A strange sight greeting me once I got used the unsettling feeling of being without time. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t breathing. My heart didn’t beat. I felt sick as if we were moving fast but we weren’t. We were travelling but not in a way that made much sense. I don’t even know how I knew we were traveling. Something just told me we were. The colors of the wall of sigils faded into clarity, clear as glass. Granting me a view into a shifting play of lights and sounds. Scents washed over me, from flowers to rot. The lights moved in a complicated yet unnerving way. As if I was blinking and missing parts of the movement, although I wasn’t. I can’t describe it well. I don’t understand it. The only things that were still were us.
Fion had his eyes closed, his mouth frozen mid movement as he muttered. Jase was in exactly the same position that I had seen him before the sphere rose around them. his eyes were half closed, his face white and pinched with pain. Avery was sprawled just behind them. Nothing to tell about what had just occurred, she looked like she was sleeping. Streaks of soot tainted her hair and clothes although her face was oddly clean.
Floating areas of substance were in the distance. Buildings. Trees. Patches of land un-moored, unattached to anything. They followed no pattern either. A mountain was closest to a section of sea, the waves clearly visible. A forest above a desert. It was like the whole world was cut into sections, everything was here, jumbled. No up. No down.
I felt dizzy looking, but I couldn’t close my eyes. I couldn’t move.
Something happened. The floating sections started to move to mesh into recognisable areas. The buildings shifted together, streets. In the far distance the vague form of a city many times larger than westhaven rose like a new moon into the sky, over a sea I had never seen. The sea moved out of sight, while the forest moved closer.The mountain drifted off. We were getting closer to home. The foreboding edifice, that was the mage academy, rushed towards us. It grew larger in a dizzying and very unsettling way. As it rose out of the earth that had formed. I was watching it being built at the same time as seeing it crumble into dust. Words just failed me.
Then we were in the reception area. It was light, dark, full of people, empty. All at once. The sphere of sigils melted away like ice. A mess of clear shapes deformed into a slush around us.
We had landed, appeared, I didn’t know the right word to explain, but we were in the reception area of the mage academy. The lights were on and we were alone.
A soft pained moan came from Jase’s lips.
The sound drew my attention. I could move again. I wobbled down to Jase. I placed my hand on his side. I pushed a small tendril of magic into him, feeling around the injury. I don’t know medicine but I had seen a boy fall out of a tree when I was a child. He had cried briefly. But he waved off mention of telling his parents, he didn’t want to be banned from playing with us, which would likely have happened. He died later that night when he rolled over in bed and the rib that he had broken, pierced his lung. I pushed a surge of raw earth magic into Jase. not a lot, but enough to hold the broken bone in place until it could get fixed properly.
Jase let out a quiet grunt. his face paled further, which I hadn’t thought possible, he was already whiter than snow.
Fion stood with a creak from his knees. He looked remarkably unharmed by the whole thing. “Don’t just stand there boy, Jase needs a healer. The girl there could do with one too.” He waved an arm in Avery’s general direction.
I looked around, taken aback by his harsh tone, after everything he hadn’t softened. I blinked back sudden tears. What was wrong with me?
“Don’t cry boy, we haven’t got time. Get a healer,” he said.
“Orb,” I called as I grasped my pendant. I ignored my feelings, no time for it now. Just like Fion had.
“Tristan, where have you been? You vanished fr..” Orb’s voice came from the air around me.
“No time Orb, we have a small situation. Jase is hurt and Avery is unconscious. Can you get a healer here now,” I interrupted. The words just rushed out of me.
“Request authorised. Location is the mage academy, Reception hall. Confirm?” Orb’s emotionless voice echoed around me.
“Confirmed, hurry Orb,” I said bending protocol in my haste to get help.
“They will be there soon, can you give me a report now?” Orb said, its normal inflections back.
What was that? a systems slip or something more? I thought before saying “Not really, Orb. I could, but I need to make sure Jase is alright and talk to Fion before I can. Is Rysan available?”
“He is, but he is very busy. The wave was weak, but it still caused problems. Can I ask what you need to speak to him about?” Orb said.
I looked around, turning my head to examine the lighting and the glyphscreens in the walls.
“Oh, it hit here as well? There is no sign of it here. I thought it might have missed the town. It’s about Sophia, actually,” I said slightly disheartened at the thought of the damage the wave could have done here.
“Sophia? Why are you asking me, you’re her master. She should be with you, or someone you assigned,” Orb said.
“I sent her to Rysan with Airis,” I asked with a rising sense of panic.
“Who is Airis?” Orb asked.
“Her protector, and a boy. It’s complicated. But that’s not important. She was hurt by gnomes. I sent her to safety,” I said. I was halfway to the door before I thought to check Jase. I turned to look at Fion.
He nodded. “Go I will look after these, bring the girl back safe.”
I went through the door.
“Tristan, I’m sorry you are confined to the town. You have been ordered to stand down in regards to Sophia. I will send out a team of non-mages to find her, you are needed,” Orb’s voice came from my pendant as it heated up. Invisible chains tightened around me.
“No!” I shouted. “ I have to find her. She is my responsibility. You have other mages. Use them. Let me find my apprentice.”
“Tristan, understand this, we need you. We are in an emergency. You have been gone for days. There aren’t enough mages to keep the town safe. They are worth your time more than a stray little girl,” Orb said through my pendant, which was blazing with power. The chains stopping any attempt at movement.
I stopped fighting, a moment of calmness flowed through me.
“Orb, let me go,” I said softly. A tear flowed down my face at the choice I faced.
“I can’t,” it answered simply
“So be it. That little girl is worth every life in this town to me” I said.
“Tristan don’t be stupid. Follow your orders. Please,”
I said nothing.
“Think of what this will cost you, Tristan. Your job, your home, everything depends on you being a Mage,”
“She depends on me!” I said with passion.
I pulled all the magic I could and forced it into the chains. It felt like I actually tensed up. The chains burst with a flash of ghostly light. My pendant flared with heat, I washed water based magic over it cooling it,too fast. A loud crack. I winced as the shattered gem’s shards embedded in my chest.
Out on the street I was struck by how long we had been gone. It was late night, the moon was high and bright. It’s blue light shone down giving the town a surreal feeling. Perfect, I should have enough light to find her.
I ran straight for the gate. I drew on my magic, hard, to bolster my flagging strength. My run changed from a desperate struggle for breath and a slightly wavering pace to a fluid loping stride, that ate up the road.
My breath was coming in long, slow draws and blows. The cool night air sharp in my chest.
I reached the outskirts of town quickly. The night light and the still wind gave me shivers. The sight of the broken road, the first waves legacy, now another had struck and I didn’t care. My every thought was on the little girl I had last seen limp and pale in my golems arms.
My channel was starting to burn with the constant flow of power through it. I almost edged back, but the thought of leaving Sophia in the woods in the state I last saw her drove me on.
I followed the path in the hope of finding them, I had been days, Orb hadn’t said how many, I couldnt think of a good reason for them not to have made it to Rysan. All the reasons I could think of made my blood run cold.
I pushed harder the path became a blur as I ran faster than I ever had before.
Branches whipped at my face as I plunged through the thick undergrowth. I could see a path, not the first path that we had traveled on our way to the glade, a different one. rougher, less worn.
I slowed. I was wary, it could be the gnomes.
I walked slowly, taking care where I placed my feet. the moonlight was diffuse here under the canopy. Sounds filtered through. Rustles of movement.
I winced as the movement pushed the gem shards deeper into my flesh. I felt a trickle of warmth run down my chest. I reached in to my top, to pull the sticky cloth away. In the dim light I saw, the thick smearing of blood on the sharp chip of green gem I drew out. I placed it in my pouch before wiping my hand on my leg. The feel of the blood, warm and tacky, on my hand made me feel reminded me of my fight with Vance. Memories I didn’t really need right now, distractions.The rush of power I channeled through my body pushed the worst of the physical strains away, it couldn’t do much for the mental.
I turned my head this way and that in an effort to place the sounds. My eyes widened as I caught a glimmer of light off to my side. It vanished as I focused on it.
I took a deep breath and I cheated. I didn’t have the time to waste hunting.
I released my control on my reading, my world lit up.
The forest glowed, greens and somehow glowing browns. Ribbons of light going every which way. I felt a headache starting as I near overloaded with information. I couldn’t see an odd smudges which were the gnomes, but I could see a very familiar weave. Up ahead hidden in what looked like a hole dug into the roots of an old tree.
I called out, “Airis? Is that you?”
The forest went quiet, the rustling, even the sounds I hadn’t realised I was hearing stopped. Eerie silence closed in around me as I waited for a response. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears, the only sound there was, the pounding thrummed through me at the grinding of rock noise that came next.
“Tristan,” Airis’ gravel voice came. Weariness coloured it. “Is that you?”
“Yes I’m coming closer,” I said as I stepped closer. I raised my hands to signal I wasn’t a threat.
As I approached Airis rose out of the improvised den, his massive stone form intimidating but fatigue in every line of him, holding Sophia in his arms.
The breath went out of me as I saw her.
The little girl that meant the world to me. I hadn’t even known before today. The same girl I had just sacrificed my entire future for was still. Pale and unmoving, her little chest barely moved, I tore my eyes away from her motionless form to look Airis in the eye.
“She hasn’t moved or woken since we last saw you,” he said. Answering my unspoken question.
“Why didn’t you get her to Rysan? She needs help,” I said softly as I looked back down at her. I raised my hand to touch her, hesitated, then lowered it. I couldn’t bear to feel her like she was.
“The wave came, my systems were a mess, and the gnomes were everywhere,” Airis shook his big stone head, the grinding as it moved sent shivers up my spine. “ I ran, but they were everywhere, I found a tree, this tree, and I dug a den for us to hide out in. I could defend us here. They lost interest after a day or so, but I had to be sure. Those skills you gave me helped a lot. there was a small medic subset. I’ve checked her over as best I can,” he said in a rush.
“I’m disappointed that you couldn’t reach safety, but I’m pleased you thought of something,” I said as I continued gazing at Sophia.
I cocked my head to one side as I examined her with my other sight.
There was something off about it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. She looked completely healthy.
“Airis have you noticed anything different about her?” I asked.
“Other than her not moving and her gnome bite healing up overnight, no” airis said giving me a look of pure confusion.
“I’m going to have to investigate this once we get back,” I said. I had no idea how I would investigate anything. I would be lucky if I avoided confinement to the academy training cells for breaking the terms of my employment. But I chose not to dump my burden on him.
“She’s got another link, this could be an awakening coma,” I said simply. I didn’t have any answers. Now, probably wasn’t the time for them either.
I saw the flurry of activity in Airis as he access his data core. Flickers and flares of light throughout his weave, like fire flies.
“You mean …” he started hesitantly.
“Yeah, she’s a mage.”