Summer is my favorite time of the year, especially in Solantha. I love taking my steambike out on evenings like this, racing up and down the streets and soaking in the sights and sounds of my city. The briny air turns warm and inviting, the fragrance of ripening fruit and blossoming flowers softens the stench that clogs some of the streets, and the city itself goes into full swing, livened up by merchants, artists and performers plying their wares.
But instead of racing through the streets on my steambike or chasing after bounties, I was in Solantha Palace getting my ass kicked. And if you were standing here with me, you wouldn’t even be able to tell it was summer.
“Sunaya!” Fenris called as I tucked and rolled across the wooden floor to avoid another frigid blast of magical energy. “You need to stop running away from the blasts!”
The ball of magic slammed into the wall behind me – or it would have, if the magical force field Iannis, the Chief Mage, had set up to protect the room hadn’t flared to life. Instead, it bounced right off the wall just as I sprang out of my crouch, and I twisted my body away hastily, putting Iannis right in the path of the evil, frigid missile.
The Chief Mage let out an annoyed sigh, then held up his hand. “Gya'llerantha!” he commanded, using one of the many Loranian Words I had yet to learn. Loranian was the magical language used in spellcasting, and the Words were incredibly difficult to memorize and pronounce. The ball of energy instantly changed shape, turning into a long tube of icy blue-white energy that Iannis sucked back up into his hand.
In seconds, it was as if the thing had never existed.
Frustrated, I bared my teeth at Fenris, who had opened his mouth to speak again. “Will you stop getting on my case about this?” I snapped. “I’d like to see you try to defend yourself against a ball of magic ice without freezing to death! Why don’t you get down here and try it?”
“Because you are the one wearing protective armor. I’m just the referee.” Fenris’s lips twitched briefly before he regained control of his stern countenance. “You’ve got to stop being afraid of spellcasting, Sunaya, and use it to your advantage. Otherwise you’ll never learn to properly defend yourself in a mages’ duel.”
“Gee,” I said sarcastically, slanting my gaze toward the Chief Mage. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say Fenris was my teacher, not you.”
The Chief Mage gave me a look that was drier than desert sand. “Perhaps if you focused on the lesson instead of allowing yourself to be distracted by petty matters, you would be able to defeat me.”
I rolled my eyes, then shot out my hand and blasted him with a fireball. The blue-green sphere screamed across the room, heating up the frigid air by several degrees as it barreled straight toward the Chief Mage. But unlike me, he didn’t duck and roll out of the way, or even blink a single one of his long, dark lashes. He simply raised his hand again and blasted it with another stream of ice.
“That is so not fair.” I glared at Iannis as a fine mist rained down from where the fireball had been, sprinkling the wooden floorboards. “If you’d just allow me to use my magic directly, instead of having to remember all these stupid incantations, this duel would already be over.”
“You already know why you can’t do that.” Iannis folded his arms across his broad chest, tucking his long-fingered hands into his voluminous sleeves. He looked every inch the mage, dressed in a set of flowing blue and gold robes, his dark cherry wood hair pulled back from his handsome face into a low tail. I, on the other hand, looked more like a scrapper underneath the magical armor I wore, dressed in a pair of leather pants, lace-up boots, and a short-sleeved striped shirt, my mass of curly black hair flying all about as I moved. The Chief Mage had tried to get me into a set of robes once, but he’d failed miserably, so instead he kept giving me disapproving looks whenever I showed up for my training sessions – a vain attempt to shame me into wearing apprentice robes.
Just because I was half-mage didn’t mean that I was going to start dressing like one, even if I was Iannis’s apprentice. One could argue that since he was the Chief Mage and the governor of Canalo I had to make him look good in exchange for the honor of being his apprentice. But I didn’t ask for any of this, and if I’d had my way I would still be out on the streets hunting down bounties and masquerading as a full-blooded shifter with no one the wiser. Not to mention those ugly dun-colored apprentice robes were so not my style. No way was I putting them on.
Getting out of spellcasting would be harder though, and I knew it. There were two ways to use the magical energy inside of me – one was by directing it with my thoughts, and the other was to use Loranian, the ancient language of magic used in spellcasting. I preferred the first method as it was faster and more intuitive, but I could last much longer in a duel using incantations than just blasting out energy with my mind. Like it or not, I had to learn how to do this if I was going to master my magic.
“Again,” Iannis commanded, then immediately blasted me with another ball of ice magic.
This time I stood my ground, ignoring my shifter instincts, which were screaming at me to get the fuck out of there. As a species, jaguar shifters are fierce warriors, but we don’t do magical duels. But as I was continuously reminded, I was also half mage, and I needed to start acting like one.
Mimicking the Chief Mage, I held up my hand and spoke the Loranian incantation he’d taught me, focusing my attention on the icy ball of energy hurtling toward me. The crystalline ball evaporated into a puff of steam, but I didn’t have time to celebrate – as soon as it was gone Iannis hurtled another one at me.
“You know,” I shouted at him after I’d dissipated the second missile, “if you lightened my workload at the Mages Guild I would have more time to practice my Loranian!” Feeling spiteful, I hurled another fireball in his direction.
“A likely story.” Iannis gave me a skeptical look as he snatched the fireball right out of the air, breaking his rule of using only elemental-type spells – we’d agreed to that for the duration of the duel since Iannis knew far more spells than me, in an attempt to keep things fair. The fiery ball floated just above his palm before he spoke a Word that snuffed it out.
“You and I both know that if I went looking for you, I would find you at the Enforcer’s Guild begging Captain Galling for a docket.”