Mim raised her staff pointing it directly at Raspian. He didn’t flinch. “What happened to them?” she demanded.
His thin lips curled into a smile and his head tilted as if in sympathy. “Not what you think, Myrddym, dear.” He shook his head. “They have merely,” he shrugged nonchalantly, “run away.”
Mim stared at him, her shoulders fell and the staff usually clutched so tightly in her strong Dwarf hands drooped. “The Wizards’ would never abandon the Tor,” she spoke in a hissed whisper lined with both anger and despair, that Breanna barely heard over the howling wind, “this has… well, it’s been the home of magic for generations. How? What? What could have driven them out?”
“Fear,” he spoke with a lazy drawl, but when his eyes met Breanna’s her stomach jolted with a terror that she didn’t feel was wholly her own.
“Fear of what, exactly?” Mim asked. She didn’t move and yet seemed to command them both.
“Does it matter?” For the first time, the veneer of nonchalance in his voice was tainted with a hint of heartbreak.
“In this case, Raspian, it does.” Mim placed her staff on the ground, leaning on it with both hands, seeming to have recovered from her momentary waver. “If I know which way fear drove them, I may yet discover their whereabouts.”
“You will not find them all, Myrddym.” He opened his arms to the landscape. “They have scattered to the four winds.”
“And yet you have not, Raspian?”
He shrugged and went to move to the trapdoor leading back to the library.
“Because you have nowhere to run to?”
He halted and turned back to her, with a bitter laugh. “And who would want this?” He indicated his body in such a way that Breanna was confused. He seemed a little less brutal in form than most men but she thought him far fairer and not the monstrosity he seemed to think himself. He appeared to her to be intelligent, wise in years but not ancient, and magical. What court or tribe would not want him?
“The Druid Master’s of old would have fought tooth and nail for a Wizard such as yourself to grace their council.”
“Masters of old?” The Wizards stared at one another for a long moment. Then Raspian nodded. “So… you’ve heard of their downfall?”
Mim managed to shrug with only her eyebrows. “War is stirring, Raspian, and I have a dark suspicion of who lay be behind it.”
He almost growled at her. “Then it is true! You deceived the Wizard Council?”
“Never!” She slammed her staff against the hard stone floor. “She was dead, Raspian. She was dead. I know this.”
Breanna was confused but the two were so ferocious, she stepped back from them rather than intruding with her own questions.
He laughed. “And who told you of this? Some Druid housewife looking for coin?”
“I killed her myself.”
Raspian smiled, and it was the first smile of his that reached his eyes. “Does your new apprentice know that you murdered your last one?”
“This is serious, Raspian.”
He shook his head. “Oh, Myrddym! Either you did not succeed in killing the woman, or she is not what is causing this darkness to spread across the land. Whichever way the truth lies, you are still as much of an old fool as you ever were.”
That marked the end of the conversation. Mim said nothing as Raspian re-entered the tower, leaving the Wizard and her apprentice alone.
Breanna stared at Mim. She had been frightened of her when they first met. She had witnessed her pull lightning down from the sky, and create an invisible shield that could hold even a hungry Dragon at bay.
She knew she was strong.
She had believed her when she said she had killed the woman with golden eyes even though Breanna knew for certain the woman still live… but it had never occurred to Breanna that the woman had been Mim’s own apprentice.
She turned the handle of the knife in her grip. It felt useless now and childish. As if her untested blade could ever hold back the magic of a fully trained Wizard.
But as Mim paced, her shoulders slouched her head hung low muttering to herself, Breanna wondered how much of an old fool she was. Had the man Raspian been right? Was Mim, with all her power and skill, just a silly old woman? Would it be better to walk away now? To simply leave and finally go home? Return to her people?
She had learned something of Dragons. Perhaps that would be enough? She could save her village, keep the Dragons at bay…
But then she would have to re-enter that Dragon Realm. She would have to choose other victims. Condemn others to a fate she could not face for her own people… and this was about more than the people of her village.
And she would have to face that woman. The one with the golden eyes, the woman who lived despite having been killed. The woman whose murderer now paced, muttering, before her.
“Was she…” Breanna knew what question she wanted to ask, but she wasn’t certain she had the courage to ask it, “Was she really your apprentice?”
Mim stopped her pacing and stared at Breanna for a long hard minute before speaking. “There are many forms of magic.”
Breanna wasn’t certain how this came close to answering her question, but she was willing to listen as Mim talked over the wind.
“Some, like myself, control over the elements; fire, thunder, rock if I put my mind to it. Others have control over form, they might change one thing to another or, at least, make it appear so. Some, like your Elf friend, can restore health and rejuvenate,” Mim smiled, “I would stake my life on that one being able to return rotting fruit to fresh as easily as she closes a cut if she were to study the craft.” Mim breathed deeply and continued her pacing. “But… there are some forms of magic which are forbidden.”
“Forbidden? Like… killing people?” she asked tentatively trying to steer the conversation back.
Mim looked at her and smiled grimly. “Quite the opposite, my dear.”
Breanna shook her head. “The opposite?” Surely the opposite of killing was healing and Breanna knew that Leasha was not forbidden from using magic.
“There is a power that has been whispered about, speculated upon, guessed at… there are some who believe the ancient Shamana’s who walked with the old ones across the Lost Plains, knew how to command this power. But if they did, they took the secret with them.”
Breanna waited for Mim to continue but just stared out at the valley of the Wizards. “What is it?” she prompted.
“But you just said-”
“No, my dear. Not bringing death about but pushing it back…reversing it. Taking those who are dead and pouring the fullness of life into their being once more.”
Breanna gasped, “But… but that’s wonderful!” She thought of her father, of Grainneaog, of her Fenwater Marsh friend, Rega… and she thought of her mother lost so long ago that she could no longer see her face in her mind’s eye. If Breanna had the power to bring them back… it would solve everything. That must have been why Mim brought her here, that must have been what she wanted her to train for. “How do we find it?”
“Oh, my dear.” Suddenly Mim’s hand was upon her hand, patting her and looking at her with a deep kindness in her eyes she rarely revealed. “Without death… where would we be?”
‘At home,’ Breanna thought, ‘at home with my family together and happy, and there would be no need for hunting, no need for killing; life would go on forever.’ She choked on her own thoughts and tears fought at her eyes. There was a way… there was a way to bring them all back. She had to find it… learn it… command it.
“Without death,” Mim continued, “there would be no life.” Breanna opened her mouth to argue but Mim cut in before she could. “There could be no children, for if there were… where would they go? What would they do? Think on it young Breanna, if a herd of oroc did not have howlers to thin their number, how many years before the lands were filled with nothing but oroc? Great beasts and no room for anything else? What misery would it be? What life could flourish? What joy could be had?”
“But I wouldn’t-”
“Wouldn’t use the magic on the beasts?” Breanna nodded but Mim shook her head, “It would be the same for people, my dear. Child, upon child, upon child. No parent passes. No grandparent passes. No ancestor passes… there are fights even now on lands which border one another… how much misery could we give on each other if there were no room left? Absence of death would not be an absence of pain, my child.”
Breanna nodded. But the possibilities burned at her. The thought of having so many people on the land frightened her, she felt closed in, her chest tightened. But the thought of her father, of his voice, of his death saving her from the dragon… played at her mind.
If she had that power, if she was the one who could control it, she would never have to worry about anything again.