It was a cool Tuesday morning in the village of Valora. The sun was slowing arcing in the sky as the villagers prepared to start their busy day. Merchants were up early to make their shops ready for heavy traffic. People traveling to the upper kingdoms would eventually stop to shop, rest, and eat. This proved to be most profitable for Valora.
While everyone in the village was up and being productive, there was one who was still in bed with no intention of getting out of it. Zeke Martens, a wizard’s apprentice, tried to ignore the sound of people talking just outside of the wizard’s shop in which he lived. He tossed and turned, putting the pillow over his head in the hopes of drowning out the noise outside. This was slightly successful until the knocking started.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
Zeke groaned loudly and sighed. He was hoping to get a little extra sleep since his master had gone to Aurelis, a kingdom to the north, a few days ago on a quest for something or another. The master, Gresar, thought it best to leave his young, inexperienced apprentice behind to mind the shop. He had every intention of slacking off on his duties and studying while the master was away. Now that was being threatened.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
Zeke mumbled, “Go away!” under his breath. He tossed again and reinforced the pillow over his head. He couldn’t help but wonder who it was. It might be someone who wanted a potion. He was quite good at making potions. He had mastered that ability last year. He could make a potion for anything. He wondered if they would pay him handsomely if he whipped up a potion real quick. Money was a great motivator for Zeke. He didn’t make much as a wizard’s apprentice, so he hoarded every gold and silver coin he got.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
This person was persistent. Zeke knew that he had placed the ‘CLOSED’ sign in the window last night. Couldn’t the person read? It wasn’t a small sign. It was bright red and had ‘CLOSED’ painted in black print. No one could mistake it for ‘OPEN’. This person was ruining his day off.
Only two knocks this time. Zeke saw this as a sign that they were beginning to give up hope. All he had to do was wait it out and they would eventually get the hint that no one was home. He settled in his bed and proceeded to allow himself to drift off to sleep. Or, that’s what would have happened if he hadn’t heard a loud bang coming from downstairs.
Zeke started from the bed and raced downstairs to find that the front door had been kicked in. The door swung futilely by one remaining hinge before finally giving up the ghost and fell to the floor. Nothing else looked damaged.
Zeke watched as a large, burly black man entered the foyer. He was wearing a long green cape, tight, black leather pants, and light leather armor. Zeke thought that this man was probably very hot from wearing that get up in ninety degree weather. He assumed that it was he who kicked the door down. He looked at the man’s feet and saw that they were big indeed.
The man adjusted his round eyeglasses on his nose as he looked around the shop before finally settling on Zeke. He gave a smirk and then nodded to someone outside. “He’s home.”
Zeke wanted to lay into the guy and tell him to go screw himself with something sharp and pointy, but judging by the size of the man, it would be in poor taste. “Sure, come on in. Wipe your feet.”
A woman, smaller by comparison of the brute, walked in, wiped her feet on the rug. She had long blond hair and wore black armor, finely crafted, Zeke saw, and a red cape. She had on black leggings and green boots. Zeke wondered if she knew what she looked like before leaving the house. She looked at Zeke standing in the stairwell and quickly adverted her gaze.
“I take it that we have woken you,” she said.
“Damn right, you have!” Zeke shouted. “And what the hell did you do to my door? I’m sure that’s coming out of my pay!”
“Sorry,” the man said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Sorry, he says. Sorry’s not going to fix my door!” Zeke could only imagine the fuss his master was going to make when he saw the damage. Or maybe he wouldn’t have to.
Zeke pointed to the door and summoned his powers. “Broken door upon the floor, make the damage be no more!” The door suddenly sprang to life and returned to its proper place within the door frame. The hinges repaired themselves and attached themselves to the door and instantly the damage was undone. The man and woman applauded him. Zeke cracked a smile, betraying his irritation.
“So, what do you want so badly that you couldn’t wait until the shop opened?” Zeke asked.
“We seek the great Gresar!” the woman said.
“Of course you are.” Zeke folded his arms and sighed. “Well, you’re about three days too late. The master is off on a quest to find something or another for someone in the kingdom. You could leave a message and he’ll get back to you when he returns, which should be another week or so.”
The woman and the man looked at each other for a long time. It was as if they were having a conversation without actually speaking. Zeke wondered if they were speaking telepathically, an ability he would like to gain for himself. After a minute or two of them staring at each other, they finally turned to Zeke, still adverting direct eye contact. The woman spoke, “I’m afraid that we cannot wait for another week. Urgency demands our action now.”
“Well, I’m sorry things didn’t work out,” Zeke said. “I guess you’ll be off now. Be sure to close the door lightly on your way out.” He began his ascent up the stairs towards his bedroom. He heard the man clear his throat, indicating to Zeke that they weren’t done with him yet. “Is there something else?”
“I take it that you’re an apprentice,” the woman said.
“Yes, what’s your point?” Zeke eyed the two of them suspiciously.
“I propose that we take you with us on our quest.” The woman didn’t sound like she was asking. Zeke didn’t like to be volun-told to do anything. It just rubbed him the wrong way.
“I’m sorry, but I must tend to the shop while the master is away,” Zeke said. He indicated the potion jars that still needed to be dusted, papers that needed to be sorted, dishes that needed to be washed. He had been putting off his chores in favor of sleep and other things that he didn’t feel like sharing with strangers.
“The shop will be just fine, I’m sure.” The woman’s eyes finally met Zeke’s; they were of the deepest blue he had ever seen.
“We need a wizard on our quest and it looks like you’ll have to do in a pinch.”
“Me?” Zeke didn’t know whether to be angry or flattered. He was more confused than anything. Why would they come to Valora looking for Gresar only to settle for him? Were they that desperate or was there something they weren’t telling him?
“You’ve studied under him so you know what he knows,” the woman posited. “You’re the next best thing.” She pointed to the door and grinned. “You’ve obviously got skills.”
“Oh, any wingbat can fix a door,” Zeke said. “I’m afraid that I’m not the wizard you’re looking for. My master will be back in a week and he’ll help you on your quest.”
The woman was about to say something, but the man rested his hand on her shoulder and pulled her back. “Do you believe in destiny?”
Zeke snickered. “Destiny? Yeah, sure, whatever.”
“Maybe it is destiny that we are meeting right now.” The man tried to give him a convincing smile, but Zeke could tell that the man didn’t do a lot of smiling in his life. “Why is it that you are not at your master’s side right now?”
Zeke lowered his head as the true answer escaped his lips. “My master doesn’t think I’m experienced enough to go on quests.”
“But what if he doesn’t see your full potential?” The man asked. “What if he left you behind because he thought that you weren’t good enough.”
“I thought this was supposed to be a pep talk,” Zeke said, not feeling any better.
“What if he left you behind because he knew that your destiny was waiting for you here?” The man tried to smile again. Instead of looking jovial, he looked pained, gritting his teeth as if he was suffering some severe malady. “We were destined to meet today. You are meant to come with us.”
The woman looked at the man and tapped him in the stomach. “Stop smiling. You’re creeping him out.” She looked at Zeke again and this time reached for something in a brown satchel she carried. Zeke was afraid that it was going to be some evil potion, or maybe a knife. What if they were so desperate that they would be willing to threaten his life? Would they be above kidnapping him to meet their nefarious needs?
The woman pulled out a blue velvet bag. She shook it and the jingling of metal was heard. Zeke knew that sound very well. It was the sound of money. She held it out in front of her and grinned. “You do know what this is, don’t you?” Zeke nodded his head.
“Well, you can have this in return for your services on our quest.” She shook the bag again.
Zeke stared at the bag as it shook. His mind started to reel. They were willing to pay him for traipsing around the kingdom looking for whatever shiny thing they wanted. Possibilities started to play in his mind. Depending on how much was in that purse, he could buy his own place. He could get himself a new spell book; his was tattered and torn. Or, he could skip town, retire up north and buy a home on the beach.
“That’s all I get?”
“Oh, there will be much more after we find what we’re looking for,” the woman replied. “Think of this as your signing bonus.” She tossed the purse up at Zeke, who instantly caught it. “You have three minutes to decide.”
“Three minutes?” Zeke thought that he couldn’t make major life decisions in three minutes. He could hardly decide what he wanted to eat for breakfast in three minutes. He knew better than to ask for more time. He felt the bag of coins in his supple hands, enjoying the texture of the velvet. He didn’t like to think he could be so easily bought, but holding the cash in his hand was pretty persuasive. His master would be upset if he returned and found that Zeke had run off, leaving his store a mess. But if things went well, he could return with the experience Gresar thought was so severely lacking.
Time was running out. He was running out of excuses. He was going to say yes; he knew it, they knew it, but he was going to make them work for it. “Throw in another one of these and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
The man opened his mouth to object, but the woman stopped him. “Done.” She simply reached into her satchel and pulled out another bag, green this time. She tossed it to him. Zeke caught it with his free hand. The smile on Zeke’s face was unmistakable, it was much more authentic than the man’s.
“Now, we leave in ten minutes,” the woman said.
“I’ll be ready in two!” Zeke said, trying to impress her.
“You might want a different change of clothes.” She pointed to Zeke and smirked.
“What’s wrong with…” Zeke looked down and realized that he was buck naked. It had been a hot night and his usual bed attire stuck to his skin. He didn’t even notice. He was so shocked by the door being kicked in that he didn’t bother to check if he was decent. “Right… I’ll go change.” He quickly ran up the stairs to hide his shame.
Next episode: Zeke witnesses a bar fight.