I rub my hands together, but not to fight off the chill in the air, my fingers are plenty warm. I grin at the three children smiling up at me from their seats on the cobblestones. They come here every day to see me; more would arrive soon as they always do. I wink at the youngest, a small girl with matted brown hair and dirt stained dress, her brown eyes are wide with anticipation as she waits for me to begin.
I start off slow, with only three before me there was no point in rushing through. I pull my hands apart and let one palm face the smog filled sky overhead. The blue flame that blooms an inch above my skin illuminates our faces and heats the air around us. The children clap their hands and laugh, I put a finger to my lips, they cannot be too loud, we would not want to attract any uninvited guests to the show. Slowly the crowd of children grows, I hand them each their own flame, and show them how to control it. I know better than to show them how to create it, they still do not understand why we do this in secret, they do not understand the dangers. My older students, three teens, one girl and two boys, stand at the end of the ally, keeping an eye on the street beyond.
One of my young students is missing today, a young boy who is almost always early. He never arrives for the lesson. As I show the children how to dismiss the blue flame and congratulate them all on a job well done, I glance down to my apprentices at the end of the street, the girl looks back at me and shrugs.
“Well done,” I say to the children and dismiss them for the day. “I will see you all in the morning.” I see them all to the end of the ally and watch as they disperse along the street.
“It is not like Erik not to be here,” Milly says, looking up at me, her dark brown eyes worried.
“I’m sure he was just busy or could not make it today,” I reply. I place a hand on her shoulder. “If he does not come tomorrow we will ask after him,” I say, I glance at the two boys. Darian and Luke, all three of my apprentices were fourteen, and had been training with me since they had been children.
Most children stopped coming to training sessions between eight and ten years old, when their other duties demanded more attention. They quickly forgot about magic and the power they had once wielded. On occasion though, there were children like these three who gave up everything else to continue to learn. One more year of training and I would be able to send to the citadel for true training. One more year of hiding our training, keeping them safe, one more year of the three of them struggling to blend in, until I could open the portal and let them through.
I led them out of the ally and down the road towards the hostile that we called home. We bowed our heads low as a pair of Red Guard walked by us. This pair paid us no mind and continued on their way. We climbed the stair of the three story brick building, and I unlocked the door to our small apartment. The four of us shared a small one bedroom apartment, where Milly and I slept in the bedroom and the boys slept in the front room. I turned back to the door as I closed it. I whispered the words and waved my hands in the right motions to place the protective spells on the splintered wooden door. The Red Guard would ignore our room if they came for an inspection, as though it were not there at all.
The three apprentices pried up the floorboards from beneath the dining table and pulled their books from the compartment beneath. They placed their books on the table and began their studies. I was fortunate enough to have three apprentices this time, they kept each other on track, and they helped one another with their studies and their practicing. Which allowed me more time for my own work, and study. I set up the spells on the sewing machine which began to whirl away at the clothing repair that paid for our rent.
I took a seat on the couch and opened my own spell book to study. A mage was never done learning. It was something we were taught at the citadel. Even once we returned to the real world and we were forced to live in secret, we still had to learn and practice.
A quick knock came from the door. We all stared at the entrance with wide eyes. Another knock came more desperate and frantic this time. The children shuffled to quickly put their materials back into the floor, and I shoved my own book under the cushions of the couch. As quietly as the creaking floor boards would allow I snuck back to the door.
I waved my hands and broke the protective spells; I opened the door a hair, to see a familiar face on the other side. His blue eyes were wide beneath his dark hair, kept jumping from me to the stair landings below.
“Please, Margret let me in,” He begged. I opened the door just enough for him to slide through.
“What are you doing here, Colin,” I demanded, as I shut the door and reapplied the spells.
He went to the windows without answering; he looked through the fogged glass to the streets below. My apprentices, nervous of strangers came to stand beside me. Colin sensed our discomfort and looked from the window back to where I stood with my apprentices at the couch.
“The Red Guard is hunting me.” He whispered desperately.