MageLife Chapter 39

The inside of the building wasn’t very promising, I found myself looking upon it with an eye to demolition. It was that bad.

The door was intact although not functional. It sat next to the door frame it was supposed to fill.

I couldn’t even determine what the building had been used for. Dust lined every surface and the few remaining windows were grimy and black, hardly distinguishable from the walls except for streaks of light peering through.

“Looks good,” Brendon commented from just inside the door. I didn’t need magic to detect the sarcasm dripping from those two words. It must be a god thing bleeding over.

“The structure seems sound. We can work with this.”

“Any thoughts on how to do anything without magic?”

“Um, not really. I’d planned on using magic to get it back to rights.”

“Magic doesn’t work right here. You know that.”

“What’s actually wrong with it?”

“Not wrong exactly, but it leaves a mark. And that mark is not easily dismissed. The price is higher here.”

“That doesn’t explain anything, what price?”

“You should know the price. I’m not going to hold your hand Tristan Just be careful how much and what magic you do.”

“That is very clear. What magic should I avoid?”

“I don’t know, I don’t do magic like you, but Vesic’s memories say to avoid wizard magic. No sigils. The magic doesn’t like wizards here.”

“Why?”

“That’s not for me to say.”

“Why are you bound to silence on so much?”

“A god’s knowledge isn’t for men, there is so much that you must find out for yourself.”

I racked my brain for a few moments, thoughts flickering and dying until one struck me like lightning.

“Does this affect Vesic’s ability to appear here?” The words just fell out of my mouth as soon as the idea hit.

“Very good Tristan. Yes, he can’t come here. I’m on my own for the first time since I was a child.” His earlier confidence drained away and he trembled slightly.

“That’s what I can do for you.” I walked over to Brendon and placed my hand on his shoulder. “You won’t be alone, I will be here for you.”

“Thank you Tristan. I’m not a child, but I’ll admit it is unnerving to be alone in my head. Vesic has been with me for so long. It’s so quiet in here.”

“Let’s do something useful then to take your mind off it. We need to make this place habitable then set up shop. If we want to be helpful to the people, we need to make them see that joining the wizards is the right thing for them.” I stepped away to contemplate where to start. The sheer amount of work to do was daunting.

“Why did an army not get sent? It could have conquered them and been done with it.”

“I don’t know but I get the sense that all is not well. I’m here to gather trade and manpower. That sounds like a war is brewing to me.”

“It might not be a war, but it does seem likely. As a mage, you are a soldier in the wizard’s army. It the call goes out you will serve.”

“Who would we be fighting?”

“Last I heard tensions were mounting on the northern border.”

“What’s to the north?” Geography wasn’t my strong suit.

Brendon snorted. “From everything you have said, very little was your strong suit our northern border has been contested since the mage kings time, although it settled down while he ruled. The remains of the empire are to our north. Rashdan I think they call it now. They want their cities back. It’s been centuries and they haven’t forgotten the insult.”

“Few survived the waves anyway. Our society was almost destroyed, just look at this place. What do you think it used to be?” I asked as I ran my hand over a large desk that had clearly seen better days.

“It could have been almost anything. It has a military feel to it.”

“In the middle of the city? Do you not think it more likely to be an administration centre? There are a lot of desks in here.”

“Does it really matter what it was? We will be changing it. What it was doesn’t change what we will be doing.”

“It might change what we can do though. You know magic isn’t tied to time all that well. If I go restructuring it may change more than I intended.”

“True, we don’t want any ghosts here. It was probably military, maybe a quartermaster. All these desks, those filling cabinets.”

“There is a lack of anything enchanted, there don’t even seem to be voided bases. Nor any degraded parts. Nothing seems to be giving off any signatures.”

“Enchantment wasn’t as common before the wizards rose to power. It takes a mage to make a stable enchantment. Very few mages were outside of the noble’s control. Their fortresses we nigh impregnable, they were so laden with enchantment. This place has been neglected for a long time, even the nobles didn’t fight over it, there was nothing here. A near empty city, even one on a possible trade route wasn’t worth much, they had their wars to fight.”

I walked over to the corner of the room, there was a simple wooden chair, its four legs uneven but it was stable. I sat and looked over the room, taking and deep breath, closed my eyes and opened my other senses.

The room came alive with lights, streams and clusters like the stars had fallen all around me. Each line and flow was bright as if edged in moonlight, swimming here and there. The earlier darkness was gone, there were no death marks here. Brendon blazed, his eyes the brightest like miniature suns.

The magic that permeated the building, the very substance of brick and mortar was almost grey, faded and on the edge of failure. I summoned my power gently, it answered with a force I’d not expected. I gritted my teeth at the rush and pushed it out into the room. The flows already here started to gravitate towards me, the sheer amount of power calling them.

I turned my attention to the walls and floor, strengthening them. The grey rock that it had all been built from shifted, turning whiter. A humming sound filled my ears as the power flowed hotter, but I wasn’t done. Each beam and brick got reinforced. Whispers of voices skittered around the room as the power grew. Shadows deepened and lights brightened. The scent of dust faded away overpowered by smells of fresh cut stone, turned earth and green wood think with resinous sap.

“Tristan hurry up, you can’t hold it much longer.”

“Don’t you think I know that? I can feel my bones heating.”

With a final burst, the door flew back to its place, the wood regaining the lustre and shine that it must have had when it was first created.

I tried to sever the flow, but it wouldn’t stop. My link shivered as the power grew. A strange creaking could be heard, I noticed all my muscles were tense, they had been the creaking sound. They were pulling at me, tighter, trying to separate from my burning bones.

My other sight started to flicker and pulse. Brightness and darkness. Blind spots crawling and the flows inching steadily closer, their moonlight sheen turning darker, a sense of hunger radiating from them.

“Cut it off Tristan.”

“I can’t. It won’t stop,” I whispered as the pain dug its claws further into my mind.

The blaze that was Brendon stepped closer, the hungry flows shying away from his brightness, a glowing hand, lit from within, touched my head and I knew no more.

(—–)

(Beat)

Traceries of light filled my vision, glimmers of something other. I couldn’t feel my body, I could see it but there was a distance, a void, separating me from it. I floated without anchor in this place that wasn’t a place.

Pulses run through the threads like blood through veins, a distant heart pumping that blood. I found myself following the pulses, seeking the heart.

Was I dead? Is this what happened at the end?

“Tristan,” a voice called.

The word sounded familiar, it meant something to me, to who I once was.

“Tristan is that you?” the voice called again.

I looked beyond the lights, away from the threads I was following. A huge stone edifice rose up, it floated. Parts of the world went by, each detached, unmoored from its place. Each in its own path, but this building stayed.

“Tristan my boy, what has happened to you?”

The ‘me’ that floated, looked down into a room, at a man with glowing eyes, like the ones my body had, far from here, or not. Distance was meaningless in this non place. I could look at my body and this room at the same time. I knew it was mine, though all memory of owning it was gone. Maybe not gone but beyond reach.

I knew this man, his name eluded me, but I know him down to the core of my being.

“Tristan, what have you done? You can’t be here like that. You will be shredded if you remain without a shell for too long. Go back.”

He was talking to me, did that mean I was Tristan?

“I can’t,” I said, the words just appearing, without sound. I don’t know how.

“You are lost, where is your body?”

Memories seemed to flow back into me with my name, it was mine.

“In Nelar? The place…? Called Nelar.”

“Go back, the shadows will consume you if you stay here. Your body is your home.”

“Jase, I don’t know how, I’m lost. I followed the pulse, I sought the heart, then you called me.”

His name came with the knowledge of my body. Feelings and attachments started to gain a hold on me.

“I missed you my boy, I thought I felt you, rightly so it seems. The heart is not for you. Don’t seek it, ignore the beat. It will lead you to harm where you are.”

“I can’t go back. The king has given up. He is without hope.”

“Then give him hope, as you once did for me. Show him that all is not lost.”

“How?”

“That is for you to decide, you gave Sophia hope. You showed Lyphia a new side of life. You bring hope where ever you go. Don’t lose your own.”

“Nelar is dead. The people are nearly all gone. There is nothing there.”

“Don’t lose hope Tristan, aid is being sent, you won’t be alone for long. Mages are coming to help you.”

“People are coming? Good, it’s the first day here and it seems pointless.”

“Go back Tristan, you are fraying.”

“How?”

“Just close your eyes.”

“I have no eyes here.”

“Just close your eyes Tristan, sleep and rest. No dream walking for you.”

I closed eyes that I didn’t have, the vision left me, a sense of rushing.

I could feel my body, oww. I opened eyes that felt gummy and blinked. I was laying down on something, I turned my head to the side and was violently sick. The room was brilliantly lit, small orbs of flame hung in metal cages mounted on the walls. The once grey stone shone with colours, the white marble reflecting the orbs light in a rainbow sheen. It made my head swim, it was too similar to the other place that I had floated.  Brendon was nowhere in sight. I forced myself to sit up. I wavered to a seated position, I could feel the grain of the wood as I placed my hand to hold me still. I was sat on a desk. That’s was thoughtful of Brendon.

I slid forward to place my feet on the floor, wincing slightly as my foot touched the cool marble, the shock made my bones ache, the memories of them feeling as if they caught fire still fresh.

“Brendon,” I called, my voice breaking. I needed a drink.

“Here. “Came his voice, drifting from the hallway.

I tottered toward the voice, the smooth floor causing me to slip and slide on shaky legs. I rested for a moment on the door frame, the hall seemed to stretch on forever, its shiny walls reflecting light in eye-twisting patterns. I found my gaze following along, my head muddled and silent.

I blinked.

Brendon was standing in front of me, his body blocking my sight of the walls.

“You okay? You have been standing here for a long moment.”

“What? It’s only been a few beats. I came to get a drink,” I croaked out. My throat was so dry, my tongue felt thick and clumsy.

“We need to sort out some sleeping arrangements, as well as some supplies. I know you Mages don’t eat much, but you do still need to eat. We both need to drink.”

“Is there not a pump in this place?”

“I haven’t found one yet, but I’ve only just started looking. Your spell did far more than I think you expected. This whole floor and what I’ve seen of the next are transformed. I don’t imagine it will be long before we get curious people investigating the first real magic they have seen in a long time.”

“Is there anything left in the water skins?”

“A bit, I moved our bags into the room to the left. If you can follow me, we will get you something. You look unwell.”

I nodded, my stomach leapt with the movement, I could feel bile rising.

“Hey don’t be sick in here, this hall doesn’t have any windows. The smell would be trapped.”

I swallowed thick malty saliva and with it the rising vomit.

“Well done. Let’s go to the bags.”

“Did you even have a bag?” I asked as he led me down the hall, my treacherous body attempting to rebel with every motion. Throbbing echoes of heat and pain rung flashed through me with every step.

“I have a bag, it’s just small. I don’t need all that much. I guess that is going to change now that I have to sleep.”

“Have you ever slept?”

“Of course I have. Just not for a few months, Vesic has been in control more and more recently. It makes being without him that much harder, we have been closer than ever these last days.”

We passed through the doorway into a small square room, many doors led off from it. A nexus.

“I’ve never seen a room like this.”

“They aren’t used much anymore, but administration buildings find it to be efficient. If you look there, that small mark on the wall. There used to be a desk there where a person sat to oversee all in these offices beyond.” He raised an arm to point as we headed to the door next to it.

“How do you know all this?”

“Westhaven was nothing more than a farming community until recently, I grew up in haven. It’s an old city built in the fashion of the empire, even the nobles didn’t change much, they were busy. There were many buildings like this, this whole city is almost a copy of haven, even the streets are laid out in the same pattern. I would need to explore more to confirm but finding my way around shouldn’t be a problem.”

Our bags had been laid against the wall my sword next to them. Of Vesic’s sword there was no sign. I’d never seen it before he used it nor after.

“Stay there, we don’t want you over doing it. Brendon walked over to the bags, after a moment of rummaging pulled out my water skin. He came back and handed it to me.”

I fumbled a bit with the cap, but managed to open it. I raised the skin to my mouth. Warm stale water flowed down my parched throat, it was wonderful.

“Feel better?” Brendon asked with a chuckling laugh.

My face must have shown my enjoyment. I didn’t reply, I was busy.

A few moments later the skin was empty and I felt worlds better, not right or well but better.

“We have help coming, Jase is sending or has sent some mages to assist us.”

“How did you come by this information?”

In a dream.

Brendon looked at me sharply, a look loaded with suspicion.

“What?”

“You were really there, we dismissed it. You visited our dreams. You shouldn’t have done that. Vesic doesn’t like sharing those parts.”

I stood there gawking at him.

“You heard his origin.”

“I did, but that was a dream. I didn’t think it could be real until now.”

“It was, but don’t bring it up. You shouldn’t know, no one knows.”

“I won’t. Anyways, when I was having my nap earlier, I floated. Jase noticed me. I have no clue how, I wouldn’t know where to begin with something like that, and how did he know to look anyway?”

“He is your master, the oath he took is still in effect. He might not be able to do much now that you are out of his hands but it will linger. You could probably do the same for Sophia. It’s necessary, training mages can be tricky, young people get in some strange difficulties.”

“Oh right, okay. Well, Jase mentioned that he has sent some mages here to help us. We just have to hold on till they arrive.”

“Tristan, I know you didn’t want this task but it’s yours. They won’t come and take over. You still have to do whatever you were planning on doing.”

“But having help will make it easier.”

“It might, although having more mages could make it worse. You felt how Nelar treats magic.”

“It’s so strong, but it’s wild.”

“Not just wild, corrupted. The empire never used magic, it didn’t affect them all that much. The waves never used to touch the physical so they were blind to it. It affects us and all that we do.”

“Why don’t they use magic?

“They just couldn’t, until they found us they never even knew it existed. It was all faith and miracles. Their gods are something different, distant. Their whole structure is based on divine right or something. Didn’t you get taught any of this? Never mind. There might even be a temple around here if I remember right, this city didn’t get changed much. Haven’s temple was changed to the noble’s manse. The things they could do with technology were amazing though. In that regard we are squatters living in the house of giants. If you look you will be able to see pipes all over the place, the pumping stations are derelict so nothing works like it used to but you can see how it once did.”

“We are in a war with them? Why is it a war? With our magic we should be able to finish it quickly.”

“They can use magic now. It’s not the same as ours, I’m sure you will see one day. The war is a war because it’s a level playing field we might have magic but so do they and they have numbers. Friction has been growing on the northern border for years. Ever since the waves. For some reason they only hit the duchies hard, the empire was almost entirely ignored. Since the wizards took control they have been trying to raise up the people, not just for the peoples benefit but for their own. This war is going to explode soon enough, be prepared for it. A mage is going to have a part to play.”

“I’m just a junior mage, they wouldn’t send me out there.”

“You aren’t as junior as you think. You would never have been given this task if you were.”

“I was given this task, as you put it, as a death sentence, surely Vesic told you, I have almost no chance of succeeding. Rysan is getting revenge for his Ventrastus friend. Hitting him probably made the situation worse.”

“Tristan, have a bit of faith in yourself. Vesic told you what you needed to hear. Death might be certain in life but you are more than fit for this task. We just need to stop you doing stupid things like burning yourself out, or blowing up forests.”

“Thanks for that, it’s not like I do these things intentionally.”

“You have had your drink, what is the next move?”

“I guess exploring this building and setting up some form of communication home.” the word home triggered something, an ache in my chest, Sophia, Lyphia and Airis were waiting for me. I blinked back tears.

Brendon laid a hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye. “We will get you home soon. Do your duty. That’s what you mages say, isn’t it?”

“Sort of. I don’t know how it came about but duty seems to be the thing everyone thinks of about mages.”

“A curse. The old mages did unspeakable things in the name of duty. You have done things for duty too. You are here far from home because of duty.  It’s not surprising that people think of mages and duty.”

“I guess it fits, I just wish they thought of something else.”

“It could be worse. You could be remembered for all the pain and death caused by mages. Or thought of as dogs.”

“Lovely. Well anyways we need to sort out something to make this place habitable, we have, I’m assuming, a squad of mages on their way. When they get here is anyone’s guess but I doubt they will be as slow as we were.”

“Probably not. I’ve not been upstairs yet. We will have to make sure it’s safe. You haven’t sensed anyone?”

“No but my senses aren’t to be trusted here. Too much power, it’s distorting everything and giving me a headache to go with the full body ache I have right now.”

“The joys of magic. If you are ready we should investigate the upper levels.”

“Give me a moment, I should take my sword.”

You should, have you noticed anything different about your handling of it?”

“I’ve hardly used it.” I walked over to pick it up. The smooth white stone was developing further markings. I slid my hands over the wide blade. The earlier smudges of colour were becoming more pronounced, the pure white of the blade brighter.  An almost regular pattern seemed to be forming. I shot a glance at Brendon. “Did you do this?”

“No, Vesic didn’t either. It’s part of a mage weapon.  They grow and change with the mage. I mean, do you feel anything within yourself?”

“It’s lighter.”

“It’s not, you have just learnt to carry it. Vesic gave you a gift, he felt you had earned it. Its temporary, you will need to learn the hard way if you want to keep it.”

What gift?

“Basic skill with a blade. He could have made it permanent but that isn’t his way. A gift unearned is poison to the receiver.”

“Thank you I guess, I hope I don’t need to use it, but I can see how having another skill could be useful.”

“If you are ready let us go upstairs. I doubt there I much up there but it’s worth checking. We don’t want any nasty surprises.”

“Very well. I’m ready.”

We set off back to the entry hall, a small recess hid the stairs from view. The effect it created had spread further, I could see it leading up the enclosed stairwell. Light twisted in strange patterns casting shifting shapes all around me. I felt dizzy as we climbed, my body still not recovered from earlier. The temptation to pull a trickle of magic came over me, my link swelling with the sheer volume of power in the air. A kinda of pressure built in my head as it weighed on me. A tide of magic at its peak just begging to be used. The voice of magic whispering, pleading, to be commanded.

I looked to Brendon, he didn’t seem to be feeling it, if he was there was no sign of discomfort.

“Should we split up?” Brendon asked at the top of the stairs. The hall led in opposite directions.

“I don’t think so, it may be quicker but it’s not worth the risk or running into something we can’t handle alone.”

Brendon nodded, a small smile on his face. “Lead on then.”

I shifted my grip on my sword, the smooth hilt slick in my sweaty hand.

I could hear nothing, the pressure grew, like a vice around my head, squeezing. The light that reflected off the walls was steaming in through a set of large windows lining the hall. Their clouded glass didn’t let me see through. The hall led straight thick wooden doors opened into rooms and offices. We didn’t examine each one thoroughly, the dust and random debris was convincing enough to reassure us that there were no people in here. At the end of the hall another set of stairs.

“This should be residence quarters if this is an administration building. The empire were firm of regulation all the scribes and officers lived above their place of work. Citizens had the same rules with exceptions made for families.”

“That is a very strange rule.”

“Efficiency. They didn’t have magic to make things easier for them. The whole empire spanned this continent, several thousand miles. Discipline was harsh. I don’t even know how long they ruled for, but Vesic knows more about the empire than I can handle. He keeps walls around that knowledge.”

“Was Vesic really the mage-king?”

“Don’t bring it up please. He doesn’t like reminders.”

“But how did he become a god?”

“Why do you ask? You aren’t thinking of trying to become one yourself?”

“No, living forever seems like a curse to me. Being without a body of my own, no he can keep that dubious blessing.”

“Good. I don’t understand how it happened, but it’s not good Tristan. There is nothing but pain down that path.

“Okay change of subject then. Why are you still here?”

“I have a reason for being here. This place is special to us. I’ve never seen it with my own eyes.”

“The birthplace of the mage king?”

“Yes. Vesic can’t bear the place, the magic is too wild.”

“Why is it too wild? I know it’s different, that is painfully obvious to me, but why?”

“You know the magic absorbs imprints from its users, here it’s taken on a great many conflicting imprints. Growing wilder with every generation.”

“Is there a way to heal it?”

“I don’t know, I’m not classically trained. Maybe when those other mages come you will be able to work something out.”

A sharp sliver of pain rang through my head. A rising scream of power shock the air.

“What was that?” Brendon asked, a sick look on his face.

“I don’t know. But it’s getting stronger and its outside.”

“We should stay here then.”

“No whatever it is, there are people in this city, not many, but they might need help. I have to get down there.”

“You aren’t in any shape to be helping anyone, you have blood dripping from your ears.”

“It’s the pressure. They don’t have any defence against whatever this.”

“Neither do you. Your magic will kill you.”

Can’t you feel this? It’s lethal. These people need someone to stand up for them even if it futile.

“You aren’t a hero Tristan. You are a mage, you have a job to do that you can’t if you die.”

“I’m doing my duty. This is magic. It’s my job.”

I turned and ran down the stairs, my legs solid beneath me. I could do this. This was my purpose, my reason. I stand between the people and the harm that magic can do.  My body hurt and my head felt like it was going to explode but my body wasn’t my own, I took an oath, I would see it through even if it killed me.

I rushed out of the door and looked around, the setting sun shone through the gaps between buildings casting the area in blood red light, hints of night approached as the sky went dark around the edges.  I caught a glimpse of people running at the far end of the street. An eerie silence filled the air, expectant, hungry.

The screaming pressure in the magic, just stopped. Its absence felt wrong. I opened my sense with a reckless abandon, the street lit up with power, the flows and streams blindingly bright and wavering. They shifted in their beds, overflowing like a river busting its banks. There was no sense of disruption like with a wave, this was something else.

The wash of power hit me, I felt…. cleansed, as if all my pain and everything bad that had ever happened to me just vanished. Peace, warmth and comfort permeated my body and mind. I just stood there, sword in hand, looking at nothing.

A thump ran through the ground, shaking me out of whatever that was. I turned my head seeking the source.

A troll, vaguely humanoid, it had to be 10 foot tall, massive shoulders and long arms, its greenish yellow skin slick with mucus as if it had just been born.

A birthing pit, could be the only answer.

It was coming, the earth shivered with each step, its oversized club dragging and bumping along the cobbles.

Trolls are nasty corruptions of magic, they aren’t a real species. They are constructs, sort of.  They can’t be made like golems, they have to be grown. Areas of magic that get twisted occasional produce troll birthing pits. But they never reached this size. They were always neutralised quickly.

I gripped my sword tightly, settling the hilt into my hand, the smooth stone warmed in response.

The troll saw that I wasn’t running and roared.

The sound set my head to ringing like a bell. The smell assaulted my already recently nauseas senses, I fell back a step.

I blinked watering eyes, took a very shallow breath to clear my airways and set my sights. The troll had got close while I was distracted by its stench. It was nearly on top of me.

I lifted my blade just in time to catch the club coming down. Flames bloomed along the sword, the freshly forming sigils glowing bright in the spreading gloom. I shifted my body, the club slid down the blade to land on the cobbles next to me.

The troll snarled and raised the club once more.

I took the chance to lunge, the burning blade driving into the troll’s hip. The flesh sizzled and smoke poured from the wound.  Worms of dark green light crawled through it, fighting the fire.

The flames spread setting fire to the troll’s blood. It flowed from the gash like water.

I pulled back as far as I could. The troll started flailing, beating at the burning wound. The fire caught on its hands.

Fire is pure, it destroys but it also renews. A troll spawned from corruption is weak to fire, really weak. The twisted magic of it make up fails in the face of fire.

It roared again. A burning arrow whistled through the air, its cloth wrapped head landing in the trolls shoulder.  The green worms of light slithered away, the fire too much for its regenerative powers.

I stood to the side watching the troll disintegrate, threads of light and fire weaving through its flesh, a pool of vicious, foul smelling green slime growing under its feet. It dropped the club with a thump as its arms lost integrity.

Its bones seemed to be holding on the flesh falling off them to land in the growing puddle.

I lowered my sword as I watched my foe break apart. The earlier pain came roaring back but the shock of defeating a troll held the worst at bay.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing?” a voice called from down the street, young but angry.

I turned my head slowly, I felt dazed.

There was a young woman, dirty and malnourished by the looks of her. A bow was held loosely in her hand. She marched down the street. A fierce anger in her step as if the paving had wronged her.

“That was a troll you moron. You don’t close with a troll. You pepper the bastards with flaming arrows, from a distance. What do you think you are doing?”

“I was protecting people.”

“What people? There isn’t no one here. Trolls are stupid, they go for what they can see. We hide, didn’t you hear the bell?”

I closed my eyes for a moment, before raising them to her face. Another problem

“Whoa, what are you?” She swung the bow into a firing position. An arrow had found its way on to the string. “Answer me before I shoot, I haven’t got a problem with shooting monsters.”

“I’m not a monster. I’m a mage.”

“Ha, mages don’t come here. Do you take me for a fool?”

“I really am a mage. Mage Representative Tristan Sodden, sent by the wizards to persuade you to join us. I’ve spoken to your king.”

He isn’t our king. All he does is sit up there and watch us die. Despair has got its claws into that one. Madness too if I’m any judge.”

She lowered her bow, but still seemed wary.

“I don’t know what I can say to convince you, but this might.” I pulled a sliver of magic into me and commanded the dirt on the street to flow away. Pulses of magic tried to distract me, the same siren call I’d heard in the foundry. I gritted my teeth and closed my link as tightly as I could.

Her blue eyes widened at my little magic show. “You shouldn’t have done that, magic is bad here.”

“No, magic is powerful here. I’ll grant you that it’s a bit twisted up, I can’t even see how it is meant to flow, so it’s been like that for a long time. But it’s not bad. Magic is a tool, a natural force, it can’t be bad, just neutral. It’s us that make good or bad use of it.”

“Trolls are not neutral, they are stinking corruptions.”

“Look I’d rather not stand around discussing this, the smell is giving me a headache. Have I convinced you or not?”

“That you’re a mage, yeah, but I’m not buying that the council sent you. They have done nothing for us. Even the nobles wouldn’t touch this place. Wizards came once when I were a kid, that’s it, they never came again.”

“Well I’ve been sent. I’m not going to argue with you. I want to help, I just don’t know where to start.”

“Cut that out. Being weak gets you killed here. Trolls are the least of it.

“You know my name, what’s yours?”

“Lexis, you hear that?” She turned her head, listening.

Tilting my head, I could hear the faint ring of a bell echoing around. Oddly sharp rings compared to the normal slower drawn out sound.

“That’s that all clear. Just one tonight it seems.” She turned and started to walk back the way she had come.

“I hope to see more of you. Things like this should be happening.”

“No they shouldn’t, but we don’t live in a world of should and shouldn’t, this is what is. Don’t get yourself killed. Your best bet is to go back where you came from and leave us to our business.”

I turned to see her off. Then walked into my headquarters. I still needed to sleep yet.

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Mage Life Chapter 38

The mountains loomed, they filled the sky even from this height, dominating the landscape. The peaks of dark grey stone, sung a song of loneliness and desolation, their white tips glistened like the teeth of a beast biting at the sky.

We flew, kind of.

We fell in a controlled way. Flight just doesn’t work with earth based stuff. It’s unnatural. A rock will not fly. Birds might live on the earth, in trees, but they are creatures of the air. I don’t have wings, I smiled as that thought went through my mind, distracting me briefly from the empty space beneath my feet.

Nelar was nestled in a valley at the foot of the mountains. The valley curved between the naked bedrock, weaving through to form a pass. A safe road through the foreboding peaks.

From the air, Nelar was magnificent, its form carved from the same stone as the mountains. A fortress overshadowed the mouth of the valley, blocking the way. The small town surrounding this side of it was once far larger, the neglect and disuse clearly marked the less active part. The spill of crumbling buildings beyond the high wall showed this was once a thriving city, which I’d not heard of even a week ago.

The thriving was long gone. The broken and over grown roads wound through derelict districts like a dry riverbed in a desert. From this height the people looked like specks of dust, like ants crawling over an anthill. An air of malaise hung over this dying city, choking, suffocating. For miles around the earth looked ill, the trees, what few there were, withered and bent. The land had cracks and pockmarks, as if a battle had taken place. It could be the effects of the waves, but it didn’t feel right.

I looked over to Brendon, hovering beside me, his burning eyes locked on the faded remnants of lost glory. His face grey and stricken, as if just looking at this place had killed all hope.

“Do we go down, or do we camp elsewhere?” I found myself asking.

He gave no sign that he heard me. The roaring wind must have taken the words.

I ran my fingers over the enchanted disk, commanding it to change directions.

I fell, the wind cold and stinging on my face. My coat splayed out behind me, tugging me this way and that.

The earth fast approached, I could feel my speed decreasing, the wind less cold and bitter on my skin.

I landed ungracefully, my legs unsteady beneath me. The shock as I touched ground sent shivers through my bones.

I looked around, the area looked less pleasant down here. It hadn’t looked good from the air, but down here, the large wall crumbled, the cracks in the mortar visible from almost a mile away. The massive gate house held a solid gate almost a hundred feet high, near the same wide. It sat on the only road into the city from this side. Its gate hung loosely, no sign of men to greet us. The dark grey stone so prevalently in use here was chipped and broken everywhere.

I took a step forward, to find cobbles underneath the scraggly dead grass. I nearly fell as my heel twisted on one.

Behind me I heard a thud, I turned my head to find Brendon standing behind me, his strange eyes fixed on the gatehouse. I looked to the gatehouse, deep shadows obscured all but the most obvious details. The city beyond it was a mystery.

“Do we enter?”

“We must. You have your task and I have mine. Do your duty mage,” Brendon said, his tone resigned and more than a touch weary. Maybe flying didn’t agree with him.

I nodded, more to myself than anything. I laid my feet carefully, to avoid the twisted and turned cobbles underfoot. The gate loomed over us casting shade on our path, the chill air brushed over use from the gate. The scents of dust and decay came with it like the breath of death. I kept glancing around for anything, anyone, but there was nothing. The fields near the edge of the city, were empty, nothing grew bar weeds and rocks.

“How do these people feed themselves? This land is dust.”

“Where there is a will, there is a way. I’d imagine they trade over the pass.”

I could feel my brow furrow as I contemplated that. Trade wasn’t impossible, but what could they trade, and with whom? There was nothing here. Our neighbours on our border didn’t have much contact with the duchies as a whole.

We were soon stood in the shadows of the gatehouse, the shining sun seemed to be dimmed here, as if hidden behind a cloud but no cloud was there.

The path took us under the arch and around the hanging gate, its wood rotted and broken. The shadows didn’t ease up once past the gates. If anything they grew, casting the decrepit buildings in gloom. The broken windows looked on, hiding darker shadows within.

I could feel eyes upon me, a creeping sensation like insects crawling up and down my spine. The lifeless street and silent air reminiscent of a tomb. This city was dead and the few remaining inhabitants merely its feeble death throes.

Up ahead was a large, larger, building than the rest. It looked important and well maintained in comparison. Its grimy face looked down at me. The windows were intact although barred with black iron. The stone of the construction was a grainy, deep unrelieved grey. Our path took us down the narrow, overgrown streets, small alleys branched off between buildings. The haunted feeling grew as I peered into one, the darkness inside revealed nothing.

I reached around for my sword, placing my hand on the hilt. Just holding the cool, smooth stone steadied me. I slowed my pace as the path grew less clogged with weeds, the hard cobbles underneath the dust were firm but no less treacherous. The obscuring dust covering the surface leaving them slick.

Brendon walked beside me, his steps heavy and slow. His every movement was reluctant and resigned. A hesitation then a push, as if he forced himself through each step. His face was blank, his burning eyes locked on something distant, something I couldn’t see.

Feelings of wrongness assailed me as we walked. My link shivered, in ways I’d only felt during the wave, but there was nothing to match it. I opened my othersense.

Pain and fear twisted through the streets, leaving streaks of dark stain. Ribbons of sickly light wove through everything, like pale maggots in a corpse. Marks of death littered the place, a black tarnish on all the stone. This place knew nothing good, and if it did it was long ago.

I lifted my eyes to our goal. Dismay filled me as I saw the centre of the corruption in this place. It hung over the blocky building like a cloud, tainting all it touched.

Forward then, looking around for any sign of people. There was debris everywhere, but nothing that looked recent.

The fortress loomed behind all that was close, inaccessible from here. We would have to go around, through the internal wall and out the other side. Better to just go to the building nearest that might have some hope of leading me to people.

I still didn’t know what I was going to do when I found them, my mission was to annex this city for the wizard’s council, to encourage trade, find hands for all the jobs that needed doing. I still had no inkling what those jobs were or why there was a lack of people to do them.

Walking through this ghost town filled me with dread, the magic here felt wrong, not like the foundry twisted, this was different. I couldn’t tell what made it different but it felt dangerous. A sense of something, an echo, there was something just not right here. The unnatural darkness, the lack of people. The death marks. The air of abandonment that pervaded everything.

“What happened here?” I whispered under my breath.

“Many things happened, not all of them in the distant past,” Brendon answered.

“You know? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Knowledge shouldn’t be a gift, it needs to be won. You know that. The beatings you received at the academy should have taught you that. Everything must be earned. Give power for free and this is what happens, you end up with mad fools that have no respect for what they call. You paid for your tutelage with blood and pain.  Did it teach you to respect for your abilities?”

“I guess it did. They are mine, I paid for them. I worked for them. I might not be the best but its all on me.”

“There we go. Give a man something for free and he squanders and abuses it. Make him work hard for it and he will value it.”

“Like the nobles, they were given power by the mage-king, and they abused it and the people in their care,” I mused softly.

“That is one example. This place is another, it has paid the price for others. You can feel it, debts and oaths were broken here. The very birthplace of the oaths.”

Our softly spoken discussion had distracted me and our feet had taken us to the door of the building. Its door way was missing its door, a collection of rotted planks replaced it haphazardly arranged to block the way. I ducked my head under one and twisted my body to pull myself through.

The entry hall was once beautiful, remnants of it remained. The high arches and clean lines of the design bespoke of a great deal of care and effort, and it was reduced to this. A shabby relic of a bygone age. One of the staircases rose up the wall, its treads missing. The other looked intact.

My foot touched the bottom step, it creaked ominously, but held. I laid one hand on the ornate rail, which had seen better days it was scratched, the varnish peeling in places. And the other hand on the hilt of my sword. Each step up increased my sense that something was waiting.

The small balcony that I exited onto was in as bad a shape as everything else. Its ornamental rails looked as if they had been ripped off. The doors leading further into the building was intact, although scarred.

I pulled my sword from the straps I’d fashioned to hold it, I’d best get a scabbard for it soon, it wasn’t good to carry a bared blade everywhere even if it was stone.

I stepped over the remains of the rails that had been discarded on the floor and went through the door.

“Who comes baring weapons in my court?” A loud voice called from the gloom.

Light flared.

Torches along the walls sprung to life, casting uncertain illumination over the bare hall. Shadows slithered around the corners of the room Columns of the same grim rock supported the ceiling, made of the same. A large throne dominated the far end of the room, in it was sat a man, wrapped in shadows. I couldn’t see any features. Just a blot of shadow on the throne.

“Answer me. You stand before the king of Nelar, holding a weapon, who are you?” Madness danced in his voice, its erratic rhythm disorientating. The shadows swelled as his voice rose.

“I’m Mage Tristan Sodden, Representative of the Wizard’s Council. I have come to make an offer to this city.”

The king laughed. Pain and detachment from reality lingered in his laugh, it set my teeth on edge.

“A Mage has come to Nelar. Of course, the eyes should have told me. Your kind have no place here.”

“I’ve been ordered to serve as an envoy, to court you to join the council. The duchies stand united once more, would you not wish for your people to be part of that?”

“We have no desire to be part of your council. Where were the wizards all these years? My people have bled and died here. It’s ours, go back to your masters’ boy, it’s too late. We are dead. This is just the fading memory of a city. The final days of the birth place of the Mage King.” A deep despair filled his words, as if all hope was gone and my arrival was some form of cruel joke.

What is going on here, what have they sent me into?

“I’m sorry, I can’t change what has gone before but I will do all I can to help now.”

The king’s shadows dispersed granting me sight of a young man. His clothes were rugged leather, no courtly silks for this king. His face was lined, very lined for one so young. He couldn’t have been much older than me. He was tall but slim, almost wasted away. He turned his dark eyes on me. A weight settled over me as I stared back into these eyes. So deep, so old.

“You offer aid now? I see you are in earnest, but what is to be done? We stand in the twilight of the city. Its people are but a handful. We can’t survive here. I’ve sent all that can go over the mountains. Magic is a curse here. It does what it will, there is no controlling it.” This time it wasn’t the madness that set me on edge but the heavy desperate hope as if he actually sought aid. There was something very very wrong here. A king that is mad one moment and desperately sane the next. What had happened?

“I don’t know what I can do, but I was sent to help. That’s what I will do.”

“Ha. A mage’s duty. We heard tales of your kind, once you all came here. The mage king’s awakening, he was the first of you. Did you know? You used to come here, a pilgrimage of sorts. There is nothing you can do. Go look, see the city with your blazing eyes. Maybe you will realise the futility of coming here. Leave me.” The King, who I had no name for turned his eyes from me then, his gaze rested on nothing.

I left him to his thoughts. There was nothing for me to do in here.

Brendon waited for me outside the building, his burning eyes seeking something in the city as his sight roved the buildings.

“There is something different about this place. Something…. new.”

“I don’t know about that. Did you know this place had a king?

“I didn’t but I’m not surprised, kings rise to fill a need. Someone to look to for guidance and someone to blame when things go wrong.”

“Well, there is a king, I just spoke to him. He wants no part of the duchies. I’m at a loss of how to proceed here.”

“Do what you think is best. If the king wants no part, maybe the people do.”

“What people? Have you seen anyone since we landed?”

“A few. Slinking in the shadows. They will not approach. Fear stalks these streets. They have been taught caution.”

“We need somewhere to set up, if we are going to be working to persuade these people, then we must have a base.”

“How are you planning to persuade them? All the duchies offer is magic, which is poison here.”

“Is it poison? I can tell there is something wrong here, but poison seems harsh. The magic feels… twisted, corrupted.”

(Beat)

“There it is again, what is that?” I turned my head at the noise/feel. It wasn’t here I could tell but it travelled through the magic. My link thrummed in response. There was nothing to see, I resisted the urge to open my othersense, the earlier sights made me reluctance.

“Nothing for you Mage.” The weight in his voice made me turn my head to look at him.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You have a task already, don’t take on more than you can handle.”

“I didn’t take this on, but it already feels like more than I can handle.”

“Best to get started then.”

I looked over the buildings nearest us. Most were in various states of decay. A few looked intact, if scarred. I raised my arm to point at a small but once stately building.

“There. We should check it out. If it’s uninhabited, we can make it safe. Set up a headquarters. We need to work out some communication with Orb. He will be able to advise us.

“If that is what you think is the best idea.” Brendon replied non-committally. His gaze never left off examining the city.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but I will know it when I see it.”

“That’s vague and unhelpful.”

“It was supposed to be. It’s none of your concern Tristan.”

“Vesic mentioned that I should get you a gift for your intervention, you haven’t been overly talkative, I didn’t want to intrude or bring it to mind, I didn’t know how you felt about what happened.”

“All is well Tristan. What happened has been meant to happen for longer than you have been alive. It is as it is meant to be. I require nothing from you.”

“Well that’s just wonderful. Getting told by a God that I have a debt kinda makes me want to fulfil it as soon as I can.”

“Let us move past this. That building you pointed out, you think it will serve us well?”

“I don’t know, let’s find out.”

Mage Life Chapter 37

Snippets of dreams haunted me, more nightmares than dreams. I was back on the night of the fire surge, ribbons of power twisting through the air. The magic screaming at me to help, to fix it, to heal it. The white stone of Westhaven shone sickly in my sight as I ran to the poor surge’s side.

His pain washed through me, the sickness of his power like the breath of death, of corruption in the air. I could feel myself crying, the tears burning, living this moment again. His final moment. I tried to do anything else. I pulled power to close his link but it was too far gone. Like fixing the broken door of your house when the roof was gone, futile measures that did nothing. I saw his mouth open in a scream, the scent of ashes and burning flesh filled my nostrils. His voice was lost to the roaring of the flames. His last words gone.

(Beat)

A shimmering of the magic pulsed and his final moments replayed. His screams which I’d not been able to hear over the fire roaring out of him before, came through with crystal clarity. The tears I’d shed dried on my face, the heat from his fire scorching as I sealed him in stone. A coffin.

Then I was at the foundry, sinking the district. I was alone this time. The unfound dead buried under stone at my command, sunk below the ground and sealed. Their voices carried in the wind. Each a different accusation.

“You didn’t save us.”

“Our deaths are on your hands.”

“Sealed in stone, locked from our rest.”

I fell to my knees, tears ran unabashed down my face. I looked at the smooth whiteness of my home, it didn’t look white now, grey with streaks of darkness flowing through, shadows of the deeds done here.

“Be gone, and trouble him no more. He did his best, that is more than any other has done for you.” A voice came from all around me. Loud and booming it echoed across the smooth expanse of space.

“Wake up Tristan, you don’t need to be here. You did what you could.”

(Beat)

The magic pulsed again, and I fell it a dreamless yet fitful sleep.

 

(—–)

Dawn greeted me awake, just laying wrapped in my blanket not moving. I hurt too much to risk moving and I was too scared to sleep more. That nightmare may have ended but it brought it all back. The pain. The guilt.  The fear.

The early light just touched the crystals, they shone like miniature suns each feeding off the other. I raised my arm, it hurt oddly, to shield my eyes from the glare. Inside the ring was Vesic standing in the centre, his cloak of embers refracted the light like drops of water each producing a tiny rainbow. It was beautiful and terrifying. This was the god in all his might, a master of fire and light. This is what the mages of old could do. Blazing like stars in the masses of dim sleepers. This is what I could do if I let my power run unchecked. Not fire and light, but earth and stone. In my mind I could see myself standing tall, each step I took shaking the ground, a floating nimbus of gems whirling round my head like a crown. My enemies fell to me as I stepped forwards, some to a single gem through their body, others to spikes of stone rising from the ground. Blood covered the soil, each drop a life ended. The hungry earth drank it all. I could feel it: every death being absorbed, nourishing the earth. In my vision I laughed, a rising sense of invincibility as I watched men die for standing in my way. I could see a city in the distance, high walled and thick gated. The gates were closed but I walked forwards, at my back the dead rose armoured in stone. Each a puppet to my will. Their amour, my creation. My gift, to let the dead walk again. I could hear something whispering in my ear, not words but feelings, a sense of conquest. I could crush this city to dust. Wipe the petty little insects scurrying through the flesh of the earth that they had cut loose, disconnecting it from its source. Glimmers of magic flowed through the walls but with this much power running through me I could crush it just the same. I stretched out my hand and my will, and commanded the walls to fall.

And like water melting from ice they did, a sheet of falling stone flowing to the base.

Even from here I could hear the screams of the dims, sleepers too weak to grasp the power they were born to command. A few reached for it but the magic plane was unstable, slanted towards me. Vague half formed charms and expressions lashed out feebly. I barely even noticed

I threw my own expressions. Buildings crumbled and shattered. Towers fell and underneath it all was this feeling of power and exhilaration.

My army of dead ran through the gap where the wall had been. No sounds from them but their targets shrieked, I’d left the helms of their helmets open to strike terror into the hearts of all who opposed me.

“Get up mage,” came a voice and I felt a kick in the side.

I blinked.

Back in the clearing still wrapped in my blanket, I saw Brendon stood over me looking down.

“We have far to go today. We can’t do that with you laying there fantasising about some woman.” he looked pointedly at me. His gaze flickering to my groin.

Id tented my blanket.

I flushed red with embarrassment, mumbled an apology and curved my body to hide it.

He moved away to the tree line and left me to get ready.

I wasn’t thinking about Lyphia, I’d been daydreaming about something very different. It had caused that reaction. My earlier flush drained as I felt a rising from my stomach. I rolled over and splattered vomit over the earth of the camp.

I wiped my mouth and stood on shaky and painful legs. The burning pain of muscles that protested their abuse sung through my body. I stepped heavily, all grace gone, to the makeshift pump. The cool water cleared my mouth but my mind was scattered.

Where had the vision come from? Something Jase had said, he always warned us about overuse of our gifts he just never said why. Exhaustion is a common problem, I’d always assumed that it would be fatal or just seriously damaging, like after the foundry. But yesterday I’d not pulled that much power that I’d burned out my channels. I’d been constant and steady, no wild pulses or savage surges. I tried to examine my thoughts, but they ran from me like a flock of birds from a child. I couldn’t just shrug and dismiss this. The vision had been intense and my reaction to it had felt normal at the time. Now it sickened me.

I picked up my clothes and jammed my body into them.

My blanket went into my bag and then that was swung over my shoulder.

I looked back at the blazing crystals, momentarily thinking about charming them. There was no heat and it would fade shortly, I was a bit surprised they had lasted through the night. They would be frayed enough to collapse by the time the sun cleared the horizon. The circle could remain. It might give shelter to anyone else that came this way.

I walked to Brendon, he waited for me at the edge of the trees.

“Are we running today?”

“There is no need. You did what you needed to do. We can walk now.”

“Then I would like a few moments to attempt something.”

“Very well. We leave as soon as you are ready.”

I’d had an idea in the night. It wasn’t as clear as I would like but if I didn’t try I would never know if it could work

I walked over to the road, well it wasn’t a road but a track that was barely worn through the forest, there were small outcropping of stone scattered here and there. A type of granite that I’d never seen before last night.

I headed to the nearest, the dark grey smudge barely visible where it just poked above the earth.

I touched it and opened my senses. The stone shimmered in my sight, individual crystals in its structure catching, no producing its own energies. I pulled the stone up from the ground with my power. It was rough and large, far larger than id expected with a first glance. Larger than Brendon and myself combined. The loose soil shivered off in a cloud of dust. I set it down on the path then got to work.

I charmed it.

Enchantment would have worked if I’d had the time to work it out. Free form on a natural shape would have fallen apart in a bad way. With explosions probably. The charm was simple a repulsion, much like one that deterred pests, this one was tailored to repel the earth. Magnetism is a thing we learnt about at the academy. It wasn’t magnetism I used but the idea of it. And movement. To push it along. I checked each thread they looked balanced. Bright and vibrant. The concepts were clear, their interactions looked to be straightforward. I charged it then stepped back.

The stone lurched into the air a few feet. It then settled back down and hovered just above the earth waiting for us.

“Brendon, we have transport.”

“That is a rock.”

“Correction this is a floating rock. It will carry us.”

He walked over and poked it. The rock kind of bobbed. An unsteady wobble.

“It doesn’t look all that stable”

“It probably isn’t, but it will do. I can hold it securely enough for us to mount. Get on.”

He just looked at me warily.

I smiled at him and nodded towards the rock.

He placed both hands on the stone and pulled himself onto it.

I exerted a bit of pressure to hold it still.

He managed to get securely placed on it, although the nervousness of earlier didn’t go anywhere.

A small expression made a stair of earth for me to climb. I stepped up and sat next to Brendon.

Feeling a rising sense of mirth as I looked at Brendon’s face, his doubts and fears so clear to me. I shouted a line is heard my father say to the hunting hound we had kept when I was a child

“Away. We hunt.”

Brendon just looked at me.

I smiled.

The rock did nothing.

My smile wilted, a touch. Not quite the dramatic flair I was hoping for.

I looked down at the rock, calling up my sight.

There didn’t appear to be anything wrong with it, maybe I’d crafted a useless charm. Something that was never going to work. Power did seem to be flowing, so where was it going?

I scratched my chin, needed a shave, but that’s not important right now.

The energies it was producing were being directed through the threads, they were going-

“Brendon get off. Run.

“What?”

“Go go go,” I said as I pushed him off.

He landed on his face in the dirt.

“Run, it’s going to explode if I don’t fix it.”

Brendon didn’t waste any time, he was on his feet running in a moment.

I sunk deeper, I’d miscalculated the threads. They didn’t have an outlet and the power was building up.

A shiver went through the stone. They crystals inside it vibrating, a low whine filled the air.

I started ripping threads out and trying to place overflows and diversions. The power was feeding on its self-locking the threads into place.

I wasn’t going to get this done. It was going to explode.

I jumped off, and I ran. My legs carried me further than id expected, not far enough.

The whining in the air grew filling the forest with the sound of a million angry bees. Then a crack and another. Then more from my left.

The stone splintered and exploded, shards flew at me. I felt a few hit my coat each impact hard enough to bruise.

The sound didn’t stop.

I slowed and turned, the stone was gone but the charm architecture hung in the air, glowing.

The buzzing bee sound continued.

“Uh-oh.”

I could see other rocks buried in the earth with matching patterns. I could feel tremors.

“Brendon don’t stop we have to get gone”

“Why? The stone is destroyed?”

“Don’t be stupid. Magic is rarely so simple. Just run. Don’t stop.”

We ran as fast as our legs could carry us through the forest that soon wasn’t a forest. Shredded leaves and splintered wood filled the air with vast amounts of dust.

Fire bloomed on all sides as we ran and the air grew hot. Like a furnace.

The edge of the forest was miles away and I had no idea how far the effect had spread.

“The mage will think of something, of course he will. It just results in explosions and fire.”

“Shut up” I gasped out. “How was I supposed to know we was far enough away for sympathy to come in to play?”

“You are a mage you are supposed to know. It’s all in the name, you are named magic, what do you expect?”

“I don’t know but a bit of slack would be nice.”

Our conversation was cut short by the roaring firestorm behind us. The air was being sucked into it. Smaller explosions could be heard over the roar.

We ran, I pulled power to supplement myself, the cool flow took over. I ran like a horse, like an animal, natural and graceful. The roots and bumps of the forest flow didn’t disturb me.

Brendon kept up with no perceivable problems. There was something odd there.

“What are we doing?” Brendon shouted of the fire.

“We are running. Away from that.”

“After that”

“If we don’t get away there is no after that.”

“Use magic then.

“I don’t have fire, earth and water aren’t going to do much against that.”

“Then I’m going to have to call Vesic.”

“I don’t think he is going to be too happy about this.”

“Me either but you can’t fix it. He can.”

“Do it, quickly then. It’s over taking us.”

“You can’t outrun everything,” Brendon said, a strange note in his voice. Almost wistful.

I didn’t say anything to that just kept running.

“Vesic I call on you to aid me, I beseech you to lay your hand over your vessel in this moment of need.”

That was weird, the first time I’d met Brendon he had called Vesic silently. Now he was calling out.

The transformation didn’t happen, Brendon was still Brendon but a glow hovered over him.

Threads exploded out of him. Each going to a fragment of fire. The flames froze and the air stopped.

The explosions continued for a few moments.

I turned back and looked.

Black and burnt. We had covered maybe ten miles in our run. All that was behind us was burnt and ruined. Land torn, chunks just torn out. Trees just gone. It was all a smoking ruin. The firestorm hung frozen in the air. It’s reaching fingers drawing back in.

Brendon let out a small moan and collapsed.

The fires collapsed with him.

All I could smell was dust and ashes. The level of destruction was greater than I could have guessed. More than I’d ever seen before. Smoke drifted on the wind.

This looked like my dreams. Not exactly but close. Visions of the future weren’t likely, the few seers there were went mad reading every little trace and permutation in the magic. There was just too much to see. Everything interacted. But the hopes and dreams of what could be twisted, all that expectation, emotion, can warp the magic. Even without magic all that pressure on people can do strange things.

This wasn’t even a magical conflagration, it started that way and was echoed in the magic plane, fire was there, lots of fire. But it would die down. The damage done though was mundane, nothing I could do about it. At least not without extensive time here.

I looked down at Brendon, he had burnt himself out channelling Vesic’s power without the god actually coming himself. All just to fix a mistake that I had made.

This was a scar on the land, another one.

Is this what my life as a mage would be?

I fell to my knees over the still form of Brendon and stared off into the destruction I had wrought.

 

 

(—-)

The rest of the day was basically sitting there waiting for Brendon to wake up. I did find a small bit of the granite that had caused all this. The crystals in it bled power into the air. Not a lot of power but enough to lock the threads into a feedback loop. Like a river starts as a tiny trickle and as it grows and joins tributaries it gets locked into its bed, changing the flow of a river is hard, it’s been done a few times in history but it normally involved building a bed for it to travel down and teams of mages redirecting each joining tributary. I saw my mistake though by not giving it a direct outlet right away id let it build. And sympathy, which normally isn’t an issue because I’d never been away from home before. Out here though the granite was all born in the same moment, the same event. It would of course be all the same, and I stupidly didn’t account for it.

I threw the rock away in disgust with myself. I was stupid and cocky.

I looked over the devastation again.

This is what being stupid costs, the price doesn’t land on me it falls on the land.

I was disturbed from my thoughts by a groan.

Brendon was stirring.

I rushed over to his side.

His eyes opened as his sat up. He saw what there was to see.

“All this from a rock?”

“Very funny you know it wasn’t just the one.

“Why are we still here?

“I didn’t want to risk moving you, your link was strange. It grounded into the land. It appears to be normal now but I didn’t know what moving you would do.”

“We have to get going, duty deferred is as bad as duty ignored.

“Are you well enough to move?

“I have to be. I feel a bit worse for wear but I can run.

“I’d rather not run. I have another idea. I wasn’t to talk to you about it first though.

“Probably best, what is it?

“I can make us golem shells. They would be expressions not charms or enchantments. They should be safe.”

“Shells? And what’s the difference?

“I thought you had all of Vesic’s knowledge.

“No I never said that. I have seen his experiences doesn’t mean I have the same understanding. It’s the difference between watching someone swim and being able to do it yourself.

“Well an expression is a constant drain on me I would have to pay attention to it all the time. Charms and enchantments are set. I just do the work once and it carries on.”

“You took a shortcut and caused all this?”

“It wasn’t a shortcut it would have been efficient if I wasn’t an idiot.”

“Can you do anything about the damage?”

“I already have. Wood is the same everywhere. Different trees but they grow everywhere. I wish I was better with water or had any clue about air but wood I can handle. I’ve charmed a few trees that survived to increase their reproduction.”

I pointed to a line of trees that I’d charmed. They were in bloom already. Ready to take back the area within a few days. The charm should last long enough to regrow maybe half the area in the next month or two. It wasn’t a great solution but it was all I had for now. I resolved to come back here and do more when I could.

“And these shells entail what?”

“Well I call the earth and focus it into shape and we sit on it. It will run for us.”

“Don’t. We will walk. That way you can have more time to think about it. Nelar is different. You don’t want to be handling magic there.” Brendon stood and started walking, leaving the scarred land behind him.

I took one more look back then followed him.

 

(—)

“How did you do what you did?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Why not?

It’s not mine to tell.

“Oh. Do you think Vesic will tell me?”

I doubt it. He likes you but secrets are what he thrives on.”

We walked gently through the remains of the forest. There wasn’t much further to go before we would be out of it entirely. The mountains looming in the distance, every step we took taking us closer to my duty. Possibly to my death.

My sword weighted heavily on me. It was the symbol of what had caused all this. Sophia, Lyphia, Jase and Airis all waited on my return and I couldn’t even be certain I would return. My mission, I don’t even know what I was supposed to do. Expand the reach of the council. Vague and unhelpful. Useless.

Do you know what I should do when we get there?

Do you duty. That’s what you mages are fond of saying isn’t it?

I hate that saying, it’s useless.  Duty doesn’t tell me anything. Do I do as instructed? Do I make it up as I go along?

Do what you feel you must. You have orders, follow them.

My orders don’t cover anything. They are an end result they aren’t instructions.

Tristan, I can help you. I have very little control of my own life, I share my mind and body with a god. I didn’t choose that. You chose to be a mage, why?

I want to help people. I want the world to be better than it is. All I seem to be is make it worse.

Magic isn’t a cure all. It’s a wonderful dangerous thing. You can’t fix the world with magic. There is no magic wand that will make people’s lives better, people will always be people, they will lie and cheat they will hurt others you can’t fix that with magic.

Is magic harmful then?

Tristan think about it. You are in the perfect position to know if magic is good or bad.

It’s a tool, it’s the hand that wields it.

Yes it is. And the hand that wields it is mortal. Do you really think it makes things better or does it just cause more problems?

Both. It does both.

Like any tool. A sword is a tool. With it you can protect or destroy. You could go out and kill indiscriminately or you could deter an enemy from fighting in the first place. You have to think Tristan. There are no easy answers.

Magic helps people grow crops, it cleans water that would otherwise kill. It can heal.

And it can do what happened back there. It can perpetuate wars and change people. Power corrupts all things.

You think I’m corrupted.

No, not yet. I think you lean on your magic to cover for you. It’s the first tool you reach for.  It’s all you know, and you think you can fix everything with it.

I wanted to be able to argue with him but he was right. I tried to fix everything with magic. Even though I knew it wasn’t the answer.

We fell into silence then. We just walked.

 

(—)

Dusk found us far from the forest. The mountains filled the sky. The air was cooling and bugs were flying around.

Brendon said, “Make camp. No magic. Vesic will be here and he wants to talk to you.”

I swallowed hard at the thought of getting chewed out by a god.

I looked around the plains didn’t have any cover. I just dropped my bag and pulled out my blanket and food. I lay the blanket on the ground and sat eating the hard travel meat and bread.

Brendon was facing into the setting sun as I was starting to see was his habit. The transformation was different though, there was not gentle flowing into another form, this was savage. Actual sounds came from Brendon’s body as it changed. On first look Brendon and Vesic were about the same size, it turns out they aren’t. Vesic is a few inches taller and broader. The god was stretching Brendon’s body like wet clay, with more crunch. The cracking of bones and the almost whimpering noises from their mouth made me want to go and help. But there was nothing I could do. There was no wound. No injury as such. There was just this transformation which if I understood Brendon correctly was natural for them.

I remained on the blanket. I felt like a coward but anything I could do was likely to make it worse.

“Tristan, you endangered my vessel. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“It was an accident.”

“Is that all you can say? Do you feel that that excuses you from responsibility?”

“No, that excuses nothing. It was a statement of fact. I didn’t intend what happened.”

“Intent has nothing to do with it. Results are the core of this matter. Intent will not keep you alive in Nelar. Nor does it make amends for the damage you have done to Us.”

“Damage? What damage?”

That is not for you to know. You owe amends.

“How am I supposed to pay you anything? You are a god you want for nothing.”

“Not to me, to my vessel. He is a good man that is fulfilling my sworn word.

“He may be a good man but I did nothing to him. He didn’t need to.”

“Need doesn’t matter either. You owe him, this might not be a huge debt if you resolve it quickly.”

“What does he want?”

“You will have to ask him.”

I nodded to signal my understanding.

“There is no sword training tonight. I wish to discuss something with you.”

I did my best to look attentive and to keep my mouth shut.

“Your ideas on transport are good, but you are out in the world now. The things you have been taught aren’t all true here. There are large gaps in what you should know, that you just haven’t been taught at all.”

“What am I missing? And why didn’t I get taught all this?”

“Why? I’m not able to answer that but I have my suspicions. That won’t help you. What you are missing is the shifting details. You can’t be taught some of them in the class room. You have to learn them from experience. I know you don’t understand sympathy.”

“I do actually. I just didn’t realise I needed to keep it in mind already.”

I don’t care. I’m going to teach you now anyway. Sympathy is all about the likeness of things. Pieces of what was once one thing have large amounts of sympathy. Connected on a level most. Magical effects can travel between them easily, that is what happened today. Contagion. Effects have to be contained. Materials that you are familiar with reduced the risk of contagion. That’s why you have never needed to think about it before. There is no room in this world for a thoughtless mage. You have too much power and the tendency to use it to remain a child.

I’m not a child. I have been through the academy. I passed all my classes.

Back in my day we didn’t have an academy, but back then we didn’t have all the fancy terms. We beseeched the spirits.

Back in your day? I don’t know what you mean by that.

Gods don’t just spring into being. We grow from a seed. I had a mortal life before.

There is life beyond death? We don’t get taught that.

Why would you? Is it relevant to your duty? Does it have any real impact on your life?

It might. We weren’t taught about ghost or reading. What were we taught? It seems there is a huge amount that is missing.

Your entire studies are to make it easy for you to use magic. Most of the non-magical topics get covered when you are beyond that stage. You never reached there. You don’t have mage parents. You never served the nobles. You don’t have the knowledge to understand most of the later topics.

How does not serving the nobles affect any of that?

You are the first of a new breed of mages. If they give you everything you won’t think when you encounter these things. It may save events like today but you will become a rote mage, doing things out of habit and ‘we were taught this’.

They refuse to teach us just because of this.

Not just because of this, but just think for a moment. You have access to the archives. You can find out anything you want or need to for yourself. You don’t need teaching beyond what you know. You need to be able to find knowledge for yourself.

But you are teaching me.

Yes I am teaching you now. Because you seem to have missed the point of your entire education. You spent years locked in the academy. You were taught to question. You were taught to find the answers for yourself. Why is it that you get released you just accept everything as you find it?

Obedience was taught too.

Obedience has its place, but that doesn’t mean your mind should be switched off. You have your reading. Look for answers. Look for questions. There is everything you need all around you. Now, how are you planning on dealing with transport? We have many miles to cover.

I tried to make a flying rock today, you know how that worked out. I don’t know how to get there any quicker. Brendon keeps saying how using magic in Nelar is going to be a problem, but he won’t say how. Until I know that I’m stuck.

Worry about Nelar when we get there. For now you should think carefully about a method of transport. I have some ideas.

Earth is about all I can use. Water isn’t in abundance here and I need something solid to anchor it to.

You don’t need anything to anchor it too at all. You can build the architecture. It doesn’t need to be attached to anything. Why are you still thinking in elements? I thought they would break you of that.

It’s easier for me to think like that. Its how magic feels to me.

Easier? If you wanted easier you should have chosen another life. Learn to think boy.

I do think, I just don’t want to make mistakes.

Mistakes are inevitable. You won’t learn if you don’t make mistakes. Fear of failure will limit you faster than anything else.

I don’t fear failure. I fear the consequences of failure. People die. Things get destroyed.

“Destruction is part of the natural order of things. Fearing it won’t help you. While mistakes should be avoided, you will make them. Just accept it as part of your learning.

“That’s easy for you to say. I have to live with the consequences.”

“That isn’t easy for me. You know nothing about me boy, but what I have told you.”

“Were you the mage king?” I asked remembering the dream.

Vesic said nothing. He turned away from me.

“Think through your options, work it out before you do anything,” he said. “Now get some rest. Brendon will discuss things in the morning. Keep in mind your debt to him.”

“I will. Good night,” I said laying down on my blanket and closing my eyes.

(—)

I dreamt of architecture. Concept forms and enchantments. My reading activated sometime during the night. Filling my head with energy patterns from all around me. The visions of before still lingered but this area hadn’t seen much activity of mortals. The weight of history was absent. I’d never even noticed how heavy it was in Westhaven. I didn’t have the eyes to see it before, but my life had inured me to the worst of it. The daily rituals of civilisation left marks. The steps of men and women on their way to work. The little dramas of a bump in the street. The petty aggravations and grievances that build-up of the years, all these leave marks that can be read. That can force themselves into the mind, like a pebble in a shoe. Out here the world was shorn of that context. It was natural in a way I’d never really seen before. It was fresh and new born.

I sat up and rubbed my eyes. My sleep hadn’t been refreshing, I felt as tired as I had the night before, but I did have an idea. An enchantment. If it worked like I thought it would, we would be in Nelar by noon tomorrow.

I looked in my bag for anything that could be of use. The sword next to it glimmered in the pre-dawn light, cold and uncertain, like ice. Treacherous footing. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but the sword had a weight of expectation to it that sent shivers down my spine.

I did pack some blanks. Not many they aren’t exactly cheap. But in my hunt for things I would need I’d realised that having something to enchant might help win the people of Nelar to the wizard cause. Seven small blank discs, I’d even remembered a healing charm that while not being a charm was well enough named. It would heal small wounds and injuries. It might even help with sickness. It was inert right now. Being small its ability to function for extended periods of time was limited. Better for it to be inactive than risk its architecture warping, it was always a risk for enchantments. Prolonged use or misuse, various environmental factors, even improper users could all damage the magical structures while leaving the physical intact and nothing to mark the damage. A large part of a Mage’s workload was inspecting enchantments for damages. The sort of thing we do in the course of our normal duties. We go somewhere and while we are there we have a look around for any old degraded enchants. We normally report them and someone gets sent out to refresh them. There are a few occasions where we have to void them. Just to prevent harm.

I lay the blank discs in my hand, just looking at them. Their dull yet oddly reflective surface shone weakly in the light, somehow showing my face looking back at me. I closed my eyes and felt my way into the dense crystalline structure. Inside was nothingness, all feeling from my body dropped away. I floated without form in the light less void of its magical imprint, a sense of waiting came over me. The disc was waiting for purpose. I gave it purpose. I laid my specially constructed concepts, each one layered, a central core with webs of ideas and thoughts tangled in a complicated shaped like a woven spiders web twisted upon itself into a solid block. Gravity is a function of matter. Turning it to my own guidance was simple, although fine control is a different subject. I wove thread after thread of limitations and controls. The brilliant threads shone in the darkness a building web of light that surrounded me.

I blinked.

The day had truly begun whilst I worked in the blackness. The early sun shone down on my back casting shadows the earth. The blanks in my hand were no longer blank, their surface shimmered with glints of coloured light, like worms of lightning crawling over them.

I looked over to where I had seen Vesic last night, Brendon was in his place staring at the sun. As seemed to be his habit. I should really figure out what it was about the sun that affected Brendon and Vesic, this day/night cycle was strange.

“Brendon, I owe you thanks for yesterday. Vesic informed me that it cost you something, he wouldn’t say what.”

Brendon didn’t turn to face me. He didn’t twitch or give an indication that he heard me.

I stood and walked to him, placing a hand on his shoulder.

He turned then.

I fell back in shock. His eyes were gone, replaced by blazing orbs of fire, burning in colours not found in nature. Purples and greens mixed with blues and deep ruby reds.

“What’s happened to your eyes?”

“The dawn has woken Vesic’s gift. My eyes are gone and I see with my lord’s true sight.”

“Is this because of the thing you did yesterday?”

“Not just that but that may have been the tipping point. This has been coming since I came with you, the constant possession has changed me.”

“Alright so this is normal for you, okay let’s move on. I’ve got transport arranged. What are your views on flying?”

Mage Life Chapter 36

Light around me. Soft earth beneath me. Bright light, glimmers, ribbons of magic. I felt the smooth slide of the ribbons on my skin as they drifted through the air.

My eyes focused on the distance.

A tent of shadows and slivers of silvery light sat on the horizon of the open plain before me. The land between it and me was flat and dry, almost sandy but soft. My uniform was nowhere to be seen but I wasn’t naked.

I was clothed in an airy thing. I don’t know what it was, but it hung on me as a shapeless, weightless mass. It didn’t restrict or do anything really.

Shades, maybe reflections of other places, passed through the landscape. Images of buildings that I’d never seen. People milled around. Different to any I had known. They were dressed in hides and leathers. They carried small tools on them. They all had a hardened look to them, as if they could live in the wilds for all time. Their eyes shimmered with colour, not mage eyes but not not mage eyes either. They were as if someone had made eyes out of glass and stained them with glowing colour.

I looked up at the sky, clouds of blues and greens scattered the starry night. The stars were large, far larger and brighter than normal.

A wash of heat filled the air.

I looked around.

The tent was changing. Flames were curling through the shadows, smoke rising into the dark sky.

I could see as if it was day, the night sky and lack of a sun didn’t change the fact that shadows were showing it was noon.

The smoke drifted on the breeze, bringing with it sounds. Voices.

“Vesic, you can’t mean to do this.” A woman’s voice, sobbing could be heard underneath the words.

“Kneel, you will show respect to your king. You may be my sister but I’m still your king.”

“Mage-King Vesic, you can’t unleash them. They are indiscriminate.”

“I must, if we are to grow as a people then we must conquer. We must unite. The clans are ended as of today, and all opposition must be wiped away. Fire will burn away the past and give us a future beyond just living in the moment.”

“Sire, I beg you, choose another weapon. These things are wrong. They leave nothing alive. We can’t thrive in a land of ashes. The chiefs don’t want this.”

“I care not what the new nobles want. They are oathed. They shall do my will.”

“Sire,-”

“Enough! What would you have of me? The duty falls to me to make a better world for us. A land where we are more than a loose tribe of wanderers. We can be so much more. I’ve seen it. If it need be built on blood and fire, so be it. I don’t sleep, I’m so tired, but this needs doing. That’s the price I pay for this.”

“Choose another way.”

“Don’t start to lecture me sister. We have been through this before. I’ve made my decision.” Regret and pain filled those words. So much so that I felt my chest ache in sympathy.

The voices drifted away beyond hearing, as the tent burnt to the ground. In its place rose a spire of twisted smoke and stone, dark and grim. It stood in stark contrast to the bright land around it. A crawling sweep of shade spread from the spire. The people caught in it changed. Their eyes lost their brightness and their clothes turned to cloth, no longer hide and leather. They were diminished as individuals, their strength drained away, leaving them shadows of their former selves. As I watched they too drifted away on the wind.

“You shouldn’t be here,” a deep voice came from behind me.

I spun.

Vesic and Brendon stood on a small rise of soft earth. Glowing soil is strange. Not as strange as sun light in the middle of a sunless night, but strange none the less.

“Where is here? This place is strange.”

“Welcome to our dreamscape.” Brendon smiled at me.

Vesic on the other hand looked at the smoke and stone spire, an unreadable expression on his face.

“Dreamscape? I’ve never heard of it.”

“You don’t know everything mage, this land is old and steeped in magic. There are more things than you could ever learn.”

(Beat). The whole place shimmered in time with the beat. A pulse within the otherworldly substance of the dream world.

“You must leave now. Get some real sleep, this place is not meant for you,” Brendon said gently.

“How?”

“Just close your eyes.”

I took one last look around at the land etched in light, soft and pure. It was heart achingly beautiful here even with the smoke and stone spires’ dark shadow.

There is no light without darkness. The thought echoed in my head. A realisation that was simultaneously terrifying and comforting.

I closed my eyes, took a breath of the magical air deep into my lungs and release.

The land frayed beneath me and I fell.

(—)

I awoke to a light dew covering the earth. The early morning sky was brightening, streaks of red raced around the dull grey clouds. I sat up and looked around, I felt stiffness in my back and a kind of chill from sleeping on the ground. The fire had burnt out, leaving a small charred mark within the circle of stones. Not even embers remained, just ashes.

Brendon hadn’t moved. It was clearly Brendon and not Vesic: there was no fire. He looked like stone, grey and unmoving, each line of his face locked in stasis.

“Brendon, is everything okay?”

A flicker of movement went through him and a distinct cracking could be heard as he turned his head.

“Good morning Tristan. Vesic set the warding as you slept, he told me to inform you not to forget again. Do what you need to be ready. We leave shortly. We have much to do.”

I stood and rolled up my blanket and stuffed it in my bag.  Then I walked over to set on the mound next to Brendon I looked at the earth beneath my feet, short grass grew in clumps, not really covering the dirt. I sent out small threads of my power seeking.

From a point between my feet a damp spot formed. It slowly grew to a puddle.

I pulled the water skin from my bag and dipped it into the puddle. The cold water lapped at my hand, gently filling the skin. I raised it to my mouth and drank deeply. I stopped the skin and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. I offered it to Brendon

He waved it away.

“Can we talk about the dream?”

“You look ready. We have to run as much as you are able today.”

“Why the hurry?”

“It’s not a hurry, it’s to prepare you. Your physical fitness is appalling. We need to change that as soon as possible.”

I placed the skin in my bag, then stood and pulled the strap over my head. The bag settled easily across my back, the sword hilt within easy reach.

Brendon nodded and rose to his feet. He walked to the edge of the camp and stepped over the small ridge of earth. He broke into a jog. He looked over his shoulder to me then sped up.

I walked towards him, stepped over the ridge myself. Then I ran after him.

He was fast.

It wasn’t long before I was panting and sweating. My chest ached and my legs burned. We devoured the distance. We must have done ten miles in an hour. The land a blur as we ran.

Brendon made no sign of stopping as the sun finally climbed into the sky.

I pulled magic in and sent it to my muscles and lungs. My breath came long and slow. Each muscle worked harder and easier. I closed the short distance between Brendon and myself. Not with ease though. It still hurt, I was just using magic to make my body work at its peak.

Brendon looked at me, then his pace increased again.

I pushed as hard as I could, I felt the magic forcing my muscles to work better harder.

Then I was on the ground, my nose buried in the dirt.

“What do you think you are doing?” Brendon said from above me. His tone contained equal amounts of amusement and disappointment.

“Running, well I was. I’m now laying here. You tripped me.”

“I did. Vesic told you no magic. This is physical work. No short cuts. No cheats.”

“I wasn’t cheating, I was using an advantage.”

“It’s not an advantage in Nelar. It’s a liability that will get you killed.”

“Why is using magic there such a problem?”

“You will see. Now get up and run. We run until midday, then we will rest and eat. Then we will run till nightfall and make camp.”

“Can’t I just lay here for a little while?” I said hopefully, I was joking but I really did want to lay here and catch my breath.

“You can lay there all you want, no one is stopping you but your duty waits for you in Nelar. Will you leave it waiting? Will you bear that shame?”

I was tempted.

But I rose to my feet shakily, my sweat had made the earth into mud where it touched my skin.

Brendon just smiled and took off at a jog. Again.

I ambled along, forcing my body to go faster. No magic though.

 

The day dragged by so slowly, each breath felt like knives of ice and blood in my chest. I felt sick, my mouth dry. My lips cracked and bled. Even my fingers hurt, why I had no idea, but it just topped off how I was feeling.

Brendon looked fresh. There was not a drop of sweat. No flush in his cheeks, his breath was light. His movements fluid and smooth.

I hated him.

“We will stop soon. Just push a bit harder.”

I struggled on through the burning pain.

Half a mile down the road Brendon motioned for us to stop. There was a small stream flowing, the calm lapping of its current on the smoothed rocks would have been lovely if I could hear it without hearing my own ragged gasps.

You did well. Id expected you to drop a few miles back, but you dug deep.” Brendon said from above me.

I had bent over at the waist my hands on my knees, dragging air into my body as fast as I could.

Don’t fold up, we are going to walk to the stream and you are going to drink slow and steady, no big gulps.”

I forced myself to stand up, I didn’t whimper. I may have let out a manly cry, I wasn’t paying attention.

The air around the stream was cool, vapour rose gently into the air, giving it such a fresh and lively feel.

“Now take a handful, don’t swallow just swish it around your mouth. Then spit it out. You don’t want to be swallowing dust.”

I let myself be guided, I felt so weak.

“That’s it. Now take a little more. We are going to walk around. Go slowly. Let your body relax a bit.”

Brendon took my arm and guided me around like an invalid. A few wobbling steps. Then we stopped a bit further up the stream.

“Another handful.”

Our break consisted of this. I didn’t mind. It took the pressure of self-determination away, while I tried to recover.

“A few more moments then we will go again. Fill your skin. Eat if you are able, but light. No meat.”

I followed my instructions. A small piece of bread and another hand full of water to wash it down.

“Ready?”

I nodded, I couldn’t waste the breath I would need it for running.

Brendon ran.

I tried to run. My legs moved but it wasn’t running, it was barely a walk. I tried to clear my mind of the pain. To enjoy the day, the cool breeze, the scent of flowers. The light misting near the stream. But no I failed at enjoying. I was stuck on suffering. My legs hurt. My feet felt as if they were burning and swimming in sweat inside my boots. My hip hurt where my bag kept hitting it. My hair came this close to getting cut off and I loved my hair normally but now it just felt like a weight slowing me down.

Brendon slowed and let me catch up. He looked me over as we walked. Then he slowly increased the speed.

This time it came easier, not easy but easier. My legs knew what to do even if the rest of me cried out in protest.

 

(—)

 

“Set up camp. Vesic will be here soon. Once the sun sets you will start your sword training. Pay attention.”

The area we were in was mainly forested. We must have covered thirty miles today. I didn’t care. As soon as Brendon had announced our stop I’d collapsed on the ground. I didn’t even have the energy to groan, setting up camp.

“Tristan, this is all for your own good. Please just show some faith.”

I didn’t move, my eyes closed and dived into my other senses. I pulled far more magic than was needed into my body. The wash of power filled my channels, taking my pain away for just a moment.

The ridge twenty paces away from me rose up from the soil. A small circle of stone, that I’d found deep below. The air filled with the grinding sound of moving rock.

I felt a smile stretch my lips as I found something I hadn’t expected underneath the surface. A tunnel ran along an underground stream. Almost parallel but not connected.

I threaded my power into the stone, forming a tube.

I rose from the ground on now steady legs, no mark of the days trials remained apart from the sticky oily feel of sweat on my skin and soaked into my clothes. The setting sun through the trees cast long shadows over the area but they also pointed out a small outcropping of dark stone inside my circle.

My senses told me that it connected to the stream, so I angled the tube to come out in the rock. A tangled concept made a pumping charm pull water up. I’d made a makeshift tap. I laid my hand on it and water welled up from deep below, it was cold and crystal clear. The stone went black as the water flowed over it. Flecks of mica shone like diamonds. It was beautiful.

I spun the warding in just a few more moments, it would keep bugs and small animals out and sound and alarm if it detected large or hostile animals nearby.

I looked over to Brendon

He wasn’t watching me, his face was turned to the sun as it sunk beneath the land. His shoulders were loose and easy, to look at him you would never think he had run thirty miles in a day.

I smoothed out a hollow for the fire that I knew Vesic would make then I set about digging out some food from my bag. I wasn’t hungry. Magic when it’s flowing can really take drives like that away. But I made myself eat a travel sausage and some bread. Less fresh than I’d like but it was solid.

I raised a small mound of earth to sit on, tilted my bag to the side to stop my sword getting caught on it and sat to wait for Vesic’s transformation.

I didn’t have to wait long. The dying light flared briefly, then a fire bloomed in the hollow I’d made.

There was still no movement from behind me, for a moment.

“You may use your magic this evening. I imagine you are in a great deal of pain underneath it,” Vesic said with a chuckle.

I could hear his steps come round the side of me, his ember cloak glimmering on the edge of my vision, before being overwhelmed by the sense of Him.

“Yes, I am in a great deal of pain. I wouldn’t be able to move if I wasn’t channelling,” I said. I didn’t look directly at him, I was focused on getting rid of the excess power. Just little things like the camp-fire’s circle, stones were rising up out of the ground at my command. To each I gave a small charm to hold heat and increase brightness.

I lay my hand on my sword hilt which was sticking up close at hand. I pulled it free and laid it across my knees. The reddish lava mark remained, shifting subtly in the depths of the white stone. The stone itself seemed to glow in both the mundane firelight and the other sight of my senses. A pearlescent sheen to the stone, far different to what it was when I first made it. Its edges had changed, less vicious and more, I don’t know precise maybe. It was a strange indefinable change.

“I see you are noticing the changes. There will be more as time goes by. Few mages carry a weapon these days but times are changing once more. The wilds are growing and those on high seek to expand their reach.” He pointed to the edge of the circle I’d made. “We shall train there. Form another circle, set cardinal mounts on the ring. We will need light. Can you do it or must I?”

“I can make light, it won’t be as vital as yours, but it will illuminate.”

“Do that then. Excuse me for a moment.” Vesic walked off to the shaded woods, not far, but far enough to block my view of whatever he was doing.

I stood and stepped carefully to the edge of the circle. I looked over the earth to find the best place to start. Streamers of magic flowed through the air, through the earth. Even through the plants roots. I could pick out each one the protruded even the slightest in the magical sight that was Vesic’s first gift, unintentional as it was. There was a clearing, a large empty patch around a rotted stump. I’d noticed it earlier but the first spot was closer if not as flat.

I stepped over the ridge I’d made, then walked to the rotted stump, in my wake the earth flowed. Each dip and bump smoothed. A tremble ran through the glade as the knotted old wood of the stump tore apart at my command. I felt strong and powerful, I wasn’t used to using this much power, it hummed through me. My every movement was graceful, no overstepping or misjudgement. It was wonderful. A smile stretched my face as I stood in the early night in the middle of a glade in a circle of my own making, each breath filled me with a rising sense of invincibility. The stump dissolved and I filled the earth into the void it left. I walked round the edge of the circle, at the east, south, west and north points I pulled forth raised pillars, and on each I commanded the structure to change. At the peak of each I made a crystal.

Now, light is hard for an earth and water mage. Not that it’s the elements but that’s how we think, feel. It makes magic easier to grasp, that we can fit it into a framework that we know, somewhere deep inside from the moment we are born. Fire in the warmth of our mothers, in the light when we first open our eyes. Air in the first breath we draw, in the first touch of wind on our skin. Water in the womb that carries us, the fluid that soothes thirst. Earth in the food that we eat, in the matter that we touch, in clothes, in everything. That is our framework, it grows and changes with us, becoming something that we no longer notice, normal. But the wonder of those first moments stays with us, even though the memories fade. That is what we draw on, that is the root of concepts and breaking it to reach outside of our affinities, or first and second blooming is hard, so hard that many mages can’t do it. I was one of the few that could, but it wasn’t easy.  Each crystal had to be charmed in a way that felt…unnatural. To make them absorb light then magnify it and send it out. It was fire based but I could twist it and use a water concept, water reflects, there are things living in the water that glow. And using crystal as my material linked it in my mind to both water and earth. Crystals have light properties, doing this on solid stone would fail. Light bloomed from each crystal, sickly but as the camp fire burned they slowly grew brighter. Light cast the shadows away, apart from my own which I had four of.

Vesic glowed on the edge of my sight. A blade in hand that I’d never seen. Tangled threads of power wove through the metal and light caught on its blade as he made his way in to the circle.

“Keep the magic flowing, you will need it. But don’t externalise it, can you do that?” Vesic asked, his arm was moving in fluid motions the sword revealed in all its glory.

Metal, it looked like silver, little worms of light slithered up and down the blade. All in all it was a monster of a sword, maybe six foot long. The hilt had room for both of Vesic’s massive hands, but he could swing it with one. A beautiful red gem as the pommel completed the sword, it was a work of beauty, that I was sure he hadn’t it carried before. I would have seen it. Brendon didn’t even carry a bag, which was strange. He had no water skin or food, he had no extra clothes.

I can try, it’s not always something I can control. If I have my links open then there is the chance of stray magics.”

I understand, do what you can to keep it contained. We can work on your control later.” He turned his head to look at the nearest crystal. “Good work, not the best I’ve seen but very clever. You don’t have any fire skills at all?

No nothing, I just never connected to fire.

We will have to work on that too. As a mage you aren’t so limited, even though you feel like it. A night or two of work should let you grasp some basic fire concepts. Anyway that isn’t what we are here for now. Go get your sword.”

I went to get my sword.

I stepped back into the circle.

“Good, let’s begin.” Vesic swung his sword just as I stepped over the ridge.

My senses told me that this shard of metal was coming straight for my face. I used my enhanced grace to slip out of the path of it, my body moving in ways that that felt natural even though I’d never moved like this in my life.

Vesic’s eyes widened slightly and he grinned. His blade became a blur of silver as if flowed from one movement to another.

I could see they were rehearsed patterns, each melding one into the other. I raised my own blade to catch his sword.

The clash of weapons rung out in echoes through the still night air.

Then Vesic did something, wiggled his wrist in a way that sent shivers through our joined blades.

My sword went flying through the air. I watched it go, taking my eyes of Vesic for a moment. Warm sharp silver pressed against my throat.

“What was your mistake?”

“I don’t know. I know nothing about fighting.”

“You took your eyes off me for one thing. And you held your sword wrong. Too tight a grip, too rigid. You must hold it gently, treat it with respect. It is your ally in this battle, not your tool. Go fetch it.” The metal was withdrawn.

I stepped away from the fire god, towards the centre of the circle where the blade lay. It had landed half stabbed into the earth. I wrapped my hand around the hilt, the smooth stone cool against my fever-hot skin. A tremor ran through my hand on contact, almost like the beat of a heart. I pulled the blade free and looked really looked at the connections, the threads between it and I. Deep but faintly there were tangles and concepts, weak things that barely even registered in my sight. I had no idea what they did or how they got there. I looked over to Vesic and raised an eyebrow.

He ignored my unspoken question and raised his blade.

I focused on my hand as it touched the hilt, the smooth stone fit my hand perfectly. I didn’t tense, I cradled the blade. Each finger settled in place making the weapon feel like an extension of my arm. I stepped up and swung.

“This is not chopping wood. This is fighting,” Vesic shouted as the blades struck. He pulled away and swung.

I caught it on the crosspiece. I gritted my teeth as the power behind the blow travelled up my arms.

“This is not a struggle of strength, it’s a battle of wits and will.” He disengaged and circled me.

I turned to keep my eyes on him.

“Watch the earth and the air. Watch your opponent’s body and eyes. Each movement they make will signal their intentions. This isn’t just for sword play this is for everything. Every battle is a battle of wits, of the mind. Might plays no part unless you are a fool. Finesse is the key. A lesson I learnt the hard way, take this lesson to heart.” He launched a flurry of strikes that hit me in a blaze of motion.

I pulled more magic into me, my muscles flowed under the onslaught, each blow, deflected, but not without cost. A stinging cut across my knuckles. A slice along my bicep, another at my hip. None were deep or really that painful.

“You aren’t paying attention, your sight will help but you need to feel the rhythm. Listen to the beat of our conflict. What motivates it? What drives it?” each sentence was punctuated by another strike.

I did what I could but even enhanced grace could only cover so much inexperience. Each blow knocked my blade further out of centre, making the next strike hit harder.

Vesic’s leg slid round to take me from my feet.

I landed in a sprawl on the ground. A blade pointing at my heart.

“Well done.” Vesic said then offered me a hand up.

I took it and asked, “How was that well done? I lost.”

“Tristan, this isn’t about winning or losing. You can’t win against me yet. This is about opening your eyes and teaching you. You tried. You did all I asked and never complained. You took your hits, you didn’t let pain freeze you into indecision. You fought on, without getting distracted. That is all I can ask for. Brendon even told me of today’s efforts, you took up the challenge and while you did attempt to use magic, you was corrected and you carried on. That is the sort of determination you need for this.” All this was said in a tone I had never heard from Vesic, there was none of his condescension, or disdain. No anger. There was pride and encouragement.

“Thank you.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“Wash and turn in for the night. We have further to travel in the morning.”

I nodded and made my way from the circle of lights into the camp. The fire glowed merrily, the threads tied in such a way that it fed on itself. Clever and efficient. I leant my sword against the mound, and pulled my clothes off. The make shift pump beckoned.

A touch of my hand made water flow. Enough for my purposes. I used my power to pull the water over my body, streamers washing the dirt and sweat away. Once I was done the last of the water drawn away from me, I was dry. I then soaked my clothes and laid them on the mound of hardened earth by the fire, they should dry by morning.

Done I took my sleeping blanket out of my bag and curled up within it.

I took a deep breath and let the magic drain from my body. Exhaustion flooded through me. I was asleep in moments.

Mage Life Chapter 35

I couldn’t sleep, Lyphia was laid next to me her deep breaths sounding loud in the darkness. I pulled myself out of bed and got dressed. I picked up my boots and carried them out the door with me. In the main room I put them on my feet and I left.

I hadn’t found Jase but I’d managed to get some dried meat and oddments to travel with.

I walked the streets of my home, the white light of the moon casting brilliant light onto the streets. I saw no one, it was very late. My eye caught on the road to the foundry district. My feet led the way.

At the site of my largest failure there was nothing to see. Smooth stone covered the marks of what had happened, I tried to avoid seeking the bodies of the dead that hadn’t been recovered. I didn’t need another thing to haunt me, the victim of my failure resting in a tomb I’d built for them, cold stone kept them from the warmth of the earth, I sunk to my knees and did something I hadn’t done since I was I child. I prayed to my ancestors.

Fathers that walked before me, hear my call,” I whispered

Mothers that birthed me, feel my woe,” I placed my hand on the hard stone.

Children that play no more, come to me,” I lifted my face to the night sky.

My voice hushed as it was still echoed over the empty space. I could feel eyes on me. This feeling always happened, part of the reason I hated prayer.

I have much to do, much that I have already done. I’ve done things. Things I’m not proud of in the course of my duty. Now I’m filled with doubts and fears.” The watched feeling intensified in tingles down my back. The previously unnoticed sounds of the night tapered of, the silence now echoed, a heavy sense as if the air was pushing down on me. The earth didn’t move but it warmed beneath me.

I have to leave my apprentice, my child in the care of others while I do my duty. I don’t know what I will have to do but the thought of leaving here fills me with fear. I was told a mage is everyone servant and I’ve made my peace with that, but is there no room in that for what I want?” I asked the night.

What do you want?” came a voice.

I stood and spun. Behind me was the priest, and his god Vesic, glints of light flickered around him.

What are you doing here?” I asked.

I asked first.” A toothy smile accompanied the words.

I don’t know, but its none of your concern”

I wouldn’t be so sure about that, you called me, you asked a question.”

I most certainly didn’t call you.

He laughed. “You did. Do you have no clue as to your heritage? We gods are mothers and fathers, children of you. We are you ancestors in all the ways that matter. Did no one teach you?”

Clearly not. You are the first god I’ve met, and even that I’m doubtful about.”

We are those who go before and those that come after, we aren’t all there is but we are the most mortal. We are the ones that walk the beat of the world. Know your question before you ask it, not all are as kind as me.”

Vesic, I’m sorry if I offended you before.”

I’m pleased you are, it shows wisdom. That will serve you well where you are going. Get some rest, you will need it.”

Do you know anything about where I’m going?”

I know many things.” The flickers of light around him died as he turned and walked off.

I stood in the moonlight watching him go, he passed through a deep shadow and was gone.

I wanted to follow him but I had a feeling that it might be a bad move.

I was left standing in a once thriving part of the town, now reduced to smooth stone. The clouds passed over the moon and the darkness closed in around me. Vesic left me alone but the dark didn’t touch me. I didn’t know if it was his words or something else but I felt lighter, clearer. My way forward was through duty. Service, even to a bastard, was what I had signed on for, there was no honour in breaking my word. I looked around me once more as the clouds scudded by the light shone down on the white stone. Smooth, unstained by the events that led to its creation, anything could be built upon this. It was awash with future possibilities. There was something in that, that I felt deeply, maybe the reasons don’t matter in the course of events. I wouldn’t let my anger and resentment at being sent away take from me the chance of a future.

I walked back to the academy, I had a journey to prepare for.

 

(—-)

The dawn found me, as ready for my journey as I was going to be, I’d said my goodbyes to Sophia and Airis Lyphia had got a different but very satisfying farewell. All of them had gone back to their rooms, I didn’t want to prolong the moment and make it harder than it needed to be. I made my way down to through the halls and corridors. I was stopped by a very sleepy looking receptionist, a different one. How many did we have here? Surely by now I would have seen a few enough to recognise them, currently they were all this faceless blur of desk people.

She noticed me, and called out, “Sir, sir I’ve been expecting you. Master Jase asked me to hold you for a moment.”

Why?” I asked as I walked over to the desk.

I don’t know sir.” She yawned widely her face scrunched up and she did an odd little twitch on the end that made me smile.

I get its early, you don’t need to remind me.”

Sorry sir,” she said with a sheepish smile, her hands rested on the desk fidgeting.

Tristan, there you are. I was worried that we would miss you,” Jase’s voice came from the front door.

Jase what is this about? You know I have to be gone before dawn hits, I’m cutting it close as it is,” I said as I turned to him.

He wasn’t alone.

I would like you to meet Vesic and Brendon. They will be accompanying you on your trip.”

Stood next to him was the god’s vessel there was no sign of the god’s presence though unlike there had been last night.

Why? Not that I’m questioning that having a God and his priest, is priest the right name?” I looked to Brendon at this.

Brendon nodded, his previous arrogance was missing, Vesic may well have given him a lesson.

Not that I’m questioning that having them around will be useful, but I would like reasons.”

Well he asked to come, and he has offered to train you. Companionship always makes a journey seem shorter.”

Jase I spent all yesterday afternoon looking for you. I don’t have time for surprises now.”

Tristan my boy, just do as I ask. Come back to us safe and still you. Please guard yourself out there, many a mage has gone into the wilderness and come back less than they went. Don’t let that be you. “ Jase said softly in my ear as hugged me.

I couldn’t hug him back well, my hand was full with my bag. The sword strapped to the side kept it rigid and awkward.

I will be fine Jase, it can’t be that bad.”

He let go of me and stepped back, his blue eye intent, the glimmer of tears making them shine.

Tristan this isn’t a light matter. Just…don’t listen to the whispers.”

Umm okay, I won’t.”

Off you go then, you had best be on your way, dawn is here.”

Thanks, I know. I will be back. Keep the kids safe and look in on Lyphia for me. I know she is tough but I worry.”

I will. Now go before someone reports that you are still in town.”

I went. Brendon fell into step beside me and we walked into the dawning light of day.

 

The streets were empty of all but the most dedicated workers. Most of the farmers lived on the farmsteads outside of town. The scents of baking bread and that cool morning smell, that despite all my years of training I still didn’t know what it was, filled the air.

We headed to the nearest gate to the south. It just so happened to be the direction we needed to go, but that wasn’t the reason we were going there. Orb could access the travel posts. He would be able to find out my departure time if Rysan asked. I didn’t think he would but I didn’t need to look like I was disobeying.

We hurried without a word spoken between us.

Outside the gate was the travel post. A small building made of the same stone as the rest of the town. Inside there should be someone.

I knocked on the wooden door, it opened slowly.

A woman was behind it, she was middle aged with short dark hair shot through with grey.

Yes?”

I need to make a long journey and I need transport.”

She opened the door wider and allowed me in.

The interior wasn’t anything special, a simple stone room, a counter jutted out of the wall in the corner with an accounting book on it.

Where to?”

Nelar.”

I’m sorry you must have mumbled could you repeat yourself.”

Nelar, for myself and my companion.”

We don’t have an outpost there. It’s outside of duchies.”

None the less, I need to get there.”

Did you not hear me? There are no outposts there. This is the closest you can get through relay. I can’t help you.”

I took a deep breath, trying to contain my frustration. It was a limited success.

Look I understand this may be difficult for you, but I’ve been assigned there and I need transport now,” I said in a strained voice, the urge to rip the building down and take what I wanted threatened to overwhelm me. I forced it down with clenched fists and teeth. It wasn’t me, it was other.

Don’t take that tone with me Mage, I’ve heard about you. I know what you’re capable of, but I don’t fear you. So watch your mouth and open your ears. We don’t go there. No one goes there.”

Just give me a horse or something.”

We don’t use horses here, I have a few golem horses but you can’t take them to Nelar. They don’t work there.”

I don’t need to take them all the way but it’s a bloody long way to go on foot.”

Fly, for all I care. You can’t requisition anything here.

I opened my mouth to protest, but she spoke before I could.

No. Please just leave. I have waiting customers.”

I looked around, the room was empty.

No you don’t. Just give me something please.”

Leave.” she walked over to her accounting book and ignored me.

Come on its urgent. I need to get there quickly.”

She continued to ignore me.

I walked out.

Brendon just looked at me a faint smile on his face.

Don’t ask. It looks like we are walking.

How the mighty have fallen, the mages of old never walked anywhere.”

I’m not an old mage, I’m barely a mage at all.”

You will think of something. Vesic has faith in you.”

How do you know? I don’t understand the bond between you.”

Now isn’t the time and I’m not the best person to ask. I don’t owe you answers although I do owe you thanks.”

Thanks? Why?”

Brendon gestured with his hand.

We walked along the broken road. The early sun showing its face to our left, just peeping over the horizon. Light like honey slipped over the farm land, the glow from the fields as it hit the green growing plants was comforting, like many mornings when I’d been a child. I’d walked everywhere. Walking wasn’t going to kill me.

Our little encounter. I’ve been god ridden for year but I thought it meant something else. The punishment that Vesic gave me was to learn. I have access to all his years but none of his power. The things he has seen are…. I don’t know how to describe them, but they are an experience I wouldn’t have had if not for you.

I guess your welcome then. Do you have any ideas about how to speed up our journey?”

I have many ideas, but I don’t have magic the same way as you do. I can’t put it into practice. Maybe we don’t need to rush the journey.”

We might not need to rush the journey but the thought of walking all the way to the mountains doesn’t delight me. I can’t even see them from here.”

So magic up a way. It’s what you mages do.”

Very helpful. Thank you.”

Brendon just nodded the faint smile unchanged.

I could smell the scent of the earth waking up, the light of the sun warming it. The traces of moisture in the air lingered, not quite burned away yet. I could even hear the rustle of grass in the gentle wind.

I could feel a tightness in my chest easing, just being out here in world. Not trapped in the town and the academy. My responsibilities were mainly behind me. The next ones ahead of me but here and now I was as free as I was going to get. The frantic beat of my heart, that I’d barely noticed within the walls of Westhaven, slowed. I felt a smile forming on my lips. I was free. Just for a little while, but you don’t realise how much things weigh on you until you are suddenly freed from the burden.

My bag in hand, weighed still but it was a different sort of weight. I could feel the fibres of the fabric strap scrape against my skin. I moved it so it slung over my shoulder, across my body. The sword made it hang just right along my back. Then I did something I haven’t done since I was a child.

I ran. Not in fear. Not to get somewhere. Not in a hurry. I ran just for the joy of it. My booted feet pounded on the hard stone cobbles. Each impact sharp but solid. I pushed myself to go faster. The wind pushed my hair back, made water form in my eyes. My lungs heaved each crystal clean breath in and out.

I soon passed the closest farms. Out into the fields that lined the road. I put my hand out, it brushed against the still green wheat. For a moment I forgot everything but the simple joy in just doing. There were no consequences to this. I soon reached the end of the stone road, where it turned into a hard dirt track almost a mile out from the town.

I slowed myself to look around for Brendon it wouldn’t do to leave him behind.

He was still just walking without a care in the world.

I took the time while waiting for him to regain my breath. I felt far better.

You know I didn’t mean to leave you behind”

Think nothing of it. There will be a lot of running during your training, I just wanted to give you a chance to adjust to your new situation before we began.”

What training?”

Master Jase mentioned it this morning.”

He did, but he didn’t say what it was.”

I will be training you in the sword and the ways of combat.”

I fell into step next to his as he finally walked by me. He didn’t look like anything special physically. But what would I know? Magic was my thing. The physical stuff wasn’t where my training lie.

I can’t argue that I don’t need training, I really do but I’d hoped the need for it had passed.

That is idealism, just because you don’t want to fight doesn’t mean you won’t have to. Being prepared is better than not. Your life isn’t going to get easier. Being a mage makes you a target. For all sorts of things.”

Care to elaborate on that?”

Not right now I’ll let Vesic do it.”

Okay then, let’s move on what’s it like having a god in your head?”

I’ve never known any different. I have nothing to compare it to.”

Isn’t it strange having another being in your head?”

Not really, he has been with me my whole life. If was only when I blossomed that I knew I was different, before then I’d felt like an outsider. I learnt quickly. I could read and write while the other children were learning their letters. I became arrogant.”

Have you always lived in Westhaven.”

No, I moved here after the waves with my family, we came from haven but that got destroyed.”

I avoided looking east, the ruins of the city were clearly visible even from this distance. Shadowed stone towers that looked as if a giant had taken bites out of them. I’d been once just before I’d entered the academy. It hadn’t been a fun experience. I occasionally had nightmares about it.

Anyways we moved here, it’s a nice town but it’s just coming into its own as something other than a farming community. That is causing tensions. The fall of the nobles and the ineptitude of the wizard has caused others.”

Ineptitude? You are going to need to explain that comment.”

I pricked your pride did I? You will see the reasons for my opinion soon enough, I’m surprised that you don’t have reasons of your own already.”

They might not be perfect but they are better than the nobles.”

Better? I’m not going to argue better with you, but I’m going to give you something to think on. The wizards have taken over but how often are they seen? How often are they serving the people?”

that’s what we are for, that’s why there are mages.

no it isn’t. Mages are a step on the road to wizardry, they are not servants of anything beyond the magic’s will. The wizards have set themselves up as the saviours of the people and while I will agree that life is generally better for the common man. How much of that is the wizards doing?”

I opened my mouth to respond, then I closed it and concentrated on the path, thinking about what he had said.

The wizards didn’t do all that much, they set laws, they governed trade and they drove this nascent empire from the top. Each move calculated and thought through. But their power wasn’t in law, it was in magic and they didn’t use it.

We Mages were the hands of the Wizards, the magic behind their actions, we were the ones that bled for the laws they created. It was us that made the advancements that pushed the empire forwards.

Just being without the nobles and letting the people go their own way was an immense improvement, no conscription no tribute. People are industrious, they will work for their own benefit without guidance. Yes there might be missteps along the way, but the world turned and the beat of progress went on.

We had come far since the mage king.

Once we were tribal living in huts, farming had been an unknown. There wasn’t much point in cultivating fields to feed maybe fifty people, when a quarter of those could produce crops overnight if they expended a large amount of effort. Needing to be near water became negligible when you could summon rain in the desert. We hadn’t settled because we didn’t have a reason too. The mage-king saw more, a future in which we grew we built, and it was founded on blood like so many other things. The golem army woke terrors in all who heard the stories, it was part of the reason I chosen the form for Airis it would make people think twice before crossing him. But that age had ended with the nobles, people forced into towns and kept their to be used as a breeding ground for the next generation of soldiers in the never ending wars that they perpetuated. Our neighbours didn’t touch us because we weren’t worth the effort. We had magic and they didn’t. We didn’t touch them because we had other things to worry about, like the constant conflict between nobles. The mage-king has set his sights on owning the whole world, he died before he could cross the sea. The nobles built trade between nations using the name of the mage-king, which ended with the waves. In the last ten years nothing had been heard from over the sea. Not a ship had been seen. For all we knew the world ended at the sea now.

And now, here, I was being sent to expand the reason of the wizards. I didn’t know enough to know how much of this was Rysan and how much was the wizards command. But it was still a Mage being sent to do the work of the wizards.

You have given me a great deal to think on. Thank you. But how are you going to train me, you don’t appear to have a sword.

We will cover that later when night falls. We have a long way to go.”

He was right. The hard dirt path, led us through large stretches of fields. We didn’t hurry, it was still early. But I guessed at making maybe twenty, twenty five miles a day, by nightfall I would be ready to drop.

 

(——)

Twenty miles isn’t as far as people think. It’s a day’s easy travel. without magic, it had felt harder than it would otherwise have been.

Then setting sun found us out of the fields, and on the edge of a small copse of trees. Brendon had barely spoken for the rest of the day. I’d not had much else to say. I’d been enjoying the warm sun, the cool breeze and the open space. The freedom was so intoxicating, it almost overcame my weariness.

I used a small expression of my power to pull a mound of earth up into a low bench, then I sat on it, I pulled off my boots and rubbed my aching feet. I checked for blisters, thankfully there weren’t any.

Brendon came over to sit on the bench.

I won’t be here for much longer, its Vesic’s time soon. Please stay respectful, but don’t worry too much he isn’t a stickler for worship. When I come back in the morning be prepared for a hard day. We will need to be running to get you fit enough for your training.”

Why are you going away? How are you going away?”

I’m a Vessel, one of a few. This is Vesic’s time. He loves the night.

Um, this is soo weird, I don’t even know what to say to you.”

Brendon smiled at me then. “I know my own family have trouble accepting too, It will be fine. I will see you in the morning.” His face went blank as the sun sunk beyond the horizon, the dying light colouring his features with red. Little flares of his own light appeared around him and a shimmer of heat wavered around him. His face shifted, much like I’d seen before.

It took a moment but he turned and looked at me, his eyes were pools of flickering flame. He blinked and the flames receded to deep inside, you could still see them if you looked hard enough but they looked like normal mage eyes for the most part.

Tristan, I see we made decent time. I recognise this area.” He raised his arm and pointed to the west. “There used to be a lovely inn there. Now there is nothing. The world changes. Time stands still for neither man nor god. How was the journey? Why didn’t we take transport? I can’t imagine you want to trudge all the way there.”

Well transport apparently doesn’t work in Nelar and there isn’t a travel post there so the golems that we would be requisitioning wouldn’t come back. The woman I spoke to this morning was less than forthcoming about reasons, she all but kicked me out the door.”

Yes, Nelar is special.”

What’s special about it? No one will tell me and the records are really incomplete.”

Nelar just is. It’s been the way it is for hundreds of years. Maybe even thousands. But it got worse during the waves. It never used to be a bad place, just different. Now its broken in a way no one understands.”

Do you know what I’m supposed to do there?”

If I had to guess you have been sent there to die. A single man, even a mage, can’t change that place. It would take the wizards to do it and they have reasons for avoiding it.”

I sat in silence, the word of a god that I was being sent on a suicide mission, brings it all home. Rysan that bastard had sent me to my death.

Don’t worry about it now, we have a few hundred miles or so to cover before we reach Nelar, that is time enough to prepare you, if you show yourself capable of learning.”

Time enough, I guess any time is better than none. “

Very commendable attitude, I tell you that you will die and you are thankful for the time you still have. Very strange to hear from a mortal.”

I couldn’t answer that. I’d known I would die in my service long ago. Maybe not so soon but eventually. I wanted to be a wizard, to reach the peaks of my profession, but a life given in service to the people was worth something.

Silence is also strange from a mortal. Don’t keep your thoughts to yourself, your Master Jase paid a heavy price for my services. You may as well take my experience. It costs you nothing and my well save your life.”

How can I live then? If this task is going to kill me then I may as well give up now.”

Don’t think like that. There will always be opposition to your goals. It’s how you handle it that defines you.”

That has to be the least helpful advice ever.”

Stand up.” Vesic stood and gestured, a tingle of magic travelled from his fingers to the centre of the clearing, a rush of light blossomed from the earth, as it faded a fire settled into place. It burned without fuel and didn’t touch the ground.

I stood, I left my bag at my feet.

Vesic stepped away a few paces then set his feet and squared his shoulders. The fire that he had created leapt up, little flickers of flame swirled around him as if in a wind.

I am not your friend, I’m here out of obligation. My advice is just that, advice. Take it or leave it, but don’t insult me. Now your master Jase asked me to teach you to fight. If you won’t use your mind as I had hoped then maybe you will be more willing once you know what you have to face. Now hit me.”

I’m not going to hit you.”

How are you supposed to learn anything if you don’t try. Hit me.”

I don’t want to hit you.”

Stop being pathetic. Hit me.” Vesic roared. Fire rose around him, growing with his anger.

No.” The word had barely left my mouth before I felt the rush of heat proceeding Vesic’s fist. I stepped back in shock, the blow missed by a fraction.

Good. You are paying attention. Now hit me.”

I clenched my fist and swung at his smirking face.

I missed.

He wasn’t there.

I started to fall as the expected contact failed to appear. A sudden push from my left assisted me to the ground.

Knowledge is everything. Know your enemy. Know yourself. Know the land and the air and water and the fire. Know all you can. You can’t win if you are blind. You can’t fight if you don’t know where you stand.” I heard him say from my position on the earth. I’d being able to cushion my fall slightly but it had still taken the wind from me.

Now get up, laying down will get you killed.”

I pulled myself to my feet. I stood hesitantly before him.

His hand moved to his side, flaring the cape of flickering embers that had formed around him.

I flinched away. The flare of light startling in the dim gloom of freshly fallen dusk.

Vesic looked over to the bag I had dropped.

“Before we eat, I wish to examine your sword. Bring it to me.”

I stood looking at him sideways, there was no glimmer of a man underneath. This was the god, as if the transformation took time to settle firmly on him. His earlier friendliness now seems as ephemeral as a spark. This was cold hard face of an immortal being paying a debt.

I got my sword.

The cool stone of the hilt was smooth in my hand as I slid it from the straps I had fashioned that held it to my bag. I took a moment to reverse the blade, presenting the hilt to the distant god in front of me.

He took it with barely a flicker of expression. His flame bearing eyes looked intently at my sword, then with a tilt of his hand he had the tip pointed against my throat.

My heart jumped, and I held myself very very still.

Why stone? More specifically: why the stone of the heart of your home.”

Heart of my home? I thought.

You made this out of the stone core of your homeland. Why did you do that?”

It’s what was closest.”

He eased the sword from my skin.

You could have chosen metal. I see you are ignorant of fire, but you have all the concepts of earth to choose from. You could have chosen water. But you chose the white stone of your home.”

It’s what came to me. I don’t have an answer for you.

do you honestly not know?” Vesic said. “don’t answer that”

I wasn’t planning on it. answering gods with swords that ask me questions never sprang to mind.

Don’t be flippant with me, its only my oath to your master that keeps me here. You don’t know. Do they teach you nothing? Of course they don’t. Far better to keep you ignorant and in debt to them. I would applaud but this now affects me. I have to educate you as we travel. Sit and prepare our meal. I will instruct you. Pay attention.

I sat, after breathing a small and silent sigh of relief. I pulled my bag up and rummaged around. I hadn’t packed a huge amount of supplies, I had plenty of vegetable seeds, and the kit to hunt for some meat, if not the skills to do so, but magic can cover for much. I did find the wrapped sausages that I’d picked up from the academy kitchens.

Vesic was swinging my sword almost casually, slicing the air with a finesse I couldn’t hope to match. “The first weapon produced by a mage in a moment of need is special. They are all different, so just being special doesn’t tell anyone much about them. This is made from the heart of your home, what that means is down to you to discover, but I would think it means something to you. Some part of you chose this. Not metal which is generally better for a blade.” He ran his thumb very lightly across the edge then grinned at the sight of blood welling from cut. “Although it carries a decent edge. The balance is fine, a bit light, but you aren’t very big. You don’t need power. You need speed.” He swung the sword sharply through the air in a complicated spin that I couldn’t describe. He started out facing me and ended facing me but the intervening time was a blur of movement and burning embers. He suddenly reversed his grip and plunged the blade into the earth, it sunk to the hilt in the soft loam of the rich fertile land.

The scent of moist earth and burning stone filled my nostrils. I breathed deeply of the wonderful scent. The cool evening air brushed past talking with it the heat of the fire gods presence. I saw Vesic turn into the breeze, his gaze locked on something. His cloak of embers flowing behind him.

I looked where I thought he was gazing but I could see nothing in the gloom beyond the fire.

Take up your sword, we have work to do.”

What is it?”

You need some training. I’m going to provide it, as I agreed. My servants have heard my call.”

What call?”

Don’t question me further. They are coming. No magic. Blade work only.”

I stepped towards him and bent to grasp the hilt of my sword.

I pulled the smooth white blade from the earth, it came without effort and no mark to show that it had been embedded in damp soil. Once I had retrieved it, I turned to look back to where Vesic was looking. I could feel something. A burning on the edge of my senses, nothing compared to Vesic but I was expecting him. This was something else, and there was more than one. Three that I could detect.

Across the untamed land came three figures from different directions, they were converging. When they arrived they would be together. I couldn’t make out details at this distance but their presence on my sense made me tighten my grip on my sword and open my reading up wide.

Night became as day. The normally invisible tangles of magic glowed in all the colour of the rainbow overlaying my normal sight. Threads of light wove this way and that each demanding my attention. The sense of water in the air and earth came strongly, almost beseeching me to call out to it. The land wished more rain, the plants always thirsted. But this was something else, something opposing in the purest sense. Fire, in the camp flames and the roaring inferno that was Vesic stood out like freshly landed stars. That was what made water call to me. In the distance were men shaped things. Golems of a type I had never thought possible, their black flesh dull and flaky. Like ashes and soot. Cracks riddled the surfaces revealing the fire with in.

The threads of natural magic twisted away from them mostly although a few of the darker streams flowed around them, ribbons of darkness tainting each other.

You made lava golems?” I missed off the words ‘you idiot!’ It wasn’t respectful or clever to call a god who made these things something like that, even if it was true

I called me servants back into the world, they have slept since before you were born. Hunt them Mage prove yourself worthy of my tutelage.”

I looked at the mad god he was grinning with such a savage animistic glee, that running into lava golems was starting to sound like a good idea.

I wasn’t sure if he would allow me to be harmed, but it would be hard for him to keep his word if I died here and now. I didn’t even know if a god could break his word, the oath of a mage places a compulsion to obey it, its not irresistible but its strong. It also punishes us if we break it. A god, a being made of magic, it made sense that it would bind tighter.

All this went through my mind as I ran over the earth, closing the distance between myself and the closest golem. I held my sword out, crossed over my body. If I fell, it would hurt, probably maim me, but I had other concerns like the lava golem that had noticed me.

It shifted its direction, it no longer ran to its master it ran to me. Wisps of light glimmered between us, my sword shone in my sensitive vision.

My breath came hard but I ignored it. I locked my arm and flexed my wrist, my sword wavered then lined up.

I stopped moving in a few loping stepped to absorb my momentum, then twisted to the side. I could feel the heat radiating from the golem, its hard shell covering the liquid stone within. My sword slid through the hard crust bisecting the construct. Its face turned to me as its top half slid over my blade. An expression of open mouthed horror warped its features further.

I stepped back, looking at the bubbling pool of cooling magma. I’d never seen it before outside of class, it shifted from a bright orangey red at its most liquid to a less brilliant orange, like fresh forged iron, solidifying and greying. Flecks of ash formed on the surface. The ripples of heat shimmer filled the air, like waves of an intangible sea.

My sword remained unharmed, although a tiny tint of orange and black threaded through it. As I watched it bloomed then faded as if sinking into the stone.

The next golem was fast. It closed the distance rapidly. Its stretched humanoid form devouring the distance between us.

I took a few steps to the side, away from the cooling stone. Then I planted my feet and steadied my sword.

The lava golem slowed, its burning eyes narrowed. It left marks of soot and burning grass in its wake.

I pulled back my sword arm, reading a lunge.

A clawed hand lashed out.

I raised the blade into the path of the blow. I felt the contact ring out, the sword vibrating like a bell.

The golem hissed, a fire on dry grass sound that sent shivers up my spine.

The other one was coming closer, I saw it out of the corner of my eye. My othersense flaring with information to tell me that I didn’t have time to process.

I shifted my wrist, my sword flicked around to cut into the leg of the golem closest.

It moved out of the way. Its mouth twisted in a caricature of a smile.

I reached for my power to wipe the smirk off its face.

Hold!” Vesic called from behind us

I didn’t turn, but both the golems stepped back. They looked over my shoulder.

Turn and face me mage. They will not harm you now”

Both golems knelt in front of me, not for me clearly, but I knew I could turn.

So I did.

Vesic was striding towards me, his cloak of embers flapping in the wind as if it was a real cloak.

My othersense flooded me with information.

His cloak wasn’t real, it was a projection of his essence. Strands of which coiled through him and out, touching all around him. Threads tangled between him and his servants, to me and one that wove between Vesic myself and wound about before heading of towards Westhaven. None of this helped me deal with the angry god that was getting closer.

I told you no magic. Did you think I was jesting?”

No, I heard you and I tried, but-”

No you fool, they are my creatures. They follow my orders. They wouldn’t harm you more than necessary. You disobeyed my command. I can’t teach you if I don’t know what you can do. And I can’t teach someone that won’t do as they are told. Release me from my oath if you have no desire to learn.”

I do want to learn, but I’ve barely even held a sword before and you set three, yes three, fucking lava golems on me,” I turned to point at the kneeling constructs. “How am I supposed to learn to face that if that’s what I’m starting at?”

You were supposed to learn that you are always going to be over matched. You are powerful in magic, that is not a good thing. You have neglected the physical side. You don’t even have much subtlety in your thoughts and actions. You are arrogant and fierce and as proud as a kicked cat. None of these things serve you well. You have unmatched sensitivity that I felt you use, but you never took advantage of it.”

Took advantage of it how? Its blinding. Its overwhelming. It helps for little things the rest of the time, it give me a headache.”

So? Excuses help no one, you want to live? To get back to your master? To whomever else you have left behind? Then you need to focus on learning everything you can.

I stood in front of him, my heart was pounding my senses still on overload.

(Beat) 

A thrum went through the magic, so very slight that I wouldn’t normally have noticed it, but my attention was drawn to my senses.

(Beat)

Another one. Each thread pulsed ever so faintly.

What is that?”

Nevermind that. It’s not part of my oath.”

“But you said I needed to learn. I want to learn this.”

“Not this. Never this. It’s not for you know. That way lies something you aren’t ready for.”

(Beat)

Fine, for now. I will let this go, but how am I supposed to learn if you won’t teach me?

I will teach you, go back to the fire. Set up camp while I dismiss my servants and revive the one you dispatched.”

I walked back toward the fire, my own fire gone. I felt cold. My sword hung limply in my hand, dragging along the ground. A thin line of broken earth followed in my wake. I couldn’t bring myself to care.

The night had settled firmly on the land, the changes in the nature of the magic would have filled me with excitement at another time but now in the midst of training my enthusiasm waned. It always did. I love learning, I just hate being taught.

I sat heavily on the raised mound of earth I’d made before, rested the sword against it and closed my eyes.

The double vision of the solid and the magical worlds vanished taking a large chunk of the overwhelming information with it. My head eased and the tightness that id barely noticed loosened.

The tangle of Vesic and his creations remained where they were off to the side of my central focus. I concentrated, pulling threads of power free from their flows, I raised my hand slowly, smoothing the earth of our camp. The movement released a cloud of moisture laden scents: rich soil, dry leaves and the warmth of early night. Rustle of leaves as they moved to my will filled the air. Under the fire I made a hollow to contain it. Small stones from deep below the surface rose up to my call, to circle the flames. A slight ridge formed twenty paces from me, a boundary I could lay a warding on.

The blaze that was Vesic shifted, coming closed. The burning in my mind that accompanied him intensified, demanding subservience. It was easy to block out now that I knew what it was, an intrinsic part of being a god. But what confused me was the simplicity of his threads, each was strong and clear, bright and hot. But underneath it there was an absence that felt wrong. He was less complex than a man, stronger, clearer, less conflicted maybe. But it was worrying.

I heard his steps and his grunt as he reached camp.

You used the time well.” he said.

I opened my eyes to look in to his eyes. Flickers of flame reflected from his gaze but his earlier anger was gone. Weariness was in his every line.

A tired god, strange.

I nodded to him, keeping my mouth shut.

He stepped around the fire pit. His steps left marks in the magic and the earth.

I pushed back my reading, I couldn’t keep up with it anymore. I felt momentarily without all sense. A blankness that was frightening after all the light and colour.

What have you learnt?”

I remained sat on the mound, thinking.

I have learnt that this was a testing exercise, you wished to see how I handled myself in a combat situation. To build a lesson plan, maybe.”

Very good. So you aren’t entirely ignorant. Yes. I wished to see what you could already do. I needed to see how you handled being without your power. Magic ruins the balance of things, you can’t determine skills with a glance, but combat can strip it all down. Show you the true core of a man. Out there you reminded me of someone I knew once.”

What happened to him?”

He died. He was mortal. He was my friend.”

An air of sadness around him stopped me from asking any more. Even his cloak dimmed, the tiny sparks lessening in number. He sat on the edge of the mound.

I’m sorry for your loss.

It was long ago. But I thank you. Now that I have an idea of your skills I know what I need to teach you and how. We should rest. You and Brendon have a long day tomorrow.” The fire cast deep shifting shadows on his face, he looked ancient and tired. Mortal. He looked towards me a strange expression on his face, as if he wanted to say something else.

I picked up my bag and pulled out the blanket I’d packed. I laid it on the earth.

As I lay there looking up at the stars, I thought about what I had learnt already. Not much in solid terms but being open to information for combat was new.

Thank you for coming with me.”

I pay my debts. Sleep,” Vesic said as he stared into the flames.

I drifted off counting the stars.

Mage Life Chapter 34

“Mage you are summoned to headquarters immediately!” Rysan’s voice echoed through the room accompanied by a bright light hovering over my face.

“Urr, I’m sleeping” Lyphia mumbled before rolling away from the light.

I blinked, trying to adjust to the glare that was coming from above me.

“Orb, I thought we had got past this whole waking me up by shouting thing,” I said irritatedly.

“Well Tristan, that was before you did what you did, Rysan is very angry with you”

I sat up and rubbed my face, as Orb’s words sunk in.

I jumped up, grabbed my uniform and left the room, Orb followed along behind me.

I made my way to the large table and chairs in the main room. I started to get dressed.

“You don’t have a pendant, we have no other way to contact you. Master Jase has been ordered to provide you with a new one,” Orb said, its glowing body flickered with strange shapes and colours, far more than I had ever seen in him before.

“Don’t bring up my pendant. You know why I don’t have one.”

“Tristan I know, but that doesn’t change the fact that as an active mage, you need to be accessible.”

“I’m still active? I thought I would be suspended already,” I asked as I pulled my trousers on.

“Why would you be suspended?”

“You know, reasons.”

“Tristan you have to be more specific than that. I don’t know what you have done to earn Rysan’s ire, but whatever it is, fix it. We need as many mages as we can to fix the town. The wave knocked out most of the enchantments.”

“How come you and the academy weren’t affected?”

“The academy is…. I don’t know how to explain it. As for me, my forms aren’t as rigid as most of the constructions, I’m closer to a spell than an enchantment. I was still affected, my connections to things outside of myself was disrupted”

“Really?” I asked as forced my feet into my boots.

“I don’t know exactly, Orbs are not allowed the design schematics of their own construction. I only know what I know through observation.”

“That’s very clever.” I commented as I stood. “how do I look?”

“The same.”

“Very helpful. I know you don’t need clothes, but you can do better than that.”

“You are now wearing your uniform.”

I sighed.

“Shall we go then?”

“Yes.”

 

(———)

 

“Representative Mage Tristan Sodden, I have heard some very disturbing news. Explain yourself,” Rysan ordered me.

Orb had escorted me to Rysan’s office, where I was confronted by a rather stressed out Rysan and a placid Jase.

“You will have to be more specific about the news you have heard…sir,” I said.

“Don’t be glib with me boy!” Rysan shouted into my face.

I leant back.

“Sir, I don’t know what incident you are talking about.”

“You killed a mage, not just a mage but my friend, in cold blood. That is what I am talking about. Explain before I do the same to you.”

“Rysan, don’t threaten the boy. That is not your place,” Jase snapped at Rysan. “Step back from him and compose yourself as befits your position.”

“Fuck you Jase, you’ve pampered and protected this little shit since day one. He is reckless, disobedient and down right murderous. I should put him down like a dog,” Rysan screamed at Jase. Spittle flew from his lips as he shouted, red faced  and fists clenching.

“Rysan, compose yourself or I will dismiss you.”

“He murdered my friend, give me a single reason why I shouldn’t bleed him here and now.”

“One, Tristan will have a good reason for what he did. Two, you do that, you even attempt to and I will burn you to cinders where you stand.” Jase replied calmly.

“Give me your fucking report, Tristan.”

“I had just finished restoring a wall strengthening charm in a shop on the edge of the residential district. My Apprentice Sophia came to find me as I had taken longer than expected. We were on our way back to the academy when we encountered a mage threatening a man in his own home. We witnessed the mage…”

Rysan grabbed my shirt, and pulled me to him.

“Use his name. Say the name of the man you killed. You little shit, I will not stand here and hear you make up lies to cover your actions.”

“You asked for my report, now unhand me and listen to it.”

“Or what? You going to get Jase to fight your battle for you?” Rysan looked to Jase who hadn’t moved at all.

“No I fight my own battles, you want to hear this or not?” I grabbed Rysan’s arm and calmly pulled myself from his grasp.

“Speak the truth. No more lies.”

“Sir, he has spoken no lies, the only stress in his voice seems to be from being threatened by a superior,” Orb interjected from behind me.

“Silence Orb, I neither need nor want your opinion.”

“Sir you made this an official matter, in which case you are required by law to have an Orb present for truth reading. If you disregard the law I will have no choice but to suspend you and contact the wizards for further instruction.” Orb said in its monotone official voice. I was starting to see the massive void between Orb as a being and Orb as a tool.

“That’s the last thing we need, the wizards have only just left. Fine make a note that I’m listening to the opinion of the Westhaven Orb acting in its professional capacity.” Rysan’s gaze rested on Orb, you could have melted stone with the heat in it.

“So noted.”

“Continue your report representative mage, use names where possible.”

“Very well sir. We came across a man being threatened in his home by Mage Selac Freant, he used magic to damage property to intimidate the man, from the conversation I overheard it sounded much like extortion. Some form of protection racket.”

“Speculation,” Rysan barked.

“It may well be speculation sir, but I feel it is relevant. My apprentice is a child, she is eight, if you don’t remember. She felt the need to inject herself into the situation. Mage Selac Freant used magic to harm her, he left a large bruise on her face, for her interfering in his wrong doing. I had to intervene.”

“Rysan, Selac harmed an apprentice, Tristan was well within his rights to do what he did.”

“I don’t care.”

“I named him,Ventrastus, for his abuses of the people and for his harming of my apprentice, I executed him for it.”

“You jumped up little fucker, you killed my friend on a pretext.”

“No I killed your friend, because he was abusing the people he had sworn to serve. I named him oath breaker for it. I killed him because he tainted all mages by association. But the real reason I killed him is because he harmed a little girl. My little girl!”

“Fuck you, she isn’t your daughter. She’s an apprentice, she means nothing,” Rysan spat.

“I have had enough of this. I was justified, I broke no laws. He earned it. Now either punish me or shut up,” I found myself saying.

Rysan’s eyes went wide, he roared then turned to swing at me.

I stepped back, and raised my own fist.

“Tristan don’t,” Jase shouted, he rushed out of the corner in an attempt to stop what was happening.

It was too late. I was faster than Rysan. My fist connected with Rysan’s eye. I could feel it squish slightly under my blow. Rysan staggered back. I grabbed at his collar, and swung again and again. My heart pounded in my head. My breath came in short, ragged gasps. Each blow hit with the dull thud of flesh striking flesh.

“Tristan, get off him,” Jase ordered from the corner.

I pulled myself off of Rysan who had fallen under my uncontrolled flailing. I was breathing hard, almost dizzyingly hard.

Rysan stood, bruises were just beginning to show around his eye, his lip had swollen and spit.

“Orb what is the punishment for striking a Senior mage?”

“Depending on the circumstances: relocation, dismissal, suspension, permanent severing of his links, bar his basic link.”

Rysan’s swollen lips, pulled back into a grim smile, blood was visible on his teeth.

“Jase, strip his links,” he ordered. “This boy isn’t fit to be a mage.”

My blood ran cold, I could feel the heat leave me in a rush.

“Sir, that is not possible in these circumstances,” Orb said.

“I’m the one in charge here. Do it Jase.”

Sir, you can’t overrule the wizard laws,” Orb said, his monotone voice loud over the beating of my heart in my ears.

“I don’t give a fuck. Strip his links,” he spat blood in my face.

“Rysan, I won’t, Orb has told you that it’s not allowable. So pick another punishment.” Jase said, his face was tight with tension.

“You are always defending him Jase, he is not your son. He doesn’t deserve it.”

“It doesn’t matter what you think Rysan, you are wrong. Choose another punishment.”

“Relocation then, I won’t have to see his face. You hear that boy? You are going away from the only home you will ever have, and I’ve done it to you. hows that make you feel?”

“Just fine, sir. In fact, far better now that I’ve punched your face into a swollen bloody mess.”

“Get out! I don’t care how special you think you are, if I see you again I will kill you!”

“Take it back Rysan. Now!” Jase called out.

A sense of power flowed into the room, faint but unmistakable

“Why should I?”

“Because you are about to be oathed, you fuckwit.” I shouted at him.

“Fine I’ll take it back, I’m sending you to Nelar. Hopefully that will do my task for me”

“You can’t send him there! It’s out of our jurisdiction,” Jase said.

“I can. Orb replay the message.” Rysan said as he turned to his desk. He rooted around in a drawer to pull out a small cloth. He sat in his chair and dabbed at his face.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a great deal of satisfaction every time he winced.

“To all Seniors, we would like to restart efforts to increase our holdings. We are facing increased pressure to expand from the lower council. Please do all in your power to expand your regions, increase trade and productivity. Use your resources carefully, we don’t have as much to spare as we would like.” Velar’s voice came from Orb. “End of message” Orb said.

Jase looked between me and over my shoulder at Orb, I assumed. “That said nothing about Nelar. In fact, that said nothing about anything really”

“I don’t have to explain myself to you or to him. I’m well within my rights to handle this matter in the way I have chosen. Aren’t I Orb?” Rysan said smugly, the effect was ruined by the wince he made as his lip split again.

“You are, technically correct sir. I feel it is…” Orb said.

“I didn’t ask how you feel Orb. Now Mage Representative, I want you out of my town by dawn. Dismissed.”

I stood looking at Rysan for a moment, my mouth twitched in an attempted grin.

“Didn’t you hear me? Get out of my sight.”

I turned and walked out, passing Orb who was flickering again. Steps followed.

“Not you Jase, I want a word with you.”

I left on my own.

 

I walked back to the academy is a daze, my skin still felt cold with fear, the risk of having my links severed, I would have just been a knack.

I found myself dragging my feet over the paving as I realised something. the early morning sun shone through the clouds, illuminating the tops of the buildings. this was my home, and I was being forced to leave it. Nelar? I’d never heard of it. some tiny little backwater no doubt. this was my home, I had ties here. my family who I admittedly never saw lived a short distance from where I stood. I had visited the market with them long before I wanted to be a mage. the academy where I now resided had been my prison, while of my own making it was still a cage, had become my home filled with my family, Jase and Sophia, Airis and Lyphia.

I sighed as I thought about Lyphia, there was no way I could take her with me. she had her work here and I had mine. it was debatable if I could take anyone with me. I didn’t know what I would be doing, exile that’s what this really is.

I passed people in the streets with smiles on their faces, I received many a nod and greeting. I didn’t feel like it but I forced a smile onto my face and nodded back.

I walked with as much speed as I could, I didn’t want the people to think their was something to be running away from, but I did want to get home quickly. Sophia should be awake, I knew Airis would be, that boy never really sleeps.

What would I tell them, ‘sorry kids I have to leave because I killed a mage and punched Rysan in the face repeatedly’ I didn’t think that would go down too well.

I looked at my home. The looming mage academy made of stone blacker than night, its high walls stared back at me revealing nothing, the people in the street walked by as if this massive edifice wasn’t here, it was normal, a part of their lives, nothing to be remarked upon. For me it had always been more, even as a child it had been a constant it was visible everywhere in town, it was the core that Westhaven had grown from, once just a breeding ground for knacks to feed and provide for the mages, now it was a relic struggling to be relevant to them, is this what we were? were we needed anymore? yes we did good work but many were not entirely as good as they proclaimed. men like Rysan who followed the rules except when it suited them, men like Selac who broke them for profit and pleasure. would the world be better off without us? I didn’t know.

I stepped inside the lobby to see a woman arguing with the receptionist. I aimed for the corridor I needed and walked as fast as I could. I didn’t need to be a part of anything today. it wasn’t my problem.

“There he is!” a voice announced, the sign of relief that accompanied it was also announced.

“That’s Mage Tristan Sodden?”  The woman that had been arguing with the receptionist said in a tone laden with doubt.

“Mage Representative, yes that’s him.” the receptionist said.

I didn’t make it to the corridor without notice, the arguing woman headed right for me. I stooped and plastered a blank but hopefully polite expression on my face.

“What appears to be the problem…madam?”

“You are the mage that abducted my niece!” she accused me, her finger inches from my nose.

I could only stare at her.

She was an older, medium built woman, short red hair, with grey eyes. she looked familiar. she also looked really angry.

“I have no idea where you have gotten that idea from but I assure you that is not the case. Mages do not abduct children.”

“You have my niece. I requested she be sent to me so that I can care for her, but no one answered my letter. That is kidnap at the very least.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Sophia Leif, daughter of my brother. who are you talking about?”

“I wasn’t talking about anyone. I was saying we don’t abduct children. this now makes far more sense.

“Are you sure I’m talking to the right person? This one appears to be an idiot,” Sophia’s aunt called over her shoulder at the receptionist.

The receptionist, who I should really learn the name of, paled and nodded solemnly.

“Miss Leif, I don’t really care who you are right now, I have a lot to do. But please remember that I am a Mage, you should treat me with respect.”

“Why?”

I didn’t have an answer for her that wouldn’t sound as if I was puffed up with a sense of self importance.

“I guess it doesn’t really matter, not all of us are worthy of respect, but a word of caution, not all mages are restrained either.”

She did nod at that, slowly. That was the first bit of thoughtfulness I’d seen from her.

“If you will follow me, I can take you to see Sophia. there have been issues regarding her care, that I’m going to have to tell you about, but that can wait until you have seen her.”

I started off down the corridor.

The woman matched my pace

“Why did she pass into the hands of a mage? She should have been with her family.”

“Her family died, we sent out the call for relatives the night they died. No one, and I mean no one, came forwards to claim her. She is my apprentice. my responsibility. I claimed her. Where were you?” I said.

“I was at home. I don’t live in Westhaven I’m from Greenlaw. I was coming to visit my brother and his wife. I’ve not been here for years. Sophia was a baby when last I came. I sent a letter ahead of me. but it turns out they were dead before it arrived. I don’t know what happened to it.”

“Sophia doesn’t know you then?”

“I don’t know what she remembers or what she was told. It’s a long journey. I can’t make it as often as I would like. I have work commitments”

“What do you do?”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m getting to know you”

“You haven’t even asked my name, its Clarise by the way.”

“Its been a rough day, I’m sorry that I’m not at my best

“And my niece is in your care? you’re hardly more than a boy yourself what do you know about raising a child?”

“Do you have any of your own?”

“No but that’s hardly any business of yours.”

“What do you do for a living?”

“I work for the wizard council”

“So do I, but that doesn’t answer my question now does it?”

“If you must know I work in a teaching capacity.”

“Teaching what?”

“Magic of course.”

“How? you aren’t a mage or a wizard”

“I don’t need power to teach. I can see you are bursting with it, and I’ll bet you know nothing.”

“Hey, that’s not true. I do well enough.”

“Magic isn’t just about power is about knowledge and thought.”

I groaned as the line reminded me of something Jase had said.,

“there we go, you are exactly like some of my students. disdaining knowledge over power.”

“No, you just reminded me of my master.”

we reached the door to my apartment. I turned to her.

“now let’s cut the lecture short. I want what’s best for Sophia. I’m not convinced you have the space in your life for a child but I have to leave soon. so I’m not overwhelmed with choices, that I can dismiss you out of hand.”

I raised a hand to cut her off.

“Don’t interrupt me. I’m in earnest about this. You speak with great pride about you work but there is no mention of a husband or children in your life. There is no warmth apparent in you. you have been harsh and dismissive to me. A grown man and a mage to boot. I have fears as to what you would do to a child in your care. There are things I will discuss with you once Sophia has seen you but do not think that you can lay claim to her without her consent. Am I clear?”

“How dare you, she is mine by blood. I can claim her by the laws of the wizards themselves.”

Not really, you can’t. I thought. I felt a smile curve my lips in response

You arrogant child,” she raise her hand to slap me.

I grabbed it, “I’ve already been in this position today. Make no mistake it will be something you regret. The law isn’t as clear cut as you might think. Now I’m going to release you and you are going to calm down. I won’t take you in to see her in this state.”

She pulled her hand out of my grasp and stood glaring at me, before nodding shortly.

I opened the door and walked in, leaving the woman

Inside was Sophia and Airis both seated at the dining table. Lyphia was talking into a mirror. She absently waved at me before walking back towards the bedrooms.

“Good morning Sophia, Airis. I’m sorry I had to leave so early.”

“Tristan, we saw you weren’t here but Lyphia said you would be back soon enough.

“I have someone here to see you Soph she says she is your aunt. Her name is…”

“Aunt Clarise? Really? I thought she lived far away, I never met her, and dad didn’t like her much.”

“Well, I can understand that. She has come to see you. I left her in the hall to give you a moment to process the news.”

She sat looking at me blankly for a moment, then nodded, looking me straight in the eye.

I smiled at her then I turned and gestured Clarise into the room.

She stepped in with a kind of trepidation, as if she was walking into a room of wild animals. She stopped just inside and looked, really looked at Sophia.

“You look just like your mother. I’m so sorry child. I wish I could have been here sooner, then you wouldn’t have needed to be with strangers.”

“They aren’t strangers. Airis is my friend, he’s looked after me and we play and have fun. Tristan is nice, he is my master but he isn’t mean or bossy. He loves me. And Lyphia is very pretty and we dress up and talk and stuff. I miss mum and dad but I’m not with strangers. you are family, but I don’t know you. you are a stranger. so I would have been with strangers if you had taken me away. I would have been away from my home and I wouldn’t be able to come back or see the places that I saw when I went shopping with mum. or the places I went to with dad. and all my friends from school would be here and I would be away.”

“Shush child. I’m not a stranger I came to take you away from all this. I live in Greenlaw do you know of it? its a big city on an island. it floats above the ocean. have you seen the ocean?”

“No but Tristan will take me, won’t you Tristan?”

I stood there wanting so much to tell her I would, but I couldn’t

“Tristan is something wrong?” Lyphia asked from the other side of the room. she had just re entered, the mirror in her hand just a blank mirror now.

“No, could I have a word with you though. work stuff.”

“Of course. Sophia, Airis be good for this lady. we won’t be a moment”

The kids nodded.

I fixed Clarise with a glare. I hoped she got the the message. I then walked to the table grabbed the letter and went to my room with Lyphia.

As soon as the door was shut she asked “ what’s wrong? you left so early this morning and without saying a word.

“Orb came. I was summoned to appear before Rysan and be judged for my actions. it didn’t go as well as I had hoped.”

“But you were in the right.”

That doesn’t matter. what is right anyway? I still killed a mage and apparently he was Rysan’s friend. it didn’t help that I punched the Rysan a bit.

“You punched Rysan a bit?”

“Eh, just a little bit.”

“You are a very stupid man.”

“I have my moments yeah. Well Rysan wanted to kill me on the spot. Then he wanted to strip my links, which I didn’t think was possible.”

“It is, most go mad though. My father mentioned its like having a part of your mind just torn away. You don’t even know what is lost but you can feel the hole”

“That’s what happened to him?

“Not quite, but the generalities are the same. It wasn’t done to him so much as his oath had merged with one of his lesser links. I don’t know the details I doubt he does either. Anyway that isn’t the subject at hand. You aren’t dead and you are still a mage. So what punishment have you been given?”

“I’ve been reassigned. I have to aid the expansion efforts in a place called Nelar, I’ve never even heard of it.”

“I have but I can’t place it, did you get told anymore? How long will you be gone? Is it permanent?”

“I have until dawn to be out of town, on my way I assume. I didn’t really want to press for details, it was a bit touch and go if I would even walk out for a moment or three.”

“What are you going to tell Sophia? She will want to come with you. Is she allowed?

“I don’t know really I don’t. I have no information about the place, other than its not a good place to go, Rysan was gloating about sending me there.”

“Appeal to the wizards. Explain the situation.”

“They won’t believe me, I’ve been an active for how long now? A few months. Rysan has been here for years and he served the council before coming here. Who would take the word of a such a junior mage over a senior? Its not like I’ve even got a perfect record as it stands. Suspended for medical within a week of service. Disobeying a lawful command. I have years of my debt still to serve. Its just not going to happen. Even if they did believe me. I’ve just killed another of their servants, I would be pissed in their shoes.

“You have to do something, you can’t just meekly accept your lot in life. You have to fight this.

“Why? I’m tired Lyph, its been a few months, that’s it. I’m tired already. I have an apprentice, Sophia, who looks up to me, should I show her that she should fight everyone? Should I show her its okay to disobey her superiors? or should I show her what it means to fulfil her duty even when its unpleasant. to do the right thing? I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where I am going or why. I just don’t know.”

“Tristan of course you should show her the right way to fulfil her duty but you should show her how to think. Show her when to fight and why. you both need to learn how to fight. clearly you are going to come off worse on of these days.”

“You’re telling me, I lost against Selac, it was the people who won that one for me. I can’t rely on it all the time. I don’t know what to tell Sophia. If it’s a dangerous as I’m guessing I can’t take her. How can I leave her after everything?”

“We will cross that bridge when we come to it, but for now you need to put a smile on your face and go back out.

“I need to read this letter. Sophia never mentioned an aunt neither did Orb. It seems strange that she has just appeared.”

“Orb doesn’t know everything. You know most of the older people aren’t in the census. the nobles didn’t care that much as long as they had all the soldiers they needed and trade didn’t dry up.”

“I know Orb doesn’t know everything but surely if she is who she says she is, she would have shown up, she said she teaches magic in Greenlaw”

“That is odd, she didn’t look like a mage or a wizard.”

“She isn’t, I didn’t look but there’s no sense of that about her, and her eyes are normal.”

“Sophia doesn’t have the eyes yet either.”

“I guess. But she is really young there is nothing to say she will get the eyes for awhile.”

“Read the letter I will go out and see to the children for a few moments, come out when you are ready.”

Lyphia headed to the door, kissing me on the cheek on the way out.

I stood gazing at the letter for a moment before opening it.

 

‘To my dearest brother,

I’m sending this letter on my way out of the city, it may reach you before I will. I have come to collect Sophia as we discussed in previous communications. I will never understand why you don’t use the mirrors. But that is neither here nor there. please make sure she is informed of my arrival. I don’t have the patience to deal with a reluctant child. she is to be provided with all she needs, clothes and essentials. I believe you are doing the right thing sending her to me. Westhaven is a backwater compared to the floating city. She will do far better here and I can educate her, make her ready for work. I wish you would reconsider joining me, but I suppose you never will. I will be arriving as soon as possible. A few weeks is likely as I can’t use the new transport systems, the golem birds, they make me sick to my stomach. Those self powered carts confuse my senses, and they are expensive for such a long journey. I will be there soon, keep looking for me.

Your loving sister Clarise.’

 

I folded the letter up and looked at the envelope, there in crossed out and faded ink was Sophia’s old address. Someone had added in directions to the academy. So someone knew that Sophia had been relocated. It wasn’t important. In a town this small everyone knew everyone, although the mages were outside of that. Town gossip didn’t pass the academy doors.

I still had no idea what I was going to do. Reading the letter hadn’t told me all that much. It certainly hadn’t given me any answers to my questions. If anything it had taken one away. Clarise felt cold, Sophia was such a warm child, it just felt wrong to leave her with such a person.

I took a deep breath and walked out to the main room.

Clarise hadn’t moved neither had Sophia they remained looking, more like glaring at each other. Airis and Lyphia were stood to the sides, both waiting to intervene. Not a word was spoken.

“Is everything alright in here?” I asked.

Clarise stalked towards me. “This child is disobedient and insolent. She should show respect to her elders.”

Sophia bristled and opened her mouth to respond.

I raised a hand to forestall her outburst.

She closed her mouth but continued to look angry.

“She is a wonderful child, that you have come here out of the blue to take away from the home she has, you have undoubtedly commanded her, instead of asking her. She has no reason to respect you, she doesn’t know you. I don’t respect you, I can barely stand the sight of you and you have been in my home for no more than a few moments. Don’t start. I haven’t finished. She is my apprentice, she is my responsibility, blood means nothing to me. If she wants to live with you, then that is her decision.”

“The law clearly states ……”

“Did you not listen to me? She is my apprentice. The law doesn’t apply to me. She is my ward until such a time as I release her. I will not release her into the care of someone I don’t trust nor someone that she doesn’t want to live with.

“That’s illegal, you abducted this poor child from the site of parents death. She is my flesh and blood, you can’t keep me from her.”

“I can and I will. Sophia, what do you think about living with your aunt?”

“I don’t want to. I don’t know her. I don’t want to move away.”

“Then you don’t have to.” I turned back to Clarise. “You will not try to press your claim to Sophia. It will go badly for you. you will not attempt to remove her from the home she has chosen. Am I clear?”

Clarise said nothing.

“Am I clear?” I repeated louder. I could feel my eyes flare with power as my anger rose.

Yes,” she answered sullenly.

“Good, now I’m not going to be unreasonable. If Sophia is willing, I’m more than happy for you to spend time with her. Get to know her.”

“I will have to find accommodations, I hadn’t planned on staying in the area.”

“I will ask Orb to see what he can do, as a family member of a mage in training we can provide temporary housing. If you can go down to the reception, I have some things to take care of.”

She left.

“Right now that that is dealt with for the moment I have something to tell you all.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, taking a moment to gather my thoughts. “I’ve been reassigned. I will be leaving first thing.”

Sophia burst with questions. Airis wasn’t far behind. In the end they both had the same questions.

Could they come with me? How long would we be gone?

“I don’t have any answers for you right now. I need to get with orb and find some things out, like where the forsaken place is and how to get there. Sophia from what little I know I’m not sure if taking you is a good idea.”

“but you just sent her away, if I can’t go with you who would look after me? You promised you wouldn’t leave me.”

“I know I did Sophia and I don’t want to. I will do everything can to stay with you but this isn’t in my hands. I’m bound to the council, I have to do my job wherever that may be.”

“Lyph make him stay.”

“I would if I could, I can’t leave I have the guild.”

“Then you can move here. You are here all the time anyway. and we can be together until Tristan comes home.”

Lyphia smiled gently.

“We will see Soph”

Well I need to do some research before I can do anything else. If you need me I will be in my work room please knock first.

I got a round of nods of varying degrees of certainty. I walked back to my room.

As I entered I noticed the sword on the wall. The thing that had caused all this. I was reminded that I could have found another way to handle things if I’d just used my mind, a bit of thought and I wouldn’t be having to deal with all this. research and arrangements for Sophia, not even counting travel and what I would actually need to do when I got to Nelar, wherever it was. I continued through to my work room and sat at the control terminal. I lay my hand on the panel to activate it. my hand stung as I lay it flat. my knuckles were skinned and bled lightly. I fought a grin off my face at the reminder of punching Rysan in the face. I sobered quickly, I needed to find out what mess I was being sent into. I swiped my fingers over the screen looking for the archives, there was a tiny glyph in the corner that I tapped. it pulled up a voice search.

“Please state your request” The terminal said.

“Nelar.”

“That information is restricted to masters and above. Please present your ident.”

I channelled a tiny glimmer of power into my hand.

“Access has been granted. No copies of this information are allowable. Do not repeat this information to anyone, this is punishable by suspension, and an inquest.”

I felt my eyebrows rise at the warning, I’d never encountered it before, although I didn’t use the archives as much as I should. My studies had taken a blow since I’d become an active.

On the screen were dense rows of tiny scrolling glyphs in mage. But for all that the information was thin.

I read parts that seemed pertinent aloud to fix them in my memory.

“Nelar was once a large city in the holding of the Vestris noble house, due to various factors the city declined till barely twelve structures were still active.

In the area surrounding the holding of Nelar is a disturbance in the ambient energy, this has caused large alterations in the way people can live their lives. All enchantments fail abruptly. Wild elementals roam the area. Use of magic is strictly controlled, it often has unfortunate side effects as well as a corrupting influence on a mage or a wizards. This town has be struck from the list of viable trading areas.

Efforts to address the distortion have failed. The distortion has grown over generations. the cause of the disturbance is unknown. why the small population of Nelar have stayed in the area is unknown. Allowed uses of magic are unknown. Golems are prohibited. Untrained mages are prohibited. Enchantment is prohibited. Prolonged exposure to the area is inadvisable. There are a few unconfirmed reports of ghosts and spirits. The local populace seems to have a deep distrust of magic users.

I stood up feeling rather overwhelmed.

I couldn’t take Sophia into that mess, nor Airis. I still didn’t know how to get there but I at least knew where it was now. Up near the mountains quite a way from here, but there was a broken road I could use for most of the way.

I looked down at the screen that was now flashing at me, a small map was showing but it wasn’t a terrain map, it was an ambient map the magic plane was superimposed over the land in washes of colour. Nice healthy,light colour everywhere except a patch of darkness in a part that without even checking I knew was Nelar  I couldn’t look anymore.

I walked out to my room, and started collected everything I thought I might need. Enchantments were a no go. so it kinda made up for the fact my bracer was no where to be found, it was odd that I could now do the effect myself but handy. a pile of clothes formed on my bed, all mage uniforms, I should really get some other clothes but they were durable, it served my purposes. I looked at the sword, I didn’t want to take it with me I barely knew how to use it. But without my magic I was helpless. In the base of the wardrobe was a bag that I’d found in my rummaging. it was sturdy hide, it looked as if it would fit all my stuff in it. and it had a strap so I could sling it over my shoulder.

I needed supplies, and I needed to talk to Sophia and Lyph and Jase.

Armed with slightly more information and the start of a plan I headed out to the main room. Lyphia and the kids were sat around the table with matching expressions of confusion and hope on their faces.

“Soph, I don’t think I can take you with me, it doesn’t sound like a good place for anyone let alone someone as young as you.”

“But you promised you wouldn’t leave me”

I’m not leaving you, I’m still with you. I will always be here for you but my duty comes first always I’m sorry.

Tristan do you have to say it like that?” Lyphia said.

“It’s the truth, Sophia means the world to me but I have a job to do. part of that is doing things that I don’t want to. like being away from you all. I can’t take Airis for reasons that I can’t go into. Lyph you have the guild, if possible would you be able to look after Sophia while I’m gone, I’m going to ask Jase too,” I turned back to Sophia. “Is this alright with you? I can’t change having to leave but I will come back. I need to make sure you are safe and well before I can do anything.”

Sophia nodded reluctantly.

“Good, Airis I need you to make sure she stays out of trouble too, can you do that for me?”

The golem boy saluted with a closed fist to his chest.

I responded in kind, a smile quirked my lips.

I need to finish getting together what I will need, I saw Jase earlier do you have any clue when he will be back?”

“No, but I think he is due to visit Avery soon. They spend their afternoons together.”

Perfect.

I avoided looking at Sophia, I didn’t want to see her cry. I turned and walked out to the hall. I shut the door behind me. it may have been the hardest thing I’d ever done. I didn’t want to leave her, but…

“Do your duty mage,” I said to myself.

I didn’t know if I said it to remind or mock, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Mage Life Chapter 33

It was fully dark by the time we made it back to the academy, I still carried the blood stained sword I’d made. Sophia had been very quiet as we walked. I’d not said much either

The lights of the entrance hall were fully on. The receptionist from earlier was still at her desk. I was puzzled by that, they normally went home at night.

Master Tristan, sir, a letter has come for you,” she called as we approached.

A letter? Who uses letters nowadays.” We continued walking to the desk

I don’t know sir, it’s not my place to speculate.” She placed the tattered envelope in my hand. “I was waiting for you, now that it’s done I can go home.”

Sophia looked as the letter then caught sight of the sword, blood still dripped from its tip. She paled and the words she was about to say died on her tongue.

No words were exchanged. Neither of us were in the mood.

We walked up to our apartment. Sophia ran off to her room, rushing past Airis in the process. Airis looked to me.

You are her companion and protector not her accomplice. The pair of you were to stay with Jase.”

Airis opened his mouth to speak but I held up my hand and the bloody sword.

No, I don’t want to hear it. I have had to do something that I wish I hadn’t because she was there. It is your responsibility to protect her in this case even from her self. None of this needed to happen.” I said the anger had faded, now I just felt tired and empty.

None of this needed to happen” I repeated softly to myself.

What happened? I’m sorry Tristan. I didn’t think it would do any harm.”

Sophia will need you tonight. Please don’t let there be a next time.”

Airis nodded and shuffled off towards the bed rooms.

I was left alone, I longed to put the sword down but I couldn’t unclench my hand from the hilt. It felt wrong to let go. I don’t know why. The letter in my hand drew my attention. I raised it so that the light caught the gently curving glyphs, common glyphs minus the complicated connectives of mage glyphs. There was no clue on the envelope about who it was from. It wasn’t official, that much I was certain about. I still hadn’t received my mage certificate, but I knew those envelopes were thick and creamy. This was cheap, simple. I wasn’t in the mood for it right now. I wanted to bathe, to eat, to put down the fucking sword that my hand refused to let go of.

I walked past the table and threw the letter on to it, it landed on the edge. I continued on to my room.

Outside my door I could hear muffled conversation from Sophia’s room. I could guess what was being said. My dark mood told me exactly how badly I had failed Sophia.

I entered my room and left them to their conversation, I wanted no part in it right now.

My room was dimly lit the lights on their lowest setting whilst still being on. It matched my mood, dark and shadowed. I sat on my bed and laid the sword over my knees. It was the only white thing in here. My eyes were drawn to the beautiful ugly thing. The sharp serrated edge. The long straight spine. The dark, so very dark, stain of blood stark against the gleaming whiteness.

My mood darkened further. A life I had taken in rage. I failed to protect Sophia. Her bruise was all the evidence I needed that I couldn’t give her what she needed.

I couldn’t be a parent.

I hadn’t even spoken to my own for years. I remembered the fights we’d had about me becoming a Mage. ‘A life of blood, shed and spilled,’ my father had called it during one of his more eloquent rants. My last year at home had been uncomfortable. It had been three years since I’d even mirrored them. As much as I’d hated my training here, it had been an effective excuse to avoid them.

I had done this all of this, I could blame no one. I chose this life, again and again at every hurdle I had chosen this life even with the possible blood shed and pain. I’d never envisioned a child stuck in it with me. I cared for Sophia deeply but I could never give her the peace I wished for her, I couldn’t take the pain of losing her parents from her, I couldn’t fix it, all I had to offer was magic and more pain.

I stood and walked over to wall there was a weapons rack next to the bathroom door. I’d never considered that I would even need a weapon but when given the choice between taking the Ventrastus for judgement I’d chose blood. what that said about me I don’t know but it wasn’t anything good. I hung the sword on the rack then walked through to the bathroom.

I shed my clothes unhurriedly, all the passion and haste I normally felt gone. I wasn’t a man anymore. I was a shell.  A burnt out husk.

I went through my ablutions slowly and with extra care, my mind blank as I did the routine task of cleaning my self.  My fingers stung as I washed. The backflow of my blast, a lingering reminder that I would have failed if the people hadn’t helped me. I’d not even asked their names. They had burnt the body there and then on the street. The thick greasy smoke had risen straight up, a darker mark against the dark sky.

Sophia had been silent as a statue, her face as grim as I’d ever seen her. her childhood was being stripped away from her piece by piece and it was my fault. I clenched my fist in the steaming water. The burns hurt but it was a good pain. A sharp prompt that I wasn’t equipped for this. I needed more training and Sophia needed someone else, someone who could give her a normal life.

I reached for a towel automatically, my body going through the motions while my mind was elsewhere. I walked back to my room, the bright light came from the open door to my room, a shadowed form stood at my doorway, the light spilling around the shape but not illuminating the person.

Tristan, oh my Tristan. I heard, the whole town is abuzz with the news,” Lyphia said. She hurried forwards to embrace me.

“Don’t, I killed him. Don’t touch me.”

She stopped halfway across the room

Tristan, be honest with me, was there another way?”

I could have taken him for judgement, Rysan, Orb and Jase could have served. I don’t need to execute him.”

From what I hear you did the right thing. He was exploiting the people, he hurt a child. He’s done worse,” Lyphia said.

“Maybe, but I didn’t need to be the one that did it. There are systems in place for that but… He hurt Sophia.”

Lyphia closed the distance, she ignored my feeble nudges. Her arms wrapped around me in a tight yet gentle embrace.

You protected your daughter. You protected the people. You did the right thing.” she said softly against my chest.

I could feel my emotions waking up, her gentle touch stirred something in me. My eyes itched.

She isn’t mine. Her parents are gone. I just saw her hurt, and it broke something in me.”

You are her father in every way that matters right now. You love her and want the best for her. That is why you did what you did.”

Its not enough, I can’t give her a quiet life. She’s even a mage now, of all things. She hates magic. I can’t be a father to her, I barely know mine. I walked away from my parents to be a mage.”

Lyphia pulled back and looked up at me.

Tristan you know how to be a father, I’ve watched you with her. You are doing fine. Her being a mage increases her need for you not lessens it. No one else can understand her like you can.”

I killed a man for hurting her. It wasn’t justice. It was revenge. I couldn’t stand the thought of him getting away with hurting her. I cut his head off because I could. I was so angry.”

Tristan you know how to be a father, someone hurt your little girl, you made sure he could never hurt anyone again.”

I had nothing to say to that.

Now you have something you need to do.”

“I do?”

Yes, you need to get dressed and you need to talk to her.”

What if she hates me? What if she turns away?”

Stop it. No what ifs. We aren’t playing that game. You are going to go in and comfort that little girl who looks up to you. She needs you and, unless I’m much mistaken, you need her.”

I was led to the wardrobe. Lyphia picked out some clothes for me and I numbly put them on.

Now go. I will arrange a meal for us all.”

I walked to the door in a daze.

Can Airis eat?” Lyphia asked.

I halted trying to make sense of what had been said. “What?”

“Can Airis eat? I know he’s a golem, but he’s a boy too. It would be nice if he joined us for our meal.”

He can eat, he doesn’t need to, but he can. I’ve not actually tried.”

He’s a boy, we have to feed him. Now go do your duty.”

I continued out the door. I stood outside Sophia’s room. My hand was raised to knock. the earlier sounds had stopped. I took a deep breath put a small false smile on my face and knocked.

Airis opened the door, his boyish face more  a mask than I had seen even when he was first-born. He looked at me, a glow kindling in his eyes as he raised his head. He squared his shoulders and set his feet.

No, you aren’t coming in,” he said.

I wish to talk to her.”

No, she’s upset. I don’t want you in here,” his form started shifting. The wooden floor creaked as his mass increased, stone replacing flesh.

Airis, I’m not going to push this. I just want to make sure she is okay”

Let him in please Airis. thank you for wanting to protect me but Tristan won’t hurt me”

Airis stood a moment, a considering air about him.He lurched to the side reluctance in his every motion. The glow in his eyes didn’t diminish, if anything they grew brighter and more probing.

I stepped past him, Sophia was sat on her bed, her arms wrapped around her knees hugging herself. Her head was down, red hair covered her face, hiding it from me.

Soph, how are you doing?” I asked softly. I stood near the edge of her bed fighting the urge to run away. my mouth was dry and my heart felt like it was in my throat.

She raised her head, tears were clear in her eyes. Little tracks of their passage marked her face, the bruise stood out in stark relief against her pale skin.

I miss them,” she said.

I looked at her, my mind felt stupefied. stunned that it had taken this long for her parents to be brought up.

I know Soph, I know.” I moved over and sat on the edge of the bed. I looked down at my hands as I spoke. “I wish I could give you a better life. You don’t deserve this.”

Tristan, I love my parents, but they would never have done what you have for me. Jase told me what you did. You risked everything for me.” she unfurled from the ball she was in and wiggled over to sit next to me

Sophia your parents loved you, they would have done anything for you. They …” I trailed off. How was I supposed to say they died in unimaginable pain to spare you? They could have let go and taken you with them, no I couldn’t tell her that.

They what?” she asked

They were incredibly brave, your mother asked me to look after you. I’ve done my best but I don’t think I can give you what you need. I’m not a parent. I barely speak to mine. I don’t know what I’m doing and you keep getting hurt.”

You don’t want me,” she said, she slid away from me.

Its not that, I do want you. I really do but I can’t keep you safe. My life is dangerous. I’m not always here. You need stability.”

You get to decide that?”

Yes, I’m an adult.”

“That’s what my mum used to say.” Her tears flowed quicker now. “But she is gone and now you want to get rid of me. Fine do it, send me to an orphanage. I’m just a burden on you. You don’t love me. You don’t want me!” her voice rose with every short sentence choked and muffled by her tears as it was.

Sophia I’m trying to do right by you. I don’t want to see you get hurt anymore. I killed a man just for laying his hand on you. But you shouldn’t have been there. I shouldn’t have lost my temper but seeing you on the ground, changed everything. What am I supposed to do?”

Do your duty Mage! she spat the final word at me, the venom in her voice starling.

Tristan leave!” Airis commanded me. he had moved his stone from grating as he came closer. His eyes blindingly bright.

Not now Airis.” I replied dismissively.

I felt hard golem hands wrap around me and lift.

Airis put me down now!”

grr” a deep stony rumble echoed from his chest through me.

Airis put him down!” Sophia’s strident tone rang through the room like a bell although slightly muffled.

We stopped moving.

He hurt you, I failed before, I won’t fail again.”

Tristan won’t hurt me,” she said.

A strange feeling of joy, hope even, rose inside me at the faith this small girl showed in me. A matching wave of fear rose too, that I wouldn’t be able to live up to this hope.

I felt Airis release his grasp.

I found my feet then turned

Sophia, all I want is the best for you.”

The little girl that had claimed a place in my heart, broke. Her tears began anew. Deep racking sobs shook her. “Don’t leave me,” she cried out.

I rushed over to her, wrapped my arms around her and whispered fiercely “I won’t, I’m sorry I won’t leave you.”

Her little arms held me tight, tremors raged through her.

I smoothed her hair down. “I won’t leave you.”  

(—–)

Uhum,” a sound came from behind us.

I turned my head, my neck was stiff. Lyphia was stood behind us.

Sophia was curled in my lap, my arms were still wrapped around her. her sobs had stopped long ago. we had cuddled in silence, there was no need for words, we had made our peace with the situation.

I wasn’t sure what everyone wanted for dinner, so we are going out” Lyphia announced to us.

Airis stood next to the door, he hadn’t moved since our little encounter, not a word or a motion. He moved at that. A twitch of a hand, a stiffening of his back, his blank face dropped slightly. I wasn’t the only one that noticed.

Don’t look so down Airis, you are coming too.”

Is going out really the best idea?” I asked.

Don’t be such a grump, going out is an excellent idea. I know because I came up with it,” Lyphia’s smile bloomed at that, a charming impish thing.

Soph, do you want to go out?” I asked, I fought my own smile. It was small but real.

Uhfh,” Sophia said against my chest.

What was that?”

Sophia untangled herself from me. then looked to Lyphia.

“But I’m a mess. We can’t go out,” she said.

We can and we will. It will do you good. We can send the boys ahead while we get ready if you want,” Lyphia said.

No, she doesn’t go anywhere on her own,” I said.

No,” Airis said at the same time.

Lyphia looked between Airis and myself. A tense expression clouding her features. “Don’t be ridiculous, she isn’t on her own. She will be with me. She is a little girl she shouldn’t be around men all the time. You boys don’t have a clue about dressing up. She will be with me, she will be safe,” her voice softened on the last and her eyes found mine.

If its okay with Soph then its okay with me” I said, I wasn’t going to win this one. Better to bow out first.

Yeah, I get to play dress up again.” Sophia said. She scooted off the bed and over to Lyphia where she took her hand and dragged her to the bathroom.

I looked at Airis. His hostility hadn’t diminished much. I couldn’t blame him I’d made him this way.

“Could you ask Lyphia where we are meeting her please? I will wait for you in the main room.” I asked him.

I didn’t even get a nod, he stalked off to the bathroom.

I left and went into the main room.

I considered sitting down it had been a long day, I ached. I decided against it. I was dressed and clean, better to stay ready than risk stiffening up further.

The envelope on the table drew me, I stepped closer to pick it but Airis came through.

Lyphia says the place you went to last time,” he said sullenly.

Good that gives us time to talk.”

Airis didn’t even bother to respond. He just headed to the door.

I followed. The letter could wait.

(———–)

The deep blackness of the night hid most of the town from view, the stars shone brilliantly in the void above. Their cold light couldn’t reach the earth. They watched like angels in the sky.

We walked over the white stone paths, our steps heavily echoing in the still night air. Airis walked next to me, his head down, focused on the way.

I didn’t mean to imply…” I started.

Airis raised his hand cutting me off sharply.

Shut up Tristan. I know my job and I failed. She is mine to look after. I couldn’t keep her safe from the gnomes. I didn’t even think she would be in danger in town. I don’t even have any skill that would let me protect her. Unless a chair is going to help,” he said in a bitter mocking tone

A chair might, you never know,” I said trying to lighten his mood.

“This isn’t the time for jokes.”

“There is always time to joke, we can’t life get us down”

“Is that what you did over the body of the man you killed? Did you tell jokes?” he asked.

That shut me up, I turned my own eyes to the path. My mouth tightened in a grim lines.

We made the rest of the way in silence. As we got closer more people appeared. The people on the streets were festive,  music came from the restaurant. Warm cheery light poured from the windows and door. The crowd didn’t touch us, our grim faces and sombre moods acting as a shield against them.

We walked in. A server asked us how large our party was.

Four, two are still to come.”

Very good sir. I will show you to your table,” the young server said.

We wove our path through the crowd. I noticed the sheer mass of people in here. They were everywhere except a small area near the back wall. The once colourful murals were blank.

So much for studying how to make them. Sophia wanted one. I thought to myself.

Our table was along the edge of the empty area.

“Why is it so busy in here tonight?” I asked the young server.

His eyebrows rose in an incredulous look “You don’t know?”

No. That’s why I asked.” It was surprisingly difficult to keep the sarcastic tone from my voice. I think I managed.

Its show night. Tonight we have a retelling of the elemental child.”

I remember plays and such being mentioned the last time I was here.”

Its one of the things that really draws in the crowd. The music and the food help of course. Can I get you anything while you wait?” he asked as we seated ourselves.

Could I have a drink? Anything please I’m not fussed tonight,” I asked. I placed my hands on the wooden table. I felt myself tensing as I noticed the number of people looking at me. A hush went through the room even the music faltered.

All of a sudden a roar went through the crowd.

They were cheering.

For me.

A drink for the mage! Well done sir. That Selac has been a menace for years. He needed putting down,” a large older man made his way out of the crowd to place a large meaty hand on my shoulder.

I looked down at my hands, they had tightened into claws digging at the smooth varnished surface.

I stood, shaking the unwelcome hand off me.

Don’t thank me. I shouldn’t have done it,” I said as I turned around to face him.

You did this town a service, many a girl has been forced by that dirty mage. You put an end to him. Finally we have a mage that looks out for us.” The man’s smile seemed to take up most of his face.

“Thank you, I’m uncomfortable with being congratulated for killing a man. I would rather not discuss it as you can see I have a child with me.” I pointed towards Airis.

The man reddened. “Of course. I’m sorry. It was bad manners on my part.”

I placed my hand on the man’s arm and led him a few steps away from the table “I would prefer it if this wasn’t brought up again. I’m pleased you feel I’ve done a service to you, but its a dark business that has no place in such a bright place. Let us all enjoy an evening to forget our woes.”

Wisely said young mage. Like I said it was bad manners. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“Well, let’s say no more about it. If you could spread the word that I’m out with my lady and my wards. Hopefully that will dissuade well meaning people.”

“I get your meaning sir. I will do what I can. I hope this serves as amends”

Trouble yourself about it no more,” I said. I turned back towards my table when I heard him call for the music to resume.

Airis had remained seated his face locked in an expression of anger, which on his face looked a lot like a childish pout. I recognised it. It was the same expression I wore every time I got caught doing something wrong. It was my mad at myself face.

I retook my seat.

So, you ready to talk about it now? Or are you going to sit there sulking. Its fine with me either way. But I doubt the girls will be impressed with you looking like this.”

How do you do it? Deal with all these emotions? My desire to please Sophia led me to risking her safety. I then took it out on you and now I’m sat here angry with myself. I feel too….” he trailed off.  I could see him struggling to find the words.

Emotion is a part of being alive. We all grow up with it and we don’t always handle it well. It takes time, effort and experience. I know I was a bit harsh on you earlier…”

No worse than I deserved. I let my charge, my friend, get hurt. You were right to be hard with me.”

No I wasn’t Airis. you made a mistake, that’s all. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made my share of them,” I said looking down at my hands. They were clean but I could still feel the sword like the ghost of a blade against my skin.

My mistake nearly cost Sophia!” Airis said with a passion I didn’t know he could feel.

You care for her?”

What kind of question is that?”

“I know you care what she thinks of you, but do you care for her?” I persisted.

Airis squirmed under my gaze but he didn’t look away.

Of course I care for her. How could I not, you made me this way.”

I didn’t. I gave you the capability for emotion, real emotion, not some pretence of it. You made yourself this way.”

Airis stopped squirming, a flicker of a glow entered his eyes.

I don’t have to feel like this then. You can take this away?” a note of hope permeated his words.

No, Airis. You chose this. I can’t take away your choice without turning you into a machine.”

“I am a machine,” he said although his voice wavered.

You are not. You are a living being. You might have been born different, but you are alive Airis. I won’t take that from you.”

You took life from that mage,” he replied venomously. “How am I worth less than a Ventrastus?”

I flinched away from him then, before I could stop myself. I looked at him. I could see what had made him speak like that, fear.

You think you are worth less than an oath breaker, and a vicious one at that? Oh Airis, you are worth so much more than that. You have a life, maybe even a soul. You have chosen to care for someone else. I didn’t make that happen. You did. Emotion isn’t a bad thing. Give it a chance, if you are still uncomfortable with it, I can install some limiting protocols. But I want you to give it a real chance.”

Airis looked at me, a kind of flickering in his face as it shifted between emotions, hope and fear dominated before settling into a steely resolve. He nodded to me.

I nodded back.

We sat in silence, but it wasn’t tense or awkward now. The music in the room resumed a low but lively piece. I found myself tapping my foot to it as we waited.

I watched the staff of the place, setting up a few chairs at the back of the empty area. four chairs. They remained empty for some reason.

I turned my head just in time to see Lyphia and Sophia enter the restaurant. I raised my hand to wave them over. I received a smile from Lyph and a small wave from Sophia. Her own smile was a bit frayed around the edges but she shared it with everyone. Lyphia’s smile was just for me.

The server brought them over to the table and seated them before hurrying off.

Sorry we took so long but we had to fix Sophia’s face.”

I looked at Sophia, she turned her head so I could see.

Her bruise was gone or hidden, I couldn’t tell which. I gave her my very best smile to hide the anger I felt welling up.

She should never have been hurt. I’m a failure, my thoughts taunted me.

Lyphia laid a hand on my arm and lent into me.

Let it go Tristan,” she whispered.

We should order now that everyone is here,”I said.

Yes I’m starving,” Sophia said.

Airis said nothing, his own eyes rested on the side of Sophia’s face.

What do I have a smudge or something?” Sophia said to Airis, her hand came up to rub at her face.

Don’t. You don’t want to smear the make up,” Lyphia said

Sophia froze in mid motion. “Is there something wrong with my face? Airis keeps looking at me. You said I was pretty,” she turned to Lyphia.

There is nothing wrong with your face Sophia. Tristan back me up here.” Lyphia said.

There is nothing wrong with your face.” I echoed dutifully. Which earned me a little jab in the ribs. I grinned at the girls.

Men,” Lyphia said while rolling her eyes at Sophia.

I’m sorry Sophia you look nice,” Airis said then looked down at the table.

Thank you Airis,” Sophia said smiling widely at him.

I raised my arm to call a server over.

Yes sir, what can I get you?”

I looked over the others at my table, my family in a way.

Could we have the specials all round please, and some drinks? Tristan, hey Tristan”

I felt a nudge.

Ow, what?”

You drifted off again. Please focus. The young man here needs to know what you would like to drink.”

I’m sorry, could I have a glass of the house white wine please?”

I will have the same, just the one though. Kids?”

Can we have wine?” Sophia asked looking at me.

I looked at Lyphia. She nodded after a moment’s consideration.

Half wine, half juice please. We can’t have them missing the show.”

We can do that. I will be back in a moment with your drinks, your meals won’t be long either,” the server said, before diving back into the crowd.

Thank you,” Sophia said. She turned to Airis and started animatedly telling of her war wound and her makeover in a hushed voice.

You knew about the show?” I asked Lyphia.

I did, I thought it would take everyone’s mind off things,” she said.

You are a genius.”

I know,” she smiled broadly at that. Her hand came to rest on mine on the table. She looked me deeply in the eyes. “Stop shaking, I’m not going anywhere. We are going to have a nice night together. The four of us. Then just the two of us,” her gaze heated with the last.

I found myself chuckling. Her hand tightened on mine. I hadn’t even realized I’d been trembling.

I gripped it back.

Our drinks arrived.

The server said, “Your meal will come next. The show is just about to start so if you could keep the talking to a minimum please.” He passed our drinks to us, then hurried off as the lighting began to dim.

Sophia nearly jumped out of her seat in excitement, a small squeak escaped her.

Shush,” I whispered.

Sorry.”

Our table was right on the edge of the ‘stage’. It was the only part of the room lit. We could see the once empty chairs now had people in. Two men and two women all in their mid twenties bar one an older man in his late forties, they sat perfectly still with they hands clasped in their laps around foci. Small wands, they looked specially made. Very complex glyphs engraved down the sides.

The older man spoke. His voice was deep and clear, not loud but I was certain everyone in the room could hear it.

Tonight we will be telling the tale of the elemental child.”

I recalled bits of the story and that I’d wanted to get a copy for Sophia, she reminded me of the story. I lent forward in my chair, and raised my glass to my lips. The wine was lightly chilled and tart, the alcohol sharp on my tongue.

Small glimmers of light danced around the foci as each player started channelling their magic through them. Ghostly images formed in the stage area, pictures of a forest. Trees grew up from the sanded floor, that had shifted to look like a deeply shadowed glade deep in the woods. A rounded pool took shape in the centre The dappled light cast strange shadows on the depths. The air in the room stirred and the audience grew quieter. the focus on the unfolding scene was almost palpable. Faint sounds reached my ears, the creak of branches, the lapping of the water against the stone edge of the poor. Snow started to fall from a cloud over the stage, fat flake drifted to coat the trees, the pool froze with a loud crackling. Waves of cold radiated so strongly I felt goosebumps ripple across my skin. The trees continued to grow as did the thickness of the snow. The scene before us now looked like a winter forest.

Deep in the winter woods by a frozen pool, there was a child,” the older man’s voice drifted through the room carrying with it the faint sounds of the scene.

In the centre of the glade a tiny flame sprung into existence. It slowly grew into a small person. Shifting from flame to something else, almost solid. The girl, because that’s what it clearly was. She had red hair and pale skin, like Sophia.

She started to dance

Another child had gotten lost in the woods, the sudden snow had confused her, she stumbled into the glade.”

From the tree line came a small dark figure wrapped in furs, the effort of moving through the snow filled woods evident in its every motion.

The flame girl danced around the pool, slow measured steps, in her wake the snow melted. Each step sending out tiny flares of heat. She didn’t notice the shadow of a person on the edge of the glade.

The shadow child fell into the centre of the glade just as the fire child had completed the first circuit round the pool. Still the flame child didn’t notice.

A loud crack sounded through the room. I jumped. From the titters of nervous laughter I wasn’t the only one. Sophia and Airis were enchanted with the scene before them. Lyphia held on tightly to my hand, a faint smile on her face as she watched.

The ice in the pool shattered and still the fire child danced.

The shadow child bathed in the warmth, after so long lost in the cold it felt like coming home.”

The shadow child stripped off her heavy furs, a glove dropped onto the freshly revealed grass followed by another. Her thick coat fell to land with her gloves. Revealing the face of the shadow. Young and clear skinned, her pale blond hair a tangled mess. She was young girl, her lips were chapped and she shivered.

I felt myself shiver in response.

The fire child leaped over the pool, flickers of flame swelled around her fast moving form,fire rushed out in a bright wash of colours. Steam obscured the images in a billowing cloud that filled the room.

The elemental child, saw the shadow girl and stopped her dance.”

When the steam cleared, the glade looked as if spring had returned. Buds of greenery had grown on the trees, small wild flowers dotted the grass.

The elemental child stood to the edge of the pool looking at the blond shadow child, a confused mix of curiosity and puzzlement on her tiny face.

The shadow child, had her mouth open in wonder, her large blue eye wide as she gazed upon the glade.

The red haired girl stepped lightly forwards like a cat investigating the new thing in her presence.

The shadow girl fell back, she landed on her back in the thick grass.

The elemental child was curious, for she had never seen another before.”

The flame haired girl leant over the fallen girl. She peered intently at the girl’s hair, before reaching out and touching it.

The shadow girl smiled and offered her hand.

The elemental child looked at it, tilting her head this way and that, then she took it.

The shadow girl pulled herself up from the ground. Her mouth moved but there was no sound.

The elemental child leapt back in surprise but didn’t let go of the hand.

She had never heard a voice, the sounds of nature were all she knew.”

The shadow girl was pulled along with her. a momentary tussle which had them both smiling.

The elemental child looked at the shadow girl, down at her thick boots. She lifted a foot and danced a step.

The shadow girl copied her.

They were soon dancing round the glade, spring flowing from their feet.

Birds sung and the trees whispered, the sound of dripping water under that.

The last of the snow was melting.

From the day forward the shadow girl and the elemental child danced away the last day of winter together.”

The scene reset, winter snow and winds.

The elemental child and the shadow girl, this time the shadow was a bit older, her face stronger and her body taller.

They danced.

Spring came.

The snow melted slowly and the sun shone down.

The scene reset. Winter again.

An elemental child and a shadow woman, her body certainly a woman this time. The first flush of youth was gone, replaced by a surer step and a more knowing gaze.

They danced, not like young children skipping but a more certain partnership.

Spring came in a rush, sharper. The scent of spring flowers drifted across me in the warm crisp air that flowed over me.

The scene reset.

The elemental child the same as always, the years left no mark on her. The trees grew taller and the moss around the pool spread into a verdant carpet. The shadow girl was a woman, heavy with child. Her steps were careful and solid.

They danced gently like a mothers love for her unborn child. soft but with such feeling behind it I could feel tears tugging at my eyes.

I took a sip of my drink to cover drying my eyes and idly wondered where our food was.

The scene drew my attention again with such a prolonged snapping. It was like rain on hot cobbles.

Spring came.

Trees shook off their winter clothes. The branches pulsed with life. The birds swooped in the sky above the forest, a few flew over the tables, one landed on Sophia’s hair, which made her laugh.

The scene reset.

The winter was harsh this time. Ice covered the trees, not just snow but solid ice thick and unmoving. The cold pervaded the room. Frost formed on our glasses. My hair crackled in the chill.

The elemental child stood on the icy surface of the frozen pool, her eyes fixed on the path that the shadow girl always came by. A sense of impatience came from her.

The shadow girl arrived. the years had passed, leaving lines, of many happy days and nights etched into her face. Her gait was slow and laboured, her walking stave carried most of her weight.

She collapsed in the centre of the glade, her skin turned a waxy shade. Her breath came in fits and starts.

The child looked on curious then rushed forward an expression of pain on her face. She knelt next to the shadow girl.

A pained smile slowly transformed into one of such peace that I could feel myself relaxing despite knowing the end was near.

The shadow girl’s chest rose no more.

For a long moment no sounds could be heard. The trees didn’t creak. The wind didn’t stir. The birds did not sing. The audience held their breath. A pregnant moment that couldn’t last.

The elemental child looked down at her friend, a single tear fell on to shadow girl.

The elemental child had never seen death in one like her before.”

Flames spread from the tear, bright and soft. A rippling wash of fire.

And up rose the shadow girl as we had first seen her, her older self looking out of her eyes.

The girls danced, fast and hard like a summer storm with the same boundless energy. The trees grew buds and flowers sprung up in profusion. The ice melted in a torrent of water and a light rain fell. The sun shone down brightly. Birds sung in celebration.

The elemental child and the shadow girl are there still, dancing, bringing spring to the whole world. Love and friendship changed their world.” The older man’s whisper carried through the room.

The scene faded into wisps and the lights came back up.

Sophia and Airis were staring at the stage, wide eyed and open mouthed.

Lyphia was looking at me.

What’s wrong?” she asked.

It’s not how I remember it,” I said.

It’s an old story. There are probably loads of different versions.”

I guess.”

You don’t have to pick apart everything, just enjoy it. Oh, look dinner is coming.”

The server was indeed making his way to our table.

Sorry for the delay. We didn’t want to interrupt the performance,” he said as he handed out our meals.

It’s fine, the show was wonderful. I was wondering if I could speak to the players later. Would that be alright?”

I believe so sir, I would have to check.” The young man looked over toward the players now empty chairs. “I will get back to you. Also your evening is on that gentleman over there.” He pointed, at the man who I’d had a little chat with earlier.

I raised my glass to him, he did the same and smiled broadly.

Could you pass on my thanks to him please?” I asked the server.

Very well Sir. Please enjoy your meal.” He hurried off.

I looked around the table at the others.

Sophia and Airis were still smiling. Lyphia was looking towards the man who had paid for our evening. She turned back to me with a question on her face.

Later,” I said softly before tucking into my dinner.

for a long while we ate in silence, the only sounds were simple things. comments on the food. a few small giggles between Airis and Sophia at stuff I could only look on befuddled by.

The evening wound down to a close slowly. the server came to take our plates and to inform me the leader of the players would speak to me.

I nodded my thanks to him and excused myself from the table.

At the back of the room were the players. their dull clothes didn’t fit the common image of player they looked pale and drawn. Even that short show must have been an incredible drain on knacks, they weren’t known for their fine control or skill. Most knack work was brute force. Farming, building, that sort of thing. Even cooking didn’t require much delicacy in handling compared to what these guys had done.

The older man was leaning back heavily against the bar, a glass of something in his hand. his blue eyes glowed dimly in the well lit room. that was another thing I hadn’t noticed before. his rough face was lined and tanned, he looked more like a farmer than a performer, not that I had much experience with performers.

Sir Mage I’ve heard a lot about you recently,” he said. His voice didn’t carry this time. I found myself leaning in to hear him over the light music that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.

Have you? I wanted to speak to you about your performance.”

I have, not all of it sweetness and light I’ll have you know, but it seems your heart is in the right place which makes for a nice change, better than that fellow you ‘resolved’ earlier.” he took a long pull on his drink before continuing. “What did you think of our little folk show your might Mageness?”

I would have had to be a fool to miss the mocking in his tone although I couldn’t tell if it was aimed at me or at himself.

I loved it, I heard the story as a child, and I was curious about the end.”

A smile curved his lips then as he seemed to take a long while to consider his reply.

Well the gods honest truth is, I’ve heard many different versions, this one is my favourite though. its old, so very old. It felt like the one that we should do tonight.” he shrugged as if it was nothing, but he seemed perturbed by it.

Oh I’ve just realised I don’t know your name?”

Leon De Grean, I know yours Mage Tristan Sodden.”

I have a proposal for you. If you are willing to hear me out.”

Make it quick, me and mine are tired, such performances take a lot out of a fellow.”

I have an apprentice, neither of us know much daydreamer magic. And I had hopes that I could arrange a deal with you, patronage in exchange for some tutelage for her.”

You don’t know me, I could be a thief or a child abuser or anything. Yet you offer a young girl into my care?” he seemed genuinely shocked.

You know me though, you know what happened to a man who harmed her. I also know that players don’t have the best of reputations, travelling from place to place without family. But that doesn’t worry me. I know you have skills you could teach her, not just skills but you have a wider view of the world than I can show her.”

He reached back and pushed himself off the bar. he stood before me, his head raised high.

Sir, may I take some time to consider this? I’m weary and would like a night’s rest before I give an answer.” Pride and something else was in his tone, a hesitant caution maybe.

Of course, just come by the academy any time tomorrow someone will know how to find me. We can discuss terms and whatever else you want then.” I said with a smile.

Very well, excuse me I must see to my trope.” Leon said before turning and signalling his group all of whom had been listening intently to our exchange.

I walked back to my table, everyone had finished.

Are we all done?” I asked while standing.

Yep” Sophia nodded, her smile was bright but tired.

Airis nodded.

Lyphia stood and came to hold my hand.

The kids stood and joined us, and we left, we received a few nods from the staff and patrons on our way out.

(—–)

Back at our apartment, the children got ready for bed. I found myself at the table looking at the letter still in its envelope.

Who is it from?” Lyphia asked from behind me, she had just gone to check that Sophia had washed.

I don’t know, I’ve not looked yet.”

“Well whatever it is it can wait until morning. Its been a long day and I want you all to myself tonight.” I could hear the smile in her voice.

I put the letter back on the table and turned to her. she had unbound her hair, it fell in long ribbons of red around her face, her smile was wicked, so wicked in fact I felt my mouth dry.

Come along, my mage. I have work for you to do,” she took my hand and led me to my room.

Mage Life Chapter 32

I ached. I awoke on cold stone laying on my face. The light from the window was dim but still visible. My ribs hurt.

Wake up,” a cranky voice from above me said.

I blinked and pulled myself up, the stiffness in my joints slowing me.

You done? You fell asleep on my floor.”

How long was I asleep? I asked as I rose to my feet. I wavered slightly.

Not long, but I’m not happy about you sleeping on the job. I thought you mages were tough.

I’ve finished. It was a big job for one man.”

Pish, the old mages could have done it if they’d wanted. They were more powerful than you lot.”

No they were monsters, controlled by the nobles; they weren’t more powerful, they had less restraint. Violence isn’t power.”

The old woman grumbled at being corrected, and walked off without even thanking me.

I  walked slowly out the door and was greeted by the sight of Sophia standing in the middle of the street, looking around. when she saw me, one of her wide smiles spread over her face

Tristan, where have you been? I’ve been looking for you all over!”she said rapidly

What are you doing here? where is Airis? why aren’t you with Jase and Fion?” I asked with a scowl.

Don’t be so grumpy, I was bored and I wanted to see you. Airis stayed behind to cover my escape. Don’t you like seeing me?” she replied her smile fading as she went on.

I always like seeing you silly! But you’re not supposed to be out and about without supervision – or have you forgotten the gnome?

I remember the gnomes, but they can’t get me here! There are grown-ups all around see?” She pointed at the few people on the street, as if they proved her point.

“That’s not what I mean and you know it, young lady!” I replied sternly, “But for now, let’s just go home – I’m tired.” I held out my hand for her.

“Sure!” she said happily, already back to her usual self, and took my hand with her own, small one.

We walked on unsteady feet down the smooth road. the evening air chill against me sweat dampened skin. the few people travelling the streets were bustling along. I spotted a fellow mage down the way. He was standing outside the doorway of a small house, gesturing wildly as he talked with the occupant. As we got closer, parts of the conversation drifted over to us.

Pay me the damn money…” said the older mage in a threatening tone. I’d never seen him before, but with the sudden increase of mages in this town, that wasn’t surprising. He was rather short, slim and his hair was cut very short. His left eye glowed with a reddish light, which usually meant he was a fire specialist, but that wasn’t necessarily reliable information. More interesting was the large, twisted scar running down the right side of his face, running clean through his eye – it had no glow, but rather a normal, green colour.

The occupant, trying to cower behind himself, replied with a low, terrified voice, “W-we don’t have that much…”

Have the money by this time tomorrow or I won’t be able to protect you anymore, and you wouldn’t like that, now would you?” the mage hissed, his tone filled with anger. He took a single step back, raised his arm and a lance of fire shot out of his finger, burning a deep gouge into the wall of the building.

Please sir mage, we have nothing to spare.”

I  didn’t ask for spares now did I ?” the mage said, his mouth raised in a smirk that distorted the scar even further.

Sophia let go of my hand and ran over to the mage.

Hey you can’t treat people like that!” she shouted at the man

“Piss off, midget. This is none of your business,” he said and, without even turning around, lashed out with his hand, an invisible force knocking her away and to the ground.

I rushed forwards and grabbed the mages arm.

He turned his magic on me, roaring air hit me. I clung on, my teeth clenched. his arm came around, he wasn’t stronger than me. but he was better rested. My anger at seeing Sophia on the ground gave me strength when I needed it most but it wasn’t going to be enough as I felt myself weakening. I used my already depleted power to shift the stone beneath his feet. His balance shifted. I swung my fist. I connected just under his chin. I could hear his jaws click together. He actually looked at me then. I don’t know why he hadn’t before.

Walk away mage boy, this is your last warning, this isn’t your concern” he said.

You hurt my kid. You threatened this man. You’re my concern.” I hissed out as I readied a blast of my own.

You can’t take me boy, I’ve been doing this all my life”

Doesn’t matter if I can win, what matters is that I fight.”

I sent raw power down my arm, no fixed element or concept just the rawest unformed stuff, it was all I could manage.

It hit him but washed back on me. I let got of his arm in pain. My fingers felt burnt. I didn’t look, I focused on the mage.

He took a step back, a sneer on his face as he looked at me. In his hands was a ball of bluish white flame.

I pulled all the power I had left over my body in a makeshift shield. the bracer sigil in my mind tried to come forwards, but the ball hit before it could.

Flames washed over me, my shield burning through quickly. the heat hit. the air felt like lava scorching my lungs. I screamed.

The fire stopped, I couldn’t see. I could hear scuffling. there were voices.

I blinked my eyes started to clear, my magic must have protected my most delicate parts.

the mage was a few yards away. Surrounded by a mob, a small mob, but mob none the less.

I could feel the magic pouring out of them. Eight men and women of varying ages and sizes pouring out every shred of power they had . I could feel their links strain at the load but no one’s broke. The mage on the other hand was trapped in a circle of magic not his own, held by eight people. He threw fire and air in wild blows against them, as a team nothing touched them. The circle of power they had conjured held against it all. The sounds of him raging filled the early evening air. I turned my head to see Sophia picking herself up from the stone. I pulled myself up and stumbled over to her.

You okay kid?” I asked.

Yeah. He’s a bad man” she said. I caught sight of where he had caught he, a large bruise was blooming on the side of her face

He’s a ventrasus, that’s worse. we have enough problems without them” I said anger burned through me at the sight of her injury.

I held out my hand and she took it. we walked slowly over to the circle. I looked from face to face. each one looked grim but resolute. the mage in the middle was spitting and snarling promising all kinds of vengeance against them their families, everyone and everything. it soon reached the point where he made no sense. my anger refused to settle.

Sophia, could you look away please,” I asked gently.

Why?”

I have to do something. It’s important but not very nice.”

You’re going to kill him aren’t you?” she said. She raised he had to touch the swelling bruise on her face.

Yes” I said simply.

I will look away.”

Thank you” I let go of her hand. Then I called the dregs of my power. the stone rose from the street into a slim pillar about the hight of my waist. I touched it small cracking sounds came from within and then I wrapped my hand around the now shaped hilt of a single bladed sword. Thin and serrated, made of white stone. I pulled it from the shattered remains of the pillar. It was far lighter than I would have otherwise thought. I stepped forwards to the circle sword in hand.

The mage saw me. He started to laugh.

Going to kill me boy? I think not. You have no right.” he spat.

I stepped forward to the edge of the circle. the knacks holding it shuffled around to give me space.

I have every right. You threaten the peace of the mages. you abuse the citizens we are sworn to protect. even now they are the ones who hold you, not I

That because you’re weak. They are chattel”

And worst of all you harmed my apprentice” I said ignoring his comment.

He paled at that.

Under the laws of the awakened; to harm another’s apprentice without leave is a death sentence. What is your name?”

Selac Freant” he said defiantly. He set his feet and squared his shoulder. His mismatching eyes locked on mine.

I inclined my head not in respect but in a formal motion that the solemn moment required. “Mage Selac Freant I name you Ventrastus, oath breaker, justice has come for you. May your next cycle be better. Go in peace.”

The circle was lowered and I swung the sword.

Mage Life Chapter 31

We went down to the meal hall, I hadn’t used it much as an aspirant I’d spent most of my time in my cell, but it was a large room filled with benches and tables there were a few mages and their students scattered about. Lunch was a short but satisfying meal, Sophia and Airis were quiet as if they had much on their minds, a few times Sophia opened her mouth as if to speak then closed it again with a thoughtful expression.

Say it,” I said to her.

Say what?” she asked.

Whatever is on your mind. I’ve been watching you.”

She blushed at that, then asked, “Where was Lyphia when I woke up?”

I looked at her, she looked back innocently, her green eyes bright. A faint smile, very faint. I could be imagining it, but no. There it was a glimmer of mischief in her eyes.

You already know,” I said, I could feel my face burning.

Does that mean we get to keep her?” Sophia said, fighting her laughter down.

I had no words.

Sophia erupted in peals of laughter. Even Airis was smiling.

Right, this is serious. I don’t want you to be teasing Lyphia about this, I really like her,” I said fiercely.

Calm down Tristan, we would never…”  Sophia trailed off, lost for words.

I thought about my reaction for a moment. It was slightly overblown and aggressive.

I’m sorry,that came out wrong. I would prefer if you didn’t tease Lyphia about our relationship, its new,” I said apologetically.

Don’t worry Tristan. We won’t say anything, we want you to be happy,” Airis said.

Yep, didn’t mean to upset you,” Sophia said. She was nodding as she spoke.

Good then, if everyone is done…let’s find Jase.”

I had no idea where to find Jase. It had been a day or so since we had gotten back from wherever we had been, he should be all better now, we mages heal quickly. I took a wild guess, which was his lab. It turned out he wasn’t there but I needed to have a good look around to make sure. as we were poking around the scattered debris of collected junk that collects in a mages workroom, something moved.

I pulled power into my hand, and called out, “Sophia Airis, get in the centre of the room.”

I was on high alert, tension thrummed through my body as I scanned the room. My eyes were wide, looking for anything, movement.

I activated my reading, light almost blinded me.

Note to self, don’t use very sensitive magical sight in a Mage’s work room, I thought.

Chunks of threads bound into enchantments blazed in every corner of the room. The natural flows of energy were distorted, drained into too many devices to count. But there, in one pile was something that moved.

I readied my mind for some high level magic, for me at least. A binding.

The thing moved, how I don’t know, now that I got a good look at it as it emerged from the piles of junk.

It was a book, large and square. Thick, it had chains wrapped around it, that bound it shut. It fought against its captivity in snarling savage movements.

Don’t move kids,” I called.

I sent a stream of power, water based, at it. drowning it is raw magics.

Its movement slowed but didn’t stop.

Release me,” it whined.

It talks, oh my, will the wonders never cease.

I stood stunned in open mouthed shock for a moment

Why are you bound?” I asked warily.

“’Tis my nature to test all who seek knowledge, I bite. That boy, Jase Aleres, bound me. He has not renewed the binding. I seek a new student,” it said, in a dry rustle of pages.

I looked from the book to Sophia and Airis, Airis had shifted to his stone form and was standing over Sophia shielding her from all harm.

Are you dangerous unbound? If you are I will bind you here and now,” I asked resolutely. I couldn’t have a biting book near my students, but the temptation of knowledge was strong.

No, I merely test. I swear I will do no harm to you and yours,” it said, I could see an eye shape embossed on its front cover, part of the pattern.

I wavered for a moment before deciding to trust my sight, there was a wavering in the magic as it swore its oath.

I relaxed my hold on my power.

We will take you from here, but I make no promises beyond that.”

That is better than I would get from anyone else, I thank you.”

Airis, could you pick up the book please,” I instructed.

The grinding as Airis shifted from his golem body came from behind me. The now boy walked over to the book, shot a nervous glance at me.

I nodded.

He picked up the book and tucked it under his arm.

If we are don’t here we still need to find Jase, I need to make sure he is well.

The boy is damaged?” the book asked.

He was he should be fine now but he isn’t here. So we should ask at the reception. I forgot my mirror and I don’t have my pendant anymore,” I said. I found myself scowling and scratching at my chest as I recalled the events around my pendant.

Aww, it’s a talking book,” Sophia said. She walked forward to touch it.

Don’t,” I barked.

She looked at me suddenly frozen in mid movement.

We don’t know its requirements for a student yet, we should be wary,” I said in what I hoped was a reasonable tone.

Oh, but look at it, that can’t be comfortable. It’s got chains on it,” she said, her hand inching forwards again.

I could feel a headache growing behind my eye, a Sophia shaped headache.

Just listen to me, Don’t touch the book,” I said sternly.

Tristan, it’s a book. what could it possibly do?” she said. her eyes were telling me I was being stupid.

Lets not find out. Just listen and do as you’re told. You don’t know the dangers of a Mage’s work room, Jase’s worst of all. It’s a bloody mess in here. He should know the risks of that.”

I did warn him,” the book offered.

Great, can we go find him now please,” I asked, no I pleaded. a tinge of desperation coloured my voice.

Yep let’s go find Jase,” Sophia said, she ran to the door. where did she get the energy? I asked myself.

I followed her, Airis coming up behind.

The reception desk held a receptionist that I had never seen before, a young woman, blond. immaculately well dressed in a uniform that echoed but didn’t imitate the mage uniforms. she had purple eyes which intrigued me. I’d heard of them but never seen any.

I’m sorry sir, I can’t give that information out,” she said apologetically. “ I can leave a message for you though.

She had repeated this several times.

I was gritting my teeth in frustration, also trying not to shout at the poor girl.

Sophia was giggling.

Sophia do not poke the book,” I said without looking behind me, I knew she would be.

I’m not,” she said.

She is,” Airis informed me.

Airis no one likes a tattle tale,” I said. “Stop gloating Sophia. Now miss, I’m really sorry about this but I need to see him urgently.”

Sir you have told me this, I can’t give you the information.” the receptionist said.

Fine, put me through to Orb,” I said with a grimace. Just asking for Orb left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Which Orb?”

I looked at her a moment, she looked serious. more than one Orb? I asked my self.

The local Orb, I don’t know any other designation. Does it have a name?

Yes, the Westhaven Orb, not a real name but its its designation, sir.” She tapped at her screen.

Tristan, what’s the problem?” Orb said, his voice coming from the desk the receptionist was sat behind.

Hi Orb,” Sophia said, she even waved.

Where is Jase?” I asked shortly.

Where he should be, resting. In his quarters,” Orb said.

You heard that, Orb has now given me the information, now give me a wisp to take me there,” I said.

A look of indecision crossed her face, she looked between me and the screen on her desk, her fingers hovered for a moment over the display, I knew all she had to do was push a glyph and a wisp would appear.

It’s fine, please give Tristan what he asks for,” Orb said. “ Tristan could you call in to headquarters when you are available, I know you have been granted a short leave, considering the trials you have been through, but we could do with your help.” There was a far more mortal quality to Orb’s voice when it was acting outside of his official capacity.

I will think about it,” I said,

That is all I can ask, for what its worth, I’m sorry I put you in the position I did. I had no control over it, but the words came from me.”

I stood, clenching and unclenching my fists as my chest heaved, my breath grew ragged, memories of the choice that had been forced on me, burned through me.

You asked, no, ordered me to give up on her, I can’t forgive that so easily,” I forced out through gritted teeth.

Of course, you can’t. I never expected you to. I apologised because its the right thing to do, and I would change what happened if I could.”

Apology accepted, but this is not forgotten,” I said, for Sophia’s sake.

Thank you Tristan. Now I believe you were hunting master Jase, this young lady will help you now,” Orb said.

There you go,” the receptionist said as she pushed the screen

A golden coloured wisp appeared to our left

Sophia ran after the wisp, Airis looked at me then took off after her too.

I nodded to the receptionist, then followed the children.

I hesitated outside Jase’s door, my hand raised to knock. thoughts of what I could say to him ran through my mind. many possible conversations that needed to be had. I stood frozen.

Tristan, knock already, I want to see Jase,” Sophia whined.

I turned my head and looked at her.

She smiled and made a knocking gesture.

I couldn’t help but smile back, the other stuff could wait.

I knocked.

Don’t just stand there boy, walk in.” the book thing said. “What are you waiting for? an invitation. Show some spine. Heh”

I cast my gaze over the book that was tightly held under Airis arm.

Oh shut up. You have no understanding of what’s happened.” “how is it talking?”

I don’t know. I’m holding it as tightly as I can,” Airis said.

I don’t talk with my cover, that’s for biting.” the book said. It ruffled its pages with menace.

Menace? How the hell does a book do anything with menace? It’s a book for Star’s sake.

I was saved from having to deal with it.

Come in” Jase called through the door.

I told you to walk in” the book said.

I ignored it and opened the door.

Jase’s apartment was identical to mine, although in greens rather than blues. Gentle greens, the carpet was like moss, even the wooden furniture had a green tint. Jase was seated in a deep arm chair in the far corner. His familiar smile was gone, replaced by deep lines. his eye were bright with magic, not with emotion. He looked a shadow of his former self,almost grey with fatigue.  No signs of his injuries remained, whether that was from his own healing or a healer I didn’t know.

Come on,” Jase called. His voice wavered, he sounded like an old man.

I led my little group over to Jase.

Take a seat. what brings you to me today?”

Well, for one I wanted to see how you were? you were in a bad way when I last saw you?” I said.

Jase spread his arms, a small but false smile plastered onto his face.

Sophia jumped off the sofa, then ran into Jase’s arms. she snuggled into him.

Jase wrapped his arms around her. he lowered his head and murmured to her.

I couldn’t hear what they were saying but I could see a tension melt out of Jase.

Sorry to break up this lovely moment, but the we didn’t come for this. thanks for locking me up alone by the way,” the book said.

Shut up, Book. Seriously just be quiet.” I  snapped

Jase’s eyes widened and the tension came back. He tightened his hold on Sophia

You don’t know what that book is capable of. You have to take it back.”

Don’t worry about the book, worry about yourself, we need you back on your feet.”  I  said.

But Tristan…”

No, we will deal with the book. We have much to talk about but that that can wait for now. Sophia is safe. You’re getting better. I  know this is a lot to ask, but if you’re well enough, could you keep an eye on Sophia and Airis? I  would ask Avery but …” I trailed off uncertainly.

Avery, how is she?” Jase asked.

I don’t know, I haven’t been able to ask anyone yet. But it didn’t look good. Her link is gone.”

Gone? I’ve not seen that since the….” Jase hesitated.

Yes since the waves.” I  looked away. Airis was watching me. he nodded. the node had a bit of information on the waves.

I need to see her,” Jase said. he pushed Sophia off with a gentle movement and stood. he looked braced his feet and squared his shoulders as a tremor ran along his limbs.

His eyes glowed brighter as he inhaled deeply. a flush of colour washed through him. health and strength seemed to radiate from him.

Jase, you shouldn’t be doing that. You know the price.” I  said.

Shush, it won’t be a problem for now. its just a bit of help.”

but Jase…”

Enough! Tristan, I  know what I’m doing. I will not be lectured by you on caution” Jase said. his features twisted by an anger that wasn’t his own.

Sophia shrank back from him, her eyes wide and her mouth open in shock.

Reel it in Jase, you’re scaring the girl” the book said,

Jase looked at Sophia, the anger faded.

I’m sorry Sophia, I  didn’t mean to frighten you. I need to see Avery, she is very sick.” Jase said to Sophia.

Sophia nodded and smiled tentatively at him.

Tristan if you need to, I  will take them with me, Fion can keep an eye on them while I  speak to Avery, I  shouldn’t be long,” Jase offered.

That should be fine,” I  looked to Sophia and Airis. “How about it then?”

Don’t worry, I will keep them out of trouble” the book said.

Airis held it tighter in response.

Sophia looked between Jase and I, before nodding firmly, as if deciding something.

I hope all goes well. I really need to get to work, the wave has done some damage, and …”  

Huh?

Have I really only done two official tasks?” I  held out my hand and raised my fingers one at a time as I counted. “One, the irrigation system. Two, the gnomes,”  I stopped and looked between Jase and Sophia.

You got promoted to representative, you dealt with the foundry explosion.” Jase pointed out.

Yes but the foundry wasn’t an official task and the promotion is clearly political. Neither of which are normal mage work, are they?”

No they aren’t. Things happen. Get used to it. We are the guardians of the people, We do what needs to be done. You know it wasn’t always like that. Its changed for the better but its a fragile change as of yet.” Jase said as he stepped forwards and placed his hand on my shoulder. “Be the example, set the standard for who the mages are now, One day, others will follow in your footsteps, make them work for it. Look at Sophia, she will be your legacy. Don’t worry about how many tasks or some other arbitrary measurements.”

I get it Jase, I do but I’ve only been on the job a few months. I should really be doing the job as well as what comes up,” I said.

Go on then, I’ve delayed you long enough. I have my business to attend to.” Jase chuckled.

Do something interesting and I’ll write a chapter about it,” the book said.

I ignored it and walked to the door.

Sophia and Airis both waved.

I waved back and then left.

I stood outside the academy, the afternoon sun hidden by clouds. The grey light cast a pall over the town. I was unsure where to go. Headquarters would know where I could help the most but Rysan and Orb were there. It was too fresh.

I looked up and down the street, the damage was invisible in normal sight. it wasn’t like the first waves, they had been fully tangible. Like a tidal wave of translucent flame, they had done massive amounts of damage in both planes; physical and magical. This was just a magical event.

I walked through the streets almost at random. seeking someone to help, something to fix. I caught sight of many people going about their day, a few grumbled about the enchantments being disrupted.

Mage!” a voice from behind me called.

I turned.

From one of the stores, an old woman stood in the doorway, looking at me, I turned my head to make sure that it was me she was after. There was no one else close enough.

Get over here Mage, I don’t have all day.” she looked fierce, her own glowing eyes bright.

I walked over.

What are you waiting for? I’ve got weak walls now, the charms were striped away. fix it,” she told me

I stood staring at her. I opened my mouth to talk but she interrupted me before I could get anything out.

If you have time to talk, you have time to work.” she stepped back to allow me to enter.

The shop was neat, bare walls currently but I could see the marks left by the shelves. there was nothing inside that gave me a clue about what was sold here.

The woman bustled to a corner and raised her arms. A small dust devil formed in the centre of the room. The cyclone sucked all the dust out of the the edges flagstones. The gaps became visible in short order, but she continued, the surface of the stones smoothed and glyphs lightly graven on the surface appeared. The dust devil veered over to the woman before collapsing, it left a pile of dust in front of her.

Get to it then mage.” she said as she walked behind the counter at the back out of the store front to what I assumed was the store-room.

I stood looking around for a moment, the clear windows in the front let in sufficient light to see, but not for the close work this would need.

I knelt down, next to the central pattern. I ran my fingers over the stone. I couldn’t feel the markings. They looked like scratches but my fingers could feel only cool stone, no marks, nothing.

I scratched my head, as I glanced around the room for more markings. There was nothing. I took a deep breath and braced myself then I activated my othersight.

The room exploded in light, fractured threads of broken charms. The glyphic markings on the stones, shone sickly. Their light tarnished by a… well I don’t know what. if they had been metal, I would have said they were rusted but it was magic, energy, it shouldn’t be possible. I couldn’t leave them like this. the connectors were in a dangerous level of disarray, thankfully the few concepts involved were undamaged and disconnected from the rest.

The difference between charms enchantments and spells is a fine one. Charms are simple in comparison to enchantments, they often deal with static things, basic, adding a property. Most bindings are technically charms. Enchantments deal with more complex dynamic things, its more a process. Spells are a different level again. I’ve never done a spell, I don’t have the control or the experience but I will get there eventually. Then there are the expressions:the tree that I’d made in class. Expressions are will and magic, the magic fades as soon as the will or attention is removed. The effects can remain. Earth being moved stays moved. But this is a charm.

I cocked my head to the side as I noticed it wasn’t just a charm. It was a charm running off an enchantment. The glyph stone was the reservoir. I couldn’t see a link, not even a broken one, it must run off ambient.

I let out a breath I didn’t realise I’d been holding. The concepts were intact. I could figure them out well enough even if I didn’t hold them. But if I didn’t have them I couldn’t make them, I would’ve had to wing it.

I stood up, placed my feet squarely on the central glyph stone, then concentrated. My power flowed out in a gentle swell. The tattered threads became saturated with my power. then I pulled it all back, a bit at a time. My channels tingled as the foreign taint was absorbed. My skin crawled at the sensation.

Sweat started to bead on my forehead, my breath came in fits and starts as I strained harder to pull all the remaining power.

My sweat dripped off my face, the light patter of it falling on the stone knocked me out of the trance. The light from the window had faded, shadows filled my normal sight

The easy part was done.

I looked down at my feet, at the central enchantment. The tattered threads were all gone. The three concepts stood out in a stark contrast to the freshly sterile area. I studied them for a few moments using the time to prepare myself for the next part.

I spun threads from the reservoir throughout the entire foundation then up through the walls,to carry the effect and the power then I created the charm to strengthen and reinforce the building and wound it through the threads. I felt a pulse of feedback as the charm initialized.

Now to make it permanent.

I sunk to my knees and laid my trembling hand on the stone. The concepts near vibrated with eagerness, the connectives came to mind so quickly it was if someone was whispering instructions to me, but I couldn’t hear the magic’s voice this time. It was closer to whispering to myself. My tired mind unable to connect where the information came from.

I felt the moment the last link fell into place.

The dregs of my power drained out of me. My vision clouded and I felt myself fall. I couldn’t move my arms up fast enough. I landed on my face.

It should’ve hurt, but I was beyond feeling.

Mage Life Chapter 30

I awoke to a rather loud snoring, right in my ear. There may have been dribble there too but I ignored it.

Lyphia was sprawled across most of the bed including my side, her soft leg over my own, her arm across my chest.

I smiled to myself as I remembered the night we had shared together. Lyphia was passionate, I’ll give her that. I ached all over, but it was a pleasant, satisfied ache. Now I had to figure out how to get out of bed without disturbing her.

I decided the best option was to move quickly, she would settle back down.  I wiggled her arm off, then I rolled. Right out of bed. She didn’t even notice.

I stood looking at her for a moment, even like this, she was beautiful. Hair splayed out. Limbs everywhere. I could stand here all day watching her sleep, but I had a job to do.

I went into the bathing chamber, had a wash then got dressed. I didn’t put my boots on, I carried them, then snuck out of my room, closing the door quietly on my way out.

I walked to the main room, Sophia’s door was open as I passed.

That meant she would be in the main room. she was, so was Airis. It looked like they were in the middle of a game of tag. I stood in the doorway a moment, watching them run around laughing and shouting at each other. Then shushing themselves when they got too loud.

“What do you two think you are doing?” I shouted at them.

They froze then slowly turned to face me. The guilty look on their faces was priceless.

Sophia looked at me then down to her feet, Airis just looked at me.

“I hope you were having fun, because its lesson time soon. Sophia, you’re now a mage with barely adequate suppression of your power, we need to give you more information so you can understand, that, I think, is the largest thing missing. Once your understanding catches up, I hope you’ll make great strides,” I said to her.

Sophia looked up at me with wide eyes, then nodded.

“Airis, you are Sophia’s companion, you will join her in all her lessons from now on, you will help each other to learn. You will support each other. You will protect each other. and hopefully you will care for each other, I don’t want this to be a distasteful idea to either of you,” I said to them.

Airis nodded, shared a glance with Sophia, smiled then looked back to me.

“Good, now I want some breakfast, can you two please go get what you think you will need for class, and get changed into something better than nightwear,” I continued.

They ran straight past me, I walked over to the table, picked up a bread roll, bit into it as I sat in the nearest chair. I pulled my boots on then finished the rest of the roll. I grabbed another one while waiting for Sophia and Airis.

Sophia had changed into a mage training uniform. when had she gotten that?

Airis was in a similar outfit. Avery really had outdone herself. I needed to find out how she was doing, soon.

“Good that was quick, if you are both ready we can go down to one of the lecture rooms. here is our home I would prefer there to be a distinction between training and home despite where we live,” I said seriously. I was starting to sound like Jase, it must have been my nerves.

They both nodded although they looked nervous too.

“Follow me then.”

I stood and walked to the door, they followed along quietly.

We walked down the halls, past the other crowds, groups of masters and their students. I even got a few respectful nods, which was novel.

It didn’t take us long to reach the lecture floor. I knocked on the first door, a student opened it and declared it was taken.

I wasn’t put off, I tried the next one, it was open and empty, perfect.

I walked in to the lecture room, hall was more like it, down between the staggered rows of desks, to the open semicircle at the base of the room. I stood in front of the large glyph-screen, which used to be a chalk board when I’d had classes

Around the edge of the circle were smaller circles, four of them. inside them were the elements. Fire,earth, air and water. The lesser elements weren’t often included. It was so rare for someone to awaken to one, although an expansion into one wasn’t that uncommon.

I looked up from the circles, to see Airis and Sophia standing just inside the door. “Come on, we haven’t got all day. Find a seat and pay attention,” I said sternly, as much as I wanted to ease them into this, I needed them to understand that I was their teacher here.

They picked a desk about halfway down the short alley of desks.

“Everyone ready?” I asked with a grin. “Good, then we will begin with. What is magic?” I stood looking at them.

They looked back with puzzled, scrunched up looks of confusion.

“Nothing, huh? I know you are young, but this is an interactive class, I can’t teach you if you refuse to think. Let’s move on. How do you use magic?”

Sophia’s arm shot up.

“Yes Sophia, you don’t need to put your arm up. There are only the two of you here.”

“You just do,” she said quickly. A smile hovered on her lips, fragile but there.

“Is that your final answer?”

Sophia nodded looking less sure.

“You’re right. and you’re wrong. magic, once you’re used to it, is like moving your arm, you don’t think about it. you just do it,” I said smiling.

I started to walk around the circle, until I reached the earth circle, I sent a flow of power into it.

A spire of rock rose to waist height.

“This is easy once you have a handle on your power. But where does you power come from?” I asked as I stood next to the slowly growing spire. I forced a bit more magic into it. It slowly shifted into the shape of a sapling.

I walked away keeping a part of my attention on it as it grew and changed. There was no answer from my students.

“Your power comes from the magic which comes through your links. Everyone has one, mages have more than one. But what makes the links different?

“The person?” Airis offered.

They were both staring at my tree.

“Nearly,the location of the link is what makes them different. They are rooted deep in our minds. There, from almost the moment we are born. Our minds grow around them. But we all grow in different ways. How we see the world. How we think. How we feel. Are all different.”

I looked over at them, they were entranced by my stone tree. with a thought I shattered it. they jumped. Shards of stone whirled round in a small controlled cyclone before going back into the the circle.

“This is where I introduce the word concept. Does it mean anything to you?” I said with an intensity they found hard to face.

“Ideas” Airis suggested.

“Ideas given form, yes. A concept is a collection of thoughts and feelings that we use for our magic. Enchantment is nothing but these. The raw manipulations like the tree, don’t use them in such a pure way but they are central to everything we do. I used growth for the tree. What does growth mean to you?” I asked.

“taller” said Sophia

“age” Said Airis at the same time.

“Exactly, growth is just a word, but it means different things to different people. It isn’t an idea. Ideas can’t be communicated like that. It takes a great many words to express an idea well. But a concept in the magical sense is everything. It takes every meaning of a word or an idea, and combines them in a very complicated web. It takes years to build up a clear understanding of the concepts you already carry, let alone build new ones. Sophia, you have made plants grow and you have propelled stones. What concepts do you think you understand?” I asked.

“Umm. growth. and move.” she hedged. her earlier confidence gone.

“Ah, movement, yes. You will know that. Everyone does. One of the first we all learn. Good.”

I stood in the very center of the room, I put on my most serious expression.

“Your magic is thought, it is ideas given shape. They are your leverage against the world. So sharpen your minds, they are all that stand between you and helplessness.”

As a finish I sent out my power to earth and water. I made both circles rise up balls of water and earth floated into the air, they danced around me. flickering into different shapes. a tree, a fish, a cat, a bear, a wave. I ended with them formed into a pixie and sprite, hovering behind each shoulder.

Sophia and Airis were stood clapping and hooting at my little show.

I let the elements go back to their respective circles.

Then I bowed.

“Thank you both. That is the lecture section of this class done. This is your assignment. Pick a concept, and explore it. Words associated with it. Thoughts that come to you in connection to it. But a word of caution, don’t pick an abstract. Things like love or trust or honor. Pick something solid, found in nature. The abstracts are a long ways off.

I walked over to the glyph screen.

“i will guide you just this once, what is your choice?” I said.

“Damage,” Sophia said.

Airis nodded, his eyes locked on me with a fascination I didn’t understand. He couldnt use this.

“Alright, damage it is,” I wrote ‘damage’ in large glyphs in the center of the screen. “ This is the exercise, think of words that spring to mind.”

“Break,” Sophia said.

“Fracture,” Airis offered.

I wrote these on the screen too. They took it in turns throwing a word out. The web of connected words grew.

“Feelings?” I asked. “At the moment this is just a mess of words. You have to own it. You do that by attaching emotion, memories. Anything that helps you get a deeper, a more personal, image of the concept.”

And so it went like this for about half an hour. I stepped away from the screen and faced them.

“Do you both have your screens?” they nodded. “Good, copy what is up her onto them. This isn’t enough. Each thought. Each idea. Each feeling. Needs to be your own. This is how concepts are built. This is how they are yours. Over the next few months I will teach you how to put them in a shape that you can recall, like this,” I gestured to the screen, “But in your head. It takes time and effort, but you can’t be a mage without them. The dreamers can get by on feel, they don’t need to know all the mechanics of it, but you need to understand exactly what you are doing. One day all this will come naturally as you internalise The levels of versatility and power you will be dealing with deserve nothing less than your utmost,” I said gravely. I fixed my gaze on Sophia.

She looked back, daunted but resolved. Her face was pale but her jaw was firm her eyes focused.

“Thank you both for your time. Anyone ready for lunch?”