Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Thrall part 3

            I may have survived the hunter, but I knew my new life wouldn’t last long. Once the others had talked to me, weeks into my turning, about a servant who had taken blood from a human from the village to the east without master’s permission. He had been the oldest, according to the female among us, and had finally lost his mind completely. It happened to all of us, eventually, turning into animals.

            Master had killed him. It was fitting, I supposed. He would kill me too, if I didn’t obey.

            A strange fear froze me in place at the thought, and wind scattered the scent of the deer I had been tracking. I wondered if all vampire servants feared death the way I did. The others had rushed to their death without thought. And I had already died once, in a way, hadn’t I?

            I remembered very little of it. My master had stood over me, his blond hair a halo in the light of the streetlamps. The cloying scent of alcohol and my own vomit, and the trash that had littered that alley, still singed my nose in my memory.

            “Do you want to die?” he had asked, his fangs sharp and long. I had thought he was beautiful.

            When I opened my eyes again, it was to the stone wall of the castle and to a hunger that never left.

            The scent of the deer blew with the breeze again, thicker and pungent. Prey was close. My memories scattered like leaves as I broke into a silent, loping run.

            The deer stood out in my enhanced vision, standing like a fool in the light of the stars. I leaped, closing my hands around its neck.

            It’s hooves drew fiery trails down my sides and a lucky kick caught my knee, bone popping. I held on, sharp fingernails digging into the fur of its neck. My jaw clenched, my fangs puncturing the skin of my lip. If I bit now, I would miss the vein and spill precious blood on the leaves.

            Verterbrae cracked, and the animal went limp. My vision fuzzed, drool dripping from my mouth as I leaned down to finally sink my fangs into my prize. It was strange not to have others fighting me for it.

            In a short time, I had sucked the animal dry, my mouth filled with the coppery taste of life. It infused my body, filling me with energy and power. My knee cracked once more as the kneecap slid back into place, and the pain of the torn skin faded as it mended itself.

            I stood, the dark night a little brighter with the energy of the deer’s blood within me.

            “Hold there,” a voice demanded, and I whirled.

            The hunter emerged from the treeline, a crossbow in hand. In his other hand he held a lantern, and it took me only a moment to realize it was another solar flare. He had come prepared.

            “You,” he said. “Servant. Stop right there.”

My muscles thrummed with power from the deer. If he hadn’t been holding two weapons and my stomach wasn’t full, I would have killed him by now.

            He stood upwind of me, and I wished I could scent him. He stood without a trace of fear, his hands steady. I was probably faster, but I couldn’t be sure. Of course, if he wanted me dead he would have fired by now.

            Wind gusted, and the scent of the deer wafted back into my nostrils.
Something flew overhead, the near silence of a hunting owl. I studied the man before me, his well-formed features, tight slacks and short dark hair.

            “You are controlled for a vampire’s servant,” the hunter said. “No desire for human blood?”

            I tensed. “I am not permitted human blood.” Saliva filled my mouth at the thought of it. Of course, if I killed this man, I would have it.

            “Are there others like you?” the hunter asked. He had not moved an inch. “Other servants, aside from the friends of yours I killed?”

            I tilted my head. “You think I’d tell you?”

            “How long have you served your master?”

            I took a step back, some primitive part of my brain firing a warning. I opened my mouth, showing my fangs. “Don’t press your luck, human. You won’t kill me.”

            The hunter did something then that I did not expect in the least.

            He relaxed, dropping his guard. The crossbow lowered, and he took his thumb off of the switch to the flare. He stood straight, facing me like a man. “I am Johann Malire, a hunter of the 5th order. I was sent here to make the vampire lord in this area answer for his crimes in the villages of Timet, Lorash, and Penthorn.”

            I blinked, and for a moment I anticipated killing him. My legs tensed, my mouth opened, and my hands curled into claws.

            Another gust of wind brought his scent. Masculine sweat, pine, a spice that was probably something he chewed, and underneath it all, a tinge of fear.

            He was afraid, and yet still he addressed me like an equal. Not even when I was human had people spoken to me with such respect.

            I relaxed. If he was afraid, then why had he dropped his guard like that, if he didn’t have some sort of trick?

            “So, servant,” Johann said. If he was aware of how close he’d come to death, he didn’t show it.  “Tell me your name.”

            I opened my mouth, then froze.

            My master never referred to me by name. People and places danced through my head of my time as a human, fleeting images of other people taunting me, my time drinking in bars and in alleys, and an old woman’s face.

            But I didn’t have a name anymore.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Thrall part 2

            The hollowness in my gut was the first thing to break the hunger, and it took me a moment to realize that every other servant was dead.

            I hadn’t known them. It shouldn’t matter. We hadn’t even spoken, only interacting when we fought during our nightly hunts for deer or other animal blood. Without them, there would be more for me. I should be glad.

            But emotion faded quickly. I fought to keep running, to ignore the command in my mind that told me to turn back and kill the man I had been ordered to kill. Doing so would be suicide.

            It was only when I entered the castle gates that I wondered if my master would be angry with me.

            The gates soared over my head, carvings of wolves seated atop the iron bars. The castle blocked the view of the mountain that overlooked it and kept it hidden from curious onlookers. Gray stone melded against dead trees.

            Inside, thousands of scents mingled, mold mixing with cold stone and dead leaves and the sharp scent of my master’s dogs. The scent of blood wound through it all, and saliva filled my mouth.

            I followed the scent, my bare feet silent on the cold stones, and found my master where the stone became plush rugs. A skeleton lay by the door to his room, the bones ancient. A shiver went down my spine, but faded quickly, just like every other emotion or feeling I had. The ever-present hunger replaced it.

            “What are you doing here?” My master’s voice chased away everything else.

            The vampire who had made me strode closer. His blond hair was tied back with a blue ribbon, and deep red eyes met mine. He frowned, and I ducked my head, curling in on myself like a cur. I should have attacked the hunter and been done with it.

            “Where are the others?” my master said, his voice fainter, and the presence of his power lessened on my shoulders and chest.

            “Dead,” I managed. “The man was a hunter.”

            “Damn.” My master turned on his heel, striding down the hall. With a whisper of his power, I was compelled to follow. He always paced when he thought.

            My master’s shoes clicked on the stone floors, the sound loud and echoing down the halls. I heard tiny hearts beating from creatures racing along the floor and outside the open windows, the blazing fast pulse of mice and once the slower beat of a cat that must be hunting them.

            “Why did you return?” my master asked. I tore my gaze away from the windows.

            “I…I could not kill him.”

            “I ordered you to kill him.” My master stopped walking, turning on his heel like a girl in the village who danced for pennies. He was far more graceful, though. “I am surprised you returned. Why?”

            I blinked, mind racing. My master stared at me, red eyes steady, his mouth a firm line. His shoulders were thrown back and square. “I thought you might like to know that he is a hunter,” I said, my fangs snapping on the words. “He is likely hunting you.”

            “I feed only on the unwanted, the criminals, and the freaks of the villages. I am a boon to those humans. Why did they send a hunter?”

            The words brought a strange stabbing pain in my chest that it took me a moment to place. Distant, hazy memories, ones that used to matter, played through my mind.

            I had been a freak. A pale freak, with white hair and red eyes who everyone had taunted. I had been almost blind. They said I had been a punishment to my mother for being a whore.

            But not anymore. My master made me strong. Nearly two months ago, he had given me new life.

            “Well?” My master snapped, bringing me back to the present and to the drafty halls of the castle. “Did the hunter speak to you, make demands, or any such thing?”

            “No.” I had not heard his voice. “He killed the others with a solar weapon. He was going to kill me with a stake, but I ran.”

            “A solar weapon.” My master’s words were cold. “He does intend to kill me, then, not just you.”

            I didn’t respond. There were not many things that could kill a vampire lord like my master, but now I knew that a solar weapon was one of them.

            “And now you are my only servant.” My master frowned. “A disobedient servant.” I ducked my head.

            “Go and feed on a deer in the forest. Do not enter the city. And stay very, very far from that hunter.” My master waved a hand. “Dismissed.”

            Before I could move, my master vanished the way he always did when he was done with me. His command thrummed in my brain, and I headed toward the open window we had passed on our walk here.

            The soft wind rushing and the chirps and chitters from the forest quieted the clamoring in my mind that competed with my master’s order. I had every intention of following it—my fangs lengthened, saliva filling my mouth at the thought of a meal, even if it was just animal blood. I had yet to taste a human.

            But another part of me wondered, even as I crouched into a hunter’s stance and listened for my prey, about the hunter and what my master was going to do.  He had used his solar weapon, but tomorrow night it would be charged again.

            Of course, my master was not stupid enough to charge a hunter like we had. He was no mindless servant.

            Then again, I supposed as I picked up the gamey scent of deer, I wasn’t mindless either. I had survived.

            And I felt sure I would see that hunter again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New Wednesday Briefs story: Thrall

Hello everyone! I'm starting a new story for Wednesday Briefs. This one is fit for the month of October--a vampire story!

 Thrall: Part 1 

The man my master had commanded us to kill stood on the other side of the river, his wagon creaking as the wooden wheels began to roll over the bridge. The man was merely a shadow, even to my enhanced eyesight, silhouetted against the orange harvest moon. 

            To my left, another of us chattered her teeth, her fangs emerging from her lips. My own stomach growled at the thought of food, the warm blood that would gush from the man’s veins and feed us. Until now, Master had forbidden me human blood.  Only the best servants could hunt for humans, and I was too new.  

            The wagon moved slowly, the horses straining to pull it over the arched bridge. There were two, both with dark colored coats. One wore a frayed blanket, and the other limped as though its shoes fitted improperly. The man was clearly no wealthy merchant. 

            One of us hissed, a sibilant, high pitched sound that only ones like us could hear. An answering hiss came from the bushes near the river. 

            The lead horse flicked an ear, and the man in the wagonseat shifted his weight. 

            As soon as the first horse set foot on the grassy bank, the one to my left attacked. Four others joined her, dark shapes against the light of the moon swarming toward the animals and their pumping, flowing blood. 

            I cursed in my mind. I had been turned too recently, and compared to them I was slow. I swallowed saliva, my fangs pricking my lower lip, and leaped forward, dashing through the forest.
            Then light flooded the trees. 

            The four who had run ahead first screamed, their hissing drowned out by the sizzling of bodies exposed to solar light. I ducked behind a tree, screwing my eyes shut, the heat of the light prickling on my skin. 

            This was no weak man the master had sent me to take revenge on for some social slight. This was a vampire hunter. 

            And I was just a servant. 

            The light died, fading to a dull orange glow of the first light over the horizon. A solar flare would work once and couldn’t be used again for at least a day. I knew that, from…somewhere. My life before, I supposed. 

            My muscles tensed when the man spoke, a word to his horses or perhaps just to himself. The man was mine. The other servants were dead. I would kill the hunter, take all his blood for myself, and the master would reward me. Me, his newest servant. The command tightened my muscles further and pounded in my head, my master’s words—Kill.

            I peered out from the edge of the trees, my vision sharpening with bloodlust. The man’s heart beat in a slow, steady rhythm. The light on the wagon made my eyes water, even used up as it was, but it couldn’t hurt me. 

            The hunter sat, a gun across his lap. He wore tight leather trousers, and my gaze lingered over his muscular thighs. For a moment I imagined more than just blood. 

            The thought died quickly. Since my master had turned me, any lust but lust for blood never lasted. 

            The man had light brown hair, though it looked red in the fading light of the solar flare. Dark eyes scanned the forest, and then settled on me. 

            I froze, my own thoughts tangled, my body screaming for me to take his blood. His scent, human and sweat mixed with woodsmoke and the bouquet from the village over the river, filled my nostrils.

            He raised the gun. In that moment, I knew I would die. 

            My master’s orders still screamed in my brain, in my very being—Kill. I was a servant. I obeyed. I was a weak vampire servant, nothing more. But I knew I would die if I attacked.    
 I didn’t want to die. 

            His horse snorted. The hunter held his gun trained on my heart. The sharp wooden stake that his gun would fire jutted from the barrel. A servant like me would never survive it. 

            I could attack. I wanted to leap, to try and sink my teeth into his veins, to obey the orders of the one who had made me what I was. My teeth ground against each other, and my fangs drew blood from my lower lip. 

            Instead I turned and fled, without truly knowing why. No shot came from the forest.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Resolution part 4

Something ringed in his dreams, and he opened his eyes.

A strip of moonlight shone across his bed, as bright as the snow outside. Lysand sat up, a twinge in his lower back slowing his movements. Where was he? This wasn’t his home.

No. It was. His home, with his mother sleeping in the next room. His old toolkit still lay on his desk, covered in dust.

He put his hand to his side, where the pain had been. No wound. Had it been a dream?

Something ringed in the corner, a familiar chime, similar to the sound that had woken him. The bed creaked as he got up, the covers falling off of him in a rustle. Snow lay quiet outside out the window, the moon low in the sky. It would be dawn soon.

The quiet chime came again, the floorboards groaning as he searched for the source of the noise.

He knelt down when it chimed louder, and was greeted with the sight of an old clock, chiming the hour as it sat on the bottom shelf. He had built it himself, years ago, when he still had dreams of being an inventor.

Lysand picked it up, feeling rather childish as he glanced at it, at the warped wood and the uneven pendulum. He had been proud of it when he built it. His father had too.  

“Lysand?” His door opened with a creak, and he stood up quickly.

“Henry.” Henry hurried over to him, placing his arms on Lysand’s shoulders. He froze, suddenly awkward.

“Are you alright?” He took a step back, peering at him in the dark, and then magelight illuminated the room. “The healing was a close call.”

“I was…healed?”

Henry sat down on his bed, his long dark hair falling over his face. “The…doctor, here, stabilized you while I went back to fetch a healer. You’ve been resting for a few days.”

Lysand felt his face drain of color. “Days?”

“Don’t worry-Tremith knows. The governor, too.” Lysand sat down on the bed next to Henry, too in shock to speak. The quiet chime of the clock was the only sound for a while.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone you were a talentless?” Henry asked finally. “Or…born to talentless.”

Lysand rested his head in his hands. “Why do you think?”

Henry flinched, and Lysand wished he had chosen his words more carefully. “No one minds. Tremith thinks it’s interesting,” Henry finally said.

“And when the war starts again in a year? In two years? Will he think it’s interesting then?” Lysand asked bitterly.

“If it’s so difficult for you, why did you do it?”

“Because I had no life here,” Lysand replied with a sigh. The magelight hurt his eyes, and he stared at the dark shelves of his old room, where his clock still chimed. It was probably broken. “I tried to be an engineer. But…everything I tried failed. My father…he died in the war, probably thinking I was a failure.” Lysand shook his head. “But I did have a talent for magic. I didn’t want to waste it, to remain a disappointment. That’s when I decided to try to learn magic. I…I didn’t want to be a disappointment to him. I thought maybe I could make a difference after the war.”

The clock chimed again, a soothing sound.

“You’ve done very well,” Henry said finally. “Especially for someone who didn’t grow up with it. You’re not a disappointment.” He leaned his weight against Lysand. “And because of you, our cities have opened up communications again. Mostly about you,” humor entered his voice, “but it’s something. War will be more difficult. The governor here may respect talentless more.”

“I hope so.” Henry’s hand found his, and squeezed.

Maybe this hadn’t been a mistake.


The final evening of his time at home was bright and clear, the sun casting golden rays across the snow. Lysand and Henry waved to his mother, Henry wearing a scarf Lysand’s mother had knitted for him.

“Why did I have to rest for nearly a week again?” Lysand asked as they walked to the town square.

“Because healing magic exhausts the body,” Henry spoke as if quoting from a book. “We learned that in preschool.”

“I’d have been better off with the doctor,” Lysand remarked. Henry laughed.

“Lysand!” Liro jogged up to them both, his dog running playfully at his heels. “And Henry.” He tipped his hat. “I see you’re out and about again? No more nights spent playing poker at Lysand’s bedside while he passes out and loses all his money to me?” Liro had come over every night, apologizing in his own way for what happened. Even his dog had spent hours whining and licking at Lysand’s hands in a canine apology.

“Unfortunately for you.” Henry stuck out his tongue.

“So, last day—then you’re gone, huh?” Liro said quietly as they approached the crowd that gathered in the town square.

“I’ll visit again,” Lysand said firmly. “Sooner than next year, this time.”

“I hope so,” Liro said, clapping him on the back. “Our city’s very own mage—and his boyfriend?” He raised an eyebrow, Lysand reddening and Henry laughing.

 As the evening darkened, they watched rockets spiral into the sky, painting the night with bright colors and illuminating the enormous tree that stood in the town square. It was the last night of the celebration of the founding.

I wish to use my skills to help both cities. The resolution spun from the green bough.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Resolution part 3

Lysand stabled his horse before they headed into town, paying the stablemaster handsomely for the privilege. He would have paid more had his mother not reminded the man who he was.

 As he walked through town, his mother in step with him, he smiled at he streamers flowing from the windows, and the confetti that rained down on their heads as they passed by. An enormous tree took up the skyline, papers spinning on it with written notes from all the citizens. Each one held a person’s resolution to make the city a better place for another year.

“Fifty years since the founding,” Lysand remarked. “It feels like there’s a lot more to remember these days. And I don’t remember it the celebrations being so…loud.” A noise machine clattered, sending chiming bells echoing across the city.

“People want to celebrate something,” his mother said. “Especially since the war.” Lysand nodded. “The celebrations can go on for a week nowadays.”

The day at home passed peacefully, Lysand and his mother getting silly fortunes read and helping hang streamers in the town square. They watched the annual games, cheering for the children of the city as they raced and leapt through obstacles, and laughing at the engineering competition when someone’s attempt at a flying machine crashed spectacularly. Lysand had dreamed of building one, but with the magic in his blood, it was not to be. He could see the aether that wound around the city, waiting for magic to act on it. He always could.

Lysand tried not to notice the stares of the people who had known him, and tried not to be bothered that no one approached. After the crowd began to break up, the night sky going toward evening, they headed back in companionable silence.

“Will you stay for the-” his mother began.

“Hold there!” A deep, familiar voice interrupted her and made him whirl. “Ware the mage!”

People turned with him, a few darting out of the way as men clad in the brown leathers of the city guard began to run toward him. Lysand’s heart jumped, and he put up his hands. “No, I’m just—“

Then they ran past him, toward a lone figure.

Lysand froze, watching as Liro joined the swarming guard, pointing as his snarling dog raced ahead of him toward a man in robes standing alone, a tornado of snow forming around him.

Lysand’s heart stopped. Henry.

            Henry backed up, his eyes wide at the sight of the men rushing toward him. He raised an arm, and the snow moved faster, pulled from the air and ground. Liro’s dog reached him first, barking with snaps of his teeth at the mage.

“Lysand!” Ignoring his mother’s cry, Lysand ran from his place among the crowd. What was Henry doing here? Henry raised his hand higher, the snow around him swirling faster, and the dog yelped.

“Henry!” Lysand shouted. Henry’s hand lowered, his eyes widening, at the same moment a pistol cracked. The bullet sprayed snow, and he gasped, taking a step back and dropping his hand.

“No magic here, mage!” Liro shouted. Behind him someone yelled “Watch the wards, you idiot!”

“Henry!” Lysand made it to Henry’s side, Liro’s dog now snarling at them both. “What are you-”

Another loud crack, and pain exploded in his side. He staggered, Henry supporting him as he fell to his knees. His mother screamed.

“Hold your fire!” Liro shouted. Someone screamed behind him, the aether flaring in his vision as the wards activated, pinning whoever had shot him to the ground.

Lysand coughed, pain and cold filling him with fear. Someone had shot him. Someone from his old town had shot him, a mage, and now they were hurt too.

The snow picked up, blinding him, the wind whipping his cloak. “I’m getting you out of here,” Henry growled. “I followed you, and I don’t know if you were spying or what, but now you need a healer.”

“No!” Lysand sent magic into the earth, fighting to stay away, willing the wards to calm down and let the other man go. He tried to stand and swayed with pain and dizziness. Blood dripped onto the snow. “I…I promised my mother I would visit.”

“Your mother?”

Another pair of arms grabbed him, pain blooming as he was laid down. “Lysand, Lysand, can you hear me?” His mother grabbed his face, peering down at him, patting him frantically. “He’s been shot, he’s been shot, you idiots!” Her voice rose to a screech.

“Get the doctor!” Liro shouted. Lysand blinked, a slow blink that lasted ages. “Can you heal him?” Liro asked someone. Had the doctor come already? “Can you heal them both?”

“I’m…I’m not a healer. I use weather magics. I…I could try, but…”

“Do something, he’s bleeding!” his mother shouted.

Lysand blinked again, and this time it lasted a while.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Resolution part 2

Lysand rode to a stop at the gates to the talentless city, his horse flicking its ears nervously. A large dog with a bright white pelt barked, and recognition dawned. He had known that hound when it was a pup.

 “It’s me, Liro! It’s Lysand!”

            Silence reigned from the watchtower, before someone’s voice boomed. “Lysand?”
            “Wait there!” someone else called. A whistle pierced the night air. Soon enough, a form emerged from the watchtower, jogging over to where Lysand sat atop his horse. The man was dressed in slacks and a ragged coat, a long gun strapped to his back. His dog loped by his side.

            “Lysand, it is you! You left a year ago!” Liro stopped a few paces away. “What…what are you doing here?”

            Lysand took a deep breath, hopping down from his horse. “I’ve come for the anniversary of the founding. I promised my mother I would.”

            Liro stared, and for a moment Lysand thought he might draw his gun. His stomach tightened. “Please--”

            “Sure, I’ll let you in. This used to be your home, after all.” Liro waved to the other guard, and the gate began to swing open. Lysand’s heart began to beat faster. He hoped this hadn’t been a mistake.


            “So…how is it? Studying magic?” The snow crunched under Liro’s heavy boots as they walked. His white dog padded quietly at his heels. He had gotten huge since Lysand had seen him last. “I mean, you always screwed up any engineering project you tried, so…”

 Lysand looked away from the streamers and baubles that decorated the houses they passed. He had missed them. “It’s going well. I’m good at spells. The aether is.... I understand it now.” Lysand patted his horse when his old friend stayed silent, leading the animal around a puddle of mud. He tried to ignore the stares he was getting, and he wished he had thought to at least dress like a talentless.

            “Far cry from blowing up a generator the first time you tried to make one. And the second time. And the fifth time.”

            Lysand smiled. “Don’t forget melting several bars of silver.”

            “And cracking every table in the room.” Liro laughed, his voice deeper than Lysand remembered. He had never imagined his friend would become a city guard. Years ago, he would have been a soldier. “So…that was all because you had magic, huh? Or, uh, the aether?” His laughter faded.

            “Yes. I guess I…I wasn’t meant for this life.”

            “I figured that’s why you left. I mean, when your dad died…I never thought…I never thought you’d come back, though. As a mage.” He cleared his throat.

            “I’m not going to forget my home.” Lysand met Liro’s gaze. “I’m still a…” he almost said talentless, but that wasn’t true. “I still have my friend ands family here.”

            Liro smiled. “Sure.” He sounded like Henry. “Well, I’ll see you at the festivities tonight. Got something to hang on the founding tree?”

            Lysand patted his bag. “Of course.”

            Lysand waved as Liro left, before tying his horse by a post and heading up the stairs of the festively decorated apartment. He hoped his mother hadn’t moved.

            The key fit in the lock, and the door to the apartment creaked as he opened it, the sound bringing back old memories of his sneaking back home after late nights spent studying. “Hello?”

            “Lysand?” His mother’s voice brought a lump to his throat, and he stared as she came down the hall, still wearing the thick gloves she always wore from work. “Oh my word, you really did come back.”

            Lysand spread his arms. “I promised I’d come back for the founding, didn’t I?”

            His mother felt small, almost frail, in his arms, the scent of engine grease and smoke interspersed with the scent of home. “I feared I’d never see you again,” she whispered.

            “I’m not…I’m not going to forget my home.” Lysand let her go, his mother looking up at him with concern.

            “I know. But the way the other boys treated you, and the war and your father’s death…I wouldn’t have blamed you if you didn’t.”

            Lysand wanted to protest. He had always had Liro, and things hadn’t been that bad. His decision to leave and embrace the magic in his blood, to take advantage of his skills, hadn’t had anything to do with the bitterness of the war, or of the opportunities for magi. He just…wanted to prove he could do something.

            He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I’m here now. C’mon-let’s go celebrate the founding of the city and see the festivities.”

            His mother smiled. “That sounds wonderful.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Resolution part 1

Two years after the war

            A distant explosion lit the night sky, red light illuminating the shapes of the swirling snowflakes. The magi’s horse whinnied in fear.

            “Calm down, girl. Its just fireworks from the festival, a long way off.” Lysand clucked his tongue, and his horse pushed on through the snow as he called to the earth beneath her hooves. Work never ceased in winter, when the cold winds drove out the warming flames the mages put up, and he desperately wanted the next day off. On top of that, it was his first time casting the spells to keep the lanterns lit throughout the city, and he didn’t want to mess it up.

            “You’re doing well,” his supervisor called, his magic amplifying his voice. “At this rate, with your power, we’ll be able to take the day off tomorrow.”

            Lysand grinned, summoning up more reserves of strength. That was the exact reason he had worked as hard as he had for the past week.

            “Excellent work, Tremith.” The governor, his hands covered in gem-studded rings, shook his supervisor’s hand. “I can sense the magic, warmth laid well. They’ll be lit for days, regardless of the weather!”

            “Thank my young employee. He has been here barely a year, but his work ethic is astonishing.” Tremith shoved Lysand forward, and the young man’s face heated.

            “Then it’s you I have to thank.” The governor clapped him on the shoulder, the rings heavy. “A new employee of Tremith’s, eh?”

            “Yes milo…sir.”

            “You’re too old to be calling me sir, and I’m no noble-it’s Yitsin.” The governor strode back to his desk, sitting down in the plush red chair. “I thank you again for your work. People have told me we should be using electricity to keep the city lit, but who wants to work with talentless? Hostilities with have ceased for now, but who knows when they will begin again?” Lysand looked at the floor.

“I heard their war machines again-fire in the sky. Festivities, they call it.” Tremith sniffed.

“Its just fireworks. They aren’t effective in battle,” Lysand said quietly.

“Of course, of course.” The governor waved him away. “Don't worry about such things, especially not with your skills. Go, enjoy some time to yourself. Such opportunities are rare this time of year.”

            Lysand stepped toward the door, pausing when Tremith did not follow.

            “Go ahead. The governor and I have things to discuss--things you will be privy to when you have worked for me longer. We have high hopes for you.”

            Lysand nodded before heading out the door, his steps light. A day off tomorrow, leaving him with just enough time to prepare this evening. Snow dusted his robes.

            “Where are you rushing to?” Lysand stopped short as Henry waved to him. Henry’s fine robes swayed as he strode up to him. “More lanterns to light?”

            “No, that work is done…for now.” Lysand shifted from foot to foot. He wanted to prepare for his trip, but he couldn’t be rude, not to Henry. The other mage had always been kind.

            “Oh? Wonderful! I though you lot got worked to the bone during this time of year. Have to keep the magic flowing in the city and all that.”

            “Usually, but I worked hard.” His face heated. “I mean, we all did.”

            Henry tilted his head and laughed. “There’s no shame in being proud of yourself for hard work. Especially if they insist on making us use magic. Sometimes I think electricity wouldn’t be so bad, talentless be damned.” Lysand just nodded.

“So you’re free this evening? Or tomorrow?” Hope entered his voice, and Lysand’s stomach sank. Why did he have to show interest now, of all times?

“I…I wish I could, but…” Henry’s face fell, and Lysand cursed inwardly. “I may not have work, but I have to…keep studying. You know how it is.”

“Sure.” Henry couldn’t keep the disappointment from his voice. “I understand. Your school in Draknea wasn’t the greatest, right?”

“Right. I have to keep up with the fast curriculum here.” He didn’t like lying to Henry, and his stomach twisted. “But don't worry. I’ll keep working hard, and I’ll get another free day soon, I promise.”

“I’ll look forward to that.” Henry waved, heading away toward the store, and Lysand frowned. Henry hadn’t sounded very convinced.

There was nothing for it. Lysand had to make the trip.


He wished he didn’t have to wear his robes, but he didn’t have any other clothes anymore. Lysand headed away from the gates of the mage city of Grenington, waving to the guards as he did. The path was familiar to him from the many times he had traveled it while he lit the lanterns and strengthened the magic around the city, but soon enough he went beyond the boundaries into the unkempt, wintry forest

He rode faster then, urging his hose to a canter, and then to a magically induced frenzied gallop, trees and bushes whizzing past them. His horse whinnied in eagerness, glad to run after being walked around the city every day. Lysand held on, the cold wintry air bringing blood to his cheeks as he rode for hours.

As the forest growth turned into a rutted track and he passed the logger’s shack, the steam powered logging machine sitting idle, he slowed, resuming a fast canter. The gates of the talentless city of Sceptre loomed above him. They were rusty now.

      “’Ware! Magi at the gate!” Voices shouted as he approached, forms racing back and forth on the watchtower, and Lysand’s heart flipped.

They had already forgotten him.