The Subtle Mage

Three things I knew for certain:

First, that my captors had gone to great lengths to make me comfortable.
Second, that my stay was going to be a long one.
Third, that I may possibly have some superpowers.


8. Training

…Or not.

I had been too preoccupied in what I’d do once I controlled my powers to think of how I was going to obtain them.

I tried my usual things. I sat up at the highest point in the room (that being the highest pillar) and tried jumping off. I was rewarded with nothing more than the brief sensation of falling and then weightlessness from the loose net.

And, since I had nobody else with me, being punched was out of the question.


After an hour or so, being the impatient bugger I am, I was about to give up when something I hadn’t noticed caught my eye.

A control panel of sorts, or rather, a series of control panels, were mounted into one of the walls. I wandered over to them and took a look.

I didn’t recognise the operating system, but it was certainly modern. Five emblems floated on the screen in front of me. One for each class, I guessed.

I tapped the Maelamancy one, and a voice sounded in the room.

“Preparing combat simulation.”

Ooh, ominous.

I waited for the ‘Combat Simulation’ to begin, but nothing happened. I let my held breath out through my nose. Still nothing.

But I realised that something had changed. The top of the lowermost pillar had begun to glow red. Cautiously, I moved towards it. Perhaps this was the starting point?

The pillar was still a good six feet tall, so I still had to climb a little ways to get on top of it. The instant my foot touched the red square the voice spoke again.

“Simulation beginning in three…”


I held my breath.



On that final word, panels in the ceiling slid open and from the spaces sprung at least ten very real-looking turrets.

From the first deafening bang I recognised that this was either the most real combat simulation ever, or the turrets were using live rounds.

I didn’t think, I just moved.

The only place with sufficient cover from the turrets at my angle were the other pillars, so in an instant I leapt to the next highest, then the next one in two successive jumps. The relentless fire from the turrets didn’t let up as I ascended the pillars; amidst the gunfire I could make out tiny little dings That could only be bullet impacts. Within maybe thirty seconds the room was a little smoky and the smell of cordite accompanied my every intake of breath.

Bloody hell.

The gunfire ceased for a few seconds, enough for the voice to announce

“Phase two beginning.”

I didn’t even have the time to wonder what phase two was before the pillar I stood on began to raise itself higher. I had maybe three seconds before I would become vulnerable. My first though was to jump down, but as I glanced down my heart leapt into my throat as I realised there was no safety net anymore.



There were two pillars next to me, one slightly higher that would provide cover, but the jump was too far. There was no way I’d be able to make it, but I was running out of time. It was now or never. I jumped for the nearest pillar and midair realised I wasn’t going to make it.

But it didn’t matter; I felt myself become tugged forward and landed on my feet, crouched after what could only have been a teleportation.

That was easier than expected.

The pillar behind which I was crouched began to lower and I glanced around for another spot to hide behind. Locating one, I leapt into the air and sure enough, I dashed forward and landed on the pillar. The pillar began to lower so I did it again.

And again.

And again.

After three more successful teleportations, the pillars were speeding up. I didn’t have enough time to jump for the pillar at all, so I just thought about it and willed myself forwards. It worked, and I flew to the nearest cover. I didn’t feel like I was being pulled by some invisible force any more, it was more like pushing myself. I felt in control. And bloody hell, it felt good.

My speculation was cut short as I noticed there were no more pillars to hide behind. Fortunately, I had one more trick up my sleeve. As the pillar dropped, I stood up to my full height, and, (perhaps a step too far?) spread my arms in a ‘come and get me’ pose.

The turrets paused for a brief moment, adjusted, and unleashed a torrent of bullets directly at me.

And directly through me.

I didn’t turn, but I could hear the sound of the bullets striking the wall behind me.

Drunk on adrenaline, I let out a laugh, that continued for longer than it probably should’ve.

The shooting was sustained until all ten of the turrets clicked empty.

The turrets slid back up into the ceiling and the room fell silent, save for the sound of my ragged breathing.

Still eager to test out my new powers, I regained solidarity and teleported (or Jumped, as it was actually called,) down to the ground.

“Admittedly, that was pretty cool.” A voice behind me said.

I turned quickly to face the new arrival.


The first thing I noticed about her were her eyes: Framed by long lashes, they were an intense, stormy grey. She had a heart-shaped face, and the lines and curves were soft. Her cheekbones were quite prominent, giving her dimples, and a lingering smile on her lips. Her eyebrows were fine and straight, making her seem serious. Her nose was small and delicate, with a sprinkle of freckles across it, dwindling as they spread across her cheeks. Her glossy, chocolate brown hair cascaded down her back, in stark contrast to her skin, which was pale as porcelain. She practically glowed with youth; she can’t have been older than I was.

She wore a pale grey tank top with the a white wisp of smoke on the breast. It looked very similar to the Shadow Emblem except the other way around, and for a second I thought that Isiah must’ve been incorrect in him saying that I was the only Maelamancer here, when I put two and two together and realised that she must’ve been a Zephyromancer.

She stood a few facing me, leaning against a wall. She was maybe three or four inches shorter than me, and slender.

It took me a moment to realise that I was staring, before I lowered my gaze and shuffled a little on my feet.


“I didn’t expect others to be down here; most people with sense would be in bed.”


“Well, most don’t class me amongst those with sense.”


She laughed. It was a good laugh.


“I’m Aurora.” She introduced herself. Her voice was musical and soft, and it held a hint of laughter in it. Aurora. Zephyromancer. I should’ve figured.


“Aaron.” I replied uncertainly.


“Nice to meet you, Aaron. That was quite a show.” She told me, a smile playing on her lips.


“Thanks. I’ve never been down here before.” So far so good. She moved towards the target range, taking her eyes off of me for a moment.


“So… Maelamancer, huh?”


“Zephyromancer, huh?”

She let out another laugh


“Yeah. I sort of blasted a teacher through a door…” She scratched the back of her neck. “After that I was taken here.”

She turned away from me and pressed the Zephyromancer button on the panel.


“One second, please.” She told me, turning to face the target range. The same voice from a few moments ago sounded out.


“Beginning target exercise in three.”






What followed was a blur. Targets popped up in quick succession across the target range. Aurora assumed a low centre of balance and threw out her hand. There was a whoosh and the target shattered into splinters. She pivoted slightly, throwing out her other hand to the same effect. She destroyed ten targets in the space of thirty seconds. The last of the splinters clattered to the marble floor.


“So how about you?”


She asked the question with such nonchalance that I was taken aback. I froze for a second.


“I was, er- well, I used to live in London. I have no idea where I am now-”


“Well, neither do I, or anybody here for that matter. They don’t let us leave.” She looked up at me sheepishly. “Sorry, continue.”


“Well, I used to help my Dad (Fabian was not my Dad, but he might as well have been.) run a magic shop…”


I paused, realising the irony in it. It was not lost on Aurora, who giggled.


“So you’ve gone from selling fake magic to doing real magic.”


“I, uh, I guess.”


“Well, that’s certainly an escalation.”


“Tell me about it…”




I stayed in the training room with Aurora, practicing my Jumping and becoming Ethereal. Before I left she turned to me.


“That was fun. Seeya around, Aaron.” She said, turning back to the training mannequins.

Hurrying back to my room, I felt the accumulative adrenaline crash of the training session collapse on me like a wave and, after fumbling on the handle, collapsed on the bed.

Insomnia, as it turns out, does not draw physical fatigue under its wing.




The next morning I awoke at around half seven. I showered, got ready and otherwise milled around until breakfast.

Breakfast, as it turned out was cereal of scrambled eggs. I’m not one to turn down a hot meal, so I took a plate and settled down in my spot.

The room was more empty than last night, my assumption that most people, like me, were not morning people. I did, however, see the sense in eating when I was going to be training. Nobody approached me, which I was grateful for, so I finished quickly and decided to do some training. I returned to my room to change, and headed down.


I knew something was wrong when I pushed open the double doors to see a crowd gathered in front of the mounted screen.

The crowd parted as I approached, allowing me a look at the screen.

It was a list of names. Opposite the names were numbers. Times, I assumed.


My name was at the top.


AARON KERSEY read the first line, next to it read 02:13:35

I scanned the top of the board. It read COMBAT SIM. TIMES


I don’t recall being in the combat simulator for two hours and thirteen minutes, so two minutes seemed more apt.

Inquisitively, I moved closer to the board. Had I really gotten the best time?

I got a few pats on the back, and even a ‘good in you, mate.’ But the most interesting response came from behind me.

“You.” A voice hissed. I turned around.


Another girl, just my luck. She was about as tall as me, and willowy. Her features were fine and somewhat elfin. She was wearing the blue hoodie of the Aquamancers, rolled up to the sleeves, as well as some knee-length khaki shorts. Her long blonde hair was tied up in a ponytail, that was draped down her back. Her icy blue eyes were narrowed and burned with icy hatred.


What did I ever do to her?


“You beat my time? You?” She demanded, looking past me to the board. I turned and read the name under my score.




“Yup, Taylor, he beat your time, by about ten seconds, it seems.” Ryan was quick to my defense. The girl turned her head sharply.


“Stay out of this, Ryan.” She told him, eyes blazing. The crowd ooooh’d and She turned back to me.


I got the feeling that this girl didn’t like me.


She gave me a final glare and turned to storm out of the training room.


With Taylor gone from the room, people filtered out or stayed to train, myself among them.


For obvious reasons, the live fire exercises were deactivated. Instead, I intended to hone the abilities I’d already gotten.


But, if past experiences proved anything, whatever I intended to happen wasn’t going to.


The double doors opened slowly and in stepped the Pyromancer that had approached me yesterday.


“Aaron whatchamacallit,” he sounded ominously. A grin broke his face. I turned to face him.


“You realise that was my sister’s record you just broke?”


Well, crap.


“Nobody here’s ever fought a Maelamancer before. I want to.” He said in a matter-of-fact tone.


I thought. I could see in his face that it was a matter of dominance. He wanted to establish himself as the top-dog. Luckily for him, he was smart enough to do it subtly. I had no intentions of unsettling this precarious hierarchy, but I knew that unless I accepted he would persist and refuse to let it go.


“Yeah, sure,” I said, nodding. He grinned, and clapped me on the shoulder, or at least tried to. I became Ethereal and his hand passed through. Maybe not the smartest thing to do, but I wanted to ruffle his feathers a little.


His eyes narrowed, but he played the game well, and allowed no emotion to show on his face.


“Great.” He said. He stuck two fingers in his mouth and let out a shrill whistle. Miraculously, the room fell silent.


“Oi, you lot!” He called to the room.


“Aaron and I are going to have a little fight. Who wants to watch?”


By way of response, the kids cheered and whooped. Oh boy, this was going to be fun.


“Everybody clear out. Observation’s upstairs,” he gestured to the double doors. “Ryan, stay here in the corner, if you would. We’re going to need a healer.” Ryan nodded and leaned against the wall by the panels, folding his arms. Striding over to the panel, the Pyromancer tapped a few buttons and a rectangular strip of panels slid upwards to reveal a second room, which was filling up rapidly with kids- more kids than had been present in the training room originally; apparently, in the short time I’d agreed, the word had spread. And fast.


“Right. The rules: Ryan’s the referee. He decides who wins.” He glanced over at Ryan, the corner of his mouth twitching in a smile. He glanced over at me.


“You might want to stand back a little.” He said, backing away from the middle of the floor. I mimicked him.


Ryan pressed a button and the floor changed. The targets on the left vanished beneath the panels and as I watched, the entire scene changed to a jungle of pillars.


The Pyromancer looked over to me.


“I’m going to star on the other end of the room. You start here. Ryan will tell you when it’s started.” With that, he turned and vanished amidst the pillars.


Ryan glanced over at me.


“You ready?”


My initial response was ‘absolutely not.’ But I nodded. Ryan pressed another button and the lights flickered out, plunging the room into darkness.


Even the strip of windows where the others were watching went dark. My vision was a mass of murky shapes as I waited for my eyes to adjust. I heard footsteps approaching me. Ryan’s breath was at my neck and he was speaking so that only I could hear him.


“This is how how plays. This is how he hunts. If you get hurt, I’m here. He won’t kill you.” He relayed the facts past me with a reassuring honesty, the kind you crave as a child. Ryan shouted out, addressing both me and the other Kid, who’s name I still didn’t know.


“Ready? Go.”


My eyes still hadn’t adjusted, but I stumbled blindly towards where I knew a gap was. The darkness was all around me, consuming me. I stubbed my toe on a pillar but didn’t allow a sound to escape me. I wandered the maze, quiet as a mouse.


The only sound I heard was my own blood pulsing through my ears. I didn’t even breathe.


It occurred to me that I could Jump up to the wall and gain vantage from there, but no matter how hard I focused, I wouldn’t budge. It worked on line of sight.


I rounded a corner and was met by the Pyromancer.


Maybe three meters between us.


And walking away, thankfully.


His hand was outstretched, and in his palm was a ball of fire. In other circumstances I would’ve regarded that as strange, but at that moment I was so pumped on adrenaline that I dismissed it. The fire cast an orange glow on the marble around him, which in the darkness seemed to have turned black. I stopped for a moment, allowing my eyes to close.


Logic told me that I should be the one in control. Were I of another class, he would be the one with the light, but these were the shadows.


This was my turf.


I opened my eyes.


It was as if a switch had been thrown. I was no longer trapped in the pressing dark. Now, I was enveloped in not quite light, but rather the absence of dark.


I saw now in monochrome: harsh whites accentuated by stark black. My surroundings rippled like smoke: tiny wisps of marble flaked away and dissipated into nothing. I raised my head to look at the walls. Sure enough, I could see the hand and footholds in the walls, so I Jumped over.


I reappeared holding onto the wall. From there, I turned my head and Jumped to the closest pillar.


It was a matter of time from here. I hopped from pillar to pillar, trying to find the Pyromancer. Whilst before it was a game of Cat and Mouse, the roles had been switched. Now I was the hunter, and he was the prey.


I found him eventually, as I knew I would. He still walked with that sense of purpose, that sense of pride. I smiled.


I Jumped down until I was inches behind him and crept closer to him. I was betrayed by the scuffing of my shoe against the marble and he turned around, hurling a ball of fire at me. I didn’t have time to react, but in the split second I became Ethereal in the hope that the fireball would pass through me.


Something felt wrong though.


Instead of the usual energy flow I was accustomed to, there was nothing. Thinking fast, I hurled myself sideways and landed hard on the floor. The fireball blazed past me, singing my arm slightly, but the pain was lost amidst the ocean of adrenaline that filled me.


I tried frantically to Jump back up to the wall but my powers betrayed me. My night vision flickered too, like a light bulb going out. I squinted my eyes and focused harder. Fortunately, the room lit up again just in time to see the Pyromancer round the corner and hurl some more fireballs at me. I became Ethereal just in time and they flew through me, making rippling gaps in my body that were filled with inky black smoke. I jumped to the wall and from there to the pillar above Tyler, to jump down on him.


I landed hard, seizing him by the shoulders and forcing him to the ground. His eyes went wide beneath me and went to raise his hands but they were pinned by my knees. I raised my fist and was about to strike when Ryan called “That’s far enough.”


The pillars lowered and the lights flickered off as I lowered my hand and clambered off him. The boy dusted himself off and looked at me, eyes burning. Literally. His eyes, where they once were light brown, were now a shade of amber that could only be described as honey. They were narrowed in a frown and I could feel the air around him getting hotter. Was it a side effect of excessive use of powers?


“Rematch.” He hissed at me. Ryan put himself between us.


“He won, Tyler. Fair and square.”


Tyler’s shoulders slumped and he stalked off, kicking open the door. His footsteps echoed down the hall before dimming off. Ryan rolled his eyes, before nodding down at my arm. There was a burn mark there, just below my rolled up sleeve. Then the pain began.


“Let me take care of that for you…” He said, laying his hands gently on either side of the wound. His eyes fluttered closed and he breathed gently. I stood there sheepishly, before a tingly sensation spread up my arm. It was… Well… Tingly. My forearm itched like a persistent nettle-sting before the skin adopted a soft glow and the skin shifted slightly, as though something was moving just beneath the surface. As I watched, the angry red skin smoothed out and pain ebbed away.


Ryan opened his eyes after a moment and stepped back.


I held my arm in front of my face and examined it.


“Thanks…” I said, without looking over at him. He shook his head a little.


“Don’t mention it. I’ve healed worse.”


As he finished his sentence, the double doors swung open and more kids poured in, surrounding Ryan and I and congratulating me on my win. Amidst the crowd, I spotted Aurora, a wry smile on her lips. She mouthed two words at me.


Good job.














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