he receptionist held him captive for a moment with a glance, Caius in his tiredness leaning a hand on the desk and waiting for the woman to look over his paperwork and her calendar and take her sarding sweet time. He offered wary smile at her well-practiced one,
"I arrived on the second, to be honest."
That was, perhaps, the most sincere the Lord Arbiter had been in trials, "But I'm not much for seafaring and required the, uh, momentary recovery. Hopefully, there's no harm done now that I've, well, rested."
He offered a chagrined expression, leaving the mystery of his sea sickness to the woman's own wild imaginations—if she possessed any, of course—and followed her to the sitting area, adding a quiet, "Thank you."
as she dismissed herself and disappeared down a corridor.
For a few bits, Caius stood, left alone to his own devices, if only because he'd begun to feel the heaviness of exhaustion creep under his skin. Fiddling with the buttons of his House violet brocade vest or fussing with his Ashcloak, the northern noble paced for a few bits longer until finally, squinting down the hall and curling permanently ink-stained fingers into his eloquently disheveled hair, he sat. And sat. Had he dozed a little, waiting? Yes. Did he startle himself, waking with a hiss or a sigh when out of the darkness of his resting mind crawled a shambling bear, rotten and disgusting, clawing for his chest? Or when from the stillness voices whispered far too close to his ear about what a monster he was, begging him sweetly to come back for more in almost the same breath? Yes. Yes to both.
It was with a far-too loud gasp that he sat up at the sound of footsteps in the corridor, startling awake after only a bit or two of sleeping, digging the heels of his palms into his eyes for a rub before he blinked at the young steward sent to fetch him. Standing without hesitation, he followed, smiling at the Eídisi woman who greeted him with few words. She was far younger than he expected, though he guessed by his previous experiences and friendships with Yvithia's blue-skinned people that she was still older than himself by at least a decade. He'd caught her name on the door on the way in, and while she made no effort to introduce herself to him, he couldn't help but smirk at her way of opening their meeting.
He was wary to sit again, but did so anyway, all but pouring his lanky, well-dressed self into the indicated chair like so much liquid etiquette. Her words made the Lord Arbiter's jaw clench for a moment, the charred cavity of his chest tightening around his lungs until he worried he couldn't take another breath, the molten lead in his veins suddenly feeling as though it would sear through his very flesh and consume him from the inside out,
"First of all, allow me to apologize, my Lady Fahe, but I'm no bounty hunter for the Order of the Mantis, nor does any of the organization operate as such. I'm neither here to hunt down refugees for coin, nor do I wish to, whether they are mages or not. As you can see from the letter there in the hand of the Lord Inquisitor and signed by his Majesty King Cassander himself, I am here in Viden after a stolen artifact of rarity and importance to our cause as well as here to hopefully bring the thief back to Rynmere for justice."
For a moment, Caius hesitated to say more, hesitated to wade into the discussion on the morality of the arcane that the young Delegate seemed eager to engage him in. He knew this conundrum well, for it haunted him both waking and sleeping. If the issue of the spark was an amoral one, if those who were executed for practicing magic were killed not because of how they chose to live their lives—good or bad for society at large—but because of how they chose to taint their very souls with one Spark or more. However, he understood the hint of discomfort in her words, the painful straining to understand, and so the young Gawyne seemed to relax in his seat, crossing one leg over his knee to rest his hands upon it,
"Second, it's not persecution. It's protection. It's a matter of national security and safety for all innocent, non-magical people. Before last arc, every practitioner of the arcane was still required to register their existence and carry a permit to practice their magical arts. While professors and educators were among the arcanists we theorize to be operating within Rynmere, most of them were registered as far as we knew. However, our King Cassander came to the opinion that it was not the magic user who was the issue but the spark itself, the thing that twists and taints the soul of those who choose to allow themselves to become its host and pretend to benefit from the magical abilities it grants the body it consumes ether through."
Always an academic, Caius carefully explained his judiciary justification, his well-studied opinion. But, honestly, mistakes and experiences were often the better teacher, and so he leaned forward in his seat and rest his bony elbows on his knees, folding his permanently ink-stained fingers together as his irises shifted from a pale, piercing blue to a darker almost stormy grey, "After the king's decree, when the public executions first began with a University professor by the name of Terrance Thomas, mages who called himself his allies showed their true faces in a massacre to rescue one of their own from the pyre. Over 54 innocent citizens and soldiers were slain by the mages—Seekers, mind you—and their own devices. Exploding wells and undead minions dumped into the crowd by a Rupturer. There was also a fire Defier and one of the mages who aided in the destruction was a Sessfiend."
The Lord Arbiter squirmed for a moment, a burning itch between his shoulder blades where Syroa's mark was etched into his skin had been since that last day of Vhalar, her burning ember gaze and the heated brush of her lips whispering through his memories for a trill. He’d been there in the courtyard and witnessed it all, unexpectedly complicit in Thomas’ execution but also almost mauled and killed by an undead bear that had been deposited into the square where bystanders and soldiers alike were wounded, bled and died. As if that hadn’t been enough, he cleaned the courtyard alongside servants of the crown. He still remembered their faces and names, and their bloodied corpses haunted his every moment asleep. Mercifully, the insomniac lord hardly slept. These memories dredged a hot horror from the ashen depths of his mind and yet he kept his sharp blue gaze on the face of the woman before him, voice wavering only for a trill or two with emotion,
Blinking, Caius sighed, "I'm not here to undermine authority in Yvithia's own domain. I'd rather operate under your laws while upholding my homeland's, and if there's someway to make those two things agreeable, then that's precisely the hope of my King. I'm here to capture a thief but also to study, if you'd be so kind as to allow me academic access while I'm here, that is. I do not believe, unlike many, that death is the only option for negating magic. I would like to research alternatives such as a non-divine way to remove a spark. Or other ensorcelled or alchemical means of subduing or severing a mortal's connection to its spark."
The young Gawyne thought it expedient to point out the differences between who he was and who it seemed that Lady Fahe was assuming himself to be. He was no ruthless murderer, desperate to find other ways of preserving life while severing the soul from contact with the disgusting spark, "Why now? Because their danger is not growing less, because the sharing of the spark is becoming more acceptable, because people are forgetting the dangers of magic, even here under the careful watch of your patroness Immortal."
He opened his hands, palms upwards, the printmaking ink that had almost permanently stained his fingers faded but not entirely hidden from view. Stifling a yawn as his body objected to him sitting for so long already, heavy and tired, sluggish, his head spinning though he hid it well, Caius added with a well-practiced and quiet deference of respect,
"I haven't been sent here to execute Rynmere mages in your icy streets, I assure you, but at the same time, if one proves themselves to be particularly troublesome, I would be more than willing to offer my assistance as Lord Arbiter for the Order of the Mantis in whatever capacity would make the Directorate comfortable. Please let me know your expectations for me while I'm here as a representative of both Rynmere's youthful Crown and the Order."