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Call of Elespen
Chapter One: Mentalist Lessons 


    Mirrors of my own, my mother’s crystal blue eyes have always been a comfort to me. A place of solace and peace. Trust and love, embodied. Home. I gaze into them and allow myself to fall fully, to lose myself into the space behind them. Her mind presents itself in a rush of spectacular threads of light wrapped in sparkling gold. Awed, I watch the perfect, orderly rows as they glide endlessly past. A lifetime of joy unfolds around me. Aside from the Wellspring at Kythshire, it’s probably the most beautiful presence I’ve experienced. 

    “There you are, now,” Kenrick’s voice, deep and encouraging, is out of place but not unexpected. “It is the way of the novice to remain where things are easy, Azaeli. Where there is Light. But to do what you came here for, to heal her, you must turn toward the darkness. Draw your sword.” 

    His guidance unlocks an awareness in me. My pulse quickens like it does at the start of a fight. I turn in this remarkable, glittering space and peer into the distance, where the marred and imperfect threads of her memories loom ominous and imperfect. Strands of ink-black tendrils twist around the golden threads, choking them out. Back within my body, far beyond my mother’s mind, my hands tingle as the now-familiar elation of magic charges through me. Among the tendrils, I take on a battle stance. With Mercy tight in my grip, I creep into pain and sorrow. 

    The wicked strands are sharp recollections of recent traumas, memories of Mum’s time spent as a prisoner on display in Hywilkin’s Menagerie. These are the abuses she suffered, the heartache, the degradation. My first reaction is to strike these awful memories down, to obliterate them, but I remember Kenrick’s warning before we began this exercise. I’m not here to erase anything. Memories, good and bad, have value. Destroying them is a forbidden, evil act. 

    “Good,” he whispers. “Excellent restraint. Now, using great care, unwind it. I cannot tell you how, for we all visualize the mind in different ways. You must seek your own method.” 

    I move to the nearest choked strand and observe it. The golden thread is a memory of Da. His face is red from toil at the forge, dotted with sweat. Mum’s heart skips a beat as he smiles at her. In an instant, the memory switches to one of Richter’s face, the king who held her in a gilded cage. His lip curls in an echo of Da’s smile, but this man is nothing like my father. The lewd comment he spews makes my stomach flip with rage. Her helplessness clenches within her, and twined with it is the fear she may never see my father again. This is the black tendril, the darkness choking out the light. 

    With the tip of the light cast by the point of my sword, I carefully pull the dark coil from the golden one until the two are their own thoughts. Once separated from the memory of Da, the dark tendril clings to my weapon. I drag it away, into a far corner of my mother’s mind, and it shrinks to a weak, thin strand. There I leave it to be recalled if needed, but no longer at the forefront where it had been causing so much damage. 

    It’s a simple act, but once it’s complete, I feel the energy drain from me. Kenrick is at my side in an instant, cradling me, helping to draw me away, back to myself. My mother’s eyes flash before me again just before I leave her mind. We both blink and laugh softly, and a tear trails down her face as she reaches to pat my cheek. 

    “That was beautiful, Azi,” she says, shaking her head. “Truly remarkable. Thank you.” 

    “You see now, why this manner of healing requires the utmost trust between participants,” Kenrick explains, going on with the lesson. “So much damage can be done by an untrained practitioner, or by one with sinister intentions.” 

    Mum hugs me and I slump back against the soft cushion of our sofa and adjust to being wholly myself again. The flow of Mentalism has faded to a soft tingle. I close my eyes, like Kenrick instructed, and allow it to leave me. 

    The silence in the room is broken only by the scratch of a quill across parchment as Uncle takes notes at our cramped desk beneath the window. Beside me, the sofa creaks as Mum changes position. Above us, the ceiling squeaks. Da is awake. His bare feet shuffle across the floor. 

    “You are a quick study, Azaeli,” Kenrick declares with a hint of pride. “Excellent work. Keep focusing on your surroundings. The small noises, the reality of your own presence in this space. Grounding oneself is truly the most important aspect of our work.” 

    “Can you describe in your words, Sister, what took place?” Uncle asks Mum as his quill races across the page. 

    While he, Mum, and Kenrick discuss her experience, my gaze turns to the details of our small living room. Some of it is familiar, and some is newly replaced following the Dusk’s attack on Cerion. I focus on the spindles of the narrow staircase across from me as memories of that battle drift through my mind. I recall my melding with the fairy queen and the Muse of Light, Eljarenae, and how we drove the evil of Sorcery and Dusk out of Cerion together. I remember my moment in the Wellspring, and the warmth of the golden liquid as it caressed my skin. 

    My eyes drift closed, and when I open them again I find myself looking for old, familiar things. Things which weren’t damaged by the fire that ravaged the city, leaving our cozy home half-charred. 

    “How long ago was it?” The question leaves my lips before I have a chance to think. It’s something that has been needling me since we returned from Hywilkin. Our campaign into Kerevorna, I imagine, has jumbled my sense of time. The others pause in their conversation. Uncle turns all the way around on his stool and looks at me, his brow furrowed with concern. 

    “How long ago was what, Niece?” he asks. 

    “The battle. The Dusk’s attack on Cerion.” 

    I don’t miss the worried glance he gives my mother or the slight nod of understanding from Kenrick as Uncle answers me. 

    “In four days, it will have been a month,” he answers matter-of-factly. “Today is the eighth of Autumnsdawn. Do you feel you are confused by time, or have lost your sense of it?” 

    With his question, he turns back to the desk and flattens a fresh sheet of parchment across its surface. The desk is new. The old one was crushed when the tail of Vorhadeniel, Muse of Darkness, thrashed through our sitting room window. Nearly a month ago, apparently. It doesn't feel like it’s been so long. 

    Uncle hovers his quill over the parchment, waiting for my reply, but the creak of the wooden stairway draws my attention as Da clomps his way down. Most of the stairs are new, but some are still old and familiar. As his head clears the ceiling, Da’s expression darkens. He acknowledges Kenrick and Uncle with no more than a half-annoyed grunt. He knew they’d be here. It was discussed between them last night. Still, it’s very unusual to have our sitting room occupied by two Mages. Three, I suppose, if you count me—something I'm not quite ready to do yet. Neither is Da, it seems. Before his scowl has a chance to fully form, Mum jumps up from the sofa and rushes to greet him. 

    “Benen,” she whispers, circling her arms around his neck and curling her fingers into his hair. Their kiss has the tender urgency of a first kiss, or a last one. Mum’s peace pulses around her, and Da’s shoulders relax as he takes her in his arms. Their lingering greeting finally ends, and Da looks again at the strange gathering of Mages in his sitting room. I think he’ll say something, but he simply shakes his head and huffs. 

    “Good morning, Da,” I offer, but my cheerful tone sounds forced, even to me. I remember a time not long ago when he would regard me with beaming pride. Now, when he greets me with a stubbled kiss on my cheek, his eyes flick away from mine as if to escape my gaze. I try not to let it bother me. I try to tell myself in time, he’ll trust me again, but deep inside I fear he never will. Things have changed between us. I’ve changed. 

    “Coming to breakfast, Gaethon?” he asks Uncle over his shoulder as he and Mum walk hand-in-hand to the kitchen door. 

    “Yes, yes, we have much to discuss,” Uncle replies. He turns to Kenrick, offering a hand to shake. “Thank you, Master Kenrick. The lesson was most enlightening. We’re quite grateful to have your guidance in the matter of Azaeli’s studies.” 

    “I thank you as well, Master Gaethon, for your kind hospitality. I look forward to warm, dry accommodations and the promise of a bustling city to explore after so long in the caves,” he pats Uncle’s hand warmly. 

    “I’ll be in in a moment,” I say to Uncle after they finish their goodbye, and he nods as he brushes past me to join the others in the guild hall. 

    “Don’t be long. And fetch Rian to breakfast, won’t you?” he calls over his shoulder. 

    “I’ll try,” I reply, aware his irritated tone isn’t directed toward me. Rian had the option of joining us at the lesson, but protested too much at my attempts to wake him earlier. I glance up the stairs toward my own room as Kenrick gathers his hat and cloak. 

    “Fear is a common response to changes in those we love,” Kenrick offers quietly, snapping my attention back to him. 

    At first, I think he’s talking about Rian. When I realize it’s Da he’s referring to, a knot twists in my stomach. 

    “I wish things could be the way they were between us,” I whisper, and Kenrick’s smile crinkles the papery skin around his eyes. “He was always so proud of my swordsmanship.” 

    “Life is change, Azaeli,” he says gently. “Ask yourself this: could you go back to being merely a swordswoman now? After everything you have become?” He pats my shoulder comfortingly. “Do not fret about your father. In time, he’ll come to understand.” 

    “If only I could heal him the way I did Mum just now. If only I could take away that fear and doubt and move it to another place, so he could see I’m still his Azi. I haven’t changed. Not that much. Not really.” 

    Kenrick steps closer. His green eyes, framed by his frizz of gray-white hair, search mine. The gold Mark behind his beard catches the pink light of sunrise as it slashes through the shutter slats. 

    “You can, Azaeli,” he explains solemnly. “It is within your power to make him, or anyone for that matter, see anything about you that you wish them to. You have the ability to change his perception of you. The simple fact that you choose not to, that you resist that ability, is a true mark of your purity. You are a valiant beam of light in this world. In time, he will see it on his own. In time, he will trust you as he once did.” 

    “I hope so,” I whisper, ignoring the brimming tears that cause his face to swim before me, silhouetted by the light of dawn through the open door as he steps through it. “Thank you, Kenrick.” 

    “Practice,” he says firmly. “As much as you can. Do not be afraid to hone your skills. Yes?” When I agree, the Mentalist nods, squeezes my shoulder, and steps away, setting his worn hat upon his head. He looks out over the nearly empty street with the excitement of a child on festival day and declares, “To the market, I think. I haven’t been to a proper market in oh…” he chuckles, “you wouldn't believe me if I told you how long.” 

    “The best one is at the harbor,” I offer, and he bobs his head without turning to look at me. 

    “Off to adventure!” he cries. A couple of merchants heading to their stalls pause and give him odd looks, but he pays them no mind as he hops down the stoop. I watch him until he rounds the corner and silently hope he does all right on his own. His tattered clothes and quirky style are at the very least sure to raise a few eyebrows at the market. Still, I’m grateful he could return with us from Hywilkin, and that Uncle was eager to convince the Academy to allow him to tutor me in exchange for lodging there. Apparently, it's been a long time since a Master Mentalist has graced their halls. 

    With a sigh, I close the door and turn to head to my room. The sudden burst of Flitt's light dazzles me. I yelp and stumble back, and she giggles and tosses a sugar cube into my open mouth. 

    “Good morning!” she chirps as I gasp and choke on the sweet surprise. 

    “Good morning, Flitt,” I reply between bouts of coughing. Despite the sugary attack, I can’t help but smile in her presence. She was only gone overnight, but it feels like we’ve been separated for ages. Her light is such a comfort to me now. My worries about my father are pushed aside as I make my way upstairs and she chatters in my ear about the latest news from Brindelier, where the Festival of Awakening is still going on in full force. 

    At the circle hatch in my room, I pause with my hand on the latch and wonder how different things will be when our guild moves to its new quarters on the palace grounds. Will the new housing have secret connections like this one? The thought of change makes me anxious, so I push the thought away. Right now, it’s too painful to think about leaving this place. Even though everyone else seems so excited for the move up, this is the only home I’ve ever known. 

    While Flitt chatters on and on about Alexerin, the Faedin of Brindelier’s princess, I slide the hatch open to peer in at Rian. As usual, all I can see of him is a tuft of auburn curls peeking over the nest of his rumpled bedclothes. Practice. I sigh, rest my chin on the edge of the hatch, close my eyes, and focus on Rian. 

    It’s a strange sensation. Something like traveling through the Half-Realm, but only with a small part of my mind. That part splits off, like it’s journeying on a different path. It leaves a trail behind it: a tether of golden rope. That rope, Kenrick explained earlier, is vulnerable. If it were to snap, I could lose the wandering part of me. I send it off across Rian’s room, into the warmth of his bed. This is allowed. We made an agreement. He knows I’ll have to practice, and he's already said I can do so on him whenever I need to. He trusts me. 

    I wait a heartbeat or two until the scene behind my eyelids shifts to something brighter. A sense of joy and anticipation rushes through me. I can’t help but giggle at the pleasant sensation as it floods my insides. I drift away from myself, to another place. Someplace wonderful.

     Sweet music and fairy song drift to my ears, pulling me forward. The light dims just enough for me to see Rian standing at the base of a pristine white staircase. He’s dressed impeccably, in tailored trousers and a midnight-blue tailed vest, just like the outfit he wore to Princess Sarabel’s birthday ball. His shoes are polished to a gleaming shine. His hair is styled perfectly, the long forelocks cascading over his chest in gleaming slashes of auburn. His hazel eyes dance with excitement and a hint of mischief as fairy orbs dart around him excitedly. Bobbing beside his shoulder, Shush whispers something, and Rian’s attention snaps to the end of the long hall.

    When I turn to follow his gaze, I realize we’re in the grand palace of the Fairy Queen. The arched columns soar into the open sky, and pure white sunlight which glitters across every surface. I squint past the dazzling light to see, at the end of the long hall…myself. 

    The Azi at the entrance to the Fairy Court steps inside, and the singing and excitement immediately hush. A pair of figures step up to her and bows, and she takes their offered arms. Even with the light washing out most of the scene, I know in my heart it's my parents. My eyes brim with tears at the sight. 

    The wedding gown is spectacular, seemingly woven of pure light. With each step the dream Azi takes, the gown shifts and sways to reveal what’s underneath: the knight Azaeli resplendent in her own midnight blue armor. Mercy, as always, is at her shoulder. In her hands she holds a bouquet, not of real flowers, but a cascade of blooms formed from swirls of golden light. The gown and the bouquet and even the veil adorning her head sparkle brilliantly with every step she takes. 

    It's so disorienting to see myself as a bride on her wedding day, radiantly marching through the Palace of Dawn on my mother and father’s arm, I stare at the scene in awe and disbelief. When the dream Azi finally walks past me, somehow the spell of the dream lifts, and I remember why I’m here. 

    “Time to wake up, Love,” I send to Rian, and my voice echoes loudly through the hushed fairy court. 

    “Are you even listening, Azi?” Flitt’s voice squeaks in my ear, and I wind the golden thread back to myself to find her hovering in front of me, hands on hips, scowling. “Typical! I’ve been going on and on and it’s all been very important, and you weren’t even listening!” 

    She stabs her finger onto the tip of my nose with every word. I dodge half-heartedly, still dazed by Rian’s enchanting dream. No wonder he's such a successful Mage. Only someone with an imagination as spectacular as his could be. 

    “Stop,” I whine, covering my nose. Her response is to dive at me, still squeaking in rage. 

    “Hey,” Rian peeks through the hatch, watching with amusement as Flitt chases me around my room, tugging at my hair and hollering. 

“What’s this?” he chuckles. “Morning exercises?” 

    “I was telling her about very important business from Brindelier, and she chose to ignore me! Like I’m not important! Like what I say doesn’t matter! So typical!” 

    “Flitt!” I protest, yanking my hair from her grasp as Rian steps through the wall beside the hatch. He’s perfectly dressed and looks as though he’s been up for hours. Typical Mage, I think to myself, and chuckle at how much I sound like the very irritated fairy who’s still poking at my cheek and chastising me. 

    “I’m very sorry, Flitt” I offer in my gravest tone. With a quick side-step, I dodge her relentless attack and duck my head into a humble bow. “You’re absolutely right. I should have been listening. Please, will you tell us both, now that you have our attention, what's so important?”

    “That’s better,” she says with a humph, her fists still digging into her hips. “But now, if you really want to know, you're going to have to play.” 

A princess hiding a secret that could destroy her kingdom. A fairy who yearns to protect her. Will she accept his help, or will her fear of her own power send both of their realms tumbling into darkness forever?  

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