Author's note: Hello all, my apologies for the length of time between updates. Right after I posted my prologue, my mother ended up going into hospice care and it has been quite the emotional roller coaster since then. Rest assured that I do span style="text-decoration: underline;"not/span intend to abandon this story. I would also like to let people know that there are possible triggers in this chapter relating to stillborn children. There are also vague indications of an abusive childhood. As for the story, the usual disclaimers apply (ie, I don't own Vincent Van Ghoul or any of the characters/situations from that universe).

The headmaster of The Institute was quite satisfied with life in general. Considered young for a warlock (only 145 years old), he had already managed to establish the world's most prestigious institute of magic. Though unimpressive in form (for he had a short stature and a weak chin, which he contrived to hide with a goatee), Frotriem had been gifted with with more than his fair share of magic At the institute, no one could challenge Frotriem's power, and that was just how he liked it.

At times, the life of a headmaster could prove boring and so, Frotriem amused himself with grandiose displays of power. He congratulated himself on the latest effort with the translation amulets. As far as he was concerned, he deserved bonus points for pulling this off in front of Artimeus. He was the only magister who was not impressed with Frotriem; however, (and here, Frotriem smirked) even Artimeus knew he could not challenge him directly. So, being the jealous sort, Artimeus satisfied himself with trying to get Frotriem to reign in his little displays of power.

Frotriem scowled blackly to himself and considered for a moment. Perhaps he would use his magic to speak through one of the children in Artimeus' class. This would serve two purposes: it would annoy that old bat and it would also serve to make the children respect his own power that much more. Yes, perhaps...

Abruptly, the very foundations of the school trembled and a shock of powerful magic, tinted emerald green, crackled through the air, raising the hairs on the back of his neck, and generating an almost instinctual fear in Frotriem. The magic was not that of any of the magisters in the school. None possessed that particular shade of magic - an almost fabled color that denoted the very highest rank of power.

Dimly, he registered Artimeus' magical signature erecting a magical shield of impressive power. The wave of magic continued, impossibly, to build, making Frotriem's hands tingle and itch. Then, an explosion rattled the windows in his office and a book fell off the edge of his desk. Outside, he could hear the almost musical plink of stones striking off the castle walls. What was this? A meteor shower?

An especially large stone shattered the expensive stained glass bordering his window and Frotriem was unable to contain the rather undignified screech that passed his lips. He ducked behind his chair, only then recalling that he had magic of his own. Belatedly, he raised his hands to protect himself, but the noises outside had stopped and, in the distance, Artimeus' shield flickered slightly and dropped.

Frotriem stood silently for a moment, stunned. Then, he sent his consciousness outward and reached for Artimeus' mind. He registered his magister's shocked disbelief, worry, and then a brief flicker of irritation before he was summarily brushed aside. Frotriem huffed in indignation and tried again, but this time, found he could not even approach the other man's mind. Evidently, Artimeus was more skilled in mind magics than he had let on.

Frotriem ran his hands through his dark hair in irritation and sank to the edge of his desk, feeling unsettled and out of control - this would not do at all, he fretted. A perfunctory knock at the door was all the warning he received before Artimeus swept in, a small, dark-haired child by his side.

Artimeus barely restrained a smirk, but permitted himself to raise a sardonic eyebrow as he registered Frotriem's appearance. The exceedingly image-conscious headmaster was completely disheveled, his normally pressed robes were rumpled and hanging askew, and his usually immaculate hair stuck out in each direction like porcupine quills. The headmaster had never looked less impressive. The magister glanced at the boy by his side and was pleased to see that the boy's face was unreadable, though a sparkle of humor in his blue eyes gave him away. He nodded in approval and pretended not to notice as the vain headmaster hurriedly smoothed his flyaway hair and tugged his robes straight.

Frotriem eyed Vincent and, deeming him to be unimportant, ignored him completely. Aggressively, he stalked up to Artimeus and into the other man's space, "Show me what happened," he demanded. Artimeus merely raised his right hand and pressed his index finger to the headmaster's forehead. Though it was possible to communicate mind to mind at a distance, direct contact made it much easier to convey images.

Both men's eyes closed, and neither stirred when someone knocked softly at the door. After a moment, Katia soundlessly entered the room. She realized with a glance what was going on and clasped her hands in front of her - an ingrained habit to stop herself from fidgeting. She was still quite tired, but her golden hair was immaculate once again and her eyes were alert. Her gaze turned to Vincent and she eyed him with frank wonder. Uncomfortable with her attention, Vincent fought to maintain his confident stance and compromised by raising one eyebrow in her direction. However, the attention of both apprentices was quickly redirected as the magister's hand dropped and both mages began to stir.

Frotriem looked at Artimeus in total scorn, "You must be mistaken," he insisted. "No mere child could ever be that powerful." For the first time, Artimeus allowed his irritation with the headmaster to show on his face, "I know what I saw, headmaster, and there is no other possible explanation." The headmaster made a moue of distaste and opened his mouth as if to finish an argument; however, Artimeus was already turning to Katia. He smiled slightly at her, his eyes kind. "Katia, do you suppose that you could show what you saw to the headmaster and to me?" Katia nodded and stepped forward, unclasping her hands to carefully reach for Artimeus. She hesitated slightly with the headmaster until he sighed and nodded his assent.

Before closing his eyes, Artimeus shot a sympathetic look at Vincent and the boy felt his mind gently brush his. No words were conveyed, only a brief sense of calm reassurance, understanding, and something that felt like...respect. Vincent blinked, slightly startled, but the contact had gone and he was left to watch as all three shared Katia's memory of the disastrous demonstration.

Finally, it was over. Katia once again turned her slightly awed gaze back to him, Artimeus met his gaze squarely (again with that odd undertone of respect), and Frotriem...Frotriem looked at him with horrified disgust so strong that the headmaster actually took a physical step backwards. "I...I will not..." the headmaster spluttered, "will not have this, this THING in my school."

For once, Artimeus' face betrayed him and his jaw dropped slightly in shock at the rapidly purpling headmaster. The magister quickly schooled his expression and took a deliberate step forward, "Headmaster," he urged, "perhaps we have a few things we should discuss in private." Frotriem, however, was having none of it.

He stabbed a finger at the silent Vincent, "Your parents warned me about you, you know. Oh yes!" The headmaster's lip curled in disgust, "The first mage child to be born into your cursed line since Asmodeus." There was a slight gasp from one side and Artimeus' sharp eyes caught Katia's instinctive warding gesture. He eyed the mage child curiously, and found that Vincent's face was carefully blank; however, even in the dim light, he registered the slight paling of the child's skin.

Unfortunately, Frotriem noticed as well. He sneered in triumph, "Your father told me about how you refused to use your powers to save your baby sister." Vincent remained silent, but his hands balled into fists at his sides. Sensing weakness, the headmaster pressed his point. "He told me that it was your fault she was sick in the first place," here, his tone became mockingly sad, "but you still wouldn't be bothered to help her."

By this point, Vincent was fairly trembling with suppressed ire and a few emerald green sparks danced at his fingertips. Artimeus watched in interest as the child registered the sparking of his magic, closed his eyes, and, with a calming breath, brought his magic back under control.

Vincent's eyes snapped open and, when he spoke, his tone was urbane and deceptively pleasant, "Did father also tell you that Akira," he carefully emphasized her name, "never drew breath? That she was born still?"

He allowed himself a bitter laugh and continued, "Yes, headmaster," he said in his carefully pleasant tone, "my parents blamed me for Akira's still birth. They tried to force me to bring her back." This time, it was Artimeus who made the warding gesture and, quickly catching himself, he dropped his hand. Vincent eyed him sideways, a haunted look in his eyes. He nodded in understanding, "Yes, my magic recognized that what they asked was wrong. It felt...dark and cold...and just..." he struggled for a moment to find the words, "...WRONG. I felt it here." He tapped his chest emphatically.

Artimeus felt a thrill of atavistic horror. What the child had described was an aborted dark summoning. No mage had the power over life and death. While the dead could be reanimated, they were twisted facsimiles only - demons summoned and given human flesh. For the soul could not be recalled from death. To reanimate the dead was of the darkest magic. Unconsciously, Artimeus once again made a warding gesture and, upon noticing it, Artimeus glared at the offending hand and tucked it firmly behind his back.

He considered briefly, for Vincent to have recognized the dark summoning at such a young age...and he wondered just how young he HAD been...his soul and magic must have been fundamentally aligned with the light. He shook his head slightly in wonderment and, raising his eyes, he nodded at Vincent in deliberate respect. The child blinked slightly in surprise and his gaze softened slightly in thanks and in relief that someone understood. In the background, Katia was also shaking her head in wondering appreciation. She too grasped the ramifications.

Their moment was rudely interrupted, however, by the headmaster. Frotriem shook his head negatively, disgust still riding his face, "I will not train such a one as this at my school," he said definitely. "Katia," he said with mock sweetness (the young woman in question shuddered), "since you made the mistake of connecting such tainted magic to the spell matrix, YOU will be the one to take him home." He sent a sneering smirk at Artimeus. He knew that Katia had been a great favorite of his and, thus, took great pleasure in tearing her down. "After that, you may go home. Hopefully, you never make such a grave mistake again," he added in a mock severity that was belied by the thinly veiled glee on his face.

The young woman in question merely rolled her eyes, completely unimpressed and, frankly, disgusted with the entire display. She sensed the fight was not over yet and so, remained in place. She was correct. For once, Artimeus had lost total control of his affect and looked perfectly outraged. He threw one hand outward and erected a privacy shield around himself and the headmaster.

Through the privacy shield, Katia and Vincent could see silhouettes only and could hear nothing; however, they each noted when the headmaster tried, with a furious gesture, to dispel the shield - to no effect. Vincent smirked slightly and then his expression grew thoughtful. Katia and Vincent watched for several minutes as the conversation - fight actually, judging from the gesturing - carried on. At last, with a flinging gesture from Artimeus, the shield dropped. Triumphant, the headmaster gestured imperiously to Vincent, "Get...out." He ordered, his voice deadly.

Artimeus swept urgently over to Vincent and, dropping to his knees, he looked directly into the child's eyes. "This," he said softly but firmly, "is NOT over yet. I give you my word as a mage. I will see you accepted into this school and, when that happens, I will come to get you - personally." Vincent cocked his head at him in an assessing manner and, finding nothing but truth in the magister's gaze, he smiled faintly in return.

The magister began to rise, but a small hand on his arm halted him. The child gestured sharply and his own privacy shield (flickering slightly, but perfectly stable) came into being. Vincent cast a shrewd look at Katia and, with a small tilt of his hand, he allowed her into the sphere of privacy as well. "Magister," he said directly, "am I to understand that, until today, the headmaster assumed himself to be more powerful than you?" Artimeus blinked, slightly startled, and then nodded. Vincent's smile grew more genuine, "Then I thank you for jeopardizing your position in this school for me." He sketched a bow with the practiced grace of one who had been raised amongst nobility.

He eyed the magister shrewdly and pointedly and Artimeus nodded in assent. Yes, Artimeus knew that Frotriem's ego would not easily accept that there was someone at the school who exceeded his own power. He would need to tread carefully from now on. Vincent inclined his head in respect and also in acknowledgement of Artimeus' earlier promise.

He turned to Katia, his back to the gesticulating headmaster, whose silent yells failed to penetrate the magical shield. Grinning with a slightly wicked smirk, he offered his arm to Katia. Amusement sparking in her own eyes, Katia placed her hand on his arm and they swept together from the room. Vincent paused briefly at the threshold and dismissed the barrier with a sharp gesture. Neither Vincent, nor Katia turned to acknowledge the affronted yells of the spurned headmaster. Grinning viciously, Artimeus indulged himself for once and left the apoplectic Frotriem to fume alone.