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A note from JLMullins

Update (More than a Copy Edit):
"...low price of a quarter ounce of gold"

Changed to:
"...low price of three quarter ounces of gold."

I had updated the costs in my 'back-end' documents, but neglected to fix it, here, before posting.

Thank you to those who pointed out my inconsistent math!

As the light of the setting sun was still fading, painting the sky in vivid hues, Tala descended from the wall, and set her path towards home. She didn’t bother to be efficient about it, though. Instead, she took her time and enjoyed the walk.

Even after sunlight faded completely, she continued alternating writing and sketching by the light of night’s sky and the occasional streetlight. In truth, the latter was more a hinderance than a help. That in mind, she chose less illuminated paths.

That, in retrospect, was likely a mistake.

As she walked through the darkness, flickers of magic light would occasionally illuminate her, side-effects of the city’s magical defenses dealing with an incoming threat.

She was almost back to the residential circle when the quiet sound of following footsteps came to her attention. Scanning back in her memory, she realized that a group had been following her for close to five minutes.

The streets were quiet, most businesses closed and most citizens were already back to the residential district.

She flicked through the snatches of whispered words she’d been hearing since they’d been tailing her and sighed.

Great… I’m going to be robbed.

Stopping, she tucked her book and pencil away, turning to face her would-be muggers.

She cleared her throat, and the three men stopped close to twenty feet from her. They all looked to be workmen, in rough, home sewn clothing. They carried thick wooden sticks, each about as long as their wielder’s forearm. Would those qualify as truncheons? They each also had a knife at their belt, but that wasn’t unusual. Almost everyone carried a knife at their belt.

She smiled, making sure to show teeth, so they would be able to see the expression in the dim light.

“To answer your questions:” She alternated pointing between the three men and continued. “Yes, I am a woman. No, I am not an idiot. No, I don’t have any money. No, this is not a good idea. Yes, I am a Mage. Yes, your device?” She frowned, taking a more purposeful look at the odd, carved stick that one was holding before she continued. That seems to be for detecting if their target is a Mage. “Pardon, yes, your device is failing you. And yes, I know there are two more of you waiting around the next bend.” She pointed behind herself, in the direction she’d been going. “Did that about cover it?”

The men had paled further at each of her statements, clearly horrified that she had not only heard their whispers but could easily identify exactly what each of them had asked.

Neat trick, that. I didn’t know I could do it. She smiled.

One of them stepped forward. He was bigger than the others and looked to weigh close to three times what she did, though it seemed evenly divided between muscle and paunch. “No. How can you be a Mage and have no money? You’re just trying to scare us off! You’re no Mage.” He lifted the stick, not the carved one, and shook it at her. “And you’ve likely got gold in the bag.”

Tala sighed. “If only that were true. My life would be better with a bit of gold in my satchel.” Well, no, it wouldn’t be. I’d just have to give it to someone else as repayment…

“Give us the satchel, and we’ll let you go.” His voice hesitated on the word which was unusual to him, and she almost laughed. Seems I’m not the only one failed by the education system.

Instead, Tala cocked an eyebrow, though she realized they probably couldn’t see it. “I need this, and I doubt, very much, that you would be satisfied with just my satchel.”

One of the others whispered for his companions, but she heard him clearly and easily. “She sounds pretty.”

Well, this is going nowhere good. Could she call for the guards? No, I can’t hear any, and that means they are out of calling range. Similarly, she couldn’t hear any other people nearby, save those attempting to waylay her. “You know I can hear you, right?”

The man blushed. He blushed! “Are you pretty?”

“What sort of question is that?”

He huffed. “A reasonable one.”

“Look, gentlemen. I’m a Mage, and I don’t really have very good non-lethal options. My Inscriber stuck me without a lot of choice, here. Are you really going to make me kill one or more of you?” She thought for a moment. “In this light, you likely wouldn’t even see your friend die, so I’d have to kill you all.” She nodded. “Let’s part as unlikely strangers and pretend this never happened.” She had a twinge of guilt, as these men would likely accost someone else, if they let her go, but she really didn’t want to kill them. I can call the guard, after I’m away.

“You’ll just call the guard, once you’re away.”

She was momentarily stymied by the uncanny statement. Then, the full weight of what he said clicked into place. “You won’t let me go, no matter what.”

I could just disable them, here, and run for the guard? Yes. That was the wise course. It wasn’t a perfect solution, though she’d not tested Holly’s modifications… No time like the present, I suppose.

Without further thought, she lifted her right hand, first two fingers extended upward, her ring finger and pinky tucked down, all four pressed together, palm pointed towards the three men and her thumb tucked in tight. She channeled magic into the activation and focused.

She held the features of the front-most man in her mind, along with the knowledge that he was a potential danger to herself and others. They are fools.

The larger man lit blue to her eyes, and she shifted to focus on the next, firmly fixing him in her mind before he, too, lit in her sight. The larger man remained blue.

The three men were arguing with each other, but she was past listening. Once all three were highlighted, she spun, her hand out, and found the other two men who were still waiting in ignorance, to ambush her.

“She’s running!”

The three men behind her had seen her turn and mistaken the motion. Even so, their call was heard by those ahead, and five men were suddenly sprinting towards her from two sides.

Come on, Tala! She focused on the first ambusher, locking her view of him into place, and he began to glow. She focused on the final man, and as she did so, she jumped right, avoiding the club she’d only vaguely been aware of swinging for her head.

The jump broke her focus, but her lock on the four others held. She quickly refocused on the final man and was able to click her magic into place. All five now had a blue glow to them in her view.

She kept her outer two fingers firmly down and internally commanded: RESTRAIN. Her power rippled through her.

Deep set spell-lines ran through a thousand calculations that Tala understood but could not have hoped to complete that quickly. They noted the current elevation and latitude, as well as a dozen other factors before moving the power into a single activation for each target.

In that instant, five golden rings blazed with power on the back of her hand, visible to her normal vision even through her glove, and faded. Though she couldn’t see her skin, she knew that those rings were gone, their metal used up. As an interesting side-effect, the Mage detecting device, now hanging from one of the mugger’s belts, suddenly blazed with a harsh warning glare. Huh, so it does detect magic.

The five men stopped moving, all kinetic energy stolen in an instant. That energy was immediately reapplied, picking them ever so slightly off of the ground.

Then, gravity changed.

To be clear, gravity, as a whole, did not shift. Every other Immaterial Guide she’d ever heard of, who used gravity manipulation, created pockets of differing gravity. They targeted a volume, within the world, and changed how gravity worked within it. This was useful, because any number of enemies could be trapped by the same effect, and it could create zones of safety, or help fortify positions. It however, had many weaknesses.

True, in this case none of them would have applied, and she likely could have gotten a similar outcome with less power, but this was not the situation her magics were tailored to.

She sighed, regretting the massive expense of the casting, even as her power made a fundamental exception and alteration to the gravitational constant for each of the five.

Each change was precisely calculated per target based on their center of mass, among other things. As a result, each of the five men were now effectively in a perfectly stable orbit around the world, in their precise position.

That was surprisingly effective. Thank you, Holly. Her old version hadn’t been quite so precise, so they would have maintained the ability to move, if with awkward bounces. Not anymore. She grinned. Non-lethal option, perfected. She was quite pleased.

They began flailing about, trying to find purchase on the ground that they couldn’t reach, but that did little good.

Tala was panting. She’d never been able to target so many at once, before, and she mentally thanked Holly for the augmentations she’d given. “You might not want to move. If you manage to reach the ground, and push off too hard, you will drift upward, and nothing will stop you.”

The men paled and stopped moving. Even so, one of them began drifting up ever so slightly, having already brushed against the ground with his truncheon.

“Good choice.” Tala smiled.

“See! She is a Mage.”

“Please! Let us go. We’re sorry we tried to rob you.”

Tala sighed, striding towards the self-doomed man. “Don’t fight me.” He stiffened, and she grabbed him, dragging him back down, and leaving him stably around a foot off the ground. “Better.” She took his knife and cudgel and tossed them to the side. Then, she walked to each of the others, disarmed them, and easily moved them away from anything they might accidentally push off of. “There. Now, I am going for the guard. You can wait patiently, and spend some time behind bars, or you can try to escape and likely end up killing yourselves.” She shrugged, but once again, she wasn’t sure if they could see the gesture. “Up to you.”

Well, that was expensive. Even so, she’d safeguarded herself, and likely taken some dangerous people off of the street. For the low, low price of three quarter ounces of gold.

Justice, as it turns out, is expensive.

One of the men nodded vigorously. “Yes, Mistress. We were foolish to cross you.”

Huh, maybe that one isn’t so- Even as the thought swept through her head, she realized her mistake. I thought of them as idiots when I targeted them.

The one who’d spoken suddenly dropped to the ground. Her view of him had changed, and so he was no longer a valid target for her spell-working.

He laughed, feeling himself and giving a little hop, seeming to revel in the feeling of coming back to the ground.

Tala quickly took control of herself, straightening and facing him, attempting an air of command. “You may not be as much a fool as the others. Go, get the guards. If you do not return in five minutes, I will hunt you down.” She extended her hand towards the man in the same manner as earlier, and she focused upon him, making sure she didn’t make the same mistake.

He lit blue to her eyes, once more.

It was a loathsome expense, as she’d be burning silver until she released the lock, but she’d needed to test her effective range so…I’ve got to test it some time.

The man bowed and ran.

She was able to track him easily, as he remained a blazing blue beacon to her sight, even through the intervening buildings.

To her surprise, and relief, after a few minutes he did seem to be making his way back.

Sure enough, in less than five minutes, the man returned with a small patrol of guards. They were, understandably, shocked to see the four men slowly drifting just off of the ground.

One guard stepped forward, he was seemingly in charge of the patrol. “Miss. I think we need an explanation.”

 

* * *

 

It didn’t take long for Tala to tell the guards what had happened. In the light of their lanterns, her spell-lines were easily visible, as were the still floating men, confirming her identity as a Mage.

The man who had grabbed the guards was surprisingly cooperative and confirmed her story utterly.

He was still arrested of course.

As each man had manacles affixed to his wrists, the exception for him was broken, and gravity returned to normal. No longer a potential threat.

The man leading this patrol told Tala that he thought there was a reward for these particular men.

Thus, after the guards had gathered up the criminals, and their weaponry, Tala followed them all back to the nearest guardhouse.

She did not turn over the Mage detector, which she’d taken from one of the men. I need to figure out how they powered it, and if I can sell it. Many magic items were powered by bits of arcane beasts, usually ones with powers either similar to what the item was meant to do or directly opposite.

More common items were powered by more common beasts, as the bits were used up at a steady rate, and it was uncommon for rarer arcanous creatures to have been harvested enough for items based on their powers to be perfected.

She had never heard of a magic detection device. Though, to be fair, I really haven’t gone hunting for magic items… No money. She sighed.

The men were each checked in, and the Justice Archive confirmed that, yes, these five men were wanted for many confirmed, and even more suspected, robberies and assaults.

Total reward: 1 ounce, gold.

Tala blinked at the pouch now in her hand. It held a half-ounce, a quarter-ounce, and two-tenth ounces in gold coinage along with five silver.

I…made a profit? Who knew? Justice does pay. Maybe…should I be a bounty hunter? It was a silly notion, but it still made her smile. Tala, Hunter of criminals! Mage for the managing of Justice. What an idea.

With a small smile on her face, and a stern admonition from the guard that she should keep to lit streets more often, Tala headed home.

As she walked, she did not take a notebook out. Instead, she studied the Mage Stick. Terrible name. Magic Detector? Better.

She examined the magic detector. The base was a simple, wooden rod, six inches long. White Oak? It was as thick as her thumb at one end and tapered to the size of a pencil at the other. The smaller end had a hole which she couldn’t see the bottom of. The outside was wrapped with copper inlay, set deep enough that the metal would never contact the holder’s skin. That left the surface feeling quite unusual in her hand.

As she pointed it at various objects, she noticed that, to her eye, it almost always had a subtle glow. In a moment of insight, she realized that its glow, to her normal vision, almost perfectly matched the glow of the object she pointed it at, when she viewed the target with her mage-sight.

Fascinating. It’s like a blind man’s stick but for magic. She stopped walking, then. Tala smiled. Wow, that was a great analogy. Nice work, Tala. Her smile widened to a happy grin, and she began walking, again.

Her analysis had provided an obvious answer to the device’s power source. There wasn’t one. It simply absorbed the radiant magic coming off whatever it was pointed at and manifested that as light.

I do wonder how often the copper has to be refreshed. She clucked to herself in thought. I should get a cap fitted with a piece of iron to block it off, when I don’t need it. That should extend the life by a bit. She actually had the materials for such in her travel gear back at the house. It’s late, I should just use that as a distraction for the road.

She frowned. Every minute it’s uncapped costs copper. True, copper wasn’t expensive, but it would be expensive to get wire joined in the proper network and inlaid back into this device, when it stopped working. Or to pay a Material Guide to do the same. That would probably be required, given the complexity and interconnectivity of the spell-form.

With a sigh, she placed the tip against her belt buckle and noted that it went completely dark. That should hold it. I can do something temporary, tonight, and make a proper solution as I travel.

With that decided, she picked up her pace, reaching her house shortly.

Lyn greeted her just inside the door, once Tala had unlocked and opened it.

“There you are! Don’t you know that it’s nearly midnight?”

Tala was taken aback. “You waited up for me?”

“Of course. Do you know how I’d feel if you were laying, dead in the streets somewhere?”

She cocked her head. “No? I imagine you’d be sad.”

“Yes, Mistress Tala. I’d be sad.” Lyn huffed. “Well, come in, come in. No need to stand there like a solicitor.”

Tala came in and wiped her feet on a mat, waiting off to the side. “This new?”

“Well, yes. If you’re going to stay here, I had to find a better solution for your shoeless-ness than requiring you to wash your feet every time you came in.”

Tala was strangely touched. “But…It’s going to get covered in iron.”

“Good thing it’s only for you, then.” Lyn smiled. “What were you doing?”

“Just seeing the city.”

“Oh…alright then.” Lyn seemed mollified.

Tala quirked a mischievous smile. “And getting mugged, stopping the thieves, and collecting a reward.”

Lyn had started to turn away but froze. “What.”

“Oh!” Tala grabbed the quarter ounce gold coin from her pouch and tossed it to Lyn. “For the food money, and my room for a month. You were right: I’m not going to find a better place, or a better deal.”

Lyn caught the coin, examining it. She didn’t look up as she spoke. “You engaged and captured a criminal with a bounty of a quarter ounce, gold? That seems…dangerous.”

“Hmmm? No, not really, and the total reward was a gold.” She hesitated. “Though I suppose each reward was only two tenths of one.”

Lyn’s head came up. “You fought five criminals? By yourself? Mistress Tala!” Her mouth worked as she tried to decide what else to say.

Tala grinned. “Fought is being overly generous to them, I’d wager.”

“That is not the point! You are an Immaterial Mage. You aren’t supposed to be a front-line fighter.”

“I never really understood that. Especially with my enhancements, I should be better on the front lines than any Material Mage.”

Lyn huffed. “Maybe in terms of survivability, but not in regard to stopping enemies! One on one? Sure, I suppose, but Mistress Tala, you fought five!

Tala cocked her head. “Mistress Lyn? Are you alright?” The older woman was slightly flushed, and her breathing was a little rapid.

Instead of answering, Lyn turned and strode into the sitting room, flopping down on the chair.

Tala followed her in and heard the woman muttering under her breath.

“Worse than I feared. The silly girl is hunting bounties, now.”

Tala raised her hands. “Hey, now. I didn’t go searching for them. I just made the best of a bad situation.”

Lyn’s eyes flicked to her, showing mild surprise.

Wow, she must be really rattled to have forgotten about my hearing.

After a long moment, Lyn sighed. “I do know, Mistress Tala. I-” She hesitated. “I am just worried. Alright?”

“Alright. I apologize for worrying you.”

Lyn smiled wearily. “It isn’t your fault. I’ve no right to worry over you.”

Tala barked a short laugh as she sat down in another chair. “No one else will. I don’t mind.”

Lyn eyed her. “You’ve not mentioned your family. Are they…”

“Not dead.” After a pause, Tala amended, “Well, they might be. I don’t really know.”

“Lost touch?”

“Lost implies an accident.”

Lyn nodded. “Broke contact, then.”

“Don’t really want to discuss it.”

She raised her hands in acquiescence. “Alright. Say no more.” She glanced at the coin in her hand. “This is too much. I’ll get you change.” She stood and began rummaging around in a pouch at her side. She muttered through the simple math as she grabbed the needed coinage. “Twenty silver for the room for a month, two silver to repay the money from this morning, that’s twenty-two silver. This is a quarter ounce, gold, so worth twenty-five silver.” She pulled out three coins, her voice returning to a normal volume. “Here. Three ounces, silver in change.”

Tala thanked her and took the money.

Lyn glanced to the stick that Tala was still holding in her other hand, tip against her belt buckle. “Do I want to know?”

Tala grinned. “Magic detector. Took it from one of the muggers.”

Lyn hesitated, then nodded slowly. “They were verifying you weren’t a Mage. But they still-” Lyn barked a laugh of her own. “Your iron! They didn’t know you were a Mage.” She was practically brimming with glee. “Oh, Mistress Tala, that’s spectacular! They must have thought you were some helpless little thing.” Her eyes were twinkling with mirth. “Did you obliterate them?”

Tala was understandably uncertain about Lyn’s change of attitude. “I thought you didn’t approve.”

“Hmm? Oh! The way you described it, I thought five men waylaid you, knowing you were a Mage. That would have been colossally dangerous.”

She blinked, processing that. “People do that?”

Lyn sighed, her mirth vanishing. “Yes, Mistress Tala. Mages, for the most part, are very wealthy, and if thieves are properly prepared, they can sometimes steal a great deal. It helps that most Mages are rather vulnerable when they are caught unawares, and even prepared, many are as helpless as those without magic, when faced with iron-tipped arrows or bolts.”

Tala had not considered that. “Huh. Your concern makes much more sense.”

Lyn glanced back at the stick. “That does explain why Mages are rarely accosted by those unprepared for them.” Her hand twitched towards Tala, but she restrained herself. “I would dearly like to study it.”

“When I get back? I think it might be useful on the trip.”

Lyn nodded. “That is likely wise. Speaking of which, it is quite late.”

Tala nodded as well. “And I need to get some sleep.” She stood, heading towards her room. She paused before reaching the hallway, turning back. “Mistress Lyn?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

“What for?”

“Everything.”

Lyn quirked a smile. “Of course. Good night.”

“Good night.”

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JLMullins

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