Act Two – Scene Two: Project Phoenix

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PART I

THE BUREAUCRAT

The lobby was a thing of elegance. It was almost as if it were built specifically to intimidate the students of the Coreson School of Prophecy, with its high vaulted ceiling dominated by a crystal chandelier and the indoor stream snaking its way through a plant garden that covered three walls of the room. The final wall was set like the front of a cathedral with the bookkeeper at his desk in the middle dwarfing the door to the left which led down a long hall and eventually to the study and private library of the School Master. The grand waiting area must have cost a small fortune to build, and it all seemed to be for the purpose of reminding the students that waited there of their position in life. To be commanded to wait here was either an event of great excitement or foreboding.

For Maleoke Parphonet it was the former emotion. He had taken his seat here nearly an hour ago, and watched as the minutes of his appointment fell off the clock, and still every name was called but his. But still he waited, for he had been summoned and that meant that he would not go ignored forever. Someone wanted to see him, and as far as he knew he had done nothing worthy of reprimand. In fact, if he were honest with himself, he had to admit that several of his recent accomplishments were quite remarkable for any prophet, much less an un-graduated intern; nearly-graduated, corrected himself. So if all his recent actions had been positive he must only conclude that this audience was to be equally positive. He did not presume to make any assumptions, but he was hardly what might be considered worried.

“Mister Parphonet,” called the bookkeeper. “Approach the front.”

Maleoke rose from his seat, picking up his book satchel, and straightened his uniform. It was the nearly nondescript grey assigned to the fifth-year interns with the school-standard Sun Shield embroidered on the breast. The loose fitting tunic fell to just above his knees, for it was only upon graduation that he would be permitted to wear the full-length robe of the Prophetic order – the robe that would grant him access to a life most people only dreamed of. But for the moment he straightened his tunic and made his way toward the desk.

“The master will see you now,” said the Bookkeeper, without so much as looking up when Maleoke came near. It was always the way with him. It was said among the students of Coreson that the school Master and the bookkeeper had a way of speaking to one another through walls and without words. The master would dismiss a student even as the bookkeeper admitted another, and when the student returned from his meeting the bookkeeper might have some special instruction for him that the master had not bothered to give. It only added to the sense of grandeur that saturated the head Master’s office.

Maleoke stepped through the door into the hall beyond. He had been here only once before – a week after his arrival at the school. Then the head master had called him in to welcome him, and to address the matter of some small feud between Maleoke and another student – a feud that neither he nor the other student had spoken of to anyone. Yet the headmaster had more insight into the matter than either intern, and had settled it quickly, making punishment to fit crime and causing each boy to consider seriously his future with the school. It was a meeting Maleoke would not soon forget.

The long hall was just as he remembered it. The roof stood about three times higher than it needed to be, dwarfing the various doorways that broke through the wall in ornate frames. There were perhaps ten or twenty of them, and that number seemed to change each time he recounted. They all stood closed – locked – and of all the conversations Maleoke had ever heard about the head Master and this hall he had never heard of anyone opening any door but the one through which he was directed – the one at the end on the left.

There was never any confusion because this door was bigger than all the others, and the carved frame was wider and more elaborate. Unlike the others, this door had no handle. One walked up to it, and when it opened, one entered. Maleoke stood outside the door and tried to catch his breath using a rudimentary mental practice taught early in the Prophetic teachings. He had not realized how excited he was – how out of control his emotions were, and he must be in control of himself when he appeared before the Master.

“Come in, Maleoke,” said a voice from behind the door, and slowly the great portal began to open, swinging silently upon its hinges without the physical influence of any man. Maleoke stepped through into the school Master’s study.

Beyond the door the masters study appeared as it might be expected to which, considering, was in contrast to the rest of the building. It was certainly grand, and the furniture that filled it and the paintings that decorated the walls were all fit for the palace of a king, but everything here felt a little more to scale. It felt as if this might actually be the office of a living breathing human. Maleoke found himself breathing a little more easily.

The study overlooked the school ground by three windows which stood at angles to one another and so made a sort of alcove in one wall. While the sun was up one could stand at the windows and look out over the teachers’ offices to the fountains beyond and the circular pavements that connected the major buildings of the campus; the cafeteria and mess halls, the dorms, the library, and of course the teachers’ offices and training grounds. The head Master’s office was the highest building on the campus, but now the sun had set and all that could be seen through the picture windows was the faint distant lights coming from dorms and the library.

Before the great windows sat the Master’s desk, and behind it was his chair, but he was not in his chair. Neither was he at one of the several couches that sat in the left-hand corner of the room, for what purpose Maleoke could not imagine as they had never to his knowledge seen any use. Instead, the school Master of Coreson was standing on the near side of his desk, and with him was another man.

This second individual was clearly not a teacher, or any staff member Maleoke could recognize, and from his bearing the young intern knew that he was none of the staff members that he could not recognize. He was a little taller than the head Master, and though he had on his hand the marking of the Sun Shield that distinguished him as a Prophet, he wore no robe but instead dressed as a dignitary or a bureaucrat might, in a tunic and pants with an ornamental sword at his side. He had hard features, as though all the kindness had been chiselled off of his face, though it was not that he looked particularly unkind. His hair was coal black, and cut short so that it stood up on end, and even through his clothes Maleoke could tell that this bureaucrat was as strong as a young bear.

“There’s someone here I’d like you to meet,” the head Master was saying. It seemed like an unnecessary thing to say, but the intern took no notice. He was glad of any speech that might make the meeting less awkward. “Would you like to sit?” asked the master, almost as an afterthought. Maleoke nearly answered, but then he realized that the question was not directed at him.

“I’ll be fine,” said the bureaucrat. His voice was surprisingly low. “I won’t take long, and then I must be about my business.”

“Maleoke,” said the Master, “I’d like you to meet Sir Kandace Longshod from the Morovian Prophetic Alliance. He’s here in search of potential recruits for the alliance, and I suggested you to him.”

“It’s an honor to meet you, Mister Parphonette,” said Longshod. “Your master tells me great things about you.”

“I am humbled by his kind words,” replied Maleoke, accepting a little reluctantly the hand that was offered him and shaking it. The bureaucrat’s grip was like steel. “And the honor is all mine.”

“Yes of course,” said Longshod. “Now, Maleoke, I have a notion you’ve got some idea of what the MPA does…”

“Of course,” replied the intern without hesitation. “You’re archeologists. You manage the diggings in the tunnels of Morvan.”

“That’s part of it,” said the bureaucrat, a little amused. “A small part, mind you. What we do is not all digging. We search out the secrets of the old world, and we relearn them. Most importantly, we protect them.”

“Yes, I know,” said Maleoke. “I’ve read everything the library has on Morvan and the work that the Alliance does there.”

“You have an interest then?”

“Oh, very much so!” said Maleoke. “I’ve always been fascinated by the old world. My uncle was a member of the Alliance, and so was my grandfather.”

“Yes, they were,” said Longshod, “And great Prophets too. Maleoke, I’m here, as your Master said, to seek out new recruitment for the MPA. Do you understand what a big deal that is?” Maleoke nodded quickly, but the bureaucrat continued anyway. “The Alliance has around a hundred members stationed in various cities, mostly in Morvan. Normally we only accept two or three new members each year, and they are almost always seasoned Prophets with twenty years or more of experience, and then only the most outstanding applicants get accepted. In the long history of the Alliance only once before have we accepted a member as young as yourself. The fact that I’m here having this conversation with you says what tremendous words your Master has spoken in your favor. My purpose in coming to Coreson is to see if his words are true. Do you understand?”

Maleoke nodded, but he could not make his mouth open or coax words from his suddenly dry throat. His mind was exploding behind his closed lips.

“Good boy,” said Longshod. He gave the intern a smile that did not quite make it to his eyes. “Now, I’ll be in the city for two days, until after graduation. Then I’m going back to Morvan. When I go I want you to come with me and perform the tests for application to the MPA.”

Maleoke opened his mouth to speak, but the bureaucrat cut him off. “I don’t want an answer from you now,” he said, though it seemed plain that he knew what the intern’s answer would be as well as he himself did. “You have until graduation to make your decision, but I have faith in you to make the right choice.”

Maleoke nodded and then stood waiting. A long moment of silence stretched out, and then the school Master spoke. “That is all, Maleoke,” he said. “You may go now.”

The intern nodded again. “Thank you sir,” he managed to say, and this time when he shook the bureaucrat’s hand his grip was not so firm. “I won’t disappoint you.” Then he turned, and nearly fled the room. The door closed behind him silently.

“Are you sure about this, Andrew?” asked the bureaucrat from Morvan. His eyes were still on the door where Maleoke had been a moment before.

“I’m sure,” replied the head Master. “If it’s anyone in this rabble it’d be him. He’s the one you want.”

“I have ten other leads I could be following right now,” said Longshod. “You’d better not be wasting my time.”

“And I have fifty-six interns to graduate tomorrow,” replied the school Master a little hotly. “You’d better not be wasting mine. You’ve got no more to lose than I, I remind you.”

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