Altheia reached the edge of the forest. She was cold and shivering, with wet clothes. She looked at the black mountains in the distance. They looked no closer.
How far away are they? she thought. She rested for a few minutes in the pouring rain, as she felt tired and hungry. This is undoubtedly human country. I will not see another Nino Oro for miles. After she had rested she started to walk along the track towards those still distant black mountains. She soon came to a cliff, and so walked along the cliff path for a while. She stopped at a junction, and glanced down the path she was on. It looked like it lead to a village. A human village. She didn't want to go through one; she would stand out like a sore thumb. She looked at the other path that headed down the cliff. That seemed a better option. It headed more towards the mountains, and it looked almost uninhabited, except for one house.
Altheia shivered, as a storm broke over her She had already been in one rainstorm a few hours ago. She had partially dried off from that one, but this storm looked much more serious. Suddenly she jumped as a fork of lightning leapt across the sky, followed almost immediately by a massive clap of thunder. The lower I get, the safer I will be from the lightning, she thought, and headed off down the cliff path, shivering violently.
Susanna heard the storm break over her house, and turned to Aran.
"I would hate to be out in this."
"Me too. Should I light the fires?"
Susanna nodded. "Yes please."
Aran muttered a word, and the kitchen fire exploded into life.
There was a pause. Aran looked out of the window at the weather.
Suddenly he asked "Who is that outside?"
"The person outside."
Susanna walked over to the window and peered out.
"I don't know, to be honest. She doesn't look like a local though. Must be a traveller."
Altheia stumbled along the path, unable to see in front of her very much. She longed for some food and a hot drink, but there was none. She shivered again, and pulled her sodden cloak closer around her. But it didn't warm her up. It made her colder.
She suddenly felt slightly faint. Her legs suddenly felt like jelly, and they couldn't support her any more. She fell into a muddy puddle, and felt her eyes slowly closing. She couldn't keep them open??lt;br>
"The person just collapsed!" cried Susanna. "We have got to help. Come on!"
She rushed into the hall, and grabbed her cloak. She quickly put it on and ran out into the pouring rain. Aran followed her, and between them they lifted Altheia and carried her into the house. They put her in the spare bedroom, and Aran stoked up the fire. Susanna removed Altheia's cloak, and put it in the kitchen to dry off along with her own cloak and Aran's. She walked back into the spare bedroom, and Aran went to get a cup of hot soup for Altheia. Susanna placed her hands on her patient, and closed her eyes.
She put some of her magic into Altheia, and chased the icy white pneumonia out of her veins. There were dark green strands as well, which Susanna assumed must be some magic that she possessed. While Susanna worked and healed Altheia, Altheia's lips slowly changed colour from blue to pink. Her breathing became slower, and she stopped shivering. Color returned to her face.
Susanna opened her eyes, and was pleased to see the changes that had come over Altheia. She put her to bed, and drew the curtains. That girl doesn't look quite human, she thought. I wonder if she is??lt;br>Aran walked back in with three cups of soup.
"I thought that we probably needed them too."
Susanna grinned, and took one cup. "Thanks Aran."
"That's okay. How's the patient?"
"She is fine. I have got rid of the pneumonia, and I couldn't find any traces of other diseases."
Altheia stirred, and slowly opened her blue eyes. She brushed her ginger hair out of her face. Where was she? What had happened to her? How did I get her? Who were the two people standing nearby?
"How are you?" asked the woman.
"I'm weak." Altheia answered. "Where am I?"
"You are in my house," replied the woman. "You collapsed outside, and so we brought you in and healed you."
"What's your name?" asked the man.
"Altheia. Altheia Summers."
"Well, I am Susanna Silverbreeze," said the woman, and this is Aran Firestorm."
"Are you human?"
Susanna nodded. "Yes we are. Are you elfish?"
Altheia shook her head. "No. I am Nino Oro."
Aran looked at her questioningly.
"We used to be elves, but a wizard experimented on some of us. He changed them into Nino Oros."
There was a pause for a minute.
"Would you like your soup?"
"Yes please! I'm starving!" Altheia sat up in bed, and took the cup of soup from Susanna. As she drank it, she felt much warmer.
"Thanks," she said between gulps. "It?een a long time since I had anything hot to eat."
Aran looked very pleased.
"Why were you out there in this weather?" asked Susanna, curious.
Altheia stopped drinking her soup for a moment. "My parents died in a fire and my house was burned down for harbouring a human. I didn't. So I decided to head for the mountains. There was no reason to stay in a village where I was meant to be dead. If they had known I was alive they probably would have killed me some other way."
Sadness filled her eyes for a moment, before she went back to drinking her soup. Soon she had finished it.
"What have you been living on?" asked Aran curiously.
"Berries and nuts mostly. Not very filling. I don't know how to hunt, or can't do magic, so I couldn't feed myself any other way."
"Why can't you do magic?" demanded Susanna. "After all, you have it in you."
"Have I?" Altheia replied. "I didn't know that. I have never seen any signs of it before." Altheia paused, and the asked Susanna how she knew.
"I saw it when I was healing you. Thin dark green strands of it."
Altheia stared at her own hand, as though searching for these mysterious dark green strands.
"So you haven't been trained?" asked Aran.
Altheia shook her head.
Aran threw a sideways glance at Susanna.
Oh no. They probably don't want me in the house??ught Altheia.
"Untrained magic can be dangerous. Do you want training?"
Altheia nodded eagerly. "Yes please! I would like to be able to do magic. My mother...."
But she stopped there. Memories of her mother were painful.
Susanna saw Altheia's sadness return, and sat down next to her. "Tell me about it."
Altheia slowly told the story to Susanna and Aran, but, when she got to how her parents had died, burst into tears. Susanna put her arms around Altheia and gave her a hug. Altheia buried her head in Susanna's shoulder and wept.
A few minutes later Altheia sat back and wiped her eyes. She finished the story.
"And that's how I got here."
Susanna squeezed Altheia's hand. "You did well. Very well indeed. I couldn't have done it. Well done Altheia."
Altheia smiled. "Thanks."
"Now, you get some sleep. You have a long day of training tomorrow."
Aran smiled at Altheia, and stood up. Susanna did too.
Susanna woke to see the morning light streaming in her window. She closed her eyes again. The light hurt too much. Suddenly all of the memories of last night flooded back to her. How Altheia was sleeping in the spare room, and Aran was sleeping in the living room, and the tragic story they had heard last night. How Altheia needed training for her magic. After she had thrown some cold water over her face and go dressed, she walked out of her bedroom. The living room door opened and Aran stumbled out, looking half asleep even if he was dressed.
Aran grunted, and walked off to the bathroom. Soon he returned.
Susanna grinned. "That's more like it."
Aran smiled, and kissed her quickly, before wandering into the kitchen. Susanna quietly opened the door t the spare bedroom and peered inside. Altheia was still asleep.
I'll let her sleep. I think she needs it.
She put some fresh clothes in Altheia's room which she reckoned would fit her. Then she took Altheia's clothes and hung them in front of the smouldering fire. After all this she quietly closed the door again, and went to see what Aran was getting for breakfast.
About an hour later Altheia slowly woke. Memories flooded back to her. She was going to be trained in magic today! Feeling slightly stiff, she got up. She looked for her clothes, and saw they were hanging up in front of the fire. She walked over to them, and found they were still quite damp. She thought for a second. What should she wear? Looking around the room, she saw a neat pile of clothes. She looked through them. Choosing some, she put them on and walked out of her bedroom. She could hear sounds from the kitchen. She walked into the kitchen and saw Susanna and Aran sitting at the table eating breakfast.
"Like some?" asked Aran. "There is some for you."
Altheia looked where he had pointed. Seeing some for her, she took it and sat down next to Susanna.
"Is Aran your boyfriend?"
Susanna replied that he was.
Aran smiled. "I know what you are thinking. I stayed in the living room all night. And Susanna stayed in her bedroom."
Altheia grinned cheekily. So??t about this training?"
"We'll start after breakfast." Susanna replied.
Breakfast was tidied out of the way and then Altheia walked out into the sunshine, accompanied by Aran and Susanna. They sat down underneath a spreading oak tree.
"First things first. Altheia, you have to be familiar with handling your magic. So close your eyes and breathe slowly."
Altheia did as Susanna told her. She closed her eyes and started to breathe slowly. Susanna's voice seemed like a gentle breeze filtering through to her.
"Now let yourself go."
Altheia did, and jumped. She opened her eyes.
"What is it?" asked Aran.
"There was green stuff everywhere. I couldn't see anything except for green strands."
Susanna smiled. "That's your magic, Altheia. You mustn't be afraid of it? It is in you. Now try again."
She tried again, and stopped herself from opening her eyes. She could see thin green strands erupting from a sort of well inside herself. She felt Susanna's hand on her shoulder. What is happening?" Altheia asked.
"I'm seeing what you can see. You have certainly got a lot of magic there," replied Susanna.
"Thanks." Suddenly Altheia realised she wasn't using her mouth to speak, and felt rather puzzled. She was thinking the words rather than saying them, and yet Susanna could hear her. She tried again. How come I am talking to you without speaking?
She heard an airy laugh in her mind. It is called telepathy, said the soft breezes. It is talking with the mind. I can only do it when I am touching someone. But if someone talks to me when I am not in contact with them, and then I can answer.
Altheia thought about this for a moment. Telepathy? Only mages could do that. She wasn't a mage. Then she mentally hit herself. She was. She had magic in her. She decided to see if she could talk to people without touching them. She concentrated hard. Aran?, She heard a roaring voice. The heat of a fire burst over her, warming her. What? I was wondering if I could talk to people without touching them. I can! Well done, said Aran, Perphaps we'll make a mage of you yet! Altheia smiled.
Altheia opened her eyes. Another man was standing over her. "Who are you?" she squeaked.
The man laughed. "I, Miss Summers, am your new trainer, Niko Chandeler."
Susanna and Aran opened their eyes.
"Hi Niko," said Susanna, grinning. "Come to join us?"
Niko nodded. He sat down next to Altheia.
"Altheia can do telepathy already. She's a quick learner."
"She doesn't need physical contact either. She was talking to me," Aran said, evidently impressed.
Niko looked surprised. "Well well."
Altheia looked proud of her achievement.
"Susanna and Aran, you need not stay any more."
Susanna and Aran smiled, and stood up. They walked back inside her house.
"Now, Altheia. Put your hands in mine so that I can see what you are seeing. Then do what Susanna and Aran taught you."
She did. She quickly saw her magic in front of her.
What should I do now, Niko?
Sort the strands out in your mind. Make them untangle themselves. While they are tangled you wont be able to do much.
Okay answered Altheia.
She put her mind to work. She concentrated on one thread, teasing it out from the rest. It took a lot of time and effort. Once that was done, she tugged on another. They formed an even tighter knot. She tried to force it to come out, and when it didn't, she mentally screamed in frustration.
Patience, came Niko's reassuring voice. Altheia suddenly felt much calmer and more cheerful. Looking around, she saw some bronze colour strands.
What are they?
She could feel Niko smiling. That is my magic. It is there to calm you a bit. And so you don't kill yourself with too much effort.
Some people have been known to use too much magic and so throw their life into casting magic too.
Altheia was shocked. I never knew it was so dangerous. But I am not doing magic am I? Magic is about casting spells isn't it?
This is magic just as casting spells is magic, replied Niko.
Okay, said Altheia, and went back to teasing and coaxing the threads of her magic to untie the knot. First one thread, and then another sprang out of their knot. Pleased at that, Altheia concentrated on the next few threads. She managed it quicker this time. She was getting used to it. She felt Niko leave her. She wanted to carry on.
Niko shook her. With no response, he shook her harder. She shook him off.
"I must do this Altheia. To wake you up from the mess you have got yourself into."
He muttered a word, and Altheia floated into the air. With a snipping motion, he dropped Altheia.
Altheia jumped. Where had the green threads gone? She must find them. They were her life. She opened her eyes.
"Ah. There you are."
"What did you do that for?" she asked crossly.
"To wake you up from that spell."
"I didn't need it."
"Look, Altheia," he said, sitting down next to her. "When you are doing magic, you have to be careful that you don't get too deeply buried in it. If you do, it can be very hard to get you out."
"I wasn't that deep? Was I?" she asked uncertainly.
"You were quite deep. It was my fault. I didn't get you out of it soon enough, but you were doing so well.
Altheia grinned. "Was I?"
Niko nodded. "One of the best students I have seen for many years."
Altheia blushed. She was very pleased with herself.
"Come on. Lets get back to the house."
The training continued for a month or more. Altheia managed a few basic spells. Niko, seeing her eagerness to train her magic, and her longing to do healing, taught her how to heal and some defensive spells like creating walls to deflect magic or weapons.
Niko had thought about her long and hard. Her magic was not very powerful nearly as powerful as Susanna's or Aran's, but it was very much defensive magic. It wasn't able to be used against people in large amounts. But she had to be able to protect herself. So he had hit upon some very useful attacking spells that didn't need large amounts of magic to carry out. He had taught them to Altheia, who was very grateful for them.
He knew that almost everyone's magic had a speciality. Altheia's, though, was definitely mind magic. Those spells were much more complicated, yet he thought she would be able to manage them. She had such a strong force of mind, that these spells would have massive power. So one day, he started to teach her the more complicated spells of mind control, breaking spells by willpower, and disabling a sense like sight or hearing.
After Altheia had got the hang of the spells, Susanna offered to be the person being controlled. Aran looked very uncomfortable at this preposition. Susanna's offer was accepted, and so they headed outside. Susanna and Altheia stood a little way apart. Altheia concentrated on what she was doing, and took some of her green magic. She muttered a word, and threw it to Susanna. Susanna suddenly jerked to attention.
Susanna tried to fight Altheia's grip, to put up a shield, to do something, but nothing responded. Even her thoughts slowed down. Altheia, seeing that the spell was working, muttered one more word, and Susanna clutched her eyes. She couldn't see anything. She could do things now, but she couldn't see a single thing. And she had her eyes open. She cried out to stop it, but her voice had gone too. She stumbled forwards, and slammed into a tree trunk. She stopped dead, and put her hands on the tree. She couldn't feel anything. She listened for someone's reassuring voice, but there was nothing. Silence roared in her ears. Loneliness attacked her, and she collapsed, feeling helpless to do anything. Madness quickly overtook her, and she drew her sword and ran around, attacking the air in the hope it might hit that horrible little Susanna or her idiot of a boyfriend, or that bigheaded mage.
Altheia was pleased that her spell had worked. She had tried to block off all of the senses, and had managed it. She was grateful to Niko, Aran and Susanna for trainning her. For the first time, she felt in control of the situation. It felt good to be have that power but dangerous as well. She made a promise to herself to never use the more dangerous spells unless she really had to. Then she remembered her spellbook. She took it out of the backpack and flipped through it. Some of the pages that were once blank, now had writting on them. That is strange, she thought. Those weren?here before.
Now it was time to say goodbye. Aran, Susanna, and Niko stood in front of the house to wish Altheia farewell. The young magess started to cry as she hugged Niko first. "Thank you for training me." The action surprised Niko. He awkwardky hugged her back. "You are welcome, child." Susanna and Aran stood together. Altheia shook Aran's hand and hugged Susanna. "Thank you for everything you have done for me. I will never forget it." Susanna hugged her back. "It has been wonderful having you for the last six months. Take care of yourself, O.K? Write us once in awhile and tell us how you are doing. Maybe come back and visit some time."
"I will." Altheia promised. She turned and walked towards the woods. Before she reached the path, she turned and waved to her friends one last time then disappeared into the woods. Once again, she was traveling through the forest. I wonder where I will end up next, she thought. Where will my destiny lead me?
Avalon Publication (September 2000)