This is the fourth and final snippet from STORM RAIDERS. If you haven’t read the other installments, start at the beginning here. Enough preamble. Let’s get to the story!
Abbey carried another armload of helmets to the cart at the front of the shop. All of them were crafted in the popular style with the bit of metal that extended down over the nose. Abbey never liked that style. It seemed to her the metal would obstruct vision on the battlefield, and if you couldnâ€™t see in a battle, what good were you? The Storm Captains kept ordering them, though, so maybe things played out differently in battles than she imagined.
Not that sheâ€™d ever find out. No Storm Captain would ever hire her, no matter her skill with a sword. It wasnâ€™t that she was a woman; in Holdgate, men and women alike were expected to be trained in the ways of war. But she was an Arcadian, an outsider from the rich, soft south. That disqualified her from employment on a ship.
She put the helmets into the cart and then walked back to the rear of the shop where Benjamin was hammering a piece of iron into shape, humming a happy tune as he worked.
Heâ€™d been in a pleasant mood since her sword fight with Olaf an hour earlier. They had both been. Abbey knew there was nothing that put Benjamin in a good mood like watching her do what she did best.
Benjamin set down his hammer and inspected the iron. He glanced at the forge, then, instead of walking over to it, he raised his right hand. His eyes turned black, and a fireball the size of an apple appeared, floating a few inches above his hand. He held the fireball to the iron.
â€œYou know, if you worked as hard at learning my other lessons as you do at the sword, youâ€™d be quite the magician by now.â€
Abbey sighed. This again. He was always trying to get her to practice his form of magic. â€œIf it comes to a fight, I prefer a sword.â€
It wasnâ€™t that she couldnâ€™t do any magic. She could create a fireball, though she couldnâ€™t control it with the finesse her father was demonstrating now. She could move objects with her magic. She could even make her sword glow with a terrifying green flame if she really concentrated. But she didnâ€™t enjoy the way it made her feel. It drained her somehow.
But that wasnâ€™t the primary reason she didnâ€™t focus on developing her magic skills.
She was enough of an outsider already. Her fatherâ€™s form of physical magic was so different than the storm magic used here in Holdgate. The last thing she wanted was another thing to make her different.
She respected her fatherâ€™s skill. Heâ€™d trained under some of the best magicians in the world at the Academy in Arcadia, and the things he could do left her in awe, even after growing up with him. But admiration was quite different than the dedication it would take to master those skills herself.
Benjamin held the fireball in his left hand and picked up the hammer with his right. As the fire heated the iron, he began working it with the hammer. He spoke over the clang of the metal. â€œSwordplay and magic arenâ€™t that different.â€
Abbey gathered another armload of helmets and headed toward the cart. â€œReally? You could have fooled me. One of those things lets me beat up smug bullies, and the other turns my eyeballs black.â€
â€œThey both require focus. They both channel your anger into physical force.â€ He set the hammer down and dispelled the fireball. â€œIn fact, I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if there was a bit of magic behind some of those sword strikes at the end of the fight.â€
She paused. â€œHang on, are you accusing me of cheating?â€
â€œNot at all. When you know how to use magic, sometimes it comes out in unexpected ways. It was the same with your mother. She didnâ€™t have any formal training, just a few tricks her uncle showed her, yet her magic manifested itself when she didnâ€™t mean for it to happen.â€
Abbey felt her cheeks growing hot. â€œOlaf has the skill of a boar. If youâ€™re saying I couldnâ€™t beat that idiot without magicâ€”â€
â€œIâ€™m not. Iâ€™m just saying that heâ€™s much stronger than you, and you were batting his sword away like he was a child at the end there.â€ He gave her a serious look. â€œAbbey, magic is nothing to be ashamed of. Itâ€™s part of you, same as your skill with a sword. If a bit of it comes out in a fight, thatâ€™s not cheating. Itâ€™s using every tool you have to win.â€
She started toward the cart again. â€œI still say I didnâ€™t use magic. I could have beaten Olaf with one hand, let alone without magic.
â€œFine,â€ her father said with a smile. â€œWhat do I know? Iâ€™m just a graduate of the Academy in Arcadia. Chancellor Adrien himself once complimented by magitech work. But Iâ€™m sure you know better.â€
â€œTrust me, Dad, around here that isnâ€™t something to brag about.â€
Abbey pushed the cart through the streets of Holdgate. Every bump in the road made the helmets loudly clank together, and there were plenty of bumps. It felt good to be out of the shop. The sun shone brightly in the clear sky, warming her as she walked. It was summer, which in Holdgate meant long days. Abbey tried to cherish these times of abundant sunlight. Things would be different in the winter, when the sun only showed itself for a few short hours, and even that did little to stave off the bitter cold.
The streets were crowded, and Abbey had to weave her cart around the people milling about. A fair number of the stormships were in the harbor, as were many of the hunters and fishermen who rarely came to the city. They were all there for the festival.
Still, Abbey kept moving. Captain Stephen was waiting for these helmets, and in Holdgate, it was never a good idea to keep a Storm Captain waiting.
Sick of the crowd in the street, Abbey cut down an alley. She headed toward the beach, hoping to find more space to guide her cart down under the docks where there would be fewer tourists. From there, it would be a straight shot to Captain Royâ€™s ship.
She pushed her cart along the beach. The rocky ground was even worse here, and she had to keep a firm grip on her cart to keep it from toppling over. But it was still worth it to get away from the crowd. Some might have said it wasnâ€™t a good idea for a young woman to be walking alone under the shadowy docks, especially on a festival day, but Abbey had her sword on her hip. She wasnâ€™t worried. If someone wanted trouble, sheâ€™d be more than happy to give it to them.
The sea seemed especially rough this afternoon, especially for such a day when the wind was so calm. She looked out at the choppy waterâ€¦ and she saw something. No, not something. Someone.
She let go of her cart and walked toward the water, squinting to be sure she saw correctly. After a moment, she was sure. It was a man. He was a good one hundred and fifty yards from shore.
It wasnâ€™t uncommon to see someone swimming in the ocean, even though the water was freezing year around. Holdgatesmen were always challenging each other to demonstrations of manliness, and that often included ill-advised swims. But this man appeared to be struggling. He wasnâ€™t making much progress. If anything, he appeared to be losing ground.
Abbey watched for a long moment as the man struggled. He dipped under the water, then his head reappeared. He was above water for only a moment before he went under again, this time for longer than before.
Heâ€™s not going to make it, Abbey realized. She had to do something.
She warily glanced at the choppy water. She was a good swimmer, but if she tried to swim out there, all sheâ€™d do was end up drowning them both. But there was no way she was letting this guy drown, either. As much as she didnâ€™t want to, she had to use another way to save him.
Remembering what her father had taught her, she moved her hands in a complicated pattern and concentrated her energy on the drowning man. Her eyes turned black, and the magic began to flow out of her.
Moving objects with her mind didnâ€™t come easily to her, and this man was so far away. Still, she didnâ€™t let doubt creep in. She focused on the man and drawing him to her. She didnâ€™t need the magic to carry him completely; she just needed to give him enough of a boost that he wouldnâ€™t drown.
His head appeared above water again, and the man began moving toward shore. He swam through the water, each stroke taking him much farther than it should have. It was as if Abbey had him on a line and was reeling him toward the shore with her magic.
The man cut through the choppy waves, and in only a few minutes, he was dragging himself up onto the shore. Abbey recognized himâ€”it was Dustin.
When she was a child, most of the other kids had shunned her. No one wanted to play with the weird Arcadian kid who always smelled like the blacksmith shop, a distinctive combination of coal smoke and burnt honeyâ€”a product of the beeswax her father applied to his metalwork. Dustin had been the rare exception. Theyâ€™d spent long hours running through the streets together, getting into all sorts of trouble. For five years, Dustin had been a fixture in her fatherâ€™s shop, stopping by nearly every day to play with Abbey.
All that had changed when he got accepted as an apprentice Storm Caller. For the first couple years, heâ€™d simply been too busy to hang out with her. But somewhere along the way, heâ€™d seemingly realized it wasnâ€™t a good idea for a Storm Caller to socialize with an outsider like Abbey. The last couple times sheâ€™d seen him in the street, he hadnâ€™t even returned her nod of greeting. Some friend.
Abbey walked to the edge of the water and held out her hand. â€œYou all right?â€
Dustin tried to stand and stumbled forward.
Abbey realized she was still pulling him forward with her magic. The poor guy looked terribly confused. He looked up at Abbey, and his face went pale as he saw her eyes. Heâ€™d spent enough time in Benjaminâ€™s shop to know that black eyes meant magic.
â€œWhat did you do?â€ There was anger in his voice.
She stopped pulling him forward, and her eyes returned to normal. â€œUm, I saved your damned life. Maybe the phrase youâ€™re looking for is thank you?â€
â€œGet out of here before someone sees you,â€ he hissed. â€œYouâ€™ll ruin everything!â€
She was stunned. Itâ€™s not like sheâ€™d been expecting a hug or anything, but a little gratitude would have been nice. She was half tempted to use her magic to push him back out to sea.
His eyes softened a little before he spoke again. â€œLook, Iâ€™m not trying to be a dick, but seriously. You have to go.â€
He was looking past her at something down the beach. She followed his gaze and saw a group of men approaching. She didnâ€™t recognize all of them, but there were a few she knew all too well. Dustinâ€™s master, Harald, was among them. These men were Storm Callers.
Abbey realized what this wasâ€”it was Dustinâ€™s Testing.
They were standing in the shadows under a dock, so there was a chance the men hadnâ€™t spotted her yet. She glanced back to Dustin. He was already on his feet, running toward them.
Abbeyâ€™s eyes turned black again, and she reached out with one more bit of magic.
Dustin stumbled and fell forward, landing on his face in the sand in full sight of the Storm Callers.
â€œServes you right, asshole.â€ Abbey stifled a chuckle andwent back to her cart.
There we have it. Abbey and Dustin have no idea about the trouble they’re about to land in, and the lengths they’ll have to go to in their fight for justice.