Red ApprenticeI awoke to Alexander’s lips pressed to mine. For one very brief moment I was alarmed, but the feeling of him against me quickly overcame my panic and I melted into the sensation.
His hands caressed my stomach, my hips, and my chest. Light fingers played small circles around my nipples, and with those strong hands he reached around me to my buttock and pulled me easily until we rolled sideways and I found myself laying down on him. He stroked my back, dragging his fingers down my back. Involuntarily I flexed my back and drew my hips up to meet him, and his hands gripped my firmly and pulled me forward.
We ground against one another, and in the back of my mind some small voice tried to remind me that I wasn’t ready to give myself over like this. The heat of this moment drowned it out, though, and Alexander’s lips and teeth found my neck. I lost all control and reflexively pulled away from the sensation that had lit the entire left side of my body up with pleasure, but his hand gripped a handful of my hair and held me in place. A deep, rumbling growl left him as he pulled me tighter in and bit me again, his hips and his thoroughly roused beast pressing into mine.
We were kissing again, and through some mysterious motion below me he slid his knees between mine and spread them, then directed them up so that I straddled his hips. He reached down and adjusted himself until I felt his cock slap firmly against my exposed opening. The feeling took me by surprise and I gasped. It was stifled as his tongue entered my mouth, warm and smooth and stronger than it seemed it should be. I suckled at him until he retrieved it and took my bottom lip between his again.
His hips rocked beneath me, rubbing the head of him up and down against my entrance and I could only think of how badly I wanted him to come into me. I reached back and felt for him. I hadn’t actually seen him hard before, though I had felt it through his pants just once, and seen the bulge of it there. With my fingers wrapped lightly around it now, I could tell that though not very long, perhaps not as long as mine, it was easily twice as thick, so that my middle finger just touched my thumb. I became suddenly worried.
I found the moisture slowly spilling from him and used it to lubricate his piston as it pumped against me, now between my hole and my hand, and let my pleasure rise through my chest and throat. As these sounds escaped me, they seemed to spurn him and he growled again, becoming more urgent in his thrusts, more intent and aggressive. He bit my neck, my shoulder, my nipple, and his fingers gripped and scratched my back and shoulders. I distantly worried there would be signs of our morning left on my skin, but couldn’t bring myself to care and certainly didn’t want him to stop.
He bit my earlobe, and his tongue tickled the ridge of my ear, and as he did he whispered to me, “Let me inside, kitten; I can make you feel so good if you’ll let me.” As he called me this, he dragged his fingers down my spine again and, like the namesake, I writhed and lifted my hips as the feeling curled me backwards.
I didn’t answer, but instead used some of the fluid from his now weeping member to slick myself, and pressed the thick head of him against me. He let go of me enough to allow me to sit upright, and in this position I found that I had less fear of his entry – I lifted myself a bit to readjust and then very slowly sat down, taking just a bit at a time as I relaxed to accommodate his girth. Alexander watched me with apparent fascination, one hand gripping me and stroking me slowly, the other caressing my stomach, chest, and legs.
I bit my lip and winced at the sudden sharp pain as the last bit of the crown of him popped into me, but his hand rolled over the head of my cock and the sudden almost unbearable sensation distracted me. I grabbed his wrist to stop him, but he struggled against me, smiling wickedly as my legs shook and I was unable to hold myself up. I fell by inches until he was fully inside me, and it was a vastly different sensation than what I had felt before.
Quentin had been slender, and I had certainly felt thoroughly penetrated by his length, but he required a certain angle to give me the best part of the experience. With Alexander this wasn’t so – he filled me so completely that he touched that part of me with no effort at all and I immediately felt my orgasm on the verge of gushing out of me and onto his stomach.
I took hold of his teasing hand with both of mind and forcibly removed it from me. “You have to stop... stop...” I lost my train of thought as his hips thrust and although I was certain I had him in me as far as was possible, he somehow thrust deeper still. My breath caught and then released with a sigh and a moan that felt as though it came from that deep down place and rolled out of me, rolling over my thoughts and distractions and bringing me to some place that was entirely in that present moment.
Impaled as I was upon him, I lacked the will to move anymore and so only held myself as steadily as I could as he withdrew from me slowly and then thrust again with some force. Again the sound of my ecstasy escaped me and I looked down when he growled again. The sound was fierce, and possessive, and put me in the mind of some hungry animal quickly closing on its prey.
Something about the sound, the sight of the sweat on his face, the smell of him, and the exertion together awakened in me an echo of his aggressive taking of me. I began to rise and fall in time with him but against his rhythm. As he rose up to me I sank forcefully down to meet him, until I rocked steadily on his hips, and our tempo began to pick up. I placed my hands on his chest to support myself and watched his face. He had closed his eyes, and a look of concentration had stolen over him and I felt that he must be thoroughly taken over by the single minded purpose that I had felt before when so close to my full.
His pace slowed, and his hands held my hips and settled me down against him. “Slow down, kitten, slow down. I don’t want to cum so quickly.”
Knowing that being within me had given him such pleasure I felt a certain kind of power over him. It’s a difficult feeling to describe, precisely, but I very much wanted to be responsible for his pleasure – for it to be, as it were, my decision that he should cum now, or later.
I decided: now.
As strong as his hands were, they couldn’t stop the gentle rocking of my hips; I simply had more leverage in my position. He tried to hold on to me though, and failed, and a nearly tortured look came to his face. I didn’t move quickly, as I wanted to see the moment build up on his face.
“You have to stop, kitten, I’m very close,” he begged me and raised himself up enough to get a better hold on me. It was a futile attempt, of course, and I reached behind me and found the velvety pouch that had drawn mostly up into him. I took his stones in hand and tugged them and I lifted myself up, squeezing just enough to encourage him but not so much as to hurt him. I wasn’t sure he would enjoy this – I had done it to myself before and it always brought me quickly to climax.
It seemed the same was true for my hungry wolf. His brow drew in, and he chewed his lip, and I felt his balls tug against my grip as they tried to draw up to accommodate his release. He swelled within me enough that I felt it distinctly, and I slowed on my ascent until I was withdrawing him barely fast enough to notice. My descent was just as slow, but beneath me his stomach tensed, the muscles of his chest and arms bulged, and his hips began to vibrate with the effort to keep from thrusting into me again. I felt myself smiling as I watched his struggle, and then his eyes opened and looked into mine.
It was something I had never seen before, and the image of it will be forever upon my memory. When he could no longer resist the call of it, he burst into me – pulse after pulse of hot fluid that I could feel as it gushed into me. As he did, his eyes widened, and I saw his pupils nearly overtake the color in his eyes. His expression was one of sorrow, of gratitude, and of lust, all at once, and I nearly lost myself to him in it. There was a kind of innocence there, as though for a moment some part of him had become a child again and was looking out through his eyes.
It was such a brief expression, but I saw it, all of it, so clearly that my heart leapt and I could only laugh with joy at having seen something of such rare honesty. It passed, though, in a blink, and he was thrusting again, and practically howling as he came. He raised himself up and wrapped his arms around me, continuing to slowly drive into me again and again, but more slowly now.
I wrapped my own arms around his shoulders, and bent my neck to kiss him. It was full of need, and something else... the way he lifted his face to mine, hungry for my lips, seemed almost devotional. I felt the full force of his devotion, as well, and it made me feel like some deity on high, dipping down from the heavens to lay my blessing upon my dearest follower.
His hand slid between our stomachs and gripped me tightly. His hand was slick with something, and as he held me tightly to him, and kissed me, and fucked me, his fist tightened and worked me into a thrashing orgasm so quickly I was overtaken by it before I realized it was coming. My seed spilled into the wet space between us and he continued to stroke me. I squirmed and cried out, and struck him – though perhaps, not convincingly – about the shoulders as he tortured me mercilessly. He had taken back the power I had earned, I knew, and had all of the leverage now. His hammering of my ass hadn’t abated at all, and he was as hard as he had been at his peak, and something about the direction of his thrusting was striking me again and again in some deep and secret place.
I felt my heart would crack my ribs, could barely get a breath, and his hand twisted and rolled in the slippery mixture of cum and sweat and whatever he had used initially to make his hand so soft and slick, and as I gasped and tried to free myself I heard him laughing at me. He bit me, quite hard, on the nipple and I yelped and beat his shoulders in earnest now. But the whole of it brought me to laughter as well, and in moments we collapsed onto the bed in a heap.
Exhausted, sated, my nostrils full of the scent of sex, I let the laughter run its course, and then reached for Alexander’s hand. He found me first, and lifted my fingers to his mouth and kissed them. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
The concern in his voice was genuine, and sobering, and I felt ashamed suddenly that I might have made him think that he would. “No, no! Not at all. I was... surprised,” I said, “but it was wonderful. It hasn’t felt like that for me. Not even Master Quentin’s... um, training, felt like that. I think because...” I hunted for the words. The experience was so singular, so unique, that I wasn’t sure how to express it.
“It’s okay,” Alexander said, and kissed me, “I understand. I’m glad. I’ve wanted you so much, from the time I saw you. And, you make me feel... just...” he only growled again and drew me close and held me.
We laid like this for some time, before finally he loosed me and rolled onto his back. I snuggled close and put my head on his chest, and listened to his heart beat.
“We have the day to ourselves. One of very few, I’m afraid. So, we should make use of it.”
“I thought we were,” I slid my hand down his stomach and took hold of his now softened cock.
“Mmmm...” it seemed he wouldn’t speak more, but he regained himself, “yes, well, that’s one use anyway. But you need to get out and see the city. It’s an amazing place, and if you look around a bit I think you’ll really like it. We’ve got a fair amount of freedom any time that we aren’t training or studying. I have some friends that I think you’d like as well.”
I hummed my assent, but remained preoccupied with the desire to play with him for as long as he would let me. Eventually, though, we did get out of bed. He took me to the lavatory where, to my utter amazement, the tub had not only knobs which, as in Porthaven, supplied water that was already hot; but also a tall pipe with a fixture on the end of it which by the lifting of a lever near the brass knobs emitted warm water like rain.
I had never even heard of a rain bath before. It was another unique experience, and with a sponge and some liquid soap Alexander washed me fastidiously. I did the same for him, and we lingered for a bit in the warm rain until it seemed we had simply been there long enough.
We dressed, and left the warm confines of our dorm. Somehow stepping out into the world again seemed to replace the weight that had momentarily been lifted off of me. I tried to recapture the sense of freedom and belonging that I had felt before, but it was a struggle. The soreness I felt from the morning’s experience was an awkward but strangely pleasant reminder that I tried to focus on, and it did help.
Osland was a city like nothing I had ever imagined. Much of it was beyond what I ever could have imagined; I knew about devices powered by mana stones, but only on a small scale like the thresher from my home. My old home, I chided myself. But in Osland…
Coming into the place I had only seen what was obvious in the dark. Mana lamps lined the streets, and there were carriages driven by them. During the day I saw that there was a great vehicle Alexander called a rail car that carried people by the hundreds all around the city, suspended in the air over a metal rail. The metal I learned was arcanite – mined from the edge of the scar, it would transmit mana as a current, and the figures laid into it caused the rail car to be both suspended and held in place over it. Some other mechanism drove the car forward along its unalterable path.
A bridge that led from the inner city, where the Red Cabal was housed, crossed over a wide river that Alexander explained was artificial. Water from around the city was purified by pumps that pulled water in, removed everything from it with magic, and then pumped it back into the city, including waterways which crisscrossed the city. Barges floated on the waters, carried from one end of the city to another, and when they encountered the bridges they raised themselves up to allow them passage by means of quietly rumbling engines under the pavement.
Every building was supplied with light and heat, and in the hottest months with cooling. All of them had running water and rain baths as well.
Vanholme had been as populated by sorcerers so I wondered why it hadn’t had the same advancements. “Didn’t Master Quentin tell you what the Red does?” Alexander was shocked at my lack of knowledge.
I shrugged, “He mentioned that the means of opening my inner gates were particular to the Red Cabal, but not really more than that. We talked about the others a little as well but not extensively. We mostly discuss how mana works – I have a lot of catching up to do. Maybe he doesn’t think history lessons are as important as keeping me… well, teaching me control.”
“Well, that’s a product of it, I suppose.” We crossed through one of the many small parks towards a district where Alexander intended us to find breakfast as he explained. I noticed that just before this happened, his tone changed just so. “The Red Cabal specializes in what we call meta-magic. Our discipline is to study how the taming and control of mana, including the channel through which it flows in the sorcerer. The rings we wear, the interdictor, and the unique training methods we use to open the inner gates – all of them originated with the Red. Osland is the heart of the Red Cabal – so the advancements that are made are introduced here first. The rail cars were only installed a few years ago, but the metal is very expensive, so it will be some time before other cities can build them.”
It started to make sense, and his lesson also gave context to why Quentin focused so much of my education on the way that mana worked and acted. I imagined that if I had been taken by the white I might be learning what it does in the body instead; or the history of its use by the black.
I realized, though, that what was not present with all of the mana apparently surrounding us on every side was the sense that it was there. “Wait – when we were in Vanholme, I felt the mana laid into the stones of the keep. If the rail is enchanted, and there are pumps and engines all over the city, why can’t I sense those?”
We waited to cross the street towards a white building with a wide patio at one corner dotted with small round tables and simple metal chairs. Alexander nodded approvingly at me, “You’re observant. I like smart,” he smiled at me, and winked. I blushed; and wondered momentarily if that reflex would ever go away. “The mana at work here is tamed,” he explained, “The arcanite circuits and the glyphs give it a kind of fixed nature. There are places where you would feel the mana more strongly, but they’re kept very well protected. There can’t be any free mana, or people would get sick.”
I didn’t understand entirely, but I trusted that this was so. I knew that to be put to any use mana had to be tamed first, so it followed that this must also be true when it was used in these technologies. I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that all of these people – and myself, now – were living on top of a powder keg, though.
The place Alexander led me to showed me a selection of fruits, breads, oats, meat and eggs as well as some sweets that I hadn’t seen before. I opted for a simple breakfast of eggs, sausage and some kind of ring shaped bread with seeds baked into the top of it. Alexander had a cup of dark, bitter tea that he claimed was practically the water of life which I almost spit out when I tasted it. I had never had the chance to try the bean-tea before; where I came from it was a needless expenditure though I knew the village chancellor had been fond of it.
We ate in relative quiet as I watched the new world around me. Everyone, it seemed, wore lavish clothing that was as decorative and artful as it was practical. In some cases, the practicality of it seemed to take a secondary role in the design of the clothing. Here and there were apprentices hurrying about the city that stood well out from the crowd by the simplicity of their garments - which were exactly the same as ours, of course.
After this we spent another several hours wandering around the city. Alexander showed me places to find entertainment, food, drink, and other delights that while rare in my old life were apparently commonplace here.
Eventually, we rested in one of the larger parks. Alexander wanted to know more about where I had come from and the night that August had come to retrieve me. Though I was sure that my old life would seem unimaginably boring compared to his, I told him about the farms, and my mama.
“What about your father,” he asked when I had left the subject of family for my few friends.
I shook my head. “I never knew him. Mama said he went to the borderlands to earn money and never came back. The same was true for a few of the boys I knew growing up. It happens, from time to time.” There was good pay on the borderlands, for very, very dangerous work. It attracted naïve men and women alike, and some years, when the crops were spare, a few people always left. Only a handful returned, and normally with grievous injuries. When they did, they normally started their own farm; most of the farm owners around my village were borderlands veterans.
It was during this conversation that someone else’s words caught my ear. Some distance from us, I heard the word ‘scar’ and ‘breached’ in the same sentence. I turned to Alexander and frowned. “Did you hear them? I think they said something about a breach at the Scar.”
Alexander’s expression mirrored mine, and he stood up and walked towards the people I had overheard. I followed him. They weren’t apprentices, but that’s all I could tell from looking at them. One of them was tall and yellow haired, the other a bit shorter than myself and dark featured. Both of them seemed alarmed, but there tone was more one of gossip than of the heart freezing panic that the subject raised in me.
“Yes,” the shorter one was saying to Alexander, “that’s what I heard, at any rate. There was a breach around Dun’s Hill. The entire fort overrun in a night. Can you imagine? There hasn’t been a breach for over a decade and nothing like that. Just a few clever animals here and there, but nothing like this. Ava here says she has a cousin who’s come in from Fenner, not ten leagues north and east of Dun’s Hill.” My heart skipped and I suddenly found it difficult to breathe. Dun’s Hill wasn’t two days west of my village – I had traded there two years before with Fen Azgood; his grain for their iron.
Ava, I realized suddenly, was a woman. Her features were ambiguous at best, and from her trousers and short hair I had assumed she was a man as well. When she spoke, her voice had a quality to it that, while certainly feminine, seemed out of place coming from her. “My cousin, Lan. He told me that soldiers and sorcerers came through the town and told everyone to go east and north. They mean to head it off. You can see it here – at the west road – there are some leaving to meet them. Not many, but enough to notice.” Her accent was one I hadn’t heard before, and making out her words was somewhat difficult.
When I had understood, though, I pulled Alexander towards the inner city. “I need to ask Quentin…”
“Master Quentin,” Alexander corrected.
“…yes, Master Quentin, about this. Dun’s Hill is close to where I lived. We’re not equipped for something like this, there are no soldiers, no magic, not even a fence much less a wall. If something like this could roll over Dun’s Hill fortress in a night…” I struggled not to run, not to let my imagination run wild, and Alexander gently reminded me that we couldn’t do anything from here regardless how fast we found anyone who could confirm the story. As we neared the bridge, I felt my ring vibrate sharply. I stumbled, cursed, and as the angle of my hips changed in the process I felt the ring grow warmer to a peak of gentle heat; as I corrected myself the heat waned. I grunted and took note of the direction that caused the ring to heat up, and we headed generally that way.
Before we reached Quentin, Alexander was called by Vanas, and was forced to leave. By the look on his face, Vanas preferred a different Calling signal than Quentin did. I spared a moment to privately be disgusted by the man, and then followed my own Call to where Quentin waited in what I assumed were his quarters.
Quentin was garbed differently than I had seen before. His robes were more extravagant, with gold embroidery and a squared collar that nearly came to his chin. When I entered the room, he set down a sheaf of paper and beckoned me to sit.
“Master,” I began without waiting for him to speak, “I heard there was a breach at Dun’s Hill. Is it true? Someone in the city said that people were leaving to meet them. Are you going? Are we going?”
Quentin showed no reaction to my questions, or to my speaking out of turn, but placed a hand on my knee and leaned forward a little. “Calm, apprentice.” There was a long moment in which I momentarily hung impatiently in the silence, waiting for his next words, until I realized that he literally meant for me to calm myself.
I sighed and did so; taking several deep breaths, closing my eyes and finding the little spot at the center of me that Quentin had taught me to rely on as the seed of my ‘true self’. Though the mind is in turmoil, this Seed which births the True Self is ever at peace, ever watchful, ever untouched by the impermanent.
“As far as I know,” Quentin was saying as I opened my eyes, “it is true. Dun’s Hill was overrun the night before last. News has chased us, it seems, up from Vanholme, where a message reached the keep by magic. All of the Cabals are bound to deal with a breach of this scope, so a number of our sorcerers and adepti are called to assist in recovering Dun’s Hill and cleaning up the rabble that escaped. They weren’t expecting something… like this.”
I stared at him, waiting for more. He tilted his head to one side and returned the look. “I am not among those leaving, Apprentice. And no apprentices will be going anywhere, either. The Adepti will be in supporting positions only. This is none of your concern, but everyone must be made aware.”
“Master, Dun’s hill is-”
“I’m well aware, Simon.” He looked at me then, his face both soft and hard at the same time. “You cannot be distracted by your old life. Not because of this, or anything else. Be here, now, Apprentice. Your life depends on it. Tomorrow, we will open another inner gate, and you will begin to learn how to put your magic to use.”
I nodded to him, but didn’t entirely mean it. How could I not worry about my ‘old life’? Old for me was not much more than a week before. The stock in Mama’s cupboard would have been much of the same food I had put there the day before I was taken. Perhaps she still hadn’t cleaned out my room, or given away – or perhaps burned – my things.
The kinds of things that lived in the Scar were nightmare creatures. I had seen one of them not two days into my journey here and the thought of so many of them – enough to overrun a fort full of soldiers who lived for nothing else than to keep them in – made me cold.
Quentin hugged me – a strange gesture despite everything – and told me again not to dwell on it, and sent me away. He reminded me that I had studying to do as well and that I would be expected to have learned something of value by tomorrow.
Before I left, I recalled that Alexander had been Called as well. “Are all of the masters telling there apprentices, then?”
Quentin shook his head. “I told you because you were bound to hear it eventually and it was pertinent to your… circumstances.”
“Why would Vanas have called Alexander at the same time then? We were both supposed to have the day off, I thought.” I immediately wished I could recall the words – it was no business of mine and I expected Quentin to let me know this.
Instead, and picked up the paper he had been reading before and looked over it again. “Vanas is among those called to assist. He’ll be leaving tonight.”
“What happens to Alexander?” I feared that Quentin would tell me he was leaving as well, but this wasn’t the case.
“I’ll be taking over his training in Vanas’ absence.”
I let out the breath I had been holding, and nodded. It didn’t offset my dread entirely, but it was a small comfort.
“Study hard and sleep well, Apprentice,” Quentin said as I turned to leave, “Tomorrow’s lessons will be very taxing indeed.” I couldn’t have said why but something in his tone made me very uncomfortable.