Paper whispered beneath her fingertips as Amarynthe turned another page and peered at the finely scrawled words through narrowed eyes. Magelights stationed around the room helped her see better, though if she opened the windows, the sunlight streaming in through the fourth floor would have been sufficient. Unfortunately, sunlight was damaging to the books so it was a bit stuffy and warm, which wasn’t helping her concentrate. The subject matter was troublesome too so she wore a frown while deciphering the texts.
While she was familiar with most of the terms she came across, recipes for reagent preparation and combinations were… hardly riveting, to say the least. And this was the fourth one she was trying to memorize. Again. For the most part, her reagent knowledge was grounded firmly in the basics, but there were a couple recipes her father asked her to assist with that were a struggle for her, if only because they needed to be so precise.
With a sigh as she sat back in the chair, Amarynthe ignored the quiet creak of wood beneath her and glared at the books on the table. Her dark eyes drifted to the rest of the tower library she had cloistered herself in, noting the countless bindings that spoke of magic and ingredients and spells and all manner of information Mages should be privy to. She cared little for magic and the rules of casting it, but as her father always said, she had a knack for preparing the base ingredients. It was a skill the boys were trying to master in turn, as evidenced by the state of the rest of the room from the night before.
Three other tables boasted the materials of her father and the apprentices, with various tomes open and littered on the surfaces. Specific pages had been dog-eared or marked with strips of paper; spare parchments nearby bore hastily scribbled notes and ideas; and more carefully, words of power were written in very particular places to help them remember the necessary ingredients and the incantation for any number of spells. She’d heard or read them many times herself, but without the gift necessary to harness the magic, all of it was useless to her.
Amarynthe wrinkled her nose at the thought and stretched her arms over her head before she turned her tired attention back to her task. “Just two more,” she promised herself with a determined nod. She searched through the first book, scouring the pages for more information on Ancient’s Dust – a fancy name for a combination of ground and powdered ingredients in very specific amounts.
When that book revealed nothing, Amarynthe stood up and stretched, pulling several pops from her spine and neck as she did so. Her rust colored, knee length dress swayed while she walked along the walls of books, fingertips tracing over the bindings as her eyes marked the titles. She paused at the tables used by the boys, briefly wondering if she should tidy up, and then stepped past her father’s. His was a mess and it would do little good to even try to sort it. He’d simply undo her work the next time he stepped in. Depending on what he was working on with the apprentices, it was anyone’s guess as to when that would be.
With a thoughtful hum, she turned towards the open door and peeked her head out, bracing her hands on the frame as she did so. Nope. No sign of them and not a sound coming from the fifth floor either. Her father was testing them today, so far as she knew, and she wasn’t sure when they would be free later.
Not that it mattered. Other than sparring with Jerich, which was an almost daily event now, and studying with Zachariah, when he wasn’t helping her with the garden in the back, she had very little reason to see them. And yet she found that she wanted to more often of late. They had both grown up considerably in the time since they’d arrived and they were finally coming into their own with being Mages. Still practicing of course but they’d gotten to the end of being Apprentices and were almost ready to move up to Journeymen. Granted, with her father around and them still training, they weren’t likely to receive any requests for magic work, but there was time yet. And after that, the day of them becoming Master Mages was a long way off.
Amarynthe tapped her fingers on the frame and wrinkled her nose at the silence before pushing herself back inside. It wasn’t that long after lunch so she wasn’t hungry, but she was restless. And tired of staring at books. But it helped her father with his work, so she did it gladly. At least that’s what she kept telling herself.
With a huff, she returned to the table and yanked another book close so she could start poring over those pages too. The book gods did not deem to be kind though, and after fruitlessly flipping through several more pages, Amarynthe growled in frustration and sat up with her hands on her head. She winced when several strands of dark brown locks were pulled at the same time.
“Must be a tough task,” she heard to her right as an amused, gentle laugh followed.
Amarynthe’s head whipped towards the open door and she sighed when she confirmed it was Zachariah leaning against the frame. She had to wonder how long he’d been there for… “Not normally,” she immediately defended as she pushed at the tome with her fingertips, her eyes dropping down before rising to meet Zachariah’s again. With another summer behind them, he’d grown into the brown robes even more, filling out the fabric in the shoulders in a way that Jerich didn’t, and it was clear he would need to adjust it again soon. Annoyingly, she knew the feeling but for different reasons…
“Anything I can help with?” he asked curiously, pushing off the frame and stepping inside with ease. As he moved across the room, magelight filtered through his dark blonde hair – magically upright in a curious yet attractive style, and Amarynthe couldn’t help but notice it as he drew near. He paused at her shoulder, one hand moving to rest on the back of the chair and the other carefully reaching to trace the text she was reading.
“I don’t know,” she admitted with a frown, biting her lip and frowning at the words on the page. His robes brushed against her leg when he leaned over the table and she stiffened slightly, mentally berating herself. “How did the test go?” she wondered when he seemed rather focused on the pages.
“Huh? Oh, fine.” He flashed her an easy smile as he looked down, keeping his finger on the page to mark where he was. “Theory is my strong point after all,” he added with a wink, turning to resume his reading. When he found what she was working on, his brows creased. “Ancient’s Dust?” he murmured in obvious surprise, glancing down to make sure he was correct in his assumption.
“Yes,” Amarynthe nodded, meeting his gaze evenly. “Father’s been asking me to look into it recently. Among other things. He keeps insisting there must be another variant or something of the like,” she shrugged with a shake of her head. It was harder to focus with him looming over so she nudged him in the hip with her elbow and nodded towards the nearby chair. “If you know something I don’t, could you take a seat?” she added, squirming slightly in her chair. “It just feels like you’re… hovering.” She forced a nervous laugh and a sideways glance.
“Sorry,” he chuckled, taking it in stride. He stood up and his fingertips brushed her shoulder when he moved to do as she asked. “I just wasn’t expecting to see that ingredient on your list,” he admitted with a nod, pulling the chair close with a loud scrape that made them both wince. “You always make runs for the basic ones so I forget you know how to make the compound components too.”
Amarynthe had to remind herself not to shift over as he leaned close again, eyes tracing over the pages to catch up to where she was. “Yes well, we all have our strengths.” She gave a half-smile that faded when she thought about his previous words. “Why is Ancient’s Dust unusual though?” Her father didn’t really explain the magics behind the ingredients and she was just as happy not knowing, since none of it much made sense to her anyway. But this one had made her curious.
“It’s a higher level spell ingredient,” Zachariah explained, tapping on the page with his fingertip as he turned his body to face her. The motion brought their faces within a hand’s width and he seemed to realize it about the same time she did. Both froze for half a heartbeat and then laughed as the distance grew just a touch.
“Which means what, exactly? What kinds of spells?” Amarynthe asked, resting both arms on the table as she looked between the book and Zachariah. The tension had lessened somewhat, for which she was glad, but she didn’t know why she kept experiencing it with Zachariah. And Jerich for that matter… No. She did know, but it was stupid. Whenever she saw him in the village, she had similar feelings around the Kim’s son, Daniel, with his stupid lizard smile and easy words. Idly, she wondered if Jerich and Zachariah thought the same way about the Mooney sisters but that only made her annoyed so she shoved the idea away.
“Well,” Zachariah began, blissfully ignorant of Amarynthe’s train of thought. “I’m not really sure myself. We don’t work with it at all since your father told us not to,” he added with a shrug.
Half of Amarynthe’s mind was reminding her that both boys were apprentices that happened to live with them and were also just really good friends after a pretty bumpy start. As such, it took her a moment for the other half to catch up to what Zachariah had said. “Eh?” she blinked with a frown, an immediate twinge of unease twisting in her belly that overrode any of the other feelings she was dealing with. “Is that normal?”
Zachariah scratched his head, the action doing nothing to upset his hair, and frowned thoughtfully as he mulled it over. After a moment, he finally shook his head and sighed. “Actually, no. I’ve seen him getting ready to use it but he won’t let us go near the stuff.”
Somewhat troubled, Amarynthe caught her thumbnail between her teeth as she leaned back in her chair to think. “That’s strange.” Now that she thought about it, every few months or so, her father asked her to do more research on Ancient’s Dust, but usually with some small alteration in mind or another book he’d found.
“What is?” Zachariah prompted, leaning around over the table to get a better look at her face.
She heard the question but chose to answer it with one of her own instead. “Which book could we look in to see what spells use Ancient’s Dust?”
“Plenty,” he answered without hesitation, nodding towards the library around them. “I’d wager-”
“Oh those theory exams are a bore!” Jerich interrupted as he stepped through the open doorway with an abundance of agitated energy. “I know the details are important but ugh!” he scowled, pulling at straight black hair in frustration, his brown robes fluttering around in his haste. Then he noticed Amarynthe and Zachariah and paused, very nearly midstride. “What’s going on here?” he inquired with one finger drawing invisible circles around and one eye squinteing in confusion.
Whatever unnecessary embarrassment Amarynthe suspected she might have felt otherwise simply didn’t appear as she looked at Jerich with the same thoughtful but tense expression. “What spells use Ancient’s Dust?”
“Huh?” he snorted, taken aback by the question and looking to Zachariah for an explanation. When his fellow apprentice failed to offer a better response, Jerich wandered over to Amarynthe’s side, in a position that mirrored Zachariah’s from earlier, and pulled the book closer so he could take a better look. “A few. Why do you ask?”
“Because I want to know what spells use it,” Amarynthe responded with a glance at Jerich.
Once more, Jerich looked to Zachariah for some sort of reasoning but the latter simply shrugged and got up. “I don’t know for sure so I’m going to start looking,” he explained with a wave.
“Um… okay,” Jerich frowned, looking between the two uncertainly. “Is everything okay?” he tried again, focusing his attention on Amarynthe.
“Yeah,” she nodded with a forced smile, standing up and taking a half-step back to give herself more space; it had become an almost unconscious action at this point. “I just need to make sure of something is all,”
Jerich mumbled something unintelligible in the back of his throat and shrugged. “Sure. I, uh, think Madeus-”
“That’s Mage Scrivener to you!” Zachariah called.
“-was looking at a book the other day that had a spell or two that used it.” Jerich ignored his peer as he moved towards the master Mage’s worktable.
“Jerich,” Zachariah hissed in warning when he realized what the other man was doing.
“What?” the taller apprentice paused, giving Zachariah a curious look. “He won’t even notice. I do it all the time,” he explained as if it made everything alright.
Amarynthe frowned but didn’t dispute the accuracy. She’d never seen him doing that but she very rarely shared the library space when they were around.
“Doesn’t mean you should anyway,” Zachariah echoed her sentiments on the matter.
Another time, she might have argued the point, but not right now. “Which book, Jerich?” she asked, shadowing the taller young man with a nervous feeling in her stomach.
“Give me a moment,” he waved with his hand while he moved to investigate the table, walking with effortless grace and firm purpose.
Amarynthe’s fingers were wrapped tightly around the book Jerich found when she finally located her father in the main house instead of the tower. He hadn’t been in his room or the examination room as she had thought. Nor was he at the top of the tower in the casting hall. Instead, he was in the kitchen with a partially eaten apple raised to his mouth when she marched inside and slammed the book on the table. Madeus jumped and nearly dropped the piece of fruit as he whirled to look at her. “Amarynthe!” he yelped, clearly caught off guard.
“Tell me you’re not trying to cast the spell that took mother,” she demanded tightly, clenching her jaw to keep it from trembling. That did nothing to prevent her eyes from stinging as if she wanted to cry.
Madeus’s face paled and then he glanced from the book to Amarynthe’s eyes to the front door as they both heard Zachariah and Jerich arrive a bit late. They didn’t enter, but clustered just outside as they waited with bated breath. The Master Mage chewed on an imaginary piece of food and set the partially eaten apple down before he bit his lip and took a step closer to the book. He didn’t look at Amarynthe.
“Tell me!” Amarynthe snapped again, trembling slightly.
After a long moment of almost painful silence, Madeus took a deep breath and exhaled, “That would be a lie.” A choking sound was all that emerged from Amarynthe’s throat at the admission. Still not looking at his daughter, Madeus approached the table and placed his fingertips on the book before looking up to meet the gazes of his apprentices over Amarynthe’s shoulder. Automatically, Jerich shrank behind the doorway, looking chagrined, and Zachariah appeared nervous.
“Why?” Amarynthe finally managed to work past her tight throat as she continued to stare at her father.
“You know why,” he breathed with a pained look on his face.
“You can’t bring her back, father,” Amarynthe reminded him, swallowing the painful lump in her throat as she stepped around the table to bring herself face to face with him.
“I’m not…” Madeus whispered as he trailed off, failing to finish his thought. But he finally looked at her with haunted, dark eyes. “I just need to know what went wrong.”
“What if it happens again?” Amarynthe shot back, reaching out to grab the sleeve of his blue robe and holding tight.
“It won’t,” he answered just as quickly, gripping her upper arms with both hands.
“What if something happens to you?!” she shouted, pushing his hands away as she held her balled fists between them. Her lips trembled and angry tears dripped from her lashes.
“That won’t happen!” Madeus shook his head, reaching to touch her but pulling back at the last moment.
“How do you know?!” Amarynthe demanded, stomping her foot in her frustration.
“It won’t!” he repeated as his façade of control began to slip away.
“You don’t know that!”
“Yes I do!”
“That’s how mother died in the first place!”
Madeus’s face went white. “She’s not dead!”
Shocked, Amaranythe paused before gathering breath again. “She’s dead and you can’t bring her back.”
“Don’t say that!” Madeus howled, his hand rising into the air.
“Amarynthe!” Zachariah and Jerich shouted from the back as she continued to stare her father down, unmoving.
With a jolt, Madeus blinked and looked at his hand in shock before he pulled it down and turned away from his daughter, hiding his face. “Just leave me alone,” he whispered thickly.
Amarynthe didn’t know how to respond to that. She was angry and afraid and betrayed and hurting and too many things she couldn’t sort out at that moment. Her heart was beating so fast and loud in her chest she almost couldn’t hear anything else and everything felt surreal So she growled and turned around to storm towards the front doorway. The apprentices watched her approach with wide eyes and then peeled back as she strode through them.
“Amarynthe, wait,” Jerich tried to stop her. He grabbed her wrist with a strong hand and stood fast.
“Don’t touch me!” Amarynthe snapped. She peeled his fingers from her wrist, and twisted his arm around behind his back before he could react. He gave a high-pitched shriek that cut off almost as soon as she released him.
“Amarynthe,” Zachariah called softly, glancing between the wide-eyed Jerich and his successful protégé.
Her face twisted into immediate guilt and she stepped back with a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry, Jerich,” she mumbled, not waiting to hear what they had to say. The ground crunched underfoot as she pivoted and started walking as fast as she could. When that wasn’t quick enough, her leather booted feet quickened to a run and she fled. She didn’t know where she was going but she just needed to be somewhere that wasn’t there.