February 12, 2009

The Truant's Tale

by Rudi Dornemann

"You walked away," said the tracker, putting his big boots and skinny ankles up on the desk. "Broke your apprentice contract with just months to go."

"Yep," said Eyve Aerial. "So?"

"So, I want to know why. So does the Central Square Sorceress. She says you were her best student."

"What's it matter? You found me. You're going to take me back."

He waved his hand like a leaf fluttering down. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do."

She figured this was some game he was playing; she wasn't sure she had the patience to see what it was.

"I’m good at knowing why people do what they do. That tells me what they're going to do next." He stared at something on the toe of his shoe. "With you, I never figured out why, so your what-nexts never made sense. So it took six months instead of six days to catch you."

"Time flies," said Eyve Aerial, "You know, tempus fugit..."

A year later, she came back. The timeslip spell had faded enough that he'd stood up. Another three months, he’d reached the door. He blinked his eyes slowly as sunset; he probably wouldn't understand her if she spoke and she hadn’t found an answer yet anyway.

Another year, and Eyve Aerial, returned to the scaffolding-palace that was the Central Square Sorceress' headquarters, made amends, did her penance, and resumed her journeywomanship.

The tracker showed up one morning, trailing cobwebs as he strode across the creaking plywood.

"Maybe you don't know why you left anymore than I do," he said, the drawl in his voice showing he was still a bit behind time. "Maybe that's why you came back. To figure it out."

"I knew exactly why," she said. "When I figured out that the nightmares were premonitions, that I was supposed to become some grand metropolitan wizardess who did all kinds of good things, but couldn't stop this one last, huge evil thing from happening."

"So why risk resuming your studies?" he said. "What's different?"

"You," said Eyve Aerial. "If I'm going to be powerful enough to do the things I've seen, I should be able to keep myself from getting into impossible situations, unless some part of me wants to fail." She tossed the tracker a gold coin. "I'm hiring you to spot that part of me, to know why it wants to destroy everything before it does."

Eyve Aerial's appeared a few times before, in The Courier's Tale, The Apprentice's Tale, and The Sorceress's Tale.

March 19, 2008

The Sorceress's Tale

by Rudi Dornemann

The acolyte knocked before going in. He didn’t hear a response, but he knew she’d heard him.

The air inside was thick with the reek of rotting fabric and rich with the sound of hundreds of crickets. The Grand Metropolitan Sorceress hadn’t left this small room in over a decade, but still she kept the peace throughout the city and the suburbs beyond.

“Mistress?” said the acolyte. “Your dinner?”

“Keep it,” said a husky voice from the darkness.

The acolyte hadn’t heard her speak more than a murmured “leave it on the table” or “less pepper next time, please” in months.

“I’m doing a great working tonight,” said the sorceress. “My last, if it works.”

“You need to keep up your strength madam.” The acolyte felt around until he found an empty chair, and set the tray on the seat. “When you skip meals, you always feel it the next day...”

“If this works,” said the sorceress. “Tomorrow won’t happen.”

The acolyte stumbled back into something that jingled like crystal.

“That was too dramatic,” said the voice from the darkness. “There will be a tomorrow; it just won’t happen for many years. I’m turning back time.”

“What? You can’t.”

“I have to.” The sorceress’s voice had dropped its usual commanding tone. “I can’t hold back the hungry realms more than another few weeks. We can’t win against them.”

The acolyte swallowed twice. “But everything might change. And we still won’t be able to stop them.”

“We would have been safe, if I’d never done the Spell of Cold Knife.” Her voice was right in front of him. “It’s my fault.”

“But,” said the acolyte, “without that spell, you couldn’t have stopped the apocalypse meme. Thousands would have died.”

“I’ll find another way.”

“My parents,” said the acolyte,” they met in one of the refuges, while the knife spell ran.”

“They might still meet,” said the sorceress.

The acolyte swung at the voice, felt his nails scratching her cheek.

“Mistress! I’m sorry...”

“Blood,” said the sorceress. “The final ingredient, and I couldn’t shed it myself.”

The acolyte tripped as he stumbled back. The darkness was going out.

“Thank you,” said the Grand Metropolitan Sorceress. “I hope we meet again.”

Then the room was gone and Eyve Ariel was a girl again, neither a sorceress nor grand, standing in a vacant lot with mud on her journeywoman’s gown, no one to see or hear her as she shivered in spite of the heat.

January 23, 2008

The Apprentice’s Tale

by Rudi Dornemann

Unlike the rest of the apprentices, who swan about in dark-colored and inevitably muddy-hemmed robes of plasticky synthetic velvet, Eyve Aerial knows magic and fashion are inextricable. Thus the macrame Mobius scarf. Thus the jester’s motley diamonds she inks all over her jeans with antique ballpoints. Thus the six-button waistcoat covered in mirrors etched with tiny warding hands that she always wears under the Anorak of Power. Only her gloves are purely practical, worn because things tend to catch on the Medusa-cursed iron of her left hand's fingertips. The clothes make the magician -- and a good magician, thinks Eyve, makes her own clothes.

It's not like the other apprentices don’t dismiss her out of hand anyway. They're all from named houses or ambitious parents at least, while she used to live on the street and work as a courier, and there are whispers she should have lost that job after losing a valuable parcel. They don't know that Eyve's seen a couple dozen glimpses of the future, and even remembers some of them.

So when, on an inauspicious Thursday, the apprentices are ambushed by a pack of husk-zombies, and their tongues are all tripping over the syllables of the repelling chant that they’re trying to repeat as many times as possible, none of them expects Eyve to step forward and push her gloveless hand into the chest of the lead zombie.

“You used to be somebody,” says Eyve, “somebody who doesn’t deserve this.” She snaps a spark from her rusty fingertips. The zombie is all flames above the waist as it stumbles after its fleeing companions.

“Let’s find out who sent them,” says Eyve. She’s bouncing on the toes of her monkey-boots.

Huddled in a nearby doorway, her classmates just stare at her.

“The lines of power will be faint,” says one, and another adds, “We can’t see them anyway.”

“You can’t,” says Eyve, as she zips up her anorak’s snorkel hood. She’s embroidered eyes on either side of the hood and woven charms and amulets into the fur of the opening around her face.