In the cold dew of morning, nothing seems real or deadly. A venomous spider crawling along the drooping blades of laden grass is nothing more than a traveler. Sunrise is beautiful. Sunrise through the morning mist is akin to witnessing the world set aflame and the fog of reality singe away and snap like a burned ribbon.
Flip stood at the front stoop of his tower and watched and wrote as the morning greeted him. He did this every morning. It was a pleasant reprise from work that often carried through the night and tormented his dreams. Magic had a way of spoiling the peace of mind a person grows up with, so it was with Flip. He never seemed to sleep anymore and it haunted him, but he had come to appreciate the new sights that came with sleeplessness.
He would curl and uncurl the strong tufts of dark gray hair that spilled off of his face as he let his eyes wander and explore the world around him. They would find such interesting things he had never noticed before; before he had become a wizard at least. Not that it was a recent change of course in his life, but he had not come to consider himself a true wizard until recently.
“How many years?” He asked no one in particular.
“Thirty-eight years.” Flip responded to his own question. “Thirty-eight years of studying to open my eyes and I only wish I could shut them. How many years to learn to shut them?”
Flip returned to his notebook and continued to write. He crafted spells for every day use in the mornings, and like the rest of his work he encoded them in poetic verse. A stranger that found his book of spells would think of it as nothing more than a book of sonnets and villanelles. The villanelle’s five tercets made for good instructions on the position of pentagram points with each repitition strengthening arcane connections, while a sonnet fit better for a glamour or memory charm. Each of the fourteen lines of a sonnet held ten syllables, each syllable reflected a tone of the arcane weave which made up part of the verbal component of a charm. The iambs made for a pleasant beat one could conduct a somatic element with. Fourteen lines meant that it could accommodate a complex incantation or perhaps two simpler ones.
Spring morning dew and something still for you
Creeping in as I see you’re want to do.
Though twilight’s come and left with you, my fears
Of wand’ring in the dark—alone—for years
Twixt hollow husks and empty thatchen huts.
Still, the lid that ’round the morning light shuts
Blinks yet again and lets the break of dusk—
The morning dark to morning light so brusque.
Conceptually we see as though we slew
The beast that swallowed all my fallen tears;
The night that never left, a knife that cuts.
Still the heavn’ly sunlight comes and goes through
Cloudy curtains drawn to the demon stares,
And singes evil to a crispy husk.
A reprieve on a dawn spell. Flip ran through it again and matched his impatient finger to the meter as he twirled it through his beard. He could do better, but the day was already upon him and the time for pleasant things was ending.
“To the dungeon with me, then. Thirty-eight more years in the dungeons.” Flip stood and dusted off his skirt.
The aged azure fabric was beginning to fade to a deeper muddy black. It didn’t help that he washed all his clothes together, but he missed the days when his clothes and mind had the same bright shade of inspiration and eagerness. He would have to formulate a spell to restore the color to his skirt and vest again. Mending didn’t do when the color itself was bled with others and prestidigitation attempts only made the effect more apparent. Cursed lint and stray strands of woven cloth.
“Canvas shirts be strewn to desolation!” He proclaimed from his stoop and he wrenched the door of his tower open. “And cursed to fetter Obscurity’s frozen bits.” Whoever decided to make canvas shirts the norm would answer to his wrath. He ripped his shirt off from underneath his vest as soon as he was in the privacy of his own home. Vests were nice. Form fitting and stylish, but not so restricting as a full shirt. It was the shoulders and the sleeves that made the hairs of his arms bristle in discomfort. Sleeves were… sleeves were the dung of human invention.
No sooner had Flip forcefully disrobed and muttered his curses on the fashion of his day than he was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Confound it! I just went in!” Flip spun and slammed his own door open with a huff.
“Can’t you see I’m busy!”
“Sorry to bother you sir, but you told the guard to let you know if anyone else saw the dire wombat out by the river again.”
“Oi, Jimothy? When did you get real armor?”
“I said when did you get real armor, Jimothy Tim? Does your poor mother know you intend to go slapping monsters in the woods?”
The boy that had come knocking at Flip’s door was a common face around the town of Builend. It would be a backwater town, but it was on a well traveled road and made plenty of money. Jimothy was the son of the innkeeper, Keglah Tim. The boy had decided in his childhood to make a name for himself as an adventurer. Anyone that had stayed at the inn had heard his aspirations and he had learned the stories that every adventurer told as they passed through the town. It had only amplified his dreams for adventure. Over time, the poor boy had only grown into a slightly larger boy with a new set of armor and an unused shortsword.
“The wombat, sir…”
“Fine. The wombat! Where?!”
“By the river.”
“Gads, Jimothy. It’s a big river.”
“One of the mayors maids said she saw it while she was washing clothes just by the culvert at the west end of town.”
“Was it Drewsy?” The half-elf woman had worked for the mayor for many years now. Perhaps nearly twenty years ago Flip may have had a crush on her, but her crooked teeth and general agelessness had always put him off. Two crooked teeth was bearable, but seven was too many. Too many crooked pointy teeth for kissing. All up front too… like a beaver. Or a wombat.
“Never mind her. The culvert that opens up near the gardens?”
“Aye, she said she was doing the washing in the gardens.”
“Of course. The gardens. Of course, of course.” That was how the mayor kept his linens smelling so fresh, they were washed in the fragrant air of the gardens. The wombat was probably drawn to the sweet smell of spring flowers. Morning glories and jasmine… perhaps hyacinth.
“It might still be there… were you going to… you know… kill it?” Jimothy looked far too excited. It was probably his first dire creature. The wombly things were ferocious, but weak. Weak compared to most things. Strong compared to Jimothy. Their bone spurs were good for magical components though.
“If I don’t, you’ll try. Won’t you. And you’ll get your arms bit off. And then what will your mother say?” Flip lifted his pointed hat off the hook next to his door and sat it on his head. The point drooped just right and the brim felt soft and pensive on his brow. “Poor little Jimothy can’t chase his dreams or help his poor mother with the dishes anymore, ’cus he’s gone and got his arms bit off by a wombat. And what did old Flip do? Nuthin. Sat on his stoop and whistled at birds while Jimothy got bit.”
“Well, there’s more town’s guard… it just seemed like you wanted to handle it.”
“Hush little Jimothy, hush. Wombats have little round ears for a reason, and you’re letting them know that we’re coming before we get there.”
“So, you’ll go?”
“Yes, I’ll go. But I’m keeping the remains and I’ll need you to carry them back.”
Flip rifled through the handles of canes and walking sticks protruding from the wooden bucket by his door. A different stick for every need. A staff of lightning bolts for slow and bulky creatures, a cane with a poison barb at the tip for solicitors, and a walking stick to help with walking. A dire beast on a day like today called for his umbrella. The yellow one.
“Show me the way. Silently please.” Flip stepped out of his door and back onto his stoop, forcing Jimothy to take a step back and off the stoop.
The boy gave a serious nod and led the way. The insignia on his sash claimed he was a member of the town’s guard and sworn to protect the people in the small town of Builend. But he was just a boy. No more than seventeen. He likely hadn’t waited more than a few days past his birthday before signing up at the barracks.
Flip gave no mind to the odd looks he received as he followed the boy through town. He had grown accustomed to them. He was the town eccentric, the wizard. The meddler and the madman. But he supplied the town with spells and wards. Not one house in the town stood without one of his charms at the doorway to turn away evil creatures and sickness. He’d learned for them, and they needed his magic, but they all stared at him with a mix of fear and confusion. That might have come from seeing him in nothing more than his skirt and vest, his scrawny old arms and shoulders exposed to scrutiny. He ignored it all.
The journey ended within minutes. The town was small and the mayoral estate was not far from Flip’s tower. The gardens were even between the tower and the estate proper, making the journey even shorter than if they had approached from the other end of town.
“Just over there.” Jimothy whispered as he pointed to the culvert that diverted part of the river to a small pond. “There’s still soap on the water, see.”
“Yes. Now, go poke around some of those rosebushes with that sword of yours. The second you see the devil, make a dash out of the way.”
“I thought you didn’t want me to…”
“Heavens boy, if you lift your sword to strike it I’ll blast the both of you and you’ll have learned your lesson.” Flip hissed. There was spittle stuck in his moustache from the act.
Jimothy skirted around the pond without another word, sword drawn. He moved with the confidence of an excited adventurer and the fear of a child all at one. Trepidation and exhilaration. It was a feeling most adventurers chased. After you failed to feel uncertain, an adventurer becomes less of an adventurer and more of a mercenary or an explorer.
With each jab and rustling motion Jimothy made into the squat blossoming shrubs, he seemed more relaxed. Perhaps he felt safe. Perhaps he thought the wombat had left. But wombats don’t wander off. They linger, like all odd and mysterious creatures burdened by the mix of power and curiosity that drives feral beasts into civilization.
It was the fourth bush that spelled danger for Jimothy. The standard jab was met with nothing, but the rustling it caused sent the bush alive with chittering and writhing fur. The muzzle emerged first, snarling, and shot a yarp at the boy who recoiled at the firing of a pellet. Jimothy hesitated for a moment, but ran faithfully behind a different bush as he had been told. Good boy.
“Right.” Flip began. He swooped the point of his umbrella up in front of him and in the direction of the dire wombat. The beast was still tangled in the bush, but would not stay there long.
The gray stone point of the umbrella met the crease between his brows and bumped the dust from his hat over his eyes.
“Prestidigitate.” Flip began his incantation as a mutter that slowly grew to a shout. “Elate. Concentrate. Congregate. Extrapolate. Disintegrate!”
Orange-red beams of light shot out of his wide open eyes, barely clearing his bushy eyebrows, and shot out at the unfortunate rosebush and the entangled wombat. The beams lasted only a moment before fading into a faintly green wispy smoke.
“Did I get it?!” Flip called out, wafting residual smoke away from his eyes and letting out a cough.
“I think so!” Jimothy called back, clearly giddy at seeing actual evocation in practice.
When the smoke cleared Flip could see the remains of the rosebush and the dire beast… mostly ash at this point. Perfect. The bone needed to be reduced to ash anyway for his purposes.
“Go let your commander know the beast was dealt with. You don’t need to carry anything.” Flip made his way over to the remains and scooped a few handfuls of dire wombat and rosebush ash into a leather pouch hanging from his belt. “But tell no one I destroyed the rose bush. The mayor would have my head for ruining one of his wife’s rosebushes… Again.”
Jimothy was already making his way away from the scene, all nods and agreement.
Flip stood up straight from where he’d been kneeling and looked about anxiously. No one had seen the display. He let out a humph and opened the umbrella. The length of the thing sat on his shoulder and the opened yellow canopy shielded his exposed shoulders from the mid-morning sunlight.
“Beautiful day for a walk.”
A door opened somewhere nearby, a big door from the estate.
“Or a run.”