It’s that time of year again. The birds are singing, the grass is green, the weather alternates between hot and cold and dry and wet, and the students don caps and gowns and march across a stage with much pomp and circumstance, to the cheers of their friends and teary eyes of their parents.
It’s time for graduation.
As exciting as it is, however, graduation isn’t a time of pure celebration and good cheer for all departing students. For some, it’s a time of mixed emotions: fear of the unknown, loss of leaving the friends one has lived and studied with for four years, trepidation about going to college, beginning a new job, or finding a job at all. College graduations are especially difficult, as the student leaves behind academia after sixteen (or more) years of schooling to begin an entirely new chapter of life. Some students feel ready. Others are more hesitant.
Even in a fantasy world.
The story that is today’s Savvy Saturday post is dedicated to this year’s college graduates – and to one college graduate in particular. You are ready to “be an adult” and live life on mission. To make the world a better place. To go where you’ve been called and do what college has prepared you to do. You’ve matured and grown and developed your talents since you started college as a bright-eyed freshman. As you move on to the next stage in your life, keep your thirst for wisdom and knowledge fresh in your mind and the friends and relationships you have built close in your heart.
And many, many congratulations. You’ve earned them.
Ready or Not
Xiristin held up the ring so it caught the light of the eight torches that blazed along the wall of Josin’s Jewelry, Amulets, and Artifacts.
“It’s exactly as you ordered it, my lady,” Josin assured her. “Are you ready to proceed?”
Ready? Heavens, no.
“A moment, if you please,” Xiristin said, continuing to scrutinize the piece she had commissioned. If there was any flaw in the ring, the magic she was about to perform could be fatal. All members of the Order of St. Pew were allowed one token to carry with them in their travels: one item of power, carrying the sacred signs of the Order itself, to help them on their way. Many chose to imbue their talisman with healing, with good luck, with protection. Simple spells, spells any fourth-year of the Order could accomplish.
But unfortunately, a simple spell wasn’t what Xiristin needed. And so she turned the ring slowly in her hand, looking for the slightest imperfection. At its top, a garnet red as heart-blood caught the light of the torches and reflected it around the room in a hundred shimmering sparks. A silver shield engraved with words of power shone proudly in the center of the top face of the stone. Around the garnet, a circular inscription proclaimed that ring’s bearer was a member of the Order of St. Pew, while the ring’s delicate silver band gleamed with etchings of figures, letters, and numbers.
Eventually, Xiristin let out a breath of relief. Josin was right: every letter on the ring was flawless, every figure exact. “It’s perfect,” she breathed. “Thank you, Josin. This is truly magnificent.”
Josin face lit up, and he gave her a bow. “My lady is too kind.”
Xiristin smiled back, but her stomach tightened as her hand closed over the ring. Now that the catalyst for the spell was in her possession, the danger she was putting herself in suddenly felt far more real. “Let us proceed,” she said, trying to sound confident. “Is all prepared for the casting?”
“As my lady directed.” Josin swept his hand toward the open doorway to his left.
Xiristin followed the jeweler, sweeping her long blue cape over her shoulder as she walked so it wouldn’t catch on the many display stands that flaunted gold, silver, and a rainbow of jewels for interested purchasers. As she entered the bare workroom at the back of the store, she shivered at the sudden drop in temperature. Here, there were no cheerful torches set in the walls. The room’s only light came from a bright blue flame that burned in midair a few inches above a round stone table at the room’s center.
“The wards are set?” Xiristin asked.
“Indeed, my lady,” Josin replied. “And the materials you requested are here.” He gestured to a small stool next to the table.
Xiristin glanced at the items on the stool: a dragon scale, a phoenix feather, a bowl of glowing water from the Sweet Sea, a perfect seven-sided crystal from the Mines of Memory. All expensive and rare, but all worth it.
Assuming the spell worked.
She forced a smile on her face and thanked the jeweler.
“It is my pleasure, my lady. May I be of any further assistance?”
Xiristin was about to say no, but then she remembered and bit her lip. “I hope not,” she said carefully, “but if…if anything happens…would you see that my horse is returned safely to the Order? Sprightly is her name; we’ve been through a lot together, and I would hate for anything to happen to her.”
Josin’s face had paled. Everyone knew that riders of the Order and their horses never separated from each other unless one or the other perished. Clearly, the jeweler hadn’t realized quite how dangerous the spell was that he’d agreed to let Xiristin perform in his workshop. “As you wish, my lady,” he finally said. “May you and the Order of St. Pew prosper.”
“And may you prosper in the Order’s care,” Xiristin replied. Once she heard the click of the door behind her, she focused her gaze on the fire and concentrated, trying to force away her nerves.
Ready or not, it was time to begin.
Xiristin took a deep breath in, then blew out, both with her breath and with her magic. As she blew, a breeze began to swirl about the workroom. It kissed Xiristin’s cheeks, pulled stray tendrils of hair from the intricate blond braids gathered at the back of her head, and whistled merrily as it gained strength.
Any other day, Xiristin would have laughed along with the breeze, and given it time to play before sending it to work. Today, however, she merely tucked her hair back behind her ears and pointed to the stool. Immediately, the wind whisked the phoenix feather and dragon scale into the air. They tumbled together on the breeze, whirling around the room in ever-tightening circles until they met the blue flame at the room’s center.
Xiristin braced herself against the sudden vortex of power that surged into existence. She had never felt magic this powerful before, and this was only the beginning of the spell. “Primus,” she said, her voice shaking. She braced herself: at her word, her ears popped with a change in pressure, while the flame turned bright gold.
Xiristin suppressed a surge of elation. It had worked! Focus, she told herself. This was only the beginning.
The crystal was next. When the wind carried it to the flames, the fire roared up around it until the crystal itself burned gold.
As Xiristin spoke, the air turned frigid, while the flames around the crystal turned white as the snow around the building where she and her cohort had resided for the past four years.
She swallowed against the sudden tightness in her throat as memory intruded sharply into her casting. There would be no snow in the land to which she was being sent. She and her cohort were all receiving their arms tomorrow, the latest in the long history of the Order of St. Pew to be commissioned to fight for Freedom and for the Faith. But she was the only one being sent to the far western desert.
Her instructors had told her time and again that she was ready. She knew in her head that they were right: it was time to leave, time to begin her new apprenticeship with the masters of St. Davidus who would hone her skills until she was a master herself.
Gritting her teeth, Xiristin pointed to the bowl of water on the stool. The wind lifted it into the air, whirling it around the room without spilling a drop until it hovered above the white flames that roared in midair. She motioned: the water slowly poured down onto the fire. Steam hissed, filling the air with the scent of roses. When it cleared, the fire now burned in the crystal alone, its white flames dancing and leaping inside the stone’s faces.
The crystal turned red: the color of the heart, the color of the garnet in Xiristin’s ring. Power hummed out from it, prickling the hair on her arms.
The priming was complete.
The woman’s breath was coming heavy now, and her head felt light, dizzy, like it did after studying all night for an exam. And that had been the easy part of the spell.
Xiristin let out a long breath, concentrating as hard as she could even as her heartbeat pounded against her skull. Now she would see if she was ready, if her training was sufficient for the spell she was attempting to cast.
If it wasn’t, of course, she wouldn’t know. She tried not to think of what it would be like to be sucked into the vortex she had created, for her life to be ended in a flash of fire and her memories dissolved into smoke.
It wouldn’t happen, she told herself. She was ready. She had to be.
Slowly, Xiristin stepped forward, holding her new ring out between her thumb and her first finger. With every step, the hum of power from the crystal in front of her grew stronger. Carefully, her hands shaking, the woman extended the ring, then let go. It hovered in the air just above the crystal. She held out her hands on either side of the ring, calling her power to her. And along with her power, her memories.
Encouragement, the White Council had whispered over her head when she had accepted the call of the Order four years ago. Joy. Hope. These you shall bring to a world lost in darkness. They shall shine in your soul, a light never to be quenched, and thus you shall push back the shadow wherever you ride.
The scene shifted. “You think you can do it alone? Ha!” Xiristin’s mentor folded his arms over his stout middle and fixed her with a skeptical eye. Stantus was more grizzled than some at the Order, and blunter than most, but still sharp as an arrow. And as hard as he tried to hide it behind a veneer of cynicism, Stantus cared about his initiates. It was why Xiristin liked him, why she kept coming to him when everyone else in her cohort stayed away.
Not that she liked him all the time.
“I won’t be alone,” she retorted. “I’ll have Sprightly.”
Stantus just snorted. “See above. If you’re stupid enough to try to fly solo, you’re going to crash and burn,” he told her. “Happens every time. The White Council fills your heads full of self-empowerment and actualization garbage, gives you a mission to change the world, and sends you off by yourself, all eager and bright-eyed. Then they wonder why you don’t last a month. Bloody knuckleheads, the lot of them. Not that anyone cares about my opinion.”
Xiristin raised her eyebrows and folded her arms to mimic his. “What would you recommend, then?” she said testily. “I have to go where I’m assigned, and I already know that there isn’t anyone else from the Order at St. Davidus. Unless you’re suggesting that I recant my vows and flee while I have the chance.” Her barbed sarcasm would have made her cohort-mates wince, and her other instructors assign her penalty duties for lack of respect.
Stantus, however, just laughed silently. “Can if you want to,” he said.
Xiristin gave him a pointed glare.
“All right, all right. You want to shine in the darkness and give sweetness and light wherever you go and all that mumbo-jumbo? Then make bloody sure you don’t burn out. And to do that, to continue the metaphor, you’ll need fuel. Lots of it.”
As he spoke, Stantus rummaged through the piles of manuscripts and scrolls on his desk, raising clouds of dust. “In fact, you’ll need…” he said, discarding one yellowed document after another, “this!” He held up a scroll tied with crimson and white ribbons.
“What is it?” Xiristin asked, reaching for the scroll. It was delicate in her hands, but power radiated through it into her fingers.
“A life-spell,” Stantus said.
Xiristin raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t those rather…dangerous?” she asked.
Stantus’ mouth quirked at the understatement in her tone. “Only if you can’t handle it,” he said. “You asked my advice, I’m giving it. Tie the Order to you through your memories, and your memories to you through your talisman. Don’t let this place and its people – knuckleheads and all – fade from your mind. Don’t let future shadows cloud the joy that you’ve been given and the lessons you’ve learned here.” A cynical smile came to his face. “Of course, even with a life-spell on your talisman, you won’t be able to complete your mission alone. No one can. But you might make it at St. Davidus long enough to find allies.”
Xiristin focused on the ring, memories flying through her head as fast and breathtaking as Sprightly’s gallop. Memories of the Order’s grand buildings of red brick and white stone, whose turrets soared toward cloudy skies. Memories of the laughter and late-night debates she had shared with the others of her cohort. Memories of her instructors, of her training, of the music and joy and hope and light of her four years in the Order’s care.
Memories of who she had been, and how she had changed, and who she knew she was.
Filling her mind with her memories and her vision with her ring, Xiristin spoke the words she had memorized from Stantus’ scroll.
As the incantation flowed off her tongue, the fire within the focal crystal concentrated beneath its top face. Brighter and brighter it grew, until it suddenly sprang upward, the fire of magic, of memory, of life, flowing from the crystal into the ring in a rush of energy. It was too bright to look at. She squeezed her eyes shut, blood rushing to her head as power burned in her veins, all crystalizing and focusing Xiristin’s memories in the silver band and its blood-red stone.
“Finite!” she gasped, and it was done.
It was done.
She was alive!
Xiristin’s breath came in laughing gasps. She sank to the floor on trembling legs, sweat dripping down her face, and rested her head on her knees. She couldn’t think; she hardly had the energy to breathe. But she was alive, and the crystal had stopped glowing, and the ring that hovered above it was now filled with a silver light.
With a small exhausted smile, she sat on the floor, content to just gaze at the ring. It was another fifteen minutes before her strength returned enough for her to push herself up from the floor. Her fingers still shaking, she reached out and touched her new talisman. The ring was cool and smooth, and as she ran her fingers over its band, joy flowed into her spirit: familiar joy, her own joy, but now crisp and fresh and clear as a mountain stream. She slipped the ring onto the fourth ringer of her right hand – the traditional place for a ring of the Order – and laughed aloud in delight.
The spell had worked.
Hope, joy, encouragement: there they were, secured in memory, protected against the darkness. There they were, a fount that could overflow through her to a world in need. Though she would soon leave behind the columns of pines and gentle streams of the Order of St. Pew, its teaching and music and light would live in her heart and her soul always. Her friends would be with her, as would Stantus and the White Council.
And when she rode into the west, it would be with hope and joy and light held firmly and forever in her right hand. Xiristin’s eyes brightened at the thought of her upcoming assignment. She would keep light and hope in her heart, even as she learned from the masters at St. Davidus. She would fulfill her mission.
She knew it in her heart.
She was ready.
Copyright 2014, A.L. Phillips