Goal: 11,670 words.
Achieved: 4,235 words.
A conversation that takes place later on in the story, where we learn a little more about magic, the Empire, and the Legion.
Prospero pursed his lips and thought for a moment. “Say you show some inclination, some talent, when you’re young. There are tests for that, you know. Anyplace that isn’t a complete backwater has its administrators, its priests, its guards. They’re trained to look for certain things.”
Cara nodded. “That’s how I ended up in the Empire school. Padre Sanda said he thought I would do well there, and that if I passed the entrance exam, they would teach me and give me a job.” She paused for a moment, looking off into the distance, then shook her head. “My parents were excited for me. It wasn’t until later that I realized what kind of job it would be.”
“A lifetime under examination. Yes.” Prospero looked down, and idly scratched lines in the dirt with the stick. “The Empire tolerates magic, and even encourage it. It will use it - but will not trust it. Or those who practice it. Not entirely, at any rate.” He stopped for a second, and tapped his stick. “They don’t worry quite so much if you’re a ayloshea - a world magi. That type of magic is tied to a particular part of the Real. So long as those folks get Empire training, and take work that’s approved, they’re fine.”
He bent over and wiped away his scratchings. “If you’ve got a certain kind of talent, though… that’s scary. That’s a problem. If you can change the Real. If you can enter the Far Lands and change it instead of letting it change you. If you can make things that are not be, and things that are be not…”
“If you’re a lamoshea,” she whispered.
“If you’re a magi.” He nodded. “Then, it’s a different school. It’s education, sure. But it’s also magical training, and it’s military training, and it’s hard training, because you will be going into the Legion.” He hesitated for a moment. “Your class at the Empire school. How many graduated?”
She snorted. “We all did. Eventually. Some of us did it on time, some of us took longer. The worse ones got the lousy postings out of school. I heard Maga Krstol got sent to some Heaven-forsaken hinterland where they needed help learning how to raise goats.”
Prospero gave her a slight smile. “There were a dozen of us who made it. Out of four times as many that started.”
She frowned. “What happened to the rest?”
He looked at her. “Hard training.” When she still looked puzzled, he sighed. “We lost some as part of Legion exercises, but most didn’t make it through the advanced magi training. When you push against Creation, and try to change it… if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can push back. Hard.” He looked her in the eyes. “And the only way to learn how, is to learn by doing. You push, and you’re careful, and you pray to God that you do it right, so that you don’t end up… gone. Vanished.” He looked up, stared into the night. “That happened once. Two set themselves on fire. One drowned himself on dry land. One…” He shuddered slightly, looked at Cara. Her mouth was open, as if to speak, but she said nothing.
“He pushed too hard. Creation pushed back.” He shrugged. “Hard training.”
He shook his head, looked at her, and continued. “Sometimes, though, someone doesn’t get identified early on. Maybe there’s nobody around them that knows what to look for. Maybe there’s somebody, but they’re just bad at that part their job. If they’re a witch or a warlock, they might end up not ever knowing. They just… have a particular things that work better for them. Tending horses. A green thumb. They never get lost.”
She nodded. “Right. Folks with a knack. The Empire doesn’t really even care about them, do they? They’re too old. They didn’t stretch their skills when they were younger, so when they get older, they can do one thing. Sometimes.”
He pursed his lips, nodded. “It happens that way with magi, too. Or with those who would have been magi, if they were trained when they were young. Only… their knacks tend to be stranger. More worrisome. More dangerous to themselves, and the ones around them.”
“Scary”, she said, eyes wide.
“Yes. When the Empire finds those types, they get conscripted, if they can be of service. Or killed, if they can’t.” He chuckled briefly. “It’s a life sentence, either way.”
She put her hand to her mouth. “That’s…”
One corner of Prospero’s mouth twisted into the shadow of a smile. “A bit morbid? Perhaps. You’ll hear more of it. There’s not a Legionaire alive who doesn’t like to laugh at death, loudly and often.”
He gestured at where the men were setting up camp. “I went through the Legion magi school. These men… well, they got conscripted.” He nodded as he saw the realization wash over her.
“They all have certain talents”, said Prospero. “The Twins… they’re good at finding ways through things. A forest, a city. Put a door or a lock in their way, and if there’s a way around it, they’ll find it. It doesn’t even really matter if it’s something they want to open. It’s enough that it’s just there.”
She opened her mouth, hesitated, then spoke. “Those don’t sound too scary.”
Prospero raised his eyebrows. “Doesn’t it? If you think about it a bit, there are a lot of places that we try to keep the wrong people out of. Banks. Vaults. Buildings. The Far Lands. Government offices. Legion posts.” His brows furrowed. “More places than you’d think, at first. All of them secured for good reasons.” He shrugged. “All of which might as well be sitting out in the open if those those two living incarnations of chaos wander by and decide they’d like to take a peek.”
Cara sat back, looking thoughtful. “Huh. Yes. I think I see what you mean.”
He nodded. “Exactly. Bear and Valish are talented in their own ways as well. Ways that make them useful to the Empire. Thankfully, they’re both good men, and loyal. They were more than willing to join, especially knowing that they would be able to serve the Empress.” He smiled. “They’re all good men, in that regard.”
Cara hesitated for a moment, then said, “And… First? Kellan? He has a talent, as well?”
Prospero was silent for a moment.