Lines of Opposition Prologue “Hey, Magic-man! What brings you to these parts?” the young man in Jadoran stealth gear asked, as the older man, dressed in a similar fashion, approached him and his cohorts. They had been discussing a possible plan of approach for an attack on Magic University. “I’m here for the next raid on the University, Leapfrog” the middle-aged rogue responded. It was part of Jadoran tradition that the raiders not go by their real names. Each had nicknames based on their most significant skills. Leapfrog could span greater than average distances between rooftops, hence his nickname. And Magic-man had some training in Renegade magic, enough to make the Jadorans value him for this ability. “You, Magic-man? What about training Finesse’s foster children? I thought you were entangled in that affair,” a young woman said, one who went by the nickname Hands. She had the deftest hands in the Jadoran contingency. Anything requiring work with precision detail would often be sent her way. “More like entangled with Finesse,” Leapfrog teased. “I’m surprised she let you go.” “It’s not that she wasn’t reluctant to let me go,” the older man replied with a knavish grin, dropping a pack of gear at his feet. “I just managed to convince her that it was for the best to honour her contract with me. It was time for me to come back to Anthis. I need some information that I can only get from the University, and helping with a raid is my best avenue for obtaining this information.” “Information? For personal use, or Jadoran purposes? For business or pleasure?” a third man in stealth gear asked, one with red hair and brown eyes. “All of the above, Bullseye, I hope.” Magic-man remarked cheerfully, brushing some of his unruly dark mane from his face. His black eyes glimmered playfully. The redhead was known for his eagle eye. He could throw a lethal strike from a near impossible distance, and on the rare occasion that he did miss, he usually managed at least a nick, which was all that was required for Jadoran poison to be effective. No one survived Jadoran poison, with the rare exception of some of the veteran Jadorans who had worked on building up an immunity to the deadly rust coloured liquid, and this was only when they succeeded in administering to themselves the closest thing there was to an antidote in existence. The near antidote would slow the poison, but did not stop it. For those who were mostly immune, slowing the poison was all that was necessary to keep them alive. “So what would be the Jadoran implication of this knowledge,” Hands demanded. “If it is significant, we could go to special lengths to help you get what you are looking for on this raid. Our only instructions from Finesse are to make sure that we cause as much destruction and wreak as much havoc as possible. She’s still angry that the University managed to secure a safe portal zone with the Children of Rock and therefore have much easier access to the Source of the cure for the Magic Plague. She’s also angry because rumour has it that the Sunstone was attuned to one individual and therefore can never be restored to Jadoran hands. She blames that on the University as well.”

Hands watched Magic-man carefully as she spoke. He would always get a strange look in his eye whenever she made reference to the Source, despite the training they had that allowed them to control their body language and facial expressions in order to deceive others. This was not a conscious response on the middle-aged man’s part. It was more of a knee-jerk reaction, and one that he was obviously unable to control. She had to wonder at its origins, and considering her cohort’s magical background, she had some idea of what that might be. “I’m looking for some information on a particular merchant. He’s also a black market slave trader. I happen to know that he trades with the University on occasion, although I doubt that they are aware of his secondary profession. If I want to track him down, it would be the best means that I have available to me,” Magic-Man explained. “So the potential’s there for a caravan raid. Some good looting?” Leapfrog said with interest. The older man nodded. He had no intention of sharing this with the others, despite pretending otherwise. “Deception is your best resource” was the Jadoran mantra. He could use their greed to his benefit. Magic-Man had too much personal investment in this venture however. He had been chasing this vendetta for much of his life, and his loot-hungry cohorts would only get in the way of his true objective. It wouldn’t hurt, however, to recruit their assistance in obtaining the information he had come for. “So you have a name for us then? Something to search for in their records?” Hands asked. “Not a name,” Magic-man replied, his voice carrying an edge of frustration. “If I had a name, I would have been able to track him down ages ago. All I have is a date – a date when he made a delivery to the University eighteen years ago.” “Eighteen years ago?” Bulls-eye scoffed. “What good is that going to do us?” “I have reason to believe he makes semi-annual deliveries to the University,” the older man insisted. “If he still trades with them, that means he should be planning on coming through Anthis sometime in the next couple of months. We’re here for the raid anyway. I figure that it won’t hurt to look for the information. If he doesn’t trade with them anymore, or if he’s dead, then we won’t gain any from the effort, but we don’t really have anything to lose either. The potential rewards could be pretty significant if we can gauge when he will be returning to Anthis. We catch him on the North Road on the way in, or the South Road on the way out, after he has collected from the University, and I expect the returns will be very satisfying.” Magic-man was very familiar with this particular merchant’s trade route, but lacked some details regarding his scheduling and other identification information. “Well, you’ve got my attention then,” Hands admitted. “I wouldn’t mind cashing in on an opportunity like that. What do you need us to do?” “We need to locate their records, somewhere in their administration offices.” Magic-man advised. “They likely have records back to the beginning of the University itself. They are all sticklers for rules and order, and with magic they can access dimensional pockets for storage purposes. It’s just a matter of tracking down where exactly they keep these things. Besides which, if we toss their admin offices and scatter their records to the four winds, imagine the upheaval it would cause. Finesse would be tickled pink, and they wouldn’t see it coming.” Hands noticed another one of those knee-

jerk reactions when the senior Jadoran stated that Finesse would be tickled pink. She had no idea what this uncontrollable response implied, but it peaked her interest. Hands rarely took an interest in trying to discover a cohort’s background but her curiosity about Magic-Man burned within her. He was nothing like the bitter, hardened street kids that had usually made their way into Finesse’s fold, often because they were more clever that the average urchin or thug. There was always purpose to his actions, always intent. There was an edge to him, of course. No one chose the life of a Jadoran if they were happy with the way life had treated them, but there was something more to Magic-Man. He was some sort of visionary. She had never seen him murder a man out of spite or boredom, and she had never seen him use his time for mere play. She would give half of what she owned if she could just figure him out. There were other mysteries to Magic-Man as well. Finesse had not recruited him at Anthis or one of the other cities, supposedly. Word had it that he had just showed up at the doorway to the Jadoran lair, intent on seeing the lady. He was very unique to the brethren, in that aspect. That had never made any sense to Hands. He had very purposefully chosen this life, which had been more of a desperate afterthought to the rest of them. The other thing that puzzled Hands about the veteran Jadoran, aside from his unusual skill with magic, was the strange scar on his right hand. She had tried asking him about it once, and he had smiled, and had shaken his head. There had been that knee-jerk reaction then too, she thought. It had all come from his life before his time with the Jadorans, and that was something he was not willing to share with anyone else. Leapfrog pulled out the large roll that was the map their scouts had made of the University campus. They had to finish their strategizing and begin to prepare for the raid. There would be a full moon that night, and that meant enough darkness to cloak their movements, and enough light to see where they were going without magical enhancements - the perfect night for a raid, by Jadoran standards. The four settled in around the map. They had a group of only twelve to infiltrate the campus with, but with stealth, experience, and Jadoran poison on their side, that was all that they would need, even if the Templars of Oron attempted to interfere again. *-*-* Dee stared at herself in the mirror that stood at the rear of the barracks. She was definitely beginning to show her age. She could pick out a few stray grey hairs in her light brown hair, which she always kept tied back in a pony tail, and there were wrinkles noticeable around her steely grey eyes. She was still in formidable shape for a Templar of Oron, her back and shoulders broad and her arms and legs very muscular, but she had been looking a little more fleshy lately, and a little less lean. She glanced back at the women she considered her sisters. There were eight men or women in a standard unit, and Dee was the second oldest amongst the soldiers she associated with. The only woman who exceeded Dee’s age, a dwarven woman by the name of Peri, also happened to be the only woman in the unit who outranked her as well. Dee enjoyed being second in command, but did not aspire to ever being leader of the unit. Most humans retired from the Templars by the time that they were forty, which meant

that Dee only had five or six good years left. Being a dwarf, and aging more slowly, Peri likely had at least twenty left in her. Dee respected Peri, but she wasn’t sure if she actually would go as far as to say she liked her. The dwarven woman was perpetually grouchy and had low tolerance for anything that wasn’t in some way tied to the ways of Oron. If the other women wanted to joke around or amuse themselves in any way, they had to wait until Peri, with her bristlelike short-cropped brown hair and coal black eyes, would make herself scarce. Dee preferred the company of two others in her unit: the wiry blond woman, Brianna, who had a keen sense of humour and whose lean musculature made her appear much less stronger than she actually was, and the tallest woman in the unit, Shandra, who had a calm honesty about her, and whose skin was so dark brown that it almost appeared to be blue in a certain light. The three women would often volunteer for guard duty together, or other menial tasks, because they enjoyed each other’s company so much. Brianna noticed Dee turn away from the mirror with an air of discontent. “What’s the matter, Dee,” she teased. “Upset because you’re getting soft?” “You wait six more years, Bree, and you’ll be going soft too,” Dee retorted. She knew that was highly unlikely. Bree was the type who would wither away into a spindly stick-like woman as she aged, instead of going soft. Still, if Bree wanted to throw such taunts about, Dee felt compelled to respond in kind. “You have to be more careful tonight, Dee. You’re also getting slow,” Shandra joked with a whispery chuckle. “The last time we had to defend against a Jadoran raid, you let yourself get caught between two of them at once. If I hadn’t sapped the fellow behind you, he would have stabbed you in the kidneys while the one in front had you distracted.” “Distracted? My sword got jammed in his pelvic bone,” Dee snorted. “That’s what happens when you are forced to work with second rate equipment. With the pittance we get paid, I should have enough to buy a real weapon by the time I’m ready to retire.” “Where are you gonna’ go when you retire, Dee?” Brianna asked. “What are you gonna’ to do when you are done being a Templar?” Dee frowned a little and shrugged. That very question had been weighing on her mind for a while now. She didn’t want to go back to farming. She hadn’t lived that life in eighteen years. She had heard the familiar adage about turning swords to ploughshares, and she certainly had the strength and endurance to return to farming, but that life still held with it painful memories, ones she avoided revisiting at all costs. As far as Dee was concerned, being a Templar was all that she really knew how to do. Dee sat back on her cot, contemplating what the life of a Templar had meant to her. It had its good points. She enjoyed the camaraderie with her sisters, and the thrill of the battle. She enjoyed feeling strong, powerful and for the most part invulnerable. She also liked feeling righteous, her position allowing her to champion justice and protect the innocent. It had been everything Children of the Rock had promised, when they had sponsored her in the beginning, and Dee had never regretted her decision, just as Reeree would have wanted it. She rarely thought of the events that had led up to her decision, including Reeree, the little pink gnome who had helped to inspire Dee to choose this lifestyle. She had left that life behind, never turning back, even though she had promised she would visit her

friends at the Magic Academy in Anthis. Returning there would have been too painful. There were too many reminders of Reeree’s ultimate sacrifice to assure that Dee and her other travelling companions would make it back to the Academy alive, too many reminders of the elfin woman, Finch’s betrayal that had almost turned Reeree’s sacrifice into a worthless gesture, and too many reminders of Dee’s girlhood crush that had been stomped on when one of the Academy leaders had forgiven Finch and welcomed her beneath his roof. She had outgrown this adolescent hero-worship of Reid. She had seen much greater heroism than he had displayed, while she was travelling within the circles of the Templars, and Dee no longer saw the reluctant hero as all that exceptional. He had been an average man who had managed to survive a less than average situation. Or at least, that’s what she told herself any time she happened to think of him. That being said, she would have thought of him less had it not been for one of the primary downsides of being a Templar of Oron. There was no time for a social life, no time to meet and mingle with the opposite sex, and no time to settle down and have a family. There was no room for anyone in her life other than her sisters, and that meant Dee was inclined to cling to the memories of the only people she still considered family, Reid, Clayton, Nolan. She could not help but wonder what had happened to them all, how much they had aged, and how much they had changed in the last eighteen years. Every time she had seen a mage casting a spell during one of the Jadoran raids, it scratched at old wounds and tweaked aged fears. There were no wild magic pockets here, and there was no threat that Dee would be instantly disintegrated by a random spell effect, but that didn’t stop her from cringing whenever the thought crossed her mind. Dee hated the idea that some of her actions arose out of a sense of vengeance. Revenge was a bad thing, and was the fodder of lesser men. Dee never wanted to cross that line, no matter how much she blamed the Jadorans for Reeree’s death or Reid’s near death. She thought of her close encounter with the Lady Finesse, the evil avatar who led the Jadorans stationed to the North of Anthis, and a gnawing sense of panic would eat at her gut. Despite this, she wanted her mind to remain focussed on the here and now, on the current conflict with the Jadorans and not any residual anger for the experiences of yesterday. Dee wanted to be the better person and rise above that. She wanted to live for today. Shandra walked over and sat on the cot next to Dee’s. “You’re being awfully quiet, Dee. You’ve got that gloomy look on your face. The same one you get when anyone starts talking about taking the battlegrounds to the Rainbow Caverns and away from Anthis. If we attempted some sort of retribution for the raids on the university, if we pushed back, wouldn’t that be better than just constantly retaliating to any offensive the Jadorans are offering?” Dee shook her head. “We’re supposed to be the defenders, not the instigators,” Dee reminded the darkskinned woman. “That means fighting off their attacks when and where they arise, not initiating them. Besides, the Jadorans can be terribly vicious when cornered. They always fight dirty, and they have no conscience to appeal to. They are the opposite of everything that we stand for. We can’t stoop to their level, despite the fact that that may seem like the easier route to take.”

“So we use the sitting duck approach,” Shandra sighed. “It seems a little complacent to me. Constantly reactive, constantly allowing them the opportunity to make the first move.” “The first move is not necessarily the smartest move,” Dee assured her. “The first plan is not necessarily the best plan. Sometimes it’s better to see what your opponent is doing initially so you can revise your plan to take advantage of their position. If you throw yourself into a half-thought out plan, you and all your allies could suffer badly for it.” “But there can also be an advantage to taking the lead. There’s an element of surprise there,” the dark-skinned woman insisted. “I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s not what the Templars stand for. We are supposed to be predictable and steadfast. We do things in a certain way, and according to certain rules. I’m a little disappointed that you haven’t come to accept that yet,” Dee remarked. “Alright, either I didn’t notice Peri walk into the room, or you two are being way too serious on your own time,” Brianna argued. “Either you lighten up, or I’ll make it my mission to lighten things up for you. Do you remember what happened the last time I had to do that?” Dee raised her eyebrows and glanced at Shandra, who returned the look. They both remembered the incident involved undergarments and kitchen grease, and neither of them wanted an encore performance of that practical joke. “ I’ve got a better idea,” Shandra offered. “How about we have nice rousing game of hide and seek. You hold Bree down, Dee, sit on her if you have to, and I’ll hide her gear. We’ll see if she can seek it all before tonight’s raid.” “You have to catch me first!” Bree yelled over her shoulder as she sprinted out the door. Dee and Shandra raced after her, laughing as they jostled each other in an attempt to get through the door, both in hot pursuit. *-*-* Clayton tossed and turned in his bed. It was dark out, and the moon had risen high into the sky, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t sleep. Excitement burned through him, hot and razor sharp. His spine tingled like someone was sporadically jolting him with electricity. He sat up in bed, feeling guilty that he was enjoying this feeling of excitement, when he should be worried and unhappy. He couldn’t help himself though. It meant that he would finally get what he had been waiting for, for all of these years, even though it meant that she would have to suffer terribly before that could happen. He hated the idea that she would have to suffer, but it couldn’t be avoided, no matter what he did. The knowledge that it would happen was just his burden to bear. Clayton stretched and stood up, walking over to his window. He glanced at the courtyard below, illuminated by the moon’s silvery glow. He had asked for this room as soon as it had become vacant. He needed that view. She would be spending quite a bit of time there, and many of the images of the memories of things that hadn’t happened yet were of her, out in that courtyard.

Clayton sighed. If there were some way around it, some way to stop what was going to happen, he would do it without a second thought. Others had tested that theory though, and failed. Reid, one of the owners of the Academy, had tested it, and by trying to change things, he had actually instigated the incidents he had wanted to avoid. Clayton shook his head. It couldn’t be done. The blond Renegade leaned up against the windowsill and stared up at the moon, aglow in the night. This was the particular image that was the trigger. There was often a trigger. It had set off his precognitive abilities. There was something about that full moon that had let him know he had to be ready. Things were going to start happening very soon. “Soon,” he whispered softly, breathing in very deeply. It had been so long, too long. She had told Reid that she would be back, at least to visit, but she had lied – lied until tonight. She would be back tonight, in body anyway. It would be longer before she would be back in spirit, and then it would be damaged at that. He would still have to wait beyond that day, quite a while beyond that day before he would finally be done waiting. Clayton sat down on his bed again, not sure what he should do with himself for the moment. Despite the fact that his body buzzed with energy, and he couldn’t sleep no matter how hard he tried, he was tired. It wasn’t physical or mental fatigue, however. It was his psyche that was tired. The years of playing clairvoyant had been both draining and isolating. When his brother Gillis had left with Burrell, another Academy partner, to go open an extension of the Academy in Alma earlier in the year, the loneliness had truly engulfed him. The only ones left who could understand what Clayton had lived through, and how things worked for him, were Finch and Reid, and they had each other, and Junie. Clayton was a third wheel, an obstruction that sometimes proved to be useful. Perhaps the others had been right to leave, but he couldn’t. He knew his place, and his place had been here, like it or not. An image played through his head, over and over again. It was one of the more pleasant ones, one that he used to comfort himself when he needed it. He extended his hand and murmured a spell, one that produced a glowing colourful sphere. The interior of the sphere swirled and danced, first with flowers, then with butterflies, and lastly with glimmering pearls of light. It was a child’s spell, a plaything for novices, but it would have so much meaning for him in the near future. It wouldn’t be his to enjoy for some time though, and she would have to fight hard to get to that point. He wished he had more answers right now. They would come, as they always did, but never at his discretion. The burst of electricity ripped through his spine again, more powerful than ever before. It’s starting, he thought, right now. He wished he could be there, but he couldn’t. Even though he wasn’t supposed to, he would try to stop it, try to prevent it, and he shouldn’t. What was meant to be was meant to be. That was never his decision to make. That’s why knowing it made it so difficult. He turned towards the door, listening. There would be noise to alert him when it was his turn to react, when the time was right, from somewhere beyond the door. He would be the first one there, once alerted. At least he was sure of that much. Then it would be up to him to summon Reid and the others. They would be looking for a solution, and he wouldn’t have the answer, and that scared him, but one of the others would. He trusted in that.