Friday, September 14, 2007

Magic in Aquila - Chapter Two

I only noticed the little white ball of magelight—at least, I assumed it was magelight—lighting up the room when I had settled down on one of the chairs. I could see the bookshelves lining all the walls of the room, with ancient tomes and unrecognizable titles. I realized that the halls had been lit, too, because his cloak had seemed like an unnatural dark shadow.

“You can still do magic,” I murmured, wondering what that meant.

“You’re right, Ro,” he said. It sounded mocking, but I couldn’t be sure. He was so different, now, from what I remembered. “They didn’t recognize me as a Talent until after the wards fell.”

“Do you know who did it, then?” I asked, curious. He had been my childhood hero, the one who always seemed to know everything. When I had first come to Aquila, I had thought I would know something Tiernan didn’t and go back and tell him all about it. Only, I hadn’t had the chance, and now I found him here, and he still knew more than I did.

“I do,” he answered, surprising me. I waited for him to continue, and he did. He leaned toward me and said in a conspiring whisper, “It’s me.”

For a moment, I didn’t quite understand what he said, and when I did, I felt my eyes widen. “Why are you telling me this?” I whisper back at him. It felt as if I should be whispering.

He smiled, but it didn’t reach his hard, green eyes. “Why, Ro, because we are friends,” he said, and I was sure it was mocking this time.

It made me want to cry. I decided then that I hated Aquila. It changed my Mom into somebody cold and sharp and hard. And then, I finally saw Tiernan again—he was partly why I wanted to return to Sarsen so badly—and he had also changed into somebody cold and sharp and hard. It felt like the people I knew and loved were gone, and I stared at an warped illusion instead. It made me suddenly feel very lonely.

He lifted me to face him with a long, slender finger under my chin. “We’re friends, aren’t we, Ro?” he asked. He sounded cold, though, and uncaring of my answer.

No, this wasn’t the Tiernan I knew. Maybe I never really knew Tiernan. After all, I hadn’t seen him since I was eight, and childhood memories were always said to be sweet. “If you wish, Talent Kae,” I replied instead.

“Why don’t you call me Tiernan?” he asked me quietly, as if it were the answer to some puzzle.

I looked away from his thoughtful green eyes. I couldn’t stand the way he was looking at me, like I was some spell or the sweater waiting to be unravelled. “You asked me to call you Talent Kae,” I replied. It wasn’t the answer—that Talent Kae suited him like a well-tailored suit now and Tiernan seemed like a child’s toy he had already broken and cast away—but he seemed to accept it.

“What if I asked you to call me Tiernan?”

I looked up at him, wondering at the meaning behind his eyes, as flat as broken glass bottles. “It would be disrespectful of me.”

“Rowana...” My name sounded foreign the way it rolled of his tongue. He stood up then, and came right up to me. His cloak was an even darker shade than the shadows. He pulled me up with his hands on my arms. They didn’t hurt, though, when I followed their guidance and stood up. One of his slim fingers pulled at a loose tress of my hair. “Beautiful like the Sarsen dust,” he murmured.

I didn’t know if he meant for me to hear it. My hair was like the Sarsen dust—had always been like it. Mother said it was because I watched too many Sarsen sunrises and ate too many Sarsen pheasants. But it would always be too dull and tangled to be beautiful. I didn’t know what he was trying to do and tried to pull away from him.

I didn’t have anywhere to go, though, standing between him and the chair. So, I turned my head to look at the big grandfather clock. Its hands crawled slowly towards nine o’clock.

His fingers trailed down my cheek and turned my chin to look at him again. They trailed down to hold me by my neck and I shivered. His fingers were so cold they tingled. He was still so much taller than me, and carried himself more like the majestic prince I had always imagined to be his secret identity when were both little.

But his eyes... I couldn’t stand looking in his eyes. They weren’t a prince’s eyes, and they made him a stranger to me. I looked down at his golden cloak clasp instead. I felt naked wearing a thin white dress when he was clad in a heavy black cloak and thick black boots. “It’s late, Talent Kae,” I said quietly, relieved that I kept the quiver out of my voice. “If you would excuse me, I must go rest.”

His hand dropped then, and he stepped away from me. “You’re so beautiful now,” he said cryptically. “But you’ve become so cold and distant.”

I had no reply, but he didn’t seem to need one. “Alright, then, Miss Craine, our lessons begin tomorrow. Best be well prepared.”

For the first time in many years, I took out the little purple pouch from the bottom of my trunk. In it was my last baby tooth that the tooth fairy had forgotten to take. It, at least, was still the same.

I didn’t sleep well that night. I had a dream that a demon had possessed Tiernan, and it came to hunt me down with cruel, laughing eyes. I woke up gasping and found the covers wrapped too tightly around me for comfort.

I hadn’t been able to go back to sleep for the rest of the night. When dawn crept into the room, I decided to get up and wash the tiredness from my eyes. I picked a fresh white dress and tied it with a gold sash, and looked identical to my reflection yesterday. My stomach was painfully eager for breakfast, but I hesitated, because Tiernan had promised to teach me magic after breakfast.

Still, the meeting with Tier—Talent Kae was unavoidable. So, I entered the main dining area where all the students from Lancer’s Academy ate together. It felt right, although less noise than usual floated down to the main entrance where I stood; some were still mourning Talent Issaka’s passing.

I almost took my usual seat, the far end of a table filled with boisterous Untalented students. Other than an occasional greeting, most of them ignored me, and I had eaten there in peace. When I approached them this morning, though, they gave me looks. Some of them jabbed their forks into the air between me and them to further highlight that I was no longer welcomed there, if I ever was.

I moved on, then, to the other half of the room, where more students chose silence over chatter. I felt strange, wandering amongst those strangers in black, for mourning, when I wore lily white, to show my inexperience and ignorance in the Talent. They didn’t stare too much, though, and most ignored me. Finally, I sat down near the end of one of the tables that weren’t too crowded.

Breakfast was eggs, milk, and toast this morning. My toast was already a little cold, and the butter wouldn’t melt on it properly because I had come down to breakfast later than recommended. I wondered if there was a simple spell to reheat toast, but I knew that I was getting ahead of myself. And besides, Talent should not be wasted so frivolously, especially when they were in such short supply. Still, it would have been nice to fill my anxious stomach with warm toast.

“Hello, Rowana,” somebody said from across from me.

I look up. “Dane!” I had had classes with Dane, before they discovered his Talent, and we had been friends. He had been shorter than me, then, but judging by the width of his shoulders, he was probably at least half a head taller than me.

His brown eyes lit up. “You remember me!”

“Of course.” I didn’t know why he sounded surprised. He had been one of the few friends I ever had. “How are you?”

“Doing well, considering the circumstances,” he answers a bit grimly before brightening up again. He leans towards me and whispers, “You have a rogue as your teacher.”

I knew that already and didn’t need any more patronizing or snide remarks about my “unorthodox” teacher. I just nod to him, though.

Then, he grins, “Well, do teach me if he teaches you any special tricks.”

I looked at him for a moment before I managed to answer, “I can’t.” At his hurt expression, I hastened to explain, “I can’t tell what’s ‘special’ and what’s not since I don’t know what you are learning.”

Dane hummed and took a bite of his breakfast and I followed suit. Then, he asked, “So, what’s your area of specialty?”

“What?” I didn’t understand his question.

“You know,” he waved his fork in the air and it glittered. “What are you good at? Which test or tests did you pass?”

“Oh, I can’t do anything but scry,” I answered before picking at my food again. The eggs had been overcooked this morning, and I picked at the very dark brown patches.

“Wow!” It was Dane’s loud exclaimation that brought my attention back to him. “We haven’t had a seer in ages!” he continued. “They usually come into their power earlier, you know. Like at thirteen or fourteen, but they say that seers are the opposite of mages and that the later they come into their powers, the stronger they are. So, what did you see?”

I shifted uncomfortably under his direct gaze. “Just myself with Talent Kae,” I mumbled. It hadn’t felt special when the plain image had rippled over the water the way my reflection would have.

Dane smiled lopsidedly then, a good-natured smile, and reached across the table to pat me on the arm. “No wonder they’re tutoring you privately.”

But I didn’t see any reason they handed me to Talent Kae besides that we seemed to be the only two with Talents who didn’t have the Emperor’s Spell. It was only luck—I have yet to decide good or bad—that Talent Kae now tutored me privately, and had nothing to do with my Talent at all. Still, I saw Dane’s conviction and decided not to correct his misconception.

“So you know...” Apparently, Dane wasn’t done yet. I tried to remember if he had been this talkative when we had last known each other, but his face was a bit blurry in my mind. I couldn’t remember how he had acted at all. “Does Talent Kae know who broke the wards?”

I nodded. I remember him answering my all-important question last night about who broke the wards.

“Well, who is it?” Dane asked.

“I...” I shook my head then, to clear my thoughts. I swore he had told me who broke the ward, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember who it was anymore. You’d think I would remember such an important piece of information, but I had always been forgetful. “I don’t know.”

Dane sighed, and leaned down onto his hands on the table. “Well, I didn’t expect him to tell you, anyways, but it was worth a try. It’s the mystery right now, you know?”

I nodded, and picked some more at my breakfast when the bell rang, a ten minute warning for the first class. Students and Talents started to stand up and leave. Dane waved a little goodbye before standing up. “I’ll introduce you to my friends next time,” he offered before leaving.

I just nodded, but his back was already to me then so I don’t think he saw me. The breakfast was hopeless anyways; the toast had also been too burnt and the eggs were thoroughly brown. I gave up on it and decided that I might as well prepare myself to see Tiernan—Talent Kae. There was nothing to be done about my white dress, but I thought I’d do my hair up at least.

I had tied my hair into a tight bun as a futile attempt to tame it. Strands of it still fell out, though, and kept on tickling my face. Magic wasn’t messy, per se, but there was something about dabbling in something entirely new that made me want to prepare myself. At least, I’d be able to see clearly... if my hair would only stop falling out of the bun.

Ti... Talent Kae didn’t look any smaller by daylight. He seemed more ominous, actually, with a much sharper contrast between his shadowy cloak and the dismal daylight. In fact, if my mind were taken with flights of fantasy, I would have said that his cloak took away the sunlight and cheerfulness that we sorely needed after everything that had happened.

And this... dismalness was part of the Talent Kae that was I slowly starting to get to know. He was like a twisted nightmare of a reflection of the boy I had once known, inexplicably handsome instead of plainly lovable, sinister instead of mischievous, and cutting instead of witty.

“I’m here, Talent Kae, for the lessons,” I said to his back in a small voice, torn between letting him ignore me and learning magic as I ought to be doing.

He turned around slowly, his cloak remaining silent swirl of darkness, and he didn’t seem at all surprised to see me. “There will be no lessons,” he announced, though only to me.

It took me a moment to understand what he said, enough time for him have strode halfway across the room—and that much close to the door to the room. And to me.

“What do you mean?” I managed.

He stilled, then, and looked at me, green eyes shadowed by long, dark eyelashes. “You have no Talent.”

I stared at him some more before answering, “But I would not be here if I had no Talent. Talent Diesus checked for us himself.”

He smiled beatifically, then, as if I had walked into a trap instead of clearing up the matter. “Talent Diesus couldn't make an illusion, of course, because he was bound by his Emperor's Spell. So, he assumed that the magic for the image in the scrying pan came from you.”

“It was you, who put the image there, then.” I was finally beginning to understand.

“It wasn't very difficult.” He took a smooth step toward me, as if bringing the shadows with his cloak. “It wasn't difficult at all imagine you grown up, with flowers surrounding you. Although, now that I've met you again, I think daggers might have been more appropriate.”

“Oh...” I hadn't seen flowers in the scrying pan, though; I had seen him, as he stood now, and me standing by his side.