Chapter I

Blast Back
[Where Lives End & Begin]

~ 13th, Nox Pri, 6723 ~

The rain pattered down hard on the dirt road, turning it to a supple muck. The sky was gray, casting a long dark shadow across the highway and the surrounding fields and forest that it cut through. A rumble of thunder made its way through the sooty clouds as their deluge continued. Din, a pale man of advancing years wrapped up in a hooded cloak, trudged through the mud on the side of the road, using a rickety old saber as a makeshift walking cane. His feet sank in the mud, and he grunted arduously lifting his legs.

            Hoofbeats came through the rain from behind the old man, and he slowed his walk as he moved further to the side of the road. A canvassed carriage pulled by two horses passed by, and Din glanced at the rear end of the vehicle. A young, sandy-haired boy stared back at him from the end of the carriage, his arms dangling lazily over a tarp-covered wrap of packed-up belongings. The old man smiled weakly, brushing his snowy goatee-covered chin with a wrinkled hand before continuing on. The rain wasn’t letting up, and continued beating down on the countryside as the carriage and the old man trailing far behind headed for a patch of woods.


            “Dy honey, please don’t hang off the end like that,” a woman commanded from the bed of the carriage.

            The boy, still watching the old man as he shrank in the distance, leaned back to sit down. Having been on the road for some time, the boy was understandably bored. The family had packed itself up to move on to the big city from their small village of Eidlewine in the east, which had fallen on hard times. The boy’s parents and uncle decided it was in their best interest to leave for the capitol to look for work.

            “Ah, what’s all this then?” the uncle muttered, pulling back on the reins.

            The carriage slowed, and the boy took the opportunity to peak out the front at what was ahead: a large tree trunk lay in the middle of the road, barring progress for anything larger than a single horse rider.

            “Damned log fallen onto the road? Those capitol taxdogs can’t be arsed to even keep up their roads with the precious coin they squeeze from us,” said the boy’s father.

            “Must have fallen from one of these trees at the side here,” the uncle said. “Come, this shouldn’t be too hard to move.”

            The two older men dismounted the seat at the front of the carriage and approached the large log, sizing it up for removal. The curiosity the men noticed was how what looked like the thicker base of a tree managed to find its way into the center of the road. Its ends seemed chopped as well, not splintered as if it gave way to the elements as would normally be expected.

            “Dy, sit,” the boy’s mother tugged at his trousers. “Let’s just sit down and wait, we’ll be on our way shortly. Pa and Nash will have us in the capitol in no time.”

            The young boy plopped down on the bed of the carriage and looked at his mother, shooting her an annoyed glance. The mother smiled in response, comforting her bored child with gentle caress of her hand over the side of his head. Out on the road, the father kicked the log, judging its heft.

            “Need some help?” a voice arose from the side of the road.

            A peach-skinned man in a tightly fitting hood emerged from the trees that lined the highway in the area. Another, much larger man followed closely behind him as he stepped up to the road.

            “No, thanks…we can handle it ourselves,” the uncle responded.

            “Oh, come now…you should never deny the kindness of strangers, sir,” the hooded man responded.

            “I do when they’re as strange as you, winding out of the wood like a snake,” said the uncle as he balled his hands.

            The father set an easing hand on his brother’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Nash.”

            “How dare you? Insulting my character to my face,” the man yelled.

            “Listen, sir, he meant no harm by it. We’ve just been traveling hard for a few days. Please accept my apologies and let us be on our way shortly,” the father said calmly.

            “I don’t think I can accept your apologies…but…perhaps if you give me all the coin you’ve got and the possessions in your carriage,” the man unsheathed a chipped blade from his belt. “Y’see, this here is a toll, and you’re going to have to pay us to pass.”

            The young boy, hearing the sound of a drawn sword amidst the rainfall, perked up to look outside. “Ma…who are those men?” he asked.

            More men emerged from the trees, and they slowly surrounded the father and uncle. The young boy’s mother reached for him, but paused in fear as a dirty-faced man peered into the carriage. The mother gasped, grabbing her son’s shirt and yanking him to the back of the carriage.

            “Hey, Orvine! We got more in here!” the dirty-faced man yelled.

            “Elleness! No, please stop!” the father called, halting his step when a blade reached across his neck.

            The mother pulled the boy down from the carriage’s back, but turned to face three more men of immorality, each with a sword raised in their hands. The two were guided up from the side of the carriage and brought before the man in the fitted hood, the man Orvine, considered the leader of the bandits.

            “Oh, this your li’l family then?” Orvine asked.

            “Yes…please…we don’t have anything of value, it’s why we made for the capitol in the first place – to find work,” the father explained.

            “Nothing of value?! Really? But you have family! That’s the most valuable thing in the world!” Orvine said, waving his sword around emphatically.

            “We’ve nothing of value for cutpurses. We’ve no coin you could steal and spend,” Nash said from behind gritted teeth.

            “Oh-ho…listen to this one, boys; he’s all riled up, telling me what a man of ill-repute such as myself can steal from him!” the man addressed his fellow bandits. “He thinks it’s all about gelt, does he?”

            Orvine quickly slid his blade into the uncle’s stomach, twisting as he did so. He buried the sword to its hilt and stepped closely to Nash’s ear. The mother gasped in horror, and the father screamed, fighting back against two men that immediately held him from behind.

            “Remember this!” Orvine called out. “Coin or no; any man, not just a bandit, can take all that another man has – all that another man is.”

            As Orvine’s sword slid from the uncle’s stomach, he dropped to his knees holding a profusely bleeding wound. With little strength left, Nash fell backwards into the mud. Orvine held his hand up to his cronies grasping the father, and he patted the air. The two men forced the father to his knees, splashing brown mud up as he hit the road. The leader took a step toward the father, and rested the broadside of his blade on his shoulder. He moved the sword back and forth, wiping the blood onto the father’s jacket.

            “Now…y’see? A family is valuable. A life is valuable,” the man grinned as he continued. “A family’s life, doubly so. Now, what are you willing to do for their lives?”

            “Anything…” the father muttered.

            “Is that right? Anything?” Orvine asked, surprised.

            “Yes…ju…just don’t hurt them. Please,” the father stammered.

            “I accept your payment.” The bandit smiled, pressing his sword against the father’s throat.

            The mother cried out “Jesh!” as the bandit’s sword slid through the father’s neck, red quickly trickling from the wound. The young boy froze, clinging to his mother’s skirt tightly as she broke down into tears.

            “Alright you sods! Get this log out of the way, and get those two back in the carriage,” the bandit said, pointing at the grieving mother and son.

            As the men stepped around the mother to guide her and her son, she reached for a sword that one kept at his belt. Drawing the sword in one quick motion, she swept it across another bandit’s stomach. The men around yelled and raised their swords, and the mother stepped in front of her child, pointing her weapon at them.

            “What? So the whole family wants to pay? Fine, take her!” the bandit leader ordered, waving his sword through the air.

            A bandit stepped forward to attack, and the mother slapped his sword to the side. By no means was she a fencer, or a fighter of any sort, but she wasn’t about to watch her life whittle away as some bandit’s whore, while the memory of her husband haunted her. She cut her attacker’s shoulder, and turned to keep herself between another bandit and her son. The boy shuffled backwards watching his mother swing her sword. Another bandit came in from the side, cutting her leg deep. She screamed out in pain and dropped to one knee, swiping her sword wildly to keep the bandits at bay. However, there were too many of them, and another bandit came from behind and ran a sword through the back of her shoulder.

            The mother struggled as she was forced down into the mud, the bandit who stabbed her in the back kneeling on top of her. Another bandit pierced her wrist and her fingers fell limp across the handle of her stolen sword.

            “Dylock! RUN!” the mother yelled with the last of her strength.

            The young boy watched as a blade was swung into his mother’s neck. The sound of the blade severing flesh and bone startled the boy, and he took off into a run, quickly moving to the other side of the carriage. The bandits all laughed at the boy’s feeble attempt to escape, and leisurely trotted after him. However, when they finally caught up, they found the boy stood behind an old man draped in a worn out cloak.

            “Is there a problem?” Din asked, scanning the row of bandits as they appeared.

            “No problem, old man, we’ll just be taking that kid there, you can move along,” said one of the bandits, a slender man with a gaunt physique.

            The old man glanced beyond the carriage, where two other men were dragging the boy’s family to the side of the road and into a ditch, along with a hefty log. The slender bandit at the front of the group looked back and sighed, “Wish you had not have seen that.”

            The bandit held his sword out from behind his lanky leg, bringing it to bear to hint at a threatening intent. Din brushed the young boy further behind him, and dropped the duffel bag on his shoulder onto the muddy road.

            “Stay back, boy…” Din whispered to him.

            “Sorry, old man…we can’t be leaving anyone behind,” the slender crook explained.

            The old man sighed, and his face crinkled with disappointed concern. “Please…there’s no reason to do this. The boy will be no trouble to you, and I’m just a stranger passing through. No more blood needs be shed. I will take the boy and go, and we will tell none of who you are.”

            The bandit shook his head. “I don’t really feel like buying your silence, not when I can just make you silent.”

            Din groaned in dissatisfaction, taking a step forward in the mud and making sure to show off his sword-turned-walking cane. The bandits began walking past the carriage, fanning out with their weapons drawn; Din counted eight of them, including the leader Orvine who came up to the side of the carriage to watch. Only a few of the men at the front seemed ready to fight, while the others were content to sit back and watch another murder.

            “Look boys, this codger’s got himself some steel. Think he’s fixin’ to use it?” a larger bandit within the group said.

            “Can he even remember which end to hold?” A low cackle swept through the lot of them like a weak rumble of thunder.

            “I warn you, my sword is a little rusty, so I won’t be leaving you with infected wounds. I’ll be cutting…to kill,” Din tiredly warned.

            The old man leaned blearily on his sheathed sword, the tip of his scabbard sinking deep into the mud under his weight.

            The bandits laughed. “Look at this guy! Can barely hold himself up, he’s sinking into the damned mud!”

            The slender bandit trotted forward at the old man with his blade drawn. He swiped at Din, who deftly bent back, tightly holding onto his sword stuck in the mud for leverage, letting the bandit’s blade sail past his nose. The old man lifted his sword from its scabbard and sliced upwards, a moment later a wet snap followed a flash of steel. The blade moved quickly through the bandit’s weapon arm from the elbow. He screamed loudly, dropping to his knees and tightly clenching what was left of his right arm.

            The flourish of steel caught the group’s attention, and the other bandits readied themselves as the old man trudged forward through the mud. With the blade at the bottom of his hand, Din shoved it through the back of the wailing bandit’s neck, killing him as he passed. Pulling the sword from the body, he spun it around to hold upright, sizing up his adversaries; two with daggers, many with swords, and one ambitious soul with a spear.

            “So the codger’s got himself some training? He still can’t take us all!” a stout bandit yelled, stomping forward with his dagger raised above his head.

            The bandit swung his dagger down. Din spun about to address him, bracing his sword tightly as he brought it up to meet with the bandit’s arm; his opponent’s swing did most of the work, forcing his own forearm down onto the old man’s blade. The stout bandit could do nothing to stop his attack, screaming as the blade pierced through his arm. A second later Din turned his blade, still in the bandit’s arm, and thrust it into the man’s thick neck. The sword slipped cleanly from the bandit’s body as he fell to the road dead.

            “Damned useless sods!” Orvine growled. “Get the bastard! Stick ‘im like a bloody pig and be done with it!”

            A dark-skinned bandit approached from the old man’s left with a sword wound back at his side. Din turned and brushed the bandit’s blade to the side with a swipe, and then thrust his sword upwards into the bandit’s head from underneath the chin. Before the dark-skinned bandit could fall, Din let go of his weapon stuck in the scoundrel’s skull and deftly grabbed the sword from the bandit’s lifeless hand.

            The aging man turned around again in time to see a spear coming straight for him. There was little he could do but sway to one side and take the spear in his left shoulder. The tip of the spear sank deep into his skin and muscle, but missed bone. The tall bandit pulled his spear back, and the old man turned his injured left side away. Another sword-wielding bandit of considerable size came in from Din’s right, and he parried the strike, guiding him between himself and the spearman as he cut the large bandit’s back. The bandit stumbled away on bulky legs and left an opening for the spearman to come in again, an opportunity he took.

            This time, however, Din was ready, watching the spear fly towards him. He brushed the polearm to the side with the broadside of his blade and stepped past the spearhead. With quick slashes, the old man chopped through the spear’s shaft, segmenting it with several vertical swings and leaving the bandit’s weapon a jumble of small pegs in the mud. In one swift motion the old man raised his sword from the destroyed weapon in the spearman’s hands and swung the blade through his neck, lopping his head clean from his shoulders.

            As Din passed the beheaded spearman, he dug his foot into the mud to brace himself, and then turned as the large bandit he had cut in the back a moment before moved in for another assault. The bandit guided his sword with thick arms, and the old man slapped his blade away, attempting to strafe to his side while he was staggered, but his foot was caught deep in the muck. The old man fended off several more swings from the bandit while struggling to pull his foot free from the sludge of the road. Din grunted as he parried, showing visible fatigue, and the tip of his sword fell to the road in lethargic hands.

            Even with all his skill, the body of an old man still couldn’t keep the pace of that of a group of able-bodied hooligans. The large bandit took his sword in two hands, raising it over his broad left shoulder for a grand swing he believed would be a coup de grace. Meanwhile, another short bandit wielding a dagger was coming in from the flank, his small blade flying forward through the rain to pierce the old man’s kidney.

            Din adjusted his grip on the sword, again holding it with the blade to the bottom of his hand. He turned to the short bandit and held his reversed sword up to block the dagger, which scraped against the codger’s blade. The moment Din felt his sword meet the base of the short bandit’s dagger, he flicked his wrist and caught the bottom of the dagger’s hilt with that of his own sword. In one sudden motion Din pulled the dagger forward, past his own body, and directly into the large bandit’s torso.

            The hulking bandit dropped his sword behind him at the shock of a dagger in his gut, and Din drove the pommel of his sword back, striking the short bandit in the side of the head before immediately bringing his blade back and stabbing it through the massive bandit’s heart. The short bandit stumbled backwards while the old man grabbed his sword, holding it with both hands as he drew it from the large bandit’s chest and immediately swung it overhead to strike through the short bandit’s brow.

            Din pulled his foot free of the muck and addressed the last two threats; Orvine, who pushed himself off from his lean against the carriage, and the last underling in a longcoat, who held a sword shaking in his hands. For all their hesitation, they gave the old man a chance to regain his stamina.

            “Come along then… your boss wanted this over quick, did he not?” Din said, raising his sword with renewed vigor. “…best not disappoint him any longer.”

            “Oh, how thoughtful you are,” Orvine replied, walking forward tapping the broadside of his blade in the palm of his left hand.

            The coated bandit rushed forward with his sword held low, Orvine following behind with his own blade at the ready. The coated bandit swiped at the old man, who brought his sword down to parry. The clang of their blades echoed over the road, rainwater on the metal splashing about. With his hand low, Din took the tail of his cloak with his free hand, flaring the cape over him as Orvine went in for a thrust. The old man twisted behind the cloak, obscuring his position momentarily. Orvine’s blade pierced through the cape but met with no body to injure, and Din quickly whipped the cloth around the weapon and pulled down, yanking the sword from Orvine’s hands.

            The bandit leader’s blade fell into the mud behind the old man, and Orvine could do little but step back, letting his cohort continue the assault in his stead. The bandit in the longcoat attacked relentlessly, and Din guarded himself against what came, but there was no way he could keep this up. His adversary was whittling away his stamina, but he wasn’t striking to injure – he was striking specifically to tire. After parrying another blow in a wild combination of swings, Din spun the sword around in his hand, holding it backwards once again.

            The coated bandit swiped his sword down. The old man raised his blade vertically to meet it, making sure to block the bandit’s sword near its hilt. When Din felt the rattle of his sword against his opponent’s, he motioned his weapon’s cross guard behind the bandit’s own. Hooking the sword by its quillon, Din forced the bandit’s blade down and through the bandit’s own right foot, piercing the tanned hide of his boot, flesh and bone, and into the muck underneath. The coated bandit growled sharply in surprise.

            Din crouched tiredly, kicking the bandit’s left knee to widen his stance and put him even more off-balance. Then, with a swift sweep, the old man drew his sword from the left and cut through the bandit’s left leg at the thigh, dropping him to the mud screaming.

            “Okay now…” Orvine muttered, drawing a dagger from the back of his belt.

            The old man slowly rose to stand, audibly grunting. He was already losing what adrenaline had built up during the fight, and his weariness was returning, accompanied by a sharp pain in his left shoulder from the spear. Orvine wasn’t quite sure how to feel; normally one would be confident in assaulting an old man showing such clear signs of fatigue, but the timeworn fellow’s display of swordsmanship stayed Orvine’s hand. Although he held his dagger tightly and confidently, his body shook with reticence.

            The old man glanced at the coated bandit in the mud, who had fallen unconscious from shock and blood loss – he would be dead in a matter of minutes with his femoral artery cut. All that was left was the leader, whom Din sized up again, thinking, plotting how to overcome the man more than thirty years his junior. The sounds of his wheezing respiration and pounding heart quieted, and all that remained was the spatter of the rain falling down on the mud and foliage.

            Orvine gritted his teeth and whipped the dagger forward, straight for the old man’s chest. Din slid to the side in the mud, raising his sword to catch the dagger by its hilt and then moving the tip of his blade in small concentric circles. The dagger spun around Din’s sword until he swung his weapon forward, launching the dagger from it with a flick of the wrist. Orvine was stunned to feel the blade of his own dagger bury itself into the right side of his collar bone. He cried out and fell backwards in the mud.

            “Agh! Goddammit you!” Orvine screamed as he shuffled in the muck, his left hand hovering over the dagger embedded in his shoulder.

            Din plodded forward through the mud startling Orvine, who began to frantically back up until he reached the rear of the carriage. The old man loomed over the bandit leader, and reached down, gripping the dagger’s handle tightly, and pulling upwards. Orvine yelped in pain as he struggled to his feet, following the rise of the dagger in his collar. Din pushed the dagger in further, twisting it ever so slightly. Then, he set the blade of his sword on Orvine’s right shoulder, pressing the edge to his neck.

            “Wait! Wait-wait-wait-wait…stay your blade!” Orvine pleaded. “You’ve won old man…let us just leave it at that. I’ll take what’s left of me men and go.”

            Din coldly looked him in the eyes.

            “You spoke much of worth, cur, and I believe in a lot of what you’ve said,” the old man muttered with tired breath. “All lives do have value, which fluctuate based upon deeds and decisions. Tell me, how many lives have you taken?”

            “Wha….uh…I don’t know…dozens?”

            “Is that a question, or an answer?” the old man checked, twisting the dagger a few inches to the right.

            Orvine growled in pain before reaffirming his answer. “Dozens! Agh dozens I tell you! But I won’t do it again, I swear to you! I swear!”

            “Ah, the decision to mend your ways now; a noble choice to be sure, and you feel that by doing so you can atone for the bloodshed you’ve caused?”

            “Yessir…so…I’ll just be going then. Lower your sword and I’ll be off…” Orvine stammered.

            The old man cocked his head, his wrinkled brow furrowing.

            “Oooooh…I apologize. It was not my intent to give you the impression that I found your life to have any value, for I whole-heartedly believe yours has none. Losing pence for each drop of blood you’ve spilt, you’ve been walking about with empty pockets. There’s nary a lifetime long enough for you to climb your way out of a debt like that, and to leave you alive would be to devalue all those that you come across in the future.”

            Orvine swallowed hard.

            “I hope it was all worth it,” the old man growled, sliding his sword across the leader’s neck.

            Orvine fell to the side, his back scraping off the carriage, and the old man held onto the dagger as it slid from his collar bone. He stared at the bandit leader’s body for a moment, sighing heavily, and his shoulders sank, before turning back to the boy at the periphery of the road. As Din walked past the unconscious bandit whose leg he had severed, he flung the dagger into his neck.

            “What is your name, lad?” the old man asked, approaching.

            The child could only stare at the sword in the old man’s hand, bloodied with the bandits’ deaths. The boy hesitated before replying, “Dylock, sir…”

            The old man buried the tip of his sword into the muck for leverage, and then squatted to meet eye-to-eye with the boy.

            “Well son, it looks like I’ll be looking after you for a time. You can call this old man Din,” Din said, patting his heart. “Come now…let’s get you out of this rain.”

            Dylock only nodded in response. The old man held out his hand for the boy to take, and he did so without a word. The young boy was stricken with fascination; he had known men such as Din to be weak and cynical, tired of life in their aged bodies simply waiting for their hearts to give out, or to be taken by sickness that a younger man’s immunities quelled. However, not this man, this Din. Though his body was wrinkled and stiff, he fought for a young life. Even though he hadn’t the stamina to, he used what skills and energy he had to subdue those younger than him who would do him and total strangers harm. As Orvine’s words of a life’s value stuck in Dylock’s head, so too did Din’s actions.


            The rain pattering down on the roof could be heard throughout the house. A rumble of thunder shook the windows in their sills, and Chorem sat nervously in the middle of the couch, in between his mother and father, and across from a robed man. Chorem, a young boy of no more than seven or eight looked at the robed man’s hat, which hung by its wide brim on the end of an ornate staff that leaned against the man’s chair. The hat’s pointed tip was bent back, heavy with the wetted fabric, dripping with rainwater.

            “Come now Chor, show our guest…” the boy’s mother said.

            Chorem’s concentration on the steeple hat broken, he turned his attention to the lantern sitting on the table between him and their guest. The boy sighed, stealing a glance at the man in in the chair who watched him intently from beyond round spectacles. The man had his elbows rested on the chair’s arms, holding his hands up to his mouth with interlocked fingers. Chorem slowly raised his right hand, and listlessly waved it to the side, which pushed the lantern sliding a few inches across the table. Chorem’s parents stifled gleeful chuckles, and the robed man’s brow popped up in interest.

            “Interesting. Can you lift the lantern?” the man asked, rubbing the thin blond goatee that lined his chin.

            Chorem felt the nudge of his mother’s elbow in his side, and he nodded. The boy indolently raised his hand, lifting the lantern several inches off the table without touching it.

            “Good…now, down gently?” the man asked, crossing his legs, revealing baggy, striped pants from underneath his robe.

            Chorem dropped his hand, and the lantern fell hard onto the table. The boy twisted his hand, trying to set the lantern upright, but instead shooting it off the tabletop and out the window beyond the inquiring man’s chair. Chorem cringed at the sound of shattering glass and a dog barking in the distance.

            “Apologies…” Chorem muttered.

            “Not to worry,” the man said with a quaint smile. “You did quite well for a child of your age. Now…Chorem, how did you come about this little trick of yours?”

            Chorem felt his mother’s elbow again, and he spoke. “I dropped a toy off my bed and couldn’t reach it…but I just kept trying, and it came into my hand.”

            “I see…and then you kept doing it more and more?” the man asked.

            Chorem nodded, avoiding eye contact.

            “What does this mean then, Praefectus Lomley?” Chorem’s father asked.

            “Well, Agria Noja…it is not uncommon for children with a predilection for the aethereal to exist outside of the aristocracy. The misconception of only aristocratic youths being capable of aetheric arts is born from them being of the majority who can cover tuition costs and proper schooling. Most anyone can learn the aetheric arts, but there are just many with a much greater aptitude for it than others.

            “I do not believe that aristocratic blood lies somewhere in your family tree, but I would not rule it out. However, that is of no import – your young Chorem’s use of telekinesis at this early of an age is certainly promising. With the right guidance, he could very well be a skillful mage,” Lomley explained, leaning forward in his chair.

            “What would our options be?” Chorem’s mother asked.

            Lomley stared off at nothing wonderingly for a moment, and then took a deep breath. “By your will, I would take Chorem as my apprentice. He would help me in my shop, and in return I can teach him more of the basics. At the start of the New Year…I can enroll him into the academy under a scholarship. Being on the board, it shan’t be difficult to do so,” Lomley said.

            Chorem’s mother clasped her hands together over her mouth in surprise. “You would do such a thing for us?”

            “Sir…there’s…there’s just no way that we can repay you for something like that,” Chorem’s father stammered.

            Lomley waved his hand and shook his head. “No no, it’s no trouble. My current apprentice at the shop will be graduating soon, so Chorem will be taking a much needed position. Getting the boy a scholarship requires nothing on your part, other than providing such an astute child that you have. T’would be a shame for Chorem’s talents not to flourish.”

            The boy sank nervously into the couch as the adults conferred. “Am I going to have to go away?” Chorem asked sadly.

            “Yes, but I won’t keep you from your family. We can come and see them on weekends, as long as you promise to keep to your practices,” Lomley assured the boy.

            “I don’t know,” Chorem said the first thing he felt confident about since Lomley’s arrival that night.

            “Hey now Chorem, this is a wonderful opportunity. Would you really pass up this chance to become something more than a farmer’s boy?” Chorem’s father asked, looking at the boy comfortingly.

            “You would be making us so proud, Chor. I want you to be able to spread your wings and fly as high as we know you can. The Praefectus Lomley here will help you do that,” Chorem’s mother said with a loving smile.

            Chorem’s parents knew his weakness was the family, although what they didn’t know was that Chorem’s biggest fear at the moment was of Lomley himself, an intimidating man he simply didn’t know.

            Chorem’s mother wrapped her arm around the boy’s shoulders. “Chor…we know you can do it. Don’t be afraid.”

            “I’m already proud of you, son,” his father said, holding his hand around Chorem’s slender forearm.

            “I shall give you time to discuss this, I suppose,” Lomley rose from his chair, reaching for his staff and hat.

            Chorem looked at the man and now understood the man’s choice in legwear – Lomley was a rather short individual, and the vertical stripes of his baggy trousers gave the illusion of height. The pointed hat no doubt played into his illusion, as well. The sight of it put an easing smile on his face.

            “Wait…” Chorem jumped off the couch as Lomley placed his hat on his head.

            Lomley turned to the boy, who hesitantly smiled at him. Chorem held up his hands and pulled them back, telekinetically lifting Lomley’s pointed hat off his head, coming to rest slowly on Chorem’s brunette crown.

            “I’ll…I’ll do it,” he said, smiling widely despite not being able to see past the large brim of the hat.

            Chorem held out his dainty hand, and Lomley smiled back, shaking it.

            “Well then! I must be off for the evening, but I will return within the week’s time. I have a shipment to pick up from Downroddy Harbor to the west then, so I can take Chorem back with me on my return trip,” Lomley explained.

            Chorem’s father laughed heartily at the news, and Chorem smiled to see how his father towered over Lomley.

            “Oh thank you so much, sir!” Chorem’s mother took the Praefectus’ hand and shook it vigorously, unable to hide her joy.

            Chorem’s father wrapped his burly arms around Lomley’s slender frame and lifted him off the floor in a massive hug. Lomley chuckled and muttered “You are too welcome. Please put me down.”

            With all the commotion, Chorem’s three siblings came into the room, standing at the entryway of the den. The oldest, Chorem’s sister Yrma, held their baby sister in her arms and asked, “What is it? What’s going on?”

            Chorem pushed up the brim of the hat on his head, and looked at the group of his siblings with a grand smile on his face. “I’m gonna be a famous wizard.”

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