The metallic hooves of the magical horse struck sparks on hard stone as it slowly glided to a stop at the end of their journey. Van Ella stepped out of the strange carriage and thanked as many gods as she could remember that she had reached the ground again safely, and not hurtling at a deadly speed.
The black horse turned to gaze at Van Ella and she almost could discern that it was laughing. It’s sides heaved and she could have sworn she hear a chuckle.
The wizard in red leather, Brand, she told herself, came around the carriage briskly with his hands rubbing together as if anticipating a great plan.
“So, my Bonded,” he began, “let me give you the first lesson in Magecraft.” His blue eyes twinkled. “All wizards learn by doing.”
Van Ella gulped. Her legs, already shaky, twitched with anxiety.
Already? She had barely arrived at... whatever this place was.
Van Ella tore her gaze from the wizard and looked around her. They were standing at the end what appeared to be a long outcropping of rock. It jutted from a cliff wall that seemed almost a mile away to carry on a rocky path deep into a mountainous forest in the distance. It dawned on her that the cliff wall dropped away steeply to a valley so far below there were clouds below her. The outcropping pointed unwaveringly to a brilliant white castle several hundred yards away.
Van Ella gasped. The castle was suspended in mid-air, on a small round island that floated before her. The land around the castle was featureless grassland that ended abruptly - dropping into nothingness. She could even see the rocky earth underneath the island - as if the castle had been pulled directly from the earth and cast high into the sky.
The castle was amazing. All towers and bright ivory walls. The castle was like something out a child’s fairy tale. But then, Van Ella thought, perhaps that was what this was.
She yelped when she felt something brush her leg. She looked down to see Sparrow walking figure eight’s around her shaky legs. The cat looked up and squeaked “I’m hungry!”
Brand chuckled. The wind kicked up suddenly and caused his hat to fly off as a particularly strong gust grabbed it and pulled it into the sky. Brand rolled his eyes at Van Ella and snapped his fingers. The hat turned abruptly in mid-air and drifted back safely atop his head. Van Ella noted his hair was as dark as his goatee, and close cropped.
“What -” Van Ella gulped again. “What do you want me to do?”
“Well, now that you are my Bonded. You and I are connected, in a way. That means the castle’s defenses will treat you as if you were me. And will let you enter, alive!” He spread his hands in a magical gesture and raised his eyebrows, while speaking the word “alive” in a overly exaggerated voice.
Van Ella’s heart sunk. Up until now, while sensitive to magic, she had never tried anything more than just passive listening to ley lines, or watching the ebb and flow of magic around her. She had never tried to “touch” the power within her. She was afraid of this wizard, and afraid of where she was standing. Heck, she was even afraid of the big black horse pacing impatiently beside her. Fear welled up within her.
“I - I don’t - ” She started panting for air.
Brand bit his lip, kneeled before her, and his warm hands held her shoulders gently.
“Listen Van Ella. There’s something you need to know. Magic is a wondrous thing. You can do amazing things. Transform yourself into a dragon. Walk space and time and visit places that only existed once in your imagination. You can create whole worlds with just a snap of your fingers. But for everything there is a price. And for everything there is a beginning. This - “He gestured to the floating castle that loomed before them. “This is your start. Do not be afraid. Failure is not the end of things. It is the beginning of learning.”
“Plus, I’m here. Just in case you try to blow up the universe.” He winked as he said “blow up”.
Van Ella nodded nervously.
“So, my dear apprentice - ” Brand stood and placed his hands on his hips. His red leather outfit creaked with his movement. “Open the door for us.”
Mane took that moment to whinny loudly. Van Ella jumped.
“What do I do?” She squeaked.
“Well, what do you normally do when you get to a door?” Brand said archly. His foot began tapping.
“K- knock?” Van Ella asked.
“That’s a good start. And just how might you ‘knock’ on a door that is locked by magic?” The wizard said. He picked at his nails and brushed them against his chest. His impatience was starting to show.
Van Ella took a deep breath. She could do this. This was, after all , what she had been dreaming about, almost as soon as she learned she could sense magic. Sense magic! That might be the key.
Van Ella reached out with her awareness. She remembered the moment she had been Bonded. When she had sensed the connections between every thing in the world. When she had seen the magic as almost a living thing. She looked at the castle once again. This time she could see lines of magic twisting and turning all around it. Instead of simply drifting in mid-air, it seemed suspended by lines of power. Almost like a heavy rock resting at the bottom of a fishing net. Van Ella could sense the power flowing all around. She could almost feel the immense power needed to hold up the hundreds of tons of rock. She shuddered. Her respect for her Mentor raised exponentially. And her worries began clouding her vision.
“Ah, concentrate. Fear has no place in magic. Well, except a healthy fear of summoning demons. That’s a very healthy and well-founded fear. But, fear of flying castles? You can just drop that fear off the side of this outcropping.” He smiled and gestured to the valley that yawned below.
Van Ella stepped back and pressed her back to the carriage. Suddenly very aware of just how high up and exposed they were. But then something gave her pause. In the midst of her fears. She knew that Brand would not hurt her. He would not set her up for failure. After all, he had sought her out. Her head still couldn’t wrap her thoughts around that yet. She was a nothing. A nobody. But right now, she was an apprentice. And if she wanted this kind of life. To live above a “nobody” she had to step up. This was her chance. A chance to do something special. To BE something special.
She took a deep shuddering breath and reached out with her senses again. She could see the lines of power once again. This time she sensed more than just lines. She could see what had to be spells. Complex shapes and characters slowly twisted and turned like clockwork around the castle. One thread seemed different from the others. There was an expectancy about it. Almost like it was trying to make itself known more than the others.
“Knock at the door...” she said to herself.
Intuitively, she reached out to the thread with ... something ... part of herself. She applied pressure to the thread and ... “strummed” it.
A deep bass note sounded across the valley. A deep G. Van Ella could hear the tone resonate deep in her bones.
Sparrow meowed loudly. “I’m hungry!” She chirped.
In her magic vision, Van Ella watched the gears and symbols twist and turn with the resonance of the thread. The castle boomed another deep note in response to her touch. Brand smiled.
The shiny, ivory white castle slowly rotated in place. Van Ella gasped as she realized she had been seeing the back of the castle. The front was a rainbow of colors and light. The sun reflected off multi-faceted windows - casting bursts of color all across the valley. There was a huge door in the front of the castle - all mahogany and brass fittings. Suddenly, the castle slid forward. The yards of distance between the end of the outcropping and the front door closed to nothing with a few seconds.
With a boom that echoed across the valley, the castle door lowered fully down and crashed to the tip of the outcropping.
“Well done!” Brand said, smiling. “If you flub out as a wizard, you have a bright future as a musician!”
Van Ella bit her lip. “Did I do that?”
“Yes indeed! You passed your first test! Aren’t you excited? I know I am.” Brand started walking vigorously toward the castle gate, oblivious to the narrowness of the path, and the very very steep drop off on either side.
Sparrow walked another figure-eight around Van Ella’s legs. “I’m hungry!” She said in her high pitched girl voice. Van Ella quirked a half smile and picked up the black cat.
“I’m hungry too.” Van Ella said and followed hastily after the quirky magician.
Mane tilted his head sideways and walked behind the little apprentice.