"Mukaï," he whispered, a wisp of blue fire drifting from his open palm to the door's keyhole. The keyhole was elaborate, albeit useless, with intricate spirals and designs weaving their way in and out of the surface of the metal panel. No key was sophisticated enough to fit within the confines of such a work of art, though many artists had attempted to fashion one that would. His father had paid a pretty penny for the keyhole, almost as much as he had paid for the entire rest of the house. No puzzle worth so much could be solved by mere artists, of that the maker had been sure.

He watched his fire snake its way into the mechanism, the wonderment he had felt at such an act as a child reduced to a sense of impatience. The lock was beautiful, yes, but it was not made to deal with his strength of power. The longer he'd attended the Academy, the slower the unlocking process had become, a cruel reminder of the sacrifices he had consciously made.

Today had been the final stage of those sacrifices, the point of no return. He had finished the final stage of Burandi, of confirmation into the magic world, today, along with the other three from his training group. He had worked hard to get this far; he started his seven years of apprenticeship on the dawn of his twelfth birthday. Working under a different mage every year, young Marcos had dabbled in each of the seven divisions of magic in a quest to find his calling. These final two years had been times of intense training, focused on his division of choice and nothing else.

With a hiss, his flame returned to his hand and curled itself into a compact ball. As it did, the door opened, allowing the newly made mage to enter his home for the first time since his Burandi.

It was, for some reason, a disappointment to Marcos to see that the house was no different now than it had been when he had left that morning. Something about being accepted into the world of mother's fairy tales had made his believe that, like in the stories, his entire world would change the instant he finished the final ritual of his Burandi. Of course, nothing had happened, and the place was as inhumanly tidy and mundane as it had been when he left.

"Ah well," he muttered to himself, pushing the unfounded disenchantment out of his mind. "There is still a long night to enjoy."



Two hours and many glasses of serai later, Marcos found himself sprawled across his bed, several notebooks neatly stacked on his bedside table. Leaning his head back and closing his eyes, he tried to center his thoughts and ease his way into the peaceful sleep he knew he deserved. The full realization of the day's events was just beginning to sink in, aided by the soothing tendrils of serai snaking their way down his throat and into his blood. The usual mantra flooded his mind; the words he had spend months memorizing were not easily dismissed, regardless of the fact that they had been spoken for the final time more than an hour earlier.

"I am a stranger in a stranger's land
A wanderer in the world of the lost
I call to you, majestic ruler
Father of all my people
Guide this servant of yours
To places of your fulfillment
I am yours, come what may
Come what may"

Something about the finality of them thrilled the young man, chilling him down to the bone with raw emotion. True, they were just words, but weren't words the basis of everything, of magic itself?

The thought pleased Marcos, swelling him with serai-induced pride. The feeling pulsing through his body, he closed his eyes once more and tried to relax. No more stuffy teachers to tell him how to do his work. No more competitive peers to deal with. No more struggling to prove himself to those who were, in his mind, not even worth the time of day.

The door thudded, jerking him out of his near-sleep. After a moment of silence it thudded again, as if someone was trying to break it down with their shoulder. Rolling his eyes and muttering under his breath, Marcos stood and shuffled to the door. He assumed it was one of the other young mages, one who hadn't figured out that friendship attempts were useless. Late night drinking parties were not his thing, and he intended to demonstrate that to whoever was outside the door very clearly.

The door thudded again as he got closer, and he heard a grunt of pain echo in the night air outside his home. The voice was lighter than he would have expected, but that wasn't anything too odd; drinks did things to men that even magic couldn't explain. He could hear the stranger get to their feet with a few suppressed moans, obviously too intent on getting in to worry about pain. Timing it with evil accuracy, Marcos released the locks on the door the instant before the outsider ran into it.

As the figure burst through the now-loose door, Marcos craned his neck to see who it was. It tripped on the rug and tumbled to the floor, then scrambled into a crouch and growled.

Taking a step backwards, Marcos rubbed his temple and tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Even drunken mages didn't usually growl at him, despite their obvious dislike for the younger generation. He strained his eyes to see her better; perhaps it was the serai, but all he could see was a greenish glow.

"Merciful Father," he muttered as he found his focus and understood what was before him. The green was magic, raw power radiating off the figure's body, so potent that he could smell it in the air. He'd never seen such strong and untamed power before; whoever this was, they had never had any training and were powerful. In the magic world, very powerful and very inexperienced could only mean one thing- very, very dangerous.

The door, as he had spelled it to, swung closed after a minute of letting the night breeze in. The intruder sprung up at the sound, obviously frantic at the lack of an exit. As it stood, the glow grew thinner as it was spread across the added height, the body inside finally becoming visible.

If the raw magic had surprised Marcos, it was nothing compared to the shock provoked by the sight before him. His eyes gazed in hungry confusion, unsure of what he'd let into his home.

"Merciful Father," he muttered again, pinching his arm and wincing at the pain. This wasn't the result of a drunken fantasy; this was real.

Marcos was known for his adoration of the normal; anything unplanned caused him to panic and worry, his natural control over life disrupted. He liked normal things, plain and simple.

Finding a mage this powerful was not normal. Finding a female in his male-owned world was not normal.

And finding a naked, half-wild girl reeking of power and magic on his doorstep was definitely not normal.