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.

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