Aurem closed his eyes, feeling the nerves buzzing in his stomach, as he always did the eve before a battle. Tonight would be like any other, he knew that. And yet his nerves still would not settle. His lips curved downward in a frown, whisking strands of thick silver blonde hair over his shoulder. After facing so many battles, he would have thought himself immune to this fear. And yet, as many as he had faced, he still felt the threat of death with each one. It would be so simple- one mistake, and he could fall. Facing someone stronger than he, and he could fall.
Aurem opened his eyes, amber gaze glinting in the light of the candles. They would face the Undari on the battlefield, as they had many times before. Truthfully, Aurem knew they were at a disadvantage. The snow was falling heavy, and the trees would offer the tribal people protection. Aurem shuddered at the thought of the great wolves the tribe kept half tamed. He had seen them tear a man in half with the simple flick of a head.
Pushing though thoughts away, Aurem once again slid a hand through his hair, letting out the sharp sigh he had been containing. The dark light of the tent made his own amber skin look darker than usual. He stared at his palm, the faint trace of swirling runes peeking through his sleeve, the only blemish there. He shifted his fingers, watching the magic ink shifting slightly over his muscles along his arm. The only thing that Delfin had on their side were the mages. And only a handful at that, including him. For all the soldiers whispered in fear of magic, Aurem knew the truth of it. Without the mages, they would have lost the war.
Still, he pursed his lips, not comforted at all by that fact. Delfin had started this war, in an effort to take the Undari lands for themselves. It was not for a lowly mage like him to question, or judge. And yet sometimes, he had felt that doubt seeping in. And then often found it rushed away on the battlefield. The sheer brutality of the Undari- the massacre the wolves caused, and the rumors that they drank the blood of their dead foes. It was enough to make his skin crawl.
Aurem suppressed a shudder, and then shook his head, tunring his gaze back to the candlelight. He could have spent his last few hours writing home, to family, if he had any. He knew countless soldiers were doing just that, at the moment. His gut tightened with the knowledge that he had nothing like that waiting for him. Just a cold, simple room in the mage tower. Lower level mages, those gifted with only basic magic, were not controlled. They lived their lives as most citizens did. Perhaps the guards watched them a bit closely, when they walked by, but they were allowed freedom. But ones of his own caliber? It risked too much, letting them make their own choices. Who to marry, what friends to take. They did not want to risk letting powerful mages reproduce. There had been rebellions in the past, and kingdoms had nearly collapsed under the threat of such strong magic. He could not even leave the tower, unless he had an escort. Unless, of course, there was a battle.
It was almost ironic that the times he was able to leave the tower, were the times when he was closest to death. That he should only truly feel alive, when he was steps away from dying. He heaved another bitter sigh, and then turned. Still, he suffered little abuses, and never went hungry. He was taken care of, and the tower was not cold at night like the streets. He had seen both sides of the coin- and even as a half prison, Aurem preferred that to the streets. Magic gave him a purpose, and a reason for being alive.
“Mage, are your preparations complete?” A harsh voice called at the edge of his tent. Amber eyes flicked to the opening, suppressing the urge to roll his eyes. The man thought he sounded intimidating. With the flick of a wrist, he could set the man on fire…
“Yes, they are complete,” he responded dully, instead, not wanting to give anymore cause for people to distrust mages. The soldiers knew how much they relied upon battle mages, but that did not mean they respected them. Aurem would forever resent the soldiers’ fear, but in the end it didn’t matter. He was here to kill, not make friends.
“There are still a few hours until the battle begins- I wish to be left alone until then,” he added after a long moment, sensing the soldier’s presence outside his tent still. He heard a grunt, and then footsteps receding away a few feet. What trouble did the man expect him to get to, surrounded by thousands of soldiers? Once again resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Aurem turned his attention back to…well, his own surroundings. As sad as it felt, Aurem realized that this war tent was less sparsely decorated than his own quarters in the tower. Not because he was forbidden, but because Aurem was not one to seek out clutter, or meaningless artifacts.
“Honestly,” he murmured to himself, a few more candles lighting up with the wave of his hand. “If I wanted to cause trouble, I would have done so before I was surrounded by thousands of sword wielding idiots.” He snorted slightly at the thought. Even as gifted as he was, he could not stand against an army this large. Probably. Given enough time and preparation, and the element of surprise…
Aurem shook his head, and banished the thought. Bitter as he might be, Aurem did not wish to slaughter his countrymen like that. A few he might personally wring their necks. But to outright murder them? Though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, often times he felt himself regretting even taking the life of the Undari. Barbaric and wild as they might be, Aurem wasn’t sure that was deserving of death. And he hardly believed half of the stories that the soldiers told of the Undari. Not even they could be so fiendishly evil.
Aurem felt his lip twitch at the thought of what soldiers said of mages. That they sold their souls to demons, and underneath their human guise, they had demon horns, and sharp teeth. Whisking silver blonde locks to the side, Aurem chuckled softly, seeing only his scalp beneath the pale blonde strands. Much to the disappointment of some eager cadets, Aurem could say he most definitely sported no such affects.
Clicking his tongue lightly at useless musings, Aurem dipped his fingers into the bowl of oil before him. He swirled his fingers slightly, and then rubbed the hot oil onto the markings, pulling his sleeves up, to massage the oils further. Though magic was born into a man (or woman), the runes helped them focus their powers, and did not actually cause them, as some believed. He’d heard of countless fools who were desperate for magic, for one reason or another, attempt to do such a thing. The oils did nothing really, aside from relax his muscles, and make the markings shimmer. It was more of a vanity thing for Aurem. He had taken great pains to make his markings as detailed and beautiful as he could. The markings and his hair were the two things he took care of, above all else. He was allowed that much pride, at least.
His own body was covered in such delicate markings. The ink placed there by his own magic, for the most part, it anchored his powers, making it less likely for him to lose control. Not like he thought it would ever happen, but he wouldn’t take any chances. He had seen mages lose it on the battlefield, and take entire forces out on accident. Something about the chaos on the battlefield, and being surrounded by so much death did that to a person. It was half the reason the crown was careful about who they allowed to learn magic, and grow stronger. If one was born with magic, and proved too wild to control, then their fate was a bleak one.
Aurem shuddered at the thought, hand lifting to his throat. He had worn a silencer for a short period of time. Not because of anything he had done on purpose. But when his magic first surfaced, well past the age that it usually did, he was a threat to himself and others around him. They had put the collar on him, until he had calmed down enough to no longer be a danger. It had taken months before they trusted him, but they were months that Aurem still despaired about. He could feel the coldness clamping down around his neck sometimes, at night.
He huffed at his own foolishness, and then slid fingers through his hair, before braiding it back, tying it off at the end with a silk tie. Still, once memories of those awful months were dredged up, he could not settle the feeling of unease for some time. Tonight would not be the first, or last time. It just happened to be heightened by the prospect of battle.
Making a symbol for the twin goddesses over his chest, Aurem murmured a calming prayer, and tried to even his breathing. He applied more oil to the markings, and tried to glare and scowl the nervousness from his body. It hardly ever succeeded, and didn’t, even now. He had heard of people burying their pre-battle nerves in the arms of the others around him. But considering the normal soldiers were far too afraid, and the other mages didn’t deign to lay with ‘someone like him’, he doubted that would go over well, should he ever take an interest.
He was common born- worse than that, a rat off the streets, and there were many who resented his strong power, despite his background. Most higher ranking mages were noble born, with all the careful, legal breeding allowed, of finer mages. And he? He was the son of a prostitute, and perhaps some drunk. Certainly no one had ever expected such strong magic to come from the streets. And yet, it had happened before. For all the laws, and care to avoid such things, magic sometimes spring up in lineages where it hadn’t been before.
There weren’t enough people that Aurem trusted, to fill up one hand while counting. It didn’t make for a very warm, or happy life, but neither was he starving, or desperate for survival. He could do worse, than to be in this odd, neutral state. He had been there before, and it was a far cry from his current situation.
Stifling a sigh, and burying the feeling of loneliness, Aurem lifted his hood, and brought it to cover his features, turning towards the entrance of the tent. After this battle, he would likely return to the tower. At least the food back home was better than the grub the soldiers got. And the mages got the best of it, unappetizing as even that was. No one wanted their mages to be weak, and without energy. Using magic burned quite a bit of energy, and after a fight, Aurem could shovel food into his mouth seemingly endlessly. Until either he ran out, or collapsed. But it had been years since he’d been drained that much. And reports said that this Undari force was not as great as they had been in the past.
The only reason that the mages had even been summoned this far out, was that scouts reported seeing the wolf called Siira. She was a great silver wolf. Even larger than the other beasts. Said to be larger than a battle steed, the wolf had taken out battalions of men all her own. Even in the tower, the mages knew of the beast.
The wolves’ fur was too thick for normal weapons to penetrate, and even magic seemed to roll off of the silvery fur of this Siira. Aurem wondered at the truth of it, though no doubt the Undari wolves were indeed fearsome. Their fur still caught fire all the same, though Aurem couldn’t say he stomached that very well. Even ablaze, Aurem had seen a wolf charge into a group of men, setting people aflame, even as it tore the others to shred. He shuddered slightly at the memory. They were beautiful, but deadly. And Aurem did not want to face them alone. Siira was enough to send most soldiers crying back into their tents, so great was her reputation. Most wolves went nameless, simply called beast. But the Delfin army had learned to be wary of this particular wolf.
The stories said that the wolves were demonic in nature, summoned by whatever barbaric atrocities that the Undari performed. How everything seemed to return to the roots of demons, Aurem would never be sure. But in this case, a part of Aurem was willing to believe it, so fearsome were these creatures. What little Aurem knew of Undari culture, though, spoke more of godly bearings. In the eyes of tribes, in any case. He had read that the Undari believed the wolves were sent by their gods to aid them in battle. That they held the status of a person in Undari culture, and sometimes, even higher than a person. Despite everything, Aurem could not snort at such a thought. The wolves were not simple beasts. He had seen a terrifying glimmer of intelligence in their eyes, on the battlefield.
“Eugh, I feel like a common soldier,” he murmured to himself, trying to shake the musings from his brain. It did not bode well, if he was already so distracted and jumpy. He tried not to think of the rumors, that the Undari would take prisoners from the battlefield, and use them to cruel ends. They would win, and that would not happen. Least of all, would it happen to him. The Undari feared magic as well as any Delfin soldier. If captured, they would be more likely to kill him. Which, honestly, he would probably prefer, to being a bed slave, or toy, to the brutal people.
Aurem tugged his hood a bit further up, and finally exited the tent, having to keep a tight hold on the fabric, as a strong gust of wind nearly blew it off. He grimaced at the biting chill of the winter gale, and drew his cloak tighter around his frame. He was not skin and bone, but he didn’t have the muscle or fat that some did, to protect him from the cold this brutal. And it would have been a waste of energy to try and shift the weather to something more pleasant. While fully capable of it, it would leave him for the most part useless, and he knew the army needed his magic more than the pleasant weather.
Still, what he wouldn’t give for spring, or even a pleasant autumn weather. Truly, the Undari were a certain type of monster for being able to inhabit this brutal weather throughout most of the seasons. They lived high in the mountains, where the snow was around more than it was not.
“Finally ready?” That gruff voice reached Aurem, causing him to scowl beneath the hood, grateful that the shadows his the look in his eyes, lest he earn a backhand for his attitude.
“Readier than most,” he said, the wind quieting down enough to carry his quiet voice to the soldier before him. Judging from the badges on his vest, he was a captain, probably bitter about being forced to babysit one of their damned mages. Suppressing a snort, Aurem only shifted the hood slightly, and looked at the camp around him. A few tents had caved in due to the unforgiving wind, making Aurem wonder if the Undari gods were showing their displeasure. They didn’t belong here, after all, and a great deal of blood was about to be spilt.