Ekros, Grand Warlock of Niveran, strides along a line of prospective apprentices with his nose in the air, the top of his long floppy hat dangling down to his waist. Beginning at the front of the line, he takes one hand from his loose oval sleeves and holds it over a candidate’s head. His eyes clench shut for a moment before he emits a grunt, either of dismissal or approval. The selected move through a door behind the wizard while the denied are left to slink toward the exit.

Second to last in line stands Xoa Zot. He is a little older than the rest. His clothes are soiled and tattered, even by farm boy standards. As the wizard approaches, Xoa forgets everything he was supposed to do once he gained entrance to the tower. “It will be me this time,” he thinks as Ekros’ hand descends upon him.

The sorcerer wrinkles his nose, his large nostrils flaring. He opens his eyes and stares into the violet speckled gaze of Xoa Zot. His brow furrows, then a wicked smile crawls across his lips.

“I think we both know the answer, don’t we?” Ekros says, as he moves to the next in line, a girl with straw colored hair and large teeth. Xoa bites down on the inside of his cheek, fighting back tears. He turns as if to exit, but when the wizard closes his eyes over the buck-toothed girl, Xoa turns again, disappearing through the doorway leading up a staircase.

The first room he passes is a kitchen filled with the anxious selection of farm boys and milk maids, all of them grinning despite their nerves. He continues up the stairs until he reaches a trapdoor in the ceiling. He pushes up on the door, which lets out into a crowded circular room. The space is a jungle of the written word, large parchment leaves, thick spines, and sturdy shelves making up the terrain. After a moment he spots what he is looking for, a large telescope placed with the lens facing a brick-sized hole in the wall. As he moves toward it, he hears voices coming from the trap door.

“You say he went up here... the audacity!” The voice is followed by Ekros’ head popping through the trapdoor like an angry gopher. “I do not know what you were thinking coming up here, but I am of half a mind to...”

“I am sorry, sir! When you chose me I thought it would be best to get to studying right away.”

“Leave it to a fey-touched to fail to see the obvious. Let me be clear. You have not been chosen as my apprentice.” As Ekros speaks, Xoa sees the scorpion tail smile curl at the end of the wizard’s mouth. Xoa drops his eyes to his boots.

“I am deeply sorry, sir. I let my eagerness cloud my judgement and heard what I wanted.” As he speaks he wrings the straps of the satchel hanging over his shoulder. “I am glad to at least see the dwelling of the greatest wizard in the land.”

“I hope you got a good look because I really must—”

“I apologize again, sir, but I must ask. Is that the device which keeps Dervaneth the Terrible entombed?” Xoa says pointing at the large telescope facing the wall.

“Good eye, half-breed.” Ekros says with a look of surprise. Strutting toward the telescope he continues, “This is a device of my own creation, an ever-seeing eye which remains fixed. When I entombed the she-beast, one of the conditions was that there must always be a watch over the stone which bars her escape. As long as there is at least one eye on her, she shall forever be restrained. I have enchanted the eye so that it will not blink, nor is it possible to move from this coordinate.”

“Oh that’s good,” replies Xoa. “Because I saw one of the apprentices trying to use it earlier. He got mad when he couldn’t move it or see through it. So he started pawing at the thing.” Ekros stiffens, like a deer who has heard a twig snap.

“Yes, well he couldn’t have altered the position, I saw to that.”

“I think he figured that too so he thought it must be dirty. He was using his sleeve to try to clean it. I told him you shouldn’t wipe with your manure shoveling hand, but he didn’t listen. Then he ran downstairs before you came up.”

Xoa watches the wizard’s eyes bulge and his complexion spoil into a milky white. The sorcerer makes a rapid scuttle toward the device, incoherent mutterings spilling from his mouth. Ripping one of his sleeves, he moves as if he will wipe the lens, but stops. His tongue peeks out of his mouth as he stretches the fabric taut between his hands. With a jerk he makes one rapid wipe over the lens before wrenching the fabric away from the spyglass eye.

For a moment there is only the sound of Ekros’ ragged breathing. Then, there is a sound so horrible it could only be described as the war cry hell makes when it emerges from the underworld. Ekros struggles with his robes as he bolts toward the exit. Peering out of the trap door, Xoa just catches the fleeting robes as Ekros descends the stairs. Then, peeking through the telescope's hole in the wall, Xoa can see the wizard sprinting, robes hiked up past his knees, toward the main road. Xoa chuckles and moseys around the room. He raids the shelves for the most valuable books and scrolls, placing them one by one into his satchel.

“Stupid wizards.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

L. Martinez currently lives in Brooklyn with his girlfriend and a noisy ghost. By day he works in I.T., retrieving lost passwords and smiting malware. By night he writes stories. This is his first published story.