Chapter Two: Parenthood

"Are you disappointed?" Simon Cavalier inquires as he sips a glass of iced-tea. Ice cubes clink against the side, which is decorated by drops of condensation. A scorching summer breeze wings in through the open doors looking out onto the Aurrin mansion's north gardens.

"No," Nathaniel Peter Aurrin answers. He fans himself with one long-fingered hand. Simon waves his hand and the room cools. He is an Aeromancer: one who has mastery over the entire branch of aeromancy and, therefore, is no longer dependent upon the air elementals. Nathaniel briefly arches a brow, but ceases fanning. He is most likely the only mancer who does not use his talent to remedy minor bothers.

"She isn't a Mancer, Aurrin." The Mancer laughs and a thread of unease coils down his companion's spine.

"She's a mancer and human. That's all I care about."

"But she is the only child you'll ever have. You will never have another chance." Simon is one of the few people who know of Nathaniel's prophecy. He knows that the world's most powerful man, the Mancer, plays only a minor role in the war of the Twin Lords. He knows about Ayshe.

"She may not be a powerful mancer, but she still is one."

"And you are a Mancer, and yet you choose to live like a commoner. I'll never understand you, Aurrin."

"Careful, Simon, you're starting to sound like dark mancer." Nathaniel's smile is congenial and innocuous, yet Simon shivers. He does not assume to claim friendship with the Mancer. He knows that Nathaniel cannot afford to open his heart to too many people. Simon does not take offence. He is the same. Such is the life of all mancers.

Simon sets the glass down on the dining room table and leans back. His sorrel-brown eyes peruse the simplistically elegant room. He takes in the sheer gauze curtains billowing gently with each sticky current of air; the gray-white wallpaper sporting an occasional childish handprint; and the crystal chandelier that runs on electricity above their heads. Gone are the ancient stone fireplace, mancy fueled lighting sconces, and the imposing portrait of the founder of the Aurrin line. He remembers vividly the fear the towering figure inspired within him every time he came to the house in his youth.

Alisander Hamlet Aurrin, even dead, possesses a stare that elicits an almost petrifying sense of guilt within the observer. Mercury gray eyes bore into Simon, judge Simon and find Simon lacking. An almost imperceptibly quirk of his thin lips tells him that he has failed to utilize his full talents. Nathaniel has the same piercing gaze. He is young, but power has aged him. The war of the Twin Lords has aged him. At forty-two he has the experience of someone four times his age.

"It's a thin line, isn't it?" Simon says at last, returning his gaze to meet Nathaniel's pleasantly blank eyes. The Mancer smiles with just a touch of cynicism.

"It is." Nathaniel stands up in one fluid motion to indicate the end of his acquaintance's visit. Simon hastily follows suit. He glances at the unfinished drink, the pregnant curtains and the half-crescent of condensed water forming beneath the drink. Nathaniel never bother's with coasters. Life is too short to be worrying about a table's finish.

"Give my regards to the little lady and Ms. McKennen. Where is that old bird?"

"Right behind you, Simon Cavalier. And old she is not," Ms. McKennen says archly from the doorway leading to the main hallway. Her ginger-red hair sports a few gray hairs. There are a few more laugh lines about her lipstick red mouth and crinkles about her ever-alert gray eyes.

"Ah, Ms. McKennen, you look younger every time I see you," Simon declares sweeping her into a friendly hug. "How are you?"

"Still twenty-five." Simon arches a mocking brow at this pronouncement. She has been twenty-five for twenty-eight years and counting. "And I'm fine."

"Mr. Cavalier was just leaving, Laura. Perhaps you could show him out." Her gray eyes flicker over Nathaniel. She casts him a questioning look before turning to Simon with a dazzling smile to compensate for her employer's coolness.

"Certainly. Come along,"-she cuts Nathaniel a pointed look-"Mr. Cavalier." Only someone who knows the Mancer as well as she would pick up the subtle language of his displeasure. Unneeded formality is the first sign. She makes a mental note to question him later. She is keenly curious to discover what Simon has said to garner his disfavor.

As Simon and Ms. McKennen leave, a gust of laughing Sylphs heralds the arrival of Ayshe. Nathaniel's pleasantly blank expression melts into a gentle, fatherly smile. The girl blows in, quite literally, with a retinue of excited Sylphs. They whirl about her head and tangle her already messy black hair. She doesn't seem to mind. Her young face is all smiles and sunburns. Apparently, she has managed to elude Ms. McKennen and her ever-present bottle of sunscreen.

"Hello, angel," Nathaniel's says as he opens his arms to accept her embrace. The Sylphs take to circling above their heads.

"Hello." She places a small kiss on his cheek. "Your visitor is gone."

"Yes, Uncle Simon just stopped by for bit." He is no longer surprised that she is so well informed about his doings. After all, all elementals are notoriously gossipy, and he rarely bothers to put up a ward against their eavesdropping.

"Did he bring me anything?"

"Sorry, angel. Not today." She pouts for a moment before smiling again. Her mood is fickle as the winds, but predictable like the tides.

The slowly melting ice cubes clink in the glass of ice-tea. Father and daughter watch a lone Undine pull itself to the rim of the glass. The Sylphs above their heads call out a friendly greeting to the water elemental and wing down to converse with it. Their excited voices fill with the room with the song of a windswept ocean.

"Something's coming," the girl murmurs. The man nods his agreement.

"Perhaps you should stay inside for the rest of the day."


"Ayshe." His voice is sharp and implacable. The girl has had eight years to learn not to question her father when he uses that tone. She gives him a small glare, though, to indicate her displeasure. They both know she will obey.

"I'll be in the library." She kisses his cheek again and pulls from his embrace. He feels the loss immediately. For a second he has a terrifying idea of what it will be like when he gives her away in marriage. The moment, and the terror, passes swiftly. After all, she is only eight years old.

"Have fun, angel."

She pauses at the doorway, indigo eyes sparkling resentfully, and sticks out her tongue at him. With a haughty toss of her tangled black hair she flounces out.

The indulgent smile vanishes from Nathaniel's ageless face. The elementals are silent as the Mancer turns to face them. He has almost too-readily slipped back into what Ms. McKennen and Ayshe like to call his 'Mancer mode.'

"Tell me," he commands in a voice that does not allow resistance.

Ayshe lies sprawled across a large leather easy chair. Her thin legs dangle over one armrest and kick lazily as she thumbs through the large book of fairytales on her lap. The book is covered in cracking leather; several places have been worn down to the cardboard backing. The musk of age and many hands permeates the crackling pages. Her left foot slowly rotates as she finds a story she likes.

She enjoys these tales of inaccurate mancy, or magic as their commoner creators call the power. Her father doesn't quite understand her fascination for them. He has always been firmly rooted in facts and the elusive Truth. However, she is still eight and the truth is still what adults tell her. This is right. That is wrong. To her there are no 'why's or 'how come's. She has not yet realized that adults lie with a facility that she cannot even begin to conceive. That will come with hard won experience.

She bypasses many of the stories. She has no interest in beautiful damsels with hair of spun guys and eyes the limpid blue of a clear sky. Her hair is a thick, shiny black tangle and, though her eyes are blue, they are no friendly azure. Only the tale of Snow White offers a heroine to relate to, but she dislikes even that fictitious creature. Ayshe cannot understand how a reasonably intelligent girl can be so gullible as to invite mortal danger in thrice. She prefers stories revolving around boys. At least they don't wait around for someone to come and rescue them. They are the ones going out, seeking adventure, and defeating evil.

The library windows rattle under the force of a dozen agitated Sylphs. She cocks her head and watches the lissome figures beat themselves against the glass. They scream desperately for her to open the window. She has never seen them like this. Carefully she drops the book on the floor and swings her legs off of the armrest.

"I'm coming," she calls to them. Her bare feet sink into the thick pile of the ivory carpet. She undoes the window latch and is knocked off her feet. A dozen Sylphs scream black terror into her young ears as they wheel about her prone form.

"What? Wait-" She tries to ask them what's wrong, but they are incoherent with terror. Ignoring her confused words, the Sylphs bind her with their mancy and lift her body from the floor. She doesn't struggle. Doing that would be pointless.

She knows that only a very powerful aeromancy summoner can work the Sylphs up like this, and only a dark mancer will elicit such terror. She wonders why a dark mancer would be interested in her. Perhaps this mysterious person wants to get back at her father.

Her father once told her that there are no weak dark mancers. The elementals refuse to work for any mancer consorting with the demonic hoste, unless that mancer is powerful enough to force their submission. Elementals hate demons for they are a force of order determined to unite all earthbound souls into the mythical Over Soul. The Over Soul will nourish them for all eternity and starve the divine hoste, which feed off of the chaos created by individual souls. Like many humans, the elementals enjoy individual existence. They have no desire to allow their autonomy to be taken away.

"Halt." As one the Sylphs freeze. The girl plummets to the floor and knocks her teeth together from the impact of her head connecting with the ground. Silver sparkles dazzle her indigo eyes. For a second everything is narrows to a pinpoint of focus, then her sight is back to normal.

The hairs on her arms raise as a boiling wave of power floods the once spacious room. Her father-no the Mancer-stands in the library doorway. His eyes are almost black with the raw power surging through his lean frame. The Sylphs scream with new terror. The power of a true Mancer is enough to rend one's sanity. A Mancer wields a might that all must bend to. The air elementals stand no chance against the force that is Nathaniel Peter Aurrin. Ayshe is frightened, as well. She has never seen her father in this mode, though Ms. McKennen has described it often enough. Her father as the Mancer, not even the less intimidating mancer, which she has witnessed, is somehow no longer her father. He is a cold stranger blowing into the Sylphs with his mancy. The air people have no chance. He rips them apart and hurtles them out the open window.

All of a sudden he is her father again. He kneels beside her with tender concern radiating with every anxious fluttering of his elegant hands.

"Are you okay, angel?" She nods uncertainly. He helps her to sit up and begins to examine her for injuries. She tries to shrug him off.

"I'm fine, really." He ignores her feeble protest and continues. "Dad!"

"You can't stay here," he murmurs sadly. She looks at him with confused indigo eyes.


"It's not safe here for you anymore. You'll have to stay with your grandmother till I sort this out."

"Sort what out?" she inquires as she picks up a few broken bits of Sylph wing. His silence causes the girl to look up. Lines she has never noticed before crease his face. He looks old for a moment as he gazes through her into some unknown and distant future.

"Daddy?" Nathaniel shakes his head and focuses on his concerned daughter.

"Tell Ms. McKennen that you're going to on a bit of a...vacation. She'll help you pack."

"I don't want to go." He smiles and he once again is her ageless father.

"Just for a bit. You'll be back before you know it." He places a reassuring peck on her forehead and pulls her to her feet with him as he stands. "Just for a little while."

"Grandma makes me eat spinach."

"I'll tell her not to serve it." He ruffles her hair and pushes her out of the messy library.

"Will you call?"

"I promise. Now, go find Ms. McKennen."

"Yes, dad."