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Heading to Velika for big meeting. Rumors like wildfire around campus. For once, they aren't about the war. First pegasus ride. Almost lost my lunch. But the colors...must see them to believe. Exhilarating, amazing ride. Welcome to Velika! Next stop: Collegium Arcane. Taking the long way--I think I'm being followed. Guy in a dark cloak. Maybe just nerves. He's gone now.
Mystery guy is gone. I'm relieved (obviously) but frustrated--I wish I'd gotten a better look at him. Who shadows me? Angry historians? Mystery guy is now ahead of me somehow--but how? Either I'm going crazy, or... In any case, this ends now. I'm going to confront him.
I walk past him, he ignores me, then I whip around and yank his hood off...and it's Kubel! But this isn't a prank; my brother isn't smiling. I grin from ear to ear, though. Anytime your brother comes back from the Argon front--alive!--it's a joyful day. "But why the hood, Kubel?"
"My return from the war is...controversial," Kubel says. "No time for controversy. We have a meeting to attend." Wait..."we" have a meeting?
"What's this meeting about?" I ask as we scurry through Velika's canyonlike streets. Kubel laughs. "A complaint about your maps, in a way." "Maps? The ones in my last book?" I ask. Kubel smiles a little. "What if I told you that you missed a tower?" But... that's not possible! The ancient ring towers make long-distance travel by pegasus practical. But they're hundreds of feet tall. How could I have missed one? Kubel won't answer further questions. We pick up the pace as we go, and we're almost runnning by the time we reach the Collegium Arcane.
Rows of soldiers--veterans, judging from the dented armor--guard the Collegium doors. The arcanists are outside, pointing and complaining. Kubel takes his hood off, and the soldiers snap to attention and salute.
I get a pang of jealousy and mutter, "My students never do that."
My brother mutters back, "But you don't have to bury your students, Elleon."
Rows of soldiers swing apart like doors, and we head inside. The doors close and the room falls silent, even for a library. The din of angry arcanists, blocked from their research, is barely audible. Army officers, well-dressed civilians (politicians?), and a trio in Mysterium robes surround a massive table. All stare at Kubel and me. They beckon me toward the table, where I see the map. I study Arun first (looks normal), then Shara (likewise). But between the continents...
...in the middle of the ocean, they've drawn an island. But there's no such island! Nor is there a ring tower, nor a series of seawall cliffs. I open my mouth, but can't find words.
Kubel says, "We're calling it the Island of Dawn. And we're going there." Again with the "we!"
The officers and politicians are saying things like "joint expedition" and "research and defense working hand in hand." I'm still reeling. A briefing from a navy captain, and my confusion turns to curiosity. Last month, an island rose from the bottomless sea. (How? Why?) Captain Dargarish says buildings--including a ring tower--are visible. He seems...ashamed that he didn't go ashore: "Inhabitants... unknown."
The navy will divert a fleet to carry soldiers and researchers to the Island of Dawn. My brother Kubel will command the military contingent. Now an archon I've never met is talking about me and my books. He's repeating the phrase "across disciplines" like it's going out of style. I can see where this is leading: to me heading up the research effort. Flattering, but I can't exactly say, "I'll think about it," can I?
Curiosity, country, and career tell me to accept. Distance and danger tell me to decline...I glance at Kubel, and his eyes twinkle. That settles it for me. We're going to the Island of Dawn! We leave in three weeks--whether my research team is ready or not. So much to do...
Kubel says he can't stay. Something about the politics of which units get the Island of Dawn assignment...meanwhile, politicians drone on. I wish I'd skipped this part of the meeting. They could just say: "Hire twenty researchers, bring four crates of gear; be ready in 3 weeks."
After a while, I put on a thoughtful face, then jot down my "dream team" of potential colleagues. At least they gave me a sizable budget...
Four hours later--and 20 minutes of handshakes--I'm out the door. Tomorrow: more pegasus flights as I hire researchers. Must skip breakfast.
First stop is Popolion. Trying to recruit Eria, a top-notch arcanist. But the Poporis are taking glee in giving me the runaround. The good news: Found Eria's lab. The bad news: I'm covered in nettles. I know the Poporis can't help themselves, but itching isn't funny.
Once you get past Eria's eerie little-girl voice, you notice how brilliant she is. And she's as curious as I am about the island. Hired!
Next stop: Crescentia, to pick up a Baraka astronomer named Kadu. Captain Dargarish's report mentioned glowing phenomena in the sky. The island intrigues Kadu, who impresses me with his knowledge of ancient burial practices. Maybe the buildings on the island are tombs...?
Kadu spends several hours straightening things out with his family, then he agrees to join the expedition. Two great colleagues already!
More gut-emptying pegasus rides. Kyrisha the botanist turned me down (teaching commitment), but Belevrus the anatomist said yes. Mysterium teleporters sent me to Allemantheia, where I recruited Jehan as our botanist. He's no Kyrisha, but his academics look solid.
Since I'm in Allemantheia, I should visit Mirene. She doesn't know about the island, the expedition, my brother...anything. Deep breaths, Ell. I'm walking slower with each step toward Mirene's villa. "Not only am I not back for you, but I'm going to an island..." is a tough talk. Mirene at the doorway: A flash of joy across her face, then sorrow as our eyes meet. Feels like someone slammed a door in my face.
Our conversation is brief, overly formal, and festooned with pleasantries. Mirene doesn't reveal a thing, and I leave both sad and puzzled. I walk back toward the Mysterium, seeking a teleport back to Arun. I'm reliving the entire breakup, but I wonder about that brief smile.
The teleport master, Enithus, takes one look at my papers and says, "I know you." I brace myself for another round of no-that's-my-brother. Enithus is interested in me, though, not Kubel. He talks a mile a minute about my recent studies and how they inspired his scholarship. When Enithus touts his long-range teleportation research, it all becomes clear. He's heard about the expedition (how?), and he wants a job.
I've never heard of this guy, but I have to admit--his enthusiasm is contagious. And I know enough teleport theory...he's not a crackpot. Can I hire him? Sure--I have unfettered authority for that. Should I hire him? Rationally, no, but there's an expectant look in his eyes...
Enithus is on the team. Did I just hire a total stranger with scant academic credentials after a single talk? Yes. Will I regret it? Hmm. Enithus (who's already calling me "Magister") teleports me to the Celestial Hills. I plan to abscond with someone else's dig team. Politely.
In theory, my brother's soldiers will help with excavation on the island. But soldiers are good at making ruins, not preserving them. Five years ago, I studied the runes carved on the ancient menhirs here. I went into academia, but the Celestial Hills project continues. My friends are too polite to ask why I'm visiting, but we talk archeology over the campfire: recent finds, new theories, and so forth.
Conversations begin. Jealousy from the researchers who wish they could go. Joy from the excavation crew when they hear about wages.
Argued with the head researcher, Alletaian. I tried to explain that he can train new diggers, but I get only the dig crew I sail with. I leave with a dozen quality diggers and ugly recriminations in my wake. Remind me to make it up to Alletaian when I get back to Arun.
Back to Velika, where I stalk the university for assistant researchers and obscure specialists. The team comes together as time runs out. Exhausting afternoon yields two archeologists, a maritime meteorologist, a forensic anthropologist, a mythohistorian, and four scribes. The well runs dry during evening interviews. Thin resumes, thinner intellects. Hired a geomancer and a cryptozoologist.
Behind schedule. Our ships sail in a matter of days. The schedule insists that I go with a small but high-quality team. Call it a virtue?
In Progress... Follow the story live as it is revealed at https://twitter.com/Elleon_TERA