Fan fiction:The Mage Academy of Gea Kul/Chapter Three
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My hopes were in vain, for that class was not the only one Zia paid a visit to during her first weeks at the Academy. By the end of her first month the girl's prowess at all forms of magery was practically the sole topic of conversation between the Maesters, and wild stories about Zia were already spreading through the student body. I saw another example of her might not long afterwards, though that one was witnessed second hand.
I was working in my office one afternoon during Zia's fifth week at the Academy when Maester Shien, one of my oldest and dearest friends, burst through the door. Her robes were soaking wet and she was shivering hard enough to set the ice crystals in her hair to shaking, but there was such a fierce light in Shien's eyes that I dared not speak. Instead I ushered the woman to the fireplace, tossed two fresh logs onto the glowing embers, and hurried to fetch a towel and robe from my bath.
By the time I returned the logs were blazing, no doubt assisted by some subtle magic from Maester Shien, and she had removed her sodden outer robe and hung it beside the hearth. I did not avert my eyes, but neither did let my eyes linger over the anatomy revealed by Shien's thin and clinging slip. We'd been students together not so long ago, advancing together through the sixth, seventh, and eight ranks as we moved towards Maester status, and had therefore witnessed each other's ceremonial rituals. These trials were solemn and ritualistic events at which students demonstrated their competence, skill, and devotion to the Academy. They were not pleasant experiences for the aspirants, and amongst the various ordeals was a walk through walls of fire and ice, while wearing nothing but the brands and tattoos that marked our allegiance to the Academy.
During those trials I had seen Shien nude on several occasions, but viewing her during such a ceremony was very different than seeing her shivering in my private office. I therefore turned my back to give her some privacy while she threw off her soaked slip, briskly dried herself, and pulled on robe I'd brought her. It fit her about as well as an ogre's tunic would have fit me, for Shien was nearly as petite as Zia herself, but it was warm and dry, and after a few minutes gazing into the flames, Shien perched on a bench near the hearth and began to speak.
"That girl is inscrutable. Her powers..." Maester Shien trailed off for a moment, her eyes returning to the flames. When she spoke again, her voice was low and thoughtful. "I have never felt such might, such raw strength. She does not learn the beginner spells. She does not nibble at the apple. She swallows it whole, and opens rifts in the elemental flows that pass all around us. I fear for her every time she casts a spell, and yet the danger of allowing her to proceed without training is unthinkable."
Even back in her student days, Shien had been prone to grand metaphors and abstract notions, sometimes to the vexation of her classmates. This time though, I could tell that she was not attempting to becloud the issue. She simply could not describe her feelings about Zia in plain terms. I understood her difficulty, for although I hardly knew the girl at that point, I already felt conflicted about her talent, personality, and appearance.
I let Shien be for a few minutes, before prodding her with a direct inquiry. "What did Zia do in your class? How did you come to be soaked by ice water?"
Shien raised one hand to her chin, then rubbed it over her still-wet face, the dark red tattoos across the back of her left hand visible in the firelight. She closed her eyes as if to gather her thoughts, and began speaking without re-opening them. Her words were slightly disjointed, a sign her scattered thoughts.
"I was instructing a class of fourth levels. Theory and practice of ice spells. Zia and a pair of Firsts were watching from the back, but I paid little mind. Younger students always seek a glimpse at the icy enchantments. They watched my instruction. Only when I turned the Fourths loose to attempt to ice the chandeliers did I walk to the guests."
She trailed off there, and as I joined her in looking at the crackling fire, I remembered teaching such classes myself. Fourth level students were generally in their seventh or eighth year at the Academy, and had mastered all of the elementary magics, but were just beginning to tap into the higher powers. Fourths needed to learn the basics of summoning water and chilling it, as well as exercising full control over all types of ice; from firing single bolts to freezing distant targets and controlling small bodies of water. Ice and water were closely linked, and the higher level ice spells were much the same as basic water summoning, with the added difficult of imparting sub-zero temperatures and precisely targeting the resulting ice.
I was pulled out of my musings when Shien continued. "The pair of Firsts had the usual questions. How cold was the ice, could it so solidly freeze a demon that it would shatter when struck, and so on. Zia had no such questions. She merely watched as the Fourths failed at their spells. When I asked her what she saw, she spoke slowly, her eyes never leaving the students behind me.
"She said that the students were too timid, that they were not opening themselves to the water elements, and thus their puffs of cold air had nothing to act upon. She said she understood how to bring forth the water, and that our method of cooling it seemed very imprecise. She asked me if I'd ever assigned the students Radominich's treatise on the elements."
I blinked in surprise when Shien named that work, for Radominich's writings were widely condemned, if not outright banned. He'd postulated radical theories, methods of converting substances with magery that were thought unsavory. Unnatural. Highly dangerous. I wondered, as Shien must certainly have, where Zia had seen such material. The Academy had copies of all of Radominich's works in the Great Library, but they were locked away in the special section, out of reach of fourth ranks, much less a neophyte like Zia.
"I did not challenge her about Radominich." said Shien. "Instead I told her that yes, ice spells were just water spells with cold temperatures, and that they were fairly simple to cast, once the student could make herself believe that it was possible to freeze the water before it appeared.
"Zia grasped the concept. She nodded at me, muttered something about 'anti-fire' and then asked if she could try.
"I was curious, and gestured for her to proceed. She gave me a bow, walked into the center of the room, under the high dome, and stood with her arms extended overhead. The Fourths stopped to look, the few icicles they'd managed to form dripping overhead. Zia had no wand. She had no focus device at all, and yet after a few seconds, water came from above. Water, as though we were standing beneath a lake. Water so cold it burned.
"The Fourths who were in the open scattered. Others stood open mouthed. Amidst the gasps, I heard Zia. 'Colder.' she said, and at once it was. I felt the chill in the air, like a doorway to winter had been opened overhead. The water froze at once, and huge chunks of ice came slamming down, breaking on the floor like dropped plates.
"Those stopped after a few seconds, and then Zia was standing in a blizzard. I could hardly see her, the flakes were so thick. They were gusting, as icy air swirled down from above. I ran towards the girl, my hair blowing behind me. I did not feel the cold. I did not realize I was soaked with water from her first attempt. I could only think of the fire she summoned in your class, that first week."
Maester Shien was one of the few to whom I'd related that story, and I nodded when she mentioned it. I don't think she saw me; she'd remained facing into the fireplace during her entire story, and she was still sitting as near as she could without catching on fire.
"I was afraid that she might have opened a rift to some arctic realm, some icy hell, and through it might enter something far worse than a chilling draft. Happily, she had not, and as I kicked through knee deep snow to reach her, Zia waved her arms and ended the summoning. As the flakes drifted down she looked into my eyes, and hers were glowing. The whites were... changed. Almost silver. I could not speak, but when she blinked the color was gone.
"I congratulated her, then raised my voice and shouted to the others that class was over. I told them to hurry and dry off, a command that Zia took to heart. She was happy, so happy. Her smile broader than ever, she bowed, thanked me, and ran towards the rear door. She skipped as she went. I waited a moment, to be sure that she'd left no lingering forces in the air, but once the last of the snow had fallen and I saw only the ice-crusted chandeliers, I realized how cold I was. And I hurried to your office, Archmaester Yun."
I did not know what to say, about Zia's display or Shien's final remark. I tried to make a joke, about how the Archmaester's office was much closer to her classroom than Shien's own quarters. Shien didn't laugh, but she did look at me, finally taking her eyes off of the flames. They were piercing, and she looked haunted by what she'd seen that afternoon.
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