Steve sleeps in the darkest of places by day and roams the streets at night, a victim of cutting edge science. His unwanted reality crashes down around him after he receives a cryptic message from another who shares his fate. “They hunt, brother.” Steve must dodge betrayal, clandestine organizations, and others with abilities like his to learn why, after thirty years, someone finally cares.

Fragments

Fragments Cover - Final

Denied Admittance
Six months have passed since Robert proved he completed his apprenticeship by defeating Orliss Kilore, yet the shattered Wizard’s Guild will not admit him to their membership. They claim they are protecting him, but he believes they have some other motive.

The New Academy
Angela has not seen Robert in months, not since the funeral for her old mentor, Monteous Roarke. Her studies at the new Wizard Academy consume all her time. Gerard only seems to have time for Nina, until his Uncle appears at the gate and informs him of his brother’s untimely death, and demands that Gerard return home.

A Wizard Apart
When a wizard long thought dead reappears to take his revenge on the Guild that expelled him, the apprentices must once again rush to find a wizard that can help them. Only this time, he does not want to be found.

 

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Prologue

 

 

In the cold of the deep of winter, Demetrius usually welcomed any warmth he could find, but the fire that warmed him now was as unwelcome as any midwinter freeze. His longtime friend and master, Monteous Roarke, lay burning upon a pyre of oak, dead at the hand of Orliss Kilore only days earlier.
Dead due to bad luck.
A shard of the Challenge Orb, shattered during a struggle for control of the Wizards’ Guild, had sliced his throat wide open. No wizard had been able to kill him, but a piece of glass had done the deed with no ill intent.
He could hear the sniffles of Monteous’s apprentices as they dealt with watching his body burn. Gerard stood to his left, stoic, his hand straying close to the redheaded girl next to him. Robert stood to his left, hand in hand with Angela, and the tears flowed freely from his eyes.
Robert had been with Monteous the longest, though nowhere near as long as Demetrius had been in the old wizard’s employ. Monteous had become a father to the boy after Robert’s own parents died during an uprising years earlier.
Demetrius wanted to reach out, pat Robert on the shoulder, tell him it would be all right.
But it wouldn’t be.
The Guild was shattered just as the orb had been, its members scattering, though some still tried to hold it together.
Demetrius heard the crunch of feet stepping in the snow behind him and turned to see who it was.
Master Brin, one of the wizards with designs on holding the Guild together, was approaching. He wore a dark robe and propped himself up with his staff. His head had little more than a couple tufts of white hair sprouting from it. Demetrius didn’t think it would be much longer before Master Brin’s body lay upon a pyre of its own.
“May I have a word?” Master Brin asked, barely audible over the crackle of the fire.
“Now?” Demetrius asked, somewhat surprised.
“Please.”
Demetrius glanced at Robert, but Robert wasn’t paying attention to him.
“Can’t it wait?”
“I don’t think so.”
Demetrius exhaled, his breath emerging as fog, and then turned away from the pyre and his old master.
Master Brin led him toward the trees at the edge of the clearing, a ring of black oak as old and gnarled as the wizard.
When they reached the trees, Demetrius waited for Master Brin to speak.
“You worked for Monteous for many years,” Master Brin said.
“Yes,” Demetrius said.
“You were at the Conclave. You know the state of the Guild.”
Demetrius pressed his lips together. Master Brin never failed to take his time getting to the point.
Master Brin smacked his own lips together once before continuing. “I was curious if you would consider taking employ with the Guild.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t,” Demetrius said.
“But we would pay well,” he said. “With the split, we need someone of your, ah, talents.”
“It’s not the pay,” Demetrius said. “I am already under contract.”
“So quickly? You have not left Ivron’s estate. How could you have anything arranged?”
Demetrius would not, in a thousand years or fewer than a thousand tortures, ever tell Master Brin the truth. He did not like to think about the truth himself.
“Monteous asked me to watch over Robert, should anything ever happen to him. He paid me in advance.” It was close enough to the truth.
Master Brin’s eyes lit up.
“Then you can still help us,” he said.
“I don’t think so.”
Master Brin smiled.
“You don’t understand. That is exactly the job we had for you.”
As he finished speaking, Master Brin looked around the clearing, then lifted his staff and waved it in a circle. Demetrius could not see the result, but he had once seen Monteous do a similar thing when trying to speak in confidence.
“I want you to watch over Robert. He will take his tests soon. We want to make certain he lives to take them.”
“If that’s all you want, why do you need me? Wizards are better equipped to protect against wizards.” He protested only to lead Master Brin further from the truth.
“You have his trust, and we have other urgent business to attend to.”
Demetrius knew what that had to be—preventing the Guild from coming even further apart.
“You mean you can’t find any wizard willing to keep an eye on him.”
“Oh, we’ll have eyes on him, but you are wrong to think no one is willing.”
Demetrius raised an eyebrow.
Master Brin glanced around, obviously looking to see if anyone could hear him.
“Many are willing,” Master Brin said, “but there are few that I trust right now, and those few do not have the time.”
Demetrius nodded.
“Thank you for telling me the truth, Master Brin. I’ll watch over him. I’ll stick to his side, whether he wants me there or not.”
“Thank you, Demetrius. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should pay my respects to Monteous before he burns to a crisp.”
Master Brin walked off toward the pyre, leaving Demetrius to stand under the trees, alone.
Out of the corner of his eye, Demetrius caught something move, but when he turned to look, it was only a branch shaking, its load of snow having just fallen off and cascaded to the ground.
Demetrius returned his gaze to where his long time employer and master was transforming into smoke. An end to a long chapter in his life, but it somehow didn’t feel like it was quite over.
He let his gaze drift to Robert and Angela standing hand in hand, and thought about what he’d just agreed to do for Master Brin.
No, it’s not over. Not over in the slightest.

 

* * *

 

The fire roared in front of them, hot enough that Angela’s face sweated despite the deep cold that still lingered after the snowstorm. Her backside felt the cold through her winter cloak. And then there was her hand. It was warm, though not warm for the same reason as her face. Her hand was warm because Robert held it.
He didn’t talk, though. Neither of them did as they watched Monteous’s body turn to ash and smoke in the flames. It didn’t seem right to talk, and she didn’t think Robert wanted to talk much, anyway.
He was barely out of bed after the injuries he had sustained battling Orliss. On their way out to the clearing, he rode behind her on the horse, still not quite strong enough to ride for himself.
Through his hand, she could feel the occasional sob as his body lurched. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw tears streaming down his face. Of all of them, he had been closest to Monteous, had lived with him the longest, and he had done the most to try to save him.
She heard the crunch of snow as someone took a step. She turned her head to see Demetrius, in his red coat and hat, walking away from the pyre on a path that would take him to Master Brin, her new master. Hers and Gerard’s and Robert’s. Maybe even Nina’s.
The red-headed girl stood next to Gerard, braving the cold even though she had known Monteous only a little. She was there for Gerard, and hadn’t left his side since they returned from the disastrous Conclave.
Angela wanted to talk to her, get to know her better, but Angela had spent most of her time in Robert’s room with him, and the rest of it working with Master Brin.
She looked back at Robert, seeing his face in profile, and the tears still flowed.
She squeezed his hand, and he turned slightly to look at her. His gaze was full of sadness, but an undercurrent of determination ran beneath it.
“He would have been proud of you,” she said in a quiet voice she hoped only he could hear.
“I like to think that,” he said. “If only…”
He turned to look back at the fire, but she didn’t, preferring to watch him instead.
She knew what his if only was. If only he had been faster, better, stronger. She’d told him many times since he woke that the shard of the orb that killed Monteous was a fluke and there was nothing he could have done.
They stood that way for a few minutes until she heard footsteps in the snow from behind her again.
Only, this time, it was her new master approaching, not Demetrius.
“He was a powerful wizard,” Master Brin said, “may he now rest.”
A few moments of silence passed, and for a moment, Angela thought Master Brin might not say anything else.
But he broke the silence.
“Robert,” he said. “I have news.”
Robert turned to look at him, but said nothing.
“Two weeks from today, provided you are sufficiently recovered, you will take the tests. Seeing as how you are standing, I think you will be in fine shape by then.”
Robert nodded. “Thank you, Master Brin.”
Master Brin turned toward her.
“Angela? Tomorrow, you, Gerard, and Nina ride out with me.”
She saw Nina and Gerard turn to look their way after hearing their names mentioned.
“Where are we going?” Angela asked.
“We have settled on an estate that we will use for the Guild Academy. You three will go with me to help prepare the laboratories and return to your training. Other apprentices will come in as they are able.”
“So soon?”
Robert squeezed her hand.
“Yes,” Master Brin said. “We have decided we should not wait. A few apprentices are in situations like yours, with their masters dead due to that nasty business at the Conclave. The sooner we get to training you all, the sooner we can replenish our numbers. Say your goodbyes tonight. We shall leave in the morning.”
Master Brin turned away from her, and back to the pyre.
“Goodbye my friend,” he said, then turned and headed back to where the horses waited.
Angela could not believe it was happening so soon. She had thought the Academy would take months to set up, that she would have a few months with Robert before they had to separate.
“I’ll come visit,” Robert said. “I’ll stay and help, if they’ll let me.”
“But…” She stopped. She couldn’t articulate how she was feeling. She was excited to go, to learn from as many wizards as she could, but it meant leaving Robert so soon after they had come together.
“I’m not ready,” she said.
“You’re ready.”
“No, I’m not ready to be away from you.”
“It won’t be for long,” he said.
“You promise?”
“I promise. I’ll pass my tests, and then they won’t be able to keep me away from you.”
She smiled, stood on her tip-toes, and kissed him. His lips tasted like tears, which reminded her again of why they were there.
“Why did he have to tell us now?” she asked.
Robert shook his head, then went back to watching Monteous burn.

 

* * *

 

From his perch in the branch of a snowbound black-oak tree, Trajon Jarl watched the body of Monteous Roarke, the most powerful wizard of the age, burn to ash on a pyre built taller than a man.
The flames and the blackening body held only a passing interest for him, though. It was the people who were in attendance that had brought him to the edge of the clearing in the middle of winter.
He came to take the measure of the man that had defeated Orliss Kilore in a duel, had come to kill him if necessary, and Trajon found him wanting.
The boy, mud brown hair standing just a shade taller than average, did have the strength to control large amounts of energie. It was obvious when Trajon slipped into the vew to take his measure. What the boy didn’t have was experience or much knowledge. He wasn’t even a master, yet.
It became clear as Trajon observed the boy, who had tears in his eyes for the recently deceased Monteous Roarke, that Orliss had died due to luck, as much as any specific skill of the boy’s.
Killing the boy wouldn’t serve any purpose right then. It likely wouldn’t be any fun, either. And he was still young. Once Trajon’s other plans came together, he might be able to take the boy and train him as he should have been trained.
No, it wasn’t time to do anything about the boy, yet.
The others in the clearing were just as useless. Even that damnable Demetrius who had been a dagger at his neck for ages.
Demetrius stood close to the boy, protectively.
Trajon smiled.
It would be fun to bring the boy under my control while Demetrius frets and dances about. Without that old fool Thiobulus to help him, Demetrius won’t stop me.
The smile faltered.
Thoughts of how Thiobulus and Demetrius had imprisoned him so long ago rarely left him for long, nor did they allow him much pleasure…
Unless he thought of his revenge.
Demetrius turned away from the pyre, and for a moment, Trajon Jarl thought he had been spotted.
But he was black-cloaked against a black-oak in the shadows of the forest.
And then Trajon noticed the doddering old wizard that had taken Monteous’s place walking through the snow toward Demetrius. Trajon hadn’t even bothered to learn the wizard’s name. He was nothing.
The old wizard said something to Demetrius, and then the two of them walked away from the group, back to the treeline on the other side of the clearing.
Trajon’s arm started to itch in the dry cold.
He looked down at it and saw the pale skin had started to show the spidery web of his veins beneath.
It was time to feed.
He fished a hand into his pocket and brought out his Telanderal, an oval shaped Work he carried with him everywhere. The stone bore a thin set of lines that crisscrossed near the thinner ends. He had carried it with him since the day he finished it, even through the dark days of his imprisonment.
If only I could have drawn the energie to use it while there.
He pushed the thought out of his head. He had seen what he came to see, and it was time to go. He didn’t have time for anything but finding a meal.
He spun a thin thread of energie into the stone, drawing a pattern along the lines while thinking of his destination.
When Demetrius looked up to see the snow falling from the tree, it was already too late. Trajon Jarl was gone.

 

Chapter 1

 

 

“Do you know what they said?” Robert asked Demetrius as soon as Demetrius met him outside the thick oak door of Monteous’s laboratory. The morning summer sun still hung low in the sky with the day only a few hours old.
Demetrius, ever unflappable, and dressed, as always, in a red coat and hat, shook his head. “I can guess,” he said.
“They said, ‘Wait until the next Conclave. We will make our decision by then.’ That’s six months from now.” Robert was trying to contain his anger, but he was losing the battle, and he knew it.
“The Guild has its rules and its methods.”
Robert waved his intricately-carved, rosewood staff back and forth. “You see this?” he asked. “I finished this two weeks after Monteous died. I passed my tests. I learned everything I needed to know to qualify as a master in the two months after that. They should have made me a master three months ago, and now they want me to wait another half year?”
Demetrius sighed. Robert guessed Demetrius had to be frustrated with him, but Demetrius showed few signs of it. “You can’t force them to make you a master, Robert.”
“But I don’t see the point of any delay.”
“Do you really want to have this conversation outside?” Demetrius asked.
“No,” Robert said, but he didn’t move.
Demetrius pushed past him and opened the door. Robert was glad to let him do it. He hadn’t yet come to terms with the idea that the laboratory belonged to him now.
“Are you coming?”
Robert peered through the open door and into the dark of the unlit room beyond. An overturned chair lay among the ruins of a number of Works and utensils, items Monteous and his apprentices had spent hours and days creating—all of it smashed by the treasonous wizard Orliss Kilore.
“I wonder how much is missing,” Robert asked, delaying his entry.
“We won’t find out unless we go inside. This was your idea.”
Reluctantly, Robert moved past Demetrius and into the laboratory that was now his.
The door shut behind him. “At least they finally agreed that Monteous’s order willing you his assets could not be set aside.”
Robert nodded, sure that Demetrius could see it in the dim light that entered through the dirt encrusted windows.
Robert Weaved a light at the end of his staff, brightening the room a bit. The lamps were still in place, and he sent threads of energie to each of them until the laboratory was fully lit.
The light exposed destruction more thorough than Robert remembered, and it sent another wave of anger through him. The anger carried a hint of satisfaction, though, as the man responsible was dead.
“Orliss did not leave much,” Demetrius said.
Robert picked his way through the remnants of the workbenches and shards of glass. He had to agree with Demetrius. The shelves were clear of the more expensive and difficult Works. The materials were mostly missing. The benches had all been emptied before being overturned.
He stepped onto the circular stone platform, the stage, as Monteous had called it. At his feet, he found an iron stand, bent and mangled. It appeared to be the only remnant of the portal he had opened during their search for Monteous—the portal that had proved to him that he could, and would, be a master. He reached down and picked it up.
“When Monteous died,” he said as he turned the mangled iron over in his hand, “Master Brin told me I was to take the tests as soon as I was recovered. I was ready right then to become a master, to take Monteous’s place. Then I passed the tests, and I made my staff. They were amazed at my skill and my ability, and they praised me for it. I thought for sure they would make me a master within the month.”
He had been so sure, too. Nothing but praise and amazement, until they sent him away from Angela for more training. He had thought they would teach him of proscribed Works and Weaves, but they taught him nothing. When he returned, Master Brin barred him from the Academy and wouldn’t allow him to see Angela, or even talk with her one last time.
“I’ve been so angry,” he said, “ever since Monteous died. And when they wouldn’t let me see Angela, I couldn’t take it. I shouldn’t have said those things. I shouldn’t have threatened Master Brin and the others, but why did they have to take her from me, too?”
“You know why…”
“I know what they said. I know they said she needed to be free of my influence in order to complete her training, and I know they said I needed to concentrate on my own tasks, but that’s a load of manure. I know there’s something else going on. I’ve apologized, time after time, for my outburst and my threat.”
Robert looked to Demetrius. “What are they trying to do to me?”
Demetrius stared back at him, silent.
“Dammit Demetrius, you know something, don’t you.”
Demetrius shook his head.
Robert dropped the unrepairable stand to the stone floor and walked off the stage. Robert surprised himself. He stood right up to Demetrius, grabbed Demetrius’s red coat, and brought him in close.
Demetrius let him, even though Robert knew the man could probably kill him quicker than Robert could form a Weave.
“Tell me what you know,” Robert demanded.
Demetrius shook his head, and then mouthed the words, “They’re watching.”

 

* * *

 

“Again. Pay more attention to the pattern.”
Angela sighed, but she started the Weave again, as she was instructed.
When she first heard that she was going to the estate the Guild was going to turn into the Academy, she despaired of ever seeing Robert again. Master Brin hardly even gave them time to say goodbye before he whisked her, Gerard, and Nina away, leaving Robert at Ivron’s estate.
But on the ride to the new Academy, she grew more and more excited, despite her fear of losing Robert. The night before they left, the four of them had sat up and talked about what they might expect. The idea that they would learn from more than one wizard sounded exciting, and the prospect of additional apprentices to talk with sparked her interest. Robert told her not to worry, that he would come and visit as soon as his tests were done.
She knew that new apprentices and new masters wouldn’t ease the ache she would feel at Robert’s absence, but she had thought it would be infinitely better than sitting around listening to Master Brin drone on and on like he had during their time at Ivron’s estate.
She had not, however, considered that the other wizards that had come to teach might actually be worse than Master Brin.
The new masters were introduced the first night after Angela and her friends arrived at the Academy. Master Brin was staying as the Headmaster, and three other wizards were chosen to join him.
Master Olimand was an obese man with night black hair and a beard that engulfed his face. He was fairly young, being only about ten years older than Robert.
Master Callalan was as thin as Master Olimand was round, but quite a bit shorter and older, though not as old as Master Brin. He didn’t have any hair to speak of, either.
The third master, Master Brecious, was a woman, and Angela had looked forward to getting to know her. But it was quickly apparent that the woman had a heart of ice that matched her white hair and sharp features.
And it was Master Brecious that kept driving her to repeat the same Weave far past the point where Angela felt she could do it well. Master Brecious was never satisfied with anything Angela did, and her stare held all the understanding of a stone.
Angela tied off the threads, then sat back and examined the Weave. Flat, two feet square, and floating in the air.
She looked around to see what the other four students had accomplished. None of them were done yet, though one boy that had been a thorn in her side since the day she arrived was close to finishing.
He’d introduced himself the night of her arrival as Shane, and had immediately invited her to step around the side of the building to share a kiss. “You’re the most beautiful wizard I have ever seen,” he said. She had laughed, and told him she was already devoted to another.
“But is he a wizard?” he asked.
“Yes, and any time now, he’ll be a master.”
“Who is he?”
“His name is Robert.”
Shane stepped back a bit and blinked his eyes. “He’s not the apprentice that killed Orliss Kilore, is he?”
Angela smiled, and said, “The very same.”
“My master said the Guild will never allow him to join.”
Angela’s anger got the better of her. “What does your master know? Is he a traitor like Orliss?”
Master Brin stepped between them and pushed Angela’s arm down. She hadn’t realized she’d been holding it up, and her wand with it.
“Apprentices, this is not the place to discuss politics,” Master Brin said. Then he turned to Angela. “And we do not Weave against other apprentices unless instructed to.”
“But…”
Master Brin leaned in close to her. “I heard what he said, and he is wrong. Ignore him. You are only a year or two away from taking the tests yourself. Don’t waste it.”
After that, Shane tried to best her at every opportunity, tried to prove himself to her, she thought.
“Angela,” Master Brecious said.
She looked away from Shane to find the icy glare of the master directed at her Weave. “Yes?”
“Are you distracted by something? This one is worse than your last one.”
Angela heard Shane snicker. She wanted to hit him, but didn’t get the chance.
“You keep your thoughts on your Weave, Shane, or you will find it unraveling before you place the last thread.”
Angela took a closer look at her own Weave, and saw that it was a little worse than the last one, but not much, and the last one had been the best she’d ever completed. “It still holds.”
“Does it now? Would you be willing to stand on it?”
Angela sighed. “No.” The physical Weaves were not her strong point. They never had been.
“When you do not have the strength in a particular area, you must be all the more precise. This Weave, when properly formed, should carry you no matter how little strength you have in the energie flows needed to create it. This is what comes of learning from a master like Monteous, who has all the control and power one could want.”
Angela stood up, anger coursing through her over the comment about Monteous. “You take that back. Monteous was a great master. He was…”
“He was a master with a great deal of power in just about anything he tried. He didn’t need to be as precise as you do, Angela. His strength overcame many weaknesses. If you ever want to be a match for a man like that, you must learn greater control and deal in precision, not strength.
“Now, sit back down and try it again,” Master Brecious said while unraveling Angela’s Weave.
Angela sat in her chair, but her body shook with anger. She stared straight ahead until the Weave disappeared. To do anything else risked the Ice Witch’s wrath and Shane’s smirks. She was not about to allow either.
She spared one last thought for Robert before raising her hands to form the Weave again.
I wish you would come and take me away from here.

 

* * *

 

Gerard knelt in the tall grass behind the stable, trying to stay hidden while he waited for Nina. He felt a bit silly hiding like he was, but the masters had frowned more than once upon his relationship with Nina, and today, he didn’t want anything to interrupt his plans.
In the months since meeting Nina amidst their attempt to prevent Orliss from taking over the Guild, Gerard had come to see her as more than just a friend. She’d been his constant companion from the day they met until the day the masters separated them into different classes at the school.
It hadn’t been all his idea, either. At first, when he had not yet understood what he felt about her, he tried to find slivers of time alone to think. Sometimes, he would try to get Master Brin to send him on an errand without her, but she always found a reason to go with him. Other times, he tried to sneak off into the woods alone, but she always found him.
He really did not have a moment to himself until they sent them to the school, and then he found the forced separation hard to bear. They spent every moment they were allowed together, and even moments they were not allowed.
And many of those moments they found back behind the stable.
He felt in his pocket for the band of gold it carried. He had spent weeks collecting the material for it, and then it took him another few days Working the ring in the spare moments he could find alone. It wasn’t as detailed as he would like, but with the tools he’d been able to sneak off with, smooth was as good as he could do. He would add details later, his family’s seal—hers, if she had one.
His parents would not approve, but it didn’t matter. They had sent him away. He hadn’t heard from them in years. He knew what they thought, too. Once Monteous had taken him, he had become Monteous’s problem.
The dry grass crunched under the steps of someone approaching the stable. Gerard stood up and quickly brushed himself off, not wanting to appear like he was indulging in idleness, as Master Olimand—a master terribly familiar with idle indulgence, if his rotund figure were any measure—liked to say.
He need not have worried; Nina’s redheaded face peeked around the corner.
Gerard both relaxed and grew exceptionally nervous at the same time.
This is it.
She ran to him, threw her arms around him, and hugged him tight before lifting her chin up in demand of a kiss, which Gerard happily supplied.
When they broke off, Nina said, “I didn’t think Master Olimand would let us out. He kept going on and on about diligence and details and hard work. Like he’s ever done a bit of hard work in his life.”
Gerard chuckled. “He did let you out, though, and I’m glad he did, because I’ve got a surprise.”
Her eyes grew bright. “A surprise? What surprise?”
Gerard’s heart fluttered, his hands broke out with sweat. Do I really want to do this? Father will be apoplectic. No, I don’t care. He sent me away.
“Gerard? What’s wrong? You look upset.”
Gerard had not realized his emotions escaped his control. He forced a smile back onto his face. This is supposed to be a happy time. “Nothing’s wrong,” he said, reaching a hand up to brush a strand of crimson hair from her face and touch her cheek in the process. He reached his other hand into his pocket for the ring.
“It’s been six months since you ignored your father and followed us.”
“I didn’t ignore him,” she said, giggling.
Underneath her giggle, he thought he heard hoof beats coming up the road that ran past the estate. Whoever it was rode at a pretty good clip. He ignored it and continued on with his preface. “And in that time, you’ve made it pretty clear that I’m unavailable to the other girls.”
She batted her eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Gerard. There’s only two girls here worth having, and Angela is obviously not interested.”
Angela. Nina liked to needle him about his poor treatment of Angela, and Gerard had no idea why. He’d long since apologized. He wanted to refute that he had any interest in her anymore, but held his tongue. Saying anything would only send the conversation down a different trail.
The hoof beats grew louder. The horse was right outside the gate.
Gerard pulled the ring out of his pocket. Please don’t come in the yard, he asked silently, hoping to keep the rider away.
“In that time,” he said, “I’ve grown fond of you, too.”
She smiled and put her hand out to touch is chest using just her fingertips. “Fond?” she asked.
The clop of the hoof beats changed to the distinctive sound of horseshoes on stone. It had entered the courtyard, and Gerard knew he had run out of time. At least one master would come out to greet the visitor.
He shook his head. “Forget about that. Nina,” he said, holding out his hand. “I…”
“Gerard Maracane,” a voice called out. It belonged to the rider, Gerard was sure. It sounded vaguely familiar. Nina’s head turned, even though they couldn’t see the rider through the wall of the stable. “I’m looking for Gerard Maracane.”
“I wonder what he wants?” Nina asked.
“I have no idea,” Gerard said, but he had a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. No one rode that hard with good news.
“Excuse me,” said another voice. This one belonged to Master Brecious.
She stepped out of her class quickly.
“Would you mind telling me who you are and why you want to bother one of our students?”
“I’m sorry, Master Wizard,” he said, his voice carrying an appropriate coloration of fear and respect. It sounded even more familiar, a memory from long past, but Gerard still couldn’t place it. “I’m just a courier carrying a message from the boy’s father.”
“Your father?” Nina whispered.
“This can’t be good news. I haven’t heard from him since the first year after I became an apprentice, and honestly, I don’t care what he has to say.” But deep down, he knew that last was a lie.
“Don’t be silly,” Nina said. “You have to find out what it’s about.”
The choice was taken away from him by Master Brecious. “Come out Gerard, you too, Nina.”
Gerard silently cursed the messenger’s timing, but slipped the ring back in his pocket. He’d have to ask her later, though he hoped it would not be much later. “I guess I should find out what he wants,” he said.
Before he could step away from her, Nina stood on her toes to give him a quick kiss. It wasn’t enough for him, though.
“Gerard?” The master’s voice had a way of penetrating the walls. Gerard swore it was louder than it should have been.
He stepped away from Nina, felt her fingers trace down his arm until her hand clasped his. They walked, hand in hand, around the corner, to face whoever had come for him.
When he saw the man, Gerard stopped in his tracks. The man atop the horse wore the typical summer clothing of Risuk: leather leggings, ram wool jacket, a metal band around his brow to keep his shoulder length hair from his face. Gerard didn’t stop because the man was from Risuk. He stopped because he recognized the man on the horse and had not seen him since joining Monteous as an apprentice.
“Uncle?” Gerard asked, disbelieving.
Why would my uncle be here? Why not just a regular messenger? His heart raced. Whatever news his uncle carried could not be good.
“Come, Gerard. I have news from your father, and I think you would prefer to hear it in private.”
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I want to hear it at all,” Gerard said. They left me here, they can just leave me alone.
“What’s going on, Gerard?” Nina asked from behind him.
“Shhh,” he said.
“You must hear it,” his uncle said. “Your father demands it.”
“My father sent me away, and he hasn’t sent even a message to me in the last six years. He has no right to make demands of me.”
His uncle dismounted easily, dropping to the ground, and not showing any signs of the long ride, but his uncle wouldn’t.
“He has every right, Gerard, he’s your father. Come, let’s find a quiet room in this place so that we can talk.” He extended his hand, palm up, the ritual greeting of Risuk, an invitation for Gerard to step forward.
Gerard had no intention of doing so. His father had sent him away. His uncle could have prevented it.
“Just tell me now,” said Gerard. He glanced at Master Brecious, then back at Nina. He didn’t care if they heard anything the message from his father. “Whatever it is, I’m not going to do what he wants. He has no idea who I am. Neither do you. You had a chance to stop him, to take me in, and you didn’t. I could have been your son, could have helped you, but you spurned me just like my father did.”
“Gerard…”
“No, I don’t want apologies. I’m happy here, and I’m going to finish my apprenticeship. Didn’t my father always tell me to finish what I started? Well, I’m going to finish it.”
His uncle dropped his hand. “Your way, then. I’m here to inform you that your brother is dead at the hands of brigands and that your father requests your presence at his funeral, to be held in two weeks time.”
The message hit Gerard like a crossbow bolt to the chest.
“You are now the sole heir of the Maracane line, with the responsibilities your new position entails.”
Eric, dead. It’s not possible. Gerard sunk to his knees.
Nina came up behind him, put her arm around him. “Gerard? Are you all right?”
No. I’m not. “I dreamed of this when I first came to Monteous, I dreamed I was in my brother’s shoes, but not this way, and not any more.”
“You’re going, aren’t you?” she asked. He had no idea how she knew these things.
“I have to,” he said. And that was the worst part. If it had been anyone else, he could have stayed.
“I’ll come with you.”
He looked up from the ground, looked into her green flecked eyes. “I want you to go,” he said, “but you can’t.”
“Why not?”
“You need to become a wizard, join the guild, help Robert and Angela. That life is over for me.”
“That’s not what I want,” she said. “I want to be with you.”
“And I, with you.”
He looked up at his uncle and saw Master Brecious standing behind him. The icy look she usually wore had melted, and Gerard realized she knew what this meant to him—what this meant for Nina.
“Please,” he said. “You need to finish your studies.”
“But…”
“No,” he said, and decided to lie to her. “I’ll come back, I promise. When your studies are done, I’ll come back for you.”
“That’s such a long time,” she said. “What if…”
“I love you, Nina. I’ll come back, and I’ll visit whenever my duties allow.” Which will be never.
“If you promise. Write me,” she said.
“I will.”
He pulled her to him, hugged her, gave her a kiss that tasted of tears.
“When do we leave?” he asked, standing up and turning away from her. Her hand still held his, and he didn’t pull it away just yet.
“Early tomorrow morning.”
Gerard nodded. A quick break from Nina was better, anyway. His heart felt as heavy as a piece of granite, but the ring in his pocket felt heavier.
And then, in a moment of quiet defiance, he turned around to Nina one last time. He pulled the ring from his pocket, and then clasped her hand, slipping the ring to her. “Keep this for me,” he said, and then strode off to his room to pack his things.
His betrothed, a responsibility of his new station, would never have that ring. I’m sorry, my love.

 

Chatper 2

 

 

The Weave that had wrapped the doorway to Monteous’s study for as long as Robert could remember was gone. Robert closed his eyes for a moment, shelving those memories in the back of his mind. Everything in this building reminded him of the man that he’d once thought of as a father as much as a master.
“Is something wrong?” Demetrius asked from behind him.
“No,” Robert said, and opened his eyes.
He pushed the door open and was mildly surprised to find the study free of the disorder that had taken root throughout the rest of the laboratory. The Weave must have kept Orliss’s henchmen out.
He stepped across the threshold, and a calm came over him, a feeling of solitude he experienced every time he had visited Monteous, a feeling he thought he would never experience again. The chaos of the outside world leaked past Demetrius and through the door.
“Demetrius, step in and shut the door.”
When the door to the room shut, that last bit of chaos melted away.
“I always thought it was because of the Weave on the door,” Robert said.
“What?”
Robert spun around, looking past the furniture, the shelves, and the books to the walls. He slipped into the vew, that trick of sight that let him see the threads of energie that ran through the world, and then down deeper, and he inspected the walls, looking for something, a telltale sign.
“What are you doing?” Demetrius asked.
There it is, he thought. He discerned a faint pattern of energie running through the walls, trapped forever until they were reworked.
“The walls, Demetrius. The walls are a Work. I never noticed before. I thought the effect was because of the Weave on the door, but the walls, the Work is so subtle.”
“What effect?”
“Don’t you feel it?” Robert asked. “Whoever you think is watching us, I doubt they can see us in here.”
“I don’t feel anything. What are you talking about?”
Robert faced Demetrius. “The energie that we use to Work and Weave surrounds us. I can always feel it, just a little, but it’s more of an unconscious thing. I hardly ever notice it, unless I step in this room. There is less of it in this room. Only what you and I bring with us. I had always ascribed it to the Weave that Monteous kept across the door, but that’s gone. The walls, Demetrius, the walls are a Work, a barrier to energie. They keep it out, and in effect, they will prevent any sort of attempts to spy on us.”
Recognition spilled across Demetrius’s face. “You think they can’t hear us?”
“I know they can’t. Please, Demetrius,” Robert said, retreating from the confrontational stance he’d taken in the lab, “tell me what you know. Who is watching me?”
“You ought to be able to figure that out,” Demetrius said.
“All right, the Guild is watching me. Why? What did I do?”
Demetrius sat down in a chair that Robert remembered sitting in more than once while he listened to lectures from Monteous. It left Robert standing, looking down at the man who had been Monteous’s eyes and hands in the wider world. Robert glanced over at the chair in front of Monteous’s desk. The plush pillow that sat atop its wooden seat beckoned him, but the idea of sitting in it just didn’t feel right.
“You didn’t do anything,” Demetrius said. “They’re trying to protect you.”
“Protect me? From what? I’m a master in everything but title. I can protect myself.”
Demetrius picked at his fingernails. “Do you think you could protect yourself from Monteous, if he were still with us?”
“Of course not.”
“And there’s your answer.”
“That’s hardly an answer,” Robert said, his anger flaring. He wanted to throw something. “There’s no one as powerful as Monteous.”
“You are,” Demetrius said. “And don’t forget, not every wizard belongs to the Guild. Only the wizards in The Seven Kingdoms.”
Robert immediately thought of the wizard that he had met right after the battle by the ferry, the old wizard that had created so complex a weave as to apparently stop time for everyone else but him and Robert. But Robert couldn’t imagine that old man was a threat. He had asked Robert to find him, to become his student.
“You still haven’t told me why.”
“No, I haven’t. But think about this—once you become a member of the Guild, you are strong enough that you are immediately a contender for Senior Wizard. Master Brin and others are concerned that should that happen, you might not survive the year.”
“Haven’t I already proved I could survive? I defeated Orliss.”
“Using a staff that contained a proscribed Work, and that Work nearly killed you.”
“But…”
“No, Robert. These are their arguments, and there isn’t any way around them. I’ve tried.”
Without thinking, Robert sat down in Monteous’s chair, futility overwhelming his anger. “Then what do I do?”
“Clean this place, put it back in order, practice, become stronger. Prove to them that you can survive on your own.”
“But that could be a long time, and I don’t have much money for supplies.” Robert imagined sitting in the middle of the laboratory, looking around at barren shelves, and waiting for a summons that would never come.
“You have more than you think. Everything that belonged to Monteous is now yours, and this room appears to be untouched.”
Robert spun around, looking at Monteous’s desk. It had several drawers. He slipped into the vew for a moment, but the Weaves that had protected the desk while Monteous lived were gone. He reached for the bottom drawer and pulled it open.
In the bottom of the drawer he found a lock box. Robert pulled it out. He’d seen it more than once as Monteous pulled it out to give them coins for use at the Festival. A smallish box, no more than the length of his forearm, and a hand and a half deep.
It had no key hole.
He didn’t even have to slip into the vew to know that the box was a Work. “This will probably only open to Monteous’s touch,” he said.
“Try it.”
Robert brushed his thumb against a metal plate on the front, like he’d seen Monteous do. The box clicked open.
“See?”
Robert lifted the lid. Atop the gleaming coins that nearly filled the box, he found a short note, written in Monteous’s hand.
 
Robert,
 
It appears that something has gone wrong, and I no longer have the pleasure of living. Just by opening this box, you’ve undoubtedly learned that I have willed all that I have to you. Please take it knowing that I wish I could have done better by you.
You have the ability, but you must find it within yourself to focus that ability so that it can do you some good.
I write this, knowing that there is a faction in the guild that wishes me dead. I also suspect that if you ever pass your tests and are admitted to the guild, you could have a short life, especially now that I am not around to protect you.
Please, do not seek to join the guild just yet. Instead, seek out Thiobulus Soake and apprentice yourself to him. He will be hard to find, I suspect, as he has little love for the Guild and its members, but he will teach you what you must know to survive.
Do not delay. I fear The Seven Kingdoms are in grave danger, and there is little time to lose.
 
Monteous
 
Thoughts swirled in Robert’s head. The first one that he was able to snag came to his lips. “How did he know?”
“He didn’t know. He prepared. If he had come back, you would never have seen that letter.”
Robert nodded. “He was talking about Orliss, right? The Seven Kingdoms aren’t in danger any more, are they?”
“Who’s to say? But I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss the thought. A third of the wizards left or died that day. Where did they go? The orb they used to govern themselves is shattered. Now, they sit in a council and argue all day.”
My status with the Guild is proof of that, Robert thought.
Demetrius sat up in his chair. “If they are watching you, protecting you, I would wager they still think there is a danger, beyond a personal threat to you.”
Robert sifted through his thoughts. He wanted to see Angela, and he wanted to become a proper master. But neither of those were possibilities in the near future. He only had two other options. He could stay and clean up the laboratory, or…
“Demetrius, do you know where I might find Thiobulus Soake?”

 

* * *

 

Only moments after Angela finally mastered the Weave such that it didn’t fall apart when weight was set upon it, Master Brecious dismissed them all and left the room with a look of concern on her face and a quickness to her gait.
Angela practically raced out after her. She had no desire to endure Shane’s smug looks.
She followed a corridor that ran along the back wall of the building, a guard barracks they had converted into a series of instruction laboratories. The corridor opened out into a laboratory complete with a stage, as Monteous had called it, where all of the apprentices could gather and watch a wizard Work.
This larger laboratory also served as a gathering place once the apprentices were let out for lunch, or after the day’s lessons were complete. Angela found half a dozen students, mostly much younger than her, already gathered. Master Olimand must have let them out early.
Angela did not see Nina among them, and she smiled to herself. Nina had solved all Angela’s problems with Gerard, and she became a good friend, as well, though they did not see each other much. If they weren’t studying, Nina was usually off with Gerard somewhere. And she was probably with him now.
Someone had opened the windows in the room. The smell of the early summer grass wafted in on a slight breeze.
Also making its way through the open windows was the voice of a man shouting for Gerard. She did not recognize the voice.
Angela went to the window and looked out. A man, dressed in the fashion of Gerard’s home kingdom of Risuk, sat atop a horse. Master Brecious was with him, and Angela heard her call for Gerard and Nina to come out.
Angela felt herself smirk. Everyone knew the spot behind the stable was Gerard and Nina’s favorite place to meet. The Academy wasn’t a place to hide secrets.
Moments after Master Brecious’s call, Gerard and Nina emerged from behind the wooden building, both of them still wearing their gray apprentice robes. Angela noted surprise on Gerard’s face, and then as the man atop the horse said something to Gerard that Angela could not quite catch, the look of surprise changed to one of defiance.
Angela ran to the laboratory building door. Shane opened it right as she arrived, and she bumped past him and out into the courtyard.
“Hey,” he said.
“Sorry,” she said without looking back.
She ran for the main house. Something was up. She knew it, and when Gerard finally made his way to his room, as she knew he would, she would press him for the details.
If Gerard was leaving, like she suspected he was—no one sent couriers for apprentice wizards—she had an errand for him to perform.

 

* * *

 

Nina stood in the hot, dusty courtyard and watched Gerard’s thick strong back as he walked away from her for the second time in her life, only this time she wasn’t so sure she could find a way to follow him.
The first time had been easy. Her father knew she would leave and put up a fight only to appease Moma. The weather had not made for good travel, but the tracks were simple to follow.
Her whole life had changed the moment Gerard walked into their house in the middle of the storm. She just hadn’t known by how much.
And now, now, just as she was starting to pick up some of the things the masters had been trying to teach her, now he was leaving again.
Despite what Gerard told her, she knew he wasn’t coming back. The way he had pressed the ring into her hand, more of an apology than a promise, had made it clear.
“You should eat lunch, apprentice,” Master Brecious said, penetrating Nina’s focus for a moment. The master’s voice was not full of cold judgment, as it usually was. Instead, it held something resembling compassion. “You will need your strength for the afternoon lessons.”
Nina looked up at Master Brecious, then glanced at the man who had just ruined what she suspected was a marriage proposal. Gerard’s uncle had already dismissed her.
“Yes, Master Brecious,” Nina said, hoping she sounded resigned as she intended.
She was far from resigned.
She walked across the courtyard to the giant white building that had once been the primary residence of some lord, but was now the building where all of the apprentices and masters ate and slept. It was where the pair of cooks worked to feed them all. It was where they would be serving lunch.
Nina wasn’t going to get lunch. She didn’t have time.
Once she climbed the stone steps and entered the building, she looked behind her to be sure that Master Brecious wasn’t following. She wasn’t. The master was helping Gerard’s uncle stable his horse.
Maybe she did have time, after all. Maybe she and Gerard had one more night together. She could use that night to get help from Angela, the one person she could trust to help her, the one person here, other than Gerard, that didn’t look down on her because of her limited ability to Weave. Nina found the raven haired girl striking, taller than her and more beautiful than any of the other apprentices. She made her gray apprentice robe look like a ball gown. If Nina hadn’t seen Angela Work, she would have had trouble believing that Angela was even an apprentice. Nina didn’t know Angela’s past, they had never talked about it, but Angela carried herself much like a noble, and if she was from a noble family, or from a family aspiring to marry into nobility, Angela should have been betrothed long ago instead of toiling as an apprentice wizard.
When the door banged shut behind her, she slipped the ring from the palm of her hand and onto the finger she suspected it was meant for. It went on with ease, but she could feel that it would not easily come loose. She held her hand up in front of her to examine it. Plain, gold, but well made and shaped.
She smiled at the memory of his awkward proposal, even though he hadn’t finished it. In the things that mattered to the outside world, he was decisive, but when it came to her, when it came to matters of the heart, he was like a child that had been burned one too many times. It melted her own heart, and it was one of the many reasons she loved him.
“If only he wasn’t so stupid sometimes.”
“What?” a female apprentice asked.
Nina looked up, saw the almond shaped eyes, the thin gold hair. Nina could not remember the girl’s name, but knew she was of Gerard’s rank, several years ahead of Nina.
“Sorry, nothing. I didn’t realize I spoke aloud.”
“That’s a pretty ring,” the girl said. “Did Gerard give that to you?”
Nina clenched her fist and put it in her pocket. The girl obviously knew who she was. Nina had to stomp on the jealousy that threatened to rear its head. She could not afford to get into fights with the other apprentices. She wasn’t strong enough, or experienced enough, to survive. She could barely create enough of a spark to get a campfire lit.
But it did not stop her from feeling proud. “Yes,” she said. “He did.”
“You’re so lucky,” the girl said, and Nina thought for a moment that the girl wasn’t like the other apprentices who were more powerful and looked down on the apprentices like her who had a bit of ability, but no strength.
But Nina’s hopes died when the girl continued. “I don’t know what he sees in you. You’ll never be his equal.”
Nina’s fist threatened to come out of her pocket, but she held it there. Moma would have been proud at her restraint.
“I don’t have to be his equal,” Nina said. “I just have to be better than the alternatives.”
Then she stalked off to find Angela, leaving the girl behind her.
She made her way upstairs without running into another apprentice. They were all eating, she suspected, or they had not yet been let out of their morning instruction.
She followed the long hallway past a number of apprentice bedrooms, past her own that she shared with a much younger apprentice, hoping that Angela would be in her room instead of downstairs with the others. Angela didn’t make a habit of eating with everyone else.
Nina smirked as she thought about it. None of the three of them really fit in with the rest. Her own part had been small, but Gerard and Angela had gone through so much that it seemed they felt uncomfortable around the other apprentices. And Nina never would.
Monteous’s sentiment and desire to have everyone with any ability trained were things she had desired for herself. But the reality paled in comparison with her imagination. The other wizards didn’t really see her as anything but a waste of time.
Just as Nina was passing Gerard’s door, where she knew he would be packing, it opened and Angela stepped out.
Angela shut the door behind her, then turned and nearly collided with Nina.
The collision quickly turned into a hug as Angela wrapped her arms around Nina and squeezed tight.
“I’m so sorry,” Angela said into her ear.
“Sorry for what?” she asked. “He hasn’t left, yet.”
“But he will, and…” Angela trailed off.
Nina stood back from her. “I know he’s not coming back. That’s why I was looking for you.”
“You were looking for me?”
Nina looked around. Except for the two of them, the hall appeared empty, but that didn’t mean there weren’t watchers.
“Let’s go to your room.” She took Angela’s slim-fingered hand and pulled her down the hallway.
When they reached Angela’s door, Angela opened it, and the two of them slipped through. Angela shut the door behind them.
“Could you put up a Weave?” Nina asked.
Angela nodded without hesitation and went to work, despite the possibility of extra chores if she was caught.
With some difficulty, Nina slipped into the vew, the trick of sight that let wizard’s watch the threads of energie as they were Weaved. She watched Angela direct the threads into a Weave that surrounded them. Nina marveled at the complexity of the Weave. She barely understood what Angela was doing. Three separate threads, at least. Nina could only imagine being able to control three threads. One thread was, at times, almost more than she could handle.
When the Weave was complete, Angela said, “Now, tell me why you were looking for me.”
“I want your help. I’m not letting him leave me here.”
Angela sat down on her bed and gestured to a rickety chair that owned one corner of the tiny room. It was another thing Nina envied Angela. The room was too small to house two apprentices, so Angela had it to herself.
Nina sat on the chair with little hesitation. Though it looked rickety, she knew from experience that it was strong as any other piece of furniture in the academy.
“You know,” Angela said, “that the masters won’t let you go. Not until you’ve completed your apprenticeship.”
“That’s why I need your help.”
“I thought being a wizard was important to you.”
Nina looked out the hazy window. Someone needed to clean it, but there weren’t any servants here anymore. Through it, the sun appeared hidden behind a bank of thick clouds.
“It is important to me, but it’s not more important than Gerard. I’ll never be a full master, anyway.”
“You’ve just started. You don’t know what you can be.”
Nina brought her attention back into the room, back to Angela.
“You’re trying to keep me from leaving.”
Angela didn’t move or say anything.
“Why… why would you keep me from following him?”
Nina saw the first tear in Angela’s eye, perhaps before Angela even realized it was there. The tear told Nina everything she needed to know, and she thought back to what Gerard’s uncle had said. You are now the sole heir of the Maracane line, with the responsibilities your new position entails.
Angela knew what those duties were, and Nina wanted to beat herself about the head, because she should have known what that meant, too.
“They expect him to take a wife,” Nina said.
Angela nodded.
“They probably have one picked out for him, and she’s waiting for him to arrive.”
Angela closed her eyes, and nodded again.
Nina felt so stupid.
But she didn’t let the feeling last long.
Nina got out of the chair, and then knelt down in front of Angela like a supplicant. Angela’s tears flowed from her eyes. She lifted her gray sleeve to her face to try to wipe them away.
“Please, Angela, why won’t you help me?”
Softly, in between her tears, Angela said, “I don’t want to see you hurt any more than he’s already hurt you. Families always get what they want, and if they don’t…”
“What do they do if they don’t get what they want?” Nina asked.
“They send you away.”
Nina stood up and hugged Angela, pulled her sobbing head to her breast. She didn’t know what had happened in Angela’s past, but now she knew it had something to do with her family and their expectations, and whatever had happened, it hadn’t been anything good. And they had abandoned her. It was fine for the masters to say that the past is passed, and that none of it matters in their lives as wizards, but you couldn’t just forget about it.
“You want him to go, don’t you. You want him to get what you want.”
Angela stood up, pushing Nina away. “Don’t you say that. Don’t you ever say that. I don’t want to go home…ever.”
“Then why?”
“He’s already made his decision, Nina. Can’t you see?” Angela glanced down to the ring on Nina’s finger. “That ring he gave you, if there was any doubt in his mind what was more important, he wouldn’t have given that to you. He’s giving you up for his family. In his room, I pleaded for him to stay. He wouldn’t hear of it. He thinks it’s his duty, his responsibility, no matter how poorly they treated him.”
For a moment, Angela’s words rang through Nina’s mind and almost convinced her that Angela was right. If Gerard could give up being a wizard, if he could make that ring and then press it in her hand and say goodbye and lie to her about coming back, then why would she even want to follow him? She should be angry at him for lying to her. She should be angry at him for leaving her.
But the moment passed. She wasn’t angry at him at all. She was ready to fight for him, no matter the odds, no matter the cost.
And then she wondered why she was even talking to Angela, instead of in Gerard’s room convincing him not to go. She had until morning to convince him to stay.
But the answer to that came too easily. She didn’t want him to stay. She didn’t want to stay.
And then she did get angry, at herself. She was willing to fight for Gerard, but she wasn’t willing to fight the perceptions of the other apprentices, of the masters.
She reached out and wiped at Angela’s tears. “I’m sorry, Angela, you’re right. Following him isn’t the answer at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“I shouldn’t be in here asking for your help. I should be in his room fighting with him to stay.”
Which would mean she would have to stay and fight to change their perceptions of what she could be. I can fight that fight, too.

 

* * *

 

Trajon Jarl waited until after sundown before approaching the estate, what the Guild now called the Academy. The low wall surrounding the half dozen buildings would not keep him out, nor would the feeble wooden gate. There weren’t any guards on the squat towers that marked every turn in the wall. There weren’t any watchers at all.
He slipped into the vew as easily as taking a breath and noted the Weaves that surrounded the estate, crossing each other, warding, guarding. The wizards thought they were safe.
And they were—from almost anyone but him.
Six months. Six months of waiting and planning, pushing and prodding. The end of the Guild, and The Seven Kingdoms, began six months ago with the destruction of the orb and the death of that pompous fool Monteous.
Tonight would begin the final, crushing stroke that would sever the guild from The Seven Kingdoms. First, the masters, including that old fool Brin who had taken control of the Guild, and then the apprentices, the future of the Guild. All here, all in one place, except the one who had killed Orliss. If only he could find that one, but the Guild had hidden him well.
No matter. When the Guild was no more, when the wizards were scattered, frightened, or dead, the final door would be open. A door that had remained shut because Surotta had refused to lead Mrongil against The Seven Kingdoms while even the semblance of a Guild existed.
He wished he could have just taken control of Mrongil himself, but having his name come out might have galvanized the Guild against him.
Trajon reached into his night-black cloak and withdrew a small vial, the contents of which had recently belonged to a farmer that had lived only a few miles to the south. He unstoppered the vial, dipped his little finger into its contents, and put the finger to his tongue. The tangy iron taste of the farmer’s blood energized him, and he closed his eyes to savor it.
He licked his finger clean, then held his hand out in front of him. He poured a bit of the blood over the hand and began to draw the energie from it and the other elements around him. He directed the energies into a Weave that he wrapped around his body.
No one would see him. No one would hear him, and their Weaves would not detect him.
When his Weave was complete, Trajon licked the blood from his hand until it was clean. No reason to let it go to waste. He stoppered the vial and stuck it back into the folds of his cloak.
He took a deep breath.
The air tasted clean, like summer.
He smiled at the thought that it would soon taste entirely different.
He took his first step toward the Weaves that protected the estate and the wizards inside from everyone but him.

 

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