This is the first few chapters of a book I am working on called “Peculiarity- The Magician’s Apprentice Series.” As a note, this is, much to Speegle’s chagrin, unedited (but hey, he’s featured in the story!).
It is also LONG. My apologies. Not really.
As a secondary note, this is the first time I have shared it publicly, so please be GENTLE.
In the town of Steadfast, on a road named Peculiarity, a small road, an alleyway really, that rested in between Bleak St. And Despair Lane, sat a house. Number 4, Peculiarity Road to be exact, which was strange indeed for it sat not between Number 3 and Number 5, but rather Number 111 and Number 112. In this house there lived a boy of no particular singularity. His hair was neither short nor long. His eyes were a most forgetful moss, as if the color were all that was left in creation’s cupboard. His voice was that of a mouse, so soft it was hard to hear. If it were a song it would put a lullaby to sleep. He wore tweed slacks that may have once been dapper, but years of rubbing them along the washer board had taken the color from them, leaving them as lifeless as a brick. Moss colored suspenders, of the forgetful kind, were placed over a grey button down shirt, with sleeves rolled perfectly between wrist and elbow, most notably the most notable habit of such a dross little boy. His shoes were of no particular color, made of suede and did not make a single click, thump or shuffle as the boy walk from here to there, and there to here.
The boy’s name was Thom. And today was the day that this boy, with shoes of no particular color, and hair neither short nor long, would have an adventure of sorts. For today was the day he met the greatest magician of them all:
Alastair Xavier Frumplebottom.
But outside of the road named Peculiarity and beyond the town of Steadfast, he was often referred to as Alastair Dragonsbane, the Warlock of the Eastern Isles, or the Wizard of Western Waves, which in and of itself is ironic for neither dragons, nor warlocks, nor wizards exist in the town of Steadfast, or another place for that matter. But most commonly this magician was known as:
Alastair the Astounding.
Chapter 1- Home
It was a overcast day in February, as days in February tend to be. The road named Peculiarity was particularly dreary, as if being bullied by the clouds. And Number 4, Peculiarity Road was the dreariest of them all. The two story Victorian home had exactly thirty two shudders, all of which were closed tight. The porch wrapped around the grey house like arms protecting a rather large child. The roof creaked and moaned, the same tragic song it had sang for the last 107 years. It had been abandoned for the better part of seven decades, that was of course, until the Cromsley’s arrived.
The moving truck came to a slow, howling stop in front of Number 4. The words “Adventure Across the Continent” were faded and chipped spanning the box of the marigold truck. Its only accents were rust and road muck, similar but not to be confused. See, road muck carries the story of distance while rust tells the story of time.
A small two door rustless coupe, of the European variety, drove past the moving truck and curved left into the driveway. Selwin Cromsley stepped from the coupe knuckling his back and arching like an old hound dog.
“Eliza, darling, we should have waited until spring. Nobody likes to move in the cold.” Selwin’s red mustache moved back and forth keeping time to the slow melodic cadence of his voice.
“Selwinny, that’s why I hired movers.” Eliza did not look at Selwin as she spoke from the passenger seat, her downward pointed nose buried in a compact. It seemed of all the things Eliza was good at, talking down to people was one at which she excelled. “Ehhheemmm.”
“Wha? Oh right, right.” Selwin closed the car door and hurried, which is to say, he walked every so slightly faster than normal, to the coupe’s passenger door. Selwin quickly opened it and stood out of the way. Eliza was every bit the proper lady. It seemed as though her cotton skirt neither wrinkled nor crinkled as she daintily stepped from the coupe.
They were an odd sight, the Cromsleys. A tailors worst nightmare, Selwin was all legs, standing head and shoulders above most men his age. The top of his head was bald, with a mirror like shine, while the sides of his head revolted the norm by sprouting red fuzz, like canopies over his ears. A look of being aloof was common to Selwin, but any type of malice was a rarity. His green eyes were kind, if only a little distracted.
Eliza, stood only an inch or so beneath her husband, but height was where the similarity halted. Her face was a permanent sneer, twisting and turning in endless disapproval. The brown beehive that was her hair was decidedly out of style, in this decade or the last three. She had, however, never been called unkempt, unclean, disheveled or the like. Order was of the utmost importance to her. “A clean cupboard keeps away the rats,” she always said. Eliza wore exactly 3 colors: beige, white and plum.
Today she wore a plum skirt with an unusually matching blouse, white gloves and a beige sweater to hide a woman’s “unsightly upper arms”. Her white pumps clicked, high pitched and irritating, as she walked briskly to the front steps of Number 4, Peculiarity Road. Selwin closed the coupe door and followed his wife.
“Excuse me, Mr. Cromsley.” Thom’s minuscule voice did not even move beyond the confines of the coupe’s back seat. Why they called it a seat, Thom would never know. His knees were to either side of his ears for he had no room to place his feet on the floor. The whole trip Thom had been forced to look at the back of Eliza’s hair. The dated hairdo had bobbed angrily as Eliza babbled, “This is a new start Thom. Count your blessings. This isn’t St. Miram’s. Don’t expect any handouts, charity or goodwill. You will work for your supper and earn your free-time. And you will call me Mother, boy.” But the Cromsleys would never be his parents. Not ever.
“Oh bother.” Thom swung his legs around the passenger seat, followed by his body. Grabbing the handle, he had to force his shoulder into the door before it would give. Unfortunately, the momentum left him sprawled on the lawn when Eliza looked back.
“Boy! What are you doing down there? Get up and brush that unsightly dirt from your clothes. What if the movers saw you. How embarrassing!” She huffed into the house, while Selwin looked back, an apology in those distant green eyes. One blink, two blinks and it was gone, he turned and walked away.
The house was colossus, a giant with creaky joints and an angry demeanor. Light seemed to be fighting a losing battle with every twist and turn, crevice and cupboard that threatened it with cobwebbed shadows. The floor may have once been a beautiful mahogany with ebony inlays but despite Thom rubbing his foot at the floorboards they still looked grey with blocks of soot running parallel to the walls.
It was not the floors that drew Thom’s attention, however. The ceiling was abnormally tall. In the shadows of the hallway it seemed to disappear giving the sense of an inverted canyon. Thom wanted to toss a rock to see just how long it took to strike the distant ceiling tiles.
Thom imagined the rock planting itself between Eliza’s disapproving eyes. Waking from his daydream, Thom hurried to the kitchen to see what the beast wanted.
“Yes Eliza?” The words were hardly a whisper.
“You will call me mother!” Eliza grabbed his face, her plum claws digging into his cheeks. “Mother. Not Mama. Not Mom. Mother. Get it?” Thom nodded, further embedding the purple talons. “Now take this cursed carcass to the back yard and then I expect you to wash those filthy hands, in the restroom not the kitchen!” Eliza released Thom’s head and pointed him to a dead rat in the corner near the stove. With the dirty deed delegated, Eliza huffed from the room with her typical pomposity.
Thom had seen death before. The orphanage had housed its share of hunter’s trophies: bullfrogs, snakes, bugs with missing limbs, even the occasional tabby cat. There was little to do at St. Miram’s so the boys took to reenacting the voyages of Cousteau, the hunts of Roosevelt or the journeys of Raleigh. Animals became prey and the boys, the conquerors.
Thom approached the dead rat slowly, not with fear or caution, but rather as Howard Carter may approach a discovery in the Sahara. The rat was twisted as if it had died in agony, it’s head arched towards the stove with its body rotated towards the wall. Thom, with the voyages of Cousteau to strengthen his resolve, picked up the rat gently. You deserve a proper burial, my friend. Coddling the rat in his small hands, Thom walked through the kitchen, into the washroom and out the backdoor.
The backyard was a jungle, or at least the closest he had ever seen in the 12 years of his existence. The field grass had grown to nearly the height of the pitched roof of the porch. A slim ray of clouded sunlight broke through the top where the stalks brushed the porch header. Four short steps led into the jungle. Thom sighed stepping into the field grass.
Thom was nearly a football field from the house before the field grass cleared before a gigantic oak tree. It must have stood forty feet tall with branches that curved at impossible angles and a bark that was thick with the wrinkles of age.
“I shall name you the Old Mage.” Thom declared triumphantly looking at the gnarled agedness of the tree. “You will be the perfect place to bury…err…ehm…well, I didn’t know his name.” Attention moving to the the rat, Thom smiled. “Greybeard. Yes that will work. Two old friends to spend their days together. Sounds rather nice to me.”
Stepping to the base of the house-sized trunk of the Old Mage, Thom glanced back. He could just make out the four shuttered windows lining the second story of his new house. He knelt and closed his eyes to say a little prayer, because, assumedly, that is what one did when a friend passed.
For a second, the air felt a bit warmer, such that Thom wondered if the sun had broke through cloud cover to witness Greybeard’s service.
When he opened his eyes, Greybeard was standing on Thom’s hands looking into his eyes. The rat stood and gave a little bow, such that a conductor would give after a masterful performance. Uprighting himself once more, Greybeard winked his right eye, leapt from Thom’s hand and scurried into the tall grass.
Chapter 2 Secrets
Thom fell against the trunk of Old Mage dumbfounded. Did Greybeard just come back to life? Was he really dead? Did he wink at me?
“Thom! Where are you?” Thankfully it was not the beast’s grating voice, but rather the slow baritone of Selwin.
Shaking the confusion away, Thom responded, “Out here, in the backyard.” It was quiet for a minute and then he heard a shuffle in the grass nearby. Selwin stepped into the clearing.
“We’ll, will you look at that? Haven’t seen an oak like that since I was a boy. What do you say Thom, maybe we can put a tire swing right here.” Selwin pointed to an old gnarled branch on Old Mage.
“Selwin. I have to tell you something. Eliza had me come out here with a dead rat and it…it…”
“Selwinny!! These movers are morons! Where are you?”
“Looks like duty calls. Wash your hands. Then I would suggest going and exploring Steadfast. You know Eliza won’t like it if you’re in the way of her organizing.” Selwin smiled and turned to leave. He stopped at the edge of the grass and turned back to Thom. “I think a tire swing would be nice…son.” With that he parted the grass and disappeared.
The stairs were the crooked spine of the old house running the north wall of the hallway and then jaunting left beneath a large window facing Old Mage. Dust puffed into small clouds with each footstep as Thom made his way towards the upstairs restroom, head still spinning with the picture of Greybeard and his cheeky wink. As he reached the upper landing, he stopped and inspected the dank hallway. There were six doors in total, three facing east, one south and two towards the west. Every door was closed tight. A type of wood paneling covered the wall from floor to ceiling, once thick with lacquer, it now was dull and dark. Thom felt as though he were standing at the mouth of a vast cavern.
Venturing cautiously into the abyss of the hallway, Thom stopped at the first door facing east. The handle was old and made of brass, uniquely embossed with an image of a snake, shaped like a circle, it’s mouth devouring its own tail. In fact, upon close inspection, each handle was masterfully different. One the head of a panther, one an elephant with its trunk curled up over its head, one a butterfly in flight and one a rat, holding a small egg. The final was a man, his hands and face hidden beneath the folds of his cloak. The snake twisted with a click before Thom swung the door open revealing a large bedroom with a built in wardrobe to the right of another large window, facing the street. Sidestepping, Thom opened the remaining two east facing doors. The room adjacent to the snake room, the one adorning the rat and egg, was nearly identical to the first except the wardrobe was to the left of the window. The final east facing room, the hooded man, was a small study with windows on either corner, which would give the room a vastly different effect had they not been shuttered tight. The light that peaked through the shudders played tricks with the eyes, making some corners more ominous than others.
The elephant room, the only facing south was the restroom Thom had been searching for. Eliza must have made her way this far for the shudders had been opened bathing the room in dusty light. The bathroom was wide yet shallow with two windows, a large claw foot tub, a wash basin and a mirror that spanned the floral print wall between the twin windows. Promptly marching to the washbasin, lest he be found loitering with unclean hands, Thom turned the brass handles and heard the clunk, clank and shudder of the old pipes whine in thirst. Thirty seconds passed before any water dared itself from the faucet. Another thirty passed before it poured with any strength. However, it was nearly another minute before the water was clear instead of brown. Rinsing the muck from his hands, he turned off the ancient faucet and wiped the excess on his pant legs.
The abysmal hallway seemed even darker as Thom shuffled to the last two doors. The butterfly was skillfully shaped, as if it were simply resting on the knob before taking flight again. The room itself was large with a raised section for a bed, that led to a unusual bay window. Where typical bay windows, at least what Thom had seen at St. Miriam’s, we’ve convex, pushing outward with three large window panes. This one, however, was concave, pulling into the room like a large looking glass. The smaller window on the opposite wall fought for attention against the bay window. Thom immediately liked the room for it was as strange as himself. The strangest things in life are often surprisingly interesting. The last room, the panther, was far less interesting. A square room that housed a window, and simply, nothing else.
Stepping back into the hallway, Thom looked back at each of the open rooms. Wait a second? How odd. Wasn’t there…
Thom raced down the crooked stairs as fast as his plain shoes could carry him. Kitchen, washroom, and out the backdoor. The Old Mage stood tall and proud as Thom broke through the grass wall. Turning back toward the house he counted. One, two, three, four. But there were only three windows facing the backyard when I was inside. One above the stairs. One in the unusual room. One in the boring room. Three.
Thom could guess that the farthest left window belonged to the crooked staircase, while the furthest right belonged to the unusual room. Judging by distance the next one closest to the left was the boring room. The third window. Where is that room?
The dust clouds were still descending when Thom reached the dark hallway. He checked the bay window room first. The wall seemed intact and there were no doors, handles, creases or signs of passage. The square room proved just as reserved. He was examining the wood paneling in the hallway when he heard a crack!
“Selwinny! This banister needs to be replaced. I bet the people who built this heap skimped on quality materials.” Eliza seemed twice her normal annoyance.
Remembering Selwin’s warning, Thom bolted down the stairs narrowly missing the purple claws grasping at his collar. He heard the words “boy” and “stop” screech from Eliza like a wet radiator belt, but he was already down the block on his way to Steadfast proper.
Chapter 2 3/4 Hunger
The town of Steadfast, despite its name, ebbed and flowed with the changes of time. At one point, given its close proximity to the sea, it had been a hotspot for getaway tourism. Bed and breakfasts, restaurants and gift shops sprung up in every nook and cranny of the little seaward town. It didn’t take but a few years to realize that summer never really exists in Steadfast, instead it was a perpetual autumn. And while people love autumn, it is much like cake: a little is great, a bit more is an indulgence and too much is misery. The Inns were abandoned, the restaurants left for more lively places and the gift shops did what all gift shops do, they survived. Despite all rationale, the shops defied the traditional business model and continued to exist, selling knick knacks proudly displaying the words “Stay Steadfast”. While the town had unabashedly sprawled across the small valley, there was only one unchanged area of commerce. It was nestled in the nadir of the valley, as if the hills were hands gently holding the four blocks of two story buildings.
Main Street was inexplicably narrow, built before the invention of the automobile. It gave the sense of walking through a ravine, buildings towering over the people walking, a thin strip of sky providing the only light. Thom liked the nearly claustrophobic street. He felt comforted by the brick and wooden structures surrounding him, blocking out the cruel world. It was as if he had walked into a preservation. Main Street, unlike the rest of Steadfast, had not changed much over time. There were still eyelets fastened in the avenue where horses had once been tied while the owner accomplished their daily business. The windows were framed in masoned filigree, the doorways fashioned into archways. Wooden signs hung above these arches, declaring the occupant’s occupation. Thom stood at the western edge of Main Street. To his left he saw a sign with an alchemy jar carved into it, a pharmacy most likely, Beyond that he saw a badger holding a glass of ale, a hammer crossed with a saw, and a plate piled with corn, roast and bread. A grumble made its way from Thom’s stomach and he realized he hadn’t eaten since early that morning.
The plate of food above the door was carved into a piece of oak that looked like it had hung there for at least a century. A brass plaque was inlaid into the brick wall that said, “Welcome to the Hungry Horse: A Welcome Respite for the Wayward and Wandering.”
The door seemed to be of the same ancient oak but swung inward with a unexpected ease. The room housed several booths, each lit by a double wall sconce. Near the window, two large wingback chairs, made from leather that had been soften through years of use surrounded one side of low oak table, while a couple davenports filled the other side.
“We’ll, won’t you look at that. I know the eyes of hunger when I see them.” The woman was short and stout with brown hair that curled in every direction imaginable. Her eyes were an uncanny blue, so vivid that Thom felt the hues of blue were shifting like the waves of the sea. “Come sit here darling and I will muster something up for you to chew on.”
“I don’t have any money. Well that is to say my parents…err my guardians didn’t give me any. I was just hoping to maybe sweep your floor for a slice of bread or something.” Working for food had been a prerequisite for St. Miram’s. “If you don’t work, how can expect God to work for you and give you something to eat?” Nun Mary Josephine always would say. I don’t expect God to work for me. He never has, why should I expect him to now?
“Nonsense. Just sit down darling. I will whip up something delicious before you can get comfortable. Call it a welcome to Steadfast gift.”
“How did you know…?” Thom asked settling into one of the wingback chairs.
“Oh honey.” The woman laid her hand on Thom’s shoulder. “Tis a small town. People talk. Plus Old Gunthry saw your moving truck pull up to Number 4. That road, Peculiarity, earned its name and Number 4 is its poster child. Strange house that one.” She walked toward the kitchen. Just as she passed the doorway her head popped back out. “Name’s Harriet by the way. Harriet Hornsby. Most folk round here call me Harry.” She went to work in the kitchen but continued to talk loud enough for Thom to hear. “I know, I know it’s a boys name. You know how it goes. Someone makes a joke mocking your name so as to torment you and well, it just sticks. Pretty soon that mocking insult becomes a badge of honor, a term of endearment. ‘Twas around my 6th birthday and Alec McNeary had a crush on me but the only way he knew how to show it was by teasing me. First it was ‘horrible Harriet’ then it was…”
Harry’s yammering tuned out as Thom proved her wrong. He was extremely comfortable. The wingback chair was a needed change from the hard beds of St. Miriam’s or the non-backseat of the Cromsely’s car. In fact, this may have been the most comfortable that Thom had ever been. His eyelids fluttered downward.
Time stood still. The room warmed ever so slightly. Thom saw Greybeard scuttle past, but he was walking on his hind legs like a man, a toothpick cane in his hand, clicking on the tile floor. Thom saw the boys of St. Miram’s, sitting at one the booths, heads close in conspiratory whispers. Thom saw a beautiful woman. Her eyes were a deep green with lavishly long eyelashes. Thom. Her voice was unexpectedly less beautiful. Thom.
“Thom.” A hand pushed at his shoulder. His eyes opened. Harry was kneeled in front of him, a steaming plate of cabbage and beef on the oak table behind her. “Darling, you must be exhausted after your trip. I cooked you up something small, should fill that ole belly of yours.”
“I was having the strangest dreams.” Thom rubbed his eyes. The scent of the beef and cabbage reached him and reminded him of his hunger. He leaned forward and ravaged the plate.
“There, there boy. Dreams are a fickle mistress. Always foggy in the parts you desire and detailed in those you don’t. I wouldn’t put too much weight on them dreams.”
“Wait, you said…you said my name. How did you…?”
“Like I said, dreams are fickle, You heard what you wanted to hear. I guess I should probably ask your name them, although ‘darling’ fits you perfectly, in my most humble opinion.”
“It’s…Thom.” He said stuffing another bite in his mouth to hide his profuse blushing.
“Well, Thom, thats a stout name for a stout boy. Now what are your hobbies?? Sports? Cars? Girls?”
Thom blushed a deeper shade of red. This was not boding well for his first interaction in the small town. “I, well…um…I like to read.” Reading had been one of the few activities he could do undisturbed at St. Miram’s. Most boys preferred kicking around a football, torturing the nuns with their constant pranks or picking on the new recruits. Thom was usually left alone with his many books, written off as obscure but harmless.
“Read eh? Well have I got a treat for you. Steadfast is home to one of the few remaining places of any genuine interest in the world. Finish up your plate and I will show you.”
Following Harry’s instructions turned out to be quite easy for when Thom looked down at his plate there was but a single bite remaining. The beef and cabbage warmed his stomach and had been one of the best meals he had ever eaten. Stuffing the last bite in his mouth he said between chewing, “Harry, that was absolutely amazing.”
Harry’s eyes shifted to a lighter blue and she smiled. The kind of smile Thom had always dreamed of his mother giving to him. He resisted the urge to leap from the chair and hug her.
“Come, Thom. Let me introduce you to wonderment.”
Thom expected her to walk out onto Main Street but instead she walked toward the back of the Hungry Horse. She passed the door to the kitchen, took a right into the hallway at the rear and stopped at a large door that seemed to be strangely out of place. Where everything in the Hungry Horse had been oak, the door was made from some obsidian wood, so dark that it was nearly impossible to see how it was constructed. It filled the wall at the end of the hallway, a purposeful display of an artisan. There wasn’t a door handle.
“Thom. If you would kindly turn around.” Harry’s voice was all flowers and perfume but Thom heard the edge of warning. He turned and faced the other end of the hallway.
Harry was quiet for a moment and then Thom heard a click!
“This way Thom.”
Thom turned around just in time to see Harry disappear into the now open doorway. The hallway beyond was just as obsidian as the door which served as its gatekeeper. Quickly catching up, Thom wasn’t sure why he whispered but it seemed the right thing to do. “What is this place?”
Harry voice showed no worry or distress at the less than visible circumstances. “A passageway of sorts. Built in the time when the world was unique and far less explained.”
Thom walked as close to Harry as he felt comfortable so as to not get lost in the blackness. Suddenly she stopped, Thom very nearly crashing into her back.
Another click! and light filled the blackness like a match to some dry brush. Thom turned away at the sudden brightness. Looking back he saw that the hallway was made of stone but showed no sign of the dampness that normally followed age. Instead, each stone looked as if it had just been mortared and sealed. Thom’s eyes adjusted to the light in the doorway and as he turned around he stood in utter amazement.
Thom’s head arched at an uncomfortable angle as he stared up at shelf upon shelf upon shelf of books, so many that his vision could not even take them all in at one time.
“Welcome, Thom, to Tibolt and Speegle’s.”
Chapter 3 Changes
“Mange!” The voice grated on his ears like sandpaper to flesh. Blast it all. Hurts my poor lil’ hands, em’ does. Not to mention my back. I’m too old for this. I remember when I was but a youngin’…
“Mange!” The voice was more insistent.
Ugh. Work, work, work. That’s all they want out of poor ole Mange. No rest for the faithful. “Coming Master.” Mange hobbled, a slow and pitiful gait, to the Master’s office. His left foot’s six fingers curled into a pitiful wreck, useless since the last Ghoul War. He had once been as strong as a giant with the looks of a wild beast. Oh the women! Never was I without a beaut by my side. Those days were gone. To hell with this getting old.
Cursed the Six, this door didn’t use to be this heavy. His shoulder screamed in agony as he pressed against the great wooden door. Gods this room in dark. The smell assaulted Mange’s nose before his eyes had an opportunity to adjust to the darkness.
“Mange is at your service, Master.” Mange said in the direction he guessed the Master was sitting. It turned out he was wrong.
“Mange, there’s been a disturbance. I can feel it.” The voice came from Mange’s right. Quickly turning, his eyes adjusted to see the figure wrapped in the shadows of the corner.
“But Master, how is that possible? The ghouls trapped him.”
“It’s not him.” The Master’s voice crackled with disgust at the last word. “It’s something, no…someone new.”
“A new one? We haven’t seen a one in over five centuries. What do you want me to do Master? Want me to gut ’em?” Mange’s painful joints eased with the thought of delivering some pain.
“No. Destroying in haste may break the seal. We must properly plan. Do you still have the glamour?”
Aye, Mange is still a tool. “Yes, Master.” Mange’s head bowed in acquiescence. This mission will be my death. See you in hell, comrades.
“Go to the other side.” The Master’s voice did not lose its grating sharpness despite him lowering it to a whisper. Mange could not see his face but he knew of the Master’s famed ugliness. Even compared to the boggles he commanded the Master’s deranged face was said to turn the stomach of the strongest champion. “Work your glamour. But do not get too close. I do not even want to weaken the seal. Take this.”
A hand reached from the shadows handing the old boggle a velvet bag. Mange hobbled forward and grabbed the bag quickly, not want to stay too long in the Master’s immediate vicinity. The bag was heavier than he anticipated. Pulling the draw string, he peaked inside. Oh Gods! On Six, strike me dead now.
“Do you know what that is?”
“Do you know what that means?”
“Go and observe. It will glow red when you are close. When the time is right…” The Master leaned back into the shadows and disappeared. Mange knew better than to think the Master was still in the room. His power was beyond the boggle’s ability.
Six, please. I beg you please. Mange thought.
“The Six cannot help you Mange.” The voice filled the room coming from all directions at once. Mange’s joints move with the agility of one half his age as he fled the room before he witnessed the Master’s displeasure further.
Chapter 4 Tibolt and Speegle’s
It was almost too much for Thom to take in. There were books on the shelves, lining each of the countless oak tables, stacked on the floor, pushed into every crevice imaginable. The shelves towered like a limbering canopy, coming to a stop four stories up, surrounding a large glass skylight that was circular, no, octagonal now that Thom squinted to see at such distance. Wait. Four stories? How is that…
The question must have surfaced on Thom’s face because Harry nudged him and said, “Remember Darling, an explained world is an uninteresting world. This way.” She winked and weaved through a couple stacks of books that stood precariously over Thom’s head. Thom hurried to catch up, realizing just how easily he could lose Harry in all the stacks.
Harry darted this way and that, a knowledgable and worthy navigator, bobbing between tables and shelves, books and the occasional statue of some aged scholar. It took Thom several minutes to realize they were actually ascending. The floor was built at an almost unnoticeable angle creating a giant corkscrew leading up to the 8-sided skylight. Thom gasped aloud as he caught glimpses of the center opening where at first he was one story up and then two and then three. Meanwhile, he passed thousands of books. Only occasionally would he have enough time, in their brisk walk, to catch a title. They were of the queerest sort. The Unabridged Disimaginment of the Imagined, A massive leather bound book read. A Pocket Guide to Glamour and Disetherealism. The book was not-so-pocket sized, unless of course the reader was a giant. Thom shook away his reverie only to catch the bob of Harry’s curls disappearing around a large book shelf.
Running to catch up, Thom came around the bookcase at an incredible speed. Suddenly the floor was gone. Thom was looking down at the lobby floor, but he was not falling. Skidding to a stop, he nearly toppled into a man conversing with Harry.
“There you are love!” The look of mischief flashed across Harry’s eyes.
“Where’s…where is…the floor…the floor is gone!”
“Not gone son. Just made of the crystal from the mines of the Torbian Range. Interesting story actually, when the rebellion after the War of Inhabitation hid in the passes between Gorgon and Vor…”
“Speegle, do not bore the poor boy.” Harry’s chastisement held no malice. Her eyes spoke amusement and wonder.
“Right, right son. My humblest apologies.” Thom, still experiencing vertigo from the translucent floor, finally focused on the man in front of him. Speegle was as odd as his name. Abnormally tall and yet lanky, Speegle resembled a tree in the autumn. His head was bald but in deep contrast, his face held a great beard. “Let’s just say the crystal is said to be more invisible then glass. Though to compare it to glass is a tragedy of monumental…Ug!” Harry’s elbow planted itself in Speegle’s ribs.
“This way son.” Speegle said glowering all the while at Harry. He turned and walked through a door on the far side of the crystal. Looking at the “floor” while he followed Harry and Speegle, Thom realized the it was, in fact, the octagonal skylight.
The door led to an outdoor balcony. The balcony, however, did not overlook Steadfast. Thom stood in astonishment as he realized the balcony overlooked a vast jungle shadowed by a massive volcano.
“What…what is this place? I don’t know. Maybe I should go home. Eliza…She’s probably wondering where I…”
“Don’t you? Harry, didn’t you tell him? There hasn’t been someone outside the order here in 200 years! How could you!” Speegle’s height seemed to double in his indignation.
“Do not presume to speak to me in such a manor Mikel Jean Paul Speegle. I am Guardian and several years your senior.” Harry’s voice was but a whisper but carried the fury of a tempest.
“I…uh…but…” Speegle wilted back to his original height.
“She does no wrong Mik.” The voice came from beyond the balcony. It was the polar opposite of Speegle’s fast and projected speech. The voice was low and wise, riddled with years of failure and success, pain and love.
A hand reached up from the railing of the great balcony. Black and satin, like that of well used leather, it gripped the railing. The man swung up over the railing and landed in from of the group. He was, however, no man at all.
“He’s a…a…” Thom began to scuffle back towards the balcony door, only to back into Harry.
“It’s ok darling.” She whispered into his ear.
“I am what you humans refer to as the Silverback Gorilla.” The great black beast spoke slowly as if to calm Thom’s fear. Strained over his broad hair chest was a pinstripe vest with a rust colored handkerchief folded just so. A small pair of glasses rested upon is wrinkled black snout.
Thom had only seen gorillas in his books and certainly none wore vests nor spectacles. The book gorillas were said to be fierce protectors, both elusive and hermetic. However, standing well over Speegle’s already tall height, the massive figure standing before him seemed anything but solitary.
“You talk!” Thom must be dreaming. Maybe he fell asleep beneath Old Mage. Surely this was all a dream. Wake up! If this was a dream his body must be exhausted for he did not wake. “I have…never…but you…talk.”
“Things are not always what they seem. Humans live a life of relative comfort, peace and ignorance. But forgive my manners, I have not introduced myself. I am Tiberias of the clan Thunderfist. High Prince of the Opal Mountains. Protector of the Lost Realm. Guardian of Magic. And this dear boy,” He turned and looked out over the jungle, spreading his arms which easily spanned over 8 feet. “This is Khrymoria.”
What happens next? What is Khrymoria? What will our fateful hero do now that his worldview has been turned on end? Find out on the next episode of Peculiarity: The Magician’s Apprentice Series.
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