Make your enemies remember you. Then you will be immortal.

Julian Auros, the Iron General

 

They had the attic all to themselves. Ionas sat cross-legged on the bed opposite hers, barefoot, coat trailing over the sheets. A blue globe of light floated above them, painting her skin an alien colour.

He swayed from side to side, humming. She cleared her throat. He opened one eye. “Yes?” he said.

“Magic is intent?” she said.

“It’s as simple as that, most of the time.” He shrugged. “There’s a lot of theories as to what magic is. All very philosophical. But that’s what matters when you’re just learning. Intent.”

“So the -” She flicked her wrist. “It doesn’t mean anything?”

He sighed, opening the other eye and leaning forward. “As I was telling you about Auros’ recovered theory of magic -”

Sarea paused. “The what?”

“When we walked,” he said. “You were listening, weren’t you?” He looked at her. She looked back. “You weren’t,” he said. “I wondered why you didn’t ask questions. Right. You -”

“But if all you ever had to do was intend to cast something,” she said thoughtfully, “People would be dropping dead around wizards all the time.”

Ionas rolled his eyes. “Oh, they do,” he muttered, then, “Be quiet and listen.”

She nodded.

“It’s as simple as this,” he said. “Words, gestures, objects, and thoughts are focuses. That’s it. Better your control, more subtle your focus gets. I knew a war mage who just pointed at things and said bang. Lots of explosions. Very good at what he did. Really liked the word. Bang.”

“And that’s it,” she said.

“Magic’s all in here,” he said, tapping his forehead. “Any spell is in your focus and your intent. Anyone who says differently is selling you a life of study and loneliness.” He paused. “There’s theory,” he said. “And a lot of tools to help you when something is too big for the human mind to handle. But that’s all you need to know right now.”

She held her hands up. “If that’s all it takes, why don’t legendary wizards pop up all over the place?”

“Because the mind is a muscle that needs to be trained up with a lot of practise, and because being able to cast the most intricate of spells with just thoughts doesn’t mean you have the power to fill the spell with.” He smiled at her. “So -”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

He sighed. “It’s harder to teach without the books. Right. Cup your hand and call up fire.”

She obeyed. Flames flickered into existence, dancing across her skin.

“This is element magic,” he said. “It follows your emotions. If you get angry, the fire gets worse. When you’re calm, it is too. Get rid of it.”

She just thought and it disappeared.

“Now, summon blue fire.”

That seemed simple enough. She imagined blue fire in her hands, and it appeared –

– and was washed out by warm orange. She frowned at the fire. Blue, she thought at it, and it barely changed.

“Blue fire isn’t natural,” Ionas said. “It’s wrong, and the fire knows it. You think blue, you see it’s blue, you let go and it isn’t blue. Do you understand that? You need to maintain your focus. Again. Keep at it.”

Blue fire. Like the sky, a farmer’s pond, like the autumn flowers in Mistress Junker’s garden.

Like Ionas’ eyes when he asked for sunlight –

“Oh, almost,” he said. “You held it for a few heartbeats there. Good work. What distracted you?”

“A memory,” she said, and banished the traitorous orange in her hands.

“That ‘s focus,” Ionas said. “You’re new at this, it’s difficult right now. When you’re starting to be good at something you’ll be able to do it without any effort at all. You’ll be able to do half a dozen things without being distracted by stray things. When you master it, you won’t even need to think about focusing. It’ll happen.”

She wriggled her fingers. “How long does that take?” she said.

“Your entire life,” Ionas said. “It’s a muscle. You need to practise, again and again and again. When you hate the spell you’re casting. When it fills your entire world and your dreams and your nightmares. The war mage I mentioned? He’d practised pointing at things and saying bang for years, until he’d gone through loathing and self-hate to finding joy again.

“But you and I, Sarea, we can’t afford to have one trick, and there’s a world of knowledge out there to teach you. You need to get focus so I can teach you even the basic runes, because without control -” He smacked his hand together. “Very bad bang. That’s what the tricks are for.”

“The illusions,” she said.

“The lovely and spectacular illusions.” He grinned. “These people haven’t seen magic in a very long time, to tip like that.”

“Your clothes, you -” She waved her hands. “What was that meant to be?”

He bounced on the bed. “I have it on good authority that magicians used to wear it!”

She stared.

“And that is what you’re going to learn first,” he added. “A good basis for bigger things. Tomorrow, you are going to make your coat a different colour. You’re going to focus every second of the day. Especially when I’m distracting you.”

He was going to distract her, too. Wonderful. She opened her mouth to ask why but found herself yawning.

“Definitely tomorrow,” he said. “Not right now. Sleep. Your teacher says so.”

Sarea shook her head. “No,” she said. “I have to, with the hounds -” Another yawn broke through her words.

“We’re safe,” he said. “I swear it’s the truth. Where I am, you can sleep.”

:-#-:

When Sarea finally went sleep, curled up under a blanket, Ionas put out his light. He didn’t need it. Her glow brightened when she wasn’t awake, rising and falling with her breath. He moved onto his feet and pressed his little finger to her forehead.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “If we had more time… I wouldn’t do this if there were any other way.”

And wasn’t that his life? Step by step, the road of good intentions.

He wrote a rune on her skin, finishing it with a jagged line down the middle. “My memory to your dream,” he said. “Remember.”

The shape flashed green, once, and disappeared. Sarea slept on, oblivious.

Ionas padded away from her, silencing his feet with magic. He needed to speak with Bethilde Singer.

 

back home forward