Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chapter 1: The Apprentice and the Witch

The first chapter of my work in progress, which doesn't have a name yet. Any feedback is welcome and appreciated. To those of you who know me from other sites, I came up with the character Ezra before I started using it as a screen name, and he's not meant to be me.


CHAPTER 1: The Apprentice and the Witch

The mirror was broken. Not cracked; it simply wasn’t working. Sebastian sighed and wiped at his eyes. A few moments later his reflection did the same.

“What do you think?” he asked, turning to look at the cat sitting on the table. It was huge, with lean muscle and shiny black fur. It stared at him wordlessly with deep, amber eyes. “A lot of good you are.” He leaned forward and tapped on the glass. His reflection tapped back silently.

“I have no idea what’s wrong with it,” Sebastian admitted. “I’ll work on it in the morning.”

The cat hissed and leapt silently to the floor.

“Alright, alright,” he said, holding his hands up in surrender. “Who needs sleep anyway?”

The cat turned away with a dismissive flick of its tail and sauntered out of the room.

“Damn slave driver,” Sebastian grumbled
under his breath before turning back to the mirror. He absentmindedly brushed his hair from his eyes before placing his palm gently against the glass. A faint blue light trickled from between his fingers.

As an apprentice artificer, he’d been working with magical objects for two years. He’d advanced quickly, but every so often his master would send a particularly difficult job his way. The mirror was more complex than anything he’d ever seen, and he was no closer to fixing it than when he’d started. He didn’t even know what it was supposed to do.

Minutes dragged by as he studied the mirror from every angle, muttering to himself. The candle flickered, sending the shadows of his workroom into violent dances. He slipped deeper into his seat and his eyes fluttered closed.

It was well after midnight when he awoke. He suppressed a yawn and pushed himself out of the chair. A quick glance around the room told him that he was alone, which was all the invitation he needed to go finish the night in his bed. He blew out the candle, stepped out into the hall, and ran face first into the burglar.   

He stumbled back in surprise. His first thought was that Alicia was wandering the house, but the shadowy figure in front of him was much too tall to be his little sister. Before he could think of another explanation, the intruder punched him in the face.

Sebastian reeled back, hitting the door frame as the intruder turned to run up the stairs. He stumbled after, lip stinging and the taste of blood on his tongue. “Stop!” he called thickly. The figure ignored him, climbing to the second floor landing. He reached the top of the stairs and held his breath to listen. Nothing moved in the darkness.

A door at the end of the hall opened and a young girl stepped out, rubbing at her eyes. “Sebby? I heard yelling.”

Sebastian crossed over to her and gently pushed her back into the room. “It’s nothing,” he said, leaning to pat her gently on the head. “Go back to bed Alicia. Lock the door and don’t open it until I tell you to.”

“Why?”

“Just do it, please?”

“‘Kay,” she mumbled, pushing the door with both hands. Sebastian waited until he heard the lock slide into place. His sister mumbled through the door, “Brooks is gonna get you if you keep making noise.”

“Yeah, yeah. Go to bed.” Sebastian pulled away from the door to search the other rooms, but a sudden blinding pain exploded at the back of his skull. The hall twisted as the ground rushed up to meet him. He blinked wearily while a steading ringing sounded in his ears. He was vaguely aware of somebody pulling on his arms and legs, and his head bounced off the steps as he was moved.

The ringing died away as his vision swam back into focus. He’d been dragged into the kitchen and was lying on his stomach with his wrists tied behind his back. He stretched his neck to get a good look at the room, but the movement sent a new surge of pain through his head. He moaned.

“Sorry about that,” a young woman said behind him. “I wasn’t expecting you to wake up.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Shopping,” she answered. “I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed.”

“Well then, you’re a lousy thief.  I’m just a poor apprentice. Do you want me to point you toward my master’s home?”

The woman laughed softly. “I think I’ll pass. So, what does this do?”

Sebastian waited for her to continue, and shook his head when she didn’t. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“This mirror. This is odd.”

“Yeah, it’s broken. If you’re looking for an artifact, there’s a self-lighting candlestick in the study that should fetch a decent price. Just take it and leave.”

There was a long pause before she asked, “That was an artifact?”

“Was?” Sebastian groaned, his head throbbing. He managed to lean to his side and look up at her. The woman was a little older than him, nineteen or so, with straight black hair and green eyes. Her face was angular with high, sharp cheekbones . She held herself with a certain nonchalance, and grinned at him when their eyes met. She tossed a bent candlestick onto the ground beside him.

“Sorry,” Sebastian said casually. “There’s not a whole lot else to steal here. You should probably just go before Brooks gets back.”

“Brooks?”

“He’s a friend of my master. Lives here too. Mean old bastard. You really don’t want to be here when he gets back.”

The woman’s grin widened. “Liar. I watched this place for three days. Nobody else lives here.”

“Three whole days and you get to walk out with a broken candlestick. You really are a lousy thief.”

“You’re pretty mouthy for being tied up like that.”

Sebastian managed a lopsided shrug. “You should get out of here.” He paused a moment and sighed. “Too late.”

The woman cast a quick glance over her shoulder before turning back to him. “Make this easy for both of us, and I can be on my way. Tell me where—”

Sebastian watched as a dark shape flew through the air, slamming into the woman. Her head snapped back and she dropped to the floor. Almost fifty pounds of black cat landed on top of her. It leapt to the floor and circled around him. He winced as sharp claws scraped across his wrists, but with a short tug, the cords holding him snapped.

“Is she dead?” he asked, sitting up and wincing as his head throbbed.

The cat gave her a quick look before answering in a deep voice. “No. Tie her up. She smells like a witch, so block her magic.”

Sebastian lifted the thief into a sitting position and used some copper wire from a bin on the table to tie her wrists together. He then wrapped the wire around each wrist a dozen times before pressing his hands to the thick bands of wire. A faint glow bled from between his fingers, and when he moved his hands away, the wire had melded into solid metal bracelets. She tried to pull away, but the blow had left her dazed.

Brooks examined the bands with a practiced eye. “A little rough, but passable.”

Sebastian crossed to a spout on the wall, filled a glass with water, and dumped it over her head. She let out a startled gasp, arching away from the cold water as her eyes snapped into focus. He turned to Brooks. “Should I go ahead and call the city guard?”

“Not just yet,” the cat answered. “I think we should take her to Gaston in the morning.”

Sebastian nodded and settled down in his chair. After a few minutes he looked back to the thief. “So, Brooks here thinks you’re a witch.” She turned her gaze downward, which he took as a confirmation. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

“Probably,” Brooks said, earning himself a pair of angry looks. He ignored them and curled up in the corner.

“They say the witches are cursed,” Sebastian said. “That plagues and disaster follow in their wake. You don’t exactly look plague-ridden.”

“That is an imperfect explanation,” Brooks said. “It’s the spirits that cause pain wherever they go.”

Sebastian nodded. The spirits were common knowledge, even among the lower class. Witches made deals with the spirits to gain their power, but it rarely worked in their favor. “What deal did you make?”

“I didn’t. I’m a second generation witch. My mother made a deal with a spirit before I was born. It killed her in the end.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” Sebastian said. She shrugged and they fell silent. After another few minutes, he asked, “So, what should we call you?” She looked at him with an arched eyebrow and he continued, “I mean, if you’d prefer not to tell us, we could just call you ‘thief’, or ‘witch’, or maybe ‘hey, you’.”

She sighed. “Haley.”

“Well, it’s almost dawn. Master Ellard should be awake by now.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to just give me to the watch?”

“And deprive a lord of the Academy the right to personally oversee his estate?” Brooks asked. “Perish the thought.”

Sebastian pulled Haley to her feet and began to lead her to the door. “Come on, Sebby was it?”

“Sebastian,” he corrected her, shoulders stiffening at the reminder of how close she’d been to Alicia.

“Sebastian, there was no harm done, right?”

“Don’t bother appealing to me. What the cat says goes.”

“You’re kidding,” she said.

Sebastian held an arm up in answer, showing her the dozens of faint white scars crisscrossing his skin. “It’s easier to just shut up and do what he says. Don’t worry. Master Ellard is a good man. Strict at times, but he isn’t cruel.”

“If you two are done talking,” Brooks said, pushing his way through the catflap on the front door. Sebastian opened it and led Haley into the cool morning.

The Academy towered over the nearby buildings: a monolith of dark stone reaching toward the heavens. They walked for another ten minutes after the building came into view before finally stopping at its doors. Brooks led them wordlessly past the guards and up into the dim halls.

The precision of the tower’s construction had always impressed Sebastian the most. The perfect cut of each stone, the even spacing and gentle curve of the steps. The skill and patience of the artificers was evident in every inch of their home. They climbed the perfect stone steps, guided by bright crystals embedded into the wall every few steps. The masters’ living quarters were near the top of the tower.

The front room of Gaston Ellard’s quarters were in disarray. A chair had been knocked across the room. Papers had been scattered and the table overturned. A bookshelf laid on its side, its contents spilling out across the rug. Brooks’s ears flattened against his skull as he slinked further into the room.

“What happened?” Sebastian asked under his breath.

Brooks ignored him and led them further in. A short hall led to two rooms, Master Ellard’s bedroom and his study. The study door was ajar and a faint rustling came from beyond. Sebastian eased it open gently.

A young man with short, wavy hair stood before his master’s desk, rifling through a stack of personal journals. He reached the end of one and flung it carelessly over his shoulder before starting on the next.

Brooks darted into the room, barely more than a dark blur. He launched himself at the intruder’s back with an angry hiss. The young man turned, bringing his hand up in an almost lazy gesture. Brooks slammed into an invisible force with a surprised grunt and a bubble shimmered into being around him.

“Well, this is a pleasant surprise,” the man said, rapping the bubble with his knuckles to send it drifting across the room. Brooks clawed uselessly at the prison.

“Who are you?” Sebastian asked. “How did you get through the wards, and where is Master Ellard?”

“The lovely Haley,” the man said, crossing the room. “How good to see you.” He reached out, but she pulled away.

“How do you know me?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t. Not yet, anyway. But I knew your mother well.”

Haley glanced at the bubble he’d effortlessly trapped Brooks in. “You’re Ezra, aren’t you? The spirit she made a deal with?”

“The one and the same,” he said, turning away from them.

“What are you doing here? That deal was between you and her, I have nothing to do with it.”

Debatable,” Ezra said, reaching the desk and lifting one of the journals. “But that’s neither here nor there. You see, I’m not actually here about you.”

Between one moment and the next, the spirit vanished. There was no light or sound, he just stopped being there. Sebastian blinked. A hand grabbed his shoulder gently, and he flinched. “You see,” Ezra continued, reaching around to hold the journal in front of Sebastian, “I have a job for you.”

10 comments:

  1. I'm Dasponi on Fimfiction, the one who told you to start a blog, and I have to say I really enjoyed this. I'm quite big on fantasy so this was right up my street. In terms of constructive criticism I have a few minor errors for you:
    "Sebastian waited until he hear the lock" I think that should be "heard" and "He blinked wearily while a steading ringing sounded in his ears" and I think that should be "while". "Papers had been scatters and the table overturned" should be "scattered".

    Other than that I really did enjoy it.

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    1. Hi there. Thank you for the first of what will hopefully be many comments, and thanks for pointing those out. No matter how many times you look at a chapter, something'll slip by. I guess that's what first drafts are for.

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  2. ha, cool opening to your story...nice cliff hanger as well leaving us wanting more for next time....mark sent me over...welcome to blogging...

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    1. Thanks for the welcome and compliments.

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  3. I was recommended over by Mark, too. Great start! However, I was just wondering if there is a synopsis of the story I can read somewhere? Because I really like to know a little more about a story before I get into it.

    But what little I got from this chapter was very promising. I especially liked Sebastian's profession. It sounded interesting. Several slight story issues, though. For instance, why did he leave his sister, locked in a room alone, without supervision or even a "everything's alright" before he left? Plus, it was a little choppy. The action was awesome, the scenes were great, but there was little to no interim between scenes. You need a bit more flow there.

    I really like this, though. As a first draft, it's remarkable. I want to find out what Sebastian's own talents are, and where his relationship with Haley is going. Thanks for this great read, and good luck on your project!

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    1. There isn't yet, but it's something I should probably do anyway, so I'll have it up in a day or two.

      Thanks.

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  4. I very much enjoyed this opening chapter. It's a fantastic beginning, and really catches your attention. There are always grammatical errors and ways to re-word things, but generally speaking I think it's well-written and flows smoothly. (I'm a History major and have to read a LOT of books, so I know a good story when I read one.)

    Look forward to the following chapters! Oh and I found you from Mark's blog. :)

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  5. Greetings from Mark's blog. The only problem I have with this is the line "her head snapped back". Generally I associate that with a neck being broken and the person being turned into a paraplegic or a corpse.

    Otherwise, well done. Also, get rid of the captcha for comments if you can't. If you're worried about spammers or bots, it's better to just moderate comments yourself.

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    1. Yeah, that's probably something I need to look at. As for the captcha, thanks for pointing that out. I didn't realize it was turned on.

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