1-Spell the First
Corlan Hayes moistened his right index finger and turned the page of his crimson leather-bound book, the most expensive one he had ever purchased; not surprisingly, it was mostly blank: only the first fifteen of its three hundred or so pages were filled. He had of course written in what text there currently was. "Well, Core, Ms. Michelson had to cancel, so I believe you're free for the rest of the day. Would you like me to put you on the work schedule for next week?" Corlan looked up from his spellbook. "No thanks, Kim. I have a couple of midterms coming up." Kimberly Anderson, manager of the Oak Leaf Salon and Corlan's employer, nodded to her herself. "Well, good luck then. I'll call you to work out times if we get any new appointments."
Most college students have at least a part-time during their college career. Few, however, have one as unusual as the young man who sat in one of the chairs normally reserved for customers. Few employees, however, would mistake Corlan for a patron. Although he sometimes worked on the payroll as a salaried part-timer, he usually worked by commission, taking appointments as his schedule would allow. Things like exfoliations, pore-clearing treatments, and facials. The interesting thing was that Corlan's method involved a sort of "alternative medicine", as he never actually touched his clients. Instead, Corlan had picked up and learned a very specific collection of spells that governed the transmutation of human skin, dead skin flakes, acne, and blackheads among them. He was certified in the few certifications that existed—The State Board of Health and a few national mage societies among them—and it remained a decent way to earn spending money by providing a service that few were aware of, and even fewer could perform.
Corlan was an unusual specimen, more so by twenty-first century standards. Arcane (and for that matter, holy) magic had fallen out of popularity in the past two hundred or so years. That's not to say it was forgotten—an engineer might get a permanent reinforcing spell cast on a highway bridge during its construction, and most shopping malls had at least one minor magic user capable of reading thoughts and intents to prevent shoplifting and fights. Yet, while magic had not lost its potency or usefulness, most of its solemn pomp and ceremonial value was long gone. The endless debates over such naming semantics over who qualified as an "apprentice", a "wizard", a "wild mage" (who much preferred to call themselves "sorcerers" to the jeering of their more erudite peers), a "warlock", or even a "taskmage" had been resolved with the word that commoners and peasants once used as a blanket term: mage.
Some of the old school sneered at the use of magic these days. Most who dabbled in magic used it as a minor hobby or as an additional notch on the tool belt, and thus never got past the old title of "taskmage". The few of the old guard who complained were typically of at least some elven blood. Most of the ones that weren't would have liked to complain, but were in the ground. And let's face it, most Christian priests with access to holy magic had long forgotten or misplaced their spells of resurrection, so those in the ground still wouldn't be complaining. Few made arcana their career. Those that did typically attended the handful of magical academies left (The Sercian Academy of Magic among them) and then set to work in the military or otherwise as professional "troubleshooters" of some sort.
Yet Corlan Q. Hayes looked very much the part of a mage. His cinnamon hair was cropped modestly short. He carried a spellbook. He wore a flamboyant, loose-fitting, collared uniform jacket in burgundy with embroidered designs in blue, silver, and black of his own design. And the jacket had a trio of straps that held the wizard's staff he wore in public—a six foot piece of stained straight pine one might expect to find as a hiking stick, except for the fact that most hiking sticks did not have a near-perfect clear hexagonal quartz crystal the length of one's hand topping the upper end of it. And if you paid close attention, Corlan's eyes were a little too green. As if there was slightly too much iris and not enough white to his eyes. Except for the fact that he carried a large messenger bag and preferred a rollerball pen to a quill, he would have fit the stereotype to the letter, had the general populace remembered what the stereotype was.
• • •
"Good afternoon, Mr. Hayes. I had figured you would still be working." Corlan shook his head at the proprietor of the Arkheln's Aroma coffee shop. "Nope, James. Lady cancelled, so I'm off for the day and for the weekend." "So, then, what might I get you?" Corlan pondered it momentarily. "My standard, only as an iced frappé, milk, no sugar." James shrugged his broad shoulders. Corlan's "standard" consisted of Pero, a faux coffee made from malted barley, chicory, and rye, with a shot of guarana-derived caffeine to made it almost, but not quite, like coffee. "Bah. I don't know how on Eurden you drink the stuff." The dwarf shook his head and looked to his stores, which were very much adjusted for his four-foot stature. "They taste better." James shrugged. "Why go to the trouble of making an almost-but-not-quite-there duplicate? Heaven knows, I'm a barista. I know these things."
Corlan nodded and took a seat at one of the stools at the coffee bar. "You're the only dwarven coffee barista I know." James rolled his eyes. "That's because I'm the only one in the state. Heck, I'm the only dwarf you know, period." James Arkheln was early in his forties, comparable to a human twenty-something, and was counted among the few close friends Corlan had. Arkheln had graduated a few years back from Cordova University with a B.A. in Business and a minor in Marketing. And the man had taken it upon his entrepreneurial self to counter the machinations of large coffee shop chains named after Herman Melville characters. His philosophy was simple: make the best coffee he could without frills, phony terms, or prices that started at six dollars a cup.
"Hmm…out, wouldn't you know it? Erin told me there was one other fellow that requested a hot cup of the stuff, and she must have used the last of the can." Erin was one of James' two employees. "You know, I'm just going to order a case of the stuff and write 'Corlan's Coffee-Like Substance' on the side to reserve it for you." James chuckled. Corlan shrugged. "Works for me." "So, mind if I go about making you a frappé with regular Coffea arabica?" "That's fine." James grinned. "It's easier on me, too. Takes half the time."
The bell above the door tingled. James looked at the blue-suited gentleman that walked in the door. "Hello, sir! What can I get you?" The man loosened his tie. "I'd like a Grande coffee, just plain and black." The dwarf raised a suspicious eyebrow as he pushed Corlan's cold beverage across the counter. "Sir, have you been to this establishment?" "I have not." "Well, not to be rude, sir, but this isn't central Kernin. We do not use pretentious, fictitious terms for my establishment's beverages. We use standard Anglish terms, such as large, medium, and small. And yes, I am not afraid to market a size that is called 'small'. So, starting again. Hello, sir! What can I get you?" The businessman considered this momentarily, and asked, "May I have a medium cup of black coffee?" Arkheln nodded. "Certainly, sir. That will be one dollar." "Really? With tax, what do I owe you?" "Just one dollar, sir. The sales tax is already included." "Hmm." The man laid a single slip of currency down while the barista worked his beveraging skills. The businessman then sipped it, nodded in approval, and sat down by the window, where he opened his briefcase and removed a newspaper.
"So, James, I've been meaning to ask you…why did you go into the coffee business of all things?" "Oh, you mean, besides to remind the world that Melville died an unappreciated pauper like he should have?" The man stroked his short trimmed goatee in thought. "Well, the simple answer to that is that it was close enough to the family business to be familiar and distant enough to be an escape." "And what was the family business?" "Brewing. Ever heard of Arkheln Ale?" "I think so, why?" "That's my clan's newest invention. Previously, they just focused themselves on spirits so concentrated, only a dwarf or a Kernin Northerner could even stand to smell the stuff. So, I figured…coffee…quite the invention really. One of the best things humans came up with. I mean, elves, naturally, invented tea. Dwarves invented beer, of course. So, I'd thought I'd try my hand at the other side of the industry." "And it looks you've been fairly successful, then."
Corlan finished off his cold coffee and began crunching on the ice. "That I have. In fact, I'm going to be opening a second store." Corlan looked up from the glass of ice. "Really? I know you've been talking about one for some time." "Yep. It will be another two to three years before it's totally up and running, though." James wrinkled his beard. "And, I was going to mention. I talked with your dad, and if, after you graduate, you don't find what you're looking for, you're always welcome to work here. I might even be able to squeeze you into the manager's slot for the new store." "Wow." James nodded. "Just think about it, will you?" The dwarf tapped his friend on the hand with a smile before he retrieved the empty glass. He then got a slight frown and peered at Corlan. "I believe your pants are ringing, my friend." Corlan blinked, realized what the sound was, and began frantically digging into the various pockets of his jacket, removing an obnoxiously thin clamshell cellular phone. "Hello, this is Corlan's pants." James laughed and went back to cleaning the glass. Corlan's eyes wandered slowly, and a few seconds later, he closed the phone and returned it to what was probably a different pocket than before. "So, did they manage to find your pants?" "No, sadly. Automated message. My books are in."
• • •
Twenty minutes later, Corlan was standing in the checkout line of the Squire's Loft, the only collegiate bookstore he knew of that that was both cheap and sounded like the name of a pub. The line was comfortably slow, built out of Cordova students purchasing those last one or two textbooks that were out of stock at the start of the year. And thanks to the man in front of him, who was at least six foot five and built like the average Neanderthal in terms of shoulder width, he wasn't quite sure of his position in line. It was somewhere near the front, though—although he wasn't secure if he was second or in line or eleventh. The man in front of him was twitching and starting to tense his shoulders. Corlan could hear a woman in front of them, apparently struggling with her textbooks. "Eggh…here's the one for Business Calculus." The IR scanner on the counter politely chirped. "And thi…this one, too." "Will you hurry the hell up? I have to be somewhere in ten minutes!" The woman, still totally obscured by the giant (or possibly troll) responded, "I'm sorry. They didn't have the pocket editions, so I had to get the big ones. And you know how that is. I'm trying to hurry." The man started vibrating visibly with rage. He lunged forward. The woman screamed, and moments later there was a loud thud on the side of the check-out counter. The woman running the checkout was flabbergasted. "Sir...!" The man gave a contemptuous "humph" and walked around to the side and directly up to the checkout counter. Corlan looked down at the injured woman, who had blood running across her face and in her blonde hair. She was also fourteen inches tall and had a pair of large, delicate wings growing out of her back.
A brief snap indicated that the three straps on Corlan's back had been released. He readied his staff, and with both hands, struck the man across the right side of the face with the quartz crystal with more than enough force to knock the man backwards onto the floor. Corlan twirled the staff into a ready position. "Bastard!! What the hell was that for?" A few of the other onlookers talked in quasi-audible voices. "Did he just hit Adam Davis?" "I think so. The flashy guy's going to get creamed." Corlan turned as his head as Davis wiped the blood from his nose. "Do you know who the hell I am, man?" Corlan grinned. "I don't know and I don't care. I do know that apparently your mother never taught you that you shouldn't pick on those smaller than you." The football player got off the ground. "Heh. I'm Adam Davis, starting lineman for the university, you nobody. And you just invited yourself to a bruisin'." Adam pressed his right fist into his left hand and popped a neck joint. Corlan on the other hand, held his staff out diagonally, and with a firm conviction, spoke. "Wilia ve'lasse aul enn hwinda. N'taurn'iirtal!"
The linebacker immediately shot into the air by about a foot. Corlan extended his left index finger and moved his left hand in a clockwise circle. In perfect following, Adam turned a clockwise circle so that his head was suspended a good foot above the ground, hanging by his right foot on a support that wasn't there. "And you happen to be an utter jackass. I may be a 'nobody' to you, but I also happen to be a full arcane mage who's not in the mood for taking crap. And I think you just deserved to go to the end of the line." Corlan moved his staff, directing the floating and bewildered man so that he quickly floated to the end of the line, where Corlan released his concentration. Adam floated where he was, unable to move. "Oh, and you can have these." Corlan scooped up the three books Adam had laid on the counter and with the help of his advanced levitation spell, flung them back at the inverted floating man so that his books gently stacked themselves on the ground next to their future owner. The young mage then placed his staff back over his back and reached back and closed the snap-clasps. He smiled politely at the saleswoman behind the counter. "Excuse me miss, but I don't think this young woman was done checking out." The woman nodded. The IR scanner beeped in agreement.
"Thank you again." Corlan finished the gravity negation incantation he was working on and looked up at the pixie woman sitting on the bench. "No problem. You have to admit the guy was a jerk, regardless. Besides, I'm probably distantly related to you, so I can I always blame it on common blood." The diminutive woman wiped her overly-green eyes and looked at the young man five times her height. Corlan frowned. "Um, you're still bleeding." "Really? Sorry." The pixie ran her hand over her face and looked at the red blood now on her hand. The young mage again dug through his pockets, managed to find his cell phone, and then promptly put it back, albeit in a different pocket than where it started. Hayes lowered his shoulders and mumbled. "Stupid spells with components." He eyed a nearby flower box on the window of the Squire's Loft, walked over, and scooped up a handful of moderately old, imported black loamy soil. Corlan they pinched off a small portion of it with his left hand and applied it to the pixie's face. "Um, what are you doing?" "Just hold still please." Corlan cleared his throat. "Oh patron of the wood, let thyself be renewéd." The dirt on the woman's face glowed in a pale green inner light before vanishing into nothing. The woman blinked and touched her face. The blood and the wounds had abruptly vanished. "Fey magic. Those eyes…you have fey blood in you, don't you?" Corlan nodded. "Thanks so much for your help. Oh, right…my name is Isolde." "And I'm Corlan." The woman lifted her now weightless bag of books. "Thanks for this…I do wish they made pocket editions for some of these…it would make things easier." She stood up on the bench, closed her eyes, and flew down the sidewalk on her pair of gossamer wings. Corlan stared down at his own last book and watch, and realized what time it was.
• • •
With dinner done and accounted for, Corlan was strolling in the shopping arcade just southwest of campus. He perused the season's latest console video games (which looked surprisingly similar to last year's, but with slightly improved graphics) before pinging back and forth by the different storefronts. He was looking for something, he just wasn't sure what. This is why he suddenly found himself at Bartlon & Sons' bookstore, despite not remembering actually entering the store. "Excuse me." The thirty-something behind the counter looked up from his book, which looked suspiciously like an Ayn Rand work. "Yes? Can I help you with something?" Corlan nodded. "I was hoping to look at any arcane spells you had for sale." The employee looked at his customer. Most of them didn't usually wear jackets embroidered with Elven designs or carry staves on their backs. "Well, you certainly look like you'd be able to use them. Nice jacket." "Thanks." "Just a sec. Let me grab the manager." The man swung his legs out of his recumbent position on the front desk and reached for the store telephone. "Yeah, hey…is Ryan around? There's a mage at the front desk, wants to look at spells…yeah. Hey Ryan, we've got a customer who wants to take a look at arcana. Could you come down here?"
A few moments later, a man of the same age yet with a firmer conviction, greyer hair, and a cleaner haircut came down the central staircase. "Oh, hi again. Come back for something else? I think we restocked last week. Not too sure, though. Corlan, wasn't it?" The youth nodded. "And you're still Ryan, according to your nameplate." The manager looked down at his shirt. "Apparently so. Now let's see." Ryan took out a tubular key and after finagling it into the lock of a sliding cabinet inset in the wall, he removed a large, wooden case—a tall square box in dark wood. A large, reddish circular symbol adorned the top of the box, appearing as if painted on…sort of. Ryan took out a large, thin metal key ring, where among the tumbler, circular, and warded lock keys, there happened to be a small gold signet ring. He tilted the key ring and pressed the engraved top surface of the signet ring onto the top of the box. There was a soft clicking sound.
The interior of the box consisted of a number of tall, square cubby holes, about two-thirds of which contained identical aluminum cylinders, reminiscent of cigar case except the ends were flat and had small labels. Corlan's eyes wandered the labels, which were generally in order of their relative powers, organized by the Bertram system of spell levels: a globally recognized and orderly system that classified spells by entirely abstract qualities and opinions. "Do you have any sevens?" Ryan shook his head. "I think we have a six in there. There's not really a demand for anything higher, and besides if there were it would probably be slightly illegal. I don't think I cast anything higher than a three. You're probably one of the few people in the whole city who can comfortably cast a spell that high." Corlan's hand popped the only case labeled with a "6" on the end out of the box. It read Maynard's Channeling Sigils. "I've actually been looking for this. How much do I owe you?" Ryan glanced at the chart inset to the underside of the lid to the wood box. "Eighty-five, plus tax. Anything else?" "No thanks." Corlan handed the slightly-younger and skuzzier man a check card and signed the receipt while Ryan put the box of spells away. The mage then put the receipt in his wallet, while the aluminum scroll case found its way to an elastic loop on the inside of his jacket put there for just such a purpose.
"Core?" Corlan spun around and was met with young woman with short copper hair and a trademark smirk, her shoulders-crossed position hanging onto a single plastic bag. "Hey, Perry. What's up?" Perry was Perdita "Perry" Walker, who went by the nickname for easily discernable reasons. "Well, I have the late shift at James' tonight. I can't leave Erin working the counter by herself." Perry was an old high school friend of Corlan, and the other of James Arkheln's two employees. It was through her that Corlan had met the proprietor. "I was just wondering. Found a new spell, but that's it. You?" She held up her bag. "Books…thankfully, they're all for pleasure reading. I already have all my classes squared away." "I got my last textbook this afternoon." "Good to hear. Mind if we talk while on the way to the Aroma?" Corlan's feet started down the sidewalk, while Perry hadn't skipped a beat. "How's Engineering Physics going for you?" Corlan smirked. "It's a bit difficult, sure, but considering how much I stand out, it's worth it. I mean, I violate Newtonian Physics all the time, often on a daily basis. So I figure my professors need some excitement." Perry chuckled. "Good to hear. Just don't get on the wrong side of them. I had a class last semester where the instructor just flat-out hated me, but I didn't figure it out until after the drop period." Perry frowned and rubbed her forehead.
"You okay?" "Fine. Anyways…it was one of those classes where…" "Where?" Perry blinked and shook her head. "Man…what was I talking about? I mean, it may sound crazy, but I can't remember." Corlan cinched his eyebrows down. Perry had flickered…as if she was not a person, but an image on a television that had too much static. The flicker happened again, and the woman momentarily went translucent. She then leaned over and started hacking. A large spot of dark blood hit the ground. "Perry?" She continued hacking. Corlan reached for his cell phone. He flipped it open, where the screen proudly displayed "network interference". He closed it shut, and spun his right wrist. "Elea faernatie!" As the cantrip for detecting magical aura levels finished, the usual tingling feeling came into his body, and instantly escalated. The resulting reaction knocked him flying to the ground, spinning his mind in a blender of over-sensitized magical response.
When Corlan came to his senses, he got up. Perry was still hacking up blood and the strange bile, and by this time, she was almost as transparent as a ghost, while a crowd of horrified yet entranced onlookers had crowded around her and Corlan. And whatever the effect was, Corlan knew two things: His passive senses for magic couldn't pick it up, and trying to actively detect it with a normally useful, sensitive low-level spell was not a good idea. "Cor…lan." The mostly transparent girl reached forward, and promptly fell to the ground. Her body shimmered. Corlan looked down. There was a faint forest green outline around him, his own magical aura passively reacting to something. There was a tremendous, silent explosion of white light that filled Corlan's eyes and blinded him.
When his sight came back, Perry was gone. No friend, no bloodstains on the ground. No crowd of onlookers. Wait…Corlan looked over and saw a man wearing a yellow scarf that had previously been watching the scene unfold. "Excuse me, sir!" "Yes?" "Wh…what happened to the girl you watching?" "I beg your pardon?" "You were standing over there…" Corlan pointed at the now spotless section of arcade pavement. "…watching a girl disappear. What are you saying?" "Listen, son. I have no idea what you're talking about." "I was next to her!" "Um…you were walking by yourself. I didn't notice you with anyone. Do you need a shrink or something?" Corlan's mouth was agape. It didn't matter what kind of spell you were using. People didn't tend to disappear out of existence and out of people's memories all at once. Even an archwizard couldn't pull it off easily…or at all for that matter.