A Conjuring Conundrum
So here I am, face to face with what looks to be a giant lizard about to chomp half my body and swallow it whole, leaving my legs to plop down in a squirting, bloody mess. If I was a brave warrior, hardened by years of combat and deft with a sword, mace, or axe, I’d swing whatever weapon I had to kill this beast. I’m not. If I was a brave paladin, blessed by the power of the gods to be the holy hand of justice; bound to protect the weak and smite evil in his path, I’d have smitten this drooling, hulking behemoth. Yup, not me. If I were a masterful wizard, skilled in the mystic arts I’d conjure up a ball of fire to incinerate this monstrosity as if he were nothing but an insect bothering me. Yes, if only I . . . wait I am! I’m supposed to be. At least that’s what my Scroll of Arcane Authentication says.
“What in the Dark Depths are you waiting for?!! Fireball this thing!!” She yelled as she held for dear life on the two daggers she stuck onto the back of the beast.
“Well lad, do something! I thought you were a wizard?!! Isn’t that what it says on your fancy scroll?!!” He screamed, hanging on to his battle axe as its haft was lodged into the giant lizard’s tail. I didn’t like his sarcastic tone, but he was right. If I don’t do something soon, we’re all dead.
Which brings me to the lifeless girl by the tree from which the lizard came out of. Oh, my Sacred Halls, poor choice of words. I hope she’s still alive. If these two didn’t attack the monster after it rushed out and swat her senseless, she might have been its first meal. Then there’s me. How’d I get myself into this mess anyway? I didn’t have to be here you know. Maybe I should start from the beginning.
It all started after I got out of wizard school or the University Concentrated on Learning the Arcane. I guess it was a decision I made half-heartedly but coming from a family of nothing remotely involved with anything dealing with conjuring things out of thin air, I had my doubts.
My father, Garzon, is currently a blacksmith, but before that he served under the Hawkstone Guard for about 15 years. A veteran of the Alma-Galena war, he expected all his sons to follow in his soldier footsteps.
My oldest brother, Gesdon, was the first to don the boots of a guardsman. Since there was no big war to be fought, He was stuck keeping the peace by breaking up occasional brawls at taverns and the domestic disputes that result from them. He says he’s lost count of the number of times he’s had to snatch a bottle from a drunk who was about to break it over another drunk’s head, or a wife who was about to do the same to her husband’s.
My next oldest brother, Gibson, was also a “peacekeeper,” of sorts. Whether it was a wild boar or neighborhood rough he was there to “rectify the situation.” So, with that in mind, his choices were to join the Guard, be a blacksmith, or take some job that involved punching somebody in the face. Thankfully, he found “a higher calling” as a Paladin of the Sacred Halls. Who’d have thought the neighborhood skull crusher would end up crushing skulls in the name of holy justice?
Then, there’s Gordon. That’s me. While my brothers were out trying to knock each other senseless with a game involving a ball or a fight involving a fist I was, actually doing the same thing. Except I never did the knocking, and I was always the one senseless. If there wasn’t a stick or stone present, I was my brothers’ weapon of choice to break a neighborhood kid’s bones. At least I wasn’t alone. It was me, Beedy, and the weird kid who had a thing sniffing horse manure. I wasn’t a big fan of horse manure, so it was just me and Beedy doing our own thing. Yeah this is a part of my life no one needs to know so let’s skip forward to my going to wizard school.
When I told my parents and my brothers about my decision I expected two things: Disappointment, that I didn’t continue the path of being some sort of warrior, like my father or two brothers, or laughter, at the notion of me being some bookworm or circus performer pulling hogs from logs. But to tell you the truth, I believe that was the day my father was the proudest of me.
“Well, son, it beats you lying around the house doing nothing, and hanging around with that boy who sniffs horse ass all day!”
“What? No dad. He’s not my friend. And technically, he doesn’t sniff horse ass. It’s what comes out of the horse that-”
“Um . . . nothing dad.”
I thought my brothers would be rolling on the floor laughing by now, but, I was surprised.
“So, our brother’s gonna be a paid bookworm.”
“Hey when you’re done with school, you think you can teach me to pull a hog out of a log?” I wasn’t too surprised about their reactions. However, I was surprised about the resistance my mother had.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do? You know those schools are very difficult to get in. And learning all that magic? That’s a bit dangerous don’t you think? And who says you still can’t get into the guard like your father? Or you can do the same thing your brother Gibson is doing. I’m sure he and Sephora can put in a good word for you to their master. And if that doesn’t work out, you can always help your dad out in the blacksmith business.”
I thought she’d be more excited about it. You see, before my mother married my father and settled down with him, she was a scribe. Weird right? But in Galena, women were not only allowed to be scribes, but also encouraged. I remember her telling me how strange it was in this whole continent, all women could hope to be are housewives, barmaids or princesses. She said they could be other things, but it still disturbs me to this day that those words would come out of my mother’s mouth.
If it wasn’t for my little sister, Gemma, who thought it was the most amazing thing ever, and constantly made up stories about me one day being a great wizard.
“Think about it. You could be the next Meranom the Wise, or the next Veracosa Grandia. Oh oh! Dare I say it. You can be the next Lyganstel. Yeah!! I can’t wait ’til you get back Gordy and show me all your crazy magic skills. It’s gonna be sooo awesome!” The way she rattled of famous wizards’ names, I could’ve sworn that she was meant for this life too. And, with encouragement like that, how could I have resisted?
So, after four years in pre-Mage, three years in Mage, I became an accredited practitioner of the mystical arts, and ready to show what I can do. As it turned out, there wasn’t much use for a newly graduated wizard here in Hawkstone. Meranom, the Duke’s Advisor on Arcane Matters, already had all the interns he needed. I suppose I could have put my application earlier, but again, I still wasn’t sure this is what I wanted to do. After a year of lounging around the house, I found a job that put my skills to good use. It would have been longer had it not been for the constant demands of my father to get to work, the stories I had to endure of my brothers’ toils of earning a living, and multiple messages from the local bank to reminded me I had school loans to pay. I remember when the financial representative paid me a visit while I was cleaning out my dorm room. He emphasized the importance of my debt by transforming into a demon, grabbing me by the collar, and telling me in the most colorful language that he would tear out my still beating heart for recompense if I were not to hold up my end of the contract. When I told this story to my family, I expected some sort of sympathy, but I suppose I expected too much. My brothers burst out laughing, my mother scolded my father about letting me put myself in danger whilst my father shouted back that it was something I needed to experience in order to be a man. Unsurprisingly, it was my sister who took my side, hugging me and letting me know that if I worked hard and continued to sharpen my skills, I would vanquish ten demons like him. What would I do without you Gemma.
Eventually, I was able to find work.
“Alright Gordy,” said Bertie, the head bartender of the Ogre and Hammer Tavern and my new boss. “If you see and rats down in this cellar, blast him with your magic. Got it? Oh, and if the food goes bad, try to make it fresher. If not, oh well. The customer will eat it one way or another.”
And that would have been the end of Gordon of Hawkstone’s story. I probably would have lived the rest of my life as a token rat-catcher in a dive bar or beat to a bloody pulp somewhere in the middle of the forest, minus a scroll and my still beating heart. But, I would not. I wasn’t about to get away that easy.
I remember it being mid-day. I zapped 3 rats, 6 cockroaches, maggots from the 9-day-old mutton and a nest of termites that Bertie failed to mention existed under the tavern floorboards. If I had not caught it in time, the whole tavern would have collapsed. Did I get a “Thanks Gordon for saving our lives?” Nope, it’s “Clean up the mess your made boy. Use that fancy magic of yours.” As I sat down and took an ale break, three strangers walked into the bar.
While I was in university, I learned about the different lands outside of Hawkstone and the multitudes of races that existed in this world. I was amazed at the variety of bipeds that walked our earth but was soon dismayed that I would never go to these places or meet these peoples, because travelling required money which I didn’t have. No, I suspected, and suspected rightly that after school I was going back to this provincial town. But, I didn’t think they’d come to me.
Now before I continue, I have to say something about trampers and stumps.
If you ever come across a tramper, you should do one of three things: Hold on to your coins, watch your back, and walk the other way. In fact, you should do all three. You’ll know immediately who they are by their pointy ears, olive skin and gaunt features. I doubt there’s such a thing as a fat tramper, or an honest one, or a sane one. I also have not seen a tramper that was not involved in anything dangerous or illegal.
Stumps or stumpies are a little more trustworthy. Just don’t call them stumpies in their face or they’ll knock you down to their size. They’re half a normal person’s size but twice as wide, and you’ll never see one without some sort of beard, or mustache or some form of facial hair. Come to think of it they’re a hairy lot. I guess it helps given their career choices. They’re either miners, blacksmiths, stonemasons or anything involved in construction or repair. My father fought with many of them during the war, and he says they’re all business when it comes to work. But once the forge fires have been put out and the doors are closed, ten mugs of ale later they’re all fun and games. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the most hardworking, trustworthy people around.
Therefore, I learned that a tramper and a stump passing each other would sooner spit in each other’s face than say hello. To my surprise, there they are, side by side. I’m sure the patrons at the bar were thinking the same thing. I pondered it for two seconds, and then my eyes shifted to her.
She had long, blond hair, sleepy, green eyes and the softest cream skin. She walked with an elegant grace, until she almost tripped over a loose floorboard. She held leather bound, gold trimmed book with her delicate hands against her soft bosom. And she was walking towards me, a crooked, unsure smile. And as her lips parted she said the words,
“Hey there lad. How about a table, ale and your finest mutton?” I was quite taken aback how deep and gruff her voice was, like a stump.
“Hey!!” she shrieked, snapping his fingers at me. I come out of my reverie, and quickly realize it was the tramp talking. “What are you deaf or stupid?!”
“Oh no, no, no! I don’t work here. I mean I work here but I don’t, uh-”
“Pay no mind to our rat-catcher.” Bertie interjected as he cuffed the back of my head. “He’s a bit slow. Shawna here will give you whatever you need.” A buxom waitress whose only lot in life is to serve drinks, sleep with strangers with deep pockets and berates would-be wizards strolled towards the group and directed them to a nearby spot.
“And finish your ale quick and get back to work.” He punctuated his point with his fat finger on my nose.
As I sat down and slowly sipped on my brew, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. What was this beautiful creature doing with such disreputable characters?
“Ok so where the Black Depths is this golden statue supposed to be?” The tramper shrilled. “I don’t wanna spend any more time in this dung hole of a town than we need to.”
“Keep your voice down Bev.” The stump replied. “We don’t want to attract any more attention than we need to, and I don’t want spit on my food this time.”
“Oh, I swear to all the gods that if that happens again I’ll-”
“Ok Tanya. Let’s see that map in that book of yours.”
Tanya. Her name was Tanya.
“Right!” She whispered in a honey-flavored voice. Tiny sparks flew from the book as she opened it. I guess they we’re used to it by now because they didn’t even flinch. “It’s a simple map really. “It just shows the path you take from Hawkstone, deep into the Griffin Forest and an approximate area where the underground passage is located. The only problem is finding which tree it would be under.”
“It’s not marked.” The stump asked.
“Sorry Gil. It won’t be that easy. Bev scared off our only way of finding it.” They both look at the tramper.
“Hey if that pervert wasn’t peeping at me from behind a rock bathing at the lake, he’d probably have his balls by now?!!”
The stumpy they called Gil sighed. “For once I agree with Bev here. But you didn’t have to chase him all the way down Dean’s Pass just to emasculate him in front of innocent travelers.” All the tramper Bev could do was shrug. “Where are we going to find a wizard here at this time?”
Spitting the last sip of my ale I blurt, “I’m a wizard.” Maybe I should have cleaned myself up first before pitching myself. Then again, would that have stopped them from laughing so hard they almost knocked the plate of mutton Shawna served them? Well, Bev and Gil laughed, but Tanya just looked at me, almost studying me. Could she feel the same way?
“Prove it.” The tramper called Bev said. “Do something magical.”
I was dumbfounded. I doubt zapping a rat or making bright colors shoot out of my hands would have been the best way to present my skills.
“Uhh . . . give me a moment.” I ran to the cellar where I normally drop off my satchel. Yup, it was still there. I knew this would come in handy sooner or later. I placed it front of Tanya, as a gift. Gil snatched it and held it as if it were the leg of a roast fowl.
“What’s this?” He asked.
“Open it.” I replied. He unrolled the scroll and all three proceeded to read.
Tanya soon recognized it. “It’s an Arcane Authentication scroll from the University Concentrated on Learning the Arcane.” I knew she’d recognize it. It makes so much sense.
“Alright lad. You’re hired.” Gil said.
“You better not screw it up or you’ll end up like our last magician.” Bev added.
“Wait, what happened.” I asked. They looked at each other and said,
“Nothing you need to worry about.”
“You don’t wanna know.”
It wasn’t very reassuring. But, it was these or continue to be stuck in this ‘dung-hole’ for the rest of my life. If they weren’t stupid, they were desperate enough not to ask what a UCLA graduate was doing zapping vermin at a run-down tavern. And I was desperate enough not to ask why they needed magic to find a golden statue.
Bertie tried his best to show concern about me leaving, but really, he didn’t care. It was only as a favor for my father that I got hired in the first place. I mean why turn down your most frequent customer and the only person that can shut you down for not being up to par with the health and wellness codes of the city? And the feeling was mutual. I can live without zapping another rat ever again.
As we walked towards our destination, I tried my best to make conversation with Tanya. What I wanted to say was,
“So, Tanya, what’s a beautiful girl like you doing with dangerous company like them?” What came out was.
“So . . . uh . . . sunny day . . . right?”
“Absolutely.” She said with a smile that melted my heart and stirred my stomach like Bertie’s cooking. Oh man. What do I say next? My brothers always talked to girls. What did they say? Nice breasts? No, I can’t say that?!!
“Gordon is it?” Gil asked, I vigorously nodded, breaking me out of my internal freak-out. “You know why we need a wizard for this right?”
“Uh . . . yeah, of course I do.” I didn’t.
“No, you don’t.” He said, as if he read my mind. “According to the map, there’s a tree in this forest that can only be found by somebody who has the ability to sense magic. Now we figured Tanya was able to do so, but as a cleric of the Scrying Eye, she can only detect runes, magic writing, and all that nonsense. But I’m sure being an avid practitioner of magic you already knew that.”
“Of course. I knew it before you even said it.” Actually, after he mentioned the Watcher it all came back to me. Clerics of the Scrying Eye followed the doctrine of Xerage, the god of Knowledge. I had to take an elective class, so I took Religion 101. From what I remember they also go on expeditions and look for artifacts that lead to knowledge about the Ancient Ones. It made sense, but there was something about this situation I still couldn’t put my finger on.
“From what I remember, these particular artifacts are well guarded by all sorts of traps and dangerous beasts.”
“Well that shouldn’t be anything for you to worry about, right?” Tanya included. “A wizard of your degree should see this as nothing but a challenge.”
“Sure.” I squeaked trying not the let the chunks from my stirred stomach eject from my quivering mouth.
“And, we have Gil, a battle-hardened veteran of the AG Wars and Bev, a . . .”
The tramper, who had no interest in the conversation, suddenly turned around.
“Yes, Tanya.” She sneered. “What exactly am I?”
“Um, a deadly woman with twin daggers?”
“Save it. I don’t need you to fluff me up.” The awkwardness lingered up until we entered the forest and reached the marked destination on the map.
“Alright lad. Work your magic.”
I really should have prepared better for this. If I had been a good wizard, I’d have asked more questions about this whole trip, did my research in the library, contacted my colleagues to get their input in the matter, and gathered the necessary tools and materials to do this task efficiently, and effectively. Truth be told, I had no time to ask questions, no access to the Library of Arcane Matters, and no colleagues to consult. Well there was Beedy, but if you knew him, he’d have been worthless too. And, the only materials I had were to restore spoiled food, kill small rodents and insects, and see through wood to detect said vermin. As I took out the crystal ball I packed for this trip, I cursed myself. What in the Dark Depths did I get myself into? It’ll probably take the stump five minutes to see through my deception. Then what? I suspect the tramper will rip my guts out. I’ll never see Tanya again.
This isn’t right. I should just come clean and . . .
“Hey I found something.” I call out; almost ready to cry out of sheer joy that maybe I’ll be keeping my guts inside me. It seems while I was scanning the trees, looking through my crystal and shooting in the dark, I found something. Through my seeing-through-wood crystal, I saw writing that I suspected Tanya could read. I gave it to her, she read, and as she uttered those strange words, the tree began to glow, so brightly that we had to shield our eyes. Once the glow subsided, a portal formed in the tree. And out of the portal charged the largest, ugliest, meanest lizard I’ve ever seen.
And here I am, inches away from being food for a snarling, drooling monstrosity with a breath I can only describe as a conglomeration of all the animals in the worlds’ feces. What a sad end to my sad pathetic life. Should I be surprised that it came to this.
“What the Dark Depths is taking you so long?!!” the jostled but hanging-on Bev screamed. “Didn’t they teach you to fight in your stupid university?!!”
“Come on lad. Don’t freeze up now. Use what you know. ANYTHING DAMMIT!!”
I didn’t think it’d come to this.
“I lied.” As if they misheard the worst thing ever to mishear they shook their heads.
“I . . .I . . . lied ok. I really didn’t graduate from the University Concentrated on Learning the Arcane.”
The look that was once intense focus on the beast now became burning rage towards me.
“I made it about six months before I was kicked out. Ok, that’s not true either. I left. It wasn’t the long hours and lack of sleep. I didn’t mind that at all. It wasn’t the cost to study there. In fact, they have a pretty good loan program.”
Speaking of loan programs, remember that ‘financial representative’ who threatened to rip my still beating heart from my chest for recompense? He wasn’t a UCLA loan officer. He was sort of an enforcer, of those who didn’t pay the Toad Alley Reapers in time for ‘services rendered.’
“I couldn’t go back home without having graduated, so another colleague of mine who also failed, knew a guy, who knew a guy, who knew a guy, who could get us some forged scrolls. He said he could do everything from land titles to proof of royalty, given the right price. We didn’t have much to give, but they said it was ok. We can pay it back later in installments.”
“A FORGED SCROLL!!” Gil bellowed. “I knew you were too good to be true. Damn me for being so blindingly desperate.” Bev followed with,
“I swear to everything that is holy and unholy that if this thing kills us all I will hunt you down in the Fields of the Dead and be damned a god to stop me from ripping your square head and shove it up your round asshole!!”
You know what it was? I couldn’t take the pressure. I didn’t think I had what it took. I was told by Professor Lazuli that to know the Arcane, I had to embrace it with full force. I had to hold it until my muscles ached, your body trembled, and my mind wandered into confusion. Then, with unknown reserve I was supposed to crush this malevolently beautiful force until eventually, it becomes a part of me. If I wasn’t willing to do that, then I should leave now. So, I left. Six months and I already knew that I couldn’t muster up that type of courage or resolve.
“I still needed to get some sort of magical training, so I went to the Generic Conjuration College.
“GCC?!! You went to GCC?!! Curse us, we hired a third-rate wizard!”
“Gaaaaah! Why did our last guy have to be a damn pervert?!!”
“I did a semester in the Prestidigitatorial Cantrips College.”
“SHUT UP!!” They both yelled in unison. I should have taken my mother’s advice and tried to join the Hawkstone Guard. I could have been Gibson’s punching bag training as a paladin of the Sacred Halls. Heck, I could have just worked under my father making horseshoes and stovepipes for a living. Nope, I had to go try to be a damn wizard, but now I was gonna be lizard food. And as it lunged at me . . . everything went blank.
How disappointing that my death has to be just as boring. I feel nothing. I see nothing. I hear nothing. I guess I could have been something if I tried harder. Sorry Gemma, I was supposed to be . . . no. I can let my parents down. I can let my brothers down. I could care less if I see the tramper and stump again, and Tanya . . . as if I could ever get a girl like her. But that doesn’t matter. If there was a reason I was to make it out of here it would be for her. To crush her hopes of me being the next Meranom, or Veracosa, or she dared say it, Lyganstel. I can’t let that happen. I can’t let that-
When I got my senses back I took stock of what I saw in front of me. Gil was to my right, mouth wide open. It looked as if he was about to tackle me from harm’s way but stopped mid stride. Bev was behind me. It seems she was thrown off the beast and right over me. She too was about ready to grab me and drag me down, but like Gil, was dumbstruck. Tanya had come to, wide-eyed, and hand over mouth. My feet were firmly planted on the ground. My hands were fully extended, smoke rising from them like wispy snakes climbing imaginary vines, hot, and trembling. And paces in front of me was a large, charred pile of flesh, bone and ashes, still smoldering, and looked to have been blasted back by some fiery, malevolent force that I could only equate to as a fireball.
Gil was the first to speak. “Alright son. Now I’m confused. Are you or are you not a real wizard?”
It looked as if the giant lizard was the only obstacle standing between us and the treasure. None of us spoke much during the trip back. We sold the statue, split the gold, and went our separate ways, never to see each other again. I didn’t get the girl, but I did get a good amount of money. In fact, I had enough to pay the Reapers back, and then some. I could go back to town, get my old job as a glorified exterminator, and continue to face the ridicule and disappointment of my family. Or, maybe…just maybe…I can give this wizarding thing one more shot.