by Enid Yu
I felt a what seemed like breath tickling at my neck and when I raise my brow to see, I find the culprit. Her wet canine nose was almost close enough for us to touch. I was laying down on a chair and no longer in the room where magic was being practiced. Zeyl was sitting nearby, and so was Neean. When they noticed that I was awake, Neean came closer to me, followed by Zeyl.
“How are you feeling?” asked Neean. She placed her hand on my forehead as if I had some sort of fever, when in fact, I could barely lift a finger. Neean looks to Zeyl while having understood my current status. “He’s used up most of his energy. You’ll need to have him rest at home for the time being.”
“How long?” asked Zeyl.
“It’s nothing a day of sleep won’t fix,” said Neean, and proceeds to caress my cheek. “He’s awake, but he won’t be able to speak for a while. By the way, how old is he?”
“… Seven,” answered Zeyl, and she has Neean help place me on Zeyl and my head now rested on her shoulder. We leave with Selsie pacing right behind. I could only watch on as we walked past the corridors, then the building entrance, and finally the gates that lead to that same building. We pass the slaver, too, while he was still looking for more buyers. Now back in the inn, Zeyl lays me down on the bed and I bounce slightly.
“Sorry,” she said, and while I remained immobile on the bed, Zeyl went to the door as if expecting someone. She opens it, and to my surprise Isla was waiting in the hallway and enters.
“I heard rumor of the mishap,” said Isla as she sat next to me. “Seems to be true..”
“I’ll need your help taking care of him,” said Zeyl, “until he regains movement, I’d like you stay by him.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” responded Isla, and she smiles almost connivingly. I hurriedly try to find what movement I’ve lost. This girl, I can feel that she’s going to do something drastic. Again, I try regaining movement and fail to see any results.
“Don’t try anything funny,” warned Zeyl.
“I wouldn’t dream of it~” said Isla, “but don’t you find it strange, master Zeyl?” Zeyl goes and sits by the window and looked on to the crowd that hastily make their way through the city. Selsie lay on the floor by the window, also.
“The young lord…” said Isla, “he seems very… aware despite his age.”
“Aware of what?” asked Zeyl, and Isla positions her hand under the cloth of my shirt and over my chest, feeling my heart beat against the palm of her hand.
“Like perhaps the lining of a lady’s underwear, the curve her bottom makes whence turned to her lover,” said Isla, and my heart began to increase in rhythm. “Or perhaps her bosom…” My fingers twitched. “… her eyes, her legs, whatever it is that interests a gentleman towards that person he is most attracted to… Sex.” And as if having recuperated some of my strength, I move Isla’s hand away just barely and I began to cough.
“…” Note to self, avoid Isla. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid! She’s evil!
“I’ll go bring you something to eat,” said Isla, and Selsie follows closely behind with her tongue out. “I’ll make you something, too.” Both exit and I felt my arms shaking as I use them to sit up right.
“Careful,” said Zeyl. “Stay where you are.”
“Mm,” I said in agreement as words were still difficult to say.
* * *
Isla returns shortly after with food as she promised and without Selsie. She walked over to me and sat by the bedside like last time. She took a spoon and began feeding me what seemed like porridge.
“So,” said Isla, while being careful not to let any of the porridge spill. “How many more days until you leave, maser Zeyl?”
“A week at most,” answered Zeyl.
“So by the end of the month.”
“Yes,” said Zeyl, “I’ve finished most of the business I’ve had here and will begin preparations to leave soon.”
“Then…” Isla spoke softly, “have you made your decision?”
“…?” I struggle to express any motion with the numbness on my cheek, otherwise I would be giving them confused looks.
“I see..” said Isla, and while she gave me another spoon full, I felt her hand shake the spoon ever so slightly in my mouth. She frowned.
“…” I saw a new side to her, even as the atmosphere became heavier so suddenly. Then Isla smiles again and I finish eating the food she brought me.
I rested for most of the day and regained a portion of my strength, though Zeyl warned me not to try using magic today, not even for a second.
* * *
Sunset was a few minutes away. We were outside now watching the never calming crowds walk by. The stalls and buildings were still lively, and looked more appealing now because of the color given off from the perfect angle of the close star, Zol, and this planet. A good sea breeze fills my nose, reminding me of the body of water I’ve yet to visit. We become a part of the crowd moments later, just me and Zeyl, and like always, she holds my hands as we move through.
Some people in the crowd are usually those looking to buy items and sell them in other cities, others are here to buy things to make trips into the woods and kill unwanted animals to collect their skin, bones, even the sinew to make good bow string. A very few, as I saw, were students from the school I would attend soon, and they were walking in groups, looking on to the stalls and not really buying anything. A few minutes later and we reach our destination. A sword shop.
“Hello,” an old blacksmith along with his wife greeted us.
“About the sword I’ve ordered,” said Zeyl.
“Ah, yes,” said the blacksmith. “It is ready.” He takes out a sword in its sheath from a back room and takes out the sword to present it. “Black steel embedded with one anti-rust stone on the blade, and one soothing stone embedded inside the grip.” It is a beautiful sword with curves for a guard and a very fine and thin blade. The magic stone was tiny and barely noticeable. This should be a rapier, much lighter in comparison to Zeyl’s long-sword.
“Two gold,” said the blacksmith. A reasonable sum considering the magic stones he likely had to pay for. This made me curious about the inner workings of magic stones and what exactly determines their worth.
“Thank you,” said Zeyl, handing the blacksmith two gold in exchange for the sword. She has me wrap the leather to carry her sword on the right side of her hips. She then takes out her sword with her left hand and swings it around with careful movement in each stroke. “Perfect.”
We leave the blacksmith’s and move on closer to the center of the city as the day grows darker. Traffic slows down with people not being able to see where they are going, a sight I didn’t expect to see. Then small objects around the street start glowing like dimly lit candles and float from the ground, growing brighter by the second. They act like street lamps, rows and rows of them down in one single line all the way to the center of the city.
Zeyl guides me into another shop, this time it id a magic store specializing in clothing. A young boy my age walks up to me and leads me to a changing room where he takes my measurements.
“Make it two or three sizes bigger,” said Zeyl. These measurements are for the magic uniform I need for class. Then another clerk walks in, much older and more appropriate for the store.
“And this is for Mirahn’s school uniform?” He asked, to which Zeyl nods.
“How exactly does magic work?” I asked the clerk spontaneously to explain why there are magical items that use magic stones and some that do not. He doesn’t object to my request.
“Your clothing, like any magic gem, act as a vessel that houses that magic energy inside,” said the clerk, now showing us to a room where other workers are sewing on clothing. He has me sit with Zeyl opposite of him and he begins to sew on pieces of cloth, letting the needle dance left and right like a carefully choreographed dance.
“…” I listened carefully.
“Magic on clothing is actually quite a recent discover, no more than a few decades back compared to other magic that are hundreds and thousands of years old. We pour in our magic to accommodate whatever our customer’s needs are. Sometimes we apply an object resistance to fire, ice, and most minor spells, for example. So long as the magic does one thing, and does so constantly, then it will recycle its own energy until needed but it isn’t without its own faults.” He finishes one part of the clothing, and continues. “Stones, or gems of magic, they store magic, too, but they require steps to activate and do their job. For example, step one, activate. Step two, discern owner’s condition from good or bad. Is the owner in danger, are they hurt? If yes, then attack nearby living things. If not, then the stone will continuously stay on standby.”
“Step three, repeat step two until all magic has run out.”
“Can the stone not be deactivated and resold with what magic is left?” I asked.
“No, it isn’t that simple because the magic is stored in a stone, which by the way these stone and gems can store a greater capacity of magic than cloth and are thus worth a good sum of gold. They activate by letting a tiny crack break the stone and so the magic flows out to do the job the user needs it to do.”
“And what about summoning stones?”
“Ah, glad you brought that up,” said the clerk. “These are still being researched. If we can figure why a summoning stone does not break and still activate, while also keeping too much magic from escaping, then this could change how people use magic stones in the future.”
He finishes the last piece of cloth that makes the bottom half of the robe along with a pair of pants, a shirt, and a sweater. It was done very quickly and he has me go to a changing room to try them out. They fit perfectly… almost, just two sizes bigger, but I wonder, why a robe? Seems like the norm for most wizards in anime and movies. When I ask Zeyl who is standing outside the changing room, she says that it is simply an extra layer of protection. I keep my other clothing in a bag and step out the changing room.
“It suits you,” said Zeyl and I thank her. The clerk stood next to her.
“Well, then,” said the clerk, “let us formally greet each other, instructor to student. My name is Coll.”
“My name is Lee,” I said. “You’re an instructor at the institution?” I bow, and he returns the greeting. Something I learned from the culture section of Aria in my book. It isn’t needed, but a good first impression can work wonders..
“Yes,” he said, “and I’ve heard of how you manipulated water with ease earlier today. I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon after the little.. mishap.”
“It seems he has become aware,” said Zeyl as she copied Isla’s pronouncement of the word and emphasizes it more than needed.
“Aware of what?” asked Coll.
“Dunno, but it seems to have helped get him back in shape,” said Zeyl, and I try changing the subject.
“What do you teach, professor?”
“Stones, gems, cloth, anything that I can pour magic into and bring it to life,” he said. “You can ask for my class when you get the chance. Right now I’ve brought you up to speed in what we have learned in the first week in terms of the basics.”
“Ah, now I see why you went so far into detail,” I commented.
We part ways shortly after and pay the shop the one gold for the set of clothing, which I ended up keeping on me. I now have a little over thirteen gold left. I then ask Zeyl to lead us to the bookstore again out of curiosity, and when we get there the same owners from before greet us. I browse around their many shelves and vast collection. After searching for a while, I failed to find any science books. There aren’t any, but just to be sure I ask the clerk.
“Science?” he said with a confused look.
“Yes,” I said, “I want something preferably on atomic particles.” If I am right, then this should help in using magic instead of just, for example, trying to imagine water moving up like Lo instructed me. Then perhaps I can learn how to do other things. However, I do have my share of suspicion that such text does not exist.
“I’ve never heard of such a book,” said the clerk.. and I was right to believe so.
“…Do you know where I might be able to find one?”
“You should try your school,” he said. We finish with buying just a notebook and pen. Though neither are what imagined them to be. The pen is just a lengthy well crafted piece of wood in the shape of a pen soft point end. The whole thing is made from one material and not separated from the ink and plastic parts that are found in ones from my world. I scribe my name on the book and it writes like a normal pen. The notebook, too, it is just one page that automatically creates more when one page is finished or I swipe to the right.
“I thought books were expensive because paper was hard to come by,” I said.
“You pay for the information,” answered Zeyl.
“Then what is stopping me from copying information from one text book and selling the notebook as a copy?”
“The law,” said Zeyl, bluntly. “And the notebook itself.”
“Ah… but the notebook, too?”
“It knows when information is being copied word for word, or if a big percent of it is too much alike from other works. Then it just erases everything. Of course, you can buy a notebook that doesn’t erase even a copy, but… it will cost about ten gold as compared to the few silver for the one notebook you’ll never run out pages for.” She notes that mine has a brown cover, and explains that black covers are the ten gold variations.
* * *
Back at the inn. I made sure to change out of my uniform and keep it inside the closet. We were greeted by Isla at the entrance as she tried attracting customers inside. She acted as she always did, and I somehow felt worried. That also reminds me something about the inn and Zeyl living soon.
“How much are houses in Aria?” I asked.
“Depends on what area of the city,” she said. “at most five hundred for the nicest homes in the best areas, and at the lowest… maybe twenty.”
“Silver?” I said jokingly.
“If only..” she said. “I would recommend you buy one when you get the chance, since traveling isn’t exactly for children, and long-term housing is better than in comparison to staying at an inn.”
“Yeah,” I said, “then what about water bills…?” I wanted to add gas and electricity, but I can already guess that these aren’t exactly applicable since most things in Aria use magic.
“Oh.. that answers everything,” I said.
Zeyl sat by the window as she did when last she spoke with Isla. It might be good time to bring it up, especially since Zeyl will be leaving soon. I ask her about my concerns with our unruly inn keeper, Isla.
“Isla works at the Inn as a slave,” she said