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Father was never the sort of man who felt the need to explain the orders he was giving me and he didn’t when he sent me to Ildieu with a scroll in my hand that described how to create a sanctuary using blood magic. The mages of Ildieu didn’t use blood magic, because they’d lost all knowledge of it when they willingly removed their own memories, so no one would know how bad things had become. Unfortunately we didn’t know anywhere near as much about blood magic as we once did, either, after our libraries were burnt down during the wall. All we’d ended up with was a few left over scrolls, most of which were no use to anyone at all. Maybe, if Father had told me he didn’t have any idea of what would happen to me if I used that magic, I never would have created the Hollow. Being immortal was never something that I wanted. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened to me when I used a magic I didn’t know enough about – and in the end it was my own stupid fault.

The ritual itself was simple enough. Blood magic almost always involves some sort of ritual and this one had to be done at night, under the light of the full moon. As I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing until afterwards that was useful. I was beginning to find Ildieu was a very different city to the one I expected it to be. Everyone was worried, because one of the mages was close to reaching what they called their black level, and no one knew what was going to happen. It would be the first time in their written history that anyone ever had, so I could understand why they felt the way they did. Reaching black outside the city was just as rare – we just knew what to expect. Mostly.

Of course magic can be unpredictable, but that could be purely because of how much knowledge we lost during the war. We know a lot more than the mages of Ildeiu, though, and that is something we are very grateful for. If we didn’t have that… the longer I spend in the city the more grateful I am for the knowledge we do have, Yes, it is incomplete, which is something we may never be able to fix, but we know so much more than the mages who walked away from the war, thinking that it truly was the best choice they could make. They may well have been right, if they could have rid themselves of magic at the same time. Unfortunately for them, for their plans, that was impossible, so they found themselves learning all over again, experimenting and trying to come to terms with the abilities they found they had.

Like many of the free mages Father stayed as far away from Ildieu as possible. He didn’t want to be dragged into the city against his will, because he knew it wasn’t going to work the way they wanted it to. When they made the decision to step through the city gates they hadn’t take curiosity into consideration, so he was certain the time would come when the mages who’d lost their memories would once again find their magic, even though they would know much less than they did before. That’s why he kept the scroll. That’s why he sent me to the city, to create the Hollow. That’s why I’ve found myself in the position I’m in right now. No one knows anything about me, but I have created a sanctuary and that is more than enough for them to accept me.

Ildieu is large, for a city, larger than it needed to be for three hundred mages and their families, but they were thinking of the future. It’s still too large now, which is why they don’t suspect I might have come from outside. They don’t know the gates are open, either, which means they don’t know yet that they can leave, even though people want to. As is normal in places like these there are mages and non-mages. Most of the mages live within the Grey Gardens. Some have families outside of the Gardens. If their children happen to have magic then they’ll be taken on as an apprentice, often by one of their mage parent’s friends. One of the things they have, so far, failed to notice is that there are mages within non-mage families, who don’t learn how to use their magic, which I think is a great loss. I will change that.

Even though I know that Father wouldn’t be pleased to hear that I plan on changing things in the city I’ve realised that I can’t always accept his orders without questioning them, especially now. I am the leader of the Black Hollow. Mages are coming to me, to my sanctuary, because they don’t feel comfortable within the Gardens, and I think some have now heard about the library I am slowly building. The one thing the mages here have been good at is keeping journals, so I am gathering them, as well as writing my own, in an attempt to make them safe from anyone who might want to destroy them. Slowly I am building myself a life here, with the knowledge that Father would have argued with me more than once about the choices that I have made.

Maybe I don’t always make the right decisions. No one ever does, really, as the mages who first stepped into Ildieu proved. We simply make the decisions that seem to be right and may find out later that they actually weren’t. I definitely will, because I’ve noticed that I’m not ageing. The people who first joined me, the young mages who saw me as the best option, have. For the rest of my life I will be a teenager, which doesn’t notice yet, but I know it will in the future and when it does I’ll have to work out what my next step should be. At the moment all I can do is keep going. Some days it is harder than others, especially when I dream of the night I created the Hollow. That is a night I will never forget, no matter how much I want to, as it’s the night that changed everything.

Blood magic can be dangerous. I knew that. Father knew that. He didn’t care it might mean he lost his only son, because it was Ildieu that mattered to him. One of the things I should say about him is that he was gifted when it came to seeing the future, so he was almost always focused on what he could do to change what was coming, even though the things he was attempting to change weren’t going to happen for another century or more. Unlike most people he could see much further, so he knew there was another war coming, when the outside mages would attempt to destroy Ildieu, and he sent me to protect it. I believed he would want me to pass the knowledge I had of the war onto my son, then his son, and so on, but he might have known what the magic would do to me. Now that I’m in the city I have no idea if I’m ever going to be able to ask him. Thanks to his orders I have become something more than I ever wanted to be.

The building I chose looked like it was created for me. Maybe the mages always planned for there to be more than one place for them to live, but I will never know for certain. Anyone who had helped to build the city was long dead and the mages, as far as I knew, hadn’t taken anything with them that would remind them of who they’d once been. I did have a couple of letters they’d written for themselves. They never once mentioned magic in them – instead they told their memory-less selves that a choice had been made to protect the world, which was true, and that choice meant they’d had to lose their memories. No one knew how difficult it would be for them once they stepped through the door or how much harder it would be for the families who went with them.

Father, somehow, had managed to get hold of the family trees of all the mages who’d entered Ildieu. Those families had fallen apart on the day that they’d stepped into Ildieu. Parents didn’t know who their children were, children didn’t know who their parents were, and it was a mess, at least until a female mage, I don’t remember her name right now, took charge. She sorted everything out as best she could, even though she didn’t have any memories of what had happened either. Maybe the building I took over is the place she used as an orphanage, until everything settled down again, because I have her journal now and she was the first person to realise that there was something unusual about some of the children she looked after.

Young mages would always show their magic early on, because it’s much more difficult to control then. I often found myself setting fire to things, which took a lot out of me, so Father started teaching me how to control the magic that I had much earlier than he planned. What I have found here is that magic will affect the body of the mage who’s using it in ways that we don’t see so much outside the city, although I’m certain that will change when the mages realises that the gates no longer keep them trapped within the city. When they leave it will change things for everyone, but I don’t think it will be happening any time soon, as they aren’t ready to explore the rest of the world even if they did work out that they could. Knowing that one of the mages here will be reaching black level is more than enough for them to have to deal with.

I’ve never told them my true level. That seemed to be the best decision when I realised how scared everyone is of black mages. Fortunately she is female, so they don’t really have anything to fear, because black female mages have the ability to create life, the opposite of the black male mages’ ability to kill people. Life and death – two opposites for the genders, although I have known of males to have life magic and females to have death magic. A couple of time recently I have been tempted to go and talk to her about what will happen, but the I remind myself that it will tell her more about me than I am willing to reveal right now, especially to someone that I don’t know. She may well be the sort of person to use that information to hurt me in some way. I just can’t help thinking that she’s going to need someone…

The knock made me jump. I haven’t got used to door, because Father and I lived in separate tents from the day he realised that I was a mage, in part, I believe, because he didn’t want me to be able to set fire to him as well as the tent. “Yes,” I called, hoping that whoever it was couldn’t hear how startled I was by the intrusion.

“Someone here to see you, sir.” The door opened and one of the mages who’d already joined me stepped into the room, followed by the very girl I had been thinking of. “I said you wouldn’t mind talking to her.”

Unable to stop staring at her I shook my head. She was much younger than I thought she would be, but then I’d reached black level before I turned eighteen so I wasn’t certain why I was so surprised, and it took me longer than I was happy about to smile at her. “Of course I don’t mind. Sit down. Can we get you anything to drink or eat?”


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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

July 2017

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