Authors: Terah Edun
Tags: #Coming of Age, #fantasy, #Magic, #Action & Adventure
He thought to do one final trick, which often confused his foes on the streets. Abruptly he turned, ran full tilt at the nearest wall and ran up it: one…two…three…four steps, twisted with an almighty push, and kicked out straight into the chest of his opponent.
Or at least, he tried to. The push went great; and the kick went well. But his opponent grabbed his leg—not at the last minute, but in mid-stride. Vedaris landed with a heavy thud on the practice mats, out of breath and madder than a hornet. “Who the hell are you?
the hell are you?” he shouted.
His opponent merely stared down at him, stone-faced, before asking in a pleasant baritone, “Do you know why you lost just now?”
“Er…what?” croaked Vedaris, still dazed from his abrupt and humiliating defeat.
“Do you know why you lost?” his opponent repeated patiently.
Vedaris snapped, “Because you’re faster and stronger than me…which is
You’re not a dragon, and you certainly aren’t Octupani!”
Not that it would have mattered,
“You lost,” his opponent answered, having ignored Vedaris’ diatribe, “because you’re incapable of winning.”
shouted Vedaris from his perch on the ground, where he was nursing his leg, “You insignificant worm-eater, I went
His opponent held up a calloused hand and continued, “You’re incapable of winning because you haven’t harnessed your magic.”
That shut Vedaris up.
“Yes, Vedaris,” he continued. “You
have magical talents. It is my job, and that of my colleagues, to help you discover them and train you to use them properly.”
Vedaris ears had perked up by then. “Sooo,” he intoned slowly, “What
“They are for you to discover, and for me to give you the tools to do so,” his opponent said. “Welcome to the School of the Unknown.” He extended the hand he had previously raised. “I am the Initiate assigned to you. Consider this a sort of…probation. When you are ready, you will meet with the Headmaster for your true test.”
idimo stood in a pool of water lapping at his waist. In the center of the circular basin was an island. A small structure of dirt and scrabble grass crowned with a square tent, the kind you see in army formations, stood in the middle. Not much else would fit on the little plot of land.
He frowned and strode forward towards the island, wondering what was going on.
All was silent. Neither the chirping of water bugs nor the call of marsh birds pierced the fabric of this night. As he drew closer, he saw that a light stood flickering in the interior of the tent.
Then a woman’s scream shattered the night.
He rushed forward onto land and pushed the tent flap back. He had no thoughts of gathering a weapon for protection against an unseen foe; a healer’s thoughts were always of the patient, and it sounded like this woman would need any assistance he could provide. Her screams had not stopped; in fact, they’d grown louder and hoarser with each passing second. As he scrambled into the tent, he quickly assessed the situation. The woman was alone; she lay on a cot in the corner of the tent, legs spread and hands gripping her distended stomach, panting for breath between her agonized shrieks.
Sidimo saw nothing else in the tent aside from a lantern on a stool. He stepped forward, grabbed the lantern, set it beside the bed, and sat on the stool beside the stricken woman. He noted vaguely that she had red hair braided in the manner of the clans and wore a
, a long cloth tunic, wrapped around her body. She wore no identifying jewels but for a simple gold band about her neck.
With a calm voice, he explained “My name is Sidimo, of clan Trasis. I’m a healer trainee and here to help.”
The woman’s grunt as she strained through a contraction was her only answer for the moment; then, as the pain eased, she said, “Mara. My name is Mara. Thank the gods you’re here.” With teeth clenched against a second contraction, she continued, “I can but honor the gods for their sacrifice in sending a sacred Deathkeeper to my side.”
Eyes wide, Sidimo looked to see if she jested. Apparently, she did not. A bit flummoxed, and ignoring her response for the moment, he asked, “Do I have your permission?” as he gestured towards her lower body.
,” she screamed and sobbed simultaneously.
He got up and positioned himself at the end of the cot. It was stained crimson with blood. There was several things wrong with this scenario, not the least of which was that she was here alone. “How far along are you?” he asked.
“Twenty-eight weeks,” she sobbed. “My son was to be born in the second of the summer months, but it seems he has decided to come earlier.”
With a smile, Sidimo responded, “They tend to do that.”
As they spoke, he felt for the position of the baby and the span of her dilation. In his training he hadn’t learned much healing, only diagnosis, but he had been drilled extensively in the matter of childbirth.
A third contraction suddenly ripped through Mara. She kicked out in protest, hitting Sidimo square on in the chest. He fell to the floor—and straight through it. “No!” he shouted, scrambling up. He was in darkness for a moment, and then just as quickly back in the tent with Mara.
But this time things were different.
She lay unresponsive on the cot. When he touched his fingers to the great artery in her neck, she was warm to the touch, but there was no throb under his fingertips. She was dead, her stomach still round with child. In desperation, he surged forward; he reached for her womb, knowing that the child might still live for a few minutes after the mother lay dead.
He could tell that the child’s heart still beat, though faintly. He had to hurry.
With no knife on hand to surgically remove the babe from the womb, he reached within himself for energy. It was a tactic that he had seen used only once, but he had no other choice. He formed a small blade of green out of the very air and magic he breathed.
He couldn’t hold this magical blade for very long. He lowered it to the base of the bulge where the skin lay tightest, and pressed down. The cut was imprecise, but the babe’s mother was in no condition to gainsay it. He opened her up and, as he pulled the child from the gaping wound, saw that it was still and lifeless, with a grayish pallor to its dripping body. Sidimo pulled it,
, close to his own body, hoping to revive the child with vigorous patting and clearing of the lungs and nose through suction.
Nothing worked. The child was as dead as his mother before him.
Tears ran down Sidimo’s cheeks as he rocked this child who would never know the world, and grieved over the mother he had known but for a few minutes.
Time passed, and then he felt a gentle touch on his shoulder. Startled, he stood and whirled around. There stood Masadi. With a sad smile, the Headmaster of Healing said. “Give him to me,” while holding out his hands.
Sidimo, with no objections, handed over the naked child. As soon as he did, the tent, the island, and Mara disappeared. The child lay wrapped and still in a bundle in Masadi’s arms. They stood at the base of a small hill; Sidimo looked up and saw that the sun shone down brightly on a large, flowering apple tree at the apex of the hill. “Come with me,” said Masadi, still holding the bundle as he climbed the slope.
Silently, Sidimo followed. His thoughts were still turned inward, to his loss of the mother and child. When they reached the top, he saw that a hole had been dug into the hill’s crest under the tree. Inside laid a cloth-wrapped bundle in the shape of a Human.
“Is that Mara?” Sidimo asked.
“Yes,” replied Masadi, as he magically lowered the nameless child into the tomb of his mother. “This test,” he continued, “was more than just an effort to assess your ability to act with the humility and care of a healer, but also to ensure that the prejudice that your clan has faced as Deathkeepers
did not hinder your ability to emotionally bond with the patient.”
Sidimo stood ramrod straight, anger radiating from his body. Finally, in a voice laced with vitriol, Sidimo demanded, “Did I pass your test, then?”
“Yes, my boy,” Masadi said sadly. “Now my wife and son can rest in peace.”
Sidimo eyed Masadi, shocked yet again. With a small but painful smile, Masadi said, “Any healer who tests a possible student must do so with the full knowledge and experience of the memory imparted. Only I could have known what you experienced and what you felt, and thus evaluate your reaction.
“Now you must depart, and prepare for your initiation into the School of Healing. You will undergo your apprentice rites after you have attended your classes for six full months.” He gestured to the pool of radiance that appeared on the hilltop next to the grave, and Sidimo waded in.
Sitara remembered rolling her wheelchair onto the glowing portal. When she awoke, she sat in a broad open-air hallway with tall columns extending as far as she could see both before and behind her. There was a pleasant breeze, but the air was thick with humidity; it felt like a heavy, wet blanket had enwrapped her. Her white tunic was plastered to her skin; sweat began to roll down the small of her back.
?” Sitara muttered. “Is my test to be one of
Beyond the columns lay grassy meadows; she could see a smooth stone path leading outside immediately to her right. With nowhere else to go and no directions on how to proceed, she grabbed her wheels and set off down the path.
Soon she was out in the sun, the grass rolling by pleasantly to either side. The oppressive humidity did not lessen. Ten minutes later, she saw a lake sparkling in the distance. It was beautiful and seemed crystal clear, the lapping water shimmering with promise. Damnation, it was hot; and the lake looked so cool and inviting…
As she approached the lake, she slowed her progress in order to admire the lake’s beauty, noting that the wind had begun to pick up. Indeed, the closer she got to the lake, the more the wind rose; soon it had gathered such force that it seemed, suddenly, as if she were in the midst of a storm. But the sky remained blue and cloud-free. The wind began to push, not around her but
her, as if it wanted to force her forward. Soon, it was pushing her chair directly towards the lake, on a downward slope, and she was helpless to stop. She tried; frantically she grabbed the wheels of her chair, but they seemed to be edged with sharp steel that cut deep into her palms, dribbling blood down her fingers and flinging it into the grass. She tried to dig in with the heels of her hands, but that only raised huge blisters on her flesh.
She could not stop the wheels from spinning, could not stop the chair from flying on its deadly course.
With a final mighty howl, the wind pushed her, chair and all, into the lake; she was completely submerged within seconds. Frantically, she kicked towards the surface as pain shot through her legs. Her stomach wound burned like fire as the stitches ripped open, but still she kicked to reach the air.
Just as she seemed to make progress, and was about the breach the shimmering undersurface, the water itself grabbed her: bands of streaming liquid and bubbles latched onto her legs and midsection, dragging Sitara toward the lake’s bottom.
She desperately needed air.
What is this
? she wondered frantically. Her people lived in harmony with the sea and revered it, but it had never been
. Not like this!
She struggled, twisting and turning, hoping for an escape that would not come.
The aqueous tentacles enwrapping her began to throb in time to her pain, almost as if they were feeding off her.
Wonderful—not only am I in the clutches of some malicious beast, but I’m also its mid-day snack!
Then she thought, in a moment of perfect clarify,
No way in hell am I going to die like this.
Clearly, it wasn’t just planning to consume her body but also her life force.
But that was just what she needed to know. Given that, she could fight back. The lack of air was starting to affect her brain, though, so she had to hurry. She concentrated on the magic, redirecting the pulses designed to incapacitate her back into the tentacles. The build-up of power began to disrupt the tentacle’s watery form; and with a final convulsion, it dissipated.
She was free, but that wasn’t enough. She didn’t have the strength to fight her way upward and break through the surface. Yet as she sank, she realized that she felt strangely alive. How could that be…? Then it came to her in a flash of awed realization. The energy wasn’t coming from her failing body, but rather from the lake around her! It was in every molecule of the water. She just had to harness it.
With dogged determination she reached out, digging mental fingers into the warp and weft of the energy, gathering it to her. It spooled into her until she felt full to bursting; then she pushed it out of her with all of her remaining physical force and mental might, hoping for a miracle.