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Bewildering Stories

The Sojourn Chronicles, II
Villenspell: City of Wizards

by Crystalwizard


Author: Crystalwizard
Publisher: AuthorHouse, 2001
Paperback: $25 U.S.
Length: 456 pp.
ISBN: 1420822179

Chapter One

The night was growing old and the morning star had risen, heralding the start of a new day, when the company arrived at Villenspell’s gate. It was shut and no gatekeeper appeared. Dale frowned and glanced at Aerline. “Don’t they keep someone on the gates to let travelers in?”

“They do, but it’s late and no one comes this way. He probably won’t answer until it’s fully light.”

“Which won’t be for at least two hours,” Dale said, gazing up at the sky. “How long would it take to ride around the city to another gate?”

“If you could do such a thing, it would probably take most of the day. The city is huge. But unless you can fly, you’ll never succeed.” Aerline waved her hand at the mountain peaks. “Most of the walls either rest on the edge of very deep canyons or are carved out of the mountain itself. You could try to climb over the peaks, but the horses would never make it.”

“Wonderful.” Dale swung down from his horse, picked up a rock and swung it against the gate. The rock shattered into powder from the force of the blow, a powerful booming noise echoed through the darkness and the gate began to vibrate. Dale dove to the side as it imploded violently.

The gate house lights flashed on, alarms sounded and people raced for the gate, weapons ready and spells sizzling. They slid to a halt on the other side of the rubble and stared dumbfounded at the small group waiting calmly on horse back. One of the warriors cleared his throat.

“Did you happen to see what it was that just hit this gate?”

Dale straightened the hem of his jacket. “I knocked on it and it blew up. Do you always try to give your guests heart failure in this manner?”

The warrior blinked and turned to the wizard standing beside him. “What do I do now?”

“Take your men and go on back to your posts,” the wizard commanded in a deep voice. “I’ll deal with our visitors.”

The warrior turned to those behind him. “It’s a false alarm! Go back to your business. And someone turn those bells off!” Within a few minutes, the only one left was the wizard who had spoken. He put his hands on his hips and looked Dale up and down.

“May we come in?” Dale asked when the wizard had said nothing for several minutes.

“I suppose that depends on whether you intend to knock on any other doors in this town.”

“I wasn’t planning on it. I was simply trying to make a little noise and wake the gatekeeper up. We didn’t want to have to stand out here till it was light.”

The wizard stroked his beard, stared pointedly at the rubble lying on the ground and scratched the tip of his nose. “You made noise alright, though I’m at a loss to understand why the gate is laying in ruins if that was your only intention.”

Dale’s mouth dropped open. “I don’t know what your gate was made of but I barely got out of the way before it exploded!”

The wizard ignored Dale’s righteous indignation. He squinted at the party through one eye and rubbed his chin with a finger. “There is something very odd about you people. Did you come through the woods down there?”

Dale spun around and threw an infuriated glare down the mountain.

Dale, calm down, Jarl thought. You make him angry and he might force us to go around and come in the front gate.

Dale snarled at nothing, took a deep breath and forced a calm expression onto his face then turned back to the wizard. “How else would we have gotten to this gate?”

“Did you meet with any trouble?” the wizard inquired, lifting one eyebrow.

“Only a pack of wolves and an ogre. Why?”

The wizard’s eyes glowed with deep amber light. He stuck his hands into the flowing sleeves of his royal blue robes and slowly swept his gaze over each member of the company.

“Most interesting. Yes, you may come in.” He removed his hands from his sleeves. “However I require that you join me in my office for a short chat, before you’ll be permitted to do anything else in this city. If you would follow me, please?”

The wizard drifted up into the air, rotated around and serenely floated away. His robes billowed about him as if blown by a heavy wind and changed colors as he drifted, running through the spectrum from midnight blue to flaming red. He sailed above the city streets, leading the company through the twisting corridors of Villenspell, halted before the college gates and settled to the ground.

“Horses are not allowed inside the college grounds. You may use the stables over there.” He waved a hand at a long building, which butted up to the wall encircling the campus. The sleeve of his robe floated gently through the air and sparkled as it moved, as if it were composed of something other than heavily embroidered, brocade cloth.

The company dismounted, led their horses into the stables and turned them over to a pair of bleary-eyed stable hands.

Aerline flashed the men a disarming smile and handed her reins over. “Don’t you boys go poking through our things while we’re gone.”

They leered back at her and the larger one spoke. “Wouldn’t dream of it, miss.”

“Good.” Aerline fluttered her lashes at them then cupped her hand around her horse’s ear. “Keep an eye on them,” she said in a soft voice loud enough for the stable hands to overhear. “If they try anything, bite ‘em.”

The horse tossed its head and regarded the unfortunate men with a wicked eye. The two stable hands started and jumped back a step, as though it had suddenly sprouted leathery, bat-like wings and belched black smoke from its flaring nostrils. The company left them to its mercy and followed the wizard through the gates.

The college was ancient with ivy-covered buildings radiating from the central tower like spokes on a wheel. The dull grey stone tower soared into the sky, its top crowned with a sphere bristling with many spines that shot rays of purple light into the clouds from their tips.

A four-foot thick, ten-foot high wall, built of massive stones, enclosed the campus. Ornate brass gates set on either side of an intricately carved archway flanked the entrance and a long walk paved with mottled red brick ran from the archway past thick green lawns, to an ominous ebony door set into the base of the tower.

Faran’s mouth fell open and he gazed around in wonder. “What a place! This is amazing! What do they teach here?”

A brief smile twitched the wizard’s cheeks and danced in his eyes. “We teach all manner of magic, young man. From small useful spells to grand displays of power. It depends on what you wish to learn. Are you interested in attending the school when you are old enough?”

“I don’t know...maybe. How much does it cost?”

“That depends on your course of study. What did you have in mind?”

“I have no idea.”

“That might make it difficult to advise you on what courses to take, however we have tests which can assess your potential. Come back and see us when you have reached twenty-five years of age.”

“Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

Aerline caught Faran’s eye and bent down to whisper in his ear. “This is Magister Rommalt. He’s the head wizard here. Watch yourself. He might seem like a harmless old man, but he isn’t one that misses much.”

“Thanks,” Faran whispered back. “I’ll remember that.”

The interior of the tower was as interesting as its outside was bleak. Display cases full of strange objects decorated the walls and a large carpet patterned with continually moving lines covered most of the floor. A glowing globe hung in the middle of the room for illumination, the color of its light slowly shifting through the spectrum. Shadows of wizards casting spells, fighting strange beasts and engaged in research danced over the walls.

Over-stuffed chairs full of snoring mages were scattered around the room next to tables piled with books and a long set of spiral stairs jutted from the wall, disappearing through a hole in the ceiling above.

“My office is on the top floor,” the Magister said. “We’ll take the lift.” He opened a wooden door and drifted into a small shaft the size of an average closet. The company squeezed in beside him, the floor fell out from under their feet and they rose rapidly. Other doors flashed past and the motion ceased abruptly.

Jarl stumbled and caught himself on the wall. “Lift?” he exclaimed. “You mean launcher!” The wizard grinned and calmly floated out the door.

Kheri took a step toward the door, stopped and bent forward, staring into a well that fell away into impenetrable darkness. He flattened against the back wall and shook his head at the wizard.

Aerline rolled her eyes at Kheri and stepped out into thin air. “It’s an illusion,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Honestly, you can’t believe the Magister would bring you up here just to watch you fall and go splat!”

“Well said,” the wizard told her, his eyes twinkling. “Come along please, my office is over there.” He pointed at a minute door less than a quarter inch in size, which hung in the middle of the air a few feet away, then turned around and began shrinking.

The company moved cautiously out of the shaft onto an invisible surface. Aerline began running in place and shrank, dwindling rapidly to match the wizard who was now less than an inch high. The rest of the company ran in place for several seconds then Dale stopped and held his hand up.

“This isn’t working. Whatever it is they did,” he gestured toward Aerline and the wizard who were now almost too small to be seen, “we’re not doing. One of them is going to have to give us better instructions.”

A few moments later, the wizard slowly began to expand until at last he reached his original height. He stuck his hands into his sleeves and peered at the company. “Well? Why are you just standing around here?”

“Begging your pardon, Mr. Wizard,” Galdur said. “But we can’t seem to do what you’re doing.”

An expression of annoyance flew over the wizard’s face. “Not even the first year students have difficulty with spatial movement! Follow me and don’t think about anything else until we’re in my office.” He turned and drifted forward. The company stared at his back and tried to obey.

The lighting changed color as they walked, shading through the colors of the rainbow and as the light reached the exact shade normally associated with small babies and runny diapers, the wizard stopped beside his office door and turned to face the company. “You see? Nothing to it. Of course, your intention must be to move through space, not merely walk in place. Now, shall we go inside?” He opened the door and walked into his office without waiting for a response.

Dark paneling covered the walls in Rommalt’s office and a stuffed owl perched on a shelf in one corner. A polished wood desk occupied one side of the room, a reading chair sat to the right of the door conveniently in reach of bookshelves filled with thick volumes and several small chairs stood against the far wall. A bleached skeleton dangled in a corner and a fire crackled invitingly in the small fireplace directly across from the door.

Light filtered into the room through four tall, narrow windows cut into the walls. Dale glanced at a window then stared at a second one. “Like the view from my office?” the wizard asked, watching Dale’s reaction with amusement.

Dale swiveled his head and looked over his shoulder at the Wizard. “It’s different. How did you do that?”

One window looked out over a stormy ocean from high on top a cliff while another displayed a sun-drenched meadow covered in emerald green grass, brilliant white flowers and brightly colored butterflies. A massive cactus took center stage on the third, the sky behind it blazing with the colors of evening and a thick, black curtain covered the fourth from floor to ceiling, obscuring even the tiniest bit of its frame from sight.

“Seeing spells. I get tired of the same thing every day. They change regularly so I never know what I’m going to be looking at.” He wiggled his fingers at the chairs against the wall. The chairs got up and arranged themselves in the middle of the room. “Everyone have a seat, please.” The company regarded the chairs with suspicion but complied and Rommalt smiled and sat down behind the desk.

“So tell me, what brings you to Villenspell?”

Aerline stood and bowed to the wizard with a formal, courtly reverence. “Magister Rommalt, I am Aerline, a former student here, though I never graduated. Allow me to introduce my companions.”

She held her hand out toward Faran. “This is Faran; the son of Baron Eleriem whose barony lies on the other side of the Wizard’s Cut. This,” she placed a hand on Galdur’s shoulder, “is Galdur. He has a healing talent but I’m not sure how strong. And this is Kheri. He’s Dale’s squire. This,” she placed both hands on Dale’s shoulders and smiled, “is Dale, our leader.”

She turned toward Jarl, wrinkled her nose and pursed her lips. “This is Jarl,” she said turning back to Rommalt. “He owes you, as well as the entire college, an apology.”

Jarl turned bright red with embarrassment. “Thanks a lot, Aerline,” he muttered.

“Oh?” Magister Rommalt raised his eyebrows, peered at Jarl, and allowed him to squirm for a few seconds. “I’m curious why he owes us an apology. Perhaps you would care to illuminate me?”

Aerline inclined her head and gave Jarl an ingratiating smile. “I would be glad to Magister.” Her voice dripped with venom. She rested her hand on Jarl’s shoulder and inconspicuously dug her fingernails into his shoulder.

“When I was a student here, nearly four years ago, I bought a ring from Master Sourbane. He enslaved a demon and bound it to the ring with unbreakable spells. He then bound the ring to my will. However, he did not make it impossible for the demon to speak without permission. It developed the most annoying habit of screaming obscene jokes in the middle of class. It insulted every one of my professors and...”

The wizard snickered. “Ah, yes, I distinctly remember that. Quite a commotion it caused. I had staff up here every day, complaining. Do go on.”

Aerline cleared her throat and continued. “Through series of unfortunate events, the ring was destroyed, but the demon in it was not. And... it turns out that Master Sourbane didn’t get a real demon after all, he got him!” She smacked Jarl on top of the head with her open palm.

Jarl winced and slid down in the chair.

The wizard burst out laughing. Tears of mirth spilled from his eyes and cascaded down his cheeks. He reached into the desk, extracted a handkerchief and daubed them. “Sounds like a mistake Sourbane would make.” He chuckled then grinned at Jarl. “So you’re the one that had my school in an uproar for an entire term. I don’t know whether to be angry...or thank you.”

“Huh?” Jarl straightened up and regarded the wizard with trepidation.

“You did cause a rather large riot, and I did have several professors quit by the end of the term, but on the other hand it certainly was interesting around here for a while. It’s terribly dull most of the time.”

“Oh.” Jarl caught the look in Dale’s eyes, grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck, his cheeks burning. “I, uh, probably should apologize anyway.”

The wizard beamed a smile at him. “We’ll let it go, but I think I shall have some fun with Sourbane over this.”

Dale released Jarl from his gaze and turned to the Magister. “We have to go visit him. The spell’s still affecting Jarl.”

The wizard chuckled and dismissed Dale’s problem with a wave of his hand. “You’ll have to wait. He’s off on some journey and won’t be back until next week. Aerline, since you know your way around, why don’t you take your friends on a tour of the college while I speak with the leader of your little band?”

Aerline bobbed her head. “Certainly Magister, when should we return?”

“Never. We’ll meet you at the Dog and Duck when they open this morning for an early lunch.”

Aerline giggled, gave the wizard a brief curtsey then turned to the company. “Everyone come with me. This place is absolutely amazing.”

Dale dropped a hand on Jarl’s shoulder as he started to stand. “Not you. You’re staying with me. Kheri, you and Faran make sure the horses are properly stabled before you do anything else.”

Jarl sank back down on the chair, trying not to look as if he were about to face a pack of ravenous rock badgers while wearing nothing but a loincloth. The others stood and followed Aerline out the door.

Copyright © 2007 by Crystalwizard

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