Chapter 5 – An Exercise in Disappointment (2)

Heston showed Hamelin his teeth, saying, “If he’s too weak to handle it, we shouldn’t waste resources on him. Let’s hope he has a bit of magical potential, otherwise he’ll just be a waste for the rest of his life.”

Both Wayne and Mosel looked troubled, but none of them contradicted Heston’s harsh assessment. Hamelin said nothing, seeing no reason to. As far as the family knew, he was a waste, and had this been a vexen training facility, he would have been forced to show his hidden cards a long time ago.

To the vexen there was only the clan, those above your station, and those below. The clan was everything, and to anyone who dared threaten them, the vexen put up a unified front. However, when the times allowed for it, the internal deception, trickery, and murder ran rampant. Those at the bottom craved higher station, more food and power, while those at the top had to keep those below in check, while also keeping an eye of for the schemes of their rivals.

And in between the top and the bottom, the mid-rankers had to both keep those below them at bay, while scheming for higher positions. Death and murder was a daily occurrence, and whenever someone died, another stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Luxuries such as familial ties and obligations were irrelevant to the vexen. All that mattered was power and ambition. To Hamelin, therefore, the concerns of the Whitter family felt more than justified.

“Let’s go,” Wayne said, grabbing Hamelin’s arm, “Mage Correl will check our reservoirs today; you can’t skip this time, Hamelin.”

Somewhat unwilling, Hamelin nonetheless let his oldest brother drag him to the manor’s study, where the royal tutor, Mage Correl, was awaiting them. The checking of their magical reservoirs was a monthly occurrence, which Hamelin had been spared until now, but no more.

They walked down the corridors, passing only a few servants on the way. The Whitter manor was so small it only employed a handful of servants for its upkeep, two maids for the daily chores, a cook, a gardener, and a stable hand for both the horses and the cattle. They passed the kitchen on the way, where Hamelin heard the cook complain about “Those damn critters in the pantry — we have to do something!”

The safety of their food storage seemed a lot more interesting to Hamelin than whatever knowledge this tutor would pretend to teach, but he never got to hear the reply from whoever was in the kitchen with the cook — probably the gardener, in for a midday meal. Instead, he was dragged onward to the study.

The manor’s study was a small affair, merely a good-sized parlor with a few bookshelves and four study tables cramming the room. Entering through the unadorned door, Hamelin and the brothers stood before the robed majesty of Mage Correl, an older man whose hair probably had begun graying in his thirties, and now in his fifties it looked positively ancient.

“Ahh, young lords, good to see you. Mosel, have you prepared the analysis I asked of you last time? Very good, thank you.” The old fingers rifled through the documents that Mosel handed him, nodding all the way through, “Excellent. I’ll look through them more thoroughly later, but your geometry appears in order. Now, let’s see, ahh young master Hamelin have joined us; what an honor.”

The old man closed in on Hamelin like a viper. Trying to move back, Hamelin was stopped by both Wayne’s grasp of his arm, and the ancient magus’ wizened claw.

“I see you’re still as timid as always,” the old man said and grimaced, “Let’s get you seated, shall we, before you scarper off.” The mage dragged Hamelin to one of the tables, and sat him down firmly, waving a finger before his eyes. To Hamelin’s astonishment, he found himself unable to move even an inch.

“There, now I won’t have you running off.”

Hamelin stared daggers at the old man, but his murderous glare was ignored. “Let’s take it in order of seniority, shall we. Lord Wayne, if you please.” Mage Correl walked to his table and pointed to a crystal ball resting upon it.

The oldest of the Whitter brothers stepped forward and placed his hand on the pall. Within its center, a soft glow began illuminating the surroundings with a solid, brown hue. “A small improvement from last time,” Correl said and nodded, while penning the result on a piece of parchment, “I’m afraid your powers are limited to a smaller scale, but you should be able to improve the farming yield of any plot of land you focus your power on.”

Wayne nodded and did not look the least bit dissatisfied. Hamelin could already see him playing out the possible increase in revenue from utilizing his powers properly.

“Lord Heston, if you please.”

The second Whitter brother stepped forward and copied Wayne’s actions. The ball lit up with a more powerful, red light, but it was still just a speck in the center of the orb. “Very good, very good… fire is a powerful element, and especially good support for one aiming for the martial path.”

Heston grinned and released his hand, stepping back and winking in Hamelin’s general direction. Hamelin had never felt any malice coming from Heston, which had always confused him, given the second brother’s propensity for ridiculing him. It was like a group-leader acting tough in the face of ratlings, but having no claws with which to scratch.

“And Mosel, come here,” The old man’s tone turned from professional to doting. There was no doubt about who he favored among the brothers, and understandably so. When Mosel put his hand on the ball, it lit up with powerful, swirling colors of blue and green.

“As impressive as always. Both your affinity for water and wind have grown magnificently,” Mage Correl said, nodding and noting down his findings, “It appears I’ll have to request the use of the royal family’s reservoir gauge; you have reached the limit of this one.”

Mosel smiled, abashed, and looked down onto the ground. He was quiet an unassuming in daily life, nothing like Heston who freely boasted about his prowess on the training field.

“And finally, let’s see what we’ve got to work with, young master Hamelin,” the old man said, once Mosel had taken his seat, once more waving a finger. Hamelin was again amazed by the sudden change that overcame him.

Narrowing his eyes, he began to suspect that this human magic was not as inconsequential as he had first assumed. Perhaps, now that he was human himself, he could learn a thing or two. If nothing else, he might find away to improve the rate of mutation.

With a little excitement in his eyes, Hamelin stood up and approached the crystal ball. Without meaning to, he was looking forward to learn what kind of affinity he would have, and whether he might be surprising the family.

Over the last two years, Hamelin had done his best to stay low-key, but if there was a legitimate source of power for him to exploit, it might not be a bad idea to get back into his family’s good graces.

He was so small that the edge of the table was directly in his line of sight, and had to tip-toe to reach the crystal ball. Tentatively, he reached out and placed his small palm on the cool exterior of the ball. Once he touched it, nothing like sparkling light emerged. Not even a color. Nothing but blank crystal and a disappointed tutor.

“It seems,” mage Correl said with a sigh, “That your talents lie not in magic either, young lord. You can attend my classes if you wish, but I can teach you nothing of substance.”

Furrowing his brown, Hamelin looked into the depths of the crystal, looking for anything that might explain the difference in result. Although he was disappointed, in the end he just shook his head and said, “I see. Then I won’t bother you.”

The tutor looked at him with dismay, but said nothing. Like everyone else, he would rather not deal with the troublesome, youngest son of the Whitter family.