The end has come.
Thanks for reading along, lovelies!
“GOOD MORNING, STUDENTS.” Mage-Mistress Evariste walked around the echoing ballroom, half-smiling at the bored expressions on the second- and third-year students’ faces.
She stopped in front of the first-years, eyeing their attempts to contain their excitement. Her ice lion paced slowly behind her, and they both stopped in front of Arien. He met their cold eyes with perfect calm. His talk with Hawk had helped. He’d made peace with himself.
Now it was time to make peace with his magic.
Seeing his resolve, the Mage-Mistress gave an approving nod and continued her pacing. “No doubt you are all aware of why you are here this morning.”
The vast ballroom of the mage school seemed sadly empty, even with fifteen students and five adult mages inside. The wall of windows opposite, dribbling with rain, made the space seem even more vast and empty. But it was the painted panels on the walls that held Arien’s attention.
These were the real Mages of Wrystan, the most famous pupils of Royas Bay. He’d chosen to stand in front of Amarantha Weaver of Cheene, looking surprisingly young and beautiful in her flattering portrait, with the most enormous jackdaw balanced on her arm. Nia looked more like an eagle. Then again, living legends deserved a bit of artistic license.
Sidony jigged beside Arien, unable to contain her bounciness, especially when the Mage-Mistress’ back was turned. Even Cricket was out in the open for once, shivering on his mage’s palm. Arien could feel their magic already; a bright, glowing spark dancing across Sidony’s skin.
No wonder she was so fidgety.
At his own request, Hawk stood on Arien’s left. It meant he was separated from the rest of the second-years, but the mage-page often went his own way. Arien was just grateful he was there. If his magic did overwhelm him today, he was confident Hawk’s golden light would be enough to bring him back.
“Thus far your time in the mage school has been all theory and no practice,” Lady Evariste continued. “Frustrating, I know.” A pointed look in Sidony’s direction halted her mid-bounce. The Mage-Mistress gave a small smile. “No doubt you have your own ideas of how things should be done. The delay will have seemed unnecessary, perhaps even cruel.
“I will not tell you to trust in your tutors, I will simply congratulate you on your patience.” Another glance at Sidony set off a ripple of amusement, while the little redhead turned pink with embarrassment. “And today you shall have your reward. Today your real magical journey begins. After all, what is a mage school without a little magic?”
There were a few happy mutters from the first-years, while the second- and third-years started fidgeting, wishing she would hurry up and get the speech over with.
“It is not yet fully understood how power is distributed in Wrystan, why some are granted great gifts, while others are more modest, but it hardly matters beyond being grateful for what you have, no matter how big or small. There are many more people out there who have nothing. You are the lucky ones.”
This time her eyes swept along the whole line of students, stopping here and there to send her message home. There were a few uncomfortable squirms by the time her gaze reached Arien. He tilted his head and the Mage-Mistress smiled.
“We cannot all be Mara.” Her smile widened, and she focused on the whole group again. “Nor will we all be healers or battle mages. Ordinary mages are the most numerous of us all, but that doesn’t mean they are weak or useless. Should your power put you in this rank you will be in the very best of company.”
“So says the most powerful cold battle mage in the country,” Hawk muttered, and Sidony coughed to stifle her giggle.
“Cold battle mage?” Arien whispered. It was the first he’d heard of such a thing.
Hawk shifted a little closer. “She makes a mean avalanche.”
Looking at the Mage-Mistress with an ice lion pacing on her heels, Arien could believe it.
“Everyday mages play a vital part in the survival of Wrystan. They are our teachers, historians and scholars, our explorers and pioneers, the first line of defence along our borders and coastlines.”
“Unless the king orders Mara in their direction,” Arien mumbled, making his friend chuckle.
“Regardless of what your power has in store for you, young mages,” Lady Evariste said, positioning herself in front of the first-years, her focus mostly on Elea, Rhoda and Perrine – the ones whose magic had yet to fully emerge. “Be proud of yourselves and grateful that you have been gifted at all. Never forget that your mage-beast is your first companion, your power and your friend. Without them you are nothing, with them you are part of a magnificent network of defence that spans the whole country, and enables our people to thrive.
“Are you ready for your power, mages?”
“Yes!” It came not only from the first-years, but all the students in the room, swept up in the memories of the moment.
The Mage-Mistress gave her cool smile. “Then let us begin.”
Taking two steps back so that she was in the centre of the room, Lady Evariste cupped her hands over her chest, bowed her head and breathed in deeply. Resting her lips against her thumbs, she blew softly between them, while the ice lion by her side lowered its head.
A gasp rippled around the room as the Mage-Mistress’ hands began to glow. The light was a deep, moody purple, so dark it could almost have been black. The pair sighed again and the light grew stronger, taking on a ruby hue, with a hint of bright sparkling blue.
Lifting her head, Lady Evariste opened her fingers to reveal a glowing ball resting on her palms. The ice lion by her side huffed triumphantly, arching her back and transforming into a glorious great grey owl, all mottled shades of grey and black, with spectacular flashes of white. Under the glow of her mage’s power, the owl shone with a violet light.
Arien wasn’t the only one to gasp at the impressive display. When the light faded back into Lady Evariste’s palms, students and mages alike broke into applause.
The Mage-Mistress acknowledged their tribute with a graceful curtsey, holding out her arm for the owl to land on. She bobbed her head and looked around the room with piercing blue eyes.
“Now it’s your turn,” she announced. “Good luck.” Turning in a swirl of a dark blue cloak, she left the four mage tutors to deal with the students.
Arien blinked at her unexpected departure. “Does she always do that?”
“Always,” Mage Faron agreed, beckoning for Hawk, Sidony and Arien to follow him away from the others. “She likes making speeches, but she’s not the best of teachers. Not for a first magic attempt, anyway.”
Sidony shivered in agreement. “I don’t think I could do anything with those eyes watching me, let alone an ice lion in my face. She seems so disapproving all the time.”
“Not all the time,” Faron chuckled. “Just most of it. Now, Hawk, would you care to show your friends how it’s done, while I watch and ensure you’ve been practising?”
Hawk wrinkled his nose and sighed, much to Sidony’s delight. Then, pulling his injured arm from its sling, he rubbed his hands together and flexed his fingers. He threw two perfect globes of golden magic into the air and started to juggle, adding a third at Sidony’s hooting request, showing no obvious signs of discomfort over his dislocated shoulder.
“All right, all right.” Faron caught the highest globe. “If I wanted a farce I’d visit the theatre.”
Letting his remaining two light balls merge into one, Hawk set it bobbing merrily on its own and assumed a wounded expression. “You did ask if I’d been practising, sir.”
Faron narrowed his eyes. “Indeed. Clearly Sir Tobias was supervising while you did.” Hawk grinned, and the mage rolled his eyes. “Naturally. Well, with that out of the way, I suppose we’d best let Lady Sid have a go.”
Arien wasn’t the only one to glance at the ceiling and edge away from the windows. Even with the heavy rain outside, he still thought it would be safer if they tried this in the garden. He’d had an uncomfortably close up view of the last time Sidony accessed her magic.
The mage student in question pouted. “I’m not that destructive.”
“Yet,” Faron said. “Give it a few more months and your magic will be at full strength again. That’s why we have to do this now. So, if you’re ready, Sid, I need you to cup your hands just as you saw the Mage-Mistress do -”
“Can’t I just…?” She balled her hands into fists like Hawk had done.
“No!” Hawk and Faron shouted.
Too late. Sidony flexed her fingers, summoning all the magic that was pulsing beneath her skin. Cricket squealed and leapt off her arm.
Crimson light blazed upwards in an explosion of heat, air and brightness.
It lasted less than a heartbeat, but left Sidony coughing in a cloud of her own smoke.
“Oops,” she croaked, her face soot-smeared, her eyebrows and eyelashes gone, the front of her hair nicely singed. Yet in the midst of disaster, her eyes were crystal bright and her grin a great beam. “I did it!”
“No,” Faron corrected firmly, rescuing Cricket from where he was cowering beside his boot and handing Sidony a handkerchief to clean her face with. “You most certainly did not. All you managed to do was burn out your magic. Again. You’re here to learn control, Lady Sidony, not put on a show. If that’s all you want, join a circus.”
Those green eyes rounded in amazement. “Could I?”
“No!” Arien, Hawk, Faron and everyone within hearing yelled.
Sidony gurgled in amusement. “As if I would. This is much more fun.” She wiped soot off her face and noticed the bald patch at the front of her head. “Oh.”
“Indeed.” Faron sighed. “You realise this means another half-month before you can start practising magic properly again, don’t you?”
She pouted. “My magic will start coming back before then.”
Faron arched an eyebrow. “Nevertheless, you won’t be back in these lessons until a half-month has passed. Control, Lady Sid. It’s important.”
She heaved a reluctant sigh. “If you insist, sir. It just seemed easier, that was all.”
“Easier isn’t always right,” the mage lectured, and the girl grinned.
“Maybe not, but it’s more fun.”
Shaking his head, Faron turned to Arien. “Are you ready?” he asked gently, having seen firsthand what Arien’s magic could do and understanding why he might be reluctant to touch it again so soon.
Arien looked at Hawk and his friend nodded supportively, while on his other side Sidony was bouncing again. Reaching for the reassuring warmth of Rowan about his neck, he took a deep breath and nodded.
“I am ready, sir.”
“Good.” The mage gave an approving nod. “Do you remember what Mara told you to do?”
Arien nodded. She’d made him try enough times. Even though it hadn’t worked, the actions were engraved on his brain.
Cupping his hands, he focused on the empty space within. For the first time he felt his palms tingle as he looked inwards at the flowing silver river of his magic. Rowan was there with him, a familiar weight across his shoulders, a silver rope around his hands.
He looked into the river and noticed a bright ribbon floating through the current for the first time. Instead of cupping his hands as Mara had taught him, he reached in and caught the ribbon, twisting it about Rowan’s rope.
Light glowed along his fingers, slipping over his skin and drifting up over his hands and wrists. As it kept going up past his elbows, Arien opened his eyes.
He was glowing.
He looked at his palms with wonder, seeing every line and wrinkle engraved in platinum against the silver of his skin. And beside him, faces shining in his light, Hawk and Sidony stared.
But it was a good kind of stare. They were smiling, sharing in his delight as he finally did something right.
Almost. Frowning, he remembered he was supposed to be making a glow globe, not a glow boy, so shut his eyes again.
Back on the banks of the magic river, he tugged the silver rope, winding it around his fingers like a ball of wool. Slowly, steadily the glow left his skin, until all he was left with was a shining skein between his palms. This time when he opened his eyes, he knew he’d got it right.
Mage Faron’s smile was full of pride. “Well done, Azarien. Very well done indeed.”
As he let the light sink slowly back into his skin, returning the ribbon to the river, Arien looked at his friends and grinned.
They truly were mages of Wrystan now. Or one day soon would be.