“What is your last name, Sery?” asked Foria.
“Holder,” Sery answered quietly. This was one of the most common last names in the Seven Kingdoms, and of little help if Sery wanted to locate her family.
Sery took a moment to count back. Her birthday must have just passed this spring, so… “Sixteen.”
“Type of magic… Source,” Foria muttered to herself. The web-mage had a palm pressed against a translucent white crystal, and symbols were appearing on a matching crystal screen in front of her. Sery could barely read, but the symbols appeared to be different from the common alphabet.
“And… Sent.” The symbols flashed off the screen. “Now you’ll show up as a member of Eterna in the Guild Association records.”
Foria proceeded to unlock a drawer in her desk, pulling out a different magic crystal. This one was in the shape of Eterna’s guild emblem, a stylized infinity symbol that looked like it had wings. “Now, where would you like your guild mark?” she asked.
Sery pushed up her sleeve to present the inside of her left wrist, the same place she had seen Veltyen’s mark. Foria pressed the crystal to Sery’s skin. Sery felt a cold sensation, as if the crystal were ice. After a few seconds, Foria removed the crystal, revealing a silver guild mark.
Sery examined the mark with a small frown. Veltyen’s mark was a warm chocolate brown. Did something go wrong?
“The crystal uses your own magic to manifest the mark,” Foria explained. “I guess Sources show up as silver.” Foria showed Sery the deep purple mark on the back of her hand. “Dimensional mages show purple, material mages brown, energy mages blue, and life-mages green.”
Sery had never heard of ‘dimensional’ or ‘energy’ mages, but stored the information away to understand later. She nodded.
“So Sery, where are you from?”
Sery did not know how to answer. Her silence was different from the usual one, more awkward.
Seeing Sery’s expression, Foria apologized. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
Sery shook her head. “I’m not mad.”
The double doors behind them opened, and Veltyen walked through. Sery stood up from the stool she sat upon and hurried over to him. Smiling, Veltyen turned her around and walked her back to where Foria sat with an amused smile on her face.
“Everything settled?” he asked Foria.
“Yup, Sery’s all set. I also received a personal job request for you while you were gone,” said Foria, putting her hand back on the communication crystal.
Veltyen grimaced. “Viscountess Lalloi again?”
Foria grinned. “You guessed it. She’s holding another ball in a week and wants you to stand there and look pretty.”
Sery tilted her head curiously. This seemed to be quite a strange job being offered to Veltyen.
Veltyen sighed. “I shouldn’t complain. These jobs require no use of magic and pay quite well, but…”
“…Hiring a four-star combat mage as a dress guard is a waste, if not an insult,” Foria finished for him.
“Let the viscountess know that I will be present. Standard fee.”
Foria nodded, making symbols flash across her screen. “Kind of makes you wish that someone would actually attack her while you’re there, doesn’t it?” she joked.
“Well, better while I’m there than some other time,” Veltyen answered. “She’s a nice lady, if a little frivolous.”
“You’re too kind, Veltyen,” Foria sighed. Turning away from the communication crystal, she asked, “Don’t you have to leave now to make it to her estate on time?”
Sery’s heart sank. Veltyen was leaving already?
Veltyen patted Sery’s head reassuringly. “I can leave tomorrow or the day after, maybe even later if Sery gives Magewhisper a boost.”
Sery nodded happily, glad to be able to help Veltyen with her powers.
Foria nodded and stood. “I’m heading over to lunch. Have you two eaten?”
“No,” answered Veltyen. It was currently just after noon. “We’ll head to the dining hall with you.”
After Foria left an ‘out to lunch’ sign on the counter, Sery followed her and Veltyen back through the double doors that led to the private areas of the hall. Turning right, they followed the hallway to the end. Sery absorbed the details with intent eyes.
The dining hall was a large room filled with large circular tables and enough seating for a hundred. Ceiling-high windows along an entire wall revealed a view of the horse paddocks in the back.
About a quarter of the seats were occupied with people eating lunch. Veltyen and Foria’s entrance drew looks and calls of greeting.
“Veltyen! Over here!” A female figure at the other end of the room waved.
Sery stuck close to Veltyen as they walked. His greater height meant that people did not notice her presence until Veltyen had passed.
Foria stopped in the middle of the room and placed an arm around Sery’s shoulders. “Everyone, this is Sery, our newest member. Be nice.” Brief introduction over, she steered Sery over to the table of the woman who had waved.
The unknown woman extended a hand to shake. “Hello, I’m Kiera,” she greeted in a casual, confident manner. Up close, Sery could see that she was a woman about Veltyen’s age. Slight streaks of silver highlighted brown hair, which was tied in a high ponytail. Sery looked into hazel eyes a few inches higher up than her own.
Sery shook the offered hand, feeling Kiera’s strong grip and callused fingers. She had the impression that Kiera was a fighter like Veltyen.
“Kiera is an energy mage specializing in accelerated hand-to-hand combat,” said Veltyen. To Kiera, he said, “Sery is a Source.”
Kiera’s eyes narrowed in thought. “A Source… where have I heard that term before?”
“Magic textbooks, I would guess,” said Foria, seating herself at the table. “Legendary mana particle emitters who make mages pretty much invincible. Does that ring a bell?”
Kiera’s eyes widened impressively. “Those are real?”
Sery blinked. She did not think Foria’s description matched what she did…
“Sery is real enough,” said Veltyen with a gentle smile.
“Does that make you the invincible mage in this scenario?” Kiera asked Veltyen.
“If I said yes, would you stop beating me up in the mornings?” To Sery, he explained, “Kiera and I spar in the mornings, but she’s three or four times faster than me with her magic, so I always lose.”
“Oh please,” Kiera scoffed, “You put so much shock absorption into your armour, I couldn’t even leave a bruise.”
“You should be glad that I do, or I’d refuse to let you practice on me, just like every mage and non-mage warrior within three days ride,” Veltyen retorted.
Sery followed the back-and-forth conversation. She sensed that Veltyen was close to Kiera, closer to her than any of his other friends.
A plate of sandwiches was placed in front of Sery.
“Hello,” greeted a man in an apron. He was heavyset and in his mid-forties. His eyes were brown and his hair a solid black, his expression friendly.
“Hello,” replied Sery. “Thank you,” she said for the food.
“Maurio here is a one-star mage, but a twelve star chef,” said Foria.
Sery started to file away the information when Veltyen leaned in to murmur, “She’s exaggerating. Chef ratings only go up to five stars.” Sery blinked and nodded.
“Welcome to Eterna, Sery,” said Maurio in a kindly voice. Patting Sery on the shoulder, he disappeared into the adjoining kitchen.
Veltyen, Foria, and Kiera all tucked into their food with enthusiasm. Sery picked up a sandwich and took a bite. Her eyes widened. Every ingredient seemed to burst with flavor, fresh and vibrant.
Sery’s tablemates seemed to be amused by her reaction. “Maurio uses life-magic to enhance his food,” said Foria. “The man can make me love the foods I hate.”
Sery nodded. She was beginning to see how much magic within the same type could differ. Material mages could be warriors like Veltyen or dress-makers like Evodie. Life-magic could be used to make horses like Magewhisper or delicious food.
Sery finished her food in quick, neat bites. She glanced wistfully at her empty plate.
“Would you like more?” asked Veltyen.
Sery nodded, still hungry.
“Just bring your plate to the kitchen door,” said Foria. The web-mage was eating slowly, only on the second half of her first sandwich.
Sery obeyed the order, picking up her plate in both hands and walking to the kitchen door.
“She’s a timid little thing, isn’t she?” remarked Kiera in a careless tone, watching Sery’s quick, yet somehow hesitant, steps towards the kitchen.
“She’s incredibly brave,” disagreed Veltyen. His tone was mild, and yet there was a subtle warning in it.
“Sorry, sorry.” Kiera raised her hands in surrender.
Veltyen let the matter lie. Kiera could be thoughtless in her remarks, but she was not a malicious person.
Sery returned from the kitchen with four sandwiches stacked onto her plate, double the food she had already eaten.
Seeing the extra sandwiches, Foria asked, “Did you bring extra for us?”
Sery froze for half a second, then silently offered her plate to Foria.
“Oh, no thank you,” said Foria. “I’m quite full.”
Veltyen smiled with bittersweet emotion. Sery’s shy mannerisms would be adorable if he did not know that they had evolved from nearly a decade of abuse.
He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Go ahead and eat,” he gently urged.
Meeting his eyes, Sery’s tense expression relaxed.
The four sandwiches seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye.
“Where did all the food go?” Kiera asked in amazement. Her stare seemed to make Sery uncomfortable.
Veltyen chuckled to diffuse the tension. “If Sources have to create mana particles from their own body’s energy, I wouldn’t be surprised if she ate twice as much.
you still hungry?” he asked Sery.
She shook her head.
Seeing the group finish eating, many guild members took the opportunity to introduce themselves to Sery. Men and women of different ages and appearances shook hands and exchanged words with their newest fellow member. Veltyen saw Sery’s expression shift to the detached, yet intensely focused look that told him she was memorizing names and faces. He wondered if she would actually be able to remember the twenty-plus people here today in one try.
All of Eterna’s full members were Veltyen’s age or older, mature adults who valued the guild’s stable and prosperous reputation over the fame and turbulent politics of other guilds vying for dominance. They treated Sery kindly, picking up on her body language and taking care not to overwhelm her with crowding or noise.
Not expecting any trouble, Veltyen was jarringly shocked when Sery suddenly threw herself backwards, knocking her chair over and crashing to the ground.
Cold, hard stone. The clinking of manacles. The stinging burn of a cut on her arm.
Sery was back in Dreible’s tower. She crouched on the ground and huddled against the wall. Any second now, the dreaded draining sensation of her magic being stolen would begin.
“Sery? Sery? Sery!”
A warm hand on her face.
Sery blinked and looked up into Veltyen’s concerned grey eyes. She threw herself into his arms, looking for reassurance.
“What the hell did you do, Benni?” Kiera demanded in an accusatory tone. All eyes turned towards the mage who had been in the process of shaking Sery’s hand when she panicked.
Benni held up his hands defensively. “Nothing, I swear!”
Veltyen was inclined to believe him. A three-star mage that used time-dimensional magic to verify the authenticity of antiques, Benni was an easygoing man with a wife and two children at home. There was nothing threatening or exceptional about him, except…
“Benni, you absorb mana particles faster than normal, don’t you?” Veltyen asked, standing to face the man with Sery in his arms.
Benni nodded with a confused expression. “Yeah, but what does that have to do with anything?”
“You were probably pulling at her magic,” Veltyen explained. He could feel Sery’s trembling slow and stop, but she did not attempt to pull away from him or emit magic as usual.
Everyone except Foria and Kiera still showed puzzled expressions. “She’s a Source,” Veltyen explained. Wide eyes and muffled exclamations of surprise filled the dining room.
Benni looked chagrined. “I don’t even think about increasing the magic pull of my
anymore. It’s so automatic, I do it in my sleep. Sorry, Sery.”
Sery nodded without making eye contact with Benni. “It’s okay,” she said softly.
Benni had mastered a rare technique that made his
more attractive to mana particles. Veltyen imagined that to Sery, it felt akin to being drained by blood magic, albeit on a much weaker scale.
“We’ll finish saying hello another time,” said Veltyen. The relaxed, happy atmosphere was ruined. With a few long strides, he and Sery left the subdued, awkward crowd behind.
“Sorry.” Sery’s voice was even quieter than usual.
“For what?” Veltyen’s warm voice was full of genuine curiosity.
Sery made a helpless gesture in the direction of the dining hall.
“It’s not a big deal.”
a big deal. Sery wanted to help Veltyen, not make trouble for him. She brooded, scolding herself, vowing to be on perfect behaviour.
Suddenly, Veltyen disappeared.
Sery jolted upright. She was still being carried through the guild hall, but some essential sense no longer registered Veltyen’s existence. She frantically patted at his arm as if she had gone blind.
Veltyen stopped walking. “What’s wrong?”
Sery struggled to find the right words. “I… don’t
Veltyen looked puzzled for a second. Suddenly, his expression cleared in understanding, and he reappeared to her senses. “Better?”
Sery nodded, relaxing tiredly. The two shocks of the afternoon, combined with the ride this morning, made her want to rest.
Veltyen walked on. “I thought you might still be afraid of people pulling at your magic, so I closed the walls of my
,” he explained. “Looks like all I did was frighten you more. Sorry.”
“It’s not a big deal,” said Sery with a small smile, parroting Veltyen’s earlier words.
Veltyen’s eyes were warm with amusement. “You’re quite the little jokester, aren’t you?” he teased. He touched his forehead to hers in a gesture of affection.
The contact seemed to make all of Sery’s stress melt away.
Veltyen braced himself against sensation as magic once again began to drift out of Sery’s skin. Somehow, his clumsy efforts had managed to restore Sery to a happy state.
It was no burden to carry her slight weight, but Veltyen put Sery down when he reached the doors that led to the public atrium. He led the way out of the guild hall and back to the stables.
“Want to come see my apartment?” he asked. It was his habit to relax at home after returning from a job.
Veltyen retrieved his levitating platform from Magewhisper’s stall. He undid a buckle that attached it to the harness, leaving a short strap that he could use to pull the platform by himself.
Magewhisper wandered in to say hello.
Veltyen gave the stallion a friendly slap on the shoulder. “We’re going to my apartment,” he told the horse. Magewhisper nodded.
While Veltyen shifted luggage around, Magewhisper went to greet Sery. Veltyen could not tell how much of the horse’s affection for Sery was because of her magic, and how much was because of Sery herself. Either way, the stallion looked as happy as a horse could look being petted by Sery’s small hands.
When Veltyen was done, Sery’s two trunks were no longer on the platform. “We’ll have you stay in the guild hall for a few nights until we can find an apartment for you,” he explained to Sery.
Sery nodded. Veltyen might have missed the slightly unhappy look in her eyes if the drop in ambient magic were not so obvious.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Sery’s eyes widened, and she shook her head in denial.
“Come on, you can tell me,” he coaxed.
Sery shook her head again. “Nothing,” she said in a small voice, hiding herself behind Magewhisper’s silvery bulk.
Magewhisper gave him a smug look, as if to say, ‘Look, she likes me better than you.’ The stallion arched his neck to whuffle in Sery’s hair, causing her to giggle. The ambient magic level went back up.
Well. Veltyen supposed that if Sery could be so easily cheered, whatever she was upset about was minor enough that he could let it go. “Let’s go,” he said, leaving the stables with his levitating platform.
Sery and Magewhisper followed. It was unusual for Magewhisper to bother walking Veltyen to his apartment, as it had no place for the horse to stay. Perhaps Magewhisper really liked Sery for herself. The product of six generations of enhanced breeding, Magewhisper had one of the largest
of any horse in existence, but still only rated two stars. His
must have filled up already, but Magewhisper continued to shower Sery with affection.
Several streets over from the guild hall was a four-storey apartment complex. Veltyen owned one of the eight apartments in the building.
With a final nod of goodbye, Magewhisper turned around to return to the guild hall stables. The stallion was well able to defend himself in the unlikely event of trouble, and freely wandered through town at his leisure.
“I live on the top floor,” he said to Sery, entering the building. He did not mind the exertion of climbing up four flights of stairs, and enjoyed the extra privacy.
Veltyen ascended the stairs with Sery beside him. His levitating platform glided smoothly upwards, amazingly convenient compared to a wheeled device.
At the top of the stairs was a small landing with doors labelled 7 and 8 on either side. In place of doorknobs, the doors had crystal panels that functioned as locks, scanning a person’s identity to allow or deny access.
As Veltyen pressed his palm to the panel on number 8, he noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign on number 7. It did not surprise him; his former neighbour had moved out months ago, only keeping the apartment in case the move did not work out.
His door clicked open. Veltyen’s gaze moved from the sign to Sery, who watched him and their surroundings with that
look. Would she like to live across the hall from him? He would find out.