Y'Zark the Apprentice Ch. 2byrexfelis©
"No no, I've got him, you don't need to worry," said the man calmly. But the mob was mad with lust for blood, and they did not even hear him. He had not even raised his voice. I looked at them rushing toward me, and I looked at him, seemingly trying to reason with them. I looked again at them, and at him, and then my body made the call to run. But I found that I could not, for at that very instant, the world went dark and everything felt so odd, as though things were being turned inside out and back again, all at the same time. And then, in the blink of an eye, my body seemed to pop back to normal and I found myself staring intently at a stone wall in a tower of some sort. I almost fell over from trying to compensate for the residual sensation of being in movement.
It took a moment to sink in that I was looking at a stone wall where there had just been a mob of people about to attack me. And I felt so strange all over, as though I wasn't real somehow. My muscles seemed exhausted all at once, and they responded only as though I were immersed in some sort of very thick fluid. Shortly, this wore off, and I turned to look at him, but he was not there. I was in a round room made entirely of stone blocks about the size of my head, and which were uniformly a dark gray in color. The room appeared too big to have no ceiling supports of any kind, which made me instantly uneasy. Then I noticed that there was a stairway down and a door almost directly across from me on the wall, and he was standing near it, waiting.
"Well, come on!" said the man with a hint of impatience. I was at a loss for what to do, so I followed him. He led me down a corridor of some distance, which seemed to be lighted as had the circular room behind us, but now I took note of the source of the light, which seemed to be small globes of some sort, equidistant from one another, about every seventy paces. These globes were suspended just beneath the ceiling, but by what they were suspended I could not tell, since they seemed to hang there without support.
"Where are we? How did we get here?" came my predictable questions. "Soon enough," came his answer, one that would become all too familiar to me over the years.
We came to the end of the hall, and entered another circular room, this one having a spiral stairway in the center, going up. There were doors at various places on the outer wall around the stairway, and I realized that it was not a room, but a walkway around the staircase. There were five doors I could see. He motioned for me to follow him up the stairs, and I did. This was so strange, I was beginning to think I was in a dream.
Following him up the stairs was a lot slower of an affair than following him down the hall, since his old legs were not as used to the stress as mine were. After a bit, he mumbled something and tapped his Staff on the step, whereupon he rose into the air a few inches and floated along as though it were an everyday occurrence. For him it was, but I did not know that at the time. I was witnessing magic, real magic, for the first times, and I was awestruck. As thought the previous events of the day were not enough!
I followed his floating form up the stairs, around and around, past what must have been seven floors of the same design, some having more or fewer doors, but never another soul. I was getting a bit leg weary when we finally reached the top floor, or what I took to be the top floor, where we entered into a room, instead of the walkway around the staircase. The door here opened to him as he approached, without sound or gesture, as though some unseen servant anticipated him. The door was again of thick, rough hewn oak bound in dark thick bands of iron. On it's face was a series of symbols I was unfamiliar with.
Beyond the door, the floor was no longer of stone, but instead covered in a thick plush reddish-orange carpet upon the entire surface of it. The room housed a massive black stone desk, upon which were a variety of books in different colored bindings, mostly green, and some scrolls and other things here and there. Bookcases stuffed full with books and the occasional scroll flanked the desk on either side, and there were some piles of books along the edges of the desk here and there as well. A larger glowing globe hung suspended in the air over the desk, making it bright, and various things were hung on the wall - here what looked like a map, there a gigantic white wing feather, nearly as long as I was tall. Behind the desk was a window, which was closed, but there was enough light outside for me to know that it was either evening or stormy outside. A silent flash of lightning revealed the which of that. I waited for the thunder, but it never came.
My benefactor made his way around the desk, having settled himself to the carpet by now, and sat himself down in a very comfortable looking and extremely fancy kind of seat, comparable in many ways to a throne. I noticed how quiet it was in the room as rain began to pound at the window behind him and still no sound issued forth. He began looking at a rather large tome in front of him on his desk, and tracing the words with an old finger while mumbling what he read.
"Ah, here we go," he said, tapping the page. Then he began reading.
"'You shall know The One by not only his personal effects, but by his circumstances as well. He shall be found guilty of many crimes without having been tried, and neither shall he be guilty; he shall be too young to have committed some of the accusations, and too unworldly to have committed most of the rest. They shall accuse him out of madness and fear. And the madness shall be brought to them by the ingestion of blue flame corn, which he shall have inadvertently brought to them, and to have eaten of, by The One himself. But he himself shall suffer no effect.
"'And there shall go out one of you to meet him, and gather him up, and he shall be saved from certain death thereby, being transported with the power of the Staff of Delrhynne to the abode, and there, these very words shall be read by that one unto The One, and he shall be made aware of his place.'" He paused momentarily, and then asked me, "Do you know where you are? Of course you don't, how silly of me to ask... well then let me make you aware of it. Heh. You, young man, are standing in the last bastion of living magic left in this world."
"What?" I replied incredulously. This had to be some sort of dream. Perhaps there were ghosts in the early morning mists after all, and this was how they attacked?
"It is as prophesied over a thousand years ago. 'There shall come a time when magic shall wane, and the world will be without wizards and empowered priests and monsters true, and the races shall run as one.' Aleptoc the Ancient, who was an elf."
"An elf? That's absurd, there are no elves. There is no such thing!" cried I. Exhaustion from my fright and stresses was taking it's toll on my mind, it seemed.
"'...though he will know naught of the elves' existence.'!" Cried the man, tracing his finger along a passage in the book.
"What are you talking about? What is going on?! I must awaken from this haunted dream at once!"
"'And he shall cry out to his rescuer that his sight is dream, and that it be haunted.'!" he yelled out, then slamming the book closed. "You ARE The One! Y'Zark, it is so good to have found you, my boy, so good to have hope again. I know you are confused, and I shall make things right." He stood, and made his way around the desk again, grasped his Staff where he had left it leaning against the wall, and began his shuffling gait to the door. I followed. Once again on the stone floor, which now felt thoroughly and unpleasantly cold and unyielding through my meager footwear, he tapped the Staff on the stone once again and spoke a Word, and again he was hovering in the air, just a touch off the top of it, and began his gliding descent with me in tow.
I followed him through a different route than we had taken upon our arrival and we were not long until arriving at a doorway which was like the others, but a mite smaller, and it too opened as my benefactor of sorts approached. I realized that I did not know his name.
"Oh my boy, I do apologize for my manners. The brain's a bit fuzzied with age and excitement, you know. I am who was known long past as the mighty Yaaron the Great, but now, few people know of me. My existence, as yours has been, is something of a secret, for the benefit of the world at large." As he finished saying this, he glided through the door and up another spiral staircase, this one much smaller and more tightly wound. I followed.
"And you are a wizard, I can see, but scarcely do I believe my eyes at the things you do!" I replied. "I do not understand why I am here, or what I have to do with this prophecy of yours, or what happened this morning. What is this 'blue flame corn', and where does it come from, and why was I not struck mad by eating it as were the others?" I queried.
"'...though it shall not be his madness upon eating of the corn...' no, you alone remained unafflicted with the madness of the corn, didn't you? Tell me, how did it taste to you, then?" asked Yaaron.
"Well," I began, recalling the experience with wonderment. "It is a sort of mystery to look at, and it smells as corn, but upon tasting it, the whole mouth cries out for joy at it's sweetness, and... and..."
"And what? Out with it, my boy, out with it. We haven't got forever, you know," he said, as we rose once more. I noticed the walls were getting considerably closer to us as we arose to the top of this tower.
"There is another sort of flavor to it that I cannot describe, and it is fantastic in it's expression to the tongue, so that one cannot help but continue eating it until full, and then lament the fullness which stops you from eating more."
"Indeed, as has always been the rough description. Blue flame corn is a strange thing indeed. But useful, no doubt." came his thoughtful reply.
Higher and higher we ascended, with no stop in sight. I began to grow a bit dizzy with the tight winding of the staircase.
"Useful?" I asked. "How is such a thing useful? And where does it come from?"
Now at this point gentle reader, you may be wondering, how does it come to pass that a sixteen year old farm boy speak in such an eloquent manner? Well it comes to pass because too many years have separated me from that boy, you see, and I no longer recall the exact cadence and particulars with which I surely spoke. So to make it easier for all to follow, I elected to write as I do now, instead of the slang and twang which were my habit then.
"Blue flame corn is a rare thing indeed, and it is so because it signals a strong shift in the magical balance of power in the earth, a shift toward greater strength. Since such shifts are rare, the resulting effects are rare. Different plants react to it differently. Corn, it seems, records some sort of picture in the kernels. We think it shows the proverbial 'flames of the power' rising up again. Did I say 'we'? Egad, I meant 'I'. After all, I am the last of 'us' aren't I?"
"Us who?" I asked. This was getting more and more confusing and fantastic by the moment.
"Us as in we who used to be the Last Council of Wizards, of whom I am all that remains. And as prophesied, it falls to me to pass on this great art before the Coming. But that is not for your thoughts just yet. In good time, in good time."
At last we arrived at the top of the spire, and my legs were aching. I was used to strenuous work, but climbing steps numbering in the hundreds and which seemed in the thousands was not something I was used to, and certain unaccustomed muscles made me aware of their complaints. I stood a moment and massaged them. Had I not been distracted with this confusion, I might have thought to ask a rest half way up.
The landing here at the top was small, barely enough space for two if they were hugging, so I remained on the second to top step. The door here was different from the others, being of dark gray, but shiny metal carved through with characters in some outlandish-looking foreign script. I could read not a single letter at that time, mind you, so it would not have mattered what language the writing was in. This door, which had no keyhole or handle, did not open at his approach; rather, he set his staff aside with a command of "Stay.", and wonder to my eyes, it stood upright without a hand to make it so, as he settled to the floor.
Now he searched his robes for something, and finding scraps of paper or bits of lint or some feathers or flowers long dried, he continued his search until his hand rested upon a key which was fashioned of a metal looking the exact same as the door, and carved likewise.
The key he showed to the door as though it were alive, and said aloud, "Open." And with that, the door swung open in obeyance, and we passed through it onto the walkway around the top of a minaret of such height above the ground that I was unable to look down.
"This is the top of the tower, the highest man made point in the entire world," he began. "We are gazing across this word from an altitude such that you must look down to see the eagles fly, and some clouds may live below this height as well. Right now the sky is clear, and you see - "
"Wait a minute! The sky is clear! It was raining at the window of your office, and thundering and lightning! How is this?" I cried.
"Ahem, please don't interrupt, Y'Zark. Now then, as you can see, the clouds are gone, as I have commanded, and the world spreads out below us." I hazarded a gaze across the horizon, holding to the impossibly thin golden railing for dear life, though I was nowhere close to being compelled to fall. "This world, at one time, supported a great variety of things that now have vanished, and this is because the magic has waned such that only I am left to keep it's secrets alive. There were other races, elves and dwarves and gnomes and halflings and others, but these were tied to the magic in one way or another, and with it, they died out or transformed. Now what is left is the human race.
"And, too, went the other creatures that roamed the land, living in part through magic. Some fell, some of weal, some walking between, all magical in their way. Life since the magic waned has been very dull indeed, with little to break the monotony of daily life but perhaps stories of the old times, which have come to be nothing more than stories, and no longer the historical accounts they once were.
"The world is dying without magic, because magic is the force that sustains all things creative and new. Without it there is little else but stagnation in the world. How long has it been since there was some form of invention that made things easier in life, Y'Zark?"
I did not know, and promptly said so, as I gazed increasingly bravely at the earth and land below me. Off to my right, an ocean spread out, and crashed at what may have been high cliffs but for their apparent tininess to me. To the left there was desert, and in front of me, a forest like thin green carpeting across the land. Clouds floated by far below, small and wispy, and on occasion I did indeed see a bird on the wing as well, though it was only because they moved so and contrasted with their background that I detected them at all.
"You, though, were seen long ago, you are The One who will take the magic and bring it back to the land. You are the savior of the world in that way, Y'Zark, for without this force, we are all to die faster than we can make up for. The plants grow shorter and less every year, and the crops grow weaker. The ground has little to give after just one harvest, and fallow fields begin to outnumber fields of crops. Lifespans shrink. It is true! All because the magic - the force that empowers life and change - has shrunk from the world. But now you have been found, and I can pass along the secrets to you that you need to know in order to bring it back to the world."
Imagine my surprise at this! I was beyond confusion, almost purely numb with wonder. This new responsibility did not register in my mind for a long moment.
"My natural life ended many years ago, Y'Zark. I live on through the power of magic, and my skill at gathering and mastering it. I am the last of all wizards, and without your help, not only will I pass on, but the entire world will as well. In the days when magic was here in strength, it would be a full five years that an apprentice would train before being granted official recognition of wizardly status, and then only be able to use simple magics. Time and magic are brothers, it was said, and to know the magic you must know time as well.
"It is as prophesied, though, and my time grows short. I do not have the time left in this world to teach you as I did all the others, for my life comes from the magic itself now, and that will be totally gone before I could finish my tutelage of you. So we must take an alternate course, you and I, and work together in a closer bond than student and master. It is expensive, this necessary action we must undertake, but it's expense is, hopefully, justified. There is no room for error on my part, and there is no room for error on your part. Soon, the fate of the world will rest squarely on your shoulders, my boy, though I would wish it could be otherwise. Fair well anyways, though, because I have faith in you, even though the prophecy no longer gazes into this time clearly."
This speech seemed to have wearied and saddened him, but he stood resolute regardless. I was growing increasingly worried, though, that he might be other than the madman I feared - hoped! - he was.
"Fetch me my Staff, Y'Zark," he said, and I turned to make it so. It was but a couple steps away, an easy jaunt, and but seconds later, my hand closed around it, and the last prophesied action came to pass.