Faced with the prospect of a multi-event competition, over half the horses, including all the youngsters not completed their training, gave up. Tyron not only authorized the use of his training facilities, he assigned a jockey of approximately Sery’s weight to them for the day, allowing them to see what the horses could do with a rider on board.
Tyron himself also turned up to watch the competition, along with his daughter, Neri. About the same age as Veltyen, Neri was on the high side of four stars as a mage and would likely take over as head breeder in the event that Tyron retired.
“I had to see Princess Silverlight actually getting off her lazy bum,” she said with a smile. Neri’s resemblance to her father was clear in the powerful build, the slightly beaky arch of the nose, and the practical clothing.
The first competition, Veltyen had decided, would be battle maneuvers, since it was the most likely that some of the horses would be lacking in the area. All Silver Meadows horses receive a small amount of training in every field as the trainers figured out their areas of strengths and weaknesses, but for some of them, battle maneuvers would have been taught years ago, with no practice since then.
Magewhisper had also insisted that he and Veltyen take part in the competition. Veltyen could not decide whether the stallion thought it would help them judge the best partner for Sery, or he just wanted to pit his skills against the best horses in the Seven Kingdoms.
Veltyen sat on Magewhisper’s back in the middle of a large outdoor enclosure. At various spots along the fence, numerous assistants were setting up magic-powered dummies that would chase after them and attempt to whack them with chalk-covered batons. The challenge was to avoid and/or inactivate the dummies with a well-placed kick, with the assistants releasing more dummies at irregular intervals as time passed. In real combat, Veltyen would of course help in the fighting, but for this challenge, he was simply a passenger. The challenge would end when either he or Magewhisper received a chalk ‘wound’ that was considered crippling or fatal.
“Ready?” one of the assistants called from the fence.
Veltyen waved his arm to signal yes.
Five dummies came forward, batons raised. Veltyen grinned. “Let’s show them how it’s done, buddy.”
Magewhisper trumpeted a challenge and began to move.
The stallion charged at the nearest dummy in an aggressive move that fit his and Veltyen’s combat specialties, though Veltyen hoped that Sery’s partner would be more prone to running to safety. Deftly dodging to the side, Magewhisper avoided the baton strike, then spun and kicked with his hind legs, neatly hitting the dummy with the required force to turn it off. He did the same with the other four dummies before the next wave was timed to be released. Assistants ran onto the field to collect the dummies for re-use.
Veltyen grinned as the stallion struck a cocky pose. From the side, Tyron called, “Triple the release rate!”
“Triple? Isn’t that a bit unfair?” Veltyen called back.
“Your lad has five years of real combat experience,” Tyron called back. “You want to sit on his back like a sack of potatoes for the rest of the day?”
Four dummies rolled out, followed by another three less than a minute later.
Veltyen swore and ducked as a chalk-covered ball whizzed by his head. “What was that?” he yelled at Tyron.
“It’s to simulate ranged weapons,” the breeder answered with slightly too much glee in his voice.
Veltyen kept his body plastered to Magewhisper and the stallion was able to avoid both the batons and chalk balls easily until his
began running low. Veltyen could immediately feel the difference as the stallion’s breathing became laboured. “Want to call it?” he asked.
Magewhisper shook his head and faced the next dummy charging forward, waiting until the last second to dodge and kick to conserve energy. He walked a few paces away to allow the assistants to retrieve the dummy while other dummies attacked.
Just then, a huge wave of mana particles hit Veltyen, drowning him in pleasure for a moment before passing as quickly as it had come. Magewhisper perked up,
Veltyen jerked his head instinctively in Sery’s direction. Sery waved and called, “Go, Magewhisper!”
In response to the stallion’s newly revitalized posture, Tyron called, “Double the release rate again!”
“Sir, we don’t have enough dummies,” said one of the assistants.
“Then get more ball-launchers!”
In the end, it was the ranged weapons that ended the game, Magewhisper heroically rearing up to take the impact on his chest rather than allowing it to hit Veltyen. The stallion then jokingly staggered and fell to the ground, allowing Veltyen plenty of time to jump clear.
Veltyen stood over Magewhisper’s ‘dead’ body and waited for the stallion to get up. After thirty seconds of inactivity, he bent down and brushed off the pink chalk ‘wound’ on the stallion’s chest. “Okay, buddy,” he said dryly, “You’re alive.”
Magewhisper whickered in amusement and stood. They walked to the edge of the enclosure where Tyron was to applause from the assistants and the small crowd that had gathered to watch.
“That was really something!” Neri exclaimed. “I think you shattered the record by fifty times!”
Veltyen snagged Sery by the shoulders and said, “It helps if someone’s constantly refilling your horse’s
during the challenge. Did I know you could do that?”
Sery leaned against him. “I’ve been practicing,” she answered with a hint of pride.
Tyron shook his head. “We’ll have to buy more dummies.”
Neri laughed. “I don’t think we need to prove that our horses can fight off an entire army, father.”
Then it was the other horses’ turn to go. None of them lasted nearly as long as Magewhisper, but several made a decent showing, lasting over an hour and demonstrating several times that they would have been able to break away and flee in a real situation.
Silverlight stood out, but not in a positive way. She attempted the same aggressive style as Magewhisper had used, but without nearly enough practice to pull it off. Her rider, a non-mage named Erlan, sustained several chalk wounds that were deemed non-debilitating, the challenge continuing.
Veltyen frowned. It was clear to him that the mare was intent on showing off rather than protecting her rider. “I really don’t recommend choosing Silverlight, Sery. I think you’ll end up getting hurt if you do.”
“Okay,” Sery agreed readily.
“Looks like she’s trapped,” Tyron commented as a group of seven dummies surrounded Silverlight in a ring. He stretched his arms. “Glad she’s the last. This took a lot longer than I thought it would. We’ll have enough time to run the race before the end of the day.”
Just then, Silverlight pulled off an extreme maneuver that had her jumping, twisting, and kicking out. She got herself out of the trap – but her rider went flying in the other direction, landing heavily on the ground.
“Erlan!” Tyron and Neri vaulted over the fence and ran to the fallen rider. Veltyen moved to follow, pausing to assist Sery when she began to follow.
By the time Veltyen and Sery had made it to the rider, Erlan was sitting up, gingerly rubbing his right side and arm.
“Three broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder,” Neri announced grimly. “If Silverlight had done this while we were still drained…”
“She certainly isn’t suitable as a mage mount,” said Tyron. “I’m not sure she’s suitable for anything, at this point.”
“I’m just glad I decided to wear a helmet this morning,” Erlan remarked.
The words made Veltyen go cold as he realized he had not acquired a helmet for Sery in all the time she had been riding with him and Magewhisper. Veltyen himself was extremely negligent when it came to protective equipment due to the fact that he could manipulate his clothing, his hair and skin, and even the air around him, in the event of a fall, and he had forgotten this crucial aspect of Sery’s safety. Magewhisper would never throw Sery on purpose or due to fright as a regular horse would, but there was still a chance that he could lose his balance. At the speeds he travelled at, a fall without a helmet would likely be fatal.
Sery nudged him, expression concerned. “Are you okay?”
Veltyen took a breath and tried to calm down. Sery had never ridden Magewhisper without Veltyen right behind her. He would have been able to cushion her in the event of an accident. “I need to buy you a helmet,” he answered quietly.
Sery nodded and slipped her hand into his, unobtrusively lending him comfort while everyone else turned their attention to Silverlight.
The mare walked slowly back, head down, clearly realizing the severity of her actions.
“You’re out of the running, Silverlight,” Neri announced. “Go home.”
Silverlight tossed her head up in surprise.
“What? You think we’d let you go out and kill a mage that trusted us to provide her with a quality partner?” Neri asked in a cutting tone. “Nobody cares how fast you can run or how large your
is when you’re too self-absorbed to care about anyone but yourself.
Silverlight wheeled and fled, jumping over several fences and maintaining full speed until she was out of sight.
Tyron helped Erlan stand. “I think you’re done for the day,” he told the jockey.
Erlan agreed. “Yusef and Iolan are about the right weight as well,” he said helpfully.
“Actually, let’s get all the riders to gather,” said Tyron. “For a race with full
, weight shouldn’t matter too much, and I want to finish this in one race.”
Six horses besides Magewhisper lined up at the start of the steeplechase course, each bearing a rider.
Windsprint was a tall five-year-old stallion just out of training. Descended on both sides from Silver Meadows’ ‘Wind’ line, he was bred for speed and one of the favourites to win the race.
Manalight was a seven-year-old mare. From the ‘Mage’ and ‘Light’ lines, both focusing on magic power, her
was just shy of three stars.
Silver Adamant was a six-year-old stallion who had previously been in training as an all-rounder in multi-event competitions and had done particularly well in the battle maneuvers challenge. The ‘Silver’ line granted him well-rounded talents, while the ‘Gem’ side of his heritage was designed for high physical endurance and efficient mana particle conversion. Tyron would be sorry to see him leave as a mage mount if he won.
Firestorm was an eight-year-old stallion from the ‘Fire’ and ‘Wind’ lines. The ‘Fire’ line was bred for explosive bursts of magic use to allow for extremely fast sprints or feats of strength. Given a constant supply of magic by Sery, Tyron thought he might win by a large margin.
Silver Star was a five-year-old mare from the ‘Silver’ and ‘Light’ lines. Though her breeding was not quite as extensive as Silverlight’s forty generations, it was the most ancient of the horses left in the competition, giving her an advantage in general abilities and magic strength. She was quite intent on a career as a mage mount, but Tyron hoped to enter her in a few shows before she found a partner to show off her superior conformation.
Noticeably smaller than the others was a six-year-old mare named Mindseye. A first-generation project, she was descended from the clever mountain ponies of the Vitten Mountains in the east, Tyron described her as very intelligent but lacking in magic power simply due to the limitations of what could be done in a single generation of life-magic. She had also done quite well at the previous challenge, hopping back and forth along the fence edge to stymie the dummies.
Magewhisper carried Sery along with Veltyen. Sery had explained that she could not send magic more than a hundred paces or so, so she would have to be along for the race in order to keep everyone’s
Snug on Sery’s head was a helmet. Veltyen had buckled it into place himself, making Sery promise that she would wear one while riding. It was an easy promise to make that seemed to ease the anxiety that had gripped him since the jockey’s fall that afternoon.
“Okay, so the distance from Eterna to Windermere should be about fourteen times around the course,” Tyron announced. “We’ve left some of the obstacles in place, but no one is under any obligation to jump or traverse them if that is not the fastest way through the course. Any questions?”
Riders and mounts shook their heads.
“Good luck, everyone.” Tyron waved at Neri, who stood with the starting flag a hundred paces in front.
Neri raised the flag. The horses stood absolutely still, focused and ready.
Neri swept the flag downwards, then scrambled off the course as nine silver horses surged forward.
Sery immediately fell into a light trance and began to create the ‘mana field’, a technique she had read about a month ago and was pleased to find worked pretty well. Her ability to sense
extended to the size of the field, and she was satisfied that all the horses in the race were adequately covered.
“Sery,” Veltyen said in a strained voice. “Could you… turn it down?”
It was hard to turn when Magewhisper ran at a full mage-gallop, but Sery managed to turn her head enough to see Veltyen’s face.
“None of the horses are greater than two-star mages,” Veltyen explained. “I don’t think you need to… send this much magic.”
Sery realized that she had automatically created a field that would allow Veltyen to use the entirety of his
without strain. She turned down the mana particle output until she could barely feel the fizzy magic leaving her skin.
Veltyen sighed in relief. “That’s better.”
Sery worried. Everyone always told her that it felt good when she transferred magic to them, but they were constantly bracing themselves before she did so and Devlin had even asked her to slow down the mana particle flow. It seemed to her that they were reacting to pain. What if she was hurting Veltyen and her friends? She resolved to clarify matters when she had time.
To everyone’s surprise, the winner of the race was Mindseye, the first-generation mage mount descended from pony stock.
“I had no idea she would be that fast,” Tyron said in shock. “Honestly, the intent with that project is to create a new ‘Mind’ line that emphasizes intelligence, not physical gifts.”
Veltyen chuckled. “I think you succeeded. As far as I can tell, she was simply the best at adjusting to having unlimited magic to burn. You’ll notice that Magewhisper had no problems keeping up while carrying two riders. The rest of the horses were still somewhat conserving their mana stores.”
Sery hesitantly approached what was tentatively her new partner. Mindseye was noticeably shorter and stockier than her graceful brethren, though her coat was just as glossy a silver and the alignment of her limbs still perfectly balanced. The pony took a friendly step forward and nudged Sery with her nose.
Sery smiled and petted the pony while Veltyen and Tyron continued to talk.
“Oh, we succeeded, all right. Mindseye over there only has a one-star
, but she’s a real mage. Manifested mage-lights at the age of six weeks.”
Sery gasped. Mage-lights were an ability common to all mages, regardless of magic type – except for Sources. “Can I see?” she whispered to Mindseye.
A small speck of light blinked into being just in front of Sery’s nose. She gasped again, hugging the pony in delight.
Looking over, Veltyen chuckled. “It’s just a mage-light, Sery. I can make you a dozen any time you want.”
Sery nodded, for once not meeting Veltyen’s gaze. He thought of her powers as amazingly powerful, but when it came to day-to-day life, Sery was essentially a null. She could not even recharge the mana crystals in her apartment, having to rely on Veltyen or Foria to come over every few days.
Sery felt bad about having to bother such busy people with such a trivial task, but she thought that Mindseye – as her
– would not mind helping her. “Do you really want to be my partner?” she whispered to the pony. “I can’t do magic, but I can refill your
so you can do it for both of us.”
Mindseye nodded, and Sery found herself tearing up. She hugged the pony –
pony – again, hiding her face in Mindseye’s silver mane so that Veltyen would not see. “Can I call you Mindy?” she asked, again in a whisper.
Mindseye nodded again.
“I’m not very good at riding,” Sery added apologetically. She still half-expected Mindseye to decide that she wanted a better partner and back out of the agreement.
Mindseye whickered comfortingly. She nudged Sery towards Tyron and Veltyen, positioning herself to make it clear she and Sery were a unit.
Tyron grasped the situation at a glance. “So it’s decided,” he said with a smile. “Let’s go do the paperwork.”