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THE RAIN WHISPERED. It tapped soft fingers on the roof of the summerhouse, blew gentle kisses in through the open sides and dripped secrets onto the pathways of the garden. Arien listened to the melody, filled with wonder at this simple act of nature, one he had encountered so rarely before he left the borders of his birth land. It called to him.
“Open your magic, Arien,” Mara murmured. “Open up and let the world in.”
His magic was already open. Or as much as he knew how. He could feel the rain sending ripples through the flow of the world’s magic as it washed through him. The world was already inside and it felt wonderful.
“Go on, open,” Mara encouraged, a hint of frustration breaking the rhythm of the rain. “You don’t have to be frightened.”
Arien frowned and opened his eyes. “I’m not frightened,” he said, as she frowned in confusion. “My magic is open. Can’t you feel it?”
She flexed her fingers, an unconscious physical echo of her magical senses. The lines on her forehead deepened. “There’s so much of it. I didn’t realise. It’s like a river inside you, flowing right through the world. I can hardly tell if you’re open or not.”
There was a hint of wonder in her voice, but mostly she sounded confused. It made Arien hunch his shoulders, drawing his magical senses inward until the flow narrowed to a trickle. “Is that wrong?” he mumbled, feeling like a failure. Why couldn’t he ever get these things right? His mother had tried and tried to teach him, but he’d never understood. He knew now that it was because her magic was so very different from his. Different from the majority of people in Wrystan too, apparently. Different even from Mara’s. Would he ever be able to get it right if he couldn’t find someone who could teach him?
“No.” Still half lost in her magical senses, Mara reached out and took his hand. “Not wrong. Here, close your eyes. See my magic.”
Arien had never seen anyone else’s magic before. He’d only caught a glimpse of his own recently, thanks to Mara’s quiet instructions on the day they met. Before he’d only ever felt when someone else had magic. He’d been able to tell whether it was strong or weak, but he’d rarely been able to distinguish one type from another. Until now, when he opened his senses and Mara showed her magic to him.
It was a fog-laden world of dark grey rocks and ghostly trees, through which swift, sparkling streams chuckled and flowed. All of it was magic, he realised. The rocks were where Mara stored power so that she always had some with her, the trees were her connection to Nia and the streams were the magic of the world.
“It’s taken me almost forty years to form my rocks and grow my trees,” she told him, her voice drifting in from far away. “But the streams were always there. Can you understand now, Ari, why I said you had so much more power than me?”
The foggy landscape faded as she released his hand and drew him back to the real world. “Do you understand yet how strong you might become?”
Blinking away the last remnants of the magical fog, Arien could only stare at her, this woman who was famous through so many countries for being the most powerful mage in Wrystan. He felt the magic roaring through him, a river in flood, and it terrified him.
“I can’t.” There was no land to anchor his rocks on, no bank on which to plant his trees.
“You can.” Mara grabbed both his hands this time and held on tight. “You must. Arien, there is so much potential in you. So much good that can be done. But only if you find a way to harness this power. The school can teach you that. I can help you. If you’ll let me.”
If there was one adult in the world Arien thought he might be able to trust enough to try, it was this one. She might not be quite the same as him, but she understood. Her magic was different, but she hadn’t let it beat her. Maybe she could help him.
“What do I have to do?”
“Good lad.” She gave his hands a squeeze before letting go and sitting back. “First you’ll learn what all mage students learn first. Glow globes.”
Arien arched an eyebrow, remembering what she’d said to Sidony earlier. “The kinds I’ll soon be wishing I’d never learned how to make?”
Mara grinned. “The very same. Now, if you’re ready, deep breath, eyes closed. Cup your hands together… loosely, loosely.”
He felt a cool touch as she placed her hands over his until he got it right.
“Perfect, now focus on the space between your palms. Can you feel it?”
“Mm,” Arien agreed, feeling more than a little silly sitting with his eyes closed and his hands clasped together.
“All right,” Mara chuckled as if she could hear his thoughts and secretly agreed with him. “Now look inside yourself, back at your magic. Can you see it?”
The magic glinted silver as it flowed through the blackness of his mind. There wasn’t a scrap of land to be seen, there was only the water.
“Is Rowan with you?”
He searched but couldn’t see his mage-beast. He could feel him, though, as an unseen presence that seemed tantalisingly beyond his reach. Silver waves rippled in the river like moonlight.
“I can’t see him,” he said in a dreamy voice. “But I can feel him. He’s here somewhere.”
“That’ll do. Keep the feeling of him close, Ari, then dip your hands in the river. You remember the space between your palms? Fill it with magic, let it flow into your hands and when it does, pull back, breathe between your thumbs and make it glow.”
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