Mage Life Chapter 25

Airis and I made our way back through the woods.

He carried Sophia while I used what magic I could to ease our passage. The branches bent without springing back, and I made the earth soft, so no stumbles or bumps knocked Airis.

There wasn’t much I could do to light our way, although the moon did a fair job.

As we walked carefully through the dim forest I kept my eyes and ears open, trying not to think of what I was going to do when I got back. I failed.

The silence itched to be filled with something,anything. It just waited until someone would be stupid enough to fill it. I stayed as quiet as I could. I felt I had done my stupid act for the day.

Yes, I had found Sophia and Airis at the cost of everything else. A Mage, not following orders in the heat of the moment may be forgiven. What I had done was something else. I had deliberately disobeyed, I had even fought against the order when given another chance. The price was just too high. My dreams would be worthless built on the corpse of a child. What kind of organisation would force the issue? My thoughts ran in circles. I could feel my anger growing both at myself and Orb. My fists tightened and my breath came hard as my rage started to pound in my head. If I had taken a moment to think I might have been able to find another way or talk orb around.

A rustle to my right knocked me out of my head for the moment.

I jumped, and pulled magic into my palm, as I stared into the gloom.

A fox, looked back as it emerged from behind a tree. It chattered at me before scampering off.

I sighed in relief, and laughed softly to myself. The great mage Tristan Sodden, threatener of receptionists, murderer of surges, sinker of districts and frightener of foxes. A hefty list of titles for a mage whose career spanned a few short months. The tinge of humor drained out of me, my mood darkened further with each thought, links in a chain, mistakes all of them, yet part of the job.

My steps came heavier now, each one harder than the one before. My shoulders drooped as I lowered my hand, the anger gone.

My victories seemed to mock me, even this. I won the battle but I felt like I had lost the war.

I trudged onto the path, the way back clear. If not for Sophia I would have turned the other way, run from the consequences of my decision, if it wasn’t for Sophia I would never have made the decision in the first place.

Airis’ came closer as I had slowed. “What is wrong Tristan? Why have you slowed? I thought there was some urgency in this. Was I wrong?” he asked, his stone face hidden by his helmet and the low light, eyes bright and pure.

“I’m  just weighing my actions Airis, but you’re right. We don’t have time for it,” I said looking into his pure light I felt small. This being, that I had made, had no thought for himself. Here I was wallowing when Sophia needed me to be strong.

“Fuck the consequences, I will deal with it when I must. I still have a job to do,” I said aloud without realising.

“Tristan, what are you talking about?” Airis asked.

“Nothing, nevermind,” I lied smoothly. “We are nearly there. I’m not sure how to handle you. Are you a golem or are you a boy?” I asked. It was serious question.

“Does it really matter? We have bigger issues at the moment.”

“It does matter, I went for a picnic with two children. Do I come back with two or just the one?”

“Tristan, I am both. I don’t care. Ask another time,” Airis said he stepped around me,

I let it go, while it would have ramifications whatever choice we went with, I was too tired to give it the thought it deserved and as he said we had bigger issues.

I followed the golem boy through the thinning edge of the forest, the road ahead beckoned, the town just a hop away. The thought of running came and went again. I’d been taught better by my father and by Jase.

I caught up looked to the side at Airis as we reached the unmanned gate. It was never closed, I wasn’t even sure why there was a gatehouse. A distraction.

“Let me do the talking please,” I pleaded with Airis.

He merely shrugged, as much as he was able with the small girl in his arms. She looked so tiny against him in this form.

The town was still few people would be out this late, one problem I didn’t have to deal with. The streets were dark all the lights in this part dead. They must have been affected by the wave. The pavement was whole though.

I hesitated, unsure where to go. The mage academy might be closed to me now. I don’t know how quickly I would be registered as rogue. A rogue mage, one of the things we were informed didn’t happen. None of us questioned it back then, I’m wishing I had now. I decided that going anywhere else would be cowardly.

I set my feet in the direction of the academy, it was my home. It was Sophia’s home the only one she had, I would be severed before I let them take it from her.

My anger rose again, taking with it my fear.

We walked in silence bar the loud echo of our steps on the solid paving beneath use.

The academy was lit, brightly lit in contrast to this side of town, but there was no one stood outside barring my way. We marched into the lobby. Empty. The only sign that Jase, Fion and Avery had been there was a small tracery of blood, probably from Jase. He had been the only one that was really wounded. I turned towards the entry to the halls. I stopped a moment looking at Airis, unsure if he would fit, but it looked as if I worried needlessly.

On we went through the empty halls until we reached our apartments. The door was stood open.

I stopped Airis with a raised hand. “Let me go in first, we don’t know why the door is open.” I looked at him intensely, for a moment I thought he was going to argue, then he inclined his head slightly.

I took a deep breath and pulled my magic up, ready to trigger in a moment. A raw blast, but I doubted I would be facing gnomes in here. Raw would be fine.

I stepped through the door, Fion was sat at the dining table. His massive frame dwarfing the wooden chairs. He was sat facing the door while he fiddled with something, I couldnt see what.

“Put up your magic, boy,” he said without looking up from whatever he was tinkering with. “You don’t want to fight me.”

“Why are you here?” I asked as I let my magic subside. He was right, I really didn’t want to fight him.

“Did you find your girl?” he asked ignoring my question.

I walked further into the room, but not within arms reach of Fion through

“Airis, it should be fine, come on in,” I called, not taking my eyes of Fion.

Airis stepped into view, his warrior form looking even larger than if had in the woods. His eyes were so bright. Sophia was cradled protectively, almost out of sight.

Fion jumped out of his seat, his eyes widened in shock.

“What the fuck is going on here Tristan, where is the boy?” he asked quickly.

I smiled, a thin strained smile, “This is the boy, as you put it.”

Fion looked between me and Airis, his gaze lingered on Sophia. He looked back to me again. “You clever little fucker, you made a human golem,” he crowed, a smile so wide that my own twisted into something more real. I also resisted the urge to correct him. Airis was his own being not a ‘human golem’.

“How’s Jase?” I asked, while he was distracted.

Oh, he’s fine,” Fion said offhandedly, his attention was firmly fixed on Airis. he looked like a giant child, his mouth open eyes wide and roaming. “He is beautiful Tristan, you’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble for him.”

It’s not like I can make things worse, you heard Orb earlier,” I said. I looked away I couldn’t bear to see how he felt about the matter.

“Bah, I didn’t, I don’t really care what Orb had to say. You got a healer here for Jase and the woman,” Fion said. Real emotion coloured his voice for the first time, gratitude.

I looked back at him.

“Thats what mattered to me. Any ways you left. How was I supposed to hear the little ball?” he said with a shrug.

I didn’t have anything to say to that, so I moved on.

“Can you help Sophia? I don’t know what to do for her,” I said. I held my breath.

“She’s awakened. What have you done this time? For fuck sake, boy, she’s a child! We can’t have a child mage,” he said heatedly as he looked at her, with his distant look.

I assumed he used oversight to check her over.

“Help her, please! She is all I have left,” I said, desperation roughened my voice. it was bubbling up with the fear that she would stay like this.

“Calm yourself, she is fine. She should wake up soon. How long has she been like this?” Fion asked he looked at me.

I turned to Airis.

“Just under two days, since the wave,” Airis said. His first words since entering.

Fion looked at me seriously for once.

“Shes been out for two days, see it’s nothing. You was out for a week if I remember Jase right. and more importantly you made a stone golem that speaks,” his childlike glee came back, as a little hitch in his speech. “That is so amazing, you knew the old ones couldn’t talk? Only the air and fire ones, they were a nightmare to build, you couldn’t anchor them to anything,” Fion just shook his head in wonder.

“Airis could you take her to bed please? Oh and guard the door. Don’t let anyone enter, not anyone,” I asked sternly.

Airis nodded and carried Sophia to her room.

Fion and I watched him go.

“What did the ball say?” Fion asked.

“It doesn’t matter now. It’s done.” I said softly. I wavered on my feet. Now Sophia was safe, my drive was gone. The last few days caught up with me in a rush. “I need to sleep.”

I walked off leaving a dazed Fion standing there.

“Oh, could you shut the door on your way out please” I called as I left the room.

I heard a faint grunt then the door hit the frame. A small click as it caught.

I made it to my bed, mine for how much longer I had no idea but it was for now.

That was the last thing I remember as my exhaustion rolled over me.

 

MageLife Chapter 4 Rewrite

Waking up to bright light shining through my eyelids, turning my world red, I blinked my eyes open. There was no Orb, the light was sunlight coming in from the window. It was just after dawn, hints of red and orange still coloured the sky. The sun itself barely more than a sliver on the horizon, wreathed in frayed wisps of cloud.

I reached down and absently scratched at my leg, it itched. My whole body ached but in a good-just-woken-up-and-need-to-move-way. I flipped the blanket off me, the cool air rushed in, tightening my skin. Getting up didn’t hurt, my leg took my weight, it didn’t shake or show any weakness. There was a vague mark reminiscent of the bite but there was nothing to feel, just a blue stain on my skin.

I padded over to the basin, had a wash, the fresh water dispelling any lingering lethargy. Getting dressed showed the paucity of my wardrobe, one uniform down two left, I would have to fill in the forms to requisition a new set soon, but that could wait for now. I had an appointment to keep.

I smiled, my very own enchantment, before remembering where it was.

My old home, that had never actually felt like home, more like a prison of my own making. The Westhaven Mage Academy. It was close to my new apartment which was a plus, I didn’t want to strain my leg. It might feel healed but it wasn’t worth the risk. Slow and steady. The Academy is huge and I didn’t have a clue which room I would be in or who I would be seeing. Enchantments are a fairly generic skill among mages but the real masters were rarities. I would probably be with someone with limited skill but greater experience, which suited me fine. Mages that are highly skilled in one area are normally half mad or at least very odd.

I set off at a steady place down the hall in my building, there were no windows in the centre of the building, but light was provided by glow-globes set in the ceiling. This building was new, something else had been here before this but I couldn’t recall what it was. Something small, maybe dilapidated house or a leather workers. I shrugged it aside. The plaster on the walls was still soft and the air which should have been close and cloying was fresh still smelling vaguely of wood shavings and paint. At the end of my hall I had a choice, I lived on the third floor, the top floor. I could use the small stairwell or the floating stone disc that hovering in the middle of a shaft cut through the core of the building. It was a new thing that had been imported from the wizard towers in Greenlaw I’d tried it when I moved in and it was a bit disorienting. A lurch in the stomach as it fell. But it was better than risking a tumble on the stairs. Stepping on to the disc, it didn’t move despite no visible support. I stood was in the middle away from the edges, not that being on the edge was dangerous, it was protected, but it was still terrifying for me. The idea of the walls of the shaft rubbing the skin off as I fell. Too much like the pit and the gnome from yesterday. So much like yesterday that I almost changed my mind about taking the stairs. Stilling my rising claustrophobia, I called out, “Ground floor.”

The enchantments took care of the rest, I could sense the faintest hint of what was happening but I didn’t look. The bottom fell out of my stomach in a strange rising fall. Then the disc settled and revealed the ground floor lobby.

A simple room that provided access to the rest the building, the shaft at the back where I now stood. On the sides there were hallways leading off to more apartments. I had yet to meet a neighbour but its only been a few days. It’s not every day that a mage moves in. I walked over the polished stone floor, my boots clicking with every step. I opened the wide door and stepped onto the street. Early morning is a wonderful time to be out and about. The crisp scent of dawn mixed with the smells of baking bread. Sounds quiet but clear, people getting up and going about their business, work, children going to the small school run by educated sleepers, teaching reading writing and basic maths. Their chatter and inane-but-cheerful questioning made me smile.

I made my way through the sparse but increasing traffic, taking in the space. The streets were wide and smoothly flowing, almost sinuous. Even the straight parts curved ever slightly. The central plaza with its fountain lined up exactly with each of the four gates, but the path between them wove, meandered gently like a stream. Smaller, thinner paths branched of like tributaries leading to the more residential parts of town. Westhaven was far bigger than it needed to be, it could hold easily about fifty thousand people. Over a quarter stood empty. The level of surviving refugees had been vastly over estimated. In time it would be filled.

Just off the main plaza with its amazing fountain, the source of all water in the town, was the Mage academy. The fountain is fed by an underground river, diverted to anywhere it was needed. The Academy seemed to suck all the light from the air and with it my warmth and optimism. It was built of a deep black, fine grained stone, far darker than the rest of the town. The stark contrast set it apart, another divide between mages and the common people. It was tall and foreboding, dominating this part of town. Its shadow seemed to reach out and devour all in its path. The world was a tiny bit darker just for having this building in it. As a child I had heard tales about it. Built on blood and darkness, the home of the ravens with the glittering eyes that feed of misery, I had heard a lot, none of it stopped me entering when my time came. And now my time had come again.

I’d spent a long time here, almost five turning of the seasons, never walking free, never seeing the sun except from short lessons in the gardens. Contact with outside influences was restricted, twice a month in the early turns but even family lost touch as the training got more intense. The isolation and frustration were supposedly good for the development of our abilities. Fewer distractions. Higher emotions to fight through. All in order to make our use of magic more intuitive, more easily. Its hard to do some of the finer applications when you have to concentrate on merely holding your power. The training eliminated the need for conscious control so you could focus on what needed to be done.

While I was lost in recollection the sun’s light slanted over the nearby buildings, falling on my face. The warm golden light broke me out of the spell. No more delaying. I took a deep breath of the fresh morning air, still cool from the night, and stepped up to the doors.

They were much the same as the rest of the building, massive, far beyond what was really needed. Thick, darkly stained oak covered in carvings and glyphs, they swung open at my touch. A mage is always recognised by these doors. The raven’s roost welcomes all ravens.

I stepped into darkness.

As I walked in lights flickered to life, old style glow globes that didn’t glow. These burnt with fire trapped inside. The darkness receded to the edges of the room where it hung in swathes of shadows. The hall was imposing, huge and empty, cold. It discouraged visitors, fitting the legends that surrounded this place. At the end on the long hall was a large desk set in the middle between the only two corridors out of the hall. The chair behind it sat empty. On the desk was a glowing glyph screen, its clear substance filled with motes of light.

I laid my hand on the surface.

“Junior Mage Sodden, attend me in research lab seven. This screen will guide you.” A voice I knew very well informed me; my old mentor Elder Mage Jase.

Picking up the screen I saw the motes forming into a map of the building, a glimmering line showing the route I must take. With a deep sigh I set off to the corridor on my left.

The map led me down wide corridors, burning globes lit my way with flickering treasonous light, down past the aspirant cells. Iron doors with clear crystal glyphs recessed into the black stone walls.  My old cell was here. I was tempted to access the crystal and find out who had taken my place, but the map led me on further past the cells taking the decision out of my hands. The smell of damp stone and iron brought back memories best faced in the light of day, there was no daylight to be found down here.

I reached the research area shortly after, it was where the masters work rooms were. We had walked past them everyday on the way to the training rooms, although that didn’t help much when travelling through this warren of rooms and corridors. It was confusing, even living here for so long didn’t give me much to work with. All the corridors looked the same. Without the map I would have wandered for a long time. Just off from the masters workrooms was a small corridor, barely noticeable if it wasn’t for the map guiding me. I turned down and saw rows of staggered doors. Each one had a large central glyph representing a number. Room seven was on my left, a new glowing globe set above the door, glowing green.

I set my feet and prepared myself before laying my hand on the door, a small ring like a tiny bell sounded and the door opened.

Elder mage Jase looked exactly as I remembered him, it had only been a week, but it felt like a lifetime. Taller than me, slim almost ill looking, he had ghostly skin that emphasized his bright blue glowing eyes and his straight black, shoulder length hair. He was standing, there smiling at me.

“Come in my boy, come in.” He gestured with a gloved hand.

I came closer, uncomfortable standing near the man who had beaten and starved me when he felt I wasn’t trying hard enough. As if he sensed my discomfort he spoke.

“I hope you don’t bear me any ill will Tristan. It’s how we are all trained, you know. So many don’t make any effort to develop their magic, we have to be sure the ones who do are the right sort. Yes it’s harsh and grossly unfair, but everything needs to be earnt to be appreciated, if it was easy undesirables would gain our power.”

“Yes Sir I do understand, but I don’t have to like it.” I retorted, barely keeping respectful.

“You were a special case, we had to be harder on you because you were so much quicker than the others, we had to be sure!”

I gritted my teeth through his little speech.

“Let’s drop the subject, on to business,” he said quickly. His expression turned softer as he gazed at me, regret and no it couldn’t be, but shame. The expression vanished so quickly I doubted what I’d seen, a calm business like mask replacing it.

“Your first custom enchantment is unique, all the others are standard, this one is personal. What do you would serve you well? A weapon? Defence maybe?”

I’d been thinking about it. While healing would be useful, not getting hurt in the first place would suit me better. Pain is not my friend.

“A defence would be best for my abilities I think Sir.”

“Right, let’s do that. As a Mage, you are not limited to the base ‘elements’.” Jase did air quotes around elements to complement his sarcastic tone.

“You should understand by now that they are not ‘elements’, they are associated concepts that allow you to relate to your magic.” I nodded. Of course I knew, he had been the one to beat it into me.

“We need to build the architecture, you have never done this. All the enchantment you have dealt with are either infusing a prepared device or voiding a faulty one.” Jase paused for a moment, looking around his workroom.

“This can be done in one of two ways, wild or controlled. Both have advantages and drawbacks. Controlled is a studied effect, carefully built, as most of the recent developments have been. Wild is considerably more powerful, but less nuanced. First enchantment is always wild, so wild is the way we start.” As he was telling me this, he was looking through a pile of crystal discs. Seeming to decide on one he passed it over.

“As this is your first, you get a pure disc. All you need to do is summon your power and build the concept you want then just push it into the disc.”

I looked at this black disc. Defenceis an easy concept, everyone understands it.Reaching with my power into the disc, I tried to impress defence into it. saying that doesn’t cover the complexity of the task.  a concept is more than just an idea or a thought, it is a tangled arrangement of thoughts, ideas memories and associations, all layered so that the concept can be compressed enough to be useful. Certain patterns were taught so that we could build concepts. They all did the same thing, compressing something vast into something that could be handled and manipulated. Oddly, the disc resisted. I ramped up the force until something stuck, an architecture form I had never seen before. Fluidic and sharp, it shifted under my sight, never settling. Slipping out of viewing, I found the disc had warped from a flat round shape to a curved oval.

Jase clapped like a child, his earlier smile returning full force.

“Well done, my boy. I was worried you wouldn’t manage it. Pass it over, let me have a look”

I held it out to him, but as he tried to grasp it it warped again, turning liquid and retreating up my hand to my wrist. I was shocked. I had never heard of enchantments having a mind of their own. All I could do was look at it.

“Sir, what’s going on?!” I asked, a hint of fear colouring my voice.

“Tristan, calm down. It’s perfectly normal; wild enchantments can only be held by their creator. All the devices you use every day are based on wild ones, eventually the form you used will settle down and you will be able to understand it, then you can teach it to others. I only asked to test that it was well done.” Jase’s tone was the same as when I graduated; calm but proud. That more than anything reassured me that he was telling the truth.

A question occurred to me.

“Sir why are we not taught this in school? Concept building isn’t overly taxing. Wouldn’t more people want to become mages?”

“Tristan, you have to realise how dangerous this information is. The wizards don’t want this known by the common people. It could mean the end of society! War, violence, widespread destruction, all would be possible if magic such as this fell into the wrong hands. The devices we provide are safe and reliable, wild magics are none of those things. Magic is complex, most just aren’t suited to wield it at higher levels.” Jase answered passionately. “When you have seen more, you will understand. Now, I have a busy day and you should go and test your new enchantment. I will log it as ‘success but unidentified’, until you figure out what it does.” He turned back to his work table, clearly done with me. I headed for the door

“Oh! Tristan, before I forget. Here is a shard on basic forms, you are authorised to enchant your equipment now you have a touch of experience. But no more wild magic, practice your forms for a while yet.” He rushed over to hand me a silver shard no bigger than my pendant. Then Jase smiled and turned away again as if I no longer existed. Absorbed in his work.

I went home. I had a lot to think about.

I sat in the chair gazing out the window at the darkening sky. Night was coming, light fled the coming darkness. The first early stars twinkled faintly high above. My hands were wrapped around a cup of cooling coffee, the heat radiating into my hands, warming and comforting. I raised the cup to drink then caught sight of my new adornment.

It had wrapped itself around my left wrist much like the bracers of some archaic armour, I couldn’t decide if it more like was a swordsman’s or an archer’s, one to defend the wearer from incoming strikes, the other to protect against the wearers own weapon, something in that thought felt significant, but I couldn’t say what. Its once black colouring had been replaced by a shifting blue green. Even the crystal it started off as felt more like metal, smooth, striated with colour

I opened my other senses to really look at it gave me a clear sight of a tangled mess. The central concept was dense with lines and threads, many smaller concepts flowed out of it before being led back in as if the enchantment danced. It was beautiful but it conveyed no meaning. Too convoluted and murky to pick apart what was doing what. I dropped my other sense and finished my drink. Cold coffee, bitter and thick on my tongue. Thankfully it was finished. I stood and walked over to the basin, rinsing the ceramic cup of the residue.

Night had finally fallen, the stars gained in brilliance, more appearing as I watched. My thoughts naturally went to what Jase had said about free magic and the wizard’s restrictions. If more people had known just what magic can do, more might have survived the waves, the dome might have been stronger, it wouldn’t have shattered at the end. Maybe the waves could have been stopped instead of us hiding and hoping. I thought. It took me a few moments to realize: If more knew, then the waves might have been far worse, any other conflict escalated beyond all control. Weapons in the hands of children, fools and the bloodthirsty. The thought horrified me. Better a world confined than wild magic.

I watched the moon rise, its glow casting shadows. All light casts shadows, even light in the darkness. Using the moonlight that filled my room I prepared for bed then laid down. Sleep came slowly.

After what seemed like forever I woke from a restless slumber filled with nightmares of flames and death. In my head was a burning. The air thick with heat and pain laden magic. The moon’s white light still shone through the window, tinted with flickering reds and oranges. I pulled myself up from my sweat soaked sheets and saw a pillar of flame shooting hundreds of feet into the sky, fighting the moon for control of the night’s light. It came from the east of town.

I rushed, pulling on my uniform and boots, then I threw myself into action. I couldn’t hear the bell. All towns have a warning bell installed normally in the mage headquarters but it wasn’t ringing. What that meant I didn’t know, but it couldn’t be good.

Flying down the stairwell and through the lobby I emerged into the cool night. I ran down the street heading to the central fountain, from their I should be able to see where to go.

As it reached the plaza a roaring stream of heated air burst from the road to the east. Civilians had left their homes and milled around aimlessly, unsure what was going on or what to do about it. I pulled water from the fountain, it flowed under my feet and up my body, taking the tightness from my skin. Pulling more water I ran towards the east, the heat getting more intense as I got closer to the source.

A wide pillar of fire rose from the street, in its core was a dark twisting shadow. Mixed with the roaring of flame and the hiss and crackle of stone heating was a human voice, almost unrecognisable as human. Its pain maddened screams filling the air. He was the source of the fire. The magic writhed, even without engaging my other senses I could feel it contorting.

The water I had with me started to heat but I cooled it with my magic. Water to soothe the flames.

I stepped closer hesitantly, calling more water from the air to shield me from the furnace. The water coated my hands and face cooling the air that I breathed. It still seared my lungs.

I opened my senses to find the cause and help the poor man, but my sight confirmed the feeling that had been growing inside me. his link was open, wide open. Way beyond normal capacity and was forcing power in its rawest form through him. I reached a water coated hand into the flames. Steam burst from me but kept the worst of the heat away.

This is raw wild magic. The thought ran through me. This is the horror of free magic.

I worked my way through the sheath of flames that coated the man, finally laying my hand on his head.

He wasn’t burnt yet, but he wouldn’t last much longer at the rate power was pouring through him.

I pushed my own power into him in an effort to close his link, his time was running out and his pain was crossing our connection.

I strained to tighten his link to close it before it finally consumed him, but it resisted all my efforts. The flames reached higher and the water coating me was almost gone.

Time ran out.

Fire licked his flesh, finally burning, and his screams reached higher than ever.

I knew what I had to do. I couldn’t help him but I could end his pain. I used my power to command the cracked and scorched paving to flow over his body, smothering the flames. Up higher it flowed covering him in cold liquid stone. My connection to the stone told me more than I wanted to know, I felt it slide down his throat, filling his stomach and lungs. I felt it in my own in sympathy, a tight gagging feeling like drowning. With a final twist I released my power, solidifying the stone.

A moment later the pillar died with him, collapsing into nothing. The heat dispersed on the freshly flowing breeze. Drying my eyes as my fallen tears sizzled on the hot stone coffin. The only sign left of a man who had lived and died here.

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MageLife Chapter 3 Rewrite

I walked home, taking my time, I needed to think. This was way beyond any training exercises at the academy. The lack of task stone hinted at something unexpected, maybe it was a test.

I strode through the door at my apartment to fetch a weapon. Mages as a whole don’t get trained in weapons anymore. No, I don’t know why but we just don’t. One thing we do get trained in is the staff. Many focuses are in the shape of staves and wands, something about the flow of energies through living or once living things. Metal was dead and always had been which is why it resisted most magics, it could be worked but it was harder than almost anything else, even stone being part of the land, which in its own way lived, accepted magic. So all Mages are given a staff when they pass the tests and assigned positions.

Mine was made just for me but it followed the normal pattern. Smooth varnished oak. Traceries of glyphs ran under the varnish, each one carved just for me based on a pattern designed by my supervisor, in this case master mage Jase, my master, to complement my skills. It was new, I could still smell the solvents that made up the varnish, it was that fresh. The smooth unmarked surface much like me. New and untested. Smears of oil from my sweating hands made the surface slick.

Standing in my room looking down at the staff reminded me of so many times when I’d been training that matched this. Going head to head against other aspirants, the matches were never announced beforehand. the same rising fear of failure matched only by the tingling in my muscles as I faced the chance to show my skills. standing here wasn’t getting the job done.

I turned to the door realising that once again I was in a contest where I knew nothing about my opponent. Gnomes were creatures of magic, their purpose had been examined, no one could figure out why they were, what they did, what part of the food chain they occupied. And before today I thought it was all academic, they were gone, move on. but no there were back if the reports were to believe, I had no reason to doubt them apart from the fact they were given by random people. they could easily be mistaken, they weren’t educated in magical creature or much of anything beyond the basics. They could be wrong. They could also be right.

All this didn’t serve me. Thinking is important in a mage, we hold a great deal of power personally, the dangers of that in a thoughtless person were terrifying. Thinking in circles about how little I knew wasn’t helpful though. I left my apartment knowing nothing more than I had before. Something my father said tickled at my mind, but it wouldn’t come.

I looked around at my surroundings, standing on the threshold of my building. This part of the town was very different from when I was a child. I’d not been here since then and everything had changed. the buildings has grown upwards, even the roads had shifted their course. it was unfamiliar.

If knowing things was important to a mage then not showing ignorance was also important. I couldn’t ask for directions. So I plastered a smile on my face and set off towards headquarters. I could get my bearing there, hopefully.

The town was laid out in the shape of a compass, each main street pointed in the four cardinal directions, the smaller ones offshoots from those. Some curled, some straight, but all I had to do was get to the centre and I would be able to find my way easily enough.

Pushing my way through the increasing crowd, carts and people about their business, just doing their jobs. But the traffic increased as I passed the main fountain. I looked about seeking the source of the increase, there, just off the square was a blockage. I forced my way through, ignoring the murmured complaints and moans from those around me. They murmured instead of demanding and shouting purely because I was a mage, my uniform and eyes set me apart always.

In some ways I mourned the loss of connection to the rest of the world, but in others I revelled in that distance, raised high above all others, in servitude yes but still.

The blockage was two carts that had collided, the enchantments that powered them without use of animals were pulling them further and further together, clearly the enchantment had been damaged on one of them. No sign of the drivers at the moment, they must have gone for help. There were no signs that anyone had been hurt, no blood or damage to anything surrounding the carts.

Looking closer with my othersight I could see the twisted ribbons of power, pulling magic in then converting it to motion to move the cart. The more damaged cart surprisingly had the intact enchantment. Its core untouched for now by the stresses being placed on it.

It was the other one that was causing the problem. It had recognised the other cart, wrongly, as itself. Once that happened it started to apply the same rules that it had been made to apply. the magic was clearly visible to me, tearing and pulling at the other cart, drawing it into itself.

I placed a hand on the side of the cart, its rough wood warm on my skin as I quested out through the contact. It wasn’t needed to touch to effect but it did make it a great deal easier, less chance of distraction. Closing my eyes to block out normal sight, I focused on the knot of threads that made up the enchantment, the concepts becoming clearer as hunted for the problem.

There, there was a small shape concept in the centre, that identified the target and moved it but it also diverted the force into certain parts of the cart away from other parts. It was that which was causing the damage. it was pulling the other cart trying to make it conform to the shape it had been given. Shutting it down wasn’t an option, the force bound up would cause an explosion, I doubted I would survive that, and it was only building. I would have to void it.

Reaching for the magic my link provided me with I fashioned a blade in my mind to cut the enchantments own link and at the same time spun out a thread of my own to divert the excess power away. If this went wrong I wouldn’t be in any shape to handle gnomes the backlash alone would put me down for the day at least.

I slide my mental blade into position over the power link to the enchantment and my spun thread held ready. Then as fast and as hard as I could I forced the blade down through the link, it tattered and frayed before vanishing into nothing. Then just as rapidly I wove my thread in its place. I let the mental blade fall apart, it wasn’t needed now. The enchantment had pulled a great deal of power into itself but I was now tied to it. Draining that power was my current task. Leaving it there was just an accident waiting to happen.

So I pulled tiny amounts into me through my thread. It filled my body slowly like feeling the heat from a hot drink through a cup, first nothing then gradually warming until it was too hot to touch. At first it was just a mild warmth then sweat started to drip down my face. I could feel it soaking into cloth around my underarms and groin. then it was if I had a fever, the sweat no longer enough my skin burned and my lips dried, I ran my tongue over them to soothe the dry tightness but my tongue had no moisture to offer. Just as as I felt I would catch flame, the power stopped, I had drained it. The enchantment collapsed rendering the cart inert. The horrible sound of snapping and cracking of wood as it tore apart the other lingered, fading as the wood released the pressure.

I stepped away from the cart, my hand leaving a dark from from my sweat on the porous wood. Opening my eyes to the material induced a headache as light seemed to stab me in the eyes.  The joys of a mage’s duty. I grimaced and spat thick metallic tasting saliva onto the paving, just then noticing a pair of boots that a narrowly missed.

Looking up I saw an older man dressed in pale blue, simple but durable looking trousers and jacket. his black boots were heavy and coated in dust. he was thickset, tanned where his skill was visible, his arms and face, and didn’t look overly happy.

He pushed out his hand which was holding a flagon.

I nodded my thanks as I took it and raised it to my lips.

Thick dark beer flowed over my parched tongue the taste of malt and something vaguely nutty washed away the metallic after-taste of dehydration and complex magic.

The man stood for a moment looking between me and the carts one shattered, the other looking perfect but was now no more than a wooden box with wheels.

“You know that one was mine?” the man said, pointing to the perfect looking one.

“Oh.”

“I would appreciate payment. not for the beer, I can see you have worked hard, but the cart. I’m out a days work as it is, I can’t be without my cart. It will ruin me.”

“It was dangerous, I’m sorry but it needed to be voided. You can go to the mage headquarters for recompense. But this is your responsibility. When you buy an enchanted item like this, you sign a contract to get it regularly checked and tested to avoid issues like this. As you are not a mage and I didn’t see any signs of tampering, I will let you off on this, just once though, but you are required to do all you can to minimise the damage caused by your negligence.”

“Hang on boy, who are you to tell me what to do?”

Didn’t he realise I was a mage, are the glowing eyes not enough? I thought sharply.

“Did you not notice the uniform? I’m sorry to inform you that I’m Junior Mage Tristan Sodden, so unfortunately this is my job. Telling someone to honour the commitments they have made. Minimise the damage by getting someone to help you clear the way.  There are people that need to be on their way, I’m one of them.”

“Boy you can’t force me to do anything,” He said although it seemed more for show, than anything else. He had paled slightly as he met my gaze.

Apparently the eyes were enough

“You are correct, I can’t force you to do anything, but you will be getting paid for your lost work as it was caused by a mislaid enchantment by the looks of it. but all these others,” I gestured with the tip of my staff towards the large crowd that had gathered around us. “They are also losing work and time because of this. Don’t you owe it to them and yourself to do the right thing?”

The man looked at me for a moment, considering, then he nodded slowly.

“You are right sir, sorry if I stepped out of line, I wasn’t thinking.” The words were begrudging but they felt honest.

“Good man. Thank you for making this easier than it would otherwise have been and for that ale.”

The man had already started walking away.

Laying the flagon down on the pavement I stepped around the carts, they were no danger now, but they still blocked the middle of the street. As I walked away I could overhear a group of men muttering

Behind me a voice shouted out. “One…. Two…. Heave.” on the last word were various grunts and groans, then a scraping sound.

I smiled to myself and continued headed to the east. That beer had really helped lift my mood. I felt good about my abilities, the heat now gone although the sun was starting to overheat the air. There was a faint heat-haze shimmering over the pavement. My walk became more of a jaunt as I tapped my staff on the paving with each step, the sound echoing slightly, the sharp tap-tap-tap loud over the movement of people.

The sudden feeling of having forgotten something came over me, so strong that I stopped walking. I patted myself down, rifled through the small pouch on my belt but nothing appeared to be missing. I shrugged and set off on my way again, if it was important I would remember eventually.

Walking along I noticed that around me the building slowly changed.  Away from the centre the state of repair on the buildings fell sharply, oh they were still painted and kept tidy in the main but little things like the stones being chipped or the doors and shutters being warped, just a general air of lack. A history that left its mark.

That sobered my mood more than anything. I was a child during the waves and not long after that I’d been in the academy, I hadn’t gotten to see the recovery such as it was. We had come far but every people had a limit in what they could do. Even magic can’t turn back time. I was proud of my people for overcoming what they could.

The gatehouse loomed over me, its large stone portal empty, once it held iron gate to keep the various magical creatures at bay, but no longer. They had melted during the waves and never been replaced. There was no need really, all the magical creatures were gone. although if this report about gnomes was true it could mean a resurgence, maybe the gatehouse wouldn’t stand empty and forlorn for much longer.

It momentarily struck me as funny that I was hoping there were gnomes for the sake of a gate. The laugh escaped me earning strange looks from the very few passersby. I felt the smile stretch my face as I stepped under the shadow of the gatehouse, the cool was a welcome relief. The smell of damp cool stone rushed in to replace the dust and grit of a rapidly heating day in Westhaven.

Looking out over the broken road leading to the dead city of Haven I sought signs of gnomes but tracking wasn’t a skill of mine. I could see the edge of the forest that ran halfway round Westhaven, this part didn’t get much attention apart from the logging crews that supplied wood to the town. Herbs grew further in, often collected by the many women of town.  But as a whole it didn’t see much traffic or exploration, the towns needs were modest.

Standing in shade I opened my othersense seeking anything out of the ordinary. The familiar double sight headache started to throb, a reminder of my earlier promise to practice othersense more often. The natural magics of the land the air, everything really, rushed into my sight, faint but visible. I stood for a long moment just gazing out at the blurred lights. there just off the broken road, in the brush on the edge of the forest was a smudge. a distortion where the normal background magics couldn’t quite touch. As I watched it moved from one low-lying shrub to another. There was a glimpse of blue but it was gone before I could identify what it was.

Nothing I knew of was blue. Although it not having a normal signature was the deciding factor. It had to be a gnome. Could I go back to Rysan with a report of a half glimpsed blue thing? It was worse than the eyewitnesses that had sent me out here in the first place. A mage saying I don’t really know, it was a blue…thing. The scene showed in my head. No, I had to find out.

Shifting my grip on my staff, feeling the glass like surface slide under my suddenly slick fingers, I stepped into the light.

The sun beat down on me as I made my way over the shattered stone of the broken road. The waves and the resulting panic had damaged badly, but there were plans to restore it bit by bit. It was a huge undertaking and the council was stretched already, never enough men to do the work. expecting us to restore everything in a decade to pre-wave levels was unrealistic, even magic could only do so much after destruction of that level.

I eased back on my othersense as I moved forward slowly, not enough to distract but enough to give early warning if there was any active magic incoming. My eyes opened wide despite the bright light and my heart rate jumped like a caged thing within my chest as I slowly, so slowly, made my way into the very edge of the forest. Each step carefully placed until I heard a rustle in the bush to my left, I turned putting my foot down harder than I intended, on a dead root. the sharp snap of the root filled the air and then from the bush flew a small furred blue thing. its vaguely human shape as tall as my arm was long but filled with teeth and claw, covered in short, bright blue, fur. its eyes though were filled with hunger, feral.

I took a step back at the sudden rush, my foot catching on the edge of the root that had snapped. I stumbled and lashed out with my staff, I missed, the staff flying from my sweating hand.

The gnome went after the staff instead of me for some reason, its shape teeth latching on, the splintering of wood audible.

Opening my link wide and filled myself with power, raising my hand to help with the visualisation, I sent power out in a torrent, directing the earth to form bars of hardened soil around the staff and gnome. A twist of my hand curved the bars into a dome over the top, sealing it in.

The gnome frantically let go of the staff and turned its teeth on the bars. the hardened stone gave way as if it was wet sand.

Suddenly while staring into the mad eyes of the gnome I remembered what my father had said far more succinctly than the mages in the academy.

“Gnomes eat magic.” He had said that, one night after I asked why the gnomes were so dangerous.

A shiver of fear, not panic, true fear ran down my spine leaving me cold. I can’t beat something that can eat my every defence and weapon. The thought almost paralysed me then I smiled.

“Magic is, but magic does,” I whispered softly to myself.

I pulled all the magic out of the cage, natural and my own, it left me hot and sweating, near overflowing with foreign power swimming through my channels.

The gnomes teeth caught on the hardened earth, nearly as dense as stone. Its progress halted. For now.

The sudden heat of power and victory made me dizzy, I felt the world spin before I took a deep breath and let it go. The world righted itself for now. The odd smudge matched the gnome exactly and now it was trapped in a cage, I felt myself relax.

The gnome chittered loudly, much like a bat, it’s ugly little face snarling and its four fingered, no thumbs, clawing at the dirt around the bars.

Wondering what to do with it, I couldnt just leave it, it would be out of the cage eventually, I took a step closer so I could examine it. Just then I felt a sharp pain in my left leg. Glancing down I saw another gnome, almost identical to the first, had bitten through my trousers, just below the knee. Looking at it made it worse, I felt sick, dizzy. The power in me was being drawn through my veins, all my magic was being sucked out, all my magic and all that I could call on, my link wavered as it opened wide, power inundated me, more than I had ever used at one time, and rushed to my leg, to the gnome, where it vanished. It felt like hot lead was being poured into my head, flowing down my channels, searing, burning. As I fell I caught sight of a third gnome moving in quickly.  In that moment all I could think is, This is the end. Killed by a bloody gnome.

I didn’t even feel my body hit the earth, a sudden desperation not to die like this filled me. My magic responded, the earth under me opened. My mind went blank, I flailed as I fell.

The gnome let go in surprise. It’s chittering cries cut off abruptly as a shard of stone burst through its chest from the side of the pit. A rush as my power flowed back from the gnome’s broken corpse, filling me to overflowing, time seemed to slow and my mind cleared. The pain was gone, replacing it was a icy tingle, soothing my abused channels, body and mind.

I was still falling. Sending out my power, roots burst from the walls of the pit catching and lifting me gently up. a sheath of power covered my body hardening my skin like stone.

I rose to the surface carried by roots, at my command they wove beneath my feet covering the pit. The roots let me go and I landed on the springy mat. My leg throbbed with heat and blood dripped from the savage wound as I stepped gingerly over to the trapped gnome, it chittered at me. I sent a savage blast of power at the earth under the cage, it sent the cage rolling free, almost spherical, my staff clattered out between the bars. The gnome’s mad chittering, increased.

I felt an unpleasant smile twist my lips as I stepped closer, bent and retrieved my staff, and formed a handle of earth, attached it to the cage with a tiny sliver of power and picked it up, the excess magic dripping into the soil.

The cage in my right and my staff in my left, I headed back to the road, pleased that I had the staff to bear the weight for my injured leg.

The distance wasn’t far,which was good. the magic was fading and the pain was coming back. The staff helped as I made it out of the brush and onto the edge of the road.

“Junior MageTristan, status report,” came my bosses voice from my pendant. I had no idea it could do that. I was surprised but I had nothing left, I felt oddly hollow and clear like a rung bell.

“Sir I’ve been injured there were three gnomes, one is contained, I’m bringing it in, another is dead, the last vanished in the confusion,” I reported numbly, I felt stupid, admitting a gnome had harmed me. but the feeling was nothing compared to the pain and the memory of fire in my veins, mentally I shied away from that, I already had phantom heat flickering through me.

“Stay where you are. I’ve dispatched a squad to cover the area and assist you. Give the gnome to them. Stay well, and be careful there may be more in the area. The squad should be there in a moment.” Was the strangely concerned response I received. To be honest I didn’t care about how well I had performed anymore. I was stunned at my boss seeming to be concerned about me.

My head wasn’t working all that well, I felt drained yet full of energy, it couldnt last. the pain was throbbing growing by the moment. I attempted to put the loud gnome out of mind and focus on what had happened. my magic had been drained by the magic eating gnome, then I’d fallen and acted out of desperation, just flinging magic wildly. it had worked, which was testament to my training, that was the point, to make magic instinctive that it didn’t need thought. it was always advised to think before acting but if you couldnt use magic when it was needed what was the point? Training us hard and constantly, depriving us to make us reach points of desperation, of hunger, of thirst, of fear, of anger. all had been covered and we emerged tougher or broken. I’d been lucky, using magic came easily to me, I’d passed in half the time normally needed, but I sorely lacked a lot of the knowledge I would have gained in that time. Even now that I had calmed my magic felt different, more responsive, intuitive. And I had no idea why.

In the distance, from the west, the gatehouse spewed a group of men quick-marching. As they got closer I Could see they were wearing leather armour obviously enchanted and dyed black. swords and wand rode in holsters and scabbards hanging from their belts. A six man squad on of which would be a leader, another a healer, and the remaining four would specialise in one or another forms of combat. their glowing eyes showed them to be mages, each glowed differently, not reflecting anything of their power, these men were very well trained, far beyond what most current mages received. grim and hard looking men, all different body types but no less deadly for their differences. there were small badges of tarnished silver shaped into glyphs on their chests above their hearts. inside each, I Knew, there would be tiny crystals containing their records of service, layered for different levels of clearance. as an active mage I Should be cleared to request the leader. I sent a very small thread of power out carrying my message to the crystal.

<Squad LeaderTelsan> sounded in my head, completely silently. there was nothing else which worried me slightly, I should be cleared for more than just a name.

I raised my staff into the air just incase they hadn’t seen me.

I got a nod.

I waited for them to get close enough to talk without shouting, Then I said, “Squad Leader, I’m JuniorMageTristan, there is a situation here.”

Telsan was a tall man, old looking near fifty but with mages it was hard to tell. he didn’t look weak though. his shoulders were easily twice as wide as mine. the military cut of his hair did nothing to soften his harsh features.

Telsan looked me up and down his orange glowed eyes narrowing

“My squad has been sent to deal with the gnomes, I see you have been injured, do you require assistance? We have a healerwith us,” Was his clipped response.

“Yes I do, I have been informed that you need my gnome,” I stated flatly, I Was too worn for much else. I Felt raw, my emotions rising and falling with every moment that past.

“Yes Sir we do, it needs to go to Greenlaw for study, This is our Healer,MageNiven,” at that he turned to the youngest member of the group, still at least fifteen years my senior.

Niven stepped forward.

And with that the rest of the squad moved to scout the area. each one moved in a different direction, sharp and ordered and totally silently.

“Sir, if you would sit, I can set up a scan,” Niven seemed surprisingly nervous talking to me.

I sent a thread of magic into the ground, forming a small mound of earth as a seat.

Niven looked so shocked, that I had to ask,“Niven, you have seen mages before, haven’t you? You work with them for gods sake.”

Niven nodded, an oddly hesitant gesture. “Yes Sir, but not ones that use magic so easily or that I could sense from down the road.”

Huh? thats new. I’m not different.

“What’s involved with this scan? It doesn’t hurt, does it?” I queried. I’d had bad experiences with medicals in the past.

Niven reached into his satchel, pulling out a bluecrystal. it wasn’t large, but it was long and thin like a rod except faceted. The routine seemed to calm him. He became more confident, his motions more precise and his hesitancy, or in this case, as it seems to be, his fear, disappearing.

“This is the scan device, it uses water concept architecture to detect abnormalities within your body. It can also sense the flow of magic through you, so if you could cancel any enhancement you have active Sir, that would help,” He responded professionally.

“Enhancements? I don’t know any. Other than the basic pour power into the body to make it work better. But I’m not doing it now. it would be too dangerous.”

It appears that you do sir, it looks earth based, so probably toughness or strength. no its pain numbing. it will hurt but you need to let it go before I can do anything to aid you.

That made me think, I didn’t know how to craft enhancements yet, but the stone-skin thing had to be one. but that ran out ages ago. pain canceling? I’m still in pain. With that my the pain flared like an ember blown to life, flames of agony licked up my bones from my leg.

RealisingI was doing it had disrupted it.

“Thank you Sir, just a moment.”

Holding the Bluecrystal over me then moving it down my body, flickers of light rapidly shifted within the device giving him some information, I guessed. It was over and done with in a minute, a look crossed his face too quickly for me to catch before turning into a smile.

“Lets patch up that leg Sir, this is a mend charm. Wounds only,” he said as he pulled out a small metal disc with a white quartz crystal in the centre. He held it above my wound.

The pain just vanished, as a humming vibration pervaded my leg. Followed by intense itching.

“Sit still please Sir, the itch will pass shortly,” Niven reminded me

“All done Sir, the wound is sealed. Take it easy for a day or so, as the charm has a short after effect. Now, I saw something odd in your scan, that I am obligated to reveal to you. Your magic levels are extremely high, there are no blockages in your flow at all. Which is unusual to say the least. My medical opinion is, that its not a problem but its worth being aware.” Niven related to me.

Niven seem relieved that his dealings with me were over. He left me mulling that over. No one has ever mentioned to me high magic levels, or blockages, what does it mean?
“Junior Mage Tristan, well done, your pendant has forwarded all relevant information to me.”

I’m pleased with your performance, despite your shortcomings, you show potential, you are to report to the mage academy in the morning for assistance in choosing and designing your first mage item, please pick carefully this is the only time I can do this right now. You know the protocols on mages and equipment?” my boss was in a good mood, it appeared, I wouldn’t question it. I wasn’t back to my usual self yet, but even then questioning a man that has life and death control over your life isnt wise.

“Yes sir, all enchantments a Mage carries on his person must be crafted by him,”I recited. I hated that rule, a simple heal charm could have saved me waiting on medical assistance.  I know there was a reason for it but it was a stupid rule, people could die because of it.

“Good to see that you remembered that, the penalty for breaking it without proper authorisation is suspension at the least,” Rysan’s voice held a note of annoyance, maybe he wasn’t as impressed with my performance as he was letting on. I was ordered not to engage.

“Dismissed, rest up, you will have a long day ahead of you.”

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MageLife Chapter 2 Rewrite

I woke in near darkness. I found myself laying on my my injured hand. The cuts on my knuckles, stung. I pulled myself out of bed, looked out the window, the pre dawn glow illuminated the furthest edge of the sky.

“Light,” I called to the empty room.

The glow of the globes brightened the room, enough that the window turned reflective. I stepped over the discarded pile of clothes on my way to the basin. I ran the water, then submerged my wounded hand. I tensed as the sharp, cold pain, took my breath away for an instant.

I let the tension that had formed in my chest out in a sudden unformed noise of relief as the pain vanished, replaced by numbness. I pulled out my hand, had a look at it. the scraps wasn’t anything serious, a day or so and they would be healed. I picked up my discarded uniform and lifted it to my nose. I recoiled as the scent assaulted my senses. I held my clothes at arms length away from me and deposited them in the washing basket, then went and got my other set from the wardrobe. lingering aches forced me to take my time getting ready, a wash. No need to shave, it took me a few days to grow enough stubble for it to even be visible. Then I pulled on my fresh uniform, the tight leather coat creaked as I slid my arms through. My shoulders filled it well, but then it had been tailored just for me. The sun had come up while I was going through my ablutions.

 

I stepped out on to the street, fresh and alert.  I saw something new, street cleaners, simple plain dressed men, with large metal staves, glowing gems on the tops. They were directing the dirt ahead of them. It rushed forwards like a tide leaving smooth shining pavement behind. The dirt was propelled towards small openings in the bases of the fountains that were at every intersection.

I stood watching for a long moment.

The men waved their staves, a flicker of light rose from the street itself and the last of the dirt rolled into the openings.

I strolled along behind them, contemplating the the level of thought that had gone into making such a system.

I caught sight of the doors to headquarters, they were open already. I stepped into the open doorway, to be met with the sight of  a couple and a child standing before the main desk.

“Tristan, get over here,” my boss called.

I couldnt see him. My view was blocked by the people. I made my way to the side of the desk.

Rysan was behind it, with a frustrated expression on his face. Orb was hovering around him, a hint of green in his normal blue light.  I felt my curiosity rise up, almost an itch to know, at the change in colours. I opened my mouth to ask, then noticed Rysan looking at me.

“Yes sir?”

“Tristan, this is Mr. and Mrs Leif. They have a problem that you can solve for us,” Rysan informed me.

I nodded politely at them.

They had a sense of worry about them. The woman, Mrs Leif, had her hands tightly wrapped around the hand of the child.

I looked back to Rysan. My polite but blank look must have told him I had no idea what this had to do with me.

“Their daughter has shown signs of her knack, it’s earth as far as we can tell,” he told me

I looked back to the family, to the child. She was a small girl, about half my height, with right green eyes and long red hair. She was dressed in plain clothes, a pale green tunic and leggings with little leather sandals. She shifted nervously under my gaze, her little head lowered so she looked at her own feet.

I turned back to Rysan.

Rysan raised a hand, stalling any protests I might make. “Yes, she is eight. Her awakening  happened very early and no, it doesn’t appear to be a false start. She would normally have a few more years before needing to learn control. She’s too young to learn it at school, so I am assigning you as her master until she’s got the basics down.” He fixed me with a stern expectant look.

“Yes sir.”

“Good now take her to get something to eat. I need to write out the contract with Mr and Mrs leif. Ma’am, if you could release the girl to Junior Mage Tristan, here he will look after her while we conduct our business.”

The woman tightened her hold on her child for a moment, I could see a look of indecision on her face. then her husband laid a hand on her shoulder and nodded. she let go with a final look at me.

“I will look after her, I promise,” I said answering the unspoken question in her eyes.

I gestured for the child to follow me and then I led the way to the side of the entry hall, next to one of the many benches that I had yet to see filled.

She followed along dutifully but with many a backwards glance at the backs of her parents.

I stood looking down at her, she was very uncomfortable, she couldnt meet my gaze or stand still it seemed. I knelt down next to her. Once down my head was almost level with hers. She met my gaze this time.

“Hello. I’m Tristan. I’m sure you heard what’s happening. Is this okay for you?” I said to her. I had softened my tone so it was barely above a whisper.

She looked at me for a long moment before whispering back “Hi. I’m Sophia. I’m scared. Are you going to help me?”

I felt my eyebrows raise. A strange mix of emotions threatened to choke me up. This brave little girl confiding in me, a total stranger. I paused to get myself under control.

“I’m going to do my best to help you. I’m new at this too,” I said. I looked at this trusting little girl and felt a sense of protectiveness. A desire to shelter her.

“Are you hungry?” I asked

“Yes. Can we get some eggs and bacon? It’s my favorite,”  she smiled around the words. It was a weak smile but the effort was there.

I stood up, my knees creaked, the stone was hard.

“Sure we can Sophia,” I smiled in return. I cast a look back at Rysan who was still hashing out the details with Sophia’s parents, motioned to Sophia to let her know we were going now. She came to my side shyly and we were off.

The early morning sun shone down on us. I looked around for somewhere to take her. This part of town was full of little cafes and bars, but most weren’t open this early.

“Can we go there?” Sophia asked pointing to a small building on the very edge of the square. I  had walked past it everyday since moving to this part of town. The whole district was built of a pale cream stone, everything from the streets to the buildings, which felt like they flowed up out of the edges of the wide central thoroughfare.

The cafe was cozy. The tables made of the same cream stone rose out of the floor, large windows let in the bright morning sun. The place was busy, but that didn’t matter; the smells of bacon and sausages cooking drew us in. I looked to my side to see the matching look of anticipation of Sophia’s face. We took a table by the door and looked down the menu, which was made of glass, the words gently glowing.

“Can you read?” I enquired as the question occurred to me. Sophia’s green eyes took on a proud glimmer as she answered.

“Yep, course I can read. Why do your eyes glow? My grandma’s eyes do that, but my mamma’s don’t, does it hurt? Can you see in the dark?”  She rattled out before pausing, clearly having run out of breath.

I looked away and closed my eyes briefly, I could feel my cheeks heating up under the barrage of questions.

In that brief window, the waitress arrived to take our order.

“What will you have?” She asked, giving me an amused quirk of the eyebrow.

I looked over at Sophia she was looking unsure. I felt it was my duty to reassure her so I said, “You can have anything you want. It’s my treat.”

A smile bloomed across her face,“Ummm. Can I have, um, the bacon and the scrambled eggs and glass of milk please? she asked the waitress.

“Of course, you can honey!” the waitress said then she turned to me“She so polite, and what would you like?”

I’ll just  have the blue ice tea please,”  I said, I placed my hand on my stomach to sooth the slightly queasy feeling at the thought of putting something in it, with that she was gone, back to the kitchen.

The momentary reprieve stretched.

Sophia stared at me with an air of expectant silence.

I took a deep breath.

“Right,” I started hesitantly. “I’ll give you the short answer about my eyes, and then if you think it’s not enough, you can ask again later, does that sound fair?”

She nodded quickly her red hair waving around.

“Here it is. My eyes glow because I am a mage and I have a lot of magic inside me. No I can’t see in the dark any better than you and no, it doesn’t hurt,” I stated as clearly as I could.

“But that doesn’t s’plain why my mama doesn’t have glowing eyes but my grandma does. Will I end up with them too?” The words rushed out of her in a torrent of excited curiosity.

“The older someone is, the more magic they have, normally. So, one day you might glow too. Unless you want to be a mage. Then you will certainly end up with them.”

I found myself answering her question slowly, in an attempt to forestall further questions.

Sophia’s food and my drink arrived just then I thanked the waitress and paid for us both. I could tell she was bursting to ask more questions and while I respect curiosity, I’d had enough. So, as she opened her mouth to utter the next one, I interrupted with one of my own.

“What did you do with your knack?”  She flushed and looked down at the table which was almost as cute as when she smiled.

“Ummm, my parents think I made the plants in the garden grow, but I don’t think I did they were just like that, when we woke up,”  She explained very quickly. She wouldn’t look up at me

Well, that covered why they thought it was earth, but not why they thought it was her,

“ Anything else that you may have forgotten to mention? We need to find your range before we can teach control,” I coaxed her.

“Well, when I was playing with Josh, he’s the boy who lives at the house down the road, we were playing stone skipping on the lake, right?” She looked up at me briefly, checking to see if I was listening. I nodded, trying to look extra attentive. She continued.

“Well, he was beating me, he got five skips and I only got two I was getting mad that my stones wouldn’t do it, and then my next stone did. Ten whole jumps, but that’s not magic. I just got good at it. Right?”  She looked like she was desperately wishing I would agree that it wasn’t magic. I felt torn, I really liked this poor girl, but I had to do what was best for her.

“Sophia, I would love to tell you that it’s not magic, but I can’t. I’m sorry, it sounds similar to when I got my knack. I’ll tell you about it if you want, but it may be a bit sad. Do you want to hear it?” I wasn’t sure if this was the right way to approach this, but it’s all I had.

She nodded, looking more and more vulnerable. It made my heart ache, but duty came first.

“I was nine. When I bloomed, I was young, but it happened more often back then. I didn’t know what was happening. I accidentally channeled most of my magic into the earth creating Zelf as I thought of him. He was a mirror to me. A boy shaped rock, the same size as me.We went everywhere together, he was my only friend. Since my blossoming all the other kids were scared of him. He couldn’t talk, but we played. He looked after me. Then the waves came.”

I took a sip of my drink to wash away the choked up feeling rising in my throat, it didn’t help.  My next words were thick with suppressed emotion.

“ My parents were tired, helping to look after those that had lost everything in the destruction left by the waves. I asked Zelf to help them, he went.  But I was just a kid, I didn’t know they needed charging or constant exposure to their creator when they are so young. He died a few hours later while I was sleeping. I never got to say goodbye to him.” I could feel tears in my eyes, but i blinked them away and took a deep breath, a faint hitch in my breathing, i let it out in a sigh, then forced a smile for her

Sophia’s eyes welled up.

“That is really sad, but that’s real magic. I didn’t really do anything,” she sobbed at me.

“Everyone has some magic. It’s nothing to be scared of,” I said as gently as I could. “You don’t even have to use it if you don’t want to, but we can’t have anyone getting hurt because you can’t control it. Can we?”

“No, I guess not,” She wiped her face on her sleeve, then looked up at me, a tremble in her lips and splotches where her tears had been were all that showed her emotion.

“You eat your breakfast, then we can go find out what your parents are doing,”  I calmly said.

I nodded at the waitress as we left. Acknowledging the assistance she had given me with Sophia.

(—-)

Walking back into the office, the boss leant over  his desk, signing something.

Mr and Mrs Leif countersigning, where he indicated.

Sophia ran to her parents straight into the arms of her mother. She started telling them what we had talked about at breakfast. I stayed back not wanting to interrupt their family bonding. The boss motioned me over as he stood up

“Mr and Mrs Leif, I’m going to brief Junior mage Tristan. We shall leave the reception so you can explain to Sophia while I bring Tristan up to speed,”  Rysan announced. He was far calmer than I’d ever seen him, before turning on his heel and walking into his personal office behind his desk. I followed him.

I’d never been in here. To be honest, it wasn’t what I expected.

There was a deep reddish-brown desk, blood cherrywood if was to guess, next to which was a waist high pedestal that Orb was currently resting on. A huge unlit fireplace taking up a whole wall, a basin on the other side and a chair that Rysan promptly sat down in.

I remained standing,

“I hate days like this. We have had something else come up that I will get to in a moment. Now I have to take your masters oath. Are you prepared?

“Yes,” I squeaked out. My voice betrayed my nervousness

“Then hold out your hand in a fist and repeat after me.”

I held out my right hand towards Rysan clenching it into a fist

“I, Tristan Sodden, do take Sophia Lief to be my apprentice. I will guide her in magic to the best of my ability, as is the sacred duty of the mages. I will protect her from all that would do her harm until she is released from her apprenticeship.”

I felt a heat in my fist as I repeated the words. I looked at it. A multi-coloured flame had formed around it. It didn’t hurt, but it was warm and tingly.

A voice sounded from the flame.

“Witnessed and bound,” came the voice.

Rysan paled at that. I wondered why. Before he spoke he accessed the glyphscreen in his desk.

To read a report, I guessed.

“Well, that’s that done. The arrangement is one day a week. They will bring Sophia here, you will spend the day teaching her control and what not. You are excused from other duties on that day. Moving on to the other problem of the day, there have been sightings of gnomes on the outskirts of town.”

“Really? Gnomes? I thought they all died out in the waves,” I gushed, suddenly excited about possible surviving magical creature. It took precedence over an apprenticeship

“Yes supposedly they did, we have three unsubstantiated accounts of gnomes to the east. Now I shouldn’t have to remind you, if you do find gnomes, do not engage, they fight in packs and are extremely dangerous if they feel threatened,” Rysan warned me, sounding very stern.

“What am I supposed to do about the gnomes then, sir?” I enquired as my hands shook from nervous energy

Rysan just looked at me like I was an idiot.

“As a mage, what is your duty?” He prompted firmly his face set in hard lines.

“The first duty of the mage is the protection and guidance of magic,” I recited from memory. It was drilled into us from day one in the academy.

“Exactly Junior mage. Gnomes are magical; they eat magic. They are a danger to the whole town, if the reports are true,” he sighed.  “Normally I would go myself, but I can’t. The wizards are calling all seniors through our Orbs. You need to go as soon as possible and assess the danger.”

“Yes sir,” I said and with a fist to chest salute went on my way.

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Mage Life Chapter 24

A strange sight greeting me once I got used the unsettling feeling of being without time. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t breathing. My heart didn’t beat. I felt sick as if we were moving fast but we weren’t. We were travelling but not in a way that made much sense. I don’t even know how I knew we were traveling. Something just told me we were. The colors of the wall of sigils faded into clarity, clear as glass. Granting me a view into a shifting play of lights and sounds. Scents washed over me, from flowers to rot. The lights moved in a complicated yet unnerving way. As if I was blinking and missing parts of the movement, although I wasn’t. I can’t describe it well. I don’t understand it. The only things that were still were us.

Fion had his eyes closed, his mouth frozen mid movement as he muttered. Jase was in exactly the same position that I had seen him before the sphere rose around them. his eyes were half closed, his face white and pinched with pain. Avery was sprawled just behind them. Nothing to tell about what had just occurred, she looked like she was sleeping. Streaks of soot tainted her hair and clothes although her face was oddly clean.

Floating areas of substance were in the distance. Buildings. Trees. Patches of land un-moored, unattached to anything. They followed no pattern either. A mountain was closest to a section of sea, the waves clearly visible. A forest above a desert. It was like the whole world was cut into sections, everything was here, jumbled. No up. No down.

I felt dizzy looking, but I couldn’t close my eyes. I couldn’t move.

Something happened. The floating sections started to move to mesh into recognisable areas. The buildings shifted together, streets. In the far distance the vague form of a city many times larger than westhaven rose like a new moon into the sky, over a sea I had never seen. The sea moved out of sight, while the forest moved closer.The mountain drifted off. We were getting closer to home. The foreboding edifice, that was the mage academy, rushed towards us. It grew larger in a dizzying and very unsettling way. As it rose out of the earth that had formed. I was watching it being built at the same time as seeing it crumble into dust. Words just failed me.

Then we were in the reception area. It was light, dark, full of people, empty. All at once. The sphere of sigils melted away like ice. a mess of clear shapes deformed into a slush around us.

I blinked.

We had landed, appeared, I didn’t know the right word to explain, but we were in the reception area of the mage academy. The lights were on and we were alone.

A soft pained moan came from Jase’s lips.

The sound drew my attention. I could move again. I wobbled down to Jase. I placed my hand on his side. I pushed a small tendril of magic into him, feeling around the injury. I don’t know medicine but I had seen a boy fall out of a tree when I was a child. He had cried briefly. But he waved off mention of telling his parents, he didn’t want to be banned from playing with us, which would likely have happened. He died later that night when he rolled over in bed and the rib that he had broken, pierced his lung. I pushed a surge of raw earth magic into Jase. not a lot, but enough to hold the broken bone in place until it could get fixed properly.

Jase let out a quiet grunt. his face paled further, which I hadn’t thought possible, he was already whiter than snow.

Fion stood,with a creak from his knees. He looked remarkably unharmed by the whole thing. “Don’t just stand there boy, Jase needs a healer. The girl there could do with one too.” He waved an arm in Avery’s general direction.

I looked around, taken aback by his harsh tone, after everything he hadn’t softened. I blinked back sudden tears. What was wrong with me? I asked myself.

“Don’t cry boy, we haven’t got time. Get a healer,” he said.

“Orb,” I called as I grasped my pendant. I ignored my feelings, no time for it now. Just like Fion had.

“Tristan, where have you been? You vanished fr..” Orb’s voice came from the air around me.

“No time Orb, we have a small situation. Jase is hurt and Avery is unconscious. Can you get a healer here now,” I interrupted. The words just rushed out of me.

“Request authorised. Location is the mage academy, Reception hall. Confirm?” Orb’s emotionless voice echoed around me.

“Confirmed, hurry Orb,” I said bending protocol in my haste to get help.

“They will be there soon, can you give me a report now?” Orb said, its normal inflections back.

What was that? a systems slip or something more? I thought before saying “Not really, Orb. I could, but I need to make sure Jase is alright and talk to Fion before I can. Is Rysan available?”

“He is, but he is very busy. The wave was weak, but it still caused problems. Can I ask what you need to speak to him about?” Orb said.

I looked around, turning my head to examine the lighting and the glyphscreens in the walls.

“Oh, it hit here as well? There is no sign of it here. I thought it might have missed the town. It’s about Sophia, actually,” I said slightly disheartened at the thought of the damage the wave could have done here.

“Sophia? Why are you asking me, you’re her master. She should be with you, or someone you assigned,” Orb said.

“I sent her to Rysan with Airis,” I asked with a rising sense of panic.

“Who is Airis?” Orb asked.

“Her protector, and a boy. It’s complicated. But that’s not important. She was hurt by gnomes. I sent her to safety,” I said. I was halfway to the door before I thought to check Jase. I turned to look at Fion.

He nodded. “Go I will look after these, bring the girl back safe.”

I went through the door.

“Tristan, I’m sorry you are confined to the town. You have been ordered to stand down in regards to Sophia. I will send out a team of non-mages to find her, you are needed,” Orb’s voice came from my pendant as it heated up. Invisible chains tightened around me.

“No!” I shouted. “ I have to find her. She is my responsibility. You have other mages. Use them. Let me find my apprentice.”

“Tristan, understand this, we need you. We are in an emergency. You have been gone for days. There aren’t enough mages to keep the town safe. They are worth your time more than a stray little girl,” Orb said through my pendant, which was blazing with power. The chains stopping any attempt at movement.

I stopped fighting, a moment of calmness flowed through me.

“Orb, let me go,” I said softly. A tear flowed down my face at the choice I faced.

“I can’t,” it answered simply

“So be it. That little girl is worth every life in this town to me” I said.

“Tristan don’t be stupid. Follow your orders. Please,”

I said nothing.

“Think of what this will cost you, Tristan.  Your job, your home, everything depends on you being a Mage,”

“She depends on me!” I said with passion.

I pulled all the magic I could and forced it into the chains. It felt like I actually tensed up. The chains burst with a flash of ghostly light. My pendant flared with heat, I washed water based magic over it cooling it,too fast. A loud crack. I winced as the shattered gem’s shards embedded in my chest.

Out on the street I was struck by how long we had been gone. It was late night, the moon was high and bright. It’s blue light shone down giving the town a surreal feeling. Perfect, I should have enough light to find her.

I ran straight for the gate. I drew on my magic, hard, to bolster my flagging strength. My run changed from a desperate struggle for breath and a slightly wavering pace to a fluid loping stride, that ate up the road.

My breath was coming in long, slow draws and blows. The cool night air sharp in my chest.

I reached the outskirts of town quickly. The night light and the still wind gave me shivers. The sight of the broken road, the first waves legacy, now another had struck and I didn’t care. My every thought was on the little girl I had last seen limp and pale in my golems arms.

My channel was starting to burn with the constant flow of power through it. I almost edged back, but the thought of leaving Sophia in the woods in the state I last saw her drove me on.

I followed the path in the hope of finding them, I had been days, Orb hadn’t said how many, I couldnt think of a good reason for them not to have made it to Rysan. All the reasons I could think of made my blood run cold.

I pushed harder the path became a blur as I ran faster than I ever had before.

Branches whipped at my face as I plunged through the thick undergrowth. I could see a path, not the first path that we had traveled on our way to the glade, a different one. rougher, less worn.

I slowed. I was wary, it could be the gnomes.

I walked slowly, taking care where I placed my feet. the moonlight was diffuse here under the canopy. Sounds filtered through. Rustles of movement.

I winced as the movement pushed the gem shards deeper into my flesh. I felt a trickle of warmth run down my chest. I reached in to my top, to pull the sticky cloth away. In the dim light I saw, the thick smearing of blood on the sharp chip of green gem I drew out. I placed it in my pouch before wiping my hand on my leg. The feel of the blood, warm and tacky, on my hand made me feel reminded me of my fight with Vance. Memories I didn’t really need right now, distractions.The rush of power I channeled through my body pushed the worst of the physical strains away, it couldn’t do much for the mental.

I turned my head this way and that in an effort to place the sounds. My eyes widened as I caught a glimmer of light off to my side. It vanished as I focused on it.

I took a deep breath and I cheated. I didn’t have the time to waste hunting.

I released my control on my reading, my world lit up.

The forest glowed, greens and somehow glowing browns. Ribbons of light going every which way. I felt a headache starting as I near overloaded with information. I couldn’t see an odd smudges which were the gnomes, but I could see a very familiar weave. Up ahead hidden in what looked like a hole dug into the roots of an old tree.

I called out, “Airis? Is that you?”

The forest went quiet, the rustling, even the sounds I hadn’t realised I was hearing stopped. Eerie silence closed in around me as I waited for a response. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears, the only sound there was, the pounding thrummed through me at the grinding of rock noise that came next.

“Tristan,” Airis’ gravel voice came. Weariness coloured it. “Is that you?”

“Yes I’m coming closer,” I said as I stepped closer. I raised my hands to signal I wasn’t a threat.

As I approached Airis rose out of the improvised den, his massive stone form intimidating but fatigue in every line of him, holding Sophia in his arms.

The breath went out of me as I saw her.

The little girl that meant the world to me. I hadn’t even known before today. The same girl I had just sacrificed my entire future for was still. Pale and unmoving, her little chest barely moved, I tore my eyes away from her motionless form to look Airis in the eye.

“She hasn’t moved or woken since we last saw you,” he said. Answering my unspoken question.

“Why didn’t you get her to Rysan? She needs help,” I said softly as I looked back down at her. I raised my hand to touch her, hesitated, then lowered it. I couldn’t bear to feel her like she was.

“The wave came, my systems were a mess, and the gnomes were everywhere,” Airis shook his big stone head, the grinding as it moved sent shivers up my spine. “ I ran, but they were everywhere, I found a tree, this tree, and I dug a den for us to hide out in. I could defend us here. They lost interest after a day or so, but I had to be sure. Those skills you gave me helped a lot. there was a small medic subset. I’ve checked her over as best I can,” he said in a rush.

“I’m disappointed that you couldn’t reach safety, but I’m pleased you thought of something,” I said as I continued gazing at Sophia.

I cocked my head to one side as I examined her with my other sight.

There was something off about it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. She looked completely healthy.

“Airis  have you noticed anything different about her?” I asked.

“Other than her not moving and her gnome bite healing up overnight, no” airis said giving me a look of pure confusion.

“I’m going to have to investigate this once we get back,” I said. I had no idea how I would investigate anything. I would be lucky if I avoided confinement to the academy training cells for breaking the terms of my employment. But I chose not to dump my burden on him.

“She’s got another link, this could be an awakening coma,” I said simply. I didn’t have any answers. Now, probably wasn’t the time for them either.

I saw the flurry of activity in Airis as he access his data core. Flickers and flares of light throughout his weave, like fire flies.

“You mean …” he started hesitantly.

“Yeah, she’s a mage.”

 

Mage Life Chapter 23

I tilted forwards, almost falling. The sudden motion woke me. I must have drifted off. My wrists hurt. I tensed my legs, lifting myself slightly, pins and needles ran through them as the I did a quick check to make sure I was ready for anything. Body; sore, aching and stiff. Check. Mind, tired and not very focused, check. Magic, still gone. As I did this I found what else had woken me, I hadn’t been asleep long, although the wait, of a few hours by my best guess, had worn on me.

The light had shifted from pure darkness to a very faint half-light. A slowly brightening glow was approaching, the footsteps muffled by my own heartbeat pounding in my ears. I gripped the chains in a white-knuckled grip. I attempted to remain calm, but the thought of splashing that bastard’s blood across the floor put paid to that. I was breathing hard already, I hadn’t even moved. The light was a torch again, but the holder was shorter and stocky. He stopped outside the door

“Vance, a pleasure to see you again,” I grated out through clenched teeth. Another of the foundry team,  what the fuck is going on?

Vance squinted and lent forward to get a better look at me. “Tristan, wasn’t it?” he asked. His brow crinkled in confusion. “What are you doing here? I thought you went on your way, I never expected to see you again.”

“Oh, you know, just locked in a cage like an animal,” I snarled. I wasn’t buying the dumb act. Why they wanted to capture us was beyond me right now, but the fact was they had. As to what they had done at the foundry. All those people. Dead, because of them.

“I have to take you to the boss, I didn’t realise it was you,” he said apologetically as he fumbled at the lock on the bars.

I tensed. Ready.

Vance opened the door, the keys were still in it. He took a step in, the torch held high. One more please, one more, I thought. I hoped.

He took it.

I lunged.

My right fist wrapped in chain. I caught him on the ear. Not what I aimed for, but better than nothing.

Vance stumbled back. I fell on him. The torch rolled away.

Vance got a grip on my right arm. Enough to keep my fist out of his mouth. Not enough to stop me using it as leverage to force my forehead into his nose.

He let go. Blood poured from his nose.

I hit him again. And again.

Vance groaned through split lips. It didn’t look like he would get up too soon.

I stood and kicked him in the ribs for good measure. I stumbled the couple of steps to the torch. I leant down to pick it up, as I did I heard movement. I spun round.

Vance had stood unsteadily. He came at me, clumsily.

I swung with the torch, little flares followed.

Unfortunately Vance didn’t jump back in time. The torch caught him in the face and stuck. He screamed and wildly flailed at his face.

The stench of burning hair and flesh filled the air, I could hear the sizzle of his skin under his screams.

I felt sick. I used the chance to dart for the door. I pulled it closed and forced my stiff, aching hands to co-operate to lock it. I took the keys out of the lock, after a few moments of fumbling. I put my back to the wall to the side of the door, the screaming was getting to me. I slid down until I was sat at the base, the cool stone helped sooth my head. It did nothing for the shakes though, as the heat of the moment left me. I found myself laughing with tears running down my face, being without my magic was getting to me. It was bad enough being in the dark, but without my extra senses, I felt truly handicapped. I was without light as the torch was still burning Vance. I wasn’t going to go in and peel it off his face to save me having to wander around in the dark. Just thinking about it made me shiver. I took a moment to tighten the chains on my arms, they were the only weapon I had, couldn’t have them getting in the way, then I stood.

I rested my right hand against the wall. I used it to guide me as I walked to the right, back the way Vance and Rumble had come from. I still had no idea where I was or how I got here. But I knew I needed to get out. When I came to a junction, the air was flowing from the opening to the right. A cold, stale flow, that made me cough as the dust got to me. The sound echoed oddly. I leaned over and lost my balance against the wall. The dust didn’t let up. I turned my head to prevent the worst, but I wasn’t sure of the way I had come now. No sign of light anywhere. The dark was smothering me. I could feel a sort of panic rising up in me. My breath came faster. Cold sweat beaded on my brow. I stepped blindly forwards. My hands out to the sides, hunting for a wall. Any wall.

Rough stone scraped the fingers of my left hand. I almost fell against it in relief. A weakening of my knees. I tensed. A strain as I pulled myself together. I followed the wall. There wasn’t anything else I could do. I walked slowly, I kept my turning my head listening for anything. The silence was deafening. I couldn’t even hear Vance’s screams and moans anymore. Thank the heart for small blessings. I walked, still slowly, I stumbled on the uneven floor, but didn’t fall. The clink of my chains echoed around me.

I stopped, terrified that there was something out there. It could have heard me. I nearly burst into a run. But something stopped me. Silence and darkness, not even a drip of water or a movement in the air. My eyes went wide as I strained to see. It wasn’t a trick. There was a shape ahead of me. A hundred paces or so, it was so hard to tell in the gloom.  I couldn’t even name what I was feeling, my breath went out in a rush. A very faint glow illuminated a line of what could be a corner. I held myself still. I was tempted to just run, but I didn’t know what I would be running into. I walked as slow and quiet as I could. Even my chains didn’t clink. Although they were getting rather heavy.

The light grew brighter. It was definitely a corner, the light source had to be on the other side. I inched closer as my eyes gradually adjusted to the light. I took my hand off the wall, I wanted both my hands free. I had no idea what was ahead. I needed to be ready, what I really needed was my magic back, but this was all I could do. I gripped my now dangling chains, enough free that I could swing at close range. I listened, nothing still. I took a deep breath and stepped round the corner.

A torch on the wall, illuminated the rough stone walls. They were clearly finished to a better quality than the natural rock in my cell. There were even flagstones instead of solid stone. It appeared I was in the basement of a very old building, built on a natural outcropping or something. The cell was clearly a cave system repurposed. This was something else. What it was I had no idea, but it was something. I took a few steps forward wildly looking around. There, a little ways ahead of the torch was a set of stairs leading up. Definitely a basement. Up had to mean out, and hopefully to Jase, Avery and Fion. I made my way slowly towards the stairs, I looked up them, I couldn’t see anyone, I could hear voices though, soft and distant. I gripped my chains and walked up the stairs, I crouched as they emerged into a large hall. From up here, the stairs were just a sunken area in the smooth floor.

I continued up, keeping as low as I could. I saw a cluster of people towards the back of the hall, near a daïs. An old, ornate chair, almost a throne rested on the daïs. Ancient, tattered banners in faded fabric hung from the walls flanking. Off to the side was Rumble standing before Jase and Fion who were on their knees in chains. Both looked worse for wear, Jase’s eyes were unfocused. Fion was asleep, how I don’t know, but he’d managed to be asleep in chains while kneeling. A person was laying down behind my mages, blonde, it had to be Avery. Two men were standing back from Rumble, one I recognised, medium height, short hair, grey, but large. Lessor. The other man was old and frail. White hair and beard, both short. He looked out-of-place. His eyes though, shimmered with light like a rainbow was trapped in his skull.

I looked for a way to approach without giving myself away. I needed to get them out, this didn’t look good for any of us.

“Where has Vance got to? He had one simple job. To bring the boy here,” Rumble said in what I now knew was his fake voice. “Brak, could the lower shield have broken?” he asked the older man.

I knew that name, the wizard from the foundry. Shit, well that explained the eyes. I couldn’t go up against a wizard on my best day, and why was a wizard with them? I thought they all signed on with the council.

“The shield is fine, let them go. We don’t need this,” Brak quavered. He looked to Jase and Fion sadly. “They don’t need to be here.”

“But aren’t you curious how they got here, or how they knew we were here?” Rumble asked.

I really needed a better name than Rumble for him. Something that said exactly how low he was, murdering all those people to cover a lesser crime. How little he cared.

“Not really, they are here. We need to get gone,” Brak answered.

“Boss, I agree. We don’t need this. We are supposed to be under the sight. How can we work if we have mages after us?” Lessor said. He looked towards his boss something intent in his gaze.

“You don’t know who this one is, do you?” Rumble said, he kicked Jase in the side.

A sharp snap and a groan from Jase could be heard, even from where I was.

“This scum is  the reason my family went from nobles to nothing, my entire line, grand nobles in their own right. This man is the reason, this empty hall was never a home to me, isn’t that right, father?” Rumble said venomously.

Jase’s son was Rumble. I gasped. Thankfully no one heard me.

I had an idea, it was stupid and would probably get me killed, but without my magic it was all I had. I took a deep breath, inched the chain on my right arm down to pool in my hand, a loop.

“Iason, it can’t be, you’re dead,” Jase muttered. I could see tears trailing down his face. “You look just like your mother.” There was a dazed quality to Jase’s voice, that made me think, he thought he was hallucinating

“How dare you speak of her, she died because of you. You chose the wizards over the nobles,over your own family,” Iason, rumble’s real name apparently, was shaking. I couldn’t see his face, his back was to me, but I doubt it was pretty. His voice was thick with anger and grief.

I ran, as fast as my legs could carry me. No one noticed me yet. By the time someone did, Lessor called out, but I had my chain looped around Iason’s neck. I pulled as tight as I could, he went down.

“Release them, undo what ever shield you have that blocks my magic, or I kill him, here and now,” I said to Brak, he seemed the most sympathetic.

“Ease up there boy, we don’t want no accidents,” Lessor said. He raised his hands and stepped away. He was clearly trying to appear non-threatening.

“I have been locked in a cell for no reason by bastards that burnt a district full of people alive. I’m not in the best of moods, so excuse me if I’m not inclined to take your direction,” I said.

I tightened my grip on Iason to combat some of my dizziness as anger threatened to overwhelm me.

“Fine, fine, I’m walking away,” Lessor said as he kept walking backwards away from me.

“I can’t take down the lower shield, but the one up here won’t take a moment. Lessor don’t go anywhere. Release his friends,” Brak said. Sigils like the ones Fion had used, started rising from the surface of his palm, totally different, but related in some unidentifiable fashion

“Don’t,” Iason gasped out.

I tightened the chains again.

He gurgled.

I looked down. He was turning a very bright reddish-purple. I eased up a bit, he couldn’t die yet. I cocked my head to the side, I could feel something. Other than rage and confusion. It was the sigils, they were talking, I didn’t understand them, but they were definitely talking. Oh shit, I thought as I realised what it meant. I braced my feet and took a deep breath. I was careful not to let Iason free. My magic rushed back, my reading deciding to go berserk, but I pushed it down. The rush of my senses being back was indescribable, other than them being sharper, but it told me something I didn’t want to know.

Avery was as good as dead, her link was gone. Not shattered. Not broken. Gone. I couldn’t deal with it now, maybe once we were away from here, I could do something. I held on to that hope, the other option was too much right now.

Fion woke up with a grunt. The massive mage looked around blearily. He blinked and shook his head, before noticing the chains around his wrists. he looked at them. I could feel a tiny pulse of magic from him. The metal liquified. No flash, No show. One moment solid, the next a pool of greyish silver on the floor. Fion just noticed me stood over Iason. “It seems I missed my target. What’s going on?” he asked me.

“I don’t really know, I woke up in a cell, and this bastard,” I shook my chains with the captured Iason for emphasis. “Who just so happens to be the fucker that destroyed the foundry, as well as Jase’s son apparently, was gloating. I escaped. Ended up here.”

Fion grunted again. Not really that talkative it appeared. He looked around again. “Brak? What are you doing here?”

“Hello Fion, good to see you again. I wish it was under better circumstances,” Brak said affably. You would think they had met in the street and it just so happened to be raining. Odd. The sigils rising from his palm hovered briefly as he spoke, almost as if they were listening.

Fion cocked his head, at the sigils. “I recognise some of them, you have gotten better.”

“Ten years, Fion. It’s been a long time. I noticed your own when you first arrived, although they were rather damaged,still they were better than when I first showed you,” Brak casually mentioned.

It was seriously unnerving, I was stood here holding a man hostage and they were conversing as if it wasn’t happening.

“It’s been a long time, master,” Fion agreed. “Now what are we doing here?”

“I see time hasn’t improved your manners, I had hoped you would outgrow your uncivilized parentage,” Brak noted with a hint of disappointment. “You messed up, is why you are here. Familial bonds, from what I could read. Clever and if Iason wasn’t here, it would have worked. I guess you were aiming for the boy?” “

Yes, Tristan. I wonder why it went to Jase,” Fion mused, he scratched his head as he looked around at us.

“Nothing works all the time, you know the magic has its ways,” Brak said, it sounded as if he was quoting something.

“Excuse me, can we get out of here now?” I asked frustrated. As interesting as all this was, now certainly wasn’t the time for it.

The older mage and his former master looked at me like I was some unruly child.

“Of course, Fion, would you do the honours? I’m a touch busy holding the shield at bay,” Brak said.

Fion nodded. Colours flushed through his skin, sigils, fainter this time, but no weaker, rose from his palms. They quickly formed a sphere around Fion, Jase and Avery.

I looked from the sphere to Brak. He nodded at me, “Go boy. Iason won’t do anything. You are free to go.”

I was torn, as much as I wanted to kill this bastard for what he had done, I needed to get back to Sophia. Revenge could wait. I gave the chains an extra tight squeeze, just because I could wait didn’t mean the fucker didn’t deserve a little now. Then I pulsed a bit of magic into the chains, they released from my arms with a clink as the manacles fractured. I sent a bit more power into them, locking them around Iason. I was sure the wizard could get him out, but it freed me to move without fear of reprisal. I dashed for the sphere just in case they changed their minds about letting us go free.

I plunged through the shifting wall of shapes.

No light. No sound. No feeling. Nothing.

Everything stopped.

Again.

A serial that I forgot.

I didn’t mean to, but I got all excited and intended to post a link and forgot to. I’m sure you have all done something similar. So this is my make up post.

Watchmirror

This is the story of Amalia di Danti. This is the story of the young woman who had the courage to doubt everything she believed, in search for truth and justice. This is a story about the impact of fear and terror, how it warps the minds of otherwise kind people. This is the story of what happens when power is left unchecked.

It’s a hard one to pin down so let’s go with fantasy and you guys and gals can check it out.

New serials.

Right, to all my readers, some of you may have noticed there seems to be a sudden explosion of serials cropping up. Its amazing really, there is a lot of hard work involved and it’s not always the most rewarding of pursuits, but there are some crazy people willing to put in the effort. I have two new ones to recommend to you all.

Maddison Rose has a new one, some of you found me from her Orbital Academy. Twisted Cogs is a fantasy adventure set in a magic-touched renaissance Italy. Twisted Cogs updates Sundays and Wednesdays.

Chrysalis is very new on the scene, her offering is Anathema, pre-apocalyptic super heroes in a setting much like our world. Strongly inspired by Worm. There is one chapter and a prologue so far.

If this is something you are interested in I can keep doing this as I find new ones that may appeal to you.

Mage Life Chapter 22

Darkness

I blinked, it didn’t help. It was still dark.

I wasn’t outside. The air wasn’t moving, I had the feeling of being enclosed, you know the one. I found myself in a very dark place. I was laying face down on what felt like solid rock, rough and cool. I pulled myself up and took a look around.

I couldn’t see. I activated my reading. Nothing.

Huh, that’s weird, I thought. Then I noticed something else. I couldn’t feel the magic, at all.

I stood up hesitantly, I raised my arms to feel around to make sure I didn’t hit anything. Or I tried.

I was stopped by a pressure around my wrists, I could move my arms, just not far. I brought my hand to my other wrist and felt. Cool metal, thick and what could be…

Chains.

I had woken up in a cold dark room in chains.

Don’t panic, I thought. Panic never helps. Think. How did I get here? Where is here?

I cocked my head.

I could hear something.

Even better, I could see something.

There was a faint glow of yellow light flickering from the other side of ,what I could now see was, a door of bars. Footsteps. A shadow as the light drew closer, slowly, so slowly.

A figure carrying a torch. Young, about my age. Tall and slim, with short hair. I couldn’t make much else out

“You’re awake, I see,” he said in a deep, deep rumble that was startling, I would never have expected such a voice out of such a slim man. It was familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

I attempted to speak, but my throat was dry. “Who?” I rasped out.

“That doesn’t matter, what matters is what you and your colleagues were doing,” he said as he moved the torch closer to get a better look at me.

I flinched and stepped back, the light from the flames too bright after my time in the dark.

“Look at me, boy!” he said sharply.

I blinked, my eyes watering as I tried to look at him. “Why am I in a cell?” I asked.

“Because I will it so, watch your tongue or I’ll cut it out,” he warned me, his voice harsh.

I recognised it.

“Try it,” I challenged him. I lunged forward snarling my sudden anger in his face, only to be brought up short by the chains.

He stumbled back as step before stopping. I had seen the fear on his face.

“I suggest you mind your manners, I do have your friends,” he said, the rumble absent this time.

I couldn’t talk, I was snarling and growling like a maddened animal. I pulled so hard on my chains I could feel the metal dig into my flesh, I ignored it.I didn’t care. I wanted to tear the bastard’s throat out.  I was pulling so hard on my links, that the feedback floored me. there was no magic here, I thought as pain roared through me.

The bastard laughed, it echoed from the stone.

I managed to move into a one knee kneeling position, panting. My hair was loose, it hung down around my face, as I looked at the floor.

“I’m going to kill you, and if you harm my friends, I will make it last a long time,” I said softly, I wasn’t sure he heard, but his shadow seemed to flinch.

“Your friends are in my hands, you are in a cell in chains and you dare to threaten me! You have spirit, boy, but you’re a fool,” the man said with a laugh. “I hold all the cards and you spit in my eye.”

I could hear his footsteps retreating taking the light with them. his laugh stayed echoing in my ears

I stayed where I was, listening, waiting as I racked my brain for clues. How did we get here and why were we locked up. It turned out I didn’t have answers, but I did have the glimmerings of a plan.

I shuffled over the rough floor of my cell, which was set into a very natural cave. on my hands and knees, I crawled, following my chains, to their anchors. They had to be set in something. The floor dug into the tender flesh of my hands and was harsh on my knees. I couldn’t risk standing and making the chains rattle while someone could be so close.

I found the anchor, a simple ring projecting out of what felt like a massive slab of metal sunk into the stone locked to my chains by a very large, heavy lock. So much for my original plan of wiggling the screws out of the stone. I couldn’t lift the metal let alone move with it if I managed.

I scooted round the other side of it gently, so I could keep an eye on the door. I felt the lock, maneuvered it so it was flat on the plate. I did my best to line up my wrist restraints to the edge of lock, but it was dark. I raised my arms. I brought them down with all the strength I had in my body.

The sound of metal striking metal sounded, loud, echoing. Sparks flared, that blinded me.  I clenched my teeth to keep from screaming out as my arm caught in the operation. I blinked away the sudden tears that welled. No time for weakness, as I stared towards the door. I looked for light, listened for footsteps. I waited some more, I had no clue how long I had, but they would come for me eventually I needed to be ready. I rose my arms again. I could feel warmth trickling under the cold metal. Blood, I assumed. Down again. Wait again. Three more goes, that felt like forever as time crept along.

My arms were numb, the vibrations throbbed through my bones. Sweat made my scalp itchy and drops ran into my eyes, I blinked quickly to clear them. I rose my arms again, they were so heavy. I blinked. I felt dizzy. I slammed the manacle into the lock. In the light from the sparks I could see the lock had separated.

I felt giddy.

I was free.

I took a deep breath. I wasn’t free. I still had the door to get through and find Fion, Jase, and Avery. But it was progress. I pulled my chains out of lock gently, my hands shook. I gathered up my chains in my arms. I crawled back towards the door, slowly. The clunk of the chains was making it hard to listen for footsteps. I guessed when I was at about the previous limit of the chains. I knelt on one knee again. I grabbed one of the chains and wrapped it around my arm, looped around and around. I did the other arm. I placed the ends in my hands. I left a few hands free, which is hard by feel alone, to dangle from my hands. I hoped that would fool whoever came for me.

I felt weak and woozy.

I tried to keep my mind focused on the plan, but I drifted to thoughts of Sophia in Airis’ arms limp and pale, she is my responsibility. I will make this right, I will do what I have to and get back to her. My tears threatened again, but I held them back.

No. This will not break me.

I focused on where I remembered the door was and I waited.

Mage Life Chapter 21

The three of us wandered back to the main room in silence. I could hear voices ahead of us, nothing loud, just chit-chat. As we arrived I looked around, there was Fion standing at the far end of the room, leaning against the wall, fiddling with something. Sophia was standing next to him, staring at the thing in his hands. The voices had been theirs. Avery was sat at the table, largely hidden by a handled basket.

Heads turned in our direction.

“Hello Fion, I’m pleased you will be joining us,” I said with a nod to the older man.

He grunted and resumed his tinkering.

“Avery is this everyone?” I asked with a glance around, just in case I hadn’t noticed Lyphia entering or you know hiding on the sofa. I was disappointed. She wasn’t here.

“Yes, everyone that I could reach is here. Lady Lyphia is out of touch, I left a message,” Avery said from behind her basket.

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m sure you are all wondering what I have gathered you here for. I have planned a day out for us. A trip to the woods, a picnic. I thought it would be nice.”

Sophia was jumping up and down tugging on Fion’s hand trying to share her excitement. Jase and Avery smiled at each other. Airis was kinda looking into space, and I was just looking around, most of my desire for the trip had been extinguished by Lyphia’s absence, but I kept it off my face. Sophia was so excited. It was hard not to get excited with her. Infectious in the best kind of way. I felt a smile crease my face, seeing her happy was worth more than anything. The kid deserved some happiness.

“If everyone is ready?” I asked with hardly a pause for answer, “Lets go then.

I picked up the basket as I headed for the door. I walked quickly, I didn’t want anyone thinking up a reason to delay, Sophia beat me to the door. She was almost running in her haste to get gone.

I led us through the halls, I tried to steer away from the groups of people in the halls, it looked like more had arrived from Greenlaw, I looked at a small group of three mages. they were all older than me. I wasn’t surprised as such, but I thought there might be a few more almost qualified students or apprentices with them. They were arguing softly, lots of waving arms and red faces, hushed whispers. I turned away, leading my group to the other side of the hall. I have a group, I thought, surprised at the strange turn of events. It wasn’t that long ago I’d been locked in a small cell only allowed out for classes and practice. How things change, and so quickly too.

We reached the street outside the academy in short order.

Sophia was skipping about me.

I smiled down at her, “calm down, you don’t want to be all worn out before we get there. Do you?”

“But we haven’t been anywhere, I’ve been stuck in our rooms for days and look it’s sunny,” she said at such a speed I barely understood her.

Even Fion was smiling at that.

“It won’t take us long, the forest is only a few moments away,” Jase said from the back. he was stood very close to Avery.

It wasn’t my place to pass judgement, although if there was something there, good on them.

I shifted the basket to my other hand and took Sophia’s hand.

Airis was stood next to Fion. The older mage kept giving him funny looks. Airis barely noticed, he seemed to have a sense of greater confidence, since the implantation.

“We had best get a move on then. Day light is burning,” I said. I gave Sophia another smile and a squeeze.

It was strange walking the streets as part of a group. Three mages together cleared the street faster than any other method I’ve ever heard of, apart from dragon attacks, which I’m fairly sure are mythical. I’ve never found any real evidence that they had ever existed. I’d looked. The idea of dragons had captured my imagination young and never let go. Anyway, we were soon at the gates to the town, looking at the path into the woods.

The sunlight made the trees glow green, sunbeams created clouds of flickering motes along the well trod track. I let go of Sophia’s hand and she scampered off down the path, dragging Airis along, to be fair he didn’t resist much.

I made my way at a leisurely pace. It was a nice sunny day, no kid was going to make me run. The others were still behind me, Jase and Avery chatted quietly. I heard heavy footsteps behind me not quite muted by the birdsong that drifted from the trees above us.

“That boy is different,” Fion’s gruff voice sounded from just behind and above my left shoulder.

I didn’t turn, it wasn’t a question. I just kept my eyes on Airis and Sophia chasing each other around, maybe Fion would realise I didn’t want to walk about it. A hand landed on my shoulder.

“Yes he’s different,” was all I said in response to the touch. I did turn my head to look at the older mage.

He had a distant look on his face as he stared at Airis. It was as if I could see the wheels of his thoughts turning as he puzzled his way through the mystery that was Airis.

“Sophia, Airis don’t go far, stay in sight, we need to set up,” Avery called from the back.

“How about over there?” Jase asked.

I looked back and saw Jase had his right arm out, pointing across his body, to the left of the path, his left was holding Avery’s hand. I averted my eyes and looked rather quickly to where Jase had pointed. I didn’t want to intrude on a private moment. I felt a strange pang in my chest as I turned, I really wished Lyphia could have made it.

The area Jase had gestured to was a small glade just off the path. a slight rising mound covered in thick but low grass. the gentle slope was ringed by large trees in almost a perfect circle. the sun shone down on the bright grass. It was almost dazzling after the shade of the path.

I nodded more to my self than the others. I hefted the basket as I changed direction slightly taking us off the path.

“Sophia, grab Airis and get over here, we are setting up. You can help first then you can play,” I called as I reached the peak of the tiny hill, it was barely a foot above the path. I stood at the top surveying all beneath me,

Sophia was running dragging an unresisting Airis by an arm, her hair was flying out behind her in a vivid fan of colour, her cheeks were flushed and she was breathing hard. Airis in comparison was a total contrast his dark hair flowed never a strand out of place. not out of breath at all.

“I’m here, hurry up, I wanna play,” Sophia said breathlessly.

“Here is the basket,”  I said handing it to her after taking the large blanket out. Avery had helpfully packed it on top of the food. “I will lay this out.”

I took a few steps back. So did everyone else. Then I flicked my wrists with two of  the corners of the blanket tightly gripped in my hands. The deep blue fabric flew out as a great sheet, it opened wide. Like a piece of the sky falling to earth as it drifted down to lay on the top of the green knoll.

Airis knelt down to tug it straight and smooth the wrinkles out.

Sophia quickly placed the basket in the center of the blanket, her tiny hands darting in to take out the cloth wrapped parcels of food, she didn’t unwrap anything, just rapidly emptying the contents of the basket with a barely restrained desire to be running and jumping and catching butterflies, or whatever it was young girls did at a picnic.

She looked at me. I nodded and she was off dragging Airis with her as he struggled to regain his footing. For a stone being he really was clumsy, that must have been my influence.

Avery and Jase were the first to sit down. Fion joining them shortly, I watched Sophia skipping about, my heart lightened a touch to see her so genuinely happy. A deep fear had taken root the moment I had taken her from the remains of her parents home, that she would never be able to be truly happy again. I wasn’t kidding myself, she wasn’t suddenly over her parents death, but that fear was gone now.

I sat down on the edge of the blanket, to try and enjoy the bright sun and fresh air.

Avery was the perfect hostess, unwrapping the food and handing it out, even on plates that Sophia had neglected to get out of the basket. I got passed a place with some bread and cheese, what looked ham and a strange cup of juice. The cup was ceramic, but where the opening would normally be was a sort of spout, nevermind. I placed my lips around it and tilted my head, the fluid hit my tongue in a wash of freshness. like tasting sunlit grapes. I lowered the cup and took a look at Avery who was watching me with a rather intent gaze.

“What is this?” I asked her with a gasp.

“Sunlight drops, mood lightening wine. It’s not very alcoholic, but its great for lifting moods. I found a bottle or two in the cellars. I thought it might be a nice treat. even the children can have a small measure.”  Avery said with a large grin. It clearly worked on her. she had relaxed wonderfully.

Fion stiffened suddenly, Jase and I turned to look at him then I felt it. I jumped up.

A shifting in the magic, a wave. headed straight for us. It wasn’t strong but it didn’t need to be. We were out in the woods with no protection.

At the edge of the woods I caught a flicker of movement, I turned but it was gone. “Sophia! Airis! Get back here now,” I screamed, fear pushing a touch of magic into my voice. it echoed through the grove with deep rumble like the voice of a storm.

I couldn’t see them, but I caught another flicker of movement in the woods.

“Jase protect Avery, get Fion to help if he snaps out of it in time.” I said shortly.

Jase nodded and stood murmuring reassurances to Avery. Fion continued to mutter to himself.

I spun trying to catch the flickers out, they were small, fast and there was clearly more than one.

I activated my reading as I readied my magic, holding it firmly.

With my enhanced sight I could see Airis like a beacon on the edge of the wood, glyphs flowed over his stone form, he had dropped his boy shape. Cradled in his arms was  Sophia, pale and limp, I couldn’t get a read on her but she wasn’t moving.

My heart froze.

All around them were shattered bodies of gnomes, their blue colouring unmistakable.

“Airis, run you fucking idiot, you’re her protector. Get her out of danger. Take her to Rysan  It’s a wave, she can’t be out here,” I screamed, my magic, a torrent around me as I shot blast after blast through the earth, tremors that knocked the remaining gnomes about

Airis’ eyes blazed with power, he nodded towards me and ran. When I say ran, it was like watching a mountain suddenly grow legs and move like the wind. A few moments he was gone, out of my sight.

The gnomes were massing, there had to be more than twenty, their matted fur and glittering eyes furious that their prize had been snatched from them turned their attention to me.

I spared a glance to Jase, he was holding Avery tightly his arms wrapped around her his head resting on hers, he looked to me, a sharp serious look filled with anger. his own power swelled around him, fire and earth, flecks of stone rose around him, heated to little more than cinders. Shimmers appeared, warping the air as the cinders flew out, a rain of blazing embers hitting gnome after gnome.

Fion was still muttering but his power was rising, so complicated that even with my reading couldn’t tell me anything useful about it. Shapes that defied all reason like tattoos appeared on his skin, glyphs that were so small and densely packed they looked like scales.

I had no idea about Fion, so I turned my attention back to the gnomes. A few remained, more than enough to finish us if the wave didn’t.

I was feeling the pressure of the coming wave on my links, my magic was suddenly thick and sluggish, as my links shook, they were twined around each other like the threads of a rope. They held each other together. I drew on what I could, which was far less than I had hoped. I drove it hard into the ground at my feet. I used it roughly, no time for finesse. Twisted spires of stone lanced from the ground under the gnomes. I was sagging as the magic took my stamina. I had enough for a final strike if I was careful, but it might be my last if I wasn’t.

The wave hit.

Magic screamed. Avery screamed as her link was shattered. Jase screamed as his shield buckled, fire washing back on him and Avery. Fion grunted and smiled, a vacant smile and raised his arms to the sky. A swarm of dark shapes rose from his bare arms, a dome of sigils I realised, as the giant mage poured his most personal power, some would say his soul into the air.

The sun dimmed and the wind stilled.

The screams stopped.

Everything stopped.

I stopped.