Ngalyod stared at the sea, perched atop the pier. I was really more like a window safeguard, as it didn't exent far into the inky black water. The Minotaur moved their hand upon the water, blue light revealing secrets a lesser mind would strain looking at.
Yes, all the other nations expanded, a free for all for the angels and their sycophants, for the remaining Sengir and her pets, for the isolated clans of the Koskun and even for the oh so wise fair folk and their court. The Floating Island remained where it was. Sure, it had sent spies to keep tabs on the news, and what news they were. But all came to the Academy from all over, hoping to learn and improve themselves.
No need to expand if you're a lighthouse, guiding so many to a higher education. And now that the need to ac s ambassadors was oh so mercifully taken by Autumn Willow herself, Ngalyod and the students could spend more time on perfecting themselves, and freely study anything to their hearts' content.
Especially dark magic.
"If the rumors are true, surely I must study this fleshcrafter."
Fleshless as a construct of blue light and mist, the last of the Labyrinth minotaurs focused their luminous eyes on the abyss. Horrors convulsed and bit each other, pulverising themselves into raw material for their tormentor's magnum opus.
Once the chum surfaced, Ngalyod suspended them by their blood and bile, and put them on several jars.
A paintbrush manifested as did a brush. With not a single thought, Ngalyod painted the grotesque scene they had witnessed, and it was a perfect replica of that moment in time.
Wildfire. Azoria. Equilor. To Laurelin, all of these were pushing the boundaries of how a plane should be, so she thought taking a break in Ulgrotha. She was not prepared for an aggressively militant inquisition and a werewolf causing chaos all around, so she enlisted herself in the Academy. There were lot of frankly invading questions like "what are you", "where are you from" and "can you even read". All dissipated with focus at hand.
She wasn't above them, but they were nothing, just void to be ignored.
Soon, she was enlisted for classes on aetherology. Here, the founder of the Academy, Feroz, long wanted to provide an alternative to creature summoning. Most breakthroughs happened elsewhere and well after he died, but now taking this class was a show of utmost respect for him and for the Academy as a whole. Not many enlisted, just two other people: a dwarf and what seemed to be an anthropomorphic manatee.
They didn't question her, and she didn' not question them.
"Ah, so our prodigal student comes to the mos humble of all classes" Ngalyod pranced into their entrance, lying on the table.
"Yes, sir" the manatee said timidly.
"There is no shame if you wish to skip. I hear classes on demonology are quite the rage, and they will lead to many more connections than this decrepit dream of a fallen failure."
Laurelin's fists tightened to drawing blood, but she remained composed.
"So why do you teach it?" she asked, "If you think we're wasting our time here?"
"Someone has to keep the traditions al-"
"No, your facility always does away with classes no longer deemed appropriate, like theurgy and healing. No, you must see the use of this subject."
Ngalyod craned their neck, more bird than minotaur.
"You always speak of pushing the boundaries" Laurelin continued, "So this class must truly embody that: to find a way where few others can."
"Perceptive indeed" Ngalyod clapped, their face as stoic as granite.
Ngalyod sat on the table and took a deep breath.
"You know the basics of mana and spellcasting, yes?"
All three students nodded.
"Well then, it is time you learn how to deal with the aether. Aether is an energy well outside the boundaries of our world, chaotic and unrefined. A being as powerful as an angel is torn to shreds where the aether lies. But aether is potentiality. Is, as Laurelin said, pushing the boundaries of what is possible. To do so involves a lot of concentration and meditation, but studying on water can speed up your progress."
Ngalyod pointed to the pier where they stood not even an hour ago. The painting was now drying, protected by wards to prevent seagulls from adding brushes of white to the black.
"Go fourth, and examine the sea."
Laurelin did as told. True to be told, she was already aware of the Blind Eternities and their aether, but she didn't connect the dots until she stared at the bleak waters. She occasionally stared at the morbid painting, and hoped to not spot any of those horrors of the depths.
She reached her mind to the black depths, and there was nothing.
Still water, snowfall. So orderly, so unlike the chaos of the realm between realms.
But then she noticed the currents.
Warm water ascended and cold water descended, revealing a tapestry of currents from all over. It was as if a spiderweb was trying to be a tornado. In the chaos, creatures emerged: plankton sucking the mineral nutrients, only to be consumed by a vast food chain. Gametes floating, leading to new larvae. She reached her hand, feeling the corners of life in the chaos.
As she did, the darkness and void ended, and she was touching the bleak eternities, blind and sonorous and chaotic.
When she pulled back, a copy of a seagull perched itself on her shoulder.
"Very well" Ngalyod clapped, though a hint of malice lurked beneath their smile, "You have mastered this tehnique not only fast but in an incredibly unique way."
"Thank you!" Laurelin smiled, unaware of her teacher's envy.
"A few more exercises for you two" Ngalyod told the others, who sighed, "Dear, would you like to help me with something... important? If you do, yu may yet graduate."
Every instinct in Laurelin's body screamed, but the curiosity was too overwhelming. Besides, listening to one's guts leads to no progress.