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       The Hollow, p.7

           Andrew Day
 
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day after that. The memory of the Hollow still lurked, but though Serrel balanced on the precipice several times, he didn’t fall again.

  Pond Scum started their mornings with a run down to the beach, where they “warmed up”, as Holland put it, by learning to fight with a staff or a dagger. That was all that they would be issued with as Mages, and if worse came to worse they had to be good with them. Victor, he of a dozen blood drenched knives, was, unsurprisingly, already adept at close combat. Holland was only slightly impressed, but not surprised. He just watched Victor with the same calculating look he always did.

  When it came to fighting, Serrel was not bad, Astral swung her weapon with painful accuracy, Justin was bored and often reprimanded for not paying attention, whilst Edgar and Mouse were just abysmal.

  Edgar swung his staff half-heartedly, like he was afraid of mortally wounding some invisible sparring partner. Mouse was worse. She barely moved her weapons at all, fighting the same way she weaved: as if she hoped the earth would swallow her up before anyone realised she was there. Holland yelling at her didn’t help things. After a while at least, he gave up yelling insults and started whispering them to her out of earshot of the others.

  Sometimes, “warm up” took a more literal meaning, as the recruits drilled their weaving with the word of power Fieren. Fire. They learnt to weave the energies of the ether into roaring flames that shot from the ends of their staves. They learnt to further weave the fire into different forms: a wall of flames, a ball of flame that could be thrown through the air with the aid of Soa. Kaitlin even managed to weave her fire into a thin lance of pure heat that burned a blinding white and melted the sand into glass. She was smug about that for the rest of the day.

  There were more than a few accidents, but fortunately the rolling surf was close enough for a hasty run and dive. Replacement uniforms were rare, so Pond Scum wore their singed clothing with pride. At least Serrel did. He really was starting to enjoy himself.

  On the fourteenth day, after lunch, the group assembled in the training hall and found an older woman with greying hair and white robes standing with Holland.

  “Gather around,” she commanded. “No lolly-gagging. I am Sister Altania, and I will be instructing you on the fine and much necessitated art of healing magic. Every mage in the legion is expected to know how to weave the ether into a healing spell, and I expect all of you to be masters by the time we are finished.”

  Justin sniffed and muttered, “Nurse work...”

  “Can I have a volunteer?”

  “Tremmel,” Holland snapped. “Volunteer. Now.”

  Justin rolled his eyes and stepped forwards.

  “Give me your staff, boy,” Holland ordered.

  Without thinking, as he often failed to do, Justin held his staff out to the sergeant. Holland grabbed his wrist in one hand and his forearm in the other.

  “What,” Holland hissed, “did I tell you about giving your staff to other people?”

  “But I-”

  With one quick motion, Holland broke Justin’s arm. The boy screamed in pain and dropped his staff. Even Kaitlin cringed.

  Sister Altania came over and examined the injury with interest. “Hmm. Both bones of the forearm. A nice clean break. Masterfully done, Sergeant, as always. Everyone gather around, and pay close attention now. Oh, stop snivelling boy. It’s only an arm. You have another. Listen carefully, you lot. Healing magic is not like normal weaving. There are no words of power that can make flesh and bone knit. The word Ilisolde will help. It aids in attuning your energy to another person’s aura. You will no doubt use this word in other spells.

  “Now, healing requires absolute concentration and willpower, and a more than passing knowledge of the human body. If you can’t tell a knee cap from a bum, you shouldn’t even contemplate weaving a healing spell...”

  Healing magic, they learned, was dangerous. And best used in conjunction with proper medical aid. You could weave the energy into a form that made blood clot and flesh close, but if you didn’t tend to the wound just right, or if the energy was used up too soon, the wound would simply open again. If you didn’t know what you were doing, you could accidentally close arteries, or meld together healthy flesh. You could kill someone.

  Sister Altania successfully demonstrated how to slip Justin’s bones back into place, and with the most efficient weaving of energy possible made the bones regrow and knit together. She bound his arm in thick, stiff bandages to limit its movement, and told him to go easy. Once the energy holding the bone together dissipated he would run the risk of re-breaking it if he wasn’t careful.

  Justin ruefully picked up his fallen staff and glared daggers at Holland.

  “Well, I think that was a rather spiffy demonstration,” said Sister Altania happily. “Now one of you can try. We’ll need another volunteer.”

  This time, Holland pulled out his dagger. The group took a step backwards, Justin making sure to hide behind Bull’s bulk.

  “No one? Come on now. I thought you were all soldiers. What’s one tiny, little cut, really? Fine. You girl,” Sister Altania pointed at Kaitlin, who paled. “Step forward.”

  Victor sighed. “Very well, Sergeant. I volunteer.”

  Holland looked pleased at this, but he relented. “Good to see chivalry isn’t dead, Blackwood. At ease. I’ll take this one. If any of you lot faints there will be trouble, though.”

  He pressed the dagger into his forearm, just below the crook of his elbow, and drew it down to just above the wrist. It was expertly cut, not too deep, but began to bleed copiously. No one fainted, but Kaitlin turned visibly green at the sight of blood.

  “Alright, who wants to have a try at healing your favourite sergeant? Anyone? This is something of a timely issue, Pond Scum... Fine. Astral, you first.”

  Kaitlin made an attempt, but could barely look at the wound, let alone close it. Blood was clearly not her thing. Holland dismissed her before she could throw up on him. Victor tried next, and though he managed to get the blood to stop flowing, he had little success closing the wound.

  “Advice, Blackwood?” said Holland. “You’re better at making wounds than closing them, and you’re better at sewing than at healing. Best stick to a needle and thread in future. Paum! You next.”

  Edgar swallowed, took a deep breath and walked up to Holland. Victor’s efforts were for naught, and the wound was bleeding again. Serrel hoped Edgar wouldn’t accidentally set the sergeant on fire... Well, mostly.

  He needn’t have worried. It took Edgar some time, but he worked on the wound with his brow furrowed in his usual expression of deep concentration, and in time the blood stopped flowing, and the flesh melded together before their very eyes. The rest of Pond Scum were surprised at Edgar’s unexpected expertise.

  And Holland was now extremely pleased. The grin on his face bore none of the usual malice or disappointment. “Looks like you finally found you niche, Paum,” he said. “Not surprised. You farm types usually are the best healers. If you’ve spent your life looking after livestock, humans shouldn’t be any more of a challenge.”

  “Th-Thanks, Sergeant.”

  “Just remember, if you wouldn’t take any shit from a pig, that goes double for any human patients.”

  Sister Altania looked over Edgar’s handiwork with satisfaction. “Good. Very good. With some practice, you’ll go far, boy. Perhaps we shall take a break here, before the Sergeant passes out from blood loss.”

  “Blood loss?” Holland was annoyed again. “Listen, woman, I’ve been doing this for nearly ten years, and I ain’t fainted yet. Push off, Pond Scum. I am so uncharacteristically pleased, I think I might give you all the next hour off. By the gates at next bell.”

  This was an unexpected turn up. Recruits rarely ever got any time off. Serrel was more enthused than the others, as what little time he did get to himself, he had to spend on cleaning duty thanks to his previous sin of fatigue. He decided he would visit Fort Amell’s library and continue his own studies of the words of p
ower. But he was distracted by Justin being an arse.

  “Well done, fatty,” Justin slapped Edgar on the back rather too hard. “You aren’t as useless as I originally thought you were.”

  “Give it a rest, Tremmel,” Serrel said irritably.

  “Yeah,” agreed Tim. “He got us at least an ‘our off. You never managed that.”

  “An extra hour running in circles, yes. But never an hour off,” said Edgar with unexpected boldness. “Just imagine the day Holland decides you aren’t completely useless.”

  “That would get us an entire day I think,” joined in Serrel.

  “If ol’ Holland didn’t just drop dead of shock,” suggested Tim.

  “I think I would.”

  “Oh, piss off, the lot of you,” snapped Justin. “Holland’s an ass. He wouldn’t know real magic if set him on fire.”

  Serrel had spent a fortnight listening to Justin run his mouth. It was a fortnight too long in his opinion. “What the hell would you know about magic? I’ve seen you weave. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they kicked you out of that fancy wizard school for chronic incompetence.”

  Justin turned red. “They didn’t kick me out-” he started.

  “Be fair, Serrel,” Tim put in. “That’s not why they kicked him out.”

  “Yes,” said Edgar. “They kicked him out for being an arse.”

  “You listen to me, you stupid, fat pig,” Justin said dangerously. “Just because Holland’s suddenly
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