Chapter 14: Private Lessons

Chapter 14: Private Lessons

The look in Elias’ eyes told X’andria that she ought not mention the conjuration of fire anymore within the walls of The Emporium. 

“It is a beautiful day,” she agreed, a little too loudly for the small Practicum space they were in, but effective, she felt, for any imaginary ears that might be eavesdropping on their conversation.

“Well then,” Elias smiled and suavely offered his arm, “shall we?”

X’andria managed a smile in return, but chose to fill both her arms with the books she had borrowed from the library.

“That is quite a story you were telling me, X’andria,” Elias said in a hushed voice once they were a safe distance from The Emporium. They headed east toward the coast, the docks, and Fish City. “What exactly did you see? It sounds fascinating.”

“Oh, it was incredible, Elias,” she whispered back, looking over her shoulder—Elias’ cautious behavior was infectious. “The fire just poured out of his fingertips in these roaring jets, and then it all swirled together over his head in a ball that got bigger and bigger and hotter and hotter.” X’andria was more animated now, as she recalled the vivid memory. “Then he flung it straight at us. But a strange man we’d met—Geoffrey, I think his name was—created some kind of magic wall, and the huge ball of fire hit the wall and spread out in every direction like it wanted to get through to incinerate us. It’s like the fire was alive, Elias!”

Elias had stopped walking abruptly and turned to face her. His expression was an odd combination of intrigue and, perhaps, longing.

“Oh, I know it sounds unbelievable,” she scrambled. “I was a little woozy and I’m not sure I really have it all exactly right. But that is pretty close to what I remember, and Elias,” X’andria leveled a sober stare straight into his dark-rimmed eyes, “I’m dying to know how it works.”

She couldn’t tell if he was sad, or thoughtful, or angry. Her story had definitely affected him deeply, and it seemed he was trying to choose his words carefully. They had resumed walking by the time he replied.

“I guess I’m just concerned for you, X’andria. If what you say is true, and I believe it is, it seems to me like you could have been in serious danger.” They were at the docks now, and Elias was looking out to sea as if he might find the right sentiment floating somewhere amongst the waves. Finally he continued, “I really like you, X’andria, and I just want you to be safe.”

Elias’ worry annoyed X’andria slightly, but she waited politely before replying, in a somber tone that seemed to echo his concern, “Thank you Elias. Seriously. But I’ll be alright. I’ve taken care of myself this far. One thing I have learned, though, is that there is much more knowledge out there. And don’t you think the more I understand, the safer I’m likely to be?”

More steps, more lapping waves, creaking docks and pungent smells. “There are powers,” Elias began darkly, “powers greater than we can imagine.” He spoke with new resolve now, as though he had made an important decision. “I will teach you what I know, X’andria, but we must never speak of this in The Emporium. In fact, it might be better if we stop seeing each other there altogether. Let’s meet here, at the docks, at midday tomorrow, and we can begin.”

 “Elias is just incredible!” X’andria enthused. Boudreaux and Arden were lounging in their small Westwood dwelling when she got in later that night. “He’s going to teach me starting tomorrow, I’m so excited.”

The two men traded glances over the top of their ales.

“What?” X’andria demanded defensively. “What was that look for?”

“Nothing, X’andria,” Arden recovered quickly, “That’s really great that he’s going to teach you. What are you hoping to learn?”

“Well, I’m so glad you asked.” X’andria sat upright now, her eyes gleaming. “First let me show you what he already taught me.”

“This might actually be good,” Boudreaux mumbled to Arden under his breath, his eyebrows raised suggestively, as X’andria fumbled for her small loop of gold wire.

Breathing slowly, and fixing her stare, X’andria focused first on her presence in the room, the energy in the space around her, and the energy in the air surrounding their cottage. Next she focused on Boudreaux’s horn of ale.

“Hey!” the big man sputtered as his ale floated quickly from his grasp and into hers. X’andria took a big gulp of the bubbly golden brew and let out a breathy, “Ahhhh.”

“I think I hate this guy,” Boudreaux pouted.

“You don’t even know him, Boudreaux. Elias is really nice, he’s super smart, and I think I will really learn a lot from him.”

“Come on, X’andria,” Boudreaux retorted, “Do you really think for a minute that he has anything on his mind other than getting his magic little fingers inside that bodice of yours?”

This, it turned out, was not the right thing to say. Not only was X’andria clearly furious, but her feelings were hurt as well.

Arden tried to mend things. “Boudreaux is just concerned for you, that’s all.”

For his part, Boudreaux stood and stalked across the room to find another horn to fill.

“Not all men think the way you do, Boudreaux,” X’andria fumed.

“Oh, I think you’ll find that they do, X’andria.” Boudreaux tried to strike a note of sincerity, “It’s just that not all men are honest about it.”

Thankfully they were both gone when she awoke the next morning. Ruprecht must have come back after she fell asleep, because he was snoring loudly as she prepared her breakfast. She gave him a long, sorrowful look before leaving quietly for the docks.

“I don’t have long today, X’andria.” Elias looked more exhausted than ever and was all business when she approached him. “But I have brought you something very special, very powerful, and very secret. Before I give it to you, you have to promise me a few things.”

“Of course, Elias,” she said earnestly.

“Promise me that you will take this straight home, that you will not bring it within the walls of The Emporium, and that you will show it to no one.”

“I promise,” X’andria intoned solemnly.

“I want you to read and memorize every rune and symbol on this parchment tonight.” Elias continued, “Return it to me here, this time tomorrow, and our lessons will commence.” And with that, Elias produced a thick roll of parchment and stuffed it quickly within her robes, as though sunlight might damage it, and then he turned and strode swiftly away.

Elias was not able to meet every day, but each meeting brought with it a revelation for X’andria. The scroll he had given her was a study of elemental fire. She had raced back to their cottage and poured over it like a child with a new favorite toy. She read the lines, and then closed her eyes and said them over and over in her head from memory. There were lists of critical components like wood or ash or flint or air, but the bulk of the treatise consisted of theories about how a focused mind might supply those elements from the ether if they were not physically present.

X’andria excelled at learning. When she focused, her mind could soak up complex details, and lock even the most intricate images into vivid memory. When she arrived at the docks the next day, she walked confidently up to her new teacher, gave him a wink, and said, “I got it,” before stealthily returning his precious parchment back to the inside of his robes.

They began with sparks. He assembled small piles of dry parchment, or leaves, or wood, and taught her, always breathing, eyes always open, shoulders always relaxed, to ignite the fuel with her thought alone.

After a few days wherein she lived and breathed and dreamed the invocation of flame, he presented her with a small silk bag that housed a piece of flint, a small square of parchment, and a pinch of ash.

Elias’ fingers were strong and surprisingly scarred and calloused. He and X’andria sat facing the sea on a rocky outcropping between two huge docks. He had grasped her hands in his, and was describing the precise form her fingers needed to take, the sensations she should expect, how she needed to hold her hands away from her body and point her palms away from anything flammable, so that nothing unexpected would catch fire the first time she called it forth.

Uncharacteristically, X’andria’s focus was drifting away from the content of Elias’ lesson, and came to rest instead on Elias himself. She was listening more to the rhythmic low rumble of his voice than to the words he was saying.

And she was enjoying herself immensely.

“Try it now,” he requested perfunctorily. Elias looked more and more drained each time she saw him. While his knowledge was vast, he had a demanding and sometimes harsh teaching style. His blue eyes, slightly bloodshot today, searched her green ones from just a few inches away.

“Alright, Elias,” she heard herself saying, and she elevated her hands before her, palms skyward.

“Wait,” Elias injected, “X’andria, you need to have the components in one hand.”

“Oh, of course!” she laughed. And she fished out the little silk bag and held it loosely in her left hand while extending her right. She looked intently at the space above her right palm. Then she involuntarily looked past the space at movement on the dock beyond.

And she froze.

“X’andria?” came Elias’ voice, echoing distantly as if from another world.

X’andria flashed back to her childhood. She was a little girl. She had dropped the tray with the cheeses. They were going to beat her and lock her up. She was hiding under the table. She was so scared she was trembling. She was completely powerless. She missed her mom so badly it ached inside her.

Her brain felt like it was overfilled with hot, heavy blood. Full to bursting. But her heart kept pumping more in. It felt like her ears were filling with blood. Like any moment, blood would pour from her nose and mouth.

“I know you’re scared, X’andria, but get over it, alright? I don’t have all day.” The distant voice impatiently scraped at the surface of her consciousness somewhere far away.

The man was enormous. He stalked toward them along the dock. He was menacing, a long, curved scimitar strapped to his waist. He came closer. But what terrified X’andria were the tattoos. She would recognize those tattoos anywhere. How could she ever forget? How could it be possible that they were here?In a fog, X’andria rose shakily to her feet. Heedless of Elias’ now insistent pleading, she stumbled backward up the rocky bank and ran blindly away as fast as her legs would carry her.


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