If Love Were Only Part of the Equation
Meetings. Meetings. And more meetings. That seemed to be the way the week had been going. Mia was stressing about her Festival, and it was beginning to show in the drop of morale of the new faculty. Many of them were former students of the Guild; apprentices who had nearly finished their training just before the Fall. The rest, well, they were of the older generation who chose to return either during or after the major Reconstruction had ceased. Together, the two groups seemed to be at odds with each other, and they acted more like two separate entities than a single being working for the same greater good. He knew Mia had seen this—and Nash too—but since neither was speaking to the other, he doubted anything was likely to be done about it anytime soon. No matter how much friction it generated in the meantime.
Those two need to stop acting like teenagers and get over it...this place will fall apart if the Guildmaster and the Premier don’t communicate...Professionalism, kids. Professionalism.
Gregory bustled around the small yet exquisitely decorated room as he performed his duty of readying it for the meeting. As a member of the Council of Elders, Gregory was one of the most respected wizards in Vane. He had taught there for decades, and had established himself as quite the historian as well as professor. The few books he had written were kept in the library and (surprisingly enough) had survived the Fall; but he doubted anyone ever read them. Just the boring diatribes of an ageless man... He winced as he heard himself apply the phrase he’d heard his students use to describe him. If only they knew how close to the truth that had become.
Gregory ran his fingers through his salt-and-peppered hair. He was one of the oldest active members of the Magic Guild, though none could tell that from his appearance alone (which would have one guess he was in his early sixties). He never offered information on his exact age, but he had lived through four generations of Ausa rulers, and though the reign of each of them, he had recorded what he had seen. Some of it he put down in his books, but never all. If one wanted the full story, they would need to corner the quiet man and listen carefully. His students knew, and most of Vane knew, when he spoke of the history of the city, it was as though he were recalling events he had witnessed, or people he had personally known. Although he never had claimed to be there at those times, there was something in his playful blue eyes, his quiet, velvet voice, and his calm assurance of authority that left the student forever wondering. His features seemed ageless, old yet not elderly, and all that were asked had been unable to describe him as ever looking different. How much of this was real, or the result of his mastery of illusion, no one knew for sure—or dared ask him.
He took the elegant silver nameplates of the members of the Council out of their case on the small bookshelf in the room and began to place them at the appropriate chairs. To say he liked the other members would be an overstatement. Most of them—particularly the ever testy and never sympathetic Robin—grated on his nerves. The only reason I agreed to serve on this team was for Mia...they would have eaten her alive.
The other three members had been serving out their terms since Lemia had appointed them, but not Gregory. Although he had been there years before the rest of them, for some reason he had always refused to serve on the Council or hold any other office. Lemia had asked, her mother, Relina had asked, and each time, he would decline. Then, after Willam had been killed during the Fall, Mia had approached him and begged him to take his place. He’d hesitated at first, but also knew she needed an ally, a friend on the Council—the other members would almost be considered tyrannical—and she had told him of her noble ideals to open Vane to anyone who wished to study magic. He agreed, but perhaps it was because they all knew just how cynical he was about politics—or perhaps because he was normally the voice of reason amongst them, but he always felt that they—particularly Robin—resented his presence. The Council of Elders my foot...the Council of Idiots is more appropriate... with myself in competition for first moron.
As he moved each plate into its correct location and alignment at the wide V-shaped table, he shook his head as he visualized the mage that would soon sit behind it. . The first (from the left) belonged to Alastair Gaine. A talented instructor at Guild many years ago, and now, the only one of the Council with a bit of a heart, Alastair was the Master of Defense Magic. It was this quiet black haired man who had sealed the entrance to the Silver Spire—the home of Vane’s secret weapon—such that no one but an Ausa could open it. Alastair also served as the treasurer of the Guild, and was probably the only person (besides Mia) who knew exactly where all the money they had gotten to rebuild the city had come from.
Next came Tamora Dwyion, the Master of Attack Magic, and parliamentarian for the council. A poised and beautiful brunette, she put up a facade that made her appear to be the most human next to Alastair, but Gregory never allowed himself to trust her. She is a snake. She hides her motives behind her beauty and charm. She’s far too ambitious for her own good, let alone ours .Her knowledge of the laws and ordinances that held them to their decisions was unrivaled—as if she had written them herself. She too, had been an instructor in the Guild for much of her life, and had also been a close personal friend of Lemia. Her unsurpassed talent in writing spells had earned her a shelf of her own in the Library, and unlike Gregory’s books, hers were always being used. Typical of many students...to enjoy spells more than history... He shook his head, reprimanding himself for the moment of envy he’d wallowed in, though he realized that nothing had changed from his own youth... Always the fun and attractions of the present, never the lessons of the past. And thus are we condemned to forever repeat the mistakes of history.
Then there was Mia’s seat at the point of the V, and the seat that garnished the most attention both for it’s placement in regard to the others and for it’s distinguished occupant. A strange combination that had always plagued Gregory was the fact that the Council was made up of people at least twice as old as the Guildmaster they served. She would conduct and preside over the meetings amongst them, and sometimes he could see the strife in her violet eyes as she argued with people old enough to be her parents. They did not understand her motives or ideals and seemed to have little wish to even try —they only understood what had been Vane, and what they always wanted to be Vane. I wish she would disband the Council, or at least add members who are her contemporaries...it would make her life so much easier...
The next chair belonged to Robin Mikasa, the draconian blonde haired woman who always used her head, but never her heart. It was not a mystery to many members of Guild as to why she had never married—her duty to Vane came first and foremost, and her views on it (as well as other topics which she held a firm and decided opinion) were always voiced in the most succinct and blunt manner. She could have been attractive, had she taken a moment to ready her appearance, or even allow a smile to settle on her stern features. But, her overly organized life never left room for such trivial matters. Her title was Master of Healing Magic, a trade which she was more than talented with—she had established a capable corps of healers within the Guild, and was more than pleased when Mia agreed to build her a bigger and better infirmary—the best that than Vane had ever seen. Her service to the Council was that of secretary, providing minutes of all their meetings in her always-perfect handwriting. Amazing. One who is so concerned with health and life is so unfeeling...
And finally, on the right end, was his own seat, with his own nameplate—Gregory Telka. The Master of Illusion Magic himself, and Council Sergeant at Arms. Most of Gregory’s life had been spent in Vane, but he had allowed himself to travel. He enjoyed seeing different parts of the world and how different people lived. In one way or another, he always managed to record it, but somehow, it always seemed to be forgotten. He truly believed in Mia’s idea to open the school to anyone who wished to learn the study of magic. Finally, a noble move for Vane, but it’s rather radical to most of them. She will take some grief for it, but I know she will live up to her name and win those battles. Ausas always do...
As he pulled a copy of the meeting’s agenda from the notebook he kept with him at all times, he studied it before finding chalk to copy it onto the blackboard in the room. Written in Mia’s elegant left-handed script, he smiled to himself. No discussion of Nash...just ordinary business, and last minute Festival nonsense. Such a relief. His smile faded as his mind wandered back to the last meeting, exactly two weeks ago. It was then that he had sat at this gilded table in this very meeting room, listening intently as Mia sat upright and proper before the Council and asked if they thought a new Premier should be appointed before the Reopening Festival.
“I assume you already have someone in mind, Majesty,” Robin said, with a bit of distrust in her voice.
“You are aware that the choice rests entirely in your hands?”
Mia looked a little shocked. “I was not. I thought it would have to be brought to a vote within the Council.”
Alastair spoke then, gently, “No. It has always been the sole choice of the Guildmaster.”
Mia’s face almost twisted in puzzlement, as the Council members looked at one and another, mumbling in a form of disbelief. Finally Tamora spoke, “Perhaps your mother did not inform you, but the Premier has always had...more than professional...or ceremonial...duties.”
The Guildmaster’s face turned bright pink as the gravity of what had just been said hit her. A moment later, after the stun of the blow wore off, but still with a bit of pink in her cheeks, she spoke: “I know of my lineage, yes. I did not think it was a ‘tradition.’ I always just believed the Premier was chosen on his abilities with magic and his obligation and allegiance to the Guild. These are qualities one would expect in an instructor, administrator and ambassador, correct?”
“Yes they are Majesty, and the Premier must be someone who can handle all of that responsibility—especially leading the Guild, as that is his first and foremost duty. However, for Vane, it also needs to be more of an arraigned marriage—to ensure that the strength of the magic within the Ausa line remains what it has always been.”
“Our only concern as the Council is that whomever you chose is of noble birth and gifted with powerful magic,” said Robin coldly.
Gregory watched Mia as her almost white skin turned even more pale—he could tell this was too much for her to take; hard enough to stand before the Council and ask if a new Premier should be instated after the atrocities the last one had committed, but harder when you learn he is to be nothing more than an object to be used—a figurehead of sorts, but with more personal duties. Gregory had been in line once, a long time ago, to be Premier for Mia’s grandmother, Relina. He turned her down, knowing the implications that went with the coveted position. Oh, he loved her—he loved her more than he could express—but he did not want to be used like that. So, after saying a few parting words to her, and wondering if he would regret his decision, he disappeared from Vane for the first time.
The ‘other duties’ were supposed to be a secret...it is un-written law that only the Council knows the truth...but I had Apprenticed under the Premier to Relina’s mother...and he told me...he could accept it, but I could not...I wonder if I hadn’t known...
“Who did you have in mind, Majesty?”
“The only person who deserves it. The only one with incredibly powerful magic and the only one who has shown true loyalty to the Guild.”
Gregory noticed that Tamora beamed with pride as her son’s name was mentioned, but Mia seemed to flinch as if she had just been struck. “No. Nash.”
A murmur waved across the table. “Nash? After he betrayed us to Ghaleon?” asked Robin. “You call that loyalty?”
“He has more than paid for his transgressions.”
“Yes, and so have we. Our city is no longer in the air thanks to the two of them.”
Mia kept her voice even as she said: “Nash had nothing to do with that.”
Tamora asked, “Did Nash know about what Ghaleon did to your mother? Locking her inside her own head and replacing her with a shape-shifter?”
“No. He did not.”
“How can you be so certain?”
“He told me so.”
“And you believed him?”
“Of course I did. He’s proven his loyalty to Vane, and to me, many times over since then.”
The Council all looked at her with a bit of distress in their eyes. Gregory knew—they all knew—of the affair between their Guildmaster and Nash. For three years the two of them were almost inseparable, then for some reason, they drifted apart, and now she wanted him as her Premier?
The small raven-haired woman stood up and glared at her elders. “I am choosing Nash on account of his talents as a wizard, not as a husband. This may be against tradition, but it is time that things around here changed. We are all too stuck in the elitist traditions of Vane past. I want us to move forward. My personal feelings for him are not playing a part in my choice. You said it was my decision and my decision alone. Very well, I have given you my answer. I want a Premier who will stand behind my decisions and support me in my failures and successes. I do not want a marriage, no matter how it is disguised.”
Silence danced upon the table as the Guildmaster’s words fell upon the ears of the Elders. She clenched her fists as she waited for the eye of the storm to pass and for them to begin next round of attack.
“I don't understand how you can chose Nash for those reasons, since he and you don’t even speak to each other, Majesty. How can he stand behind you when the two of you can't be in the same room without the tension becoming unbearable for anyone nearby? Why just yesterday I was in faculty dining talking to him when you entered. The air grew so dense you would have thought he summoned one of his storms. And then, after you tried to greet him and start a simple conversation, he seemed to shake with terror or rage, and got up and left without so much as a goodbye!” Alastair spoke in his usual quiet voice, but his words seemed to send shockwaves through Mia.
Her blue-violet eyes whipped around the table, attempting to stare each of them down. She should have known this was going to be a battle...“Nash will come around. We won't let our personal feelings come between us; both of us are perfectly capable of being professional.”
“Not from what I’ve seen,” Robin said with a snide grin.
Perhaps...but will you both adhere to that tall order? Time will tell...Nash would make a good Premier. He is a talented mage and very much respected...even by the faculty years older than he...With the possible exception of this Council, that is...He could do a lot with this place, and I know he would assist and support your decisions, once he stops being such a bastard...but perhaps I can step in there...I’d rather not...but for Mia.... for Vane...
“What about his family background? Someone who does not even have a last name can't possibly have the correct bloodlines for such a title,” supplied Tamora.
“Nash's background means little to me. The person that he is, and the mage that he is, are the things that matter. So he does not have a fancy last name to impress you with, so what? He's been Nash of Vane as long as any of us have known him. He is as much Vanetian as you or I.”
“I don't agree, Majesty. Again, I urge you to select another, and to uphold your first duty to the Guild—that being to provide a descendant with the training and ability to rule and defend Vane. Need I remind you that no Guildmaster has lived past the age of 38? You will be twenty in a few weeks. Time is running out. If you were to match that age, that would only give you eighteen years with your daughter. Only eighteen years to train her for the responsibility that lies ahead of her,” Robin said sharply. Then as an afterthought, she added: “Something your own mother was clearly lax in doing!”
Ouch. Match, point, and set! Rub her nose in it a little, why don’t you, Robin?
Mia’s eyes stared down at the table, her rounded shoulders spoke of her defeat—she knew, and all of the Council knew that Guildmasters had the unfortunate destiny of a very young death, often leaving their Premiers and Council members with the duty of raising their daughter to be the next Guildmaster. Oh nice Robin, remind her of the family death sentence... now you’re really fighting dirty. Mia slowly raised her head and stared into the blonde-woman’s stern brown eyes, “And maybe that’s another tradition that will end with me.”
Gregory wasn’t sure, but he could have sworn Robin actually showed a tinge of remorse, but then she replied, “Your mother said the same thing. And she died at thirty six.”
Mia made a fist with one hand and forced a sigh back. She was not going to give up this easily, and Gregory knew it. She was stronger than that...all Ausas were stronger than that...but then Tamora spoke...
“Don’t make the same mistake your mother made, Mia. She fell in love with a man who used her. She gave him—against the Council’s wishes for he was the first non-Vanetian to receive it—the most sought-after title in the magic using world, and he betrayed her, you, and us. Nash is just like him—he was his apprentice. Like teacher, like student! I urge you to reconsider. Find yourself a nice well-known Vanetian boy who has shown both loyalty and dedication to the Guild. There are plenty of--”
She might as well just auction off her son to Mia...you’re something else, you know that Tamora?
Mia cut her off with a glower of ice, and then turned to the rest of the table, her eyes ablaze with of a number of emotions. “Ghaleon loved my mother. Why she hid the fact that he was my father from me until she died is of little consequence, and I do not even begin to guess her motives for doing so. Regardless, this is not about marriage! It is about Vane! And just for the record, when the time comes and I decide to marry, it will not be a forced relationship based upon the demands and ideals of a fossilized society that should have changed years ago!”
Robin flipped her short blonde hair as she nodded to the Guildmaster. “So be it, but still, for the sake of Vane, you must prove Nash has the correct heritage to wear such a mantle. No one knows where he came from—he just showed up here one day. For all we know, he could be some inbred tribal brat!”
Mia closed her eyes, and Gregory knew, he felt, her strife. She wanted—no she needed—support and the one person she felt she could get it from was as distant as the Frontier. Her Council, the people who were supposed to help and guide her did not want to see Vane change for the better. No, they were still bitter about the Ghaleon, and the Fall. They were not looking to the future; they were stuck in the past.
Historians know that history repeats itself...and my theory tends to hold politicians as more responsible than any in that regard...can’t they see the old ways aren’t working? Can’t they see that she has some valid and noble ideas? And Nash...can’t they see all the good he’s done? Can’t they see that Ghaleon manipulated him just as he did all of Vane? Including THEM?
Gregory sighed audibly. He was the one person who knew Nash’s perfectly kept secret. He also knew that if the truth were to ever come out, it would ruin the person he still thought of as his favorite student and considered one of his greatest friends. Nash had never, not once, told anyone anything about his family other than that they were dead. Sometimes this aroused suspicion, and occasionally someone would ask the Apprentice to the Premier of Vane for more details. With a scowl, he would degrade the questioner (usually with a line that ended in ‘ignorant peasant’) and remind them just how wonderful he was—after all he was the apprentice to Ghaleon, one of the Four Heroes, and the most powerful wizard their world had ever seen. After he mentioned that fact a few times, he’d tell them that they should learn their place in life and not worry about other’s affairs. The person who was bold enough to ask then usually backed away from him, rolling his or her eyes and cursing the arrogance of the overconfident and conceited young man. Gregory knew it had been all an act—an act that Nash had perfected after many years of practice. An act of survival in this town...but sadly it cost him friends... and made him more vulnerable to Ghaleon’s influence...
The room was silent as Mia held a hand to her forehead as though trying to hold back her thoughts, and deflect the pain of their words. The Council seemed to be awaiting her admission of defeat, which Gregory knew was not going to come—not this easily anyway. And not with me here to back her...I have to do something...I know her choice is for the best... Well...here goes...something...something I should have done awhile ago...
He stood up and addressed the group, “It is obvious that our Guildmaster has made her decision. I support her, as should all of you. Whether or not Nash was born into the correct class or a fine name should make little difference to the fact that he was one of the Five Heroes or the fact that he has worked day and night to rebuild our city. We all owe our freedom, if not our very lives, to him. Should this trifle of his heritage be of any concern to any of you, I have a solution that should end any further discussion of the subject...”
The Council, Mia, all of them looked at the Gregory with utter surprise as he spoke in his usual calm and measured voice and told them of his plan. Tamora seemed to cringe as he spoke, but the others just sat in shock until he finished. When he was done, a moment of stunned silence held as Robin shook her head, and Mia and Alastair just remained perfectly still, considering Gregory’s words and the implications of them. Finally, it was moved by Alastair that the meeting be quickly adjourned. Robin seconded the motion and everyone hastily moved out of the room, all of them still astounded—or appalled—by the words of the ageless mage.
Gregory resumed his seat as the others quietly left, giving glances to him that ranged from puzzlement to annoyance and disbelief. Carefully, though quite deliberately, he avoided acknowledging these looks and thus having to defend his suggestion. It was obvious that some of them would not willingly accept his plan. It might resolve Robin’s objection, but only technically. It still wouldn’t answer the question he knew burned deep within her, and within Mia as well—and probably, had in fact, just raised a few more suspicions.
Well...it’s been said now...but will Nash accept it? He’s grown up quite a bit, and his pride has been tempered over the years...but still...
The door to the Council Room flung open, and Gregory turned to see who was disturbing his thoughts. Mia didn’t even attempt to pull the door behind her, but instead just let it slam as she made her way into the room, each of her steps quickening with fury and frustration. Her face was clouded in a rage that did not invite closer examination and her fists were clenched, as though throttling the life from some unseen victim.
He didn’t need to ask; he knew what was wrong. It could all be summed up in one syllable, one name. Nash. Yet, while Gregory knew many things about the cause of Mia’s constant grief, he spoke of none of them.
“I am going to kill him! Not even a week and I’m ready to strangle him!”
He smiled to himself in amused exclamation. Perhaps this is more of a marriage after all!
She waved her hands erratically as she approached him. “Gregory, your former student, my chosen Premier, is the most hard-headed idiot in all of Vane!”
“You’re not telling me anything new, Majesty,” he said dryly as he watched her make perhaps the most ungraceful descent in the history of Vane into her seat at the point of the V-shaped table.
She banged a fist on the table, “In the hall just now, do you know what he said to me? I asked him for a simple favor—I begged—for him to stop calling me Majesty. I told him, in public, we needed to look like a team, not two strangers who can barely speak to each other. Not to mention that it drives me crazy! It’s as if I was never his friend or meant anything to him. Just another person in the Guild! Or less, at least he speaks to them! And what does he say in response? ‘I shall always show the utmost respect for you, Majesty.’” Her teeth were clenched as she grated out, “I wanted to smack him into last week!”
Gregory shook his head, “Sounds like our Nash just being Nash.” He has the inordinate ability to go from nice guy to a total jerk in a Meribian Second...
She looked up to him, her eyes half hooded in anger. “He was your student, Gregory, from the day he walked out of the cave until…Ghaleon. And he still seeks your counsel. What is it that he won’t tell me? What’s changed him, and drives him to treat me like this?”
I think you know the answer to that better than any of us, Mia.
Again the mask slipped over the Mage’s face as he paused before replying: “Why, I don’t quite understand what you mean, Majesty. Nash is…. Nash.”
She raised an eyebrow at him and asked, “What do you keep from me about him, Gregory? From all of us?”
He stopped writing the agenda on the chalkboard and turned around to look at her, his face in the perfect resound of surprise. “Keep from you? Why nothing. I know as much as you do, Majesty.”
She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, in some degree of thought or perhaps even disgust. He could have sworn she was scrutinizing him, and prayed she would not command him to answer her question more directly, for as a member of the Guild he would have been constrained to oblige her. I’ll be breaking one promise or another if she does order me...Fortunately, wherever her thoughts were, they did not involve him so as she sat in her state of near-meditation, he continued writing on the board. He was more than glad that whatever she was thinking, she kept to herself. But, somewhere, somehow, Gregory suspected he knew the truth—she really did still love him, even if she would never admit aloud. Ausa women...they are stubborn as tribesmen...
It had been ten years ago, in Reza, the home of the Thieves Guild, that Gregory had his first run-in with tribesman—or rather tribesboy. What he was doing in that city at that time he didn’t quite remember, but he was sure he was just passing through on another one of the missions he had been given by Lemia or Ghaleon...They all seem to become one mission after awhile... at least the early ones had.
He had been more than careful in Reza—keeping his purse close at all times, and only opening it to make a payment for food or supplies. One of those times, as he was purchasing some medicinal items to assist him on his journey back to Vane, he felt a hand—apparently not a trained one—reach into his robe, looking for the silver he was now holding in his palm.
He grabbed at the wrist of the thief and turned around with his free hand raised in the opening gesture to cast a stun spell. He froze for an instant in surprise as his eyes fell to face a filthy child, dressed in clothes that looked more like rags, and hair that was so dirty and matted any attempt to give a color to it was impossible. The shop keep raised an eyebrow, but did not even bother to intervene; stealing was completely legal here, as long as it was not against another member of the Guild. He moved his cart away from the two of them, apparently looking for another buyer of his goods.
“Let go of me or I’ll hurt you!” The child’s voice was shrill, the sound of fear mixing in with the not so gentle threat underlying it.
“You were trying to steal from me, boy. You should be afraid of what I will do to you!” Gregory’s voice was forceful, but his eyes were mocking the child.
“Let go! I’ll kill you! I can make storms!”
The boy growled audibly at him and began to concentrate, focusing his attention and his power onto him. Then, just as the air began to fill with static and the stench of ozone, his target seemed to fade, growing thinner as if dissolving into the air. The boy looked about in confusion for a moment when, suddenly a hand was placed on his shoulder from behind him.
Gregory glanced up into the suddenly turbulent and disorganized sky overhead with the distant sound of thunder coming from what had just been a calm and lightly clouded sky. He kept his hand on the child’s bony shoulder. “Obviously. That’s quite a bit of Wild Magic you’ve got there, boy. With a little training you might even be a match for me. But, not today, I think.”
On realizing Gregory’s new position, the child squinted at him again in concentration, but before the storm could begin to break overhead the old man vanished for a second time, as though he had never existed. The boy looked around in bewilderment, seeing the villagers stare at him as though noticing him for the first time. Again Gregory appeared before him, a few inches from his face and put a gentle hand again on his shoulder, then touched his face, so the child knew he was real and not a hallucination from a deprived stomach or tired mind. “But, as I said, not today.”
The sky cleared again, and the child’s voice came out frightened and defeated. “Are you going to hurt me?”
“No. I’d like to help you, actually. You…. intrigue me, boy.” He looked around at the others who had been watching them, and suddenly the crowd found other, more important things in which to find an interest. “Where are your parents?”
The ragged child looked back at him, the fear giving way to mistrust and his last shred of pride. “They’re… gone, and I don’t need any help. I’ve made it here all by myself. All the way from the Prairie.”
“Gone as in you are abandoned?”
“Gone as in dead.”
“I see. My condolences. It is impressive that you made it all the way here, but where are you heading?”
He pulled a piece of paper from his tunic, showing a crudely drawn map. “Vane.”
Gregory struggled to restrain a small laugh as he looked from the rudimentary map to the solemn dark eyes of the child. He’s serious, and if he truly is alone, and with that much power, it may be the only answer...for his own sake if no one else’s. He paused a moment, his expression growing more serious. “Why are you going to Vane?”
The child’s features distorted in thought as he gave his response, “A nice lady in Iluk who gave me something to eat and a place to stay for a night told me I should go there. She said people there could teach me things. Besides, its one of the places on my map. I don’t know why I’m following it though. Something just tells me I should.”
“Interesting. I will say it’s apparent you have a lot to learn. If you are going to call a storm to defend yourself, perhaps you should make sure you have a target—one that isn’t standing close to you—or you’ll wind up getting struck by lightning yourself!”
Gregory swore the child blushed under the dirt on his face. “Yeah, I kinda learned that the hard way...”
A smile crossed the mage’s face. “So you are going to Vane. Do you know anything of Vanetian history or traditions?”
“No. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Your appearance, for one thing. I don’t think you would be well accepted in the floating city, at least not looking and acting the way you do.”
The boy looked down at his tattered and stained tunic and pants he had been wearing for over six months. “I don’t have any fancy clothes.”
“Or had a good meal lately, unless I miss my guess.” He looked back down to the small boy. “When did you last eat? I can tell it’s been even longer since you last bathed.”
The child looked back to him. “I don’t need to… I mean I’m not hungry. I don’t need your help.” Then the sound of a rumble came again, but this time not from distant thunder. Rubbing his empty stomach the ragged boy nodded slowly. “Okay… maybe I am a little hungry.”
Laughing, Gregory offered the boy his hand and began pulling him gently. “Let’s make use of that silver you were trying to ‘borrow’ from me then. The world always looks better on a full stomach, and if you’re serious about Vane… we need to discuss a few things.”
Gregory knew the boy still did not trust him, but was driven by a hunger for both food and what he might know of his destination. Reluctantly, the child allowed himself to be pulled along to the local tavern (which was strangely the largest building in the city.) As they entered, the boy asked, “You know about Vane? Could you tell me how to get there?”
“I’ve been to Vane…. Many times. You could say I live there, though not always.” He could tell the boy did not seem to fully believe him, even though he wore the golden embroidered shield on his jerkin that proclaimed his status as a master mage of Vane. He’s been out in the world long enough to be skeptical...
A barmaid greeted them and found them a table away from all the other patrons, being sure to turn her nose up at the scent coming from the boy.
“Dinner for two, whatever it is tonight.”
The girl nodded, but not without giving a rather nasty look to boy with the dirty clothes, matted hair and filthy ribbons hanging in his face.
Just then, a man who had been sitting in on a game of cards near the bar interrupted them before Gregory could ask the child’s name. The stranger was large with long, greasy dark hair, and his last bath probably predated the boy’s. He gave the older man an evil grin and snickered. “And what’s a fancy gentleman want with a ragamuffin like this? Selling him eh? Won’t get much money for a scrawny sack of shit like that. Tell you what. I’ll give you 200 silver for him right now and save you the trouble of feeding him.” Gregory watched as his new charge looked around as if trying to find an escape route, but the man blocked them both into the booth.
Gregory’s eyes flashed callously as he stared at the creature that had spoken. He closed his eyes as he muttered a few words, and his face began to melt, the flesh swirling and twisting into dull, green reptilian scales. As his eyes slowly opened they grew into huge, slitted circles of dead white. His mouth opened to reveal long fangs and a narrow split tongue flitted out to taste the air an inch from the man’s nose. The voice that followed, cold, dead, hissing… filled the man’s ears. “And what interest are my affairsss to you, human? Unlessss… you wish to take his place, perhapssss?” The hand that gestured to him was no longer human, but narrow, scaled, and clawed with thin yellow venom dripping from each claw tip.
Gibbering in terror, the filthy man backed away from the apparition as a stain began to spread on his pants. “Get.... I… I didn’t mean nothing…. I’m sorry… I… GET AWAY FROM ME!” With a scream, he stumbled backwards and ran out of the tavern as though all the demons of Hell were behind him.
Confused, the boy looked to the man sitting across from him, staring into the pale blue eyes and now sad face. “What happened? What did you do? You did something, didn’t you? I could feel it. You’re one of those mages.” A look of wonder crossed his face, and even though the food arrived just then, tempting both of them, he looked at Gregory with a newfound respect before reaching for the meat with his hands. “You really do live in Vane.” Then he added with determination; “And you’re going to take me there when you go back.”
Gregory stared in surprise at the boy’s demand and then pointed to the utensils on the table. “Use the fork to put the food in your mouth, and the knife to cut it into small enough so that they will fit.”
The child stared for a moment at the tools, as if he had never seen them before. His eyes moved to watch the mage demonstrate this new skill, and then he mimicked it perfectly. He’s a quick learner...but table manners are much easier to master than magic...
“There are some people, at least on the outside they’re human, but on the inside they are animals, believing they have the right to own, and abuse, other human beings. It’s called slavery, and it offends me. Let’s just say he has a sick mind. I don’t like minds like that.” He shifted the subject as quickly as he could. “You could feel that? Did you… see anything?”
The child was in mid bite but still managed an answer, “I didn’t see anything, just him getting all scared… and messing in his pants.” He tried to hide the smile as he spoke, knowing it wasn’t polite but feeling that whatever the nasty man had seen had been well deserved. “But I did feel something. It was kinda…. tingly. Like when I call the storms, or when Sabre…” He stopped speaking, his voice choking off.
He is talented indeed, and I’ll need to keep a tighter reign on my own magic until he learns greater control. I don’t want him to learn from just watching me. He needs proper training before learning from observation...or he might hurt himself...or someone else...If he were to just call the parts of the storms he needed, he could be deadly, and not tire too easily...a few good spells, too...he’ll be a formidable adversary...but that will all come with time.
“My sister. She was different, though.”
“Well, I can make storms, and I’ve heard of people being able to make earthquakes or do what you just did—make pictures in peoples heads, but she....she would make people feel things. Sometimes they were good things, but a lot of times she would hurt people. She hurt me once. She didn’t mean to...it just happened...so...no one would ever touch her.”
“I see...” Gregory was fascinated, and hesitantly pushed the next question, “Where is she?”
“The men on the horses took her.”
“I’m sorry.” Gregory watched the boy’s expression contort as he thought of his family, and tried to change the subject. “So you are from the Prairie? What is your name then?”
“And your family name?”
“I don’t have a family any more so it doesn’t matter. Besides, you still haven’t told me your name.”
Gregory smiled, “My name is Gregory Telka, but you may call me Master Gregory, since it seems I will be taking you to Vane after all. But you’re going to have to pass the Cave of Trials. My guess is that you won’t have any trouble with that, given what I’ve seen of your abilities.”
The boy smiled broadly at the Gregory, and said, “Thank you, Master Gregory. Why are you called Master?”
“I have earned my Master’s Robes, and badge.” He gestured to the exquisitely embroidered insignia of honor he wore on his traveling jacket. “Apprentices wear tunics. We will get you one, but first we must discuss your name.”
“Discuss it? Why?”
“It is too tribal to be using in Vane. I’m going to have to teach you some culture if you are to succeed in the floating city. They don’t take kindly to people they consider less than educated. Let’s see what we can do with your name...see if there is something we can pull out of it that we will call you from now on.”
The mage pulled a small notepad and pencil out of his jerkin and wrote the child’s name on a page, then studied it for a few minutes. He drew some lines between the letters as the boy chewed his food and leaned over in excited interest.
Kinashua said, “Sabre used to call me Ashu, but I didn’t like that.”
The mage shook his head, and then smiling pointed to four letters in the middle of the name. “Nash. That should work. Do you like it?”
The child scowled a little bit, but considered a bit. “I guess.”
“Good. We’ve much more to discuss about your background. We’ve got to make you a gentleman—give you a history, teach you how to dress, and most of all, teach you how to act Vanetian.”
Gregory grinned a little as he said, “Act like a snob, actually. And we’re going to have cut and wash that hair.”
The boy’s hand absently fingered his locks, and a bit of red spread across his marred face. “Yeah, its pretty dirty.”
The mage’s expression grew more somber as he added: “I’m afraid we’ll have to do something about those ribbons. I’m sorry Kin—Nash, but they just won’t do in Vane.”
The boy’s filthy fingers closed about remains of the ragged ribbons. “But they’re part of me, they’re my tribe’s colors, and all that I have left of….” He looked back into the suddenly tragic eyes of his new friend.
“I know, but they’re part of the old you—of Kinashua, not Nash. If you want to go to Vane, it must be as Nash, not Kinashua. If you like, I’ll hold them for you.” The child slowly pulled them from his hair, dirt and grime coming with them. The colors of the ribbons had been sun bleached, and the ends frayed, but Gregory could still recognize they had once been red and blue. Kinashua stared down at them in his open palm as the mage gently took his last bit of tribal pride and placed it with unexpected reverence in his pouch.
They finished their meals in silence, thoughts running rampant between them. After the plates had been cleared, Gregory smiled at his new charge. “Our next stop will be by a clothing store, and then the inn so we can shine you up. Nash, my dear boy, we have a lot of work to do with you.”
Robin arrived in the Council Room, her robes flowing around her as if she was being lifted above the ground. Always perfectly punctual, when Mia said two o’ clock, she would be in the room seated at that time, no sooner, no later. She quickly found her place next to Gregory, and nodded to him in greeting as Mia called the meeting to order and began business. As Alastair reported on the state of the small Vanetian Guard, Robin slipped The Master of Illusion a note. It read: “Vane would be so much better off if Ausas didn’t fall in love. Look at where the last Premier got us, and look at where we are headed.”
All Gregory could do was grin and write back, “You have much to learn, Master Robin. Perhaps you should go find yourself a man—if only for fifteen minutes.”
She glared at him, and what she would do next he did not know, so he whispered, “Not that I’m volunteering, mind you, Robin.”
Mia raised an eyebrow at the two of them and asked, “If we may continue, Masters Robin and Gregory?” They both bowed their heads in apology and recognition as the Guildmaster and Alastair discussed security plans for her Festival. Even as Robin pretended to be interested in the conversation at the far end of the table, he couldn’t help but feel her angry eyes on him, as if waiting for a chance to pounce.
For all these years I avoided politics, and interfering in other's love lives... And now look at me, up to my eyebrows in both... and in the worst possible way...
***Author’s Note: Gregory was named after Gregg Anderson, one of my dear friends and quite possibly the guy who could be considered Second Author on this project, for his beta notes are always right on mark and usually add just that little bit more to the story. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org It should be noted Gregg had never heard of Lunar until I asked him to proof read for me! –K’Arthur