Ch5: Blackstaff Academy
It was a cold winter morning when Quaqreiqan stood in front of the stone steps leading to the Blackstaff Academy in Waterdeep. Beside him stood Mother Shree, priestess of Lliira. She was a stout woman, but devoted to the god of Joy. She found peace in most situations but was always prepared to absorb pain and sorrow only to return it with her faith. They both stood in awe of the tower that stood near the harbor. It’s gleaming jade sail looming over their heads, moving only slightly in the wind. She was dressed in dark robes with a heavy coat to drive off the winter wind, while Quaqreiqan stood only with a tunic and breaches provided by the orphanage.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” She said, not looking at him at all.
His eyes narrowed slightly. “Yes, mother.” The young man said. He spoke to her as if still only a boy. The orphanage was a hard life, and he knew of only a few who left and became anything. He had worked and saved through any job he could to get here. Whatever happened next would prove if he was one of the lucky ones or turned to living life as an urchin on the street. His heart was filled with hope, but his mind tempered his expectation.
They walked up the steps to the huge wooden doors in front of the academy, reaching the landing after some 30 steps. Each step his anxiety amplified. Unlike most children Shree knew, this one had very little ability to hide emotion. Given his race, she could see a growing fear in him.
They stopped at the top, and she looked at him. “Now is not the time for this.” She placed her hand on his forearm to stop him. She could see a tear coming from his eye.
“Mother, you taught us to be confident, but I don’t know if I am. What if they don’t take me in?” A tear welled up in his eye.
“You have the same chance as anyone else to enter the academy. You know this already.” She said. “This is not why you are upset though?”
He looked back down the street from which they came. The streets near the tower were clean. The people who walked here either were wealthy merchants or young wizards who had already been accepted into the academy. His head sank as he looked at his cloths.
“Everyone must make their way.” She said calmly. “This is the biggest opportunity for any of us. You will make us proud.”
The door to the academy stood tall above them both and finely crafted with an ornamental seal proclaiming it as “The Blackstaff Academy.” The emblem split in the middle to open access to the lobby of the school. Both entered and moved to the desk in front. An old gnomish woman sat behind the massive desk, writing something on a sheet of paper, ignoring them.
“Excuse me?” Shree spoke up.
The woman looked up only momentarily before returning to her work. “Servants enter at the rear.”
Quaqreiqan looked to Shree, who looked back at him, then closed his eyes.
“We are not servants.” Shree blurted. “My boy wants to enroll in your academy.”
The woman looked up at the woman, then to the young adult standing beside her. “Fill out this form.” With that she pushed a sheet of paper, a small board and pen towards Shree, who picked the materials up and looked them over. She then looked back to the gnome. With a glance at Shree and then over to a table off to the side. Shree got the hint and her and the boy made their way over.
Sitting at the table, she went over the form, filling it out slowly. She then returned it to the woman at the desk who took it and placed it in a basket, then returned to writing.
Shree returned to the boy who sat alone at the table watching the events unfold. She sat next to him, and held his warm hand, waiting for something, or anything to happen.
As they watched people come and go in the large room. Young and old alike, neither could tell who a teacher was and who was a student. Most of those who passed by ignored them, the ones who didn’t, were curious why they were there, but only as if they were passing by a circus show. Shree was acutely aware of the stares. She raised many children. All received that look before. A combination of “Look at how poor.” and “Why would they even come in here?” She gripped the boy’s hand harder to help him focus on why they were here and not be dissuade by the onlookers.
“Can I help you?” A voice came from behind them.
Quaqreiqan looked back quickly to see a man dressed in a fine silky green robe with yellow trimmings and ornamentation. His hair was grey, if not approaching white, and was long and thin, his beard the same. He wore dark steel-rimmed glasses, low on his nose. In one hand was a cane, which he leaned on heavily. He was thin and frail looking, and as he stood, his hand and head shook slightly. From all accounts, both thought the man may fall over.
“Yes.“ Shree spoke up quickly, “we want to enroll in the school.” She quickly got to her feet and helped the old man to a seated position on the other side of the table.
“Thank you.” the man said as he sat down. As Shree returned to the side of the table as Quaqreiqan, he spotted the amulet of her faith hanging from her neck. The boy wore the same. “Lliira?” the old man said squarely. That is not a faith that is much associated with this school. “Tell me, why would you abandon your faith for that of magic?”
Shree looked at the man carefully. “He is not of the faith.” She said warmly, “his heart is in the magics.”
The old man looked at the boy. “A Genasi, few of your kind in this world. Most that I have encountered were unpredictable. What makes you believe that you would be a talented student here?”
“When he was young, “ Shree started, but with a shaky hand, the old man stopped her.
“Let the boy speak.” He said calmly.
“I, I believe in Llirra,” the boy stammered, looking at Mother Shree. “but I also believe in Mystra.”
Shree was about to comfort him.
“You believe in Mystra, as if she exists, or that she is right?” The old man said.
“Yes.” is all the boy replied.
The old man gave a slim smile and shook his head. “Magic. True magic does not come from faith. It comes from your will. You have heard stories of skilled magicians who saved the world using power that could not be explained. I have known most of them, and most were just in the right place at the right time. Some of those tales give them way too much credit for what they have done.” The man rambled, then turned his focus back to the boy. “But what makes you want to learn magic?”
The boy looked perplexed. ‘What answer will be right? I don’t understand.’
After a long pause, the old man spoke again. “In the tale of Myxleplex the wizened, what spell he used to defeat the Demogorgon?”
“Wish” the boy said instantly.
“And what did he wish for?”
“The demon’s true name.”
“And why is that?”
“If you call a demon by his true name he is yours to command, and he commanded him to banishment.”
“And was he right?”
“Yes, he controlled the demon and made it go away.” The boy tilted his head slightly.
“Yes, but was that the only way?”
The boy had no answer.
The old man pulled a copper coin out from a pouch and laid it on the table in front of the boy. “Tell me what is magic.” He said plainly. With that, he put his hand down, over the coin, and lifted it quickly, and the coin disappeared.”
This caught the boy off guard. “What happened?”
“Was that magic?”
“Yes.” The boy replied.
“Was it?” The old man produced the coin from his hand and then placed it back on the table. “Watch closely.”
The boy stared at the coin. With a simple swipe of his hand over it, again the coin disappeared.
“How did you do that?” He asked.
“How would you do it?”
“It has to be magic. I don’t know how you did it.”
The old man again returned the coin to the table. “Try it.”
The boy put his hand over the coin, swiped it. The coin still lay on the table. He swiped it again, with the same result.
A few more times and Quaqreiqan became a little restless. The old man reached across the and stopped him.
“Perhaps you are not ready for the academy.” He said with a small glimmer of disappointment. He slowly began the ceremony of standing up.
The boy, this time, came around and helped him to his feet. The old man slowly straightened his back and slowly hobbled off with his cane.
“Quack, Quack Wren?” A voice called from one wing of the lobby. The boy and Mother Shree looked over as a middle-aged man came out from a side office.
“Quack Wren!” The voice said louder.
The boy and Shree stood up. “Here.” she said. Both came forward and greeted the man, who shook both of their hands. “You must be his guardian Mother Shree from Valegrove Orphanage? We do not get many children from orphanages here. We have space for him, if his conduct reflects the school. Do you have the funds for his entrance fee?”
Shree, surprised by the directness of the man, spoke. “Uh, yes, one hundred gold. Collected by his work and donations.” She reached into her cloak, then reached again. A look of confusion sewn across her face. She turned to look at the table, the floor. Searching.
“Is there some problem?” The man said.
“I had it. I don’t know what happened.” She said, her voiced filled with concern.
Quaqreiqan looked at her with bewilderment. “What happened?”
The man stared at her.
Shree brought her hand up to her forehead, then wondered off, looking for something.
“Miss, if you don’t have the funds, then we cannot accept the boy.” The man said.
A sudden rush of panic filled Quaqreiqan. He searched the table that that they were at, then the steps leading to the front desk, and to the front door. No bag of coins.
“I am sorry, but maybe he can apply with next year’s class when you have obtained the entrance fees.” The man said coldly.
The old gnome stopped for a second and sneered at the two, shook her head and returned to her duties.
Shree found the boy sitting on one step outside the Academy, his head buried in the pit of his elbow, which rested on both knees. She came and sat beside him and put her arm around him.
“I am sorry Quaqreiqan.” She felt her heart twisted in agony. She could not believe the turn of events.
They both sat there for what seemed to be an eternity, neither speaking.
Shree stood first, stepping down a few steps, hand outreached both to give the boy a hand in getting up and to guide him to his next path in life. When she gazed upon the boy, his hair was brighter than she had seen it in many years. His face, streaming with tears, contorted in a look of pure rage and anger.
“Quaqreiqan!” She snapped her fingers.
His eyes raised to meet hers. They were bright yellow. She knew this emotion; she knew what was next.
She put a hand on his cheek. “Calm down.”
“Why did we come here?” The boy yelled. “Just to give them someone to laugh at. Did you lose the money, or did you take it?”
“Please.” Was all she got out before the boy swung at the woman. She blocked the blow with her hand. Though not as tall as him, she sure had more strength. And this was not the first time that a child of the orphanage had lashed out. “Stop.” she commanded with a stern voice.
Quaqreiqan froze for an instant. He knew he just did something that was unforgivable. His mind raced. He was already too old for the orphanage. She had helped him because his temper and the fact that he could start fires with his body was the reason that he was never adopted. No one wanted a child, would burn them alive. No one wanted him at all. All of this culminated in being given a dream, and it suddenly ripped from him. He looked around. People had gathered watching the commotion, yet no one lifted a finger to help or hinder. They looked at him, staring and a freak show. The anger welled in him. He could not see how to control it anymore.
Shree’s eyes widened as the boy’s open palms, now glowing with fire and rage, swung to collapse around her. She knew what he could do, and feared it, much as every parent who offered to even see the boy for adoption. She moved her hands up to block him but knew this would be the end of her.
The onlookers were divided into two crowds, one group at the top of the stairs, which comprised mostly students of the academy, while the street contained mostly citizens of Waterdeep. A man from the street level yelled “Stop!”, while women averted their eyes. Guards from up the street pushing their way through onlookers seemed to move in slow motion. Somewhere, near the bottom of the stairs, just inside the crowd a faint blue light sparked and with it, he froze in place, his hands burning, only inches from the woman who stumbled backwards and down the steps, her body falling end over end which eventually came to a stop at the bottom face down.
People rushed in from all sides to aid the woman whom, even suffering broken limbs, and to barely able to hold on to life. In her ragged breath. People close to her could hear her praying to Lliira in hopes of his safety.
Of the two guards one came over to the woman, the other quickly ascended the steps. He looked at the boy frozen in place.
“Kill the freak!” A yell came from the crowd. “Kill it before he kills someone else!”
“Everyone get back.” The guard at the top commanded, looking at the students. He spun as the mob of people climbed the stairs. “Get back, all of you or I will arrest you.” And pulled his sword.
Most of the students retreated to the walls of the Academy while a few stood resolute, pulling wands or amulets for casting. The guard at the top looked around at them, who were gazing the crowd down.
“Stop!” a loud voice boomed from the crowd, nearly deafening everyone. As he walked forward, the crowd parted to make way for him. “The school will handle this. The incident happened on school grounds and. This is the law.” A man walked forward in bright blue robes with darker trim. He held a wand up to his throat, amplifying his voice.
The boy at the center of the commotion could only watch, his body incapable of even a twitch. He felt the guard and students pick him up and carry him back inside. He lost sight of Mother Shree. Tears fell from his eyes as they carried him to a room.
The blue wizard knelt and spoke gently to the woman. He could hear her prayers. He called out for a cleric to help.
It was late in the day, and Quaqreiqan sat in a stone hewn room on a wooden bench, the door closed with a lit sconce on the wall giving only a small amount of light. He sat back against the wall crossways on the bench with his arms wrapped around his legs which supported his head. His mind and body exhausted and now he was in a strange room in the middle of the place he had dreamed of being at for much of his childhood, but not in the manor he wished. His thoughts turned to the events that happened earlier that day. Grief overcame him. ‘Is she ok? Please tell me I did not kill her’.
It was just about then when he could hear some muffled voices on the other side of the door and the latch flip and unlock it. In walked the same wizard from before, in blue satin robes. In his hand was a small wooden tray and upon it, a small loaf of bread and a wooden cup of water. The door locked behind him. “I am sure you are hungry.” The man said warmly, as he placed the tray near the feed of the young man. He noted the tattered clothes and worn shoes that he wore. He then sat on the bench on the other side of the tray.
Quaqreiqan, upon seeing the meager offering, seized upon it. His grief gave way as he had forgotten how hungry he was. He stuffed half the bread in his mouth and chewed as fast as possible; the food turning to ash in his mouth. The water only quenched the fire within him and made the food easier to swallow.
The old man watched with curiosity as it had been many years since he encountered such a being.
The boy stuffed the second half of the other half, barely fitting it in his mouth before the smoke of the burning bread escaped. He guzzled the last of the water, leaving the cup slightly burned. He placed the cup back on the tray, but it fell over and almost rolled off, save the man with two fingers stopped it, replacing it back in the correct orientation. The boy returned to his near fetal position on the bench.
The smell of burnt bread filled the room, the scent of which brought the old man back from curiosity and back to the task at hand. “Do you know why you are hear?” The old man intoned. A long time passed, but the boy gave no answer. “Do you understand what I am saying?” He turned directly towards the boy, looking into his face.
Quaqreiqan’s head and eyes pointed straight downward. He felt like the old man from earlier, feeble and helpless.
The man took a hand and placed it on the boy’s arm. “When I was a young man, very much like you are now, I too felt like everything in the world was against me. People wanted things and cared little for others. I can see you care for the woman with you. Why would you attack her?”
“I don’t know.” was all the boy could say, as a tear fell from his eye and rolled down his cheek.
“So, she did nothing, and you just attacked her?” The old man pressed.
“No, no. I. She.” The boy felt it hard to talk and could not string thoughts together in his mind.
“Who was she to you?”
“She was my mother.” The boy gripped harder on his legs harder, trying to prevent himself from crying.
“Your mother? Would you really want to hurt your mother?” He said sympathetically.
“No.” The boy whispered.
“She raised you?”
“Yes.” He said blankly. “She was the only one for me.”
“And what did she teach you about love and forgiveness?”
The boy raised his head almost with a quizzical look. “Love and forgiveness are the cornerstone of the faith of Lliira. Seek in your life to always forgive and love those who are different. Always strive to help those less fortunate and bring the songs of joy to the world.”
The old man’s eyes raised. “I believe that is exactly how the passage goes in the book. How much have you read of the book of Lliira?”
“All of it.” The boy said.
“Did your mother make you read it to you?”
“No. She read us some passages, but I wanted to know all about it.” The boy stated.
“What do you think the book is trying to tell you?”
“I don’t know.” The boy returned, sensing some trap by the old man. Both knew exactly what the book represented. It was a guide to a life where positivity and generosity pave the stones through age, but the boy could not see that path.
The man saw a change in the boy. The question he asked seemed to spark something deeper. “Why did you come to the school?” He changed the subject.
“I came to learn to be a wizard.” The boy said from behind his folded arms.
“I take it you read books about wizards too?”
“Yes, many, but they were about people and deeds, never about how to do it. I read the teachings of Mystra, but that was the same.”
“You also read the book of Mystra? Did you never go out and play?”
The boy raised his head. “Look at me.” He said blatantly. “No one wants to play with me. They are all afraid of me.” As he spoke, his eyes and hair both glowed with fury.
The old man leaned away. His eyes grew larger, he could see the visible change in the boy.
“Even now, you want to run from me. Your scare of me, and they all are. No one wants a freak.” The boy’s tone grew very sharp as he felt the anger well up inside him again. “Why did you even come in here? You want to kill me, just like the rest of them.”
The man stood, towering over the boy who still sat on the bench. “No one is here to hurt you.” The old man’s voice boomed and reverberated in the small room. His face scowled at the boy. The sconce on the wall dimmed and a pale blue light suddenly appeared, giving the man a ghostly, other-worldly appearance, but only for a second.
The boy’s eyes widened as he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Within an instant, his rage turned to fear and cowardice.
As suddenly as the light dimmed, it returned. “I am here to help you.” He returned on the back of his breath.
The tenseness of the moment passed, and the boy slowly relaxed back. The old man returned to his seat.
The old man placed his hand on the boy’s brow and two fingers touched his hair, which felt hot, but not as its glow and color would assume. He had calmed down enough to continue.
“I want you to think, don’t let emotion govern you.” He paused. “What do you think happened to the money that you brought with you?”
“Mother Shree put it into her pocket when we left. I remember seeing her do it and making sure. I wanted nothing left behind.” A sudden look came across the boy’s face as he recognized that he mentioned her name.
“Continue.” The old man prodded.
“We walked from the northern ward to the tower, we didn’t stop.” He paused, thinking of every encounter they had on their journey. “We reached the tower and came in. We filled out a form and gave it back to the small woman at the counter. We talked to the old wizard, then we talked to the other man.”
“Yes, there was an old wizard who asked me questions and showed me some magic. He made some coins disappear.”
The old man’s eyes narrowed. “Can you describe him?”
“Yes, he was shorter than me with thin hair and a long thin beard and walked with a cane. He wore green with yellow. Oh, he wore small round glasses, but didn’t look through them. They kind of sat on his nose.” he pointed to just above the tip of his nose.
“Hmm,” the old man said, “and this man, did he give you his name?”
The boy considered. “No.”
“I see.” With that, the man made a grand gesture of placing his hands on his knees and stood.
“I do not believe that you meant to harm Mother Shree. That being said. You must master your temper if you are to attend the academy.”
The boy’s head perked up. “Attend?” He questioned.
“I will sponsor you. If there is any place in Waterdeep that a Genasi could easily fit in, it would be at the Blackstaff. I have known a few of your kind in my life, many governed by emotion. I will also teach you to control your emotions. The last thing we want around here is some boy fuming about every time that people don’t treat him right.”
The boy listened.
“Ah!” The old man perked. “Every Genasi that I have come across, never uses their actual names, most use names associated with their race. Quaqreiqan is such a long and hard to pronounce name.”
The boy thought for a second. It did not seem hard for him to pronounce.
The old man pondered. “I think most of them use it to cause fear though.” He looked up, as if checking some box of long-forgotten knowledge. “We shall know you as ‘Fume’, not because of your fiery nature, but as a lesson that you should always temper your rage with knowledge and reason.” With that, he offered a hand to the boy to help him up from his seating.
The boy took it and stood. He was almost as tall as the older man, which shocked him.
With two pounds of his fist on the wooden door by the old man, both heard the latch being undone from the outside. A large guard, posted at the door, opened it.
“It seems our young friend is ready to rejoin society.” The old man looked at the boy. “Is that right?”
“Yes. Yes.” he said to the old man, then repeated to the guard.
As they both walked out into a large stone hall, few people were around. This looked less like the halls of a school than a dungeon. Doors lined the side to small rooms; each locked.
They walked down the hall, then to a set of stairs that lead them up to the main level. At the top of the stairs, he heard a familiar voice. “Quaqreiqan!” He looked around and saw Mother Shree racing towards him. When the woman finally reached him, she nearly bowled him over with an enormous hug and flowing tears. She hugged him tightly and for far longer than he expected of the woman and the events that had passed. She let go slowly, then placed one hand on each of his cheeks. “Are you ok?” She questioned. “Did they hurt you?”
“Yes. No.” The boy was a little bewildered by the response that Mother Shree was giving him.
“Are they letting you go?” She asked, half looking at Quaqreiqan and half the blue wizard.
“No.” The old man spoke up.
Mother Shree’s eyes welled up with tears.
“You have taught him well. We will accept him into the academy, under my sponsorship.” He looked at the boy and smiled.
Her watering eyes turned to tears, and she hugged the boy tightly again.
“I am so sorry, mother.” The boy whispered.
She hugged him even tighter than before. “All is forgiven. I am ok. You listen to them and promise me you won’t cause trouble.”
“I promise.” The boy said.
“Love and forgiveness.” the old man whispered.