The Artful Apprentice–Snippet

14 May

Just had this going through my head.

Chapter One

“And just who is he meant to be?”

Charlene Benson sighed as her stepmother scowled at the latest picture on her wall. “It’s an elf, Addie,” she said, in a tone calculated to annoy the elder woman. “One of the Lords of Other World…”

“It looks like a goddamned indecent picture of Mr. Spock,” Addie snapped. She glanced around Charlene’s room. “And why exactly do you keep wasting my money on such crap?”

Charlene ran her hand through her long black hair, silently thanking the powers-that-be that she’d donned her paleface makeup along with her dark contact lenses. She might not have been a full Goth, but there was enough in her appearance to drive the straight-laced Addie into fits of rage. The woman was only taking care of her out of an obligation to Addie’s dead father, the man she’d probably driven into an early grave. Evil stepmothers didn’t just exist in fairy tales, after all.

“Because it is a distraction from the pointlessness of my existence,” Charlene said, finally. Her father had been proud of her for expanding her imagination and developing stories of her own worlds, where magic was real and unicorns danced in the moonlight; Addie preferred not to think about anything that wasn’t mundane and boring. “And I believe that it is my money.”

They stared at each other for a long moment. Charlene’s father had written a careful will when he’d known that he was dying, leaving most of his estate to his daughter. But until Charlene turned sixteen – perhaps eighteen, depending on how the state chose to interpret the will – she was only allowed a stipend from her father’s accounts. Addie had been given a lump sum, most of which she’d already spent taking care of her two little brats and hiring lawyers to contrast the terms of the will. Charlene’s fear was that she might succeed in convincing some judge to give her more of the money before Charlene had a chance to make good her escape from Addie’s care.

Not that she was that bad, she admitted in the privacy of her own head, but the woman was a sallow-faced bitch with very definite ideas on how to bring up children. There was no television in the house; the only reason Charlene had a laptop and an internet connection was that her father had bought them for her just prior to his death. That hadn’t stopped the bitch insisting on installing monitoring software, although she hadn’t picked a very good brand and Charlene had not had much difficulty evading it. She wasn’t even a very competent evil stepmother.

“I am supposed to ensure that you don’t waste it,” Addie said, finally. “And I can tell that you’re not keeping accounts.”

Whatever,” Charlene drawled. Addie’s reason for insisting that she should keep accounts was obvious. She’d be able to use the accounts to see exactly what Charlene did with her money. “I used my money and my money alone.”

Addie’s lips thinned, but she refused to rise to the bait. “You’ll be attending the social tonight at the church,” she said, finally. “I expect you to be properly dressed; I don’t want you wearing anything that makes you look like an ill-bred street urchin.”

Charlene snickered. Addie was constantly dragging her to social events, hoping that Charlene would marry the son of one of her friends. The first time she’d gone, it had been boring beyond belief; the second time she’d dressed up as Death of the Endless. People had been taking about Addie for months afterwards and not in a good way.

Addie cast one final disapproving look around Charlene’s room and stalked out, closing the door firmly behind her. Charlene smiled as she looked up at her vast collection of books and DVDs, all based around fantasy worlds. Old classics such as The Lord of the Rings shared her bookshelves with the entire Harry Potter series and most of the Twilight books. Her father had been a moderately successful writer, breaking into the big time when he’d had a heart attack that had killed him two years ago. Charlene had grown up surrounded by his life and ended up taking it to heart.

Her mother had died in childbirth, leaving her father bringing up a single daughter alone. Charlene knew that her father had done his best, but she’d turned to fantasy to fill the gaping holes in her life. Her mother, she had told herself, was an unimaginably powerful entity from before the Dawn of Time, just waiting for the right moment to re-enter her daughter’s life. Later, she’d constructed worlds inside her head where Prince Charming had come for her and taken her away from her humdrum existence and brought her to a palace where she could help in rule the world. Real life just didn’t seem to match up to an inner world where dwarves and elves went on quests to recover long gold or throw ancient rings into volcanoes; it had been no surprise that she’d never paid much attention at school. Addie blamed it on a lack of discipline. Charlene blamed it on a simple lack of attraction in the mundane world.

She shook her head slowly as she stood up and studied herself in the mirror. The heavy makeup she’d smeared on her face earlier left her looking inhumanly pale, contrasting oddly with the dark hair that was her only legacy from her mother. A pair of boyfriends had told her that her body was great, although boys could never be trusted to tell the truth. One thing that she found herself in reluctant agreement with Addie was that boys only wanted one thing and would say whatever it took to get to third base with a girl.

Sitting back down, she picked up a book at random and began to read. If nothing else, she could pretend not to hear Addie when she called her down to eat, or even when they were going out to the social. She could really do without her stepmother’s attempts at matchmaking. Perhaps if she dressed up as Hermione Granger from Harry Potter

She was still considering the possibilities when the world seemed to spin around her.

***

Shadye’s body ached with the effort, but he drew the four containment wards himself, just as the best grimoires ordered. The small army of skeletal servants who met his few needs and guarded his tower weren’t human any longer and using them to work on the preparations for his spell might annoy the entities he intended to summon. Magic involving imps, sprites or demons had to be done precisely, or not at all. His tutors had hammered it into his head, time and time again; no magical entity could ever be taken lightly. Even an imp, the least capable and intelligent of the Darkness, could cause a great deal of damage if angered.

He stepped back and surveyed his efforts while holding himself upright. The rejuvenation spells he had used over the years were finally decaying, leaving him with no more than ten years of life before his body finally expired. He was aware of his enemies watching the wards surrounding his tower, waiting for them to fall in the wake of his death; their spying spells were barely kept out by his defences these days. It grew harder and harder to care about their presence, even though no sorcerer liked the idea of someone watching him from afar. They no longer feared his wrath.

The first containment ward was designed to attract the sprites; the second and third to hold them while he proclaimed their mission. He stepped forward, careful not to break any of the chalk lines, and positioned himself in the centre of the fourth ward. It was a shame that he couldn’t bring his staff into the wards with him, but it was dangerous to risk altering the ritual too much. Generations of sorcerers had experimented with the rules to find out what could be altered and what was necessary – and some of their stories were still told as cautionary tales in the White Order. He would have to remain standing upright on his own and hope that his strength held out long enough to complete the ritual. The art of magic took physical strength as well as intelligence, courage and talent.

He closed his eyes and centred himself, picturing his appearance in his mind’s eye. As a young man, he had been handsome before the ravages of magic began to take their toll on his frame. Now he was old and withered, the only remaining sign of hair on his body being the short white beard dangling from his chin. It was often dangerous to have long hair when summoning entities from the Darkness, but Shadye had never managed to bring himself to cut off his beard. What little remained of his vanity wouldn’t allow it. His eyes, burning with the signs of magic, would frighten the mundane people who lived near his tower if they ever saw them without the protective glamour. That was good; those who were scared were unlikely to bother him. Shadye had no intention of helping them any further than he had by allowing them to settle on his lands. The idealist he’d once been had given way to an old man who knew that he was dying. His time was running out.

Opening his eyes, he shaped the first Word of Power in his mind and then pronounced it into the air. The candles illuminating the chamber winked out instantly, leaving the room illuminated only by a faint glow from the chalk wards on the floor. Shadye had never been bothered by the darkness, not when he’d known that there were few things in the mundane world’s darkness worse than him. The real darkness lay in the human body and soul, and in the other realities above and below…

The second Word of Power echoed through the air, followed quickly by a titter as the sprites started to gather around him. Shadye could sense their quicksilver thoughts flitting through the ether as they heeded his call, although they weren’t yet ready to actually answer him. No one in the White Order really understood the sprites, even though they were the only entities the White Order permitted its sorcerers to summon and use. Demons were creatures of malicious chaos, too powerful to be tamed and too twisted to be trusted. Imps just didn’t have the power to do what he needed done.

He braced himself and spoke the third Word of Power. The air seemed to vibrate suddenly as the first of the sprites began to materialise, a strange creature that was only visible out of the corner of Shadye’s eye. Legend had it that the few who’d looked directly at a sprite had turned to stone. Shadye privately doubted it, even though the sprites could very definitely have turned an unhappy victim into a statue. They were just so different that human eyes couldn’t really comprehend their true nature.

One by one, the sprites materialised, shimmering into existence until Shadye had to close his eyes to save them from the strange vision. He felt sweat running down his back as he held himself together by force of will, knowing that one mistake now would kill him as surely as a death spell from one of the assassins who had been sent after him when he left the White Order. Sprites weren’t demonic, but they disliked being bound to the service of puny mortals.

“I need an apprentice,” Shadye said, into the air. The humming of the sprites grew louder as they digested his words, almost as though they were communicating with each other at a rate beyond human comprehension. Hundreds of learned treatises had been written about how the sprites might communicate with their own kind, all of which could be expressed in three words. We don’t know. “I am dying and my work will soon be lost. I must pass on what I know to a successor or the Grey Order will be truly lost.”

A faint titter ran through the air. Shadye flushed at the thought that they considered his position – and his desperation – humorous, but he managed to keep himself upright. They might have wanted to bait him into stepping out of the containment ward…and then he would have been theirs.

He reached into his robes and produced a scroll. “My apprentice must be clever, wise in the ways of myths and legends, willing to serve the cause of the Grey…”

The humming seemed to fade as he read out the requirements, one by one. Sprites weren’t demons, but they were notoriously mischievous. If they were given imprecise instructions, they might bring someone who fitted the letter of the instructions, but was completely unsuitable for the role. It was a shame that he couldn’t recruit openly outside his lands, yet perhaps it would work in his favour. His new apprentice would be someone completely unknown to the White Order and the Chaotic cults. It had taken weeks to write out the list of requirements and he hadn’t been able to escape the sense that he had overlooked something important. If he’d been able to have someone check his work…

…But there was no one else in the tower, apart from his skeleton servants. And they were hardly capable of learning magic.

“And so I bind you to bring me someone who fits all of my requirements,” he concluded. Old enough to learn, young enough not to have too many preconceived notions to unlearn; smart enough to learn the art, thoughtful enough not to be seduced into chaos. So few had the innate talent and discipline that allowed them to reach the highest levels of wizardry; even the White Order had problems finding recruits. “Go.”

The presence of the sprites winked out as they headed away on their mission. Shadye sagged, but held himself within the wards. It wasn’t unknown for one of the sprites to remain behind and wait to see if he would uncover himself once his comrades had vanished. He would have to remain in the circle until the sprites returned, victorious. And that could take hours, or even days. He had no illusions about how long his strength would hold out if the sprites managed to delay their return, even though he had bound them to search with all the speed of their non-corporal kind.

Time seemed to tick by slowly until he felt the sprites heading back towards him. A brilliant blue blaze of light seemed to envelop the other protective circle, rapidly becoming too bright for him to look at directly. The light seemed almost physical in its intensity and then it faded away into a darkness that enveloped the person inside. There was another titter from the assembled sprites, followed by a sense of pressure against his wards as they reminded him that he had to keep his side of the bargain. Carefully, feeling his body aching with pain, he reached into his robes again and produced a small vial of blood. No one knew why the sprites wanted to be paid in human blood, but it was never wise to disappoint them. They might not come when they were called the second time.

He tossed the vial into the air, only to see it vanish the moment it crossed the protective ward, followed rapidly by the sprites. The darkness they had summoned faded away and he found himself looking at the person they had brought to him…and found his mouth dropping open with disbelief. Whatever he’d been looking for in an apprentice, and he had been very specific, it wasn’t that.

***

Charlene had somehow managed to avoid panic as the world twisted and vanished in front of her. The utter darkness that replaced it had to be something, perhaps a product of the drug she’d tried last night, the one that Addie would have killed her if she’d known she’d even considered taking. But it hadn’t done much apart from make her feel sick. Perhaps it would make her sick enough so she wouldn’t be able to go to the social…

Light seemed to spin in from nowhere and she found herself staring in absolute disbelief. Her room, her small and comfortable room, was gone. Instead, she was standing inside a massive chamber, staring at someone who had to be the oldest man in the world. He had to be at least ninety years old with a build like that, even though he could still stand and walk under his own power. His wizened head seemed to glow under the candlelight, as were his eyes… It was hard to tell, because his skin was so ancient, but he looked vaguely Japanese.

She took a step forward and found herself walking right into an invisible barrier. There was nothing that she could see barring her way, but try as she might she couldn’t move more than a few inches from her landing point. She looked down and saw glowing lines on the floor that matched the invisible barrier in the air. Could it be…magic? Charlene was more inclined to accept a supernatural explanation than many of her fellows, yet there was no real magic in her world. How could there be?

But what else could explain her presence?

She cleared her throat, which was suddenly dry, and addressed the old man. “Who are you and why did you bring me here?”

The old man ignored her. Charlene couldn’t tell if he was being rude or if he genuinely didn’t understand what she was saying. Instead, he was muttering to himself in a language she didn’t recognise and glaring down at a scroll of paper in his hand. Absently, he waved a hand through the air and a glowing light appeared beside him, making it easier to see. Charlene felt her heartbeat start to race as all doubts finally vanished from her mind.

Magic!

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5 Responses to “The Artful Apprentice–Snippet”

  1. The Deposed King May 25, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    I liked it once Shade started summoning. But I couldn’t wade through the charleyn part with the church dance.

    Could just be that I was busy working and loaded down with life obligations so take it with a grain of salt and get a second opinion.

    Other than that it was fun to learn about the sprites and charleyne’s initial reation.

    The Deposed King

    • chrishanger May 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      I figured it showed just how boring she found her life. Church dances – ugh.

      Chris

  2. Maggie February 13, 2017 at 7:13 pm #

    Is this a book in the works or just testing the waters? It sounds like something I would love to read..

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard February 13, 2017 at 7:33 pm #

      Sounds like it’s an early version of “Schooled In Magic”.

      This was posted in May of 2012 and Schooled In Magic came out in 2014.

      • chrishanger February 16, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

        It was. The title will be recycled at some point . Maybe a chunk of the plot too.

        Chris

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