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       The Hollow, p.11

           Andrew Day
 
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whatsoever. Then they were summoned to meet Holland for their most important piece of equipment.

  They met in the underground training hall, which Serrel realised he would be happy to see the back of, and at the same time, felt apprehensive that he would be leaving it forever. Holland smiled at them grimly.

  “Just so you know,” he said. “If it were up to me, there would be no way in hell that you would be going off like this. You aren’t ready, not by a long shot. But, there aren’t enough mages to go around at the moment, and the Legion needs every able body they can for this joke of a campaign. I’ve done the best I could under the circumstances, and if I’m being honest, you lot managed to surprise me on more than one occasion. You might just make it. Just remember what I told you, follow your orders, and don’t do anything stupid. Well, anything stupider than joining the Legion, anyway.”

  “Aren’t you coming?” asked Justin.

  “Possibly. Later, if I can manage it. I’m to remain here, to train the next lot of useless tossers who think they can weave. I can’t say I’m confident. Mage recruits are getting fewer and fewer. We’re a dying breed, we are. So, while I can still give you lot orders, let me give you one last one: don’t get yourselves killed. If you get back... Hell, when you get back, I’ll even buy you a drink to celebrate.

  “Here are you postings,” Holland handed each of them a scroll with a Legion seal. “I’m sorry that you lot will have to be split up, but like I said, our numbers are too few. I used my not inconsiderable influence with them-who-must-be-obeyed to get you posted in units where you’ll do the most good with what little talent you have, so no fear. You’ll each do your part, in your own way.

  “Anyway. Staves. Can’t send you off to war with those glorified broomsticks. Hand them over.”

  No one moved.

  “Are you going to break our arms?” asked Justin darkly.

  Holland laughed. “No, Pond Scum, I will not break your arms. Promise.”

  They handed in their old training staves, and Holland handed them brand new war-staves. They were longer and better weighted than their old staves, made of thick dark wood sanded smooth, and properly adjusted for each individual’s height. Serrel spun his through the air experimentally. He could already feel the energy pulsing through its length. It was perfect.

  Holland next handed them a small leather pouch containing a small flask of the Elixir of Vorkeph, the Magi’s Bane. Serrel took his with reluctance, but Holland was adamant.

  “This Elixir could save your lives in the days to come,” he said. He looked at Greasy Tim. “Don’t sell it.”

  “I never...”

  “Of course you never. Just don’t sell it. I guess that’s that. You could all pass for real mages. In the right light. I think I may actually get teary. Well? What are you lot standing around here for? You think the war’s going to wait for you? Fall out, or you’ll miss your boats. Go on. You don’t like me that much.”

  As they filled out the door, Mouse paused and muttered awkwardly, “Um... Thank you.”

  “Thank me by coming back. In one piece.”

  After a month together, Pond Scum found themselves being split up. It was bitter-sweet. Mostly bitter for Kaitlin who discovered she had been posted to the same magical support unit as Justin.

  “Gods, another two years with you,” she groaned. “It’s going to be a nightmare.”

  “You know, Astral,” Justin replied jovially, “we’re going to have to do something about this seething sexual tension between us before it gets out of hand.”

  “I would. But I’d get into trouble if I stabbed you in the face.”

  “Cheer up, Astral,” Justin said. “Support. We’ll be working with other mages. And we’ll be so far from the front lines, we’d need a telescope just to see any real fighting. It’s the best thing for both of us. Just think about what we can learn.”

  “I suppose.” She tried to sound disappointed, but she was relieved to know she wouldn’t be directly involved in any fighting, mostly shielding and long range magical artillery.

  “I’m just glad I’m being sent to the healers,” said Edgar. “Gods, I could kiss Holland.”

  “I almost think he liked us in the end,” said Serrel.

  “Where are you going?”

  “Forward scout unit. The Hounds.”

  “I think I’ve heard of them,” said Kaitlin. “They go ahead of everyone else and scout for the enemy.”

  “They’ve been ambushed more times than anyone else in the Legion,” added Victor.

  “Oh,” said Serrel. “I guess Holland didn’t like me that much after all.”

  “Or he knew the best spot for you.”

  “What did you get, Victor?”

  “I’m not sure. Another scout group I think. The Nightblades.”

  “Never heard of them,” said Kaitlin.

  “Me neither. But their rally point is at the local Tavern, not the docks. I suppose I should probably get going...”

  “I...guess....”

  The two of them shuffled uncomfortably.

  “Just kiss her,” said Mouse.

  Everyone stared at her.

  “I just thought you should kiss her,” she explained undaunted. “Or, Kaitlin can give you a lock of her hair. They always do that in folk songs.”

  “Ugh. What utter, soppy drivel,” Kaitlin rolled her eyes.

  “Yes,” agreed Victor. “I can do you one better.” He pulled a knife from his coat and handed it to her handle first.

  “You’re giving me a knife?” Kaitlin said, unimpressed.

  “My best knife. I think it’s a lot more useful than a lock of hair and... And, well, it might come in handy.” For the first time since they had known him, Victor appeared uncertain.

  Kaitlin gently took the knife and tucked it in her belt. “Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome. And... Stay safe.”

  “You too.”

  “Now kiss her,” said Mouse.

  “Oh, Mouse.” Kaitlin gave the smaller girl a hug and kissed her forehead. “You are such an odd little person. Don’t change.”

  When everyone looked back, Victor was gone.

  The flotilla of vessels sailed for the Faelands at first tide. The rest of Serrel’s unit slept in the hold, but Serrel couldn’t relax. He made his way to the deck of the ship, and found a quiet spot out of anyone’s way at the stern.

  By the time the sun had started to rise, the land behind them was a rapidly diminishing smudge on the horizon. Serrel had hoped he might have at least seen something familiar, but there wasn’t anything back there. Nothing to look for, or go back to. Not for him. Not anymore.

  He turned his back on the vanishing land of his past, and looked forwards to the empty sea. He thought of the possibilities ahead, and the things he would see, and learn, and experience. He thought of his friends on other boats in the same position. And he tried to ignore the Hollow, lurking within.

  About the Author.

  Andrew Day lives in Brisbane, Australia. His hobbies include writing, avoiding direct sunlight, and coming up with ill-conceived plans for world domination.

  You can contact him at: [email protected]

  Bonus: Excerpt from The Hollow: At the Edge.

 
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