The Skaji returned that night. I was awoken by the sound of distant bombing. Thankfully for us they were busy attacking other districts.
In the morning Marinda discovered a Raptor in the street, its feathers charred, body twisted in death. The rider was nowhere to be found, I imagined he met a similar fate to that of his mount. A wagon showed up later and hauled the dead bird away. Raptors fallen in the line of duty were given full military honors.
Since I had no place to work I set up a table on the back porch of the boarding house and began designing the miners mask. I only stopped to eat and use the outhouse. Three days passed in the same manner.
After scribbling many different designs and tossing most of them in the rubbish bin I believed I figured out how to create a mask that could provide untainted air to those deep underground.
I pondered the page Carolyn had given me with all the common ink types. One I believed would be the key to making the mask function, Air Azure. The Magii knew how to make a stone that pulled air in from its surroundings. If I could use one of these inked stones and feed the air into a pressure vessel it just might work.
I made my way to the artisans market. It had been hit multiple times, but there were brave holdouts still selling their wares.
I approached a stall selling leather, “Greetings, have you any sheet rubber?”
The plump middle aged merchant nodded, “Yes sir, how much will you be needing?”
She seemed surprised, but pulled the stuff off a roll, measured and cut it. “That’ll be fifteen coin.”
Fifteen coin was around three day’s wages. I fished through my money sack until I had it all. Embarrassingly I had to use several half and quarter coin pieces to come up with enough to pay for it. I bought some leather, a couple of gills worth of glue, and a few pieces of glass, from another vendor.
My pockets were much lighter as I made my way home. I crossed though an open plaza, my steps crushed burnt grass. I heard some faint cheering in the distance I looked up and saw the sky filled with Raptors.
At first glance they looked like migratory birds heading south for the winter, but I knew where they were going. They were hunting Skaji.
“Go get ‘em boys!” I yelled as I pumped my fist in the air. I earned a couple of strange looks from passersby, but I didn’t care. The Raptors were on the hunt.
I hurried back to the boarding house and began work on my prototype. My first two attempts were rather shoddy and hideous. The next day I tried again and I finally had something that looked like it might work.
Nana came out as I was test wearing the mask. She screamed when she saw the grey mask, round glass eyes, and straps.
I laughed, my voice sounded weird coming out of the mask, “It’s me!” I took it off and gave her a toothy grin.
She scowled, “Victor what in heaven’s name is that monstrosity.”
I handed it to her, she didn’t want to touch it, “It’s a Minors Mask.”
“What is it for and why is it so hideous?”
I set the mask down on my makeshift workbench, “Remember when I told you about working in the mines?”
“Well breathing in all that rock dust kills the men that work in the depths.”
She put her hands on her hips, “So this is a solution to a non-problem?”
I closed my eyes, “They may be criminals, but they are still men.” I could hardly believe Nana had said something so rude.
“Why are you working on this?”
“I must do something or I’ll die. Since the Arms shop I worked in burned down, I decided to create something.”
“Well come and eat, you can play with your rubber monstrosity later.”
After lunch a runner showed up with a sealed letter for me. I paid him an eighth coin tip and closed the door. My name was written in fancy script on the front, and the back was dominated by a wax seal that read. Fredrico Falkenrath Grand Magus.
The envelope was made of expensive paper; the seal was thick red wax, with a couple short purple ribbons sticking out of it. I stood there staring at it I was too stunned to open it. I had just received an official letter from not just any Magus, but from the head of the Magus council.
I sat down in the parlor next to the smoke damaged piano. As I reached in my pocket for my folding knife Marinda came down the stairs holding the baby. He was gurgling happily.
“What’cha got there Vic?” She asked.
I was glad Nana hadn’t heard her butchering of the Velderland toungue, “A sealed letter from the Magus council.”
“Really? Wow that is so sharp! Why don’t you open it?”
I stared at the letter and then back at the young woman, “I… I am afraid I might not like what it contains.”
“Nonsense Vic!” She shifted the child in her arm, carful to cradle his head in her elbow, “Give’er here an’ I’ll open it.”
“No, I need to do it; I just need a breath or two.”
“Come on, I can read it to ya. Since you’re bein’ a big baby about it.”
I reluctantly handed her the letter, maybe hearing it from someone else’s voice would blunt the impact.
I took the baby while she worked at the seal with my knife. I hadn’t held many infants in my time and was rather uncomfortable holding something so fragile. Then I remembered he had survived falling from the third floor of a house so he couldn’t be too delicate.
“Victor is your knife dull? I can’t cut through this seal.”
That was strange, “No I can shave with it. See.” I showed her my left arm where patches of hair had been cut testing the edge of my blade.
She redoubled her efforts with the knife but couldn’t detach the seal from the paper.
“Give it here.”
We traded the letter and baby again. I easily slid my knife under the seal opening the letter.
“I musta loosened it for ya.”
“Must have, and you.” Nana corrected the girl from the kitchen.
I flipped the letter open, The script was well written, the lines were flowing and clean. Not one extra splotch of ink was to be found.
You are hereby summoned to Magorum University of Vassar at once. Your presence is required for the defense of our nation against the scourge of Skajistan.
Heretofore you were deemed unfit for enrollment in Magus training. Recent events have allowed the council to put a blind eye toward your past indiscretions. Inasmuch you must pledge your honor to Velderland and the order of the Magus Pictorus.
We do not take this action lightly. Few in the history of our order have ever been afforded such latitude. Magus Cooke has vouched for your character, failure on your part shall reflect poorly upon her.
Be prepared to leave your current residence by daybreak on the morrow. A carriage will be dispatched for your travel to the University. Enclosed is a list of the personal items and equipment you will require.
I sat stunned; I reread the summons over and over. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to be a Magus even if they were “drafting” me. I would be with Carolyn. Well at least near her. I imagined the scandal it would cause if an Initiate and a Magus were… together.
As I poured over the letter a new sentence appeared and vanished as quickly as it came.
If you hurt her, you will beg me for a quick death.
I tasted bile, someone knew about my feelings for Carolyn, and he. I assumed he, cared for her dearly, her father perhaps? It didn’t sound like an idle threat either. What was I getting myself into?
Nana was happy for me but she cried, I had lived with her like an adopted son for years.
I spent most of my remaining funds buying the items I didn’t have on my list; brushes, slates, copious amounts of paper and practice inks.
The next day we stood on the doorstep as the carriage driver loaded my bags. The second man carried an Olsen Coach, an intimidating double barrel shotgun.
“Victor, be safe, and don’t forget to visit on your leave. I still have yet to meet Magus Carolyn.”
“Yes Nana, I will.” I said as I wrapped my arms around her.
“Good riddance, one less body takin’ up room.” Marinda said with a wink, as she handed me a small leather pouch.
Once on the carriage I opened it and found a small collection of glass marbles. I wasn’t sure why she had given them to me but since they were brightly colored, maybe I could trade them to some of the younger Initiates.
After a few minutes the carriage stopped in front of a well-to-do house in a better neighborhood. I was puzzled; I figured we were going straight to the University. Before I could protest to the driver the door opened and a young lad not much older than eleven or so climbed into the carriage.
He looked at me with obvious disdain, and put his head back out the door. “Driver there must be some mistake this carriage is occupied by some… commoner.”
“Begging your pardon sir, but the city is short on carriages due to the Skaji attacks.”
“Fine, but I’m going to lodge a complaint with your company master as soon as I arrive at the university.”
I resisted the urge to kick the brat off the step and into the street.
He came inside and sat across from me. He wore fine clothing; his family obviously had plenty of coin to their name. He looked like he still had baby fat in his cheeks. With the look he gave me I immediately began to dislike him.
“Where are you going?” He asked sounding like he hoped I’d be out of HIS carriage at the next street.
I crossed my arms, “The University, to start Magus training.” The carriage began moving.
He made a noise that I could only interpret as disbelief, “Aren’t you a bit old and… common to become a Magus?”
He looked down his nose at me, which was quite a feat since I sat much higher than he. “Dirty commoners don’t become Magii, and they certainly don’t train fat heads as old as you.”
“Listen here snot nose, not all of us are born with a dam silver spoon in our mouths. If you think you’re better than me because you’ve got yourself a rich daddy you’ve got another thing coming.”
He yawned; I really had to concentrate to keep my fists from burying themselves into the boy’s nose.
Why didn’t you teach the brat a lesson?
I didn’t want to bring shame to Carolyn. Shh, we’re getting to some good stuff here.
“You bore me commoner.”
“My job was to make weapons, not entertain over privileged brats.”
“How dare you talk to me in that manner. Who do you think I am?”
I grunted, “You’re the son of a rich man, you never had to work a day in his life. You’re soft, your head is full of bird droppings, that your private tutors shoveled in your ear. Or am I wrong?”
He sat stunned; he had obviously grown up sheltered with servants he treated like dirt. “Stop the carriage!” He yelled.
It kept moving I smiled, “I guess the driver is a bit hard of hearing. Too bad.”
He reached for the door handle, so I grabbed his arm. “Sit down Spoon.”
“Unhand me ruffian!”
“Do you really want to fall out of the carriage into the street and crack your skull?” I said as I pushed him back into the leather seat.
“I’ll have you jailed for touching me!”
“Oh shut up Spoon.”
“My name’s not Spoon! Why do you insist on calling me that anyway?”
“You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, were you not?”
He held his wrist and pouted. Thankfully he kept quiet most of the way to the University.
As we approached the gates he whimpered, “My name is Richard, Richardsen, not Spoon.”
Man Victor, you can be a jerk if you want too.
Only to those who act as worthless at that brat.
But come on, he’s just a kid.
Better he learn humility early then isn’t it.
The carriage stopped and the guard, who had called me Apron, recognized me after a double take. I smiled and he shook his head as he waved the carriage through the gate.
Up ahead the towers of the Vassar University Magorum shined in the early morning sunlight.