Tantalus – Issue #6: The Magus Type

Tantalus - Issue #5: Land of Opportunity
Tantalus - Issue #7: Genius

Tantalus

Issue #6

“The Magus Type”

Written by Aaron McQueen

Illustrated by Rachel Mrotek

Copyright July 1st, 2017

www.patreon.com/McQueenBooks

This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.

Jeannie Perryman

Donald McQueen

Theresa McQueen-Uber

Duana McQueen

Jeff McQueen

Eden Odhner

 

I.

 

Day Six.

It’s amazing what you can get used to. Maybe that was the point. Up before dawn, dressed in minutes, five miles on the farm course before breakfast, the fastest meal in history, and then class…hours upon hours of class. Mallory thought back to her schooling. She thought she’d been busy then.

Hah.

So far the courses had mostly concerned themselves with military protocol and organization. There seemed to be a standard procedure for everything: how to address a superior, how to salute, how to march, even the most efficient method for taking a shower.

Actually, they hadn’t been taking showers. It was part of induction. You didn’t get to take a shower until you made it out of basic and left the IB. It was the military’s way of ensuring the cadets were broken of any squeamish habits. War is dirty work, or so the upperclassmen said—right before making you run, or do push-ups, or sit-ups, or whatever else they could come up with to punish you for questioning protocol. A soldier who wasn’t comfortable getting dirty was a hindrance in the field. Hence, no showers. The smell was already starting to build, and the upperclassmen had no qualms about saying so during meals.

Today would be their first day of actual magical instruction. Up until now the only magic they had been exposed to had been turning the lamps in their dorm room on and off.

Mallory chuckled inwardly.

Status report. I can now serve as a light switch. Definitely something to write home about.

Actually, they didn’t get to write letters either. According to Taylor it was a security concern. The brass didn’t want raw cadets writing home about what they saw at the academy until they’d been properly trained in how to handle secure information. There were plenty of details they didn’t want getting out, and until the cadets knew the difference between what to say and what not to say, communication with the outside world was strictly prohibited.

Mallory frowned. She wondered how her parents were doing. Could they manage the deli without her? One of them could take over the books, she supposed, but they would have to hire someone to fill her hours. Her mother wouldn’t like that. It would feel too much like replacing her. But they would have to replace her. Life goes on. It would be years before she could come home.

If she came home.

She sighed. It would be so much easier if she could hear from them. The incoming mail was also being held back until after basic. They wanted everyone focused on getting acclimated. Letters would be a comfort, but they could also be a distraction. They needed to focus on adjusting too their new life.

She was marching in line with roughly a hundred other cadets. They were headed for the firing range.

Eddie was very excited.

The rest of the first-years were elsewhere, assigned to other areas of instruction. They’d split up the regiment on the third day, dividing it into twelve companies: Andrew through Logan. She was in Kelly company alongside Kazen, Eddie, Taylor, and—ugh—Adrian. They hadn’t been sorted into jumps yet. That wouldn’t happen until they’d all passed basic training and been sorted into their roles.

Testing would start today.

The formation came to a halt along one side of the range. There were more than a hundred firing positions, each one manned by a soldier at attention. By their uniforms she could tell they were initiators, all third-year cadets. Their instructor stood in front of them.

Sergeant-Major Blackstaff.

He’d given the commencement address, and was one of the ranking members of the Tantalus staff. It seemed odd that he would be their principal instructor, but Mallory knew better than to question it. She’d already done enough push-ups today.

“Kelly Company, atten-hut!”

They snapped to attention.

“Today you will get your first taste of what it is to be a soldier. We will be using live munitions under the direct supervision of trained cadets. You will not take any action until you are instructed to do so. Failure to follow instructions will result in severe disciplinary action. Does anyone not understand?”

Mallory stayed quiet. Questions addressed to the group were always asked in the negative, so that the voices of anyone who had a question wouldn’t be drowned out by the affirmatives of everyone who had understood.

The company was silent. The sergeant-major nodded and went on.

“Very well. Kelly Company, step forward and take up firing positions!”

They stepped up. The firing positions were raised gravel squares bordered with railroad ties. The initiators waited, still at attention.

Mallory looked at hers. He was male, about her height with a strong build, and long brown hair gathered in three braids. The name on his tags read: R. Killian. There was a red cord hanging around is right shoulder.

A jump leader.

The ranks in the NPA military were straightforward, one of the few structures that held over from the pre-invasion traditions: privates, corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, and so on. The regiment itself was divided into companies, but there were no platoons like in the old model. There were only jumps, highly mobile units of eight to twelve soldiers, trained to deploy at a moment’s notice and respond with precision wherever the enemy attacked.

She stood in front of him at attention. He looked her over and nodded.

“At ease, cadet.”

She complied.

“What’s your name?”

“Mallory Grey, sir!”

He took a knee and started to work. She watched him intently.

“My name is Robert Killian. Ever seen an SR before?”

She shook her head. They hadn’t even taken classes on them yet.

He kept talking as he worked.

“SR stands for ‘spell rod.’ You assemble them differently every time, or your initiator will, if you end up a magus.”

He regarded her with a critical half-squint.

“You strike me as the magus type, but pay attention anyway.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“The magus type?”

He looked at her, his face turning suddenly stern.

“Sir!” she yelped. “What do you mean, the magus type, sir?”

He turned back to his task.

“It’s just an intuition. I’ve got an eye for spotting magi. It’s something in the eyes.”

Mallory blinked. My eyes?

He went on.

“The SR forms and defines the spell so that the magus can do their job. It also provides a counterbalance for the irregularities of the magus.”

“Irregularities, sir?”

He nodded.

“Every magus is different. You have to account for it.”

She stood over him. He’d taken a thick wooden rod out of his pack. A moment later, shimmering bands of light danced and flickered over his palms and fingers, emanating from a tiny gold ring on his right hand. As she watched, the rod narrowed and extended until it was almost seven feet long. It developed holes and slots which he then set with objects from the pouches that covered his uniform: a ring of metal here, a bead of glass there, each one warped and re-shaped by the light surrounding his palms, until the rod looked like a cross between a grade school arts-and-crafts project and a city utility pole.

“Sir. How are you doing that?”

He kept his eyes on his work.

“Fabrication magic. They’ll teach it to you. Don’t worry. It’s easy. How did you perform on the entrance evaluation?”

She wasn’t sure how to answer.

“I passed, sir.”

He looked up at her with a snide smile.

“Obviously. Did it hurt?”

She shook her head.

“No, sir.”

“Did you feel anything?”

“Sir?”

“Any odd sensations. Numbness? Dizziness?”

Actually…

“I guess I felt a little light-headed, sir.”

He nodded and snatched a ring of turquoise stone from a bag at his waist. His hand flashed with soft purple light and the stone unwound itself to bend around the staff. He stood up and handed it to her.

“There, it’s ready.”

She took it from him. He kept his hands on it as she looked it up and down.

“Sir, which end is the front?”

He smiled.

“Neither.”

He pointed to a polished red stone set into one side of the staff about two-thirds of the way up, not quite at eye level.

“That’s the emitter. Keep it towards the top, and always point it downrange.”

He pointed.

She faced the field and held the staff in front of her with both hands. He shook his head.

“One hand. Two hands and I’ll have to add more dampeners. Are you right or left handed?”

“Left-handed, sir.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Of course.”

He took the staff back. The light re-appeared on his hands. The upperclassmen at the next position snickered.

“Forget something, Killer?”

He looked over his shoulder as he ran his hands over the staff.

“Shut up.”

Mallory smiled. It felt good seeing the upperclassman make a mistake.

He looked up at her.

“Something funny, cadet?”

She fixed her mouth quickly into a firm line.

“No, sir.”

The fixtures on the staff slowly migrated, precisely reflecting across it to form a mirror image of their previous positions. He handed it back to her.

“There. That should do it. Get back in position.”

She planted her feet and held the staff out in front of her, butt-end resting on the ground. The red stone faced down the range.

Killian stood behind her.

“Alright,” he said. “Wait for the sergeant-major to give the order. When he does, do exactly as I say. The spell we’re casting is a standard explosive blast. Nothing to it.”

Mallory balked. Nothing to it!? It was ridiculous! She had no idea what she was doing!

“Sir, I don’t know how to cast this spell.”

He came around to stand in front of her.

“Don’t worry about that. It isn’t the magus’ responsibility to define the spell. That’s my job. Just focus your energy and the SR will handle the rest.”

He went back behind her and extended a hand past the staff toward the target, a concrete block at the other end of the range.

“Don’t look at the emitter. Look straight at the target. The magic will guide the projectile wherever you fix your attention. Try not to blink as you cast. You’ll lose accuracy. And try to stay loose. Tense muscles inhibit energy flow. When you’re ready to fire, try to imagine forcing yourself into the SR in one big shove.”

She stood dumbly.

“Into the SR, sir?”

He came back around in front of her.

“You’ve done the light switch, right?”

She nodded.

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s just like that. What did you think when you turned off the light?”

She thought back. She couldn’t really recall.

“I don’t remember, sir.”

“Did you picture anything? A word? An action?”

It came to her.

“Sir, I pictured the word.”

“Off?”

She nodded.

“And in that moment, what did you do?”

She shook her head.

“Sir, I guess I just tried to…make it go off.”

She sounded like an idiot. She half expected him to get frustrated and order to start running laps. Instead, he smiled.

“And what did you try to make it go off with?”

She raised an eyebrow. He nodded slowly, his smile growing into a grin as comprehension dawned on her face. He answered the question for her.

“With the force of your mind.”

She nodded.

He went back around behind her again, pointing as before, one hand on her shoulder.

“Eyes on the target. Mind on the emitter. And when you’re ordered to fire, push. Ready?”

She nodded, fixing her stare on the concrete block.

“Ready, sir.”

They waited. A full minute passed. She glanced at the sergeant-major, standing like a statue, watching as each cadet got the same impromptu course she had.

“Eyes front,” Killian barked.

She snapped back. The hand left her shoulder.

“Any second now. Take a deep breath. You’ll do fine.”

Mallory did as she was told and stood quietly. She’d never felt so apprehensive in her life. The next few seconds ticked by so slowly it felt like an hour, until all of a sudden the sergeant-major shouted.

“Cadets!”

Here goes nothing.

“Fire!”

 

 

Special Thanks To:

Kristi Bubrig

Ryan Lewis

Nathan Liss

Kayla Liss

Zachary Grey

 

Tantalus - Issue #5: Land of Opportunity
Tantalus - Issue #7: Genius

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