When I set out to write Petition, I had no idea what the story was going to be about. I opened a blank document, named it ‘Chapter 1’ and started writing.
Once I got to ‘The End’ though, I knew I needed to open with something else. I wanted the very beginning of the book to read like a condensed version of the whole story. Something that would clearly state the themes, introduce the important characters, and show the range of what my writing has to offer.
Since I read and write epic fantasy, my solution was a prologue. One that was set five years before the events of the first chapter—on the day Rahelu and her parents arrive in the city of Ennuost Yrg, written from young Rahelu’s perspective.
The original ending of the book didn’t have Lhorne’s memory of meeting Rahelu during the Guild entrance tests; that event didn’t exist when I first wrote it. This old prologue is the very last thing I wrote during the rough draft process, after which I went and backfilled the details in the final chapter.
It went through two structural revisions, before I made the call to delete it from the book. I ultimately did so for many reasons:
- All of my beta readers missed the five-year time skip between the prologue and the first chapter, causing quite a bit of confusion over continuity.
- There’s a very stark difference in POV between young Rahelu and present day Rahelu. That was deliberate on my part, but it was jarring for beta readers, who wanted to see her transformation.
- It hit too many of the same narrative and character beats as the opening of the book.
- It set beta readers up to expect “magic school” when I’d written a post-magic school story (i.e. “fantasy job interviews”).
- It came in at ~5,800 words long, which is short story length, well beyond what’s appropriate for a prologue.
It needs a few more passes for characterization (Rahelu reads way younger than she should), the emotional arc (this is not really working), and to offer something new—something that deepens your understanding of the characters and/or the world that you don’t already get from reading Petition.
Someday, when I have time to do those revisions on it, I might publish it as a standalone short story. But for now, it’s a deleted prequel, where I consider the events more or less canon.
The Resonance Guild
Petition Day, the 22nd day of early summer, 525 A.E./A.F.
Rahelu was so glad to be done with traveling at last. She couldn’t wait to see her new home. Ennuost Yrg was a port city, her parents had said, tucked in between two enormous rivers at the end of a sheltered bay that led out to the sea.
She’d never seen the sea, but she’d grown up on a lake. The sea was supposed to be much, much bigger and it was supposed to have a thousand different kinds of fish, and her father had promised to take her out to see them as soon as her parents found themselves a new boat.
Rahelu hopped impatiently on one foot as the guards waved her family in through the great western gates of the city. “Can I go now?” She tried to pull her hand out of her mother’s grasp.
Her mother wasn’t paying attention to her. “Perhaps one of us should go with her.”
“You know we cannot. The House will want to assess you in person.” Rahelu’s father ruffled her hair. “Rahelu knows what to do. Don’t you, nela?”
“Of course I do!” Rahelu scowled, patting down her hair. “I’m twelve now, that’s old enough to build my own raft.”
“You know the way?” asked her mother.
“I follow this road east all the way to Market Square. From there, I go left at the big statue, then right and—”
“Left at the well, then right when you see the Guild’s sandstone walls,” her mother corrected. “You weren’t listening again.”
Onneja had said Ennuost Yrg was built like a big circle, so it didn’t really matter when she turned left; she would find her way to the Guild sooner or later.
“Yes I was,” Rahelu said, trying to Project a bubble of calm around herself, just like Onneja had shown her. But her resonance aura stayed a pale yellow, without the faintest wisp of a blue-gray to Obfuscate her guilt.
She ducked, but she wasn’t quick enough to avoid her mother’s hand. The slap landed on her cheek with a light smack, leaving a stinging red mark.
“We’re not in our village anymore. This city is full of mages. If an untrained fisher like me can Seek out the lie you’re telling, you can bet they’ll know before you even open your mouth.”
“I was just practicing,” Rahelu said as she rubbed her cheek. Her resonance aura turned a sullen gray, without even the slightest hint of blue in it. Why wasn’t her Projection working?
“Stay on the main streets. Wait for us at the Guild; we will come and find you as soon as we can. Don’t go off wandering by yourself.”
“I know,” Rahelu said. “I’ll be good, I promise.”
“Do you have—”
“Yes!” Rahelu took their last bit of food out of her trouser pocket—smoked fish wrapped inside bamboo leaves—and waved it at her mother. “And I won’t talk to any strangers, except to ask directions if I get lost. Which I won’t.” Her mother was about to speak again so Rahelu hurriedly went on. “But if I did, I know exactly how to ask for directions,” and then she rattled off the string of Aleznuaweithish words she had memorized: ‘help’, ‘Guild’ and the different cardinal directions.
Her father gently prised her mother’s fingers away from Rahelu’s hand. “She will be fine, avela.” He squatted down so she could look at him, eye to eye, and pulled out the leather coin pouch he kept in his tunic. He undid the drawstrings with thick, calloused fingers and drew out a shining silver coin. One side had a sign of three concentric circles surrounded by seven flames stamped into its center, with symbols etched all around its edges.
She couldn’t read them—they were Aleznuaweithish letters, not Chanazian glyphs (not that she could read many of those)—and her parents couldn’t either. Onneja had said the letters were a date: the fifth day of truespring in the 523rd year after exile, though the Aleznuaweite preferred to use the term ‘founding’ instead. A special day—the day Atriarch Relk of House Isilc had become the new Exalted Dominance over all Aleznuaweite.
It had also been the day her parents sold everything they owned but could not carry with them on the long, two-year journey to Ennuost Yrg.
It was lucky. A sign of the Starfather’s blessing on their family.
“Here,” her father said, putting the coin in her palm and closing her fingers over it. He tucked the little bag back inside his tunic—it looked so sad now, there was hardly anything left inside—and smiled. “Go and show them what you can do while your mother and I find our new home. We’ll see you in a few spans.”
Her father brushed one finger over the fading red mark on her cheek, then stood and ushered her mother down a smaller street that led southeast. He didn’t look back, but her mother did, with her lips pulled into a thin line, as if she still had a long list of advice, reminders, and warnings to give. But her father leaned over to whisper something in her mother’s ear and her mother turned away without another word.
Rahelu continued east, clutching the coin so hard in her fist that her knuckles turned white. The streets here were full of hand carts and wagons trundling along with heavy loads of water casks, cut wood, and produce. Everybody crowded to one side; for every stride east, she had to take five or six strides to go around somebody else or wait a few hundred heartbeats for a gap to appear.
At this rate, she would never get to the Guild. She wove her way through the crowd until she broke through into the clear middle of the street, between two groups of six or eight or ten people carrying enormous boxes. Big enough to fit three or four people inside and draped with long pieces of see-through cloth mounted on long thick wooden poles.
This was much better. Why wasn’t anyone else doing the same?
She trotted after the box ahead of her and when she drew close, she saw that there were three shadows inside: two tall enough to be grown-ups and someone smaller, with a head full of very large, frizzy hair that puffed out like a bubblefish.
A heartbeat later, a wave of pale orange swept through the ambient resonance. The Projection didn’t go very far from the floating box, perhaps three or four strides into the street, but it caught Rahelu in its swell, and she was drawn to the small shadow like a fish on a hook.
Who was inside that floating box, draped with thin cloth the color of sunset and cream? It was so bright and pretty, with the way ruby lengths fluttered out behind the box like lakegrass in the Elumaje’s currents, the different folds overlapping each other and the colors combining so each fold looked to be a slightly different shade. There were little bits of resonance crystal woven into the fabric too, so it shimmered in the eartharc sun, like dawn frost on pine.
Rahelu put the precious coin away, tucking it inside her breastband where it should be safe from pickpockets. She ran along the street, trying to keep up with the measured, long-legged strides of the eight people carrying the box, straining to keep her eyes on the small figure inside.
Was it another girl? Would she want to be friends?
Rahelu hoped so.
It had been so long since she’d had any friends. They had kept moving from town to town for the last two years, never staying in one place for more than a few nights.
She missed Anenje. A lot. Anenje was somewhere here, in Ennuost Yrg, but it had been years and years since she’d seen her and Anenje would be eighteen now. A woman and a Supplicant of the Houses, too old and too important to play games with Rahelu, if she even remembered who Rahelu was.
Maybe the girl (she really hoped it was a girl) in the floating box was going to be a trainee at the Guild too. They could study the resonance disciplines together! The Projection was so strong, like a real mage’s Projection. Whoever the girl was, she must be very talented.
The floating box paused at an intersection where the road branched off into four directions and Rahelu had her chance. She ran up to the side where the smaller shadow was sitting, ducking in between two of the box’s bearers, and lifted the glittering curtain.
And it was a girl and she was about Rahelu’s age and she wore her tight brown curls loose so they looked like a glossy cloud surrounding her sunny face. She had two small gold hoops in her earlobes, each set with a handful of tiny resonance crystals, and two matching bangles on her wrists. Her tunic was dyed a brilliant red, like coral, and a pebble-sized resonance crystal rested on her breast, dangling from a silver chain around her neck.
She was beautiful. And the man and the woman who sat inside the floating box with her were beautiful too, in their robes of coral-and-sand, and they both wore pendants set with huge resonance crystals, at least three times bigger than the one on the girl’s necklace. Her parents?
“Hello!” Rahelu said with a bright smile. “My name is Rahelu. Was that Projection from you? It was amazing!”
The girl stared back at her.
Rahelu flushed and switched over from Chanazian to the little Aleznuaweithish she had picked up during their travels. “I…Rahelu. Guild. You?”
The girl opened her mouth to respond, hesitated then looked at her parents. The woman’s eyes were closed—mage trance—while the man studied the sheaf of parchment in his hands, with his brows drawn together.
When the girl spoke, her quick speech was almost birdlike: a thin, reedy warble with an upward lilt at the end.
Rahelu only understood one word but it was the most important one. She nodded so eagerly that her head felt like it would fall off her neck and said, “Yes, friend!” and all her pent-up yearning burst out of her in a half-formed Evocation:
Two girls laugh as they splash through the sunlit shallows of a lake, chasing a silver-blue fish.
The girl returned a hint of her smile.
The man glanced up from his papers with a frown and did not look at his daughter or Rahelu. He merely rapped his knuckles three times against the wooden beam beside him. When he spoke in his low, clipped voice, he was focused on his papers. Words fell out of his mouth like sharp rocks and her new friend wilted beneath each one like a starbloom being trampled by many careless feet.
Rahelu was in the middle of stringing broken words together in another question when rough hands grabbed her from behind.
“Hey!” she said as one of the box bearers lifted her like a sack of rice and carried her away. “Ow! What are you doing?” She hammered her fists on the man’s back. “Let me go!”
“Little girl, a warning,” he hissed. His Chanazian was awful. “Stay away from the”—he used an Aleznuaweithish word she didn’t know—“if you know what’s good for you.” He shoved her towards a side street and rushed back to his fellows.
Rahelu peered into the alleyway. It was a dim, cramped thoroughfare even in the daylight; a narrow gap that ran north between the neat wooden buildings on either side. A sharp bend prevented her from seeing through to the other side but the way was clear and wide enough for her.
It’d be much faster than dodging all those overburdened travelers and farmers pulling handcarts and apprentices shouldering large pails of water down the main road.
She had promised.
Her stomach rumbled as she turned back into the crowd, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. Rahelu glanced around as she chewed on her smoked fish slowly, trying to make it last. Everyone seemed a lot more subdued than they had been before. The dull yellow hum in their resonance auras seeped out into the ambient resonance and made her skin itch, like it was crawling with ants.
She quickened her pace (her heart did the same), trying to stay ahead of the growing haze of yellow and the sound of many heavy footsteps approaching in her wake. Someone behind her shouted—more Aleznuaweithish she didn’t understand—and she turned to look over her shoulder.
A whole troop of mages, at least a dozen strong, trooped down the street. They all wore leather armbands, studded with resonance crystal, and most of them wore rings or necklaces set with crystals the size of her thumb, though two carried mage-staffs topped with crystals the size of her fist. And every single mage bore weapons: swords and axes and maces and flails in addition to knives and daggers, as well as one who wore a quiver full of arrows and carried an great bow taller than Rahelu and another who had a long whip with an ivory bone handle on his belt.
One of the mages—a rangy, muscular youth whose arms and neck and even his face were carved all over with a twisting network of raised scars—was glaring at her, gesturing rapidly with his free hand as he shouted ‘you’ then ‘fuck’ and something else.
She scrambled to get out of his way but she wasn’t fast enough.
The scarred mage lifted her bodily with one hand and threw her aside.
Rahelu slammed shoulder-first into a tailor and his handcart. She cried out, raised her arms over her head, and curled up as small as she could. Fabric rained down from above and, to her left, the crackling red heat flooded through the ambient resonance a heartbeat before someone pinched her ear and yanked her clear of the bolts of cotton, linen, and silk scattered all over the street.
More yelling. More blows rained down on her shoulders and her head, far more than she could block on her arms. She tried to run and somebody dragged her back by her hair. Several kicks in her side and her stomach, each more savage than the last. Her cries became screams which turned into whimpers and then sobbing until the rain stopped and there was only the sound of muttered curses that she didn’t understand and the quiet cursing of the tailor as he picked up his dirtied wares.
Rahelu crawled away and this time, nobody stopped her. A few strides later, she forced herself up on shaking limbs and staggered off the main thoroughfare, fleeing through a maze of smaller alleyways, until she found a quiet, deserted lane between two buildings tall enough to block out the sun entirely where she could tuck herself away in a gap between a cask of rainwater and the wall.
She didn’t know how long she sat there, in the dark, sniffling—she only stopped and looked up when she sensed that she was no longer alone.
A boy in tattered clothes stood between her and the way out. He was thin, thinner than she was, his cheeks gaunt and stained with grime, and behind him, she saw several other urchins. All of them were barefooted and looked her over with gleaming eyes, their resonance auras humming with orange curiosity.
He smiled at her as he spoke, showing a mouth full of yellowed, jagged teeth.
“Sorry,” Rahelu said. She didn’t know the word for ‘understand’ or ‘Aleznuaweithish’ in Aleznuaweithish. “I…no?” she tried instead.
That was the best she could do.
He switched to speaking something else. Not Aleznuaweithish, with its hard sounds and long, drawn-out words. Not Chanazian either. Some other speech with the clipped ends of Aleznuaweithish but the vowels were rounded, like Chanazian, with some more guttural noises mixed in.
Rahelu shook her head again, then switched to Chanazian. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
The boy’s smile grew wider. “You are new?” he asked.
His Chanazian was heavily accented, the words cut off unnaturally short, but he understood her. He understood her!
She nodded back eagerly. “I’m Rahelu,” she said.
“Welcome, Rahelu,” he said, holding his hand out to her.
He didn’t give her his name. The girl in the floating box hadn’t either, so maybe that wasn’t something people did here.
“Are you lost?” Yellow Teeth asked.
She took his hand and let him help her up. “Yes,” she said, doing her best to brush off her tunic and trousers. They weren’t so clean anymore, being covered with dirt and road dust, and there was a large green-brown stain down the front which smelled like animal dung.
Her mother would be furious.
“Tell us where you’re going,” Yellow Teeth said. “We can take you there.”
“The Resonance Guild,” she said. “I’m supposed to enroll for training.”
He nodded, waving for her to follow. “This way,” he said, and he led her down so many twists and turns that she lost track of her directions. They squeezed through narrow gaps between roughly built wooden houses, ducked underneath flapping clotheslines, and clambered over tiled rooftops—more than once, Rahelu’s wooden sandals slipped and she would have fallen off, but for another older, taller boy with scruffy black hair.
Eventually, they came to a stop by a tavern at the mouth of an alley that stank of piss and rotting food.
Her guide pointed to the street. “From here, you can take this road. Turn left at the end, then cross over to the square and you will see the Guild. You won’t be able to miss it—it’s Petition Day so the place will be full of applicants.”
“Thank you,” she said, moving towards the exit.
Scruffy grabbed her by her arm.
“Before you go,” Yellow Teeth said, “you need to pay us.”
Rahelu blinked. “Pay?” She frowned and tugged at her arm but the other boy held on. “That’s not fair,” she said. “You didn’t tell me I had to pay for your help.”
“What, did you expect us to do all that for free?” Yellow Teeth laughed, said something in Aleznuaweithish, and his entire gang sniggered along with him. “No such thing as free here. You want something, you pay.”
“Let go of me,” she said, wrapping one hand around Scruffy’s wrist and yanking, for all the good that it did. He had to have been at least three or years older and was much, much stronger.
“No,” Scruffy said, drawing out the harsh Aleznuaweithish word, and tightened his grip on her arm.
“We’re not fussy,” Yellow Teeth said. “Either coin or food will do.”
Rahelu was suddenly conscious of the shining silver coin that rested against her heart, which skipped a beat at the thought. She pulled out the empty bamboo leaf packet from her trouser pocket instead.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have any,” she said, trying to raise that blue-gray bubble again.
Onneja’s instructions had been simple: keep her breathing in a steady four-count; visualize something calm, like the tranquil surface of the Elumaje on a windless day; then push that mental image through her resonance aura until her aura matched her visualization.
And this time, it worked! She wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but that would give the lie away, so she focused on prying Scruffy’s fingers off her arm.
“That’s a pity then,” Yellow Teeth said. “I’m afraid we can’t let you go without paying. And if you can’t pay, we’ll sell you to someone who can.”
“You can’t do that,” she said. “Slavery is illegal.”
“This isn’t Chanaz,” he said, “and Suborned dens aren’t fussy about these kinds of details either.”
Rahelu didn’t know what that was but it couldn’t be anything good.
Scuffy said something then, something that made Yellow Teeth scowl at her. “He says you’re lying, but I’m a forgiving sort so I’ll ask nicely one more time. Where are you hiding the coin?”
She was such an idiot. Scruffy was touching her so her Obfuscation hadn’t worked on him, and Onneja had refused to teach her anything other than basic defenses, so she couldn’t use their direct skin contact to her advantage.
Admitting the lie would do her no good though.
“I don’t have any coin,” she insisted, heart thundering in her chest. “Now it’s my turn to ask nicely: let go of me.”
Yellow Teeth sighed, and at that signal, Scruffy held her down as two of the other urchins came forward to search her.
Time to leave.
She bit down hard on Scruffy’s forearm, drawing blood with her teeth—he yelled and released her so she could kick him between the legs for good measure then dashed out into the street, the rest of the urchins hot on her heels.
She pelted out of the alleyway, went left at the end, then crossed over to the square and saw the Guild’s massive oaken gates in the distance. Set into a thick stone wall, they were at least twenty hands high and stood open, with dozens of mages tromping through them on foot and even more mages getting in and out of those floating boxes.
She hesitated for just a heartbeat and that was enough for Yellow Teeth to tackle her and sit on her back to rifle through her trouser pockets.
“You won’t find anything,” she said, her words muffled by the gravel.
“Won’t I?” He knelt on her spine, pinning her arms with his legs. He seized her by the roots of her hair, pulling so hard that tears started leaking from her eyes as he forced her upper torso off the ground. “I think I will,” he said, reaching over her shoulder to stick his hand inside her tunic.
She tried to jerk her head and shoulders forward, tried to tuck her chin to her chest so she could bite, but his grip was too practiced, too strong, and it was the work of a moment for him to grope her until he found the coin hidden in her breastband.
“Starfather,” he breathed. He let go so the ground could do the dirty work of hitting her in the face. She heard a faint clink of fingernail against silver coin as he flipped it into the air. “We’ll eat well tonight.” He kneed her in the back again as he got up, driving the breath out of her lungs. “Nice doing business with you.”
She lay face down, listening to the faint patter of six sets of bare feet throwing up gravel as they scampered away, trying not to let the tears of pain running down her cheek turn into real sobs. She’d already done more than enough crying earlier.
What about the coin? a part of her whispered, the part that had her mother’s voice. You were supposed to show up with the coin.
She ignored it, pushed herself up, and wobbled towards those imposing gates. If she did well enough on the test, then the Guild would take care of everything. They weren’t like the Conclave back home, where you had to pay before you could study there.
A few of the mages inside glanced her way as she crept through the entrance and she cringed, dropping her eyes and herself to the ground, waiting for the inevitable blow or kick to fall.
None did though, even after a count of a hundred, so she hesitantly got up and looked around.
The sun was halfway through its arc—she had taken so long to get here but at least she was here, finally. The paved courtyard was empty now, except for an enormous circular firepit eight strides wide and twice her height, and its smooth square stones stretched out in all directions like a vast plain, towards three massive sandstone buildings. Each of them had large metal plates mounted above their entrances, but they were all engraved with Aleznuaweithish letters.
Where was she supposed to go?
There was a flutter of coral-and-sand robes from the building closest to the gates. Rahelu trotted over for a closer look and saw that it was her friend.
So she was going to be studying at the Guild too!
“Hey!” she called out to the other girl, waving to get her attention. “Hello, friend!”
Her friend froze halfway down the sandstone steps at the sight of Rahelu. Her eyes darted every which way as another girl and boy—both dressed in black-and-lilac robes—emerged from the building’s entrance.
“Guild?” Rahelu asked, pointing behind her friend and up the steps to where the new arrivals had paused.
Their haughty gazes took in her ragged clothes (Yellow Teeth’s fault) all covered in dirt with the front stained green-brown (that was kind of her own fault), the scratches on her face and puffy eyes (also Yellow Teeth’s fault), and the bruises on her skin (Rahelu wasn’t entirely sure whose fault those were).
The boy asked her friend something, in a treble-ish voice that was all sharp edges. Rahelu didn’t like the way he sneered at them both, or the way he emphasized the last of his words—he said “Nheras” the same way someone would say “shit”.
“Nheras I friend.” Rahelu stalked over to the base of the stairs and glared up at him. “You problem?”
The girl in black-and-lilac murmured something to her companion, her voice laced with amusement. No something something kez something something fish something something pig?
Rahelu turned to her friend, bewildered. “What are they saying?”
Nheras’s face could have been chiseled from ice, it was so cold and still. And her answer was colder yet: she took a slow, deliberate sniff, blanched then covered her mouth and nose with a brilliant coral sleeve.
She swept down the stairs and straight past Rahelu.
The pair in black-and-lilac sniggered and followed.
Rahelu’s cheeks burned and so did her resonance aura, though underneath the crimson embarrassment was red seething anger. It bubbled over and oozed into the ambient resonance of the courtyard.
How dare she? All Rahelu had done was ask a few simple questions. Questions that wouldn’t have cost Nheras anything to answer.
“Hey!” she shouted again as she ran after them, intent on getting a reply. “Guild? Yes? No?” Rahelu caught Nheras by her other brilliant sleeve but instead of being sturdy linen or cotton, it was made of some other fabric that was as delicate as a spider’s web and the whole thing tore off in her hand with a quiet little riiiiiip.
“Sorry,” she said, holding out the torn sleeve. “Sorry!”
Rahelu’s anger melted away like snow but the ambient resonance was still full of a burning red haze. Nheras looked at Rahelu, her beautiful face twisted into a snarl. She spat out a torrent of words that included ‘no’, ‘Guild’, ‘you’, ‘fish’, and ‘sorry’.
“I sorry?” she held the torn scrap of cloth out to the other girl more insistently. “Much sorry.”
More words, and this time, Rahelu didn’t understand a single one, though she understood the other girl’s increasingly frenzied gestures—and she really didn’t want to get into another fight, right now.
Rahelu dropped the sleeve and ran. Away from the peals of laughter and yelling in the courtyard, up the stairs, and into the building.
Inside, she found what looked like a line of other applicants, patiently waiting for the purple-and-black robed man seated at a large rosewood desk to inspect them, one by one. She joined the end of the line quietly and did not talk to anyone, not even the red-headed boy who tried to speak to her.
Her parents had trusted her to do one thing. She had promised to be good, to stay on the main streets, to not go off wandering, and to not talk to strangers. Then she’d broken her promise and everything had gone wrong.
Her parents would be so disappointed.
A half-span later and it was her turn. The Guild man looked at her and she braced herself, but to her surprise, his question was in fluent Chanazian.
“Your name and family?”
“Rahelu,” she said. “I…my family hasn’t earned a name. My father is Hemoru and my mother is Jenura. We’re from Anuvelomaz.”
“Hmmn,” he said, running critical eyes over her. “Do you have any Conclave training?”
Did whatever she had learned from Onneja count? The Conclave mage had only traveled with them for a week and hadn’t taught her, not really. She had just shared a few things when she had seen Rahelu hovering around during her meditations.
“No,” she answered, with a faint yellow tinge in her aura. “We couldn’t afford the tuition.” The yellow disappeared.
His next question came in the form of a Projection. There is a beacon hidden in this room, he sent. This is its resonance signature. A series of resonance pulses followed: thirteen in a specific pattern that alternated unevenly between fast and slow. Use a Seeking and tell me where it is.
Rahelu closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. She counted to seven in her head, just like Onneja said, breathed out for another seven, and focused on settling into the rhythm.
It took a long time, far longer than usual, and she could feel the impatience building in the applicants standing in line behind her, making her want to shift around from one foot to the other.
She resisted the urge though, and cast her resonance senses out wider, moving through the ambient resonance in a spiral pattern, until another grumble from somewhere behind her broke her concentration.
The Guild man shook his head. “You’re not ready,” he said. “Come back in a season or two when you’ve had more practice.”
“No!” she said. The muttering of the other applicants behind her was louder now and even harder to ignore. “Please, let me try again.” And she squeezed her eyes shut and started counting to seven before he could say no, sifting through the eddies of irritation and hunger and boredom like she was digging through the silty lakebed of the Elumaje for clams until her Seeking brushed up against a muffled pattern of thirteen pulses coming from the northeast corner of the building.
Rahelu didn’t know where exactly that was though. She felt a surge of panic but pushed it away. She would just have to do her best to describe it verbally.
Did you find it? he sent.
She nodded. “It’s—”
Don’t say it out loud. Project it back to me.
She clung to the pulsing beacon and tried shoving the sensation towards the Guild man, the same way she had tried Projecting her little bubble of blue-gray calm, except instead of using a particular visualization, she used her sense of the beacon.
“Good enough,” the Guild man said.
Rahelu sagged with relief.
She had done it.
The Guild would accept her.
“I’ll take your registration fee now.”
“I don’t have it with me,” she said. “Could I pay it later?”
“I’m sorry, but no. You must pay in advance.”
She stared back at him, searching for words. “Couldn’t it be added to my training debt?” she asked.
“I’m afraid not,” he said. “If you don’t have it now, we can’t accept you.”
“Please,” she said. “I’ve come all this way. I will pay it back. Double, triple, ten, or a hundred times. I swear I will.”
The Guild man hesitated.
He was going to say no.
She hadn’t learned any Augury yet, but she knew he was going to say no and black despair swamped her, drowning out everything else in her resonance aura.
The applicant behind her—the boy with the red hair wearing pale green and sky-blue—leaned around her shoulder. She couldn’t follow the exchange between him and the Guild man at all.
He was probably just asking when it was going to be his turn. She’d wasted enough of everyone’s time already. She should be grateful that he didn’t grab her and throw her out of the line like the tall scarred mage had done earlier.
The Guild man turned his attention back to her and pulled out two items from a drawer in his desk. One was a small crystal, set in a plain silver ring, which he handed to her. “This is your training crystal. It belongs to the Guild.”
“Thank you,” she said to the Guild man, her voice wobbling but she would not cry and she would not question why he had changed his mind. She had already done enough crying today and asking questions was what had gotten her in trouble in the first place.
She simply offered a silent prayer of thanks to the Stormbringer and slid the plain silver band onto the first finger of her left hand.
It felt heavy.
“And these are the terms of your traineeship.”
The second item the Guild man gave her was a scroll, stamped with a large seal in violet ink that had been mixed with crystal dust. Rahelu touched her finger to the shimmering seal:
A river of Aleznuaweithish words rushes through her mind, a jumble of unrecognizable letters. There are lines upon lines, some squished tightly together, others spaced further apart, and each one ends at a different point, so the left side of the river of words is neat and even, with little dips at the beginning of each new block of words while the right side is a ragged mess.
She couldn’t read any of it but it didn’t matter. This was the reason why her family had come all this way. Rahelu put her other hand over her heart, concentrated on the sound of her own heartbeat, feeling the way her resonance aura pulsed, and pushed that unique signature through her finger into the seal.
It was done. She was now officially a trainee of the Guild and had the documents and the ring to prove it.
“Classes begin tomorrow at the first span after dawn. Do not be late.”
Rahelu nodded then ran out of the building, into the courtyard, dodging past more mages with armbands and other applicants, until she reached the gates and saw her parents waiting on the other side.
Her mother’s face went from anxious to concerned to disapproving in an instant but her father’s wide smile was bright and his resonance aura lit up with golden pride at the sight of the ring on her finger.
“Your face!” her mother cried. “Those bruises! What happened to you? Have you been fighting again? Your tunic, it’s all torn and—”
Rahelu ignored her mother’s scolding and hurled herself into her father’s waiting arms. He laughed, swinging her up and around in the air like she was six years old again.
“Well done, nela,” he said, as he put her down and ruffled her hair. “Now let’s go home.”
Haven’t read Petition yet? You can preview the first three chapters here: