Authors: Stephen W. Gee
“Oh, uh,” said Raedren, pulling himself out of a slouch. “Sure. How about … uh, same question. When did you decide to become a caster?”
The instructor paced down the middle of the training hall. On either side, kids aged ten to twelve were sitting cross-legged, staring at their hands cupped in their laps. They were concentrating intensely, but that didn’t stop their instructor from continuing his lecture.
“Arcane magick includes any spell that uses only the caster’s own skills and abilities. It requires no spell incantations or magick circles. That means arcane magick can be cast quickly and silently. It’s also extremely versatile. These are what make it so lethal.” The instructor prodded a boy in the side, but the boy’s concentration didn’t waver. The instructor nodded.
“Outside of certain
exceptions, anyone can learn to use arcane magick. If anyone else tells you they can’t do it, they’re
. They just don’t want to put in the hard work.
“I understand!” said the instructor, spinning on his heel. “Arcane magick is hard. It takes years of diligent study and practice to become proficient. But the good news is that you’re limited only by your natural talent and how hard you’re willing to work—and no matter what anybody tells you, hard work matters the most. Are you all willing to work hard?”
“Yes sir!” said the kids. Pinpoints of shaky light were beginning to appear for some of the older kids, while the others still struggled.
“Divine magick, on the other hand, comes from the gods. It’s a co-op-er-a-tive effort between a mortal and a deity, where the mortal acts as a conduit for the deity’s spells. Divine magick is easier, and because it’s the only way gods can interact with the mortal world, they’re big fans. But you have to use incantations, magick circles, and other such accoutrements to tell the god what you want to do, and you have to let a deity into your head.”
The instructor thrust his hands into his sleeves. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against divine magick. But that’s not why you’re here. If you’d prefer to let a god do your casting, there’s no reason to be wasting your time with me. If that’s the case, just get up and leave.”
No one moved. Beads of sweat rolled down the children’s faces as the afternoon sun cooked the air.
“Good. Becoming an arc is hard. Half of casters are arcane primarily, but the majority of them are on the bottom end of the power spectrum. If you don’t work hard, you’ll end up there as well. Divs are usually somewhere in the middle, with fewer on the upper and lower ends.”
The instructor kneeled in front of a young girl. She was one of the older kids, but there was no ball of wobbly light in her cupped hands.
“How are you doing, sweetheart?”
“Still having trouble?”
“You could quit, you know. You could become a div. Divs have it good,” said the instructor. He leaned away. “Do you know the biggest difference between arcs and divs?”
Gavi shook her head.
“Divine magick can break the rules. Arcane magick has to follow ’em, but some divine magick can do the impossible. You pick the right god and you’ll be able to fly, breathe underwater, mutate, shoot fire, all sorts of things. And you’d get to rest.”
Gavi said nothing.
“It’s less versatile, sure, but it’s pretty dependable. As long as you don’t lose favor with your god or it gets itself killed
, it’ll always be there. All for the low price of letting a god into your head.”
Gavi said nothing.
“What do you think, sweetheart? Sound good?”
“No, sir. It doesn’t.” Gavi raised her head and looked the instructor in the eyes. “I’m going to do it. I won’t give up.”
The instructor’s face split into a wide grin. “Good, good!” He patted the girl on the head and stood up. “With that determination, I believe it. Work hard and you’ll get whatever you want, eventually. Though picking up one or two divine spells isn’t a bad idea. Heck, I even know divs who learn arcane magick so they’ll be more versatile. But that’s not why you’re here.”
The instructor snapped, and a sound like a thunderclap shook the training hall. The younger children jumped, but the older kids quickly assessed the threat before returning their attention to their hands.
* * *
Mazik trudged through the streets of Houk, as was quickly becoming his habit. It was a bright and sunny Agsday morning, and he couldn’t have been less happy about it. The birds were chirping, the bees were buzzing, and all the woodland creatures were scampering about gleefully … is what would have been happening if all such creatures hadn’t been ruthlessly evicted from the area centuries ago. Now all they had were fat, ill-tempered pigeons and the occasional feral cat, who all seemed about as pleased with the aggressively cheerful morning as Mazik was.
So at least he had company.
Mazik was wandering around the city because he didn’t want to work. He still felt beat down from the day before, and the thought of dealing with customers held little appeal. As with anyone contemplating a career change, he didn’t want to put effort into anything but that, which was inconvenient when he still had a job that needed doing. Currently he was trying to edge his way up to enough work ethic to get started.
Mazik noticed a shopkeeper he had sold to before. Maneuvering his way through the mid-morning crowds, he greeted the spry old man and asked him how his day was going. Only it turned out the man was
one of Mazik’s customers, and that Mazik had just been mistaken.
Normally Mazik would have turned this into a conversation and tried for a sale, but he didn’t have it in him. One awkward exchange later and he moved on, still no work ethic to be found.
“Okay, screw this,” said Mazik under his breath. He looked up at the nearest street sign, getting his bearings.
If I’m not going to get any work done, I might as well do something else productive.
Mazik turned and headed across town.
The building in front of Mazik looked like a cross between a high school gymnasium and a fourth-grader’s art project gone terribly right. It was like someone had taken a big, cold, uninteresting warehouse and sicced an architect on it, with better-than-expected results. It was a riot of arches, balconies, buttresses, and other unnecessary embellishments, all slathered with more color than any seven buildings combined. It was also displaying over two dozen banners and flags, as if the entire building was preparing to march off to war. It should have been overwhelming, and in fact it was, but it all looked so … so
, like the architect had a blast designing it, the workers had fun building it, and everyone who went inside had a smile on their face.
Mazik stood in front of the main guildhall of Vector, one of Houk’s premier adventuring guilds
. It was a place he had visited many times before.
Mazik ascended the much-scarred steps and pushed open one of the great double doors, each one big enough to admit two world-class bodybuilders apiece. There was a gust of cool air, and he was immediately greeted by friendly voices.
“Raeus! How you been?”
“Long time no see!”
“Come back to sell us more of your crappy weapons?” There was laughter all around.
“Hey, that wasn’t my fault!” replied Mazik good-naturedly. “You’re supposed to hit people with swords, not chip away at rocks!” This got laughter of its own.
“Well, if it isn’t our favorite merchant of death,” came a particularly familiar voice. Bandaged hands waved at him. “Come on over here, sir!”
Mazik walked to the nearby table and slapped the man’s outstretched hand, bandages and all. Neither winced. They shook hands vigorously.
“Sankk, you badass you! How’s it going?”
“Not too bad, not too bad,” said the adventurer known as Sankk, nodding to the seat in front of him. Mazik moved around the table, but stayed standing. “Had two easy jobs this week, and I’m looking at another I’m gunna probably start on later this afternoon.” He raised his beer and grinned. “Once I reprovision, of course.”
“I wish I could do the same, but I’m still ‘working’,” said Mazik, complete with air quotes.
Sankk tossed his head back and laughed. Mazik knew his statement wasn’t that funny, as did Sankk, but Sankk liked to laugh and Mazik didn’t mind hearing it. It was like the patter of fresh rain on an old steel drum, only richer and more gentle.
“I’ll bet,” said Sankk. “By the way, you’d better steer clear of Alsij. She’s still pretty annoyed about that crossbow you sold her.”
“What happened to it?”
“It broke almost immediately. When she was firing it normally,” Sankk added quickly, heading off Mazik’s next question. “Or so she claims.”
“It did?” Mazik looked around, to make sure his latest angry customer wasn’t within lunging distance. “Good to know.”
The two of them chatted for a couple more minutes before Mazik told him he needed to go. He picked up his product case to leave.
“Oh, almost forgot,” said Mazik. “Do you know where Eilou is?”
“Mmm, I think he’s here today,” said Sankk. “I think I saw him earlier, but not totally sure on that. If you don’t see him around here somewhere, I’d check the training areas.”
Mazik thanked him and set off.
Like most guildhalls, Vector’s headquarters was basically a giant beer hall with extra rooms. The main area was where its adventurers spent most of their time, with its long tables, abundant food, and the job boards where all the latest quests were posted. Yet sometimes even adventurers craved peace and quiet, so there were smaller lounges and meeting rooms behind the main hall, as well as training areas in and around the small building out back. The second floor contained the higher-ups’ offices.
Mazik ended up finding his target in one of the lounges. He found him sitting in a large, overstuffed chair covered with even more pillows, his feet up on a footrest and a book cradled in his lap. His back was also to the wall, because even at their most relaxed adventurers never liked to give a potential assailant a look at their backside, or at least not until they were actively running away.
“Hey Eilou! How’s life treating you?” said Mazik.
“Raeus!” said his adventurer friend. He looked up with a smile. “Not bad. How you been?”
Of all of Mazik’s customers, Eilou was undoubtedly his favorite, or at least the one he liked to talk to the most
. He was also currently missing an arm. Mazik understood it was lost during a particularly rough quest, and that it would be fully regenerated in a week or two.
“Not bad, not bad,” lied Mazik. He gestured at the chair beside Eilou. “Mind if I take a seat?”
Eilou nodded. “By all means.”
Mazik settled into the identical chair, and immediately sank so far into the cushions he was almost lost to humanity. He fought his way back up to the light and settled onto the edge.
“I should probably do the usual sales bullshit, but I don’t have it in me today,” said Mazik. “So let’s get it over with quickly: is everything I sold you and/or your team still doing well and/or do you need anything else?”
“All good,” said Eilou. “I heard that Alsij was annoyed with you, but she’ll get over it. She never takes care of her equipment anyway.”
Mazik hesitated. “Do you mind if I talk to you about something personal?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Mazik tossed a few cushions aside and settled back. “So I’m thinking of finding a new job.”
“Awww man. I guess now I’ll have to find a new weapons guy! What ever will I do?” said Eilou, and though he snapped his fingers and said the right words with the right inflection, his eyes never left Mazik’s. “What’s wrong with the current one?”
Mazik gave him a wry smile in return. “The world of arms sales isn’t as glamorous as you may think,” he said. “Or maybe it is, but for all the wrong reasons.”
Mazik stared up at the ceiling for a time.
“To be honest, I can’t stand it,” said Mazik. “For a lot of reasons. My boss is a bastard, for one. The sales tactics they push on us are also shady, they don’t care about anything but money, my coworkers are constantly—” Mazik stopped and shook his head. “No, I don’t want to start complaining. If those were the only problems I had then I would know how to fix them.
“The real problem is that when I look at jobs in the paper, they all look the same. I see them and all I can think about is taking another boring job working for some boss who doesn’t really care about me doing shit I don’t care about, and not getting paid very well to do it. I mean, I know I’m probably shooting myself in the foot by talking about this with a customer,” said Mazik, and they both had a good laugh about that, “but I don’t care. I’m not starving, and that’s great, but I want something
. I just don’t know how to figure out what that is. Any ideas?”
Eilou stared at him for a moment. Then: “What’s the most important thing to you in a job: Freedom, money, security, or doing work you’re interested in?”
Mazik’s head slumped against the top of the chair. He looked up at the ceiling for a long time.
“I’m going to get up and pace,” said Mazik.
Eilou nodded. “By all means. It’s an important question. Though,” he said as Mazik got up and began pacing quickly enough to leave a rut in the floor, “I think you’ll find you already know the answer.”
Mazik thought about it. Freedom, money, security, and doing work he was interested in. Most people would claim that doing work they cared about was the most important, whereas they actually
like security was the most important. What about him?