The sun was setting.
The young woman looked out her small window, watching its slow descent, red and yellows streaming across the land and into her meagre room.
She took a slow look about her new home. It really wasn't much. Wooden floors and plain unadorned white walls were the bars to her cage. A simple mirror overhanging the sink in the far right hand corner; the glass cracked, and beneath that a sink with enamel split and peeling, stained and dirty. A small wardrobe with a few jackets and pants hanging feebly from bent wire hangings were on her left. And a small metal framed single bed was where she sat now, leaning forward and looking out the narrow window at the world beyond.
She had to accept, she was an apprentice now. And as an apprentice, this was all she could expect. In fact, she was lucky she didn't have to share her small space with another girl... well... perhaps lucky... She had to admit she felt somewhat lonely when she heard girlish laughter through the thin walls. Heard the squeals of delight at shared secrets – and even when she heard raised voices in discontent now and again.
She had only been here three days and already these feelings surged within her.
If only she hadn't the talent. If only the gift didn't lie dormant in her. Maybe she could be the simple village girl like she wanted to be. She had no desire to live in the cities to the north. She didn't want to be a slave to the magic within her.
She couldn't imagine using the magic in her to take life, which would inevitably be asked of her... after all, it was the middle of a war. Well, if she could use the magic within her for anything whatsoever. So far touching it seemed completely out of her control. Oh, apparently she had some. Apparently it was lying, waiting within her. Curled, 'ready to unfold like a beautiful rose.'
Pfft. That statement had to be the most ridiculous, vomit-inducing statement she had ever heard. And it was what her teacher, Mrs Josi had told her just a day earlier.
'You are ready my child – it waits, waits for you to decide... will you not open yourself up to your power?'
She had not answered. She had been too afraid to say what she really felt.
No, she would not open herself to it. She didn't want this gift. She didn't want to be a part of any war. She didn't want to be 'chosen'.
She wanted to settle down, marry her childhood sweetheart (true, this 'sweetheart' didn't even know she existed, but, that was besides the point) she wanted to live like the other village girls she had grown up with. Everyone always put so much emphasis on being unique, different. She didn't want to be different. She just wanted to be normal. And all that Evie Mae Waters honestly wanted was to live a peaceful life. A quiet life.
It really was a pity that fate had something entirely different planned for her.
She hadn't spoken to anyone really since her arrival two weeks ago.
It wasn't too strange she supposed – only girls who shared rooms, or had been here for a few months seemed to chat amongst themselves. And sometimes even that banter was strained.
Apprentice's didn't have the energy to socialise unless necessary. When the magic was forced from you, and into you, you just wanted to curl up and rest. Just to savour every breath that was yours.
Of course, this all changed when they were allowed to interact with the boys from the other side of the Sanctum.
'What do you think I shall I wear tonight? None of my dresses are clean!' One of the girls fretted to her friend as the class walked in twos towards the Learning Room.
'Why are you asking me? I don't know what to wear myself,' a tall curvaceous brunette huffed. She was definitely one of the prettiest girls Evie had ever seen, and she felt inferior just standing behind her. 'Why don't you just wear that green dress with the embroided hemline? That would be suitable enough for you to wear.'
Evie looked at the back of the shorter sandy haired blonde, waiting for her reply, curious if she would be offended by the obvious slight.
'I don't knoooow...' the girl whined, 'that's so plain.'
'It will do you fine, Inira.' The taller girl snapped. 'Stop talking about it. I'm too tired to worry about it right now.'
'We are all tired, Emil.' A voice piped up from behind Evie. She turned to see a pretty golden haired girl, who gave a small smile as she met her gaze, before turning it back to the girl Emil in front. 'Stop being such a martyr.'
The brunette gave a look over her shoulder at Evie, then behind her to the red head, frowning.
'You have not worked half as hard as I have, Rayne. So don't even start with me.'
'Oh no, of course not,' the other girl replied smoothly, 'no one works as hard as you.'
Evie tried to suppress a grin at this, but not before the tall brunette, Emil, saw and glared at her, opening her mouth as if to say something.
One of the senior mages fell into line beside them, giving them all a stern look.
'Or if you seem to have so much energy, perhaps we can go another round in the Training Room?'
'No Mrs Lucia,' they all answered immediately in a calm monotone.
Of course, if you answered with too much zest and energy, you did indeed end up in the training room and noneof the girls wanted that.
The Learning Room was already full when they entered.
The amphitheatre was packed with girls, chattering and laughing amongst themselves – this immediately identified them as The Taught. The Taught were apprentices that had graduated and were on the verge of freedom. They had learned almost all the lore available, and now merely awaited their chance to advance into the outside world, unguided except for the occasional check up by one of the Great Masters or High Priestesses.
Most were older girls, in their late teens and early twenties, and all of their eyes swung to the younger Apprentices, most who ranged from Twelve to Sixteen Years of age.
The younger girls looked subdued and awkward under those knowing gazes, and all took their seats quickly, reverently before their older peers. A few girls stared gawkily, amazed and awed at being able to sit with these proud and aloof girls.
Evie stilled as she sat next to Rayne, the girl who had stood up to Emil. She met the strong and steady gaze of one of the Taught who sat across from her and a strange feeling stole over her.
A strange coiling and unfurling began in her lower belly and spread up her back and up her neck. Goosebumps erupted over her arms and she shivered involuntarily, breaking the eye contact forcibly, shivering as she looked down to her clasped hands on her lap.
It felt odd, wrong. A dark energy seemed to hit her, smothering what she guessed was her magic which trembled in the back of her consciousness.
'They aren't so special.' Rayne whispered to Evie, breaking the strange spell which had stolen over her, 'We will be them one day after all. Although... ' she paused, her voice curious, distant. 'They do feel different to the others...'
Evie glanced up at Rayne in wonder. So she felt it too?
Mrs Josi, one of the Apprentice's teachers stood at the podium at the front of the theatre, surveying all with a stern and watchful eye. She was a short lady of middle years with graying hair pulled severely back into a bun, and heavily lined brow drawn down over black glittering eyes. She was however, a kind sort compared to the other teachers, despite her hard appearance, and Evie did not mind her too much.
Mrs Josi waited until all had calmed, not moving from her spot, hands clasped lightly before herself, lips thin. Once the Apprentices' giggling and whispering had died down, she took a deep breath, and began.
'As you know, we do not often call you here together like this.'
Looks passed between the Taught and the Apprentices.
'And we do not gather our girls together such unless there is important news indeed to impart.
We have had news, that there has been a recent attack upon our Seers by what we can only guess are the Regulators.'
Gasps and whispered erupted around the room then, and a few of The Taught shushed the younger girls, trying to keep peace.
'The High Priestess in particular, Lady Eliza, was attacked last night while in Trance.'
A few more titters and gasps, but then amazed silence.
If one was attacked during Trance, it was usually a mental attack – one that could be done from a fair distance, and done through meditation and mind linking. To Trance was dangerous if not practiced correctly as one was vulnerable to mental or magical attack in this state. Unless you were a master, the chance of ending up a mad blubbering fool or lapsing into an endless coma was just too high. The Apprentices did not practice this Art without one of the teachers or Guides present.
'And so', Mrs Josi was saying, 'as such, we have had to take protective measures. We have Priestesses on their way to the halls to tend to the Lady. As the attack was one to her magic and mind, she is thus incapacitated, and so we have also called on some of the Great Masters to come to our aid also.
All requested assistance should hopefully arrive by noon tomorrow.'
'Are we unprotected until then Mrs Josi?'
One of the braver apprentices asked what they were all thinking.
'Your teachers are not entirely hopeless Miss Lane.'
A few laughs at the young girls expense, but then worried silence again.
'Do not fret, girls. If we are strong, and stick to our teachings we can overcome anything. Study as usual, work hard, and you should be fine.
However, due to the circumstances, we have cancelled tonight's Dance with the Boys School.'
This nugget of news was what drew the most groans and gasps of supreme disappointment.
Evie smiled humourlessly, not too worried about the loss and frankly glad she was going to get some sleep. She had never been so bone weary in all her life...
'Thank the Goddess for small mercies.' Rayne said under her breath and Evie outright laughed, sharing a shy smile with the other girl.
'Until assistance arrives tomorrow,' Mrs Josi continued firmly, 'I insist that you all stay within your rooms and study your teachings. Curfew begins at 7pm tonight, and lifts at 8am on the morrow. Dismissed.'
There was thoughtful chatter and sombre mumblings as the girls began to file from the hall, but Evie didn't move for many moments, pondering the news, and waiting for fewer people around her before she attempted to move.
'So,' Rayne asked from besides her, having not moved either. 'Are you going to study tonight?'
Evie laughed under her breath, shaking her head. 'No, I don't think so. I do not think I have ever been so tired before... I just want to sleep.'
Rayne smiled a beautiful warm smile and nodded, 'well, that makes two of us.' She paused, smiling wider and then cocking her head to one side, looking Evie up and down good naturedly said, 'Well, I'm Rayne.'
'Evelyn.' Evie volunteered shyly, raising her hand awkwardly in a half wave, and then instantly feeling stupid and lowering it again. 'But you can call me Evie...'
Rayne's smile didn't waver and she stood with a stretch, 'well,' she said with a yawn, 'guess we better follow the herd...'
Evie laughed and stood beside her new friend.
Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad here if she and Rayne could be friends.
**Thank you to those who have read my other work 'Through the Stone Archway' and encouraged me to continue with other works here. This work, like the Archway story, is hardly mind-blowingly original, and is just for amusement. I have been inspired by works such as Melanie Rawns Exiles Series ('Ruins of Ambrai' and 'The Mageborn Traitor') as well as Robert Jordan's series. I love magical and mythical elements, so this is just a little tale from worlds like those. I hope you get some enjoyment from what is to come however, and feedback is welcome **