Staring off into space, all I could see was a single light standing in the distant, dark abyss. As I thought myself traveling toward it unwaveringly, it started flickering. I opened my mouth to say something, but the sound of buzzing snapped me out of my fascination.
"Oscar! Oscar!" The buzzing soon became a voice. "Listen to me, damn it!"
Still in a trance, I said, "Whatever, buzz off..." Something grabbed my collar and pulled me forward while something else rammed into my forehead. "Ah! What the hell!" I rubbed my head and peered at the girl in front of me across the counter. Her short, bright brown hair sat over deep blue eyes and a scowl. Her name was Danna and all she could ever do was get on my nerves. "Was that a headbutt? Who does that?"
She stared me down as her eyes turned silver. She never looked me in the eye, but still somehow had a look of superiority. "Listen when customers are talking to you, dumbass."
"Shut up," I moaned. "I'm only here on slow days, so I expect no one. You're not even a customer, you're just here to bother me. What do you want?"
Danna huffed. "No, I'm here to drop off Penelope and you won't stop staring at the ceiling long enough to even notice visitors." She looked over to where I was staring between the rare and special weapons hanging from the ceiling into a dark corner. "There's not even anything over there, just the ceiling."
In my apathy, I corrected her. "Not the ceiling; stars."
"What kind of loser stares at the stars indoors?"
"The kind with imagination and a personality."
"Whatever. My sister's in the back changing so don't you go peeking, you hear that, perve?"
"Shut up, I'm not interested anyway. You gonna buy something or not?" I gestured to the weapons and armor on display around the shop.
She turned her nose up at me and responded, "A talented mage such as myself doesn't need any of your brutish weaponry. It may suit Penelope fine, but she doesn't share my aptitude for magic anyway."
Still apathetic, I said, "Way to put down the whole shop and your little sister in one breath. If you're not gonna buy something then get out."
She let out a sound similar to a kettle and swung her head forward for another headbutt but I tilted my head to the side and she missed. "I only let you hang out with my little sister because she has no other friends so don't get cocky. I'll find her a man better than you could ever be." She slammed her hand on the counter with a thud.
"In that case..." I was going to say something I shouldn't. "Go get looking and leave me alone."
"I'm just here to make sure you don't go peeking until she comes back."
With a sly smile, I retorted, "If I wanted to, I could do more than peek when you're not around."
"What was that!?" A spark of electricity ran across her eye and she pulled out a bronze scepter tipped with a white crystal from a pocket in her blue cloak, brandishing at me as small sparks arced across it.
I lowered my voice. "If you strike me with that, you better kill me in one hit." My hand was now laying softly against a straight sword at my hip.
"Whoa, I'm gone for a minute and you two start trying to kill each other?" Penelope emerged from a doorway behind me in plate mail under a tan cloak with a massive backpack larger than her torso and a weapon handle sticking out slung over her shoulders. She had blue eyes and similar hair to her sister but hers was longer. Also unlike her sister, she had abnormally long upper front teeth that made for a nasty bite and gave her a slight lisp alongside her stunted growth, making it so she was only chest height to me and barely able to peer over the tall counter I was behind.
Immediately, Danna came up with a well-crafted lie. "No, I was just showing Oscar my scepter to see if there was any way I could improve it." She played with it in her hands awkwardly as her eyes faded from silver to blue a little too late to be believable.
"I don't need magic to see through your bullshit." The small woman peered at her sister like a templar would an assassin.
A look of surprise spread across Danna's face. "Oh, you heard that..."
"No, but I knew you'd find some way to bring it up. If all you're going to do is start trouble then get out."
"Well... I'll get going then..." The older sister turned and solemnly walked to the door of the shop. "Just be careful, okay?" She stepped out to the sound of a bell.
As soon as Danna left, I turned to Penelope and said, "Sorry about that. It was partially my fault."
"Nah, it's fine. I know she started it, she always does. So we going out to pick up some chicks or what?"
I looked up at the clock sitting on the wall next to the door to the back rooms. It was midday and nowhere close to closing time. "It's a slow day anyway, might as well." I gathered my things, put on a layer of chainmail under a grey hood, and then went around the shop, locking all the doors before closing it for the day. Penelope followed close behind the whole way.
Before we stepped away from the shop entrance, Penelope pulled out a slip of paper and handed it to me. "Here, I got us a job on the way."
"Nice." On the paper was a listing for a commission to gather a certain type of stone that could be found deep in the mountains at night.
The first thing we did was head to a nearby cafe. We both ordered a strawberry smoothie and waited from a spot near the back where we could see anybody who entered. Soon after, a tall, slender woman with long black hair and a supple chest entered and sat alone at a booth. She ordered a coffee and stayed to finish it then sat there alone for another minute.
"Now's my time." Penelope stood from her seat and went to chat with the woman, sitting across from her. They soon became lost in conversation.
I watched them while sipping my smoothie and barely noticed a woman with short, curly red hair and a sundae come and sit across from me.
"Is this seat taken?" Her words snapped me out of my trance.
"Oh- uh- you approached me?" I nearly stumbled over my words.
"You just looked a little lonely. Are you an adventurer?"
"Trying to be." I smiled and scratched my head. "Trying to get around to learning magic too."
"You have to be pretty strong to lug around a backpack like that."
I looked over to Penelope's backpack. She left it next to me for safekeeping. "I guess. It looks heavier than it is." I patted it to the sound of hard fabric.
"So, how much can you lift?" She was stirring her ice cream with her spoon and a seductive look.
I shrugged. "As much as I need to."
"So, do you know any spells?"
"No, I need a teacher. Haven't found anyone yet though... How about you?"
She raised her eyebrow and said, "I can levitate a thing or two."
I raised my brow as well and said, "Well, can you teach me a thing or two?"
"You wanna get out of here?" She gave a cocky smile with her question.
"We don't even know each other's names yet. I'm Oscar."
"Cris." She stood. "Shall we?"
"Sure." I stood and lifted the bag, straining my muscles and hauling it onto my back. I was a little winded, but I carried on.
"Are you okay?" she asked, "Did you pack a little too much?"
"No, I'm fine. I just needed to get it on my back and now I'm cool." I took a few wobbly steps and made for the exit. She giggled and walked ahead of me.
We walked around the shopping square a bit, visiting a few small shops here and there while I struggled to hold the backpack the whole time. At some point, while we sat on a bench in the shade of an ice cream shop, she offered to hold it for me and I accepted her offer. She held it for nearly a second and fell over with a thump. I quickly helped her up and we laughed about it.
Eventually, the sun started setting and we made our way to an inn for a few hours to get lost in each other. Although I'd have liked to enjoy her company the entire night, I still had to meet Penelope at the guildhall.
I sauntered my way down to a building with a slanted steel roof that looked more like an inn than anything with the word 'guildhall' in bold red letters hanging over the entrance. Next to the door, I spotted Penelope watching me, nodding with a triumphant smirk on her face.
"What took you so long?" She put out her fist and we fist bumped
"Hopefully same as you." I handed her backpack to her. "So, how'd it go with the tall chick?"
"She was straight and I didn't feel like putting in the work to turn her today, but I did come across a cute little blonde. That girl was a freak. She even wants me to bring you next time."
"Oh, there's a next time with this one?"
She put her hands on her hips and leaned forward. "What's that supposed to mean?"
I put my hands up in defense. "I'm just saying you don't have a good track record with keeping them. But you sure can find them."
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever, what about you?"
I shrugged and started walking. "Catch and release like always."
"When are you gonna catch Danna? She secretly likes you, you know?"
It was my turn to roll my eyes. "Allegedly. When are you gonna tell her you're gay?"
"Don't go there." She punched my shoulder playfully. "She'd lose her mind and probably kill you just for knowing."
"Please, she'd kill me for less and why would she assume I'd know?"
"You think I wouldn't tell her?" She smirked.
I shrugged. "I think you should tell her regardless."
"Nope," she said, playfully.
We made our way out of town and into the nearby mountains, leaving the trail and traveling deeper. I took out the paper in my pocket and shined a flashlight on it. The rocks we were looking for were normally black but glowed purple in the moonlight. The moon was full so we figured it wouldn't be that hard. After a few hours, we found five and we needed twenty.
"Ok, this is impossible." Penelope was digging between piles of rocks we gathered. "Why did I pick this one? I should have known it paid too well."
"What's the problem?" I asked, also sifting between rocks. "If we can't find enough, we can just come back tomorrow, right?"
"No, apparently, these rocks only glow in the full moon and only the full moon. It's on the commission, didn't you read it?"
"Oh, I read it with a flashlight, so I didn't get all of it. If it's only a full moon, won't we still be able to come back tomorrow?"
Annoyed, she said, "Dood, tonight's the last night of this full moon."
"Ah... What?" I started looking more frantically, picking up different stones and holding them up to the moonlight, and putting them back down if they didn't glow or glowed the wrong color.
A few hours later, the moon was starting to fall and we found six more.
Finding my posture had gone stiff, I stood and popped my back. "I hope we can find the rest before the sun rises."
"You're telling me." Penelope yawned and stretched, popping her back as well. "At least we haven't had to fight off any wolves."
Less than a second after uttering that last word, we heard a distinct howling in the distance.
"Well, now there's wolves," I said, tossing my hands in the air.
A scream followed after my words from roughly the same direction as the howling.
After a moment of realization, I drew one of my swords while Penelope reached in her bag and retrieved her greataxe, then we made our way toward where the sounds came from.
In a small clearing littered with stones, was a woman draped in a blue mage's robe surrounded by four wolves. One was gnawing on her arm and another was sniffing through her bag while the other two seemed to act as lookouts but they didn't seem to notice us as their senses seemed to be focused in another direction.
Wasting no time, Penelope threw a handaxe at the wolf gnawing the woman's arm and hit one of its legs. It yelped and hopped away.
I ran forward and swiped at the same one with my sword, missing it as it hopped back. I swiftly pulled my other sword and slashed it across the wolf's face.
With her arm free, the woman touched the head of the one nosing around her bag and it immediately fell to the ground and started rolling around in pain.
The other two wolves immediately took notice but scattered in surprise.
With a growl, the wolf I just struck lunged at me and I bashed it to the side with a backhand and struck at it again, glancing my blade off its teeth.
Penelope ran in with her greataxe at the ready as another wolf charged to meet her. She swung her axe as it lunged and they missed each other initially until she caught it on the backswing and it landed on its side, unmoving.
I became locked with the wolf in front of me as I struggled to find a spot to strike while it kept moving and dodging. Eventually, it backed up far enough that I couldn't reach it and it turned tail and ran.
I looked around to see the rest of the wolves had also run away and the woman was now crouching on the ground.
"Are you okay?" I asked, placing my hand on her back and crouching beside her.
"I'm fine, they just caught me at a bad time." She lifted a stone towards the moonlight and it started glowing purple. "Found another one." She put it into her bag.
"Are you sure you're fine? Show me your arm." I shined my flashlight and reached for her arm.
"I'm fine, see?" She pulled up her ripped, bloody sleeve and showed that she had no wounds. "Now turn off that flashlight, I need to see the stones glow."
"Ok, but why are you out this late looking for glowing stones?"
Impatiently, she said, "As you can see, I'm a mage and these are for my research."
After making sure the coast was clear, Penelope joined us. "Do you happen to be Zeta?" she asked.
"How did you guess?" The woman was still sifting between the stones.
"We're out here because of your commission. Oscar, show her."
"Oh." I pulled out the paper and showed it to the woman.
She glanced at it and said, "I didn't think anybody would actually take it seeing how monotonous it is with so little pay."
I sighed and mumbled, "Never underestimate the poor, I guess..."
"Oh, sorry." She stood and bowed. "You two saved my life. How can I repay you?"
A thought immediately crossed my mind. "Teach me magic!" I exclaimed.
Penelope sighed. "I'm fine with just some money or you could enchant my axe for me."
Zeta smiled and said, "I'll see what I can do, but first, how many blacklight stones have you gathered?"
Penelope responded, "Eleven."
"Good work, I only found three all night." She crouched back down and looked back over the piles of stones at her feet. "I'm pretty sure I got all the ones in these piles. Onward." She seemed to pick a random direction and just went that way.
Penelope and I followed until she stopped in another clearing where we started gathering more stones and looking between them. We found the last one we needed just as the sun started shining over the horizon. It glowed purple for less than a second and stopped in the presence of sunlight. By the end, we were all stretching and popping joints.
Zeta counted and recounted the stones in a leather bag. "That's all of them." She snapped her fingers and our surroundings changed. We were in a forest off of the mountain and there was now a cylindrical stone tower standing in front of us.
"Whoa, where are we?" I asked.
"My home." Zeta went to the door and opened it, motioning us to follow. "Come in."
"If you could do that the whole time, how come you had so much trouble with those wolves?" asked Penelope.
"As I said earlier, they caught me at a bad time. Literally."
The tower's interior was lined with wooden walls and tiled floors on the first floor and had lights that ran on electricity despite standing in the middle of a forest.
"So, this is what a mage's tower looks like on the inside. This is pretty nice." I looked and stared at my new surroundings. "I wouldn't mind living here."
"Don't get your hopes up." Zeta motioned us to follow her into a room filled with books and a desk in the center. "If I decide to teach you anything, first I need to see if you have any aptitude for magic." She patted the desk in the middle of the room. "Sit and place your palms on the table."
I did as told and waited for the next step. "What now?"
Both Zeta and Penelope just looked at me, with shocked expressions.
"What?" I looked over my shoulder. "Did something happen?"
Penelope was the first to say something. "Is that supposed to happen?"
"I don't know. This is the first time I've seen it." Zeta drew her face close to mine. "Does anything look weird to you? Do you see any white spots in your vision?"
"No. Is something wrong with my eyes?" I continued to look around and saw no difference.
"Stars." Zeta went over to a pile of books, selected one from near the bottom, and flipped through it, ignoring the rest as they fell over. Once she found the page she was looking for, she set it in front of me. It was an image of a black eye with what looked like small beacons shining within it. Stars. "This is what your eyes look like right now."
"Really?" I started lifting my hands.
"Don't move your hands!" She sounded deadly serious. "You want me to teach you magic, right?"
"I always wanted to learn it, but no one would ever teach me," I said, starry-eyed.
"Well, from today, you're my apprentice. No changing your mind and even if you did, I'm not taking 'no' as an answer." Her voice was cold as if something was wrong with this situation.
"Am I special or something?"
Penelope's wavering voice chimed in. "Um, I think something's wrong." Both Zeta and I looked to see what she meant. Her bucked teeth were softly glowing white and she was on the verge of panicking.
Quick as a flash, Zeta grabbed Penelope by the wrist and went to the door. "Don't move," she said to me as it closed behind them. A few minutes later, Zeta returned alone. "You can move now."
I stood and took my hands off the desk. "What happened?"
"It looks like your eyes awakened a magic trait in the girl."
Excited, I asked, "You mean Penelope also has magic?"
"Sort of, but hers is nothing like yours. She chose not to pursue magic but you have no choice."
I put my hands behind my head. "That's fine. I always wanted to learn anyway."
She cupped her hands around my face and stared deeply into my eyes with a serious expression. "What you want doesn't matter anymore. If destiny exists, you just found yours."
Merci pour la lecture!
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