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