A Mage’s Life
Written by j. leigh and megan o’shea
Original publication on deviantart.com: click here
“It’s a big decision.”
“Of course it’s a big decision, that’s why we’ve been sitting here for the past hour. Will you stop going on about it being a big decision?”
The pair sat in the garden upon the intricately carved bench, bent over sheaves of parchment. Early spring petals fluttered to the grass around them as they contemplated their futures. The other residents of the Tar’citadel university buzzed by about them, engrossed in their own lives. The beauty of the crystalline structures and the robust perfumes of the many exotic, some imported flowers were lost upon the young, sixth year students as they bickered.
“Oh, somebody’s nervous, isn’t he?”
“I’m not nervous, Sharhara, my head is just full of possibility. It’s not every day you get to have a peek into your life’s contract. I mean, this information’s what we decided on before we were born into this incarnation but forgotten now in mortal form. It’s like the masters are giving us a small glimpse of what we could be or couldn’t be for torture’s sake. What do we know and not know? Remember what the senior acolyte said: ‘It’s a terrible thing to know your own fate. Ask after only what you know you can handle.’”
“If you’re that concerned over it, Mordai, perhaps you shouldn’t ask after anything and allow yourself to live. It’s what the commoners do, after all.”
The earth mage snorted through his nose. “If I’m going to get one chance to find out three aspects of my life’s contract I’m going to take the opportunity. Life is complicated enough. To know three aspects for a certainty would make things much simpler.”
“I’ll thank you to remember what else the acolyte said after she told us about fate. ‘Our life’s contracts are blueprints for this life, nothing more. Free will shall choose between the paths fate has laid. And not only might I add, do we have our own free will, but the free will of others also is a large part. Nothing’s written in stone, earth mage. Have you learned nothing these past two months in Tar’citadel? Or are you enjoying naps during lessons again?”
“Shut up. Well, what are you going to ask after if you’re so high and mighty? Imagine, someone actually gets to look past the ice into that soul of yours.”
The ice mage reached out a fingertip, placing it against the quill Mordai was holding. In an instant it had frozen from the plume down, encompassing his fingers in the process.
Mordai waved his fingers in the air, trying to dislodge the quill. “Dammit, Sharhara! You might have learned control woman, but you haven’t learned subtlety.” Bits of frozen feather sparkled to the earth.
“I thought we moved past this sort of base conversation, Mordai. How about we get back to what’s important, shall we?” Sharhara reminded him with a smirk.
The tips of his ears grew red and he looked to his feet. “Well, it is a big decision,” he allowed begrudgingly. “We’re peering into one part of our life’s contract, having a look at some of the Great Plan. We’re looking into our part of that. What we ask here determines not only what we are to accomplish in this lifetime, but could lead to what we need for the next as well.”
“As you’ve stated about three times in the past hour,” Sharhara felt the need to remind. “I’m more than aware of the gravity all of this shall have, Mordai. But there is no need to overthink matters, for that can be as dangerous as underthinking it. Either way, it’s still just a small bit of the great puzzle. Once you start contemplating fate on a grander scale, well. It’s enough to cause anyone a headache, let alone you. This is meant as a tool to guide us, nothing more.”
Mordai’s mouth opened to argue and the ice mage sighed. “All right, how about this?” she compromised. “Instead of going on about which aspects we do wish to inquire after, how about we eliminate the ones we don’t want to expand on?”
The pout on Mordai’s lips spoke a volume. “Well…What wouldn’t you like to know more about?”
“It would be obvious that we don’t want to ask about Rosin’s Way, because we’re more than aware of what our magical prowess can do. I specialize in ice and you in earth.” She sat back, her manner expectant. “What about you, what do you not wish to know?”
“Well,” he dithered, “I don’t think I want to know more involving Bree’s Way, since if I can paint or sing, I can find that out unassisted. Besides, it also seems sort of…girly. Not, not to say there’s anything wrong with being effeminate.”
Sharhara’s look to him was acidic. “You’re aware, good earth mage, that Bree also handles matters of finance. You know, money and your ability to acquire it. Or not.”
“Oh, well. We could always think more on that one later.” The young man was sheepish. “What about the ones that don’t make sense? Like,” he leaned over his parchment, “ ‘finding the purity of one’s soul or corruption in this lifetime’?”
Sharhara scratched absently at her head. “I think that might be measured in terms of soul evolution. The less evolved, the closer someone was to the Red in previous lifetimes. The Way of Angani can be useful in its own right.”
“Like I said, it doesn’t make sense,” Mordai complained. “Even if I knew exactly what that was, what would I do with it? There’s another I can take from my list.”
“I suppose it would be useful to know how much one needs to overcome in this life in order to move onto the next, but I think I won’t be investigating that one any deeper, either,” the young woman agreed.
“The Way of Ulic measures the truth in this lifetime as well as intelligence for it, but as far as intelligence goes, we were tested as babies—.” Mordai started.
“—and some of us were clearly over evaluated,” Sharhara smoothly cut in on a smile.
“We can figure that out for ourselves, and besides, some of the older acolytes told me that answers in that Way can be odd. Speaking of odd,” Mordai frowned at his list, “We can count out the Way of Rhean as well. I’ve read this thing fourteen times and I still don’t know what soul aspect that Way measures.”
“The description is a little vague,” Sharhara nodded. “It seems to have something to do with demonic influences, but I don’t want to know about that, whether it’s in me or following me.”
“Ditto,” Mordai concurred.
“Kubesh can likewise be overlooked,” the ice mage said, holding her parchment up from her lap. “I have no desire to fight or be athletic myself and seeing as you tripped over your own feet on the obstacle course that once—.”
“It’s something else we can figure out alone,” the earth mage cut in, feeling the tips of his ears burn hotter. “Besides, it’s more useful in determining an infant’s aptitude for a warrior’s life in later years.”
“All right then, that leaves Feator, the Red, Turin, Beleskie, Desmoulein, and Montage,” she read off, glancing up at him as she finished.
“Montage, isn’t that the one that sums up your overall life theme? Like, everything?” Hope glimmered in his voice. “Maybe we could just take the one?”
She made a small, cold sound. “I tried asking the older students about that. They will allow you to take it, but will sum it up in one word, like ‘destiny.’ Just vague enough to be annoying, if you ask me.” She sat back, making a face and putting her hands on her hips. “I can see it now, ‘Sharhara, your life’s theme is…cynicism!’”
Mordai laughed until his sides began to hurt. “It surely isn’t patience!” he gasped, and was rewarded with a glower from the other.
“It wasn’t that funny,” she told him frostily.
“All right, all right,” Mordai swiped at his mirthful tears, “how many do we have left then?”
“We’re getting there, then.” He scrutinized their list.
“Ah, here’s one I know I want to know more about,” he said after a pause. He circled a name. “Feator. I want to know about my last three past lives, how many I had, how many more I can expect. Maybe I was someone of importance at some point,” his words turned dreamy and wistful, “You know? If I was someone important back then, maybe I’m someone important now. Like my life’s intertwined with the Avatars, even. Maybe I even knew the real Feator.”
Her expression couldn’t have been more scathing. “Listen to yourself. If you really were involved with the Avatars at all, they would’ve taken you from the temple years ago while you were still in swaddling clothes and calling urinating yourself a past-time. I’m sure it’s a little more mundane than all that, but no less important for future development.”
He turned on her with venom. “I’m sure you want to know what blunder in a past life made you an ice mage in this one, scorned by all except those that are truly loyal and sophisticated enough to understand your complex ways.”
“Present company not included,” Sharhara told him dryly.
Once more, he snorted. “Then it’s Feator for both of us. What of Desmoulein? I’m sure you want to know more about your health, how many years your current body’s set to exist on this plane.”
“No. Actually, my interests lie more with Turin,” came her reply. “Knowing how you could avoid death means not needing to worry overmuch about one’s health or ones set bodily years.”
He cast her an incredulous look. “But—But, to know when you’re going to die? To always have that hanging over you? I, I couldn’t imagine living out the rest of my life like that. It would take the taste out of everything. Three distinct opportunities they tell you for possible death, four more that are just drifting out there to maybe take you at any time. I’d rather not know any of it at all. It’s—It’s morbid.”
“Seven times is no more or less than anyone else, and knowing about it, as I said, can help change it,” Sharhara pointed out.
“Or bring it about,” he sulked.
“Let’s not start the ‘knowing it will help it come to pass or not’ debate. We’ll be here the rest of the day discussing it,” she warned.
“I guess you’d want to know about the Red too, wouldn’t you?”
“As a matter of fact, I’m fascinated to know where the majority of my life’s conflict is going to pass, in my youth, my middle age, or my old age. Would you not like to know the same, Mordai?”
“Seeing as I watched my village burn, my family die, and my sister raped in front of me by the time I was five, I think I know in what time-frame most of my life’s conflicts are centered.” He took a breath and lightened the mood on his own, “Not to mention I was stuck in a temple with you for five years,” Mordai said, casting her the dirtiest look she’d ever seen him muster.
For a moment, something like sympathy passed over her features, and then she returned to the matter at hand. “What were you looking to know about then, besides Feator?”
“Desmoulein, obviously, so I know how long I have, if I need to avoid certain sicknesses…I’d rather not dwell on how I’m specifically going to go. Though it’s good information to know if your heart’s weak or your lungs might give, or if you’re going to go blind in your old age.”
There was a long pause and Mordai finally filled it when he spoke again. “I’m surprised you don’t want to know more about Beleskie’s Way.”
“Relationships and soulmates? What interest would I have in things like that?” she questioned, mild surprise in her eyes. “I didn’t know you were curious about who you might end up with.”
“Don’t you think it’s important to know if you’re destined for a single soulmate in this life, or if your destiny lies in many relationships and then knowing how many you’re going to have?” Something in his voice came close to betraying him. “Just so that…you know.”
“What purpose would that serve? What if you approached the one you were intended to be with and they had no idea you were meant to be together? I can see you now, Mordai: approaching the Mei mistress, ‘Destiny said we were meant for one another!’ and then she would edge away slowly.” Sharhara laughed richly, then thought the better of it, “Besides, wouldn’t it ruin the excitement of being in love? Doesn’t being uncertain add something to the whole experience?”
“Yeah, well…I mean, it’s just to know if you have one or not. I don’t know if they tell you names of whoever it might be, but it would inspire some hope, some direction. Or at least, make your life different to know that there’s just one person, not just relationship after relationship. You’d approach romance differently with that knowledge in mind.” He turned sly. “It’s not like suitors are knocking down your door, Sharhara.”
She threw him a dark look. Since their earliest days at the temple, Mordai had been accepted as the earth-mage prodigy that he was, bedecked in friends male and female. He knew what it was to be included, unlike Sharhara whose ice mage abilities cast fear and doubt upon her morality, and could count only the boy sitting next to her as a companion. When he felt safe being seen with her, that is.
“So, have you chosen then?” she asked coolly, glossing over his insult.
“Yeah, I’ve got Feator, Desmoulein and Beleskie.” He gathered up his parchment and his list, turning to regard her. “I’m going to turn in my choices. We’ve only got an hour or so before we’re called on to discuss them.” He smiled a little awkwardly. “Good luck then.” He walked off, leaving her to her list.
Turin, the Red, Feator. Her fingers twitched as she reached for her quill. Hurriedly, she scratched out the middle in a long stroke, replacing it. For a heartbeat she stared down at the change, heaving out a heavy sigh before rising and staring the walk back into the university grounds.
No one needed to know she’d written Beleskie in her long, neat hand.