Recently I started cranking out flash fiction, just for fun. This kind of thing is how writers sometimes relax; pulling together a short piece, usually around 1,400-1,500 words. Mine are all going up on Reddit, because Reddit’s a major thing for me when it comes to the internet. Also, there’s a fairly vibrant sub for Writing Prompts that is a pretty steady flow of ideas to run with. Find something that sparks my fingers to start typing, and about half an hour later, poof; finished flash fiction piece. I call them flash fiction because, to me, even a “short story” is going to be at least three or four thousand words. Your mileage may vary. Anyway, enjoy.
This one’s called Potion Practice. The prompt was “an experienced wizard has finally met a problem he can’t solve; a talented young apprentice with a serious crush on him.”
One of the fun things with these prompts is I’ve discovered an interesting tendency of mine to … take them in slightly darker places than a lot of folks do. For better or worse; at least it’s interesting.
The tower shook with a thunderous explosion. My shield flared violent purple and amber as it caught chunks of stone dislodged from the ceiling before they landed on me. Additional interventions surrounded me as flying fragments from the walls were stopped. Air uplifts swirled into being over the array of lab tables, using wind and velocity to counter possible damage against the equipment. The sealed bookcases lining most of the circular walls simply took the hits, their arcane ironwood covers proof against the chaos.
As the debris started settling to the floor, I looked up in annoyance. My ears were ringing a little. I made a mental note to look over the spell formula in my shield. That was a weakness I’d been sloppy in allowing to exist; even if it was just in my daily shield.
It was always a balance. A full combat shield was proof against almost anything; but it also tended to do a real number on the environment. Here, at home, I had far too much attachment to my library and other possessions to risk them out of an overabundance of caution. Besides, the tower’s outer shields were definitely proof against anything. Certainly enough so that I’d have time to prepare properly if anything came knocking.
There was a pop as I surveyed the stone fragments scattered around the lab. Some of them were the size of a troll’s head. My eyes flicked to the door, where Jorge was now standing amid his usual shimmer of extra-dimensional energy. The djinn’s usually minimal expression was creased with resignation. I held my hand up as he opened his mouth. “I know.”
“She’s in the apprentice’s lab?”
“I’ll talk to her.” I said. “Again.” I added mentally, resisting the urge to scowl.
Jorge bowed low, but not before I saw a flicker of relief cross his face. It was gone when he straightened though. Gesturing at the room, I took out my wand. “Start straightening up. Let me know if there’s any serious damage.”
I flicked my wand, forming the teleportation schema in my mind. Energy erupted all around me, twisting me through dimensional space. My lab vanished in a heartbeat, replaced by a much more trashed alchemical research space. Tables had been overturned, their contents smashed or scattered against the base of the walls. Several pools of acid had started smoking on the stones of the floor, though others had been neutralized and were just smelly puddles. A raven haired girl looked up at my appearance, a tall canister in her hand.
“Merriam,” I began, before frowning at the canister, “wait. Is that some of my elemental salt?”
“Yes,” she admitted. Then she yelped as I swished my wand and caught the container in an embrace of air currents that tugged it from her fingers and floated it over to me. I took it angrily.
“I have told you, repeatedly, not to summon supplies from the rares storeroom.”
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I just thought it was better to jump on this before it chewed through to the library.”
“The library is easily replaced,” I barely — with difficulty — didn’t snap. “This, on the other hand, can only be gathered every third moon in the … never mind.” I transported the canister back to its shelf, and took a very obvious look around the destruction. “Let me guess, love potions again?”
“No?” I asked sharply, raising my wand. “Shall I—”
“Okay!” she blurted, though to her credit she quickly reached into her sleeve for her own wand. Her shields were no match for my magic, but it was a good reaction regardless.
“Truth then, or I’ll have it out of you the hard way.”
“Love potion,” she muttered, staring at the floor.
Sighing, I glanced around again. Some of the clouds of smoke were starting to get rather large. Absently I waved my wand, starting a gentle wind that directed the vapors toward the holes in the outer walls. As the air began clearing, I fixed her with a disappointed look.
“Merriam, you are supposed to be studying semi-inert transmutations. I distinctly remember assigning that.”
“Yes,” she said, pointing her wand at a large fragment of stone. Automatically I looked astrally, so I could follow the spell formula she was summoning. It was a little ragged, but largely correct. A moment later the stone softened to clay. She twiddled her wand, and the clay began rolling itself out flat. Into a sheet of moldable material.
“Not bad,” I admitted. “But not perfect. And even if it were, when you finished, you should have come to me to ask for the next lesson.”
“Not finished,” I said firmly. She shut her mouth, and I nodded slightly. “Instead, you took it upon yourself to resume pursuing this juvenile crush of yours.”
“Wizard Zol, I just thought—”
I jabbed my wand, blasting her with enough air to make her hair ruffle. She grabbed for her hood with one hand, and reconfigured her shield with the other to deflect my gentle assault.
“You thought you would look for a way past my defenses again,” I said while she was busy. “Let me guess, golem blood and crushed unicorn hair?”
“How did you—” she asked as she finally got her shield sorted out, and her hair and robe stopped being heavily ruffled by the wind.
“I have been a wizard since before your parents were born,” I said tiredly. “Now, here’s what’s going to happen. You are confined to the libraries until the Solstice Festival—”
“—except for gathering sessions. Which will be twice a day,” I continued, ignoring her interruption with sheer willpower. “So you can replace the ingredients you’ve ruined, and more besides so I can have what is not repairable after this incident dealt with by the village craftsmen. Do you understand?”
Silence stretched out for a moment. She couldn’t seem to decide whether she wanted to sulk or look pleadingly at me. Her eyes kept shifting up and down, and her expression stayed in flux between the two extremes. I waited. Finally she decided to stick with looking down and nodded.
“Now clean all this up,” I ordered. “Take your time, do it right. Floor to ceiling, all the walls, furniture, everything. Pile the unrepairable equipment outside near the front path, so I can have one of the servants itemize it and prepare a list for the craftsmen. Then, library, and you can get started with the Flaming Earth reading.” That would keep her busy at least to the Solstice. It had taken me most of a year to memorize the relevant texts.
“Yes Wizard Zol,” she said.
I flicked my wand and teleported to my study. Jorge would probably be a while sorting out the rest of the tower. He’d started with my lab, but there was no sense rushing things. The djinn would get it done. I collapsed wearily in my chair and allowed myself to tug once on my beard. An old habit, one I’d thought I’d all but broken myself of; but Merriam was enough to try even my patience.
Reaching for my mug, I used my wand to draw a measure of Nicoian coffee from the urn in the kitchen and took a long drink. No bean brewed a better cuppa than Nicoian, but even the exquisite taste couldn’t distract me from what to do about my latest apprentice. Tucking my wand back into my sleeve, I clasped the cup to my stomach with both hands as I settled into a disgracefully comfortable slouch.
Perhaps I should get in touch with Angela. She’d had a bit of a crush. But she’d gotten over it. Even though she was nearly fifty years older than Merriam, she might have some useful advice for me. Either as a woman, as a former apprentice, or as both who’d successfully mastered my lessons and become a full wizard in her own right. I took longer sip, thinking the matter over. My old mentor, who was long since departed from this plane, had always emphasized the power of the mind over all problems. His teaching had never led me astray.
My apprentice did want to master the skills. I knew it. She worked diligently. It was just that she allowed herself to be distracted by her ridiculous infatuation. I mean, it was more than a little flattering. Even if I was old enough to be her great-grandfather, I was in great shape. My powers saw to that. Without glamor, I looked to be only in my mid-thirties. I had centuries ahead of me before I’d have to start engaging in extreme life preserving measures.
Merriam though, she was a fine looking girl. Very fit, quite beautiful in fact. Smart even though she liked to dabble, to go off lesson. But clever even for it. How many third year apprentices had I ever taught who would have thought to try golem and unicorn in a love potion? Yes, very clever. A worthy attempt, even allowing for how she’d obviously let it get away from her.
Turning, I saw Merriam standing at the door to my study. Her face looked anxious, and I came to my feet before I realized I’d left the chair. “What’s wrong?”
“I just … I wanted to apologize,” she said quietly.
“No,” I said, setting the cup on my desk. Striding toward her, I reached out with both hands. “I shouldn’t have yelled. You’re young. And trying to learn. These things happen.” She watched me approach, and reached out so we could clasp hands when I was close enough. I squeezed her fingers, then slid my hands up her arms. As I enfolded her in a hug, I felt her sigh inaudibly as she relaxed against my embrace.
“You’re not mad?” she asked, her voice muffled against my hair.
“I could never be mad at you,” I said, rubbing her back. She was warm beneath her robes, and mine. Suddenly I wanted to teleport us both to my private chambers.
“Thank you,” she said, pushing back a little. Just so I could see her face. She flicked her eyes past me, and I automatically followed where she was looking. Turning us both.
I smiled and looked back at her. “Would you like some coffee?”
“No,” she said with a smile. “But how about some wine?”
“Lovely idea,” I said, beaming at her. “Perhaps we could open a bottle, and have dinner on the tower top. The view will be almost as beautiful as you.”