Elliot pulled the sinew comfortably past his cheek and released. Within half a second the doe was dead. Clearing his mind of everything but the arrow he willed it to dislodge itself and speed back to into his quiver. He grabbed the deer’s body and slung it over his shoulder with his first kill while the arrow settled comfortably back into the quiver of its own accord. He then quickly returned home to his father’s old hunter’s post and gave one of the deer to his mother and then ran into town with the other.
“I propose 20 shillings,” he said heaving the animal onto the counter in the butcher’s shop.
The butcher looked over the doe. “Ah, Elliot. Hmm, well she’s rather skinny… How about 15—”
That won’t do.
Elliot allowed the butcher’s words to blend together into a background hum and focused all of his energy on the chicken corpse on the wall behind him. After willing it to heat up for a couple seconds it complied and burst into flames.
“--Oh my!” The butcher turned and fanned at the fire.
“So that would be 21 shillings then?” Elliot called.
“Yes, yes!” The butcher threw the money to the counter, “Can’t you see I’m busy? Get out of here boy unless you’re going to be of help!”
Elliot smiled and ran from the shop.
“That was quite a show.”
He spun around to find William Turnchain leaning against the shop wall watching him. He had to take deep breath to prevent himself from immediately lunging at and attacking the noble. That had gotten him into more than enough trouble before.
“Everyone haggles,” Elliot said.
“Not with fire.”
Elliot proceeded as if he hadn’t heard him, “At least, normal people do. I don’t expect you to understand that not everyone’s largest worry is what they’re going to wear to their next festivity.”
William moved forward from the wall, “Actually, my current unease lies with the man that you just cheated.”
“Says the man who’s cheated my family for years!”
“Is there a reason why I wasn’t invited to this lovely get-together?” Charlotte had arrived; bringing a promise for punishment if they’d been conflicting. “Fighting again are we?” she whispered scornfully.
Elliot stared at the ground, control your temper, yelling won’t solve anything. Getting Charlotte involved will only make things worse…
William took another step forward, “He just used magic to cheat another man out of money.”
Charlotte laughed, “Ah, the futile pursuits the inexperienced use their powers for.”
Though they were common around Charlotte and he should’ve merely forced himself to handle it, Elliot allowed her boast to fuel the monster raging in his chest. Her stubborn superiority complex was now William’s fault and though he recognized its impossibility, Elliot accepted this as fact.
“You two are supposed to be training,” Charlotte continued, “you shouldn’t be out here pretending you already know what you’re doing.” She laughed and handed them each a book on basic magical theory, “At your current level you couldn’t even hope beat me together.” She then grabbed their shoulders and steered them up to the tower.
Once they had all settled down in the library Elliot was pleased to find that his pages turned much more frequently than the spoiled nobleman’s. Clearly, money wasn’t everything. This triumph was short however, for soon William’s eyes were on Elliot more than the book and his pages began turning more frequently. Elliot copied this action until the words he skimmed began to take no meaning at all.
“You’re not even reading,” William accused.
“Neither are you.”
William shut the book and glared at Elliot. He forced a look of calm amusement on his face and returned the look.
Charlotte sighed. “Do you even care about your training? Not everyone’s a complete natural you know…”
Elliot ignored her reminiscence of how perfect she was when learning—as he had about memorized most of the stories by now—and instead her words from his recruitment echoed in his head: “Training in magic could help your family; imagine what you’ve been able to do since you’ve discovered your powers and magnify it with proper magic training.”
“I wouldn’t need the training if it weren’t for him.” Elliot muttered through clenched teeth but he returned to the book.
With systems of general magical principles and methods swimming through his head he barely heard the yells from the entrance chamber below. He was thrust back into reality when Charlotte stood and ran from the room. William and Elliot dropped their books and followed her.
Midway down the staircase a mage stopped them, “Arethian soldiers… completely by surprise…” He collapsed.
“You two, back to the library,” Charlotte said without even turning.
“We’re not coming with you?”
Elliot rolled his eyes; William was upset about not getting what he wanted for once.
“Of course not.” Charlotte’s tone held finality, she continued down the staircase without even a glance backwards.
Elliot shared a quick look with William before they both rushed after her.
The men now crowding the hall wore blue and black uniforms to signify their Arethien loyalty. Some carried court swords or sabers, others had no weapons and therefore probably had magical skill, and two—wearing slightly different uniforms to signify superiority--held guns.
A few mages stood before the staircase enforcing a dome of energy that seemed to be holding off the soldiers.
“Odds are far against us,” a wizard mustered as they approached.
“Ah, but you have me now,” Charlotte said, “You’re wasting your energy keeping this thing up; they’re going to break it eventually, let’s fight now!”
The mages nodded and as the energy shield dissipated they rushed at the soldiers.
Elliot focused in on one of the gunmen and willed a tile behind him to rise. Clenching his fist, he broke the stone into many pieces and with a forward thrust of his fingers sent them speeding toward the gunmen. With stones repeatedly pelting the man he lost focus and was easily overcome by Charlotte’s energy blast.
“Well I feel weak.”
Elliot glared at William for disrupting his concentration.
“We are barely assisting the others.”
“We’re new to this, our magic isn’t exactly powerful.”
“Look at them, we are of no help.” William shook his head, “Some are not even using magic…”
Elliot followed William’s gaze to the battle. Charlotte had taken out both gunmen before they could get in a shot and a nearby pair of mages were dancing around the other army men’s strokes to easily assault their weak spots with daggers.
“They’ve obviously had experience.” Elliot knew the finality in his voice would keep the brat from speaking again and focused in on another man.
Charlotte took the man down before Elliot had fully formed his concentration. He sighed and instead concentrated on his hands, willing fire to form between them like he’d seen Charlotte do before. He smiled as a spark grew into a small ball of fire. Elliot looked up just in time to thrust the ball at an enemy before Charlotte could reach him.
Charlotte nodded to him but fell to her knees. Elliot rushed to her and could hear William behind him.
“I’m fine…! You two shouldn’t be down here.” The former remark was easily recognizable as a lie for her robes alone were torn in many places and soaked with blood.
Elliot turned just in time to see William cast a small shield charm to ward off an incoming mace; the blow forced him backwards into the wall. Elliot stunned the man and kicked him over. Returning his focus to the battle he noticed that of the few mages present, only two were still conscious and fending off the six remaining soldiers.
With a powerful sleep charm one knocked out a soldier but was overcome seconds later by another. The last mage was distracted by his companion’s collapse and was easily also knocked out.
The remaining men turned to face Elliot and William and as one moved in towards them.
“William get up—” When Elliot turned the noble was already standing and was starting to spin air around his fingertips. “Charlotte…?”
Charlotte responded with a quick blast that crippled one of the men. Her eyes, which had become fierce, then glazed over and she too fell unconscious.
The four remaining soldiers were seconds from them but being delayed by repeated shots of wind magic from William. “What do we do?” William asked.
“If you would be quiet I could figure that out!”
“I cannot… hold them off… anymore!” William grunted.
“…At your current level you couldn’t even hope beat me together.”
“You can’t.” Elliot confirmed shifting his focus to the air around him, he forced it to spin, to gain speed, and then at the oncoming soldiers.
As the Arethians fought against the air between them and the remaining mages, Elliot stole a glance at William.
He’s just as much wizard as I am, Elliot looked back at the soldiers, And I can’t pretend this isn’t working…
Elliot abruptly loosed his control on the wind.
“What are you—”
“Let it go. We finish them now, together.”
Elliot formed a small fireball between his hands. “Help me!”
William turned to him and added his own energy to the growing orb and as the first sabre slashed towards them they thrust it at the soldiers. The resulting blast knocked them both into the wall where they watched the last of the soldiers fall before the world swirled into darkness.
* * *Charlotte peered down at him.
“Now you’re stalking me at home…?”
William’s face joined hers.
“What are you—!”
But Elliot’s initial anger at the sight of William was soon replaced by an unexpected calm excitement as the events of the night before came back to him.
Elliot sat up to find that he was not at home but in an upstairs room of the tower. He turned to Charlotte “You’re alright.”
She smirked. “Everyone is. You amateurs did something right, congratulations.”
Elliot stood and awkwardly shook William’s hand. “Er… thanks.”
William pulled him into a hug. “We did it!”