Sery placed her horse plushie on her new pillow, which was on her new bed, in her new bedroom, in her new apartment. It all seemed so surreal. Who was she, to deserve such a life?
“Hey, what are you thinking so hard about?”
Sery looked up to see Veltyen leaning casually in the doorway. She frowned; he seemed to be acting as if he was not allowed to enter. Sery went over and insistently tugged at his arm until he crossed the threshold with laughing protests.
“Sery, you really shouldn’t let…” Veltyen trailed off and sighed. “There’s no use explaining, is there? You’d make me come in anyways.”
Sery was not quite sure what Veltyen was talking about, but nodded. After all, it was really his apartment, so Veltyen should be able to come and go as he pleased.
Veltyen laughed. “Not a trace of misgiving, either.” He ruffled her hair, then wrapped an arm around her shoulders and steered them into the living room.
The addition of furniture and decorations had transformed the formerly empty space. The chairs and tables were delicately-carved pieces of light blond wood, the cushions and curtains rich cerulean blue. Comfortable rugs graced the floor, an ornate clock hung on the wall, and there were even potted plants in the corners.
Veltyen looked around. “Did we forget anything?” he wondered aloud.
Sery shook her head vigorously. In her opinion, even such a generously-sized apartment was dangerously close to becoming overcrowded with all the things Veltyen felt were “necessary”.
Veltyen chuckled. “I suppose I went a little overboard. I didn’t want to forget anything.”
Sery simply nodded and leaned contentedly against Veltyen. Maybe she did not deserve such generosity, but she felt warm inside at being so taken care of.
Veltyen chuckled again. “Not going to argue with me, I see. Let’s go do something to celebrate your moving in.”
Veltyen pressed his palm against his apartment’s communication crystal. He had ordered one for Sery’s apartment, but a mage-crystal device would take months to finish. There was no such thing as a rush order when it came to craft mages.
Foria’s image appeared on the screen. “Hey Veltyen, I was just about to call you.”
Veltyen felt a sinking feeling in his gut. “A job?”
“Urgent posting in Nottagan,” Foria agreed. “Apparently, a madman has barricaded himself in city hall and is throwing balls of blasting powder at anyone who approaches. They’ve already evacuated everyone safely, but there’s nobody there who can get close enough to disarm him.”
Veltyen sighed; this was a true emergency he could not ignore. “I’ll go. I wanted to take Sery out to do something fun today.”
Foria looked at him as if he were slightly dense. “Take her with you. Magewhisper can get you there faster if she’s along, and it’ll take you what, five minutes to finish the job once you get there? Then you can enjoy a night out in the big city afterwards, visit Taine and Evodie.”
pretty dense at that moment. “Good idea. Ahem, let them know I will be there in three to four hours.”
Foria raised her eyebrows. “I didn’t know Magewhisper was
fast. You should take Sery on all your trips.”
“Talk to you later, Foria.” Veltyen ignored the suggestion; as if he would drag Sery along on dangerous jobs just to lessen his travel time.
“I’ll let them know you’re coming.” The communication screen blanked out.
Veltyen walked out to his living room where Sery sat neatly on the couch. She looked up expectantly at his approach.
“A job just came in for me in Nottagan,” he informed her as he walked to his equipment stand and picked up his kite shield, slinging it over his back. “Want to come with me? We can go visit Taine and Evodie afterwards.”
Sery nodded and fell in beside him as he headed for the door.
Veltyen set a brisk pace as they headed for the guild stables. “Sorry,” he said to a slightly breathless Sery, “the situation is a bit urgent in Nottagan.”
Sery shook her head at his apology and kept up with his longer strides.
When they reached the stables, Magewhisper came in from the pasture without being called. Veltyen reached for the tack as he explained the situation to the stallion. “Urgent posting in Nottagan. Think you could give us a ride?”
Magewhisper snorted and ignored Veltyen in favour of greeting Sery.
Veltyen chuckled as he efficiently strapped the saddle into place. “Traitor. All our years of partnership meant nothing.”
Within minutes, they were mounted and on their way out of Eterna. Magewhisper confined himself to a trot within the crowded city streets, but as soon as they reached the open roads, he stretched his strides and picked up the pace, soon surpassing even a horse’s sprint in speed. Known as a “mage-gallop”, this pace required a mage-bred horse to burn mana just to achieve and maintain speed rather than simply using it to replenish endurance. It burned mana so quickly that Magewhisper could only keep it going for five minutes before exhausting his
Showing no fear at the breakneck pace, Sery placed her hand against Magewhisper’s neck and closed her eyes in concentration. She seemed to fall into a trance, enough so that Veltyen had to tighten his arms around her waist to keep her in the saddle.
Whickering in satisfaction at the magic boost, Magewhisper went impossibly faster. The landscape flashed past in an indistinct blur. The wind whipped tears from Veltyen’s eyes before he narrowed them to slits.
Veltyen felt a little in awe of Sery at the moment. Mages did magic, but this moment made it clear that she
Magewhisper slowed down to a canter, then a trot, no longer drawing from his
Leaving the stallion’s mana stores replenished, Sery opened her eyes to the busy streets of a city she had seen once before.
“Are you tired?” Veltyen asked from behind her.
Sery shook her head. It had taken concentration to feed Magewhisper a steady trickle of magic, but the stallion had not actually taken very much from her, his stores –
, she reminded herself from the textbooks – a hundred times smaller than Veltyen’s.
Veltyen took her at her word. “I’m headed to city hall. Want to come? I can drop you off at Taine’s if you want.”
Sery shook her head. “I want to come with you.” She did not mind waiting while Veltyen performed whatever job he had accepted.
“Okay. It won’t take long.”
Magewhisper took them down a major road that eventually led to a barricade surrounded by curious bystanders. He dropped to a walk and picked his way through the crowd, coming to a stop in front of the uniformed men guarding the barricade.
Veltyen reached into his pocket and pulled out a card that he handed to one of the men. The man scrutinized the card, then Veltyen’s face. “Indei. We weren’t expecting you for another hour or two. Go right in; the boss is at the main entrance.” He returned the card and helped his partner shift the barricade so Magewhisper could step through.
Seeing Sery’s interest in the card, Veltyen handed it to her to inspect as Magewhisper continued up the street.
The card was a small, thin rectangle of some silvery metal. On the left side was a portrait of Veltyen looking younger than he was now. The rest of the card was etched with Veltyen’s name and mage credentials. She read:
Date of birth: 4
of Thirdsmonth, year 740 post-Archmages’ War
Magic: Materials Rating: * * * *
Specialization: Combat (Gold), Defence (Gold), Escort (Gold), Demolition (Bronze)
Animal partner: Magewhisper, horse Magic: Life Rating: * *
Sery returned the card and looked up to see a grand stone building fronted with carved, cylindrical columns and wide, shallow steps that led to enormous double doors. A giant clock tower stood from its centre.
One leaf of the double doors was slightly ajar and several uniformed men crouched beside it, peering inside.
Magewhisper halted at the base of the steps and Veltyen dismounted. “Stay here with Magewhisper, will you?” he asked as he lifted her down.
Veltyen released her with a pat and jogged up the steps, taking three at a time with his long legs. He conversed briefly with the men at the door, then unslung his shield from his back and slipped inside, alone.
Less than a minute later, loud explosions sounded from the building. Heart pounding in anxiety, Sery leaned against Magewhisper and stared harder at the doors as if she could see through them with sheer willpower. What was this job Veltyen was on?
The sound of explosions was replaced with a man’s hysterical screaming; the voice was not Veltyen’s.
Magewhisper whuffled in her hair, concerned about her distress, but clearly not worried about Veltyen. Sery attempted to take deep breaths despite a chest that felt tight with worry.
The screaming grew louder until Veltyen emerged, dragging a man who was struggling frantically and screaming nonsense phrases mixed with obscenities. Sery relaxed fractionally. Veltyen looked completely unharmed and was moving with his usual grace, having little trouble despite the other man’s efforts to escape.
He was fine, he was fine, he was—
The glint of a knife that the madman pulled out and stabbed at Veltyen’s gut. Sery’s vision went white and a roaring filled her ears.
A clink as the madman’s knife was deflected by his magically-reinforced leathers had Veltyen looking down. Protected by his gloves, Veltyen grabbed the knife by the blade and wrested it away as the constables moved in to help restrain the madman.
Veltyen immobilized the man’s arms as the constables searched him for additional weapons and found none. He passed the knife over to one of the constables as the team dragged the madman down the steps.
Veltyen turned to the head constable, who had remained beside him. “No surprises,” he reported, having to raise his voice to be heard over the screams. “He was exactly where you said he was. Threw two bombs at me before I reached him, but I deflected them into the air. No structural damage to the building. There’s still a stockpile of explosives inside.”
The head constable nodded sharply. “Good job, Indei. Never a great situation when we have to call you, but you always handle it well.” They shook hands and the chief walked off to direct a clean-up crew into the building.
As soon as the madman was cleared of weapons, a mind-healer rushed over and placed her hand against his forehead. He calmed, his screams and thrashing subsiding before he fell asleep. The constables carried him over to a covered wagon that would take him to a mental hospital.
Relaxing his defensive magic after his completed job, Veltyen looked over at Sery and Magewhisper. Just then, the stallion trumpeted an alarm as Sery swayed on her feet before slumping into an uncoordinated seat on the ground. Her eyes stared straight ahead, wide open and unblinking.
Veltyen jumped the entire set of steps, automatically cushioning his boots for impact and landing in a crouch right next to Sery. He gathered her into his arms. “Sery? Sery!”
The mind-healer came over and placed a hand over Sery’s forehead. “Panic attack,” she announced after a moment, withdrawing her hand. “She’ll come out of it in a minute.”
Veltyen was both relieved that this was not something more life-threatening and puzzled. What could have happened to trigger a panic attack? “Thank you,” he said to the mind-healer. She nodded and returned to her wagon.
“Did something happen?” Veltyen asked Magewhisper. The stallion shook his head.
Sery’s breathing returned to a more normal pattern and she stirred. Shuddering, she leaned into him and pressed her face against his chest. Veltyen stroked her hair soothingly. “Shhh. It’s all right.”
Aware of the many curious eyes on them, Veltyen stood, bringing Sery with him. “Let’s get out of here.”
His attempt to lift her into the saddle was hindered when Sery turned towards him and ran a hand along the left side of his abdomen as if she was looking for something.
It took him a second to understand her actions. “Were you worried about
” he asked in surprise. The madman’s attack with the knife had been so inconsequential, Veltyen had almost forgotten it already.
“He s-stabbed you.” Sery’s voice trembled.
“Sery, nothing short of a weapon charged with more magic than my entire
stores will ever make it through my armour, and that’s only if I stand around and let it hit me.”
Sery nodded, gaze rooted to the ground.
It would clearly take more than a few words to reassure her of his safety. Veltyen would convince her another time.
“Come on. I’ll convince you of my invincibility later.” This time, Sery cooperated and he lifted her into Magewhisper’s saddle, climbing up behind her.
Two hours later, Veltyen stood next to Taine in the infirmary and helped the healer restock supplies. Sery, Evodie, and Melayna were ensconced in the side room, working on new clothing for their planned outing this evening.
Taking advantage of the alone time, Veltyen described Sery’s earlier panic attack. “I don’t quite understand,” he confessed. “Earlier at Eterna, I could see how Benni’s
attraction technique could bring up bad memories, but I don’t see how today could be related to her past.”
Taine sighed and stopped moving supplies to look at Veltyen. “I don’t think it had anything to do with her past today. It was you.”
“What was me?”
“You’re her anchor. Completely understandable given the circumstances, but Sery relies on you to an extent that would be unnatural in normal conditions. Seeing you physically threatened would probably scare her more than being physically threatened herself.”
“But I wasn’t in any danger,” Veltyen protested.
“Doesn’t matter. She doesn’t
that down to her bones. Plus, I doubt you gave her much warning beforehand about what she might see, did you?”
“No,” Veltyen admitted guiltily. “I guess I didn’t explain anything at all.”
“You’re not used to being responsible for someone, let alone someone who knows very little of the world. You’re doing remarkably well. A panic attack won’t harm her in the long run. Just think a little before you do things. They might seem trivial to you and even the rest of the world, but look at it from Sery’s perspective.”
“Yeah,” Veltyen agreed. They finished stocking the supplies in contemplative silence.
The side door opened and Evodie sailed out in her usual fashion, dressed impeccably in the latest fashions. Her mage-robe was a floor-length gown of deepest green that complemented her blonde ringlets. Melayna followed in a similar robe of burnt gold. Last… came Sery.
Sery entered the main room with careful steps, clearly unused to the short heels on the shoes she wore. Her rich blue gown was technically a mage-robe in that it could be put on as a jacket, but below the waist, the right side wrapped over the left in a full circle around her body, creating a full skirt. Her silver hair was confined to an elegant bun at the nape of her neck and small, sapphire earrings twinkled in her ears.
Veltyen blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Were your ears pierced before?”
Sery shook her head.
“We did it just now,” Melayna answered, flicking her fingers to indicate that she had used magic to heal the piercings.
Belatedly remembering his manners, Veltyen swept into a full court bow, one knee dropping to the ground while the matching arm swept backwards. “You look lovely, ladies.”
Melayna giggled and Sery watched with wide eyes, but Evodie looked less than impressed. “A court bow in riding leathers is simply
, my dear. And if you think I am going to let you accompany us to the symphony wearing them, you have another think coming.” Evodie began to push him determinedly towards the room where her cloths and tools were still unpacked.
Taine laughed. “I’ll just go change.” He disappeared into his living quarters upstairs.
Melayna joined the battle to move Veltyen into the fitting room. At her and Evodie’s urging, Sery picked up Veltyen’s hand and tugged.
Veltyen laughed and gave in, walking under his own power. He could wear fancy robes for one night.