Adane barely escaped war in his homeland. He wanted nothing more than to hide in this new city with his adopted child Chisa by his side. But every choice he makes risks their quiet lives and every day brings the war that Adane fled closer to their doorstep. Soon Adane will have to choose between running away again or taking a stand against an enemy that can’t be seen and cannot be fought.
Transplant of War
by Meyari McFarland
“Why they have to watch?” Chisa complained very, very quietly two hours later.
They didn’t turn to glare of their shoulder. Adane could feel how much of an effort that was. He completely agreed with Chisa about the mages’ persistent surveillance. Unfortunately, Adane couldn’t see what to do about it. Father would have been able to order them from the room because of his rank as a professor. Adane couldn’t do so, no matter what he’d survived or what he’d created.
“Stubborn,” Adane replied with a little shrug that netted him grumbles and increased whispers. “Curious. Waiting to see the magic.”
“Will be magic?” Chisa asked. The child twisted on the ladder to grin down at Adane while bouncing very slightly. They were busy putting the second layer of paint on the under layer of the symbol as Adane put a fine edge of deep green around the outer edge of the rays of the sun symbol.
“Of course,” Adane replied. “Why we’re here.”
Chisa cooed. It would be the first time that Adane openly, obviously, cast magic in front of Chisa. Even the scarf wrapped around Chisa’s head had been a very quiet, discrete spell. This would inevitably have to be much more dramatic, if only to ensure that the mages understood how to do it themselves once they had the similar designs painted in their homes.
Presuming that they wanted such things and didn’t want Adane himself.
“Why do you use Low Tongue exclusively?” Baha al Din asked. He blinked when both Chisa and Adane turned to stare at him. “With the child. You use Low Tongue exclusively. I would think that you would wish to educate your child in more cultured ways of communicating.”
Adane snorted and shook his head at that. “Why? Chisa was a street child before I adopted them. They won’t ever have a rank to justify High Tongue. And Chisa understands Common perfectly well.”
“Waste of time,” Chisa said with a dismissive wave of their hand that would do a royal prince proud. “Too many words. This way much better.”
The horrified chokes behind them prompted Adane into snickers. He patted Chisa’s foot, turning back to his careful outlining. Ten minutes later he was done and so was Chisa. Adane helped Chisa down, carefully removed the paint that had splattered over Chisa’s hands and then nodded that the scarf had come through unscathed, miracle of miracles.
“Now do pretty bits?” Chisa asked with excitement.
“Now pretty bits,” Adane agreed. “Stay put. Be good.”
“Yes, sir!” Chisa said, sitting in the cart with the sealed paint pots.
“When do you cast the magic?” Hakeem al Haddad asked. “We’ve all been waiting.”
“You need a form before you can cast anything,” Adane said. “If I were creating charms with braided and knotted silk I’d cast the spells as I worked the knots. For a mural, it’s best to wait until the end or near the end. I find that painting the entire design, including the runes, and then imbuing them with magic works best. I can correct errors in the paint work without having to redo or correct the spell work. Less work is always better.”
That, thankfully, seemed to satisfy them. Adane set to work on the runes that would hold the majority of the magic. It was a simple set of runes, one for each ray of the sun symbol, but forming them correctly was important.
Mis-formed runes could easily misshape the magic. That was one of the first things that Father had taught Adane when he was as small as Chisa. Even so, there was room for artistic interpretation and Baha al Din probably would want to use the mural and its spell as a discussion piece.
Rather than the printed forms that Adane had taught Chisa and Ghadir, Adane used the more flowing cursive forms. Chisa made a curious little noise, frowning as they stared at the finish work Adane did for each rune, widening some bits, leaving only the barest hint of connection in other places.
“That’s… not what I expected,” Hakeem al Haddad commented. When Adane glanced his way Hakeem al Haddad blinked rapidly and waved one hand at the mural. “Cursive?”
“There is always room for artistic interpretation,” Adane said. “Intent covers many errors. I had thought that Baha al Din would like a conversation piece.”
Baha al Din laughed, clapping his hands sharply enough that the sound ricocheted through the huge room. Adane jumped, thankfully without the paintbrush on the mural. Chisa squeaked and jumped, too, curling inwards on themself. More tellingly, the two servants on duty flinched so dramatically that Adane’s stomach turned for them. Sudden violence had to be a thing which happened in this household for them to react in that way.
Commenting on it wouldn’t bring any good to the world so Adane finished the runes, added some decorative dot and slash work that made it a truly lovely mural in and of its own right and then nodded as he carefully cleaned the brush. Capping the paint pot gained Adane a few moments, as did passing the pot and brush down to Chisa.
“Magic now?” Chisa asked, bouncing on their toes with excitement that was matched by the mages behind them.
“Magic now,” Adane laughed. “Go sit. Will take a moment.”
He sighed, cleaning the paint off his arms, chest and hands. Cleaning his face would have to wait until he could look into a mirror. Truly, it would have been better to cast the spells one at a time as he painted the runes but Adane didn’t want to leave himself open for that long. Dropping his shields was bad enough. No reason to make it last half the day or even half an hour.
“Magic goes into artifacts better when you cast spells in the process of making it,” Adane explained. He automatically took on the lecturing tone his father had always used. “For charms with braids and embroidery it is always better to cast the spell knot by knot or stitch by stitch. Murals, however, have an advantage. Paint dries slowly. Less slowly in the sun than here, inside, but still slowly enough that a quick, talented mage can cast their spells before the paint has cured entirely. An oil painting would allow hugely complex spells to be cast upon it while a fresco painted with quick-drying tinted plaster, very little at all.”
He held up a hand as seven different inhales marked questions. Adane smiled wryly at them. Every single one, Baha al Din and Hakeem al Haddad included, looked irritated at being interrupted.
“This paint dries in minutes, even with multiple layers of paint,” Adane said. “It will be dry about the time I finish the spell. Questions will have to wait.”
“Proceed, then,” Baha al Din sighed. “Had I known I would have suggested a slower paint.”
“And allow stray influences to enter the mural?” Adane asked.
Surprise and concern flared in Baha al Din’s eyes. A deep frown marked Hakeem al Haddad’s forehead. He glanced at one of the mages sitting close to him, worry suddenly flaring in his aura. Adane turned away, wrapped protective shields around himself. As much as he wanted to, he had to leave Chisa unshielded. His power and his focus wouldn’t stretch far enough to cover Chisa, too, not with so many mages in the room to guard against.
If any of them harmed Chisa, Adane would kill them.
He whispered the spells, hand held a bare fraction of an inch over the rapidly drying paint. Magic flowed from Adane into the mural, filling it and then slowly, deliberately, joining each ray of the sun to the other to form a lovely protection spell that would keep Baha al Din’s household, every single member from top to bottom, safe. Adane added a silent rider to fill the decorative bits that would shield the servants from attack and influence both internal and external.
When he stepped back from the mural the paint was dry and the mural itself shimmered with magic that slowly sank into the wall and then spread outwards to gently engulf them all. Adane nodded, took his shirt from Chisa, and pulled it on.
“Done,” Adane said. “I would highly recommend reinforcing the spells with your magic. Perhaps with your apprentices’ magic as well. The more magic that is put into the mural the stronger the spells will become.”
“It is multiple spells crafted together,” Baha al Din whispered. His eyes were wide with awe that tinted his aura with jealousy.
“Of course,” Adane said. “That’s the advantage of artifacts. Granting them power can be done in segments rather than all at once. All artifacts hold more than one spell. Father theorized that a sufficiently complicated series of spells could grant an artifact true awareness, perhaps even a soul. He never tested it, of course, but theoretically it could be done.”
“Why have you not applied for your rank?” Hakeem al Haddad asked in a similarly awed, similarly jealous tone.
“Rank,” Adane said, shaking his head and wishing he could spit into the tarp. The manners Father had taught him forbade it. “Rank will not help when they come for Rudrai. It will not help when mobs come after Blood Mages, baying for their lives. Nothing good comes from it. High rank got my parents killed, my family stalked. I have no interest in rank. I only wish to be as safe as possible when the war comes.”
“You are sure it will happen?” asked the mage that Hakeem al Haddad had glanced at. The question seemed completely innocent. His aura was bland, curious but not jealous at all. Against the auras of everyone else in the room it stuck out like a stubbed toe.
Adane looked at him. Silence stretched between them until the mage shifted in his chair. He looked away, looked back, opened his mouth only to shut it again. Still Adane looked at him, shields wrapped firmly around both Chisa and himself.
“All right, it’s obvious that it’s coming!” the mage snapped. “We all know that. What do you expect us to do?”
“Fight, die,” Adane said. He shrugged away their shock. “If you allow gates in Rudrai then they will win. If you allow laws to control the teaching of Blood Magic, they will win. It is how they work, how they succeed. It has happened from the Western Ocean to Egar and it will happen to Rudrai as well.”
The mage shook his head, rubbing both hands over his face so forcefully that his perfect beard was rumpled. “How can gates give them victory?”
“Look at my mural,” Adane said. “Then think about heavy stone gates that draw power from their surroundings. Think of gates that release that power, amplify it, whenever a mage interacts with those gates. They’re designed to store and release power at will. Not your will, nor my will. The will of the creators. Certainly, those of the correct bloodlines can open the gates, use them for travel, but that’s not what they’re intended for. It’s never been what the gates were intended for.”
Hakeem al Haddad stood, slowly walking over to the mural. He traced the runes and rays of the symbol, face going pale as he felt the magic Adane had created. Adane watched, shifting closer to Chisa who gripped the hem of his paint-stained shirt.
“It influences people,” Hakeem al Haddad murmured. “You added a component to influence people in the household not to harm the servants, not to influence them.”
“Our servants betrayed us,” Adane explained. “They were threatened, bribed, spelled to turn us into the new government. Then they were killed. The weak, the powerless, they’re always the first, most logical place to strike.”
Baha al Din flinched, looking at the two servants who stared at Adane as if he was a savior sent by the Mother Goddess herself. Hakeem al Haddad waved Adane’s explanation off, tapping his fingers against the heart of the sun symbol, the letter ‘hol’ and its round heart.
“The gates could have similar spells,” Hakeem al Haddad whispered.
“They do,” Adane confirmed. “I’ve seen it many times myself. They’re not designed to help you, or me, or anyone in Rudrai. They are solely designed to help their creators gain and control ever more power. So. You have a choice. Accept that you can travel easily and be destroyed, used, and controlled, or fight and possibly be destroyed. I see no other options.”
He turned to the silent Baha al Din, nodding towards the purse lying in the center of the table. Baha al Din stood, leaned on the table as if his knees wouldn’t support him, and then tossed the purse towards Adane. It took three too-long steps away from Chisa to take the purse and then three faster steps back. Adane confirmed that the purse and coins within were not spelled in any way.
“Thank you for your business,” Adane said. “Do reinforce the spells. It will strengthen them. And if anyone else wants a mural, perhaps with more specific defenses, send an apprentice to ask. Good day.”
He turned and walked out, pulling the cart, the paint pots and the very relieved Chisa with him. Adane hurried out of Baha al Din’s house, down the street and back towards the poor quarter. The sooner they were back home where they belonged the happier he would be. Venturing back into the upper ranks of magical society had only reminded him of how little he wanted to do with them anymore.
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