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Authors: Sharon Green

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Epic

Competitions (3 page)

BOOK: Competitions
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Rion Mardimil, Air magic


Rion sat in the fresh air after enjoying his meal, a pleasant change from the circumstance found with the sessions he’d moved beyond. The food served for lunch at the sessions had been abominable, nothing a man of breeding and culture would accept for long. Here, though… The meal had been good enough that even Mother wouldn’t have complained very much.

Rion realized that that was the first time he’d thought about Mother all morning, and the realization pleased him. Mother was doing her best to keep him under her thumb and completely dependent on her, but he’d already gained more of an advantage than he’d expected to. She’d tried to force him into changing his name back to Clarion, that awful joke she’d saddled him with, but it hadn’t worked. Instead she’d secured him allies, which Padril had explained about.

Looking around showed Rion the place where Padril, his Adept guide, had taken his lunch, at a table with others who also seemed to be Adepts. Padril had assured Rion that he was much more potentially valuable to the Empire than Mother was, so as soon as he proved his worth he would have powerful friends to stand between him and Mother. And he needed those friends, no matter how strong his resolve was to find independence. He’d discovered that his resolve and determination began to crumble when Mother stood directly in front of him, and as abhorrent as the thought of returning to her domination was, he feared it would happen if he found himself standing alone.

A burst of laughter arose from those people sitting with Padril, momentarily making Rion believe that they were laughing at
. When he’d still been Clarion he’d been laughed at more than once, but he hastened to remind himself that he was now Rion and that didn’t happen to Rion. Indeed, from the way Padril had spoken, Rion would be the last one anyone laughed at. Great things were expected from Rion, and Rion was ready to produce them.

Another burst of laughter came from the same tableful of people, and this time one or two actually glanced in his direction.

Rion knew he was extremely unworldly as far as most things went, but being ridiculed was one state of affairs he was well familiar with. Those people
laughing at him, but he couldn’t understand why they would do so. Padril had agreed about how special he knew Rion to be, how much better than all the commoners around him…

Only then did the thought come, that there
just commoners around him. Clothing didn’t enter into it since all applicants wore the same white shirt or blouse and gray trousers or skirt. Bearing and attitude shouted that he was the only member of the nobility present, which could well mean that other members of the nobility were being handled and tested in some other place. Since he hadn’t come across any of his peers at any time so far, the theory appeared to be more than sound.

Which meant that Padril hadn’t believed his claim to be a member of the nobility, and the Adept’s very solicitous concern and support had been a sham. He hadn’t admired Rion and his potential at all, and possibly hadn’t even believed in it. Padril had been pretending, making Rion the butt of a joke, and that was the amusement he now shared with his friends. See the foolish young man who really thought he was important.

Rion felt the definite urge to do violence, an emotion he’d felt before but had never been so close to acting on. The nerve of that peasant, to make
the butt of his senseless joke! Committing violence would have felt marvelous, but Rion saw Padril rise and begin to walk toward him, and suddenly he had a better idea. Telling people things was never as good as showing them, and Padril had earned some showing. Besides, he now remembered that he and the others at the residence had decided to move ahead as quickly as possible, which fit in perfectly with his own plans.

“Ah, Rion, finished with lunch, I see,” Padril remarked with his usual ingratiating smile as he reached Rion. “You must have had a strenuous morning, but you certainly look as if you’ve been restored.”

“Completely restored, thank you,” Rion returned, trying not to sound stiff with anger. There was no sense in warning the fellow, or making it impossible for the man to say the wrong thing.

“Ah, then in that case I must disturb your rest time to ask a most pressing question,” Padril continued, his brown eyes showing veiled amusement. “We’ve already established that you’ll be doing marvelous things, but I’ve been wondering just how soon you’ll be doing them. My superiors will want to know… Perhaps by the beginning of the new week? Surely that won’t be too soon?”

“Actually, the beginning of the new week doesn’t suit me at all,” Rion drawled, fairly certain he knew what Padril was aiming at. “I wonder why you would think it did.”

“I thought so because you were the one who wanted to forge strongly ahead,” Padril reminded him, gentle admonition behind the words. “But surely I’m the one who is mistaken, and you would prefer to wait until the second new week before showing us your prowess. Better to wait a bit longer and be absolutely certain, eh?”

“I’m already absolutely certain,” Rion said, ignoring the wink the man had shown him. “And I see no reason for a wait of any length. Whom do I have to see to arrange the testing right now?”

“Now?” Padril echoed, his vast and worldly amusement suddenly faltering. “You can’t mean you want to—Now?”

“Yes, now,” Rion repeated, taking a grimly pleased satisfaction from the man’s sudden nervousness. “To whom do I speak about it?”

the one assigned to witness your attempts at mastery, but surely you’re simply joking with me.” Padril had begun to sweat and squirm, for some reason Rion couldn’t fathom. “You can’t possibly be ready to test yet, not after only half a day of practice. It—isn’t often done.”

“I’m glad you weren’t foolish enough to say ‘never done,’” Rion told him as he rose to his feet. “Let’s not waste any more time.”

Padril’s bearded face was creased into a worried frown, but he said nothing further before turning to lead the way to the path that led across the grass to the practice building. The so-called Adept glanced at those he’d been sitting with as he walked, but made no effort to acknowledge their smirks and grins. He must have come over to add to the general amusement, Rion realized, but had found the joke ruined instead. And it would really be ruined once Rion passed the test.

The practice building was divided into a number of rooms, each of which was lit by lamps sealed behind clear windows of resin. In fact the entire room was capable of being sealed, which Padril saw to once the six people Rion was to work with had entered.

“When I pull this cord, smoke will be pumped into the room,” Padril said as though Rion had no idea about what was going on. “The first mastery required of you is to keep yourself and those six people breathing freely, with them standing together in a single group.”

Rion nodded curtly to show that he understood perfectly, and after a moment’s hesitation Padril pulled the rope. Smoke began to billow into the room immediately, heavier smoke than Rion had worked with that morning. The difference wasn’t all that significant, however, not when Rion reached out with the fingers of his talent. Air magic was his aspect, and in no more than a moment there was clean air for himself and the six subject people to breathe.

“Now they’ll divide into two groups of three,” Padril announced after another hesitation. “Remember that you must keep them breathing freely.”

Padril had surrounded himself with his own clean air, of course, but Rion had the impression that the man wasn’t holding it easily. But that was unimportant at the moment, and protecting his subjects was not. Rion carefully parted the shell of clean air and sent it with the three people who moved away from the others, and not a wisp of smoke disturbed any of them.

“Very … impressive,” Padril said after an even longer hesitation, his voice now trembling faintly. “Two masteries completed, two to go. May we have the next separation, please?”

The three people who had moved away now moved back again, but only in order to form three groups of two. Rion carefully separated his spheres of air again, but there wasn’t much time left. The air that had started out clear was being used too far by too many people, and the pumped-in smoke had tainted whatever air was left. If Padril didn’t stop taking his time admitting the masteries, the subjects would soon be coughing and choking from something other than smoke.

“Yes, well, that’s three now, isn’t it?” Padril asked after much too long a time. “Well, just one more to go, but it
the hardest. Places, please.”

The Adept now sounded too pleased to suit Rion, so while the six people began to separate into six individually clear islands in the smoke, Rion thought about why. It took only a moment to come up with a guess, but it seemed rather likely. If one or more of the subjects began to cough from breath-tainted air, Padril could claim it was smoke causing them to cough, and thereafter deny him the mastery. It would fit well with the heavy man’s twisted sense of humor, but Rion had a joke of his own to play.

It took an enormous amount of concentration and effort, but Rion did find it possible to steal the air from around Padril and distribute it among his six subjects. He didn’t take all of Padril’s air, of course, just enough to keep his subjects breathing freely. And the most amusing part of it all was that Padril never noticed the loss.

Or at least didn’t notice it to begin with. The Adept seemed prepared to wait even longer than previously before acknowledging Rion’s mastery, but then there was an abrupt change in his plans. It was Padril who began to cough and choke, and then the heavy man was unsealing the room in order to get outside. Rion waited until the smoke was completely gone before unshielding his subjects, and then he strolled out to where Padril stood gulping air and occasionally still choking.

“Not a single cough or gasp in the lot,” he observed laconically to the Adept. “Except for you, that is. That’s a full four masteries, I believe, sir. Am I mistaken?”

For an instant Padril seemed ready to deny Rion’s claim, then fear replaced frustration in his eyes. He seemed to know at last that he dealt with a superior, and his words confirmed the surmise.

“Yes, sir, that
a full four masteries,” he agreed, now sounding extremely servile. “Excuse me for not having congratulated you at once, the oversight was unforgivable. Allow me to offer you tea to refresh yourself with, and I’ll fetch it myself. Just follow me, if you please.”

Rion found the man’s cringing homage more disgusting than satisfying, but he still followed him out of the building and back toward the eating area. He intended to have something to eat along with the tea, but more importantly meant to do some thinking. He hadn’t had the time before, but now…

Now he reclaimed his lunch table, and put the question to himself clearly: if members of the nobility weren’t anywhere around there, then where were they? And more to the point, why wasn’t
there with them? Could Mother have had something to do with his placement, and if so, why would she have done such a thing?

And last but certainly not least: how could he undo whatever was done and finally get to where he really belonged?




Tamrissa Domon, Fire magic


The day had become a warm one, but the canopy overhead shielded everyone having lunch from the noonday sun. And there were quite a lot of others having lunch besides me, more than thirty of them. Most of the people were women, just as Soonen, my Adept guide, had claimed, but that was the only difference among the lot of them. Once they’d shown up most of them had spent their time drinking tea, with only one or two drifting over to the practice cubicles. But not to practice, certainly not. I was the one who practiced, while they stared into a cubicle for a while and then walked away.

I sipped at my tea in an effort to calm my annoyance, which now threatened to get out of hand again. It hadn’t been much of a problem while I’d been practicing, not with all the strength I’d been expending, but lunch had done a good job of restoring my energies. And being outdoors seemed to help as well. I enjoyed being outdoors, but…

But I was far from being happy. I sipped tea as I looked around again, wondering for the tenth or twentieth time if everyone else there was the same sort of incompetent want-to-be that I suspected Soonen was. My Adept guide had proven to be an arrogant idiot much like Beldara Lant, the woman who shared my aspect and had shared my residence until yesterday. Beldara was convinced she was the best at Fire magic ever to have been born, but she hadn’t yet been able to justify the claim with actions.

Soonen claimed to be an Adept, but she’d spent her time calling me useless and helpless, and hadn’t even been able to demonstrate the third exercise I was supposed to do. The woman had seemed to be trying deliberately to make me lose control of both my temper and my talent, and I couldn’t understand that. If the testing authority didn’t want us to qualify for the competition for High practitioner, what were they after instead?

Any possible answer to that was one designed to make me shiver or tremble, so it wasn’t a great disappointment not being able to think of one. Simply knowing I walked a very thin line with various disasters waiting on all sides for a misstep was enough to keep my insides in a permanent twist, at least when I stopped to think about it. What I’d tried to keep in mind instead was the agreement the others at the residence and I had come to: keep moving forward. Nothing about our situation was certain, except for the fact that falling behind would bring immediate disaster, while moving forward at least postponed the time of trouble.

I took a deep breath to ease the fluttering in my middle, and saw Soonen rise from the table she’d shared with two other women. That table had been near one filled mostly with men, but she hadn’t even glanced in their direction. Now she made her way toward me, tall and imposing with her arrogant stride, the beginning of a sneer on her plain, undistinguished face.

BOOK: Competitions
7.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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