I could have killed Norsselen today. That’s not metaphor. It still makes me sick when I think about it. And the thing is, I had that same feeling of rightness I did facing down those Castaviran villagers who were attacking Nanissa’s village, as if I could see the right thing and make everyone else see it too. I won’t know until tomorrow what Norsselen’s reaction will be, but what makes me ashamed is I couldn’t find a better solution than being a bigger bully than he is, just like in that village. I never thought I’d use these pouvrin to frighten people into submission. I’m afraid of who I’m becoming.
It was in all other ways a typical day. Jeddan and I decided not to start teaching the new pouvrin until we have more “students” ready to learn. That left us with a handful of people who had nothing to do, until it occurred to me to have them start helping with instructing the rest. That was only mostly a good idea, since they kept coming to me for guidance anyway, but it still mean faster progress, and I like the camaraderie it builds when they’re communicating with each other instead of just listening to me talk. But it meant I was too busy with my group to realize something was going on with Norsselen’s until one of the mages in that group stood up and said, loudly but not quite shouting, “I think you’re wasting everyone’s time, Norsselen.”
Norsselen looked up at him and said, “If you’re not capable of learning this, Kesse, I don’t think it’s my fault.”
“It is if you’re not teaching,” Fanion (that’s Kesse’s praenoma) shot back. “Telling us to embrace our inner magic is useless. I don’t think you have any idea of how magic works. I’m going to join Sesskia’s group—at least they’re making progress.”
“Sit down, Kesse, you’re just making a fool of yourself,” Norsselen said. Fanion turned on his heel and walked away. And Norsselen circled him with fire. Fanion cried out and stood motionless.
“Stop it, Norsselen,” I said, taking a few steps in his direction, and to my shock Norsselen repeated the trick on me. I was so surprised I just stood there in my ring of fire. It was tall enough that I couldn’t step over it, and I couldn’t dismiss it so long as he was controlling it, so I had no choice but to stand there and listen to him.
“I’m tired of playing this game, Thalessi,” he said. “You’ve tried to usurp my authority for long enough. I don’t care how many magics you have, I’m in charge here and I say what we do. And what we do is stop wasting our time trying to find structure in something that just arises naturally out of who we are. So why don’t you go back to playing with your magic, and let me teach these people how to fight, which is what we’re all here for.”
I couldn’t believe it. I’d had no idea he’d so insulated himself in his own group he didn’t realize the mages were actually accomplishing anything. “Norsselen,” I said, and then I couldn’t think of anything to say that would make a dent in his self-centered ignorance.
“Norsselen!” shouted a mage on the far side of the room. She was one of those who could work the see-in-dark pouvra and nothing else, a mage in Jeddan’s group. She came forward until she stood next to me, showing no fear of the fire. “You think we’re not learning anything?” she said, and pointed at the far wall. Two bricks and a handful of rubber balls came floating jerkily off their respective piles.
Norsselen and I both goggled at her. “I can do this because I understand the shape of the magic,” she said, “not because I gained some kind of…of mystical insight, or because I practiced really, really hard with my first pouvra. And I think you should shut up and start listening to Sesskia.”
Norsselen’s face went livid. He raised his hand (I don’t think I’ve said he’s taught all these people to use big gestures when they work pouvrin, the idiot) and pointed at the woman, and Jeddan started moving forward, and I shouted, “Everyone stop!” And everyone froze in place except Norsselen, who grinned evilly at me. “You have no power here,” he said, and actually set that woman on fire.
Everyone screamed. And I did something I don’t think I could repeat if it weren’t a matter of life and death—I turned my fire pouvra inside out and used it to dismiss Norsselen’s fire before it could do more than frighten the woman. Then I worked the same pouvra on myself and Fanion. And then I took several running steps and used all my weight to knock Norsselen to the floor.
Before his goons could react, I’d looked inside his neck and found a couple of key veins, held them closed just long enough to knock him unconscious, and between working those pouvrin I surrounded his followers with fire. It was exhausting, and I was breathing heavily both from exertion and from fury. I panted for a bit, hands on knees, then straightened and walked with very slow, very deliberate steps toward the corner where I’d pinned Norsselen’s men.
“I don’t want to fight you,” I said, and I put the fire out. It was harder that time. I’m going to have to figure out how I did that, but later. Much later, probably. “You’ve been listening to Norsselen because—I don’t know, I could be wrong about this, but I think he’s saying things you want to hear. Things that make you feel special. But you don’t realize that being able to work magic already makes you special. Not better than other people, of course, not more worthy of respect, but you’ve got something only a handful of people have. And you have the chance to learn more, and be more, and I don’t understand why you don’t want to take that chance. Think about it. If you don’t believe what I’ve been saying, fine. But please don’t interfere with all these other people who do.”
They were sort of huddled into their corner, just staring at me, not exactly afraid—more stunned, I think. None of them said anything. They kept casting glances at Norsselen; I realize now they thought I’d killed him, which probably worked in my favor as far as keeping them under control went. Then Norsselen groaned, and shook his head, and looked up at me as if he didn’t remember who either of us was. It took him a while to come to his senses. Then he got to his feet, shook his head again to clear it, and ran at me with his fists raised.
to be continued…