Light Mage – Laurie Forest

They’re scared to let me see him. My demon child. The elderly Vu Trin healer, Sang Loi, quickly wraps him in a dark blanket, hiding his wings from sight. She hugs him close to her chest, eyeing me with apprehension. Three black-garbed Vu Trin sorceresses flank her, watching me closely, their hands loose on curved swords. Waiting to see what a Gardnerian will do to an Icaral child. An Icaral demon. One of the Evil Ones. And not just any Icaral—this child may be the Icaral of Prophecy. Destined to battle the Gardnerian Black Witch. The Seers of every race are clear on one thing—somewhere out there, the Black Witch is rising, and deep in the world’s shadows, an Icaral is about to rise as well. A male Icaral, who will someday come into his power and fight against her. His victory would be death to Gardneria. My country. And this Icaral may very well be my son.

“Give him to me,” I demand, my voice shaky. I’m propped up on my elbows, the sweat of a hard labor cloaking my back, my hair plastered to my head in wet tendrils, the pain of birth still reverberating through my body. “I want to hold him.” Sang and the row of Vu Trin sorceresses look to Chi Nam, their powerful rune-sorceress. My gaze shifts to her as well. “He’s just a baby,” I rasp out to white-haired Chi Nam. “Not a weapon. And he’s my child. Not yours.” Chi Nam leans heavily on her rune-marked staf and gives me a grave, considering look, then motions to Sang with a quick nod.

The healer folds the blanket back and places the small, warm bundle into my arms. My son’s eyes glow like fire. Black wings, paper-thin, struggle to fan out from his back. His tiny hand wraps around my finger, the world circles around me at a dizzying speed, the enormity of it all pressing down, pushing the air from my lungs. Stripping away the last shred of everything I once believed. I’ve become a pawn in a war that could be the unmaking of us all. And so has my child. The White Wand sits on the table beside me, innocent as a branch, but I can feel it grasping for me. Drawing me near. A constellation of prismatic, shimmering light bursts into view and whorls around the Wand as the vision of a starlit tree pulses in the back of my mind.

The Wand has called to me ceaselessly for months now. Murmuring under my thoughts like a whispered song. Something that teases at my mind yet remains elusive. I look into the eyes of my baby as realization crashes through me with the force of a gale storm. And I finally understand, with staggering clarity, what the Wand has been trying to tell me all this time. Part One Six years ago… Chapter 1: Wandfasting I’m not supposed to touch Father’s books. Especially not his Mage Council books. But as I linger in the deserted sitting room, temptation swells inside me, my heart racing in my chest. Father’s Mage Council tome is splayed out facedown on the arm of his favorite chair, practically begging me to take a peek at its pages. Golden lumenstone lamplight flickers over the gilded Mage Council seal on the book’s cover.

The warm, glimmering color dances in my vision, and the light affinity lines deep inside me pull taut, my wand hand tingling with want. Thunder rumbles somewhere outside in the storm-darkened night. Don’t be drawn in by the gold, I chastise myself. Gold is a Fae color. A bright lure of the Evil Ones. I clench my wand hand and close my eyes in an effort to tamp down the pull of the forbidden color. The gold wash in my vision gradually clears, and I glance toward the sitting room’s open Ironwood door, out into the shadowed hallway, making sure I’m still alone. Emboldened by a desperate curiosity and acting hastily before I can lose my nerve, I take Father’s book in hand and turn it over, breathlessly flipping through the pages until I find what I’m searching for. Gardnerian Guard Ledger of High-Level Elemental Forces (Levels Four and Five) Fire Magery: 603 Mages Air Magery: 78 Mages Water Magery: 321 Mages Earth Magery: 1,290 Mages Light Magery: 1 Mage with rune-sorcery abilities The last line stands out in bold relief in my mind. Only one Light Mage.

I look down at my wand hand, the effects of the gold lingering in the metallic yellow hue that now suffuses my fingertips. Faint, violet veins of lightning flash through the gold, just beneath my skin, the lightning thin as fine thread. I flex my fingers, anxious to clear the color from them. My artistic hobbies used to be enough to contain my burgeoning light magery—painting, weaving and drawing in the permitted designs and colors. Black for our oppression; dark green for our subjugation of the Fae wilds; red for the blood of our ancestors; and blue, but only to depict the sacred Ironflowers. It says in our holy book that all other colors have been corrupted by the Evil Ones, and my family follows The Book of the Ancients to the letter. But lately my light magery has been straining at the edges of me, like a prismatic waterfall threatening to burst as startling new abilities spring to life. I’ve recently discovered that I’m now able to magnify faraway images if I tighten the affinity lines around my eyes, and I can even see in the dark if I really concentrate, though everything seems to be lit by a reddish glow when I do. An uneasy frustration flares inside me, a feeling that’s been mounting for months now. Why is it getting so hard to control my light af inity? And what could I do if I was a boy? If I was allowed a wand and access to light spells? I know it’s wrong to think these thoughts.

I know it’s not what the Ancient One has intended for me, or else He’d have made me a boy. The Book says that female Mages are supposed to pass on magic to our sons, not wield it ourselves. Only the prophetess Galliana and the Black Witch were granted the holy charge to wield magic and save Gardneria from the Evil Ones. Even so, I can’t seem to stop myself from wondering what I could do with a wand. Footsteps sound in the hall. My head snaps up, fright rushing through me. I hastily set the thick volume facedown on the chair, the way I found it, then spring up, fleet as a deer, and make for the door. I peer into the hallway, my pulse thudding. No one. Slipping out of the sitting room, I freeze at the sound of shuffling in the library.

Blending in with the shadows, I creep forward and glimpse movement through the slit in the library’s door. Level Four Mage stripes gleam on the edges of Father’s Mage Council uniform, the silver embroidery catching the flickering light from the fireplace with a lustrous metallic gleam. His wand is sheathed at his side. A rush of longing catches inside me at the sight of the Blackthorn wand’s smoothly carved handle. The rich colors of the room suddenly brighten, then fragment into an iridescent mosaic that encircles the wand like a spiraling flower of light. I close my eyes and take a long, shuddering breath, flexing my wand hand into a tight fist to shake off the wand’s pull. Rattled, I open my eyes, the colors blessedly back where they should be, albeit heightened and pulsing with decadent vibrancy. I keep my eyes carefully averted from Father’s wand and listen intently. Mother Eliss, my stepmother, is gazing up at Father, her brow knit tighter than usual, her expression solemn. I frown and wonder if they’re about to have the usual, troubled conversation about my increasingly uncontrollable light affinity.

“Sage needs to be wandfasted, and soon.” Father’s tone is stern, his voice low and implacable. Wandfasted! The word sears through me and my breath catches in my lungs as I’m thrown into disorienting confusion. No. Not yet. I’m not even thirteen! A shamed flush pricks at my cheeks as I realize what’s likely prompted this conversation. It’s not my light magery—this is all because Mother Eliss found me alone with Rafe Gardner out in the woods yesterday. There’s no need for wandfasting, I inwardly rail, a raw, hot embarrassment twisting up inside me. Rafe and I didn’t do anything impure. We were just up on the property line talking—in full view of everyone! Filled with secret guilt, I shy away from thoughts of Rafe’s stunning emerald eyes.

His warm smile. And my new, furtive curiosity about what it would be like to hold his hand or touch my lips to his, light as a feather. My face burns with humiliation. When she found us together, it was as if Mother Eliss could look straight into my mind and read my deeply private feelings for Rafe. She practically dragged me away from him as I stumbled to keep up with her. Thunder booms outside, and I flinch along with Mother Eliss. Rain begins to pound against the roof, sheeting down the library’s arching windows as my thoughts storm in a tangle of emotion. “She’s so young for wandfasting.” A shadow of bleak worry passes over Mother Eliss’s face and she wrings her fastmarked hands. “She has the figure of a much older girl,” Father insists, as if I’ve committed some trespass.

“It’s time, Eliss.” I shrink back and look down self-consciously at the curves that are now so pronounced, even my modest clothing can’t hide them. “I’ve found a fastmate for her,” Father announces with finality. A fastmate? Panic trills inside me. I’m nowhere near ready to leave my home or my beloved sisters, Retta and Clover. “Who is it?” Mother Eliss gives Father a questioning look. “Tobias Vasillis,” Father announces with slow precision, as if he’s secured a prize. “Clover and Retta are to be bindingly promised to Tobias’s young brothers as well, and fasted to them when they turn thirteen.” Mother Eliss gives a sharp intake of breath. “Oh, well done, Warren.

” Well done? How can she say such a thing? Retta is only seven years old, and Clover just turned six. Why are our parents so eager to send us away? Father deflects Mother Eliss’s praise with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Sage was bound to attract a good match with her light affinity—she’s sure to have high-level Mage sons. And she’s a good girl, our Sage. She deserves to be well fasted.” I calm down a fraction, bolstered by Father’s unexpected praise and Mother Eliss’s unspoken agreement. Our Sage. Not an outsider in the nest, but belonging just as much as my sisters. As much as my twin brothers. Even though Mother Eliss isn’t my birth mother, or my older brother Shane’s.

Momma died of the Red Grippe when I was just five years old, and Father fasted to Mother Eliss not long after. I desperately want to please both of them. I’m afraid of being sent away like Shane, who was always arguing with Father and disobeying Mother Eliss. I want to be their good girl. Mother Eliss is quiet for a long moment, but then she sighs and nods, her tense expression softening. “Eliss,” Father says, his tone warmer, “I know how fond you are of Sage. She’ll be fasted, and then we’ll bring her home. But with her future secured.” It won’t be so bad, I console myself. Mother Eliss seems happy with Father’s choice for me, and after the fasting, I get to come right back home again.

With Retta and Clover. Thunder crashes again, and my head jerks back from the shock of the earsplitting sound. The frantic pitter-patter of small feet sounds around the curving hallway, and suddenly Retta and Clover are clinging to my skirts, a beseeching look on each of their faces. Scared to be caught eavesdropping, I bring a finger to my lips and motion urgently toward the library to hush them. They remain carefully quiet, none of us wanting to invoke our parents’ fury. I gently but hastily guide whimpering, wild-haired Clover and round-eyed, timid Retta back to their room and under their bedcovers. I snuggle in between them, hugging them close as the storm crashes and booms and pounds our estate. Retta’s eyes are tightly closed, her hands pressed hard against her ears, and Clover clutches at me, chewing nervously on her ever-present quilted blanket. “I don’t want you to go away,” Clover says, a stark plea in her tone, and I realize they were listening with ears pressed to the wall again. “Don’t get fasted,” Retta chimes in, her whole body curled into a ball and pressed up against my side.

“Why do you have to get fasted?” I hug them close and tamp down my lingering apprehension. “I’m not going anywhere, you silly ones. Not ’til I’m a lot older. And when I join my fast-family, you’ll come, too.” Retta stares at me, wide-eyed. “We will?” “Of course,” I reassure her, still warmed from the glow of Father’s and Mother Eliss’s praise. “We’ll always be together.” “Okay,” Retta says in a small voice, seeming mollified. Clover’s expression remains that of a soldier under siege. She grasps my arm even tighter, as if preparing to resist if someone tries to snatch me away.

I playfully poke at her until she cracks a smile, and soon her grip on me loosens. I sing them their favorite song, a counting song about baby animals, and stare up at the white bird mobile I’ve sewn for them, the design a reminder of the Ancient One’s holy birds, who watch over us all and protect us from harm. The flock of cheery birds sways in the slight draft the storm has kicked up. My eyes slide down to a nearby shelf housing the cloth dolls I’ve made for my sisters. Smaller dolls fashioned from clothespins sit on the larger dolls’ laps, all of them dressed in Gardnerian black. Beside that shelf is another, holding rows and rows of religious children’s books. Mother Eliss only allows religious books and religious songs and religious art in our house—and the art can only be in the permitted colors. She’s always been strict with me and my sisters, and now she’s often absent and wrapped up in the care of my twin half-brothers. But she often rewards us in little ways when we try to mind the rules—gifts of picture books left on our pillows, and a flowerpress on the dining room table just last week with a note that read, “For My Good Girls.” She doesn’t like to play or sing songs, but I know she’s been through terrible things, having lived through the Realm War.

Unbidden, a troubling memory surfaces from a few days ago, when I found Mother Eliss leaning against the wooden counter in the kitchen, sobbing, a small painting of her dead parents held loosely in her hand. I’d frozen, my heart twisting with sympathy. “Can…can I help you, Mother Eliss?” She’d given a brusque shake of her head, misery coating her in palpable waves. Desperate to soothe her, I’d quietly poured her a cup of tea and fetched her favorite shawl, gently laying it around her thin, surprisingly fragile shoulders. She’d reached out to gently squeeze my arm. “You’re a comfort to me, girl.” Her voice was stuffy, her eyes fixed hard on the counter. A single tear fell from her eye and splattered down onto the wood in a bulbous star. “They’re evil,” she’d told me. “The Kelts.

The Icarals. And those Urisk, too. Pure evil. Every last one of them. They killed my whole family. No one was spared, not even the children.” She’d looked up and leveled her suddenly blazing eyes at me. “Never forget that, Sage. Never. Promise me.

” Unease had spiked through me at her tone, but I’d nodded, hoping to please her. “I promise,” I agreed, intimidated by the fierce grief swimming in her eyes. “Another Black Witch is coming,” she said, her grip on me tightening. “All the Seers have foretold it. The Reaping Times are coming, Sagellyn. And the Evil Ones will be rendered to ash and rent asunder.” I inwardly drew back from her, pulling my affinity lines protectively in. Scared of this talk of Evil Ones and the shadow times coming for us all. Mother Eliss grew suddenly quiet, a jagged misery tightening her face as she released my arm, her hand coming to her eyes as she began to silently weep once more. * * * I hug my sisters tighter, chilled by the memory of Mother Eliss’s implacable grief.

“It’s looking for you, Sage.” Clover’s voice is tiny and worried as she clings to her blanket. Retta’s huddled against my other side, fallen peacefully asleep while I’ve been lost in my own thoughts. “What’s looking for me?” I ask curiously. The wind rattles the windowpanes. “The tree,” she says in a small, sure voice. “I had a dream about it. It’s calling your name. It sounds like the wind. Sage.

Sage. Saaage.” An uneasy chill pricks the back of my neck. “That’s silly.” “It was a dream, but not a dream,” she says in a singsong voice. “It likes you, Sage. Lemme show you.” Clover reaches over to the shelf that abuts the bed and picks up a framed painting I made for her— an illustration of our sacred Source Tree, wreathed in starlight and surrounded by a grove of dark brown Ironwood trees, each graced with deep green leaves and lush blue Ironflowers. Gardnerian children are dancing in a ring around the Source Tree, butterflies and birds flitting about, wildflowers strewn at their feet. “This tree,” she says, pointing to our Source Tree.

“It wants to give you a branch. The White Wand.” Ah. She’s being fanciful. “It talked to you in your dream? The Tree did?” I’m half humoring her, half wondering if her musings about the Ancient One’s Wand of Power would be considered sacrilegious by Mother Eliss. “Not with its mouth,” Clover insists, frowning. “Trees don’t have mouths.” She pats her chest. “In my heart. It’s nice, Sage.

It said you don’t have to be afraid.” It’s an odd thing for her to say and stops me up short, dampening my smile. I brush away a tinge of unease and arrange my face into a teasing expression. “Now why in the world would it want to give me the Wand?” I ask, playing along. Clover likes to spin tales. “So the demons don’t get it.” Surprise stabs through me. “The…what? Where would you get such ideas?” Lightning flashes. “From my dream,” she says, as if this should be obvious. “Well, it was just a dream,” I reassure her, fighting off a sudden chill.

“I’m scared of the demons.” Clover pulls herself into a ball, her eyes darting furtively around as she tugs her blanket up over her nose. “They’ve got big shadow horns! And glowing eyes! And they’re made of fire!” “You don’t need to be scared of anything,” I stolidly insist. “It was just a bad dream.” Branches scrape across the window’s glass, like claws. Like something trying to get in. “No,” Clover says urgently, eyes wide, her words slightly muffled by her blanket. “They’re real. They’re coming. They’re coming for you.

They want it.” “Clove, stop it.” “They want the White Wand,” she presses, ignoring me. “They have the Shadow One already, but they want that one, too. You can’t let them have it, Sage!” “Stop. Really,” I say, my heart picking up speed. I’m suddenly acutely aware of the cold darkness just beyond the walls. I focus on the window and pull the affinity lines around my eyes in tight so I can see outside. The darkness instantly brightens, as if illuminated by red torchlight, the trees outside the window gleaming in the varying shades of scarlet that my light magery allows me to see. I scan the red-lit scene anxiously.

Nothing. No demons. No monsters waiting. Just the wind-buffeted tree and the stormy night. You’re being ridiculous, I comfort myself, relaxing my affinity lines, the scarlet fading as my vision returns to normal. There’s nothing to fear. She simply had a nightmare. “Stop playing and go to sleep,” I gently scold Clover, tucking the blankets tight around her skinny frame. “What do we do when we get scared?” She answers me through a mouthful of blanket. “The Ancient One’s Prayer of Protection.

” “That’s right.” Prompting her, we say the prayer together. Oh, Blessed Ancient One. Purify our minds. Purify our hearts. Purify Erthia from the stain of the Evil Ones. I make the Ancient One’s star sign over her heart. “There,” I emphatically state. “Protected.” Some of the fear in her eyes softens.

Snuggling back in with her, I shake off my own edge of apprehension and stroke Clover’s messy hair, drawing comfort from being close to my sisters. My own room is next door, but we often gravitate toward being with each other, especially on stormy nights like this. And we’ll always be together, I remind myself, a glimmer of relief passing through me as I remember Father’s plans for all three of us. And maybe Tobias Vasillis will be as nice as Rafe and have his same lovely, emerald eyes. Perhaps he’ll carve me a small bird, like Rafe once did, and tell me funny stories. The storm rages and the darkness presses in around us, but I focus on these bolstering thoughts as the little white birds bob overhead, gently lulling me to sleep.

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