Sery woke up for the second time later in the morning. Curling up on her side, she gently petted her toy horse, feeling adrift. What was she going to do for the next ten days?
She had intended to join Eterna in order to help Veltyen, but looking back, he had spent an enormous amount of time and money on her, and she had been no help at all. Sery sighed.
Well, she was at a mage guild; she would learn. Galen had said that apprentices trained for over a decade before gaining sufficient skill to work in their chosen specialty. Sery would as fast as she could. She had a good memory; hopefully, she would not need a decade of training.
“You were born to be used.”
Dreible’s words came back to haunt her. Did she really need any training if she was just a power source? She rubbed the scars on her arms.
Her fingertips brushed the raised scar on her biceps, the only one she was proud of.
“If you have magic, you’re a mage.”
Sery shoved her doubts aside along with her blanket as she got out of bed. She would not let her past ruin the future.
Pulling on a mage robe that looked and felt like liquid sunshine, Sery padded downstairs. Hunger gnawed at her stomach; she had not been eating well for long enough that she could skip meals.
Hurriedly eating an enormous bowl of rice porridge in the dining hall, Sery went to find Foria. The web-mage was already stationed at the front desk.
“Just a second, Sery,” she said in a distracted voice. Symbols flashed across the desk’s crystal monitor. When a full page of the mysterious glyphs had appeared, Foria tapped her control panel, and they disappeared.
“There we go,” the web-mage said cheerfully, turning to Sery. “Good morning, Sery. What would you like to do today?” Before Sery could muster up the courage to answer, Foria continued, “Veltyen mentioned that you’ve never had any training in magic. Normally, we’d pair you up with a mage of the same kind for mentoring, but there aren’t any other Sources that we know of.”
Sery’s heart sank. Did that mean she could not be trained?
Foria made a reassuring expression. “Don’t worry. At the very least, we can give you a solid foundation in magic theory, and I’m sure the library has enough references to Sources that we can figure out the rest. Sound good?”
Sery’s spirits rose, and she nodded happily.
“Okay then.” Foria opened a drawer and pulled out a textbook. It was obviously used, but well cared-for, its leather binding still strong and its pages still crisp. “Here you go.”
Sery accepted the heavy tome with care.
An Introduction to Magic
, the title read.
“When young children first come to be taught, we’ll have a tutor go over the basics with them,” Foria explained, “but you’ll probably be better off reading it directly from the source.” She smiled. “Pun unintended.”
Sery nodded, smiling back.
“You can use one of the study rooms upstairs. Just pick one of the doors with a green light and tap it until it turns yellow. There’s a glossary in the back of the book, but don’t hesitate to come ask me if there’s anything you don’t understand.”
Sery hugged the textbook to her chest. “Thank you,” she said softly, then headed upstairs to the row of study rooms beside the library.
All the doors had green gems on their handles. Sery had noticed them before, but she had assumed them to be decorative. Curiously, she tapped one, turning it yellow. Tapping it again turned it a deep, alarming red. Sery hurriedly tapped it once more, sighing in relief when it reverted to green.
Setting the gem to yellow, Sery entered the first study room in the hall. It was a cozy space, well-lit by mage-lights, the walls a deep green. The furniture consisted of a large desk, a chair, and a single bookshelf stocked sparsely with books. A sheaf of blank paper sat on the desk, along with an inkwell.
Careful not to disturb anything, Sery eased herself into the chair, placing the textbook on the desk. She flipped to the first chapter.
Chapter 1: Magic Energy
In our everyday lives, energy is constantly harvested and transformed to change the world and fuel life. Plants absorb sunlight to grow, while animals consume plants and other animals for energy. Society transforms energy to do work: burning wood for cooking fires, using windmills to grind flour, relying on flowing water to carry wastes away, etc.
Magic energy, in the form of mana, is harnessed by mages’ bodies and transformed into visible effects by will. This work is designed to teach the beginner the basics of magic theory, the history of how such theories were discovered, proven, and elucidated, and their implications in the practical application of magic.
Sery frowned in consternation. There were several words in that short passage she did not understand. She flipped to the glossary, but it looked like it only contained magic terms.
She knew that her reading ability was far below what it should be for her age. Sery pressed her lips together in worry and frustration, torn between wanting to learn and wanting to hide her ignorance.
For a moment, she desperately wished Veltyen were here. He would help her with that kind ease that never made her feel awkward or stupid.
But he was gone, and would not return for at least ten days.
Foria had said to ask her if she had any questions. Sery did not trust the web-mage the way she did Veltyen, but Foria had been very kind so far. Mustering her courage, Sery picked up the textbook and returned to the front desk.
Foria sat at her desk, apparently unoccupied. Seeing Sery, she perked up and asked, “Yes, what is it?”
“I… don’t know some of the words in the textbook, and they’re not in the glossary,” Sery mumbled.
“Oh, nothing to be embarrassed about, dear. Those theorists can get dreadfully technical even when they think they’re using plain language. Was there not a dictionary in the study room? There should be one in each room.”
Sery flashed back to her initial survey of the study. Yes, one of the books on the shelf had had “DICTIONARY” embossed in gold letters on its spine. She had no idea what a “dictionary” was, but one admission of ignorance was all she could handle today.
“I’ll go look,” Sery said, and then retreated.
In the study, Sery put down her magic textbook and retrieved the dictionary. It was even thicker than the textbook though its pages were tissue-thin.
Turning to the first page, Sery began reading.
It was a list of words… with definitions. Sery’s eyes widened at the treasure-trove of knowledge before her.
She wanted to read the whole thing, but she was supposed to be studying magic theory. Well, the dictionary would always be here; she could read it later. Looking up the words she did not understand, Sery began to explore the mysterious concept of mana.
Veltyen had never felt a sense of urgency returning from a job before. Whether he was out riding or idle at home, his
would replenish itself at about the same rate. Why rush?
He had never had someone waiting for his return.
Responding to the subconscious tightening of his legs, Magewhisper sped up.
Veltyen sighed and forced himself to settle back. “Just ignore me, Mage,” he said, patting his friend on the neck. The stallion was already moving at the fastest pace he could sustain without burning mana; his
had been depleted for days now.
“We’ll get there by the end of today.” Veltyen knew he was talking to himself more than his equine partner, who was very familiar with Eterna’s surroundings and likely had a better idea of the distance home than Veltyen himself.
Sure enough, Eterna’s guild hall came into view by late afternoon. Veltyen rode into the guild stables and dismounted. Before he could even unsaddle Magewhisper, Foria appeared beside him.
Veltyen was not surprised that Foria was able to track his arrival; it was a trivial task for a dimensional mage of her skill. He
surprised that she had bothered. “What’s up?”
Foria’s voice was serious, but not too worried. “It’s about Sery.”
Gabbro [GAB-roh] n., pl., gabbros. A dark, granular igneous rock, composed essentially of labradorite and augite.
Gabby [GAB-ee] adj., gabbier, gabbiest. Talkative; garrulous
Gabelle [guh-BELL] n. A tax; excise.
Sery suddenly looked up from her studying. She frowned, trying to pinpoint the source of her distraction.
It was not quite dinner time; Foria would come fetch her for that, anyways. She had not heard a sound. Nothing seemed to be out of place. What had caught her attention?
Sery found herself wandering downstairs, intending to ask Foria about the strange feeling.
The web-mage was not at her post.
Sery began running for the stables, suddenly convinced that Veltyen was home.
She came to a halt just inside the stable doors. There he was, frowning at something Foria was saying, a saddled Magewhisper standing nearby.
He looked up, the frown lingering for a moment before he smiled. “Sery.” When she approached, he swept her into a warm hug.
“I’ll take care of it,” she heard him say to Foria. His voice sounded more resonant with her ear pressed to his chest. He released her a moment later.
Foria nodded. “See you at dinner,” she said, taking the path back to the guild hall.
Veltyen made sure the dismay he felt at Sery’s appearance stayed off his face; no doubt she would misinterpret concern as anger and shrink away from him.
Sery looked tired, the kind that came from too many nights of lost sleep. Even the steady flow of magic she emitted felt weaker. Sery had not been taking proper care of herself.
He would approach the subject gradually. For now, he asked, “Want to help me with Magewhisper?”
Sery nodded, retrieving the stallion’s brushes while Veltyen put away his tack. She petted Magewhisper’s neck in greeting, then frowned. Magewhisper suddenly perked up, full of energy. Sery nodded in satisfaction.
“Did you just give him some magic?” Veltyen asked.
Sery nodded. “He was too empty.”
“You can sense how full someone’s
is?” Magewhisper had indeed depleted his reserves in the long days of travel.
She nodded again. “If I’m touching them.”
“What about mine?” Veltyen asked, wanting to test the ability.
Before he could reach out a hand, Sery smiled softly and answered, “You’re full.”
“I thought you had to be touching,” Veltyen said with a raised eyebrow.
Sery began grooming Magewhisper with more concentration than strictly required. “I felt it when you hugged me,” she mumbled into his coat.
Veltyen grinned and bopped Sery gently on the head before getting his own brush and starting on Magewhisper’s other side.
They left Magewhisper munching happily on hay and grain, heading towards their own meal.
“So, Foria told me you’ve been studying hard,” Veltyen ventured.
Sery nodded. A brief look of weariness crossed her face.
“Have you explored town? Gone out with Marielle and Tasielle?” he asked, though he knew the answer.
Sery shook her head.
Veltyen stopped them outside the dining hall. “It’s good to work hard, but take care of yourself as well. You’ll make me worry if you keep exhausting yourself like this.”
Sery nodded, but Veltyen could see that she did not understand his point.
He tried again. “I want you to have fun and be happy here, Sery.”
Her confused expression broke his heart. It was clear that Sery did not value herself at all.
A million sentences ran through his mind. He rejected them all. Words would not change her mindset. Hopefully, time in Eterna would show her a new way of thinking.
Giving her a brief hug, he said only one more thing on the subject. “It makes me happy when you’re happy.”
He steered a bewildered Sery into the dining hall.
Sery stayed silent throughout dinner. It was not all that different from her usual quiet, so Foria did not appear to notice anything unusual. Veltyen seemed to understand that she was thinking, and mostly left her to sit and eat absent-mindedly.
“It makes me happy when you’re happy.”
Sery understood those words when applied to herself towards Veltyen. He had saved her life, rescued her from slavery, and given her a new place to belong. He was warm and kind and patient. He was her everything.
But why would
happiness matter to him?
Sery was sure that some of it was his general kindness to everyone, some of it the responsibility he felt towards her, but was that all? She surreptitiously watched him, as if the answers could be read off his face.
Veltyen caught her glance and smiled. “Done?”
Sery glanced down. Somehow, she had finished her entire meal though it felt like only moments had passed.
Focusing on the real world, Sery nodded and collected everyone’s plates to take to the kitchen.
“See you later,” said Foria, heading back to her post. She paused. “Oh, I just remembered, Veltyen, the furniture you ordered is finished. I told them to wait to deliver it so that they wouldn’t have to haul it up four flights of stairs.”
“Got it, thanks. I’ll pick it up tomorrow,” Veltyen said with a nod.
“And where are you going?” Veltyen asked as Sery followed Foria out the door.
Sery hesitated. It had become her habit to study for several more hours before bed.
“No more studying after dinnertime. We are going to do something fun and relaxing, and then you’re going to bed early.” Veltyen paused in thought, then brightened. “I know; come with me.”
Arm around her shoulder, Veltyen steered her to an out-of-the-way room on the third floor.
Instead of a bedroom, it appeared to be storage for leather cases of different sizes. In addition, there was a strange piece of furniture in the middle of the room. Made of gleaming dark wood, it somewhat resembled a large, triangular table.
“Do you play an instrument, Sery?” Veltyen asked.
Sery shook her head. Expensive instruments were for the likes of nobility.
Veltyen opened a panel on the strange piece of furniture, revealing black and white keys. He sat on the bench in front of the keys, gesturing for Sery to join him.
“I took a lot of lessons when I was younger, but the only one I ever liked was the piano.” Taking a breath, Veltyen raised his arms and sent his fingers dancing across the keys.
Sery was entranced. The music coming out of this unfamiliar instrument was like nothing she had ever heard, elegant and powerful. Veltyen’s expression was focused but serene as he played from memory, his fingers running up and down the keyboard with practiced dexterity.
When the song’s last notes faded from the air, he turned to her. “Sorry, I’m a little rusty.”
Sery shook her head. “That was wonderful.”
Veltyen grinned. “I think you may be biased, but thanks. Anyways, now that I’m done showing off, I can show you a few things.”
He lifted her hand to the keys. “This is middle C.”
Sery pressed down hesitantly, and a faint note sounded from the instrument.
Before long, Veltyen had her picking out the melodies of some simple nursery tunes. Time flew by while she learned notes and songs.
Sery was startled when Foria knocked on the door and stuck her head in. “There you are!” she exclaimed. “Veltyen, if giving her more lessons is your idea of a break, we need to have a talk.”
“This isn’t work,” Veltyen argued.
“Is she memorizing something?” Foria asked accusingly.
They both looked at Sery. She ducked her head and nodded guiltily.
Veltyen sighed. “My bad, then.”
“It was fun,” Sery protested, gripping his sleeve.
“You say that about studying, too,” Foria pointed out.
fun,” said Sery.
“We may need to clarify what fun means, young lady.”
Veltyen ruffled her hair. “If all students were as diligent as you, we could cut their apprenticeships in half.”
“And probably have to send them to the healer’s every month,” Foria retorted. “Come on, off to bed. You have a big moving day tomorrow.”
Sery’s eyes widened in realization. With the furniture completed, she would be moving into the apartment next to Veltyen.
Sery ran off to prepare for bed with a glow of happiness.