tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Bonding Chronicles Ch. 16

The Bonding Chronicles Ch. 16


***** Higher Education *****

Magic was the greatest gift Wilcox had ever received, or at least that was how he saw it. Life as an orphan had not been easy, and while he tried to convince himself that he was grateful for those early experiences, he knew he was lying. It had sucked, every moment of it had been terrifying, and it was not until he had almost been beaten to death by a local gang, that his powers had come to him.

Telepathy, he learned, was a rare gift. Not something many were born with, and a gift even fewer could master. By the time The Council had found him, he had already grown in his power more than most of the great wizards who had lived with their gifts for nearly a century — a realization that would have corrupted most people, but not Wilcox, who saw it as a grave responsibility.

It was ironic, he thought, that such a gift would be given to someone like him. Many of the wizards and witches he had met strove for greatness, clawing and clambering for attention and accolades, envying him his gift with thoughts of how they could have used it better. Yet there he was, joyous to learn, and eager to serve those that needed him, his telepathy making him acutely aware of just how much pain rested within each person. His desires always pulled him towards service, and while he recognized the various ways in which he could have abused the knowledge he gained over his fellow practitioners of magic, Wilcox always chose not to.

The truth was, he loved being a wizard. He loved all of it, learning under ancient masters, and observing wily tricksters who sought to fool all who approached. So much wisdom was there to be found in the actions of the kind, and the coldhearted alike.

So he was surprised when shortly after his apprenticeship had ended, that he would be stationed in Seattle. From what he understood, it was a pretty nice position to fill, and the Celestial Gate to the Pacific Northwest was anything but exciting. He often found himself wondering why he — of all people — would be stationed there.

Desmond, the director of The Council, had positioned him there in person, an honor no one had ever received. Despite that prestigious start, everything from that point forward was monotonous and boring, often making Wilcox wonder why it had been so important for him to be there. That was, until the attacks started.

Word spread fast, and it didn't take long for whispers to reach him within that small room in the heart of downtown Seattle. Gateways across Europe were falling, and while Daniel — his partner in tedium — seemed oblivious to the danger, Wilcox realized how important their jobs had become. Even with those frightful tales of destruction, the boredom continued on for weeks, until that fateful night a couple of days prior, when Caili came storming through the doorway from Seattle.

Her anger was righteous, consuming her so fully that she failed to realize she had lowered her mental blocks, opening a brief window into her mind. Through that portal, she revealed to Wilcox some small part of what she had been doing in the Pacific Northwest.

The vision had been brief, just a sliver of time where Wilcox saw a man who had been attacked, slumped against a tree with his chest torn open. The sight was gruesome, but what stood out to Wilcox was how Caili had felt about the man's assault. He was a stranger, but in a strange way she seemed to know and respect him. She was consumed with guilt, knowing that he did not deserve what had happened to him, and hated having to watch when she knew she could have saved him.

Just as fast as the door to her mind had opened, it slammed shut, and soon after she had vanished through the gate to the Celestial Realm. He had wanted to ignore what he saw, but knew he could not let it go unreported. Perhaps it was presumptuous of him, traveling to seek an audience with Desmond, but everything within him was telling him that what he had seen was the purpose for which he had been stationed there.

So it was that he traveled across the country, to the center of The Council's knowledge, an unassuming building that rested in a small podunk town in the middle of nowhere, Illinois. In reality, it was a gateway, he knew that, but still, the wonder of it was not enough to make him forget the strange otherness of the place. He would not have come there if not for his encounter with Caili, the woman's memory still lingering in his thoughts.

Wilcox found himself standing before a small single story house, long abandoned and weather worn from years of neglect, with uncertainty painting his face. The building was tucked back behind some trees at the edge of a swamp, the unmoving air causing the horrible methane scent of decay to linger and cling to Wilcox's nostrils. The door stood open, and light cascaded through numerous holes that had rotted through the roof, bathing the living room with unexpected light. He had been standing there for minutes, just trying to convince himself to enter, but his body refused to heed his command.

"Scholomance," he whispered, the single word hung in the open space, somehow defiling the scent of decay, and taunting him with the knowledge that he had to return.

With a deep breath, he reached out and closed the creaky door, and after relinquishing his breath, he drew a ward within his mind, binding himself to the intricate and well obscured designs that had been buried within the doorframe. The drain was not much, just enough to get the process started, and from there unknown magics worked in unknown ways.

A faint whistle began to sound out, drawing Wilcox's attention to the bottom of the door, where he could feel the air rushing to enter beneath the closed portal. He shook his head, and muttered every nascent thought that might distract him from the place he was being forced to enter.

The door was pulled from Wilcox's hand as he turned the handle, the air around him rushing to enter the now open school of magic. Unlike his other visits, he released the steel knob just before the inrush of air pulled him violently through the open doorway, where he collapsed to his hands and knees on an ornate rug which rested atop a cold stone floor. The soft material was thick, and protected him from the impact which would have been painful had the rug not been there.

Fresh air continued to pour in around him for another second, before everything became still as the sound of the door slamming shut behind him announced his arrival.

"Good evening, sir."

Wilcox stood and straightened his long jacket and pants, before turning his gaze on where he had just arrived.

The large reception room seemed to have been crafted from a single piece of obsidian, and the glossy-black walls would have made it difficult to get a sense of scale, if not for the paintings and banners which hung with exacting purpose throughout the massive room. As he looked at a section of wall that was exposed between a banner of an eagle, and a banner of a tortoise, he felt as if he could see a shifting tapestry of color dancing somewhere behind the fifteen-foot tall stone surface.

None of the people who sat and talked throughout the room seemed to have taken any notice of WIlcox's entrance, the scene of his arrival having become mundane to the residence of the magical place.

The tall and broad shouldered butler cleared his throat, before stating, "My apologies, sir, but I understand you are here to see Master Desmond."

No matter how advanced the golem was, Wilcox could never quite bring himself to look it in its eyes. Instead, he found himself focusing on the magical construct's mouth, which turned up into a seemingly genuine smile. If not for the glossy marble material where skin should have been, he may never have known that the gentle seeming butler was not alive.

What disturbed him most, and kept him from ever trusting the strange device, was the lack of thought that he felt from the construct, its actions governed by some complex series of magical directives that defied his gift, and reminded him of its alien nature.

"If you could lead me to your master, that would be most appreciated, Giles."

Wilcox was still on edge, his unnatural guide reinforcing the otherworldly vibe he got from the magical academy.

"With pleasure, young sir."

The six-foot tall butler guided Wilcox out of the well appointed reception room, and deeper into Scholomance. The golem set a remarkable pace, providing Wilcox with almost no opportunity to study their surroundings as they passed numerous doorways, or consider the source of the unease which continued to settle deep within the young wizard's mind.

As they made their way through the first series of halls, passing doors of various size and make, and countless people going about their lives, Wilcox was reminded of his time in that school.

"School," he thought, a certain sense of inaccuracy coming to mind as he considered the place for what it was — a haven for those who had yet to learn or master their gifts. A safe place for wizards to come into their power and find guidance or sanctuary. In a more true sense, the academy was a community, and even though Wilcox could never understand the place, he recognized how vital it had become to the wizarding world.

For most, the few classes that were held were entirely voluntary, wizards coming and going as they saw fit. But, for those like him, those granted special and powerful gifts, apprenticeship was mandatory. His master had been a kind hearted man, who had never raised his barriers to conceal his thoughts from Wilcox, unless it proved vital for a particular lesson or exercise, and through that tutelage he had grown to trust his master.

Desmond, well he was another matter. Wilcox respected Desmond for what he did — governing Scholomance was a tiring and never ending job, one that the old wizard seemed to shoulder with ease. Though Wilcox recognized that Desmond had paid a price for the decisions he had been forced to make over his tenure. Decisions that few understood, and thanks to his gift, Wilcox knew many regretted.

As Wilcox climbed a spiral staircase, lost deep in the labyrinth that was Scholomance, he had no idea why Desmond had sent him to Seattle. Caili's memory haunted him still, not just for the vision of the brown haired boy, whose large muscular chest had been torn open, but for the frustration and anger he had felt from the fearsome warrior.

The more he considered his encounter with Caili, the stranger it seemed, and for reasons he could not understand, something just felt wrong about the memory. Her emotions were clear and crisp, while the visions he had seen seemed almost hazy as he thought back on them. The boy was massive, and his build looked like that of a football player, making the woman who had eviscerated him appear comically small, her thin and frail form seeming even more out of place by contrast.

"Young sir, if you would please wait here, Master Desmond will summon you when appropriate."

Giles statement broke the contemplation that had captured Wilcox so completely, and despite the confused look on the young wizards face, Giles did not wait for a response. Some other task seemed to demand the golem's attention, so it turned and left with haste, leaving Wilcox beside a nondescript door that sat in a long hallway, dark obsidian walls sprawling out far into the distance, doorways and decorations marring the otherwise perfect and smooth surface of the otherworldly material. Unlike the many wings they had passed on their journey, there were no people for as far as Wilcox could see.

As he leaned against the wall, crossing his arm and running through his encounter with Caili one more time, he was given a chance to consider Scholomance. It was not the obsidian walls, or the rainbow of colors that seemed to float like an apparition if you looked into them for too long that bothered him. It was the scale of things, as if the place had been built for something other than humans.

Sure, he knew the lore of Scholomance — a school for wizards, taught by Satan himself, where all but one would be allowed to leave with tremendous skills, while the last student would be forced into servitude. He had lived there for a couple of years, honing his gift and studying under his master, and knew the stories to be nothing more than myth. But still, while each room seemed to form out of necessity, its door and dimensions perfectly suited for its future occupant, the scale of the hallways always bothered him.

They were too tall, and too wide, providing far more room than necessary. That was an observation that extended into the stairwells and fixed places he had found in the vast magical building. He normally liked to take stairs two at a time, but within Scholomance the steps were far too tall, and he was forced to take them one at a time, the distance so great that at times even that seemed to be difficult.

Wilcox smiled, remembering how often those thoughts had kept him up at night as he lay in his soft and forgiving bed, sleep a distant and evasive mistress within the majestic school. He leaned there for many minutes, time slipping by as he continued to contemplate those thoughts, and Wilcox was not surprised that by the time the door opened, he had not gotten any closer to an answer.

Several young men and women came scurrying out of the room, arms heavily laden with books and scrolls, and their faces were ashen as they rushed by. Wilcox tried not to invade people's minds, but their frenetic worry was screaming out of them as they passed, and he could not stop the image of a charred and broken skull which had been sitting in the center of a stone table.

As the last person rounded the corner, and vanished down the hall, Wilcox shook his head and wondered if perhaps the news he brought was a bit underwhelming. Still, he walked around the corner and entered an expansive and impressive room.

Like much of Scholomance, the ceiling was far larger than anyone could ever need, climbing up to well over forty feet, but unlike the other rooms he had seen, he was forced to admit that perhaps this one was the exception. The room seemed to be a perfect circle, the far side resting about a hundred yards across from where Wilcox had entered, and in place of the normal black obsidian there was a waterfall that seemed to pour out from the ceiling and vanish into the floor.

Everywhere that Wilcox looked he found tables littered with what appeared to be random objects, scrolls, and books. If it weren't for his gift, he would have had a hell of a time finding Desmond, as the older man rested in a chair near the middle of the wide open space. Beside him was Wilcox's old master, Oren, the two men chatting together quietly in the distance.

It took Wilcox almost no time to make the short journey to the center of the room, and despite trying to study the various tables he passed, there was little he had figured out. It seemed that each table was reserved for specific items. He guessed that the tomes and scrolls were related to those items, after seeing a picture of one of the objects within a book that had been left open beside the item in question.

The only unifying factor between the relics, as best as he could tell, was that they each seemed to be magical in nature. While the sight of a mystery was difficult for him to ignore, he centered his mind and focused on his current task as he approached the two affluent wizards.

"Ahh, Wilcox, my boy. How was Seattle?"

Oren wore a large smile as he beamed at his young apprentice, his question hanging in the open space between them. Desmond, for his part, stared into his snifter of what appeared to be brandy, lost in his own thoughts.

"Wet, sir."

Oren released a loud and dramatic laugh, rousing Desmond from his introspection.

"Who would have thought?" Oren barked, mid-laugh, smiling over at the somber expression on Desmond's face.

Wilcox had never seen anyone resist Oren's infectious good mood before, but if anyone could do it, it was Desmond — and sure enough, he did.

They both appeared to be in their late fifties, though Wilcox knew that was misleading. Oren was a hundred and thirty eight, and Desmond was well over that, though despite a healthy amount of speculation, no one truly knew how much older. The truth was, Wilcox knew very little about Desmond, the hardened man was one of the few people who could shield his mind from Wilcox's gift.

"I understand you discovered something from the Celestial agent?"

While the question had been directed at Wilcox, Desmond's eyes were glued to a charred and broken skull that rested on a table off to the side. It was the skull that Wilcox had seen projected from the young wizards and witches who had passed, and again Wilcox was reminded of the fragility of human memory.

There were details that none of the wizards had remembered, or perhaps they had chosen to forget. The bone had many mystical symbols etched into it, leaving almost no inch untouched, and around each of the eye sockets there appeared to be some kind of green crystal layered in a thin coating that still clung to the bone. It was intimidating and yet captivating at the same time. He wanted to look away, but the more he stared, the more details seemed to jump out at him.

His gaze darted back to Desmond, who cleared his throat while Wilcox blushed, realizing that they had been watching him with remarkable patience. He could see his master stifling a laugh out of the corner of his eye, and was reminded of just how unique Oren's perspective on the world was. Wilcox was forced to focus on keeping his limbs from shaking from the adrenaline that coursed through his body, and there his master was, seemingly oblivious to the dangers and foul portents that hovered around them.

"Yes, Director, she is normally so calm and unreadable that I was shocked to see her... Well, to see her so upset."

Wilcox paused from his statement to look at the skull. There was no flesh anywhere on it, and yet despite its lack of eyes, he could almost feel it watching him.

After returning his attention back to Desmond, he continued, "She, well I guess she saw something in one of the forests near Seattle."

He again diverted his gaze to the skull, and walked over to it as he spoke, "I'm sorry, sir, but... Well, this thing is creepy as hell."

"It is that!" Oren concurred with a ruckus laugh, before taking a sip from his snifter, and savoring the burning liquid as it coated his pallet.

"But, have you noticed..." Wilcox began, his attention being captivated by the strange and mysterious skull.

"How it seems to follow you?" Oren completed for his apprentice. "Yes, though you need not concern yourself. It is dead — or, I guess more accurately, dead again."

Desmond turned his gaze on Oren, and while most would have seen a questioning expression, Wilcox recognized the anger that simmered behind the older man's eyes. He desperately wanted to ask what Oren had meant, but let the statement go, understanding that his master's good hearted nature had just gotten him into trouble, and not wanting to further the man's shame, he moved on.

"Are you sure it's not watching us?"

That time it was Desmond who responded, "Quite sure. So, what revelation have you made?"

The older man's patience was wearing thin, and Wilcox could sense his annoyance building.

"The Celestial agent had seen a man who had been attacked in the woods. There was a woman standing before him, and his chest... God, his chest was torn open. It seemed as if the woman from the vision had inflicted the wound with a single swipe of her hand."

Desmond and Oren took a few moments to allow Wilcox's statement to sink in, and it was in that brief window that Wilcox realized his master had been shielding his mind. Whatever was happening, his master did not want Wilcox to know what they had been discussing, and in a strange way, that hurt the young wizard's feelings.

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