Authors: B.T. Narro
He noticed a wand shop next to a sword shop across the road. Positioned strategically close to the training center, the shops would no doubt set their prices substantially higher than anywhere else, but he had little choice. He went inside the wand shop.
The owner was a bespectacled man, his elegant robe giving him the appearance of a mage. He grimaced. “What could you be looking for in here?”
Basen feigned confusion. “This isn’t a bathhouse?”
“Oh, then I must be here for a wand.”
The owner grumbled at his quip. “Do you have any money?”
“Not yet. I need to know how much your cheapest wand is.”
“I don’t want stolen coin.”
“I’ve never stolen anything in my life, and I don’t plan to start now. How much is that one?” Basen pointed at a shameful cylinder of wood that looked to be the least expensive one in the fancy glass case before him.
“More than you can afford at zero coins.”
Basen drew his father’s wooden sword. It startled the owner as Basen placed it on the counter between them. “I will trade this for it.”
The owner tried to pretend he hadn’t been reaching for the wand on his belt and stepped forward to investigate the quality of the wood. He made a sour face that was far worse than what his father’s sword deserved.
“It’s quite worn.”
“Not nearly as much as that wand.”
The owner studied him for a moment. “Do you even know how to manipulate energy?”
Basen needed to practice gathering bastial energy before the trial anyway, and he saw this as a good opportunity. He opened his mind to sense for the energy. As he became aware of it, the sensation was like feeling heat from a surrounding fire. Drawing it toward him was surprisingly easy, as if he’d never had a hiatus in training. He pulled the bastial energy out from where it sat trapped in the walls and beneath the floor, then even more from his body. Turning up his hand, he directed it all to a single point above his palm.
With a soft grunt, he aimed his arm and willed the energy toward a table on the other side of the shop. The heat would be too much for his skin if not for the speed with which he accumulated the bastial energy and released it, all done in the span of a quick breath. The heavy book atop the table slid off and struck the floor with a thud.
The owner seemed slightly frightened, his hand once again going for his wand. Basen calmly nudged the sword toward him. “It’s a good trade,” he urged, trying to keep desperation out of his tone. The line hadn’t been long when he left, and mages took less time to judge than warriors because they didn’t have to duel each other.
“Fine. I accept your trade.” The owner slapped the wand onto the counter. “Go, then. Hurry off.”
Henry would seethe with anger when he found out Basen had traded their family sword for a wand that looked ready to break after a single spell, but he couldn’t worry about that now. He had to remember how to cast a fireball. Drawing in bastial energy was easy. Mixing it with sartious energy—without burning himself—was not.
The wand felt awkward in his hand. He couldn’t tell if it was a different weight or thickness from his beloved wand his father had made him sell months ago, but his fingers couldn’t find a comfortable spot along the chipped wood. It felt akin to using a fork with his right hand instead of his left, something his mother had tried to force him to learn as a child until his stubbornness had worn her out.
There was only one mage left in line when Basen returned, though he estimated well over two hundred warriors still waited. As he maneuvered past them, he feared someone would notice he’d left with a sword and was now back with a wand.
His fear came true. Some grating-voiced individual announced it with a teasing cadence. “Look! The poor-boy traded his shit sword for a shit wand!”
A roar of laughter followed as well as two comments: one about him lacking manhood between his legs and another wondering if he had a pair of teats beneath his grime. It was true that most mages were women, for they weren’t allowed to join the Academy as warriors. But the other two classes were mostly composed of women as well, yet there wasn’t the same derision toward male chemists and psychics.
“Let’s see how humorous you find it when you’re walking home with your swords and I’m walking to the Academy with my wand,” he told the lot of them.
They looked to each other for a response.
“Shut up, woman,” someone blurted.
Another roar of laughter followed at the poor excuse for an insult.
Basen scoffed as he walked away from them.
Their flavorless banter was part of the reason he first thought to try the wand instead of the sword.
The last woman in line was just about to cast a fireball when Basen came to the mage side of the training center. She let loose a small fireball, about the size of Basen’s fist. It sailed over all three training dummies twenty yards ahead of the young woman, exploding against a blackened brick wall.
The recruiter offered a polite smile. “Thank you. Please wait over there with the rest.”
The other women were gathered in the corner with just one man among them. They all seemed to stop their conversations to watch Basen,
the dirty, destitute man who came in here a warrior not long ago.
He would be watching as well if he were them.
“I see you’ve traded your sword for a wand,” the recruiter commented with an entertained sneer. “I haven’t seen this before.”
“Yes, the sword would’ve been too difficult to cast with.”
She pursed her lips in a repressed smile. “And what is your name?”
Dread came as she readied her quill to write. He hadn’t thought about having to give his name.
He glanced at the other mages. All were listening closely.
“Hiller,” he said softly.
She turned her head to glance at him sideways. “What did you say?”
Gasps came from the mages watching beside him. Then he heard his surname among the murmurs that followed.
He recognized the shocked expression on the recruiter’s face and knew she was about to ask the same question everyone always did: How was he related to the late king of Tenred? He saved her the trouble and answered preemptively.
“I’m Tegry Hiller’s nephew.” He knew what question was next, so he answered that as well. “Yes, the one who was exiled when the truth came out about my mother and supposed brother.”
The recruiter stepped back as if Basen were an animal baring teeth. “Wait here a moment.”
She hurried across the training center until she reached the warrior recruiter, a man twice her size with a face as ugly as a dog’s ass. At his command, the two dueling young men came to an abrupt stop. Everyone huddled closer to listen as the mage recruiter said something and pointed to Basen. Soon the entire line of warriors was staring at him. It was no better on the other side, the mages still gawking.
It was a constant effort not to roll his eyes. It wasn’t like he was the one who’d started the war. He hadn’t even fought. In fact, he’d come to Kyrro before the war had ended and would’ve died with the rest of them had Kyrro lost. They probably knew this. Most everyone damn well knew everything about his family by now. Chances were good someone in this territory even knew where his mother was, something he wanted to know yet equally didn’t want to know.
Both recruiters seemed to come to a decision. The mage walked back and formed a grin as she came near. She seemed young for an instructor of the Academy, but her deep smile lines helped make Basen aware of their age difference.
“Basen, are you aware that everyone who is accepted to the Academy still has to have their loyalty questioned by a psychic upon entering the school?”
“I’m aware now.”
She waited, looking as if she expected him to make an excuse to leave. He said nothing.
“Would you care to explain why that doesn’t seem to worry you?” Now she appeared to be enjoying this anomaly in her otherwise straightforward recruitment day, drawing out the prelude to his test. But Basen wasn’t getting any more comfortable with holding the attention of an audience.
“Madam, it would take insanity to remain loyal to a man who ruined my life, and it would take idiocy to do so simply because he was my uncle. I’d like to think I’m neither insane nor an idiot. Now if we’re done judging my character, can we begin judging my aptitude? If you still want to know more about me after that, I can sing and dance so you can judge my artistry. I should first warn you, though, that I dance like an ape and sing like one, too, so I hope my ability with bastial and sartious energy and my loyalty to Kyrro are the only things that matter in your decision.”
She held a pressed smile as she looked up at him, clearly entertained by his glib response. He would’ve been a fool to try the same thing with the warrior recruiter, but this woman had a predilection toward humor, something he could often determine about people upon their first conversation.
“Very well, Basen Hiller.” She spoke his name slowly and loudly, turning this into a spectacle as best she could. “Let’s see your strength and aim with fireballs.”
He tried to ignore that the entire training center was watching him, but it was like trying to disregard a naked woman. He closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath.
For most mages of seventeen like him, it took about four heartbeats to gather the necessary energy and cast a fireball. He knew himself to be twice as fast, but the recruiter hadn’t asked for speed, so he would focus on power instead.
Basen took his time drawing in an enormous amount of bastial energy near to him, preparing himself for the upcoming part that needed to be done in a blink. The energy wanted to keep moving, but he held it in a wide ring around him. It was almost invisible to the eye, though true mages could sense it as easily as a baker could smell when his bread was done.
In an instant, he then pulled all the bastial energy to the tip of his wand. At the same time, he used the rest of his mind’s focus to scrape out sartious dust from the pellets in his wand. But something was wrong—he couldn’t grasp the sartious energy within his weapon. He pulled at it harder with his mind, but it was too late. He was forced to let go of the hot bastial energy before he burned himself, willing it at the training dummy.
A strange and new feeling came to him, like willing a door open that had taken all of the strength of his mind. He didn’t know what to make of it, for the spell had been a failure—a blast of hot, clear bastial energy that dissipated halfway to the training dummy. However, there was something he’d never seen before at the center of the ball of heat. It was gone just as quickly as it had appeared, but it had looked like a circle the size of his palm with something yellow and fiery deep within it.
He was noticeably more fatigued than usual after casting a single fireball, and he hadn’t even managed to do that. As he tried to keep his heavy breathing under control, the crowd laughed and went back to its business.
“Did you see the strange yellow circle?” he asked the recruiter, hoping that if she was going to send him back to the workhouse hungry, at least he would’ve learned what he’d done.
“Yes. It seems that there wasn’t enough sartious energy to burn. You need more for all that bastial energy you gathered.”
So she thought that it was simply the beginning of a fireball, nothing special about it. Perhaps she was right.
“Please allow me to try again,” he said. “It’s been months since I’ve cast anything, and something felt wrong.”
She thought for a moment. “That
a large amount of bastial energy I felt. But if you have no control over sartious, then you’re not ready for the Academy.”
“I can control sartious energy.”
“Then let me see you make a trail of it.”
This was a simple spell. He could focus purely on grinding out dust from the sartious pellets in his wand. But as he tried to scrape the energy with his mind, he couldn’t feel it. He tried harder.
Panic set in.
Have I lost the ability?
The recruiter frowned and extended her hand. “Let me see your wand.”
Hopeful she might discover some defect, he gave it to her. She unscrewed the top and looked inside with one eye.
“It’s empty.” She turned it upside down and shook it to show him.
Relief washed over him. There were no sartious pellets for him to use. Anger quickly followed.
That bastard wand seller.
Most of the price of a wand came from a master green mage gathering a tremendous amount of sartious energy over many hours, packing it into hardened pellets, and securing them in the weapon.
“Where did you get this wand?” the recruiter asked.
Basen explained trading his sword for it and rushing back without thinking to check inside.
“He shouldn’t have sold you an empty wand even if it was a trade,” she said. “Here, use mine.”
When the recruiter handed it to him, his hand clasped her wand so comfortably he didn’t want to give it back. It was made from beautiful and expensive ironbark, black and glossy. Even though it was filled with hardened sartious energy, it was lighter than the dense wood of his wand.
Probably why I never suspected it could be missing sartious energy.