The Wizard-King straightened, glanced at him, and then turned his attention back to what looked like a map on the table in front of him.
"You'd best get down to the library," said Ravaj. "No doubt Amedin has been laying out suggestions for your next initiation. Come back here when you're done -- if we're not still here, I'll leave a wisp to guide you."
Pallian nodded to him, bowed to their father, and then departed. The library was easy to find once he reached the central hall; a quick glance to ascertain which end held the great double-doors, and he was off.
Amedin was indeed waiting, but unlike the Wizard-King the half-dead never seemed to grow impatient. He looked Pallian over, then said: "Prompt. Very proper of you."
Pallian offered a respectful bow that he didn't feel at all, then crossed to where the ancient priest stood. The table beside him held books, several of them open, but many more piled upon each other, particular pages marked with strips of cloth. "Ravaj said you would have suggestions."
"Indeed yes," said Amedin. "Let us see what we can make of you." He gestured to the open books. "These are the ones I felt most fitting."
Pallian glanced over them. "Tell me."
"This first one," said Amedin, "would render sections of your skin tough as armor. That will be little use in your role as Black Knight, I admit, but here in the palace it might turn an assassin's blade or help you survive a duel. The effect is not visible, but you would lose some sensitivity and some flexibility; anyone pushing against your skin would be able feel it."
It might also be a real help if I have to face something like the Spear of the First again, thought Pallian, but for the moment he just nodded.
Amedin tilted his head. "This one would allow you to summon steel wings, though you would be marked with twin lines of steel down your back. It would allow you to fly, and could still be summoned within the armor -- though I doubt they could lift so much as that. Still, the wings themselves can serve as shields or blades."
That was interesting, but Pallian again nodded for Amedin to continue.
"Here is one that would allow you to assume the form of a beast-man or even a beast. It would not protect you as well as the armor, but it would give you added strength and improved senses... and, of course, claws. It would be a powerful addition to the strength and endurance I have given you already."
Pallian kept his face still, and nodded.
The half-dead gestured towards another open book. "This is a very different sort of option. It would enable you to feel your surroundings, all of them, for about five paces in any direction. You could not be approached unseen; you could make your way in darkness; and unlike some of the others, it would work from within the armor perfectly well. It is said to be disorienting in the beginning, though, and the wizard who first devised it eventually carved out a bedroom in the rock deep below his house so that his sleep would be uninterrupted."
Pallian raised his eyebrows, but nodded again.
"The blackened hand," said Amedin, gesturing to the last of the open books. "You would need to wear gloves to hide its mark, but your chosen hand would be sheathed in flames at your command, and those flames could be shaped in various ways. Consider, perhaps, a lance of fire as an off-hand weapon... and you yourself could no longer be harmed by flames."
Not bad, but... Nothing in that list particularly inspired him, either. Initiations tended to strengthen over time, which was probably why Amedin hadn't offered anything to help Pallian heal faster or be more resistant to damage: those initiations were already in place, they simply weren't developed enough to act as quickly or as well as Pallian might hope. And truly, he needed something...
"Do you have one that would allow me to transport myself, as my father's scroll did in bringing me here?"
Amedin considered. "There is such a thing," he said after a moment, "but it would not work here in the Citadel, nor would it carry the armor with it."
...Which means that were I to choose it, it would be completely obvious that I intended to use it to avoid being trapped in the Tomb of the Living. And it might not even work there; the tomb is protected as well. He sighed. With the bracers on his forearms, he was not very interested in turning his skin into armor -- especially with the physical changes that would bring. The bestial form... he took the book and skimmed through the notes in the margins. They hadn't changed, and he set it back down. The wings were tempting, though he disliked the idea of anything that might be identified just by someone looking at him -- and the hand carried the same problem. Full awareness of his surroundings could be useful, but this was no time to be disoriented. He made a note of which tome contained it, however.
"I would like something that leaves no mark -- or a mark subtle enough not to seem unnatural. Is there something that would allow me to move quickly across short distances? The armor protects with its strength, but without that it seems that it might be advantageous to be able to move elsewhere, quickly. In or out. The effect would need to carry clothing and weapons with it, of course."
Amedin studied him for a moment, the expression on that withered face unreadable. Then he tapped his chin twice and said, "You were trained in Tan-Si, as I recall. Yes?"
Pallian nodded. "Durlek Anh for the armor, and Tan-Si without it." Tan-Si was a courtly style, intended more for dueling and personal defense than for the battlefield. It taught sword and dagger, individually and together; it was what he was dressed for now. Durlek Anh was a style intended for heavy armor and shield, and taught the use of sword, spear, and lance. Where Tan-Si was light and mobile, focused on positioning body and blade for advantage, Durlek Anh oriented the body to let armor and shield offer their best protection.
The half-dead fell silent -- it wasn't quite a pause when Amedin went statue-still like this -- and then sprang to life again, sorting through books and setting some aside, adding others to a new pile.
"Mobility," the half-dead intoned at last. "Very well. This first one leaves no visible mark, and would work with everything you carry already. It would allow you to scramble up walls or ceilings as if they were floors. With time to season, you could walk on any surface as if it were the natural ground."
Pallian raised his eyebrows and nodded. That sounded promising, though it wasn't quite what he was looking for.
"This next one might make your eyes a little more silver, and prone to glowing when there is lightning nearby. It offers an affinity for storms. In its early stages, you could do little more than stir the winds and perhaps listen through them, but there are later additions that would allow you to call storms and target lightnings. I do not know how your father would take to you becoming a storm mage -- especially with your sister dead -- but there are later initiations for riding the winds and moving as a lighting bolt yourself."
Darkest gods... That sounded appealing, but it also sounded like a long-term investment, and Pallian wasn't sure what his long-term prospects would look like if he wasn't able to survive now. On the other hand, listening through the winds sounded like a good way to spy, and there might be advantages to be found there. He tucked that one away.
"This one..." Amedin frowned. "Smoke is not as strong as storms, but there is an initiation that would let you race from one place to another as a cloud of smoke, and it would carry your clothing and equipment with you. The armor, I suspect, would be too much for it... but in the armor, you wouldn't need it. You couldn't pass through solid walls, but a portcullis or grating would be no obstacle. Its range would be limited, particularly at first, but it should serve."
"How limited?" asked Pallian.
Amedin turned and consulted one of the books. "Four strides, the notes suggest. Later, with the initiation more developed and your control improved, you could travel longer distances -- and apparently at least one initiate was eventually able to prowl the halls of his manor as a cloud of smoke, drifting slowly, with this initiation alone."
If my choices weren't limited... But of course they were; his father would have it no other way. "And undertaking smoke won't weaken my physical abilities or anything like that."
Amedin shook his head, looking vaguely irritated. "None of these will. There is nothing in the records to indicate such a danger. And smoke is as subtle as you could wish: your eyes might turn a darker gray, but who would notice?"
Pallian considered for a moment longer. Storm? Or Smoke? But in truth, only one of them met his immediate needs. "Smoke," he said. Each warrior trains to win the last battle he fought, he remembered. A line of caution from Valorian Chour's Book of Strategy, and it was certainly true here. Still, Smoke seemed versatile enough to have applications beyond his immediate needs.
"It will be done," said Amedin. He consulted the text, paused, and then appeared to re-read it. "Meet me in the small retiring hall at the northwest corner of the second floor, just after dark tonight. I will have everything needed."
Pallian nodded. "Should I speak to my father of my choice?"
"Permit me to address him first, Prince." Amedin's tone turned more formal, more respectful. "The House of Edrias arrives soon, and he will have other things on his mind. You should return to him now."