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It only took a few days for Arlade Glimont to tire of Kalen’s presence. His questions were simple but never-ending. And for some reason he was obsessed with magnetizing wood. It wasn’t the dullest hobby she’d ever encountered among practitioners. There was that fellow in Kler who’d spent the better part of thirty years experimenting with different diopters of sun crystal lenses…

But still! It was hardly stimulating stuff.

The boy was no doubt destined to be one of the crotchety old fellows who lived in a moldy tower, surrounded by anxious cats and disturbing things in jars.

Now, though, he was an overeager child. And he was obviously hopeful that she would share a basic enchanting book with him. Arlade would have happily given him a library full of them if he would just leave her alone. But she had only ever been a dabbler in enchanting, and she didn’t carry any scrolls on the subject around with her. Especially not beginners’ ones.

She could hardly give him the books she did have. Even the ones she’d brought for Zevnie were esoteric body and mind magic texts that were really only suited to the specific training she had her apprentice doing this season.

The final straw came when Arlade was standing on the beach, trying to summon a local variety of mollusk so that she could examine it for magical anomalies. Twenty years ago, you could wade in the water off this precise spot and gather a bucket of the mana-hungry little creatures, but the fishermen said they weren’t so easy to find nowadays.

That warranted study.

Summoning mollusks was nearly impossible for Arlade, not that the boy could have known that. She had little skill with animals in the first place, even less with summoning them, and these animals were basically tentacled clams. Even if the spell was working, they didn’t exactly move quickly.

“What’s that?” Kalen asked, sliding his finger across exactly the wrong spot in her summoning diagram at exactly the wrong moment.

“Zevnie!” Arlade called shrilly as her working collapsed around her. “Zevnie, take Kalen away and teach him something!”

Either she gave up her assistant or this little menace was going to give up a hand. There was really no other choice at this point.

#

Nanu hooted with laughter when Kalen stalked into her house later that evening, looking angry as a wet cat.

“It’s not funny!” he said, bristling. “I was just trying to speed everything up, and now I'm stuck with that…that…snooty girl!”

Nanu cackled and wiped tears of mirth from her eyes. “I can’t believe you ruined a sorcerer’s spell on purpose! You’ve got more guts than good sense.”

Kalen flinched. “I didn’t ruin it on purpose. I was just going to interrupt it a little! I thought she’d be able to keep casting because she’s a sorcerer.

“Well, you’ve done it now, small man,” Nanu said. “I saw you trotting all over the village this afternoon with that girl stuck to you tighter than a fish’s scales.”

“I can’t even escape from her when I sleep,” said Kalen with a shudder. “I can’t prove it, but I think she stays awake just to glare at me all night long.”

“It’s the start of something terribly romantic, I’m sure. How did you get away from her this time? Or should I expect her to come bursting through the door at any moment?”

“She takes a full bath in the washtub every day. With the water so hot it’s a wonder she’s got any skin left at all!”

Zevnie fetched and filled the tub herself every evening, so nobody could really complain. She’d been so delighted when she saw the tub with it’s interlocking mage-painted heating circles that she’d actually sung a song while she filled it the first time.

She had a nice voice for an evil spy. Because that was what she was, as far as Kalen was concerned. Nobody had ever watched him as closely as the sorcerer’s apprentice did, and Shelba was his mother.

Kalen didn’t know what to make of it. He was sure he hadn’t done anything too suspicious since Zevnie arrived on the island. He’d been so cautious about using his power that his skin was nearly crawling with what he had to assume was excess magical buildup.

Even today, when Zevnie had interpreted her master’s orders to “teach him something” as an excuse to run Kalen through some weird practitioner’s drill, he’d been determined to underperform.

“What did she teach you, then?” Nanu asked curiously, taking a sip from a mug of tea.

“She called it gyring. It’s like shoving your magic back and forth through yourself without ever letting it form a pattern or escape to mix with the ambient magic? She said every practitioner was supposed to start doing it from the time they were old enough to move magic at all…”

He looked at his teacher questioningly.

“Aye, I think I’ve heard of it in passing,” Nanu said with a frown. “Sorry I couldn’t teach it to you myself. I’ve never seen it in a book, and my own master never taught me. Mayhap it’s a modern technique. Or one learned as a matter of course in wizarn families but rarely shared outside of them.”

“It’s…it’s pretty easy. I can teach you if you want. But Zevnie says it’s kind of uncomfortable.”

It was supposed to be uncomfortable if you did it right, anyway. Zevnie said the key was to move the magic quick and hard enough that it hurt “like the beginnings of a stomach ache, not like someone is pouring acid through your pathways.”

Fearful that the older girl would somehow sense the power Nanu assured him he had, Kalen had swished his magic around inside himself as halfheartedly as possible. If it had done anything at all to him, he couldn’t tell. He’d try for real tonight, if he could be sure his watcher was sleeping.

Nanu shook her head. “Don’t worry about me, small man. I’m not too old for new tricks, but I’ll save my energy for learning the ones that really tickle my feet. Did you come visit me because you missed your books?”

She gestured toward the chest where Kalen’s books and scrolls were now hidden with her own. He stared at it longingly, then shook his head. “If I start reading them, it’ll only tease me. I have to figure out how to shake her off for a few days first. I came to leave you this.”

He held up his coin. It was covered in the case of carved bone Dort had made for it years ago, but with Zevnie so close to him, Kalen had begun to grow worried that she would see it and ask about it. He could lie about what it was, but for all he knew, she had strange magical senses that would suss out the truth.

“I asked it if I should leave it with you, and it said yes,” Kalen informed Nanu.

“Well, by all means, let’s do what it says,” the old woman said dryly.

Nanu wasn’t a big believer in the coin. Kalen wasn’t sure he was either, but Tomas Orellen had said it would be wrong so often you were never really sure it was working. If it was only right a little more than half the time, wasn’t that still better than a regular coin?

Kalen tucked the coin away in Nanu’s book chest, slipping it between the pages of Cantripy of the Sorcerer Brou. He let his fingers linger on the cover and resolved himself to escaping from Zevnie’s watchful gaze as soon as possible.

The aurora seemed to have reached its peak potency over the past couple of days. Surely it wasn’t long before it began to wane again. Kalen couldn’t let it go without at least trying “For the stirring of air” a few more times.

“Nanu,” Kalen said hesitantly, “are you sure I’m a powerful wizarn?”

His teacher grunted over her cup. “I’m sure you’re more powerful than I am. And also more powerful than my master was.”

“It’s just…Zevnie seems so far ahead of me. Not just in the things she knows, but in how she does them. She’s really fast.”

“The heating circle again?”

It wasn’t the first time Kalen had brought the matter up with Nanu. “I don’t understand why I can’t form the activation pattern as quickly as she can. It’s just a simple one. But if I try to pull it together faster, my magic gets all scrambled, and I have to start over.”

“You’ve gotten faster over the years with practice. You’ll get even faster with more. Remember Zevnie is older than you, and no doubt she’s been trained by her family since before she could talk.”

Is that all there is to it? Kalen wanted to ask.

But he knew there were limits to Nanu’s knowledge. If he really wanted an answer, he’d have to ask Zevnie or Sorcerer Arlade. And he’d have to risk earning their interest. Perhaps his trouble was only lack of practice or lack of natural talent, and that would be the end of it. Or perhaps Nanu was right, and he was powerful, and something unusual was going on inside him.

Arlade seemed nice. She was kind and fairly patient, and she was even going to try to help Kalen’s parents for free. There was a whole bag of coin saved up to pay her for her efforts, and she’d refused it easily.

But she was also obsessive about her work. Kalen had been observing her closely and questioning her as often as he dared, and he’d decided she was trying to learn about magical anomalies so that she could ultimately do something involving the rift magic.

And he thought Zevnie was as much a research subject as she was an apprentice. Some of the weird measuring instruments the sorcerer had brought were shaped like bracelets or necklaces, and it wasn’t unusual to see Zevnie wearing them and writing down notes in a small booklet she carried in the pocket of her coat.

Kalen could definitely imagine Arlade kindly kidnapping him from his family and taking him along with her so that she could study him in the same way.

He shivered. He was tempted by her knowledge, but not that tempted.

“Never mind,” he said to Nanu. “I’ll figure it out on my own, I’m sure. If I just keep trying.”

#

That night, Kalen faked sleep until he was sure Zevnie wasn’t faking sleep.

His unwelcome roommate didn’t snore, but her breathing did deepen when she finally fell into slumber. The deep breathing happened much later than the time when her body went still and she stopped rustling around in her ridiculous number of blankets.

I knew she was staying awake to spy on me.

Kalen would have to ask his family if he did the deep breathing thing himself when he slept. Or if he snored. He wanted to be sure he faked it properly in the future.

He crept from the room. Dodging every creak in the floor by memory, he sneaked out of the house, pausing only for a few minutes to observe a gold and glass bowl Arlade had left by the cold hearth. When Kalen focused his mind and circulated his magic, he could see motes of mana collecting in the bowl.

It was fascinating, but he didn’t dare touch it for fear the sorcerer would know.

Distance seemed like the safest bet, so when he made it outside, he kept walking. He headed into the dark forest, following the rough path that led toward his rock. When he’d made it far enough that a shout probably wouldn’t reach village, he settled himself on the needle-strewn ground with his back to the trunk of a tall pine.

There wasn’t much light to see by. The glimmer of the aurora was hard to make out through the tree limbs, but that was all right. Kalen was used to camping out, and for the first time in days, he felt like he could breathe freely.

Finally. Here, there was nobody to hide from. He had no intention of going back home until sunrise. If he was exhausted tomorrow, he would just sleep through the day. Let Zevnie spy on his unconscious body instead of his waking one. She deserved the boredom.

With no supplies, Kalen was limited in what he could cast. So he practiced his breath thrawning. It was harder—mentally—to do it when he wasn’t underwater. The presence of so much convenient air was too tempting.

When he tired of that, he recited the water-cooling cantrip on a tree root to see what would happen. After ten or so casts over the course of nearly an hour, he thought the root felt somewhat colder to the touch.

It wasn’t the most impressive feat, but Kalen didn’t care. The process was pure joy. He drew the magic in, he shaped it, he let it flow out again in time with the cantrip. And then he repeated it. By the time he was finished with the chilly tree root, he finally felt more like himself.

With a contented sigh, he let the last of his tension drain from him.

At Nanu’s earlier, Kalen had added notes to his grimoire on things he’d seen Arlade do that he wanted to attempt himself. But that wasn’t a project he could undertake quickly. Instead, he settled into his usual meditation posture—lying back on the ground with his legs drawn up at the knees and his arms stretched out, palms facing down.

A not-very-detailed description of meditation Kalen had read when he first started practicing had made him think this was the proper positioning. Nanu had never disabused him of the notion. And he refused to change it just because Zevnie had told him in a scandalized tone that he looked like a sunbather instead of a real practitioner.

Anything that irritated the sorcerer’s apprentice couldn't be all bad.

When he was completely comfortable, he started to run through the technique she’d taught him this afternoon. Gyring.

Zevnie had made it sound like it should be a swishing around of your magic—one way and then the other through your pathways until they ached. She’d said that there were different levels to the technique, and advanced practitioners made the magic move in a smooth, spiraling motion instead.

She had indicated that Kalen was too immature and uneducated to understand why the spiral was important. And he had gone along with that impression, though it rankled. But he assumed it had something to do with drawing large quantities of magic through your pathways more quickly. Or with practicing fine control over it. Probably both.

At any rate, he was a long way from there.

Kalen swished his magic the way Zevnie had told him to, but it wasn’t as smooth as she had described. The two largest flows of magic inside Kalen—what he sometimes thought of as the main rivers—didn’t connect to each other at any point.

Oh, they wrapped around and around each other in complicated knots, but on the rare occasions he’d had the focus and the willpower to follow every twisted path to its conclusion, he’d learned that there was nowhere the two main flows intersected.

Kalen’s mana structure branched a hundred times into streams, and then a hundred more into rivulets, and then into even narrower little strands of magic that felt thin as threads.

These threads were the only parts of the system that were easily manipulable. And they were what was used to form the fundamental shape of a working, whether it was a spell pattern, an activation rune, or a thrawning.

Zevnie had made it sound like a practitioner was supposed to be able to draw his or her magic back and forth through this whole internal network at once. And Kalen could. Sort of. But he had many small pockets of stillness—internal knots that were too tangled and forgotten tributaries that were too distant from the rest of the system to be affected by a general push-and-pull of his magic.

These had to be manipulated separately. So it took Kalen a while to go through the whole thing, stirring everything to life and swishing it as instructed.

It was an interesting exercise, though he imagined that would change if he did it every day. Zevnie said anyone below the mage level should do it that often if they hoped to develop themselves properly.

But Kalen couldn’t tell what good this process was doing him.

He couldn’t even get his pathways to the point where they ached in the way Zevnie had described. Unless he positively blew magic through them like he was trying to clear a clogged nose. That couldn’t be what she’d wanted him to do, could it?

Kalen might not like the girl much, but as she had reminded him several times, she’d had an extensive education before she even became Arlade’s apprentice. She tended to describe processes—especially anything to do with magic—with much more clarity and precision than Kalen could himself.

And “a gentle swishing motion” wasn’t remotely similar to a forceful blowing one.

Even if it was working as she’d described, Kalen didn’t understand why beginning practitioners like him would ever need to have greater control over the motion of magic through the pathways. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he needed better and faster control of the pattern-forming threads of his magic, not of the overall rate of flow of magic to those threads.

At least for the workings he’d done so far.

Was he doing the wrong thing when he practiced? Was it because his books were old? Why was Zevnie so much faster than him?

Maybe this gyring technique was somehow the key even though he didn’t understand how it could be?

The fact that he couldn’t ask without betraying himself was maddening.

All I can do is try harder, he decided, stamping the determination into himself. I’ll keep trying until I figure it out.

#

“Are you really going to nap all day again?” Zevnie asked a few mornings later. She was staring down at Kalen with a peeved expression, her brown arms crossed over the front of her tunic.

“Mmm…why shouldn’t I?” Kalen muttered drowsily.

“I know you sneak out at night!” she said. “You wait until I am asleep and then you sneak away to do something!”

“It’s not sneaking because I’m not doing anything wrong,” said Kalen.

“Creeping around at night like a thief is suspicious behavior.”

“It’s not when you’re doing it in your own house,” Kalen pointed out. “I’m allowed to leave my room to do things in my house, no matter what time of the night it is.”

Zevnie’s hands tightened into fists. “But what do you do?”

Why should I tell you? But there was no reason to be combative. He’d recently discovered that Zevnie was more at a loss when he was agreeable.

“If you wanted to know, you could have just asked,” Kalen said mildly. “I go into the woods to practice gyring like you taught me.”

Zevnie looked startled. “You do?”

“Yes.”

“But why?”

“You said it was an important technique that I should have been practicing for years already. I don’t want to be left behind.”

“I…yes, it…can be an important technique. But why do you go off to practice it at night?”

“Because it’s quiet at night, and I have plenty of privacy. I’m used to being alone when I practice magic, and I can’t focus well when you’re around.”

Her arms fell to hang limp at her sides and she stared at him. “Oh. That…it did not occur to me. I…I apologize.”

Kalen, who had been in the process of faking a dramatic yawn, cut it short and sat up on his mattress to see her better.

Zevnie’s cheeks had darkened and her expression had shifted to one of deep discomfort.

What’s she so upset about? Kalen had literally yelled at the apprentice before and hadn’t gotten such a reaction.

“It’s fine,” he said, trying not to let his confusion show on his face. “I’m just not used to living with another practitioner. Most people don’t really like seeing too much magic around here, so I got used to doing things by myself.”

It was true, he realized. Even if it wasn’t his main reason for avoiding Zevnie, he really wasn’t accustomed to someone constantly judging his magical efforts. Even when he was faking incompetence, it made him feel self-conscious.

“Yes, I see,” she said stiffly. “I have been…ruder than I meant to be.”

“So you meant to be a little rude, then?”

Zevnie scowled at him. “Go to sleep, if you’re so tired!” she said irritably. “I have to help my master study the rift magic’s effects on your family’s pigs today. And I have been neglecting my own practice too much.”

She stalked from the room before he could ask her how that was supposed to be his fault.

“If you do anything to Sleepynerth, I’ll set you on fire!” he yelled after her.

# Zevnie #

Zevnie heard Kalen’s shout and sighed as she stomped down the narrow staircase to the cabin’s ground floor. She would have to hide the enormously fat pig from Master Arlade somehow. Or she’d have to make a strong appeal on its behalf.

The boy’s Sleepynerth (what a baffling name that was), was one of the oldest ones, and Jorn had told them it was also the most productive. So of course, it was the pig her master would want to study.

Zevnie wasn’t entirely sure which experiment the sorcerer had settled on in the end. Some of them were harmless, and others required a few of the pigs to become…pork. Arlade wasn’t utterly heartless though. Surely if Zevnie reminded her that the pig she was interested in was a pet instead of a farm animal like the others it would be spared?

And you’ve been wasting your precious time fearing a farm boy with a pet pig, her mind whispered.

She winced, and one of Kalen’s cousins who’d been about to walk past her toward the staircase turned and scurried away like she was on the verge of hexing him. Farmers. Sailors. They’re not a part of the same world as you. Not really. Not even Kalen.

He had been practicing gyring at night instead of sleeping.

Guilt raked a claw through Zevnie’s guts.

It wasn’t that she’d lied when she’d told him many practitioners studied the technique. In Zevnie’s clan, you were taught it almost as soon as you were out of swaddling cloths. But amphoras were a specific case. In other families, such techniques were taught only to children who were unusually gifted. They took time to bear fruit, and it was largely wasted effort for anyone who wasn’t expected to achieve the latter mage ranks.

And unless Kalen was hiding some prodigious skill, he would never reach such heights. You could learn to be a good magician at any point in your life, but high mages and beyond usually began their development early in their youth.

There were exceptions, but they didn’t grow up on islands like Hemarland.

Not to mention the fact that gyring might not even be the right developmental technique for an enchanter. It probably wasn’t. Zevnie didn't know. She had just been throwing the lesson at Kalen because it was easy to teach and boring to perform, and she hadn’t wanted him to have too much fun.

“Oh, there you are, Zev darling!” Master Arlade greeted Zevnie in the kitchen. She had a plate full of rashers in one hand and one of her many mana probes in another. “Have you had any luck breaking through your choke?”

She asked every other morning over breakfast, regular as Nacrean clockwork. One day, if the sorcerer didn’t give up on her, maybe Zevnie would be able to give an answer that didn’t shame her clan. “I’m sorry, Master Arlade. I haven’t.”

Arlade nodded. “No need to worry. We’ll develop a new set of lessons for you when we’ve left this place. I’d like for us to visit one of the more unusual continental convergence points together. The problem is the damn things are all so far out of the way! By the time we get back, I may have to flush any remaining portalists out of caves like bats.”

“Surely some countries will still be holding out the mat for them?”

Her master chewed thoughtfully on a piece of bacon. “Well, yes. For a while yet. They’re a valuable asset, and not every major power is inclined to lose their heads over a little prophetic hiccup. But the practitioner families on the continent are full of power-hungry hysterics. Not like us sensible island folk.”

Zevnie didn’t think most island folk would count Arlade and her kind among their number. After all, there were the islands…and then there was the Archipelago.

“I’ve had a sending from dear Eliyah saying that the Ossumun Empire has finally given in to pressure from the Leflayrs and the Feroses. They’ve declared the Orellens enemies of the state. What was left of their family enclave after their abrupt evacuation has been turned into rubble.”

The sorcerer looked a little misty-eyed at the thought. Zevnie was sure it was because Arlade was going to have a hard time flitting from country to country like a hummingbird after nectar in the future, and not out of any particular sympathy for the continent’s beleaguered portalists.

“The Empire is cowardly,” Zevnie said.

“Ah, well. The Leflayrs have a Magus of their own, remember. Hateful bastard though he may be. No doubt he threatened to broil the imperial capital or set fire to the emperor’s harem or something equally lacking in creativity.”

As always when she spoke of a Magus, the lines around High Sorcerer Arlade’s eyes deepened. Usually, she exercised a little caution. But now, she stared off into a distance farther than Zevnie’s eyes could see, and she murmured, “I’ll instruct him in more novel methods one day. Perhaps by introducing him to his own beating heart.”

Zevnie looked around quickly to make sure no members of the nice, normal family who lived here were within earshot. Fortunately they weren’t. Eager to change the subject to something less bloodthirsty, she said quickly, “By the way, do you think it would be appropriate for an enchanter to learn gyring? Or maybe another pathway development technique would be better?”

Arlade smiled and shook her head. “You mean for Kalen? He’s an eager learner, to be sure. I caught him peeking through my box of scrolls the other day with the most baffled look on his little face. But he’s really not the sort who could make good use of any development technique. He’s too old at this point. And gyring—especially the version your family practices—wouldn’t be the proper one for a young enchanter anyway.”

Zevnie’s stomach clenched. “Oh. Of course.”

Arlade was barely giving Kalen any real consideration then. That was a good thing. But now Zevnie felt guiltier than ever for teaching him the technique.

“If you’re trying to think of what to do with him, I understand the difficulty. It’s hard with someone who has no solid base to build on. Don’t waste too much time on it. Just introduce him to some of the more obscure runes you’ve learned. Enchanters love runes.”

#

Zevnie had obviously changed her mind about Kalen, though he didn’t understand why. He crouched behind a tuft of sea grass, spying on her. It was a strange turn of events, since she’d stopped spying on him days ago.

The apprentice was helping Arlade set up an elaborate diagram, creating the pattern using only stones from the beach. And only stones of a specific color at that. It looked like tedious and exhausting work, but Zevnie toiled away at it with a placid expression on her face.

She hadn’t been angry at all lately. In fact, she’d been uncommonly sweet to Kalen. She’d given him a notebook full of new runes to learn, written in her hand, and she’d even explained some of the basic theory behind why they were usually placed in certain orders.

Though Kalen wasn't interested in runes for their own sake, it had always been frustrating not to understand the why behind their placement. Apparently, it usually had to do with elemental hierarchy, which was a concept he was still trying to wrap his head around.

He was grateful for the help, but that was beside the point. The point was Zevnie had changed. Suddenly and completely. And though Kalen was glad of it, he wondered what he’d done to make the change happen.

Well, you can keep your secrets to yourself, he thought as Zevnie placed another stone. I’m leaving.

The aurora was waning in truth now. It would be gone in another week according to Arlade. And Kalen had extracted permission from his parents and Nanu to head out to the rock to take advantage of these last magical days before life returned to normal.

Whatever Zevnie had been planning, she wouldn’t have time to enact it. With the magic fading, her master had declared just this morning that the two of them would be working from sun-up to midnight every day.

If Zevnie even had the energy to wonder where Kalen had gone, his family would say he’d left to study his new runes in peace.

Kalen waited until the sorcerer and her apprentice were deep in discussion about a particular intersection in their pattern of stones to take his leave. By the time he reached the forest’s edge, he had a skip in his step.

The pack on his back was full of books and magical supplies he’d recovered from Nanu’s house.

He wondered if his rock had missed him.

# Zevnie #

“Excuse me,” said Zevnie, stifling a yawn as she passed by the little red-haired girl on her way to the outdoor privy. The dawn light had just begun to stain the sky behind the tree-covered mountains a pale pink. “Do you know where Kalen is? I haven’t seen him in two or three days.”

It might even have been four. She’d been working so hard to keep up with Master Arlade that the days were all starting to blur together.

The little girl--Iless--bit her bottom lip nervously.

Well, some people were afraid of practitioners. It couldn’t be helped. But Zevnie hadn't thought Iless was one of those. She’d seemed friendlier and more curious about Zevnie and Arlade than the other children in the village.

She gave the girl an encouraging smile. “I have a present for Kalen. I made him a book to help with his enchanting.”

She’d been working on it in every spare moment. She was still trying to assuage her guilt over the bad advice she’d given him about gyring. Probably, it would have been simpler to apologize and tell Kalen the technique was no good for him. But Zevnie couldn’t figure out how to do it without saying something discouraging about the boy’s future prospects as a practitioner.

So she’d combed through Arlade’s collection of texts instead, searching for useful, simple nuggets of information that could help him.

“He’s at his rock,” Iless said finally. “He goes there to study. He wanted privacy to study the new runes you gave him.”

“His rock?”

“Kalen has a rock in the woods. He camps there sometimes.”

Further questioning led to the vexing information that this rock was hours away from the village by foot and that Kalen wasn’t expected back for a few days.

“I’ll take the book for you,” Iless said suddenly, straightening her spine. “I know the way to the rock. I can deliver it to Kalen today.”

“I am sure your parents would not want you to make such a long journey on your own,” Zevnie said in surprise.

“I do it all the time!” Iless said loudly, putting her hands on her hips. “I bet I’ve done it hundreds of times. I love to travel through the woods alone. There aren’t even wolves on this side of the mountains! And if there were, I would love that, too.”

“I see,” said Zevnie. Even though she didn’t. She couldn’t believe they let Kalen go out on his own, and this girl was years younger. “I will keep that in mind. I may just wait until he returns to give him the book.”

“That would be good,” said Iless. Her hands were still firmly planted, and her small jaw stuck out. “Kalen likes to be alone on his rock. Privacy is important for wizarns. But if you don’t want to wait, then you should remember to send me with the book instead of going yourself. Because you are busy with your master, and delivering books to the rock is something I do lots and lots.”

Zevnie was half afraid the child was going to demand a solemn oath from her, so she nodded hastily and hurried toward the privy.

What an intense little girl. She reminded Zevnie of her sister.

“A rock?” Arlade said later that morning when Zevnie brought the matter up. They’d just finished placing one of the sorcerer’s monitoring bowls beside a strange-looking tree that seemed to be absorbing more mana than its neighbors.

“Some kind of local sacred place that’s been abandoned for years?” Zevnie said. “I thought maybe we should test it.”

“Oh! That rock. Yes, I’ve visited it several times on past trips. Usually, ancient landmarks have something magically anomalous about them, but that old rock is just a rock. It rolled down a mountainside during an ancient landslide most likely.”

“If you wanted, I could take the equipment and test it again. Just in case…”

Arlade glanced over at her in surprise. Zevnie wasn’t usually one to offer to run off and perform experiments on her own. Suddenly, the sorcerer laughed. “Zevnie, how unexpectedly dear of you! You want to deliver that little book you’ve made to Kalen in person, don’t you?”

No. I just thought…it won’t be as useful to him once the rift magic has faded. And I wasn't sure when we’d leave exactly or how much help he would need understanding what I’d written…”

Arlade gave her an indulgent smile. “Go,” she said.

“What? Really?” Zevnie asked in surprise.

“You’re so serious and, frankly, unenjoyable most of the time,” Arlade said, flipping her hand in a shooing motion. “If we’re going to continue traveling together for another contracted year, I feel that your sudden show of human affection should be encouraged. So, begone. Depart.”

Another contracted year. The words rang through Zevnie, bright as celebration bells. She could scarcely believe she'd heard them.

“I…yes. Master, thank you! I will make you so proud. I will achieve what no amphora has before, and I—”

“Will go visit Kalen at his rock?”

“I don’t have to go,” Zevnie said at once. “I could clean your instruments again. I could—”

“Could go be friendly and sociable like a normal fourteen-year-old girl who knows how to have a good time on occasion? Excellent.”

“Right. I will do that. And I’ll be so quick! I can come back this evening.”

“Please don’t. Kalen might follow you home, and I need at least a couple of days of peace and quiet before he starts lurking around again. Did you sense him staring at us from behind the bushes the other day? Very distracting. So…go camping. Learn to have fun.” Arlade paused, then added, “And try not to freeze to death, my little hothouse flower.”

Zevnie hardly dared go in case something changed Arlade’s mind in her absence. But she couldn’t very well demand that her master stop her work and formalize the contract right on the spot. And she couldn’t stay when she’d been ordered to leave.

Practice socializing? Am I really that difficult to be around?

Zevnie shot off toward the house so that she could collect some supplies and the book she’d made. She would socialize with Kalen so thoroughly that he would never want her to leave! But she would. She would!

Another contracted year. She hadn’t shamed herself and her family as much as she’d feared.

The joy—accompanied by a double thrawning that strengthened the legs and increased blood-flow—carried Zevnie along the rough forest path to her destination at a swift pace.

After an hour, the forest began to slope more sharply upward, and the path was so overgrown that Zevnie had a bit of trouble finding it at times. It definitely wasn't the easiest trip in the world, and she was surprised that Kalen and even little Iless apparently traveled it often.

Most of the villagers were sturdy folk, she supposed. And Kalen probably made it this far on sheer stubbornness.

An hour after that, her thighs aching from the unnatural speed she’d forced on them, Zevnie sensed magic. She looked around, seeing nothing but endless stretches of evergreen trees.

It was not the feel of the aurora overhead—that raw and untamed river of pure mana and half-aspected rift magic pouring through the atmosphere. No, this was shaped. And it was fairly powerful.

If not for the slope of the ground making her direction so obvious, Zevnie would have thought she’d gotten turned around in the forest and ended up back near the village and Master Arlade. The sorcerer had a habit of flinging her magic at a spell haphazardly when she was in a mood, and this felt similar.

It cannot be Nanu. The old woman was clever, but uneducated and weak. Unless she’d been hiding her power for some reason?

Zevnie didn’t see why she would.

There were a few middling magicians in the town on the other side of the island. Perhaps one had come here? Why? To teach Kalen?

Strange. Surely they wouldn’t have lied about Kalen having a teacher. It wasn’t like Zevnie or Arlade cared.

The magic built, then faded, then built again as Zevnie walked.

Well, someone has a lot of energy to be throwing it around so casually. Or else they are drunk and facing down a bear.

This might not be the work of a magician. It might even be a mage.

Zevnie was uneasy, but she reached into the pocket of her coat and took out the crystal skull token that proved her apprenticeship. If they were a mage, it was all to the good. They wouldn’t be from Hemarland, but some less far-flung place. And they would recognize the warning writ clear in magic on the carved crystal.

If you harmed her apprentice, Arlade Glimont of the Archipelago would harm you. And she would do a much better job of it, too.

Just to be on the safe side, Zevnie held the skull in front of her as she approached the source of the power. It was building up again.

She stepped into a clearing that was almost entirely filled by a boulder with a flattened top. A small blond figure stood in the center of it, facing away from Zevnie.

She looked around for the other practitioner.

There was nobody else in sight.

Then, a sound broke the silence—Kalen’s voice. He was…singing? Reciting? And his hands, which had been hanging loose at his sides, began to tap his legs as though they were keeping a rhythm.

The magic started to build again. Mesmerized, confused, and unsettled, Zevnie found herself running toward the stairs carved into one side of the boulder. She raced up them.

Kalen hadn’t heard her. He was still chanting.

That’s what it is. A chant, thought Zevnie, heart pounding. Is this a cantrip? This is a cantrip, isn’t it?

It wouldn’t work. Of course it wouldn’t. Stupid little village boy. He really didn’t know a thing.

But why is there so much magic?

In the womb of the earth,

all lies in darkness.

I bring you the light.

I bring you the light.

Take the water from the air,

for I have brought you to light.

Drink your fill,

for I have brought you to light.

Live, oh mote of life.

Live in the light.

Live.

Some words were hard and others were soft. Some lines went up and others down. It didn’t sound good, exactly. But it sounded careful. Polished. Intentional.

An image flashed through Zevnie’s mind—one of the heating circle in Kalen’s bedroom. So perfectly painted. So strangely flawless for the work of a child.

Though she’d never learned a cantrip herself, Zevnie would have bet her soul in that moment that Kalen had not missed a single inflection in his chant.

But it doesn’t matter. He can’t have done anything.

Why…why is there so much magic?

Zevnie’s feet hit the top of the stairs at precisely the same moment as Kalen gave a pleased cry and bent to pick something up from the surface of the stone in front of him. He cradled the thing to his chest.

What was it? The cantrip hadn’t worked. Zevnie knew it hadn’t.

“Show me what you’ve got!” she shouted, rushing at him.

Kalen spun. His brown eyes were wide with shock. “Zevnie,” he breathed, pure horror in his voice.

But she’d already reached him. She grabbed his cupped hands in both of hers, and he was too slow to stop her. Too late to hide what he’d done.

In his hands, Kalen, son of Jorn, held a single seed. A pale sprout had emerged from it, and as Zevnie watched, a tiny green leaf unfurled and reached for the sun.

All that magic for such a small thing, Zevnie thought. Her eyes stung. Such a small, useless, perfect thing.

Kalen was trying to stutter some kind of excuse. Zevnie wasn’t listening.

“You lying bastard,” she said in a trembling voice. “You thief. You’ve ruined everything.”

Then she drew back her arm and slapped him as hard as she could.

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A note from sieley

Thank you for reading this story. I'm having a lot of fun sharing it with you all.


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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