The wind carried the scent of the sea. As Kevyn’s eyes adjusted to the sunlight filtering through gaps in the shuttered windows, she gulped down the seawater breeze, its moisture a welcoming taste. She blinked at warm walls and birch shelves, turning her head to make sense of her surroundings – familiar surroundings.
With a groan, she slowly sat up, noting her spinning head as well as the aches of her body. Lifting a hand to massage her neck, she stopped to stare at her wrists. Since when were they so scarred? Never mind her stiffened limbs; she felt her back flush icy-hot, and barely choked back a pained yelp as she curled up against her knees. Also calloused and scarred, Kevyn realized with a grimace.
She glanced around again. From the books snugly lined against the shelves, to the herbs and jars of suspended roots, she recognized everything. Potted dock leaf plants, jarred nettles, rationed samples of nightshade, urns of plant oil, overflowing boxes of dried mushrooms and roots…This was an infirmary she knew very well: “The lighthouse…” Kevyn pulled back her covers and slid to the edge of her bed. “Effulgence Point?”
Quite right. Regulus’s voice clanged hard in Kevyn’s head. I am glad you’re awake.
Kevyn pressed a hand to her forehead and tried to ignore the Light Dragon King’s voice. She had to sort out her situation first. How and when did she get here? She remembered very little: there was a long ship voyage, and then a guarded carriage ride, some dungeon for a little while, then outside again for Sei knows how long, and Sei above her back burned! She could forget her parched tongue and empty stomach for the moment; this pain could have been nourishment!
Priestess, please. Respond to me. Are you well?
Kevyn clapped her hands to her ears and curled up against the banging headache. “I hear you just fine, Regulus, so please shut up for now, would you?! This isn’t a good time!”
Her ailed cries summoned a flurry of footsteps up the wooden stairs, followed by a curt, “Oh in Fu’s blazes, Kevyn, if you’re up, say something!”
Someone sat next to Kevyn at her bedside. Out the corner of her eye, she saw a metal rod with an orb on top: an Archsage staff. “Master Arden?”
“Oh please don’t tell me Arlu did something to your ears as well! Do I sound anything like Master Arden?” As Kevyn’s groggy mind registered the young female voice, it went on. “If you want to call me anything, ‘Master Saphir’ would probably be the best.”
Kevyn squeezed her eyes shut, fighting off the dizzying headache. Saphir. She knew a kid with “Saphir” as her last name. Old friend, in fact, with a damn good hand for Light magic. Opening her eyes again, Kevyn turned her gaze to her side. “Renaun,” she said.
“There we go! You had me worried for a moment there!” Renaun brushed her golden locks over her shoulder, then took Kevyn by her arm. “Well then, come on, back under the sheets. I’ll change those wrappings on your back and finally get you something to eat and drink.”
But Kevyn pushed back, shoving Renaun away. “What’s going on?”
Hands on her hips, Renaun tapped her foot. “What do you mean ‘what’s going on?’ You just woke up from a coma after Reeon, Almira, and Cyrus got you out of Eternia City. This is the Lighthouse, you know, at Effulgence Point, and you’re in one of its infirmaries. I’ve been looking after you for the past few days.”
Regulus was right. This was Effulgence Point. Kevyn found herself wishing she had stayed asleep. “How did I get here?”
Renaun rolled her eyes. “I told you that already—”
“—Reeon, Almira, and Cyrus, yes, but how?” The interruption reduced Kevyn to a fit of coughs – her unused and dry tongue knotted in her throat.
After fetching a small bowl of water and prompting Kevyn to slowly drink, Renaun sighed. “You tell me. You all just appeared out of nowhere, and Reeon had the worst internal bleeding we had to take care of. It was truly the worst I’d seen; I have to admit I’m surprised he even recovered from that.”
Reeon and internal bleeding. Kevyn paused with the water at her lips. The combination meant only one thing: Reeon had used his magic, and a lot of it. She sipped at her drink as she contemplated the situation. Shadowreave. Kevyn was certain she remembered that. There was no mistaking the patterns of that spell: winding, like smoke. Sharp, like an aggravated viper. Kevyn remembered Shadowreave’s gravity weighing her breath down, as well as the accompanying sounds of splintered armor and anguished cries begging for mercy. Reeon had not let the spell go on for long, but all things considered, Shadowreave had definitely done its worst, to both wielder and targets.
So what about the instantaneous travel? By that time, Kevyn guessed, she must have been unconscious. She needed to confirm with Reeon to know for certain, but he had most likely pulled one of his tricks again: Void Cross. He did it before at Onaperse to breach the castle. No doubt he did it again to leave Eternia City. The distance he crossed, however, should have been too taxing on his body. Renaun said he recovered, but Kevyn knew better. “He’s probably swallowing it down,” she said. “I know him. He wouldn’t want to explain what’s going on with his body.”
Renaun raised a brow. “By that you mean?”
“I doubt he’s fully recovered. Reeon, I mean.” She stared at the water in her hands. “Internal bleeding’s a severe side effect of his use of magic. I’m surprised you didn’t catch that.”
Her nose twitched visibly, but instead of arguing, Renaun tightly pursed her lips.
“I don’t blame you, Renaun; Reeon’s too good at hiding. But here’s the deal: Reeon, right now, has no sylph. That should explain everything.”
“No sylph? That’s like trying to tame a wild horse with no reins or saddle!” Renaun’s expression dissolved into concern. “And considering the magnitude of Reeon’s potential, I’m more surprised he isn’t dead! From my knowledge, using his kind of unfiltered magic is like clawing his own skin off!”
Kevyn nodded. “Which is why mages usually have to pass Initiation in order to perform magic. We bind contracts with ancestral sylphs, who then act as filters to our magic. Not the case with Dark mages though.” She put her bowl of water aside, and crawled back from the edge of her bed. “Dark mages are born already bound to their sylphs. Reeon used to have one too, but it…met with some complications.”
Destroyed, she heard Reeon correcting. It vaporized the moment my brother died.
Though Kevyn remained in silence, Renaun continued the conversation as she redressed Kevyn’s wounds. Complications, you say? I’m no Dark mage so I can’t be sure what you mean, but sylphs are internalized, Kevyn! Besides that, they have no real physical form! From my knowledge, sylphs are more like constructs of our imaginations, though that would mean their connections to our ancestors can be disputed. Sylphs seem to have minds of their own, you see, and we know some choose to descend through bloodlines, while others jump from family to family – like you and Azariah, for instance! But are we simply ascribing our perceived realities to the sylphs, or are they truly sentient representations of our ancestors? I plan to answer that soon enough, you know! Master Arden’s research focused on the sylphs, after all, and I mean to continue where he left off. Did you know…?
And on she went, until Kevyn straightened against the cooling wash of her fresh bandages. She smiled and looked over her shoulder. “You’ve never known when to give it a rest, do you?”
Renaun snorted audibly. “Excuse me! I’m only doing my part by providing positive conversation! It’ll get your resilience working at full speed so you’ll be on your feet soon! You may be ignorant, but I am the next Light Sage, so I believe I know quite well what I’m talking about!”
“When was that decided, anyway?”
Renaun paused in wrapping Kevyn’s new bandages, and after a moment of silence, she continued, albeit tighter than before. “Well. Master Arden left for the Council one day. And he never returned. The orb appeared in the basement – where you keep all those stolen artifacts – and glowed only for me. There’s only one way of seeing all that, right?”
“What, that old crab kicked the bucket and passed on his title to you? Without even leaving me a message?” Kevyn let her words hang for a moment, then gazed out the window. “Yeah, I guess that’s the only way of seeing it all.”
Silence again reigned over Kevyn and Renaun. The latter bit her lip, and after finishing the new wrappings, slid off the bed and sauntered to the stairs. On her way, she stopped and turned around, her eyes glassy. “Kevyn, I’m…” But she faltered and, for once, remained speechless, until she changed the topic. “I’ll go get you something to eat. And…Almira wanted to talk to you, so…I’ll go get her.”
Upon setting a food-laden tray on Kevyn’s bedside table, Renaun refused to leave the two Order Arcana members to themselves. The young sage remained comfortably undeterred by Almira’s expectant look, and even voiced her defiance: “I look after Kevyn’s wounds,” she said, “and I am the next Archsage of Light. I have every right to stay.”
Almira, unfazed, calmly replied, “A right yes, but no permission. You’re wasting our time by staying. So leave.”
Wide-eyed Renaun moved to argue, but a warning look from Kevyn silenced and finally convinced the sage to leave. She marched away with a dangerous air, but as usual, Almira remained totally unaffected. She sat down on the bed’s edge next to Kevyn, and once Renaun’s steps faded away, Almira crossed one leg over the other. “You look like crap,” she finally said.
Kevyn laughed at this. “Oh, go on, tell me more, because I sure can’t tell myself.”
“Your hair’s a matted mess and your eyes look a little sunken in. Also your skin’s flaking.” After a small chuckle, Almira went on. “But at least you’re alive. Last I saw, your back was in ribbons and you couldn’t decide if you wanted to stay awake or in a coma. Good job keeping Reeon on edge, though. Next time, get a heart attack out of him.”
“Now I know you’re trying to be funny.” Kevyn pulled herself to the tray of food: a bowl of herb and seafood broth, a beaker of water, and a couple soft plain rolls. Not much of a feast, of course – real food had to wait until she had her health back – but at least it was food. Reminding herself to take her meal slowly, she cautiously stirred the soup about with her spoon before taking a mouthful. Satisfied with the taste, she then took one of the rolls and began tearing smaller pieces off. “You’re all about practical business. Seeing him out of commission would only piss you off.”
“Have I really become so transparent?” Almira shook her head. “I should have Cyrus deported back to Onaperse. He’s making me senile.”
“Those words are definite proof, since I heard nothing about your daggers getting themselves lodged in his skull.”
“I’ve never made such threats,” said Almira. “And doing so wouldn’t be conducive to the relationship we’ve established.”
Kevyn cooed. “A relationship, huh?”
“A business relationship, yes. He has some use in reconnaissance among the public, and though his dueling tactics still need work, he has…potential.” Before Kevyn could interject with another teasing comment, Almira went on. “I won’t let you derail the topic, Kevyn, but you’re right in saying I wouldn’t be happy if Reeon were incapacitated in any way. You need to get him on track to take care of his responsibilities.”
This discussion again. “Teaching your Archsage, right?” Receiving a nod from Almira, Kevyn sighed and threw her bread pieces back onto the tray. She hadn’t even been awake for more than an hour, and she already had to cope with difficult situations. Yes, one of Reeon’s responsibilities as the Dark Ranger was teaching Dark magic to the future Archsages. With Renaun taking Master Arden’s place, Reeon now had two, confirmed, young sages-in-training to tutor. Yet, “Almira, you would be one of the first to realize he realistically cannot mentor anyone. You know his problems.”
“He performed Shadowreave and a long-distance Void Cross before he was physically incapable of magic. You are coddling him.”
“Alright, let’s say I am. Performing those two spells still has him spitting blood all over the place. That fact hasn’t changed, and I don’t need to see him to know what magic does to his body.”
Almira shrugged. “As do I, but again, you are coddling him. I give credit where it’s due, and I can say he’s been putting these past 10 years to good use. Despite not having a sylph, the potential of his magic has increased, as well as his control over it. Still woefully limited, of course, but it’s an improvement over before.”
Kevyn knew Almira as a silent observer, and the former dared not deny Almira’s keen analyses. On top of that, acknowledgements and compliments from Almira never happened. If the Shaman of Aura acknowledged an improvement enough to voice it, the change had to have been impressively drastic. Almira saw things invisible to Kevyn’s eye, after all, and picked up on signs that normal human beings would overlook. But did that really allow Almira to push Reeon even further? Renaun expressed pessimism on Reeon’s condition, so there was no way Almira couldn’t have noticed.
As if reading Kevyn’s thoughts, Almira answered, “He’s volunteering to push himself past his limit, so now would be the best time for him to start tutoring the sages. Your concern for his condition is…noble, I suppose, but it does nothing but waste his time.”
“He needs to look after himself before–!”
“You haven’t consistently seen him these past ten years, Kevyn. He’s not the sulking indecisive boy you remember. So consider my decision to push him toward his responsibilities, while disregarding his unstable condition, a testament to my confidence in his maturation. He disappoints sometimes, yes, but in the very least, he follows through on his decisions.
“You would do well to honor his efforts.”
She felt like pouting and arguing, but this was Almira. Realistic, practical, and one of the only people able to provide effective rebuttal to Kevyn’s arguments. Kevyn still curled her lip in reproach, and sighing, slid off her bed. “I’ll have a good long talk with him then, and figure out where he stands.”
“When you do, let him know we’re running on limited time. It’s not just the Archsages we have to be mindful of anymore – draconians overran Eternia City shortly after we left.”
Kevyn groaned. “There’s just no break, is there?”
Almira uncrossed her legs and stood from her seat. “Not for us, no,” she said. “Case in point, we had best leave for Xemif soon to collect the Spirit Pillar. As I understand, the Wind Sage needs a remedial spell? You realize he doesn’t have much time left.”
This time, assuming no replies were necessary, Kevyn only nodded. Grabbing a robe out of a nearby wardrobe, she gingerly pulled it on and ambled toward the stairs.
Instead of objecting to Kevyn’s movement, Almira glanced at Kevyn’s bare feet padding across the floor and asked, “Do you really have the strength to go outside?”
“I don’t have the strength to stay inside,” Kevyn replied. “We’ve got work to do? Then let’s do it.”