I find it amazing to see what people focus on in my writing. Though I have more than a dozen little notes of plot points, and more that pop up with every page, I am resisting the temptation to reveal where my outline says the book should go. I say 'should' because I've already had to edit a line or two of that. One of the things that a couple people mentioned was John's name. Like most fantasy writers I have a good selection of fanciful names for everyone. I chose John's name to bring a solid foundation to the man. I have him growing up under a father that fully expected his son would follow in the path of becoming a wood cutter. He gave him a good simple name that didn't inspire the young lad to run off on adventures. Parent's hopes and dreams don't always match what the child decides though.
Weaving with a weary mind will have your stitches becoming chaos. The same goes for runes.
The Crystal Towers sat at the foot of a mountain that jutted into lake Mergen. Originally there had been five grand towers surrounding an even grander sixth, though the black one had fallen into rubble in ages past. The four that remained bore architecture to match the element they served. Tonight her party was on the sixth floor of the central tower, as neutral a place as any to hold it.
Only seven of the thirty-two third master mages were close enough to attend her party. A couple of the others had at least sent word of their absence. Not that she really cared. She doubted if any of them could have picked her out of a crowd in the market. It was a celebration that lived up to everything she had hoped for; right down to Semstal falling asleep on the cake.
At least There was a table full of food, that would bring back energies. Aeriona did her best to fill a plate while Carandell and Fronk vied for her attention, hovering over her like scavenger birds. She’d heard that there was a lot of rivalry between the upper level mages, but until now it had seemed to be nothing more than fantastical rumors. They were trying to dredge an opinion from her on topics that seemed too ridiculous to be real.
With a twist of his body, Carandell squeezed between Fronk and her, shoving a wine glass into her empty hand. It was either the glass or Fronk’s sweaty hand, and she was thirsty. The glass served another useful function too, with keeping her from saying anything with it tipped against her lips.
Carandell had tried cornering Aeriona in a vain attempt to convince her that he was her future. She shuddered at the thought of spending her life tied to him. He was nearing sixty, and balding. What little hair he had looked as if his favorite comb was a slab of bacon. The rest of him found a way to match that same care in grooming. Despite his warnings about finding herself alone and ostracized from the towers, she avoided committing to his whims. Carandell at least did her the service of keeping her glass filled so that she didn’t have to say anything.
Even that ruse was beginning to wear thin by the time Gadrielle tapped him on the shoulder to interrupt. “There you are. I was beginning to think you had snuck out of your own celebration young lady.”
The woman seemed unchanged in all the years Aerion had been at the towers, having met her on the second month vetting. She held herself with the grace of a sixty year old, with eyes that twinkled with brightness of the fire she wielded. Her hair tumbled in loose blond curls between her shoulders without the first hint of grey. Aeriona had found entries from the Grand Master Mage in the stacks of tomes, dating back eighty years. Of course she had only been a Journey Mage then.
“Excuse us Grand Master Gadrielle. We were in the midst of a discussion, and…”
“And you’re welcome to continue that right after I give her a message. You don’t mind waiting a little, do you?”
“A message for me? What is it?”
“Oh, nothing major, but we should go to someplace a little quieter perhaps.”
Carandell reached out to draw her close. “Grand Master, If it isn’t so urgent, then perhaps a small delay. She’d really like to stay here for a bit to ensure her…”
Aeriona caught the sudden trickle of flux that suddenly boiled the wine in the bottom of his glass. In an instant it erupted in a brilliant shower of crimson that coated his face, and the ceiling high above him. Gadrielle was fighting a giggle as she led her away from the stunned Carandell. Her lack of comment confirmed to Aeriona that the little puff of fire magic had come from the Grand Master Mage. Once they had reached the outer corridor, Gadrielle stopped and turned to her young charge.
“I’m sure you don’t mind missing a little of the party to meet with the reagent. There’s just a little matter about your status that needs to be settled.”
“My status? I completed everything. There must be some mistake.”
“It’ll be settled shortly, never fear. Come, let’s catch the updraft chute. Have you seen how golden the fields are?”
The fact that every attempt Aeriona made to alter the course of the conversation toward what lay ahead was met with a change of subject, left her worried about just what this dire meeting was about. With a word the chute puffed them upward through the central tower, to deposit them on the next to the highest floor. The very top was devoted to Senior Grand Master Mage Garath’s private rooms.
Gadrielle opened the door to his office without bothering to knock, ushering Aeriona ahead of her. Stepping through the door she encountered a sight that stopped her cold. The room was already occupied by more than the Crystal Towers’ Regeant. The five others were all Grand Master Mages of the council. Nobody got past the second year without knowing the faces of that ultimate group, and avoiding them at all costs.
Rees Garath was talking to Yiggi about setting the correct facet on the gems, but that died out with their entrance. The rest of the low murmer of voices quieted as all eyes turned to focus on her. Aeriona’s wine fogged brain tried to fit the pieces of clues together, but nothing made much sense. There would be no reason it would take six of the council to denounce her testing; no seven. Best not to forget about Gadrielle. Nobody spoke, or even breathed until Gadrielle had sent the door’s bolt home with a dull clunk.
Suddenly it was like the group had transformed into a group of fifth year students. Instead of the expected accusations of cheating, or worse, They began congratulating her like this was a second party in her honor. The warmth of the wine she’d already drank fueled the warmth that spread across her cheek with such praises of her accomplishment. In a whirlwind of faces she found herself back facing Rees Garath once more. This time his face held a sterner continence.
With a glance over her shoulder to Gadrielle still standing at the door, he took charge. “Place the seal.”
Aeriona watched in amazement as magics she could feel, but not touch, shifted through the room. Gadrielle’s hand blazed with green fire as it swept through the flourishing strokes of a ward on the door. The lines of the symbol blazed with her fire without seeming to touch the door at all. A few more strokes and the green fire swept out to cover the windows as well. The final sweep of her hand closed the glowing ward, which now faded from view. Even the feel of it diminished down to a mere memory. Aeriona wasn’t entirely sure if she could feel the faint presence of it, or only the echo of having witnessed it. Her attention snapped back to the tower reagent as he spoke again.
"You've passed all the tests and earned the right to call yourself a Master Mage of the third level.”
She stuttered a little before finding her voice once more. “But wasn’t that what getting the rune meant?”
He smiled. “Clever girl. Always looking past the obvious; which is why you earned this as well.”
Rees Garath lifted a small box from his desk that looked to be carved from rose granite, complete with the twisted rune knot etched into the top. The only sign that it was a box, and not some decorative parchment weight, was the gold latch on the side. It rested in his palm as though it held no more import than a bag of sweet drops.
Aeriona reached out to lift it from his hand, wondering what sort of trinket or treat it might contain. Her finger had barely brushed the top when a spark jumped to it. She’d triggered a ward. Instinctively she yanked back her hand, fearing whatever danger the magical trap held, and was rewarded with several of the Grand Masters breaking out in laughter. Even Rees Garath was having a hard time keeping it from falling from his hand as his body shook with restrained mirth.
With no burst of fire, or lightning bolt turning her hand to ash, she felt confident enough to reach out for the box once more. This time there was no spark. The little box was lighter than she’d expected. Trepidation gripped her with the thought working its way through her mind, that this must be something of far greater significance than her wildest thought. Delaying it wouldn’t change what it was, so she opened the box. Gadrielle sounded a little excited behind her.
“It was also voted upon to invite you into the Magi Council. It’s been twelve years since Roveena wore that pin.”
Rees continued on. “The pin is recognized by the rulers throughout the various lands; at least the ones in good favor. The box is now primed for you to whisper a sealing word to it, and it will guard the pin when you aren’t wearing it. Try not to lose it.”
“Yes, the council. Never fear, you aren’t the youngest one ever to hold that spot.”
“I know, Wendell.”
“Don’t let his fate worry you. I don’t think you’ll be dropping a mountain on top of yourself. Besides, that was two hundred years ago and air is softer.”
The story of his rise and fall had become legend throughout the Crystal Towers. The little whispers she heard from the clumps of students that she walked by had been comparing her success to his for years. The not so quiet speculations that she’d become a master, only to squish herself two months later had been the highlight of many nightmares. Her fingers were shaking so much that Yiggi stepped up to help her pin it to the dress she wore.
“Relaxes please. Is not so much like it don’t have enough Ultrium in it to buy three or four farms. Now stills you hold, else the pin you find in you.”
As Yiggi stepped away, she ran her fingers over the pin. They followed each twist of the runic symbols of the five elements. They wrapped around a diamond at the peak known as the Dragon’s eye, though none of the texts could explain how it got the name. It looked right at home, as though designed just for her. The swirling rune shape even complimented the lace of her dress.
Aeriona’s eyes scanned the faces watching her, coming to rest on Gadrielle. The elderly woman held a scroll up before her like a candle, and knowing her alignment, it could easily burst into fire and complete the picture. The council seal faced toward her like all the previous scrolls she’d gotten. An assignment already. The thought of it was both thrilling and frightening. The whispers about Wendell were echoing in her head. Gadrielle’s prompting had her reaching for the rolled parchment.
“We are once again thirteen council members with your induction. I’m sorry to drop this on you so unexpectedly, but urgent events rushed our hand.”