A Mage’s Heart
Written by j.leigh and megan o’shea
original publication on deviantart.com: click here
It was cold.
Against snow the trees were black sentinels, watching the pair’s struggle. Their efforts were beginning to grow bitter after several hours’ search and the sky was waxing bright. Crows roosted in the trees and caught snatches of argument as they fluttered off, calling out sharp discontent. Clumsy in their anger the two made no effort to be stealthy.
“…then we’ll see,” a first voice came through the twisted limbs.
“Why do you have to be so Red-damned difficult?” A deeper voice joined the first.
“Because today’s the day, you Spirit-hindered dolt.” The female kept her voice even. “‘Let’s not hire a guide,’ you said. ‘Let’s traipse through the entangled forest on our own and get lost,’ you whined. What’s next on your little tour? Resorting to cannibalism?”
A clearing gave them respite from the trees. They were young, clothed in what had once been their temple-best. Their pastels showed their struggle in tears and grime. Her shale blue temple outfit was rimmed in soggy brown, his soft nettle green wetted and grayed to the knees.
“Do you have any idea how much those ruddy guides cost?” The male threw up his hands, his breath frosting. “And as far as staying on the road, well, the bear wasn’t my fault, dammit!”
“Ignorance is not a fault unless you don’t seek to improve it,” the woman retorted sleekly. “And you’re not getting anywhere with that in this incarnation.”
“I knew it,” the man muttered under his breath. “Stuck on this Spirit-forsaken trail with a possible psychopath.”
“Possibility isn’t probability, we both learned that at temple. Or,” the maid’s brow arched, “did you sleep through those lessons?”
A growling sigh. “I have more power and more sense in my little finger than you do in your entire ice-ridden body. Besides, no matter where we go, what we do, or how long it ruddy-well takes, I’ll be the one that will be chosen to train in the Holy City, and you’ll be stuck staying behind, at home, with the prudish Anganities.”
The woman studied her ice-crusted feet and snickered. “I’m flattered you’d enjoy sharing your private fantasies with me. Really, I don’t feel worthy.”
He snorted in a puff of steam. “You think witty retort’s going to get you past the tests? They only take one, one student from all the provinces, and you lack the control. Look around us.” With the sweep of a sleeve he encompassed the white around them. “This is what you make of a summer’s day.”
“It’s easy to display bravado when knowledge is lacking.” His companion’s eyes were colder than their surroundings. “I doubt you could make better use of this power than I have.”
“That a challenge, little ice mage?” He paused and turned to her with fire in his eyes.
“I mentioned nothing of a challenge, merely of knowing. But if it’s a fight you spoil for, I suppose I could accommodate you. Spirit knows we won’t be finding our way anytime soon.”
“Why does everything fall to violence with you, Sharhara? I merely stated a ‘challenge’, not a battle- there is a difference, you know. Your heart really is colder than your withered feet.”
A soft laugh. “Mordai, I’d far rather have a cold heart than a hard head.”
His hands reached the sky in exasperation. “All better for the earth mage to crack stones with I suppose.”
She stopped suddenly, her giggle chiming. “Was that an insult to me, or to insult yourself?”
His hands dropped weights at his sides. “I…” Mordai stilled as well. He shook the snow from his coppery head. “Amazing how you manage to redirect this conversation away from an actual challenge.”
“Your ears are red,” the ice sorceress observed with a chuckle. “Embarrassed, huh?”
“Again, with the redirection!” The earth mage’s tone was sharp. “Obviously you know who’d win if we enacted this challenge!”
“The better of us.” Sharhara ducked to avoid a low-hanging branch. “And I have a clue for you, my dear. It’s not what you see when you look in a mirror in the morning.”
“Do you honestly think you can do better, then? You can’t control your own power!” Mordai snapped. “Neither of us are going anywhere if you make us both freeze to death.”
“We wouldn’t be in this situation,” Sharhara whispered fiercely, “if someone had asked for directions to Galasoki Temple.”
Mordai stomped his foot in the snow, startling a frightened rabbit out of the bushes and across their path. “I had directions, on a map, which I dropped, because of the bear, and then got wet and ruined, because of this damnable snowdrift, which appeared because you got annoyed and can’t control your powers!”
“I wouldn’t have gotten annoyed if you hadn’t begun whining on so.” Sharhara watched the rabbit crouch under another patch of skeletal bushes. “And besides, you ought to be beholden to me. This blizzard did manage to distract the bear. I didn’t see your power doing much by comparison.”
“I didn’t have a chance, I was trying to think,” Mordai spat back, though considerably more controlled after his outburst, “You just reacted. Another flaw that the temple mistress continually scolds you for, if I am correct.” He dusted off his robes in an attempt to regain some semblance of composure. “As I keep saying, you have no control, Sharhara, and in a contest of control, you would lose, utterly.”
“Doing what was needed right away was key to us not being killed. And the temple mistress, if I recall, scolded you for sloth. Of course you didn’t get time to think, Mordai, in a contest of sheer wit I would not be on the losing side.” The ice mage looked up through the branches to observe the drifting snow. “Control can be learned but sloth in times when danger is about may well prove fatal.” Each small flake was different and she didn’t wait for his expression to shift in reaction.
“Fine then, Sharhara, let’s see it, let’s see this infamous wit and control that you so adamantly declare,” Mordai cooed back. “Prove it to me.”
A flicker of soft yellow life came from a nearby branch. With a quick flip of the mental wrist it was hers in ice, cool and sensuous between her fingers. She turned and held it before him, cold in her fingers. The pulsing heart of the ice bloom throbbed with life. Mordai stared in begrudging awe- a butterfly, its delicate wings of yellow and black hovered suspended in the center of the crystalline shards she had created, caught in fight.
The earth mage snorted, having found flaw. “Oh, yes, some control there, Sharhara, but in the end just more proof of your cold heart. You’ve killed a thing of beauty that has done no harm to you.”
She smiled then, the smallest flicker of her lips. She released the flower of ice, letting fall to the hard earth. It fell away to shards, reflecting a slate colored sky. From the broken prison the crumpled creature stood, dazed but alive. The wet wings unfurled slowly and with a second’s effort it flew away unharmed.
“To freeze is not to die. A bit like the hearts of some that have seen harm. My ice is melting. A slow thaw but nevertheless…” Sharhara watched the glassy crystals become one with the snow. The ice reflected in her eyes and her gaze was contemplative.
Mordai hovered a moment in silence, contemplating her slight confession. The vulnerability made him overly warm. “Yes, well, all the same, your cryptic retorts are, well, cryptic, and, well, not endearing.” He softened a tad, an attempt at civility to the girl he’d known and rivaled his whole life, “Perhaps if you’d be less cruel, maybe….” He was met with a stare that was half pleading, half a death-threat, “Well, then, my turn I suppose.”
Reaching down, he found a rock and then split it with his powers, finding the meridian again and again until he had a singular shard, thin and sleek. He charged it then, pulsing the little electric-like powers out across it, magnetizing the piece. A touch of levitation made it hover in his hand, spinning. “And there would be north,” he stated with only a lick of his usual ego. “So the main road should be back this way,” he glanced off to the right behind Sharhara. “On our way then?”
“I suppose,” she said neutrally. Then an eyebrow flickered up. “I must say I’m impressed Mordai, given the way you used to try that trick a few months ago. Although your language skills are redundant and, well, not nearly as impressive.” She smiled with a trace of warm humor to it.
“Yes, well,” he nodded, conceding. “I might be able to find north, but finding the road might be a bit more of a challenge.” He dared a glance at her. “I mean, given the state of the woods and all. I mean, this ice is rather treacherous, and the heat will soon melt the snow and ruin any footprints we’ve made.”
“I can branch my ability out a little bit and try to keep things frosty,” Sharhara sighed. “It will take some concentration but it can be done.”
“Yes, well that would defeat the concept of it being less treacherous with the ice about, now wouldn’t it?” He sighed, feeling more like himself, “Besides, its summer, this cold is just cruel to the animals, don’t you think?”
“No. I can control it,” she smirked. “I may not be able to control when it happens, but once it does, I can keep the temperature constant.”
Mordai paused a moment, opened his mouth, closed it, then breathed in a very nasal way, then opened and closed his mouth again.
Sharhara snorted, annoyed, “I can tell what you’re thinking and yes. I have learned an ounce of control.”
“NO, that’s not what I was thinking.” He meandered around the words for a moment, then muttered out, “I was going to say you wouldn’t have the energy reserves to pass the tests if you continue on like that.”
“Concern from you? This is something unheard of.” The ice mage looked around them with a mental acknowledgement that he was correct. “I suppose not, no. But it would correct this entire situation.”
“Concern?” Mordai cracked out a very unconvincing laugh, “Hardly concern. Just doing you the moral obligation of pointing out yet another flaw of your ego that shall prevent you from obtaining the apprenticeship of a lifetime. But, anyway, don’t. My feet are freezing.”
“Let it be known that you were never short on compassion, Mordai,” Sharhara muttered.
“If I was to miss out it would just give you motivation to do better. We both represent the same temple after all, do we not?”
“And all the more reason for me to point out that you shouldn’t. I’d hate to disappoint our poor, dear temple mistress that has spent so much time trying to enlighten your ignorance.” Mordai smirked.
The young woman’s shoulders slumped. “The reason they train me is simple. You know how ice mages are viewed. We’re unnatural, and it’s better to let such power be on their side rather than that of the Red.”
“Well, you’ve heard the theories,” the man rejoined. “‘Ice mages, as a result of the lower vibrational level of their soul, have the ability to freeze the very water molecules out of the air. But since the entire basis of the Ways is to evolve, and to raise the vibration of the soul to be one with Spirit, then ice mages, as a result, must be some sort of throwback, a lesser being. Perhaps even alighlned on a spiritual level with the deadly Red.’ On and on. All about how dastardly evil you can become. Maybe if little ‘Miss Grand Anomaly’ didn’t act the way she did, she’d not perpetuate the stereotype.”
“You’re reciting this as though I didn’t know such things.” It was clear he had struck a nerve. “Just because I was born a certain way doesn’t mean I’m by default wrong or evil. The world is a balance and I may merely be another side.” Sharhara folded her arms.
With the passage of time, warmth was growing in the air. Calmer now, the woman could focus her energies on turning things to rights again. She did not realize how close they had strayed to each other until her sleeve brushed his hand. They startled as one and moved away from each other. Mordai examined his hand as though it might have been contaminated and Sharhara plucked at the hem of her sleeves.
“I’m not saying you’re wrong or evil,” Mordai said after they had both gathered their wits. “I’m just saying that if you keep behaving that way you’ll turn out that way.” He shrugged. “That’s all.”
“Strike up another one for the great philosopher,” Sharhara grumbled. “I don’t have any intention of going to the Red, so get your clothing out of a twist.”
“My clothing’s not in a twist. But the compass appears to be.” Mordai glared down at the device and shook his head. The needle had begun to rotate madly. “Where the hell did north go?”
“So the great navigator gets us both even more lost.”
“It’s not me! It’s like something is interfering with the magnetic field, like another mage or someth—oh.”
“The road must be that way then.” Sharhara’s shapely finger stabbed through the melting white. Soft music wound through the air, festive and celebratory.
“You mean we found it?” Sharhara arched a brow at the earth mage’s question. “I-I mean, of course we found it. I led us right to it, after all.” Mordai kept his eyes from hers and laughed uncomfortably.
“Looks like they have bards with them.” Sharhara began to walk up the snow drift with Mordai directly behind. She turned to him with a grin. “At least now we have something to poke fun at on the way to the temple.”
Her foot slipped then, caught under the snow in a layer of ice. She gasped and tumbled back. Had Mordai not been there behind her, she would have fallen and struck her head. Instead strong arms gripped and steadied her. Enveloped in warmth for a second, she could feel his beating heart. There was a moment’s awkward quiet.
“You can let go of me now you know,” she pointed out gently.
“I know,” was his soft answer, but his arms made no effort to move. She could hear his panic and smirked.
Mumbled voices followed the music and several heads could be seen. Motley colors and designs mixed as temples came together to walk to the challenge. The pair stiffened.
“What do we have there?” A tone called from the back of the line, jovial and teasing. “Perhaps you two know a thing or two about this odd weather, then?” A form appeared from the rest, tall and lanky but smooth in motion, dressed in deep hues of violet. A master mage, of Rosin’s following, by the color. An escort for another temple’s acolytes most likely.
Mordai’s arms loosened and Sharhara went to her knees in a patch of snow. “You bird brained—!” The woman rose and tried to brush the wet clumps of discomfort from her clothing.
“Nothing,” Mordai wasn’t looking at her as he swallowed back a nervous lump. Instead, his vision was completely centered upon the encroaching master, a woman with long, dark brown hair and a teasing expression. “This snow was, um, just…”
A scanning spiritual glance that measured heart and soul fell across both of them, then leveled to the fallen Sharhara. “An ice mage.” The teasing glance of the master turned sour. “Most unusual. And quite a bit erratic, it would seem.”
Someone in the front of the party turned his head to tell the one behind him and so on down the line, their whispers turning to cruel ice. Sharhara glowered daggers and Mordai reached out a hand to help her up when he was sure they weren’t paying attention to him.
“Looks like they’re on to me.” Sharhara’s tone was flat as she regarded the line.
“There’s…” Mordai bit back the defense at first then cleared his throat when he noticed her expression. “There’s nothing to worry about with her.”
A moment of consideration came into the master’s face. “Fine. Get to the back then and hurry along. We’re running a bit late as it is.”
“You heard her.” Sharhara muttered and gestured to the back of the group. “Let’s go, we have time yet.”
The line began to move and with each passing glance there was suspicion and curiosity. Mordai waited until the last began to pass and then fell in line with them.
The quiet that followed was awkward again.
“You know,” Mordai thoughtfully bantered, “I’ve been thinking a little, about that whole vibration thing with ice mages. About how it must be the lower vibration that indicates evil or ‘primitive’ beings….but the Red Mages are supposed to be the most evil things on the continent, and they use fire as their base power. And we all know fire has the highest vibrational energy of all the elements, that’s why it’s so hard to control.” He ventured a meaningful glance at her, “So maybe this higher and lower vibration thing has less ties with good and evil than they realize.”
“There sure seem to be a lot of people competing today,” Sharhara observed. A ghost of a smile was directed at him. “You do have a point about the Red Mages. But…Who do you think will be taken for the in-depth training today? One of us, or neither?”
“Well,” Mordai greased over the sweetness he had directed at her and returned to a playful act of pompousness, “I am quite the advanced mage.” He softened under her glare. “But we do both have our faults.” Serious eyes glazed over the crowd. There were two dozen acolytes, maybe more. “And they only take one. One from each providence.”
“Perhaps neither of us will make it then.” Sharhara shrugged and let her eyes stray with his. “But if you think about it, in the end, is that such a bad thing?” It was hardly noticeable but a hint of pink worked into her cheeks.
Mordai grinned, and naught a girl alive would deny his appeal when doing so. “Welp, I suppose not. Better lost in the woods with a possible psychopath, than locked in a temple with a bigot.”
She smirked and resisted the urge to bat him with a playful swat. “Mordai, let it be known that you’re an ass.”
“Sharhara, by the time this test is over, neither one of us will be able to escape that title.”
That time, she did whack him.