Chapter One: Vey's Wish
Thordric's brow creased as he gazed at his notes, flicking through them with annoyance. He'd been working on his dish-washing spell for weeks, and though he'd cracked the first part to make the plates clean themselves after he'd finished eating, getting the magical lacquer to stick to plates that didn't come from the Wizard Council was proving far more difficult than he'd first thought.
Unfortunately, it was the lacquer that made the spell work. It was composed of a special powder that, upon detection of cold waste substances, would force them all up into a great floating mass of muck which then levitated itself into the nearest waste bin. Both practical and entertaining, Thordric had thought, but without a way to make the lacquer stick to normal plates, there was no way anyone other than the Council could use it.
This was one of the reasons why Thordric's mood that morning was particularly grim. No matter how much he adjusted the ingredients or the mixing time, he still couldn't get the lacquer to like the feel of ordinary crockery. True, turning the powder into a lacquer was certainly a step up from when he'd tried to use it raw (which had either failed to work or made the mass of waste food fly at the diner's face), but it still flat out rejected normal plates and dishes despite there being no real difference between those and the Wizard Council's ones. Perhaps it was the magical residue left on the Wizard Council's plates that made the lacquer like them so much.
He jotted the idea down in his notebook, but then realised that he also needed to find something that would rinse and dry the plates after the waste food had disappeared. Absently tugging out several strands of his thick dark hair, he thought back to all the trouble he'd had with spells before. There had been many times when he'd thought his magic just wasn't good enough, and in each case he'd surprised himself by making things work. But this time…no, he wouldn't let despair sink in just yet. He could do this; he was just stuck in a rut at the moment. That was all.
The Wizard Council had been Thordric's home for six years now, ever since he'd helped solve the murder case of High Wizard Kalljard and revealed the High Wizard's terrible plans to eradicate all the half-wizards in Dinia. Even though Thordric was only twenty-one, the youngest Council member of all time, he was treated with respect by the Council's new leader, High Wizard Vey, something that many of the older wizards still muttered about behind his back.
Not to mention that unlike most of the wizards at the Council, both he and Vey were half-wizards; which had caused quite a stir when Vey had revealed this fact at Thordric's initiation ceremony, because, thanks to Kalljard's lies over the many years he'd been head of the Wizard Council, everyone had believed that half-wizards were dangerous and couldn't control their magic.
Of course, it was true that full wizards came from families that had never had any magic in them before (thus they supposedly received all the potential magic of that bloodline) and half-wizards came from families that had already produced a wizard, but as to their magic being dangerous, Thordric had disproved that many times. In fact, he'd shown the Council that the only difference between full and half-wizard magic was that full wizards were trained how to use theirs from an early age, whereas half-wizards received no training at all and were left to work out things for themselves, sometimes with hazardous results.
It was to put an end to all the prejudice against half-wizards that he and Vey had reformed the Council, accepting half-wizards to be trained at the Wizard Council Training Facility just as early as full wizards. It'd taken a lot of work, but now the hatred for them was dissolving, allowing the people of Dinia to live together peacefully no matter what their lineage.
So now Thordric had much more time to focus on making new spells, which was why he'd started work on his dish-washing spell, trying to make a way for the busy people of Dinia to clean their dishes instantly so they could spend time doing other things.
A knock came at his door, making him jump and hit his head on the bookshelf above his desk. He yelped, and the door came crashing open to reveal Kal, the teenage wizard that Thordric had been put in charge of three years ago, staring at him with concern.
'Thordric, what happened? Are you—'
'I'm fine, Kal,' Thordric grumbled irritably, rubbing his head. 'Was there something you needed?'
'No, not me. It's High Wizard Vey, he's sent you an official summons,' Kal said, eying the notebook on Thordric's desk.
Thordric saw him and shut it quickly. Kal had a habit of picking up bits of magic theory from here and there and trying to make them work by himself, something that most often ended in disaster. 'Vey?' Thordric said, raising an eyebrow. 'An official summons? Sounds serious, I hope he hasn't come down with something.'
Kal laughed nervously. Thordric knew the young wizard still wasn't quite used to the way he and Vey treated each other so informally, though he'd made sure to tell him exactly what they'd been through together, and that Thordric's own mother had married Vey's uncle some years ago, making them bonded closely by family as well as by friendship.
'I suppose I'd better go and see what he wants,' Thordric said, getting up and putting his notebook in the desk drawer, locking it and placing the key in his pocket. He didn't miss the look of disappointment on Kal's face as he did so, but he chose not to comment. Instead, he strolled out of the room and down the various twists and turns of the Council's crescent moon shaped building until he reached the staircase leading up to Vey's room.
Kal had been following him closely, but now Thordric turned to him. 'Perhaps it would be best if you continued with your studies,' he said, not unkindly. 'Try the painting spell again. See if you can do it in colour rather than in black and white; I'll come along and check it later.'
Kal mumbled a meek reply of thanks and scurried off down the hall. Thordric raised his eyebrow again; it was unusual for Kal not to argue with him about practicing a spell that didn't involve explosions. He shrugged and carried on up the slim staircase until he got to the door at the top, knocking politely.
'Enter,' Vey's voice came, strangely formal.
Thordric did so and found that Vey's bedchamber had been turned into what looked like a meeting room. There were five wizards seated in a circle, with Vey sitting the furthest away from him, and he also saw that Inspector Jimmson, from Jard Town's local stationhouse (and incidentally, his own step-father) was there, too.
The Inspector nodded to Thordric as their eyes met, but stayed silent. Thordric surveyed Vey and the other wizards. Vey was wearing robes of a deep blue, with the Wizard Council's symbol of a book and potion bottle in front of a half moon stitched across the entire front. Thordric had only seen Vey wear these robes on official occasions, such as the Winter Celebration and other public appearances. Never had he worn them within the Council before; he'd always told Thordric that they were too oppressive and heavy to wear on a regular basis. Thordric looked him in the eyes and Vey's mouth twitched ever so slightly, as though he was fighting the urge to smile. The rest of the wizards, all of whom Thordric knew well and spoke to regularly, were also wearing their official robes, and had the same expression as Vey.
Thordric looked down at his own robes, noting how faded and patchy they were, and blushed. When Kal had told him they were official summons, he hadn't expected them to be as formal as this.
There was an empty chair directly opposite Vey, and, now nervous, Thordric took it. As he did so, a ripple of exhales ran through the circle, but as he looked at everyone, he thought he might have imagined it.
'Wizard Thordric, you have been summoned here today to bear witness to High Wizard Vey's Wishes Upon Death or Retirement,' one of the wizards to Vey's right said in a clear voice.
Thordric blinked at him. Wishes upon death or retirement? What did they mean? Was Vey ill?
He was about to jump up and ask when Vey held up his hand. 'This is purely a formality. All will be explained in due course,' he said calmly, a hint of his normal voice rolling in. He gestured for the wizard who had spoken to continue.
The wizard coughed to clear his throat. 'As a wizard who has contributed substantially to the objectives of the Wizard Council, it is our duty and our pleasure to inform you, Wizard Thordric, that his reverence, High Wizard Vey, wishes you to become his successor in the event of his death or if he is unable to continue his role as High Wizard successfully.'
Thordric tugged at his ears, unsure if he had heard him correctly.
The wizard continued. 'Do you accept his reverence's most gracious offer?'
Apparently he had heard correctly. Suddenly, the room seemed to be unstable, and he fell off of his chair with a crash. He tried to get up, but the floor swam underneath him and his head hit the ground in a faint.
'I knew this would happen,' Vey's voice said somewhere above him. 'He's not the sort of person you can just spring things on. If I'd just hinted my intentions to him a few weeks ago, then maybe he would have suspected something like this and been more prepared.'
'Nonsense, Eric. The boy has to grow up at some point. After all, he's a young man now; he needs to prepare himself for things like this.'
Thordric scrunched up his brow, his eyes too heavy to open. Someone had called Vey 'Eric'. The only person who did that was Vey's mother, Lizzie.
'But mother, was it really necessary for all the formality?' Vey protested. 'I think it was that more than anything that surprised him.'
'Well, perhaps it was a step too far,' Lizzie said thoughtfully. 'But I have noticed that you have been neglecting the formalities of the Council of late. You must keep them going, Eric, otherwise the people won't take you seriously.'
Thordric managed to laugh. Taking Vey seriously as head of the Council was quite hard, for he usually drifted about as casually as anyone, and frequently gave his guards the slip just to be free of them for a few hours. It wasn't how most people thought the High Wizard should act at all.
'So, you're awake then, boy,' Lizzie said, propping his head up on a plump pillow that smelt of rose petals and nutmeg.
With effort, he opened his eyes and saw her and Vey looking at him. They were in Lizzie's townhouse, and Vey was sitting in a wicker armchair opposite the sofa that Thordric was lying on, his face matching the few grey flecks that had started to appear in his short beard, while she was standing over Thordric, a questioning look on her face.
'Come now, boy, what was that all about? Surely you must have had some idea of what Eric intended for you?' she said, handing him a cup of chocolate and blueberry tea. He took it gratefully and sat up.
'I…no, not really. I know you both think a lot of me, and I'm grateful for that, but…High Wizard? You really want me to be the next one?' he asked.
'Of course,' Vey said. 'Out of all the wizards at the Council, you are the only one who has truly helped me to sort out the mess that Kalljard left us in and improved the spells and potions we make so that they really help people instead of being gimmicks. I've spoken to everyone and we all agree – you're the best choice we've got. Even Wizard Ayek agreed, and you know how much he dislikes you…and me, come to that. Mind you, that might have been because I threatened to have Hamlet give a talk on his latest archaeological finds if he refused.'
Thordric snorted. Hamlet was a young archaeologist he'd met three years ago on his travels to Neathin Valley, and he was so enthusiastic about his work that he would talk about it for hours and hours if anyone let him.
Vey smiled. 'But why are you deciding this now?' Thordric asked him. 'Surely you're not stepping down yet?'
The thought of taking over from Vey so soon made Thordric's insides jump about quite violently.
Vey shook his head. 'No, I think I can manage for at least another twenty years, but I thought that I should put it in my Wishes Upon Death or Retirement just to be on the safe side. After all,' he said with a grin, 'with Kal running around causing explosions everywhere, you never know what will happen.'
Thordric pulled a pained expression. 'Speaking of Kal, where is he? Is he still back at the Council?'
'He is. I checked on him after you fainted. He was practicing the painting spell just like you told him to. There were a few scorch marks on the wall, though. Maybe I should send him to the Training Facility a few times a week. I know you're trying your best with him, but perhaps he needs a bit more discipline…'
They all looked at each other. Kal wasn't a bad student, but he was very impatient and constantly wanted to learn new spells before he'd fully grasped the more simple ones, and once or twice Thordric had given in to his complaints and taught him some. If one of the wizards at the Training Facility could do better, then Thordric would give them a medal.
Chapter Two: Hamlet's Discovery
Two days later, once Thordric had recovered sufficiently and finally relented to being the next High Wizard once Vey stepped down, Kal knocked hard on his door again.
'Come in, Kal,' he said, not even bothering to look up from his notes.
'How did you know it was me?' Kal asked, eyeing Thordric suspiciously. Thordric grinned.
'No-one else would knock on my door quite that hard…well, Vey might, but only if it was really urgent, and since he has his long distance communicator with him all the time, he usually calls me on that,' Thordric said, prodding his own long distance communicator. It was a small box with a button sticking out of the back and, curiously, a small, blue flower poking out of a hole on the top. The communicators had been Thordric's invention, having made them for his journey to Neathin Valley three years before, and relied on the strong connection between parts of a plant that have been divided.
It was in Neathin Valley that he'd first met Kal, who had accidentally managed to cause one of the biggest disasters that Dinia had ever seen. Once the damage had all been rectified, Vey had thought it best for Kal to be given some serious instruction on how to use his magic, nominating Thordric to take him on. But even now Thordric thought that might have been a mistake. He barely had control over his own magic, let alone trying to teach someone else.
'Oh,' Kal said, a little sheepishly. 'I just thought you would like to know that Hamlet's back. He's in the dining hall now, talking to Vey. He seemed very excited about something.'
Thordric chuckled. 'It doesn't take much to make him excited. Last month I showed him the bones of a goat that Vey had found tucked away in one of the rooms full of Kalljard's old junk, and he leapt on them and started telling me they must be from a species that's extinct. He went on about it for days.'
'Were they from a goat species that's now extinct?' Kal asked, tugging at his short dreadlocks. They were a recent addition, because Thordric had gotten fed up with him for leaving trails of hair all over the bathroom floor.
'Well, yes, I think they were, actually,' said Thordric dismissively. 'But anyway, I'd better go and see him before he comes rambling in here and knocks over my work.'
Kal sniggered and left the room with Thordric in tow, making their way to the dining hall. The hall had been freshly decorated that morning, as it was now the custom for the colour to be changed every month –an idea of Vey's to help make it more inviting not only for the Council wizards, but for anyone visiting.
As they walked through the door, they saw Hamlet's unmistakeable blonde hair and pale face grinning at them from one of the tables at the far back of the room. Despite how much sun he always got from spending time doing archaeological field work, his skin never turned darker than a glass of milk. He waved to them and pulled out their chairs, but Kal mumbled an excuse about leaving a potion brewing and dashed off to drain it.
'Nice to see you back, Hamlet,' Thordric said as he took his seat. He eyed the room. 'I thought Vey was in here with you?'
'Oh, he was, but he's just gone to pack,' Hamlet said cheerily, watching the teapot that Thordric had just summoned from the serving table pour him a large cup of tea. He took it and sniffed. 'Oh good, I like this one—'
'Sorry, did you just say that Vey has gone to pack?' Thordric choked.
'Yes, why?' Hamlet said, taking a sip of his tea, oblivious as to why the head of the Wizard Council suddenly up and leaving was a strange idea.
'Where's he going?' Thordric pressed.
'He's coming with me, we're leaving right after dinner. Anyway, have a look at what I've discovered,' he said, opening his bag, which was so over-filled that Thordric'd had to put a strengthening spell on the seams last time he had seen him. Hamlet pulled out several large notebooks filled with sketches and diagrams, and something that looked like an overlarge mushroom made from vine roots and glass. He was about to tell him about it when he saw Thordric's face. 'Did you want to know where we're going?'
Thordric tried not to let out a growl of frustration. 'If you wouldn't mind.'