(Author’s note…comes late in the book)
Alethia began as an idea, which led almost immediately to a debate in the House. I think the correct side won, if only by accident. If some druids surrendered, and we decided not to kill them, what could be done with them? Severing the Gift was an obvious measure, but true diabolists could bargain with their masters for the False Gift. The decision was that they should be imprisoned until death. So far, consensus.
A regio was the obvious place to hold magi, and we had several under our control in Hungary. The question was: should they be kept in a regio with time slower then mortal time, or faster? If they were in a slower regio, even if they could rebuild their power secretly, we would rebuild so much faster that we could crush them. If we put them in faster time, then they would age and die faster. If they had the chance to rebuild their power and take a fresh shot, then it would be on ground designed and prepared by us. Best to let them exhaust their quiver, then let them linger forever and pass the problem to our children.
The Alethia regio has time that speeds at seven times mortal. It was cleared out early in the war, because we wanted the vis of the creature living within it. The destruction of the Ice Wyrm may, we are told by our magical theorists, lead to the time in Alethia eventually resynchronising with the mortal world. If so, no matter, its purpose has been served for now, and we can repeat the procedure elsewhere. It served as a prison only briefly.
Two years after the war, we refitted it as a hospital for magi with combat fatigue. I was sent there to oversee the retrofit, officially. In truth, I had sufficient combat fatigue to be useless in the struggle for Diedne resources. I was the most effective of the useless, so they were my responsibility. I needed reinforcements, so I sent messages to the Foolish Fires. They did not seem temperamentally suited to rural idyll, but the House was exhausted, and I needed help. It was friends or mercenaries.
Malvolio came much as I remembered him. His clothes clinked and shone. He filled too much space, and he talked too loudly about things he didn’t really understand. He knew you knew that half of what he was saying was a performance, but you could never be sure which half. He had more baggage than a small army, and it was filled with impractical delicacies. He was all the things that used to infuriate me, when we were comrades in arms. In bleak Alethia, as it then was, I loved him for it. He had retainers, many of which which he sent away so that they would not age faster than their families. The remainder still live here, save a scant handful who left with him, after his stay.
Callida sent a contract, which the House signed, and then she came. She’d not been with us at the end of the war, but I still considered her one of my people. We had not told her Apophany’s Lie. I felt guilty about that, then. Eventually I did tell her, after she showed me a magical mousetrap she had made for my apprentice Euxia. She bought less material, but has stayed longer. Some magi have asked if she and I, living as we do, with our hordes of children, out of time, are a couple. We are not. We are not good at compromise.
Together, they built modern Alethia. I made suggestions about the function of the place, which they sometimes incorporated, and so the House tends to see the facility as mine. That’s a bureaucratic undersimplification. I may have made it a school, but they made it beautiful. Callida stays, I think, because she knows that the school is her masterpiece. Her kind have criticized her because it is not enchanted, but she has calls it an engine that makes magicians.
Hermetic architecture generally follows an Imperial Roman model. Conjuring the Mystic Tower originally created a Roman wall fort. The Pseudo-Bonisagus redesigned it slightly to create odd, circular towers. These cylinders of stone have been the keystone of covenant building ever since. They are ridiculous.
Cylindrical towers are designed for watchers standing on the roof, and archers defending approaches. They are liveable, but inconvenient. So much floor space is wasted with stairs. So much time is wasted walking between levels. They are dingy and cold. Some people have improved them slightly by building a stair tower next to their laboratory tower. Malvolio showed me that none of this was necessary.
Alethia was designed as a vast and beautiful metal frame, which remains visible in the building today. Over this, Callida poured a skin of bronze, which created the roof and walls. It has aged to a deep verdigris. Malvolio set vast panels of glass, made magically for clarity and strength, into the roof. It never rains on the roof, as it is sheltered with wards, like a Jerbiton garden laboratory .Internal partitions were then made, by skilled mortal crafters, and placed to Malvolio’s specifications. The school may be Mycetians, but it was crafted by a Jerbiton skilled in light, and trickery and void. It is like a temple to an intensely practical god.
It took a year of Althean time to complete the work. That’s less than a season in the mortal world and I expected Malvolio to hurry off to some new revel. He seemed reluctant to leave, so I asked him if he wanted to stay. He remained at Alethia for three real years during which he studied Arabic and ways to avoid his housemates.
It took time for us to pry the story from him: for him to relax and discuss his hurts. I had come home a shattered man, but to a House which accepted my wounds as a cost paid for victory, and honoured them. He and Benvolia had returned to the cities, which had been untouched by the war. They were met by Housemates who scorned his role in the utter extermination of a style of magic that, even a few years after the war, was being romanticised as being about harmony with Nature.
Benvolia, he said, had gone to Egypt, and we did not understand what he meant. She had taken her ability to blend in with people, and used it to disappear. She was seeking her happiness far from the ingrates she had kept free and safe, but also far from the city of her birth, which she loved. Malvolio refused to give Europe to his spiteful kin. He stayed with us, and having trained in illusions at sevenfold time, now lives in secret among them.
If you are ever in Naples, and need the aid of the redcaps, you may be directed to the home of a Coptic merchant, who lives a genteel but secluded life. If you ever have trouble with the underclass of the city, you might meet a strange monk who metes out justice from the shadows. If you ever threaten the city, the caverns of its necropolis may spit forth an undead necromancer commanding hordes of ghosts. His life is full and pleasant. Some of my past apprentices live with him, in what would be a covenant, if they ever admitted they were magi.