Kyle woke to find the sun shining in the window of his bedroom. It took him a second to remember where he was and he smiled. It’s real. I’m really here. He let his head sink back into the pillow, savoring the moment.
He realized he could smell bacon and sat up, reluctantly getting out of bed and rifling through his bags. He threw some fresh clothes on and hurried downstairs, realizing he was ravenous. He followed the smell and found himself in a large kitchen. Robert was standing at the stove, frying bacon and eggs in a large pan.
“Don’t you have magic to do that?” Kyle asked.
Robert laughed. “Never use magic when you can use technology. Why make things harder for yourself?” He emptied the food onto a plate. “Hope you’re not vegetarian, come to think of it. You do have a dreadful pallor.”
“That’s just what convenience store work will do to you,” Kyle said, wolfing down the bacon, eggs and toast. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” Robert said. “I don’t need you fainting the second you learn to use your powers. Magic can be quite demanding on the body.”
“Can I ask you something?” Kyle looked sheepishly at his empty plate.
“Sure,” Robert said. “I’m sure you have a lot of questions.”
“Why are you doing this?” Kyle asked. “You could keep magic all to yourself, hell, there are people who would line up for a power like yours. Why resort to a free ad?”
“The kind of people who would seek such power are not fit to wield it,” Robert said. “I placed the ad because I need a successor, a partner, someone to carry the flame once I’m dead. Just as my master passed his knowledge on to me, I want to pass it on.”
“Just how old are you?” Kyle asked. “Are you hundreds of years old?”
Robert burst out laughing. “I’m forty-seven, just like it says on my driver’s license. Magic can do many, many things, but messing with the forces of life and death is something that should be left to the Gods.”
“The Forces of Nature. The Powers That Be. Whatever your term is for those things that are out of our hands. It is said that some of the ancient witches could commune with the Gods on their planes of existence, but to me they’re all in the mind.”
“Oh.” Kyle pushed his empty breakfast plate away. “So what can you do?”
“Yesterday you were impressed. Today you’re hard to please. Which is it?” Robert took the plate and loaded it into the dishwasher, closing the door and turning it on. “I can control the elements; fire, water, earth, wind, lightning, darkness and light – though lightning is my specialty. I can make potions and cures for most ailments. I can see through the eyes of my familiar as you saw yesterday.”
“Do you think I’ll be able to do all that?” Kyle asked.
“We’ll see, won’t we?” Robert said. “Go upstairs and bring the Penumbra down here. Be careful with it – it’s very old. Take it to the room next door. I’ll be setting up.”
“Okay,” Kyle said. “Hey, um, thanks for breakfast.”
“Don’t mention it, but don’t expect me to do all the cooking,” Robert yelled after him.
What a guy, Kyle thought, as he climbed the stairs. I don’t know what to make of him. I’ve never met anybody like him. He made his way into the library and picked up the Penumbra. It was heavy, but he carried it downstairs and took it into the room next to the kitchen. He set it down on a table and looked up. Robert was down on his knees, drawing a circle in chalk on the plain floorboards. He would pause to think and then draw another line, add another symbol until the pattern was an elaborate masterpiece.
“What are you drawing?” Kyle asked.
“This is a magic circle. It enhances magical power. You don’t need one to cast magic, but it helps, especially for beginners. Now step into the center.”
Kyle stepped over the chalk circle, being careful not to smudge it. “Okay. What now?”
“Do you feel anything?”
“Like what?” Kyle asked.
“Like the hairs standing up on the back of your neck,” Robert asked.
“No,” Kyle said.
“Damn it,” Robert said. He walked over to where the Penumbra sat and opened it, rifling through the pages. He found what he was looking for and studied the picture carefully, then looked at the circle again. “Ah, ha.”
He walked over and rubbed out a symbol, drawing a different one in its place.
“Woah,” Kyle said. “I feel it. A weird tingling.”
“Good. Magic can be very picky sometimes. The right placement of elements is vital. I guess I should be grateful that I didn’t open a gate to a Hell dimension or something.”
Kyle’s eyes widened. “You serious?”
Robert kept a dead serious expression for another few seconds before erupting into laughter. “The look on your face is priceless. Don’t worry, I can’t even open a dimensional gate when I try, let alone by mistake.” He stepped over the chalk into the circle to stand behind Kyle.
“What’s your favorite element?”
“My favorite?” Kyle asked.
“Yeah. Do you like fire, wind, water…”
“Fire,” Kyle said. “I like fire.”
“The all-consuming flame of destruction and of passion,” Robert said. “An interesting choice, but not unexpected. I felt fire in you yesterday. Okay, I want you to concentrate on that element. Imagine a flame, a fire, something like that.”
Kyle closed his eyes. I remember when I was a child, the house across from us burned down. People were afraid, but all I could do was stare at the flames, watching them consume the wood. I was entranced by the way they danced, the way they moved, as if they were alive.
Kyle felt heat between his hands and opened his eyes. “My hands… They’re on fire!” He panicked and waved his hands, and the fire shot from his fingers and hit the white sheet on the wall. It exploded into flames which spread quickly.
“Damn it!” Robert rushed out of the room and came back with a bucket of water. Kyle was fanning the sheet, trying to get the flames to go out. Robert threw the water and the fire was quenched.
Slow, sarcastic clapping came from the doorway. Kyle and Robert turned to see a figure standing in the doorway, a man younger than Robert but older than Kyle, dressed in a flamboyant rainbow sweater with feathers in his hair.
“I see the teaching’s going well, Raven,” the stranger said. “You just had to pick fire, didn’t you, kid? Fire’s messy. If you ask me, wind’s the way to go. I can be the breeze in the afternoon, or the hurricane that sweeps away a city.” He leaned on the doorpost.
“You could knock, Windy.” Smoke hung in the air and Robert opened a window.
“Don’t call me Windy. My name is Tempest.” Tempest gave Robert an exaggerated look of hurt.
“Your name is Dimitrius Martin the Third, if you mother’s to be believed,” Robert said. “Regardless, you could still knock. And lay off with the witch names. He’s still an outsider.”
“An outsider?” Tempest raised an eyebrow. “He’s casting magic like a pro.” Tempest walked over to Kyle and lifted his chin with his finger, giving him an stare of assessment. “Look at him. He was born to be a witch. He practically radiates power.”
“My name is Kyle,” Kyle said. “It’s nice to meet you–”
“Real names are pointless in our world, child,” Tempest said. “Kyle is simply a given name. Somewhere deep inside you have a true name, not that your master cares. He likes his human name a little too much. Don’t you, Raven?”
“I just try to fit in with this world,” Robert said. “I didn’t give up being human to become a witch.”
“Don’t let him fill your head with too many ideas, kid,” Tempest said. “Raven’s just one side of the coin. Some of us seek true power and ultimate knowledge. Let me know when his parlor tricks become boring to you. As they will, soon enough.” With an exaggerated hand-wave, he dismissed himself and walked down the hallway. The front door slammed behind him and he was gone.
“Who the hell was that?” Kyle asked.
“Dimitrius is an arrogant, pompous prick,” Robert said. “Pay him no mind. He’s the closest thing I have to a friend in the witching world, but that doesn’t mean I like him.”
“I’m sorry about the fire,” Kyle said. “It was hot in my hands. I panicked.”
“It was my mistake,” Robert said. “Dimitrius was right. You do radiate power. I should have known you would master basic spell-casting on your first try.” He looked away. “Took me six days of constant practice before I could conjure even static.”
“So I’m doing okay?” Kyle looked down at the floor.
“Better than okay. You’re a prodigy. Just don’t let it go to your head. There’s a lot to learn, and a most of it involves reading from books. Power is nothing if you don’t understand how and when to use it.” He pulled the charred sheet down from the wall and let it fall into a wet heap. “Let’s stop for today. Go quit your job or something. That’s if you’ve decided to stay.”
“Of course I’m staying,” Kyle said. “Are you kidding me? This is amazing.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Robert said. “Some days I fear I’ve lost my love for magic.”
“What do you mean?”
Robert stood still, not turning to face Kyle. “When I was your age, my master introduced me to this world much like I introduced you. Everything was wondrous. Nothing came easy, but days of study seemed like nothing when such wonders lie ahead.” He shook his head. “My master’s been dead for ten years now, and it’s like the magic in me died with him.”
“What happened?” Kyle asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
“I loved him,” Robert said. “I loved him so much that I saw sparks in everything. Love was my energy, and it flowed through the world so easily that I could draw on it without even thinking. I loved him so much that I was blind to all his little changes, those moments when he was more cruel than kind, those days when he was bitter and hurting inside. I loved him so much that I was in love with my love, the very image of him that existed inside my mind. The real version of him suffered and fell into darkness, seduced by blood magic and dark rituals that promised to kill the cancer that grew inside him.”
“He was dying?” Kyle asked.
“Yeah, he was dying. I didn’t know, but I should have. I should have been there for him, but instead the darker side of magic became his solace. He kidnapped and murdered a young girl from this town in a dark ritual. The cancer was gone, but so was the man I loved. Having unlocked the power of darkness, he wanted more. There was only one thing I could do. I killed him. There was no magical duel of the fates, no standing on even ground, the student surpassing the master. No, I took a silver knife and I killed him in his sleep.” He leaned down and picked up the sheet, walking past Kyle. “That’s the day the magic died for me. The only reason I’m passing it on is because that’s what he would have wanted.”
Kyle followed him out of the room. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be,” Robert said. “It’s all ancient history now. Just concentrate on being a good student, okay? Don’t let Dimitrius or anybody else tell you how to be a good witch. That’s something you have to work out for yourself.” He hustled into the kitchen and closed the door, and Kyle could have sworn he saw tears in the man’s eyes.
You killed the man you loved. Am I safe here? Kyle looked at the door, shaken up by the fire and the story. This world has different rules to my own. That’s something I’m going to have to live with if I want to become a witch. He headed upstairs, his mind lost in thought. I can still back away, but I don’t want to. I’d rather take my chances here than spend one more day in that mundane life. He reached his room and picked out his uniform clothes. It’s time to quit my job. For better or worse, I’m going to become a witch.