Sery hurried from her apartment to Eterna’s guildhouse, glad for the warm coat Evodie had made to fit her, its snug hood keeping her head and neck warm. The days were getting shorter and chillier, the frost building up overnight taking several hours to melt away in the morning.
A snowflake brushed Sery’s cheek and melted. She glanced at the sky to see more snow drifting inexorably towards the ground. Pulling her coat tighter around herself, she hurried on.
The coming of winter filled Sery with a vague and pervasive anxiety. In the past, it meant months of shivering in barely adequate clothing, as well as weeks of enforced proximity with her captor, whose temper was made short by his inability to travel in heavy snow.
Sery’s mood was lightened by the sound of laughter as she came upon the guildhall’s grounds. Children ran around excitedly as their teachers supervised indulgently. Some of the children jumped to catch snowflakes drifting by, others chattered excitedly about snow forts and snowmen they wanted to build.
The twins ran up to her. “Sery!” one exclaimed – she guessed Marielle, who had a tendency to speak first. “Can you help us?”
“Do what?” Sery asked.
“The children want enough snow to play in,” Tasielle explained. “According to the forecast, this is only going to leave a light layer.”
“But if our teacher asks,” Marielle added with a wink, “we were practicing our temperature control.”
Sery smiled at the twins’ michievousness and nodded. She grasped Tasielle’s hand – given their resonant
, touching both twins was unnecessary – and let her magic fizz outwards as the twins worked their magic.
The subtle changes the twins made to the air above the guildhall were not immediately apparent, but the snow gradually thickened until Sery could barely make out the hand she was holding. She heard the children excitedly cheering and running around, gathering snow to build with.
A quarter of an hour later, the twins ceased their efforts and the snow returned to the light flakes of the morning. A thick carpet of snow, perfect for packing into balls, covered the grounds. Perhaps a minute after visibility had returned, the first snowballs started flying, children and adults joining in on the fun.
“Whoops!” Veltyen said, sliding Sery out of the path of a stray snowball.
“Good morning,” she said with a smile, not in the least startled by his appearance; he could not sneak up on her, given her
The twins giggled. “We’ll leave you two alone,” they chorused, heading off to join in the fun.
“We don’t…” Veltyen started to protest, then sighed. “Never mind. Good morning, Sery. It’s a nice thing you did for the kids.”
“It wasn’t me; it was Mari and Tasi,” Sery said in her quiet voice.
He squeezed her shoulder. “They wouldn’t have been able to afford the magic use without you.”
Before he could continue speaking, a familiar voice called in the distance, “I declare war on Veltyen-land!”
Veltyen laughingly dodged the snowball that came after the words, guiding Sery to safety in the same movement. “You’ve never won, Foria,” he called back.
“I’ve recruited back-up this time!” she said, waving at Asher beside her, who was busily making snowballs.
“May I remind you that I’m a
mage and that if I ever lost to either of you, I might have my license revoked?”
“Get ready to retire, then!”
A barrage of snowballs flew at them, but with only two people throwing, it was fairly simple for Veltyen to step and duck out of the way, pulling Sery along when she was in danger of being hit.
“You okay?” he asked.
Cheeks flushed and slightly breathless, Sery nodded.
He grinned. “Let’s get them!”
With their initial stockpile of snowballs depleted, Foria and Asher were now vulnerable to counterattack and Veltyen wasted no time in scooping up snow to lob back.
Beside him, Sery copied his movements, her hesitancy making it clear that there had been no snowball fights in her past. Suddenly, Veltyen understood the subdued mood he had been sensing for the last few weeks – with the onset of cold weather, he noticed in hindsight.
His hand clenched into a fist, but Veltyen kept a smile on his face with the fine control he had developed since Sery tumbled into his life. He would stay in the present and give her the fun she deserved.
Sery handed him a snowball, much better formed than the lumps he had hastily packed before throwing. “You can throw it,” he encouraged.
Sery demonstrated a throw where the snowball fell short a few paces before Foria and Asher’s positions. She shook her head and made another one to pass to him.
“You can do it,” Veltyen reassured her. “Put your body into the throw.” He demonstrated with exaggerated slowness, stepping forward and turning his shoulders as he threw.
Sery copied the movements – she was a quick student, no matter the subject – and her throws gained the extra range required to hit their opponents. She looked up at him with an exhilarated expression and he could not help but scoop her up and spin her around, laughing as she grabbed at his arms for balance.
He put her down. “Let’s win this!”
He took off across the lawn, Sery mirroring his movements, pausing only to scoop up snow to fling at the much less mobile Foria and Asher, landing considerably more hits than the other team could manage. “Surrender!” he called.
The denial was followed by one of Veltyen’s missiles suddenly reversing direction to fly at him and Sery. Caught off guard, Veltyen was unable to cleanly dodge; choosing to shield Sery, he turned and it thudded into his back.
“Cheater!” he accused.
“All’s fair in love and war,” Foria replied smugly.
“Oh, it’s magic you want?” Veltyen muttered. “Sery, may I borrow your scarf?”
Sery was halfway through unwinding the cloth from around her neck before it occurred to Veltyen to ask, “Will you be cold without it?”
Sery shook her head. Her cheeks were flushed from their running, so he took her at her word.
Veltyen folded the scarf into a comfortable length for a sling. Sery obviously sensed his plan, as she handed him a snowball without a word.
Veltyen took a second to run his magic through the snowball, loosening its inner packing and making it more likely to burst and scatter on impact. Normally, his materials magic would lose effect as soon as he lost contact with it, but his half-learned grasp of permanent materials magic was perfect for the kind of unstable configuration he wanted.
Taking aim, he sent it flying straight for Foria. This time, when she reversed its direction, he was ready with the scarf. Catching the snowball neatly in its folds, he used his magic to make the scarf nearly perfectly elastic, its cloth stretching and redirecting the snowball without any loss of kinetic energy. Combined with his slinging movement, the snowball rebounded at over double the speed of his original throw.
Foria shrieked in surprise, reflexes inadequate to redirect a projectile at that speed. It struck her on the chest and burst in a shower of snow that coated her from head to toe.
Veltyen laughed at the web-mage disgustedly wiping her face off. Beside him, Sery laughed softly, sounding a little guilty for laughing at her friend. “Victory!” he called out.
“Oh, not yet,” said Asher. “My turn.”
Veltyen did not know what the other dimensional mage had in mind; with a wide mastery of different specialties and a creative mind, Asher could do just about anything. Veltyen decided it would be better to attack first. Creating another burst-prone snowball, he lobbed it at Asher, only to have it stop in mid-air.
Attacking from different directions, it became clear that Asher had created a wide time-slowing field all around him and Foria. He and Foria added their own missiles until dozens of snowballs hung in the air around them. Changes in the very slow trajectories told Veltyen that Foria was reorienting them to aim for him and Sery.
Veltyen did the calculations. With the concentration of snowballs in the air, if they all flew out at the same time, it would be impossible to dodge them all. “We’re going to have to drop very, very quickly,” he murmured to Sery, eyes on Asher and any sign he was about to release the time field.
“I could probably make him drop the field,” Sery offered.
He glanced at her, surprised. “How?”
“Throw a magic wave at him.”
Veltyen imagined trying to hold a delicate magic steady while being inundated with mana particles. It would be impossible. “Great idea. Can you hit Foria at the same time? It would probably cause most of the snowballs to miss.”
“Okay, we’ll run that way and you’ll release the wave as Foria is readjusting the flight trajectories. Ready?” He held out a hand.
Sery slid her gloved hand into his and nodded.
“Let’s go!” Veltyen ran tangentially to the time-slowing field, supporting enough of Sery’s weight that she could keep pace.
“You can’t run fast enough to dodge,” Foria called, reorienting the snowballs as they ran.
Sery squeezed his hand a second before her magic flew out of her. Surprisingly, Veltyen did not experience the breath-stealing rush of magic he was braced for; based on the way Asher and Foria jerked, they did.
The time field broke down erratically, with snowballs released to their full speed at different times for different sections of the field. Likewise, many of their direction vectors went astray. Still, at least a dozen snowballs flew straight at Veltyen and Sery.
When Sery appeared to be in that state of lost concentration she went into for her more complex magics, he wrapped his arms around her and took her to the ground as he dove for cover, barely making it down in time for the snowballs to whizz over them.
He watched with some amusement as Sery’s eyes refocused and she tried to puzzle out where she was. “Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she answered automatically, making his smile widen.
Getting up, Veltyen helped Sery to her feet. Almost as an afterthought, he threw a snowball at the dazed Asher, showering him in snow and confirming their victory.
“Winter can be fun,” Veltyen commented as everyone filed into the dining hall for breakfast.
Sery nodded, her expression bright and ambient magic levels returned to normal.
Over Sery’s head, Foria nodded at him and winked.