This story is by Tor-Arne Sandstrak and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
It was such a morning, that the fog kept vision just good enough, that you could see the lights of other places. Sounds carried longer than you thought, but shorter than you needed. It was such a morning, that I decided. To take the sabbatical.
Misty mornings, the first morning of the next academical term. The same term the remaining four classical teachers take a sabbatical. We spend the sabbatical searching the lands we can reach for students. I can get to most of the known world. Through the work of my own two feet, or a combination of that and magical warrens.
Breathing a few spell-tinders, before grabbing breakfast. It would be my last breakfast in a while. The students had already left, most on their respective missions. Some, of course, stayed behind, to make use of their unlimited access to the library. It always took a few weeks for our minds to recognise them as equals. Mages in their own right. Some even got prestigious Warlocks licenses.
I was often impressed with the grit of some of the kids, they had survived the mental onslaught of the system.
My thoughts returned to Flick, the most promising of the kids my scrying tools revealed. As always: The tools had garbage accuracy. But they were the best we had.
If there was one thing I always ended up missing, it was Madame Irene’s Tavern. It was the finest there was. It was one of those establishments where one by atmosphere alone, was happy to pay the tab.
Opening the door to my office, I picked up the suitcase containing everything I owned. Taking a last look into the scrying mirror, I saw Flick and Lisa working animals. A pang of regret, I never liked sending my assistant out on missions. She had an easy way with boys and liked bedding them.
The girl was brimming with skill, and her handling of dangerous magic was up there among the best. Her mind, was in other places though. Lisa would stabilise his magic, that much she could do. She would likely start testing his abilities as well. I hoped I could get to him in time.
A knock on the door, it was the headmistress. “Enter” I said. Her small frame was as deceptive as her feminine dress. It was clear who Lisa drew her genes from. The witch stood there, Staring for half a second. “You’re really going today? Really Really?” the sound of her voice, like that of a young schoolgirl. She was skipping around the now cleaned out office.
“I Am” I said. She smiled. “You know what they’ll say we should use this room for” She smiled at me, all the way to the tip of her pretty green eyes. “I do not care what they will say, and let them if they insist. I’ve left some surprises” My smile was gleeful. I knew, both of us had that same gleeful expression.
Walking past the woman who had placed herself by the door, I tipped my imaginary hat to her. “Headmistress” the woman smiled, still gleefully. “Come back with some kids with guts! I want next year to start with chaos. Just like every year you come back with new students” her words forced a chuckle out of me.
“Don’t you worry, I’ll do my best” her eyes followed me out the door. I was by the gate when the headmistress caught up. “I forgot something” stopping me by the gatehouse, she grabbed my hand turning me around. “You forgot this” her face was flushed from running, and I could see the pink colour on her face as she moved closer. The kiss was fast, deep, and over before I knew what had happened. The woman smiled, winked and then vanished. I swear she’s channelling her daughter.
Walking never grew old to me, especially not on mornings like this. The light always played with your eyes. In the thick fog of the early morning, the darkness helped, making you see shadows. And if you had read a lot of descriptions of animals and magical beasts. Then you would be all the more likely to find yourself hallucinating one of those.
I didn’t have to walk far though. The closest warren knot was not far, and it would allow me to get close to the first ping. Placing a dimensional anchor. Shifting between the planes was easier on me. Usually, peoples core self would destabilise while travelling the dimensions. Spells working with dimensional work: tearing, construction, and repair came easily to me. And I was good with them. Spitting swamp water, grabbing branches, and trees I managed to get up.
Calling a boat was easy. Getting noticed, but not shot by the clan security perimeter, was a bit harder. My badge helped a lot. Daggers sticking in the back of a skull, the tips poking out through the eyes. A badge I didn’t often wear. I was travelling far, and this badge often bought access for the one wearing it. I will get back to the badge at some other time. Suffice to say, the three people that approached me, each in their own boat. Eyed me suspiciously.
Then grumpily guided me to the edge of their floating metropolis.
Where a grumpy short woman stood. The woman led me to a small cottage. Where she droned on and on about rules, and regulations. Knowing these people were xenophobes towards magic. I found it strange that the woman leaked a bit of magic. Walking about the hut, while she spoke.
“I will not disturb the ceremonies” these people held all their ceremonies in one long-winded week. I had arrived when the most important one would happen. “So long that the ceremonies do not impede my mission here”. I felt a sliver there, the tingle of a low-quality targeting spell. “Spells are for pussies,” I thought. Twisting out of the path, the knife flew through the window.
The woman looked at her hand in confusion. “I’m guessing that’s a possessed arm” the woman whimpered. I moved towards her bringing out a ceremonial knife. The knife was not one of the expensive ones. But it was a good one. A small wound tricked a drop of blood out of the hand.
The blood fought against spells swathed in layers across my hands for protection. Feeling the magic trying, I dumped more into my protection spells. As I did, something grumbled deep beneath us, something primal. I dropped most of the magic. And let the woman slowly float to the ground. Her mind was like an open book, somehow. Instead of reading it all, I searched for the one that cursed her hand.
“You lost your hand in an accident. And lived here, then one day, a magician gave you a new hand. Vivian, I will have to disarm you.” The woman stood, eyes glazed over. Reinforcing the knife, I attempted a clean chop. Grisly but almost effective. The spells in the arm were harsh, and could not be allowed to live. And, since the arm was made by magic, it was impossible to purge it. Especially on a schedule. The knife broke, on the bone. Scraping around inside someone’s arm for a knife blade is a bad idea.
A slight bit of gruesome magic solved both my problems. As soon as the arm was off, the woman snapped back. Her eyes were clear, her mind focused. And her hatred for the arm was evident. “Hold for a second.” My voice had her focus on my eyes. The healing spell closed the wound. And the woman stood there.
Glaring at the arm. That now tried, desperately to escape through the window, which was still closed. The magic, dispelled by a single flick on the right magical thread. Dispersing into the floor, the magical energy would soon attract beasts. Not that these people would mind. The woman left.
Waking, to screams and splashes. I moved towards the screams. Certainty setting in as soon as I saw the face of the next child to be thrown in. I had to get him. A breath of concealment spells. A mirror image stood where I had stood, and I lowered myself into the swampy waters.
Swimming downwards, I felt myself drawn towards a tear. The boy was swimming ahead of me. I managed to grab his ankle as his magic reacted to the rift ripping us through.
Blinding sunlight and great breaths of desert sand met us on the other side. Home, I knew this world. We’d have to move fast. I could sustain myself permanently, but we would still have to move fast.