Azria rested her arms on the windowsill, staring out onto the sparkling Merchant’s Bay of Hitha. The shouts of mariners and cries of seagulls drifted over the warm, salty breezes of the sapphire colored waters. Boats from all shores were docked, their colorful flags and gleaming sails the first hint at what diverse wares laid below their deck.
But Azria’s eyes were on the horizon, looking for ships sailing into the bustling bay. The bright light of the midday sun shimmered off the water’s surface, the warmth soaking into her arms. Her dark brown eyes strayed from boat to boat, their bows all pointed towards the busiest port of Miz, but none of the ships were her mother’s. Azria frowned.
“Your last day under my tutelage and you spend it staring out the window,” Hiezh sighed, the armful of scrolls he carried rustling as he placed them back into their wicker box.
“She’s supposed to be here today,” Azria said. She pulled herself away from the window, her wood and metal bracelets jingling lightly with the movement. “I told her this was my last day as a student. I have it in writing, in her own hand: I’ll be there that day, to take you aboard my ship. Then you’ll really learn what wonder is.” Azria remembered getting the letter a month ago, on her birthday. By far, the best gift she had received.
“You can’t go with her until I take you before the guild and have you tested before a council of mages, among other things,” Hiezh scolded. He lifted the lid of a trunk and placed the scrollbox inside, locking it with the key he wore around his wrist. “Even if your mother does come to get you, she might not come today, Azria. Pirate Queen Apzana is not known for being prompt.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call her that,” Azria said, looking down at the desk she used for her studies. She wrinkled her nose and sat down, looking at the spell she had just written. A water purification spell. The words, swirls of black, blue, green, and red written in her careful, flowing handwriting still glistened on the bone white paper. “Bad publicity is still bad, you know?”
“Like anyone listens to me anyway,” Hiezh said. Azria watched him as he walked to the small kitchen and began picking through a bowl of fruit. Hiezh had been a good teacher. She had been studying under him for ten years now and his stern and humorless demeanor had grown on Azria. He dressed better than he had in her earliest memories of him. Her mother’s money made sure of it. Today he was what would be considered dressed up for him, his hair freshly braided and oiled, the creases in his stark white linen kilt and vest sharp and clean. “I’m just a mid-level spellweaver with no ambitions in the inter-island spats which are always popping up.” Hiezh picked up a mango and brought it to his nose, sniffing it.
“It’s what makes you more bearable than the other Innates,” Azria said. She watched him pick up another piece of fruit before he frowned, crossing to the other table where the basket of cassava bread was kept. “What are we waiting for?” she groaned. “Can we go check in with the Council already? I’m bored!”
“Ah, to be young and unaware of bureaucracy,” Hiezh said dryly, frowning at the empty bread basket. “I already told you, we would have lunch first. In addition, you have a thing called an appointment. We will get there early for your appointment, and we will naturally have to wait to be seen an hour after the time they gave us. This is the natural order of things,” he said. “The chiefs can’t seem to get their law and order sorted out, but of course the magic makers streamlines everyone into infinite frustration.” Hiezh put his hands on his hips and looked to Azria. “I don’t have food for lunch.”
“Didn’t Nana bring you food from market?” Azria asked. Her grandmother usually brought groceries to Hiezh on the first day of the week and often brought him meals. Hiezh shook his head and walked into his bedroom.
“No, I was stupid and told her not to worry about it this week,” she heard him call from the room. “I knew she would be busy preparing for your big dinner tonight.” Hiezh emerged , tying his money belt around his waist. “I’ll make up for my folly by taking some of the leftovers.”
“If we’re going out to eat, can we please go to Pufferfish Lane for food?” Azria asked, trying to keep any anxiety out of her voice. “I think the fritters there are better.”
“Also, Poesh doesn’t eat there, right?” Hiezh laughed seeing Azria’s face darken with embarrassment. “Sure, I don’t feel like seeing that sand crab or his teacher either.”
“Thanks,” Azria muttered. Out of the other magic trainees she had to deal with, Poesh was the worst. As Innates of Hitha, they had been part of the same creche, the tutors all taking turns teaching Hitha’s future guild members. For the first five years of her training, Azria benefited not only from the training Hiezh offered but the social aspects of studying with other Innates and the guidance of other mages of Hitha’s guild.
All that had changed when the rumors about her mother began. First, that her mother was a pirate, which resulted in teasing and the questioning of the many gifts her mother sent. Then one day Poesh said Azria’s father wasn’t of Miz. Once the second rumor began spreading, Azria took her lessons alone. A pirate for a mother was one thing but a woman who shared her bed with foreigners, who loved another land and its people more than her own? That was too much for proud Miz. When Azria did encounter Poesh and his friends, it usually ended in words she would later regret, not because she hadn’t meant them but because of the things he said to her, and the laughs of anyone who heard them. Azria hoped she wouldn’t see Poesh today, not before her testing. She asked the Goddess to do her this one favor before she followed her teacher out the door.
The afternoon sun shone high in the bright blue sky, the humidity eased by the fresh sea breeze. Azria walked down the tree-lined street behind her teacher, shyly waving hello to everyone they passed on the dusty road.
“What do you feel like eating today?” Hiezh asked, still walking ahead of her. “You mentioned fritters but maybe some rice balls?”
“If you want,” Azria mentioned, looking back towards the sea once more. Food was not at the forefront of her thoughts. Just past the swaying palms and brightly flowering bushes, she could make out the port and the boats , the horizon empty of other vessels. A frown pulled at the corners of her mouth as Azria wondered if her mother would show up.
“When was the last time you got a letter from her?” Hiezh asked quietly.
“My birthday,” Azria replied. “So not that long. She said she would come get me when I was finished with my studies.”
“You said that, Azria,” Hiezh sighed. “But you know as well as anyone, the sea can be a treacherous mistress. The winds and waters may not have been in her favor. Plus,” Hiezh said, more quietly. “There’s the complicated matter as to whether she is even allowed in this port or not.”
“I just don’t think she would say she would come get me, if she wasn’t going to,” Azria said. “What would she stand to gain by lying to me?”
“When it comes to writing letters, many people write what they most desire, not necessarily what they’re capable of,” Hiezh said, slowing his pace so Azria could join his side. “It’s easy to say what you want with ink and paper. It’s another thing altogether to carry it out.”
“I guess,” Azria said, her gaze straying again towards the port. “Though one would think, by writing it down it’d make it more real. Like writing a spell.”
“There is something similar between the two acts,” Hiezh said with a nod and a bit of a smile. “You saying that makes me feel like I haven’t totally failed you as a teacher.”
Azria laughed. “You’ve been a good teacher, Hiezh, you must know that.”
“I’ve had a lot of time to fix my mistakes,” he said, smiling at her. “I still remember the first day I met you.”
“My mother was there,” Azria said with a nod.
“Yes,” Hiezh said. “You had been manifesting ability for six months already. She interviewed many mages before she picked me.”
“I remember clinging to her leg and staring up at you,” Azria laughed. “You seemed so tall and scary!”
“In your defense, I was a mess back then,” Hiezh half said, half muttered. “She didn’t tell me she was coming with you and my home was…unacceptable.”
“Didn’t Nana clean it before I started my lessons?” Azria asked. The memories she had of those days were vivid but fractured. Her mother coming in and out of the city to check on her, always with strange and wonderful gifts. Nana singing and cooking in the background, no matter where Azria seemed to be. Hiezh instructing her, telling her to focus, please, focus, stop. Playing on the beach with the other children, before her mother became news and then notorious.
“If you mean to ask if Nana felt compelled to, yes, you remember correctly.”
“I don’t know who’s gotten more out of my studies, you or me,” Azria smirked. She waved at the woman at the fritter stand as they approached, climbing up onto one of the stools set at the counter for customers. “I’ll take two yucca fritters.”
“Three of the same and a crab salad to split,” Hiezh said, sitting beside her. Azria watched as the woman took the grated vegetables and formed them into flat patties, sliding them gently into the oil. The oil boiled and popped as the fritters danced, the steam wafting over the air and making Azria’s stomach grumble. The woman chopped chilis and ground spices for the salad, the sound of the knife against the cutting board a happy note to Azria’s swirling thoughts.
“What if my mother doesn’t show up?” Azria murmured. Saying the words made a lump form in her throat, and Azria swallowed hard, wishing she hadn’t said them.
“What?” asked Hiezh.
Azria kept her eyes on the cook she poured them each a cup of coconut water. She tried to decide if she should repeat her question or try to brush it off. “What if,” Azria said, staring at the counter, “What if she doesn’t come back?”
“Well, it would put a dent in your plans,” Hiezh said. “Seeing as how you don’t have any.”
Azria rolled her eyes at Hiezh. She had wanted some reassurance, not a reminder of her lack of ambition on Miz. As an Innate she had been required to study under another wizard. But she was sixteen now and should have a plan on what to do with her skills. Many of the Chiefs and trades looked for wizards to help them with their building projects and farms. Azria had politely refused the few people who had offered her work and resented those who never would have dreamed of asking her. Her ability to create and weave magic was good enough for the mages to initiate her, acknowledging the power born in her through Mizian blood. But the rumors of her father being a foreigner made Azria incomplete in the eyes of some. Sometimes she felt it, under the gaze of those who knew the gossip. But for Azria, the truth was a mystery she pondered while sitting with Nana in the living room, pretending to study her scrolls while her grandmother embroidered beautiful patterns on the edge of garments.
“At least I know I won’t be homeless,” Azria said. “Nana would never throw me out. She loves me too much.”
“Even Nana wouldn’t hire you. Your embroidery is terrible,” Hiezh said.
The woman placed their fritters before them served on big green leaves, the colorful and fragrant crab salad heaped in a mound in a small wooden bowl. Azria blew on her fritters, waiting for them to cool down. She watched as her teacher picked one up, hot as it was and took a bite, his mouth falling open, moaning quietly as steam billowed from his mouth.
“Hot?” Azria asked with a laugh.
“So good though,” Hiezh said with his mouth full, trying to chew and breath out to cool his mouth. Azria laughed and picked up a spoon, starting in on the cool crab salad. They quietly ate their lunch, not speaking to each other. Azria listened to the sounds of the street, other food stands and people selling their wares. The familiar and comforting aromas of roasted coconut and grilled fish, spices from all five islands being ground, charred, and chopped for meals hung in the air. Her thoughts strayed towards the little house with its black chickens in the yard, Nana at home, mending clothes or embellishing something of Azria’s. Was she so eager to leave Miz, the sights and sounds she knew, for something different? To leave Nana and Hiezh for a woman she hadn’t seen for five years?
Nana said, it had been so long since Azria had seen her mother, the girl still saw Apzana with the eyes of a babe and mixed her mother up with those teenage thoughts of being on her own. Did her mother ever wish she slept in a bed on land? On the other side of the horizon is the best treasure, was the saying.
Azria thought of the city she grew up in, the streets she knew well and faces she recognized. Hitha knew her and didn’t seem too interested in keeping her. But Miz was more than Hitha. Gethe, city of the Northern Bay was far but just as big, and the people there received more foreigners. Perhaps rumors of her mother hadn’t spread to ports with more diverse populations; perhaps they wouldn’t even care. In a new city, Azria could get a fresh start, still surrounded by a culture she was raised in. Once she had her credentials as a caster, she could probably move to one of the other ports if she desired.
“Is it time to go in for my testing?” Azria groaned, pulling herself away from thoughts of the future.
“About that time,” Hiezh said, draining his cup. “You ready?”
“Ready to get out of here,” Azria said, hopping down from the stool. Hiezh just nodded and together they pushed through the crowd towards the High Seat of Hithan Mages.
“What do you mean, I didn’t file the paperwork correctly?”
Azria stood next to Hiezh and looked up. She knew her teacher’s tones and his moods and this was the kind of mood that generally ended in something breaking. If the woman behind the counter was aware of this, her response was only a slight smirk. She wore the same bleached white linen garments most Mizians wore, her dark hair braided and plaited atop her head, two writing styluses decoratively placed within her locks to keep them in place. The blue and yellow stole she wore around her neck told Azria she was also a mage, as well as a secretary for the Hithan Mage Guild.
“What I mean is, yes, you made your appointment. But there was more to do to get Azria seen and acknowledged today than make the appointment.” The secretary pulled out several sheets of blue reed paper, the paper used by mages for such official things, black and deep blue ink laying out various rules and asking for certain information. “If you fill these out and pay the fees-”
“Fees?” Hiezh interrupted. Azria looked to his hands, gripping the edge of the table, his knuckles yellow. “What fees?”
“The processing fee,” the woman said, matter-of-factly. She pointed at a section of one of the documents with a thin, carved bamboo pointer. “As well as a renewal fee if you wish to vote in matters of Hithan Mages. Your vote expired two months ago.”
Azria bit her lip. She couldn’t tell if she should laugh or cry. Hiezh’s face was comically infuriated but if what the woman said was true, Azria would not be received among the society of wizards today. Awkwardly she straightened her clothes, not sure what to do with herself as the two other mages spoke in very different tones.
“I filed that,” Hiezh said insistently. “I filed it. And I paid.”
“There’s no record of it, Mage Gowde. Do you have the receipt?” the secretary said. Azria watched as the woman cocked her head to the side slightly, as if challenging him. She was obviously not put off by Hiezh’s irate behavior, her demeanor cool and business-like. “If you have it, we can get this settled.”
“Why would I have it on me if I thought it was-” Hiezh started. He threw his hands in the air and turned away. “You know what, this is so typical of the mages, to change the rules at the last minute.”
“The last change to the law was made two months ago, and voted upon unanimously by all attending mages. The change in the registration fee was made six months ago.” The secretary placed the paperwork on the table and looked up at him from her seat, placing the fingertips of her hands together and smiling at him. “Now, would you like to fill this out, as well as the other pertinent paperwork? And pay your fees?” She turned her attention to Azria. “You haven’t been teaching her with an expired license, have you?”
“No, no, of course not,” Hiezh said. Azria frowned as her teacher grabbed the paperwork and turned, walking away from the table. “We’ll be back shortly!” he called out. His shoulders hunched over slightly as they walked away from the licensing office. He did that whenever he was annoyed.
“If I don’t get seen today, I’ll be extremely upset,” Azria said, not bothering if her words irritated Hiezh further. “I know I gave you the mail for the licensing a few weeks ago, Hiezh. You filled it out and sent it.”
“I may have gotten into an argument with someone who works in the records office,” Hiezh muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. “If you don’t get registered today, it’ll be because of my big mouth, not negligence.”
Azria stopped in her tracks, narrowing her eyes at her teacher and crossing her arms over her chest. Hiezh usually kept to himself and since he didn’t drink, rarely went to the bars the other mages frequented. Still, from time to time he did go, to talk to mages who could still stand to converse with her sarcastic teacher. “You can’t keep from arguing with a drunk person, can you?”
“Not when they are so incredibly wrong, Azria.” Hiezh sighed. “Next time I see Gizh in the street, I’m going to twist his stole around his neck.”
“Alcohol doesn’t completely wipe people’s memories,” Azria said, shaking her head.
“Are you sure? I have personal experience to the contrary.” Hiezh brought his hands to his head and groaned, pulling at his braids. “Azria, I will get you registered. I swear it by the Holy Depths.”
“Glad to know there’s more than just my uncertainty that’s ruining my future here in Miz,” Azria said. She looked down at the dirt road, ignoring the sights and sounds of the market place. “Now I have my teacher’s enemies to blame.” Azria felt as if her body was heavier, as if not knowing what tomorrow held was a weight on her shoulders. “What other terrible thing is going to happen today?”
“Never say that,” Hiezh half whispered, half hissed.
Azria opened her mouth, wanting to say something rude but she stopped, a familiar face in the distance catching her eye. A smile spread on her lips as she waved, never more relieved to see her grandmother till now. “Nana!”
The old woman hobbled across the street, walking with an uneven gait. An accident in the old woman’s youth had resulted in a broken knee; her walk and the hard wooden cane, its handle a heavy, metal crab claw were among the things Azria associated with her grandmother. Nana waved back, easily making her way through the marketplace crowd despite her infirmity. Her long off-white skirt showed brown at the hem from the dirt road.
“I thought I was late but it looks like I’ve caught you before your testing, Azria,” Nana said. She smiled from under her broad brimmed hat, looking up into Azria’s face. “I wanted to be there to hug you after the mages received you as one of their own!”
“About that,” Azria said, her eyes darting from Hiezh to her grandmother. “I hope you didn’t plan anything elaborate to celebrate.”
“Nothing much,” Nana said, rocking back and forth on her heels. Azria knew this gesture. She was lying. “I was just going to make some food. Five spice stew. With rice. And plantain. And maybe something sweet at the end.” All of Azria’s favorite foods. “It’s not every day you finish your studies and become a mage in your own right.”
“Well, I am done teaching her,” Hiezh muttered, looking to the side, as if trying to avoid eye contact with the old woman. “She’ll have to form her own discipline now.”
“Except I didn’t get to test today,” Azria said, not able to keep from glaring at Hiezh. She thought about the boats in the harbor and if her mother returned that day. If her mother came, expecting a full-fledged mage of her daughter and found her denied due to a clerical error, what would she say?
Nana’s face screwed up with confusion, her grip tightening on the head of her cane. “Why didn’t you get to test, Azria? You’ve completed your training and turned sixteen! Hiezh said you were ready for the testing. What’s the matter?”
“There was an issue with some paperwork,” Hiezh said sheepishly, still avoiding the old woman’s gaze. “And there may be an issue with my own charter,” he added in one breath, wincing slightly as he said it.
Nana scowled and picked up her cane, holding it ready to strike Hiezh. “You chicken brain, you can’t even keep your paperwork straight with Azria filing your mail?” Hiezh flinched and with a flick of her wrist, Nana whacked Hiezh once on the arm, making the older mage jump in pain. “And where were you headed just now?” she asked, still holding her cane, ready to strike again.
“Back home to go through the paperwork I have,” Hiezh said. He rubbed his arm, frowning at the old woman. “I have my charter there. I need to find it.”
“It doesn’t matter if you find it,” Azria said. She started walking down the street, intending to head back to her grandmother’s house, her home. “It’s so late in the day, even if we could sort it out, there wouldn’t be time to get it all processed in time for me to be seen today.” Paper, having no legs, moved slowly. That was the saying among the five islands of Miz. “We can start in on it tomorrow and hopefully I can test within the next few weeks.” If they applied tomorrow, she could probably get another appointment in four weeks, three if she was lucky. The mages weren’t known for making exceptions or being speedy. In a month’s time she could be an official member of the Hithan Mage’s Guild. Azria swallowed hard, thinking of the next few weeks ahead of her and how they would stretch and seem endless.
“I hope you don’t blame me,” Hiezh said, falling in besides her.
“Why shouldn’t she?” Nana asked, coming up on the other side. Azria slowed her pace to accommodate her grandmother, the old woman’s presence her only comfort at the moment. “You’re the one who can’t keep some paperwork straight.”
“I’m not the one who requires the paperwork!” Hiezh said. “If this was the old days, I would test her myself and say she was a mage, part of our Order. But things are different now.” Hiezh lowered his voice, and Azria watched him look around, obviously looking to be sure no one was listening before he spoke. “After all the infighting, the mages thought they’d make up for the lawlessness by having more rules. They just made magic boring and cumbersome.”
“You don’t remember the old days, Hiezh, before the Triumvirate came and went,” Nana said, matching the volume of Hiezh but with more nostalgia in her quiet words. “They were wilder, almost worse than the marauders that ravaged our shores. They fought in the streets and in the forests. The Triumvirate formed covens and rivalries. They brought the tide in and out and carved caverns into mountains.”
“They proved to themselves they needed laws,” Azria said, leading the way through the busy streets, past food vendors and sandal menders. “They caused so much chaos, they shattered the peace. And when new powers rose up, the mages imposed their own rules, rather than have those without understanding force their decisions upon them.” Azria knew the history of the mages well. Every Mizian did. “Better the mages rule themselves than those who don’t understand how magic works.”
“Don’t or won’t?” Hiezh said with a wry laugh. “The leaders of each of the five islands want the power of the mages. They use the mages, they go through the precious paperwork to pick and choose who to use, like a tool in the toolbox. One to build a faster ship, one to make the purple rice grow faster and in less space. If mages didn’t have to appeal to five chiefs, maybe there would be fewer rules.”
“As annoying as the rules are, a mage of Miz is respected in every port,” Nana snorted.
“Meanwhile, I can’t get the respect of my peers because of who my parents are, or might be,” Azria interjected, no longer concerned with the politics of Miz and its history. She was the one rejected at the guild office today, for reasons clerical or otherwise. “Even if I were to pass the test, which I could, easily, Poesh and them would whisper behind my back and cost me work, if not my reputation.”
Of all the things which had remained after the Triumvirate had risen and fallen, Mizian pride remained. Azria’s ability to weave magic had been the proof the Guild needed as to her parentage but the rumors still lingered. Azria remembered the way Goezh’s parents had pulled him back over the threshold away from her. The disappointed look on Nana’s face when Azria told her about it, sobbing at the kitchen table. Not understanding what ‘rumors’ were and why it mattered who her father was. She didn’t care who he was and why would he be a foreigner? Why did it mean other apprentices wouldn’t play with her? Why was Hiezh her only confident and friend?
Azria sighed heavily, rubbing her eyes with the palm of her hand. She was tired. Tired of training for a world that wasn’t sure she belonged there. Tired of Hiezh’s cold way of expressing care. Tired of waiting for letters from her mother and trying to remember what she looked like.
“If you both don’t mind, I think I need to be alone for a while,” Azria muttered. Nana’s face fell with disappointment, the corners of her mouth drooping with a slight frown. Azria sighed and wrapped her arms around the old woman, embracing her as warmly as she could at the moment, given her mood. “I’ll be home for dinner, I promise. I just need some time to think.”
“Don’t be too long, granddaughter,” Nana said. The old woman craned her neck forward and laid a dry kiss on Azria’s cheek. She smelled of the cooking spices and the warm woods they burned at the altar for incense. “You know I hate serving cold food.”
“And I hate eating it,” Azria laughed, pulling away. She smiled one more time at Nana and Hiezh, noticing the concern in their eyes. “I’ll bring something for dessert.”
“I’ll get everything sorted with the Guild, I swear,” Hiezh said.
“You better,” Azria said, not wanting to spare her tutor’s feelings at the moment. “See you both later,” she said, turning and leaving, sure they were waving farewell. Azria didn’t bother turning around to make sure. She’d see them sooner than she’d like.
The market stretched before her, rows of sun bleached white awnings fluttering in the breeze around her. Azria looked over the wares absently, seeing the same sandals, shawls and snacks being sold at every turn. The words of her countryfolk were usually comforting and familiar, but at the moment they seemed bland and monotonous. Azria walked down one row of booths and instead of turning down the next, walked away from the market district, pointing her sandals towards the beach, walking into the wind.
The shore stretched white as the insides of seashells in front of her, the ocean a brilliant sapphire sparkling with hints of emerald and turquoise under the golden sun. Miz was called the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the Floating Chain and never did Azria believe it more than when she was on the beach. She walked off of the cobblestone street , her feet sinking into the sand. Without thinking she bent down and untied her sandals, carrying them in her hand as she walked further down the beach, the fine, white sand smooth against her feet.
Seagulls swooped and shrieked in the sky above and in the distance several pelicans gliding in a lazy line over the surf. Other beach goers walked and sat, eating lunches or poking at the shells and half dead creatures which always washed up on shore. Azria walked until she thought she was in the middle of the beach and sat down, staring out at the ocean.
The sea crashed and lapped at the shore, the noise rushing in her ears like a familiar, raucous tune. Out on the azure waves she saw ships. Fast, long fishing boats from white beached Hitha, sailing vessels of all shapes and sizes from the Redlands, Qamer, and the other wide, flat lands to the north. Boats from the other islands of Miz bobbed on the waves. Past them the shores of other islands of Miz shimmered. All of the islands, even the Black Island, were encircled by the warm, clear waters of the Sapphire Sea.
Azria sighed, picking up a handful of sand. She felt the small, fine grains slip past her skin, slip out of her fist and watched as they blew away in the wind. She flexed her fingers before she picked up another handful, feeling the heat in her chest, head, and belly which always rose up when she began to form her magic. She felt it swirl and glow inside of her as the heat coalesced and then trickled through her nerves, running down her arm as she felt out the properties of the white, clean sand. Slowly the sand stopped falling and came together, forming a hard, tight ball. Azria opened her hand and as she did, the sand flattened, her eyes leading the way as it settled into a hard, thin sheet. She could still see the grains of sand within it, dancing within the plane. As she drew in her breath, the granules loosened their hold on themselves and melded together, her hand warm under the newly formed plane of clear, brown glass.
Azria jumped, startled to hear her name. She felt the heat in her body swirl and surge as it tried to dissipate, her vision blurring for a moment as she turned to see who it was.
A short man, by Mizian standards, and he wasn’t from Miz. His build, stockier and muscled, filled out his clothes, but they were all wrong. Instead of the typical linen kilt most Mizian men wore, he wore brown pants that stopped right above the knee and seemed to be tucked in at the waist. His hair was very straight and greased back, the sides of his head shaved. Golden earrings adorned his big ears. The sleeved jacket was dyed a very deep blue, with black and silver embroidery flashing when he moved. His sharp brown eyes sparkled with excitement. At his waist, two curved knives hung from a thick leather belt, their hilts made of bone and carved with writing.
“Azria, is that you?” he asked again. From his accent, Azria thought he was probably from the Golden Islands, far to the South. She didn’t know anyone from the Golden Islands. Her eyes darted from side to side, looking for anyone who might see her speaking to him. “By Her Lap, you look just like them,” he said, shaking his head side to side.
“Do I know you?” she asked, standing up quickly and taking a step back. The man put his hands up in surrender, a smile revealing straight white teeth and one black tooth, made of some kind of stone. While his round face looked young, the lines at his eyes and around his mouth told her he was older.
“The last time I saw you, you were a baby,” the man said.
“That’s not what I asked,” Azria said, looking around again. The beach seemed suddenly empty.
“No need to worry,” the man said. He brought a hand to his belly and he bowed to her at the waist, standing up straight before he smiled to her again. “My name is Bolo of the good ship Hen and Chick.
“I’m here to take you to your mother.”
Hen & Chick is a monthly serialized story. This means a new ‘episode’ will be posted every month.
You can subscribe to monthly episodes here: https://www.backthatelfup.com/subscribe/
Or buy the whole first “season” The Marauders’ Island here: https://www.backthatelfup.com/books/the-marauders-island/
Tristan J. Tarwater is a writer of fantasy, comics and RPG bits. Her titles include The Valley of Ten Crescents series, Hen & Chick, Shamsee: A Fistful of Lunars, and Reality Makes the Best Fantasy. She has also worked for both Pelgrane Press and Onyx Path.
Born and raised in NYC, she now considers Portland, OR her home. When she’s not making stuff up, she is usually reading a comic book, cooking delicious meals for her Spouse and Small Boss or petting one of her two cats. Her next RPG character will most definitely be an elf.
You can find her online at www.backthatelfup.com
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** 3rd place winner of the Short Fiction Writers Guild 2015 'Series Debut' contest ** A slice of life, sword and sorcery, swashbuckling adventure! Azria, a mage of Miz, is the the key to revealing a long lost treasure: at least that’s what her mother, alleged pirate Captain Apzana says. If Azria can undo the magic of powerful mages who came before her, a vast treasure will be theirs for the taking. But more mysteries than riches surface as Azria approaches a fortune tied to a part of Miz’ history meant to remain drowned by the waves. Those who would stop her warn her: reveal the past and destroy the lives of mages forever. Azria must decide if she will be the daughter her mother needs or protect her homeland’s secret. --- Hen & Chick is a monthly serialized story. This means a new 'episode' will be posted every month. You can subscribe to monthly episodes here: https://www.backthatelfup.com/subscribe/ Or buy the whole first "season" The Marauders' Island here: https://www.backthatelfup.com/books/the-marauders-island/