I awoke to a faint sobbing noise, I sat up, disoriented, I was on the floor. A lump was on my bed. The sound was coming from the lump. I stood noticing, the pain in my arms and back that sleeping on the floor hadn’t helped with at all. I stretched wincing a touch at the soreness, before lowering my arms. The lump wasn’t moving. I stepped closer, listening to the sobbing. my heart was breaking as my mind recalled what the lump was. Sophia was crying in her sleep.
I sat on the edge of the bed, unsure about what to do.
I reached out to gently touch the bundle of girl and blanket, my hand gently rested on what could have been a shoulder. “Sophia, are you okay?” I asked softly.
The bundle exploded into motion, a tangle of limbs and fabric pulled away from me rapidly, flows of earth touched magic flickering throughout, she fell off the bed.
I made a point not to laugh.
“Oww,” her voice softly moaned. She wiggled out of the blankets.
“You okay Sophia? I repeated. I was carefully not moving myself.
“What a stupid question, my parents are gone,” she muttered, her tears thickening her voice.
“I’m sorry Sophia, I did everything I could,” I pleaded. I stayed as still as I could, I didn’t want to spook her.
“No you didn’t, you survived everything. You’re a mage. You can do anything. Why didn’t you save them?” she begged through her tears, her green eyes shimmered in the moonlight coming through the window
“I couldn’t Sophia, I tried by the time I got there they were too far gone,” I insisted gently. I didn’t want to upset her further.
Sophia broke down at this point just laying on the floor tears streaming, her body shook with the racking sobs she was producing. Magic was flickering weakly through her, but failing to manifest.
I walked around the bed, I wanted to comfort her, there was nothing I could say, as I walked closer she scooted away.
“Stay away!” Sophia shouted, her arms coming up to untangle herself from the blanket. “You killed my parents, magic is evil!”
“I didn’t Sophia, they surged, there was nothing I could do, except what I did,” I protested lamely, my jaw was clenched so tightly my teeth hurt.
“Why did it have to be them? They never did anything wrong,” Sophia asked.
“I don’t know Sophia, but we can find out together if you want,” I offered.
“What happens now?” she queried
“I don’t know that either, but for now we will start with a good nights sleep. We’ll deal with tomorrow, when it comes. How does that sound?” I asked gently.
I knelt down next to her.
Sophia came to me then, a bundle of limbs and long copper hair, her arms wrapped around me tightly. Fresh tears in her eyes.
My own eyes burned in sympathy, I would be devastated at the loss of my parents even though we aren’t close, how much worse must it be for my child apprentice.
“Don’t leave me,” Sophia murmured against my shoulder.
“I won’t,” I promised. I stood carrying the exhausted and grieving girl back to bed. Not wanting to break my promise I lay down with her still tightly holding on to me.
Sophia rapidly fell back to sleep.
I was awake longer, the new experience of having a child relying on me was a daunting prospect, but what could I do? I was her master. Sleep claimed me quickly after that, the moon’s slow progress across the sky lulling me into slumber.
The sun shone in waking me, from possibly the most uncomfortable nights sleep of my life. The weight on my chest had spread out, waking up in the night because someone else’s hair is in your mouth is distinctly unpleasant. Even worse is when you can barely move for fear of waking the other person. I turned my head slightly to find Sophia sprawled across me, her head was on my chest her red hair spread everywhere. I tried to ease my way out from under her limp form. I managed to half slide half crawl to the edge of the bed. I pushed her unresisting body into the middle of the bed, a snore erupted from her mouth, making me freeze in worry I had disturbed her. Sophia wriggled before settling into a new position. I was free. I stood up, placing my still booted feet on the wooden floor. I tiptoed to the bathing chamber taking extra care to silence my motions. Once through the door I eased it shut took a deep breath before remarking to myself.
“Oh fuck,” I had no clue on how to look after a child or how to do that and my job.
I called out softly “Orb, are you there?” I could feel the connection between orb and my pendant strengthen.
“Yes Tristan?” came its voice quietly. “What appears to be the problem now?”
“Yeah, sorry to bother you,” I said sarcastically, “but I have a young girl with no parents in my apartment. How am I supposed to go to work?”
“You could simply place her at the orphanage Tristan, as I advised last night,” Orb replied tonelessly.
“Her mother asked me to look after her, it was the last thing she ever said. I couldnt help them, this is the least I can do,” I said fiercely
“I was merely listing your options, my skills in this area are very limited Tristan, I was not designed for this.”
“Few creations are Orb, the implantation of a diverse skill set like this would be brutal,” I stated distracted by the challenges of golem skill problems. Trying to focus on the here and now I asked.“So what help can I have?
“My advice is to ask Master Jase, he has experience in this area, he’s even listed as having a child,” Orb answered impassively.
“Jase has a kid?” my surprise stopped me from asking a more specific question.
“According to my records, Master Jase married nineteen years ago to an earth knack, a child was born the same year, a boy,” Orbs connection flickered briefly.
Orb you still here?” I asked
“Yes Tristan, there appears to be a gap in my records concerning a large period of Master Jase’s life. I’m sorry I can’t be more help,” Orb answered. “ Even accounting for all that, I stand by my advice.”
“You don’t stand, you don’t have feet Orb,” I replied acidly, my frustration with the situation must be getting to me. “I’m sorry Orb, that was uncalled for.”
“…” there was no voice coming through, although the link was active.
“Orb,” I hissed, suddenly remembering Sophia being asleep in the next room. Still nothing. I grabbed hold of my pendant, inspecting it for cracks and flaws, when suddenly a laugh boomed into the room. I dropped the pendant in shock, my eyes wide and my heart in my throat.
“That was a good joke Tristan, I had to suspend my personality limiting protocols, to really understand,” came Orb’s voice, merriment evident in it.
“I didn’t mean to be offensive though Orb, I know you were just trying to help,” I said apologetically. Talking to a bodiless voice is very disorienting, I never know where to look.
“Don’t worry about it, Tristan. I know you didn’t,” Orb said confidently. its voice had gotten far more mature since I had last heard it with a personality. “Speak to Jase, if he can’t help, he will know someone who can.” The connection ended then.
I spend a few moments, thinking though the revelation. Jase had never mentioned a family, I knew he was in his late forties even though he didn’t look a day over thirty so a family was likely but thinking of Jase like that boggled my mind. I had never even seen Jase outside the pursuit of our respective duties, I didn’t even know where he lived, for a man with such a large part in my life I knew surprisingly little about him. seeing as I was in here I used the facilities to have a wash and relieve myself, before tackling the problem that I had brought home with me.
I walked back into the main room. Sophia had sat up on the bed, rubbing her eyes. Her crimson hair was in disarray, strands clung to her face.
“Good you’re up, get ready we are going out,” I said gruffly. It was hard not to look at her as another problem to deal with.
“Huh?” Sophia queried sleepily.
“ Get ready, we have to go see someone,” I repeated.
“Who?” she asked warily, her eyes looking more alert
“My old mentor,” I answered sharply before turning away to give her some privacy.
I could hear rustling behind me. I distracted myself by attempting to plan what I was going to say to Jase. Waiting had never been a strong suit of mine.
“I’m ready,” Sophia announced.
I turned back to look. I burst out laughing at the sight that greeted me.
Sophia had straightened out her clothes, smoothing out the accumulated wrinkles. Her face was wet still, from her wash I assumed, her hair had puffed up. she looked like a dandelion. She scowled at me.
“Here let me help,” I knelt next to her, bringing my left hand to her hair, I used a slight charm to bind her hair into a single ponytail. I smiled at her, hopefully it was reassuring.
Sophia smiled back weakly.
“You’re all set?” I asked knowing the answer, she didn’t have anything else to wear.
“Yeah, um …” Sophia hesitated, her eyes darting away.
“What’s the problem?” I asked gently, making sure to look her in the eye.
“You’re not getting rid of me, are you?” Sophia asked finally.
“No Soph. I need to talk to Jase, to work out some arrangements for this,” I waved my hand about to indicate both of us and the tiny living space.
“Oh,” she said, if anything it highlighted how young she was.
“Let’s go then,” I said before walking to the door, a small hand touched my own. I looked towards it. Sophia was tightly gripping my hand, I gave her a squeeze. We left hand in hand.
The academy was bustling, what looked like stone guild members going in and out. The walk here had been slow, I wasn’t used to having a child to consider. Sophia’s smaller stride had meant extra care was needed through the wide streets, the almost unconscious parting of crowds that accompanied a mage walking the streets hadn’t taken her into account, as a result she had been jostled and knocked about a bit. Sophia bore it with a grace I couldnt match, I was glaring at anyone that came close long before reaching our destination.
Walking to the reception with my anger clear on my face may not have been the best of plans, but I was out of options.
Kristina was behind the desk once again, she looked up at my approach and paled.
“Don’t cry this time, help me quickly and I will be out of your hair as quickly as possible,” I ordered harshly.
“Sir, what do you need?” Kristina hurriedly said, her fear clear in her voice.
“I need Master Jase, Where is he?” I demanded, locking my eyes onto hers. I heard a faint gulp from beside me. It must have been Sophia. I gave her hand a gentle squeeze, it was the best I could do, my anger wouldn’t let me do more.
“Master Jase is in his work room, do you require a wisp?” Kristina asked quickly.
“Yes, thank you,” I said. A blue wisp gradually illuminated next to me.
I looked down at Sophia, “ Just follow the wisp.”
Sophia let go and took a few steps ahead of me. I turned back to Kristina briefly. I leaned in placing both hands on her desk and leaning in.
“Please let Jase know I am coming, and for future reference I may have killed in the line of duty, but I am not a murderer. Do we understand each other?” I grated out through gritted teeth.
Kristina’s head rapidly bobbed up and down in a vigorous nod, what little colour in her face draining, leaving her white as fresh fallen snow.
I felt my message had been received so I let go of the desk and turned to chase after Sophia, she hadn’t gotten too far. The corridors were well-lit again, it was still strange seeing this ancient bastion of the old ways alive with people, lit up and almost welcoming. Sophia and I walked in silence for a moment, then she asked.
“Why did you scare that lady?”
“Its complicated,” I hedged, I shifted my shoulders slightly, uncomfortable with this topic.
“Nope it’s not. You just don’t wanna tell me,” Sophia said wisely.
“Its not that I don’t want to tell you, it’s just …” I trailed off lamely. I looked at the walls, trying to think of how to say it.
“I’m just a kid I won’t understand,” she commented snarkily.
“Its not that either, Soph. I just didn’t want to tell you I was being petty. She was scared of me for no reason the other day and it made me feel bad. I was in a bad mood and I took it out on her. I wanted her to suffer for it. I know it was wrong, but …” I shrugged. I couldn’t explain it any better than that.
Sophia looked at me, she had a little crinkle between her eyes as she worked it out.
“But that’s mean!” she stated forlornly.
“Sophia, I’m not perfect. I can be just as mean and petty as anyone else. I’m sorry to break that to you but that’s just how it is,” I said irritably, having to own my flaws was not a fun experience, neither was being judged by an eight year old.
Sophia was silent then, although she looked troubled.
We soon arrived at Jase’s workshop, our silence had grown oppressive but I didn’t know how to break it. I knocked on the thick wooden door.
Jase opened it slightly, his head poking round frame, his startlingly blue eyes shone taking in the sight that greeted him.
“Hello Tristan I hadn’t expected to see you so soon. Come on in,” Jase said as he recognised me, he opened the door wide stepping back to allow us to enter.
“Good morning Jase. How are your resumed duties treating you?” I asked as we walked in.
Jase noticed Sophia before answering his eyes widened slightly, he turned to me a silent question on his face.
I had no idea what the question was though.
“Its fine, it’s nice being back among my projects, but I had missed the action of being an active,” Jase smiled at me, then turned to Sophia, “Hello, little one. I hear you’re Tristan’s apprentice, is that so?”
“Yep, and you’re Tristan’s master,” she said confidently as if she had no fear.
Jase chuckled at that.
“Tristan doesn’t have a master, not like I used to,” Jase informed her.
“I met your master by the way, not that you told me that before sending me to him,” I interjected, a smirk had made its presences known on my face.
“Ah Enchanter Fion. Fun, isn’t he?” Jase asked with his usual twinkle.
“Very much so, vague though,” I said
“Yes, he wasn’t always like that, but time affects us all,” Jase said sadly, a slight downturn in his smile accompanied the words.
“He called me your boy, but then Orb mentioned that you have a boy,” I put out there waiting for a bite.
“Fion was my master. We are close, but you have no authorization to know that” Jase replied hotly
“Jase, I didn’t ask about you. I only bring it up now because I need your help and because I can’t remember a single time you mentioned your son,” I said, attempting to calm the situation.
“Tristan, my life is my own. I would have told you eventually, but I have done my best to keep a professional distance between us,” Jase insisted
“Jase you have been like a father to me despite the hardships you had to force on me, I would want to know,” I said softly.
“I won’t tell you now, you asked for help. I will tell you another time,” Jase conceded. “Now what kind of help did you need?”
“Well as you can see I have my apprentice with me,” I started
“I can, she is lovely, a bit young for an apprentice. I can’t recall the last time we had a female mage,” Jase mused, stroking his chin as he looked down at Sophia.
“Female mages?” I asked. “No, sorry. I need help with my apprentice, I can’t work and take care of her, and I need a new place to live so she can have a room,” I said, pushing through the distraction.
“I’ll answer the female mages later, shall I?” Jase asked, while looking at Sophia.
Sophia nodded, her bright red ponytail bobbing slightly
“I can suggest you do what many masters did, you specialise,” Jase said, he started to pace around the room as he always did when starting to lecture. “ You are gifted, but young. You should have never been placed with an apprentice yet. Your oath has been taken, so there is nothing we can do about it. You are bound one to the other, that doesn’t mean you have to teach.”
I felt my brow furrow as I listened.
Jase had wandered all over the room his hands waving as he spoke. “Why teach if you’re not good at it, its simple you do what is in the best interests of the apprentice. The old ways are clearer than the modern ones. Of course, you should teach what you are best at,” Jase paused here to look over at me and Sophia, eyes shining and his face aglow. “ Your duty as a mage is to serve the magic’s best interests which is vague, I’ll clarify, magic wants to be used, that’s it. Your duties as a master are far more complex. You have to do what is in your apprentices best interests. She clearly needs new clothes it is your duty to provide her them or furnish a means in which she can do so herself, as an example. The old ways were simpler because her duty to you was equal to your duties to her. You with me so far?” Jase asked suddenly, he always liked to catch us out when we had ethics class.
I nodded, Sophia nodded.
“Good, well now your duties are more one-sided, it’s not an equal part relationship.”
“Jase I know about this. I need to know how I can balance raising a child and doing my job,” I stated exasperated. I should have know better than to give Jase the chance to lecture.
“I was getting there Tristan,” Jase said, his disappointment plain. “You share your duties with another. You can’t give her your best so you find someone that can.”
“But who? I don’t know many mages that would take on an apprentice,” I asked.
“Are you being wilfully blind? most of Sophia’s needs don’t need a mage. I can send a request for larger quarters. I will take her for some of the time and we can work something out for her care.”
“Thank you Jase,” I said relieved.
“Excuse me, don’t I get any say in this?” Sophia piped up, her green eyes blazing.
I blinked, I hadn’t expected her to object.
“Of course you do, my dear,” Jase said with a bright smile.
“Well this is sounding like I’m going to get passed around,” Sophia said before turning to me “ If you don’t want me, say so. I won’t be treated like this.” Tears threatened to spill from her eyes
“Oh Sophia, its not like that at all. I just don’t know enough about children, I need help,” I said softly.
“Just say so, don’t pass me off on others,” Sophia insisted, her threatened tears fulfilling the promise and rolling down her face.
“Sophia none of this is meant to upset you, we just need to make arrangements to ensure you receive the best possible care,” Jase interjected, his tone soft and comforting.
“Um, okay then,” Sophia sniffled.
“Brave girl,” Jase commented, nodding approvingly.
“So how are we doing this Jase?” I asked.
“You should have worked all this out on your own Tristan, you can’t rely on me forever,” Jase reprimanded me before continuing. “We will authorise the lodgings change, I will find a nanny as well as work out a schedule,” a faint look crossed his face as if an idea suddenly appealed, he held up a finger “ One moment,” Jase walked over to his desk, he picked up his glyphscreen, a few taps and some swipes later, a smile appeared on his face.
Sophia and I just looked at each other while we waited, utterly bemused by the whole situation.
“Ha,” Jase exclaimed. “You are going to love this.”
A sudden dread filled me as all the things, that would amuse Jase at my expense went through my mind
“What is it Jase?” I asked the inevitable question.
“Don’t ask in that tone, its nothing bad,” a manic glee radiated from Jase.
“Just tell me,” I flatly demanded. This drawing it out was always bad for my nerves.
“You and Sophia are authorized to live here, in the master mage apartments,” Jase revealed. “You take all the fun out of things.” he gave a conspiratorial wink at Sophia
Sophia burst into giggles, her earlier tears completely forgotten.
A puzzled frown found its way onto my face.
“How does that work? I thought only masters could live here,” I said, it wasn’t what I wanted to say but it was what came out.
“ You have an apprentice, hence you are a master. I have arranged for your belongings to be brought from your apartment,” Jase declared simply.
I nodded, I suppose that makes as much sense as anything.
“Sophia could you wait outside for a moment please I need to have a private word with Tristan?” Jase asked quietly.
Sophia looked between us searching our faces before nodding and walking to the door.
The door closed behind her.
“What has changed?” Jase asked abruptly.
I told him about the surges, Sophias parents.
“What ever you think Tristan, I am proud of you. You have stood up and claimed responsibility for Sophia, that is a very mature thing,” Jase said, his hand coming up to rest on my shoulder
“I’m not ready, she deserves better than me,” I said honestly.
Jase just smiled before saying “No parent is ever ready,and we all think they deserve better. It’s what pushes us to be better,” his face darkened as Jase seemed to recollect something.
What’s wrong Jase?” I asked
“It’s nothing Tristan, just some bitter memories,” a negligent hand wave as he removed it from my shoulder accompanied his words as if brushing the matter aside.
I had seen Jase do this for years, I wanted to help him but I couldn’t unless I knew what was wrong.
“Jase don’t, if you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine, but don’t brush it off as nothing,” I told him firmly
“I..” Jase spluttered out, shock stopping him before he started. Jase took a deep breath before trying again. “Fine, I don’t want to talk about it at the moment, but I will tell you another time. I asked to speak to you for a different reason, your friend, from your training has graduated,” Jase left it hanging in the air expectantly.
I racked my brain trying to remember to whom he was referring. Only one person sprung to mind, but he wasn’t a friend.
“Did you mean, Elan?” I asked desperately hoping he would say it was anyone else.
“Yes I did. He got released to duty this morning, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a heads up, you may run into him,” Jase said seriously.
“Thanks I’ll do my best to avoid him, I no longer have to go to headquarters, that should help minimise the risks.”
We nodded to each other. It seems our conversation was concluded. I went to the door to take Sophia up to our new lodgings.
As I reached the door, I looked back at Jase, “Thank you for everything Master,” I said sincerely.
“You’re welcome, my boy,” Jase responded an odd emphasis on the my.
Another nod and I left.