The Quarrels of Mages and Men

By trevorwisniewski All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter Seventeen - Lost Words

The light inside the city was unusual. Alida knew they were underground and yet the sunlight felt real on her skin. There were only four buildings in the city, she hadn’t had much time to notice them the day before. A square street ran between the four, with a large statue in the middle of it – a woman, with a tree growing out of her head. Alida wasn’t sure who it was meant to be, but the tree reminded her of the purple leaved tree at the clearing.

She recognized the building they’d entered the town through the day before, as well as the inn she had just stepped out of. The other looked like a large watchtower, embedded in the ground. A flight of stairs led up to the entrance of it, coiling around the circular tower. The other building was large and smelled like horses, leading her to believe it was full of the animals.

She tried looking out of the town, but all she saw in any direction was a vast stretch of green grass. No hills or trees were in these fields, just grass as far as the eye could see. She stood outside the door of the small inn within the city waiting for her mother and Kasall to come out as well. She saw the ghostly figure of a’Tellor approach the door, slung in his arms was a number of eggs.

“Good morning, Alida,” the man spoke. His voice sounded young, but she knew he was old enough to understand the world. “I’ve brought breakfast foods for you and your family. I apologize, though, it’s been a long time since I’ve prepared anything for the people of this city.”

“How long, a’Tellor? How long has the city been here?” she replied, wondering more and more about the absurd outcome of her days travel. Was it a day of travel? How long were we in those woods?

“How long has the city been here? Since Queen Alexandra, just as Rin said.” A’Tellor stressed the word here, providing no answers for Alida and far more questions. She decided to follow the ghostly man inside and eat with his family. To her surprise upon entering the room, she noticed Rin standing by the table. She hadn’t been there when Alida left and no one walked in past her.

“When did you get here?” she asked Rin bluntly. “I’ve been outside the door all morning.”

“Not long, Alida. There are many paths into these buildings, you see.” Rin smiled deviously. Her hair seemed less white than yesterday, darkening a bit into a golden colour. Alida wondered if it would stay that way for long, and if the colour just took longer to come into place upon resurrection.

“Are you ready to learn about what you are, Alida? After breakfast, of course, but are you ready?”

“Yes,” the young mage said spryly. “Will my family stay with me?”

“For some of it, yes. You can read, I assume?” Rin asked with a snide tone.

“Yes, mother taught me. It’s a valuable skill, I’ve found.” Kasall and Catherine walked into the kitchen at this time, both fully dressed for the day. Catherine had the sword slung at her side while Kasall stood unarmed.

“You have no need of weapons here, mother of Alida,” Rin stated. “No harm will come to anyone within this city. Even if we were to be invaded, the city is made up of healers who have five hundred lost years of healing to perform.” She smiled a twisted smile at her mother.

The family sat at the modest table within the inn. It was nearly half the size of that in Honeysuckle, and twice as empty. Alida wished the three seats that remained empty at the table could be filled by those left behind and wondered what her father was doing at the inn. She wondered if new travelers had come in and filled the place with laughter and love or whether it was empty, two men left alone sitting and drinking their days away. She wondered how far Sim had made it north, whether he’d got to experience a true city yet, and hoped he hadn’t experienced any true battles.

Regardless of these thoughts, she ate. The day before she’d had little more than berries and a sliver of bread and yet she hadn’t noticed how hungry she truly was. She devoured the eggs a’Tellor placed before her in preference to the conversation with the family she’d so hoped to speak with. Kasall seemed to be accepting of everything he was seeing within the city, but her mother seemed on edge. She wondered why and hoped she would find the privacy to discuss it with her.

That privacy wouldn’t come now, however, as Rin placed her arm around Alida and quickly led her into the sunken building after she finished eating.

“Come now, child. The magic you seek is within this tower.”

Her mother and Kasall followed. “It’s not much of a tower,” Catherine began, looking at the building. “It must only go three stories up at best.”

“Not all towers lead upwards, miss,” the youthful voice of a’Tellor spoke. “Nor do they always go down.”

Alida climbed the staircase up into the tower with Rin at her side. “Alida, this lesson is one without your family, I fear.” Rin said. Catherine seemed to grasp at her sword, then let her hand retreat as she saw Eir and Kim standing outside two of the other buildings in the town. I have no choice, Alida thought.

When she stepped inside the tower with Rin, the large marble door quickly slammed behind them.

YOU ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE, the voice of the forest spoke.

“Can you hear it too, Rin?” Alida asked the mage.

“Yes, girl. It is the voice of the enemy.”

“Am I to ignore its words, then?”

“No, Alida. The words of the enemy are as valuable as those of the ally. If we are to understand one’s own cause, so too must we understand the cause opposing us. We’ve captured the enemy, you see. The voice is now ours to use in exchange for its fragmented existence. He remains only as a voice within the woods above us, now. The once powerful mage of death.” Rin spoke snidely when speaking its name.

The inside of the tower was lit with oil lamps. The room itself was large with a staircase spiraling downward in the corner. The oil lamps burned bright upon the table in the center of the room. The walls were lined with bookshelves, each holding texts more ancient than the one before it. Alida opened one of the books – the pages were stained yellow and the text was nearly illegible from the ware of time.

“Grab a lamp,” Rin said. “There aren’t many more on the lower levels, you’ll need your vision there for sure.” She did as she was told and carried the lamp. The windows were providing nearly enough light within this room, anyway.

Down the stairs she began to walk. The steps were cracked and felt as though they could tumble down with her as well. Everything was very white within the tower and the city. The next room had much of the same things as the one before it. Books, many books but this time the table was overturned.

“Help me put it upright, please.” Rin said. “There’s something beneath it you must see – something I feel will make you more receptive to our teaching.”

When the table was upright, a flattened scroll was revealed. Rin picked it up and turned it the right way while gliding it onto the table. It was a map. Alida assumed it to be of the kingdom.

“Look at the map, girl. This map is from my time – from the day before my death, to be exact.”

Alida had rarely seen a map. Once, a traveler had one while staying at the inn. Kasall had sat down with him and he showed him where the inn was on the map. Alida didn’t know, however.

“Do you see where this city is on the map?” Alida lied and nodded. “Yes, this city is far to the east. Now, however, you traveled west to get here. Do you understand the predicament?”

Alida became confused at what Rin was trying to say. She looked at another book on the shelf – this one, however, seemed in better condition. She opened it and was perplexed to see its white pages held no words or letters. The spine had a title embossed upon it, but the actual book was empty.

“You will understand that in time, Alida. Come, we have to go in deeper.”

A smell began to rise from the lower levels of the castle. We must be near to the ground, now, maybe even beneath it. The smell reminded her of the land around the inn after the battle.

The next room had four skeletons in it, seemingly perfectly preserved around the table. Every floor had much the same layout, the table and bookshelves with a staircase in the corner.

“Now, Alida, we arrive at the truth. No more shall I mislead and try to guide you to an answer. There is nothing more that is meant to be vague within this room – though there is beneath it.”

Alida looked around the room. She investigated the staircase and noticed that dirt and land seemed to creep up it evenly. The table she saw had another scroll on it. This time, however, the scroll wasn’t a map, but a diagram. Many circles were drawn on it, interweaving and forming into a large ring. Words were scrawled within the ring, large letters that read EXIT, and little more.

She grabbed a couple books off of the case, looking in them and seeing their words were still legible and existent. One was entitled LOST GODS AND FORGOTTEN WORLDS, another read THE LOST ART OF TRUE MAGIC. They all had ambitious titles like this, Alida wondered if they were successful in their storytelling.

“This is the room where it happened. These skeletons were once the lords of our city. There was more to the city, of course, these four buildings were all that could be saved in the heat of battle. We are, of course, in the west, Alida.”

“Yes.”

“That was not always the case, you now understand. The old lords of the city had to save it and somehow preserve this knowledge. It was the only way. They had to get the city out – they had to save the knowledge of our people from the Mage of Death and from the powers of the other magics.”

“So the city was transported to the west?”

“Yes, it’s the only way one of our mages can die. The magic those men performed that day killed them, and left us to wait, dead, for another mage of our kind to come. A’Tellor’s job was to find a new mage, and wait for them to come.”

“I befriended a bear. Was that a’Tellor’s doing?”

“No, that was your power – and your ring. The mages of life – as I’m sure you’ll enjoy being called – are respected largely by wildlife. Some animals don’t enjoy us, that’s only fair, but for the most part, our powers are seen and understood by those around us.”

“And when I understand our powers? Can I then leave?”

“Yes, you can Alida. Eir is currently working to see where you’re most needed. When she finds your place, you and your family will go to it. You must be patient – and learn. You need to do two things today, Alida. Read these books – this one on the power of life magic, and this one, on stories you should’ve been told.” One book had the title Life – Fire – Water, the other was called The Quarrels of Mages. The books were ancient, older than anything Alida had ever seen and yet they were in fantastic condition.

“Read them closely, they were written by the skeletons that lay in front of you now, and they are two of the only books in this tower that could be saved. The knowledge of these other books were lost, or are faded to the point of illegibility. Shall we ascend?”

“Yes, but what is below this?”

“The ground.” Rin said. “The ground and the bodies of the enemy mages.”

With those words, Alida quickly understood the connection she had with the smell.

“The tower was transported away, and the wise-lords put it deeper into the ground. We lost three floors of the tower, but we suppressed the hundreds of mages that climbed up the tower to kill us.”

Alida wanted to ask when Rin died, but she felt it may be an insensitive thing to say. They left the tower again and Catherine and Kasall were waiting for her outside the door.

“What was in there, my daughter?” Her mother asked immediately. “What did you see? What did you learn?”

“I learned of the past, and I have books to learn further. Nothing here will harm us, mother, you need not be so protective.” She looked disarmed by Alida’s comments. “Kasall, would you like to read these books with me?”

Kasall was never able to read as well as Alida. Her mother had spent more time focusing on Alida’s reading skills, so Kasall fell behind slightly. He’d spent most of his days in their childhood playing outside and being shown the land around the inn by Jere. She didn’t expect or want him to help her read, but she felt as though they hadn’t spoken together for weeks.

They both entered and sat down in Alida’s room.

“It’s bigger than the ones your mother and I have,” Kasall noted almost immediately. “I guess the hero deserves a bigger room.”

She noticed a strong tone of animosity in his voice. Does he want to have my magic – my burden? She didn’t mention it, though. Kasall sat across from her on the bed and stroked Jade, who was running her tale back and forth around him. She was a large enough cat that her presence made it difficult for Alida to manipulate the pages of her book.

“Kasall, how do you feel about the city we’re in?”

Kasall took a moment to answer her question. He looked at her closely and began to speak. “It’s alright. We have a purpose now, right? Before we were just working at the inn, living a modest life but now we can have power. It’s good, right? Sure, we’ve left some things behind… but it’s for a better good, isn’t it?”

Quickly, Alida felt terrible. “I… I never wanted to take you away from what you wanted, Kasall. I don’t know if I even wanted to leave the inn. I loved the inn, I loved my father and Lor and Sim and the life we had. I know it’s a lonelier path, but I think it’s for the best. We can become so much more.”

He looked pleased with her answer. He asked what Rin showed her inside the tower, and they sat together while Alida read. Kasall was busy petting the cat, but a part of Alida wanted to put her arm around him. She had greatly noticed the distance forming between them, and was unsure whether to accept it or not. The first book she decided to read was Life – Fire – Water. The first page featured a clear diagram – with water on the left, fire on the right and a leaf, the supposed symbol of life, above the other two.

The first page detailed a hierarchy of magic within the times of Rin and a’Tellor. The book valued the magics of life greater than those of fire and water. Alida found herself beginning to understand why a war occurred, but she also found herself wondering where death magic and stone magic fit in within this hierarchy. Where did they belong?

She kept reading the book – swiftly she read. Some life magic moods – as the book called them – were described. Simple magic like that which can heal minor wounds was described in great detail. Each of the spells for healing seemed more or less the same in mood, but with very specific differences. Minor wounds were described as “sorrow, with a hint of melancholy – like the feeling of losing a lover” while a more major wound or broken bone was described as “sorrow, with a large dollop of melancholy – like the feeling of losing a loved one.” The whole thing confused Alida slightly. She suspected that in the scenario of casting one of these spells, the emotions would come easily to a mage.

After reading everything on life magic, she found a page detailing nature’s magic. These spells were described as being accessible to life mages also, but they coincided with the inverse emotions. Anger seemed to fuel these spells – spells that could ensnare an enemy in roots, bind someone in place. None seemed to describe vines whipping people, or militarizing trees, but the spells seemed to be truly cruel.

One described ensnaring an enemy in roots with the intention of leaving them in place to starve and die. This was described as being fueled by “anger and resentment, a strong desire to end life in as cold blood as possible.” Alida hoped she wouldn’t find herself using these roots.

Near the back of the book the rules of magic were detailed, and the power of veins were explained to Alida. “The veins of a mage are fueled by the teas that they drink. If a mage, however, consumes their tea reagents without dilution, one vein will burst upon their face – after a brief sequence of extreme power. When all of a mages’ veins are exhausted, they will find themselves in a state of infertility, and inability to cast. After time, the powers that came to them with magic will, too, fade. Every mage reacts to exhaustion of a vein differently – many fire mages are known to become insatiable, filled with bloodlust, while many water mages find themselves more calm and focused on the task at hand.”

Alida noticed that it didn’t describe what happened when a life mage exhausted one of their veins. She hoped she wouldn’t have to find out.

She finished the book. There was no mention of the other two magics, but a note was scrawled on the back page of the book. “ONE MORE MAGIC LIVES” it read, a symbol in the shape of a cross was drawn beneath it, mirroring the triangle at the front of the book. She figured this meant death magic, the magic that rose when the book found itself lost to the world.

“DO YOU LIKE MY ADDITION?” a familiar voice rang through her room. Kasall didn’t seem to react to it, so Alida realized the Mage of Death spoke directly to her. “I ADDED THAT IN THIS MORNING, I HOPE YOU CONSIDER IT, ALIDA JERE. I STILL HAVE POWER, ALIDA JERE, AND I HOPE YOU WILL CONSIDER IT. SLEEP WELL, TONIGHT. A maniacal laugh followed the voices words, something Alida never associated with a sensible lifestyle choice. She figured it would be worth mentioning the cryptic message and power the mage seemed to exert into the world, but that could wait until tomorrow.

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