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Some called me a monk.  I was a scholar hiding behind burlap robes.  There were myths and legends that followed me from city to town, wherever I went.  Some said evil spirits followed in my wake, others said blessing rippled out from wherever my feet touched.  I am no devil, and I am no messiah.  

 

There were secrets hiding in the rippled lands in which we lived, among the numerous kingdoms that split from the ancient empire.  The only legend and myth that mattered to me were those of the ancient power that disappeared with the empire.  I was one of many who sought for it, but one of very few who found any clues at all.  What I had become I hid under my robes: a mage, a learner of the arcane.

 

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I walked out of an ancient cathedral of a small village that had crumbled since the fall of the empire.  The cathedral, at the center of the city, was barely standing, but I had found what I had sought.  My satchel jingled with rocks and trinkets, stones with old script inscribed.  My sandals slapped along the dirt road to the old gate of the town.  Bright green trees lined the right side of the path, and gardens and fields lined the left.  Green mountains rolled in the far distance.  The next piece of knowledge lay beyond them.  The sun sparkled in the blue sky.  For once this day, my mind was quiet.

 

Nearly three miles out of the town, there showed a dark ripple in the heat rising from the stone path.  It appeared to be another traveler.  My mind stayed at rest as I walked.  However there was a sense, the kind that any ordinary person can have, that there was something more than just another traveler down the road.  I shifted more to the side and readied a ring of protective spells in my mind, but only something strong enough to fend off a highwayman.  Most people were scared at all to encounter magic, a few trick spells being enough to make them run screaming “devil” in their native tongue.  

 

The ripples faded as me and the other approached each other.  Sunlight beamed off of dark metal over the person's body.  It looked as if he held a sword at his right.  This sight caused me slight panic.  Soldiers were not something to trifle with.  In the soldier's left hand, there was a helmet.  Coming closer, I noted the sword was not held ready, but dragging upon the ground.  His body was slouched and looked exhausted.  A cloth across his head kept the sun out of his eyes and would have kept him from chafing as badly in his helmet.  Conflicted, I contemplated helping or continuing on.  

 

When the soldier tumbled and rolled off the path a few yards down the hill, I made up my mind to help.  All spells left my mind as I rushed over to the soldier.  Crouching down over him, blocking the sun, I moved his cowl to find him covered in sweat and body burning.  His skin was oddly soft as I pulled the cowl off.  A head of wavy, dark red hair caught my eyes, and then I noticed that his hair was braided in the back in a tail that led some length down his back.  He lacked an adam's apple and any sign of stubble, the angle of his face soft.  The soldier's eyes opened slowly.  Deep, dark eyes, nearly the color of the night sky, looked up to me.  Thin lips parted.  With an authoritative and powerful voice, the soldier spoke against the exhaustion.  “You need to help me.”

 

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     The soldier's voice answered a curious thought I had; this was a woman.  Women were rarely soldiers, and the ones that existed were often too much of a match in one on one battle with men – more cut throat, less forgiving, ruthless.  “You are exhausted and dehydrated.  In order for me to move you I'd need to carry you.  Your weight would over burden me for a walk back to the town."

     “Well, mage,” her powerful voice spoke with a soft timbre, “you could remove the armor and I would be lighter.”  I turned red quietly, showing shock at how she identified me and embarrassment at the thought of walking into town with a naked woman practically slung over my shoulder.  “But I would be at a loss for armor and would need to make even your debt at losing them.  Or you could reach into your bag and find a rune or spell to make you a little stronger, or me a little lighter, or just move us to safety.”  She knew a lot about me already.  

     “A little bit of both,” I said as I began to whisper words of an old language.  “Roll over and put your arms around my neck.”  

     “Ah,” she started as she moved with some difficulty, “make me lighter, make you stronger.”

     “Yes.”  I whispered more words before I stood upright.  "We will be to safety in a little bit.  In the meantime, rest.”  I began to whispered more words until her armored arms pulled back on my throat.

     “No.”  Her command was more forceful than her grip.  “No more spells on me, mage.”

     “Was just,” I rasped through constricted vocal chords, “a healing spell.  Generic.  But sleeping would help to rejuvenate yourself.”  Her hold on me relented.  

     “Alright.”  Soon she was asleep.  
 

Edited by braenuun
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The people in the town would probably not have been surprised to see me back, but with a soldier on my back, they were in shock.  As some approached to help, I urged them to only get me to cathedral and ensure that I had food and drink for the soldier and some extra clothes for the two of us.  

After making my way over the cobble stone streets, between abandoned buildings that were crumbling and peddlers attempting to sell their low quality crafts, I climbed the stairs to the front of the cathedral.  Back in its time, clergy lived in the wings of the building.  There were rooms with old mattresses that had decayed, and some of the roofing had collapsed on one wing.  I followed the paths in the dust of the floor where I had walked numerous times before, making my way to the newer mattress where I had slept.  With care, I lay the soldier on the sheets.  Before the spells of weight and strength dissipated, I worked to remove the heavy armor from the soldier's body.  Such things would not help her heal.  

Her feet were blistered.  The skin of her shins had been worn raw in some places.  Her knees were swollen and bruised.  The tops of her thighs were burned.  Inside the gloves and gauntlets were dirty fingers that were more bruised than her knees.  The tops of her arms were burnt liked her thighs, as was her back.  The garments meant to protect her from the ill of the armor were tattered and soaked with sweat and dripped with blood.  

Laying each piece of armor to the side, I tried my best to make the soldier as comfortable as possible in her healing rest.  I pulled the sheet up over her battered, bare body, leaving the edge right below her collar, where a ring of dirt circled her neck save for where rivulets of sweat had rolled from the matted underside of her hair.  After all the time carrying her, I just now noticed how badly she smelled of sweat and blood.  Though, there were no open wounds, and she only seemed severely dehydrated.  

A group of townspeople ran in carrying baskets of fruits, bread, preserved meats, and clothing along with three large jars of water.  With a cloth from the basket, I pulled water across the woman's forehead.  I sat a clay cup full of water by her bed and ushered the townspeople out before I hurried to the tomes in the cathedral library in search of texts on how to help the woman.  

 

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An hour of searching provided me with a simple spell to imbue her with more water.  This appeared to be the best I could do.  The arcane wasn't much a healing power, but a power of control over dark magics and energies of high potential.  Spell ready, I walked back and drew water from the jars and imbued it into the soldier's body.  Within the next ten minutes, she looked less weathered.  I had emptied a full jar of water into her, enough water for a family of four for three days.  Slowly standing, I turned to leave and stepped away.

I said no more spells, mage.”  My gaze cast over my shoulder to her as she sat up, purely from abdominal strength.  The soldier looked at her hands and arms, then around the brick room, sunlight coming in from high windows.  

I am Legareth, Mage of the Arcane, though keep that title quiet.  The townspeople know me as Monk, a traveler seeking knowledge.”

A witty disguise.”

But rather accurate if only not complete.”

I need to clean my wounds,” she said, placing her hands over the burns of her body, gauging the damage.

What is your name?”  I watched her stand indifferently, the sheet that covered her falling.  As she answered, I grabbed clothes from the basket.  

Reticend.”

Come this way.”  The path became marked with wet, oily prints from her feet as she followed, her shoulders still back and eyes wandering around the building as her gait showed no difference at the pain she must have felt.  Through the back of the old cathedral we walked.  A grotto flowed through weathered and water hewn bedrock several feet deep.  Carved steps and an ornate wooden railing that rotting away led down to a small pool of water beneath a ten foot drop.  

 

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Her stench had clung to me as well from my carrying and tending her, though I let her approach the water first, watching her eyes study the formation of rock before wincing as the cold of the water stung her open wounds.  She grunted softly against the pain.  “I'm inclined to believe they used this as a ceremonial pool of water for rituals.  The leadership of the church has been gone for so long that I can only speculate.” The sun came through some tall trees that grew around the water.  Sandy stone lay exposed otherwise, roots snaking through cracks.  

Most of the stench was on my robe, which I removed as I sat on a stony outcropping in the sun.  Reticend perplexed me.  I stared blankly at her as I thought.  Her armor was not common, extremely well crafted, engraved with some script.  She was no normal soldier.  “Are you in thought, or fantasy, mage?”  My eyes focused: she wasn't in her armor.  I was recalling from memory.  She wasn't in anything, and I was staring.  

Your armor suggests you aren't just a soldier.”  Cupping water in her hands, she gently washed the sweat and blood from her body.  “You identified me as a mage at first sight.  Most take years to figure it out if they figure it out at all.”  She crouched down in the azure water and removed the dirt from her neck, dipped her head in, and stayed under for a few moment.  When she came up, her black hair was a shimmering clean charcoal.  “What are you?” I asked after the water had cleared her ears.  Her eyes studied me as the water rolled down her neck, arms, and...otherwhere to the water just below her navel.  

I am a protector.”  I tilted my head and smiled.  What had she been protecting?  Why was she not protecting it now?  “Do not patronize me, mage.”  The force of her voice eliminated the smile from my face.  “Do not think that because I am without some coward to protect that I have failed my purpose.”  Teeth clenched, she looked to the surface of the water.  “Some foes are too strong.  Some men are fools to make such foes their enemies.  Sometimes one is in the wrong place at the wrong time when a vicious entity seeks to kill.”  She walked up the stone stairs, water dripping from the hard muscle of her body.  Taking a towel from a basket at the top, she began to dry.  “But you are right,” she sighed, “I failed to protect the man I was charged with protecting.”  I remained silent, staring at the rippling water, tinged with a slight pink color.  Reticend winced and gritted her teeth against the pain of drying her burns.  

I could fix that for you,” I said, still keeping my eyes on the water.  

I am not broken.”  

I could heal the burns across your body.”  She looked over her shoulder to me, muscles taut beneath the burns, a trail of water still dripping from her hair.

With more of your magic?” she asked, somewhat disapprovingly.  

Right.”

The last mage whose magic I trusted failed me as much as he failed himself.”  Turning completely to me and tossing the towel aside, Reticend stood threateningly, angry and full of rage.  Fire burned in her eyes.  Steam puffed almost imperceptibly from her nostrils as she huffed and the rage was no more.  “But you may fix me,” she mocked reluctantly.  

The burns over her body had begun to glaze over with puss.  Standing, I motioned her over.  Sunlight grossly glistened on her wounds as she took a step and climbed upon the outcropping.  We stood a foot from each other in the mid afternoon sun.  “It will take me a small amount of time to return you to normal.

Moments or days?” she almost scoffed.  

Moments.”  I lifted my hands out to the sides, palms inward to her.  It was silent.  

Did you forget your spell, mage?”  My eyes, closed, opened for a moment to flash her a grin.  

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Reticend gasped and pulled back, almost stumbling from the outcropping before catching her footing.  Pupils dilated, she spun her head about, scanning the area.  I sat against a wall several yards from her.  As she saw me, she hastily stormed to me and lifted me from the ground by the collar of the fresh robe I had donned.  The tension was cutting of my air instantly.  “What did you do to me?” she demanded.  

Healed you,” I wheezed.  

I was not aware.  You sent my mind to some blank place.  Why?  What were you doing to me?”  Even though I couldn’t breath, I still grinned at an irony.  

You can...kill me and you won’t know.  Or...you let me down, and I may never tell you anyways.  Eh...but there’s more...chance for me to tell you...if I’m alive.”  With a growl, she threw me across the dusty ground.  I tumbled in the air and found my footing.  Slowly, she looked over her shoulder, an eyebrow raised in curiosity.  Her scowl was furious nonetheless.  “You doubted, and your doubt was stopping me from healing you.  I turned your mind to other-time to keep you from resisting.  You’ll find in time that I did nothing but heal your burns.”

What magic speaks no words?”  Her question was cautious.  It would have been fear in any less of an individual, for she was right, I had uttered nothing.  

I told you, I seek arcane knowledge and magic.”

The arcanes I have known always spoke their spells in ancient, dead tongues.”  I laughed shortly and shook my head.  

Arcane...the mysterious and shrouded magic.  The secret magic, lost and hidden magic.  It’s really quite vague, you know.”  I sat on the same outcropping.  “Magicians of our times speak spells of our language.  Imagine a window with the sun shining through.  If you put pieces of cloth over the window, what happens?”

The sun is blocked.  The light coming in gets darker.”

Right.  And just because you have so much cloth and little light or no light shining through does not mean that there is no light at all or that the source has lost its true power.  The sun still shines just as bright on the other side of the window.  Language in magic acts like the cloths over the window.  As language develops and grows, the natural magic that it invokes gets weaker.  There are tales of godly people in the past, battles that leveled mountains, that caused the stars to fall and the very Earth to bleed and the hells to come to the land.  Where has all of that gone?  You’ll note that arcane magicians are often the most powerful.”

So you seek power?”

Do I seem that powerful?  Would a powerful spell of healing been more sufficient for healing you?”

You hide your true power, then.”

No, I have not yet determined true power, nor have I needed nor wanted to.  I have tempered the use of my knowledge.  It is of no use for my purposes to be too powerful or to use too much power at one time.  As I said, though, language, as advanced as it has become since the days when man could barely speak, has changed so much from the original language, which was so closely tied to the powers of nature that it controlled them at whims.  But I don’t even seek the original language.”

What knowledge does Monk seek?”

A magic that knows no words, a magic without language.”

We return to my original question: what magic has no language?”

Do you seek the same answers I do, then?”  Reticend glared at me.  “I would guess you’re hungry, yes?”

I am, but do not think I will let you leave this matter unanswered.”  With a nod, I stepped from the outcropping and walked down the path, along the dried footprints she had left on her way out.  

 

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Entering the old building, I stopped and turned.  My guest appeared a few moments later, clothed in the garbs I had brought out for her.  In the back of my mind, a part of me sighed relief.  Reticend was intimidating enough as a mysterious protector who could crush bones from simple power without a thought, but she was intensely more intimidating unclothed.  The raw power she wielded in her body was an unnerving sight to behold.  Power...I did not search for power, though I admired power and often times saw myself evading power.  Again, the back of my mind spoke.  I could truly say that I had no testament to how powerful I was.  All of the knowledge I had acquired was fearfully dangerous knowledge were it to be used; only, I had never used any of it, except for that healing spell and several to help plant life grow to sustain myself.  There’s the secondary complication that this knowledge often gains power with practice and gains power with how in tune one is to the essence of nature.  I hadn’t the first and was unsure of the degree of the latter.  I could prove to be very powerful.  This was not my goal.

At the back of the area that I had believed was used for worshiping a deity, a deity who was most likely a simple person who had used some magics more arcane than not, was a chest.  I slid the top off and pulled forth unleavened bread and salt cured beef and mutton from a nearby farm.  A basket of thick husked fruits sat to the side.  “Have what you like.  Don’t worry about feeding me.”

More magic for you?”

Nothing arcane.  I work wonders with the villagers.”  Again, I received a raised brow and questioning eye that I swore disapproved of me in one way or another.  “Treating people like people is often the greatest magic between two beings.  There are only benefits, and they often overflow.”

Her calloused hand reached into the chest and pulled out some meat and bread.  With her other hand, she grabbed one of the husked fruits and studied it before striking it on the corner of the stone chest.  The crack from the shell breaking echoed in the high ceilings.  Only a few drops spilled as she flipped the top of the shell off.  Sitting on a bit of fallen wall, Reticend ate.  

 

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How much have you learned in your travels?”  

I have learned…” I thought.  In the last ten years, I had travelled to about fifteen old and ancient libraries that held something of worth.  I’d met at least three other mages seeking arcane knowledge who would share what they learned and several more from which I had to run to save my life.  Power makes people crazy.  “I have committed to memory how to cast one hundred and fourteen different ‘spells,’ if you can call them spells.  There are no words.”

How then does the magic work?”

It’s like moving your hand or fingers.”

You move your fingers and magic occurs?”  She tore the dry meat and bread, taking a drink of the fruit’s nectar within.

No, you tell your fingers to move with your mind.  They say we have souls that animate our bodies.  You will you fingers to move.  It’s like that.  It’s like the whole world becomes an extension of will.  There is no language to command nature with this; you will for nature to work with you.  The force of your will ultimately is the power you have.  Your will is trained like a muscle.  Do you lift a rock weighing three people with your first try?”

Not unless you are freakishly strong to begin.”

Right, and you suggest that people don’t start freakishly strong.  How do they get freakishly strong.”

By doing things to get strong.”

And often, you start with what you can handle, perhaps the weight of a person, and you practice and train yourself to do more.  So over time, your body and muscles are able to do more.  The will is the same.”  She nodded and ate more as she listened.

 

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You said that you do not know your true power.”  I nodded.  “If how you say this magic works is correct, then I would posit that you are more powerful than you suspect.”  I raised my eyebrow at her suggestion.  “You willed my mind to go elsewhere.  The mind of a protector is not a weak thing.  We train to resist the temptations and incantations of those who use magic, though we use no magic ourselves.”

That would be why you were so adamant about me having done something to you.  I didn’t feel that it took much at all to do that.”

And you do no magic to the townsfolk?”

Not intentionally.  Not knowingly.  I never manipulated anyone.  I’ve always talked to people and worked my needs out with their needs and came to a common ground.”

I sense you tell the truth.  But you have not said why you seek the arcane.”  My eyes avoided hers, and I looked at the ground.  “Ah, secrets that we aren’t proud of, eh?”

No.  Sad memories that give me purpose.  They aren’t important; what is is that I mean no harm to anyone and seek the arcane, even though those who seek the arcane usually do so specifically to harm others.  My intent is not to harm.”  

So you seek to protect, then?”  Pondering this, I looked at her before nodding.  “To protect the people of the land?”  I shrugged.  “To protect a lost love who may or may not be alive?”  

No, not that at all.  Though,” I nodded, “that would be a valiant cause to me.”

Then to protect your -”

Would you just stop, woman?  I said my purpose is not important and you need to stop prying.”

Tossing back a mouthful of the husky fruit’s juice, Reticend nodded and smiled.  “You’re not seeking for yourself, completely, and that is enough for me.”  Tilting my head was enough of a question.  “I think we could be of use to each other, Legareth.”  Pushing herself from the wall, she began to walk away toward the front of the church.  My curiosity demand me follow.  We stood in the archway where heavy doors once stood.  They were long since ripped away for some other purpose.  In the direction I had found her, clouds were rolling in, dark and ominous.  Hair on my arms stood on end as a chill ran through me.  Reticend looked to me and half smiled.  “You feel it, too.”  Walking back toward the cots, she left me at the door.  
 

 

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I feel what?”  I heard her armor clanking, then a pause.  

That storm has been summoned.  It is not natural.”  Wind smelling of rain lifted stray hairs upon my head as I turned back to the storm.  There was an unnatural scent to the storm.  “It may become time to practice some of your arcane magic, mage, at the very least for the sake of the people in this little village town.”  Additional clanks from armor being set into place on her frame kept me from speaking more.  

Villagers started coming out from their stone and mud brick houses, pulling in laundry and goods from storefronts.  They waved at me, but were visibly confused by the emotion on my face as I stood in the archway of the entrance and looked from the darkening skies to them.  Uncertainty and fear must have been present; the hastened to bring their things in and called to nearby others to tell them to hurry.  “The monk is worried.  This storm is something big!”  Reticend’s feet hit the floor heavier than without the armor.  Metal plates slid and touched as she walked.  A grand gold oak surrounded by thorns glistened on her shield.  As she unsheathed her sword, the edges brushed against the sides of the scabbard.  The protector stood tall, stead like the oak on her shield and ready to make foes bleed, like the thorns that surrounded the tree.  

Do you really think it’s that kind of storm?”  She nodded with a half grin.  

“If my guess is right, it’s the same foe that took my last mark to protect.”

Who give you your marks?”

No one now.  Are you armed?”

I guess we’ll find out,” I sighed.  Soft vibrations climbed their way up my legs.  They were steady, evenly paced.  They were footsteps.  Reticend walked into the road.  I followed her until we stood at the entrance to town.  A small crowd of brave or foolish people stood behind us, a few with swords and a few with bows and arrows.  Down the path, a dark figure approached.  “Perhaps we should hide to get a jump on this thing.  It’s rather big.”  Archers nodded, fell back and dispersed into house, poking their heads from second story windows or roofs.  The few with swords crouched behind barrels and bales of hay in the entry courtyard.  “Let’s see if this works…” I held out a hand toward the path into town, only about ten feet from the short stone wall that came barely up to my chest.  The first time you do anything new, it feels awkward or ungainly.  This felt like I was a fool, holding my hand out, straining as if to move something that I wasn’t even touching.  No.  I should just be able to will it into existence.  It’s hard to make yourself move without any idea of where you want to go, to do a flip without knowing what muscles to will.  It’s hard to work with energies and matter in a way you’ve never done.  The concept was clear in my mind, sheer will was all that was left to use.  It seemed to stupidly easy.  

A soft glow upon the ground was the only clue my cast might have worked.  Reticend noticed and went to poke it with her sword.  “Don’t,” I warned.  “If I did that right, touching that is going to be unbearably painful for you.”  I did this several more times. 

How are you defending or fighting for yourself?”  There were many combat spells I learned of.  

I’ll figure out how in a bit.”  We both ducked down into ready positions and awaited the beast to approach.

 

Edited by braenuun
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