When I left Udiria, I was just a kid. I was just beginning to think about magic and power. The years I spent in Stonehaven had brought knowledge, money, and a fair level of popularity amongst the nobles, even if my little incident with the guards did cause a stir at the end. Even better, the story of my assault came to Udiria with me, muddied by the dozens of retellings until I was cast as the hero who stepped in and threw ten armed soldiers into the harbor to save the lives of a widowed woman and her two small children.
In other words, when I stepped foot back inside the gates of Udiria as a budding adult, I was considered a hero. People literally asked me to shake their hands.
It was all nonsense of course, and I was particularly annoyed that Kaellax’s role in the story had been scrubbed clean, but for such a tale to carry weight in this pure city, I imagine someone had thought it best to not mention a Shadowspeaker might be involved.
So I went with it… for a while.
I was surrounded with new students my age at the Academy for Magic Users. They all wanted to hear about that time I helped my uncle overthrow the Stonemasters, or how I overcame all those soldiers just to save that sweet woman. It was boring telling the story over and over, but my fairly casual response only seemed to feed into the high opinion that my peers had of me. I was like the cool kid that everyone wanted to be.
I lived off the school grounds, which only added to the lore, but my uncle had sent a fairly large shipment of gold after I arrived and told me to enjoy my youth while I could. I sent back a letter chastising him for foolishly sending me his hard-earned money when he knew I would spend it. He responded that he would earn it back in a few seasons anyway.
I missed my uncle very much.
I missed Evanor, and Sonea. I missed Kaellax too.
I just didn’t show it to anyone. Instead, I prided myself on being the cool and collected figure that my students thought I was.
My teachers, on the other hand, were not so confident.
Lady Sonea had taken the trouble getting me transferred back to Udiria where I could learn the first steps to becoming a Flamecaller. My professor was an ancient man, Angus Wellston, who taught as the lone instructor of this magical art. He was revered and took only a few students each year. I was allowed to join only because Angus had known my grandfather.
“Ciganis Sepher,” he had nearly bellowed at me. “Well, why didn’t you say so?! Your grandfather was a real firecracker, and I do mean that as a joke!”
I wish he had never known. From our first day in class he looked to me like I should have been my grandpa reincarnate. At first he probably assumed I was distracted by my relative fame, but soon enough that started to change. The populous of the school was caught up in another marvelous student, the young prodigy known as Lady Evanor. My old friend returned from Stonehaven when she was named apprentice to Elder Zandias in Udiria. More importantly, Lady Evanor was also said to have a blossoming relationship with the young Princess of the Kingdoms of Lederan. She gained a following at the Academy that I could never hope to achieve. The time we spent together plummeted, but when she did manage to see me or wave, she’d say hello.
Despite fewer invitations to parties and more time to myself, my studies did not improve. I was still passing, of course, but I found that anything less than Flamecaller magic was boring for me. While other students were casting spells that slowed their fall, or learning how to teleport across the campus in the blink of an eye, I was still struggling with the fundamentals.
Angus seemed to dance back and forth between shockingly forgiving and crushingly critical of my abilities. It was like watching a single person try to be both the hero and villain of the narrative. One minute he would congratulate me on small gains I had made, the next he would remind me how my grandfather would have already been through his first major battle by now.
It was exhausting, but strangely enough, it pushed me forward. I started picking up more books to read from the library, I started listening more closely in my arcane lessons, and most importantly, I decided to hire a tutor.
My first visit with this particular individual, his name was Samuel, did not go as I expected. He brought information on magic and power, but he also brought a few books that I had not seen in our library before.
“Do you feel like you need to tap into a stronger source? Does it feel like the other students have some power that you don’t have? What are they failing to tell you?”
He talked about the twisting aether and came across as a bit silly. Then, he mentioned the Yunai. I nearly lost it. He was a Shadowspeaker, or maybe just a cheerleader for those that harnessed the power. I wasn’t sure and I didn’t care. I was terrified that if I called him out he might incinerate me right on the spot, but at the same time I had known Kaellax and she had been nice enough.
I politely pushed past the small talk and asked that he help with a few simple fire spells before I consider the road toward something as potent was working with a Yunai. He showed me a handful of simple spells, many of the the same ones Angus had tried to teach me earlier. When I continued to struggle, he again mentioned a greater source of power.
With that, I ended the meeting. Samuel left without another word.
In the city of Udiria being a Shadowspeaker is forbidden. I could have reported the man to the Academy and they would have likely sent him to the dungeon, or maybe tried to convert him back from his dark choices.
I won’t ever know what they would have done, because I never reported him.
I acted like the whole thing never happened and decided to redouble my efforts on studying for the remainder of the school year.
I got better, but not by much, and on the last day Angus approached to inform me that I’d better come back next year having had a great awakening of power or he’d transfer me out and let one of the more promising students take my place.
It was brutal. It was honest.
“Thank you for the evaluation,” I replied. “I certainly hope I have that awakening myself. I’ll see you at the end of the summer, Professor, and my uncle Maron sends his wishes.”
Angus raised a brow. “That was kind of him, I suppose. Glad to hear not all of his generation was killed when the Yunai destroyed that realm. I can’t say I know why he’s sending me his wishes, though?”
“Well, he was Ciganis’ son,” I replied. “I assumed you might have met him a few times before my grandfather passed.”
Angus seemed to contemplate this. “Maron? No, that’s not right. His sister was your mother. You’re his nephew on her side.”
I shook my head with a chuckle. “No, Maron was my father’s brother.”
“I wish I didn’t have to keep telling you this, Sepher, but you’re wrong again. Your father was Ciganis’ only son. He was actually quite disappointed he couldn’t sire more children.”
It felt like a ton of bricks had slammed into my gut. “But that’s not… possible.”
Angus could tell I was bothered by the news, and clearly he didn’t want to be involved with any more of it. “Send Maron my wishes as well,” he added hastily. “And I wasn’t joking, Sepher, train up this summer or you’ll be out of my class in the fall.”
I don’t remember how I got home that night. I just remember trying to come up with all the reasons that Angus had to be wrong, had to be mistaken, had to be a crazy old man to think that Maron wasn’t my dad’s brother.
Why would he have lied to me?
How could he have opened the family vault?
It had to be a mistake. Angus was old. What did he really know about my family?
Still, the idea was eating away at me. When I finally arrived at my apartment that night I collapsed on a large pillow and my eyes caught the book that Samuel had brought to my house. I pulled it over and saw the title, Unlocking the Power Within. I had heard about this one before. It was banned from the Udirian libraries, not because it taught evil directly, but because the author had himself been a powerful Shadowspeaker.
I decided one little read wouldn’t hurt.
A week later I had calmed down enough to send a letter to Maron. I had thought out a million different theories about his family history and I had come to the same conclusion every time. Maron Sepher had been kind to me, and he had taken care of my father’s legacy in Stonehaven. He was not a bad man, and if he had lied to me about being my father’s brother, there was a good reason. All I asked for was the truth.
In the letter I also included a small note that I was reading a magical tome written by an old Shadowspeaker and that it had made me think of Kaellax back home. I asked Maron for her status and to perhaps tell her I said hello if they were still in touch.
I signed it and sent it off for Stonehaven the next day.
A second week later, I had a knock at the door.
I opened it, groggy and tired from a long night of staring at the ceiling, and I was shocked to see two people standing in the doorway. The first, looking as clean and dapper as I’d ever seen him, was Maron. Next to him, dressed in the most normal clothing I had ever seen, stood Kaellax. They both smiled at me and I smiled back at them.
Then, Maron and I were wrapped in a tight hug, and Kaellax was stepping beside us and closing the door so she could fling back her hood and reveal her face.
“Alive and well I see,” I said to her.
“For the time being,” she replied with a smirk.
“You guys could have just written a letter,” I said, stepping back.
“No,” Maron replied. “Not for this. It’s a unique story, Sepher, and you deserve to hear it from me.”