Géta kept his gaze on the two trunks at the foot of his bed as he dropped his class things on his desk; the shelves were blocked by the trunks now. One was new, burnished yeru from the lot his parents had purchased for that trip to the lake when he was six. When he crossed to look at the address on it, he found his mother’s handwriting as he expected, and he knelt to unbuckle the straps holding the lid shut, using his parrying dagger to cut the knotted bits of twine which his mother had apparently deemed suitable as a security measure. His armor lay on the top; bits of plate for arms, with a mail tunic. Two letters and a leather-bound book lay on top of the mail tunic.

He fanned the pages of the book, but they were all blank. A journal, then. After taking notice one letter was from his mother, he picked up the other, from Alénil, and opened it. It said little, his best friend choosing not to go into detail about a life he knew Géta was very familiar with, then introduced the journal with the suggestion Géta use it as a kind of notebook to keep records of events he wanted to write home about. Géta set the letter on top of his clothes and picked up the journal again, opening it.

He gazed at the blank pages, considering what he could write in it right now for a few minutes, then made himself close the journal and set it on top of his clothes. Opening his mother’s letter enabled him to acquire the key to the trunk, but he didn’t read the note with it yet. The half-hour bell chimed, so he needed to get out to the Weatherfield gate or he’d be in trouble.

He locked the trunk, then added the key to the leather strap of his keyring and collected his flute. No time to straighten things up, and he’d have to ask about what to do with the trunks when he unpacked them later. He hurried out to the gardens and trotted up the path he usually took to the Weatherfield gate.

And came around a bend with a tall hedge right into the trio of bullies who had been after him.

Teréesi gave him an unpretty smile. Perfect teeth, but it lacked any variety of kindness or friendliness. He backed up, glancing around, but there wasn’t anyone else about here right now.

“You can’t hide from us.”

He hugged his flute to his side and tried to glare at her. “Just leave me alone.” The quaver in his voice made Géta flinch a little, and he scooted back a bit more, intending to turn and run. He didn’t have his sword, wasn’t very practiced with fighting more than one anyway, and was without Udé. Taking the trio on in hand-to-hand combat was out of the question; he didn’t need to have visions to know two would restrain him pretty quickly.

The girl stepped into the space he’d vacated, her cronies moving with her, expressions grim. “No. You’re just some silly upstart musician who doesn’t know his place. You think we let the composers you go to class with get away with acting superior? We’re not going to let some Mage’s whore do it, either. That’s all any of you musicians are for the Mages you play for, and we don’t like having whores in lessons with us.”

“I’m not a whore.”

Teréesi smirked. “You think we don’t know the truth? No one who plays for the Mages is a virgin. Just last year some musician got pregnant. She ‘retired from Service’ and was sent away, back to her homecountry to raise the brat. Her Mage cried. What a weakling. The only difference between you and her is that you can’t get pregnant. But you’ll bed any Mage who needs your music anyway. That’s a given.”

“It’s not like that.” Not that Géta knew what it was truly like, but he seriously doubted sexual favors of any kind were required of any musician by the Mage they played for. Asthané hadn’t been asking them of him, after all, and he hadn’t heard any rumors of it happening to others. Of course, he was somewhat excluded from gossip, but he was sure Udé would have heard something, and if so, would have told him about it.

“I believe that.” The girl stepped forward, and he retreated further, almost falling. “Just know we won’t let you get haughty with us. We’re watching you, musician. Just try to make yourself better than us, or let your friend say the wrong thing, and we’ll see you get punished.”

He backed up some more, then froze. This wasn’t the way to handle this girl or her friends. Flute pressed tight to his side, Géta forced himself to take a step toward her. It wasn’t much of of one, but she jerked back a little in reaction. Somehow, his voice was strong when he spoke, though he felt shaky. “You can’t do anything to me. The Priests would have you thrown out the moment you even looked at me wrong. Cow me all you want, but if you ever attack me, you better make sure I’m dead before you leave me to be found, or I’ll make sure every Mage, Priest, and everyone else knows what you are.” His back felt cold, and his glare created a headache behind his eyes, but he was through being taunted and mocked and threatened. Half the reason why the bullies back home hadn’t tried anything with him was because he’d been willing to stand up for himself to them.

It worked this time, too. He could see it in Teréesi’s face. She was shocked, a little shaken. Shifting, she glanced at her friends, which seemed to remind her she needed to save face. It was enough to make her scowl at him, but he could see the fear in her, because she didn’t try to crowd him back any more.

“We’ll get you, musician.”

Try it.” Maybe he couldn’t take on all three at once, but he was willing to risk it.

She opened her mouth to say something more, but voices, carried on the hot breeze, presaged the arrival of some others. The boy behind her grabbed her shoulder, and the trio sauntered off. Géta kept an eye on them, relaxing slowly as his tight guts loosened. Now his stomach felt upset. And he had a headache. Just what he needed before a marathon playing session with Asthané and his fight against the undershadow.

“Géta?”

He turned to face the Mages at the sound of Jéesan’s voice. “Hi. I was afraid I’d already missed you.” Probably best he not worry them with the news of the bullies; they wouldn’t much care anyway. And likely couldn’t do anything without having witnessed the incident themselves.

“Oh, no. We’re the late ones.”

“Oh.”

Jéesan smiled at him, approaching to put an arm around his shoulders. “Come on. Let’s all be late together.”

Géta leaned against the little standing desk, a piece of scrap paper and pencil in hand. Udé flipped the pages of the resource book, muttering “Gifts Bestowed without asking” over and over again. When he finally stopped on a page, Géta tried to peer at the words on it, but the entries were printed too small for him to read from this angle, so he flipped the stunted pencil around in his hand, finally examining its tip.

“Nothing so far . . . I’m looking under ‘Gifts’ first. What are words for not asking for something?”

“Unasked-for?”

Udé raised his head and made a face. Géta chuckled.

“Any better suggestions, O clever one?”

“Um. Unsought. Unwanted. Undesired. That’s all I can think of myself.”

The Mage trainee returned his gaze to the book’s page, running his finger down the list. “Nope, not here. Maybe ‘unrequested’? Write these down. We’ll go to the proper sections and look them up there, too.”

Géta wrote the words they came up with down for Udé, who did indeed look them up in the other sections of the book. All to no avail. After they’d exhausted every variation of “Bestowed Gifts without asking” the pair wandered through the library to the front door.

“Could there be something in the journal-only library?” Géta asked.

Udé shook his head. “I doubt it. They’d have had a sample of journals with the information if any of the journals there had anything about it.”

“I think we should check anyway.”

“It’s restricted. Only full Mages and Priests can get into it, and if you honestly don’t want anybody else finding out about the Gifts you’ve been Bestowed, we can’t say anything to anybody who can get in.” Udé pulled the door open and waved Géta through first, speaking as he followed. “I think you should admit it. You need to train what you’ve been given.”

Géta halted to glare at his friend. “No. I don’t want to be a Mage. Not now or ever.”

The Mage trainee sighed. “You’re being foolish. You wouldn’t be seeing the Obnubilate Codicil if the Gods didn’t want you to!”

Shaking his head, Géta left him. “If you’re going to argue with me about it, I’d rather be alone.”

“Sorry!” Udé huffed a breath and caught up to him. “I won’t any more. Promise.”

Géta gave his friend a hard gaze. Udé’s cheeks flushed, but he didn’t look away. Though he suspected he probably should, Géta didn’t ask for a blanket promise the subject wouldn’t be brought up ever again. Besides, Udé may go behind his back—all in the name of concern for him—if he forced such a promise.

“All right. Any word on when your next mentor will be ready?”

They started down the stairs, Géta in the lead.

Udé groaned. “No word yet. I think I’ll never get a Shaper mentor at this rate.” He continued to grouse as they descended, and Géta relaxed. Things were back to normal. For now.

Since the undershadow crept into his mind anyway, Géta was playing with his eyes open, doing his best to ignore the lap of the undershadow beneath the snow. Héforth had been making some small progress recently, and he succeeded in heating up the precipitation to rain once more.

“Not good enough.” Asthané sounded a little irate, but Géta had learned that was a normal mood for the Mage.

The rain became snow again, but the little bit of wet had beat away and melted the thin layer of snow previously accumulated, revealing the undershadow completely. Géta’s notes faltered a little because the undershadow spread, and he wished it away. He didn’t want to see the magic. Couldn’t the Gods understand he didn’t want to be a Mage? He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, and when he opened them again, the undershadow was closer. It looked like it had moved out from beneath the spell and was obscured by Asthané’s natural shadow somewhat.

Géta shifted, getting his legs beneath himself. The undershadow couldn’t be trusted, not if it kept disturbing him like this. His head hurt, and his stomach roiled. The undershadow slowly lapped toward him, sliding beneath natural shadows, until it was very close. He scooted back, standing on his knees.

Then, so quickly he almost didn’t see it, the undershadow snapped back and leapt at him.

Screaming, he dropped his flute and scrambled back. The undershadow slithered after him, rising from the ground in a kind of rolling mist. Géta gasped for breath and screamed again, this time longer and louder, and the mist froze. It hovered in place for a moment while he continued his retreat, then receded into the flat undershadow it had been before, fading as it slid back toward the place it had originated, where it disappeared completely.

“Géta?”

His name made him start, and his arms buckled as relief washed over him, causing him to drop supine onto the grass. Panting for breath, now completely sick, body pounding in time to his pulse, he was suddenly exhausted with a cold, clammy feel to his sweaty skin. Something came up from his stomach, and he swallowed it again, rubbing his face, which made him realize he was shaking.

A hand touched one of his elbows. “Géta?” Asthané asked again. “Are you all right?”

Removing his hands from his face, he eyed the Mage warily. For a wonder, Asthané looked concerned, and hadn’t spoken abruptly. Géta took a deep breath and made himself move, sitting up, swallowing more bile as the movement caused his stomach to clench. After waiting a moment to make sure nothing else was going to come up, he spoke.

“I’m fine.”

The Mage looked doubtful. “We can stop.” The suggestion came flatly, making Géta uncertain whether he should read willingness or unwillingness to actually stop in Asthané’s voice.

“No. I’m here to play. We can’t have much longer.” He curled forward to crawl after his flute.

Asthané rose and kept pace with him. “Are you getting help?” The Mage’s questions had had inflection this time around. Not much, but enough to turn them into questions.

Hand wrapped around his flute, Géta froze. “Just don’t ask about it.”

“Maybe you should—”

“I don’t care. I don’t need help. I’m fine.”

He didn’t look at Asthané, who hovered beside him for a few seconds before touching his shoulder. Géta wiggled his shoulders, shaking the hand off, and the Mage rejoined Héforth. After arranging himself seated on his feet kneeling, Géta began playing again.

Asthané glanced back at him, then brought up the miniature storm, this time creating hail. Géta’s vision blurred from the pain for a moment, then cleared. He kept an eye on the undershadow, but it only lapped at the edges of the spell, not expanding past that point. It worsened how he felt, but relieved him at the same time. As long as the undershadow stayed there, where it belonged, he was safe.

Asthané hesitated as the others left. The musician was cleaning his flute, head bowed, shoulders wilting. What little Asthané could see of Géta’s face was discolored, splotchy red with a greenish tinge. He’d never seen someone with such pronounced symptoms of Gift reaction.

“Perhaps you should—”

“Just leave me alone.” Géta’s interruption sounded dispirited, without inflection, and was further sign of his condition.

Waving his hands in an effort to grasp at something to say, Asthané shifted. He wanted to help the boy, but wasn’t sure how to go about offering it. This was so damn hard. It was easier with friends, because they wouldn’t take his words wrong, but he felt certain if he offended Géta right now, he’d lose the flutist’s assistance, and he was actually finding it easier to work his magic with flute music than he ever had before, even with Siéda’s lute after they’d become friends. Asthané was taking the ease as a sign—perhaps not the sign Siéda’s ghost had told him to look for, but it was better than nothing.

“I could help—”

You?” There was just a hint of scorn in the musician’s voice. Not much, but enough to make Asthané flinch. Géta finished polishing the smallest piece of his flute and tucked it into the case with the cloth protecting its shine from his hand, and folded the cloth with shaky motions. “Since when do you want to help me?”

This acidic question left Asthané at a loss for words. He dropped his hands to his sides and sighed a little, regarding the musician with something akin to despair. “At least let me walk with you, make sure you get back to the Temple safe.”

“I don’t need you or anybody else helping me.” Once more dispirited.

Géta rose, hugging the cased flute to his chest, and wandered away. His path wove as a drunk’s might, and he seemed to be having difficulty keeping himself upright. Asthané took two steps after the boy, then stopped, realizing he had nothing to offer which hadn’t already been refused. He gazed at Géta’s swaying, staggering form as it gradually shrank as the musician crossed the grass, and felt a moment of admiration. When Asthané had been that bad, he’d wanted to crawl and had leaned on whomever had offered assistance. Being carried would have been even better during those times. He couldn’t imagine what kind of will it took to walk when so sick with Gift reaction he could barely stand. Poor Géta had to be knotted with pain.

After the boy’s form faded from view, Asthané headed across the green. He felt pretty bad himself, but was more inclined to accept it as part of being a Mage today, mainly because of Géta’s demonstration of will and lack of complaint about his own condition.

He didn’t meet anybody on his way to the Palace, and he endured the Council session with more patience than usual, his head capped in a cooling spell. Mostly, Asthané was caught up in trying to figure out a way to convince Géta to get some sort of help, training for whatever Gifts the musician was struggling with. If nothing else, he was absolutely certain Géta shouldn’t be allowed to go with untrained Gifts, though he doubted the Gods would let them get dangerous. It was just that it probably would have been easier on the boy if he learned how to use what the Gods had Bestowed upon him.

In the morning, he loaded the breakfast waiting for him back on the tray and sent it back to the palace kitchen, then hurried over to the Temple. Jéesan probably wasn’t the person to discuss this with. She had certain . . . opinions on Gifts and their Bestowal. He needed to talk to someone with a more level head about them, and Ophelan was the most level-headed person he knew who was presently here.

He knocked on her door an hour and a half before he knew she ordered her brunch.

“Hello, Thané. Come in. I was just about to ring for a page to request my brunch.”

“Have an early appointment?” he asked, hesitating as he indicated the world at large.

She stepped aside and beckoned him in. “No, just wanted to run some errands and feeling a bit more energetic than usual at this hour. Come in, come in. Have you eaten? I can order for both of us.”

He stepped in and she shut the door, pulling on the bell chain to summon a page.

“No, I haven’t eaten, was going to fetch something from the sideboard. Wasn’t in the mood for a rich breakfast this morning.” Asthané sat on the sofa, tucking one of the decorative pillows behind his back.

“Something troubling you?”

Asthané nodded. “Géta—the flutist.”

Someone knocked on the door, and Ophelan poked her head out to make her brunch request, then came to sit in her favorite chair. “How has that been working? Are you finding him better able to perform?”

“He’s getting better, but yesterday—” Asthané shrugged, then shook his head. “I think the Gods have Bestowed some Gifts upon him.”

Ophelan’s eyes widened. “What led you to this conclusion?”

He told her about what had happened with the boy the previous day—the screams, Géta scrambling back in fear, the appearance of symptoms of Gift reaction, being rebuffed. “I want to help him, Ophelan, but he simply won’t let me get close.”

She didn’t point out it was likely his typical demeanor which was forcing the distance between himself and the musician as she rose to answer the knock on the door. A Novice wheeled a tray cart in and she shooed the child out before beckoning Asthané to assist her with things. Once they both had their food, she settled back in her chair and peeled one of her oranges.

“To be honest, Thané, there truly isn’t much you can do for him. He has to want to accept your assistance, and he has to want to learn to use his Gifts. I’ve heard of such things before—old stories. Find a history book about the Great War and Sethe—or, honestly, any book about Sethe—and you’ll see even he wished he hadn’t been Given the Gifts the Gods Bestowed upon him. Not much is said about his history prior to arriving in the Capitol, but what books there are with the information make it clear he lost quite a bit, including his lover he had for years previous to receiving any Godly Gifts.”

He sat up, having been bent over a bowl of oatmeal on the tray cart. “I remember you telling me that years ago, about his previous lover.” After a moment, Asthané frowned. “I didn’t realize you’d read so widely about his life, though. Have you made a study of him?”

Ophelan finished chewing and swallowed. “Yes, a little. You know how I love history.”

Remembering she spent half her afternoons reading other Mages’ journals for pure pleasure, he nodded. “What can I do for Géta? I’m totally lost.”

She set her little plate aside and wiped her fingers and mouth, then sipped her coffee. “The best you can do is to see what you can do to encourage him into friendship with you. Keep offering assistance whenever you can, try talking to him, just about whatever. Such things as you discuss with myself and other friends. Treat him as you treated Siéda to show him he has a friend in you.”

Asthané sighed, stirring his oatmeal. “I never know the right things to say, and I can never say anything the way I want to.”

“Just be patient with Géta, Thané. Show him you’re his friend until he accepts it.”

He chuckled. “You say that like it’s inevitable he’ll realize I’m his friend.”

She gave him a grin, chuckling as well, and picked up her plate. “It is.”

Géta quickly learned some days were worse than others. Even though the undershadow didn’t try to attack again after that first attempt, he kept a wary eye on it, and sometimes doing so could leave him ready to collapse at the end of a practice session. There seemed to be no particular reason for some days to be worse than others; they just were worse.

Asthané’s odd behavior continued. If Géta could have believed in the Mage having a single honestly kind bone in his body, he would have gladly accepted the offers. There was also the matter of trust on a magical level. Asthané never tried to hide or prevaricate about his opinions on what Géta should do about the Gift reaction illness. Even Héforth had started suggesting things, though in a hesitant manner as if afraid of offending either of the two primary participants in the disagreements, which always left Géta despairing of ever finding some peace here. He thought, if Asthané would only cease requesting his playing, he’d be free of the undershadow. Despite this, he did not suggest this to Udé whenever they met in the dining hall after these sessions, because he feared his friend would say there was no escaping the Gods’ Will.

Homework was still due, and he’d taken to visiting Shélan whenever he had music to go over. The Priest continued to make visits on Jalza’s Days, often spending an hour or so with him. Aside from Udé’s friendship, these were some of the brightest times Géta had as he grew more certain of the Priest’s sincere friendship and support. There were times he didn’t want to leave Shélan, and he introduced the Priest to his Mage friend in hopes they’d get along well—and they did. In fact they got along so well that Shélan joined them for lunch on Jalza’s Days.

Sometimes the days flew past, other times things seemed to drag. This dragging sensation was especially prominent whenever the bullies crossed his path. No more verbal encounters happened, but Géta knew by the expressions Teréesi wore she was only waiting for a perfect opportunity to try something. The moments when she was gazing at him only served to depress and fill him with dread, and he kept a near-constant watch over his shoulder whenever he was alone and not sick. Géta knew her best opportunities for attack were when he was on his way to or from the Weatherfield, and suspected the only reason why she hadn’t attacked yet was because there had either been witnesses or she hadn’t been able to be in the garden at the gate when he was returning.

He hoped, as much as he could, she’d attack before he reached the field. There’d be a fair chance of self-defense then. If she attacked when he was returning from the field, he’d be defenseless.

A few times, he considered telling someone about the bullies, but couldn’t convince himself anyone would care. Udé did and would, but couldn’t be at the gate as often as they liked because sometimes Master Ipha kept him for chats, usually about how he thought the younger trainees were progressing. It seemed Udé’s mentor had received word he should have the trainee use this time he was waiting for a sresaph Réshée to be brought back to the High Temple as a sort of preliminary preparation for eventually teaching. Master Ipha had even set Udé to studying the experiences of other Mages who’d taught.

Géta took apart his flute and set the pieces on the padding in their case, cleaning the mouthpiece first. He could sense Asthané hovering, though the Mage stood just out of sight. Over the past few weeks, he’d developed a kind of sixth sense which told him where Asthané was standing whenever they were within a few paces of each other. It aggravated the pain and illness he felt from the Gift reaction, but he couldn’t block it out, so simply swallowed whatever came up while he hoped Asthané wouldn’t linger too long.

Nothing was ever said during these times after the others left. The Mage only hovered, paced, or fidgeted, and the few times Géta had glanced up, he’d seen troubled expressions on the man’s face. Mostly, though, he did his best to ignore Asthané, this being the best way he could think of for communicating his unwillingness to have anything to do with him. He cleaned his flute, and, as had become typical, Asthané finally gave up and strode away when he finished polishing the smallest piece of the flute and tucked it into the case.

Relieved of Asthané’s presence, Géta wilted and let himself whimper. It was so hard to act unaffected by the Gift reaction when the Mage was watching him. He couldn’t let himself give in to it, though. The last thing he wanted was to induce another disagreement about whether he should seek Mage training. It was bad enough he had two a day after every weatherworking session: A silent one with Asthané prior to leaving the field and a verbal one with Udé after meeting at the Temple.

When he felt a little better—or, at least, better able to move—Géta closed and latched the case, then climbed to his feet. It was always best not to lean forward—the one time he’d done that, he’d retched up half his guts along with the remainder of lunch, and had dry-heaved most of the way back to the Temple. Udé had not been pleased with him that particular afternoon, and he’d snapped and gone to his room, ending the visit, because the Mage trainee had harangued him about getting training.

Flashes of visions accompanied him on his trek to the gate today. Sometimes they did that. Today it was the Interminable Train Trip. It had revisited his dreams every so often the past few weeks. The mysterious Other in his dreams was still just a shadow, the association stronger in emotion than anything else. Once or twice, he’d had the vision of the half-collapsed wall as well, and one night he’d had nightmares of it falling on him. That had been the night prior to another session of playing for Asthané, and he hadn’t been completely better by the time the session started, and that day, the Mage had suggested he not play, but he’d insisted upon it. Come to think of it, that was also the day he’d retched half his guts and dry-heaved to the Temple.

The gate came into view. Someone stood near it. In a brown uniform. Géta couldn’t discern such details as Mage sigils in this condition, so assumed the orange blur on the front of the tunic indicated Udé’s presence as he approached. He let his eyes drop mostly shut, which seemed to help alleviate the pain and discomfort from Gift reaction somewhat. Following a fumble through the gate, a hand took his arm as Udé frequently did—whenever he could meet Géta out here.

Assuming he was being led to the Temple, Géta let his eyes close completely, pressing his lips tight against an up-flow of lunch. It took two swallows to send it back down, and that was long enough for his escort to lead him onto grass. The only places there was bare grass in the gardens were in the meditation spots.

He didn’t get a chance to open his eyes. A punch landed in his stomach, and he bent forward, regurgitating.

“You don’t make me look like a fool.”

Teréesi’s cold voice presaged another strike, this one a kick to his side. He dropped his flute and collapsed to his knees, coughing and heaving, almost choking. More blows came. Géta tried to defend himself, but even with his eyes open, things were too blurry, and the blows came too fast. They beat him to the ground, then stomped on him.

“No stupid little musician whore upstart makes me look like a fool! You ever look at me wrong again, I’ll see you dead. I’ll see you dead now, you catamite!”

Géta couldn’t even moan, breath forced out of him by kicks and stomps. He writhed, a vague attempt to escape, unable to push himself free. Teréesi continued her tirade as she and her cronies did their work, and he finally curled up, hoping to protect himself from worse injury than they’d already caused him. He gasped for breath, chest full of pain, and kept curled as tightly as he could, until a series of blows to the head knocked him out.

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