Géta followed Udé into the dining hall. His friend had announced the kitchen always set out a sideboard in the afternoon, primarily because Mages finishing afternoon practice generally required some sort of sustenance. The sideboard was actually an abbreviated selection of foods set on the counter where meal components were set out, and Udé lifted the lid of the soup tureen at one end of the collection of food, rattling the ladle about.

“Dregs. Who eats the soup before I get here?”

Chuckling over the complaining tone of voice his friend had spoken in, Géta wandered over to the left and collected an orange and a couple sausage rolls. The crusts were a little hard, but that didn’t matter. Udé followed his example, collecting four of the rolls into a hammock made with the bottom of his tunic and selecting three apples instead of oranges. Géta finally found a position with his arm and collection of music which supported the food he’d taken, and the pair headed for the door to the hall leading to the Mages’ and musicians’ quarters, him in the lead.

“So how was this practice?”

“All right, I suppose. I’m getting used to it, I think.” He’d played for longer periods of time, finally having grown comfortable enough with Master Orsée he wasn’t tense any more. His voice echoed in the corridor. “What about you?”

“Boring,” Udé sang. He was silent for a moment, and when he spoke again, his words were somewhat garbled. “I know everything but am too young to teach, at least according to my Fire-Gift mentor, so I just get to watch and tell him when one or the other of his other students are messing up.”

Géta glanced as he opened the door to see the Mage trainee chewing into a roll. They passed through the watch room, exchanging greetings with the Custodian on watch, and entered the corridor to the musicians’ dorm. A Novice passed them as they headed for the hall where his room was. When they arrived at the door, Géta took the note in his mail catch out and led the way in.

“Oh, wonderful!”

“What?” Udé’s mouth was still full.

Géta scurried over to the spot in front of his built-in shelves—where the trunk he’d packed stood. “My regular clothes came.”

“It’s about time.” The Mage trainee crossed the room to sit in the chair and arrayed his selection of food on the desk.

“Yes.” Géta went to drop his food on the bed and opened the note. When he saw what was written, he kicked the leg of the bed with a snarl.

“What?”

“I’m supposed to play for that stupid Mage tomorrow.” He’d told Udé all about Asthané’s visit and the apology that never happened.

Udé met his gaze, eyes wide. “That’s too bad.”

He huffed a breath, nodding, and crumpled the note to throw toward his little coal-burning stove before dropping onto the bed with his food. “I wish I could get out of it.”

“There’s no way?”

Géta shook his head as he pushed his thumb into the crust of one of his sausage rolls to peel it off and nibble. “He said I have to play, or I’d go right back to the watch room and demand to know who agreed to it so I could tell them I don’t want to.”

“Wish I could go wait with you, but Master Ipha expects me to be in the workroom before his other students get there. It’s supposed to be some sort of indication of my eagerness to learn things or something.”

“Thanks, though.”

Udé smiled, picking up an apple. “What are friends for?”

Asthané stalked toward the Weatherfield in the others’ wake. The only reason why he was behind Jéesan and her other students was because he was trying not to leave the flute-player behind. Géta brought up the rear, some several paces back, and he was trotting to keep up. It was a little annoying to try to stay with the boy, but Asthané had decided there was something to him and was determined to ferret out the difference. He couldn’t do that if he so alienated Géta the boy chose to make it known he was unwilling to work with Asthané. While Asthané didn’t have much choice in things, he was well aware he’d barely repaired the situation already, and he was trying to keep his temper in check so he wouldn’t snap at Géta again. It would be, he knew, a challenge, considering the boy’s inexperience and the mood Asthané himself was in.

Today’s lunch with Zéth had devolved into a one-sided argument. Actually something of a rant, as Asthané had lost his temper with the situation and gotten caught up in thinking of their history—and the fact he heartily wished it hadn’t been interrupted. That was the main thing today: How it had been cut off like it had, not so much Zéth’s inaction when it had happened. Asthané’s rant had eventually digressed on Gervési closed-mindedness and lack of discernible change in the realm of same-sex relationships. Following Asthané’s digression, Zéth had just sat silently, not arguing. Perhaps his lack of protest should have calmed Asthané, but it had only left him more irate, because he’d expected Zéth’s defense of his homecountry.

When they reached the large divot, Jéesan took Alées aside, leaving Asthané and her struggling student behind. He twisted to watch Géta, who quickened and dropped to knees, fumbling with the flute case. There was a carry-strap which could be slung over the shoulder, but the boy didn’t use it. An expression of utter despair on his face, Géta quickly assembled his flute and straightened with it at his lips. He began playing without question, something slow and befitting his apparent mood.

Asthané grunted and faced the center of the divot. Today, he attempted to summon a blizzard without accessing the Obnubilate Codicil, but struggled for about fifteen or so minutes before finally drawing rain from the air. Héforth, to his great relief, didn’t question this “waste” of time, only pacing a little while waiting. By the time he had a decent snowfall, Asthané also had a pounding headache, which didn’t do anything to improve his mood.

“Take it down!”

His snapped half-shout startled Héforth into halting and facing the young blizzard whirling before them. The youth promptly began trying to send the snow back into the air, and Asthané increased the force of the wind as Héforth’s efforts only served to interrupt the wind in spots. He was getting better, no doubt, but was still having difficulty with doing things at the same time.

They worked like this for a while before the music faltered to a stop. Asthané’s spell died with the music, and he clenched his hands, closing his eyes and trying to calm himself down. He’d set himself up for this by asking for Géta, so he wasn’t allowed to complain about the interruptions. The silence didn’t last long; almost before Asthané could work up any worse temper, the boy began playing again.

Asthané opened his eyes and glared at the snow melting in the divot. It hurt, made his headache spike in pain, but he took another many minutes bringing the blizzard back. His hands didn’t uncurl until he had a decent storm whipping around in the little area he’d mentally designated for his spell. This time, Héforth needed no prompting; he started his exercises as soon as the spell was steady.

Over the following hours, there were several more musical interruptions, but Asthané somehow managed to swallow his temper each time. The fact he was in pain and had another Council session to look forward to didn’t help, but he didn’t round on Géta to upbraid the boy, reminding himself he’d asked for this.

By the time Jéesan returned, Asthané was ready to scream. Instead, the moment she commanded him to kill the spell, he did so and strode off toward the gate. It was either that or hover over Géta lecturing about proper practice. Nobody tried to stop him, and he didn’t look back, too irritated to want to look at any of them, particularly Géta. He thought if he saw the boy right now, he’d do something he shouldn’t and totally ruin things for good.

Knowing better than to go to his apartment, he headed for the palace. With any luck, the Empress would summon him into the chamber soon enough he could use some of this temper to try and force reason down the Council members’ throats.

Movement upset his stomach, and Géta halted to vomit, letting the Mages get ahead of him despite his concern he’d get in trouble for lingering in the Weatherfield. Between his anxiety about performing for Asthané and the visions of the rolling mists beneath the shadow of the snow, he’d spent the past four hours fighting the urge to regurgitate. There wasn’t much left now, and he spat after.

An anxious glance told him he’d been left behind. Good. He spat a few more times, trying to expel the bitter flavor of the bile which had come up after the rest, then stepped around his leavings and wove to the gate. As he approached, he became aware someone was standing at it when he was quite close, but it took a few breaths for recognition to sink in.

“You look like someone who’s been working major magic.” Udé opened the gate and held it until Géta passed through. “I don’t think I looked as bad when I first started learning my Gift.”

Afflicted with an inability to speak, and also unable to shake his head, Géta simply halted and hugged his cased flute for a minute. He sensed more than saw his friend come to stand beside him.

Udé placed a hand on his shoulder. “Come on. The best thing is mint tea, and there should be some left in the pitcher in the dining hall.”

He went with the Mage trainee, the headache pounding in his head causing his eyes to blur in time to his heartbeat, which filled his body. Géta felt clammy-cold despite the heat of the day, which did nothing whatsoever to warm him. Thankfully, Udé didn’t speak again, even to ask questions, and he probably had some.

Once they were in the dining hall, Udé had him sit on a bench near the counter where the food was and went after the tea. When the Mage trainee returned, he set a cup with steaming tea before Géta and settled astride the bench facing the musician.

“It’s not sweetened. That’s best. Sweetening it might upset your stomach again.”

Géta set his flute on the table with extra care and raised the cup with just as much caution as he’d handled his flute. Udé hadn’t filled the cup all the way, and the aromatic steam served to clear Géta’s sinuses. Just the scent of the mint was enough to ease the pain in his head, and he sighed, simply inhaling the steam for a minute. When he finally thought enough to sip, he did so tentatively. The hot liquid scalded his lip, but when it crossed his tongue, even more relief came as his stomach settled before the tea even reached his throat.

“I thought it might be Gift reaction.”

He jerked a little at his friend’s comment, almost choking on the tea in his mouth. “What?” Géta was so worn, he couldn’t even gather the force and inflection necessary to express his shock and horror in his voice.

“That’s what I’m wondering. I’ll be right back.” Udé got up.

Left to contemplate the conversation by himself, Géta swallowed more tea. It wasn’t the best, being unsweetened, but as long as it alleviated the pain and discomfort, he was happy to have it like it was. When the Mage trainee returned again, this time setting a biscuit before Géta and a couple apples next to where he sat astride the bench once more, Géta angled a glance at him.

“How can you be sure it’s . . . Gift reaction?” Géta’s inflection was still flat, though he wanted to deny the fact he was having any sort of reaction to anything, especially magic.

Udé used the knife he’d brought to slice a bite of apple free. “Eat the biscuit, but slowly. Take small bites and chew it lots and swallow it with tea.” He ate the slice as Géta exchanged tea for biscuit. After watching to make sure the bit Géta broke off the biscuit wasn’t too large, he swallowed and explained. “As to why I suspected it was Gift reaction, you have the greenish-red look in the face and you were walking like you were drunk off the Weatherfield. And then, when you just breathed in the tea, you relaxed and the coloring faded a bit. Gift reaction isn’t fun, but it’s not so bad after a while. Only when you do a lot with your Gift once you have the stamina built up.”

Géta set the biscuit down and picked up the tea to swallow as instructed. When his mouth was empty, he frowned into the liquid. “But I don’t want to be a Mage.”

“Well, some God wants you to be, or you wouldn’t be having Gift reaction. Do you know what’s causing it?”

He frowned a little, trying to connect things. Now that the pain was gone, his mind was a little muzzy. “Um, I see a-a kind of undershadow to the magic Asthané and the trainee working with him use.”

“Undershadow?” Udé thoughtfully chewed another slice of apple. “I assume you mean you’re seeing the Obnubilate Codicil. ‘Undershadow’ is a clever name for it—it is a kind of shadow under stuff, isn’t it?”

“Beneath the real shadow. What’s the Obnubilate Codicil?” Géta wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but thought maybe if he did, he could find a way to block it out so he wouldn’t get sick again. The thought of going through this every day he played for Asthané was enough to make him shiver.

“It’s where a Mage’s Gift comes from. Priests say it’s an extension of the Gods’ Will. Do you try to see it?”

“No. It just appears.” He sipped more tea, then set it down to break another small bite from the biscuit. “Even though I played with my eyes closed most of the afternoon, because it made me sick every time I opened my eyes, that wasn’t enough. It seemed to come into my head.”

“Yes, it does that sometimes, especially if you’re not getting something. Have you tried doing anything with it?”

“No!” This came out loud, though not a shout or even close. He dropped the biscuit and it broke on the table’s surface.

“Calm down.” Udé patted his back.

Géta shuddered, the pain returning with the throb. He finished chewing what was in his mouth and swallowed it with tea. “How do I stop it?”

“I don’t know. I always rather wanted to watch the Obnubilate Codicil, but was weaned from it pretty quickly. Ipha says it’s not good to rely on seeing it too much, can make a Mage vulnerable if he has to see the magic all the time. Means he won’t see danger, especially if he’s in an area where he’s in danger.”

“Could you ask?”

Udé stopped chewing for a breath, then nodded. “I suppose I could. Wouldn’t harm anything. I may have to tell my mentor about you, though.”

“If you have to, I’d rather you not. I don’t want to be taken up as some sort of Mage student.”

The Mage trainee nodded, slicing another bite from his first apple. “What do you have against being a Mage?”

Géta gazed at his flute case, eyes stinging. When he spoke, his voice was strained. “I’d have to give up music.”

“True. You wouldn’t have much time to indulge in it, and you’d be put into Mage classes and everything. But even with having to play for Asthané, you’d rather be a musician?”

He nodded, closing his eyes, and sipped more tea. “I can’t imagine being without it.”

“All right, then. I’ll try to find a subtle way of asking my mentor about stopping the ‘undershadow’ bothering you. He might know.”

“Thanks.”

Udé grinned. “What are friends for?”

Géta sat up in bed with a shiver despite the heat, pulling his feet up under his bent knees, and rested his head in his hands, elbows on knees. He had the same hideous headache he’d gone to bed with, and felt sick to his stomach now. The Temple bell tolled the half hour, its tone muted, and he winced a little as it set up a trembling throb in his head despite that. His head had been like this the entire afternoon and evening yesterday, though he’d managed to eat supper. Sound—any sound—tended to make the pain do odd things, and he’d begged out of Udé’s company after the biscuit and tea primarily because he hadn’t been able to endure the Mage trainee’s voice after a while.

Closing his eyes, he rubbed his forehead with the heels of his palms, wishing for something, anything, to ease the pain. He’d even take that awful medicine the physician had dosed him with last time he got the flu. It had at least killed all the pain he’d been feeling, and his body had been racked with it.

The dream had been odd, too. It was clear in his mind, still, sharp as if it had been real, about an interminable train ride with someone he couldn’t escape. Every time he’d tried to get away, the person had appeared wherever he stopped. One scene had been of him playing a game of cards or chess or something with the person and hating every moment of it, seated at a little table next to a window, scenery blurring past. There’d been no detail to the other, just his feelings of detestation, irritation, and even fear. In the dream, he’d been half-tempted to do something to harm the other, and had raised his flute more than once like a weapon, as if it had any chance of impaling his tormentor. Every time he’d risen from the table to leave, the whole dream had circled back to the beginning with him trying to run down aisles and corridors on the train to escape and ended once more with him playing a game with the one he detested.

Well, since he was up, he may as well start his day. Forcing himself to move, Géta got out of bed and dressed. There hadn’t been another note requesting his presence at the Weatherfield yesterday, thank all the Gods, so he was spared that at least. His head might be normal by the time he reached practice with Master Orsée today, but after his experience last night, he wasn’t counting on it.

Moving didn’t irritate the pain as much this time; it just kind of rocked around his head, a sensation he found he could endure much better than the vibrating throb induced by the bell. As he shuffled around donning his clothes, his stomach settled a little too. He’d turned in the music he’d written yesterday, but checked his homework—more mathematics—and found it was indeed completed, and left it to be collected later. At least he’d gotten that much done. He returned to the shelves to pick up his flute and hug its case for a few moments, wishing he could play it to ease the pain, then made himself put it back on the music his mentor had given him and left his room to perform his typical morning habits.

In the watch room, Géta hesitated, half-tempted to go see if Udé was up now, then decided against it. Even if the Mage trainee was awake, he’d probably be busy with leftover homework, so not able to visit. Left to himself, Géta exited the watch room without asking where his friend’s room was and climbed to the library’s floor.

There was one person in the library, in the Mage journal stacks. She looked around his age, her tunic appliqued with Elaudi’s blue spiral, and appeared to have dozed, so he did his best to be quiet despite the floor being bare wood, and got through the reading area without rousing her. He retrieved Auben sresaph’s journal and tiptoed back to the reading area to claim the other comfortable chair.

Reading proved to be an excellent distraction. He vaguely heard the bell system in the library chime the five o’clock hour, but it didn’t aggravate the pain as long as he remained focused on reading. What a relief. He didn’t even hear the half-hour and Respite chimes, or the six o’clock mark, breaking his concentration only when someone tapped his arm.

Udé smiled down at him, but the smile became a frown. “You still look ill.”

Géta marked his place and rose. The girl was gone, but two adult Mages occupied other chairs. “What time is it?”

“Seven fifteen. I thought I’d check up here when you didn’t meet me for breakfast.”

“Oh.”

Udé followed him to the shelf where Auben’s journal belonged and they left the library together.

“Gift reaction’s usually all better by morning.”

The pain had returned, but not as great as it had been before. “I woke with the pain.” Géta rubbed his temples with the heels of his palms. “Wish there was a way to stop it.”

“Wait a second.” Udé grabbed his shoulder, stopping them in the stairwell. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.”

“What?”

“Cooling your head. That helps too.” As he spoke, Udé cupped the crown of Géta’s head with his hands.

The pain seemed to shift, gravitating toward the warmth, increasing again, then a pleasant coolness seeped from Udé’s touch. Géta sighed with relief as the pain almost completely dissipated. His friend’s hands remained for a minute, then departed.

“There, that should hold for a while—at least through the morning, and by then the pain should be gone.”

“Thanks.”

They finished their descent.

“What are friends for?”

The familiar question made Géta chuckle. “Apparently quite a number of helpful things.”

Udé laughed.

“What’s wrong?”

Géta started at Udé’s question and sighed, turning to accompany his friend to the dining hall. “Master Orsée said I’m to play for Asthané again tomorrow.”

The Mage trainee halted. “Drat. Oh, and I forgot to talk to Master Ipha.” He sounded dismayed.

Shaking his head, Géta hugged his things tighter. “I’ve been thinking.”

“What?”

“I’d rather you not speak to your master about me seeing the undershadow.”

“He might have some good advice.”

“I know, but he also might try to drag me into Magecraft.” Géta’s voice shook. This had been on his mind all day, almost overwhelming at times. He’d nearly broken down in tears more than once throughout the day, because he couldn’t imagine a worse thing than losing music. True, he might be able to play on his own at times, but the thought of not having it like he had it now, even with playing for Asthané and the Gift reaction, was enough to make him want to cry in despair.

“I don’t know, Gé.” Udé sounded doubtful as he pushed the dining hall’s door open.

Géta squeezed his eyes shut for a moment as he reached to hold the door open for himself. “I mean it, Udé. Having my music, being able to write it and everything, is just about the best thing about being here, next to you. I had to argue my mother into allowing me to keep it, and I had to work hard to prove myself after getting permission so she wouldn’t take it away. Mother may have stopped working once she started having us, but she’s definitely master of the household, and Father wouldn’t have been able to send me here in the first place if she hadn’t agreed with it. I can promise you she’s the one who filled out the application, because Father wouldn’t have put in that I played the flute, he thought so little of it. It’s the most important thing to me right now, and if I had to give it up to become some sort of Mage, it would kill me.”

They crossed the room as he gave his little passionate speech, and Udé stirred the dregs of the soup tureen before looking at him. Géta held his friend’s gaze for the duration, then Udé heaved a sigh and sidled over to the fruit to collect a couple of apples, shaking his head a little.

“I don’t think it’s wise. If the Gods want you to have Mage Gifts, there’s no way to escape it.”

Géta took an orange from the fruit selection and went with his friend to a table. “Maybe if I keep ignoring what I can see?”

Udé straddled the bench of the nearest table and set one apple down before drawing his knife. “Perhaps. I just don’t think the Gods would want you to ignore it. They’ve given it to you for a reason. I think you should try to find out why before you go refusing Their Will.”

“I’ve never called on Them.” Géta slapped his music sheets on the table, then half-slammed his flute’s case on top. “I’ve never needed Them. Why do They insist on using me?”

The Mage trainee had been slicing bites of apple free and now swallowed with another half-cut from the fruit to regard him. “It’s Their Will.”

“But why? I’m nothing. I don’t even believe in Them beyond what you’ve told me. I mean, I know They’re real now, but I don’t see a point in adhering to Their Will. It’s not my will, and I’ve never asked anything of Them before, so why should They do this to me?” Géta sat on the bench hard, starting to pout, and set to peeling his orange.

“It was Their Will you have a desire to play and write music. It was Their Will you choose the flute. It was Their Will you not choose a proper career when your parents started trying to find you something. It was Their Will you not choose to go to University for any other education. It was the Gods’ Will your parents thought to send you to the Priests, and it was Their Will your mother put in you play the flute, and Their Will you be brought here.”

Géta froze, then twisted to glare at his friend. Udé met his gaze and shrugged, putting a bite of apple into his mouth. When the Mage trainee didn’t bend before Géta’s anger, he faced the table again and tore the skin from his orange.

“It was not Their Will.”

“The Gods’ Will is in everything, Géta, even the mortar between the stones of this Temple.”

An image of a half-collapsed wall leapt into the front of Géta’s mind, accompanied by a flash of pain. He winced and stopped peeling to rub the center of his forehead as his stomach clenched and a clammy cold came to his skin. Weariness sapped him without reason, and he wilted a little, gasping for breath as if he’d just run around the Temple at top speed.

He didn’t realize Udé had gotten up until a cup of reheated mint tea and a biscuit appeared before him. The Mage trainee took the mostly-peeled orange from his hand and set it aside, then patted his back comfortingly.

“I honestly think you need to be trained.”

Géta closed his eyes, sighing, and picked up the tea with care. “I don’t want to lose music. If I could be promised music, I’d do anything.”

Udé sighed, much more loudly, and retrieved his apple and knife. “I wish I could do that, Gé. I truly wish I could.”

“Please don’t tell your mentor about me, Udé, all right?” After sipping the tea, Géta looked at his friend. “I’d rather do as little as possible.”

“If you’re getting Gift reaction just from talking about it—”

“I don’t care!” His voice rose on each word until it was a broken shriek. Taking a deep breath, Géta tried to make himself calm down, but his hands were shaking and the image of the half-collapsed wall was in the front of his mind again, once more accompanied by pain and a clammy feeling. Deeply inhaling the steam from his unsweetened tea helped a little. “I would die without music.” He held Udé’s gaze for a minute, trying to communicate his certainty on this subject.

The Mage trainee looked away first, nodding. “All right. Since it’s important to you.” He sounded as if he didn’t want to relent, but he didn’t protest any more.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Géta took his time sipping the tea and swallowing well-chewed bits of the biscuit. When Udé gusted a greater sigh than before, he flinched and looked at his friend.

“What?”

“I was thinking . . . there might be something in the Mage journals. I don’t know what it would be listed under, though. It’s kind of difficult to shorten ‘given Mage Gifts without seeking them’ enough to fit in the resource book’s lists.”

“Resource book?”

Udé rolled his eyes. “Right, you wouldn’t know. Um, it’s a book listing all the things the journals discuss, with the journals, dates, and page numbers so you can find them easily for your own reference. A lot of the Mages use the designations for focused studies so they don’t have to read the whole journal only for the little bits of information they may need.”

Géta sipped more tea; it had cooled and was almost gone now, but he felt better aside from a lingering headache and discomfort in his abdomen. “I have homework, but could we go after supper?”

“Sure. I’ll make myself do my homework before supper.” Udé chuckled.

“Thanks.”

A moment of silence, then both intoned, “What are friends for?” and chuckled.

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