“Fire is, in many ways, exactly like the Yunai. I mean to say, it is not your friend. It will maim you, kill you, and destroy all that you care about if you give it even the slightest opportunity. Your Udirian teachers probably tell you that it can be controlled, but great Flamecallers will tell you that only in acknowledging your powerlessness over this magic can you hope to control it.”
I stood, listening to her lecture, with a small flame cupped in the palm of my hands. It was the best I could do. It took everything I had to keep it ignited, keep it burning, and my frustration at struggling over this simple task wasn’t helping.
“Let it grow,” she said to me now. “Let it be the size of your head.”
I nodded and tried to harness the power, to force the flame to grow just a little bit at a time, absorbing more arcane energy with each flicker, but nothing. It stagnated, and even started to shrink away.
“What are you doing?” she chastised. “Let it grow.”
“I’m trying to make it.”
“Do not make it. Let it.”
I looked at her, dumbfounded, and my concentration on the flame faded. As it did, the fire seemed to grab at the latent magical energy in the room. It blossomed in a sudden fervor, growing in my hand. I looked back, shocked, as it grew so large it nearly nearly burning my face as it expanded outward. It took everything from me, as though it might feed on my own magical energy until I was consumed.
Panic filled my heart.
Then, the flame was extinguished in an instant, and my eyes caught Kaellax, holding the original tiny flame in the palm of her hand.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Fire is power. You cannot control it. You can only try to contain it.”
“What if I can’t contain it?” I asked.
“Then it will destroy you,” she replied plainly. “And perhaps countless others.”
I frowned. “Are you and I talking about the same magic?”
Kaellax smiled. “You know the Shadowspeaker that showed up and gave you that book?”
“He did so because you asked for help with fire magic. The truth of the matter is, most of the Shadowspeakers out there today have a better understanding of fire magic than any other. The Yunai cannot be controlled… only contained.”
“So one feeds into the other,” I said. “A Flamecaller dabbles in Yunai magic because they think they understand it, and a Shadowspeaker can better manipulate fire because of their understanding of the dark energy they manipulate.”
“That’s right,” she said. “It makes you a perfect candidate to become a Shadowspeaker too. This isn’t the last time you’ll be approached by someone about this topic, not once your abilities with the flame are known.”
“Are you trying to convince me not to become a Flamecaller?”
“I’m telling that you’ll need to be prepared. You and I won’t be so different once you’ve mastered this strength. I draw my power from a chaotic energy that I don’t fully understand. So will you. There is a reason there are so few Flamecallers across Azirin, and those that are often relish their power.”
“It’s hard. I get it.”
“It’s not just that. Your grandfather, Ciganis, wielded the power of fire and also maintained a humble nature. He was a master unlike any other. Angus follows in his path, but he’s arrogant and condescending. He pushes students away before they get a chance to really learn. You need to be better than him, so you can grow into a wise teacher in your own right.”
“Kaellax, I just want to be a Flamecaller. I can be humble. I can be careful. What are you going on about anyway?” I asked.
Kaellax frowned. “I sought what you seek, Sionis. I wanted to be a Flamecaller when I was young. I never got the chance, and my pursuit led me down a path not unlike the one you witnessed here in your own home. I was approached by someone that had learned something most sinister… a way to reach out and grasp at the ones we called the Yunai. I went down that path, and in the process I lost a part of… me. I lost friends, and family, and my place among the Udirian elites. I was lured to the Yunai because I did not see powerful Flamecallers among my peers. I saw prideful jerks and arrogant magicians. If there had been a role model for me to look up to… maybe things would have been different.”
“I’m so sorry,” I started. “I didn’t know…”
She gave me a smirk. “I didn’t become the mysterious and powerful Shadowspeaker by recounting the troubling tales of my youth. You know now because I told you. What you do with that knowledge is what matters.”
I nodded firmly. “I’ll learn. I’ll be the best Flamecaller that ever lived.”
“I’ll hold you to it then,” she replied. “Now, show me the flame.”
I concentrated on my palm sparking the small fire into existence and then, against my better judgement, relaxing and letting the fire have more control. It grew quickly, and I started to panic once again, but quickly locked down on that emotion and reminded myself that just like the flame, I could contain my fear.
The fire grew, engulfing my hand, and I presented it to Kaellax with a wide grin.
“Good,” she replied. “Now, contain it.”
I did as she said, wrapping magical energy around the fire, gently luring into listening. The flame was not mine, it would not willingly obey me, I could only suggest and influence where it went. I focused my will on that goal, and soon enough I had it locked in my grasp.
I looked to Kaellax and she had a full smile on her face. “Impressive.”
“Now what?” I asked.
“Now?” she repeated. “Well, now we can start.”
I spent the next two months learning everything I could from Kaellax. True to her word, any talk of the Yunai was left off the table. The books I read were Udirian approved, and the spells I weaved were purely aether in their source. Unlike with Angus, however, the secret of containment had changed my view of how I handled the magic, and with that understanding came a deep and sudden power.
I put it to great use, blasting targets with scorching fireballs and listening as nearby soldiers shouted compliments on my accuracy.
Of course, I still lacked the finesse of any real skill or refinement. I attempted to light a candle from across a room and the candle simply exploded into molten wax, splattering across the stone walls and making Kaellax burst into laughter.
Surprisingly, or perhaps, unsurprisingly, the better I became at using fire, the worse I became at working with controlling the other elements through magic. The use of ice demanded full control. Water would not simply freeze itself, I had to concentrate hard just to form the ice crystals that would become a frozen blast of air. Ice was cold and dead, while fire was alive, a companion, if a begrudging one. Unfortunately, Kaellax wouldn’t let me rest on that one either. She was sure to point out that all fields of magic would be critical to my success in the Academy of Magic Users, so I did as I was told and continued my lessons.
The last night of summer, a week before I was to return to class, Maron and Kaellax started to pack their things, prompting me to beg them not to go.
“A whole summer living in Udiria,” Maron replied. “It’s been wonderful seeing you, Sionis, but my place is back at the manor, securing your wealthy lifestyle.”
“And I have neglected my own studies for far too long,” Kaellax added. “I can’t risk performing that kind of magic here in Udiria. The Academy would have my head.”
“What if I need help with my studies?” I asked.
She chuckled. “You haven’t needed help since the first day. I just wanted to make sure you learned the rhythm. Stay studious and you’ll do fine.”
“Thank you both for coming here,” I said. “It means alot. I’ve missed you all. Will you tell Sonea that I’m well when you return?”
“Can do,” Maron replied. “She’ll be glad to hear it.”
“Do you think I will be able to return to Stonehaven?”
Maron nodded. “Oh sure, just a few years to make sure the guards have forgotten about your little stunt. I’ve been good to them since they left, and they’ve become very forgiving.”
“I don’t forgive them,” I rebutted.
“You are a white knight,” Kaellax said with a smirk.
“They have been cruel to you, on multiple occasions.”
“Many are foolish,” she agreed. “But not all.”
“Fine,” I relented.
“Oh,” she added. “When you return to class, tell Angus that Ella sends her regards.”
“Ella?” Maron asked.
Kaellax glanced at him. “That’s right.”
“Nice,” he said. “I can see that.”
A few days later, I watched them sail away.
I returned to Udiria and prepared myself for my first day back at school. When Angus started the lesson with some simple review points, I made sure to prepare myself. I did as I was told and everything came to me with ease.
At the end of our lesson, Angus caught me at the door. “Young Sepher, that was impressive work you showed today. It would appear you did your homework over the summer.”
“I did,” I replied. “I, uh, well I had a few lessons with a teacher.”
“Yes, in fact, she said to tell you that she sends her regards.”
“Oh? An old student of mine perhaps? What was her name?”
Angus looked frozen. “Ella, you say?”
He smiled at me. “She taught you this?”
“And… she only taught you this?”
“Aether,” I assured him. “Purely Udiria approved.”
The old man looked like he might begin to cry. “I am very happy to hear this. Ella was, and perhaps still is from the looks of it, one of my best students.”
“I am thankful for all of her help,” I added.
“I am thankful that you sent me her message, young Sepher. Now, get on to your next class. I am sure you have a lot of work ahead of you.”
I thanked him once more and headed out. From that day forward Angus treated me differently, with more respect, and I couldn’t have been happier to have that change. Kaellax had completely turned my luck around.