A sneaky peek at the first chapter of Salt Winds & Wandering, the fourth book of the GreenSky series. I would give you something from Book 3 but it’s rather spoiler-y, so instead…you get a cliffhanger.
Aren’t I nice?
The Council room felt cold, even with the sunshine streaming in. Obak had taken his assigned position in the center of the half-circle, staring straight ahead at the carved wooden walls, and now waited for the Mages sitting before him to speak.
It was Wyverex, old and dry, who broke the silence. “Mage Obak, Second level Fire. You have been asked to come before us today due to your dismissal from a service position. To remind the Council of this,” Wyverex laid his hands in his lap, the richly-embroidered sleeves of his robe glinting in the light, “you may remember that in furtherance of my own studies, I requested that an Archivist by the name of Catter Jeck take on a quest for me. He was to investigate the possible locations of Treloolir, the Center of Magic.”
“Why a layman?” Albeso broke in irritably.
“I am sure that you are well aware of the dangers of using too much magic, Albeso,” Wyverex said. “One of the potential dangers of Treloolir is that it has multiple lines. A non-Mage would not suffer the backlash issues.”
“But would not be able to feel the lines,” Albeso countered.
“The quest is more to do with research and study than physical magic,” Wyverex said dryly. “Anyway, his current destination is Meton. I am sure that Lord Heir Toru Idalin will not miss a chance to be involved in something interesting.”
Albeso gave a humph, and sat back again.
Wyverex turned his attention back to Obak, still standing in the center of the room. “Mage Obak, you are one of our best scholars. Your work has been exemplary, and you have greatly extended our knowledge of the myths surrounding Treloolir and our understanding of the lines. It is for this reason that I requested you place your current studies on hold, and travel with Archivist Jeck in his search to provide him with expert assistance on the first part of his journey. You agreed to this?”
“I did,” Obak said shortly.
“And yet, five days after you left Taderah with Archivist Jeck and Dirr Meerla, you have returned.”
“It was not my choice.” The Dirr’s voice, so smooth and calm, flashed through his head. Mage Obak, your services are no longer required. I advise that you return to Taderah. I will report this situation. He winced.
“So I understand,” Wyverex said dryly. “We have had a report from Dirr Meerla. You had a…difference of opinion with Archivist Jeck?”
…arrogant, puffed-up idiot! If you’d take even a moment to listen, you’d know that you’re not telling me anything useful. I know all of this already!
“He was of the opinion that he knew everything.”
You’re only following your own agenda! Have you even heard anything I’ve just said? Have you even read half the texts? Just because you think you’re right does not mean that I do!
“And there were…personal issues as well?” Wyverex asked.
Of all the stuck-up, obnoxious Mages that I’ve met, you have to be the worst. I despise you! Just go away!
“He disliked me. I did my best to be polite.”
“I warned you about your arrogance before you went, Obak,” Wyverex said, sounding annoyed. “Catter Jeck is not an idiot, and is not a fool. He is an incredibly competent researcher and Archivist, and it was stressed that you were there to assist him. And yet Dirr Meerla’s report is a list of your attempts to take over the quest, to steer the research onto irrelevant sidelines, your constant complaints at Catter’s perceived lack of deference to you, complaints about the travel, a continued arrogance with everyone you met that made interacting at every location far harder than it needed to be, and your inability to take any sort of criticism or to accept another point of view – how do you answer any of that?”
Obak’s temper exploded. “You sent me because I am the best scholar on the subject! He refused to listen to any information, refused to even consider changing his ideas, and would not listen to anything I said! He was rude, lacked any kind of respect, and is the most thoroughly obnoxious person I have ever encountered!”
“Catter Jeck? Obnoxious?” Hitert said from the far side of the room. “I have worked with him on a number of studies, and I have never known him to be anything but polite and courteous. He has worked with a number of my students, too, and I have never heard anything but good. Whereas you, Mage Obak, are known to have flaws when you interact with others. This may be a case of your word against his, but I would be inclined to believe in the professionalism of a Dirr, and the integrity of an Archivist.”
Obak was obviously steaming with anger, his fists balled inside his sleeves. “You should have given me the assignment. I’m the expert! I’m the one that has done all the research and written all the papers. I should have gone! And instead I was sent as an assistant, to help someone else get all the credit for using my work!”
“Archivist Jeck is a well-known researcher in his own right,” Hitert said coldly. “If anything, you would be taking his credit.”
“He doesn’t know anything. He hasn’t studied the texts, he’s written nothing!” Obak snapped.
“Nothing you’ve read, by the sounds of things,” Hitert snapped back. “He’s actually written some very interesting papers. You should not dismiss him simply because he is not a Mage.”
Wyverex sighed. “Enough! Mage Obak, I cannot ignore the previous evidence of your conduct, and I cannot ignore a Dirr report. As your supervisor, I am recording an official reprimand. You lacked respect, courtesy and professionalism on an assignment, and this will be considered when we are assigning future duties. You may return to your studies.”
Obak stalked down the stairs towards the Library. He’d lost two weeks of study on this stupid assignment. He hated being taken away from his studies at the best of times, and Wyverex’s request – hah! Command, more like – had come right in the middle of an interesting line of enquiry. Now it would take him several days to get back to where he had been!
He did manage to get settled back into his work, and several hours flew past without his realising. But he was forced out of the latest text by the arrival of someone at the end of the desk.
“Mage, are you finished with those items?”
It was the Librarian, and she’d broken his train of thought. Obak looked up. “NO!”
She retreated, looking hurt and annoyed.
He tried to settle for the next few days, telling himself that it was just because he’d been away, just because he’d stopped. He reviewed his notes, trying to remember where he had got to, which lines of enquiry he had wanted to follow. He managed to fill the pages with scribbles and notes, and then piled the desk high with texts, trying to summon up the passion again. But even the flickers of interest only lasted a moment, jumping and dying, leaving him to turn another page and try to make sense of words that no longer fitted into his head.
“You’re not even using those books!” an irritated voice said from beside him.
Obak jumped, and looked up. It was a Water Mage, her grey-embroidered robes swirling and her eyes hard as she glared. “I am using them.”
“You’ve just been sitting there,” she snapped back. “You haven’t read a word in half an hour.”
Obak snapped the book shut with a thunk and thrust it at her. “Fine.”
“I need most of them!”
“I’m using them.”
“No, you’re not.”
Obak found himself irritated that she was questioning his word, and even more irritated that he was having to look up at her. “And you are?”
“Mage Iilde. Third level Water,” Iilde snapped out the formulaic greeting. “I’m studying the lines, and I need those texts!”
“Go away,” Obak said, and pulled another book towards himself.
“You are not using them! You’ve simply been staring into space for the last two days. If you’re not actually going to do any work,” and Iilde’s tone strongly hinted that she doubted he ever did any, “then give them to someone who actually is.”
Obak sighed, and flipped open the front cover. The Water Mage seemed to get the hint, and stalked off with her robes swirling behind her.
The next morning, there was a note waiting on top of the study desk, and the books had gone. Stop obstructing other students. You are on probation. Wyverex.
Obak looked for the books on the shelves, and found them gone. The Mage from the previous day had obviously complained. Obstructive? He needed them!
“They have been assigned to another student,” the Librarian said when he demanded to have them back. “I have been instructed to refer you to Mage Wyverex if you have an issue with that. You may have them back when the other student has finished.”
“Who’s the student?”
The Librarian simply sighed, and went back to sorting the books on her desk. “If there is nothing else, Mage…”
He finished for the day, still fuming, and walked out of the Library. The staircase was busy with Mages; grey robes swirled with brown and yellow, and he caught a flash of white as an Air Mage passed. The elaborate decorations denoted power, and Obak almost sighed as he turned his steps upwards towards the ropewalk that would take him over to the sleeping quarters. Level Twos were useful – indeed, as a Fire Mage, he could have gained a job in almost any city of the world. But he’d opted for research; it had seemed the better prospect than being a fire-lighter and fireman in a city that wouldn’t care about him. And he’d loved the research; loved the idea of finding something that no one else had. The idea that he could be the first person to formulate a theory, or know something, had enthralled him; the lust for discovery drew him through the dustiest texts and led him down more obscure avenues that many other scholars. It was why Catter Jeck had been offered his services; Obak was the person who had read all of the Treloolir myths, delving back into the old myths and the works of the few previous explorers. But he was young, and new to research; he hadn’t yet been to Huish or Meton, where Jeck had been headed. He hadn’t read the texts there. But then, when his focus was on the lines, why would there be anything there of use to a Mage?
His thoughts were interrupted by voices from the stairway ahead of him. It was the same Mage from the day before – Iilde. Obak realised that he did recognise her…she’d been in Wyverex’s office at one point. She’d said that her study was the lines – well, plenty to study with those. No one really knew how they worked, where they ran or how Mages tapped into them. Wyverex was able to get a good number of the research students simply because anyone who did discover anything about the lines provided very useful information to the Mages.
His thoughts had drifted again, and he walked past the two Mages without really paying much attention.
“I brought your cloak down…” a Water Mage was saying, starting to drape it around the other Mage’s shoulders.
Iilde grabbed the edges of the cloak and shook him off. “You’re not my keeper, Hoté.”
The Mage immediately backed off. “All right! I just want you to be comfortable…”
Iilde made a disgusted noise. “Just stop, Hoté!”
Their voices faded as Obak continued up the narrowing stairs, and then he was out onto the ropewalks. This late at night they were lit by tiny tongues of flame, lighting the wooden paths with wavering beacons. The Mage trod the boards, aware of the wind rustling the leaves around him; the ropewalks were high in the canopy and the forest below was in darkness, and all he could hear around him were the calls of the night-birds and the sound of the branches moving. He found it almost soothing; the sounds wound around him as he walked, and he could almost believe that the rest of the world was so far away…
But it was only a short walk to the doorway in the tree trunk, and then he was back into the familiar polished wood and yellow-lit staircase that led down into the tree.
He did manage to get some of the texts he needed the next day, and settled down to try to get back into his studies after his enforced break. But as days turned into weeks without the familiar plunge into study, without the blissful oblivion of the texts, without the satisfaction of the puzzles, he began to wonder if this was still what he wanted. He tried to replace interest with time, spending longer and longer in the Library, flicking through every text he could find, trying to remember what it was that he was discovering. But the texts were dry, and dusty, and he was just flipping page after page, walking down the rows of shelves and not taking anything off.
His notes were all scribbles without meaning; page filling that added nothing to his knowledge. He wrote words, and tried to make sense of them; he knew that previously there had been the fire, somewhere…there had been a way he could thread all of these ideas together, all of these facts would make sense. And occasionally he almost glimpsed it – a feeling almost returning, something glimpsed high up in the forest canopy when he was on the ground – but then he reached for it, and it was gone.
He just couldn’t make it all fit together.
He couldn’t summon up the interest.
The notes blurred together, the words slid away, and he realised that another day had gone into the grey numbness that was all that he had left.
Five weeks after returning from his aborted journey, the Fire Mage leaned back in his seat at the desk, and sighed. He hadn’t managed to work; the words were still swimming before his eyes, and after weeks of fighting it, it was now easier to let the tiredness win. He felt exhausted all the time; a bone-deep weariness that seemed to settle over him. He couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think; the words wouldn’t settle into his mind, and he couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t work like it had before. But something had changed, somehow; and now he couldn’t settle again.
He glanced out the window, noticing that the sun had begun to set without him realising. He had the latest text open, but abruptly shut it, and then – on an angry whim – piled up all of the books on his desk and took them over to the Librarian.
She took them with surprise. “Finished, Mage?”
“No. I don’t really see the point of it,” he said dully. “You may as well have them back.”
“Why don’t you get some fresh air?” the Librarian said, eyeing him. “You’ve been working long hours.”
He nodded, and walked out.
He did go up to the ropewalks, tracing the walls of the stairs as they got narrower and narrower as the tree rose. The mindless activity was nice, but all too soon he was at the top, and he stepped out into the dusk. The small balcony was empty, and he went round to the far side, not wanting to face anyone. Not that there would be anyone around at this late hour.
He suddenly didn’t want to go back in, or spend another day, another hour, another minute in the Library. More books, more texts – what did it matter? As soon as he solved one thing, there was another and another. It all felt endless; even placing one foot in front of the other seemed pointless. What did he have to look forward to? Another paper, another project, another year…
He hadn’t really chosen this. He wasn’t good enough to be a working Mage, not really…so he’d studied, and been selected for a research position. Wyverex had been the best option – everyone spoke well of the old Mage – and so he’d deliberately selected the lines as his area, knowing that Wyverex wouldn’t be able to turn him down as a student. And then the last five years had been filled with research, and writing, and getting deeper and deeper into his own private world.
When had he last been outside Taderah, before that assignment? When had he last spoken to someone who wasn’t a Mage? And even the Mages…he rarely saw anyone except the other research students, and didn’t really speak to them. They had their own friendships, little partnerships. Somehow, he’d never been included. He didn’t need to be. He could be on his own.
“So clever!” his family had said. They had thought it was good that he was at Taderah; he had a prestigious position, was secure, was safe…not that it was important now. They were long gone, and he hadn’t been back to the village since he was a child.
The thought of walking back in made him want to cry, so he turned away and walked along the ropewalk. The planks swayed under him, and he could feel the rough ropes against his palms. He glanced down, and could just make out the forest floor in the gathering darkness, far below. And then the green canopy above and around, lit with the last fiery lights from the setting sun.
The ropes under his hands were rough, and warm, and he leaned back against the handrail to let someone go past. There were the trees above him, and the leafy green absorbed him, enfolded him…
…and then it was rising away from him, and he reached out for it…