Old Stories – Susan Starlight (section two)

Really not sure any more after this is worth salvaging.  It’s not like the story’s actually resolved – it was barely started.  May come back to it for fun in the very distant future, but since I’m thinking of junking it and using parts for another story, more likely not.  So, after a very brief meeting, it’s goodbye we say to the Susan Starlight.

Here’s section two. 

The ship’s client sat at the desk in his quarters.  Only the Captain’s quarters were grander aboard the Susan Starlight – there was space to spare, a fine hanging on the wall, and every piece of furniture shone.  The man was studying an old map in various stages of shabbiness, absorbed.  Soon, there was a tentative knock at the door.  ‘Come in,’ he called, finger tracing an imaginary line across the light brown ocean.  His apprentice stuck his head through the door.  ‘Ira, what is it?’ the man asked without turning around.  ‘I told you not to bother me.’

Ira, a young boy no more than fourteen, did not leave.  ‘Master, what exactly are we doing on this ship?’ he asked.  Although Ira could not see his face, his master smiled.

‘What’s it look like we’re doing?’

Ira shrugged, almost unnaturally large green eyes curious.  The man’s smile grew wider.

‘We’re looking for buried treasure.’

‘Buried treasure?’ a shrill voice exclaimed as a cloud of ginger hair zipped into the room, almost flattening Ira as she stormed over to confront the man at the desk.  ‘Tobias, you’re mad!  Why’re we going on another wild goose chase?  I don’t complain when we’re tramping through forests and deserts for days on end, but the middle of the ocean?  This is just plain cruel!  What do you mean, buried treasure?’

‘You do so complain,’ Ira muttered, annoyed by the girl who often made him do her share of work and expected him to listen to her rants and constant whines.

‘Laurel, calm down,’ Tobias said, and they both saw his grin as he spun around his chair, bringing the map with him.  He patted her head like a child with his free hand.  ‘I know what I’m doing, all right?’

Laurel jerked away in disgust.  ‘All hail the mighty sorcerer, who is never wrong,’ she snapped.  ‘And may I just remind you who it was that’s taken us halfway around the country in the last eight months spouting at least a dozen other “I know what I’m doings” on the way?’

‘Laurel,’ Ira said in a warning voice, and she instantly turned her fuming anger on him.

‘Why don’t you talk some sense into him, he’s your master.  Do something about him, isn’t that your job?  You can’t really be a sorcerer’s apprentice – I’ve never seen you do a single spell, not one!’

‘I would if I knew how!’ Ira yelled back, instantly regretting that he let himself become annoyed, especially in front of Tobias.  Though he respected his master as a sorcerer, Tobias had yet to impress Ira with his teaching skill.  Ira was expected to just watch and pick things up.  Ira thought this was hardly the way for an apprentice to learn, at least not without accompanying explanations.  And he’d had been so honoured in the beginning.  He hadn’t been the best student in his year, yet well-known, talented Tobias had chosen him.  Ira was yet to find out why.

Tobias finally set down his map.  Ira slumped slightly, bowing his head to his chest.  He felt his master’s sarcastic grin bore into him.  ‘So, Ira.  You think I should make more of an effort to teach you, right?’

‘Uh,’ Ira stammered, ‘that might be good.  I suppose.’

‘Okay, then,’ Tobias said, surprisingly casual, and motioned him over.  ‘Laurel, go away for a while, would you?’

Muttering angrily about men and magicians, Laurel huffily stumped out of the room.  Tobias looked hard at Ira.  Ira stared back, only a slight hint of nervousness showing through.  This was a lie.  He was very, very nervous.

‘So, you think you’re ready to learn some real magic?’

‘I think … I’ve been ready for months.’

‘Do you now?’ Tobias mused, quite pleased with Ira’s determination.  But Tobias knew better than anyone that such virtues as determination could, if not carefully pruned, grow into far more than ambition.  It could become hunger for power.  Hunger that had to be satisfied.  Determination had to be carefully watched.  But looking at his young, wide-eyed apprentice, Tobias thought it unlikely Ira ever develop such dangerous hunger.  ‘Okay, then.  What do you remember seeing me do the most, these months?’

‘Skive off paying tram fares using my jacket sleeves,’ Ira told him truthfully.

‘No,’ Tobias replied with forced patience, ‘what spell?’

‘Oh,’ Ira said.  He thought for a moment.  ‘That, uh, thing when you sort of let black light come out of your hand?  It usually explodes something?’

Tobias nodded and lifted his billowy sleeves away, letting a small ball of light well up in his upturned palm.  ‘A simple calling of power,’ he said, watching the black glow, a strange expression on his face.  ‘When raw power is called on like this, how can it be used?’

‘I don’t know,’ Ira responded.  ‘We were never taught about raw power in class.  Mostly just the words to incantations and spells, and the theories behind them.  That type of thing.’

‘I thought so,’ Tobias smiled grimly, closing his fist so the ball of light faded and disappeared.  ‘Do you think you can do it?’

Ira hesitated, and then nodded cautiously, noting the strange gleam that still flickered through his master’s cold eyes, so faint most would not have noticed.

‘Then do it,’ Tobias ordered harshly.  ‘Now!’

Ira stumbled back in surprise, but began to focus on his left hand, willing the same light to appear there.  Nothing happened.  Ira felt great disappointment well up inside him, thinking of how the other apprentices pleased and impressed their masters, and how much he wanted to do the same.

As his desire to do well grew within him, Ira noticed a tingle in his chest.  The tingle quickly grew to an almost crushing pressure.  Pleased, but smarting terribly, Ira directed this raw, stinging power down through his cramping left arm.  He was positive he was doing it right, though he was startled by the hurt it caused.  It was excruciating.  Ira gripped his left arm tightly to keep it from shaking as pain channelled down it, his whole entire form quaking with effort.  His already pale hand began to lighten, and lavender light began to burn amongst his fingers.

Unwilling for an unchecked fire to burn freely in his hand, Ira tried to force himself to master and throw it from himself as he’d seen Tobias do so many times.  After several failed attempts, just as his hand was beginning to scorch, the lightfire flew from his hand, blasting a hole through the wall of the still docked Susan Starlight.

Ira collapsed in a heap on the floor, hearing soft footsteps and seeing his master’s shape loom over him.  ‘Very good,’ Tobias said, patching the wall, faint black light drifting among the pieces as they flew back into place, shutting out Laurel’s prying eyes.  He then reached out one hand and pulled the still shivering boy to his feet.

‘That’s something they didn’t teach you about in school, isn’t it?’ he said gently.  Ira made no attempt to answer, but soon pushed Tobias’s hand away and tried to stand on his own.  ‘Those old fools don’t know anything about the real world.  They only let their students study from useless old tomes and practice a few silly tricks, conjuring worthless coins and making them float in the air.  That only needs a trickle of the power you just showed me.  The only real way to learn magic is to know how to summon your power, and have a good reason to use it.’

‘So what you’re saying,’ Ira said, leaning against the wall and shaking off his master’s hand as Tobias again tried to steady him, ‘is that all you need to be a sorcerer is to call power, and then make it up as you go?’

‘The only way to be a real sorcerer is to have real purpose.’

‘But making it up isn’t honourable,’ Ira protested.  ‘The study of books, ancient, proven methods of sorcery.  That’s the honourable way to study magic.’

Ira was unwilling to believe all the books he had slaved over, all the conjuring and summoning rituals he had tried to memorise, meant nothing.

‘Kid, how can you talk about the honourable way to study magic when the school that preached that rubbish wanted to kick you out?’

Ira’s face was a mask of shocked confusion.  ‘That’s right, kid.  You were, and still are, hopeless at their ways.  If it weren’t for me you’d be back to being some nobody farm boy with no skill, no talent.  Nothing.  But I saw potential in you that day.  Potential to be a real sorcerer.  And you just proved me right.  Not many of your so-called honourable sorcerers can do what you just did.’

Ira breathed heavily, and managed to hoist himself from the wall and support himself.  He didn’t know who he should be angrier with.  Tobias felt almost uncomfortable, and wondered whether he should have told Ira all this in such a way.  ‘How do you feel?’ he asked Ira almost apprehensively, but not quite.  Still calm and cool.

‘Angry,’ Ira said, green eyes blazing.  Tobias flashed a short smile of satisfaction when he noticed the new, fine lavender lines running through the green of his apprentice’s eyes, just like the black ones lacing his own ice eyes.

‘Do you want to continue training as a real sorcerer?’ Tobias asked.

Ira didn’t hesitate for a moment.  ‘Yes.’

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