Airis and I made our way back through the woods.
He carried Sophia while I used what magic I could to ease our passage. The branches bent without springing back, and I made the earth soft, so no stumbles or bumps knocked Airis.
There wasn’t much I could do to light our way, although the moon did a fair job.
As we walked carefully through the dim forest I kept my eyes and ears open, trying not to think of what I was going to do when I got back. I failed.
The silence itched to be filled with something,anything. It just waited until someone would be stupid enough to fill it. I stayed as quiet as I could. I felt I had done my stupid act for the day.
Yes, I had found Sophia and Airis at the cost of everything else. A Mage, not following orders in the heat of the moment may be forgiven. What I had done was something else. I had deliberately disobeyed, I had even fought against the order when given another chance. The price was just too high. My dreams would be worthless built on the corpse of a child. What kind of organisation would force the issue? My thoughts ran in circles. I could feel my anger growing both at myself and Orb. My fists tightened and my breath came hard as my rage started to pound in my head. If I had taken a moment to think I might have been able to find another way or talk orb around.
A rustle to my right knocked me out of my head for the moment.
I jumped, and pulled magic into my palm, as I stared into the gloom.
A fox, looked back as it emerged from behind a tree. It chattered at me before scampering off.
I sighed in relief, and laughed softly to myself. The great mage Tristan Sodden, threatener of receptionists, murderer of surges, sinker of districts and frightener of foxes. A hefty list of titles for a mage whose career spanned a few short months. The tinge of humor drained out of me, my mood darkened further with each thought, links in a chain, mistakes all of them, yet part of the job.
My steps came heavier now, each one harder than the one before. My shoulders drooped as I lowered my hand, the anger gone.
My victories seemed to mock me, even this. I won the battle but I felt like I had lost the war.
I trudged onto the path, the way back clear. If not for Sophia I would have turned the other way, run from the consequences of my decision, if it wasn’t for Sophia I would never have made the decision in the first place.
Airis’ came closer as I had slowed. “What is wrong Tristan? Why have you slowed? I thought there was some urgency in this. Was I wrong?” he asked, his stone face hidden by his helmet and the low light, eyes bright and pure.
“I’m just weighing my actions Airis, but you’re right. We don’t have time for it,” I said looking into his pure light I felt small. This being, that I had made, had no thought for himself. Here I was wallowing when Sophia needed me to be strong.
“Fuck the consequences, I will deal with it when I must. I still have a job to do,” I said aloud without realising.
“Tristan, what are you talking about?” Airis asked.
“Nothing, nevermind,” I lied smoothly. “We are nearly there. I’m not sure how to handle you. Are you a golem or are you a boy?” I asked. It was serious question.
“Does it really matter? We have bigger issues at the moment.”
“It does matter, I went for a picnic with two children. Do I come back with two or just the one?”
“Tristan, I am both. I don’t care. Ask another time,” Airis said he stepped around me,
I let it go, while it would have ramifications whatever choice we went with, I was too tired to give it the thought it deserved and as he said we had bigger issues.
I followed the golem boy through the thinning edge of the forest, the road ahead beckoned, the town just a hop away. The thought of running came and went again. I’d been taught better by my father and by Jase.
I caught up looked to the side at Airis as we reached the unmanned gate. It was never closed, I wasn’t even sure why there was a gatehouse. A distraction.
“Let me do the talking please,” I pleaded with Airis.
He merely shrugged, as much as he was able with the small girl in his arms. She looked so tiny against him in this form.
The town was still few people would be out this late, one problem I didn’t have to deal with. The streets were dark all the lights in this part dead. They must have been affected by the wave. The pavement was whole though.
I hesitated, unsure where to go. The mage academy might be closed to me now. I don’t know how quickly I would be registered as rogue. A rogue mage, one of the things we were informed didn’t happen. None of us questioned it back then, I’m wishing I had now. I decided that going anywhere else would be cowardly.
I set my feet in the direction of the academy, it was my home. It was Sophia’s home the only one she had, I would be severed before I let them take it from her.
My anger rose again, taking with it my fear.
We walked in silence bar the loud echo of our steps on the solid paving beneath use.
The academy was lit, brightly lit in contrast to this side of town, but there was no one stood outside barring my way. We marched into the lobby. Empty. The only sign that Jase, Fion and Avery had been there was a small tracery of blood, probably from Jase. He had been the only one that was really wounded. I turned towards the entry to the halls. I stopped a moment looking at Airis, unsure if he would fit, but it looked as if I worried needlessly.
On we went through the empty halls until we reached our apartments. The door was stood open.
I stopped Airis with a raised hand. “Let me go in first, we don’t know why the door is open.” I looked at him intensely, for a moment I thought he was going to argue, then he inclined his head slightly.
I took a deep breath and pulled my magic up, ready to trigger in a moment. A raw blast, but I doubted I would be facing gnomes in here. Raw would be fine.
I stepped through the door, Fion was sat at the dining table. His massive frame dwarfing the wooden chairs. He was sat facing the door while he fiddled with something, I couldnt see what.
“Put up your magic, boy,” he said without looking up from whatever he was tinkering with. “You don’t want to fight me.”
“Why are you here?” I asked as I let my magic subside. He was right, I really didn’t want to fight him.
“Did you find your girl?” he asked ignoring my question.
I walked further into the room, but not within arms reach of Fion through
“Airis, it should be fine, come on in,” I called, not taking my eyes of Fion.
Airis stepped into view, his warrior form looking even larger than if had in the woods. His eyes were so bright. Sophia was cradled protectively, almost out of sight.
Fion jumped out of his seat, his eyes widened in shock.
“What the fuck is going on here Tristan, where is the boy?” he asked quickly.
I smiled, a thin strained smile, “This is the boy, as you put it.”
Fion looked between me and Airis, his gaze lingered on Sophia. He looked back to me again. “You clever little fucker, you made a human golem,” he crowed, a smile so wide that my own twisted into something more real. I also resisted the urge to correct him. Airis was his own being not a ‘human golem’.
“How’s Jase?” I asked, while he was distracted.
Oh, he’s fine,” Fion said offhandedly, his attention was firmly fixed on Airis. he looked like a giant child, his mouth open eyes wide and roaming. “He is beautiful Tristan, you’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble for him.”
It’s not like I can make things worse, you heard Orb earlier,” I said. I looked away I couldn’t bear to see how he felt about the matter.
“Bah, I didn’t, I don’t really care what Orb had to say. You got a healer here for Jase and the woman,” Fion said. Real emotion coloured his voice for the first time, gratitude.
I looked back at him.
“Thats what mattered to me. Any ways you left. How was I supposed to hear the little ball?” he said with a shrug.
I didn’t have anything to say to that, so I moved on.
“Can you help Sophia? I don’t know what to do for her,” I said. I held my breath.
“She’s awakened. What have you done this time? For fuck sake, boy, she’s a child! We can’t have a child mage,” he said heatedly as he looked at her, with his distant look.
I assumed he used oversight to check her over.
“Help her, please! She is all I have left,” I said, desperation roughened my voice. it was bubbling up with the fear that she would stay like this.
“Calm yourself, she is fine. She should wake up soon. How long has she been like this?” Fion asked he looked at me.
I turned to Airis.
“Just under two days, since the wave,” Airis said. His first words since entering.
Fion looked at me seriously for once.
“Shes been out for two days, see it’s nothing. You was out for a week if I remember Jase right. and more importantly you made a stone golem that speaks,” his childlike glee came back, as a little hitch in his speech. “That is so amazing, you knew the old ones couldn’t talk? Only the air and fire ones, they were a nightmare to build, you couldn’t anchor them to anything,” Fion just shook his head in wonder.
“Airis could you take her to bed please? Oh and guard the door. Don’t let anyone enter, not anyone,” I asked sternly.
Airis nodded and carried Sophia to her room.
Fion and I watched him go.
“What did the ball say?” Fion asked.
“It doesn’t matter now. It’s done.” I said softly. I wavered on my feet. Now Sophia was safe, my drive was gone. The last few days caught up with me in a rush. “I need to sleep.”
I walked off leaving a dazed Fion standing there.
“Oh, could you shut the door on your way out please” I called as I left the room.
I heard a faint grunt then the door hit the frame. A small click as it caught.
I made it to my bed, mine for how much longer I had no idea but it was for now.
That was the last thing I remember as my exhaustion rolled over me.