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Sorry for the delay, everyone, I’ve been dealing with some health stuff. I hope to catch up with things soon.
IT TOOK A while for Arien to settle into his first lesson at the mage school. For one thing there were fewer students here. Seventeen first-year pages lived at the palace, but only five first-year students studied here, including himself. They shared the classroom with four second-years, including Hawk, six third-years and three fourth-years. There were even a couple of scholars lounging at the back of the room. Mages were in far fewer supply than noblemen’s sons.
While everyone adjusted to having a living legend in the room, Hawk gave Arien a brief explanation of life at the school. Because of their small number first-years often shared a class with second- and occasionally third-years. The fourth-years were normally taught separately as they were completing their last official year of study. After that they had a choice of whether to take a mage-mentor and leave the school or stay and study further.
Today’s lesson, however, was an exception. Because of Mara. No one wanted to miss an opportunity of meeting this famous lady. While the students fired questions at the mage, Arien looked around the room and saw the awe and pride on their faces. This woman might have been different, but she was revered for it. As the questions kept going, Arien sat up straighter. Perhaps he could fit in at the school after all.
As though she’d been waiting for him to adjust to his new setting, Mara held up her hands to halt the flow of curiosity. “All right, everyone, settle down, that’s enough for now. I expect I’ll be here a few days yet, so you’ll get your chance to grill me again soon.”
She smiled at the disappointed groans. “If you think that was mean, just wait until you’ve sat through one of my lessons. Right, before we go any further, let’s make things easy on the new ones.” When the third- and fourth-years pulled faces, Mara nodded at the door. “This is their lesson. If you’re not happy with it you’re welcome to leave. I won’t stop you.”
The eye rolling stopped.
“But if you stay, you work. You.” She pointed at a girl who looked to be about fifteen, with spiky hair that beautifully matched the hedgehog snoozing on the desk in front of her. “Tell me about healer mages.”
“But I’m not a -” she started to protest.
“I know what you are,” Mara interrupted firmly. “I can feel that resentful knot you’ve been nursing in your gut for the last half year or so, questioning why you weren’t born with more clout like the boy you’re sitting next to. But I didn’t ask what you were. I didn’t even ask your name. What I asked for was an explanation of a healer mage.”
The girl’s jaw wasn’t the only one to drop at this swift assessment of someone Mara had never met before.
“Why don’t you try again? And stand up when you talk.”
Hunching a self-conscious shoulder, the girl rose reluctantly to her feet, her bottom lip jutting out in a sulky pout. “Healer mages are exactly as they sound. Their magic is used for healing.” When Mara said nothing, the girl continued with a put upon sigh: “Power levels can range from dealing with bruises, scratches and sniffles right up to setting broken bones, healing internal injuries and even fighting off deadly diseases.” The longer the girl talked the more enthusiastic she became, the pout vanishing and her sulk lifting.
“Like Ferde here.” She touched the shoulder of the boy beside her. “He can do amazing things with burns. There was this little girl who pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove, scalding her chest and legs. She was only four years old, but he and the healers at the Hall grew her new skin. It was pale and shiny at first, and really sensitive, but now she’s fine.” She looked down at the boy, who stared at her in surprise. “It was amazing.”
“You knew?” Ferde murmured, as she sank back into her seat and stared at her hands.
“Of course I knew. Everyone did.”
“I was jealous,” she muttered. “I’m just an ordinary mage. My magic barely makes a light globe. I can make tiny illusions and find different types of rock under the ground, but you saved that little girl’s life. I almost hated you for that.”
He took her hand and whispered something in her ear. When the girl started giggling, Mara clapped her hands. “All right, who wants to tell me about battle mages?”
Hands shot up all over the room, but Mara chose a boy at the front. He jumped to his feet and looked around with a smug smile at being singled out by the great Amarantha Weaver.
“Battle mages are the complete opposite of healer mages. Where healers are calm and controlled, battle mages are wild and impulsive. Explosive. They work best in battle, because they can blow things up.”
“And as always, Vance,” Hawk muttered beside Arien, “you’ve missed the point entirely.”
Mara studied the boy for a long moment before she motioned for him to sit. “Can anyone else tell me about battle mages?” she asked, popping Vance’s pride rather effectively.
A boy stood up from the second row. “Fiery and impulsive by nature battle mages might be, but their magic is anything but.” From his bullish stance and the hands on his hips, Arien guessed he was one himself. Especially when he sent a very unfriendly glare in Vance’s direction. “A battle mage has to learn control and skill to be able to lay their explosions safely and effectively, so they don’t blow up their own side. It’s not just explosions either, some battle mages can create field illusions, locate mineral deposits and even move objects without touching them.”
“Thank you.” Mara nodded for the boy to sit down again. “Yes, battle mages are more than just flash and noise, in the same way that ordinary mages are more than those too weak to specialise.” She sent a stern look around the room. “In fact the vast majority of Wrystani mages fall into this latter category. Ordinary mages have skills of their own, often just as intricate and important as healer and battle mages. They just do it on a smaller scale.
“Now, have we missed anything?”
Another rush of hands gained two more answers: natural mages and weather mages.
“What can you tell me about weather mages?”
For the first time there was silence. Mara raised her eyebrows. “Nothing? Not one of you can tell me a single thing about weather mages?”
Hawk raised a hand and waited for Mara’s nod before he stood. “There’s not a lot known about them,” he said calmly. “Some people don’t even believe they exist.”
“Are you one of them, mage-page?” Mara drawled.
He smiled. “No. I grew up high in the central mountains. I know there’s at least one family of weather mages around there, but they keep to themselves. Unlike every other magic discipline their power breeds true, and they don’t send their children to this school. Only spontaneously occurring weather mages end up here, and since they’re so rare, they don’t tend to stay for long. They’re secretive, cautious and strong. That’s all I know.” He sat with a shrug.
Mara tapped her fingers on her desk for a moment, then nodded. “It’ll do. Like healers, the important bit is in the name. And they vary too much for this brief lesson. All right, there’s one left. Natural mages. Since I am one, I suppose I should tell you what I do.”
She paused as the end of lesson bell pealed and grinned. “Maybe next time. Or, even better,” she said, just as everyone started to leave, “you can tell me. Two pages on natural mage powers, origins, myths or famous faces by your next theory lesson.”
As the students groaned, Mara gave an uncaring shrug. “And you won’t get any extra points if you pick me. Go visit the library.”
As the grumbling students filed out, the chatter soon turned excited again, with more than a few curious glances thrown Arien’s way. Fortunately, before he had to face the unguarded realms of the corridors, Mage Faron slipped into the room.
“One moment, Hawk,” he said. “You too, Arien. I think it’s time you both moved out of the palace, don’t you?”
~ Next Chapter ~
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