Chapter 23

I learned that no matter the conflict the young and innocent are always the ones ground upon the gears of war. I didn’t know this Skaji boy, I called him a boy since, he wasn’t old enough to need shaving. But I knew he would be missed, as would the riders that died in the skies above.

I’m sorry Victor.

For what reader?

Sorry that you’ve had to suffer.

If I didn’t go through horrible trials, would you want to read my story?

I guess not.

I’m pleased you’ve spent this time with me. I’m glad that there are readers like you who are willing to invest the time to read the words printed on these pages. Thank you for bringing life to the crude marks on the pages.

You’re welcome.

I made it back to the aviary early in the morning without incident. I handed the message tube to the first senior Rider I could find and collapsed on my bed. An unknown number of hours later I awoke to someone pounding on my door.

I opened my eyes and called out in as gruff a manner as I could manage, “Who is it?”

“It’s Richard. Victor open the door.”

I moaned and rolled over, “Go away Spoon.”

“That’s Magus Spoon to you!” He yelled as he continued pounding on the door. Thankfully the heavy oak planks and iron wouldn’t easily be damaged by a skinny little boy like Spoon.

Since he didn’t go away, I asked, “What do you want?”

“I’ve got something for you. Open up already.”

Somehow I managed to crawl out of bed and lift the latch.

“Finally!” The young man said as he looked me over, “Victor did you get trampled by a heard of bison?”

“Funny, what do you want?” I said as I sat down on my bed.

The young man closed the door and sat on my chair. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”

I tried to murder him with my eyes. Unfortunately he didn’t stop breathing.

“I can see you’re not in the mood for a surprise, so I’ll just tell you.”

“Please do.”

He wore a beaming smile from ear to ear, “The first shipment of Richardsen made masks has been completed.”

“You woke me up for that?” I looked longingly at the pistol on my desk but couldn’t find enough strength to reach out and get it.

“Don’t you want to make the first delivery?”

I laid back down, “Don’t forget to shut the door on your way out.”

“But Victor don’t you want to know where the first shipment is going?”

I closed my eyes, “No Spoon, go away.”

“Vassar Prison.”

I sat up, well kind of, “Are you serious?”

“Well that’s who you designed the masks for in the first place right?”

“I’ll get dressed, in an hour.”

Much later we were leading a wagon up the dusty trail. We entered the prison grounds and began unloading the crates of masks. A few prisoners helped carry the masks into a supply room, I asked one of them if they knew the whereabouts of Black Ward, crew three.

After a couple of minutes searching the log books I was told they were on free day and were probably getting cleaned up.

The guards escorted me into the Black Ward, Spoon elected to stay in the supply room and supervise unboxing the masks. All the other cells were empty as their occupants were on work details, but my old crew were all there lounging around before being let out into the exercise yard. When they saw us approach a scrawny prisoner got up and leaned against the bars. He stared at me so I stared right back.

“Black Ward crew three you’ve got a visitor.” One of the guards announced.

“Thirty Three? You’re not dead yet?” I asked with a grin.

“Two Ten is that really you?” He asked stunned.

Forty Six came over, the mountain of a man didn’t look well, his eye sockets looked hollow and his once proud shoulders were drooping. He coughed into his fist and smiled when he saw me. “Well damn looks like them Magii are takin’ anyone these days.”

“I’ve got something for you guys.” I said as I pulled a mask out of its carrying bag.

Forty Six took the mask and poked at it with a sausage like finger, “Alrighty, so what be this Magus?”

I explained what the mask was and how it worked. The big man tried it on and began breathing through it. Once he realized that it meant they wouldn’t be breathing contaminated air down below tears filled his eyes. “You didn’t forget us.”

I nodded, “We’ve got a whole wagon load, and more will be coming later.”

“Why? We be but lowly prisoners, and you now is some high and mighty Magus.”

“You’re men. And you do an important work to keep the Skaji at bay. Without the iron ore you mine we’d be overrun by those worm riders.”

“Thank you.” He managed as he stared at the mask that some believed was worth more than a prisoner’s life.

As I was getting ready to leave Thirty Three called out. “Hey just cuz yer a fancy man dress wearin’ magus don’t mean you can leave without tellin’ us a story.”

One of the guards reached for his club. “How dare you disrespect a Magii!”

I put my hand on his arm, “It’s alright, please leave now.”

“But sir regulations require…”

“That you obey orders from a Magus.”

The guard stiffened and let go of his club, “Yes sir.”

I didn’t pull rank very often but it felt appropriate.

“Good now go back and do whatever it is you guards do when you’re not threatening prisoners.”

After they locked the outer gate and left I sat down on the stone floor and told them about what happened last night. They hung on every word as I described being in the thick of the aerial melee. I only embellished a little and I left out how scared I was but overall it was a good tale.

They pleaded for more so I told them about Magii training, drop chute jumps and landing in the middle of a lake. They rolled and laughed at that one.

“Two, Ten… err Third Magus Vaughnson you sure missed yer rightful calling in life.” Forty Six said as I got up.

“Oh and what calling would that be?”

“You should have been a Teller.”

“A Teller of tales?” I asked.

He nodded, “You’d make a fine one.”

I shrugged as I dusted myself off. “Perhaps, but not today. Good luck crew three, I hope those masks help you.”

I reached inside my brown robes and passed them a couple of bottles of healing droughts.

“Why are you helping us?” The big man asked.

“You befriended me when I was on your side of the bars. When I was hungry you fed me. When threatened protected me.”

I left the cells listening to my boots slap on the stone, I refused to wear sandals. Down several flights of well worn steps I emerged into the fresh air. Spoon was rolling large rocks down the hillside and watching them tumble and bounce as they headed toward the river.

“Finally! What were you doing in there, visiting old prison buddies?”

“Yes.”

“Surely you jest. They don’t let former prisoners become Magii.”

I smiled. The look on Spoon’s face was priceless.

I climbed up onto the wagon and flipped the reins. Spoon had to scramble to catch up. Yes he complained the whole way back to the university. Once back the rest of the day was spent inking armor, weapons and other war equipment.

At quitting time Raven came up to my workbench while I was finishing a Grenadiers helmet. “Victor do you have a moment?”

I dotted the last symbol and put the brush down, “Yes, something on your mind?”

She flashed a smile and leaned against the well-worn wooden work area. “Well its Sevday, and since Premday is a holyday, I was wondering if you would like to spend the long weekend… with me?”

I looked into her deep brown eyes; full of hope and anticipation. “Oh… umm I had planned on going to Nana’s Boarding House to visit my ‘family’ there.”

She looked down at the helmet and bit her lip. “Well that’s alright I suppose.”

“Why what did you have in mind?”

She looked back up at me, “Well a friend of mine has a family cottage in the Green Brush Mountains.”

I looked at her and raised an eyebrow, “So who is going?”

“Well it’d be you, me, my friend and her man friend.”

“A quiet weekend in the mountains fishing, breathing crisp clean air, and maybe a few rides on our raptors? Sounds wonderful.” I said despite the little voice in the back of my mind warning me about Carolyn and her obsessive behavior.

“Alright meet you at the Aviary in ten minutes?”

I nodded and finished the helmet.

2 Responses to Chapter 23

  1. constantine says:

    Carolyn’s going to kick someone’s ass one of these days. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already…

  2. Larry says:

    That boy needs to make a decision.

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