Flames and Steel: The Chromatic War

A Side Story, A Trip to the Library

Two more years had passed since Al’ev had first weaved a spell. Since then Nalef had been training her son in the art of basic arcane spell casting. In all the time she did this, she never allowed him to cast a spell outside the home. She had ensured this would remain the case when she had made him promise to only cast spells when she was around.

His word of promise was all that was needed to complete a spell Nalef had prepared after she had returned from taking Joshua and Mel home that night. The spell would function as a limiter on his abilities whenever he remained at a distance from her. It had been an underhanded thing to do, but it was for his own safety. His potential was unknown and many practitioners of the arcane arts had lost their lives and in some cases, souls to clumsy spell casting.

And then there was his father….

Over the next several years the spell would weaken, and the limiters on his power would fade away as his knowledge grew. She would be able to rest a little easier in the mean time.

Today, though, the time had come for him to take the next step in his education. Nalef’s knowledge of the arcane was vast, but even she didn’t know all there was to know. Judging by the rate at which the boy consumed information, she knew he’d like where they were headed for the day.

Al’ev, on the other hand, didn’t have a clue as to what this place was that they were going to. He did know that they had left the house early in the morning.

He hated mornings.

His mother mentioned she was going to be taking him to a library today, whatever that was. He had asked his friend Mel about it the previous day.

“Uhm, Mel? What’s a library?”

“A library?” She had asked, confirming the word in elven.

He nodded hoping she’d know. She was pretty smart after all.

“Its a place full of books. You haven’t been to one?”

He shook his head.

“Oh, well, you’ll like it.”

“That’s what Mom said to me.”

She had laughed at that and then they had gone back to playing their game of tag with Joshua.

Books had been some of Al’ev’s favorite things in the world ever since his mother had started reading him stories before he went to sleep most nights. He couldn’t wait to go to this library, a place that had nothing but books in it.

After a few minutes into their walk they entered a very crowded area that was dedicated to trade. Tradesmen and travelers alike were packed close together. Al’ev had always liked coming to this area. He saw a new type of being to watch nearly every time. It was exciting in a different way than books were as there was always something exciting to see.

“Mom?” Al’ev asked

“Yes, hon?” His mother answered.

“Are there lots of good stories in a library?”

“Yep. More than you could ever read.”

“No way!” he said loud enough for a few of the people to turn and look at him as he passed.

“Well, it would take a very long time.” Nalef clarified.

“How long?”

“Many years.”

“Wow.” he said as his mother took his hand and guided him through a thick area within the crowd of traders. This crowd was full of people who were all yelling. He had seen this before but didn’t know why. He decided to ask his mother about it. “Why are they all yelling at each other? Are they angry?”

His mother chuckled. “No, hon.” She stopped and lifted him up on her shoulders so that he could see through the crowd better. “What do you see?”

“They all look like they are yelling at a man in from of that building.” He watched, starting to feel afraid for the man. Why wasn’t his mother doing anything? He had seen her break up fights with words before. Maybe they were all just too loud.

“Is the man holding something?” She asked.

Al’ev looked closer. “Yes. It looks like that gross green stuff you made me eat for dinner. Do they all hate it too?”

Nalef remembered how she served a salad to the boy the previous night and how difficult it was to get the six year old to chow it down. Rather unsurprisingly, he had a preference for meats. “No dear. They…”

Before she could say anymore Al’ev asked another question. It was a growing habit of his and she relished answering every inquiry she could. Puzzling out solutions to problems was quickly becoming a skill of his. He was as hungry for knowledge as she was when she was younger.

If she was being honest with herself, she still hungered for it.

“Did the man steal it?”

Nalef laughed loud enough to be heard even over the shouting traders then set Al’ev back down on the ground.

“You’re getting big. I almost couldn’t lift you! No Al’ev, he didn’t steal it.”

“Good. I don’t know why anyone would want to be sent to their room for that nasty green stuff.” he said crossing his arms.

“Did the man have a lot of the green stuff behind him?”

“Yep.”

“Good, we’ll come back and buy some on our way back home tonight.”

“Aww….” he said in his whining voice.

Nalef answered by messing up the boy’s hair a bit, then she again took his hand.

They made their way through the rest of the town of Halar. Several of the townspeople were preparing for the approaching spring by decorating their houses and stores for the Festival of Unity. Colorful bands and ribbons were just about everywhere.

She had come to love this about the town. They loved to celebrate the positive things in life. About twenty minutes later, Nalef and Al’ev reached their destination.

“Wow! That’s a big tree!” Al’ev said as he stared up but couldn’t see the top branches of the massive plant that laid before him. “Has anyone climbed it?”

" I doubt it. It would be very dangerous." Nalef said looking up at the tree along with her son.

After a few moments, she looked over at him and watched.

He should be feeling it by…yep.

“Why does it feel funny around here?” the boy said with a confused look on his face.

Nalef smiled. “Because the tree has a lot of magic in it.”

The boy turned to stare at her. “Why?”

“Let’s go inside and you’ll see.”

“But I thought we were going to the book building!” he said again in his whiny voice.

“We are. This is the Arcane Library of Halar.”

“It’s a magic book building?”

“That’s right, it’s a magic library. Come on, I know you’ll like it here.” Nalef said again taking his hand and leading him through the tree’s massive double doors.

Once inside Al’ev could see a very large dimly lit room that had many tall objects with rows of books on them. These tall objects scattered about the room and Al’ev began to comprehend why it would take a long time to read every book here.

Several wooden tables and chairs were mixed throughout the tall objects some had more texts piled upon them as well. Completing his turn from left to right he saw that they had entered next to the front counter where an older elven man was talking to people who had books in their arms.

They all wore funny looking robes that matched the one his mother wore now.

“Hello Zid.” His mother said to the man at the counter. “How are you today?”

“Why I’m fine. The old bones aren’t hurting much at all today. Spring is just around the corner. I can feel it.” He said grinning towards Nalef.

Al’ev had stopped listening then. The library had again stolen his attention soon after they had started exchanging words. From the moment he took his first step inside, the smell of old books, of the wooden tree, of the lit candles combined with the strange tingling he felt in his body that resulted from magic. It all caused him to feel like this was a place he needed to be. He belonged here. It was like home. His mom was right.

He loved it.

WOW!” He yelled and his voice echoed off the distant walls. He remembered too late what his mother had told him before they left.

“You will have to talk quietly in the library, Al’ev, or people will become upset with you.” She had said.

“Okay.” He had said.

He winced and then looked up to his Mother who was staring down at him.

“Al’ev…” Nalef said in her warning tone.

The man at the desk, Zid, was chuckling.

“Sorry Mom, I forgot.”

“It’s okay. Just don’t forget again or I’ll have to take you back home.” A small smile briefly showed on her face.

“Okay. I won’t.”

“I’ll talk to you later Zid.”

“Okay. Have fun there little guy.” Zid said to Al’ev who then hid behind his mother’s leg.

They took a few more steps into the library and were stopped by a woman who was quickly approaching them from the massive wooden spiral staircase that dominated the middle of the room. Nalef recognized robes belonging to a cleric of Sarenrae when she saw them, but she couldn’t see the face that the white, sun d├ęcor covered hood hid beneath.

“Nalef? Nalef Reldin, is that you?” The woman said. She was now close enough that Nalef was able to see her face. Nalef instantly recognized her as one who had helped her when she had first made it into Halar with Al’ev almost seven years ago to the day. “It is you! How long has it been?”

“Too long, Tif.” His mother gave the woman a big smile then hugged her.

“How have you been?” Tif asked.

“Busy, but good. This little one has made sure of it.” She chuckled as she gestured to Al’ev. “Al’ev, say hello to Tif.”

“He-hello.” He still wasn’t all that comfortable with meeting new people.

“My, it has been a while! You’ve gotten so big, Al’ev! You were just a baby when I first met you and your mother. How old are you now?”

Al’ev looked up at his mother who nodded then back down at his hands as he began counting off fingers. When he was done he held them up to show Tif.

“Oh my! You’re already seven? No wonder you’ve grown so.” She patted him gently on the head and Al’ev smiled.

“Almost seven. His birthday is actually tomorrow.” Nalef corrected him.

“Well, happy early birthday Al’ev.”

“Tif, have you seen any of the Illundra around today? I’m supposed to meet one here.”

Tif turned back to Nalef. “So you’re the one the Illundra girl was sent here to see. That explains the robes. She asked me to tell you to go on up. She should be on the fourth floor.”

“Did she give her name?’

“No. She didn’t even let me see her face. Do you want me to look after Al’ev while you’re up there?”

“Please. Let him take a look around. He is quite capable of reading in several languages already.”

“Well aren’t you a smart one.” Tif said looking down at Al’ev.

“Al’ev, don’t cause too much trouble for Tif.” Nalef said then knelt down and whispered to him. “And don’t use any magic.”

“Okay…” he said somewhat mournfully.

“Thanks Tif. I don’t know how long I’ll be though.”

“Don’t worry about it. I had a pretty open day anyway.”

Nalef smiled then turned and walked away towards the staircase that dominated the circular first floor.

“Well, what would you like to look at first Al’ev?”

“Are there books with magic?”

“Oh yes. Many kinds. What kind of magic do you like most?”

Al’ev had to think about this for a few moments before he finally looked up at her and said “All kinds!”

Tif laughed at this. “Come this way then, Al’ev. Let’s walk around the library a bit then head to the back shelves. There should be a few books that will help you figure out which kind of magic you like most, and we may see some fun things along the way.”

“Okay.”

She took Al’ev’s hand and then lead him off on a short tour of the first floor. There were many book shelves and she pointed out what types of books a few of them held.

“I’ve lived here my entire life, Al’ev. I still don’t know every subject that is covered in these books.” She commented as they continued along. “There are just so many. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“Yeah…” his small eyes continued to grow larger as they made their way through the shelves. Tif wasn’t sure if it was due to the low light level in the library or the sheer excitement the boy felt until she heard the boy gasp in surprise the first time a book floated by on its own power. She chuckled a bit later when she caught him saying “Oh wow!” in a quiet, but excited voice. She looked over to see what he was watching.

Sitting at a table near the end of the book shelves was a young Illundra apprentice. The apprentice was probably in her late teens but it was hard to know because of the cloak she wore that hid many of her features. The apprentice was just finishing a spell that Tif recognized causing the cleric to smile. “Watch the book in front of her carefully Al’ev.”

He did as she said and he took in a quick breath when the apprentice tapped it and the book seemed to disappear. “She used magic from the illusion school to make the book turn invisible. It is still there. We should be able to see it in a few seconds.” They waited for those few seconds, Al’ev standing on his tip toes to see the top of the table better, then the book popped back into view.

“Wow!” The boy simply didn’t seem to be able to take in enough. It was like watching a piece of cloth absorb buckets full of water without reaching its full capacity, Tif reflected.

“Come along. We’re nearly to the back of the library now.” The books in the back section were entry level texts meant to teach young magic practitioners a bit about magic as well as those who had no talent for the craft. The section was technically meant for beings a bit older than Al’ev’s nearly seven years, but she could already see how intelligent the boy was. She guessed he should be able to handle many of these texts with few problems.

“Here we are. See if you like any of these books.” Tif said gesturing to the book shelf in front of her.

Al’ev didn’t even hesitate. He dove right in and started pulling out books. Tif watched as he did what most children his age did, he picked out the most extravagant looking books and ignored many others which she knew held more information.

After a few minutes of this, Tif stopped him when she realized that, even though he was being picky, he had still managed to pull out a stack of books nearly as high as he was tall.

“Now Al’ev, you can’t possibly read all of these right now.” Several of the books were well beyond massive. Most of those were well beyond what even a highly intelligent seven year old could use. “Why don’t you pick out two or three then put the rest back, hmm?” The boy looked absolutely devastated. “You can always come back again later. Just ask your mother to bring you.”

That seemed to brighten his mood a bit. He began putting books back, leaving the ones that had interesting looking covers in the pile. She stopped him when he was about halfway done.

“Al’ev, has your mother ever told you to never judge a book by its cover?”

“No. What does that mean?” he asked staring up at her.

“Well, take a look at the book in your hand and open it. What do you see?”

The young boy did as she asked and looked at it intensely for a few moments, then frowned and flipped the book upside down. Finally he said with some frustration “I can’t read it.”
“I should hope not. This book is written in a tongue used by red dragons. You don’t look like a red dragon to me. Now, look at the book you just put on the shelf.”

He got up and pointed to the book she was talking about and she nodded. “But it looks so boring.”

“I promise you that book is actually very interesting.” Tif replied. “Go ahead, take a look inside.”

“Okay…” he did as she asked and began to flip through the pages. Every page appeared to be full of blank lines and contained no pictures or text of any kind. “I don’t see anything. What’s wrong with it?”

Tif reached over and ran her index finger along one of the empty lines. Words rose from the book as though it suddenly had a voice of its own.

“Chapter 1: The schools of magic.” As the book spoke, words appeared before her finger on the page and that’s all Al’ev saw before he dropped it and ran behind Tif’s leg, hiding.

“I’m sorry.” She was trying not to laugh. “Did that scare you?”

Al’ev slowly came back out and said, “The book talked!”

“Yes it did and you would have missed it. What a shame that would have been.”

“It looked so boring though.”
“Indeed.” Tif responded.

“Books can’t talk. Only people can.”

Tif smiled. “Al’ev, this book doesn’t just talk about magic. It is magic.”

Comprehension dawned on the small half elf. “Wow!”

She almost missed when the boy snatched the book back up and tucked it under his arm.

“Perhaps you won’t judge a book by its cover so quickly next time.”

“I won’t.”

“Come on. Let’s finish putting some of the rest of these books away, then we can go grab a table and you can start reading some of them to me.”

“Okay!”

The two of them finished putting all but three books away. It took a bit longer as Al’ev insisted on running his finger across the words of several books, but Tif felt he had begun to learn an important lesson. When they had finished, the two grabbed a table and Tif watched and listened as the young child read page after page of text with little trouble.

The sunlight sneaking in through the few windows in the library had grown dim by the time she spoke up again.

“Al’ev, pick two books and put the others away. Your mother ought to be finished soon.”

He chose to keep a very basic text on the schools of magic as well as the magic book she had pointed out to him earlier. Tif wasn’t at all surprised.

They made their way back up to the front of the library and then Tif explained what he needed to do in order to check a book out.

“So I just need to put my name on that paper?” Al’ev asked.

“Yep. That way they know when someone takes a book out and if they don’t return it in time they know not to let that person have another one until he returns the first one. Do you know how to write it?”

Al’ev nodded. “Mom taught me.”

The librarian who helped him check the books out was the same elderly elf who he had seen when he first came in.

“Did you find some good books young man?” Zid asked.

Al’ev nodded but was still too shy to say anything at first.

“Some interesting texts you have here. Ah, you found one of my favorites. Did you know this book talks when you run your finger over the lines?”

“Yes! It’s amazing!”

Zid chuckled and Tif smiled.

“Well promise me you’ll take good care of these books while you have them little…” he looked down at the card and read his name “…Al’ev. That talking book is one of my personal favorites.”

“Yes sir.” Al’ev responded in a serious tone

“Have fun young man.” The librarian said.

“I will.” and Al’ev turned to leave but the sound of someone clearing their throat stopped him in his tracks.

He knew that sound.

He turned around to see his mother standing there with her arms crossed and one finger bouncing up and down on her arm. “Al’ev, are you forgetting something?”

Nalef saw her son visibly wince.

“Uhm…excuse me sir.” He said to the librarian.

“Yes young master?” The man said with a knowing smile on his face.

“Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome. Have a good day young one.”

“And thank you, Tif, for watching after my little handful here.” Nalef said.

“Don’t mention it. He’s actually quite bright for his age, isn’t he?”

Nalef smiled at the praise that had been put on her son. “Yes, he most certainly is and it gets him into all kinds of mischief with his friends.”

“I can imagine.” Tif said with another chuckle. “Don’t let it be seven years before we see each other again, Nalef. I missed talking with you.”

“I’ll make sure we talk again soon, Tif.” Nalef said with a warm smile. “I’ll see you later.” She picked up the books Al’ev had borrowed, then grabbed his hand and proceeded into the early evening atmosphere of Halar.

“So what kinds of books did you find, Al’ev? Learn anything from them?”

“All kinds of books. It was amazing! That book there is magic. It talks!”

Nalef looked down at the book she had tucked under her arm and could feel the small bits of magic that ran throughout the pages of the book. “Yes it does.” She smiled. “What else did you learn.”

“Miss Tif taught me to never judge a book by its cover. I don’t understand what she meant. But I had to look at the inside of every book before I put it back on the shelf.”

Nalef laughed a little. “Tif taught you that little lesson, did she? Good.”

“What did she mean? Do all books hide magic?”

“No Al’ev. What she meant is just what it sounded like. You probably looked at a ton of books today and only picked ones with fancy covers to read through, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well this book here looks pretty plain. You would never have known what was in it unless you looked inside. Never, and I mean absolutely never, judge something by the way it appears. You can make some guesses of course, but never automatically assume you know what it has within. This doesn’t just go for books, Al’ev.”

They had entered the first of the many marketplaces along their route now and Nalef stopped outside the main crowds this one currently had. She pointed over at a dwarven man she recognized.

“Do you see that man over there Al’ev? What can you tell me about him?”

“He’s a dwarf.”

“Yes, and?”

“Uhm, I don’t know.”

Nalef chuckled. “I know that man. He’s from a family of famous map makers. Very nice to talk with. I believe he has a son who is around your age. You should meet sometime.”

“Is he noisy and strange like all other dwarves?”

“Were you listening to me? No Al’ev. You’re making the same mistake you did with the books.”

“But I don’t…”

“Understand? Well, let’s try again then.” Nalef pointed at an elven man who appeared to be in the middle of selling some sort of meat to a customer.

“What can you tell me about that man?”

“The elven man with the yummy looking meat?” Nalef nodded and insisted he continue. “Uhm, he’s an elf. He has meat. He looks kinda mean though.”

“Perhaps he does look a little scary.” Nalef took her son’s hand and began walking towards the butcher. “Let’s go talk to him.”

“Good evening miss. How can I help you and your boy?” He said with a very kind tone in his voice.

“Can I get two cuts of the meat behind you please? I’d like to get it for my son’s birthday dinner tomorrow.” Nalef returned just as kindly.

“Certainly. Happy birthday little guy. How old are you going to be? Oops! Sorry to scare you! I promise I won’t hurt you.” Nalef laughed and brought Al’ev out from behind her leg to see the man.

“Go on Al’ev. Tell the nice man how old you’re going to be.”

“I’m…uh…going to be seven, sir.”

“Seven? And already so polite! Well, Al’ev was it? I hope you enjoy this meat. Your Mom is getting you some of the best stuff there is in this town.”

“Thank you sir!”

Nalef paid the butcher for the meat and a little extra as a tip for helping her teach Al’ev a valuable lesson. Then she and Al’ev started to walk through the market but Nalef stopped only a few moments later and spoke again.

“Al’ev, what can you tell me about that man over there?” She pointed back to the butcher they had just bought the meat from.

“He’s pretty nice. He sells meat. I like him.”

Nalef smiled at her son. “Yes, but what did you think before you met him?” Al’ev looked down. “You thought he was scary looking right? You even hid from him when he kindly asked you how old you were. Do you understand why you were wrong about him now?”

Al’ev looked back up, “Because I didn’t know him?”

“That’s right. You judged him based on how he looked, just like you did with the books and their covers. You didn’t even consider if he was a nice person. Don’t make that mistake in the future, Al’ev. It may cost you a lot someday. Come, let’s go find that other man, the one from this morning.”

“No. Not the man with the nasty green stuff.” He started whining.

“Al’ev, if you eat it all tonight, I’ll get you an extra special present tomorrow.”

Her son’s eyes got big. “Let’s go!”

She laughed, messed up his hair a little and then they continued on their way home. They only stopped once to grab some of the “nasty green stuff.”

Nalef got to work on their dinner right away and Al’ev got to work on reading one of the books he had borrowed from the library.

“Al’ev, can you light this candle for me?”

The child barely even glanced over from his book as he snapped his fingers towards the candle wick. It instantly lit. He then looked back down at his book and continued writing notes on a sheet of parchment he had pulled out when he got back to the house.

Amazing. He didn’t even have to think about it. And at his age…Nalef thought as she went back to work on their dinner.

After another hour of cooking, she and Al’ev ate. The boy finished it all, though he didn’t appear to be enjoying it overly much. When he was done, he started to go back through the book when Nalef stopped him.

“That’s enough for tonight, Al’ev. Time for bed. When you wake up tomorrow, I’ll have your present for you.”

“Okay.” The boy yawned, “Love you Mom.”

“I love you too sweetie.” She kissed his forehead and watched him go upstairs.

Al’ev fell asleep pretty quickly. He was exhausted from the day at the library where he had seen so many amazing things. It was like an early birthday present in of itself, one he could go back to any time his Mom let him. He dreamt about floating books that said hello as they passed him and about cloaked figures casting spells that night.

The next morning Al’ev awoke to a small fury beast licking his face. It was a puppy, he realized, just as he had asked his mother for months before.

“Happy birthday, Al’ev!” his mother said from the foot of his bed.

“Wow Mom! Thank you!” he began petting the puppy whose tail was wagging back and forth. “What’s his name?”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you give him one?” She suggested with a wink.

Al’ev thought for a few moments then spoke up again. “Let’s call him Brox!”

Nalef chuckled, and the puppy barked then went back to licking Al’ev’s face. “Brox it is. Come on. We have a lot of fun things to do today. Get dressed and bring Brox downstairs so we can have breakfast.”

“Okay!” he shot out of bed and hugged his mother before she could leave the room.

She smiled and gently pat his head. It was going to be a good day.

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