Following on from my previous piece…seems like this might go somewhere.
“Fresh fruit pies! Fruit pies, fresh from the oven!”
“Try this cheese and taste-”
“Tinland Station! All passengers-”
“Readallaboutit! Archmage’s Council deadlocked-”
“-looking to travel to the Sydfjords-”
“Sausage rolls, three for a taler! Grab ‘em while they’re hot!”
“-should embark from Platform Three!”
“This way, Tara. Platform Three, please,” Rose called, threading her way past a gaggle of vendors while effortlessly waving for a porter to handle their luggage. Tara followed, starting to feel slightly overwhelmed at the cacophony of noise and choking vapours that permeated the station.
Down a ramp that smelled of a foul, acrid liquid and back up, blinking in the sudden burst of sunlight. Past more nasal vendors, a group of blue-clad soldiers, and a fervent street preacher ranting about the word of Turscar or Bruscar or something like that. Along the heaving platform until finally, she found an empty bench to sit on and rub her eyes while Rose tipped the porter. Grand Southern had been bad enough – how was it that a town of merely 200 thousand could seem so much busier than Levarche with it’s population of 5 million?
“Pardon me, madame mage,” somebody broke in a moment later. Tara opened her eyes to see a man in a well-tailored grey suit and white turban standing in front of them. Beside and slightly behind him stood a girl of roughly Tara’s age in a tan overcoat that looked slightly too large for her, with a blood-red scarf draped around her head. Both had the same round jaw, aquiline noses and brown eyes, but what little of the girl’s hair that poked out from under her headscarf was a cinnamon brown to the man’s black. “Are you by any chance Rose Heywood?”
“Indeed I am. Dr Mehra, I presume?” Rose stood up. Tara hastily copied her.
The man bowed his head slightly. “Indeed, madame alchemist. This is my daughter, Seema.”
“Pleasure to meet ya!” the girl added with a cheeky grin that earned her a look of resigned exasperation.
“Seema…” Dr Mehra sighed, “need I remind you that your master in Colwdvatn is a warlock?”
“No, father,” the girl replied, suddenly dead serious. Tara’s eyebrows shot upwards. Did von Clief have another apprentice? Or was there another warlock out in…Colwdvatn?
“Good.” He turned back towards Rose and shook his head. “I must apologise for her…unladylike behaviour. We’ve given up trying to persuade her to direct her studies away from these…rune circuits. Even burning a hole in her bedroom wall did not persuade her to pursue something more appropriate!” Beside him, the girl looked like she was biting back a retort.
“Tara, perhaps you and Seema should buy yourselves some tea? The train won’t arrive for another hour,” Rose suggested, digging into her handbag to retrieve her purse.
“So, are you Madame Heywood’s daughter?” Seema began as she settled herself into a booth next to the windows, leaning forward and folding her arms on the table. Tara took the opposite seat, folding her hands into her lap. Before she could answer that, a waitress sidled over to them with an expectant look on her face. “Pitch-black coffee for me,” Seema added.
“Tea, please,” Tara managed to let out. As soon as the waitress had moved away, she looked back at the other girl. “Rose is actually my aunt.”
“Your aunt? Where are you both from?”
“L-levarche. My parents don’t want a witch in the family,” Tara mumbled. She couldn’t look away from the white gloves that hid her bandages. “Did…did you lose control of it?”
Seema gave her a weak smile. “I overpowered a circuit that was supposed to create a light. Scorched some of the wallpaper, but you’d think I burned the house down and forced us out into the streets, the way my father goes on about it,” she finished with a roll of her eyes.
“He doesn’t approve of you creating them?”
“Nope. It’s not ladylike. Alchemy or herbalism would be fine, but runes?” She paused as the waitress returned bearing a tray with their drinks. Tara handed the waitress a taler, trying not to look away at the woman’s sudden frown. Had she heard them talking?
“What happened to your hands?” Seema asked as she stirred a heaped teaspoon of sugar into her coffee. She had her own frown on her face.
“Poor circulation. My hands get cold easily.” Even as she said it, Tara knew the other girl didn’t believe it, and was relieved when the expected interrogation didn’t happen. “I hear it gets cold in the Sydfjords in the winter.”
The grin returned, with a hint of amusement at the world to it. “One of my cousins spent a tour there with the Army. He was a bit put out to get caught in a blizzard in mid-June. You know, when it’s supposed to be mid-summer!”
“Why did they sent him there?”
The other girl shrugged. “I think the Army just rotates battalions down there to screen the shores and back-country. Something about all the weirdness that comes ashore from some place called Breburg or Broberg or something like that. From what he told us, it was mostly sitting along the railway lines and ports and waiting for the warlocks to call for reinforcements.” She paused to sip at her coffee, when something occurred to her. “You’re being sent out to Colwdvatn for an apprenticeship as well? With who?”
“Rose told me his name is Bernhard von Clief. A warlock, apparently,” Tara replied. Seema’s left eyebrow jerked upwards.
“No way? Same here. Well, that explains why my father was told to look out for your aunt. Do you know anything about him?”
Tara shook her head, hesitated, and then decided that the other girl should know. “Rose told me that she knows him, and that he’s been planning to retire for a few years. As for why I’m being sent out to the Sydfjords…it’s for my health. My…I’m sensitive to heat. Prone to heatstroke, and then…”
“I think I can guess,” Seema winced. “So, we’re both the unwilling apprentices to a warlock whose name sounds like a hapless member of the criminal classes.”
Tara couldn’t help snorting as the image popped into her head of a warlock, eyes glowing as he launched into a grandiose speech, only to be abruptly interrupted by a pie to the face. Fireballs ready to launch as he threw open a door, only to be quenched by a bucket of water toppling onto his head. Arcane rituals negated by a carelessly discarded banana peel.
And then the humour dried up as she suddenly realised that Seema had just mentioned that the Army acted in support of the warlocks. Why would men – and women – of such power need to call on the military for help?
This is currently chapter 2, introducing another character. I’ll probably add a padding chapter between this and the previous one later.
Seema’s joke about “Bernhard von Clief” sounding like a hapless criminal is a comment my sister made when I came up with the name. Seema herself comes from one of my recurring XCOM 2 characters. I should really get some sketches/images of these people done…