Trumpets blared and bright robed figures swished through the earthen streets of Manawell. Though midday, fireworks burst and flashed against the cloudless sky. Crowds cheered either side of the Thaumaturgical Way, welcoming the procession of wizards, warlocks and witches from the Mysticarium. Coloured bunting flapped overhead, tied to window shutters on the upper floors of wattle and daub buildings. Children leaned over balconies, cheering, whistling or peering down the witches’ loose robes. Banners welcomed the Mystics, proclaiming, “Manawell is spellbound!”
Most of the assembled idiocy marvelled at the shiny trinkets and loud noises. Unlike them, Edlud attended the procession for a good glower rather than to welcome ruin with arms open and trousers down. The others didn’t know the damage caused in Crooked Wand. And the Mystics came to build a larger Mysticarium here in Manawell.
Over his dead body.
Unfortunately, rumour suggested that the Mysticarium would have no compunctions about that and may even find a use for his corpse. He shuddered and threw another tomato into the procession. It squelched against an invisible barrier around a vocal Mystic who wore aquamarine robes with shoulder pads wide enough to serve drinks.
“And yes,” the Mystic declared with a sweep of his arms, “you’ll even have food to waste with our Mysticarium branded ploughs working your fields.”
The crowd cheered. As well they might. They didn’t have Edlud’s destitute brother-in-law, Lentil, sleeping on their dining table with the creatures he had “rescued” from Crooked Wand. A man couldn’t open the breadbin without finding a guilty-looking mouse, or take a bath without being slimed by a Cuddling Eel. They didn’t have to deal with Edlud’s wife. She was called Moaning Maribel for good reason and needed little provocation to demonstrate why.
“All your household chores are at an end with the Mysticarium Housewares department,” another Mystic shouted. “Why not end your storage woes with a Bottomless Bag o’ Stuff?”
Edlud grimaced. What use would Manawell have for his crates and barrels sideline when they had that? His carpentry job barely put a table under the food. And who controlled these automated household items? What if they suddenly decided against doing the washing up? Who would deal with gangs of disgruntled utensils? What if they rebelled and tried to use the townsfolk as whisks and mallets instead? And there was Physics to consider. Physics had a way of exacting retribution on folk who messed with its rules. But would the guilds listen to Edlud? Oh no, they embraced the change, said it was economically strategic. Ensorcelled, they were.
Still, Edlud had a plan. Or, at least, he planned to have a plan. Even if the others were too blind, he, at least, could save the town.
“Why the sour look, Edlud?” asked a voice to his right. Chipper, the stony-faced guild master of the masons stood beside him in all his pomposity, wearing a tunic that said, “Sorry love, that really is a wand in my pocket!” and a conical hat reading, “Got mana?”
“You look ridiculous,” Edlud replied with a flat stare.
“And you look positively disenchanted!” The guild master searched for validation of his wordplay but Edlud denied him the satisfaction. “Aren’t you excited? Having a Mysticarium here will be great for the town; education, tourism and magical items to do all our nasty jobs!”
“Yes, Chipper, all our jobs. These Mystics will put us out of business.”
Chipper laughed and whiff of alcohol overpowered the stench of unwashed hordes crammed into the street. “Not all of us. Who do you think has the contract to build the place? I’ll be made for life. They have some strange requests but that’s Mystics for you. We’ll be building with magic, Edlud! Can you imagine what we’ll create?”
“You never struck me as the artistic type.”
“Doesn’t every craftsman dream of the chance to design and build a Wonder of the World in their own town?” Chipper clapped him on the shoulder and leaned so close that spittle showered Edlud’s ear with each word. “When I was a kid, my father gave me a box of blocks. Ridges on the top clicked into holes on the underside of others. At first I wondered what to do with them until he suggested I build a wall. Then he said to build a barn, and then houses. Soon I realised I could build anything, restricted only by the shape of the blocks and the boundaries of my imagination. Over the years, I created castles, palaces, even whole towns.”
Edlud rolled his eyes. “All very touching, and rich for a man who’s spent half his life repairing the bridge he built over the Wattling Brook—sorry, the Manastream. Get to your point before the Mystics rename something else. They’ve already done the town and half the streets.”
“Oh, you’re just afraid of change, Edlud. My point is that with magic, the limitations of blocks are removed. Within the parameters of the Mysticarium’s needs, I have a free rein. This will be my masterwork!”
“You mean this one won’t collapse?”
“Definitely!” Chipper’s grin slipped into a frown. “Probably. I’ve always had a blind spot for supports. Oh, don’t be such a dead zone, Edlud. How about I put a word in with the head of the Mysticarium? Their organisation is a little confusing but I think I can find the right man…or woman. It’s not always clear, what with the dresses.”
“To what end?” Edlud focused hard on maintaining his glower at the procession as a dozen Mystics, twice their proper height, strode past. Someone in the crowd named them Illusionists and others agreed.
“Work,” Chipper said. “You’re worried about your livelihood, aren’t you? That’s why you’re so upset, isn’t it? What if you worked for the Mysticarium? They need carpenters as well as masons--something about the natural resonance of wood. I can’t say I understand a word but that means work for you.”
“You think I’d sell out like that? I’ve got principles.”
“What you’ve got is your brother-in-law sleeping on your kitchen table.”
Edlud grunted. “Yes. But whose fault is that? I can hardly work for the Mystics after they ruined Maribel’s brother; she’d saw me a new--”
“Look,” Chipper said, “I’ve a good thing going with this Mysticarium job and I’d prefer one of your frameworks to build around but others will happily take the work. I can’t guarantee the fortune they’re paying me but you won’t go hungry.”
“I don’t buy it. It all sounds very short-term. Lentil said the Mysticarium were all promises and then put everyone out of work. I want Lentil out, not for us all to live under the table on the street.”
Chipper shrugged. “Then you’d better find another plan because from what I’ve seen, he’s there to stay. If you change your mind, head over to the Mysticarium grounds and ask for…Old Grumbling Jaw, I think they called him.”
“I get enough grumbling at home,” Edlud muttered. “There has to be another way.”
“You could just ask him to leave.”
Edlud snorted and pushed through the crowd away from the procession. “Ask him to leave,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Don’t you think I’ve tried that?”