Brenna R. Singman
Irwin finally knocked on the rickety wooden door of the old mansion. He readjusted the weight of his backpack and wiggled so one of his many tomes would stop jabbing into his pronounced spine. He shivered in the dark, wind howling around the naked trees that seemed to reach out and beckon him away. He couldn't listen to his fears; everything depended on his success. Just as he began to question if he should break his Master's rule and ring the doorbell, the door creaked open. He wiped his sneakers twice on the prickly welcome mat before entering.
As always, Irwin didn't touch anything as he traveled along the thick rug of the narrow hallway. Literal floating shelves held picture frames of his elderly Master with many famous wizards over the centuries. Glass jars of crumbled, dried herbs and flowers left their scent on every surface. A mirror hung on one wall that didn't reflect Irwin's gaunt cheeks. His mother started worrying about him in the last few months of his intense studies, but she thought he was focused on mundane schooling. She had no idea of the power at her son's scrawny fingertips.
At the end of the hallway was an old-fashioned sitting room with a thick, bearskin rug, heavy velvet drapes with limp golden tassels, and ornate, cushioned furniture around a cold hearth. Irwin kneeled upon the hearth's dusty stones. He slogged out of his backpack, sighing with relief as the pressure lifted. Inside were numerous notebooks scrawled with ink, books thin and fat whose gilded pages shone even in the dim light from the sconces, some leather pouches with vials of dust, and others with different colored liquids fizzing or stagnant. Irwin removed a vial of crumbly red powder like dyed sand and fished out a delicate instrument from a side pocket. Its metal length reached five inches and curved upward width wise. The handle was a wooden knob with scratched initials L.J. He used the edge of the metal scoop to grab the appropriate measure of sand and carefully scattered it in the fireplace.
Immediately a ravenous flame licked at the air and warmed the entire room. Irwin wiped down the instrument with a cloth from another pocket, returned the tools, and shouldered into his backpack. With eyes clenched shut, he started to crawl into the flames. The heat enveloped him, and the brightness teased him, turning the darkness behind his eyes into a pale gray. His hands collected old ash and soot from mortal flames that once burned there.
"You ought not still be scared of the flame, Irwin!" a craggy voice scolded from a suddenly chilly room. "Is cowardice what you will contribute to the lineage of Masters?"
Irwin's eyes shot open, but he was still partially in the flames. His logical mind told him he should be burning, and immediately the flames stung and singed. He shut his eyes again and hurried the last few feet through the portal.
"I'm sorry, Master Lloyd," he said as he brushed the soot from his hands.
"Of course you are. You're lucky you're a prodigy. Come. We must begin!"
Irwin ran across the slab floor of the small chamber filled with a few tables, shelves of books and gurgling bottles, and dancing candles floating overhead. They cast stretched shadows across the room. Irwin lowered his backpack and placed the appropriate books on a table with all of his ingredient vials. He flipped to the pages marked by a tucked golden ribbon. Carefully he divvied out the powders in sets of pewter dishes, to which Master Lloyd nodded though refused to smile, and used glass thimbles and cups for the liquid ingredients. Another nod. Irwin could barely contain his happiness at the validation. He would be a grand master to honor his Master.
Irwin added lines of pink powder, sprinkles of white, and specific smudges with orange that he remembered in time to use gloves before touching. It stained and could cause second degree burns on skin before magically activated. Then he took his glass dishes one by one and started chanting as he poured them over certain spots of the circle. They foamed up and hardened into an assortment of colored, chipped stones. As he stepped away from the circle, the rocks began to glow and hum.
"Now enter," Master Lloyd said. Irwin nearly dropping his vessel. "Don't look so shocked. This is your final test. You will administer your soul bonding in full."
"Y-yes, Master! Thank you!"
Irwin nearly jumped into the center of the circle and began chanting the words he had been practicing day and night for the last two months. He thought Master Lloyd would be the beacon and give Irwin power to join the greats, but with Irwin in the center, he was his own beacon to power. The words of the final incantation started off slowly as he concentrated, but soon they spilled forward with ease of practice and collecting power from within. His eyes fogged over. His skin burst into gooseflesh. His hair stood on end and pinched as if each hair tried to escape. His heart became one with the rhythm of the verse, which peaked at the final line of prose. It was a number of staccato syllables that wrenched from his throat and left it sore as the final note escaped him.
The pain continued. His skin seared, an agonizing ache that reached his bones. The blindness faded as he turned toward Master Lloyd approaching the circle with arms extended. Red threads of energy surrounded his hands, coiling from Irwin's own body.
"Your work is done, prodigy. You will become the embodiment of power...for me."
Irwin couldn't breath as he felt his body unwind into threads of magic. His muscles and bones sifted into dust that joined the lines of the circles and his blood dribbled from the air, sucked into the rocks. The last thing he saw before oblivion overtook him was the youthful face of his ancient Master, the plumping cheeks and full brown beard of a young man with his entire life ahead of him as a Master.