ULTIVERSE EXPANDED UNIVERSE: RISE OF THE ARCHMAGES October 5th, 2016 The Ivory Tower London, England The ancient stones of the Ivory Tower had stood for over a thousand years, the castle-like structure having been expanded upon and modernized over the generations, but the central fortress itself was virtually unchanged from its battlements, to its walls, to its keep. A testimony to the birth and growth of magical research, the Tower was a vestige of times long past and a haven for those who would continue to plume the secrets of the ancients. In the highest tower of the castle was the office of the Archmage, the appointed leader of the Ivory Tower and the highest-ranked officer and teacher of the institution. For decades, this particular Archmage had mentored apprentices, delved into the mysteries of magic, and led the secret community of mages scattered across the modern world. He was a tall and strapping man despite being in his sixties, with broad shoulders, a proud bearing, and a neatly trimmed white beard to complement a crown of equally white hair around his temples. A bald pate and the wrinkles around his eyes were proof of his age, but his hard visage - all stony planes and angles - were also silent proof to the fearsome will that many students had come to both fear and respect. He was dressed in customary black. From turtleneck, to trousers, to shoes, he matched the chill fall night of London, though unlike the sky, his black was not interrupted by flecks of starlight. He swiveled out of his cushioned chair and stood by the window looking over the city of London with his hands clasped behind his back. Behind him, one of his older and more gifted apprentices stood by his desk with a report in hand in a manila folder. "Master," the apprentice said stiffly, "what shall we do about the Elmore girl?" That had been the bulk of the report. Natalia Elmore. A teenager, a prodigy. Little was known about her, distressingly little. Even the finest spies and familiars under the Tower's command found little to go on other than that she had been interred in a mental institution for a number of years and rapidly grew in magical prowess at an unprecedented rate. The Archmage had his suspicions, but kept them to himself; he was a man with enough age, experience, and hard-won wisdom to hold his own counsel and all of the Tower knew it. Even as powerful as she was, the Elmore girl was a quantity that the Archmage could plan around. It was her companions that complicated matters. That had been the other component of the report - the activities of a known mercenary, one feared by every mage in the community, a man of secrets long thought to be myth and legend until the Battle of Boston had verified his existence. The Skullman. Before Boston, only a few in the Tower knew that Sam Ebayan was real. Those few were in positions of power and authority as well as wealth and influence - all components required to hire the finest assassin and deadliest killer in the world. The Archmage had met the man years ago in order to assassinate a particularly dangerous renegade whose research threatened the Tower's cloud of secrecy. Later, the Archmage had to feel the sting of the Skullman when a rival mage had hired him to kill a Tower colleague. The Archmage's feelings on the man did not show on his face, but within, the older mage held the Skullman in equal parts respect and trepidation. Sam Ebayan represented everything that magic was not and he had the ability to fling that truth in their faces. He was a powerful tool, but could potentially be a powerful problem. The fact that Elmore had been reported in the Skullman's company was the one reason that the Archmage had not yet sent his hounds after the girl. The Archmage pondered the situation carefully before speaking. --- October 6th, 2016 Paris, France Living in a flat right outside downtown Paris was an expensive affair, but being at the center of the hustle and bustle and the culture and excitement made it a worthwhile endeavor in the minds of a few. Sam Ebayan was not one of those. His girlfriends, however, were. While there were many - primarily physical - benefits to living and loving two beautiful women, there were downsides as well. A lack of hot water in the shower, having to constantly leave the toilet seat down, a fairly regular loss of button-down shirts that end up being repurposed as female sleepwear, and a marked propensity for using up funds for a choice number of luxury items. Two of which were living in a downtown flat and accompanying said lovers on a shopping trip. He adjusted the various shopping bags in his hands with a sigh and a slight wince. The items were hardly heavy, but his left hand and right shoulder were not fully loose yet since it was still before noon. He had noticed his joints felt a little better after about two in the afternoon and he suspected hefting around shopping bags and other accoutrements would counteract any relief he might get from the tincture of time. The arthrtitis was getting worse, it seemed, and on any given morning he was stoically ignoring four or five different aches when he got out of bed. He was certain that Raven and Jeanne had noticed - it was hard not to when they shared the same bed - but they had not inquired; they knew how stubborn and taciturn he could be on certain things. Complaining about war injuries was one of them. The two women had gone into a high-end lingerie store and he obediently followed. When they had been younger, going to such a place made him uncomfortable. After years of being together, Sam had turned into pretty much every other adult male in the store - simply following around until the shopping was done. He did not expect their foray to take very long, as it was nearing lunch and they had reservations at a favorite cafe of theirs to meet with with Natalia and Cherie. It had been a while since all of them had gotten together, especially after Sam, Raven, and Jeanne had moved back to Paris some months ago. Natalia and Cherie were presently sightseeing, wanting to soak up a little culture on their European getaway. Sam was amused by the situation, really. For the last few weeks, absolutely nothing was happening in the world, or so it seemed. No world-level threat, no rampaging extranormals, not even so much as a goblin skulking about in the shadows. He had not even gotten a request for a hunt in three weeks. A part of him itched to get back in the field, but a surprisingly larger part of him enjoyed the time off, as boring as it was. His joints certainly appreciated the impromptu vacation. "You think Natalia would like this?" Raven was conspiring with Jeanne, showcasing a tasteful set of lingerie. The blonde swordswoman fingered her chin thoughtfully before providing her own commentary quietly, but from what Sam could observe, he predicted that Natalia would be receiving a gift that Cherie may not entirely approve of. Over the years, Natalia Elmore had become something of a surrogate little sister to the two women, especially after her mental state had stabilized considerably. Raven and Jeanne had doted on the girl - young woman, now - and continued to treat her favorably. This would not be the first gift they had gotten her, or the first time the two women had bought gifts so they could turn Natalia into a dress-up doll. Though this was the first time that Sam was aware of that the article of clothing in particular would have been more appropriate on a sex doll rather than a dress-up doll. He shook his head in quiet amusement, anticipating a small shock to Cherie's system. "All right, you two," Sam called out. "We're going to be late for lunch." With that, purchases were made and the trio headed down the street to meet with old friends. They were not aware that others watched them from the shadows.