Sery slowly opened her eyes, the smell of food making her stomach growl. Turning her head, she saw her rescuer sitting beside the bed. His expression became alert as she moved.
“You’re awake. Are you hungry?”
Sery nodded, and after helping her sit up, he passed her a tray of soup that had been sitting on the bedside table.
She picked up her spoon and scooped up the broth, sneaking glances at her rescuer while she consumed the meal.
He was a young man in this mid-twenties, lean and fit, dressed in the same leather armour he had been wearing earlier. His eyes were a clear gray, his hair a reddish-brown streaked with silver that matched her own hair colour. He looked every inch a soldier, not at all what she pictured as “mage” in her limited knowledge. She was curious, but deeply engrained habits told her to watch and wait, to learn what she could through observation rather than asking directly.
When she finished the soup, Sery placed the tray back on the bedside table without help. Apart from some lingering weakness in her limbs, she felt fine. In fact, she was so comfortable that everything felt slightly surreal, from the softness of the bed she sat in, to the warmth of the room, to the handsome stranger who sat next to her, and made her feel safe with his presence.
He spoke. “Sery, I need to ask you a few questions.”
Sery nodded, listening attentively.
“Were you with Dreible of your own free will?” The tone of the words implied that her rescuer already knew the answer, but had to ask anyways. Sery shook her head.
“Was he using you to fuel his own magic?”
Sery nodded, unconsciously crossing her arms and rubbing the numerous silvery scars that marked them. Her attention was drawn to her left arm when her fingers touched the raised scar from her most recent wound. Unlike the flat marks of Dreible’s magic leeching, it was a bumpy mass of scar tissue a few inches above her left elbow. She examined it curiously.
“I’m sorry about that.” Her rescuer’s voice was laced with regret.
Sorry? Sery looked up and shook her head in denial.
“What is that supposed to mean? You
Sery nodded, causing him to break into a gentle smile. “Now you’re teasing me.”
She tilted her head in confusion, then smiled as she caught the humour in nodding to confirm the ability to speak. After years of having no one to talk to, it felt difficult to begin using her voice. She made an effort for this stranger with kind eyes.
“Don’t be sorry.” Her voice came out smoothly, but very softly.
His smile dimmed, and she felt its loss. “I hurt you.”
“You saved my life,” she countered. When he failed to look convinced, Sery impulsively reached out to touch his hand. At his startled reaction, she immediately began to withdraw, but he turned his hand over and gripped her fingers gently.
“Are you seducing my patient?” came a teasing voice from the doorway. A man stood there, smiling. Sery blushed and hid her hands under the blanket.
“Sery, this is Taine Sillei, one of my friends and one of the finest healers in the kingdom of Oslethia,” Veltyen introduced.
Sery matched a face to the voice she had heard before. Taine-the-healer was rather older than her rescuer; he had an ageless face that, combined with the silver streaks in his hair, made it difficult to guess exactly how old he was.
“How are you feeling, young lady?” Taine walked further into the room, coming to stand next to the bed.
The new presence in the room made speaking hard again. Sery nodded in response to the question, causing the healer to look puzzled and the man seated beside her to smile anew.
“If you keep this up, you’ll be known as Sery the Silent.”
Sery mustered up her courage and forced out two words. “I’m fine.” Again, her voice was very quiet.
“Good, good.” Taine’s voice was relaxed and unworried. “You shouldn’t have any trouble with your arm, but take it easy for a few days and make sure you eat some red meat.”
“I’ll take you home tomorrow.”
The words ripped through the comfortable fog Sery had been drifting in. She clenched her fists and looked down. Where was her home? She had nothing, not even the knowledge of her birthplace.
“Sery? What’s wrong?” She looked up into the concerned face of her rescuer. For some reason, the sight made tears well up. Sery cried.
The sight of Sery’s tears made Veltyen move instinctively. He picked her up and shifted her onto his lap, murmuring, “Hey, shh. It’s okay.” He exchanged a look with Taine, and the healer quietly left the room.
For a while, Veltyen simply held the girl, making soothing noises and letting her hide her face against his chest. Sery cried silently, only the irregularity of her breathing betraying her state of distress. He felt a fierce tenderness being born, for this brave girl who had been through so much and yet rested so trustingly in his embrace.
He lost track of time. It could have been a minute or an hour later that Sery’s breathing steadied and she began to wipe impatiently at her tears. He smiled at her show of spirit, and sensed that she was better for the emotional release, after the events of the day. “Are you okay now?” he asked.
She nodded. Taking a deep breath, she said, “I don’t remember where I’m from.” Her soft, sweet voice trembled.
Veltyen frowned in confusion. “Do you have amnesia?”
Sery shook her head. “It’s just been so long…”
He went cold at what her words implied. Hoping he had misunderstood, he asked carefully, “How long have you been gone?”
Sery hid her face against his neck before she answered. “Eight years.” If her mouth had not been right next to his ear, the words would have been inaudible.
Veltyen’s arms tightened involuntarily. He had assumed she had been missing for weeks or months.
. He battled with rage because it was not the emotion Sery needed from him.
After an invisible struggle, he shelved his anger for later. “Were your parents mages?” he finally asked, looking for a clue to help identify her origins.
Sery shook her head. “Farmers.” More quietly she added, “Everybody thought I was weird because of my hair colour.”
The comment was a welcome distraction. “You’re not weird. All mages have silver hair.” Veltyen tilted his head so Sery could see the streaks of silver that ran through his short hair. There were three stripes that looked like decorative highlights, though he was not one of the mages who wasted magic to bleach his hair into a specific pattern.
Sery brushed the tips of her fingers across the stripe that ran from his left temple. “I’ve never seen anyone with silver hair before.”
“It’s a mage trait.” Apparently, Dreible was too weak a mage to exhibit the bleaching effect, and had not drained Sery often enough to show it. Veltyen did not mention the mage’s name; convicted of slavery and sent off to the mining camps of the north, he was not someone Sery ever had to think about again.
. Death was too good for the man.
Sery hung her head. “I’m not a real mage,” she whispered. “I can’t do magic.”
Veltyen deliberately lightened his voice to cheer her up. “If you have magic, you’re a mage.” He recalled the information on Sources that Taine had explained to him, and added, “Besides, you can push magic into someone else, right?”
Sery nodded. To demonstrate, she sent a pulse of magic into Veltyen. Caught unprepared, he involuntarily jerked, his whole body tightening.
Sery looked apprehensive. “Did that hurt?” she asked.
“Ah, no. Just… warn me before you do that, okay?”
Quite the opposite of pain, the rush of magic had felt like life itself. It felt like the freedom of running so fast it was like flying, like the first breath of spring, like the sweet taste of water that quenched the thirst. It felt like… a heated kiss.
. Veltyen wrenched his thoughts back under control.
Sery still watched him with wide eyes, completely unaware that she was testing his self-control. What had they been talking about? Ah, yes. “As I was saying, you’re a mage, and any mage guild would welcome you with open arms.”
Sery appeared contemplative for a moment, then asked, “Are you in a mage guild?”
“Yes.” Veltyen pushed up his left sleeve to reveal his guild mark, a stylized infinity symbol tattooed to the inside of his wrist. “I’m in the Eterna guild. Its headquarters are about a day’s ride from here.”
Another moment of thought, then Sery asked in her quiet way, “Can I join?”
“Eterna?” Veltyen asked.
“You don’t want to try to find your family?”
Sery shook her head.
Veltyen studied her for a long moment, wondering at the thoughts behind her crystal-blue eyes. Whatever they were, she looked sure of her decision.
“If you want to join Eterna, I don’t see a reason the guildmasters would object.” Veltyen solidified his plans about Sery’s future. “Get some rest, and we’ll head for Eterna tomorrow.” He slid Sery back onto the bed.
Veltyen’s eyes caught on the manacles still encircling Sery’s ankles. He berated himself silently; he should have removed them while she was sleeping. “I’ll get these off for you.”
Sery sat still and silent, observing him while he traced a finger twice across each cuff, weakening the metal in a straight line. “I’m a materials mage,” he explained. Pulling gently at the manacles, they broke neatly in half, along the weakened lines. He tucked the resulting four pieces of metal into his pocket.
Veltyen pulled the blanket up to Sery’s chin, tucking her into bed. He felt the level of ambient magic rise, his
absorbing mana particles with increased frequency. “Are you doing that?” he asked.
Sery looked confused. Veltyen shook his head. “Never mind. Get some rest.”
“Good night,” Sery said in her sweet voice.
“Good night.” Veltyen kissed her forehead, feeling another pulse of magic fill the air. It was a mystery that could wait until later. Veltyen quietly left the room as Sery’s eyes drifted shut.
Taine was waiting outside in the front room of his private clinic, reading a book. He looked up and raised an inquisitive eyebrow as Veltyen arrived.
Veltyen summarized. “Sery doesn’t remember where she’s from and wants to join Eterna.”
The healer took a moment to process the information. “Well, she’s young to be joining a guild full-time, but considering the circumstances, it’s a good idea.” Taine’s own infinity symbol was tattooed at the hollow of his throat, right above the collarbone.
Velyen gripped the back of a chair. “She doesn’t remember where she’s from because she’s been gone for
.” The chair, made of a durable hardwood, cracked as Veltyen’s rage loosened his control over his magic. He let go immediately, muttering, “Sorry,” to his friend.
Taine’s expression was grave. “There’s nothing I can say or do that would right the injustice done to that girl. All we can do is make sure she has a good life from now on.”
“…Yeah.” Veltyen agreed with the healer’s words, but his body was still tense with rage.
Taine laid a hand against his shoulder. “I have a cord of firewood outside that needs chopping. Why don’t you go vent your anger for a while?”
The suggestion was appealing. Veltyen needed an outlet to work off the rage that had no target. Killing Dreible would not erase the past or make Sery happy. He headed to the building’s back door.
“You’re just looking for some free labour, aren’t you?” Veltyen joked as he walked.
Taine laughed. “There’s no reason why we can’t both benefit from the situation. Don’t forget to fix my chair when you come back.”
Veltyen raised a hand in acknowledgement as he stepped outside.