I woke in near darkness. I found myself laying on my my injured hand. The cuts on my knuckles, stung. I pulled myself out of bed, looked out the window, the pre dawn glow illuminated the furthest edge of the sky.
“Light,” I called to the empty room.
The glow of the globes brightened the room, enough that the window turned reflective. I stepped over the discarded pile of clothes on my way to the basin. I ran the water, then submerged my wounded hand. I tensed as the sharp, cold pain, took my breath away for an instant.
I let the tension that had formed in my chest out in a sudden unformed noise of relief as the pain vanished, replaced by numbness. I pulled out my hand, had a look at it. the scraps wasn’t anything serious, a day or so and they would be healed. I picked up my discarded uniform and lifted it to my nose. I recoiled as the scent assaulted my senses. I held my clothes at arms length away from me and deposited them in the washing basket, then went and got my other set from the wardrobe. lingering aches forced me to take my time getting ready, a wash. No need to shave, it took me a few days to grow enough stubble for it to even be visible. Then I pulled on my fresh uniform, the tight leather coat creaked as I slid my arms through. My shoulders filled it well, but then it had been tailored just for me. The sun had come up while I was going through my ablutions.
I stepped out on to the street, fresh and alert. I saw something new, street cleaners, simple plain dressed men, with large metal staves, glowing gems on the tops. They were directing the dirt ahead of them. It rushed forwards like a tide leaving smooth shining pavement behind. The dirt was propelled towards small openings in the bases of the fountains that were at every intersection.
I stood watching for a long moment.
The men waved their staves, a flicker of light rose from the street itself and the last of the dirt rolled into the openings.
I strolled along behind them, contemplating the the level of thought that had gone into making such a system.
I caught sight of the doors to headquarters, they were open already. I stepped into the open doorway, to be met with the sight of a couple and a child standing before the main desk.
“Tristan, get over here,” my boss called.
I couldnt see him. My view was blocked by the people. I made my way to the side of the desk.
Rysan was behind it, with a frustrated expression on his face. Orb was hovering around him, a hint of green in his normal blue light. I felt my curiosity rise up, almost an itch to know, at the change in colours. I opened my mouth to ask, then noticed Rysan looking at me.
“Tristan, this is Mr. and Mrs Leif. They have a problem that you can solve for us,” Rysan informed me.
I nodded politely at them.
They had a sense of worry about them. The woman, Mrs Leif, had her hands tightly wrapped around the hand of the child.
I looked back to Rysan. My polite but blank look must have told him I had no idea what this had to do with me.
“Their daughter has shown signs of her knack, it’s earth as far as we can tell,” he told me
I looked back to the family, to the child. She was a small girl, about half my height, with right green eyes and long red hair. She was dressed in plain clothes, a pale green tunic and leggings with little leather sandals. She shifted nervously under my gaze, her little head lowered so she looked at her own feet.
I turned back to Rysan.
Rysan raised a hand, stalling any protests I might make. “Yes, she is eight. Her awakening happened very early and no, it doesn’t appear to be a false start. She would normally have a few more years before needing to learn control. She’s too young to learn it at school, so I am assigning you as her master until she’s got the basics down.” He fixed me with a stern expectant look.
“Good now take her to get something to eat. I need to write out the contract with Mr and Mrs leif. Ma’am, if you could release the girl to Junior Mage Tristan, here he will look after her while we conduct our business.”
The woman tightened her hold on her child for a moment, I could see a look of indecision on her face. then her husband laid a hand on her shoulder and nodded. she let go with a final look at me.
“I will look after her, I promise,” I said answering the unspoken question in her eyes.
I gestured for the child to follow me and then I led the way to the side of the entry hall, next to one of the many benches that I had yet to see filled.
She followed along dutifully but with many a backwards glance at the backs of her parents.
I stood looking down at her, she was very uncomfortable, she couldnt meet my gaze or stand still it seemed. I knelt down next to her. Once down my head was almost level with hers. She met my gaze this time.
“Hello. I’m Tristan. I’m sure you heard what’s happening. Is this okay for you?” I said to her. I had softened my tone so it was barely above a whisper.
She looked at me for a long moment before whispering back “Hi. I’m Sophia. I’m scared. Are you going to help me?”
I felt my eyebrows raise. A strange mix of emotions threatened to choke me up. This brave little girl confiding in me, a total stranger. I paused to get myself under control.
“I’m going to do my best to help you. I’m new at this too,” I said. I looked at this trusting little girl and felt a sense of protectiveness. A desire to shelter her.
“Are you hungry?” I asked
“Yes. Can we get some eggs and bacon? It’s my favorite,” she smiled around the words. It was a weak smile but the effort was there.
I stood up, my knees creaked, the stone was hard.
“Sure we can Sophia,” I smiled in return. I cast a look back at Rysan who was still hashing out the details with Sophia’s parents, motioned to Sophia to let her know we were going now. She came to my side shyly and we were off.
The early morning sun shone down on us. I looked around for somewhere to take her. This part of town was full of little cafes and bars, but most weren’t open this early.
“Can we go there?” Sophia asked pointing to a small building on the very edge of the square. I had walked past it everyday since moving to this part of town. The whole district was built of a pale cream stone, everything from the streets to the buildings, which felt like they flowed up out of the edges of the wide central thoroughfare.
The cafe was cozy. The tables made of the same cream stone rose out of the floor, large windows let in the bright morning sun. The place was busy, but that didn’t matter; the smells of bacon and sausages cooking drew us in. I looked to my side to see the matching look of anticipation of Sophia’s face. We took a table by the door and looked down the menu, which was made of glass, the words gently glowing.
“Can you read?” I enquired as the question occurred to me. Sophia’s green eyes took on a proud glimmer as she answered.
“Yep, course I can read. Why do your eyes glow? My grandma’s eyes do that, but my mamma’s don’t, does it hurt? Can you see in the dark?” She rattled out before pausing, clearly having run out of breath.
I looked away and closed my eyes briefly, I could feel my cheeks heating up under the barrage of questions.
In that brief window, the waitress arrived to take our order.
“What will you have?” She asked, giving me an amused quirk of the eyebrow.
I looked over at Sophia she was looking unsure. I felt it was my duty to reassure her so I said, “You can have anything you want. It’s my treat.”
A smile bloomed across her face,“Ummm. Can I have, um, the bacon and the scrambled eggs and glass of milk please? she asked the waitress.
“Of course, you can honey!” the waitress said then she turned to me“She so polite, and what would you like?”
I’ll just have the blue ice tea please,” I said, I placed my hand on my stomach to sooth the slightly queasy feeling at the thought of putting something in it, with that she was gone, back to the kitchen.
The momentary reprieve stretched.
Sophia stared at me with an air of expectant silence.
I took a deep breath.
“Right,” I started hesitantly. “I’ll give you the short answer about my eyes, and then if you think it’s not enough, you can ask again later, does that sound fair?”
She nodded quickly her red hair waving around.
“Here it is. My eyes glow because I am a mage and I have a lot of magic inside me. No I can’t see in the dark any better than you and no, it doesn’t hurt,” I stated as clearly as I could.
“But that doesn’t s’plain why my mama doesn’t have glowing eyes but my grandma does. Will I end up with them too?” The words rushed out of her in a torrent of excited curiosity.
“The older someone is, the more magic they have, normally. So, one day you might glow too. Unless you want to be a mage. Then you will certainly end up with them.”
I found myself answering her question slowly, in an attempt to forestall further questions.
Sophia’s food and my drink arrived just then I thanked the waitress and paid for us both. I could tell she was bursting to ask more questions and while I respect curiosity, I’d had enough. So, as she opened her mouth to utter the next one, I interrupted with one of my own.
“What did you do with your knack?” She flushed and looked down at the table which was almost as cute as when she smiled.
“Ummm, my parents think I made the plants in the garden grow, but I don’t think I did they were just like that, when we woke up,” She explained very quickly. She wouldn’t look up at me
Well, that covered why they thought it was earth, but not why they thought it was her,
“ Anything else that you may have forgotten to mention? We need to find your range before we can teach control,” I coaxed her.
“Well, when I was playing with Josh, he’s the boy who lives at the house down the road, we were playing stone skipping on the lake, right?” She looked up at me briefly, checking to see if I was listening. I nodded, trying to look extra attentive. She continued.
“Well, he was beating me, he got five skips and I only got two I was getting mad that my stones wouldn’t do it, and then my next stone did. Ten whole jumps, but that’s not magic. I just got good at it. Right?” She looked like she was desperately wishing I would agree that it wasn’t magic. I felt torn, I really liked this poor girl, but I had to do what was best for her.
“Sophia, I would love to tell you that it’s not magic, but I can’t. I’m sorry, it sounds similar to when I got my knack. I’ll tell you about it if you want, but it may be a bit sad. Do you want to hear it?” I wasn’t sure if this was the right way to approach this, but it’s all I had.
She nodded, looking more and more vulnerable. It made my heart ache, but duty came first.
“I was nine. When I bloomed, I was young, but it happened more often back then. I didn’t know what was happening. I accidentally channeled most of my magic into the earth creating Zelf as I thought of him. He was a mirror to me. A boy shaped rock, the same size as me.We went everywhere together, he was my only friend. Since my blossoming all the other kids were scared of him. He couldn’t talk, but we played. He looked after me. Then the waves came.”
I took a sip of my drink to wash away the choked up feeling rising in my throat, it didn’t help. My next words were thick with suppressed emotion.
“ My parents were tired, helping to look after those that had lost everything in the destruction left by the waves. I asked Zelf to help them, he went. But I was just a kid, I didn’t know they needed charging or constant exposure to their creator when they are so young. He died a few hours later while I was sleeping. I never got to say goodbye to him.” I could feel tears in my eyes, but i blinked them away and took a deep breath, a faint hitch in my breathing, i let it out in a sigh, then forced a smile for her
Sophia’s eyes welled up.
“That is really sad, but that’s real magic. I didn’t really do anything,” she sobbed at me.
“Everyone has some magic. It’s nothing to be scared of,” I said as gently as I could. “You don’t even have to use it if you don’t want to, but we can’t have anyone getting hurt because you can’t control it. Can we?”
“No, I guess not,” She wiped her face on her sleeve, then looked up at me, a tremble in her lips and splotches where her tears had been were all that showed her emotion.
“You eat your breakfast, then we can go find out what your parents are doing,” I calmly said.
I nodded at the waitress as we left. Acknowledging the assistance she had given me with Sophia.
Walking back into the office, the boss leant over his desk, signing something.
Mr and Mrs Leif countersigning, where he indicated.
Sophia ran to her parents straight into the arms of her mother. She started telling them what we had talked about at breakfast. I stayed back not wanting to interrupt their family bonding. The boss motioned me over as he stood up
“Mr and Mrs Leif, I’m going to brief Junior mage Tristan. We shall leave the reception so you can explain to Sophia while I bring Tristan up to speed,” Rysan announced. He was far calmer than I’d ever seen him, before turning on his heel and walking into his personal office behind his desk. I followed him.
I’d never been in here. To be honest, it wasn’t what I expected.
There was a deep reddish-brown desk, blood cherrywood if was to guess, next to which was a waist high pedestal that Orb was currently resting on. A huge unlit fireplace taking up a whole wall, a basin on the other side and a chair that Rysan promptly sat down in.
I remained standing,
“I hate days like this. We have had something else come up that I will get to in a moment. Now I have to take your masters oath. Are you prepared?
“Yes,” I squeaked out. My voice betrayed my nervousness
“Then hold out your hand in a fist and repeat after me.”
I held out my right hand towards Rysan clenching it into a fist
“I, Tristan Sodden, do take Sophia Lief to be my apprentice. I will guide her in magic to the best of my ability, as is the sacred duty of the mages. I will protect her from all that would do her harm until she is released from her apprenticeship.”
I felt a heat in my fist as I repeated the words. I looked at it. A multi-coloured flame had formed around it. It didn’t hurt, but it was warm and tingly.
A voice sounded from the flame.
“Witnessed and bound,” came the voice.
Rysan paled at that. I wondered why. Before he spoke he accessed the glyphscreen in his desk.
To read a report, I guessed.
“Well, that’s that done. The arrangement is one day a week. They will bring Sophia here, you will spend the day teaching her control and what not. You are excused from other duties on that day. Moving on to the other problem of the day, there have been sightings of gnomes on the outskirts of town.”
“Really? Gnomes? I thought they all died out in the waves,” I gushed, suddenly excited about possible surviving magical creature. It took precedence over an apprenticeship
“Yes supposedly they did, we have three unsubstantiated accounts of gnomes to the east. Now I shouldn’t have to remind you, if you do find gnomes, do not engage, they fight in packs and are extremely dangerous if they feel threatened,” Rysan warned me, sounding very stern.
“What am I supposed to do about the gnomes then, sir?” I enquired as my hands shook from nervous energy
Rysan just looked at me like I was an idiot.
“As a mage, what is your duty?” He prompted firmly his face set in hard lines.
“The first duty of the mage is the protection and guidance of magic,” I recited from memory. It was drilled into us from day one in the academy.
“Exactly Junior mage. Gnomes are magical; they eat magic. They are a danger to the whole town, if the reports are true,” he sighed. “Normally I would go myself, but I can’t. The wizards are calling all seniors through our Orbs. You need to go as soon as possible and assess the danger.”
“Yes sir,” I said and with a fist to chest salute went on my way.