Chapter One: The Universe and You
"Push, you useless hag, push! This child ain't going to be coming out on its own! You've got-to-push!"
Seventeen year old Genetri, covered in perspiration and in extreme amounts of pain, tried to obey the midwife's orders and clenched her abdominal muscles down hard. Her gingery red hair was plastered to her forehead; it got in her eyes and tickled her freckled nose. Sky blue eyes squeezed closed, and fingers curled into fists at her sides, causing her nails to make crescent-shaped gashes in her sweaty palms. She had never given birth before; she hoped never to do it again.
'From now on I'm going to tie my legs together,' she mused.
The midwife dipped an already blood-soaked towel into a barrel of murky water and then wrung the surplus liquid from it. She dabbed the cloth around Genetri's inner thighs. "Come on, push again!" the wizened old woman admonished her.
Three pushes and five impatient reprimands later, the baby's head could be seen through the mess of birthing fluid.
"Oh, gods!" Genetri moaned through clenched teeth. "This is Hell! Absolute Hell. Surely I am dying. Please, wretched crone, tell me I am dying!"
"Shut your trap and keep pushing, whore! You're almost done."
And indeed, three flesh-tearing, brain-searing, wishing-death-would-come heaves later, a red, wrinkly, tiny little thing came from between Genetri's legs. It was silent as a corpse, so the midwife slapped its bottom harshly a few times, perhaps taking her frustration out on the newborn. But the thing refused to cry, or make a single sound at all. It just lie there, face all scrunched up and toes curled, and was quiet. Fed up with it all, the old woman practically shoved the baby into its mother's arms.
'Is this my child?' Genetri wondered. 'What an ugly thing it is. Did I look this way when I was born?'
Out of curiosity, she prodded its nose, and was shocked when one of its miniature hands shot up to wrap around her index finger. So caught up in her wonder was she that the midwife's ranting went unnoticed for several minutes.
"Pay attention when someone is speaking to you!"
The younger woman looked up from her new family member. "Oh. I'm sorry," she said, even though she really wasn't. The crone had been positively horrid throughout the entire birthing process, and all she wanted was for the two of them to part ways and never meet again. "What did you say?"
"I said, you still have the afterbirth to get rid of. Be ready."
Eventually, it was all over, and Calcifex, bastard child of a wizard, had been born.
Though it would take several months of bonding and lots of patience, Genetri eventually came to adore her wrinkly little sausage of a son. Although, in all fairness, he did grow out of the wrinkles. In less than three months he sprouted silky black hair, and only a day after his birth it was revealed that his eyes were the brightest of greens - the color of spring grass or the moss that grew on trees. Both features were an unpleasant reminder of his sad excuse for a sire, but Genetri was still able to find him endearing. It was in the way he stared at her when she spoke, as if he understood everything she said, and all he needed was to be able to respond. At times, he appeared frustrated at the limits of his infant body.
When he finally learned to crawl, he could no longer be contained. He scuttled everywhere he pleased, offering nonsense words to whomever he happened to pass along the way. His harried mother would be forced to search for him for an hour or so, only to discover him sitting comfortably in the lap of some kind person. His hands and knees would be dirty and scratched, but Calcifex would be smiling, all the same.
The ability to talk came shortly after walking did. Both spelled out bad news for Genetri, who had a terrible time looking after him already. Now the boy was determined to go anywhere and everywhere he could, as well as learn the name for everything in his path. Naturally curious, he started to ask questions of his mother.
"Mama, where Papa?"
For a split second, Genetri's heart stopped beating, then it slammed with brutal force into the lining of her chest cavity. She dropped the rag she was using to dust the dining table, and hurriedly bent to pick it up. "W-what, love?"
"Shey got Papa. Where my Papa?"
Sheyland was the son of a farming couple who lived a mile away. Calcifex often ran off after eating lunch to play with the other boy, and one parent or the other would bring him back once the sun set. Sighing, Genetri kneeled down by her son and looked into his mocking green eyes.
"Your papa left a long time ago, sweet. He was a bad papa."
Calcifex took a moment to process this information. He put a hand up to his chin and furrowed his dark brows. "So… No Papa for me?"
"I'm sorry, sweet."
The child nodded as if everything had been explained. His expression brightened up, and moments later he was crawling under the table saying, "Come get me, Mama!"
He was seven years old when he accidentally cast his first spell. Sheyland and Calcifex were marching around outside in the fields between their houses, engaging in mock-warfare. Shey picked a dandelion from the ground and threw it at his friend, making pretend cannon noises.
"You're dead!" the boy shouted. "I just blew your head off!"
"You did not," Calcifex replied. "You can't hurt me with your infantile artillery!" At such a tender age, Calcifex was already displaying his considerable intelligence. He made his mother teach him "grown-up" words every day, so his growing vocabulary would never be lacking. In retaliation to Sheyland's assault, he stuck out his first two fingers and pointed them at the other boy. "Let's see how you like being hit by lightning, fool!"
The "thunder blast," as Calcifex called it, was his favorite move. It was guaranteed to fry any enemy to a crisp, resulting in instantaneous death and a victory for its user. However, what normally could be considered a harmless action became a deadly misfire of magical energy. A glowing blue spear of real, incredibly dangerous lightning came hurtling out of Calcifex's fingers with the speed of sound. Luckily, the boy's aim was off, so the thing missed Sheyland and ended up burning a three foot hole in the ground five inches to his left. Both kids screamed and ran like frightened chickens till they were out of breath.
"That… was… "Calcifex tried for several minutes to describe exactly what their escapade had been, but found that for once his word bank had failed him.
Sheyland couldn't speak at all. His brown eyes were wide. His hands shook and his chest heaved. He stared at his friend-turned-freak show and discovered the urgent need to back away as much as he could.
"Shey?" The black-haired child asked, although in his head he could already guess what was happening. The other boy just shook his head and fled. He never played with Calcifex again.
Cal trudged home on his own. His little sandal-clad feet dragged in the dirt. Green eyes were downcast, boring a hole into grass that matched his gaze. He couldn't explain what had happened back in the field. He had no knowledge of people being able to make lightning. As far as he was concerned, it was impossible for a human being to do.
That, of course, would question Calcifex's humanity, and that was not something he was comfortable with. Maybe he was a monster? Or a god? The second option was much more preferable, but neither was exactly desirable. He couldn't help but think of the father he never knew. Perhaps the man who was responsible for his existence was something other than human. That would make sense.
Calcifex feared he would never know, however. In order to find out about his father, he would have to talk to his Mama. But speaking of 'that horrible excuse for a man' made her upset. He didn't like seeing his Mama in distress.
Upon reaching his home, Calcifex took off his shoes - a rule his mother was adamant about - and opened the door to let himself in. "Mama!" he called from the dining room. "I'm home!"
Genetri, slightly plumper than she had been years ago, poked her head out of the kitchen and smiled at him. "Welcome back, love. Give me a second to finish up these dishes and we'll have our lesson, okay?"
"Sure, Mama. But, um… I wanted to ask you something, if that's all right."
"Hmm? What is it?"
The child looked down at his feet and clasped his hands behind his back in classic fashion. He summoned all his courage and did what every fiber in his being was telling him not to do. "Well, um… Was my Papa… erm… A god?"
Calcifex's mother caught a case of slippery fingers, which always seemed to be the case when 'Papa' was discussed. The half-washed plate she was scrubbing fell to the packed dirt floor and shattered.
"What?" Blue eyes, decorated at the edges with crow's feet that were too prominent for a woman of twenty-four, searched the boy's face. "What do you mean?"
With a cringe, Cal took a small step back. He was afraid it would be like this. "Well, did he have… um… special powers?"
"W-why ever are you asking me this?"
Unwilling to prolong his mother's unrest any longer, Calcifex let the entire explanation out in one long breath that left him gasping slightly at the end. "Because Sheyland and I were playing war and he hit me with a flower and said I was dead but I said I wasn't so I tried to hit him with my thunder blast but then real thunder came out of my hand and now Shey won't talk to me anymore!"
For a couple seconds, Genetri just stood still, rooted to the ground by shock. Then her face crumpled, and her limbs followed. She flopped ever so ungracefully onto the floor and started to sob. Salty tears streamed down her frowning face. They stuck on her red eyelashes and made her eyes shimmer in an ironically beautiful way. Calcifex looked on helplessly. He tried taking a step toward her, hoping to offer a soothing hug or perhaps sing his favorite lullaby in her ear, but Genetri was having none of it.
"Stay away from me!" she yelled brokenly. "You're just like him, you horrible monster!"
That settled that. He was a monster after all.
Genetri would no longer speak to her son unless it was to scream at him for ruining her once-promising life. Calcifex, along with his 'son-of-a-bitch' of a father, had completely torn apart her future. She had wanted riches, fame, beauty, love, and a perfect family with a loyal husband and an obedient child. Not poverty, isolation, weight gain, hatred, and a traitorous wizard for a kid.
It was only after her complete breakdown that Calcifex learned of his true nature. He heard people whispering about him whenever he went to the nearest town for groceries. A woman would lean over towards her friend and mutter something behind her hands that the lonely boy could just barely hear.
"That child is magic," they would say. "He's nothing but evil."
"I heard his daddy was the Wizard of Ages."
"Maybe he's the spawn of a devil!"
Calcifex basically figured he had done something awful and unforgivable, because sometimes other children would throw old vegetables or rocks at him, and sometimes Sheyland was among them. It must have been him who had told the townspeople of his spell-casting, for no one else knew but Genetri, and she no longer left the house. She no longer did much of anything at all. Her new existence incorporated self-pity, wallowing, sobbing, misdirected anger, lying in bed, eating enough for five people and emptying her bodily wastes onto the floor as a daily routine. It was Calcifex's job to clean everything up after.
Early on he tried to placate his mother with promises of not using magic, or being the best son ever, but she always responded with a wail and a poorly aimed vase thrown in the general direction of his head. When that happened, he would duck quickly out of her room and curl up under his own bed, praying for the nightmare to end.
At sixteen, Calcifex had grown into a tall, well-built young man with a charming smile and an appetite for adventure. The only thing keeping him tethered to his boring life was his duty to care for his mess of a parent. Genetri, not even aged forty, already had the visage of an old woman; the beautiful female who had given birth to him was long gone, lost forever in the fleeting images of a happy life from years before. Her mistreatment of him had led Calcifex to lose all sympathy for her. It wasn't his fault at all that he was a wizard. She was the one who had to go and get pregnant! Out of some small scrap of affection left in his bitter heart, he continued to feed and pick up after her, but he no longer tried, or even wanted, to make up with her. Genetri, it appeared, didn't even want him around at all, for any reason.
"Why don't you just abandon me like your father, you horrid creature? Just leave!"
"Well," said Calcifex through clenched teeth and a forced smile. "If I left, you'd go and starve yourself, or maybe choke on your own bile. And that would be too good a fate for you, Mother Dearest."
At that point, Genetri tried to hit him with her bowl of chicken soup, but the boy just dodged the attack and left her alone with her tears.
One day the teenager returned home and was instantly hit with an unsettling feeling. Normally, when he opened the door, his mother would immediately start yelling at him to get her some food, but now she was unusually silent.
"Mother?" he called. "Have you gotten yourself stuck in the toilet again? I swear I'm not prying your ass out this-"
But he stopped his less than kindly banter upon seeing the sickening sight in Genetri's bedroom. The woman was lying lifeless on her bed. Her quilted sheets were kicked down around her feet. Her stance was spread-eagle. But most disturbing of all was the deep incision that ran the length of her large neck. Multiple chins and dull gray-red hair were covered in sticky, crimson blood. On her right hand, rigor-struck fingers clutched a broken piece of pottery tightly. Its companion pieces, what looked to be the rest of a shattered flower pot, littered the floor. There was no final note, no parting words of regret or apology. Just empty coldness and the stench of rot.
Calcifex burned the house down, and everything inside along with it.
Afterwards, with nothing but a piece of flint, his clothes, and a small amount of pocket change, the young wizard left the place he'd grown up in. He banished all his sad memories and let a sense of excitement take over. As soon as his bare feet touched the beaten paths that spanned the country, he felt as though he was running on pure emotion. A delighted tingle took up residence in his spine, and a smile brightened his handsome features.
Discovering all the world had to offer was something he greatly enjoyed. There was the food: thousands of dishes made by skilled hands, a blend of flavors and colors that made his mouth water. Next came the arts. Music had always been a source of happiness for him. But all he'd had to listen to before was his mother's voice. Outside his home there were hundreds of instruments, dances, songs, vocal chords… He swayed with gypsies and belted out hymns with choirs. Knowledge, as always, was something he absorbed at a rapid rate. New cultures, languages, theories, sciences, and mathematics were ripe for researching. He also applied his education to his magic, and was delighted to discover that new spells came easily to him. He wowed onlookers with simple tricks for coins that he used to support his lifestyle.
Perhaps most important of all his discoveries was that of physical pleasure. His first time having sex was rather forgettable: an awkward mess of limbs and fluids in the back of a caravan with a merchant's daughter.
But he was a fast learner.
Finding women's sensitive spots was not very hard, and soon girls were dropping at his feet. Many a time he had found himself run out of a town, or even a country, for seducing some governor's child, but he never worried. It was impossible to tell how many bastard children he had left in his wake, for sometimes he forgot to make the girl he was with drink a pregnancy-preventing draught.
After a time, curiosity got the best of him and his parts, and he bedded another boy. To say he enjoyed himself would have been an understatement. Men, he found, were extraordinarily receptive once convinced to let go of their reservations.
As enticing as the world was, though, it could be dangerous, too. Calcifex decided learning defensive and offensive magic would be a worthwhile use of his time. So it was that Sidereus came about.
In an empty green prairie, a twenty year old Calcifex started firing elemental spells into the air. A fireball here, a water jet there. He was getting quite good at such incantations.
Even when he was alone, Calcifex enjoyed flare and extravagance. He began performing intricate spins and dance-like moves for a crowd of imaginary people.
"Ladies and gentlemen, watch carefully as the amazing Cal executes this most dangerous and difficult of spells! Please save your applause and praise for after!"
He twirled rapidly on his heels, lifting both hands in the air, an overgrown dancing girl with twice the clothes and half the grace. Suddenly, an over zealous ray of sunshine half-blinded the wizard, and the spout of ice cold water he had been shooting out of his fingers went haywire. Freezing droplets came down on his dark head in unforgiving waves. With a startled cry, in which he used some language that would make a sailor proud, Calcifex stumbled forward and fell down. Slightly dazed and unpleasantly wet, he wasn't prepared for any more surprises. But that didn't stop them from coming.
"Hey, pal, watch it! I'm floating here!"
The voice was coming from above Calcifex's head. It was male, and sort of tinny, like someone was speaking with a jar in front of their mouth. He looked up and was greeted with another searing flash of light.
"No, I'm not shit, you cretin." The voice sounded closer this time. "I'm a light spirit. Now who the hell are you?"
A light spirit? That explained things. Like why Cal's eyes were burning up. He had never met any kind of supernatural being before, although he had heard of their existence. They came in six main species, and dozens of subspecies, too. There were fire, water, earth, air, darkness, and light spirits. Calcifex had always heard that the ones to watch out for were of the darkness and fire persuasion. Now he wasn't so sure.
Unable to think of what else to do, he introduced himself… With his eyes closed. "I'm Calcifex. I'm a wizard. Do you have a name?"
The spirit made an insulted noise. "Of course I do! It's Sidereus, not that it's any of your business who I-" Sidereus stopped talking abruptly. "Wait… Did you say that you're a wizard? An actual magic user?"
"Ha-hah! This is my lucky day!"
The wizard wasn't quite sure what Sidereus meant by that, and he was still trying to figure it out when he suddenly found himself being lifted into the air. Highly alarmed, he forgot for a second that his eyelids were better off closed, and they shot up. He immediately regretted that reaction, for a new wash of sizzling pain came over him, feeding a rapidly developing headache. He quickly shut his eyes again and tried to think straight before saying something.
"Woah, wait! What are you doing?"
"That's simple, isn't it? I'm killing you."
"Because you're a wizard, and if you're dead, all your magical energy is mine for the taking. That's why!"
Their ascent halted, and from the breeze tickling his skin, Calcifex could tell he was high off the ground. If he fell, he would probably die. Cursing inwardly, he berated himself for not taking the time to learn a levitation spell. His only other option at that point was to try and bargain with the spirit.
"Wait… Sidereus… Sid… Can I call you that?"
"Okay, well… Sidereus it is then… Do you really want to do this?"
"Hmm, let me think… uh… yes! So say goodbye, witchy. It was nice knowing you."
It's odd how a stroke of genius can hit someone right when they need it most. For Calcifex, it was this phenomenon that saved his very life. Nestled against his chest pocket he could feel the bulk of an antique silver pocket watch. He'd stolen it from a woman in Chezra, or was it her husband he'd taken it from? Either way, the thing was now in his possession, and luckily so. The same source that had told him about spirits had also informed him how it was possible to contain one.
"A silver prison," the person had said. "Ye need to catch one of the devils in a charmed silver prison. 'Twill subdue their powers and keep them bound to their captor."
Of course, that technique didn't work on earth spirits, who could bend the silver to their own will, but since Sidereus was only a light spirit, he didn't stand a chance against the timepiece. Fast as he could in his head, Calcifex whispered the words needed to magic the watch. He felt it glow with new energy against his chest, and smiled.
"Hold on, Sidereus… At least give me a second to say goodbye to the world. Isn't that fair?" He hoped his begging would work, or else his plan would be in vain.
Fortuitously, Sidereus did have something of a heart, so he conceded. "Fine. Make it quick."
"Thanks so much," Calcifex replied. And with the speed and skill of an experienced thief, he grabbed the pocket watch and flipped it open. Even though he couldn't open his eyes to see his enemy, he knew the spirit was below him, the only barrier between himself and a long drop to the hard earth. 'Please let this work,' he prayed. 'I've only got one chance.'
"Sid, my friend, I hate to do this, but you leave me no choice! Expugno!" With a sweep of his arm, Calcifex brought the watch underneath him. It felt it collide with something somewhat-solid. Heat enveloped his hand as Sidereus screeched in protest. But the watch snapped shut, catching the spirit inside.
That, unfortunately, meant there was no longer anything stopping Calcifex from hurtling to his death. Except, of course, his new "servant."
"Sidereus!" he shouted over the roar of air whistling past him on his way down. "Float!"
Against his will, the light spirit was forced to hover in the sky. Calcifex kept his grip around the watch's chain secure. "Okay, now bring me to the ground... Slowly!" he added as an afterthought, since Sidereus had other things in mind. Like crushing the horrible wizard.
"Let me out of this thing, bastard!" Sid ordered, unaware that his insult was dead on.
"I think not," Calcifex replied as his feet touched the dirt beneath him. "I'd rather keep you in there for a while, all right?"
Sidereus didn't stop yelling the rest of the day, and well into the night.
The following morning brought an unexpected downpour, and the wizard was forced to travel with his jacket over his head. In his pocket, Sid was muttering about suicide and 'idiotic fucking magic-users.' Calcifex ignored him the whole time, until he finally reached a new town and stopped there for lunch.
After finding a pub and sweet-talking the blonde haired waitress into giving him a free meal, Cal settled down at a table in the back of the place and got comfortable. "Hey, Sid," he said. "You eat, don't you?"
"Yes, I eat. I've been saying how hungry I am for the past two hours! And stop calling me that," Sidereus spat.
"It suits you. And anyway, what kind of food do you need?"
"Why? So you can taunt me with it?"
"No, not anything like that. I don't want you starving on me in there. You wouldn't be any use then, would you?"
"In that case, let me starve."
"Don't be like that. Come on, what do you eat?"
But Sidereus was quiet, refusing to share any information with Calcifex. The waitress came back then, carrying a plate of questionable meat and a stale biscuit. Several minutes of eyelash-batting later, she was gone, leaving him alone with his food and a disgruntled spirit.
Above his head, a lit grease lamp flickered when a draft blew in under the pub's door. The smell of burning fuel wafted down to the table and mingled with the scent of lunch. An odd moan was issued from Calcifex's breast pocket.
Cal blinked a few times, then grinned. "What is it, Sid? Does that flame smell tasty?"
No reply came.
Dropping his roll, Calcifex reached up and plucked the lamp from its place, hanging off a hook in the low ceiling. He took the pocket watch out and set it down by the lamp on the table. "I'll let you out to eat, Sidereus. Just remember that you can't get away unless I say so, so there will be none of that, all right?"
Calcifex smirked again, but before he opened the watch, something hit him. Oh, right, he couldn't look at Sidereus without going blind… Unless…
"Hey, Sid, can you turn down your light before you come out? I'd like to see you."
"Why should I do that for you?"
"Well, for one thing, if you get out here all bright and big, everyone will notice you, and they'll panic. And we'll get kicked out, and both us of will stay hungry."
The spirit was silent for a couple seconds, and Cal thought maybe he had gone back to ignoring him, but then, "Fine."
"Okay, here goes." Calcifex flipped the silver watch open and squinted his eyes, just in case. But Sidereus had done what was asked of him. Now he was nothing more than a cherry-sized ball of light. Dim rays stuck out from his core at all angles, and even in this weakened state, he outshone the flame of the lamp. And, looking incredibly out of place on the miniature star - for that is what Calcifex thought he looked like - were two tiny black eyes and a another dark hole that Cal supposed must have been a mouth.
Sid glared at the wizard, and it struck Calcifex again how odd it was for such a creature to have a face. "Stop staring at me. I'm not a sideshow."
"Sorry, I just didn't expect you to… Uh…"
Calcifex shook his head and donned a smile. Despite almost being murdered by the spiteful spirit, he found his anger over the event had disappeared. Sidereus was smart, and rather amusing, even though all his jokes were about causing harm to Cal's person.
"It's nothing," Calcifex said, and picked up his biscuit to take a bite. He pretended to be busy eating, but out of the corner of his eye, he watched Sid look hungrily at the burning lamp. A little finger shaped thing came from between his spirit lips and swiped across the bottom one. Was that his tongue?
Sidereus floated around the glass outer covering of the lamp, seemingly wondering how to go about getting inside. The thing was shaped like an hourglass. 'Or,' Calcifex thought to himself, 'Like a woman's body.' There was an opening in the top for someone to light the puddle of grease inside. Spotting the hole, Sidereus moved above it and dove in.
Calcifex became very glad at that point that most people in pubs kept to themselves, and didn't bother to pay attention to anyone else, because watching Sidereus eat was quite a sight. In one fell swoop, the spirit opened his mouth wide and swallowed the flame. It made his center glow yellowish-orange, and little tendrils of steam puffed out of him. When he was apparently done digesting, his form sagged a bit and Sid sighed in contentment. "Not the highest quality you can get, but not bad. Not bad at all."
Calcifex laughed good-naturedly at that. "I'm glad that you're satisfied, my friend."
Sidereus shot him a funny look, but through the glass of the lamp it was horribly distorted. "Friend? Dream on, witchy."
They really were an odd pair, but that wasn't a problem. Calcifex found that telling people that Sidereus was a magic trick, and then using him in his daily routines, gathered a much bigger crowd, and in turn, a lot more cash. At first the spirit resented the idea, but after a while when he discovered he could scare little children out of their wits, he began to enjoy himself. When their show was over, they'd count their profits and celebrate with a whiskey for Cal and a torch for Sid.
Sometimes Sidereus would advise Calcifex about what girl or boy to spend the night with, and other times they would practice magic together. Cal would perform the spell he'd studied, and Sid would gobble up the energy it produced.
"That," he would say, "Is better than any fire on the planet."
One day, the wizard asked his companion, "Why do you eat fire? Isn't that something a fire spirit would do?"
"Are you nuts? That would be cannibalism, Cal. No, fire spirits eat wood and greenery. Things like that."
For both of them, the company was wonderful, but neither would admit how lonely they had been before. Once, Calcifex offered to let Sidereus go, but the spirit told him to stop being an idiot. And that was the last time either of them spoke about parting ways. They'd become friends, and it wasn't so bad.
At times, they fought, just like any two pals would, but those instances were few, and over with quickly. Sidereus would threaten to burn the wizard's retinas to a crisp, and Calcifex would respond by promising to throw a blanket over the spirit and put him out permanently. Then there was a period of glaring and huffiness, but by dinner things were right again.
"You're impossible, you know," Sid said casually, as he stuck his tongue out to lick the fire in front of him.
"So are you," Cal responded, not looking up from his beef stew.
Secretly, they both grinned. Life was good.
Disclaimer: This story consists purely of fiction and is a product of the author's imagination. Any person/place/thing/event contained within that has any similarities to something or someone in real life is completely coincidental.
Constructive criticism is welcome.