The name had started to spread. Most of it good enough, popular opinion was that the guard had what was coming to him. The story that filtered through the city thankfully swapped out Kaellax for a nameless magic user, but I was painted as the young hero that found the nullification stone, rescued the woman, and then simply sent the soldier for a swim when he refused to help.
Mostly truth. I had indeed teleported the attacker in a rage, but the soldier hadn’t been my target. It had just… happened.
So now I found myself dressed in my finest clothing and visiting the Stonehaven court, which was still under the final stages of construction. I was to be presented to the King and the House of Nobles. Maron assured me I had nothing to fear, but I wasn’t so sure. The nobles were powerful men and no doubt friends to the king.
“Sionis Sepher,” an older gentleman started after we had taken our places in the court. “Could you tell us, in your view, what happened the day of this accident.”
I recounted the story, opting to make myself look a little arrogant rather than foolish. I mentioned that the guard implied the barkeeper was lying, despite having arrived as the attack had started, and I admitted that in my anger I may have teleported the guard to the ocean, but the intent was never anything harmful and I was quick to retrieve them from the cold water once I had sent them there.
“So you deny that you intended to murder the guard?”
“Of course I didn’t intent to murder him,” I said. “If I’d wanted to do that I could have just frozen him in an ice block.”
Others in the room laughed.
“What of you then, guard?” The man asked. “How did this event occur in your view?”
The guard quickly opened with a detail of his morning route through the magic user district. He mentioned walking through and hearing my call for help, rushing to the scene, and then he started to drift. He mentioned the money spilled across the floor and Kaellax’s unbuttoned blouse. He explained that the bar was known as a hive for criminals and rumors included a Shadowspeaker might even frequent there. The barkeeper, in the guard’s opinion, had simply been making a deal when I arrived. To save her embarrassment, she had chosen to look the victim.
He said all of this as though it were fact, even going so far as to read it from a piece of paper as though it was some kind of recorded testimony.
“When I tried to explain the situation to the young man, he grew angry and threatened to kill me. I was, obviously, surprised by the sudden anger, but I tried to calm him down. Next thing I knew I was in the ocean sinking like a stone.”
“So,” the old man said calmly. “It is your opinion that Sionis Sepher did attempt to kill you?”
“It certainly seems that way,” the guard said. “I guess he had second thoughts and teleported me back on dry land.”
This was awful. Kaellax had not been brought here, mostly because Maron told her she needed to stay as far away from this as possible, but with the guard telling one story and me telling another, it was his word against mine.
The older man seemed to be thinking the same thing.
“These are two very different stories,” the older nobleman said, his voice as calm as ever. “In each one, the other party is very clearly guilty of a crime. Either the guard ignored his duty, or the young magic user attempted murder. The weight of these charges requires that we seek more information.”
“What can we do?” I asked.
“A witness has been summoned,” the old man said. “He will shed some light on the matter.”
At first I was confused, but then I saw him… the man from the bar, the very man that had attacked Kaellax! They were using him as the witness!
Now, I was terrified. This guy would benefit if he just told the nobles that I was lying. If he did, it would be noted that Kaellax was guilty of a crime, not him. He would lie without a moment of hesitation. I dared to look at the guard across the way, expecting to be a smug grin. Instead, he looked like he’d seen a ghost.
“State your name,” the old man said to the prisoner.
“Belthast,” the prisoner replied.
“Do you swear to tell the true account of the events as they occurred?”
“Very well then, please, tell us what happened.”
The prisoner sighed. “I was drunk, and I wanted to feel the warmth of a woman. I’d heard there was an unsavory bar where you went for that kind of business, so I headed over there to try my luck.”
“That was where you met the barkeeper?”
“That’s right. I threw my whole bag of gold on the counter and asked for her prettiest damsel. Do you know what she said to me?”
The old man shrugged. “What?”
“She said no.”
A few sharp gasps.
“That’s right,” the prisoner said. “She said they didn’t do that kind of thing at her place. Can you believe that? So much money right in front of her. I knew she just needed a little convincing. So I reached over the bar to encourage her. She did not like that.”
“Then?” the old man encouraged.
“Oh, well she might have killed me with magic then, if she’d had any. I had a nullification stone, so that wasn’t going to happen. Pulled her right up on the counter and figured I might as well go for it. No one was around.”
“Is this when the young Sionis Sepher arrived?”
The prisoner looked at me and grimaced. “That’s right. Little weasel showed up and told me to back off. I was too busy to worry about someone whining in the background. I figured they’d leave me be. Then he hit me over the head with a chair. I was out cold.”
“So you willingly admit you were trying to assault the barkeeper?”
“Guard,” the old man said, turning away from the prisoner. “You read your view of the situation and determined that the barkeeper was not being assaulted. How did you come to this conclusion?”
The guard looked like he might pass out. “I… I just…”
The old man looked to the nobles gathered in the room and gave a deep bow. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to close this argument with my own determination that the guard has lied about the events surrounding the incident. Therefore, we must assume he is also lying about the boy’s intent to kill. No records indicate that Sionis Sepher is a threat, and if he had indeed intended bodily harm to the soldier or the prisoner, he could have done so in a number of different ways.”
There was a loud noise as all the nobles started talking to one another at the same time. Maron was smiling and patted me on the shoulder. I couldn’t believe it. Why would the prisoner have been so honest when an easy escape was within his reach? Was he truly so racked with guilt that he had confessed?
“We have decided,” one of the nobles said loudly. “Sionis Sepher is not guilty of attempted murder. He will, however, be left in the stockades for two days due to his reckless use of magical powers against a city guard.”
Could have been a lot worse. I gave a nod and waited to be dismissed, but the dismissal didn’t come. Instead, the nobles murmured some more and the old man once again spoke.
“The city guard has lied to the nobles and forsaken his duty as a protector of the city’s populace. He will be executed at sunrise.”
The guard began to weep. He continued to weep as we were both taken through the city streets to the stockades. He wept louder once we were both placed in our separate cells. The sun went down and his weeping continued unabated by the darkness.
Finally, I decided to open my big fat mouth.
“Why did you lie?” I asked.
The weeping stopped. “What?”
“You lied about what happened,” I said. “Why?”
The guard was silent for a moment, but then said. “I just didn’t believe her.”
“The Shadowspeaker,” the guard replied. “I know her truth.”
“I told you the truth. Why didn’t you believe me?”
“Kid, the Shadowspeaker runs that place. She’s evil. She’s the kind of person that is responsible for crime, not the victim of it. I assumed she had you under her control.”
“But she was the victim.”
“So she was,” he admitted. “I was wrong.”
“I just don’t understand why you pursued all this. Why did you try to convict me of murder?”
“The other guards said I had to do it. If I didn’t, then I was admitting I was a fool. No one would take us seriously anymore.”
I sighed. “You could have told the truth. You could have stood up to them.”
The guard shook his head. “You just don’t get it.”
I heard Kaellax words echo in my head. She had said the same thing when I had called the guard in the first place. “I guess I don’t,” I said.
When the morning came, the guards came and took the man to his execution. An hour later, Maron arrived to tell me that it was done.
“I didn’t expect him to be executed,” I said. “It’s my fault.”
“No,” Maron replied. “That man had many opportunities to save himself. He made his choices, and they cost him dearly.”
“So what happens now?” I asked.
“You stay here until the guards let you out. Then you’ll be taking a trip.”
Maron handed a roll of paper through the iron bars and I looked it over to see it was a ticket for passage aboard a ship heading North.
“What’s this about?”
“Sonea has agreed to let you return to Udiria. There you will be given a new teacher, a magic user who trained under your grandfather.”
“Why would I get a new teacher? Sonea is considered a great teacher.”
“Sonea is not a Flamecaller.”
“Flamecaller? I’m going to learn how to control fire?” I asked.
Maron nodded. “I had a heart to heart with her the other day. She’s proud of you Sionis, but you’re too powerful to stay here in Stonehaven. You have the potential to do more than the folks here are teaching. Your grandfather was considered one of the most powerful Flamecallers in the realm of Stonehaven. Sonea is willing to bet you could give him a run for his money.”
“What about the Sepher manor?” I asked.
“I’ll take care of it for now, and when you’re ready it’ll be here waiting for you.”
“Uncle Maron, thank you.”
When Maron left, my excitement continued to build until I couldn’t stand it any longer. When I was finally set loose the next day I rushed straight to the docks and found the ship that would carry me back to the Udiria.
They told me it would be a few more hours so I quickly rushed back to the magic district in hopes of seeing Lady Sonea before I left. Instead, I came to a terrible site.
Kaellax’s bar had been torched. The only thing that remained were the stone frames used to hold the wooden structure in place. Several people were hanging around the scene, but I stepped up and found Kaellax sifting through some of the debris.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Funny story,” she said. “The guards came after their companion was executed. They told me there would be a price to pay for what I had done. I decided to find another place to sleep for the night, since I didn’t know what they had in mind. I guess this was it. The fire started late. No witnesses.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “If I had just—”
“No,” she cut me off. “You did the right thing. I wear this new wound proudly. My bar can be replaced, but what I might have suffered that day if you hadn’t intervened, well some wounds can’t be fully healed.”
“What will happen now?” I asked.
“Good news,” she said with a smile. “That prisoner left all of his money that day. Since you teleported the guard away, he never had a chance to clean up the crime scene. There’s enough gold to get me started somewhere new.”
“I’m going to Udiria,” I blurted. “Come with me.”
“Udiria?” She asked. “Are you insane? They’d have my head severed in a heartbeat. I’m a Shadowspeaker, remember?”
“ Darthmonte then?” I asked.
“I’ll be fine,” she said, putting her hand on my head and roughing up my hair. “I’ve learned a few new tricks from these bastards and the magic users aren’t all too happy with the way the guards have been handling their duties. I suspect big changes are in motion.”
“Will I ever see you again?” I asked.
“Sure, why not?” she replied. “Now get moving, you’ve got a ship to catch.”
I thought about continuing on the Udirian Academy, but I knew the ship would be leaving soon, so I headed that way instead. Maron had sent Surfal on ahead for transport, so I didn’t have to get anything other than some money for supplies.
By the time I got back to the harbor they were making final calls for passengers and cargo. I rushed halfway up the ramp before I heard the pop of a transportation spell and knew that she’d come to bid farewell. I stepped back down the ramp where Lady Sonea was waiting with extended arms. “You’ll write me every now and again?” She asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “I promise. You’ll take care of Uncle Maron?”
She frowned. “Do I have to?”
“Very well then.”
This time the frown didn’t look as playful. “I suppose I should.”
“Will you come back to Udiria too?” I asked.
“From time to time,” she said, wrapping me up in another hug. “You’ll be the first person I visit whenever I arrive.”
From the ship’s deck I heard a man shout. “Come on young one, it’s now or never!”
“I have to go.”
“I know,” she said. “Oh Sionis, just be safe, okay?”
“When am I not safe?”
“You just went to jail.”
“Seriously,” she said again. “Be safe. Udiria is a wonderful city, but there are dangers that you will discover as you grow. Some of them are powerful, and some hide in the least expected places.”
“I think I’m learning that one,” I said, thinking of the guards.
“Stay strong, and remember that you are a powerful student. I won’t admit it to just anyone, of course, but you may be one of the strongest students I’ve ever taught.”
“Lady Evanor wouldn’t want to hear that.”
“Evanor wouldn’t believe it,” she replied jokingly.
With that, she spun me around and pushed me onto the boat ramp. “Get on then, young Sepher. Go and become a Flamecaller like you always wanted.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I mean it. Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you.”
“No need for that,” she said. “You’ll see me again soon enough.”
I was about to say more, and she was gone.
I rushed up the ramp just as the impatient captain started to drop the sails and get us moving. We were bound for the north. I would return to Udiria and begin my advanced training as a Flamecaller.
What I did not know, of course, was that the guards of Stonehaven had every intention of killing me in the night if I had stayed in the city. Uncle Maron and Sonea both knew it was coming. Kaellax knew too. She purposely left her bar vulnerable that night so that the guards made destroying it a priority over killing me. They all worked together to orchestrate my swift escape from a very dangerous position.
Of course, all I was thinking about was conjuring fireballs and saving the world.
Our youthful ignorance is such a dangerous construct.