Authors: B.T. Narro
Marne cleared his throat. “Her first opponent fought as though he’d never wielded a sword before.”
Terren furrowed his brow. “And what of her points against Kann? What excuse do you have for those?”
The silence that followed was uncomfortable.
“She got lucky,” Kann finally answered.
“Did anyone else score two points against you today?”
“No,” he said sullenly.
Terren walked over and grabbed Kann’s practice sword out of his hand. The headmaster pointed it at Sanya until she raised her own weapon. Slowly, he trudged toward her, not attacking but threatening to do so as he shifted his weapon to different angles. Sanya’s sword came alive as she rapidly moved it to fend off any chance he might have of reaching her.
Without a word, Terren lumbered back to Kann and shoved his weapon flat against his chest, sending the young man back two steps. Then Terren headed out of the training center, calling out, “Give her a scroll. I want to see how she does during evaluation week.”
After staring in disbelief for a moment, Marne quickly scribbled her name and class on a scroll and tossed it at her feet. Sanya scooped it up and hurried out of the training center.
“Come with me, please,” she whispered to Alabell as she passed by.
Alabell needed to jog to reach her side. “That was unbelievable, but how are you not in pain?”
Sanya flashed a smile. “Hold that question for the moment. Please bring your cart of potions over to the other side of the street. I’ll be waiting.”
Though slightly confused, Alabell retrieved her cart and brought it over to Sanya, who stood in the shadows of the wand shop. Sanya took Alabell’s shoulders. “Will you stand right here?” She guided Alabell until she was directly between Sanya and the training center. “Thank you.”
A loud groan sputtered out of Sanya’s throat as she keeled over. She held her shoulder with one hand and her knee with the other. “Bastial hell, it hurts. That bastard put all of his strength behind those strikes.”
Alabell barked out a laugh. “You’re insane! He would’ve put his sword through your skull if you were a hair slower.”
“I want the caregelow.” She reached out and made a grabbing motion. “Give it to me, healer.”
Alabell laughed harder. “That’s for the dying, and it will make you lose your mind for hours. Take this instead.” Alabell offered a keyfar potion, a powerful ointment without side effects. “Apply it directly to the injured area right now and tomorrow as well.”
But Sanya wouldn’t accept the potion. “I need something stronger than keyfar.” She shoved it away. “I’m going to be fighting more bastards like Kann tomorrow, and I need to be healed before then. Have any repair potions?”
It impressed Alabell that this woman had recognized the keyfar, but did she truly know what she was asking for? “If you think the pain is bad now, you won’t be able to endure what the repair potion will do to you. Like the caregelow, it’s only given to people whose injuries are life-threatening because of the terrible agony it causes.”
“I know. I know.” She waved her hand as she straightened. “But as you witnessed earlier, I can handle pain better than most.” She completely hid her anguish once again, proving her point.
“If you’re certain.”
Alabell offered the repair potion. Sanya took it and gulped down the bitter substance right there. If she minded the taste, she didn’t show it.
“What’s your name?”
“Alabell. And I already heard yours, Sanya. A pleasure to meet you.”
She nodded. “It is. I would stay and ask polite questions and be formal and such, but I’d better get myself in bed before the pain sets in.”
“A good idea, indeed. Good luck at the Academy. I feel the need to warn you, however, that most of the men there are no less hostile than those you met today.”
“I’m well aware. Thank you for your help.”
Wish there was more I could do.
After Sanya walked away, Alabell got her cart in order. She needed to return it to Oakshen’s royal chemistry building.
It had been a long day. She wanted a large supper before making the walk back to Kyrro City. The thought of her trek drained her.
Perhaps I’ll just stay the night at an inn here
She pushed her cart down the street but stopped when she heard someone calling her name. She turned to find a gorgeous man jogging toward her. She knew him, but how? Her mind strived to remember as her eyes pleaded not to look away.
Whoever it was seemed to be out of breath. “Alabell, I’m so glad you’re still here!” He stopped to suck in air. “That potion was worth
too much money. You shouldn’t have given it to me!” He took her hand, sending a chill up her arm. Then he dumped a handful of coins into her palm. “Here. Take the extra.”
Bastial hell, it was Basen…yet a completely different version of him. His dark hair was short now, strands of it loosely falling across his forehead. The whiskers were shaved from the sharp planes of his cheeks and chin. His chest was fitted by a clean shirt with a button open at its top, giving sight to the same lean muscle that traveled across his shoulders and down his arms, one of which was clasped around an extra shirt.
It took her a moment to realize just how many coins he’d passed into her hand. “You barely spent any,” she complained.
“I wouldn’t even have taken the potion if I’d known how much that odd substance was worth! What in god’s world was it? Even with your note, it took some charm to convince the apothecary that I hadn’t stolen it.” He playfully raised an eyebrow.
a Tenred expression
. “It’s a caregelow potion, Basen. The caregelow flower is extremely rare, but that will change in a few years because we’ve begun to harvest it at the Academy. I’m sure you’ll hear much about it from other chemists once you’re there.”
“I wouldn’t have had the chance if it wasn’t for you. I wish there was more I could do to thank you.”
They held each other’s gazes for a moment. “There is,” she said and took his hand. “You can spend the rest of it.” She put the coins into his coarse palm and closed his fingers around them. “The clothes you bring to the Academy are more important than you might realize. There’s hardly ever time to leave to buy more. You should spend all of that on an assortment of clothes.”
“I couldn’t possibly take all this money.”
But it truly wasn’t that much. She didn’t want to insult him by saying so, though. “If I bring it back to the castle, they’ll just tell me to keep it, and I have no use for it.” Because her family already had more money than she’d ever need.
He curled his fingers around the coins. “Then I’ll give the extra to my father after a few more purchases.”
“Henry Hiller, right?”
He nodded. “I figured you’d overheard my surname.” Basen folded his arms, sharpening the ridges of his muscles. “So you know my story, but I don’t know yours. Alabell…”
A smile grew upon his lips. “Like King Kerr?”
“Yes, and like King Hiller.”
The smile was gone. “Except I never once interacted with my uncle. Do you with yours?”
“Yes, but he’s my great-uncle.”
“I thought he seemed too old to be your uncle.”
Noticing the setting sun behind him, Alabell realized she’d been out here too long. “I must be leaving if I have any hope of returning to the capital before dark. I still need to return this cart and eat supper.”
“Yes, and I have things to buy.” He gleefully shook his fistful of money. “And a father to return to. Perhaps the coin will keep him from yelling when he finds out I sold his sword for a wand and joined as a mage instead of a warrior.” His eyebrows lifted. “Unless you would like some company while returning your cart and eating supper?”
She was hoping he would ask. “But what about your father? Will he be worried?”
“If he’s breathing, he’s worried. But he’d understand that I owe you.” Basen took over pushing her cart, his burned hand glistening from the ointment. “But that’s only if he believes me when I tell him you gave me an expensive potion to sell.”
“Not a very trusting man?”
“Not since his brother exiled us. So you seem young for a graduate of the Academy.” He leaned toward her and softened his tone. “Let’s ignore that clumsy subject change.”
“I started a year early.”
“That’s why I seem young for a graduate. I had just turned sixteen when I was accepted. I suppose you’re not used to people ignoring such a clumsy subject change as well as I did?”
“I certainly am not. So that makes you nineteen?”
She nodded, but as she did, she realized she couldn’t squelch her curiosity about his exile after all. Where was his mother now? Where was his aunt? Had he ever known his brother—the young man whose death might’ve started the war?
“Do you not wish to speak about the exile?”
He fell silent for a moment. “How about a deal? I’ll answer one question about that if you answer three of mine about the Academy.”
“That doesn’t seem like a fair agreement.”
“Ah, but it is. My questions will be easy to answer. Yours will not.”
“And why would you presume this?”
“Your eyes.” His gaze bore into her, stealing her breath. “They tell me you’ll find a clever way to ask one question that requires a long answer.” He offered his uninjured hand. “Deal?”
She shook and let go before it became a temptation not to. “I need time to think, though. So you go first.”
“Gladly. What is to happen at the Academy tomorrow?”
“You’ll visit the housing administrator who’ll take your acceptance scroll and pair you with a roommate. Most campus houses are built with two bedrooms, but some have four. As a first-year, it’s likely you’ll be paired with someone older in a two-bedroom house. You have the day to unpack, get to know your neighbors, and walk around the school. One day isn’t enough time for all of that because the Academy is four square miles, but you’ll learn where everything is by the end of the year.”
“Because I’m hoping for the same thoroughness from you. Is your next question ready?”
“Yes. What can I expect from the first few days as a mage?”
“The first week is evaluation week for warriors and mages. You’ll be split into groups and compete against your fellow mages. Every group has its own instructor, who’ll teach the same lessons and issue the same tests. By the end of the week, you’ll be put into a group in which you’ll remain for the rest of the year. Group One will be filled with the most skilled of your kind, with a more difficult regimen to better fit the talents of the students.”
Judging by the twist of his mouth, he seemed disappointed by her answer. “I didn’t realize I would have to prove myself more than I already have.”
“Everyone at the Academy will end up as an ‘elite’ of their class when their three years are up, no matter which group they’re placed in. Well, not everyone. There are always many psychics who haven’t improved since entering the Academy, even after three years. I don’t know what happens to them, just that they aren’t considered an elite like the rest of us who graduate.”
“I’m not going to give myself a chance to start wondering about psychics right now. Not with only one question left.”
“Good choice. They are the most difficult to understand of the four classes. What is your last question?”
“Have you ever heard of a spell involving a ring of fire within a cluster of bastial energy, yet the fire would not light the energy?”
She didn’t know nearly as much about magic as mages, but for a chemist she was quite knowledgeable. She thought for a moment.
“I have not,” she admitted. “It’s my understanding that even a small amount of fire should catch all of the bastial energy because lit BE feeds on itself. You can’t burn part of a cluster of energy without the rest also burning.”
“I have the same understanding.” He sighed. “The wand seller near the training center sold me a wand without sartious pellets. I tried to grab hold of the sartious energy that wasn’t there, and it felt like I grabbed some other form of energy I’d never felt before. It seemed to burn within the bastial energy I’d gathered at the tip of my wand, but whatever it was disappeared too quickly for me to be sure of what I’d seen.”
“I’ve never heard of anything like that.” She figured his eyes were playing tricks. He probably hadn’t eaten or drank enough water. “Did you return the wand to the seller?”
“I had plans to do more than just return it, at least share a few choice words. But as I arrived, I saw him comforting one of the women from the training center who looked to be his daughter. She didn’t get accepted and appeared to be crying about it. He clearly wanted to give her an advantage by preventing me from casting a fireball.”
stopped you from entering the shop?”
“I didn’t see the need to make their day any worse.”