The next Thursday night, the other five members of Leonidia’s study group were duly impressed. “So, this is quite swish. Is the rest of the place like this?” Liam Garford, a blond and freckled eighteen year old, was taking almost exactly the same subjects as Leonidia with the exception of Nisian instead of Faerese as an elective.
“Pretty much,” Leonidia admitted. “Some of the furniture is older or newer and my room doesn’t have this many books yet.”
“Where did all the books come from?” Tiarmata Manesfels, looking around curiously so her long, dark ponytail swung from shoulder to shoulder, was the darkest of them with the type of honey brown skin that would turn near black after exposure to the summer sun.
“Most of them belonged to Gervais Gefrywen, whose bequest built the Hall, and the rest were left behind by past professors and graduate students.” Leonidia claimed a spot down one side of the study table.
“Any of them on the Marchunian declension of Hendran symbol sequences?” Will Marshall, the sandy haired son of a solicitor with professional and social ambitions for his son, sat down opposite Leonidia.
“Not that I’ve been able to find,” she replied, “but all the text books in the world wouldn’t help us memorise this stuff in time for the quiz tomorrow.”
Warner Fall, the son of an old money, paid-fee alumni, sat down beside Leonidia and Agneta Warm, a girl with handsome eyes and a hooked nose, sat opposite him. When the four of them started opening their books, Liam and Tiarmata joined them at the table.
“Well,” began Agneta, “I know the third phase already. They’re all used in maledictions, my gran uses them a lot so they’ve always been around, if you know what I mean.”
Warner ventured, “So if the third phase are maledictions does that make the fourth phase curses?”
Three hours later Professor Rasmussen opened the library door. “I believe I should send you all home to your beds,” he said gravely, “tomorrow being a day of scheduled classes.”
“Is it that time already?” Tiarmata looked at her watch. “It is isn’t it? We’d better pack up and get going. My roommate gets really shirty if I come in after she’s gone to bed.”
As the group packed up their books and other goods, Leonidia introduced them all to the professor who had a few words for each of them.
“Tiarmata? You’re one of the Rotopangas then?”
“My mother’s a younger daughter of a cadet branch,” Tiarmata blushed, “so, not really, sir.”
He asked Will, “So what do you intend to do with Symbology, young man?”
“Probably trademark law, sir.” Will smiled back, “After just a few weeks I know there are some companies out there using some very ill-advised marks.” That gained him an approving nod.
With Agneta, the Professor gravely enquired as to the health of her mother and grandmother, while he reminded Liam that they must have met some twelve years ago at Liam’s uncle’s fiftieth birthday party.
To Warner he said, “You must be the son of Lorene Huxley. I heard that after she had to leave the university, she married the better Fall scion.”
“I’d never heard that my mother was a student here, sir” Warner said politely.
“Oh yes, she was in the same year as myself and Leonidia’s father. She was brilliant. Her having to leave was a tragedy all round.” Professor Rasmussen looked sympathetically regretful.
Warner looked surprised but replied, “I will remember you to her when I speak to her next.”
“Thank you.” Professor Rasmussen added a courteous nod to his acknowledgment.
A few minutes later, he and Leonidia were seeing the rest of the study group out the students’ front door of the Hall. She said her good byes and he closed the door, making sure that the lock caught.
“A good group. The solicitor’s boy, Will, may prove to have unexpected talents,” the professor was saying when a female scream rent the air from outside. Professor Rasmussen spun on a proverbial sixpence and as he commanded, “Stay inside the Hall. Do not cross the threshold,” Leonidia would have sworn the locks clicked open before he touched the handle. The injunction to stay inside did not, apparently, apply to him and as he descended the front steps to the middle rung, he was proclaiming, “Isik nurs luculum!”
Beyond him, Leonidia could see columns of light arranged in a ring blaze into life. In the centre were the rest of her study group and double that number of hooded men. The hooded men weren’t having it all their own way with their burlap sacks and rope but Leonidia didn’t like the odds. Neither, apparently, did the professor who followed up his earlier spell with, “Accrae innulue!” That was followed by purple tapes or tendrils emerging from the ground to tangle in the arms and legs of the hooded men.
One of the hooded men appeared to look defiantly at Professor Rasmussen, the hood rather spoiling the effect. “You have no right to interfere with our ancient traditions, old man. Set us free and go back inside!”
“You may be permitted a certain amount of hazing of your new recruits,” Professor Rasmussen retorted, “but I don’t believe that the Javian Society admits young women. So, despite your efforts to restrain them, you have no legitimate reason to be bothering these young ladies. Do I need to remind you that the Society is under notice from the Archchancellor?”
“They’re our tributes, old man, and you can’t make us do anything.” Whoever he was, the speaker was snarling under his hood.
“Can’t I?” Professor Rasmussen’s voice was calm. “Apparently not only have you forgotten everything that was covered in your ethics classes, Mr Rockefeller, but you seem to have spent your years here not paying attention.” The professor made a hand gesture and an oval image appeared in the air beside him. “I’m sorry to bother you, Archchancellor, but the Javian Society has broken their parole.”
The man in the oval moved. “Is that what’s disturbed the wards at your Hall, Rasmussen?” The voice coming from the image was perfectly clear. “Campus security is already on their way, of course, and I’ll be along as soon as I’m decent. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you not to let that wretched set of moneyed-up buffoons go anywhere but, oh, I suspect it’s going to be a long night.” With that the oval winked out of existence.
“Our elders let you run this university and think you’re in charge,” the hooded spokesman sounded shaken to Leonidia’s ear. She suspected he hadn’t expected to be recognised with his face covered. “Don’t free the tributes whatever he says.”
“Sadly, your elders may even believe that’s true,” replied Professor Rasmussen. “You, however, are about to receive a crash course in reality. Firstly, I’m sure you’re all aware of Mr Maguire from Security.” Peering past the professor from within the doorway, Leonidia could see the hooded men begin to relax. “Well, this is Arrius Black, the man he works for and the real head of Campus Security.”
The new arrival was over six foot tall, dressed in a black cape over black and was flanked by ten Campus Security officers. “Evening all. Now, all of you, except Professor Rasmussen, who are holding someone else against their will are going to release that person.”
“You can’t make us.” The spokesman in a hood was talking again. “If you’re ‘arresting’ us, we demand our solicitors.”
“You will release your prisoners or I will invoke the authority of my position as an Officer of the Star Court and I will make you.” The hooded figure holding Tiarmata let her go and pulled the burlap sack off her head. “One of you has some sense I see. You may desire a solicitor all you wish, Mr Rockefeller, but there is no right to legal representation before the Star Court.”
Agneta took advantage of her captors’ distraction to elbow one in the guts and stamp on the second’s instep before taking the burlap sack off her own head. She looked magnificently furious. Will didn’t manage to break free but one of his captors probably had a broken nose under his hood. Liam and Warner were being held but both of them, though upright, were oddly still.
“You are naughty little gentlemen, aren’t you?” Arrius Black’s tone was conversational until he cast, “Zennam!” and made a dismissive gesture.
The purple tendrils disappeared, there was a silvery popping sound over Liam and Warner who startled and pulled the sacks from their heads, and the security guards moved in, one per hooded man.
“Coercive magic?” Professor Rasmussen sounded coolly disdainful. “They are going to have fun with you in the Star Court, Mr Rockefeller.”
“This will never get there, then you’ll see who’s in charge, old man.” The hooded spokesman was back to snarling threats.
Arrius Black ignored the snarling to ask, “Thejs, can you take the intended victims for tonight and keep them safe?”
“Of course, we’ve no shortage of beds.” Professor Rasmussen added, “Will, Liam, Agneta, Tiarmat and Warner, pick up all your things and come back inside. You can stay here tonight.”
Leonidia’s study group re-entered the Hall, shaken and dishevelled. Professor Rasmussen followed them and locked the door behind him.
“Right.” Professor looked over the impromptu sleep over. “We’ll assign you rooms and get you nightclothes from our emergency supply. The beds will be made up while you shower and your clothes will be washed overnight – that should get rid of any lingering traces of enchantment left by those idiots. Leave your books and shoes outside your bedroom doors so I can double check those for you too. We have plenty of hot water and bathrooms, so I’ll see all of you, including Leonidia, in my study in three quarters of an hour for hot chocolate and a bed time snack.”
Forty five minutes later the six of them had been ushered into the Professor’s study. Liam was complaining bitterly that the nightwear on offer, which had apparently been laid in some time in the nineteenth century, was long nightshirts. Leonidia was the only one who wasn’t wearing a dark blue, calf to ankle length dressing gown with matching slippers. Will’s left on display a pair of surprisingly muscular, and hairy, legs. Leonidia’s own muted green linen wrap covered her to just above the ankles and had been a gift from her maternal grandmother.
When the hot chocolate and fresh biscuits had been distributed and Marriott had left the room, Professor Rasmussen said, “After this evening’s events, I thought I should have a chat with you to let you know what’s going on. Firstly, you may have been in deadly danger tonight.” He let the murmurings and exclamations happen and then went on, “When you study advanced ritual magic, you will become aware that the word “tribute"’ is used interchangeably with “sacrifice.” This is particularly so when the speaker is trying to skirt around the truth and implications of what they’re doing. The Javian Society have a ritual they use when inducting their new members every year. No-one outside the society knows where they got it from and they’re not telling. They’re a tight knit group from the ‘right’ families who’ve been paying to come here for generations.”
Warner put in, “My grandfather, father and uncle were all members but Dad told me to have as little to do with them as possible. When they asked me to join, I told them I wasn’t interested.”
Will added, “My father wanted me to try and at least be friends with them for the connections, their alumni have a lot of influence, but they weren’t interested in me. Now I’m not interested in them, I mean what sort of idiots go around abducting people?”
The professor sighed, “What we, the university, do know is that the ritual’s incomplete. It seems that every year the Society experimented to try and get it right. In my first year here as a student it seems they came close and that was when what they were doing came to the university’s attention.”
Agneta, frowning, asked, “What is this ritual supposed to do, Professor?”
“Transfer mental capacity and talent from a donor to a recipient.” Thejs Rasmussen sipped his hot chocolate.
“So what does the donor get out of it?” The others let Agneta ask the question.
“Nothing. That’s why they’re called tributes.”
“That’s black magic,” said Agneta tightly. “I had ancestors burnt at the stake for less.”
“Yes,” agreed the professor blankly. “In my first year here they used thirteen tributes and had results beyond their wildest dreams and nightmares.”
Tiarmata asked, “What do you mean?”
“Apparently they expected to skim a few IQ points and a little magical off the top, so to speak, so they grabbed some of the brightest in our year because the Society’s members thought they’d miss it less. The results were three dead, four comas, three persistent vegetative states and three survivors.” The professor turned to look at Warner, “One of the survivors was your mother, Warner. She did survive but she completely lost her ability to comprehend and manipulate magic. She’d been…brilliant.”
As Warner sat back in his chair, stunned and thoughtful, the professor turned to Leonidia, “Your father was another of the survivors, Leonidia. Everyone thought he’d escaped without any injury but later when he started hunting down the members of the society who’d participated in the ritual-.”
“Wait,” Leonidia interrupted, “my father wasn’t just raining terror randomly over the populace and round the countryside, he was after specific people?”
“Very few people knew enough to realise it,” agreed the professor, “but yes. The matter should have gone to the Star Court but strings were pulled and it never got there. The worst that happened was an Archchancellor’s Order that if there was ever a repeat, then the Javian Society and all its members would be expelled and banned from the university with full confiscation of property. They’ve been on parole ever since. Matters with your father escalated because his targets brought in more and more protective security and they had enough cash to bring in anyone who was willing to hire on.”
Will asked, “So what happens now?”
“As we speak, all the student dormitories are conducting a headcount to see if anyone is missing. Security is searching the grounds to make sure we haven’t missed any little boltholes of the Society’s.” Professor Rasmussen smiled
“So my father didn’t go insane,” Leonidia was talking more or less to herself. “Well he might have, but it was something that was done to him and not something that was in him from the beginning.”
“Revenge is a much more acceptable motive than insanity,” Agneta agreed.
“And it’s not inheritable,” added the Professor, “unless you choose to take it up.”
“I don’t,” replied Leonidia, “but I find this gives me an unexpected lightness of heart, a release from a dread I didn’t realise I had.”
“Your doom has been taken from you,” put in Tiarmata, “and there is nothing but light and joy to go in. Just like at the end of the Tales of Laurentia.”
“Yes,” agreed Leonidia, “just like that.”