This is the potential first chapter in a new fantasy/Western series I’m planning. I’ve had something like this kicking around my skull for a while, and I need to work on something different. Is this worth continuing?
The green tiles that lined the bottom half of the room’s walls smelled of coal tar. So did the plain whiter upper walls, the bed that stood against the far wall, the night-stand and the stool in front of it. Everything smelled of it, even the girl who who lay curled up on the bed, bandaged hands tucked between her auburn-covered head and the striped pillow.
A sudden knock at the door caused her pale blue eyes to jerk from an unseen point through the wall tiles and turn to her left as her head started upright. She hurriedly sat up, feeling her mouth dry up as the door swung open and a nurse stepped through.
“Tara?” The black-haired, grey-eyed woman who followed the nurse inside wore a scarlet robe that bore an embroidered white patch on either chest. One displayed a flask of green liquid with fumes pouring from the top; the other showed a hand gripping a staff that appeared to be topped with a glowing ball.
“Aunt Rose?” Tara squeaked. The woman drew the stool slightly away from the night-stand, closer towards the bed, and began to settle herself on it.
“Alchemist, miss Heywood has not been ruled fit for close contact-” the nurse began primly. The alchemist gave her a cold stare.
“She’s my niece.” Her face softened as she turned back to Tara. “Has anyone else visited you yet?”
“Mother brought me here, but hasn’t been since. Father hasn’t come at all.” She hesitated, and then the question that had been percolating in her mind for five days burst to the surface. “They don’t want me, do they? They don’t want a witch who…who can’t control it?”
“Tara, you were suffering from heatstroke, and the thermocity – the heat – had to go somewhere. If you had suffered a fit instead and knocked somebody into a fireplace, you would not have been at fault for that either.”
“What if it happens again? What if I draw more heat and can’t get rid of it?” Tara could feel the tears welling up in her eyes.
“That is always a risk with magic. There is a reason why we use wands or staffs to drain the excess thermocity back into the surroundings.” Rose lifted her right arm, drawing from her sleeve a thick wooden rod that had been topped with a metal three-tipped claw. “It’s also easier to drain it in colder climates…which brings me to my next point.”
Tara felt her stomach churn as she braced herself for the bad news. Rose leaned forward, resting her arms on her knees.
“Part of the reason that Daniel has not been present yet is that he was discussing your situation with the Collegium. You’re far more sensitive to heat than most of us, which unfortunately means that you’re more prone to meltdowns like that. That’s not your fault,” she hurriedly added, “but it does place some limitations on where you’ll be able to take an apprenticeship. I hate to say this, but he was easily persuaded that you aren’t…suited to Levarche.”
The knot in Tara’s stomach grew tighter as she realised that her worst fear had come true. She was being sent away from Levarche, from her home, the only town she had ever known. All because she had lost control. She flinched and screwed her eyes shut as her aunt’s hand landed on her right shoulder.
“Tara? Tara, look at me!” Rose’s voice broke into her thoughts. “There is some good news, though it may not sound like this right now. I can’t serve as your mistress for this, but I know the man who has tentatively been assigned as your master. Regardless of whether he is or not, I’ll be moving to Colwdvatn as well.”
“Why can’t you? And where’s Colwdvatn?”
“The Collegium’s charter prohibits family members from acting as a master or mistress. It’s supposed to stop conflicts of interest,” Rose sighed. “But there’s nothing stating I can’t live in the same city as a point-of-contact, especially since it’s in the Sydfjords. They’re about twelve, to thirteen hundred kilometres from here.”
“I don’t want to leave,” Tara whispered. She briefly looked down at her arms. “W-who’s my…who am I doing this under?”
“Bernhard von Clief, as far as I know. He’s a warlock who’s planning to retire from frontline work, and his wife is a healer down there. The Collegium needs a forensic alchemist there as well, which is almost what I’ve been doing for a few years now.”
“A warlock?” Tara could picture the man now. Flowing beard, glowing eyes, fingers crackling with arcane energy that coursed up a staff into a ball of flame. An exotic, vicious familiar at his side or on his shoulder. Delving into lost, forbidden arts for the slightest edge over his opponents. Teetering on the edge of losing control.
This was going to end badly, she could feel it.
The title is a reference to the “remittance man” of Westerns – usually younger and out-of-favour sons of upper/middle class families sent out-of-the-way and sent a regular allowance to stay there. The money usually isn’t enough to fully support them, so many of them end up drunks or wastrels. They’re apparently stock characters in Canadian Westerns.
“Tara Heywood” is a name I first invented while playing Mount & Blade a few years ago. I can’t remember what spawned the name, but I liked it enough that I ended up turning her into a regular member of my XCOM 2 character pool. For that matter, so are some of the main characters I have planned for this.