Scene 1: Equine Neophyte of the Blood Desert
The room buzzed with an undertone of Wild Magic. It waited in the walls, it sang in tones of sunshine and gentle winds. Neesa smiled as she came in, ducked when the Master of Neo-Training frowned. The Magic lifted and swarmed in little buzzes around the head of the Master – a threat! – but Neesa responded with a small sound. She twirled her little finger until the Magic rose to the height of the rafters. It was so hard not to smile when it swam in waves through the room and down the steps of the tiered seating.
Neesa hummed a rising scale, the hook to link the Wild Magic to the blue Neptonic crystals in her vest. A few heartbeats of movement, of eddies and flashes and sparks, of an overwhelming sense of joy, and the Wild Magic returned to the walls and floor to wait for the next request and reward sequence.
The Master stepped down into the pit and spoke to the two slaves in green tunics. They ran into the store below the seating of the amphitheatre and promptly returned with two large benches. A few moments later, they dragged a large table to the centre of the teaching arena. The Teacher shooed them from the room.
The fourteen other students of Neesa’s group shuffled and clanked to their places. Each student took a blanket from the lowest railing and carried it with them. Once the seat was safe enough, they sat. Stared down into the pit. Finally, all was still.
Neesa shuffled into the farthest corner under the rickety timber seating. She tucked her tunic into the sirral pants and crossed her legs. If she was quiet, if she remained unnoticed, it would be a good day. If not … it would be like every other day she was treated as a slave and not a student.
A sharp twang as the Master’s cane split the air, followed by a clunk when it hit the timber plank.
Neesa cringed as the Magic scattered and jerked.
“We will commence this lesson with two volunteers to undertake to move a heavy item with Magic. Who?” The Master peered up at the pasty-yellow faces glistening with sweat and glittery flecks of powder.
The dismal reflection of light through the single window created a sparkle on the gold dust in the henna-enhanced hair of the students on the lowest tiers.
“You,” she pointed at someone on the far right second level. “And you.” Grundiz.
Maybe there would be some fun in this after all.
The magic swirled above the pit. It waited.
Neesa didn’t look at the girls who stepped down from the heights and into the lower levels.
Who would see it, who would call it?
“First, the net. Every lesson must ensure a net to catch any harm from explosive magic– keep clear.” Her silk overtunic and cape rustled as the Master moved in a sashaying rhythm. Her long dark hair scissored across her back and the tiny red cap tilted, ready to fall if the single clip failed. “You need to master this before your allocations, so watch and learn.”
Neesa kept her butt as still as stone and watched as flickers of magic came. But the message was unclear and the result was flimsy, with holes as big as sheep. How could such a weak thing protect anything from uncontrolled Wild Magic?
Did any of the other students see it? Were they looking at the magic, or the net, or nothing?
The student faces were focussed wide-eyed on the spectacle of the Master’s dance. Not one face turned to the pirouette of light left in the wake of the Wild Magic as it spiralled upwards and spilled over and back again, like a fountain of gushing … magic.
It lifted her heart to see it, but she couldn’t acknowledge it.
“Each of you is required to lift one chair – you, this one – and place it on the table. No, no – use magic, and gently, no destruction!” The Master screeched as she tried to position each student in the right place to make big flourishes. “You REQUEST the magic, you OFFER it something, then …”
Neesa saw the slash as it came down, and almost leapt up to get out of the way.
Too late. A huge gush of unheard sound and the magic attacked the requester of pain, another screech – from Grundiz, who now lay prone on the floor of the pit, magic dribbling away from her and into the floor like blood from an open wound.
“Take her out to the spine-hall,” the Master pointed at a lower-level student “and come back when she’s stable – keep going, girl – what’s your name?” A mutter. “Esena – the lesson isn’t over yet!” She turned back to the tiers. “Who’s the next volunteer,” peered up at the second row. “You,” she dragged her arm down as the next victim groaned her way down to the pit.
All eyes followed the descent.
Neesa looked to the side, but only with her eyes. She kept her face forward, the same as everyone else.
A dark smear hovered near the door. It blotted out some colours in the magic, dulled others. Trepidation froze Neesa’s body. She pulled all her senses back, slow and quiet, and locked her mind behind the gate of blue crystals. She hummed and rocked back and forth like an idiot, and all the while she tapped her fingers on her thigh in the signal for danger.
The darkness in her vision was what everyone else would see. It was a world without magic to light the corners. It was sad, but necessary.
The demonstration continued, but Neesa maintained her watch on the man-shaped blankness. He watched, thinking he was unseen, un-see-able. His shape was unique, the only man in the City of the Wall taller than the doorways. The Master of Gold.
The man she feared more than death. She didn’t know why, but if the Wild Magic feared him, then she did, too.
Only tiny dribbles of magic remained in the room, and it moved away from him, slunk lower to the ground, hid in cracks and crevices, got out of his way like a beaten child. Magic feared the Master of Gold, and if something as powerful as Wild Magic was afraid, there was reason.
His shadow-shape stayed until the low bellow of the meal horn filtered in through the thick walls. A resounding crash – what was that? Neesa jammed her hands over her ears and stamped her feet in a pattern of pain.
None of the students reacted to the crash. The Master didn’t react. Neesa shook the noise out of her head as the Master prodded her with the teacher’s cane.
“As the servant-designate cannot follow the flow of learning, maybe we should remind her to clean the room before she leaves?”
The answering titter was overridden by the scrapes of shoes, the rustling of papers and rolling of scrolls, by the clatter of chalk sticks and feather-knives. The class of final-year-neophytes wove their way down the steps to the heavy timber door and out into the Spine Hall.
“Do not be late, servant-designate, or your meal will be gone.”
Neesa didn’t care. What mattered was the body on the floor, and how it got there.
copyright 2017 Cage Dunn & Shannon Hunter – a YA fantasy story.
It might be final, and it might not, but it’s in the final stages, almost ready to publish this month (definitely before November, because that’s when the final work on the Valki story starts again). That’s why this post is tonight, and not tomorrow, because the final march to the finish line, the last gasp of powering through to ‘the end’ – that’s what’s happening for the rest of the week (fingers crossed, toes crossed, etc).
See you Sunday. Oh, the pic – a possible cover for the story.