Spell Caster Chapter 2
Jerryck put the corner of a cheap parchment into the flame of the candle. When it caught, he dropped it into the stone mortar he had set on his worktable. Watching it burn, he focused in, getting a feel for the natural magic in the flame. Fire consumed. Why couldn’t that trait be altered? What if it consumed other magic, instead of physical materials? Like Tajor’s curse. And if so altered, what would it have for boundaries? There would have to be boundaries. Or what would keep it from consuming every last bit of magic in its vicinity. A boundary on Tajor’s curse was that he had to come in contact with the magic. But it had to be more refined than that, because he could walk through ambient magic without absorbing or disrupting it. So was it really like consuming fire after all? Jerryck lit another parchment and dropped it in the mortar atop the ashes of the first. In the three years since he’d met Tajor, that curse had presented an ongoing enigma. A puzzle that his mind screamed to figure out. He had tried disruptions, alterations, transferences, all kinds of different magic. Nothing he did came close to the sophistication or function of what was woven into Tajor’s aura. He didn’t expect that altering what fire consumed would come close either. But it might be fun to play with. And it would keep his mind off of other things. He created a spherical shield made entirely of magic around the burning parchment, just like the bubble he used to contain energy when he opened a portal. With his finger, he snagged hold of the flames, drawing it all outside the bubble. He cast an inane spell on the parchment that would turn ink invisible. At least, it would if it had been written on. Then he focused on the flames again, dancing off the edge of his fingertips, thinking of which spell had the best chance of getting the fire to eat the magic he had just put on the parchment, rather than the parchment itself. The chimes attached to the underside of his high cupboard rang a warning that someone had entered the tower. Startled, his hold on the fire slipped. It dripped off his finger back down into the mortar basin. The parchment re-ignited, ruining his experiment. Jerryck frowned at it as it burned. He wiped the frown from his face when footsteps thumped on the landing at the top of the tower stairs. He wasn’t supposed to be playing around with magic anyway. An elite guard entered the workroom. Without preamble, he said, “Tajor’s sick.” Jerryck put a stone lid over his mortar to snuff the fire. “Tajor doesn’t get sick.” “He’s sick now,” the guard replied, lifting one shoulder in half a shrug. “Not sure why I was sent to fetch you. General Heston always makes us guards go to the infirmary for healing. No magic allowed. Too quick. Says a little pain is good for us. Makes us hard.” “Hard to what?” Jerryck asked. “Just hard, I guess.” The guard looked around the workroom. The place would likely seem cramped to someone seeing it for the first time, despite the rafters above that vaulted the roof to a cone. The guard glanced at both the windows on either side that let in light and a cross breeze. He moved on to eyeing the shelves full of jars and books, his gaze passing across the worktable taking up the middle of the room, and finally resting on the curtain to the storage area in the back. He didn’t stare at the view of the palace rooftops below the windows as some did. And he never once looked Jerryck in the eye. Jerryck nudged the guard back out of the workroom, then passed him, and headed down the narrow stairs of his tower. “Tajor doesn’t go to the infirmary.” “I’ve been told he doesn’t get sick, either.” The guard followed, running his hand along the inner wall that enclosed the other floors of the tower. “What are his symptoms?” Jerryck passed by one of the outside windows and the beam of light it cast on the steps. “He won’t say. But he’s acting like he’s hurting, curled up in a ball, gritting his teeth, shivering some.” The young man didn’t look out that window any more than the ones in the workroom at the top. “Is it constant? Or does it come and go in waves?” “It comes and goes. It’s pretty weird, seeing him like this. I figured him for the type that wouldn’t even flinch if you cut off all his fingers and toes.” Jerryck stopped. He grimaced up at the guard a few steps above and behind him. The guard gave him a confused look. “What?” “How long have you been with the Elite?” Jerryck asked. “A few months now!” The young man beamed. Jerryck nodded and continued down. The guard hurried after him. “Why? Does it show? Did you guess because I’m doing a page’s job? I was told that’s common for rookies in the Elite.” “Is it? I never paid attention.” “Deek says I talk too much. Is that it? Did that give me away? Please. I want to know!” “You don’t have any stripes on your upper sleeve,” Jerryck said, pointing. They exited the tower into the corridor. A woman cradled a whimpering toddler, pacing back and forth in front of the door. She froze when she saw him. “Lord Magician?” She said, a tremor in her voice. I was wondering if you would, please… If you have the time, could you… If it’s not too much trouble…” “What do you need?” Jerryck asked. “My baby has a fever,” she replied, glancing down at the little girl she carried. “All the medics are busy. My friend told me you could help.” “All of them? Busy with what?” Jerryck put his hand on the child’s skin. She burned under his touch. Whimpering again, she turned her face to her mama’s neck and batted away his hand. The woman caught her child’s hand and said, “People started getting sick after lunch.” “Sick from what?” Jerryck probed with his fingertips under the girl’s chin. The glands under her jaw were swollen. “I don’t know,” the woman said. Jerryck gathered energy around his right hand, just enough to shape into a probe for health. He muttered the word that severed it from his aura and directed it at the little girl. The results came back befuddled and confused, giving him both healthy and sick readings at the same time. “The magician is needed elsewhere,” the guard said. “I’m sorry.” The woman backed away, staring at his uniform, the gold star pinned to his collar, indication of Elite status. Jerryck frowned at the guard.“Part of my job is serving the residents of the palace. You really think I’m going to refuse a sick baby?” “You’re busy.” The woman nearly whispered. “I’ll go. I’m sure the medics will get to her if we wait long enough.” Jerryck caught the woman’s arm to stop her. “I’ll use magic to reduce her fever. It’ll only last a few hours, so if a medic hasn’t seen her by then, bring her back to me. I’ll do more to try and figure this out.” The woman barely stayed long enough for Jerryck to apply the magic. Casting nervous glances between him and the guard, she left the moment he finished. He went with the guard to the elite barracks, scolding him along the way. “You can’t try to scare off the people I’m supposed to help.” “I’m sure your own reputation had nothing to do with her being nervous.” The guard rolled his eyes. “Nothing at all whatsoever.” “What reputation?” “Well, you…” The young man spluttered. “I mean, just that, um… Never mind. Maybe Deek is right. I do talk too much.” He closed his mouth and didn’t open it again. All the way down to the ground floor, through the bustle of the bailey, to the four-story building that provided housing for the elite guards, separate from the barracks for the rest of the guards. Rumor had it there was a tunnel that led from here to the palace proper and to several of the other buildings. But then, rumor also had it that there was an entire labyrinth below the dungeon level too. If that were true, the palace would collapse under its own weight. The young man marched right in, past the two guards manning the entrance, and through a low ceiling common room were several men lounged. Jerryck followed him, his eyes adjusting to the close dimness after the open light of the bailey, up a flight of stairs and turned left down a narrow corridor. Identical doors lined it on both sides. There, the young man stopped, pointing to where another elite stood blocking most of the light from the window at the end. The young man headed back down the stairs. Jerryck went up the corridor, struggling to put a name to the man’s face, with his crooked nose and scowling eyes. How many times had he been told it? The man was one of the guards with Tajor when Jerryck tossed out Masorno. He really should know the name. “Took you long enough.” The man’s voice was gravelly . “I had to stop to help someone along the way,” Jerryck said. Tajor’s voice in one of the rooms was too muffled to make out any of the words. General Heston’s response was much louder. “Just answer the question! And stop giving me riddles.” Jerryck blinked in surprise. “He won’t answer Heston?” “Tajor doesn’t answer anyone,” the guard said. “I know, but, not even the general?” Jerryck squeezed past the guard and knocked on the door. It was so thin, the light rap jostled it on its hinges. It jerked open from the inside. Heston, teeth bared, saw Jerryck and dropped the snarl. “There you are.” Jerryck stepped back, making room for Heston’s large frame to fit in the corridor. He asked, “What exactly happened?” “Deek.” Heston looked over at the crooked nosed guard, reminding Jerryck of the man’s name. “He took a drink of water,” Deek said. “He collapsed.” “Was he alone?” Jerryck asked. “In the common room.” Deek said. “No one sent for a medic, did they?” Jerryck hadn’t seen one on his way in, but it was better to make sure. “Is it tattling if I tell you Deek punched the person who tried?” Tajor asked from inside his room. Heston glowered at Deek. “Did you?” “I don’t want to know about this.” Jerryck entered the tiny room. Tajor sat on a bed almost as narrow as he was, leaning back against the wall. His gray eyes were open and alert, not squeezed shut against waves of pain. His skin looked almost as ashen as his hair. He clenched his jaw and trembled some. But he wasn’t hugging his arms over his belly, or doubling over into a fetal position. “How bad was it?” Jerryck asked. “Can you specify?” Tajor asked right back. “I really don’t want to play this game right now,” Jerryck said with a sigh. “It makes it really difficult to help you.” Tajor smirked at him. “Help me with what?” “How bad was your reaction to whatever magic you came in contact with?” “I don’t react to magic.” Jerryck let his mouth hang open for a few moments. Then said, “I do believe that’s the first lie I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth.” “It’s not a lie. I don’t react to magic.” “You feel pain every time you come in contact with magic,” Heston said from the doorway. “Not from the magic.” Tajor’s smirk grew. “Would this be an argument of technicalities or semantics?” “If you don’t come in contact with magic, the curse weaved into your aura doesn’t punish you,” Jerryck said. “So the initial cause of your reaction is contact with magic, whether that’s directly what causes you the pain or not. So how bad was your reaction to the magic? And what magic was it?” “So, semantics then?” “Would you stop that!” “Why?” Tajor smirked again. Then he ground his teeth, his eyes unfocusing. “You’re still hurting,” Jerryck said. “You can tell?” Tajor spoke through a clenched jaw. “Tell me what magic you came in contact with,” Jerryck said. “Here’s the problem…” Tajor relaxed again, his eyes refocusing. “I can’t specify exactly.” “You always know every magic you come in contact with. How can you not specify?” “It was diluted.” “How diluted?” “It was diluted enough I doubt anyone else will be affected by it.” Tajor stretched out his legs, jostling the narrow bed just enough that it creaked. “Unless it’s instability plays a factor. I suppose that’s a possibility now that I think on it.” “What kind of magic was it?” Jerryck asked. “Break this down for me so I know what to look for.” “Elemental with a cover,” Tajor said. “Beyond that, I’m embarrassed to say, I honestly can’t tell. What I caught was too minuscule.” “You don’t react this way to minuscule elemental magic. If you did, you’d collapsed every few seconds because it’s everywhere!” Jerryck spread his hands out above his head. “Did I mention that it was unstable?” Jerryck dropped his hands. Unstable. He pulled his lower lip. Elemental. Covered. With these factors, could it affect other people? The woman with the toddler had said people were getting sick. When had Tajor taken the drink? After lunch? “Did anyone keep the water Tajor drank from?” Jerryck asked. “Deek.” Heston leaned to look back in the corridor. “Get it.” Jerryck let go of his lip and asked Heston, “Are any of the guards sick?” “A few took ill after lunch,” Heston said. “I have a medic looking in on them.” “What are their symptoms?” “They vary. Why?” “Because unstable magic reacts disparately with minor variations in minute details on the subject it affects.” Heston scowled at him. “Speak plainly.” “Everyone is different. So unstable magic will affect them differently, if it affects them at all.” Deek returned with a bucket. Heston passed it into the room. Jerryck took it and looked at the water in it. There was nothing abnormal. He used the same kind of magic as he had on the girl, except shaped to detect other magic, not physical ailments. It gave him negative results. With a word he altered his sight, giving himself the ability to see the colored auras of magic. Still, there was nothing abnormal in the water. “I don’t see anything wrong with this.” Jerryck let his sight fade back to normal. “No magic at all.” “Are you going to discount evidence simply because you can’t see what it’s pointing to?” Tajor asked. “Besides, there are ways to hide magic.” “Covered,” Jerryck mumbled. He looked up from the bucket. “Where did this water come from?” “The vats,” Heston said. “Same as always. And since you didn’t think to ask, no one tampered with the bucket before Tajor drank. Whatever affected him is in those vats. So it could very well be affecting everyone. Go check them.” “Everyone?” Jerryck couldn’t examine every individual in the palace. And even if he could, it wouldn’t do much good until he figured out exactly what the magic was. Heston gave him a droll look. “The vats. Not the people.” “Oh, right.” Jerryck nodded. “Of course.” Heston stepped aside, letting him out of the room. He walked up the corridor as Heston demanded of Tajor, “Why did you make us drag this information out of you? You could’ve just told me and save a lot of time.” “Where’s the fun in that?” Tajor asked. Jerryck headed back down the stairs to unintelligible shouting in the common room. Tables and chairs scraped across the floors, shoved about violently, crashing into each other. He came off the last step just as several men separated two combatants. One of them was quickly hustled up the corridor. The other was pushed into the nearest corner. One of the men holding him shouted in his face, “What is wrong with you! Why are you acting so hot tempered!” Hot. Fevers. Jerryck looked around at the men. Some of them were flushed. A couple were dripping in sweat. One man sat fanning himself with a piece of parchment. How many people were affected by this throughout the palace?