Kyle sat back down and closed the Penumbra. No, he thought. Even if I could make potions, why would I do something like that? I’m not sure I even feel that way about Robert. Besides, he’s not in any immediate danger. He wants to train his apprentice before he leaves the world. I’ve got time to come up with a better plan to save his life. One that doesn’t interfere with his free will.
“Dinner’s ready!” Robert’s voice was as clear as a bell as he yelled up the stairs, and Kyle pushed his thoughts away, heading downstairs. He sat at the kitchen table and spooned the stew into his mouth until his bowl was empty.
“I wanted to apologize,” Robert said.
“For what?” Kyle asked.
“For being brusk with you earlier. I’m not used to living with someone. None of the others ever stayed more than a day or so.” He refilled Kyle’s bowl with stew. “I have to learn to share again. I’ve had everything my own way for ten years.”
“I didn’t mean to stick my nose in where it wasn’t wanted.”
“I know,” Robert said. “I honestly wish Tempest hadn’t put all those ideas in your head.”
“He’s not a bad guy,” Kyle said. “Really.”
“I know. He means no harm, but he’s a pain in my ass.” Robert sighed. “He loves to poke at a situation and watch the drama unfold. He seems determined that I should move on from my master, like love is something I can forget on a whim. Maybe him, but not I.”
“Why do you never say your master’s name?” Kyle asked.
“It’s a superstition among witches, you’ll find we have plenty of them. When a witch dabbles in dark magic, blood magic, he opens the gates to infinite possibilities. No witch has ever come back from the darkness to spill its secrets, so witches never speak the name of a fallen witch, should he or she still exist in some spectral form, waiting to exact revenge on the one who dares call to them. Complete ridiculousness, if you ask me, but I have no desire to irritate the other witches, so I go along with it.” He shook his head. “I guess I can tell you. His name was Vincent Brown, his true name… Red.”
“An unusual witch name for sure, but we never question the true name of a witch. It always makes sense eventually. I always thought it was red for the color of roses, red for the color of his heart… but in the end, Red referred to the color of magic that he fell in love with, and the color of the blood in which he met his end.” He lowered his head.
“When will I find out my true name?” Kyle asked, feeling a sudden urge to change the subject.
“As soon as you have mastered basic potions, elementals and familiars, you will be presented to the Coven Master. He will determine the true nature of your spirit and divine your true name.”
“Do you have any idea what it will be?” Kyle asked.
“Not a clue,” Robert said. “Perhaps something to do with fire. The harder you study, the sooner you’ll find out.” He stood up and cleaned away the dishes. “I’m going to bed. It’s up to you if you wish to study the Penumbra some more or get some rest for tomorrow, when I’ll be teaching you how to create a basic potion.”
“Okay. Have a good night’s rest,” Kyle said.
“You too,” Robert said.
* * *
Kyle was dozing on the pages of the Penumbra when he heard a shout coming from Robert’s room. Jerking awake, he wiped the drool from his face and off the page with his sleeve. Curiosity got the better of him and he stood up, racing out of the library and up to Robert’s room, where he slowly opened the door.
“You okay?” Kyle whispered.
“Just a nightmare,” Robert said, his voice thick and laced with emotion. A sharp breath masking an involuntary sob gave away the fact he was hiding tears and Kyle felt his heart ache.
“Go back to bed. It’s not your concern.”
“Okay,” Kyle said, closing the door. He considered going to his room but instead walked downstairs and out into the moonlit night. He’s hurting, but he won’t let me in. Is this how it’s always going to be? A barrier between master and apprentice that can never be broken?
“Tempest,” Kyle whispered. “I need your advice. You said to call to the wind if I needed you. Can you hear me?”
He was about to give up and go back inside when he heard a rustling in the trees and a large peacock strutted out.
“Seriously? Is that you, Tempest?” Kyle held back a laugh despite his worry over Robert. “You just don’t know the meaning of a low profile, do you?”
“Sorry, boy, I like this one, and besides, he was closest. My pretty little peacock. Anyway, why are you interrupting my beauty sleep? It better be good!” Tempest’s voice came out of the peacock’s mouth, and Kyle took a step back in surprise.
“Okay, that’s just weird,” he said. “Talking animals? I must be dreaming.”
“Well, no surprise you haven’t seen it. Raven doesn’t talk much, even in his human form.” Tempest said.
“It’s him I wanted to ask about. He seems really melancholy.”
“You got me up for that? Look at the man. He’s the very picture of misery. You’re just figuring this out?”
“He had a nightmare,” Kyle said, “and I could have sworn he was crying.”
“Wait, wait, slow down,” Tempest said, flapping his tail feathers in a very ungraceful way. “A nightmare, you say?”
“Yeah, he screamed so loud I could hear it in the library. Then I went up to his room, and his voice was breaking. He was crying. I even heard a sob.” Kyle knelt down to be on level with the peacock, his curiosity overwhelming his surprise.
“Witches don’t have dreams like normal humans do,” Tempest said. “Normal humans dream about work and going out onto the street in nothing but their underwear. Witches dream true dreams; portents of the past, present and future.”
“So he saw something terrible, and it’s going to come true?” Kyle asked.
“It is possible he was just dreaming of the past,” Tempest said. “That man lives in it. No doubt it lives in him. Still, it warrants further investigation. Could be the true dreams are driving him to despair. He has been very quiet lately. It may come to the point where he can no longer wait to rejoin his master.”
“You mean…” Kyle bowed his head. “I don’t want that to happen, Tempest. I like him. Tell me what to do. I’ll work as hard as I need to.”
“Sweet boy,” Tempest said. “I see the seeds of true love are in the air.”
“It’s not like that,” Kyle said.
“Oh, really? What did you feel when you stepped into that room and he was crying, hmm?”
“I wanted to help him.” I wanted to hold him. I wanted to ease away his pain and wipe away his tears, tell him he saved me.
“Well, we can’t jump to conclusions,” Tempest said. “Find out what he dreamt about.”
“Easier said than done,” Kyle said. “His walls are up too high. I can’t reach him.”
“Then find another way,” Tempest said. “If all else fails, consult the Penumbra.”
“But I don’t know how to do a lot of that stuff yet!” Kyle said, exasperated.
“Then teach yourself,” Tempest said. “The instructions are all laid out. All you have to do is follow.” He sighed. “Look, kiddo, I’ll be over later tomorrow, but right now I simply must sleep.”
The peacock lost the light in its eyes, simply a peacock again, and strutted away into the gardens. Kyle stood up. I have to charm him with a potion. It’s the only way to get his walls down enough to learn the truth. I don’t want to do it, but his life could be on the line. I can’t let him suffer in silence, alone. I care too much already.
* * *
Kyle woke, the morning sun baking his room with its warm light. He threw off the covers and made his way to the shower, washing, dressing and making his way down to the kitchen. He was surprised to find it silent, the lights still off.
“Robert?” Kyle looked in the practice room next door to find the same.
He must still be in bed. I’ll make some breakfast for him and go see if he’s okay. Kyle pulled some bacon out of the fridge and was soon cooking. He half-expected Robert to smell it and come down, but when he was finished there was still no sign of the older man.
I’ll take it up to him. Kyle loaded the bacon, eggs and toast onto a plate and carried it upstairs with a glass of orange juice. He knocked gingerly, but there was no response, and so awkwardly balancing the plate and the juice, he opened the door.
He found the room shrouded in darkness, the heavy curtains pulled shut. Cracks of daylight fought their way in around the edges and through the holes in the old fabric, casting a weird light on the floorboards. Robert lie in bed with his eyes open, staring at the ceiling.
“Robert, are you okay?” Kyle asked, putting the food down on the worn bedside table. “I made you breakfast.”
“Thanks,” Robert said, as if it was an effort to say that much. “Please leave me be.”
“I’m worried about you,” Kyle said. He mustered up enough courage to sit on the edge of the bed.
“Don’t be. Some days are like this.” Robert sat up with great effort. Kyle looked at him and saw all the weathered lines, the years of pain and remorse written out for all to see. His tired, red eyes fought against the light, longing to be closed. No wonder Tempest is worried. I’m worried. Something has to be done or he’ll die like this, alone and unhappy.
“I was hoping you would teach me how to make potions,” Kyle said.
“Maybe later on, okay?” Robert rested back on his pillows and turned away towards the wall. Kyle watched him for a few seconds and then left. He made his way to the library, where he studied the different potion effects and ingredients in the Penumbra.
* * *
It was evening before Kyle knew it, the dying orange light of the sun barely illuminating the library. He felt a presence behind him and turned to see Robert standing in the doorway, fully dressed, but with the same tired expression he’d worn earlier.
“How’s the reading going? Ready to make a potion for real, now?” He looked exhausted and Kyle got the sense that Robert was only there for his benefit, rather than any real desire to exist in the land of the living.
“It’s going well,” Kyle said. “I’d like to make a potion, if you’re feeling better.”
“Better.” The word sat on Robert’s tongue, as if he was assessing its meaning. “Well enough. Come down to the kitchen and we’ll get started. Bring the Penumbra.”
He walked away and Kyle picked up the book, heading out into the hallway and following Robert downstairs. He placed the Penumbra on the kitchen counter, open at the page he’d been reading; Spells To Charm. He quickly flipped the page to Healing Tonics before Robert walked over.
Robert looked over the page. “We’ll make this one,” he said, pointing to Panacea. “I have a headache, so we’ll be able to tell if it works.”
“You’re going to try my potion? What if I mess up?” Kyle asked.
“It’s very unlikely that you could make anything that would kill me,” Robert said. “At the worst, I’ll suffer through a bout of vomiting. Better me than you.”
Kyle looked over the Penumbra, reading through the ingredients list as Robert pulled a small black cauldron from under the sink and placed it on the stove.
These ingredients are very similar to the charm potion, Kyle realized. I could swap a couple of ingredients and he wouldn’t even know… Then perhaps he would let me in, tell me what’s bothering him. I might be able to help him. Tempest said to refer to the Penumbra. Maybe this is the answer he was steering me towards, after all.
“Okay, Kyle, grab me the bay leaves and the eye of newt. Third one on the wall… Yes, that’s it.” Kyle handed Robert two bottles and Robert put the ingredients into the water base. “Now, what’s next?”
“Grass and fig leaves.” Kyle said, referring to the book. He grabbed the bottles from the wall and put the ingredients in, under Robert’s supervision.
Once all the ingredients were in, Kyle stood and stirred the mixture.
“Keep at it,” Robert said. “I’ll be right back.” He left the kitchen and Kyle continued to stir while looking at the Penumbra. There’s a couple of extra ingredients in here that shouldn’t be in the charm potion, but if I just add sage, it should be pretty much the right mixture. Still, this could be dangerous. The extra ingredients could do something else entirely. I could make him ill. I should leave it well alone. That’s the sensible thing to do.
Robert came back, his eyes red, his face blotchy. Was he crying? Kyle wondered.
“Keep stirring,” Robert said. “Just a little longer.”
“Are you okay?” Kyle asked.
“Don’t worry about me. Focus on your work.”
The phone rang, and Robert hurried out to the hallway. Kyle looked at the potion in the cauldron. How much longer can he go on like this? He grabbed the sage almost on a whim, putting the pinch in and returning it to the wall before Robert came back.
“Damn telemarketers. Let’s take a look at the potion. Yes, that looks pretty good.” He turned off the heat and dunked a cup into the mixture. Kyle felt his stomach tighten into knots. I should tell him. I should tell him not to drink it. What if I’ve made a huge mistake?
Before the words could leave his lips, however, Robert lifted the cup to his lips and threw back the mixture in one huge gulp.
“Not bad. A little sage-y. I don’t remember this mixture calling for… Kyle, did you screw up?”
“I think I might have,” Kyle said, his face pale. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Robert said. “Whatever you made, I feel pretty good right about now. Headache’s gone, and I feel lighter than air. Why, you may just have made the discovery of the century. I thought you were a genius. I made the right choice when I picked you.”
Kyle blushed. “I… I wouldn’t say that…”
Robert lifted Kyle’s chin with his finger. “I would,” he said, in a husky whisper. “You’re young, intelligent, attractive…” He moved closer, drawing Kyle’s lips into a long, slow kiss.
It’s the potion. This isn’t his real mind, Kyle thought, as their lips met. Still, it’s so nice… He tastes like sage. His kiss is so soft… His mind seemed to melt into the kiss and he allowed it to become deeper, Robert’s tongue roaming into his mouth.
This isn’t what I meant to do! Kyle’s mind screamed a warning, but he ignored it in his happy haze. I have to ask him about his dream!
They were leaning up against the counter and Robert’s hands were roaming down his back. Robert ground into him and Kyle felt his first stab of fear as he realized that Robert was aroused. He wants me… but this isn’t him. I can’t do this!
Kyle pulled away, reaching for the Penumbra. I have to find an antidote, right now! Robert stroked his back and ass as he leaned over and Kyle had to fight the urge to melt into his touch. I can’t let my adolescent hormones get the better of me, Kyle’s rational mind thought. To do something like that… would be tantamount to rape. The thought sobered him, and he tried to focus on the Penumbra. The words seemed to fall away from him like so much sand between his fingers as he struggled to keep control of his yearning body.
The doorbell rang, and Kyle felt a stab of relief as he broke free from Robert’s grasp and rushed to the front door, pulling it open.
“Tempest!” Kyle gasped in relief. “Thank God you’re here. I need your help.”
“Is it Raven?” Tempest asked, rushing in. Robert had emerged from the kitchen and was rounding on Kyle.
“Kyle, don’t you want me? I love you,” Robert said.
“Kyle, what did you do?” Tempest asked, grabbing Kyle by the shoulders and shaking him. “Tell me right now.”
“You told me to look to the Penumbra for answers… I thought if I made a charm potion, he would be more open to telling me what was on his mind. I didn’t think it would work like this!”
“Oh, you damn fool!” Tempest cried. “I’ll get him in the kitchen. Get me some rope and a chair and do it now.”
Kyle rushed away, grabbing an old chair from the dusty dining room and a long curtain cord that was holding back the curtains. He took them back to the kitchen and Tempest guided Robert to the chair, sitting him down and snatching the cord from Kyle. He tied Robert to the chair.
“Do you know what you’ve done, boy?” Tempest said, rounding on Kyle. He saw Kyle’s genuine fear and backed down, letting out a long, dramatic sigh. “I knew you liked him. This is all my fault.”
“It’s not like that,” Kyle said. “I didn’t do it for me.” He closed his eyes, fighting back tears. “This morning, he wouldn’t get out of bed. Even when I brought him breakfast. I was worried. I studied the Penumbra, looking for answers. I thought that maybe a charm potion would make him like me enough to let me in.”
“There’s no substitute for a real relationship, kid,” Tempest said, taking the cauldron and emptying it into the sink. “You’ve been here for three days. What made you think he would open his heart to you?”
“You told me to get answers!” Kyle said.
“Over time!” Tempest said. “I expected you to become his friend, maybe more, over a period of years! I expected more from you than to take the easy way out.” He washed the cauldron, scrubbing away any traces of the potion. “I fear for your future if this is your answer to a problem. Taking away a man’s free will is no small matter.”
“I didn’t mean to!” Kyle said.
“But you did.” Tempest said. “If I hadn’t showed up, what would you have done, Kyle? Given in to your innermost desires and slept with him? How would you have looked him in the eye when the potion wore off?”
Kyle slid down the counter, the horror of his actions sinking in. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“You can tell that to Robert, when I give him the antidote. Don’t expect him to be amused about it.” Tempest combined some ingredients in the cauldron and set the heat.
“Get up off the floor and stir this,” Tempest said, handing Kyle the wooden spoon. “Come on, get up. No use sniveling now. What’s done is done.” His technicolor overcoat sparkled in the kitchen’s light as he walked over to Robert, his clothing completely at odds with his demeanor.
Kyle stirred the antidote as Tempest looked down at Robert in the chair. “Raven, tell me about your dream,” he said.
“You have nice eyes,” Robert said. “I like your coat.”
“Sure, sure,” Tempest said. “If you love me, Raven, then tell me what happened in your dreams last night.”
“I dreamt of Vincent. He came for my soul.” Robert looked down at his lap. “I don’t want to talk about this. Let’s talk about you…”
“He came for your soul? From beyond the grave?” Tempest asked.
“He is leading me into his world,” Robert said. “He calls to me, to come to him in his place beyond death. I’m going to meet him soon. Then I won’t feel the pain any more. He promised me.”
Tempest looked down at his feet. “Damn it, Raven. Why didn’t you tell anybody about this?”
“What does it mean?” Kyle asked, stirring the mixture.
“His master has a hold on his soul. The darkest of magic. Now I understand it all. The shade of his master is trying to get him to commit suicide.” Tempest shook his head. “Give me a cup of the mixture, boy.”
Kyle scooped up the mixture and Tempest took it, holding it to Robert’s lips. “Drink it, Raven. You’ll feel better.”
Robert took the cup and drank from it. “Bitter,” he whispered, then his head slumped.
“Is he okay?” Kyle asked.
“Yes, he’s fine,” Tempest said. “When he wakes, the potion will be gone from his blood.” He untied Robert and picked him up. Kyle followed him as he carried Robert upstairs and laid him down on his bed.
“I have to go to the Coven Master,” Tempest said. “I know you don’t understand any of this, but I need you to stay here and wait for him to wake. Tell him nothing until I get back.” He turned in a dramatic gesture, his coat catching the light and sparkling.
“Tempest, what’s going to happen to me?” Kyle asked.
“Honestly, that’s up to Raven,” Tempest said. “You’re his student. Don’t expect to get off easy, though. Raven doesn’t take people messing with his mind lightly. As he shouldn’t.” He stalked off down the hallway, leaving Kyle alone with the sleeping Robert.
“I’m sorry,” Kyle whispered. “I hope you know that.” He pulled up a chair and sat down. It’s going to be a long night.
* * *
Kyle woke to find Robert’s hand on his arm. He jerked to full wakefulness, remembering the events of the night.
“What happened?” Robert asked. “My mind feels so hazy.”
“Tempest is going to explain everything when he gets back,” Kyle said.
“Why can’t you explain? What’s going on?”
Kyle was saved from having to give further explanation as he heard the front door slam. Tempest raced into the room with his usual dramatic entrance.
“How are you feeling, Raven?” Tempest asked.
“Foggy. You mind explaining what’s going on?” Robert asked, and for the very first time, Kyle saw the fear in his eyes. I did this. I’ve screwed everything up.
“It’s all my fault,” Tempest said. “I told the boy to get some information about your nightmares. He resorted to a charm potion.”
“You did what?” The dullness was gone from Robert’s eyes and he stood up, looking at Tempest, then over at Kyle. “How dare you. Both of you.”
“I was worried about you,” Kyle said, trying to escape the burning feeling of Robert’s stare of disappointment. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
Robert shook his head. “I can’t believe it. Tempest, that you would turn my own student against me. Kyle, that you would violate the sanctity of my mind. Did neither of you consider that I would tell you if I wanted to tell you? What happens in my life is none of your business!”
“Your master has a hold on your soul! I’d consider that my business!” Tempest said. “I’ve alerted the Coven Master, as you should have done a long time ago. How long has this been going on, Raven? How long did you think you could carry this in silence?”
“It’s none of your concern!” Robert said, rage in his eyes. “I don’t need the Coven Master or anybody else getting involved! I can handle it!”
“No, you can’t,” Tempest said. “He’s winning, Robert, can’t you see that? I’ve watched my best friend slip slowly into the darkness of depression and I’ve been powerless to help! I knew that you were in danger of committing suicide. That’s why I recruited the boy.”
Kyle looked out of the window. I’ve been used, he thought. Tempest used me to get what he needed. He doesn’t give a damn that I genuinely care about Robert.
“So what if I do go into the long night?” Robert said. “It’s better than having a so-called friend like you, and a student like you.” He glowered at Kyle, who went back to looking down at his shoes. “I’m done with both of you. Get out.”
“I’m sorry,” Kyle said. “I was just worried…”
“Worried enough to violate my mind? You’ve known me for what, three days, and you pull a stunt like this? I don’t need such a weak minded student. Get the fuck out.”
Kyle moved to leave, but Tempest blocked the doorway.
“You’re not being fair,” Tempest said. “I told you it was my fault.”
“Don’t think I don’t know that,” Robert said. “Go back to the coven and spread your gossip. You’ve got the drama you’ve always wanted. Your best friend is the thrall of the spirit of a dark witch. Go ahead, tell everyone!”
“I didn’t come here for drama,” Tempest said. “I came to help you.”
“I don’t need help,” Robert said. “Now get the hell out of my house before I call the police.”
“Come on, kid, let’s go.” Tempest ushered Kyle down the stairs and out the front door. Kyle burst into tears as they stepped outside.
“I’ve screwed up the only chance I had at a good life,” Kyle said, leaning on the wall. “I can’t go back to my former life. I can’t.”
“He’ll simmer down, kid. Just give him time.” Tempest put his hand on Kyle’s shoulder. “Go back to your life for a little bit and give him some space. He’ll reconsider, I swear.”
Kyle wipes his tears away. “What if he doesn’t?”
“Nobody wants to live alone,” Tempest said. “He’ll change his mind.”
“What about this specter of his master?” Kyle said. “What if Robert takes his own life?”
“Don’t worry,” Tempest said. “The coven will take care of everything. What, did you think Raven and I were the only two witches? I’ve got the situation covered.”
“I did your work well, didn’t I?” Kyle said bitterly. “You used me.”
“I’m sorry,” Tempest said. “It was necessary. Someday, you’ll understand. Come on, I’ll give you a ride into town.”
“Forget it,” Kyle said. “I’ll walk.” He shrugged off Tempest’s hand and started to walk down the gravel pathway into the early morning light.