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A note from JLMullins

Edited 2022Mar27 to clear up an inconsitency: There is a general rule that magic items cannot be empowered by multiple Mages, and this chapter implied otherwise.

 

A special thank you to RR user Nightdrift-B for catching the contradiction!

Hand now free of glue, Tala grinned. Let’s see what I can really do.

She placed her hand on the activation panel and channeled power into it once more. Based on her previous activation, she channeled less power, so as not to overwhelm this next wagon.

The three lights flicked on at almost the same time, and she jerked her hand back as if she’d seen a snake. Please don’t be overloaded. She felt a bit tired, given the power that had been pulled from her body towards the empowering, but her gate was open, and her stores were replenishing rapidly.

After a long pause, when nothing further happened, the two Mages came forward, verified her work, and deactivated the working, once again.

“Well, I think we can skip the third wagon.” The older Mage smiled in an almost grandfatherly way. After a moment’s thought he added, “Let’s skip the first cargo-slot as well.”

Ahh, that’s what they’re called. Following his instructions, she walked up to the second free-standing door. Cargo-slot. More than anything, it looked like someone had taken off the back of one of the enclosed wagons and added another wall directly to the back before standing it up.

She frowned at the descriptive scripting for a long moment.

“Do you want me to give you the explanation?”

“I think I understand. It expands the small crevice between the two layers of wood into a large room, roughly twice the size of a mundane wagon’s interior. It also stabilizes and isolates the weight of the cargo.”

“Correct.”

Tala placed her hand on the activation point and filled herself with power, carefully, pushing it into the cargo-slot’s spell-lines.

Nothing happened.

Tala frowned and drew deeply, pushing more power forward. The first symbol slowly blossomed with light.

Tala found a low growl rippling up through her chest, and she threw her gate wide, holding nothing back, drawing more than before on her own reserves. The second and third symbols filled with light in quick succession over the following twenty seconds or so.

When the final symbol lit up, Tala was breathing hard. “Done!” Her voice was a bit breathless, and she felt quite tired, though that passed quickly as her body’s power slowly returned to her standard density. In truth, she was surprised at how tired she’d felt, given her estimate that she’d only used about a quarter of her personal power. I guess that’s because my body is used to always having that power.

The oldest Mage had a look of mild surprise but didn’t comment as the other two opened the door and stepped into the obviously spacious interior.

It took only a moment for them to confirm her success.

She strode to the final test and analyzed the inscriptions. “Same as before, but four times the interior size. So, it would be eight times the space as a non-magical, cargo wagon. Right?”

“As you say. Begin when you are ready.” After a moment, he added. “You are welcome to take a short break, if you so desire.”

She shook her head. “No need but thank you.” In retrospect, his offer had been a kind one. She was feeling a bit drained still, and she knew that while her density was high, her power accumulation rate was nothing special.

Tala threw her gate as wide as her keystone would allow and drew deeply, channeling all that she could into her hand, even as she slammed it against the activation location.

She felt a deep reverberation through her chest, though she was not consciously growling with the effort. Her gate was insufficient, so she pulled at her body for power, pulling every vestige she could yank free and throwing it at the cargo-slot’s activation panel.

It felt like someone was pouring boiling water over her right arm, and her palm might as well have been on a stove, from the feel of it.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the first symbol blossomed to life.

Is that all? You’re mine, now. One symbol meant she could activate it, now she was just filling out the capacity, so it would keep running for a time.

A second eternity passed, but she wasn’t growling anymore; she didn’t have the strength. The next symbol faded into brilliance.

Sweat was pouring off her, and her eyes felt like she had been staring down a crucible for hours, but finally, the last inscribed symbol lit.

She sank to her knees, despite her attempts to stay up.

No one spoke as the two junior Mages opened the door and entered the expanded space to measure.

When they returned, they simply nodded.

It had been done correctly.

Finally, Tala was able to speak but found her voice slightly hoarse. “How long?”

The older man stepped forward and spoke softly. “I have you at twelve minutes, Mistress.”

“Oh… I failed then.” She’d had ten minutes to charge them, if she was to use ones like this on her venture. “Oh well.” She smiled up at him.

He cleared his throat and glanced away. “That one is meant as an upper bound, Mistress Tala. We’ve never had one activated by a simple Mage, during testing.” He looked back to her and smiled.

Tala’s eyes returned to the script she’d just empowered. Maybe, I should try again? I bet I could do better the second time. That…that would not be a good idea. She couldn’t remember having this little power within herself. Even before she’d gone to the Academy, she’d had magic within, like all humans did.

“Huh… so my failure was a success.” She glanced to Lyn. The woman’s face was an attempt at impassivity, but Tala could see pride and concern both clear and clearly mixed across her features. “Yay me.” Then, Tala slipped into unconsciousness. Her last thought was oddly disconnected.

Wait a minute…we added an inscription to prevent me from falling unconscious, except to sleep. I guess it didn’t quite work... Oh well.

 

* * *

 

A pulse of power exploded from the base of Tala’s skull, and she returned to consciousness, violently.

She’d fallen too far to easily catch herself, but her heightened reflexes allowed her to tuck, turning the kneeling fall into a roll.

Thus, an instant after she’d fainted from overuse of power, she found herself standing fully upright, staring out across the work-yard.

A shiver ran through her from head to toe, and a sense akin to her mage-sight picked up the signature of what had awoken her: It had been a silver inscription, set to watch for any loss of consciousness not due to falling asleep. So, it did work?

A sound, almost like a bell, hummed through her thoughts, and she found the note calming. Then, her own voice came to her, as if she were thinking, though she never truly considered that the voice might be her own thoughts.

Consciousness lost for 0.05 seconds due to Magical Overuse and Severe Internal Power Scarcity. The Keystone Inscription attempted to induce unconsciousness to allow for expedited recovery. Keystone flaw noted for correction.

Mild, targeted, electrical shock and hormone cocktail utilized for near instant resuscitation.

No lasting effects detected.

Log complete.

“What. Utter. Slag.” Tala spun towards Lyn who was staring at her, open mouthed. “Mistress Holly is a madwoman.” Tala threw up her hands. “A madwoman!”

Lyn stepped forward but stopped before touching her. “Mistress Tala, are you ok? What just happened?”

“I… I can’t even…” Tala had been about to explain that a voice in her head just revived her, but that sounded crazy, even to her, and she’d been the one to hear it. Finally, she sighed. “Never mind…” She turned back to the older Mage, who was still standing next to the last test. She bowed, slightly more than necessary. “My apologies. Might I have a minute to rest, before empowering the scripts for loading?”

He seemed to gather himself at her words and smiled. “Of course. The tests are meant to be difficult, so that we may better ascertain a Mage’s merit, but I must say, we rarely see anyone put quite as much effort into it as you have.”

“That’s Mistress Tala for you.” Lyn glanced to Tala, then back to the Mage.

He turned to regard Lyn. “You speak on her behalf?”

“Yes, I am arbiter of her indenture. You are Master Himmal, correct?”

“I am.” He gave a nod of acknowledgement. “How does she stand on the road to Archon?”

“She is not yet trained in the creation of a star; she has no sponsor; and she lacks the requisite years of-”

He was waving his hand dismissively. “The lack of experience might be troublesome, but I doubt many would care.” He looked at Tala. “But the star is crucial…” He seemed to be considering. “It is best for Mages to discover it on their own, but it isn’t unheard of for someone to be taught instead. Still, her master didn’t deem it a good idea, so I should not interfere.” He turned towards Tala. “When the time comes, if you still lack a sponsor, I will speak on your behalf.”

She was stunned. “I have no words…Thank you, Master Himmal.” I also have no idea what you are talking about…

He simply smiled.

Tala smiled back. “I suppose I will have to seek out a star…” I knew it was a star! But why does his look like a bead? She bowed, once again. “Truly; thank you.” Turning back towards their destination, Tala added. “Now, where may I sit, until the scripts are ready?”

Master Himmal gave her a bemused look but didn’t comment. Instead, he gave instruction to his two underlings, then led her, himself, to a shaded seating area and already waiting refreshments.

He was serious, then. They expect Mages to take a short break after the test. Once she had a drink in hand, and a few choice bites consumed, she turned to the man. “If I may ask, you are an Archon, correct?”

He smiled. “Yes. I am Glass Archon, Void Key.”

Not a gem? I thought all Archons were some form of gem, like Diamond Archon or some such.

As she was contemplating, he showed his palms, each of which held an inscription of a keyhole, and thoughts of his Archon title faded.

No, not an inscription. It looked like someone had done the work with regular ink, as the keyholes were black. How odd. “How did you get the name, do all Archons get such titles?”

“No, but many hope to. You have to excel in a particular area for the Council to give you a title beyond the designation. I am the ‘key to the void’ in that my empowerments of dimensional expansion were without equal.”

Tala looked at him quizzically.

“Ah, I should explain: First, I am the discoverer of these scripts.” He gestured back to the cargo-slots. “That is one part. Second, when I said no single Mage has ever empowered the one which you activated last in a test, I meant it. Outside of a test, however: Any Archon of our order could do as you did, most could do it more quickly.”

She nodded. Understanding. “How large of a space can you create?”

He quirked a smile. “In my prime, a single one of my scripts opened a new storehouse for use in transportation. So…” He thought for a moment. “A hundred times the size of your final test?” He nodded. “Give or take.”

She gaped. “How?”

“Discipline, a perfect mental focus and understanding of what was being done, and a reckless disregard for the longevity of my arts.” He smiled again, sadly this time. “I’m not capable of half so much, now. My gate is overused, and a bit abused.” He glanced at her and seemed to read her thoughts. “No, it isn’t near collapse. I was not that foolish, but my days of traveling are done.”

“If I may ask, what did you do? My understanding was that our gates are incredibly resilient, and flexible enough to grow with use.”

He snorted a laugh. “True enough. I convinced an inscriber to alter my keystone to keep my gate under constant stress, forcing it open as wide as possible at all times, always straining for more.” He shook his head, sadly. “It almost worked, but the wider the gate was open, the more the prying script put pressure on my gate. It was a feedback loop, and before the inscription ran its course, I’d irreparably damaged myself.” He gave a sad smile.

“So… a lesser version of it would work?”

He barked out his laugh, this time. “Leave it to the young to ignore the true lesson.” He grinned at her. “You aren’t wrong though. My design was perfected, and is now a part of every standard keystone, but to a much more restricted level.” His smile shifted to one of pride. “My work will help every future Mage grow in power more quickly, and with less effort.”

“I’m sorry that it cost you what it did.”

He shrugged. “It was probably for the best. Now, I get to design.”

“And you enjoy that?”

“More than I ever thought possible.” His smile settled into one of clear contentment.

Tala smiled. “I’m glad.” She had a thought and returned to something he’d said earlier. “What mental focus do you bring to bear? I understand how the spell-forms function, else I couldn’t empower them, but I don’t do anything specific to…” She trailed off as Master Himmal was gaping at her. “What?”

“Mistress Tala. Without a mental framework, you would need orders of magnitude more power to activate any spell-form than truly necessary.” He shook his head. “You are throwing a chuck-wagon at the cook, trusting him to find what he needs in the wreckage.”

Chuck-wagon? “Is it really that bad?”

“Yes. You must funnel your power through a mental structure of whatever you attempt to do.” His voice faded at the end, and he blinked several times then glanced back towards the yard. “Wait…” He looked back to her. “You empowered that via brute force? Are you insane?”

“Yes, I did, but no?”

“Did you crack your gate for a test, girl?” He was frowning, now. “Who taught you so negligently?”

Lyn stepped forward, interceded on Tala’s behalf. “Her training was unusual, and not quite as thorough as it should have been. She has power and is perfecting its use.”

Tala’s mage-sight showed flickers of power around Master Himmal’s eyes as he activated his own mage-sight. Immediately, he took a step back. “How are you doing that?”

“You’ll have to be more specific?”

“You have no power about you, save in your eyes and palms, and those are blazing. Even your breath has less than usual. Is your gate thrown wide, even now?”

“It is open, but not widely. As to the rest-”

Lyn stepped forward. “Mistress Tala would gladly trade technique for technique or her knowledge for items.”

Master Himmal opened his mouth to object, then hesitated. After a long moment, he closed it and nodded. “That is fair, I suppose.” He glanced to Tala. “I assume it has to do with the iron scent surrounding you, but I will not dig further, not at this moment. Your training must have been unusual indeed.”

Tala quirked a smile. “Quite, yes.”

With a last look at Tala, Master Himmal turned back towards the yard. “Now, I must ensure your cargo slots are ready for empowerment and loading. You know to return each day just after dawn until your departure, yes?” He narrowed his eyes, seeming to bring the entirety of his focus to bear upon her.

“Yes, sir. I will.”

While he returned to the yard, directing workmen and conversing with his underlings, Tala rested.

Lyn remained quiet, seeming contemplative.

After a short time, Tala glanced around and verified that the two of them were, indeed, alone. “So…why are you still here?”

Lyn started, turning to face her. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No, but I don’t really know why you’re here.”

“To help you.”

“Because I’m not really supposed to be more than a mageling?”

Lyn grinned. “You’ve proven yourself far beyond that, Tala.”

“Then…?”

She shrugged. “I need to occasionally assess the various portions of our operations, both within the guild, and within our partner organizations. This was as good a time as any to follow a new recruit through the process; I thought you could use a friendly face; and I am never bored around you.” She smiled. “I think I’m beginning to like you.” Her eyes flicked down Tala’s length, then back to her eyes. “But please don’t start rubbing off on me. That would be quite inconvenient. Iron dust, and all that.”

It was Tala’s turn to grin. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Master Himmal returned and escorted them toward one side of the work-yard where ten of the cargo slots stood, all doors facing the same way. She didn’t see their activation points, however.

Tala noted groups of workers standing next to nearby warehouses, seemingly awaiting the completion of her task.

As she drew closer, her mage-sight highlighted the inactive scripts, and the activations points became obvious on the side of each wooden device. They were oriented lower than she thought optimal, and she was shorter than the average Mage. Aside from the odd placement, everything seemed in order, and as she looked, Tala was able to decipher the descriptive scripts. “These are equal to my second to last test.” Her tone bore a bit of accusation.

Master Himmal grinned. “That is true. It is the most complex set we keep on hand for regular use. I can assure you that we will be making a set with greater capacity than these for the next time you venture forth from our fair city.”

Lyn spoke softly, trusting to Tala’s enhancements to allow her to pick up the words. “When they can be used, that will earn both you and the Wainwright’s Guild a bonus for each trip. Not every trip will need such capacity, so it wouldn’t earn the bonus, then, but it will help in other ways.”

Tala smiled and nodded towards Master Himmal. “I thank you. May we both benefit from their use.” I didn’t consider that the Caravan Guild would effectively be renting these… The Wainwrights must charge more for the use of their own Mages for transport than even Tala, herself, was offered. Huh…worth thinking about. She was sure that such would necessarily include fees for the Wainwright’s Guild, so she doubted her pay would have been better, either way.

Without waiting, she walked up to the first, and placed her hand against the smooth, well-treated wood. There’s a slight impression, here. I wonder how many hundreds of hands have been exactly where mine is, now.

She opened her gate further by activating her keystone and drew deeply on her power.

Instead of simply dumping the magic through her hand, she remembered what Master Himmal said. She tried to envision exactly what her power was going to do and channeled the magic through that mental construct before it exited her hand to enter the golden channels in the wood.

Whether the tests were, indeed, much harder; her mental structure had worked; or a combination of both, she was able to fully empower all three symbols of the first script before she’d reached a slow count of ten.

As Tala stepped back, she felt a satisfied smile pulling at her lips. Nice job, Tala. Just nine more to go.

She continued using the mental construction as a conduit for her power, and it did seem to help. In addition, every successful empowerment, using that model, made it stronger and firmer in her mind, causing the following efforts to be more efficient. At least, it seemed that way to her. In addition, she was no longer having to pull power from her body to enact the empowering. That had to be a good sign.

By the time she got to the end, she felt tired, but not nearly so much as after the equivalent test. As an added bonus, it wasn’t the feeling of power exhaustion but simple mental strain. Like learning a new type of math, or delving deeper into the sciences.

“Well done, Mistress Tala. Thank you.” Master Himmal waved to the workers, and they began carrying large crates out towards them, even as his two Mage underlings were finalizing their inspection of her work.

They, too, congratulated her and indicated success.

“I suppose we will see you tomorrow, then?”

“Bright and early, yes. These will be here?”

“Just as you see them.”

“Thank you.” She bowed once more to each of the Mages and bid them farewell.

Lyn, similarly, made her goodbyes, and departed with Tala. “Not bad. Don’t let them poach you.” She had an obvious smile in her tone. “We will always pay better.”

Tala smiled in turn. “See that you do, and you’ll never have to worry.”

The two chuckled together and, together, decided it was well past time for brunch.

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JLMullins

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