“Good morning!” a tiny voice squeaked.
Nilrid tried to sit up, but a throbbing pain forced him back down. He was lying on a small but soft bed in a room that looked to have been carved from stone. “Where am I?” he groaned quietly. His lips hurt when he moved—by Gelz, how many times had he been thrown up against one of those rocks in the Wystarin River?
“Near the greatest concentration of magical energy in the world, except, I suppose, for the Temple of the Dawn.”
“The where?” the boy asked, confused.
“Ah, never mind. No need to trouble yourself with too many questions right now. My name is Iquen, and I’ll be your caretaker until your wounds heal. You were wounded very badly in your little river-ride.”
“I realize that,” Nilrid muttered.
“Now, don’t speak unless you feel you can. You have quite a few welts around your mouth, and I don’t want to open any half-healed wounds. It’s just that we know very little about you; a scouting party found you nearly dead on the southern side of the river, and took you here. We immediately sensed a great magical pool inside you, and thought you were well worth keeping. So, as well as being your healer, I will also be your instructor. Tell me: what were you doing when the river swept you away? It takes a great deal of effort to fall in, even on a stormy day like that.”
“I was appointed by the King of Querisia to infiltrate Tanaveri,” the boy replied slowly. “That’s about all I know myself. The plan was for me to travel with a wizard until I reached one of their colleagues, and then he or she would accompany me to the home of the next colleague.”
“And how many wizards have you met so far?”
“Two. The one who sent me, and the High Wizard of Querisia.”
“Did either of them mention your magical potential to you?”
“Yes, the last did. He taught me a simple spell called Dagger Storm, and showed that I could produce results three times his own.”
The imp nodded. “That’s an accurate estimate. Of course, Dagger Storm isn’t even magic, really; just a jester’s trick turned into a method of execution. Only when we teach you real spells will we truly realize the full scope of your ability.”
“When can you teach me? How soon will I be well enough to learn?”
“Oh, you’re well enough right now. Magic requires no physical ability whatsoever. Would you like to start?”
Realizing that he needed to be out of this place and looking for Wekain as soon as possible, he nodded.
“Well then, let’s see what you know already. When you cast the Dagger Storm, what happened?”
“I visualized the dagger in my mind, and pushed the vision outward. There was a rush of power in my ears, which took me three castings to drain.”
“Three castings? Impressive,” the imp murmured. “How long did it take you to refill?”
“The High Wizard timed me. It was...” Nilrid tried to think back. “...a minute, or something like that.”
“And did you use magic again after that?”
“I used it once to kill a man, but not since.”
“So there still must be power within you. I want you to release it right now. Can you remember the dagger well enough?”
The boy thought a moment, and finally replied, “No. This was on the seventeenth of June, which must have been weeks ago.”
“Three days,” Iquen corrected. He drew a miniature spear from his belt. “Well, use this.”
Nilrid sat up as far as he could, and studied the weapon. It looked to be a perfect replica of a real spear, just ten times smaller. Why would anyone want such a thing, other than for decoration? Still, he concentrated, and had the entire object memorized in a few moments.
Then, closing his eyes, he went through the usual routine of the spell. He had to cast it three times before the energy ran out, directing his force at the far wall of rock. When he was finally finished, he saw that he had given the stone surface a new, wood and steel coat. The imp looked quite impressed.
“Good. Now, sit back and recover.”
Nodding, Nilrid lay down and waited patiently. The trickle in his ears began more quickly this time, and finished sooner.
“Ready,” he told his instructor.
“All right. Now, to the real thing. The first thing you must learn is how to summon power. Right now, you’re doing this without thinking, and your body draws a certain amount from your reserves. But a true wizard can take however much they want—barely enough to open a stuck door, or their full strength, which in your case could probably wipe out everything for sixty miles.”
The boy gasped softly. Even in stories he’d read, the most powerful wizards could only incinerate a battleground. A sixty-mile radius from here probably stretched all the way to Yansor!
“I want you to close your eyes and relax.” Nilrid obeyed, as the imp continued. “You are nowhere near here, and you feel no pain. You are drifting in the depths of your mind, an endless sea of black. Normally, you fall asleep when you have achieved this. Yet now, you are awake. You must become aware of your unconscious mind, and utilize it. There is magical energy all around you, but you haven’t summoned it yet. You know what it feels like, so try to detect it.”
Without a word, Nilrid tried to feel the roaring stream that he had felt in his ears. When he couldn’t find it, he relaxed further, and tried again. The blackness of his mind was even deeper, and the peace stronger.
One instant, the boy was probing through his dark inner world. The next, the blackness turned to an utter white. Drawing in his breath sharply, Nilrid said, “I think I just found it.”
“Do you see any black?” Iquen asked.
“Good. That means that you’ve drawn your full potential. Next, you must learn to release it safely. If you were to let it out right now, it would create an effect similar to the Whitefire Spell, which takes years to learn how to control. Instead of making an inferno, I want you to envision an... um, an egg. Shape the whiteness in your mind into a thousand little eggs.”
Slowly and carefully, Nilrid did as he was told. When he was finished, there were at least 8,000 eggs.
“Now, direct the power toward the wall, just like you did with Dagger Storm. Try to stop in the middle of the process.”
The boy pushed with his mind, and the roar in his ears came. Slow enough to keep a man waiting to his death, the whiteness receded, and was replaced by black. The power was about a tenth gone when Nilrid abruptly stopped pushing. The white stabilized at its new size, and the roar was gone.
“Don’t open your eyes yet. There’s one more thing you must learn to master magic. For all wizards, and especially you, it would be rather tedious to have to use all of their power before having to draw more. I doubt you’ve gotten rid of a quarter of yours, by now.”
“A tenth,” the boy replied quietly.
“By Gelz! You’re the most powerful magic-user I’ve seen in my entire life. You must speak to our Archmage as soon as you are well enough to stand. Anyway, now you need to try to get rid of some of your power without releasing it. The energy came from the depths of your mind, so simply put it back.”
Concentrating, Nilrid began shifting power from his conscious mind back to the niche he had found it in. The whiteness faded much more quickly, finally shrinking to a circle about a fifth of its original size. The boy paused for a moment, but remembering how long it had taken him to get rid of a tenth, he decided to shrink it more. He was down to an innumerably-small fraction when he finally said, “I’ve cut it down.”
“Then release the rest of it. As an egg, once more.”
The energy was gone in less than half a minute. Opening his eyes, the boy looked at the wall, and realized that the room was going to smell horribly for the next three weeks.
As the trickle came in his ears, Iquen said warmly, “You have much ahead of you, boy. You’ve been practicing for barely half an hour, and already you’ve learned how to draw, reduce, and release. Some other day, I’ll teach you about the manipulation of energy, into something other than an egg. To open a locked door, for example, you study the shape of the keyhole and create a key. One key, not many thousands,” the imp added, chuckling. “But I’ve done enough for today. Go to sleep now—you need as much rest as you can get.”
It was another three minutes before the trickling stopped. By then, Iquen had left the room, and Nilrid was drifting off into a deep, much-needed slumber.
“It’s beautiful, is it not, Master Morgan?” Nyranne asked mockingly.
Standing at the summit of one of the Finsay Mountains, technically in Wystarin but hardly under the administration of King Alimorre, the wizard had to admit that it was. A panoramic view of the region swept around him, from the Osir Forest to the Yansor River. The immediate area they were in was surrounded by a huge wasteland, and to the north, a barren desert stretched as far as the eye could see.
Morgan frowned. At the very edge of his eyesight, in the middle of the desert, was another mountain range. The wizard had been looking at strategic maps all his life, and had never seen those.
“What are those mountains up there?” he asked, pointing.
“No one’s bothered to name them yet,” the woman replied. “In fact, no one’s bothered to notice them. But that’s where we’re going, my dear old man, so you might as well get used to them.”
Morgan gave a start. “We’re going into the Esanta Desert? Are you...” he stopped. Normally, he would have asked if she was mad, but saying something like that to his captor was an excellent way to get his head chopped off by one of the nearby trolls, who narrowed their eyes at him as he looked around.
“Where did you think we were going? It’s very difficult to keep a hidden palace in an actual country. You’re a smart man—I thought—you should know that the Esanta Desert has always been unclaimed.”
“Malthan’s hidden palace,” he murmured. He couldn’t say that he was surprised. After all, he had figured out from the beginning that this Nyranne was no servant of the King of Tanaveri, but a subject of the Goddess of Night herself.
“Good thinking,” the woman replied. “Now, shall we get moving again? I do have superiors, and they won’t be pleased if I’m late.”
|Copyright ©||Nathan Black, 1998|
|By the same author||There are no more works at Badosa.com|
|Date of publication||December 1999|
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