I woke up with no Orb, but my leg itched. It was still dark, but the window display told me it was nearly dawn. My leg had healed with almost no scarring, if you didn’t count the colour. It was slightly blue when the bite had been. Getting up didn’t hurt, which I was thankful for. The Westhaven Mage Academy was close to my apartment, but it was huge; I had no idea how much walking I would do. I guessed an early start was in order.
Just off the main fountain was the Mage Academy, a tall imposing building, a far darker stone than most of the town, nearly black. Just looking up at it caused me to think about my education here. My time there had been awful, stuck in my tiny student cell, only allowed out for lessons. I had spent almost five years here, never seeing the sun or walking freely around town, allowed to mirror my family twice a month. For most students it was double that. We were told that feelings of frustration and isolation supposedly provoke greater insight into our magic, but frankly I had never felt that insightful, just pissed off.
While I was lost in thought the sun crested the horizon, the light helping manage some of my darker thoughts. Bracing myself, I accessed the doors. They authorised me, and granted me access, and I entered the warren.
The reception was dim, lit by faint glowglobes embedded into the walls, I guessed to discourage visitors. It worked; no one came in who didn’t have to be there, unless they wanted to be a mage. There was no one at the reception desk when I walked up to it, although on the desk a glyphscreen, was signalling me. The reason for the touch of magic soon became clear.
“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 MageJase.
The map on the screen led me right past my old student cell. I checked the info shard mounted in the door, but apparently the cell was off limits, and that’s all I was cleared to access. No info on me, or any other occupant past or present. I hated this place.
I reached the research area shortly. It was well lit, a stark contrast to the areas for students or visitors. Here was where new magic was discovered and developed. Each door was clearly marked with angular glyphs, lab Seven was just on my left. Sending forward my magic to activate the identification charm, I took a deep breath before meeting my tormentor as the door gave me access.
Elder MageJase looked exactly as I remembered. 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 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! Lets drop the subject, on to business.” I gritted my teeth through his little speech.
“Your first custom enchantment is unique, all the others are standard, this one is personal. What do you would serve you well? A weapon? Defense maybe?”
I had 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 think of what you want, push it into the disc.”
I looked at this black disc. Defense is an easy concept, everyone understands it. Reaching with my power into the disc, I tried to impress defense into it. 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, 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? 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 you new charm. I will log it as ‘success but unidentified’, until you figure out what it does.” He turned back to his worktable, 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 awhile yet.” He rushed over to hand me a silver shard no bigger than my pendant. Jase smiled and turned away again as if I no longer existed.
I went home. I had a lot to think about.
I sat in my chair in my apartment. It was late. Holding a mug of coffee, I looked down at my right wrist, contemplating my new adornment. It had wrapped itself around my wrist much like a bracer. It’s once-black colour was gone now, replaced by a constantly shifting green and blue. Using my othersense to try to understand this thing that I had made didn’t help as much as had hoped. The form had calmed, but it was still too convoluted to grasp. Giving up for now I finished my cold coffee, grimacing at the taste. I stood, taking the mug to the basin to wash it. I decided to turn my mind to what Jase had said, about the wizard restricting information about magic.
If more people had known just what magic can do, more might have survived the waves, the dome would have been stronger, it wouldn’t have shattered at the end. Maybe the waves could have been stopped instead of hiding. 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.
After a long night filled with nightmares of fire and death, I awoke with a start. My senses were burning with the strength of the magic in the air. Something had happened.
As a mage it was my duty to protect. I rushed to get dressed then ran out of the door into the street.
The sky was burning. A pillar of flame, hundreds of feet high was shooting into the air from the east of town. Summoning my magic I pulled water from the fountain to just under my feet, guiding it towards the fire. The small wave I had created was taking me far faster than I could run. Frantic to get there, I used my wave to push civilians out of my way. As I approached the base of the pillar I could see the shadow of a man in the core of the fire. He was screaming, and the fire seemed to pour out of him. My senses could feel the magic flowing into him, his link wider than any I had seen. My wave was evaporating as I got closer. The paved stone was cracked and scorched, the water hissing into steam on contact. The heat was immense, like stepping into an oven.
My magic reacted before my conscious mind could understand that the heat was too much for my body, and cooling relief washed over me, water concepts coming to the front of my mind. Feeling better prepared I stepped toward. The man’s screams piercing me, I reached out to touch the flames. This is raw wild magic. The thought ran through me. This is the horror of free magic.
Shaking my head to clear away the distractions I released my magic, knowing this was the man’s only hope. I tried to smother his link with more magic, attempting to block it. The flames dimmed slightly and then roared out as his link widened. Magic flowed too strongly through him. The man twisted as the magic burned all around him, slowly consuming his flesh.
My heart heavy, I realised that I couldn’t help him. All I could do was end his pain. Using my earth abilities I commanded the pavement to flow around him, cocooning him in liquid stone. I gagged as my senses told me in exacting detail where the stone was; flowing down his throat, condensing in his lungs and stomach. With a final twist I solidified it. A moment later the pillar died with him, flames dispersing, the heat drying the tears in my eyes as it slowly dissipated around the stone coffin.