“I can't believe I'm doing this.” The Magus remarked as his finger scribed symbols into the sand. “I wonder what my colleagues from the Hall of Whispers would say if they learned I was about to teach a Maleficarum the way of the Magi.”
Poe heard his finger cease its trek across the dirt and wondered if he had finished.
“They would kill me.”
“Why?” Poe asked, as the Magus' scribbling continued.
“Because it is forbidden to teach outside the Hall of Whispers. It is also forbidden to teach Maleficarum.”
Poe felt something clawing at his mind, writhing in his chest. It was anger. “How am I any different from you?”
The scribbling stopped once more. “Do you remember the Tarratans I spoke of earlier?”
“Answer my quest-” His words were cut short by a cold hand slapping against his lips and knocking the back of his head against the roughly hewn stone. Between them, a light began to shine. Poe's eyes darted downward to the dull glow. It slithered across the path that the Magus' fingers had taken, as if igniting a trail of purified oil that had been spilled in the dirt. Poe watched as the pale shimmer brought form to his companion. His eyes strained in the pitch blackness, and even with the faint white snake at his feet, he could make out nothing but a blurred silhouette.
“The harpist is as we are at the Hall of Whispers. The harpist is instructed on the use of her instrument, of which each string is carefully crafted to play but one single note. Without a tome, I am nearly useless. I require the ancient scriptures to exude any true power. I cannot weave existence without help.”
Poe wiped the grit from his mouth once the Magus had removed his hand, but remained silent.
“The Tarratans on the other hand, never learn to read notes. Every one of their melodies are distinctly unique, fabricated spontaneously without structure or discipline. Don't get me wrong, the music is powerful and touches the heart with every stroke of the strings. Nevertheless, the fundamental deficiency is that they cannot play well together.” He stuck his finger into the lighted worm between them and its intensity dwindled. “One Tarratan playing is beautiful, two is interesting to hear, three begins to sound too busy and four destroys any sense of harmony at all. Without structure, without discipline they cannot hope to maintain harmony.”
The Magus flicked his finger and the sand burst upward into the air and then fell gently between the two of them like floating embers.
Poe's pupils were like the starry night as his eyes reflected every pinprick of luminosity. “How did you do that?”
“That was child's play. With sixty Magi on enchanted alters; components resting strategically upon carefully painted runes; across four days of undisturbed invocation; we light up the night as though it were day. Or we could commit the souls of forty thousand fearless warriors to the frigid grasp of lifelessness.”
“You speak as though from experience.”
“Aye. Long ago my caste was tasked with protecting the mountain pass at Fort Briouarde. In the mists of the valley a horde amassed to meet us in combat. We had intelligence of their movements months earlier and had prepared. Roland of Ollicard was in power in that era. He had our entire caste meet at the fort. When I arrived, I realized that he had amassed every Magi in his court and even managed to obtain several castes from his allies. Sixty six Magi altogether.”
Poe heard the Magus begin a new rune as his finger dragged through the sand.
“Needless to say, they never reached the mouth of the pass.”
“All I know of the Magi are stories of the three who do Julias' dirty work.”
“Who is Julias?”
“I forget that you've been away from the world. Julias is the reigning monarch of Endirst, the capitol of Endry. He is rumoured to have three Magi at his disposal who've done all sorts of unspeakable things.”
“They are a caste, also called a Cohort. Three Magi are the minimum needed to weave existence to any great extent. Two are mediocre at best and one is nearly useless.”
“I can't imagine sixty.”
“I doubt it has ever happened since. They called it the Briouarde Cull.”
Poe folded over, his hands wrapped around his chest. “Ugh... my stomach.”
“It begins. Quickly, on your feet.”
“Get up.” The Magus ordered, clutching him by his linen shirt and dragging him to his feet. “There is only one way to learn the weave.”
“And what is -” A stifling blow impacted against his cheekbone and rattled through his skull. He grasped at his face as it throbbed. “What the hell?” The words barely left his lips as an arm slammed against his chest and pried him backward until he toppled over onto the dirt. Fury burned through Poe's body and he rose to his feet as quickly as he could. He stared defiantly into the darkness, willing his eyes to see his opponent. “Where are you? You treacherous bastard!” He felt his shirt tighten and suddenly his hip slammed against the Magus'. Before he could react, he was airborne, and just as quickly he was grounded; dust collecting in his mouth as he gasped for air.
“The weave is not only the way existence bends to the Magus' will, but also how he bends around it. Creating a flame the size of a horse and blowing it across a battlefield takes immense concentration and power because the caster is affecting the world around him. Avoiding a blow, however, is the Magus reacting to the world, and it takes far less concentration or power. The art of the weave is not only our way of defeating the enemy from a distance with the energies of existence, but also at close quarters with our own physical energy. You must learn to weave yourself before you ever learn to bend the world around you with the runes of the warlocks of old. Now stand and face me.”
Poe struggled to his feet, still panting for air. “No, you win. I can't even see you, how can I fight you?”
“Listen.” He said, as he got hold of Poe once more and wove him into the dirt below.