Wizards of Titan town
Morning, before the sun had dared to peak its head over the horizon. His bed rocked gently, soothing, comforting. The old man snored loudly, his long, pointed nose peeking out from the top of his comforter, whistled a jaunty slumber tune.
"You do it."
"No, you do it."
Two boys, scrawny little scarecrows with black and brown scruffy brushes for hair, bickered back and forth none too quietly. Their restless energy was making them irritable, judgmental, and impatient.
"We're going to miss it."
"Well wake him up then."
"You wake him up!"
Little did they know he was already awake. A wizard must be keenly aware of his surroundings, and their volume. Something he would need to reiterate to his apprentices at the appropriate time, like the next time they tried to wake him up before dawn.
"What are you two doing!" he threw his voice over his comforter with force and power, without disturbing his snuggly blanket or even visibly moving.
The apprentices moved, practically to the ceiling. Even after a year of tutelage they still underestimated him. Shameful.
"Mumumumumumu, mumumu, master! We didn't…"
"That is, we were trying tu, tutututututut, tututut, to wake, um…"
"Yes, I know quite well what you were trying to do," the old man grumbled, the twitch of his nose the only sign of movement. "And I told you last night. We won't be leaving till after second breakfast and before lunch. It isn't even time for first breakfast yet."
"But master we…"
"We were just…"
"Waking me up before I need to be up," he finished for them. "Go back to bed. Now! Or I'll leave you both behind."
It was a bit harsh, but there were boundaries that had to be maintained, like the one between going to sleep and waking up. He felt a little bad at being so short with them, but this was undermined by the mirth at seeing them scramble like a pair of drunken squirrels back to their beds.
"Now I understand why old Croogen yelled at us so much," he reflected, it was fun.
With the rising of the sun, so too rose the wizard and his apprentices. Well, the wizard rose, what his apprentices did could hardly be described with such a respectable word as rose. There was much elevation, but at such a speed they nearly hit the ceiling coming back down as the floor shifted, dumping them unceremoniously out of bed.
"Admirable enthusiasm, but you might want to work on the execution," the master remarked as he passed the groaning heap on his way to the bathroom.
When he returned from his ablutions, he found his apprentices armed with pots and pans, ready to do their morning battle with the kitchen. They were spared this indignity when their master told them to put up their weapons and get dressed.
"Since you already plan to punish my poor money purse, we might as well start the day off right."
In a whirlwind of limbs and cloth the three were dressed in their heavy cloaks and wizardy hats, complete with chin strap to keep them on, or how would anyone know they were wizards.
The door displayed the usual obstinance but with a good heave it flew open and the trio, master and students, strode out into the chill morning breeze. At such an altitude the air was always a bit cooler and with their town always on the move, they were never without a wind.
"Come on boys. The Torso opens in ten minutes. First in line!"
The young boys charged after their master with equal enthusiasm. The Torso was the finest café on Titan town. Many often said it wouldn't be Titan town, without The Torso.
It was an old joke, told to young apprentices, who were the only ones known to laugh. The laughter was forced of course but some wizards would take whatever they could get. The joke, however, was none the less true.
Titan town, the city of wizards, was built upon a titanic war golem from a long-gone age of high magic. The last of its kind, or so it was believed. Certainly the last that was still moving, and that's all it did too.
Caring nothing for borders or kingdoms, Titan town walked without ceasing, trekking a path in a perfect circle, exactly one year in length. It had done this for no one knew how long and would continue to do so till someone stopped it, unlikely.
It had no arms, lost in that last battle that had faded even from legend; legs, torso, and the head all that remained and upon which Titan town had been built some hundreds of years ago by the earliest intrepid wizards hoping to crack the mystery, learn its secrets, and then, well, most of them hadn't thought that far ahead.
Mystery and secrets were generally considered good enough.
Today though, mystery and secrets were put aside for more mundane things, like breakfast. Bacon and eggs, sausage, pancakes with syrup and berries, and a lovely muffin to go, second breakfast for a wizard in a hurry, which is what they were.
It was quite a walk from The Torso to the drop platform on the left horn of the head. Twelve stories, through the internal workings and across external walkways, up and up and up. Of course, before they even started this, they had to rush home to get suited up for the drop.
Wouldn't do to go jumping of a giant golem without a way to slow your descent, that was a one-way ticket to Splatter town, and nobody liked Splatter town. Dreadful people.
The last of their muffins were disappearing as they toddled up the final staircase. Finding half a dozen other wizards already in the waiting room they took the nearest bench and proceeded to wait, in some cases, very impatiently.
"Stop your squirming, we'll be going soon enough."
Some of the other wizard chuckled, all having had the apprentice experience before. Many dropping into town looked to be having it again. It was the traditional method of magical education. And since the wizards of Titan town held exclusive rights on magical tutelage, the only method.
The waiting room was getting crowded when the watchman came in and announced, "Spokan city coming up. Everyone on the platform."
There was a general wheeze as dozens of old men heaved to their feet and trundled out into the whipping wind. In the distance a vague shape, squarish, could be seen approaching. This of course was an illusion as Spokan was not the city that was moving.
"Everyone, please latch your umbrella securely to the ring on your belt. We don't want any accidents," the watchman hollered over the wind.
The pair of apprentice nervously checked and double checked their umbrella, again drawing snickers and chuckles from the other wizards.
"This their first time jumping?" A shriveled, bent, octogenarian asked cordially.
"Can't imagine they'd be embarrassing their master like this if it weren't," he said with half a smile, over on the side they couldn't see but the octogenarian could.
"Fraid I don't have the energy for apprentices anymore. Mm, pity really. They are so much fun. Especially when they explode!"
The two boys leapt, and the old man cackled.
"Really Linus, you are just terrible."
"Oh, let an old man have his fun Simeon."
Such fun was forced to wait as the city neared.
"Places please! First group will be jumping on the down left stride. Wait for my signal," the watchman announced, pulling a whistle from his pocket.
"That's us boys. Hop to!"
"Yes, master Simeon," they hopped and followed their master to the edge of the platform.
"Ready…" the whistle chirped loud and shrill and ten men, and two boys, took one very big step.
The wind rustle robes and pulled at hats tightly fastened against such treatment. Two stories down, umbrella's opened and the dozen wizards were hoisted by wind and belt some thirty feet strait up.
The young ones whooped and hollered, all fear forgotten as they leveled off and began the slow ride down. Spokan was built, not simply as a fortress, but as a trading hub on the Titan town route. A long flat plain extended from the gates all the way to the footprint, twenty feet deep, where the city dumped its trash in preparation for the war golems yearly return.
Simeon was among the first to touch down and did so with a well-practiced elegance. His apprentices touched down then slid across the ground, caught by a sudden breeze that released them to fall face first into the dirt.
Their master sighed, "So embarrassing."
But they didn't seem to mind. Unhooking their umbrella, they stared up at the massive fortress gates of Spokan. Neither of them was from Spokan, so he gave them a moment to take it in before ushering them along.
The other wizards were already moving, pulling long staffs from pockets and hobbling toward the city. As the youngest, and that wasn't saying much, wizard among them, he easily outpaced his seniors even while driving his gob smacked apprentices before him like a pair of sheep.
They gave a genial wave to the guards at the gate who nodded in return. They were all expected and Spokan was a flurry of activity. Many of the wizards coming to town had arrived to sell things, artefacts, potions and the like, things they'd been working on all year, or at least since the last city stop.
Simeon, while often among them, had come to Spokan for a different reason, or in fact several different reasons, one of which found them shortly after they got through the gate.
She strolled out of the shadows like liquid darkness, stalking up to him and demanding his attention in the expected way, "SIMEON!"
The old woman cackled as she wrapped the old wizard in a hug, "I been waitin for you. I think that thing must be slowing down."
"Waiting? Since when have you had that kind of patience?" the wizard teased.
"Oh piffle!" she shot back. "And these must be your monkeys," she said turning to the gaping lads who swallowed their gape and cowered behind their master. "Brave, ain't they?"
The wizard chuckled. "Alright, that's enough you two. She's not going to eat you."
"Hardly any meat on the little scarecrows," she said agreeably. "Don't you feed'em."
"I'll leave that to you," he said. "You got my note I trust."
"Aye, and yur list. You got my money?"
With an overdramatic sigh he handed over his purse to the wretched old crone who was his friend. "You'll be needing these as well."
"Oh, aye, wouldn't want to forget those."
"What are those master?" one of the apprentices asked.
"These are your ticket home."
The talismans were simple disks the size of his palm with a complex engram on one face and the mark of Titan town on the other.
"Make sure you stay with Seraphina. If I'm not at the field by time to leave she'll make sure you get home."
"What! Where are you going?" they demanded, eyeing the old woman like one might eye a poisonous viper, or a large bat who's had too much vodka.
"I have other business I must attend to and I don't know how long I'll be. Stay with Seraphina. Don't get lost. And DON'T embarrass me." That last being the most important.
This said, he strode into the city, leaving his innocent apprentices to the mercy of the crazy old witch.
It wasn't as bad as it sounded. Her outer eccentricities were mostly a façade. People had certain expectations about how a witch, or a wizard should act and there was some value in playing to that. It was also exhausting which is why he chose to live in Titan town and not somewhere full of common people. Common people were notorious for their expectations.
It was for this reason he ducked into the nearest alley when no one was looking and made a few adjustments to his wardrobe. Returning to the street he now looked less like a wizard and more an elderly ascetic of the traveling variety.
Not much of a disguise but it would suffice for the task that he went about with all due expedience, which sadly, wasn't much. He was on the hunt for a certain someone, but a certain someone he had never met, nor had a clear picture of, nor a good idea where they might be found.
Strolling into the textile quarter, he began his search. The father was a tailor, he'd been told. That narrowed it down to about four dozen men along six different streets.
His discarded the upper scale ones as least likely. Poor had been mentioned, so unless he'd moved up considerably in one year, he wasn't likely to find his objective there.
The denizens of the street provided tiny clues, hints and clues and hungry palms, the feeding of which might jog their memory. It was an old racket, he well knew; used it a few times himself. The palms were fed, and he eventually found himself at the back door of a small store that appeared to be closed.
He knocked twice, then twice more. When no response came, he called, "Hello! Is anyone home? I promise I'm not a tax collector!" Never hurt to be reassuring.
The door creaked and a man's face appeared in the crack. "Yes?"
"Good afternoon sir," because it had taken him that long to find the place. "Begging your pardon. Might I ask, uh, that is to say, oh bother."
It was so embarrassing when you didn't know how to pose a question, but he had to do it.
"One year ago, the last time Titan town passed, there was a wizard who came across a child he found to have enormous talent. Sadly, he was unable to take the child to apprentice at the time but promised when Titan town returned in one year to do so. Am I ringing any bells, or should I ring somewhere else?"
Judging by the mans face there was certainly some ringing, though he appeared a bit uncertain about the bell, "Begging 'your' pardon sir, but what business is that of yours?"
It seemed an impertinent question till he remembered he was in disguise. "Just one moment." With a flash, a bang, and a little razzle dazzle, the man opened the door in the presence of the wizard. Though that's not to say his concerns were entirely allayed.
"Again, begging your pardon your wizardship," he said, more humbly this time, "but I'm almost certain you are not the same wizard of which you most recently spoke."
"I am not," he said. "But for that explanation, perhaps we may retire within."
The inside of the small shop was much the same as the outside, having seen its better days to put it politely. Some effort had been made to tidy the place, that much was evident, but he could feel something… heavy, hanging in the air. An unspoken worry deeper than the gloom that crowded every nook and cranny, save for the one occupied by a scrawny child attempting with great concentration not to be seen.
"Your business, it is well?" the wizard asked, not knowing if it had ever looked better and thus having no point of comparison.
"We get by," the man replied, which spoke volumes to one trained in the art of listening. "You said you would explain?"
"Of course," said Simeon, making note of the man's poorly concealed sense of urgency. "The wizard who spoke to you was called Grandal. He was a good friend. We would often drink together and discuss matters of wizardry or whatever else our inebriated minds felt like talking about. He was a good man, a good wizard."
"Was? You mean to say, he is no longer."
Simeon nodded. "It had been a week since anyone saw him. I went to check on the old boy, and found him sitting in his chair, stiff as a board. By our judgement he must have died shortly after the last time he was seen."
So did the wizard. He could see the man turning things over in his mind, the unnamed weight sitting heavier and heavier on his shoulders with every turn. He also saw the child had divined the meaning of the conversation, what it meant for his own future.
Well, we'd just see about that.
"You child, come here," he said with gentle command.
The child started at being addressed but slowly did as told. Clothes drifted and swayed like they were hung on a skeleton. The face, sunken and hollow, yet as he looked, he noticed something that had evaded him as the child stood in the darkness.
"Well now, this is a surprise," he murmured, leaning in for a closer look then leaning back and laughing. "Well if it isn't! I knew his eyesight was bad, but this is just…" too much to take seriously and he broke down laughing for a time.
The two stared at the wizard morosely, understanding their secret had been revealed. "It's not my fault," the child said, the voice distraught yet still higher than it should have been. "It's not my fault. I never asked to be a girl."
And there it was. The young man he'd come seeking was in fact a young lady. No wonder it had taken him so long.
"Told that old fool he needed to wear his glasses," Simeon chortled. "Never listened. Never listened. Ah, well. Nothing to be done about it now."
"I'm—sorry, you wasted your time, sir," the tailor groaned between clenched teeth.
"She—she's a girl, and—and, I'm sorry!"
"Nothing to be sorry for," said Simeon, failing to understand the problem. "Grandal made the mistake. Probably would have been quite embarrassed when he found out. Everyone else would have laughed at him though."
"I'm—I'm sorry," the girl said, fighting the tears that refused to be stopped.
"Dear child, whatever for? I'm really not seeing the problem," and he hated to admit it. A wizard admitting ignorance, dreadful.
"But, she's a girl," the tailor stated again. "She can't be a wizard."
The question dumbfounded them. It was like he'd just said haddock made lovely hats.
"But wizards are men and, and—she's a girl."
"While that is true, it's a trend, not a rule," said Simeon, which did not appear to make things any clearer to the tailor, as turnips now made for lovely earrings.
"Perhaps this will help," he said, drawing a small blank scroll from his pocket then producing a rough brush from under his hat. "Take this," he said handing the girl the brush and unrolling the scroll across the small table. "Now, I want you to draw for me, a circle, if you please."
With a shaky hand, she made out a wobbly circle on the parchment.
"Dreadful," he said. "Hold the brush like this." Making an adjustment to her grip to the underhand he ordered her to do it again with similar results.
"Pitiful. I guess you don't really want to be a wizard."
"Yes I do!" she exclaimed.
"No, no, Grandal must have been wrong."
"I do want to be a wizard! I do!"
"Then show me," he barked. "Draw the circle."
Defiance sparked in her eyes; a hard scowl drawing across her lips she tried again, the circle reflecting her demeanor, harsh and hard.
"Again. Cool your ardor. Feel the power of the stroke. Let it guide your hand, steady."
All fired up, it took several calming breaths and three more circles for her to satisfy the wizard, by which point her hand was shaking from fatigue.
"Good. Much better," he said.
"But what's it mean?" her father asked.
"The circle," Simeon explained, "is a representation of will. Mystical power, contained, focused, and directed by the wizards will is how we do magic."
"I thought wizards did magic with words," said the tailor. "Like that bloke with the shop down on Ark street."
"Words are a component, yes, but they are not the basis of magic. Witches for example are all born gifted with a certain rune that guides their magic, shapes it in certain ways that predisposes them to specific types of casting. The circle is a part of them, but they do not register it on a conscious level whereas with wizards, we have no rune, but we understand the circle implicitly.
"This is why Grandal found your daughter. She is a wizard. Untrained, yes, but she is still a wizard. She understands the circle, even though she does not yet understand what she understands and—I can see I've lost you."
Some while back in fact, "I'm sorry," said the tailor. "This is all just…"
"I understand," he said, rolling up the scroll and returning it to his pocket. "In simplest terms, your daughter has the gift, and the gift must be trained. Grandal intended to take this responsibility upon himself, but he is no longer here. As his friend, and a wizard in good standing among my peers, I feel now this responsibility falls to me. That is, if the young lady wants it, and the father approves."
By the look of dawning comprehension, to say the young lady wanted it would have been to undersell the thing. She looked to her father who gave the barest of nods, and the girl practically exploded.
"Well alright then. Pack your things, say goodbye to whoever you need to say goodbye to. We're on the clock."
With a frantic nod she shot out of the room, leaving wizard and father alone.
"You will—you will take care of her?" the tailor asked.
"To the best of my ability," he promised. "We will be back around in a year's time, if you wish to see her."
"I—I don't think, I'll still be here then."
Ah, that's what it was.
"How bad is it."
"It was not poor manners that I did not answer the door sooner," he said. "The pain is just—even moving I feel…" the words caught in his throat but there were still things he needed to say. "I am not long for this world, and I feared what might become of my child. Please sir, do for her what I could not. Take her to something better."
He might have said more but the return of the girl in question brough that conversation to the end. Beaming like the sun, she embraced her father, tears of joy streaming down her face, smudging the dirt and grime.
"Take my hand child. And let us be off."
Giving not so much as a glance back, they left the tailors shop and hurried along the streets to the gates, arriving at the plane just as the sun was beginning to set. The apprentices sat propped against each other half asleep while the old witch perched on their packages, knitting something as they waited.
She looked up when they approached, took one look at the girl, and started cackling. "Told him he needed glasses," she said.
"As did we all," said Simeon. "I hope they weren't any trouble."
"Oh, not at all, we had a lovely time. I'm sure they'll only wake up screaming for a few weeks."
The wizard sighed at the witch but lacked the time to do more. The talismans began to chime, waking the two boys and spurring the rest of those sitting around to action.
"Here, take this," he said, handing a talisman to his newest apprentice. "Hang on tight. The first time is always a little rough, but you just hang on to that and you'll be fine."
Barely a moment later the first talisman activated and an old wizard in a green cloak disappeared, followed a moment later by the stooped over octogenarian from earlier. One after another wizards vanished till it was just them. The boys disappeared, then Seraphina and all her packages, then Simeon, leaving the girl standing alone on the open field.
Time slowed to a crawl, dread crept up like a hungry wolf and as seconds passed she began to think it was all a trick, a dreadful joke, and she would still be standing there the next morning as her dreams walked away on giant magical legs.
A single tear began sliding down her face, falling off her cheek and dropping to the ground. It stood up, looking around for its point of origin, only to find the whole plane empty, but for a curious dog who sniffed once then piddled on him.