22nd of Reaping 383 ONT, Al’Callani Estate outside of High Port, 11:00pm
’She leaves.’ Phobia told Hikari. She nodded and silently rose and dressed. If everything she’d seen was true then Tar Di would be nearing the answer to all of this. She’d wanted to tell Tar Di and explain what was going on but she knew her young apprentice too well to know it would not work. Telling went in one ear and right out the other. She needed to experience it firsthand and as much as she sulked about it this was for the best. And in truth, if this worked, then Hikari was going to have to revamp everything about how she taught. That wasn’t a bad thought regardless of how tonight went.
Activating her flight spell Hikari floated out the window and down towards the well-lit building. She smiled when she spied Tar Di creeping up the path and decided to shadow her. And like a moth to the flame Tar Di crept up to the partially open door. From within came a variety of sounds including the methodic whisk and click of a loom and the splash and burble of the dye tanks being stirred. Just the sounds brought back memories to Hikari of how the sounds of laughter and chatter used to fill the air daily back when she was a child with Liliahna overseeing the entire operation and a collection of elves, half elves and halflings worked side by side to create the silks and cotton fabrics the Al’Callani name had become synonymous with. But tonight she could only hear a single loom and the burble of one tank and the whispered voices of less than a handful of people.
She floated lower. “What in the seven hells?” Tar Di muttered from the doorway. Hikari could finally look inside and saw what she had feared from the moment she’d seen Charisia running the simple errand for the much needed alchemical supplies required in making their special silks. Sure enough Charisia was hunched over a tank slowly working the fibers through the process of loosening up to accept colouring. Liliahna worked at a single loom painstakingly weaving the threads into the softest and tightest of fabrics. On the other side Etheronim was also bent over a table mixing ingredients and none had noticed the arrival of Tar Di being so focused on their work.
“Maeve told me what you did today Sia,” came Liliahna’s soft voice. “You need to go and apologize to her in the morning.”
“But mother, it wasn’t my fault she stuffed the jar in without tying it in place.” Charisia whined back.
“And she is almost one hundred and twenty one and raised you when your father and I were busy trying to save our land. You know better and should have double checked for her. We can’t afford to waste any of it for any reason if we are going to have enough fabric to sell at the next market. You will apologize to her or you will have her chores added to your own once our guests leave.” There was steel in Liliahna’s voice and Charisia capitulated quickly. Hikari had counted six servants over their time at the Estate and knew that was the extent of their help and a fraction of what it was when she was growing up here. Something had happened to change their fortunes and it was nearing the end of what they could do to hold onto what little they had left.
Looking around the room Hikari noted that most of the magic placed in the weaving equipment were in disrepair or bleeding out or gone including the loom Liliahna was using. She estimated they had maybe a year or two more before it too would be broken. Their goods still sold well given the small carefully wrapped bolts on the center table but the volume wasn’t there anymore, nor was the help. She’d seen enough and was glad she’d conjured that mount for Thorbil to take back to High Port. Hopefully he’d be back at first light with what she’d asked for.
“Tar Di,” Hikari whispered and causing the youth to jump in fright. “Come back to the room and let them be. We need to talk.” Hikari floated away leaving tar Di clutching at her chest as the pounding of her heart subsided.
A few minutes after she’d returned to the guest room Tar Di walked in glaring at Hikari. “Thanks for almost killing me with fright.”
“We didn’t want you to get caught snooping. Sorry but grabbing you probably would have been worse.” Hikari shrugged. “Did you figure it out?”
Tar Di looked grumpy, “Yes. But why should we care if they are struggling to get by? If you asked me they deserve it for what they did to Paprikka and how they treat others. A good example of karma I’d say.”
“And at one time Paprikka would have agreed with you.” Hikari nodded in agreement.
“But… there is an awfully big but coming isn’t there?” Tar Di eyed her suspiciously. “How can you even think it given what happened today in High Port?”
“Because Charisia was scared. She lashed out in fear both at Mavis and us. She was given the better part of their funds to purchase those goods and she knew coming home without it would be disastrous. And yes, Elven pride meant she wasn’t going to ask us or anyone else for help with her problem. We were an elf once too, all great and powerful and all that.” Hikari chuckled mostly to herself. “I saw the stain on her fingers and knew it had to be from the dye vats and the process they use to make the silk take a deeper and much bolder colour than most places can produce. But I wasn’t certain until I came here and to do that I had to make sure she couldn’t say no by using the Archmage’s gift.”
“So? Even if they are not evil or bad people why are we here?”
“So we could learn the truth,” HIkari sighed and conjured up an illusion of the main room and spun it so Tar Di could see the wall with the paintings. “This wall is for portraits of all living family members. Even though they pushed Paprikka away they did not remove the picture. Instead they shrouded it in black as in mourning for a missing or departed family member. If they did not love her the painting would have been gone.” Tears ran down Hikari’s cheeks as she spoke. It had been so easy for her to hate them, to resent how she’d been treated and what she had been forced to do to survive. And yet… She still loved them, they were the only family Paprikka had ever known and to learn now that they mourned her meant much.
“Then what are we going to do? Tell them that you are Paprikka and do the whole tearful family reunion thing?” Tar Di wasn’t so impressed being an orphan who’d relied on a bear for protection for so long before being scooped up and dragged onto their ship.
Hikari shook her head, “No, Tar Di, Paprikka’s time here has passed and we do not wish to open old wounds or grudges. We want to help them, give them a chance to make a better life for themselves and give them what they need to become better. And for that we need to ask you to do something. Crazy, unique and only something you can do.” She had her apprentice’s attention now. “While Charisia sleeps I want you to fix her leg or change it or replace it or whatever you want to make it work like the good one does. It would make up for a mistake from years ago.”
“Charisia? Seriously? I still think she is the south end of a northbound mule.” Tar Di grinned at that one having heard it from one of the escaping slaves on the beach a while back and wanting to use it herself. Though Hikari knew that the chance to actually use her magic would change the young girl’s mind. And sure enough she grinned and shrugged. “But I think I might know of a spell that would work or something-ish.”
Hikari sighed and nodded, “Great, and try to remember what schools of magic will work best with what you are doing as even though it is chaotic in nature your magic will still want to follow the paths of least resistance.” That got her an eye-roll. “Once that is done we’ll head to their equipment and see if we can’t fix a few pieces for them now and the money Thorbil is bringing should take care of the rest. And Tar Di?” A wary “yes?” was her response.
“When we get back to High Port we think it is time we set you up properly for our adventures and travels. We’ll go shopping for equipment and supplies. You need to think of what weapon you want to be trained in so we can purchase a good one while in High Port.” Hikari paused once more and smiled, “And we think we have a much better way of helping you train that might not be so boring. But you need to figure out what kind of person you want to be. What do you want to do with your magic? Help yourself or help others?” Hikari held up a hand, “Don’t answer now. Give it some thought and get a little sleep. I’ll wake you when they’ve gone to bed.”