Published in the Anthrocon 2011 convention book.
Samel Church stood in the doorway looking miserable, and well he might. My Procurator, Dimitri Silverblaze, loomed behind him.
Dimitri isn't huge, but the mouse Samel barely came up above his knees. The little fellow just had to feel threatened. Besides, Dimitri is a Dark Unicorn, and we all know why the Mad Czar had his necromancers create them.
I tried to blink myself awake in spite of the bright sunlight streaming into my office. "What did Samel do this time?"
"He fell off the north wall, trying to climb out."
I rubbed my bleary eyes with my left wing. "Samel, is this true?"
He hung his head lower. "I'm sorry I tried to escape."
"Oh, Samel. Don't be sorry about that. I'm upset because you could have been killed! If the time comes, you may leave openly. But if you do, walk out the front gate. Never try to go over the walls."
"If I could leave, why did Procurator Silverblaze bring me back? I can't use magic, I can't, I can't! I've tried so hard, but I don't belong here. He should have just let me go." The little fellow's eyes brimmed with tears. My heart ached for him.
"I had to help you. You broke your arm when you fell," Dimitri said. His voice was gentleness itself.
I reached for Samel's arm. "Let me see that." He held it out for me, full of trust.
I started chanting a healing spell. I could sense a minor fracture, but it was hard to focus power on it. Well, like all bats, I'm not at my best in daylight.
"I feel your power," Samel said. "If I can feel it, like a wizard does, why can't I use it?"
"We don't know. We'll find the answer, though. Don't lose faith. Stay with us."
He lowered his eyes. "I will since you ask it, Princeps."
The magic curled around the bones of his arm, flickered, and slipped away. I sighed. "I can't hold this. You'd better go see Brother Timothy. He'll splint your arm."
"Once again magic fails me."
"My spell would only have held the bone in place anyway. Some things work just as well without magic. Go see Medicus Timothy, and try not to lose hope."
"As you wish, Princeps. I've given you nothing but trouble. I'm sorry to disturb you, especially now that the Greenleaf Brethren have-- you know--"
"They can threaten, but actually collecting my head is something else. And any Prospective is worth my trouble, Samel. The Institute exists for the Prospectives, after all. If the Brethren make us forget that, they've already won."
He bowed and left, holding his arm.
"I thought you reinforced the wards on the walls," I said, when the mouse was out of earshot. "I thought I told you the Council authorized lethal magic."
"I did, and the wards are lethal, or should be," Dimitri said. His eyes, black in black, were unreadable as always, but I felt his certainty. "I'm good at lethal, too. He's lucky to be alive. It's most curious."
"Check the wards again. I hate to take this personally, but I'm told that when a necromancer cuts off your head he keeps you conscious until they rip the knowledge-- um. It is, they say, most unpleasant. You're sure that your spell will destroy my head if--"
"You'll explode like balefire. But they won't get either of us." There was a hell-glow deep in those all-black eyes. He looked like he meant it. That glow made even me shiver.
"Why do the Greenleafers hate us so much, Dimitri? Even my herbivore friends don't understand it. Killing in the name of radical vegetarianism! It's ludicrous!"
"I asked about that, in a meeting of the Vegan Party in town. They didn't seem to have an answer, even among themselves. They just spouted slogans at me."
I blinked. "They let you into a meeting?"
"Why not? I have flat teeth, don't I?"
"If they knew what dark unicorns eat, they wouldn't worry about Brother Timothy's pot roast."
"I think they would. Like many fanatics, they are more concerned with symbols and theories than facts."
"They choose to make themselves ignorant."
"Yes, but encouraging fear and ignorance has always been the swiftest route to power. The Mad Czar knew that. He lost the World War in the end, but that doesn't stop others from following his example. We learn nothing from history."
"I'd like to think we learned something, at least. And I think the Greenleaf threat will pass, as others have."
"I hope you're right."
"Do you think we might flow-scan poor Samel again? Tonight is the dark of the moon. At midnight, our abilities should be greatest. It might work this time."
"I begin to think he's right when he says he has no magical talent."
"Nonsense. Everyone has some magical talent."
"Newton proposed that with her Laws of Magical Interaction, but it's never been proven."
"But Samel feels magic so strongly! Besides, he wants it so much."
Dimitri considered this for a moment. "Given that kindness changed even my own people, I know it's never wasted on anybody. Let alone on a gentle, sincere fellow like Samel. All right, let us try one more time.
"But there's something strange about him. I suggest you consider the curious effect of your healing spell."
"The spell had no effect."
"That's what was curious."
"You're too deep for me."
He smiled, showing a perfect set of black teeth. "Of course I am. I'll bring Samel back here toward midnight. In the meantime I'll check the wards on the walls. You get your sleep, old friend."
"I will. Thank you, Procurator."
Dimitri brought Samel to my office an hour before midnight.
"Welcome. Come in and be seated. All right, Samel, I-- wait. Who's there?"
The door to my chambers opened again. I saw nobody, but I felt the air move.
Dimitri sensed the threat first. He gestured and started a warding spell, but it was too late. A net of orange fire wrapped him and threw him to the floor. I tried to reach for power, but barely spoke a word before the spell hit me too. It slammed me to the wall. I felt bones break.
The air shimmered. The shimmer became a red deer unwrapping a green cloak from around his body. He was dressed as a Necromancer, Gray Level; bracers, breastplate, skull helmet, and nothing else. Like all Necromancers he used a wand made of bone, supposedly the thighbone of someone he'd strangled. Two minotaurs appeared with him. They carried axes.
"I'll hold them. Get their heads." He pushed past Samel.
Samel stepped back. But then he squeaked a war cry and charged.
His cry was a squeal of rage that would have been at the edge of anyone's hearing except mine. Teeth bared, eyes bulging, he hurled himself at the deer who towered over him.
The necromancer flicked his wand and the world exploded in the purple glare of balefire. I wept in rage against a fanatic who would vaporize a young student when a simple slap, or a basic stun or hold spell, would have stopped--
--but Samel was still there, untouched in the midst of the glare. He hurled himself at his enemy. His toeclaws bit into the deer's ankle, he dug his finger claws into the thigh, and he lunged upward and bit with those razor-sharp incisors. He bit the deer real high?
Even wrapped in magic as I was, I cringed. No matter how skilled a mage you are, some things just have to break your concentration. This was definitely one of them.
The red deer squealed even higher than Samel had, if that was possible. He leaped, reached down, desperately tried to swat Samel away. His wand went flying. The spells that hold Dimitri and myself shattered.
Dimitri spoke a Word of that great power his people carry. Just the feel of his power half stunned me. His magic was enough to hold our enemies, I was sure, but I threw in everything I had too, just to be safe. Then I thought it might be a good idea to crumple down onto the floor and sleep for a while.
"Samel. Dimitri. Thank you both for coming."
"How could I not?" the mouse said. "Are you sure you're well enough to speak to me?
"My ribs are healing. How is your arm?"
He held it up and flexed his wrist, wiggled his fingers. "It seems fine."
"He's healed, Princeps," Dimitri said. "Brother Timothy can't find a trace of a break. In fact, our young Master Samel seems to have gained some muscle bulk out of this incident. It's only logical, after all. Remember the Law of Conservation of Magic. All the energy he absorbed had to go somewhere."
"I don't understand," Samel said.
"I'm only beginning to understand myself," I said. "There shouldn't have been anything of you left."
"There was so much light around me, and it felt cold, yet the cold felt so far away somehow. What happened to the necromancer and his axemen?"
"I took care of them," Dimitri said.
Samel looked up at the Dark Unicorn, swallowed, and nodded. Obviously, he had decided not to ask questions. Wise lad.
I said "I think we discovered your special talent, Samel. No matter how powerful, magic has no effect on you. Your body just absorbs it."
His eyes went wide and filled with tears. "Then truly, I have no place here."
"On the contrary. Your best place is here."
"How can that be?"
"You've already shown how. In a world run by magic, a warrior-- and don't scoff, you have a warrior's heart-- who is immune to magical weapons may be the ultimate weapon himself."
"So you want me as a guard, to patrol the walls."
"I would like you to have combat training and help protect us, yes. But your talent has other uses. In particular, I'd like to start training you to be our potions master. I have the apprenticeship contract right here. All you need to do is sign."
"What good is a potions master who can't use magic?"
"You'd be surprised. Our most useful medical potions use no magic; that's one thing that helps make them so useful. As for the rest, you could learn the incantations but prompt someone else to chant them for you."
"I'd still be a poor master, if I can't--"
"Ask him what happened to the last potions master," Dimitri said. Blue sparks danced among his teeth when he grinned. It was disturbing.
"We don't really know. We presume the laboratory accident had something to do with her disappearance, but.."
"And the one before that?" Dimitri prompted.
"He got turned into a newt," I said. "A red chenille one, to be precise." I nodded toward my corner bookshelf with the stuffed animal on top of it.
Samel looked at the plush toy animal and blinked. "Is he still alive?"
"We don't know. I talk to him anyway, just in case. But I think my point is made. The laboratory is a dangerous place, with untrained students just learning their first potions. I think you can see how someone immune to magic would be invaluable there."
"So it's not just because I tried to save you?"
"I'd never entrust our prospectives to your training just because I'm grateful to you! Nobody I've ever met is as qualified for this as you."
He smiled. I think it was the first time I'd ever seen a smile on his face, but thankfully, it was far from the last.
"You may have a point," he said, and reached for the quill.