6 Feb 2018 – The Arcanist

Scott Summers365 Stories, Fantasy

Image

Photo by Uroš Jovičić on Unsplash


The old wizard’s tower always managed to loom just on the horizon.   Aneta first caught sight of it before she stepped off the boat: a single, ivory tower shooting up from the heart of Ganathas.  It tilted, just off center, as though she were looking at the haft of a spear thrown by some otherworldly warrior, its tip embedded deep into the bedrock of the earth.

That tower loomed over Aneta while she wound through the city streets, its white, weathered stone more defined to her meager vision with each passing step.  Ganathas was home to many great heroes from the previous war.  Calanath, the great wizard, stood a rank above them all.  According to the Guild, he was the only arcanist with a true understanding of time itself.

The base of the tower was located at the center of a small garden plot, surrounded by simple wooden fencing and rows of tilled earth.  The entire composition looked out of place in the heart of the city, where thatch-roofed, stone buildings lined simple stone paths on either side of the tower, packed so tightly that a small child could hardly squeeze between them.

Aneta ignored the warning about solicitation and trespassing as she opened the half-height gate and closed it behind her.  She hurried up the path toward the rounded door inlaid against the stone at the base of the structure.  The path to the door was no more than three hundred paces, but as she walked, it seemed to stretch out before her, elongating itself with each step she took.

It was nearly nightfall when she reached the door.  The sun had set, and Aneta could just see the stars winking to life in the sky overhead.  She clenched her palm into a fist and gave an exhausted knock against the wood.  Then, she sat down on the hard-packed earth to catch her breath.

She was gasping, hardly able to breathe.  The air around her seemed thick, heavy.  It dragged at her, made her entire body work as she gasped at it.  Time crawled.  Aneta forced her chest to keep moving.

When the sound of locks clicking echoed through the door, she almost wept with joy.  But even that seemed to take an age.  Why? The thought passed through the back of her dazed mind while she studied the splinters in the wood.  Slowly — achingly slowly — they seemed to retreat from her field of vision.

A man replaced them:  tall, swathed in plain robes, with hard, dark eyes staring down into her soul.  Aneta looked up at those dark eyes, which glinted in the unforgiving moonlight as it passed overhead.

“You’ve some nerve coming all the way here,” the man said.  “What is it that you want?”

Aneta struggled to her feet.  “Are you Calanath the Wise?”

The man gave a slow nod.  “I am.  And you are?”

“Aneta,” she gasped.  “Your new apprentice.  Could I have some water?”

At this, the old man’s eyes softened.  “Apprentice?  What day is it?”  He turned, looked toward something hidden behind the tower wall, and gasped as he turned back to her.  “Ah!  Come in, come in!  I’m very sorry about that!”

Aneta stumbled through the door and nearly collapsed as the morass she’d previously experienced fell away.  She seemed to move again with ease, at a steady clip across the width and breath of the tower.

“Here, here,” Calanath said, pushing a glass of blue liquid and a loaf of bread into her hands.  “Take this.  It will reverse the effects of the temporal sickness that you’re currently experiencing.”

“Temporal . . . ?”

“Time.”  Calanath gesticulated at the world around them.  “You’ve just experienced a temporal shift.  The spatial rift tends to make the body unwell as it passes through the arcane fluctuation.  I posted a sign at the front of the property.  Did you see it?”

Aneta nodded, but the memory was vague. She drank and ate and felt the pressure on her body ease.  It seemed to reorient itself, as though she’d been dizzy and her head was finally righting itself.

“No matter.  You made it.  That’s an impressive feat in its own right.  Most don’t have the courage to struggle on.  They find that a simple walk from the fence to the tower is taking far longer than expected and turn away for fear that their mind is playing tricks on them.”

“It isn’t?” Aneta asked.  Her words slurred.  She drank again.

“Heavens no!  But temporal spellcraft is hard to spot if you don’t recognize the signs.  I suppose that’s a matter for another time.  How are you feeling?”

Aneta chewed, swallowed.  “Ill.”

“Understandable.  Just rest.  We’ll begin your lessons tomorrow.”

“With respect,” Aneta said.  “I believe we’ve already begun.”

Calanath glanced at the door, then smiled.  “I suppose you’re correct.”