Where Ages Meet: Ch. 5: Promises & Hopes

  • Word count: 750 (1 to 6 minutes) | Rating: T
  • Available on Kofi and Simily
  • Note: Magic, historic elements
  • ©2022 Quillful

“No, no, no need,” he swept the idea away, every ounce as frantic as he thought he would be at the suggestion. He’d be in quite a spot of trouble if his aide quit. Rick peered at him from underneath his arm, and Oliver waited with hands out and palms up. “Sit up, if you would. Set your hands like this.”

“Oliver,” Rick bemoaned the request, but his self-doubt was a wicked creature best vanquished as a team. Although Oliver was guessing blindly on that point. Not the first time he’d done something like that, and he was right often enough to keep doing it.

“Please, you’ll see.” Pushing his hands out toward Rick for emphasis, he insisted. “I was going to do this in the morning, but it won’t take long.”

“Ugh,” Rick exhaled, lifting his torso to sit up again like the force of the planet itself worked against him. But he dutifully put his hands out to mirror Oliver anyway. He wouldn’t waste that rare charity!

The beacon spell welled up in his hands, glowing and rippling into place like a bubble shielding a little grey star.

“This here’s a beacon. All mages can manage magic like this, no matter their specialty. Once they’re taught.”

Basic as it always was, something about a beacon was also so vast. All that potential, right in his hand. A new mage didn’t even know where to start until they got their beacon. Life didn’t have a ton of moments that were that ripe for choices and futures, and when you could hold one? Well. Oliver had to appreciate that.

He scooted closer on the bed, wiggling in place to settle in right in front of Rick. Knee to knee, exactly like the best of friends, or what Oliver knew about them. Hm.

“Specialties? Like the bag thing you do?”

“Yes! Though you don’t have to trouble yourself with that just yet.” Oliver held out the beacon to Rick, hovering over his cupped hands. “Here, hold it.”

Looking at Rick’s wide, earthy eyes and tense shoulders, Oliver pulled it back with a giggle. Maybe it’d break the tension?

“You’ll scare it like that, Rick. Think of calm afternoons, sun streaming through windows, the breeze sweeping through the workhouse.” Oops. Perhaps too much sharing on Oliver’s part. Nothing he couldn’t shrug off with a literal shrug. “Memories you are at peace in, that manner of thing.”

“Um. Okay.”

Rick took another attentive breath, and his shoulders relaxed. He only glanced at Oliver for a second or two instead of staring him down like he was going to pass him a rabid bear. If Oliver could hold a bear.

“There you are.” Lowering the ball in his hands, Oliver rocked back to watch the actual magic happen. The rippling of the beacon slowed to a stop, courtesy of being passed to Rick. It went fuzzier at the edges first, then crisp with a mellower light than before. “Look at that! Clear, steady, and precise. I should’ve expected as much.”

Gently, Oliver applauded his assistant’s discovery. He lamented that it was too late for proper clapping.

“What?” Rick scrunched up his face, stopping only to blow some hair out of his face. He really had to see someone good with scissors about that… Oliver figured that was particularly rude to say right then. “You got all that from a speck?”

“You’ll hurt its feelings with talk like that!” He covered the ball with his hands, like that would change it. The beacon sensed magical energy and for the especially attuned, their mood or thoughts. Likewise, the thought counted for the beacon. Oliver was smoothing things out between them for all their sakes. “You saw the energy it had when I held it, didn’t you? When my mother first passed this little fellow to me, it fizzed right out. I was inconsolable. Cried for days.”

“I bet,” Rick drawled, smirking.

“Yet here you are,” Oliver pushed on, refusing to linger on the playful jab that characterized their deep, immediate friendship. He opened his hands again to reveal the grand prize of Rick’s synced beacon. “Calm and reliable. Highly promising in an aide, if I do say so!”

Barely sighing a laugh, Rick examined the orb in his rough hands. It slowly spun inside its bubble at a barely perceptible speed, grey swirls drifting inside its darker core.

“You better hope so. If you still want that worldwide renown, you’re gonna need promising.”

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Where Ages Meet: Ch. 4: Settling In

  • Word count: 900 (2 to 8 minutes) | Rating: T
  • Available on Kofi and Simily
  • Note: Magic, historic elements
  • ©2022 Quillful

The still-animated trunk plunked the other bags down and started to unpack them. A simple order like that didn’t need any more chanting, luckily for him. He needed to work on that unfortunate habit if he wanted to make good on his own potential.

Pivoting on his heels, Oliver leveled a grin at Rick. The steady stare he got back was familiar already. Comforting, he might say.

“Would you like me to do yours next?”

“Oh, uh.” Rick looked down at his bag and its heaped contents. Not many other options with that sack. He brushed aside messy waves of brown hair that only fell back after, too short for anything else. “I’m alright.”

Watching him pack things away into a drawer showed Oliver some things he wasn’t expecting. A flute, of all things. Rick didn’t seem artistically inclined, but he wouldn’t be the first musician in hiding Oliver’d ever met. The notebook looked like it was held together by a magic he didn’t know. Hope, feasibly. The rest was toiletries anyone might bring—a toothbrush, that sort of thing. All of it probably could’ve stood to be replaced. But the puzzle of Rick was coming together bit by bit. And as Oliver worked on that mystery, his trunk finished unloading his bags of clothes.

“It’s only right you take turns,” Oliver enchanted the bags to unpack the trunk of books and—well, mostly books. Not all his. Mostly not his. The workhouse population was on the illiterate side without much spare time, and he considered them a going-away-and-never-coming-back present.

“Big reader,” Rick commented, eyeing the bags with less suspicion than the very first time Oliver enchanted something in front of him. Progress!

“Oh, yes! Help yourself, of course,” he offered, flicking a hand at the shelf the bags loaded up. “There aren’t many to do with magic, but we’ll need ways to pass time while we recharge our mystical energies.”

Staring blankly, Rick waited for details.

“Ah, we’ll get there. It’s too much to go into tonight. Tomorrow night,” Oliver decided, a finger raised in triumph.

“Mm,” Rick agreed, testing out the bed by pressing down with his hand in the center. His face made it completely impossible to tell if it passed this test or not. He grabbed one of the piled-up pillows and held it up a little. “Oliver?”

He didn’t want to jeopardize the titleless use of his name, but it was out of the question not to smile about it. Finally, no more ‘sir’ or ‘Mr. Oliver’. He could only hope it would last when Rick got more rest.

“Lovely, thank you.”

Rick tossed it over, and to his own surprise, Oliver caught it.

What shouldn’t have surprised him was that Rick tossed his shirt off onto the floor before he climbed onto the bed. He was fit, generally unscarred, and appeared quite comfortable without a shirt. Many laborers in and around the workhouse shared his opinion on that. For Rick, his seeming skepticism of the bed was a much bigger concern.

Oliver kept his back to his aide while he changed into more modest nightwear of a long-sleeved shirt and loose pants. He untied his ponytail for extra coverage. In case of emergencies. There were some marks you just didn’t explain to someone you scarcely knew; it was—only polite. Calling it lying would be an exaggeration. Who told someone their whole life story from the outset anyway? Rick definitely hadn’t. And why should he? They had a budding friendship that could be washed away with that much information.

“Good night, Rick.”

“What if I can’t do it? Tomorrow, I mean.”

Rick sat cross-legged in the middle of the bed, his tanned skin even warmer to the eye beside the bland white quilt. He picked at the seams of it as he glanced at Oliver and away again. Obviously, there was more at stake here than the free stay that first convinced Rick to come along.

“Come now,” Oliver reassured him, clambering onto the bed to sit in front of him. “No one ever does anything perfectly on their first try. You will be marvelous in the arena!”

“How do you know?”

There it was, that fire in his gaze again. Oliver never could tell exactly when his vulnerability would give way to a conviction that would make mountains apologize and shuffle away. Theoretically. He figured that was fair, since he’d only seen known Rick for a week or so.

“Magic is a sensed thing, you know.” Oliver tapped his own chest, expecting to be scoffed at but just getting a flat stare as Rick rested his head on his hand, propped up by the elbow on his knee. “I can tell you have it in you.”

“That’s not enough. It can’t be.” Flopping back, Rick draped an arm over his face and stared at the beams above them. Oliver peeked up too. Just in case some secrets of the universe had tucked in there with the cobwebs not even this place could get rid of. “I should go home in the morning.”

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Where Ages Meet: Ch. 3: The First Test

  • Word count: 1000 (2 to 8 minutes) | Rating: T
  • Available on Kofi and Simily
  • Note: Magic, historic elements
  • ©2022 Quillful

Reaching down for one of Rick’s hands, he put that over the Charm and stepped aside to let him open their room door.

“Now, as your first magical test, you should open the door with that handy emblem.”

Rick stared at the stone circle in his hand. The opalescent gem nested in the center had to look flat and plain in the warm, inviting light from the hallway bulbs. Another new invention that was, in fairness, much easier than candles or magic. He peered at Oliver—an odd thing since he had to look down at him to do it—and a grimace twisted his features. It made a light scar over his lips more obvious, though.

“Mr. Oliver, I don’t know if I can.”

“Obviously not. You haven’t tried.”

Oliver ushered him over to the door with a light nudge, too gentle to be a shove. This companion he scooped up really was quite endearing, once you got past his prickly and a touch indifferent nature. Even all that was lovable, in a way. It kept that uncertainty in Rick safe from hurtful folks. One he would still need encouragement to outrun in the end. Who could cheer on a hard-won friend better than Oliver Martin Lewis?

He’d been doing that for himself since he was a boy. Oliver was practically an expert in the rallying cry! Hardship uncovered talent for the resilient, as someone once said. Probably.

Rick tapped the Charm to where the key would go if there was one. When that did nothing, he pressed it there and tried scowling at it. His broad, lean shoulders drooped for a fraction of a second before he shook his head and closed his eyes to try again.

Oliver leaned over to check the Charm while Rick’s eyes were closed too, and it didn’t seem to be doing much of anything. Maybe he overshot how helpful the emblem would be…

“Are there—words? Like you did with the trunk?”


Oliver snapped up to stand straight once Rick lowered the Charm, looking to him for guidance. Hopefully his aide would chalk that reaction up to—anything good, or at least not bad. The real reason for his embarrassment had to be worse than anything Rick could whip up in his imagination.

“Ah!” Some warmth came to Oliver’s cheeks, and he let out a half-laugh as he scratched at his neck. Most mages didn’t require incantation. It was considered for children, which he supposed he was in relation to some. He doubted that would spare him mockery in the trials to come. Oliver would prefer it if Rick wasn’t among the people thinking less of him so soon after meeting him. “Not—in this case.”

“Then how does it work?”

A traveler finding an oasis in the desert could not have been more relieved than Oliver in that moment. He had more time before Rick caught up with mage customs. And when he did, well, maybe he’d hidden a renegade spirit behind that weary, calloused voyager persona along with an adorable side. Maybe customs meant nothing to him. There was hope yet!

“Through focus, my good man,” Oliver proposed, guiding Rick to push the Charm back against the ‘keyhole’. “Think only of entering the room. The weight of the door as is swings open, your first steps inside. Every small feeling and observation of that and nothing more.”

Slowly, Rick opened his eyes with a renewed vigor there that was frankly contagious. There he was, shoulders squared instead of resigned, with the utmost determination proudly on display. All that from someone who doubted his ability only a minute ago.

The Charm glowed with his energy, flickered, and dimmed as if going to sleep. Rick huffed and let his arm fall limply at his side.

“Brilliant, simply brilliant,” Oliver cheered, beaming until his cheeks hurt a bit. “I hadn’t expected it to glow so brightly with you so exhausted as you are. We’ll try opening it again come morning, hm?”

He opened the door with a quick tap of the Charm and made a grand gesture for Rick to enter first. A bow and all!

The poster bed in the center was pretty sizable, and on the opposite side was a cozy-looking lounge sofa of one kind or another. They were fairly popular in Silon and clearly abroad. Most fashion and design trends came out of their peninsula, so it wasn’t a surprise to see it at a hotel in the capital of Rauthia. The beams across the ceiling were the same reddish wood as the floor, and a charming rug under the bed added some color and patterns for contrast. The hotel laid it out well to leave a good impression with newly minted mages despite having not a single window. Quite considerate of them, really.

Rick walked into the room with careful steps and eyed the poster bed as if it were only pretending to be a cozy and inviting.

“You ought to have that one,” Oliver said, pointing to it. Perhaps a night’s rest would assure him of its safety?

Meanwhile, he set the Charm down in an embedded spot in the lamp waiting on the desk. His luggage manifested beside the smaller lounge he would take to sleep on. Whether Rick jumped because of the remote teleportation from the Charm or his suggestion to take the bed, Oliver had no idea. He didn’t know his new friend that well. For now. But if it was the former, calling attention to that would be rather rude.

“No need for the theatrics. I’d be swimming in it, and you’ll hang off this one.”

“I’m not that much taller than you.” Rick shrugged his shapeless bag onto the bed anyway. Some expression that one might call a smile made an appearance as he tried to look busy opening the satchel.

“Enough that I’m right,” he answered, chipper and perhaps somewhat smug with his accomplishment of earning a happy reaction from his sullen companion. Clapping, Oliver commanded the trunk. “Let’s not dally now. Big day ahead of us.”

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Where Ages Meet: Ch. 2: Oliver’s Aide

  • Word count: 900 (2 to 8 minutes) | Rating: T
  • Available on Kofi and Simily
  • Note: Magic, historic elements
  • ©2022 Quillful

“You’ve got one,” the scarred security woman said, crossing her arms in not a little annoyance. Someone had lost a bet, then! It wouldn’t be the first time Oliver could take pride in foiling a doubter’s expectations. Just desserts for her negativity, if anyone asked him. Not that they did.

“Indeed,” Oliver retorted and presented Rick with a touch of flair in the roll of his hand. Impersonable though his former carriage driver was, Oliver could sense an untapped potential in him. Both metaphorically and mystically. “As talented as he is hardy, Rick here is a true contender among mages’ aides.”

“Mhm. We’ll see about that tomorrow,” the man standing guard with her spoke in pure disinterest. The glittering parts of their uniforms shimmered less now with the sun making a hasty retreat. Sunset certainly felt rushed to Oliver, having run around the city on foot. “Novice rooms are along the hall to your right in the foyer. Your immediate right. You’ll know yours when you reach it.”

They only took a few steps into the grand foyer when Oliver spotted a narrow, less impressive hallway on their right. That guard was incredibly serious in his description after all. Where the foyer had plush carpets and delicately carved furniture placed at key points to best appreciate the fine chandeliers and regal-looking tapestries and paintings, that particular hall had modest wall lights and a spare runner carpet to keep it from looking too out of place.

Still, it outpaced his prior quarters with ease.

“Right then, this way,” Oliver chimed, waving Rick along behind him.

“How’ll we know our room?”

His voice seemed somewhat muffled as they went, and Oliver guessed he was looking off at the inoffensive landscape paintings dotting the hall. Traveling by horse wouldn’t show him all of those places. He supposed it might’ve been Rick’s first time seeing the Kinarian lighthouse of Silon or Mount Tosowyn north of Raverc. Given the oceans and nations between them and the port town he worked out of, that was fair enough. It was probably more unexpected that Oliver had read about them before.

“Trust in the magic, my dear Rick!”

He kept his pace, although a bit worried about how far they were walking down the hall without so much as a hint from the Trialist Charm around his neck. Just how many novice mages were there that year? With technology fast replacing mages, Oliver doubted that came to a large number. Fewer to compete against would be agreeable at the very least. Another explanation for the long walk was that more high-ranking mages were staying here, in this unremarkable hallway. If other patrons of the Aethian arena and its sleeping quarters were more important to impress… It wasn’t a good sign for the Council. Technology made magic possible for anyone, essentially, in not even half the effort.

But it relied on wires and cables and factories. Oliver was confident that magic users would still forge ahead into this new era as well.

He held the stone tighter and tried to put on a brave front. For Rick. He distinctly recalled his driver being uninterested in this event when it was hypothetical. What sort of mage would set a bad example for their aide when they were in need of inspiration?

Whatever tracking or resonance magic they used, Oliver had every reason to believe it would go off any minute. Any second, actually!

“Mr. Oliver,” Rick explained, his frown carrying into his voice too easily. What ever became of the aloof teen driving his carriage? As though Oliver himself were not in his teenage years. Hm. “I gave up my room for this.”

“A fine example of your good judgment,” he stalled with flattery, “as you will also see soon enough.”

That was when he first felt it—the tugging of magical energy, leading him farther down the hall and towards his left. It nestled in his chest, rising anticipation that urged him to follow where it led. A sensation of something just around the corner or maybe something flying at his head. Which he hoped it wasn’t.

If Rick had the Charm on him, he might’ve felt it too. The resonance was too far away for an untrained mage to find without help otherwise. He counted his paces up to ten, when the tugging was more of a thrumming like an orchestra in the walls. Oliver turned on his heel to face a startled Rick.

“Aha! Did you feel that?” Oliver pressed his hand on Rick’s chest, the Charm between them.

He kept his unassuming brown eyes on Oliver, blinking a couple of times and staying perfectly still otherwise. It was good for them that the hall was empty. Rick had all the time in the world to ponder whether or not he felt the magic indicating the door next to them as their quarters. Well, not all. But enough. With a breath in and out, he furrowed his brow.

“That depends. Did you also feel it?”

“Of course,” Oliver answered, quirking a smile. “A shift in energies like that is relatively low level, magically speaking. We’ve arrived!”

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Where Ages Meet: Ch. 1: Paths Crossed

  • Word count: 1900 (4 to 17 minutes) | Rating: T
  • Available on Patreon and Simily
  • Note: Magic, historic elements.
  • ©2021 Quillful

The carriage ricketed down the path, rocking from side to side not too unlike the boat Oliver left behind a few days ago. Honestly, he should’ve puked up his entire stomach by then. If not from the motion, from the anxiety, if not from those, from the excessive spellcasting and all-nighters, and if not from all of that, from the fact that everyone he met was tired of him already.

“Excuse me, yes, pardon me,” he began, possibly out of desperation for some social aspect to break up the blur of practice and half-sleep, “Hypothetical question for you,” he said through the small window to the carriage driver. Rick was his name, just a dull-eyed teen who didn’t turn or acknowledge him in any fashion.

“If you were heading toward a massive contest, or at least formerly massive, that would earn you possible worldwide renown and a great portion of your material desires for the rest of your life, even if it would put that life in certain danger of an abrupt and humiliating end– Would you still go?” He waited. A jerk of the reins brought the horses on a steady turn and the driver scratched at his stubble.

“Just wondering. Purely hypothetical.”

“…No, sir. I believe I would not.” Ah, he did speak. Truth be told, the mage wished he would speak more. There was a certain rustic eloquence in his flowing tones and raspy voice. It matched his weathered appearance, skinny though he was, draped in rough clothes and leather packs. “But I’ve little use for fame or material things.”

“Really. That is interesting.” Oliver never could tell a convincing lie. Perhaps that was the source of his societal shortcomings and those evident traits that allowed him to become a mage in the first place. “Well now. Thank you, thank you very kindly. That will be all.”

And they didn’t speak again until the sun eased its way down and the moon slid its way up. Rick originally turned the horse onto a path to the miserable village of Kendon. That was before Oliver got him to swear to turn the carriage around, drive through the night no matter the threat, and travel to Aethia, the (waning) magical capital of the world. Rick made some money off the vow.

He woke up not to Rick, like he expected, but to Aethia’s bubbling morning bustle and the accompanying distant bird calls. The ocean was off by a day or so, but the sea birds still graced the city with caws and droppings. Even that early, six or maybe seven in the morning, people moved about the streets and brought the carriage’s pace to a patient amble. Fortunately for them, there were few of the new “automobiles” about…

Still, they made it to the arena at the city’s approximate center before noon and that was all that mattered. Even if that was when the driver got the other half of his payment, Oliver was thrilled to finally arrive, to look at the vaulted stone spires and rows of pointed arch windows.

Oh, to take it all in firsthand… As Rick unloaded the mage’s two carpet bags onto the limestone path and eventually stared at the stout steamer trunk on the rear luggage rack. Oliver was so fixed on the arena, imagining his way through corridors to his assigned and truly unremarkable room (though it would impress him to no end), that it took the carriage boy speaking to get his attention.

“Sir, the trunk.”

“Oh, of course, right,” he corrected himself, joining an unimpressed Rick at the back of the carriage and pulling up his sleeves. “I’ll handle this.”

With a whispered incantation, his eyes closed, he missed Rick’s muted expression of shock and revulsion as the trunk rocked. Sticks of cedar jutted out from its side, the wood cracking in the strain even as the process left no marks in the trunk or the leather straps. Oliver kept his eyes closed, muttering the made-up language while the sticks bent as if they had an elbow, coming out further until they ended in square hands. They had no form, looking like thumbless mittens even as they closed and opened.

It got up on its rangy haunches, shook the new arms and legs as if their stiffness could be fixed that way, and clambered down the side of the carriage to pick up the waiting bags.

“Well, thank you for all your help, kind sir.” Oliver took Rick’s hand in his, shaking it and leaving a small sack of money in the driver’s palm. “I expect my gratitude will cover your homeward expenses.”

“Sure,” he said, seeming a little concerned about something. It had to be one of their mental states. But he put the sack in his pocket and returned to the carriage led by the chestnut horse with stunted ears and eerily large eyes. Riding inside the whole time, the mage didn’t notice until now just how unsettling they were.

The two turned their separate ways and that brought Oliver to the arena’s gate, guarded by security officials in navy blue uniforms with glinting silver trims almost outshone by the spotless black of their shoes and for some, the badges on their uniforms. Naturally, only two of the ten officials would talk to him.

He went through unsurprising questions without much trouble. What sort of mage are you? How long have you been practicing? Have you ever been detained or arrested by the Mages’ Council for any purpose? Passing that test, they moved on to the practical portion of the exam. Cast any spell for us, okay, that’s great, now use another to unlock this chest no wider than a tankard and get your Trialist Charm. Great, you did that, now…

“Where’s your aide?”

“Hm?” Oliver looked up at the stern woman’s face, finally over the scar at her left jaw line and not staring at it instead of her eyes anymore. His new fixation had been on the opalesque gem in the center of the stone charm. He was in the middle of wondering if everything at the arena was made of stone when she interrupted him. “Excuse me?”

“Your aide. Where are they?” Aide. Aide. Why hadn’t he heard of this before? Oh no, not good… They were starting to question his hesitation.

“Oh, my aide, you meant them. Well, they’re off looking after the horse. Chestnut, a real dear. Well, no, she’s a horse, but…” He trailed off and sensed that they had lost their patience. “I’ll go and get him, she’ll be alright.”

He didn’t even ask if he could join without an aide since he already had the Trialist Charm and all. He just left the trunk behind to wait, running past the landscaped woods towards central Aethia. If he could find Rick at the stables, if any remained, offer him yet more money, which he was running out of, and convince him to be his aide, learn some magic… Well, that shouldn’t be hard. Wasn’t that everyone’s dream?

Panting, Oliver stopped in the first motel he came across and began the search. He wouldn’t leave the city that day because he hadn’t slept the night before, which left that night and the next morning to find him. “Excuse me, pardon, if it’s not too much trouble,” he paused for a gasp of air, “Did a young man come in here named Rick? To stay the night?”

They said no in that place and demanded to know who was asking in the second one, assuring that he wasn’t there mostly because Oliver didn’t want to argue. So the hunt went until the fourth place of lodging, where the staunch doorman told him what he so wanted to hear. If the horse and carriage outside weren’t obvious clues. “Yeah, a few hours ago. A real lanky thing he was. Looked like he hadn’t slept in a day.”

“Oh, that’s him,” Oliver sighed, daring to smile now that he had the news he wanted. “Which room is he in?”

He got a leery look, a once-over to see if maybe he looked the sort who would kill someone in their rented room and cause a huge mess for the owner. Another few coins lost, but the room’s location gained, he went upstairs to the third door on the left and banged an open hand on the door.

“Rick, open up,” he called, staring down at the knob and forcing himself to not go in anyway. “I have another favor that needs doing. I wouldn’t trust anyone else with it, of course, so I came to give you the first chance. Extra money, Rick, I can promise you that if you’ll help out with this one favor.”

Oliver jumped at the thump inside the room, maybe something slamming against the wall or onto the floor. He waited, biting his lip and biding his time. “Rick,” he ventured after a few seconds without another sound. “How is everything in there? Are you alright?” Soft rhythmic creaks got louder and then the door opened just a crack. Rick looked worse now than before, a lot worse.

“What is it.” Eyes half shut and the look on his face just begging Oliver to give him a reason to punch the mage, Rick wasn’t in any mood for politeness and Oliver wasn’t crazy enough to demand it.

“Can I come in and talk?”


Well then. Alright, Oliver could work with that. Running both hands through his hair, taking a deep breath, he started up with his explanation.

“Remember that probably massive contest?” And his future aide’s eyes shut even more. He lost some ground there, granted, but it would be won back as soon as he got to tell the story. “Well, to be in it for real, I need an aide.”

“I’m not it.”

“Hey, hear me out,” he bargained, stopping the door with his hand only because Rick didn’t slam his hand in it. If he really wanted to, he could. Being a carriage driver made him a lot stronger. “There’s a lot in it for you, Rick, I promise. I’ll pay you twice what you made as a driver,” Oliver said, counting the benefits on one hand and watching the driver’s interest pique as his eyes almost nearly opened.

“I thought magic was dying off,” he answered, but he was swaying, Oliver could just feel it. Or perhaps that was the numb, light feeling of lacking oxygen.

“And isn’t carriage driving? Look, I’ll teach you magic, and that in itself is an experience to behold. Plus, you can stay at the arena with me and a ton of other mages and their aides, and the Council will take care everyone completely free of charge! What do you say?”

And then there was the wait. He kind of hated looking at Rick leaning against the doorframe, thinking, wondering if this was worth it. When that smirk finally came, it brought a flood of relief with it and Oliver smiled back. Wasn’t often that both of them felt happy for the same reason. “Alright, Mr. Oliver,” he agreed and held out his hand that wasn’t on the doorknob of his side of the door. “You’ve got a deal.”

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