It was a beautiful spring day. Sery enjoyed the fresh scent of the wind and the gentle warmth of sunlight on her skin as Magewhisper travelled at a steady walk.
“Sery?” came Veltyen’s voice from behind her. Sery tilted her head backwards and upwards to meet his eyes.
“How do you feel right now?” Veltyen asked.
Sery considered the question for a moment, then answered. “Happy.”
“Happy.” Veltyen repeated the word in a contemplative tone.
Was that a strange answer? Sery studied his face, looking for clues as to what he was thinking. Veltyen gently nudged her until she faced forward again. Sery put the question out of her head and went back to enjoying the day.
‘Happy.’ Veltyen had meant to discern whether Sery could sense a difference in herself when she emitted extra magic, but had instead gained a clue as to why it happened. Did Sources produce extra mana particles when they were happy? It made sense in a certain way; while defenceless, Sources could use this aspect of their abilities to prevent being mistreated. Not that that had helped Sery.
Veltyen deliberately forced his thoughts onto a less infuriating track. He focused on the steady trickle of mana particles that flowed into his
from where he was in contact with Sery. It did not produce the same vital shock of pleasure as the torrential flow Sery could consciously induce, but rather a warm, soothing sensation reminiscent of a massage.
Happy. Why was this silver-haired girl happy riding on a horse to a place she had never been? Was she simply enjoying the weather? He wanted her to have fun, the kind of innocent delight she had been robbed of in her childhood.
“Would you like to go faster?” he murmured next to Sery’s ear. Riding at Magewhisper’s top speed was one of the most exhilarating experiences he could think of.
The silver stallion’s ears pricked in interest at Veltyen’s words.
“Okay.” Sery consented in a tone that contained neither fear nor anticipation.
Veltyen grinned, remembering the first time he had ridden with his horse. “Hold on tightly.”
When Sery had securely grasped a strap of Magewhisper’s harness, Veltyen said, “Ready.”
Without further urging, Magewhisper surged directly into a canter, moving so smoothly that his riders felt no jolt during the rapid change of pace.
Veltyen found that he did not have to ask to gauge Sery’s reaction; while he maintained physical contact, he could clearly sense the changes in the amount of magic she emitted. After an initial drop in intensity that Veltyen attributed to startlement, Sery quickly returned to the level that indicated she was enjoying herself.
“Having fun?” he asked. He was close enough to Sery that he did not need to raise his voice to be heard over the thud of hoofbeats.
Veltyen felt more than saw Sery nod her head. Veltyen smiled, glad that she enjoyed the thrill of riding, just as he did.
“Want to go faster?”
“Let’s show her what you can do, Magewhisper!”
The stallion stretched forward and shifted into a gallop, gaining speed until he reached a sprint that would do justice to a prize racehorse.
At least, for a normal horse, it would be a sprint. The mage-enhanced stallion drew on his innate magic to fuel his endurance, and could maintain the pace until he ran out of mana particles to burn.
With a delighted Sery as one of his riders, there was no chance of running out of magic.
They reached Eterna in record time.
Eterna was the name of a mage guild, and its surrounding town. The income generated by the guild supported the town, which provided living necessities to the guild, and both thrived.
Thanks to good planning, the town was attractively and logically laid out. Wide, paved streets intersected each other at regular intervals, with clear signage that made it difficult to get lost. Trees and flowerbeds provided lively colour and charm. Buildings were generally two to three storeys tall, well-constructed and well-maintained.
There was no one in a mage guild town that did not recognize a mage-bred horse. Magewhisper slowed to a walk upon entering the city limits, but people made way for him, allowing him to make steady progress through the crowds.
Veltyen had the impression that Sery was focusing intensely on her new surroundings, absorbing far more detail than he did. It was different than the normal gawking of country bumpkins; he was sure that if he quizzed Sery about any of the store fronts or road signs they had passed, she would provide a prompt and accurate answer.
They entered town from the north. Magewhisper carried them to the southern edge of town, to a grand three-story building. It was much wider than it was tall, and constructed of dignified grey stone for a feeling of strength and elegance combined.
Eterna’s guild hall. Veltyen relaxed almost imperceptibly. He was home.
“Welcome to Eterna.”
Sery absorbed the details of the building in front of her. Stone walls, twelve visible windows, peaked roof. Several steps led up to the grand double doors in the middle of the building.
Magewhisper made his way to a stables by the side of the building. Veltyen dismounted first, then Sery was lifted down. It took her a moment to adjust to the change of perspective, now much closer to the ground.
Veltyen efficiently unharnessed the stallion and began to brush the horse’s coat. Sery watched the process with interest.
“Would you like to help?” Veltyen asked.
He picked up a brush different from the one he used, long and soft-bristled. “Brush the dirt off after I loosen it with the currycomb.” A few brisk strokes to demonstrate, and Veltyen placed the brush into Sery’s hands.
Sery turned the unfamiliar tool around in her grasp. She did not want to accidentally hurt Magewhisper, so her first few brushstrokes were too light. The stallion leaned into her hands reassuringly, until she applied the correct pressure. Picking up the correct technique, Sery meticulously brushed Magewhisper’s coat to a glossy shine.
“Very good,” praised Velyen. Magewhisper nodded in agreement.
Sery ducked her head, pleased but embarrassed.
Sery had some trouble with Magewhisper’s shoulders and back. She could reach those parts of the tall stallion’s coat, but not see where she was brushing.
Veltyen took out a second soft brush and swiftly went over the area without comment. “All done, buddy.” He let Magewhisper go with a friendly slap on the shoulder.
Magewhisper snorted and shook his head and neck now that he no longer had to stay still for grooming. He nudged Sery gently with his nose to say goodbye.
“Bye,” said Sery, petting his neck. Magewhisper ambled out of the stables to join a small herd in the pasture behind the building, a mix of silver mage-bred horses and mundane mounts.
Veltyen pushed the platform holding their luggage into Magewhisper’s stall. “Come on.” He guided Sery forward with a gentle hand around her shoulder.
“This is the guild hall,” he explained as they walked. “Our web-mage and guildmasters live here, but the rest of the members live in town.” They ascended the steps to the grand double doors. “There’s a large dining room, a library, practice courts, work rooms, and extra beds in case someone wants to stay overnight.”
Veltyen opened a door, and Sery was ushered into the main atrium. It was an impressive space; the ceiling reached the building’s full three storeys. Dark wood and polished stone gleamed under the steady illumination of mage-lights.
A professional-looking young woman sat behind a counter. Dark-framed glasses accented her sharp gaze and black-and-silver hair.
She smiled, transforming her somewhat intimidating appearance. “Veltyen! You’re back early. And who is this young lady?”
“Foria, this is Sery. She’s a Source coming to join our guild,” Veltyen introduced. Sery noticed Foria’s eyes widening before she regained control of her expression. “Sery, this is Foria, our guild’s web-mage. She’s responsible for keeping our guild running.”
“Hello, Sery! Veltyen was exaggerating. I am in charge of our guild’s records, as well as communication with potential clients, other guilds, and the Guild Association. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me.”
Sery responded to Foria’s welcoming expression with her own shy smile. “Hi.” Her voice was almost inaudible.
Foria maintained her cheerful demeanour despite Sery’s lack of conversation. “Ariela and Devlin are upstairs in their office,” she told Veltyen. “Go and get official approval and I’ll send Sery’s registration to the Guild Association.”
“See you later, then.” Veltyen guided Sery through another set of double doors, this one behind Foria’s counter.
Sery was surprised to see a normal-looking hallway behind the grand atrium. It was still attractively decorated, but felt more comfortable and less imposing.
Veltyen smiled at her wide eyes. “The areas that the public and potential clients see are decorated to impress. The rest of the guild hall is for us to work and relax in.”
Sery nodded in understanding. She walked beside Veltyen as they turned left and ascended the staircase at the end of the hall.
Veltyen explained the layout of the hall as they walked. “The first floor holds the dining hall, work rooms, and practice rooms. The second floor holds the library and offices. The third floor is where our guildmasters and Foria sleep, and there are spare beds for members who want to stay over for a night or two.”
They reached a closed door on the second floor. Veltyen knocked. “Come in,” a female voice invited.
Veltyen opened the door and ushered Sery into a double office. Two large desks were set up to create a corner. Guest chairs were angled to face both desks at the same time.
The desks were occupied by a man and a woman in their fifties, both with liberal streaks of mage-silver dominating more than half of their hair. The man was large and powerfully built, but had a kind face and air of patience that made him look approachable. The woman was tall and thin, with a very straight posture that lent her a regal air.
“Come in, sit down,” said the man in a deep voice that matched his body, gesturing towards the guest chairs.
Sery gingerly sat down next to Veltyen. She was acutely aware of the woman’s intense stare, and shrank in on herself.
The woman noticed Sery’s discomfort and smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry for staring, dear, but might you be a Source? I haven’t felt anything like this in twenty years.”
Sery nodded, relaxing. The woman must have encountered another Source before.
At the word ‘Source,’ the man occupying the other desk glanced sharply at the woman. She failed to notice, leaning back in her seat with a faraway expression. “Ah, I haven’t met a Source since I was in Pendragas, four kingdoms over. That must have been twenty years ago.” Her eyes refocused. “Oh, but where are my manners? Veltyen, dear, please introduce us.”
Veltyen complied. “Sery, these are Ariela Fillei and Devlin Planter, the third pair of guildmasters to head Eterna since its founding.” He placed a hand on Sery’s shoulder. “Ariela and Devlin, this is Sery. She’s a Source, and would like to join Eterna.” Sery noticed Veltyen giving the guildmasters a meaningful look, and wondered what message he conveyed.
Devlin spoke in a deep voice. “Our guild would obviously benefit from its own Source, but Sery, are you sure about Eterna?” Sery began to nod even as he continued. “A Source of any strength would be welcome at the Guild Association headquarters, working directly for the Archmages. You could find employment in any of the royal guards of the Seven Kingdoms.”
Sery shifted to shaking her head. What would she do with Archmages and royalty? No, she wanted to join Eterna and help Veltyen.
“You’re a quiet one, aren’t you?” observed Ariela.
Veltyen smiled and briefly stroked Sery’s hair in an affectionate gesture. “She has a lovely voice if you can coax out a word or two.”
Sery ducked her head in pleased embarrassment. Veltyen thought she had a lovely voice? She made an effort. Looking up at the guildmasters, she said, “I want to join Eterna.” Her voice was quiet, but very clear and determined.
Ariela and Devlin appeared to accept her sincerity. “Then welcome to Eterna, Sery.” Ariela stood and offered a hand to shake. Sery grasped each of the guildmasters’ hands in turn. Ariela had the smooth, elegant hands of a noble, while Devlin’s were strong and callused like a craftsman. Physical differences aside, Sery sensed boundless mental and magical strength in both mages.
“Do you know your way back to the front, my dear?” asked Ariela. “I’d like to talk to Veltyen a bit longer, but you can go ahead and have Foria register you as an official member.”
Sery nodded. With her careful observation of the journey here, she was confident she could retrace her steps. She glanced over at Veltyen.
He smiled and touched her hand in reassurance. “I’ll come find you later,” he promised.
Secure in his words, Sery revealed her own shy smile, waved a silent goodbye, and quietly left the office.
When the door had closed behind Eterna’s newest member, Veltyen found himself the target of Ariela’s piercing stare. “Now, what haven’t you told us?”
Devlin added, “She looks to be younger than normal to be joining full time. Where is her family?” As usual, the guildmasters acted as a unit.
Eterna was unusual in that it had two guildmasters. Furthermore, since its founding, those guildmasters had been a married couple. The running joke among other guilds was that ‘Eterna’ was short for ‘Eternal Love’. Jokes aside, the system worked well, and Eterna was a mid-level guild in power that quietly prospered, while more powerful guilds fought, disbanded, and regrouped in struggles for dominance.
Veltyen briefly outlined Sery’s circumstances, muscles tightening in suppressed rage. It helped his control that he saw similar dark expressions on Ariela and Devlin’s faces, powerful mages that he held in the highest esteem.
“To think that such atrocities occurred for so long, so close to our guild,” Ariela murmured. The silver-wrought infinity symbol that hung about her neck began to glow.
“Deep breath, Ari,” cautioned Devlin. “I don’t want to have to replace any of the furniture.”
Ariela inhaled and exhaled deeply, and the glow faded. Veltyen relaxed slightly in relief; Ariela had one of the most powerful and destructive magics in the Seven Kingdoms, and while he did not believe she would ever lose control to the point of harming people by accident, the possibility existed.
Devlin deliberately changed the subject. “So how powerful is this girl?”
Veltyen tilted his head in consideration. “Well, she has more magic than anyone I’ve ever met, but I don’t know how Sources are measured.”
Ariela was the one with more knowledge of more esoteric magic, having travelled extensively in her youth. “It is the same star system ranking as all mages use; a Source’s rank is determined by the rank of the mage’s
they can fill in one try.”
Magic power, regardless of type, was measured solely by the size of a mage’s
. This metaphysical mana particle container replenished itself to the same percentage in the same time, no matter its size, so its maximum capacity determined the amount of magic a mage had easy access to.
To a certain extent, all people had magic ability, but only ten percent of the population ranked as at least one-star and qualified as mages. Power varied considerably within a rank, but each star that was added to a mage’s credentials indicated a tenfold increase of power.
“At least four stars, then,” answered Veltyen. His own magic ranking was on the high side of four stars, and his
was filled to the brim after his ride home with Sery. “I didn’t get the sense that she felt strained at all,” he added.
Ariela and Devlin exchanged a look. “We’ll have to test her personally,” said Ariela. She and Devlin were the only five-star mages within the province.
“Whatever ranking she ends up with, the amount of magic she passively emits is staggering,” said Devlin. “Just by having her in the guild hall, I think we could double the number of jobs our members can fulfill.”
Veltyen shared a moment of grave contemplation with his leaders. They all understood that Sery’s presence would upset the balance of power between the mage guilds. Eterna would no longer be able to avoid notice as a mid-level power.
Still, none of the potential problems would stop them from offering a lost girl a home.
Ariela briskly shook off the serious mood and asked, “Are you going to work as her partner? With her magic, she can’t take on jobs by herself.”
“I’ll take care of her,” answered Veltyen. He had no intention on bringing Sery along on the combat-oriented jobs he undertook, but even if she contributed no income, he had more than enough savings to support two people. He had vague ideas of setting her up as an assistant to some of the craft-mages he knew.
“Well then, she’s well taken care of,” said Devlin.
All three mages stood as Veltyen took his leave. He clasped hands with Ariela, then Devlin.
“Let us know how Sery settles in,” said Ariela.
“I will,” said Veltyen. He left the office to find Sery, as he had promised he would.