• Rebekah Olson

Chapter 33

At the end of the week-long toil, Jerryck trudged up the stairs. He passed the bedroom and went up the last flight to his workroom. The evening’s music lilted in the windows on the warm air. Leanne had probably gone on to dance with everyone else in the bailey. He began to straighten up the room, putting way tools and implements he’d used earlier that day. His weariness dug in its claws, pulling him to the door that led to his bedroom. Without Leanne, his bed remained empty, even when he occupied it. He picked up the last few items and put them where they belonged. Then he grabbed a random book and let it fall open in his hands. He turned to sit on the stool and almost crashed into Tajor. “Gah!” Jerryck jumped back. “What are you doing here?” Tajor looked down at his feet and said, “Standing.” “I mean—” Jerryck closed the book on his finger— “why are you here?” “Here in this room? In this palace? In this country? Or was that a rhetorical question about existence itself?” “Why are you in my room?” “I’ve come to exercise my right to bother you whenever I please,” Tajor said with a smirk. “Please don’t.” Jerryck opened the book again and laid it on the worktable. “I’m really tired.” “So tired you’re studying?” “I’m waiting for Leanne.” Jerryck sat and leaned over the book. The words printed on the page were blurry. He rubbed his eyes, trying to bring them into focus. Tajor turned and looked over the shelves. “I have a question.” “Only one?” Jerryck muttered. Tajor chuckled. Then he pointed to the sealed jar at the top of the shelves. “What would happen if the Gathering of Seats found out you have that?” “They already know I have it,” Jerryck said. “And they haven’t tried to come and destroy it for you?” “I don’t use it,” Jerryck said. “They know that. It was part of a peace offering from magic-users south of the Ahnjwat Sea.” “You’re not worried that something will happen to it sometime when you have one of your accidents?” Jerryck looked up from the book. “You know about those?” “Several of the elite know about those.” Tajor smiled a little. “How else could we squash rumors every time you have workers up here to fix things you broke? What else would keep the Gathering from hearing about them?” “I don’t want to talk about this.” Jerryck turned the page. It was just as blurry as the one before. He stared at it anyway. Tajor leaned close and whispered, “How long before the Gathering finds out about your accidents?” “They’re not going to find out.” Jerryck shouldered Tajor away. “How do you know?” Tajor backed off. “Do you even know what causes them?” “Go away,” Jerryck said. Tajor smirked. He stepped over to the counter with the shelves above it. “Is this far enough?” “I meant leave the room.” “That’s not what you said.” Tajor’s smirk widened. He turned and looked over the tools on the counter and the shelves again. He reached out and picked up a wand Jerryck had traded for several years back. Jerryck jumped off his stool, lunging for Tajor’s arm—too late. “Don’t touch that!” “Ow.” Tajor giggled. The wand flashed and sputtered. He dropped it and flicked his hand as if it smarted. The little bit of remaining power in the tool fizzled away into nothingness. “I used that whenever I had to do a transfiguration,” Jerryck complained. “Not anymore.” Tajor shook his head. He reached for a crystal. “What do you use this one for?” “That’s for purifying some potions that get tainted if they’re on the shelf too long,” Jerryck replied. He snatched at the crystal, again too late. He examined it, tossed it back down on the counter. “You just made it useless.” “Oh?” Tajor wouldn’t stop grinning. He reached for something else and asked again, “What’s this for?” Stop that!” Jerryck grabbed Tajor’s arm. “You know what these things are for. Why are you doing this?” “I want to know how protective you are of your things,” Tajor answered. He picked up a charm. It fizzled and popped. He held it in his hand with barely a twitch in his finger. “I could do this all night.” Jerryck glowered. “Do you have any idea how expensive that was?” “Do you want to ask me if I care?” Tajor retorted. He looked over the rest of the tools splayed before him. “Please don’t,” Jerryck begged. Tajor backed away from the counter, looked up, and pointed at the sealed jar. “How exactly did you get that, anyway?” “A summoner gave it to me at a magicians convention,” Jerryck said as he pushed some of his tools close to the wall behind the counter—not that it got them far enough away from Tajor. “Why?” Tajor asked. “I don’t know,” Jerryck said with a shrug. How many things could he stuffed into the cabinet and lock it? Of course, it wouldn’t do much good if Tajor took the key from him. “It was the first year the summoners were allowed back to the convention. They gave several of them away to some apprentices in a ceremony of some sort. I think it was supposed to be some sort of gesture of compliance to the Gathering.” “By giving away magic tools that the Gathering wouldn’t approve of to people who wouldn’t know how to control them?” Tajor asked. Jerryck’s shoulders slumped. He had no answer for that. How did Tajor do this to people so easily? At least he seemed to have lost interest in destroying the tools. Jerryck picked up the useless charm and scrutinized it. It was pretty enough, he could put it on a chain and give it to Leanne as a necklace. That would give it some use, instead of being a complete waste. Might as well make the best of things. Tajor obviously wanted to know more about that jar and the entity inside it. If Jerryck didn’t satisfy, he likely would lose more tools. Perhaps if he entertained Tajor for a while, the man would give up some of the secrets of his curse, like an information exchange. As weary as Jerryck was, he could stay awake for that. “Does everyone who received a jar still have theirs?” Tajor asked. “I think I’m the only one who kept it,” Jerryck said. “Most of the others, their mentors destroyed them. Mine told me to keep it safe.” “Would you get it down for me?” “What?” Jerryck nearly dropped the charm. He fumbled it back down to the counter. “If you’ve had that since you were an apprentice, then you’ve had it long enough that the entity inside should know you pretty well by now. I have some questions for it.” “Don’t we have to take proper precautions?” Jerryck asked. “Draw diagrams on the floor or something?” “Not if you know how to handle it properly. You’re safe with me here.” “I don’t know…” “You want me to get it myself?” Tajor reached up. Jerryck grabbed Tajor’s arm. “No!” He put himself between Tajor and the shelves. He slipped the jar off the high shelf, and set it firmly on the work table. With one last nervous glance at Tajor, who nodded and smiled, Jerryck unlatched the lid. The seal broke with a small pop. There was the brief whistle of air sucking inside. Then it let out the reek of brimstone. Jerryck covered his nose. His eyes teared up, burning from the fumes. He backed to the nearest window. Without moving, Tajor watched Jerryck retreat. He didn’t change his breathing to deal with the stench. He didn’t cover his nose. His eyes didn’t water. The jar heated so much it glowed, sending warmth all the way across the room to Jerryck. He should have put it on the floor. It was a wonder the table didn’t burst into flames. Still, Tajor stood beside it, unaffected. The glow and the heat subsided. A white mist leaked out the open mouth of the jar. It draped down the outside of the vessel, veiling it from sight. It spread in a pool across the surface of the worktable and spilled over the sides. By the time it dripped down far enough to touch the floor, the rim of the jar was visible again. The mists continued cascading down until none remained on the tabletop. It spread across the floor, snaking over to Jerryck’s feet. He pressed himself against the wall, staying out of it as much as possible as it expanded. When all of it was on the floor, it contracted, shrinking in on itself and rising up in a vertical pillar. It pressed in, solidifying to human form. In just a few seconds, the faint image of a young man took shape. The remaining mist squeezed into the figure and completed it. It had the appearance of an adult, but about the height of a five-year-old, with pointy ears. If Jerryck looked at it directly, it seems solid. But if he looked just to the side and saw it with his peripheral vision, it was almost translucent. “Dramatic enough?” Tajor asked as the last whiff of brimstone faded. “The smell?” Jerryck asked. “What smell?” Tajor gave him a funny look. “I meant the glowing and the mist.” “The glowing? You mean the heat.” “What heat?” “Remember how mortals perceive what comes from below.” The creature from the jar spoke with a high, nasal twang. It turned to Jerryck. “My apologies, Master. Those are the side effects of the magic that assists me to become solid enough in this place to act. The longer I am in the jar, the more dramatic the effects.” It looked down at the floor. Then it smiled with teeth pointier than its ears. “Forget it,” Tajor said. “You’ll do as you’re told and nothing else. Then you’ll either go back, or go home, depending on how well you behave.” The creature dropped it smile. “Temptations…” “You have enough control to resist destructive urges, or you wouldn’t be able to use that jar at all.” “I don’t have to resist! No compulsions are on me. And you’re bound by magic that prevents you from doing anything about it if I run amok.” “There’s nothing that would prevent me from going to where you come from.” “That would be a one-way trip for you at this point.” “So if I have to go, I’ll make you pay the price.” Tajor showed none of his habitual humor. The creature somehow drew away from him without taking a single step. Tajor’s face softened a bit. “This won’t take long. It shouldn’t be too taxing on your self-control.” The creature tipped its head differentially to Jerryck and said, “I will do as you command, and nothing more.” “You will do as I command, not him,” Tajor said. “And for now, I command you to truthfully answer my questions. What are you called?” “You may call me Yeshiyahu.” “How does Jerryck gain strength?” The demon smirked much like Tajor often did. “Exercise.” “I don’t like you asking questions about me specifically,” Jerryck said. “Too bad.” Tajor smirked too. He said to the creature, “Let me specify. How should Jerryck exercise to regain strength after wearying himself with magic usage? What would be most effective for him?” “He should use his imagination in the form of experimentation with spells no one has come up with or that he’s never tried.” “What?” Jerryck didn’t like that news! He wasn’t supposed to experiment, no matter how much he liked it. The Gathering disapproved. Besides, the last time he’d done it, he’d blown up his workroom, with the shamaness inside it! Tajor ignored Jerryck. “I doubt I easily get him to do that. Does he have magic he does as a reflexive action?” “Yes.” “Tell me what it is.” “He’s never asked anything of me. Please don’t make me be mean to him.” “Tell me what it is,” Tajor repeated. “He gains strength from his family.” Yeshiyahu hung his head and averted his eyes from Jerryck. “If they come under threat, he reactively protects them.” “I should have guessed that,” Tajor said. “I have a new order for you. Go get Leanne and bring her here, using whatever method you feel like.” “No!” Jerryck shouted. He pointed his finger at Yeshiyahu. “Don’t you do any such thing! You stay away from my wife!” Tajor waved Yeshiyahu away. “Go get her.” “Stop it!” Jerryck shouted at Tajor too. “Are you going to make me?” Tajor challenged. He kept his eyes on Jerryck, but spoke to Yeshiyahu, slowly, over-enunciating each word, “Go. And. Fetch. Leanne.” Yeshiyahu shook its head. It started vibrating, sending an irritating buzz across Jerryck’s skin. Tajor said, “Don’t try and refuse. You know what I can do to you.” Yeshiyahu gave Jerryck a rueful look. “I’m sorry, Master.” It glided for the door, taking no steps. With every inch, its expression grew more malicious, its body more transparent. Panic stabbed into Jerryck’s gut. Raw energy surged, exploding out of him, hitting Tajor square in his midsection. Tajor staggered back and fell over, groaning. Yeshiyahu stopped, becoming as solid as before. Its malicious expression now tainted with sadistic humor, it hopped up and down with a maniacal cackle. “Serves you right,” it crowed, pointing with a talon-like finger. “Serves you right! Serves you right!” “Get back in the jar,” Jerryck told it. It pouted. “Do I have to?” “Get back in the jar.” Jerryck had to grab hold of the sturdy worktable to keep from falling over. “All right, all right.” It held up both hands, placating him. “You don’t have to get your nose bent out of shape. Remember, it was his idea, not mine. I tried to tell him not to make me do something you wouldn’t like. You’re a nice master. One of the best I’ve ever had here. You’ll do quite well for us. Even if the original plans for you didn’t work out. I don’t enjoy upsetting you.” “Get back in the jar!” Yeshiyahu gave him one last smirk. Then it collapsed into a pillar of mist, and shot into the jar with a sucking noise. The jar teetered one way, then the other, before it stabilized again. It sat on the table, as innocent looking as many of the other containers in the workroom. Jerryck let out a sigh of relief. His hands shook with exhaustion as he closed the lid and clamped down the seal. The containment magic reactivated. He picked up the jar and set it back on the high shelf. Then he let himself collapse onto the floor, sitting with his back propped against the cupboard under his counter. “That was easy,” Tajor wheezed, still curled in a ball, teeth clenched together, gray eyes glazed over. “You may want to rethink how you deal with the Gathering. Avoiding them won’t work if they come after your family.”