Stepping about lightly in the kitchen, Kat watched the sun slowly set, clearly resigned to the oncoming dusk. As he poured tea, low hanging gray clouds made their way towards a rusty orange horizon. Kat afforded himself a smile, but only for a second. He finished filling two tiny white cups, and placing them on a tiny white saucer he walked into the living room, pushing the swinging kitchen door open with his back; in his other hand was wooden plate with a number of dark green leaves placed on top of it. The talk coming from other room was quiet, but not hushed. Two men, each appearing to be around the age of a young grandfather or a very old father, sat at a round, wood table in the middle of the room. Their talk was low and conversational. Without saying a word, Kat placed the saucer and plate on the table and then went back into the kitchen. A second later he arrived in the living room again, through the swinging door, carrying a small metal cup with milk in it. Sitting down in a chair a couple of feet from the table, behind the men, he listened and nursed his cup.
“Thank you for the tea,” said Jaim, the man Kat had just sat down behind. He picked up a leaf from the plate, dipped it in the tea, and then put the plant in his mouth, slowly chewing. His guest at the table followed suit, and the two chewed and for a bit in silence, every once in a while sipping their tea. Jaim, the man who thanked Kat, was sitting in his chair comfortably slouched, his shoulders forward. Thick gray hair topped his head, eventually turning into jagged sideburns and stubble; he had deep bags under his eyes. His clothing though, was starchy and clean: crisp, off-white robes combined with a defined jaw line that refused to round out with age offset his tired demeanor and posture. The man sitting across from him, Reegan, was sitting upright, with his legs crossed. He wore dark, earth-toned traveling clothes composed of harsh cotton and leather. His face was gaunt and pale, and his hair was neat, black and slicked back straight across his tall head. Being the youngest person there Kat felt a bit self-conscious around these wise, old spellcasters. Kat’s appearance mirrored Jaim’s a bit. He had the patchy beginnings of a beard and and unkempt brown hair; he slouched, too. Bored, Kat glanced over at the who Reegan arrived with. Standing in a corner, so that every door was in sight, was Eggle. A hideous creature by popular opinion, Eggle stood six feet, but he was frequently hunched over; the creature appeared, simple and disturbed as it sounds, as though he was half-human, half-cat. His head was large, and looked nearly exactly like a lion’s head, but not a healthy one. His mouth was twisted and scarred; his mane, patchy and dry; and his eyes were sunken in. He was a nightmarish thing.
Once the two men finished sipping their tea and chewing on their leaves, they began to talk about politics in the surrounding states and regions. Kat still wasn’t listening, and after a warm sip of milk, he concentrated for a second. First the air around his hand started to cool down; then, the metal cup chilled, collecting bits of frost around the rim. Eggle noticed this drawing and usage of mana; this spell. Feeling the influx of magic he immediately glared at Kat. In response, the young man lightly raised his cup and gestured to it. Eggle seemed to understand this and growled softly. Jaim and Reegan hadn’t noticed. They were too busy arguing about territorial disputes among royalty in the area. This kind of debate entertained them.
“…And I’m expecting the spoiled bitch to go to war over it,” Reegan said, reaching for another leaf to chew on. “That would be a nuisance, wouldn’t it?” Jaim dismissed this by waving his hand, and Reegan just smiled. They both had tiny secret houses and cabins all over the world, and some duke, or prince having territorial spats with his cousin hardly affect any of them. If current politics we’re really worth knowing about, Jaim would have informed him about them, thought Kat.
“I’ve often wondered,” continued Reegan, “why have you decided to spend so much time in this pasture.” The question was a good one, but Jaim didn’t feel like answering apparently. Instead, he just looked at his apprentice. Kat was not surprised, and he answered Reegan as though it might have been rehearsed.
“He feels as if living here keeps him in check,” he said. A large smile appeared on Reegan’s face, and Jaim chuckled a bit. Both of them were clearly tickled by this response. It was as though Kat had just delivered the punch line to a very clever joke. The reality was, Jaim and Reegan were two of the most powerful beings on the planet. They were wizards who had exceeded nearly every other creature in the world in both experiences and years. In fact, it was a stretch to call them “men”at all since they fit so poorly into the understanding of what a man should be. Most would feel safer labeling beings with their power as “gods.”
The Spring pasture was covered in the driest and most flammable grasses in the region, and the closest town to Jaim’s hilltop home, named Spring, just like the region and pasture, was surrounded by the stuff. Jaim, being fond of both fire-magic and, (unusually enough) human life, found he had to suppress quite a bit of his power, lest he over zealously cast some spout of flame, and in his fascination with the fire, miss the surrounding field spark up, and the village of Spring burn to the ground. It was not unlikely to happen. Reegan understood this, and Kat was relieved, since normally Kat would have to explain this fact to people. They never seem to find it funny.
At this point, the wizards had finished their tea and leaves, and Kat started to pick up dishes. While he was in the kitchen, listening to the conversation in the other room, a knock came at the door, and Kat hurried to answer it. Entering the living room, he noticed Jaim and Reegan had not seemed to even notice. Eggle had though; his dagger was drawn, and his eyes were glued to the door. Kat was not surprised though, and in fact, as he pulled on the handle he caught himself smiling in anticipation. Standing in the doorway was a girl, roughly the same age as Kat. Her hair was tied back into a short ponytail and she was wearing worn in, sun-stained riding gear. She was carrying two large baskets, one in each arm. A strong, cream colored horse stood a few yards behind her, munching on the dry golden grass that covered the pasture.
“Kat,” the girl responded. She glanced through the threshold. “Guests?”
Kat inhaled dramatically.
“Yes, yes.” He paused, and then offered his hand. “It’s been awhile.”
“It has,” Saipho said, taking his hand and shaking it. Upon contact, Kat heated his body temperature ever so slightly. Saipho’s hand was warm when she took, and he gave her a broad grin, holding the handshake a second longer. The girl kept his gaze, and did not return his smile.
“You’ll need me next week?”
“We will,” Kat said, “hopefully.” And now, the slightest indication of a smile could be seen at the corner of Saipho’s mouth, and the boy thought, “I’ll take it.” He paid her, and watched her trot over to her horse. As she mounted and rode off, Kat felt flushed. Reegan was quick to notice Kat coming back into the house, carrying goods; he teased him. “When I was an apprentice, my master did not allow me friends.”
“She brings supplies and foodstuffs from the village,” Jaim said. “Kat has been fasting for his meditations this past week; he missed his usual flirting.”
“I told her to come back next week, master,” Kat said. “I do hope we’ll need her,” he added, a touch of annoyance in his voice. Jaim encouraged a bit of attitude in Kat, just as long as he balanced this with a healthy dose of respect and servitude. He did not answer Kat’s question. Instead, he started in his seat. “Come,” he said, fixating his gaze not on Reegan, but rather, through him, as if there were some clock on the wall directly behind the his head. “While the mana-waves are highest, you must see this. Kat, fetch the Scope.” Kat obeyed, crossing the living room to the that led into Jaim’s study. The others went outside.
The wizard’s study was predictably messy, and Kat had to wade through junk and clothing, careful not to move anything too much, because there was always the possibility Jaim put it there for a very precise reason. The room’s walls were covered in doors, doors that led to tiny cupboards and closets. Any piece of wall in the wizards room that was not occupied by a door, instead had shelves, or the occasional hook; each one containing a myriad of different knick knacks and baubles, all those containing some hidden, magic secret, no doubt. Kat knew which door the Scope was supposed to be behind, but he had little hopes about finding anything. Sure enough, the Scope was not in it’s usual storage spot. Nor was it anywhere in Jaim’s study. Kat sighed as he stepped out of the house to meet the others on the front lawn. The instrument he had been looking for was already in the hands of his master. Reegan rambled on animatedly while Jaim fiddled with knobs and screws.
It was an odd thing, the Scope. Looking mostly like an over-complicated telescope, it was outfitted with various switches and buttons; there was a rotating lens device installed too, that only Jaim knew how to properly utilize. Kat had little to no idea as to what the Scope did. Jaim would sometimes mention things about “the building blocks of magic,” or “layers upon layers,” but this didn’t mean much to anyone but him. Kat wasn’t even allowed to use it. His mind was too fragile, apparently. While the two wizards took turns looking into the contraption, Kat tried to start a conversation with Eggle, albeit without looking at him.
“Has Reegan told you anything about the this thing?” he asked, gesturing towards the Scope. “Believe it or not, I don’t even get to use it.” Kat paused. From his peripheral, he could see Eggle’s head turn, his wet muzzle twitching; the creature was breathing heavily. It fixed a near-empty looking socket on Kat’s body, and continued breathing. Kat turned to meet his gaze, just barely. From the correct angle, he could just make out a glimpse of white; it was light reflecting of Eggle’s tiny black eyes. He thought of maybe trying to force a smile, but in the end, couldn’t stomach the notion. Attempts at conversation with the creature never really yielded anything anyway. Turning back towards the wizards, Kat noticed both of them were talking rapidly, with their hands. Kat squinted. They were fighting. He had seen them argue before, but they were always relatively quiet about the whole thing. This was different. Kat could actually hear raised voices.
“You’re blind, Jaim.”
“Friend, you seem to have forgotten who invented the Scope. I would imagine that if anyone would be able to view and properly assess the visions seen through this instrument, it would be me.” Jaim now started to walk back to the cottage, and as he did so, the Scope folded itself up and started to bob along in the air, following its inventor. Reegan followed a couple of feet behind.
“You know, friend, you never gave me the blueprints to the Scope. You said you would like to see if one I build operates the same as yours.”
“I’ve changed my mind, Reegan.” Before Jaim got to the doorway, he flung it open with a powerful gesture and then pointed the Scope in that direction. It floated inside, and the cottage door shut after it did. The guests had overstayed their welcome, it would seem. Kat started to get a little worried. He had never seen the wizards sling spells at each other, but he did recall eavesdropping on conversations about past duels. It was an exciting thing to listen to. The stories were always needlessly epic and very dangerous, it seemed. It never occurred to Kat that the two mages had ever been real, mortal enemies. However, it was now becoming clear that there was no evidence for that not to have been the case. Jaim was an extraordinarily powerful, and unpredictable person. His reason was not that of a typical mortal man’s. Kat had no idea what it was the two of them saw in the Scope, but he was now wondering if it wasn’t something remarkably serious, possibly earth shattering.
So there the four of the them were, standing outside Jaim’s little home in the middle of Spring pasture. The sun was nearly set now, and an awful hush had fallen over the group. There was never much talking, since Kat and Eggle had no one to talk to but each other, and the latter wasn’t one for conversation. Jaim cleared his throat. He was standing directly in front of his door, almost as if he were blocking it. Kat stood next to him, impassive and frankly, clueless as to what was going on. Reegan just stood a yard away, his arms crossed, staring at Jaim.
“I wasn’t going to just come out and say it,” Kat’s master finally spoke. “But I wouldn’t really like your company here any longer.”
“The information you have stumbled across needn’t be hoarded away, Jaim, and we can have conflicting theories. I would just like more time to look through…”
“No,” Jaim interrupted. “I will contact you when I find out more, but for now…” he trailed off.
“You’d like to do some thinking.”
“I’d like to do some thinking,” he admitted.
A thought struck Kat. What if Reegan didn’t except this? What if he didn’t take Jaim’s refusal and dismissal seriously? A duel of epic proportions could take place right here, right now, and Kat would have to fight alongside his master. He looked from Reegan to Eggle, and then suppressed a shudder. He’d be dead within seconds. In fact, even now, Eggle’s hand was on the handle of his dagger, ready, and he stood poised for quick assault. The idea of conflict was just dawning on Kat, and Eggle was already in a prepared combat position. No doubt Jaim and Reegan were sizing each other up this very second, thinking about ways they could get an early spell in. Kat just about jumped when Reegan finally spoke again.
“Very well,” he said simply. He looked disappointed, but not surprised. “Let’s talk again in a week, though. I will be in the town, just over the hill,” he didn’t bother to point, “in the Mountain Brawler. You know the inn?” Kat looked at Jaim, expecting him to answer, but the wizard was looking blankly out into the sunset.
“We do,” Kat said to Reegan.
“Good. See you in a week.” With that, he turned and started walking up the lightly sloped pasture towards town. Eggle followed shortly after. Kat thought he could hear him purring slightly.
Kat woke up to the sound of rain slapping against his window. It was a gentle awakening for him, and when he heard thunder tumble and roll through some distant hills, he sighed a comfortable sigh rolled over, pulling up a tug of covers. His face was nestled in his pillow, and all of his limbs were adequately covered to fight off the chill that the rain storm and cold front had brought on. Last evening after Reegan and his bodyguard left, Jaim shut himself up in his study and didn’t come out. Kat read and mediated while his master played hermit. He didn’t often get time to himself, and it had been a week since his meditation based fasting, so he chewed on some bread and sipped at some warm milk. It got late though, and before the star-scape became completely covered in clouds, Kat found himself knocking on to door to his master’s study. Jaim answered looking hellish, robes, hair, and countenance all askew.
“Yes?” he asked, looking at Kat as though he had never seen him before. Kat had seen this look before, and normally it didn’t bother him. Still, it was a strange argument the two wizards had engaged in, and he remained ready for something scary or drastic to happen.
“You have not given me orders since Reegan left, master. What is tomorrow’s agenda? And do I have any work I must complete for the night?”
“No work and I’ll give you an agenda tomorrow,” Jaim said. He turned and hurried back in his study, not bothering to close his door. Kat was confused. Sometimes he would not receive and agenda till the day of, but he always had some sort of spell or meditation set to study. An apprentice never got a day off, Kat thought. He stood outside the doorway, not knowing what to do next. Jaim appeared again though, waving his hands, slightly perturbed. “Come in, come in!” he urged, and Kat did so, albeit a little cautiously. He summoned a chair for his apprentice from a corner with a wave of his hand, and Kat took a seat. He noticed that the Scope was set up inside the study. It was facing directly up, towards the single, circualr ceiling. Jaim was running about the room, checking off parchments and looking into instrument, muttering to himself. Kat just shifted around uncomfortably. After about a minute, the door to the study shut loudly, seemingly on it’s own accord. Kat knew Jaim had shut it magically, but he still could not stop from starting in his seat.
“Kat,” Jaim started off, he seemed a bit frantic. “I have not really told you what this thing does,” he motioned to the Scope. “That was because I myself was not fully aware of the nature of the device.” He paused and for a second Kat thought he continue a bit more slowly. After a bit though, he started up in his usual quick sputter. “I thought I had made something that would allow me to view and understand the primitive flow and current of mana. I thought I would be able to view how magic itself operates in the world. I was right, partially. The Scope has provided me with many answers, but it also brings to mind even more questions.” Kat didn’t really know what Jaim was talking about. He only understood rudimentary magical theory. “I thought I saw something, Kat. I saw shadows in the mana tides. Things I had never seen before. It was my theory that I had discovered a new form of magic. Something we had never seen before but…”
Kat hesitated. He wasn’t sure why he was hearing this. “Master…”
“…it’s so much more…” Jaim inturuppted Kat. “The shadows were worlds, Kat. New planes of existence.”
Kat was silent.
“Worlds!” He turned towards his apprentice violently, dropping parchment and tomes. “I am witnessing reality at its seams! I have a glimpse of what lies in between us, all around us, even. Infinite universes await, in all probability.” He was crouching now, his face right across from Kat’s as if he were some mad-looking mirror image. Suddenly he snapped back around to stare at the Scope, as if to make sure in the second that his back was turned, the instrument had not been moved. Not looking back at him, Jaim just began to mutter. Slowly, the wizard stood up and moved over towards the Scope. As he leaned in to gaze through one of the many eye-holes, he addressed Kat:
“You may leave now.” After that, confused and a bit scared, Kat retired to his room. It was not out of the ordinary for Jaim to act oddly, but something about the visit from Reegan left a strange taste in Kat’s mouth, so to speak. He expected the feeling to keep him up that night, but it had been a long and tiring week, and the young man fell into sleep easily.
And now it was the next morning. Kat couldn’t remember the last time he was allowed to sleep in. It was a lovely thing to do, he decided. His room was lit only by soft, blue light coming from a dark clouded sky. The constant pattering of rain provided a calm backdrop of noise. Kat listened to the weather and to his own breathing. He was lying on his back, looking up at his low, off-white ceiling. The roof of most of the cottage was vaulted. Jaim’s study however was not had its own special roof, and was really just an attachment on the house itself. Kat’s living quarters were located on a far side of the house, where the ceiling was lowest. It wasn’t a big room either, and the highest his ceiling got was just over six feet. He focused on a spot where the eggshell painting was peeling a bit. One could just barely see some dark red splinters of wood peeking through the paint job. Kat closed his eyes and concentrated on the rain hitting the little wooden cottage. Picturing the tiny red splinters of wood, he slowed his breathing and started to relax the muscles in his body. Gathering a clear picture in his head, he started to recreate the rest of the ceiling. He imagined it all the way to every corner, and after that, went on to the rest of the house. The amount of detail Kat imagined was uncanny; down to the very drawers and cupboards he stored the saucers in last night, he imagined everything until he could see himself in lying in bed, without opening his eyes. The only piece of the cottage Kat couldn’t very well bring into his memory was Jaim’s study. It wasn’t that he couldn’t literally recall the room, because certainly he could. He was there last night, and Kat had a spectacular memory. No, it was that his mind was blocked from creating a mental image of the place. But this was nothing new. When drawing on mana, Kat was never able to feel or see Jaim’s study. It was always seemed to be shrouded and unattainable.
A nearby clap of thunder forced Kat out of his head. The lightning had struck so closely when he opened his eyes, he could still see the faint bolts dancing in the air, and a low, loud rumble rolled through his room. The rain was now a storm, and the storm seemed to be picking up. Kat got out of bed. The cottage was quiet and dark, and as he walked through it, he lit candles by rubbing his fingers together near the wicks, making sparks. The living room and kitchen were empty, and that was pretty much the whole house. Kat was about to go knock on Jaim’s door when he spotted something on the living room lunch table. It was a note.
I have left. Not for too long though, as in, I will be back shortly. Last night’s interactions with Reegan have left my mind disturbed with many a nasty thought. It seems I misunderstood the true intentions of the Scope. Or, I misjudged the scope of the instrument, if you will. Reegan may be right, but I’ll be damned if I let someone else discover the secrets to my own invention. This is serious, student. If the Scope is a portal to other worlds, or even if it is just a peep-hole into the other dimensions, what we know about everything could change. Reegan means to get the device using, I assume, any means necessary. That is why I have taken the Scope with me. As I said in the beginning of the note, I will return shortly. If Reegan comes looking for my head, (he very well might) just calmly explain that you do not have the Scope; I do, and tell him you have no idea where I have gone. He’ll be able to read your mind, probably, so for my own safety, I’ll not tell you where I’m headed. While I’m gone, I’d like you to continue your meditations, all outside. I would like you to focus on drawing massive amounts of mana. Draw enough so that you feel you’re about to explode. Draw dangerous amounts. In the past I’ve told you that this practice was unsafe and ill advised. I was lying. I was trying to curve your growth in the art of magic, but I no longer have the time. Push yourself Kat. We are both in perilous times.
If Reegan does drop by, I don’t think he’ll kill you, so don’t worry about that.
Kat was silent for a while. This wasn’t the first time Jaim had gone off on mysterious errands, and he always left a note. There were a couple of key elements that were off though. The mention of Reegan’s possible murderous intent was one, and it confirmed a pretty big fear Kat had; a fear that he was trying to delegitimize as being wrought from unnecessary paranoia. Unfortunately, just because your paranoid, does not mean they’re not after you. Jaim said this a lot. The outside meditation was normal, even in awful weather. Sometimes Kat suspected Jaim of intentionally summoning a storm just to make meditations more difficult and dangerous. It wouldn’t be uncharacteristic of him. No, the part in the letter that gave confused Kat the most was where his master mentioned how he should meditate. A summoning of mana with literally no restrictions; Kat had never heard of such a thing. Plus, the wording was a bit odd. How was it he could draw “dangerous” amounts of mana, but still be safe in doing so? Jaim admitted to lying often, and Kat thought he could smell yet another lie in this letter, but that was the thing: you can never know if a wizard has lied till they’ve admitted to doing so. All fears considered, Kat made up his mind fairly quickly to just follow Jaim’s orders. An apprentice questioning training was just not something that was done. After all, the man was wiser and more powerful than Kat could ever hope to be. He’s been an apprentice to the wizard for nearly his whole life. He trusts the spellcaster implicitly. What possible reason could Jaim have to put his own apprentice in a life threatening scenario? Kat could think of none, and resigned himself to a tough afternoon of training.
First though, would come breakfast.