Crux

~ a short story

Rex stroked his long grey beard with his left while with his right he adjusted the still-shining circlet, azure and attention-affixing, upon a bust modeled after his own head. Though it was thirty years younger than his current face, the former sorcere~supreme could not help but grin at the handsome clay doppelganger gazing lifelessly back at him.

A head well spent, then or now.

He tweaked it again, shifting its placement upon the mantle above his desk. Have to aim the bugger just right… he thought as he micromanaged its central focus to stare out into the rest of his small abode. Across the desk behind him sat his apprentice, Ner. He read a book, his latest assigned course, legs up and composure completely at ease in his sensei’s den on that penultimate day. Rex was going on vacation on the next. Though Ner knew not where. Rex expected the question again today, as it had been asked many a time in the tendays before, to no viable answering from the old grey wizard. Rex was resolute in his silence on the matter, for his own perhaps inexplicable reasoning. Ner was persistent, however.

Short cropped blonde hair, a thin mustache to counter his baby face, the young man — more talented in the Art that Rex had yet encountered in his many decades of teaching — had a tenaciousness that the old man admired. Ner performed his daily readings often here within Rex’s zen, as open as the day their mentorship started. He’d often arrive unannounced and stay to complete his readings while Rex himself presided there performing his own dailies. The young wizard did it not to annoy, but to continuously soak up the tidbits of the Art inside the widening menagerie that was all of Rex’s mental and physical spaces. The young wizard had seasons ago discovered you could learn much simply idling alongside an elder.

“Why would this be the… Ner asked suddenly. Rex turned his head and shot him a look that said, Don’t.

“…crux of my final lesson?” Ner finished with a dumb grin on his face.

Turning back, Rex kept performing the finishing touches upon the bust. He let the terrible pun settle.

“Don’t speak so soon of finalities, young one,” Rex returned in a soft tone. “This is only a trip, not a permanent departure from this mortal coil.” He cast a sidelong glance back at the confident young one. “Or your curriculum.”

“Sure. But for this “temporary” final or whatever you wanna call it — why Cruxes?” Ner asked sincerely, referring to the focus of the tome in his hands. “It’s a rather dark concept to end… this season of our little relationship on.”

“Dark, you say…”

“Literally. It’s listed under black magic!” Ner exclaimed as held up the book and pointed out its subtitle.

Finding Your Crux: How to Use Black Magic to Tear Your Soul Up, Hide it, and Live Forever.

Rex chuckled and turned about. “Because it is an integral part of my curriculum, and your education,” he answered. His eyes scanned over to the book’s positioning in his hands, and where it was split. “Bah, not even halfway yet. How many other times have you questioned my selections only to have them enlighten you into some new spell or perspective upon the Art as a whole. You musn’t be so hasty to write this one off.”

Ner sighed and leaned back, appearing to begin reading again. “Just sayin’. This is the first one you’ve ever had me on about black magic.”

The old wizard left it there. Next to the bust, he organized a vertical stand of tomes into published order, and rearranged the urns of his trio of old cats from the order of when they had existed to order them by size, smallest to largest. Satisfied overall with the results of his structuring upon the mantle rising over his desk, Rex sat back into his thick maroon chair with a thick exhalation of the kind befitting a man who had just done an entire honest day’s work. Outfitted like a miniature throne with lumbar cushion and velvet headrest, he settled himself into its ready warmth. Briefly, he searched out his mind for anything he might be forgetting.

“It is a wizard’s job to know everything, including and especially his opponent’s capabilities,” Rex advised after a moment. His tone shifted into its familiarly doctrinaire styling.

Ner nodded but then said with some discomfort in his voice, “It just seems so hard…”

“What does?”

“How can one live in such anxiety, knowing their vulnerabilities are out there within physical objects … given an actualized existence beyond their heart and mind… Their soul. Just waiting. Waiting to be found, discovered, destroyed.”

Rex frowned at his apprentice. “Is that not the life every Man leads?”

Ner shrugged, his eyes searching those words out for veracity.

“Do you believe that the desire for immortality is an instinct in all Men?” Rex asked his apprentice.

Ner thought a moment. “I don’t know… I think everyone considers it. Everyone, no matter what, at some point, might have a moment where they wish for it. Or believe it regarding their own self, or of their body in its prime. Maybe.”

“I tend to agree,” Rex said. Then he shifted his tone once more to doctrinaire as he eyed the book. “We learn of Cruxes, Ner, not just to more effectively fight against Dark Wizards, but to discover, as you said, what our own Cruxes may be. In the rather disturbing, and to some despicable, process of tearing your soul into pieces for the sake of immortality, one finds out by necessity what the Crux of their existence is.”

Ner just stared at his sensei. Taking in the wisdom, or cooking up a counter? Rex wondered.

“In the convicted exploration of the questions: What is the Crux of a soul? What is the Crux of my soul?, we learn much of the Art, Light or Dark,” Rex finished.

Ner let out a little breath.

“Another lesson complete,” Rex said with a deep breath, hardly wishing any longer to discern the thoughts going on within his apprentice’s little head.

Raising the book’s cover, Ner slowly hid his steady glance to his mentor behind it.

Like a bolt, Rex shot up from his seat and pointed his wand, suddenly firm in hand from somewhere within the folds of his sprawling robes, unto the young man’s face revealed past the obfuscating tome. Then and there, he caught him in the act of an eye-roll.

“Vossoont!” Rex shouted playfully. Wizard-speak for “Gotcha!” Or “I have captured you in the act of a spell that I have anticipated!”, to be said shortly before disarming one’s opponent in a duel. Or vaporizing them during pitched battle…

Smiling sardonically, Ner returned to reading. Rex sat back down, continuing to fiddle around with the many trinkets and effects upon his desk. A group of tomes stacked to nearly as high as the desk itself righted themselves into a balance via his near-telekinesis. A reptilian skull with a pair of aquamarine eyeballs glowed with an oceanic infinity to inspire anything from a slight unease to a psychosomatic break in consciousness in a non-wizard, depending upon their proclivity towards the experiencing of vertigo. Next to it, a simian skull with an orange-yellow bandana around its eyes smiled its rows of pearly whites. He turned each of the skulls to face one another. With the retaining of martial grace that always surprised his elderly peers, Rex pulled a dagger from the southwest zone of his world map sprawled over the corner of the desk and jabbed it back down in the northeast regions. On a scroll, he scribbled a haiku that had been plaguing his mind’s palace since earlier that morning with a phoenix-quill pen dabbed from an inkwell full of his own blood.

Ner paid him no heed as he finished his afternoon ‘duties.’ That’s what they were today. For a wizard, no two days were ever the same. That’s why people called them mad. Erroneous, Rex always thought. To live any other way was the truer madness.

After an imperturbable period of vocal silence from either wizard, and as Rex applied the finishing touches to his desk’s ambiguous thresh of newfound tranquility, Ner slammed the tome together and turned in his seat to face his mentor once again. Rex did not flinch as he spoke.

“Answer me, sensei: What would your Cruxes be? And where would you put them?”

Rex’s expression became serene. His neutral smirk vanished. Leaning back, he steepled his fingers over his chest. As soon as he did, Ner leaned forward instinctively. The motion typically signaled great things for the apprentice. ‘Teaching Mode’ had just been engaged.

“And why would you ask me a question like that?”

“Because every wizard needs to know them, about himself. Every great wizard implicitly already does,” Ner paraphrased the codex.

“Hence, why you do not,” Rex slyly returned.

Ner cocked his head drolly and made a face. Rex chuckled silently and shifted in his seat. He then gave off a look of profound contemplation.

“Well, let’s see, first and foremost comes my ambition…” he began. “It is the source of my achievements and positions, past and present. Next, comes my fear of the unknown. A normy aspect to be sure. But which, at a deeper level, is truly a fear of being defeated, and thus feeds that first Crux. Then, will come my guilt over my father’s death. I was only a teen, and not yet trained beyond journeyman in the Art, therefore making the carrying of such a burden a simple irrationality. But that does not change my feeling about those dire days, or the integral part it has played in my growth as a man.”

His voice gained in rapidity as his countenance and stance did not alter in the slightest. He could read in the young man’s face the mental note-taking process racing, along with all of the implications of this most telling answers. It was not every session that the apprentice got to learn of the sensei’s own life and past. Especially from someone like Rex, who held every card not just close to his vest, but often deep in the back pockets of his long robe.

“My insincerity towards non-wizards… A prejudice I have not been able to overcome, even into my wizened years of elder…ness. Problematic to say the least,” Rex laughed, “given they make up ninety-nine one-hundreds of our blasted world!”

Ner grimaced at that. Rex’s face instantly returned to stern clarity. Ner leaned back in his chair, nearly expecting a reprimand. Rex continued.

“As a matter of fact, that is another inherited attribute from my father I believe.” He thought a moment, his eyes in the clouds of his inner palace. “Yes.”

He looked at his palm. “How many left? Four of seven. Next… my worry over the increasingly reactionary direction of the wizarding world. As every season passes, I see more staunchly held ‘traditional’ grounds, more ideological gatekeeping upon the Arts. Ironic, given the beginnings of magic, and the type of chaotic-outsider folk it first drew into its multifarious folds. But alas, you don’t want to hear of my cultural politics any longer than you have to.” He leered at Ner, whose political leanings he’d come to know over their time together only through linguistic slips and inactions alone. A point of dissension not to be reconciled right here and now. But soon… thought Rex in a moment of weakness. No. Must not let my thoughts bleed my features and give away the game… He returned to the doctrinaire.

“Frankly, this crux might be most secure, my most serenely chosen. Hrm,” Rex feigned thought a moment. “Not sure what that means…”

“Two more,” Ner said eagerly. Rex narrowed his eyes. He hoped that Ner might press that issue, take the path to psychoanalyze the opening. His mind is on other things, on the completion of the list before I wise up and begin to regret revealing them.

“My cynicism of the Order,” Rex announced with clear tone.

Ner’s eyes widened at that mention.

“An extension of my previous Crux,” Rex finished. The Order was the trio of wizards making up the rulership of the wizarding world. One of which was always the sorcere~supreme, as Rex had served in the position himself decades ago. Also known simply as: top wizard in the world. Notably, he was the first sorcere to ever step down, to ever relinquish the position before his death. The old wizard had never given Ner a reason, and nor had he found one in the written histories about his tenure.

A long pause passed between them, Ner anticipating more on the matter. More details, an explanation. Rex offered none. He just stared at the young wizard. It resembled the kind that Rex gave him when measuring his will against some test or challenge. But here, Ner hardly noticed. He awaited words. When he received no more from the statuesque bearded mumm across the desk from him, Ner edged out the next imperative,

“And the last, the Crux!”

Rex considered for a moment, his eyes on his desk before him, on the clear, oaken surface magically polished of all its detritus and previous busywork.

Rex spoke with decided finality, “My anxiety over the competence, readiness, and altogether legacy-crystallizing moxie of … my apprentice.”

All the eager enthusiasm in the boy fell away. Almost immediately, Ner shook his head, grinning. “There it is. I knew it!”

Rex scrunched his face up a moment before returning to stone, fearing he might give something valuable away in these next moments…

“You’ve been chugging my wand this whole time… And to think I was getting the real Cruxes of the great Rexuminnius the Transcendent! Nah. No way. Never a chance. So stupid of me to think otherwise…” Ner pointed his finger toward the purple-robed old man. “Damn, you had me! You did through six out of seven. But seven… That’s where you slipped up. Me? As your current Crux.” Ner vigorously shook his head.

Rex slowly grinned. “Why do you think I am so hard on you?”

Ner laughed aloud. Rex played it straight. No reason to intervene. Let him go…

Unblinking, after a few moments of Ner playing out his joy at the deemed ‘exercise’, Rex continued, “And the second part of your question, concerning the actual objects and their locations, of course that cannot be told to anyone, as is required by Darklaw.” He thumbed his nose to the book. “Should’ve already been covered in the first four hundred, so you will know that. A one-sided trick question. Clever.”

Ner just kept shaking his head. He reached for the book again.

“Though a hunter-wizard, of light or dark cloaking,” Rex continued somewhat ominously, “will reasonably have all of the clues of lore and tools of guile they need to deduce the locales of the objects housing the Cruxes of the one he seeks after.” Rex paired his words with a glare upon the young one, his tone heightening. Ner’s mirth began to dissipate as he noted his sensei’s determination in the words. “Else… why would he deserve to be seeking the Cruxes of his prey-wizard at all.”

Ner looked puzzled and did not immediately respond.

“All in accordance with Darklaw, my apprentice,” Rex whispered.

Why follow Darklaw?! We are wizards of light! Ner’s face screamed but did not release. Not yet. He needed more time to think before he fooled himself any further before his sensei. Just as he thought of his next viable words, slamming his hand down upon the tome to speak them, a look of slow-dawning enlightenment taking over his pale baby face, the two wizards were interrupted by an explosion of muffled energy behind them.

Rex’s door to his private chamber fell down in a thud onto the red stone floor, broken from its hinges, dispelled of all its hidden protective magicks. Smoking there on the ground for an intervening moment, the strained pause left the scene inert and bewildering beyond reaction. Then, through the grey density of the cleared threshold, three pointy-hatted and robed silhouettes stepped in with purposeful velocity. Ner braced himself against the front of the desk, startled at the use of evocative magick within such a space as The Tower. And especially upon the sensei’s door… Behind him, Rex simply put his hands onto the rests of his throne and sat back, eyes enlivening to the events unfolding, watching them with strong and steady mind for their coming. He awaited his opportunity, his blood up and racing through his aged frame to levels heretofore unseen in many seasons…

“Rex!” shouted a deep baritone. It came from the leading wizard, the vanguard of the three standing ominously closest to the desk. Even before he could see their faces through the smoke to distinguish their positions, Rex acted on a hunch out of necessary expediency. One, this leader, gave their voice, and thus, their identity away in the barge. Only two others, right and left of him, standing aside and behind, waiting in the wings for necessary counters, or setups, or intrigues… Same build from the silhouettes, no distinction at all on sight. From an arbitrary analysis of which side they may favor given their dominant hands — disparate among the duo at right and left-handedness — Rex guessed his necessary target was standing on the right. His left.

Before any more words could be spoken, Rex whistled the high-pitched tune to activate the artifact upon the bust on the mantle behind him, the azure circlet known as Starsong. The piece shots its magic missile instantaneously, the final charge inside of the ancient heirloom retrieved long ago from the tomb of a tarrasque, towards that leftmost wizard. That one raised himself to defensive posture, but too late. And the wrong kind… Rex realized.They did not anticipate this! he guffawed in his heart. As blue energy crackled through Belchior’s body in the prime of age, he collapsed to the ground, not in a heap, but frozen in the widening, open-palmed stance of the tortoise.

The smoke dissipated. While Masper on the far right moved to grasp at his wand, Rex was already using the dagger ripped from his map to cut the blindfold off the simian skull. Thankfully, both Calthasar and Ner stared backward in shock, each at the frozen image, and now quite temporarily useless, of the body of the sorcere~supreme, Belchior. They could not see Rex now work with the precision of a man so perfectly prepared for their intrusion. Masper stepped forth from the haze, his starlit robe sprinkled with pulsing energies sourcing up his arm and into his wand now pointed at Rex at the desk.

“So you knew we would come! It is no matter!!” Masper shouted with excited rage, jiggling the twin-snaking strands of his red beard which circled back around his to his cheeks. His hat mirrored his facial hair in its twinning split, not one but two points splaying about in the air, ends bright red and tassled and ever-flowing in a kayfabe magically-induced wind. It was for these reasons that Masper, of the Order-three, was his favorite. Simply, he had the most intriguing fashion sense.

What a waste of words, Rex thought. Could’ve been Latin. Could’ve been spellcrafting instead of opening yourself up…

As soon as the bandana dropped from the simian skull and its piercing red eyes met with the deep-sea blue of the reptilian’s, a minute reaction took place directly in between them. A purple bolt of energy arose from their meeting, and Rex rose from his seat with it, wand in hand. He spun on his right heel and shouted the word “Imago!” as he slapped the teleporting bolt of magenta energy toward Masper’s awaiting form. The Great Wizard of the Weast fell away without a sound, his goofy hat loosed from his balding head. Ner’s eyes flashed over to his fall. Not into dust. But into a landscape. Taking a closer look from his staggering seat, Ner noted that the Kimbrandt painting Rex had hung to the right of his door, a strangely superiorly-colorized replica of the original painting, now had a new tenant within its sunlit field.

There, inside of the frame banging against its edges and its surface, was poor Masper. An animated figure within the swirling still life of the Numerian countryside. Aghast at his magick’s apparent limitations to allow him to counter the spell or now escape such whimsical imprisonment, the master wizard was already ripping away at his crimson beard in a maddening tantrum therein.

Two down, thought Rex.

Back to the desk, Calthasar stumbled away from his two immobilized compatriots. He nearly ran into Ner, before he stopped him with a pair hands extended onto his back. Startled at the touch, the middle-aged wizard, the most inexperienced, and incompetent, of the Order-three by far, turned around with hands empty and face masked with utter terror.

Rex leaned over his desk and placed the tip of his wand up the bearded, buzz-cutted wizard’s nose. In a feckless tone, Calthasar reluctantly finished his declaration, “…We have come to arrest you and put you to trial before the Order… for dealing in the Black Arts.”

“Yep,” Rex returned nonchalantly, as if he was near to yawning. Ner held his breath, attention flickering between the two wizards, as he crouched between them seated and still off-balance. In the moment before his next spell, in consideration of everything he’d just seen transpire, his admiration for his mentor rose tenfold what it had ever been before.

A green flash struck the room blind for a moment. In the next, Ner held in his hands a small, slightly buzzing, lightly ribbiting toad. And Calthasar was gone. Ner rose to his feet, his voice feeble and knees shaking with fear or excitement or something else. With all his weight on one hand, he held himself up shakily upon the polished wood of Rex’s desk. In his other hand, Calthasar repositioned, viewing life from a fresh perspective.

“Whaaa… just happened?” he asked weakly. He turned back to stare at the two other wizards, in their disparate forms of utter immobility. Belchior mumbled on the ground, a stony jumble of limbs at right angles. Soundlessly, Masper screamed into the void of that classic sunny field of wildflowers. And Calthasar… the toad, jumped the precipitous distance to seat itself upon Ner’s shoulder. A simple polymorph spell. But not so simple to have it take effect upon a master…

“Time to go,” Rex said. He wiggled his wand at his side, fresh energy was being poured into a portal.

Ner shook his head. “The Black Arts! So you’ve really made them…”

“And they are out there,” Rex responded, casting a sly eye toward his apprentice.

“And you were telling the truth…” Ner mumbled, waves of realization striking him at the understanding that he was indeed the Crux within his sensei.

“And that means…” Rex said, purposefully trailing his voice away in the tone of the teacher once more.

“…That you are now rogue. This is no vacation,” Ner answered correctly.

“And what does Lightlaw say of rogue master-wizards on the lam?” Rex asked his apprentice. The bright, sparkling light of the portal sprayed about, nearly completed.

His rote memorizations of magick penal codes rose into his mind like a spring, and Ner stared hard at the old man as he recited the old law with uneven exhalation.

“Their apprentice is tasked with hunting them and bringing them in…” Instantly, he started shaking his head. Ner regained some of his energy through sheer indignation. He stamped his foot down upon the stone and pointed a finger at his mentor. Calthasar burped in the jostle and nearly fell from his shoulder.

“You can’t do this!”

“Why not?” Rex snapped back, lowering his wand for the moment to stall the teleportation spell.

“You’ve grown complacent up here in the bosom of The Tower. The time for reading books is over, young Ner. Time for you to see the world. It’s time for spells and fire!”

Ner shook his head in breathless disbelief. “You are doing this for me!?”

“But of course…” Rex thought a moment. “Well, not entirely. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. A gift to myself for a job well-done, a live well-lived. Trust me, it’s going to be fun for both of us!” he said with real glee.

“Trust you! … What about these three?” Ner asked, motioning to the chaos of Rex’s abode.

“Temporary. The real wounds will be upon their egos. They didn’t come here ready for me. They came here thinking to surprise a tired old man and bag him without a fuss. Foolish. Working from an idea of me as an old, washed-up wizard who no longer pays any heed to the ones who watch him. Very foolish.” Expressively, Rex pointed out the defeated trio. “Let this be observable evidence to advise you not to make the same mistake.”

Ner looked again the three master wizards, laid low with tricks, hardly even full spells from his sensei. How far and away is he above them? What power does Rex hold? Ner could not answer these questions, for he had never entertained their relativity to his course thus far as a student… Somewhere deep in his heart, he exclaimed at his singular opportunity to find out. 

Rex shook his head, disappointment in his tone as he too inspected his handiwork upon his peers.

“I don’t plan on living out my sunset years in chains, or abiding by the constraints of corruption overtaking our once-great Order. No ser!”

Ner just stared at him, mouth agape, unsure of what to say. He shot a glance to the toad on his shoulder. Calthasar’s soul was still in there. When he strained to look for it, Ner thought he could find an absolute rage within those amphibious, wart-ridden features.

“Bah! You had nothing to do with this, so don’t sweat any reprisal on your end…” Rex said as he restarted his portal spell.

Ner clenched his fists. “No reprisal!” he laughed. “What about the fact that I am now bound by the ancient magicks to chase you!”

Rex put up a finger, as if to correct the young wizard’s summation, and said, “A chase is not the same as imprisonment. In fact, this is no punishment at all. A rogue wizard hunt is the most thrilling action a young wizard can engage in! Believe me, I would know…”

That mention silenced Ner a moment as he recalled an oft-forgotten portion of the old man’s legend: His harrowing hunt of his own sensei an age ago… The great wizard Gyger. Rex flashed his eyebrows up and down. A clue. It’s already begun, thought Ner. A generational tradition, then. But only to him… Needless to say, going rogue, enforcing a hunt from one’s apprentice was not an activity that many Masters ever engaged in. He laughed then as Rex nearly completed his casual porting to truly start such a mad ‘game.’

“Only the Wayward Wizard Rex would have a rogue hunt as part of his curriculum. No simulation. And unto himself!” Ner lamented with mirth, doing his best impression of his mentor’s doctrinaire.

Rex smiled warmly at the boy. “Aren’t you glad you wandered onto the steps of my Tower all those years ago, nearly dead and starved for more than just a meal?”

“Scientia Sit Potentia,” Ner said, reciting the long-ago words arching over the threshold of the wizard’s door.

“Knowledge is Power,” Rex returned the translation in the common tongue. Across the desk, he reached his long arm over and put a hand on his apprentice’s shoulder. A silent moment of reciprocal appreciation passed between the duo. For all intents and purposes, it was a father’s goodbye.

Ner’s eyes rose to meet Rex’s.

“I’m not ready,” he said.

“You are,” Rex returned with the utmost sincerity in his stern countenance.

After a moment, Ner looked away, past the portal his sensei drew. To somewhere deep and far in their intertwining future.

“But, if I catch you…”

“It will be over for me,” Rex finished softly. “You being able to effectively hunt me to my end means I am casting my life of fun-on-the-run away in the stead of a maddeningly tranquil retirement in The Abyssal Zone. I am playing a hand, boy, using the information that I have…”

“And I have to play mine,” Ner finished the idiom for his sensei.

“Prove me wrong!” Rex exclaimed.

The old wizard pulled back then and prepared to finalize his portal. Ner had nothing else to say. Rex paused and turned to him,

“You know, boy, if you had asked me today, your final opportunity to do so, I would have told you. Given you at least that much of a headstart. But now… We have come to the point of no return. I am afraid you will have to do everything from here on your own.”

Ner gave him a puzzled look.

“Good luck!” Rex cried as the flames of his portal struck his room like lightning, pulling him into their folds to take him far away.

“Where are you… going?” Ner whispered the moment he was gone, shaking his head with self-admonition. Only a few moments later, the three wizards screamed back into animation, Rex’s spellcrafting holds upon them loosed. All three decried Ner’s old mentor with ancient, yet inert, curses upon their tongues. When they surrounded him and began to ask their rage-filled questions unto him, Ner hardly listened.

He was too caught up in the game. He sat down, steepled his fingers in a mirroring of sensei, stared out at the effects upon Rex’s desk and room, now absent its personage forever, and began to think.

By the end of the triad’s tirading, when they began redundantly informing him of his ancient duty that compelled him to hunt his rogue master in order to bring him to justice, Ner already had an idea of where to go first.

Now alone at the end of his contemplation there in the same chair he’d been lazily reading about cruxes only an hour before, Ner instinctively reached to grasp the dagger from the map on the end of the desk in feeble celebration of his fruitful ideation. But before he could, he noticed its odd placement. It now stood stabbed in a third location, different and quite apart from the first spot it had been stabbed when he walked in that morning, and different from the second spot that Rex had cast it into while he read. He noted the third locale — in the middle of the Sea of Vacanci, no particular landmark nearby to speak of.

Random? Just an errant placement Rex had not intentionally chosen in the heat of all his immobilizing machinations upon those three? No, never. There was rarely anything that old bastard did without some motive, even if it was only chaos. Ner let his eyes settle over the three tears in the parchment, forming a triangle he could now envision. He considered his boyhood lessons in cartography, and in the time-honored art of treasure-hunting. Ner recalled that every ‘three-point play’ on a map — a hunter’s term for a common way predecessors would leave clues to others in their field — held the potential for triangulation. Ner centered his attention upon the absolute central point in between the three dagger stabs, and his eyes lit up with glory and terror.

There upon the map in that triangulated center, suffering careful remeasurements by his wand upon the parchment, Ner found another clue to his Rex’s plan, and for the likely endgame of this little cat-and-mouse hunt between master and apprentice.

Mount Xyrus, the ruined and destructed sunken mountain of ancient legend… where the final dragon’s bones, still latent in their ancient, irradiating magicks were heralded to be lain. And… where ‘The Way Between Worlds’ is prophesied to be finally unlocked.

Ner ran his hand through his hair and began to cackle then, in a flash of mad insight remembering all of the references to a ‘Multiverse’ that Rex expressed over their years of wizardly studying…

Of course

Rex’s words rang in his ears: “Trust me, it’s going to be fun for both of us!

Like so many times before, Ner wanted to believe his mentor’s words before he actually could. ~