My walk back to headquarters was delayed by the fuzzy feeling the morning had given me. I took my time, a nice gentle walk through the streets of home to give me few moments longer to clear my head, the music I could faintly hear from the paving itself wasn’t helping, the louder voice from the orb was distracting. I did my best to block it out, the last thing I wanted right now was to lose control of my sight, again.
The streets were quiet, a few afternoon workers on their way to wherever they were going, I easily avoided bumping into them this time, proving that I could pay attention instead of wandering around in a daze as was the current pattern.
The square in front of headquarters, sectioned off. Mage guards keeping people out, my curiosity was peaked.
I approached the first mage I saw, an older fellow, late forties at least, grey hair, his uniform was straining to hold his stomach in, he eyed me with what I was guessing appropriate suspicion, my own brief training in crowd control was limited to make people feel guilty until they go away, unless it escalated to violence, despite that knowledge, I shifted uncomfortably under his gaze before speaking.
“Afternoon, what going on here? I asked congenially
“Some big guy is flying in from Greenlaw,” he replied grumpily, he spat to the side, a great hawking phlegmy mass of mucus splattered against the stone paving.
“This is the landing spot? I thought we had a pad outside of town,” I mused aloud.
“Well this guy clearly ain’t using it. Do you have business here, or are ya just being nosy?” he asked obnoxiously, his glare turning up a notch.
“Yes I’m reporting for assignment,” I stated, confident that would allow me passage.
“You’ll have to wait, we don’t know exactly when it’s coming in, it’s not worth my job to let even an idiot like you get squashed,” he said as if I was personally ruining his day.
“But I need to report,” I protested.
My objection was falling on deaf ears, he moved not an inch unless you counted the finger he had lodged in his right ear, he scrunched up his face as he wiggled it about, it came out with a distinct squelch, a glimmer of satisfaction in his faintly green-glowing eyes.
My disgust was short lived. My retort died upon my lips, unsaid as the wind picked up speed. Massive gusts staggered me and my new friend. The air whipping around the confined spaces. The square was acting as a focus to drive the wind down the streets, twisters of dust were born and died rapidly as the pressure increased, grit blew into my eyes as I lifted my head to catch a glimpse of what was causing the wind.
A large translucent bird was settling into the square, it was massive, wing tip to wing tip must have been two hundred feet easily, the body was a wavering mass of pale colours much like a rippling pond, solid shadows could be seen in the center, unmoving human shapes dwarfed by the bulk of the bird.
I had to raise my arm to protect my eyes from the blasts as the wings beat, the tempo of the beats reducing slowly as its giant claws touched the stones of the plaza. The air stilled as the bird landed.
My companion was nonchalant, he spat again, a startlingly loud sound in the relative silence of the area.
“Right I’m done, I’m off to the pub,” he announced to no one in particular before walking off.
I still had to report, I took a step forward trying to see a way around the bird. There was a small gap that I aimed myself towards. I tried hard not to be uncomfortable around the golem. I knew that’s what it was. I could feel the weaving of it, a totally mindless puppet granted flight, that didn’t mean a giant bird wasn’t intimidating. Come on it’s freaking huge
I made my way across the square, as I did so the chest of the golem vanished, leaving an opening to its core, floating out came a man, from this distance I couldn’t see much else. The man gradually sunk to the stone of the plaza landing gently, next to the fountain.
The bird’s chest sealed up and its wings started fluttering. I crouched down covering my eyes with my arms, using a touch of magic to form weak shell. I couldn’t do much more with my skills. The bird’s wings rapidly gained speed, lifting its feet from the paving. A few more powerful wing beats pulled the construct further into the air, it climbed quickly before turning towards the east and just like that it was gone, the bird’s speed was incredible.
I deactivated my shell and stood a moment before resuming my walk to headquarters,the passenger was also heading in the same direction, he looked familiar but I couldn’t place him.
The man reached the lobby long before I did. A few hundred feet between us may not seem like much but throw in some dust and grit and my sight wasn’t as good as normal, in fact my eyes were still smarting from the first few blasts of air.
Upon finally reaching headquarters, I walked straight through to Rysan’s offices as I had done for weeks.
“What do you think you are doing mage?” Rysan thundered at me.
I stood just inside the doorway, there was no sign of Jase. Rysan was standing behind his desk, orb was hovering over his shoulder, rapid flickering colours pulsing through him as he re- familiarised himself with Rysan’s energies
“I’m waiting for an answer mage, what made you think you could just walk into my office without so much as a knock?!” Rysan shouted, running his hand through his short stubbly hair, his face was lined with stress and fatigue.
“I’m sorry Sir, I was expecting Jase to be here,” I answered.
“That is no excuse, there is protocol for a reason, follow it or you will be dismissed. Do you understand me?” Rysan asked, his shoulders tightening.
“Yes Sir,” I replied.
“Now I’m not in the mood for this. Go do whatever you were supposed to be doing and leave me to catch up on this mess,” he waved his arm over his desk to indicate what mess he was talking about. “Master Jase filled me in through the mirror on your current assignments. There is no need for you to report here everyday. Continue building ties to the stone guild. Work with your apprentice. Do your lessons. Master Jase will handle that part. Orb will contact you if you are needed here. Dismissed,” Rysan finished wearily
I saluted before turning on my heel, I walked out quickly.
I took the break I had been handed as a chance to prepare for my next lesson with Sophia. I headed to the woods on the outskirts of town where I’d had my last lesson with Sophia, on the hunt for something special, the orb in my pouch weighing heavily on my mind. The path was deserted. The heat of the sun pouring down on my baking the earth to a hard cracked dust despite the shade provided by the trees. The lake was lower than I had expected the shore was covered in a muddy slurry that made me keep my distance. Slipping into that would not be pleasant even though I could easily get my self out. I activated my reading, bracing myself for the onslaught as my sight filled with colours. The energies of the forest were suddenly visible, streamers of green and blues flowered through everything, I did my best to tune out some of the more obvious streams. I was seeking something. Almost an hour of just taking in the extra input was starting to give me a headache. The urge to give up was growing just as the sun started to go down, the changes in the energy plane were startling, the colours shifted from vibrant emeralds to a more subdued moss, threads of black and greys were steadily replacing the blues, on the very edge of my sight was what I had come to find. A gentle squeeze of magic, animated the ball. It started to record my visual memories as I watched the bundle of brighter threads move to the surface of the lake. It was a sprite, its delicate human form almost burning against the greys of the lake, if not for my reading I would never have seen her, her scales mirrored the water so flawlessly. She playfully stood on the surface of the water as if it was stone, looking to the shore, to me. The sprite’s feet began to move at first in a slow gentle pattern, but quickly gained speed as dusk worked its own magic on the forest. The air cooled and the wind stilled. The sprites dance, for dance was what it was, gained energy her twirls and leaps pulling threads of magic from their path.
I was entranced by the beauty of the dance.
The sprites scales reflected the dying light of the day into a myriad of tiny sparkles, her dance had taken her far out to the middle of the lake,and with a final jump, she slipped beneath the water not even with a ripple to mark her passage.
A slow smile of satisfaction crossed my face, Sophia would love to see this.
Walking back through the darkened woods, gave me time to consider my options. I had been let off the leash as it were. I was free to pursue my own course as long as I fulfilled the rest of my duties. My musings were interrupted by a wash of raw magic that exploded from the edge of town. I was running before I even realised. My legs taking me as fast as they could to the source of the blast. It was coming from a small residential street near the gates closest to me. The feeling of the magic was strange, warped. People were everywhere, the blast had disturbed the magic planes, even knacks could feel it. They were just milling around, most probably didn’t even know why they were feeling unsettled. The clear night sky was gathering clouds the tingle of a storm was in the air. I ran as fast as I could through the crowd, toward a house, gathering my power I cast it out, a simple earth manipulation shattered the door.
Inside I saw a couple, kneeling on the floor, a haze of magic wavered around them as they held each others hands, water and air. It was another surge. My reading chose that moment to manifest. The magic was screaming, an ear-piercing sound of agony, their links were malformed by the energy pouring into them, even with my new sight, I knew of no way to save them. I brought all the power I had to shield myself from the conjoined magics, my bracer taking the influx. I could feel it’s strain as I tried to use it to cut off the pair from the magic.
It wasn’t working, I was too late again. I took a step closer, knowing my duty. As I approached I recognised them. It was Mr and Mrs Leif. I looked again for any sight of Sophia, desperately hoping she wasn’t here. She was tucked in the corner of the room crying.
“Sophia, get up!” I shouted.
She turned her tear-stained face to me. A flicker of hope crossed her face.
“Tristan help them. Please!” she begged me.
“Get out, I can’t do anything with you here. There are people outside, find someone you know and stay with them for now!” I commanded.
She did as she was told, walking backwards, not taking her eyes off her parents till she was in the street.
I walked as close as I could to them, the rawest of the magic was contained but I couldn’t do it for long, already my bracer was slowly heating. I knelt in front of them. Mrs Lief’s eyes darted to me. Recognition flickered in them.
“Look after Sophia for us,” she whispered, her voice was rough as if she had screamed herself out. Tears formed in her eyes as I felt the magic change.
She was shifting the focus, all that magic was still pouring into her but she had stopped it going anywhere, her husband did the same thing. Their bodies started warping, hers seemed to evaporate, wisps just pulling away, while her husband melted into droplets. The combination of the two forming a small cloud trapped within the confines of my shield.
Together in death as well as in life, I thought briefly. I released the shield after feeling the magic calm slightly. Their links were gone. They weren’t a risk any more. Sadness welled up in me as I watched the cloud that had been my apprentice’s parents drift to the shattered window.
Now came the hard part, telling Sophia.
I walked slowly out of the house, taking care not to disturb anything. The clouds in the sky were still there, but they were still, almost frozen in motion. The people had gathered outside, clustered together. I decided I wasn’t going to address the people I would leave that for Rysan to deal with. I had my apprentice to see to.
Sophia came running towards me, hope burning in her eyes. She took one look at my face, it instantly killed that hope. Her tiny fists clenched as she carried on running at me. the impact as she collided almost took me from my feet.
I barely felt it, I was numb. I knelt to offer her what comfort I could. I spread my arms.
Sophia came, her fists ready. She beat on my chest as I wrapped her in my arms, her wailing and sobbing, a confused mix of pain, anger and grief.
“You was supposed to fix it!” Sophia screamed at me, her face twisted with emotion.
“I tried, Sophia I’m so sorry, I was too late,” I said softly. Tears of my own threatened to spill out, I felt for this kid I really did. I used a touch of magic on her.
“Tristan I hate you, I hate you,” little fists punctuating the words.
“I know, its okay,” I tried to be soothing to complement the spell I had just used.
“I mnnahf,” she mumbled out, the energy leaving her as my magic took effect.
She collapsed in my arms, gently snoring. I gathered her tight lifting her as I stood.
“Orb I need assistance,” I called into empty air. I glanced at the groups of people, most were still there, a few were looking at me as they talked among themselves
“Tristan, describe the situation please,” came Orb’s voice from my pendant.
“I’m in a residential street, there was a dual surge. A couple, Mr and Mrs Leif,” I explained quietly
“Your apprentice’s parents?” Orb asked.
“Yes, I couldn’t save them,” I sobbed slightly. A tear fell onto Sophia’s head, it didn’t disturb her.
“And Sophia?” Orb pressed.
“Here in my arms. What do I do?” I asked. Sophia was still sleeping heavily. Tiny snores emanating from near my chest.
“I’ll check records to see if she has any other family, if not she will have to go to the orphanage,” Orb said.
“No, she won’t go to an orphanage. I’ll look after her, she’s my apprentice,” I said firmly, just the thought of her in an orphanage made my blood boil.
“We will discuss it another time, Tristan. You need to get her to bed and according to your pendant, you expended a great deal of magic. You should rest too,” Orb said diplomatically, it must have an upgraded interaction skill set.
“Fine, now how do I handle this crowd? I doubt taking a child is going to look good for us,” I asked, the glances from the still assembled group weren’t altogether friendly.
“Correct, I have two mages on their way to you, they should arrive in a moment or two. When they get there, let them do the talking. You will make your way to your apartment. I’ll have someone send some extra blankets round,” Orb said.
“Thanks Orb.” I said. My arms were starting to ache, the small weight of Sophia getting gradually heavier. I refused to let her go. I may be all she has.
“Don’t worry Tristan. We will work this out, ” Orb said comfortingly, before his connection abruptly cut off.
The mages arrived a moment later.
“Please remain calm,” the older of the pair ordered the people with raised voice. “We are investigating the situation, our colleague is going to take the child, to receive medical attention.”
I took the opportunity to leave. Making sure I had a firm but comfortable grip on Sophia, I stood. I moved quickly as I wanted to get home before my arms weakened.
The walk was fast as there were almost no people on the streets. My apartment wasn’t far from here anyways. I pushed my magic gently ahead of us to disengage the door lock, my hands were full. I slowly stepped on the rising slab in the lobby selected my floor with a command to the device. My apartment was the third door. I had to shift my hands to open it, with a small amount of maneuvering I managed to get my hand on to the door without disturbing Sophia. The door swung open at my touch. The lightglobe came on. I stepped inside, on my bed as promised were the extra blankets. I pulled them off and put Sophia down on my bed, she stirred slightly as she was laid down. I tucked her in, gently pulling the covers over her. My arms felt like they were on fire and my back seemed to have developed a twinge. One last job, I grabbed the blankets that I had so carelessly thrown, and made myself a temporary bed for the night on the floor next to Sophia, a tingle of magic turned the light out. I didn’t even take my uniform off. I was asleep within moments.