I SEE FROM MY WEBSITE STATS TRACKER THAT TWO OF YOU HAVE OPTED TO READ THE SPOILERS!!!
(I would explain the word count numbers, but do you really care? Probably not.)
[] La Formation
It was an unusually bright afternoon in the Jade League’s library. Mira was working on some Latin exercises from her textbook while Etienne sat across from her studiously writing up plans and notes in long hand in his folio. It was a pleasant way to work, the quiet of the library discouraging any distracting conversation, and Etienne occasionally assisted with Latin.
Mira had just showered after the day’s workout, and her wet hair stuck to the back of her neck and itched. She bent over the textbook, reminding herself to towel dry her hair more thoroughly next time. Meanwhile Etienne continued to write without pause, the slight rattling of his ballpoint pen marking out the passage of time as Mira read. He was surprisingly calm. The night before, when he returned to headquarters from delivering the ultimatum, he looked pale and clammy, his hands shaking as he drew Olivier and Charlotte into a close hug. He took the responsibility of standing up and protecting all mages and the innocent citizens of Paris and shouldered the burden, and Mira had seen fear in his eyes, the fear that he would let them down.
But the Etienne that sat across from her in the library was quiet and collected, back to the calm, almost distant man she’d grown accustomed to. He finished a note and looked up at her questioningly, for she had stopped reading and was instead watching him thoughtfully. She shook her head and returned to reading while Etienne went back to his notes.
“Dirrumpo,” she muttered, testing out the Latin word.
“Let it roll off your tongue,” said Etienne, without looking up from what he was writing.
“Dirrumpo,” she repeated. The double R fluttered in the roof of her mouth.
“Good,” said Etienne. He flipped back a few pages to check something, muttered a few numbers, then returned to his current page.
The quiet descended again, though the mewling of a stray cat in the courtyard outside the window occasionally interrupted the silence. Mira was about to get up and investigate the sound, but she was halfway out of her chair when pounding footsteps in the hallway caught their attention. The door to the library was thrown open, and Jean-Pierre came rushing in.
“Etienne!” he exclaimed, breathless. “Favreau’s response!”
Mira looked back at Etienne, who had sat up straight upon hearing this news.
“And?” he asked Jean-Pierre.
“Olivier says you should come to the conference room,” he replied.
They didn’t waste another moment, Etienne clapping his folio shut and following Jean-Pierre while Mira left her Latin textbook behind. They jogged down the hall and up the stairs to the conference room, where Olivier and the rest of the board were waiting.
“It’s here?” demanded Etienne.
Olivier nodded. “A public address broadcast by radio and television, not that it really reached many. The newspaper ran the announcement this morning but of course no one noticed it. We got word through a few of our business associates. Josh managed to obtain a recording.” Olivier turned to his laptop and started the broadcast, but he continued to talk over it. “It’s pretty dry—just Favreau spewing the usual anti-mage nonsense and saying something about a firm stance.”
Etienne absently ran a hand through his hair. “I take it he’s not stepping down?”
“No intention whatsoever,” said Olivier.
“But we expected that,” said Briand, the board member who organized the league’s patrols. “He has remained rather unaggressive towards the public. It is better than I expected.”
“He won’t stay that way once we start recruiting the citizens of Paris to our cause,” said Etienne. “Jean-Pierre, is the system in place?”
Jean-Pierre nodded, hands fumbling to unfold a flyer for the board to see. “From a distance, it looks like a normal anti-mage poster, but up close you can see the interspersed lines with a phone number. The last two digits are missing—we’ll spread those by word of mouth. When they call the number, they reach an answering machine that allows them to request an escort to join the Jade League. They also double for secure information drops. We can access the messages remotely. The messages aren’t stored on the machines; they’re redirected to our database. The phones are located in abandoned buildings throughout the city, and even if they are raided, we can replace them elsewhere.”
“And what happens if a government officer finds out the word of mouth numbers?” asked Charlotte. “What if they set up a trap for us?”
“Then we have to rely on the skill of our own,” answered Etienne. “They won’t be going in blind. We’ll do checks as best we can before we arrange an escort to the safe houses.”
“Do we really expect them to come rushing to us?” asked Mira warily. “I mean, what reason have we given the citizens of Paris to entrust their lives with us?”
Olivier leaned back in his chair. “The moment we start following through on our threats to disrupt and dismantle the government, the backlash from Favreau will be harsh. I’d expect people will begin coming to us then.”
“When it’s our fault that Favreau is punishing them?” asked Mira.
“We cannot back down on the threats we’ve already made,” said Julien from his vantage point against the wall. “Then we’ll only show that we are weak. We have to show our power.”
Nods throughout the room greeted his statement. The last words of Favreau’s broadcast message played low in the background, but none of them paid attention. Mira felt the tension in the room as they all looked to Etienne.
“I’ll make the response tonight,” he announced. “Briand, Astin, I want your teams in place tonight.” The two men nodded sharply. Etienne looked around at the board, a hint of the excitement and fear from the night before hiding behind his eyes. “Everyone else, the Jade League resistance has truly begun.”
Mira’s shoes pounded hard against the cement stairs in the training room, her breath growing ragged in her throat. She reveled at the power coiled in her muscles as she chased after the leader of their terrain running group. It felt good to be back in shape. Despite the past few weeks of exhaustion, both physical and mental, the training was paying off. She had regained a lot of weight, and she could finally feel muscle under her skin instead of bone. At last she could trust her body once again—push off with the right amount of force, land the way she wanted, and not tire after minimal exertion.
Charlotte had started her on terrain running a few days before, and it was a fast-paced, adrenaline-driven heaven compared to running laps. Back at the mage society at home, Mira had always preferred trail and street running to monotonous laps around the track, and here in the Jade League was no different. Mira could run faster and farther like this, and it kept her attention sharp, though she could no longer review her Latin lessons while running.
Ahead of her, the leader of their group cut left between a line of warehouse shelves, and swung up to the high second shelf by launching off a crate. Mira and the others followed, finding their own way up or cutting parallel along the ground level. The leader was fast—the leader always was, though the exhilaration of being the leader also helped—and hopped back down to the ground before most of the group even reached the second shelf. Mira used the low cement wall near the end of the shelf line to bounce her way back to the ground. Terrain running required speed, agility, and a constant awareness of one’s surroundings—that was exactly why Mira loved it. It gave her something to do, something to focus on while she ran. And realistically, this type of exercise was the kind of activity most of the Jade League used outside in the city.
Their training supervisor blew his whistle to signal the end of this particular round. Mira jogged up to their leader and thanked him, congratulating him on evading their group for the entirety of the round. She had yet to tag a leader in any of her terrain running groups so far, but she’d run with groups that had.
“You were all getting uncomfortably close,” he leader laughed, bent double trying to catch his breath. The others clapped him on the back in congratulations as well, and together the whole group headed over to the pile of discarded clothes and water bottles in the center of the room.
Mira was taking purposefully slow sips from her water bottle when a great shout rose up from the barracks entrance. The entire sparring ring collapsed on itself, and the rows of recruits running drills broke formation and rushed towards the entrance. Mira craned her neck, trying to see what the excitement was about, but couldn’t make out anything from the crowd.
“What’s happening?” she asked one of the other runners from her group.
“Aucune idée,” he answered. No idea.
Mira glanced around and spotted the pyramid of shipping crates over by the shelves she’d just been running on. She jogged back to it, pushing her way past the other terrain runners heading towards the crowd. She hoped the elevation would help her make sense of the excitement.
By the time she reached it, she recognized Charlotte climbing onto the top crate and straightening to survey the room. She spotted Mira below and beckoned her up.
“What’s going on?” asked Mira as she hefted herself up the first crate.
“The first group of refugees just arrived,” answered Charlotte, a wide smile of pride pulling at her mouth. “If this welcome gets any louder, Favreau won’t have to look very hard to find us.”
Mira laughed, pulling herself up to the top crate and seating herself on the edge of it so that her legs dangled freely. “So Jean-Pierre’s system worked.”
“That or we just welcomed the first of Favreau’s spies into the Jade League,” said Charlotte. She stood next to Mira, arms crossed as she watched the haggard group make its way through the cheering crowd of recruits.
“You know Olivier’s better at background checks than that,” said Mira.
“He is now, but he can’t continue to check every refugee,” Charlotte sighed. “Of course, we won’t stop doing background checks entirely, but Olivier can’t be the one to do them all.”
Mira looked up at her. “It’s only particularly risky when we bring them here to headquarters. Otherwise it’s just the others at any particular safe house.”
“True,” murmured Charlotte. “And seeing this group makes me want to go out and bring every Parisian in myself.”
“Why?” asked Mira, squinting at the crowd and trying to make out the group of refugees.
“They’re a family, harassed by secret police for months for supposedly harboring mages. They got so tired of it, they finally decided to officially join our side.”
Charlotte nodded sadly. “They had their home inspected multiple times and practically torn apart, their food supplies were confiscated more than once, and the two oldest children were beaten in an attempt to get their parents to talk.”
Mira shuddered at this last deed, wrapping her arms around herself. “I’m glad they got out, then.” After a moment, she looked around at the perimeter of the room. “Where’s Etienne?” she asked. “He should really see this moment.”
“He’s upstairs,” answered Charlotte. “He’s laying low for security purposes, even though Olivier and I tried to convince him it didn’t matter. He got it into his head that he puts everyone else at risk for being around him.”
“Has he forgotten we all joined his resistance league?”
Charlotte smiled reluctantly. “Possibly. But nonetheless he’s reducing his visibility to anyone below patrol and guard level.”
Mira sighed and looked out on the enthusiastic welcome below. “I know it makes sense,” she said. “But I just wish he could see this.”
Day 24 consisted of planning and working out some dialogues for upcoming chapters. Some of these come waaaaay far down the line (as in, things that I might not even get around to writing in the month of November, regardless of whether or not I hit 50K this month). I’m counting them in my word count anyway, so I’ll post ’em here.
HOWEVER, if you don’t want to find out some of these things that will happen later, DON’T READ PAST THE CUT. Consider yourself warned.
Mira crouched in a dark alleyway, breathing hard. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, so loud and persistent that she was sure someone would hear. Carefully she slid over to the alley entrance, doing her best to stay in the shadows as she eyed the line of light coming from a nearby street lamp. The sidewalk was clear. Mira stole down to the next alleyway, casting a spell with a few muttered words to send the sound of her footsteps going in the other direction.
A few blocks back, Charlotte’s voice barked out an order—she and Quentin were tracking Mira and a few other recruits through the underground training room setup to teach them evasive techniques in preparation for patrol duties. Mira had only learned the spells two days before under Charlotte’s tutelage, but she was starting to get the hang of them. She chanced a peek around the corner of her hiding place and saw another recruit dodging for her next intended cover. It was Nathalie, one of her sparring partners from her first day in the sparring ring. Mira caught her eye, and they signaled to each other from opposite sides of the street. Pressed flat against the wall, Nathalie held up two fingers, then pointed back the way she’d come from, gesturing twice. Two blocks back. She touched her forehead, the Jade League sign language for police, and held up two fingers, turning them back and forth so that her palm and the back of her hand faced Mira in turns. Two police, coming fast.
Mira pointed to herself and made a flashing light bulb gesture over her shoulder then pointed up at a building behind them. Nathalie nodded, crouching into position. With one hand, she counted down from five; the other hand she used to direct her spell. She dropped the last finger and shot the spell at a third floor balcony on the building behind them. Nathalie sprinted off down the street while the door rattled open and shut. Mira quickly followed, angling for the space Nathalie had just vacated, but just before she reached it, Charlotte tackled her to the ground.
“Ha!” said Charlotte triumphantly. “You’re dead.”
Mira disentangled herself from Charlotte and groaning as she felt the bruises all over her body from the past few days. She gingerly got back to her feet and hopped up and down a few times to get her blood moving.
“That was a good attempt,” said Charlotte, brushing dirt off her coat. For once she wasn’t dressed in sweats because she’d come from yet another meeting with the board. But she’d anticipated this drill and came equipped with steel-toed boots that sounded like the footsteps of the secret police when she walked.
“Did it work?” asked Mira. “Did Nathalie get away?”
“Yes, but not the way you’d hoped.” Charlotte paused for a moment, listening to Quentin level another recruit elsewhere in the fake city street setup. “I heard the balcony door, but I also felt the spell coming from your location. The magic energy needs to originate from the place of action, not where you are. Non-mages, including the secret police, can feel the disturbance caused by the spell itself, regardless of where its final action goes. You have to draw from the energy as if you were actually in that other place.”
Mira frowned and brushed her bangs back from her face. “I know, I know. You said the same thing yesterday. It’s just—I’m not used to having to think about where the energy is coming from. It’s weird feeling out how someone else might perceive magic when I’ve taken it for granted my whole life.”
Sighing, Charlotte helped Mira brush the dirt off her clothes. “I know. It’s not intuitive. But you’re a quick learner, and you’ll soon master this like all the other mages we’ve trained for patrol duties. You’re already picking this up faster than most.”
Mira rolled her shoulders back. “So when I’m casting the spell,” she said, closing her eyes to envision it, “I use the energy in that location to power the movement.” She tried to imagine the space surrounding the balcony door from earlier. “Da ianuam motus.”
They heard the door rattle, and this time Mira noticed a subtle absence of pressure around herself that she normally felt when she cast a spell. She’d never consciously connected it to her use of magic, but now that she’d used magic without feeling that pressure, she felt disoriented for just a moment.
“Better,” said Charlotte. “Much better. You’re still leveraging some energy from around you, though.”
“I didn’t even realize I could do that,” said Mira. “I thought the only way to hide my abilities was not to use them.”
Charlotte smiled a wan smile. “I thought the same thing for many years. But I grew up hiding my abilities from my father, and sooner or later the urge to use my magic won out.”
Mira cocked her head to one side. “Why did you have to hide from your father?” she asked.
A look of sorrow crossed Charlotte’s face, so slight that Mira almost didn’t notice it. She realized that this evasive skill of Charlotte’s was not something she’d come by easily.
“My father is a powerful public figure in England,” Charlotte explained softly. “But he’s not my real father. My birth father was a mage who had an affair with my mother while her husband was abroad on business. I’m not sure if his dislike of mages and magic stems from her affair, or if it ran deeper than that. In any case, the moment I started showing signs of being a mage, my mother forced me to hide my abilities.”
Mira bit her lip, unsure of how to answer. Charlotte looked off into the distance, down the street towards the ridge of another training terrain setup. Suddenly she shrugged and turned back to Mira.
“In any case,” Charlotte continued, “I learned early on to disguise my magic, at least until I moved in with my brother at the family house in London. Then I began training in a mage society, and I met Professor Bennett, the instructor for the mage society at Kingham.”
Mira opened her mouth to ask her more, but they were interrupted when someone shouted Charlotte’s name.
“Exercise complete!” she yelled for the recruits in the city setup. “Quentin?”
“Two made it through, and I’ve got the others,” he called back from a parallel street. “Theo says there’s a call for you on the main line.”
“Come on,” said Charlotte to Mira. “I’ll bet it’s the board.”
They jogged over to Theo, who was waiting at the phone by the entrance. “It’s Olivier,” he said, holding the phone out to them.
“Hey,” she said into the receiver, holding it so that Mira could hear as well. “I’ve got Mira with me.”
“Good,” Olivier replied. “It’s time. Have the patrol-level mages with you take the others back to headquarters. They should disperse somewhat, but tell them they can watch if they want.”
“I’ll let them know,” said Charlotte. She signaled to the others in the room to gather round. “Give us about ten minutes?”
“You’ve got five.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Fine, we’ll make do. How’s Etienne holding up?”
They heard Olivier let out a single, barking laugh. “Calm as ever—you know how he is.”
“He’s nervous, but he’s ready for this,” he answered. “Are you two going to the roof?”
“Yes, if we can get there in time,” said Charlotte with a hint of annoyance.
“Don’t stay there long,” he cautioned. “It’s a full moon.”
“We won’t,” replied Charlotte. “Take care.”
“See you in a bit.”
She hung up the receiver and looked around at the mages who had gathered. “It’s time,” she told them. She took the higher-level mages to the side and explained Olivier’s instructions. They nodded and split off, each taking a contingent of trainees with them.
As they headed out, Mira helped Charlotte close down the room, storing away weapons and equipment they’d used. They shut off the lights behind them and made sure the door was sealed shut. In the stairwell, they heard the ground floor door swing shut as the last of the group slipped out. Mira and Charlotte climbed the stairs in silence, passing the ground floor and continuing on several flights higher to the roof access. Charlotte checked the exit first, making sure the open roof was clear. Once she had ensured the way was safe, they stepped out onto the blank expanse of rooftop.
Unlike the other buildings in the area, this one was nearly devoid of ventilation structures—the entire building below was a warehouse and had its own systems that vented out the sides of the building rather than tunneling to the roof. It must have made a great space for office parties, if this had been the kind of workplace to have office parties. Having seen the reception area, Mira doubted they had office parties, much less rooftop office parties.
It was already dark, though the sun had still been up when they left headquarters for the training room. They’d eaten here between drills, their dinner packaged up in restaurant to-go containers. A few hours still remained before curfew, but the city was quiet, only a few lights on in buildings around them as the streets filled with fog.
“What was Olivier talking about?” whispered Mira.
“He said it was a full moon.”
Charlotte smiled faintly. “You’ll see.”
“With the fog, why does it even matter?” Mira asked.
But Charlotte just shook her head. “You’ll see,” she murmured again.
They waited in silence. Mira breathed in the fresh air of the night, glad to be outside again. She was beginning to hate the workouts in the training room, where the exhaled breath and vaporizing sweat of tens and tens of people mixed into a thick, stuffy atmosphere. She didn’t notice it as much during the sparring rounds, but running laps with nothing else to think about had become torture. All the same, Mira was glad for the exercise, and this morning she’d woken up without feeling like she wanted to die of soreness. Her bruises still hurt when she touched them, but she loved the sparring ring too much to care. She’d already learned a lot from watching the other matches, and she’d won today’s matches pretty easily. Soon she’d be moving up to sparring sevens—and possibly beating Julien again before he could completely destroy her in the battle room.
Suddenly the lights throughout Paris flickered for a moment—Mira and Charlotte could only see the lights around them, but they knew this was Olivier’s doing and that the flicker reached far across the city. When the lights returned to normal, Etienne’s voice echoed through the streets, magically magnified to reach every dark and hidden corner of the city.
“Bon soir, Monsieur Favreau, Monsieur Dubois, mon cher Paris, et mes bons amis, les mages du Paris,” he greeted his audience. “Je m’appelle Etienne Laroche, et je viens d’une organisation qui protégé les mages et notre cher Paris contre l’injustice de notre gouvernement.”
Mira listened to his words, spoken calmly in measured phrases. She loved the sound of his French, his throaty yet ever so slightly delicate Parisian accent—it reminded her of her father’s voice, a younger version of that reassuring, wise sound that filled her childhood. She took a deep breath and searched the overcast sky for strength. As she stared up at the endless fog, she realized that Charlotte was doing the same.
“He’s addressing the people,” Mira told her softly.
Charlotte inhaled deeply. “Good.”
“I can translate it for you,” offered Mira.
Charlotte shook her head. “It’s all right,” she sighed. “I’d be antsy either way. I’m being nervous on his behalf.”
Smiling, Mira looked back up the sky, half thinking about her father, half listening to Etienne’s words. He had written the address himself—beautiful, eloquent words that rose and fell in a moving entreaty to his people to stand up for their city. In clear terms he laid out the role of the government in encroaching on their rights, and explained that mages were not a menace but rather victims like themselves. He told the city that innocent people had nothing to fear from mages.
Then he addressed Favreau. He admonished him for impinging on the lives of Parisians, mage and non-mage alike. He reminded Favreau and the Parisian people of the massacres that had summarily executed hundreds of suspected mages, a sizeable percentage of which had not even been mages in the first place.
“Alors, n’oubliez pas cette violence. Nous n’oublions jamais. N’oubliez jamais que vous avez menacé un peuple qui ne sommes pas impuissants.”
“Never forget that you have threatened a people who are not powerless,” translated Mira for Charlotte’s benefit.
“Watch,” said Charlotte, a slight, almost vindictive smile turning up the corners of her mouth.
“Regardez!” ordered Etienne. In that instant, the fog disappeared. The entire city suddenly revealed herself, the dark silhouette of the Eiffel Tower rising beside the Seine, a lighted region from the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs-Elysées to the Concorde, and the faint outline of Sacre Coeur high up on Montmartre in the distance to their left. High above, the full moon glowed in the clear sky, surrounded by the spray of stars twinkling in the inky black.
“Voyez notre ciel—je vous donne. Et si tu, mon cher Favreau, ne démontes pas ton gouvernment et cesses tes activités violentes, nous les mages n’avons pas le choix que de le démonter pour toi. Tu as vingt-quatre heures pour démissioner.”
“There it is,” said Mira softly. “The ultimatum. ‘Resign in twenty-four hours or we’ll dismantle the government for you.’”
“Good. Let’s get out of here,” said Charlotte. “I want to be waiting for him at headquarters when he returns.”
They slipped back down the stairwell in silence, suddenly aware of their shadows in the moonlight coming from the small windows. The lobby was eerily still and silent when the emerged from the stairwell on the ground floor. Mira wasn’t used to being here without a group of people, and suddenly the isolation of walking through the room with only Charlotte to accompany her—and Charlotte in boots that sounded like the secret police’s footsteps—made her feel very alone in this unfamiliar city. Seeing Mira hesitate, Charlotte put a hand on her arm to calm her.
“Come on,” she whispered. “Let’s get back to headquarters.”
Reassured by Charlotte’s presence and strength, Mira exhaled slowly and followed her towards the exit. But she paused for a moment before they left the relative safety of the building. “How did he do that to the fog?” she asked Charlotte.
Charlotte turned back to her, smiling vaguely. “The sage,” she answered simply.
Mira blinked. “Who?”
Charlotte just smiled and headed out into the moonlit night.
(Broke 30K! Yay!)
[chapter 7 continued]
Etienne finished his meeting with the patrol leaders and headed over to Olivier’s room. They had decided to change some of the patrol routes according to Olivier’s recommendations, and Etienne wanted to make sure he knew. Etienne found Olivier’s door cracked slightly, Mira’s voice coming from inside. He knocked twice, and Charlotte answered.
“Oh good,” she said, opening the door wider. “It’s Etienne,” she told Olivier.
Olivier just barely glanced up from his computer screen. “Salut,” he said distractedly.
“We’re changing about half of the patrol routes like you wanted,” Etienne told him.
“Bien,” Olivier muttered. He finished with what he was doing and looked up. “I was just checking some things on Lucas and Isabelle.”
“Good,” said Etienne. “Any leads?”
They all shook their heads. Charlotte collapsed into a chair, looking defeated. “Not really,” she said.
Mira rolled her head back on the arm of the couch to look at Olivier. “What about Lucas’s parents?” she asked.
“Unsure,” said Olivier, rolling back up his sleeve, which had just come undone. “There were three Devereaux mages who were executed, and one matches his mother’s name, but I can’t be certain.”
“Anything in the other messages I translated?”
Olivier sat back and rubbed his chin. “Plans and locations for events already passed.”
“And the most recent one?” asked Mira, sitting up and resting her elbows on the couch arm.
Olivier shook his head. “Just that the police let up on their search for Etienne.”
They all sat back and let the silence descend.
“So he’s leaking us information from the inside,” said Etienne after a while. “There’s little chance that he accidentally joined Favreau—he must have known that the government is Anti-Magist.”
“He did,” said Mira. “We both knew.”
Olivier rolled his shoulders back. “What if he just went looking for his sister, not knowing that she worked for Favreau?”
“Okay,” said Mira. “Then why is Isabelle knowingly working for Favreau?”
Charlotte shrugged. “Safety? Mira said she’s a weak mage, and there’s no record of her joining any mage societies. What better safe cover than as a non-mage in Favreau’s government?”
Etienne ran a hand through his hair. “And betray her kind?” he asked. “Her family?”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Charlotte. She pointed at Etienne and Olivier. “You both abandoned solid educations and safe job prospects in England to return to France, but not everyone lives with that sense of duty.”
The silence settled over the room again while they digested these options.
Mira lifted her chin from her hands and looked up at Etienne. “So Etienne, what happens now?” she asked.
He looked over at her questioningly. “What?”
She interlaced her fingers and looked out unseeingly across Olivier’s room. “If the secret police have identified you, what does the Jade League do now?”
Etienne sighed. “We lay low and let this all blow over. Then we start disrupting government activity again.”
He and Olivier began talking about other board business, but Mira piped up.
“If Favreau is already against you,” she said, “what’s stopping you from publicly declaring the Jade League against the government?”
They all looked at her, and Etienne stared at her hard, realizing he hadn’t processed her words.
When no one said anything, Mira continued. “I mean, this is a terrorizing government. Most of the city is paralyzed in fear—why not turn them to your side?”
Olivier sat back, feeling the stubble on the tip of his chin. “She has a point,” he said. “Despite the efforts of Brunet’s office, public opinion is still largely, though secretly, against the government. We could easily harness their approval in our favor.”
“And do what?” asked Etienne.
“Fight,” said Mira. “Isn’t that the point? Aren’t we trying to resist injustice here in Paris?”
“It’s just…” Etienne couldn’t find the right words and let his voice trail off. “That’s so…” he tried again, but again couldn’t finish.
“Public?” asked Mira with a smile.
“Yes, that,” he said thoughtfully.
“Maybe that’s what the Jade League needs,” Mira replied. “I know I only just got here, but as a newcomer I can see what you’re not used to considering. The Jade League doesn’t need to be invisible to resist the government. It needs to be ubiquitous. It needs to be everywhere at once, but nowhere to be found when they’re searching. It’s the only way we can effect the change we want to see.”
“She’s right,” said Olivier. “We do have the resources and the space to support more recruits if we wanted, and we can easily put together other safe houses elsewhere in the city. Jean-Pierre has us supplied to equip an army, Sofia just complained about food donations going bad with not enough mouths to feed. We can easily expand the Jade League to reach across the entire city. We’d have to speak with the board, but I think we can do this.”
Etienne looked around at them. He was so used to thinking in terms of minimizing risk for the Jade League, of running their quiet resistance as they gathered information and disrupted government function one pinprick at a time. Now he realized how futile it all had been, yet it wasn’t wasted. They had gathered the resources, the expertise, and the organization he never could have dreamed of over a year ago when he and Olivier returned to Paris.
Still wary, he turned to Charlotte, who had been quiet for the duration of this conversation. “Charlotte?” he asked, hoping his tone would convey his plea for reason.
Charlotte sat up in her chair. “Expansion-wise, we have plenty of members who could lead training with or without my oversight. As for Paris… most of the city is already scared to death of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time, of being mistaken for a mage, or even of leaving their homes. I think would certainly help the city’s morale to take up arms against Favreau’s oppression, but we have to educate them on the dangers of taking our side. Violence in this city is about to escalate.”
Etienne was silent for a time, contemplating what each of them had said.
“Etienne, show them,” said Mira. “Show the government and the people that we’re not powerless. Make us the good in this city, not the evil. Dazzle them with our magic and scare them with their own consciences.”
He sighed. “Many innocent people are about to fall victim to this enmity.”
Mira looked up at him with clear eyes. “Have you forgotten that hundreds of innocent people already have?” she asked softly.
He saw the grief behind her steady expression and wished he were close enough to reassure her with a comforting hand. He sat down on the edge of Olivier’s bed and stared down at his feet, letting the silence fill the room again. Finally he set his jaw and looked up.
“Olivier, gather the board. I want a comprehensive analysis of our resources and a thorough discussion of whether we want to do this, and if so, how.” Olivier nodded and picked up the phone to call up the board.
“Mira,” Etienne continued, turning to her. “You’re right. You have an outsider’s perspective, and that can be incredibly helpful to us. I want you to attend the final strategy session this evening.” He paused, looking at each of them in turn. “We’re really considering this. Tell me I’m not going insane.”
“You’re not,” said Olivier with the phone cradled against his shoulder. He put a hand on Etienne’s shoulder. “You’re doing what’s right.”
(This finishes off the scene I broke off yesterday.)
[chapter 7 continued]
They stepped back and took up their starting stances, circling around each other as they sized each other up. Unlike many of the recruits, he was barefoot, so Mira had removed her shoes before entering the ring. They padded around, gripping the mat under their toes and taking experimental jabs at each other while they continued to circle.
Mira took the first offensive, dancing towards him and trying a combination of quick jabs to see how he blocked, and feeling out his reach as he countered. Julien used a mix of high and low jabs at her that she blocked with deliberate awkwardness, trying to lure him into thinking she couldn’t block properly against a strong hit. Countering, Mira kicked out high, aiming for his head, but he blocked and danced back, bobbing back and forth, light on his feet.
They circled again, both keeping their hands up and weight forward. Julien dodged in at her with a combination of kicks and jabs, coming in low at her stomach. She blocked the first few, but he landed one on the side of her ribcage that made her wince, nearly leaving her open for his next blow aimed at her head. She threw up her left arm to block and flipped her hand around to lock his arm in her elbow, trapping him in close. She aimed a knee at his chest, but he twisted free just in time and front-kicked at her face, forcing her to back up.
Unwilling to back down, Mira went at him with a series of alternating high and low kicks. He blocked the last low kick and lunged past her, trying to leverage his position to take advantage of her exposed back. Seeing his move, she landed and sharp backward blow with her elbow into his shoulder, knocking him back. She spun around, swinging for a hard punch with her right hand, but he managed to block as he regained his footing.
He forced her on the defensive, lashing out with a quick sequence of punches and kicks. She kept her arms up to block against the blows aimed at her head and let a few land on her torso. Like most mage societies, they weren’t wearing protective headgear. Her priority was to protect her head and neck until she could find an opening. His onslaught shifted toward her exposed torso now, and she lowered her arms to block his attacks. As he kicked out at her shoulder, she remembered the fight with Etienne, and how he had swiped up at her leg to throw her off balance. She used the move, deflecting Julien’s kicking leg with her right arm and raising it up higher with her left, bringing her right back down to protect her exposed chest. Julien wasn’t as flexible as she was, and the move threw him off balance. She used the opening to duck under him and knee him hard in the ribs. He went down, toppling sideways and landing hard on the mat.
He lay there for a moment, long enough for Mira to get worried, but he soon sat up, rubbing his ribs.
“Well fought,” he congratulated her, taking her offered hand and letting her pull him to his feet.
“Same to you,” she replied, feeling the tender spots on her ribcage. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
He smiled and poked his shoulder where she had elbowed him. “I’ll be feeling that one tomorrow. Are you a mage?”
“Yes,” Mira replied. The sparring ring was breaking up for lunch now, and they stood a little ways back from group watching the last pair in the ring.
“Then I’d like to see what you can do in a battle sometime.”
“Sure,” she agreed. “But I’ll warn you—I’m a better mage than a sparring opponent.”
Julien laughed. “Well see.”
“I’m going down with Charlotte this afternoon,” she said. “Battle you then?”
He shook his head. “Sorry, I’ve got a meeting this afternoon.” He glanced up at the clock and picked up his towel. “I have to run, but I’m determined to battle you soon,” he said as he headed for the barracks, pointing back at her with his eyebrows raised. “Don’t you forget it!”
Mira laughed. “All right.”
He disappeared into the crowd as Charlotte appeared at Mira’s side.
“I see you’ve met Julien,” observed Charlotte.
“Yeah, he was my last sparring partner,” said Mira, taking the water bottle Charlotte offered her.
Mira swallowed her mouthful of water. “I did.”
“You beat Julien?” asked Charlotte, smiling.
“Yes.” Mira saw Charlotte’s amused smile and looked at her sidelong. “Why are you smiling?”
“Nothing,” said Charlotte. “He’s Olivier’s second-in-command in Intelligence. You should tell Olivier—he’ll give him a hard time.”
Mira laughed as they joined the rush heading for the mess hall. “He wants to battle sometime.”
“Don’t,” said Charlotte.
“He’s only spars at a seven, but he’s one of the most powerful mages we’ve got. If we ranked, he’d be third behind only Olivier and Etienne.”
Mira raised her eyebrows at this. “They’re really that good?”
Nodding, Charlotte caught the door to the main headquarters and kicked the doorstop into place. “Kingham mages really are that good,” she answered. “Julien transferred there when he was fifteen, so he didn’t get the martial arts training that the other two did, but he’s a damn good mage.”
Mira glanced at Charlotte. “I thought you were a Kingham mage.”
Charlotte shook her head. “I trained with them occasionally, but I never attended Kingham. I developed my talents elsewhere.”
They jogged up the short stairwell to the hall.
“So if I battle Julien,” asked Mira, “what will happen?”
Charlotte considered her a moment and laughed. “He’ll toy with you until he flattens you to the ground.”
“Really? I don’t stand a chance?”
“You might in a few months.” The device clipped to Charlotte’s waistband beeped, and she paused to read the message on it before continuing. “Remember your battle with Etienne? He was fighting at about sixty percent capacity until you surprised him that you could do more. So don’t underestimate those Kingham mages.”
“I won’t,” Mira promised.
“Olivier wants us in his room,” said Charlotte. “Come on, we’ll bring lunch up.”
(Still playing catch up, but the next few scenes should be faster. Woo!)
[chapter 7 continued]
Mira’s head was still spinning with Latin words and phrases when she went down to the training room to find Charlotte. She’d done this before, this mad cramming of foreign words that resembled words she knew in French but not quite. Every year before the first practice of the fall, she and Lucas would hunker down with a Latin dictionary and try to memorize as many new spells as they could to make it seem to their coaches like they’d learned something all summer. It didn’t entirely work, since they forgot most of them within the first week of training, but they always retained one or two favorites that became signature moves over the course of the tournament season.
Mira was sore. She’d been trying to ignore the feeling for the last few days, more grateful that she was sleeping on a bed instead of crouched in hidden corners of Paris. But the exertion of the battle with Etienne the day before had pushed her toward her limits. Muscles she hadn’t used in months screamed for a break, and she hoped Charlotte wouldn’t put her to work before she had a chance to stretch properly. She’d made the mistake of skipping a cursory stretch the day before and regretted it now.
The training room was filled with people. It usually emptied out in the late afternoon and evening, but now, in the morning, most of the Jade League mages and a number of non-mages were here training. A large group was gathered around a sparring pair in the center of the room, watching and cheering, all the while trying to learn from the fight. The entire third of the room toward the barracks was occupied by ranks of recruits going through drills while two instructors walked among the lines counting off, occasionally pausing to adjust an individual’s form. Mira had to stand aside while a small squad went running past chasing the leader of the pack over stairs and benches and any other equipment that lay around the room.
Despite the crowd, Mira easily found Charlotte. She was perched on a pyramid of shipping crates with a stopwatch in hand, yelling instructions to another group of runners. She saw Mira approaching and called one of the runners over. She tossed him the stopwatch and said something to him, pointing at the rest of the group, before hopping down from the crate and meeting Mira on the open floor.
“How’s the Latin?” she asked Mira.
“Good,” Mira answered. “I feel like I’m swimming in Latin but only swallowing a few words at time.”
Charlotte laughed. “Ready for something different?”
“You have no idea.”
Charlotte started her off with a comprehensive set of stretches. They weren’t particularly challenging for Mira, who had taken ballet until she was twelve and could touch her toes without even really trying. But she appreciated the stretch, loosening up the sore muscles in her legs and arms. Next, Charlotte gave her a set of core strengthening exercises to keep her balance strong and to prevent back injuries. Once Mira was shaking and tired, Charlotte allowed her a water break before starting a cardio workout, straightforward laps around the perimeter of the training room.
“You’ll build up to the terrain running,” Charlotte explained. “Right now I’m concerned that you’re still under normal strength. At this point you’re more likely to hurt yourself than anything else.”
“But I feel like I can do it,” protested Mira. “I just battled Etienne on the rocky ground yesterday, and we sprinted through Paris not long before that, too.”
“And it’s a miracle you didn’t hurt yourself,” said Charlotte. “Now listen to what I’m telling you and get started on those laps. I’m not having you run a pace today, so take it easy.”
Mira stopped arguing and headed off at a jog. She estimated the room was about a quarter mile around, the same size as the track at her high school. Back when she was in shape, she could run a mile at about a seven-minute pace, but she doubted she had the endurance for that right now. By the time she finished three laps, her feet felt like lead blocks she had to lift to take each step. She didn’t even want to know how slow her run was, but she pushed through into the second mile. The run through Paris had shown her how far she could go before she truly could go no farther, and with this in mind, she picked up speed again and finished off the eight laps Charlotte had assigned her.
Now thoroughly tired but glad to have worked the soreness out of her legs, Mira took the bottle of water Charlotte offered her and took a much-needed drink.
“All right, take a break and join the sparring,” said Charlotte. “Watch for a bit and try to get a sense of where you stand. We have a rough system of ten levels, but each individual comes in with such a different fighting style that the level is only an approximation of the opponent you think you can hold up against.”
Mira nodded, wiping the sweat from her forehead. “What level should I start at?”
“Olivier suggested about a level six based on yesterday’s fight, but go watch and see what you think. Worst case you scale down your offensive, or you’re forced to rise and meet a challenge.” Charlotte glanced at the clock on the wall. “After a few rounds, we’ll break for lunch. Then we’re going to the underground facility.”
Mira headed over to the sparring group to watch and learn. There was a whole range of styles and skill levels present. Mira herself didn’t have any particular technique—she’d learned the basics of stance, balance, and blocking from Lucas and sort of made up the rest to fit whatever she could. Her ballet background had always helped, giving her a better awareness of her own weight distribution and letting her rely on her flexibility to execute moves that Lucas and the others in their mage society couldn’t. As she watched the others sparring, she began to get a sense of where she stood.
The sparring group had its own informal system that Mira picked up on quickly. As many as four fights could be going on at once, each in their own quadrant of the informal sparring ring created by the spectators. The higher the level of fight, the more space they required. To start a fight, one simply asked around for a similar level partner, or entered the ring and called for an opponent. A fight ended when one person was knocked down or voluntarily surrendered. The ring of spectators applauded every fight, even the short rounds of low-level opponents, and both the winner and the defeated were congratulated for the effort when they rejoined the outer ring. Mira smiled to see this camaraderie and welcoming spirit. It made her less hesitant to try it out.
Olivier had estimated correctly—she could probably handle around a level six opponent. The next time someone bravely stepped into the ring and asked for a level six, Mira raised her hand and was enthusiastically sucked into the circle.
Her opponent was a thin, wiry man, taller than her by about six inches and roughly in his early thirties if she had to guess. They shook hands in their section of the circle.
“Delmont,” he introduced himself. “Et vous?”
“Mira,” she replied.
They released each other’s hands and stepped back to begin the fight. She balanced herself on the balls of her feet, ignoring the fatigue from her run and setting her stance sideways like Lucas taught her. She blocked Delmont’s first jabs and returned with a quick series of punches. They were well matched; his reach was longer, but Mira made up for it with flexibility. He had more strength behind his strikes, but with a little luck and her slight edge in speed, Mira managed to avoid most hits. The match went back and forth for a time, until Mira finally had a good grasp of his height and blocking strategies. She feinted left and launched herself off her back foot to catch him in the jaw with a spinning kick. The force of the blow knocked him sideways, and he threw out a hand to catch himself with one knee on the mat. The spectators closest to them cheered, and Delmont put up his hands to signal defeat. Mira helped pull him back up, and they shook hands again.
“Not bad,” he said, laughing with one hand to his jaw as they retreated to the circle again. “I have not seen you before. Your first fight?”
Mira nodded. “First fight here, but I’ve sparred before.”
“I can tell,” he replied. “Félicitations et bonne chance!”
“Bonne chance,” she said as he wandered off.
Her next match didn’t go quite as well, as she underestimated her opponent’s speed and ended up with a punch in the jaw and a knee to the ribs. It took her a bit to recover from the blows, but she won the next round after that, though just barely, after a long back and forth with a girl named Nathalie. Two level nines soon took over the whole ring, their fight ranging back and forth across the space for long minutes until one began to tire and finally left an opening for a knockdown punch.
Mira was preparing to leave for lunch when a level seven entered the ring but no one answered. The spectators jostled each other around, trying to convince their neighbors to face him, but still no one came forward. He pulled a theatrically sad pout, standing alone on his end of the ring. Finally Mira raised her hand, and her closest neighbors, including her last opponent Nathalie, cheered for her deafeningly.
“Mira,” she said to him, offering her hand.
“Julien,” he introduced himself. “Thank you for volunteering.” His English was clean, closer to Etienne and Olivier’s than most other recruits. He was tall and lean with long, dirty blond hair that he’d tied back. His reach was easily a half-foot longer than hers, and from the way he walked, she could tell he was fast. A dark V of sweat already stained his shirt, but his handshake was firm and steady. He didn’t seem the least bit tired, and Mira was quite sure she was about to be outclassed.
(No, the scene doesn’t end there. I still need to choreograph and write this fight. Hang tight!)
The mess hall in the morning was a frightening place. Breakfast didn’t have any particular set schedule, but it was the only meal of the day that everyone came to fully rested and anxious to the start the day. Mira had never seen a group with such universal morning enthusiasm as the members of the Jade League. Every morning they came streaming into the mess hall, bantering with each other, fussing over their food options, and elbowing each other aside for a warm brioche. After being pinned to the wall by the crowd at her first breakfast in the mess, Mira entered the hall each morning with a deep trepidation.
This morning she’d managed to catch a lull in the food line and brought her coffee and tartine to join Gabrielle and Remi, two of the mage recruits from the training room, at a table at the back wall. Here, they were far enough removed from the entrance and serving areas that they could actually hear each other talk.
“Mira,” said Remi. “You are American, yes?”
Mira nodded, taking a bite from her tartine.
“Then what brings you to Paris?”
Mira took a deep breath. “My parents were here when Favreau came to power—my father was born here, and they were visiting old friends. I came looking for them… but they were killed.”
Gabrielle reached out and touched her gently on the arm. “I am sorry,” she said softly. “The secret police caught my sister two months after the executions.”
Sighing, Remi took a sip from his mug of hot coffee. “I do not think there is one person in Paris who has not lost a loved one. Etienne himself cannot locate his parents. Notre Paris, elle pleut en tristesse.”
Mira looked over at him. “Etienne can’t find his parents?”
Remi shook his head. “That is the rumor in the Jade League.”
“He is a strong man,” said Gabrielle. “But he hides much sadness behind his strength.”
“Yes,” agreed Remi. “He does what needs to be done. We cannot all stop for grief.”
“That is why we fight,” added Gabrielle with conviction. “The mages of Paris should not lay down before this monster Favreau.”
Mira set her mug down. “Then why do people still work for him?”
They both shrugged. “Maybe they agree with his policies,” suggested Remi. “Most people fear mages. They think we are dangerous.”
“We are,” said Gabrielle. “But that does not mean we do not have morals.”
Mira nodded in agreement. “My mother used to say, ‘Magic is only a tool.’ It can be used for good or bad, but it is the wielder who determines that.”
“Most Parisians know this, I think,” said Remi. “They have seen how the government treats us, strong and weak mages both. They understand that we are victims.”
“Was none of this our fault?” asked Mira. “In the States there are mages who use their powers for crime. Some defend themselves by saying they were serving justice, but mages like them give all of us a bad name. We aren’t quick enough to denounce the extremists, and therefore we all get grouped in. And now, with the Jade League fighting the government—aren’t we using violence against them, just as they used violence against us?”
Remi hesitated, but spoke quickly. “There is a time for peaceful protest, but this is not that time. It is true that fighting fire with fire will only burn the city down. But we must fight for our rights. We must show that we will not be trampled, that we are not helpless.”
Mira stayed him with her nod. “I know, and I agree. I just urge all of us to remember our moral compass.”
They ate in thoughtful silence for a time, but it was interrupted by the arrival of Charlotte. She set down a large tray in front of Mira—three plates laden with food, much of which had not been in the serving line.
“Your breakfast,” announced Charlotte. Mira noted eggs and sausages, a bowl of yogurt and cereal, and a gathering of pastries all heaped on the tray.
“I already ate,” said Mira.
“Oh no you did not,” said Charlotte. “You’re to finish everything on this tray.”
“But—that’s way more food than I need,” Mira protested. “And I already ate!”
Charlotte pinched Mira’s arm like she had the day before and poked at her ribcage. “You need to gain back muscle mass, and that means you need to eat.”
“I’ll make myself sick!”
Looking down at the tray, Charlotte snatched up a brioche. “There, now there’s less. Eat up.”
Mira swallowed and picked up a fork. “I’ll eat as much as I can…”
Standing over her, Charlotte watched until she’d eaten half the eggs. “Good, keep going. Etienne wants you in the library when you’re done. First floor by the barracks entrance.”
Mira nodded to show she’d heard.
“Don’t let him keep you for more than an hour,” instructed Charlotte. “Come find me in the training hall as soon as you’re finished in the library.” With that, she left Mira obediently eating her massive breakfast.
Etienne leaned back in his chair in the library. It wasn’t so much a library as a study, a long room filled with heavy wood tables with only a few shelves of books in the back. He rarely conducted business here, but it was quiet and isolated, the best place for Mira to brush up on her spell work.
Jean-Pierre had come with him down from his office. They’d been discussing the equipment stores for headquarters and the mages’ training grounds, debating possible changes. The young mage had no shortage of ideas or enthusiasm, and Etienne patiently considered each.
“I don’t see a problem with building this setup,” said Etienne, looking over Jean-Pierre’s sketch of the motorways near la Defense. “I just wonder how often we’d stage a fight on similar terrain.”
“We have patrols running there,” countered Jean-Pierre. “We can’t always pick where we’d have to fight.”
“True,” admitted Etienne, still considering the sketch.
Seeing his design was likely set, Jean-Pierre moved on to his next point. “I updated the inventory—added wooden staffs and some more knives. I’d like to have some more guns, though.”
Etienne put down the sketch and sat forward, adding a note on his legal pad. “What for?” he asked.
“We’ve practiced disarming, but how many of us have ever actually shot a gun? How do you put the safety back on? The secret police all use the same kind of gun, and it would be good to know how to use it, rather than just clubbing opponents with it once you’ve disarmed them.”
Etienne leaned back in his chair. “That’s a fair point, but I don’t like the idea of guns in the training room. We can find a better dummy weapon for training purposes, ones with moving parts but no actual bullets. I’d rather not have mages shooting secret police if we can help it.”
“I’d rather not have secret police shooting mages,” replied Jean-Pierre.
“Agreed. But remember that guns are lethal. We can make a clean getaway without having to resort to firing a gun.”
“But if they’re lethal, shouldn’t we know how to use them without hurting ourselves?”
“We already train in firearm safety,” said Etienne. “A gun in any hand is dangerous, and I’d rather limit their availability around our headquarters.”
“All right,” Jean-Pierre sighed, clearly disappointed that Etienne had turned down his proposal.
They both looked up to the sound of the door squealing on its hinges. Mira poked her head in and saw them conversing at the back table.
“Ah Mira, come in,” said Etienne, beckoning to her. “We’re just about finished.” He turned back to Jean-Pierre. “Anything else?”
“Nothing more right now. Merci, Monsieur.”
“Merci, Jean-Pierre. I’ll make sure Briand knows about the construction plan.”
“Salut,” he said, with a slight bow as he excused himself.
Etienne looked over at Mira. “Come, sit down,” he said, gesturing at the table where he was seated.
She came and sat across from him. “Charlotte said you wanted to see me?”
He finished off one last note on his legal pad and set his pen down. “Yes. You’re starting your training today.”
“I figured,” said Mira, laughing. “Charlotte fed me a mountain of food for breakfast. She says I need to regain weight.”
Etienne nodded. “There are many facets to your training, and restoring your physical strength and fitness is one of them. You will be worked hard, and your abilities will improve drastically if you choose to put in the effort required. The Jade League’s system of training is a condensed, fast-paced version of the normal training a mage society would conduct. Ours is designed for efficiency, and to produce capable mages to fight against the injustices of Favreau’s regime. That means our training regimen is not easy.”
Mira nodded as Etienne paused for a moment. He waited to see if she had any questions, but when she didn’t he went on.
“No one will fault you for choosing not to undergo this path. Our training is grueling, but it is your choice to pursue it. Every mage in the Jade League makes this decision, consciously or not—the decision of whether or not to fight, to hone their abilities in preparation for the dangerous world out there. But we understand that not every person has it in them.”
Mira stopped him, sitting forward with her hands flat on the table. He was beginning to see her shy, tentative nature falling away as she became more accustomed to her surroundings at the Jade League. It actually calmed him to know that she could be more assertive than the quiet, scared girl he’d met just days before.
“Etienne,” she began, taking a deep breath, “since I arrived in Paris, I have seen fear and injustice. I have seen poverty and desperation. And—” She paused and shook her head slowly. “I can’t stay helpless anymore. Even though I didn’t come to Paris to resist the Anti-Magist regime, I don’t see this as a choice. I have to fight—for my own rights, and for the rights of my fellow mages.”
Etienne smiled, a little surprised and pleased by her words. “Good,” he said simply. “Then we’ll begin.”
He stood and went over to the first row of shelves, where he and Olivier had placed their small collection of Latin texts. “Charlotte will get you started later with physical training,” he told Mira, “but right now we’ll start with your spell work. Your Latin’s not as sharp as it could be, but you do a good job of modifying the spells you know to fit your situation. We could work on your grammar, but I think it’s more to your advantage to expand your vocabulary. With your knowledge of French, the vocabulary will be easier to pick up. You’re more likely to see large improvements in your spell work by focusing this. Your control of the magic is strong enough that you don’t need clean or complex grammar.”
Mira nodded. “It’s a product of not having any good Latin teachers,” she said. “Not very many schools teach Latin in California, even at my high school, which had a strong mage society. Most of us learned to control our magic more in our minds than in our spells.”
“And that’s fine,” said Etienne, “but it’s taxing. Having tighter control over the spell through language allows you more freedom in your concentration to pay attention to other things.” He picked up a thick textbook, its hefty covers scratched and bent, and its pages dog-eared. “I have two things for you,” he said, handing her the book. “First, an excellent, though well-worn, Latin textbook with pertinent vocabulary sections. I want you to read through the marked sections—some of it may be review, but based on my assessment of yesterday’s battle, I think you will find most of it beneficial.”
Mira took the textbook with care and opened it to the first bookmarked section, skimming the words on the page.
“Second thing for you,” said Etienne. “Three Latin teachers: myself, Olivier, and Charlotte. There are plenty more in the high ranks of the Jade League—European mages who have studied Latin for most of their lives. During the course of your training, use us as resources to your advantage. We are here to foster the growth of mages, and we are more than happy to share our knowledge with each other. If you find yourself sparring with another mage who uses a spell you admire, ask about it. Learn from your exposure in ways you could not in your training in the States. There is much to be said for the benefit of experience.”
“Thank you,” said Mira, hefting the textbook in one hand.
“We also have a decent library here of Latin texts and dictionaries, though I think you’ll already have your hands full with the one I’ve given you. Other than that, your biggest asset in spell work is your imagination. I’m sure this is something you know already and have heard countless times in mage training.” She smiled and nodded. “You think fast and creatively,” he continued. “I have to admit I’m scared to see what you’ll do with an expanded arsenal of spells.”
Mira laughed. “I’ll practice them on Olivier instead.”
“I approve of this plan,” said Etienne, smiling. “I need to conduct some meetings, so I’ll leave you to this. You’re welcome to stay here in the library, but don’t think you need to finish that book today by any means. Charlotte will want you in the training room around ten.”
Nodding, Mira followed him back to the desks and returned to her seat while he jotted down another note and closed his portfolio.
“I’ll see you later,” he called back to her on his way out.
“Etienne,” she said. “Thank you, really.”
He nodded from the door. “You’re welcome.”
(Time to catch up! So close to 25K…)
[chapter 6, continued]
Etienne led his troop of mages through the makeshift passageways that led to the new training facility. They crossed under streets through connected basements, and between buildings by covered paths in adjoining yards and alleys. The way branched and rejoined itself in a labyrinth of passages, so that they would never have to use the same path twice. The building was four blocks from headquarters, yet they never once set foot on the outside street.
The entrance was hidden behind a wall of shipping crates, and required a short crawl through the narrow space at the bottom to get to the door. Etienne waited just inside, in a modest entryway that had once been the warehouse reception area. He counted off the trainees that had come along. Jean-Pierre, a precocious, scrappy little mage who at twelve years of age was the youngest fighting member of the Jade League, had wriggled through the crawl space first and went on ahead to check the equipment inventory while Etienne waited for the others. The first three to join him were Vivienne, Remi, and Gabrielle, newer mages who had only started training under Charlotte, though all three had come to Etienne’s attention when they’d been involved in scuffles with the secret police. Next came Mira, followed by Theo, the league’s closest thing to a medic. Quentin had also decided to join them, and Olivier and Charlotte finished off the group.
They filed down the long stairwell to the deepest basement level. The group was hushed, the only sound their footsteps that echoed around them. Etienne pulled open the heavy, padded door and held it as everyone entered the training ground. Charlotte led the trio of newer mages off through the vast warehouse room, quickly disappearing from sight around the large constructs scattered around the space. Theo and Quentin headed out to meet up with Jean-Pierre, leaving Etienne with Mira and Olivier at the entrance, looking out across the room.
“What is this place?” asked Mira, her voice filled with awe.
“It was once a warehouse for unimaginable quantities of frozen food,” said Olivier. “See the insulation on the door? It goes all the way around on the walls, and used to keep the cold air in. Now it acts as a natural buffer to keep our magic in as well, but we modified it a bit to prevent any leakage. Even if all of us unleashed one massive blast of magical energy, no one in the building or on the streets above would feel it.”
“We can’t train with magic at headquarters,” added Etienne. “One spell and the secret police would sniff us out in a hurry. So we built this for magic training, and the barracks facility is used for sparring and terrain fighting.”
“So what’s all this?” she asked, gesturing at the variety of looming masses stationed throughout the room. Some resembled buildings and storefronts, others just piles of rubble, and a few looked like something out of a cubist painting.
Olivier smiled. “We decided to add some variety of terrain. Most of them resemble a setup you’re likely to encounter somewhere in Paris, but a few are just to keep you on your toes. We change them around every few weeks.”
Etienne watched as Mira walked over to the closest setup, clambering up onto the huge stone blocks of this pile of rubble.
“It reminds me of mage society tournament grounds,” she said, turning back to them from a vantage point halfway to the top. “Although the ones in California always had a lot of trees.”
“Well, Paris isn’t exactly a forest,” replied Etienne. “And you can’t imagine the maintenance involved in planting trees inside a frozen food warehouse.”
Mira laughed. “What? Just cut a hole in the ceiling for some natural sunlight.”
Etienne felt a smile creeping to his face. “That part’s easy—it’s the water bill that breaks the bank.”
Grinning, Mira surveyed the room from her perch. “You can’t have everything,” she murmured. She glanced down at him. “So, are you going to test me or what?”
“Whenever you’re ready,” he said.
“I took the high ground,” she pointed out, shifting her stance to rest her weight on the balls of her feet. “I’m ready now.”
Etienne changed his stance as well. “All right then. Olivier, ground rules?”
From his place over by the wall and a safe distance back from them, Olivier called out his instructions. “Standard International Mage Society rules. Aim to disable, not to kill. We’re just trying to see what you can do, and if you kill Etienne, that’s just not beneficial, really, in any way. And don’t maim each other either, or Theo will have a meltdown. I’ll be supervising—don’t aim anything at me or I won’t be able to get help. Got that?”
Mira nodded once, and Etienne followed suit.
“Good. Let the match begin!”
Neither of them moved. Some matches started as soon as they began, but Etienne wasn’t about to attack that quickly. He preferred not to make the first move, especially with a new opponent. With Olivier sometimes, he would attack first, just to throw him off, but he didn’t need that right now. He watched Mira, seeing with approval that her eyes didn’t stay fixed on his but scanned him and his surroundings, looking for some hint of what he would do next. Regardless of stereotype, that American mages were pathetic compared to European ones, Mira hadn’t been ranked for nothing.
He started with a straightforward attack spell, a weak pulse of heat aimed at her. She deflected it easily, redirecting its focus rather than shielding against it. Good, she wasn’t wasting her energy meeting the attack head-on. He threw another, stronger spell at her, a wave of air pressure with a wide spread meant to knock her back. She deflected again, pushing the wave to her left and dodging right to avoid the fringe of it. As she landed on a new outcrop of rock, she threw a sheet of hail at him, forcing him on the defense to deflect her attack—but he quickly countered with flash of light, a distraction tactic to blind her while he clambered over the rubble to close the distance between them. She reacted quickly, throwing her arm up and keeping her eyes down, but he easily halved the distance between them.
The large blocks of granite were solid under him, though his feet fought for purchase on the gravel-covered surfaces. This pile had once resembled the front of a government office building, complete with towering pillars and lion statues, before Quentin blasted it in a demonstration the week before. Etienne reminded himself to watch the iron rods jabbing skyward from a block of broken cement. Keeping his weight forward, he leapt up a few more blocks towards Mira.
Her eyes had already recovered from the flash, and she saw him approaching. With one swipe of her arm she sent a rush of fire at him. He dodged it and deflected it down into a nearby block. The strength of the attack surprised him—he hadn’t expected such destructive power from her, not when so far he’d only ever seen her polite and even a little shy. The force and confidence of her spell showed him that somewhere behind her quiet demeanor was a very capable mage. He reminded himself that she was no stranger to the mages’ battle. A fireball was a double-edged attack; if simply deflected in the convenient direction, it could easily set fire to the surroundings, quickly cornering an opponent. It kept Etienne on his toes—he was lucky they were currently surrounded by rock and cement.
Before she could fire off another spell, he made five direct attacks in quick succession—the first two were short, cutting air blasts, followed by a storm of gravel lifted from their surroundings, then a hail of icicle darts and a fireball that he adjusted to follow Mira’s path as she dodged across the pile of rubble. She deflected the first three attacks, but cast her first shield and turned to face the last two as they hit. He followed his spells up towards her, but she threw a powerful blast of ice-cold air at him to drive him back. It was too strong for him to redirect, and he didn’t trust his footing enough to dodge in time. He threw up a shield and took the hit, jumping up the moment the attack dissipated and landing close to her.
He could tell she was winding up for another spell, but he cut her short by launching himself at her and forcing her into hand-to-hand combat. She blocked his first punches, dropping one foot back to face him sideways before shifting into an offensive. She jabbed at his face, her left arm meeting his right as he blocked. He tried to grip her arm, but she twisted it down and away from him, planting her near foot and swinging her other leg around and out, catching him in the shoulder. He winced at the contact, but took advantage of her weight distribution, ducking low to sweep at her standing leg. This threw her off, but she dropped her hands to the ground when her kicking foot landed, using them as support as she kicked at his face with the leg he’d just swept out from under her. He blocked the kick and swiped up at her leg with his other hand, hoping to topple her off balance by keeping her leg up. She was more flexible than he’d expected though, and with her one leg pinned high in his grip, she used it to her advantage to launch off her standing leg into a handstand, grazing his chin with her shoe as she kicked out. He threw his free arm around her legs, forcing her to collapse at the knee, and pushed her off toward the uphill of the rubble mound.
He let her scramble to her feet again, waiting until she had a steady stance before coming at her again. She blocked his jab and leaned just out of reach of his wide-swinging right punch, but he lunged forward onto his right foot, giving him the extra reach he needed to jab at her face with his elbow. He nearly caught her, but she was fast, reading his footwork and anticipating the elbow. She threw her arm up and caught his elbow in an upward sweep, taking advantage of the opening to knee him in the ribcage. That alone would have knocked him back, but he saw her lips moving too late and felt her spell shifting the cement block under his feet. He fell back, landing hard on the next ledge down, coughing in the dust kicked up by the crumbling block as it tumbled down the mound in pieces. Not bad, she could read the terrain even while sparring and use it to her advantage. He hopped up quickly, using another spell to throw up a thicker screen of dust while he recovered from the fall.
When the dust finally settled, Mira had retreated a few meters sideways along the heap. She threw a sheet of hail at him, but he deflected it and jumped up to a new ledge. He countered with his own hailstorm, just large enough that she couldn’t dodge and had to put up a shield. They danced up and down the rubble heap, taking turns throwing spells at each other and trying to maneuver the other into a compromising place.
“You missed!” Etienne taunted her as he jumped over the remains of an icicle attack, the shards of ice tinkling as they hit the stones and broke.
“Why don’t you just stand still?” she yelled back. “I won’t miss then!”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” he said, firing off another concentrated ball of air.
She dodged, hopping down through the rubble. “We could test that out,” she suggested.
He deflected her fireball into a block past his shoulder. “You keep using those fireballs, but they’re not very effective.”
As if to hammer that point home, she threw another one at him. “It only takes one grazing hit to set your clothes on fire,” she retorted.
“Well in that case…” He sent a fireball back at her, but instead of shielding or deflecting, she sent up a cloud of heavy mist, instantly putting out the flames.
“How’s that for ineffective?” she taunted.
He jumped down another ledge to gain a better angle on her, but she anticipated the move and he was forced to shield against a rain of gravel. When the spell cleared, he saw her retreating further down the slope. “What, running scared, are you?”
She laughed, and aimed another fireball at him. “Scared of what? You haven’t even grazed me.”
He deflected her fireball into the cement at his feet and followed her down. “Haven’t grazed you? Well try to dodge this.” He sent a series of quick blasts at her, alternating heat and concentrated air.
She did manage to dodge the first few, but the onslaught kept on coming and she shielded against a few before cutting to her left and deflecting the rest. She paused then at the base of the rubble and cast something with a wide sweep of her hand before retreating further across the open space.
“Had enough yet?” he asked. He leapt down a few more ledges, trying to catch up to her speedy downhill flight.
“Enough?” She laughed. “You’ve barely even touched me.”
“Just checking,” he replied. “Because you should know I’m barely even winded.”
“So we’re just getting started?” she called back, pausing on the open floor. Etienne was pleased to hear her panting between words.
“You have no idea how long—” But his words were cut off when he reached the base of the rubble pile. His eyes started watering painfully, and he blinked furiously, struggling to maintain view of Mira, who was watching him from the open space between him and the next closest terrain setup. “What did you—what on earth?”
He heard her laughing. “Oh, did you find my pepper cloud?” she asked innocently.
Cursing, he took a few steps forward, hoping to leave the cloud behind, but it only intensified. He cast an air blast out from all around him, sending the offending particles away though his eyes still watered. Knowing she would likely take advantage of his poor eyesight, he cast a shield to protect himself while he flushed his eyes with a water spell. He felt an attack hit his shield, quickly followed by two more. His eyes stopped burning, but everything around him was still bleary. He rinsed his eyes one more time and lifted an arm to wipe his face on his sleeve, but he stopped just in time, remembering that the irritant was all over his clothes as well. He blinked hard a few more times, and the world came into finer focus. Another spell hit his shield, and he saw Mira winding up for another attack from over by another terrain setup, this one a collection of large wooden crates and cardboard boxes stacked around like a warehouse or alleyway in the commercial districts. Etienne headed toward her, eyes clearer now.
He could tell she was baiting him, but he followed her into the maze of packing crates anyway. He had the advantage here of having fought real fights in the narrow alleyways after which they’d modeled this very setup. Rounding a turn, he saw Mira slipping away down another fork. With one quick spell, he blasted the crate above her, the splintered wood flying in all directions. He jogged up to the wreckage in search of Mira. The moment she came into view, crouched in a clean circle on the alley floor, she cast her own spell and sent a crate toppling down from above him. He dodged and redirected its fall towards her, but she was already well out of the way. The crate landed on its edge with an echoing boom before it rocked down into its face. She cast an air blast at it, strong enough to break it apart and send splinters flying at Etienne. Caught against the wall, he shielded himself from the blast and simultaneously tipped a set of smaller crates above Mira. She managed to deflect the first one, but the others fell clustered together so she blew them apart from below with a pocket of sudden air pressure. The wood didn’t just splinter this time—it turned to fine sawdust that rained down on the two of them as Etienne retreated back along another alley. Mira followed, blasting boxes above him while he dodged at a full sprint.
As they rounded another corner, deep within the labyrinth of alleyways, Etienne threw a fireball back at her. She doused it well before it reached her and threw her own back at him. Mindful of the flammable material on all sides, he too blocked it with a counterattack of water. Before he could send off another spell, she knocked down another set of crates that cascaded down towards him. He jumped back and deflected them into a jumble that settled between them. They both simultaneously blew apart the top crate, the debris flying both ways and forcing both to shield against the splintered shrapnel. Etienne caught sight of the open training ground just beyond the next corner. He blasted another crate in the pileup between him and Mira and headed for the open ground.
Behind him, he heard Mira blasting apart the roadblock, her footsteps catching up to his. Just meters from the exit, a rumble overhead warned him that another roadblock was coming down to keep him trapped in the alleys. The crates rained down ahead of him, far enough ahead that he didn’t need to cast a shield. Caught in this dead end now, he turned and threw a cutting wave of sleet at Mira. She deflected and countered with an air blast that he deflected just as easily.
“Is that all you’ve got?” he called back teasingly. “I could do this all day.”
He saw her hesitate. Either she was tiring, or she was formulating some new plan. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Olivier had located them in this setup and was watching from a safe distance back in one of the side alleys. Mira had seen him too—he was closer to her line of sight—and Etienne thought he saw her glance at Olivier, as if for approval.
Suddenly she hit him with a staggering blast of searing fire and ice that he just barely managed to shield against in time. The attack was powerful, easily ten times more powerful than anything they’d been throwing at each other thus far, and it knocked him back into the corner made by the jumble of crates and the high stack along the wall. The force of his fall toppled some of the crates overhead, but Etienne was still stunned with whiplash from hitting the block and couldn’t react to shield himself against the falling boxes.
A shield materialized around him, knocking the crates aside and breaking apart the ones that fell directly on him. In an instant, Olivier was there picking his way through the rubble with a hand over his mouth to keep himself from inhaling the dust. Etienne coughed, still flat on his back on the floor, surrounded by half-broken crates.
“Wow,” he managed to say between coughs. “I am quite literally floored.”
Olivier was having trouble stifling his laughter. “You were asking for it.”
He leaned over and offered a hand. Etienne took it, but his legs were still shaking from the blowback and Olivier only managed to pull him into an upright position. Etienne sat still, blinking until the winking stars left his vision.
They looked up when they heard a crate sliding along the floor. Mira pushed her way through to them, looking worried.
“Are you all right?” she asked Etienne.
He nodded and gripped Olivier’s arm, this time successfully arriving at a standing position. “Yes, thanks to Olivier.”
Olivier nodded as well. “He’ll be fine, he’s just a little stunned.”
Assured that no one was hurt, Mira leaned against a crate, still breathing heavily from the battle. “So, how did I do?” she asked.
Etienne laughed, privately reminding himself that his ego had suffered worse bruises in his lifetime. “A little too well,” he replied. “A little too well.”
[end chapter 6]
(Two of the med school secondaries due tomorrow submitted, three to go. Why I stopped to write this, I don’t know, but here it is.)
[chapter 6, continued]
Charlotte stood back and admired her handiwork. With a little convincing, Mira had agreed to a drastic haircut and a change of wardrobe, with hopes that this change of appearance would throw off any government official who might have spotted her on the street the previous afternoon. Charlotte was pleased with the results. Mira’s hair, which before had fallen in waves to the point of her shoulder blades, was now cropped short two inches above the shoulder. Charlotte had layered it so that flared out a little below her ears, giving Mira a soft, sophisticated look. They dragged up a decent set of nice blouses, jackets, and skirts for her, and she had been easy to fit, though Charlotte complained that Mira was too skinny.
“It’s not my fault!” Mira protested. “I’ve barely eaten in weeks.”
“You’re skin and bones,” frowned Charlotte, pinching the skin of Mira’s arm. “Look at this!”
Mira swatted her hand away. “I know, I’m out of shape. I can barely climb a flight of stairs without getting winded,” she said.
“Here, put these on,” said Charlotte, handing her a blouse and the jeans she’d been wearing when she arrived in Paris. “I found you a nice pair of boots that should fit, and Etienne insisted that you get a trench coat.”
Mira ducked into the bathroom again, starting again at her own reflection. “Thank you again for the haircut,” she called to Charlotte in the outer room. “At the very least, no one will recognize me from behind.”
“You’re most welcome,” replied Charlotte. “Now hurry up.”
“What’s the rush?” asked Mira, poking her head out of the bathroom as she wiggled into the freshly washed jeans.
“I’m taking you out to find Etienne,” she said, throwing a pair of socks into the bathroom. “And you’re going to apologize for giving him the fright of his life by disappearing yesterday.”
Mira sighed. “I guess I really wasn’t thinking.” She pulled on the socks and came out of the bathroom, fully dressed.
“You were thinking about Lucas. And that’s all right. Just remember now that you’re a part of the Jade League, and everything you do has an impact on the entire league.” Charlotte hopped off the dresser. “Come on, the boots are in my room.”
Mira followed her down the halls. “Where did all these clothes come from?”
“We’ve been raiding abandoned warehouses and stores for the past year,” Charlotte explained. “Additionally there are a number of merchants and storeowners throughout Paris who are sympathetic to our cause. They donate what they can—food, clothes, other supplies. We never steal from places that are operational, only the abandoned ones.”
Inside Charlotte’s room, she tossed Mira a pair of boots and a trench coat. “Try those on. The coat might be a little big, but it should fit well in a few weeks once you’ve been fed.”
While Mira tried on the clothes, Charlotte got dressed. As predicted, the coat was a little too roomy, but the boots fit comfortably. Once Charlotte put on a dab of makeup, they headed out through the barracks and set off towards the northwest.
Etienne had disappeared that morning after breakfast, according to Olivier. He didn’t have any meetings planned until the afternoon, and no one really knew where he might be. No one, that is, except for Charlotte and Olivier. Mira now gathered that there was little that each of them did without the others knowing, though not always explicitly. They were the original three who had formed the Jade League—formed, in the loosest sense of the word, for they never put a name to it, and they had only the slightest concept of what the Jade League might be. But they were close, and had been since secondary school. Their time together before and since the formation of the Jade League had brought them closer, and under most circumstances they could intuit each other’s actions. It was in this way that Charlotte knew where to find Etienne on this overcast, blustery morning.
Charlotte brought them to an apartment building in the fringes of the city. From the street, they could hear someone playing piano in the building above. Charlotte nudged Mira toward the entrance, promising she’d wait outside. Mira pushed open the slightly ajar door and let herself into the courtyard. The whole building seemed to resonate with the rich sound of piano. For a moment, she closed her eyes and let the music spin around her. The notes played out a brooding melody she didn’t recognize, though she felt her heart rise and fall with each chord. Then the song faded—she heard a scraping sound as the pianist adjusted his bench, then a few gentle notes began a new piece.
Mira climbed the stairs toward the music, pausing again in the stairwell to listen to the melody bouncing and spiraling through the confined space. She found Etienne in a high-ceilinged apartment, the entire place bare except for the grand piano in the center of the living room. The empty loft made for strange, echoing acoustics, but the music he played seemed to treasure the space. She could tell Etienne was an accomplished pianist, just from the way his hands easily danced up and down the keys. His entire focus was on the music, his head nodding along with the movement of the piece. His coat was draped next to him on the piano bench, and he had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and removed his tie. This was a different Etienne than she had seen thus far—he was relaxed in this focus, allowing himself to think of nothing else and simply devote his attention to his playing.
He looked up only slightly when Mira entered. The piece swelled into a louder, faster section before slowing again to soft, deliberate notes. He continued to play as Mira stepped closer.
“These beautiful, abandoned grand pianos are always begging to be played,” he told her as he kept on playing.
Mira smiled and stopped just short of it, watching the hammers strike the strings while the dampers rose and fell. The sound was incredible here, with the full volume of the instrument angled at her.
“Of course, they’re out of tune when I find them, but I tune them myself and just play for hours. I could worship that sound.” He paused to play a chord lightly with one hand. “But even if I come to play again just days later, the moisture and cold take it out of tune again.”
The piece slowed, and he took a moment to coax out each note before it took off again. A small smile played at his mouth while his hands wandered along the keys. He glanced up at her again.
“Things are always changing,” he said, “and there are some things you just shouldn’t mess with. But sometimes… sometimes it’s worth that little bit of trouble again and again, just to have a moment of pure, clear happiness.”
He finished the piece and looked up from the keys, the last notes still resounding in the body of the piano. He smiled at her, a sort of wistful smile, not the boyish smile she’d seen the day before.
Mira took a step closer and ran a hand along the edge of the piano. “I’m sorry about yesterday,” she said. “I know I’ve been causing trouble since I arrived.”
“Apology accepted,” he said, still with that wistful smile. He stood and rolled his sleeves back down. “Just try not to keep it up?”
She laughed a little and nodded. “I’ll try not to.”
“Good,” he said, pulling on his trench coat and straightening the collar. “Come on, let’s see what you can do in the training room.”