"Good evening, gentlemen. At ease. Anyone care to guess why we are having an archery class by night? There can be more than one correct answer. Mr. Fells?"
"Part of learning to cope with adverse conditions, sir?"
"Good. Mr. Wardley?"
"Learn how to use night-scopes for archery, sir?"
"That, too. Mr. Darneley?"
"Because Sagittarius is rising, sir?"
(The woman standing next to Fletcher laughs.)
"Very interesting, Darneley. And correct. How did you come up with that?"
"The lady standing next to you is carrying binoculars and a tripod, sir, and wearing a faintly luminous pendant that I think is the kind astromagi use to store energy. A star-mage among us suggested Sagittarius to me, so I checked the ephemeris with my phone. And it's rising now."
"Is he like that all the time, Captain?"
"Yes, ma'am. Gentlemen, this lady is Penelope Argyris and she is, indeed, a star-mage. Madam?" (He gestures, turning the class over to her.)
"Good evening, gentlemen. Mr. ... Darcy? Can you point out Sagittarius to the others?"
"Darneley, ma'am. Or 'Charliehorse,' if you want. Sorry, ma'am, I can't. I just thought archery plus astromage equals Sagittarius, most likely. I only know a few constellations."
"Anyone else, then? You, sir? You are...?"
"John Weldon, ma'am. I think it's to the left of that tall tree just behind the offices."
"Correct. What do you know about Sagittarius? Anyone."
"It's supposed to be Chiron." "They say to look for a teapot shape." "The name means 'archer.' " "The center of the galaxy lies that way." "There's a little constellation next to it called Sagitta, the arrow. That's, uh, pretty important to us." "Sometimes it's drawn as a man-simple." "And sometimes Chiron is supposed to be Centaurus, not Sagittarius."
"Good. Thank you. Captain, I think maybe you should explain what I'm doing here."
"Certainly, ma'am. As part of your training, we see if we can wake any magical talent in you. We do that by having a qualified mage watch over you while you work under auspicious conditions. For a star-mage watching over you lot, auspicious conditions are archery practice while Sagittarius is rising. So I have called this night-class."
"Thank you, Captain. Let me add that I'm not just looking for star magic. That, of course, but any other theme, too: night, archery, combat, scrying, or something we figure out later."
"Gentlemen, string your bows."
Some time later:
"Any twinges, Penelope?"
"Twinges? Hints, you mean? I call them 'sparks.' Star-mage, after all."
"And I call them twinges. Old plug, after all. What has Kaus Australis told you?"
"Who is the small one? That is, the least gigantic of you?"
"That's Dan Brice."
"Well, he sparkles a bit."
"Interesting. I hadn't noticed that he was a very good shot."
"Mm. Is he special friends with the really big one?"
"René Wardley. Yes, he is."
"Because his arrows keep striking within an inch or two of his big buddy's. And he sparkles."
"Hm. Noted. Thank you. Anyone else?"
"Not at this time..."
"Except now you're standing so Kaus Australis is over my head. Anything interesting?"
"Just what I already knew: you're the really effective mage here, Philip."
"Nonsense, Penelope. I'm no mage."
"But you're the one who started having me come out here for night classes, on a hunch."
"That's just Receptance. Good enough, gentlemen! Finish your quivers and pack up! Then to barracks."
"My da's 'just' Receptant and keeps his whole parish on the qui vive with it. Orthodox priest. Oh, here comes Fetlock Holmes. ... Yes, Mr. Darcy? Darney."
"Charliehorse is fine, ma'am. May I ask a question? Ah, did I do something funny, Captain?"
"No, no. She was just telling me a joke. Go ahead."
"Ma'am, in most thematic magic, you have to be with the subject of the theme. A fire mage has to have some fire with them, for instance, or it's their business to conjure some or find some. How do star mages work with the stars when they're so far away? Are you actually working with the star light?"
"Very good, Mr. Darneley. (See? I got it.) Yes, we are. And the light may be a slight thing, but it comes directly from a mighty thing. Also, we work with the stars' names and traditions. So there's a strong overlap with nymic magic. A star doesn't have a True Name, the way a person can, but they have very stable names in old, widespread traditions, and that's enough."
"Thank you, ma'am. That's very interesting. Did you know the Incas had 'dark constellations,' named for the dark patches in the Milky Way? Could a star mage use that named darkness?"
"Good heavens! No, I didn't know that. It's– It's something to research."
"Thank you, ma'am. I'll look into it. Good evening. Good evening, Captain."
... "I meant for me to research, not him."
"Too late. He's got the bit between his teeth now. As we say. Is he a mage?"
"No, thank the Magi, not as far as I can tell. Constellations of darkness! What a thought! Do you have any more budding Chirons? Last time I was out here, it was the huntin' and shootin' crowd."
"Just the one Chiron and a possible Nessus. The rest are just honest workhorses, each with his own story. Unless young Brice is an up-and-coming Sagittarius."
"He could well be. A handy fellow to have in the out-zones, I'd think."
"Yes, indeed. Have you ever considered going on an expedition, Penelope? We take civilian consultants all the time."
"Only if I could meet Kaus Australis out there. I need my stars, Philip!"
"Usually there are stars. I couldn't say which ones."
"More things to research."
"Let's head back to the office. Whisky and soda?"
"Yes, but you also promised a ride by starlight."
"If it won't get me in trouble with your father."
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