The Man Who Would Be Headmaster
Esaia Eldridge wakes up some time past midnight, sensing a danger to life, a skill he honed in the Orient. He grabs his magic… and pain wracks his body. Mucus flow from his nose and tears form at the corners of his eyes. “Don’t bother”, a voice calls out amidst his pain. “I concocted the poison in your body specifically for magic-users”, the voice says. “A full century of experimenting on hedge-magi, just for this occassion”, the voice continues to say. Perenelle Flamel, Eldrige thinks. I have been poisoned by the Black Alchemist herself, he thinks, and shudder. Eldridge didn’t live through the Dark Ages, but he has known supernaturals who did, and they all described the horrors of the Plague, Flamel’s very own brainchild.
He sits up in his bed, still sensitive to the pain. “It seems”, he begins in a tactful attempt to regain control of the conversation,” that I am in your mercy, Flamel”.
“Oh, but not just her mercy”, Gomagog calls out. “I think that her mercy would be deadly for you”, Merit-Ptah, sometimes refered to as Meredith mutters. “That’s my wife you’re talking about”, Richard Corazon answers.
Eldridge nods to himself; the teachers of Ochre have gathered to judge him. He considers flinging himself out a nearby window, only to immediately discard the option. Between Flamel’s alchemy, Corazon’s sword, Gomagog’s fury and Merit-Ptah’s ancient knowledge he stands little or no chance at making the attempt.
“This is going to play out like this”, Perenelle decides,” we’re going to ask you some questions, and if you don’t answer them truthfully…” she trails off, not bothering to fullfill the threat, but Eldridge’s memories supply him with a host of things she could do.
“Ask”, he grits out. “Who, or what are you?” Corazon asks the question with civility, unlike his wife, who carries a certain hostility in her voice. ” I am Esaia Eldridge”, he proclaims, proudly. “Bullshit”, Gomagog exclaims. “Eldridge was a mortal magic-user. Everyone knows he built Ochre and then died something like three centuries ago”, he adds. ” Two-hundred and seventy-seven years ago”, Eldridge answers. “And I died”, he rebuts to the teachers indrawn breaths,” in one way, but remained alive in another.” He pauses. “In my time we didn’t have the science to explain what it is that my magic allows me to do, but it has to do with the forces of gravity and similar.”
Gomagog’s brow furrows. “So you can make things fall up instead of down. How does that make you immortal?” “I am not immortal; and if you would let me finish I could explain”, Eldridge retorts. Gomagog makes a move as if to say something else, but a look from Merit quells that impulse. “As I was saying: my magic has to do with gravity, but not just gravity itself. Density. Mass. The structure of molecules and the like. I have always been able to feel… what I for a want of a better word call soulmass, the weight of souls themselves.” He stops.
“I have heard some of the stories they say about me and the founding of Ochre. Each is more ridiculous than the other. The simple truth… is that I was betrayed. I, and another magic-user built Ochre, and at its completion we quarrelled for the position of headmaster. She… she stabbed me in the dark of night at Vermillion Square. I would have died there. No, I should have died there. But a voice, a voice called out to me. It said to fling my soulmass in the rock of Vermillion Square.” Eldridge pauses yet again.
A heavy silence fills the room; each of the teachers at Ochre has at some point faced death and stared into its white eyes. “It is curious what you find yourself doing when you’re at death’s door. I flung my soulmass into the rock of Vermillion Square”, Eldridge says. He glances up at the ceiling. “My memories of the three last centuries are strange and uncanny. Stone doesn’t hold memories well, not in the way a human mind recognizes it. I remember… steps, hundreds, thousands, millions of steps. Celebrations. Students graduating. An eon of time, an ocean I was suspended in without a way to swim”, Eldridge explains with a horror-tinted voice.
“Then came the events of fall. One of the undead that Helena Gravsten reanimated snapped Jan Hass’ neck, and he died on Vermillion Square.By that time I had become less than human. Less than spirit or sprite. An echo of a shadow that was once human. But the very same voice that three centuries ago gave me the suggestion to fling my soulmass spoke to me once more. It said to take the body. I wasn’t thinking, but I knew that I could trust that voice. And should I have failed, death would have been a blessing.” Eldridge clears his throat. “I recognize now that a part of me wanted to die. So imagine my surprise when I woke up in a human body once more?”
The teachers of Ochre exchange a couple of glances. Corazon scratches his chin. Perenelle has the air of someone disbelieving. Gomagog looks thoughtful. Merit-Ptah brings out a small brass-scale from a purse.
Eldridge startles, as does the rest of the teachers. The item doesn’t radiate magic; the item IS magic. It’s closer to something a god would carry than a mere immortal. “This is the scale of a long-dead god, gifted to me in perpetuity. The scales of Maat, who reveals truth.” She takes out a second item from her bag. A feather, like something a peacock would wear. Merit places the feather on the left scale. “If your truth is true, than the feather will not move, and the scales will remain at the exact position. If it sinks, then you lie, Esaia Eldridge, who was entombed.”
A burst of divine magic, followed by a scent of papyrus and reed fills the air. Ten seconds pass, and the tension in the room increases. Another twenty seconds go by and Eldridge starts to sweat. The pendulum makes a full revolution on the clock and a minute passes, while the scales remain unchanged. “You spoke the truth”, Merit decides.
Esaia Eldridge exhales. “Now then?”