A bunch of intro text about Magic & Wizardry
He was more and more a wizard each day now. He even had a staff, tall as he was, that he had found where the tracks wound through the trees a few days back. The pale wood had strange symbols in it, like the magic wand he found in his backyard once Before. Dad had said the symbols weren't carved, just the chewed tracks of bark beetles, but that was because Dad hadn't believed in magic.
The wizard knew it was real. When I shook Femi's hand in the office break room on my first day, everything faded: the snot-colored linoleum, the nauseous fluorescent lighting, the wheezy hum of the refrigerator. Instead of "Nice to meet you," I heard myself say, "You are a fragment of heaven."
I pulled my hand back, feeling like a complete moron, but her tranquil expression didn't waver. There's something about the Vanishing Girl.
I watch her from the Presto Portraits booth of the county fair. A man in a cowboy hat is painting my portrait with punchy, animated strokes; if he's not finished in six minutes, the portrait's free. He tells me to angle my head left, and that's when I see her. The Vanishing Girl, her sign proclaims her. I allow myself to stare. After all, I'm posing for a picture; I can't look away. The door swings closed with a soft click. I rest my back against it, chest heaving, as I strain to hear any sounds from the other side. My pounding heart is deafening. My eardrums pulse with its rhythms. I tiptoe across the plush, burgundy carpet and peek out the heavy curtain. The driveway is still empty. Bobby Donne is right. I am a coward.
I sink to the floor. Shivers run wildly up and down my skin. Having adventures is so much easier when I'm lying safe in bed at night. With my Scooby-Doo pajamas and my red, plastic flashlight I can be anyone; a knight saving helpless and beautiful damsels, a suave space explorer, a crafty detective who always gets the bad guy, a daring first mate on a perilous sea voyage. But in the daytime, I'm just me: weird little Casey Adams, the "Space Case" of Roosevelt Elementary. When the townspeople found Rosalind sitting astride the mayor's daughter with her skirts hoisted to her thighs and her bodice loosened at the chest, they knew she was a witch. She was feasting at her victim's lips, sucking the soul out of poor Leda's body as she lay, bent, in the shadow of the mill. The preacher was summoned and, although Leda protested, Rosalind was shackled and presented to the mayor for trial.
On the first day, three witnesses were called. The miller stood with flour on his shirt and stammered as he told the townspeople that Rosalind had been seen near his mill before. Once, he had watched her gathering flowers and, the next day, the crooked form of a bird's embryo had been found in the nearby grass. "And she never took a husband," he finished. Indeed, she had turned the miller down. Marsius pulled his coat tight against the wind. The snow blew in flurries swirling about his face and his fur boots sank deep. The sharp, dirt-ice smell crept under his hood, edged and filthy like the season. He looked up at the sheer stone Academy walls, their tops lost in darkness. Somewhere above, the remaining college members were heading off to dinner, or the library, or bed, secure and warm. There was no point dwelling on it; the prison awaited. He pulled his coat around him more tightly and lowered his head into the icy wind.
It took him half an hour to trudge to the broad prison gates, battling through the narrow streets. The high buildings funneled the wind and whipped it around him. Twin torches sat on either side of the gate, guttering and flaring, sending the acrid scent of burning swirling about with the wind. He lifted a leather-gloved fist to bang on the iron-shod door. At his third attempt, someone heard; a small door recessed in the main portal swung inward and a head poked out. There was annoyance on the face it presented. Not even the soothing heat of a full cup of tea could ease the agony in Sir Oren's hands. Each finger joint throbbed as if it contained a burning coal. He cursed, trying to cradle the cup between his palms, but the brew sloshed and speckled his velvet housecoat. Oren exhaled in frustration and set the cup aside.
If he couldn't drink tea, how in the ten hells was he supposed to manage pen and ink? The secret of his pained hands had been kept this long because the king had no immediate need of him, and his other commissions had far-off deadlines. Oren claimed headaches, avoided the map room entirely, and tried every available concoction to heal his hands. Nothing worked. "It's eccentric," Alric said, "but surely it's not dangerous."
"The Council's vote was unanimous," Duke Richard said. He looked ridiculous in a bright yellow doublet. The color would make anyone look foolish, as the other old men seated around the table proved, but its gaiety was especially jarring against Richard's habitual dark expression. "You know your duty, Guardian." "What is it?" I asked, marveling that the dusty, timeworn box was able to actually keep its shape.
"Why," he said with a sly grin, "it's a Case of Curiosities. Very rare these days, not many of them left." The day Ruth met her fairy godfather started out poorly. She sat across from Frank, twisting her cup between her hands.
"Yesterday was our anniversary," she said, watching the coffee swirl. "We might kill the wizard tonight," Jonlen whispered.
"Or be killed," Slip whispered back. A penny plunked into the fountain outside the Chinese restaurant, and one of the resident goldfish swam up to investigate. He tasted metal in the water. He took the penny in his mouth--he was large, as goldfish went--and tasted something else beneath the tang of countless human hands: the coin carried a woman's wish for a new job. He couldn't discern details without swallowing it, so he did, and began to digest.
By evening a bright, shining, almost golden penny lay where he had been, until the owner's son scooped the fountain clean of wishes, and threw them in the register with the change. Gabriel wouldn't ever have thought there would be circumstances rough enough for him to set foot in lower Manhattan Chinatown. In the old days, perhaps, but not after the integration. Too many dragons.
There were mainly humans, of course; clingy people chattering in Mandarin as he walked by in the drizzle, one offering traditional Chinese souvenirs while the next tried to sell him pornographic holograms--"real girls, real action, not Jìsuánji made!" But in the shadows beneath the awnings, he saw their willowy shapes, the odor of their dirty scales wafting against his face as he walked. They wouldn't do anything now, but ten years earlier, they would have scorched him and promptly sucked the meat off his bones. It made him pull up his collar and walk faster. I'm not the one who should get the family recipe. It has passed from mother to daughter for more generations than anybody can count, and I'm a son, not a daughter. But my three sisters didn't have the vision to read the writing on the family recipe page, and I did, so Mom was stuck with training me to make the solstice cakes.
I'm seventeen, and I was looking forward to running away to the Western Culinary Institute next year, partly to get away from Dad, who says these things that sound like compliments but aren't, like, "Nice quiche, Zach. Very flavorful. Who knew you had it in you?" I've been interested in cooking since I was nine, so he should know I had it in me by now. The first time he knocks at your door, be cautious. Your mother will pluck at your sleeve, hiss at you to come away--but do not feel you have to obey her.
Do not feel you have to open the door either. The crypt had not been locked. The graveyard was so remote and so rarely visited by anyone that vandalism had never been an issue, so getting access to the crypt was like visiting a 7-Eleven. Ras had walked right in.
The air inside was musty, and the center of the room was dominated by a large stone sarcophagus. Green moss decorated the corners of the room. Ras wondered for the hundredth time if Jerome LeVine had chosen the crypt just for the sake of easy access, knowing that someday, some other necromancer would come along and try to raise him using one of the many spells LeVine had written while alive. "That's Erelong, child. That's where you were born."
Mayve pointed down the hillside to the valley laid out beneath them. Elian, still breathing hard from the climb, squinted against the bright sunlight, the dazzling silver of the river winding wide through the valley. Between stands of trees she saw a patchwork of ruined stone buildings and, in a round open field, the circle of standing stones. Jagged white rocks rose from the ground in an uneven circle, like the earth's crooked teeth, like impossible summer snowmen. Katrine grew up with the stories, she knew them as well as her own name. First there was true love's kiss, then the fair maiden became the radiant bride, and she lived happily ever after.
But the stories all stopped there, and Katrine hadn't realized just how much ever after there would be. Arnold Gold walked in timidly, holding a cardboard sign. "This says knock and come in."
Robert Brewster was sitting behind a desk. "Sorry for the chaos. We're just relocating. Construction is not quite complete. And my secretary is on her break. But we'll get by." In the moonlight, Magda walked through the memory room.
This was her room, even more so than the kitchen. Nate never came in here. Piles of papers and bags of old clothes turned the floor into a maze. Along the wall were broken bookshelves, chairs missing legs, old toys from her girlhood.
The shop was almost bare. A few unpromising objects lay scattered willy-nilly on its rickety shelves. As he gazed at the forlorn selection of wares Magnus was approached by the proprietor, an old and wizened man with a mild, yet sinister, grin.
"Are you looking for anything in particular, sir?" When he looks at you it's obvious he has no idea what manner of fellow you are, and that is how you know that you've got him. No one likes knowledge, after all, least of all curious individuals like Spencer. Oh, certainly he thinks he does--why else would he collect all those fine books, that beautiful blue globe in his conservatory, and all the planets strung on iron rings in glass?--but you're familiar with the tang of curiosity. Mr. Spencer likes not knowing. The pleasure is in the chase, as with copulation; he wants to be puzzled. You're happy to oblige him.
So when he studies you, you meet his eyes and look away. Johanna introduces you with a brave little smile: "Geoffrey, this is my friend Claude," she says to him. She's winding a little strand of tea-colored hair around her index finger while she speaks. Poor Johanna: she is a poetess, after all, and the Spencers believe in free love, but you can see the knot of worry for his disapproval in the tendon of that finger. Even a happy wife would know whose name was on the deed of that house, and you're well aware that Johanna Spencer is not a happy wife. "Claude is a friend of Mr. Partridge's; I met him at the Partridges' salon, in the city. Have you ever thought of coming?" Prince James winced as he watched the court jester stumble back into an open cabinet in a futile attempt to catch a wayward juggling ball. The jester fell amidst a shower of colorful props and knick-knacks ranging from odd to downright ludicrous.
James sighed. Pantolino was undoubtedly an awkward, bumbling fool. The only thing worse than his jokes was his bad sense of timing. For all his clumsy ways, though, he was beloved by the entire court--from the lowliest servant to the king himself. Pantolino had a heart of gold and a gentle nature to match. He had a warm smile and a ready ear for anyone in trouble. Simply put, he was everyone's friend. The sorcerer was young, still with a downy beard, his power small and flickering. He set his mind to obtaining greater strength, and after much study he decided to lure the creature of living darkness, whose energies he could then tap. The creature would need a pit, deeper than the lowest basement of his castle, deeper than the copper mines of the Frostshadow Mountain, deeper than the Everquiet Caves. Because blood and fear would stoke the creature's life force and swell its energies, supplying it with victims would give him even greater power.
His mouth stretched in a smile as a plan struck him, and he congratulated himself on his cleverness. Marla Mason, sorcerer in exile, looked over the railing of the balcony, down at the lavish resort hotel's pool with its swim-up bar and tanned, happy people lounging on chairs, and thought, I can't take another day of this.
"I can't take another day of this," she said aloud to her companion, Rondeau, who leaned on the rail popping macadamia nuts into his mouth from a tin. He wore the most outrageous aloha shirt Marla had ever seen--its eye-wrenching pattern included not only parrots and palm trees but also sailboats and sunsets and what appeared to be carnivorous plants--and had the self-satisfied look of someone with more money in the bank than he could spend in even a fairly dissolute lifetime. Testing the strength of his wings, Caddis shivered with pleasure. They felt strong and sturdy, ready for flight. And this time they'd grown in brown, just like his fur. A few days ago, before Mr. Taylor sliced them off so brutally, so inartfully, they'd been purple. Far too obvious. Maybe this time Taylor wouldn't notice at all. Or maybe he'd realize that Caddis was not an ordinary dog, that he belonged with a wizard who would teach him magic, who would let him flutter and soar.
As Caddis gave his wings another flap, the puppies in the window display began to yelp and yip. Taylor, who was asleep behind the counter, shifted, then opened his eyes and yawned. Caddis scurried into the corner of his cage and set to gnawing dumbly on a bone. Just like a proper dog should. At the time he did it, the wizard Moulder found the idea of removing his heart, applying a calcifying solution, and storing it in a safe place, all in the name of achieving immortality, quite reasonable. He performed the ritual in the small but ominous tower he had built in one corner of his parents' amber-walled estate, watched over by dour-jawed stuffed crocodiles and glassy-eyed owls and his faithful servant, Small, who held out the iron receptacle to hold his heart, her face impassive and unjudgmental, and laved his hands afterwards with cold water.
For thirty years, the practice served him well enough. A heart is the seat, the root of change, and it is as the soul changes that the body degrades, which is why childhood to adulthood is so marked with its physical transformation. Brietta ambled between the rows of stalls, keeping her distance from her mother. A ringmaster bellowed over a megaphone, asking people to join in the fun, and carnies bustled between stalls under the watchful eyes of the seagulls squawking a familiar tune. And for some reason the tune did seem familiar.
"We've seen these stalls already," Brietta moaned, lagging behind. You were expecting a dank cave, spiders and bats and water sliding down dark rock, or else a yurt, or a thatched hut with chicken legs and the smell of your childhood inside. I'm sorry to disappoint. The sofa is from Pottery Barn, not even on sale, with upgraded fabric. "Sea mist." Who wouldn't pay more for a color with that name? I make no apologies for being good at what I do. You want a witch in a hovel, try Craigslist.
First, gather your sticks, your kindle, the detritus of your love. The little things upon which we'll build the working. She gave you a birthday card, but didn't print "love" above her name? Yes. More. The sweater in colors you hate, a souvenir bought hastily in the airport on the way home from a long trip. A coffee mug stained with her lips from the visits to your apartment that always ended before dawn. "How do you create a memory? With craft and skill, and the right supplies, anyone can learn." Rena smiled, panning her head from one side of the room to the other, catching every client's eyes along the way.
The first spread was on vacations. "A little sand, some colorful papers, and a whimsical plastic flip-flop make this piece really shine." Rena pointed to the happy couple, hands entwined as they strolled along a beach at sunset. "Yes, you too can have this experience. It's not as expensive as you might think." You can do a lot of things when you're a wizard.
I reached out to touch the boy who lay dying, writhing in agony in the sodden trenches next to me. The wyrd for water is water, but my guards give me nothing but tea and wine though they know I hate the taste. I've tried to use my spit, but the Si'aer were much too specific in their language to listen to such disturbing beggary with their wyrds.
So I pretend to doodle upon the cell floor, writing and rewriting the wyrd for water. Over and over. But nothing happens. Your Imperial Majesty,
Humble though my current condition is, I am proud to write those words to you, for today they are true. The day of your coronation is joyous for the Empire. Most of your subjects believe that you are the prophesied Bringer of Perfect Justice whose reign will be eternal in fact, not just name. Gods grant it be so, if they will still hear the prayer of this, your servant. My guardians, tall and robed in blue, whisper when they see me now and shake their heads. They're dissatisfied because I haven't orchestrated an escape attempt for at least five Champions. Well, okay, exactly five. Since the Champion known as Eric.
I'm not supposed to know the Champions' names, of course, but I see it as my job to break the rules (of which there are never-ending lists) as often as possible. Why else would they choose a girl forever sixteen to preside at the Court of the Sybil? They're looking for trouble, even hungry for it. My adolescent fire is what runs the magic they seek. Plus, anybody in my place would have to bend the rules just to provide some variety to the monotonous sameness of never reaching seventeen. The yellow light in the cracked green window flickered and then by degrees began to grow dim, throwing the thing that sat on the warped porch into shadow. Wind stirred leaves; they rustled like paper, dry and ready to ignite with the smallest spark. Cold rain forestalled that.
"Jumbo gumdrop serenade, sweet serenade." Nesta scooped the bundle from the wet porch and hustled it inside. She kicked the old door shut behind her and hopped from her left foot to her right as she approached the long table. Splinters danced in her toes. Evan didn't have much magic left.
He'd almost used it all up before he met Trevor. He never had a lot--just enough to make his invisible friend, Nave, come and play. But Evan hadn't needed Nave to come and play after Trevor moved in next door because Trevor became Evan's best friend. Megan doesn't want to leave the dock after the late shift is over. She lingers, standing with bare feet planted apart on the warped boards, facing the waves that lap across the water. I can imagine her toes growing longer, seeking out knotholes and cracks, stretching towards the murky water underneath. I fear one day I'll find her fully rooted, unable to come back home.
Up and down the shore, I can hear the murmurs of the other women, though it's too dark to see them. I can see the water, though, just below the edge of the dock. When I brought the flashlight earlier, the water wasn't so high. It unsettles me as much as the sky. I've stopped looking at the sky directly, but I can feel it spiraling above me, strange, unfamiliar. The magician says: "The price will be steep. Death magic demands no less."
"I can pay." The husband declares it unhesitatingly, but the bedchamber they stand in belies his words. Like the rest of the house, the room is a little too grandiose in size for its few remaining items of furniture; the four-poster monstrosity upon which the body rests fails to obscure the missing wardrobes, the absent bedside stand, the dark rectangles on the wallpaper where paintings had hung. The unwashed windows fade the late afternoon sunlight to the color of old milk.
Magic & Wizardry
A bunch of intro text about Magic & Wizardry
by Therese Arkenberg
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***Editor's Warning: Adult Tale***
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