MageLife Chapter 45

I actually woke up pleasantly for a change. No people stood watching me. I was alone. It was nice, sort of. It did remind me that most of what I cared from was back home, far from here. But I would be going home soon. My task was almost done. I dressed slowly, feeling my muscles slide over each other, I’ve always loved that feeling when you first wake up and stretch yourself out. My stomach rumbled in protest at the lack of food it had received in the very busy last few days. Sadly, I couldn’t eat this early in the day. I felt slightly sick just thinking about it. Midday would be fine; I didn’t feel weak from hunger just yet.

I walked down the hall to the stairs adjusting my sword’s harness; it hung ever so slightly off balance that took a bit of settling.

I found Brendon seated in the chair at the end of the hall, not doing anything as far as I could see, he didn’t even notice me. His burning eyes were fixed on something beyond my sight.

I didn’t push it, he could be doing anything in the strange places in his head, sharing mind and body with a god has to do odd things to a man.

I carried on down to the main hall; I really needed to pick a name for it. I pushed that aside with a small mental shrug.

Orb and Telsan were discussing something, but both stopped when I reached the desk.

“Morning Tristan I trust you slept well?”

“I did, there was clearly nothing that needed my attention. Did you sleep well?”

“I didn’t sleep; there was too much that needed organising for our departure.”

“All the current needs are accounted for; I have been formulating plans for growth and development. The stone in this area is perfect for enchantment and warding. It is a valuable resource that we can transport between the duchies, depending on the infrastructure. My knowledge of current development plans throughout the duchies is incomplete; I will request an update once my connection is solid. It will be another mark or so.”

“Thank you Orb, do you have a designation yet? I feel uncomfortable just addressing you as Orb, I knew another and I would like you to have a name if possible.”

“I’m the Nelar Orb, any further designation will be granted by my master.”

“Alright, orb it is for now.”

“Telsan, what has been done in my absence?” I asked.

I was told in excruciating detail everything that had been done, with interjections and updates from orb where relevant.

The sun slanting through the windows crawled down the walls, shifting the few shadows. I found my gaze drawn again and again to the changing light marking the movement of time. It crawled by.

“My connection is firm, I can reach for the Westhaven orb now if you wish.”

“Please. I need to speak to Jase.”

“Give me a moment.”

The ball of light flickered through most of the colours of the rainbow before settling on a yellow that was nearly golden.

“Tristan are you there? I can’t see you.” Jase’s voice sounded worried.

“I’m here; Nelar is a part of the duchies now.”

Jase’s chuckle echoed through the room. “Of course you succeeded, never doubted you for an instant. Well in that case come home as soon as you can, I have two very concerned redheads and a stone boy waiting for you. Bring the others if you can.”

“We need to leave someone in charge here, this orb needs a master apparently.”

“That is correct master Jase.”

“Right you are, well Telsan do you want the job, raising to senior? I will confirm it with Velar but I doubt he will have any issues.”

“Jase, I don’t want the job but I will take it as a short term post. But only until someone more qualified can be sent.”

“Very well. That should be fine.”

“Jase, how can I come home? Rysan sent me here to die, it was an exile.”

“It was, but a funny thing happened while you were away. I had a word with a friend of mine, he checked out your story about Selac Freant, he had been abusing the people for a long time, and Rysan was in on it. Rysan is no longer in Westhaven; he has been recalled to Greenlaw to answer charges in front of the wizards. You are free to come home.”

I was speechless, grateful beyond words that Jase had risked his position and possibly his life to bring Rysan to justice. I finally found my voice.

“I will be home once my duty is done.”

“Good man. Is there anything you want passing to the girls and Airis?”

“Just tell them… tell them I love them and will be home soon.”

“I will. Telsan you are in command. Nelar Orb Mage Telsan is your master until he is relieved. Is that understood?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then farewell all. May the heart bless you.”

Jase’s voice faded away then, the connection severed.

I was going home.

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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 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 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.

Mage Life Chapter 34

“Mage you are summoned to headquarters immediately!” Rysan’s voice echoed through the room accompanied by a bright light hovering over my face.

“Urr, I’m sleeping” Lyphia mumbled before rolling away from the light.

I blinked, trying to adjust to the glare that was coming from above me.

“Orb, I thought we had got past this whole waking me up by shouting thing,” I said irritatedly.

“Well Tristan, that was before you did what you did, Rysan is very angry with you”

I sat up and rubbed my face, as Orb’s words sunk in.

I jumped up, grabbed my uniform and left the room, Orb followed along behind me.

I made my way to the large table and chairs in the main room. I started to get dressed.

“You don’t have a pendant, we have no other way to contact you. Master Jase has been ordered to provide you with a new one,” Orb said, its glowing body flickered with strange shapes and colours, far more than I had ever seen in him before.

“Don’t bring up my pendant. You know why I don’t have one.”

“Tristan I know, but that doesn’t change the fact that as an active mage, you need to be accessible.”

“I’m still active? I thought I would be suspended already,” I asked as I pulled my trousers on.

“Why would you be suspended?”

“You know, reasons.”

“Tristan you have to be more specific than that. I don’t know what you have done to earn Rysan’s ire, but whatever it is, fix it. We need as many mages as we can to fix the town. The wave knocked out most of the enchantments.”

“How come you and the academy weren’t affected?”

“The academy is…. I don’t know how to explain it. As for me, my forms aren’t as rigid as most of the constructions, I’m closer to a spell than an enchantment. I was still affected, my connections to things outside of myself was disrupted”

“Really?” I asked as forced my feet into my boots.

“I don’t know exactly, Orbs are not allowed the design schematics of their own construction. I only know what I know through observation.”

“That’s very clever.” I commented as I stood. “how do I look?”

“The same.”

“Very helpful. I know you don’t need clothes, but you can do better than that.”

“You are now wearing your uniform.”

I sighed.

“Shall we go then?”

“Yes.”

 

(———)

 

“Representative Mage Tristan Sodden, I have heard some very disturbing news. Explain yourself,” Rysan ordered me.

Orb had escorted me to Rysan’s office, where I was confronted by a rather stressed out Rysan and a placid Jase.

“You will have to be more specific about the news you have heard…sir,” I said.

“Don’t be glib with me boy!” Rysan shouted into my face.

I leant back.

“Sir, I don’t know what incident you are talking about.”

“You killed a mage, not just a mage but my friend, in cold blood. That is what I am talking about. Explain before I do the same to you.”

“Rysan, don’t threaten the boy. That is not your place,” Jase snapped at Rysan. “Step back from him and compose yourself as befits your position.”

“Fuck you Jase, you’ve pampered and protected this little shit since day one. He is reckless, disobedient and down right murderous. I should put him down like a dog,” Rysan screamed at Jase. Spittle flew from his lips as he shouted, red faced  and fists clenching.

“Rysan, compose yourself or I will dismiss you.”

“He murdered my friend, give me a single reason why I shouldn’t bleed him here and now.”

“One, Tristan will have a good reason for what he did. Two, you do that, you even attempt to and I will burn you to cinders where you stand.” Jase replied calmly.

“Give me your fucking report, Tristan.”

“I had just finished restoring a wall strengthening charm in a shop on the edge of the residential district. My Apprentice Sophia came to find me as I had taken longer than expected. We were on our way back to the academy when we encountered a mage threatening a man in his own home. We witnessed the mage…”

Rysan grabbed my shirt, and pulled me to him.

“Use his name. Say the name of the man you killed. You little shit, I will not stand here and hear you make up lies to cover your actions.”

“You asked for my report, now unhand me and listen to it.”

“Or what? You going to get Jase to fight your battle for you?” Rysan looked to Jase who hadn’t moved at all.

“No I fight my own battles, you want to hear this or not?” I grabbed Rysan’s arm and calmly pulled myself from his grasp.

“Speak the truth. No more lies.”

“Sir, he has spoken no lies, the only stress in his voice seems to be from being threatened by a superior,” Orb interjected from behind me.

“Silence Orb, I neither need nor want your opinion.”

“Sir you made this an official matter, in which case you are required by law to have an Orb present for truth reading. If you disregard the law I will have no choice but to suspend you and contact the wizards for further instruction.” Orb said in its monotone official voice. I was starting to see the massive void between Orb as a being and Orb as a tool.

“That’s the last thing we need, the wizards have only just left. Fine make a note that I’m listening to the opinion of the Westhaven Orb acting in its professional capacity.” Rysan’s gaze rested on Orb, you could have melted stone with the heat in it.

“So noted.”

“Continue your report representative mage, use names where possible.”

“Very well sir. We came across a man being threatened in his home by Mage Selac Freant, he used magic to damage property to intimidate the man, from the conversation I overheard it sounded much like extortion. Some form of protection racket.”

“Speculation,” Rysan barked.

“It may well be speculation sir, but I feel it is relevant. My apprentice is a child, she is eight, if you don’t remember. She felt the need to inject herself into the situation. Mage Selac Freant used magic to harm her, he left a large bruise on her face, for her interfering in his wrong doing. I had to intervene.”

“Rysan, Selac harmed an apprentice, Tristan was well within his rights to do what he did.”

“I don’t care.”

“I named him,Ventrastus, for his abuses of the people and for his harming of my apprentice, I executed him for it.”

“You jumped up little fucker, you killed my friend on a pretext.”

“No I killed your friend, because he was abusing the people he had sworn to serve. I named him oath breaker for it. I killed him because he tainted all mages by association. But the real reason I killed him is because he harmed a little girl. My little girl!”

“Fuck you, she isn’t your daughter. She’s an apprentice, she means nothing,” Rysan spat.

“I have had enough of this. I was justified, I broke no laws. He earned it. Now either punish me or shut up,” I found myself saying.

Rysan’s eyes went wide, he roared then turned to swing at me.

I stepped back, and raised my own fist.

“Tristan don’t,” Jase shouted, he rushed out of the corner in an attempt to stop what was happening.

It was too late. I was faster than Rysan. My fist connected with Rysan’s eye. I could feel it squish slightly under my blow. Rysan staggered back. I grabbed at his collar, and swung again and again. My heart pounded in my head. My breath came in short, ragged gasps. Each blow hit with the dull thud of flesh striking flesh.

“Tristan, get off him,” Jase ordered from the corner.

I pulled myself off of Rysan who had fallen under my uncontrolled flailing. I was breathing hard, almost dizzyingly hard.

Rysan stood, bruises were just beginning to show around his eye, his lip had swollen and spit.

“Orb what is the punishment for striking a Senior mage?”

“Depending on the circumstances: relocation, dismissal, suspension, permanent severing of his links, bar his basic link.”

Rysan’s swollen lips, pulled back into a grim smile, blood was visible on his teeth.

“Jase, strip his links,” he ordered. “This boy isn’t fit to be a mage.”

My blood ran cold, I could feel the heat leave me in a rush.

“Sir, that is not possible in these circumstances,” Orb said.

“I’m the one in charge here. Do it Jase.”

Sir, you can’t overrule the wizard laws,” Orb said, his monotone voice loud over the beating of my heart in my ears.

“I don’t give a fuck. Strip his links,” he spat blood in my face.

“Rysan, I won’t, Orb has told you that it’s not allowable. So pick another punishment.” Jase said, his face was tight with tension.

“You are always defending him Jase, he is not your son. He doesn’t deserve it.”

“It doesn’t matter what you think Rysan, you are wrong. Choose another punishment.”

“Relocation then, I won’t have to see his face. You hear that boy? You are going away from the only home you will ever have, and I’ve done it to you. hows that make you feel?”

“Just fine, sir. In fact, far better now that I’ve punched your face into a swollen bloody mess.”

“Get out! I don’t care how special you think you are, if I see you again I will kill you!”

“Take it back Rysan. Now!” Jase called out.

A sense of power flowed into the room, faint but unmistakable

“Why should I?”

“Because you are about to be oathed, you fuckwit.” I shouted at him.

“Fine I’ll take it back, I’m sending you to Nelar. Hopefully that will do my task for me”

“You can’t send him there! It’s out of our jurisdiction,” Jase said.

“I can. Orb replay the message.” Rysan said as he turned to his desk. He rooted around in a drawer to pull out a small cloth. He sat in his chair and dabbed at his face.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a great deal of satisfaction every time he winced.

“To all Seniors, we would like to restart efforts to increase our holdings. We are facing increased pressure to expand from the lower council. Please do all in your power to expand your regions, increase trade and productivity. Use your resources carefully, we don’t have as much to spare as we would like.” Velar’s voice came from Orb. “End of message” Orb said.

Jase looked between me and over my shoulder at Orb, I assumed. “That said nothing about Nelar. In fact, that said nothing about anything really”

“I don’t have to explain myself to you or to him. I’m well within my rights to handle this matter in the way I have chosen. Aren’t I Orb?” Rysan said smugly, the effect was ruined by the wince he made as his lip split again.

“You are, technically correct sir. I feel it is…” Orb said.

“I didn’t ask how you feel Orb. Now Mage Representative, I want you out of my town by dawn. Dismissed.”

I stood looking at Rysan for a moment, my mouth twitched in an attempted grin.

“Didn’t you hear me? Get out of my sight.”

I turned and walked out, passing Orb who was flickering again. Steps followed.

“Not you Jase, I want a word with you.”

I left on my own.

 

I walked back to the academy is a daze, my skin still felt cold with fear, the risk of having my links severed, I would have just been a knack.

I found myself dragging my feet over the paving as I realised something. the early morning sun shone through the clouds, illuminating the tops of the buildings. this was my home, and I was being forced to leave it. Nelar? I’d never heard of it. some tiny little backwater no doubt. this was my home, I had ties here. my family who I admittedly never saw lived a short distance from where I stood. I had visited the market with them long before I wanted to be a mage. the academy where I now resided had been my prison, while of my own making it was still a cage, had become my home filled with my family, Jase and Sophia, Airis and Lyphia.

I sighed as I thought about Lyphia, there was no way I could take her with me. she had her work here and I had mine. it was debatable if I could take anyone with me. I didn’t know what I would be doing, exile that’s what this really is.

I passed people in the streets with smiles on their faces, I received many a nod and greeting. I didn’t feel like it but I forced a smile onto my face and nodded back.

I walked with as much speed as I could, I didn’t want the people to think their was something to be running away from, but I did want to get home quickly. Sophia should be awake, I knew Airis would be, that boy never really sleeps.

What would I tell them, ‘sorry kids I have to leave because I killed a mage and punched Rysan in the face repeatedly’ I didn’t think that would go down too well.

I looked at my home. The looming mage academy made of stone blacker than night, its high walls stared back at me revealing nothing, the people in the street walked by as if this massive edifice wasn’t here, it was normal, a part of their lives, nothing to be remarked upon. For me it had always been more, even as a child it had been a constant it was visible everywhere in town, it was the core that Westhaven had grown from, once just a breeding ground for knacks to feed and provide for the mages, now it was a relic struggling to be relevant to them, is this what we were? were we needed anymore? yes we did good work but many were not entirely as good as they proclaimed. men like Rysan who followed the rules except when it suited them, men like Selac who broke them for profit and pleasure. would the world be better off without us? I didn’t know.

I stepped inside the lobby to see a woman arguing with the receptionist. I aimed for the corridor I needed and walked as fast as I could. I didn’t need to be a part of anything today. it wasn’t my problem.

“There he is!” a voice announced, the sign of relief that accompanied it was also announced.

“That’s Mage Tristan Sodden?”  The woman that had been arguing with the receptionist said in a tone laden with doubt.

“Mage Representative, yes that’s him.” the receptionist said.

I didn’t make it to the corridor without notice, the arguing woman headed right for me. I stooped and plastered a blank but hopefully polite expression on my face.

“What appears to be the problem…madam?”

“You are the mage that abducted my niece!” she accused me, her finger inches from my nose.

I could only stare at her.

She was an older, medium built woman, short red hair, with grey eyes. she looked familiar. she also looked really angry.

“I have no idea where you have gotten that idea from but I assure you that is not the case. Mages do not abduct children.”

“You have my niece. I requested she be sent to me so that I can care for her, but no one answered my letter. That is kidnap at the very least.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Sophia Leif, daughter of my brother. who are you talking about?”

“I wasn’t talking about anyone. I was saying we don’t abduct children. this now makes far more sense.

“Are you sure I’m talking to the right person? This one appears to be an idiot,” Sophia’s aunt called over her shoulder at the receptionist.

The receptionist, who I should really learn the name of, paled and nodded solemnly.

“Miss Leif, I don’t really care who you are right now, I have a lot to do. But please remember that I am a Mage, you should treat me with respect.”

“Why?”

I didn’t have an answer for her that wouldn’t sound as if I was puffed up with a sense of self importance.

“I guess it doesn’t really matter, not all of us are worthy of respect, but a word of caution, not all mages are restrained either.”

She did nod at that, slowly. That was the first bit of thoughtfulness I’d seen from her.

“If you will follow me, I can take you to see Sophia. there have been issues regarding her care, that I’m going to have to tell you about, but that can wait until you have seen her.”

I started off down the corridor.

The woman matched my pace

“Why did she pass into the hands of a mage? She should have been with her family.”

“Her family died, we sent out the call for relatives the night they died. No one, and I mean no one, came forwards to claim her. She is my apprentice. my responsibility. I claimed her. Where were you?” I said.

“I was at home. I don’t live in Westhaven I’m from Greenlaw. I was coming to visit my brother and his wife. I’ve not been here for years. Sophia was a baby when last I came. I sent a letter ahead of me. but it turns out they were dead before it arrived. I don’t know what happened to it.”

“Sophia doesn’t know you then?”

“I don’t know what she remembers or what she was told. It’s a long journey. I can’t make it as often as I would like. I have work commitments”

“What do you do?”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m getting to know you”

“You haven’t even asked my name, its Clarise by the way.”

“Its been a rough day, I’m sorry that I’m not at my best

“And my niece is in your care? you’re hardly more than a boy yourself what do you know about raising a child?”

“Do you have any of your own?”

“No but that’s hardly any business of yours.”

“What do you do for a living?”

“I work for the wizard council”

“So do I, but that doesn’t answer my question now does it?”

“If you must know I work in a teaching capacity.”

“Teaching what?”

“Magic of course.”

“How? you aren’t a mage or a wizard”

“I don’t need power to teach. I can see you are bursting with it, and I’ll bet you know nothing.”

“Hey, that’s not true. I do well enough.”

“Magic isn’t just about power is about knowledge and thought.”

I groaned as the line reminded me of something Jase had said.,

“there we go, you are exactly like some of my students. disdaining knowledge over power.”

“No, you just reminded me of my master.”

we reached the door to my apartment. I turned to her.

“now let’s cut the lecture short. I want what’s best for Sophia. I’m not convinced you have the space in your life for a child but I have to leave soon. so I’m not overwhelmed with choices, that I can dismiss you out of hand.”

I raised a hand to cut her off.

“Don’t interrupt me. I’m in earnest about this. You speak with great pride about you work but there is no mention of a husband or children in your life. There is no warmth apparent in you. you have been harsh and dismissive to me. A grown man and a mage to boot. I have fears as to what you would do to a child in your care. There are things I will discuss with you once Sophia has seen you but do not think that you can lay claim to her without her consent. Am I clear?”

“How dare you, she is mine by blood. I can claim her by the laws of the wizards themselves.”

Not really, you can’t. I thought. I felt a smile curve my lips in response

You arrogant child,” she raise her hand to slap me.

I grabbed it, “I’ve already been in this position today. Make no mistake it will be something you regret. The law isn’t as clear cut as you might think. Now I’m going to release you and you are going to calm down. I won’t take you in to see her in this state.”

She pulled her hand out of my grasp and stood glaring at me, before nodding shortly.

I opened the door and walked in, leaving the woman

Inside was Sophia and Airis both seated at the dining table. Lyphia was talking into a mirror. She absently waved at me before walking back towards the bedrooms.

“Good morning Sophia, Airis. I’m sorry I had to leave so early.”

“Tristan, we saw you weren’t here but Lyphia said you would be back soon enough.

“I have someone here to see you Soph she says she is your aunt. Her name is…”

“Aunt Clarise? Really? I thought she lived far away, I never met her, and dad didn’t like her much.”

“Well, I can understand that. She has come to see you. I left her in the hall to give you a moment to process the news.”

She sat looking at me blankly for a moment, then nodded, looking me straight in the eye.

I smiled at her then I turned and gestured Clarise into the room.

She stepped in with a kind of trepidation, as if she was walking into a room of wild animals. She stopped just inside and looked, really looked at Sophia.

“You look just like your mother. I’m so sorry child. I wish I could have been here sooner, then you wouldn’t have needed to be with strangers.”

“They aren’t strangers. Airis is my friend, he’s looked after me and we play and have fun. Tristan is nice, he is my master but he isn’t mean or bossy. He loves me. And Lyphia is very pretty and we dress up and talk and stuff. I miss mum and dad but I’m not with strangers. you are family, but I don’t know you. you are a stranger. so I would have been with strangers if you had taken me away. I would have been away from my home and I wouldn’t be able to come back or see the places that I saw when I went shopping with mum. or the places I went to with dad. and all my friends from school would be here and I would be away.”

“Shush child. I’m not a stranger I came to take you away from all this. I live in Greenlaw do you know of it? its a big city on an island. it floats above the ocean. have you seen the ocean?”

“No but Tristan will take me, won’t you Tristan?”

I stood there wanting so much to tell her I would, but I couldn’t

“Tristan is something wrong?” Lyphia asked from the other side of the room. she had just re entered, the mirror in her hand just a blank mirror now.

“No, could I have a word with you though. work stuff.”

“Of course. Sophia, Airis be good for this lady. we won’t be a moment”

The kids nodded.

I fixed Clarise with a glare. I hoped she got the the message. I then walked to the table grabbed the letter and went to my room with Lyphia.

As soon as the door was shut she asked “ what’s wrong? you left so early this morning and without saying a word.

“Orb came. I was summoned to appear before Rysan and be judged for my actions. it didn’t go as well as I had hoped.”

“But you were in the right.”

That doesn’t matter. what is right anyway? I still killed a mage and apparently he was Rysan’s friend. it didn’t help that I punched the Rysan a bit.

“You punched Rysan a bit?”

“Eh, just a little bit.”

“You are a very stupid man.”

“I have my moments yeah. Well Rysan wanted to kill me on the spot. Then he wanted to strip my links, which I didn’t think was possible.”

“It is, most go mad though. My father mentioned its like having a part of your mind just torn away. You don’t even know what is lost but you can feel the hole”

“That’s what happened to him?

“Not quite, but the generalities are the same. It wasn’t done to him so much as his oath had merged with one of his lesser links. I don’t know the details I doubt he does either. Anyway that isn’t the subject at hand. You aren’t dead and you are still a mage. So what punishment have you been given?”

“I’ve been reassigned. I have to aid the expansion efforts in a place called Nelar, I’ve never even heard of it.”

“I have but I can’t place it, did you get told anymore? How long will you be gone? Is it permanent?”

“I have until dawn to be out of town, on my way I assume. I didn’t really want to press for details, it was a bit touch and go if I would even walk out for a moment or three.”

“What are you going to tell Sophia? She will want to come with you. Is she allowed?

“I don’t know really I don’t. I have no information about the place, other than its not a good place to go, Rysan was gloating about sending me there.”

“Appeal to the wizards. Explain the situation.”

“They won’t believe me, I’ve been an active for how long now? A few months. Rysan has been here for years and he served the council before coming here. Who would take the word of a such a junior mage over a senior? Its not like I’ve even got a perfect record as it stands. Suspended for medical within a week of service. Disobeying a lawful command. I have years of my debt still to serve. Its just not going to happen. Even if they did believe me. I’ve just killed another of their servants, I would be pissed in their shoes.

“You have to do something, you can’t just meekly accept your lot in life. You have to fight this.

“Why? I’m tired Lyph, its been a few months, that’s it. I’m tired already. I have an apprentice, Sophia, who looks up to me, should I show her that she should fight everyone? Should I show her its okay to disobey her superiors? or should I show her what it means to fulfil her duty even when its unpleasant. to do the right thing? I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where I am going or why. I just don’t know.”

“Tristan of course you should show her the right way to fulfil her duty but you should show her how to think. Show her when to fight and why. you both need to learn how to fight. clearly you are going to come off worse on of these days.”

“You’re telling me, I lost against Selac, it was the people who won that one for me. I can’t rely on it all the time. I don’t know what to tell Sophia. If it’s a dangerous as I’m guessing I can’t take her. How can I leave her after everything?”

“We will cross that bridge when we come to it, but for now you need to put a smile on your face and go back out.

“I need to read this letter. Sophia never mentioned an aunt neither did Orb. It seems strange that she has just appeared.”

“Orb doesn’t know everything. You know most of the older people aren’t in the census. the nobles didn’t care that much as long as they had all the soldiers they needed and trade didn’t dry up.”

“I know Orb doesn’t know everything but surely if she is who she says she is, she would have shown up, she said she teaches magic in Greenlaw”

“That is odd, she didn’t look like a mage or a wizard.”

“She isn’t, I didn’t look but there’s no sense of that about her, and her eyes are normal.”

“Sophia doesn’t have the eyes yet either.”

“I guess. But she is really young there is nothing to say she will get the eyes for awhile.”

“Read the letter I will go out and see to the children for a few moments, come out when you are ready.”

Lyphia headed to the door, kissing me on the cheek on the way out.

I stood gazing at the letter for a moment before opening it.

 

‘To my dearest brother,

I’m sending this letter on my way out of the city, it may reach you before I will. I have come to collect Sophia as we discussed in previous communications. I will never understand why you don’t use the mirrors. But that is neither here nor there. please make sure she is informed of my arrival. I don’t have the patience to deal with a reluctant child. she is to be provided with all she needs, clothes and essentials. I believe you are doing the right thing sending her to me. Westhaven is a backwater compared to the floating city. She will do far better here and I can educate her, make her ready for work. I wish you would reconsider joining me, but I suppose you never will. I will be arriving as soon as possible. A few weeks is likely as I can’t use the new transport systems, the golem birds, they make me sick to my stomach. Those self powered carts confuse my senses, and they are expensive for such a long journey. I will be there soon, keep looking for me.

Your loving sister Clarise.’

 

I folded the letter up and looked at the envelope, there in crossed out and faded ink was Sophia’s old address. Someone had added in directions to the academy. So someone knew that Sophia had been relocated. It wasn’t important. In a town this small everyone knew everyone, although the mages were outside of that. Town gossip didn’t pass the academy doors.

I still had no idea what I was going to do. Reading the letter hadn’t told me all that much. It certainly hadn’t given me any answers to my questions. If anything it had taken one away. Clarise felt cold, Sophia was such a warm child, it just felt wrong to leave her with such a person.

I took a deep breath and walked out to the main room.

Clarise hadn’t moved neither had Sophia they remained looking, more like glaring at each other. Airis and Lyphia were stood to the sides, both waiting to intervene. Not a word was spoken.

“Is everything alright in here?” I asked.

Clarise stalked towards me. “This child is disobedient and insolent. She should show respect to her elders.”

Sophia bristled and opened her mouth to respond.

I raised a hand to forestall her outburst.

She closed her mouth but continued to look angry.

“She is a wonderful child, that you have come here out of the blue to take away from the home she has, you have undoubtedly commanded her, instead of asking her. She has no reason to respect you, she doesn’t know you. I don’t respect you, I can barely stand the sight of you and you have been in my home for no more than a few moments. Don’t start. I haven’t finished. She is my apprentice, she is my responsibility, blood means nothing to me. If she wants to live with you, then that is her decision.”

“The law clearly states ……”

“Did you not listen to me? She is my apprentice. The law doesn’t apply to me. She is my ward until such a time as I release her. I will not release her into the care of someone I don’t trust nor someone that she doesn’t want to live with.

“That’s illegal, you abducted this poor child from the site of parents death. She is my flesh and blood, you can’t keep me from her.”

“I can and I will. Sophia, what do you think about living with your aunt?”

“I don’t want to. I don’t know her. I don’t want to move away.”

“Then you don’t have to.” I turned back to Clarise. “You will not try to press your claim to Sophia. It will go badly for you. you will not attempt to remove her from the home she has chosen. Am I clear?”

Clarise said nothing.

“Am I clear?” I repeated louder. I could feel my eyes flare with power as my anger rose.

Yes,” she answered sullenly.

“Good, now I’m not going to be unreasonable. If Sophia is willing, I’m more than happy for you to spend time with her. Get to know her.”

“I will have to find accommodations, I hadn’t planned on staying in the area.”

“I will ask Orb to see what he can do, as a family member of a mage in training we can provide temporary housing. If you can go down to the reception, I have some things to take care of.”

She left.

“Right now that that is dealt with for the moment I have something to tell you all.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, taking a moment to gather my thoughts. “I’ve been reassigned. I will be leaving first thing.”

Sophia burst with questions. Airis wasn’t far behind. In the end they both had the same questions.

Could they come with me? How long would we be gone?

“I don’t have any answers for you right now. I need to get with orb and find some things out, like where the forsaken place is and how to get there. Sophia from what little I know I’m not sure if taking you is a good idea.”

“but you just sent her away, if I can’t go with you who would look after me? You promised you wouldn’t leave me.”

“I know I did Sophia and I don’t want to. I will do everything can to stay with you but this isn’t in my hands. I’m bound to the council, I have to do my job wherever that may be.”

“Lyph make him stay.”

“I would if I could, I can’t leave I have the guild.”

“Then you can move here. You are here all the time anyway. and we can be together until Tristan comes home.”

Lyphia smiled gently.

“We will see Soph”

Well I need to do some research before I can do anything else. If you need me I will be in my work room please knock first.

I got a round of nods of varying degrees of certainty. I walked back to my room.

As I entered I noticed the sword on the wall. The thing that had caused all this. I was reminded that I could have found another way to handle things if I’d just used my mind, a bit of thought and I wouldn’t be having to deal with all this. research and arrangements for Sophia, not even counting travel and what I would actually need to do when I got to Nelar, wherever it was. I continued through to my work room and sat at the control terminal. I lay my hand on the panel to activate it. my hand stung as I lay it flat. my knuckles were skinned and bled lightly. I fought a grin off my face at the reminder of punching Rysan in the face. I sobered quickly, I needed to find out what mess I was being sent into. I swiped my fingers over the screen looking for the archives, there was a tiny glyph in the corner that I tapped. it pulled up a voice search.

“Please state your request” The terminal said.

“Nelar.”

“That information is restricted to masters and above. Please present your ident.”

I channelled a tiny glimmer of power into my hand.

“Access has been granted. No copies of this information are allowable. Do not repeat this information to anyone, this is punishable by suspension, and an inquest.”

I felt my eyebrows rise at the warning, I’d never encountered it before, although I didn’t use the archives as much as I should. My studies had taken a blow since I’d become an active.

On the screen were dense rows of tiny scrolling glyphs in mage. But for all that the information was thin.

I read parts that seemed pertinent aloud to fix them in my memory.

“Nelar was once a large city in the holding of the Vestris noble house, due to various factors the city declined till barely twelve structures were still active.

In the area surrounding the holding of Nelar is a disturbance in the ambient energy, this has caused large alterations in the way people can live their lives. All enchantments fail abruptly. Wild elementals roam the area. Use of magic is strictly controlled, it often has unfortunate side effects as well as a corrupting influence on a mage or a wizards. This town has be struck from the list of viable trading areas.

Efforts to address the distortion have failed. The distortion has grown over generations. the cause of the disturbance is unknown. why the small population of Nelar have stayed in the area is unknown. Allowed uses of magic are unknown. Golems are prohibited. Untrained mages are prohibited. Enchantment is prohibited. Prolonged exposure to the area is inadvisable. There are a few unconfirmed reports of ghosts and spirits. The local populace seems to have a deep distrust of magic users.

I stood up feeling rather overwhelmed.

I couldn’t take Sophia into that mess, nor Airis. I still didn’t know how to get there but I at least knew where it was now. Up near the mountains quite a way from here, but there was a broken road I could use for most of the way.

I looked down at the screen that was now flashing at me, a small map was showing but it wasn’t a terrain map, it was an ambient map the magic plane was superimposed over the land in washes of colour. Nice healthy,light colour everywhere except a patch of darkness in a part that without even checking I knew was Nelar  I couldn’t look anymore.

I walked out to my room, and started collected everything I thought I might need. Enchantments were a no go. so it kinda made up for the fact my bracer was no where to be found, it was odd that I could now do the effect myself but handy. a pile of clothes formed on my bed, all mage uniforms, I should really get some other clothes but they were durable, it served my purposes. I looked at the sword, I didn’t want to take it with me I barely knew how to use it. But without my magic I was helpless. In the base of the wardrobe was a bag that I’d found in my rummaging. it was sturdy hide, it looked as if it would fit all my stuff in it. and it had a strap so I could sling it over my shoulder.

I needed supplies, and I needed to talk to Sophia and Lyph and Jase.

Armed with slightly more information and the start of a plan I headed out to the main room. Lyphia and the kids were sat around the table with matching expressions of confusion and hope on their faces.

“Soph, I don’t think I can take you with me, it doesn’t sound like a good place for anyone let alone someone as young as you.”

“But you promised you wouldn’t leave me”

I’m not leaving you, I’m still with you. I will always be here for you but my duty comes first always I’m sorry.

Tristan do you have to say it like that?” Lyphia said.

“It’s the truth, Sophia means the world to me but I have a job to do. part of that is doing things that I don’t want to. like being away from you all. I can’t take Airis for reasons that I can’t go into. Lyph you have the guild, if possible would you be able to look after Sophia while I’m gone, I’m going to ask Jase too,” I turned back to Sophia. “Is this alright with you? I can’t change having to leave but I will come back. I need to make sure you are safe and well before I can do anything.”

Sophia nodded reluctantly.

“Good, Airis I need you to make sure she stays out of trouble too, can you do that for me?”

The golem boy saluted with a closed fist to his chest.

I responded in kind, a smile quirked my lips.

I need to finish getting together what I will need, I saw Jase earlier do you have any clue when he will be back?”

“No, but I think he is due to visit Avery soon. They spend their afternoons together.”

Perfect.

I avoided looking at Sophia, I didn’t want to see her cry. I turned and walked out to the hall. I shut the door behind me. it may have been the hardest thing I’d ever done. I didn’t want to leave her, but…

“Do your duty mage,” I said to myself.

I didn’t know if I said it to remind or mock, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Mage Life Chapter 30

I awoke to a rather loud snoring, right in my ear. There may have been dribble there too but I ignored it.

Lyphia was sprawled across most of the bed including my side, her soft leg over my own, her arm across my chest.

I smiled to myself as I remembered the night we had shared together. Lyphia was passionate, I’ll give her that. I ached all over, but it was a pleasant, satisfied ache. Now I had to figure out how to get out of bed without disturbing her.

I decided the best option was to move quickly, she would settle back down.  I wiggled her arm off, then I rolled. Right out of bed. She didn’t even notice.

I stood looking at her for a moment, even like this, she was beautiful. Hair splayed out. Limbs everywhere. I could stand here all day watching her sleep, but I had a job to do.

I went into the bathing chamber, had a wash then got dressed. I didn’t put my boots on, I carried them, then snuck out of my room, closing the door quietly on my way out.

I walked to the main room, Sophia’s door was open as I passed.

That meant she would be in the main room. she was, so was Airis. It looked like they were in the middle of a game of tag. I stood in the doorway a moment, watching them run around laughing and shouting at each other. Then shushing themselves when they got too loud.

“What do you two think you are doing?” I shouted at them.

They froze then slowly turned to face me. The guilty look on their faces was priceless.

Sophia looked at me then down to her feet, Airis just looked at me.

“I hope you were having fun, because its lesson time soon. Sophia, you’re now a mage with barely adequate suppression of your power, we need to give you more information so you can understand, that, I think, is the largest thing missing. Once your understanding catches up, I hope you’ll make great strides,” I said to her.

Sophia looked up at me with wide eyes, then nodded.

“Airis, you are Sophia’s companion, you will join her in all her lessons from now on, you will help each other to learn. You will support each other. You will protect each other. and hopefully you will care for each other, I don’t want this to be a distasteful idea to either of you,” I said to them.

Airis nodded, shared a glance with Sophia, smiled then looked back to me.

“Good, now I want some breakfast, can you two please go get what you think you will need for class, and get changed into something better than nightwear,” I continued.

They ran straight past me, I walked over to the table, picked up a bread roll, bit into it as I sat in the nearest chair. I pulled my boots on then finished the rest of the roll. I grabbed another one while waiting for Sophia and Airis.

Sophia had changed into a mage training uniform. when had she gotten that?

Airis was in a similar outfit. Avery really had outdone herself. I needed to find out how she was doing, soon.

“Good that was quick, if you are both ready we can go down to one of the lecture rooms. here is our home I would prefer there to be a distinction between training and home despite where we live,” I said seriously. I was starting to sound like Jase, it must have been my nerves.

They both nodded although they looked nervous too.

“Follow me then.”

I stood and walked to the door, they followed along quietly.

We walked down the halls, past the other crowds, groups of masters and their students. I even got a few respectful nods, which was novel.

It didn’t take us long to reach the lecture floor. I knocked on the first door, a student opened it and declared it was taken.

I wasn’t put off, I tried the next one, it was open and empty, perfect.

I walked in to the lecture room, hall was more like it, down between the staggered rows of desks, to the open semicircle at the base of the room. I stood in front of the large glyph-screen, which used to be a chalk board when I’d had classes

Around the edge of the circle were smaller circles, four of them. inside them were the elements. Fire,earth, air and water. The lesser elements weren’t often included. It was so rare for someone to awaken to one, although an expansion into one wasn’t that uncommon.

I looked up from the circles, to see Airis and Sophia standing just inside the door. “Come on, we haven’t got all day. Find a seat and pay attention,” I said sternly, as much as I wanted to ease them into this, I needed them to understand that I was their teacher here.

They picked a desk about halfway down the short alley of desks.

“Everyone ready?” I asked with a grin. “Good, then we will begin with. What is magic?” I stood looking at them.

They looked back with puzzled, scrunched up looks of confusion.

“Nothing, huh? I know you are young, but this is an interactive class, I can’t teach you if you refuse to think. Let’s move on. How do you use magic?”

Sophia’s arm shot up.

“Yes Sophia, you don’t need to put your arm up. There are only the two of you here.”

“You just do,” she said quickly. A smile hovered on her lips, fragile but there.

“Is that your final answer?”

Sophia nodded looking less sure.

“You’re right. and you’re wrong. magic, once you’re used to it, is like moving your arm, you don’t think about it. you just do it,” I said smiling.

I started to walk around the circle, until I reached the earth circle, I sent a flow of power into it.

A spire of rock rose to waist height.

“This is easy once you have a handle on your power. But where does you power come from?” I asked as I stood next to the slowly growing spire. I forced a bit more magic into it. It slowly shifted into the shape of a sapling.

I walked away keeping a part of my attention on it as it grew and changed. There was no answer from my students.

“Your power comes from the magic which comes through your links. Everyone has one, mages have more than one. But what makes the links different?

“The person?” Airis offered.

They were both staring at my tree.

“Nearly,the location of the link is what makes them different. They are rooted deep in our minds. There, from almost the moment we are born. Our minds grow around them. But we all grow in different ways. How we see the world. How we think. How we feel. Are all different.”

I looked over at them, they were entranced by my stone tree. with a thought I shattered it. they jumped. Shards of stone whirled round in a small controlled cyclone before going back into the the circle.

“This is where I introduce the word concept. Does it mean anything to you?” I said with an intensity they found hard to face.

“Ideas” Airis suggested.

“Ideas given form, yes. A concept is a collection of thoughts and feelings that we use for our magic. Enchantment is nothing but these. The raw manipulations like the tree, don’t use them in such a pure way but they are central to everything we do. I used growth for the tree. What does growth mean to you?” I asked.

“taller” said Sophia

“age” Said Airis at the same time.

“Exactly, growth is just a word, but it means different things to different people. It isn’t an idea. Ideas can’t be communicated like that. It takes a great many words to express an idea well. But a concept in the magical sense is everything. It takes every meaning of a word or an idea, and combines them in a very complicated web. It takes years to build up a clear understanding of the concepts you already carry, let alone build new ones. Sophia, you have made plants grow and you have propelled stones. What concepts do you think you understand?” I asked.

“Umm. growth. and move.” she hedged. her earlier confidence gone.

“Ah, movement, yes. You will know that. Everyone does. One of the first we all learn. Good.”

I stood in the very center of the room, I put on my most serious expression.

“Your magic is thought, it is ideas given shape. They are your leverage against the world. So sharpen your minds, they are all that stand between you and helplessness.”

As a finish I sent out my power to earth and water. I made both circles rise up balls of water and earth floated into the air, they danced around me. flickering into different shapes. a tree, a fish, a cat, a bear, a wave. I ended with them formed into a pixie and sprite, hovering behind each shoulder.

Sophia and Airis were stood clapping and hooting at my little show.

I let the elements go back to their respective circles.

Then I bowed.

“Thank you both. That is the lecture section of this class done. This is your assignment. Pick a concept, and explore it. Words associated with it. Thoughts that come to you in connection to it. But a word of caution, don’t pick an abstract. Things like love or trust or honor. Pick something solid, found in nature. The abstracts are a long ways off.

I walked over to the glyph screen.

“i will guide you just this once, what is your choice?” I said.

“Damage,” Sophia said.

Airis nodded, his eyes locked on me with a fascination I didn’t understand. He couldnt use this.

“Alright, damage it is,” I wrote ‘damage’ in large glyphs in the center of the screen. “ This is the exercise, think of words that spring to mind.”

“Break,” Sophia said.

“Fracture,” Airis offered.

I wrote these on the screen too. They took it in turns throwing a word out. The web of connected words grew.

“Feelings?” I asked. “At the moment this is just a mess of words. You have to own it. You do that by attaching emotion, memories. Anything that helps you get a deeper, a more personal, image of the concept.”

And so it went like this for about half an hour. I stepped away from the screen and faced them.

“Do you both have your screens?” they nodded. “Good, copy what is up her onto them. This isn’t enough. Each thought. Each idea. Each feeling. Needs to be your own. This is how concepts are built. This is how they are yours. Over the next few months I will teach you how to put them in a shape that you can recall, like this,” I gestured to the screen, “But in your head. It takes time and effort, but you can’t be a mage without them. The dreamers can get by on feel, they don’t need to know all the mechanics of it, but you need to understand exactly what you are doing. One day all this will come naturally as you internalise The levels of versatility and power you will be dealing with deserve nothing less than your utmost,” I said gravely. I fixed my gaze on Sophia.

She looked back, daunted but resolved. Her face was pale but her jaw was firm her eyes focused.

“Thank you both for your time. Anyone ready for lunch?”

 

Mage Life Chapter 27

I sat on the hard floor of the arena, racked with sobs, I spend a long moment trying to control my breathing to stop it, there was an odd hiccup as I suppressed it. I wiped my eyes to find Velar standing next to me. Well, over me.

“Come on, there is no need for tears,” Velar said, as he looked down at me. He offered a hand.

I nodded more to myself than anything, and stood on my own.

He lowered his hand and his smile slipped a touch. “ Can we talk a moment? I understand that you might not be feeling up to it though. Jase and Fion mentioned what happened,” he said with what was apparently sincere concern.

“If I’m a Mage, then you’re my boss, I kinda have to talk to you,” I agreed reluctantly.

He gestured up the step out of the room.

We fell into step, him to the side of me. The twins had pulled themselves up, and followed along behind like dogs.

That really didn’t put me at ease, two lethal, legendary mages, that had shown themselves willing to harm me, at my back. I could feel an itch start just between my shoulder blades.

“It doesn’t need to be like this Tristan. I’m sorry you feel hard done by, but we have to be sure,” Velar said. his hands moved in large expansive movements as he talked. his voice was gentle but firm. He sounded a bit like my father. That brought me up short.

“Stop it,” I said.  I turned to look at him. The twins hung back, but close enough that if I tried to harm the boss man they would kill me.

“Stop what?” he asked, an expression of guileless innocence on his face.

I wasn’t buying it, a powerful man is never innocent.

I thought briefly for a moment. I checked my feelings and thoughts. I almost dismissed it, but something wasn’t right. I cocked my head to the side as I looked at him. There was nothing to support my growing suspicion, but I had screamed at the man because of a vision already. I may well be past the need for evidence.

“Stop whatever you are doing to influence me. It’s not necessary. I have to hear you out. You’re the leader of the bloody wizards,” I said slightly bitterly.

His face changed to one of pure surprise.

“You could feel that? I thought that was impossible,” he looked at the twins who looked ready to kill me right now. They seemed equally surprised. “Of course I will stop, I just wanted you to be more comfortable.”

“You think you’re the only being that’s tried to mess with my head? Just say what you want to say and leave me be.”

The familiar friendly tone evaporated, now I was talking to the head wizard. “Fine, Tristan. I want to know several things. One, what is your involvement with Brak?” he left it hanging in the air, waiting expectantly for me to answer.

I resumed walking. I need the time to think.

Brak was the wizard that captured us. With Iason Alerus, Vance and Lessor. The ones from the foundry. Why ask me?

“My involvement with them is nothing, I have none. They on the other hand, seem to go around blowing places up,” I said with a detachment I didn’t feel, I was angry again. Dealing with them, with this, more things that kept me from my duty. Which at the moment was the newly awakened child upstairs in her bed.

“Fine I will accept that answer for now. Two, when did you learn sigils and reading? We received a report of a mage developing reading, but we thought it was wrong. Turns out it wasn’t,” he said firmly, but there was something else under it. Something I couldn’t put my finger on.

We walked through the deserted halls of the academy, I didn’t really know where I was going, but I soon saw the end of a hall that looked familiar, I aimed in that direction while I considered my answer.

“Reading happened after an encounter with a god, well supposedly a god. Sigils, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. I don’t know sigils,” I said in a rush, anything to get this guy to leave me alone.

“You used one. It sent the twins flying. How can you not know?”

“Look, I’m tired and not in the mood for this, can we move on? I need to see my apprentice” I said.

We were now in a well travelled part of the academy, my suite of rooms just down the hall.

“Tristan, whatever you may think of me, I suggest you put it behind you. You have a bright future with us. Don’t let the past colour your judgement,” Velar said.

I looked over to him, the impression of a jovial uncle, lingered around him, but it was tinged with sadness. His laughter lines, creased deeper than they should be.

“I don’t really care about the past, I’ve done my share of things that I’m not proud of. But how could you do it?” I asked in earnest.

“The nobles oath was insidious, we had very little choice. Some of us could fight it, others were left little more than shells, puppets. There were horrors, but the worst part is do their bidding or worse would happen. They died so that others could live,” he said

“That is the crap, rationalise it anyway you want, it was wrong,” I said.

“Yes it is. It was wrong and it’s still wrong. I have to live with that and a great many other things that I wish I didn’t. There is a reason there are no nobles now,”

I looked back at the twins, they looked grim.

“Not just them,” Velar said with a chuckle.

“If you will excuse me, I have a little girl to see,” I said as we reached my apartment door.

“One moment, I heard you have made a very special construct.”

I stopped, panic flooded through my my hand clenched on the door handle as the breath went out of me.

“I would be interested to see it, Jase says you are very talented. With all the reports about you, I have to agree, but it would be nice to see evidence with my own eyes.

“Is this just academic interest, or something more?” I asked as I eyed him with suspicion.

“Oh, Calm down,” he said with a laugh, his kindly facade back on. “I’m just curious. I love golems. I don’t mind that you ‘may’ have broken a few rules. We aren’t such stick in the muds about little things like that. If you had made a warrior, then I’m sure we would be having words.”  The faintest hint of menace, radiated from him with the last words.

I froze, then tried to cover it.

“Ah, I would rather see to my apprentice right now,” I hedged.

“Is there something you need to tell me?” he said. He was looking at me intensely once again.

Those rainbow eyes are disconcerting, particularly when they were focused on me.

“He’s a warrior, for design purposes. I made him to be a protector. And he is still a very early step in my project,” I said before I even realised.

I stopped and blinked.

“Thought I told you to stop it, I said harshly.

I opened the door ready to go through and slam it behind me.

“Hold, Tristan. I’m still a leader and secrets have a habit of coming back to bite me, so forgive me for the invasion, but I will make no more excuses for it. You don’t want someone in your head, I can understand that. Learn to protect yourself,” Velar said.

“Fine, I can’t protect myself from it yet, so leave,” I said, maybe harsher than I should, but I was done tiptoeing around people.

“No, let me see the golem. I don’t want to pull rank on you, Mage”

“Then don’t.”

I opened the door and walked through, I turned to close it behind me to find a foot wedged in the frame.

“Move your foot,” I instructed.

“Tristan I like you, but don’t push your luck. You live on my sufferance,” Velar said without heat.

It struck me cold, my whole life depended on this man, who I had been treating like he was beneath me.

“Sir, I apologise,” I forced myself to say as I opened the door. “It’s been a trying day.”

Velar chuckled at that and stepped into the room.

The twins attempted to follow.

I looked to Velar, “Can they not come in please? I doubt it would be conducive to my apprentice’s health.”

“Oh, of course,” Velar nodded to the twins, who took position on either side of the door. Guarding.

Good luck with that, I thought.

I called out “Airis.”

“Tristan, you’re back. What was that all about?” Airis’ child voice replied. The actual boy followed along shortly. He stopped in the entry of the room.He was a boy again.

I let out a small sigh of relief, I’d had my doubts about showing him to be harmless as a giant stone man.

Airis stood looking between Velar and Me. If it hadn’t been so serious I would have laughed at his expression. Perplexed just didn’t cover it.

“Relax Airis. This is Velar, the head wizard. He wanted to meet you,” I said helpfully. “Oh, is head wizard the official title? That’s all I even hear you called.”

“Sir,” Airis bowed.

I guess all that information I had implanted served some good.

“No, head wizard isn’t the title, it’s arch wizard,” Veler said amused. “It’s nice to meet you Airis.”

“Airis, how’s Sophia?” I asked worried.

I started to head toward her room.

“She’s awake, Lady Lyphia, is in there with her,” Airis informed me.

I stopped in my tracks.

“Lyphia? Here?” I looked down at myself, I was a mess. “Do I have time to bathe? Change my clothes?” I asked in a rush of words. My heart raced. All thoughts of Sophia fled.

Airis shrugged and Velar laughed.

Helpful of them, I thought before continuing on my way.

Sophias door was closed, I could hear the faintest of murmurs from beyond it. I tiptoed to my door, which was opposite, I reached the handle. As I went to turn it, I heard a door open behind me.

“Hello, Lyphia” I said without turning.

Mage Life Chapter 26

“Trisan get up!” Came Airis’ rocky voice.

I blinked and moaned as I rolled over. I was still dressed. I smelt and felt disgusting. My chest was sticking to my clothes, my wrist hurt and I couldnt remember why.

I was in my room. How did I get here? I asked myself. My sleep fogged mind refused to give me the answer. I wiggled to the edge of the bed and sat up. I blinked my bleary eyes, then remembered what had woken me.

“What is it?” I called, after a moment of croaking. I looked down at my wrist, a nasty looking gash along it. It stung when I poked at it, the sticky feel of the blood as I pulled my sleeve off it.

“There are some people here,” Airis called back.

Shit, it all came back to me. The cell, Vance, Jase’s son. Sophia and my choice.

I stood far faster than was probably good for me the blood rushing from my head. I felt dizzy and sick. I wobbled, but didn’t fall. I racked my brain for a moment, where is my bracer? Where did I last see it. I know I didn’t take it to the woods. It would have been useful there.

I took a deep breath, the worst of the sickness faded. I looked around my room, I must have left it in here somewhere.

“Tristan!” Airis shouted. I trusted him to keep Sophia safe. I just needed a moment.

“I’m coming,” I called as I couldn’t seem to find my bracer anywhere. Another thing lost. Maybe someone had been in here while I was away.

I walked slowly to the door, this is it. My only thought.

I wasn’t angry, I was scared. So scared, that my knees felt weak and I thought I might throw up.

I opened the door.

Airis was on the other side of the hall outside Sophia’s door. He was looking toward the main room, that I still didn’t know what to call, there were a couple of figures there.

“How is she? I asked stopping briefly.

“She’s still not woken, but she’s moving and talking in her sleep,” Airis said his voice pitched low.

I smiled, a small gentle smile.

“Thank you. Stay with her please,” I said and patted him on his rough stone hand.

He nodded and looked at me strangely. It’s hard to read a helmet for emotion, normally it doesn’t come up, but my life is just full of strange.

I stood taller,lifted my head high, set my shoulders and walked to my fate proudly.

I chose this. If this is the price, I gladly pay it, for her.

I didn’t rush, they could wait, but I wasn’t slow.

I walked into the room.

Two very old, but strong looking men were waiting. Black cloaks with the hoods up. I couldn’t see their hair, but each had one blue and one orange glowing eye set in heavily wrinkled faces. They were stocky and about average height. On their wrists were bright silver bracers crawling with glyphs.

I won’t deny, I felt a shiver down my spine as I realise who they were.

The council’s executioners. These were the two men that had passed judgment on the nobles after the waves. Their names escaped me, but their descriptions were everywhere,as was their legend.

Twins that had been born back when our lands were whole, before the nobles turned against each other. The throne has been empty a long time now. The line of the mage king died out about a century ago, but the nobles had waited maybe ten years till they started the wars to see who would become the next king.

The twins had turned ten the year before, the first crown war as it became known. They lived on one of the borders between nobles. Their village was turned into one of the largest battle grounds. The twins had gotten separated, they awakened at the same time. Fire. They tore the battle field apart in a firestorm, trying to get back to each other, they failed. They were some of the first children conscripted by the nobles. Each sworn to an enemy. They faced each other many times. But never fought. They refused. Each battle they would walk off to the side and watch together. They were a legend before the new legend.

When the waves ended and the council rose to power, they had a decision to make. What to do with the nobles that had torn our land apart. While the council deliberated, the twins visited the head of each noble family. They left with the heads. Detached from the bodies.

They then traveled to Greenlaw, to the wizards now floating city, and presented the heads to Velar, the leader of the council. Grateful that they had saved the wizards having to worry about it, but upset that they had taken it upon themselves. The judgement he gave them was harsh, but ultimately wise.

They were bound by their oath, I didn’t really understand what it had meant back when I first heard the story,  to serve the council. All this went through my mind as I stood looking at them. Shivering in my boots with fear at what they were empowered to do to me if they chose.

“Tristan Sodden, for disobeying a lawful order given by an empowered being of the council. You are to come with us for judgement,” said the one on the left, his voice was strong but gentle. There was no hint of age in it.

Neither moved, they stood there, blank expressions that could mean anything.

I looked from one to the other, took a deep breath, nodded and stepped towards them. Time to face my fate.

The one that spoke went to the door while the other walked along side me.

He didn’t touch me. He actually kept his distance, which surprised me.

I nodded to him. I was thankful not to be clapped in irons after all that had gone on before.

He nodded in return a slight upturn to his lips.

I had no idea what to make of that, probably best not to read to much into it.

They led me out the door and through the halls, deeper into the depths of the academy. We walked in silence.

I considered making a break for it, but no I chose this. The least I could do was face it. We went down halls I didn’t even know existed deep beneath the building. We ended up in a huge sunken room. Steps cut into the rock led down to an open floor, roughly hewn out of the natural stone the building was built on. As we walked down I could feel the magics of the room. This was the very core of the academy, the first thing built. Embedded in the floor were old, old spells that I couldn’t begin to decipher. I knew I was distracting myself from the moment, but I just couldn’t help it. Better to be distracted than piss myself in fear. I had been escorted here by two of the most legendary mages even with a reputation for bloodshed. Maybe this is why we never heard of rogue mages. They were led down here like cattle to the slaughterhouse.

I shook myself hard. I took another deep breath and set my face. I wouldn’t show my fear. I lifted my eyes to the far side of the room.

My heart froze in my chest. I recognised one of the men. From a dream. He was older now, but not as much I would expect. He looked to be in his early forties, still slim, deep set eyes that blazed with power. A shimmering rainbow trapped within them. I never heard his name, but I saw him pass judgement on a couple then proceed to burn them at the stake. He wasn’t alone, but I didn’t recognise the other two.

“Thank you for joining me, Mage Sodden, and thank you for bringing him Delec and Kelec. We are here to decide your fate, Tristan. Do you mind if I call you Tristan?” he asked, his friendly voice crossed the room easily.

“No,” I answered. All other answers dried on tongue, unable to be spoken. I stood in the center of the floor, almost an arena. The sides rose gradually up. The tribunal looked down on me. Just behind me the twins Delec and Kelec. It was intimidating.

“Good, right let’s move right along then, we need to get back to Greenlaw tonight. Shame about the wave, but we have lent a hand where we could while we were here. So, Orb, gave me the facts while the twins were fetching you. Rysan is livid, but then again, he always was excitable,” he chuckled to himself at that. “Oh, I’m Velar, sorry for being rude. I forgot we haven’t met. I missed your exam. I normally make a point to attend every one. But something came up. I’m sorry,” he waved his arm, dismissing it but looked really sincere. “Anyway you are charged with disobeying a lawful command, which is a direct breach of your indenture,” he looked at me sternly, the humor fading from his face, it left him looking stern and cold, his eyes swirled with colours. He stared at me intently watching my every movement. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?” his voice, hard and uncompromising.

I felt something rise in me, I bit it back. I looked down at my feet.

“This is your last chance, do you have anything to say in your defence?”

The memory of those words from his lips, made me forget caution.

“In my defence no. I disobeyed. Just as I should have,” I said anger forced my words. “It could have cost my apprentice her life. I did the right thing. I would do it again. If it costs me my job, my freedom, my life, it’s the least I could do for her,” I shouted.

I looked up at him. The head wizard, the man I had seen burn people alive. “Who the fuck do you think you are, standing in judgment of me? I’ve seen you in action. That couple, here in this very town. You tied them to a stake. You burnt them alive and made everyone watch. I chose not to blindly follow, as you should have done. Do what you will. I will not defend my actions to you or to anyone else,” I spat the last words at him.

I was shaking, my magic was trying to help me, I pushed it back. it couldn’t help me here.

Velar stood, he looked like I had slapped him. his mouth opened and closed a few times as he looked down at me.

I felt the twins move up beside me, they grabbed an arm each twisting them behind my back. I was forced to my knees.

I struggled.

“Get off me, you can’t force me to give respect to anyone, it’s earned. I will not bow my knee to him of my own will,” I shouted. My blood was pounding in my ears. My head felt as if it would explode.

“Let him go,”Velar said.

They clearly didn’t hear, they seemed intent on breaking my arms. I let my magic rise. I felt a tingle in my head as something shifted. A sigil surfaced behind my eyes, in my minds eye maybe. Oddly enough I recognised it. It was my bracer’s concept. I channeled my magic into it.

Power exploded out of me. The twins went flying away, as my shield flowed out from my skin in a rush. I stood up, glaring.

Velar looked astonished.

“Who taught you that?” he asked sharply.

“Fuck off, I don’t owe you answers. Let the others judge me, not you,” I said harshly. I stared at them.

The other two men up high, started whispering rapidly to each other, I didn’t care enough to listen in. But whatever it was there was an argument going on between them about something.

Velar looked between his two colleagues, they each nodded once. Velar looked back to me, a smile on his face. “Tristan despite the irregularities, we accept your defence. in fact we are pleased you chose to do what you did.

“Huh?” My shield faltered as I tried to work out what he meant.

“We are not the nobles, I don’t want you to think we are. We want agents, be they Mages like yourself or Wizards who can think. We encourage it, but we also want men like you. That will spit in the face of injustice. That will do the right thing, no matter the cost. You have proven that you deserve to hold the power you have,” Velar said.

I looked from face to face all were smiling, except the twins who were still on the floor, groaning.

“I don’t understand,” I said softly, confusion and hope warred within me. My anger fled in the face of that.

“Welcome, Mage Tristan Sodden, Welcome to the new order of the world,” he said smiling broadly.

Velar and his colleagues stood and as one they bowed to me, a deep bow.

I just stood staring at the wizards, leaders of the world bowing to me, the son of a farmer from a once unimportant town. Emotion overcame me. The exact emotion I couldn’t name.

I sunk to the floor and I cried.

 

Vote

Mage Life Chapter 25

Airis and I made our way back through the woods.

He carried Sophia while I used what magic I could to ease our passage. The branches bent without springing back, and I made the earth soft, so no stumbles or bumps knocked Airis.

There wasn’t much I could do to light our way, although the moon did a fair job.

As we walked carefully through the dim forest I kept my eyes and ears open, trying not to think of what I was going to do when I got back. I failed.

The silence itched to be filled with something,anything. It just waited until someone would be stupid enough to fill it. I stayed as quiet as I could. I felt I had done my stupid act for the day.

Yes, I had found Sophia and Airis at the cost of everything else. A Mage, not following orders in the heat of the moment may be forgiven. What I had done was something else. I had deliberately disobeyed, I had even fought against the order when given another chance. The price was just too high. My dreams would be worthless built on the corpse of a child. What kind of organisation would force the issue? My thoughts ran in circles. I could feel my anger growing both at myself and Orb. My fists tightened and my breath came hard as my rage started to pound in my head. If I had taken a moment to think I might have been able to find another way or talk orb around.

A rustle to my right knocked me out of my head for the moment.

I jumped, and pulled magic into my palm, as I stared into the gloom.

A fox, looked back as it emerged from behind a tree. It chattered at me before scampering off.

I sighed in relief, and laughed softly to myself. The great mage Tristan Sodden, threatener of receptionists, murderer of surges, sinker of districts and frightener of foxes. A hefty list of titles for a mage whose career spanned a few short months. The tinge of humor drained out of me, my mood darkened further with each thought, links in a chain, mistakes all of them, yet part of the job.

My steps came heavier now, each one harder than the one before. My shoulders drooped as I lowered my hand, the anger gone.

My victories seemed to mock me, even this. I won the battle but I felt like I had lost the war.

I trudged onto the path, the way back clear. If not for Sophia I would have turned the other way, run from the consequences of my decision, if it wasn’t for Sophia I would never have made the decision in the first place.

Airis’ came closer as I had slowed. “What is wrong Tristan? Why have you slowed? I thought there was some urgency in this. Was I wrong?” he asked, his stone face hidden by his helmet and the low light, eyes bright and pure.

“I’m  just weighing my actions Airis, but you’re right. We don’t have time for it,” I said looking into his pure light I felt small. This being, that I had made, had no thought for himself. Here I was wallowing when Sophia needed me to be strong.

“Fuck the consequences, I will deal with it when I must. I still have a job to do,” I said aloud without realising.

“Tristan, what are you talking about?” Airis asked.

“Nothing, nevermind,” I lied smoothly. “We are nearly there. I’m not sure how to handle you. Are you a golem or are you a boy?” I asked. It was serious question.

“Does it really matter? We have bigger issues at the moment.”

“It does matter, I went for a picnic with two children. Do I come back with two or just the one?”

“Tristan, I am both. I don’t care. Ask another time,” Airis said he stepped around me,

I let it go, while it would have ramifications whatever choice we went with, I was too tired to give it the thought it deserved and as he said we had bigger issues.

I followed the golem boy through the thinning edge of the forest, the road ahead beckoned, the town just a hop away. The thought of running came and went again. I’d been taught better by my father and by Jase.

I caught up looked to the side at Airis as we reached the unmanned gate. It was never closed, I wasn’t even sure why there was a gatehouse. A distraction.

“Let me do the talking please,” I pleaded with Airis.

He merely shrugged, as much as he was able with the small girl in his arms. She looked so tiny against him in this form.

The town was still few people would be out this late, one problem I didn’t have to deal with. The streets were dark all the lights in this part dead. They must have been affected by the wave. The pavement was whole though.

I hesitated, unsure where to go. The mage academy might be closed to me now. I don’t know how quickly I would be registered as rogue. A rogue mage, one of the things we were informed didn’t happen. None of us questioned it back then, I’m wishing I had now. I decided that going anywhere else would be cowardly.

I set my feet in the direction of the academy, it was my home. It was Sophia’s home the only one she had, I would be severed before I let them take it from her.

My anger rose again, taking with it my fear.

We walked in silence bar the loud echo of our steps on the solid paving beneath use.

The academy was lit, brightly lit in contrast to this side of town, but there was no one stood outside barring my way. We marched into the lobby. Empty. The only sign that Jase, Fion and Avery had been there was a small tracery of blood, probably from Jase. He had been the only one that was really wounded. I turned towards the entry to the halls. I stopped a moment looking at Airis, unsure if he would fit, but it looked as if I worried needlessly.

On we went through the empty halls until we reached our apartments. The door was stood open.

I stopped Airis with a raised hand. “Let me go in first, we don’t know why the door is open.” I looked at him intensely, for a moment I thought he was going to argue, then he inclined his head slightly.

I took a deep breath and pulled my magic up, ready to trigger in a moment. A raw blast, but I doubted I would be facing gnomes in here. Raw would be fine.

I stepped through the door, Fion was sat at the dining table. His massive frame dwarfing the wooden chairs. He was sat facing the door while he fiddled with something, I couldnt see what.

“Put up your magic, boy,” he said without looking up from whatever he was tinkering with. “You don’t want to fight me.”

“Why are you here?” I asked as I let my magic subside. He was right, I really didn’t want to fight him.

“Did you find your girl?” he asked ignoring my question.

I walked further into the room, but not within arms reach of Fion through

“Airis, it should be fine, come on in,” I called, not taking my eyes of Fion.

Airis stepped into view, his warrior form looking even larger than if had in the woods. His eyes were so bright. Sophia was cradled protectively, almost out of sight.

Fion jumped out of his seat, his eyes widened in shock.

“What the fuck is going on here Tristan, where is the boy?” he asked quickly.

I smiled, a thin strained smile, “This is the boy, as you put it.”

Fion looked between me and Airis, his gaze lingered on Sophia. He looked back to me again. “You clever little fucker, you made a human golem,” he crowed, a smile so wide that my own twisted into something more real. I also resisted the urge to correct him. Airis was his own being not a ‘human golem’.

“How’s Jase?” I asked, while he was distracted.

Oh, he’s fine,” Fion said offhandedly, his attention was firmly fixed on Airis. he looked like a giant child, his mouth open eyes wide and roaming. “He is beautiful Tristan, you’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble for him.”

It’s not like I can make things worse, you heard Orb earlier,” I said. I looked away I couldn’t bear to see how he felt about the matter.

“Bah, I didn’t, I don’t really care what Orb had to say. You got a healer here for Jase and the woman,” Fion said. Real emotion coloured his voice for the first time, gratitude.

I looked back at him.

“Thats what mattered to me. Any ways you left. How was I supposed to hear the little ball?” he said with a shrug.

I didn’t have anything to say to that, so I moved on.

“Can you help Sophia? I don’t know what to do for her,” I said. I held my breath.

“She’s awakened. What have you done this time? For fuck sake, boy, she’s a child! We can’t have a child mage,” he said heatedly as he looked at her, with his distant look.

I assumed he used oversight to check her over.

“Help her, please! She is all I have left,” I said, desperation roughened my voice. it was bubbling up with the fear that she would stay like this.

“Calm yourself, she is fine. She should wake up soon. How long has she been like this?” Fion asked he looked at me.

I turned to Airis.

“Just under two days, since the wave,” Airis said. His first words since entering.

Fion looked at me seriously for once.

“Shes been out for two days, see it’s nothing. You was out for a week if I remember Jase right. and more importantly you made a stone golem that speaks,” his childlike glee came back, as a little hitch in his speech. “That is so amazing, you knew the old ones couldn’t talk? Only the air and fire ones, they were a nightmare to build, you couldn’t anchor them to anything,” Fion just shook his head in wonder.

“Airis could you take her to bed please? Oh and guard the door. Don’t let anyone enter, not anyone,” I asked sternly.

Airis nodded and carried Sophia to her room.

Fion and I watched him go.

“What did the ball say?” Fion asked.

“It doesn’t matter now. It’s done.” I said softly. I wavered on my feet. Now Sophia was safe, my drive was gone. The last few days caught up with me in a rush. “I need to sleep.”

I walked off leaving a dazed Fion standing there.

“Oh, could you shut the door on your way out please” I called as I left the room.

I heard a faint grunt then the door hit the frame. A small click as it caught.

I made it to my bed, mine for how much longer I had no idea but it was for now.

That was the last thing I remember as my exhaustion rolled over me.

 

MageLife Chapter 4 Rewrite

Waking up to bright light shining through my eyelids, turning my world red, I blinked my eyes open. There was no Orb, the light was sunlight coming in from the window. It was just after dawn, hints of red and orange still coloured the sky. The sun itself barely more than a sliver on the horizon, wreathed in frayed wisps of cloud.

I reached down and absently scratched at my leg, it itched. My whole body ached but in a good-just-woken-up-and-need-to-move-way. I flipped the blanket off me, the cool air rushed in, tightening my skin. Getting up didn’t hurt, my leg took my weight, it didn’t shake or show any weakness. There was a vague mark reminiscent of the bite but there was nothing to feel, just a blue stain on my skin.

I padded over to the basin, had a wash, the fresh water dispelling any lingering lethargy. Getting dressed showed the paucity of my wardrobe, one uniform down two left, I would have to fill in the forms to requisition a new set soon, but that could wait for now. I had an appointment to keep.

I smiled, my very own enchantment, before remembering where it was.

My old home, that had never actually felt like home, more like a prison of my own making. The Westhaven Mage Academy. It was close to my new apartment which was a plus, I didn’t want to strain my leg. It might feel healed but it wasn’t worth the risk. Slow and steady. The Academy is huge and I didn’t have a clue which room I would be in or who I would be seeing. Enchantments are a fairly generic skill among mages but the real masters were rarities. I would probably be with someone with limited skill but greater experience, which suited me fine. Mages that are highly skilled in one area are normally half mad or at least very odd.

I set off at a steady place down the hall in my building, there were no windows in the centre of the building, but light was provided by glow-globes set in the ceiling. This building was new, something else had been here before this but I couldn’t recall what it was. Something small, maybe dilapidated house or a leather workers. I shrugged it aside. The plaster on the walls was still soft and the air which should have been close and cloying was fresh still smelling vaguely of wood shavings and paint. At the end of my hall I had a choice, I lived on the third floor, the top floor. I could use the small stairwell or the floating stone disc that hovering in the middle of a shaft cut through the core of the building. It was a new thing that had been imported from the wizard towers in Greenlaw I’d tried it when I moved in and it was a bit disorienting. A lurch in the stomach as it fell. But it was better than risking a tumble on the stairs. Stepping on to the disc, it didn’t move despite no visible support. I stood was in the middle away from the edges, not that being on the edge was dangerous, it was protected, but it was still terrifying for me. The idea of the walls of the shaft rubbing the skin off as I fell. Too much like the pit and the gnome from yesterday. So much like yesterday that I almost changed my mind about taking the stairs. Stilling my rising claustrophobia, I called out, “Ground floor.”

The enchantments took care of the rest, I could sense the faintest hint of what was happening but I didn’t look. The bottom fell out of my stomach in a strange rising fall. Then the disc settled and revealed the ground floor lobby.

A simple room that provided access to the rest the building, the shaft at the back where I now stood. On the sides there were hallways leading off to more apartments. I had yet to meet a neighbour but its only been a few days. It’s not every day that a mage moves in. I walked over the polished stone floor, my boots clicking with every step. I opened the wide door and stepped onto the street. Early morning is a wonderful time to be out and about. The crisp scent of dawn mixed with the smells of baking bread. Sounds quiet but clear, people getting up and going about their business, work, children going to the small school run by educated sleepers, teaching reading writing and basic maths. Their chatter and inane-but-cheerful questioning made me smile.

I made my way through the sparse but increasing traffic, taking in the space. The streets were wide and smoothly flowing, almost sinuous. Even the straight parts curved ever slightly. The central plaza with its fountain lined up exactly with each of the four gates, but the path between them wove, meandered gently like a stream. Smaller, thinner paths branched of like tributaries leading to the more residential parts of town. Westhaven was far bigger than it needed to be, it could hold easily about fifty thousand people. Over a quarter stood empty. The level of surviving refugees had been vastly over estimated. In time it would be filled.

Just off the main plaza with its amazing fountain, the source of all water in the town, was the Mage academy. The fountain is fed by an underground river, diverted to anywhere it was needed. The Academy seemed to suck all the light from the air and with it my warmth and optimism. It was built of a deep black, fine grained stone, far darker than the rest of the town. The stark contrast set it apart, another divide between mages and the common people. It was tall and foreboding, dominating this part of town. Its shadow seemed to reach out and devour all in its path. The world was a tiny bit darker just for having this building in it. As a child I had heard tales about it. Built on blood and darkness, the home of the ravens with the glittering eyes that feed of misery, I had heard a lot, none of it stopped me entering when my time came. And now my time had come again.

I’d spent a long time here, almost five turning of the seasons, never walking free, never seeing the sun except from short lessons in the gardens. Contact with outside influences was restricted, twice a month in the early turns but even family lost touch as the training got more intense. The isolation and frustration were supposedly good for the development of our abilities. Fewer distractions. Higher emotions to fight through. All in order to make our use of magic more intuitive, more easily. Its hard to do some of the finer applications when you have to concentrate on merely holding your power. The training eliminated the need for conscious control so you could focus on what needed to be done.

While I was lost in recollection the sun’s light slanted over the nearby buildings, falling on my face. The warm golden light broke me out of the spell. No more delaying. I took a deep breath of the fresh morning air, still cool from the night, and stepped up to the doors.

They were much the same as the rest of the building, massive, far beyond what was really needed. Thick, darkly stained oak covered in carvings and glyphs, they swung open at my touch. A mage is always recognised by these doors. The raven’s roost welcomes all ravens.

I stepped into darkness.

As I walked in lights flickered to life, old style glow globes that didn’t glow. These burnt with fire trapped inside. The darkness receded to the edges of the room where it hung in swathes of shadows. The hall was imposing, huge and empty, cold. It discouraged visitors, fitting the legends that surrounded this place. At the end on the long hall was a large desk set in the middle between the only two corridors out of the hall. The chair behind it sat empty. On the desk was a glowing glyph screen, its clear substance filled with motes of light.

I laid my hand on the surface.

“Junior Mage Sodden, attend me in research lab seven. This screen will guide you.” A voice I knew very well informed me; my old mentor Elder Mage Jase.

Picking up the screen I saw the motes forming into a map of the building, a glimmering line showing the route I must take. With a deep sigh I set off to the corridor on my left.

The map led me down wide corridors, burning globes lit my way with flickering treasonous light, down past the aspirant cells. Iron doors with clear crystal glyphs recessed into the black stone walls.  My old cell was here. I was tempted to access the crystal and find out who had taken my place, but the map led me on further past the cells taking the decision out of my hands. The smell of damp stone and iron brought back memories best faced in the light of day, there was no daylight to be found down here.

I reached the research area shortly after, it was where the masters work rooms were. We had walked past them everyday on the way to the training rooms, although that didn’t help much when travelling through this warren of rooms and corridors. It was confusing, even living here for so long didn’t give me much to work with. All the corridors looked the same. Without the map I would have wandered for a long time. Just off from the masters workrooms was a small corridor, barely noticeable if it wasn’t for the map guiding me. I turned down and saw rows of staggered doors. Each one had a large central glyph representing a number. Room seven was on my left, a new glowing globe set above the door, glowing green.

I set my feet and prepared myself before laying my hand on the door, a small ring like a tiny bell sounded and the door opened.

Elder mage Jase looked exactly as I remembered him, it had only been a week, but it felt like a lifetime. Taller than me, slim almost ill looking, he had ghostly skin that emphasized his bright blue glowing eyes and his straight black, shoulder length hair. He was standing, there smiling at me.

“Come in my boy, come in.” He gestured with a gloved hand.

I came closer, uncomfortable standing near the man who had beaten and starved me when he felt I wasn’t trying hard enough. As if he sensed my discomfort he spoke.

“I hope you don’t bear me any ill will Tristan. It’s how we are all trained, you know. So many don’t make any effort to develop their magic, we have to be sure the ones who do are the right sort. Yes it’s harsh and grossly unfair, but everything needs to be earnt to be appreciated, if it was easy undesirables would gain our power.”

“Yes Sir I do understand, but I don’t have to like it.” I retorted, barely keeping respectful.

“You were a special case, we had to be harder on you because you were so much quicker than the others, we had to be sure!”

I gritted my teeth through his little speech.

“Let’s drop the subject, on to business,” he said quickly. His expression turned softer as he gazed at me, regret and no it couldn’t be, but shame. The expression vanished so quickly I doubted what I’d seen, a calm business like mask replacing it.

“Your first custom enchantment is unique, all the others are standard, this one is personal. What do you would serve you well? A weapon? Defence maybe?”

I’d been thinking about it. While healing would be useful, not getting hurt in the first place would suit me better. Pain is not my friend.

“A defence would be best for my abilities I think Sir.”

“Right, let’s do that. As a Mage, you are not limited to the base ‘elements’.” Jase did air quotes around elements to complement his sarcastic tone.

“You should understand by now that they are not ‘elements’, they are associated concepts that allow you to relate to your magic.” I nodded. Of course I knew, he had been the one to beat it into me.

“We need to build the architecture, you have never done this. All the enchantment you have dealt with are either infusing a prepared device or voiding a faulty one.” Jase paused for a moment, looking around his workroom.

“This can be done in one of two ways, wild or controlled. Both have advantages and drawbacks. Controlled is a studied effect, carefully built, as most of the recent developments have been. Wild is considerably more powerful, but less nuanced. First enchantment is always wild, so wild is the way we start.” As he was telling me this, he was looking through a pile of crystal discs. Seeming to decide on one he passed it over.

“As this is your first, you get a pure disc. All you need to do is summon your power and build the concept you want then just push it into the disc.”

I looked at this black disc. Defenceis an easy concept, everyone understands it.Reaching with my power into the disc, I tried to impress defence into it. saying that doesn’t cover the complexity of the task.  a concept is more than just an idea or a thought, it is a tangled arrangement of thoughts, ideas memories and associations, all layered so that the concept can be compressed enough to be useful. Certain patterns were taught so that we could build concepts. They all did the same thing, compressing something vast into something that could be handled and manipulated. Oddly, the disc resisted. I ramped up the force until something stuck, an architecture form I had never seen before. Fluidic and sharp, it shifted under my sight, never settling. Slipping out of viewing, I found the disc had warped from a flat round shape to a curved oval.

Jase clapped like a child, his earlier smile returning full force.

“Well done, my boy. I was worried you wouldn’t manage it. Pass it over, let me have a look”

I held it out to him, but as he tried to grasp it it warped again, turning liquid and retreating up my hand to my wrist. I was shocked. I had never heard of enchantments having a mind of their own. All I could do was look at it.

“Sir, what’s going on?!” I asked, a hint of fear colouring my voice.

“Tristan, calm down. It’s perfectly normal; wild enchantments can only be held by their creator. All the devices you use every day are based on wild ones, eventually the form you used will settle down and you will be able to understand it, then you can teach it to others. I only asked to test that it was well done.” Jase’s tone was the same as when I graduated; calm but proud. That more than anything reassured me that he was telling the truth.

A question occurred to me.

“Sir why are we not taught this in school? Concept building isn’t overly taxing. Wouldn’t more people want to become mages?”

“Tristan, you have to realise how dangerous this information is. The wizards don’t want this known by the common people. It could mean the end of society! War, violence, widespread destruction, all would be possible if magic such as this fell into the wrong hands. The devices we provide are safe and reliable, wild magics are none of those things. Magic is complex, most just aren’t suited to wield it at higher levels.” Jase answered passionately. “When you have seen more, you will understand. Now, I have a busy day and you should go and test your new enchantment. I will log it as ‘success but unidentified’, until you figure out what it does.” He turned back to his work table, clearly done with me. I headed for the door

“Oh! Tristan, before I forget. Here is a shard on basic forms, you are authorised to enchant your equipment now you have a touch of experience. But no more wild magic, practice your forms for a while yet.” He rushed over to hand me a silver shard no bigger than my pendant. Then Jase smiled and turned away again as if I no longer existed. Absorbed in his work.

I went home. I had a lot to think about.

I sat in the chair gazing out the window at the darkening sky. Night was coming, light fled the coming darkness. The first early stars twinkled faintly high above. My hands were wrapped around a cup of cooling coffee, the heat radiating into my hands, warming and comforting. I raised the cup to drink then caught sight of my new adornment.

It had wrapped itself around my left wrist much like the bracers of some archaic armour, I couldn’t decide if it more like was a swordsman’s or an archer’s, one to defend the wearer from incoming strikes, the other to protect against the wearers own weapon, something in that thought felt significant, but I couldn’t say what. Its once black colouring had been replaced by a shifting blue green. Even the crystal it started off as felt more like metal, smooth, striated with colour

I opened my other senses to really look at it gave me a clear sight of a tangled mess. The central concept was dense with lines and threads, many smaller concepts flowed out of it before being led back in as if the enchantment danced. It was beautiful but it conveyed no meaning. Too convoluted and murky to pick apart what was doing what. I dropped my other sense and finished my drink. Cold coffee, bitter and thick on my tongue. Thankfully it was finished. I stood and walked over to the basin, rinsing the ceramic cup of the residue.

Night had finally fallen, the stars gained in brilliance, more appearing as I watched. My thoughts naturally went to what Jase had said about free magic and the wizard’s restrictions. If more people had known just what magic can do, more might have survived the waves, the dome might have been stronger, it wouldn’t have shattered at the end. Maybe the waves could have been stopped instead of us hiding and hoping. I thought. It took me a few moments to realize: If more knew, then the waves might have been far worse, any other conflict escalated beyond all control. Weapons in the hands of children, fools and the bloodthirsty. The thought horrified me. Better a world confined than wild magic.

I watched the moon rise, its glow casting shadows. All light casts shadows, even light in the darkness. Using the moonlight that filled my room I prepared for bed then laid down. Sleep came slowly.

After what seemed like forever I woke from a restless slumber filled with nightmares of flames and death. In my head was a burning. The air thick with heat and pain laden magic. The moon’s white light still shone through the window, tinted with flickering reds and oranges. I pulled myself up from my sweat soaked sheets and saw a pillar of flame shooting hundreds of feet into the sky, fighting the moon for control of the night’s light. It came from the east of town.

I rushed, pulling on my uniform and boots, then I threw myself into action. I couldn’t hear the bell. All towns have a warning bell installed normally in the mage headquarters but it wasn’t ringing. What that meant I didn’t know, but it couldn’t be good.

Flying down the stairwell and through the lobby I emerged into the cool night. I ran down the street heading to the central fountain, from their I should be able to see where to go.

As it reached the plaza a roaring stream of heated air burst from the road to the east. Civilians had left their homes and milled around aimlessly, unsure what was going on or what to do about it. I pulled water from the fountain, it flowed under my feet and up my body, taking the tightness from my skin. Pulling more water I ran towards the east, the heat getting more intense as I got closer to the source.

A wide pillar of fire rose from the street, in its core was a dark twisting shadow. Mixed with the roaring of flame and the hiss and crackle of stone heating was a human voice, almost unrecognisable as human. Its pain maddened screams filling the air. He was the source of the fire. The magic writhed, even without engaging my other senses I could feel it contorting.

The water I had with me started to heat but I cooled it with my magic. Water to soothe the flames.

I stepped closer hesitantly, calling more water from the air to shield me from the furnace. The water coated my hands and face cooling the air that I breathed. It still seared my lungs.

I opened my senses to find the cause and help the poor man, but my sight confirmed the feeling that had been growing inside me. his link was open, wide open. Way beyond normal capacity and was forcing power in its rawest form through him. I reached a water coated hand into the flames. Steam burst from me but kept the worst of the heat away.

This is raw wild magic. The thought ran through me. This is the horror of free magic.

I worked my way through the sheath of flames that coated the man, finally laying my hand on his head.

He wasn’t burnt yet, but he wouldn’t last much longer at the rate power was pouring through him.

I pushed my own power into him in an effort to close his link, his time was running out and his pain was crossing our connection.

I strained to tighten his link to close it before it finally consumed him, but it resisted all my efforts. The flames reached higher and the water coating me was almost gone.

Time ran out.

Fire licked his flesh, finally burning, and his screams reached higher than ever.

I knew what I had to do. I couldn’t help him but I could end his pain. I used my power to command the cracked and scorched paving to flow over his body, smothering the flames. Up higher it flowed covering him in cold liquid stone. My connection to the stone told me more than I wanted to know, I felt it slide down his throat, filling his stomach and lungs. I felt it in my own in sympathy, a tight gagging feeling like drowning. With a final twist I released my power, solidifying the stone.

A moment later the pillar died with him, collapsing into nothing. The heat dispersed on the freshly flowing breeze. Drying my eyes as my fallen tears sizzled on the hot stone coffin. The only sign left of a man who had lived and died here.

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