Hump buried the body beneath an ancient ash tree.
His master had taken an arrow to the shoulder—not too lethal for a wizard, most of the time. They’d cleaned the wound alright, the potions had done their job removing the goblin’s poison, and a healing spell had closed the wound shut. But the gods had dealt them bad luck, as they so often did with wizards. When the rain came, Hump knew his master wasn’t going to make it. He’d already been weak from the wound, but there was no recovering once the chills gripped him. Now the ground got to keep him.
“Looks like it’s going to rain again,” Hump said, staring up at the grey clouds through the canopy. They were nearing the edge of Brookwood Forest, another day or two and they’d have found a place to take shelter and rest. As it was, little else other than goblins and bandits dwelled within the trees, and travellers were few and far between.
Hump turned to his master’s stuff—well, his stuff now—glancing everywhere but the grave. A grey horse named Prancer, a well-used and oiled wizard’s staff, a pouch full of potions, and of course, the spellbook he so prized. Only when there was nowhere left to turn did he face his master for the last time.
Somehow, he looked skinnier in his grave, though wizards weren’t exactly known for their physical prowess. Hump was no exception. He was short for sixteen and by this point he’d all but given up growing any taller. Stump, his master had called him, and it was a name that stuck around about ten years too long. His master’s face was gaunt and pale, yet he looked peaceful. Hump didn’t feel much like chucking mud on him; it didn’t feel right. He deserved better than that. But gutter rat or silver spoon, all were swallowed by the ground just the same.
Not that his master would make a fuss. ‘Dead is dead,’ he’d say. ‘And the dead don’t care.’
The dead might not, Hump thought grimly. But the dying certainly do. He’d died in a feverish sleep, groaning and gasping until the end. Still, there were worse ways to go.
Hump gulped, his mouth feeling dry. They needed a priest or a cleric, somebody that knew the words to help the old man find his way.
“I’m sorry I don’t know what to say.” His jaw trembled. He took a deep breath, fighting to keep himself composed. “If you’d not picked me up, I’d no doubt be dead in an alley somewhere. I’ll never forget that. I won’t forget what you taught me either. I’ll practice my spells every morning I can, give the staff a good polish, and keep my head out of trouble.”
It was hard to look away. Hard to do anything. He wasn’t sure what he was waiting for. It wasn’t like he hadn’t buried bodies before. It was part of the trade. Being one of his own though, it hit differently . For so many years it had been just the two of them. He knew the dangers of the job, that eventually it would catch up to them. Somehow, he’d always thought it was something way off in the future.
“You deserved a better death,” he choked out the words, unable to hold back tears. “But you know how the gods are, they never cared much for us wizards.” He sniffed and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “Look at me. I’m a mess.”
Prancer stamped his hoof and snorted, a small reminder that Hump wasn’t alone. A sad smile came to his face. It was enough. “Prancer thinks so too. I’ll take good care of him. Give him an apple any time I’ve got a copper to spare.” He paused. “Guess that’s it. Just… well, rest easy, Master.”
It was much easier to fill in a hole than it was to dig one, Hump was pleased of that. From the odd glimpse of the sun he caught behind grey clouds, he guessed it was getting on for noon when he’d finished.
What next? Really, all he wanted was to sleep. It wasn’t just sadness, he was empty. Being an apprentice was the only life he knew. Now he felt like a pit had opened inside of him.
Hump’s eyes wandered back to the staff leant up against the tree, a white gemstone embedded in its head. Beside it, he’d set the leatherbound book on his master’s cloak to keep it off the ground. From the outside it wasn’t anything special, it just looked old. But it was the one thing his master had never let him study. Sure, Hump had seen a few pages—it was full of everything from spells to potion recipes to monster information—the ultimate collection of hedge wizard knowledge, yet he’d never been allowed to flick through those pages. To read all the secrets passed down by their predecessors. ‘Too dangerous,’ his master had said. ‘You’re not ready.’
How am I supposed to know when I’m ready?
Cautiously, he picked up the book and sat down against the ash tree, placing it in his lap. He had a vague understanding of how it worked. This was a soulbound artefact, a hand-me-down from all their predecessors. And now it was his. He pulled open the leather cover to find seven names listed on the first page, each with a line through them. Each of them dead. His master’s name was at the bottom, crossed out just the same.
Hump tried to turn to the next page, when a sudden sliver of essence seeped out from the book and pricked the tip of his finger like a needle. A droplet of blood landed on the page. He yelped, whipping his finger away and sucking it. For a second, nothing happened, then all at once the book dragged his essence from him. Blood and ink swirled on the aged yellow paper, and his name took form beneath his master’s. The eighth on the list.
“The old man never mentioned that,” Hump grumbled to himself. He inspected his wounded finger, squeezed out blood from the tip and then sucked it again. “Just got done burying him and he’s still causing me trouble.”
The book abruptly changed pages, flipping through them as if stirred by a strong wind. Except the air was still, all rain and wind stopped, as if to mock him. As if to say, if his master had managed just one more day, he would have lived. The book landed on the page for Transform Earth.
Description: Create, shape, and manipulate earth beneath your touch.
Spell Tier: 0
1 – Basic shaping and manipulation capabilities.
2 – Your control of essence and affinity with earth allows you to extend the spell’s range beyond your physical body, enabling you to influence the earth within a six-foot range.
A perfect spell to practice three key elements of magic for any budding wizard. Master the art of intent, envision your goal with clarity, perfect your control over essence, and the secrets of magic shall be yours. Plus, an impromptu ditch can make for a fantastic emergency hiding hole. (Mind the worms, they speak in tongues)
Hump frowned. He picked up the book again and started to close it, but it shook violently out of his hand, landing on the ground and flopping open to the same page again. Okay, now that’s weird.
He narrowed his eyes, half expecting it to jump up and do something. When it didn’t move, he felt like an idiot. The moment he reached toward it again, it shook. Hump sighed. “You’re not a normal book, are you?”
It shook again, vaguely shuffling toward the grave. Hump frowned. “You want me to use this spell… ” He glanced from the book to the grave. “On the grave.” Then it dawned on him. “A tombstone.”
It shook again.
“Okay. Okay, I think I follow you. I’m going to pick you up now so don’t bite me or anything.” Tentatively, he set the book back onto the spare cloak and stood.
Taking his master’s staff from where it rested against the tree, he glanced once more at the book. Am I really going to follow instructions from a book? Stupid as it was, he didn’t like the idea of leaving him in an unmarked grave.
He took a stance at the head of the grave and planted the staff into the ground, gripping it tightly with both hands. Then he gathered his will. Transform Earth was one of the first spells he’d learnt—his master had used it as a shaping exercise that Hump could practice on the road. He’d never been much good at that aspect of it. Shaping was too finicky; he was more the brute force type. Most of the time he just used it to form stone shards that made good ammunition for Rockshot. What he was doing here wasn’t much harder.
He envisioned the shape of the tombstone in his mind. There was more to magic than merely being able to picture something, you had to have the conviction to make it happen. To believe indisputably that the world would move when you commanded. He could tell it was working when the essence within him began to stir and interact with that of the world around him. It washed through him from his heart to his hands in a wave of warmth, surging out of his fingertips and into his staff.
The runes on his staff began to glow with a bronze radiance—the essence of earth. The same light smoked from them faintly. They were there to help control the essence, to give it power and guide it into the crystal at the head of the staff, where it would be contained until the spell was ready. As essence flooded in, the crystal shone brightly, the surface bubbling with light as the power inside tried to break free. The earth awakened in response. Particles of dirt rose into the air around Hump, hovering a few inches from the ground as if drawn by a magnet.
“Transform Earth,” Hump whispered, releasing the spell.
Cold swept through him, jutting out from his heart, his blood suddenly turning to ice—the price of using essence. Thin tendrils of bronze light spiralled from the crystal like scraggly spiderwebs torn in the wind. They pierced the ground, seeking the stone within. He drew them to him, directing them with his will. At first, only the pebble sized ones came, rising from the dirt and clumping together in the air before him, then came the larger, fist sized rocks. He shaped them into the tombstone, breaking and binding the stones together using his essence.
When he was satisfied, he released it. The tombstone thumped to the ground. It was more oval than rectangle, and that was being generous. Crafting essence into intricate shapes had never been his strong point. Even straight edges were a challenge. Smokey, bronze streams of essence leaked from the tombstone, a sign that he’d used way too much compared to what he’d needed.
He grunted as he heaved the stone into place, positioning it over the head of his master’s grave. It was a mishmash of grey and brown stone, but it was better than nothing. Using the butt of his staff and a bit of essence, he scraped into it the words, Sethril Woodrow. After a moment’s thought, he added, May the gods never catch him.
Hump smiled. His master would have liked that.
He walked back over to where he’d left the book. “Happy?”
The pages shuffled once more.
The Book of Infinite Pages
To whosoever holds this book, this is a record of all those that have come before you. Where we have failed, there is hope for you to succeed, so learn well from our lessons. Trust in this book to aid you on your path, for it knows you better than you know yourself. When you are ready, our secrets shall be revealed.
“You’re going to teach me?”
The book didn’t move.
Hump tapped it with his finger. “Hello? How are you going to guide me? What do you do?” Still, nothing happened. Hump sighed. “Fat lot of good you are.”
He wondered what he should do next. He couldn’t stay here, he knew that much. Bandits roamed the Brookwood, the goblins might still be looking for them, and it had been days since he’d had a proper meal. They’d been on their way to Bledsbury where a new dungeon had opened—always a good source of work for hedge wizards. If he waited there, another wizard was bound to show up eventually. Maybe he could find himself a new apprenticeship. Sure, it was a difficult life, wandering from dungeon to dungeon, quest to quest, never staying in one place for more than a week or two. But that was the life of a hedge wizard, and it was a free and honest one.
Or perhaps he should head to the capital. He’d heard good things about the Elenvine University. His master had gone there, even made a bit of a name for himself, if his stories were to be believed. Hump didn’t much like the idea of being stuck within walls, reading books day after day, but at least it would be something new.
He slipped his hand into his pocket and felt the icy touch of his master’s wizard medallion; he’d taken it from around his neck before burying him. He stared at the silver trinket and the single stamped eye stared back. There’s another option, he realised. He had his master’s Book of Infinite Pages, his potions, ingredients, and his horse. All the things a wizard needed.
After a moment, Hump hung the medallion around his neck, wincing against the cold—he would need to have the guild rebind it. He adjusted it so that it lay on top of his undershirt to keep the chill off his skin, then fitted the potion pouch to his belt, along with the spellbook, the weight of which made him feel off balance.
Standing there, he felt ridiculous, as if he were wearing somebody else’s clothes and they were all too big for him. His master’s staff felt good in his hand, like it belonged. Residual essence from the earlier spell radiated from its heartstone focus, making his skin tingle pleasantly where the light touched. It was only a few days’ ride to Bledsbury, and a new dungeon was as good a place as any to earn some coin.