an idling train. Relative silence, at least. There was always noise at a train station; the hissing as steam escaped the idling engine, the hustling passengers departing or embarking, conductors shouting out times and destinations. The old woman sitting next to him glared suspicious daggers at him, slouching over and scrutinizing his appearance. She was a typical Magos, a native of the region, a colorful shawl draped across her head and shoulders. Skin the color of oiled leather, eyes like shards of flint, hair like aging raven feathers. Her wicker basket of groceries tucked protectively as though she expected him to grab them. He sighed and thought, Here we go.

Clearing his throat and adjusting his hat carefully, he asked. "Can I help you, ma'am?"

His accent stuck out even worse than he thought, and he cringed at it. She waved a finger at him, speaking in broken Common, "You are Imperial, you are?"

"I am." He nodded.

She pointed a boney finger at his bag, "You are a student, come to learn?"

Isaac glanced at the brown, well worn leather messenger bag resting across his lap. The buckle keeping it shut was silver embossed with a lion, symbol of the Imperial Heartland. His home province, and the overseer to all the rest. He nodded again.


This question caused Isaac to stiffen slightly before clearing his throat and answering, "No, I was born into the Common Estate. My family runs a newspaper in Godfall, so we can afford this university. Not noble."

The old woman squinted at him once more before retrieving a loaf of bread from her wicker basket. She put it on top of his bag and got off of the railcar, saying a quick blessing in her native tongue before she left. Isaac blinked down at the food with some astonishment. According to what he had learned back in Godfall, the local Magos despised Imperials who moved to the Duchy. Which goes double for the Noble Estate. He looked after her, but lost her among the shivering mass of travelers piling off of the locomotive. Giving up with a slight smile he rose after the masses had passed and pulled his travelling bag down from overhead storage. He stashed the loaf into the bigger bag before slinging it over his shoulder, grabbing his brass-topped walking stick before departing. Giving his hat one final pull to look presentable, Isaac stepped off the train and into his new home.

Chilly air blasted him in the face and almost knocked him right back into the train car. The climate was the next thing that hit him. Cold and wet even only halfway through the year, it was a far cry from the Heartland's even temperatures and pleasant breezes. The train platform rested a few miles west of Magoviste's largest city, also called Magoviste. The endless blue expanse of Lacul Crejnej lay to the south, though the gray sky prevented the monstrous lake's true beauty to shine. The rugged, hilly countryside of the Duchy contrasted with the city itself. Great brick and brownstone buildings crawling across the hills overlooking the lake, rising from the earth like a half-formed giant. Smokestacks warming houses and tenement buildings, a great shorn forest of stone trees. The old factory on the shore of the river on the east, far on the other side of the river from Isaac, it's desiccated husk visible even from here. The bones of the new factory, deep in the slum neighborhoods, rising above the ramshackle homes as a titan of industry, and herald of the future.

The train station deck was condensed with people; elder Magos draped in shawls of green and yellow and red, huddled together and gossiped, workers coming in from neighboring towns to work in the city lumbered past, and Isaac clutched his possessions tight and forced his way though. Carriages and coaches lined the sidewalk, reserved for those with business urgent enough to charter such an expense. And in Magoviste, the list of such people native to the region is small to say the least. Most of which were like him, he was willing to bet; The child of wealthy Commoners, merchants and industrialists making waves with the aid of steam-powered machines and mechanical invention. Come from far away Blancgarten, or Audemaus or Ore'lesa, scattered around the Empire like golden jacks on a table. And of these children of wealthy Commoners there is one dream which stands above all and dominates their minds, intoned since childhood. Earn your highest marks, make as many connections as you can, be more perfect than you ever thought you could. Then and only then will you become a Fellow of the Imperial Society and move our family into the Noble Estate.

Other options existed in real life, of course. Having a family member rise high enough through the ranks in either the Legion or the Clergy would also grant a family the status of Nobility. But for Isaac at least, there was only ever one way his life would turn out. His older sister Liliana has only just graduated but already a Sergeant with her own squad, and his brother Ezekiel possesses enough zeal to lead a growing youth group. It was the Society for Isaac, and he grew to accept it over the course of these last few years. But accepting something isn't the same as being ready for it. And now that he was here, stepping into a foreign province a thousand miles away from anywhere his life had ever taken him, he had the very sudden, very unpleasant realization that he was on his own. The world spun around him and he leaned heavily on his walking stick, taking in a deep sucking breath. He knew it was an attack, but didn't think just stepping off the bloody train would trigger one. It was almost funny. He almost laughed. He best managed a kind of gritting of teeth before leaning his head on a cool pillar in the station. Was he sweating? Where had his hat gone? Was everyone shouting at him?

Warm gloved hands wrapped themselves around his left hand, and he finally heard the soft voice saying, "Grey? Isaac? Are you okay?"

A pair of round spectacles over warm amber eyes appeared, followed by the rest of the Garten girl's face. Skin the color of tea, curly wine red hair cut fashionably short. The plain blouse, matching brown skirt and blazer all made her look put together and steady, and her words helped focus him. She asked again, and Isaac nodded, squeezing her hand. The girl let out a sigh and looked around the platform, "An attack?"

"No, no Florence, just have to wake up these sleeping legs is all." He forced himself to straighten and tap his feet, squeezing the brass head of his walking stick. He managed to relax enough to show a grin and start walking. It wasn't a bad one, thankfully.

She raised an eyebrow at him at that but followed along, hand on her own smaller bag at her hip, "Florence? Now I know something's wrong, you never call me that. You sound like my mother." She scrunched up her nose at the thought.

Isaac rolled his eyes and led through the crowd, "Alright, Red, that better?"

"Much. Just over there, I already got a coach to the University ready."

"You've only just gotten off the train, how'd you get a coach so quick?"

Florence flashed a grin and said, "Booked one in advance, of course. What do you take me for Grey? Being an Alchemist is all about minding the small details after all, eh?"

He never knew how she always managed to do that. Always keeping things in her control, organized. But Florence always managed to. He supposed it was a good thing for her; the Society of Alchemists was infamous for it's difficulty and miniscule graduating classes, less than a dozen most years, under nine in others. The most infamous class graduated with only three. Most of the people on the platform were local Magos, but he spotted a few snowy-haired Imperials that looked like him, with bags like his. So he wasn't alone. He was certain that most if not all of the rest of them didn't feel ready. He knew that he didn't.

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Adiam Gaunt
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