"Love can sometimes be magic. But magic can sometimes...
just be an illusion." -Javan
Mia Ausa was exhausted. She had wanted to plan a large celebration
to commemorate the official reopening of the Magic Guild of
Vane, but right now it was looking to become a nightmare. With
only a week to go before this party (she constantly kept trying
to remind herself it was just a party) her Taurean patience
had been stretched to it's utmost limit. Between members of
her staff (not to name names, mind you) misplacing invitations,
ordering the wrong color cloth for the new Premier's robe, and
somehow managing to give the musicians the wrong dates, she
was wondering if this festival would ever take place. Details,
Mia. Just details, she kept telling herself. It was not
working. She bent over her desk for a moment, her head cradled
in her hands, before slowly standing with a soft sigh.
As she stood there, still unaccustomed to her new office,
she turned and stared out the window into the distance, allowing
herself a moment to be lost in thought. Four years ago, we
would have been in the air. I would have been able to see for
miles around. We should be today, but I just wasn't fast enough...
or strong enough... She shook her head, driving the thought
away. It had taken four years--four long and painful years--to
restore the once renowned Magic Guild of Vane to even a semblance
of its former state. She feared it would never float again;
and some part of her always felt guilty about not being able
to do more in that respect. Her friends had tried to reassure
her--she had done the best she could, and it was a miracle that
she had saved what she did. But as always, that seed of doubt
sprouted in her mind and for a moment she indulged it; wondering
what would have happened if she had been able to keep Vane afloat.
The view from the window reminded
her again of how she had yearned to leave the floating city
as a child. She always wished she was not kept so confined--locked
away by her mother in a tower of innocence; never allowed
to venture to the ground below; always expected to just
go to school and learn the ways of the world there at the
Guild. She shook her head and chuckled to herself. How
could anyone be expected to learn life through textbooks
and teachers? The time she was on her Quest, and these
four years that had followed provided the greatest instructors
and harshest tests of all. First confined by my mother,
and now by my duties.
An unexpected ray of sunlight broke through the shims of the
curtains and filled the room with light for an instant. Caught
in its tender shadow were six small bronze figures mounted on
narrow pedestals--three on each side of the tall window. She
smiled as the radiance outlined the skillfully cast features,
each mirroring their subjects' expressions with an almost frightening
accuracy. Looking at them her thoughts drifted to her dearest
friends; the other Heroes now scattered at different ends of
the world. During their Quest she had seen herself grow and
learn from each of them. She missed them all terribly, for because
of the distance between them, they only managed to get together
about once a year. She smiled a little, knowing they would all
be coming to the Re-Opening Festival. Those invitations, at
least, she knew would arrive safely. She had handwritten each
and personally handed them to the couriers. With a soft laugh
she reached out and lightly touched each of the small statues,
memories of their time together filling her heart with an unexpected
contentment and providing her with a much-needed diversion.
The first figure was Alex, the ex-Dragonmaster. The sculptor
had made him true to form in his Dragon Armor, complete with
Althena's sword in his hand. Mia smiled to herself--she always
had admired the sorrel haired boy. From watching him lead their
group, she learned patience and perseverance. Not once--even
when it looked impossible--did he give up. Although he was the
youngest of them all, his was always the voice of reason. Invariably
kind and forgiving, Alex never once used a cross tone with any
of them--even when it was most definitely deserved. I wonder
if I'll ever learn his self-control. She sighed, thinking
about what had driven him to finish his Quest; not just saving
their world, but his love for Luna--his childhood friend. He
had given up his title of Dragonmaster (something he had dreamed
of since he was a child) and all the magic that went with it
not only for their world, but also for her. Oh, to love like
Sitting on the shoulder of the statue was little Nall, Alex's
strange pet. The small white... thing... had seemed so cute
when she first saw him, but had proved to be far more than any
of them could have suspected. Who would have ever thought a
Dragon could live as something no larger, or more harmless looking,
than a farmer's barn cat. He used to always tell me how cute
I was... imagine, a Dragon having a crush on you!
Naturally, Luna was now his wife, and the small statue seemed
to capture her strange mix of sweetness and depth. Unlike the
other figurines, she didn't hold a weapon, but a basket of flowers.
More appropriate for the Goddess incarnate... It wasn't
until the end of the quest that Mia had learned that the blue-haired
woman was once the Goddess Althena herself. Like Alex, Luna
too had given up her powers, but she had also surrendered her
immortality to remain as a human, and to be with him. Self
sacrifice for love... it all sounds so romantic...
Mia secretly found herself wishing she had the compassion
and easy going personality she had seen in her friend. She knew
all too well that her own nature was quite different. Through
her staff, and more than once when the speaker hadn't noticed
her presence, she had overheard that her nickname among many
of her people was 'The Ice Princess.' She had wanted to believe
that she earned the moniker because of her deadly ice spells,
but she had heard the context of its use too often and soon
realized it was more of an insult of her stoic and serious nature.
Well Luna doesn't have a city to rebuild and administrate...
Sometimes... sometimes I wish I didn't either.
She glanced at her statue, standing alone to the right of
Luna's. She had moved it there herself, a few months ago, feeling
it best that it be there as far from his as possible.
She turned, ignoring her own cane-holding image as she looked
back to the small figures to the window's left.
The smile that had faded began to grow again as she looked
at the first of the figures on her left. It was Jessica, her
first and her best friend. Depicted in her priestess uniform,
and clutching her mace, the ex-student of the Temple of Althena
looked as independent and confidant as she did in real life.
Utterly un-feminine and with a temper to match the almost cat-like
look of her beast ears, she more than held her own during battles.
Yet, her other side became evident when she used her gentle
Litanies to heal her friends. It seemed like a strange combination,
yet in this amazing young woman, the two gifts seemed to have
found a perfect home.
Mia envied how her blonde haired friend always managed to
say exactly what was on her mind--not caring what others thought
of her for it. I wish she wouldn't be so crass sometimes,
though... She smiled as she remembered how her friend hid
her true feelings behind a skin of sarcasm--especially her love
for Kyle. I don't miss how they used to fight, though...
Then there was Kyle. His statue, of course, had to stand next
to Jessica's, or Mia would have gotten an earful from her priestess
friend. The once part time thief and full time drunk had since
reformed and earned the favor of Jessica's father--thankfully
before the two were married. At first Mia did not care
for Kyle; he was arrogant and chauvinistic. Almost as bad
as Nash... well... I don't think anyone could be THAT bad...
But after traveling with the huge brigand for a few days she
began to see his true side--he really did care for Jessica and
the rest of them. His swordsmanship rivaled Alex's, and she
knew that without his strength they could not have defeated
the Magic Emperor. And how he used to tease Nash!
She laughed as she straightened the statue, brushing dust
from its base. Kyle and Jess were well matched, both about as
subtle as a horn buck in rut, and about as safe to be around
if they were in a bad mood. Funny, how both their tempers
seem to fade away when they realized that they really did love
each other... Love... it can be so... confusing...
With that thought she turned and looked at the farthest statue
of the six, sitting at the extreme left end. Molded into the
shape of a rather short young man holding a crossbow, the mere
sight of the sculpture made her sigh audibly. Nash. She closed
her eyes in quiet remembrance of all the things she had learned
from him. Of course, she had known him the longest--practically
since they had been children. Although a barely a year older
than she, he had amazed the faculty of the Guild numerous times.
Most notably when at barely eleven years old he had made it
through the Cave of Trials alone by just using his untrained
storm magic. Passing this test for entrance into the Magic Guild
was a feat in itself, but almost unheard for someone so young
with no formal schooling in magic. He had gone on to become
one of the top students in the Guild and was soon chosen as
the Premier's apprentice.
Unfortunately, all of his success had gone straight to his
head. Since he was attractive (though she would have never admitted
that to him then) many of the female students gave him much
more attention than he needed, and this became just more food
for his ego. It wasn't long before he'd developed a reputation
around the Guild for being an overconfident and conceited flirt.
Mia frowned for a moment, remembering those early days. Then,
during their quest, she had watched him evolve from a self-centered
boy to someone who genuinely cared about his friends and the
world around him. It had not been an easy transformation--there
was a time when his loyalties had been badly tested and he actually
turned back to Ghaleon, deceiving the group. While Alex and
she were quick to forgive and forget, Jessica and Kyle reserved
their pardons until he had proved his himself again. He truly
thought he was going to keep me safe by betraying us... He'd
done it... for me. With a sigh her thumb again rubbed the
cheek of the small statue's face, adding further to the soft
shine of polished bronze that it alone of the set showed.
Her brow furrowed as she thought of Nash's secret devotion
to her. Everyone accused her of being oblivious to the obvious--all
those months, those years. A thin smile crossed her face
as she recalled the day they finally realized their love for
each other--just six months after their adventure when they
had gathered in Meribia for Jessica and Kyle's wedding.
Her smile broadened as a glimpse of the event crossed her
mind; everything was perfectly planned; everything was beautiful--even
the December weather--nothing could have gone wrong that day.
And had it, I don't think anyone would have noticed!
She pressed her hands together as the memory she was searching
for surfaced--when Nash finally convinced her to dance with
him. She grinned to herself remembering how she kept out right
refusing; dancing wasn't her thing and she didn't want to make
a fool of herself. Finally, after nearly an hour of him asking,
she agreed. She was a horrible dancer, somehow managing to step
on his toes at least three times during that one song, but he
just smiled. At the end of that one dance, he whispered something
into her ear: "I need to tell you something. I love you, Mia...
and I don't mean just as a friend..." Those few words changed
She looked up at him, surprise etched into her expression
as she felt a blush spread across her face. She caught her breath,
unsure of what she was supposed to do or even say. She released
his hands, pulling back from him and walked away as fast as
she could, leaving him standing there just staring at the floor
as the world seemed to spin around her. Her head spinning, she
strode out of the Great Hall and into one of the small sitting
rooms. There were a few people there--Luna grabbed her arm and
asked if she was all right.
"I'm fine... I just... I just need some air."
Her friend helped her to the doors at the far end of the room
and led her onto the balcony, then hit her with a barrage of
questions. "Are you sure? You look pale. Did Kyle get you try
some of that beer from Nanza? Should I go get someone? A healer?"
Mia shook her head. "No, I just think I need a few minutes
"Alone? Is something wrong? Do you want to talk about it?"
"Luna... please. I appreciate the concern but I just need
to be alone right now. I need to think."
Confusion plastered the blue-haired woman's face, but she
silently retreated back into the mansion, but didn't shut the
door behind her.
Although it could have been only fifteen minutes, it felt
like eons had passed as she stood there staring out into the
city, pondering what she should have done. Tears rolled down
her face as she realized she was too much of a coward to handle
the situation--a situation she had been dreaming of for the
better part of six months now. She was nearly frozen to death
by the time she heard footsteps--from the shortness of the pace
she knew them to be Nash's--approaching from behind. She didn't
turn around, but heard them stop at a comfortable distance from
her. She heard him almost whisper her name. "Mia?"
She turned to face him then, shivering and trying to wipe
her tears with shaking hands.
"I'm sorry... I should not have sa-"
She cut him off. "No, Nash... I should not have run like that--but
I am scared."
He inched closer, "Scared? Of me? I'd never hurt you, Mia."
"No... of how I feel right now."
He shook out the cloak he carried over his arm and offered
it to her, but did not speak, although his face showed a mixture
of confusion and concern.
She accepted the warm garment gratefully, and pulled it around
her shoulders as he held it behind her back. Suddenly--not even
a moment later--she turned to face him as she found the strength
to say, "I love you, too. I think... maybe for a long time now."
Gently (almost reverently) he wrapped his arms around her
and hugged her to him. She could hear his heart racing under
his shirt and tunic as she buried her face in his chest--still
frightened of the words she just said, and almost terrified
of the fact that she'd meant them. She wasn't sure how much
time passed as he just held her to him, but then he stepped
back and looked down at her, smiling. His hands were shaking--from
the cold or all that had transpired in the past twenty minutes,
she wasn't sure. He reached down and lifted her chin from his
chest and softly touched her cheek. She watched his hand as
he raised it and gracefully moved her black hair out of her
face. Looking up, she nervously met his gentle, searching eyes.
She heard herself whisper, "I've nev--"
He put a finger to her mouth, silencing her. A second later
she felt his lips spread over hers, and her eyes leapt open
wide. Dazed and strangely relaxed by the kiss, they closed again
as she felt a strange new sensation wave through her body. It
was a good feeling--like static electricity running through
her and striking her soul. When he finally released her, she
embraced him and dizzily wondered when he would kiss her like
Five minutes later when they returned to the party hand in
hand, a silly grin on his face and a bright pink blush on hers,
Jessica looked at them and winked at her. Mia always wondered
just how much her friend knew about what Nash had said to her
to cause her to run away. Knowing Jessica, everything--she
probably encouraged him. And from that look she just gave me
it was most likely her idea in the first place.
The three days that followed the wedding quickly blended into
an impossible mix of happiness, regrets, and confusion for Mia.
It was a delightful chaos that seemed to increase with each
passing hour. Again and again she'd sigh in delight at the joy
she felt when Nash stood by her, only to feel the world close
and darken as she reminded herself that he would soon be leaving
again for Vane. After all, he had been heading every trip to
the ruined city since they had resettled in Meribia--bringing
it desperately needed tools, supplies, and workers. Determined
to make herself useful, she followed him around to the shops
and halls of the port city for the three short days they had
together. She wasn't sure if he was pleased, or embarrassed,
with her success at getting the otherwise heartless merchants
to cut their price an extra ten percent over what his hard bargaining
had netted them with just a coy smile.
The night before he left, Lemia insisted he join them for
dinner in the small house on Black Rose Street that Mel had
given them. The table discussion seemed to lift the spirits
of the blonde woman, especially when he said much of the clean
up was done and they were planning on starting the renovation
the Guild manor this month. Nash mentioned that Artie had returned,
and while she certainly wasn't very much of a mage, her abilities
as an engineer were greatly appreciated. Mia felt a tinge of
slight envy as he told how the eccentric girl everyone in the
Guild had avoided was teaching him to read blueprints and understand
static and force loads. Stop it... you're acting like a child...
Just as dinner ended, Lemia surprised both of them when she
took his hands and smiled at him as she spoke. "I'm proud of
you, Nash. I know I once said I had lost respect for you, but
you have more than gained it back. Thank you for everything
you have done for Vane, and for me."
Nash had to collect his senses before responding to the woman.
He had been reserved in her presence, knowing full well how
she had felt about him, and she had clearly caught him off guard.
He stood up and bowed to her. "It's the least I can do. After
all, Vane is my home too, Majesty."
She looked to her daughter and gave a wink, then announced
she was feeling drained and left them to go to her bedroom.
After the Guildmaster retired (rather early, even considering
her illness) they sat together in the living room on a small
sofa with his arm comfortably draped around her shoulders. She
stayed up with him, talking and sharing their thoughts, as they
had the past three days. She was amazed at how natural their
conversations seemed now that they were both no longer afraid
of each other or themselves. Although most of it was silly,
idle 'pass the time' talk, it was all too apparent that they
were both avoiding mentioning the inevitable--the sun would
have to rise and he would have to leave for Vane.
Finally she found the courage to talk of the subject of them,
still astonished at using that word--it made her feel so much
less lonely. It hardly seems fair... letting him go so soon,
and alone... As she reached for his hand--an action that
suddenly felt more natural than ever--she whispered, "I wish
you didn't have to leave so soon. It just doesn't seem right.
I mean, after all it took for us to... admit how we felt and
stop avoiding each other..."
He kissed her on the cheek and squeezed her hand, "I know.
I hate being away from you... but we need to get Vane rebuilt...
and I swore I'd do it. I can't let your mother down again. Soon
we'll have a usable building and you can bring her and stay."
Her eyes pleaded with her voice. "How soon do you think that
"Another month or so, at the most."
"I look forward to it."
"Me too, but now I need to go. It's very late and I need to
be able to ride tomorrow. Besides, while your mother has forgiven
me for my disloyalty, I don't know how she feels about me...
being with you."
"Nash! Don't say that! She just said she admires you. Why
would she be angry if... if... I care for you?"
He was silent for a long moment, but then pulled her closer
and gave her one of those soul-melting kisses she had become
happily familiar with in the past few days. It was over too
quickly, and he stood up, gave her one last hug and bowed respectively
as he walked to the door. She called to him, and he turned around,
his eyes smiling at her even in the dim lighting.
"Nash... can I ask you a question?" she asked as she walked
up to him and took his hands into hers.
"Anything," he whispered, looking over her shoulder, checking
to see if they were indeed alone.
"When Ghaleon did whatever he did to my mother, did... did
he tell you about it?" He dropped her hands, and she could see
the horror of her allegation echo on his face. Disgusted with
herself for even suggesting he had a role in the despicable
act, and she softened it with: "I'm not implying you knew, but
I need to find whatever spell he used on that mask so it can
be broken." Oh Nash, I'm so sorry...
He stared at her for what seemed to be an age before he reached
out and touched her shoulder as he met her eyes. Truth rang
through his distraught features, and she felt it touch her heart.
"Mia, I swear on everything I hold sacred, I had no idea about
what he was going to do to your mother. I didn't even find out
until you did."
She hugged him and leaned against him, fighting the tears
of self-hatred, but lost the battle. She felt his arms wrap
around her, and cursed herself even harder. I just accused
him of the worst kind of treason and now he's comforting me?
He brushed her hair--a sensation she was quickly learning
to enjoy and relax to--and he said gently, "I don't blame you
for thinking I did, so don't be angry at yourself, Mia. I can
already tell you are."
She wiped her eyes and looked up at him. "I can't believe
I did that. I mean, here you are, killing yourself for me and
the rest of our city, and I am accusing you of doing such a
"Shh... Mia, stop it. I hate to see you so upset--especially
for little reason."
"But I doubted you. If I love you, I shouldn't doubt you."
He sighed as he hugged her, and whispered into her ear, "I'll
promise you this--the minute I get back to Vane, I will search
the ruins for Ghaleon's spell books. Maybe they can help. He
was very meticulous about writing things down. I just need to
find where he hid them."
She didn't move or make any attempt to release him from her
grasp, so he kissed her on the forehead and rested his chin
atop her head.
A few minutes passed, and she had stopped crying, but was
just enjoying the warmth and nearness of him. Strange, it seemed...
someone who was so distant only three days ago was now this
close and this needed. Sadly, she knew he needed to leave--it
would be dangerous to travel on such little sleep as he was
going to get as it was so she kissed him on the cheek and forced
a smile. "You need to get to bed."
He nodded, kissed her hand, and then walked over toward the
door had started to open it when she asked him, "Nash... one
more question... how do you so much about horses and how to
ride? I've watched you, and you seem to possess a kind of skill
that goes far beyond natural talent."
He was silent for a minute before he answered her, "My parents
kept horses, but that was a long time ago... before they died.
I'd rather not talk about it, all right?"
She nodded and watched him disappear out the door and into
the night, puzzled by his last statement. Not talk about
it? Is it that painful, Nash?
Still upset over the last parts of their discussion, she stayed
up until dawn, the entire exchange being scrutinized in her
mind--every word, every phrase--as she looked for different
meaning behind each of them. Was he mad at her? Is that why
he didn't kiss her after she... made it seem like he was responsible
for her mother's ailment? Why won't he talk to even her about
his parents? Did he not trust her anymore? Why did she even
ask him about Ghaleon and the mask? Would she lose him now?
After it had taken so long to just say those elusive four words?
I love you, Nash... I'm sorry... I hope you forgive me...
Footsteps approaching behind her snapped her back from her
thoughts, and she turned to face her mother. "Mia?" Lemia's
voice held the same musical tone she had grown up listening
to, if even just a little tired.
She stood up and turned to face the regal looking woman. "Yes?
I must have dozed off out here last night-"
Her mother's tone was benign, but her eyes laughed as she
spoke. "And just what were you doing up so late that you fell
asleep on the couch?"
"I... was reading."
Lemia smiled at her as she reached for her daughter's hand,
"Did you know that your nose twitches when you lie to me, Mia?
I can only guess what is troubling you, but I think I can hit
close to the mark."
She reached up and touched her nose--absently checking this
strange fact while she felt color rush to her cheeks.
Oh Mother, I don't want to burden you with my petty problems...
"Troubling me? Nothing is wrong, I promise you. I just fell
asleep, that's all."
The Guildmaster met her daughter's eyes and said gently, but
rather firmly, "And your book... did you read him or just turn
Mia's ears felt as if they were on fire. "Mother! I..."
The older woman brushed her blonde hair aside and smiled again.
"I know that you care for your friend Nash. I know I once said
I lost respect for him, but I said last night that he has gained
that back. He is working himself to exhaustion to get our city
rebuilt, and with no Guildmaster to help him. It hardly seems
fair, don't you think, Mia?"
"Don't you 'mother' me, child, and don't deny your feelings
for that boy--to me, yourself or anyone else. I've been watching
you two since the wedding, Mia. Even a blind woman couldn't
miss the looks you two give each other, or a deaf one ignore
the whispers she's not supposed to be hearing. Although I have
to admit, I expected something to happen between the two of
you ages ago, but-"
Mia suddenly found the floor at her feet very interesting
as her pale skin burst with color. "Yes Mother, I... love him."
Her mother chuckled again, and reached for her hand. "I know
you do. Which brings me to another point, child. I will probably
never be able to use magic again, my daughter." She grinned
ruefully. "What good is a Guildmaster without magic? I could
certainly never defend Vane, nor can I instruct. It's a rather...
bitter pill to swallow, but I have to be honest and face the
Mia's eyes widened and she gripped the hand tighter. "Oh,
Mother, don't say that! Ghaleon's curse can be broken! We just
haven't found the spell he used on that dreadful mask! You're
Guildmaster of Vane, there is no one else. You can't be thinking
of...." Her voice trailed off as a worried expression grew in
Lemia shook her head adamantly. "You're wrong, Mia. There
is someone else. I knew you were ready for this when you returned
from your Quest, but I held off on it because I didn't want
to burden you with it, my daughter. But now, I think there is
no choice--and I think it might ease the troubles that kept
you up last night. I want you to take over for me, Mia. I want
you to be the Guildmaster. I hereby tender my resignation, effective
Mia watched with dismay and bewilderment as her mother removed
the golden necklace she wore and placed it around her own neck.
She looked down at it, and felt a supernatural intimacy shine
from within it. It seemed simple enough--just the Seal of Vane
cast in pure gold and the symbol of her house was encrusted
over it in rubies. Yet, as she wore it, she knew something inside
her had changed. I am not ready for this... I am not ready
for this... I am not ready for this! "Mother you can't!
Traditions say it has to be passed on when... when..."
"Hush, child. Traditions don't matter if we don't have a city
or culture to abide by them in. I am abdicating." A brief haunted
look crossed her face, one quickly replaced with a forced smile.
"I want to retire, and you will not argue with me about it.
But there is one thing I want you to do first, Mia. Consider
it the last order of my rule."
Mia watched in a daze as her mother got up from the chair
and disappeared down the small hall of the house, only to return
a minute later reverently holding a tiny velvet box. She felt
the object being placed in her hands and, with only a brief
glance to the purple container, looked up at her mother. "What's
The blonde woman's smile was as wide as her daughter's eyes
as Mia examined the box in her palm. "Something I believe Nash
has earned. Granted, there aren't any exams to give him, or
boards to sit in on his thesis until the Guild is properly restored.
But after all he's done for us, and his obvious abilities as
a mage---I think we can make an exception. I believe it would
be fitting if you presented this to him once you have returned
to Vane. It would be your first official duty as Guildmaster.
Go ahead and open it, Mia."
Mia opened the box and stared upon a delicate gold carving
of the Seal of Vane--in the form of a solid gold badge. It was
clearly used; but despite its obvious age it still maintained
its luster. She picked it up and saw it had been resting on
a stack of equally used embroidered patches of the Seal that
the Masters commonly wore on their outer most clothing. She
whispered, "His Master's Badge?"
"We'll have a new one made for him once Vane is rebuilt, if
he wishes. But for now he'll have to make due with your father's."
Mia stared at her mother. "My father? You never talk about
him." She frowned sadly as she looked again at the badge, not
sure what to think. "Sometimes, sometimes I wonder if he ever
Lemia's eyes closed. "We'll talk about him later, child. You
know he... died shortly after your birth, and it isn't something
I like to dwell on. But this was his Master's Badge, and it
was, and still is, one of honor."
Mia's voice wasn't even a whisper as she said, "I wish I knew
The older woman reached for the hand of her now-confused daughter.
"I believe you have some duties to attend to in Vane, and I
understand there is a caravan leaving in an hour. Hurry and
pack your things--and be sure to wear something warm."
"But your health--"
"I will be fine. I have the best healers in Meribia at my
beck and call. You should know, you and Robin found them for
me. Now go get packed."
"Don't try to argue with me, Mia," she said as she released
her daughter's hands. Then she stepped back and smiled at the
girl. "I want you to promise me one thing."
"Yes? Anything, Mother."
"I want you to promise that you will be happy. I don't want
to see you turn out like me--someone so consumed by her duties
that she forgot what was important."
"That's not true, Mother!"
"Yes it is, now promise. And get going!"
"I promise," Mia said as, with a sudden smile, she turned
and ran to her bedroom. Gathering her skirt in her hands so
she could run faster, all thoughts of decorum were forgotten
as she dashed around startled servants in her rush to join the
caravan... and Nash.
How will I tell him? Will he be happy for me, or upset?
Mia was packed in less than twenty minutes. With a few hurried
good-byes and good lucks from her mother and the servants she
left the building and, a heavy pack slung over her back, walked
to the plaza in the center of town to find the caravan.
The Caravan was huge, much larger than Mia had expected and
she'd had to revise her opinion of Nash's ability to organize,
or at least find experts able to do it for him. The enormous
number of laborers and supply wagons she had expected, but it
was the presence of the skilled Stonemasons that Mel had been
promising for weeks that brought a pleased smile to her face.
Their help was critical as few in Vane had experience in actually
building or working in stone. They were not alone either; here
and there, gathered into small groups as though not wanting
to be seen with common laborers, were Masters, Journeymen, and
apprentices of Meribia's many guildhalls. There were carpenters,
stonecutters, masons, roofers, and even a harper or two. Mel
must have called in every favor and debt he could find for them.
Nash was already astride his horse, giving orders to some
of the workers who were leading or riding on carts. He wore
a heavy fur cape that seemed to make him look so much older--so
much nobler--at least in her eyes. Hesitating for a moment,
horses were still something very new to her and most of Vane's
former inhabitants. She walked towards him, and on seeing her
approach, he dismounted.
"Mia? I didn't think you'd be up this early, thank you for
coming to see us off." He stared at the object around her neck
and gasped, "Your mother?! Is she all right?"
She took his hands, "Yes, she's fine. She wants me to... take
over for her. She wants to retire. So, I decided that I'm coming
His brown eyes were full of shock as he hesitated in his reply.
"Mia, please. I don't think you really want to see Vane yet.
The damage is still pretty... well, most of the city's still
not safe and the towers could fall at any time."
"I don't care... Vane is becoming... has become... my responsibility.
I have to see it... to know what I've done to it, and what it
will take to restore it. I am going, Nash... Now, are
you going to be my escort or should I ask someone else?"
With a frustrated sigh, Nash replied; "You didn't do anything
but save it, Mia, Vane and the rest of us. Okay, but it's going
to be a long, slow trip and you've still not learned to ride
a horse. There aren't any inns along the way, you know. You're
going to have to rough it for a while."
Mia interrupted him. "In case you've forgotten, I was on the
quest too... and I don't recall sleeping in too many inns...
or complaining all the time about how dirty my hair was
getting! And I don't need a horse, I can ride with you, or in
He gave a shy smile as he spoke, "As romantic as two on a
horse is, for an entire day of sharing a saddle might be too
"A cart then. There has to be one that isn't full."
He nodded and led her over to one being pulled by oxen and
driven by one of the guards of the Guild. She gave a doubtful
look at the strange creatures before turning a small smile to
the armed guard. Nash chuckled at Mia's reaction to both the
animals and their driver. "Darshak is for your protection, since
I'll be at the front of the ride."
The guard bowed his head to her as he held the reins and stared
at her amulet. "Majesty Mia, it would be an honor to drive you."
Mia smiled at the blonde-haired guard, "Thank you, Darshak."
Do I like that new title? Everyone will call me that soon...
It seems... so cold... so formal...
She had known Darshak forever, remembering how he used to
have to chase after her when, at the age of six, had decided
to sneak out of her room and explore the palace. He'd kept her
little adventures a secret, and she'd always felt safe around
him. He let me get away with things just like Ghaleon did...
when Mother wasn't around... He wasn't going to be conversationalist
Nash was, but he would make the trip safe. She whispered to
Nash as she pointed towards the front of the cart, "What are
He smirked. "Oxen. They are quite tame you know, and better
than a packhorse on level ground. They're not as fast as a horse
but they're a lot stronger. Without them we'd never be able
to move even a fraction of what we need to Vane--especially
the new cornerstones and center beams. They're really very gentle,
and easy to care for."
His voice seemed oddly confident, which was puzzling to Mia
since he couldn't have had any more contact in Vane with the
huge animals than she'd had. Which, outside of a medium-rare
steak, had been zero.
"If you say so, Nash. I guess she does look kind of... Sweet,
though not very bright." An impish smile crossed her face as
she whispered to him. "Kind of like someone else I know." A
quick kiss on his cheek took any sting from the words.
She watched him blush as the others in the group began catcalling
at them. He turned to the men and shouted, "Shut up!" She was
amazed when they took his order and busied themselves with final
preparations for their departure.
He offered her his hand to help her up into the seat next
to Darshak, whispering into her ear: "Oh, and she's a he. I
think you may have hurt his feelings."
She giggled and watched as Nash walked to the back of cart
and, tossing her pack into it, fished around for something.
He strode back to her and tossed a blanket around her shoulders,
winking. "In case you get cold. We need to get going."
The ride was quiet and uneventful, and soon her exhaustion
caught up with her and she fell asleep. She wasn't exactly sure
how long she slept, but was awakened by the motion of the cart
stopping, and the last rays of sunlight dimming over the horizon.
Nash pulled his horse up alongside the cart and nodded behind
him. "It's just over the hill. Uhh... the Blue Star is bright
enough so I think we can continue on and make it there--if we
hurry. Our camp is just outside the city. It will be just a
short walk from there to Vane in the morning."
Something made her shake her head at him and she watched the
surprise in his eyes grow as she opened her mouth to explain
her action but then closed it and gestured for Nash to pull
his horse closer to them. Looking at her equally shocked driver
she nodded to him. "Darshak, help me up onto Nash's horse. We
will go in together, Nash--before the caravan. I have to...
The guard climbed out of the cart and helped her down, then
lifted her up to Nash, who reached out and pulled her up--setting
her just in front of him on the horse's withers. Taking a tender,
if firm, grip about her middle as she grasped onto his tunic,
he gently urged the horse forward. It was only a few minutes
at a gentle canter before the two reached the top of the small
hill. After a moment's decent he pulled the horse to a stop
and spoke, his voice soft with regret. "We're there, Mia."
In reflex Mia looked up into the sky, looking for the Vane
that still lived in her memories. Then, with a wrenching effort,
lowered her eyes and stared into the near distance and the still
tumbled ruins that littered the field before her. She couldn't
even find words to describe the sight.
Vane had never been a large place, though through its many
centuries its steady population of two to four hundred mages,
teachers, and staff had called it home. It had always been more
a center of learning and administration than a traditional town
or city. A complex of palaces, schools, fountains, and towers,
Vane had always been without the more mundane aspects of town
or city life. No fields and, other than a garden or two, no
farms. No noisy guilds of laborers and no smelly cattle pens
or pigsties. Between the city's own magic and that of the faculty
there had been little need for more. Supplies were always delivered
to the city's base and transported up to. But now all that was
Without warning, she released her grip on Nash and swung her
skirted leg over the horse's neck, sliding to the ground as
she looked out to the quiet remains, her eyes suddenly hollow.
She looked up to him. "Nash... I... I need to go in first.
I have to understand exactly what has happened to Vane. I have
to feel Vane. Don't ask me why, I don't know. I only
know I have to do this... alone."
Nash looked back to her as he swung himself down from the
horse, tying it to a nearby branch. "No... not alone, Mia. I'm
going with you. It's not safe." He paused, looking back to the
ruins with open confusion on his face. "But... something's changed...
The Towers... they're..."
"They're upright! Nash, I though you said they were about
to fall over?" Watching his mute nod she turned and began walking
quickly towards the shattered city. It was with a small, and
very hidden, smile that she heard Nash's footsteps hurry to
catch up with her.
As they entered the city Mia headed directly towards the Silver
Spire and, except to go around or crawl over fallen walls and
rubble, did not stop until the two stood at its base. As always
the strange colors hidden within the Spire's shell drew Mia's
eyes to it and, ignoring the sound of Nash's steps behind her,
she worked her way to the sealed entrance of the strange tower.
"Mia! Honest, it and the Crystal Tower were both a good 20
degrees off center the last time I was here. The doors were
jammed shut and the spire looked like it was going to fall over
at any moment. I tried to go in... I could get into the tower
but the spire wouldn't let me in. Even the tunnels were sealed--those
that weren't collapsed. I don't understand it... this was a
crushed mess last time. No tunnel, no steps, nothing but smashed
rock. Look, even the foundation is solid again, but there were
cracks and flagstones were sticking out everywhere."
Mia nodded absently to Nash, yet it was obvious that she was
hearing something other than his words. She tilted her head
as though listening to a faint but familiar voice calling to
her from some great distance as she slowly stepped towards the
tower's great doors. Then, in total silence, Mia extended her
right hand, palm outward, until it rested just next to but not
touching the sealed doorway into the Spire. Without a sound,
the great double doors swung open and a feeling of well being
poured out of the tower to surround and fill her. Suddenly all
the doubts and fears that had eaten at her since the fall vanished
and Mia was again reminded of who, and what, she was. Somehow
her mother's decision had been heard, and accepted. Her hand
lowered slowly back to her side as she nodded to the closing
doors. "It's okay, Nash. Everything's been taken care of here
and is as it should be. We can leave the towers alone for now."
Nash turned just in time to see the huge doors swing closed.
He opened his mouth to speak in surprise but, on seeing the
expression on Mia's face, closed it without comment.
Mia turned and slowly stepped away from the square, heading
towards the manor--the building that had housed most of the
Guild, as well as her family. The sight that greeted them was
discouraging. She headed down the hall towards the Library.
I have to see if the family scroll made it... The massive
doorway had fallen in on itself and they had to carefully pick
their way through the rubble, pausing only when Mia reached
out to pick up a small roll of cloth that lay next to a large
fallen slab of rock next to the entrance. She recoiled in horror
as a withered and skeletal hand was revealed as she lifted what
was actually a sleeve, ending under the huge ceiling block.
He took her by the arm, pulling her away from the grizzly
discovery. "It's okay, Mia... We... We're still finding a few
that... that didn't make it. We'll come back later and give
him a proper burial. I promise." Then, at the end of the short
entryway, the two stopped and stared into the interior. Nash
had seen this once before, be even so his expression melted
into the same sad set as her own.
Mia looked into the remains of the Library, the great hall
that held the most important books and references on every subject
known to their world. The room was in shambles, with fallen
racks, crushed volumes, and most heart breaking of all--heavy
black soot covering the walls, pillars, and what remained of
"Oh Nash, just look, they're gone... gone forever. The greatest
concentration of knowledge, history, and magic in all of Vane
is gone. In all of Lunar, gone! The Library is ruined, Nash.
We'll never recover all that we've lost, ever! How can we hope
to rebuild Vane without it? It was the heart of the Guild. What
could have caused the fire?"
"I don't know, Mia. Maybe one of the reading lamps fell over.
Or someone forgot to put the fire out in one of the fireplaces.
You ordered that all fires be extinguished before the attack,
but someone must have missed one of them. I'm sorry."
It was all too much for her. She grabbed onto his tunic and
buried her face in his chest. The action must have startled
him because it took him a moment to react. His arms folded around
her and pulled her closer as she let her grief rain on him.
When she finally recomposed herself, she looked up at him
and realized that his eyes were glassy. He whispered to her,
"I hate to see you so upset, and Vane was my home, too. But
I promise, Mia, on my love for you... that we will restore
the library and our city."
She didn't even have to nod her understanding--she just hugged
The damn library...
Thankfully (or perhaps not) a swift rap on the door pulled
her thoughts back into the present. She knew the rhythm of that
knock and forced herself to smile. "Come in, Nash." She turned
around as he entered, and her violet eyes scrutinized the man
before her who moved towards her as if in a trance.
Positioning himself far enough from her for his own comfort,
he stood rigidly with his hands clenched at his sides, as if
he was defending his very life. His long, dark green robe hung
on his small frame like a burden he was being forced to carry.
She studied his stony countenance for a moment and looked into
his dead brown eyes. He asked curtly, "You wished to see me,
She sighed. The air seemed to grow thin around her; she had
been dreading this moment since making her decision. It had
felt like an eternity since they'd spoken, but had only been
six months. Six months? It had only been six months?
But it was her duty, and not one she could put off any longer.
It was with regret that she admitted that the pleasantries they
kept up for others the first few weeks after his return from
Nerak had died away to nothing. For six months their relationship
had been nothing--or rather less than nothing. What was once
there had dissolved to just a plethora of pomp and circumstance,
of outward appearance and no inward feeling. And that...
that is my own damn fault!
"We don't need titles between us, Nash."
Without looking at her he replied, "Yes, Majesty."
Shaking her head, she walked a little closer to him, hoping
to at least meet his eyes, but he just held the same spartan
stance. "I have a proposal for you, Nash."
He seemed to flinch at her words but asked with his same overly
efficient tone, "Yes, Majesty. And that would be?"
Frustrated with his indifferent demeanor, she matched his
icy voice with her own as she circled around his taut frame.
"It has been noticed that you have excelled beyond all of the
faculty here during our years of rebuilding. It has also been
brought to my attention that you have done quite a bit of work
on the actual reconstruction. I greatly appreciate your efforts,
as do the citizens of Vane. I also know that you know and support
what I want for the Guild and will execute my orders without
question. I have spoken with the Council of Elders and we would
like to ask you to become our new Premier when the Guild reopens
He bowed deeply, still not giving as much as a glance in her
direction. A look of doubt flickered over his face as he heard
her use of 'we' to describe the Council but he said nothing
of it. "I would be honored, Majesty Mia."
"The announcement shall be officially made during the Re-Opening
Festival. I have already taken the liberty of having the correct
robes made for you."
"Thank you, Majesty."
She walked up to him and tried to take his hand, but he would
not release his fist to be moved. Sighing again, she tugged
at his sleeve. "We're going to be working together. Do you think
you could at least pretend you care?"
He looked down at her with clouds of sadness crossing his
intense dark eyes under his unkempt auburn hair. "I do care.
As I have said for years, I will always protect and honor you,
even if it means the destruction of my soul."
She shook her head, a bit satisfied to have his attention
but disappointed with his robotic reaction. "That's not what
I mean. I mean... these games you play. This walking-death act,
for example. What happened to the days when you would smile?
When you would shave and style your hair? When you would take
your head out of your books for a minute to entertain the world
around you?" When you used to love me...
His eyes hardened again, as he pulled himself to his full
(although slightly below average) height and reached up to scratch
at the two day-old stubble on his chin. "I once thought you
were naďve, Mia, and I loved you for it. But if you do not understand
why I am the way I am then you truly are ignorant. As ignorant
I was, once."
Shocked at his words, she stepped back, brushing her black
hair off her shoulders. She knew what he meant; this was her
fault. To think things would be the same... even six months
later, yes... she was ignorant for that. Just like the dances
and the kisses they had once shared, everything must come to
She looked at him through narrowed eyes for an instant, a
stern frown suddenly appearing on her face. The room could not
have gotten any colder--even if she had commanded one of her
ice storms to sweep through it. "Very well. I look forward to
working with you, Nash. You are dismissed."
With a bow of respect, he started to back out of the office.
She called to him, her voice wavering somewhere between authoritative
and anguished, "And Nash, please shave."
As he pulled the door behind him, she heard him say, "As you
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