The Quarrels of Mages and Men

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Chapter Twenty-three - Life is Life

She watched with cold, lifeless eyes as Kasall fell from the horse. She had trouble remembering jumping off of her horse, but she managed to find herself crouching behind her dead friend shortly after his body hit the ground.

“Inge!” shouted her mother, the seemingly rightful heir to the kingdom. Alida was having issues believing the story her mother had told her the night before. She fell asleep so shortly after her mother had finished telling it that it had begun to mesh together with the vivid dream that had befallen her while sleeping against her mother’s breast. It was a peaceful sleep that she had, perhaps too much so, she found herself still wary and unsure this day, and felt herself slipping as she stared at the lifeless body of her sibling - of her friend.

I can save him, she thought. It was the only thought that would enter her mind. I have the power to save him. She kneaded at the small pouch that was clasped around her neck, the last gift the strange city had given her. It was a woven pouch, made of old fabric that smelled oddly of garlic. She fumbled trying to get the pouch off from around her neck. It was tucked into her clothing, and her fingers had suddenly lost all of the little dexterity they’d once possessed.

“Wait, Alida, I know little of life magic, but I know the implications of what you intend to do,” Inge spoke. “Men cannot be brought back without exhaustion - I know you’re new to using magic, but you must understand what comes of vein exhaustion – are you sure of this?”

She felt herself filling with anger at the mages suggestion. I don’t care about my fucking veins, she thought. I’ve had them for only a few weeks - I’ve had Kasall my whole life. I would exhaust every vein on my face to bring him back, I’ve lost enough already. Rin had told her about the resurrection process, detailing greatly how resurrection of a normal man, a non-mage, could only be done at the cost of a vein. “The life of a non-mage must cost something for the mage,” she had told her, “that was much of what caused our demise, our greed and desire to maintain our own lives over those of men and women.”

She closed her eyes, waiting for the rage she felt toward Inge to subside. She closed everything, shutting out the sounds and cries of the world around her, hearing only vague pleas from Inge to wait until the battle had begun to bring him back, hoping that he would get some of his own men returned to him after the battle started. Nothing registered with her. She refused to hear his reasoning, and as she became calm and reserved, her work began.

With her eyes closed, the world became dark. All she could see was the body of Kasall before her, surrounded by memories of their childhood, swirling around his lifeless body. She looked down, able to see her kneeling body and carefully pulled the pouch up to her mouth. She pulled some ground leaves from it, taking a pinch of it and throwing them into her mouth. She wrenched her head back and swallowed swiftly.

A strange feeling spread through her. Stiffness filled her body as she tried to focus on the emotions the life mages had described. She thought only about Kasall and his life, hoping to bring him back. She felt her legs becoming stiff, everything was stiff. She couldn’t move, though she had no intention of doing so. Come back to me, you bastard, her mind shouted. She hoped that was only her mind, though she may have yelled it truly. She was still lost within her mind, only able to see the darkness that isolated her and Kasall, and the vivid memories that surrounded the two.

Memories flooded her mind, something Rin had told her was necessary. She found herself remembering many banal details of Kasall’s life with her. She relived countless late night conversations, telling horror stories of battle wounds, as well as countless days of her left alone, feining happiness in saying goodbye as Kasall would go out to work around the inn. She remembered every birthday feast Jere had made for Kasall - the spectacular roasted rabbits, ducks and even the crane eaten one year. She tried to avoid that memory - the thought of her father distracted her from Kasall.

As she remembered these things, she felt the magic beginning to wane, her powers lessening from within her. This is it, now is the time to see if it worked. She slowly opened her eyes and saw a thick green mist surrounding her and the king’s army. As the mist spread, she watched overgrowths of vines and grasses springing forth from the bleak fields they were riding through. Life was reentering the desolate area around Dawnsend and Kasall’s body began twitching before her.

His arms and legs twitched wildly, his head bouncing up and down with each movement. He seized non-responsively, and Alida began to see the consequences of what she’d done.

Inge dismounted his horse and tried to pin the boy to the ground, holding his arms and preventing the motions the boy was making. “Kasall!” she could hear the king shouting at him, though all she could see was the horrifying spark of life reentering him. “Kasall, open your eyes.” He didn’t seem to be holding animosity for Alida at this point.

He did as his king commanded, but slowly. His body still twitched, but his bright eyes once again opened. “W…” he began to choke out. “Water, please.” He began to cough and retch wickedly. “So thirsty,” the boy said. He seems fine, Alida thought, looking at him closer. I did it? Slowly he began to stop convulsing and Inge let go of him. He took a water skin off his side and handed it to him.

Alida noticed that Inge’s eyes were fixed on the green haze that was spreading wildly across the horizon. She was mistaken in her previous judgment, there was anger in the king’s voice. “This is your fault, child. You know no discipline, you have no concept of consequences for your action. You lived a sheltered life and now in your first moment of difficulty, you react terribly. What hell have your risen? Now what will await us in the city – in every city? How far will your mist spread?”

Catherine reached across and slapped the king. “You fool. You damned fool. You seek to save your daughter and you won’t allow mine to save her only friend? You claim to be a man of the people, someone understanding of the needs of humans, supportive of everyone but you know nothing of the ties between them. You only seek to save your daughter because of her power, don’t you? You only want to rescue her because she’s a shard of your former life – how are these goals any different? You endanger as many people as Alida, and yet for Inge Lindberg, Ruler of Rainhome, it is acceptable?”

Alida quickly understood her mother’s desire to disown her family name. She looked as her mother berating the king with aggression that had likely been in her long before she erased Ilya Norsom. She watched every foul word she knew filter through the mouth of her mother, and found herself learning more as the ranting proceeded.

“Now, take this city and rescue your daughter, but you have no right to question the will of mine.” She finished, walking over to Alida and holding her close.

“Then let it be,” Inge said, unsheathing the large sword that he carried, raising it and signaling for his army to begin their assault. “Life mage, stay in the back, stay away from the battle but be ready to help – but don’t help foolishly.” His eyes pierced into Alida, eyes filled with sorrow and fear – the eyes of a soldier as Alida had come to know them. His expression didn’t seem too different from Sim’s, and she tried to imagine the horror he’d seen, but found little ability to humanize him after what he’d said of her.

“Yes, sir,” she said, begrudgingly. She stood in the back as a horde of men and women raced forward with their swords and cudgels raised into the air. Inge stood back with her, as well as a handful of mages.

The death and water mages from Skyhull divided into close groups and stood in varying areas across the approach to the city. Sure enough, as the army stormed forward, so too did the forces of Dawnsend enter the picture.

Alida could see horses – many horses with glittering armour. Though she knew little on the matter, the soldiers looked remarkable – they looked as she’d imagined when listening to stories from her father about the battle near the inn and of his days in Shalonsbury. Their armour was made of glittering steel, ornate flares protruded from the top of their helmets.

On both sides a battle cry could be heard, but neither cry had any distinguishable words – just the grunts and roars of poor people fighting at the behest of old men.

“Water!” Inge called out. The water mages all drank some of their reagent – not bothering to dilute it at all. He wants this to end quickly – he’s as reckless as me. “Do what you must!”

Alida stared in wonder as the enemy army began to ride their elegant horses across a barren field of cold ice. The horses became disoriented, slipping chaotically and falling wildly across the battlefield. The army behind them tried to stop but eventually a pile of soldiers stumbling to their feet and slipping around the formerly grassy field.

So too, however, Inge’s army found themselves slipping. “Cease!” Inge shouted, and the ice quickly dissipated.

The two armies were now close with each other. Alida could see men and women swinging their swords chaotically, and quickly saw the army she found herself supporting being shredded into an array of minced meat.. We will die, she reassured herself. It’s as simple as that – we’ll die and death isn’t constant, life is the constant. We’ll die, and then we’ll wait. Rin will save us, or Eir or Kim. There are other life mages to bring me back – to bring my family back. We’ll be fine, surely. Inside Alida’s heart, she knew she was merely fooling herself. The other life mages had told her they could not leave their strange city, though Alida pushed that information out of her head.

The men of Gerod’s army were racing violently toward the small pack of mages that remained. She saw the bitter faces of the men in the vanguard, running forward and bracing to plunge their swords violently into every mage that supported Inge’s cause.

Hastily, Alida rummaged through her bag and filled her mouth with more of the ivy. She thought of the rage Inge had filled her with, emulating the unfiltered aggression her mother had been filled with as she’d spat her hatred at the king. She thought of these things – but most importantly she thought of the anger she’d felt when she heard of her father’s fate. She blamed Inge for it, but she couldn’t spend time dwelling on that as the army had nearly reached them.

She felt it quickly this time – not like with Kasall’s resurrection. She felt the roots from her dream once more, only now they were tangible. The army came to a halt, many soldiers falling on their faces as strong roots wrapped around their legs and slowly moved up, holding them in place and pulling them back.

The roots seemed to also be holding her, and the scattered remnants of Inge’s army.

“What magic is this?!” a brutish voice choked out from the vanguard, bellowing from a man ornately dressed in bright armour.

“Where is my daughter, you bastard!” called Inge at the man. Must be the king, she figured making the fairly obvious connection. He was a short man, the king. Even in his armour with its elevated heels in the boots and with the noticeably taller helmet accessory, he looked short. “You bald shit, you can’t take a man’s child from them – you can’t abduct because you rule.”

“She has known only a better life since I took her, you know. She has everything in this city – books, food, and a good title for when she’s of age.” Quickly she knew that was truly all the men cared about - titles and power.

Alida looked at Kasall and began to ignore the words the two men spoke, staring instead at what she had risen, and wondering if she had made a mistake. The boy he’d known looked far different than before - his eyes were distant, he lacked the gaze she’d once known him to have.

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