My first memory of Achlys is of her handling me an apple. I knew who she was, although my memory had been erased a few weeks earlier. My master had let me make some notes, before the erasure, and although he had censored them, he only obscured five passages. I used to wonder a lot about what they contained. Achlys was also Gifted. I couldn’t mystically sense the Gift, but I caught myself wondering if the apple was poisoned, and so knew she must be the apprentice mentioned in my notes.
She was a wispy sort of thing, back then. Later, in the war, our hard living made her bulk up, but she;d had a hard childhood, like most of us, and so she was scrawny. She had dark, thin hair, and the sort of eyes that could fillet fish. She was smiling as she handed me the apple.
“So, they told me your name is Celerites, now?”
“Something like that. You’re Achlys?”
“Yep. How much do you remember about me?”
“Quite a bit. I remember the people here, and the places, just not my interactions with them.”
“So, you don’t know we’re allies?”
“We have enemies?”
“Everyone has enemies. Everyone has trials. We help each other past the hurdles.”
“Well, that’s good to know. So, did I cheat?”
“Leave a secret message for yourself? No. They’d detect it and erase you again. Then they’d punish me for giving it to you. Probably by putting false memories of childhood abuse into my mind.”
“Julia would do that?” Julia was her mistress.
“Sure. She’s tried to scare me with your example. “Be good or I’ll wipe you clean and we’ll start again.” I don’t believe it.”
“You know our birth parents hate us, right? The Gift makes…
…them suspicious. They think we are changelings. Yes. I remember the content of my studies, just not the actual studying.” I finished.
“I hate it when you talk over me.”
“Oh. Sorry. Didn’t know. Pray continue.”
“Accepted. So, my master left me with my biological parents for a few extra years.”
“To toughen you up. I know.”
“You must have told me that story before?”
“Yes.” She took a moment to collect her thoughts. “My point is, she doesn’t want an apprentice who is a blank slate. She’d have to put in all that abuse again. Too time consuming when she could just sell me off to someone else.”
“Good point.” I nodded.
“So, you know you love pears, right?” she added, changing the subject.
“They aren’t in season, but you love pears.”
“That’s great to know.”
We chatted like this for about an hour each day. It was nice to have someone my own age to talk to. It was about six weeks later she and I had our first fight. We then fought regularly for decades.
Achlys has called me out of bed for a midnight escapade. We had been doing an escapade a week, she assured me, for pretty much ever. This time we were going to break into the library and steal some cool casting tablets. She said it would be low magnitude stuff that no-one would miss, but that would suit our level of skill. She hinted that her mistress had dropped the existence of these useful tablets into conversation, in that sort of deliberately accidental way she sometimes had.
I suited up warm, grabbed some apples, and snuck out to one of the storerooms. It was the one room we could find where grogs didn’t sleep, so it was our base of operations. She outlined the plan. She’d boost me through the shutters of the librarian’s house. I’d steal his sigil of office. That would let use walk around the library safely. She’d swipe some books. We’d return the sigil. Job done, back to HQ for a celebratory apple.
“Why don’t I boost you through the window?” I asked.
“Well, you know what it looks like, for one thing.”
“Are you chicken? You’re lighter than me.”
“We could get a ladder or something for you to use, then.”
“Seriously? Come on. You aren’t scared are you? He sleeps like a log!”
“So, then why won’t you do it?”
“This is meant to be a fun thing we do together. I could do it on my own, but I want your help. It’s more fun that way.”
“So, I’ll be the one standing outside and we can do that fun bit together, just with the jobs reversed.”
“Look, he’s not going to catch you!” she said, raising her voice a little.
“Look, I know, alright!” I answered, raising my voice a little more.
“What?” she looked confused.
“I know this is just another one of your schemes to make me look like a fool! I know we aren’t friends! I know you bullied and humiliated me before I lost my memory!”
“I left myself a diary! I know exactly what you are like and I’ve just been playing along with this chummy thing you are doing, waiting for the other shoe to drop. So, no, I’m not doing it.” I turned to storm off.
“Please wait!” she said, and because she’d never said “please” to me before, I paused but decided that once you’d started storming off, you couldn’t just stop.
“Wait!” she ordered, and cast a little spell that made a rat the size of a dog appear in front of the door.
I looked at the rat. It reared at me. I went up to it and when it reared again, I planted my boot down through it. It was an illusion, of course. I knelt down to look at how it had been done. I could see Achlys’s sigl, which was a sort of grey mistiness, in it. It made the hairs on the rat’s back indistinct and unconvincing. It had been the lack of sound, though, that had tipped me off. Still, it was impressive. I liked it a lot. I poked at it with my fingers to see if it would react, and knelt down to see if she’d worked out the skeleton. “What?” I asked, trying to sound angry, but genuinely curious.
“We don’t need to do this. You’re right. I used to bully you. The thing is though, that was getting really repetitive. I thought that with your memory wiped, I could make my choice over, and have you as an ally this time. Easier to start as an ally, and if I found out having you as an enemy was more fun, I could just bully you again. Harder to start as enemies and work on allegiances. I’m rubbish at making allegiances.”
The thing is, that made perfect sense for a Tytalus. That’s really how broken they are. The Mycetian way is to not make enemies casually. Enemies are exhausting. You set an objective, make the enemies you need to make, then you placate or destroy them afterwards. Clean. Rational. Decisive. My goal was to graduate. Achlys could make that harder or easier.
“Alright.” I said.
She looked surprised. “Just like that?”
“I don’t remember any of the things you put me through.”
“You know you’re scared of rats?”
“No. I’m not.”
“Seriously, you hate rats.”
“No. I’m not. Check out the dentition on this!”
“You’re unsettling me a little here.” she said, which was a rare admission for her.
“Oh. Right. So, let’s go rob the library.”
“I thought that was off?”
“No, either you’re serious, or you’re setting me up. If you’re setting me up, I’m just going to rat you out and your master will punish you for getting caught.”
“You’ll never do that.”
“I’m a Mycetian apprentice. I don’t care about dignity. I care about victory.”
Then we raided the library and stole some really useful books. Ever after, rats were our thing. A sort of in-joke that other people could observe, but never really understand. She’d been serious. We were never friends in the conventional sense, but we were as close as she could come to having friends. Thinking back I was perhaps the only child she could talk to that her mistress couldn’t threaten to torture. When we were older we were trained to fight as a team. She bought the destructive power, and I used illusions to weaken the enemy and find the places where the damage would have the greatest effect. We worked together all the way through our graduations, until the middle of the War.