If Love Were Only Part of the Equation


Chapter Seven


“Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but I know it’s my own damn fault.”

--Jimmy Buffett


He wasn’t sure if the note was a request or an order, but recognizing the delicate script, he figured he’d follow its instructions anyway. It had been slipped under his door earlier in the morning, and even though it wasn’t signed, the handwriting and the content spoke well enough from whom it had come. Written in an impassioned left-hand scrawl, it read:


“Our friends should be arriving this afternoon, since the Festival starts tomorrow. While I am excited to see them, I will probably be tied up in meetings all day, so please greet them for me. Also, please ensure they are given respectable quarters in the faculty wing. I would like for the six of us to eat together this evening in my private dining room. I would appreciate your assistance in getting them settled and helping them find their way around. Thank you.”


He tucked it into the inner pocket of his robe, and although he knew that she could have easily delivered the message to him personally, he also knew that this was, by far, the least stressful way for them to communicate. He looked around at his new room and still hadn’t been able to take much of a liking to it. Even after he had moved his things in the day after he fell asleep in the library, it just didn’t feel like home.  The room was too big... too impersonal...too something. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't think of it as his, and almost felt slightly guilty for taking up so much space by himself.


He closed the door behind him and stepped into the lushly decorated hallway. While this end of the faculty wing was mostly dedicated to his residence and office, there were always plenty of people passing by, today all offering a friendly hello or congratulations.  People that only days before would have, at best, ignored him. He nodded or smiled at them, wondering if they were sincere or just trying to gain his favor.  So this is politics? Gregory was right...it’s even more superficial than a one-night stand... and it still bothers me.


As he headed down the corridor, he passed a large window that overlooked the eastern side of the city. The two towers behind the Guild were casting their normal mid morning shadows, darkening half the streets of the city. They’d always seemed out of place—looming above everything else in sight and piercing the sky with their perfect forms. He knew first hand they were a necessity, but there was just something about them that made him uneasy. Perhaps it was the fact that they had survived the Fall without a scratch, or perhaps it was because the first could, and had only recently, unleashed all of the power of Vane. The second still contained a sacred shrine, but for what, he wasn’t really sure, and didn’t really want to find out. Is there something as too much magic?


From this window, just outside the wall, he could see the edge of the stable roof. They had chosen to keep the horses outside the walls for sanitary reasons, and although one or two had been lost to thieves, for the most part, the arrangement worked well. After the first two raids, Alastair added a sentry position out there for the Magic Corps, and after a few late night explosions were heard from near the stable, the bandit problem seemed to fade away.


I wonder if she thought to put up a makeshift corral for this event? Most of her guests will be arriving on horseback and will need a place to put their mounts...I’ll take care of it...she has enough to worry about...


Nash pulled out the pencil and notepad he carried at all times from inside his robe and wrote himself a reminder to take care of it. He wasn’t surprised that Mia had missed this detail—since he was the person who had introduced horses to Vane, he was usually the one to remember to care for them.


I’ll never forget the look on her face when I rode into Meribia on that giant bay... You’d think Mia had never seen a horse before.  But then I can’t believe it took us nearly six months to get the place even slightly habitable...at least I was somewhat used to living in a tent...


The condition of the city after the Fall had left Nash little choice about his duties, as he had realized that he seemed to be the only one able, or willing, to step in and do what needed to be done.  I can’t believe I found the courage to do that…but I felt I owed Lemia that much, at least…


Those six, long, months, from June until December…before Jessica and Kyle got married…before…Was it really that long ago? Almost four years now? Even then Lemia’s health had continued to fail and the healers on Black Rose Street had been powerless to change that. He had felt that Mia should stay with her mother, even though many things needed to be attended to at the construction site. So, he had volunteered to travel back and forth to supervise the work. He would leave for two weeks, then return for a few days only to turn around and head back.


Luckily, after conducting this exhausting exercise for almost a month and half, he ran into some horse traders in Dunart and had made a purchase. The horse was an even mannered bay, huge in size, but still had some speed in her.  When he returned to Meribia astride, he had raised a few eyebrows, but he knew that this was the right decision. Instead of taking a day and half to travel he could make Vane from Meribia in seven hours or less—depending on how fast he felt like going.


He had hated to leave Mia on a weekly basis like that, but knew it was for the best. Every time he’d make the ride back to Meribia he’d try to get up the courage to tell her how he felt about her.  But somehow, as soon as he had entered the city gates, the words he needed, and the courage to find them, always seem to vanish like the morning’s mist.


He had noticed, as summer had turned to fall, when he did return to brief her on the construction’s progress, he felt her demeanor towards him change. She no longer seemed willing to look him in the face when she spoke to him, and sometimes, it was as though she tried to avoid him all together. This had only added to his hesitation in speaking to her of his love, and it wouldn’t be until he had a very long talk with Jessica that December, just before her wedding, that he would find his nerve...though sometimes, now, I wish I hadn’t...


Shaking his head of regret, he continued down the hall, into the new faculty wing. It had been designed after the old one, but Mia had some additional quarters as well as extra common-type rooms put in. She wanted the staff to be less isolated than the teachers in the past, and felt that there should be space for people to talk and get to know each other. Sadly, even though most of the faculty had returned months ago, none of them ever took advantage of the new rooms.


The faculty dorms were larger than those for the students, and of course, they didn’t have to be shared. They were all fairly generic—Mia also didn’t want to show favoritism—each one had a large double bed, a desk, closet, and a dresser. He walked by his old room and opened the door.  Inside it looked like nothing had been touched, which didn’t surprise him much given how little time had passed since he’d moved. The walls were now barren of course, and the closet and desk empty, but it still felt like home. He closed the door stuck a note in the jamb, stating that he would be using this room for guests of the Guildmaster. 


Another vacant room just down the hall received the same treatment, and just for good measure he marked all the empty ones, in case Mia had any last minute guests that needed accommodations. Many would be staying at local inns, or camping outside the city walls, but just in case, he managed to locate another ten rooms. I wonder just how many people are coming to this thing anyway? I better check student housing, too...


He made his way down the stairs in the center of the hall and past the classrooms. Just in front of the cafeteria, he saw her as she approached him. He looked around for a hallway to sneak down, and avoid the confrontation, but it was already too late.


“Nash!” the deep female voice called to him.


He turned around to face the shorthaired blonde, and bowed to her. “Yes Master Robin?” He asked in an extremely formal and guarded tone as she walked up him.


“I have heard you accepted the position of Premier. Congratulations.”


“Thank you.”


“I trust Majesty Mia has explained to you the importance and distinction of this honor which she has been bestowed upon you, as well as all of your duties? You should be ready to carry them out shortly. Time is of the essence, you know.”


She…I thought you…the Council…Hmmm…Classes start in two weeks...but why do I have the feeling that she means something else? “She has. I will do whatever is needed for the Guild.”


“Good. There is a trifle of a matter we need to ascertain, however.”


“And what would that be?”


“The Council will need a record of your birth, or a family heirloom that confirms you were born into a house of nobility—a simple crest or seal, for instance. Last time we instated a Premier we let this pass, since he had saved our world. But, as you can see, that did not turn out to our advantage. Laws must be upheld, and when they are not, we are dealt the consequences. Personally, I’d rather not take that chance again. You understand, of course?”


He forced himself to hold a composed face, even as he felt his stomach sink into his feet and his jaws clench. “Of course I understand.” With people like Robin on your Council, Mia, you will never fulfill you dream of bringing the egos down to the ground with the rest of Vane. 


“I realize that this may be painful for you, since you have always claimed your family is dead, but it must be attended to immediately. I know you're still unpacking, so I'm quite willing, as a gesture of friendship of course, to give you a little more time.  Say, by the eighth bell tomorrow?”


“This matter has already been settled, Master Robin!” A voice boomed from behind Nash, which caused him to spin around and be face to face with none other than Mia herself.


He felt his stress level shoot through the roof. Cornered by the Guildmaster and the Wicked Bitch of Vane! What? Settled? How?


“Of course it has, Majesty. I just feel I had an obligation to confirm the… situation…. with Nash himself. Gregory’s proposition has made it all so much more intriguing.”  She looked back to the short mage, a small and unpleasant smile on her face.  “Maybe you should just go back to finding your little books and reading them, Nash. It suites you so much better than this... distracting undertaking.  After all, you do seem to have a…. tendency… to run away or overreact in volatile situations.”


Gregory? What have you done now?


“Silence, Master Robin. Your objection was noted at the meeting, and it has no place outside those walls. Insulting your future Premier is not the way to earn my favor, and when you address him, remember that he is a Master as well.  Unless you wish to direct your insults to me?”


Robin sighed as she opened the door to the cafeteria. “Of course, Majesty. Just remember your duty to the Guild, Mia. Look at this man and honestly tell me that he is worthy of what he is about to become—or have you not yet told him of all his duties?”


Told me what?


Mia’s voice was ice. “You know that is in the past, Master Robin.”


“I do.  At least I know that is your hope, Majesty, but not yet reality.  I truly wonder if you have fully thought this out.”


The Master of Healing Magic let the door close and disappeared into the dining hall, the scent of her distrust still hanging in the air. For some reason, standing there as Mia defended him to perhaps the most unpleasant person he could think of at that moment, Nash felt like himself again. His guard wasn’t up, his tone was friendly, and for a few minutes, he indulged in it.


“I’m sorry, Nash. You know—“


“Yeah, I know how she is. I’m just sorry you have to put up with her.”


She laughed. “You will too, soon enough. Anyway, she’s good at what she does—probably a little too good.”


“Good at being a busy-body pain in the butt, that’s for sure. Do you know I almost failed her class? I don’t know why. I worked just as hard as everyone else—sometimes harder. Come to think of it, I don’t think she’s ever liked me. Nothing I ever did was good enough for her.”


Despair filled Mia’s eyes as she said, “I don’t think anything anyone does is good enough for her.”


I hate it when you’re upset... Nash forced a smile to cover his reaction. “She wrote me demerits once, too.”


In complete disbelief she asked, “You got demerits? What did you do?”


He smirked, “She caught Saltin and I jumping balconies and gave us each six demerits—which meant a week of kitchen duty. Ick.”


“Do I want to know why you were jumping balconies?”


A cloud of false innocence masked his face as he spoke, “We were peeking in on the girls’ dorms and they saw us.  I’d never heard so much screaming and shouting in my life when they realized we were there.  Needless to say, we had to make a fast retreat and it looked like that was only way since neither of us were very good at levitation spells at that point.” He winked at her,  “Good thing she didn’t know why we were running away, huh?”


“How old were you?”


“Twelve, I think. Saltin was a year older.”


Mia gave him a playful punch in the arm. “Pervert!”


Pretending to be wounded and shocked, he rubbed his arm, “I wasn’t a pervert! I was.... socially advanced!”


She laughed and smiled at him, whatever that had been bothering her moments ago now clearly forgotten.


I always could make you laugh...“It must be killing her that I’m about to be Premier.”


She smiled, “Definitely, but she’ll just have to get over it. It might do her a little good, come to think of it.  She can be so….  annoying.  If she wasn’t the best healer in the history of Vane…” Her voice trailed off, then, after a far too deliberate moment of hesitation, she asked, “Are you going to eat lunch now? Would you like to join me?”


His facade switched back to the unfeeling statue he usually was in her presence. With a small bow he quietly replied; “Ah...no, thank you, Majesty. I am still taking care of the rooms as you asked. I will also see to getting a corral built for your guests’ horses, since I doubt they will all fit in the stable.”


He watched as her eyes followed her hands to straighten a bit of fabric on the skirt of her dress, her voice dropping with them as well. “I… see.  I’m glad you thought of that. I certainly wouldn’t have.”


“Don’t concern yourself about it, Majesty.  It is my duty to see to your needs, spoken or unspoken. It will be taken care of shortly.” He pulled the door for her, “Enjoy your lunch, and if you need my assistance with anything, you have only to ask.”


She walked through the door, and looked back at him, as it swung shut behind her. He could not ignore the mystification (or was that pain?) in her eyes, and he knew exactly what had caused it—the swiftness and perfection of his transformation for no apparent reason.


I’ve been playing the bastard for six months...how much longer can I keep this up? Six months...six months of pure hell for the both of us... but it is for the best...for her, for me, and for Vane...It’s either this, or leave the only home I’ve known for the past eleven years...and while I know she needs me to help her, I must keep my distance... or destroy us both.




It was December, the coldest year he could remember and the clouds hung low and menacing on the distant horizon. Mia sent him on the mission—she wanted it done right, and in fact had wanted to go herself.  It took two days of him begging and pleading for her to stay—it was far too dangerous he had told her, and firmly believed. He would go in her place. He was a better rider, after all, and he would take someone with him. Finally she agreed.


The mission?  The library, what else? There were a series of books they needed—volumes she swore she absolutely had to have—a series on the magic of the Prairie Tribes. He knew why she wanted this, even though in the old collection they had been rarely, if ever touched. Mia still held to her dream of opening the Guild to everyone—no more Cave of Trials, no more students turned away only because they lacked a fine family name, or a clean tunic. These books would help in understanding some of their new students, and help those apprentices feel at home.  (Not to mention helping the mages and faculty of Vane begin to better understand the ‘Wild Magic’ that the Tribes seemed to breed.)  It was a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless, that the instructors had deliberately avoided that talent and the Tribes for centuries. 


Ordinarily, he would have just ordered the book he needed by messenger, but since the Tribes moved around a lot, and could sometimes be difficult to find, this was something one of them would have to do on their own—especially since couriers had already tried four times and failed. In fact, the last messenger he’d sent had come back with tales of being lost in the Illusion Woods for at least a week. As noble as her dream of diversity is, it is going to take an appalling amount of work to make it a reality. 


The only person he dared take on this little adventure was Gregory. For one thing his old friend, and former mentor, had spent much of his time outside of Vane, and knew his way around the continent.  Even better was that the ageless mage was one of the few Vanetians who had mastered riding.  But, finally and most importantly, there was a far more personal reason for his choice in a companion.


They left the morning after the fight he had with her, the one that made her cry and damn him for his words. While there was truth to what he said, he did realize (albeit a bit too late) he had been too harsh with her. Although he had apologized, and she had accepted, he still felt horrible and hadn’t been able to sleep much that night. She needed to hear that...I just wish I could take back how and when I said it...The night before a trip is no time for anger...


Gregory had the horses ready and seemed impatient as they approached him. The salt and pepper-haired man adjusted the pack behind his bay’s saddle and greeted them. “Good morning Majesty. Nash. I trust you slept well.” The grin on the ageless mage’s face spoke far too well that he knew that the separate rooms the two Heroes kept were only for appearances.


The cold December air hadn’t produced any snow as of yet but by the look of the sky and the now rapidly approaching clouds it would soon. Both men were dressed in layers of clothing: robes with slacks, cloaks, overcoats, and wraps, with their Masters badges proudly worn on their outermost garments. Hopefully, as they headed south, it would get warmer but it was always best to be prepared, something Nash learned the hard way as he had stumbled through his last adventure.


Mia pulled Nash to her and embraced him, “Come back to me safe.”


He kissed her on the forehead, and with a knowing look to Gregory he said, “I promise.”


Nash glanced over her shoulder for a moment at Gregory.  The elder mage took his cue and quickly turned around, busying himself with mounting his horse in silence. After a few minutes had passed, a forced coughing was heard, but they still didn’t let go of each other. Finally, an annoyed tone broke their quiet embrace, “Are we going to leave today or should I take the horses back to the stable?”


Blushing, the two released each other and walked over to the horses. Nash climbed on his horse—a birthday gift from Mia the past April—an overly energetic dapple-gray mare. He did not like her; she was too fast and far too willful to suit him.  Besides, he didn’t ride enough anymore to even need to own a horse. But, as usual, he hadn’t had the heart to sell her...Can’t look a gift horse in the mouth...  He almost panicked for a moment as the horse danced aside as he swung himself up onto the saddle, almost spilling him to the ground under her nervous hooves.  As he gripped the horse’s mane he gave a rather embarrassed grin to Mia, noting that she wasn’t quite fast enough to hide her own smile at his near tumble.


Mia pulled off the ribbon she wore in her hair and, reaching up, handed it to him as he sat astride. “Remember, be careful.”


He kissed her hand as he took it and said, “I promised, didn’t I?”


The horse would not stand still any longer, and became more anxious as her rider waved the flowing object just inside her line of sight. With virtually no warning, she leapt into the air and raced off with Nash holding onto her mane for dear life. 


He heard Gregory shout from several horse lengths behind,  “If that horse doesn’t kill you, I will! Slow down!” They raced out of the city gate, startling the few citizens who were awake and rousing many more with the noise of thundering hoof beats.           


After he regained his balance, Nash looked back over his shoulder and saw Mia standing under the arch of the entrance to the city, framed like a picture and waving. He lifted his left hand--the one with the yellow ribbon--up to return the farewell. It fell from his grasp and danced in the wind, just outside his reach. He tried to capture it, but nearly fell off his horse. This just made the mare more excited, and she raced forward, somehow finding more even speed in her small body. Sitting back down on her, he managed to pull the animal up and slow down just a little, but when he looked back again, both the ribbon and Mia were gone.




For a week they rode, stopping each night and setting camp. The journey to the Prairie was about as exciting as watching grass grow and the days of travel seemed endless for Nash, who just wanted it over with and to get back to Vane and Mia. Gregory tried hard to keep him entertained with stories of people he’d met, places he’d been, and some of the things he’d seen and done in all his unknown years.  Still, no matter how he spun his tales or how ribald the jokes he told, he’d been unable to lighten his friend’s mood or ease his impatience. 


Nash’s horse didn’t make the trip any easier. She would constantly try and run ahead, forcing him to draw up on her reins, which in turn just made her more excited and even harder to control. Twice the small mage had used all of his strength to pull the mare back at the last instant, cursing at her under his breath. He had begun to suspect that the beautiful animal actually did have it in for him. It’s a vicious cycle. I need to get rid of this horse. Sorry, Mia, but this animal and I are NOT going to get along.


Finally, late on the seventh day, they reached their destination. Nerak. A rough village trapped somewhere south of Tamur—somewhere near the Prairie—just another almost non-existent state between here and nowhere. Though, he thought ruefully, it was one of better-known entry points to the prairie. Nash knew this place; he had been here before once, long ago.  All that now seemed like another lifetime, one he wasn’t sure he should try to recall anymore.


The arrival of the two Vanetians caused quite a stir in the small town. While travelers were a common occurrence there, two such respected and well dressed men stood out in the crowd. The inn was full, so they took a room on the tavern’s shabby but very serviceable second level. When the proprietor recognized Nash as one of the Heroes from a surprisingly accurate picture on the wall, he refused to take any sort of payment, and made sure that all their needs were met without delay. Funny how the barkeep picked me out...the pictures they use don't look anything like real people, let alone us... I know word can travel fast, like a fire on the prairie, but this fast? Though he usually enjoyed being the center of attention, there was something about this unexpected popularity that seemed to worry him.


The mages didn’t get to spend much time looking for the man they needed to see.  When word of the Hero’s coming spread, just about everyone in the town, as well as the surrounding farms appeared out of nowhere and flocked to the small mage. Several tried to convince him to take their children back to Vane, sure that they were gifted with magic, but he could only reply that once the Guild reopened anyone who wished to study would be welcomed, but that day was still many months off. He wasn’t sure, but he almost regretted saying, “I’ll send a messenger to the Prairie when we’re about ready, and you can bring them yourselves.”


Nash felt a little guilty as Gregory watched from the background with a warm smile at all the attention he was getting.  All day he was showered with words of thanks, handshakes, gifts, and even a few propositions from several unexpectedly attractive young women. Numerous times he tried to slip away from his admirers, but was always held back by someone he just couldn’t turn away. Before he knew it, the sun had set. I might have to sneak out in disguise tomorrow…


Still annoyed at having to spend another night, Nash ordered dinner and took a table for himself and Gregory. As they were waiting for it to be prepared, a barefooted little girl, barely older than seven, with green and black ribbons plaited in her white-blonde hair, approached him. Following close behind her was an overly energetic black and white puppy. She walked up the Hero, her eyes wide with admiration and nervousness. Wordlessly, she picked the puppy up and held it out to him, bowing her head. In awe of the child’s obvious selfless action, Nash’s hands didn’t move from his sides. The child lifted her head and spoke to him in a language he thought he had forgotten long ago.


“Please, sir, I want you to have him. His name is Kyan. He’s a little young, but he’ll make a good dog someday.”


It took a moment for Nash to find his voice to answer the little girl, and in searching for it; he found that language—his native language. “I’m honored by your gift, little one, but I can’t accept him. See how he needs you?”


She closed her eyes and put the dog back on its feet, defeat creeping on her face.


I can’t believe I forgot refusing a tribal gift is a statement against honor!  The magician was horrified for a moment as he realized he had just insulted the small child in one of the worst possible ways.  He quickly reached down to pet the small dog as he spoke to her, trying to undo his prior statement.  “I just don’t have the time to train him the way so fine a hound deserves, but I would be honored to have him.  Tell you what, you take care of him for me, and train him as he should be trained, all right? You can bring him to Vane when he’s ready, and you’re big enough to travel yourself.  Okay?”


A little sigh of relief escaped the girl’s mouth and she hugged her most prized possession. He smiled at her and gave her a kiss on the forehead, then patted the dog. “You better get home before dark. Your parents will worry.”


She nodded and started to walk away before he called her back. “I almost forgot, if you’re going to take care and train him for me, I should give you some kind of payment, shouldn’t I?”


The ragged little thing stared at the mage for long moment, her mouth hanging open. Ignoring her shock he smiled as he reached into his pouch and pulled out a handful of silver coins, placing them into the pocket of her jacket, and knowing that she had never seen that much money. She bowed to him again, and then ran off, her puppy at her heels.


I really don’t deserve any of this…Alex does…and the others, but not me.


Nash’s knowledge and use of the tribal tongue caused a few people to turn and look at him, in particular someone who had just entered the tavern—a tall man with blonde hair and beady dark eyes. The stranger made his way across the room towards the two Vanetians, and smirked at them as, uninvited, he took a seat across from them. The man’s dark robes had given him the aspect of scholar but this illusion quickly vanished as his spoke; “I hear you’re looking for some books.”


Gregory responded, “We are...but where did you get that information?”


“I think your tribal speaking companion there mentioned it to the barkeep. He’s an old friend, and since I collect books, I thought I might offer my services.”


Nash suddenly felt edgy. He turned his head and let Gregory do the talking.


“Do you know which volumes we require?”


“Not yet. But tell me—I’m sure I have them, or can obtain them… For a reasonable fee, of course.”


“The series is called ‘Studies of Wild Magic on the Prairies of the Stadius Zone.’ Are you familiar with them?’”


The blonde haired man nodded, “I’ve got those. But I wonder why you need books on such a topic when you have someone who has first hand experience!”


Nash felt his face go white, but Gregory played dumb. “Oh really? And who might that be?”


“Don’t be stupid old man! That young mage you travel with...he obviously knows something about the Tribes if he speaks the language.”


“Languages are easy to master, especially for the brightest students of Vane.” The older man surprised the merchant when he replied in the same tongue (though heavily accented) that Nash had used with the girl.  Slipping back into the common language he concluded in a harsher voice; “I also suggest that you don’t call me old man again, or I may be forced to give you cause to regret your poor choice of words… for many long and painful years. Now go get your books so that we may inspect them.  Then, perhaps, we can discuss your… reasonable fee.”


The book collector gave a look of disdain and shock to Gregory, but walked away. “I’ll be back shortly, in an hour or so.  I trust you have more silver than the pittance your… friend just threw away.”


After he was gone, Nash shook his head, “I’m an idiot...I shouldn’t have...”


The older mage laughed as he gently touched his student on the shoulder. “What you did was beautiful, my boy. You made me proud to be your friend.”


Dinner arrived and they ate in silence, and just as they were finishing, another patron of the tavern interrupted them. “Testadurra?” The slurred voice asked, standing between the two Vanetians.


Nash looked up at the man and nearly choked on his food in horror. That name...he had almost forgotten it...his family name and one he’d not heard since...the fire. It took a moment for him to recognize this dirty brown-haired reprobate—a Prairie mage by the name of Rauchic.


As Gregory saw his friend’s nightmare becoming real, he interrupted the man with a haughty irritated tone, “You should show some respect to one of your Heroes. Don’t you recognize Nash of Vane?”


The man’s face twisted with hateful triumph, as he leaned closer to the young mage and ignored the older man. “I knew it was you. Cigol’s boy, right? The Storm Child? Look at you now! A Vanetian and Hero to boot.” He gave a coarse laugh.  “Who’d ‘a thought it…”


Nash tried to keep his voice even but felt it waver in his throat, “I believe you have mistaken me for someone else.”


“No, I don’t think I have. I never forget a face—and yours is such like your father’s—or a Gift for that matter. Besides, how could I forget the brat that almost killed me with a strike of lightning while I was trying to read his Gift for his parents?”


Covering his face with his hand, the Hero tried to look away. Mother was right...all Testadurra men look the same...Dammit....I knew it I knew it I knew it!


The man looked around, “And where is that blasted twin of yours? That little bitch brought me closer to death than you did!”


Nash stood up, his face emotionless, but his voice barely above a terse whisper. “Dead. I’ll thank you not to insult what few memories I have left of my family.” He turned and started to walk away from the unkempt drunk, motioning Gregory to follow. I knew this would happen! And if any of these people come to study at the Guild...I’m as good as dead. They’d laugh me out of the city...And Mia…What would this do to Mia?


Rauchic followed them, and reached out, taking hold of Nash’s robe.  “Now don’t you run away like that, Testadurra. What are you afraid of? The fact that your fancy friends won’t accept a tribal brat as their savior when word gets out about what you really are?”


Nash spun around, his robe sweeping around his small frame as he faced the man again. “Shut up. Let’s go, Gregory.”


Rauchic snickered and grabbed the badge on the Hero’s clothing, ripping it half off. “It will all come back to haunt you, Stormboy! You can’t hide forever!  Why, come to think of it, last time I was up your way I heard a rumor that you were sleeping with the Guildmaster of Vane! I wonder if she knows her lover is really just a tribal runt, and not the purebred Hero he claims to be!”


Nash’s eyes narrowed as rage and horror filled him. Without thinking or hesitating, he began to call down a storm—one bolt of lightning and the old fool would shut his mouth for good. He was about to cross his fingers to cast the spell when Gregory grabbed his hands, pulling him backwards. “No, Nash. Forget him. He’s not worth the magic.”


The drunken man staggered away, and out the door, laughing and pointing at the infuriated Vanetian. “You can change your clothes, you can change your name, but you’ll never change what you really are, Testadurra!”


“You should have let me kill him!” Nash hissed to Gregory, barely controlling his wrath.


“Why? Vicious satisfaction? I thought I taught you better than that.”


The bartender watched the exchange between the three men before sliding a drink to Nash. “I think you need this. Drink it fast and it won’t hurt so much.”


The young mage watched as Gregory turned around to speak with the book collector who had just returned, fortunately missing most of his exchange with Rauchic. He saw his companion shake his head as he grabbed the drink and downed it in a single swallow.  His features twisted in pain as the liquid burned his throat, but he took a seat at the bar nonetheless and motioned the barkeep for more. Kyle always said he felt better after drinking away whatever was troubling him...might as well give it a shot...I haven’t got anything to lose…




Nash had only been drunk a few times in his life and never this drunk. The first few drinks had eased the pain and clouded the memory of the troubles that awaited him in Vane, at least for the moment. In the background he could hear the conversation, occasionally heated, that Gregory was having with the bookseller to wrap up his mission.  He forced himself to tune it out. He didn’t care about those idiotic books at this moment. He had other problems—more important problems—and he doubted any of the information contained within those tomes would be able to help him. Nothing would help right now.


Another drink or two later, the now blitzed magician watched as Gregory swept past him, heading towards their room. Even in his completely inebriated state, Nash knew he’d done it again.  Just by the way that Gregory had departed, without even a passing glance in his direction, it was clear that his oldest friend, his mentor, and the one person who knew everything about him, was obviously disappointed in him as well. Well...that’s two people I’ve managed to let down tonight...


Out of the blur of the room, a blonde man wearing Tribal ribbons and glasses approached him, absently shuffling a deck of cards. “I hear you’re the owner of that pretty little gray mare outside.”


Nash was surprised at the energy it took to find his words, which still came out slurred. “I am. She’s out of the top bloodlines—and full of speed and spirit.” With a great deal of effort, he straightened himself to his full height, trying to hide his intoxication from the other.


“I know. I saw you ride in on her. My lady friend was just admiring her.”


He looked around, the room and people within just appearing as one big haze. “Where’s your lady friend? If she can ride that horse, she can have it!” He shook his head fuzzily.  “No, I’d wager that nobody can stay on that horse but me, and even I can barely control her.” 


“Wager? She's not here at the moment, but if you’re such a betting man, how about a game of cards? I win, I get the horse.”


“And if I win?”


A simper formed on the blonde man’s face. “I’ll give you.... 2000 silver.”


“That horse is worth at least twice that!” He felt a sly grin form on his face, though it seemed to take an enormous effort to create it. “After all, she was a gift from the Guildmaster of Vane!”


“Really? You know Mia Ausa?” The man asked in obvious disbelief.


“Know her?! I sle… I… We… We’re like ‘this!’” He held up the first two fingers of his right hand, twisting one over the other to make them look like one. The gesture barely held for an instant before his fingers slipped. He stared at his palm, and then tried to force the defiant digits together them with help from his other hand. But his body would not cooperate, and the second they were together, the fingers slid apart once again.


“Of course,” the man said with a snicker, watching the mage’s gross display of insobriety.


Knowing the other did not believe him; Nash tried to point to the half ripped seal on his robe, but missed by inches. “I’m from Vane.”


 “I wouldn’t have guessed,” the Tribal replied dryly as he pulled a gold tiara encrusted with emeralds and rubies out of his cloak, and gently placed it on the table in front of Nash. “Now, how about that wager? Your horse is mine if I win, and, if you win, this is yours. I’m sure your Guildmaster would love it.”


The magician stared at the golden ring in bleary surprise for a moment.  Then, tossing back another drink and almost falling back onto his chair he slurred; "All right... Deal.” He ignored the faint alarm that seemed unable to penetrate the alcohol-induced miasma in his mind. Barely able to keep his eyes open, he stared at the seductive tiara instead of the Tribal, who had begun to shuffle the cards with a skill that would have terrified a more sober gambler.




Nash wasn’t sure how long it took for him to become aware of the voices and movement around him. His eyes felt heavy, so he left them closed as he listened to the sounds, wincing at the unusual loudness of everything. As his senses became aware, his nose twitched at some wretched stench. Something...smells...horrible...


“We would’ve moved ‘em, but I think people were having fun laughing at ‘em too much last night,” called a rough and accented voice.


“A glass of water, please,” a much more familiar one replied, in a slightly irritated tone.


He felt a chilly liquid hit his face and opened his dazed eyes to see Gregory standing over him with a cup in his hand, but made no attempt to lift his head off the table. “Dammit! Why did you go and do that!” Everything is so...bright...ugh...


“Get up. We need to leave.”


“My head hurts,” he whined, as he sat up. In this labored process, he located the source of the odor on his clothing and the table. I vomited on myself? I don’t even remember that...Gross... At least I didn’t get any on my pants…


“Self-inflicted wounds don’t warrant pity, not from me anyway. And don’t you dare ask if I know any hangover remedies. You’ve more than earned this one.”


Gregory grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet. “Come on, I got your books. We need to pack up, clean you up and get another horse, since the bartender tells me that you lost that pretty little thing Mia gave you in a game of cards.”


Oh shit...oh shit...oh shit...oh shit...


Nash took off his stained and stinking robe, pulled the hanging badge off of it, and handed the garment to the bartender. “Get this cleaned.”


The man pinched a clean segment of the clothing and took it behind the bar, clearly annoyed at having to even touch the thing, much less take orders from a hung over Vanetian.


Wordlessly, the two mages walked back to their room. Partly supported by his friend, Nash still held his head and fought the nausea rising in his throat. My stomach, my head...everything...hurts... why the hell did I do this to myself?


Pushing the room’s warped door open, the older man eased and guided his friend to the worn bed at the far end.  Nash sat down slowly, supporting his aching head between his knees with his hands. Gregory took a seat next to him, staring towards the closed door in silence. The young mage didn’t even need to look to see the despair and disillusionment frozen in his friend’s azure eyes. I’m sorry Gregory...you had to take up the slack for me...


After a long moment, Gregory sighed, putting a gentle hand on his friend’s now bare back. Finally, he spoke, his voice that same sympathetic and tender tone Nash had come to know though the years. “I’m going to give you some unsolicited advice, my boy. You know I rarely do this, but since you’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to a son, I’m going to stick my nose where I know it’s not wanted.”


With some effort, Nash sat up, and he listened. Gregory seemed to know best. No matter what the problem was, this man, his oldest friend and mentor, always seemed to know the words that would make things right again. As Gregory spoke, Nash started at his Master’s badge. Turning it over and over again in his hands, he realized the ends were starting to fray, and the golden seal of Vane—an eagle with it’s wings spread wide—seemed to have lost its luster.


“What you used to be, and what you are today cannot be two mutually exclusive events. Your past, my boy, is part of your present, and it is part of your future. At one time, yes, you were Kinashua—“


Nash interrupted, muttering in a tone full of misery, “Don't call me that.  I don't deserve that name. If I ever did, I certainly don't anymore.”


 “I believe you do, but regardless...Let’s face facts. Yes, You lived in a tent. Yes, you killed your own food. Yes, you rode across the Prairie with a family that loved you. Then, suddenly, and by no fault of your own, you were forced to give that name and that life up in order gain entrance into the Magic Guild. You studied hard, and with your extraordinary natural talent, you succeeded beyond the expectations of most of the faculty. You amazed them with your talent and your Gift—far beyond what even the oldest families of Vane could have claimed.” A grin crept across his face as he added, “Not that many of them would be willing to admit to that.”


Nash shook his head in dramatic torment as his life was repeated to him, but Gregory kept a firm hand on his friend’s back as he continued.


“While that past life—Kinashua’s life—had to put on hold for you to survive and accomplish all of this—not to mention your feats of the past few years! It is time you accepted, if not embraced, that life again. You can’t keep hiding from it forever. Time may run slowly, but he is steady, and he will catch up with you.” 


“I can avoid it. I’ve been avoiding it for eleven years. What’s a few more? No one will—“


Gregory interrupted the spew of self-pity, his velvet voice not even coming close to finding an edge. “Pay attention, Nash! Don’t you think that Mia deserves to know the truth? You share your dreams, your life, and your bed with her, yet you refuse to share your past?”


The younger man felt his face flush as Gregory summed up his relationship in a complete sentence. “She deserves the truth, yes. But she also deserves better.”


“That’s not true, and it’s not for you to decide.” The ageless mage took his former student’s hand in his own and shook it gently. “Take it from someone who has lived lifetimes of regret over a woman he should have married.”


Nash tried to blink away his disbelief, “What?”


“It was years before your time, but like you, I was in love with a Guildmaster. Like you, I would have done anything for her. She could have snapped her fingers and told me to jump off the roof of the Library—and I would have, without question! Everyone teased me for my childish devotion to a woman who almost young enough to be my daughter. She was beautiful, intelligent and incredibly powerful—just like all Ausas before and after her. She returned my affections, and asked me to be Premier of the Guild—and then she asked me to be her husband—but I turned her down on both.”


Stunned at this revelation, Nash asked bitterly, “Why? It’s not like you were just some homeless tribal brat.”


Gregory shook his head, frowning at the other. “I never thought I’d hear you talking like Orinth or that stuck up mother of his.  Don’t you remember the Prairie Tribes have a rich and noble tradition? These people—your people—are incredible and righteous warriors, and have produced not just one, but two, Dragonmasters.”


Freeing his hand from his friend’s, and nodding in response to the history lesson, Nash tried to brush his long bangs out of his face, but they just kept falling down. Frustrated, still nauseous, and trying to absorb all of this, he just managed to say, “Yes, but to Vane it makes little difference.”


“That’s not true and you know it, especially after all you and she want for the Guild. To answer your question about why I turned my Guildmaster down…Her reign began when she was only fifteen, and…and I was already teaching at this point. She was one of my students for heaven’s sake! Also, back in those days…” He paused, sighing, “Never mind that, Nash. You never were one for history. Just know that there were plenty of excuses I fooled myself with, some valid, most not. I was about twelve years too old for her, she was one of my students, we were from different worlds.” He muttered under his breath, “Very different worlds.”


Nash raised an eyebrow, but Gregory continued without missing a beat, “But really, what did it come down to? When she needed me, I ran away. Why? Because in my head I firmly believed that she could do better than just some third-rate illusionist. I felt there were far more experienced people there to be Premier, but she thought I would be good at it for some reason. I just didn’t think I could live up the responsibility—and I was afraid of letting her down.”


He paused, and rubbed his forehead,  “As far as being her husband, while I wanted to, I just couldn’t—because, again, I didn’t have any faith in myself. There was a long part of my life where I forced myself not to get close to people. My Guildmaster tried to teach me that this was the wrong way to feel, and I…I couldn’t, or wouldn’t heed her words. So, I left Vane—and her.”


Nash looked at his mentor with a face full of astonishment, as the older man shook his head and continued, “I still regret that I listened to the Orinths, the Tamoras, the Robins, and the Premier at the time--I had been his apprentice and I hung on his every word! They all reinforced my fears by telling me that I was too…mature for such a little girl.” He gritted his teeth, “I was much older than they thought! I didn’t always live in Vane, Nash. I’ve been around for.... quite a while.” He must have seen the young mage’s shock, for he took a deep breath and regained his composure. “No matter how you look at it, it’s simple--I was afraid to get hurt, and perhaps more importantly, I was afraid of hurting her.”


“Gregory, this is so much different!”


“No it’s not!  You are faced with the same dilemma that I was, and you're hesitating for far less cause! Now is the time to make a decision, my dear boy! Nash, if you’re lucky, life gives you one shot at true love! You can either live a life of lies and regret as I did, or you can take a chance on happiness and ride back to her and tell her everything.”


“You make it sound so easy...”


“It’s not easy, and that’s a fact of life, son.  It’s only a matter of time before someone from here or the Prairie gets to Vane and recognizes you. It will sound better coming from you than from someone else, although I guarantee you that it will make little difference to her.”


“And what about others in the Guild? Do you think Master Robin will accept it?”


“Forget about Master Robin. That woman needs to find a husband or a hobby. I really don’t know nor do I care which. When Mia takes you for who you really are, the rest of the Guild will, too.”


Nash stood up and stretched, still in deep consideration of his mentor’s words. Walking over to the decrepit dresser, he looked in the dusty mirror, examining his current condition. I look like hell...With a sigh, he mumbled a few words under his breath and snapped his fingers near his head, a wave of static dashing through the air around him. The electricity bristled against his hair and pushed it back into place. He smoothed it with a hand and watched in the mirror as the man behind him grinned.


 “I always wondered how you got that silly cowlick to stay put. I should have known it was magic because that is just not natural, my friend.”


He turned around to Gregory, a new resolve in his eyes. “You’re right. Let’s get back. I need to do this. I need to tell her the truth.”


“That’s my boy. You finish packing and I’ll go get you a new horse.”


Looking through his travel bag for another outfit, he simply said, “All right.”


Gregory started for the door, but then paused as he turned to his former student, a strange, almost indescribable look on his face. “Oh, on a side note, I would have rather been a ‘homeless tribal brat’--as you so eloquently put it--than someone condemned to walk the world for eternity.”




“Just a little joke,” Gregory said cynically. “After all, you and your fellow students have always called me ‘ageless.’ Don’t think I don’t notice these little things.”


Before Nash could respond, the door had closed behind the man who was the biggest enigma of Vane. Just how old are you, Gregory?



It took about an hour, but soon they were packed and ready to go--Nash’s headache still killing him. The new horse Gregory bought wasn’t as spirited as the gray one, and both of them were a little relieved for that. As the younger mage went back into the tavern just one last time to make sure they had gotten everything out of their room, an old woman approached him. Though her clothing was worn and travel stained, her face held a presence and serenity that even through the pain of his hangover he couldn’t ignore. “You are the Hero, aren’t you, boy?”


“They’ve called me that, though I still don’t...” He shook his head for a moment.  “Well, I guess I am, what can I do for you?”


“I have walked from Tamur to thank you, son.”


“You’re welcome, but I can’t claim credit alone.”


“I’d like to give you a reading. It would be an honor to read a Hero.”


Nash did not have the fondest memories of fortunetellers; the last one he had befriended used her tales to get him to do her bidding. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time. An urgent matter awaits me in Vane.”


The woman smiled at him, “How right you are. You are clairvoyant, too then?”


He stared at the woman, “No, I’m not.”


“Please, I’ve walked for almost two days... and I fear for you and yours.”


With a sigh, and his curiosity growing over the strange woman and her mysterious comment, he sat down at a table and motioned for her to sit opposite him. He closed his eyes as she held up her open palms towards him and felt her reaching into his mind.


Not even five minutes later she patted his hands, and when he opened his eyes, her face was desperate as she said, “Fear awaits you, and a loss your heart will never accept.”  The old woman’s eyes grew unfocused as she began to softly chant the details...


“By storm and flight, by Midnight bright. 

Through loss and gain, and heartfelt pain. 

In chaos born and power found,

A test to find if your heart be sound. 

By horse, by foot, by airborne flight. 

Your soul is tested, in it’s own dark night. 

A dream imperiled and a life soon lost,

Another life saved, at a terrible cost.” 


She fell silent then shook herself as though waking up from a long sleep.  “Quickly, child.  Ride back to Vane, and stop for nothing. You just might make it before it’s too late.”


“Too late for what?”


“I can’t see that, the curtain has closed it away from me now. But whatever it is, it’s going to change you. It’s going to hurt you—and it involves someone you care for deeply.”


Why do they always see things in cryptic messages? What good are those?


He stood up and thanked the woman, then ran for the door, shouting to Gregory to mount up.  They would ride day and night, stopping only once—and certainly not by choice. But it wouldn’t be until he got back to Vane, that things fell apart.




Nash continued down the hall past the cafeteria, trying to concentrate on his task of finding lodging for Mia’s soon to be arriving guests. A few apprentices had already shown up—mostly those that had been here before and were young enough to remain in school—but for the most part these rooms were unoccupied. One or two students saw him and smiled, or waved, and one even bowed respectfully, but he kept conversation to a minimum. I still have to take care of the corral...no time for small talk...


After he finished tagging rooms—his notepad looking rather skinny—he headed back the way he’d came, ready to go outside and find some stable workers to build a makeshift fence. Just as he reached the corridor by the dining hall in which he’d had the exchange with Robin earlier, an all too familiar form came striding towards him. He felt his heart sink as he recognized the approaching figure—it was one that he had been successfully avoiding for quite some time.  It seems today is my lucky day...


A tall, black-haired man, near his own age and dressed in only the finest formal robes approached, his snaky smile speaking of some sort of mischief he was about to cause. Nash felt a cold anger, fueled by years of contempt, rise from within him the closer the man moved. Orinth...This individual had caused him more grief during his time at the Guild than any combination of people whatsoever. Orinth, the Son of One of the Elders, never did get over being ousted from his place at the top of the class by ‘The Nameless Wonder’ as he so affectionately had dubbed Nash. On top of their rivalry in school, Orinth always seemed to be just a little too friendly with Mia.


“Hello, Nash. Congratulations.”


“Thank you,” he said, not making eye contact and trying to pass this uninvited interruption as quickly as possible. Would it be too much to ask for you to NOT talk to me?


Orinth didn’t let him have the satisfaction. He held an arm out and trapped Nash against the wall. “I hope you intend to talk Mia out of some of this nonsense about letting anyone in who wants to be a part of the Guild. After all, traditions and standards must be upheld.”


“I don’t think they matter any more,” he said, again trying to get away, but the man just leaned closer into his face. Why don’t you just ask Mia? Oh I forgot, she’s not talking to you...


“I disagree, but I’m sure you know best, old friend.” He dropped his barricade, but stepped closer to Nash. “Oh! I almost forgot, please don’t hog all of the upper level classes for yourself. I know you’re Premier and all, but the rest of us will need a break from the mundane basic levels.”


Nash tried to slide away. “I haven’t done the master schedule yet, but I’ll keep that in mind. I have things I need to do, if you don’t mind, Orinth...” Don’t you dare call me friend, asshole...and I’ll make sure you get the most unpleasant classes...as a...professional courtesy, of course...


Orinth smirked and moved even closer to him, whispering, “Ironic that you were chosen, wouldn’t you say? I mean, considering all the harm you did to this place.” He smirked, his hazel eyes flashing maliciously,  “And to Mia.”


Nash glared into the face his rival, eyes narrowed, “I never hurt Vane, nor did I hurt Mia. Although I believe you may have had more to do with the latter.”


The black haired man straightened up, but glared down at his colleague. “Ah, some how I doubt that. You and your little tizzy fit and thunderstorm did quite a bit of damage if I recall. Why yes, now I remember, it put us at least a month behind schedule…and how she cried when she saw the destruction!”  He held his finger up in a wagging gesture, and tapped Nash on the chest with it. “Ah ah…now don’t try to deny it, your signature was all over that little drizzle you called up.”


His rage was starting to rise, and he threw his body weight forward toward the larger man’s chest, trying to push him back. “Shut up! I have things to do, things much more important than listening to you and your idiotic ramblings!”


Orinth moved to the side before Nash even touched him, just for the entertainment of watching inertia taking over and making the smaller man stumble forward and almost land on his face. He snickered as Nash caught his balance and righted himself, straightening his robe as if nothing had happened.


Fixing his eyes on the mage whom he despised, he started to speak, but Orinth stopped him with yet another sarcastic remark. “Important, oh yes. I’m sure you have lots to do what with classes starting two weeks after this little party of Mia’s. I hope you don’t mind, but I just don’t think I’ll be able to call you by your soon to installed title. Nothing personal, old friend, but I just don’t feel that such a mantle should go to a nameless little boy who still has temper tantrums.”


“I don’t give a damn about the title!” Nash gritted through clenched teeth. “Just leave me alone!”


The tall man leaned back over him, pinning him against the wall again. His voice was quiet and menacing, as a sneer played on his lips. “Odd isn’t? I mean, you didn’t even have to take, let alone pass, the Master’s Exam. They just went and gave you the badge.   Now I know you saved the world, and I know that the city was in ruins at the time, and I know you had a lot to do with rebuilding it, but there are a lot of us who just can’t help but wonder if you didn’t just sleep your way to the top.”


His eyes narrowed as his voice trembled with rage. “Now you’re insulting Mia. Shut up or by Althena you’ll live just long enough to regret it!”


“Is that a threat? From the new Premier to one of his staff? Highly unprofessional, Nashyboy. Very bad form.”


His retort was spoken between closed teeth, as he grabbed Orinth’s collar. “Call me that again and I’ll kill you with my bare hands.  Staff? Don’t make me laugh! And no, that’s not a threat. It’s a promise! I should have killed you when—“


“Oh I doubt that you would have done that. It’s against Guild law to use magic against another member,” Orinth replied dismissively.


“There are ways other than magic.  As a mage you’re pitiful, as a swordsman you’re not even a joke.”


Orinth laughed at him, backed up, and pat him on the shoulder condescendingly; “You’re rather cute when you’re mad. Now I know what she saw in you!”


His hands were sweating and he could feel his power starting to rise within him as he pushed the tall man away. “Don’t you dare touch me!”


Orinth laughed again, feeling the obvious rush of magic coming from the small mage. “Don’t you try any of that childish little lightning of yours on me! I’d beat you in a moment. I was always better than you—at everything, Nash.”


In a voice that could only be described as primal he growled to the other, “Go to hell!”


Orinth smirked again, waving a hand as he spoke in his usual flippant and arrogant tone, “Thanks for the invitation, but no.” He tapped his cheek in false thought, “You know what I think is funny? I think you’re already there! I do so enjoy watching you give your pathetic doting stares to the former object of your affection, only to turn to stone when she does speak to you. It's rather amusing, and fitting I do believe. Don't you remember when we were in class and I told you that you never stood a chance with her? You should have listened. It might have saved you all of this entertaining little heartbreak.”


Shaking with rage, Nash spun his burgundy robe around him as he turned to walk away. He was not going to let Orinth get the better of him, again. No. This piece of trash had been doing that for eleven years. He would NOT get the satisfaction of seeing his new Premier enraged—especially while others were around. I won’t let it happen. Just walk away…he’s an ass…a miserable ass with too much time on his hands….


Orinth snickered as called to his long time adversary, deliberately getting the attention of a group that had just left the cafeteria.  “Just a piece of a friendly advice old friend. I really think it’s time you found a new hobby. I’m sure there will be some pretty little girls in the new classes. Maybe some naive enough to even sleep with you! You could grade them on their performances!”


Nash stopped in his tracks, and then marched back up to the disgusting person. He kept his fists clenched at his sides, trying to prevent himself from doing anything stupid as he now pinned the tall man against the wall. In a grating whisper he spoke, the words dripping with caustic loathing; “Seducing little girls seems to be more along your habits, old friend. Especially once you’ve poured enough wine into them.”


Orinth held his hands up, waving one of them facetiously, “You're still holding a grudge over that? Can't we just put it behind us? It was all just a misunderstanding. Besides, it didn't take much wine, or seduction.”  His smug smile faded as he saw the storms begin to rage in Nash’s eyes.


Misunderstanding?  There is no misunderstanding. You don’t like me, I don’t like you...you miserable...


Orinth slipped away from the wall, and walked quickly down the corridor a few yards. A dirty smirk on his face now that he had his distance. “You know, it's so pathetic that you're always the focus of her thoughts... especially at those particularly... inappropriate moments. She could do so much better than a half-assed Hero who's no more than a second rate lightning bug.” With that he turned and sauntered down the hall, nodding with his snaky smile to the handful of faculty members that had been near enough to have seen, if not heard, their confrontation.


Still enraged, Nash stormed off in the opposite direction, heading outdoors to find some stable workers to build a fence. His mood must have shown too clearly on his face and stride, because people stepped carefully aside as he passed them on his way out of the Guild. I came to despise Ghaleon…I even learned to despise myself…but I’ve never truly hated anyone before…  Congratulations…. Orinth… you’ve just taught me that lesson quite well…







**Author’s notes:

Testadura literally means ‘hard-headed’ or ‘rock-head’ in Italian. I thought it fit Nash perfectly. Heh


“Six demerits for jumping balconies” is dedicated to certain members of BHS-TSA. Ahem.


This originally came out at over 40 pages because of the major flashback about the trip. I decided to split it into two chapters, so you’ll see the rest in…oh…chapter 10.


I also intend to re-write most of Chapter One next, since many folks have pointed out that it is rather flat in relation to current chapters. So, before you see Eight, you’ll be seeing CH1 version 2.0 Teehee!