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          The city of Verdenture boasted a population of fifty thousand Magi, a handful of Kin, and absolutely no Dragons. It was not unexpected. The Kin, both Sun and Moon, both Faerie and Elf, stuck to their own islands because they didn't always like Magi ways of life. Dragons . . . well, they intensely disliked Magi and stayed on their hidden isle to stifle the desire to start eating them.
          Among the cities on the land of Carnelian, Verdenture was one of the biggest. It was also well noted on maps: within the forested city was a young Master Magi by the name of Kelsey Renaire. She was a Fire Magi who also used Smoke powers despite not yet being through second puberty. In fact, she had only recently begun that beautiful development, and every unattached person in town was waiting with their fingers crossed to be noticed.
          In addition to her world-renown skills as a Master Weaponsmith, Kelsey was without question the most beautiful girl in her city. Her hair was a thick mane of red curls that varied between shades of red that were more blue and reds that were more orange. It cascaded down her back in a thick mass that she often tied on top of her head in a messy bundle wrapped in ribbon.
          While she worked at a forging table, she wore little more than a snug, strapless top and a pair of shorts. She felt no fear of injury; her own fire could not burn her. She did worry about material catching flame, though, and cut down on what she wore. It could also get blinding hot, enough that it bothered even her.
          When the small MoonKin Faerie approached the stone shed where her friend was working, she was highly disgruntled to see the men peeking inside. Unsurprised, naturally, but disgruntled regardless. She skidded to a stop and propped tiny hands on her hips. Her nearly translucent double wings fluttered to hold her in the air. "Ahem!"
          All four males jumped and turned around quickly. The youngest was only just past second puberty, and the oldest was potentially old enough to be Kelsey's father. Etude wasn't sure which was more vexing. "March!" she ordered. She pointed down the road. Her slender arm with its rich mocha colored skin displayed its silver tattoos brightly in the filtered sunlight from the trees.
          With distinct reluctance, the men dragged their feet and shuffled down the stone path toward the rest of the buildings. This part of Verdenture was purely residential with the pointed exception of Kelsey's stone shed. Though she was more social than most Master Magi, she was still inclined to retreat for her work.
          Etude flew into the shed and landed on a shelf near the door. It was never a hardship to watch Kelsey. To be a Weaponsmith meant that the Fire Magi had to have a precision mastery over wielding her element at the same time that she manipulated her material. Every hammer blow had to have a delicate combination of physical force and Fire power.
          Kelsey's skill was evidenced in the way sparks flew with every blow, and her strength was seen in the sleek muscles that lined her arms. Even Etude thought that Kelsey's strength was sexy, and she didn't have a particular preference for Magi. But Kelsey wasn't a normal Magi by any means of the imagination. Etude wasn't sure how different Kelsey was, but she had suspicions. Ones she would never speak out loud.
          With a final rap of the hammer she was holding, Kelsey straightened and held up the sword she had been working on. She set the hammer aside before shoving her visor up on top of her head. Her crystalline blue eyes nearly looked green in the light from the fire in front of her. With a contented sigh, she put the sword to the side. It was just a blade right now. She would be smoke-carving the hilt later.
          "Cross-eyed yet?" Etude asked.
          Kelsey turned with a grin. "Only a little. Ugh." She swiped at her arms and her forehead to remove sweat but only added more soot and ash. "Air!"
          Etude obligingly created a soft breeze to flow in the shed and remove the oppressive heat. Even Fire elements could get overheated. Etude, as an Air secondary Kin, was the perfect partner to work with. She was also a master etcher and could use her tertiary Thunder power to make intricate designs on Kelsey's weapons.
          While Kelsey lied down on the floor, Etude flew over to look at the blade. It was double edged and both sides were razor sharp. The blade flared at the base where it would eventually be mounted to a hilt, and the entire blade came to a point that was no wider than Etude's hand. "It's beautiful," she said finally. "You just get better every time." She flew over to her friend and peered down at her face. "Can you walk?"
          "I'm not sure. How long was I in here? My back says it was about ten hours."
          "The sun says it was more like twelve."
          "Who am I to argue with the sun?" She pushed herself up to a sitting position with a groan and then gained her feet. "I need a hot bath."
          Etude smiled in bemusement as she followed her friend out of the shed. "She goes from a hot forge to a hot bath. I'm surprised you don't sleep in a fireplace, Kel. Really."
          "Mom and Dad swear I used to crawl into them, actually. I was always covered in soot to the point that people were thinking I was part MoonKin because my skin was dark."
          Etude studied the smudges across her face. "I ought to call you Soot then."
          Kelsey stopped walking sharply, a fist emotionally slamming into her chest. Something hurt. Something hurt a lot. She felt as if she should remember something that she couldn't. She had forgotten something. Something important. She had always felt that way, but the missing memory suddenly seemed downright painful.
          Etude's smile faded and she flew closer. "Kel?"
          She shook her head. "I'm okay." She pushed it aside and walked faster down the road. "Let's get indoors before I get bit." Forested lands were notorious for insects. It was why the dwellers within the trees tended to wear longer clothing.
          Because she wasn't an adult yet, she still lived with her mother and father. In deference to her very strong independent nature, though, her parents had made her room on their house to be self-sufficient. She had her own bathing room, kitchen, and work area. If she was in a mood where she didn't want to see anyone at all, it wasn't required.
          That didn't mean her parents didn't try to spoil her.
          She smiled as she walked into her bathing area and saw that there were already towels stacked neatly beside a special soap that wouldn't make her sensitive skin itch. The large pool was already filled with hot water, courtesy of her father who was a Water Magi. Water made by a person rather than nature itself never changed temperature.
          "Your parents really love you," Etude noted.
          She stripped off her clothes. "Yeah." She contentedly got into the tub and sank in to her neck. She remembered her hair was still up, and she pulled out the ribbon. The thick mass tumbled down, and she ducked underwater entirely. When she surfaced, she slung her hair out of her eyes and said, "Second puberty is overrated." 
          Her partner tried not to smile. She was six years old by Magi standards. By Kin Faerie standards, she was closer to her mid-twenties. Faeries grew very fast for their first three years and then grew at a normal rate until the age of one hundred when they stopped growing entirely. On the flipside, Kin Elves grew very slowly until about fifty. At that point they would start aging normally to two hundred when they stopped growing. Kin weren't immortal like Dragons, but their average age span was around five hundred.
          As such, second puberty was around three for Faeries and around fifty for Elves. Etude was well past the process. "You're just reacting stronger because you're stronger." She gathered up Kelsey's discarded clothes and put them in the basket where they belonged. "You know flesh is secondary to power on Lucksphere. You went to school, didn't you?"
          As if from memory, Kelsey obediently recited, "All Magi learn lightning from birth. Around an average age of thirteen, they enter first puberty where their bodies develop and define their gender. Their lightning becomes a tangible primary element. Around an average age of nineteen, they enter second puberty where they become capable of reproducing. Their primary element evolves into their secondary."
          "With . . . ?"
          She sighed and sank further in the water. "With the noted exception of Master Magi who develop secondary elements from first puberty and tend to grow at a faster rate. They also experience things far more clearly because, like all beings, their bodies are made by their power. The stronger the power, the stronger their bodies and feelings."
          "Good girl." Etude flew over and picked up a cloth to help scrub Kelsey's face. Her friend never did manage to get all the soot off. In return, Kelsey always helped Etude get her wings clean. They didn't fold in ways that allowed her to reach all the parts.
          There was a loud commotion outside, and Kelsey opened her eyes. "Now what?"
          Etude flew over to the window and opened it just enough to hear. Outside, two women were talking with a visitor from Prismatic. "What do you mean you saw one?" one of the women asked.
          "I saw one of the Chronicles that saved us nine years ago," the man explained. "It was just in passing, but it was definitely the female! She was riding on the back of a Dragon, and if that isn't a clue, I don't know what is. Dragons can't carry passengers, but Furies can carry their Chronicles."
          "Ugh," the other woman said. "I still don't know why we let them live and have to kill all the rest. It's been nine years. The Black Magi Elite are gone. I say it's time to live and let live. If the two we've seen are anything to go by, then I don't believe Chronicles are the terror we've always been led to think."
          "You may be right," the man said softly. "The woman I saw didn't look like a monster. If anything . . . I think she looked a little sad."
          Etude shut the window and thought swiftly over things. That was a really good thing to hear, especially for the Kin. She flew down to where Kelsey was scrubbing her hair and landed on the edge of the pool. "They were talking about a Chronicle sighting." She watched Kelsey's face as she spoke. "She was seen flying on her Fury's back past the continent of Prismatic."
          Kelsey's hands stilled as she felt a fierce pain welling up inside her chest. Her skin burned, and her soul felt as if it was being torn apart. She needed something. There was something that was critical to her existence. There was someone out there. She felt him at the back of her mind and heart. "What are Furies?" she managed to ask. She hurriedly rinsed her hair free from the soap though her fingers were trembling.
          Her reaction only confirmed Etude's suspicions. She closed her eyes. "Furies are Dragon Lords. Dragons are Dragons, as you know, but Dragon Lords are Dragons who can take Magi form. Or Kin form, actually. Dragon Lords aren't always Furies, but Furies are always Dragon Lords. A Fury is the destined lover for a Chronicle. They're always complete opposites. Opposing genders, opposing elements. You know how Chronicles have lines? Well, those lines are a map leading them to their Fury. They say that the love between a Fury and a Chronicle is unlike any other. They become bound in ways that go beyond a Linking union for Magi, or a Binding one for Kin."
          "Someone to love them," Kelsey said softly.
          "Someone to love them no matter what. It's instantaneous, if what I've heard is true. They meet and . . . it just happens. I think part of it is the power exchange." When Kelsey blinked at her, she rubbed the back of her neck. "We call it feeding on power, but it's more complicated than that. You know how Dragons have infinite power and Magi don't? It's flipped in Chronicles and Furies. A Fury feeds on the Chronicle's power and it maintains balance. The Fury doesn't risk destroying his or herself and the Chronicle doesn't risk going out of control."
          "It sounds beautiful."
          The longing in Kelsey's voice was poignant and clear. It was also completely subconscious. Wanting to distract her, Etude flew over and tickled her ear. "Still ticklish?"
          "Gah!" She grabbed Etude and dunked her. "You little fink! Taking advantage of my skin is not fair!" With an annoyed sound, she got to her feet and began wringing out her hair. It tended to dry very quickly because her natural body heat was high. "I hate this part of puberty! Yes, things I like are more enjoyable, but on the other hand, the things I don't like are LESS enjoyable!"
Etude surfaced and flew out of the water. She shook out her wings before grabbing Kelsey's clean clothing. "I think you're just having a double dose because you're a Master Magi. It should go away in another month or so. I think."
          "Think!" She muttered under her breath as she pulled on her underclothes. For women, the two-piece set was called a bikini. It consisted of a pair of underwear, and a top that crossed over a woman's breasts and tied behind her back and neck. The set could be worn with or without clothes over the top. The tighter the top, the better the support. She had seen some desert girls wearing literally nothing more than a bikini and some cloth tied around their hips. She envied them.
          Because Kelsey's figure was on the lusher side—lush when compared to her average five-six height—she wore her bikini top slightly snugger than usual. She paired with it a pair of snug black leggings and a loose dark red tunic. The tunic had sleeves that went to her wrists, and it was belted around her waist. The clothing was standard for a forest dweller.
          It was for that reason that she walked into her parents' central room and complained, "Can we move to the desert already?"
          Luke Renaire looked up from the book he was reading and smiled. "Hello, Etude."
          Etude waved from where she was sitting on Kelsey's shoulder. "Hello!"
          "What are you complaining about now?" Mildred Renaire asked in exasperation as she walked in from the kitchen. She moved over to the other seat in the room after stopping long enough to kiss her daughter's cheek. "Hello, Etude." The Faerie had been a common sight in the household for years.
          "I'm complaining about this!" Kelsey held out her arms, and the sleeves flopped past her hands. "Long sleeves! Long leggings! I just put them on and already my arms and legs are itching!"
          Luke frowned and put down his book. "I think perhaps it's time you went to the doctor in town. This is going beyond unusual, even for you. If it was just your sensitivity, it wouldn't be isolated. Your whole body ought to be itching."
          "It's not my whole body. Just the undersides of my arms and the outsides of my legs." She crossed her arms to keep herself from scratching her skin. It was nearly burning in intensity. "No doctor. I'll deal with it."
          Neither Luke nor Mildred was surprised. Kelsey was, indeed, more outgoing than most Master Magi, but she was still highly sensitive emotionally. She wouldn't go to a doctor unless she was dying. Frankly, even that was debatable. "Very well," Luke conceded.
          A knock came to the front door, sounding as three sharp raps. Mildred's brows rose. "The Militia?" She hurried over to the door and opened it slightly to peer out. On the doorstep she found a young man wearing the uniform of the Magi Militia. "Is there something wrong?"
          "Not at all." The man smiled. "Might I enter? This is the home of Kelsey Renaire, is it not?"
          "Bye." Kelsey turned to leave, but Etude grabbed her tunic collar and Luke grabbed her tunic bottom. She groaned but stopped trying to get away.
          "Yes," Mildred said dryly, "it is. Please come in." She shut the door once he had entered and led the way to the sitting area. "What can we help you with?"
For a moment, Ilian Deepforge couldn't speak as he spotted Kelsey. He had never seen such a strikingly beautiful young woman before. Her thick red hair was like the purest of flames, and the blue eyes glowering at him reminded him of the clearest sky. Stunning was the only word he could think of to describe her.
          She covered her face with a hand. "I'm not out of second puberty."
          He blinked then smiled apologetically. "I am sincerely sorry for my absorption, and also sorry for the men in this town."
          "So am I," Luke muttered.
          "Dad." Kelsey smacked his hand off her tunic and dislodged Etude as well. That done, she drew her thumb over her cheek and nose in the universal Magi greeting even as Etude folded her wings around herself and bowed in the Faerie greeting. "Nice to meet you. I am Kelsey Renaire, Master Fire Magi. This is my partner Etude, Air secondary MoonKin."
          Ilian returned the gesture. "Argyle Ilian Deepforge, Fire Magi, leader of one of the Militia parties deployed to Carnelian." He repeated the gesture to Mildred and Luke, including them in the respectful greeting.
          Mildred and Luke also returned the gesture. "Luke Renaire, Water Magi, and my mate Mildred, Soil Magi," Luke said. "What brings you to our home, Argyle?"
          "Ilian, please. I was only recently promoted to Argyle and I'm not used to it." He took a seat when Mildred gestured to it. "I'll make a long story short. I am here to request aid from Kelsey to make new weapons for my unit. Our weapons simply won't hold up to our current duty. We need better, and there is none better than Master Kelsey's weaponry."
          Kelsey was intrigued despite herself. "Can you tell me what your duty is?"
          "I am afraid I cannot," he admitted. "We have to deploy in a few days, however. I suppose that is not long enough."
          "For one or two weapons, perhaps. How many do you need?"
          She grimaced. "Never happen. I can do it in a week or two, though."
          He almost offered to come back for them but changed his mind at the last moment. He couldn't seem to look away from her crystalline eyes. He wanted to be the man she noticed when she was ready to experiment in second puberty. The only way to do that would be to keep her near. "Would you be willing to travel with my unit long enough to make the weapons?"
          "Only if I go too," Etude muttered. Her rose-colored eyes told him that she had not missed his interest.
          "Naturally you would be invited," he agreed. "I would not expect her to simply travel off with a person you have no reason to trust."
          "It's up to you, Kelsey," Mildred said softly. "You are a Master Magi and therefore you exist under rules different from the rest of us. If you wish to go, we won't stop you."
          "I'll make the first weapon," she decided. "If it is sufficient for you, I will agree to travel with you long enough to make the rest. What would you like me to work on first?"
Illian drew the sword he wore at his side and offered it hilt first. Though he had been expecting it, he was still a little nonplussed as she took it with one hand and no effort. There were few women who could swing a sword one handed. "As you can see, this sword has seen much fighting and is stressed to the max."
          "Hmph. Looks like it was never high quality to begin with. I could do better in my sleep." She propped the sword on her shoulder. "Let's talk payment."
          "I can offer a payment of ten bronze coins for twenty weapons." He smiled when the others stared at him. "It's a payment well made for Master Kelsey's work."
          Bronze coins were worth five times the amount of ivory coins, the common currency for the world. A single bronze coin could allow someone to buy food and supplies for an entire month. "Aiyea," Etude breathed.
          "Pardon?" Luke asked.
          "It has no translation to Magi," she apologized. "It's more an exclamation of surprise than a word. Remember, we have five hundred characters in our language and you only have one hundred."
          "Aiyea indeed," murmured Mildred.
          Kelsey shrugged one shoulder. She was used to hearing outrageous amounts of money thrown at her. Truth be told, she had a sealed trunk in her room with enough ivory that she would never want for anything again. "Done." She turned to head for the door.
          Startled, Ilian said, "You do not need to get started right now."
          "Why shouldn't I?" Without another word, she headed back to her rooms to change into her work clothes again.
          Luke said softly, "She's more comfortable there. Though she smiles and laughs and makes friends easily, she is more secure in her workshop." He ran a hand through his hair with a sigh. "When she was a child, she was precocious. But when she entered first puberty . . . a part of her retreated. If she didn't have her weaponry, she wouldn't even live in a town."
          "You want to see?" Etude asked. Ilian nodded and she flew over to the door. "Follow me." With him close, she headed back down the trail toward the shed. There was already a plume of orange smoke coming from the chimney. "You liked Kelsey, didn't you?"
          "I did," the Argyle admitted. "It was a bit surprising. I've never been quite so strongly attracted to anyone before, not since my own second puberty."
          "And that was . . .?"
          "About ten years ago." Realizing what she was fishing for, he offered, "I am twenty-eight summers old." He ran a hand through his short black hair. "Her eyes . . . they remind me of the glass I often work with. I've always wanted to make that shade of blue."
          "Oh so you work mostly in Smoke?" The element of Smoke allowed a Fire user to create and craft glass. They could also break down glass into sand for Soil users to weave cloth with.
          "I do. I have not done it since joining the Militia though. Perhaps I ought to pick it up again." He stopped talking as they reached the door to the shed. As quietly as possible, he opened the door and peered inside. At first, he was distracted by Kelsey's stunningly long legs then he focused on her work and his breath really caught.
          The sliver of metal she was hammering looked like nothing remotely resembling a sword. But as he watched, he could see the beginnings of the shape forming, the metal melting and reforming under master control. His eyes shifted to her face, and he was left spellbound. The color of her eyes . . . he wanted to capture it within glass.
          "Don't fall in love with her," Etude warned softly.
          "Because she can never love you back." She flew off without another word through the darkening twilight.
          Ilian, with nothing else he could do, turned to go to the camp where his party was resting while they waited to set off again. Her words confused him highly. In a world where you couldn't know how a person's heart would function until after second puberty, how could she know whether or not Kelsey could love him?
          Something told him he didn't want to know the answer.


©S. J. Garrett. All rights reserved. Do not reprint/publish without permission.

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