Rena crouched behind the row of garden bushes which lined Faril’s quarters, her eyes wide and her mouth agape. She hardly noticed the chill which had entered her bones, nor the painful cramping in her arms and legs from holding still so long. The librarian’s reading room was now empty, save for the book, which still gave off an other-worldly glow. Her mind struggled to process what had just happened, half of it rejecting it as delusion and the other shuddering at the implications.
She tried to force her body into motion but found she was rooted. The air stole from her lungs suddenly and she tried furiously to grasp for her neck, to no avail. The force held her there for a long time, crushing her wind pipe and her vision began to blur, and her mind lose focus. Tears streamed hopelessly down her face and she knew she was about to die. Still something in her refused to give up and fought back against the invading force with a violent resolve. It lashed at the invisible hand about her throat, weakening its hold. The exertion exacted a gruelling toll on Rena’s body, which burnt to the point where she thought she’d simply die by combustion. But she continued to fight, her body heating more and more and the combined effects of the foreign power and her own hastening her towards her end.
As she slipped from consciousness Rena felt her body give way, but not move, still held in the offending power’s embrace. Her eyes flickered up momentarily and she opened her mouth, but only a rasp escaped before everything went black and she fell heavily to the ground.
Faril looked over the young woman’s form in a mixture of horror and confusion. Rena lay sprawled out on the grass, one leg twisted at an unnatural angle, her lips blue and her skin ashen from the crushing force with which he had held her. As soon as he’d realised who she was Faril had released her, but she looked to have one foot already in the grave. He bent over, examining her closely and feeling her neck for a pulse. She was alive, barely, and he hastened to heave her into his arms and carry her into his rooms before anybody could see.
Once within he made his way to his bedroom and laid her gently on the bed, taking care to straighten her leg before placing his hands over it and channelling regenerative energies. The bones bonded back together with a sickening series of cracks. Satisfied that the rest would take care of itself, Faril retreated to a chair in the corner of the room and settled in to wait for his apprentice’s recovery.
He thought over the incident, reliving it in slow motion. He’d stepped silently outside, shielding himself within a zone of isolation. The intruder had been perched behind some shrubbery, held in perfect stillness and appearing to be under the effects of a minor casting of bodily immobility. Faril’s attack had been sudden and ferocious, for if it was a member of some cult of magi, they’d surely be prepared to retaliate instantly against an assault.
But the intruder had offered no initial resistance, instead seeming surprised and aghast as the life was choked out of them. Faril had moved closer then, with the intention of dealing a killing blow to the other’s mind before they could communicate anything to any others who may be nearby. That was when he’d felt the first wave of resistance, the primal flexing of a magi’s will in self-defence. The inexperienced manoeuvre had baffled Faril, who increased the intensity of his attack. Novice magi were a dangerous thing. They could manifest great power involuntarily, causing damage or death to themselves or any unlucky enough to be around them at the time. As he’d moved closer he’d thought the form which was now close to death was familiar and had ventured a weak light flare. And that was when he’d let go.
Rena’s face was contorted in pain and wet with tears. He had been sure she tried to mouth his name before he released her and she fell to the ground, unconscious. But something had caught his eye in the moment before she fell. A symbol, burning white hot beneath her shirt, right where her heart was. Faril stood slowly from his seat and moved towards the woman’s sleeping form. He studied her for a long moment before finally drawing in a furtive breath and reaching for the top button of her shirt. Though he didn’t touch her skin the heat from her body radiated into him, sending shivers of recognition down his spine. Perhaps it was just some strange manifestation of guilt, he reasoned, slowly drawing the material back from her skin. With this thought to offer him a little comfort, he glanced down at the exposed patch above her heart. Bile rose to his throat.
In a blur of motion Faril released Rena’s shirt and moved to the reading room, where the lamp light still burned and Rilashul’s insignia still glowed faintly. He flipped the book open hastily, not caring which page it opened to and directed his thoughts onto it.
Do you mind! came an indignant script.
Did you have a child? Faril demanded.
Are you insane? You know I didn’t.
Tell me the truth, Rilashul! Do you have any living descendants?
How could I?
Because there is a girl lying in my bed who carries your insignia.
A long moment of silence, then a deliberate response. That cannot be, Mellin.
And yet it is. He responded flatly.
I was initiated a virgin, you know this.
How dare you! Power seeped from her, through the book and into Faril’s mind, blasting at him. The display calmed him a bit, and forced the nagging sense of betrayal from him.
And yet she’s there, Rila. A magus of your line. How is it possible if not from you?
The words ‘I don’t know’ began to form, dilute on the page, then disappeared as though replaced by a more urgent thought. I was a twin…
But we can only sire one child. It’s the natural law. Your other would have to have died for you to live.
I was told he did. I visited his grave.
Before he could respond, Faril felt Rilashul withdraw herself from the diary entirely. He cursed under his breath and closed the book, staring at the now dull insignia on its cover.