I woke up dreading today, not least because I had been up late dealing with the fire incident. I refused to think about it. It was assessment day, to determine if my current posting was permanent. It was also my first session with Sophia.
As I dressed I cast around for ideas on how to teach control to an eight-year-old. My own control issues were completely different; after Zelf died I had refused to use magic for years I buried it. My teachers had been unable to coax it out of me. It wasn’t until I saw a healing charm fix my father’s arm that I had wanted anything to do with magic again.
Sophia was a totally different person. Her magic was helping her. Like most of ours did when it first developed, but hers was going to get her in trouble eventually. What if she was hurt, would it heal her? Or would it lash out at the cause of the injury? One was acceptable. The other wasn’t. I can’t say being eight is that much different to being eighteen in terms of wants and desires, but it’ll change how I can teach her.
It came to me like a thunderbolt; I may not be the best to teach a little kid, but I was all she had. I needed to relate to her in a way she would grasp. Magic isn’t just abstractions like I was taught. It was useful and possibly fun to a kid. It was skipping stones and repairing your toys. The idea settled into my mind, a smile creasing my lips at the thought.
I finished dressing, feeling much better about teaching but still uncomfortable about my assessment. Taking a final look around incase it was my last time here, I left.
At mage headquarters, I walked to the front desk. There was no sign of anyone but Orb, bright and blue and fully charged by the sense of it.
“Good Morning, Junior Mage Tristan. I have been ordered to inform you that Senior mage Rysan is unavailable for the next few days. You will be taking orders from Master Mage Jase today. Due to your assessment, I can’t reveal any further information. Report to the mage academy immediately.”
“Yes Orb.” I replied, unsure how to actually address Orb now that it was my superior.
“Tristan. Was that okay?” Poor Orb left on its own to pass messages.
“Yeah Orb that was great, I have to go do what I was ordered.” I comforted it.
It must feel awful without Rysan around.
I departed; I had orders, so I couldn’t stay and comfort a summon, no matter how much I wanted to.
As I had only been at the mage academy a few days ago, the walk felt very quick with the route fresh in my mind. The reception hall was the same as before besides two differences: the lights were bright, welcoming even, and Master Mage Jase sat at the desk, tinkering with a glyphscreen. He didn’t even raise his head as I approached.
“Morning Tristan. How are you today? Please dispense with the formalities with me. I have always despised titles.”
And he wonders why I’m not comfortable around him. Keeping in mind that I had been ordered to do as he commanded, I responded.
“Morning Jase. I’m fine, thank you for asking. If it’s okay could we move on to my assessment please? I have to teach my apprentice this afternoon.” I really didn’t like calling him Jase. It felt too familiar a name for a man who had terrorized me for years. He finally looked up from his screen, a frown appearing as he focused on my face.
“Apprentice?” He queried.
“Yes, I have an apprentice. She awakened early and needs to learn control. I have taken the oath.” I answered firmly, not betraying my own doubts about my fitness as a master.
“It was witnessed, I take it? The oath?”
I thought back, even though it was only a few days ago. The voice witnessed and bound.
“Yes, it was. I never knew oaths had that power.” I said hoping he would explain.
“Some oaths are witnessed by the wizards themselves.” He waved a hand, dismissing the distraction. “Well lets get on with it then. We are down in medic room two.” Jase said as he stood up and walked towards the side hall. All I could do was follow him and try to figure out what he had meant.
Medic room two was a bland, instantly forgettable place, which partly explained how I had been here every month for years during my training and still didn’t remember it. It wasn’t very large, maybe twenty by twenty foot. A workstation sat in one corner, and a raised plinth in the center was large enough for the largest man to lie on. Bright white glowglobes were set in the corners, casting the room in harsh clear illumination.
Jase had sat down at the work console, and his glyphscreen lit up and communicating with the console.
“If you could disrobe and lay on the plinth, and please hand over your amulet.”
I was already taking of my clothes. I knew the drill, although the amulet part threw me.
“Jase, why my amulet?” I asked. It was so far from normal that I couldn’t resist.
“The data in it is part of your assessment. I assumed you already knew.” He said in his dry tone, as if to let me know how disappointed he was that I didn’t know. He really knew how to get under my skin. I decided that I had best submit quietly before I said something that I would regret. Naked, I walked over to the console, handed him the amulet, and turned and lay down on the plinth, grimly trying not to get worked up about it.
“Lay still, I’m just going to activate it.” Jase called over.
I did my best not to stiffen up in anticipation as the plinth activated, warming underneath me, paralysing me. Dormant glyph screens on the walls lit up, showing my vitals, and my magic surged at the treatment as designed. The screens rapidly shifted from one image to another of conceptual forms, I assumed analyzing my magic.
“Hmmm.” As there was no one else there I assumed the noise came from Jase, but I couldn’t turn my head to look.
The plinth went into the next stage of its program. The pain, while low, was everywhere and nowhere. It felt like burning and cutting and pressure, every type of pain I had ever felt. The screens flickered even more rapidly, seeming to be building something complex and strange. The pain vanished. I lay panting naked and shivering. Next came the light. Beams from the ceiling shot through me, changing colours. I was blinded by them.
The confusion is always worse than the pain. I have no idea how long I lay there, but the next thing I knew the light had shut down and I was released. I lay still, trying to get my bearings, taking large deep breaths. Jase walked over to me.
“You can get dressed now, here is your amulet. Take a moment to collect yourself, then we can discuss the results.” He said gently. I had forgotten how soft he could be when the mood struck him. Feeling slightly better I pulled the amulet over my head, stood, and grabbed my clothes, feeling uncoordinated. It took three attempts to get my feet in my boots.
Finally dressed, I approached Jase who was studying his screen.
“Well Tristan, I have some good news and some rather unusual news. What would you like to hear first?” He sounded far too happy for my liking.
“The good news, please.” I asked rather apprehensively. Jase’s version of “good news” was often very different from mine.
“Oh, I had hoped for the unusual news first, but have it your way.” Jase seemed slightly put out at my choice.
“The good news, is you are perfectly healthy and stable. You will be able to continue in your current assignment.” I breathed a sigh of relief, although even that was cut short as he continued.
“The unusual news is, you have wizard levels of magic in your system, which is completely unheard of in someone your age. Also, your soul link has expanded a lot more than I expected; you have two major links and seven minors. You appear to have unique forms as well, three that I can see so far. From your amulet I have all knowledge of your recent activities, none of which explains this.” Jase was genuinely excited. I, on the other had, was baffled and getting rather distraught.
“Jase, can you get to the point! What does it mean?” I was terrified my magic was going rogue. I didn’t know what happened, but I doubt it was good. My thoughts instantly went to the man from last night; visions of fire pouring out of me, needing the final peace brought to me before I hurt someone.
Taking a look at me, Jase saw the state I had got myself into. He laid a hand on my arm, before softly saying
“Tristan my boy, calm down. I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s nothing really, just an oddity. Your power is greater than we thought. You have no blockages, which are normally there. They sometimes disperse as you get older. Sometimes they get larger. Your forms are your reference points. Do you remember our lessons on those?” He asked trying to get me to focus on what he was saying. I nodded.
“Our form is created when we blossom, and when we cross over to mage student, which is our second awakening. They are our conscious link to the magic, normally a single concept rooted in our element.” I recited from long memory, the action helping me concentrate on the here and now rather than last night.
“Well done my boy, that is exactly right. You have some extra forms that must have developed over the last week or so. Minor awakenings, don’t worry. I will keep an eye on you. You trust me, don’t you?” Actually despite all the pain and suffering he had caused me over the years, he never went further than he had to. He had always been as warm and kind to me as he could. I wasn’t comfortable with him, but I did trust him. I nodded.
“Yes. Jase I do trust you. Thank you.”
He beamed at that.
“Thank you my boy. Now that we have got that unpleasantness out of the way, I will forward to results to Orb, who will reinstate your clearances and put in my recommendation, which is you shall be fast tracked for advanced training and given two days leave a week barring emergencies.” I was stunned. I hadn’t expected anything like that.
“You had best go prepare for your apprentice. Remember it may not mean much to you, but it means the world to her.” He cautioned me, as he began deactivating the console, the screens on the walls finally going back to their dormant state.
“I will. Thank you Jase.” I said as I left, feeling very unsure about the whole exchange. I was a freak, but not in a bad way apparently. Trusting Jase was a move that could come back to haunt me, but I couldn’t feel too bad about it. I needed to trust someone.
With my assessment done, I went to headquarters to prepare for my apprentice. The mind numbing fear of failing Sophia had faded down to lingering doubts. Orb was there to greet me and Sophia was waiting patiently in the entry hall. Putting on my best smile, I walked over to her.
“Good afternoon, Sophia. Are you ready for a lesson?” I asked, hoping for an eager response. I was disappointed.
“Do we have to? It just sooo boring. I want to play.” She pouted.
She’s so cute.
“I do have something planned that may be more fun than you are imagining.” Was my sly reply.
“Tell me, tell me!” She pleaded.
“It’s a surprise.” I stated. I was determined not to give in to her demands.
“Where are we going? Are you sure it will be fun? You’re a grown up and grown ups are boring.” She rattled out, trying to get my secret out of me.
“Just come with me. It will be fun. I promise.” Remaining resolute in the face of child pestering. She got off the chair and we went to the door.
Once outside she started looking around, trying to guess where we were going. Seeing her confusion as we walked towards the north of the town made me smile.
“Why are we heading out of town? Aren’t we having lessons?” She continued, her little face all screwed up with befuddlement.
“We are having lessons, I just thought you might enjoy them outside.” I said, looking over to her as we walked.
“Great, I get to sit in the woods. Reading about magic.” She sulked. I smirked but stayed silent.
She continued mumbling complaints as we approached the woods.
It was a beautiful afternoon. The forest was peaceful apart from the grumbling of my apprentice.
We reached the small lake at the edge of the forest.
“Right, here we are. Our task for today is skipping stones.” I stated, feeling very pleased with myself. I felt the urge to add “ta da”, but I suppressed it.
Sophia was gobsmacked. Her confusion was so visible that I burst out laughing. A few open mouthed, failed starts at speech came out before she simply looked at me.
“Yep. We are skipping stones. Control isn’t just about stopping your magic. It’s about grasping it.” I explained.
Sophia piped up at that point.
“But I don’t want to do magic, I want it to go away so I can play with my friends again. I just want to be normal again!”
“I know you do Sophia, but this is the only way we can do it. If we suppress your magic it will find other ways to burst out. We need control, and this could be a fun way to get it.”
“Fine, I’ll do it your way, but I want it gone.”
“If you do well today, you may be able to play with your friends again soon.”
After that she picked up a smooth rock from the shore and threw it into the lake. It didn’t skip at all, but it went a respectable distance.
“Can you feel anything around you? Your other senses should be more awake out here.” I asked as I picked up a stone.
“Not really. It’s kinda ghostly. Am I supposed to feel anything?”
“Not yet. Let’s see if you notice this.” I replied as I drew my magic. I threw the rock as far as I could, sending my magic into it to push it further.
“Woah. It lit up. I can feel it. It’s all tingly. Is it supposed to be like that?” She almost shouted at me.
“Yeah it is. You will get better at feeling it as we practice. Now I want you to try to send a rock like I did.”
“How do I do that?” She asked, puzzlement twisting her face.
“I can’t tell you Soph. You need to work that out for yourself, but I’m here to keep you safe. Nothing bad will happen.” I smiled at her, hoping it would reassure her.
She smiled back nervously, but she did pick up a stone. With a look of intense concentration, she drew back her arm and let fly. The stone barely even reached the lake. There was no magic. The look she gave me could have melted steel, and it rekindled my earlier mirth.
“That was a good try, but you didn’t think you would get it on your first go, did you?” I got out between laughs.
Sophia was having none of it.
“Why didn’t you say it would take more than one try? How was I supposed to know?” She even stamped her tiny foot in exasperation.
“Nothing worthwhile is easy, Soph. Even this will take a bit of work. You ready for another go? I can show you again if you want.” I drew breath to say more but she interrupted.
“No. I’m going to do it all on my own.” She said very sharply.
Picking up another rock she threw again, this time with a slight tingle of magic. The rock shattered. My own power rushed forward, catching the fragments before they could harm Sophia. She was now covered in rock dust, that had escaped my grasp. I burst out laughing, seeing her like that. Sophia just glared at me. I used a sliver of my water magic to lift a bubble of water up to her.
“Have a look,” I gasped out. My laughter wouldn’t stop. She looked into the mirror like surface of the bubble.
“I look like a ghost! Am I dead?” She panicked, which killed my laughter.
“No Soph, you aren’t dead it’s just dust. You are fine. It was a mishap. We all have them when we train. Don’t worry. I said I would protect you. You are perfectly safe.” I said calmly. I wish they gave us training in dealing with people at the mageacademy. I’m awful at this.
Sophia looked at me, and then burst out laughing.
“Ha. You should have seen your face! I got you!” She howled as she clutched her side.
Tricked by a child, man, I must be gullible.
“Yes. You did get me. Now back to the lesson. What did you do differently this time?” I asked quickly, hoping to move past this. I did my best to be the stern teacher, not letting on how chagrined I was.
“Umm, I don’t know. I just kinda pushed.” She replied, slight confusion evident in her voice.
“That’s normal, don’t worry. Finding words for it is hard. Do you think you can do it again but without the exploding?” I asked.
“Maybe. Its not gonna s’plode again is it?” Was her nervous reply.
“Maybe, but its not a problem. We can wash off the dust when we finish.” I said.
Looking far more relaxed about the whole thing, she picked up another stone. With a mighty throw her magic burst out, pushing the stone far further than even mine had gone. Sophia let out a massive whoop.
“Did you see that? I did it.” She exclaimed, flushed with excitement.
“I did, Sophia. Well done. See magic isn’t all bad, is it? I asked with a smile.
“I guess not. But I still wish it was gone.” Was her slightly sullen answer.
“If magic was gone, you and everyone you have ever known would never have been born. Magic is essential for human life, Sophia. It’s not all bad. Just think how much fun it will be to be able to play with your friends again, once it’s under control. They will have to go through this when they get to their own blossoming.” Was my solemn reply.
“Really? Everyone would never have existed?” She asked shocked.
“Yeah Sophia. Magic is everywhere in everything. Some kids are born without a link, but they die really quickly. Sorry but there is just no way around it. Look at it this way. Magic is a part of everything, which means every time you use it, you are a part of everything. How amazing is that?”I tried to give her something else to focus on. I wasn’t very happy about the needing magic bit either.
“So I’m a bit tree and a bit Soph? Will I grow leaves or maybe turn into a rock?” She asked me looking so serious.
“You’re messing with me again. aren’t you?” I had to ask. Im not getting tricked by a kid again.
“Yep, but I was being serious too.” She said impishly.
“Well. No. You won’t grow leaves or turn into a rock. So don’t worry about that.” I answered.
“Ok then. Do we throw more rocks now?” She said, seemingly bored with the topic.
“One more then we should get back before you get tired.” I said. Before I had even finished the sentence, she picked up a smooth rock from near her feet and with a sideways throw skipped it over the water. A tiny ghostly pulse of magic helping it skip. One, two, three, four, and almost a fifth. Feeling very pleased with both myself and Sophia, I gestured to draw her attention. Together we walked through the wood the short way back to the road.
“Did I do well?” She asked, not far away from headquarters.
“Yes Soph. You did amazingly well. I’m very proud. Your parents should have some exercises to go through with you, but at this rate it won’t be long until you have control and can be back with your friends.” I replied.
“How long?” She said.
“A few sessions. Maybe less. It depends on you. Read the books I’ll be sending back with you. Any questions you can ask me next time or your parents. They should be able to help you.”
“But I thought I got put with you, because they can’t.” she said.
“Nope, you got put with me because you’re young and you have earth-based magic. They can’t even feel it, but they will be able to answer your questions. Just not the practical stuff.”
At headquarters, Mr and Mrs Lief were waiting to collect Sophia. After a short greeting, I handed over of a couple of books and sent them all home.
I sat on the edge of the desk after they left. I had no further orders, a few hours left on my shift. Not sure what I could be doing, I turned to Orb.
“Orb, are there any outstanding mage tasks available?” I asked. I hated having nothing to do.
“No Tristan there are not. But there is a call for assistance at the foundry. It appears that there was an overload of the smelting equipment.” Orb replied.
“Any further information? That’s a bit scant to be going on with.” I queried.
“Just a comment that it was caused by a worker. But it’s unsubstantiated.”
“Any other mages able to respond?”
“Yes Tristan. There are three enroute. Should I inform them you are on the way?”
“Yes please Orb. I will be there as soon as I can.” I said as I got up going to the door.
“Done. They are expecting you.”
The Foundry was where most of the base items for enchantment were made. The employees were normally knacks. This one though had been a minor problem for the last few years. Inferior items. Low productivity. Investigations had been done, but nothing conclusive had been found. I had no idea why it was still running.
All this went through my mind as I ran down the streets. The foundry was on the very edge of town, since few wanted a dirty refining industry next door. The smoke alone blackened the surrounding area. As I approached I could see very little to indicate there was a problem. Two mages were standing outside, clearly waiting for me.
Two large men, at least ten years older than me. The taller was on the right. He raised his palm to stop me.
“Can we have some identification please?” He asked, looking down at me.
“My ident is Junior Mage Tristan, you should have been informed by Orb that I was coming.” I said.
“Junior Mage Tristan. The situation is that the smelter has shut down. The enchantment is void, and the worker that was operating it has suffered backlash. We don’t know what caused it, but considering the state of him we think he sabotaged it.” Said the taller one.
“He’s in a bad way, Lessor.” Piped up the shorter one on the left, turning his head to his companion.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.
“You know how backlash can hit you.” Lessor answered knowingly. I winced at the recollection of my own backlashes, forced on me by my tutors.
“Yeah I do. Orb told me there were three mages en route. Where is the other?” I queried.
“Derrick is inside, completing the voiding.” The short one said.
“Vance.” He offered.
“Thank you Vance. Anything I should do?”
“Nah. We got this.”
“You’re sure?” I pushed.
“Yes. We are fine.” He said sharply, colour flushing his face.
“Alright, alright. I’ll just take a look so I can confirm to the boss that its handled.” I said.
“No. It’s under control, we don’t need you here.” Hostility radiating from him
“I’ll go then, I can see you guys have it under control.” I placated him. Something didn’t feel right, and it wasn’t just because I was excluded. Something was wrong.
Walking away I reached out with my senses. Nothing, absolutely nothing, which was very strange; this area should be buzzing with magical activity. So why wasn’t I feeling anything? Confused, I decided to investigate.
I could feel the mages’ eyes on me, even though they didn’t show up on my other senses, so I took a side path, doing my best to look as if I was taking the scenic route.
The side alley was dingy and narrow. My nose wrinkled and my stomach churned at the rank smell in the air. Clearly the road cleaners didn’t get down here. Debris littered the cobbles, making the footing treacherous. Since I was making sure to step carefully, I only progressed slowly. The blindness of my other senses had me nervous. I’d not been this blind since I was a child. Stepping gingerly around the corner, I saw the back of the foundry was conveniently unguarded. I made my way to the base of the building. If magic was blocked somehow, then my own power might set off alarms. I resolved not to touch my abilities.
Taking a few deep breaths in the hope it would calm me, I set about looking for a way in; a window, an unlocked door, anything. Casting my eyes around I spotted a small window that was open about a foot above my head; it must be used to keep the heat manageable. Taking care to move silently, I positioned myself under the opening. I could hear voices.
“Sir. We got rid of him.” Came Vance’s voice.
“Good, any idea who called them in?” Asked a deep rumble.
“No Sir. It could have been one of the workers, we did blame it on one.” Vance answered.
“Look into it. We are almost done here, get ready to torch the place.” The rumble ordered. “And tell Brak to remove the shield. Get that wizard out of here.”
“Yes Sir.” I could hear heavy steps slowly fading away as well as raised voices too muffled to make out the words.
“Everybody prepare for portal.” Came a slightly quavering older voice. Then with a ripping sound, light streamed from the window, blindingly bright. The pain in my eyes made me cry out.
“What was that?!” Rumble shouted.
“Sir, we have to go. This place is about to blow.” Vance called out.
The light built up, blinding me as I crawled away. My other senses suddenly came back, screaming at me. The magic in the area was twisted, mangled. To my othersight it was bleeding. A tingling in my arm was the only thing that saved me as my enchantment became active. A dome of pure, raw magic erupted from my bracer, shielding me, cutting me off from my senses again, but the blastwave as the foundry blew up was deflected. Shattered stone, warped metal and pure heat poured from the ruins. Feedback struck my nerves afire as the magic burned through me. The black of unconsciousness beckoned, and I was powerless to resist.