Meet Avedis Ilarion, the sorcerer prince with an agenda.
As the manis of the three sorcerers collided the sound of churning earth and breaking branches echoed through the wood. Avedis rolled to the ground as a clod of dirt hurtled towards him. It hit the trunk of a tree and rained down around him. Just as he was about to retort with flame, the ground underneath his boots dissolved and he nearly lost his footing. His blood coursed hot from the battle of lightning fast movements and explosions of energy.
A flash of blond hair warned Avedis of the next strike. He caught Ausral’s wrist before it could hit his face with a sharp stream of air. At the same time, Laihma stirred the dirt underneath Avedis’ feet again, causing him and Ausral to fall in a tumble of limbs and curses. Just as they hit the ground, Ausral blew them apart and they jumped to their feet.
Avedis sent another blast and Ausral responded with a gust that fanned the fire. The flame grew until another mass of dirt snuffed out its oxygen.
Ready to finish the fight, Avedis charged Ausral. He knew Laihma would be ready to defend his brother. Just as the dirt softened in front of him, Avedis drew back and conjured a blast of condensed flame that erupted at Ausral’s feet. The wind sorcerer fell back and landed hard with a thud and groan.
Avedis then went for Laihma. He charred the rocks and dirt thrown up in defense. Avedis pressed and pressed the attack until the two of them neared the edge of the clearing.
“Yield, I yield!” Laihma fell back, beating out the flame that had caught his sleeve. He looked at Avedis, wide-eyed. “You’re stronger than you were last time we sparred,” he panted and pushed himself up, “I swear it.”
Avedis’ exerted breathing was already slowing. “I am.” Just as Ometawey had said, the intensity of energy from the spell had settled in the past two days. He turned and went to help Ausral up, who was lying dejected in the grass. “It was a good match,” he said as he pulled the other mage to his feet.
Out in the woods was the only place Avedis could breathe. Since he and Ometawey had performed the Equinox spell, the walls of the palace felt tighter. Avedis craved to use his new power. Not only was his mani stronger, he could detect the Vitesta in places he had not been able to before: deep in the soil, in plants, animals, people, even sometimes in the air as a humming, potent energy.
Ausral dusted himself off and asked in his quiet voice, “Should we go another round?”
“I don’t think so,” Avedis pulled his left sleeve down and rubbed soot from his face. “It’s getting late. They’ll be wondering where I’ve gone off to…and aren’t you supposed to be back at the barracks by now?”
Laihma shrugged. His hazel eyes glittered with mischief. “Sahlvira has got a soft spot for us, you know that. It’s not as if the company has anything to do, anyway. We’re better off sparring with you than learning to use those damn crossbows and swords.”
“It’s a shame Eakteon and my father can’t see the talents at their disposal.” Avedis rolled his other sleeve down and pulled the tie from his hair before slicking it back again into a tight ponytail. He hoped he would make it back to his room and clean up before his parents spotted him, muddy and torn from his mock battles.
“There’s something wrong in their heads,” Laihma said as they left the clearing and walked through the dense forest path. “If we get into trouble with Phrilaiam our magic will be a lot more useful than an arrow. They’ll want us out west if that happens. Hell, between the two of us, Ausral and I could take out half of a normal company.”
“That’s an exaggeration,” Ausral murmured.
“A little one,” said Laihma.
“Things will be different when I’m king. Keep using your manis. You will have need of them someday soon.”
Avedis managed to wash the dirt away in time to sit a silent dinner with his parents. Adiel picked listlessly at her plate as Kailis ate, more interested in the pile of letters at his elbow than anything else. Avedis found himself watching his mother’s bony hands work the utensils. The frailness of Adiel’s frame betrayed the fierce resilience which lay behind her blue eyes. He wondered what she thought about while the three of them sat there, playing along in the candlelit air.
Since Avedis had missed dinner with the ambassadors, Kailis made it a point that he would join them at every meal. To the Prince, it was wasted time. All he wanted to do was work with Ometawey, to learn as much as he could about the Vipescyurae and begin drafting letters to the Innumerable Counsel.
Carram loved their King, as they had loved the other Ilarion rulers before him. Behind his public face Kailis was a different man. When Avedis was a child it took nothing more than the threat of a raised hand to stop him in his tracks—most of the time no hitting was required. Avedis had grown, though, taller than his father, tougher and sharper each day as the other became weaker with age, and the dynamic between them had changed. The family knew Avedis could easily overpower Kailis, but the years of abuse had ensured he would not try. That, and his claim would be stripped from him faster than he could throw a punch.
“Commander Eakteon says he saw you wandering off with the Yerraveh twins this afternoon,” Kailis said. Avedis and Adiel lifted their gazes, “just after the company was done training for the day.”
“Did he?” Avedis refused to look at Kailis’ eyes.
“What were you doing with them?”
“Really? Sparring is how you spend your afternoons off?”
“Ausral and Laihma are both gifted fighters. I have learned much from them about how to protect myself.” Avedis’ voice gave away nothing. He wouldn’t say out loud that he’d been using the Vitesta, even if his parents already knew it. Honesty would only anger Kailis; everything made him angrier and nothing seemed to calm him, not even Adiel’s gentle touch, as it had when Avedis was younger.
“They are sorcerers.”
“In your army, indeed,” Avedis said, eyes still on his untouched place. “Why keep the Mani Company together at all when you’re about to outlaw their very existence? Is it because you know you need them?”
Kailis slammed his fist upon the table, causing both Adiel and Avedis to jump. “You know the consequence of using the Vitesta, of giving in to the abomination you are,” said the King, ignoring his son’s question.
“Do you think I’m foolish enough to let anyone see?” Avedis said, ignoring the sting of the words he’d heard a thousand times. “You have no reason to tell me to stop—”
“I have reason,” Kailis said, “I am king and it is my responsibility to pass this country into the hands of someone who will rule it as I have. Stop your sneaking about and stop speaking to me as if you were still an insolent child. This upcoming anointment should have been for Virendra, not you.”
“Kailis,” Adiel hissed, dropping her spoon with a tang. Her thin lips were pressed into a hard line and her pale skin went several shades whiter. “Don’t say such things.”
“Believe me, I know that,” Avedis said through clenched teeth. He swallowed the molten embers rising in his throat. “But Virendra is dead. Sometimes I think you forget that.”
“It’s impossible to forget, having to look at your face every day.”
“Please, Kailis, stop.”
“Then allow me to remove myself from your sight.” Avedis stood, resisting the urge to set the wood beneath his hands on fire. He rounded and headed for the door. Kailis called after him, his voice still thick with the rage, but the Prince had already stopped listening.