Fireballs Among Friends: Part Three
Rasala had to half-run to keep up with King Jazan, which wasn't easy after the long trek across the hot sand.
She wasn't sure what she had expected. It hadn't been the brusque treatment that she'd received. Maybe part of it was that the Kyrii was so big. She was fairly tall, but he was both a good deal taller and broad-shouldered – he loomed. Rasala had decided that she didn't like being loomed over, especially not with the way he glared. She was surprised that he didn't seem to scare his children, with a scowl like that.
Jazan opened a dark wooden door, and Rasala followed him inside. Her nose twitched – she could smell leather, ink, and the underlying spicy-sweet-smoky scent of magic. But above it all was char.
Seradar sat in front of the desk, in one of two chairs. He looked much as she remembered him – a purple Gelert with a magnificent moustache, dressed in fine robes and draped in charms. But his moustache was scorched, his robes were blackened and ripped, and he was developing an impressive black eye. He scowled when he saw her. "What's the Order of the Blasted Erisim doing here?"
Jazan sighed as he sat down at the bigger chair behind the desk – Rasala took the remaining one next to Seradar as the Kyrii king said, "Fyora only knows. What's happened, Seradar?"
He said, "There've been more bandits in the borderlands lately, and they've been lurking 'round my tower. I was trying to make an automaton to act as a door-warden for a little extra security. It started attacking me."
That was a hazard of an improperly made automaton – that magic was extremely finicky, and the smallest error would cause it to become murderous instead of useful. Rasala didn't bother with them, but then she lived in an enclave with a few other mages. Perhaps Seradar, alone in the rough borderlands, had thought it worth the risk.
Jazan nodded. "I've had to shut down rogue automatons before. If you need help, I'll be glad to send someone to aid you."
Seradar winced. "There's a bit more to it. I know that I had the spell right. I am well aware of the dangers of automata. But there have been surges in the borderlands lately. I've not the neutralizing system in place that more established centers of magic have developed. The surge disrupted the spell, and somehow entangled it with one of my wards. A fire-based offensive ward."
Rasala looked at Seradar and guessed, "The automaton threw fire at you?"
Seradar nodded. "It's got fire-powers. I unleashed my containment spells as I fled – everything flammable is protected, so my tower shouldn't be blown to Kreludor. Hopefully. Wards haven't been the same ever since that blasted Faerie rearranged my brain. Not that anyone ever cared to help." Rasala flinched at the bitterness in the old Gelert's voice.
She had to get those bylaws changed. Not just to get Jazan and the twins in the Order. To try and welcome Seradar back. To help people who'd had run-ins with dark magic. Cast out, left on their own, how were they ever to learn to use magic rightly? Seradar was off by himself, in a tower in the badlands – he was a black cape, some red crystals, and a maniacal laugh short of becoming an evil mastermind. And he'd done nothing but stand in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Now, Jazan wasn't as clearly innocent to Rasala's mind – it was hard to describe blasting Sakhmet into another dimension as anything but a deliberate act. But he was vouched for by Fyora and Jerdana – the bylaws didn't allow for people changing. The Lady of the Black Veil had gone bad, and there had likely been nothing that anyone could do to prevent it. But how could anyone prove that these two cases were the same as hers?
Jazan said, "I have the magical strength necessary to handle this myself – if surges have been a problem in your area, fewer mages will be less likely to falter. Once the automaton and the wards are under control, we can look into the groundwork that would be necessary for your own surge protection."
Rasala said, "I've had some experience in surge protection."
Jazan replied flatly, eyes cold, "Not in the borderlands between the desert and the Wood, you haven't. A man could live his whole life out there and not discover all their secrets – mostly because anyone prying in the badlands is likely to find that his whole life will be shorter than he originally intended. Old tombs, old mages' palaces, old treasures, all sprinkled liberally with old curses and poisonous Petpets. The surges of magical energy are unpredictable and extremely strong."
Rasala retorted, "The Tyrannian wilds are very nearly as unpredictable, and I've helped to set up surge protection in the Obelisk area."
Jazan's eyes narrowed. "Of course. The Obelisk. Because the Order of the Red Erisim is merely a benevolent guardian with no interest in seeking power whatsoever."
Seradar snorted. Rasala flushed red, hoping that her coloring would keep the two men from noticing. "That's not it at all!"
The door opened – it was the queen, carrying a tray. She smiled brightly. "Water, coffee, and fruit. The Queela fruit are spicy, Rasala – these purple ones. I didn't want you to be taken off guard." The queen sat the tray down, then pulled up a stool, sitting at the end of the desk. Rasala wondered what she was doing – she had no magic ability whatsoever, as far as anyone knew.
Jazan said, "Nabile, I'll be returning with Seradar to help him untangle his spells. If we leave at dawn tomorrow, I should be able to return by dinner."
Rasala decided now was the time to jump in. "I shall go with you. Three people won't have more trouble than two, and it will be easier for us all."
Nabile asked, "How safe will it be, Jazan?"
Jazan shot a look at Rasala – she glared defiantly back – then said, "Quite. With... three... of us, all of whom are strong, it shouldn't be difficult at all to dismantle the automaton and the fire-wards – I think that'll be easier than trying to untangle them, and less likely to backfire. Rasala and I both have fire-talent, and we'll be able to reassemble them."
Nabile said, "Perhaps you should take Caspar and Aldie, then."
Jazan interrupted with a scowl, "Absolutely not."
Nabile said, fairly reasonably in Rasala's opinion, "But you keep saying that you want them to learn what real magic work looks like. This is exactly what that is. And they'll be safe, but they'll also get a good look at what can happen when a spell goes wrong – which will hopefully teach them some caution. Aldie especially. I don't want her thinking it's a good idea to animate Neera's Usukis."
Rasala had tried just that herself when she was younger, with her own sister's Usukis. She'd accidentally disintegrated them instead of animating them, which had gotten her in massive trouble, but in hindsight was likely less traumatic for Elira than having her Usukis wandering around.
Jazan's brow was furrowed... Rasala was pretty sure there was something that he wasn't saying. Finally, he looked to Seradar. "I can vouch for their behavior. Would this be an inconvenience to you?"
Seradar smiled a little beneath his moustache. "Not in the slightest. Been decades since I last got the chance to watch twin mages at work."
Rasala added, "It wouldn't be hard for them to join the spell – if they were willing to help fuel it, we could perhaps handle the surge protection for Seradar's tower ourselves."
It had been the wrong thing to say – Jazan's eyes flashed red for a second. "They're children. Not jars of lamp oil. Not anyone's pawns. I won't allow anyone to take advantage of them. I'd rather die."
Nabile said softly, "Jazan, I don't believe she meant it that way."
Jazan shot Rasala a poisonous look. "Others would."
Rasala realized that he was accusing the Order of being willing to treat children in this way. What did he think they were? How could he just assume that the Order had no honor whatsoever? "Not the Order. Not while I am the duly elected First Mage. We never involve anyone who hasn't graduated their apprenticeship in anything that could be dangerous – and we've never yet graduated anyone who wasn't an adult. We don't use children as tools. Good people don't."
Nabile said, "There you have it, Jazan. It'll be good for them to see other mages, as well – you were saying just the other day how you thought some of the Qasalan College members were too deferential to them."
The king nodded reluctantly. "Very well, then."
The door to the study burst open and the girl twin, Aldie, cried, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! We'll be good, we promise we will!"
Jazan raised his eyebrows at his daughter. "Tell me, Esmeralda, would listening at the door to my office be considered 'good'?"
She pointed out, "If it had been really secret, you would have put up a silence ward and we wouldn't have been able to hear, anyway."
Behind her, Caspar nodded. "We promise we'll stay back, not touch anything, and not use magic unless you say we can. We'll do everything you tell us, Father."
Rasala thought she knew which twin would be considered the "sensible" one.
Jazan nodded once more. "Seradar, Rasala, a steward will show you to the guest rooms and assemble supplies for the trek tomorrow – it would be better to save our magic for the tower itself, and it's not too long a walk. Caspar, Esmeralda, Mother and I will help you decide what you need. Aldie, you are not to threaten to bring back a Cobrall to make Neera scream. Am I understood?"
The twins chorused, "Yes, Father!"
The king said, in a tone that suggested the matter was closed, "We leave at dawn."
And Rasala left the king's study, still not having even made her invitation to him to join the Order.
She felt like she'd missed something in there, but Fyora only knew what.
To be continued...