Chapter 11: Friendship in the making
A quiet knock broke her attention from the words in front of her. She closed the book, setting it on the side table on the balcony. The sun warmed her back as she opened the front door to an anxious courier who handed her a sealed letter and scurried away, eying the hallway nervously. The brilliant green potion bottle on a sea of royal blue stood starkly against the ivory parchment and she felt her lips purse of their own volition. With a swift movement, the seal was broken and the letter opened. It contained two letters written in the same slanted script as the first letter:
She folded the paper with a sigh and turned to see both Corpegara watching her with heads tilted. A smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “I suppose you both would be up for an adventure this morning?” With a running start, their wings unfurled and they hurled their stone bodies from the balcony as she grabbed a cloak.
Though snow rarely fell on the central island she had been raised on, the white flurries had become a welcome staple of her morning routine. Barren trees did nothing to filter the brilliant rays from the morning sun as it painted the landscape in warm color. It all vanished the moment she crossed the threshold leading to the market near the center of Istima. The weather here reflected the real weather of the outside world and the transition from crisp winter air to slightly humid warmth was always jarring.
The giant, golden gates that welcomed all to the Winter Court were scrolled and had intricate depictions of the elements. If you looked long enough, the wind seemed to move the grass and the waterfall flowed peacefully. Then you blinked and the scene was still once more.
Each court had their own weather patterns and daytime/nighttime schedules. Though Lyssana had only been in the Winter and Autumn Courts, she had heard whisperings about the others. The Night Court was to be avoided if she valued her sanity, and the Day Court was full of abandoned dealings from the mages of old, so you never knew what would be found waiting around a turn there. She would avoid that as well.
Sarpia flew past her, wings curled tightly around her body as she dove through the air. Halvard followed closely behind before they unfurled their wings and flew back into the sky above. A water mage she recognized from the food hall balked at the two, but Lyssana ignored her as she continued forward, hair swirling around her head in the artificial air currents.
The market bustled as people hurried between the vendor stalls, each with their own basket of various foods and Knick knacks. Soon her own basket overflowed with colorful fruits and snacks. A bottle of spiced wine even made its way to her arms and she smiled at the mundane activity as the sun warmed her auburn hair. The Corpegara chirped above, gathering a small crowd that pointed as they swirled in the air. It was the most peace she had felt since her arrival, though she knew it was to be short lived. With a regretful glance at the final merchant on the street, she made her way to the bounty board.
A few of the names she recognized from her previous visit to the board and made an effort to memorize the faces she saw drawn before her, in case she were to run across them in the street. Blazar, a muscular man with a nose that looked as though it had been broken several times through the years, sported a mop of curly hair and light eyes. Lyssana thought that if he wasn’t a wanted man, she could have found him handsome. A fair skinned man named Noland had dark eyes that seemed too close together. Finally an older woman named Moira who looked normal. Her face was perfectly symmetrical and Lyssana would have bet money that she was a beauty in her younger years.
Chelgram Ingard was a gangly man with long, dark hair and beady eyes. His facial features resembled a weasel and she scoffed as she pulled the poster from the board. It would be counterintuitive to allow any one else to steal her bounty. She stuffed the paper into the bottom of her basket and began her walk home, enjoying the warmth of the zenith.
A knock on the door interrupted her meditation and she cursed herself for letting so much time pass. She pulled her sore muscles from their cross-legged position in the fireplace and quickly stretched before opening the door with what she hoped would pass as a welcoming smile. Neal and Abby stood in the hallway awkwardly, how they were not used to the grandeur of the upper tower yet was beyond her, they had been here several times. She frowned at that thought, remembering that not long ago she had scoffed at the marble floors and arched ceilings. Maybe she should move to the lower rooms and remember humility. A year ago she was living in a leather tent on the central island, never imagining such a luxury as a copper tub to herself.
They entered the seating room with less apprehension than their first time in her home, seeming to find themselves more comfortable as they made their way to the kitchen.
“You’ve done some decorating. I love it!” Abby’s blue eyes sparkled as she looked around the main living space, taking in the plush carpet and basket of pillows that now adorned the previously barren room. “It feels more comfortable here already.”
“Your last stay reminded me that some comforts are…necessary.” Not for herself of course. She was not so soft as to need a cushion against the marble floors, but she did grudgingly admit sleeping in a bed every night was growing on her. Slightly.
“It’s very nice,” Neal agreed, eyeing the intricate swirls of orange and dark red. “Much more comfortable than before. I assume that means there will be more wine?” His voice had an eager pitch and he looked around the kitchen.
“After we work on this assignment. One glass of wine and you are too incapacitated to think clearly enough for anything productive.” Lyssana smirked and pointedly put a pitcher of water on the table and three porcelain cups.
Neal snorted in disagreement while Abby giggled behind her hand and poured water for herself and Neal. “So…” Abby started, “Where do we start with this assignment?”
“I already know my affinity. Fire is my primary and air my secondary. My first day here I felt a resonance with the lightning in the Storm Sea, so we just need to figure out yours.”
They stared at her as though she had spoken of seeing a ghost. “Have either of you been able to work with another element?” She poured her own water and took a seat at the table, pen and paper ready to take notes at their word.
“Wait, you felt the lightning in the Storm Sea around Istima?” Neal’s voice reflected the shock on his face. “I’ve never heard of anyone able to do that.”
Lyssana shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable with their stares. “And what of yourself?”
It was his turn to shrug then, as he sat in silence.
“This may be more difficult than I anticipated.” Abby muttered, looking to the floor in embarrassment. “I’ve never been able to move anything but water. Never any other form, just water.” She sounded defeated and Lyssana felt a pang of pity for her.
“Well, I thought it might be some work, so I planned ahead.” She reached behind her to a basin in the center island of the kitchen and began putting bowls and small vials on the table. A glass vase with rose stems, a wooden bowl with rich dirt, a porcelain bowl of wood chips, a metal box with ice cubes, a vial with ground bone powder, a vial with ashes, a corked jar of green liquid, an empty glass vase, and a flat slate square. Her guests looked at the items with apprehension and she gave an encouraging nod to Neal. Remembering her own trial as a child, she guided him first. “Reach out your mind to each of the items, take as much time as you need. See if you can feel the energy of any.”
The dirt in the bowl vibrated expectantly and a look of concentration filtered over his face as his eyes settled over one item at a time. He let out a frustrated sigh after making his way around the table and a look of defeat fell over him.
Lyssana focused her attention on his energy, seeking out a different frequency beneath the earth that flowed through him. Her head tilted in concentration. His energy was slow moving, almost like sand beneath a rock that was being pushed down a hill. She looked further, finding a flash of warmth at the very core of his aura. Again, the tiniest flash, like a firework obscured by a dense cloud. It was fire, ever so slightly, it was fire. She let out a breath she did not realize she had been holding and began scribbling notes furiously for her report.
“Neal, I know you have something in you. I felt it.” She reached for the corked vial and placed it in front of him, along with the empty glass vase. “Now, focus on the liquid inside the vial first. See if you can feel the warmth of it with your mind.” He looked at her skeptically, but she found a well of patience that was previously nonexistent. This research was exciting.
“Okay, I’ll try.” He took a deep breath and placed his hand over the opening, closing his eyes and concentrating deeply. Lyssana watched his aura again, watching it seek out the resonance contained by the clay vial. He suddenly opened his eyes and smiled widely as the green liquid bubbled to the top of the vial. “I did it!” He jumped up and threw his fist in the air as Abby clapped excitedly.
“Great job, Neal!” The blue-eyed woman congratulated him with an equally happy smile.
Lyssana continued to write her notes as she watched the bubbling liquid fall back down into the vial. She quickly capped it and moved the vial back to the center of the table before the corrosive liquid could do any damage.
“You manipulated acid, so your secondary element is fire.” She spoke slowly, finalizing her notes before looking up at him. “Welcome to the family.” He beamed even wider at her compliment and performed a celebratory dance.
It was Abby’s turn to try her magic and she took Neal’s seat, hovering her hand over the various containers. She adopted the same look of concentration and after a few minutes it became one of frustration. She looked to Lyssana hopelessly. “Can you help me?”
Lyssana nodded and focused on Abby’s aura. The cool blue of her energy was deep and vast, like a crystalline lake with silt at the bottom. The silt was thin and wisped lazily in the water, but it was there. Lyssana wrote her notes and placed the jar of bone powder and the bowl of wood chips in front of the other woman. Abby eyed her with uncertainty, but held her hands over the bowls and closed her eyes. A few moments passed with nothing, but then the wood chips started to wilt and a single leaf sprouted from the largest in the bowl. Abby stared in shock at the greenery before she wiped the sweat from her face and laughed. “I did it!” She jumped up and Neal pulled her into a hug.
The final notes were complete and Lyssana began putting the vials and bottles back in the sink to be disposed of later. “And now we can drink.” Her smile was genuine as she pulled out the bottle of spiced wine from the market and three crystal goblets. Abby and Neal both mirrored her smile and took their seats at the table again. “So, now that you know your secondary proficiencies, how will you work on becoming more proficient?”
“Well, do you think I could take that vial with me to practice?” Neal asked, almost sheepishly.
She slid it across the table to him and he gave a small bow of his head in thanks. She was surprised by his genuine reaction. It was sweeter than she was used to, but still refreshing.
“So…” Abby started, her voice hesitant. “I think we should all go out to eat one night. You know, dress our best and explore Istima, as a celebration of our success so far?” Her cheeks took on their signature blush again.
“I absolutely agree!” Neal spoke zealously, turning to Lyssana and tilting his head toward Abby a few times in suggestion that she should also agree.
“I suppose a night out would be good for all of us.” She spoke quickly, brows furrowed in hesitation from Neal’s expression toward her. “How about this weekend, Abby?”
“That would be great! Though I suppose your best clothes would blow mine away…” The shorter woman murmured, trailing off into her wine.
“I could bring you to the seamstress for a nice dress if you want.” The words were out of Lyssana’s mouth before she even had a moment to think, but the look on Abby’s face as she lit up with excitement warmed her heart enough to not even think about retracting the offer. “Great, we can go tomorrow after class.”
“Really? Oh, thank you so much Lyssana! That would be a dream come true!”
The rest of the night was filled with more laughter than usual, from all parties present, and Lyssana found herself smiling at Neal’s jokes and chuckling along with the stories Abby told of her childhood. The sun was well below the horizon before their laughter settled and she offered the living room to her guests before heading to sleep for the night. They took her offer gladly and pulled the cushions and plush blankets close for the night.