Authors: Terah Edun
Tags: #Coming of Age, #fantasy, #Magic, #Action & Adventure
The day had waned into late afternoon before they finally reached the small township surrounding the Citadel. “Please, we need help for our companion!” shouted Allorna to townspeople walking past as she pointed at the girl in Sidimo’s arms. “Is there a healer or apprentice nearby?”
A young man with a horse and cart told her, “I’m picking up an order at the Madrassa. I’ll give you a lift to the healer’s shop.” Gratefully, the three companions hopped into the wagon with the injured girl.
As the cart exited the town to the east, they got a better view of the Madrassa. It stood on a low, flat-topped tor, slightly raised above the valley floor. Eight grand buildings, irregular in shape, towered above the many other facilities located on Citadel grounds. “Each of those towers,” said Maride as he looked up, with a grin stretching from ear-to-ear, “is dedicated to a sole school and its pupils.”
Sidimo, who had yet to look up, continued to concentrate on the girl in his arms. He felt weak, almost dizzy; but to his senses, she looked no worse for wear, so he continued his vigil.
They took the unconscious girl to the Healers’ emergency headquarters, which (like all the other specialties) had an outpost in the central building dedicated to the intermingling of the Schools. After the Initiate Wars—and to some extent, because of them—the Citadel sought to demonstrate the usefulness of each School understanding all the other Schools’ crafts, in order to better serve their communities as a whole.
One example, which they later learned the Healing Headmaster was fond of repeating, emphasized that Healing could be augmented by Fire magic in some cases. If a burn victim came in, the healer could tend to the physical wounds and lacerated skin, while the Fire Initiate could draw away the pain and heat caused by the fire.
Sandcloth-garbed healers, Initiates, and Probates of the School of Healing quickly surrounded Sidimo, Allorna, and Maride as they entered the EHQ. They took the girl into another room and pulled the dividing cloth down, indicating that they expected the other youths to stay outside. She was still unconscious when the healers took care of the burns on her stomach and wrapped her waist in cloth laced with herbs.
As she lay on the table still unconscious, with a pupil attending to her dressings and the cuts on her face, a Probate came up to Allorna, Sidimo and Maride. “Oh my!” she said sympathetically. “I’m so sorry for your friend. It must have been a terrible journey for you to face the mountains alone.” She looked guilelessly from face to face.
“Yes. Yes it was,” said Allorna, a little warily.
“Yes, yes!” nodded the girl. “But never fear, you made it just in time. The admittance exams for this leap year are just about over!” When all three youths looked at her curiously, she said a little uncertainly, “You…did come for tests, didn’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” Maride said brightly, “The Admittance of Harthur!” Sidimo nodded thoughtfully. He remembered reading something about that. Every three years, the Madrassa was supposed to do a mid-year admissions round, to let new blood into each five-year cohort. “We’ve been looking forward to this for months!” Maride continued.
“Oh, good!” the healer replied. “I’ll just go fetch the Headmaster, then.”
Allorna and Sidimo turned to look at Maride. “The admittance tests are based on the feats of the homeless student Harthur,” he quickly explained. “Students are allowed to test for admittance once every three years outside of the normal recruitment by Initiates.”
A tall man came striding toward them; by the badges on his tunic, he was the Headmaster of the Healing School. He cut an imposing figure as he looked down his nose at the three youths standing before him, but the half-smile on his face helped ease their concern. He might have been anywhere from half a century to over a century old…and all the students knew better than to ask. The truth was that he was somewhere in between, with the healing knowledge and wisdom to prove it.
“I am Masadi, Headmaster of this School,” he greeted them warmly. His eyes settled on Allorna. “Young lady, can you explain how you came to be here?”
“Headmaster, it’s true that we’re a long way from home, but we came after hearing of the admissions opportunity.” She was lying through her teeth, but it was better than the alternative. “We’d like to test for placements in the Schools. If you’d allow it.”
“My dear,” Headmaster Masadi responded, “The decision is not solely up to me. You must appear before the councils, and the four of you must show aptitude in one of the Schools. We are already on the last two days of the tests, and halfway through the school year. Most of those who are testing are doing so for Probate status.”
This time Sidimo interjected, “We came through
portalway…surely an exception can be made?”
Masadi’s gray eyes flicked to Sidimo’s, and Sidimo thought he saw a little surprise there. “Entrance through
is no guarantee of admission,” he said evenly. “Merely a commitment to be assessed.”
“That’s all we ask,” Sidimo countered.
“Very well, then. I will speak with my fellow headmasters. Be prepared to give testimony and undergo testing in the morning. In the meantime, partake in dinner and a restful night’s sleep.” He waved over a young healing Probate, whose bright blonde hair was knotted in a bun.”Candis, please take these candidates to Mesur dining hall and the attached guest wing for the night.”
With a beautiful smile, the Probate bowed to the Healing Headmaster, then nodded to the companions. “Come this way, please,” she said softly, turning toward an open archway leading outside. Glancing at each other, they followed. Sidimo took up the rear, as he paused long enough for one last look at the anonymous girl they had saved. She seemed to be fine—or at least, as well as could be expected.
They heard the bustle of the dining hall well before they entered. When they did, they found themselves among hundreds of students and Probates, who were milling around carrying trays and joining friends in booths along the walls, as well as at long tables in the center of the vast room.
As their group moved forward through the crowd, Allorna could see a veritable feast laid out on one long buffet table situated horizontally along the far wall, with enough space for students to form a line along each side. As they came closer, she took note of the dates stuffed with nuts and dripping with honey: her favorite dish. She smiled wryly and thought,
At least dinner will be good.
With a smile and a nod, Candis left them to fend for themselves.
They each took a plate and walked along the table gathering food, while commenting on the generosity of the dishes lying on the table. The magical exertions and long night had taken a lot out of Allorna, and she was sure that the same was true of Maride and Sidimo as well.
When they finished gathering their respective meals, they beelined for an alcove where they could talk in private. A small round table with brown cushions snuggled around it was the perfect choice. It was in a secluded corner far enough away from the students sitting on the central tables to leave them feeling comfortable, but close enough that the room attendants had no cause for alarm.
Maride, of course, dug right in. Sidimo followed suit with a shrug, and Allorna people-watched for a while as she settled on the corner cushion facing the student diners. As they were cleaning the last morsels from their plates a few moments later, Sidimo asked suddenly, “Since when are we here to study?”
“If you had a better idea, you could have spoken up,” Allorna said tartly. “I did the best I could under the circumstances.”
He nodded. “I agree. So we test for this, we decline enrollment when we pass, and we return home. Right?”
Scowling, Maride retorted, “
may be returning, but I didn’t particularly like my accommodations…as snazzy as it was to have a whole tower to myself.”
“Why the hell were you in there in the first place?” snapped Sidimo.
Maride slumped, the abject picture of a kicked puppy. “It wasn’t my fault…” he began, just as the blonde Probate walked up to their nook.
“If you’re all finished,” Candis said, “I’ll be happy to escort you to the temporary guest dorms.” Belying the friendless in her voice, she didn’t wait for an answer; she simply turned and began walking towards the entrance. They scrambled up to follow her, grabbing their bags and empty plates. With a backward glance she said, “Leave the plates there. They’ll be picked up by the student workers.”
He was awake again. This time he was alone in the room, except for a person two beds down on the opposite side.
He winced as he pushed himself up in the bed, then looked around, calculating his next move. As he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, he could smell illness. He frowned. As a Sahelian, his sense of smell was generally better than a Human’s. But the illness was…wrong somehow. It stank not of death, but of malaise.
He realized that the scent was wafting from the immobile form between him and the door. As he approached the cot he saw that it,
, wore breeches and a breast band with bandages around her middle. The stink came from the bandages. But they were unstained, by blood or any other fluid.
His curiosity getting the better of him, he leaned over—not close enough to get whacked on the head, just in case, but enough to more clearly see what was invisible to the naked eye. It was almost if a haze hovered over her wound. With a glance at the girl’s face—kind of a sweet face, actually—he inhaled the smog. That was what his kind did when they encountered something unknown: they tasted it, sniffed it, savored it. The complex chemistry of the saliva in their mouths allowed Sahelians to identify the unusual and even the toxic, which is why it was impossible to poison a Sahelian. Orally, at least.
He didn’t know why or how, but as soon as the molecules hit his lips, the smell went from malaise to…nothing. Tasteless, clear air; quite the disappointment, actually. He’d been hoping for something more dramatic, or at least something that allowed him to figure out what it was.
She felt deathly ill, floating in a miasma of uncleanness. It surrounded her, suffocating her. Then she felt an intense pull, a tugging at her core—like something was pulling on her essence, demanding a piece of her.
She woke, surging upward and smacking straight in the face of a sharp-faced boy with brown eyes. “Ow!” he howled, along with a few choice words as he stumbled back.
Sitara looked around wide-eyed, in shock and ready to spring from the bed.
The brown-eyed boy stood a few steps back from the bed, a scowl on his face, staring at her. “Who are you?” they both shouted at once.
Sitara frowned and bit her lip. “I asked first!”
“Not really,” he snapped back.
He frowned. “What? What’d you call me?”
,” she growled, thinking,
“Vedaris.” After a long moment, he demanded, “Well, where’d you come from?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
He frowned. “No, I meant, how did you
She cocked an eyebrow; but before she could formulate an answer, the door opened. They both turned to see that the female healer was back. She strode toward them, frowning upon seeing Vedaris standing far from his bed and Sitara sitting up. “You two should both be resting,” she scolded.
Vedaris rolled his eyes as she stopped in front of him. “How’d I get here?” he demanded.
With a sharp look at him, Sitara muttered, “Looks like you should answer your own question before asking
.” Vedaris favored her with a frown, and the healer held up a hand to forestall any further argument.
“We’ve yet to figure that out,” the young woman said, “but I will continue to search for an answer with my Research colleagues. I’m sure they’ll find your case very interesting.”
“Yeah, well, send me a letter when they finally figure it out, will you?”
The healer looked quizzical.”There’s no need. I’ll just find you in your School and tell you myself.”
He blinked at the lady healer. He had no idea what she was talking about. But he was among the sharper swords in the arsenal— had to be to survive as he had—and saw no need to dissuade her of any notion she might have before he found out what in the world she meant. “Ah yes, of course. My School.”
“We’re so excited! We haven’t had a Sahelian candidate in quite some time,” the healer gushed.
he thought. His people didn’t have the highest regard for Humans, who had once been considered meals and were now viewed as reluctant allies at best.
“But of course,” she continued, “you’ll still have to test for School placement alongside your friend here. Not that I have any doubt you’ll be placed,” she added cheerfully.
Vedaris frowned, both at the reference to a “friend” and at the thought that he would once more have to face and fail a magical exam.
At this point, Sitara interjected something into the conversation—but to his surprise, it was not a denial of the friend comment. “We haven’t been introduced. My name is Sitara.”
The healer bowed slightly. “My apologies for referring to you out of turn,” she replied. “My name is Roble. I’m sure you and your other friends will do well here.”
Vedaris just stood looking at the healer. Only his eyes, which had darkened to a murky olive brown, showed how quickly thoughts were flying through his head, and only a Sahelian would pick up on that.
With a sigh, Roble clapped her hands. “Well, that’s enough talking for tonight. You both should rest up for the testing tomorrow.”