Mages train from an early age, building discipline and skill. Training teaches how to control the surges of power that always come at the beginning.
— Primer on Crystal Sphere Techniques
“You know—” Virsian’s voice broke Kanéko from her dream.
Kanéko’s body crawled with fear, and she forced her eyes to open slowly to find the feline dalpre leaning over her.
Virsian’s brown eyes stared down at her. She continued with a purr, “—the last time there was a teenager in my bed, it was me sixteen years ago.”
Kanéko did a quick bit of math, but kept her mouth shut. She looked around, half expecting to see mercenaries from the Burning Cloud Queen, but they were alone in the cabin.
“Don’t worry, I’m alone.”
“I’m sorry,” Kanéko sat up, “I didn’t mean to sleep.”
Virsian rested a hand on Kanéko’s shoulder. “You needed it. I can see it in your aura. You haven’t slept or eaten enough for a girl your age.”
Kanéko focused on Virsian’s hand, wondering if there was a trap gathering for her. “What about my friends?”
“Maris and Ruben are currently enjoying Falkin’s hospitality, but I don’t think it will last.”
“Why? Does he need money?”
“No, Falkin is helping. Captain Sinmak’s men occupy the entire east wing. The captain is currently out, but his commander, a man name Cobin—”
Kanéko shivered at the memory of the bald man.
“—is making all of our lives impossible. He’s chased away most of our customers and has taken over the great hall for his personal workshop.”
Kanéko realized she didn’t know where Virsian stood concerning her reward. “Um, do you know what they were looking for?”
Virsian’s eyes slid over to her and she smiled, her fangs peeking out from her lips. “You, actually.”
Looking around for escape routes, Kanéko gripped the blankets on the bed.
Virsian chuckled and leaned over to tap Kanéko on the nose. “Neither Falkin or I have the intent of cashing you in for a mere ten thousand crowns.”
“Really?” Kanéko remembered Falkin’s talent of prescience. “How much does Falkin think I’m worth?”
“Oh,” Virsian spoke dramatically with a grin, “A lot more than ten thousand crowns. The future is always changing. But, safe to say neither of us will betray you. Falkin always follows his long-term investments, and I have no love for men looking to steal women.”
Kanéko let out a long, shuddering sigh. She looked over to Virsian and gave a tired chuckle. “This hasn’t been the best of trips.”
“I can imagine.” Virsian’s dress rustled as she shifted position. She held up her hands. “Mind if I work on those injuries?”
Kanéko rolled over and stretched out on the bed. At the first touch of Virsian’s fingers, she tensed up, but then she felt the dalpre’s healing magic soaking into her skin. It felt intense and soothing after the last few days of misery. Virsian eased the aches and pains of Kanéko’s journey with her hands and magic.
“Your friend, Maris…”
“Did she manifest? I don’t remember her having nearly as much resonance before, I could feel her approaching even before she walked inside.”
A spike of jealousy drove into Kanéko’s heart. She closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. Even as she prepared to speak, tears burned her eyes. “Air powers. She is also more than a talent, I saw her do at least two distinct powers. She has to be a mage.”
She sniffed and wiped her face.
“Oh, my.” Virsian’s hands dug into a knot in Kanéko’s shoulder. The healing energy soaked into her muscles and she felt her skin crawling as scratches and bruises faded. A rush of warmth filled her, and she squirmed slightly under the touch.
“Dalpre mages are very rare, you know. Because of our breeding and how we were created. Our former masters didn’t want their slaves rising up against them.”
Kanéko groaned from the pain of the massage and then moaned from the release the healing magic gave her. “One in twelve thousand officially, but Emerging Wizardry said…” Her voice trailed off as she thought back to her fight with Maris in the mill. She groaned as she thought about Maris and her new talent with magic.
“You just tensed up. Why?” The hands never stopped.
Kanéko sighed and stretched out against the warm blankets. She rested her cheek on the pillow to look at Virsian. She focused on the perked-up ears. “This trip is nothing like what I expected. I got in a fight with Maris, got kidnapped by a boy I thought I liked, and then—”
She remembered Sarom Senior’s injured horse. “Oh, god, I forgot.” She pushed herself up in a sitting position. “Can you heal horses?”
Virsian frowned and her ears perked up. “Yes, why?”
“I… accidentally hurt Sarom Senior’s horse, in the Village of…”
“Lassidin. I know him. Was the horse hurt badly?”
“I think,” Kanéko felt her lower lip trembling, “I think I broke its leg. I didn’t mean to, I was just trying to stop him.” Fresh tears ran down her cheeks. “It was an accident, I swear.”
Virsian pulled her into a hug. “It’s all right. I’ll send a note to Sarom tonight. If he hasn’t put the horse down, I can heal it.”
All the pain and frustration of the last few days, from Pahim’s attempt to abduct Kanéko to her flight through the woods at night, everything poured out. She clutched to Virsian as sudden sobs wracked her body. As the tears slowed, she felt the tingling of Virsian’s magic still filling her body as the dalpre held her tight. She looked up, inches from the cat woman’s face. “You did that, didn’t you?”
Virsian’s body vibrated with soft purrs. “Healing the body is only one part of the process.”
Kanéko sat back. She felt better, a weight had been removed from her shoulders. “Th-Thank you.” She wiped the tears from her eyes. “I needed that, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you—” Virsian sat back sharply, shock on her face. “You don’t have resonance. None at all.”
Kanéko took a deep breath. It was hard to admit it, but the cat dalpre stated it as a surprised fact. “No. I’m inert. I have no ability to use or feel it, except when it,” she gestured to her back, “affects my body.”
“But, you seem to know a lot more than most. Emerging Wizardry isn’t for the lay person. I found it too complicated to understand even a quarter of the articles.”
Kanéko felt an old wound opening. “I only found out years ago. Before then, I was going to inherit Papa’s power. Or least dreamed I would. I spent so much time reading the books and trying to find some way to follow in my father’s footsteps.”
Virsian gave Kanéko’s arm a squeeze. “Do you think you could help Maris?”
“Since she’s a dalpre, they won’t let her at the schools in Jinto Panzir or anywhere else. Maybe you could… teach her the basics?”
Kanéko grinned. “The first sphere of Crystal Techniques? I can do that, I have it memorized. Including the exercises on control and strength.”
Virsian smiled and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you. There aren’t many of dalpre mages, and I really want to get her training before she makes too many mistakes or acquires habits that will hurt someone.”
With a start, Kanéko looked at Virsian in a different light. “Who taught you?”
“My mother. She was the bone-setter for the inn. She was human but my father was dalpre. And, as you know, the child of any dalpre is always a dalpre.”
It was one of the facts of life. A nature of the dalpre breeding. The wizards who created them a thousand years before bred them to be slaves and wanted to ensure there would be no questions about illegitimate breeding.
Kanéko nodded. “I will. I promise.”
Virsian stood up and hugged Kanéko tightly. The fur of her face tickled Kanéko’s cheek and Kanéko wrapped her arms around Virsian, holding the slender woman tightly. “Thank you, Lady Lurkuklan.”
“Call me Kan?” Kanéko felt foolish for asking.
Virsian pulled back. She smiled and her ears quivered. “Thank you, Kan.”
Kanéko didn’t know how to respond. She stretched her arm out in front of her and looked at the smooth, unblemished skin. “Looks like I didn’t spend the night in the woods.”
“You need food.” Virsian smoothly stood up and walked to the door. She picked up a tray of covered food and brought it back.
At the first smell of roasted pig and vegetables, Kanéko realized she was famished. She scooted over to the edge of the bed and took a bowl from the tray. She dove in.
Virsian sat down next to her. “Do you know what you’ll do? Where you’ll hide?”
Unsure, Kanéko peeked over at her. She thought about hiding at the inn, but knowing that Cobin was only a few chains away made her nervous. She wondered if she could make the journey home, using back roads and Ruben’s knowledge, but Lurkuklan Tower was so many days away. She pushed the childish idea to the back of her head and answered Virsian with a shake of her head.
Virsian smiled and gestured to Kanéko’s bowl. “Eat, Kan. If you don’t have plans, Falkin and I think you should spend the night here. Tomorrow night, we’ll send you and your friends to one of the hunting lodges in the woods.”
The idea of leaving the cabin and being caught froze Kanéko. She gripped the blankets underneath her until her knuckles ached.
Apparently unaware of Kanéko’s thoughts, Virsian gestured to the south. “The inn has a number of them. They are private and well-stocked. Suitable to royalty. Those men,” she hissed, “will never find you out there. And, we can send Garèo there when he comes back.” She smiled. She rested a hand on Kanéko’s shoulder. “Now, eat and rest. I’ll be back in a few hours.”