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Every report Thomar read seemed worse than the one before. Sighing, he looked out of the window, seeing his city untouched by the illness, and realised, the same way his parents and brothers must have, that their only hope was the Magi. Convincing the Magi to help them seemed impossible. It had been centuries since the Magi had been kept as slaves, yet they still hated the Carne for what their ancestors had done. He didn’t know how he’d feel if he was in their position, even though he hoped that he would have been able to forgive and forget, but he accepted their hatred because he could easily imagine hating the Magi if things had been the other way round.

Fortunately the illness that had sped through the outer villages, with a terrifying death rate, hadn’t yet reached the more populated towns, but it wouldn’t be long. Thomar glanced down at the report again, which had been written by a survivor asking for help, and wished there was something more that he could do. He bit his lip. Technically there was something more that he could do, although in the end the lives of his race would lay in the hands of the Magi. It seemed likely that they would chose to let the Carne suffer for their mistakes, especially as the current Magi were, apparently, very different to the race that had chosen to free themselves.

Like all of the Carne Thomar had learnt their history without any omissions. At least he believed there hadn’t been, because they may not have been proud of what they’d done in the past, but they knew it was important to remember the mistakes they’d made before so they wouldn’t make them again. He’d learnt why the Magi, although they hadn’t been the Magi then as that was the name they chosen for themselves during their time as slaves, had been taken by the Carne, how they’d ended up becoming slaves, and what happened when Silvana had taken her race to safety, with the help of her owner. It was fascinating, even though he’d cringed at some of what he’d read, wishing there was some way of going back and changing the choices of some of his ancestors.

As the third son of the King Thomar didn’t have any assigned duties and his father had always been more lenient with him than with his elder brothers. Feeling guilty for having so much time to do what he wanted he made sure he knew everything he could about the kingdom and the Carne, because he knew that one day his knowledge might come in handy. He wished he could help more with the problem at hand, but that was up to his father, so all he could do was read the reports with the understanding that it was going to affect the city eventually.

“How are you?” a voice said from the door, making Thomar jump, before he turned to met the eyes of his eldest brother, the Crown Prince and the man who would one day be King.

Thomar thought for a moment. “Physically I’m fine,” he replied, shrugging. “Mentally, after reading these reports, I don’t know how I am. Terrified, mostly.”

Gregory nodded. “I think we all feel that way, even though I’ve been told to be aware of anything I might feel that isn’t normal.” He sighed. “Father knows that our only real option in the Magi. Our healers are nowhere near as skilled, they don’t have access to the same ingredients, and right now they’ve pretty much tried everything they can. The problem is that Father is so certain they won’t help us that he isn’t even going to try asking them, which I think is a mistake.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Neither am I, Tom, but I think we need to be proactive. Would you go to the Magi and ask for their help?”

Blinking, Thomar stared at Gregory, trying to think of a response that wasn’t negative. “Do you know something that Father doesn’t know?”

“No, I don’t think the Magi will help us either, but we’ve got to try. Look, there’s a chance that this illness will affect all of us, and if that happens… to be honest it’s something I’ve been dreading, because it seems likely that someone in our family will end up dead if the reports are right. If that’s me I want to know that we tried everything we could, as not trying feels very much like giving up to me, and I don’t want to have any regrets.”

“Greg…” Thomar shivered. “I understand why you’re asking me, but if you’re that certain the Magi are going to say no then there has to be another reason you’re asking me to go.”

Smiling, Gregory crossed the room and sat in one of the other chairs. “There are two reasons, Tom. I’ve heard rumours that there may be Magi who are unhappy with the decisions their matriarch has been making.” He bit his lip. “When Father was younger he believed that the matriarch was going to be Lorna, the first daughter of the old matriarch Kerensa, but something happened and instead Rose took her place. From what we heard Lorna had died using the healing magic her race have, yet there have been stories of a roving healer, who matches Lorna’s description. She works with another healer, a male who might have left the Magi with her. Now there are no guarantees you’ll be able to find her, but if the Magi say no to helping us I want you to see if you can find her, which will keep you away from the city at a time when the third son may well become the most important son.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“No one knows what’s going to happen. Father thinks it’s a good idea for you to get away from all this, but he doesn’t know that I’m asking you to go to the Magi.” Gregory reached out and touched Thomar’s shoulder. “He would have come himself, if he wasn’t so busy. Instead he wanted me to talk with you and I was glad to do it.”

“I don’t want to go, but you’re right.” Thomar glanced out of the window at a city that would soon be hit by the mystery illness. “Sometimes I really hate it when you’re right.”

“So do I.” Gregory, who had always been calm about everything, sounded scared. “When you come back this city, this whole kingdom, is going to have changed in ways I can’t describe, and I hope that I’ll be here to help with any problems you may have, but if I’m not…” His voice broke. “If I’m not, Tom, I want you to know that I love you, I’m proud of you, and no matter what happens in the future I know that you’ll have tried your best with the Magi.” As Thomar tried to work out how to reply Gregory’s calm returned and he stood. “Leave as soon as you can. It looks like the illness is a couple of towns away, but we don’t know exactly how it moves, and you need to be out of the city before it hits.”

“I will.” Thomar watched as his brother, someone he might never see again, left the room. “I love you too, Greg.”

Even though Gregory didn’t respond Thomar could tell that he appreciated hearing the words from the way his walk changed. Breathing deeply Thomar stared out of the window again, attempting to work out what he’d need to take with him, but all he could think about was how much everything was going to be changed when he returned. People he knew would be dead and he wouldn’t be there to say goodbye. It might even be his father, his mother, or one of his brothers. Staying really wasn’t an option, if his father wanted him to leave for his own safety, but that didn’t mean he wanted to leave them all behind to deal with everything alone.

Finally Thomar stood, leaving the reports where they were, and headed for his room, cataloguing what he’d need to take. There was a chance he might be gone for months, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to take too much, because he needed to be able to carry it. Maybe he’d be able to wash things as he went, so he could take more food. In the end he’d have to find sources of food if he was travelling the world looking for Lorna, if she was even still alive, and he had no idea where he should start with that search. All he could really do was hope that the Magi would chose to help him, because if he didn’t bring someone to the city soon enough the illness would have swept through unchecked and there wouldn’t be anything for a healer to heal. Apart from his kingdom, but that would be the job of whoever was King.


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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

July 2017

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