Evren pulled his waist-length, inky black hair back into a ponytail, and looked back from the door, his gaze drifting around to see if there were anything he’d missed.
It was a normal single dorm room, small, but enough space for one student. Evren’s things were mostly plain. He did like decorative things, but it was rare that he had something worthy of decorating. He wouldn’t need to bring anything, they had told him. Everything would be provided for him. He was allowed to bring something small, if there were something of emotional value to him.
Early morning sunlight came into the room through the small space between the curtains, illuminating just a glowing bright orange line across the middle of the room, cutting through the dark greys and blues that made up the rest of the scene.
It was almost time, wasn’t it?
He grabbed his brown leather shoulder bag, the one he always carried more out of habit than anything else. As he left the room, he felt guilty, as if he should miss this life more than he did… and then the thought of the past awakened its double, the thought of the future, and an uncertainty like Evren had never experienced before…
He pushed up his glasses by the middle and hastened out of the room.
The lobby was still dark when he got downstairs. As he stepped outside, the sunlight hit him harder than he’d expected. His head hurt. He wasn’t used to being up this early.
The car was right there. It sat waiting on the curb, right outside the building. It was formal and pristine, and thoroughly out of place. A driver stood near the front of the car, wearing a uniform that didn’t have any outward signs of being connected to the palace. Evren was thankful for that. Passers by were probably staring enough already.
He hoped that no one saw him who would recognized him as he got into the car.
The car took off.
The driver didn’t speak.
Evren didn’t look back at the building.
I’m going to be a….
He shook his head. He couldn’t even form the whole sentence in his mind, because no matter how many times he went over the idea, he still couldn’t make it feel real to him.
Sorcerers... he’d seen them on TV and in pictures, in the news, standing gracefully in their heavy, ornate robes, and performing rituals.
He had seen drawings and paintings of them throughout history. He had often read their writings, their spells, and seen their drawings, but he was only a spectator.
What did it feel like from their side?
The common impression was that their lives were secluded, heavily controlled and disciplined. That they were kept from the things that ordinary people took pleasure in, for fear that such distractions would take too much of their concentration. The complex magical rituals that they performed throughout the day required absolute focus. They wake at dawn, and spend their entire days preparing and enacting complex rituals, and meditating. Since magic was so incredibly difficult to control, a person would need to so thoroughly infuse their life with the practice in order to use magic to do anything worthwhile.
In order to make spells that powerful, months of preparation would be required. And if it happened that during the spell, any one of the twenty-eight sorcerers involved lost focus, the whole spell could come to nothing - or even end up transformed into a disaster. This is why that level of training was necessary.
Normal people thought that that seemed like a nightmare, too much work. But Evren found it intriguing, exciting, even.
He felt his pulse quicken at just the thought. What would it be like to actually do that? To throw oneself that deeply into concentration on a subject, to bring the knowledge of it into one’s mind, one’s body, that deeply? To work with spells? To touch that kind of power?
It had never been anything more than an intellectual exercise to him before, and he’d never put much thought into it, even as that. But now, it could actually be real for him… disorienting. That was the only think he could call it.
It would be important work. Evren understood that. The sorcerers in cloisters and palaces like this were the ones who made the spells that the rest of the world ran on. Evren watched the driver’s hand in front of him, fingers moving across the small panel of light between the drivers’ and passengers seats. That was magic-based, Evren thought, as was the phone in his pocket, …the one, he now realized, that he might or might not have forgotten to charge. He wondered if it would matter. He wondered if he would be allowed to keep his phone. He wondered if sorcerers had phones. Were they allowed to exchange texts with the outside world? Or, might they have some way of messaging that was more magically advanced than texting?
He was fairly sure they didn’t play mobile games, in any case. He felt a small emptiness at the thought of the stats and cards he’d collected over the years, but he was surprised to realize that the thought of losing all if that didn’t quite bother him. The things those characters did in the games, he realized, he would get to do in real life.
In truth, he didn’t mind the idea of a restrictive lifestyle. He didn’t have many hobbies aside from those games, and, he supposed, overanalyzing things. Contemplating philosophy, he could call it. And a life spent meditating on magic would mean more of that, not less.
But the more he realized how much the life of a sorcerer seemed to suit him, the more he worried. He had never done a single spell in his life. Though he loved reading fragments of spells as poetry, he had never so much as read through a full one even once before, much less cast one, much less crafted one.
Could he really...?
He tried to look out the window, at the familiar city streets that the car passed on the way to the Sky Palace. For all he knew, this could be the last time he would ever see them.
When I get there, he thought, they might just tell me it was all a joke, and that I’m a fool for believing it, and send me back. Maybe they want to trick a perfectly ordinary person like me into thinking I could become one of them, just to measure my brain waves for data for a spell, or something like that. Maybe they do this a lot, he realized. Maybe there are tons of people who have been brought into the palace just to be turned away...
That was when he noticed his hands, clenched into fists on his knees in front of him, were shaking.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t smart. Evren was a philosopher, though he’d find such a label far too self-important to use on himself. He loved thoughts and ideas, emotions, art, poetry. But even so, more technical or quantitative thinking had always been something of a weak point to him.
If it were Talen…
Talen had the kind of intelligence that makes people like you. Talen knew all about magical developments, spell technology, and all of that sort of thing. One of Evren’s classmates, brilliant and excitable, with short, spiky, cherry-red hair, he wasn’t a true sorcerer, but magic was his hobby. Obviously, an ordinary student wouldn’t have the sort of training or resources to really make and use spells, but he would collect the technology available to laypeople, and as a hobby, he would tinker with them. He was quite good at it, and everyone loved seeing what he’d come up with. And beyond that, he was handsome. If asked, Evren would say Talen wasn’t his type, but as Evren would admit only to himself, at times his heart reacted the same as everyone else’s to Talen’s charm. His poise. His smile.
Talen was the exact opposite of Evren.
Talen would spend a few days working on a project, often bringing parts of it to class to do in breaks. He would chat with others as he worked, and when he accomplished something he was working on, everyone could hear how excited he’d get when he saw the results, and they loved it.
Meanwhile, Evren’s philosophizing just put him in gloomy moods that would often last for hours, that of course, no one else knew the cause of, which made him seem creepy to them.
If Evren were honest with himself, it was Talen and his friends who kept him from trying magic. The thought of what they’d think if they saw him try... the thought of what they’d say if they saw him fail. Talen’s opinion shouldn’t matter, he told himself.
He shook his head. Why was he even thinking of Talen now?
Evren was the one arriving at the Sky Palace - the real Sky Palace of sorcerers.
But he would have to go in there and tell them he’d never done even the slightest magic before. He cursed himself. His fear of a slight, schoolyard embarrassment had left him vulnerable to a greater one, one that actually mattered.
He tried to turn his thoughts to less fearsome places.
In any case, he would get to see the Sky Palace. He would at least go in for... what? And interview? He shook his head, tossing the idea around in his mind. Did that make this a job interview? The application of a label like that to something like this seemed absurd, and yet, he realized it was, essentially.
And these were the sorcerers of the Sky Palace - they weren’t going to interview him in the cafe around the corner, were they?
No, he knew. He would at least get to see the inside of the palace this once, and how many people could even say that?
The request for him to come had truly been given as if he should expect to stay. They had warned him that he wouldn’t return to his old life, and now, that warning became a reassurance to him.
As the car stopped, and the driver opened the door to let him out, Evren realized that, in all likelihood, this would be his home from now on.
And he wanted it that way.
He wanted to be a part of this.
He looked up at the skyscraper in front of him, though he realized he looked foolish. It was almost 200 floors tall, he knew. From the ground right in front of it, you could barely even see the decorations at the level where the true Sky Palace starts, at the 121st floor.
But even from the ground floor, the whole building was clearly one of sorcery. The decorations all recalled the motifs and styles of the garments and tools of sorcerers. A shiver ran through him as he recognized the shapes, the curls, the stars, the peculiar lettering, and all the other motifs that he recognized from the spell manuscripts that he loved to look at.
And he knew it wasn’t just a stylistic choice, that these all meant something. Perhaps they even all had spells in them. It wouldn’t surprise him, he realized, it would actually fit, for the sorcerers to have spells running all the way down to the ground floor. They likely powered the building itself, and all the offices on the floors below the palace, where laypeople made arrangements with the outside world on behalf of the sorcerers. Evren wished he knew more, wished he could read the diagrams, and another chill ran through him as he realized, surreally that he would actually be able to learn them. In this building…
The outside of the building was all glass, all the way up to where the outer palace floors began, at the 98th floor. Only the thinnest metal design elements ran up it, near the corners and around the windows of some floors.
On the inside, however, as Evren could see now through the glass front of the lobby, the walls were about half white stone, and half panels of dark gold metal, completely covered with magical patterns that overlapped and swirled around each other.
The driver led him to the main entrance, where two sorcerer priests stood. He realized as he approached that they were waiting for him.
They had spell stones.
He had never seen one in person before. He noticed them before anything else, then caught himself. Was it rude to notice?
But they were beautiful.
The two priests wore robes cut to expose their shoulders, and each one had around one arm - one on the left arm and one on the right - cuffs with a large red stone in the middle, large enough to be seen clearly from the side. They not only glowed with magic, but Evren could also see a swirling, opalescent energy in both of them. He recognized that texture. These were subordinate stones, he knew, stones crafted to carry an energy drawn from - and connected to - a real magical stone, of which there were only 17. But these stones were subordinate to a Celestial Stone, one of the most powerful stones, the ones held by the most powerful sorcerers, the Celestial Princes.
As the two priests led him inside the building, Evren wondered what it must be like to hold a magical stone, to be bonded to one. The stones, he knew, weren’t simple jewelry. They were bonded to the wearer, and could not be removed. Their magic connected with the very life forces of the bonded human. They were such a limited resource that only the most trusted snd skilled sorcerers could even be bonded to a subordinate stone. Evren knew that if he was ever to have one, it would be after years and years of study, and that’s assuming he’s even allowed to stay. But for the first time, he really wondered how they felt.
Did they hurt?
The two priests led him to a hall to the side of the lobby. As they entered it, Evren could see the patterns in the walls becoming even more dense, more than he would have thought possible. He realized again that they were approaching a place that was truly for sorcerers, a place that was itself made of sorcery.
The thought sent chills through his body.
Up there, he thought, I’ll actually get to learn this.
More and more, it began to feel real to him.
A large door at the end if the corridor opened into a small chamber, and he realized it was an elevator.
The elevator might have been faster than Evren expected, or it might have been his nerves, but they were at the 136th floor before he realized it.