Out of Phase
A Magic University Teaser Tale
Ebon struggled with his telekinesis, trying to get his phantom fingers to do what he needed them to do. The quill twitched and skipped over the paper, but his fine manipulation with the spell was just not what it had to be in order for him to write out the words required.
The erratic movements caused the ink to blot and instead of the simple letters he had intended, there was nothing but dashes and splotches. Ebon railed over the failure, releasing his spell and allowing the quill to drop to the table. He then snarled and unleashed a tiny ball of flame that ignited the marred parchment, turning it into a small pile of ash – one that matched the collection of others scattered atop the table.
It was a task that should be relatively easy for anyone literate, unless they lacked a physical form the way that Ebon did. He did have his telekinesis to make up for it, and could accommodate chores that asked for tangible efforts involving gross motor skills. But fine manipulation? He was not practiced enough with the spell for fine manipulation. He had oodles of strength, but lacked finesse. He hadn’t had reason to manoeuvre anything solid for quite some time, which was why his skills with the spell were not very refined.
“Bastards should have an application form accessible to all. This is discriminatory,” Ebon rasped, pushing the table away from him with a thrust from an invisible hand. “How the hell am I supposed to complete this?”
He knew one possible solution was to hire a scribe to do the work for him, but that called for money and Ebon had none. Why would he? Carrying it would be a constant inconvenience; he had no need for possessions. In this instance, the application forms had been provided by Magic University and the quill was borrowed. He didn’t have a need for shelter, clothing, food or drink – he had no problems ignoring typical animal urges because in his case such things were irrelevant. He didn’t get hot or cold, he didn’t get wet and he didn’t even need to breathe. This time, however, things were different. He did need help.
Resigning himself to finding some way of paying the scribe’s wages, Ebon left the magistrate’s office where he had been trying to complete the form and made his way to the closest scriptorium. Most people recoiled or ran away as he passed through the streets, frightened by his wraith-like appearance. At night-time or even early dawn or dusk, the shadows presented him with enough cover that he could avoid the unwanted attention, but in broad daylight his shadowy form was an obvious blight. Their reaction made him yearn for the day where he would have been ignored as uninteresting or mocked slightly for his pasty complexion and mediocre build.
Three years he had borne the accursed appearance, three years of vague memories and time lost as he wandered in search of answers that still had not all come to him. At first he had not remembered anything including who he was. Gradually, the recollections returned, one by one, but his memories prior to his transformation were spotty at best. He hoped some day that would change because he had a feeling that those memories would be important if he was ever to reclaim who he was.
It was a warm enough day that the door to the scriptorium had been propped open. Not that it mattered to Ebon if the door were open or closed, unless it was enchanted. An ordinary door could never bar his way anymore. He swept in and advanced upon the counter. Settling there, he waited for the man attending to clients to approach. He eyed Ebon warily as he did so.
“I wish to hire your services,” Ebon rasped.
“We do not serve the undead,” the scribe replied, pulling a couple of scrolls from the shelf behind him.
“I’m no phantom,” Ebon assured him. “I’m inter-dimensional. That does present a problem. I need to complete an application for Magic University, but I lack proper physical form. I would like you to complete the task for me, but since I have no way of offering money in exchange for your work, I propose bartering services of my own. I’m a very powerful spell-caster. Perhaps you can make use of my skills for your own purposes.”
It seemed like a reasonable offer to Ebon, and it was the only thing of value that he really could give. The offer was not received without interest. The scribe stood contemplating the being in front of him. Clearly, he had something in mind.
“I think we can strike a deal. Follow me to the back, and we’ll discuss our terms.”
The room that they entered was suffocatingly small, but physical walls meant nothing to Ebon anymore. He hovered on the opposite side of the table from where the scribe took a seat.
“So what do you ask of me to fulfil my end of the bargain?” Ebon demanded hoarsely.
“When I established my business, I had little in the way of capital,” the scribe admitted. “I was forced to seek out a sponsor. There was a Master wizard, Jovan Oakley, who was willing to pay a retainer, but he offered a pittance compared to the usual asking price for a scribe of my talents, and he demanded a twenty year contract. I was desperate for the money, so I signed the agreement. Five years later, my business is well-established and I should be enjoying my success. Instead I am bound by my contract with him, and spend my evenings doing repetitive and petty work for him, copying scrolls and the like. I have things I would prefer to be doing with what should be my leisure time. In exchange for my services, I want you to enter Jovan’s home and destroy the contract so that I’m no longer bound to him. The work you want would be a small price for my freedom.”
Ebon agreed to the scribe, Bartholomew Fenway’s, terms, as if he had much of a choice. After discussing the situation in detail, Ebon decided to pay a visit to Jovan’s house that day. He would be less likely to be home than if Ebon waited until evening.
The wraith-mage could not pass unhindered through the magically locked door, but Jovan had not enchanted his entire house similarly, so it was just a matter of sliding through an unprotected section of wall. Once inside the home, he quickly located Bartholomew’s contract. Getting at it was not a simple job. Jovan had the document well protected, an item of great value to him. It took a fair amount of time, but little effort, for Ebon to strip away the anti-theft spells. Once it was free of such nuisances, Ebon moved closer to snuff out the contract as easily as he had the failed application forms.
He had not been expecting the contingency spell. Apparently, Jovan had been anticipating that Bartholomew might choose unorthodox tactics to liberate his contract, which included striking deals with demons. The moment Ebon attempted to ignite the parchment, he found himself trapped within an inter-dimensional magical cage. Seconds later a middle-aged bearded and bespectacled man appeared before him bearing the slender frame and robes customary of a Master wizard.
“So, Bartholomew strikes again. Well, what have we here? You certainly are nothing like the petty thieves he has sent in the past. They did not get this far, and I dispatched of them easily enough.” Jovan scrutinized Ebon closely. “How did Bartholomew succeed in recruiting you?”
“I required his services. I need to make application to Magic University, and because of my ‘condition’ I was unable to do so on my own. This is what he asked for in exchange.”
Jovan scratched his chin.
“Ah – my alma mater. Well, I can hardly fault you for wanting to better yourself in that way, can I?”
The Master wizard paced the floor, considering his options.
“What if I told you I was willing to let you return to Bartholomew with claim of success, but I require your services in exchange as well,” he proposed. Ebon was hardly in the position to argue.
“Name your terms,” he rasped.
“A former apprentice of mine holds a series of letters that she could use to defame me and wreak scandal upon my house. I would like you to do for me what Bartholomew was having you do for him. Play purveyor of those documents, and I’ll reward you by destroying Bartholomew’s contract myself. I will need you to swear your agreement under oath, however. I want to guarantee that when I release you, you do not simply leave in search of some other scribe to do your bidding.”
Once again, Ebon was not in any position to object. He allowed himself to be bound magically to completing the task. Once freed from his cage, he took directions from Jovan, and set off to find the wizard’s former apprentice, Yvette.
While Yvette’s home was wealthier than Jovan’s, they had fewer magical protections in place. Instead, Ebon encountered a different problem. When he arrived, Yvette had the letters directly in her possession, and was poring over them tearfully. Ebon didn’t want to waste time with formalities, and presented himself unannounced before the young woman. Since he couldn’t exactly snatch the letters from her grasp, he decided to try intimidation instead.
“Jovan sent me. He wants his letters back. Give them to me.”
He let his frustration seethe through him, knowing it would darken his form and cause his eyes to flare red. That usually was enough to put the fear into the bravest of men. He expected the young woman to shrink away from him and perhaps even toss the letters his way in order to get him to leave her be. Instead, she gripped the letters with greater fervour and offered only resistance.
“No! They’re all I have left of him. He thinks I don’t love him, but I’m not marrying another by choice. I was betrothed to the cad by my parents – an arranged marriage to better business relations. I would give anything to get out of it, but my father is convinced that Terrance is a good man. He’s not, but without evidence to show otherwise, they’ll never agree to free me from the obligation to marry him.”
“If I bring you evidence to this effect, you will give me the letters?”
“But you have to tell Jovan that I wanted to keep them, because I do still love him,” she insisted. “If you promise me that much and then bring me the evidence I need, you can have the letters.”
Ebon sighed inwardly, ruing the fact that it was such a convoluted path to obtain the scribal services that he required, entangled in some foolish love triangle.
“And this Terrance? Where can I find him?” Ebon groaned.
“He and his business associates meet regularly for revelry at the Decadent Thrush, an inn in the merchant area of town. You’ll likely find him there tonight, relaxing after a day’s work. He invited me, but I have no interest in joining him solely for appearance sake. He does not actually enjoy my company and I think he is a mean-hearted boor.”
“Fine, an evening at the Decadent Thrush it is then.”
Ebon slunk away begrudgingly. As opposed to waiting for evening, he made his way to the inn that late afternoon to wait. He had nothing better to, and it allowed him time to select an appropriate spot to position himself within the shadows where he had a complete view of the entire barroom. He was actually grateful that he had chosen to venture there early when Terrance made an appearance. At least, Ebon was fairly certain that it was him based on the description that Yvette had given him. Terrance was there long before he was scheduled to meet with his friends. And he was not alone.
The woman who joined him secretively, once the young man had seated himself in the dimmest corner of the barroom quite close to where Ebon was standing, looked like some sort of high-priced courtesan. Her “wares” were clearly on display, but the fabrics of her well-tailored clothing were expensive and the heady perfume she wore was laced with pricy exotic flowers and spices. She approached Terrance cautiously, and once she was certain that nobody was watching, albeit the wrong conclusion, she bent and whispered into his ear. The arrogant-looking young man smirked and watched her walk away, ascending the stairs to the upper level of the inn. A few minutes later, Terrance pursued her.
Ebon followed the errant fiancé up the stairs just in time to see him disappear into a room on the upper level. The wraith-mage listened at the door for a couple of seconds, and once he was sure they were well-distracted, he shifted through the closed door, into the room beyond.
The two were entangled together atop the bed, Terrance’s lips firmly attached to the jezebel’s and his tongue thrust deep within her mouth. Neither of them had noticed Ebon enter.
“I hate having to meet like this,” the woman whined, when they finally came up for air. “It’s so inconvenient and unfair…and I don’t want to share.”
“Not that much longer, Loretta. I’m to be wed in two weeks and then it is just a matter of impregnating that loathsome cow I’m expected to marry to secure her family’s favour. She might be a frigid bitch, but she’ll have to put out on our wedding night. Once she is a few months into her pregnancy, I’ll dose her with the potion the apothecary provided. Mother and babe will die apparently of natural causes, a conception gone wrong, and after a few months of playing the mournful husband, I’ll be free to return to you.” Terrance spoke the words with such evil glee, savouring the idea. Such cruel intentions would have shocked the average person, but with Ebon they fell upon a hollow heart.
Considering this revelation sufficient ammunition, Ebon departed to return to Yvette. He did not want to hang around long enough to play voyeur as the pair romped between the sheets. All that would do would be to remind him of some of the physical pleasures he might never again be capable of enjoying. He wasn’t about to put himself through that kind of torment.
Yvette was startled to see him return so soon. As she listened to Ebon’s recounting of what he had seen, her face first paled, then blotched with red, both furious and horrified at the same time. She intended on bringing the tale to her father immediately. Since Terrance would not be returning home until the wee hours of the night, his belongings would be searched for the potion he had referred to, and militia men would be sent to question the innkeeper and the apothecary. There would be enough proof to warrant postponing the wedding and eventually cancelling it altogether. There might even be criminal charges brought against Yvette’s murderous betrothed.
She allowed Ebon to take the letters in order to return them to Jovan, but once again sought affirmation that he would tell Jovan of her true feelings and explain as much of her unfortunate situation as possible.
When Ebon arrived, bearing the letters in his telekinetic grasp, the Master wizard was waiting for him. He was not expecting the wraith-mage to appeal to him on Yvette’s behalf, and while his grim expression did not change much as Ebon spoke, he seemed receptive to the story, and a smile gleamed in his bespectacled eyes.
Jovan gladly took the letters from Ebon, and without another word, before Ebon had even bothered to dismiss his spell, the Master wizard had passed him Bartholomew’s contract. Ebon accepted it into his magical grasp.
“You know, you could keep this and simply provide the services that I requested from your retained scribe yourself,” Ebon suggested. “I don’t care who completes my application form for the university for me. It’s just that circumstances dictate that it has to be someone other than myself.”
But Jovan waved him off.
“The reason I retained Bartholomew in the first place was because such things are too trivial to merit my time. I have more important things to attend to, especially now. Besides, I’ve more than profited from my contract with Bartholomew, and I think he has earned freedom from our agreement by initiating this whole chain of events. Take it back to him, and you can let him know that you are doing so by my good graces.”
Ebon didn’t wait around long enough for the wizard to change his mind. Extending his telekinesis spell, he carried the contract back to the scribe. Bartholomew was surprised to see him.
“You return? So soon? I didn’t expect to see you again. The others I hired to fetch my contract for me never came back for their fee,” the scribe said, astonished.
“Well, I am not ‘the others.’ Not only do I return to restore your contract to you, Jovan acknowledges that you have fulfilled your obligation and will not seek out any further services without appropriate recompense.”
Ebon dismissed his spell, allowing the roll of parchment to drop to the table. With an air of disbelief, Bartholomew snatched it up and unrolled it, eager to investigate. He scanned it carefully, gasping with pleasure when he was satisfied that what Ebon had brought him was the actual document he had sought.
“Now it is your turn to fulfill your end of the bargain,” the wraith-mage breathed. With another spell, he manifested a copy of the Magic University form directly from the Magistrate’s office onto the counter in front of the scribe.
There were no arguments from Bartholomew. After setting aside his contract for future disposal, he gathered the supplies he needed to fill out the form, ink and quill, and settled himself down in front of the document. Perched there, he glanced up at Ebon and grinned.
“Alright then – from the beginning. Surname…?”