Starsea Prequel Preview
Art generated by MidJourney of the scene. Not intended to be totally accurate!
Vivienne Desai stood at the rail at the bow of the sailboat Aurora, her gaze fixed on the distant, flat peak of Transcend Mount. The mighty Volsung Academy, a massive edifice of gray stone and towers, stood high above the Ocean of Storms against a robin egg’s blue sky. Tears almost came to her eyes, knowing she was so close to the end of her long journey. It was a sight she had only dreamed of.
She was too distracted to hear the footsteps clomping on the deck behind her. She jumped, her twin sister’s sharp voice breaking her reverie.
“My dear Vivienne,” Vera said, her tone dripping with superiority, “whyever are you smiling? Could you possibly be dreaming of the fiction that you’ll be accepted for training? This is the Volsung Academy. It requires at least a modicum of talent, not a whit of which you possess.”
Vienne felt her face flush as she saw the two fresh-faced boys accompanying her sister smirk as if this were a great joke. Her humiliation was heightened when she realized everyone could see her embarrassment. A spark of anger surged through her as she glared at Vera.
“I will be accepted,” Vivienne said, clenching her fists. “Not even you can stop me!”
Her sister’s expression turned dangerous, and before Vivienne could react, Vera’s hands glowed purple as a vicious smile spread across her face. Vivienne felt herself pushed toward the railing, almost hard enough to topple overboard into the roiling sea below.
Vivienne let out a shaky breath, hardly able to believe even her evil twin would go so far. When she’d regained control, she whipped around, throwing her black hair out of her eyes.
“Vera! You’re not supposed to stream!”
The mischievousness was wiped from Vera’s face as she leaned forward and hissed in a low, threatening voice. “You’re going to rat me out? After father went through so much expense to send us here?”
Vivienne ground her teeth, desperate to keep her anger in check. It was rare enough to have one mage in the family, and that she’d have to compete with Vera was the cruelest of jokes. Her father had been so proud that both of his girls had the potential for magic. It would be a disaster if Vivienne did anything to ruin that.
Before Vivienne could respond, a deep voice resonated from behind.
“Is there a problem here, recruit?”
Vivienne looked up to see a tall, handsome man in gray robes, with sandy blond hair and blue eyes. His green sash identified him as a member of the Green Talents, who were Radiants, adept at the use of magic having to do with light in its many forms. He watched impassively as Vera and Vivienne exchanged glances.
Vera spoke up first, her voice falsely meek. “I was merely having a conversation with my sister, Talent Sebastian.”
The Talent shifted his gaze to Vivienne, awaiting her response. She could feel her sister’s smirk burning into her face and knew this was her moment to stand up for herself.
“Just leave me alone,” Vivienne finally said.
Then, she smiled to herself as she remembered why she was on this boat in the first place; she was on her way to the Volsung Academy to study magic. The Testers had told her she had the potential. True, she hadn’t emerged yet. Not like her sister. But no one could take her opportunity away—not even Vera.
She scurried to the bow, which was already crowded with other recruits, their eyes wide with anticipation. Vera followed behind, but Vivienne kept her distance. The smell of the salty sea air was invigorating and made Vivienne’s smile widen.
“I can’t believe we’re almost here!” a young man beside her said in a thick Archean accent.
Like Vivienne, he was in awe of the Volsung Academy looming above them—the most prestigious Mage Academy in the Hundred Worlds, founded by the Sorcerer-Ascendant Arian himself, the leader of all magekind.
As the Aurora creaked towards its destination, Vivienne imagined all the possibilities that awaited her in the coming months. Soon, she would learn the secrets of magery and sorcery from the greatest instructors in all the Worlds, finally proving her worth as a mage.
The boat neared the island’s rocky beach, where a dozen gray-robed Talents stood somberly before them. Vivienne scanned their regal figures, admiring their brightly colored sashes that denoted their chosen Aspects. The colors of all Seven Aspects of Magic were represented here: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet, and Gray.
She felt movement from beside her, and not a moment later, Talent Sebastian gave a gravity-defying leap onto the prow of the boat. The recruits gasped at the sudden move, which on the surface looked impossible. Vivienne realized he must have used Gravitonic Magic. That she might do such a thing someday filed her with an unspeakable thrill. Perhaps, with enough training, it was even possible to fly.
Every pair of eyes focused on Sebastian, his gray Talent’s robes billowing in the breeze. Vivienne cast a quick glance behind her, where she knew her twin lurked. She could always sense her presence, like a black hole absorbing light. Vera paid her no mind, though, her dark eyes intently watching Sebastian, as if envious of the power he held.
“Welcome to Transcend Mount,” Talent Sebastian said. “The minute you step ashore, your life will change forever. Whether or not you are accepted for training, this is the most important day of your life. Within hours, you will know if you have what it takes to be a mage of the Volsung Academy. Mark my words, at least half of you stepping off this ship will get right back on to head back to Karendas.”
The weight of his words seemed to affect the recruits deeply. Vivienne tried to force herself to calm. She hadn’t emerged yet, but surely she couldn’t be the only one here. Could she?
“That’s all,” Sebastian said. “For now, be silent, and speak only when spoken to. For it is not just your magical abilities for which you are being judged.”
Sebastian raised his hand, summoning a powerful stream of blue magic that connected the prow of the ship to the shoreline. Then, the blue line pulsated, pulling the Aurora forward. With a loud thud, the boat slipped firmly on shore, jolting the recruits out of their trance. Vivienne immediately identified that blue line as a Binding tether, a basic stream of the Binding Aspect.
The recruits formed a line to go down the ladder on the boat’s side. The recruits carefully navigated their way down the slippery ladder one by one, Vera following close behind Vivienne. As Vivienne prepared to descend, she felt a chill as Vera’s gaze met hers. Her twin gave a sharp smile, a smile that told Vivienne that she was going to do everything to make her slip and fall.
“Don’t even think about it.”
“Think of what?” Vera asked, all innocence.
Vivienne clenched her teeth and double checked her grip before continuing down. To her relief, Vera didn’t try anything. Likely, making Vivienne think she was going to do something had been the intent of her torment.
When all the recruits reached the bottom, they joined the rest of the Talents and continued forward, with Sebastian in the lead. The rocky terrain was unforgiving, and the weight of Vivienne’s pack seemed to double with every meter they climbed. She’d spend almost three months on that passenger liner, and the rotating torus where the cabins had been located was only the equivalent of a one-third gravity. Despite this, Vivienne pushed on, treating this as her first test. From the heavy breaths around her, at least she wasn’t the only one struggling. She snuck a glance at her sister, and was gratified to see a bead of sweat coursing down her face.
Soon enough, they stood before the mighty edifice of the Volsung Academy. Vivienne’s breath caught at the sight.
The magnificent stone structure took up the entire northern half of the islands, its soaring towers and battlements rising high from its wide base of pillared arcades and narrow windows. From its shape, Vivienne knew it had been carved from the very mountain itself. A central tower rose higher than the rest, overlooking the vast sea surrounding the rocky island that served as the campus of the Academy.
Top to bottom, it was four stories of solid monolithic stone. Though its appearance was austerely beautiful and new, Vivienne couldn’t help but feel it was ancient. It was rumored that the Volsung Academy had not been built by human hands, but by the Ancients, the long-extinct alien race over a million years gone by now. Humans had merely excavated it. Vivienne had never believed that was true, but standing before it now, the scale of it seemed . . . wrong. As if it had been built for giants rather than people.
Whatever the case, this would be her home—perhaps even for the rest of her life. Her resolve firmed as she recommitted herself to do everything she could to be admitted.
She felt her sister lean over to her. “Take a good look, sister. It might be the last time you ever see so pretty a sight.”
Vivienne bit back the response that wanted to come to her lips as Talent Sebastian walked by in front of them. Of course, he hadn’t heard Vera’s barb.
Vera was right, though. It was a pretty sight, seeming more like a castle in a fantasy holo-film than an educational institution.
Talent Sebastian stood in front of them, surveying the recruits like a drillmaster inspecting the newest crop of soldiers. Like the drillmaster, he didn’t seem altogether pleased with what he had.
Vivienne took a deep breath as he nodded towards the massive, arched entrance of the Academy. Vivienne’s heart raced as she peered through widely opened bronze doors.
The head of the line began marching toward the well-lit entrance, and Vivienne noticed dozens of mages in the ornate arcades above. Many of them were pointing and regarding them with curiosity as they crossed the wide lawn. Despite the Academy’s cold appearance, it was buzzing with life and anticipation.
Vivienne took a deep breath as she stepped through the entrance and entered a vast, circular hall, held up by many high stone columns and lit by a large central brazier. She could feel her heart racing as she lined up with the others about ten meters from the fire.
All that was left was to await the Masters of the Academy.