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Novice

(Part One)

The next afternoon, Kalen hugged his mother goodbye and promised that he wouldn’t be eaten by hemarwolves while he was away from home. (There weren’t any wolves on this side of the island’s main mountain range, but the promise was required nonetheless.)

As always, she waved to him, and he waved back until the fir trees hid them from each other’s view. Kalen walked a bit farther, just to be completely sure he was out of sight, then he turned and headed in a new direction.

He took a path he knew would lead him down to the sea while keeping him out of sight of the village. It added more than an hour of walking to his trip, but it was worth it for the privacy. He scrambled down a narrow and steep pebbly slope toward the water’s edge, relieved to see that the ocean was calm today.

Halfway down the slope, he picked up a flat reddish stone twice the size of his hand. Its unusual color always made it easy to find, and when Kalen flipped it over, he saw the marks he’d drawn on it during previous trips. It was satisfying to have such a visible record of progress. Even if the progress wasn’t in a type of magic he was particularly interested in.

Nobody else ever came here, so he didn’t have to worry about being “rescued” and carted back home by a well-meaning passerby.

After removing a small sandglass, he lay his pack safely away from the lapping edge of the sea. He took off his clothes. The long walk he had ahead of him later would be miserable if he got them wet here.

Though the aurora hadn’t appeared in its full glory, there were a few thin streaks in the sky overhead, just barely visible to Kalen’s eyes. The atmospheric mana had already begun to thicken nicely, and he had plenty to work with for this spell.

Not a spell, he reminded himself. A thrawning.

He had a bad habit of thinking of every magical working as a spell. But that was technically incorrect. From his reading, he knew other practitioners were particular about their definitions. The basic working of body magic was called a thrawning.

Despite Kalen’s initial rejection of the topic, Nanu had been unable to resist supplying him with a pair of body magic scrolls she’d found that contained instructions for a single, low magician-level thrawning.

He’d received the scrolls two years ago, and initially, he was disappointed that they weren’t on enchanting. (Back then, he’d still foolishly thought he might manage to cobble together something like a real novice practitioner’s curriculum in his chosen art.) But when he’d realized what the thrawning did, he'd been forced to admit that Nanu had chosen wisely.

Kalen plucked and pulled at his internal magic, imagining he was wrapping threads of it around his heart and lungs. The pattern of the working was made simple only due to enormous amounts of practice. It also kind of hurt, but the scrolls implied that was normal for most low-level practitioners.

He used the sandglass to time himself while he set the thrawning in place. When he was finished, he marked the time on the stone, pleased to see how much faster he’d gotten. For a moment, he stood still, checking himself over. The hard, smooth stones dug into his bare feet. The wind ruffld his hair around his ears and neck. His skin prickled with nerves and the beginnings of gooseflesh.

Inside his chest, the magic seemed to be lying in wait.

All right. Let’s do it then. Kalen turned the sandglass over again, picked up a heavy rock, drew in the deepest breath he could, and walked into the cold embrace of the sea.

The first few times he’d tried this, Kalen had panicked.

His bone-deep childhood fear of the ocean had faded into more of a vague distaste within a few months of living on Hemarland. After all, it was inconvenient to hate the sea when you lived on an island. Most of the village children were taught to swim as soon as they could toddle, and his own education wasn’t neglected for long, in spite of his protests.

But apparently he hadn’t quite beaten the fear into submission, because something about sitting with his head under the water had made Kalen’s heart pound. He’d kept losing the battle of nerves and flailing for the surface long before it was necessary.

Now, though, he had more of a handle on it.

He let the rock bear him down beneath the waves until he was submerged a body length below the surface. The water was cold but not unbearably so. And the thrawning was already doing its job.

Kalen’s brain was telling him to swim up for another breath, but his body was fine. There was none of the urgent tightness in his chest that there would be when he truly needed to inhale.

Focus.

The thrawning had to be maintained. The longer he stayed under the water, the more the looping pattern inside him began to strain and fall apart. The points where internal and external magic met were the first to go, dissolving into nothing one by one. Kalen forced more magic in the proper directions, trying to patch the broken places in the working.

It was hard for him to keep track of time while he did this, but he thought it had been several minutes when the unraveling finally outpaced him. He knew from previous unfortunate experiences that once the dissolution of the thrawning reached a certain point, its collapse accelerated rapidly. He'd almost drowned himself before, thinking he could keep pulling stray threads of magic into place for a bit longer. When the working fell apart, the need for air would be immediate and his body would gasp reflexively.

Kalen preferred not to experience that again.

He dropped the heavy rock and his attempts to hold the magic in place at the same time and kicked off the bottom, shooting toward the surface.

He splashed toward the shore and the sandglass as quickly as he could. To his surprise and delight the small glass was nearly empty. It was a quarter hour glass, and even accounting for some inherent inaccuracies in his process, Kalen was sure he must have been below the surface for ten minutes. That was nearing the very limits of this particular thrawning!

Now if he could just find the body magic scrolls that described the next advancement in breath holding, he could…

Stupid, he chided himself as he crouched shivering at the water’s edge. You always do this.

Kalen would likely never lay eyes on those scrolls. Just like he would probably never find the second volume of Basic Magical Practices of the Leflayr Family. Or any text from the renowned Jerune House Enchanting set, which he had wanted ever since he read about it in a much less-revered enchanting scroll.

The educational texts that belonged to the great practitioner families weren’t widely distributed. From what Kalen understood, finding a copy here and there of the beginner level texts wasn’t terribly difficult on the continent. But even there, finding a complete set of even magician level works was hard.

On Hemarland, he would be lucky to get his hands on anything from one of the great families. He had a feeling that what he did have access to was only available because it was considered badly out of date.

Most of what could be found (and afforded) on the island were texts from independent practitioners, or things like biographies and histories and encyclopedias. Or oddities. Like Cantripy of the Sorcerer Brou.

A text written by a sorcerer—even a book that was a hundred years old—would normally be too expensive for Kalen’s family, but for some reason, cantrips were unpopular on the continent. Nanu said her old master had never mentioned them, and Brou offered no explanation for their obscurity or his own use of them.

Kalen’s education was necessarily made up of such oddities. He tried not to worry about it, but he did sometimes wonder if he was somehow ruining himself. He gathered from his reading that there was a need for a proper foundational training in magic and a gradual building on top of that foundation.

What he had was more like a teetering perch atop half of the Leflayr family’s foundational fire magic text, and from that perch, he just randomly leaped in whatever direction was opened to him.

And that was with no consideration at all for what his natural magical affinity might be.

Nanu seemed to think it wasn’t that important for Kalen to know, since it wouldn’t change much about the access-to-books problem. But he did want to know.

And the aurora’s appearance marked another chance to figure it out.

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A note from sieley

This one's a bit shorter than usual, but another chapter will be out soon! Either this evening or tomorrow. Until then, thanks for reading. Enjoy your weekend, friends.


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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