1 September 5192 (Earth Standard Date)
The University of Magic – or more colloquially called the Magic School – occupied nearly ten square miles of property outside the city of Camelot. It had started off small, but as more and more magic users became known, it had grown to its current size, and was one of the five main schools for magical learning in the Human Empire.
All of them were ostensibly run by Merlin Williams-Song, but even someone as duty-oriented as Jack’s grandson-by-mating couldn’t do it all; and in the early days, the wizard had also been Second-in-Command of Torchwood as well.
Merlin had done the only thing he could: he created a Board of Educators, to run the University Network and to make certain things were under control. Merlin really only had nominal control over anything, which was really the way he liked it.
He did teach several courses a term, mostly the beginner’s classes, although he did have a couple of advanced courses for those students who had moved beyond what could be taught by the regular professors. He usually had about half a dozen students at a time in his advanced course, which was perfect for the wizard, since anything larger than that and Merlin would have been tearing his hair out.
He'd once tried to talk Phillip into teaching a course on ice magicks, but Phillip had declined, saying that he had enough trouble controlling his powers as it was. It had also meant he’d have to divide his time between Torchwood and the school, and being the Director was a bit different from taking on the Second-in-Command duties. He simply hadn’t been able to devote the time.
The campus was beautiful in what passed for summer on New Avalon. The trees were brilliant green, and the smell of newly-mowed grass tickled Jack’s nose as he and Arthur went to their meeting with one of Jack’s daughters, Sabrina Jones-Swann, one of the top undercover operatives for the Torchwood Institute. She was one of his and Ianto’s younger daughters, at a fairly respectable seven hundred and seventy-seven years of age. Still young for a dragon, but she was the best at ferreting out information when it was needed. Phillip had chosen well when he’d asked her to come to New Avalon to snoop around.
Ironically, they were to meet at the campus tea shop. It was a branch of Star Teas, the conglomerate started by one of Jack and Ianto’s younger daughters, Pryce. Jack had had to laugh when Ianto had discovered that StarTeas Group had been owned by their own child, and didn’t serve coffee. Their dragon patriarch had been scandalised that one of his own children didn’t like coffee at all, and had opened up tea shops, of all things.
But it wasn’t just tea shops. There were plantations on several worlds. Pryce had built up a galactic business from that first tea shop, and it now had shops on most Imperial worlds.
For a dragon only five hundred eighty-one years old, it was very impressive. Jack was quite proud of her.
Pryce, though, had been born with her Tad’s common and business sense. If Jack had to point to any of their brood as being the savviest, he would have automatically said it was Pryce. The whole lot of their children were intelligent – well, Cadi might be the exception because, while she was smart, she flatly refused to give up her criminal ways – but Pryce was another level of brilliant entirely.
Star Teas was on the University’s main quad, in the area where most of the shops that serviced the school were located. The quad was almost at the exact centre of the campus; there were five different walkways that opened up onto it, students bustling through on their way to various classes at that time of the day.
Jack and Arthur received looks from the youngsters as they cut through the quad; most of them had to at least recognise Excalibur, from where it hung from Arthur’s belt. Everyone knew that Merlin, the son of the last Time Lord and greatest wizard in the universe, had founded the University, and that his mate was the Once and Future King of Earth legend, so the man wearing the ancient sword would have been instantly identifiable.
Jack, not so much, but then he was well aware of the effect of the greatcoat.
He held the door of the shop open for Arthur, then followed him inside. Star Teas was a one-storey building, part tea shop and part bakery, and the smells of freshly baked pastries had Jack’s mouth-watering despite the stress he was under.
The place was open and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows that let in the brilliant light of the planet’s sun, streaming over well-worn sofas and chairs, light-coloured laminate tables scattered across the dining area. A long counter blocked off the far end of the room, where there was one line waiting to order, and a second to be served. The majority of the people there were obviously students, although Jack thought several of the more conservatively dressed patrons most likely were instructors. It had been over twelve hundred years since magic had come back into the universe, and these teachers would have been the descendants of Merlin’s original students.
Jack was always amazed by what his grandson-by-mating had accomplished. In many ways, it was so much more than what he and Ianto had done with Torchwood. It was humbling. It made him so very proud.
Sabrina was seated at a table near the back of the shop. She resembled nothing more than yet one more student, with brightly coloured blouse and full skirt that, from her seated position, just swept the floor tiles, the toes of well-worn shoes peeking out from under the royal blue folds. There was a rucksack leaning against her leg, with bright badges flashing in the sunlight that penetrated even as far back as she was sitting.
A rather large mug of tea was on the table in front of her, along with a plate holding a half-eaten piece of cake. Jack knew his daughter enough to be positive that it was a local variant of Earth carrot cake, her favourite. She had a notebook out and looked as if she was sketching in it, and it was set down as soon as she noticed Jack and Arthur enter. She frowned slightly, but stood and welcomed them both with a hug. “You both could have been a little bit less conspicuous.”
Jack automatically tucked a lock of her short dark hair behind her ear, as he’d done ever since she’d been a child. Her blue eyes sparkled as his hand lightly caressed her cheek as he moved back. “How’s my girl?” he asked, not even bothering to respond to her commentary on his and Arthur’s appearances. He took one of the chairs that had been pulled up to the small table, slouching into the cloth-covered cushion of the seat.
She smiled. “Fine, Dad.” She sat back down, as Arthur got the last seat. Then her expression turned back into a frown. “I just wish we were seeing each other again under different circumstances.”
Being one of the best covert operatives that Torchwood had kept Sabrina very busy. Jack would not have hesitated to say that she was Phillip’s eyes in the field, and his son-by-mating usually gave her the more important missions. Jack had to wonder what he’d pulled her out of to get her there to New Avalon, but he knew Phillip would have always put his family first before Torchwood business.
He and Ianto had once been the opposite, back when it had been the two of them and after Anwyn had been born. There were times when Jack wished he could go back and change things, but they’d done the best they could, and they’d learned to do things differently using that experience as a template. Anwyn had once told them that she wouldn’t have changed anything growing up, and a part of Jack really wanted to believe that.
“Have you learned anything, Aunt Sabrina?” Arthur asked. To anyone else he would have seemed calm, but Jack could hear the faint thread of desperation in his words.
Sabrina sighed. “I…I’m not sure.”
“Just tell us what you know,” Jack urged her gently. Anything she’d discovered would have been new information, especially since it would have come after Phillip had vanished and hadn’t been in the files Jack had seen. He’d only had time to send her on to New Avalon before leaving.
“It’s all rumour and hearsay,” she began. “And I’ve discovered that students of any age are inveterate gossips, but this is what I’ve got so far: two standard weeks ago, Merlin apparently had a rather loud argument with one of his upper level students, an Earther named Lucy Cole, after which he began expulsion proceedings. However, before he could complete the paperwork, she apologised and from what I’ve been able to gather from a glimpse into the school files, he withdrew the complaint.”
“What was the complaint about?” Jack wanted to know. There was something very vaguely familiar with the name, ‘Lucy Cole’, but he couldn’t pinpoint where he’d heard it before. Maybe Merlin had mentioned her, if she was one of his more powerful students.
“Apparently, Merlin believed she might have been involved with dark magic.”
That made sense. Merlin’s first life had been a time when dark magic has run a bit rampant, even to the point of convincing Uther Pendragon that all magic was inherently bad. He glanced at Arthur, and he could read his conclusions in his grandson’s face. Arthur would be remembering those times; that life was the only one he’d lived, before this one, and it would have been fresh…or as fresh as they could be in a dragon that was about two thousand years old, and a reincarnated soul to boot. When Arthur had become King, he’d done his best to negate that bad reputation, and for the most part had succeeded, until certain religions had gotten it into their collective heads that magic was a creation of some sort of devil.
That thought process had led to all but one of the dragons being destroyed. Jack was so very grateful that they now lived in a time when that was all but forgotten, except in history books.
Now, everyone knew there was bad and good in everything, including magic. Jack did like to think they were all far more enlightened; that the human race had finally grown up.
“What happened to her?” Arthur asked, not needing to say who ‘her’ was.
“From what I got from her roommate, Lucy left the school about a week ago, after she’d gotten taken out of a lecture by Merlin himself,” she answered, sounding grave, “about the same time Merlin seems to have vanished. Now, I don’t have any proof, of course…”
“But that’s a hell of a coincidence,” Jack finished.
“And I know how you feel about coincidences, Grandfather,” Arthur commented.
Jack had long ago thought there was no such thing, and he’d confided that belief into every single member of his family.
Jack let what Sabrina had reported settle into his brain. If what he was thinking was true, then this Lucy person had had something to do with Merlin’s disappearance. Why, he didn’t know; he was missing that vital piece of information. “Can you get into Lucy Cole’s student records?” he asked.
“I already did,” she answered, looking just this side of smug.
Arthur rolled his eyes. “Of course you did, Aunt Sabrina.”
She took a bite of her cake, savouring it, and Jack shook his head. She certainly had his dramatic flair…when she wanted to. It wasn’t a good thing to have too much of in a full-time covert agent. “Lucy Cole,” she began, sounding vaguely like her older sister, Rowena, in lecture mode, “born on London Island, Earth. Her mother was actually with Torchwood Central there, and her father is Councillor Benjamin Cole, a member of the Imperial Council.”
Jack whistled. Maybe that was where he’d heard of her; while he wasn’t as much into the political game as he used to be, he knew that Ianto did follow such things, and Jack had heard enough about the man to have gained a thorough dislike of him. Councillor Cole had been behind several referenda that had proved to be problematic, and at least Her Imperial Majesty had gotten them struck down before they could be passed into law. Jack had been personally offended by the one that called for the withdrawal of security forces from the frontier, where they were needed to protect innocent colonies on the fringes that might have otherwise been targeted by raiders. While it had been a long time for him, the immortal was still very much aware that it had been lax security that had led to some of the worst of the privations on his own colony world.
He'd been so proud of Arthur when he’d arranged to have more patrols out that far. Maker’s World might not have been the defenceless world that it had once been, but there were still so many others out there that might have been destroyed without that help.
“There were a few rumours going around that claimed that Lucy was here because of her father,” Sabrina went on.
“Merlin would never allow that sort of thing,” Arthur denied.
He was right. Merlin didn’t give a damn about political power; it was all about the magic. If a person didn’t have the magic, then they wouldn’t have been accepted into the school. Merlin cared about the students, and not a one of them would leave this place without learning at least how to control their power, and not to be a danger to themselves or to others. He took that responsibility very seriously, so he wasn’t one to curry favour of the elite just because they wanted their spawn to learn magic.
No one learned magic; it was a gift. Not a lot of people understood that, until they met Merlin – or one of his trusted instructors – and had it explained to them.
“True,” Sabrina said, “and judging from her records Lucy is very gifted. She very quickly moved up in her classes, until she became one of Merlin’s prized pupils. Apparently, she was set to begin studying with him and a small group of others that had shown they were extremely powerful, and needed that fine control that only Merlin could teach.”
That made sense. Merlin was the most powerful wizard in the universe; added with his sensitivity to Time that he’d gained from his father, the Doctor, it put him on a level above a great many people. To be taught by him, practically one-on-one, would have meant that this Lucy Cole would have been strong in magic and needed that little bit of extra help.
“Lucy’s been in the top or near top of every class she’s taken,” Sabrina continued. “Even from the physical records – and discounting the gossip – Merlin had been more than a little disappointed that one of his prized pupils was talking about using dark magic.”
“I can understand that,” Arthur said. “But I don’t know if he would have just cast her out like that. Someone that powerful, wanting to use dark magic…he would have wanted to keep a close eye on her.”
“There’s nothing in the official records to show if he planned anything,” Sabrina admitted. “But I’d have thought he’d keep that sort of information in his office…and that’s so heavily warded there’s no way I’d be able to get in.”
“You’re right,” Arthur admitted. “Merlin wouldn’t keep anything like that out for anyone to read. It would be where no one could get to it.”
“Then we have to get into his office,” Jack declared. He turned to his grandson. “Arthur, Merlin might have wanted to keep prying eyes out, but he would never have blocked your access to anything. Think…what would he have done to make certain you could get in, where no one else could?”
Arthur considered. Jack could practically see the gears turning as his grandson thought of anything that Merlin might have done to let him get into a magically warded office, and yet no one else would be able to use it.
Jack knew the moment that Arthur realised just what that might be. He stood, determination writ all over his face. “You’d best get the rest of your cake and tea to go, Aunt Sabrina. We have a bit of breaking and entering to do.”