Being a mage was hard, Kaelsig was realizing. Without a natural affinity, he found he was fighting an uphill battle. Aging slower than the other apprentices didn’t help, either. While he had finally grown into the physical body of what seemed to be a fifteen-year-old, his peers—and even his younger half-siblings—were maturing into bodies that could contain the magics and be perfectly controlled in spellwork. Most of all, they were adults—they were taken seriously while Kaelsig was brushed off, even though he surpassed them in age.
The other apprentice mages had grown and advanced and graduated, only to be replaced by new ones. No matter the new apprentices’ skills, they all teased him for one thing or another. For not being able to do basic spells, or for botching the more advanced ones. But he never spoke back and never complained, even when they’d sneer the worst of them at him.
“Go to Acherus, where you belong,” they’d say.
But he simply walked past them and pretended they didn’t exist.
When Faltora graduated his apprenticeship he was the pride of the family. They’d all gone to watch—their father, Faltora’s mage mother, and Aralisse. All the masters had been there, too, to see him perform every spell perfectly.
Kaelsig hadn’t gone to their family party that night. He made an excuse and instead went to his master’s office to read the chapters he’d been assigned—at least, he’d planned to. That is, until a paper slipped out of a book that hadn’t been put back all the way. It was common of late, with Master growing frail with age.
“Not celebrating with your brother?”
Kaelsig jumped and looked up into the blue sapphires set into the wrinkling face. “No, Master Khadgar.”
“Why not? I would join, but,” he grunted and lowered himself into the opposite chair, “I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“Well, I’m nearly two hundred! You know that! And this aging curse… I look ancient, don’t I?” He stroked his long white beard as though preening for the boy.
The blood elf slid the page across the table to him. “This page is decades old. You’ve known how to cure yourself for decades, Master!”
“I can’t,” he said gently, a weight sagging his shoulders and a sadness filling his eyes.
“Read it, my boy, and you will see why I cannot do this spell.”
Kaelsig’s eyes zipped back and forth across the page, his lips curving to a frown. “I will do it.”
“No. No you won’t, and that’s final.” Khadgar plucked the page from the elf’s fingers and slipped it into a drawer of his desk.
Kaelsig stood, his palm slapping the table, making the candlesticks jump. “Master, please!”
“No!” The Archmage turned on him, a fire in his eyes. “You cannot and you will not do this, and that is an order. Do you understand me?”
Kaelsig nodded and stared at the floor.
“And don’t you dare go behind my back like your stepmother.”
“I promise,” Kaelsig said.
And he meant it. He meant the promise every day after that and every time he reminded himself that the spell existed. He reminded himself of his promise to never even think about casting the spell every time he turned to the page where he’d gone back and copied it into his journal. He swore the promise to no one again when he found himself collecting the ultra-rare items the spell required, telling himself it wasn’t for the spell, but for others he may find one day. He remembered and reminded and promised again and again until the one day he couldn’t. Because that was the day Khadgar started dying.
~ * ~
Aralisse was making the rounds, checking the forest just outside their home for any danger. There never was any, and her patrol was entirely useless, but being stuck there as the only one unable to leave at the snap of a finger, it was all she had to pass the time when her eyes grew tired of reading and her fingers of playing the piano.
A small crack! broke the afternoon silence. She ignored it. It was either her mother or her brother coming or going, and nothing to be alarmed with. Beside her, Anderbjorn stopped, his incorporeal hackles raising as his nose snuffled the air.
“What is it, Ander?” she asked, brushing her fingertips through the fluffy, blue fur.
It tickled like being blown on by an icy wind, rather than feeling like actual fur. It was a sensation she loved, because it reminded her of her father and half brother, and how cold they were compared to her mother and Faltora. The bear turned a beady eye to her and groaned. Nothing to be worried about, but something interesting.
“Well, come on. Show me, then. Maybe it’ll be more exciting than walking in circles all day, eh boy?”
The spirit bear led her to the barn, where the horses should have been eating their lunches. However, the door was open, and one horse had been removed from its stall. Storm, her half brother’s grey horse, was standing in the open. Someone stood beside the horse; they were tall as her father and wearing a white cloak and gloves, stroking the beast’s neck and feeding him grain.
Aralisse nocked an arrow and took aim. Anderbjorn thumped his head into her side and she, embarrassingly, lost her grip and loosed the arrow at the person’s head. They spun, raising a palm in reflex. A sheet of ice formed between them and the arrow stuck within it. The half elven girl straightened and nocked another arrow.
“Clever trick. I know it, though, and can assure you will not stop my next arrow.”
No response came from the other side.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
The ice began to melt and she could see the dark face set into the white fabric of the hood. They turned from her and returned to petting the horse.
“That’s my brother’s horse,” she said, her voice growling out her indignant disposition.
“I know.” The voice was deep and rumbled through the ice like a brontide.
“Who are you?” she asked again. “What are you doing here?”
His hand paused on the horse’s neck. “I came to say I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Her limbs shook, afraid he was apologizing for something he might be preparing to do to her or her family.
“The spell…” He turned and waved his arm so the pillar of ice turned to snow, fluttering and swirling in the breeze from his arm. He plucked the arrow from the air and held it up to study it. “I didn’t think it would…”
Aralisse clenched her jaw and took a step back, her eyes wide on the man before her. His black hair spilled from the front of the hood and down his chest, the ends shorn as though recently, haphazardly cut. His skin was a pale teal and his eyes an icy blue glow.
His eyes met hers and he frowned. “I only meant to take a little. But I wasn’t the one in control. The spell was written to get rid of it all, like it never happened.”
“Kaelsig?” She dropped her weapon and went to him. “You’re…grown! You’re older than me now! I’d dare to say you’re an adult.”
“You’re not mad? Or-or scared?”
“Why would I be mad?” she demanded, smacking his chest with the back of her hand.
“Because it’s wrong, isn’t it? I did something bad?” He frowned, his fingertips plucking at the fingers of his gloves.
Aralisse frowned as she thought on it. “Did you do this because you were younger than all of us?” Her eyes studied him, a sadness forming over the blue irises.
“No, no. I swear. It’s Khadgar, he was dying and—”
Aralisse gasped. “Did you tell mother? My mother, I mean. She needs to kn—”
“I didn’t tell anyone. No one knows he was on his deathbed.”
“I took his curse, Ara.”
“Why!” She punched at him, her lips curved in an angry frown.
Kaelsig gripped her fists. “Because it can’t be cured, Ara. Not by anyone but the Guardian. Khadgar is the only one who could take up the mantle, but he won’t, because of what that much power can do to a person.”
“But you can move the curse to another host,” Aralisse said in realization. “And you volunteered?”
“No. He wouldn’t let me. He was unconscious when I did it.”
“But why?” she asked on a breath. She reached up to feel his cold skin and brush the black hair from his face to see him better. “Why would you do this?”
“I couldn’t just let him die. He’s practically family. And I have so many years for my own life, but humans have so many fewer.” He removed a glove to push her white bangs to one side and tuck them behind her stalky ear.
“When did you become a hero?”
He laughed. “I’m not a hero. Just some kid who couldn’t watch his mentor die.”
They stood in silence for a long while before Kaelsig turned to urge his horse back into his stall. He set his forehead to the animal’s snout and closed his eyes. Aralisse set a hand on his shoulder and found it shuddering.
“I’m scared, Ara.”
She put her arm around his shoulders. “Come inside and—”
He jerked away, his eyes wide. “No! I can’t let dad see me like this. He’ll tell my mom and she’ll… Oh, gods, my mom is going to lose her shit.”
Aralisse shushed him and took his hands in hers. “No one is home. Dad is with Thass, and you know he’ll probably be stuck in a tavern for a day until they dry out. Mom and Faltora are off doing…mage stuff, or something. I don’t know.”
He frowned down at her, seeing the sadness for herself in her eyes. “Why are we the ones that always get left behind?”
She shrugged and led him from the barn. “At least we usually get left behind together. Come on, I’ll buy you a drink from my mom’s supply.”
He cringed and laughed. “Please tell me this isn’t like last time you made me drink some.”
“No.” She laughed and found a bottle as they passed through the kitchen. “I’ve learned which of hers taste like swamp water and which are good since then.”
Kaelsig reached up on the top shelf for two goblets, then turned to find his sister smiling at him. “What?”
“Being tall suits you. And makes things easier. Come on!” She raced up the stairs and he after her.
They sat on her bed, talking and drinking, until Kaelsig laid down and fell fast asleep.
“Lightweight,” she said, brushing his hair from his face. She laughed and finished her own wine, then laid down beside him to sleep as well.
~ * ~
The girl’s eyes snapped open to look right at Kaelsig, their foreheads pressed together. His eyes were still closed in the darkness. She looked to her doorway to find Anarchaia pursing her lips down at them beneath her mask. “Mom?”
“Put on some clothes and get out of that bed right now.”
Aralisse furrowed her brow and looked down. “I’m already dressed. Mom, what—”
“You son of a bitch!” Faltora shouted. He ran into the room, his fists gripping the copper handle of Byfrost. He kicked Kaelsig awake and stood over him. “You dare touch my sister?”
Anarchaia balled up her fists. “Faltora, we can talk—”
“Faltora, stop! It’s—”
But he didn’t listen. As Kaelsig skittered across the room, Faltora raised the blade. Aralisse dove at her brother; Anarchaia readied a spell to stop him. Byfrost wove uncontrolled through the air and hit Kaelsig in the chest. The room lit up and the other three were blown back, away from the man and the sword.
Aralisse kicked out of the pile of people and punched at her brother. “It’s Kaelsig, you idiot!” She ran to him, checking the skin of his chest through the hole in his shirt. “He’s…unharmed?”
Anarchaia groaned and sat up. “I’d almost forgotten about that. The Redblade can’t harm one of Redblade descent and instead turns on the wielder.” She went to him and looked over his face. “Kaelsig, what have you done?”
He pursed his lips and found he couldn’t look her in the eyes. “I had no choice…”
“When your father finds out, he’ll—”
A scroll snapped into existence in his lap. He unrolled it and instead of a written message, Khadgar’s voice came barreling from the page. “Get back here this instant!”
Anarchaia’s mouth went slack. “Okay, even I never got a screaming letter from Khadgar. What did you do?”
Kaelsig grabbed his boots and cloak. “I’ll tell you later.” In an instant he was gone.
The moment he appeared in Khadgar’s office, the human was on him, screaming with anger.
“Why? You promised me, Kaelsig. You gave me your word you wouldn’t do the spell!” The fire in the old mans eyes was double in the youthful ones. His complexion was red across his smooth skin. He ran a hand through his chestnut hair and grit his teeth. “Why, Kaelsig?”
“I couldn’t let you die,” he said. “You didn’t deserve to—”
“It was my time,” he urged.
“No, it wasn’t. Your body’s age was not your age. It wasn’t fair!”
“Life isn’t fair!”
“I couldn’t lose you, Master! You’re the only one who believes I can be a good mage. If I lost you I’d be nothing.”
Khadgar scoffed. “That’s not true. You’d find a new master.”
“Name one of the Archmages that would be eager to take me on.”
The mage said nothing, his brow furrowing as he thought.
“Name one who would take me on as a last resort.”
Again, Khadgar had no answer.
“No one believes in me, except you,” Kaelsig said. “Maybe I was being selfish, but I’m not wrong, am I?”
He set his hands at his hips and stared at the floor. “You’re not. I don’t know why no one can see it in you when it’s there, plain as day. And…look what you accomplished! This was no minor feat, young man. I don’t know many who would try it, and even fewer who might succeed.”
“You’re going to undo it, aren’t you?” Kaelsig said. He hung his head as though preparing.
“Can’t,” Khadgar said. Humor lit his eyes and he gave a small chuckle. “That’s the thing with this spell, I interwove an immunity spell. I cannot be struck with another aging curse, not even the same which was mine to begin with.”
“So we’re stuck like this,” Kaelsig said, his lips curving into a wry smile.
“May as well enjoy it, eh?” Khadgar laughed and looked around the room at foot after foot of black hair. “A shame I didn’t get to see you with this river of hair. Reminds me of a children’s story. You know it?”
“I do, yes,” Kaelsig laughed. “The beard was just as bad. I had to use a shaving spell from your collection.”
Khadgar laughed and stepped over the hair. He grabbed a thick book and dropped it on the table. “Turn to page three ninety-four.”
Kaelsig blinked and stared at him. “M-master, we just did something amazing…and you want me to read?”
“Correction: you did something amazing. Now, turn to page three ninety-four.”
“Shouldn’t I help clean up—”
“Three ninety-four!” Khadgar shot a ball of air at the elf, knocking him into the seat in front of the book. “And read the whole chapter.” He pushed up his sleeves and began collecting the hair into a purple sphere suspended above the floor, which slurped it in like spaghetti.
Kaelsig sighed and bowed his head to begin reading.
~ * ~
His brow was beading with sweat, his back hurt and his arms were sore. Khadgar stood beside the elf, shouting instructions.
“You’re concentrating much too hard,” Khadgar said.
“If I don’t concentrate hard then I fail!”
“No, you fail because you fear failure. Did you fear failure when you cast the spell to cure my curse?”
Kaelsig sighed and let the arcane bolt in his palms dissipate. He bent over to gasp, his hands on his knees. “No, I just knew what had to be done and did it.”
“Interesting. So if I were to—” The human disappeared and popped up several yards away and threw a ball of fire at Kaelsig.
The elf raised his hands in a sweeping motion, summoning a thick sheet of ice in front of him.
“Very good! Now, what if—”
He appeared behind Kaelsig and sent a series of arcane missiles at him. The elf shot a stream of ice from his palm to intercept each purple projectile.
“Excellent. Now—” He appeared in another corner and threw a massive spike of frost at his apprentice.
Kaelsig spun and threw his own lance of ice at the spike. It went off course and a chunk was chipped free, but the object still collided with him. Khadgar appeared over him and offered a hand up.
“You’re relying on your ice too much.”
“Well, I’m a death kni—”
“No! You are a mage and my apprentice. I don’t care what others think of you, only my opinion should matter. As soon as you stop thinking you’re a death knight, your true potential will be realized.”
Kaelsig stared at his hands. “But I use death knight abilities, Master.”
Khadgar shook his head. “You use different abilities in your arsenal…as a mage. Now, lets see that arcane barrage again.”
The elf nodded and sighed. He collected the energy in his hands, then used his own intuition and threw the ball forward. He opened his eyes as the violet sphere careered toward the target dummy, then engulfed it in the purple light, singing the cloth and burning the hay.
Khadgar beamed. “I knew you had that kind of power in you. What were you thinking of?”
~ * ~
Everyone who knew Kaelsig—whether they liked him or hated him—had gathered into the arena. Khadgar looked out at the crowd from behind the curtain of the tent.
“I haven’t seen this sort of turnout since Anarchaia.” He chuckled. “This was, of course, right before she disappeared off the face of Azeroth in order to become a mother.”
Kaelsig smirked beside him. “You sound bitter.”
“I— You— I didn— Concentrate, young man!” He folded his arms and fumed, but the color in the tips of his round ears gave him away.
“It’s a shame, you have a new start on life, but now she’s—”
“I said concentrate!” He waved his hands erratically to shush the elf.
Kaelsig chuckled and raised Khadgar’s hood, then his own. “I’ll do my best not to let you down, Master.”
The moment they stepped from the tent, Kaelsig’s stomach began to knot. He looked at the faces, some jeering and others motionless as they waited for something or nothing to happen. A shrill whistle caught his attention and he looked to the screaming women—his mother and half sisters, in the front row, cheering for him. His father sat two rows behind, his arms folded and his face in his usual unreadable state. Anarchaia was beside him, a palm on the death knight’s thigh. On the other side of him was Grimory, his arms also folded and his expression bored, as usual—nothing but Kaelsig’s mother and half sister, and killing demons ever seemed to entertain him or light a spark in his eye.
His mother, the crazy death knight he’d learned to love, blew little kisses at him. It almost broke his heart, knowing she was about to find out what he’d done. He’d been dreading it, unsure how she would respond, since with her it could go any direction—or even all of them one after the other. Beside her, Diori was waving a little pom-pom she’d undoubtedly made with their cousin, Kel’ori, who was seated in the front row. Sure enough, she had the other pom-pom and was waving it, a smile on her face, but he could see in her eyes the doubt.
And then there was Aralisse, wringing her hands, dirt smudged on her cheeks and quiver on her back like she’d been out hunting just before arriving. He didn’t doubt it—it helped calm his favorite sibling. She looked like she might burst with the same excitement Alisbeth was displaying without shame. He smiled and the knot in his stomach subsided.
“Welcome, masters, apprentices, and spectators!” Khadgar said, his voice booming out to quiet them. “You, too, Redblade.”
Alisbeth slapped her hands over her mouth, her shoulders shaking with her giggles.
“It is my great pleasure to announce the graduation of Kaelsig Redblade from apprentice to Mage of the Kirin Tor.”
“After be passes the tests, of course,” Modera called from the sidelines. “Until then, he’s still an apprentice.”
“Yes,” Khadgar said, “he does need to prove himself. Perhaps this will suffice?” He lowered his hood and the crowd gasped. Khadgar yanked Kaelsig’s hood back and another gasp rippled through the crowd.
Where his family was, Kaelsig saw Anarchaia standing, her jaw slack, and he knew she was staring at the archmage beside him. His father was scowling, but not with anger, with a strange interest on his own son, who now looked old enough to be his younger brother. Grimory smirked, and Kaelsig found a strange satisfaction in the interest, since he thought of the man as a second father, and frequently felt the demon hunter’s approval was more important than Koltira’s. Diori and Kel’ori had stopped moving, their eyes wide. Beside them his mother’s lips were pursed tight. He held his breath and waited.
“What’s this, then?” Meryl demanded.
“He cured my curse, by taking it as his own,” Khadgar said.
Still, Alisbeth didn’t move.
“That’s impossible!” the forsaken archmage said.
“Then how did he do it?” Khadgar challenged. “He is also ready to pass your tests.” He set a reassuring hand on Kaelsig’s shoulder, causing the elf to tear his eyes away from his mother. “Though I know he’s already done more than enough to earn this.”
Meryl waved Khadgar off the field and stood in front of the elf, scowling. “You’re not better than us, child.”
“I never said I was,” Kaelsig replied evenly.
“Then show us a series of ice lances. Toward the target, if you please.”
The elf took a breath and shot a series of lances from his palm, each hit the target dummy, causing the swords to spin around the pole body.
Kaelsig looked over at his smiling sister and he smiled back. Khadgar nodded at him. He built up the ball of violet and purple energy in his palms, using that feeling he’d had before. Aralisse was his key to his arcane abilities. He used his memories of her telling him of when she’d gotten Anderbjorn as a companion.
The bear had been caught in a trap and she was setting him free, when a hunter attacked and carried her off. The bear had pulled against the trap until his foot tore free from his leg. Then it had charged them, knocking Aralisse from the man’s arms and pinning him down. The hunter had shot the bear several times, but still it clawed and raked the man to shreds. There was nothing Aralisse could do and the bear had died.
Kaelsig released the ball of energy, imagining the hunter, imagining he could be the one always protecting her. The sphere enveloped the dummy and many stared wide-eyed at the size, since the elf had let it charge in his palms so long.
“Pyroblast,” Meryl growled out.
Kaelsig froze. Pyroblast wasn’t the usual fire spell required, so he hadn’t been practicing it. His ear twitched, and on reflex he spun and brought up a wall of ice. The arrow embedded within and he looked up to where Aralisse had been. The half-elf leapt from the stands and onto the field.
“Play with me!” she yelled, loosing another arrow at him.
Kaelsig raised another sheet of ice as protection.
“Play with me, Sig!” She hopped around him and fired another arrow. “Play with me!”
Soon, he was smiling, feeling like a child again, being annoyed by his lonely sister. It had been when she first learned to shoot, their father had given her blunted arrow shafts with no arrowheads. Kaelsig had been playing with Faltora and she’d been begging them to include her in their games. At first, she couldn’t hit him, but when she managed to it would hit him in the arm. She wouldn’t stop until the boys chased her down. Tired of her annoying antics, Kaelsig had learned to raise those slabs of ice. His ears became trained on picking up on loosed arrows. It didn’t stop her bothering him, but at least reduced the amount of bruises he would acquire.
As Kaelsig became surrounded by the sheets of frost, he went on the offensive. He formed a pillar of ice beneath the half-elf’s feet, shooting her up into the air. She laughed and leapt over him, her legs skyward and her face turned to laugh down at him.
“Play with me!” She nocked three arrows and shot them down at him.
He formed a pyroblast in his palms and as Aralisse flipped out of the way, he shot the ball upward to incinerate the arrows coming down at him. The girl laughed when she landed and he couldn’t help but chuckle along with her.
Khadgar laughed at the side of the arena. “Good work!”
Kaelsig shot an arcane spell beneath his half sister’s feet and it popped her into the air. Then he threw out his hands and formed a slide of ice underneath her. She squealed and slid down to him, then bounced in excitement as she hugged him tight.
“That was the coolest ever! Do it again!”
He laughed. “Uh, maybe when the other mages aren’t staring at me.”
“Oh! Right.” She hopped backward and set her hands respectfully behind her back.
Archamge Modera approached slowly, her face betraying nothing. She looked him over, and looked over Khadgar, then nodded. “Congratulations, Kaelsig, Mage of the Kirin Tor.”
His mouth fell slack in disbelief as Aralisse screamed and leaped onto his back. Khadgar appeared beside him to slap a congratulatory pat on his shoulder.
“I knew you could do it, my boy.”
Kaelsig sobered as his mother leapt from the stands. She ran forward, a look of determination on her face. He prepared for the worst as she neared. Alisbeth stopped so suddenly in front of him that he flinched. She stared at his face for a long time, then reached up to touch him.
“You look like my daddy.”
“You’re not mad?” he asked.
“You’re still my boy, aren’t you?”
He smiled. “Of course I am.
She wrapped her arms under his and pressed her ear to his chest, smiling at his heartbeat. “My little mage. I knew you could do it.”