Sighing, I piled the books at the end of my table. I knew Valek was attending the Commander’s meeting, so I slid the book of magic out of my backpack. The silver lettering of the title glinted. My stomach knotted.
Opening the slim volume, I began to read a technical discussion of the source of a magician’s power. Unable to understand all of the detailed descriptions, I only sensed that the power source blanketed the entire world, making it accessible from anywhere.
The magicians used this power in different ways, depending on their talents. Some could move objects, while others could read and influence minds. Healing, lighting fires and mental communication were also magical skills. Some could only do one thing, but the stronger the magician, the more the magician could do. A weaker magician could only read someone’s mind, while a more powerful one could not only read but communicate and even control someone’s mind. I shuddered at the thought of Irys controlling my mind.
But the magicians had to be careful when drawing power. By pulling on the source too hard or misusing it, a magician could cause creases that would set off a ripple effect. This effect, or warping, would concentrate power in certain areas and leave other places bare. Fluctuating unpredictably, another wave might reverse the amount of power available. In order to tap the power, the magicians would have to seek areas of power, but once they found a pocket, they wouldn’t know how long it would remain.
The book chronicled a time when a strong magician had tapped into the source, pulling it toward him. Because he was so powerful he was able to control the blanket without causing an explosion. The other magicians were then uncovered. Stripped of their power, they united and searched for him. Once found, and after a battle that left many dead, they tapped into his stolen source, and killed him. Eventually, the blanket had smoothed out and returned to normal, but that had taken over two hundred years.
Fingering the raised lettering on the cover, I now understood why Irys had been so determined that I should either be trained or be killed. When my magic reached a flameout, it would cause major ripples in the blanket of power. I sank deep into my chair, disappointed that the book hadn’t contained magic spells or lessons. I had been hoping for an answer. Something along the lines of: this is why you have the power, here’s how you use it, and while we’re at it, this is how to conjure up the antidote to Butterfly’s Dust.
It had been wishful thinking, plain and simple, dangerous for me to indulge in. Hope, happiness and freedom were not in my future. They had never been, not even as an ignorant child in Brazell’s orphanage. While hoping for a normal life, I had been raised as a laboratory rat for his experiments.
I slumped in my chair until the sun set, allowing self-pity to run its course. When the muscles in my legs began to throb with inactivity, I stood and physically shook off my gloom. If I couldn’t find the antidote in the books, I would find it another way. Someone had to know something. There had been food tasters on Commander Ambrose’s staff for fifteen years. If no one could help me, then I would try another way, perhaps stealing the antidote or following Valek to its source. Skills I lacked, but I was determined to learn.
The next morning, prepared with an empty stomach, I joined in the flow of jogging soldiers. Ari and Janco breezed past me. Janco flashed a jaunty wave and mischievous smile. Later, when I heard heavy steps pounding behind me, I assumed Janco was up to no good.
I moved aside to let him pass, but the runner stayed close on my heels. I glanced back in time to see Nix thrust his arms out. His hands connected with my back. I fell forward, crashing to the ground. As Nix ran over me, his boot slammed into my solar plexus, knocking the wind out of me.
Pain bloomed in my chest. I gasped for breath while curled in a fetal position on the ground. Once I regained my wind, I pushed myself to a sitting position. The flow of soldiers remained unabated, and I wondered if anyone had witnessed what that bastard had done.
If he was trying to discourage me, he was going about it the wrong way. Nix had just increased my resolve to learn self-defense so I didn’t fall victim to mongrels like him. I stood up and waited for Nix’s next circuit, but he never came back.
Ari stopped. “What happened?”
“Nothing.” Nix, like Margg, was my problem. If I didn’t deal with him, he would never leave me alone. A tingle of doubt touched my stomach. It had been that kind of thinking that had landed me in the dungeon, awaiting execution.
“Your face is covered with blood,” Ari said.
I wiped the blood on my sleeve. “I fell.”
Before he could question me further, I changed the subject by giving him something else to think about. I repeated Valek’s advice about concealing our training sessions; Ari agreed that it was prudent to go “underground.” He offered to scout out a suitable location.
“You’re Maren, right?” I asked between gasps for air. I had been running laps for a week, and this morning I had timed my pace to run beside Maren.
She shot me a quick, appraising glance. Her blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Wide muscular shoulders atop a thin waist made her figure appear disproportionate. She moved with athletic ease, and I had to scramble to keep up with her long, loping strides.
“And you’re the Puker,” Maren said.
It was an insult aimed with a purpose; her interest in my response was keen. If she had wanted to dismiss me, she would have made her comment and sprinted away, not bothering to watch for a reaction.
“I’ve been called worse.”