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Dormikof shivered in the cold despite his place next to the apothecary’s crackling iron stove. The shack full of sawdust and the occasional actual remedy was about as much an apothecary as the room was warm but, it was the only place he could afford the powders he needed to finish his spell. The shop keep knew better that to cheat him.

He fidgeted impatiently as he waited and stomped his feet in his boots against the numb tingling in his toes. Maybe his sister was right. If he took a factory job like all the other tenants in their quarter he’d at least have a steady income and he’d be warm.

At last the shop keep came out of the back and handed him two paper wrapped jars of chalky powder. Dormikof paid him and briskly set off for home. It had been a lucky thing finding his client. He’d been at the Mayors market in front of the town justices building selling magic baubles to the wealthy. The market was only once a fortnight under tents so the rich would be less troubled by snow and cold. Dormikof hated it, not the sort of work their father had ever stooped to but, war mages had little options in peace time. He itched to be able to practice his craft and took a perverse joy in the fact Sibreres’ northern holds were never at peace very long. Almost another country altogether it was. On the cold distant side of the mountains that neatly quartered it off from its southern, pleasant counter parts. It wouldn’t be worth holding at all if it weren’t for the oil. The pumping fields were vast and were what made Sibrere rich. Also what kept her thick with soldiers to defend it. It had been an uneventful five years. The longest stretch of peace anyone could remember and he and his sister were barely making by renting the draft ridden, narrow apartment they shared since their fathers’ death.

Dormikof had been near dosing in his chair among his wares when he caught snippets of conversation coming from the group walking by.

“War? Took them long enough…”

“…to soon for me…”

“…called the magi in then general?”

That was Dormikof needed to hear. He jumped over his table and was in their midst.

“Forgive me my good patrons but, I couldn’t help but over hear your conversation. My name is Bolrin, Dormikof Bolrin, war mage at your service.”

A tall, scarred man with a well worn military issue uniform stepped forward. “Bolrin? Dormkofkies son?”

“Yes General Higna.” he said smoothly having no trouble recognizing his fathers former employer.

“Have you your fathers talent boy?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then come to the Justices building tomorrow a mark after sunrise with a sample of your work. Times are pressing we’ve need of all the magi we can spare.”

“Yes sir, you’ll not be disappointed.” he stepped back then to let them pass and barely remembered to pack up his wares before rushing home to begin.

He had run out of crushed fish bone to bind rigidity to his spell and that’s what took him half-way across the city to the river dock market in the mid-winters cold. Sleighs pulled by tough mountain ponies raced past him and he huddled close to the houses as he went so to lessen his risk of getting flattened by the thick heavy runners. He was half tempted to hitch a ride on the back of the larger barge sleigh pulled by the native elk. They were shaggy and stupid but, gentle and strong. He suppressed the child like urge and quickened his pace. He reached home hours before his sister, Carmikyl, was due back from her job at the dress makers. Her talents had always disappointed their father. Her eye were sharp for colors and subtlety rather then tactics and power.

“Waste of magic” he used to mumble, though he loved his daughter well.

Even more so once their mother was taken by the chill that claimed many in the harsh winters.

He more tumbled then walked inside as the wind decided to pick up behind him. He immediately got the stoves dormant coals going and then added as much wood as he dared from their meager supply. They wouldn’t need to worry about such things if the General liked his work and Dormikof was certain he would. He hadn’t lied when he said he had his fathers’ talent. The only reason he wasn’t on the list of stand by magi already was because he’s come into his mastery when there was no war to be had. He picked up where he had left off at his work table muttering in his concentration at the inanimate objects he worked with.

 

Carmikyl opened the door to the townhouse and ducked promptly with a curse to her brother as a giant gray arrow of feathers shot out the door into the smoggy winter street.

“Cari, you let my spell escape!” he shouted from the middle of the room. “It wasn’t finished yet and I need to deliver it tomorrow.” The room was littered with raggy tufts of feathers and scales. Carmikyl shut the door behind her firmly and removed her spectacles as the heat fogged them over.

“Spell Dormikof?” she said crossly with a sharp narrowing of her green eyes. “It looked more like an ugly parrot. A spell that ugly isn’t worth paying for anyway. I did you a favor, you would have lost a customer if you had delivered it.”

Dormikof paced the narrow floor like a mountain cat in a trap. Carmikyl shed the rest of her winter coverings and stoked the mammoth iron stove to melt the ice that seemed to coat even her bones while her brother finally collapsed into a chair with a look of defeat wane across his face. He didn’t have time to make another spell that big she knew if it really needed to be delivered tomorrow, but if he would only get a job, a real job, he wouldn’t have to worry so. Their door opened again, sending a cruel gust of air around the room before shutting with a bang.

“Dormikof I found your parrot but, I think it is broken. Also it is very ugly.” Dormikof growled at Vicnon, their overly friendly neighbor and old friend of their fathers. He stomped across the small room, took his spell back to his work table, and begin reviving the molted mess.

“How did you know it was even mine?” He grumbled over his shoulder. “And don’t think we didn’t notice you came in time for dinner. Why don’t you go eat your wife’s cooking and stop hounding us poor folk?”

Vicnon sat at the rough hewn table and accepted the tea that Carmikyl gave him

“Because only you could make magic that ugly and because she is working a double shift tonight to cover for Travca, he’s sick you know?”

Dormikof snorted rudely. “He’s faking. I saw him and his dock side mistress at the river market.”

Vicnon shrugged and drank his tea.

Carmikyl stood over the stove and poked the coals in a vexed manor. “And what were you doing down there? You were suppose to be at the Mayors market earning your keep. Do you think I’ll let you loaf around here forever? There are plenty of girls at the dressmakers who would gladly take your place as my tenant little brother and I have half a mind to accept.”

Dormikof waved a hand at her and laughed as his spell jumped off the table and perched on the arm of Vicnons chair.

“Never worry fair sister of mine, see I fixed it now. I’ll go tonight to the fields to test it and by tomorrow you’ll have two months rent twice over again.”

Vicnon snickered, tea splashing onto his beard. “Who would pay that much for something you made Dormikof?”

“General Higna would and if he’s happy with it he’ll order hundreds more.”

Carmikyl sat and stared at the ugly bird more furry then feathery. “What would the general want with this?” she asked quietly, contemplating it over her own tea cup.

Dormikof leaned over to the spell and held our a hand for it to perch on.

“A spy. Spies in the air that don’t feel the cold and can see through a snow storm.”

Vicnon stared at his now empty cup sadly. “Eh, I heard rumors of war today and this years taxes near confirmed it.”

“Yes, Higna was at the fair and I talked to him personally. Finally I will prove my mettle.” Dormikof said with a grin. “Cari, if the General is pleased tomorrow then we will be rich and father’s name will be upheld in another generation.” He stood and grabbed his coat. Shrugging it on and holding the spell safely tucked inside as he left.

Carmikyl unhappily starred out the window after him. Vicnon came and pat her shoulder.

“I should be going. Don’t worry girl with an order like that he’ll rid your lives of worry and the war won’t touch you.”

Carmikyl sighed. “But I’d rather he was a broke, untalented, factory worker than a war mage. It never served my mother well did it? Catching her death following Da into the battle fields. And in the end it claimed Da too.”

Vicnon had no answer but, she expected none so he left and she sat fiddling with her glasses for a moment. With an order like that one he’d need help. She washed up and began digging books and powders out of her own mage desk next to her brothers. At least she’d be able to make them less ugly. War is ugly enough as it was.

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