If Love Were Only Part of the Equation Chapter 10

By K'Arthur

"The thunder rolls and the lightning strikes, another love goes cold on a sleepless night” --G. Brooks

After searching the Guild Manor for close to an hour, Nash finally gave up and decided (on a hunch) to try the stable yard.  After nosing around the unexpectedly busy corral without luck, he finally caught a hold of one of Artie’s workers and asked where she was. The young man pointed at the barn and said, “Just don’t tell her who told you.  She’s in one of her moods.” The apprentice looked around cautiously and added, “The last one of us that bothered her got a severe tongue lashing and the promise of double duty for the next two weeks.” The expression of worried guilt on the boy’s face gave the impression he’d just told the lamb where to visit the wolf.

With a quick nod and a smile of thanks Nash shook off the other’s reaction and walked into the dark and dusty building.  Up and down the all but deserted stable he searched, carefully stepping between stalls and stacks of tack and gear without seeing any sign of her.  It wasn’t until he was about to shout out her name that he heard a noise overhead and, ducking slightly, looked up.  There, in the rafters of the building’s near end and balanced between two massive beams, stood the city’s chief engineer. He peered closer to see exactly what it was that she was doing, but really couldn’t tell from his position on the ground, a good twenty feet below. He called to her, and she stepped across a few beams and stared down at him. “What? I’m busy.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m practicing my Ballroom Dancing, what do you think I’m doing? Or do you think I was just born to answer stupid questions?”  She shook her head as the blank look on his face expressed his confusion.  “Never mind, I was just thinking.” 

“You climbed all the way up there to think?” 

“That and to measure. I’m trying to figure out a better way to store the hay and grain we feed these beasts. The hayloft we currently have is way too small, the hay barn is good distance off, and you said letting it get rained on isn’t good for them, right?” 

“Right. Moldy hay means colic, not to mention rats, mice, and the chance of fire,” Nash replied as he straightened the dark green fabric of his robe. 

“Leave it to you to know about hay—and not just rolling in it!” With that remark she turned her attention back to the long, slender, knotted rope she’d wedged into the corner where the great beam met the stable’s wall. Her lips moved silently as she counted the knots, and then with a quick whipping motion, she snapped the rope free and began winding it around her forearm, between palm and elbow, until it was a tight enough loop to tie onto her belt. Her meandering tone continued from above his head, “Anyway, well, what if we closed in the rafters here and cut some holes in the floor. We could just drop a bale or two down at a time, and have plenty of storage space.”  

“But how would we get it up there?” 

Her expression was that of near disgust as she glared at him from above, like some sort of bird of prey. “Well if I did things your way, I’d use a levitation spell. If I did things my way it’d be a post and pulley off the side of the barn. After all, most of the stable hands are going to be apprentices or students without magic. We can’t always count on having someone able to just ‘float’ the bales where we want them at the drop of a hat.” 

Nash frowned, looking away as he shook his head at his own absentmindedness. “Oh. Right.” 

Artie continued, her idea blossoming as she spoke, “We would need to make a door on the side, with a ladder or staircase so the workers could get up here.  We’d have extend the roof’s center beam to hang the pulley off it, and cut a door in the side to swing the bales in.” 

He smiled up at her, “Amazing how you come up with these ideas of yours. What prompted this one?” 

“One of the stable boys telling me what a pain in the ass it is to go all the way out to the hay barn and drag the damn stuff down here to fill the loft every few days. That seems like a complete waste of time to me.” She winked at him, “Someday I’ll teach you to think like an engineer, Nash.”  

“Teach away, but come down here first. I need to ask you something.” 

Artie started to make her way slowly across the roof joists to a ladder she had placed inside one of the stalls. “First lesson: The glass isn’t half full or half empty. It’s just twice as large as it needs to be.” 

Nash looked up at her in total bewilderment.  “There’s a glass?” 

Still picking her steps carefully, the engineer teetered for a moment between the rafters, her hand reaching out to steady herself against a post. Even from her precarious position, she still managed a retort at the mage. “You’re hopeless, absolutely hopeless.” 

Nash frowned. Her progress across the beams to the small ladder was taking an eternity; the joists appeared not to be easy for even the fearless Artie to traverse. He called up to her; “Let me get you down. I won’t drop you, I promise.” 

She stopped and stared at him, then shook her head in defeat. “Fine. But if I fall, you’re going down with me. Either I break every bone in your body landing on you or I break them the second I get my hands on you after mine are knit back together.”  

He smiled up at her, “Come on, it’ll be fun! Just try to relax.” 

“I’ll bet you say that to all the girls!” 

Nash just laughed before he began to cast the spell. He felt the small bit of magic it took pull itself from within, and as he gestured carefully towards the engineer, held a firm look of concentration as she started to glow. She seemed surprised as she was lifted an inch and pulled forward to slowly drop through the gap in the beams down to the floor, landing only a few feet from him. Only when he heard her touch the ground did he dare to breathe. The spell might have been a simple one, but making sure Artie didn’t get hurt had been more of a challenge. She’d never let him live it down if he muffed something so basic as simple levitation. Not to mention the likely fact that her sharp tongue was almost as formidable as her right hook.  

“Wow. I never had a man move me like that!” 

Nash grinned. “Call it talent.” 

“Or something,” Artie scoffed as she flicked at the sweep in his hair playfully. “Now, what is so confidential you couldn’t shout it to me?” 

His voice was quiet as he looked around the barn, as though to ensure they were still alone. “Did that skylight ever come in?”  

“The one for Mia’s room?” 


“Not yet. Those things take awhile to make, and my glassmaker in Meribia is backlogged. Plus, I don’t know where I’m going to get the money for it. Have you priced leaded crystal lately? That damn thing is going set us back seventy thousand silver.” 

Nash winced at the price and then looked back to her. “Don’t worry, I’m paying for this, its not coming out of the treasury. Just tell me when you need to pay for it. I’ll find the money somehow.”  

She gave him a puzzled look, “All right. It shouldn’t be much longer, I think he’s about ready to give up and finish it for me. You’d think I was harassing him or something.” Adopting as angelic as a look as she was capable, she continued, “As if I’d ever do such a thing. I’ll send someone up there to check on it once this Festival crap is over.”  

He nodded, trying not to smile at her exaggerated look of innocence. He turned his head as a sound from outside caught his attention. 

Artie glared at him, and put her hands on her hips as she started to square off. “You made me come all the way down here for that?” 

“I didn’t want the whole world to hear.” 

She shook her head at him. “What? Like it’s some big secret your storm destroyed it? Please, Nash. I might have been born in the dark, but it wasn’t last night.” 

He felt his smile fade, the engineer speaking the truth. Anyone with any sense of magic could have felt the source of that night’s storm. Fortunately, few had even a clue as to the reason behind it and he wanted to keep it that way. He looked away from the brunette for a moment, as the distinct sound of hoof beats nearby caught his interest.   

“Dammit! I told that girl not to ride this close to the building! I don’t want to listen to that racket all day!” Artie’s voice was irritated as she marched towards the door, completely forgetting her conversation with him, and clearly ready to tear someone’s head off. 

Nash followed her, keeping his distance. When Artie lost her temper, someone was going to lose their hearing—or a few square inches of skin from their backsides.  

As he tried to follow the running woman, Nash noticed that the source of the noise had already passed and moved towards the far end of the cleared stable area, near the entrance to the forest surrounding the city. The rider must have either been showing off or had lost control of what must have been an enormous horse, judging from the sound of it’s stride. But, whatever the reason for the disturbance, it was over now. Nash paused; watching as the engineer began looking around in anger then, on seeing a blond man that he recalled meeting only a few days ago, her face broke into a huge smile. She started walking toward the (now surprisingly) well-dressed man as Nash shook his head with a grin. Her rage had vanished, and been replaced with something he’d not seen in Artie before—a sort of almost feminine tenderness. She turned back to the mage for a moment, her gaze telling him to go away. Try not to be too brash, Artie…you’ll scare him off…and maybe this time I’ll have a little something to kid you back with…  

Shaking his head and understanding the look, Nash kept his distance. He watched as they talked a few feet from him, not really caring what was being said. The man, Brinson was his name, he remembered, would give a glance over Artie’s shoulder occasionally, as if looking to see what he was doing.  

Trying to find something to distract himself from this awkward position, Nash focused in on the horse and rider that had come out of the forest and had started trotting back towards the stable area. The heavy hoof falls made it clear that this had been the source of the earlier noise and Artie’s irritation. The massive animal moved surprisingly well, somehow balancing his clumsy frame as he moved with a grace unexpected for something so large. His rider was using an old Prairie trick to avoid being bounced around by the jerky gait. On alternating beats of the stride he would rise up from his hips and then lower himself down in time with the horse’s movements. He narrowed his eyes, trying to make out the rider’s face, but at this distance could only see that he wore brown… though there seemed to be a touch of red atop the head, a hat of some sort, perhaps?

The banter between the engineer and her new interest continued nearby, pulling Nash’s attention back to them. Brinson seemed somewhat amused by whatever she was telling him; he kept laughing and smiling at her. Nash still felt uncomfortable and considered heading back to the barn, but he needed to talk to Artie, to just ask her one final question, but wasn’t sure if he should interrupt, and certainly didn’t want to waste time tracking her down later. He was happy that she had found a new friend; one that didn’t seem scared to death of her, unlike most of the men of the Guild. Artie certainly works fast once she knows what she wants, and I have the feeling she wants this Brinson… 

Looking back into the distance, he found he could make out more of the rider’s features. It was a woman, one with bright red hair that bounced and flowed behind her in a perfect rhythm of the horse’s stride. Whoever it was, the animal was far too large for her and probably would have been a handful for anyone, but she was doing fine as far as he could tell. He nodded in quiet admiration at the way she pushed him from an easy trot into a canter, and when he tried to take off, she turned him quickly, forcing him to bend slower around a tighter circle. The animal tossed his head in defiance of not being allowed to run, and she collected him by taking up more contact on the reins and pushing his backend underneath him. She’s good, maybe even Tribal good… 

The woman lifted her head and looked towards their group. Without a warning, she spurred the horse into a gallop and headed straight for them. Nash heard Artie scream, and backed away himself as the horse slid to a stop between him and the couple on the other side.  

The rider scowled at the two, her head turned from Nash towards the others. Her tone was clearly irritated as she addressed Brinson in the Tribal language. Getting a closer look at her, and in particular her features and her colors, he felt his face turn white. Half listening to the conversation, and translating it in his head, he tried to push the thought that came away. It was impossible.  

“So this is your friend?” 

“Yes, my love, she is just a friend! Don’t you think trying to run us down was a bit extreme?” 

“You know how Gravitt’s horse can get away from you.” 

“No horse gets away from you, my love, unless you wish it to.” 

The redhead gave a snort of anger, and then she looked around, giving Nash a clear view of her face. There was no doubt now. Not with those eyes…fire filled blue-green eyes. Sea-storm eyes, his mother had called them. He almost said her name aloud, but forced it back down his throat. Sabre…

Still staring at her in shock and disbelief, he barely listened to the rest of her rash conversation with Brinson. This time, she used the common language, and there was just a hint of her accent: “Where is Darian?” 

“With Gravitt.” Then in the tribal tongue he added; “I had no choice, you know that.” 

This last statement aggravated the woman more than anything had before, and without a further word, she turned the horse (being careful to spin it’s rear towards Brinson and Artie) and rode back towards the woods at full tilt. A sudden cloud of dirt clods, divots, and dust quickly flew back from the horse’s hooves as they dug into the ground to propel the massive animal away from the group.

Nash just stood there, dazed at the entire conversation, the consequences, everything. It had to be Sabre… But…could it really be her? Is she really alive? It had to be her…no one else had her voice, her colors, her eyes, or that fire-hair. What now? She’d never recognize him, or even think to look for him here. Should he go to her, tell her who he was, and what she was to him? She had the right to know he was alive at least…but what would that mean for him? The second anyone found out that he was from the Prairie, his career in Vane would be over. Everything he had worked for, dreamed of…would just vanish in a second. Who would accept him? He could already hear Orinth now, “Our new Premier is just a Tribal runt! Why don’t we just give the title to a pig? The pig, at least, would have better breeding.” 

He must have still been stunned, because Artie was calling his name and he wasn’t responding. Finally she tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to her and Brinson. She scoffed at him, “Hello, anyone home? You seem to have an interest in little girls with ribbons in their hair! Are you back to reality now?”  

He cleared his throat, and tried to focus on the words while the questions raced through his mind. Desperately he groped for something to say… and found it, almost blurting out; “Yes, can you make a second corral? I…I think we’re going to have more people showing up for this than we had planned.”  

She gave him a harsh look, but smiled as she spoke, “You are such a pain in the ass! Next time I see you coming, I am running so far away you’ll never be able to find me, let alone catch me.” 

He gave her a playful smile, trying to hide the torment he was feeling. “I like a good chase.” 

“Hmm…yeah, that’s why you’re still hunting the one that you let get away, right?” 

Nash cringed at her lack of decency in using certain material in their teasing game. Artie must have realized her faux pas, because a second later he felt her hand on his shoulder. 

“Sorry. Anyway, I’ll build your damn corral. Just…stop moping, okay?” 

He gave a faint nod, his conscious still struggling between the two worlds he had been raised in; one that valued family above all else and another where self worth was determined by education, wealth, and social stature. Nearly tripping on his robe, he turned to leave, the others staring at him in puzzlement. To his surprise, he formed a decent sentence, “I’ll meet up with you later, Artie—and don’t forget the faculty meeting at noon in the Dining Hall.” 

Artie waved a hand at him flippantly, most likely laughing to herself at his suddenly distracted actions. “I’ll try to remember. Go take a cold shower or something, Nash. You look like you could use it.” 

As he walked away, he heard Brinson say, “You’re pretty mean to him, you know.” 

“Eh, I’m just teasing. Besides, it keeps him honest. Can’t let him get that big head he used to have, especially when I’m going to be expected to take orders from him.” 

He shook his head, this new dilemma still racing through it. Honest…If I had been honest, none of this would have happened… 


An hour later landed Nash in a rather boring faculty meeting. Although they had just met as a group a few days before, it had been rather brief, and this was their regular meeting day. Festival or not, Mia didn’t want to cancel it. He knew there were actually pressing matters to address, but even though he was supposed to be in charge, he just couldn’t concentrate. All he could see was a face, an angry face surrounded by a whirl of red hair. In his preoccupied state, he had misplaced the agenda somewhere between his room, the stable, and the dining hall, and was forced to improvise the entire thing. Standing there, behind the podium at the front of the room before all of them, it was all too obvious that his head was in another place. 

Thankfully, most of the meeting was old business having to do with reports from department heads, class scheduling, supplies and logistics. Most of the questions were directed at the people in charge of specific areas. Only a few required him to think, and of those, some of the answers he knew; the others he said he would find out. I know we need this meeting because of the Festival, but I hope to make them far and few between in the future… 

New business began, and Nash found himself just a touch less consumed by his dilemma. Robin asked for the floor, and he gave her a nod. She waved Gregory to join her, and together they addressed the group, the Master of Healing Magic speaking first. “While some of you might remember the decorum and ceremony surrounding the installation of a Premier, many of you were not even born the last time we did this. As such, Master Gregory and myself, as Sergeant at Arms and Secretary for the Council, respectively, will be conducting a rehearsal so that you all know how to march, where to sit, and your part in the program.”

Gregory nodded to her and then spoke, “Dress for the event is formal. Everyone will be in his or her full formal robes, to be either black or the color of your House. Discipline banners will be worn over the left shoulder, and tied on the right hip. Masters badges—the real gold ones, not the ones that you stitch to your daily wear—are to be pinned onto the banner over the left breast.”

“If there are any questions as to what is acceptable, ask myself or Master Gregory,” Robin said, with a look as close to a smile as she’d ever shown. “The rehearsal will be on Friday evening. I understand that is the day before the event, but with the scheduled receptions, it is the only time the Great Hall will be free. Meet there at seven o’clock. We will practice until it is perfect. No exceptions.”

I didn’t realize this was such an affair…

Artie waved her arm wildly from side to side as she sat cross-legged on a table at the back. “I don’t have colors, banners or robes.”

“We’ll get you some, Master Artemus,” Gregory replied. “See Master Robin following the meeting.”

Robin glared at her. “In the meantime, do you think you could sit properly? Try to remember that you are a Master of the Magic Guild of Vane and not some common laborer! 

Nash watched as the red-faced young woman slid off the table and into a chair, the tools around her belt dragging behind her with metallic resound. A few older and more decorous members of the faculty gave a snort at the girl, obviously disgusted at the fact she had even been given the title Master. A young mage named Serenity who had been sitting next to the engineer, pat her on the arm in sympathy, but it didn’t take the embarrassment from her face. Even Artie knew that you didn’t argue with Robin Mikasa. 

Then, perhaps just because the stars just didn’t like him today, Orinth raised his hand to be recognized. Nash knew it would mean trouble, but could not in good faith ignore him. After standing up at his seat in the middle of the room, the black haired man bowed politely to him. “Just one question, dear people. I know you’re as eager as I am to get out of here.” He flashed a smile, one of feigned camaraderie with the group. “I direct this question not to our newly selected Premier, since he seems so distracted today, but to our Guildmaster herself.” 

A hushed din crossed the room as Mia stepped to the front, motioning for Nash to take her seat in the front row.  From that spot, looking up at her, he just couldn’t help but admire her…her and her ability to ward off the people who were against her. She is so calm, so ready…so beautiful…and strong…but I am failing her…she’s having to cover for me…again… 

For a few moments, the voices of the others faded from his mind, as did the fear that had filled him since recognizing what could only have been his sister still wearing her tribal ribbons. His eyes focused on the trim of Mia’s dress—a dizzying silver that played against the bright blue fabric. A matching metallic ribbon was tied into her hair, holding her thick locks off her face. The silver on the dress and atop her head seemed to enhance the delicate shifts of color and the motions below the silken material and on her cheeks. He traced the trim around the hem of her skirt, around her sleeves and finally down the neckline. He noticed a new piece of jewelry, but his eyes quickly moved on to dance over what lay below it, hidden from sight but not from memory, or imagination. A smile formed on his lips as he thought just how easy the dress would come off. A button here, a pull there…she was probably wearing undergarments of the same color... she always liked everything to match… 

Stop it, you idiot! 

Orinth’s slippery voice broke into his thoughts: “Pardon my ignorance, Majesty, but exactly how are we supposed to examine and then teach students magic if they do not have any the ability to use it?” 

“If they have no natural talent, they may be able to learn with the assistance of cane or other artifact, Master Orinth.” 

“I see. So we are waste time on them in the hopes that they might learn to walk with a crutch? That seems unfair to us, and them.” 

“You have brought this argument before the rest of the Guild and myself at meetings past, and I answered it then as I will answer it now, Master Orinth. Knowledge, of magic and other subjects, should be available to all. I no longer see it right to horde it for the privileged few.” 

Orinth was holding his ground, and leaning ever so slightly over the table he replied, “Is that why our new Premier is who he is, Majesty? A nameless boy from heaven knows where? Or have you just not forgotten your infatuation with him?” 

Mia grimaced as a dead silence filled the room. No one dared to breathe. In years past, such a denouncement of the Guildmaster (in public no less) was grounds for execution. Mia, however, was much more compassionate than most, and firmly believed in everyone’s right to their opinion and their right to express it. Her former friendship with Orinth was certainly not saving him here, much as some must have thought.  

Glancing up at her, Nash could tell from the look she held on her delicate face that his enemy’s words struck deep. Infuriated at this man and his treacherous words, he stood up, “You are out of order, Orinth. Save your personal attacks for me in private. You have no right to drag everyone into this!” 

Mia held her hand out towards him, directing him to sit down let her handle Orinth. She walked carefully down the aisle, the soles of her shoes echoing with fortitude as she approached him. Standing in front of the table where he sat, she said, making sure all could hear; “Nash helped save this world. As I recall, you did nothing so brave. I don’t even remember seeing you helping us evacuate the city before it fell. Perhaps when you have risked your life for another, or for our world, you might understand the regard in which I, and Vane, hold Nash.”  

Why do you always have to stand up for me? I can fight my own wars, Mia…

No one in the room moved, except Tamora. Seated next to her son, she pulled on his sleeve, her eyes commanding him to sit down. When he didn’t respond, she hissed something to him, and tried to jerk him down with a firm pull on his belt. Finally, although obviously quite reluctant to give in, he surrendered and slowly returned to his seat without a comment to Mia or his mother.  

Mia stepped back towards the front of the room. “Should there be any other doubts in the selection of your new Premier, I ask for them now!” 

There was a moment’s hesitation, as though the room was holding its collective breath, and then Gregory stood up. Nash gasped. His friend was going to speak against him? His oldest and best friend?! The old man smiled, “It seems the only one of us who had doubts has shared them, Majesty. I move for an adjournment.” 

The Guildmaster gave a gentle look to the ageless mage, relief obvious in her eyes as she paused and motioned for Nash to resume control of the meeting. He walked up to the podium, his mind still in a million different places. As he passed her, she brushed his arm and gave a small smile before taking his seat.  

Posed behind the podium, the Rules of Order suddenly came back. “I have a motion to adjourn from Master Gregory. Do I have a second?” 

Robin held up her hand, and once he nodded at her, said, “I second.” 

“Motion has been moved and seconded. All in favor make a show of hands.” 

Everyone, except Orinth raised his or her hand. The black haired mage was, to Nash’s immediate satisfaction, getting a harsh yet hushed chewing out by his mother. Most of the faculty, he noticed, looked thankful at seeing the end of a rather disturbing and contentious meeting.  

With a smile, Nash called out, “Reconvene date to be posted in the Faculty Dining Hall. Don’t forget to enjoy the Festival, and be sure to attend the receptions tomorrow and Thursday. Meeting adjourned.” 

Streams of mages walked past him, all offering somewhat sincere congratulations. Artie gave him a punch in the arm and whispered. “Tell ya what. Tell everyone I was with you from twelve to six tonight and I’ll have him dead by dawn.”  

He grinned, “No thanks. I get that pleasure.” 

Artie sighed, and as she passed by, flicked his hair again. “Damn! I’m pouring a foundation tomorrow and he would have fit so nicely in with the cement.” 

Nash laughed, as he smoothed the cowlick back into place. Artie certainly knew what to say to raise his spirits. Orinth passed by then, the last of the group to leave. Even though the man was sneering at him, Nash couldn’t resist the temptation. He waved a dismissive hand towards the tall mage, “Aww…did Mommy spank?” 

Orinth positioned himself as close as possible to the Hero. “At least I know who mine is, you worthless piece of—“ 

Nash tried to push him away and into the wall, but the larger man’s weight kept him from doing so. There were only a few people still around, but he wasn’t watching them—his nemesis had his full concentration. He drew back his right fist, preparing to try and wipe the smirk from Orinth’s face. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mia, looking terribly distraught at this display of unbridled aggression. I’m sorry…Suddenly, a shockingly strong hand folded around his wrist. Looking up, he saw Gregory. 

The Illusionist had a firm grip on him, “Nash, stop it! While some battles are worth fighting, some opponents are not. Besides, I need your…assistance with something.”  He looked over to Orinth, as though daring him to interfere. 

Nash saw Mia give a thankful look to Gregory as he was pulled down the hallway. She glanced at him, a pained gaze of some sort, but he just couldn’t meet her eyes—not after that little altercation. I’m so sorry…He did notice, however, that his friend returned an almost knowing glance to the Guildmaster, which caused her perfect smile to return. 

Nash didn’t even try to conceal his rage as Gregory walked with him down the corridor. Orinth had insulted him many times, true, but never in front of the entire faculty. On top of that, he had spoken against Mia. Perhaps that was what enraged him the most—that or the fact that she apparently didn’t need his help in handling the situation.  

Finally the ageless mage spoke:  “Nash, how many times have I told you not to pick fights with Orinth, or let him pick them with you?  Trying to talk sense into that thick skull--” 

Nash almost snarled as he waved his arms wildly, “He insulted Mia!”

Gregory shrugged. “And she made a fool of him.” 

He glared at his oldest friend. “I just wish people would let me fight my own battles!” 

Gregory grabbed him by the front of his robe; startling the hot-tempered young man so much he almost lost his balance. With his lips pursed in sarcasm, the old man said: “Oh yes! You have to do everything by yourself! Why? Because…oh my Goddess…you might actually have to thank someone afterwards! What a nightmare!”

Nash scowled, not knowing what to say, since again, he knew his friend was right. 

Gregory let him go and laughed at him. “Well? It’s true isn’t it? Now, we have some serious business to discuss, so stop sulking.” 

Serious business? 

Since he hadn’t been paying much attention to their path, Nash was a bit surprised when they stopped at the door to Gregory’s quarters.  The Illusionist gave a smile as they stood there, both staring at the smoothly polished wood of his door, it’s surface unmarred by latch, lock, or hinge.   

Gregory’s voice was softly reminiscent as he asked, “How many times have you come here, Nash?  I remember you pounding on the door just to try and get my attention—at all hours of the night, even.” 

Nash gave his friend a quiet grin. “Sometimes think I never let you get any sleep when I was a kid—always running down here to ask a question, or maybe just have a good cry. I’m sorry all that changed when I…got to be too proud of myself.” 

“I can’t fault you there. I know that you had other influences yanking at you. I only wish I had been able to step in, but, as they say, hindsight always seems clearer in the distance.” 

Nash shook his head as he looked back to the door.  “You know, I never figured out how you did that—make a door without any way of opening it.” 

The older man laughed as he shook his head.  “It’s something I learned long before coming to Vane, Nash.  Came in handy now and then, I suppose.” The old man stopped and laughed softly to himself.  “Never mind… Here, put your hand on the door--right in the center. Now, look at the door as you press against it, and just think ‘open.’”   

Nash did as he was told, a puzzled look manifesting on his face. Gregory placed his large and gently wrinkled hand over it. Suddenly, a sudden surge of power flashed through the younger man’s palm and up his arm.  “Gregory! What did you do?” 

Gregory grinned, as the door seemed to shimmer and then swung silently open. “Do? Nothing, it was you that just ‘did’ something, my friend. Consider it just teaching a new Premier an old trick.”  

Nash blinked in confusion at his mentor. “You’ve given me the key to your room?” 

“I may as well, but I’ll explain once we’re inside.”  With that he pushed the young man into the room and, with a small gesture, the door closed behind him.  

Nash could never really remember Gregory’s quarters being anything but simple. As with almost every other room, he had the standard issue furniture of the other faculty, but not much was done to personalize the space. Some small paintings hung on the walls, all landscapes of places the old man had visited, and a worn tapestry of dragons and unicorns lay folded over a small chest at the foot of the bed just in the next room. Here in the sitting room there was only a stark desk, with old history books and papers stacked neatly upon it, the ever-present fireplace and mantle, and on the far side of the room a comfortable couch with a small table before it.  

Then something caught Nash’s eye; something he didn’t recognize sat on the mantle. He might have missed it if the room had been more cluttered, but in the almost stark environment it stood out with its frame of silver, it’s edges slightly tarnished. It was a portrait; one he was sure he had never seen before. He picked it up and examined it closely. The man was obviously Gregory, though painted some time ago. The signs of age, even if lightened by the artist, were only just beginning to show in his features, although his black hair was still sprinkled with shots of white. Next to him stood a beautiful woman, one that seemed to resemble Mia slightly--mostly in her serene smile and a certain twinkle the artist had caught in her eyes. Her hair was a light chestnut brown, and while she appeared to be an adult, next to Gregory she looked more like a child.   

Gregory gently took the picture from him, looking down at it for a moment. “Ah…memories are those things we learn to treasure, because people tend to leave us too soon, and too often.” 

Nash nodded to himself as his friend replaced the picture on the mantle, a pensive smile forming on the old man’s lips. With some surprise Nash realized the frame had been hiding a small white gift box tied with a blue ribbon, one he looked at with curiously before easing himself to a seat on the sofa.  

Stepping over to the small table in front of the couch, Gregory picked up a small clear bottle of blue wine and he turned the bottle so that it’s contents swirled in a tiny whirlpool. With his free hand he carefully worked at the cork stopper and its sweet aroma filled the room as he opened it. He slowly poured a measure into two small crystal glasses carefully set next to the bottle. Putting it down, he picked up the flutes, sniffing lightly at one. “Summer-Berry wine. It’s made only once every ten years. I’ve been saving it for something special. I think it’s time.”  

He held the glass out to Nash, who smelled it cautiously, but followed his friend’s lead and didn’t drink it just yet. 

Gregory lowered himself onto the couch, rubbing his finger around the mouth of the glass. “I assume you know what being the Premier of Vane means, right?” 

Nash sat next to him and answered, a bit annoyed at the simple question.  “Of course. It means that I run the Guild and represent us to other states.” 

Gregory frowned slightly, then gestured for him to continue. “I meant beyond that.” 

Nash set his drink on the table before muttering, “It means that she and I will have to start speaking with each other again, if we are to keep things running smoothly.  Personal feelings no longer matter.” 

Gregory’s voice was a little too neutral for Nash’s liking as he asked, “Mia didn’t explain all the… implications of your acceptance?” 


“Traditions—old ones that we aren’t supposed to be using any more. I had hoped she would have told you about them, even if they are now of the past.”  

Nash looked at Gregory with sheer perplexity. 

The Illusionist waved his hand. “Never mind. I imagine you’ll find out soon enough.  Tradition or not, some things just seem to be… unavoidable.  You’ll learn that soon enough, son.” 

Nash nodded, but wasn’t following the old man’s logic. 

Gregory sighed as he placed his glass on the table, the sapphire wine suddenly swirling inside as if pulled by some unseen force. “Before we celebrate your accomplishments, something else must be attended to.” The Illusionist pinched his nose as he hesitated for a moment before he asked somberly, “Tell me, honestly, do you want to be Premier?” 

Nash was taken aback; this was the last question he’d expected to hear.  “Of course. Why wouldn’t I? It’s one of the highest honors that exist in the world.” 

The elder mage scratched his chin, “Yes, yes it is. But why do you want it? I had assumed that you learned your lesson about power and it’s price, the last time. When you betrayed your friends to follow Ghaleon.”  

Nash closed his eyes, memories clashing with dreams, both real and long shattered, in his mind. His voice was soft as he spoke, sounding as distant and as hollow as the look in his eyes. “I did, and that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I was wrong; I thought it would save Mia, and my own rotten hide in the process. I betrayed her and everyone, yet they trusted me again and….” He shook his head as he looked up to the older mage. “I know I never be with her again, ever. She and I both know that, even if we don’t want to admit it. But I want--I need--to be there. To support and help her in anyway I can. She’s terrified of all of this Gregory! She puts on a good front, but I can tell that sometimes she’s still that scared little girl I fell in love with! She seems to think she has to prove to everyone that she can do this, and that she has to do it alone. Can’t anyone else see that? It’s not fair. She shouldn’t have to bear the burden of an entire city by herself!”   

He gritted his teeth for a moment, hesitating before he continued. “I know that a lot of our…problems… are self inflicted, I know mine are. But I think that if I could delegate some of that authority for her, I would be able to help shoulder at least a part of her burden.” He lowered his voice and nearly whispered, “And in doing that and other small things, I hope to make up for at least some of my… my failures.”  

Gregory smiled broadly and, for the first time, took a deep swallow of the azure liquid, raising his glass to the young man with a gleam in his eyes.   

Nash followed suit, taking a suspicious sip of the drink. Although he had avoided anything alcoholic since that night in the tavern, he felt obligated to drink what Gregory had poured. The taste of the liquid wasn’t what he expected. There was no bite, no heady warming. Instead he felt a thrill run through his body as though every sense and sensation had been raised to a new level.  The surprise on his face must have been obvious as the old man smiled at him for an instant.  

The Illusionist grinned, seemingly unaffected by the potent wine.  “Good!  That’s exactly the answer I wanted, and needed to hear my boy.  Now, the Council is going to demand two things from you.  One is that you have incredible powerful magic. That, of course is not a problem.” He chuckled, “In fact, sometimes I wonder if I hadn’t brought you here if our weather patterns might have remained a bit more… predictable.”  

“And the other?” Nash asked, his tone miserable as he dreaded to have the answer confirmed. 

“Your family position here in Vane—your name and status.” 

Nash’s expression melted into despair.  “Then I may as well give up now.  You know what they’ll find—nothing! Or worse, they may stumble onto someone from the Prairie, or someone who remembers us from that scene I caused in Reza!” 

Gregory placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “No, you will not give up. Answer this: does anyone else, besides myself, know of your heritage?” 

The expression on Nash’s face was grim, almost reproachful.  “No. I intended to tell Mia, after we got back from that mission she sent us on, for those Tribal books.”  His eyes closed as his face flushed in humiliation.  “You know how that story ended.” 

With a sigh the old man nodded.  “Indeed, and Goddess knows what would have happened to you if I’d not found you that night.  My horse almost walked over you in that downpour--another few minutes and you’d have drowned in the mud. Regardless, I am not going to let you give up. Some things are just right, decided by fates we cannot control.” 

Nash stared at his friend completely bewildered. Gregory could work some high-powered magic, this was true, but no one could change another’s destiny. That alone was reserved for Althena, and she didn’t exist anymore—at least not as the deity she had once been. 

Gregory shook his head at the depressed statement on Nash’s face then stood and walked to his desk. The young mage watched as his friend pulled open a drawer and retrieved a scrolled paper, a pen with ink, sealing wax, and a candle. Carrying them carefully back, he arranged the items on the table in front of Nash, but held on to the scroll.  

When he was finally seated back on the sofa, Gregory seemed to search for his words. Never before had Nash seen this man as inarticulate as he was at this moment. His eyes were bright and hopeful, but something was pulling at him. Finally, he seemed to give up and, with a small grin, spoke softly. “Don’t worry about the Council, Nash. I’ve already taken care of them.”  

“But, how?” He asked, his voice nervously quiet.  

Gregory held the scroll out to him with a benign smile. “Please, just…read. I never really was very good at doing things like this.” 

Nash looked down in shocked surprise as he carefully unrolled the document.  It took only a moment to recognize Mia’s elaborate mark next to the ornate seal of the Ausa family, and the small, neat, signature of his first friend.  The document itself was brief, only a handful of lines. Yet within it he could see his life, and future. 

Let it be known to all within the walls of Vane and beyond: 

On this day, the first of May, in the fourth year of the reign of Mia Ausa, the following decree has been made and posted, with all parties involved in agreement:

Master Gregory Telka, Senior Master Mage and Member of the Council of Elders, has on this day adopted into his family, and named his heir apparent, the person formerly known as Nash of Vane. Who was born on April the eighteenth to parents unnamed in the first year of the reign of Lemia Ausa and, by our command and wish, named Premier of Vane.  All traditions, rights, duties, and titles of the House of Telka are hereto forth conferred upon the individual now known as Nash Telka. 

Signed and Sealed on this date, so shall it be now and onto the end of all time. 

Mia Ausa 

Nash stared in awe for a moment as the weight of the words on the page hit him in the face. He looked up at Gregory, as he fought the choking feeling in his throat, and the burning in his eyes. “I don’t deserve this, Gregory. I betrayed you when I became Ghaleon’s apprentice…I…I can’t…accept this. I can’t…” 

The Illusionist waved his hand, his voice a little tight. “You made up for that, when you helped destroy him at the end.  And your acts since then have done even more to show me that you are worthy of any honor I, or Vane, can give you.”  

Nash was still shaking his head in disbelief and self-reproach when Gregory gave him a sincere smile, but seemed to be blinking back tears. “Besides, you know I have no children of my own--at least not yet, and at this point I don’t expect that to change. I need an heir, you need a family, and I’ve been calling you ‘son’ as long as I’ve known you anyway. Ageless I may seem, but no one is immortal, least of all me. I know this is long overdue, but I also know it’s right.” He picked up the quill and held it to Nash, “Now stop stammering and sign the damn thing.” 

Nodding slowly, the younger mage accepted the feather and, pressing its sharpened point to the document carefully signed his name, his elaborate script dwarfing Gregory’s simple mark. It felt strange adding the surname he had just been given, as if it was too fresh to be using.  

Hesitating as he finished the signature, he asked, “Gregory, Mia signed this over a week ago. What is this, some sort of conspiracy between you two? How long have you been plotting this?”  

“Quite awhile, I just didn’t know how to approach you about it. Your…ego sometimes seems to run rampant, and I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea. The only ‘conspiracy’ here is one born out of love, respect, and admiration for a stubborn boy that doesn’t always realize who his friends are--or how many there are that love him.” 

The old man smiled as he took the scroll from the still stunned Nash and nodded down to the slightly sloppy signature. “I’m glad I wasn’t the one to teach you penmanship, son.” Setting the scroll down on the table, he picked up the squat red candle. With a soft word he lit the wick and allowed it to melt the tip of the blue sealing wax, turning it constantly in his fingers to prevent it from dripping. “It’s been ages since this was used, Nash.” When the end had melted to his satisfaction, he rubbed it next to his signature, making a large blot. Setting the soft stick and still burning candle aside he twisted the black gem on the ring he wore on his right hand, lifting it slightly until the stone came free. Carved into setting behind the gem was his seal, and, turning it slightly in his hand he pressed it into the soft wax. After a moment, he lifted his fist and glanced down, nodding in approval at the imprint it had made. “And thus is it done.”  

Nash was still mystified by all of this, but Gregory’s seal intrigued him. Looking over his mentor’s shoulder, he saw that it was a stylized capital T with some kind of dragon-like creature climbing the shaft, its head resting on the crossbar. “I never knew what your seal looked like.” 

Gregory corrected him, “Our seal. I told you I hadn’t used it in awhile.” He stood up and pulled the small white box from behind the picture on the mantle, and then placed it in Nash’s hands. “Open this.” 

The younger mage pulled the ribbon from the box and looked down at the gift; an exact copy of the gold ring Gregory wore, the seal hidden from view by the same black stone. Slipping in on the middle finger of his right hand, it oddly heavy, as though holding centuries of tradition and power within it as he looked down at it, almost able to make out the concealed engraved image at its heart. 

Gregory smiled and took his hand. “Nash of Vane is no more.  From this day forth your name is Nash Telka.  May it bring you the respect you have earned, and may you bring it the honor it demands.”  The Illusionist embraced him;  “You are now my son by law, as you have always really been, regardless of the paperwork.” 

Nash returned the hug; still stunned at all that had just transpired. Was the answer really this easy? Would Orinth leave him alone now? Could…could it all be as it had those years before?  

Gregory released him, and then stood up. Reaching into the pocket of his robe, the ageless mage said, “One more gift, my son. I hope some day to see you wearing the colors of both your families.”  Silently, two ribbons, one red and one blue, were placed into Nash’s palm. They were not as dirty or as threadbare as he remembered them; Gregory had taken much care to have them cleaned and rewoven.  

Nash closed his hand tightly over the ribbons, the new ring seeming to glow slightly as it touched the soft fabric. He put them in the inner pocket of his robe, giving a small sigh, much to Gregory’s obvious disappointment.  Looking up at his friend, his happiness faded, as the encounter with the woman earlier returned to his mind. Then he spoke the words he had used far too often with the Illusionist. “Gregory, I have a problem…” 

The old man did as he always had, and always would when he heard that phrase. “Tell me what it is.” 

The young mage rubbed his face, the band of the new ring almost scratching him. “Sabre—my sister—she is here, in Vane. I saw her today, in the stable yard, still wearing her colors. She must have come for the Festival.”

Nash shook his head, still trying to accept it as real and the possible results before he continued, his voice both desperate and pleading.  “All these years I thought she was dead--she was captured by the fiercest tribe to ever have lived on the Prairie, no one survived them… no one. I’d… I’d given up ever finding her, ever seeing her again.” He paused, “She looked right at me but didn’t recognize me. Gregory, if she realizes who I am, and tells anyone…your making me a part of your house doesn’t matter. You can change my name, but it won’t change what I really am or what Vane will think of me if…when the truth comes out.” 

"We're not changing what you really are, Nash.  Only you can do that. I'd have thought...” Gregory raised an eyebrow at him, “You mean you don’t intend to tell her that you are even still alive? Don’t you think she deserves to know?” 

“Yes of course she does, and I am delighted to have found her again, but—“  

“But what?” 

“But now, her being here can destroy everything—everything that I’ve worked for. She didn’t recognize me today and I don’t think she will, if I don’t say anything. But… but I believe she has a right to know. I should be ecstatic to have finally found her, but instead I’m scared to death!”  

With a laugh the old man slapped him on the shoulder.  “Now that you are my son, maybe you’ll listen to me a little?” 

“I’ve always respected you, Gregory I just can’t…” 

“Horse shit, Nash!” He shook his head.  “No, if you’d listened to me, this would not be a problem and you wouldn’t be this walking image of death you’re always pretending to be around certain people.  I knew you were an actor, you convinced me of that a long time ago, but I never realized you were this good.” 

Nash was annoyed. “I’m talking about Sabre, not Mia. Can we not bring that up?” 

Gregory frowned at him, “As I see it, they are both part of the same so called problem. Once you reconcile the past, you can live in the present, and hope for the future.” His eyes seemed pained as he said, “A wise young lady named Relina Ausa once told me that. I should have listened to her.” Then with a sigh he added, “So, why don’t you try accepting Mia’s apology and get on with your lives.  You’re not just hurting her, or yourself, but everyone who cares about either of you.  The two of you were put together for a reason--you can’t deny that.”

Starting to concede, he asked, “And Sabre? What should I do about her?” 

“I can’t give you any advice on that. I think you know what is right—at least I hope you do. If you don’t, then I’ve not taught you much of anything these past ten years.” 

Nash started to reply hotly, then stopped as the moment of outrage melted in the light of realization.  He had the decency to look ashamed as he replied; “I…I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, does it?” 

“Of course it doesn’t, and it never did! Everyone has so called dirty secrets, but they are only filthy to those that keep them and let the mud pile upon them, or try to dig them up and wallow in them.” 

Nash muttered, “Not everyone does. Mia doesn’t. I’m sure of that.” 

“You’re wrong, but it’s not my place to tell you any of them. In time, all secrets must be revealed, and it’s the time for yours.” 

He glared at Gregory, as if the old man had just insulted the Guildmaster to her face. 

Gregory ignored the look and continued speaking. “Now, while we have taken care of that little technicality for the Council, the question remains as to how you will tell Mia the truth.”  

Nash gave an incensed scowl, but the Illusionist reprimanded him quickly. 

“Get that look off your face. You will tell her, and soon. You don’t have a choice, my son.  The only question is when. Now, or later when it may be too late?” 


Nash wasn’t really sure what to do. There were too many options to consider, too many consequences to be handed to him on both sides of the dilemma. After talking to Gregory, he knew what he had to do, but wasn’t sure how. He bid farewell to his adoptive father and snuck back to his room, relieved no one saw him disappear from the day’s festivities, other than his guards. 

These new attentive sentries were not what he wanted to deal with right now, so in fit of anger he chased them off, the two outside his suite leaving quietly while muttering something about temperamental Premiers. The one inside the parlor put up more of a fight, but a threat of a thunderbolt eventually made him vanish. I don’t need these idiots! They should be more worried about Mia… 

Content to finally be alone, he just wanted to think. He had to make some kind of plan; a well developed strategy. Mia must be told, and before he was instated. She deserved the truth and a chance to rescind the offer. Being Gregory’s heir didn’t change what he was; it was just like painting a portrait. While the artist could make his subject look taller, or less aged, the image is not the person, and no skill of the crafter's hand can alter what is real. It’s not that I’m not grateful for everything he has done for me, and he really has been my father in more than name…I just…I don’t know…but at the same time, I also don’t want to give up my chance at what I’ve always wanted and dreamed of…Goddess, I should be ashamed of myself… 

Now, Sabre was a different story. That would be a happier, easier discussion at least. He would reveal himself to her and could ask her not to tell anyone they were related until Mia was informed of his secret. She would honor him; by the laws of the Tribes she would have to, although being dishonest was certainly a crime punishable by death by the same canon. Not speaking of something was not necessarily lying; a thin line, but it could work. He would find her tonight, and then Mia in the morning. It would all fall into place. Of course, I thought that the last time I had plans… 


Nash and Gregory left the tavern in Nerak, in the hopes of riding day and night, to make it back to Vane in only three or four days. Even in the cold December weather, they managed to lather the horses as they paced at a swift gallop, slowing to a walk only when the animals could run no further. Even at his age, Gregory some how managed to keep up with Nash for the first day and half, but then the ageless mage pulled his horse to a stop as the sun sank into the sky. “We have to stop.” 

Nash took advantage of the moment and reloaded his crossbow. “We can’t stop! The seer made it sound like she’s in trouble, Gregory. We’ve got to get back. There isn’t time to stop!” 

“Didn’t your last encounter with a fortuneteller teach you anything, my boy?” 

Nash gritted his teeth, “This is different!” 

Gregory dismounted and loosened the cinch of his saddle. “You can go on, but I’m staying the night here. Tomorrow we’ll ride straight through for another day and half and make it back, but I’m not doing that while I’m exhausted, and these poor animals need a break. Besides, even taking turns we’re almost out of magic, and we need it to light our way. If we rest, it will rejuvenate.” 

Nash turned his horse in a circle, debating whether to ride off or stay. “Dammit Gregory! She’s in trouble! I know she’s in trouble!” 

Gregory sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Tell you what, if I can prove to you that she’s all right we camp for the night, okay?” 

The young man looked at him dubiously, “How are you going to do that?” 

“I’m the Master of Illusion Magic, remember? I’ll think of something,” he replied with a grin. “Take care of that horse. He’s been good to put up with you running him into the ground and kicking him like a maniac.” 

Grudgingly, Nash dismounted and freed his horse of its saddle, walking it to a nearby stream for some water. I better not regret this, Gregory... 

As he led the horse back to camp, he saw that Gregory had started a fire and was sitting next to it, eating a piece of bread. The Illusionist looked up at him, frowning slightly. “Are you sure… are you positive you need to do this?” 

Nash tied the horse to a tree, and nodded, taking some fruit out of his saddlebag that was lying next to it. “I… I need to.  Can you let me see that she’s okay, that she’s safe?  Can you show me that everything’s all right with her?”   

The older mage laughed, “You’ve got to be desperate, and Althena knows you’ll be a grumpy, distracted, and very unpleasant traveling companion if you don’t get over this.”  With a small sigh he nodded.  “Well, in for a penny, in for a pound.  We may as well do this right. You realize that this goes against just about every rule of Vane? Spying on the Guildmaster isn’t something taken lightly.”  

“I’m not spying! I’m worried about her!” He paused, “What do you mean spying?” 

“How else do you think I’m going to convince you? You won’t be satisfied with anything less!” Gregory shook his head, “Either way, you realize the consequences of this?” 

“Yes, I’ll take full responsibility,” he said hastily. 

“No, we’re in this together. Come, stand here.” 

Nash did as he was told. “What are you going to do? Make her appear in the fire?” 

The older mage scoffed, “That’s child’s play. You could even do that yourself if you knew the spell. You want to see her, right? You’re going to see her—the real her, and in real time.” 

“How can you—“ 

“Do you want me to do this?” Gregory asked, a little more annoyed than not. 

“Yes! Of course!” 

“Then be quiet!” 

Nash held his hands up defensively and remained silent.

Clearly satisfied that his friend was not going to ask any more questions, the Illusionist closed his eyes for a moment, crossing his arms over his chest with the palms open and pressing against his shoulders.  For a brief moment his lips seemed to move as though speaking silently to himself, yet there was no sound, and even that small movement quickly stilled.  Then, existence… as it had been… ended. 

Nash stared around him in amazement.  He would have sworn it was real, if he hadn’t known otherwise. Gregory was a true master at his craft; all of his senses were absorbed in the mirage. The cold clearing, the tall and bare surrounding trees, even the warmth and crackle of the campfire melted away before him as reality swirled about him, abruptly snapping into a new and very different scene.  Suddenly he was standing in Mia’s bedroom, feeling the soft carpet under his feet and smelling the fragrance of the fresh flowers she kept on the small table near her bed. I know we’re breaking Guild law...but I just need to see her... 

The glass door to her private balcony was open and the wind caught the drapes in a dance, inviting him to wander toward them. He did so, feeling the breeze on his cheek as he walked through, the rays of the Blue Star offering some degree of guidance in the darkness.  He glanced down, surprised to see the faint shadow he cast in the illusion in the Blue Star’s light. Gregory is amazing...and this is...real...I hope she doesn’t sense me...or maybe I do...I don’t know... 

And there she was. Standing with her back to the door, dressed in one of her favorite nightgowns, and looking out into the direction he had traveled when he left Vane. Her raiment was a purple pastel, which though light in color, still managed to contrast her ivory skin. She had pulled her hair atop her head and fastened it there with a clip, exposing the nape of her neck and the top of her bare back. She must have been cold, he guessed. For although he couldn’t feel the temperature, the image was so detailed, he could see goose bumps on her neck.  

He smiled as the breeze caught the translucent dress, pulling it away from her body for an instant and then back again, pushing the straps off her shoulders in the process—a detail she didn’t bother to fix. Instead she just leaned further over the stone rail, keeping her eyes focused on the distance.  

Now, just an arms length away, her delicate scent—the smell of gardenias—her favorite flower, caressed him. Whatever Gregory had done, it was perfect. As if in a trance, he moved closer, and just a little to the side so he could see her face. He knew the look she wore all too well...worry. Those violet eyes, trained on some unreachable vastness, full of anxiety, concern... and....was that a hint of loneliness he detected? 

He reached a hand out to her, to try and touch the back of her neck, to let her know he was there, that he was all right, and that he would return soon. He gasped when it just slipped through her as if she didn’t exist. Like washing a paintbrush in water, the colors melted together, and while it was pretty, but it certainly wasn’t tangible. With a sigh, he took his hand back, and watched as the image restored itself, filling in the spot he had damaged. Idiot...it’s real but you’re not...to her at least...  at least one of us isn’t real. 

Looking again at her, he noticed she carried something. When he realized what it was his despair dissolved and he focused on just observing her and her companion. She cradled a small stuffed toy in her arms, a toy he had given her on her birthday two years ago. For some reason, she’d always had a strange affection for an ugly little monster called a Gorgon. Many would call the thing absolutely hideous, with its large one eye and tentacle like arms, but she just adored it. It had taken weeks to find a toy maker willing to create a stuffed replica of the strange beast.  The old seamstress had clearly doubted his sanity as he described and drew it, but the smile on Mia’s face when he gave it to her was worth all the effort and odd looks. She had said it was the best gift she had ever received; from that day on it sat on her bed during the sunlight hours, and watched over her at night from her dresser.  

He listened as she started a conversation with the toy. She spoke to it as if she were a child again, confiding all of her secrets to her very best—if very imaginary—friend. “I wish he’d come back, Lil Gon. I miss him so much...I can’t believe I sent him away like this. Or for so long... It’s so lonely here... When we first started rebuilding and he’d ride off from Meribia, I’d miss him, too. I didn’t know how to tell him that, but I always waited for him to get back. I never wanted him to leave...and now I’ve sent him off...” 

I don’t think I’m supposed to be hearing this, but... Despite his hesitation, and a small nagging feeling of guilt at being there, he continued listening to her private thoughts. 

A quiet remembering smile formed on her lips as she paused, and then told the doll, “Can you believe it’s been three years? Three whole years, Lil Gon! I remember we were standing out on a balcony like this when he kissed me. You weren’t there so you don’t remember.” 

I remember...I was so nervous... I half expected you to laugh at me, or slap me and run away. 

She sighed and looked down at the ugly doll. “You know, before she died, Mother told me that she really liked Nash. She said I was lucky to have such a good friend, and someone who loves me as much as he does. She told me ‘we all make mistakes, Mia. If we’re lucky, we’re given a chance to make up for them.’ She said that he had, and she was proud of him; for all he did for us, for me, and for Vane. She told me I shouldn’t be afraid of what I feel, and that I should be happy. Mother said she was happy...once.” 

Thank you, Lemia. I know I didn’t deserve your forgiveness... 

“He was right, Gon...about my...overzealous behavior as of late. But I just can’t sit back and do nothing. I have to rebuild the Guild. My mother loved it, and I let it fall.” 

Not this again! You did what you had to do, Mia. It was unavoidable! If only I were there to tell you that…  

“But Nash was right; I can’t keep going like this.  I’m tearing both of us apart, and… I need him, even more than the Guild needs him I need him.  I need to step back, and think about myself for a little while. I want to be happy. I don’t want to be a workhorse forever.  If only for a little bit, I… I want to be...just me.”           

Finally...I want you to stop being everything to everybody as well...I want my Mia back...  Then, we’ll find a way to make your dream real. Together. 

She sighed, and kissed her friend, right on it’s giant eyeball. “He used to keep hinting at wanting to marry me, but he always seemed afraid to ask me directly. I’m kind of glad he didn’t...” 

His eyes closed tightly in intense torture as though some great hand had grabbed his heart, and he put a trembling hand to his face. I knew it...Not good enough... Still trying to hide the tears that were about to come from her, even though he knew she didn’t and couldn’t see him, he kept an ear on what was being said, but it only half registered.  

“I was scared, Gon. I know that sounds silly, but I really was...that I’d say yes, and what might happen. My family carries a terrible curse, and Mother said, that because of...my father...it could be the exact opposite for me.  So...either way it rears up, it would kill Nash. One way or another...he’d just get hurt.” 

He didn’t move from his anguish filled pose, but managed a thought.... Your father? You’ve never mentioned him, Mia. What curse is this? I wish you would tell me. Perhaps we can break it... 

She smiled again and pulled the toy closer to her, her voice dropping to a whisper. “But I want to tell you a secret, Lil Gon. I’m not afraid anymore. I want to be happy, even if it’s just for a little while. I want to ask him to marry me. I don’t know what he’ll say, though. He tried to talk to me about it a few times, and I kept dodging him because I was afraid. I don’t know what I was afraid of, but... I’m not anymore.  Now I’m sure.  I’m nervous though. Maybe you could do it for me?  Could you ask him for me?” 

His hand slid off his face elated astonishment, wiping the tears away as it did. Oh Mia...I’ll be home soon, I promise! And...and...then I’ll take you into my arms and I’ll ask you myself! 

A soft sigh of exhaustion came to Nash’s ear and he felt the illusion start to fade, the edge of the balcony blurring softly and slowly began to shift into the darkness of night.  Before she vanished from sight completely, Mia turned to look over her shoulder with a surprised, almost desperate expression, and stared directly at him. As the vision diminished and she too faded into the night, he heard her speak his name in a confused whisper... 

He reached out, calling back to her, but the dark clearing again surrounded him and only the soft crackle of the now dim and dying fire could be heard in the cold night’s air.  He turned, grasping his companion’s cloak in a fury of excited anxiety. 

“Gregory, you have to do it again! I think...I think she knew I was there.” 

“Of course she knew you were there. She’s the Guildmaster of Vane. Sensing magic is second nature to her. Let’s just hope she isn’t too mad at us.  I didn’t exactly use magic against another member of the Guild but this was questionable at best.  Eavesdropping is not considered especially polite, even in the best of causes.” 

But when did she know? When...oh I pray it was before she spoke...I pray...“I’m serious! You have to! She could be in trouble! Please!” 

“Settle down, Nash. She’s fine. She has an army of guards at her disposal. Who is going to hurt her?” 

He tried another approach, “She looked so...sad.” 

“Probably because she’s lonely. But remember that she sent you on this mission, so she’ll just have to miss you for a few more days, all right? Besides, that little far-see just about exhausted me.  I don’t think I could cast a good fog right now, let alone a convincing illusion. Farseeing isn’t all that difficult, and most illusions… well, call it a gift. But putting you into a combination of the two is another matter.  Anyway, I’m tired and I need to sleep.” 

Nash scowled like a child whose toy had been taken away. 

Gregory laughed softly as he poked the fire with a heavy stick, tossing a handful of branches and a small log onto the it before laying down on his worn bedroll “By the way, son, proposing marriage to a woman in a mirage is neither appropriate nor very romantic, not to mention a tad futile.” 

Nash’s mouth dropped open, “How did you—“ 

“One of the little side effects.  I was there, remember? I heard everything she said, just as you did. Now get some sleep.”  With that he slid into the warm blankets and closed his eyes. 

Nash blushed, suddenly realizing that he’d had an audience in his intrusion of Mia’s private conversation.  Then, hoping to distract the other, he asked, “Gregory, how did you do that, anyway?  You didn’t gesture and I couldn’t hear any spell being called.  You didn’t move or say a thing.  Every spell requires at least a gesture or incantation, usually both.” 

Gregory’s voice was soft, almost slurred in his exhaustion as he replied without opening his eyes.  “Just one of those little things you pick up after awhile…” His voice faded into a soft snore as Nash stood there in confusion. 

Nash got very little sleep that night and had the horses tacked by the time Gregory got up the next morning. Gregory kept his half of the bargain, and so Nash would keep his, but they would not stop again. No, he had to get back. Now. 

From that moment on, Nash accepted no excuses. He pressed harder, faster, and grew impatient with his mount and Gregory when they would try to walk or catch their breath. Two straight days of riding later, they finally caught sight of the city.  It was close to midnight when the wall of Vane finally came into view, and he knew they could make it in an hour, if that. Gregory had been using his magic to light their path, while Nash took care of any enemies or roadblocks that deterred them. Although the Illusionist was obviously extremely tired, he kept riding.  

Suddenly, the ageless mage stopped his horse and dismounted. He leaned into the animal’s shoulder, forcing it to pick up its right foreleg. “She’s got a rock—I’ll need to get it out before she goes lame. Nash, go on ahead. I’ll catch up with you.” 

“Are you sure?” He asked, more for formality than the answer. 

“Yes. I’ve been on adventures since long before you were born. I can handle myself for an hour’s ride.” He pulled a silver light from his cloak and handed it to Nash. “Here. It’s the last one. Take it.” 

Nash took the mystic item with a grateful nod, and crushed it in his palm to let its radiance rebuild his powers. He smiled at his friend, and then spurred his horse on, looking back only once. He kept his eyes focused on the wall. Kissed by the unusually bright light of the Blue Star, it appeared to glow a deep azure touched with a bit of green. Something troubled him as he approached.  Midnight bright? Midnight bright? Midnight bright!! Mia!! I’m coming...hang on... 

He pushed the horse even faster, racing into the city gate and not slowing down until he was right in front of the Guild entrance. Turning slightly in his saddle, he yanked his crossbow off its straps on his back and then reached into his rear saddlebag for some spare bolts. Then, finding the strength to use a trick from his childhood—dismounting while the horse was still in mid stride—saved him valuable seconds. Once he felt his feet hit the ground, the shock absorbed by a deliberate bending of his knees, he raced inside. The animal had obviously been trained by Prairie warriors and stopped the second he felt his rider’s weight leave his back.  The exhausted horse stood in a lather just outside, probably content to have a moment to catch his breath. 

He barely felt his feet as they hit the marbled floor, echoing with an ethereal sound of dread down the empty hall.  He loaded the weapon as he ran, not even needing to look at it as he did so. No one was in the corridors at this hour, and all the hallway lights had been extinguished. He didn’t need them though. He knew exactly how many paces it was from one place to the next, but figuring that at a dead run and with a mind full of panic was near impossible. Is she in trouble? Hurt? De—no, don’t even think that! 

Past the Great Hall, past the classrooms, up the curving staircase, past the faculty wing...and down the long private hall to the Guildmaster’s rooms. In his mad rush Nash slammed into someone heading towards him as he made the corner.  He tried to slow down but couldn’t, and ended up colliding with Darshak, one of Mia’s private guards—and commander of the night shift. He dropped his weapon and grabbed the guard’s collar, “Aren’t you supposed to be on duty?!” 

It took a moment for the stunned sentry to answer; he was still in shock from the impact and from the appearance of the man who was wringing his neck. “Majesty Mia...dismissed...me for the night, Master Nash. She dismissed all of us. That was at least three or so hours ago. I went back by every so often to see if she needed anything else, or to check for anything suspicious, but the door to her bedroom has been locked.” 

Nash stood up, and looked at the man incredulously, before grabbing his weapon and running the rest of the length of the hallway, and then into her now unguarded and open private parlor. As he did, he fumbled in his pockets with his free hand, looking for his key—she had given him a master to all the locks in the Guild—even her room. She’s got to be in trouble! But why dismiss the guard? She never—not even when we—dammit...where’s the stupid key?! 

Delving into the deep pockets inside his robe he found it, and with hands shaking of adrenaline and fright, he slipped it into the keyhole, and slowly, quietly, pushed the door to her bedchamber open, aiming his crossbow defensively in front of him...Better keep my guard up, in case it’s a trap... 

He looked around carefully before setting foot inside. It was dark, very dark, but light from the Blue Star sprinkled in through the skylight above and illuminated the wall with Mia’s dressing mirror and desk with its bent rays. He had surprised her with that addition—so she could look up at the clouds and still feel like she was flying.  

Nothing seemed out of place, nothing at all.  

All that for...ah well...I’m home, and...heh...Maybe I’ll just wake her and surprise her...and then tomorrow, I’ll tell her everything… I guess maybe I am an idiot now and then, everything’s... 

He stepped closer, and something caught his eye on her desk: an empty bottle of wine lay on its side with two glasses. Why is she drinking? Two glasses? A friend to talk to, perhaps?  

He put a hand to his cheek and felt his unshaven face as a wry smile grew on his lips. Four days, no baths, no shaves, no changes of clothes. I must look a mess, and stink to high heaven. I’ll just wake her to tell her I’m back...and then I’ll go clean up and sleep...and we can talk in the morning...and I’ll ask her.... 

Anxious to see that angelic face, and dying to just watch her sleep, he moved closer to the bed, reached out a gentle hand and started to pull the heavy violet bed curtain back. 

Shock, hatred, and about thirty other things he couldn’t describe suddenly consumed him. She was there, yes, sound asleep like a porcelain doll, her black locks kissing her pillow and her white skin...The picture he imagined she’d be, these past weeks. The dream he wanted to wake up to, to come home to... 

But she was not alone. 

He let the curtain fall from his hand, ragged rage filled breaths curdling inside him. Slowly, in obvious distraught, he raised his arms, and closed his eyes...and began a silent chant...but something stopped him. Guilt? No, it certainly wasn’t that. Fear of getting caught for using magic against another Guild member? No, definitely not. After a moment, he knew damn well what it was, and let his arms fall to his sides, waving in a sorrowful motion of defeat. Outdone, outsmarted, outsomethinged.. by the son of one of the Elders... It’s her choice, and... she’s made it.... it’s… what she deserves... Some one worthy of her, with a family name to give her.  I love you, Mia...and I will respect your decision...I just wish...oh hell...  

One foot at a time he backed silently out of the room, the quarrels of the last few months filling his head. “He’s just my friend, Nash. We were kids together, Nash. Why are you acting like a jealous little boy, Nash? You’re driving me crazy, Nash! Do you not trust me, Nash?” 

The sorrow and the pain seemed to diminish with each step, and in their place he found his rage, his temper, and everything that he had worked to control well up inside him and devour his soul. As he closed the door, he felt his face contort into something almost animalistic, and without another thought, he raced outside of the Guild, his cloak flowing behind him like a battle flag. 

Growling audibly, he made his way back outside, the anger and loathing building within. His horse was gone, but he didn’t care. It didn’t matter anyway. He flung his crossbow to the ground. Nothing mattered anymore. 

It had been years since he had used Wild Magic—everything since had been trained, calculated, and associated with special words and focus points. He had forgotten the amount of power just one call, one summoning could bring. He crossed his arms across his chest and felt the Storms rise from within him—he could feel the electricity in the air, smell the thunder and hear the pelting rain.  

He threw his arms to the sky and with a shriek watched as the Storms appeared and began their assault. Hail fell; winds beat the sides of scaffolding; thunder rattled windows, which blew themselves out; lightning struck with enough power to blast a tree straight out of the ground. And through it all he screamed at the clouds as if commanding them with his voice. 

He let the Storms rage for two full hours, allowing every iota of magical ability to be ripped from his body. All of his power, his Gift, raw and driven by brutal rage was used against the symbol of his hatred and anger—Vane.  

Chapter 11

K'Arthur's Fanfiction