A return of a long defeated threat changes everything for a master of the elements.
The power of the elements can be complicated to master. Most reach it through the element bonds, ways of connecting to and shaping power that allowed the nation of Terndahl to thrive for centuries. Few can reach power of their own, an ancient way of holding magic the elemental warriors of old possessed.
As spirit master, Tolan teaches how to use the power of the element bonds, but he knows a greater truth. Connected to power of his own, Tolan can use that, along with his bond to the elementals, in ways others cannot.
When a threat all thought long ago defeated returns, Tolan finds his service to the Academy will require more than a master of spirit. Stopping this threat requires an ancient elemental warrior, but what if even that magic is not enough?
The Shape of Fire is the start of an exciting fantasy adventure series.
Release date: June 7, 2020
Publisher: ASH Publishing
Print pages: 386
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The Shape of Fire
The city of Amitan stretched out below as Tolan Ethar stood upon the central tower of Terenhall Academy of Shaping. It was a vantage Tolan had enjoyed many times before; the slate-covered roofs, hundreds of people ambling through the streets, an energy of shaping—the power of connecting to one of the elements and controlling it to create magic—along with something more.
It was a distant sensation that had drawn him here. Tolan was aware of that power in the distance; a drawing of energy that seemed to call to him, guiding him. He resisted the urge to go after it.
There was a time not all that long ago when he would have ventured out, dropping everything to go and explore. Now his commitment and responsibilities were such that he couldn’t abandon everything, even when there came a steady drumming of power. It was something he would have to investigate later.
Tearing his gaze away, he turned toward the tower, heading back down the wide staircase that swept into the heart of the Academy. He paused at the landing leading down to the main level. From here, Tolan could feel shapers using their connection to the elements, practicing with them and learning to harness that power in ways that they could in no other place within Terndahl. The Academy was unique in how it allowed shapers to master their connection to that magic.
He was late—as usual—to teach, but perhaps that didn’t really matter. The students wouldn’t go anywhere. They knew to wait for him. It wasn’t uncommon for him to arrive late.
At the bottom of the stairs, a pair of men dressed in black jackets and pants—the clothing alone enough to identify them as Inquisitors—marched toward him.
One of them, a tall Inquisitor named Carson, stopped and glanced over at Tolan. “Master Ethar.” He flicked his gaze up the stairs, behind Tolan, before turning his attention to him. A brief spirit shaping built from Carson, though not with enough strength that Tolan feared it.
There weren’t too many shapers who Tolan feared when it came to spirit. A gift of knowledge given to him enabled him to know how to use spirit in ways that very few within the Academy could understand. Perhaps when his grandmother had still served as the Grand Inquisitor, there would have been someone here who could have challenged his knowledge, but since her passing only Tolan remained with that knowledge.
It troubled the rest of the Inquisitors.
Not that he could shape spirit—though that bothered them as well, especially knowing his ties to his late grandmother Irina—but that he had rapidly developed more skill than them. The Inquisitors were nothing if not arrogant.
Tolan responded by pushing outward with his own connection to spirit, protecting his mind. It took very little effort on his part to ensure that anything that Carson might do would be repelled. Spirit offered a natural protection, one that Tolan barely needed to augment, though he had learned that it didn’t take much to add an additional touch that would make it even more difficult for any spirit shaper to be able to reach into his mind.
“That’s unnecessary,” Tolan said.
Carson frowned at him. “What is?”
He pushed, using his own connection to spirit, knowing that it wouldn’t be effective. Someone as skilled as Carson would be able to block it, but that wasn’t the point. It was simply allowing Carson to know that Tolan was aware of how Carson attempted to use a shaping upon him. “That,” Tolan said.
“I meant no harm,” Carson said.
Tolan grunted. “I’m sure you didn’t.” He glanced at Larson. “Is this what you intend to teach to the rest of the Inquisitors?”
Carson glared at him. “You don’t need to be concerned about what I’m instructing the Inquisitors.”
Tolan shrugged. “Seeing as how I am the Master of Spirit, I suppose that I don’t.”
He left unsaid how his title of Master of Spirit placed him above Carson as the head of the Inquisitors. At least within the Academy.
Outside of the Academy, the Inquisitors often went without any type of control. That was part of the concern Tolan had with sharing the knowledge he now possessed.
Ever since he had been given the gift of knowledge of spirit, he had wrestled with whether or not he should share it with other shapers of spirit. Ultimately, Tolan had decided against it. There was a danger in gifting knowledge like that, especially unless he trusted someone implicitly. There were very few people within the Academy who he trusted implicitly, and of them, only one had any ability with spirit.
“Your title means little outside of the Academy,” Carson said.
“I realize that,” Tolan said. “But it means quite a bit inside the Academy. And to the Grand Master.” Carson glared at him. For his part, Tolan only smiled. He took a deep breath and headed down the hallway. “I’m late for my class. Perhaps you have an Inquisition you must attend to.”
“Yes. Late again,” Carson said, watching Tolan. “The Grand Master has suggested that we observe your lesson.”
Tolan glared at them. “Today isn’t the best time for that,” he said.
“When would be a good time for you, Master Ethar?”
Tolan shook his head slightly. He would want to check with the Grand Master before permitting them to observe him, but Tolan didn’t want to say that to them and risk irritating them any more than he already had. He was supposed to find a way to get along with them.
He knew that he needed to be better. As the Master of Spirit, he needed to unify those who had the ability with spirit. The challenge for him was in working with Inquisitors. In the years that he had served as the Master of Spirit, he had struggled with them. Most of the time, it was because men and women like Carson chafed at him and how he had ascended to be the Master of Spirit. Sometimes, there were comments made to him about his time as a student within the Academy; offhanded observations about what Tolan had experienced when he had still served as a student.
None of them made any difference to him. Not at this point. All that mattered was that he continued to teach.
“How about tomorrow? It’s a higher-level class anyway, and you can see what I have the students working on. Perhaps you could learn something.”
Tolan flashed a smile and hurried past them until he reached the entrance to the spirit tower. Within the Academy, there were towers for each of the elements. Earth, wind, water, and fire all were relatively easy to access. They were meant to be. First-level students could reach those towers, and had to in order to work with the master shapers there.
It was different with the spirit tower. Spirit was not an element that just anyone could reach. Partly that had to do with the nature of spirit and how rarely it manifested as a shaping ability within the various shapers, but partly it had to do with how spirit didn’t have an element bond—the connection to that deep source of power that shapers typically accessed in order to reach their power. Only a few with a direct connection to spirit could shape it. Most became Inquisitors. Unfortunately.
Tolan used a shaping of wind and carried himself to the tower. He paused, looking all around him. The classroom was empty.
Had he misjudged?
As far as he knew, he had a class with the second-level students. There should be none absent. He looked around the classroom, his gaze flicking to his desk, where a stack of papers remained.
Had he missed out on some sort of correspondence?
The rest of the classroom was empty. The main part of it was meant for students. When they came, they sat in a circle, most of them facing each other so that they could practice reaching for their connection to spirit. Very few of the students within the Academy would have any way of reaching for spirit, but that didn’t mean they weren’t to be exposed to it. For the most part, with students of the earliest levels, Tolan’s responsibility was simply to demonstrate how spirit might be used, giving them an opportunity to feel the effect so that they would be prepared were they to face it out in the wild. Rarely, Tolan would find shapers who had an ability to tap into spirit. When he did, he needed to try to help them the most. He had to help pull that power out, guiding it so that they would have an opportunity to use it.
It had been a while since he had found anyone of much real power.
That didn’t mean that he wouldn’t keep looking.
His own connection to spirit had come late in life. His own connection to all the elements had come late in life. When he had come to the Academy, Tolan had no power of his own. He could sense the elements, detecting the power of them through his internal connection to those elements, but he hadn’t been able to use them.
When he reached his desk, he took a seat, pausing as he scanned the papers there. There was the collection of notes that he had made over the years, all of them remarking upon various aspects of shaping, but nothing else.
That wasn’t quite right.
A folded piece of paper rested on the corner of his desk.
Tolan glanced at it, noting the seal of the Grand Master, and unfolded it.
Now he understood where everybody was. He wasn’t supposed to be here.
He set the note back down and headed to the entrance to the tower, shaping himself back to the ground. He hurried along the hallway and to the grand auditorium. When he reached it, he found the Grand Master on the stage, addressing the gathered students and faculty.
Carson was there, and he looked over, a hint of a smirk spreading on his face as Tolan came in late. Carson had told Tolan that he’d intended to observe his class. That wasn’t the case at all. He could have told Tolan where he was going, but that would’ve required the two men to work together.
Tolan looked around. Near the front of the auditorium, he found Ferrah. It was easy to identify her with her red hair, today tied back behind her head, a pale green dress bringing out her green eyes. Several of the first-level students sat around her. As the Master of Students, Ferrah had a particular responsibility to ensure that their time within the Academy was spent wisely.
The Grand Master Erich Normandal stood on the stage, speaking loudly, his voice carrying on a wind shaping that radiated out so that everyone could hear. He was a small man but somehow managed to command the stage. He was slight of build and whip thin, with wireframe glasses that always hovered precariously toward the tip of his nose, and Tolan had long ago learned that the Grand Master should not be underestimated. Though he might not be a large man, he was powerful with his connection to the elements.
Tolan turned his attention to the Grand Master.
“So as I have said, the Selection will begin in a few days. I have asked that each of our master instructors agree to spirit connect with a student—second-level or higher, only—and carry out the Selection. Those of you who are not connected to spirit will escort those who are. The spirit shaper will be in charge of the expedition.”
The Grand Master’s deep maroon robes of office flowed to the ground as if too large for him, though likely they would fit Tolan well. Not that he wanted to sit as Grand Master. There were times when serving as a master instructor was bad enough.
At least he understood why they had been called to the auditorium.
A Selection. A time to try to find students for the Academy.
Had it really been long enough that they could attempt it again?
He supposed the last one had been nearly a year ago. They weren’t on a routine cycle. There was no need for that. It was more a matter of when the majority of the students were ready to progress to the next level. Tolan hadn’t known that when he had passed through his own Selection.
Selections required several days away from the Academy.
It meant that in the intervening time, there would be a bit of chaos within the Academy. Students here would be looking forward to time spent outside the Academy, and there would be a general sense of excitement at the possibility of participating during a Selection. It hadn’t been all that long ago when students weren’t permitted to be a part of the Selection. That they were now was a blessing, but it also made it more challenging for those like Tolan.
It would be easy enough for him to use spirit to detect those who were capable of shaping. Only, even if he were to do that, he didn’t know if that was going to be enough. There was the possibility that even if he were to use spirit, he would overlook some who had a particular potential that he didn’t pay attention to.
“We will plan on departing in two days. You will have one day to travel, the next day to perform the Selection, and the following day to return to the Academy.”
There was a time when Tolan would have appreciated three days away from the Academy, but now the only thing that he could think of was that he would have to spend three days outside the Academy with a second-level or higher student. Who would get assigned to him?
He could make suggestions, but even with his level of standing, there wasn’t a guarantee that he would be offered the students he wanted. The Grand Master thanked everyone and then exited the stage, leaving the auditorium.
A steady murmuring built within the auditorium as the other shapers began to depart. When Carson passed him, he shot Tolan an amused look, one that spoke of his delight in how he hadn’t shared with Tolan what he needed to know about the assembly. Tolan resisted the urge to snap at him. It might make him feel better, but it wouldn’t accomplish anything. He needed to be better than that. Ferrah often made a point of telling him that he should be the bigger man.
As the faculty departed, the students began to pass by. Every so often, there would be one who recognized Tolan. They nodded to him, or they made a point of turning away from him suddenly, or they pretended as if they didn’t even see him. That was enough to make him smile.
“Another Selection,” Ferrah said, slipping her hand into his as she joined him.
Tolan glanced down. He and Ferrah had been together since their Academy days, but there’d been a tension between them of late. “I was wondering why my classroom was empty.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t realize there was going to be a Selection,” he said.
“Tolan, the notice came out three days ago.”
He frowned. “You could’ve said something.”
“I didn’t think that I would need to. What have you been doing?”
“Researching,” he said absently, waving his hand.
“The library. Always the library. You still think he’s out there.” She didn’t hide the irritation in in her voice.
Roland Var. The man Tolan had seen die—but a man whose influence he continued to feel. At least, he thought he did. He might be the only one who believed it, though that was because he had a greater connection to spirit than most.
He shrugged. “Master Minden and I have been trying to see if we can’t come up with anything to explain—”
“I know what you’re trying to explain. I was there, remember?”
Tolan looked at Ferrah. She had pale skin, lovely, full lips, and the deepest green eyes that seemed to draw him in. Today, irritation flashed within them, the kind of irritation that was only reserved for him when he was being foolish. She’d shown that irritation more often these days. Tolan didn’t necessarily think that he was being foolish, but then again, he should have known more about what had been taking place. He should have known about the Selection.
He really had been distracted.
“Are you going to be able to participate in this Selection or will you keep chasing another feeling you have?” She didn’t hide her irritation with him.
“I participated in the last one,” he said.
She snorted. “I seem to remember that one. You decided that you would take your own approach, using spirit as you shaped through everyone within the various academies that you tested. How did that work out?”
“Not well… but I’m going to do better this time,” he said.
“I hope so. The Great Mother only knows you couldn’t do worse.”
Tolan chuckled. “If the Great Mother is watching over me, then I’m sure she has other things to be concerned about.”
“You should be careful the Inquisitors don’t overhear you saying that.”
“I don’t have to be religious to do what is needed.”
“I know. If not the Great Mother, then I’m sure the Grand Master intends for you to do better.”
“I’m sure he has faith in my ability to perform a Selection,” Tolan said.
“Faith in your ability, yes. Faith in your ability to perform a Selection?” She pulled him from the auditorium and out into the hallway. Once there, the chattering of students all around began to build, and it mixed with the shaping of students as they pulled on their connection to the elements. “Besides, you can’t keep thinking your spirit knowledge will protect you from losing your position. Don’t you want to remain master of spirt?”
He nodded slowly, though as much as he enjoyed teaching—and when in the middle of it, he did enjoy it—he often felt his talents could be used in other ways. Ferrah knew that, and he’d thought she understood.
“Who will be assigning the students going along?”
“Me,” she said, looking at him.
“I trust that you will ensure that I have a student that I can work with.”
She shook her head. “Oh, yes. I want to ensure that you have a student that you can work with. I wouldn’t want anything less than that.”
“Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”
“You don’t trust me?”
“Of course I trust you, but I also trust that you’re going to think that you need to accomplish something with your pairings.”
“I am the Master of Students, after all. What else do you think I should do?”
Tolan didn’t get the opportunity to say who he didn’t want her to pair him with. Ferrah raised her hand at a grouping of students making their way along the hallway. She looked back at him and shrugged, then hurried off to say something to them.
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