A Trial of Sorcerers – Elise Kova

I don’t… …keep this just between us… Eira ignored the mutterings, keeping her head down and her nose in her book. The words were nothing more than magically trapped whispers of people who weren’t there— people who might not have been there for hours or even decades. They were her companions and her torturers. Eira fought to suppress and ignore the voices because when she’d tried to talk about them, no one believed her. No one else could hear them. She ascended the main walkway of the Tower of Sorcerers, a sloping path that wound like a corkscrew between lecture halls and libraries in the center and apprentice dormitory rooms on the outside. People brushed past her, quiet in contrast to the cacophony that threatened to deafen her if she let her magic run awry and unchecked. Instead, Eira tried to fill her mind with the words of the book she was reading. They painted pictures of a land far away—the Crescent Continent, Meru. A land filled with magic vastly different than hers, and peoples that seemed as if they were straight out of a folktale. It was easy for her to place herself beyond her body, imagining standing on those distant shores, until a voice said— …kill our sovereign… She stopped in her tracks. Two apprentices emerged from a storeroom, whispering amongst themselves. The man wore Tower robes like her—no collar, loose sleeves to the elbows, hem falling at the small of his back. The woman’s robes had capped sleeves and a high collar. A Waterrunner and Firebearer, Adam and Noelle, also known as the Tower’s “power couple”—and the last people Eira ever wanted to see.

“What’re you staring at, freak?” Adam, the Waterrunner, said. “I’m sorry, what?” Eira asked calmly, slipping her book into her satchel so they couldn’t turn her reading about Meru—her passion—into more ammunition to be used against her. “Is she deaf now? Wasn’t she the one who ‘heard voices’ all the time?” Adam scoffed and looked to Noelle, who gave a snicker and tucked a length of dark tresses behind her ear. “Perhaps she was talking to her imaginary friends and couldn’t hear us?” Noelle suggested. “That it?” Adam took a step closer to Eira. Eira looked at him from toe to head. She stared at the tip of his hooked nose to avoid his dark brown eyes. Just like Alyss had told her to do so she wouldn’t be intimidated. “I thought I heard one of you say something about the emperor.” He laughed, a grating and terrible sound.

A laugh Eira knew well…a laugh he reserved for at her. “Do I look like someone who would talk politics?” “No.” Eira shook her head. “I suppose not. You’d have to have half a brain to have an opinion on politics.” She tore her eyes away and started back up the tower. Adam grabbed her elbow, snarling, “What did you say?” “Let me go,” Eira said quietly. Her magic swelled at the offending contact; if he held on to her much longer he’d be swept away by it, as helpless as a child in a rip current. “You think you can just insult me and walk away?” “Come on, Adam.” Noelle grabbed the arm not holding Eira in place.

“It’s not insulting you if it’s true,” Eira said softly. “Say that again!” Tides of magic rolled off of him, uncontrolled, unstoppable. Eira felt like the moon, spinning around him with her words. Pulling him from one direction to the next was all too easy. Making him feel whatever she wanted him to feel— Stop. Eira closed her eyes and sighed softly, trying to ward off the dark depths she was sinking into. It was a place she could never risk going. “I’m sorry. Now let me go, Adam, please.” “I’m not—” “She’s not worth it.

” Noelle regarded Eira warily from the corner of her eye. “You know what she did three years ago.” Because of you. I didn’t mean to. If you hadn’t… The words still bubbled up in her, as horrible and dark as the memory of that day. But Eira was eighteen now. She no longer had to say everything that crossed her mind. Silence was often the best path forward in a noisy world. Stasis and quiet and numb. “What’s going on here?” a familiar voice interjected.

All three of them turned to face the speaker. Adam’s hand quickly fell from Eira’s elbow. “Nothing, Marcus.” “It better be,” Marcus said with a note of warning. “Come, Eira, we don’t want to keep the Minister of Sorcery waiting.” Marcus breezed past her and up the Tower. Eira followed dutifully behind. “Run along, coward,” Noelle hissed, just loud enough that Eira could be sure it wasn’t a magical whisper from the wall, or door, or floor. Eira paused, glancing over her shoulder and meeting Noelle’s black eyes. “Isn’t it nice to have Mister Perfect for a brother, who always comes to your defense? Wonder what would’ve happened to you if you didn’t have him to keep you in check and your uncle as the minister.

The senate would have eaten you alive.” She sneered, her pretty face twisting into something that more resembled the ugliness in her soul. Eira simply stared. She kept her mind vacant—as though she were sinking deeper and deeper into the bitter cold of the ocean that rolled within her. Underneath the water, everything was muted, distant, and dull. Voices couldn’t carry. No one could reach her. “Eira?” Marcus called. Snapping back to reality, Eira followed swiftly behind, leaving Noelle and Adam standing in the walkway. “I don’t need your help.

” “I didn’t do anything.” Her brother rolled his eyes. “Yes, you did.” “Well, what do you expect?” He sighed. “I’m not going to just stand by and watch them harass you.” Because you’re afraid of what will happen if they push me too far, Eira added mentally. “If you keep standing up for me, they’ll never stop.” “That something Alyss told you?” He arched a dark blond eyebrow at her, knowing he had her pegged. Marcus had hair more like their parents—a honey gold, darkened with bronze. Whereas Eira’s hair was a platinum shade, so bright it looked nearly stark white in sunlight.

“Maybe.” Eira twisted the strap of her bag. “But she’s not wrong.” He sighed. “Eira, I told Mom and Dad I would protect and look after you. I promised Uncle Fritz and Uncle Grahm, too.” “I just turned eighteen. I don’t think it’s really necessary to protect me anymore.” “Yet I always will.” His large palm landed heavily on the top of her head and Marcus shook it back and forth.

“You’re going to mess up my hair.” She swatted his hand away. “How will anyone tell the difference?” Eira scowled at him, which only made him laugh. “Don’t give me that look. Come on, Eira, smile. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you smile.” “Let’s just get our assignments for the day.” Eira crossed to the second-to-last door in the Tower of Sorcerers, nearly at the very top—the office of the Minister of Sorcery. She knocked quickly. “Come in.

” Within was a room as familiar to her as her home back in Oparium. A large desk was situated in the center, facing the door. Two chairs were positioned on one side, set up for conversations. Expansive windows provided breathtaking views of the jagged peaks that topped the mountains surrounding the capital of the Solaris Empire. All manner of worktables and storage were crammed around the windows. Something was always bubbling softly on their surfaces. Behind the desk was a man with rich blue eyes and hair that matched Marcus’s. He was as much a fixture of this room in Eira’s mind as the beakers or cauldrons. “Ah, hello, you two!” Fritz, the Minister of Sorcery, stood. “Minister,” Eira said with a polite nod.

“Always so formal.” Fritz rounded the desk with a shake of his head. He scooped up Marcus in a bear hug, even though Marcus was head and shoulders taller. “It’s good to see you both.” “Good to see you, too, Uncle,” Marcus said. “You saw us two days ago.” Yet Eira relented to her eager uncle, giving him a gentle squeeze as he crushed her so hard her back popped. “Oh, there you go, I heard that.” Fritz chuckled. “Feel better?” “Yes, actually.

” Eira stretched, forward and back. “And just because I saw you two days ago doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. It feels like just yesterday you two arrived at the Tower, hand in hand, playing in my office—” “Yes, we know, Uncle.” Eira gave him a smile and a pat on the shoulder. “Now, may we have our assignments?” “Are you running off to meet Alyss?” “If our assignments happen to coincide again,” Eira admitted. “Happen to,” Marcus repeated with a snort and a chuckle. “Here you go.” Fritz handed her a slip of paper and then one to Marcus…twice as long. “Now, off with you; it’s getting late already and there’s work to be done.” “Thanks, Uncle.

” Marcus gave a playful salute with his paper before heading out the door. Leaving Eira in his dust, yet again. “What is it?” Fritz asked thoughtfully. Eira looked down at her list. Five names were penned underneath the words, West Clinic. Her brother had at least ten—no, fifteen. “He has a longer list than me again,” she murmured. “I want to give you time to spend with Alyss.” The words sounded sincere. So why did they feel like a lie? “I want to do more.

” “In time.” He said the two words she hated the most. “When will it be my time?” Eira asked softly. “I want to—” He didn’t give her an opportunity to finish. “Don’t rush. You’re young. There’s plenty of time to come into your own. It’s best to take things slowly, given how unique your magic is.” Eira pressed her lips into a hard line. When she didn’t say anything, he pressed, “All right?” “All right,” she echoed, resigned, and slipped away before the conversation could continue.

Instead of fighting, she pulled out her book once more, reading over pages she’d read so many times she could recite the words from memory. Words of places Eira knew she’d never get the chance to go because she’d be stuck here her entire life, chaperoned and shepherded. She wound once more down the tower, the whispers filling her ears. As a girl, she hadn’t understood the voices; she’d thought they were imaginary friends. Her parents had thought the same. Then, her magic had begun to manifest in different ways and it became apparent that she was a sorcerer, like her brother and uncle. Eira knew from that day she was destined for the Tower of Sorcerers in Solarin, capital of the Empire. It was the place all sorcerers in the Empire were sent. She’d hoped that she’d find a solution, or even an explanation for the voices in the Tower. But she’d yet to have any leads.

All she could show for her efforts was learning how to silence the voices—if she focused. She’d arrived six years ago, young for an initiate, but not unheard of. Exceptions could also be made for the niece of the Minister of Sorcery…a fact her peers rarely let her forget. At the base of the Tower of Sorcerers was the main entry—the only entrance nonsorcerers knew of and could access. There was a waiting area, tables and chairs, and sofas, usually vacant. No one came to visit sorcerers. Emperor Aldrik Solaris and Empress Vhalla Solaris had done a lot to push sorcerers toward being accepted in common society. But hatred and prejudice were self-feeding vines, constantly digging two new tendrils into the hearts of man for every one that was ripped out. “I was just about to leave without you,” Alyss grumped as she jumped up from the seat she’d been occupying. She sent the clay she’d been magically sculpting back into the pouch on her hip with a thought.

“Sorry.” “I saw your brother come by, so I knew you wouldn’t be far behind.” Marcus’s shadow. That was all she ever was. Even Alyss, her best and truest friend, knew it. “I just got delayed with Uncle. What were you making?” Eira quickly changed the topic. “Nothing, just messing around.” Alyss grinned. Her fingertips were always stained by clay, or stone dust, from whatever project she was “messing around” with.

“What you really should ask me is what I’m reading.” “You find a new book?” “Yes, and it’s a truly scandalous story.” Alyss spoke low and fast. “I found it in the back corner of the used bookstore on Flare Avenue. It has things you wouldn’t believe someone penned…much less committed to print!” “You’re too smart to be filling your head with such things.” Eira rolled her eyes. “And you’re too fun at heart to be so prudish and off-putting all the time.” Alyss braced her hands on her hips. Dozens of small, long, dark braids Eira had helped weave into her hair a week ago slipped over her shoulder. Beads Alyss’s mother had sent from the North clanked softly at the ends with every turn of her head.

For Eira, a trip home was a hard day’s travel. For Alyss, it was a week to the northernmost region of the Solaris Empire. “You know nothing about me.” Eira mirrored her friend’s motion, putting her hands on her hips. “Wh-me? Me? I know nothing about you?” Alyss scoffed loudly, her voice echoing around the iron chandelier overhead. “I am the only one in this whole Tower who knows you.” Eira hummed but said nothing. A grin threatened to split her lips. Alyss dug her elbow into Eira’s side and freed the expression with a laugh. “Now, we’re going to the West Clinic today, right?” “Looks like.

” Together, they set off into the brisk spring dawn. Ice still clustered around gutters and hung from awnings, sparkling like magic given form in the early morning light. Alyss’s breath plumed before her like a chimney in the cold. But Eira’s was invisible. Eira closed her eyes, imagining for just a second that she was the spirit of winter itself. She was the crisp air. She lived in the snow banks. Her heart was buried deep, deep in the icy blue of the frost-covered peaks of the mountains that surrounded her. “Spring can’t come fast enough,” Alyss muttered from under her scarf. “Winter can’t hold on long enough.

” Eira sighed contentedly, stretching her arms high overhead. “You’re crazy.” “So they tell me.” “Lucky for you, I like crazy.” Alyss hooked her elbow with Eira’s. “Now, you didn’t tell me.” She held out the book. “Hear anything?” “It’s not something I can command…” Smother at best. “You know that.” “That’s because you don’t try and command it.

You just suppress and sink into your ‘ocean.’” “Because I’d rather not hear the whispers.” And there was no sound in the bubble of water Eira imagined herself within. Alyss sighed dramatically. “You have a gift and you do nothing with it. So it falls on me to encourage you. Just hold the book and see if you can make it talk?” Alyss pressed the book into Eira’s hands. “Anything?” Eira turned it over and flipped through the pages. Despite Alyss’s enthusiasm, she kept her magic bundled away. “No, it’s quiet.

” “Damn.” Alyss took the book back and shoved it into her bag, fitting it amongst the salves and potions that she was carrying to the clinic. “One day I’ll find something truly special for you to listen to.” “I hope not.” “You have a gift,” she repeated. As if Eira would suddenly agree on the one millionth time. “I have a curse.” “Stop being so down.” Alyss jostled her lightly. “It’s positively frigid out here.

I know you can’t scowl when it’s this bloody cold.” Eira cracked a smile. Then, it fell. “There was something, earlier…” “What?” …kill the sovereign… That was what the voice had said. A voice as cold as winter’s midnight. Eira shook her head. “Nothing.” “I know when it’s something, now tell me.” “I ran into Noelle and Adam by the Waterrunner’s storeroom.” It was at least partially the truth.

“Oh, Mother above, no doubt mashing faces.” Alyss scowled, and proceeded to rant on something Adam had done during one of her history classes the entire walk to the clinic. The West Clinic was a three-story structure located on what Eira considered to be the center level of Solarin. There were two others in the city, but this was the largest and always the busiest by default. It was where new clerics were trained in the arts of potions and salves, and Groundbreakers assisted them. It was also where Waterrunners, like her, studied how to use their magic to help the dying transition into the next world. For every five non-magical people flooding in and out of the clinic—Commons, as they were called in the Tower—Eira saw one sorcerer. Sorcerers were easy to spot for two reasons. The first being that most, like Eira and Alyss, wore black robes of varying styles depending on their rank and type of elemental affinity. The second being that Commons would take wide steps to avoid being in a sorcerer’s path.

Eira and Alyss entered through the main lobby, but stopped off in a side room, where they prepared for the day. They both tied masks over their faces and covered their hands with thick gloves before bidding each other goodbye. However, before Eira left, she couldn’t help but notice even Alyss had more people on her list than she did. Sighing, Eira tucked her hair behind her ears and forced herself to focus. She may be the runt, the outcast, the weird one…but these people still needed what comforts she could bring. She looked at the first name on the list, cross-checked it against a cleric’s ledger, and then proceeded to a room in the far back wing where all activity was hushed by the presence of death itself. Eira drifted from room to room, her magic at service to the people of the Solaris Empire. It had been the idea of the empress, they said, to make sorcerers at the behest of the people. To make use of magic beyond times of war and bring it into the sun from the shadowed corners and back alleys sorcerers had been repressed into for as long as time was counted in the Empire. The tools of her trade were simple—a bowl and some wooden tokens.

Eira would fill the bowl with water and then place the token at its center. Using her magic, she could record the words of the sick into the token and turn it into a vessel for his or her family to listen to later, just in case the worst befell them. When Eira was finished, she returned to the Tower alone. Alyss would take at least double the amount of time. As a Groundbreaker, she was actually trying to heal the people. She could do that much. All Eira functioned as was an assistant to a friend she knew well—death. Eira wandered the empty halls. Classes were in session and the sorcerers who weren’t attending were out in the city. People were tired of being cooped up, and they were eager for spring.

… I can’t believe… I’ll get him back… … Prince Baldair is dead… Eira paused at the familiar voice. The Tower Library was unassuming in the afternoon sunlight streaming through the back windows. It was completely silent—just her and the murmurs. “Who are you…were you?” Eira whispered, taking a step inside. A tendril of magic reached out through the air without her permission, grasping, searching. Seeking that familiar voice that she’d heard so many times in these halls. For the first time, Eira didn’t try and stop her magic. She dared to let her power wander, as Alyss would encourage, just to see what it would find. …All of this…end very soon… The voice whispered from somewhere across space and time. Eira paused by the back windows, looking out over the city.

Someone had been here. Someone immensely powerful. Someone with magic strong enough to imprint their words onto the very fibers of the cushions, or the stone of the walls, without even realizing it. Unintentional vessels, such things were called, and they were regarded as being highly uncommon. Eira had tried to tell her teacher otherwise once and was reprimanded. Her theory on unintentional vessels being far more common than anyone realized—if you knew how to listen for them—was of the many things she now kept silent on. “That reminds me…” Eira started back up the Tower, pausing at the storeroom across from the Waterrunners’ workroom. Instruction echoed out through the cracked door. She used one particularly zealous order to hide the soft squeal of the storeroom’s hinges as she slipped inside. Luckily, Noelle and Adam were off elsewhere.

Eira did a quick round of the dusty shelves. A single bulb of glass—a flame magically hovering within—danced with the long shadows cast by Watterunner tools. “All right, Alyss. Fine. Let’s see if you’re right. If this is really a gift.” Eira gathered her courage and asked the air, “Who were you trying to kill?” …just imagine, Emperor Solaris… the icy voice from earlier whispered as if in reply. Eira spun, heart racing. She wasn’t used to the voices replying. The traces of magic were ornery things, difficult to pin down in the best of times.

They spoke to her on their terms, never on hers. Or, maybe Alyss was right. Maybe she’d never really tried. “When?” Silence. “When?” Was there a plot to kill the emperor? Her heart was in her throat now. Surely no one would— No one knows about this place…our secret…The voice was fainter, vanishing. Eira could almost feel the ghost of the woman with the icy tones passing through her and heading…no, that couldn’t be right…heading to the back corner of the room? Eira scattered the cobwebs and dragged her fingers through years of dust along a groove she had never noticed in the back corner. It was half-hidden by a shelf and a barrel. There, concealed by the shadow of an alcove, was a small handle. She gripped it and tugged.

Then pushed. Just when Eira was about to give up, unseen hinges groaned. She pushed harder. The door released at once, swinging open. Eira went head-over heels and toppled into a secret chamber.

.

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