A parable about the importance of having a wizard’s apprentice

“Hey, I made dinne–uhhhhhhh what did you do.”

The workshop, usually equipped with machines and materiel for the making of magical media, now also has a hole punched through reality. It’s seeping copious amounts of slime and that is definitely the worst thing a trans-dimensional doorway can do. Thematically, it’s the next logical step when it comes to Magicraft outfitting, but remember: the act of surprise is a more honest compass than the rational.

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For what it’s worth

When a commenda was formed,
a swan feather and a handshake,
maybe a smile between the two,
officiated a single trading mission.
(An unofficial finger found its way
onto a pair of eager lips, exploring)
Outside that dusty Venetian office,
the sinking edifice becomes a feeling:
hope, confidence’s pendant. Though
it is anxiety that stops its swinging back.
One stayed precociously with the wares,
the other stayed with a silk heartache.

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Blissful

“The Dynasty has brought civilisation to the lowest corners of the galaxy. The truth of history fixates on our technology, our culture, our compassion. Yet, as you well know, there are some who would reject our native kindness. The Mutiny happened on this day, six years ago, an atrocity of betrayal. 13 of our discovered planets gripped their swords and slashed our Throats. They must be made to understand that only mercy will be met with mercy. And we will teach them through you, recruits, as you will be made merciless.”

Six years ago, I enlisted in the military. Two years later, I graduated as a pilot. Both ceremonies had the exact same set-up. Marshal-of-stars Goldenlove reading the same speech from a sheet of paper (even mistakenly saying “six years” again), a proud Ebru beside me mouthing along with the speech, Eeves smiling and waving despite the fierce scowl I shot him. Even the cheap plastic chairs that hurt my ass were exactly as I remembered. The only difference was that this time around, fewer seats were occupied: 87. 87 people didn’t survive, and none of their families were eligible for any recompense or grief leave simply because they were only recruits.

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Where he deserves to be

Flames in the air and steel in his hands, he moves as if he has mastered both. The constant heat enwreathed the workshop in a similar sensation as a sousland pleasure parlour – of intensity, proficiency, and purpose. No bigger than a wagon, between the entrance and the furnace lay a strewage of raw materials, sacks of sand, and flasks of oils labelled with penmanship teetering on the brink between logographic and proto-language, providing little in the way of comfort or an atmosphere conducive to decorum and posture. The blacksmith cocks his head at a small chairless table used for conducting awkward business and which, upon closer inspection, is just two anvils not even placed neatly together.

“With you in a sec.”
“Blacksmith Tewfik, I come on urgent business.”
“Yeah, and I’m runnin’ an urgent business. Be with you. In a sec.”

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Minoes makes the most of it

The first denial the young prince had ever received was, “Don’t open the door to the dungeons”. So unsurprisingly, the first thing the prince did when opportunity presented itself, the universe’s way of saying ‘teehee’, was to insert and turn a key. But to do so, the pampered royal rascal had to elude his caretaker’s ever-watchful gaze, a retired military scout once known as The Cat in part due to her sharp senses, and even now she retains that title, but only because she enjoys taking catnaps in her rocking chair.

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The adventures of DICK HARDBOILED in Neo Noir Dark Noir City

Rain pours from clouds like malt whiskey, except it’s water. This is my city. Neo Noir Dark Noir City. It’s always been this way, and it will never stop raining. How did I, DICK HARDBOILED, end up here? That’s the thing: I’ve never left or known anything else. My office is gray and glum and I call it home. I haven’t cleaned this place in 36 years. Hard to believe I’m almost 37. Time goes fast, chain-smoking, crime-fighting, narrating a neo-noir story.

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In a sea of giants

Adien is going to lie here for a while.

“No” says their body, to the choice of movement, as if mind and body had at no point ever been a uniform gestalt but operated as two incompatible partners. One is loud and ostentatious and needs everything to go a certain way, scared of chance, possibility, the unfactored, fate, used to being anchored to the self but never sharing ship with others, the other has been guised in independence through repertoire and repetition, reacting heavily and badly to authority, resistance is the only way for existence, often forgetting a reality outside of hardship. It is hard to remember this in such a deep dark sea, but, really, no core constituents – the building blocks of a life we might refer to them as – consist, federationally, of solely bad blocks, but these ‘good cubes’ might be hard to observe, obscured by that which is loud and ostentatious, and this dingy duo are starring in a comedy heist film together.

An astute reader who refuses to be content with only two similes might ask about the mind’s response, or how the spirit reacts, or how the will feels, but in this case, and the body is a case, as it is a shy prison for these would-be rebels, the body has the upper hand – it has hands! – and so because the body refuses, until recharged by some lovely interaction within life or a fulfilled promise of sleep, there is no intervention adequate enough to move it; the mind stays quiet and genuflects, even though it wants to scream.

Adien’s mind wanders and get lost. When the mind senses that life is ending, some believe the brain is a parasite that needs to preserve its host from danger, information is processed at a rapid pace, as if being more real for just a moment will help deter death. Adien skips this step, however. They have a lot going on right now.

Their phone vibrates, not because of a phonecall, perhaps a text message or mail, because that’s just one ‘bzz’, this was definitely two, so probably a clicker game notifcation. It’s rather disassociative, going into the minutiae of vibration settings of various phone applications to effectively explain away any reason someone might have to contact you (no one needs any reason to do so — actually, that’s phrased wrongly: everyone has no real reason for contacting you, yet do so anyway). They remain motionless, tenser than before, not even bothering to check if their phone is in a pants or a vest pocket, stuck inside of a bed that is by no means comfortable enough to warrant such a long-winded lie-down, a chiropractor might have to be called again once things settle down, when they become managable, become describable, quantifiable, though a magic 8-ball might have to say ‘Outlook not so good’ about the current situation — there is nothing ‘magical’ about this, you coward liar ball. So for now, they’re going to keep lying here for a while.

The giants wading through the sea don’t seem to notice Adien. Adien remembers the fairytales – best stay quiet.

That’s a relief. Hey, we good? That’s Adien to their body. Though their relation has never been amicable or agreeable, really, in fact their body has been historically recalcitrant in that it never is what Adien wants it — themself — to be. But as they both need each other, a makeshift contract of alliance is drafted, no quilled ink on paper but more of a quiet nod in candlelit studies, hopefully more can come out of this.

The giants shuffle in place, waist and torso rising high above sea level and into a mocking formation of clouds. What do they look like? Can they even see me? Do they care? Adien wonders why that is – are they like theatrical spotlights, only taking note of what is important to the stage, what a rude implication!, might it be simple noise that attracts them, or perhaps they are so attuned to the atmosphere that their sensory system, or sense of guardianship, extends to any molecule of air and stirring these tiny twins in unnatural way, for example with a sigh leaving the body after hearing unexpected bad news or a phone going off because a clicker game updated, is what triggers a reaction. Thankfully, Adien’s pants or vest muffled it enough to stay undetected. It’s not any of these things. Adien is just very good at making themself panic.

The bed continues to float through an ocean of endless purpure, a particular tincture of purple found on heraldries, but that bears no relevance to the water’s hue, it’s simply a descriptor, gently lifted from its specific meaning to mean ‘nice shade of purple’. Sorry. Adien has their eyes wide open, their breaths are heavy and long, lungs expanding and deflating like slow bellows against a furnace, forging the steel rings and hooks that keep you tethered and a metal frame that carries you into tomorrows per every daybreak.

The metal raft moves between the legs of a giant, two pillars rising from unseen depths, the foundation to something to be feared by way of its mystery. Humour can be a good way to cope with the surreal and the incomprehensible, but it murks your relationship to these very things, a lake becomes a swamp, you cannot be sincere with yourself anymore, do not confuse comedy with cowardice. Adien wants to joke and say “hi there”, but honestly anything this large, while not inherently violent or predatious, is inherently capable of applying more force (F = ma, after all, and inferring its size it must have got a lot of m). Realising this, they shut up before even saying anything, the quiet is self-preservation, their body silent and their mind sirens, we can feel so loud while staying our bodies perfectly still, together a paradoxical stealth.

The giant moves one of its legs, covered in barnacles and sheets of crackling or overhydrated skin. It’s wearing a loincloth, by the way, to dispel any rude descriptions you were fearing (hoping for?). The leg hits the side of the bed – not rapidly or forcibly, but as slowly and controlled as the waves that had been deciding Adien’s atlantic journey. Still, Adien and their bed-vessel are launched farther across the purple sea, a meaningless description, because without a landmass to decide its boundaries with, they are no relative position closer to salvation or doom than they were before. Adien can see the giant’s reaction and begins to count their blessings. Welp, might as well, they think as they check their phone.

The text, and it was a text, Adien was wrong, you see, but that’s fine, they have a lot going on right now, it says “im sorry”. Ah, at least I have reception out here. The giant bends down. It takes a while for it to complete this motion. Its face is angelic in a luciferian way: marble covered in grime. Adien is sitting upright in a lotus position on their bed, spine cracking in a nasty-sounding liberation. They then have a conversation with the giant, carrying words back and forth.

“Hello.” “Hi.” “We thought you were dead.” “I was pretending to be.” “A very serious matter.” “Will you not kill me?” “What an oddly-phrased question. It is almost like a request.” “Well, it’s complicated.” “What were you checking on that device?” “Someone I considered close sent me a message. They apologise.” “Oh?” “They kicked me out of our home, and now I’m on a bed in a strange ocean.” “Whyever for?” “I wish I knew why. It felt like the end of the world, I was paralysed with the heaviest emotions. But I have to reply to their text; any relationship is worth holding on to, I think.” “No, you simply wish they were. We know it is as important to let go as it is to preserve. Either decision should not be taken lightly.” “I wish I could do that. Stop lying to myself, for myself.”

“I will help you write a response.” “Are you an expert on resolving things over text? A textpert?” “…Yes.” “Cool.” “But I do not believe forgiveness is necessary here.” “Well, having a home is a thing. They’re my roommate and right now I am an atlantic vagrant, as it were.” “Time heals all wounds.” “Sure, but memory is the autopsy report.”

“What the mind remembers mustn’t stagnate the body. With other people, what the mind remembers can be blinded by the bright reflection of a coin that is really a forgery – a past worth going back to. We must be brave to face what is beside us, if only for a moment, clear the clouds, to see there is always a starlit sky beyond current hardships.”

“You are very wise for someone with their head in the clouds.”

Perhaps what follows is scarier than the initial panic Adien invented (but: a mental machination is no less real than the machines outside your body, so don’t blame yourself for faltering, instead give yourself a little pat on the back inbetween these conflictive moments). The giant’s fallen face crumbles into a smile, and they proceed to pick up our waterlorn hero. Adien is lifted upwards, like cherished porcelain, into the clouds, every fluffy drop pressed gently onto their skin, until they emerge beyond. The other giants out in the sea are on their phones, some calling, some listening to music, some tapping away at a clicker game. Adien is placed upon the shoulder of the big friendly one and takes a deep breath.

The text reads, so formal: “I’m sorry, too, for whatever it is I did to you. I’m sure it feels real and feels read bad for you, and your feelings are valid. I admit, I’m not great. Still, sorry isn’t enough for either of us here. We’re not good at being friends. So, yeah, bye. Don’t expect me to answer your calls.” Sent. Read. No reply.

“Hey, so. Um. I’m Adien. Can I stay with you for a while, up here?”

Hyla

The sounds of birds filled the mountains.

A flock of choughs flew close beneath the lingering pearl clouds. Amidst the blues, greens, and grays of the mountains, their black feathers stood out. Through the intricate workings of colour theory and superstition, they were considered omens to the many tiny towns scattered about the craggy hills. It mattered if they had yellow or red beaks, but which bird-bill belonged to which end of the moral spectrum went back-and-forth between villages like the  pendulum of a grandfather clock.

A young boy looked up at the birds, focusing on them with all his might. His face was simultaneously soft and fierce, a testament to how he is and how he has to be. The birds looked just like moving holes, punch card-patterns migrating from fluffy cumulus to the next. They left no tearing, they only moved. It made him smile, the widest he’d ever.

Please, come down here. Help me out.

He followed their trail until the group reached the pantone-blue sky, when they became harder to track. And then the pain became too much to ignore. Colour theory did not do him any favours, the red flowing from where he was struck flattered his olive skin none. Stunned, dazed, and even with twice the usual amount of legs, the boy struggled to regain his balance. Blood oozed from the wound above his eye, blurring his vision

“So, Hyla, had enough yet?”

Kokran’s voice was sharp, precise, surgical, a knife slathered in venomous words. It got under Hyla’s skin – the merest drop filled his heart with panic and resignation. Earthquakes screamed in his chest, his heart the epicentre, the aftershocks fell to his toes, shook the tears out of his eyes. But in an earthquake, he was trapped. He stood his ground, unstable as it may be. He refused Kokran’s question, no less dangerous than a cup of poison. Taking it would not make the pain stop, drinking in the false promise wouldn’t save him. Saying yes wouldn’t amount to anything – time had taught him this again and again. So instead, Hyla kept to silence. He’d lost sight of the birds, but he craned his neck up high.

Take your blade and cut it. You want me dead, well here you go.

Kokran looked back at his friends, insecurity in his steel eyes, his hate wavering for just a moment by this beautiful surrender. The group reminded him how much depended on his bravado, so he pulled at Hyla’s white hairs, forcing him to make eye-contact.

“When I ask you a question, you answer me, monster.”

Hyla could not hold back the tears any longer. His vision was yanked from the sky. Kokran’s stare was angry, cruel, disgusted; an expression burned into Hyla’s memory from merely living in the village. The same superstition that gave meaning to the beaks of birds, turned Hyla into something to be feared, and if possible, destroyed. It horrified him. He tried to wrestle free, but Kokran’s gripped his scalp tightly.

“You can’t leave yet. I’m not done with you.”

Kokran’s words cut through Hyla like a hot knife through butter. The white clouds had turned into gray, and in the length of a single sentence a light drizzle became a downpour.

Even the weather hates me. Hyla. Hyla he can’t hurt you any more than he already has. He’s tried but he can’t. He can’t. He can’t he can’t he can’t he can’t he can’t

A scream filled the air, and to everyone’s surprise it wasn’t Hyla’s. Kokran lay at his feet, convulsing in pain with two clear hoof prints in his back. Hyla raised his head, hopefully, and the widest smile returned to his face.

“You fucking, absolute pieces of goddamn garbage.”

Mom’s voice was as delicate as a detuned piano in a shipwreck, but it was the best music in Hyla’s life. Kokran’s friends were already running away – cowards and bystanders fleeing at the littlest resistance. Kokran himself was crawling on hands and knees to get away already.

“Y…you could’ve killed me!”

Mom shrugged. “And I’m sad I didn’t, you little shit. You bully and abuse someone and you’re surprised you get back what you serve? Hurts, don’t it? Maybe pay some attention in school instead of picking someone who won’t fight back, idiot.”

Kokran locked eyes with Hyla as he made his theatrically comedic escape. His eyes had stopped hiding the fear and ignorance that fuelled his hate.

“You’re a monster! Why don’t you just leave! No one wants you here!”

Hyla took in a breath so big it felt like he sucked in the sky itself. “I’M NOT A MONSTER! YOU ARE!”

The centaur collapsed, his legs folded unnaturally under his body. He began to cry again, his sobs amplified when his mother knelt down to embrace him. She always did this. And she’d always say sorry, because there was an ‘always’ at all. And she’d cry along with him, cursing all the time. He was glad he knew better than to take over her potty mouth.

“Let me look at you. Shit, that cut looks bad. Let’s wash it at home. Oh, your shirt is all dirty and torn. They didn’t do anything to your binder, did they? I’m going to have to fix that shoe. Oh Hylaeus, my sweet Hylaeus, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Hyla wiped away the snot and tears and stood up with wobbly, unsure motions, as if to reassure his mother. “No, I’m fine. I’m fine. It could have been worse.” It was the least reassuring thing he could have said, but it was all he could say.

“Mom, do I deserve love?”

His mother embraced him even harder, the closest she’d ever, so much it became an effort to breathe. “You feeling this, Hylaeus? This is how much I love you.” She failed to control the tremor in her voice. “This is how much the world ought to love you. But the world is full of fucking idiots who are scared and don’t want to learn. I know the pain of feeling like an outcast. That’s why you remember this hug, alright? That’s how much you’re loved. That’s how much I care about you. That’s how much everyone in your life cares about you. Survive the fuckers who don’t care about you. Make them eat shit.”

He’d heard this all before, of course. But in the rain, in the mud, in that hug, it hit home how true it was. He finally saw the depths of her affection for him, learned exactly how people could have the capacity to love him. Here is a woman who’d survived a war as a girl, who took up residence in a village full of old enemies. She’d seen death, she’d grown through pain, she’d fought back against a world that did not understand her, and somehow emerged on the other side. Perhaps she hadn’t emerged victorious, but she emerged stronger, and made those who suffered around her stronger.

“Am I a monster?” Even though he’d just yelled otherwise, Kokran’s poison managed to creep into his heart. It was repeated in his head, repeated in his own voice, repeated as if he were the one saying it. But, he held on to this belief as tightly as his mother held him: these were not his words. It was not his voice. It was Kokran who got under his skin. A hate wanted to destroy him, so the most he wanted to do is live. His mother kissed his white hair and twirled some in her fingers.

“’Course not, don’t be an ass. You’re my son, and I love you. You’re a goddamn person and I love you for that. Anyone who doesn’t is a fool who shits from their mouth instead of their ass.”

Hyla burst out laughing at this. He wanted to make a ‘potty mouth’ joke in response to this, but kept to silence. Grabbing his mother’s hand the tightest he’d ever, he looked up at the sky again – two birds flew side by side. One yellow beak, one red beak.

“Come on. Let’s go home.”

Leathery skins

“Ugh, pesky tail. You make putting on bloomers unnecessarily difficult!”

“Any chance you want me helping with that one?”

“Wh…?! I, um, can do this by myself, thank you! What are you doing here!”

“This is the dressing room. Was going to grab my gloves before working on the roof, need to replace rooflights. Then I saw you struggling with your, underpants.”

Candice stays quiet, completely still, her tail awkwardly sticking out. She’s halfway through her maid uniform, still missing her lace headdress and tights. “…Please, look away. This is so embarrassing,” she not so much requests as whimpers. The impossible softness of her raspy voice reminds me of the bigger picture, of the fact I walked in on her changing and offered to… help with that. A great deep red broadcasts on my face and I swivel around like a weather vane at wind force 12. The sounds of fabric and frustration poke my ears from behind and it makes me want to turn around again.

Everything about Candice fascinates me – ever since I’ve started working here, I’ve been trying to sneak as many looks in as I could. Her sand-coloured skin, the pink nail polish on her claws, the way her red scales outline her face… This one time while I was cleaning windows, I saw her cleaning the master’s study, a waltz crooning from an old gramophone, and she kept doing these twirls, ‘pirhouettes’ I think the word is? The frills of her dress extended and her tail waving like a conductor’s baton in perfect sync to the fancy music, tip-toeing on her big scaley feet. She’s so… CUTE! I HATE IT!!!

“You can turn around again.” I do. “Sorry about that…”

“Nah, I should be saying sorry. I kept on staring at you like some fancy painting, after all.”

She covers her mouth with a hand, breaking eye contact. “I don’t mind.”

“WELL,” I pluck at my overalls. “Time for work. Good luck cleaning, I’ll be on the roof if you need me!”

“A word.”

Armand is calling; he always does this when it’s time for a break. Pristine young man he is, barely 18, doesn’t want me working too hard; there’s worse masters to work for. “Time for my break?” “Yes, actually,” his voice cracks and he coughs into his gloved hand real fast to try and cover it up. “But I also wanted to impart some advice.” I let out a heh, I’m one and a half times his age and served almost as many years, so for him to give me advice is cute. I hop off the roof and zip open my overalls – it is hot out. “So?” He hestitantly pats some sawdust off my arm and hands me a towel. “Just that you’ll have to look a lot less slovenly to win her over.” I freeze, zipping my clothes back up. “That obvious, huh? Isn’t against the rules, is it?” “Not really. I met my boyfriend here, too. The butler?” “You and Antoin? Huh. That’s nice, way to go.” He blushes and fidgets with his gloves. “Ahem. This is about you. Just wanted you to know that you should follow your heart but should also take a bath.” “You oughta give me less dirty tasks, then.” “No can do. You’re indispensible,” he brights a full-teethed ivory smile.

“She’s in the study right now. Stop walking around with your heart full of leads and talk to her. Good luck~.”

“Oh hello,” Candice beams with smiles, “are you finished with work already?”

“Nah, I’m here ‘cause Armand sent me on another task.”

“Armand…? Oh, the master of the house. You’re always so congenial with everyone! And… you’re always so nice to me. Even though I don’t fit in well with the other staff.” The motion she makes with her tail and how she clutches her duster is nothing short of a tragedy.

“What makes you say that?”

I know what did – I just wanted to hear her say it. But instead of the expected ‘I’m not human’, she makes an annoyed wave of a gesture – like a tsunami – at the scales on her neck and face.

I close the distance between us with a winter march. “Listen, Candice. I think, that’s really great.” She bats her tall eyelashes at me. “What is?” “I THINK YOUR TAIL AND OTHER STUFF IS CUTE.”

“My… other stuff…?”

I don’t know why I yelled that, I don’t know what to call this silence, I don’t know what to expect. I take a look at myself and Armand’s words ring through my head like nearby artillery, specifically the ‘less slovenly’ part. “I’m sorry. You’re so pretty and beautiful. Then I’m like this and I’m real sorry, Candice.” That’s all I can muster to utter.

I feel leathery hand stroke my cheek. “I would wipe your tears away, but I would poke out your eye.”

“Heh. Hehe. Ehehehe. Okay, that’s funny.”

“I think you’re very cute, too. I love how you look in overalls and that grime on your face is, well, it’s quite like make-up, isn’t it? You’re also very, strong, and, um, muscular. And I wouldn’t mind you helping me with my bloomers……..”

“Are you blushing?”

“A bit…” She shakes her head, retrieving her hand from my face. “It’s just. My skin is mostly scales and feels very leathery. Are you sure about this?” I take off a glove: my turn to stroke her cheek.

“You feel this hand? It’s rough and calloused so I think I can handle you. Besides… touching you is a risk I’d like to take.”

Candice suddenly drops her duster, because of heavily implied reasons.