“Let me get this straight,” said Veltyen incredulously. “Sery
, and you had her sign a long-term contract with the person that caused it.”
Foria remained calm in the face of his growing worry and anger. “It won’t happen again. Asher told me that Sery restored three years of reserves in a single go. As long as we stay below that, she’ll be fine.”
“Besides,” Foria added, interrupting when Veltyen was about to speak, “Sery told me that she started feeling dizzy well before she fainted, and it only happened because she pushed past the warning signs.”
“She…” Veltyen looked up, as if searching for patience. He had a very strong urge to shake something. How had he ended up with a ward who had absolutely zero sense of self-preservation?
“Don’t you dare yell at her,” said Foria in a severe tone. “She’s already spent the last two days silently berating herself for doing something that would make you worry and doing nothing but eating, studying, and sleeping.”
Veltyen blew out a breath. “I wasn’t going to yell at her.” As much as he might like to, it would not be the right approach for someone already so self-critical.
“Besides,” Foria said, going on the counterattack, “I don’t see you lining up any jobs for her.”
“She doesn’t need to work,” Veltyen protested. “She’s only been here for three weeks, and she’s apprentice-age. Apprentices aren’t responsible for their own expenses and work.”
“She might technically be apprentice-age, but she’s a full member. Age is more about life experience than time, Veltyen. In some ways, she’s much older than her years, and in some ways, much younger. Being shut up in the guild hall all day isn’t going to help her gain the normal life experiences she should have already had by now.”
Veltyen wanted to argue, but he knew Foria was right, whatever his protective instincts insisted. He sighed in a mixture of worry and aggravation. “I’ll talk to her and arrange some things she might be interested in. Where is she?” He had rather expected Sery to come running as soon as he entered the guild hall.
“In her usual study room. I told her to let me talk to you first, but she’s probably been wringing her hands for the last ten minutes. Apparently, she can sense mages in the vicinity and identify you and me.”
That fit with some of the behaviour Veltyen had seen. Nodding, he walked past Foria’s desk, towards the back of the guild.
“Don’t yell at her,” Foria called after him.
“I already said I wouldn’t,” Veltyen returned, his voice near a growl.
The row of study room doors blinked with green lights, all except for the yellow handle at the very end of the hallway. Veltyen made his way to that last door, knocked, and opened it.
Sery stared up at him with apprehension from her seat, posture rigid and hands hidden behind the desk. Judging by the position of the book in front of her, she had been waiting nervously rather than studying.
Veltyen’s gut clenched at the amount of dread in Sery’s expression – did she think he would harm her? – but deliberately kept his voice light. “What? Aren’t you happy to see me? I guess I’ll go back downstairs, then.”
He had not yet completed a quarter turn before Sery’s arms were wrapped around his waist in a hug. Chuckling, he turned back and lifted her up so their faces would be level.
Sery laid her head against his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
“You’ll be more careful next time?” he asked, letting worry colour his tone.
Matter settled, Veltyen moved on to lighter topics. “Let’s go out for dinner. You haven’t been to any of the restaurants in town, have you?
Sery shook her head. Hesitating, she asked, “Is it a fancy restaurant?”
Veltyen considered the question. “Not overly so. Why?”
“Evodie said I should change outfits for fancy dinners.”
Veltyen chuckled. “You can if you want to, but your mage robes are fine for pretty much anything short of a formal ball. Evodie has a rather skewed definition of the word ‘casual’. Let’s head home first and I’ll change, too.”
Veltyen was a step out of the study before he remembered to put Sery down. Closing the door behind them, he reminded himself to stop treating her like a child. However cute some of her mannerisms were, she had a keen intelligence and emotional maturity beyond her years. He was sure that in a few months, maybe a year or two, she would become quite the star in the world of magic and a formidable woman in her own right.
Formally tucking her arm into the crook of his elbow, he asked, “Shall we?” before moving on.
Sery took a bite of her food – ‘salmon’, something she had never tasted before – and tried to imitate Veltyen’s confident ease inside the restaurant. He wore a dark blue mage robe that fit more like a coat than a shirt, and it suited him just as well as the simple leathers he preferred. Sery nervously smoothed out the glossy purple gown she wore, hoping she looked the part as well.
Despite her unease at the unfamiliarity with the restaurant and the people inside it, Sery could see why Veltyen liked eating here. The restaurant was a small establishment with friendly, professional staff and a cozy, intimate atmosphere. A young woman played light music on a piano in the corner, quiet enough that diners could still hold murmured conversation. People were seated in ones and twos, talking to their dining partners or simply enjoying the food and the music.
Veltyen spoke. “So, how was your week?”
Sery nodded, ducking her head when Veltyen chuckled.
“You know what, I think I’m starting to glean meaning from that. Did you go out or do anything new? Foria taking you to see Asher doesn’t count.”
Sery shook her head. Trying to think of something Veltyen might find interesting, she offered, “I walked home with Asher from the guild, since we live so close together.”
Veltyen’s expression became unreadable. “Did you?” he asked in a neutral tone. “Just once?”
“…Yesterday and the day before,” Sery answered, trying to gauge his reaction. Had she done something wrong?
Her growing anxiety was soothed by a reassuring touch on her wrist before Veltyen changed the subject.
“Have you given any thought to what kind of work you might want to do?”
Sery frowned in puzzlement. “I can only do one thing.”
“Well yes, your position would be an assistant, but you can choose what kind of magic trade you want to be involved in.”
Sery was stumped by the question. She had assumed that Veltyen or Foria would decide on and arrange for what work she did.
“Is there one you’d be particularly interested in?” Veltyen elaborated. “We have craft-mages of pretty much every specialty. Devlin even produces mana crystals.”
Sery perked up in interest at Veltyen’s last words. She had read about mana crystals, the items that allowed magic to be used in the absence of a mage. She was curious to see how they were made.
Veltyen smiled. “Yeah? I’m sure he’d be happy to have you. He’s always commissioned beyond his production capacity. I’ll ask him tomorrow.”
Sery nodded happily; she would finally start being of help to Veltyen and his guild. Nerves settled by that knowledge, she took a larger bite of her meal, better able to enjoy its novelty.
“Sery? Of course I’ll take her on,” said Devlin. “To be honest, I’ve taken to making base mana crystal here at the guild hall rather than in my workshop to take advantage of her presence here,” he admitted.
“Great,” said Veltyen. “When should I tell her to be ready?”
“Hmm… I think one morning a week would be more than enough. Programming mana crystals takes a lot longer than creating them, and that part doesn’t take much magic. Let’s say, Foursdays?”
“Sure,” Veltyen agreed. He was rather surprised that a mage of Devlin’s strength would not be able to use Sery’s help for more than a half-day a week. There were no other five-star craft mages within the province, and other specialties used less magic in terms of sheer number of mana particles burned.
As if following Veltyen’s thoughts, Devlin asked. “Are you planning on organizing multiple long-term contracts for Sery? Want me to put the word out among my colleagues?” Devlin was well-acquainted with other skilled and powerful craft-mages in the country, and even ones in the neighbouring kingdoms of Llewania and Brieton.
Veltyen considered the offer carefully. “…I’d prefer if Sery didn’t need to be constantly travelling.” Sery seemed to be settling well into the stability of routine here at Eterna, especially since Foria seemed to have adopted Sery and taken care of all the details that did not occur to Veltyen. “Plus, she still has plenty to learn as a student. There’s no need for her to work full-time.”
Devlin nodded in understanding. “It’s probably for the best. I expected that someone from the Guild Association would have come over to try and lure Sery away by now, but it seems like her registration’s slipped by unnoticed. Thank bureaucracy and information coding, eh? Best keep things quiet.”
“Yeah,” Veltyen agreed. A pause as they both considered the political ramifications of having a Source, then he added, “Keep an eye on her for me. She has a tendency to push herself too hard.”
Devlin snorted. “I’m not a scatterbrained, book-bound genius like Asher,” he said, obviously having heard the story. “She’ll come to no harm with me.”
Sery woke up at the grey edge of dawn, filled with excitement. Today was Foursday, and she was going to help Devlin in his craft magic for the first time. Taking a moment to pet her toy horsie, which she had named Whisper after Magewhisper, she slipped out of bed in high spirits.
Sery paused at her closet, not quite sure what clothing would be appropriate for this occasion. After a moment, she chose a crisp, cotton mage robe Evodie had designated “for rougher work”. The sturdy cloth was still smooth and exquisitely tailored, so it would do even if she needed to look formal. Washing her face and cleaning her teeth, she was out the door just in time to meet Veltyen as he exited his own apartment.
“Morning, Sery,” Veltyen greeted wryly. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were using magic to coordinate our movements.”
“Good morning,” said Sery, not replying to the comment, which caused Veltyen to grin.
“Shall we?” he asked, formally offering his arm, a new habit that had started a few days ago.
Sery placed her hand in the approved manner with a wistful thought to when Veltyen used to wrap his arm around her shoulders to steer her around.
“What?” Veltyen asked, starting to walk downstairs. “Are you nervous about today?”
Sery looked up at him quizzically. “No…” She was excited to start working, and had no idea what prompted the question.
Veltyen held the door open and let them out onto the streets of Eterna. “Huh. I guess I never told you.”
Sery made a questioning noise.
“You emit more mana particles when you’re happy, you know.”
That was new knowledge for Sery, but she did not understand its relevance.
“I’m well-trained enough that I can detect changes in ambient magic levels, even small ones,” Veltyen continued.
Sery felt that there was an important connection she was not making. She concentrated, trying to draw a conclusion from the facts in front of her.
After a minute, Veltyen explained, “So when I sense a drop in magic, I’m going to ask what’s bothering you.”
Sery nodded her understanding… then understanding hit in a tidal wave of total embarrassment. She gasped at the shock and blushed furiously.
Veltyen noticed every time she had a childish wish or thought. Sery’s mind blanked, unwilling to picture what that meant.
Veltyen looked taken aback at the strength of her response. “Sery? Are you okay?”
Sery nodded mutely, staring at the ground and concentrating on walking. She felt as if she might never speak again. Veltyen noticed
she had a childish thought.
The rest of the walk to Eterna’s guild hall occurred in silence. Sery’s blush very gradually faded, but she did not think speech would return for another year or so.
Veltyen stopped them in front of the building. “Sery? Did I upset or offend you?”
Sery shook her head vigorously and escaped inside for breakfast, hoping that by the time Veltyen finished his morning workout with Kiera, he would have forgotten all about this entire incident.
Foria laughed until she was collapsed as Veltyen related the morning’s events. “Veltyen, I love you, but you are so dense sometimes,” she said, cheek still pressed against the smooth wood of the dining table.
“What?” Veltyen asked defensively.
“She was obviously thinking something she didn’t want you to know about, and then you threatened to interrogate her every time she had a similar thought.”
“…Oh. What doesn’t she want me to know about?”
His words set Foria into another fit of laughter. “I can guess,” she finally answered, “but I’m certainly not going to tell you.”
“Why not? It might be important,” Veltyen pressed.
“One, if it’s what I’m thinking, it’s not; two, she doesn’t want you to know; three, judging by the mortified silence of this morning, you’re going to have to let it drop if you ever want her to talk again.”
Veltyen reluctantly reined in his need to know, aware that his questioning had caused Sery far more emotional distress than the initial event he had asked about. The ambient magic level in the guild this morning felt the same as before a Source had come into his life.
“I hope I didn’t ruin her first day at work,” he murmured. “She was really excited.”
“She’ll be fine,” Foria answered. “Just leave her some thoughts to herself. A woman likes to be mysterious sometimes, you know?”
“Mission accomplished,” Veltyen muttered, still bewildered at the response he had provoked.
Foria hiccupped once, as if all laughed out.