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Mages of Buldoun: Chapter 71


The group left the small home shortly after they finished saying their goodbyes. Gregory walked in the lead with Yukiko beside him, their faces impassive, even as their hearts were filled with sadness. Clover, Ling, and Roshana were right behind them, hope burned in their hearts, tempered by the pain of parting. Jenn and Mindie walked side-by-side, trailing them, watching their friends with sad smiles.

 

The bazaar felt forlorn— no one remained in the area except the magi. Debris was scattered around, remnants of the bustling crowds that had filled the area not long ago. The merchants and crowd had packed up during the previous night, so their breakfast had been made by the single staff member who’d remained to serve them.

 

As they approached the edge of the encampment, they found all the other magi and clans. Laozi stood off to the side, speaking with the clan leaders who’d come. The sight and lack of Lightshield stung Gregory more than he thought it would in that moment. Three carriages bearing the Aether’s Guard crest stood waiting, so they headed for them.

 

Rafiq, Egil, and Willof stood by one of the clan’s carriages, holding a discussion. They stopped when the magi drew near. Before any of them could ask what was happening, Hemet approached them.

 

“We part here,” Hemet said. “Roshana, Ling, and Clover, please board the first carriage. We will be sharing it on the way back to the academy. I’m sure you’d like to have time to speak alone, but you’ll have to wait until we arrive at the inns for that.”

 

“Yes, sir,” the three said. Giving the others one more parting look, they climbed into the carriage.

 

“Now,” Hemet said, turning to the rest of them, “you will be splitting these two carriages with the armsmaster, newly-minted captain, and the archivist. How you split them is normally up to you, but today, Gregory, you will be riding with them. Rafiq needs some answers for his notes.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Gregory replied.

 

“I wish you four the very best,” Hemet said softly. “We’ve all lost a good friend in the last few days, but he had the utmost faith in all of you, as I do. You will help to spread the clan name, showing people how Aether’s Guard comports itself.”

 

“Yes, sir,” the magi replied.

 

“Each of you will spend at least a day with them,” Hemet went on after pausing. “They will explain how this coming year will work for you. Do your best and hold to your faith in Aether. This year and next will be a test of your faith.”

 

“We believe, sir,” Mindie said, her voice firm.

 

“Aether is always with us,” Jenn added, right on her heels.

 

“As long as our heart beats, we will not waver in our faith,” Yukiko said.

 

“Sir, our clan has long held belief in Aether. We will do as Lightshield has done before us. We will prepare as best we can for the day he returns,” Gregory finished.

 

“I believe you will,” Hemet replied. “Climb in, and may Aether watch over you.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” the four of them replied together.

 

Hemet went to the first carriage, leaving them to figure out who was in which for the other two.

 

“Gentlemen, I’ll join you shortly,” Gregory said, going to the second carriage and opening the door. “Ladies?”

 

“Thank you,” Yukiko smiled as he helped her in. “We’ll see you tonight, dearest.”

 

“When we get to an inn. Will we try to train then?” Jenn asked, Gregory helping her in after Yukiko.

 

“Yes,” Yukiko answered. “We’ll do the best we can in the years ahead.”

 

“Thank you, husband,” Mindie smiled gently. “We’ll study while we travel, so it’ll be physical training when we get to the inn.”

 

“I understand,” Gregory said as he helped her. “I love you, my hearts.”

 

“We love ours, too,” Yukiko replied.

 

Gregory shut the carriage door, then looked at the driver, letting his resonance wash over him. “The most precious people in the world are inside. Drive safely.”

 

The man bowed his head. “I will, Magi.”

 

A firm pulse came back from the driver, and Gregory nodded at him. “May Aether bless you.”

 

He was the last one into the third carriage, putting him beside Willof. “A captaincy?” Gregory asked.

 

“Yes. I have to be one for this duty. One year as an assistant to a magi, and two years as the head of an area. After that, I will have choices,” Willof said. “When the overseer said I would be overseeing Aether’s Guard, I knew my next couple of years would be pleasant.”

 

“Better than some others,” Egil’s laughter rumbled. “And since you are probably wondering, Gregory, Willof will be overseeing you. Jenn will be assisted by Ella, and Yukiko will have Ben.”

 

“They’re in capable hands,” Gregory smiled. “Will all of your old allies be assisting this year’s initiates?”

 

“A majority of them,” Egil chuckled. “I asked for them to be placed with the best students to further hone their skills. If not for Willof, I might have had to shift another to assist you.”

 

Gregory glanced at Willof, then triggered aether sight. He didn’t see any aether in use, so he smiled. “You asked for me specifically, sir?”

 

“Pettit,” Willof snorted, “I’ve seen magi for nearly a decade at the academy. In that time, I’ve never seen one who gathers loyalty the way you do. Allies, sure, but loyalty? Not once. If there is one magi in this decade who can shape men into a fighting force to be feared, I think it will be you. If I’m right, then in the years to come, people will be asking who helped you. That recognition means I might be able to climb the ranks even higher.”

 

“I see,” Gregory said slowly. His resonance told him that the words were slightly wrong. “I would ask one thing, sir. Since guards inside the walls cannot have wives… did someone impress upon you enough that you thought being outside would help you?”

 

Willof blinked at Gregory for a moment— it was obvious the man hadn’t expected the question. Sighing, Willof looked away. “Well? Is my hope misplaced?”

 

“I don’t know, sir,” Gregory said. “I can’t look years into the future currently. It was one of the logical reasons I could think of. I… might know… who, though.” Gregory hesitated before he exhaled slowly. “If it’s who I think, sir, she can’t have children.”

 

Willof nodded sadly. “I know. When I realized that my interest was substantial, I did my best to find out about her. I’ve read the report… of the attack. She is a strong woman.”

 

Now, it was Gregory’s turn to be surprised. He hadn’t known how Dia had gotten scarred, as he’d never felt comfortable asking. “Someone attacked Dia?” Gregory asked.

 

Willof jerked, looking at Rafiq and Egil. Both men looked away from him. “If… if that was the person in question… perhaps.”

 

“Sir, was it the Eternal Flame?” Gregory asked.

 

Willof met Gregory’s gaze before he nodded. “Yes, but the ones who did it are no longer alive.”

 

“I understand sir, but hurting a friend puts another mark against that clan for me,” Gregory said seriously. “I’m sure in time, the Eternal Flame will pay for all their errors.”

 

Rafiq chuckled dryly. “Starting as soon as the overseer is back at the academy. If I might intrude, Gregory, I do need some information from you.”

 

“A moment please, Rafiq?” Egil sighed. “Yours will take far longer than mine.”

 

“Of course, Armsmaster,” Rafiq dipped his snout.

 

“When we reach our destination, you and your two initiate wives will be separated to three nearby towns. Your men will be camped outside the town, and your assistant will be there to guide you in how to lead them. This will mean how to set guard rotations, and how to care for your paychest and supplies. You’ll be shown how to rotate men into the village for leave, and how to discipline them when they err. And trust me, even the best men do. Every two months, you will bring them to the city. You will all be given a week off. Any infractions they cause will go against your report, so make sure they understand that. At the end of the week, you will march them back and repeat the process.”

 

Gregory nodded as he thought about how to make sure his men understood how serious this was for him.

 

“Your assistant will deliver a report to me every two months on how your training is going. If it goes badly, I will be forced to visit your camp. That would be bad, but I do not expect it from your men, nor your wives’,” Egil said. “Do you have any questions?”

 

Gregory took a few moments to think. “Hemet said we’d overlap our weeks off, so I’d see my wives during those times?”

 

“You will arrive the day before Yukiko leaves, and be there for a day when Jenn arrives,” Egil chuckled. “Mindie will be there the entire time. You will have a few chances to see and enjoy each other, at least until your year is over.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” Gregory bowed in his seat. “We will do our best.”

 

“Of that, I have no doubts. Rafiq, you may begin.”

 

“Thank you, Armsmaster,” Rafiq smiled, having readied a portable desk and his notebook. “I’m going to start at the very beginning of the tournament, then proceed to the point we left. Some of these questions are personal. I will let you know which so you may ignore them if you wish.”

 

“Master Damon?” Gregory asked.

 

Rafiq bowed his head. “Indeed. The chief advised me to let you decide what to answer or not.”

 

“Thank you, and her,” Gregory exhaled. “Very well, Rafiq. I’m ready to answer what I can. Before that though, here are the notes you asked me for.” He extended a bundle of papers. “I’ll refer you to them if your question is answered in them.”

 

“That will make this much easier,” Rafiq smiled as he took the offered pages. “Shall we begin?”


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