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The Axe

Iven Orellen was lifted up from the family’s third circle to the first overnight. His education came under the direct supervision of the council. His pitiful background in enchantment became his cover story. (To her eternal horror, his former master was ordered to spread rumors that he was remarkably gifted in the field.)

All of the sudden, luck magic was a desirable quality in one’s offspring. Iven was encouraged to marry as soon as possible—preferably someone within the family, definitely not anyone with the overly dominant spatial magic inclination their line was so famous for.

He married a girl called Atra when he was nineteen. She was one of the few who’d never looked down on him when his magic seemed useless and also never looked up to him when he was elevated to an entirely new height.

Atra had been raised as a blood magician by her small southern clan, but she’d chosen to join the Orellen family and pursue general spellcasting instead. It didn't really weigh into Iven’s consideration of her, but the council was pleased. An affinity for blood magic had to be deliberately fostered in one’s children, so the chances of them producing an heir with Iven’s own talent were increased.

By the time he became Lord Orellen, Iven had fathered two children. Both of them reasonably talented spatialists. Twelve years into his term as Lord, he had fathered seven. His youngest, Rella, was the only one to inherit Iven’s luck magic.

She was three years old on the day Hamila’s prophecy was delivered, and she was already under the care of the best Novice tutor the Enclave could provide.

For some reason, in the wee hours of the morning after Atra had finally taken a sleeping potion and drifted off, it was Rella who Iven thought of.

Perhaps it was because she was the child he saw most often these days. He and Atra had insisted that she be with them at least every other week while she was still so young. And Iven almost always got what he wanted. He was, despite his protests to the contrary, something of a golden goose for the family.

He scried whatever the council asked him to, whenever they asked it of him. And he performed his role as Lord Orellen superbly. He had been given a great deal of power as a consequence, which only made his scrying more effective. It was so much easier to see the right fork in the road when he was the one steering the carriage.

Suddenly, he wanted to see the road ahead of little Rella. He wanted to see it as badly as he had ever wanted anything in his life.

He’d scried his own children before—once or twice each, hoping to set them on the best possible path. There had never been any serious reason for concern with them before.

Careful not to wake Atra, he left their bed and stepped over to the small cot his daughter usually slept in beneath the window. A single strand of her fine, soft hair lay on top of the pillow.

That would be enough.

A few minutes later, Iven stood in the townhouse’s attic. Every time they moved here, it was converted into a decent ritual room for his use. Before they moved away, every bit of the evidence would be scrubbed clean.

Only Orellens in the first circle were privy to Iven’s true talent. He was required to be careful about leaving signs of his magic lying around. Surely the other families had begun to suspect them of doing something different than they had in the past. After all, they’d been growing in power, influence, and wealth at an astonishing rate over the past decade. But it should have been a while yet before anyone convinced themselves it was a new type of magic behind their good fortune.

Good fortune, thought Iven, a little bitterly. Perhaps a man isn’t meant to meddle with luck after all.

What use was it to think that way now, though? Iven’s mind was still scattered after hearing the prophecy. A knot of something like the beginnings of panic burned in his chest. But Hamila’s words were an executioner’s axe that had already begun its downward swing.

No one could stop that axe. It would land.

Iven had to make sure that by the time it did, he’d taken as many Orellen necks off the chopping block as he could. He placed his youngest daughter’s hair carefully in the center of the diagram and began to scry.

#

The letter from Kler arrived at the Enclave at four o’clock in the morning.

Lord Orellen was demanding that his three-year-old daughter be woken from her bed and sent to him immediately.

It was an odd request, but not so odd that it couldn’t be accommodated given the sender. One of the mages on duty was sent to fetch Rella. The child arrived not long after, carried in the arms of her confused nurse. “Is something wrong?” the woman asked while the night-gowned girl rubbed sleep from her eyes and yawned. “She’s supposed to be with me this week.”

The men and women who were manning the Enclave’s central portal formation shrugged. The business of Lord Orellen was none of their concern. He had asked for his daughter. He would get his daughter.

There was always a team of ten on duty, even at this hour, and young though she was, Rella was familiar with the method of travel. She sat obediently in the designated area while the portal mages finished their work. Then, she disappeared in a wash of light, and that was that.

An hour and a half later, though, another letter from Kler arrived. Lord Orellen wanted the rest of his children. All of them. At once.

The woman who’d opened the scroll frowned. It really wasn’t like him, to make such urgent requests of the portal teams unnecessarily. “Are we sure this is from Lord Orellen and the Kler office?” she asked. “There’s no chance an outside party is somehow influencing our chain of communication?”

This question was disturbing enough that a high mage with greater authority was roused from his bed to verify the spelled seal on the letter and the sanctity of the portal formation. “Everything’s in order,” he said irritably. “Send him his children and a message asking him to explain what in the hells he’s thinking, using us like this at this hour. He’ll exhaust the Kler office at this rate. They’re not even a full team.”

He paused. Then he muttered something about golden geese. “On second thought,” he said, “make the message a polite one. Ask him if he needs a couple of additional support mages for the Kler office. That should be enough of a hint.”

Over the next half hour, the children were assembled. The oldest was fifteen, the youngest five. They were chattering with each other, all of them more excited than nervous to be called to join their parents on the spur of the moment. They thought it was probably meant as a surprise for them.

The eldest was entrusted with the polite message before they were all sent off.

The rest of the morning passed by uneventfully.

At shift change, the incoming portal team laughed and shook their heads when the outgoing mages told them about the strange double request from Lord Orellen. “What was he thinking?” one man said with a grin. “He didn’t just forget to write down the names of his other six children the first time around, did he?”

At eight o’clock that evening, a portal from Kler opened again, this one large enough for a man to step through. Lord Orellen’s older brother Lan appeared, wearing the sort of expression that could wither stone.

“Get me five full mages for a short posting with our team,” he said without preamble. “I’ll be taking them back with me tomorrow. Tell them they won’t be away from home for more than a few weeks.”

Then he left, heading in the direction of Seniors’ Hall.

The portal mages all looked at each other, unease setting in. What was going on with Lord Orellen?

#

A few days later, the Enclave’s healers started knocking on doors all over town. “Pardon the inconvenience,” they said, “but one of our senior sorcerers is conducting a new kind of research on the latest outbreak of the Shredding Plague. We’re collecting hair samples from as many people as we can to help with her study.”

“What? Why?” was a common response.

“You might not know this,” the healers said brightly, “but someone practicing the healing arts at the sorcerer level can learn ever so much from a single strand of hair!”

Well, why not? If one of the family’s prized sorcerers wanted your hair, you gave them your hair. And you were grateful they weren’t asking for anything more dear.

Every hair was carefully cataloged in its own envelope, with a surprisingly large amount of detail about its owner scrawled on the outside. The healers delivered thousands of them to the Senior sorcerer who’d sent them out after them in the first place. They wished her great success in her research, most of them hoping they might be chosen to assist.

The tall, gray-haired woman, whose name was Yora, promised them all she’d tell them about her results when she was ready. “It’s a long and delicate process,” she said. “You must be patient.”

In the privacy of her quarters, she packed the envelopes carefully into her largest medical chest. Atop them, she placed spelled vials full of the highest quality sleeping potions and mental focus elixirs the Orellen family could produce. On top of those, she added a collection of scrolls and books so covered in preservation magic that they gave off a faint glow to her eyes.

Her hands trembled a little as she locked the chest tightly.

“Steady,” Yora murmured to herself. “Your part in this isn't the hardest one.”

But it wasn't the easiest either.

When they’d called her to the council room and asked her if she could delay a pregnancy, she had confidently answered that she could. “For a few weeks, even,” she’d said. “If my magic aligns well with the mother’s.”

What if we wanted you to delay one for years?

“I don’t understand. That would be irresponsible even for the best healer.”

What if we needed you to do it?

“I can’t imagine a situation where such a thing would be necessary.”

What if there was one?

Indeed. What if there was one?

Yora would be the first healer to lay hands on Atra. Lady Orellen had only just realized she was pregnant a few days before disaster descended upon them. But everyone involved already knew what Yora would find.

Twins. It had to be.

Simple logic.

Lord Orellen had seven children at present. The prophecy said he would have nine. Hamila was never wrong. But Iven and Atra were sensible young people who wouldn’t produce a ninth child if it meant the destruction of their entire family. So…they must have already done it.

Can you delay the pregnancy? Can you delay it for years? Can you do it even if it hurts the mother? Can you do it when failure has so high a price?

Yora didn’t know. But she would try.

“One more thing,” Dowither had said before she left the council room. Exhaustion seemed to have stolen all the man’s usual crotchetiness and replaced it with a sort of depressive practicality. “We’ll need you to come up with an excuse to take hair or fingernail trimmings or something similar from all the family members. Iven needs them for his scrying.”

“Well, that’s easily done at least,” she said. “But does he really intend to scry the whole family?”

“Yes,” the man said simply. “He’ll start right away even though he’s still trying to tie up loose ends in Kler.”

“Shouldn’t you bring them back here sooner rather than later?”

Dowither shook his head. “We’re increasing his staff instead. We can’t suddenly pull him back to the Enclave and keep him in seclusion. It will look suspicious to the other families. We’re going to try to maintain the appearance of normal operations for as long as possible…so that when the time comes for us to move they won’t be looking too closely at us.”

She nodded. “I understand. But realistically, what kind of move can we make?”

Dowither stared down at his own clasped hands.

“We wait for Iven to find it,” said one of the other council members grimly. “He couldn’t be more highly motivated, given the circumstances. If we make enough time for him, he’ll find it, the same as he always does.”

“Find it?”

“The luck. If you pour enough money, time, and trust into that man, he eventually finds the luck. It may be that the gods have left of us none, but if they’ve dropped a single crumb of it, he’ll lead us to it.”

“It may be the best we can hope for,” said Dowither, sighing. “Though we’re still trying to come up with something surer. Anyway, keep him on his feet for us, Yora. Do whatever you have to. His brother says he hasn’t slept in days.”

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About the author

sieley

Bio: Currently writing a very long story. Reviews welcome. Please do not repost my work on other sites.

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