Arkanost has Seven Exalted Orders. No more, no less. When a magus goes renegade in a far-off province, the Mage Lords demand that something be done. Ryamon is bitter and frustrated. He longs to be a Fire magus; as a Stone magus, he’s miserable. If he can bring the rogue back, he has a chance — his last chance — to fulfill his dream. It’s a great plan until he actually meets Valdira. When straight-laced Ryamon falls for this passionate rebel, the Mage Lords take sterner action. Phareth is a telepathic Shadow Magus, reeling from the failure of a mission and the death of his lover. If he can bring the rogues in, his honor will be restored. These lives collide in a tale of troubled romance and bucking the system, where the past haunts the present and the future itself is up for grabs.
“In the name of King Sedlin, let this council come to order.” Sea Lord Chrysen silenced the chamber with a tap of her gavel. “Who has business for the Collegium of Mage Lords?”
Stone Lord Senorith rose from his high seat. “I do.”
Chrysen nodded graciously. “Come forward, brother magus.”
As Senorith made his way to the podium, faint whispers echoed upward into the shadowy dome of Arkanost’s Grand Colllegium. Lamps mounted on the curving wall spread a thin layer of smoke through the air. Sitting in the front row, Ryamon blinked against the sting.
“They will listen,” he said to himself. “They have to understand.”
He glanced around, seeking to calm his nerves. The dais of white limestone loomed at the center of the chamber. Though polished to a fine sheen, it was shaped in a severe, plain style. The rigid lines were softened only slightly by drapes of silken fabric dyed in the colors of the Seven Exalted Orders. Senorith stood behind a similar podium facing the dais.
“My brother and sister magi,” the Stone Lord began, “I come to speak for my novice, Ryamon of Dalgest.”
Below their banners, the Mage Lords sat in their robes of office. Each held a lacquered staff. One or two of them glanced at Ryamon. He tried to look back steadily. Though he was dressed in gray robes, like any Stone magus, his blood jumped as restlessly as the flames in the lamps. This was what he had been waiting for.
The rest of the chamber held rows of hard benches, where Ryamon squirmed along with the other petitioners. A little farther down the front row, three nobles sat on embroidered pads. A prim-looking older woman was accompanied by a younger man and woman. These were observers from the court of King Sedlin. Their names had been announced when they entered, but Ryamon hadn’t been paying attention. The younger lady fanned herself idly.
Then the Stone Lord’s voice brought his attention back to the dais. “Through no error of his own, this novice has been incorrectly placed within the Order of Stone. It is Fire that calls to his spirit. I ask Akayel, as my brother magus, to accept this novice into the Order of Fire.”
“Say yes,” Ryamon begged silently.
Akayel’s eyes narrowed with displeasure. “Is this some sort of joke?” he hissed.
Ryamon’s hands clenched in his lap. He might look like a Stone magus, but it wasn’t his nature to endure in silence. That was exactly the problem.
“Indeed not,” Senorith replied. “This novice has great potential. He has worked hard. Through study of the strictures, through fasting and vigil, and even by smoking the sacred sibban, he has done all a student could do. Such determination would be a credit to my order, if Stone was his natural Element.”
“Enough!” The Fire Lord’s voice sizzled with irritation. “You could waste all day telling me how wonderful your novice is. I still wouldn’t want him.”
Fury and despair exploded within Ryamon. It was all he could do to keep his place, to not cry out in shock. Stone was not his true element—Fire was! He had known it since he was a boy feeding twigs to his mother’s cook fire. The Order of Stone had been only a temporary stop, a chance to learn the most basic techniques. He hadn’t thought the different element would matter. His mentor, Cerdych, had seemed sure of it.
After all his struggles, Ryamon could barely shape bricks. He couldn’t wait to be free from the Order of Stone. How could the Fire Lord reject him?
Up on the dais, Chrysen asked, “Why not? You know he has power.”
Ryamon felt a flicker of hope as she set the gavel on the desk before her. Even the other mage lords thought Akayel was being unfair. Maybe they could talk some sense into him.
“He’s taken no vows.” Klaive, the Storm Lord, glanced a question at Senorith.
“Correct,” Senorith affirmed.
“Doesn’t every order welcome new novices?” Minarik, the Blood Lord, asked mildly.
Being questioned seemed to infuriate Akayel. “Do you think me desperate for followers?” he retorted. “Are my standards so low?”
“I have a different concern.” Salovik, the white-bearded Ice Lord, spoke for the first time. He was calm, like the Stone Lord, but spoke with a cold edge of spite. “If you knew the young man’s power was not right for your Order, why did you take him? You should have sent him on to Akayel. Someone might get the wrong idea, Senorith.”
A murmur started among the watchers as they realized what Salovik was implying. The Seven Exalted Orders were rigidly separated. Each had its Mysteries, ways of power that it kept from the others. Salovik was suggesting that Ryamon’s transfer was a scheme to steal secrets from the Order of Fire and pass them back to Senorith.
Despite himself, Ryamon leapt to his feet. “Not so!”
Some of the audience tittered at his reaction. Up on the dais, Murcrys the Shadow Lord, turned to share a sly smile with Klaive.
“He certainly sounds like one of yours, Akayel,” she remarked. The Fire Lord scowled.
“Ice Lord, you go too far!” Chrysen scolded. “There is no reason to question Senorith’s intentions.”
“There never is, until it’s too late,” Salovik answered with a chilly smile.
Meantime, the Stone Lord turned. A somber glance warned Ryamon clearly to sit down and be quiet. His face burned and bitterness flooded his throat, but Ryamon obeyed. He was only a novice. Soon he might not even be that. His only hope was to let his mage lord handle this.
Deby Fredericks has been a writer all her life, but though of it as just a fun hobby until the late 1990s. Her first sale, a children’s poem, came in 2000. She has three novels in print with Dragon Moon Press (The Magister’s Mask, 2004, Too Many Princes, 2007, and The Necromancer’s Bones, 2009). Her children’s poetry and short stories are published in Boys’ Life, Ladybug Magazine, and others. She also podcasts her work when the mood strikes. The Seven Exalted Orders is her first book with Sky Warrior Publishing.