They swam toward the island, away from the beaches and the docks. Kael was right; the defensive spells had worn down considerably at water level.
“Wind mages,” said Kael derisively, as Amber worked at a particular threadbare spot. The spell-threads were so weak, it was a simple matter to detach them and leave them fluttering in the wind without triggering an alarm.
“Just be careful not to let the spell threads touch—” began Amber, but Kael was already through, scrambling up the rocky bank. He held his hand out to her. Amber sighed, took it, and let him pull her up.
She crossed her arms and stood there dripping next to him. Unbelievably, he was already mostly dry. She had to struggle not to lean into his warmth.
There are advantages to being a sun mage.
He looked expectantly at her. “Well, aren’t you going to fix this? You can’t go dripping into the academy.”
Amber opened her mouth to snap at him, then stopped. Well. She could fix this, couldn’t she?
She focused on the patterns around her. Maybe a little pull on the water in her clothes?
“Aiee!” Amber collapsed to the ground.
He looked down, astonished. “You okay?”
Amber said, with several rocks biting into her cheeks. “Urgh. That didn’t work.”
Kael crouched next to her. “Keep still.” He held his hands over her. A few minutes of warmth, and Amber damp but no longer dripping.
“Let’s get going,” she said. Her wet underthings rubbed and her shoes squelched as she walked, but those were small prices to pay for personal space.
“If you’re sure.” Kael led the way through the trees toward the dark bulk of Torou Academy, bristling with spires, upswept eaves, slanted roofs —a playground for the Kaidan wind mages.
Amber probed the spells on the Academy grounds. They were few and far between. None of them were safety spells. Looking up at the roofs, with tall poles and high hoops sticking up at them, Amber shivered. Kaidan wind mages were supposed to be proficient, anyhow.
There was also one small detail she’d overlooked. “Kael,” she breathed. “There are no doors.”
“No problem.” He crouched. “Get on.”
“Unless you can fly, get on my back.”
=Amber did so, flushing and stiff. If it was awkward for Kael, he didn’t show it. He leapt high, reached a ledge. Amber tried not to choke him with her white-knuckled grip. Kael bounded to yet another ledge. He jumped again.
“Spell on the window to the left,” Amber said.
Kael switched direction in midair, shoved his fingers into crumbling mortar. His feet slipped.
Oh, help. We’re going to fall.
Then his muscles bunched. A warm wind swirled Amber’s cloak. He leapt to a window-sill, stood at the corner of it, panting hard.
“Sorry,” whispered Amber, miserably. “I’m not helping you any, am I?”
“You’re doing all right,” he whispered back. “You don’t weigh enough to bother me.”
“There are no more hand-holds, though.” Blank wall stretched above them to a roof-edge that looked very far away.
“We’ll make it. Just be ready to jump on my signal.” Currents of warm air swirled around them. They gathered into a strong push just as Kael rocketed up the wall, his hands and feet finding impossibly small places to grab hold of.
The roof-edge approached rapidly. Amber let her legs dangle, and braced a hand against Kael’s shoulder.
“Now, Amber.” Wind caught at Amber, pushed her away. Kael grabbed her by the upper arm, and flung her up, adding muscle power to the wind.
Amber flew up. Roof-tiles flashed under her, then a thigh-high parapet. Hastily, she pulled patterns, and turned her landing into something more elegant than her previous attempts.
Practice does make it better, she thought ruefully. A faint light glimmered on poles of varying heights, some topped with rings, others all spiky with arms, a couple glinting with wicked-looking spikes. The roof-scape was crazy with random walls, abrupt corners, arches and slides.
Touro Academy’s training arena.
Kael was already behind her and moving. He knelt near a rectangular grate. Several of these covered large air-vents all over the roofs.
“This is how air ninjas come home,” he told Amber. “Can you do your finding witchery now?”
“It’s magic, not witchery. I don’t raise the dead or read the future in chicken entrails.” Swiftly, Amber created four separate ghosts. Thanks to the dagger’s strong signature, her own knowledge of the missing part of the set, and Troi’s distinct personality, it was an easier task than finding the Serepentine pipe in Hopeswell.
She blew a ghost through each of four different vents, then went to where Kael was lifting one of the grates.
“I don’t sense any other defensive spells active down there,” she told him.
“Good.” Kael pointed down the vent. “This takes us to a corridor near the Academy’s library and weapons rooms. The sword should be near there. Do you have a read on it yet?”
“This kind of magic takes time, Kael.”
He grunted, then sat back on his heels. His head dropped, chin almost touching his chest.
Did he—did he actually just fall asleep? Amber stared at his tousled head.
I guess that’s an important ability for a combat mage—being able to take a power nap anywhere, anytime.
A breeze stirred, and Amber shivered in her clammy clothes. She suddenly felt very lonely and on edge, pattern senses stretched to the maximum, ears straining for the slightest noise, eyes peering into every shadow and twitching at every movement.
The pull of a ghost made her start violently.
Kael lifted his face. His golden eyes glinted eerily, making him look not quite human.
He’s fast and strong, and I barely know him. What am I doing alone with him? No one knows where I am.
He said nothing, gazing beyond her. Amber resisted the urge to look over her shoulder. “I-I found it,” she stuttered.
His eyes focused, laser-sharp, the eyes of a predator. Amber leaned back, but he took her hand in a hard grip. “Let’s go!”
Torou Academy was a strange place of high ceilings, tall doorways, curving corridors, and unexpected holes in the floors. There were no stairways.
Air ninjas live here, after all.
Amber moved cautiously, probing for spells and traps. Her spell-light floated like a thin bluish wraith in front of her. Kael crowded behind here, and the back of Amber’s neck twitched.
She turned her head and gave him her best narrow-eyed, thin-lipped back off! glare.
He opened his eyes wide in a sham What-did-I-do? look.
Forget him, Amber. Just focus.
Amber pointed down a round hole in the floor. Kael leapt through. Amber floated down, letting the patterns in her cloak and the air do the work.
The magical signature of the sword was even stronger down here, a spider’s web of twisting corridors with small, arched doors at irregular intervals. Troi’s dagger had started to glow and throb to Amber’s mage-sight, its agitation manifesting itself in a purple glow at Kael’s waist.
Kael sprinted unerringly for the right door.
Well, that trail was hard to miss. The dagger must really be attuned to the sword, must really yearn to join its fellow.
Kael reached for the handle, then snatched his hand back as sparks crackled from it.
Amber examined the spell on the door. “Oh, dear.”
“You can’t take care of it?”
“Given enough time, I could.”
“Define enough time.”
“Half a day to a day.” Amber grimaced. The spellwork was so intricately knotted and interwoven; it would take a lot of time to pick it apart.
“I’m not waiting that long.” Kael unsheathed the dagger and stabbed it into the handle.
Purple light shot out from the point, was joined—like a lightning bolt—by an answering bolt from within the room. The defensive spell flashed bright, blinding Amber. The sun in Kael’s right hand came alive. Heat came off him in waves; his hand was alight with orange and gold.
Amber hid behind Kael’s body. A sizzle, the smell of burning and cloves.
Darkness in her mage-sight as the locking spell charred and crumbled. The click of a turning handle.
The room inside was tiny, hardly bigger than a closet. It contained only one pedestal, and on that pedestal was a sheathed sword.
Kael reached for the sword, then recoiled. “Darn thing.” He shook his hand vigorously.
“Kaidan weapons are attuned to their respective families,” Amber pointed out.
“The dagger didn’t do the same thing to me.”
“You’ve been around Troi long enough for it not to see you as a threat.” It was strange talking about inanimate objects this way. Magical objects had always seemed more than a little creepy to Amber, the way they straddled the line between alive and not-alive.
“Then it should tell that to its friend here.” Kael held the dagger, and picked up the sword with the same hand. It zinged him again, but not with the same vigor it had shown earlier. He thrust both weapons into his belt. “Let’s get out of here.”
“No objections from me.” Amber’s senses tingled, on full alert. She hadn’t noticed any alarms, but…
This time was Kael who led the way to the roof, swift and silent, with Amber shadowing him closely. Her heart hammered and her breath hitched in her lungs, but she didn’t dare ask for a rest or a slower pace.
The sooner we get out of here…
Kael pulled her against his side and leaped for the air-vent. That square of star-sprinkled night sky was one of the most beautiful sights Amber had ever seen.
… the better I’ll feel.
She clung to the lip of the vent as the suns of wind mages spun to grey-blue life all around them.
Author’s Note: I’m back! The project I was working on in April is done, and I’m happy to have rescued Amber and Kael from the sea. Of course, now they’ve just walked into a group of air ninjas. Hmm, what’s a good collective noun for wind mages? An eyrie? A hurricane? What do you think?
I’d love to hear your comments on the story so far. If you’re reading this via email, click here to leave a comment.
Next episode in two weeks!