They always kept to themselves, and none of the other Ediscites seemed to bother the two boys. Cairn winced. It was obvious they were pariahs. The other students often whispered about their low born status. That their grandfather sent them to the Arcanum simply because of their heritage.
He thought back, trying to recall their names. The boy with the eyepatch over his left eye was Braunum. The other was Cyren. They had different names when they spoke. While the other Ediscites didn’t understand Shaylin, Cairn did.
Cyren referred to Braunum as Daeture, and Braunum referred to Cyren as Qaelin. They often spoke to each other in their native tongue, at least until the Praeceptor scolded them for using it. Absonian or the Trade Tongue was the only language allowed to be spoken.
While The arcanum taught other languages for purpose of diplomacy and espionage. Speaking them outside the classroom was highly discouraged. The brothers didn’t seem to care, and despite the treatment they often received, their natural talents gave them the leeway others had grown jealous of.
The arcanum’s existence thrived off molding those with the spark into war mages for the military. The greater the talent, the greater the urgency to train them properly in preparation for future service. As Shaylin, Cyren and Braunum had an innate talent for magic. Enough to make their infractions worth overlooking.
Still, they were timid in their defiance. Pushing only far. Just observing them one could see they hadn’t been treated well growing up.
Cairn leaned back in his chair. The soft creaking sound it made echoed in the library. Cyren was dutifully mulling over an assignment the Praeceptor has given him while occasionally pointing out his brother’s mistakes. Braunum would then use a simple spell, erasing them, then make the proper corrections with his quill.
Cairn felt a twinge in his chest. Watching them made him realize how much he missed Vahti. He felt a gentle nudge in his ribs and turned to his left. Lidia was scowling again.
Pay attention! She projected into his mind.
Cairn winced, then smirked. Lidia was still learning how to control the force of the thoughts she projected. Ever since the test, they had discovered a mental link between them had been established. Whether it was because of his own power or hers, neither of them was sure, but it had proven a useful secret over the past month. Distance didn’t seem to matter, though the further apart they were, their awareness of each other’s state of mind was weaker.
Cairn you’re already struggling with your scores. Do you want Cornella to scold you again?
Cairn nodded, turning his attention back to the assignment, though he felt the subtle prod of Lidia’s frustration in the back of his mind. She could sense his apathy for the assignments the Praeceptors handed out. Still, it was nice to know she wasn’t afraid anymore.
She had grown wary ever since the last Surge. Seeing all those injured Ediscites and half the wall leading into the classroom obliterated unnerved her. She had kept her distance for days after, except for when they were in class together.
In time, and once the mental link was discovered, she steadily warmed up. Cairn even sensed a hint of fondness from her. He was fairly certain Lidia was aware of his growing feelings for her as well.
Would you stop! She projected, her cheeks flushing slightly.
Cairn fidgeted in his chair. Sorry, I am trying. She rolled her eyes, then paused upon seeing Braunum walk up to their table.
“Why are you watching us?” he asked. “Are you going mock us too?” He reached for his eyes patch. “Did you want to stare like the others? Or perhaps you wished to call me a cyclops?”
“Daeture!” Cyren whispered harshly. “Not here.”
Braunum tensed, his right hand falling away from the eye patch. “Leave us alone, Sotekturan.”
Human, Cairn thought. That’s what the word meant. Depending on tone and inflection, it could easily be used as an insult or a proper reference.
“No, just watching the two of you reminds me of how my brother and I used to be,” Cairn replied.
Braunum’s expression softened. “Your brother?”
Cairn nodded. “He’s fighting in the Colosseum to pay for my tuition here.”
Cyren stood and walking up behind his brother, he placed his hand on Braunum’s shoulder. “Forgive my brother,” he said. “Things have not been easy for us.”
“I know,” Cairn replied. “I’ve heard the stories and I’m sorry.”
Lidda reached out, taking Cairn’s right hand in her left. “We all have it difficult, but now we have each other,” she said.
Cyren seemed a bit surprised, but Braunum’s eyes filled with suspicion. “What you want Absonian,” he said. “I know who your grandfather is. I would not think it would please him to see you cavorting with the likes of us Lowborn.”
Lidia stiffened, and through the bond, Cairn felt a flash of anger. “Who I am, is meaningless,” she said. “As is where I come from. Don’t presume you know everything about me or lineage.”
Cyren gripped his brother’s shoulder tighter, and Braunum shifted uncomfortably. “Again forgive us,” he said. “Your kindness is an oasis amid this desert of solitude.”
Cairn eyed the boy thoughtfully. There was something familiar in the way he spoke and carried himself. It was like a puzzle he should already know the answer to. At Cyren’s words, Lidia relaxed a little.
“Shall we study together?” she asked.
Cyren nodded. “It would be a welcome change.”
Cairn glanced at Braunum. The young Shaylin’s stance and expression showed his reluctance to sit with them. "Daeture," he said in Shaylin, calling Braunum by his proper name and stood. Cairn placed his left hand over his heart and placed the tips of fingers on his right in the middle of his forehead, bowing. I’m pleased to meet you.
Braunum’s expression softened, and he took a seat. Cyren went to retrieve their books and notes, then sat beside him. “So Cairn,” he said. “How is it you are so talented, yet your marks are so terrible?”
Carin scowled, forcing both Braunum and Lidia to crack a smile. “Because all this doesn’t feel right.”
“What do you mean?”
“Visualization, comprehension and force of will. To me magic feels more like water, like there’s a flow to its nature. I feel it flowing into me, then out. I imagine what I want, but don’t force it.”
Cyren paused, seeming almost contemplative. “I’ve watched you. Sometimes you don’t recite the incant when you work the magic.”
“I don’t really need to. I can feel the shape of what I want before I can see it. The Praeceptors say that the words help formulate the concept. I mean, I feel the power of the words, but part of me says they aren’t needed. For me its like breathing.”
Puzzled, Cyren sat back. “Show me.”
Cairn closed his eyes, calling to mind one of the more basic fire spells he’d memorized. Normally, it let you shoot jets of fire at your target. But upon casting, he altered the nature of the spell, condensing it into a tiny ball, then animated it to take on a more feminine form. The flaming figure leapt from his hand, dancing across the table, her feet singeing its hardwood surface.
He focused his breathing, the flow of the magic coursing him was increasing. A surge was coming if he didn’t stop. Taking a breath, he released the spell and the dancing woman vanished in a puff of smoke.
High Magic, Cyren whispered reverently in Shaylin.
Cairn shook his head, sweat beading across his brow. “No, High Magic doesn’t let to change the nature of the spell.”
Cyren narrowed his eyes. “Change the nature of the spell?”
“I rewrote one of the most basic attack spells we learn, formulated it to my will and made it nearly harmless.”
“Cairn, how long been able to do this?” Lidia asked.
“Not long, but I’d prefer if you kept it a secret. I don’t know how the Praeceptors would respond if they knew. Just shaping magic is exhausting enough.”
Lidia looked concerned, squeezing his hand. “I promise to keep your secret safe,” she said.
Cairn felt his heart flutter and half smiled. Braunum grinned as if he knew something, while Cyren remained stoic, while giving a hint that he was contemplating something. Come what may, he thought. I hope we make it through this together.
From the solitude of her chambers, Lidia sat on her bed, back pressed against the cold stone wall. She wore a simple shift with a red silk robe over it. “Lidia,” came a muffled call through the heavy oak door at the end of the room. “I’m coming in.”
The door opened, her eyes falling on her grandfather’s wizened face. He was leaning more heavily on his cane than usual. The Potion of Youth he often imbibed be wearing off. Shara, his attendant, stepped into the room to help him.
“What can you tell me today?” he asked, sounding unusually eager.
Lidia shifted her gaze toward the sheets at her bare feet. “Nothing new, Grandfather.”
“Nothing new?” Inwardly Lidia cringed, the skepticism in his voice was sharper than any knife. “Need I remind you, girl of what it means to be Absonian?” he said. “Duty, Honor and Family?”
Family? she thought. What meaningless word to leave your lips. Family never meant anything to you.
The silence between them was deafening, and he turned, Shara assisting him to the door. “Very well, if you say there is nothing new, then it must be so.”
Lidia bit her lip. Her grandfather knew more than he was letting on. No doubt he had one of the other Ediscites watching them.
“Goodnight, child,” he said. “Remember who it is you represent within these hallowed halls.”
Lidia stared at the door as it closed behind him. Cairn, if it had been anyone else, I would have told him everything.