Kane sprinkled more ash into the bowl and reached for another root. This was not a part of The Life that Kane enjoyed. There was a long road to walk between the thrill of using your power and the drudgery and discomfort in acquiring it. He rubbed some warmth back into his hands. The light was going and he knew he had to finish with these roots while he could see. He could save the rest of the grunt work for fire light, but not this. He glanced over to the woman on the porch. She was inspecting the scroll he had finished, holding it up to the setting sun, looking for flaws.
“You do good work.” she finally said. “I'm so glad I didn't kill you. If the other two are of similar quality I’ll let you take a quick peek.” She mimed lifting her skirt and then laughed. Kane feigned a smile and went back to his work. She could dance around naked in the moonlight, the only peek he wanted was at her notes and they both knew it. He was so close now he could taste it. He catalogued the information in his head, he knew the words but not the forms. He just needed a couple more pieces to complete the puzzle and in three more days and he’d get his chance. He quickly put it out of this mind and refocused on his work. He had to fulfil his part of the bargain first, and one mistake would ruin the whole batch.
He finished the mixture and set it to the side as the last light faded from the tree tops, leaving a red glow against the wall of the cottage. He eyed the pile of wood he had collected that morning, just enough to keep the fire going through the night. He might be able to doze a while tonight, if it didn't rain anyway. He was tired and his fingers ached from the cold.
“Tell me news of the Academy.” she asked suddenly. “Do they still prance and preen for the king’s favours? Have they widened their net yet, or are they still content to pull minnows from the pond?”
“You know the answer to that”. replied Kane. “You wouldn't be here otherwise. You’re wrong though, the Academy is the best way, the surest way.”
“And what about you my little fish, swimming out into the wide ocean? If you’re not careful something nasty might snap you right up.” She flashed her teeth.
“I came after my brother. He thought he would be a hero, the one to recover a lost phrase or some precious roll of parchment. All he found was a grave.”
“Still, here you are.” she said, “And who can say what other things lie in the ground here. Perhaps it will be you that finds that parchment... or something more lively.”
Kane snorted and added some sticks to the small fire. She had a point, he had seen more in his short time in the south than he had in years at the Academy. The Royal Academy was the real jewel in the King’s crown, there was no doubt of that. There were all too few new men and without the Academy they would have been overrun countless times by the natives these past centuries. The traditions were the glue holding everything together. He watched her retire to her small cottage and settled himself in for a long cold evening tending the brazier. He looked out into the dark wood and considered her remarks. There was a danger in only looking inward, in relying only on traditions. The old people had retained some of their lore, no doubt dwarf magic at it’s heart. And there were other things out here as well, older than man or dwarf. Powerful things, you could feel it. He made a motion with his hand and muttered a short phrase. A handful of twigs rose up into the air and fed themselves into the fire. Ah, now that was the part he did enjoy. Tradition was important, but in the end it was all about the power.