Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXXIII

The story so far: Tollon’s enemy Lady Vorana has teamed up with the god Mrokitar, and turned the fairy Mia against Tollon. Now read on . . .

Mia turns to look at me. There is hatred in her face. There’s not a hint that she recognizes me.

I was astonished when Paviara looked at me without recognition. My hearts breaks a little when Mia does.

I want to stay, I want to persuade Mia that I’m her friend. But I have to leave. Vorana’s told me what I need to know. The real problem is elsewhere.

Throne rooms are always meant to impress
(Credit: Wikipedia/Albeins)

So I quickly activate a teleportation spell. My destination? The throne room, where I expect Chypa to be struggling with Mrokitar.

That’s in fact what’s going on. The two of them are wielding magical forces much greater than anything I’m capable of, yet. And what’s surprising is not that Chypa is clearly losing, because she is, but that she’s still holding out so well. Just watching her, I can appreciate how ingenious she is in using magic. She blocks, parries, and counterattacks so relentlessly that Mrokitar is having trouble simply overpowering her.

I don’t make a move to help. It’s hard. I can see Chypa is getting desperate. But she warned me about being a hero. And she was right. This is not the time or place. Mrokitar is the problem, and brute force isn’t going to work.

Chypa sees me. She sees I’m doing nothing. Suddenly, she stops attacking Mroktar, just uses defensive magic, and comes to stand beside me. In an undertone, she says to me, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Mrokitar stopped attacking Chypa. She sees me, too. She’s still in the form of that woman with the tan skin and brown hair. Her face looks even more animated, even more human. She comes to stand in front of me. And I find myself standing alone. Mrokitar has whisked Chypa away, somewhere.

“Do you not like what I’ve done, Tollon?” Mrokitar asks.

I shake my head. “It doesn’t matter whether I like it or not, Mrokitar. I made a mistake. I recommended that you try to hold onto a human perspective. I was wrong.”

“No, you were right. I am really enjoying this life.” Mrokitar smiles. “Vorana is such a fascinating tool for understanding you humans. She’s so alive, so passionate.”

I’ve been looking for an entry, a way to undermine Mrokitar’s self-satisfaction. And now she’s handed it to me. “I think congratulations are in order to Vorana, for making you into her tool.”

Mrokitar gets angry. “That’s nonsense!”

“Really?” I don’t overplay the sarcasm. “Who were your allies in fighting Ovedisca? Mia was one. Vorana has enslaved her. I was another. Vorana just ordered Mia to kill me. Even gods are supposed to keep faith. But now you’re less than a god.” And I turn my back on her.

Mentally, I start counting to ten. If I make it to ten alive, there’s a good chance I’ve made my point.

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXXII

The story so far: Tollon and his allies are ready to attempt to defeat their enemies and rescue their friends. Well, as ready as they can be. Will it be good enough? No one can be sure. Now read on . . .

Earl Haulloran’s army has arrived on the opposite side of the river. I’ve been telling his wife, Lady Gwella, that I’m planning some sort of infiltration of the palace. I’ve made it sound sufficiently unimportant that she’s not communicating much magically anymore. Which is fine by me. So long as she lives and bears the child with my sister Jallia’s soul, that’s all I care about when it comes to her, or her husband.

Still, the presence of that army is useful. Vorana’s attention must be on defeating it and driving it off. Chypa tells me she’s tried a few magical attacks on Haulloran’s army, but is finding Lady Gwella to be tough opposition, able to strike back. And while the entire Royal Army is larger than the force Haulloran has, the entire Royal Army isn’t here. Vorana’s at a manpower disadvantage. Which is why the river is serving as the boundary between the two armies.

We wait until nightfall of the third day after Hallouran’s army arrived to begin our attack. I use magic to take out the magical barrier at the kitchen entrance to the palace. Katrina, all by herself, takes out the eight guards there, easily. Their swords cannot pierce her scales.

Getting in is easy. It’s trying to deal with what we find that is going to be difficult.

In Greek mythology, people were created from the stones Deucalion and Pyrrha threw behind them

Chypa goes on ahead to confront Vorana, one on one. Inacha stays with me and Katrina long enough to raise the rest of the dragons’ teeth into dragon warriors. Because of my request to Frawkza, they are all obedient to Katrina, including the dozen in the king’s possession that are no doubt elsewhere in the palace. That group should really upset things as they try to join up with Katrina.

Inacha and I split up, each of us with fifteen of these dragon warriors. Inacha’s off to sweep the dungeons and the royal quarters before meeting us in the throne room. I’m taking Katrina with me to check my old workshop before making for the same destination.

None of the palace guards stand a chance against the dragon warriors. We make quick work of any we encounter. The workshop doors are locked and magically secured. I destroy the spell, Katrina and two of the other dragon warriors smash open the doors.

I enter the workshop, calling Sarton’s name. I get no answer until I reach the main workroom. And then it is not Sarton’s voice I hear.

“Well done, Tollon of Velgard, Lord of Tyznar Heights.” The voice is mocking. Vorana sits at Sarton’s desk. “I see you have some friends with you.” Her voice turns hard. “But I didn’t invite them.”

I hear a noise, and turn. Katrina and the dragon warriors are gone. How? Vorana doesn’t have that level of power.

I turn back to her, puzzled and worried. She knows what I’m feeling. She smiles. “It’s amazing what you can do when a god is your partner. I imagine Mrokitar is enjoying killing that bitch Chypa. And if you’re counting on Sarton to help, think again.” She lifts up a box on Sarton’s desk, opens the lid, and turns it over. Ashes flow out and scatter in a mini-whirlwind. “The old fool never could resist any of his ex-wives. And now his ashes are scattered and he is gone forever.”

This is not looking good. But Chypa and I talked over Vorana’s character. She may be older and more experienced than I am, but I can still defeat her.

As if she’s reading my mind, Vorana gives me an evil smile. “Oh, and I have one other surprise for you, Tollon. I’ve taken my old slave back, and retrained her until she’s properly subservient once again.”

A side door opens, and Mia enters the room. She pays no attention to me, but walks over to Vorana and kneels before her, looking up at her with a worshipful gaze.

Vorana points to me. “This man threatens me, Mia. Kill him.”

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXXI

The story so far: Tollon is inspecting what happened to the city in his absence, and stumbles into his old lover, Paviara, in the temple of Thessar. Now read on . . .

It is Paviara. I am so happy.

Until I realize that she doesn’t recognize me. Not at all. There is no sign in her face that she knows me from a dead boar.

She wonders why I am staring at her. “Is there something wrong, sir?” she asks.

“Don’t you recognize me?” And when she looks puzzled, I say, “It’s Tollon.”

“Tollon,” she says doubtfully. “Tollon.” And then a change comes over her. She looks confused and in pain. She starts crying, and falls to her knees in front of me.

I go to help her, only a sharp voice cuts me off. “Leave her be. We will take care of her.” It’s a hooded figure, presumably a senior priest, who speaks. Comes along with two young female priests. They take Paviara up and away. She’s still sobbing the whole time.

The High Priestess with a book in her hand, appropriate for a former schoolteacher

The hooded priest throws back her hood, to disclose the angry visage of Honorable Alencar. And then she does recognize me, and her features soften. She shakes her head. “Tollon of Velgard, I might have known. Come with me.” She beckons, and I follow her into a small room. It’s a library. At a gesture, the male priest in the room leaves, and Honorable Alencar invites me to sit down. She gets right to the point. “How do you know that girl?”

“We were lovers once upon a time, learned lady.”

Honorable Alencar gets a tired look on her face. “That would do it.” She shakes her head again. “I figured you would show up here some day, Tollon. I couldn’t understand why else Thessar would send me here, or why he did this to me.” She holds up her hand. It used to have four fingers after she chopped one off. Now it has six. She offers me a wry smile. “They’re both that way. I have to have my gloves custom-made. Small sacrifice when one has already agreed to serve a god for the rest of one’s life. And I’m Mother Alesca now, not learned lady. I retired from teaching when I became a priestess. Officially I’m a demigod, because Thessar specifically sent me here. In theory it means I can order the execution of anyone in Auspulia, just on my say-so.” She chuckles. “It’s a bit more drastic than the whippings I could impose as a teacher. They obey me so readily that I haven’t ordered the death of anyone yet. Nor do I mean to.”

“What is Paviara doing here?”

She nods. “Well, to start, up until now, we didn’t even know her name. Who is she?”

“A poor relation of Earl Haulloran’s. She worked in the Palace Kitchen.”

“And you were lovers,” Mother Alesca reiterates. “Well, we rescued her from some of the king’s soldiers, who had mistreated her just as you might expect. Certainly her mind is broken. She doesn’t remember her name or her past.” She gives me a piercing look. “Your appearance may have dredged up some memories. We will have to talk to her, see what this has done to her. Did you mistreat her?”

“No.” I try to think about how to explain what I know, but the thought of what’s happened to Paviara just shocks me. What did she do wrong? Nothing. And it’s all but destroyed her. She didn’t deserve this. “Lady Gwella used magic to tamper with Paviara back some time ago, and I think damaged her mind. She didn’t like Paviara. She didn’t like me, either. But when I last saw her, Paviara still knew who she was. I’ve been out of the country for several tendays now, so I can’t explain how she ended up in the hands of soldiers.”

“Oh.” Mother Alesca thinks for a moment. “Just what are you doing here, Tollon?”

That’s another question that could have many explanations. So I offer the one that will mean the most to the woman in front of me. “Maybe getting ready to fight a god again.”

“Gods can take care of themselves, Tollon,” she tells me. “Humans aren’t so fortunate. Remember that.”

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXX

The story so far: Finding the capital in the hands of their enemies and hunkering down for a civil war, Chypa and Tollon decide to create a magical soldier. But is that safe? Now read on . . .

Our newly created dragon warrior turns around in a complete circle, sword in ready position. And then it comes and kneels in front of me. “Lord of Tyznar Heights, I am at your service. Though I have to say I’m astonished to be here, in this form. The last thing I remember is being killed by a god.” And she stands up. It is indeed the one we wanted, Katrina of Moss.

“You know this resurrection is only temporary?” I ask her.

She nods. Her eyes are dragon eyes, her face is covered in dragon scales, but that is Katrina there. Knowing she has only days to live doesn’t bother her. She is a warrior. “Frawkza told me. So we’d best get a move on. Who do I have to fight?”

“Nothing so simple,” I reply. “We need your talents to organize, strategize, and lead an army of soldiers such as yourself.”

I’m not sure dragon soldiers can actually smile, but Katrina is trying her best. “All the better. Explain what you need and what you have, and let’s get down to business.”

It’s something I thinks she soon regrets saying. Chypa explains what magic we’re up against. Inacha provides our intelligence on the forces available to the king and Vorana on one hand, and to Earl Haulloran on the other. Katrina has a deep respect for magic, because she knows it can get her killed before she accomplishes her mission. So she spends the day locked in conversation with those two. And I get to play odd man out.

I could mope. But I’ve got to hold up my end. So I take a tour with Sput of the wall around Gehulia, and ask him what he knows of Evana and her father. The wall looks to be impervious to anything other than a major magical attack. Nor is Sput very encouraging about Evana.

“They were released, and then retaken a few days later.  And we have no information about what’s going on inside now,” he tells me. “There isn’t a wall around the palace, but there might as well be. Every entrance is covered by magic. You go in without permission, and you don’t come out, save as Lady Vorana’s slave. Two of our best snuck in there, and then gave up every secret they knew. We lost twenty folk before we could cut ties and contain the damage.”

We are walking just out of sight of the palace when we pass by the entrance to a temple to Thessar. Remembering how the Honorable Alencar sacrificed her finger to Thessar, I decide to offer up a more pecuniary offering, just to play it safe. Sput has other things to do, so we part ways. I go in.

The temple is cool and dark, even though there are lit candles everywhere. It’s an old building, reputedly one of the oldest in the city. There is an entire college of priests serving Thessar, and unlike most colleges of priests, this one has both men and women in it. Naturally, there’s a rumor that one of the private worship services is an orgy among the priests. I never heard of anyone join their ranks, though, looking for an orgy!

Hinduism has androgynous representations of gods
(Credit: Wikipedia/Himalayan Academy Publications)

Thessar is represented as an androgynous figure standing beside a small child and looking kindly down upon the child. Why Thessar is depicted as androgynous and yet bears a masculine name is something I’ve never learned. I go up to the big statue, bow, mutter a brief prayer asking for the god’s help, and go sit down on a bench and lean forward in prayer.

I really could use the god’s help. Chypa thinks a god is working with Vorana, or perhaps is working Vorana as a puppet. And after my encounter with Ovedisca, I am not hopeful we can cope with another god.

One of the priests comes around with a collection plate. I get out a gold coin, a Tanifisayan ducat, and drop it in the plate. The priest murmurs, “The god thanks you for your offering. May your design prosper according to its merits.”

There is something familiar about that voice. I look up into face of the priest.

It is Paviara.

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXIX

The story so far: Tollon and his companions find they are heading into a war zone. So they make some unusual preparations. Now read on . . .

The watchmaker’s shop is empty. There is no sign of Evana.

Gehulia is no longer a city neighborhood. A wall has been magically built around it. No one gets in, no one gets out. It’s thought most of the inhabitants have starved.

Sput is still around, as is the “mutual aid society” he and the watchmaker belong to. He’s briefing Inacha on palace politics, insofar as his secret society knows about them. And he got us a safe space, an empty warehouse that was used to smuggle goods in and out of Gehulia.

Chypa and I are going to try a little magical experiment. Chypa explained what she wanted done with the dragon’s teeth. I suggested one modification, which may or may not work. Hence, this experiment.

We have drawn a Great Circle on the floor. Chypa and I face each other just within the circle’s perimeter. A dragon’s tooth is at the center. Oh, and a sword. Gods are not noted for their attentiveness; we want the one we want, and her alone: Frawkza, “She Who Birthed Terror and Strife.”

To summon Frawkza, one needs blood, preferably that of a live enemy, killed within the circle. We cut ourselves, and use our own. It’s second-best, but it will do. Frawkza appreciates dedication.

“By my own blood I shed, I call upon She Who Slaughters and Maims . . .” We alternate each line of the chant, which yields sixteen different names for Frawkza. Why “She Who Causes Headaches” is among them is a mystery to me.

A form materializes near the sword and tooth. We do not look at its head; people who do so reputedly lose their sanity, sometimes their life. She speaks, and I can feel my ears bleeding from listening to her. Maybe “She Who Causes Headaches” is appropriate.

What do you want, weak creatures?”

Chypa speaks loudly. “A warrior.”

Laughter, inhuman laughter. “It would be a shame to put a true warrior at the command of a creature such as you.

My turn. “I have struggled with dragons and gods, and am worthy to command. And I have a request to make about the warrior you will produce for us.”

The form bends down toward me. To my consternation, it seizes me in one enormous hand and picks me up. “Look at me, creature.

I don’t have to, but I dare not show cowardice before Frawkza. So I look her in the face, hoping that because she ordered me to, I will survive the experience.

Even the symbolism doesn’t capture the dread reality

So I can tell you what Frawkza’s face looks like. It’s not human. It’s the rage of battle incarnate. It fills me with itself. I envision myself fighting on the battlefield, slaughtering my enemies, taking their women, burning cities to the ground. This goes on and on. It feels like I’m raging for centuries.

And then I’m standing back where I was, as I was. I feel strangely diminished, as if killing is what I normally do, and my body is not well-suited for it.

Your request intrigues me, Tollon of Velgard. It suits my nature, and it suits yours. So it is granted.” And then the form disappears.

The dragon’s tooth and sword are still there in the center of the circle. The tooth begins to change. It had one sharp edge. Now it is all sharp edges. It grows. It acquires the scales of a dragon’s body. It develops legs and a body. Then arms and a head. It reaches down to take the sword, and lifts it like an expert measuring its balance.

It is a warrior. It is a dragon warrior, a creature that is shaped like a man, but with an armored body and the temperament of a dragon.

But is it the warrior we want?

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXVIII

The story so far: Tollon and his companions survived an attack by a fire giant when they arrived in Auspulia. They need new plans to proceed. Now read on . . .

I haven’t been telling Lady Gwella everything. That was partly Chypa’s advice, and partly my own distrust of her. She has been returning the favor, as we find out when we try to go up the river to the capital. It seems Earl Haulloran has assembled an army and is marching on the capital. And the king has made peace with Auspulia’s enemies, in order to pull troops toward the capital to defend it. In short, we’re about to enter a war zone.

There are riverboats of all sizes in Auspulia, but they’re not yet up to steam-powered side-wheelers

Inacha is not only able to pick up all this information within a day of our arrival, but also convinces a riverboat captain to take us upstream, at least as far as he can go without getting shot. “And I can persuade him to sail right into the battle, if need be,” she adds without a trace of humor or smugness. What Chypa’s done to increase Inacha’s intellect and abilities seems to have come at the cost of much of her emotions. Oh, she can still play at being sexy, for example, enough to convince a riverboat captain. But when she’s not trying to persuade people, she’s become almost emotionless, lost in thought.

We’re sitting in one of the taverns that line the river in its lower reaches, all fitted out in new clothes. The old ones were ruined by our dip in the harbor, and the only things we carried away were whatever we packed in our purses beforehand, mostly money. Oh, and what dragon teeth I still have.

Chypa has changed, too. But Chypa’s always changing. She’s been getting shorter, and her complexion is turning gray, while her hair becomes black and curly. It’s strange, but I have the feeling I’d recognize Chypa no matter what she looks like, since I’ve gotten used to seeing her look so many different ways.

She leans back in her chair, and looks up to the ceiling. “None of this makes sense. If Vorana’s working with a god, whatever their relationship, she should just be able to smite any opposing army with enough magic to obliterate it. And yet instead she’s gathering an army?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” I say. And I have, hard. “When I talked with Mrokitar, she said knowing what humans are like was making her act like a human, but that it wouldn’t last. Take that, and apply it to Vorana. We agree she’s impulsive, short-sighted, a creature of needs. Wouldn’t whatever god she’s working with be affected by her character?”

“Use magic to fight opponents who have magic, use an army to fight an opponent with an army,” Inacha chimes in. Uncharacteristically of the new Inacha, she smiles. “It makes sense, Chypa. So don’t try to communicate with her anymore. We’ll be out of sight, out of mind.” The smile goes away as Inacha gets serious. She turns to me. “Which means you’re our secret weapon, Tollon. She doesn’t know you’re with us. We need to devise a strategy to use you in a way Vorana will not expect.”

With a snort, Chypa drains her mug of ale. “Good idea, if Vorana doesn’t simply traumatize Tollon the first chance she gets. We’ll need other weapons, other plans.” She thinks for a moment. “Tollon, you still have those dragon teeth, don’t you?”

I nod. “About thirty of them.”

“What did Sarton want them for?”

I have to think about that for a bit. “You know, he never told me. Apart from the ones we gave the king.”

Chypa’s eye flash open wide. “You gave some to the king?”

“A dozen.”

She smacks her hands together. “Excellent. We have a use for them that no one, man or god, is going to expect.”

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXVII

The story so far: Chypa is worried that she, Tollon, and Inacha are taking on enemies more powerful than themselves. Now read on . . .

Our trouble begins in earnest as we head into port. We’ve been taking turns watching as we get closer. Inacha’s on watch, and comes running to wake both Chypa and me up. “There are soldiers in the port,” she tells us.

Chypa and I get dressed, and the three of us head up to the main deck to stand in the bow. The waterfront is lined with troops. Every ship we see is either occupied by troops or has no one visible on it.

Without turning to me, Chypa asks, “Recommendations?”

“Invisibility would help,” I suggest.

“And if they swarm on?”

“Hmm, that could cause problems.”

“Still, it’s a good idea. Prepare an invisibility spell for the three of us. I have something I suspect will scare them off.” Chypa is grinning.

By the time Inacha gathers bags we can carry, and I prepare the invisibility spell, Chypa is ready. She tells the captain to order the crew to take in all the sails. And then she unleashes her unusual choice of weapon: the wind.

First, there’s a breeze coming from seaward. Then a wind. It picks up force. And then it turns into an outright gale. Small objects go flying. We see the soldiers staggering and taking cover.

Then the wind really starts to blow. The Flying Fish has not a stich of canvas up, and yet it goes hurtling toward the docks at a frightening rate. I see people onshore being forced down, having to take cover. We’ve dropped to the deck ourselves. I try to ask Chypa how she’s going to keep this from wrecking the Flying Fish, but I can’t outshout the wind.

As it turns out, it doesn’t matter what Chypa was planning. Chypa raised elemental forces. So our enemy, whoever or whatever it is, does likewise. Inacha gasps, grabs me by the shoulder, and points down the harbor. I see a building enveloped in flames.

The next moment, the flames stand upright. They take the shape of a man. It starts walking toward us along the shorefront.

I’d heard of fire giants before, but I’d never seen one. It must stand thirty feet tall. And everything in its path turns into an inferno.

I use a little bit of magic to amplify my voice, and yell in Chypa’s ear, “Fire giant. We’ve got to go faster.”

She doesn’t nod or anything, but the wind picks up again. She turns and screams into my ear that we have to get away from the bow. I tell Inacha, and the three of us start crawling along the deck, making painfully slow progress. I see one of the masts snap off and go flying.

The next thing I know, an immense shock runs through the ship as it hits one of the docks. The ship tips, we go crashing into each other and the railing. The railing gives way, and we’re tossed over the side into the harbor.

Striking the rail knocked the wind out of me, and I take in some water. But I surface, breath in, cough up some water, and start swimming to shore. It takes me several moments to realize I’m in only two feet of water. Then I stand up, and immediately cough up some more water.

Chypa and Inacha are with me, and Chypa is heading us to a ladder up a nearby wharf. I know I need to follow Chypa.

Somehow, I find myself sitting on a hill. Inacha is bandaging my head. Chypa is looking into my eyes with a look of concern on her face. I ask her, “What?”

“Tollon, how many fingers am I holding up?” Chypa holds up a closed fist.

I snicker. “Trick question.”

“Yeah, well, you weren’t with us for a while there. That knock to your head scrambled your brains, I guess.”

Knock on my head? I start to reach up, only to have my hand slapped away. I turn, almost tip over from being dizzy, and see Inacha sitting behind me. She scolds me, “Don’t touch that bandage until it’s had a chance to start healing.”

I nod. I get that much. And then I look around.

Down at the foot of the hill, the port is burning. I can’t even make out where the Flying Fish is. I hope most of the crew got off her in time.

(To be continued . . .)

Fire, wind, and water can devastate a port

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXVI

The story so far: Tollon is sailing back to Auspulia to rescue his friends and allies. But one of his allies, Chypa the Stranger, is less confident than before that they can succeed. Now read on . . .

Chypa is worried. She shows no signs of it. Outwardly, she is perfectly calm. But she’s teaching me and drilling me endlessly on only two aspects of magic: gaining and holding magical power, and hiding my power.

Only when she’s explaining her reasons does her worry seep through. “Despite what is commonly held, gods are not unpredictable. They do have motivations. Those motivations may be completely alien to us, but they still exist, and we can try to understand them, to manipulate them, to use them.

“If gods are involved in Vorana’s takeover of Auspulia, then you are the most likely reason. Which makes Ovedisca or Mrokitar the most likely suspects, their kin secondary possibilities, any other god a low possibility. Considering any of them could kill the lot of us, the issue is not whether we can overpower them, we can’t, but whether we can manipulate them. Still, to survive long enough to do so, we need as much power as possible, and being able to trick them into ignoring us is a worthwhile skill to cultivate.”

I recall something Sarton said. “Isn’t it dangerous for me to try to gain so much power without having full control over how I can use it?”

“It could kill you.” Chypa shrugs. “Or corrupt your nature, as it did Vorana’s. It’s a risk, Tollon, that’s all I’ll say. And now I want you to tell me everything about your encounters with Vorana and these gods. Everything.”

We spend two days walking the main deck of the yacht, me talking, Chypa listening. At her insistence, I also tell her about Mia, everything, including embarrassing intimate details.

The whole time this is going on, Chypa’s appearance keeps changing. She’s now taller than me, older-looking, as if she’s in her mid-thirties, very dark-skinned, and ample-bosomed. I would think the crew would be spooked by this, but they aren’t. They’ve become incredibly respectful of her. The captain even consults with her on crew matters. Even Inacha, who has been on very familiar terms with Chypa up to this point, is now treating her more as a mother figure. It takes me a while to figure out that Chypa’s taking on an appearance that suggests feminine strength and authority. I find her physically irresistible, but oddly enough I’m no longer in love with her. I’m assuming this is all deliberate on her part.

I’m so deep into trying out evocations and spells to increase my power that I don’t notice how Inacha is changing, too, until only a few days before we’re likely to arrive in port. Inacha is reeking of magic. And she barely has anything to say to me anymore. I assume Chypa’s up to something, and ask her about it.

There’s a danger in turning people into instruments

“Inacha’s way of coping with the world is to learn about it. I’ve increased her motivation and abilities in acquiring and analyzing information,” Chypa tells me. “Like what I’m doing with you, there are risks. So it’s just as well you don’t ask her about any of this. Just keep treating her as if she were normal.”

It’s what Chypa is trying not to say that bothers me. “Inacha doesn’t entirely understand what’s happening to her, does she?”

Chypa doesn’t answer me immediately. Still, she looks me straight in the eye as she says, “We’re about to go to war with soldiers, magicians, and gods. All three of us have to be instruments of war. I’d rather you both came out of this alive and in need of serious remedial magical treatment than that you die healthy. It’s not what I want, Tollon, it’s not what I was hoping for, but it’s what has to be done.”

I want her to admit it. “You’re worried.”

“I am. You’d better be, too.”

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXV

The story so far: Tollon is sailing home to confront his enemies. But in the meantime, there is this small matter of a sea serpent approaching. Now read on . . .

The big ones could swallow a man . . . or even a boat!

According to the ship’s navigator, looking through his telescope, the sea serpent is about 100 yards long. Chypa says that makes it one of the bigger ones, and probably slower than this yacht. So why we’re still heading directly toward it, I don’t know. The captain isn’t too happy, either. Only when Chypa tells him that I’ll be armed with a spell to kill it does he stop protesting.

Chypa’s standing on the port side, facing out to sea. I’m standing about a dozen feet further along the side, and Inacha is just behind me. Chypa’s had the captain order the crew down from the rigging. “Don’t want to tempt the beastie with too many snacks,” she jokes.

I can see the serpent’s head, hump, and tail all briefly emerge as it undulates its way toward us. It’s bright red and green. Chypa says that marks it out as venomous.

The creature closes within twenty feet of the ship when Chypa starts making growling noises in her throat and stamps on the deck. The ship shudders as part of the serpent strikes it. Chypa groans even louder, and jumps up and down. It would be quite comical, if a monster that could crush us wasn’t at hand.

The serpent rears up, its head lifted out of the water maybe fifty feet. It has six eyes, a crest of blue, and fangs that look to be as tall as a man. It lets out a hideous roar.

In response, Chypa growls again, and does some more foot-stomping. This gets the monster’s attention. It drops the upper part of its body onto the deck, smashing the railing in the process, and comes face-to-face with Chypa.

To my utmost astonishment, Chypa advances and climbs onto its head, mounting all the way to the top, where she growls, stamps her feet, and scratches the creature’s comb. Meanwhile, it’s looking at me, its long, forked tongue flickering in and out of its mouth, almost reaching me.

Abruptly, the creature tosses back its head, rears up until it towers over the ship, and drops back into the water. As we watch, it rises once again, gives another great roar, and then sinks into the sea. And then it starts moving away.

Chypa gets up from the deck where she’s fallen. She comes over to us. The captain also joins us. He says to her, “I’ve never seen the like of that before.”

Chypa smiles. “Oh, it’s a trick I learned on the Eastern Sea. The big ones don’t eat very often, so usually they’re just curious. You talk to them, scratch their sensitive spots, and they’ll be on their way. No point in harming the poor creature when it means no harm to you.”

“So the story of you slaying the one mounted in Tanifisay is just a legend?” I ask.

“Oh, no. I’d never seen one before. Scared me so much I pissed myself. I not only killed it, I made sure it died painfully.”

Chypa goes to change her clothes, as they are wet from contact with the serpent. She asks me to come along because she wants to talk to me. As she’s slipping out of her clothes, she says to me, “You understood the lesson.”

“I think so. Don’t assume you’re dealing with a monster that has to be exterminated, when you might find it’s a lot cheaper to cooperate with it. And I’m supposed to apply that to Vorana.” If it were any other woman with whom I was in a relationship, I’d take her nakedness as an invitation. But Chypa has her ways of signaling when those kind of attentions are wanted and when they are not, and this is a time when they are not.

She’s pulling clothes out of her trunk and doesn’t resume talking until she’s putting some clothes on. “Exactly so. The only problem is that it may not be Vorana we’re facing. I was communicating with her an hour ago when something intervened and shut down our communications.”

“It would take a very capable magician to do that,” I observe.

“Or a god,” Chypa replies. “You’ve crossed paths with two gods recently. I have an ill feeling you’re not done with them yet.”

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXIV

The story so far: Tollon, Inacha, and Chypa the Stranger are sailing back to Auspulia to set things to right, they hope. There are preparations to be made. Now read on . . .

We’re a happy trio as we sail toward Auspulia. Inacha and I explain contemporary Auspulian politics and society to Chypa. Chypa teaches Inacha some good tricks to use in her business of brokering information. And she teaches me magic, intensively. That’s she’s bedding me makes it all the more sweet.

Hey, she seduced me. And I hadn’t been with a woman since before we left Auspulia.

Who am I kidding? I’m getting too old to use the “she seduced me” excuse. She may have taken the initiative, but I knew what I was doing. Or at least I thought I did. You see, I know I’ve fallen in love with Chypa, but I’m pretty sure she’s not in love with me. In fact, if she’s in love with anyone at all, it’s probably Inacha. The two of them share far too many long gazes and giggles together. But if they’re doing more, I don’t want to know.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a relationship in which the woman loved me less than I love her. Which sounds a lot better than saying I’ve always loved the woman less than she’s loved me. I would think I’d be bothered by the current situation. But I’m not. I don’t really understand why, but I’m taking Chypa on her own terms.

If there’s one thing that mars the trip, it’s the occasional short bouts of seasickness I get on this trip. None last as long as a day, but they do tend to be violent while they happen.

Since they never heard of Bikini Atoll, neither the Romans nor the Auspulians call a woman’s two piece bathing suit by that name.

One day, after getting over a bout just after breakfast, I come up to the main deck for air. The two of them are chatting away on deck chairs, wearing so little clothing I’m torn between staring at them and looking away in embarrassment. I take the leftmost chair, beside Inacha, and mumble a greeting.

“How do you like our swim suits, Tollon?” Inacha asks me. She and Chypa start giggling.

“They cover so little, why bother wearing anything at all?” I ask.

“Because there’s a difference between flirting and advertising that you’re open for business,” replies Inacha. “Besides, Chypa tells me this is what women in Dagutsina were wearing forty years ago.”

Chypa leans forward and says to me, “Glad you’re up and about. I’ve been in communication with Vorana. We are going to have problems.”

I lean forward myself and look at Chypa. Her skin is now an attractive lime green, and it’s hard not to stare at her figure and think of some recent occasions in my cabin.

Chypa must notice my gaze, because she gives me a grin before going on. “She had indeed bewitched the king, and is effectively running the government. She’s trying to be cagey, and won’t tell me what’s happened to Sarton, or what she wants.” Chypa frowns. “And there’s something definitely wrong with her, something not quite right. When one uses magic to communicate, there’s a sense of personality that comes with it. Vorana’s character has changed, as if something is driving her. I can’t quite figure it.”

It’s true about personalities coming through. I’ve been keeping in regular touch with Lady Gwella. I can pick up her lust for power and a coldness in her heart. “Any idea of what she wants?” I ask Chypa.

Chypa shakes her head. “I don’t think she yet knows what she wants. I imagine it was some impulse that motivated her to take over the palace and the kingdom. But we have two advantages. If she’d killed Sarton, she’d have said so. I’m certain of that. And she doesn’t know you’re with me.” Chypa gives out a bright laugh. “She might be jealous if she knew.” Which sets Inacha to giggling.

Chypa gives Inacha a fond glance and turns back to me. “Oh, I almost forgot. A sea serpent’s coming this way. Should run up against the ship just after noon.”

(To be continued . . .)

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