There is magic in the world. The Szalenien College of the Magi was built upon the Isla Collegiao, a slab of rock seven hundred yards long and two hundred wide which sat at the mouth of the Rouao opposite the capital city of Ninuez. The lighthouse at the seaward point marked the end of the river and the beginning of the ocean. It had been there since its foundation three hundred years ago, shortly after Szaleni became an independent kingdom. This made it, if not exactly new, somewhat modern by Collegium standards- there were far, far older such establishments in the Javorian and Tresantine empires, as well as amongst the dukedoms of Elviri.
The place stank of bird shit and rotting fish. Before the college had been built, before Ninuez even began to expand into a city, it had been a place visited by locals to gather seabirds, their eggs and guano. The birds still remained, carpeting the rooftops in white dung, despite the efforts of Superintendents to eliminate them. One such attempt had led to the introduction not only of rats but of a pernicious lizard from the Southern Continent which now numbered in their thousands and declined to feed upon bird eggs.
Ectao Janues kicked one of these green lizards aside as it crossed his path on the paved track up from the docks and the staff cottages to the College buildings. It was midsummer, and the sun beat merciless upon the shit and rock of the Isle, making the odour twice as pungent. Janues had grown used to it. Behind him he dragged a crate of books new off the printing presses of the capital, on one of the sleds staff used for the purpose.
Sweating through his uniform, as they all did, he reached the college gates. The Day Warden recognised him and waved him through with a nod of the head and a smile. Janues knew the man wanted to talk about what was in the crate, but was forbidden to speak except in challenge or warning when on duty. He dragged the sled into the Library Courtyard through the New Passage, and was about to knock on the door to be admitted when a woman called his name behind him.
"Circuleiro Janues! Ectao!"
Branza da Reideira, young nurse, hurried up the New Passage towards him. "Ectao!" she said, glasses nearly falling from her nose in haste. "You're needed in the savant quarters."
She explained what she knew as they walked together up various staircases. "He started fitting an hour ago. The nurse called me up- I was doing my rounds- and I got the Warden Medicinal. She's calmed him down but she wanted to speak to you."
"I see." Janues' young brow furrowed in concern. "How bad is it?"
"One of the seaward walls melted for a moment, but it restored. Other than a few flames there was nothing else."
Da Reideira knocked softly on the door of Savant Eza Four's quarters. The Warden Medicinal opened it herself. "Ah, thank goodness you're here" she said, brushing her long grey hair aside.
Janues entered the room. Eza Four was strapped into his wheelchair, head lolling to one side, pasty slick of brown hair over his white forehead.