Before the Incursion the Mage's Guild of Marsten had been little more than a disgruntled group of middle aged to elderly men who happened to know magic. Their meetings had consisted of getting together in the back room of a local tavern and griping about how nobody appreciated magic these days. They'd been content to do that, for the most part. The world had been changing, and they all knew it.
A few, like Volker and Olian, had tried to make a place for themselves in that new world. For Olian it had been working contracts from the Watch, using spellcraft to solve crimes. Volker, on the other hand, had taken an entirely different route. He'd made it his business to figure out how he could convince people that magic could work alongside technology. The others had occasionally tried the same and failed, and for good reason. They'd wanted people to give up their technology altogether and return to magic. Volker had just found niches that technology hadn't filled yet, or ways that magic could enhance the use of it.
The greatest opportunity had come during the Incursion, when technologists and inventors were wracking their brains trying to come up with new weapons to use against the demons. The end result had been the combat exoskeletons. Originally envisioned by their inventor, Ivik Asmova, as construction equipment, they'd been tied to a massive boiler via an umbilical in order to get the steam they needed for power. Now they used magic to generate the steam in a compact water tank they carried with them. They were, in Prince Vanora's estimation, the most important invention to come out of the Incursion. If they were second to anything it was Bainbridge's magnificent airships.
She'd seen to it that the Mage's Guild, and most especially Volker, had been well rewarded for that contribution. Not only had she given the Guild a proper hall in which to meet, she'd maneuvered Volker into leading it. Under his watchful eye mages were working side by side with technologists for the first time, and word was spreading. Mages once shunned and marginalized elsewhere were showing up at Marsten's gates in ever greater numbers. There had been eight of them at the start of the Incursion. Now there were nearly thirty.
Though the gates of the guild hall stood open there were still two armed guards on duty. Both were from her own house guard - she was taking no chances with the safety of these new mages and the work they were doing. They greeted her with polite nods, and one added a cheerful "Good morning, m'lady."
"Good morning, Rosh," she acknowledged. "Keeping an eye on things?"
"As always, ma'am."
"Excellent. Then you can tell me where to find Volker this morning."
"I don't think he's scheduled to leave until this afternoon," Rosh mused, frowning thoughtfully. "So he's here somewhere. If I had to guess, um... well..."
Vanora laughed and shook her head. "Don't worry, Rosh. I don't expect you to know right where he's at. One of the stewards can find him for me."
"Oh, right," Rosh looked relieved. "Yes ma'am."
It was easy enough to find one of the stewards who worked at the hall. The mages, if they weren't sleeping or shut in somewhere to study, were always in need of something. A reference book from the library, or another quill, or one of the other mages. If there was one thing you could say about the stewards, it was they were never bored. The lad she waylaid had his hands full with chalk, candles, and a bowl of what looked like moldy cheese. But he stopped long enough to point her to one of the studies.
Volker was alone in the room, pacing up and down one side of the room while tossing a crystal orb from one hand to another. He hardly looked the part of a senior mage. Traditionally he should have been wearing robes, preferably with ostentatious embroidery and arcane symbols all over it. Instead he wore a white dress shirt, black vest, and brown cotton pants - more a fashion of the technologists than of the mages.
She recognized the orb he juggled as one of the Watch's communication crystals. He stopped his pacing when he caught sight of her, but the orb didn't rest. "Oh, hello my lady. What brings you to these dusty halls?"
"Hardly dusty," Vanora argued, making her way to a chair by the window. She stood next to it, not sitting just yet. "You've only just moved in, after all, and there's plenty of activity."
"We had the dust imported and carefully applied," he told her with a smile. "It makes us feel more at home, you see. Can't do proper magical research without dusty old tomes."
"Ah, I see," she nodded. "And what is it you're researching these days, Volker?"
The orb finally stopped, coming to rest in Volker's right hand. He held it up between then with a frown. "This," he said.
"The communication crystals? What about them?"
"We lost a lot of them when the Ivory Tower was destroyed," he explained, tossing the orb into air and watching it fall back down into his waiting hand. "Before the Incursion every patrolling Watchman could have one. It made things easier. They could call for backup, or for help if someone was injured. Can you imagine response times without these?"
"They were of great help during the Incursion," she agreed. "I'm glad the Captain agreed to lend them out. But if I understand you correctly, you mean to say we won't have enough for long?"
"Exactly. They've been around for so long..." Volker sighed and tapped the crystal orb lightly against his forhead. "Nobody thought they would need to make more. They had rooms full of them! So, of course, when we needed to make more, nobody knew how."
"I see," Vanora agreed. "That is a problem."
"Actually that's not the problem," Volker gestured for her to sit, and he took the chair next to it.
"I'm afraid I don't understand," she prompted.
"When we built the library here we pulled in every book any of us had ever owned. Every arcane tome we knew about is here now," his gesture encompassed the whole of the new guild hall. "It took some time, but we found notes on how it was done. It was complex, but not impossible. Finding the right kind of crystal was actually the hardest part, but it turns out that needn't be too specific. Anyway, where I'm going with this is that we tried to make a new one. We did everything right, followed every guideline, double checked the components... and nothing happened. Not a damn thing."
She raised her eyebrows in question. While she had some clue where this was going, she wasn't entirely certain. Volker set the orb on the floor between his feet and stared down at it contemplatively. "You know what they say? About magic, and how it's faded since the Gods left? I always thought it was exaggerated. That it couldn't be that bad. But since we failed to replicate the crystals we've found and attempted other complex spells. They've all failed. Every single one of them." He looked back up at Vanora, face taught with concern. "Magic is dying, and for some reason the only high order ritual that worked was the one that started the Incursion. I need to find out why it worked when nothing else does."