22

May

by thefourpartland

Dinner had been a tepid affair, as it always was these days, with little to recommend it and no flavours to speak of. It was nutrition, pure and simple, and that was all that could be said in its favour. Indeed, it was a meal to dampen the spirits, as were all the meals taken on Yn Dref these days. It was in those dampened spirits that the three friends found themselves wandering the city streets, past grey mothers and greyer children.

Ira waved a hand at the Hanians that flocked around them. “Are you sure you don’t want to help these people, Yaden? There’s little reason not to.”

Yaden sighed. For once, the boisterous nature was gone. “Ira, I’ve nothing of what they truly need.” He flicked his hand into the air, and a light shower of sparks came from it, twinkling as they extinguished themselves in the night air. “You’ve witnessed something near to the extent of my powers right there. And what we stand on is the floating remains of a mountain top, ripped from the ground and upended by magics that we can barely comprehend. The gulf between my meagre talents and the arcanists of the golden era of Hania is so vast as to swallow all the valleys that feed us and then some. To save our people, we need gifted who can cross that gulf. Instead, the very best we have exhaust themselves daily just trying to keep what remains flying. And they’re failing. The old Market District is somewhere down below, now. As are the original barracks, some of the Temple Quarter, and who knows what else that fell before I was old enough to understand. The entire might of our existing arcanists is not enough to keep one skycity in the air, and yet in the history books, we learn of a time when there were dozens, if not a hundred or more, floating above the vast canyons of Ogleddol. So no, it’s not that I won’t, it’s that I can’t.”

Canere, ever the scholar, began to muse. “But why has our talent level fallen so far? We’ve the same bloodline as the arcanists who came before. Indeed, most of the upper families remaining can trace their heritage back to the greatest of the great, and are more intermingled than any twisted vine. So that’s the same. The world around us has changed, for sure. The old empire of Arhosa is no more, but Hanian society was long somewhat separate on our skycities in the first place. The Enayinbo magicians who helped forge Arhosa were our equals, not our betters.” He paused. “I’m going to the archives. The answer has to be in there somewhere.”

The other two groaned. They had seen what happened when Canere got caught in the throes of an idea, and it would mean him spending hours upon hours digging through whatever had caught his fancy. And then dragging the two of them into it.

“Tomorrow, Canere. Despite being the one who wasn’t a fool on the edge of the world today, I’m tired. Maybe that’s because I was doing actual work. So, before you have your mad moment, I’m leaving and going to bed. Yaden, I suggest you do the same.” Ira departed, shaking her head at the ideas that would sometimes sprout in that mage’s mind.

“Yaden, I kept you safe today. The least you can do is give me a little bit of a hand with the research.”

“Canere, I’m going to say yes, even though I’ll regret it within moments. I’ll help until the midnight bell, but then I’m off to the comforts of my bed, such as they are.”

With that, the two of them set off in the direction of the arcanist archives.

***

It had taken some begging and other whining to have the librarians allow the two of them access, but after being persuaded it was a historical topic, they relented. The librarians, mages themselves, had seen too many young fools hoping to find the secret to the lost power of Hania somewhere in the stacks. Usually followed by said young fool attempting to cast one of the spells he had found and killing himself and possibly others.

And yet it was precisely to those shelves that Canere first went. Although he did send Yaden off to collect a host of histories from around the golden age until the present. As a fully trained arcanist, albeit one quite far down the pecking order due to youth, Canere did technically have access to the shelves in the back, although his instructors had rather pointedly not mentioned them to him. He’d had to discover their existence for himself, as well as what they contained. But his studies in the dusty corners of the archives had given him some of the insights that allowed him to become the arcanist he was today. Which, on the whole, was not saying a great deal.

Yaden returned to find his friend nose deep in a scroll, peering at oddly scribed words. “I’ve got the mess of documents that you wanted. Now what?”

Canere poked his nose over the scroll. “Start reading.”

“I need to know what I’m reading for…”

“Something that’s not the same as it is today.”

“Canere, that’s everything. Aside from the fact we still, barely, live on a skycity.”

The young mage paused, marshalling his thoughts. “Okay, here. Look for things that aren’t done the same way as today. Especially magical things. Something’s changed between their day and ours, and I want to find it. Our connection to magical energy isn’t as strong as it once was, and it’s not the bloodlines that’s causing it. So somewhere in those documents should be at least a hint of what’s causing it. Habits, behaviour, something’s changed that brought about Hania’s downfall. And it has to be wide enough to affect a whole civilization.”

“And if there isn’t?”

“It’s either in your documents or mine, so start reading. Hemming and hawing isn’t going to get through them any faster.”

Shaking his head at his friend’s surety, Yaden began to pour through the stack of old books in front of him.

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