“She said she wanted to be alone,” Jude Auroran said softly, trailing the soft steps of her mother down the wooded path outside of the city, along the shores of Lordamere. Wind whispered through the trees, a faint breeze, worrying wisps of red hair free from the braid that hung down the fledgling mage’s back. She clutched her younger sister’s hand. Lyyn was quiet, mercifully so, for all her earlier protests about not wanting to come, about her being old enough to stay home alone.
“I know she did,” Aminestria Greymantle answered, voice as quiet as that of her daughter, “but no one should be fully alone to do this. No one.”
“She’s not alone. Tanith left a quarter bell after she did.”
Aminestria paused on the trail, turning to look at the two girls behind her. She smiled grimly. “I know full well what your brother did. But there’s another reason for our coming.”
The young mage’s brow furrowed, then it dawned on her. A shiver worked its way down her spine. “You said that no one’s magic is meant for this, Mother. You told her that at breakfast. And lunch. And every day since they died.”
“I know,” the archmage said simply, a wry smile twisting her lips. “But with things developing as they seem to be…perhaps it’s best you learn this lesson from Quin’lisse and I rather than on a battlefield someplace.”
Jude winced, shaking her head. “It won’t come to that,” she murmured. “Everything’s going to be okay. Isn’t it?”
Her mother reached out, gloved fingertips brushing along her daughter’s cheek. “You’re smarter than that, Judeann. You know it’s going to get worse before it gets any better.”
She caught her lip between her teeth and nodded slightly, looking past her mother in the dim moonlight that slanted through the trees, toward where the sound of wood being stacked had stopped. “I’m not sure I want to learn this lesson, Mother.”
“No one does,” Aminestria murmured, then took her hand and led her onward. Lyyn trailed behind, clutching her older sister’s hand, silent as the grave. They finally stopped a bit further on. Aminestria stepped off the trail into a small clearing within sight of another clearing, where a slender, pale-haired girl in violet robes stood bathed in starlight, staring at wood stacked around two shrouded forms.
“Wait here,” Aminestria said softly, brushing an errant strand of red back from Jude’s face. “Be still and be silent. Watch, and listen.”
She left it unsaid to her elder daughter that perhaps, someday, the girl might have to do this someday. Jude took a quiet, unsteady breath, eyes on the back of her friend, her mother’s apprentice. She nodded slightly. “Yes, Mother,” she murmured. She didn’t listen to whatever Aminestria said to Lyyn, who watched with clear, bright eyes.
Jude swallowed and continued to watch, even as their mother returned to the trail and advanced a bit further, to wait in the shadows of the trees, nearer to where the pyre—or soon-to-be pyre—stood. There had been so many bodies burnt in recent weeks, due to the sicknesses that seemed to completely ravage the countryside of Lordaeron. There had been rumors—rumors the girl had completely discounted—of some sort of zombie rising elsewhere. It was too ridiculous to countenance. That was what Master Finucane had said, anyway, when she’d asked. Necromancy, after all, was a forbidden art amongst the Kirin-Tor, and how would the dead walk without magic?
Still…something left her unsettled, and it was not the fact that she was about to watch a fellow mage, her best friend, use her magic to cremate the bodies that had given Quin’lisse life.
She stilled her thoughts and struggled to take another deep, silent breath to calm her pounding heart. She could see Quin’lisse lifting her hands, hear the words of a spell come softly to the other mage. She watched as the flames the girl conjured sprang from her fingertips and caught amongst the wood piled around the bodies. Jude’s nose closed up at the charnel-house smell that rose soon after, the scent of roasting meat that wasn’t quite right. She watched as the other young mage trembled, staring sightlessly at the pyre, only slowly lowering her hands long, agonizing moments later.
Jude swallowed hard, watching her mother finally move again. She felt sick down into her very core, shaken. I never want to have to do that, she thought even as she listened to her mother. The words drifted back to them on the breeze.
“For all my protests,” Aminestria said softly to her apprentice, “that no one’s magic should ever have to be used this way, it is a thing that Jude needs to learn, given the world we live in.”
Jude shivered again. She could have stood to miss this particular lesson. Somewhere inside, though, she knew—she knew—that her mother would be right in this, as she’d been right in so many other things. She prayed her moment would be a long time in coming.
She watched the pyre burn through as master embraced apprentice. She shivered again. That will never be me, she decided.
Of course, she would be wrong. Very, very wrong.