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Chapter 14 - Neera

Neera sat in front of one of the windows of the Magister’s hall with a book open in front of her: the journal of a previous Magister, Rami’s predecessor, a woman named Iokaste. It was incredibly boring.

Neera knew Iokaste. She was still alive and kicking, though Neera was too young to ever remember her being the Magister. Rami was already half way through his apprenticeship by the time Neera was born. Neera only knew her as the kind, old woman who seemed to be on a friendly basis with the entire barren. Now she understood why.

Neera had stopped reading entirely, unable to continue for fear of being bored to death. It was such a shame to have Iokaste’s beautiful handwriting wasted on such mundane nothingness. Instead of reading, she stared out of the windows and rested her head in the palms of her hands, tilting side to side as she watched the trees ripple through the imperfect glass. The largest of the trees across the courtyard was adorned with large patches of bright green moss in the crook where the trunk split into massive branches. Dotting along the bark of a smaller tree just outside the window were small clumps of darker moss that resembled fuzzy, little caterpillars.

An actual caterpillar was wriggling its way along the bottom of the window frame. She wondered how the little creature found its way inside, seeing as the windows didn’t open. It crawled along the dark wood in quick, sporadic movements, changing directions and stretching up against the glass, confused as to why it couldn’t find its way out. Neera imagined picking up a paperweight or something similarly heavy and smashing the window open to let her fuzzy friend escape. She would never do it, of course, but the thought was oddly liberating.

Much like a rock through glass, she was broken from her daydreaming stupor as Koren appeared from around the corner of the building. He waved, smiled. She smiled back and offered a discreet wave in return. Koren motioned his head towards the front of the building, a wordless question. She answered with another discreet gesture as she raised her finger and mouthed the words “one second.” She turned to Rami, his head buried in an ancient-looking tome, another journal of some long-dead Magister.

“Umm, Rami? Is it time for me to leave?”

“Huh? Oh, yes, of course,” he muttered, waving a dismissive hand, practically shooing her away.

It had barely been more than a tenday since Neera had started apprenticing with Rami, but he hadn’t been a very attentive mentor. At first, he helped familiarize Neera with what she experienced at the ceremony, using the idol to focus her energy, understanding what he referred to as “the current.” But even before his attention started to wane, his heart clearly wasn’t in it. Ever since Magister’s Day, his attitude had drastically changed. He was no longer the happy-go-lucky man about town, at least around her. Or her mother. Especially around her mother.

Rami had landed himself a pretty sweet gig and he knew it. Normally, becoming the barren Magister offers some fairly strong job security. New Magisters typically aren’t chosen for several decades. Rami, however, was young. After Neera’s apprenticeship—which, granted, would be for the next six years—he wouldn’t be able to simply retire. His cushy position was being stolen out from under him. And Neera’s mother was well aware of his fears in the matter.

Koren was patiently waiting as Neera stepped outside, a smile on both of their faces.



She ran and threw her arms around him, squeezing tight. The two had officially become boyfriend and girlfriend shortly after Magister’s Day, not at all to the surprise of those that knew them.

Koren had just come from his apprenticeship at the theater, the obvious choice. As it turned out, there was a choice in the matter after all. During the Magister’s Day ceremony, the children all went up on stage one at a time, endured some schmoozing with Rami, and were then offered three choices. From what she heard, every option sounded pretty good. They were told to go with their guts, what felt right, make a snap decision. Not thinking things through, but trusting their hearts.

That was, of course, if you had the chance to choose like everybody else. Neera never did. And now her worst fear had come true: she was apprenticing to work with her own mother. For the time being, she was only being mentored by Rami, but once she officially took his place as Magister, she’d be working right alongside the barren Secretary: Mom.

In that moment, though, none of her worries even crossed her mind. All she knew was the hand that held her own as she walked home along the dusty road.

All any parent wants for their children is success and happiness, but sometimes pride has other plans. On one hand, parents whose lives hadn’t turned out the way they wanted sometimes live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, constantly pushing them to do more, achieve more, to make up for their own shortcomings. On the other hand, like in Neera’s case, parents want greatness for their children so badly they push and push and push, more than even the vicarious-parents, forgoing nurturing to ensure that greatness.

Like Rami, Neera’s mother had also changed since Magister’s Day. It was the perfect recipe: an apathetic Magister, the Secretary who loathed him, and the new Magister’s apprentice who just so happened to be the Secretary’s daughter. The loving care Neera’s mother had always shown her had morphed into an overbearing strictness. Neera wondered if things would have been easier had Rami been a better, more enthusiastic mentor. Or was it just an excuse her mother was using to be more “hands on” in her apprenticeship?

Ever since her apprenticeship assignment, Neera hadn’t been afforded an iota of time to herself. When she wasn’t in school or being “mentored” by Rami, she was at home being drilled by her mother. Quite a noticeable difference from when she would be chastised for not going outside and socializing with other kids more often.

Dasheira stood alone in the kitchen, casually chopping vegetables while she rattled off question after question, testing her daughter. “So we can determine if a rule is morally just when...” she said, waiting for Neera to finish the thought.

Neera didn’t answer. She was up in her spot, furiously drawing, her hands so blackened with charcoal it looked like she was wearing gloves. She was drawing herself as the Queen-Champion of the Drae, her shield of books and charcoal sword, defeating two people who very closely resembled Rami and her mother.

“Neera?” her mother asked again, her tone demanding. No longer did she indulge her only child in her silly little games.

“When it can be applied to everyone.”

“And that’s because?”

“Because The Golden Rule.”

“Assume I have no idea what that means. Give me details.”

Neera inhaled deep, pressed her charcoal hard to the page, darkening her lines even blacker, and let out a long sigh, hoping her mother could hear. It was tedious having to explain something so obvious. It felt like taking a math test while the words “SHOW YOUR WORK” were written across the chalkboard in big, bold letters as a looming reminder.

“Because while something may be considered good to one person,” she parroted back to her mother, irritated. “It might not be to another. The truly moral are those that are good for everyone.”

“Very good.”

The Golden Rule,” she said again, even more irritated.

“Neera, do you understand why we’re discussing things through an academic point of view?” She paused, waiting for a response, then continued when it never came. “Not everything will be so simple, so black and white. If you’re to delegate rules and punishments, you need to truly understand your position and its implications. Because when things get more complicated, you’ll need a more solid foundation than The Golden Rule to build upon. So let’s try something a little more complicated now.”

All Neera wanted was to be back by Koren’s side, hand in hand, walking with no destination in sight. Her grandfather used to love to complain about the long treks he would take as a child to get anywhere at all, at least according to his stories. He trudged through overgrowth, mountainous rocky paths, rain and sleet and snow, somehow always uphill regardless of the direction. What Neera wouldn’t give for a longer path home.

“Imagine there’s a rockslide hurtling down a cliff towards a group of people. Five of them. They’re furiously debating, not paying any attention to the oncoming danger. You’re sitting in a cart. If you steer the cart into the road, it will stop the rockslide, but it will kill you instead. Do you do it?”

“Jeez, mom. Kinda dark don’t you think?”

“It’s hypothetical. Indulge me.”

“Uhh, I guess I would? At least I’d like to think I’d be brave enough to. One life versus five.”

“Okay. What if instead of you sitting in the cart, someone else is and you’re only standing next to it? Do you push the cart into the rockslide?”

“I don’t know.”

“What if the man in the cart was really old and the five people were newborn babies?”

“Why are babies debating in the streets?”

“Answer the question,” her mother snapped back.

“I don’t know!”

“What changed? Is one life still worth saving the lives of five others?”

“I guess so.”

“So you would murder him?”


“What if the five people were all prisoners, criminals?”

“I don’t know!”

Though she would never want her mother to know, Neera began to cry. She held in her sobs the best she could, but tears still trickled down her face. She almost wiped them away with the back of her hand until she remembered they were covered in charcoal. She bent her head down to wipe her face with the sleeves of her shirt instead.

“Ethics and morality are the cornerstone of a just community, the foundation upon which everyone lives their lives and treats each other. And none of it is easy. Your decisions as Magister will impact people’s lives. And very rarely will that result in everyone being happy with your decisions.”

The knock at the door felt like a gift from the gods, a much needed reprieve from the politics and philosophy of being a Magister. “You’re going to have to make some hard choices,” her mother continued as she made her way to answer it. “The least I can do is help you prepare.” She opened the door without a word.

“Hello, Dasheira. May I come in?”

Neera’s hope was shattered. It was Rami. Of course it would be him. The gods were mocking her. Neera’s mother didn’t respond, but Neera could hear the cl-clunk-tick rhythm of Rami’s boots and cane as he walked inside before the door slammed shut behind him.

“My apologies for disturbing you at this hour, but I came across something you should see. And you especially, Neera.” Neera peered her head over the edge of the attic rafters. Rami held an old, weathered book close to his chest, a finger slipped between the pages.

He was acting strangely. Until tonight, he’d been progressively less and less attentive. To suddenly find this mindful, sympathetic version of the man was worrying to say the least. It meant he wanted something. “May I?” he asked Neera’s mother. With an indifferent wave of her hand, she gave her approval. He took a seat at the table, propping his cane against the wall and laying the book down on the table, flipping it open to the page he was saving. He motioned for Neera to join him. “Please.”

Neera climbed down, hands still covered in black, and took a seat next to him. Polite, patient, pessimistic.

“I’ve been doing some reading lately,” he began. “Well, a lot, actually. Mostly old journals from previous Magisters.” He turned to face Neera’s mother. “Neera was actually reading Iokaste’s journal earlier today.”

Neera realized the book Rami had out in front of him was another Magister’s journal, likely the same one he buried himself in earlier in the day.

“Good woman,” Neera’s mother said. “Good Magister. No frills, down to business. I liked her. Speaking of down to business, get on with it, Rami.”

“Right, yes, of course. Quite some time ago, before the Magister’s Day celebration was even a thing, two children—siblings, a boy and a girl, possibly twins, it was unclear—both showed signs of magic ability, but the boy was clearly more capable than his sister. You’d think the boy would go on to become the next Magister, but no. The girl did.”

Neera’s mother shifted her weight from one foot to the other, uncomfortable with where the conversation seemed to be headed, but she didn’t say a word. Not yet.

“You see, becoming Magister wasn’t always an honor. In this case, it was more like a runner-up prize. The boy was given the higher honor, sent to ‘The Spire’ for training and a more specialized education.” He turned to look Neera right in the eyes. “I think you should, too, Neera. To the City of Spires.”

“Rah’qet?!” Neera’s mother shouted.

“Think of what she could do with actual training!”

“You’re trying to get rid of her?! You just want to keep your cushy job, you selfish little prick!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll admit, I was being selfish at first. At first! But she could be important. Some believed the births of such skilled children predicted big changes in the world.”

“You don’t honestly believe any of that horseshit do you? You’re grasping at straws, Rami. It’s pathetic. Neera, don’t listen to any of this garbage. You’re going to become the next Magister, no matter what this sack of shit has to say. Rami, get the fuck out of my house.”

He turned to Neera, desperate, not to get his way, but to be heard. Perhaps what he was saying was true, if only partially. Maybe he wasn’t being purely selfish.

“There used to be several tests, a variety of different kinds of abilities. The ability that makes someone a good Magister... that’s not you.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Rami,” Her mother turned away from the table and headed back towards the kitchen.

“But neither am I. What we have is rare, special. And it’s clear to me that your ability far surpasses that of my own.”

Neera’s mother stormed out of the kitchen holding the knife she had been using to chop vegetables, slivers of red and green still speckled the blade. Rami leapt up from the table and took several steps backward as Neera’s mother pointed the knife right at him.

“Rami? Get. The fuck. Out. Of my house.”

“Mom!” Neera began to panic. She’d never seen her mother like this. It’s a specific kind of fear when someone you trust, someone you love, makes you question your safety. Suddenly finding yourself in a potential life and death situation with a person you’ve grown to rely on to keep you safe is a deeply unsettling feeling.

“Dasheira! Calm down. You know it’s against the rules to threaten someone with a weapon. Just... put it down, hear me out, and I’ll forget this mistake never occurred.”

Try as he might, the powder keg of a situation wasn’t going to improve by talking. As long as Rami stayed, things were only going to get worse. Not knowing what else she could do, Neera grabbed Rami’s book and cane. If she could give him his things, physically get between him and his mother, maybe he would leave.

“You’re not in much of a position to be making threats, Rami.” She took another step towards him, arm outstretched, and he circled around the furniture to keep his distance.

“This isn’t even about her, is it, Dash? It’s about—”

She lunged at him. Neera caught a glimpse of the look in her mother’s eyes and it was an expression she’d never seen before. She’d been angry, impatient, but this was so much more. This was rage. Seething, burning rage.

“STOP IT!” Neera shouted at the top of her lungs.

She only wanted to help.

But things went south.

With the idol in her hand, she felt a surge of energy course through her. This time, however, she didn’t merely bend a spoon. A blast of energy rippled out from her in a cone, throwing Rami and her mother, as well as everything else in the area, flying into the wall behind them. And just like that, the knife was embedded in Rami’s chest, his expression unmoving. Blood was pouring from a wide gash across her mother’s head. They were dead, both of them, right then and there.


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Posted by Anonymous on 06.24.20
not usually a fan of flashbacks, but im kinda digging these? will the other characters get flashback chapters as well? moz seems like a good candidate!

also, fuck. that was a tragic ending.
Posted by Matt on 06.24.20
No more flashback chapters planned, but I do have a follow-up novella after the first book is done that'll focus entirely on Isha!
Posted by Anonymous on 06.24.20
also also! i just got the ending to the last chapter.

"And while the big man she burned was quite a traumatic experience in it’s own right, it was nowhere near as traumatizing as the first time she killed someone."

aint that the truth!
the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet