The Wizard – Entry 11

“Reil. I want you to give this your all, understood?” Ars withdrew another large syringe for Reil and administered the medicine. Reil nodded in acknowledgement. “You heard me describe the exam already, and I know you will do well. You are an exceptional student. But on orders of the Commander, you must not tell Alden how you did on this exam. I’m sure you’re tired of all the secrecy, but it is beyond your control. When you see Mr. Vitters next, you will explain to him you were able to keep the crystal glowing for a solid minute. He’ll believe you and congratulate you, as that is a truly top mark for this exam. And that is all you will tell him. Are we understood, Reil?”

          “Yes sir, Master Ars,” Reil held back his frustration with yet another secret he had to keep, yet another lie he had to tell his friend, and steeled his face. His curiosity towards the exam was far greater than his discontent however, and Reil quickly lost focus on anything except the purple crystal in front of him.

          “Remember, start with Soul. The changes will be swift, you must be swifter.”

          Reil felt a chill through his whole body, and could hear a faint chanting in the back of his mind. Ever so soft and comforting, words from ancient times with no meaning to anyone alive, every one of his muscles contracting at once. To cast with Magic was an experience like nothing else, yet it had its limits. Casting too often without breaks was said to cause extreme nausea, headaches, and general unease. Reil himself had only ever felt the pleasure.

          In an instant, the crystal bolted upright and rose a few inches into the air above the hands of the Master Trainer. A glow poured out and fought back the dim shadows of the room. Ars closed his eyes to protect them from the blinding light. The crystal began to spin at impossible speeds and winds swept around the outskirts of the room, whipping up papers and books.

          Almost as soon as it had started, it was over. The crystal exploded in the air, sending pieces cutting through the air before disintegrating into a purple dust. The room darkened back to its previous level of light and the winds died. Master Ars slowly opened his eyes and surveyed the surroundings, scooping up a pinch of the dust that had been the crystal only seconds before.

          Falling to a kneeling position, Reil felt the chill of casting leave his body, to be replaced by a hint of soreness in his muscles and the beginnings of a mild headache. He was not sure what had happened, only that he obeyed Master Ars and put more Soul into his cast than he had put in all his lessons the whole week.

          The Master Trainer looked speechless, but only for a moment. He quickly gathered his wits and moved to the front door to the training room, locking it. His eyes glowed as he cast and he moved papers and books that had been strewn across the room back into neat stacks along the back wall. He looked at Reil with an expression the young man had never seen from the trainer before; fear.

          “Are you ok, Reil? Do you feel weak?” Ars moved to grab another injection from the first aid kit along the wall.

         “No no, I’m fine. I don’t need an injection. In fact I could keep casting right now,” to demonstrate his point, Reil sent the pinwheel on the other side of the room spinning at a dazzling pace.

          Ars seemed to not believe Reil, reaching forward and taking his pulse on his wrist. “Your heart rate,” the man scratched his neck, muscles rippling with every motion. “Well, it’s fine. Like you went for a light jog, maybe.”

          “Did I… Um,” Reil didn’t know how much those crystals cost and wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer to his own question. “Did I fail the exam? I really am sorry for breaking the crystal, I just did as you told me to.”

          The Master Trainer looked at him with a blank expression for a moment, before bending over with a hand on his stomach and then throwing his head back in a howl of laughter. “Fail? Fail!” The laughter was contagious and Reil found himself huffing a few giggles. “Fail? No no no, you most certainly did not fail. You just did what no one else has ever done before. Reil, you passed the exam in a way we didn’t think possible.”

          Reil remained in shock of what had happened during his exam, and he could tell Ars was still shaken up as well. Am I truly that powerful? Is this why I have to keep everything so secret? Reil was beginning to piece together that the casting he performed to get he and Cent onto the Everlight was far, far stronger than any other Wizard’s first cast.

          While he and the Master Trainer worked together to clean up the room from the explosion and put papers back in their correct order, a surprise visitor got the two men to jump up and salute. Commander Et’Hon Roshen strode into the room and nodded at Reil and Ars, allowing them to lower the salute.

           “I see Reil has proved his strength yet again,” Roshen cast a chair of air and sat back on what appeared to be nothing, as if he was floating. “I always monitor this room with a special mixture of Aspects I came up with awhile back, it lets me know when the Magic used in this room exceeds a certain limit. Never has the monitor alerted me of anything, until just a few moments ago.”

          Wringing his hands behind his back, Reil worried what it might mean that he was able to alert even Roshen with his powers. With a war such as the one currently raging across the systems in progress, it was easy to see why an empire would want such a powerful Wizard among their ranks, as well as why they’d like to keep that Wizard a secret. Reil was not sure he wanted to be used as a weapon.

          “You have a Soul Limit right now, at the beginning of your journey into Magic, greater than the Limit I posses. Greater than the Soul Limit of a Master Wizard who has undergone hundreds of years of training and teaching at the Wizard’s Guild of the Olitheren System. You have read about Soul Limits by now, correct Reil?” The Commander’s cool face gave away no emotions, if not simple amusement.

          “Yes sir, Commander. It is the amount of Soul a Wizard can cast without rest and without aid of injections or casting-armor,” Reil recited the knowledge he had read his second night of studying under Master Ars. More Soul than Commander Roshen? That can’t be possible. Reil had to fight the urge to let his jaw hit the floor.

          “Reil, I do not wish to put too much on your plate at once, especially not after all that happened in Feldrin.” The Commander played with a ball of fire in his hands, making it dance in wondrous shapes. Abruptly the flames cut out, “but I simply cannot sit idly by and train you at the standard pace. It is clear you are able to learn far faster than most, and I fear I must push you to whatever limit it is that you may have. Normally I’d love nothing more than to send you off to the most prestigious Wizard’s Guild in the Galaxy and have you brought up with the greatest minds of our Cycle, but there is a war going on Reil. A war that threatens to end all life, and you might just be the key to turning the tides.

          “Though Al’Mathria is strong and fighting back GavFed armies each day, there is no doubt that the Federation is currently winning this war. We need someone with powers nobody has ever seen before, someone to lead our soldiers on the field of battle and give them hope. Reil… you can be that person. But I need you to be on board with this.”

          Reil shivered as he felt the air around him grow cold, almost as if it was hardening and ice crystals were pressed against his skin. All sounds other than Roshen’s voice sounded muted and the lights seemed to dim further. “Will you accept our training, Reil? Will you help me end this war?”

          Ignoring the Magic radiating from Roshen, Reil took a deep sigh, blowing out his fears and anxieties into the cold air and pushed his chest out. “I do not want to be a weapon for Al’Mathria, or for anyone, Commander. But as a dear friend once told me, ‘sometimes the most humane thing to do in a conflict is to end it swiftly.’ And I believe the War is one of those things that must come to an end sooner rather than later. I will accept accelerated training, and I will fight for Al’Mathria, but I do require one condition. When he is healed, Cent will be trained as an officer and will fight by my side in any and all conflicts we are called to endure.”

          Noticing the slightly surprised look from Roshen, and the obviously surprised look from Master Ars, Reil realized he had involuntarily been casting when he spoke, amplifying his voice and allowing his eyes to glow brightly in the dim training room. How did I do that?

          “It will be done, Reil. That is all we have to talk about tonight, I must convene with my colleagues, including Master Ars now. Please, go to your quarters and rest, take the night off and enjoy yourself. We will discuss your new training plan tomorrow at six, in my chambers. I will have breakfast ready when you arrive, no need to go to the mess hall.” The Commander had a smile now, but his gaze was not on Reil. He looked off, his eyes focused on something that was not there. Et’Hon Roshen was handed the ultimate weapon, and his gaze was fixed on the future.

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The Wizard – Entry 10

Reil ran a hand through his messy blond hair as he sat half awake in the mess hall waiting for breakfast to be served. An equally tired man, six years Reil’s senior, sat across from him with his face in his hands.

          “I don’t believe any of the Suns in the Galaxy are up on any planet at this Lightless time,” the young man groaned through a covered mouth.

          “I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be rested,” Reil mumbled as he slumped in his chair.

          It had been six days since Reil woke up in the medical bay of the Everlight, and four days since he started his training with Ars, the Master Trainer aboard the ship. One more day until Cent was woken from his medically-induced hibernation. Three more days until Reil’s twenty-first birthday. Four more days until Reil’s date with Erica. It was a big week.

          The young man across from him was named Alden Vitters, twenty-six years old and Reil’s only partner in the Wizard training program. He had silver and black hair, wavy and cut just around his shoulder-length with faintly golden eyes. He was jovial, if a bit melodramatic, into literature and poetry, and Light-blessedly awful at casting.

          In the four days of the program, Reil had proceeded to surprise Ars with his ability to catch on to lessons almost immediately, while Alden was still on their very first assignment, which was to alter the wind and cause a plastic pinwheel to spin three full rotations.

          At first, Reil dreaded his future as a Wizard, but the Commander and Federico had given him a couple days to get used to the idea. In that time, Federico and Gaspard tried desperately to get him to understand that importance of his using his powers correctly, how they could lead to scientific advances, and help end the war ever sooner.

          In the end, only one thing got through to Reil, and it was something Roshen had said. “Reil, accept this training. A wizard is worth a hundred Destroyers, and a Wizard with your potential is worth a million. Accept this training, and when you are strong enough, I give you my word… You will help me lead Al’Mathria to a victory at Taiath’Rhowar. You will take back your homeworld.”

          It was the motivation Reil needed, and every night since, he had dreamed of sending the GavFed soldiers retreating back into the depths of space and him standing once more peacefully in the dark growth of the Alvennis.

          In addition to his revenge fantasies, the training was the best way he had found for taking his mind off of the darker aspects of his life. Worrying about Cent’s condition was harder when he was fully focused on Magic, as was worrying about what had happened to Victoria. Even more so it helped Reil stop thinking about his last moments with Quentin. It wasn’t that he wanted to forget those moments, but remembering them was too painful. It wasn’t just Quentin, but the entire family he had found at the Thief House. The memory of Brody’s body splattering on the concrete still woke Reil up at night with sweat on his face.

          Training had been a far more exhausting process than he initially expected; waking up earlier than he ever had before and staying awake long into the night studying texts and instructional books. Reil was happy to have Alden with him for the experience however, as the man’s over exaggerated quotes of Pelicar and Kilearn’s poetry during their eighth straight hour of casting or studying rarely failed to get him to smile.

          While he resisted in the beginning, Reil had begun to enjoy his progress in Magic. Casting wore him out, but it also made him feel more alive than he had since he was taken from Taiath’Rhowar at only eleven years old.

          Since that day, Reil had lived his life trying to maintain as much control over it as possible. That was one of the biggest reasons he chose the thief life back in Feldrin when there were plenty of options for him as a legal employee of one factory or another.

          With the war upon them, it felt like Reil no longer had any control, that is until he began exercising his ability in Magic. Casting allowed him to single-handedly alter the world around him and make things how he wanted them to be. Making the pinwheel spin was only the beginning, and each consecutive trial felt better and better. Folding a piece of cardboard into a U-shape without touching it, opening a can of Fizz, and the most recent trial of lighting a candle.

          “Eat up, boys. And don’t be leaving no scraps like last time, Master Ars told me to shove ‘em down ya throats if I had ta’.” Elith, the mess supervisor, was an older lady from the Colonies, as they were called; a group of planets in an almost entirely inhospitable System with claims from over ten empires within it. A dust storm destroyed all crops on Elith’s home planet and she emigrated to Al’Mathria when no help came.

          “Yes ma’am,” both men echoed. Reil began shovelling the food into his mouth, fighting to even breathe between bites. Ars had he and Alden eating three times as much as the mess hall gave as standard protocol. Casting without an extremely high calorie diet and energy injections before and after lessons could be deadly.

          Reil personally didn’t feel as though his body required the injections, though Alden claimed that the post-casting shots made him feel like he had come back from the dead. Reil chalked it up to being more in shape than Vitters thanks to his time as a thief.

          “I’m gonna go pop by Cent’s med-room before lessons. Meet ya there,” Reil forced the last scrap of food into his mouth and unbuttoned the top button of his pants before darting off to the medical bay. It had become his ritual to stop by Cent’s room each day; seeing his best friend was comforting, and he would get a glimpse of Erica and maybe even a quick “hello” in before she had to see another patient.

          It felt odd to Reil, feeling the way he did about Erica. Sure he’d flirted with his fair share of girls in Feldrin, but it was always just playful. He knew that Lyrin was the only girl for his Heart, and whether she survived the GavFed bombings or not didn’t change that. But for once, he found himself introducing Erica to the Alvennis in his dreams, instead of walking through it with Lyrin. Even the knowledge that Lyrin possibly survived and was a GavFed slave couldn’t quite get Reil to stop thinking about the hiccup-plagued young nurse.

          Finding his way through the layers of sliding doors and well-lit signage, Reil finally stopped for a breath next to Cent’s body, resting in medically-induced stasis. “Hey buddy, since you can’t defend yourself right now I’m just gonna come out and say it. I could beat you into the Vein of Light any day of the week. And I’m taller than you,” Reil smiled at his childish ways. Cent had that effect on him, apparently even when the thief was unconscious.

          “That’d be terribly lame coming from most people, but from you, it was pretty cute.” Erica let her hand brush against Reil’s as she walked past him to extract the data from Cent’s stasis chamber. “You’re friend is doing well, his body is a lot stronger than we initially calculated,” no hiccups were present when the nurse told good news.

          “As per protocol, we’re still keeping him in stasis until the original date programmed, but when he wakes up, physical therapy should be much shorter than anticipated. Perhaps as little as five days,” Ms. Ashe smiled brightly at Reil.

          “That’s wonderful news. Thank you so much, Erica. For helping ease my mind on so many things,” Reil tried to casually run his hand through his hair, but got caught on a thick knot. “And for still being my friend despite how thick headed I am.” They both laughed as Reil carefully detangled his hand from the forest of blonde.

          “No need for thanks, you’ve helped make my time here better than I ever expected. And I’m very excited to hear your opinions of life aboard the Everlight over coffee soon. It can be a bit,” she searched for the word, blowing a strand of hair out of her eyes, “harsh, sometimes. And you especially must be busy as a Wizard in-training.”

          “Oh Mother, training. I gotta run, Master Ars will have me ejected off into space if I don’t get over there fast. Great to see you again, our coffee date is all that’s keeping me going through these training lessons.” Reil rushed off, hoping to Yvesu he wouldn’t be late. He also got stressed every time someone brought up his being a Wizard.

          That alone was a huge deal, doubly so during the largest war in the history of the Cycle. It was obvious everyone would know about his training and who he was, but he also knew he couldn’t disclose what had happened the day he landed on the Everlight, and that he was forbidden from even talking about the details of his training.

          Reil walked a fine line between having near celebrity status as a training Wizard, while at the same time having to make sure no one figured out the details of his abilities. He had never met a Wizard before this time, so he had nothing to go off of, but he had to assume there was something different about his entrance into Magic.

          No one had told him that pulling himself toward a star cruiser, and partially pulling a star cruiser toward him, was an extremely uncommon way for a Wizard to discover his powers. Reil had always been told stories of how immensely powerful Wizards were, it seemed obvious that in a time of great stress he’d have been able to do what he did.

          The young Wizard in-training arrived at the training room fully ready for a nap, but knowing his day had only just begun. A walking mass of muscle with tanned skin and no hair named Ars barked a greeting to Reil when he saw him.

          “You look tired, princess. I imagine it’s from all the extra studying you chose to do last night and not from rushing here from seeing that nurse.” Ars grinned a wide smile as Reil dropped his head in shame. “Don’t be so embarrassed. A meek man never won the woman. Keep at her, son, just don’t let it interrupt your training.”

          “Yes, Master Ars,” Reil shed his shirt, it would get drenched in sweat during lessons anyways, and lined up next to Alden.

          “Today we have something a bit different. You still have your usual lessons that you’ll be working on through today, but to start with you’ll be taking a sort of assessment test, to let me get an idea of where your ability stands now after a short introduction. We’ll then repeat this test every three months to judge how effective your training is, and build off of that information.” Ars opened a small metal box in his hand, eyes glowing slightly as he cast the lock open.

          It was a common way for Wizards to secure things, by adding a lock that could only be opened by casting. Master Ars removed a purple crystal from the box, holding it in one hand and casting the box off onto a shelf against the back wall.

          “This is your test. As I explained to you these past few days, casting Magic requires the use of three Aspects of yourself, your Heart, Soul, and Spirit. Reil, which Aspects would you use to alter the wind?”

          Reil answered quickly, remembering moving the pinwheel for the first time, “Soul to initiate the alteration, and Spirit to strengthen it, if you need to. Sir,” he almost always forgot the “sir” at the end of an answer.

          “Very good. Alden, which Aspects would you use to cast fire?”

          “Soul to initiate the alteration, then Heart to start burning the fire. Spirit would be used to strengthen the fire if needed, though with a strong enough Heart, you can cast more fire without the use of Spirit, sir.” That was the lesson Reil was currently on, and the first time he had to use all three Aspects at once. He hadn’t succeeded yet.

          “Correct. What do both of those, and all casting, have in common? Soul. That is how all casting is initiated. Casting is a way of striking a deal with Mother Yvesu herself. You give part of you in exchange for part of Her. She is everything in the Universe, and by altering anything beyond what it normally can be altered, a trade is required.

         “As you have shown you know, Spirit can be used to strengthen a cast after it has already been initiated. When you use Soul to begin the cast, depending how much you put into the initial cast is directly related to how much alteration Mother Yvesu gives you. If you need more than what you started with for any reason, using your Spirit, you can trade for more power.

          “Heart is for directing your cast in a particular manner. You can not cast fire without Heart, as your cast will begin as a simple alteration of whatever you are casting at. For example, if you were simply casting at the air, you’d only be able to alter the air. You’d be able to move it, causing wind, or stop it, possibly causing a halt to a tornado. You can take it away, removing the ability for someone to breathe, or concentrate more in an area, giving yourself an easier time breathing in a situation of high altitude. If you cast at a tree, you’d be able to kill leaves, or bring them up from a wilt. With enough power you’d be able to break branches or even cause the entire tree to die and crack apart.

          “But Heart, Heart allows change. If you cast at a candle for example, with Soul you could break the candle apart, unwind the fibers of the wick, and so forth. But with the addition of Heart, you could add in heat to the equation, and ignite a fire on the wick.” Ars demonstrated by lighting the candle at the far end of the room, then extinguishing it.

          “You already knew that, but the knowledge will be important for this assessment test. You will be casting at this crystal,” the Master Trainer held out the crystal in his palm, giving Reil and Alden a good look. It was small, each face being only two or three inches wide by Reil’s guess, and simple. Just eight sides, four on top and four on bottom, all the same shape and size.

          “You will begin with Soul, as always. You will try to simply alter the crystal; not in any way in particular, just cast with as much Soul as you can. I’ll be giving you much stronger injections today before the test, so you can cast with much more vigor that I normally let you. I want you to put your all into this.

          “The more you cast, the more this crystal will begin to glow. Once casting, you will feel a connection to this crystal, as you feel toward all things you use Magic on. You will feel it change at a moderate speed. As it changes, you will have to change your casting technique. At first all it will require is Soul, then it may require Heart to keep the light glowing, then maybe it will switch to Spirit, or Heart and Spirit, or all three at once.

          “Your success on this examination will be determined by both how long you can keep the crystal glowing, and how brightly.” Ars cast a stool toward him and took a set. “We’ll begin with you Alden.”

          Vitters nodded, taking a deep breath, as if he could breathe out all his anxiety. Reil had been trying to teach him his tricks to calming down, but Alden seemed to be perpetually nervous whenever he was working with Magic. He stepped forward and Reil moved back as he never quite felt comfortable around his friend’s attempts at casting.

          Master Ars leaned forward to give Alden an energy injection, the syringe tube being far larger than the usual ones Reil had been used to for lessons. “Now focus, Alden. Cast Soul directly at the crystal. It won’t take much at first, even less than moving a pinwheel,” the Master Trainer spread both hands and allowed the crystal to sit right in the middle.

          Reil watched intently as Alden’s eyes gave off the telltale glow of casting. The crystal had previously been resting on its side but slowly tilted into an upright position in the middle of Ars’s hands. The smallest of flickers of light turned on and off in the center, like sparks from scraping steel along a piece of flint.

          Abruptly, the crystal dimmed and fell back over in Ars’ hand before lifting back up. “The shift in Aspects is a fast one, Alden. Keep up.” Alden nodded his head, sweat pouring forth from his forehead and his brow knotted in concentration. Reil had no way of knowing how the test was scored, if it even was scored. He wasn’t sure if Alden was doing well or doing poorly, but he did know that he was ready for his turn.

          In short time, Vitters stumbled as one of his legs gave out under him. He quickly caught himself and even tried to keep casting at the crystal, but Ars quickly called an ending to the exam. Muscle failure while casting was a sign your body was nearing its limit. Casting Magic required direct extraction of a Wizard’s life; Soul, Heart, and Spirit. Without time to recover, casting was fatal.

          “You did well Alden. I’ll be writing up a report of your exam for the Commander tonight. Go take a rest, and don’t forget your second injection, you used a lot of energy today,” the Master Trainer handed Alden a small slip from his back pocket. “Go by the library and check out this book. It’ll be your reading assignment for today. Whenever you finish it, which I fully anticipate to be before seven o’clock tonight, you will come back here and keep working on the pinwheel.”

          Alden nodded sleepily and stumbled away towards his quarters. Reil hadn’t seen Vitters that tired any of the days of lessons prior. Time to find out what I’m made of.

The Wizard – Entry 9

Soft whirring sounds and muted beeps filled Reil’s ears as he slowly came to in the medical bay. Sighing and shifting his weight forward, Reil scanned the room with a groggy mind and heavy eyelids.

          “Feel free to take a walk around, the medicine may have you feeling groggy, but your ribs are all patched up and ready to go!” A perky voice chirped from a young woman in a standard medical gown.

          “Thanks. Say, how long have I been out?” Reil slid his legs off the sides of the bed and tested his feet out with some stretches.

          “Two days,” the woman said as she walked forward to remove an IV from Reil’s arm. “You could’ve been up sooner but it seems like those poor ribs of yours had already been broken before you fell onto the Everlight. We had to make sure they were a hundred percent before we let you up. Standard protocol.” Her smile made Reil smile back, despite how tired he felt.

          “Yea, I really gotta get to treating them better,” Reil huffed a laugh and the nurse just smiled wider. “Do you know how Cent is doing? My friend, that is. Black hair, pale green eyes, big ol’ ears?” That got a laugh out of the woman this time.

          “So that’s his name. Our facial scanner’s database had nothing on him, and he had no identification card on him. Well, not his own at least, he had one of a man named Dan’Avik however, but according to our information that man was dead around the time of the terrorist attack.” The nurse finished removing the IV from Reil and handed him a packet of pills, “my condolences, if you knew that man. Also, take two of those a day for three days, it’ll get rid of the grogginess.”

          Reil finally stood up and stretched his back out. “Thanks. Cent though, is he alright?”

          The woman looked away, “he’ll most likely recover. But,” the nurse sighed, “well… He’ll be out for another week, maybe more. And when he wakes up there’ll be about three weeks of physical therapy to get him back to his previous level of health.” The nurse hiccuped, which sounded more like a squeak, “sorry, I always get the hiccups when I have to tell bad news. Anyway, a piece of shrapnel lodged itself in your friend’s spine. Even though we have the best medical equipment in the nearby Systems on this cruiser, that’s a bad injury. Really bad.”

          At the last words, the hiccups turned into a stifled cry. Reil moved forward and put his hand on the nurse’s shoulder. “Thank you for telling me. I’m sure you’re doing all you can,” Reil lowered his head to look her in the eyes. “Thank you, from the bottom of my Heart.”

          The nurse quickly pulled in Reil for a hug. “Don’t tell anyone I did that, I could get in big trouble. It’s just I’m a training medical student and I didn’t expect my first experience to be coming to help clean up one of the largest terrorist attacks in the last year. It can be overwhelming.”

          Reil brushed back the nurse’s short-cut blonde hair to look at her eye to eye. “I can imagine, and I know the feeling of being overwhelmed. It feels like in the last week everything I’ve ever known has been taken from me.” He sighed deeply and looked at the woman’s powerfully dark green eyes, such a stark contrast from her light hair and pale skin. “What do you say to us getting a coffee and complaining about how messy our lives are sometime soon?”

          The young woman sniffled, “I’d say that sounds pretty nice. I’m warning you though,” another hiccup, “with all these injured people from Feldrin, I won’t have any free time for this coffee with you for another week, minimum.”

          “Fine by me,” Reil flashed her a comforting smile. “So who do I ask for next time I want to come check in on you?”

          The nurse returned his smile as she pulled away from the hug and smoothed out her medical gown. “Erica Ashe. Now, sorry to end a lovely conversation but I have to go check in on a man who lost his left leg.” With that, Erica rushed off out a door, blushing quite prettily.

          Hitting on a woman right after waking up in a medical bay, Reil chuckled to himself, Luke would have been proud. There was just something about the young nurse that comforted Reil, and captivated his attention.

          Reil popped two of the pills in his mouth and set off to figure out what would happen now that he was under protection of Al’Mathria. Leaving Feldrin was all a bit of a blur, and Reil couldn’t remember how they got from the Docks onto the ship. The last thing he remembered clearly was an explosion going off when he and Cent jumped, but it didn’t make sense to him how they would have made it onto the Everlight. The blast had thrown them into the sky and rocked the ship out even further from the Docks.

          The Wizard! He must have been able to alter the air to get us onto the ship. I hope he’s alright. Reil cracked his knuckles in worry over both Cent’s condition and the Wizard who had saved them. He would never be able to forgive himself if a fully trained Wizard had lost his life helping Reil; Wizards were all too valuable in the war. He’d heard people say that a masterful Wizard was worth a hundred Destroyers, and after yesterday’s display of power, Reil believed it.

          Before Reil could find his way out of the medical bay and onto someone who could provide answers, a startled doctor hustled over to him from down the hall. She was an older woman with graying hair and wise eyes, “Oh, Reil. I was not aware you were awake, Ms. Ashe was supposed to inform me immediately,” the woman jotted down a note on her clipboard, “the Commander wishes to see you right away. I’ll call for a guard to show you the way.”

          With no times for questions the doctor hurried away, Reil didn’t even see or hear her call for anyone. Whether she did or not, a guard appeared right away and began walking right past Reil, “come, the Commander will see you now.”

          Reil fell in beside the hulking guard, standing an easy six foot six and bulging out of his shirt sleeves. He wondered if there was a reason such a massive man was chose to escort him. The Al’Mathrin’s seem like good people, but this is beginning to feel hostile. Reil tried and failed to casually wipe sweat off his forehead.

          The walk to the Commander’s quarters was silent, and they saw not a single person along the way. Reil tried to calm his nerves by picturing Taiath’Rhowar and games of hide and seek with Lyrin. The flat metal walls and the hum of the titanic engines powering the cruiser were not the warmest nor most welcoming of environments.

          Finally the guard stopped at a wide metal door marked with a red symbol etched and painted into the door in what Reil had to assume was ancient Al’Mathrin characters. It was common practice for different systems to embrace and even celebrate their ancient languages and traditions before the Unification and the switch to a single, common language among the Galaxy.

          The guard walked away back down the hall silently and Reil nearly jumped at the hiss as the door slid open. He was painfully on edge as he walked into the Commander’s personal study.

          “Ah, Reil,” the man speaking was cloaked in a rich silk kimono with scholar’s bands on the sleeves indicating immense academic and intellectual achievement. He must have been the Everlight’s resident researcher. “My associates and I were just engaging in a wondrous discussion about you.”

          Reil didn’t even know the man and already disliked him. His voice dripped with arrogance and his nose was tipped up while he spoke. “Hello, yes um, I was told I was to see the Commander immediately after I woke up in the medical bay.”

          “Oh yes indeed. And the Commander is just delighted to be able to have this conversation. He is fetching a cigar for himself at the moment but this will be quite the pleasant surprise when he comes back,” the scholar took a draw of a cigar himself and motioned toward the large cushioned chair next to him. “Please, do sit down my friend.”

          You’re not my friend, Reil thought as he met the man’s eyes. The scholar watched him with eyes like a bird of prey. “It seems like everyone on this ship already knows who I am. Who might I be speaking with?” He tried to not sound as nervous and confused as he really was.

          The richly clothed man gave a look of astonishment, as if Reil ought to have known who he was from first glance. “My name is Dr. Henry Gaspard the Fourth, Resident Researcher for the Everlight and Director of Research and Scientific Exploration of the great and powerful Al’Mathrin Empire.”

          Reil nearly gagged at the long winded title, but nodded politely and bowed slightly, hoping not to give offense that could land him in trouble with the people who saved his life. “Pleasure to meet you, sir.” The two shook hands despite Reil’s reluctance.

          “And my name is Federico Gonzalez, I am the Branch Director of Magic Studies here on the Everlight. I do hope you find comfort and peace aboard our vessel. And I apologize for the loss of any of the victims you might of known from the Gav’Rethil terrorist attack.” The tanned-skinned man with dark curls and light brown eyes bowed deeply from where he stood by a bookshelf.

          Reil liked this man far more, and could sense the authenticity of his empathy. “Thank you, I lost nearly everyone I know. Cent, the black haired young man that jumped on to this ship with me,” Reil took a breath, “was one of only two people I know who survived.”

          At that moment it occurred to Reil that Victoria had disappeared when he and Cent had helped out the medical staff in Franklin after the soldiers showed up. He had no idea if she made it out of the city or not. Mother, please let her be safe. I’ve lost enough already.

          “Gone to another Vein, banished from the Light. Yes, all very tragic,” Gaspard waved his hand almost as if to act as though the subject was done and over; unimportant. “But what is important here is that you survived, and came here! To this very ship! Oh the things we’ll learn together!” The scholar looked off into his own little world, not paying attention to Reil or Federico.

          Before either men could call out Gaspard on his incredible lack of manners, the Commander walked back into the cozy study with a lit cigar in his hand. He sat down on the largest of the chairs and blew out a puff of smoke in a clean circle.

          “It’s good to see you’re doing alright. You gave us all quite a shock with that maverick of a move the other day,” the gruff, powerful voice belonged to the very man that had saved Reil and Cent. The Wizard reached forward for a glass of what Reil assumed to be whiskey and gave him a smile.

          “I have many questions, and I’m sure both Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Gaspard do as well. But first, can I offer you a drink or a cigar? Anything at all,” the cool command of the room the Wizard held mesmerized Reil. His voice told any who heard him that armies would come to his banner him at any call.

          “Some coffee would be much appreciated, if you have any,” Reil was filled with relief to see the Wizard looked completely uninjured by the terrorist attack. He looked different without his casting-armor on, but there was no mistaking a man like the Commander.

          “Dr. Gaspard, would you kindly?” The Commander nodded off to the back of the room where an expensive looking coffee maker sat on a wooden end table. Gaspard looked offended that a man of his prestige would be asked to fetch coffee for a guest, but the Commander did not appear to be a man anyone disobeyed.

          “Got to take him down a notch whenever I can, I’m sure you already know what I mean,” The Wizard laughed as he whispered to Reil and Federico. “Now to begin with, my name is Commander Et’Hon Roshen of the Second Fleet, under rule of Queen Julen of the Sakken System and the Al’Mathrin Empire. You can just call me Commander. I am also a Master Wizard, of the Olitheren Wizard’s Guild. As I recall from looking over the database, you too are from the Olitheren System, correct Reil?”

          Reil nearly choked on his own breath, “that’s correct, sir. Have you ever visited Taiath’Rhowar? Do you have any news of it by chance?” Reil tried to keep some of the eagerness out of his voice, but it was hard when he was talking to the first person who had been to the Olitheren System since the day he was taken from his homeworld. Reil’s heart pounded against his chest like a hammer to an anvil.

          “I have, and I must say it is the most beautiful place I’ve ever had the honor of seeing with my own eyes. My condolences are endless to you, the bombing of Taiath’Rhowar was not just a loss to the Olitheren System, but to the entire Galaxy.” Both Roshen and Federico bowed their heads to Reil. “I do have news from there however. Al’Mathria has spies on the planet, they give us updates every four months, it’s the most often that they can do so without drawing attention to themselves.

          “The spies tell us that after the carpet bombing, small Terra-Shields were shot down onto the planet and GavFed soldiers began building barracks and training grounds. They say that the solar farming operation planets were not bombed as the Federation now uses the energy they produce to fuel their war machine. Drones were sent out into the wastes and captured any survivors, all of which are now used as slaves in the Terra-Shields, mainly working as miners.

          “I know this must be hard to hear, and I’d love to tell you that Al’Mathria could take back your planet right this moment, but it is not currently possible. The solar capture fields make the planet far too valuable and it is heavily guarded. The cost of lives and ships to retake Taiath’Rhowar would be incalculable. But I want you to know this Reil, Al’Mathria and its allies will end this war, and before it’s over, Taiath’Rhowar will be restored.”

          There was a silence as Reil took in the information laid out before him. Dr. Gaspard arrived with a feigned smile and set down a cup of coffee in front of Reil before sitting back down on his chair with a poorly concealed huff.

          “Thank you,” Reil didn’t say it to either Gaspard or Roshen particularly. “So some people survived the bombings? Do you,” it was difficult to talk about, but Lyrin was burning in his mind, “know if any of the survivors were natives?”

          “Yes, but not many. Only thirty three of the two hundred Great Forest communities produced survivors, and of those thirty three, drones found only three or four survivors per community.” The Commander took a solemn drag of the cigar, “I assume you knew people who stayed during the bombings?”

          “My parents, and my closest friend. We lived in the Alvennis, there were only twenty four households in our community. No chance you’ve heard anything about the Alvennis?” Reil didn’t hold any hopes.

          “Not particularly, no. But I can request information about it next time we contact our spies. I’ll do that for you Reil, and it’s truly all I can do, though I wish I could do so much more.” The room went quiet for a while.

           “I do not mean to rush anything, but if you are up for it Reil, could we ask some questions about what occurred the day you came onto the Everlight?” Federico’s voice was cautious, treading lightly on such a delicate topic.

          “Well, you are probably better off asking soldiers who were on the loading bay than asking me,” Reil’s words were quiet, still recovering from the wealth of information about Taiath’Rhowar, and the thought that his parents or even Lyrin could have survived. “I remember almost nothing, and after I fell onto the ship I blacked out. Woke up for the first time just an hour ago or so.”

          “You don’t recall exactly how you came to be falling onto the loading bay, anything out of the ordinary that occurred, allowing you to jump that far of a distance?” Reil hated the way Gaspard leaned into his when he asked a question.

          “Well, to be honest the whole week has been ‘out of the ordinary,’ and the day of the terrorist attack was the worst of it. When we jumped off the Docks, the ship wasn’t all that far from us. Then I remember a bomb going off underneath me and everything when blurry for a bit. In the tumbling from the blast I figured my friend and I were just thrown up above the ship.” Reil scratched his head, searching for anymore details he could recall. “Is that… not what happened?”

          The Commander leaned back in his chair, all but forgetting about the cigar in his hand. He stared intently around the room, lingering on Reil. Federico interlaced his fingers with his eyebrows scrunched together tightly. “Think deep Reil, to the moments right after the explosion. You and Cent were far, far away from the Everlight, as the ship got hit by the blast even harder than you did. How did you get from where you were in the air, to the loading bay floors? You have to think very hard.”

          Reil sipped his coffee and retreated into his thoughts, replaying the events just before he blacked out on the Everlight’s loading bay. He saw the Everlight before him, getting ever closer. He saw the light turn an orange red as an explosion grew below him. He saw the sky twist and turn around him and his vision turn to gray. He saw the Everlight, so far away now, and he felt it getting further. He saw his hand outstretched, reaching for the massive cruiser. He felt a rush, and coldbumps covered his arms even while holding his hot coffee. He saw the ship jerk forward, and move closer to him, with everyone on the loading bay stumbling and struggling to stay upright, he felt himself accelerate through the air like he was flying towards the ship. Did another bomb go off on the other side of the ship? Was the Everlight hit by an enemy Destroyer?

          But deep within his Heart, Reil knew there was no Destroyer, no other bomb. He knew exactly how he made it closer to the ship and he knew that he had done it. Reil knew that he had used Magic.

          “It was me,” Reil set his coffee down with trembling hands. “I used Magic.”

 

~`’~

 

          The room was still, and curling tendrils of smoke and the smell of coffee and whiskey intertwined and danced in the air. Even the breathing of the room’s occupants could not pierce the silence, and any small sounds were eaten up by the thick carpet and rows of leather bound books.

          The Commander broke the quiet, his voice like a heavy sword. “That is correct Reil.”

          Gaspard looked as though he was ready to delve into his inevitable questionnaire for Reil, but a simple glance from Roshen closed the doctor’s lips instantly; Reil was thankful for it. Accepting that he had done such a thing shook his very core. Magic was the most deadly and feared skill in the Galaxy, religion itself taught against using Magic for anything other than holy purposes, and entire systems had been disintegrated by Wizards of old.

          Some say that the war was caused by the misuse of Magic. Wizards were not normal people, and they did not do normal things; they did not lead normal lives. They had immense power, capable of destroying anything they saw fit, with little in the way of governance. Wizards could make entire kingdoms bow down, and yet were explicitly restricted from ruling any empire or System. It was a compromise, but one neither side liked very much.

          “Though it may seem that way, not many on my ship know of the extent of your power. Even the guard who escorted you knew simply that I required a meeting with you. You will not speak of this to anyone who is not in this room save for one other,” the Commander finally took a draw of his neglected cigar. “The Master Trainer, who you will get to know in the coming weeks.”

          “Master Trainer…” Reil picked up his coffee and but not drink. He simply let the aroma rise to his nose and tried to process what had just happened. “Will I be trained? To use… Magic?” Mother, oh please sweet merciful Mother do not let this happen. I have no will to be a Wizard. Send me back to the Alvennis and I will worship you with my every breath.

          “Reil, please calm down, we mean you no harm,” Federico walked closer to Reil, extending a hand for comfort.

          Reil dodged the hand and slid his coffee cup back onto the table. He knocked over his chair as he rushed for the door, which thankfully slid open with a hiss at the last second. I won’t be a Wizard. I’ll just never use my Magic again. I won’t cause destruction, I won’t kill people who stand no chance against me. I wo-

          Upon rounding a corner of the metal-walled corridors of the Everlight, Reil slipped and crashed to the floor. Tears welled up in his eyes, but he forced them back down. He fully expected Roshen to come around the corner any second now and drag him to the Master Trainer.

          As he waited, curled into a fetal position on the cold flooring, Reil contemplated what his life would become now. Contemplated the process of being turned into a force of destruction and terror. Wizards could save lives, yes, but usually by ending others. That was not what Reil wanted.

          He waited, but no one came. He thought of getting up and going to find Erica, or maybe even the room where Cent was being held, just so he could be by someone he knew. Instead he decided on laying there on the floor. Even with the power to end worlds coursing through his Soul, Reil felt powerless. And so he stayed on the floor, afraid of what he would become. Afraid of what had already become of his life; so much lost and so much taken from him.

The Wizard – Entry 8

“We are safe in here for now. Let’s go to an informant of mine and see what the Darkness is going on here,” Victoria stared angrily at the smoke, as if the attack was not on Feldrin, but on her own person. Reil nodded in agreement to her plan, but when the two turned to look for Cent’s approval, they saw only his back as he sprinted toward the nearest door to the district. “Where in the Mother’s name is he going?”

          It took a second, but it clicked in Reil’s mind. “Of course,” he said in a whisper to himself, then louder to Victoria, “he’s going to the nearest gateway into Franklin. He’s going to try to get more people into the safety of the energy field.” Cent’s incredible empathy had a way of putting him in the most dangerous of situations, but he never thought twice about it. Reil on the other hand found himself having to save his friend from his own sense of duty on a far too regular basis.

          “Light damn this child. Let’s go!” Victoria and Reil took off after Cent, already rounding the corner of a street. The pair chased after, feet pounding on the cobblestone roads and stumbling every time another tremor shook the ground. Whatever was causing them wasn’t stopping, it was getting worse.

          By the time they arrived at the gate, the sight was enough to tear at any Heart. People in bloody rags and missing limbs screaming loud enough to pierce the soundproofing of the energy field stood pressed against the field. Alarms sounded from the attempted forceful entries by the citizens, but there were no guards to be seen. One raven haired young man stood at the gate, eyes on the hundreds of people piling on top of one another trying desperately to get in.

           Cent tried desperately to activate the Mass Entry option on his Identification Card, but the reader seemed to have been damaged in the attacks. Letting out a frustrated cry, Cent punched straight through the metal of the card reader, yanking out cables in a bloodied handful. He looked wildly at the colored wires, no idea which ones he needed to accomplish his goal. The cries of the citizens outside the field grew louder with each explosion behind them.

           “Reil, help me! We need to get them inside!” Cent’s cries were painful, and tears were developing in his eyes. Reil rushed to his friend’s side and looked at the mess of wires. He wished Luke had been there, the kid was the best with technology and was always making new inventions out of broken computers and scanners. Back in their time together, Luke had taught Reil quite a few things about electricity, in case he ever needed to escape a cell or break into a locked room during a mission.

          Light, let me use some of that information today. Reil grasped two thin green wires and a thick white one and knelt down to the floor. He grabbed a wire connector that had fallen from the ground when Cent destroyed the card reader. When it was functioning, displaying the ID card would have caused the automatic arm to press the connector between the three wires Reil now held. He tied the thin greens to one end of the connector, and clipped the opposite end to the white wire.

          The instant the connector bridged the three wires, people who had been pressed against the energy field fell through onto the streets of the Franklin District. Cent rushed forward lifting injured people up on each of his shoulders and calling out orders for guards who were only just beginning to arrive at the scene.

          It wasn’t until a soldier knelt next to Reil to help lift an injured citizen that he noticed just who these “guards” were. Emblazoned proudly on the chestpiece in green and gold was the crest of the Al’Mathrin Empire.

          Seeing Reil’s surprise, the guard effortlessly hefted the injured citizen over his shoulder and smiled, “don’t worry, kid. We’re the good guys.” He began to walk over to the medic station that had been erected, “you should make your way to the Docks, and quick. We’re using our ships to evacuate citizens. Go fast and don’t die.”

          Nodding, Reil dusted off his clothes and ran to get Cent. But Light, he’s never going to leave these people. The Al’Mathrin soldiers were doing a fast job of moving the people, placing those with minor inside a nearby building for protection from falling rubble, and those that were injured seriously were taken to the medics who operated under a small, moveable energy shield.

          Reil panted as he neared Cent, who was just dropping off another injured citizen at the medic station. “Cent, we need to go to the Docks. The Al’Mathrins are evacuating the city,” the pleading in Reil’s voice gave Cent a start.

          Cent looked around at the rubble, clearly trying to find a reason to stay, but the streets were cleared, if not covered in blood and dust, and even the medic station was being moved toward the building with the less injured. Nodding at a passing soldier, Cent looked to Reil and wiped off a streak of blood from his cheek, “Let’s go.”

         The two friends set out, Reil finally turning his coat off, and waved to the soldiers as they left. Between tired pants and the dodging of rubble, Cent talked of the Al’Mathrin men with awe, “those are the types of men I think of when I think of soldiers. Men of honor, who come to the rescue of the helpless, with nothing to gain from it. Those men are true soldiers. They are the ones who make a difference.”

          It became more and more apparent to Reil as to why Cent so quickly accepted his request for them to head to the Docks for evacuation. He wasn’t running from the injured citizens, he was running toward a way for him to help even more people. Cent was going to enlist in the Al’Mathrin army.

 

~`’~

 

          It was dark by the time the sweat covered pair got to the Docks, having run longer than they ever had before. Falling rubble, ion bombs, and the booming of cannons were good motivators to keep running. Cent skidded to a stop and tackled Reil to the ground as the blast of an ion cannon tore through the air above their heads and turned a skyscraper into a smoldering pile of concrete dust and flames.

          A massive Wallace-class Destroyer loomed in the night sky above the two friends, flames and explosions lighting up the smoke and cloud covered air. Targeting lights searched the city and small ion bombs rained down from above and collapsed entire districts of Feldrin.

          One of the targeting lights blinded Reil as it moved over him and Cent, the two of them covering their eyes and trying to make a run for safety.

          “Worry not friends, I will escort you to the evac location.” A loud voice filled with confidence sounded from behind Reil. He turned to look through squinted eyes and as soon as he saw who was talking, his eyes popped open and nearly jumped out of their sockets.

          It was a fully casting-armored Wizard, with both the crests of the Wizard’s Guild and the Al’Mathrin Empire gleaming side by side on his broad chest. With the armor, the purple and silver of the Wizard’s Guild and the green and gold of Al’Mathria intertwined seamlessly, the Wizard stood nearly seven feet tall and his eyes glowed from use of Magic.

          The man had been casting since the beginning of the battle, no doubt, but looked as if he hadn’t lifted a finger all day. The perks of casting-armor; it kept a Wizard full of energy to use for casting, keeping them awake and full of strength through an entire battle.

          With a roar, the Wizard lifted his hands, palms out and fingers tensed, toward the Destroyer. A red targeting laser appeared on the chestpiece of the Wizard’s armor, thought he paid it no mind. He began to separate his hands with immense effort, and a creaking of metal pierced through the night, overpowering the sounds of explosions. “For Al’Mathria!” The Wizard yelled as his hands fell limply to his side and he collapsed to his knees, eyes remaining locked on the Destroyer.

          At the same instant his hands had fully separated, the Wallace-class Destroyer ignited into a series of explosions and the airship was rent in two pieces, fire and smoke bursting from every seam. Flashing warning lights and sirens sounded off as the pieces fell helplessly to the ground, crashing with a titanic explosion.

          A gloved hand pulled Reil to his feet and the man shoved him forward, “we need to keep moving. My armor is low on power, let’s try not to draw anymore attention to ourselves.” The Wizard ran fast, making sure to keep Reil and Cent moving as fast as they could. With the help of Magic, the man could run far faster without tiring, but he stayed with them the entire way to the Docks.

          Reil found it hard to think of anything other than the immense power the Wizard could wield; he’d heard stories of Wizards his entire life but never believed he’d see one in person. The Wizard not only lived up to the stories, but with modern casting-armor, exceeded them.

          The party made good time; Reil found himself running with newfound vigor. At first it didn’t make sense, but he noticed a slight glow coming from the Wizard’s eyes and realized the man had been empowering Cent and himself the entire run. Even his bruises and sores felt better, and his legs felt like they had miles of running left in them when they finally reached the Docks.

          The Docks were a disaster. Normally one of the most scenic views in the system, a place for the largest star cruisers, battleships, and cargorunners in the entire universe to come together to trade, refuel, hire crew members, and get repairs. It was placed on the edge of Feldrin, where a cliff plummeted 3 miles down. Docks, loading bays, and catwalks were constructed all over the cliffside to form a structure that confused even the most experienced of star captains.

          Now, however, most of the structures were demolished, with smoke and fire coming from all directions. Explosions could be heard one after another following the miles down the cliffside as damaged ships fell and crashed into the walls of rock.

          Amid the wreckage, the Wizard pointed and yelled with his gruff voice, “The Everlight, that’s our ship!” Reil could only make out part of the ship through the smoke, but the colorways of the Al’Mathrin Empire were clear, and their cruiser was the largest thing Reil had ever seen in the sky.

          The Wizard held his hand up and cast a massive ball of light as a signal flare, and almost as quickly as the color appeared, the Everlight’s boosters could be heard roaring to life. The ship could not wait at the edge of the Docks for citizens, as the damage was far too great. But stationing off the dust and hiding in the smoke was a clever strategy.

          “Help the others up, they may be too injured to get onto the Everlight by themselves. It’s not going to be an easy ride,” the Wizard’s face was hard and his jaw set. Even with the aid of his casting armor, using Magic through the day had clearly taken a toll on him. Cutting deals with Mother Yvesu was a one sided-game, and She certainly never lost.

          Reil ran toward the crowd of citizens who had been waiting at the Docks for the Al’Mathrin evacuation. He followed the Wizard and noticed Cent had already left to tend to the injured as soon as they had reached the Docks.

          Al’Mathrin soldiers formed a barrier around the cowering and scared Feldrin citizens, but opened their ranks as soon as they saw the Wizard headed toward them. Every soldier snapped to attention at his presence and saluted him with 4 fingers extended and placed over their chests.

          “Prepare yourselves, men! The loading bays have been bombed to Darkness and with the smoke the Everlight is going to have minimal visibility. That means our ship won’t be able to dock correctly. I will control the air to create a bridge from the Docks to the ship, but I won’t be able to hold it for long. We will have to move fast, and I want no one left behind,” the Wizard spoke his orders calmly over the crowd of people and the sounds of explosions, but with the aid of Magic every word could be heard crystal clear. It was risky to waste energy at this point when he could have simply shouted, but he needed to keep the crowd calm.

          Reil, Cent, the soldiers, and a few others were deemed healthy and would be the last to load onto the ship. Reil strained after a full day of running to hold injured people on both shoulders and lead them to the Everlight.

          When he got to the edge of the docking platform, his heartbeat went crazy. He knew he’d have to walk across a Magic bridge to get to the ship, but he hadn’t expected it to be invisible. I have to do this, or people will die, Reil reminded himself.

          He took the first step and was surprised to find a hard, solid surface hanging in the air. With his new confidence, he charged across the bridge and dropped off the two citizens and rushed back for more. As his eyes met with the Wizard’s, the man nodded with a strained smile. He can’t hold that bridge much longer. His armor might already be empty.

          If that was true, the Wizard could kill himself accidentally by overextending his powers and holding the bridge longer than his body was capable.

          By the fourth run across the bridge, the only people left on the Docks were the soldiers, Cent, Reil, and the Wizard. The Wizard put a hand to his ear and spoke to the star pilot of the Everlight, “we’re going need you to pull in closer, I’m dropping the bridge and we’ll have to jump for it.”

          The man then sagged to the floor as his energy left him. Reil caught a glimpse of the power meter on the casting-armor; it was at less than one percent and flashing critical. “Alright men, I’ll be last on this ship, now move, the Everlight can’t stay here longer. We’ve already caught wind of GavFed fighter jets coming in as the clean up crew. If we aren’t gone by the time they get here, we won’t make it out of orbit.”

          Reil was shocked at haste with which the soldiers obeyed orders. With the last words out of the Wizard’s mouth, two soldiers sprinted forward and leaped onto the open loading bay of the Everlight.

          Two by two, the entire team was on the ship, and Cent looked to Reil with a grim nod. “We gotta make this jump, we can make this jump.” Reil tried to calm himself as Cent lined up for the sprint. At the last moment Reil looked to the Wizard, who had only just stood up.

          “And you? You’re exhausted, how will you make the gap?”

          “Whatever I may look like, kid, remember this one thing because it negates all others; I’m a Wizard.” With that, the man’s eyes glowed slightly once more and Reil’s exhaustion left him; this was his chance to make the jump.

          “Thank you,” Reil nodded and then charged toward the edge of the Docks with Cent and jumped, out into the air with three miles of cliff below. He felt confident as he flew through the air, closer to the loading bay, when a delayed bomb detonated some thirty yards below the Everlight.

          The cruiser rocked back from the blast and Reil and Cent were thrown higher into the air from the force. Reil blacked out momentarily but quickly reawoke, Cent was not as lucky. When he realized his friend was unconscious, Reil could feel a power surge through his bloodstream. It was like when the Wizard had given him strength while they were running, but a thousand orders of magnitude stronger.

          As they began to fall, Reil faced the Everlight and stretched his hand out to it, pulling with all his might. The entire ship shifted in the air towards the falling bodies of Reil and Cent, and both young men crashed onto the loading bay floors with a crack. The last thought Reil had before he blacked out was, there goes my Light forsaken ribs again.

The Wizard – Entry 7

Bright light flooding the streets caused Reil to bring an arm up to shield his eyes as the two thieves exited the alley. The crowds were already thicker than usual, even in the early morning. Two young men in dark clothing could only move so fast without drawing the attention of the Guard, but Reil and Cent made good time, having learned the ins and outs of the city years ago. They moved close to a light jog, keeping their eyes down and staying away from the busiest roads. Getting across the city could take days depending where you were headed, as it stretched over thousands of square miles. Reil had never been out of the city, but rumors were that the rest of the planet was a barren wasteland, with all its resources being exhausted building the Great Factory. As with most rumors, Reil held off on believing it, but from the expanse of the city, he could see how it came about.

          Reil shifted his coat each time they entered a new district, trying his best to match the garments of the locals so as to keep them blending in. Cent’s coat wasn’t a shifter, but it had a modern cut and was a simple black cotton material, fitting for anyone living in Feldrin nowadays. As the two friends drew close to the Franklin District in the North Central area of the city, spiraling towers covered the skies. Glass with gold, silver, and bronze worked between the panes filled in the space between the buildings. The bronze was old and oxidized, but the aged green added more to the spectacle than the original color did, at least Reil thought so. The gold gave away the age of the district, as use of it outside of weapon manufacturing had been outlawed hundreds of years ago after a man named Gill Westworth discovered gold, along with many other minerals and chemicals, could be used to make immensely powerful bombs and weapons without the horrid side effects that came with nuclear power.

          Everywhere else in the city had had its gold stripped away, either by the government for use in weapon production, or by thieves who would sell it on the black market. The fact that the Franklin district was able to keep it by order of the government, and that it hadn’t been stolen yet, was a clear indicator of the wealth that filled its streets.

           The Franklin district was one of the oldest districts in the city. When the Great Factory was first being built, the Royal Family had a section of the land set aside for when they visited, or when any wealthy families or investors wanted to visit. The goal was to build a district with such grandeur that it could make the guests forget what an industrial slum they were in. The glass roofs connecting every building held back the smog and the smells of the city, and solar film covering the glass and metalwork worked to cool the district, keeping it a comfortable temperature year-round.

          “Why did we come to Franklin? No way in Darkness we’re getting in.” Reil scratched his head before giving Cent a condescending stare.

          “You spoke to Quentin during the raid,” Cent put on his most pompous and scholarly look to combat Reil’s doubtful eyebrow raise. “And I spoke to Dan’avik.” Cent gave a small triumphant laugh as understanding found its way onto Reil’s face.

          Dan’avik was the Intel Leader for the House, his network of connections and “friends” rivaled Quentin’s. He got his start as a butler for a rich businessman who owned a good lot of factories in Feldrin. Dan’avik, known as Avi to his friends and fellow thieves, was only on duty while the businessman was in town, only accounting for a few weeks out of the year. In the meantime, Avi was to tend to the house’s garden and day to day maintenance and cleaning. Shortly after starting, he realized it was beneficial to pay his two sisters to take care of his duties while his employer was not there, and use the off time to explore the Franklin District in clothing stolen from the businessman’s wardrobe and make connections under fake names. After gaining a fair amount of “friends,” Avi began feeding the House information, having known Quentin from an earlier time in life. Eventually he was caught, but he escaped arrest with the help of the Thief House and came to work for Quentin full time.

           He was a dark skinned man of average height and weight, but both his physical and mental strength were consistently underestimated. Reil had seem him outwit scientists and intellectuals as many times as he’d seen him win a bar fight within minutes of it starting. The whole House had always wanted to see a sparring match between Dan’avik and Cent, but the two never agreed to it and never gave reasons.

          Reil assumed that since he wasn’t with them, Avi had most likely died in the raid, but he also figured the man had given Cent a parting gift. “Did he give us a way into Franklin? I thought he would never step foot in the district again after his public escape from the law ruined his aliases.”

          “Not all his connections left him after he was discovered, and quite a few saw a continued alliance to be mutually beneficial considering Quentin’s power in the city. He didn’t get to be Intel Leader by sitting around talking of old information. The man probably came to Franklin on a weekly basis.” Cent’s smile split his face in two as he reached into his backpack and removed a cloth covered object. “This is our ticket in,” his voice was a whisper of disbelief as the two friends stared at the thin card of carbon with silver inlay around the border.

          The card was an Identification Key. It was connected to the transmitter that created the energy fence around the district. Whoever had their DNA scanned by the Key could pass through the fence without a worry. Cent wasted no time and pressed his thumb onto the center and a green light glowed through the carbon housing. Reil did the same, unsure if the glow was a good or bad sign. “He gave it to you, so you should do the honors of passing through the fence first.”

          Cent laughed, “don’t make it out to be so honorable, Reil. You just don’t want to run into the fence and look like a fool if the Key didn’t work.”

         Reil shrugged and motioned for his friend to lead the way.

        The fence lay thirty steps away from them, shimmering in the sunlight and shifting between gold and emerald. It was opaque, but clear enough for passerby’s to look in and see the beauty inside of the fence. It ran straight up, connecting to a metal ring around the district, where it met the glass roofs. The fence was mostly covered by beautiful stone buildings and walls or vine covered metalwork, but every block there was a bronze arch with the gold and green energy field clearly seen where residents of the district could enter.

          Cent walked forward with a confident swagger about him, but faltered right before he entered. He ran a hand through his unruly onyx hair and let out a sigh. “I’ve always hated this district, you know? The barons that live here disgust me with their opulence in the heart of such filth and ruin. And still, I’m excited. I’m excited to enter Franklin and finally get a taste of what these people bathe in everyday. Does that make me a hypocrite?” Cent let out a nervous laughter that came out as no more than a huff and stepped forward once again. “I’m trusting you on this one, Avi,” and with that, the young thief was enveloped in a gold and green energy and promptly deposited safely on the other side, into the center of wealth for the planet.

          Reil’s eye widened and his confident posture staggered as he watched his friend enter the Franklin district. He had fully expected Cent to walk into a hard and possibly painful wall of energy, or even for alarms to go off and have guards crowding in from all angles. The Key had actually worked. Eyes full of excitement, Reil pushed off the concrete and ran full force toward the energy fence.

          A slight pulling of his clothes and a tingling sensation on his face were the only things Reil felt as his body was wrapped in energy and scanned by the control tower, all in an instant. Before he could register anything else about the experience, he was inside Franklin, looking up at the grandest view he’d ever laid eyes on.

          The glass ceiling domes covered in gold and precious metals dotted with gemstones took both thieves’ breaths away. Twisted beams of bronze curled from the sides of buildings and grew like vines, connecting to the metalwork of the ceiling. Small cuts of glass and crystals hung on invisible wire from the domes, giving the effect of it snowing diamonds from the sky. They twinkled as the artificial wind brushed them from side to side.

           What hit Reil first was what he hadn’t expected. Of course the view would be stunning, one could make out bits and pieces from the outside if they got a high enough vantage point. However what had never crossed his mind was the aroma. The scent was subtle, in no way overpowering, but it was there. The cobblestone street he stood on got a nice cross breeze from the wind machines off to the East side, and the wind brought with it a scent of chestnut and what could possibly be coffee, along with a few other smells.

          The sounds of Franklin were soothing and fitting for such a center of economic dominance. Many of the buildings had channels cut into the stone exterior and had small, controlled waterfalls, falling from an unseen source near the roof of the building. The water fell into a cobble-lined drainage ditch that ran the length of the city blocks and gave off a very comforting sound. Reil noticed the complete lack of moss or algae, and zero erosion from the constant flow of water, indicating how well kept the district was.

          Bronze bells hung at the front of doors and the wind jingled them in unison from time to time causing a symphony of different tones. Open top cars casually glided over the streets, their thrusters echoing pleasantly off the cobblestone. In the rest of Feldrin, cars were a rare sight, and cars with their tops open to the air simply did not exist. The air in the city was too polluted and it hurt to breath if too much time was spent outside. The rich few who could afford to drive through the city streets, or more accurately, be driven, did all they could to avoid breathing in the smog of the Great Factory.

          Reil caught himself gaping and quickly stepped backwards through the fence leading out of Franklin. Once safe from the view of any passersby, the thief shifted his coat to a brilliant red coat, almost looking transparent like a ruby. Such an extravagant look would be rough on the coat’s power source, it probably couldn’t keep the image for more than half an hour, but it was necessary if he and Cent were to use Franklin as a shortcut. Reil also assumed he could find a source that could charge his coat somewhere in the wealthy district, they had to have everything anyone could need.

          “Good catch, I was stupid. Got too caught up in my own excitement,” Cent looked down, ashamed. “What scene are we going to play here? I’ve been planning on shortcutting through here ever since Avi gave me the Key and I was too oblivious to plan out what we’d do.”

          “I’m a young nobleman, or at least the son of one. You are my escort,” Reil reached over and uncuffed the collar of his friend’s coat, the way he’d seen private guards wear them. “Walk with your chest puffed, flex when people look our way, and always be looking around.”

          “That last order won’t be hard to follow. Did you see that place?” Cent’s voice was woven with awe.

          “I did, I can’t decide if it’s amazing or sickening,” Reil found a scowl sitting on his face. He’d never been as empathetic to the poor as Cent was, but seeing the beauty of Franklin contrasted to what he grew up in… It was enough to turn his stomach. “And besides, it’s no Taiath’Rhowar.”

          “If even Franklin doesn’t compare, I would kill to see it,” Cent looked at Reil with a short upturned smile.

          “I’d do more than kill,” Reil’s scowl fell to a frown. “Come on, my coat can’t hold this image very long.”

          Cent flushed with regret at his previous statement. It was easy to forget and say the wrong thing when someone had lost their entire home world. Reil especially didn’t care for displaying emotions, so when something got him down, it was bad. “I’m s-,” Cent shook his head, “yea let’s get going. Franklin won’t be much of a shortcut if we get arrested when your coat runs out of juice.”

          “Unfortunately, today has taken a toll on the power source already, the power is dimmer than usual. We’ll have to make finding a source to charge it a priority,” Reil buttoned the coat back up all the way to the highest button, to match the fashion of the district.

          The two thieves took moments to ready themselves for the parts they would have to play. Entering a district like the Franklin District was unlike entering any other. In the others, the price to pay was a berating lecture from the Guard and being shooed away, but in Franklin, they would be arrested on the spot, beaten, and held for Yvesu knows how long. Cent did a breathing exercise to calm his nerves while Reil said a prayer to the Mother.

          After the golden haired young man opened his eyes, Cent nodded and entered first, looking around the entire time to give the impression of checking the area for any dangers. Reil held his chin high and let his eyelids relax, assuming the most confident and arrogant posture he could manage without gagging.

         The two walked through the district, holding back awestruck gazes and amazed comments, while trying to fit in as well as possible. Reil split his attention between looking at the beautiful architecture and finding a suitable place with which he could recharge his coat. His suggestion that Cent look around like the typical hired muscle in Feldrin worked in their favor, allowing his friend to have a better lookout for a power source.

          Reil cursed under his breath at catching himself for the third time trying to walk toward an alleyway; the habit was hard to break. Is this even a shortcut at this rate? We should’ve just went our normal route around Franklin. The thief knew he was just being irritable at the slow pace, to get to Victoria’s through the usual path would have added an extra four hours to their trip, and on a day like today, it could’ve added six. It was the reason dealings with Victoria were usually three day planned trips when the House would conduct sales with her in the past.

          Cent’s gesture to a small bench relaxed Reil, it would appear they wouldn’t have to wait as long as he’d thought. Reaching the bench, Cent brought up his foot in an act of tying his boot. He used the sole of his opposite foot to untie the boot on the way up, it was a practised routine.

          “The shop across the sheet, next to the garden. The cigar porch has external outlets we could use. It puts us out in the public eye, but a rich man like you wouldn’t be questioned if he wanted a nice smoke on a pretty day like this.” Cent finished retying his boot at the moment Reil nodded in agreement to the plan.

          The pair moved slowly, as if the walk to the smoke shop was a casual decision, but inside Reil was thanking the Mother that the Franklin district had such good air conditioning, or he’d be sweating through his coat. He eyed the cigar shop and its outlet with eyes like a predator. His and Cent’s well being rested in this operation going smoothly.

          Walking up the steps, Cent moved first with his chest as large as he could manage, looking as if he was inspecting the seating porch for potential threats to his employer. He nodded once, to no one in particular and moved to pull a seat out for Reil. After Reil had taken his seat, Cent walked around the table to the opposite side, immediately setting his chair at an angle to allow him to watch the streets and the patrons of the smoke shop at the same time. He muttered something incoherent about the creakiness of the wooden floorboards and ran a hand through his hair, pushing it out of his hardened face.

          Reil removed the power disk from the inside of his coat, spinning it to charge mode and placing it on the outlet pad. It glowed gold and red, showing it was charging. He checked the backup power source on the inside sleeve of his right arm to see how long he could be without the power disk before his jacket reverted to its plain exterior.

          A pretty woman with light green and sky blue hair cut in a short bob came to help the two men who had just sat down. She looked slightly intimidated by Cent’s rugged look, but gave Reil a large smile after she’d pulled her eyes away from the gruff bodyguard.

          “Hello, good master. Will it be a Pelicar special, or a Lionheart? And can I offer you a complimentary coffee or beverage with your cigar?”

          In his mind, Reil chose Lionheart, but in truth, only because the name sounded cool. He had not a smidge of knowledge of cigars. Before he could answer however, a long legged woman in a daringly short dress woven from gold and silver colored threads sat down in the open third seat and answered for him.

          “We’ll have 3 cigars from the Rhowaran cask; uncut and unlit. These boys look like they could use some coffee, and I’ll have a stagroot ale, on the rocks. Thank you, little missy,” the woman handed the waitress a card and flashed a flirtatious smile.

           “Oh Madame Victoria, what a pleasure to see you again. I hope all is going well, we here got worried when we didn’t see you last Fallday. I’ll be right out with your cigars and drinks,” the vibrant haired young woman beamed with delight and ducked into the shop.

          “Oh she is a sweetheart, and cute too,” Victoria said while hiding a laugh at the surprise evident on the two thieves’ faces. “Don’t be so surprised to see me. I’m here every Fallday of every week, at the same exact time, barring last week as Kelli pointed out already. I’m the one who should be surprised. What are two street urchins like yourselves doing in Franklin? Quentin’s not the gutsy type, and sending two alley rats in here is as gutsy as it comes. Be straight with me or I’ll call for help, and not even you’d be able to handle the Franklin guards.” Her last comment was directed at Cent, she didn’t know his name but she was one of a few people who’d seen his true fighting prowess in action before, and it wasn’t something anyone ever forgot. Cent’s grunt was followed by an eye roll, and Reil began to explain their situation.

          “We were actually on our way to see you, Vicky, er, Madame Victoria. We’ve got quite the news story for you, but it may not be the safest conversation to have in public,” Reil gave an overly cautious look around, which only worked to make himself look more suspicious.

          Victoria nodded and raised her hand in the air, snapping his fingers twice, then paused, then once again. A black-haired young man in a waiting suit jumped from his seat and pressed a button on the wall to his right. At the button, an ephemeral wall much like the one surrounding Franklin descended around the table.

          “Completely soundproof. And not a bit suspicious, rich folk are constantly discussing important and classified business operations, not to mention illegal ones. Now out with it, Erinfife.” Erinfife was a character from a popular book of poems famous for his hair that was made out of pure gold. Reil thought about giving the woman a glare but thought better of it. Now was not the time nor place for his usual sarcasm and wit.

          “I’ll get the more important of the news out first; Quentin is dead and the House is destroyed. Hired guns, probably from a bad connection of Quentin’s, raided and destroyed the place yesterday around noon.” Reil could see the shock on the black market dealer’s face but continued, “Cent and I only know of ourselves as survivors, though I can confirm the death of Quentin and a few others for sure.”

          “To say I’m shocked is an understatement. You have my sympathies. Do you know for sure the deaths of either Don’avik or Nicholi Olivirin?” Victoria’s face was like stone. “I do not mean to be so cold, but certain losses of life could be very dangerous to my own.”

          This time it was Cent who spoke up, “I am not sure about Olivirin, but his laboratory was hit by a clearance bomb. Again, I can’t be certain as I didn’t see a body, but there is very little chance he lived. As for Avi, he took his life with a caperoot pill. He was injured by the clearance bomb and knew he wouldn’t make it far without the protection of Quentin’s power, and he knew too many secrets to ever allow himself to be captured. It was an honorable death for an honorable man.”

          The slump in Victoria’s posture showed a mixture of relief and sadness. “He was an honorable man indeed, and a wonderful friend,” she stopped to wipe a tear out of her eye. “But his suicide guaranteed my safety. If Nicholi is dead, I may lose a great deal of money in investments, but money can be regained. These deaths rip at my Heart, I’ve known Quentin since I was going through puberty, Don’avik since his first day in Feldrin, and Nicholi for over twenty years.”

          “I know how you feel, Quentin raised me like his son and every member of the House was part of my family. I’m glad you will be safe though, Avi’s move was a brave one.” Reil lowered his head in reverence for the dead.

          “Quentin was like a father to you, you say? So you must be the little thief he had talked about so many times. If it makes you feel better, he loved you. He really did. There wasn’t anyone else he talked about with so much pride in his voice and joy in his laugh. You must be Reil, am I right?” Victoria reached a hand to lay it on Reil’s shoulder.

          “Yes, and thank you,” Reil’s voice was a somber whisper. Before the conversation could continue, a light tap on the energy wall around the trio alerted them to the return of the waitress.

          “Come in,” Victoria nodded to the woman quickly, averting her eyes to hide the solemn nature of their conversation. The waitress placed down a three-pronged cigar stand in the center of the table and laid 3 uncut cigars on the rounded spaces, before returning Victoria’s card to the woman. She gave out the drinks and bowed, with an extra large smile for Victoria, and left to reenter the smoke shop’s interior. “Well I hadn’t known who you were exactly when I ordered, but I’m sure you will especially enjoy the specialty cigars, Reil. They are from your home planet. Allow me to cut them for us.” The distractingly beautiful woman took turns cutting the ends of each of the cigars with a small blade that rested in the middle of the cigar stand, which acted as a sheath for the tool.

          “Yes, thank you. I didn’t know it was possible to still get anything from Taiath’Rhowar. These must cost a fortune,” Reil stared at the honey brown leaves that had been grown and harvested on his own home world. Grinir leaves were possibly the most traded commodity in the Galaxy, enjoyed for their aromatic smoke, calming effects, and long held tradition of smoking in almost every culture. Taiath’Rhowar’s grinir was considered to be some of the finest ever grown and fetched top shelf prices. That was before the destruction of the planet by the Federation, Reil could not imagine what they cost now.

          “No need to worry about the price, I only gave Kelli my card to leave a tip for her. The shop owner of this place owes his life to me four times over for all the political messes he finds himself in. In exchange, since that rash fullop of a man could certainly never save my life, I come here once a week for a free cigar and drink.” Victoria passed around a lighter after lighting her own cigar and taking a sip from her drink.

          Reil accepted it with a smile, noting the beautiful copper scrollwork on the side of the lighter. He lit the cigar with a bit less mastery than Victoria, he’d only smoked a handful of times in his life, and passed it to Cent. The smoke’s taste reminded him of his childhood home, specifically the kitchen, and the smell reminded him of the Alvennis. To top off the unexpected treat, Reil eyed the coffee in front of him with the most joy he’d felt since before the House fell.

          “Now, on to why you are in Franklin of all places. I’m still not quite clear on that part,” Victoria took a large, unladylike puff of her cigar. In fact, smoking in the first place was considered unladylike, but that didn’t appear to matter to the well-dressed woman. With her gold and silver dress cut in a fashion made for dancing, a slight country accent, stunning beauty, and a thick Rhowaran cigar in her hand, Victoria Delgado appeared to live only to challenge societal expectations. Her being one of the four Pirates of the Underground, the leaders of the black market in the Sovon System, made her pile of confusion into a mountain.

          Cent took two content puffs on his cigar and chased the smoke down with coffee. “Well, before escaping the House, I took it upon myself to clear out part of the infirmary, leaving enough for any potential survivors who might find their way in there after me. After saving Reil, I gave him some megs to help his wounds, and we set off to find you. Without the Thief House we have no income nor a place to stay. I figured selling you some of the medications I, er, borrowed, was the next logical step.”

          “But why Franklin?”

            “Feldrin is a dangerous city, I think you know this quite well, Victoria. Sleeping on the streets is asking for a fight, and though between the two of us I’m sure we could handle our own, it’s not a risk I like to take. Without cutting through Franklin, our journey would have had us sleeping in the alleyways tonight. Using this district as a shortcut would allow us to reach you by nightfall.” Cent finished his explanation with a big puff, matching Victoria’s.

          “And I assume Avi gave you his Identification Key, then?” At the end of her sentence, Vicky looked off behind Cent toward the sky with a confused look. A small tremor ran through the ground and up the floorboards of the cigar porch.

          Reil moved his chair to see what she was looking at. At first, it appeared nothing was out of the ordinary, but the more he looked, the more he could see through the shimmering energy field of the city. In between gold shimmers, when the field was green, Reil thought he saw smoke, and large amounts of it. Not that smoke was out of the ordinary for the Great Factory, but it was in any district even close to Franklin. “What do you think th-”

          Before he could finish, the entire city shook violently. The wood of the smoke shop creaked angrily and the support beams sounded like they would give way. The trio immediately stood up and ran into the street to get a better view. Smoke like a tsunami washed over the energy field from the West, blanketing the district in darkness. The smoke, filled with red sparks looked menacing, but could not harm the citizens in the district. Reil thought to speak again, asking what the plan was, when massive columns of concrete began pounding against the energy field, breaking into millions of pieces at the collisions. Entire skyscrapers must be falling, Reil thought.

The Wizard – Entry 6

Reil and Cent picked their way between the throngs of people, Feldrin’s crowds had become normal to the two young men. Cent breathed a sigh as they passed a young woman and two children huddled against a indention in the wall of a skyscraper. The dirt covered children shivered despite the heat of the day, not a good sign. He slung a strap of his backpack off and brought the bag around front to grab a protein bar from the mess hall of the Thief House the day prior. Once they reached the black market dealer and friend, Victoria, the two friends wouldn’t be strapped for cash, so helping out the children couldn’t hurt.

          “Hey, I don’t have much, but it’s really yummy and filling!” Cent softly said to the children and their mother, exaggeratedly rubbing his stomach. The younger of the children looked on the verge of giggling, but the older one protectively reached an arm around his younger sibling in a sorry act of defense. “Ah, well it’s clear you’re the strongest of all of us here, I’ll let you decide what to do with the food.” Cent raised his hands to each side, palms facing outward, feigning surrender before placing the protein bar on the ground in front of the older child.

          “Thank you,” were the words Cent thought he heard from the mother, but they were scratchy and quiet.

          Cent simply nodded, humble as always. “This city is falling apart, this war is going to be the death of all of us,” he ran a frustrated hand through his thick curls once they were back on their way.

          “Even before the war, hunger and poverty still existed. And even if we win, it’ll still be around. You do what you can and that’s honorable,” Reil had had this conversation many times with his altruistic friend.

          “I know hunger will always exist, but it wasn’t nearly this bad even just five years ago, when the Delkari weren’t as heavily hit by the war as they are now. Day by day I’m more convinced that the best way to help these people doesn’t involve me staying on this planet acting like Rorak.” Rorak was a character from a popular children’s story who was famous for stealing from the rich and powerful, to give everything to the poor. “As much as I detest violence, I have to join the war effort. I think I can make a bigger difference there than here in Feldrin. And without the Thief House and everyone holding me here anymore, well I’ve been thinking maybe I should enlist tomorrow.”

          Reil’s eyes widened with surprise and he let out a high pitched whistle. “What brought this about, Cent? Those are some big words.”

          “I know, I’m sorry for just dumping it all out but that starving family was just the last straw. I promise this isn’t rash thinking, I’ve been thinking about this for years. That bar I gave them will last them what, a day? Less? That’s not what they need. They need a government that can focus on the economy and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. They need the old Delkari Dynasty back, and that won’t happen until the Royal Family is not being forced to focus all its energy on the war.” Cent’s pale green eyes flared with passion.

          His hands rubbed tightly together as Reil shifted his gaze from the floor to his friend and back. He wasn’t sure how to take in what he was hearing. He heard where Cent was coming from, and he felt for all the people suffering in Feldrin and across all the Systems right now. But he wasn’t sure he was ready to enlist, and if Cent left, there’d be no one in Feldrin that he knew or cared for. He didn’t want to be alone. “I agree, I-”

          Cent stopped walking and looked at Reil with kind eyes. “I know, you don’t want to enlist. And you don’t want me to leave either. I’m sorry, I got so caught up in my fantasies I didn’t think about you. Look, I don’t have to enlist tomorrow, we can relax for a bit. We’ve earned a break, eh?”

          Relief inched into Reil, it wasn’t a solution but at least it was a temporary halt to his worries. “Yeah, we have. And some coffee. Let’s hurry it up to Victoria’s.” He shrugged off the sad look Cent gave him, he didn’t like to feel pitied, and started off down the alley again.

          Tall walls on both sides of him felt oppressive to Reil. They had to walk single file, and even with his lanky frame he had to inch sideways past air conditioning units at times. As much as he tried to keep his mind on the dreams of rest and coffee, Reil couldn’t help but think about Cent’s words. His friend was so confident all the time, and had passion and drive. He knew exactly what he wanted out of life and had the Soul and the Heart to achieve anything he decided. What do I want? Reil had always wanted just to be happy, to be relatively safe, well fed, and close to good friends. He had that, until yesterday’s raid.

          Nearly tripping over an air duct, Reil stumbled and tried to pay more attention to his surroundings. The main difference between what I want and what Cent wants is that his goals help people, and mine only help myself. Cent always made Reil feel the need to strive to be a better person, but this was the first time he had made the connection between their goals in life. Reil could see that his old goals were just hopes of clinging onto his childhood, but he didn’t know what he wanted more than that. What did he want with the same passion Cent had toward his goals? Nothing short of being back on Taiath’Rhowar, no Godless war, and a nice big smile from Lyrin every Lightless day of my life.

          Feeling his fist begin to clench, Reil breathed his anger out, instantly feeling the stresses leave him and his muscles unclench. It was a technique his father had taught him as a child when he had his temper tantrums. He taught him to view all his problems as gusts of wind, and to pull them all together in his cheeks, then blow them out of his mouth. At first it did nothing but distract him from whatever it was he was throwing a tantrum about, which Reil believed was the whole purpose to begin with. But after years of practice, Reil could bring himself from a state of near blind rage to a controllable level of anger, bordering on the calm.

          “Sigil for your thoughts?” Cent cast a cool look at Reil, he looked to be as deep in thought as Reil.

         “You probably already know,” Reil held back a curse as he nearly stubbed his toe on a piece of metal piping. “Hard to think of much else after a bomb like that.”

          Cent huffed a laugh, “Sorry about that one, it all just came rushing out.”

         “No apologies needed, actually, I want to talk about it,” Reil lept up onto a low hanging piece of piping and sat on it, motioning with his hand to the air conditioning unit opposite him. “We’ll get to Victoria’s later. Like you said, we’ve earned a break.”

          Cent lifted himself onto the unit, shifting on the uncomfortable metal. “Alright, let’s have at it then.”

          “How do you figure out what you want? You’re always so confident, Cent. You know your Heart shares my Light, but I can’t help but be jealous. Without the Thief House, I don’t know what to do. Rising through the ranks, training, stealing… that was my direction. Now? Well I don’t really know anymore,” Reil ran a hand through his hair to keep down the shaking. “You took it with such stride, had the thought to raid the infirmary, saved me, and now you’re ready to move on to whatever comes next. How do you do it?”

          “I’m not the best person to compare yourself to, Reil. Sure I look fine on the outside, but it’s just that I don’t show my worry the same way you do,” Cent blew hair out of his face and looked up at the thin line of blue sky shining through the narrow opening between the buildings on either side of them. There was a long pause, while Reil looked at his friend and wondered what he meant. Finally, Cent leveled his stare and took a breath, “I’m terrified Reil. Of all of this. The House was my rock, it lit my path in every aspect of life. I thought I had everything figured out, thought I was being so righteous, always giving to the poor. But what was I? A low life thief who thought helping out the homeless somehow balanced my line of work? And what line of work, I couldn’t even finish a mission without my feelings getting in the way. Reil, I’m a failure. And one of the biggest reasons I want to enlist is because if I fail then, at least it’ll be the blame of whoever is commanding me. And maybe by fighting in this war, maybe I’ll stop being so childish. Reil, I’m more lost than you. In fact I’ve always looked up to you. From the beginning you knew what you wanted and how to get it. You wanted to be happy, and you did it. You were the star of the House, Quentin’s favorite thief, and the youngest to be nominated for Squad Leader. Every time you came home, it was with a big smile on your face and a bag of loot. To me, you were always the confident one.”

          Reil swapped his wide-eyed stare between Cent and the sky over and over as he tried to process what he was just told.

          “Well, now that I’ve poured out more than my share of my Heart, how’s about we get to Victoria’s? Today’s a big day for the harbor and it’ll only get harder to get through the crowds if we wait until afternoon.” Without waiting for an answer, Cent was back on his feet and headed off, clearly ready to change the subject. Reil couldn’t be sure in the dim lighting, but he thought he saw flowering blushes streaking Cent’s face.

          Reil didn’t want to embarrass his friend after such an open and trusting conversation, so he let the blushing slide and agreed, “Yeah, and the sooner we get there, the sooner we get some silver.” His usual excitement wasn’t in his voice though, Reil was still in a bit of a shock after what Cent had said to him. Cent? Looking up to me? Reil could hardly stifle a laugh.

          “Oh quit that goofy laugh of yours. And hurry it up, you walk through alleyways like a drunkard.” Cent took the lead and rushed through the alley not stopping to motion his friend to follow.

          Reil smiled, happy to see that at least some of the tension had left the air. He hurried after Cent, feeling surprisingly better after the conversation. Cent had a point too; with the trade going on in the harbor, getting anywhere in the sprawling city would be impossible if they didn’t get there soon.