Out of doors in the riding meadow was where Zedwig liked to think when he grew tired of being inside the library. It was especially in May, when the weather is pleasant and only slightly hot, that he could be found deep in thought, walking in a meandering way, with a small notebook tied dangling from a light chain around his waist.
The path was painted with unusually vivid colors today for Zedwig, and the afternoon sunshine was yellow as it filtered through the trees onto the ground. He’d only just finished with his classes: not for his education, but for the education of the other royal mages. There were at least twenty of them, all fairly eager if not quite as talented as Zedwig. Zedwig had surpassed what any mentor could teach him in Schloeffelonia, so he was left to either do his own research, study abroad, or stop his education altogether.
The last was an impossibility, since Zedwig was the sort of person who thrives on continuing to learn, and would be miserable otherwise. Studying abroad was questionable because he wasn’t even sure there was anyone who could mentor him, aside from a few odd figures, such as Teitnl the Illusionist who probably wouldn’t teach him anything anyway since he was known to be incredibly hermitous and spiteful. That only left the option of doing his own research, which he did, and he mostly studied from ancient literature to discover the meaning and depth of the world of reason combined with the world of magic. To Zedwig, they were one and the same.
Today, though, Zedwig was pondering something that he found vaguely disturbing, and that was his recent experiences with Prince Fangline.
He knew that he’d never shown any sort of ability in the realm of telepathy, and it didn’t really seem to be telepathy exactly to Zedwig, but it was more in the way some of the smallest creatures he’d observed sense and communicate with each other; without words, without seeing, without touching. Somehow they simply know, and that was what it was like with Fangline. He could tell that during the last time Fangline had nearly reared up in anger against Zedwig for what was happening, but there wasn’t anything the mage could do about it. As far as he knew, it was as much the prince’s fault as it was his. Of course, should the prince decide to be furious about it and proclaim it Zedwig’s fault, there wasn’t anything the mage could do about that, either.
He decided to worry about that bridge when it came time to cross it, and instead try to analyze what exactly “it” was in the first place. His notebook at his side was hardly written in at all, because Zedwig had failed to come up with any proper analysis except for that it reminded him of the way ants communicate. That didn’t really help, because he couldn’t ask an ant what it was like to be an ant talking to another ant. He was currently reading a tome on telepathy, which was extraordinarily thick and he hoped would give him some sort of insight, but was taking far too long to get through.
While he was considering all of this, he heard the prince’s voice from behind.
Zedwig?” was what he said.
Zedwig turned, and saw Fangline standing on the path about five feet away. His attire was spartan yet extraordinarily stylish, as if he didn’t care and it happened all by accident. His sandy blonde hair was pulled back, but pieces of it were claimed from his queue by the nature of the outdoors, or the wind, and his skin was nearly as fair as his hair. It made the unusually vivid green of his eyes all the more disarming.
He noted that Fangline looked unusually cautious today, or perhaps he sensed it, but he hoped very intensely that it was the former.
“Prince Fangline, hello,” said Zedwig, being hesitant himself. Fangline drew a breath to speak.
"I finished it,” he said, showing the book to Zedwig and then handing it over. The mage took the book with some surprise.
“Already?” asked Zedwig, and then he found himself forgetting the insecurities of their “problem” as the role of mentor took over his thoughts. “Were you able to grasp much of it?”
“Yes,” he said, “I found it fascinating, if that doesn’t sound too contrived.”
“Well, I suppose the realm of destructive magic isn’t altogether boring, to put it lightly,” said Zedwig.
“Lightly, yes,” said the prince.
“But wouldn’t that be the case with any dangerous subject?” asked Zedwig rhetorically.
“I want to try it,” Fangline said abruptly, which caused Zedwig to be entirely taken aback.
“Your Highness, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.
“Because of the reasons I’ve already told you in the library,” he said. “It’s destructive to not only what you cast at, but to you as well.”
“I’m not really so sure about that,” said Fangline dubiously.
“Wasn’t that covered in this book?” he asked the prince.
“Yes,” said Fangline. “And it was very vague. You would think it would be more well documented. Who knows if it’s only to scare those who aren’t skilled enough to be using that sort of power into not using it? Have you ever known anyone to use it?”
“Well,” considered Zedwig. “No.”
Fangline let that point lilt in the air for a long moment. It was Zedwig who broke the silence at last.
“Regardless,” he told the prince. “You shouldn’t be trying anything of the sort with no experience in magic at all. It’s a reckless and practically insane idea. Ah… no offense meant.”
Zedwig felt remarkably awkward for having defined Fangline’s idea as “insane”, but it was, so he couldn’t retract it.
“I suppose you’re right,” said Fangline. “This is really your sort of thing.”
“If anyone were to research this subject, it would have to be you,” continued Fangline, as Zedwig listened politely. “You’re the most talented mage to come along in a millennium, do you know that?”
“Yes, I’ve been told that, but I try not to listen.”
“Why not?” asked Fangline. “What have you against knowing what you are?”
Zedwig didn’t want to go into his theories on pride, and so he merely replied in this way: “I don’t know.”
Fangline chuckled wryly.
“If I had your power…” the prince said, trailing off with a gaze across the meadow at the treeline, which footed the mountains. Zedwig found it oddly humorous that the future king would envy anyone’s power.
“What would you do?” he asked. Fangline looked over at him and grinned.
“Well, for one thing, I’d find out what I could do with it.”
Zedwig looked down at the book in his hands. He supposed Fangline was right; if anyone were going to study this realm of magic, it would have to be him. It didn’t make him any less afraid of it, though the idea of researching an entirely untested wing of ability intrigued him. He decided to give Fangline a small concession.
“If I were to try,” he began cautiously, “which would you be most interested in?”
Fangline immediately seemed very excited about the prospect, so Zedwig cut him off.
“Because I’m only going to try it once, so you’d better choose wisely,” he told him quickly, as the prince took the book from his hands and turned to a page without much searching at all, then handed it back to Zedwig.
“The fireball?” he said, scanning the page.
“I thought it might be easiest for you, since your greatest talents lie with the elements,” said Fangline.
Zedwig read over the theory and it seemed somewhat backward to him, as it was the opposite of everything he’d ever tried to do with magic. However, it was possible, and he felt he could probably do it were he to try. Meanwhile, Fangline watched him expectantly.
“What… now?” Zedwig said, glancing over at Fangline.
Fangline grinned and took the book from Zedwig’s hands, to which the mage gazed up towards the sky in exasperation.
“Fine, just let me think for a moment.”
“I sincerely hope this doesn’t kill me,” he said.
“So do I,” replied Fangline honestly.
Zedwig would have been a lot more hesitant if he truly thought there was a chance it could kill him. After studying the theory, he was mostly sure it wouldn’t have much effect on him at all. That’s what he hoped, anyway.
He drew a breath and closed his eyes. He tuned himself into the push and pull of life everywhere around him: growing, thriving, and dying in every direction. It was a force that glowed and pulsed in a way no eye can discern, but could only be felt, and Zedwig could feel it. It came from every blade of grass, every tree, and from the air. Most especially, he could feel Fangline’s force beside him, and it was strong, vibrant, and unusually terrible. He was so set off-balance by the force of Fangline that he opened his eyes and glanced at the prince to see if he still looked the same as before.
Fangline seemed to be trembling.
“What did you just do?” he asked the mage.
“I was only preparing to use magic,” said Zedwig plainly. “I draw from the forces around us that we can’t see.”
“I could feel it,” Fangline said quietly.
This was new. Never had Zedwig had a student, or worked magic around anyone that was so intensely in tune with the use of it. Occasionally someone might subtly notice magic about to be used, but Fangline looked as if he’d been struck.
“Do you want me to try again?” Zedwig asked him cautiously.
Fangline gathered himself and glanced at Zedwig.
Zedwig closed his eyes again and slowed his breathing, focusing on the forces again, feeling Fangline’s beside him like a dragon in the midst of a garden, and then, drew from it. When using defensive or constructive magic, he would draw the force and coax it gently into another form. Now, however, according to the theory, he had to take an entirely different route. He inhaled and drew a large amount of life force from everywhere around him, through the ground, through the air, into his hands, legs, arms, and coursed it through himself into the center of his body, centering it and forming it into a ball, and then, at the last moment, he tore it, ripping it forcibly from those lives he drew it from and making it his own. He could hear Fangline gasp audibly beside him and the shreds of life he stole, desperate for belonging, melded into a whole. He made it glow, burn, become infernal and torturous, and finally, upon opening his eyes, fired it like a missile across the riding meadow.
A long, silent moment passed as they watched the fireball streak across the grasses, beautiful and horrible.
His entire body felt alive and powerful, and he could do nothing but stare after it and breathe.
Its trajectory ended near the base of a hill, and burned a swath into the fresh, wet spring meadow. It took some time for Zedwig to tear his eyes away from where it had passed. He couldn’t seem to bring himself to look at Fangline, though, who was still hovering at the edge of his senses, even more prevalent than he was before. After some time, Fangline spoke.
“That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen…” he said, then, after a moment, ventured, “… or felt.”
Being the first time either of them had directly referred to the strange anomaly they both felt, Zedwig moved back and glanced cautiously at Fangline, who looked nothing if not wildly alive.
“Do it again,” said the prince.
“No,” replied Zedwig.
“You liked it, didn’t you?” pressed Fangline.
“We have no idea what kind of effect this could have on me, Prince Fangline,” began Zedwig, but he was cut off.
“I could feel how it affected you,” he told the mage directly, who looked away. “It was exhilarating and thrilling and powerful. It was.”
“Yes…” admitted Zedwig in weakness. “It was.”
Fangline moved closer to his side.
“Do it again,” he said to Zedwig, his voice and life force equally insistent and impossible to ignore, for everything about Fangline was nearly blinding to Zedwig’s finely tuned senses at this moment.
He was facing the meadow; Fangline was at his left hand. Something snapped in the mind of Zedwig. Perhaps he let his conscience fall by the wayside, but in any case, he determined that if this was what Fangline wanted, then he would have it, and Zedwig would show him the very depths of his power. Shifting his eyes to the prince, he began to draw life from all that surrounded him, including Fangline. He knew as well as he knew he had two hands that Fangline could feel every subtlety of what he did, and that the prince thrilled with the power and Zedwig’s masterful manipulations of it. It was gratifying, even seductively so, for Zedwig’s intricate and beautiful ability to be fully recognized by another and even though he distantly knew he would regret this later, at this moment he didn’t care. So Zedwig paused, waiting, filling the air around them with anticipation; a few airborne dandelion seeds floated past, suspended like the magic the mage was holding in the afternoon light growing more and more golden, and then he drew it all at once, in one swift, sharp intake and he watched Fangline catch his breath in response.
The prince’s hand came to grip his shoulder, and with the contact, everything magnified exponentially.
Zedwig drew the power into his center, and as he did, he drew more and more from the searing fire that was Fangline, until he shaped it, scored it, and finally tore it away from Fangline and the rest of the world and made it belong to him, and him alone. The ball of power formed, screamed with life, ached to destroy, and he held it possessively in his grasp, glowing, blinding, and mindlessly exalting. At last, when he couldn’t hold it any longer, he drew force from the ground, from the sky, from the leaves of grass, and drank deeply from Fangline until there was a vacuum of force, a sort of silence of life around him for only a split second. It was a brief moment of darkness, if one could see it with eyes, then he released it all in one coursing, brilliant exhalation, immense in power and unknown in the world until that moment.
The fire blazed across the meadow, charring and churning up the ground as it went until it barreled into the base of the hill, tearing a boulder sized part free from the rise and setting even the spring wet grasses alight.
Both of them were breathless, struggling to regain lost composure and to comprehend what they’d seen, and moreover, what they’d experienced. As the last of the flames died out, Zedwig dared to look at the prince.
Their eyes met, and Fangline fell to his knees before Zedwig and began to reverently kiss the palms of his hands.