Wild Magic – Chapter One Preview

Wild Magic, a Tale by Michael DeAngelo
Chapter One: Feel the Flame


He remained vigilant in the sight of danger, still standing, though all his brothers had fallen to the sorceress.

Had he been made from flesh and bone rather than straw, perhaps he would have been burned by the sun.  As it stood—as he stood—nothing would burn him that day.

A bolt of lightning streaked across the courtyard, and the straw training target remained unflinching.  Luck was on its side, for a powerful sage had come to its aid.  The lightning struck a hidden shield, static electricity zapping across its surface, a scratching discharge reporting in the air.

“No, no, no,” Gaston said from the overlook.  “We talked about this, Miss Kreegan.  No more last-second flourishes; no more twists on the plan.  This is your training, and we’re here to see that you can accomplish what we set out to.  Now again, but with the correct spell.”

The wizard’s tone was coarse.  Those in attendance had seen it all before, and over weeks and months, they had heard his words of encouragement slip into ones of exasperation.  Gaston Camlann, a great archsage, was still pleasant during any other interactions with Adelia or anyone else in Forsynthia, but when it came time to train in spellcraft, it was almost expected that there would be some ongoing frustrations.

“At least it’s not me hiding behind a shield anymore,” an onlooker said.  Trevor ran his hand through his hair as though he expected some of it to be standing up.  The electric hum in the air stuck with him, even after weeks of relinquishing his task to the scarecrows.  He looked at his father, who remained preoccupied with the forge.  A hiss of steam entered the air as he doused a fiery sword in the slack tub.  It was a sure thing that Lydick didn’t hear his son.  Aggravated, Trevor took a step forward, a grin already lifting his lips as he planned a teasing remark.  “If you don’t need the straw, I’m sure there are a few horses that might want a second breakfast.”

“Quiet, you,” Gaston called out from above.  “I’d have Lucinda turn you into something a little more silent if I didn’t think you would keep making noise some other way.”  The woman at his side snickered at the idea.

Lucinda leaned forward, her purple dress sparkling in the sunlight as she withdrew from the shadows.  “Go on, dear,” she said.  “If for no other reason than to have this be the last that we hear Mister Camlann prattle on about ‘fire this’ and ‘flames that.’  We believe in you.”

The young sorceress blew out a fretful sigh, shaking out her hands as though she exerted power through her body, rather than calling upon the arcane arts through the aether.  Adelia passed a glance at everyone in attendance, one at a time.

“Maybe if everyone acted like Lydick instead of staring at me, this wouldn’t be so difficult,” she muttered.  Still, she knew there was nothing that would take her out of that moment.  Adelia was as exhausted with the routine as everyone else.  If she could bring flames into existence at her behest, she would have.  They only seemed to come when she least expected them, and even then, their arrival was far and few between.

She shook her head and steadied herself, trying to remember all the things Gaston had taught her.  Some magic came naturally to casters, she knew.  Other spells had to be coerced through the veil.  Adelia positioned her body, extending her arm, hoping that a new stance might help to kindle the flame.  She uncurled her fingers, letting her palm face the straw dummy, the target visible just above her thumb.

As she visualized the fire roaring to life in front of her, the world around her grew darker.  It was a play on her mind, she understood.  The sorceress knew to fight past that trick, that it was nothing more than a shift in the aethereal plane she could see through.

She found her focus, pushing forward with her hand as though she were drawing out the power of fire from deep within herself.  But there were distractions—memories of times she wanted desperately to forget.  She squashed them down, knowing she could never ignore them completely.

Adelia concentrated while the heat climbed up her arm.  She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the frightening feeling.  At any moment, a flame would burst from her hand, and…

A smattering of sparks fizzled less than an inch away from her skin, and all went quiet as everyone pondered if she’d even made a genuine attempt.

“Well, I tried,” she said, hoping that adding a little levity would leave the situation less embarrassing.

“Try again,” Gaston insisted.  “We can be here as long as you need to be.  But we are going to see that you summon up your flames.  It will ensure that—”

An audible sigh left her lips, and Adelia bowed her head.  “I do not want to do this, Gaston.”  She looked up at him and placed her fists on her hips.  “We’ve done this for weeks—months, even.  We all know that I have a problem with it.  I can’t get past it.  And you know that fire frightens me, but you still push me, day after day.  I’m tired of it all.”

In the overlook, Gaston paused, shaking his head.  He knew it was a stressful subject, but he remained aware of the deeper lessons it would unlock if she could conquer that study.  “It’s actually been over a year, young lady,” Gaston explained.  “And I know the problems you have with it.  Fire haunts your memories, and it reminds you of terrible times to even think about having to cast it.  But consider this: I am not trying to teach you to cast it so you can be a force of destruction.  I am trying to show you how to conquer your fears.  Eventually, you will run across an enchanter who does not have the same aversity to fire you do.  You’ll find yourself face to face with a score of archers who want to burn down this town we’ve built.  You have a history with dragons, don’t you?  Who is to say that the next one you run across doesn’t try to burn you to a crisp?  What shall you do then?  Cower behind rocks or a tree and hope to be forgotten?  No, Adelia, you can be so much more than that—you are more than that.  I need you to reach deep inside and tell yourself that there’s nothing to fear.  You control the flames.  They do not control you.”

The sage turned to Lucinda and muttered something quiet to her.  “Maybe this will work for you, Miss Kreegan,” Gaston said.  “We know you prefer your spells to have a dash of lightning or icy elements.  But what would you do if your opponent was impervious to those characteristics?”

Lucinda, the salacious woman at Gaston’s side—purely platonic in their relationship, the sage liked to point out—approached the railing of the overlook and set her own magic to work.  Not quite the battle caster that Gaston was, or that he was training his pupil to be, Lucinda had excelled at, or perhaps perfected, the art of transformative magic.  She reminded Adelia often of the true nature of her spells.  After all, even magic couldn’t permanently change the state of things without constant intervention.

Still, Lucinda’s power allowed her to change the very nature of an object—or a creature, in some cases—affecting multiple properties at once.  When Gaston explained his premise for how the dummy should react, Lucinda adjusted the straw-filled opponent and added a flourish for good measure.

A rogue wizard would make an effective foe for the sorceress adept, even if it wasn’t real.

“Use your imagination,” Gaston said as Lucinda’s magic took shape.  “Picture this…this fiend endangering you and all your friends.  He’s shielded himself with potions of insulation and warmth, but you can tell he’s not immune to fire.  One stray blast—fire of any sort, really—will put him out of commission, and we can celebrate your skills.”

Adelia rolled her eyes, though she bowed her head to hide the reaction.  The sage always meant well, but his words of encouragement sounded more like chastisement in his exasperated voice.  Begrudgingly, she also waited for the shift of Lucinda’s polymorphic spell to conclude.  Adelia already had her arm outstretched again, desperately hoping she could put all the talk of flames behind her.  All she wanted was to be done with training for a time, but she knew Gaston wouldn’t give up on her so easily.

She waited, watching as the colors shifted before her.  The straw dummy had been cinched together with a long-sleeved shirt and a torn pair of britches, a mishmash of grey and brown that wouldn’t have looked appealing on a handsome fellow, let alone the dowdy scarecrow.  But before the shape completed changing, Lucinda had picked out a color.  Of course, it was purple, a shade not so different from what the older arcanist wore that day (and most days).  Adelia had once thought of it as a plum color, though a bit more regal and vivid.  The scarecrow, on the other hand, donned an outfit that looked like a dull violet or a darker lavender.  Adelia arched her eyebrow, trying to think of where she had last seen vestments that looked like mulled wine.

Lucinda finished crafting the faux man’s look, and a fuzzy, almost draining feeling washed over Adelia.  She had seen someone who looked like that before, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.  It wasn’t quite the same—the structure of his face was far different, but the combination of the fellow’s slicked-back black hair and his horseshoe-shaped mustache, together with the purple color, had memories flooding back to the young sorceress.

Though the color somehow had reminded her of the man, her recollection was muddled with shades of grey.  Everything was awash in light, as though she were seeing the memory skewed by sunlight hitting water while she was beneath the surface.  The man walked across a field, a hulking figure behind him, covered in a cloak.  He approached the house, but somehow hadn’t seen her.  The man in the plum-colored robes turned his head in her direction, and Adelia gasped.

She hadn’t summoned a flame or any other magic from the aether.  The aspirant sorceress stumbled back, haunted by memories she couldn’t quite comprehend.

Gaston realized at once that something was wrong.  He gripped the railing, watching the way his pupil reacted.  A moment later, he muttered something to Lucinda and then called on her to act immediately.  Lucinda fumbled for a moment, surprised by the order, but she undid her enchantment.  The color drained from the straw target, as though it were bleeding into the ground.  Faux flesh gave way to the fibrous innards of the dummy, and in seconds, the target was back to looking like it had before she had affected it with her magic.

It was too late, it appeared.  Gaston watched as emotion came over his apprentice, and she shied away and eventually spun about completely.  Adelia walked away at first, but as she considered the embarrassment of the situation, she began jogging away as well.

Even Lydick sensed that something was wrong at that point, and the rhythmic hammering that rang out in the courtyard stopped, leaving an unusual silence in the place.

“What did I miss?” the stringy blacksmith asked his son.

Gaston, not afraid to let himself look foolish, hurried from his spot on the overlook, running along the keep’s corridors with his robes hiked up just enough to allow for safer travel.  He rushed down the steps, his cloth shoes barely reporting at all, and when Trevor looked his way, he almost seemed to float down the stone stairs. Gaston reached the courtyard a moment later, already a little out of breath, and turned to the keep’s exit, watching as Adelia made her way to the wildflower fields outside Forsynthia’s keep.  The sage only slowed his pace when he saw the little, black-furred creature following behind her.

Merlin, ever the girl’s shadow, must have watched that day’s training in secrecy, but he was ready to let her know he would look after her.

Adelia, breathing unsteadily, hurried on, her gaze set on the path away from the keep.  Merlin could tell by her pace that something was wrong, and he skittered into place to follow her.  She grew accustomed to the feeling of being stalked by him and would feign surprise when he emerged from behind a topiary guardian or a dense cluster of flowers.  But that afternoon, it was as though she were far away from the place which she had called home for a year of her life.

She couldn’t wrench the thought of the strange man from her mind.  Adelia stopped, looking down at the long path leading from Forsynthia to the hewn stone gate that led farther into Daltain, but she imagined a different field.  A flatter wilderness was before her, with some crops growing to her side, rather than the exquisite flowers and hedge creatures.  Adelia watched the stranger’s confident approach upon the grass.  There was no path, and, she recalled, there were never any visitors.  His approach portended terrible things.  As she stared, her vision withdrew, and she saw the door that framed his arrival.  She looked away, trying to offer a warning to those with her, but she couldn’t see anyone in the house.  When she looked back, the man was in the doorway, the shadows resting upon his face, leaving him looking monstrous as it hid his eyes.

Adelia gasped at the sight of him, but she watched as the imagined sight faded away, the memory—if in fact that was what it was, for it still felt out of place—ripping and tearing, allowing pieces of the real world to pierce through.  A stabbing pain pulled her from her thoughts, and when the sorceress looked to her side, she understood why.  Merlin looked up at her with his large, curious, golden eyes, his claws burrowed into the skin above her knee.

She blew out another sigh, but a smile was already forming as she considered her own little guardian.  “I’m sorry, Merlin,” Adelia said as she bent down to scoop him up.  “I was someplace else.”

The cat didn’t seem to mind, and as she brought her arms closer to her chest, he nuzzled against her.  His purrs already filled her with a sense of calm, and she let her chin fall just above his head.  Merlin moved about, rubbing his brow and his neck against her jawline.

Rooted once again in reality, Adelia considered her surroundings.  She saw the gatehouse far in the distance, framed by the trees that acted as a natural border surrounding Forsynthia.  She knew she was farther down in the wildflower fields than she usually traveled.  When she looked at the ground, she realized she was standing atop some of those flowers—not admiring them from the side as she usually did.

Her arms lowered as regret filled her thoughts.  Gaston would never berate her for such a thing, especially once she was given time to explain herself.  But she knew how much the wildflowers soothed his soul, and she sighed at the thought of his disappointment.

Merlin understood her lowered arms as a suggestion to move along.  He leaped from his perch and sprang from where he landed, avoiding any of the flowers in the manicured cluster just off the path.

Adelia chuckled to herself and shook her head, knowing she had no such agility to perform those same impressive acrobatics.  “Here I am, stranded on an island all alone, and you just left me,” she teased the cat.

“You’re not alone,” she heard from a compassionate voice behind her.

Keeping her feet in place as they were, Adelia twisted and looked over her shoulder.  Gaston was there, his wide-brimmed, buckled wizard hat hiding his eyes somewhat as he bowed his head.  It was a polite gesture, meant to assure his pupil that he didn’t mean to intrude, but the abrupt and awkward preceding minutes left Adelia unsure of how he felt.  Gaston was a great caster, and an even greater study of people, but he wasn’t always successful at hiding his emotions from those around him.  Adelia could often discern his true feelings just by looking into his eyes.

Though she often tried to keep her own emotions in check, she allowed a steadying sigh to pass through her when she saw that her teacher wore a sympathetic gaze instead of a judgmental one.

“I’m sorry about the flowers,” she said, looking down at the crushed flora at her feet.  She was surrounded by asters and poppies and cornflowers, and as she took care to turn about to face the sage, she realized that she’d trampled a path right over many of them.  She hung her head, even more ashamed than she had been.

“There’s no need to apologize,” Gaston said, reaching out to her though he didn’t dare to step from the path into the cluster of flowers.  “It should be me that is asking for your forgiveness.  I often see you as your potential, and I sometimes forget that you’ve gone through much these past few years.”

He sighed and led her gaze back to the gatehouse farther down the road.  “You know why I enjoy these wildflowers more than some perfectly planted flower beds with roses and daffodils?  There’s some ruggedness to them.  There’s some chaos.  But they still come together beautifully.  They’re like people, really.  If you leave some of them be, they can grow into something breathtaking.  Certainly, I can refine the edges, but the flowers grow on their own.  Adelia, you’re not always going to grow just the way I expect you to, and that’s not fair of me to require it.  No two flowers ever grow the same, so it’s unreasonable of me to think that you should blossom in what way I intend.  I know you’ll better yourself under your own power and your own time.”

“Thank you, Gaston,” Adelia said.  “And for what it’s worth, I know that you’re looking out for me.  It’s just that…”

“I don’t want you to freeze,” he said.  “It frightens me to think that even after all we’ve accomplished together, there are still some things that surprise you.  What exactly did you see when Lucinda conjured the image over the training dummy?”  He waved the question away, knowing that he walked a very dangerous road in reminding her of the fellow.

Adelia was already answering, though.  “It was like I had seen him in a memory, only…it wasn’t my memory.  It was all beginning to come back, and I think… Gaston, I think whoever that man was, he was who killed my family.  I think I failed to protect them.  I think if perhaps I had known I had magic before, I might have been able to save them.”

“Nonsense,” he said, considering what she said, but thinking more to the man she described.  “Your family didn’t…”  He bowed his head and cleared his throat, patting her on the back.  “Your family didn’t perish because of anything that you did.”

That did little to placate Adelia.  “All I remember is the fire that scorched through the house.  I couldn’t get them out, Gaston.  And even though I can’t quite make out what happened, the image of the blaze stays with me always.  How am I supposed to conjure flames when they stole everything from me?”

“I will continue trying to help you understand that,” Gaston said.  “Perhaps we can show you some of the good that can come from flames.  There’s nothing quite like huddling next to a fire with a fine book, right?”

“Gaston,” she said, trying to inspire some quiet.

“And you spent some time in Viscosa.  Don’t tell me you had none of their freshly baked bread.  You can’t make that without a stove.”

“Yes, I understand,” she grumbled, rolling her eyes again at the thought of how many other ideas he would come up with.

“Someday, perhaps we can charter an airship for a voyage unlike anything you’ve ever seen.  There are some captains who churn their enormous balloons full of flames to keep it aloft.  It’s truly a sight to behold.”

Adelia looped her arm around his and spun him about.  “That’s about enough of that,” she said, turning back toward the keep.

The old sage chuckled and gently tapped his pupil’s hand.  “In all seriousness, my dear, you never have to doubt yourself.  Look,” he said, pointing toward the south of the keep.  Several buildings had taken shape there over the last few months, and while many more of their recent refugees had taken solace in temporary housing within sturdy tents, a plan was in place for the city of Forsynthia to continue growing.  “You made that happen—one girl with compassion, clever thinking, and unrivaled courage.  I know that if calling on fire magic is meant to be, it will happen in due time.”

He waved his hand, dismissing the topic.  “But enough of that,” he conceded.  “We’ve talked about it for far too long.  I think the next time we address the issue, it shall be on your terms.  Only…”  He paused, slowing his steps as he considered his next words.

“Only what?” Adelia wondered.

“Miss Kreegan,” Gaston said, having chosen his words, “I believe you are growing beyond the limits of these basic teachings.  What shall I do with you when it will be you who could teach me the magic that you’re capable of?”

She playfully scoffed.  “Surely there’s some grand spells you have been hiding away from me.  You like to show off your elemental magic tricks, but I’m sure you have some other incredible enchantments, like pulling a meteor from the sky or causing an arcane explosion that consumes everything around for miles.”

“Now, now,” he said.  “What kind of man do you take me for, thinking I would exercise such wonton destruction?  Besides, I have nothing to hide.”

Almost as soon as he spoke the words, a songbird tweeted out a tune that let him know he should stop walking to provide a suitable perch.  At once, a little bluebird fluttered up beside him and took a rest on his shoulder.

“Oh, hello there, Homer,” he said.

The tiny bird continued to sing, and Gaston nodded and hummed in reply.

“Nothing to hide, eh?” Adelia asked.  “Speak plainly.”

Looking at his pupil, the sage saw her arched eyebrow and knew that she understood far more than he expected.  “Hmm,” he said and nodded as he turned back to the songbird.  “Very well.  It seems my pupil cannot be so easily fooled.  Go on, Homer.  What have you to say?”

The bird looked back and forth between the two arcanists, as though it realized the relationship had undergone a subtle change.  It fluttered its wings, as close to an avian shrug as it could muster.

“You told me several days ago about the carriage from Atalatha that you were expecting,” the bird said, its voice a mite deeper than Adelia expected.  “Well, a vehicle bearing the phoenix sigil is on its way toward the gates as we speak.  It’ll be here by sundown, certainly, unless they pause to eat or rest on the road.”

“Ah, that is good to know,” the sage said.  “I’ll be sure to reward you for your superb scouting when I return to the keep.”  That was enough to satisfy the bluebird, who ducked low, springing from Gaston’s shoulder and diving toward the ground to pick up momentum.  As Homer flew into the sky, back toward the keep, the sage turned to his pupil.  “And I suppose in the interest of not harboring secrets, it might be important for you to know who is on the way and why I’ve summoned them to Forsynthia.”

Adelia waved her free hand and shook her head.  “You don’t have to include me in every one of your secret plans,” she said.  “I’ll be happy just knowing you’ll have your thumb on someone else for a while.”

Though he knew it was a tease, he still harrumphed at the implication.  “If you must know, this is an extension of your plan, Miss Kreegan.  You’ll recall that our prisoner, who you thwarted many months ago, still hasn’t told us anything.”

“Thoro?” she asked, though she knew there was no one else who Gaston could be speaking of.

“At what point do we start looking at ourselves less as a prison and more like one of the country’s worst inns?”  He sighed and bowed his head.  “And yet, I’m finding it more exhausting than he is, I think.  You and I are not cut out for interrogation.  Especially not against him.  Somehow, he finds the strength to avoid questioning no matter what we do.”

She hummed to herself, half trying to pull her mind from the thoughts of torture and half in contemplation of their inability to do just that.  “We don’t really do much to inspire him to speak.  And it seems like by the time he’s ready for it, he’s back to being unable to do so.  Lucinda and I can’t keep transforming him into someone who has a…a…”

“You’re right,” Gaston said.  “Which is why I’ve summoned help from a talented healer from Atalatha.”

“A healer?” Adelia repeated, a little intrigued by the prospect.  “So, when you and I both admit that we’re a bit understated at interrogation—”

“Torture,” Gaston came out and clarified.

“—your plan is to make our would-be assassin feel better?”

“Well, we’ll start with our ongoing problem,” the sage replied, an uncomfortable chuckle leaving his lips.  “If we’re able to ensure he can’t simply wait out our questions before his tongue shrivels back up, perhaps we can finally outlast him.”

“I think it might be time to give up on Thoro,” Adelia said.  “We know he came here on a terrible mission, and by luck he was stopped.  That should be enough of a victory.”

Gaston muttered to himself before looking at his pupil again.  “I’m not satisfied with what we’ve learned so far.  Ippius never had a strained relationship with the rest of Draconis.  I must know why we were targeted—and here, in Forsynthia, no less.  He came here for Lydick, you understand.”

Adelia nodded, recalling the fear that welled up inside her when they opened the door to Gaston’s chamber and saw Thoro within, holding his dagger to the throat of one of their friends.

“To be honest, this is my last-ditch effort,” he confessed.  “I’ve been fighting off Edric and the Knights of Gardone for weeks—perhaps months—at this point.  Thoro’s target may have indeed been our blacksmith, but it was Edric who he nearly killed.  They want him so they can perform their own interrogation.  And my friendship with Edric has been taxed by our inability to produce any answers.”

He sighed as they reached the archway leading back into the keep.  “Why don’t you go along then?  Perhaps Lucinda has some lessons she can impart on you while I prepare a proper welcome for our new arrivals.”

An embarrassed chuckle shook Adelia.  “Maybe there’s another nightmare from a past that I can’t quite remember that she can chance upon.”

“That’s the spirit,” Gaston teased.  He nudged Adelia further and turned about when she passed beyond the portcullis housed within the archway.

“Do you need a break from me or from her?” Adelia ribbed back.

“Have a pleasant afternoon, Miss Kreegan,” Gaston called out as he walked down the path.

Adelia took a steadying breath as she watched the sage withdraw from the keep.  The courtyard wasn’t as crowded as it could have been, she realized.  The refugees from Sungarden sometimes filled it with livelier entertainment or even goods as they attempted to adjust to life away from one of Daltain’s capital cities.  It had been a difficult road for some of them, but going down the other direction would have led to persecution.  The choice was made clear, even if they hadn’t been the ones to make it.

It was just a handful of residents of the keep who basked in the sun.  Still, they were the people who Adelia spent her time with every day, and she almost couldn’t bear to show her face to them after her embarrassing reaction earlier.

While she stared through the portcullis, her little black shadow reappeared.  Merlin meowed at her from outside the gate, but he wasn’t trapped in the slightest.  He pushed forward, squeezing between a gap in the lattice pattern.

Adelia smiled, always charmed by the quirky feline.  He didn’t spend any more time trying to earn her affections, the cat skittering past her as he entered the courtyard.  Adelia spun about to follow him with her gaze, when she noticed she wasn’t the only one that was close to the exit.  She jumped at the sight of Lucinda, who popped back a bit at the reaction.

“And now it seems I have two scares to apologize for,” Lucinda said with a snicker.  “I must say, young lady, I wasn’t expecting you to react in such a way to Bartleby.”  When Adelia responded merely with an arched eyebrow, Lucinda stepped back and swept out her hand toward the straw dummy.  “Your target for the afternoon?  I figured he needed a name.  Although with such a frightened reaction, perhaps he should have had a more apt name, like Skull-cracker or—”

“It’s all right, Lucinda,” Adelia said.  “You couldn’t have known I would be scared.  He just… He looked like someone I think I’ve seen before.”

“Of course, child,” the haughty woman said.  “Well, I am sorry.  Here I took a perfectly fine day and soured it.”

“That’s not true,” Adelia replied.  “It was bound to be a struggle as soon as we knew I would be fighting against myself trying to work my way through any fiery spells.  I just can’t seem to tap into the arcane for that kind of magic.”

“And you shouldn’t be forced to,” Lucinda said.  “It’s as I say, dear: you can try to change the form of something, but eventually it always returns to the shape it needs to be.  And in your case, that’s someone who doesn’t want to bother with flames.”

“Thank you, Lucinda,” Adelia said with a smile.

“Now, now,” the plump sorceress replied.  “I don’t think that Gaston’s reasoning is without merit.  There’s something beneath the veil that worries me about your reaction to fire as well.  We just want to be certain that in the face of it, you don’t find yourself in more trouble than you ought to.  You can’t always pull the stunt you did with the magistrate at the signing—summoning ice and casting a new look upon it to have it look like flickering flames.”

Adelia stared at the other arcanist for a while before gently touching her shoulder.  “Gaston was just telling me he would be busy attending to some visitors to the keep.  He wanted to know if you perhaps had any new lessons for me.”

Though a thin smile was upon Lucinda’s lips, she narrowed her eyes while she folded her arms under her chest.  “My, you’ve learned a few little tricks of your own, haven’t you?  Like how to avoid parts of a conversation you don’t want to deal with.  I wonder who you picked that up from.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Adelia pushed back on her, but a moment later, she opened her eyes wider, uncovering another revelation.  “You’re doing it right now, aren’t you?”

Her smile parted, for Lucinda was at once shocked that she had been found out and proud of her protégé.  “You are too smart for your own good, you know?”  She spun about, sweeping a strand of her grey hair out from in front of her face as she drew deeper into the keep.  “Truth be told, I believe we’re at a place where I might take lessons from you, dear.”

“That can’t possibly be true,” Adelia insisted.

Lucinda chuckled.  “It may be a point that you’ll never quite have control over transformative magic as I do, but while I excel at that, I’ve never really put as much effort into some of the other spells or even schools of magic that you’ve dabbled in.  True, I could pull something out of the aether in a pinch, but you’ve come so far in so short a time.”  She hummed to herself, stopping just before she passed beneath an archway that led toward the steps to the second story of the keep.  “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been this proud of someone before.”

Adelia bowed her head at the flattery, but she sensed something else in what Lucinda was telling her.  “You almost sound sad to say it,” she thought.

“Well, truth be told, I feel as though I’m not needed here as much as I used to be.  Miss Kreegan, I trust you’ll keep this between us, but I’m considering leaving.  As I said before, there’s not much more by the way of arcane knowledge that I can bestow upon you, and…”  She blew out a frustrated sigh and spun back around toward the girl.  “Master Camlann was a fun diversion for a while, but he’s proven to be a bit more resilient than I expected.  And while I’ll always enjoy a game of cat and mouse—as you did, if I’m not mistaken—eventually, the cat has to eat.”  Even Lucinda seemed to almost blush at that scandalous remark.  She waved her hand as though to shoo away any embarrassing thoughts.  “What I mean to say is that I’m not ready to pursue him to the ends of the world when it’s clear he’s more enthralled with you.”

She threw up her hands as the words she spoke resonated in the courtyard and she heard them again.  Clasping them together, it was almost as if she were trying to pray.  “That was explained poorly, and I’d like to try again,” she said, almost eliciting a giggle from the aspiring sorceress.  “Adelia, you are like a puzzle Gaston is trying to understand.  There’s a riddle about you, and it goes beyond just your hesitation to work with fire.  There’s a deep, resonant question about just why you’re as powerful as you are and how you accomplished such magical prowess without study.  Your teacher, bless his heart, will go to the ends of the world to figure you out, because he sees in you—as I do—the beginning of something incredible.”

Those kind words were perhaps the most solemn that Lucinda had ever sent her way, and Adelia felt bare having heard them.  Tears fought their way to the rims of her eyes, and Lucinda moved forward to give her a shoulder to lean on.

“Oh, were you only a handsome old wizard who wanted me to stay nearby,” she teased.  “Chin up, dear.  I won’t be going anywhere for some time.”

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Michael DeAngelo

Michael is the creator of the Tellest brand of fantasy novels and stories. He is actively seeking to expand the world of Tellest to be accessible to everyone.