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Tala looked from Lyn to Holly. “Speaking of mage-sight…”

“Ahh, yes. I left off the four connection points that will activate that portion of your inscribing. I thought it better to not add that on top of everything else. Additionally, we still need to discuss the changes, adding to the wisdom of the delay.”

“But I should just be able to activate…” She hesitated, then sighed. “You made that a passive enhancement as well, didn’t you.”

Holly grinned. “Of course! Once connected and activated, it will show you any magic source you focus on, but otherwise only bring new, or changing, sources of magic to your awareness. It is really quite genius.”

“If you do say so yourself,” Lyn muttered under her breath just before taking a sip of coffee; Tala heard it perfectly.

Tala grinned, but then turned back to Holly. “Why?”

“Many a Mage has been undone because they didn’t know to activate their mage-sight, or because they were overwhelmed by the information provided, as Lyn implied. This gets around that problem.”

Tala was unconvinced. “So, why doesn’t everyone use your method?”

“Because, without the mental enhancing inscriptions, which we added to you, their mind would pop like an egg thrown at a wall.”

“Vivid.”

Holly shrugged. “Accurate.”

“So, my enhancements will allow for this?”

“Based on my calculations.”

Tala had been about to take another bite, but she paused. “Say again?”

“From everything I can determine, you should be fine.”

“You could just say, ‘Yes.’ ”

“That would be a lie. I strive for honesty with my clients.”

Tala set her donut aside, cleaned off her hands, and then rubbed her face. “How can you not know?” She pointed at her own cheek, where she presumed that the spell-lines were waiting activation. “They are already on my face, Mistress Holly. How can you not know?”

“Because no one else has been quite like you, dear. This is all new.”

Tala groaned. She did have a moment of reflexive relief that groaning didn’t cause any discomfort.

In a strange turn, Lyn patted Tala gently on the back. Based on the brief contact, Tala noticed a ring she hadn’t taken note of, before. Through Tala’s distraction, she still heard Lyn’s reassurance. “Think of it this way, Mistress Tala: Would you prefer someone who takes a risk, all the while assuring you it was perfectly safe, or someone who was perfectly aware of the risks, honest about them, and actively worked to reduce them?”

She sighed. “Fine.” A moment’s thought brought to mind a memory of Lyn’s ring, as she’d obviously seen it earlier. It was incredibly disconcerting for Tala, remembering something, in vivid detail, that she hadn’t noticed before. She twisted, looking at Lyn’s hand, and confirming the ring was as she’d expected. “What’s with the ring?”

Lyn blinked at her. “It’s…It’s just a ring. I’ve had it for years.” She frowned. “You’ve never seen me without it.”

Holly was grinning. “She’ll be noticing things she missed, before. The ring is likely just the first she vocalized.”

Tala was staring at the ring, seemingly unable to divert her attention, as her mind showed her a dozen memories of Lyn, all including that ring. “How did I…”

“Not notice, dear?”

“Yeah. It seems so obvious.”

“Each of us is blind to some things. You just didn’t take note of it.”

Tala looked at the woman and was suddenly struck by the weariness in her. Holly’s posture was good, but not as perfect as when Tala had first met her. Her intricate inscribing was darker beneath her eyes, and there were subtle lines across her features. “Mistress Holly? Are you alright?”

The older woman blinked at her. “Yes…Ahh… I see you are actually beginning to use your increased perception.”

“You look exhausted.”

She smiled. “Oh, I am. I’ve gotten some sleep since we began, but not much. As soon as we discuss your mage-sight and activate it, I plan to sleep for…” She thought for a moment, then laughed. “For as long as I can, probably.”

“Well, we should get to it, then.” Tala took the last two bites of breakfast in a single mouthful and washed it down with the remains of her coffee. Tala’s eyes swept over Lyn, and she noted that she could now take a better guess at the other woman’s age. Twenty-five. She has a full five years on me. That was a funny thought; Lyn acted like a peer, but she also acted like she was Tala’s mother.

Honestly, Tala felt a bit foolish. Any Mage, lacking a master as Lyn clearly did, would have had to finish their time as a mageling, which could take anywhere from three to ten years. The fact that Lyn was still so young, and a full Mage, spoke very well to her abilities.

How will I be perceived? I skipped that whole process… She wondered if she would ever learn all that she would have under a master. No going back, now.

Standing, Tala looked down at her two companions. “Shall we?”

They smiled up at her, and she could easily see their agreement and care in the expressions. I am luckier than I knew.

Holly and Lyn stood almost as one, their smiles still playing across their faces.

“Yes. The quicker we get back to my shop, the sooner I can sleep.”

 

* * *

 

They were back at the front of Holly’s warehouse, door open for re-entry, when a man’s voice interrupted them, “Mistress Tala! Wait a moment.” Tala heard a power behind the voice; the volume wasn’t great, but the words carried clearly and easily across the distance. The tone and intonation denoted control and ready strength.

She turned and saw Ashin striding across the road, several packages in hand. Noticing things that I haven’t noticed before is…odd. She quirked an eyebrow. “Guardsman?”

He smiled slightly, his eyes flicking to her face, arms, and bare feet, seeming to take in her new inscribings. “Your apothecary was quite distraught when you didn’t return to claim your items.” He lifted the few small packages slightly, indicating their contents.

“Oh! Thank you.” She stepped forward quickly to take them from him. Once the packages were in hand, she paused. He didn’t leave, or say anything, and her newly prominent senses were screaming at her that he was feeling suddenly awkward. Tala glanced at Lyn. “I’m…I’m not certain if anything else is required? I’d offer him a fee, for carrying the packages for me, but…I’m broke.”

Ashin reddened. “I am right here, Mistress.”

Tala turned back to him. “I’m hardly going to ask you if it’s appropriate to give you money.”

His red features darkened. “Are you implying that I would lie?” His hand seemed to be drifting towards his sword, but the motion struck her as subconscious. Interesting. He has an unconscious reflex to be ready to defend his honor with violence, but not an immediate drive towards such.

“No, of course not. Just that…” She hesitated. I had been concerned that he’d lie… That was a bit uncharitable, she supposed. “I apologize for the offense. I’ve had a taxing few days. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Ashin took a deep breath and seemed to wrangle down his own emotions, bringing his hands forward to clasp in front of his waist.

Tala began looking through the packages, moving paper wrapping aside to look in. She frowned. This isn’t right. There were fewer parcels than there should have been.

After letting out his breath, Ashin bowed slightly. “He asked me to convey-“

Tala spoke over him. “These don’t look right, the bars are too heavy, and there is far too little iron left. What did he do, add lead?”

Ashin’s eyes tightened in clear irritation. “As I was trying to say…” He took another calming breath. “He asked me to convey that he has modified your recipe. He included several emulsifying agents to help the iron bind to the other ingredients more easily. Thus, he was able to increase the amount of the dust in each bar, without changing the other properties of the end result. Therefore,” He emphasized that last word. “The bars will be heavier than expected, and more of your iron dust was used.”

Tala closed her mouth and grunted. “Ahh.”

He held out a slip of paper to her. “The altered recipe. He said that it should allow a greater amount of the iron dust to bind to your skin, as well.”

She took it and examined the careful, precise script. “Huh… clever.” She nodded. “This is better.” I’ll have to thank him personally…when I have funds to add to the words. “Thank you, Ashin.”

His smile was a bit strained. “I’m glad it meets with your approval, Mistress.”

She rolled her eyes. “If that is all, we are about to complete our work for the day.” She hesitated. “You are welcome to observe, I suppose.”

He reddened visibly, again, but this time with obvious embarrassment, as he tried to stammer out a reply.

Lyn sighed, giving a little wave to grab Ashin’s attention. “The inscribing is on her face, Ashin. No nakedness required.”

Holly sighed. “No nakedness is ever required, when I work.”

Lyn shushed her with a dismissive hand wave. “Irrelevant.”

“But true.”

Lyn fixed Holly with a look that made it quite clear what Lyn thought of that.

Holly huffed. “Fine. He wants to watch Mistress Tala’s mind pop, who am I to argue?”

Tala’s head whipped back to face Holly. “What? You said that wouldn’t happen.”

“It won’t, dear.” She turned to Ashin. “Would you care to watch?”

Ashin was looking between the three women, and slowly stepping backwards. His off hand was resting, solidly, on his sword’s hilt. “I…I think I will be about my business. Thank you, though.” Then, as if fearing being forced to stay, he turned and strode away, clearly going as fast as he could without moving into a ‘disrespectful’ jog.

Lyn grinned. “He’s such a good boy.” She glanced towards Tala. “Don’t you think so?”

Tala shrugged. “Don’t know him that well.” She looked to Holly. “Shall we?”

 

* * *

 

“So, Mistress Tala. You understand how your new mage-sight will work, as well as the other changes?”

“Everything will light up, and I will see all the magic around me in one brilliant instant, then it will fade, and only new or changing sources will be presented to me…or the initial burst will fry my brain.”

Holly quirked a smile. “Unlikely. I need you to repay me for all this work, after all.” She hesitated. “Also, we have reparative scripts that should repair any damage in your brain.” She held up a forestalling hand. “But there won’t be any, so they won’t be needed.” She smiled.

“I feel so loved.”

“You should. No one loves you like your banker or your creditors.” The inscriber winked.

Lyn leaned in. “Mistress Tala, we hardly know you. Of course, we care more for you as an investment than as a person.” Her eyes were twinkling, and Tala hoped that was meant to put the statement to lie. “I can assure you. I would be quite aggrieved to lose my investment.”

“You two are kind of mean.”

They smiled back at her. “You are quite a lovely person, dear, but friendship takes more than a few days.”

Tala sighed. “Fine, but sometimes pretty lies are better than hard truth.”

Lyn’s smiled widened. “Oh, they are always better, but never for the hearer, not in the end, and only a coward takes the easy way out.”

Tala found herself oddly comforted by the sentiment. “I…uh…thank you, Mistress Lyn.” She smiled.

Lyn glanced at Holly. “Go fast. I don’t want to be overly distraught if this fails, and she’s growing on me.”

“I hate you.”

“Like the older sister who stole your favorite dress?”

Tala didn’t have a response to that, and Holly was quick to capitalize on her hesitation.

With four quick, painless jabs, Holly left Tala with four new, swelling additions to her spell-lines.

Power moved through the spell-forms on her face, and the world rippled before her sight.

Every stone in Holly’s wall, behind the plaster, flickered with earthly power. The boards affixed to the stones seemed almost to grow before her vision, before settling down. They were not so old as to have lost their connection to nature, and the power of life was quite evident within, though dimmed by time. The plaster, coating and covering the wood had flashes both of water and stone through it, just like the paint that finished the surface, though the latter had more water in the mix than the former did.

Each needle on Holly’s wall screamed at Tala’s sight, proclaiming their purpose, and as they were all made toward the same purpose, the unified voice was a chorus to shake the heavens.

Licks of power danced through the air: heat, movement, life, and so much more.

Then, her eyes fell upon Lyn, and she knew the woman’s power.

As an Exchequer, Lyn had extensive networks of spell-lines across her entire body, all tuned towards the acquisition, processing, and storage of information. Immaterial Creator. The woman’s quadrant was obvious.

None of her scripting’s were active, but they were still readily apparent, even as the woman’s life and magical power showed from between the spell-lines. The lines, themselves, had a familiarity to them, and Tala realized that they bore Holly’s distinctive style.

Even so, the wholistic view, coupled with Tala’s own ease of intake and processing, left her with an uncomfortable realization.

If I struck there, Her mind seemed to highlight a cluster of crossing lines, just inside of Lyn’s right shoulder, I could disable, or overwhelm, her entire network of spell-forms.

Tala tried to turn her head but realized that she couldn’t. Her perception was, momentarily, moving much much more quickly than normal.

She was able to shift her focus, even so, and then her sight beheld Holly.

Thoughts bearing words paled, and any attempt at description was rendered utterly inadequate to convey the overpowering radiance of the woman’s spell-lines, and the power and intricacies there-in. It was more than that, though. There almost seemed to be power in the air around Holly, which made no sense. She has spell-lines that aren’t a part of her body? How? Taken as a whole, it was a tapestry of utter mastery, meticulously constructed on a bright yellow canvas.

Tala’s mind simply couldn’t hold, let alone understand, the complexity and depth.

That simple glance caused her consciousness to flicker, and she was left with a hole in her memory and a single-word impression.

CREATE.

Tala could not have stated what quadrant Holly was. Tala wondered if she’d ever find out, if the woman didn’t choose to share that information.

After the flicker of mental blackness, her perception seemed to return to a normal pace, and she was able to turn her head, scanning her surroundings more fully.

Each item was briefly highlighted, and their marginal magical affinities noted.

Nothing was surprising to her, or even new, as she’d always known the inherent connections all things had to various aspects of power. She'd sometimes even seen those, in the past.

After a long minute, during which Holly and Lyn regarded her carefully, if silently, Tala finally smiled. “I think…I think I’m adjusting.”

Lyn let out what seemed to be a long-held breath. “Good. I like this robe.” She gestured down at her cream colored, Mage’s robe. “I’d hate to have it soiled by exploding heads.” After a moment’s hesitation, she amended. “Well, an exploding head.”

Holly sighed. “As I explained. The bursting would have been entirely internal. The most we’d have seen was some bleeding from her eyes.”

Tala cleared her throat. “So…We’re clear?”

Holly smiled. “We are. We won’t do the deeper dimensions of your inscriptions on the rest of your body until you return, and we’ll save the tailored inscriptions on your internal organs for some time after that.” She hesitated. “Maybe, we’ll do it at the same time. We’ll have to see.” She smiled.

Tala spun her right forefinger in a circle in the air. “Yay! I can’t wait.”

Just then, a form walked into range of her mage-sight, across and behind the closed door. Tala could tell by the lack of strictly patterned, concentrated aura, that they were un-inscribed, but even so, she was able to see traces of power looping through them in flowing circuits. The circuits had an odd look, as if they were spell-lines, but of a different metal and design than any she’d yet seen. Is that their circulatory system?

She followed the form as it passed. Initially, it had begun to slowly fade, as her mage-sight determined that she’d seen it, but as she maintained her focus, keeping her gaze locked on the movements, it became clear once again.

“Huh.”

Holly and Lyn were looking at her strangely. “Dear? Are you alright?”

Tala kept following the person with her sight as they continued on their way. “Yes. A person came into range, beyond the wall, and I could see them.”

Holly glanced at the door, then back at Tala. “Through the wall? Are you sure?”

Tala nodded, still not turning. “And I’m still seeing them, even though they are close to three times as far away, now, as when they first came into sight.”

“That part makes sense. If you focus on something, no matter the distance, your mage-sight will show the magic of it, but…” She hesitated. “Is it clear? Are you sure your eyes aren’t tricking you?”

Tala quirked a smile. “I can count their heartbeats, if you want.” She nodded. “I’m sure.”

“Focus on me, I’m going to go through the door, and I want to know if you can tell what I am doing.”

Tala allowed her gaze to leave the target, and it immediately vanished. She glanced towards Holly but made sure not to focus on her. “Ummm… I’d rather not. You’re kind of painful to look at.”

Holly blinked. “I think I should be insulted.”

Tala’s smile grew. “I meant that your magic is incredibly bright. It overwhelmed me for a moment there. There’s also a strange underlying hue to the whole thing. Do you have spell-lines in the air around you? How is that even possible?”

“Hmmmm…” Holly scratched the side of her face. “You were still adjusting… Would you be willing to try again?” She did not answer any of Tala’s questions.

Tala hesitated, then nodded. If I’m looking at it, I can ask more pointed questions. “I suppose so.” She allowed her focus to fall on Holly, and the woman immediately began to glow, her spell-lines becoming easily visible, even through her clothing. The light began to become painful, but something within Tala seemed to shift, and while she could tell the power, as she perceived it, was continuing to grow, it was no longer difficult to take in. “Interesting. I can see now.” It looks different than before, and it also seems a little hazy? She smiled. “Material Creator? Are you doing something to shield your magic?”

“That’s right, I began my career as a Material Creator. As to the second, that’s not your concern right now.”

There was too much in that answer to unpack at the moment, so Tala decided to press on with the matter at hand. “Are all your spell-lines bent towards the understanding and enacting of inscribings?” All those I can see. It sounds like she’s masking or altering how she looks to me.

“It is my life, dear.”

It’s more than that. Portions of Holly’s magic were devoted to connecting with various knowledge archives. Most inscribers that Tala knew of would use tablets, or other such items, empowered for the purpose; Holly used herself. It was less materially efficient, for that specific task, but Tala would bet her last copper that it saved Holly a great deal over-all in time, metal, and power. “I don’t understand all the archive functions.”

Holly’s eyes widened, just slightly, and Tala saw power ripple through the lines around the older woman’s eyes. “Those are on my ribs, dear. You can see them?”

“Yes. But what is the-”

Holly placed her hand over Tala’s mouth, cutting her off. Holly then cleared her throat. “That is not something we should discuss. Maybe when we know each other better…” Her eyes flicked to Lyn, then to the door. “And when we can have time to talk alone.”

Lyn’s eyes narrowed, but she seemed to decide not to say anything.

Holly’s hand came away, and Tala shrugged. “As you wish.” She’d decided not to press. The Core Archives does sound like something without wide access. She found herself grinning. If Holly inscribes administrative Mages, it would not have been difficult for her to give herself those same magics. I wonder how many such secrets she has made use of over the years? There was something more. The fact that she’d seen something real, which Holly didn’t expect, meant that she wasn’t being deceived by what she saw, at least not entirely. Maybe, Holly is just hiding the spell-lines in the air? The underlying yellow hue was also missing, now. I’ll figure it out eventually, I suppose.

Holly was watching Tala carefully, but when the younger girl didn’t say more, Holly nodded. “Very well. It seems that your mage-sight will be even more useful that we’d thought, if it can pick up power even through solid objects. You should receive some sort of signal if magic pops up, or changes, outside of your line of sight, but I’ve honestly no idea how that will manifest, or if there is some sort of threshold involved.”

Tala nodded. “I was wondering about that. The schema we discussed seemed to have allowed that. It almost looked like it would take a threshold to open that portion of my sight, but afterwards it would function much the same as that within my normal vision.”

“Could be. That was my hope, but poor is the fool who counts on hopes and wishes. If that is how you understood it, then that’s the most likely way it will function.”

Lyn cleared her throat. “As wonderful as this is, I think that Tala is due a good night of sleep in a normal bed.” She glanced to Tala. “Can you apply your…iron, at my house?” After a moment she added. “I would prefer if there weren’t any cleanup required, when you are done.”

Tala nodded. “Absolutely. I’ve gotten very practiced at keeping the iron contained. The Masters at the academy were quite cross, until I was able to perfect the process.” In truth, they’d never approved, but at least they’d stopped slating her for punishment, after she’d stopped contaminating random parts of the school.

“In that case, we should be off.” Lyn turned and gave Holly a half bow. “Mistress.”

Holly bowed tiredly in return. “Mistress. Until next time.”

Tala bowed as well and came up smiling. “Thank you, Mistress Holly. I suppose I will see you in just over two weeks!”

“See that you do.” Holly winked. “Take care, child.”

“I will.”

Without another word, Tala and Lyn departed, heading for Lyn’s home and a good night’s sleep.

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JLMullins

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