A Tale by Michael DeAngelo
Chapter One: Wild Magic
A black wave of startled birds erupted from the treetops, fleeing toward the cloudless sky. The shrill profanities of an elderly woman filled all the forest below.
“Confound this wretched shrubbery!” the woman cried. With a huff, she set the heavy baggage she carried on the ground, and sat upon it, her posterior flattening it at its top. While she paused to pick the twigs from her disheveled grey hair, she tapped against the dark mahogany cane that never left her side. She lifted it into her lap, placing it there with the gentlest of movements, though the scratches and leaf remnants left upon it proved she was willing to use it without hesitation.
She adjusted her large bosom, crammed tightly into an embellished purple ensemble. With a much needed weary sigh, that adjustment came undone, and she huffed in annoyance again, peering up toward the heavens. The thick forest canopy blocked her view, and she had to settle her sights on a squirrel who sat innocently upon one of the lower boughs.
“You there,” she cooed. “Can you believe these Forsynthians have the audacity to call this a road? And expect me of all people to walk unescorted through the brambles? I won’t have it.” Though her voice reached a low, rich timbre, her cadence was singsong. She could have conversed with any of the forest’s many birds.
The squirrel flicked its nose, and twitched its tail—and then it turned and leapt to a lower branch, further from the plump, purple woman.
With narrowing eyes, the woman clicked her tongue. “How incredibly impolite!” She stood and waved her cane with an aggressive flourish, and a bright pink aura was produced at the head of her magical implement. In a moment, that light enveloped the little grey squirrel, rooting him in place. He chirped and squealed as his body was pulled this way and that, lifting him into the air. At once, the light flashed too bright for him to see. “Much better,” the plump woman exclaimed.
He looked up, and the world he knew seemed somewhat smaller. That strange woman turned her attention from him, then, collecting her bag with the end of her cane. When she had it in her hands, she rummaged through it for a moment before tugging out several garments from within. She spun about with deceptive poise, and tossed the bundle of fabric at him.
Reflexively, he set about to hop away, but he only rolled over instead. That bundle hit him on his rump, and he tried to squeak in protest. A startled little gasp erupted from his mouth instead, and he lifted his hand to his face in shock. None of his proportions were right anymore, though, and he slapped himself instead. He looked at his new, human hand, and his eyes went wide. He scanned the rest of his body, tracing the furless skin down his back until he noticed the lack of his beautiful, fluffy tail.
The woman silenced his confused shout with an overpowering clearing of her throat. “Make yourself decent, dear boy. We have a long way to travel yet, and it would be unwise for you to do so in the nude. What would the townspeople think, seeing a naked young man carrying my belongings?” The former squirrel clutched the garments close against his bare skin when a mischievous grin crept to the witch’s face. “Then again, if you don’t mind, neither do I.”
* * * * *
“I don’t know that this is such a good idea.”
“Trevor, my boy,” Gaston said, wearing that same smirk he always did. “The more you talk, the more that shield shakes. Now keep quiet, hold still, and remember not to drop it.”
The lad was huddled behind a hefty heater shield, a donation from the knights of Gardone. It had seen its share of battle, and was covered in dents and gouges. Beyond that, though, it was holding up rather well. It was still one solid piece, though no one could predict just how long that would last. Trevor peeked around the shield to catch a glimpse of the sage’s apprentice.
Adelia Kreegan was no longer the meek, timid thing she was when she first arrived in Forsynthia. She had grown into a capable young woman in just over a month, learning all the basics of the arcane arts without trepidation. Staring down a black dragon had set her fears aside.
She blew out a nervous sigh, her fingers flicking as she considered the task before her. Straw dummies—which had seen better days before the aspiring sorceress arrived—were prepared on either side of the keep’s courtyard.
“Are you ready, Miss Kreegan?” the sage asked.
Adelia kept her eyes focused on that shield. She nodded, and a faint white aura surrounded her hands. Gaston pointed toward the far wall of the courtyard, and spun his finger about. The aspiring sorceress and the archer hiding behind the heater shield both heard the mechanism twist, and turn and fall into place.
The apprentice’s eyes glazed over with that otherworldly blue tint, and she sprang into action. That colorless aura that grew outward from her fingers shifted into a more violet tincture, and she whipped about, focusing on the first of her straw opponents. An orb of that same color took shape before her, spinning and pulsing for a moment before separating into three smaller projectiles.
Gaston stood just a few steps behind and to the side of that training dummy, studying every subtle nuance of his pupil’s casting. Adelia was still in motion, looking aside after a miniscule twist of her hand. The sage couldn’t suppress a widening smile as those arcane missiles rotated, stacking in the air. A moment later, they collided with the straw body, blasting most of it apart and knocking it from the post.
She didn’t wait to see it fall. Adelia was already focused on another foe. With a flick of her finger, a tiny vapor formed before her, funneling in the air. The dummy sped forth on a rail, but she paid it no further heed. Instead, she turned her attention toward the only human target available to her. Trevor peeked out from behind the shield again, just in time to see her enact her newest incantation. She muttered words that were foreign to him, bringing them to focus in her mind. Like spears ripping through the earth, tall icy stalagmites formed between the apprentice and her target. That frigid wall was thick and uneven, blinding Trevor to what transpired beyond it.
The dummy on the rail neared the end of its track, just over a dozen feet away from the young woman. Those vapors she had summoned transformed, growing into something dark and powerful. A storm cloud hovered over the straw foe, churning with energy. A mere wave of her hands had lightning ripping through that cloud, striking upon the training dummy. It blew apart in magnificent fashion, its remains catching fire in the blink of an eye.
“And now the archers on the high ground,” Gaston whispered.
Though he had not cast a spell, those other targets were timed to act perfectly. Two more dummies flipped forward upon the second floor of the keep, sending stray bits of straw flying. Another mechanism activated when they were upright, slowly bringing up crossbows as if they were aiming.
Adelia was quicker, and already in motion. With a snap of her finger, an arrow of her own took shape in the air. She urged it forth, turning before it neared its mark. As she focused on the second target, a ball of light formed in her hand. She brought it to bear, and that light churned out, forming a direct line of energy that reached the dummy. Every second that passed, the ball of light shrunk until it finally dissipated. By that time, the arrow had struck the first foe.
“One more target, Miss Kreegan,” Gaston muttered. “Don’t rest just yet.”
The apprentice unruffled her dress then, and pressed her hands against the fabric. But even she must have heard that telltale click behind her. Her mentor peered up toward it, and the lad behind the shield furrowed his brow as he saw the faux archer take position. Still, Adelia seemed unaware. Another click sounded, and that makeshift foe actually fired a weapon.
The arrow’s aim was true, screeching right toward the aspiring arcanist, who remained oblivious to the attack.
“Miss Kreegan!” the sage cried. Gaston reached forward, and Adelia could feel the magic taking shape beside her. So, too, could her master feel his own enchantment enveloped by an arcane presence of his pupil’s. She turned to him with a smirk on his face. “Miss Kreegan?” he queried.
The arrow hit a conjured shield, a large sphere that encompassed the girl completely, yet remained invisible to the naked eye. That shield stopped the projectile completely, but when it was struck, a violet pulse ripped over the transparent surface. At once, a wave of energy cascaded over the sphere, meeting and concentrating in the area where the arrow had struck it. A beam of energy blasted out from that point, firing back at the constructed archer, and knocking it off its stand.
“Very good, young lady,” Gaston remarked. “Very good indeed. Just remember that next time you fright me so, there will be consequences.”
“No worse than what I’ve done to your study in the past,” she joked.
“Quite,” he returned. Though he crossed his arms over his chest, eh could not hide the smile that crept to his face. “That was an interesting change in your routine, but do consider that a real foe would not simply wait for a counterattack.”
“I know, Master Gaston,” she implored. “I just wanted to try something different. Something with fireworks, you know? All the best wizard stories always talk about fireworks.”
“Indeed. But fireworks rarely have a place on the field of battle. They are a reward for surviving the hardships of that conflict. And you, young lady, still have one more foe to go.”
Those words hit her harder than the arrow would have. She looked the heater shield and her friend huddled behind it. With trepidation, she reached out, energy forming upon her palm.
“Just like we talked about, Miss Kreegan,” Gaston said. “Feel the flame. Embrace the warmth. Cast it out like a breath from a mighty dragon.”
That aura on her hand warmed and cooled, pulsing different colors as she focused on the task before her. The ascendant’s fingers trembled s she chose her magic and willed it before her. A flickering flame danced on her skin, but only for a moment. She and her master heard the crackling energy before it manifested, though it was already too late to change that course of action. A bolt of lightning shot forth from her extended digits, striking the shield with extreme force. All that concentrated power sent the lad behind it flying backward.
“No, no, no,” Gaston chided. He walked to his pupil and shook his head, oblivious to Trevor, who labored to climb to his feet. “There were specific wards that we prepared on that shield, Miss Kreegan. It was protected against flames, not lightning.”
She bowed her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t work with fire. It’s too painful… too…”
“I understand,” he said as he placed a hand on her shoulder. “You still remember that terrible day and carry it with you. I shouldn’t ask so much of you. You’ve been learning at a remarkable pace and I’ve been pushing you accordingly. But perhaps I should rein it in a bit. You’ve exceeded even my expectations. Perhaps its time for fireworks after all.”
Adelia nodded, though his words did little to lift her spirits. He was right. She had hit a snag with that particular school of magic.
Trevor finally stood upon two feet, however unsteady they were. “No, no. I’m alright,” he bade. When the two arcanists looked at the poor lad, neither could suppress a chortle. His hair shot up in several strands, and his eyes were wide and wild.
“Come here lad, let’s take care of that,” Gaston offered. “As for you, young lady, why don’t you head to study and collect our things? We’ll take a walk through the gardens.”
A bright smile crept across the girl’s face. She gave a slight bow and stepped away, only turning back to watch Gaston work some magic of his own. With a snap of his fingers, a tiny blue marble came into being just above his hand. The sage opened his hand then, like a blooming flower, and that marble grew in size, its contents rolling and swishing about.
“Now you just hold still, Trevor, and we’ll have that coif taken care of in an instant.”
The lad held his hands out to placate the old sage, but it was no use. That swirling orb rose over his head, and with another snap of Gaston’s fingers, the magic was unleashed. The sphere popped like a bubble, spilling its contents on Trevor’s head.
“That’s better,” Gaston said, stifling another chortle as Trevor spat out the water that streamed down his face.
Adelia couldn’t keep from smiling. For the first time in as long as she could remember, she felt as though she was home. She opened the door to Gaston’s study, where another member of her new family eagerly approached her. The small black cat coiled around her legs, his purrs already loud enough to hear.
“Hello, Merlin,” she cooed. “How would you like to join us for a walk?”
* * * * *
Forsynthia’s gardens seemed to grow more beautiful by the day. And those wildflowers seemed to stretch on farther south than ever before.
Adelia followed close to Gaston, weaving through the strangely situated paths. He spoke to her of her journey and studies of the arcane arts, but half of those words rolled over her. Instead, her focus was cast on the feline that hopped in and out of those beautiful flowers. She laughed when a butterfly landed nearby, catching Merlin’s attention as though it were the most fearsome beast.
Every trip to the gardens felt like a brand new experience. The pathways never quite felt the same, the flowers always seemed to take on a different hue, and Gaston inevitably told some new story about his past. And what a past it was. Ever impressed with everything that Tellest had to offer, he related tales of long lost heroes, of daring high seas adventures, and—on a more personal level—of some of his most wild encounters. Such occasions were rare, but Adelia relished in them, when her mentor seemed most human. And so it was when they arrived at the bench in the gardens, only to find it already occupied. The busty woman—her dress filled with more curves than it could possibly accommodate—draped her arm across the back of her seat, and watched Gaston intently with come-hither eyes. When she was sure she had been noticed, she flicked her eyebrows and clenched her teeth tighter around the rose there, her tongue playing a delicate dance against an intact thorn.
“Lucinda?” the sage queried.
The woman spat the rose to the ground and flashed her most intense gaze his way. “Tis I, Gaston. After many years apart, her we are, finally united.” With every spoken word, she inched closer toward the edge of the bench. “I do hope I rememberd your favorite flower, my dear. Marigold, yes? Or were they… forget-me-nots?”
With a wave of her hand, every one of those flowers in the garden bent and swayed, as if some invisible force swept across and touched them. When they returned to their initial position, though, they had changed from their bright orange hue to a more delicate set of tinctures of blue and purple.
“I sent for you nearly a month ago,” the sage said, apparently uninterested in her sorcery. “What has taken you so long?”
“Oh, but I am here now, my dear,” she said. Lucinda sprung up, and those curves rippled into place once more. “I had to be at my very best to finally see you, of course.”
As the two magicians reconnected, as uncomfortable as it was, Merlin brushed up against Adelia’s leg. She scooped him up, and pulled him close to her chest.
“You’re too late,” Gaston stated. “I don’t need you anymore.”
The sorceress took a step back, and held her hand to her chest. “My love, you say these feelings of mine are unrequited?” She offered up a disarming grin then, and at last took account of the sage’s young companion. “Oh, you lecherous old codger. Is this the tart you’ve found to replace me?”
Adelia felt her cheeks awash with heat, as though the mere thought of romance was so foreign a thing. She clutched the black cast tighter, and took a step away from her mentor.
“Pay her no heed, Miss Kreegan,” Gaston bade. “Lucinda is known for these antics. Salacious tales and lewd remarks are all a part of her repertoire.”
“I’m pleased you remember,” the sorceress teased. “You know, you should be grateful I’ve arrived at all. Do you think a woman of my social standing can just drop everything willy-nilly to travel across half a continent?”
Gaston drew his arms across his chest and furrowed his brow.
Pursing her lips in defeat, Lucinda readjusted, standing taller. “I am here now, and that is all that matters. You can rest assured that I am ready to lend my aid, no matter what you need.”
“I’ve already taken care of the issue I called you here for. When I never received so much as a reply, I took things into my own hands.” He arched an eyebrow then, and turned to his pupil. “But… we may have use for you yet.”
“Oh, use me however you like, Mister Camlann,” she cooed.
Gaston bowed his head, and pushed out a weary sigh. “Adelia—that is, Miss Kreegan here—is learning her talents as a sorceress. My skills are more studious in nature, but you have an affinity for the arcane arts that coincides in some ways with hers.”
Lucinda scoffed. “You think your little pet here could play with transformative powers?”
“I’d be more surprised if she couldn’t,” the sage assured.
The sorceress looked to Gaston’s pupil, who returned a sheepish glance before averting her gaze. “Oh all right,” she relented. “Whatever keeps me close to you, that is. You, girl,” Lucinda said as she stepped forward. “I’m sure this deliciously dull man has thrown books and tomes and research at you since you’ve arrived in Forsynthia. How’d you like to trade paper cuts for real magic?”
Adelia shrugged, and gave Merlin a gentle pat.
“Oh Gaston, you’ve sheltered the poor thing. No matter. We’ll break you of that reticence. Before long you’ll speak every word that comes into your pretty little head with nary a thought.”
“Please, Lucinda,” Gaston said. “We don’t need two of you.” She gave a dainty little harrumph to which the sage could not suppress a laugh. “Now then, you did bring some manners of comfort, yes?”
“What kind of woman do you take me for, Mister Camlann? Do you expect me to just show up in your bed? Again?” Seeing that he was not amused by that recollection, she let that humor flutter away on the ends of her fingers. “Not to worry, Gaston. My man is already delivering my bags as we speak.”