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|Wow...not one, but TWO new sections of the Seven? It must be Christmas... (ok, so it's 3 days later, so what?) |
This is the next day, and it's all fun and special and such. You lucky ppl you, you finally get the watered-down version of the history of the Seven. I've been trying really, really, REALLY hard to make the MC's 10-year-old-ish (don't laugh, i've never had an MC under 16 before >.<) Tell me if I'm succeeding, please. Uploaded on 12/28/03.
Rhispla kept her eyes squeezed shut, terrified if she opened them, it would all be proved a dream. She would be back in that wretched school in Enefun, staring up at the ragged wooden rafters instead of that elegant, pearly stone that had made the ceiling in the room she’d fallen asleep in. She slowly opened one eye. Her breath rushed out of her. It was still there. All of it was still there.
She rolled onto her side and closed her eyes. The sunlight shone through the stained glass window. The frame for the glass was silver, and the actual picture was of a cresting wave, formed with blue and white glass. Even with her eyes closed, the she could distinguish between the blue and clear glass.
She allowed herself to remember every moment of the previous day. Or at least, what she could remember. It was so much beauty and splendor to take in. The gorgeous and brightly decorated stalls of the merchant district that consumed the portion of the city in front of the High Towers. Zander had explained that, while commoners were not allowed into the city, they could trade their goods to a water mage, and the water mage could sell the wares within Creón. Some mages made their entire existence from this exchange of goods.
The High Towers and the connected Gathering Hall were the only buildings visible over the walls. The High Towers were actually set in the center of a long, rectangular building in the center of the city. It was set so that the longer sides of the building ran towards the back wall and the gates. The building under the towers was where young water mages that weren’t powerful enough to denote a personal teacher were trained. It also housed the kitchens and a few halls where mages could speak with the Council. The actual towers themselves were the heart and soul of the city, where all the business of the Council took place. In fact, the towers were named Heart Tower and Soul Tower.
Off the back left corner of the building supporting the High Towers spawned the Gathering Hall. This was the largest single room Rhispla had ever seen, designed to hold every single water mage in existence.
The area either side of the High Towers contained housing for all of the traveling or lesser mages. It was also where the merchants retired to once the market was closed for the day. Behind the High Towers was the High District. It was the finest housing, given to members of the Council, permanent residents of Creón, emissaries from the High Council in Mehheron (also water mages, of course) or extremely powerful mages.
All the buildings were built exactly the same way, but for their size and opulence. Zander, a lesser member of the Council and a powerful mage, had a permanent residence that was loaned to him on the very edge of the High District. It was more of a large apartment, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting area where visitors could be received, and a small kitchen.
The outward face of every single building was the pearly white stone, carved in various places in elegant patterns that mimicked those she had seen on the bridges. It was all so perfect. All so wonderful. And she couldn’t believe it was happening to her. She had come home when she walked through those gates. She was more at home in this strange, huge city than she had ever been with her family.
Her family…her mind clamped down on the subject. It was three years in the past. Not something to think of now, not when she was happy.
She rolled over again and kicked the covers off. For a pile of stone, the entire city stayed quite warm. She would have expected that it were cold, but the residents had long ago thought up a remedy to that problem. Water was drawn from the Sapphire Sea into the city to be used for all manner of things. All of it was piped into a chamber, which was overseen by some ten or fifteen mages. They heated the water to purify it, then it was piped out. Some went to be cooled, the people used some of the warm water, and the rest ran through pipes in the walls, which in turn kept the city warm.
Fire was never used in the city, as it was the natural opposite of water. Instead of the fireplace used in Enefun, there was a large globe of water in the sitting room, through which boiling hot water was constantly pumped. The entire city was full of new marvels that Rhispla was still taking in. She was so glad she had ten years to absorb it all.
Zander gently knocked on her door. “Rhispla? I’m sorry, my dear, but I’m afraid it’s time to get up.”
Rhispla sat up in bed and placed her feet on the gleaming wooden floor. “It’s alright, Zander. I’m already awake.” She pulled on a robe and left her room.
Zander was in the kitchen, making breakfast for the two of them. He smiled at her as she stood in the doorway. “Good morning, youngling. How did you sleep?”
“Wonderfully! Everything’s so comfortable here. It’s so much to take in.” A twinge of sadness entered Rhispla’s voice. “Do you think I’ll ever be able to see it all?”
Zander’s brows came together. “The city holds many ancient secrets, most of which I don’t believe the council even knows of. Will you ever see it all? Probably not, but it is nothing to be grieved about. What you will see will keep you content for a lifetime, I promise.” Zander took the porridge off the stove and closed the pipes that allowed super-hot water through to heat food. He turned to Rhispla. “Go set the table, my dear. Breakfast first, and then we’re off to see the council.”
Rhispla gasped. “The real council?”
A smile touched at the corners of Zander’s mouth. “The entire thing.” He nodded with false gravity.
Rhispla ran forward and ducked under the steaming pot of porridge to hug Zander around the waist, then raced from the kitchen in a flurry of jubilation. Zander chuckled and followed at a pace more suited to the hot pot in his hands. “They keep telling me I’m too old for students, but they don’t seem to understand that the students are the only things which keep me young.” He smiled at Rhispla, who had set a meticulous table. He set the pot down in the appropriate place and said, “Eat up, my girl. The council awaits.”
* * * * *
“Nya? What does Sur’da’dun look like?”
Nya groaned and rolled over. “What?”
“I know what you said. Krisa, what time is it?”
Krisa paused, stroking Sither’s head. “I’m not sure.”
“Well, is the sun up yet?”
“Oh, no. We’ve got a while till the sun comes up. But you said if we did a lot of riding today, we could reach Sur’da’dun before nightfall, and I wanted to know what it looked like so I could recognize it.”
Nya closed her eyes. “Believe me, you’ll recognize it.”
“But what does it look like?”
Nya’s eyebrows went up and she said wistfully, “Gorgeous.”
Krisa stared at the woman dully. “That doesn’t help me much.”
“It’s…hard to describe. It’s one of those things you have to see to believe. Please go back to sleep, Krisa.”
“Pretend. Please. For my sake.”
Krisa paused. There was no better time to ask Nya than right now, when the woman wanted her out of her hair. “Nya, what’s the Seven?”
One of Nya’s eyes popped open. “I told you. A fairy tale. A pretty children’s bedtime story without a true, firm basis in fact.”
Krisa grinned. “Maybe a bedtime story would help me fall asleep.”
Nya realized her mistake and groaned. “You are relentless!” A tiny black fluff-ball crawled out of Nya’s discarded boots and squawked at Krisa. Krisa drew back. She had seen Nya’s familiar once before, when it had found an unlucky songbird and was tearing it to bits. It was called a fanged mouse-rat, but that didn’t tell you what it was. It was a ball of fluff that could fit into Krisa’s hand, but had serrated teeth and huge retractable fangs packed full of deadly venom. It also had quite large claws. It lacked a tail, however, so Krisa couldn’t quite figure out why it was called a mouse-rat. All she knew was that it was vicious, and it didn’t seem happy. “Hokja! Sit boy! Stay!” Nya commanded. The ball of fuzz froze where it stood and glared at Krisa with tiny, green eyes. They reminded her of chips of emeralds.
Nya reached out her hand and the mouse-rat crawled into it. “See, I’m not the only one that’s cranky when woken up in the middle of the night!”
“Well, it’s more of mid-morning…”
Nya cried in exasperation and sat up, cupping Hokja in her hands. “Alright! I give up!” She drew in a breath. “There are seven Elements today, but once there were eight. I’m not talking about what we see; I’m talking about actual beings that control the world as we know it. They live on the Black Mountain, in the heart of the Crescent Mountains. They supposedly used to venture off, but they’re contained there now.”
“Hush! It’s part of the story! There were the seven Elements we know, and then the Element of Dark. Dark wanted all life to end, so the other seven contained it. Only a united force of all seven other elements could contain Dark.
“But as conflict grew in the world, the Elements couldn’t keep their concentration on containing Dark. So, with all its power, it reached out for the strongest mage it could find, and took all its magic and life force. It filled the space left by those with pure darkness. At the same time, Dark got off the Black Mountain and created the Barrier around it. It stopped the Elements from leaving the Black Mountain.
“However, once the spell was created, it destroyed its creator. Dark was an Element off the Black Mountain, so the spell simply did what it was supposed to and destroyed it. Dark had sown its seeds in the world, though. The dark mage that had been created had to be destroyed, but the Elements were confined. So instead, they decided to do somewhat the same thing as Dark had. They each located a powerful mage of their own kind and gave that mage a piece of themselves.
“The only catch was all the mages, including the one Dark had infected, were mere babies. The seven pure Elements got each one into training as early as possible, knowing that without an Element to guide it, the dark mage would take quite some time to discover his power. They tweaked Destiny slightly so that the Seven would meet in Mehheron when the dark mage discovered what he was.
“The years passed, and the conflict came. No one is quite sure how, but dark magic sustains a dead being. The body is nothing but a containing husk for the power within. Everything appears normal, but the mage will eventually discover his power and begin to destroy. Dark mages don’t know how to do anything else. So the only way to destroy a dark mage is to destroy the dark magic. The only way to do that is to unite all seven types of pure magic. The Seven did that. The knowledge is lost to us, and all that have tried to do so since have failed. The magics have natural opposites, and they don’t mix at all.
“But they managed to destroy the dark mage by creating some sort of pure magic funnel. Dark magic cannot exist in a being when the pure magics call to contain it. The war ended quite suddenly, but the Seven were unable to destroy the Barrier around the Black Mountain. Dark magic was essentially destroyed, or at least scattered to the ends of the earth.”
“Why didn’t the Elements destroy the Barrier?”
“They can’t. An Element can’t destroy the magical creation of another Element. Go to sleep?”
“Not a chance. Could there ever be another dark mage?”
Nya paused. “Some theorize that part of the Dark Element remains in the Barrier, and thus, over a very, very long period of time, could gather all the scattered dark magic and try the same thing over again.”
“How long would that take?”
“How long ago was this?”
“Anybody’s guess is as good as mine. A very long time.”
“How did the Elements get a piece of themselves off the Black Mountain?”
”Will you go to bed if I tell you?” Krisa nodded. “Alright. They hid it in a piece of their element. A grain of dust, a breath of breeze, a ray of sunshine, something like that. It became part of that thing while still retaining its power, and therefore wasn’t destroyed by the Barrier. Then, it was somehow taken in by the chosen mage, and became part of that mage while still retaining its power. No one really knows the specifics, but that’s what we believe happened. Now go to bed.”
Everything was silent for a moment, and then Krisa whispered, “The sun is coming up.”
Nya sat up in bed and glared at Krisa. “I have half a mind to sic Hokja on you!”
“You only have half a mind?”
Nya stared at Krisa for a moment before exploding into peels of laughter. “Fine, fine, I’m up! You want to go, get the horses saddled!”
Krisa beamed and ran out of the tent happily. Nya shook her head and reached for her boots. “That girl is a piece of work.” Hokja stared at Nya purposefully. “What?” Nya demanded. “Oh, come on, I wasn’t that bad.” Hokja loosed a series of mousey laughs before crawling into Nya’s pack, still laughing. Nya got up, mumbling something about stupid rats and kids that asked too many questions.
* * * * *
Dawn was coming, Cierco could feel it. Somewhere in the depths of her soul, she was answering the approaching light. She sighed happily. Light. Color. No stone. Her nightmare was over.
Emphne shifted in the saddle and gently pulled up the horse. Cierco was suddenly reminded of his arm around her waist, and butterflies swam in her stomach. She wanted to smack herself. This was so silly. They could only steal one horse, and he didn’t want her to fall off. Besides, the man was 15 years older than her, and was her teacher. But still…
“Dawn,” Emphne breathed. Cierco closed her eyes. She had found she could see the colors much better that way. They played across the inside of her eyelids, just emerging over the dull, muddy brown-black of the earth. It was mostly pink, but Cierco could feel the pale red and bright orange slowly creeping out. Hidden behind them all was a brilliant, dazzling blue. She sighed and smiled. She would never live behind stone walls again. Emphne had assured her that Palua, their destination, contained nothing of the sort.
She had left the stone behind in the middle of the night. Emphne had awoken her from a dream of blackness and told her that Resona had denied his request to take Cierco to Palua. He had then proceeded to tell her that the stable-master was from the same little town as Cierco, Keeptown, and felt pity for her. He was giving them one of the messenger horses, which were never missed because they were gone for weeks on end, sent on strange and secret missions.
As they had made their way to the stables, they had passed through the dragon-roosts. In tiny cages had been the small, wingless white dragons. They were also called lace dragons, due to the fact that dragon breeders had bred small, dainty holes into the spinney frills that ran down the back of their head and neck. At one time, they had succeeded in making the holes conform to the patterns of lace, but those dragons either died after a year or simply went crazy. White dragons were little more than lap pets for the wealthy, and hardly rare, seeing as they were the third most common type of dragon.
Kept in stalls were the green, or earth, dragons. They were wingless as well, and basically served as majestic, fiery-tempered horses. They were usually employed in large, wealthy merchant convoys or parades where royalty needed to be protected. Demand for them had made them the sixth most common dragon type.
Lastly, in a deep pool, were the blue, or sea, dragons. Rather than feet, they had flippers, and a large frill with huge spines on it ran down their back. It was usually kept folded, but when the dragon raised it, it was a deadly weapon. Most of the dragons of this type were still wild, living in Le’Reful Lake. Eighth most common, only because very few people had a moat deep enough for this kind of moat guard.
Cierco had gaped at the dragons as long as she could before Emphne had insisted they needed to leave. She felt such pity for the lace dragons, probably the only type of dragon that was truly useless. She had wanted to set them all free, but she knew they didn’t know how to live without a hand to feed them.
Emphne sighed, bringing Cierco out of her reverie. “We should get moving. We need to reach Pafer by nightfall so we can get you a horse and get both of us some food and supplies.”
She nodded enthusiastically, willing to agree to anything Emphne said. As to where Pafer was, she had no idea. As to where Palua was, for that matter, she had even less of an idea. But Emphne knew. He had saved her once, and she knew he would never stop doing so, as long as she needed saving. She didn’t know how she knew. She just did.
* * * * *
All the windows in the High Chapel were wide open, and Rue could feel the slight breeze that coursed into the temple. It should have been warm this high up in the temple, but runes carved deep into the walls kept a constant but faint stream of air coming into the room. It was one of the cooler rooms, if you could call anything in this pile of rock cool.
He leaned on the windowsill on front of him. After his lengthy run back to the Temple, he had been declared healthy enough to walk without his cane. He was glad of the freedom he had finally gained, but he had a bit of thinking to do before he started training with Amia the next day.
What had happened to him? He remembered it all too clearly. His parents were explorers from the port city of Yana’argu. They had been mapping the coastline to the other port of Ision, Garcar, when a draft of air had caught the balloon. The draft had carried it up too high for his parents and him to breath. He had simply passed out in the center of the balloon. His parents, however, had somehow fallen over the edge.
So he was an orphan. His brow furrowed. It didn’t bother him all that much. His parents had always been gone on some quest or another, so he’d never really gotten to know them. His grandmother, who had raised him, had died a few months ago, peacefully of old age and in her sleep. That was the only reason he had been in the balloon when everything had gone wrong.
But Sarun had told him it was his call. His element, the element of air, letting him know that it was time to come and train his gift. He didn’t know about things like that. To him, it all seemed like a big, horrible coincidence.
“Hey! What are you doing here? Students aren’t allowed in the Sunroom unsupervised!”
Rue turned to face his accuser. It was a pretty girl of about his age. Blonde curls spilled down her back and large blue eyes stared at him, slightly frightened. He grinned. “Who says I’m a student?”
The girl’s eyes went very wide. “You’re…you’re a mage? Oh my, sir, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to disrupt you!”
Rue was surprised at her reaction, which sounded completely sincere. He’d expected a witty, sarcastic comment out of a girl who looked like that. He had known one like her at home, and she was always mean to him. “No, no, I’m a student. I just have this little thing.” He held up the chain that Sarun had given him, which hung from around his neck. Chips of some pale blue stone glittered from where they were set in the pure topaz pendant dangling from the chain. It was shaped in the form of the symbol of the Order of Air, a straight line flanked on either side by a curling one. It was no bigger than one of the segments of his fingers, but it was a masterwork of craftsmanship.
“The master’s recognition?” She eyed him suspiciously. “How did you get a master’s recognition? I’ve never even seen you before.”
“Well, I just got here about a week and a half ago. I was…sick. Master Sarun seems to have taken special interest in me. Sh…erm…The master gave me this so I could come up here and clear my head before I start training tomorrow.” Rue grimaced slightly at his slip-up. For some reason, he had the distinct impression Sarun was female, but it seemed that nobody in the entire temple knew any of the master’s real genders, so it was best to remain generic.
The girl set down her tray. She obviously did some sort of work around the Temple, and thus gained access to rooms like this. Rue wasn’t going to question her, not when she was glaring at him like an imposter. She walked right up and grabbed the master’s recognition out of his fingers. The chain was only so long, and Rue was at least four inches taller than her. He bent slightly at the waist to keep the chain from breaking, an action that brought his face within inches of hers. To his humiliation, he could feel his cheeks growing hot. He tried to banish the blush, glad that the girl was too busy studying his trinket to care about him.
“How did you get a master’s recognition if you haven’t even started classes yet?” She ran her fingers over the beautiful piece of jewelry.
“I’m not sure I’m going to take classes. I’m still kinda in the dark as to how this all works.”
She glared into his eyes angrily. “You mean you have your own teacher?”
Rue fidgeted slightly. Being this close to a girl who was so angry with him over something that seemed so small made him very, very nervous. “Yea.”
“Amia. Amia Soulbreeze. Look, can you let me go?”
She narrowed her eyes. “You’re one of them.” She released the necklace and returned to her tray.
Rue rubbed his neck where the chain had dug into his skin. “One of…who?”
She began filling several jars that rested in holders around the walls with a clear liquid. “The special ones. The ones that are too good for the normal-people classes, so they get their own teachers.”
“Well, Amia said something about having to take some classes…”
“’Amia this’ and ‘Amia that’. You’re all the same. You think you’re too good for the rest of us just because you’re powerful. You think you’re all better.” She stopped and poked him in the chest with her pointer finger of the hand that held the bottle. A few drops sloshed out and landed on his skin. “Well, you aren’t. You’re exactly the same. You just got more magic than we did. But you’re gonna step on the rest of us anyways. Aren’t you? Of course you are. Stuck up little shits, all of you. Fine, be that way. I’m not speaking to you anymore.”
Rue stood stock still in amazement as she moved on. Firstly, he really couldn’t believe that she’d actually swore. He was also somewhat annoyed that he had been lumped with some undefined group of people she simply referred to as ‘them’ before she even knew his name. His ten-year-old pride swelled in him and he drew himself up. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.”
”Well, I don’t like what you said. First off, I’m not one of ‘them’, whoever ‘they’ are. Why are you being so mean when I didn’t even do anything to you?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m taking the first year of training for the third time. I’ve been here since I was born. I’ve never even seen a master’s recognition before, and here you are, all ‘I’ve only been here for a week and a half’ with a bright, shiny, brand new and obviously personalized master’s recognition swinging from your neck. You didn’t have to do anything to me. I’m just stopping further things that you may do to me from happening.” She flicked her hair and turned her back on him.
Rue sighed. “Look, we sorta started off wrong. My name’s Rue. What’s yours?”
“And why exactly would you care? So you can go run off and tell your precious Amia that I wasn’t being nice? Look, just go back to being special and mean and leave me alone.”
“I’m being mean?! You’re the one who accused me! I haven’t said a mean thing yet!”
“I don’t know. You just will.”
“Why you little-“
“Children! Rue! Sokan!” Both children froze where they were. All ten masters glided into the room, Master Sarun at the point. “The High Chapel is a place of peace, prayer, and harmony. You are fouling it with your harsh words. Sokan, go back to your work. Rue, return to your chambers. I will call for you later.” Rue slunk out of the room and Sokan did as she was told. The masters knelt on the floor and bean to chant softly. Sokan filled the last jar and hurried silently from the room.
Rue eyed her as she walked past. “I’ll be seeing you around, Sokan.”
She simply passed him a perturbed look and continued on her way. He muttered, “brat,” before starting down the stairs to find a new, very long route to his chambers. Amia was not going to be happy.
* * * * *
“Tell me again. Exactly why did we have to bring her?”
Teran sighed. “Trece is an essence mage. Her power needs to be trained, just like yours does.”
“But…she’s not going to be your student?”
“I can only have one student at a time, and my services have already been committed to you. Besides which, Trece hasn’t even had her call yet. I don’t believe she’s powerful enough to warrant a personal tutor.”
“Speak of the devil,” Kron murmured. Teran shot him a glare.
“Trece, what did you find this time?”
“Nothing. Everything out here is so boring. It’s just a lot of fields and nothing. There’s no dragons, no fights, and I miss my little brother. I mean, my little sister was annoying, but my little brother was pretty cool. Why couldn’t he come with me?”
“He’s not an essence mage, Trece.”
“Well, then how come I am?”
“Small amounts of essence magic run through most dragon-breeder’s lines. It’s one of the reasons they can handle the dragons so well. Every few generations, an actual mage will pop up out of the line, but not very often, and never more than one child. Unless the children are identical twins, of course.”
Trece stared at Teran for a moment, then looked at Kron. “Did you understand that?”
“You’re the only stupid one here, Trece.”
“Hey!” The girl looked severely wounded and on the verge of tears. “I didn’t leave my home and my family to be insulted!” She pulled up her horse. “I’m staying right here!”
Kron turned his horse around and stared at her coldly. Something about this whining, complaining little girl, who was so alive and full of spunk annoyed him. His little sister was a much better person, with so many more good qualities, and yet she was the one who was dead while this brat sat on one of the finest horses he’d ever seen with the opportunity to become a mage in front of her, crying about how she was insulted. He wanted to hurt her, to make her feel bad about how stupid she was being. Before Teran could say anything, he said quietly, “At least you have a family to leave. Mine is dead. My mother disappeared into thin air a year ago and my sister was eaten alive by a disease. My life is nothing.” He pointed in the direction they were riding. “That is my life. What lies in that city is all I have. You have somewhere to go and someone that still loves you. I have nothing. If this isn’t what you want, fine. Run back to your little world and play with your little brother and sister that you miss so much and stare at the pretty dragons till your brain explodes. No matter where you end up, count yourself among the lucky, because you aren’t alone in this world. The only person I have is Teran, and as nice as he is, he isn’t my sister, and he isn’t my mother. That city isn’t my home, and the life I’m living now isn’t my life as I knew it. So either stop whining and ride with us to Epperron or turn around and run back to your precious, still intact life.” He jerked on the horse’s reins and kicked the pretty mare so she jogged forward a few paces. He didn’t care what Trece did, or what she said. He just didn’t want her to see him cry.
* * * * *
Sergo stood to one side of the traffic. He wasn’t stupid enough to stand in the middle of it. Merchant Street ran parallel to the gates, and it was the only street that actually ran through the center of Berringar. Gate Street ran the short distance between Merchant Street and the actual gates. Out of the two ends of Merchant Street blossomed Perimeter Road, which ran all the way around the remaining city.
In the center of Berringar towered the Tree of Life. As some of the builders of Berringar had set to making housing for the mages the city would accommodate, the rest had set about making the last remaining seed of the Great Wall Tree grow. It was a phenomenal success, even though it too had later given its life to the earth mages that loved it so much. It now was the center of all life in Berringar, the seat of the council and the capital of the country of Abbeck. The country was run by minimal mages that didn’t have much of a taste for magic. The city was run by the council, which was made up of some of the strongest earth mages in existence.
The housing of the city was it’s oddest attribute. The people lived in the very walls that kept them safe. The wall that ran around the city was so thick, you could have laid thirty tall men with the feet of the next person touching the head of the last across the wall and they would fit comfortably. The houses were dug into the walls and the largest ones stretched only a third of the way into the walls. Smaller houses were on the bottom hundred or so levels, and the larger ones were higher up. Walkways stretched around the entire perimeter at each level, somewhat like a balcony. There were four connecting walkways to the Tree of Life from each level, so the whole city when looked upon from above, seemed to be nothing but a tree, a mass of walkways, and a wall. Permanent residents of the city, such as the council members, had homes in the ground, much like the one Aradun had kept in the tiny village of Targu. Aradun had warned Sergo not to walk on the ground anywhere in the main city, because he had a high chance of stepping into someone’s home as they were trying to come out.
Now he stood on the edge of Merchant Street, staring at the only solid ground in the city. It was the Market of Berringar, a terrifyingly noisy place. Of course, it wasn’t the Market he had come to see. He had come to see the gates.
He still remembered how they had looked as he had approached yesterday, even through the flood and blur of images. It was a great slab of a type of stone Aradun had called Tiger’s eye. Engraved into it was the symbol of the Order of Earth, twin mountain peaks. Where white snow would have capped real mountains was a solid swath of beautiful, glinting green emeralds, cut exactly the same size and shape. On one side, great holes were bored through the slab. Vines, which grew all over the face of the walls, had threaded their way through the holes. Aradun had focused on the vines for a mere second, and they had contracted and pulled the slab out of the way enough for them to walk through side by side. Guards on either side of the gate had done much the same thing to the gate once master and student were through.
On this side of the gates, the Tiger’s eye was exactly the same as on the other side, minus the engraved picture and the inset emeralds. As Sergo stared at the huge chunk of rock he couldn’t even dream of being able to move right now, he realized how safe he felt. Usually confining spaces, such as the jail cell he had been held in for three days, made him nervous and jumpy. However, this entire city was nothing but the earth. Everything inside made him feel completely and totally safe, even though he knew there was no escape. He had full belief that escape wouldn’t be necessary.
He turned back to the nearest lift. Aradun had explained them to him. They were operated by the earth mage assigned to the duty. The earth mage sat inside of the little box of woven branches, which hung off of a vine and waited for all those who needed a lift up to one of the hundreds of levels. You waited in the designated zone for the lift to return, then you climbed inside and told the operator what level. Once your level was reached, you’d climb out of the lift and hop the railing so you were on the walkway. It was all quite simple, but still amazingly fascinating.
Suddenly, Sergo felt a tugging at his pant-leg. He looked down and smiled to see Malthu. All the dryads had looked the same to him for a few hours, but he had picked up on some very subtle differences. The way the dryad’s “hair” looked was one, and facial features were another. This dryad was definitely Malthu. He picked her up. “What news does Aradun send?” He had learned very fast that the dryads were mostly messengers in Berringar. They didn’t need to use the lifts to get up and down the levels, and so they were faster than humans. At any given time, one could see several dryads scurrying up and down the walls of Berringar on one errand or another.
“The council will see you today! You need to get back to the home and get ready!”
Sergo stared at the dryad and blinked. “Today?”
She nodded vigorously. “Not just today, but in an hour’s time! Hurry, Master Sergo!”
Sergo set Malthu down gently, trusting that she would make it back on her own, and set off at a run for the lift. His stomach was suddenly twisted into knots. He didn’t know what the council would be like, but he felt pretty sure they wouldn’t all be as friendly as Aradun. Plus, what if they also believed he had killed his family? What if they too would blame him? What if he was forced to leave?
He flew right onto the lift, which had just set down. He told the startled operator his level, and set about ordering his terrified thoughts. If they were going to try and kick him out, he wasn’t going without a fight.
* * * * *
Corin blinked as her vision fogged yet again. She squeezed her eyes shut and willed her vicious headache to go away. The nausea had stopped a few hours ago; she didn’t see why her brain still felt the need to pound as if it wanted to escape her skull.
Amaros rode up beside her and nudged her back into her saddle, which she had been about to fall out of. “It will get better.”
Corin groaned. “You’ve been saying that since I first threw up.”
“And I was right. You aren’t throwing up anymore, are you?”
“There’s nothing left…” Corin moaned weakly.
Amaros chuckled. “You would be surprised.”
Corin simply glared at him hatefully. Water was a fire mage’s natural enemy, by dictation of the elements. Water and fire were opposites, and when either element was stronger than the other, it had vicious effects on the weaker element. The stupid river they had crossed that morning was definitely stronger than any kind of untrained fire magic, and she had been sick since she had first set foot on a boat. And yet, somehow, Amaros was completely unaffected. If anything, he was in a better mood now than he had been that morning. “Why are you not miserable?”
Amaros shrugged. “All fire mages learn to counteract the effects water has on them. Rivers are part of life, as are river crossings. You’ll learn it some day.”
Corin slumped forward on Semra’s neck. “It had better be some day very soon. We have to cross that stupid river again!”
Corin sat up so fast in her saddle that her head swam and she saw at least three shades of every color before she actually saw the world again. Both horses were stopped, and the only thing holding her in her saddle was Amaros. He sighed and climbed off his horse. Then he lifted Corin off of Semra and placed her on his horse. He swung back up into the saddle behind Corin. He tied Semra’s reins around her saddle and attached a lead line to her bridle. “I can ride…” Corin murmured.
“Maybe when you stop seeing colorful explosions every time you turn your head. It’ll clear up by tonight. We’ll be staying in the middle of nowhere, and I can’t think of a better time to teach you how to contradict water.” He started both horses again.
“But you promise you’ll teach me tonight?”
“What if my headache isn’t gone?”
“It will be.”
“If it isn’t?”
“I’ll make it go away.”
Corin narrowed her eyes. “You mean I’m sitting here suffering and you can make this go away?!”
Amaros sighed. “Not a full-blown reaction like this still is, but in a few hours you’ll be able to ride and see straight, and then it becomes a lesser reaction. That I can fix.”
Corin huddled down in the protective circle of his arms, muttering about evil water and stupid magic that should work. For a few more moments, she willed her headache to go away, but eventually just decided sleep was easier. Between pounding throbs, she slipped into blissful unconsciousness and simply prayed that she found a sleep beyond dreams. Her subconscious would reek havoc on her with the kind of pains her head was experiencing.
Amaros smiled at his slumbering student. To most, she would seem obstinate and annoying, but he had grown up around fire mages, who all pretty much fit that description. However, she seemed especially susceptible to the massive mood-swings most fire mages experienced. He felt the vaguest tinges of pity for the man -or more likely, men- who fell in love with Corin. They were in for a wild ride.
|The Seven 6||The Seven 3|