Sery woke up in the morning just as the sun fully cleared the horizon. She took a moment to stare at her surroundings, reassuring herself that the previous day had not been some fantastic dream.
No, the blanket under her hands was real. She stared at the intricate geometric pattern stitched into the lavender cloth. The entire room was decorated in calm, soothing colours, from the dark wood panelling of the walls to the beautiful waterfall painting that hung across the room.
Wide awake, Sery slid out of bed and padded across the room on bare feet. Her legs felt strangely light without manacles to weigh them down. She hesitated at the closed door. Was she supposed to stay in the room?
After a second, she tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. Sery opened the door just enough to peek outside. She saw a large room, devoid of people. She stepped through the doorway and inspected her new surroundings.
The larger room was bright and soothing, just like the one Sery had slept in, with large windows to her left that allowed sunlight in and showed a view of the street outside. There was a long counter that divided it into two sections; the section by the windows had benches suitable for waiting patients, while the section behind the counter held several examination tables. There were folding screens that could be moved to create small private areas around each table. Under the counters and in shelves along the walls, Sery could see jars and bandages, presumably medicinal supplies.
On her right, near the back of the building, Sery could see several doors and an open archway. She could hear noises originating from the room beyond the archway, so she hesitantly crept across the room and peeked through the passage.
Through the opening, Sery saw a well-appointed kitchen, cheerfully tiled in white and red. There were two people inside, Taine-the-healer and a young woman Sery had never seen before. Both were busy with breakfast preparations.
Taine looked up from slicing a loaf of bread. “Good morning, Sery,” he greeted her kindly, “How are you feeling today?”
Silence was again weighing down Sery’s tongue, so she simply nodded.
Taine smiled in gentle amusement. “Veltyen told me that you don’t like to talk.”
The words sparked Sery’s memory. Yes, Veltyen was the name of her rescuer. She committed the sound to memory as Taine continued, “Why don’t you get cleaned up and join us for breakfast? Melayna can show you to the bathing room.”
The girl named Melayna rinsed her hands off in the sink and ushered Sery back out the archway. “Sery, is it? I’m Melayna, Taine’s apprentice.” The young woman looked a year or two older than Sery’s sixteen, and also had silver streaks in her chestnut hair. She opened a door set in the same wall as Sery’s temporary bedroom. “Here’s the bathing room.”
The bathing room was tiled ceiling to floor in light blue, and held a sink, bathtub and toilet. The bathtub was already full of hot water, making the room slightly foggy with steam. “I went ahead and filled the bath,” Melayna explained with brisk cheer, “When you’re done, let the water out and tap this red gem to turn off the heating spell.” She demonstrated by touching the magic crystal set next to the water faucet. It lost its red glow until Melayna tapped it a second time to reactivate the spell.
“You can wear that robe until Veltyen gets back with the clothier,” Melayna continued, pointing at the garment hanging on the clothing stand in the corner. “Do you have any attachment to what you’re wearing?” she asked.
Sery looked down. Her simple shift, already made with poor-quality cloth and indifferent craftsmanship, was now ripped at the hem and streaked with blood and dust. She shook her head.
Melayna looked rather relieved. “Oh good. It would have been difficult to get it back into wearable condition. Just leave it on the clothing stand and I’ll take care of it later. Have a nice bath; towels are on that shelf over there. Come join us in the kitchen when you’re done.” Melayna bustled out of the bathroom with the same brisk efficiency she had upon entering.
Sery stepped out of her shift, suddenly conscious of how dirty she was, blood and rock dust in her hair and on her skin. She laid the garment on the clothing stand, careful not to let it touch the clean robe, then walked to the tub.
Easing herself into the hot water, Sery washed her hair and skin. Warm, clean and alone, she relaxed, leaning back in the tub and letting her sense of time drift away.
Suddenly she sat up with a splash. How long had she been in the bathroom? What if Taine and Melayna were waiting for her? Sery climbed out of the tub, anxious once again. Carefully recalling Melayna’s instructions, Sery drained the tub, turned off the heating spell, dried herself, and wrapped herself in the robe. She quietly hurried back to the kitchen.
Taine and Melayna were having an informal breakfast at the kitchen table, the healer reading a newspaper while they ate. Sery was greeted with smiles.
“Sit,” Melayna directed, pointing at the place setting beside her. “Take whatever you want.”
The food consisted of toast with several kinds of jam, eggs, and fresh fruit, and sat in communal plates at the centre of the table. Sery hesitated. Had she ever had a choice in what she ate before? She did not think so, not even in her distant memories as a farmer’s child.
Sery decided to copy Melayna and filled her plate with the same varieties and quantities of food as the apprentice. She ate in small, neat bites, relaxing again as Melayna chattered away about people and events Sery did not know, occasionally answered by an absentminded Taine as he turned the pages of his newspaper.
The sound of someone entering the building through the front door could be heard through the archway. “Hello!” called out a female voice in a sing-song tone. The owner of the voice could soon be seen as she sailed gracefully into the kitchen. Sery saw a beautifully-dressed woman in her late twenties, wearing a pale green mage robe that set off the green in her hazel eyes. Streaks of magical silver were artfully braided with blonde in a complicated arrangement that kept the woman’s hair out of the way.
Sery’s rescuer appeared behind the unfamiliar woman, smiling at the woman’s flamboyant manner.
, Sery reminded herself. He was laden down with multiple boxes and bundles of cloth, and Sery hurried over to help carry the items.
Veltyen smiled at her. “Thank you,” he said, handing her a single roll of cloth. His kindness made her feel warm inside.
“Sery, this is Evodie Tailloi, former Eterna guild member and now head of the most exclusive fashion house in Oslethia,” Veltyen introduced. Sery understood the words “fashion” and “house”, but the combination made no sense to her. Looking for clues, she paid close attention as Evodie spoke.
“Oh, so this is Sery!” the woman exclaimed. “That hair! Those eyes! You are going to be a
to outfit, my dear.” Not wasting any time, Evodie asked, “Where’s the room we can use?” Veltyen pointed out the room Sery had slept in, and Evodie sailed out of the kitchen as dramatically as she had entered. Veltyen gestured for Sery to follow her, then took up the rear of the small procession.
Inside the room, Sery watched as Evodie directed the placement of fabrics and boxes and tools with some apprehension. What was she supposed to do? Why was there so much fabric? In her uncertainty, Sery drifted closer and closer to where Veltyen was setting down bundles, though she was careful not to get in his way.
“Stop hiding behind Veltyen, dear,” said Evodie in a brisk but kindly voice. “I won’t bite. Come stand over here,” she directed, gesturing at the stepping stool in the middle of the room’s open space.
Veltyen smiled encouragingly. Divested of his burdens, he said, “I’ll be outside,” and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Sery stood on the stool as directed, rather reassured by Evodie’s bossy manner.
“Off with the robe, my dear,” Evodie continued.
Having spent her formative years isolated from normal society, Sery had little embarrassment about nudity and readily shrugged off her robe.
“Now let’s get your beautiful hair out of the way for the moment.” Evodie deftly pinned Sery’s hair up in a few quick motions before getting to work on making clothing.
Sery was fascinated by Evodie’s process of making garments. The mage would have Sery don loosely made clothing, then sent her magic to work. Fibres unwove and rewove themselves until the clothes fit perfectly. Even the excess cloth rewove itself into large sections suitable for reuse.
Seeing Sery’s amazed look, Evodie explained, “I’m a materials mage. You can tell if clothing is mage-made because there are never any seams.”
Materials mage. That was what Veltyen had called himself last night. “Like Veltyen?” Sery ventured, curiosity prodding her to speak.
Evodie laughed merrily. “I suppose so! Veltyen and I are indeed both material mages, but our specialties differ so much that I never thought of it that way.” Seeing that she had a rapt audience, the mage continued. “Veltyen specializes in temporarily altering the properties of materials, especially strengthening and weakening for combat purposes. For instance, he can wear light leather armour into battle because his magic can make it harder than steel. I, on the other hand, specialize in permanently altering the shapes of materials, mainly cloth, and I generally leave the natural properties alone.
“As you see,” she said, gesturing at the fabric around her, “my talents are suited for commercial purposes, and I do quite well at it.” Evodie winked. “You would not
what some of the nobility are willing to pay for clothing that fits perfectly, is immediately ready, and is obviously mage-made. Actually, I think they pay me more just so they can boast about how expensive their clothing is!” She laughed.
Was this expensive? Sery did not have any money. “Um… I don’t… have any…”
Evodie patted Sery’s hand. “Do not worry, my dear, I’m doing this as a favour to Veltyen, and he’s covering the cost of materials.”
Veltyen was paying? Sery did not want to be a burden. She almost missed Evodie’s next words when the mage said, “Besides, he was definitely right about you being a Source. I’ve made all of these garments and my magic stores are still at the same level. I’ll still be able to do a full day’s work when this is all done.”
Sery deciphered Evodie’s words. It sounded like the mage could gain magic just by being in Sery’s presence. And… the amount of clothing Evodie could make was limited by her magic stores. “Could I pay in magic?” she asked in her quiet voice.
“What do you mean, dear?” Evodie briskly continued working, pulling finished garments over Sery’s head and sliding new ones on.
Sery hesitantly grasped Evodie’s hand. Closing her eyes, she pushed the fizzy feeling of her magic into the mage’s skin, letting it flow until she sensed that the woman could store no more. She opened her eyes.
Evodie’s skin was flushed as if she had just been running, and her expression was unfocused. “Ah…” She blinked several times, then laughed. “That’s amazing, my dear! I don’t believe I’ve held this much magic my entire life. I’ll be able to finish all the work for the customers on my waiting list!”
Sery relaxed. It seemed that her idea had worked.
Evodie gushed on with enthusiasm. “Would you like a job, my dear? We could certainly use you at the shop. Oh, but you’re going to Eterna with Veltyen, aren’t you? Oh, perhaps it’s for the best; with you around, I might just make so much clothing that I drive my own prices down!”
Evodie’s deft hands produced garment after garment, so many dresses, shirts, pants, coats, undergarments, and a few pieces that Sery could not identify, all in various styles, patterns, and colours. “…Is this all for me?” she finally asked.
“Of course, dear. It would be a
if I let you without a proper wardrobe.”
It seemed to Sery like an excessive amount of clothing, but she supposed that a clothier would know what a “proper wardrobe” looked like. She continued to move her limbs obediently according to the mage’s directions.
The tailoring was finally completed; Evodie even made shoes to match the outfits. The mage packed everything except Sery’s current outfit away, managing to fit an incredible amount of clothing in just two trunks by way of magic. “Now, you won’t be able to fit everything back into the boxes once you open them, so make sure you have somewhere to store the clothes before you open them,” Evodie instructed sternly, very serious about the treatment of her clothing.
Sery nodded solemnly.
“Great!” Evodie clapped her hands together, smiling. “Let us go show everyone.” Grasping Sery’s hand, she gracefully towed her latest project out of the room.
Veltyen sat in the kitchen with Taine and Melayna, idly consuming some of the fruit prepared for breakfast. “Did either of you feel that extra pulse of magic from Sery earlier?” he asked.
Taine nodded. “A little after you and Evodie showed up.”
Melayna chimed in, “Oh, that was from Sery? I’ve never felt anything like it before.”
“So Sery didn’t do anything like that earlier this morning?” Veltyen asked.
“No,” answered Taine. “Why, did you feel something like it before?”
Veltyen nodded. “At the mage’s tower, the level of ambient magic was very high for several minutes, starting when the walls came down; it stopped when she fell unconscious. Then last night, there was a pulse like this just before she went to sleep.”
“Does it have anything to do with her falling unconscious?” Melayna guessed.
Taine frowned in thought. “Unless Sery is asleep with Evodie right now, that theory doesn’t work.” To Veltyen, he asked, “Was she bleeding at the time you felt the magic at the tower?”
Veltyen nodded grimly at the memory.
“Then we can probably attribute that to some sort of blood-magic. If regular mages can use it to steal mana particles from each other, I can only imagine the effect it would have on a Source.”
“So we only have to account for the other two incidents, the pulses,” said Melayna.
“Yes, indeed. From what I could observe, it didn’t seem like Sery was releasing the magic pulses on purpose.”
Veltyen and Melayna nodded in agreement. Veltyen added, “I asked her about it last night, and she didn’t seem to have any idea what I was talking about.”
“The only thing the two incidents had in common was Veltyen’s presence,” said Melayna jokingly.
“Well, there’s a thought,” said Taine, treating the idea with more seriousness than Melayna had intended. “Do you recall doing anything, or your magic reacting in any way?” he asked Veltyen.
Veltyen shook his head slowly. “I can’t think of anything that happened both times.”
Approaching footsteps heralded the end of the conversation. “Well, it doesn’t seem to be doing anyone any harm, so we can just wait and see if we can puzzle it out,” said Taine in his practical manner.
“We’re coming in!” Evodie announced. She sailed into the room, tugging Sery along by the hand.
Veltyen stood automatically to greet the women, then went still, struck motionless by the visual impact.
Sery was dressed for travel in a short mage robe that ended mid-thigh. The garment, a hybrid between a shirt and a coat, was cinched closed in front by criss-crossing laces at the waist, emphasizing Sery’s slim figure. It flared out stylishly from the sleeves, collar, and below the waist. Dark grey pants and leather riding boots completed the outfit.
A slow blush rose from Sery’s skin at his staring, but Veltyen could not look away. The robe’s rich blue, chosen by Evodie’s expert eye, was the exact shade and hue to set off the crystalline blue of Sery’s eyes, metallic silver of her hair, and alabaster paleness of her skin. Sery no longer looked injured or lost; she simply looked beautiful.
Faintly, Veltyen heard Taine and Melayna voice their approval of the outfit.
“Veltyen, may I speak with you privately?” Evodie asked casually. To Sery, she said, “Don’t worry, dear; I’m not going to charge him for the cloth. I simply want to ask him a few questions.” With that, Evodie ushered him out of the kitchen.
On the far side of the main infirmary, Evodie stopped. “Did you know that Sery could push magic into people?”
Veltyen recovered his focus, and nodded. “She showed me last night.”
“How much magic did she give you?”
“Some. It was only for a second, but I’m running hot.” Veltyen used the slang term to indicate that his magic stores were full enough to undertake a guild job, something unheard of after his magic use the previous day.
“Well, if you’re hot, I’m boiling. I could not absorb a single extra mana particle right now.”
Veltyen stared. A mage’s rate of mana particle absorption decreased as their magic stores increased, so they never reached full capacity. “Running hot” was used to describe 50-60% capacity, which usually took two weeks of rest and meditation to reach. Getting to 95% would take six months to a year. “How…?” he trailed off.
“One second, she was worrying about paying for the clothes, and the next, she took my hand and dumped mana particles into my
until she couldn’t fit any more. The entire time, she had an infuriatingly adorable look of worry on her face, as if she thought she might get in trouble.”
“…That sounds like her.”
“Do you know how much a week’s worth of
work costs?” Evodie asked. Not needing to store up her magic as Veltyen did for his dangerous jobs, Evodie let her magic recover to 30% overnight, then expended it down to 20% every day, the point at which mages started to feel sick and tired. “I won’t be charging you for the cloth, by the way,” she added.
Most of Evodie’s customers were high nobility, and she was often commissioned for clothes by the royalty of all seven kingdoms. “I’ll make sure she knows the value of what she can do,” said Veltyen. There were many specialties of magic where the mage’s craft was limited by lack of magic stores; these specialties usually created extremely valuable items once every few months. If Sery could replenish it all in an instant…
“It feels good, doesn’t it?” Evodie asked, abruptly changing subjects.
“The magic boost.”
“…Yeah.” In this case, “good” was an understatement.
“How old is she? Sixteen?”
“I haven’t asked her, but that would be my guess.”
“You keep that in mind whenever any inappropriate thoughts pop into your head,” warned Evodie sternly.
Veltyen smiled wryly. “Yes, Mother.” Evodie was twenty-nine years old to Veltyen’s twenty-four, but sometimes acted much older.
Evodie patted him on the cheek. “You’re a good boy. I know you’ll take care of her.”
Veltyen nodded once. No words were necessary.
The two returned to the kitchen.
Sery had one sleeve rolled up while Taine gave her arm a final examination. “Do you feel any pain or pulling from the scar when you move your arm around?” he asked. Sery shook her head. “It should be fine, then.” Taine let the sleeve fall to cover her arm again.
“You can have the scar removed if you want, but it won’t affect your mobility either way.” Taine raised an eyebrow, turning the statement into a question.
Sery shook her head; the scar didn’t bother her.
Veltyen and Evodie returned. “Ready to go?” Veltyen asked.
Sery nodded. They were going to travel to the guild Eterna today, she remembered.
The party migrated to Sery’s bedroom-turned-fitting-room to collect her new trunks. Each had a handle at one end and wheels at the other to facilitate easy transport. Veltyen handed one to Sery and pulled the other himself.
Everyone said their goodbyes at the door. Melayna gave Sery a hug, which she hesitantly returned.
Taine smiled kindly and said, “Let us meet again, hopefully not when you need a healer.” Sery smiled at his gentle joke.
Evodie said in her fashionable manner, “Come visit in the fall, my dear, and I’ll set you up with a cold-weather wardrobe.”
Sery’s eyes widened. She would need
clothes before the year was out?
Veltyen, Taine, and Melayna all read Sery’s expression correctly and laughed.
“She’s going to have to rent an extra bedroom just for her clothes,” said Taine, only half-joking.
“Oh please,” said Evodie with humorous exasperation. “Just because you two are stuck in healer’s robes – and won’t let me alter them, may I add – and you are married to your riding leathers – which you pull off nicely, my dear, but really, you should consider wearing different clothes once in a while – does not mean Sery here must live deprived of fashion.”
“Quite right,” Veltyen agreed, still smiling.
Sery sensed the old bonds of affection that linked the mages. It was something she wanted for herself.
“Goodbye!” Evodie called one last time, then walked down the street to the right, easily handling the boxes and cloth she had made Veltyen carry on the way to the healer’s.
“This way,” Veltyen said to Sery, turning in the opposite direction. “Magewhisper, my horse, is stabled a block away.”
Sery followed Veltyen’s lead up the street, waving goodbye to the healer and his apprentice.
After a few minutes of comfortable silence, Veltyen spoke. “Magewhisper, my horse, is mage-bred. Do you know what that means?”
Sery shook her head.
“He was magically enhanced before he was born by a life-mage. He is as smart as the average human being, and stronger and faster than normal horses. He can also use magic in a limited fashion, to fuel his endurance and run extremely long distances without rest. He can understand anything you say, and acts as my partner.”
Sery nodded in understanding.
They entered a stables, strong with the smell of fresh straw, horse, and manure. Magewhisper stood in a large box stall with the door left open to allow him to come and go as he pleased.
“Magewhisper, this is Sery. Sery, Magewhisper,” Veltyen introduced.
Magewhisper stuck his head out of the stall in interest. Sery hesitantly raised a hand, and he met it with his velvety-soft nose.
Sery petted his nose gently. “Hello,” she said. At sixteen hands, the stallion’s shoulder was at the same height as the top of Sery’s head, but she was not afraid of his size.
Magewhisper whuffled and took another step forward so that Sery’s hand now met his neck. She petted his silvery coat in admiration.
“Okay, Your Highness, all the way in or all the way out. We need to be on our way,” said Veltyen with affectionate sarcasm. Even by mage-bred standards, Magewhisper was a beautiful horse, and he knew it.
Magewhisper chose to step out into the wide aisle between stalls, still enjoying Sery’s attentions. Veltyen pulled out the horse’s custom saddle and harness and secured them in place. Magewhisper was extremely cooperative compared to a normal horse, standing absolutely still and lowering his head when the harness needed to go around his neck.
Everything was quickly ready. Veltyen hoisted Sery’s luggage onto the levitating platform along with a bag of his own belongings. He activated the walls that had earlier imprisoned Roger Dreible, this time to prevent anything from falling off, then attached the magical device to the harness.
“Up we go.” Veltyen lifted Sery onto the saddle, then pulled himself up behind her.
As soon as Veltyen was settled, Magewhisper took off without any direction from his riders. They soon left the city of Nottagan behind.