Waking up was surprisingly pleasant without Orb flashing at me. Looking out of the window I saw it was still early, the sun just peeking over the horizon, so I took my time getting ready, having a wash, and getting dressed. I really needed to get some food in; the chiller was bare, but that could wait until the end of the day. By the time I was ready the dawn was fully upon the town.
Walking the short route to the office, I saw a lot activity in the street as people headed out to their own jobs. Street cleaners with their glowing staves propelled the dirt on the streets ahead of them, taking them to the special containment openings at the base of the fountains. I marvelled at the ingenuity of the wizards who had set up the system.
When I reached the office doors I saw they were already open. Inside there were three people standing opposite my bosses desk: two adults and a young girl, maybe eight years of age. The boss looked frustrated.
“Trisan, get over here.” He called to me, noticing me standing in the doorway.
As I walked to stand in front of him I saw Orb hovering behind Seniormage Rysan, a faint green tinge colouring his lower half. I may be good with golems but my skills with air and fire are nonexistent, so I had no idea what the colours meant. I focused back on my boss.
“Tristan, this is Mr and Mrs Leif. They have a problem that you can solve for us.” I was puzzled, nothing sprang to mind in relation to my skills. My puzzlement must have shown.
“Their daughter has shown signs of her knack. Its earth as far as we can tell.” He told me.
“But Sir,” I protested, “she can’t be older than ten!”
Rysan raised a hand, stalling my protests. “Yes, she is eight, but her knack is developing very fast. 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.”
“Umm, yes Sir.” I answered, feeling very unsure about all this.
“Take her to get something to eat while I make the arrangements with Mr and Mrs Leif.”
I walked over to the young girl. My knowledge of children was slight, but I recalled something about being on their own level. I sunk down to one knee, looking her in the eye.
“Hello. I’m Tristan. I’m sure you heard what’s happening, is this okay for you?” I said to her trying not to talk down to her. She was eight, not stupid.
“Hi. I’m Sophia. I’m scared, are you going to help me?” She declared bravely.
“I’m going to do my best to help you, I’m new at this too.” I replied, feeling that such honesty deserved honesty in return. “Are you hungry?”
“Yes. Can we get some eggs and bacon? Its my favorite.” She smiled
“Sure we can Sophia.” I smiled in return. This kid is great. I really fancied bacon now.
I stood, cast a look back at Rysan still hashing out the details with Sophia’s parents, and motioned to Sophia to let her know we were going now. She came to my side shyly and we were off.
I remembered a cafe at the end of the road near my apartment. 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 rising out of the floor, large windows letting 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 Sophia’s face matching the look of anticipation on my own. We took a table by the door and looked down the menu made of glass, its 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 grandmama’s eyes do that, but my mamas don’t, does it hurt? Can you see in the dark?” She rattled out before running out of breath.
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.
“You can have anything you want. It’s my treat.” I said, feeling it was my duty to reassure her.
Her little face brightened with such a smile that I instantly felt better about my task.
“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!” She responded.
“She so polite.” She remarked to me before asking me “And you?”
“I’ll have the same, but I’ll have the blue ice tea please.” I said, and she left, headed back to the kitchen.
I took a deep breath, trying to buy time to think before answering Sophia’s questions.
“Right Ill give you the short answer about my eyes, and then if you think its 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 grandmama does. Will I end up with them too?” She was not letting this go.
“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 really didn’t want my breakfast ruined by talking about how odd my eyes were for my age, so I was glad when our breakfast arrived just then.
I thanked the waitress and paid for us both. I could tell Sophia was bursting to ask more questions, and while I respect curiosity I’d had enough. As she opened her mouth to ask the next one, I interrupted with one of my own.
“What did you do with your knack?” She blushed and looked down at the table, 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.
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 that lives at the house down the road, we were playing stone skipping on the lake, right?” She looked at me, 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 thats not magic, I just got good at it. Right?” She looked like she was desperately wishing I would agree. 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 its not magic, but I can’t. I’m sorry, it sounds very 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 was all I had.
She nodded, looking more and more vulnerable. It made my heart ache, but duty came first.
“I was nine. I was young when I bloomed, 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 had managed to talk normally until this point, but the memories of this time still choke me up. 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.” Poor Sophia’s eyes had welled up, but then so had mine.
“That’s really sad. But that’s real magic, I didn’t really do anything.” She sobbed at me. I don’t think she really believed that any more.
“Everyone has some magic. It’s nothing to be scared of.” I tried to comfort her. “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 had calmed down a bit.
“Lets eat our breakfast, then we can go find out what your parents are doing.” I calmly said, trying to change the subject. I really didn’t want her upset again.
I had to remember this cafe for breakfast; the bacon was crisp, and the eggs had to be the best I’d had in a long time. Sophia look like she was enjoyed them too. I nodded at the waitress as we left, acknowledging the assistance she had given me with Sophia.
When we walked back into the office, the boss was at his desk, signing something with 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 lunch. 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 JuniormageTristan. We shall leave the office so you can explain to Sophia while I bring Tristan up to speed.” Rysan announced, far calmer than I had ever heard him, before turning on his heel and walking into his personal office behind his desk. I, of course, followed him.
I had never been in there, and it wasn’t what I expected. There was a deep red desk, next to which was a waist-high pedestal that Orb was currently resting on. A huge unlit fireplace took up a whole wall, a basin on the other side. Rysan promptly sat down in the only chair, and I remained standing unsure what I should really do.
“I hate days like this, we had something else come up that I will get to in a moment, but now I have to take your master’s oath. Are you prepared?
“Yes.” I squeaked out.
“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, looking at it the multi-coloured flame that had formed around it. It didn’t hurt but it was warm and tingly.
“Witnessed and bound” a voice sounded from the flame.
Rysan paled at that. I wondered why. Before he spoke he accessed the glyphscreen in his desk, I guessed to read a report.
“Well that’s that done. The arrangement is one day a week, they will bring Sophia here and you will spend the day teaching her control and whatnot. 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 the possible survival of magical creatures.
“Yes supposedly they did, but we have three unsubstantiated accounts of gnomes to the east. Now I shouldn’t have to remind you that if you do find gnomes, you do not engage. They fight in packs and are extremely dangerous if they feel threatened.” Rysan warned me, sounding very stern.
“Sir, what am I supposed to do about gnomes then?” I enquired. 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.
“Exactly JuniorMage. Gnomes are magical, but 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 right now; the wizards are calling all seniors through our Orbs. You need to go as soon as possible and assess the danger.”
“Yes sir.” With a fist-to-chest salute I went on my way.