2013-02 Thread Slivers

Thread Slivers 3D

When the World Calls, Daggers Answer

Thread Slivers

Book One of the Epic Fantasy/Sci-Fi Golden Threads Trilogy

Thread Slivers 3dWhat high fantasy & science-fiction lovers say

  • “An epic, as detailed as Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.” – Amazon Review
  • “unique in its historical twists that just draw the reader in and create a believable interesting world” – Goodreads Review

The Story

Ticca, a young female mercenary out to prove her worth in the big city, is hired to spy on assassins and worse by her first big client, the noble Lady Sula. But, that ends unexpectedly when she is forced to kill the assassin she was supposed to be watching.Lebuin a new Journeyman mage and a fastidious dandy, has just learned to his horror that his new rank involves actual journeying – and dirt! Thankfully he meets and gets Ditani, an experienced man servant for mages, to join him for his undesired travels.

When Ticca saves Lebuin from an assassination attempt in broad daylight Lebuin hires her on the spot as a body guard. Ticca accepts the commission in spite of her misgivings that Ditani is far more than a humble servant.

What they do not know is they are spiraling around Ticca’s original mission and are on the path of an epic adventure that ignites a world war. A war against the group hunting them, the secret Nhia-Samri mercenary band led by the evil silver-elf Shar-Lumen who is not only the greatest warrior in history but also insane. The three of them are swept into a series of deadly events fighting to stay alive against their adversaries. The trio are forced to depend on each other as they stumble into secrets that catapult them towards disaster that even the Gods are not prepared for.

Product Details

File Size: 6395 KB

Words: 128,470

Print Length: 362 pages

Publisher: Leeland Artra (February 26, 2013)

Language: English

Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds

Editorial Reviews

“I was truly engaged right away. Leeland Artra definitely knew where to place the suspense elements. The setting is very well-described; the writing is not rushed but patiently developed. The illustration on each chapter is apt.”

Lit Amri, Readers’ Favorite

 

“Thread Slivers by Leeland Artra is a refreshing fantasy book … The world that Leeland has established was fantastic. … Warning: You will want the second book on hand when you finish this.”

Scott, Indie Book Blog

Excerpt

Chapter 1 Boots on the Ground

-Ticca-

Ticca the HunterTicca moved cautiously over the roof, making sure she stayed in the chimney’s long shadow as she inched towards it. A spring squall moved in dropping the temperature from sweaty warm to steamy. The hot roof tiles steamed until water ran over them fully washing away the earlier heat. The smells of warm rain, tar, and hot wet brick filled her nose. She ignored the weather keeping a watchful eye on the traffic in the street below. Her cloak had a little magic that helped her blend into the shadows, but it didn’t make her invisible and she appreciated the dimmer daylight under the darkening rain clouds.

Stay focused, someone will try to kill me if they see me; and worse, I’ll miss Sula’s target.

It was a dangerous task to spy on those powerful people, but she wanted to garner respect as a Dagger, and Sula was her first significant client. Being only 18 years old with soft curly brown hair and only a 5’8” athletically slim build most people assumed she was younger. Between her looks, age, and lack of a solid name it had been a hard 6 cycles earning jobs in such a major port city as Llino. Ticca managed to earn a small reputation as a hunter Dagger in minor jobs before Sula, who could easily hire senior warriors, unexpectedly sat at her table. Ticca earned plenty of respect and coin from her successes in the last five jobs for Sula. Each success brought her closer to becoming a respected Dagger who could choose from the best assignments.

She arrived in position in the darkest crook of the chimney exactly as the hazy sun touched the western horizon. The rain was steady but not thick enough to reduce visibility. Moving into her vantage point, she scanned for any signs that she’d been spotted. Everything continued normally; it was business as usual for the merchants down in the Day Market. From underneath her cloak, she pulled the solid cylinder out and held it in her left hand.

Hopefully, that courier will be back.

As the darkness deepened, the ocean breeze began dropping the temperature. Ticca’s concentration narrowed, as she became the hunter, waiting, watching the traffic moving through the only known entrance to the market square. The bulk of the more upstanding merchants had already locked up their wooden stalls and carted off as much as they could past the beautiful entry statue. Fingers on their sword hilts, in their banded leather armor, the last three city guards left for more respectable parts of the city. A few late shoppers moved about the remaining merchants, who were trying to evacuate the square before the sun finished setting. The Day Market was closed; it was about to become the Night Market.

A stout, confident man walked into the market wearing a dark, charcoal gray cloak. Ticca’s heart rate picked up with excitement as she recognized him as the hired assassin — or Knife, as they were called — that Sula had her identify a few days earlier.

What are you doing here personally? What have you been up to the last few days?

As the Knife scanned the market, he then looked up at the roofs. She held her breath as his gaze passed over her. Not finding who he was looking for, he pulled his hood up over his head and moved, blending into a dark shadow by the wall.

Ticca stared intently, trying to find his outline.

Urdu, she silently cursed shaking her fist under the cloak, don’t lose him now. If he is here, then the courier isn’t coming.

She considered leaving, but her instincts were telling her to stay. She steeled herself to hold still as he would likely spot any movement she made.

If I learn what he is up to it might be worth a bonus from Sula.

She couldn’t make out if he was still where she last saw him. She considered moving to a new position to locate him. But quickly dismissed the idea in favor of holding very still.

She tallied the square’s occupants in her mind keeping her attention focused on watching for the Knife to move. In her peripheral vision, the statue shifted signaling that the Night Market was in business.

When Sula’s first mission brought her to the Night Market, she was surprised to see it. The greedy nobles in Llino did not leave anything of value alone for long. This statue was a treasure, during the day, it was a perfect portrayal of a young elven maiden, shopping basket hung loosely on her left arm, her right arm lifting ever-so-slightly in friendly greeting, with a warm, expressive smile, welcoming market visitors. At the end of each sunset, it subtly changed and the maiden grasped her basket tight, eyes wide with a look of terror her right hand held out to warn visitors away from the dangers within.

It was a statue only the wealthiest could dream of commissioning for their estates. Yet there, it sat in the middle of the only entrance to a medium-sized, dead-end square, just inside the lower area of town, which had been a market for as long as anyone could remember.

The night patrons began to arrive, and the evening’s dealers materialized from the darkened alleys, moving past the statue to enter the square. People in long, expensive rain capes mixed with dock workers in their dingy clothes and thick coats. In the night market cloaks, coats, and collars were worn tight concealing identities. With the added light spring rain heavier garments were even more popular making her job of keeping track of individuals harder.

Watching the deals on these missions had given Ticca a good idea of the basic rules of engagement there. At sunset, the market became too dangerous for honest city guards. She’d heard tales of the legendary Night Market long before she came to the city. She’d thought its reputation for having drug dealers, pawn brokers, and facilitators of any act was exaggerated. But the merchants, or ‘Hands,’ as they like to be called, lived up to that reputation. She shuddered as she remembered some of the breathtaking and brutal things she had witnessed passing through there, the worst of which was a bag of what she was sure were fresh body parts.

I’m sure many would like it if this place was shut down, but as my uncle says, ‘People will always be capable of evil, and some will always choose to be evil.’ All this activity would just shift somewhere else, keeping it here might even keep it in check.

A dignified Hand who dealt in secrets, and a regular visitor to the Night Market, strolled past the statue ignoring the stone figure’s warning. She still didn’t understand why they bothered to put that statue there, but it did make a good signal for whether or not it was safe to enter.

The shadow she had been watching split in two, with the real shadow reluctantly releasing its twin.

That’s a neat trick you didn’t have last time.

The Knife kept the hood up and drifted to intercept the newest arrival. They met, like all the others, a safe distance from everyone else and started negotiating. It did not take long before the Knife passed a small package to the Hand, who put it in his coat.

Even in the rain-cloaked night, she could see the small package was tied with a glinting golden thread. Her heart skipped a beat as she realized the implications. Sula had specifically told her to be on the lookout for anything tied with gold threads. She felt the justifiable wide smile, knowing she had succeeded again. My instincts are dead on again. One week, and I have found the Hand.

When the Hand’s fingers came out of the coat, they passed over the Knife’s palm, dropping a small bag that vanished instantly.

Probably going to waste that coin on something stronger than hyly at a Red-Door. No matter, I have my quarry.

With the deal done, the Knife drifted off to the left. She didn’t bother to watch; her attention was fixed on her new target, the Hand. It was time for the part of the job she didn’t like.

Under her cloak, her left hand squeezed the small, solid metal tube she’d been holding ready since getting into position. Although physically impossible, the solid tube shrank slightly, activating the spell. She felt the tingle of released magic flow up her arm. It wasn’t unpleasant, but she was glad she had been warned the first time; otherwise, she might have looked down at her hands, which would have been disastrous. Now she was used to it and tried to ignore the sensations, she kept her eyes locked on the Hand, as if her life depended on it, which it likely did. The spell moved through her veins and up through her neck, to her head, and she felt it rush from her eyes.

I wonder what this does. Sula has made me do it on every job since the first.

After the spell was released, Ticca didn’t wait to see the result. She reached back, grabbed the top of the roofline, and levered herself over the top, staying low and not allowing her own cloaks to flutter. Once over and out of sight from the market, she hurried until she was a few streets away. Checking that she had not been spotted or followed, she lowered herself, unseen, into another small alley. She stripped off her thin, outer cloak and folded it into a tight bundle. The evening chill began to bite through her normal cape, which had been hidden underneath. She placed the folded cloak into her secure satchel, in the chain-lined pocket. Again, she marveled that a full cloak could become such a small package of cloth that it easily fit inside one of her hands.

Now all I need to do is report to Sula, as instructed, that I can identify the Hand. Maybe tomorrow, I can start tracking him. Flipping her cape collar into a more respectable position, she pulled the hood out over her head, to keep off some of the rain, and stepped boldly out into the lamp-lit road. Turning east, she started walking towards the docks. Her destination was a block from the city’s expansive docks. It was only a thirty-minute walk past the huge walled off wizards’ campus they called a Guildhouse.

As she passed the white arches of the wizards’ Guildhouse, she unconsciously shied to the far side of the street, as nearly everyone did. It never paid to be too close to a wizard. Ticca had never met a wizard she could call ‘nice,’ and stories of sudden executions by offended wizards made the unspoken rule of the common folk to give all wizards a comfortable space just sound thinking. Still, the building was beautiful to look at. Somehow, it was always visible, no matter the weather or light. Yet, it didn’t actually glow. If it had, she would have spotted the motion from the alley’s shadow a moment sooner.

A strong hand closed hard on her throat, choking off any chance of calling for help. The attacker’s other hand didn’t waste time either; it grabbed her arm through the cloak and threw her deep into the alley. Ticca landed face first on the dirty, uneven cobblestones. A pain shot through her left side as the air and rational thought were momentarily knocked from her. Gasping for breath, she tried to move. Her right arm was being held twisted behind her and so far upwards, she felt like her shoulder was about to be dislocated from the strain.

Her attacker reversed his stance, never letting go of her right arm, as he jammed it higher. He dropped one knee into the center of her back, putting his full weight down and preventing her from being able to take in a much-needed breath.

“Who are you working for, missy?”

Ticca marveled at the oddly beautiful sound of that soft whisper.

“You tossed a spell from your perch. What was it?”

She heard the sound of glass tinkling. Adrenaline and years of training finally took over. Somehow, Ticca knew the elixir being pulled was deadly. With fear-fueled strength, she braced her right foot for leverage and kicked her left foot up towards the back of her head. A crunching sound ripped the air as her foot hit something that gave in before she made full contact with her attacker’s body. He fell forward, letting go of her arm, as a small glass vial bounced away on the cobblestones.

I might as well make this look good.

Swinging her right foot up to join the left over her head, she moved her freed arm to the ground and completed the reverse roll by pushing with her arms and rolling to her feet in a maneuver that would have made her trainer smile.

The attacker rolled away and started to stand. His cloak tented out as he started pulling a weapon.

Ticca’s hands were already on her knives but the motion sent stabbing pain up her arm and shoulder. I won’t beat him in a knife fight with this arm. ‘Action is better than reaction,’ her trainer’s voice said in her memory.

Grimacing against the coming pain, she jumped over her attacker, kicking off to spin as she launched. Her body automatically followed through with a twist in the air, to land with her right arm looped around the man’s neck. She slid down his back, locking her right arm with her left. Just as she felt the pull on her arm, she twisted hard in the opposite direction with her weight leveraging against his body. As she tightened her arm, ripples of agony shot through her back and neck from the shoulder. Ticca clamped her mouth shut to keep from screaming. Her momentum was arrested with a loud crack from the man’s neck.

His body jerked, and she thought she heard a hiss of surprise as they fell in a pile. The strong smell of dung and piss filled her nose confirming he was dead. Her right arm and shoulder throbbing, her back hurt, and she was sure she was bruised over most of her body. But he was dead, and she wasn’t. In short, the best outcome possible.

Lords and Ladies, how did he spot me?

She swallowed hard a few times to get control of her emotions and thoughts.

Lady, he was going to kill me, wasn’t he?

Looking over the first person she had ever killed, her heart raced and her hands shook uncontrollably. She wiped her hands on her leggings as she breathed deeply, trying to find some balance. She looked at his tanned, rough-shaven face. Except for the angle of his neck, he looked like he was sleeping. It was definitely the Knife she had just spied on.

I should get away from here fast. But first, I might need some clues as to who exactly he was, and he surely won’t need his gear anymore. He was a Knife. I doubt anyone would lay claim to his valuables.

Making sure that no one was watching, she grabbed his boots. Her fur trapper trained hands immediately registered the unusual quality of the soft leather of the boots. Suppressing the urge to look closer at the boots, she dragged him deeper into the alley. Once a reasonable distance from the street, she pulled the boots off and tucked them under her cloak. Next she examined him for clues. She noticed that one of the two pouches smelled awful and was soaked in something that fumed, with wispy smoke tails curling to the sky.

That was the crunching sound when I kicked him. I hit that pouch of elixirs. Deciding any elixirs a Knife would carry should be avoided she went for the other pouch. It was a simple leather belt pouch so she took it and the belt it was on. The belt came with some knives and his short sword. There was nothing else on him.

Ticca inched towards the alley entrance.

It has only been a few minutes since he grabbed me, but it feels like it has been a whole mark, and his neck breaking was pretty loud. Why is the guard never there to help, but always to arrest?

Her thoughts raced over the events as she passed the point where they had fought. On the ground, was a small glass vial. She picked it up and turned it over, inspecting the seal. It was tight, and there was a semi-clear, brownish liquid inside.

This might be something interesting for later. She slipped it into her own belt pouch.

The shiny wet street was still not busy; no one was close by. No longer feeling the cold, and with a quick glance to insure no one was looking her way, she stepped out and continued on her original path in a confident walk.

With the attack replaying in her head, she was surprised to find herself standing in front of her destination, the Blue Dolphin Inn. Collecting her thoughts, she stepped up to the door of the massive three-story, two-block-wide tavern. Her eyes took in the large platform jutting out of — and towering four stories over — the tavern, with its massive gleaming, six-foot-wide metal hoop set into the stone. Legend, and the tavern owner, claimed that it was a favorite moorage port for the Emerald Heart, Damega’s flying ship. The only thing that made her accept the story was that absolutely no one she knew questioned it, and many more had relatives or friends who claimed to have some connection to the Emerald Heart. But Damega and his famous flying ship hadn’t been seen in many generations.

The Blue Dolphin’s large double doors were both closed against the evening’s cold. She easily pushed the left one open and stepped into the din. The scents and sounds of the room threatened to knock her back out into the street. The smoke was filled with many odors, including a hint of some less than legal substances. The room’s main smell was the sweet scent of copious amounts of hyly, being served from the large kegs behind the bars. Her nose adjusted, although she still occasionally rubbed it as the smoke tickled it. The three large fires were well stoked, keeping the room warm. Two bards had taken up places at opposite ends of the large room and were still in no danger of interfering with each other over the loud conversations.

Ticca scanned the tables, hoping to find an open one, which of course, there wasn’t. A handful of the tables had rather nice-looking daggers stuck into them, standing straight up. She noted all the Daggers sitting at those tables. Not recognizing any of them as friends, she moved stiffly towards the left-hand side of the room. Finding a place at a communal table, she sat down. Within a few minutes, one of the serving girls came by with a tray of hyly mugs. Ticca helped herself to one and ordered some of the evening’s meal. The girl nodded and moved off.

Sighing, Ticca took a mouthful of the sweet liquid. As she swallowed, she enjoyed the warm, burning feeling that spread through her body. Without looking around, she took a couple more deep draughts, leaving the mug almost empty. As the warmth of the room, the melodic lute music, and warm hyly seeped into her bones, the aches of the attack and the numbing cold of the night abated, while the fight continued to replay in her mind. It took a while to relax. Shoving the feeling that everyone was watching her aside, she let the music and mood of the room soothe her.

Smiling, she straightened her back and began identifying the room’s occupants. A traveling merchant or six were always there, and that night was no exception. The local merchants were feeding them and plying them with hyly, looking for the best deal on whatever stock they’d brought in. There were the dozen or so Daggers, all trying to upstage each other with drinking, wrestling, and knives. The card players’ tables were all over full tonight, with dozens of spectators, signaling that some big game was playing out.

Just as she was feeling a little relaxed, a loud thunk announced her food had arrived and made her nearly jump out of her seat. Under the table, her hands had already drawn her dagger and knife. Looking up, her heart racing, she saw it had been Ellar, one of the many servers, who’d brought her meal.

Relax, Ticca, relax. The dead stay dead, and it’s safe here.

Ellar was young, maybe twelve years of age, and had been acting increasingly shyer around her for the last few weeks. She looked into his eyes and smiled in thanks as she slipped her weapons back into their sheaths. He turned a bright red, gave a nod, and dashed behind another table with his large tray of plates. His reaction made her feel almost human again. Her mood lifted as she watched Ellar retreat. She started giggling.

Yep, he has definitely taken to me.

Looking at the food, she was surprised to see it consisted of some good cuts of meat and two small loaves, instead of one.

I guess there are benefits to giving him a little smile.

She grabbed her knife and started eating the good food which the evening’s work was sure to cover.

It was no surprise that as she was finishing the meal and a second mug, Sula appeared and sat across from her.

How does she do that? I would have sworn she wasn’t even in the room a minute ago.

“You’re eating well tonight.”

“With the bits you pay, I can finally afford to not starve.” Looking into Sula’s dark eyes, she smirked. “I’m doing a lot better than your previous thugs.”

Sula looked at her and tossed the same insult she had been using since Ticca’s first rapid success. “Yes, using an inconsequential thug has worked out.” A hint of humor tinged the emerald pools of Sula’s eyes. “You can track the next link.”

That was not a question.

She obviously can detect that bit of magic she insists I use, Ticca thought, not for the first time. I know she doesn’t follow me. But her information is sometimes too good, especially about what to expect or look for.

Again, Ticca worried about exactly what was playing out. Sula had a lot of coin, and the senior Daggers acknowledged her as a serious client.

I hope I am working for the right side. My gut says I can trust Sula, but there is something unique about her.

“When you’re done, meet me in your room.” Sula stood. Her clothes were nondescript, neither rich, nor poor. Her cream-colored blouse was loose cut, but not so loose as to hide her obviously large, well-proportioned breasts, as she leaned in closer to say softly, “You might consider a bath and change of clothes first.” Her green skirt matched her eyes and swept all the way to the floor. It showed off both her fine female figure, as well as her graceful moves, as she glided away into the crowd around the bard.

Stunned, Ticca looked down at herself. The whole front of her shirt and pants were caked in drying scum. Her cloak’s edges showed that it, too, was in need of a cleaning.

Oh, my. I didn’t even notice the alley sludge. I must have it all over my face and neck, too. No wonder, I haven’t had to fend off any drunks yet.

[…]

Chapter 2 Cloaks in the Dark

-Lebuin-

Lebuin's TrialSomething passed close enough to his face that it brushed his beard and momentarily blocked the spinning mass of energy from mundane sight. He had spent the entire day using magical sight, so the fine flows of energy he was controlling remained constant.

As he tied off one of the flows, so it looped around the construction and fed from the artificial artery of power he was building, he spared a bit of concentration to glance at what had touched him. One of the masters was swinging a sword and was coming back around for another pass.

Seriously, you expect me to worry about that? Every wizard knows how to and does — maintain a personal shield all the time.

A split second later, another thought brought a healthy dose of adrenaline and sent a shiver down his spine.

That diurdin sword passed within my shield, and this isn’t a training exercise!

Holding the minute flows under control, Lebuin diverted more power to his shield and shifted his attention to the attacker.

Cune! When did he get back?

His mind raced for more defenses as he realized who was attacking. A smirk grew on Cune’s face as he saw that Lebuin knew it wasn’t going to go well. That pass had been just a warning, so Cune could gloat over Lebuin’s failure. The one rule to the test was that some effort should be made to not kill the candidate.

Urdu, I thought he was out of the country. How did he get back here so fast? For that matter, how did he find out I was going to take the trial?

Cune did not give him any further time to wonder about the situation; he struck hard, fast, and on target. Lebuin dodged while sending a hard blast of energy, as much as he could spare without losing the artifact he was constructing. Brushing aside the magical blast as if it were nothing more than a fly sent to pester him, Cune finished his strike. His blade sang as it passed, unhindered by Lebuin’s strengthened shield, right through his left sleeve, cutting a deep gash in his arm. Pain exploded from the wound, and his hold on the artifact’s power flow wavered, threatening to ruin the entire construction and thus, signal a complete failure.

Looking down, he saw that blood was already soaking into the fine goldenrod silk of his shirtsleeve, and some had splattered on his doublet.

You ruined my best doublet! And I almost dropped the power flow. No, you don’t, you bastard. You’re not going to take this from me!

Reaching out to the earth line, he tapped it, adding its power to the air and water energies he was already channeling. Spinning around to face Cune, he waited for his opponent’s next move.

Cune either didn’t detect the additional power he was pooling, or more likely, he didn’t think Lebuin would be able to do much with it. He danced the dance of a highly trained Blade, his weight and balance shifting smoothly, remaining well distributed and low. Cune brought the sword around again for another attack, lunging hard and fast. Almost too late, Lebuin released all the pooled earth mana, aiming for the floor where Cune’s front foot was going to land. The ground disintegrated in an explosion of dirt and rock. Cune, caught off guard, dropped halfway into the hole before his forward momentum brought his gut into contact with the edge of it. He hit so hard he folded in half, causing his face to slap the stone floor with enough force to smash his nose. The sword broke free from his extended hand and skittered to the far wall.

Dirt, dust, and debris parted around Lebuin as it moved to fill the room. A murmur from the observation deck could be heard as Lebuin cautiously waited for Cune’s next move. As the dust started to settle, he saw Cune still lying where he hit. Expecting a surprise attack at any moment, Lebuin approached his nemesis, who lay half in the deep hole, half face-down on the stone floor, with blood pooling around his head.

Lords, have I killed him?

Bending down, he could see Cune’s chest rising and falling with breath.

A laugh escaped his mouth. “He’s knocked himself out!”

The murmur of conversation in the observation deck got louder.

“Laughing over a fallen enemy is not finishing the work. He might have had some hired Blades with him, or worse, Daggers,” came the sobering comment, reminding Lebuin that wasn’t a simple practice session.

Turning, he scanned the area for any signs of additional attackers. Seeing none, he looked back at his construction and was proud to see that some of the effects were already manifesting, as the dust hadn’t touched it.

“Is he the only threat, then?”

“Life is ever shifting, and the world is full of dangers.”

A chuckle or three floated down from the observation deck.

Meaning yes, he was it. They didn’t expect him to knock himself out cold, especially after only one real strike. All that remains is completing the construction, and I am a full Journeyman. Smiling, Lebuin turned his attention back to completing the artifact. The energies were still holding. Good thing Cune’s strike didn’t come a few seconds earlier; I might not have been able to hold it together while dealing with his attack.

Keeping an eye on the unconscious figure on the floor for any sign of movement, he returned to the fine work of tying all the pieces together to make the incantations hold their shape. Working with air and water magics was tricky. Still, he had spent a great deal of time figuring out that particular set of incantations and had been practicing them for almost a year.

Next, he took up the carefully selected gems he’d spent two days creating as part of the trials. Each gem was meticulously cut to the precise size and shape for the incantation it needed to hold or focus. He arranged the gems on a clasp of silver in the predetermined pattern. The silver clasp had been ordered to exacting detail and adjusted earlier that day by Lebuin as the initial part of the final segment of the trials. Holding the physical pieces together, he moved the energy construct down and into alignment with the clasp and its gems. With an almost audible snap, the incantations bound themselves to the gems, the flow of energies melding gems and silver into one — the energies that once existed only because his will burned their patterns into the gems and silver. The individual parts of matter and energies became a single artifact.

Taking a moment to relax, Lebuin looked closer at Cune’s unconscious form. He remained right where he had been, except the blood had dried.

He’ll never forgive me for this. Not that he needed much else to hate me for.

Seeing his own dried blood on the fine goldenrod silk, he sighed.

My best doublet ruined; what am I going to wear to the ceremony? Cune owes me far more for this. It will take years and a few more humiliations to make up for it.

He turned and saw his master, Magus Andros, approaching the doorway to the chamber, which was unsealed. Eyeing the observation deck two stories above, he saw that most of the Magi there had already left; the rest were chatting as they filed out.

Servants rushed around his master to Cune, lifted his body out of the hole, and carried him out of the chamber. Magus Andros walked up to the silver clasp on the bench and began to examine it in detail.

“You realize Magus Cune will retaliate for this.”

“He had to have volunteered to be part of the test.”

“True. He practically demanded it. I believe he was planning on bleeding you nearly to death and smashing your construction.”

“As I have said before, Magus Cune has set himself against me and has taken active steps to cause me…issues.”

“You did notice that Magus Cune did not just spear you. You were unaware of his entry, approach, and initial attack. He would have been allowed to stick you like a pig on the first strike.”

“Yes, I realized that,” Lebuin lied.

Urd, even when I beat him he still manages to ruin my efforts. Come to think of it, how did he get that close to me? I should have sensed his approach.

A quick mental tour of his almost unconsciously maintained incantations found everything as it should be.

My alarm incantations and shields are still up.

With a start, Lebuin realized that his master was still talking. “…volunteered to be tester, he lobbied hard to convince the council to choose him, which was understandable, considering your long-standing adversarial relationship.” Magus Andros looked over his shoulder to make solid eye contact. “If he was truly the evil nemesis you claim he is, would he not have poked you in a non-fatal, but painful spot first?”

He shook his head. None of you understand it. He is more than evil. He is devious, intelligent, and calculating to a fault.

“You may have a point.” Keeping eye contact with Magus Andros, Lebuin decided to continue planting the alternative seeds he had been working on for the last few cycles. “After this embarrassment, he will now be even less helpful to any of my endeavors. He might even attempt to undermine me.” Lebuin couldn’t help showing a small smirk, and his master didn’t miss it, either.

Magus Andros smiled. “You really have an interesting mind.” Turning back to the silver clasp, he continued his examination. “I must say, this is more extravagant than most candidates manage to create. I note a number of formulas that I would venture to guess are unique.”

Lebuin puffed up in pride.

Yes, it does have a number of entirely new formulas. I have been developing those for years. I think you are going to be impressed when you notice the twist. A twist that isn’t exactly new, but a variation on a little-known pattern.

Lebuin recalled the day, many years ago, when he had returned to his rooms to find three old tomes. Attached was a note instructing him to keep them hidden, take care of them faithfully, and to pass them on, with wishes from an anonymous supporter that they’d help with his ‘challenges’. All three books were copies, and yet, they were faded and crumbling with age. They were the research memoires of a Magus Seriel of Elraci, who lived so long ago that no records existed in the Guild libraries of either him or the city of Elraci he had come from.

They had been written in the Magi’s language, or at least an early root of it. It took him nearly two years of intense page-by-page work to copy, cross-reference, and translate them into his own journals in the modern Magi’s usage. After that, he had read them repeatedly, each time writing hundreds of notes and ideas of research to do. Those books had provided the foundation for many of his innovations, most especially the workings of his trial artifact. Not once in his twenty years of study at the Guild had he seen another formula similar to the key of his artifact.

Lebuin wondered who his anonymous supporters were. There were times when he had nearly failed, or when Cune had thwarted one of his tests or projects. Each time, some small trinket or library book had appeared, with a note suggesting it might help with his difficulties. The notes were all in a different hand, using different grammatical patterns. He had found a way to use the aids to overcome the difficulty, or at least rebalance his course. He often suspected one or two Magi, especially when the anonymous support stopped coming after Magus Gezu died. He also hadn’t had a near-total defeat or even a serious challenge since the Magus’s death.

A soft grunt of surprise pulled Lebuin back to the present. He smiled wider, knowing that Magus Andros had found the key. “This is remarkable work, Lebuin.”

Magus Andros picked up the clasp and fastened it to his tunic, which Lebuin noted was made from wool.

A perfect, if not exactly elegant, conduit. I have a beautiful light samite and ermine cloak ready for this.

Lebuin relaxed his mind and flexed his vision into magical sight. He watched the clasp begin to work, the energies subtly flowing down the tunic. The way it moved was interesting, and he concentrated on areas where the effects pooled, moving in an odd path. He noted that the energies moved well through the cloth’s weave, as he expected. However, there were places where it had been mended with a cotton thread, and in those places, the incantation had to move around the repair, causing odd anomalies.

I’ve never seen it do that before, but I don’t have any clothes with repairs. He has had that tunic a long time. I never noticed it had so many rips and repairs; I wonder that he hasn’t replaced it by now. He certainly has no need to be a spendthrift.

Eventually, the entire garment was evenly infused with the energies of the incantation.

Praise the Lords and Ladies, it reaches full coverage. I need to not show surprise on the initial pooling effect around the repaired locations.

Lebuin schooled his look to appear interested and worried, as anyone in a testing situation would be.

Magus Andros was also watching the effects. When the energies had stabilized, he nodded. “This is very interesting, very interesting indeed. I am surprised you held the construct together as it was when Magus Cune attacked. The only poor mark from today is that you failed to notice Magus Cune until he purposefully got your attention. Still, this was an excellent test, with a remarkable defense and an extraordinary construction. I presume the council members will be as impressed as I am.” Patting the clasp, he added, “I shall have to take this construct with me to show them. I’ll return it to you, along with their ruling, later tonight. I don’t think it is too far out of line to congratulate you now, Lebuin. You should have your archive token with you, unless you want to use this.”

Lebuin’s thoughts spun fast.

He liked it! I passed! After today, I can choose my own lines of work. After all this time, I am finally a Journeyman Mage.

Turning and walking out through the portal, Magus Andros shook his head, looking back at Lebuin. “Only you would put so much effort into creating a device to keep yourself dry, clean, and at a comfortable temperature. Most would have tried to make a protective shield with this formula, given the tasks ahead.”

Lebuin’s thoughts were so far distracted by the compliments and his achievement of Journeyman Mage status that he didn’t even register Magus Andros’ parting comment.

I need to change before anyone sees this mess on my sleeve.

[…]


The Author

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