Author's note: All right, so I was bored. Writing novels is all good and fine, but it can get tedious, for want of a better term. And I suddenly wanted to write a story with a character named "Egg".
Back turned to her master, Egg twisted her jaws into a scowl. "Yes, Master?" Before she knew it, a strong hand had grabbed Egg by the shoulder and spun her around; the other firmly on the scales of her head.
Her Aspect could sense the pleasant, sour smell of her master's wards, could see them as thick red rods criss-crossing his hide. What kind of spell is that? Can I do it too?
"For the duration of your apprenticeship with me, you will not scowl like that, Egg," Master Asizar said. "From what your parents have told me, you've answered to this name since you were hatched. No reason to pout now. I want to begin this relationship on a positive note, and hopefully you'll be inclined to cooperate."
Egg tried to look up, but Master Asizar's hand kept her gaze firmly on his upper knee. "Yes, Master." But you're not my parents. You're not even of my brood. Why should you be comfortable with such familiarities when you're my Master? You should be more stiff.
"No, I can very well see you don't mean it. Let's try again."
Curse that tail. "Yes, Master."
Asizar sighed. "Slightly better. At least your tail wasn't creating a dust storm this time. Look, you alone were responsible for the origin of your nickname. Perhaps when you've proven yourself, I'll address you by your proper name. For now, Egg you are, and Egg you will be. If you have any grievances, you will not skulk and pout. Instead, you will bring them to me, and I will consider them on their merits. Are we clear on that?"
Hide shivered, Aspect quailed. "Yes, Master."
Slowly, gently, the hand on her head was lifted. "That's better, Egg. We went over the rules of your apprenticeship last night, and I expect you to stick to them. Your first task as my apprentice will be to clean my bedroom."
Egg's shoulders slumped. Asizar grinned, and leant down to jab a claw at Egg's snout.
"You didn't think I was going to teach you the intricate mysteries of cryomancy right away, did you? With the kind of education they're giving dragonets in the public schools these Rounds, I wouldn't trust a fresh graduate to muck out food animals or change a crystal array. No, you start off by cleaning my bedroom, and after that we'll see about getting the dust off this floor."
The moment Egg saw Master Asizar's bedroom, half of her wanted to curl up in a corner and cry, and the other half was itching to find some loophole in Master Aszar's words to get out of the task. It wasn't that the bedroom was dirty; it was positively filthy.
Soot encrusted the hearth and chimney as far as Egg could see, the walls had ugly, purplish-brown stains on them, and the gravel bed itself was in a state of total disrepair. At least the floor was clean, a small mercy, but Egg knew Master Asizar would check that too and find her lacking if she didn't do anything about it. Beside the bed was a small crucible and burner, but Egg didn't have to inspect them to know what had been inside--smell and magical aura pounded at snout and Aspect respectively, testament to Master Asizar's usage of arcane drugs.
What does that mean about Master Asizar? Is he really that slovenly? Or maybe he's just too busy to properly clean his home. But if that's the case, why is the floor clean? What exactly is in that crucible? Where does he get it from? Is it the same thing that Mother sets fire to every so often? Does it smell as good? This glow-orb is interesting; it seems like it came from far away. How much was paid for it?
No wonder he spends all his time in the cold room. At least that's one question answered, she thought, throwing a glance outside at the thick, thrice-barred arcanium door to Master Asizar's workshop. A spectrum of lights ranging from white to deep blue danced across the door surface, keeping in the magical cold; Egg knew she'd probably never see the likes of it within a day's flight from here.
Her limbs leaden, Egg stilled her tail and set down her tools. Sentinels, please give me one good reason why I shouldn't just conjure a flame and burn the lot down to the ground. It'd be the easiest way to get it clean.
The answer came easily enough without divine intervention. Because Master Asizar will kill me if I do. Well, there's nothing left but to get to work. Maybe if I do a good job this time, the next cleaning won't be so bad.
Or maybe not. Egg remembered when Master Asizar had come over to discuss the terms of her apprenticeship with her parents. He'd seen the mural which had been carved a day after her hatching, and laughed. And laughed. And laughed. Egg would have asked why, but she'd wanted to curl up and cry there and then.
The artist had a keen eye for detail; he'd captured perfectly Egg's bewildered expression as she'd stumbled about, a head and four stubby limbs poking out from a brown, mottled eggshell like a malformed tortoise. According to Egg's parents, she'd stayed like that for a whole twelfth-season before deigning to eat the shell.
The name she'd acquired stuck, though. Everyone called her Egg. Why Master Asizar doing the same should bother her, she couldn't quite explain--maybe because this relationship they'd entered was supposed to be…formal. Serious, perhaps. Not fraught with familiarities and mockeries.
Whatever it was they'd discussed, in the end a still-laughing Master Asizar had come up to Egg. "How'd you like to be a cryomancer?" He'd said.
Of course, Egg had known; she'd pestered others on how the question was to be posed and had rehearsed her reply until she'd been saying it in her sleep. But then, she'd expected something…grander, like in the stories when the crafter accepted his or her apprentice. There'd be a formal contract, and everyone would scratch their names onto the musty-smelling metal foil. It was supposed to be a solemn event, and Egg would bid farewell to her parents before trailing after her Master to begin a new life.
She hadn't expected to say it to someone roaring his head off with laughter. "Yes, sir."
Muttering a promise to let her visit home every quarter-season, Master Asizar had scooped up Egg and fit her snugly between his wings before carrying her to her new home. She'd wondered why he'd accepted her like this instead of doing things the proper way, but Egg had reasoned that was within his power.
Master Asizar must see something in me, or else he wouldn't have taken me on, Egg thought as she clambered onto the bed and heaved open the heavy window shutters. A moment's thought, a moment's concentration, and Egg felt the familiar sensation of energy being drawn to her, through her mind, helped along by her Dragon Aspect…
Tingles ran from Egg's head to her toe-claws.
A gust of wind roared through the open door and out into the morning air, carrying with it dust, debris and that awful stench. Egg grinned to herself. Simple as that.
Master Asizar hadn't given Egg a timeframe in which she'd to finish her task, so she naturally dawdled at it. Every corner had to be sniffed at, the origin of each stain puzzled over, each brown scale Egg found while sifting the bed's gravel a guess at Master Asizar's exact age. Scrubbing the floor meant a trip under the bed, scouring the hearth ended up with Egg halfway up the chimney and thoroughly sooty--she'd to sneak out to the well outside to clean herself after the job was done.
If only I knew a cantrip for cleaning up soot, Egg thought as she doused herself. Or dirt. Then all this would be much easier! I wonder if Master Asizar knows one? Should I ask him? Would it be proper of me to do so? Would it be seen as an attempt to skive? Or maybe I can try to formulate a spell myself. Would it work? Would Master Asizar approve?
Throughout the whole morning, the door to the cold room had remained sealed and barred.
Gathering chisel, scrubbing brush and dustpan in the now-empty bucket, Egg was about to lug them back to the storehouse when she spied the door to the cold room open by just a crack. Setting her tools down, Egg peered at the door. Yes, it was almost imperceptible, but the door was open.
Before she knew it, Egg was at the door, sniffing and gnawing at the arcanium. The door didn't feel cold, and while Master Asizar had said she wasn't to enter the cold room on her own, he'd said nothing about looking inside. What's really in there? What does it look like? Does Master really have people frozen in blocks of ice? Bits of glaciers from faraway places? Why would he collect such things, if he does have them? I want to know.
Digging the leathery soles of her feet into the ground, Egg heaved--and the door shifted just a little, enough for a whelp like her to stand in the doorway and look inside.
Egg stared, oblivious to the frigid air spilling out across her feet, her hungry eyes drinking in the sights. It's so beautiful. So he does have bits of glaciers in here. And the whole place is so large; how can all this fit into a small home? It's at least three times as large as Master's lair itself!
As if it'd gained a life of its own, the door slammed shut, knocking Egg into the cold room.
The bars fell into place.
It was suddenly, very, very cold.
Egg wailed and clawed at the door--to no avail. The lowest bar had frozen itself in place, and even if she could lift it, the other two were firmly out of her reach. That wasn't the worst thing, though; the wards on the door had turned a deep blue, as if the door itself was angry at her.
Already, Egg couldn't feel her tail, and ice crystals were thick on her hide. All right, she thought, each breath freezing in the air and floating down to the ground. It's cold. Let's approach this in a level-headed manner. Conjure some heat--
Something slammed hard against Egg's Aspect, enough to send it reeling into a corner of her mind. The spark in her claws flickered, and died.
Yelping, Egg clutched her head. Now the door looked even more menacing; white lights flashed across its surface in a way that, oddly enough, reminded her of someone glowering.
Oh well. Master Asizar will be upset when he finds me frozen solid in his workshop. Will he say anything when they burn me? I wonder what kind of enchantments are on that door. They're strong. It would have been good to know them, I suppose…
Frenzied banging on the other side of the door.
Egg awoke to find Master Asizar peering down at her, the shards of his eyes a calm, light green rather than the deep crimson she'd expected. He'd draped a thermal blanket across her small form--she could see the motes of magic dancing across the aluminium-thread blanket--and was heating something in a flask over his hand.
"Drink," he said. Egg obeyed; the liquid was tasteless and thick as it flowed past her jaws.
"Master, what were those cube-shaped things on the platform for? What do you do with all those bits of glaciers? How is it your cold room is so big on the inside? Can you teach me how to ward a door like that? Why did you choose to help people freeze things to keep them fresh? How do you make that ice without bubbles--" a sharp look from Master Asizar cut Egg off, and she shrank back, tail clenching about her underbelly.
"Stop before you pass out again, whelp," he said, grinding his jaws together. "I'm so happy, and at the same time, I'm so sad."
Egg blinked. "Master?"
"Well, you passed the test. At the same time, you failed it."
Now Egg's eyes felt like popping from their sockets. "Test, Master?"
"Well, yes. I left the door ajar to see what you'd do. There are so many brown-scaled whelps in this locality, Egg. I could have picked any one of them to study under me. Why you?
"I think the Brown Dragonflight needs those who will throw out old ideas, find new ones, test them, try to replicate the test results, get rid of the theories if they turn out not to explain things satisfactorily, and attempt to harmonize their theory's apparent exceptions with the rest of the system's underlying rules. In short, we need nosy whelps--like you. You made a nuisance of yourself asking all sorts of questions which even your parents couldn't answer, Egg."
Egg tucked the blanket closer about her. "Oh."
"Well, it's not all bad. I got word from my alumni newsletter that some new arcane theorems are being reworked and expanded after batches of graduates never questioning them. That's why you're here. I don't want to dull an inquiring mind. You were supposed to bend the rules and peek into my cold room; that's why I'm happy.
"I'm sad because you didn't stop to consider why the rules were in place before bending them. Those were there for your safety; much like theorems, they don't pop out of the ether. Dragonkin like you and I worked on them, and there's a reason they're there. It might not be a good reason, but there's a reason nevertheless."
"Oh," Egg groaned. Maybe that's why he's not that stiff, after all. "And the door…"
"It has been a very bad door," Master Asizar growled, flexing his wings. "It will have to be punished."
Egg almost leapt out of her master's bed. "Punished, sir? But why? Is it really alive? How did you do that?"
"Egg!" Master Asizar snapped. "Time and place for everything!"
Egg sank back into the bed. "I'm sorry, Master."
"It's a complicated web of enchantments--I'm not authorised to teach you that. Maybe if you go to the capital one day and study in the sub-field. But yes, the door to my cold room has never tried to kill anyone before, even strangers. I cannot let this go. Goodnight, Tharenth. Tomorrow, you shall clean the floor before your education begins proper."
Master Asizar snapped his fingers, and the glow-orb went out. "I said goodnight, Egg."