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Author's note: Writing is my passion, and if I don't pursue it, my life won't mean much. At 85,336 words and counting, this the farthest I've gotten with one novel and I intend to make it the first one I complete. I am fully aware of how much reading on a computer in this format (for lack of a better word) sucks. But I sincerely hope you can forget about the woes of literature with adjustable contrast and enjoy reading this story as much as I have writing it.
Hiya. If you're interested in reading, look up "Malus" once it's approved on this website. It is an updated version and I'll actually add the rest of the book to it in a sensical manner. I'm also on wattpad if it's easier.
Thanks! Fair winds.
Night was now old. The moon was a sliver of light at its zenith, ready to make its descent. The stars surrounding the gleaming crescent were bright, though unusually dull for a winter night. A cold breeze flew in from the heavens, but the old man didn’t mind. His friendship with the chill had grown with night after night and year after year spent in the study.
And after decades spent calculating, hypothesizing, pondering, and practicing, he still had much to learn. He had yet to fully master even the basics—make it understandable for those without the level of skill and gift of time that he had.
Mapping it all out—setting the art to paper for the sake of education, so a prosperity might be formed—was difficult. Finding promising pupils who could look at the books of scrawling instruction and intricate drawings and make any sense out of them was much more so. He had only found a few, over all the long, long years, and their hope was dwindling as the amount of his wrinkles increased, his hair whitened, and his teachings became more nonsense than lesson.
There was Kiernan, a friend who had shown traces of the skill. He had come first, bringing knowledge of what students thirsted for. He knew how to caress and direct learning to a steady blossoming. Without his contribution, the books might still be a collection of scribbles of gibberish and his lessons little more than a crazy man’s prattle. After him came Osred, an older cousin with hardly a lick of skill, but a strange understanding of the art itself, and of the old man’s wishes.
Mondragon arrived next. He was a strapping man with the face of a child and the gold of a king. They had no need of a written pedigree; the man reeked of wealth and royalty.
He understood well enough, and the funds helped immeasurably, but his youth and confidence was an insult to the pride of the veterans. They were only just learning to tolerate him, and solely for the sake of their even younger charge: their first real apprentice.
Sophia had come to the castle not two years earlier, a bright-eyed orphan from the city. She wasn’t quite sure of her surname, so they had taken to calling her Arvalis when one was needed. She was very young indeed, not quite at the turn of adulthood, and yet she was drawn toward the books like bees to a bouquet. Perhaps it was the innocence of her youth or some chance inheritance of skill, but the girl had such a way with the spirits, and thus the art came to her with ease. Even her elders envied the way she could play with them, entice the secrets of the world from their grasp as if they were strips of gossip from the mouth of a friend.
Her understanding of the texts was spectacular for one so young. She traced the drawings lovingly and drank in the words like they were sweet nectar. She stroked the leather spines and spoke of the art with an excited, dulcet passion.
She called it magic.
Considering the elements of both sorcery and magus, she wasn’t far from the truth. Like magic, the art dealt with power above the mundane, but it was far from the mystical whimsy of fairytales. Still, no one had the heart to correct her.
Sophia Arvalis had breathed life into the tall, stone walls of Castle Rourke, in more ways than one. Many spirits had come since her arrival. Some only wandered the vacant halls and rooms, or took a short tour through the grounds before moving on.
Others were not so peaceful.
The old man finally let the quill rest in its ink well and stood from the desk with a tired sigh. He didn’t get as far as he had hoped, but no one could say it wasn’t a job well done. He was prepared to retreat to his room, lavishing the thought of the warm blankets and the gentle lull of sleep, when the candlelight flickered dangerously. All flames but one were bested by the sudden draft. The room was hurled into sudden darkness.
The man plucked the candle in its wax-covered holder up from the desk, cupping a protective hand around the light. It might have been a harmless gust of wind and nothing more, but the chill that ran its finger up his spine told him otherwise.
“Who goes there?” he called, filling the dark room with the thrum of his deep voice. There was no answer. Even the distant nocturnal animals ceased their call to save themselves from being mistaken for the culprit. The man squinted at the dark corners, wondering what hid there. He let out a harrumph of warning before taking his leave, letting the rest of the lightless atmosphere take the room. His trip down the stairs was uncomfortably quiet. The candle flame was hushed as well, its timidity hardly illuminating the steep, winding staircase.
When he reached the ground floor, his hand gripped the archway. He searched the hall for signs of life, but the only movement came from the wall sconces that shed a dancing light on the walls. Another draft came suddenly, lifting his cloak back and vanquishing his candle. He turned and looked down the final level of stairs. It was a long descent, unlit and foreboding. Not taking his eyes off the gloomy entryway, the old man retreated to a sconce to light his candle. He went around every bend expecting his stalker to be there, and with every turn, he was gladly disappointed.
At last he reached the very bottom of the castle: a long, dimly lit corridor, marked with the occasional immobile door or open room.
He called out again. “Is anyone there?”
Still no answer. Many of the sconces were unlit, leaving the hall in peculiar lighting. Halfway down the passage, a low light undulated from an open doorway. It wasn’t the flickering of candlelight, but the lonesome, steady pulse of spirits.
Relieved, the old man smiled. The late nights were beginning to get to him, herding the irrational fears of youth into his mind. He was ready to turn around and head back toward his chamber, when the breeze returned. Each flame was doused, one by one, until his candle was the only light in the corridor. Even the radiance he’d thought had been a confused spirit had disappeared.
Then there were whispers.
He thrust his candle at the dark, daring the blackness to make a move. The voices stayed back in the cover of the shadows, judging him sotto voce for lack of courage. The man glared before turning on his heels and taking a large bound for the stairs.
He dropped the candle before his foot reached its destination. He frowned, reaching down slowly to find the beacon before whatever was whispering found him.
His fingers touched soft grass. It was damp from the morning’s dew and long from generous rain. The old man sighed. They did this sometimes.
“All right, what is it that you’re wanting?” he called, straightening his back. Despite himself, he clapped his hand over his mouth. The voice that had escaped his mouth was that of a much younger man. When he stood, his back did not ache, nor did he feel the weariness of a long night’s studying.
“How old you have grown,” said a voice, cruelly familiar. He heard this voice in his nightmares, heard it joke and plead, laugh and scream.
“Brother?” he called. He searched the darkness, no longer blinded by the gloom. His sight came rushing back and he opened his eyes to a scene from his oldest memories.
It was his childhood home, complete with the tree on the hill and the smoke rising from the chimney. He could see him now, a clean, dully glowing figure. “You’re still so young. How can this be…” He trailed off, cherishing every detail of the man before he tore his gaze away. “No, this is wrong. You must leave. I’m sorry, but it isn’t right for you to be here, brother.”
“Where do I belong, then?” the figure asked. Its face contorted so suddenly it was like a slap. The spirit scowled at him, full of hate and anger. The scene disappeared to show the dark passage once more, lit only by the growing fury of the spirit. “In your hell, is that it? Do I belong with the rest of your demons, brother?”
The old man gritted his teeth. He hated this part, and the familiar face only made it worse. He didn’t need much light for this; he dropped to his knees and pulled a chalk fragment from his sleeve. The symbols flowed from his hand like water from a fall, memorized through pure repetition. The muscles of his hand knew what to do, and he let them take over as his mind became more and more clouded with the rage of the beast screaming before him.
Finally, it was finished. He couldn’t see the script, but he knew by heart every curve and line of the drawing. The old man clapped his hands down on the ground next to it, feeling the warmth spread from the ground to his fingers, up his arms, and to his shoulders.
A sharp, freezing shock sliced through him, stopping the power in its tracks. He looked up, quivering.
What might have once been his friend and kin held his gaze fiercely, staring farther and farther into him.
“Not that easily, brother,” the voice said, creeping into his veins. “You belong with me.”
Sophia Arvalis came twirling down the stairs once the sun had risen on the fields of the island. She danced over the steps and spun, once, twice, again…
She stopped in a moment, and upon seeing the body, screamed.
“It just doesn’t happen, Jon. Do you know how dangerous this is? How could you be so irresponsible?”
Jonathan had his head in his hands, fingers laced into his blonde hair. “Warren, please. I’m still focused on the fact that I’m having kids. The fact that I wasn’t supposed to can come later. Now…” he trailed off. He looked up, observing the lobby with squinted eyes. He was more accustomed to the light of an ancient lamp and a collection of a great variety of candles than the harsh fluorescents that lit almost every square inch of the hospital. “What did she say again?”
Warren narrowed his eyes, disbelief still in the glare he gave the young man.
“Not much that made sense. This is what happens, Jon. These people, they can’t handle…” he stopped and checked to measure the vacancy of the room, “what we do. And children attract the most hostile of the bunch. That poor woman is half way to a nuthouse, and—”
“I asked for what she said, not your opinion on it,” Jonathan almost spoke through gritted teeth. The situation was difficult enough, and the older man’s criticism wasn’t much help.
“She’s terrified, Jon. She may not know what’s going on, but she knows it’s bad. When I went in there, she said,” he took a deep breath here, attempting to calm his jolted nerves, “That something was wrong with the boy, to get the boy… out. I don’t know what is it that she knows, but… Lord, Jon it’s something.”
The young man nodded. He still had trouble comprehending the whole, ugly situation. There was a reason it took nine months, he thought, and it was not to tell the father last minute. He sucked in as much air as he could through the mouth; he’d stopped trying to inhale through his nostrils long after the nauseating, acrid chemical stench of floor cleaner first breached his nose.
“When can I see her?” he asked, resting his eyes on his fingernails, chewed to the quick.
“I don’t know, Jon. She didn’t seem so excited when I mentioned you were here.” Warren laughed nervously, running a hand over his short hair. “You didn’t exactly make a great impression with your departure—”
“Dammit, Lechar, I told you I didn’t know,” Jonathan snapped, flinging his hand in the air, wishing it would connect with something soft and smug. “And don’t tell me it’s all my fault for not leaving a contact. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to, that what I did was wrong—”
“Obviously, you didn’t figure it out quick enough!” Warren stopped to breathe, finally turning to face the man. He still sat on the floor, two empty chairs beside him. His skin was pale and gleamed with sweat, his countenance a mixture of emotions: anticipation, anger, apprehension. He took a step toward the man, and when he didn’t attack, took another. He fished for his gaze and lowered his voice. “Look, Jon,” Warren strained to find his calm under layers of shock and worry, “I’m sorry. What’s done is done, and I suppose there’s no real use in lecturing you anymore. You’re a grown man… Lord, I’m getting old. Kiernan’s last apprentice, finishing his studies, starting a family, and here I am, hardly touching sorc—”
“Easy,” Jonathan warned, his eyes darting up to his friend’s ever growing mouth. “Technology is a dangerous weapon.”
“Technology? Technology is a bloody demon, conjured up by some fool from…” Jonathan winced. Once the man got his head wrapped around the “ludicrousness of human society,” it was like stopping a freight train with a length of thread. But apparently, the man didn’t have it in him to rant and sighed instead, retreating to the comfort on an armchair. “Never mind. Do you think it’s about time?”
“How the hell should I know?” Jonathan breathed out weakly, “The full dilation was ten centi-somethings, right? That was this morning. That nurse, what did she say? ‘Most likely over ten hours.’
“They’re close,” Warren said, his voice waning to a whisper. “What are you going to do?”
Jon shook his head, feeling the devastation flood back into the front of his mind. “I wish I knew, Warren. I wish I had been given something of a heads up—”
“Well you got forty-eight hours,” the older man said with a grin. Despite himself, Jonathan smiled.
“You know what I mean. I’m not prepared for anything that’s going to happen. The house isn’t exactly child proof, let alone for two, and that’s if she intends to come back with me. I guess I’m at her mercy here. If not… what does that even mean? There’s… child support, isn’t there? Lord, will she even let me see them? Can she handle… our world?” He trailed off, closing his eyes, hoping to hide from the numerous possibilities.
“Is that what you want, Jon?” Warren asked after a while, trying to imagine his friend bringing a young woman into their society, a world of the impossible, and all the while, raising a family. He waited a little longer before finishing his thought. “Do you want this for yourself?”
“I can’t just leave them to fend for themselves—”
“Never mind them, just yet. They don’t exist right now. Think, Jonathan.” Warren interrupted. “Can you handle this? Bringing up children that may be extraordinary in the eyes of the ungifted, but who will remain disabled to the company of our world? That’s not going to be easy.”
Jon nodded. Warren watched as his friend turned the future over in his head. When he spoke, the fear was gone from his face. His voice was strong, his expression serious.
“I’ll do what I have to.”
It wasn’t minutes later that the nurse reentered the room. She brought the whiff of an acrid scent with her, trailed from the maternity ward. “Sir,” she said, addressing whichever man in the room happened to be the father, “The first baby is out. Seven pounds, six ounces, and everything is looking great. Congratulations on your daughter. Number two isn’t far behind—”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Warren said quietly, dismissing her with a warm smile. When she left, he kneeled next to his friend. The man was shaking, a faint tremor visible anywhere he looked. “Get a hold of yourself, Arval. Did you hear the woman? Everything is fine. We’ve got Delling and his missus protecting the barriers, and we’d know if anything passed.”
“I’m fine, Warren,” he insisted. Jonathan got to his feet, gripping an armrest with white knuckles. With his other hand, he grabbed his face with the same force, clutching his cheeks. “A girl. You said… she was afraid of a boy. But, oh yes, the ruling was fraternal! One of each.”
“Calm yourself, Jonathan. The world hasn’t ended just yet. You’ve still another babe to go, and then we have to speak to Melissa. Can’t have you falling to pieces until a decision is reached,” Warren said, standing back up. The young man let out a short laugh. He turned shakily, collapsing into the chair with his eyes fixed on some horrifying scene.
They could do nothing but wait for the second child, and the wait was the longest and most nerve-racking Jonathan Arval had ever experienced in his life. The forty-five minutes between the births stretched on, and as night fell on New York, the seconds seem to bulge into hours: time spent indulging nerves in pacing, tearing, and tapping.
Jon was near the end of his fuse when the nurse finally showed up. Tension fell off of the man in tons as he raced to the door, waiting for the news like a hound looking forward to his master’s return.
“Finally!” he almost shouted. “What is it? Everything fine, isn’t it?”
The woman smiled, though the expression didn’t show in her tired eyes. “Yes, yes, Mr.…”
“Arval,” Jon supplied, waving off the formality irritably. “Now, come on, I’ve been waiting all day. Both of the babies are fine?”
“Yes sure. The boy—and it is a boy, sorry. Five pounds and eight ounces. He’s a tiny guy, so he needs to be monitored for a while. Ms. Marland is staying overnight anyway, so everyone will be ready to go by morning. You can visit her now, Mr. Arval,” the nurse said.
Jonathan bit his lip, looking back at Warren. “He can come, too, can’t he?”
The nurse frowned slightly. “Of course. Come on back.” The men followed quickly, happy to leave the lobby. They were led to the maternity ward, guarded by electronically locked doors. He heard Warren give off a low harrumph when the nurse opened them, but ignored him, only hoping he wasn’t in the mood to do something about it.
“Here we are,” she said, gesturing to the room. Warren passed Jon, entering first and opening the curtain to accommodate for both men.
She lay on the hospital bed, an air of exhaustion about her. In fact, she looked to be sleeping now, her eyelids closed over the deep blue irises that Jonathan remembered so well. He sucked in a breath, surprised at how different she looked, since the nine short months since he’d seen her last. Her brown hair was straight and made darker by the sweat of labour, piled sloppily on top of her head. Her face was skinnier, bony and weary, as well as wiped clean from the mask of makeup she had worn when they first met. There was something else about her countenance that was wrong, underneath the fatigue.
Melissa opened her eyes then, and he was met once more with their beauty and their depth, just like the ocean. When her blue eyes reached his, he thought for a moment that she saw the fields of golden grass she had spoken of when they had locked eyes and seen love.
She didn’t look confused, or angry, or even happy—none of the possibilities he’d considered. She looked horrified. Melissa Marland took a single, knowing look at his face and screamed.
Jonathan didn’t move. He could hardly blink. Warren grabbed his shoulders and pulled him out of the way as their guide rushed in. The nurses went to the cot, trying to calm her down.
“Jon,” Warren said hastily, “Go, please. I’m sorry, I didn’t—”
The man left before he could finish, flattening his back against the wall in the hallway. With the door open, he could hear their voices.
“Ms. Marland, please,” said Warren, advancing towards the cot and lightly shoving a nurse who tried to pull him out. “This is no way for a young woman to behave, pull yourself together!”
Melissa breathed rapidly and deeply, heaving in one lungful after another. Her voice was a weak whisper after the man’s deep reprimand. “Mr. Lechar… Is he gone?” she asked.
There was a pause, and then a sigh. “Yes, he’s left. Now, Melissa, I’ve known Jonathan all my life, he’s a perfect gentlemen. You did know him, from what he told me, before he went back—”
“He’s a monster.” Passion rose through her vehemence and her voice grew louder. Jon swallowed loudly, pushing himself off the wall and walking further down the corridor, now eager to get away. The voices became inaudible and he looked back at the doorway. Two of the nurses stood, having what seemed to be a silent argument in the hallway. One, their attendant from earlier, must have won, for she turned away and walked moodily down the hall towards him.
“Mr. Arval,” she said, stopping in front of him. “Would you like to see them?”
He blundered for a moment, still dazed by his encounter with the siren. “See whom?”
“The babies. They’re in the nursery,” she said, gesturing with her arm. “Would you like to see them?” she repeated.
“I…” He thought—not the rapid contemplating he’d been going through all day, but a calm rationing. Out of it came fear: would his own children scream at his face as their mother did?
“Yes,” he said softly, following the nurse around a corner. There was a window on the opposite wall, and he approached it gingerly. There were ten cradles, lined up in two rows of five, but only a few were occupied. There laid four of the smallest creatures he’d ever seen, topped with wisps of hair and ending in toes tinier than he could imagine.
“Come on,” the nurse said, pointing to the open door with a nod of her head. Completely wonderstruck, Jonathan obeyed, stumbling into the room. She stood at the end of the row of occupied cribs, unable to contain a broad smile.
Jon hardly had to glance at each individual before he spotted what couldn’t have possibly been anyone else’s baby. He stood before the crib, hands itching to cradle the newborn. The babe was wrapped in a white blanket adorned with small, exotic animals, eyes flickering open and closed.
“Go ahead,” the nurse said, jolting him out of his fascination. “So long as you support the head—”
He didn’t need any more of an invitation. He reached into the crib and carefully slipped one hand under the infant’s head and the other gently underneath the warm back. Hardly daring to breath, he lifted the baby up to his chest. The newborn made a small sound of confusion, screwing up its face to wail, when a calm suddenly passed over its face.
“All that fuss from the mom, and look how the kid warms up to you,” the woman commented with a small shake of her head.
“Lord,” he breathed, staring with awe into the newborn’s eyes, now half open. “She already looks like her mother—”
The nurse laughed suddenly, and when he turned to her in question, she smiled. “That’s your son, Mr. Arval.”
Jonathan echoed the laugh, finding it impossible to contain his mirth. “And he is so… tiny. It’s unbelievable. Amazing, that they start out so small, and in a few years…”
“They grow up fast,” she summarized.
“Incredibly fast. In ten short years, he’ll be—”
“Jonathan.” Warren was at the door, staring at the man, his face unreadable. “We need to talk.”
“I’m right here, Lechar,” he said impatiently. This was the last place he could think to bring to trifles and squabbles of adults. “What is it?”
Warren frowned. “She won’t take him, Jon.” He crossed his arms. “She’s refusing to accept that the boy is her mortal offspring. Or something similar to that. The point is, Jon—”
“I’ll take him,” he said hurriedly. He looked back at the child, at the blue eyes, just like his mother’s. “I don’t care, Warren, I’ll take him. I’ll raise him, I’ll teach him, I’ll…” He paused, grinning at the boy. “I will keep you safe.”
The man started his argument low before rising to a plea, “You don’t understand the weight of this responsibility… Surely, you’ll take more time before you take on such a task. Please, Jonathan, at least wait.”
“I don’t need to. The answer will be no different in a day, or a week. This is my son, Warren. I’ve got to look after him.”
“He’s going to need a name,” the nurse interjected, already poised with a pencil in hand.
“He’s Perevull,” the man said instantly. He held the newborn’s gaze. “And he’s perfect.”
“Perfect?” his friend echoed. “He’s not going to need perfection, Jon, he’s going to need a damn big heap of luck.”
“That’s perfect, too,” he said quietly. He let the words roll of his tongue, cherishing the first utterance of the name, “Perevull Luck Arval.”
“Beautiful,” the nurse said, marking the existence of the boy with a flourish of her hand.
“He is,” Jonathan agreed to himself. “Have you ever seen something so tiny, Warren?”
“Please, think about this! You’re making a mistake,” the man insisted.
“You’re not going to change my mind, old friend. It’s done,” he said, then turned his attention back to the child, “Isn’t it?”
Warren moaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. He finally dropped his arms with a sigh. “Fine,” he said slowly, drawing his arms across his chest, “How does it feel to be a father, old friend?”
Jonathan didn’t hear the tone of the words, meant to send his enchantment spiraling down. “It feels… Wow.”
Perevull Arval lifted a small hand up toward his father’s face, moving it in a joggled wave.
“It’ll be all right, won’t it, Perry?”
It may have just been a twitch of unused muscles, but Jonathan could have sworn he smiled.
Magic doesn’t always come easily. For some, it is second nature, an inborn instinct that blossoms on its own. For others who are not so lucky, the gift is forced to grow, taught emphatically, and stretched so thin over the various skill sets that it tears apart and dies.
Jonathan Arval had no such problem. All of it, from the concocting of powders to the precise circles and symbols of summoning only needed to be retaught, as if he was born with the innate understanding of his ancestors.
Of course, Dahlia Kiernan was considered to be the most capable instructor since the man who started it all, and the fact that he was one of the six apprentices she took on definitely helped his reputation. Graduating from both schools, of magus and sorcery, was fairly common nowadays, but accomplishing this so early on in life was rare indeed.
And here he was, hardly twenty-eight, on his way to Castle Rourke to celebrate his mastery of both schools. He was no longer apprentice, mage, or sorcerer.
He was a wizard.
“Perry, are you about ready?” Jonathan asked, throwing his things into his tall case, mentally going over his checklist once, twice, and again for good measure.
“Yes, Papa.” The boy sat on the dining room table, swinging his legs over the side. “I’ve been ready.”
“You don’t have quite as much to pack, do you?” Jon muttered. On his next run of the checklist, he remembered something and hurried away to fetch it. As he rushed back into the sitting room, he turned toward his son. “Where’s your cloak, Perry? I left it on the sofa…”
“And moved it to my room, so ‘the cat didn’t dirty it,’” he explained again, shaking his head at the ceiling.
“Right,” Jon continued, stroking his chin. “Where’s the cat, then?”
“You locked him in your room—”
“So he wouldn’t dirty your cloak,” he finished with a frown. “We’re all out of sorts, aren’t we?”
Perry giggled. “You are,” he said, kicking at the air. Jon smiled wryly, shifting his hands to his hips.
“I’ve got a lot on my mind, dear,” he said. The man crossed his arms and walked over to the table, standing before the boy. His countenance was stern and his voice clear. “What do you need to do at the party, Perry?”
The boy dropped the grin and bit his cheek, slowing his legs until they came to a complete stop. “I’ve got to behave,” he said, thinking hard, “I should only speak when spoken to, and clearly. No yelling, or running, or being silly. I call you Master Arval, not Papa, or Father. But why is that? You never said.”
“The grown-ups are very strict, and serious, Perry. They don’t like to be silly.” Jon reached out with his fingers as he said this, but the boy was adept in skirting tickles and he flinched away. The man smiled, but it stopped at his mouth, not quite showing in his worried golden eyes. “They want to get down to business, Perry, they don’t know how to be fun like you.”
The boy thought for a moment, looking off into a vacant thinking space. “You’re fun, too,” he said, still staring at nothing. Jonathan sighed, leaning forward to hug the toddler. In a moment, he hugged back, mostly letting himself be embraced.
“Thank you, Perry. But it’s other grown-ups, who aren’t just like me. They’re grumpy, and old, and sour—”
“Like Wizard Lechar?” he interjected, pulling back from the hold enough to look upwards at the man’s face.
Jon laughed loudly. “Yes, Perry, just like nasty Uncle Warren.”
He smiled and leaned back. A frown appeared suddenly and he creased his brow in confusion.
“But why can’t I call you Papa? Don’t they know you’re Papa—”
“Perry, please,” Jon said with a sigh. “They… they won’t like it. I can’t explain. One night—a few hours of being serious—and that’s it. We’ll go as soon as we can, just as long as… Behave, dear, so you don’t get in trouble. So they’re not mad at me.”
Perry still frowned. “Why would they be mad?” he asked quietly.
Jonathan shook his head. “Later,” he said.
The boy dropped his shoulders with a echoed sigh. “Later” wasn’t tomorrow, or next week. It meant forever into the future, long past the point his imagination could reach.
“All right, Papa.” He caught his mistake and corrected himself quickly, “Master Arval. A night of grown-up-ness, so they no one with be mad.”
“Oh, thank you, Perry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise,” he said, relieved. “You’re wonderful, you know that? Now, hop down and get your cloak.”
Perry smiled and jumped down, springing past him and down the hall.
Jonathan dropped the expression and steadied his nerves, silently praying that his hand didn’t shake.
He hoped no one would be mad.
And it was the most dreary stretch of evening committed to terrible grown-up-ness. Jonathan was getting sick of it himself, and he could hardly expect Perry to take much more. He was standing by a window, face wrinkled in annoyance and his blue eyes focused up on someone he couldn’t see. No one had asked about his mother, or even if he was his own flesh and blood, and if he was lucky, it would stay that way.
“What’s the matter, Jon? You’re not enjoying your own party? It would seem you’ve spent a little too much time outside the world of adults, old friend.” Warren approached from behind, bearing a wine glass that glittered in the light. He forced it into the man’s hand and took a drink from his own.
“I’m fine, and I’m not drinking. Maybe if you had some kids yourself…” Jonathan let the thought hang in the air, dropping the hand holding the glass to his waist.
“’Fraid not, Jon. Forever a bachelor,” the man said with a wry smile. “What about yourself? When’s the last time you saw Ciara?”
The man scoffed. “We’ve talked in the past few months, and she still forces me to take that jam she makes. But that’s it. That date was our last.”
“Warren,” he said with a sigh. “I have a child. I have children, to be precise.”
“Don’t tell me,” he interrupted, shaking his head. “Don’t tell me your still sending letters. Having children in common does not mean you’re obliged to ignore every other woman who looks your way. Let dead dogs lie. Besides, Perry seems to be doing just fine without… you know.” He cleared his throat before going on, “How is the little tyke? Hardly seen him since…”
“’21,” Jon offered, grimacing.
“That long? How old is he now, then? Seven?”
“Nine this March. Really, Warren, you were there.”
“Perhaps, but my entire life doesn’t revolve around that day. It wasn’t so memorable for the rest of us. It was… March 25, 2517. Am I right?”
“The sixth. And according to his birth certificate, 1992,” he corrected, “You were at three birthday parties. They all happened on the same day, Warren.”
“Easy, Jon. At least I came to those,” he said with a shrug, sipping from his own wine glass. “What about his studies? I trust he’s progressing well.”
He shrugged. “He’s only just starting on the second degree. He’s a little old, I know, but you understand. I have to be careful anytime sorcery is involved. The whole first degree summoning section took weeks. He needs to know how to make proper protection circles and enchantments.” He paused, staring at his glass before taking a tentative sip. The drop of wine was more alcohol than he’d had in years and it quickly coerced a layer of defensive secrecy away. “I had to teach him the complicated ones—to give him the best chance—eight piece circles that I don’t even understand well enough. But the thing is, Warren, he gets them better than I do. I’ve been working at sorcery for ten years, and he’s stumped me. If he wasn’t... the way he was, I’d send him to a decent sorcerer in a heartbeat, but…”
“That’s tough, Jon.” Warren spoke in a low voice, swelled with pity. “But it happens sometimes. It’s almost as if… the most fragile ones excel at summoning, like it’s a bloody rule of the cosmos. It’s ironic, in a way.”
“It makes perfect sense,” Jonathan disagreed, furrowing his brow. “It just seems like… Don’t they usually avoid it like the plague? Or they should. Maybe the older ones just know they can’t.”
“Whom are you talking about?”
“You know…” The man gestured widely, filling the space with a word he couldn’t bear to bring to his lips. “There are others like him, there must be, and they aren’t the ones to master sorcery, Warren. I don’t think it’s right.”
“Of course not,” Warren said, tone full of disdain. “I’m sorry, Jon, but children like that aren’t natural. If you ask me—”
“I didn’t,” Jon said sharply, fully aware of what the man wanted to say. He’d been saying it for eight years. He shook his head angrily, stepping away from the man. “I’ll go mingle, now, Lechar. And you might as well stay away from Perry for the rest of the night, too.”
Jonathan hurried off, asserting himself into the crowd. He took the congratulations with a polite nod of the head, even half-paid attention to what some of the partygoers had to say. He recognized most of the magicians, and he could guess the rest were related to those he was familiar with. There was Wizard Errol Osred, head of the organization and caretaker of the castle, and her liaison, Latimer. Leroy Jenkins was there, and Cormick, both good friends of his family. Madam Kiernan’s former apprentices were all there: Paterin, Delling, Sumner, and her son, Byron Kiernan. And, of course, Arterius.
Rarek Arterius had been Madam Kiernan’s pupil for the short side of a month before she turned him away. The man, now in his sixties, was still a fifth degree sorcerer, and was headed his way.
“Jonathan. Wizard Arval now, isn’t it? Congratulations.” His words held no trace of sincerity; they were laced with hate and mockery. Jon grimaced, not at the offense, but at the smell. The man’s breath may have been invisible, but it packed a punch. Jon held his breath for a moment before daring to breathe through his mouth.
“Thank you, Sorcerer Arterius. I trust you’re doing well?” He had to bite his tongue to avoid commenting on his lack of progression in two decades.
“Yes, very well as of late. I see you’ve already got an apprentice. As have I, Arval. A rather gifted sorcerer, from the Moreen family. I’m sure you heard what happened to his family. A shame, indeed,” he said, cracking what might have been an attempt at a smile. “What’s the young lad’s name?”
Jonathan felt the color drain from his face. So much for his wish for secrecy. “He’s Perry.”
“That’s not short for Perevull, is it? The brave pioneer hero of 2016. First wizard to touch American soil. How… lovely.” Jon scowled, but the man continued, pretending not to notice. “What’s his family name, pray tell?”
The man cursed under his breath before responding. There was no good in lying, so he told him the truth, as quietly as he could. “He’s my son, Rarek.”
“Interesting.” He cracked a genuine grin, toothy and disquieting. “I never heard you were married…”
“I’m not,” Jonathan murmured, embarrassed. It seemed the old man had the ears like a hawk; he picked up on everything he was too frightened to say too loud.
“I see. Well, congratulations again, Wizard Arval. You give your boy my best.” Arterius spat out the title like it was cold porridge, and Jon got the feeling his “best” wasn’t very much at all. He set his jaw and pushed back through the crowd, looking for a short mop of mouse-brown hair.
“It’s not,” Perry insisted, crossing his arms. His lips moved to form the familiar “p” of his father’s moniker, but he stopped himself just in time. “Master Arval says both schools are equal. They’re just different cater… categories.”
“He’s jealous,” the older boy said matter-of-factly. Ezekiel Moreen had introduced himself moments after they arrived at the castle: a tall, dark haired boy with a leering face and menacing eyes. Ever since he walked up he’d been teasing the younger boy. “Sorcery is far more powerful than magus. Rourke Witton didn’t get killed by tossing some powder, he was too weak to handle a demon he summoned. You know the story don’t you? People say it was his brother’s spirit who killed him, and his ghost wanders around the castle, in the levels they can’t reach.”
“I don’t care about the story,” Perry proclaimed. “I know it’s probably… a bit of horse’s hoof, is all. Anyway, that doesn’t mean anything. You could do just as well with a third degree spell as with a third degree demon. It was made that way. That’s what… Master Arval says.”
“Shut up about your teacher. He’s wrong, because his focus was magus. And you’re jealous like him because you can’t summon.”
“I could to!” Perry shouted. He noticed that a few people were beginning to stare and he lowered his voice. “I could, if I knew how. I haven’t been learned about it yet, only circles, and the degrees and things. You’re… you’re a fourth degree apprentice, so of course you know more.”
“Circles are all you need to know,” Ezekiel said haughtily. “All you need is a little protection ring—I bet even you could do a half-decent job with that—and you could summon a first degree spirit, easy. But an invalid like you couldn’t draw a straight line!”
Perry didn’t know what that word meant, but he’d heard it from Wizard Lechar. He clenched his jaw like he’d seen his father do when the word was used against him.
“I could summon,” he assured the boy.
“Really?” he asked. “Then prove it.”
The corridor was freezing, the cold was eating up through the soles of his shoes and biting at his feet. His cloak was just warm enough to protect his body, but his face took the full force of the chill.
The only light came from candle holders on the wall, and some were not burning. Most of the doors looked ancient, even though much of the castle had been remodeled decades ago.
As if he was thinking the same thing, Ezekiel spoke, keeping his voice low for fear of spies. “This floor is the one they say is haunted by Wizard Witton’s soul. They didn’t change anything so—” The boy whirled at a sudden moan from the ceiling before slowly continuing. “So the old man would rest in peace. So as not to disturb the dead. You know.”
Perry only shrugged. Following the older boy seemed to be worse of an idea every step he took down the deserted hallway. It was too late to second guess now; he’d stopped in front of an old door and opened it. The door screamed, highly annoyed at being disturbed.
“Here. I’ve used this before, to summon. They used to use a lot of rooms on this floor for summoning, I think.” Ezekiel walked into the room and surveyed everything. There was a desk, covered in dust and wooden bowls full of powder and chalk, and a bucket in the corner full of rainwater. Above it was a large water stain on the ceiling. He nodded and snapped back to his smirking self as he turned toward Perry.
“Still think you can do it?” he challenged, pulling a piece of chalk from his sleeve and holding it out.
In answer, Perry set his jaw, stepped forward, and yanked the chalk from the boy’s hand. He knelt down and put it to stone, marking one curving line before he froze.
Ezekiel let out a triumphant guffaw. “Giving up already?” he sneered.
Perry scowled. He slipped his cloak off and threw it at the other boy before going back to his work. He crouched on the balls of his feet and circled slowly, drawing out a ring of white against the dark stone. He drew another around it, about two inches bigger
Perry didn’t have to focus like he did putting together a spell or a powder. The symbols flowed out of his fingers and the chalk did his bidding, spelling out ancient words of defense and protection. When he was finished, Perry sat back on his haunches and thought for a moment before starting a second set of circles, connected to the first ring by a long, skinny symbol of fluidity. After this one was finished, he made to do a third.
“What are you doing, drawing so many rings?” Ezekiel scoffed. “You’re only summoning a little first degree demon.”
“You said spirit, not demon,” Perry objected. “And anyway, Master Arval said to always use two more rings above the degree you intend to summon.”
“You’re master sounds like a ninny,” Ezekiel teased. “Using that many rings is cheating. Just use what you have, since you probably messed up on at least one of ’em.”
“Fine,” he said. “What am I supposed to summon?”
Ezekiel thought. “It’s cold,” he remarked, blank faced. He blinked and scowled. “A fire demon. The pipsqueak should warm the place up a bit.”
Perry looked at the rings. His father’s voice spoke above the other boy’s.
Why not? He had two rings of protection, and it was just a weak fire demon, the size of a candle flame.
And what? Make a fool of himself? He could prove he was a good sorcerer, or prove he was a pathetic baby, incapable of a first degree summoning.
Never summon, Perry! You’ll hurt yourself!
Perry grimaced. He could protect himself. He could do this. The voice disappeared as he bent down to draw the final symbols.
“Jonathan!” called a deep voice. When he turned, he recognized the speaker immediately. The man was the tallest in the room, and his dark skin stood out among the crowd. “I’ve been looking for you all night! Congratulations,” said Wizard Paterin, Madam Kiernan’s first apprentice.
“Thank you, Julius. It’s been a while, how have you been?” he asked politely, taking another sip of wine.
“Just fine. Word is you have an apprentice. How’s teaching working for you?”
“It’s great. Glad I can… make use of myself. Make a mark on prosperity, and all that,” Jon said, absentmindedly searching for Perry with his eyes.
Paterin laughed, a clash of glass in a quiet room. “You sound like old Kiernan. Did you know Byron reached mastery? He’s a sixth degree mage now, but he’s not going into sorcery. His girl—she’s about eight now, little Violet. Cutest thing you ever saw. Anyway, I suspect she’ll start her apprenticeship soon. Not with her grandmother, unfortunately, but…” He trailed off, pausing to take a drink of red wine. “Does yours know his focus?” he asked.
Jonathan blinked. “Magus,” he said automatically. His eyes continued to sweep the room, not finding anything to rest on.
“Hmm. The Arvals used to be so well known as sorcerers, and damn good ones, too. My boy, Darrell, is just finishing his sixth degree. He went with sorcery, like his mom. He should take his exam soon, if I can get him to choose to study over the beach… You’ve been to the states, haven’t you? The west coast has been great.”
“I’ve been to New York,” he said distractedly. He couldn’t think of what he was looking for.
“That’s right, Madam Kiernan had all her apprentices spend time in America for a couple months. Expect for… you know,” Paterin chuckled. “That’s where the Mondragons live, in Manhattan. Well, they have two houses in every country. I suspect—”
“I don’t see him,” Jon interrupted, finally realized what his eyes had been searching for. He couldn’t see Perry.
Jonathan shoved his wineglass at Paterin and sped toward the hall.
Ezekiel had stopped teasing.
Perry stood in the center of the circle, holding the fire in his cupped hands. He stared at it in awe, too afraid to move, scared that the demon would go out like a candle.
His father had gone over every aspect of sorcery extensively, careful to cover everything in its entirety, and then some. Every rule and expectation was ingrained in his mind.
But he never could have described the feeling.
He was hot, but not in any way unpleasantly. He felt free, and powerful, like nothing would ever hurt, like he could never grow old or die. Every inch of his body was warm: invincible to the cold. The demon tickled his fingers and he giggled. It spoke, in a whispering crackle. Although he heard only the words of a candlelit night, an understanding took the boy over and he nodded.
Ezekiel cried out, pressed against the wall. Perry looked at him, narrowing his eyes.
“See? I can summon just as well—”
“You’re on fire!” he screamed, gaping in horror. Perry stopped mid-syllable, shocked by the statement. He found it was fact; he looked down and saw a layer of flame covering his body. He felt no pain, but he gasped, stepping back. His heel smudged the first ring and the fire spread, exploring the ground.
The older boy backed up into the corner, kicking the bucket of rainwater with his boot. He dropped Perry’s cloak and grabbed the bucket, throwing the contents at the burning boy.
He knew now what the fire demon had asked. It was in his soul, he could feel it, and it was ever growing, passing from first degree to second, second to third.
Now that one protection ring was broken, only one degree of the demon was contained and two were free to lash out at its attacker. Before he could warn the boy, the fire had reached him.
Ezekiel shrieked, dropping the flaming bucket. The sleeve of his cloak had already caught on fire, and it spread quickly. Perry could feel it like he was using his own hands, climbing over the fabric, eating at it, touching flesh…
“Stop!” he screamed. The sound of Ezekiel’s terror and pain drowned out his voice, but the demon understood. The fire dispersed, crawling back to the circle, and the other boy collapsed.
Perry shook. His knees gave out and he sat on the heated stone. The fire demon cowered with him, quivering over his skin before retreating, gradually lessening until it disappeared. Perry could still feel the demon, inside.
Jonathan hadn’t reached the door before he felt it. A demon, in the castle, uncontained. He ran now to the source, and the others must have felt it to, for he heard them following. He ran to the stairs, going so fast his feet couldn’t keep up. At the last level, he tripped, but he launched himself forward and up, not pausing to take a breath.
The door was open, he could see the light. A heat drifted through, unnatural and sickening.
“Perry!” he screamed, throwing himself through the doorway. A haze of flame distorted the room and blurred the figures inside, but no one else could be so small. His cried out again, rushing toward the center of the room, but before he reached it, the fire diminished and disappeared. Jon hardly noticed the huddled figure in the corner, he only saw his boy, sitting in the center of a summoning circle.
“Perry,” he breathed, dropping to his knees beside the shaking child, “What… What did you do?”
He didn’t answer, he only sat, gaping at nothing. He flinched when Jonathan laid his hands on his shoulders, his gaze flitting away from the corner. “P-papa…”
The man moved to the other side of the boy, taking his face in his hands and searching him for damage. “Are you all right? Were you hurt?”
He shook his head slowly, staring past him into the corner of the room. “No. But…”
“I told you…” he trailed off. His anger replaced his concern when he realized nothing was wrong. “I told you never to summon! Ever. And now… Lord, I shouldn’t have even taught you! I thought I was protecting you, giving you a chance to be safe, but… Why, Perry? What could have possibly possessed you—” Jonathan froze, mouth open. What could be possessing him?
“Send it back, Perry. Now!” he said, gripping the boy’s shoulders. “You need to get it out, quickly!” The sound of footsteps caught his attention and he fearfully watched the door for a moment, imagining what would happen, what they would do if they knew what he’d done. His eyes snapped back to his son and he shook him lightly. “Now, Perry, before they come! Please—”
The first person skidded in and the chorus began.
“What in the...”
“Unbelievable! The louts of today…”
“Look at this!” cried Arterius, pushing past the others. He directed everyone’s attention to the figure in the corner, the heap no one had noticed. He grabbed the boy’s shoulders and forced him up, showing his charred skin. “An attack, on my apprentice! Conspiracy!”
Jonathan shook his head, getting to his feet and pulling Perry with him. He held the boy close to him with trembling hands. “Sorcerer Arterius, this was only an accident, he had no intention of harming anyone, I assure you.”
The man grimaced. “An accident, then, caused by… an invalid. A halfling, a danger to us all!”
Wizard Osred stepped forward. “This isn’t true, is it, Arval?” she asked, her smirk showing her unwillingness to accept Arterius’s accusation.
“I…” Jonathan faltered. Lying to these people would be suicide, and telling the truth would be damnation. He clenched his jaw and stretched his arm over Perry’s chest, holding the boy tightly. The poor thing vibrated with fear.
Wizard Osred drew her brow together. “Is it, Jonathan?”
He couldn’t bring himself to voice the truth. He gave a quick nod.
“Well,” she said, surprised. She blinked it off and addressed the man. “I will see you in my office, then. Latimer, you get to helping Sorcerer Arterius with his apprentice. It smells like a bloody bonfire in here. Someone fix that, please.”
Everyone shuffled around, either to get out of the way or to do their appointed job. Jonathan and Perry remained in the circle, too shocked to move. Osred waited by the door, a long fingered hand resting on the doorjamb.
“Come on, you two,” she said softly, gesturing out the door. “We’ll get things figured out upstairs. Follow me.” She stepped into the hall and Jon made to follow her. He grabbed Perry’s hand and led him out of the circle.
Arterius suddenly reached out, clamping his strong fingers around the boy’s arm. He stood from where he knelt by Ezekiel, yanking him away from his father.
“Mark my words, Perevull Arval, you will pay for this! Malice will prevail!” he hissed, holding his gaze with dark eyes.
Jonathan snatched him back hurriedly, all but pulling him out of the room. Wizard Lechar stopped him in the hallway.
“Jon, please, let me take him up to Jenkins. If you don’t force the demon out now, it’ll only get worse—”
He was interrupted by Osred, standing impatiently down the hall. “No, Lechar. I’ll work everything out, Jon, come with me.”
The man frowned, but obeyed, Perry trailing behind him.
Arterius still stood, grinning wildly. He slowly clenched his fist around the object before turning back to Ezekiel. The boy opened his eyes, narrowing them at the man.
“Why him? He’s bonkers,” he whispered, his voice hoarse.
“Have some vision,” he said, staring at the amulet before placing it back in his cloak. “If he could do that with a first degree fire demon, just imagine what he could do for us.”
“Have a seat, gentlemen,” Wizard Osred said. She walked around her desk to her own chair. She didn’t take a seat until her guests did, watching as Jonathan helped his boy into the tall chair. She leaned forward across the desk, clasping her hands together. “I didn’t catch your name, Mr. Arval,” she said gently, smiling warmly at the boy.
He quivered in the chair, making himself as small as possible. He held his hands in his lap and sniffed as he looked up at the woman. His blue eyes watered when he spoke. “Perry,” he whispered. The woman frowned and the demon shuddered, fleeing to the smallest space it could find. The boy shivered as the cold reintroduced itself.
“Perevull,” Jonathan said, hoping to take her attention off of him. “He’s… not troubled, Wizard Osred. He does wonderfully in his studies, and his heritage has never proved a disadvantage.”
“Until now,” she said, blinking slowly at him. Osred leaned back in her chair now, observing the two of them. “Wizard Arval—congratulations, by the way. There’s a reason these halfling children are so frowned upon, and that’s because they have proved a terrible danger to themselves and those around them. Now, I’m sure you didn’t report his birth because you’ve heard the rumors, and I can tell you they are not true, Jonathan. You don’t have to worry about losing your son. Those rumors are spread so magicians don’t run around looking to settle with the… mundane, if you will. But despite our efforts, it does happen, and we’re forced to roll with it.”
Jonathan let out a long contained breath. “Thank you, Wizard Osred, this is such a relief to hear. So you’re not going to send him away? Insist he take an apprenticeship with another wizard?”
“Nothing like that, Jonathan. Now, I don’t recommend he pursue sorcery, or summon without certain wards, but I see no reason why you would be unfit to remain his teacher,” she said, glancing over at the boy. “I would, however, request that you check in more often than most. Every couple months or so, just so we know he’s not overloading with demons. As for the summoning today…”
“It won’t happen again,” Jonathan insisted. He looked at his son with a stern frown. “Will it, Perry?”
“No, sir,” he said urgently, nodding in agreement. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“Oh, everyone gets dared to something silly now and again. At least you weren’t on the bloody Hindenburg when you decided to take the challenge,” the woman said. “You can’t be blamed for all of this. I’m only concerned that Arterius will take matters into his own hands, and law states Perry is responsible for any harm inflicted on young Mr. Moreen.”
“What does that mean for him?” Jon asked warily.
“That means that if Arterius requests that Perry be punished…” Osred trailed off. The door to her office had inched open, and several people stood by the entrance.
Arterius stepped forward first, advanced toward the gathering. “And I do, Wizard Osred. If it were up to me I’d set his bloody shirt on fire and see how he likes it—”
“Rarek, please,” Osred interrupted sharply. She glared at the man before turning her attention to Jonathan. “I’m sorry, Jon, but it’s the law.”
The man arched his eyebrow. “Are you people insane? He’s just a boy! He was forced by your apprentice to summon that demon, so he’s not at fault.”
“He was forced to do nothing,” Arterius retorted. “He’s old enough to think for himself, and he should take responsibility for setting a boy on fire. You don’t really want to let that go unaddressed, do you? As a father—”
“Don’t talk to me about being a father!” Jon shouted. He stood up angrily. “Are we really going to convict a child?” He looked at Osred, pleading with his eyes.
“The law applies to all, Jon. I’m sorry.”
The corners of the sorcerer’s lips curled up to flaunt his victory. “I say he should get twenty lashes,” he suggested.
The color leached from Jonathan’s face. To his relief, Osred stood up and objected. “You don’t have a say, fortunately. Seeing as it was not intentional, and your apprentice only suffered minor burns, a very minor punishment should be inflicted.”
“Am I the only one concerned about the demon currently residing in his soul?” Lechar said from the doorway. “If you had the sense to issue one, an exorcism would be punishment enough.”
Osred shook her head. “That isn’t going to work on a halfling, Warren. Thank you for your concern, but if the demon is going anywhere, it’ll be because Perry sends it back. There’s nothing we can do about it,” she explained. “Now, Arterius, I’m sure a small thrashing would suffice for your charge.”
Jon clenched his fists, knuckles turning white. Arterius tutted, scowling at the proposition. “He set my student on fire and all he gets is a spanking?”
“It was an accident!” Jon shouted, wishing looks could kill as he glared at the sorcerer. “I will not be forced to raise my hand against my son!”
“If you won’t, Arval, I will.” Arterius grinned at this thought, looking daggers right back at the man.
Perry had stood from his chair and tugged on Jon’s cloak. “Papa?” he said quietly, looking up at the man. Jonathan let out a long sigh before he knelt down and wrapped the boy in a tight hug. He took his hand and stood up, leading the boy out of the office. Arterius followed with a warped smile on his face and pulled the double doors shut as he left.
Jonathan flipped the light switch and locked the front door. As much as his colleagues lamented about the advances of technology, electricity was too precious to ignore for foolish pride. Perry had rounded the corner before he turned around, making a break for the sanctuary of his bedroom.
The man wiped his eyes with the palms of his hands and took a deep breath. He went after the boy, dropping his cloak on the sofa as he passed it. The rare closed door told him he didn’t want any company, but he couldn’t sleep knowing he was still upset. He was about to open the door when he paused and knocked.
“Perry?” he called. “I just want to talk to you.” He waited for an answer, but none came. The cat suddenly squeezed between his legs, scratching at the doorjamb with a lonely mewl. Jon’s mouth twitched in a sad smile. “Pyne wants to talk, too. Can we come in?”
Still no answer. He sighed and turned the knob, opening it a crack to let the cat through, then slipping in himself. The boy was only visible as a lump in the
dark blue quilt, one that omitted the sound of a broken sob. Jon swallowed, feeling the cries hit him like a wave of desolation.
“Oh, my poor boy, I’m so sorry,” he grieved, going to sit on the edge of his bed. He laid a long hand on the lump and gently rubbed his back. “Perry, dear, can you ever forgive me?”
He didn’t respond, he only continued to sniffle and shove out his breath in a steady weep. The cat hopped up on the bed and tested the lump with a furry paw. He found threat in the quivering thing and pounced, shoving his claws into the heap. The lump shifted angrily and the cat retreated, jumping over Jon’s lap to the end of the bed. Despite himself, Jon let out a tearful laugh.
“You better quit being so miserable, or Pynewacket will launch another attack,” he teased, leaning over the lump. “Perry, tell me what’s wrong. You know I’m sorry, and that I love you, oh so much. Are you still angry with me?”
The lump hesitated before turning over. The top of the blanket moved to reveal a whimpering, wet face. His dark brown hair stuck out every which way from underneath the quilt headdress and his eyes were magnified by a pooling of tears that had yet to be shed.
“Papa, I didn’t mean it,” he insisted, sniveling. “That… meanie told me to, and I did, because he made fun of me, and you, and Erisef says it was his fault anyway.”
“I know, dear. It was that nasty sorcerer and his apprentice. They deserved a thrashing much more, but…” Jon shook his head and sighed. He patted the lump and looked at Perry. “What’s ‘airing stuff,’ dear?”
He smiled, a refreshing expression. “Erisef. That’s what his name is, and he’s awfully nice, Papa. He didn’t mean it either, but he didn’t want to get doused.”
Jonathan wrinkled his brow, wandering what he must have been talking about. “You’re not talking about the fire demon, are you?”
Perry nodded, his smile widening. “Wizard Lechar said
that its demons that are evil, and souls are just normal people, but I’ve met a lot of nasty souls, and Erisef is really nice.”
“I’m sure he is, but it… he can’t stay, Perry. You’ve got to send him back. First thing tomorrow, all right?”
The boy frowned, sticking out his lower lip in a pout. “Papa,” he moaned. “What’s he done?”
“Don’t be difficult, Perry. He’s a demon. I’m sure he seems nice to you, but that’s what they do. They trick sorcerers into thinking they’re friendly, but they’re have ulterior motives,” he said. When he remembered he was speaking to an eight year old, he explained. “They lie, to trick you.”
Perry pulled a face, shaking his head. “He can’t lie, Papa, that’s silly.”
Jonathan turned his head to look at the cat. He noticed now that his tail was puffed out, the hair along his spine raised. He looked back, worry and confusion mixed in his expression. “What do you mean, Perry? What does he say?”
He shrugged slightly. Pynewacket was slowly stalking toward him, testing his boundaries.
“He doesn’t say anything, not in words. It’s like… thinking. You don’t need words, you just get what you mean,” he explained, letting the blanket fall to expose the rest of his torso. He hadn’t bothered to put his night clothes on and his gold colored polo was wrinkled.
Jon looked away, gently squeezing the boy’s calf. “I don’t know, Perry. I’ll think about it. But now,” he said, “it’s bed time. Get up, and get ready.”
He obliged, detangling himself from the covers and heading down the hall for the bathroom. Jonathan slipped into his own pajamas while he waited for Perry to do so, and brushed his teeth before checking back in.
The boy sat up in his bed, petting the cat with one hand.
“Perry, are you ready for lights out?” he asked, leaning against the doorjamb. He seemed to think for moment before he shook his head. “No?”
“Papa, I’m having scary thoughts,” he said, pursing his lips in discomfiture.
“Oh?” he pressed, coming in to sit on his bed again. He stopped himself from attributing it to the fire demon bunking with his soul.
“Yeah,” he whispered, sniffing. “Papa…”
“What is it, dear?” he asked, grabbing the little lumps in the duvet that must have been his feet. When he tickled them Perry giggled, jerking them away with a grin. He leaned forward and grabbed his father’s arm.
“Will you please lay with me tonight?” he asked.
Jonathan smiled. “Of course, Perry. Just let me get the lights.” He only had to go to the open doorway to flick the switch in the hallway and for the bedroom. He lifted the comforter and Perry wormed into position, evicting the cat from his spot on the bed. As Jon slipped under, he tickled the boy’s tummy and he laughed loudly.
Settled in, the man reached for the baby blanket at the end of the bed and used it to wipe away the remaining wetness from his face.
“Good night, Perry,” he whispered.
“Good night, Papa,” the boy answered with closed eyes, reaching out to hug his father’s arm. He couldn’t a help a nostalgic grin as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Jonathan woke for a moment at midnight to an incessant tapping at the window, but blamed the disturbance on the howling wind.
Just in case any of you lovely people have gotten this far, I have more! An entire book, actually. I know it sucks to read on a computer, but if you want more chapters let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading ;)