|Copyright 2013 John H. Carroll/Rachael Schiller - All Rights Reserved.|
A firm knock at the door startled Jolen from his reading. He jumped up, set his book, The Study of Atypical Magical Gestures, upside down over the arm of his favorite cushioned chair and rubbed his tired eyes. After a moment of wondering what he was supposed to be doing, another knock sounded on the door. Jolen realized who it probably was and hollered up the stairs. “Father, I think the Blue Wyverns are here.”
The elderly wizard’s words spilled down the stairs in their typical rush. “I’ll be down shortly. Entertain them.” Professor Klunjun did everything quick and efficiently unlike his son who believed life should be sauntered through in as casual a manner as possible.
Jolen scratched his chin through his untrimmed beard and surveyed the large main-level room of the tower that he was supposed to be cleaning that morning. Books magical and mundane were scattered around worn furniture in the living area. He hadn’t put them away because all the bookshelves were already full along with a few stacks sitting on crates. Dust covered the fireplace mantel, the unlit lanterns and drifted in the light that filtered through filthy windows. Nearly every dish in the kitchen along the far, rounded wall was dirty and stacked just as haphazardly as the books.
He ran long fingers through greasy brown hair and mumbled a half-hearted curse upon hitting a snag. It was Jolen’s job as his father’s apprentice to clean the tower, but he had no desire to do so. Professor Klunjun had eventually decided not to come down to the main level until Jolen couldn’t stand living in the mess and got around to taking care of it. That was a year ago. The situation had devolved into a battle of wills.
Pounding on the door startled Jolen once more. Looking down, he remembered that he had forgotten to change into his good robe, though it was nearly as dirty as the once-orange garb he wore now. For the umpteenth time, he mumbled that his father should have put a self-cleaning enchantment within the runes that dotted the garment.
The hammering at the door had a metallic tone to it as though someone was using the hilt of a sword to knock. Jolen ambled over to answer, not willing to take the chance that they might use the pointy end of the sword to knock next.
Heat and city noise burst through as he swung the door open. Jolen squinted as he peered at four figures standing under the awning that protected them from the late morning sun. A few people made their way along the cramped street beyond, paying no attention to the squat tower at the end of a poor orphanage.
Irritation showed narrow face of the officer who held the hilt of her sword up as though to pound on the door once more. She lowered the weapon slowly as though debating whether to put it away or use it on the young man in front of her. Green eyes with a heavy dose of brown looked Jolen up and down in clear disgust at his disheveled state. Her harsh voice knocked Jolen back a step with its intensity. “I am Captain Emaate, White Talon Company, Blue Wyverns. This is Lieutenant Koanee, Sergeant Donda and Practitioner Melise. I was told this is where Professor Klunjun resides.”
“Yeah, this is it,” Jolen admitted. He didn’t like dealing with people and the Blue Wyverns didn’t strike him as friendly company. “Come on in.” He left the door open and gestured carelessly for them to enter behind him.
Captain Emaate marched into the room and halted before running into the dawdling wizard. Lieutenant Koanee was a whip of a woman with her hand unconsciously hovering near a thin sword at her hip, Sergeant Donda was a burly woman with fist meaty enough to make a man proud. Behind them was Practitioner Melise in a blue wizard’s robes and cowl. She held a multi-crystal topped staff in her hand that bespoke of power and experience. Jolen could tell by the palpable aura surrounding her that she was not to be messed with, certainly not by an apprentice like him. Even his father would hesitate to challenge her, though he wasn’t the sort to engage in wizard’s duels. The four surveyed the messy room with obvious distaste.
Jolen started to clean a stack of books off the couch, but thought better of it when realizing that it would take a long time to clear off enough for anyone to sit. He would probably work up a sweat doing so.
The officer’s eyebrow raised expectantly when he turned to face her.
He gestured at the couch. “There’s really nowhere to put any of the books. You can just stand I guess.” Jolen headed to the kitchen to see if there was anything for him to eat. In doing so, he missed the captain being restrained by her soldiers when she attempted to lunge at him.
“It’s not worth it, Captain,” one of them said.
Jolen turned. “Hmm?”
Fierce eyes bulged from the captain’s ruddy face as the woman struggled against the hold of the others. If the burly soldier hadn’t been so strong, the captain might have broken free.
Jolen noticed that the pinkie on the captain’s left hand was only a scarred stub. He wondered what had happened to it. It occurred to him that if he wanted to ask, he should at least attempt a bit of courtesy. “Would you like something to drink?”
Captain Emaate relaxed and tugged on the bottom of her tunic to straighten it while the other two let her go. They stayed ready just to be on the safe side though. “What do you have?” She glanced dubiously at the kitchen.
Jolen frowned. “Nothing really. I usually just have water. It’s not very good though.”
The sergeant grabbed Captain Emaate’s arm even though the captain hadn’t lunged again. She let go when the captain slowly turned a glare on her.
“Captain Emaate . . . I’ve heard your name before.” Jolen tapped his chin in thought. “A bard friend of mine told me that you saved your company by riding up the gangplank of a beached pirate ship and beheading the captain with a single blow. He said it was an incredible act of bravery.”
Captain Leacy took a deep breath and recollected herself. “I have found that bravery is one of two things. Either you do what you have to even at great danger to yourself, or you do what you do something without realizing how stupid and perilous it is.”
“Which one fits you?” Jolen asked.
Lieutenant Koanee answered for the Captain. “I’ve known her to be guilty of both on more than one occasion. We’d like to speak with the professor now.”
“Here I am.” Jolen’s diminutive white-haired father jogged down the steps, still spry with wiry muscles lining his short frame from underneath a short-sleeved shirt and vest. Unlike nearly every other wizard in the world of Ryallon, Professor Klunjun forwent traditional robes for comfortable pants and sturdy clothing. He wore a bejeweled set of golden necklace, earrings, eyebrow piercings, nose piercings, bracelets, rings and a belt that held the protections and amplifiers commonly found in wizard’s robes like Jolen’s and Practitioner Melise’s.
Covering the professor’s aged skin were a slew of runic tattoos that also amplified his abilities. They lined his face, traveling down his neck and arms and over the rest of his body, though most was covered by the clothes. Tattoos were popular among people in the Kingdom of Swelth, but few people realized the exact nature of the professor’s ink.
In his arms was a silver-banded maple chest that he carried with surprising ease. He strode forward with it. “Captain Emaate, I presume?”
The captain, clearly grateful to be done with Jolen, stepped toward him. “Yes, we haven’t had the fortune of meeting, but it’s an honor to meet a man of such accomplishments.”
“Hardly an honor, Captain,” Professor Klunjun said deprecatingly. “For all my accomplishments, I can’t even get my own son to clean up after himself.” He gestured at the filthy room. “If I’d been smart, I would have traded him in for one of the orphans. At least they appreciate having a clean place to live.”
Jolen gritted and smiled, but didn’t let his feelings show. His father always gave the expected speech on the rare occasions they had company.
The professor looked for a place to set the chest. Seeing that there wasn’t a clear table or chair, he grunted and set the chest on the floor. “Well there is the Liquid Wyvern. Your company wizard should have the enchantment to unlock the chest. If she doesn’t, you won’t be leaving here alive.” The threat was made without malice, but there was no doubting the sincerity of it.
Practitioner Melise had to push through the soldiers in the cramped space to get to the chest. Her voice spun through the air like whispering silk. “Liquid Wyverns are too vital to risk and death is appropriate for any who would try to steal it through force or trickery. I know the enchantment.”
The professor gestured for her to proceed. Jolen took a few steps back and mentally planned his escape route should he even suspect that the practitioner did it wrong. He didn’t know the enchantment, his father wouldn’t trust him with such important things, but he did have a sense for when spells were going wrong.
Words of power slid from the practitioner’s mouth. Mystical breezes of magic that accompanied all spells swirled around her, rustling her robes and strands of hair that slipped loose of the cowl. The oddity of the wind was that it only affected the caster. Jolen had read numerous books on the effect, most in disagreement with the others.
Runes along the silver bindings of the wooden chest glowed amber and moved around each other in an intricate dance until the latch clicked and the lid slowly opened of its own volition.
Jolen joined the soldiers leaning forward in anticipation. The head of the Liquid Wyvern peered above the chest, seeming to look back at its audience. The silver-scaled liquid alloy that gave the statue its substance glimmered in the dim light of the room as gentle waves ebbed along its body. The sapphire eyes glowed with an even brighter light. Jolen knew better, but found himself staring deeply into the raw power of those sapphires. After a moment, he shook off the sensation and noticed that only Professor Klunjun was unaffected by the dazzling artifact.
The professor tapped the lid. It closed as slowly as it had opened and then the runes moved along the silver bands to their original positions before disappearing. “It is very easy to become soul lost in one of these, especially one that hasn’t received its final tuning. You’ll be safe from it as long as the lid is closed.
Jolen knew that magical traps had also been set all over the chest. No one would be able to steal it from a full company of Blue Wyverns, but even if they did, they would pay in the opening of it.
Captain Emaate and her companions breathed, not realizing that they had stopped for a moment while enraptured. Rueful expressions crossed their features and they chuckled in the process of regaining their composure. “That’s easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life,” Sergeant Donda proclaimed.
Practitioner Melise rubbed her face with both hands. “I’ve been working with them for years now, but never has one taken my senses from me like that.”
“I tried some new techniques,” Professor Klunjun said. “But the fact that it hasn’t been tuned contributes to the rapture it creates. Tuning it to the other Liquid Wyverns and giving it a home will make it so that it can be looked at for a short while without that effect.”
Practitioner Melise knelt before the chest and grabbed the handles on each end. “Until we can do that, it’ll be locked securely in this chest.” She grunted as she tried to lift it, but it only came an inch off the ground before falling back with a thud.
Professor Klunjun laughed. “Thought it would be light just because a short old man carried it, did you? Ha! I’ll leave you to it. Hopefully you’ll find your way out of this mess of a room, because I hardly believe my son will remember to let you out any more than he remembered to feed his bird.” The professor pointed at a cage near the cold fireplace and then headed up the stairs back to his lab.
Jolen clenched his fists in irritation. His father was always quick to point out Jolen’s shortcomings.
Lieutenant Koanee maneuvered her way through stacks of books topped by dirty dishes to the cage. “By the gods! The poor creature is still at the bottom of the cage!” She spun on a heel to face Jolen with an expression that was both outrage and dismay.
“I thought for sure that I had emptied the cage.” Jolen rubbed his chin in thought. A rumble in his stomach interrupted the thought and he wondered whether or not he had eaten breakfast that morning . . . or dinner the night before.
“It’s half skeleton, half zombie,” the lieutenant proclaimed, looking at the cage again. She shook her head and moved away, her face decidedly green. “Get the chest Sergeant and let’s get out of here now!”
The sergeant squatted next to the chest and grabbed the handles. She tried to make it look as effortless as Professor Klunjun had, but there was obvious strain in her neck muscles as she lifted.
The four Wyverns left Jolen with varying looks of contempt and disgust. Captain Emaate stopped at the door, shot him a glare of accusation and slammed it shut behind her.
He briefly considered whether to be offended or possibly ashamed, but another rumble from his stomach interrupted him. The plates nearby were all dirty, but one wasn’t too bad. He rubbed it off with his sleeve and set it down on a pile of books.
The sleeves of Jolen’s robe slid down his arms as he raised them and flexed his fingers to cast his favorite type of spell. A grin of anticipation lit his face as guttural noises erupted from his throat and his body began to sway with hypnotic motions.
Jolen was using Throuala Magic learned from exotic books rather than the dull teachings of his father. It was primal magic created by primitive people, perpetuated by reclusive tribes and written about by the most adventurous of scholars. The three books he had were extraordinarily rare and they were one of the few things he took care of properly.
A whistling sound rose above the deep notes, manipulated by the curvature of his tongue. Supernatural winds had little effect on his matted hair, but they tugged at the hems of his robe. The magic gave him physical pleasure as it came from his body instead of the environment.
With a thrust of clawed hands and a shout that came from his gut, he completed the spell. A juicy, cooked steak as thick as any of the books in the room appeared on the plate. Next to it was a glob of steaming mashed tubers and rich gravy.
Creating food was a specialty few wizards engaged in because there was little profit and often the meals would disappear before they could be fully enjoyed. In worst case scenarios, the nourishment would even disappear after the food was consumed leaving the eater hungrier than before. Another issue was that casting magic took extraordinary amounts of energy and required substantial amounts of food and rest after being cast. Thus, wasting that magic creating food became a waste of time, as few wizards were efficient enough to create enough to balance the craving.
The primal magic Jolen cast didn’t have the same effect though it came from the body. For some reason, casting the spells never left him tired or hungry, at least not any hungrier than he was naturally.
As he cut into the steak with a mildly dirty knife and fork he found lying around, Jolen assessed his condition. There was no weakness within him. In fact, he felt stronger having cast the spell. Another advantage was that he didn’t have to exercise like his father and other wizards. Magic did so much damage to a body that any wizard who cast it had to work hard to maintain their health, requiring food, rest and exercise. Professor Klunjun dedicated hours to his fitness between research and castings.
Most wizards found a balance between casting magic and becoming more powerful while avoiding the casting and preventing burnout. It was a delicate dance and those who mastered it became wizened archmages.
Jolen had grown tired of the cleaning and chores that came with slowly learning the craft of wizardry in the first year of his apprenticeship with his father, a fact that still upset his father to this day. Instead, he voraciously read books trying to learn secrets that would make him powerful without putting in the work.
It had been two years ago when he found the books on Throuala Magic. They were fascinating to Jolen as he voraciously read them over and over and began trying the techniques within.
Jolen had kept the knowledge from his father, but Professor Klunjun had finally discovered him practicing one day. Of course, the professor had forbidden Jolen to have anything to do with the barbaric art, but that would never stop the younger man from feeding his desire. Jolen did what he wanted, when he wanted, and damn the consequences.
Eventually Jolen’s father just gave up on trying to have any influence other than the occasional barb or nasty word. Any other child might have felt abandonment, but Jolen was happy to be left alone.
He finished the last of his steak and potatoes. A sleeve across his mouth wiped away some of the gravy and juice that had dribbled past his lips into his beard. The plate should be cleaned, so he took it towards the kitchen, but along the way he remembered that he had started that morning searching for a book he had once seen on how the body channeled magic through different parts of the body. Jolen was sure that Throuala Magic originated in the gut rather than traveling through bones, blood and nerves like most types of magic. Why that would affect things differently was beyond him, but he was hoping the book would hold answers. He set the plate down and headed toward a stack of books near the fireplace.
After a good twenty minutes of surprisingly single-minded searching, he wiped off the cover of The Origination of Power from Areas of the Body. “Aha! I’ve found you and I shall read you mercilessly.”
A colossal boom, as though the world of Ryallon was gulping, erupted from outside. Everything in the room, including Jolen and the decaying bird in its cage was propelled a foot into the air before being slammed down to the ground.
If the living room of Professor Klunjun’s tower had been messy before, it was an outright disaster after explosion. Jolen scrambled to his feet and looked around, trying to understand what could have happened. His father didn’t make mistakes outside of having Jolen as a son, so it couldn’t be a spell gone wrong. Agitated dust floated through the air, upset at having its peace disturbed after years of being allowed to accumulate.
Screams and shouts filtered in from the orphanage and the city outside. Jolen scrambled over the books that had fallen out of their stacks to flow into an ocean of pages that blocked the way.
A though occurred to him that he should check on his father. It was shoved out of the way by the thought that he didn’t know where The Origination of Power from Areas of the Body had fallen. That disturbed him, but not enough to stop him from pulling the door open enough to get through.
The shouts were louder outside. Across the street, the baker’s shop had collapsed. The baker, blood flowing from cuts in his scalp and his arm cradled at his side, was scrambling over stones screaming the names of his wife and children.
Smoke rose above the conical rooftops to the left. Jolen shut the door and ran at full speed in that direction. He didn’t hear the baker’s shout of despair upon finding the lifeless arm of his wife, nor did he hear the countless other pleas for help as he followed his curiosity along the rubble-strewn cobble.
All my best,
John H. Carroll