Aure the Topaz: Book 1 of the Aglaril Cycle

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A Glimpse of the Future

Brashani followed the old man out of the Grey Horse.

“I’m Brashani Khumesh, by the way.”

“Molin Black.”

They shook hands.

“When did you retire?” asked Brashani.

“When King Leonard dismissed all the court mages without so much as a ‘Thank you for your service,’ about thirty years ago.”

“Typical.” The fire mage shook his head in disgust. We’re people, not toys. “Had you served the crown long?”

“Most of my life. King Kenilworth, Leonard’s father, hired me.”

Brashani raised his eyebrows, impressed. “That was a long time ago. In those days, mages were respected.”

“True.”

“Were you there when Andropolis and Azahnon fell?”

Molin sighed. “No. I saw no point in staying in the city after being dismissed.”

“That decision may have saved your life.”

“Ironic, isn’t it?” Molin said, as a half smile played on his lips. He paused for a second then asked, “Mind telling me why you want to do a divination in the first place?”

“Not at all,” said Brashani. “A magic gem will be stolen by some necromancers. I’m trying to figure out whether the theft will happen here in this town.”

Molin laughed and slapped his knee. “That’s rich. A magic gem? Necromancers? In this out-of-the-way village? I doubt it.”

Brashani narrowed his eyes and frowned. “Why?”

“Because I don’t know anyone in town who owns such a thing.”

His face brightened, but Brashani heard the irritation in his own voice as he spoke. “They wouldn’t advertise it.”

“I know that,” said Molin with a touch of anger. “Which means the thief would have to know the person. And there’s practically no criminal element here.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” said Brashani. “The thief only needs to know the location and existence of the gem.”

“But why go to all that trouble?” asked Molin. “If they want a magic gem, they can just pay to have one made.”

“I don’t know,” replied Brashani. “The gem must be special in some way. Hopefully, the divination will answer a lot of questions.”

That was a lie and Brashani knew it. The divination was not likely to tell him much at all, but Molin was so opinionated that the younger wizard just wanted to shut him up. How had he been a court mage to a king? He seems to be so clueless, so ready to jump to an assumption. Brashani did not understand how Molin could have functioned as a wizard at all.

They approached the open market. The cacophony of people hawking their wares drifted toward them. The smell of fresh bread, meat, cheese, parchment, ink, and a thousand other aromas assaulted Brashani like a wall. He closed his eyes tightly.

Brashani paused for a moment and rubbed his eyes to soothe them. When he opened them again, he saw Molin turn right into a narrow alley and disappear down an opening in the foundation of a building. The fire mage followed. As he approached, Brashani saw an old wooden cellar door that had been lifted up and swung over to the right, to reveal a doorway and some worn and warped granite stairs that were hard to stand on.

Brashani managed to make it down the three stairs without falling, although he was certain he was going to break his neck as he descended them. Dust and cobwebs clung to the corners and edges of the walls. Oil lamps hung from pegs and cast a dim, smoky light. A straw mat occupied the far corner and a used leather satchel lay next to it, stuffed with clothes.

Molin stood in the center of the basement near a circle of stones. Inside the circular arrangement of rocks were soot and ashes.

“You live here?” asked Brashani.

“Yes,” said Molin, “it’s all I can afford now.”

The fire mage scratched his head, confused. “It is? I would have thought that you made a good living when you worked for Kenilworth.”

Molin smirked. “That’s what everyone thinks, but I didn’t. At the time, it didn’t matter because I expected to retire in the royal palace. Then Kenilworth died and Leonard changed the rules. So now I’m forced to live like this.” He gestured about, indicating the basement.

“Well, if it helps any, many mages live like this. I do.”

“It doesn’t and I’d rather not dwell on it. Let’s proceed,” Molin said dismissively. Brashani guessed he had hit a nerve and decided not to press the point.

“All right. Let me prepare.”

Brashani took out a pouch of herbs he had purchased at the apothecary and arranged the bundle in the pattern he needed. Then, he sat on the dirt floor and gazed at the charred center of the stone ring. A fire sprang to life among the ashes.

He tossed the herb bundle into the flame and waited for it to smoke and burn. He inhaled the smoke deeply. Brashani coughed a little and his eyes stung when suddenly an image appeared in the heart of the flame.

He saw a gem about the size of a corn kernel, resting on a velvet cloth in a display case made of glass and wood. Next to it stood the serving girl he had seen earlier from the Grey Horse. She was guarding it, while people gawked at the jewel.

Brashani tried to hone in on the gem, to determine the color and kind of stone it was, but the image shifted before he could see it clearly, and the next image showed the glass top open and the display case empty.

He watched as the scene shifted again to a swamp. Deep in the middle of the marshland was an old shack in need of repair. Odd bits of wood had been nailed to the front and sides of the hut, giving it an abandoned appearance.

The image melted away and Brashani saw a large hole in the side of the Grey Horse Inn. Frank Jones stood inside the Inn surveying the damage, wringing a dirty apron, and cursing.

Brashani shut his eyes and the smoke caused them to fill with tears. He blinked several times to regain his vision and saw Molin staring at him.

So there is a magic gem here and it will be stolen. Probably by necromancers. So what do I do? Move on or stay and fight?

He wanted to move on, but at the same time, he felt his old confidence again. The wizard tried to ignore it, but it would not be denied. This was the first time in over two decades that Brashani had a chance to make a difference again. He needed to take that chance or go run and hide as he had been doing for so long. Frankly, he was tired of running and living like a beggar. It was time to make a stand or he would regret it, and he knew it. He smiled. For the first time in years, he felt like himself again.

“Can you get me a job at the Grey Horse Inn?”

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