Many hours later, Ainsley stood in the doorway, surrounded by a cloud of paper birds. “Amber,” she said reproachfully, “you’re missing your welcome dinner.”
“Don’t bother me just yet,” said Amber, scribbling ferociously. “I’ve almost managed to talk him into giving me a sign-up bonus. This magic pen of yours works great!” She twirled it between her fingers as she waited. Her revisions hovered above the contract in blue swirls. If the Headmaster approved on his end, they’d turn black and sink into the paper. A counteroffer came through in green. Sticking points stayed stubbornly red until both parties agreed.
Maybe I should’ve been a lawyer instead. I am so enjoying this. Though negotiation via magical paper and ink was rather different.
“Aha!” The sign-up bonus clause turned black and sank into the paper with a sizzle.
“Now are you done?”
“Are you kidding?” The pen twirled even faster between Amber’s fingers. “There are still vacations, working conditions, and pay raises to talk about!”
“Your welcome dinner is over,” Ainsley informed her an hour later. “We had seventeen different kinds of dessert, by the way. In case you wanted to know. The whole school thanks you.”
“Oooh, he’s a tricksy one, he is,” murmured Amber. “Take job expenses out of my income, will you? We’ll see about that!” Blue and violet light flickered madly over the contract and her face.
“And now we’re going to have a singing contest. The rudest song about you wins.”
“Mmm, that’s nice.”
“I’m going to bed.” Ainsley wandered in, yawning, wearing flowered pajamas. “Here’s the key to the guest room.” She placed a large, brass key gently by Amber’s elbow. “It’ll guide you there. Fresh towels are in the bathroom. Watch out for the water-sprite. It likes to soak in the hot tub water.”
“Thanks, Ainsley.” Amber smiled distractedly. “You’ve been great!”
“I’ll see you in the morning.” Ainsley took Amber’s untouched supper tray. “I’ll just drop this off in the kitchen. Good night!”
Amber punched the air. “YES! An extra 2% performance bonus is mine! Oh, what were you saying, Ainsley–? Oh, yes, good night!”
This is it. Down to the wire. The last few minutes before the signing. That’s when people get cocky or forget to pay attention. Amber forced herself to scan through every sheet of the contract, looking for any hints of red, green, or blue ink. Not even an unapproved comma was allowed to pass by her notice.
She read through the passages she’d reworked the heaviest several times over, then perused the parts where the unspoken negotiations had been at their most touch-and-go.
These were the best terms she could expect to get for her ability and experience. Regular training and steady work?
She could put up with a few annoying colleagues and some eccentricities for that.
I don’t have to go home now. I can stay here, in this wonderful place, and explore magic for the rest of my life.
She could never turn her back on the crackle and color of it. No mage worth the name would.
Here goes. Amber pressed her palm onto the paper. A slight coolness, a feathery tickle, and patterns changing. She was signing with the very core and essence of her, and her stomach tightened at the gravity of it. She lifted her palm, saw a mix of lines in gold.
My pattern, flattened and turned into a signature.
The contract burst into orange and yellow sparkles.
A thin sheet of something clear and hard lay on the desk. The sparkles drifted, then rewrote themselves into lines of fire on the sheet.
Welcome to Heartwood, Amberlin Shelburne!
This is your personal cryst. Please activate with your palm print.
Amber gently put her hand over it. The crystal device beeped and hummed. She peered at the screen. Several boxes had appeared on it. TRAINING SCHEDULE, FINANCES, JOBS, REFERENCE MATERIAL. Amber touched the FINANCES button and was pleased to see a sign-in bonus already in her account.
This magic is really awesome. Only really rich people have these in Ravin—I can’t believe they hand these out to journeymen here!
Papa would be so jealous.
Look, and it folds up, too.
Grinning, Amber tucked it into an inner pocket of her jacket. She stood up, stretching stiff muscles.
Outside the room, the hallway was dim. Amber paused at the door, surprised at the sight of someone sitting against the wall opposite her.
Kael looked up from the monkey-like yuka he’d been petting. “Yo.”
Author’s Note: Amber’s contract negotiations were a lot of fun to write–several years ago! This part is largely untouched from the first draft. I’ll be wrapping up the Chrysalis Arc next week, so keep an eye out for it!
I was asked in comments if I’d consider a Patreon for the Heartwood Chronicles. I’m not making any big changes to the serial right now, but I wanted readers’ input about the possibility. What do you think?
In the meantime, I’ll be putting up a periodic tip jar, if you’d like to support this project. Donations would go toward creating an ebook of the first 2-3 arcs and buying me a snack or a hot beverage at the coffee shop I work at while my daughter’s at the horse barn!