Adept in the Azure Tower
High in the Azure Tower, Apprentice Aradel awoke to her window gusting open. She curled resolutely under her blankets, calling on a cold wind to close the window. Obediently, it slammed shut... and then opened again.
Grumbling, Aradel rolled over, ready to freeze the window to its sill with her magic.
That’s when she noticed her master, the Mage Mithrina, standing in the center of the dorm room and glaring in Aradel’s direction. The old mage’s arms were crossed and she wore her most ‘you-are-about-to-regret-everything’ expression. Aradel put on a big smile and sat up. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, popped up to her feet and bowed. Then she clasped her hands primly, the picture of obedient innocence. She did not look around at her peers, several of whom were sitting up in their beds.
“Master Mithrina,” Aradel said, respect dripping from her tone. “To what do I owe the honor of this unexpected early visit?”
Never one to avoid the issue, Mithrina said: “I have five fishermen waiting to complain to me downstairs. Something about frozen fish? And boats? Anything you’d like to say?”
“Oh, that,” said Aradel brightly. “I don’t know why they’re complaining. I made their jobs easier!”
Mithrina was unconvinced. “What did you do?” The other apprentices in the room listened closely.
“I caught a hundred fish. In about a minute. Adept Finna said I couldn’t do it. I only wanted to show her. And it was very useful!”
Aradel was perfectly aware that it had not been very useful. She’d frozen the ocean around the fish and then yanked her catch out of her ice block with magic, leaving an enormous pile of ice boulders, each with a fish in the center, on the docks -- and a thick plateau of ice in the harbor.
The young elf kept her sweet smile carefully in place. Aradel would not show any weakness.
“I will be speaking to Adept Finna,” said Mithrina. “What were you doing down at the dock at all?”
“I’d finished all my work,” said Aradel. It had taken her about ten minutes to solve the puzzle Mithrina assigned for her yesterday.
“You should have come to me and gotten more work,” said Mithrina.
“I didn’t want to bother you!” exclaimed Aradel, but she thought: Not that it would matter. You’re never going to solve the mysteries of death, no matter if you tried for three thousand uninterrupted years.
The elves of the Azure Tower sought the secrets of eternal life. They sought to achieve wonders -- and here Aradel was, stuck arguing with a curmudgeonly old mage who only took her on as an apprentice because she had to.
“You bother me all the time,” said Mithrina. “You have never once, in your apprenticeship, cared about bothering me -- or anyone else for that matter.”
“Master…” said Aradel, she fought to keep the smile. From the corner of her eye, she saw one of the apprentices lean to another, making some joke. They both smiled.
“I’m informed that there were fishing boats on the chunk of ocean you froze?” continued Mithrina.
“I mean… a couple…” admitted Aradel.
“And the boats will be damaged getting them out of the ice?”
“I offered to unfreeze them,” said Aradel, defensively.
“And the first one you did capsized? It fell when you freed it from the ice?”
Aradel’s cheeks flushed. She’d been overzealous and melted all the ice under the boat at once. It had hit the water hard and cracked along the hull.
“I would have done better with the other ones! But no one wanted me to help after that…”
“And no wonder,” said Mithrina. Mithrina waved a disgusted hand. She’d been training apprentices for centuries -- first at the Emerald Tower and now in the Azure one. She’d never dealt with such prodigious arrogance and skill married in such an irritatingly young elf. “You are unconscionably arrogant, Apprentice Aradel. You have no consideration for consequence. And you refuse to learn, because you think everyone around you is an imbecile.”
“Well, if you look around…” said Aradel, unable to help herself. A handful of the other apprentices bristled. They were an impassive lot, imitating the chilly expressions of their elders and masters. Aradel tried to smirk, but she was mad at herself too. She shouldn’t sink to their level. It did no good to point out to stupid people that they were stupid. It just made them angrier.
Mithrina’s face darkened further. A literal chill filled the room.
“You’ll stay in the dorm today. Do not do anything. No magic. You may meditate, if you wish. I’m going to clean up your mess.”
Aradel’s fists clenched in her lap.
“If I had something to do, I wouldn’t get into trouble!” she shouted. “I’m strong enough to be an Adept! I’m smart enough too! But you won’t give me the test. You’re jealous, because I’m already better than you’ll ever be.”
Mithrina didn’t blink. “You’ll take the test when I think you’re ready, and not before,” she said. “You’re too young.”
“I’m not!” said Aradel. “Just give me a test! Anything! I can do anything, just let me try.”
“Keep the sun from rising,” said Mithrina, witheringly. “Or wait a few hundred years.”
Aradel sat on the edge of her bed while the other apprentices got up and ready for the day. One by one they left to attend their masters. None of them talked to Aradel, though a few glanced at her with fear or pity or envy. Aradel waited until all of them were gone.
When she was finally alone, Aradel stood up to march furiously around the room, defiantly she summoned up swirls of icy magic.
She couldn’t wait for a few hundred years! She was wasting her life! In the Azure Tower, it was up to her mage master when she could take the test to become an adept. She didn’t care what the others thought of her -- she cared about becoming an adept and then a mage as fast as possible. She needed to do the impossible: change old Mithrina’s mind.
“Fine,” said Aradel said to the empty room. “You asked for it.”
The next day, before dawn, Aradel got out of bed as quietly as possible. She moved to the window and opened it. Around her, the frozen waste surrounding the Azure Tower stretched out like a made bed or a fresh sheet of paper. It was only broken by the choppy silhouettes of the shanty town below the tower, the houses cluttered together like refuse brought to shore by the sea. Aradel’s ice plateau of the day before had been unfrozen. She’d watched them do it -- three adepts working together. It made her rather proud it had taken so many to reverse her work.
She could have fixed it on her own, if they’d let her. She could do a lot of things, if they let her. She’d hoped that there would be fewer stupid rules in this new Tower, but so far -- in the last few decades -- it seemed like the Azure Tower was going to be more rigid about rules than the Emerald Tower they’d left behind.
She lifted her eyes to the horizon. She was facing east. The sky was beginning to brighten.
Keep the sun from rising or wait a few hundred years.
Magic always came easy to Aradel, but the power in this frozen land simply spoke to her. She’d been shocked when she realized that some of the elves -- like Mithrina -- had trouble adapting the use of their powers from the green lands to the frozen ones. It seemed so intuitive.
Like now, when she set the cold winds in motion that would bring her blizzard together. It was so easy to find the currents and adjust them, just so. She found heavy clouds and summoned them, calling them to the Tower and tying them there -- a fisherman reeling in her catch. Steadily she built up the forces that would coalesce into a massive storm -- right at dawn.
Wind whipped around her, catching her hair and her robe. Snow swirled, dancing in time to Aradel’s magic. Despite the approach of dawn, the sky remained dark.
“Aradel?” said someone in the dorm behind her, but Aradel could hardly hear her.
Throughout the Tower, the view from the windows became flat and opaque, a solid wall of snow. Wind rocked the tower, thundering into the magical structure, rattling the walls, and causing the entire building to shudder. All the elves awoke to the immense power of a storm that none of them had felt coming or predicted in the slightest.
Archmage Pendar, standing in his solarium at the top of the Tower turned in a full circle, glaring at the storm as he tried to catch the threads of magic he felt running through it.
The small village at the base of the Tower filled with panic -- the residents huddled in their houses or tried to get into the lowest level of the Tower itself with the elven rangers who lived there.
Hardly had Mage Mithrina awoke when someone knocked on her door. It was one of the other apprentices.
“Aradel?” muttered Mithrina, still shaking off a dream.
The apprentice nodded. “It’s big this time.”
As the storm continued to grow in strength, Mithrina made her way down to the dorm. She passed frightened mages, and held tightly to the walls as the stairs shook and swayed -- as though they were back on their cursed ship. Mithrina reached the door to Aradel’s dorm, and was surprised to find she wasn’t the only one.
Archmage Pendar arrived at the same time.
The door was sealed, frozen closed from whatever was happening inside.
“Do you have an explanation for this?” asked the Archmage, looking displeased.
“My apprentice is throwing a tantrum,” said Mithrina, with some resignation.
The Archmage must have been surprised, although he did not show it. He nodded, raised his staff and blasted the frozen door open.
Inside, they found Aradel.
She’d risen a few feet off the floor, hovering by the window with her arms outstretched to the storm. The room was full of snow, rising rapidly to fill the floor. The other apprentices cowered in a corner together, shivering.
“Aradel!” yelled Mithrina. “Stop this immediately!”
The young elf did not seem to hear her -- and no wonder. The wind howled around them, throwing Mithrina’s words back at her.
“Aradel!” she shouted again, furious.
Archmage Pendar took a moment to examine the strength of the magic in the room. Surreptitiously, he tested the spell, pushing on it. Begrudging wonder filled him. The power of this child was immense. He was almost certain he could break her spell. Almost. He’d prefer not to test himself against it.
Instead, Pendar waded through the snow and swatted the young elf, this Aradel, on the back of her head.
“Ouch!” said the apprentice. She fell the few feet back to the floor, rubbing her head and looking around balefully. The storm still raged, but it stopped increasing in strength.
Her expression became one of comic shock when she recognized Archmage Pendar. She looked from him, to the snow covered floor, to Mage Mithrina, to her dormmates and finally out to the storm.
When she turned to her elders, Aradel was grinning.
“I did it!” she said. “Look at that! There won’t be any sun today! Not even a little -- I kept the sun from rising for the Azure Tower. You have to give me a test, so I can be an adept!”
Aradel’s expression fell from triumphant to angry as she took in Mithrina’s sour face.
“You said--” began Aradel.
“You arrogant little hedgewitch,” said Mithrina, venomously. “You put the Tower in danger. The entire Azure Tower, and you expect to be rewarded.”
Aradel watched her hopes crumble. “But you-- you said-- and I didn’t--”
She looked back out to the storm. It was somewhat bigger than she’d meant to make it. The Tower shook around her. She looked back at her frightened peers, their eyes wide, their blankets clutched around them. Distantly, Aradel could hear panicked voices in the hallways beyond her room.
“I can fix it!” said the young elf. “Just let me--”
“Absolutely not,” said Mithrina.
Pleadingly, Aradel turned to the Archmage. “Please!” she said. “I can do this!”
His impassive, ancient face did not change. Aradel felt her doom settle over her. He was just like Mithrina.
She had just enough time to despair, before the Archmage said to her: “Do it.”
With unreserved glee, Aradel turned back to the window. For a moment, she watched the storm swirl. It was beautiful.
Gently, Aradel untwisted the winds and the clouds -- loosening her hold on them so that they could drift away from the Azure Tower naturally. The battering wind slowed and gradually, the Tower stopped shaking.
“There,” Aradel said, proudly. “It’ll weaken throughout the day… an hour or two and it won’t really be dangerous anymore.”
She faced the expressionless Archmage and her fuming master, waiting for what they would say.
“Interesting,” said Pendar, examining her spellcasting. “A prodigy.”
“Archmage,” said Mithrina. “I do apologize. I promise that Aradel will be properly chastised for this.”
“No,” Pendar said. “I’m taking over her education.”
Pendar lifted on eyebrow. Furious, Mithrina clamped her mouth closed and glared at Aradel. The young elven apprentice lit up with excitement. She could hardly keep from making a face at her former master. Instead she focused her attention on the Archmage and fought to keep a grin off her face.
“Report to me after breakfast,” Pendar told her. “We’ll discuss your punishment. And your new curriculum.”
With that, the Archmage left. Mage Mithrina followed him, pausing just long enough to say to Aradel: “You are, by far, the worst apprentice I’ve ever trained.” That served as her ‘goodbye’.
The young elf stood in the midst of the room, surrounded by snowbanks.
She let out her grin at Mithrina’s receding back.
“Maybe true,” Aradel said. “But I’m going to be the best adept in the Tower!”