Twice Lived



Chapter 37 - A visit to the Library


A note from obran

A couple of bits of news.

1) I just wanted to thank Wolfie.  Over the last week, he has painstakingly gone through every chapter (including this one) and found grammatical and formatting errors.  It must have been a daunting task, but he persevered with aplomb and diligence.  Thank you, Wolfie, for all your hard work.  

2) At some point between this chapter and the last, it occurred to me that I could use these author notes for evil as well as good.  So here goes my evil side. 

My absolute most favorite LitRPG novel of all time is a book called Adventures of A Scribe by Michael Deyhim.  There are problems with this book: for something on Amazon that is considered "published" it still needs a good editor, and there are little consistency issues, eg it is master mage at the start of the book and Magister by the end of the book, and lastly the price is high at $5.99 instead of the probably $3.99 it should be priced at.  All of these things aside.  It is still my favorite.  And the fact that he never continued the series after the first one irks me.  So I thought, what if I send the author fresh meat, new readers... would that not inspire him to get off his ass and start writing again?  

The room the gate entered into was luxurious enough for its obvious function of being a drop-off point for teleports and gates. The room was substantial without being ostentatious, the only furniture was a couch that was functional despite naturally being luxurious. And besides the several large windows that looked out over the city, some potted plants, there was very little else to see. Two doors led out of the room.

Once the last person was through the gate, I watched as it shimmered and then close behind me. Then Termass turned and left the room. Two servants stepped out of some quiet nook where they had been standing unobserved. One of them spoke “If the master needs to speak with you further, follow me. If you would like to leave, follow my associate.”

I followed the second servant who led us out the door the vampire had not departed. We were led into a grand entry chamber, this time filled with marble and gilding and a grand sweeping staircase leading upwards to another floor. Across the way, I could see yet another room that looked like it was meant for guests to relax while they awaited being summoned. A fireplace, some plush chairs, a bar, a bookshelf. Flanking the stairs were hallways leading deeper into the house. Cut crystal lighting, which to my mage sight looked like it had been leaded with core dust, illuminated everything.

I and the majority of other people were led to the front door. Though the door itself was some sort of arcane alloy, the walls of the mansion were a strange kind of ceramic brick that I had never seen before, but each block was magically active somehow. Even the glass on the windows pulsed with a bright haze of magic that would probably have been tangible to someone without magic senses.

I had told people that I would be visiting my brother and sister. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was ready to do that just yet. Now that I was in the capital, I wanted a quiet place to lay low and explore first. I tried to establish a base of operations. Someplace quiet that nobody knew about, where I could retreat to. There were too many unknowns in this city.

The first thing I did was look for a deserted alley to change in. That took a while. Termass’ mansion was in the most expensive part of the city, it was midday, the guards actively patrolled the area, and there weren’t a lot of places that someone could readily lurk.

My Inquisitor uniform stood out, even in such a cosmopolitan city. After searching for nearly a half hour for a place to change into something less conspicuous, I gave the task up as hopeless. Everywhere I walked I drew eyes. Instead, I eventually found a tailor shop specializing in clothing for the extremely wealthy.

There were a man and a woman inside the shop. The man had a feather duster in one hand and was tidying the shelves, while the woman was making some notes in an account book. “What can I do for you, young inquisitor,” the woman said.

“I’m looking for something to wear. Something that is not a uniform. Something casual that I can wear around the city that does not draw as much attention as this. Maybe several somethings if you have anything in stock.” I said.

“Young sir, alas most of our clothing is made to order. We simply do not have anything that is simply off the shelf.” The woman said.

“How quickly could you make something, and if I wanted a rush order, how much would it cost me?”

“Son, one does not rush fashion. But for seven gold we might be able to have something for you by tomorrow,” the woman said.

“Hypothetically, what if I wanted something simple, without any embellishments, in a lightweight, flexible fabric, that was dyed black only, and I stressed again, no embellishments? How long would that take me and how much would it cost me?”

“I would not be able to help you, unfortunately.  We are a high-end store and we custom make every piece.   Our family has been in business for three hundred years.  We cannot just churn things out.   I apologize, but you might have better luck in the main city.” The woman said.

I sighed and left.

The city of Magrithiam had initially been built on twelve hills that clustered together to overlook a fertile valley. A broad river flowed several miles away from the hill that I was standing on and from my history lessons long ago with the Vulture I knew that that river flowed out into the sea. I imagine that this must have been what Rome and its seven historical hills must have been like when it was at its imperial height. I wondered if long ago, in way before the empire, a different tribe had lived on each hill, fighting, arguing, and then eventually allying against the more significant threats posed by outsiders.

The hill district now was where the wealthiest Magrithiam citizens lived. Termass’ estates had, for example, been on Wracked Hill. These hills were also where the most important palatial structures were located, where the biggest banks had their headquarters, where the main branches of the Imperial Order were centered, where the most elite university was housed, and the best library was built. My family supposedly had a villa on the third hill, called the Chance Hill which had been named after the word ‘Chantarci’ a long-dead and primitive spirit from early Magrithiam fables.

Working from vague memories of maps I had seen as a child I headed away from the hills and moved to the low lying valley that had once been a swamp, towards the river. It was a long walk. The city spread out for miles in every direction.

I passed by fountains, statues, and monuments. Our empire’s history of battle prowess in marble, jade, and gold leaf. I walked under a dried up aqueduct. Elemental water magic made such things useless, but in the distant past, there had been a need to bring water from far away mountain springs. Here and there I passed grates to sewers, and I wondered just how deep and how dangerous waste and drainage system under the city would be.

Eventually, the more wealthy houses and shops tapered off, and I found myself in a more professional part of town. The stores here still sold quality merchandise, but the silks, gold thread, and magical fabrics made way for simple cotton, linens, and wools. I walked into one that looked prosperous, and a few minutes later and a few dozen silver poorer, I came out dressed in black cotton pants and a black shirt. With three more changes and some fresh, clean undergarments tucked away in the dimension pouch that I now wore inside my pants strapped to my upper leg.

The boots I’d used as a runner were probably okay for getting around the city. They were comfortable. I would need something more elegant if I wanted to join polite society, but that could wait. I inquired at the tailor's about a good inn, someplace clean and quiet, and was directed to an inn a few miles off called the Pluckered Peacock, where I paid for room and board for two months.

Upstairs in my room and in complete privacy and out of danger for the very first time in more years than I could remember, I opened up the pouch I had taken from the pyromancer and looked carefully at the loot I had acquired. The first thing I pulled out was another pouch that had 198 platinum pieces in it. There was also another pouch with a mixture of other currencies from different countries. There were several thousand coins in various denominations. Gold, silver, copper. A handful of platinum from different kingdoms. Six of what looked like mythril coins.

The things I’d thought were letters were actually notes of deposit with the three largest banks of the Empire for an additional four thousand platinum. I knew enough blood magic to know precisely how worthless these writs were to me. I put them on the desk in front of me. Maybe I could figure out a way to break through the blood magic security. I doubted it. Strong life and blood mages had been trying to break blood magic banknotes for hundreds of years, and as far as I knew, they’d all failed. But might be worth taking a shot trying to crack the security someday if I was bored.

Some personal notes. A few that mentioned people he knew. Some letters begging him to come home for his family and clan’s sake. A page with the words, “The rumors were true. I have found someone with it and taken it, but it doesn’t work on myself. I do not know how she does it. Unless… She must have a partner or a slave with it as well, but who does she trust? A secret pact. But who? They all, like me, they want nothing but power and would seize it the moment it came into their hands.”

I pushed these coins and blood contracts, notes and letters into a pile on the desk that came with my room.

I left the fire core in the space pouch. I could feel it inside and could see it when I looked inside the bag. The fire core was massive the size of a cantaloupe and it pulsed with power and even though it was dead it still managed to impart a frightening level of malevolence. Who knows what kind of tracking spells were on it, so I kept it in the pouch.

The next two cores were much smaller. Both were a bit smaller than the size of tennis balls. Considering the core that Wilmette had sold back in Larkin had been a little larger than the size of a large marble, and that one had been supposedly 75 years old, these two cores must be hundreds of years old.

I took the first of the tennis ball sized cores out and lifted it to my eye. It was a strange luminescent red color the seemed to shift and move as it sucked in the light. Most cores I had seen before were a mat color but ate the visible spectrum. My senses felt nothing. Even my mana sense could not tell it was magic, which was markedly different than any other core I’d seen, all of which pulsed with magic. Wondering about this strange behavior I lay the core down on the table next to the stack of coins, and then directed a small short pulse of magic into the core to see what would happen.

The red luminescence pulsed out from the table in a small bubble that popped before it grew much bigger than a foot in circumference. There had been a small magic lamp on the table providing light. That light was now out. I tried turning it back on. The light would not go on, so out of curiosity, I examined the lamp. It had been drained of all its magic. The same thing had happened to the banking papers that had, minutes ago, been worth thousands of platinum pieces, but were now just paper and ink. Vellum documents were now completely devoid of magic and value.

I had heard of anti-magic and anti-magic affinities, but I’d never imagined an anti-magic core. I imagined having to retrieve it in hundreds of year old dungeon, facing monsters that wanted to kill you, your party incapable of using spells, knacks, magic items, healing potions…

Carefully, I put the core back in the pouch. The pyromancer had kept it there. It should be safe as long as I didn’t channel any mana into it.

The last core was far easier to understand. I held it in my hand, and even without channeling any mana into it I felt my sense of length and width and height dissolve around me. I felt the distance between here and there disappear, and I felt the in-between space spaces open up. A powerful space core. No wonder the Pyromancer had been able to break through the Vampire Termass’s teleport block. I put that core back in the pouch.

Next out were the books. There was more than a dozen more that I’d thought initially. The first out was a book about space magic. Then another book on space magic. Followed by four books on fire magic. Followed by a book on life magic that I hadn’t seen before. Then another book on fire magic. Then a tiny book on anti-magic. Most of the books were in the Magrithiam language unlike what I’d initially thought when I’d hurriedly inspected them, the language of this empire, which seemed odd for a foreign mage.

Then I pulled out a book which shocked me. It was written in English: “Basic Objective Empire C” Then another book: “Simple Object-Oriented Programming for Mages in Objective Empire C.” Then there was: “Simple Core Empire Linux and Relay-Shell Functions.” And yet another book was titled: “Chancellor Ranked Executables, Programs, and Scripts and the Though User Interface.” And finally, a book called: “How to Program. With Pictures!”

All of these books were in written in English.

There were a few other books. There was a small collection of Cretan love poetry. A Cretan /Magrithiam Dictionary. Three books on how to speak the Cretan Language. Yet another book on fire magic. A book on earth magic. A book on force magic. An atlas of the continent containing maps of the various vital cities, and lists of trade goods that were most commonly bought or sold.

There was also a handwritten address book filled with names and addresses and oddly enough a page in the back of the book that looked like a list of passwords. I could tell this was a list of passwords because several of them were listed simply as User Name: Tequital and Password: Password1234 and none of the others were much more complicated.

Lastly, there were six books of Cretan and Magrithiam bedtime stories, a songbook of traditional Cretan lullabies, a book about bed wetting, a guide to better breastfeeding for expecting mothers, and a collection of fairy tales.

The pouch of core dust was just a pouch of core dust. Though valuable and useful for all manner of spell crafting there really was nothing special there. The same went for the bag of core fragments, though I was surprised to see that most of the pieces in the bag weren’t the typical cultivated ones sold in Larkin. They had color and flickered with power under my mage sight. Many of these fragments came from powerful cores, and I wasn’t sure if he had collected them from the dead in the war, or throughout his life.

The signet ring was weighty and made of gold and platinum intertwined. A fragment of an incredibly powerful dungeon core lay in the center carved in the shape of a dragon running across a field of rubies. On the interior of the ring was the word Tequital written in flowing script.

I gathered everything up and put it carefully back into the pouch and then hid the bag on my body again. Then I went downstairs and had a meal in the common area and asked directions to the capital’s famed library. While I now had an enormous amount of books that were begging to be read, the siren call of a place that was considered to be the biggest library in the Empire was hard not to hear.

The structure that housed the library was at the base of Storm Hill. I could see the building long before I reached it. Magic had been used to push the height up past the logical limits of a simple structure with a stone foundation could usually rise. Six floors of black marble, Corinthian style columns along the lower level, while the pediment was carved with pictures of the Emperor defeating the foes of the empire: barbarians, dungeons, monsters, Twice-Lived. The sculptures had been cut out of different varieties of rock to contrast the black marble of the temple, and the Emperor herself was done in white marble and gilded in gold, platinum, mythril, and adamantium. In her hand, her sculpture held what looked like a massive core, that even from a distance I stood, seemed to radiate power.

The closer I got to the library the more I realized that what I thought was a large core being held by the emperor’s sculpture was, in fact, clever use of Mind Magic and runes of awe and majesty. Anybody who looked upon this image of our Emperor could not help but feel overwhelmed by her presence.

The closer I got to the building, the more people that would avoid gazing at the sculpture I noticed. They would go about their lives staring at the ground or with their eyes slightly averted. I couldn’t understand why since I seemed to have no difficulty looking at the statue, but I found out why quickly enough.

A woman was standing about ten feet away. Someone called her name from the library steps. “Esmelda! Esmelda! Over here,” a voice called out.

The woman near me, Esmelda, looked up and must have seen the statue, because she then dropped to one knee right in the middle of the road, bowed until her head touched the cobblestones, and then quickly got up and dusted herself off.

“Don’t do that to me,” Esmelda called out to her friend.

“I’m sorry. I’m oh so sorry. I was just so excited, I found…” the friend said, as the two of them walked back into the library together. Both now averting their gaze.

Academically I wondered what the range of that thing was. It couldn’t be too far or else it would have a massive effect on the price of real estate in this part of town and would have a drastic impact on the commerce in the parts of the city that were visible to it.

I also wondered why I hadn’t been affected. One of these days I would have to have myself tested for Mind Magic. Typically, for the nobility, magic affinities were calculated when they got their status magic, or by serendipitous awakenings of high affinities like my Life affinity and Red Panda’s Fire Affinity. Commoners only had their affinities tested if they joined the army or if their parents had gold status and were willing to pay a hefty amount of gold for a test that most likely would yield nothing.

Of course, I might not have been affected for other reasons. My bloodline for example. I was part of the clan Naato, and I had learned he was one of the Emperor’s Vampiric Advisors. Maybe that had something to do with it. My mother was also directly related by blood to the Emperor, though one of her lovers. And of course I didn’t have status magic yet, there could be some sort of programmed response that I was missing.

There was a front desk that I needed to pass before I could enter the rest of the library. Two women were sitting at it, so I walked up to them and said, “So how does all of this work.” I said, gesturing around myself.

The first woman looked at the second as if to say, “can you believe this idiot.”

“This is a library. It has books. If you know how to read, you can read them. Do you know how to read?” She said to me, speaking slowly like I was a four year old.

I sighed, “excuse my vagueness. What I meant to say is how do I get access to the books. Can anybody just go in? Can I check the books out? When do your doors open in the morning? When do you close at night? Are all the books accessible or do I need any special authority or status for access?”

“Oh. That’s different. I thought you were asking how a library and books worked. We get weirdo’s in here all the time. We open at eight in the morning and close at ten at night. The first and second floors are open to everyone. You need a silver status to go above the third floor, gold for the fourth floor, and platinum status to go any higher. Books must be kept in the library, they can’t even be taken off the floor where they are located. Does that answer your questions?”

“I’m 15, I haven’t got my status magic yet. But I am part of a noble house and am a Squire Lieutenant in the Inquisition. If you have blood magic you can look both these things up, are there any exceptions to the only gold above the third-floor thing?”

The one woman looked at the other. “It will take a couple of days to do the verification, and you will need to pay for the test as well as the fee to access the library, but it can be done. It is easier if you have your house or order send an official notice.”

“I’m just enjoying my privacy right now,” I said.

The woman shrugged and then said. “I just sent a text to someone in administration. She is bringing a needle and blood sample paper, and she should be down in a couple of minutes.”

A few minutes later a heavy set blonde woman with braided pigtails came into the room. She looked more like the stereotype of a Wagnerian Valkyrie than a librarian. I halfway expected her to break out into opera not stick me with a needle and draw my blood. But draw my blood she did, “I should have the results back to you tomorrow,” she said.

“Do you mind if I look around the first two floors? Before I come back tomorrow?” I said.

“The entry fee is 15 copper per day for basic access. Plus the three gold for the blood magic test.”

I handed over the money. The woman behind the desk who hadn’t spoken yet handed me a lanyard with a badge that said “Temp” on it. I put the cord around my neck and moved past the desk.

The first floor of the library didn’t seem to have any books. Instead, it had meeting rooms, an information desk, a small surprisingly lovely restaurant with plenty of places to sit and chat, and a store that sold scribing materials.

The books began on the second floor. As I wandered through the shelves, I noticed that most of the books were introductory texts to runes, mathematics, alchemy, architecture, and hundreds of other different subjects, general histories, agricultural and farming guides, and there was a plentiful supply of books for children and teenagers. I flipped through some of them out of curiosity. A favorite hero was our great Emperor, and a favorite plot device was to have her appear out of nowhere to solve mysteries, punish criminals, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide wisdom.

In one extreme case of serendipity when I was flipping through a several-hundred-year-old collection of children’s stories about a team of superheroes who fought evil mages trying to destroy the early empire, I found among the superheroes and the heroic stories, the names Naato, Termass and Tequital.

Eventually, I tired of looking through the second floor. I stopped by the information desk on the way out and inquired about directions to the Mercenary’s guild.

It was getting late, and the sky was getting dark early. There was a chill breeze outside. Devotion Valley had been located in a much more temperate part of the empire than the capital. Here the season was well enough into the fall that the leaves were changing colors to vibrant reds, yellows, and browns. And browned leaves fluttered through the air and gathered in piles along the edges of the road, fallen from trees that lined the center of the boulevard.

The crisp fall winds would eventually turn to the snows of winter. I would have to remember to buy a jacket. Winters in the Magrithiam were not supposed to be horrible, and supposedly there were enough high-affinity water and wind mages in the city to keep the worst of the weather away if the storms got really bad.

The Mercenary Guild was a three-mile walk down the boulevard in a straight line away from the Library. Three miles in a straight line and still not even close to the edge of the city, and the boulevard wasn’t the most prominent street or even the main thoroughfare.

I walked in through the front door. Unlike in Larkin, I wasn’t 12 years old anymore. Nor had I killed any of their members recently. In fact, I probably looked like the kind of person who might be looking to join up after they got their status in a few months. The mood in the room was much more friendly this time when I walked in.

Sitting at the front bar, I ordered a beer. A pretty waitress wearing a yellow shawl with a long braid brown braid and big brown eyes brought me my beer.

“I was wondering if someone here could recommend me a sword master I could practice with while I am in the city. I can pay.” I said to the girl.

“Any of these louts and drunks can swing a sword or a club. And most of them are looking for coppers for drinking money over the winter. Masters they are not, but if all you want is to learn how to do something different than chop wood on your father’s farm, they will do,” said the girl.

Laughing, “I have more experience than that. And I have been training with soldiers for as long as I can remember. Surely you can recommend someone who can give advanced instruction?”

The girl tugged at her braid and looked at me in exasperations. “My mother does train the nobility sometimes, and also the promising members of the mercenary guild, and if you can afford it she is one of the best blademasters in the city. But she doesn’t suffer fools and will test your skills even if you can pay — or think you can pay since she charges more than you undoubtedly have to spend — but it is on your head.”

“If she is as good as you say she is, she sounds perfect. Can you give me directions.”

The girl gave me directions to her mother Allaana Thrush Mandragora, and I paid for my beer, left a generous tip and left.

This walk was much shorter, and eventually, I found a building opening out onto an open practice yard where men, women, and boys were finishing up practicing running laps. I watched from under a wooden overhang while they ran, and eventually, a middle-aged woman came over to me and asked me what I was doing here.

“I’m looking for Allaana Thrush Mandragora. I was told that I could get lessons or practice with the sword from her. Her daughter sent me.”

“I’m Allaana. I will admit I don’t take just any student. I don’t take people who’ve never used a sword. That goes for the nobility and commoners such as I assume you are. If you are going to work with me, you will have to demonstrate some skill. And even if you do pass my entrance exam, unless you can show me you are the absolute best and worth my time, I am not inexpensive. Some small noble houses can’t afford my training.”

I smiled. “I’m fine with those qualifications. How do we demonstrate my skills?”

Allaana called out “Kylny, come over here, we have a challenger. Martiam, get ready with your healing spells this is going to be fun.”

She then turned to me and said, “Come with me, we have a rack of practice swords over here. We don’t use wooden swords like some schools, we use blunted steel and make sure a healer is ready. Martiam is a silver with a minor life-affinity and should be able to keep you alive until we get a proper healer here. We also ask that you pay upfront for the skills of a mage with a high life affinity in healing — just in case. This money will bereturned to you, before you leave if you don’t get hurt or if you arn't accepted.”

“If you would like to select a sword that feels balanced, you will be fighting Kylny. Beating him won’t guarantee admission, that depends on how you beat him. Not beating Kylny won’t mean you aren’t accepted, he is a tough fighter to beat. What I am interested in seeing is your technique, and fighting spirit, as well as what you’ve learned so far, what you know and how you fight.”

I handed the sword master some money, and she pocketed it. “This will be returned to you if you don’t get accepted,” she said.

I unstrapped the sword from my waist and laid it on a table near the rack of weapons. Nobody made a move to look at my weapon. I went through each blade, lifting some up and feeling their weight before putting them back down. Some felt better than others, and on some of the better ones, I would do one of the shorter katas that Lord Captain Orr had taught me, to get a feel for the weapon.

None of the swords on the rack really worked for me, but some were better than others. After trying them all out, and finally choosing the best off the rack, I turned and saw a small crowd watching me.

“What?” I said.

“Are you ready?” Was all Allaana said?

The clothing I was wearing was loose and supple. Kylny was stripped to the waist, and his 6’7” frame bulged with muscles and scars. I watched as he casually tossed a four-foot long sword from one hand to the other, his eyes focused on me and smiling. There was a scar under his left eye that ended under his left ear.

I walked across the practice field to Kylny standing at the edge of a thirty-foot diameter circle that had been painted on the dirt and sand. Looking over at the man I was about to fight I said, “Mongo only pawn in game of life?”

Kylny looked at me blankly and then said, “I’m gonna make you hurt so bad you forget about wasting the master’s time.”

Allaana walked up. “This is a simple contest. You can start anywhere you want outside the circle, but if you are outside of it longer than two seconds, you lose the round. The fight begins when I blow my whistle, and when a whistle blows you must disengage with your opponent and leave the circle. Usually, a whistle will blow when either Jaamy or I detect a killing blow. Remember all fighting stops when you hear a whistle, and you must leave the circle if you can. If someone is bleeding or hurt too badly to continue, they are automatically disqualified. No stabbing directly into the eyes or groin. Do you understand?”

I nodded, and Kylny said, “Yes sir.”

“Then choose somewhere on the outside of the circle that you would like to start and get ready for my whistle to blow,” Allaana said.

I made my way to the edge of the circle and saw that Kylny was standing only six feet away from me just outside of the ring. I moved along the circumference to build a little distance between us, and he simply followed, keeping that same six feet separation. The whistle still hadn’t blown, and I was beginning to realize that this positioning was part of the pre-fight strategy.

Then the whistle blew, I took one step into the circle but somehow Kylny was already inside it moving faster than a person his size should be able to maneuver, with his sword coming at me like a baseball bat aimed at my midsection. The asshat must have a knack. I felt his sword strike me in the abdomen and the blow lifted me off my feet and drove me three feet backward out of the circle. Whistles blew, and I clutched my chest.

Martiam, the healer, came running towards me, but I waved him off, channeling healing runes though myself, I fixed the internal damage that had been done and got to my feet, and walked back to the circle.

“Interesting,” said Allaana.

This time, I paid more attention to Kylny, and let him take his position a mere six feet away. I assume that he thought he could use the same trick twice. The whistle blew, and this time I used my knack pouring mana and life into my arms, my legs, my speed, my strength, and this time Kylny was the one who was flying backward out of the circle as an uppercut from my sword connected with his stomach launching him back.

A whistle blew. Martiam rushed over to Kylny who still hadn’t gotten up from the ground.

“I can stabilize him, but you will need to get a healer,” Martiam said, “his insides are messed up.”

Allaana looked at me and then said, “Jaamy run and get Physician Tovias. Tell him Kylny needs his help…”

Then I said, “Wait. I’m a high-affinity life mage. I can heal him. If you don’t mind my looking him over.”

Allaana simply gestured at Kylny who was still lying on the ground. Blood was flowing out of his nose and the edge of his mouth. I ran to his side and began to cast life-giving healing runes into his body. They took, and I could feel the insides of his body knit back together. My time on the battlefields of Devotion Valley had done wonders for my skills as a healer, and soon I was done.

Martiam looked at me, and then turned to Allaana and said, “He’s better than Tovias.”

Kylny pushed himself to a sitting position and looked around. I may have cheated a little and not healed all of the bruises and pain from his injury. Allaana the Blademaster looked at her student and said, “Can you continue?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“Then I want you both to agree not to use Knacks. From this time forward, I simply want to evaluate technique and skill. Understood?” Allaana looked at Kylny who nodded, then she looked at me, and I nodded. “Good. And thank you for the healing.” Kylny nodded at this too.

This time when we walked to the circle, we took positions at opposite sides. When the whistle sounded, we ran at each other. It was soon evident that the massive warrior was a lot stronger and faster than I was. His size clearly gave him a better reach, and he must have had an enormous boost given his status magic.

I, on the other hand, had far more technique and experience. I had been in battle and killed people in one on one combat, while I suspected this boy, though he was only a few years older than me, just knew battle from the practice yard.

It took me a while, and it was hard, but eventually, I managed to trip him up, and then score a cut on his hands and legs as he fell. Whistles blew, and it was two to one for me.

The fourth match went much faster, Kylny was clearly disheartened by his last two losses. I could see the hesitation and second-guess in his eyes, and in the way, he held his sword. And he was right, because I quickly lured him off-guard with an obvious feint, and managed a blow to his head that knocked him out.

Whistles blew again, and I bent down and healed my fallen opponent, even clearing away the bruises and hurt I’d left him as well as some old injuries that were still lingering.

Allaana came over to me. “I’m impressed. I also have to admit that I would like to have that life affinity on hand. Martiam is useful, but his skills can only do so much. Now for some more personal information, I would, of course, need to know your name, and who taught you, and what you expect to get out my school.”

I thought for a few moments and then decided to be honest. “My name is Lynx Elm, my father hired many tutors when I was a child, but mostly I was instructed by the captain of his guard Neil Wolf Cattail. When I was a little older than ten, my father sent me off to be mentored by Wilmette Bear Trillium until I was twelve, and then I’ve been stationed as a Runner in Devotion Valley for the last three years and training under Lord Captain Orr Ocelot Fir. What I want from your school is simply to improve my skills and to practice while I am in this city.”

Allaana looked at me for a while and then said, “I know Orr. We served together ten years ago. And I’ve heard of Wilmette. But I won’t hold his reputation against you. So you are aristocracy. Not that it matters here. The first time you try to use the privilege of your rank you are out of my school.  I would like to welcome to my school. I should tell my daughter Nynaeve Woolhead Hibiscus that she sent a live one over. She can be stubborn as a mule sometimes, but she means well.


About the author


  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • The enima of my enemy is my friend


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