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Chapter 1

In the world of magic, if you don’t have any magical abilities you are like an oak tree in a coniferous forest. It seems that you are also a tree, but an outcast. Alone among strangers. But I could cognize myself and my capabilities. I learned to look at the world deeper, to see what others don’t notice. Appreciate what I have, and most importantly — to find advantages inside of disadvantages. As these disadvantages can be the greatest power that we have. All the puzzles have come together, and now I understand — every event in my life has made me whom I have become. But I could realize it only after a while.

Since childhood, I’ve heard about the heroic deeds of the war guardian-magicians that protect our seventh world, the planet Pyramid, from the invaders from six other worlds. And it’s clear why. The use of magic leads to a loss of power, and energy can be recovered in two ways: slowly, by the means of rest, or in a quick way, it can be taken away from another magician. Everyone was particularly wary of Rubinians. They are the most belligerent of all, spending colossal energy resources and recovering them at the expense of others. Anyhow, that’s what people used to say.

I dreamed of becoming one of the Guardians of Pyramid, like my parents. They are respected and honored under Pontiar, our ruler. The father is not just the head of the war magicians of the royal guard, he is the henchman of the king. It is he who decides all diplomatic issues between Pyramid and the rest of the worlds.

In childhood I was told that one of the seven elements of sacred magic can be manifested in every magician. The seven planets have patrons among the Gods. The Goddess of Pyramid is Sherida — the Lightbringer. And people who have the ability to control the light flows are highly respected. They are considered to be the children of Sherida.

My parents highly wanted to have children, but the Gods didn’t bless them. Mother daily prayed to the Goddess to gift her a child. And when she was completely desperate, she found out that she was pregnant. I became her miracle. My mother took care of me until I was five. She was removed from service. This was mandatory, since mothers had to raise their children certainly until they were five years old. Precisely at this age the children show their magical abilities.

The years passed quickly. However, my gift never awakened. Unfortunately, there was no magic inside me, at all, one ounce. Mom wasn’t upset, but my father… he considered me a disgrace of the Lodesco family. Once I accidentally overheard a conversation that turned my world upside down.

— Never has been that in our family was born an ungifted person. Nicholas — is a blank! — my father lamented and said this with disappointment, as if now I was nobody to him.

— Darling, he is our son. It doesn’t matter if he has a gift or not, we love him anyway. Phirin, he is exactly your copy: from the chestnut crown to the strong jaw. You will see, our Nicholas will surprise you! — my mother defended me.

They didn’t even notice the five-year-old boy whining quietly behind the door so no one could hear him. Father’s words cut my soul with a blade. Slowly and painful. I’ve let down his expectations. It’s frightful when you become nobody to your family.

Mom was called back to the service, and I was left alone. Abandoned by my family. I was transferred to the care of a new governess, Alice, my mother’s cousin. She wasn’t lucky to know the joy of motherhood, but she helped her relatives with the children. Alice turned out to be a sweet woman of fifty-five, kind and honest. A bit prim, she instilled in me a love for order.

I’ve never seen my parents for eleven years. Alice said that they were very busy. They say that the time is turbulent now, and the magicians of planet Ruby — the first, most aggressive of the magical worlds, have begun to attack the planet Pyramid more and more often. Its inhabitants were deservedly called demons. Ruby was under the patronage of Rotrad, the God of Fire, a horny giant with a thousand sharp fangs and many eyes all over his crimson face. At least he was portrayed in such way in sculptures and book illustrations. This world was considered to be dominant over all, although the magicians of other worlds did not like this circumstance, humiliating their dignity and importance. But this is how it was. They were even forced to pay an energy fee annually to fuel the Ruby world, in order not to start a war. And the tribute grew more and more.

No one already remembers the history of the creation of worlds, but Alice has told that once all seven of them were an integral system, they interacted, exchanged experience and new technologies. But what has happened? Why do we keep away from each other, and who predetermined Ruby as the dominant one? Nobody knew, didn’t remember…

Alice took up my training and tried to awaken at least a spark of magic, even if it was every day one. But she tried in vain. However, she saw my impulses for different devices and mechanisms. She pulled all broken items into my room. I disassembled them into parts and created something new and, moreover, useful for household.

— Of course, this is not magic, but, Niko, you have a talent! I haven’t ever seen such abilities to mechanisms! In the capital, of course, there are craftsmen, but they create everything by means of magic and only partly by hands. And you, you are unique, babe! When parents come, we will boast them! — she said and smacked me in the ear, and then hugged strongly.

Her love was sincere and pure! She saw in me not just a nephew, but a son. Alice has become family for me. And my parents have almost erased from my life. The only reminders of them were the gifts from my mother — books on magic. But why do I need them? Is she still hoping?

Sometimes I used to retire under a huge oak tree on a hump among the coniferous forest of our homestead. Mom planted it when I was born. And grandpa Marash, our gardener, used magic, and this oak turned into a giant in a matter of years. This tree has become a part of me. Here my mother and I spent our time playing and talking. Here she confessed that I was her most precious treasure and a gift from Goddess Sherida. I often saw this place in my dreams, returning to my childhood, as I do now.

I was awakened by the rustle in my bedroom, reluctantly saying goodbye to scraps of dreams. Barely opened my sticking eyes, I stared at Alice. She was groaning and sighing softly under my desk. By the way, I made this desk by myself from burnt pine, which was struck by lightning at the entrance gate of the Lodesco’s homestead a year ago. Above the table there was a stand with homemade tools, as well as a small ax and hammer presented by Marash. We enjoy all that we have. I wrote to my father million times and asked to bring at least any tool from the capital. He didn’t even have the grace to answer any of my request. Mother did it for him. She said that my dad complains that his son is not some kind of apprentice to get his hands dirty in fuel oil. And instead of being stupid I need to start thinking about my future. My parents kept me busy with the studying of seven languages of the magical worlds. The king sympathized with Lodesco, as for the ruler my father wasn’t just the head of the guardians of the capital of Phaeton, but also a friend. Pontiar promised to arrange me as an ambassador to the court after studying at the Royal Academy. Mom once wrote about the king’s proposal: «With such parents, he probably has both the sharp mind of his father and the diplomacy of his mother! Therefore, the faculty of Mentalistics will be perfect for him!»

They decided for me. I will have to go to study in Phaeton very soon. The economy of the worlds, the relationship between them, the history of sacred magic, except, of course, the magical skills of the Mentalists. But for now… I’m at home, in my warm bed. The bird clamor outside the window, the rays of the golden satellites of our sun tickle my freckled nose and wander in a nest of scraggly brown hair. Alice finally crawled out from under the table, triumphantly holding something in her hands… a wrench! I jumped out of bed and rubbed my eyes. I didn’t imagine what I saw!

— Is this a wrench?! — I exclaimed so that the poor woman almost fell back under the table.

Alice turned around and clutched her heart.

— Sherida the Lightbringer! Who scares so much in the morning?! Niko! Do you want my heart to stop? I’m not mechanical, you can’t disassemble and reassemble me! If I break, then it will be forever… — complained the woman, calming down her breath.

— I am sorry, Alice! — my eyes were burning. Of course, I was ashamed that I had frightened my aunt so much, but the sparkle of the wrench fascinated me.

The governess smiled contentedly and held out something she was holding tightly in her hands. And then she picked up the torn package, from which, apparently, the tool fell out.

— Happy Birthday, babe! But, please, don’t tell your dad where you’ve got your tool from! Otherwise he will scold me… — Alice asked sadly and, sighing, smoothed my scraggly hair.

I wiped my hands on my shirt out of habit, as if they could be dirty in the morning. When you are long about the mountain of details, mending somethings, hands get dirty. My apron, sewn by Alice, was so smeared that the tar soap would not wash of the ingrained fuel oil.

Holding my breath, I accepted the gift and opened it gently. The bundle had a leather roll. Spreading it out on the table, I rubbed my nose with excitement.

— Tools! — I whispered; I couldn’t believe my eyes. — The real tools!

There was a gouge, chisels, and some pliers — I didn’t know all their names. But, apparently, they will definitely come in handy.

— Yeah — the nanny chuckled contentedly, looking over my thin shoulder. Indeed, in the world of magic, such a tool is not easy to get.

— Now I can do this! And that!

Ideas were coming around one after another.

«With these tools, I’ll create more complex and more interesting things. My father will surely be proud of me! I’ll prove it to him. You don’t have to be a magician to be respected!» — smiling at my thoughts, I noticed Alice’s strange look.»

— Did I say that out loud? I swallowed and cleared my throat. And then I beamed from ear to ear and hugged my aunt. — Thank you! You’re the best!

— My boy… — she pressed me to her full breasts. She smelled like baking, flower soap and steamed milk. My belly roared menacingly. Birthday, gifts — everything is great, but breakfast is sacred. Alice pulled back abruptly and cackled about the food.

— Oh, Niko, I baked your favorite cinnamon rolls! — the woman jumped out of the room, as if she was being whipped.

She is so kind. And he knows more about me than my dad and mom. I pulled on wide green trousers. Oh dear! I completely forgot that my pocket tore off yesterday. There was a hole in the thigh. I grabbed a hefter, bought from a local hoarder. He vouched that this hickey is used in the office to fasten the papers together. And he sold it at half price, but not because I had already become his permanent buyer, but because he didn’t have paper clips for this marvelous device. Only a couple, and those were screwed in the past. But okay.

«You’re a smart guy, you’ll find something to replace them» — the salesman said then. He seems to be a good old man. Although I am completely green and I don’t see things in people. Alice says I trust too much. And that not all the people are honest, and their intentions differ.

The hefter proved to be an irreplaceable device. I made paper clips from the remains of metal pieces of armor. I had to cut them with a special device. I hope my father won’t notice that I’ve used his grindstone. He doesn’t even know that this stone can not only sharpen a weapon, but also cut a soft metal, like butter. Magic, it’s so. I could only dream that one day it would wake up in me too. That it is just sleeping, damn, deep sleeping. Well, let’s wait. Until then, I have some stuff to do.

I pieced up a hole in my trouser leg with a hefter, carefully hung the tool on the board, and only then jumped off my seat and ran headlong into the kitchen. Just like this: in a T-shirt, darned trousers and barefoot. Today is my birthday. I ran the stairs, jumping several steps at a time. My aunt said that I’ve grown a lot over the past year. Now the steps seemed small, and there was no need to walk with short steps. I crossed the hall with the statue of Sherida like a hurricane. Such pedestals were compulsory to have in every home, as far as I know. But our Sherida seemed too imperious to me, even the flowers in her hair didn’t smoothen her features. And I think the Goddess is not at all like that statue. She is kind, she gave to my mother and father a child, even a defective one.

Alice and two other cooks were talking vividly about something. The gardener Marash entered the kitchen. When he saw me, he wiped his hands on his coat and took out a green package from his pocket.

— Young master, happy birthday to you! Sixteen — is a serious date!

I hope you will enjoy my modest gift? — Marash gave a gap-toothed smile, and I couldn’t wait to see what he gave me this year.

His gifts are modest, but they come from a pure heart. He could get some seeds of bizarre plants, or holly honey, or miraculous ointment from fern flowers. The old man looked slyly, with curiosity. I hurried to unpack the wrapper. The gift was wrapped in a burdock leaf. It’s also a necessary thing. The cook Varya will make a wonderful soup from it. A small oval wine-colored stone fell in my hand. I put aside the burdock and looked up at the gardener.

— Grandpa Marash, what’s this?

— This is a ruby, master. It is a stone. People say it protects from evil spells. Although you are not a magician, but my gift will probably protect you from their attacks. Kid, make a setting for it and keep it with you at all times — said Marash seriously.

— Really? Where did you find it? Did you go to the town to get it?

The stone was neat and smooth. In the sunlight you could see all the beauty of this gem from the inside. It looked like a frozen blood. Dark red, almost black. The gardener laughed hoarsely.

— No. I found it in the garden, in pink roots. The Goddess herself has presented this gift to you! — Marash kissed his fingers and touched his wrinkled forehead reverently. All the housekeepers repeated after him. Out of respect for the Goddess, I also made this gesture.

— Thank you! — I sincerely thanked the old gardener.

He worked in the homestead all his life, previously he had served to my grandfather. My father has grown up on his eyes, and now it’s my turn. I was lucky to be surrounded by faithful, kind and loving people. They were my family. The real family. I shared my joy and sorrow with them. They were the first people who appreciated my inventions and carried everything to mend.

Grandpa Marash carried even the pitchfork to me, although he could sharpen it himself. But he knew that it would make me feel needed.

Dinara looked out from Alice’s back. I called her simply Dinah. Aunt brought a seven-year-old girl to our house when my mother suggested Alice to be a housemaid. She explained that she had found the baby on the street. She ran away from the shelter. And to return the child there — is a fate, that you wouldn’t wish even to your enemy. Lodesco agreed to take the girl as a maid.

Over these eleven years, Dinah has become my best friend, she is practically my sister. We were somewhat similar with this red-haired beast. Maybe because of freckles and stubborn nature. She is only two years older than me and, by the way, she has possessed the magic of fire. However, not very strong one. You should train and develop your gift. But she knew all the books in our library. And she helped me keenly with the mechanisms, using spells she breathed life into them. And if we did some mischief, we were punished equally, despite the fact that I am Lodesco. But it wasn’t offensive to me. Because if we have done a mischief, it means we deserve the punishment. You need to be responsible for your actions.

Every birthday friend gave me something unusual: she conjured a flint, a useful thing for someone who doesn’t have magic; then a self-igniting candle, although it was fat, it burned out even before the New Year; then firecrackers that scatter like sparks when you throw them up (I heard they call them fireworks in the capital), and on holidays they light up the whole sky with them. I wonder what awaits me this time?

Dinah came over and put the paper package on the table. I looked inquiringly at my friend, and she blushed. Freckles became even more noticeable.

— Well, come on, open it quickly. Why are you standing as if frozen? — she was always impudent when she was nervous.

I unwrapped the paper and emptied the contents onto my hand. What is it?

— Glass? — I stared blankly at Dinah. I wonder that it is unusual.

Neat, smooth pieces, like drops of colored rain, were sparkling on my palm.

Dinah blushed and held out her hand.

— If you don’t like it, then return it! — tears appeared in her green eyes.

— No, wait! I didn’t say I don’t like it! I just don’t understand what kind of glass is it?

Grandpa Marash looked into my palm and grunted.

— Fancy that! Did you do it yourself? — Marash appreciated in a respectful tone.

Alice and Varya also bent down with interest. Only I didn’t understand anything.

— Yes. From the sand beneath his oak tree. It’s white and clean, I’ve just added a little paint from crushed gems, — the girl sniffed offendedly.

Slowly it was dawning on me. She had probably learned this from the books. And she used the sand from a place which is dear to me.

— Are these pieces a sand? But how? — I asked cautiously.

— The magic of fire. I’ve just melted the sand with a new spell. I’m still not very good at it, and that’s why the glass came out so small… — Dinah muttered and shook her outstretched hand. — So that. Are you going to give it back?

— No, I’m not! Are you kidding me! This is your first glass made with magic of fire! And you have used the sand under my oak tree. I won’t give it back for anything! — I gripped the gift.

Dinah wiped her wet eyes with a contented smile.

— Thank you! You are a real magician! You will grow up and become the guardian of Phaeton!

Let’s be heroes together! — I said enthusiastically, wrapped the gift back in paper and put it in the survived pocket of my trousers.

Smiling cheerfully, Alice congratulated Dinah on a successful attempt at magic and sat us down at the table by the window. She put a plate with my favorite rolls, milk and honey under our noses.

Most of all in the house I love the kitchen… Yes, I know, Alice says I’m thin as a stick. But eating — it’s a sacred thing for me. Cook Varya fed everyone for the slaughter. The breakfasts were the most excited. I like to eat and look out the window. Omelet with freshly baked bread or cottage cheese pies. Oh, and an apple pie with cinnamon — it’s some kind of miracle! You can admire a summer landscape outside the window. You can see a lake, round as a saucer, and pine idols on the distant shore. And our oak tree, my and mom’s tree. I peered into the landscape and blue spiers of the mountains were running along, propping up the skies. As if they were turning around and lurching in our direction. It fascinates and frightens at the same time. In winter, when there was a snowstorm outside, I sat down by the oven, Varya wrapped me in a knitted blanket and gave me chamomile tea with ginger cookies. However, everyone knew that I’d gave my preference to the cinnamon rolls. Because my mother baked them for me when she was still at home. I missed her.

I was chewing the rolls, blinking and sniffing frequently. Dinah was looking at me, but she was silent. Somewhere in my chest there was a compressed spring and it was painfully pressing my heart. Mom. For eleven years I haven’t felt her smell, haven’t heard these tender words, «love you, babe». She hasn’t blown on my injured knee, hasn’t praised me for repaired things, for skillfully made watch that can be fixed directly on the wrist and you can go with it wherever you want. I’ve missed her love. I was looking at a mountain of rolls, at a transparent kitchen window, at a landscape that now wasn’t delighted, it was causing a nostalgic pain. Tears were covering my glassy eyes. She probably doesn’t even remember me… Why would she need an ungifted son? I was thinking about her, chewing a roll.

«Mom, you and dad will be proud of me! I promise I will become a hero like you!»

The silence around me was alerting. I heard some rustle behind me and a soft pat on the floor. I turned around slowly, as if getting out of a lingering dream. She was standing at the doorway. Nearby there was a huge duffel bag. Mom? I forgot her smell, voice, but her face… her image appeared to me in my dreams. Golden blonde hair, thin, like an elven, face and deep blue eyes, in which you can drown. She was so young and beautiful. She was standing with her outstretched arms for an embrace. I shifted my gaze and blinked blankly. Her belly seemed to be pumped up with air.

— Mom? — I screwed up my eyes incredulously. Am I still sleeping?

— Hello dear! Happy Birthday! And I have a present for you! — she stroked gently her belly. — A sister!

I finally realized that my mom had really returned. Although the news about my sister was still coming to me. I felt a huge lump in my throat. I timidly walked over and hugged her. The last time I barely could reach her chest. Now, embracing, my mom put her head on my shoulder. I grew up and was no longer that snotty boy who cried, saying goodbye to her eleven years ago.

— Forgive me… — she whispered.

I stroked her back.

— I understand. Father…

She didn’t answer. But I knew that I was right. My father still couldn’t accept the shame that I was blank. But forbidding my mom to see me — it was cruel. Did I hate him for that? No. His action only spurred me to learn and improve the skills of mechanic. And I also began to appreciate what I have; and I have people who loved me not for my talents or status. They just loved me for who I am.

My chintz shirt was wet. It got wet from her tears. While I was trying to breathe in her lavender scent, she spoke.

— Well, how are you here without us? — her voice was trembling. Her fingers ran over my chestnut mop.

— Oh, everything is fine, Aphelia. The house is in order, as you can see, the garden too, and Niko is growing up as an intelligent and talented boy — Alice paused and continued. — I see soon we will have a new addition to the family! So, it’s a girl! And how will you call her? — the nanny asked cheerfully.

— Reemay! Phirin sent me home. Since the court doctor says that to give a childbirth at home is better. You will cope with the role of a midwife, won’t you? It’s not your first time. — Mom smiled.

— Do you have any doubts? — Alice joked. — Isn’t Phirin coming?

Mom got nervous. Her heart accelerated the rhythm.

She sat down on a bench and, leaning against the wall with a rug made of colored ropes, rubbed her forehead.

— This year Ruby has tripled the energy tribute. Pontiar was outraged and he refused to pay. They got angry and declared war.

When mom said this word her voice quivered. No, she’s not coward, she’s a war magician. And my mom wasn’t afraid of death, death was just a door to a new life. She knew that war brings destruction, pain, tears and losses. How many fathers and mothers won’t return to their children, how many people the war will leave homeless, how much fear is caused only by the thought of losing the loved ones. A shiver ran down my spine like an icy avalanche. Varya and Alice covered their lips with their hand, drowning out exclamations of horror. Grandpa Marash sat down on a stool by the door. Only I stood in front of my upset mother, not knowing what to say in such cases. My father was a general in the royal guard of magicians. He will be the first to enter the battle. But I also knew that he was a strong water magician, like my mom. It’s not easy to defeat him. Almost every inhabitant of Pyramid knew dad’s heroic deeds in repelling enemy attacks. His achievements paved my way to the glory. But alas, I won’t follow his footsteps. I have my own way of the hero.

— Mom, everything will be fine! — I cheered her up. — I think Pontiar made this decision for some reason. He is the ruler and knows what we don’t know.

She nodded. Only now I noticed the circles under her eyes. Probably mom cried, and my father sent her away from the capital because of the child. Mom hugged me, and now I stroked her hair. It was such an unearthly, pleasant feeling of care. What a birthday present I’ve got! Only the news of the war spoiled the moment of happiness.

— I love you! I won’t let anything happen to you! — I assured.

In the history of our world, I’ve heard about only one war. The leader of Phaeton’s army was a magician who, like my father, had the gift of controlling the element of water. Alice said that then the whole sky was illuminated by lightning strikes that reached the ground. Many settlements were burned down, and even the Ellenian and Weirian elf forests were harmed.

Now I’ve decided that I can protect our house, and grandpa Marash will help me, because without magic it will be difficult. As the saying goes, together we are stronger.

Mom expected hostilities to unfold from day to day. Now I had the tools and I knew what to do. Grandpa Marash and I pulled half-meter steel rods from the old hangar. A year ago, I traded them for a rare typewriter that was aging in a bunch of scrap metal in a closet under the stairs. Alice said that it wouldn’t be useful to us even in working order, but for the merchant Paco it’s just right.

From the rods, I made an umbrella-like structure, covering the tip with liquid silver. I proceeded with the rest. Of course, I didn’t have any rope, and even more of this length. And I was thinking how to replace it.

— Master, will the liana fit? — a skein of green vegetation hung on the old man’s shoulder.

I clapped my hands happily.

— It will perfectly fit! And where did you get it?

— I grew it, — Marash smiled. — Only a little. Is it enough?

— Well, not enough… Maybe we can stretch it out with magic? I asked uncertainly.

— Magic? I think we can! — Marash agreed.

It’s been two days already. Mom watched as Marash and I fiddled and tried. The spiers were installed, the liana conductors soaked in saline were hung and grounded. I threw the ends into the lake. We are ready. We will only need to raise the spiers, by means of magic, just above the highest point of the roof during hostilities. And then the lightnings won’t scare us.

I looked at an oak tree in the very center of the backyard garden. It is too dear to me. I also put a spire next to it and connected everything with one liana.

In the evenings my mom and I had tea. But not in the living room, but in the kitchen, with the servant. Mom missed the simplicity of life. According to her, the arrogant urban society was annoying. She wanted coziness and warmth.

We spent time together like before. We walked and laughed. We baked cinnamon rolls. We were happy, I was… I enjoyed. We often came to our oak tree. And now I was lying, closing my eyes with pleasure, under the tree crown. I wondered. An oak tree in a coniferous forest. It is also a tree. All magicians — are people, even if I am not a magician, but I am a person! And I’m not afraid to be an outcast.

The whistle and heavy boom shook.

— It’s started! — my mom exclaimed, jumping up sharply, and grabbed her belly.

Water ran down her legs.

— Mom? — I looked wondering at the wet sand.

— Waters have broken. Nicholas, your little sister decided to be born at the wrong time… Help me!

Mom screamed and bent down as if someone had hit her in the belly.

— Mom! — I ducked under her arm and let her lean on myself.

From the house a governess and a young maid were rushing towards us.

— Alice, waters have broken. Reemay is asking to get into the world… — Mom smiled bitterly.

The sky was covered with thunderclouds. It darkened abruptly around. Marash raced from the stable at full speed.

— Hostess, go inside, quick! Niko, tell me what to do!

— You know. Raise the spiers just above the roof and secure them. How long can you hold on? — while I was talking to the gardener, Alice took mom into the house.

— I will hold on as long as necessary! Don’t worry, master, I only look old, but the magical powers don’t age, and I have a soul…

I smiled. I love grandpa Marash! He was always on my side. And he believes in me, unlike my father.

Whistle. Pink-purple flashes above the clouds. A net of lightning lit up the entire sky. The discharges began to fall on the ground here and there.

— It’s time, Marash! Come on! — I shouted.

A scream was heard in the house. It was mom. I rushed into the house. Dinah grabbed me just in front of my mom’s bedroom door.

— Let me go! — I snapped.

— Where are you going? Aphelia is giving a birth. You can’t go there! — a friend scolded.

Another puffy scream. The door flew open. I saw a large wooden tub. Mom was sitting in it up to her chest in water. The white shirt was soaked, she had an oak branch in her teeth. She gripped the side of the tub tightly, so that the knuckles of her fingers turned white.

— Well, step aside, men shouldn’t be here! — Alice snapped up mildly.

Varya hurriedly rushed behind her with a pile of towels.

— Niko, don’t bother! Do something useful. Heat some water. Dinara will help you!

Varya kicked the door to my mom’s chamber with her foot — and again there was a scream. But not so loud.

Mom realized that I was at the door and, apparently, she restrained herself so as not to frighten me. In the street, the noise increased. The thunderstorm became worse. Dinah pushed me on the shoulder.

— Let’s go. Come on! — She commanded.

I almost rolled down the stairs when another thunder shook the walls of the house. A flash of lightning came streaming with blinding light in through all the windows that weren’t shuttered.

Dinah staggered back.

— Why should I heat the water? — I didn’t understand.

He grabbed two clean wooden buckets from the stove and put one under the tap.

— Well, of course you didn’t understand. It’s for your sister and mother. The water is needed to wash them after the childbirth. You should listen open-mouthed and carry the water!

Dinah grabbed the buckets from my hands and poured the water into the pots. She threw coal into the stove and tied her skirts. I could hardly hold a laugh, she looked so ridiculous. She looked like a goose, only her neck should be longer, and she will look exactly as a goose.

— Don’t grin, do you think it’s comfortable to run up the stairs in a dress? I’ll tell you! No, at all. You should try and only after that you can smile! — the girl muttered resentfully.

Her words erased my smile. There was such thunder clap that my ears were plugged, and then came the crack of a falling tree that was very close. I looked out the window. A burning tree fell on the liana that was connected with my oak. Grandpa Marash stood right there, wet of the pouring rain, without his raincoat. I rushed outside.

— Where are you going? — I heard in pursuit.

But I was already rushing to Marash.

— What happened?! — shouting over the rain, I tried to clarify the situation.

But everything was obvious. Two spiers, between which the liana was stretched, tilted.

— Lightning hit the tree! — Marash shouted in response and shook his head towards the oak. — It is without protection now! What we are going to do?

I grabbed my wet head. Streams of icy water flowed down the temples.

The sky was lit up with flashes of light, the battle was just at the height. Our war magicians didn’t back down. They held the defense firmly. I think they gave a powerful rebuff.

The fallen tree was consumed by fire. It whistled and crackled, emitting death moans. The smell of ozone and pine burning thus mixed. Oak. So, what to do? Now the liana will burn out, and I can throw its ends into the lake. But, will I make it in time? The liana was almost burned out, I was about to dash to it, when suddenly a bright flash fell like a column on the oak tree.

— Nooo! — I screamed so that I even lost my voice. My throat ached, and I whispered. — No, no… Please. Rain, extinguish it…

But the oak was burning, splitting in two. The merciless fire tore off the leaves withered from the heat, gnawed at the branches, and bit into the pliable wood. The oak seemed a two-headed torch on the hill. I moved towards it, but what could I do? I am nothing without magic… I couldn’t run to extinguish this gigantic tree with a bucket of water. My legs gave way, I fell on my knees and grabbed the ground. The dirt seeped between my fingers, munching sadly. As if it was sobbing with me. But no. Only I sobbed here, like a mute fish, opening my mouth. The vocal cords only emitted a hoarse groan. Marash didn’t move. He kept his defenses. The flashes in the sky stopped, as did the rain, which until now was ruthlessly whipping me with rapture. Is it enough? No, get more! Maybe the magic will wake up? After all, it happens that in the case of affect, the gift awakens. But not in my case… Damned lightning burnt my memories. Completely and mercilessly. The oak wasn’t glowing so brightly now. In the silence of the crackling fire and the echoes of the passing thunderstorm, I heard a child’s cry. It was Reemay who announced her presence. I smiled bitterly.

Marash came up and patted me on the back.

— Niko, don’t cry. We will plant a new tree. I will help to grow it faster — he tried to cheer me up.

— It will be another tree. Another memory, not mine — I whispered.

Getting up slowly, I trudged into the house. The boots got stuck in the mud somewhere along the road. Well, and to the demons of Ruby them. I went to the kitchen barefoot. Dinah stood in a daze, silently swallowing tears. Marash followed me, shaking his head. He was chilled and asked some tea to warm him up.

— Niko… — Dinah called me.

I waved of her and went up to my room. The clouds in the sky parted, but it was already evening, and the room was in semi-darkness.

I sat down on a chair without undressing and, folding my hands on the table in front of me, dropped my head on them. My shoulders were trembling. I was painfully hurt. I thought of everything so well, and these lightning rods, but I didn’t foresee that a tree could fall on the liana. My oak. It’s gone. Well, okay. The outcast among the coniferous forest disappeared. Maybe it’s a sign. Should I disappear too? I couldn’t protect my memories. What am I worth then? Maybe my father is right. A blank, I am just a blank…

Someone knocked at the door.

— Niko, babe — Alice looked into the dark room.

I didn’t even move.

— Are you sleeping? — the aunt asked uncertainly and walked over to me. — Marash said that lightning hit the oak. I’m sorry, I know how dear it was to you.

— Alice… — I whispered. — Why did Sherida give me this life? I’m a worthless blank. Without a gift, completely useless!

The woman sighed excitedly.

— Niko, you are very talented! And your gift will manifest itself, but later… You have protected the house from lightning, you’ve built such wonderful lightning rods.

— Not good enough! — I grumbled and coughed. The throat was scorching with fire.

— Excellent! But only the Gods know why this has happened. And you are a precious gift for Aphelia! You are her treasure…

— Yeah. A gift that she has completely forgotten for eleven years… — now the resentment was seething in me. Either at my mom, or at myself. I wasn’t offended at my father. What can you do? He didn’t pretend that he loves me. — I understand my father… He needs a worthy heir. Otherwise, who is he then in the society of magicians? And he got me… a blank.

— Don’t beat yourself up! You’re wrong! You’d seen how happy was Aphelia to see you again! — Alice stroked my head. — Let’s go. Reemay is so cute. Do you want to see her? She looks so much like you, when you were little. But, at first you should take a bathe and get warm as you were chilled in the freezing rain.

Alice tried to calm me down, but I was sick at heart.

— I hope she is gifted, not like me…

Aunt choked and froze.

I got up from my chair and walked slowly towards the exit.

— While you… you’re in the bathroom, I will clean up here.

Aunt clapped her hands carefully, and all candles were lit in the room.

«Magic… why am I bad for you?» — I thought with sorrow.

But seeing as Alice had quieted down, I whispered it aloud.

The water washed away not only the dirt and rainwater from my body, but it also numbed the pain, that tied my heart with tight knots.

I changed my clothes and I went to my mom’s chamber. The wooden tub has been already carried away. Mom was lying on a wide bed with my sister in her arms. Reemay was red and wrinkled like a small raisin. I couldn’t see the color of her eyes as she was dozing, sniffing with her snub, like a newborn hare’s, nose. But her brown curls and thick black eyelashes made her look incredibly cute. I sat down on the bed and looked at her with tenderness. So tiny, fragile, defenseless. Mom took my hand.

— Nicholas, you are so brave! You were able to protect our house from lightning. I am very sorry that the oak has burned down. Dinah told me. But don’t be sad, we’ll plant a new one.

I didn’t answer. I was tired. And my mother was completely exhausted. I silently kissed her on the cheek and headed to the door. With peripheral vision, I noticed a blue scroll on the writing table. The wax seal was definitely royal. I wondered what was the magical message from my father?

Chapter 2

The dreams were grievous: the lightning again hit my oak tree, and then the war, but not the one that was yesterday, but another one, even more cruel. And a girl with dark brown eyes. We stood against the enemy shoulder to shoulder… And the darkness.

The morning was sunny. Warm rays touched my heels. Still half asleep, I buried my face in the pillow and tried to put together all events of yesterday. The war that lasted almost an entire day. Our war magicians defended the boundaries of Pyramid. Otherwise, I wouldn’t lie calmly now in my bed.

The lightning rods that we installed with grandpa Marash did their job. But I didn’t take everything into account. My burnt oak cannot be returned anymore. It was not only a place of my memories, but also a symbol of myself: an ordinary person in an extraordinary society. And now it was gone. I felt an emptiness in my soul. It felt like somebody had turned me off. Now everything is indifferent. The hope, that I could become a hero in the magical world, has burned out with this oak tree…

Somebody scratched softly at the door.

— Niko, babe, are you awake?

The door opened slightly. Alice went into the room. I heard her steps.

— Uh-huh — I could only squeeze out this.

I had a sore throat as if it was scratched with small branches.

Alice sat down on the edge of the bed.

— Do you want to talk? — She asked and straightened the blanket, covering my cold feet.

I didn’t answer, just shook my head and turned to the wall.

— I know, this tree was a part of yourself. I understand your pain. But you are not a tree, you are a man. Strong, talented, with an open heart… Don’t shut yourself. You have the whole life ahead to find your special talent, your place, — Alice spoke softly, lovingly, inspiring the hope.

I turned to her. And as if it was in a haze, the image of a phoenix appeared before my eyes.

«My oak is like this bird,» — I thought. «And I can get it back.»

— Alice, do you know how much I love you? — I wheezed enthusiastically and grabbed my throat.

— I know, and now we are going to drink warm milk with honey. And then a tincture of fern flowers, — the woman shook her head and added, smiling. — I love you too, baby!

My aunt took the clothes off the back of the chair, raised an eyebrow and reproachfully looked at the hole of the pocket that was mended with staples.

— The pocket died from the grasping paws of a blackberry — I croaked in excuse.

— I see. Well, we will need to trim the claws of this blackberry! Marash will take care of it, — Alice joked while I was pulling on a shirt with a high neck. Summer has come to an end, and now the cold is not so far off. And after yesterday’s freezing rain it became fresher outside.

Before going down to the kitchen, I decided to look in my mom and sister.

— Nicholas! — Mom exclaimed happily.

Reemay was swarming around, close at her hand. I came closer to see my little sister in the sunlight. Big mustard-honey eyes looked at me curiously. A pink bow of her lips was blowing out tiny bubbles. She was no longer as wrinkled as yesterday. I bent down and involuntarily reached for her. My finger was immediately captured by a tiny hand. Mom laughed.

— Reemay is funny, isn’t she? How were you when you were a baby, — she ran her hand over the chestnut nap on her head. And with the other hand she wrapped our fingers.

I squatted down and silently looked at both. I absorbed these pleasant moments, touches, the smell of a newborn sister and autumn flowers that came from the half-open window.

— Now you have become not only an older brother, but also her protector, — my mother’s eyes smiled sadly. I looked at her questioningly.

— Sit down, dear, — she patted the blanket. I obediently sat down beside her. — It’s hard for me to talk about this. We’ve been together so little time… and now again…

She stumbled, and inside me it was as if the bowstring had been pulled, but so tight that the tension hurt all over my body.

— We’ll have to part. Last night the magic mail arrived from your father, — she glanced furtively at the blue scroll with the royal seal.

I knew it.

— Father is alive! But Ruby’s attack reduced the number of magicians. And now the king is calling all gifted ones for military training. It will last for about five years. Of course, not everyone will get into the Royal Academy of Magic in Phaeton. The rest will be assigned to regular training units. You’re enlisted in the Academy.

— But mom! I have no abilities! What if I take the place of a more talented, worthy magician? — I croaked.

Mom’s eyes widened.

— What’s the matter with you, babe? — she immediately touched my forehead.

— Well, I broke my voice yesterday. Everything is fine, — I calmed her and asked insistently.

So? I’m not a magician!

— The king promised me and your father to arrange you to study at the Academy. And he kept his word! You deserve this! And don’t say nonsense! Alice told me how quickly you remember everything, besides, you know the languages of the seven worlds very well. You don’t need to have any magical abilities to become a good diplomat. You will serve at the court of Pontiar. Father wrote that you have to come immediately to the capital.

— But… — I cleared my throat. A spasm tightened my throat.

I pulled my finger out of my sister’s tenacious hands and burst into tears.

Mom put the baby to her breast, she greedily munched, although she looked in my direction.

— You can go when your voice will return, — mother placed the child more comfortable and sighed. — And I’ll write to your father about the lightning rods. Let him be proud of his son! I will also inform him that you are now a little ill.

I winced. Tut-tut. To be proud? There is nothing to be proud of… And it would be better to keep silence about the weaknesses. I’m a man!

— Maybe you shouldn’t? — I looked at her prayerfully, but her pursed lips answered for her. I had to agree. — Okay, Mom.

I said goodbye and left the bedroom. As I walked down to the kitchen, I pondered over the idea that haunted me. Academy, studying — everything was leading there. But I have an unfinished affair.

«I need to collect goose feathers, get some wire and pigments for paints from the hoarder Paco. I hope there is at least something left of the oak tree.» — I ruffled my bangs when I entered the kitchen, where there was a smell of mushroom pie.

— Why do you need feathers and paint? And I don’t think that you can find anything from your oak, except some coals and firebrands… — Varya took thought and wiped her hands from the flour.

— Did I say it aloud? — I shrugged my shoulders embarrassedly.

— Uh huh. Everything that you have in your mind, is on your tongue, — the cook grinned.

— Baby, let’s go to the table! — Alice commanded, placing the plates with my breakfast. Some plates, she put on a small tray, probably for mom. I plopped down on a long-legged stool and looked around at my breakfast: honey, nuts, herbal infusion, hot cakes with butter. Alice poured some milk into my mug, over which a steam was curling, and moved the plate with the mushroom pie to me.

— You will need to drink the infusion a little bit later, it hasn’t drawn yet, — she said and left with a tray.

I screwed up my eyes. The sun’s rays, which seemed to sneak into the kitchen, reflected in buckets of water. The dapples of light were dancing on the wooden ceiling and on my face. Now I didn’t feel emptiness in my soul. It had filled with something …With hope. Bliss spilled over my body. I will give my heart new memories. Yes. Now I have a little sister. I will protect her! And I will also do what I have planned…

I chewed a cake, ate a pie and drank a slightly bitter infusion of fern at one gulp. A handful of chopped nuts with honey muffled the bitterness. I thanked Varya and rushed to my room.

My wristwatch was on the table. The spheres on the dial were circling in a time dance. Soon the merchant should pass by, if, of course, he survived after the hostilities. I kissed three folded fingers, and put them to my forehead:

«Sherida, dear, help me. Let Paco have both wire and pigment for paints.»

I grabbed my work bag and hurried to the oak tree. On my way, I came across an old man Marash, who was cutting that evil blackberry bush.

— Master, where are you rushing? — he cleared his throat. — no one is chasing you.

— I have one idea… — I wheezed trying to recover my breath. A cut for your gift… — I waved and was about to run on, but was distracted by the gardener.

— Look, again the heavenly space is polluted with miasma… — Marash raised his head and sighed heavily, squinting unkindly towards the flying cargo ship. — They don’t have you… and your golden hands and priceless ideas. The city mechanics are stupid, they think only about the profit, but who will think about the people and nature? — the old man chuckled.

— If it is a fate, I will definitely fix their mechanisms, — I smiled and hurried to see Paco.

Approaching the burnt tree, I slowed down. I saw it and it took not only my breath. It was as if the soul was turned inside out and sprinkled with the ashes remaining from the carnage. I couldn’t move, my body turned to stone.

The sand has curled up into gray, bubbly chamfers that resemble frozen, bubbling water. Apparently, under the influence of lightning, the sand converted into natural glass, but of an ugly shape. The trunk of the tree was split into two unequal pieces. There was no crown left, only the largest branches. In the deepening of the oak, the wood was still smoldering. I knew I would get dirty, but I had to do it. On naughty legs, I walked over to the oak tree and hugged my friend. Leaning my cheek against a black stump, I said:

— I will give you a new life! Now you will always be nearby. Outcasts should keep together. You and I are so familiar… — it seems the tree thanked me. I didn’t see or hear, I just felt it. — You will become a bird. A phoenix risen from the ashes. We will leave home together.

I looked around. Something crunched under my foot: a solid branch, partially burnt, but quite strong. I picked it up and shook it in my hand.

— It will be a great body for a bird! Do you like it? — I asked the oak

And the oak answered: «Thank you. I will try to keep the most valuable for you…»

I’m sure it has heard every word. Breathing stopped for a moment. Heart beat so loudly that tears welled up. But I wasn’t going to cry. No. I won’t shed more tears. Wiping my wet eyes with my sleeve, I carefully put the branch into my bag.

A horse whinnying was heard behind the fence. It was Paco.

— Sherida, I put all my trust in you! — I looked up into the sky and, having said goodbye to the place of memories for the last time, ran down to the stone fence.

— Paco! — I croaked, my voice was still weak, although the warm milk and fern did their job perfectly. — You arrived!

He also was glad to see me. Smiling with a toothless mouth, the hoarder was leading the short horse by the bridle.

— Lodesco. I see it’s a whole homestead. You are lucky, Sherida is kind to your family. The villages nearby were less fortunate. Unfortunately, there are also casualties. Elven healers will save the rest. Since when do you start to wait for me? It has always been the other way around, — he stopped at the gate, throwing the bridle over the horse’s back. — And what do you need so urgently?

He folded busily his arms.

— I am glad you’re in good health. It’s a pity that Ruby does not understand how much destruction and pain it brings. Well! I’ll show them how to behave to magicians who have honor and dignity!

— What’s happened with your voice, freckled green? Is it breaking, or what? — the merchant grinned mildly.

I winced, but didn’t explain anything.

— Paco. I need steel wire and a red pigment, possibly yellow as well. Do you have it? — I hoped strongly in the assistance of the Goddess.

— I have a wire, but the dyes … — Paco thought, and I tensed. — I can deliver pigments in a week.

— In a week later, it will be too late. I will no longer be here, — I answered sadly.

— Sorry, I can’t help you then, — He really regretted it. He took out the wire and handed it to me. — Here you have. This is a gift; haven’t you had a birthday recently?

— Um–hum. Thank you so much! I need it for a very important affair, — I accepted gratefully the gift.

— Where are you going? Far away?

— To the capital, to study — I sighed.

The old man scratched his nose.

— I heard that magicians from ten years of age are called up for military training, and the Royal Academy is not an exception. Our enemies are awake. Many of our people died. The new army will be raised. Only… — Paco hesitated. — You’re not a magician. What will they teach you there?

— I will be a diplomat.

Paco raised his eyebrow.

— It’s a pity you haven’t reveal your talent. You are a good mechanic. Well, of course, negotiating with people — it’s a necessary business. I’m also partly a diplomat, you need to be able to find a common language with buyers.

The merchant tilted his chin in a funny way, simulating to be a very important person. But when I saw his toothless mouth, I burst out laughing.

— Paco, I’m sorry! And thanks for the encouragement. You know, although I will study at the academy, I will not abandon my skills of mechanic. After all, Alice gave me a set of tools, I will take them with me and in my free time I will tinker. Everything is magical now. Nobody fixes what is broken. And here I am. What if I come in handy at the academy?

— You will come in handy. You have golden hands.

— And I have a present for you too! — I took the watch off my wrist and put it on Paco’s hand. — Do you know how to use it?

— It’s a watch! — the old man twisted it. — But a dress-watch. Does it work without magic?

— Yes. But you need to wind up the spring every day so that it doesn’t stop.

— Oh, thanks! This is a marvelous gift! — the old man blinked and closed his eyes, trying to hide the sentimentality. But I knew how he felt. He was deeply moved. — You… In the capital, in the main market, look for a small shop that says «Nedos’s Chest». You will find it in the streets. My cousin holds this shop. He also sells all sorts of junk. I will write him a letter so that he won’t offend you. Nedos — is a foxlike, he knows how to fool people. But what can he do? In the capital, the people are greedy, everyone wants goods for free. But he will not deceive you and will find everything what you need. I promise! Well, that’s all, be healthy! Study well! And don’t forget the old man Paco.

— I won’t forget! See you! — I hugged the merchant goodbye.

I went home upset. Not all phoenix ingredients were clinking in the bag.

I saw Dinah from afar. She was plucking a goose. I suppose she’ll cook it for dinner. Oh! Coming closer, I asked:

— Dinah, save me the largest feathers. I need them.

— How many?

— Ha… Many — I answered thoughtfully and walked to the door.

On the right, in the vegetable garden, grandfather Marash was weeding the beets. Apparently, no one knew about my upcoming departure. They behave as usual. Or maybe they don’t care. I was in their life, and soon I will leave. Big deal. What is special about me? Dina called me:

— And what about your mood? Who messed it up in the morning?

I came to my senses:

— Oh. I need a paint, but the merchant Paco didn’t have it.

— A paint? And for what? What colors? Dinah lifted her head and brushed back a streak of hair that had strayed from her braid.

— Red and yellow. For feathers … — I specified. — Do you know where to get it?

— Yes, I know! The red one grows in the garden bed, Marash is just weeding it. And the yellow one is in the kitchen.

I blinked in confusion.

— Blunt. To fix everything you are so smart, but you can’t figure out with dyes. Beets on a grate and you will get a red one. And to get the yellow one, you need to mix turmeric with water! The girls and I usually paint the ribbons this way, — pleased Dinah continued to pluck the bird.

— Th-thank you! — I muttered in confusion, and a stupid smile stretched across my face.

Now everything I need is here. Happy, I hurried to the room. I poured the contents of the bag onto the table and set to work. The presented tools were incredibly useful. From an oak branch, I carved the skeleton of the body of a phoenix. Carved a compartment on the breast for the ruby. But the chisel slipped off and I hurt my finger. I accidentally stained the phoenix with my blood.

«Ouch… such a sharp thing», — I cursed to myself.

I put some fern ointment on the cut and continued. I put the ruby that Marash had presented in the chest cell of the bird. I secured the wings and tail in a spring mechanism, and lubricated it. The head I also carved out of the wood. In the eyes I decided to inlay the glass pieces that Dinah had presented. But I couldn’t find the same color and size, so the eyes were different. One was blue and the other was yellow. I inserted a black pointed glass as a beak. The bird came out as if it was alive. Now there was turn of the feathers and some magic.

«I’ll ask mom to revive my phoenix», — I thought, and cast a glance at the hill, where there was a black stain of the oak ashes.

I left the bird on the table. I took off an apron and checked my hands for cleanliness before going to mom. They were not the cleanest. I’ll have to wash them. And as soon as I opened the loosely closed door, Dinah burst into the room.

— Did you spy on me? — I squinted.

She was holding an armful of feathers and two cans of dye. I even didn’t want to scold her. The girl lifted her freckled chin and stood up, dusting off her apron.

— Niko, can I help you with the phoenix? I can do it! I have revived some mechanisms before, — she looked as if she was about to cry, although she held on with all her might.

— I don’t mind. Let’s try. Now I will finish it… — I hesitated.

The friend looked so sad. Perhaps my mother told her about my departure.

— Thank you… Do you already know?

Dinah nodded and walked quickly to the table. She put feathers with paint on it and sat down in front of the unprepared bird. She ran her finger along the body.

— There is blood here… — She looked at my hands in dismay. But then she noticed the fern ointment on my finger and calmed down.

— It was no big deal. I cut it with chisel. Well, can you help me to paint? — I smiled, pulling another chair for her.

The feathers came out very beautiful. Turmeric gave a pale-yellow hue, and beet juice — a cold burgundy.

I wire the feathers to the wings and tail of the phoenix. Dinah smiled contentedly, examining the glass of its eyes.

— Can I revive it? — She prepared herself.

— Yea, come on.

Dinah got up from her chair, touched the bird and cast an ordinary spell that gives life force to objects. But then something unimaginable began to happen. The phoenix rose into the air, red sparks were circling around it, creating a subtle energy field. The mechanisms began to transform into living tissues. The body of the bird was covered with skin, feathers, the chest was flushed with scarlet plumage. Claws grew on the paws, the beak lengthened slightly and bent. And the glass of the eyes gleamed so brightly that we closed our eyes from this flash. When the outer transformation was completed, the energy ball around the bird disappeared and the phoenix dropped on the table. Dinah and I looked at each other.

— How did you do it? — I asked in a whisper, touching with my finger that bird which Dinah had conjured.

— I… I don’t know! Honestly! This happened for the first time! You know, this hasn’t happened before. The mechanisms haven’t changed externally.

The bird stirred under my fingers. We both pulled away from the table, but curiosity tied us. I reached for the phoenix. It roused himself and stood up abruptly. The revived bird looked with its multi-colored eyes first at Dinah, then at me. Then it raised its wings and examined the plumage intently. It stamped its paws, jumped up and tried to raise its voice. At first, something vague came out, much like to clucking, but after another attempt, the phoenix burst into a melodic trill. Alice appeared in the open door.

— Where did this bird come from? Where did you catch it? — aunt slowly approached the table, studying the animal of unknown origin. Red-gold plumage, elongated tail of crimson-burgundy color. A tousled crest and multi-colored eyes.

— It’s a strange bird … — whispered Alice.

Phoenix looked at her completely calmly, as if it was a pet and always lived in the house.

— Niko made this bird, and I revived it… — said Dinah whose tongue turned as if she had stuffed cotton wool into her mouth.

Alice looked owlishly and straightened up.

— No, it can’t be! — said the woman. — No magician is capable of doing something like this.

— Listen, Dinah, maybe you should go to the academy with me? If you can do this, then you will surely become an excellent war magician! — I declared enthusiastically.

The friend coughed, and the bird spread its wings and rose into the air. We lifted our heads watching this incredible flight. In the space behind the phoenix, there was a transparent fiery strip that was flickering with sparks and slowly disappearing.

— Oh … — Dinah sat down. — How is it? I need to tell Aphelia. I learned it from her books! Maybe I did something wrong!

Phoenix hovered in flight over me and carefully landed on my shoulder. I froze, not daring to move.

— So, you say that you have revived Niko’s creation? Look, it knows who its master is… Clever bird. Have you already named it? — asked Alice, marveling at what she had seen.

— Inis! — I exclaimed. — It’s a fire in Rubinian. The God of Fire, Rotrad, is worshiped in the first world. When I began to study the languages of the seven worlds, Rubinian seemed to me the most melodic, by the way, the dialects of the worlds are very similar to each other. I am sure that what you have told me is not a fairy tale. Formerly, the worlds did interact.

The nanny nodded approvingly. Dinah liked the name too.

— I don’t know how you guys managed to revive such a living creature, but let me give you an advice. Be careful with unknown magic. And for now, don’t tell anyone about this, except Aphelia, of course.

The nanny went out and returned immediately.

— I completely forgot. Go to have dinner. But first to Aphelia. We don’t know whether this bird can fly around the house. It has such a tail, it shines. Maybe it can cause a fire. — Alice turned around and left the room, in the corridor we could only hear her reasoning aloud. — Kids, well, what did they create…

I exchanged glances with Inis. He tilted his head funnily and chirped something in his language.

— It’s a pity that I don’t understand the bird language, — I sighed and headed for the exit. — Let’s go. Let’s ask mom whether it is possible to create such a miracle with magic.

Dinah followed me, glancing at Inis.

I came to the door. Behind it I could hear the gentle voice of my mother. She was talking about something with Reemay. I pushed the door lightly.

— Mom, can I?

— Of course, sweet. Nicholas, I see your voice is back!

I have just noticed. It’s strange…

Mom seemed as fragile as a flower; it was hard to believe that she was a war magician.

Dinah stepped after me, just from the side where Inis was. Mom narrowed her eyes.

— What’s that on your shoulder?

— Mrs. Aphelia, this is exactly what we wanted to ask you, — Dinah began timidly.

Inis was sitting on his shoulder obediently, looking around.

— Ask me? — mom clarified incomprehensibly and stood up, leaning on the pillow.

Reemay fidgeted in the blanket and attracted the bird’s attention. Inis fluttered and flew onto the bed, leaving a red ribbon of light in the air.

— What? Nicholas, take it away! — exclaimed the mother and intuitively created a water barrier between the child and the bird. The little sister reached for the phoenix, being not afraid of it at all.

— Mom, I created him, and Dinah revived him! — I rushed to my bird and tried to command. — Inis, go back to your place!

Phoenix fluttered back onto my shoulder. I chuckled, not believing that it had obeyed me.

Mom slowly removed the water shield and held her breath.

— But, it’s impossible! You are not a magician.

— I told you, Dinah had revived him! Can she come with me to the academy? Talk to my father, please!

— Okay. And I will ask him to find out how the girl could create a living being, — my mother was at a loss. — Dinara, what spell did you use?

— The usual one. I had breathed life-giving energy into Niko’s mechanisms more than once. They came to life, moved on their own, helped around the house, but only for a while, then they need to be fed again. Well, you know.

Mom nodded.

— But this time… — Dinah waved her hands in the air. — The mechanical bird rose into the air, an energy sphere whirled around it, then Inis was covered with living tissues, flesh, feathers — and here it is. It came to life, just like a real bird, unusual, but a bird, — said Dinah in one breath.

Little Reemay reached out to Inis. It fluttered back onto the bed. Mom was alert, but didn’t put up a shield. Inis strode importantly over the blanket and bent his beak to my sister’s hand. She reached out her fingers and touched him. A thin ray of light slipped from Reemay’s fingers, circling around Inis. Mom gasped and whispered:

— He… he awakened her ability! It’s incredible!

Inis flapped his wings, lifted his head, and then tumbled in the air, and scattered the light. Then he looked at me and fluttered over my shoulder, chattering about something.

— Does Reemay have the gift of light streams? — I choked out.

I don’t understand what’s going on.

— Your bird has somehow helped the gift to reveal. So early! Sherida has blessed us! I need to write to your father urgently! Dinara, call Alice! — mom was so excited that she swallowed the words.

Well, I was taken aback too. First Dinah revived my phoenix, now the phoenix helped to reveal the gift of my sister. I was in a kind of passionate state and didn’t notice how Alice entered the room.

— Aphelia! Is it true? — the aunt smiled.

— Yes! — my mother said, not believing herself.

— That’s news. Miracles, and nothing more. Glory to you, Sherida! — Alice exclaimed, making a blessed gesture in the name of the Goddess, kissing and putting her fingers to the forehead. — So, kid, take your magic bird and step down. Dinara and you too!

We went out. I only heard how my aunt fussed in search of paper and sealing wax. Magic mail is very fast. Within a few minutes Alice found Dinah and me in the library and called to mother’s chamber. Climbing the stairs, I thought. If Inis awakened my sister’s abilities, why didn’t my magical gift reveal? Or am I really a blank? Even Dinara was able to create incredible things. Mom was waiting on pins and needles. She was worried.

— Nicholas, you and Dinara are leaving for the capital tomorrow, to the court. With a bird! — she clarified.

— Does the father know what is the matter?

— No, but he wants to test several hypotheses. Even Pontiar is very interested — she said, either with joy or with alarm.

— K-king? Will we meet the king? — stammering, asked the usually brave Dinah.

— Yes. This is the first time he hears about such a thing. At least that’s what he said. I trust him, but something is bothering me. Okay. Go and pack your things.

My throat completely stopped hurting, and I spoke without hoarseness.

«Could it be because of Inis? — it flashed through my head. — He is a miraculous bird. Perhaps, besides the awakening of magical abilities, he can also heal!»

I shook my head and answered:

— Okay, Mom, we’ll be ready by the morning.

This meant not only the beginning of a new chapter in my life and Dinah’s life, but also that I wouldn’t see my mother and my little sister for a very long time.

I entered the room. Inis was sitting quietly on my shoulder.

— Are you hungry? — I asked my new friend.

My bird bowed his head. I took a nut out of my pocket and chipped it with my fingers. Inis looked at the food and didn’t budge and he tilted his head to the side again.

— So, you don’t eat like live birds? That’s interesting.

I examined the work table, the stand with the tools. The room was small but comfortable. And what awaits me there? I was upset. I can’t even imagine how the magicians of the academy will accept me. I wasn’t worried about Dinah; she wouldn’t let to offend herself. But I’m merely an ordinary person.

I took my bag out of the closet, packed a few pairs of new trousers, I didn’t wear them at home. I would have torn them or stained with oil, for sure. Shirts, sweaters, a pair of spare boots. I put Alice’s present in a wide leather bag. The tools will be useful to me for sure.

I dropped my things by the door and lay down on the bed. The first stars appeared in the sky, illuminating the closest planet to us, the world of Kora, under the auspices of the God of the earth — Zelima. Their world shone in the azure haze of small satellites that circled around each of our worlds, but their colors are different for every world. Pyramid has the golden ones.

I didn’t notice how I fell asleep. Inis was dozing quietly on my pillow. The dreams were troubled. A terrible war. At Ruby. God Rotrad himself came down to earth to destroy us. I fought next to a girl whose eyes I cannot forget.

I woke up in a cold sweat. Inis was sitting on my chest and looking at me with his multi-colored eyes.

— What about you. Do you have dreams? — I didn’t expect an answer.

Inis tilted his head to the side.

— Probably not, — I chuckled and shuddered at the sharp knock at the door.

— Nicholas! — Excited Alice called me.

— Yes, I’m not sleeping anymore — I rubbed my eyes and stood up. I fell asleep in my clothes. Well, now I don’t need to dress. But the clothes were a little crumpled.

Alice came in, examined me, shook her head and ran her hand over my shirt. It smoothed out instantly.

— Thank you — I answered sadly.

In some measure, I felt sad to leave my home, my mother, the people I love. But I want to be a hero, and for this I need to learn, to become… and who I might become? A war magician? But I’m not a magician. Okay. First you need to find out what I’m worth. Can my mechanisms be really useful?

— Babe! I’m proud of you! You will study at the Academy! Show these magicians what your golden hands are capable of! Our world is full not only of magic! I love you! — Alice hugged me, sobbing under my ear. — I don’t want to part with you, but it’s time. The royal charioteer has already arrived for you. He will take you and Dinah to the palace.

I had never been further than the gate of our homestead, and now everything inside me was bubbling with excitement.

— I wonder how will we get there? By horse, by mechanical carriage or by air? — I said the last one and I held my breath. The father seemed to had got with the royal charioteer when he was returning home. I don’t remember, that’s what Alice told me.

— By air. I saw when the charioteer arrived. He is waiting for you below. Aphelia is just talking to him. — Aunt looked at my Inis and sighed. — Let him bring you good luck. I saw that he turned out to be your doctor too…

— What do you mean? I rolled my eyes.

— Even the fern tea does not cure in a day. And after the bird sat on your shoulder, your throat was healed — the shrewd woman smiled.

— I guessed it too.

Alice nodded and patted the bird on the tuft, which made it purr like a cat. I put on my shoes, lifted the bag and threw it over my shoulder.

— Let’s go?

— Let’s go.

Downstairs was standing Dinah, neatly combed, in an emerald-colored linen dress. She only wore it on holidays. In her hands, the girl was holding a brown hiking bag, twice the size of mine. The charioteer turned out to be a thin young magician a little older than me. With long jet-black hair, thin features and equally thin fingers. Surprisingly thin fingers. He saw me and nodded his head in greeting. Mom turned around with Reemay in her arms. Inis fluttered towards them and landed on Mom’s shoulder. She didn’t pull away. On the contrary, she smiled.

— And here is the bird I was talking about.

The magician eyed Inis with admiration.

— Peter, please, tell my husband not to be too strict with Nicholas. And be careful on the way.

— Of course, Aphelia. You will be sorely missed. See you in five years. Perhaps earlier.

Goodbye, — the magician bowed and, offering help to Dinah with the bag, left the living room.

Dinah waved me to join them and followed the charioteer.

I came up to my mother. The little sister was just pulling Inis by the beak.

— Nicholas, dear. If you need money, contact Peter, he will take you to Phaeton’s bank, and you will need to show it there, — my mother took off the neat signet with the Lodesco coat of arms, two crossed swords, and put it on my finger. — They will give you as much money as you need. Love you!

— Thank you! Mom, I will enormously miss you. And I will do my best to make you… and dad proud of me — I took my sister by the finger. — Reemay, although I am not a magician, I will try to protect you. Be blessed by Sherida! Love you!

I kissed both of them. I hugged Alice, approached Varya and grandpa Marash.

— Did you take a ruby? — he asked for the last.

Inis flew over my shoulder, exposing a red breast.

— Yes, I took it, now the ruby will always be with me! — I pointed to the phoenix.

Marash is smart. He understood everything and winked.

— Good luck! Let Sherida protect you and Dinara!

Chapter 3

The charioteer Peter waited until I approached and only after that, connecting his thumb and forefinger of both hands, he created the end rings from them. He cast a spell and under us, right on the ground, a fine net, like a cobweb, appeared. I saw this for the first time, as did Dinah, who froze in surprise.

— Don’t be afraid. You can sit down if you like.

Peter parted his arms, and the net curled around us in a huge ball, slowly lifting up into the sky. I felt dizzy. Is this the magic of the air? It’s amazing. We were getting higher and higher; the homestead remained a toy house below. Fields, forests, lake — everything was as drawn, drawn on the board of the earth. Only the mountains in the distance hung menacingly and seemed larger, as the sun with golden satellites around. The surrounding was incredible, unreal. We were frozen high above the ground.

— Get ready, now we will move very quickly.

Before I even had time to open my mouth, we began to move at a breakneck speed. A light stream of wind penetrated the magic ball that was carrying us. Forests, settlements, cities, rivers flashed below… Cargo ships appeared in the clouds above and below us, moving like lazy celestial whales. Everything would be fine but the miasma left by the ships, seemed black ribbons. The magicians didn’t think about the moment of air pollution by massive mechanisms. But I will try to find a way to fix their shortcomings.

A huge ring-shaped city appeared on the horizon. It hovered above the ground. Buildings were located under it. The closer we flew, the blacker were the bald spots in the ground. In some places, houses were smoking. But the city in the sky sparkled with untouched beauty. We rushed a little higher, and finally, the ball landed on a green platform, I think, it was grass. As soon as Peter’s net opened, I fell out on all fours. I was awfully dizzy. Dinah turned out to be stronger. She was squatting. She just turned a little pale. Peter gave Dinah his hand and helped me to get up.

— Sorry, first-time airborne travelers usually feel this way, but sometimes even worse.

— Really? Or are you just soothing? It seems that I’m going to vomit now. — I covered my lips with my hand.

Peter smiled apologetically; he was sincere. Inis clutched at my shoulder with his claws and fluttered his wings slightly. I felt better. Much better.

— Thank you, — I whispered. — Can you help Dinah?

Phoenix nodded and jumped onto my friend’s shoulder. Dinah recoiled, but when she realized that she was being healed, she smiled surprisingly and nodded to me. Inis came back.

— I see you’re okay. Now we will go in a carriage. We cannot travel here by air. Only in case of emergency. Dinara, may I help you? — waiting for a nod, Peter grabbed her bag and headed towards the carriage harnessed by mechanical horses. I looked over the edge of the green platform on which we were standing.

«Below, city life is in full swing, apparently it’s the capital. And then where are we, if the capital is below?»

— All this territory belongs to the palace of king Pontiar — Peter replied.

— Did I ask it out loud? — from embarrassment I was thrown into a fever, my cheeks were flushing.

— No, — the magician answered calmly. — This is a common question for everyone who gets here for the first time. The city suffered a little after the battle, but the magicians are quickly restoring the destruction. And there… — Peter pointed to a tall, snow-white building on the outskirts of the city, surrounded by woods and gardens. — There is the Royal Academy of Magic, where you will study.

I lost my breath with admiration. The academy was not only untouched by the hostilities, but also shone with splendor, only black flags flashed along the entire perimeter of the fence, were darkening what I saw. Dinah silently looked at the academy, whitening below and rising up with its thin turrets.

— Nicholas, please, the crew will wait, the king won’t.

I understood everything and dived into the cart. Outside, it was nothing special, the usual metal construction with rectangular windows. The inside it was better: soft upholstery, it seemed to be velvet, comfortable seats, even pillows. And what was interesting. The horses. A real piece of art. They were so beautiful, all the details were thought out: a lot of screws, gears, jour details. And they were revived by top-class magic. I’m sure the magic in them is not for one day. I was watching the honed movement of the animals through the window, right behind Peter’s back.

We drove off the platform onto the pavement. We were surrounded by high hedges, so nothing could be seen yet. But when the fence ended, the palace appeared to our eyes. It was a magnificent ensemble of numerous structures arranged in a spiral. A wide road led to the central palace with a white dome, along which mourning flags were tormenting our eyes. We understood that this was an honor to those who had been taken away by the battle. Dinah and I grew up in a cozy, but small box, and now we were in a world that we have only heard of. We looked with full attention. The houses were similar to book illustrations. Dinah hid and wasn’t even breathing. I understood her, my head was spinning too. We drove into the palace town. On every side street there were guards: golden armor, halberds in the hands. There were black ribbons on the roofs.

— This is a military city. This is where the war magicians of the Royal Guard and their families live — explained Peter.

Really. On the streets, behind the backs of the warriors, we watched children playing with metal rings, someone flew long kites. The flags of the seven worlds hung everywhere as a homage to our history. But not all children had happy faces. Some babies clung to their mothers. Those, wrapped in dark robes, looked like stakes of a burnt forest. Lonely, hopeless, scorched from within. They hugged their child like the only spark of Sherida that kept them in this world.

I swallowed, realizing the pain of their loss, and sank into the seat. Dinah sighed heavily, frowning. A floral scent would normally be intoxicating, but not right now. There was the scent of lavender among them. Mom’s smell. There was a squeeze in my chest, an unpleasant feeling was painfully pulling and curling up into a stone ball, approaching my throat. I was lucky, my mother was alive and my father too. And some of these kids had no one left. Absolutely.

Three-story stone buildings were towering on either side of small streets. There were also small groceries, which were empty now. And here there was, the royal residence, just looking at it, I didn’t feel joy.

— Is this an elf? — Dinah poked her finger at one of the war magicians, distracted from heavy thoughts. He seemed to wag his ear.

— Yes. Elves — are hardy and courageous warriors. They don’t even need to attend the magic academy; they are perfectly trained in everything in their forests. But you will surely meet them among the magisters, as well as among the students — Peter replied.

— I wonder where will they assign me? — Dinara asked and blushed under Peter’s gaze.

— Are you a fire magician?

— Yes — my friend shyly lowered her eyes.

It was the first time when I saw this beast behaving like that. Where did the roughness go? No, well, of course, she embarrassed sometimes. But this time, she was very strange…

— So, to the Firemen’s faculty — answered the charioteer.

Dinah’s eyes flashed with delight. Inis perked up, and I looked out the window. We drove up to the palace. In close up it seemed incredibly tall and monolithic. Arched windows with floral ornaments, colored stained-glass windows under the main dome. Fountains on both sides of the steps, above which spheres of water were circling in a wondrous dance.

The carriage stopped. We went out and looked around. The palace was on a higher ground, and there were incredibly many steps. No end of steps. Dinah and I exchanged glances and started a steep ascent. The sun was striking down my head, my boots were causing a blister, rivers were flowing down my back, tickling my shoulder blades. Honestly, after the hundredth my feet were falling off. I looked back. Dinah stayed behind, trying to catch her breath. We didn’t get over even the halfway. I wanted to help her, but Peter got ahead, going down after Dinah, and… he picked her up. Just think, he was so thin in appearance, well, so weakling, but he turned out to be hardy and strong. Yeah… Appearances can be deceiving! I drew conclusions. Passing by, he had time to whisper:

— Keep up, Nicholas Lodesco.

I did my best. When the last steps were conquered, I allowed myself to sit down. What a beauty! From a height, the territory of the royal palace looked gorgeous. Among the green vegetation appeared the orange roofs of a military city. How interesting it is to learn and see something new. It was as if I was looking at a picture.

— Lodesco! — Peter called me.

— I’m coming.

Phoenix took off and made a couple of rounds. He didn’t fly far. A red ribbon of light was sliding behind him, as if it was putting on a painting, a mark of our appearance. Two magicians, standing at a high double door, opened it to us, looking with interest at the bird. Peter wasn’t an exception; he stopped for a moment, admiring the flight.

Sail vaults, arches, colonnades and an ample dome in the center. At its base, we could see the same multi-colored stained-glass windows that we had observed from the outside. The echo of our steps was heard, it seemed, in every corner of the palace. It was uncomfortable, I felt I was a stranger here. Dinah tugged at my sleeve to get my attention. The wall frescoes were depicting the seven elements, as well as the seven deities of the magical worlds. We turned our heads, looking at the surrounding beauty. And the statues! They were a hundred times higher than us! Only magic can create such a thing. The gods were glorious in these marble sculptures.

— We came. Don’t speak until you are asked, answer shortly and to the point, don’t argue and don’t talk back — Peter instructed.

Dinah lowered her head. She is a housemaid and knows how to behave in such cases. But, I don’t.

Guardians at the throne room door crossed their halberds.

— Peter Orro has delivered Nicolas Lodesco and Dinara Lezy. His Majesty Pontiar is waiting for us.

The guardians removed their weapons and parted. Golden armor gleamed, as the war magicians’ eyes did. Apparently, they were elves, judging by the long white braids on their backs. Arrah! Evidently, they really are in honor of the king, since they are serving at the throne room. So close to the ruler. I was eager to see Pontiar. The door flew open.

— Leave your things here! — one of the magicians ordered in a stern but pleasant voice.

No sooner said than done. We left our bags in the corner by the door and slipped inside.

A long hall — several rows of columns, a painted ceiling, a marble floor, in the reflection of which one could thoroughly see oneself. I straightened my tousled mane. Inis helped a little with his pointed beak.

— Thanks, my friend — I stroked the chest of the phoenix. He rumbled contentedly and raised feathers, as if he was preparing for the defense.

There was a throne at the very end of the hall. Headboard had the form of the sun, the rays of which went to the sides. But the place was empty. There was no one here at all.

— Where is the king? — I asked in a whisper.

— Did you think he would be here all day waiting for you? — Peter chuckled.

I couldn’t keep from smiling either. Well, yes, even the fool understands that he wouldn’t.

— Don’t worry, they’ll inform him now.

Dinah was silent, she was looking around with her huge green eyes.

There was a smell of books and, for some reason, sand, probably because there was a lot of stone: marble, columns, walls, a vault.

We stopped about fifty steps from the throne and we were waiting. I looked at the floor-to-ceiling windows. Behind them widened the blue sky and golden satellites that circled our world. It didn’t take long.

A door creaked to our left, and from behind the curtain came several funny short men with starched frills and short striped pantaloons. One of them was carrying a forged lantern in which a bright light was burning. The symbol of our goddess Sherida. The rest stood on both side of the throne. A man appeared at the door; his features were familiar to me. His brown hair, honey-mustard eyes and chin like mine. But between the eyebrows and at the mouth there were deep wrinkles. There was no joy on his face, only unquestioning obedience. A stern, hard look in my direction, and my heart almost broke my ribcage in panic.

— Father… — I whispered.

My palms were sweating and my mouth was dry. I was terribly nervous. I haven’t seen him for eleven years. I kept thinking what I would say when I meet him. Otherwise, I will remain silent, giving away everything that has accumulated over the years, just with one glance.

Phirin Lodesco was holding the curtain, behind which his Majesty Pontiar appeared. A man in a burgundy mantle with a high gilded collar. Three golden rings were also shining on the sleeves, symbolizing the Monarch of Pyramid. I thought he would be broad in the shoulders, tall, formidable, making you tremble at a glance. Like my father. But no. Pontiar is actually a man of average height and my father’s age. Straight fleshy bulbous nosed, long light beard. Sharp, scanning gaze and a high, streaked forehead.

I just froze, watching the king, father, retinue and the guardians who joined this procession. When Pontiar sat on the throne, he cleared his throat and motioned to my father to bring up Dinah and me. Peter bowed and stepped aside. My father strode towards us, stopped beside and addressed me in a soft bass.

— Nicholas, I’m glad to see you. You’ve grown up… — my father’s voice wavered slightly. He shifted his gaze to my shoulder and raised a dark, broad eyebrow. — It’s him?

I nodded. Inis also shook his tuft, proudly raising his beak.

Father ordered to follow him. Pontiar was looking at my phoenix, me and Dinah with interest.

— Nicholas Lodesco, Phirin’s son, did you create this bird?

— Yes, your Majesty, — I answered essentially and bowed.

— Did you, lady Dinara, breath the magic of life?

Dinah nodded, crouching in a light curtsy. She was nervous, but she was carefully concealing it.

— Can you repeat it? — the king addresses to both of us.

— Yes, but I don’t promise that it will work — said Dinah.

— Are you unsure of your magic? — the king’s gaze became more demanding and heavier.

Dinah crumpled the fabric of the dress with her slender fingers and bit her lip.

— Your Majesty, I am only a housemaid. My knowledge of magic is small, and such a revival happened for the first time, perhaps by accident.

By the end of the sentence, her voice was slightly hoarse, and perspiration appeared on her forehead.

— However… — I interceded.

Demons, I forgot — I am not asked, be quiet. However, the king nodded and I continued:

— We will try.

— Can I take a look at the phoenix? — the king held out his hand.

Inis looked at me, I nodded, and he immediately flew towards the king. A red ribbon was glittering behind him. He landed on the brocade sleeve where the golden rings were. Inis bowed his head, peering into the face of the king, who was looking at the bird in surprise.

— Why does he have eyes of a different color?

— I put the glass that fitted — I sighed.

Dinah caught my smile and winked.

— This is the first time I’ve encountered such magic. This bird is incredible. Is it really mechanical? — the king asked incredulously.

Yes. He doesn’t eat. But he sleeps… I think this is how he restores his strength… — I didn’t finish.

— Is it true that he awakens a magical gift that hasn’t been revealed yet?

How did he…? Mom. She had probably informed my father about this.

— It happened only once, and I can’t say for sure — I shrugged uncertainly.

Inis was already uncomfortable with Pontiar. He jumped. The king grabbed him imperiously by the paw. Inis made a crackling sound with his beak. I felt a sharp pain on my ankle, as if it was shackled with manacles. The guardians moved towards the king, but he winced, let go the bird and gave the order to the magicians to return to their place. What happened?

— And the phoenix bites, and, apparently… — the king winced again, squeezing out a smile, — he belongs to one owner.

Well… Phirin! — The king waved to my father, who immediately went to the door behind the curtain.

— I beg your pardon, your Majesty — I glanced at Inis. He muttered something and scratched my shoulder with his beak.

Pontiar raised his hand with a clearly visible burn.

— No, you shouldn’t! It’s my own fault. If you are injured by someone else’s weapon, can you blame its owner?

I exhaled gratefully the tension. And that’s true. I was glad the king hadn’t got angry. But apparently his arm hurt. I wonder what happened when he grabbed him?

The king’s retinue now was looking at me warily, ready at any moment to protect Pontiar. Dinah touched my pinky finger and pursed her lips. She understood that if it were not for the wisdom of the king, something irreparable could have happened. But who could have known? The curtain moved, grabbing our attention. The father returned with something in his hands.

— Mechanical pigeon? — I asked, lifting the wing spoke.

— It was made recently and has not yet been revived — said the father, placing the pigeon on Dinah’s hand.

She raised her eyes filled with excitement and awe.

— Don’t worry! — I encouraged my friend.

Dinah squatted down, laid the pigeon in front of her on the marble floor, and cast a spell. And nothing. Well, everything was usual as it was with other simple mechanisms. The pigeon fluttered, flapped its metal plate wings, flew around several columns and landed at the same place. No energy spheres, nothing special. So, it was not all about Dinah.

— Apparently, it’s not all about the lady… — Pontiar pronounced and looked at me intently.

— But the guy has no gift, right? — he clarified, referring to my father.

— No, your Majesty, however…

The king didn’t let him finish. He raised his hand and turned to Dinah:

— Lady, deactivate the bird. Can you?

She nodded.

— And you, Nicholas, disassemble and reassemble it with your own hands. Probably… — the king exchanged glances with father. — How long will it take for you? Do you need any tools? — he looked at me.

— A few minutes, your Majesty. And no, I have my own tools. But they… — before I could finish, I heard an echo of footsteps behind me.

The tall elf who stood at the door was carrying my bag. He held it out, winked and, in a whisper, wished me good luck, and went to his place.

In Dinah’s hand was a pigeon, whose head hung unnaturally.

One of the courtiers brought up a small wooden table that looked more like a stool. I took out my tools and laid them out. It wasn’t difficult to disassemble the bird. Inis was watching my actions carefully.

The parts that made up the bird were perfectly fitted, oiled and expertly carved. It was a kind of masterpiece. I carefully reassemble the pigeon and put it on the table on its paws. It looked at me with black beady eyes and seemed it was going to grumble.

— It’s done. Dinah, it’s your turn — I gave way to my friend.

She sighed and, plucked up all her courage and began. After casting the spell, several sparks of fire flashed around her. But nothing more. The pigeon hummed with the metallic squeak of gears, flew up, made the same couple of circles as the previous time, and landed on the table. Dinah dropped her shoulders in disappointment.

An unpleasant silence hung in the air. Peter smiled sympathetically at Dinah and me. The guardians didn’t even blink, they didn’t receive this order. Four short men with starched frills stared at the king who had come down to us.

— I was hoping you were one of them … — He clenched his teeth and snapped at the stupid bird’s brass head with displeasure. The pigeon didn’t react. It was looking through me into the space with an empty gaze.

— Of them? — I asked in bewilderment.

— There is a legend… — the father began, but the king didn’t let him finish.

— Nonsense! I shouldn’t have believed. This bird is an absurd accident, nothing more. And you know very well that even the Mechanics had magic! — the king remarked with displeasure and fell into thought. Apparently, he lost hope for a miracle.

Mechanics? Who are they talking about? Dinah cocked up her ears, too.

— But there was a chance — the father spoke in confusion.

— Phirin. I know that put high hopes on your son, but he is not a magician, much less a Mechanic! On planet Pyramid they all died out, like dragons… — he sat on the throne and said it with a sneer. — I promised that I would send him to study at the Academy of Magic, the faculty of Mentalistics. And I will keep my word. I think the boy will become an excellent diplomat. And lady Dinara… — he took thought — is a talented girl. Magic of fire, if I’m not mistaken?

— Yes, your Majesty — she sat down in a curtsy.

— The battle took away many of the warriors. The number of war magicians became smaller. Ruby doesn’t know about this, because we’ve fought them back. Demons — the king growled. — Therefore, lady, I invite you to study at our Academy of Magic with Nicholas. And then to the service.

Dinah was confused and timidly asked:

— But does the housemaid have a place among the elite magicians? — there was sadness in her voice.

The father answered for Pontiar:

— It doesn’t matter if you are a baker, a housemaid, or a daughter of a noble family, above all you are a magician.

— Yes, yes! The king hastily confirmed.

— I am immensely grateful, your Majesty! Sherida bless you! I will pray to her for your good health!

The king smiled contentedly and turned to me.

— Nicholas. Don’t be upset that you are not a magician. Study well, and I will take you to serve in the palace!

— Thanks for the honor. I will not fail!

Pontiar gave several orders.

— Peter, take the kids to the academy and ask dean Christian Dassay to assign them in the right faculties — he glanced in my direction. — And tell him… or, never mind, I’ll visit him myself.

Pontiar took my father aside. They exchanged a couple of phrases, the king once again looked at us with a studying look and disappeared behind the curtain. The retinue disappeared in a single file in the same direction.

— Nicholas. I need to resolve some issues now. I’ll see you later. I think we have something to talk about — the father smiled.

He looked tired and seemed disappointed. Again. But, nevertheless, he smiled…

I nodded. I didn’t want to talk. It seems that I need to rejoice, after all, I am now a student of the Magic Academy, and Dinah is with me, side by side. But… I had no illusions about my abilities, I had no idea about any mechanics. Are they special? I thought that everyone who fixes and crafts mechanisms — is mechanic. Probably, there is still a difference, and I have to learn more about this. Inis rubbed against my ear. Father bowed to Peter, then briskly left the throne room.

While Dinah was arranging an interrogation for the charioteer, I collected the tools from a simple table that stood alone in the middle of the luxury of the palace. Tools are in the bag. I ran my hand over the wooden surface and whispered: «Well, buddy, do you feel like an outcast? Well, I feel dazzle due to all this glitter in my eyes, and my stomach сoils into the knot. But look, you were useful to me. Thank you. Everyone has a duty. And yours is worth! Well, good bye.»

— Did you say goodbye to the table? — Dinah grinned.

— Aha! He’s an outcast here. As I am among you — I uttered an ironic answer.

Peter was politely silent about our dialogue.

— Are you ready to head to the Academy?

— Sure! — we answered in unison.

After leaving the throne room, Dinah picked up her huge bag. I looked back at the elf, who had wished me good luck.

— Thank you! You know, sometimes luck can manifest itself when you even don’t expect anything good, and in the most unusual way. Sherida bless you! And you! — I smiled at the nearby magician. His eyes flashed, as did the halberd in his hands.

— Same to you, Lodesco — he chuckled.

Well, yes, his politeness is not surprising. I am the son of Phirin, their Commander-In-Chief. I chuckled at my own thoughts. Father’s glory? No. I can handle without it! Soon you will hear about Nicolas Lodesco.

Chapter 4

We were approaching the walls of the academy in the air sphere.

— There is a powerful protection over the entire territory. Since, this is one of the places where war magicians are trained. They won’t let us inside by the air. The charioteer spheres disrupt the structure of the shield from within, making it weaker. — Peter lowered the air transport at the forged gates.

This time we didn’t feel sick and we were standing almost firmly on our foot. Dinah embarrassedly looked at Peter.

«Did she fall in love? She is blushing… Humm».

Inis pecked my shoulder. And then it dawned on me. Dinah was all crimson, even her ears. And Peter pursed his lips, shaking his head. I covered my eyes with hand. It’s a shame. Stupid, stupid habit of speaking out loud my thoughts.

— Dinah, please, forgive me… I am… — I was truly sorry. I didn’t even know how to justify myself. — I’m sorry. I admit. I am fool.

— Fool, — she screamed huffily. — And no, I didn’t fall in love… — she said, and she blushed even more, glancing furtively at Peter.

The magician embarrassedly straightened the dark strand of hair and, holding Dinah’s bag, turned to the gate. Faint sparks of small lightning were visible in the air like a veil.

— Peter Orro and two new arrivals, to dean Dassay! — he said loudly.

The gate swung open and we entered. I trudged a little behind. Inis looked around in silence, as did Dinah. She opened her eyes, which were already round, like two saucers, wider. The academy was pretty far away. The gate locked behind us and Peter stopped.

— Are we waiting for someone? Are there carriages here too? — I asked and stopped, contemplating a light cloud of dust that arose in front of us.

I rubbed my eyes. Dinah coughed slightly. Only our attendant didn’t budge.

A female figure emerged from the dust.

— Pete! You have completely abandoned your trainings. Does the ruler want you to remain an ignoramus? — the voice of a dark-skinned girl about Peter’s age rang out. She threw herself at him. — I had a presentiment of your appearance.

— Aha — the charioteer squinted slyly. — Or rather, you’ve interrogated the dean…

The interlocutress waved him off and snorted.

The girl’s hair was strange: curly, most of it was braided in pigtails in several partings.

Snub nose, sensual lips, chocolate color of skin, this is the first time I’ve seen such a thing. There were holes in her earlobes. I’m not sure, but it looked like golden washers or rings glittered in them. I couldn’t find out.

And her clothes! A brown, almost black scarf on the forearm, with iridescent splashes of gems. A form-fitting shirt in a strange fabric with a stitched diamond pattern. Long sleeve with thumb slits and high collar that covers the neck. The girl also wore black men’s trousers, by the way, also form-fitting. Holy cow! I looked up at Peter embarrassedly.

— This is Eris. She is a magician of earth — Peter introduced us.

The girl lifted her chin proudly.

— Well, and your outfit. Pete, you urgently need to change! And what kind of country bag do you have? Did your grandmother give this gift? — she clicked her tongue.

— Eris, you know perfectly well, I don’t have a grandmother… — Peter dropped her hand. — It is normal travel bag. It belongs to this fiery girl, whose name is Dinara.

The magician grimaced.

— A magician of fire?

— Yes! — Dinah replied boldly.

The girls clearly disliked each other’s company. But I was wondering why.

— Demon, then… — Eris stated.

— What? — Dinah was indignant.

I wanted to object by standing up for her, but…

— Hush, Dinara. This nickname is inoffensive. At the academy, all the Fiery ones are called so, — Peter hastened to calm down her. Dinah frowned and folded her arms across her chest. Eris glanced at my friend.

— Okay. And who is this cutie? — she poked in my direction.

Well, she obviously wasn’t talking about me. I was definitely not cutie. Especially now, after two flights in the monstrous air sphere, disheveled, tired and dusty.

«I think it’s about Inis. He’s definitely a cutie»

— Inis? Ah, a bird… — the girl said and laughed. — You’re funny. Not. I am indifferent to birds, but you are handsome! She patted my cheek and winked.

Demons, I said some of my thoughts out loud again… Loose lips sink ships! I mentally howled and blushed. Peter smiled and Dinah chuckled. Inis made a quacking sound and leaned against my shoulder.

— And what is your name, cutie! — Eris was ingratiating, walking around me in circles.

— I’m not a cutie. My name is Nicholas, — I grunted, setting my bag on the shoulder.

— And, what’s about your family? — she purred.

— He is Lodesco — said Peter. — Listen, Eris, maybe you can take us to the academy. And as you know, movement by air on the territory is prohibited, and walking is pretty far away. And we are tired. Enormously tired.

— Hey you, wait! Lodesco you say? But isn’t…

— Yes. Phirin Lodesco — is my father. Lady Eris, will you help us? — I asked politely.

— Lady? Oh, thanks, honey! Of course, I’ll help. But you need to join your hands, or else you will fall — the girl waited while we hastily joined hands, grabbed my palm and cast a spell.

Dust rose all around. But it didn’t trouble us. I felt a little dizzy and the dust cleared away. By the way, it didn’t interfere with breathing at all and didn’t settle on clothes, as if it was just an illusion. We found ourselves in the middle of a round courtyard by a three-tiered fountain with sculptures of fishes. Water was pouring from their mouths, and in the fountain itself the red backs of carps were flashing. Boys and girls were walking by. Someone was reading books on a bench by the fountain, someone was sitting on the grass, some people gathered in noisy flocks and were zealously discussing the most pressing issues. They looked at us with indifference and without an ounce of curiosity. Well, students, so what? I noticed that almost everyone was wearing bandages or scarves around their necks. The colors were different. Some students waved to us.

— Marsha! — Eris called out to the blonde with a silver scarf around her neck.

She looked back. Blue eyes and elongated ears. Elf?

— Well, bye! See you later! — our new friend said. She took her friend’s arm and blew me a kiss.

I coughed and scratched the back of my head in embarrassment.

Eris disappeared from our sight, and Dinah was clearly glad and sighed with relief.

A guy with a blue scarf around his neck was standing with his back to us and casting aloud a spell by the water. A balloon like a soap bubble soared in front of him and burst right next to his face.

— Demons… — he swore.

— Sheg. I see you’ve already left the hospital? — Peter turned to the magician.

— Oh, Pete, yes, the other day. I’m recovering now. Are you back for a long time? — the guy asked, drying himself off with the hem of his shirt. Dark bangs covered half of his face. A sad look, house-shaped eyebrows, a small mouth. Although, in combination with delicate features, it looked harmonious. But, as for me, he looked more like a girl, and not like a war magician of Water. Although who am I to judge. My mother is also delicate and fragile, but among the Royal Guard she is one of the strongest.

— Until Pontiar calls. Okay. We need to see dean Dassay. See you later — Peter waved and led us to the academy building.

— And what kind of colored bands do the students wear? — I inquired.

— It is for teachers to distinguish faculties. The elders will you give them to you. You need to wear them only on the territory of the academy.

But magidemists sometimes forget about it.

— Magic… who? — I asked.

Magidemists or magids — are magicians of the academy, — explained Peter.

I nodded as a sign that I got it.

— Is brown the color of earth magicians? — clarified Dinah.

— Yes. Faculty of Terra. Yours will be a Firemen’s, the color is red. I have a blue, faculty of air — Kaelli. Those guys over there, — Peter pointed to the students with silver bands. — are Healers. Dark blue — are water magicians, faculty of Liquidus. And the golden — are Lightgivers, under the auspices of our goddess Sherida. There are few of them among the students, as, indeed, on planet Pyramid as a whole, you know. That’s why the Lightgivers were even given a separate building in the garden, near the canteen. Over there.

Peter gestured toward the ball-shaped trees.

— Everything is extremely clear and informative — smiled Dinah.

We entered the hall. There was a statue of Sherida in the center. She was truly beautiful with flowers in her hair. The sculptor did his best. Her penetrating gaze looked into the very soul and gave hope, faith in yourself. Peter called me, and I hurried to follow him. The ceilings were decorated with stucco moldings of grape-vines. And in the spherical ceiling there was a map of the universe. Seven worlds-planets that circle one by one in an endless universe around an unnamed star-sun, the mother of all seven deities. Opening my mouth, I climbed the steps. We walked along the art gallery of all known rulers of the history of Pyramid. There were also heroes of battles. I saw my father among them. He stood proudly to the right of the ruler’s throne. The throne was partially depicted. I read the inscription on the metal plate: «Phirin Lodesco. Guardian, war magician, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Guard. Let Sherida protect you and all your family!»

Wow. It will be hard for me to get away from my father’s glory. But I will try very hard. Although. I think when the students find out that I am not a magician, the glory of Phirin Lodesco will be washed away from me like rainwater…

We kept walking. On the sides there were several high doors to the halls and classrooms. And at the very end of the corridor there was a double-leaf gilded door. Against the background of dark blue walls, the door seemed to lead to different reality.

Peter knocked.

— Come in, — a man’s confident voice sounded from the study as if this door didn’t exist at all. To our surprise, the door opened itself.

The study smelled of tobacco and mint. It was a nice combination, at least I liked it. There was an antique furniture, apparently, very expensive. One wardrobe to our right, with intricate carvings of ebony was something! And it was filled with ordinary books. I swear some of them were more than one hundred years old. And what about the carpet! I read that these are made by the masters of the world Vitem, where the magic of healers comes from. This is a masterpiece of hand-made creativity! The table, of course, is massive, made of the same ebony as the rest of the furniture, but it is ordinary, rectangular, only the legs are made in the form of the paws of a feline mirses. These animals can be found in the northern forests of the Pyramid. Oh, and they are very dangerous beasts. If you meet one, it won’t leave you alive.

There was also a pair of armchairs with emerald velour upholstery and curtains on the window of the same color. Several vases with fresh flowers. Lilies. Mom loves them very much. And the portrait of the dean with the king over the fireplace. The fire was kindled only in the cold season, judging by the empty hearth. While Dinah and I were looking around, open-mouthed, Peter stepped onto the carpet.

— Greetings, Christian. At the behest of the ruler Pontiar, I brought new magidemists. Let me introduce them. These are Dinara Lezy and Nicolas Lodesco.

The dean was studying something in the yellowed manuscripts, so we couldn’t see his face.

— Yes, yes. Phirin’s son, — he raised his head. — You may not have a magical gift, but the mental energy in you is very powerful.

The man looked a little older than my father. Wide cheekbones, high forehead. Penetrating eyes, meticulously studying me, a long, slightly curved nose, like a kite, and the ears are enormously huge!

— Hey-hey, young man. Please, don’t comment my ears! — the dean grinned and folded his hands behind his back.

«It seemed I didn’t say it out loud. How did he…?» — I felt uncomfortable and ashamed.

— Your mental protection is weak. But, don’t worry. I will teach you to put up a mental shield. And you will stop thinking out loud as a bonus. Yeah, extremely wide mental field, extremely… — the dean grunted, thinking.

The clothes emphasized his status. Black shirt, burgundy vest with drawings of the sun about seven colored rays. Probably, it is a coat of arms of the academy.

— What kind of bird is on your shoulder? — the dean asked thoughtfully, bowing his head.

I shivered; I didn’t want the dean to read my thoughts. Inis, who all this time had been sitting quieter than a mouse, stirred and pinched my ear.

— Hum. Young man, you are a quick learner. Great shield! Not every magician magister the mental barrier so quickly, much less an ordinary person. I’m delighted, — the man praised.

Strange, but I didn’t do anything. Probably, Inis did. I looked at the phoenix, he tilted his head to one side. No? Does it mean no? But how then? Okay. We will figure it out.

— This is a phoenix, sir… — I decided to answer his question.

— You can call me Christian, young man. Phoenix? But this is a fabulous bird, they do not exist anymore, just like…

— Dragons? — I suggested.

— Well, I’m not sure about the fire-breathing. But the phoenixes… Where did you get this miraculous bird with multi-colored eyes?

He’ even noticed! I set my bag with tool.

— I had made him out of metal, stones and feathers, and Dinah revived him. But something went wrong, and he completely revived. He transformed into a real bird.

— Very interesting. Have you tried to repeat it?

— Yes, — I sighed. — In the palace of king Pontiar. But in vain. The pigeon remained mechanical.

— So, you, Dinara, are a young magician of fire? Little demon — the dean smiled.

Dinah grimaced, but she didn’t correct it. Peter said that within the walls of the academy this nickname was inoffensive. She apparently believed him.

— Yes. I was a housemaid at the Lodesco’s house and studied on my own from the books in their library. Nicholas crafted the necessary mechanisms, and I brought them to life. Now I have come to your academy and I can study and become a war magician. I’ll try very hard, Mr. Christian, — Dinah blurted out.

— I believe you! Peter, send Dinara to the curator of Firemen. — Rita Lumiere. Let her allocate the girl. Preferably with someone of her age. And Lodesco… to which faculty did the king recommend him?

— Mentalistics. He wants Nicholas to become a diplomat at his Majesty’s court in the future.

— Ah. Yes, of course. Perfect! So, we will do that. Show Nicholas to curator Dominic Karre. I think he will give us something good. He’s talented. And the magic gift… — the dean waved his hand, — the world does not revolve around it. Am I right, boy?

I nodded in confusion.

— You will reach your full potential! I feel it! You are very… how to say? — Ah, ambitious and you will achieve a lot! See you in class! — the dean said goodbye and sat down on a high chair, burying himself in the tablets.

The door shut behind us.

— See you in class? — I asked Peter.

— Yes. The dean is a professor, he teaches subjects of astral movement and mental protection. He is one of the most powerful mentalist-magicians. But the king doesn’t resort to his help too often.

— Why? — I showed interest. And Dinah was listening very attentively.

— In one of the battles, enemies with equally strong abilities damaged his defense. He even lost his memory. The healers managed to recover almost everything. But they’ve warned: if another hack occurs, Christian’s memory will not return. That’s all.

— I see! Can I ask you one more question?

— Yes, ask.

We followed Peter over the hallway. Turning to the right and left, not remembering the way. We will have time for it.

— Since he is such a powerful mentalist-magician, he must have joked about my shield?

— Christian jokes about a lot of things, but hardly about that. I am not friends with the mentalists, I have other spheres of magic. However, I’ll be honest with you. It’s impossible to get his praise. And I don’t think that he was joking.

— But, Peter, I’m not a magician. I don’t know what I have done and how. I’ve just thought: «I don’t want him to read my thoughts». And that’s all. Really. Maybe he has praised me because of my father?

Peter stopped with a serious look

— He doesn’t care who your father is, even though is Pontiar himself. He respects the personality, not the title of the parents. If he has said that you will achieve a lot, don’t doubt that! You will achieve! — the magician slapped me good-naturedly on the shoulder.

— I have no doubts! Niko, you are more talented than any magician at this academy, — Dinah glanced quickly at Peter. — I’m sorry, no offense. Nicholas has more than just golden hands; he can fix anything.

— Well, not everything, you’re exaggerating, Dinah! — I interrupted in embarrassment.

— Everything! You are also very smart, — Dinah continued to praise me in front of Peter. — He knows the languages of the seven worlds and he is well versed in history! — she finished admiringly.

— Really? — Peter didn’t hide his surprise.

— I just have a good memory.

— I would like to have a part of your memory — chuckled Peter. — Will you share?

With a smile, he pushed the door with his foot, since in one hand he had a bag, and in the other — Dinah’s palm. And when did he manage to take her hand?

— We came. The building is divided into buildings by faculties. This is the wing of the Firemen.

— Elder! Where is the elder? — Peter put Dinah’s bag down and walked over to three boys a little older than me.

So, it’s cozy. A large room with high ceiling, all walls are lined with shelves of books. In the middle there is a wide sofa with dints from the very places on which they sit. And the same three armchairs. But it was obviously comfortable to sit in them, an example of which was the guy who ran onto one of the above-mentioned interior items. Dinah smiled. She seems to like this place. Dimmed shades of orange and yellow created a warm atmosphere. There were two doors to the right and left of us. Probably in the female and male halves, judging by the faces painted on these doors: one with long eyelashes and a fiery mane, the other — with a smile all over her face and thick black eyebrows. On the opposite wall from us there were a pair of windows with external wrought iron railings. Several pillows lay on wide wooden window-sills, on which there were magicians with a pile of books. They were deep into reading, not noticing anyone or anything. Even the guy who rushed under their noses. He yelled so loud that the deaf man would have turned around. But not these two girls. What a moderation!

— Aaah! H-help! W-water! — the magician really needed help.

His dark red shock was smoking. The smell of burnt hair hit the noses. Dinah widened her eyes, looked around and, without thinking twice, grabbed the nearest vase of flowers. And when the magician was running by in search of salvation, she splashed water on him.

Peter and the boys he spoke to froze, scanning the mute scene.

The red-haired guy with flowers on his head and shoulders, with wet hair, but now safe, gave Dinah a puppy look.

— Th-tha… — he began.

— Thanks? — helped Dinah.

The guy shook his head. There was a dark spot of burnt hair on the crown of his head.

— S-saver! — squeezed out the magician.

Dinah put down the empty vase, and I helped to clean up the fallen flowers from the guy. Inis jumped on my shoulder. The soaked magician froze, peering at my phoenix.

— Wow, he h-has eyes of different c-color — the guy perked up.

— Patrick! — Peter called. — And I’m looking for you. Are you learning new spells again? I see, as usual.

— It’s okay, they will fix everything in the h-hospital — the red-haired guy smiled at us and held out his hand. — I’m the elder of the Firemen this year. My n-name is Patrick.

— Just Patrick? — clarified Dinah.

— Aha! No one here call you for your family name, except the magisters. What’s your name?

— I’m Dinara, Dinah for friends,

— I’m Nicholas.

— Nice to meet you. D-do not pay attention to my speech. I stutter sometimes. Since I was a kid. Healers say congenital defect cannot be healed.

— And I’m not a magician. This also cannot be healed — I chuckled, but now it sounded not offensively, but even funnily.

— At all? — Patrick was taken aback.

— At all? — I laughed.

Dinah nodded in confirmation.

— He will study at the faculty of Mentalistics. Patrick, I hand Dinara to you. Introduce her to curator Rita.

The elder winked and took Dinah’s weighty bag. The friend looked sadly at Peter, then at me, squared her shoulders and asked:

— See you later?

— Yes. You settle in and I’ll take Nicholas to the Mentalists’ wing.

We went out and headed towards the hall. Peter was laconic, reserved, looked very mature and intelligent. He was about seventeen or eighteen, but I could be wrong.

— Peter, how old are you?

The magician pursed his lips.

— And for what purpose are you interested? — he narrowed his eyes.

— Well, you look so serious and focused.

— I’m eighteen.

— Like Dinah — I said thoughtfully.

— I have been studying at the academy for only three years. But sometimes I have to go to the palace.

— I didn’t know that Pontiar called students into service — I had to be honest.

— Well, I’m kind of special, even though I don’t like the term, — he saw the question on my face, exhaled and continued: — I am the fastest among the magicians of air. Formerly, I did it reflexively, but after a year of training, I began to control my speed. Even the court charioteers give me a dirty look. And Pontiar, as luck would have it, emphasizes my abilities.

— So, you need to rejoice! — I remarked incomprehensibly.

There were a lot of people in the lobby, judging by the bags, they were newcomers, Peter fell silent. We walked into a hallway that led along large arched windows. Behind them there was a garden, flower beds, among which the magids were scurrying. When no one else bothered our conversation, Peter gave me a tired look.

— How do you feel without magic, being among magicians?

— Outcast…

— So do I. Many people admire the possibility of my gift, but many are jealous. Not only because the king pays so much attention to me personally, giving instructions and laying high hopes on me. There are magicians who in every possible way want to get into the trust of the king and try to explode reputation in his eyes. Once on New Year’s Eve, Pontiar gave me a serious assignment as a charioteer. I had to deliver to the palace an air magician, a former charioteer, an old man of venerable age. He was admiring my speed the whole way and said that the king was lucky to have such a magician close at hand. And when we arrived, he accused me of espionage. As if I was sent by the magicians of planet Ruby. The king was forced to test me mentally and he called Christian. The dean questioned both of us and ha was amazed at how destructive envy can be. I serve Pontiar trustworthily. After this incident, the king trusts me and does not question my loyalty. But I feel like an outcast.

We both were silent. This is how it goes. Among half-empty cups, the brimful cups or completely empty are considered rather an exception, renegades. I’m not a magician, Dinara — is a former housemaid, Peter — has a gift prevailing among such magicians, Inis — is a revived mechanism, nonexistent up to the present, legendary phoenix bird. We’re all outcasts, but are we?

Chapter 5

We stopped in front of the purple door of the Mentalists’ wing, which swung open in front of Peter. He even jumped back, for which his nose was grateful. In the hospital, of course, healers will help you, but the pain from a blow or any other wound nobody’s canceled.

— Magister Dominic! — my companion exclaimed.

— Peter? Have you already come back? Rita asked about you. Will you be in class tomorrow? — the young man asked calmly. He looks very young. Well, about ten years older than me and already a magister? Thick eyebrows, curious blue eyes, light brown neatly styled hair. He stretched out a wide smile and looked at my Inis.

— Phoenix?

I shrank inside. He is a mentalist and for sure he can read my thoughts or, at least, my emotions.

— Wow, don’t have to tense so hard, young man! Do you really have something to hide? You have a decent shield! — he narrowed his eyes, smiling.

— No — I answered hesitantly. And it was truth, there is nothing to hide. Almost. — It is a mechanical phoenix. To be more precise, Inis was it. But now he is very much alive. It has just happened by accident — I briefly described the story of one sitting on my shoulder.

Inis flew over my head, leaving a red trail, stretched his wings and landed on my other shoulder.

— So, the phoenix — the legendary bird. And who created it? I don’t feel magic in you. Although your mental field is hoo-oo! — the curator gestured us to enter.

— And there is no magic. I am, how shall I say, I am… not a magician — shrugging my shoulders, tired, I fell into the nearest armchair.

«And why do they all tell me about this field? Is it really that big?»

It was too dark in the Mentalists’ wing. Lacquered wood on the walls, heavy beams on the ceiling. Even the parquet board, laid in a herringbone, gave off the color of dark chocolate and kept the general gloom. The upholstery of furniture diluted this feast of severity. Purple brocade gleamed in the rare sunset rays. There really weren’t many of them in the room because of the curtained windows. Nevertheless, the rays found cracks in the fabric and were reflected in the wall mirrors. This made the atmosphere seem marginally mystical.

My feet were throbbing. Probably, they haven’t recovered from the steps of Pontiar’s palace. How many events are there in one day? My eyes were closing due to fatigue, thoughts were confused. Strange, but in the foyer room, except for us, there was no one.

— Are you saying, not a magician? But it’s impossible! Everyone has a gift! — assured the young curator.

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