The accommodations provided to Scarlett and her party were decent, though they weren’t really comparable to her mansion back in Freybrook. While the Rising Isle boasted plenty of impressive landmarks, it seemed their appreciation for stunning architecture didn’t quite extend to interior design.

Shortly after Bunce had introduced them to their lodgings, food had been delivered to their rooms. Around the same time, however, Magister Penney arrived to greet Scarlett, prompting her to leave her companions to dine without her as she joined him in an adjacent chamber.

Magister Penney didn’t quite fit the stereotypical wizard’s image. Appearing to be somewhere in his fifties, he was completely bald and had more of a robust, plump build, snugly fitting into the armchair he occupied. His demeanour differed markedly from the sterner presence of Grand Wizard Hartford and the polite Principal Wizard Bunce, as he looked at Scarlett with a warm, chummy smile.

“Master Docent Mendenhall has spoken highly of you, Baroness,” he began the conversation earnestly after their greetings. “Moreover, your recent discoveries have sparked a not-so-insignificant number of discussions here on the Isle. Meeting the woman behind the rumors is indeed a pleasure for me. If even a fraction of them hold true, you are an exceptionally talented individual.”

“I can only hope to live up to those expectations,” Scarlett replied. “Miss Mendenhall has spoken equally well of you, Magister. It is good to finally make your acquaintance.”

He dismissed the formality with a wave and a hearty laugh. “Please, don’t stand on ceremony with me. Any friend of a friend is a friend of mine, as they say. Just call me Hugbert!”

Scarlett arched an eyebrow. That name was rather…apt. She wondered if it ever elicited any comments.


Changing the subject, the man continued. “Now, I’ve been informed that the council will convene in the morning to discuss a special request of yours. You’re seeking access to the Astral Sanctum, as I understand it?”

“That is correct,” Scarlett confirmed.

‘Hugbert’ cleared his throat. “Well, as you are likely aware, I happen to be a member of said council, and I’m more than willing to support your request. However, before doing so openly, I would like to understand a bit more about what you hope to find in the Sanctum and your intentions.”

Scarlett considered his question for a moment. “…I suppose I can share some more details. I have already briefed Grand Wizard Hartford, but my recent findings at the Zuverian ruins east of Faybarrow indicate the existence of unexplored sections within the Astral Sanctum.”

“And what makes you so certain of that? Any records you might have found there would predate our presence here, so isn’t it perfectly reasonable that we would already have discovered these sections you are talking about?”

“If you had, you would not need me to provide you any further details.” Scarlett gave him a skeptical look. “You do not strike me as the type who would attempt to test me like that.”


Magister Penney chuckled. “No, I suppose I’m not. Then, assuming you’re right about these hitherto ‘unearthed’ sections, what could we expect to find in them?”

“I think you might be better suited to answer that question than me,” Scarlett said. “I am merely offering my assistance in revealing them.”

“Hmm, that isn’t actually my area of expertise, but…” The man scratched his chin ponderously. “If it is inside the Astral Sanctum, we’re likely dealing with something related to the protective and warding barriers around the Isle. If so, it would be a nice surprise indeed. Some of their functions remain a mystery even to this day, so any new insights we might glean would most assuredly be valuable.”

“And how valuable, exactly, would you say?” Scarlett asked.

“That’s a matter for the council to discuss tomorrow,” he answered. “Do you have any particular thoughts?”

Scarlett shook her head. “I would first prefer to hear their stance before making any suggestions. It would not be appropriate to assert any demands before the council has been reassured of my credibility.”

“Ah, keeping your cards close to your chest, I see! Hehe, understandable, understandable.” Magister Penney chuckled warmly. “I certainly can’t fault you for that, especially considering how hawkish some of my fellow council members can be.”

“Is that so?”

Scarlett was surprised that he didn’t mind admitting as much to her.

“Yes, but let’s keep that between us, if you don’t mind,” the man added with a lighter tone, adjusting his position comfortably in his chair. “But I’ll say, it does excite me thinking about what we might uncover if you speak the truth, Baroness. Master Docent Mendenhall mentioned that encounters with you often leave one’s initial expectations baffled, and I don’t know her to be a woman who exaggerates such things.”

“Hopefully we will find if that holds true tomorrow.”

“Indeed, we will! And I’ll do what I can to persuade the others to give you the opportunity to prove your claims,” Magister Penney assured her, though his expression then turned slightly more serious. “However, I must warn you to be prepared for some resistance. There are those among us who are wary of granting an outsider access to the Isle’s secrets. Even should your request be approved, I’m sure you understand that you’ll be placed under some stringent conditions to ensure nothing untoward happens for either party.”

“I had anticipated as much,” Scarlett said. She would be visiting the heart of much of the Rising Isle’s defensive measures, after all. “Regarding Grand Wizard Hartford, do you believe he might be among those who oppose my proposal?”

The plump wizard seemed to consider it for a moment. “That’s hard to say,” he mused with one hand to his chin and eyes turned upwards. “Gaspar can be…unpredictable. It might depend on how your meeting with him proceeded. I assume it went well? His decision to escalate your request to the council so quickly was unexpected in its own way.”If you spot this story on Amazon, know that it has been stolen. Report the violation.

Scarlett’s lips thinned into a line. “Our interaction was brief, and I find it difficult to gauge his position from that alone. He seemed to possess a certain…indifference towards me.”

Magister Penney responded with a light-hearted laugh. “That’s often the impression he leaves when you first meet him.”

Scarlett studied him briefly. “…I find it curious that you have not asked whether he and I have any prior acquaintance. Others have seemingly assumed we were related.”

“I am familiar enough with Gaspar’s background to know he has little connection outside the Rising Isle,” the man said. “His family has been influential here for generations, contributing some rather notable names to our community now and then, including even two arch wizards if I recall correctly. In a way, the Hartfords represent what you might call the closest thing we have to a noble lineage on the Isle.”

“My impression was that the Rising Isle rejected all forms of aristocratic hierarchy and peerage,” Scarlett replied. “Grand Wizard Hartford seemed particularly dismissive of such conventions, yet you are telling me that he holds a similar status here?”

The Magister showed her another smile. “No, I’d say it is rather more complicated than that. I only meant to provide a relatable analogy. Gaspar himself has earned his position through his own accomplishments, not his lineage. The Hartford name simply happens to be well-regarded here since it is uncommon for families to maintain prominence and stay over several generations. This is likely why your name might provoke some confused reactions here.”

“Indeed?” So the Hartfords of the Rising Isle could actually be said to hold more esteem on the Isle than those in the empire. That revelation was somewhat irritating. “It is surprising that this is not more well-known in the empire,” she remarked. “I myself was oblivious to the existence of Hartfords here until recently.”

“You were?” Hugbert blinked, then paused in thought. “Hmm, other than a select few of our numbers, we wizards rarely have reason to interact with nobles in the empire, so it is not entirely surprising that details of certain families here don’t reach the mainland. We have always maintained a level of detachment from the more secular affairs, and this applies even more so with the empire.”

Scarlett stayed quiet for a couple of seconds, considering his words.

Given that the Hartford barony held a relatively minor status, was situated near the empire’s western border, and was only really recognized for its early inclusion in the Elysian Proclamation, it made sense that connections between the Hartford name in the empire and on the Rising Isle could be somewhat overlooked. The magister was likely correct in that the overlap of individuals who dealt with both minor imperial nobles and the Isle’s wizards was small.

However, if she were to guess, people like the previous Baron Hartford and Grand Wizard Hartford himself would almost definitely have been aware of their shared name.

She studied the man before her for a few seconds longer. “Earlier, you mentioned that the Hartford family has contributed two arch wizards to the Rising Isle in its time,” she began. “When was this? And how long has their family been established on the Isle?”

Magister Penney’s forehead creased slightly at the questions. “Oh, those are difficult for me to answer. I know that Arch Wizard Malenka, who lived about a century ago, was a Hartford, and there was another before her. If you’d like to know more than that, I’d suggest speaking directly with Gaspar.”

“I suspect he might not be so forthcoming with that information,” Scarlett remarked.

“In that case, I’m afraid I can’t provide much more help. An outsider accessing our archival records would also require council permission, which, ironically, might be harder to secure than approval for your other request. There are several council members who would frown upon an imperial noble investigating the lineages of one of their own.”

“That is unfortunate,” Scarlett said, genuinely disappointed. “It seems unlikely that our families share a name merely by coincidence. Yet there is no indication in our house records of establishing a branch on the Isle.”

“Well, that is hardly surprising,” the man commented thoughtfully.

“No? And why is that?”

“I do know that the Hartfords have been around since before the relations between the Isle and the empire improved. If they began as a branch of your house, then its founder would likely have committed treason in joining the Rising Isle. Depending on the time, such actions could no doubt have led to their erasure from both familial and heraldic records, don’t you think?”

Scarlett stared at him for a moment.

That…made sense. In fact, she felt a pang of frustration for not having considered the possibility herself. She already knew that the empire had historically punished mages who defected to the Isle, and while she hadn’t read any examples of erasing their existence from official records, that was only to be expected.

This basically confirmed that Gaspar probably did hail from a very distant branch of her house. If his family had still been imperial nobles, they would probably have adopted a new name generations ago, but maybe that wasn’t how it was done on the Isle.

Her expression turned contemplative. Actually, this knowledge might also explain another mystery she had been exploring.

She looked at Magister Penney. “On a related note, I am currently investigating the story of a certain mage from the empire who might have migrated to the Isle roughly three centuries ago. The records of him in the empire are scarce, but I know that he was a noble, so his story might parallel the Hartfords.”

“Well, it certainly wouldn’t be a first,” the man said. “Do you have a name for this man?”

“Only a first name: Delmont.”

“Delmont?” he echoed, seeming to consider it for a bit before shaking his head. “I’m afraid that doesn’t tell me much. It’s a rather common name here.”

“I was afraid of that.” Scarlett crossed her arms, thinking about how she best could proceed in looking into this matter. “While I understand the council’s reservations about my investigating Grand Wizard Hartford’s lineage, this inquiry focuses on a historical figure, not a contemporary one. Do you think they might grant me permission to consult your records for this specific case? It is of rather significant personal interest to me.”

The magister steepled his fingers, a thoughtful frown creasing his brow. “I can certainly raise the question during our meeting tomorrow. While I can’t predict the council’s decision, if you show results with your other request, I imagine that could form room for a broader discussion about this one.”

“That would be ideal,” Scarlett replied. Deciding to change the subject once more, she added, “There is one more thing I would like to ask.”

“Oh?” The man’s expression turned curious. “And what might that be?”

“Earlier today, I encountered a rather fascinating individual at the Arcanum Spire. I was wondering if you might know who they were.”

“Fascinating, you say?” Magister Penney chuckled with interest. “They must have made quite the impression, then. Who might this person be?”

“She introduced herself as Senior Wizard Yamina.”

Scarlett noticed a slight flicker of what might have been recognition in the man’s eyes. “Yamina, you say…?” he said, as if pondering the name. “And a Senior Wizard…?”

“That is what she claimed, yes. Is there a problem?” Scarlett asked, studying his reaction.

“No, not at all,” the magister reassured her heartily. “The name does ring a bell, but I can’t say that I’m too familiar with this person. With a good sixth of the Isle’s mages holding the rank of Senior Wizard, it’s difficult to be acquainted with everyone. Mind you, I do try my best,” he winked.

Scarlett watched him for a few seconds.

“I see,” she said finally. “It is unlikely that my path will cross with hers again, so perhaps knowing more is irrelevant. But thank you for answering my questions and offering your support at tomorrow’s council meeting.”

“Would you say this means all the serious matters have been discussed?” the man asked.

Scarlett gave a small nod. “Yes, that should be everything for now.”

His smile broadened as he patted his stomach with gusto. “Marvelous! Then, what say you to joining me for a meal? It is always a joy to exchange stories with a newfound acquaintance, and I can regale you with the tale of the time I found myself nose-to-nose with a Coral Colossus on one of my research expeditions!”