The Hollow by Andrew Day by Andrew Day - Read Online

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The Hollow - Andrew Day

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Hollow.

On the third day of his training for the Imperial Legion, Serrel Hawthorne found himself about to become a mage.

He was still unsure exactly why this had come about. He’d never had any inclination towards the arcane before. When he had signed up at the recruitment tent a week earlier, the recruiting officer had asked him to hold a strange copper device in his hand, full of clockwork with a large compass-like needle on top. Serrel had held it in his palm for a few seconds, watched the needle turn ever so slightly, and then the recruiter had snatched it off him, handed him the bronze coin denoting service to the Legion, and screamed Next! very loudly.

No one had bothered to explain what the exact selection process for battlemage training had been, but that clockwork thing, that may have called an aurometer at some point in passing, was probably the reason.

And so Serrel found himself dubbed with the rank of Caster, and relocated to the underground training hall beneath Fort Amell with seven other recruits, holding an old and worn training staff, ready to tear asunder the veil of ignorance, as the sergeant in charge had sarcastically put it. He was nervous, but not as nervous as the boy next to him, a somewhat podgy farm hand named Edgar Paum, who wore an expression like he was about to meet his maker, and he’d heard in advance of his maker’s deep disappointment in him.

I didn’t even move the needle, Paum muttered to Serrel. It was the wind, I’m sure of it.

Serrel looked down at the staff in his hands and nodded in agreement. He had the overwhelming feeling that the only thing being torn asunder today was going to be, if he was lucky, his dignity. If he was unlucky, probably something more vital and full of his insides.

The training officer was a tall imposing man with a shaved head. His bare arms were covered in tattoos of strange arcane designs, and a few more traditional ones denoting famous battles he had fought in. Instead of a staff, he had a long, thick wooden rod in his belt, along with a large curved dagger. Serrel wondered if the rod was a kind of wand for weaving magic, or more for whacking errant students in the head with. Then again, he reasoned, there was no reason it couldn’t perform both tasks efficiently.

The officer pulled the rod from his belt and began to walk up and down the line of recruits slapping it into the palm of his hand. He began the session in the traditional way of all armed forces:

What a bloody shower, he commented. Farm boys and chambermaids. They couldn’t have given me a worse lot of hand wavers if they’d just picked a few stray dogs off the street. Bloody typical... What?

He rounded on one of the recruits suddenly, a tall, well groomed young man with an air of aristocracy about him. The boy had opened his mouth as if to say something during the initial tirade, and had been spotted before he could wisely close it again.

Name? the officer demanded.

J-Justin Tremmel.

Something you would like to add, Tremmel?

No.

No, what? The officer jabbed him hard with the rod.

No, Sir. I was just-

The man hit him in the gut with the rod, and walked away as the boy doubled over gasping.

My name is Sergeant-Magus Reage Holland. You will respond to all questions with Yes, Sergeant or No, Sergeant. If I want you to tax your tiny brains and elaborate, I will ask you to. Otherwise you will shut up and listen. Is that understood?

Yes, Sergeant, the group intoned.

Louder!

Yes, Sergeant!

From now on, you lot will be referred to as Pond Scum, until you prove that you are capable of extending more intelligence and arcane talent than real pond scum. When I call for you, Pond Scum, you will drop whatever you are doing and come running. Understood?

Yes, Sergeant!

Any of you primordial life forms have any experience with weaving? And the first person to ask if I mean baskets gets set on fire. I mean real weaving: using the higher energies to shape the world? Any of you idiots performed any real magic in your short, pointless lives? Raise your hands.

No one moved. Then Justin Tremmel tentatively raised his hand. Sergeant-Magus Holland immediately whacked his arm with his rod.

WRONG! Holland snapped. "None of you pond scum have weaved before. You may have shot sparks from your arses, or snapped flowers out of your sleeves, but you have not. Ever. Weaved. As of this moment, you are all novices, no, actually you are not even that. What are you?"

Pond scum, Serrel muttered.

Holland heard him, and nearly smiled. It speaks. Perhaps pond scum can evolve into something more useful. Let’s see if you lot of useless, slimy tossers can do any more tricks.

He gestured behind him, where a short wooden pylon was set in the ground. An old and ragged flag bearing the Legion’s insignia was tied to it.

I see you have all been issued training staves, Holland continued. "They are pieces of shit compared to real staves, but in the wrong hands, and at the moment they are in the wrong hands, they are weapons of mass destruction. Still, you’ve had them this long, and so far have managed to avoid ripping a hole in the fabric of reality. Again, congratulations. You are still pond scum, but at least pond scum with slightly more self preservation than most idiots given a staff. Soldiers get swords. You are mages so you get staves. There are less sharp edges, thankfully for you lot, but the idea is still the same. Eventually, you will be issued with real war-staves. Until then, this is the only tool you will ever need. It is your weapon. It is the greatest friend you will ever have. It goes everywhere you go, and it is always within reach. Now, have any of you ever used a training staff before?"

Justin Tremmel made to raise his hand, but thought better of it and lowered it back to his side. Holland noted this with an amused twitch of the mouth.

"Better. No, you haven’t ever used a real staff before. After today, you still won’t have. These are training staves, and are no better for real weaving than a wooden sword is for killing a dragon. A real mage needs no instrument to weave. His aura attunes to the ether of the world, and it flows into and through him. A real mage can make fire dance to his tune with a crook of the finger, make a mountain tremble. A staff is merely an aid, but an important one.

You see, Pond Scum, the ether of the world is like water. People are like rocks. The ether shapes them with its energy, but cannot enter them. Us mages, we are a different kind of rock. I believe the word is permeable. Those who can read can look it up later. Basically, some of the ether flows into you, fills you up. What I need to do is somehow teach you all how to release that energy at will, and shape it to your liking. The energy you release will be, at best, a trickle. All the staff does is act as a tap. It opens you up, acts as the path of least resistance, allows all that energy to come rushing out...

Holland waved his rod in the air and a geyser of flame erupted from the end of it. The recruits all took a step back as fire filled the air, and began to roil and twist before them,