MageLife Chapter 44

Standing in the centre of the Nelar Mage headquarters alone was a strange experience. The men had cleared out on my orders and I was seated, legs dangling, on the desk in the main hall’s reception. I still could never work out what to call this part of the building. But it wasn’t important right now.

In my hand was the Orb seed, its glassy structure bending the light in the room in very strange ways. It sent shapes and colours onto the walls that weren’t found anywhere in the room naturally.

The doors were barred and a couple of my mages were outside keeping all away.

This had the potential to go so very wrong. Most mage magic was just expressions of will using concepts as a sort of lever against something that was so vast it was beyond the mortal mind to comprehend. As you advance, you get taught lots of little ways to compartmentalise thoughts feelings ideas. But this thing in my hand was beyond all that.

It was a spell that covered so many parts of magic, so many concepts. It touched so much that it was more than many could handle. It could interact and change, grow and develop.

The Westhaven Orb was a golem in only the most superficial sense. In some ways close to what Airis could be, in others nowhere near.

Orbs could know anything with in their range, as they grow and get more complicated they get more powerful, more able to use that information.

They are normally one of the final things set up after the basics, so that they can give the senior, at his request, anything about the health of its area.

But in a city this large that had been without magic for so long, I feared what an orb could do. It could interact with the unnatural creatures, maybe some of the older, more primal magics that seeped into everything, that were everything. In tamed towns and cities, mages and knacks worked constantly building on what was there, cultivating, nurturing. It made them safer.

There was none of that here.

All this went round and round in my mind as I watched the light dance over the walls.

Sitting here alone watching the light show reminded me sharply of Sophia and Lyphia, the show we had seen and the players that I had promised patronage if they helped train my apprentice: The promise that I’d been unable to keep as I had been exiled from Westhaven, another responsibility to live up to.

And just like that, I made up my mind.

The desk I was sat on was solid oak. The whole thing was made from a single tree, the top was a slice clean through the trunk as if the tree was planted here, then cut and in many ways, it was. It was reshaped by magic, made for this very purpose, roots of wood spread throughout the floors and walls of this building. That was something I had figured out from my intense although brief study of the orb seed. The very enchantments that had been used here were standard for all headquarters for this very reason. Not exactly, secret knowledge but their other use was less well known. They meshed with an orb.

I stood, planting my feet on the smooth stone floor and then I laid the glass ball on the desk, in the centre of the rings, the very core of the once tree.

My hand brushed over the seed as I opened my link wide and plunged into the torrent of sigils that made up the construction of spell.

Blackness.

Vast emptiness greeted me.

I stood, my mind stood, in the void. My senses alert to anything as magic poured out of my body into the seed. I could feel it but I was removed, somewhere else. One by one stars appeared in the void with me, each with its own voice, calling out and filling the space with sound. Pure notes touched by emotion, ideas given form. They gradually illuminated the void; there was nothing to see except them, each trying to draw my attention. Soon there were thousands. They danced and swam all around me.

I reached my mind’s hand out to touch the nearest, complex ideas and diagrams, shapes. Few words were conveyed although solid meaning lodged in my head: An anchor. As I held it part of the material world slid into focus, the room around me this single star was the core all the other built upon, it went into the desk, the core of the tree, linking it to place, location.

The glass ball under my body’s hand sunk into the desk, the rings opening to accept it. Its progress was slow but fluid through the grain of the wood, living wood that grew, its roots spreading, pulling nutrients and giving influence, reach.

The next star to come to me was just as complex, its ideas, the foundation of body. Building on the anchor it gave the Orb a form, The same form as the one in Westhaven but younger, more fluid. It was a ball of light and air, joining the ideas of knowledge and intellect. On to the anchor sigil it went, growing link by link, they interwove tying one to the other.

The next was harder; it was almost pure knowledge, a skill set, but adaptive. A flexible shifting thing that defied any solid grasp, into the body it went, all building into something.

Time had very little meaning here, I had no idea how long I had been building the orb, its network. The last few remained, and I was tired. The wonder of creating something so… magical was draining out of me and exhaustion took its place.

Each star took power from me and through me, pulling on me as like a child demanding constant care and attention. A couple of times I had felt myself slip, and the links woven between stars had shifted fraying. Despite being nearly finished I couldn’t rest or let up or all my work would be undone and the power I had spent would need to go somewhere.

The final stars slowly, so slowly slid into place, I didn’t even look where they needed to go I just placed them where they told me. Their purpose clear to me now in this state of numb receptivity.

The last locked in and the void shattered, I fell back into myself.

I staggered on my feet, my legs long since dead, most of a day spent on my feet, unmoving, will do that to you.

Stretching them out brought pain and tingling heat shooting through the numbness that pervaded my body. Sweat, thick and oily sheathed my body, its cold slickness soaked into my clothes. A twitch in my hand brought my attention to the now sunken bead of glass that it rested on. I pulled it back and massaged blood back into it.

“You are Mage Representative Tristan Sodden,” a voice called into the empty hall.

My mind was too numb to make sense of anything right now, but the voice was clear and familiar.

“Orb, I did my task well then, if you are awake.”

“You did, Mage. I’m aware and alert. Not yet fully capable but that will come in time. Who is to be commander here?”

Oh

A small ball of light floated out of the sunken bead, its form almost identical to my Orb back home except much smaller, maybe half the size and its colour was closer to green than blue.

“Oh, there had been a question, hadn’t there?”

“That hasn’t been decided just yet. I will need to speak to my second and to Master Jase before such a decision can be made.”

“Understood.”

“How come you talk like this? The Westhaven orb has a personality.”

“My limitations are in place until such a time as I have a master.”

“Well that makes sense. I will get on that as soon as I can. Now if you will excuse me for a moment I need to open the doors and let my men in, it’s been a long day already and I expect they will want to rest.”

At my words, the doors swung open, the enchantments unlocking them. I turned to look between the doors and orb.

“You did that?”

“You wished it. Until such a time as I have a master, I’m to obey all lawful commands from a mage. You are in the command structure.”

“Thank you, although could you not do that until give clear commands please. It could be dangerous.”

“Of course.”

“Will you be alright by yourself for a few moments while I summon the men?”

“I will but I can call the men here, there are seven pendants in my range, although one is inactive and you are without one.”

“Oh. Do you mind if I sit? It’s been rather exhausting.”

“Sit Tristan Sodden, Mage Representative. I have knowledge of the process until such a time as I have a master. It must have been a drain on you.”

“It was. Thank you.” I stepped slowly around the desk, my legs still not happy with me for their abuse, to the chair and sat.

“The summons has gone out. They will be here soon.”

As I sat gazing at this baby orb, a slow and sluggish thought started to take shape.

“Can you scry?”

“Not as you imagine, but I can look upon remote locations and people. Depending on many factors.”

“You can use magic even though you are made of magic.” The statement fell from my lips without thought.

“We are not so different mage, as I was created, you were created in turn. Your bodies are shapes containing minds capable of thought and feeling, although my feelings are muted until I have a master, and magic. My body is made of light and air, yours earth and water, in the main, air for breath and fire for heat. Not so different really mage.”

“No not so different at all. I never thought we were really. I just wondered if you can scry can you let me look upon my apprentice.”

“I can but it will use up energy that I will need to continue the process you started. Already the roots quest out; enchantments to detect various things are being put in place. Once that is complete I will be fully capable of fulfilling your request.”

“I can wait; I don’t want to damage you.”

“The men have return Tristan.”

“Thank you.” I stood and walked around the room, waiting for the promised men to arrive.

Telsan was the first through the door followed by the other in a staggered procession; they all carried small glyph-screens and looked distracted.

Telsan looked from me to the newborn orb. “You did it then after you sent us away I wasn’t sure you would survive.”

“I survived,” I smiled tiredly. “It was hard work but I think my part of it is done now.”

“It is Tristan until a decision on my master is made I will draw my power through the roots. A mage’s energy is easier but I need the bond to make it work.”

“You aren’t like the Westhaven orb at all are you?”

“In fact I’m almost identical, that orb has been restricted by its master. I have connections forming that link me to all Orbs, we are all linked together, and soon I will be able to actively use that connection to communicate.”

“How soon?” Lysar said. He had stood next to the desk, and I hadn’t even noticed

“At this rate a turning of the earth.”

I looked over to Telsan a wild grin stretching my face.

All the men smiled back, being cut off from home was the worst nightmare of many of these men, which was over, almost.

“Good, I’m beat. I need to rest. Is there anything I need to know before I go to sleep?”

“It’s only early evening. The sun it’s even down yet, although it’s not far off,” Lysar said.

“I’ve channelled a lot of magic today. I’m done.”

“Get some rest, we can handle this. Now that we have an orb, we can get all this set up easily enough. It will take time but it’s not hard.”

“Okay, wake me if I’m needed.”

Telsan waved me off, not even bothering to comment.

I headed off to the stairs, my legs still not overly happy with me but only mildly complaining.

My room was empty, just a bed and a basin but that was all I needed right now. I stripped off my clothes my sword and scabbard then ran the water, it was cold, so just a quick wash to take the grimy oily residue off.

I grabbed the strap on my harness and pulled it with me over to my bed, I didn’t want it far from me, just in case. Laying down and staring at the celling didn’t work well for sleep but closing my eyes and focusing inwards, turning my thoughts to the concepts that I had learnt back when I was first at the academy did. The gentle reminders of home and how soon I could be there calmed me enough to rest.

I was borne away to the land of dreams, my head filled with peaceful visions of home.

Magelife Chapter 43

I stepped down from the stairs into the lobby. The doorway was no longer blocked by trolls, their sludgy remains coated the cobbled outside. They must have been hit by the falling fragments.

“Sir are you in there?” A male voice called from the street. It sounded familiar

I hurried through the doorway to be greeted by a very relieved looking mage. I had a collection of names floating around my head but I couldn’t match one to the face.

“You are alive sir, thank the heart. We worried that you might have run into more than you could handle. Commander Telsan sent me to find you once the battle was over.”

“Is anyone hurt?”

“We lost Jedas.” He stopped talking for a moment, the loss was very fresh, but he blinked and focused. “Everyone is fine, a bit scuffed up but all in all we came out of it with acceptable losses.” There was a bitter twist to the words, which I ignored. The man had a right to mourn the loss of his friend and teammate and I wasn’t going to take that away from him.

“And the invasion?”

“The monsters are gone. Mainly dead. They fell apart not that long ago. We have fortified the headquarters. We even had a few civilians join us. Not that many were hurt. It’s common to get monster attacks here. So they were prepared. They can fight, far better than we can honestly. They didn’t touch magic at all. They don’t talk all that much though.”

“Let’s get back to headquarters then, I need to see where we are at.”

We walked through the smoking streets, passing corpses and body parts, all monster parts.

“Can we get some people collecting the parts? I know the alchemists will want access to all of it.”

“Yes sir. Commander Telsan mentioned the same. An operation is being planned for in the morning. Everyone needs rest first and foremost.”

“Of course.” I walked next to the attentive mage, he was older than I was by a good decade but he didn’t seem to have lost his youthful attitude.

“Was it as bad as it looked?”

“Yes sir, it was. I’ve never seen the like. We fought hard to stand still. Niven is treating everyone he can. It was close. I don’t know what happened; the monsters just seemed to lose interest. The glowing bits in the sky fell like rain. They screamed. It was horrifying sir.”

“Well it’s over for now. Don’t worry too much about it. We need to get the city back into shape.”

“That may be easier than expected. The civilians are very talented, no men though. It seems to be a city of women.”

That made sense if what Lessor said was true, that all men served in the king’s guard. Why had we never heard of them though?

We stepped over rubble from the broken streets and around the surprisingly intact buildings. The smell of smoke filled the night air mixed with other less pleasant scents. A strange silence pressed down on us, smothering any desire for further conversation.

This section of the city had seen hard fighting. The walls of surrounding buildings were scarred and torn. I didn’t look with my other senses. I didn’t want to see what they could show me.

The headquarters wasn’t far away. I could see it. The platform I had raised was largely intact although a chunk had been crumpled at the front, forming a ramp.

Alice leant against the front of the platform, her bow strung but resting on her shoulder. A clay pipe sat between her lips, the sweet bluish smoke of burning tobacco wreathed her face. She nodded to me; a small smile twisted her lips as she removed the pipe.

“Mage boy, good to see you again. Your boys can put up a fight, but they were outnumbered so me and mine lent a hand. It is our home after all, can’t have the new guys showing us up. Just a few stragglers left, we can handle them. It’s good to know we aren’t alone anymore.”

“Anytime. It’s our job. You are ours now.”

“Nope. You are ours. That’s how it works isn’t it?”

I laughed. “Yeah pretty much. Thanks for the help.”

“It’s our home. It’s what we do. The guard will be home in the morning. They missed the fun but their recent contract is up.”

“We will need to get in touch with them.”

“Of course. I doubt you could keep them from your door. You have done us a service. I dread to think what would have happened if you hadn’t been here to keep the monsters off us.”

“Anyone dead?”

“Oddly enough, no. There were a few injuries and we have some people that haven’t shown up yet. But one of your men is setting up healing. We are good. You look done in. Check on your men. We will be in touch.” She put the pipe back between her lips and sauntered off into the night.

“Strange woman,” I commented.

“Yes sir. They showed up in the nick of time. Our position was breached, we had moments at best before being overwhelmed, then there they were.

I said nothing just made my way up the broken platform. The doors to headquarters stood open, golden light spilling out. It looked welcoming after what felt like a long night. Telsan and Lysan stood watching for anything else. I received a nod from Telsan and a grin from Lysan

“Anything to report?”

“Not really sir, I’m assuming that Mage Densk filled you in?”

“He did. One man lost. I’m sorry it came to this.

“Hazard of the job sir. He knew going in, we all did. We have Niven giving healing to all that have injuries. Very light all in all. Your man won’t come off the roof.”

“I’ll go up and have a word with him.”

“Very good sir. What did you do when you ran off?”

“I can’t say.”

“Understood. Whatever you did seems to have worked. We wouldn’t be here now if the monsters hadn’t broken.”

“Not enough.” I said softly.

“What was that?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just keep alert. I think the worst is over for now, but it pays to keep an eye out.”

“Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs sir. I know my job. You get some rest. We still have to get this city functioning again but that can wait until tomorrow. Lysar, I can handle this. Take him to his room; make sure he gets some peace. I think tomorrow is going to be hectic enough.”

Lysar nodded and headed for the stairs.” Well don’t just stand there, come on.”

I followed him not really sure what else I should be doing.

“Did you find your wizard?”

“I don’t think I should talk about it.”

“Don’t worry about it. We all know the council isn’t as pure and innocent as they make out. If they had hands here then something important happened. They used your oath against you?”

“How did you know?”

“It’s written all over you. Back when the noble were in charge, we saw it a million times. No one here is going to judge you. We have all been there. It doesn’t get any more pleasant but we know how it feels.”

“How do you handle it? I couldn’t fight, I could barely think.”

“You just get on with it. You know it’s not you, right?”

“Yes but it was…”

“Yeah, don’t think on it. There is nothing good down that path.”

We walked up the stairs in silence.

At the door to my room Lysan turned to me.” Tristan you are a good man, too young for this sort of thing but a good man. Don’t let whatever happened tarnish you. A lot more than you know rests on you. Make the world better. We will help but our past is always there.”

“Thank you Lysan.”

“Don’t thank me. I’ve done you no favours by telling you this. Get some rest.” Lysar headed back to the stairs leaving me standing alone in the door of my room.

I sat on the edge of the bed and started to unbuckle my sword holster. The night had been long, and I was more than ready for bed. Each buckle undid easily enough the soft leather sliding through the buckles. I pulled the now free scabbard into my lap and drew my sword. The stone blade glittered, the wizard blood long since absorbed into the stone. It looked less like stone and more like glass now. The white was fading in places leaving behind dizzying patterns like winters frost. The sigils swam like fish through the semi-transparent blade. I was too tired to make sense of it but this blade was becoming more that it had started. I guess we all do. We grow. We change. Every event leaves a mark that transforms us, some for good, some for bad, and some for neither. We can all become more or less, than we were. It was up to us to do our best whatever may come of it. This sword was born in a dark moment of my life but it had stood by me. It felt comfortable in my hand now, weather that was Vesic’s gift or not, I had made my peace with it. I would carry this sword. It was a part of me now.

I lay down on my bed, the naked sword in hand. I was ready for what tomorrow would bring. A sword may not be that useful for healing a city but having it in hand comforted me. I sank into sleep upon closing my eyes. For me there was no more fighting, no more waiting, no more anything.

(—-)
“Tristan, its morning. Time for work,” Brendon greeted me as I opened my eyes. I sat up, noticing my sword was still in my hands. I laid it over my lap then looked back to Brendon. He passed me a cup of water, which I raised to my lips and drank before speaking.

“How long have you been there?” I asked.

“Not long, you were stirring a while ago, so I went to fetch you a drink. Now, time to get cracking. We have lots to do today.”

“Nothing is planned as far as I know.”

“Telsan is downstairs with his team waiting on you. Alice dropped by.”

I turned my head to look out the grimy window, there wasn’t much visible but the shape of the early morning sun was clear. Sitting in bed all day wasn’t an option. Brendon was staring at me.

“What?”

“What happened out there?”

“I don’t think I should say.”

“Vesic came back last night; all is right with this place now. Or at least will be in short order.”

“Nothing is right; this city is just the beginning. It will sweep out from here, building slowly until it finally hits.”

“What will? Vesic wouldn’t say either.”

“The waves are coming back.”

“They have never been gone, just not as bad as they were.”

“No. it’s starting all over again.”

“So why are we still here? If the waves are back like they were before, this city should have been wiped off the face of the earth.”

“I don’t know Brendon. I really wish I did, but this is beyond anything I’ve ever been taught.” I stood, catching my scabbard as I rose.

Brendon took the offered cup back, a frown on his face.

“I would tell you more but it’s not just you, Vesic may have helped me but I don’t know his motives for being here. I’m leery about handing out information like this. You understand it’s nothing personal?”

“Of course I do Tristan, I wish you would tell me but I do understand why you won’t.”

“Thank you. Let’s go face the day then, shall we?” I finished buckling on my scabbard, its harness felt oddly natural already.

Brendon nodded and let the way down to the main hall.

(—)

 

The scene before me was frantic. Men darting around in all directions, centred on Telsan, who was seated at the desk, giving orders.

I walked over to him, my shadow falling over him; it was a lot brighter in here now that it was relatively clean.

“Tristan, good to see you are well.” he smiled up at me briefly, before his expression turned darker. “We lost one man. Light all in all but still a loss. As you can see, the team are working flat out bringing this place up to code. Most of the enchantments are ready to go. Once here is done we will be going out into the city to collect monster parts, well the bits that didn’t dissolve. We have made room for them downstairs with a stasis charm to hold them until the support staff gets here. Magic is fully functional again. We haven’t had any incidents. The whispering has stopped. What that means for us in the long term, I don’t know but it is making the reclamation of the city easier. Your girl dropped by not long ago, no idea why. She just loitered around the front, then left.”

“My girl?”

“Yes sir.” His grin came back with his words. “She saved our asses last night, I doubt she did that for us, you have the looks in the group.”

“Thank you very much, moving on. How are we progressing on-?”

“Sirs you will want to see this,” Lysan interrupted as he ran up to us, “Sorry to interrupt but it’s important.”

Telsan and I just looked at him, but he didn’t back down or retract his statement.

“Very well. What would you have us see?”

“Just out the front sirs. You need to see it with your own eyes.”

Almost as one we turned, matching expressions of curiosity mixed with mild confusion on our faces.

Lysan pressed a hand against the door, which opened slowly on its own, then stepped aside, letting us pass.

The early morning sun shone down through thin wispy clouds on to the site of last night’s battle. Most of the damage around us had been swept away while I’d slept. Our mages were not idle, although all five of them were now standing in the doorway.

In the street were people, not just people but solders: hard men and a few women, thousands of them. Each bearing weapons and armour, mainly leather armour, but a few larger men stood out covered in glittering glass like plate. They stood motionless, not a breath or a rustle, there was no clink of metal nor murmur of talk. They stood all looking at me.

I heard someone move behind me, but I didn’t turn. I was too caught up in the moment

As one they sunk to their knees, the air pressed down on me as I watched them.

“Our father’s oaths were given and repaid in kind. We serve our king still. What would you have us do?” The man closest to us called out. His armour moved like water over him, flickers of light and shadow chased each other through it like fish in a stream, unseen currents.

“Do your duty,” boomed Vesic’s voice just behind me as he stepped forward.

“My lord our duty is to you, it is what you say. Tell us, we have been without guidance for so long.”

“Bring peace to this land. This man here.” I felt a hand touch my shoulder. “Is a good man, serve him as you would me. Once peace has come, I shall call your oaths served. Is this agreeable to you?”

“What of our families here? They need us for trade. The land here is broken my lord. It can’t support us.”

“The land is whole for now. Tristan and his men will do all they can to make sure Nelar is productive. You are needed.”

“We serve.” The words felt forced out of him, but there was a hint of comfort in them. As if he knew what the answer would be and accepted his lot.

The thickening of the air continued through the whole exchange, a tightening, like the start of a storm.

I raised my gaze up to the sky. Nothing had changed.

Stray wisps of light danced in the space behind my eyes, my othersense pushing for me to look. I didn’t need to as if felt the familiar tugging inside my head. The oath, but I hadn’t bound myself with another. It wasn’t mine. Vesic’s and the army’s had shifted binding me with their service.

Vesic squeezed my shoulder in what I think was meant as a reassuring gesture. “Look after them. I give them to you for what needs to be done. You will know when the time comes.”

“But why give them to me?” I asked softly. “I can’t command an army.”

“You are the best of men that I can find. You won’t let them be abused. They are powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands.”

“I’m young. I make mistakes.”

“We are all young once Tristan. Now go and greet your men, there is work to be done.” The friendly tone reminded me of Brendon, as if the god and man were merging, maybe that happened. I would have to ask someone, one day, but not today. Today I had gained an army, and another responsibility. The weight of it was there, not yet settled as I looked over the grim faces of these brave souls committed to my cause whatever that was.

I stepped away from my mages, the battle last night, even though I had run off, seemed to have bound them to me, forged in fire and all that, I guess. There were now my mages. It was terrifying. Didn’t I have enough to worry about already? I tried to keep all my building frustrations off my face. It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t mine either but that had never mattered in the scheme of things.

The short walk to the spokesperson of the army felt long and tense, all eyes rested on me, the sense of a held breath. The wind didn’t move, nothing moved. It was a moment of crystalline timelessness, just waiting for what I would do.

It couldn’t last.

I met the eyes of the spokesperson, he was a large man, not much older than me by looks but that could be deceiving if he had high magic levels or used his power a lot. His eyes told me nothing, they were wary, measuring me.

“I hope to honour your service,” I said, the only words that came to mind, as I extended my hand down to him.

The moment stretched.

He finally extended his arm and griped my forearm, pulling himself up to his feet. “I hope so too. I am the leader of this guard. Vincent. We will serve as we must but you must uphold your part. This land, this city is broken. We have had to hire our services out for years to get the food for our families. How can you take us from that?”

“Telsan,” I called without looking back, knowing he was but a few steps behind me ready to intervene if anything went wrong.

“Yes sir.”

“Do we have any agriculture specialists?”

“Not with us sir, we do although all have the basic skills to bring life back to this soil, it won’t grow anything they want but it will grow what is needed to survive.”

“That will do. Can we train anyone?”

“Yes sir the skill are not overly complicated, anyone with an earth awakening should be able to learn quickly enough.” Telsan’s words were delivered sharply and efficiently.

I smiled slightly as I realised why. He wants to show competence to this army.

“Good, we can start with that. Vincent, I know you have travelled hard to get here, but you missed a battle last night. The city could well have fallen. Please go, all of you,” I raised my voice to reach the far reaches of the army, there had to be more than ten thousand packed in so tight that the wide streets felt narrow. “Go home, see your families, I have no idea how long you have been gone from here but they will have missed you. We have work to do but take this time while you can.” I looked Vincent in the eye, whatever he saw in my gaze he seemed to satisfy him.

He nodded and stepped back, commands to his army already pouring from his mouth.

I turned and walked back into headquarters, the mages quickly resumed what they had been doing as my eyes fell on them. I felt quietly impressed with myself, one hurdle down, next is, oh.

“Telsan, Lysan, I need you both for a moment. Did anyone see where Vesic went to?”

“He left. Brendon came back. I think he went upstairs,” Lysar said.

“Good, one less thing to worry about right now. I need to set up communication back home. I think Nelar is ours now; we still have much to do. Don’t forget that, but now it’s just getting this place running, simple really. Telsan you have handled things like this before?”

“Yes, don’t concern yourself there sir. We are just temporary. We get it functional then others who specialise in administration will be dispatched. Communication back home will be vital, we need to inform them of what happened, well you do, and I’m attached to your command now, so it’s your responsibility.”

“I need you and the men to go out into the city, work out where you can do the most, make sure there is water, clean water and shelter, and get the fields mapped out. Teach who you must the things they need to know. Do it now, I need this building empty.”

“Tristan, what do you intend to do?” Lysan asked. His voice wavered with uncertainty.

I reached into my pouch and pulled out the Orb seed.

“I’m going to activate this.”

MageLife Chapter 42

I stepped into the highest room in the tower; it took up the whole floor and some. Almost half of the space was balcony that wrapped around the top of the building. It created a wonderful effect of being open to the elements, which was ruined by the three men here.

Iason Aleres looked much the same, slightly more bedraggled but overall the same. His smug look made me tighten my grip on my sword.

Lessor nodded at me respectfully, he didn’t seem to be carrying a grudge about Vance.

Brak was in the centre of the room, the two other men apart from him, dark smoke flowed from his arms all the time he just stood there looking at me with a small smile on his face.

Memories of my imprisonment tried to show themselves but I shook my head and focused on the here and now.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“You tell me Tristan, you knew we were here, correct?” Brak said. He sounded so much like Jase, in his lecture mode that I almost told him how I had worked it out.

“I don’t think that’s how it works. I’m not your student. I’m not your friend. You have been declared rogue. The wizards are hunting you.”

“The twins will be hunting me,” he corrected gently. “I doubt Velar would have sent anyone else. He won’t have publicly declared me rogue. He trusts me, as well he should.”

“How can anyone trust you? You have killed and destroyed for…” I trailed off. I still had no idea why he had done any of it.

“He trusts me because I’ve earned it. We have been friends for a long time.”

“So why do any of this?”

“You haven’t figured it out? I’m disappointed; I had such hopes for you.”

“I think I have but the foundry doesn’t make sense.”

“That was never part my plan.” he looked pointedly at Iason. “It was a price I had to pay.”

“But why? People died. That doesn’t benefit anyone.”

“Ask Iason why if you must but this spell has to happen. I had help the last time we cast it, this time I have to do it alone.”

The smoke, sigils, flowed from Brak’s body and drifted out to join the rest of the spell. The strain of casting so many had started to show, he looked drawn and pale.

“Iason, care to tell me why so many people had to die for you? Or how you could compel a wizard to do your bidding.”

“I don’t owe you answers.” Iason relied haughtily. “Count yourself lucky you still breathe.”

“Don’t be such a prick Ias, the boy deserves answers. He has been caught up in our plans far too often to not give him an explanation,” Lessor said.

“He saved my father, he deserves an early grave.”

“Boys this is delicate, I could do without an argument.”

“Then forget the foundry for now. Why are you here and what are you doing? Commanding an army of monsters against helpless people, that isn’t what wizards should be doing.”

“I’m doing what needs to be done. You have figured out that a wizard would be here. But you have an education, the common people don’t. They don’t need to know. They will welcome the council with open arms. You and your friends down there will be hailed as heroes for coming to their defence in their time of need. Nelar secure, the trade route open and free to use. The manpower to fight this war as it needs to be fought. Everything we need.”

“This isn’t the way.”

“It’s the only way, don’t be so naive. Velar thought peace was the way too, but I’m showing him this war is unavoidable, we didn’t start it but we will finish it.” The affable veneer started to crack as his exhaustion got to him.

“What man power? There is no one here.”

“Did you hear that boys, no one here. What do you think they trade for food? Dust? They have men, soldiers that hire out, sleepers but they have seen combat,” Brak said.

“I was born here,” Lessor said. “I know how it works, the king’s guard. Not that idiot downstairs but the mage king, Nelar was his home too. The very start of our way of life began here. We serve in the merc corps; every man over the age of blooming does his time to pay his way. That is an army that is needed. This will bring them out and strike a blow at the empire.”

“So why the foundry? Why hurt the duchies? Your own people?”

“To stir things up, to generate the emotion needed to fight a war. The foundry was Iason’s idea, his price for his help. Westhaven should never have been a target. It got out of hand and for that I apologise,” Brak said sincerely.

Lessor nodded at that but Iason looked unhappy.

“Don’t give him anything. No apologies’ no nothing. Jase deserved it.”

“Pull out the monsters, the civilians shouldn’t pay the price for this.”

“You don’t know the half of the prices the people have paid. It might not be fair but that’s how it is. The last war cost us badly, the nobles needed to be taken out,” he stopped a hitch in his voice. “We broke the world to save it. We did what we had to,” Brak said intently, it felt like he was trying to justify his actions to himself, more than to me.

“What are you talking about?”

“He means the waves Tristan, they were the first strike against the nobles,” lessor answered.

“The waves were natural. There have always been waves.”

“No they weren’t and there haven’t been waves on that scale, ever.”

“But how? Why?”

“You wouldn’t understand, its wizard magic,” Iason spat.

“Shush Ias. I’m sick of your attitude. You have been nothing but a hindrance to my mission all along. You have no understanding or care of what we are doing. I made a mistake with you. All you care about is some petty revenge against your father for something that wasn’t his fault. Let it go and if you can’t do that, just shut up.” Brak snapped at Iason before turning back to me. “Magic is a thing separate yet part of our world, it has its own rules, and it even has mass. It can act in all sorts of ways if you have the knowledge and insight to see. I researched a spell many years ago, this one, which makes a massive change in pressure, causing magic to flow from one place to another. It’s much more dramatic than that, once the event has been set off it builds until it creates waves, very much like on the ocean, peaks and troughs, once one has grown either high or low enough it touches on this world, affecting everything. It can destroy and warp, the results aren’t always predictable. They have been settling for years but it’s the perfect weapon to launch at the empire, they should be too damaged to retaliate.”

“You caused hundreds of thousands of peoples deaths in the first waves and now you want to do it again? It’s madness.”

“It needs to be done, we can’t fight the empire fairly, we are just too small.”

“We have wizards and mages, even sleepers can fight, we don’t need to do this.”

“Tristan you are too young to understand but sometimes the hard choices have to be made.”

“I know about hard choices, I’ve made my own. Please don’t do this. There is always another way.”

“I have to. And so do you. As a mage you swore to obey the council, I speak with the council’s voice.”

“I swore to serve the council; I will have no part in this. This is against the values of the council.”

“You have no choice. I call your oath due. You will follow my orders to the letter.” A sliver of light slipped from his lips with his words, it floated into the air before twisting into chains of darkening light, it struck at me.

I stumbled back, but it caught on my wrist. The chains slithered up my body, wrapping around me.

I could feel the rising pressure in my head as the oath tightened around my links, compelling me to obey. I took a step forwards, each movement slow and sluggish.

I knew what needed to be done I just had to get there fast enough.

“Tristan Sodden, Mage, oath-bound servant, your master’s call. Obey and submit.” Every word that Brak spoke bound me tighter, the chains growing heavier and tighter.

“Give up Tristan, it will go easier on you,” Lessor said, compassion on his face.

Pain started to dig its claws into my mind. I took another step. Magic wasn’t an option now; my links were being choked by my oath.

“Do your duty mage.” The wizard finished the final line, and the oath snapped taut.

I smiled as felt my mind still: No thoughts, no pain, nothing, just emptiness. I no longer fought, my duty was clear.

I crossed the remaining distance, barely a few steps and slid my blade into Brak’s side.

“How?” A befuddled look passed over Brak’s face, the rainbow eyes clearing for just a moment, and then the spell that he cast was complete. The final sigil floated away to join the rest.

It didn’t go off dramatically. The sphere flickered into more than its parts, a solid ball of swirling colours then it flew away rapidly without sound, north. To the empire

Brak still lived, the wound wouldn’t be life threatening, he slid off my blade with a pained moan just as a step sounded from behind me. I turned my head to see the twins entering the hall.

They knelt next to him, one on either side. One touched his wound. The other whispered in his ear.

Brak smiled and sigils started floating away from him, they hovered in a ring around them.

Iason and Lessor stepped into the ring, their shock at me stabbing their boss short-lived but welcome.

“Be seeing you Tristan,” one of the twins said, I couldn’t tell them apart.

The ring activated leaving nothing behind. They were all gone, portaled away beyond my reach.

I was left alone at the top of the tower, bloody sword in hand, feeling empty and confused.

In the distance, I could hear the bell tolling the all clear.

The nights activities seemed to catch up with me then, I sank to my knees, all my strength gone. I’d been too late to stop everything; the waves were coming again if Brak was to be believed. The monster army was free, no longer under command; it should be easier to mop up. But not right now. Right now, all I wanted was to go home, to hug Sophia and Lyphia. The waves were coming and everything was about to get worse.

I raised my head to look out at the sky. Flames covered the clouds, flickering light falling down on the city. Each building seemed to be shadows painted against the sky

The bell stopped ringing as the sky exploded with lights. Green and blue threads of magic were suddenly visible without othersense. They covered the sky the earth everything, these were the forces behind the world brought into sight by Brak’s spell. The earlier pressure of the oath came back, but this time it felt as if the air was heavy, like a storm.

The threads throbbed with power like rivers in flood. I could feel something building in the magic. The voice I heard at times, always there but not always audible, was screaming now in tortured agony. The ribbons of power twisted with a pulse then splintered into fragments. It looked like it was raining light, beautiful if you didn’t know that it was the end of the world, again.

I remembered, I’d been a child, but that hadn’t changed anything. The waves killed indiscriminately. They had destroyed so much; parts of Westhaven still hadn’t recovered. So many people lost. We had never been a large nation; we couldn’t handle the losses well. Nearly everyone had lost someone in the waves. Refugees fled the wreckage of their homes, their lives. Monsters had vanished from the world in the wake of the waves, but so had the best magical creatures, the fair folk, creatures that helped, that benefited the magic. Their magic was different to ours but close enough that we could each learn from each other. It was said that all wizards studied with one to gain their status. Now it looked like it had been our own that had caused the waves, my oath made the protection of magic my priority, I had to stop further harm.

I was way out of my league. All I wanted was to go home. But I had a job to do. I needed to fix this city and bring it under the council’s control. If everything I had heard was right, we had a war to fight against the empire.

I walked to the edge of the balcony and stood a moment looking at the start of the end. It was beautiful. Each fragment of light fell on the city, touching monsters and buildings alike. The monsters screamed and tore at the pure energies that hit them, before they dissolved slowly. A ragged cheer went up from the few mages and civilians fighting.

From up here everything looked so small. It was easy to see how people could feel removed from it all: those that manipulated others or devalued the fact that each person, each life was important. To see how they could view everyone as pieces on a game board, to be moved. Life wasn’t like that. But I could see how the greater good could be used as a justification for great evils.

I closed my eyes and listen to the cheers, each voice was a person, the emotion, the desperation of a battle that felt lost and turning into joy at the change of fortune.

I felt a smile stretch my face. In the face of it all, the futility, these people fought. They were my kind of people.

I turned on my heel and walked to the stairs. It was time to get down there and finish the job.

MageLife Chapter 41

Marching doesn’t really convey the emotion of the moment, it says monotonous, repetitive. It doesn’t cover the frantic scurry as we stepped into the street.

The new headquarters had a nice arch framing the door, I’d not really noticed it before, but I noticed it now.

It was the only thing that kept us sheltered from the swarms of monsters roaming the streets. I guess a group of mages cutting their way into the horde generates a lot of interest. They couldn’t attack on all sides. Their numbers were too great. Who knew being out numbered could be a good thing?

All this ran through my mind in the instant before the mage next to me pulled on his link. He raised his wand and pointed into the void hanging above us and then…

Things fell.

I have no idea what he did, but it distracted the beasts. Night wings and harpies fell still living from the sky as if the air couldn’t bear them to touch it anymore.

“Light, we need light, we’re blind out here,” I shouted. Someone heard me.

The sky lit up for miles in every direction. Fire poured into the clouds from directly above us.

We could see. I wished we couldn’t.

Trolls strolled down the streets, their clubs dragging behind them, the cobbles torn from the path.

Goblins, the lesser cousin of the trolls, smaller but quicker, followed along, their high-pitched laughs as they broke into the buildings and pulled people out filled the air.

Night wings twitched with the harpies on the ground, their fall hard but not fatal. Their bat like wings and strange tentacles were on display for all to see.

Small earth elementals completed the forces.

Something wasn’t right.

Telsan and the others at the front of the formation were locked in close combat. I’d been kept at the back, the press of bodies too much to force the issue right now.

I could now see but something was missing, what was it?

A legion of goblins, grey skinned and short but gangly, their oddly jointed hands holding makeshift weapons, sharpened sticks and shards of stone rushed forwards.

A seven-man army is too small to resist that sort of pressure. Heavy magic isn’t without its costs and one of them is time. Another is attention.

“Tristan, you have earth, don’t you?” Lysar asked as he pushed away a probing goblin. It snarled and clawed but its limbs were too short to gain purchase.

I nodded.

“Raise a platform under us all. Slope the sides so they have to fight their way up.”

I looked around, measuring the space: a hundred feet on each side, narrowing to ten at the door.

I opened my senses wide, braced for the rush. It still struck me like a blow to the head: Colours and sounds, the sick signatures of trolls and goblins. Night wings a strange harmony of light and dark. I pulled on my link; the twisted magic flooded my body. I poured it all into the earth under the cobbles, hunting for solid rock, there not too deep. I commanded it to rise up.

The air filled with the low rumbling sound of grinding stone.

“Good, a bit higher Tristan, that should do it. Give the guys a chance to rest and think.”

The front was slowly disengaging. The few fresh men swapped out with the commander and the two others.

If I was to be fighting for my life with these men, it would be great if I knew their names.

I released my magic, letting the excess drain back down my link. Then I stepped forward to take my turn on the front. The growls and whimpers from the edge of the mound caught my eye. I found myself trying to see down into the shadows.

“We have a short respite; we need to use it for the biggest advantage. The trolls will step right onto us. What have we got?”

“Sir, Grell and I can set some wards, but I don’t know how they will do here. Given another day we could turn this place into a fortress, the magic is purifying. New flows are coming. Once that is done we can cleanse this city of the monsters.”

“We have to avoid casualty. We don’t have the manpower to fight a protracted war. Plan it but we need short term gains.”

“We can step back into headquarters sir. Seal it up and wait it out.”

“But what about the civilians?” I asked.

“We will hold here as much as possible. If we give the beasties the juicy target they might leave the civilians alone.”

I missed the rest of the conversation.

A small group of goblins had made it up the mound. My sword swung, taking heads and limbs. The moans of pain and anger sent shivers up my spine but I didn’t stop.

Like cutting down weeks at the farm, my arm moved on its own. Flickers of flame licked the blade. Blood, bone and other less pleasant things sprayed over me.

I lost track of time.

A hand touched my shoulder, I spun, my arm pulled back to strike.

Telsan stood there, his face shocked at something.

“They have stopped for a few moments. We have something planned. Get a drink and take a rest.”

Numbly I nodded before pulling away from the edge; I didn’t look at what I had done.

Lysar brought a cup of water over to me as I leant against the arch.

“You did well up there. Not many freshly raised have a taste for battle. Not that this counts as one yet.”

I held out my left hand for the cup, my mouth suddenly felt dry.

“Here you go. Rinse first off.”

I did and spat bloody water on the earth, which hungrily sucked it up. “What’s being planned? I was distracted.”

“I’ll bet you were. That sword is something special. Where did you learn to use it? We don’t teach swordplay at the academy much anymore, much easier to give the babies wands and staffs.”

“Vesic taught me.”

“Lessons from a god? Ha, you are touched by something different Tristan. Anyways, the plan is a surprise.”

“You don’t know it do you?”

“Nope, I had my own things to worry about, missed the planning session. Your boy, Brendon is fine, keeping the lights on. He didn’t even look tired or anything.”

“Good. Anything we can do to take the pressure off him?”

“I’ve got some globes, not many. It’s hard to enchant stuff out here. Everything resists.”

“Don’t I know it? How are we supposed to know what to do if we don’t know the plan? Aren’t I commander or something?”

“Yep, ask one of the boys. I’m not one of them really. I’m kept out of their little club.”

“Seems close knit.”

Lysar pointed back towards the front. Telsan and one of his men were heading our way. They were blood splattered and worn looking.

“Lysar, water please, while I talk to our commander.”

Lysar walked back inside.

“Tristan, you did well.” Telsan raised his hand to his hair, but upon seeing the blood on it, he lowered it before making contact. “The platform is letting us hold them off. We need to work out what to do in the long term, but I think we will make it through the night.”

“Good to know.”

Telsan cracked a small smile at that. “The boys have got some tricks coming up, nothing spectacular. Don’t be surprised.”

“If you tell me what to expect I won’t be surprised.”

“I don’t know. Grell and Densk are unpredictable. They say they have something, that’s good enough for me. It could be almost anything. But I doubt it will be big, the magic is wrong, they won’t risk drawing much.”

“Something has been bothering me about all this. Now that I’ve had a few moments to think a question occurred, where is the leader?”

“Leader? These are monsters Tristan, they don’t need a leader.”

“It’s too organised. Look. Waves of goblins, shock troops of trolls, air support and sappers. Where have the elementals gotten to?”

“I’ve got Jedas scrying the field. Now we know what’s out there he can focus in. the elementals are on his list.”

“He won’t find them. They are all beneath us. Something has caused this.”

“For the sake of argument say I agree with you. What could have caused this?”

“I don’t know but we won’t win unless we find out.”

“No one could command an army like this except maybe a wizard.”

“That’s it, a wizard.”

“A wizard wouldn’t do this.”

“Do you know a wizard named Brak?”

“The arch wizard’s best friend, co-founder of the wizard’s council, that Brak?”

“Yes. Did you know he has gone rogue?”

“What? Why would a wizard go rogue? That makes no sense.”

“I don’t know, but what I do know is the council are looking for him. He was behind the foundry explosion in Westhaven.”

“Tristan, a wizard wouldn’t be here. The magic is too damaged for them.”

“Some of them could manage it; I’ll bet Brak is one of them.”

“You are betting, heavily. I don’t see a reason for a wizard to set all this in motion. I can’t let you go.”

“But I know where he is.”

“You don’t know anything Tristan, you are guessing. This is all just guesswork. There is no leader, no wizard here.”

“I’m sorry Telsan but this won’t end here. I have to go.” I pushed off from the wall I was leaning against and ran to the edge of the platform, the drop was only a few feet, but every little helps in a fight.

The goblins had pulled back, they weren’t assaulting the line anymore, they crouched at the base, growling and fighting among themselves.

I couldn’t slip through. Not unnoticed, their senses were too sharp.

I racked my brains for an answer. Nothing came to mind.

My sword flared with flame, casting deep shadows. The bright light made the goblins flinch.

Nothing for it but, to fight my way through. Hopefully Vesic’s gift wouldn’t vanish on me.

My shoulder ached from earlier but it was loose, that would have to be enough.

I raised my blade and ran into the swarm.

Arms and makeshift weapons reached out for me.

“Cover him,” came a shouted command before bolts of fire and light flew into the mass from behind me.

A hole opened in the clump of goblins. I ran for it. My legs pumping, arm lashing out to take out the goblins that tried to close it.

Where were gnomes when you wanted them? The thought crossed my mind as I slashed and cut for my life. The absurdity of it all set off something inside me. A bubbling of emotions, my heart raced.

I laughed.

Blood flew through the air and still I made my way forwards, laughing all the way.

The goblins were taking a beating; the cover was clearing swaths of them. The stench of burning goblin is hard to describe, sweet and sickly with a hint of rot. Like burning wet leaves filled with honey. Disgusting but you can’t help taking a sniff trying to work out what it smelt like.

I angled my path to the king’s tower.

That was when the earth elementals pulled their trick.

The street rippled, cobbles rising in the air and striking indiscriminately.

I pulled as much power as I dared, the sigil flared in my mind again. Its shape faint behind my eyes for a moment. Just like at the tribunal. This time though I knew what to do with it. I forced as much magic as I could into the flowing runic shape. It grew more defined and filled with colour. A shield formed around me, deflecting cobbles away.

The feeling of power running through me that strongly made me feel invincible. I quickened my pace, my sword cutting all the while, blood sizzling down the burning blade. The runic shapes rising from the surface of the blade glowed darkly in all the colours of the rainbow, blues bleeding into reds and yellows, oranges and greens mixing with the near black blood of the goblins.

A tingling in my head slowed me: A sense of something strange not far from me. The king’s tower as I had guessed. Subtle pulses of magic.

The forces thinned as I turned the corner. I could see the entry of the tower. The doors were still missing but the planks blocking the way had been removed. A pair of massive trolls guarded the door.

The trolls looked out over the street, clubs in hands. They could have been ugly statues for they moved.

Blasts weren’t really my thing but with this amount of power running through my channels, I could do something.

The wizard might feel it if it was too strong so I would have to be subtle. Subtle wasn’t really my thing.

I opened my senses as wide as I could.

The world exploded into light.

The damaged dark flows flashed into view, each one starkly contrasted against the shadowed material world. They actually flowed now, power rushing through them in torrents all directed into and up the tower. A shape was forming at the top of the tower: a sphere of sigils, thousands of them in swirling patterns. A large chunk was missing but as I watched a few more floated out to join them. A huge spell that I couldn’t even begin to work out what it did. But whatever it was, was building.

The trolls glimmered with twisted light; strands filled every part of their bodies, holding them together.

A small idea took root in my mind.

I let my shield fall; I wouldn’t need it for this. The spare power instantly tried to overtake my mind, whispers and visions swam across my senses, promises of everything I could want, peace, safety, comfort. I did my best to ignore them and put the power to good use.

The earth elementals trick of throwing cobbles wouldn’t work with trolls they recover too quickly, but maybe something slower mould work.

I sent my power into the earth, softening the ground beneath their feet.

Slowly they started to sink; they looked at each other but made no move to save themselves. Maybe they had been ordered to stand and watch for someone or something. This apparently wasn’t it.

It wasn’t long before they were buried up to their shoulders. I hardened it quickly, it wouldn’t hold for long but they were too big to get through the doors.

I shut down my other senses and pushed the almost overwhelming power away. I couldn’t run the risk of over using it now. I wavered as it left me then took a deep breath and ran for the door.

The trolls saw me or heard something, their heads turned to me. Then as if they realised something at the same time they let out identical roars. The air shook with the force of it. I froze, my heart racing, fear flooded me.

I swallowed it down.

Only thirty feet or so to go, I forced myself to go on.

The trolls struggled, the hardened earth cracking around their shoulders.

I quickened my pace.

I only had ten feet to go; I was almost between them when the earth lost its battle with them. The one of the left raised its club as it climbed from the hole.

I ran even faster my sword out to defend.

The one on the right put out a hand to grab me as I passed.

I felt it latch onto my ankle. I fell as my momentum forced me over

I lashed out blindly at what was holding me. My sword met flesh.

The troll screamed. Its friend swung its club down to defend it.

I rolled out of the way.

It missed by inches.

I scurried forwards on hands and knees, putting as much speed as I could to get me through the doorway before the trolls ganged up.

I made it.

Just.

The trolls roared in fury. A club was poked through the entryway.

I managed to get myself to the side of the door, out of their reach unless they knelt down. I stood, doing my best to slow my breathing and kicked off the weight on my leg. It was the severed hand of the troll that grabbed me.

Looking around, I couldn’t see anything more than last time I was here; if anything, I could see less. It had been day then. Now Brendon’s fire could barely be seen through the empty windows. The light was dim and uneven.

The troll’s efforts to get me quickly ended once they realised that they couldn’t reach.

I waited a moment more, just to be sure, and then moved to the stairs. Whatever was going on would be at the top near the massive spell growing up there.

As I climbed, I thought about what I would do to stop it. Nothing came to mind. I didn’t know enough, of magic, spells in particular to do anything. I didn’t know why Brak was here or if he was alone.

On the second landing, the king’s hall stood empty, no sign of a struggle or anything out of place as far as I could see. I moved on to the next flight of stairs. My sword’s light had dimmed once my power stopped flowing, but it gave off enough to see, just.

Vibrations pulsed through my feet from the stairs as I got close, dust trickled down from the ceiling, as I got closer to the landing. Just off of the landing, an open door way to the peak of the tower beckoned.

“Good of you to make it Tristan, it’s always nice to have an appreciative audience for something like this,” the old brittle voice of Brak said from through the doorway.

MageLife Chapter 40

Brendon woke me, unsurprisingly, it had been a late night. We finished checking the rooms, they were empty, but we did find the employee quarters that Brendon had said would be there. Waking up in a bed was nice after the time on the road. I blinked groggily at him. “What is it?”

“It’s morning, and there appear to be some mages here, asking for you?”

“Already? Okay, give me a moment to wake up and I’ll be…. Where are they?”

“Downstairs, I left them in the entry hall.”

“Did you get any names?”

“Niven, Telsan, Lysan and a few others that didn’t talk, they looked like a unit. Telsan and Niven even have military uniforms.”

“I know the names. Give me a moment to myself, I will be right down.”

Brendon left.

I got up walked to the basin in the corner, it was a different kind than we used back in Westhaven, Brendon said it was mechanical, whatever that meant, I had to turn it, it was stiff and flakes of rust crumbled off, discoloured, reddish-brown water poured from the tap, my power said it was safe to drink but it was off putting. I took a handful and rinsed my mouth, then scrubbed the remnants of sleep from my face.

Getting dressed didn’t take much longer. I only had to pull on my coat, sleeping in clothes isn’t very comfortable, but trolls don’t care if it’s bedtime or not. I picked up my sword from where I’d left it. I really needed to find a better way of carrying it, a sheath or something.

I walked down the stairs and saw the group of mages standing to attention facing away from me. Their uniforms looked none the worse for wear, I wondered how they got here, my own uniform was a bit travel worn.  Just the sight of them standing strong made my heart rise, being able to pass this off to someone else would be a relief.

My boots must have made a sound on the smooth marble floor because as a group they turned, hands reaching for swords and wands.

Telsan made a small gesture upon seeing me and the squad relaxed. He stepped forwards and saluted, fist to heart, a small bow. “Sir, I place myself and my team at your command per orders by master mage Jase Aleres. We are to follow any and all instructions to facilitate the integration of Nelar into the duchies under the control of the wizard’s council.”

I couldn’t speak, seeing a squad salute me, the most junior mage in service, well apart from Solem, but I didn’t count him, had left me without words.

Telsan walked over to me, an intense but not aggressive look on his face. “Sir, could I have a word in private,” he said his voice pitched low so only I could hear.

I nodded.

Telsan turned to his team. “Scout the building, find somewhere to set up field command, you all know what we need. Brendon Vesic should be able to help you get orientated.”

I looked around, there was Brendon, stood to the side of the room, I’d not even noticed him entering. I walked back to the stair well, to wait.

“You have your orders, dismissed.” Telsan’s voice echoed through the building. I could hear a great many boots heading off in various directions. He came into the stairwell, he looked rather uncomfortable all of a sudden.

“You wished to speak to me?”

“Yes sir, may I speak freely?”

“Of course.”

“Sir, you are young, you have no experience and I fear you will lead us to ruin.”

“Well that is very forthright of you. I can’t argue with your conclusion. You are right; I’m young, I don’t know what I’m doing here and I’ve never commanded before. I was under the impression you were coming to relieve me here, but that seems to not be the case.”

“Master Jase felt you would need support, so he found the best team he could. We have a good mix of skills, we work well as a team and we have handled situations similar to this before.”

“You have handled places where the magic is damaged the people are without hope or dead, the ruler of said place is insane, cut off from communication with the mages or the wizards, no hope of support?”

“Well, not all of them at once but we have handled them.”

“I understand you reservations. I don’t want to command. I’m not trained for it. I’m not suited for it, I work better alone, I’ve been alone for so long.”

“You aren’t alone anymore sir. Have faith. I do have a suggestion though.”

“Yes, any and all suggestions are welcome, I’m at a loss as to how to command.”

“If you place me as second, then I will handle the day to day. You will still have to deal with the rigours of commanding but most of the pressure should be off, giving you a chance to learn. I’m more than happy to teach you if it keeps my men alive.”

I found myself nodding along, visions of his men in pieces filled my sight.

“Sir… Sir is everything okay?”

I blinked.

“Yes I’m fine, sorry. It’s a lot to take in.”

“I understand sir, all we expect is you to try your best. The mission is important but so is loss of life. We are valuable assets, particularly with the war flaring up. I will help where I can but the burden is yours.”

“Thank you, what is your assessment of priorities?”

“I have just arrived but the first thing that needs doing is to turn this building into a real headquarters, we need to establish a presence in this city and arrange communications back home. To that end I do have something that Master Jase gave me, he said that you would know what to do with it.” He reached into a pouch on his belt, much like mine, it must be fairly standard. It was useful.

A flare of magic, flickered through the air as he pulled out a small round ball of what looked like glass.

I reached out a hand to take it, the sphere refracted the light oddly, as if it was bigger on the inside. I activated my other-senses and wished I hadn’t.

The room was bathed in bright shimmering light. Echoes of music started singing through the air. The ball was radiating glimmering magic, its concepts so deeply tangled I couldn’t pick a single one out. Sigils spun around the glass, their strange depth distorting the light, making other shapes out of light and shade. As I watched I started to piece together what it could be.

“This is an orb, isn’t it?”

“I’ve never seen one, but I believe it might be.”

“How did Jase get hold of this? I thought they were all custom made.”

“Master Jase didn’t feel necessary to tell me. I know he has contacts, Jase is well respected among us. That is rare.”

“That makes me feel better that he chose you then. I trust his judgement, but it’s nice to know that you do too.”

Telsan nodded. “If you will excuse me sir, I need to check on the men.”

“Of course.” My eyes were drawn back to the orb seed in my hand. The twisted magic didn’t seem to be touching it, if anything it was pushing back at it, keeping the corruption away.

I was left there with very little idea as to what to do with the orb if the magic affected it like I suspected then it would be dangerous to plant it. On the other hand if it worked like the Westhaven Orb, drawing magic from its commander then it should be safe, filtered through a person in full control of their own power would protect it from harm. Probably best to put it away and revisit, it was tempting, restoring communications home, being able to receive orders and advice. The enchantment designs that I would be able to get could change the game here.  If there was something that could do what I did at the foundry site, rerouting the flows, on such a large scale without killing me, then that would make it so much easier.

I put the glass ball into my pouch and closed down my other senses as much as I could, I still had an awareness of the magical landscape but it wasn’t distracting. I took a deep breath to focus, this wild daydreaming wasn’t helping, I needed something solid to build on, not wishes.

I walked back into the entry hall to find the six man team scattered around. The room itself had changed. One of the men I didn’t know was working on the walls, shifting them to conform to the Westhaven headquarters, I’d never seen a different outpost of the mages, so that was all I could compare it to. Another man was shaping the desk, it was growing, roots were visible at the base of it, melding with the stone. Little flickers of enchantment rose through the air, pulling power in a hundred different directions.

Lysan noticed my entry, he walked over to me. “Sir, good to see you again, on your feet this time.”

“It’s good to see you too Lysan, how did you get assigned this duty?”

“I must have pissed someone offs, I hear you know how that is,” he said jokingly with a twinkle in his glowing eyes.

“Very funny, what’s the real story?”

“You know I’m not attached to a squad, I’m a trouble shooter.  Master Jase wanted someone you’re familiar with, he couldn’t come himself, he is looking after your apprentices. So here I am. It’s not so bad. Hard work never killed anyone.”

“Trolls do though.”

“We can handle trolls. You have enough power here to handle most things.”

“Have you noticed the magic here?”

“How could we not? Most of us pulled heavily after the waves, we know how to deal with twisted magics.”

“So why has nothing been done? In all this time surely we could have done something to help this place.”

“It wasn’t a priority the years after the waves have been stretched, we don’t have the man power. There have been rebellions, in the very early years. There was just so much to do. You are the first to be raised to Mage in a relatively quiet time. There hasn’t been a mage raised since the waves. We just don’t have the resources to do everything. Not counting the fact that a great many mages are hardly suitable to do much of anything anymore.” A distant look filled his eyes. I knew that look, remembering things best left alone.

“I understand, it’s just hard to see this and not want to do something.”

“Wizards can’t come here. There are more sensitive to the magic. In some ways it helps them, in others it cripples them.”

“No wizards can come here?”

“Well some might be able to, but it wouldn’t be easy on them. And it would be dangerous for all around them, you have felt the pressure. Imagine that a thousand times more powerful, pushing on you, prompting you to act. Then imagine that it was a wizard breaking loose, we can do some pretty amazing stuff but wizards are in a league all their own.”

“So that’s why this place has been left to rot. Nice to know, I guess. Anyways there is a birthing pit nearby, I doubt it’s the only thing that needs rooting out.”

“Well sir we have our hands full making this place a fit headquarters. We are making progress, we should be done in the next few hours, not finished but it will serve. We still need to do a great many enchantments to protect this place from the disruptions in the magic. We don’t have all that many that will withstand it and still function, so we will just duplicate them. Hopefully they will work together. This birthing pit shouldn’t be able to churn out another one so soon, they take time to grow.”

“We don’t know how big it is, nor if it’s the only one. The way the magic is feeling, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other nasties about.”

“There won’t be any gnomes this close, they start at the edge of disruptions like this. That’s something at least. Those little bleeders are a hassle to handle. Trolls are easy with the right tools, but yeah you’re right, if there is a pit there will be other things. Did you see anything in the sky when you came in?”

“No, we flew in, the sky was empty.”

“That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything, so we can’t stop worrying about Night-wings, corrupted Sylphs, Harpies. Most of the magical creatures went into hiding during the waves but we’ve seen a resurgence in the recent past. Lots of things we thought gone are coming back. Not all of them bad.  I hear a unicorn was spotted in the forests near Greenlaw.”

“Doesn’t help all that much Lysan, it would be nice to be safe.”

“There isn’t such a thing. Safe is a myth. Best to be prepared. This close to the mountains, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rocs and earth elementals are about, they don’t normally bother people but twisted magic can do odd things to them. There are way too many creatures that could be around, we need to be alert.”

“Is there any way to fix the magic?”

“Lots of ways if you want to die in flames. We can do a bit here and there, drain the corruption and try to get the flows moving right again. It’s been like this for a long time, it’s not a quick fix.”

“I think I should go out and see if I can find some people to talk to.”

“I wouldn’t advise that just yet sir.” formality came back all of a sudden.

“Give me your reasoning then.”

“We aren’t secure here, for now I wouldn’t advise going anywhere alone. You don’t have the skills for this.”

“How do you know what skills I have or not?” Anger seemed to be sweeping over me. This man who barely knew me telling me what to do. I could smash him to pieces, open the earth beneath him.

“Lower the sword Tristan, this is the wrong fight,” Lysan said with a tightness to his voice that seemed out of place.

I’d not even noticed it coming up.

My breath came faster, blood racing through my veins. My arms wanted to swing my blade, to cut, anything.

“Tristan, listen to me.” Lysan’s voice had shifted to something softer, gentler, almost soothing. “This isn’t what you want, push the magic away. You don’t need it here. There is nothing to fight, all is well.”

I felt the strength draining out of me, making me waver on my feet.

Lysan’s words continued as if from a distance, too faint to make out. My vision flickered into the magical, soft shadows crawled through the room, coming for me.

I felt a hand on my shoulder just as I let go of the sword, the clatter it made as it landed, shook me.

I blinked, back into normal vision.

“That is why you don’t have the skills, you are too sensitive. Not much we can do about that except be there with you.”

My answer didn’t even make sense to me, the half formed words just nonsense in my ears.

Let’s take you back to your room give you a chance to recover, it’s not so different from backlash. The patterns can have nasty effects when you fight them off.

Patterns? I asked, the word didn’t seem to fit.

Yes patterns. Like paths worn in the earth or a rivers course, you can’t just change it. They take time and effort to wear themselves a new route. They are doing that in your head but you have your own routes, this one wasn’t subtle.

We were heading up the stairs before I knew it.

“So what now?” My head was ringing like a bell, echoes of something lingered longer than they should.

“Now you go someplace quiet and you pull yourself together. Remember the cleansing exercises from when you were recovering?”

“That’s what they are for?”

“Not just this but lots of magic/mind interactions. Go through a few of them. We will carry on downstairs and if we need you one of us will come to get you.”

“But the pit. It needs handling.”

“Not just yet, we don’t know enough. You spoke to the commander, I’m sure he knows what he is about. You get your task done, we will do ours.”

He left me at the door to my room.

(—)

The sound of a bell ringing in the distance drew me back from my exercises, the confusion of earlier gone, leaving me feeling calm and relaxed. I lengthened the final stretch, my muscles flowed smoothly over each other. My breath came slowly, deep and measured. I opened my eyes to find one of the mages standing in the doorway looking at me.

“Sir, I didn’t want to disturb you but the bell is ringing,” The older mage said, he fidgeted with his dark hair, nervous for some reason.

“I heard. Another troll?” The words came out unaffected, distant.

“The squad is assembled in the reception. We are waiting on your go ahead. Commander Telsan didn’t want to move out without your say so.”

“Why not?”

“You are our commander, I guess. He doesn’t share his reasoning with us, we trust him.”

“Of course you do. Let’s go see the good commander then, shall we?”

The mage nodded and stepped back from the doorway.

I strode forwards, not slowly nor at any great speed. Everything seemed so distant. My normal passion and drive dampened. I shrugged at the notion, nothing to do about it right now.

The squad was assembled in the lobby as I’d been informed, their faces wary and alert.  The commander, Telsan was walking between his men, eyeing them up, offering a solid hand on the shoulder or a grim nod to the men that may die this night.

That sense of danger looming filled the air, like the calm before the blackest storm sweeps in. A full blown tempest is too much for mages, only a wizard could touch it. That atmosphere pervaded the room. The sense that death was waiting for each man, was enough to chill the blood of anyone, hardened soldiers are no exception to fear.

“Commander Sodden, good of you to join us,” Telsan said as he caught my eye.

“I had things to do, you know how it is. Now what’s the situation? I heard the bell.”

“The bell is a warning system the populace have come up with, Niven and Felas there managed to speak to someone earlier. There is always someone in the towers, normally more than one, watching the walls. There is a tower in each quadrant, at the cardinal points. They light a fire, the central tower rings the bell. I’ve had the men scrying but nothing is coming through. The magic is too distorted to let a clear picture through. So we have very little to go on.”

“Then why all the grim looks?”

“Can’t you feel it… sir? The charge in the air, there is something coming, something big.”

“I’ve been doing my exercises, so that I don’t feel much of anything. Could it have anything to do with us arriving?”

““It could, we have been throwing power around all day. It might have been sensed or disturbed something. I just don’t know.””

“Where is my sword?”

Lysan stepped over to me. His greying hair bore marks from his hands running through it. He nodded at his commander and winked at me. “I put it behind the desk, just in case. I had a feeling it was going to be a busy night.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“You weren’t in the right frame of mind for it. The last thing you needed was to work yourself up.”

“Thanks, I guess, I would prefer if you didn’t hide things from me. I might need to know.”

“You know now. We mages aren’t the most biddable Tristan. We do what we want. This kind of squad is rare, we’ve been burnt before. The last time we functioned like they do, well you know when that was.”

I nodded as he led me to the desk. The nobles’ kill teams. The dark days of the blood wars. High bloods fighting with mages doing the dirty work, a wonderful time in our national history. My sword was leaning against the desk just like he said it would be.

It had a sheath now, I looked to Lysan, a question on the tip of my tongue as I picked it up. I ran my hand of the intricate leather, each ridge and bump revealed to my touch.

“Yeah, its bad luck to carry a blade without a sheath. It’s the best I could do on short notice.”

The blade was too long to comfortably wear on my hip, but Lysan had thought of that. A collection of straps and buckles formed a harness to strap it over my shoulder, my coat might get in the way at the moment, but it would do for now. I could always alter my coat later after whatever was coming.

“Thank you Lysan.” I strapped on my sword checking it was loose in the scabbard and easy to draw, nothing caught.

“Least I could do after triggering you earlier. Didn’t expect you to be quite so sensitive.”

I smiled at that. “Not to worry, best I knew before battle, I feel fine now though.”

“You look better. I’ve always hated the price we pay.”

“It’s fair I guess. Everything has a price, it could be worse.”

“That it could. You ready?”

“I would be better prepared if I knew what we were facing.”

“Wouldn’t we all? The magic is whipped up into a frenzy, it’s almost boiling with energy. I’ve never known it so bad anywhere.”

“Everyone tells me Nelar is special, anything to do with that?”

“Could be, who knows. Information is a bit thin on the ground about this place. It’s almost as if… no never mind.” A look of confusion crossed his face before he dismissed it.

“Get your battle face on. At my reckoning we don’t have long before we will be going out the doors.”

“Anyone seen Brendon?”

“The god vessel? He was up on the roof, ready to pull down his Lord’s fire. The man gives me the creeps.”

“Why?”

“Sharing your head with an immortal, not for me.” Lysan shook his head as if to emphasise

“I don’t think he has all that much choice, he is just making the best of a difficult situation. He’s been a good ally to me.”

We walked over to the waiting men. The quiet was oppressive, all that could be heard was the tolling of the bell. The men were silent. Their grim gazes locked on their leader, a few looked at me before dismissing the thought that I was their commander. I didn’t have the years to command these men. I hadn’t earned their trust. At most I was a hindrance to these veterans of the blood wars.

A sense of isolation filled me. I was apart from them. I’d always been apart, except with Sophia and Lyphia. Jase had sent these men to bring me home. ‘Do your duty mage,’ Sophia’s angry words rang differently now. My duty might be here right now, but my true master was a little girl and a headstrong woman, both waiting for me. I owed it to them to get home. Maybe these men had families they needed to get home to as well.

I looked with fresh eyes at the mages – they had come for me. I wouldn’t let them down. I wouldn’t let anyone down. Not this time.

Telsan raised his arm, fist clenched.

The doors opened.

All around me, the men drew their weapons – swords and wands, mainly, though one had a massive axe.

I drew my own sword, the smooth stone singing like a clarion. The hilt was cool in my hand.

Into the night we marched.

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.

MageLife: The Book.

As some of you may be aware Magelife is almost complete in terms of chapters posted.

It has been written for quite a while now and today I finished edits (typos, missing punctuation, small stuff)

So it is now available to buy in ebook format (MageLife (The Magelife Trilogy Book 1)
).

Please do buy it, it would support me immeasurably. I will continue posting the remaining chapters here as usual.

It is thanks to you all that I have reached the point of actually completing the novel. Something I wouldn’t have done without readers.

So thank you all.

Another hint to buy it

P.S. The cover is temporary while waiting on the official cover to be produced. Dont be put off.

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?”