This one was not an online writing prompt but a personal matter with a friend. I’ll.. leave it at that.
[I will think of a name later]
Being a wizard’s apprentice is exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I love magic. I love reading about the secrets of the universe, and the interconnectedness of the world. I love nodding mysteriously and claiming to always arrive exactly when I mean to. I even love the actual spell-casting, which can be like the worst parts of manufacturing fireworks and the worst parts of algebra wrapped into one tedious, loud, sometimes deadly affair. But gods damn it, can’t a guy just have one day off?
Ever since I managed to impress Master Comino into accepting me, it’s just been one pile of things to do after another. Take last week, for example! I was practicing the vitally important art of energy realignment and casting consolidation, when Master Comino just walked up to me and gave me a light pat on the cheek.
“Wake up, Wolfgang, we have a busy afternoon ahead,” he said. I yawned and rubbed my eyes.
“Are we going to the cinema?”
“No,” he said.
“Are we going to the mall?”
“No,” he said, again.
“We’re going to the forest.” He told me, and nearly dragged my arm out of its socket before shoving me towards the closet so that I could get my coat.
“But Master, I did all of the dishes,” I reminded him, like a good student, which I am. “And I alphabetized your collection of dark tomes by author last name, with tomes of unknown author organized by length, like you said.”
“I know, Wolfgang.”
“And I enchanted all of the brooms.”
“And you said–”
“Gods damn it, Wolfgang, we’re going into the forest, and if you say another word, I will have you finding truffles by nose all night.”
Knowing that Master Comino did not make such threats lightly, I sighed and got my coat and hat out of the closet. He led the way, his massive staff on one hand (he would only let me have a wand for now, and I’m not allowed to make any phallic inadequacy jokes about that), and his black robes covering most of his body like an enormous shadow. Master Comino had yet to teach me how to make my robes flow dramatically in the wind, so I had to make do with a coat that made me look like the world’s most overdressed french Panda bear.
After we had been walking long enough that I believed his threat no longer applicable, I opened my mouth.
“Master Comino, why exactly–”
“Shhhh. Quiet, my boy. Listen to the wind.”
“…I’m going to get wet.” I concluded, not so much from listening to the wind, as from feeling the temperature of the wind chill dropping slowly while we became engulfed in the growing shadow of the coming storm.
“Yes you are.” Master Comino said.
The woods behind Master Comino’s home were steep and dense. A good combination, if you ask me, since trees occasionally served as handrails as we made our way down. The ground was muddy, the arthropods of the area seemed to be energized by the growing humidity, and it took me a minute to notice that all of the rabbits seemed to be missing. Rabbits are very skittish, but they can usually be seen. Enough people feed them that they rarely hide from people. I sighed and continued to follow, until he stopped abruptly, and gestured forward.
“Do you see that?” He asked, and I cursed having forgotten my glasses by the table when I was having my nap. My vision is not… Awful, but my glasses are not decorative.
I finally spotted the man in the brown jacket (why brown? Why not a nice bright orange for convenience?), and nodded at my Master, who seemed vaguely annoyed that it had taken me more than half of a second to find the figure.
“Yes. It’s taken you too long, boy. Remind me to teach you to see tomorrow night.”
Oh, now he cared? “Yes, sir.”
He walked forward again, making it clear I was to follow him.
“Shadow of man, what brings you to my forest?”
The man lifted his face towards Comino, and I did not cringe or wince or lift my eyebrows, which should be very impressive because the creepiness levels were at least two sigmas past the mean on this one.
“Comino… This is not your forest.”
“It is under my protection.” My master said. “What brings you here?”
“One can only claim to protect… What one can claim, and what one can protect.”
I glanced up at Master Comino, but the tautology didn’t really do anything for him.
“I will ask you only once more, shade.”
“I come bearing news.”
Comino looked at the figure intently, and he seemed to be using his just-say-it stare, because the super-creepy shade straightened its back the same way I do when he does that. I felt a kind of kinship with the beast at that moment.
“The shadow king is awake.”
Master Comino stared at the shade and the colour drained from his face.
“What wants he?”
“What he has always wanted. My brothers and I seek refuge. Not yours, of course, we have… Other options. But you should know. So I have come to make certain you do.”
“…You are welcome in my home.” Comino said, as though the very words hurt his mouth.
“As I said. We’ll seek not help from you.”
Comino and the shade looked at each other, and droplets of water in the air began turning into rainfall.
“Fare well, wizard.” Said the shade, and it vanished in the shadows of the ground.
“…Come, boy. We must prepare.” He said, rushing back to his house.
“Yes, Master!” I had to do a little jog to catch up with his hurried walk. “Master, isn’t the Shadow King… Dead?”
“He should be.” Comino answered, and went on to not-help-me-at-all when I slipped in the mud and fell face-first on it. I groaned and hurried forward, catching up after another little jog.
“Be quiet, boy, I need to think.”
I closed my mouth and busied myself with getting rid of the mud on my jacket.
After a quick cleaning charm (which is to say, it took at twenty whole minutes, magical maids are really undervalued), I walked over to Master Comino’s office.
“Here, boy, read these,” he told me, handing me a pile of four books, all of them thick and heavy enough to function as a murder weapon in a pinch.
“Yes, now! You need to prepare yourself. I thought we would have months, and I could take my time with you, but if the Shadow King is here, we have new priorities. Read.” He pressed a finger down on the cover of the topmost book, then rushed back to his desk to draft whatever letter he was writing before.
“Why is the Shadow King dangerous?”
“Well, I don’t really–”
“You will know if you read those books. Now begone, I have to ensure our survival in the coming months.”
I nodded and slid out of the office with my newfound homework.
After six hours of trudging through Part 1 of 7 of “Shadows and Shamans: The Aprentice’s Guide to Death and its Masters”, Master Comino came to the library and dropped another two books on the table I was using.
“Yes. I have just read both of them, and decided that you are ready for the material.”
“You read both of them?” I asked, looking at the two hundred pages or so I had managed to get through, then back at the two books he had just dumped on the table.
“Yes. I would have provided them more quickly, but I had to read through four others in order to find the ones at your level.”
“…Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me, it is my duty as your Master. Just… read it. All of it. I will quiz you tomorrow on the contents.”
That is how my weekend died.
I woke up beside a book, thankful I hadn’t drooled on the pages, and Master Comino peered at me from behind the pages of Teen Witch Weekly.
“I see you have returned to us from the land of Morpheus, Wolfgang.”
I made some noises that were supposed to resemble words, yawned and rubbed my eyes. “I didn’t–”
“Yes, I can see that,” he said, gesturing to the two piles I had before me: Read and unread. One book read. Five unread. “Worry not, I have been informed that the Shadow King is being held back by her Majesty’s knights, which has bought us some time.”
I nodded and stifled another yawn. How early was it?
“Still, I expect you to read all of those books, while we begin preparations. There is much to do. We need to charm the edges away in every room, and–”
“Wait, who’s we?”
Master Comino looked at me, and grinned. The expression looked unnatural on his face.
“I–I just meant, you said ‘us’ earlier, and I can’t do those spells and read at the same time, so–”
“Anastasia and I, of course. Sharp ears, Wolfgang. I chose you well.”
I smiled as well. “Thank you, sir.”
“Anastasia, do introduce yourself.”
A girl came out from behind the stacks with a pile of books from the protective spells section.
“Hey, I’m Tasia,” she said, barely giving me a glance. “I found all the books with shadow protection spells, sir.”
“Fantastic. I should have gotten around to these some time ago, but I suppose now is better than later.”
“…Wait, who is she?”
“Anastasia, she told you.”
“No but, why is she here?”
Master Comino looked at me funny. “She’s my niece. The shadow king is out and about. Therefore…”
“He’s paranoid and you’re incompetent.” She summed up, turning my suspicion into annoyance.
“I was in the top ten percent of testers, you know.”
“I was in the percentage of testers who know that the tests are bullshit and don’t care.”
“Anastasia! I’m very proud of your results.”
“Yeah, because you get to show them off to your friends at Sabiardo, not because–”
“I do not–”
“Uncle Poe, Master Arete knew that I–”
“I can hardly fault him if he–”
“You two realize I’m still here, right?”
They turned to face me, and Master Comino sighed. “We will discus your achievements later, Anastasia. For now, Wolfgang, just know that my dear niece is very talented and much farther along in her studies than you are.”
I stared at one of the wooden swirls in the table.
“And Anastasia, please be kind to my apprentice. He shows much promise and may surprise you.”
“Fiiiiine.” She said, rolling her eyes.
“Does Master Arete tolerate such behaviour?”
“Master Arete is my master. Also he doesn’t make me organize his cupboards, find his books for him, or bring him tea.”
“…Does Master Arete want an extra pupil?” I asked, and Master Comino smacked me on the shoulder on his way out.
“We are all at risk now. You, do your reading, and you, get downstairs so that we can get rid of the corners in the kitchen.”