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  • Rebekah Olson

Spell Caster Chapter 15

With the water clear, Sakila decided it was time for her to return home. She paid Jerryck one more visit. He offered her the remnants of the magicked sugar as a parting gift. “It’s not a very good gift,” Jerryck said. “The magic doesn’t even last very long, no more than a month. Minutes, once it’s activated.” “I have nothing to give you for this,” she said. “It’s a gift, not an exchange. You don’t have to pay for it. Think of it as my way of thanking you for visiting.” “Even after I made you destroy your workroom?” She looked around the room, at the new cabinets, new glass in the windows, new shelves with jars waiting to be filled. She brushed her fingers across the sturdy worktable, one of the only things that survived Jerryck’s accidents on a regular basis. She said, “All this work and effort. And you still thank me?” Jerryck grinned sheepishly. “That wasn’t your fault. In fact, if a trade would make you feel better, then don’t tell anyone that’s what caused it. I’m not supposed to have accidents like that.” “I will tell no one,” she said with a smile. “I would not tell anyone even if you gave me nothing. It is your business, and no one else’s. But thank you for the gift. And thank you for treating me like a sister.” “I like family,” Jerryck said with a shrug. If she insisted on thinking good manners were preferential treatment reserved for family, who was he to argue? “If there’s anything else I can do for you, you’ll let me know?” “I do have one other question,” she said. “It is not very important. It matters so little, I usually forget to ask.” “And you’re remembering now?” “So many people here are talking about your coming visitors from Shontarra, I remembered. Why are Brend and Shontarra called sister nations. I know of no other two countries called that.” “We speak the same language and have similar histories,” Jerryck said. Did he need to go further than that? He could recite to her all the boring history of the fighting the separate districts carried out before the northern two-thirds signed a unification treaty and became the nation of Brend, with the southern districts following that example about a decade later to form Shontarra. He could. But he really didn’t feel like it. Sakila nodded. She must have been satisfied with the short answer, because she said, “I thought as much.” When she left, he went back to his current project. Penning letters. He had already drafted several of them to fellow magicians, inquiring if they were aware of someone new in the field with significant potential. Not every premiere had appointed an official magician for their district, so he started with the ones who had. He also wrote a draft to the magicians officially appointed by the mayors of the five major cities of the nation. Well, four really, plus the one that was disputed, since it sat on the coast right on the border between Brend and Shontarra. Once he started getting responses from those, he would hand them to Heston for anything that needed followed up. Then he could branch out from there, focusing on the districts where he hadn’t yet contacted anyone, and some of the smaller cities. He folded, addressed, and sealed the letters appropriately. Then he set them aside. He’d post them the next time he left his tower. Then he picked up one of his books to review fog making. Again. Bored with it, he allowed himself to browse other spells, losing himself in the pages, just relaxing and enjoying some casual reading. He certainly needed some leisure time after the stress in the dungeons the day before. Eventually, the chimes signaled someone entering the tower. The light slanting through the window said that the morning had passed and it was now noon. He softly swore under his breath. If he didn’t hurry down for lunch his wife and sister would be upset. He closed his book, put it on the shelf, then stacked his notes neatly on the counter under it. He picked up the letters that needed posting, and opened the door to the workroom. A rookie elite guard stood there on the landing, his hand raised to knock. “Yes?” Jerryck asked. “I’m supposed to remind you that tonight is the scheduled capture-the-flag scenario,” the young man said. “Oh! Yes. Tonight. Of course it’s tonight. I knew that.” “And I’m supposed to make myself available if you have any errands to run, in case you wanted to rest, or anything.” “Really? Wow. I’ve never had an elite to run errands for me.” “I’m just a rookie.” The young man smiled with only half his mouth, and turned to show his bare sleeve. “See? No stripes. So I get to play errand lad in the afternoons. You need anything I can do?” “Uh…” Jerryck tapped his chin with the stack of letters. If this man did menial chores, that might leave room to pursue more interesting things. Jerryck still had some ideas how to play with figuring out Tajor’s curse. Which would lead to other things. He’d figured out how to make fire eat the visibility of ink, and bring it back to visibility with water. Though he probably really should use the time for a more thorough review of his responsibility to Heston. Of course, either option would require him to think up menial chores that didn’t require the use of magic for this man to do. He started off with, “You could get me something to eat.” “Sure thing,” the guard said. He held out his hand. “You need those posted while I’m at it?” Jerryck looked at the letters in his hand. Instead of smacking himself for stupidity, he nodded and handed them over. When the guard left, Jerryck did shake his head at himself. He could be so dense at times. Responsibilities first. He got his book and notes back out. Since he hadn’t taken the last review seriously, he should do it again. He already knew what to do. But a little extra caution never hurt. He reran the calculations for how much energy would be required to cover the entire area of the grove. He came to the same conclusion as before. The method that provided the best efficiency would be to cast the fog spell in more than one section, then get it to spread, allowing the edges to meld together. By the time the guard returned with a plate of food, the worktable was covered with notes and multiple open books. The young man stood there until Jerryck cleared a corner for the plate. “Your wife and sister tried telling me you needed to come down yourself,” the guard said. “I hope you don’t mind, I told them it wasn’t going to happen because you were trying to get things done so you could nap this afternoon.” “You really want me to sleep that badly?” “Heston said I might need to push you,” the guard said. “Anyway, the ladies weren’t going to give me anything for you to eat until I told them that. Then they were happier. Anything else I can do for you?’ “You’re awfully eager,” Jerryck said. “This is an easy job compared to what I normally have to do. I like this! You want me to make sure no one disturbs you while you sleep?” “Why not,” Jerryck said. The guard ran back out and down the stairs. Jerryck stacked his notes back together. There was nothing more he could do with them anyway. He knew the magic well enough he wouldn’t even need them for the scenario. After eating he went to bed, manipulating his own aura enough to induce drowsiness. Then it was a simple matter to let his body drift down into sleep. # Jerryck met with Heston at the stables, already astride the only horse large enough to carry him. They rode out in the dark with several of the wall guards, five elites, a paddy wagon, and Head Medic Kellos with a couple of his assistants. “What are you doing here?” Jerryck asked Kellos. “I could ask the same of you,” Kellos said. “He’s doing me a favor.” Heston answered for Jerryck. Then said, “Kellos always comes on night exercises for me, to tend any minor injuries the men incur.” “What favor?” Kellos asked. “In return for what?” “Doesn’t matter,” Heston said. A couple miles down the road, they turned off in the direction of the river. They bypassed Zinrish Dell, from which many of the blooms in the palace gardens had been transplanted. A lot of people went there to access the flowers for pigments, magic, and alchemical components. Many of them had complained over the years about the lack of a road. Terrance refused to build one after Jerryck told him the construction required would likely drive away the sprites that kept the flowers in bloom longer than anywhere else. A few more miles, and they arrived at the edge of Aconi Grove. It had been logged down to a couple of miles before being declared a preserve. Even though it was off limits to hunters and loggers, it had never expanded since. People would often venture in far enough to get to the pond. Someone had put a stone bench in there at some point, declaring it was an inspirational spot for artists. Rarely did anyone go farther in and risk disturbing the dryad. Heston claimed that need for extra caution regarding locale made it ideal training grounds. He halted without dismounting. He pointed to one of the men and gestured him near. Even closer, it was dark enough Jerryck could barely tell that it was the sergeant he had bickered with. Heston waved his hand at the black line of the trees. “Take your team in there and set up. You have ten minutes.” “That’s it?” the sergeant said. “Then the magician will cast a fog spell,” Heston continued. “Fog?” Kellos dismounted with his medics. “Is that really necessary? There’ll be enough injuries as it is. Even with the moon out like this, it’s going to be pitch black beneath those trees.” “And it’ll be worse in about ten minutes.” Heston stared unflinching at the sergeant. The man grumbled something unintelligible and trudged over to the paddy wagon. He and a couple of the wall guards unlocked it and extracted a bound, hooded man. They guided him into the trees. The rest of the all guards followed, leaving only the five elites with Heston, Jerryck, and the medics. “Who is that prisoner?” Jerryck pointed at the men disappearing into the black. From the man’s build, he looked almost like Tajor’s elite friend with the crooked nose. “That’s no prisoner,” Heston said. “That’s Deek. He’s the flag.” “The flag?” “You have to have a flag to play capture-the-flag.” Heston gestured toward the grove where the men had disappeared. “He’s it.” “You don’t use a standard, or a banner, or something like that?” “Men fight harder over a fellow human than a piece of cloth.” Jerryck dropped the subject. He didn’t need any more details on what men fight over. And he likely would get more than a full share of that kind of rancid information tonight anyway. He looked over at the small knot of elite guards and asked, “Where’s Tajor? I half expected you to make him take part in this.” “Tajor is indisposed,” Heston said. One of the guards started snickering. In the dark, Jerryck couldn’t make out much. It might’ve been the one with the cleft chin. He silenced as soon as Heston turned his head in that direction. “Tajor doesn’t get indisposed,” Jerryck said. “Unless…” “I indisposed him,” Heston said. Jerryck dropped that subject too. Definitely more information than he needed. He stared fixedly at the dark line of trees ahead of him and waited for the ten minutes to pass. Then he gathered up his energy, concentrating it around his right hand. He shaped it with his words, then severed it, casting it away from himself to affect a section of the grove. There, it drew moisture out of the ground and vegetation. The magic condensed the moisture, until it created a mist thick enough to grow and spread around. Then he repeated the process a few times more for other sections, making sure to keep his magic away from the center where it would disturb the dryad. Some of the fog might drift her way, but a little shouldn’t be a problem. It took more time than he wanted for the fog to cover as large an area as the grove. He didn’t dare do anything to try to hurry it along. The last time he’d played with that, he’d made fog in the workroom so thick he couldn’t even see the tip of his nose. Heldavio was furious. And it took days for it all to clear out. When he finally declared the job finished, Heston turned in his saddle to the five elites and said, “You have two hours. Go.” The five of them sprinted into the trees. The medics lit lanterns as soon as they were gone. Jerryck asked Kellos, “Why didn’t we light these before?” “That would destroy vision acclimated to dark,” Heston answered as he took an hourglass from his pocket. “That group of five is less than a quarter of the men the other team has,” Jerryck said. “I can count,” Heston said. Kellos chuckled. “They’re mad at him for it.” “For setting them up to lose?” Jerryck snorted. “I’d be mad too.” “After several days of preparation and planning,” Heston said, “they’d better win.” “How can five men overcome more than four times their number?” Jerryck asked. “Stealth, cunning, strategy, training, and experience,” Heston said. “Those five are some of my most senior elites. I only allowed them two hours so it would be a bit of a challenge. If they win before three quarters of that time, the sergeant is washed out.” “You’d kick him out over something like this?” “Absolutely,” Heston said with a curt nod. “He’s had enough training for this. If he can’t hold his own for a decent amount of time, he’s not worth training any further. He’s certainly not qualified for leading palace defenses.” “What if his team wins?” “They won’t,” Heston said. Jerryck looked over at Kellos, who shook his head and said the same thing. After a bit, the men started straggling out of the grove, one or two at a time, every few minutes. Some of them limped on twisted ankles, having stepped in holes or tripped over tree roots. A few sported lumps from whapping their heads on branches or running into trees they couldn’t see. Some of them had blossoming bruises, or trickling blood from meeting up with members of the smaller team. The medics treated the minor injuries. Jerryck kept his focus on the fog. Anytime part of it started to wane, he gave that area a tiny boost of energy, just enough to refresh it. Ten minutes before the two hour deadline, a man sprinted out of the grove straight at Heston. Gasping for breath, the man said, “Both teams are ceding to the other. One of the rookies got too close to the dryad’s tree. We’re trying to extract him.”

 

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