Writings: Fire Mage Chapter 1

Note: This was previously published on my Patreon. Further updates to the story will be published there for subscribers to read.

In January, I gushed on Twitter about the new project I'm working on: a fantasy WIP in which pretty much everyone is trans and/or disabled. I've always loved fantasy and Lord of the Rings and epic world-building, but I never get to see myself on the page and I'm interested in correcting that!

The response was amazingly enthusiastic on Twitter! People signed up by the droves when I mentioned eventually I'd be posting chapters on my $5 Patreon tier. Welcome and thank you and hail and well met!

Now I'm a bit torn because I don't unusually put material online until I've had a chance to polish it at least a little. Knowing that stuff will change makes me reticent to post something so rough here--and also my pervasive and persistent perfectionism doesn't help, so you see my dilemma. Buuuuut you are all so excited and enthusiastic about this project that I don't want to be like "well, come back in three months". Let's not do that. Let's all be enthusiastic together.

Today I'll post what I have right now for Chapter 1, when you get to meet the main character who is a trans woman with chronic pain and also the heir of a major magic guild. Later posts may include character concepts and fun stuff like that! Normally the full chapters will be set at the $5 tier, but I wanted everyone to see this one. (I'm excited! Can you tell?)

[Author's Note: In this setting, "Master" is a gender-neutral title which is earned within the magic guild. "Master Aisling", "Master Nievh", "Master Eilish", "Master Hypatia", and so forth are all women.]


Chapter 1

Aisling rolled out of bed and groaned when her bare feet touched cold tile floor. Dancing on her toes, she raced to the fireplace on the far side of the dark room, only narrowing avoiding the heavy wooden barrier that separated the sleeping space from her receiving area. Kneeling on the freezing stone hearth, she thrust her hands into the empty space and clapped. The brand burned into her wrists glowed deep red at the evocation of her will, and fire burst from her palms. She let the little fiery ball drop between her hands to settle into place in the hearth, then rocked back on her heels to bask in that first perfect rush of warmth.

Summer was over and autumn was here, if the cold tile floors were any indication. Aisling wrinkled up her nose and tried to remember where she'd stored the woolen socks Nievh had given her at last year's winter solstice celebration. Her preference was always bare feet--or sandals, when she had to appear presentable for guild business--but she'd need to start sleeping in socks again if she didn't want to freeze when getting out of bed in the mornings. She sighed and tried to look on the bright side: at least it would warm up once the sun rose. As far south as Deorsted was, it wouldn't get really cold until winter blew in from the north.

She considered going back to bed in acknowledgment of the extreme hardship her toes had suffered, but it was no good; she was awake. She scuffled across the cold floor to the necessity room, touching the bell-pull in the wall when she was done so apprentices would know to come empty her chamber pot and bring bath water. While they bustled in, she moved about the room in a circuit, lighting wall lamps with drips of fire from her fingertips. There was no fuel in the lamps or hearth--the prohibitive cost of fuel in Deorsted was why the Fire Guild had situated its headquarters there among the Murile people--but the magical fires would burn until Aisling stopped the flame, lost concentration, or moved a far enough distance away.

"Master Aisling?"

"Yes?" She twisted in place to locate which apprentice had spoken, her fingers still raised to touch the last wick. The human boy was old for an apprentice, maybe fifteen summers, with shaggy black hair and dark eyes untouched yet by magic. Aisling wasn't certain of his name, but took her best guess. "...Orrin?"

"Yes, ma'am. Would you mind turning down the lamps until we're done? Laoise feels a migraine coming on and light makes it worse for them."

Aisling blinked, surprised by the request. Frowning in concentration, she willed the lamps to flicker out in a chorus of soft puffs. She dimmed the fire in the hearth as well, and a thick semi-darkness permeated the room while the apprentices lugged the bath bucket in and set it beside her vanity. She watched them work, unsure which one was Laoise.

"Does--" She took a belated cue from Orrin and switched tense to match the neutral pronouns offered. "Do they need to see a healer? Light-Mages are accustomed to treating migraines--"

Shaggy hair fell in the boy's eyes as he shook his head. "Master Eilish has already called one, ma'am; she said we could go about our regular duties while we waited for the healer to arrive, as long as Laoise felt up to the task. Thanks all the same. Anything else, ma'am?"

"No, thank you, that will be all," she answered quickly. The children scurried out as fast as decorum would permit, with one--presumably the ailing Laoise--flashing her a grateful look on their way out. Aisling closed the door they ought not have left open and walked another circuit about the room, relighting her lamps. Fire could be extinguished with sufficient application of will, but once the fire died it could not be rekindled from afar unless Aisling wanted to lob fireballs about. Custom required a caster be asked to extinguish their own flames, but any fire-mage of equal power could command another's blaze if they exerted their will.

Aisling was a master in the guild, heir to the position of grandmaster, and bore the second-strongest brand registered with the order, so any list of mages equal to her in power was bound to be a short one. And, of course, apprentices were unbranded and therefore without any magic at all. They had to rely on mundane methods to extinguish fire during their rounds, carrying long handled candle snuffers of varying sizes on their belts. Suffocation was the surest way to put out any blaze; even magical fire required air to give the flames life and breath. Without air, the fire would die.

As always, the bath water wasn't as hot as her aching joints wanted, so she set a second fire on the tiles around the tub. Watching to ensure the bucket didn't scorch, she heated the water to near-scalding without letting it become hot enough to burn her. Precise control of a blaze--how hot a fire raged, and where its heat channeled--was what set her apart as a certified master and not just another accredited fire-worker. Her father Fargus had been so proud when she passed the mastery test at thirteen. He'd boasted to everyone that his girl was the youngest ever to graduate to master and that fire was in the family's blood.

Aisling didn't entirely agree on either of these points. The guild had only begun to track ages in the last century, so any claim to be the youngest or oldest anything was dubious. As for her talents, she chalked up much of her success to having the best possible teachers available to her as firstborn child of the grandmaster. Yet she'd been unable to argue with him, too pleased by the proud way Fargus called her his eldest 'daughter' with every boast. He'd used the word before, of course, but on that day it flowed without hesitation from his lips, no longer first forming 'son' out of habit and correcting himself mid-word.

Shedding her clothes, she stepped into the bath and knelt to wash quickly; the hot water was a balm to the stiff pain in her limbs but the sooner she was clean, the sooner she could wrap herself in a warm towel and brush out her hair at the vanity. Hair took the largest part of her morning ritual, as she allowed herself the luxury of a braid if time permitted. Today she brushed out her waist-length auburn hair and decided on a plait that would frame the left side of her face and drape loosely over her shoulder. Side-braids were currently in fashion among the Teriche elves, if news from traveling merchants could be believed, and Aisling liked trying new looks.

A knock sounded on the door to her chambers when she was halfway through the braid and she twisted in her seat to watch the door remain firmly closed. "Who is it?"

Bran's warm voice carried easily through the thick wood. "Guess. Can I come in?"

"No! Give me a moment, Bran." Hopping from her seat, she lost most of the braid in her rush to dress. None of her appointments for the day were with anyone fancy, so at least her clothes could be simple: a brown dress the color of dry earth and worn under the distinctive overdress dyed in the guild's burnished red colors. A belt at her waist was secured with a heavy bronze medallion bearing three leaping flames to symbolize her membership and rank within the Fire Guild. After a glance in the silvered vanity mirror, she decided she was decent enough and plopped back down to try to salvage her braid. "Now's fine, Bran."

Bran Raith was Aisling's oldest and closest friend. They'd known each other since his family sent him at a tender age to apprentice with the branded mages in Deorsted. Small and unsure of himself, he was set apart as different from the locals by the distinctive narrow eyes, sun-kissed golden skin, and fine bone structure found in humans who dwelt on the long southern peninsula. Grandmaster Fargus had placed the little boy with his oldest child, reckoning that Aisling needed a friend who hadn't grown up in awe of her bellicose father and that Bran needed a protector who would guard him from bullying. The children had become fast friends and Bran had graduated to master on Aisling's heels with marks almost as high as hers.

They had also, much later and very briefly, become something other than friends. Aisling was reminded of this as Bran stepped into the room and automatically moved to redo the laces up the back of her overdress. Each had been one or two important 'firsts' for the other, and it had all been very nice except for two problems: Aisling was a girl, and Bran was not. Neither had quite grasped the precise boundaries of their preferences prior to the experiment, and the ensuing revelations were embarrassing but necessary for both parties. Their friendship remained strong, however, and Aisling was grateful. She held still as Bran smoothed over a lace which had crossed itself, re-tied the knot, and tucked the knot away out of sight.

"Thank you," she murmured before shifting her tone to a warmer banter. "But you know, Bran, I was hoping to actually attend breakfast today." She tilted backwards to aim a pleading look at him, but the molten mage-fire eyes behind his glasses danced down at her with laughter.

Moving to the receiving side of her chambers, he settled into the couch resting against the wooden divider and set his pile of journals and books to the side. "You say that every day, but duty calls."

She wrinkled up her nose at him and turned back to the mirror to focus on her braid. "Fine. What's on your agenda for today, oh-merciless-taskmaster?"

Thumbing through the journal at the top of his stack, he opened a page and readied his quill pen. "The owner of the Scarred Tail inn has canceled their contract with the guild, which means fire-worker Cillín is in need of new placement. The proprietor of the Green Goose has been inquiring about our fee structures. Should we send them Cillín at an introductory price?"

"Starting my day with an easy one?" Aisling asked, glancing over her shoulder at him. He just smiled and shrugged at her, his pen hovering over the logbook as he waited for her answer.

She turned back to the mirror and continued with her braid, mulling over the question. "Did the proprietor of the Scarred Tail...?" She could see him in her mind, a tall gray-furred Murile with a magnificently long and fluffy tail marked with numerous deep scars. Rumors in town flew as to how he had acquired the scars but the owner refused to confirm or deny any of them; he just smiled whenever he was asked. Aisling had only spoken with him on a handful of occasions, but he'd seemed patient and amiable. Frewen was his name, she dredged up from her memory. "Frewen! Did he say why he wanted to cancel his contract?"

Bran shuffled through his notes. "There is no record of him doing so, no."

Aisling frowned at the mirror. "Their contract is almost as old as I am! Fuel prices haven't come down, and their business is booming as ever; they're the town's most popular inn if the dinner lines are any indication. They're still going to need hot water for their guests and fires in their kitchen." She fussed at her braid some more before deciding the loose coil was as good as she was going to be able to manage on her own, then tied it off. "Cillín has only had the contract for, what, a year? Before him it was...?"

Another rustle. "Ultán, before he obtained mastery. He's teaching the second-year apprentices now."

She nodded again. "Ultán speaks Murile, if I recall? Cillín was planning to learn it when we gave him the job, but I never got the impression he made much effort. Okay. Send Cillín to the Green Goose; the owner is human, yes? Then send someone who speaks Murile down to Frewen to see if we can convince him to give us another try. It's a good contract; no sense in losing it unnecessarily if the problem lay with the worker."

Aisling looked up to catch Bran in one of his rare smiles, the kind that lit his fiery eyes with more than just magic, and her cheeks grew hot with embarrassment. "...you'd already decided to do that, hadn't you?"

His grin was affectionate. "I had," he admitted, "but I love watching you come to the same conclusions. Gives me hope for the future of the guild."

She resisted splashing the cooling bath water at him, but only because of the presence of his books. "Or we'll both drive it into the ground. What's the next order of business? Hurry, or we'll be here all day!"

Bran chuckled but dove into his books with vigor, peppering her with questions as fast as she could answer. The city needed another fire-worker for their sanitation crew; who did she want to send to heat the public bath-houses? Winter solstice would be on them soon enough; which of the masters should be sent to coordinate with the Light Guild their yearly city entertainments, feasts, and fireworks? With fever season freshly upon them, who among the healers would be loaned to the city hospitals? For some of these, Bran had suggestions already in mind, but Aisling offered several names he'd not thought to think of. They worked well together, she and he, and despite all her teasing she was glad for their partnership.

"Now the ugly stuff," Bran said when the sun shot rosy golden rays through the wide bedroom windows. "Do you remember Bevin? He's been reported dead. Killed on a merchant escort job."

Aisling's breath caught in her throat, twisting into a thick lump. Bevin was one of the older members and had been a full-fledged worker before she was even born. "Where?"

"On the road between Deorsted and [northwestern city]. Bandits attacked the caravan he was hired to protect. He and the other guards managed to drive them off, but according the report he succumbed to heavy wounds in the night. I guess they didn't have a healer, or not a good one."

She whispered a soft oath, rubbing at her eyes. This was part of her guild administration work, but it never became easier. "When will the body be brought back?"

Bran sighed. "The guards burned the body as his final request. He told them he preferred to be remembered as he was in life, and not as he became in death."

She shook her head, recalling her mother's pyre. "He was part of the old guard. He didn't want to risk his body being raised, even for the few days it would've taken to bring him back here. I...I'm glad his companions took the necessary steps. We must send our thanks."

He was watching her closely now, his brow furrowed. "They'll be returning to Deorsted in a few weeks with his belongings; we can compensate them then. Fortunately, they knew to recover his brand."

Aisling looked up, her mind drawing a blank. "Which one was his?"

Bran flipped through the largest of his books, opening a weather-beaten journal and holding it for her. "The Farmer's Pitchfork," he said, tapping at the page. There in faded ink was the long straight line with two half-lines running parallel on either side, joined to the center line with a thick bar across the middle. "Bevin wore the brand on his left leg concealed under his trousers, but previous bearers have worn the mark on the underside of the arm, on either shoulder, and in one case spanning the chest. A versatile piece."


"High, surprisingly. Rare to find a seven on a worker."

She gazed out the window, collecting herself; tears could come later. "He was a master in all but name. The only reason he wouldn't take the test was because he didn't want to leave the field. He said he preferred life on the road to a teaching or administration position."

Bran winced in quiet sympathy. "Not the healthiest decision."

She ignored this. "Does Father know?"

"No. The message came this morning. I wanted to speak to you about reassignment, both of the brand and the escort position. A few of the apprentices will be graduating soon--"

Aisling stood, her skirts swishing the tile floor in noisy protest over the abrupt movement. "Leave it for now," she said. Bran opened his mouth to object but she shook her head. "I need to tell Father. He knew Bevin, and Bevin knew Mother. It's... Bran, this is going to hurt him."

Her friend hesitated, then she saw his eyes soften behind his glasses. "Of course. Will you catch him at breakfast? You'll need to run; it's almost past the candlemark."

She paused to squeeze his hand in gratitude for understanding. "Then I'll run. Thank you, Bran. I'll come find you later and we'll finish all your business, I promise."


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