Hundreds of people moved back and forth in the central courtyard of Archmage Telamon Leukiades' palace in Mykon. The festival on the first of Regenesis was one of the most prominent of the year, with the proportionate break down of inhibitions. Wine was consumed in staggering quantities by the more traditional of Mykon's elite while the younger festival-goers discreetly passed around the latest drugs, both magical and mundane. There were shameless displays of intimacy happening openly, violations of propriety and fidelity that would have been unforgivable at any other time. One man, hovering near the edge, was an island of tranquility and restraint in a sea of excess and abandon.
Tarasios Argyros' tranquility was the product of nerves rather than any particular feat of self-control. It was traditional for the thaumaturges of Mykon to announce major projects to their colleagues at the festival on the first of Regenesis in order to hear their opinions, and Tarasios had imagined he might do the same as several other mages had done already tonight. It had seemed such a good idea an hour earlier, under the fortifying influence of wine, but now that he was confronted with the cream of Mykon's magocracy, his courage started to falter. He could see at least two of the Archmages that ruled the city, and quite a few of the lords that were under them. Tarasios himself was only a member of the city's equestrian class, high enough to command some respect and notability within the hierarchy of mages that formed the aristocracy, but with no real authority or hopes of advancement, especially considering his odd tendencies.
He received an encouraging prod from his daughter, Elektra, who had appeared behind him looking flushed and wearing a dress that was altogether too indecent for her father's taste.
"What have you been doing?" He asked suspiciously. She looked far too much like her mother had for him to feel safe at an occasion like this.
"None of your concern, father," she said. "Nor has it been for four years." She gestured towards the small crowd that had started to gather around him. "Now, you've been putting this off for long enough." She gave him a gentle push forward. Tarasios straightened himself and did his best to recall the words he had carefully stored away in memory.
"I've been working on the theory for this project for quite some time," he started uncertainly. He glanced around at the gathered mages nervously and trailed off.
"Louder, man. No one can hear you." Several other people murmured their agreement with the speaker. Tarasios crushed his hesitation and resumed speaking.
"I've been studying the theory for this project for several months. I think that it is feasible to create airborne landmasses using the appropriate thaumaturgic formulae." The crowd's reaction was mixed. A few merely looked on incredulously, while others drifted off to rejoin the festivities and still others starting shouting back at Tarasios.
"Airborne landmasses?" one mage remarked sarcastically. "How do you propose to do that?"
"Isn't it obvious? It's just the application of the same knowledge we use to lift airships into the sky every day. I've done research into using aetheric accumulators and bound spirits to provide the power." He prepared to go on in greater detail, but another man interrupted him.
"Never mind the how—that seems easy enough, at least in theory. Why would you bother? I mean, once you've got your big damn floating island, what do you propose to do with it?"
"Well, there is always the industrial application, with mobile factories and the like," Tarasios said. A new speaker stepped forward.
"Or that fool's idea you've been jabbering on about for the last two months whenever you've had a bit too much wine." Tarasios froze when he saw the silver-haired host of the festivities emerge from the crowd. Telamon Leukiades presented a figure carefully crafted to impress. Thanks to the flesh-molding efforts of a master biourge he had a face that managed to look both ancient and young at the same time, despite being nearly the same age as Tarasios's fifty years. It was something only the highest of the elites in Mykon were permitted. Telamon turned to face the other observers.
"Our dear Tarasios has outdone himself with the latest of his mad ideas. Perhaps you've heard that he's got the notion into his head that Mykon needs to unite with the rest of the cities in Doria. Where he gets this, I have no idea, but he's decided that the best way to do this is putting up some kind of arcane university in the sky."
Tarasios's face burned with humiliation. Any thoughts of arguing with the archmage vanished. He unconsciously took a step back. Beside him, Elektra spoke up.
"Someone should do it. Maybe if all the magocrats were taught by the same people instead of being raised on a curriculum of sectarian superiority then the Dorian cities wouldn't be in such a sorry state as they are right now."
Telamon ignored Elektra and stepped closer to Tarasios. "I know you and your followers have been working on this foolish project of yours for a while now." He spoke softly and leaned in towards Tarasios. "Let me give you some friendly advice. Give it up. Do something more practical. The Council disapproves of this pursuit. We'd rather not have to take action. That always ends up badly for everyone involved. People might get hurt." He straightened and headed back into the crowd, vanishing into the sea of revelers after a few moments. When it became clear that Tarasios had nothing more to say, the rest of his audience dissipated as well.
Tarasios stumbled away and sat down heavily on one of the stone benches lining the courtyard, having retrieved stronger wine than he had been drinking before. He was not quite crying, but his eyes were watering with humiliation.
"A fine display of backbone, father." Elektra's voice was dripping with contempt as she spoke. Tarasios stared into his drink to avoid looking her in the eye. "It is no wonder that you've remained where you are for so long. A gust of criticism or a bad word and you collapse like a windless sail."
"And what am I supposed to do?" Tarasios asked, his voice tinged with anger and fear. "I am not some brilliant prodigy who can shoot her mouth off to one of the city's leaders. If the Archmage opposes it, then it stops. Besides, gods damn it, what am I supposed to do if he makes good on his threat? What if people do get hurt because of my project?"
"Did you think that you would just be able to disrupt their established order while they did nothing? Sometimes you have to take risks. Why do I have the same position as a man twice my age?"
"You're as ambitious as your mother was," Tarasios said. "See where she is now. I'd rather no one get hurt than see that happen again."
"You'd rather retain your self-righteousness than risk getting your hands dirty in the name of progress is what." Tarasios could imagine Elektra's face as she walked away. It was probably twisted up in that derisive expression she reserved for those she deemed too low even for proper disgust. Tarasios tried not to think about it.
Telamon Leukiades strode into the Council Hall late the day after the Regenesis festival. Despite the best efforts of his personal healer, his head still throbbed from the night before, and the noise that permeated the city sent bolts of pain through his mind. He was in a foul mood.
The Council Hall was an ornate, circular room, with all the necessary paraphernalia cunningly worked into the black marble that was the material of choice. The entrance was a stairway that came up in the center of the room, and then split and curved to either side, leading to the two bow-shaped benches where the council members sat. The layout ensured that no assassin or attacker could enter the Council Hall undetected. Anyone who did so would have been a fool to do so anyway. The five men and women who ruled Mykon were not just governors. They were selected from among the best and brightest of the city's mages and were among the finest practitioners in the world in their chosen field of thaumaturgy. They were both extremely intelligent and extremely dangerous.
"I see you've finally decided to join us, Telamon." The voice of Agatharcus Michakis was laden with sarcasm. Upon reflection, Telamon admitted that the Archmages of Mykon were also a divided group. "Especially considering that we have you to thank for bringing the current dilemma to our attention."
"Would you care to elaborate?" Telamon struggled to avoid showing the pain that was shooting through his head as he moved to his seat. He had already been humiliated enough with his late arrival and ignorance of the topic of discussion. He didn't need a public display of weakness added to that.
"I believe you had a discussion with one of your underlings last night, a Tarasios Argyos." Agatharcus conjured up an illusory image of the mage, portraying an unremarkable example of a dark-haired, olive-skinned Dorian.
"And? I encountered most of my subordinates last night. I fail to see what makes this one stand out."
"Perhaps it is because Argyros, unlike most of your subordinates, is planning subversive and rebellious activities. You addressed him on this very issue last night. His 'Ascension' project."
Telamon didn't bother to suppress a laugh. "He's been ranting and raving about that for years. Ever since his wife died, if I recall. He's just a middle aged man with a fair bit of talent and delusions of grandeur. And a fragile ego, I might add. A harsh word here or there and he'll go straight back to doing something useful. Which I made sure to do when he started going on about it last night."
Agatharcus looked unconvinced, and Leukus, one of his allies on the council chimed in his opinion. "How can you be so sure, Telamon? If this Argyros is so easy to knock down, he must be easy to put back up again. And he seems to have a substantial enough group of supporters."
"Is that so? I'd hardly call a few dozen dreamers who've have their heads in the clouds a substantial group. None of his followers are anyone of significance. A few low ranking mages and some commons who are enchanted by the nonsense he spews out. He's never drawn himself to your attention before now because he is a person of no significance. Could we please move on to something of more importance?"
"No, we cannot, Telamon Leukiades, because this issue is more important than you make it out to be." Telamon was surprised to hear Gorgo Leoniades speak. The oldest member of Mykon's ruling council rarely weighed in on issues, and her opinions were respected by everyone else. If she though Telamon's subordinate had become an issue, then others would listen. "Argyros' ideas are becoming more popular every day, especially among the commons. Perhaps he doesn't have the mental fortitude to lead them, but that might not matter. He is seen as a leader by these people, and anything he does inspires them to greater rebellion. He wants to undermine the sovereignty of our city and force us into a union with our greatest enemies."
Agatharcus picked up where she stopped. "That's not all he wants to do. Perhaps you've listened to him spewing his drivel about teaching thaumaturgy to the commons?" He slapped his palm down on the marble bench for effect. "Not only subversive but actually dangerous. Can you imagine what sort of chaos would result from teaching arcane secrets to the masses of idiots? We'd have xenos rampaging through our streets, summoned by some fool who thought he could control it." He was gesturing wildly, painting a picture with his hands as well as his words. "Amateur alchemists fabricating toxins and drugs without any knowledge of how to handle them safely."
He paused for breath, and Telamon interrupted him with a laugh. "Very vivid. I can practically see it now. Except that it is nothing but silly alarmism. The idiot masses will never be able to use anything but the most basic thaumaturgy because they are precisely what they are named. They have neither the mental acuity nor the mental discipline to learn anything as complex as summoning a xenological entity. In any event, the commons are pathetically easy to control. A bit of psychourgy can render them docile, and they are more than impulsive enough to create all the energy needed to dominate them. In the unlikely eventuality that Argyros' followers do something more than drink and spout nonsense, it will be trivial to handle it. But enough. This council exists for a reason. Let us decide this now."
Agatharcus glowered but nodded his assent. Another council member seconded Telamon's call for a vote. At the end of Telamon sat back and smirked at Agatharcus. Seven of the eleven council members voted with him, including Gorgo, which cast a serious pall on Agatharcus' credibility.
"So most of us understand that this is not important, Agatharcus. Perhaps now we can move onto something of genuine importance," Telamon said, his voice dripping with condescension. There were few things more satisfying than humiliating a rival in front of his peers, and Agatharcus was not going to forget his newest defeat any time soon.
"Very well. Ignore it now if you like," Agatharcus replied sullenly. "I expect you'll be laughing on the other side of your face soon."