Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year, New World [A New Year's Short]

Happy New Year, everyone! I wasn't sure if I'd do a New Year's short story, but then I got this idea and it was so much fun that I just had to run with it. Hopefully y'all enjoy it too. If you're curious, my usual reflections-and-goals post will be going up on Friday. I just don't want to post TOO much in these two days.

New Year, New World

Tamison took a deep breath and smoothed the lapels of his wizardly robe. Fifteen minutes and counting until he’d leave for his first mission for the Council of Wizards. He'd been waiting months for an assignment, but his patience had paid off. This mission would prove his resolve, his ingenuity, and his subtlety without all the danger that some of the other young wizards had faced on their first assignments. There would be no tentacle-things from the Lost Realm, no mad werecats from the Forest of Midnight, and absolutely no bears of any kind. It would be perfect.

Tamison sorted through his satchel, making sure he had everything, then checked the clock again. Nine minutes left. He whistled to catch the attention of the pocket dragon perched on a nearby chair. “Myrd, why don't you slip through the portal and scout a bit? Make sure the coast is clear?”

Myrd rolled his eyes. A string of thoughts flowed from his head to Tamison's, mostly about how ridiculous Tam was. But he took flight anyway and disappeared through the portal with a flip of his silver-scaled tail.

Now alone, Tamison took a deep breath and reviewed the details of his mission. Seventeen years ago, an about-to-die wizard couple had portaled their one-year-old daughter to the Magicless Realm, Earth, intending to retrieve her if either of them survived. Neither had, and it had taken this long for other wizards to trace the girl's location to somewhere in the western part of somewhere called North Carolina. Tamison's job was to find the girl and bring her back. Undoubtedly, it would be a long and difficult search, requiring Tam to evade the notice of enemy forces and perfect his locating spells to the level of a master magician, but it would be worthwhile in the end — especially if he could manage to win the girl's heart along with the approval of his elders. Yes, she would surely be charmed by the suave and mysterious stranger simmering with hidden power . . .

Myrd flew back through the portal and reported the other side all clear. Tamison straightened, slung his satchel over his shoulder, and checked the clock. One more minute, then he could arrive at exactly midnight on the first day of the Magicless Realm's New Year.

Now! Tamison stepped into the portal. For a moment, dark nothingness surrounded him. Then he walked out the other side into cold air that smelled of dirty smoke and disappointment. In the sky high above, a firework went off with a bang and a flash of green. Ah, yes, this was a suitably dramatic entrance.

“You know,” came a contemplative voice from below him, “they say that if you drink a root beer at midnight on New Year's Eve behind the high school, adventure will find you.”

Tamison shot a furious thought at Myrd: I thought you said the coast was clear! He looked down to find a girl sitting there, her back to the brick wall, wrapped in a puffy green coat. A mass of black curls half hid her face, and she held a clear bottle of some kind of dark liquid. “And who says this, exactly?”

“People. Well, me, mostly. Just now, and about ten minutes ago when a dragon poofed out of thin air and started flying around.” She looked up and grinned at him, her teeth gleaming white in the darkness. “So, where do you come from, adventure?”

You let her see you? Tamison glared at Myrd, then stopped. This girl shouldn't have been able to see the dragon at all. Maybe he could convince her it was her imagination, nothing more. “I'm just passing through.”

“Sure.” She grinned again like she didn't believe him. “Just stepped out of thin air like that, you can't be sticking around long. But what's on the other side of thin air?”

“I did not just step out of thin air. You simply didn't notice me approach.” He gave her an annoyed look. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“Someone I trust told me that if I came here at this time, I’d save someone a lot of time and energy.” She rolled her eyes and took a long drink from her bottle. “Also, I think I would’ve noticed you coming — you and your dragon and your fancy flickery robe, even if the robe kinda looks like a sports coat sometimes. How’d’you do that?”

Blast. Something must be wrong with his illusion spells. But this was fixable. “No, it's a . . .” What had she called it? “A sports coat. And there's no dragon. You're drunk.”
She snorted. “You don't get drunk on root beer. Don't be stupid. Anyway, I’m too young for alcohol and too smart for drugs.”

What kind of beer didn't get people drunk? Tamison made a mental note to investigate. “You're tired and imagining things, then.”

“Nah. I got plenty of sleep last night. I could stay up for hours now.” She gave him another lazy smile as more fireworks went off above them. “So? What's on the other side of your thin air — if it's air? It looks kinda weird, like if you turned a rainbow into fishing line and wove it into a sheet.”

So not only could she see Myrd and his robes, she could see the gateway too. Great. Just great. Tamison hastily adjusted his plans. He could do with an ally here, a guide to help him find the girl. Naturally, as she worked with him, her initial hostility would give way to respect, then love, but she would be left sorrowful when he returned to his own world with the wizards’ daughter . . .

“Your dragon's talking to me,” she abruptly announced, interrupting his thoughts. “He says you're on a quest to find someone. Maybe I know her.”

“Yes.” Tamison shot Myrd another look. The least the dragon could do was let him tell his own story. “Seventeen years ago, two great wizards sent their daughter here to hide her from their foes. Now I seek to find her and invite her to return to her homeland to receive training in the fabulous powers which she undoubtedly possesses.”

“Uh-huh.” She drew the last word out as far as it could go without breaking. “And how are you gonna know this girl when you find her?”

“Well . . .” Tamison considered this. “I will have several tests to see if she could be the one. The first sign, of course, would be that she can see through my illusions . . .”

The girl might’ve raised an eyebrow; her tone suggested she had. “Like I can, you mean?”

“Well, yes.” Tamison faltered. It couldn't be this easy, could it? “And then I would investigate more into her family heritage and history and see what she knew about her parents . . .”

“Birth parents? ‘Bout nothing.” She shrugged and took another drink. “I've been in the foster system since I was a baby; just aged out last July. I tried to find info on my birth family, but no one even has any records.”

“Oh.” This was a test. It had to be a test. Either that or a trap. “Well, the person I'm looking for has a birthmark roughly the shape of a heart on her left shoulder.”

“Like this?” After a minute’s struggle with her coat, she pulled down the shoulder of her sweater to show him. He bent, creating a ball of light in one hand to help him see.

The mark did indeed look like a heart, though an elongated one. Tam straightened up. More fireworks went off, and music came from somewhere off beyond the brick wall, then faded away. “I suppose the last test would be to see if she has any wizardly powers . . .”

The words had no sooner left his mouth than he felt his feet lift off the ground. The girl laughed as he rose a foot above the earth and floated there. “Wizard enough for you?” She smirked. “I started floating books off my shelves by accident when I was twelve. I've been waiting ever since for someone to show up and say, ‘Yer a wizard, Carrie, ’ but I guess it worked out the other way around. So, I get to go off to wizardland now?”

Blast it. Blast it. Could it really be this easy? Was this a trap? A setup? A test? He had to find a way to stall and recalibrate. “If you wish to return to the Living Realm, your homeland, you may, but you are not required to if you would rather remain.”

“Learn to be a wizard and live around dragons instead of spending my life working a lousy job to pay off student loans? That’s an easy choice. New year, new world sounds good to me.” She stood. “So we just walk through the rainbow-weave thin air and we're there?”

“Yes, but . . .” Tam scrambled for an excuse. “Do you need to gather any possessions or say goodbye to anyone?”

She shook her head. “I had a feeling I wouldn't be around much this new year, and my feelings like that usually aren’t wrong. I said my goodbyes and brought everything I care about with me.” She hefted a black backpack off the ground and onto her shoulder. “Well, are we going?”

“Um . . .” Tamison still hesitated until a noise like branches rattling behind them caught his attention. “What was that?”

Carrie shrugged. “An animal of some kind, probably.”

Tam allowed himself to relax. “Ah. Nothing to fear, then.”

She gave him another one of those smiles. “Nah. Not unless you’re afraid of bears.”

Tamison hastily reevaluated the situation. Bears, even non-magical ones, were notoriously resistant to anything wizardly, and in his current discombobulated state, he didn't want to mess with one. “Let's just get back through the portal, then.” He stepped aside and gestured. “Ladies first.”

“Thanks.” She paused. “By the way, you’re not my type, so maybe stop getting your hopes up.” Then she stepped through the gateway and disappeared.

Tam sighed. Apparently, he needed to guard his thoughts better — either that or find a dragon who didn't spill all his secrets. At least it was an easy mission. That's something. Then, with that in mind and Myrd on his shoulder, he followed Carrie through the portal.

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