by Frank Moricz
Back at the Arcane University, for the last day of school
Authors note: Before reading this, please start at the beginning ("The Ternion Prologue" )
I am looking for ratings and reviews involving character development, setting, flow, and anything else you think that would help.
Chapter 3 - Mason Drax: A Lesson of Humility
Light beamed onto Mason's face; he slept once again in the old cloth chair with a book still open on his lap from the night before. The makeshift library was always such a comfortable place, though it was dusty and worn with age. The thick stone walls and decorations from an older time made Mason feel safe. To get away from the busy arcane world was always a welcome escape for him.
As he woke, he realized quickly that he had overslept once again. He hurried over to his wardrobe to change his clothes. Mason donned the first robe his eyes landed on, and rushed into the washroom where a blue crystal rained fresh water into the stone basin. The cold water helped to wake him as he splashed his face and ran his hands quickly through his short hair. On his way to the door, he picked up his boots from the floor near the chair, and quickly tightened them around his feet.
Mason flew through the broken doorway, and ran quickly towards the university. Running through the streets was uncivilized by arcane standards, but Mason didn't care. He enjoyed the cool wind on his skin, and the burning feeling in the legs that pumped furiously beneath him. None could match his speed on foot without the aid of magic. The journey was fast, and he only slowed his pace when he had reached the steps of the school. When he opened the door he found himself only a few moments behind schedule.
Mason entered the classroom of shadow magics and saw that a demonstration had begun. He moved quickly to his chair and avoided the staring glances of his peers. As he took his seat next to Zek, he looked over to see the usual grin on his friend's face. He smiled back, and turned his attention to the shadow instructor at the head of the room.
Magus Zeno had treated Mason well enough over the years. He was much younger than Magus Grey, and probably as talented as the old fire mage once was. Zeno never forgot about Mason's magical shortcomings at least, and called upon him mostly for intellectual discussion rather than magical displays.
Mason was aware that Zek was not a fan of the shadow instructor. It was obvious that Zeno had a bitter disposition towards Zek. Through demonstrations and subtle insults, Mason saw that Magus Zeno was just as jealous of Zek's natural magic talents as most of the arcane. Each time Zek was called upon in the room of shadows was a challenge of his skill and an attempt to make him look foolish.
Today's lesson demonstrated the addition of shadow magic to active crystal. At the front of the classroom, there was a display of arranged crystal; Magus Zeno walked to the front of the room to address the class. He stood silent for a moment, wearing a black robe trailed to the floor; the dark stitching upon it displayed a decorative pattern along his sleeves.
“Today we will imbue live crystal with varying degrees of shadow,” The instructor started. “Lately it would seem that more of you are choosing other arts to practice. I wish to show you the variety of a seemingly straightforward magic.”
“Magus?” a girl in the front row started. Her arm was raised, and sleeved in the bright yellow colors of light magic. “It seems that light magic can do everything shadow can do--”
“That is incorrect, Feria, but I am glad you brought that up. Light is capable of much, but shadow is more than an equal. You will find that light often offers little more than illusion,” Zeno said in a raised tone.
“Isn't the heat of light more useful than shadow cold?” the girl asked again, defending her choice of magic.
“Perhaps for growing plants and pretty flowers, my dear,” Magus Zeno retorted with a playful smirk. “Come up here and I will show you.”
Feria moved to the front of the room beside the displayed crystal. The black shadow crystal had an aura of darkness which absorbed the light that came from the white crystal beside it. The fire crystal burned on the opposite side; the scarlet firelight seemed to avoid the shadow and appeared to burn at a strange angle.
It was clear to Mason that this arrangement was placed to make shadow magic appear more powerful. The instructor was especially proud of his chosen art, and considered it high above all others. Mason looked to Zek, and saw by his raised eyebrow that the implication was obvious to him as well. Mason knew that Zek never put much stock into the light or shadow magics; though he was adept in all magics, his favorites were always wind and fire.
Mason looked to the front of the room, and saw Magus Zeno now held the light crystal aloft. He moved a fingertip toward it slowly with his other hand. The moment his finger touched the crystal, it went from bright white to black, and the light it had given off ceased. The crystal now seemed to be taking in all the light from around it. The room loomed with growing darkness for a moment; Zeno smiled and removed his finger once again. With black eyes, he offered the crystal to Feria.
Feria gave him a strange look; it was common knowledge that light magic could not corrupt crystal as shadow magic could. The Magus flashed her a proud smile, and placed the crystal down to exchange it for the flaming crystal. He held it outward, allowing it to burn in the palm of his hand. Zeno closed his fingers around the gem and snuffed the flames. Magus Zeno opened his fingers dramatically to reveal black flames that licked upward and darkened the room yet again.
“Now Feria, does anything in the arsenal of light compare to shadowflame?” Magus Zeno asked. His voice was especially proud, and his black eyed flicked around the room to search for objection.
“I... guess not.” Feria responded. She started to move toward her seat with her eyes on the floor.
“Oh, wait just another minute sparkles, we haven't finished,” Magus Zeno said. He clapped a hand down onto her shoulder which stopped her in place. A few chuckles erupted from around the classroom at the insult to light mages. Feria shrugged Magus Zeno's hand from her shoulder, and stood with a dejected look on her face.
Mason looked at the poor girl with empathy; public humiliation was something he lived with nearly everyday, and it had never gotten any easier. He felt that he needed to interfere somehow – to try and save Feria from the wild laughter that he knew was coming. He looked over to Zek as he created a plan, but saw that Zek was no longer in his seat. Mason's eyes moved to the front of the room; he watched his friend make his way through the aisles of desks and onlookers.
“You can sit down, Feria. I will help the good teacher with his lesson,” Zek said in a cold tone. Mason saw that the shadow mage had locked eyes with Zek, who stood in a short length robe with a single long sleeve. A small smile twisted on the lips of the Magus, and he nodded quickly in approval. Feria rushed back to her seat and rejoined the crowd.
“The amazing and powerful Zek Cain will now help demonstrate the power of my magic. How kind of him,” The instructor retorted in an equally cold tone. “Enough of this folly, let us see something truly mighty.”
Zek stood tall, and crossed his arms across his chest. Mason looked on with a mix of anticipation and panic; he was unsure what would happen next. His instructor's eyes went dark, and Zek stumbled as he stood in place. Mason saw his friend's eyes had gone black as well, but it was clearly not by his own doing. Zek placed his hands against the large desk behind him to steady himself. He shook his head, and he regained his balance.
“What are you doing, Magus?” Zek asked the instructor.
“One must be able to see clearly to cast with any true power, Cain,” the shadow mage moved around the room with light footsteps as he spoke. “You have lost sight. You speak out of turn, and you have no respect for your superiors.”
“You are not my superior, Zeno. You are simply older than I am,” Zek replied. His head moved slightly as if guessing where the Magus was.
“Zek, calm yourself and apologize!” Mason yelled out in an attempt to bring order to the situation.
“Quiet Drax, I am teaching a lesson,” The Magus said. He walked past Mason on his slow tour around the classroom.
Mason began to worry that the situation was getting far out of hand; his friend stood shadowblind and helpless. Against better judgment he got out of his seat, and he made his way towards Zek in an attempt to help him back to his desk. He walked with an anxious pace, and tried to hurry before the situation was beyond repair.
“Drax, get back to your seat or you will join in on this valuable lesson,” the instructor commanded with his voice full of anger.
“Magus, please... this needs to stop,” Mason said. He stopped in place, and turned toward the shadow mage.
“I will not warn you again, Mason. Sit down,” Magus Zeno warned once again.
Mason's brow furrowed, and he turned his head to Zek. His friend's eyes were aimed toward the ground, and he appeared to be absorbing everything he heard. It was more than Mason could stand, and anger rose inside him. He defiantly turned his body, and began to jog toward the front of the room. The world dissolved to blackness before his eyes. Mason let out a small yelp as he crashed into a desk and fell to the floor.
The next thing Mason heard was a gasp from the students around him. There was a sizzling zap, and a crashing sound came from the wall behind him. The blindness faded from him slowly; he watched Zek's boots move towards him, and felt his friend helping him to stand. Mason saw that Zek's eyes had returned to an everyday crimson, but his face was twisted in pain. Zek's hand rested upon his sleeved shoulder, and he turned to inspect the instructor who laid on the floor.
“Zek, how did you do that?” Feria stood and asked with a voice full of wonder.
“Magic,” Zek said, with a smile that masked his pain.
Mason moved to where Magus Zeno lay, and helped to hoist him up. He noticed the shadow mage's robe still smoldered around twin holes that now decorated his chest. The instructor was also in a great deal of pain, but the look on his face was more of fear than anything else. Mason let go of his arm; immediately Zeno took a step towards Zek.
“I know what you are now Cain, and be sure the masters will hear of this,” Magus Zeno said. “There is no natural counter to shadow blindness,” he finished, and quickly made his way out of the room.
Mason looked to Zek with an obvious need of explanation. Confused and dazed from his fall, he was still trying to put the pieces of the scene back together in his mind. It was apparent to him that Zek had thrown the instructor into the wall with energy, but what he had heard he knew to be correct - there was no known magical counter for shadow blindness.
“Mason, we need to go. I have things to tell you,” Zek said, still clutching his own shoulder. He began to walk from the room, and the class followed him with their eyes in amazement.
“Zek, what are we doing?” Mason asked as he followed.
“I can explain everything, trust me brother,” Zek replied. They made their way into the long hallway, and they headed once again towards the exit of the university. Upon passing an empty classroom, Zek motioned towards it, and they went together into the darkness.
Mason stayed quiet for a moment. He looked around the abandoned classroom. He knew that Zek was scared; he could see it written all over him. Perhaps it was the mixture of fear and injury, but he had never seen his friend so vulnerable all at once. Mason gave him a few quiet moments to collect his thoughts.
“I have something to tell you Mason, you aren't going to like it,” Zek said.
“What is it Zek? What happened in there?” Mason asked.
“It's not really about what happened in class... well, it is, but there's also something much bigger going on,” Zek started again, looking into Mason's eyes. “I have been looking for a way out of Arc, been looking for years. I almost gave up, Mason. I had tried everything.”
“It's okay Zek, don't worry about that. We're going to find a way out together one day,” Mason assured him. “Now let me see your arm.”
“Just listen Mason, it's about this too,” Zek said. He pulled his hand away for a moment, and his fingertips burned a fiery red. He seared a line across his sleeve and tore it from the robe. A dry wound which appeared filthy and infected marred the arm. “This is how I stopped Zeno - I had to counter the blindness.”
“But there is no--” Mason started to argue, but was cut off.
“There is no natural counter to the blindness, Mason, you know that. I had to break the rules,” Zek explained. “I was searching for a way out; the exiles found me in the dark, and they showed me the way.”
Mason remained quiet and tried to make sense of it all. He didn't want to believe that the words were true; he wanted to wake up from this bad dream and find himself once again in the comfortable chair with a book across his lap. He just wanted to open his eyes and see dust flitting about in beams of light from the windows of the Drax estate. As much as he hoped, this was a dream he could not shake - he looked into the eyes of his long time friend and let out a sigh of disappointment.
“Mason, I know it wasn't right, but it was the only way to save us,” Zek tried to explain.
“Save us?” Mason asked in disbelief. “Zek, you've destroyed everything! The Feltower guards are going to take you away just like my father! We will never see each other again!”
“No, Mason, I will not let that happen,” Zek said with surprising anger in his voice. He visibly had to calm himself for a moment; his eyes briefly gave off a purple glow. “This is the night, brother. Tonight we will leave the city of Arc and begin the lives that we were meant to lead.”
The sincerity in Zek's voice gave a pause to all of Mason's doubts. For a brief moment, he imagined walking away from a bright bubble on the horizon and into the wild. Mason didn't like the path that Zek had taken, but he knew that his own plans to escape the city were nothing more than hopes and dreams. His friend had secretly searched for years for a safe way out, and Mason trusted that Zek would not have taken this way had there been a better option. In the end, Zek had come to tell him the truth as a brother, and Mason forgave him.
“Okay Zek, you asked for my trust, you have it once again,” Mason said. “Tell me the plan.”
“Head to the Drax estate. Take only what you need; we must travel light,” Zek said with his hand on his wounded shoulder.
“Where do we meet?” Mason asked.
“I will meet you behind the estate as the suns set. I must deal first with the Feltower to be sure we are not followed,” Zek replied.
“Be careful Zek. Don't get yourself hurt.” Mason said with his arm clapping down onto Zek's good shoulder.
“It's the guards you should be more worried about.” Zek replied. A dark smile crossed his face, and a glint of purple flashed in his eyes.
If you choose to rate and review this story, please ONLY do so after having read the story from the beginning. ("The Ternion Prologue" )
Next chapter: "The Ternion - Chapter 4"