Lesson Learned

“What is this?”

Thomas looked up from the notes he had been studying. Though he had learning from his mentor for six years – since he turned nine – the man still intimidated him. He was fair and treated Thomas well, but he was also reserved and demanded discipline. Upsetting him always caused Thomas a little anxiety. The paper he was holding was one Thomas had left on his desk.

“It is a summary of my progress yesterday, sir.”

“There is a prediction here. A visitor is coming.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thomas, I have told you once already. I do not like having to repeat myself.”

“Sir?”

A scowl flashed across his mentor’s face. It vanished quickly as the man refused to let any negative emotions show. Instead, he calmly asked, “What have I told you about scrying?”

“But I was only looking at the front door,” Thomas protested. “I wasn’t exploring any person’s future.”

“What have I told you?” His mentor asked again; that was never a good sign.

His defiance melted away, and he averted his gaze downwards. “Scrying is forbidden.”

“Good. Why?”

“Knowing the future can change it. The more that know, the higher the chance of deviation.”

“Good.”

Thomas continued to look down until his mentor took his chin and drew Thomas’s gaze towards his own.

“Dreams are inevitable, especially a gift such as yours. But we ought not go looking for such knowledge. And when we do have it, we must keep it to ourselves. Tell me you understand.”

“I understand, sir. I am sorry.”

“Do not apologize. Just learn from your errors.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You are right, though. We are expecting visitors today. I am surprised you saw only one. An old friend of mine is bringing his student to meet us. It will be a good chance for you to interact with one of your peers.”

Thomas had met few other people since his training had begun. “Are they time mages as well?”

“No. My friend works primarily in mana. His student also studies chaos magic, I am told. It will be good for you to learn a little something about other domains. However, that is later. For now, I want to see how your experiments with slowing and accelerating plant growth are proceeding.”

“Yes, sir.” Thomas led him over to a table with three different planters.

Careful What You Wish For

“I’m bored,” Jason said aloud to no one in particular.

Thomas, who was also in the common room, replied without looking up from his book. “Don’t you have research to work on?”

“Don’t feel like it right now.”

Thomas rolled his eyes. “Honestly, I have no idea how you even became a mage.”

The house belonged to Thomas’s mentor. Jason’s teacher had sent him here to further his education. Since his arrival, however, Thomas hadn’t seen him study even once. In fact, Thomas wasn’t certain he had ever seen the other mage use magic.

“Just lucky, I guess,” Jason said with a shrug.

“Luck has nothing to do with magic.”

“Maybe not with yours. Chaos magic is intimately entwined with luck. Fascinating realm. Not much to study, really.”

“Don’t you also work in mana?”

“I guess. Not my focus though. My teacher insisted on it, and it is useful for powering other spells. But chaos is where the real fun is.”

“Show me.”

“What?”

Thomas put his book down on the small table next to his chair. “Show me. I want see some of your chaos magic.”

Jason began to look a little apprehensive. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. You must know a little something about it.”

“I do, but I’d like to experience your fun first hand.”

“Well . . .”

Convinced that Jason was mostly talk, Thomas picked his book back up. “Maybe you should go study so you can show me later.”

“Is that book one of a kind?”

“No. Now please let me read in peace.” As he finished speaking, the pages yellowed in front of his eyes. They became brittle before crumbling under his touch.

“What . . .?!”

“Chaos magic. It can rapidly age items. It can also preserve them, but that’s harder.”

“I was reading that!”

“You said it wasn’t one of a kind. Get another copy.”

“It’s still rare and not easy to get a hold of.”

“Oh. Then I’m sorry. But you did ask for a demonstration.”

Looking down at the bits of paper on his lap, Thomas said, “Put it back together. Right now.”

“I told you, that’s harder. I’m not sure I could manage it, especially without being familiar with its contents.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“I told you it was fascinating.”

“Don’t talk to me.”

Jason opened his mouth to respond, then thought better of it and said nothing.

A Friendly Game of Cards

*This story take place prior to Thomas forming his house.*

The room was dimly lit, with most of the light coming from a single lamp hanging from the ceiling. Beneath it was a table with four people sitting around it, cards and poker chips strewn about.

One man flipped over the cards in front of him.

“Four Jacks.”

As he spoke, he began to reach for the pile of chips in the center of the table. Before he could sweep them towards himself, he was interrupted.

“Four Kings.”

Jason flipped over his cards and revealed the kings. He reached for the pot, but the other man grabbed his hand.

“You’re cheatin’.”

Jason pulled himself free.

“No, I’m not.”

“You are. I know you are because I’ve been cheatin’, and you’re still winnin’.”

The other players appeared unfazed by the man’s admission and continued to focus their scowls at Jason.

“You know what happens to cheaters?” He pulled a gun from under the table.

“Are you going to shoot yourself?”

“No.” He took aim at Jason, but seemed to freeze in place.

“There you are.”

Jason turned around to see Thomas standing in the doorway. Sounds from the gaming room could be heard behind him.

“You froze just them?”

“No need to get the whole building, if the threat is only in this room. Why are you here?”

“Look at all the money I’ve won.”

Excitedly, Jason pointed to the large pile of chips in front him. It was much larger than anyone else’s on the table.

“Why?” If Thomas was trying to keep exasperation from his voice, he failed.

“It’s fun.”

“But you don’t need the money.”

“Doesn’t make it any less fun. Why are you here?”

“To save your ass. Again.”

“I don’t need saving.”

“He was about to shoot you.”

Jason waved away Thomas’s concern. “The gun would have jammed or something. It always does.”

“One day, your luck is going to run out.”

“Probably not.”

“Hmph. Let’s go. He wants to see you.”

“Who?”

“Who do you think? Your teacher. He’s the one who sent me after you.”

“I have to cash out first.”

“Leave it. If you’re lucky, it will be enough to keep them from coming after you.”

“I’m always lucky.”

“Yeah, yeah.” 

The Suits Come to Take Me Away

Even though he knew it was coming, the knock on the door startled James. Through the peephole, he saw two men wearing dark suits. Without taking the chain off the door, he cracked it open.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Steinbeck?”

“Who are you?”

“Are you Mr. Steinbeck?”

“Again, who are you?”

“We want to talk to you about your lottery wins.”

“Why?”

“Can we come in?”

“I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“No one said you did. We just want to talk to you.”

“No.” James slammed the door shut and turned the deadbolt.

They shouldn’t know about the winnings. He had worked very hard to keep the money low enough so that he wouldn’t draw attention. It seemed he had still been too greedy. And the men . . . They had been in his dreams. That was all, he decided; they were only dreams. Of course, the lottery numbers had been dreams, too. That meant the men were here to take him away. If only he hadn’t answered the door, they wouldn’t know he was home.

He wondered if he could go back to sleep and change things. Would they leave him alone long enough to do that?

Another knock at the door ended that hope.

“Mr. Steinbeck. Please open the door.”

There was no back way out of the apartment, but he could try to climb down the fire escape. When he pulled back the curtains, however, another dark suit was waiting for him.

Defeated, he walked back to the door, took off the chain, and opened it wide.

“Mr. Steinbeck, thank you for seeing us.”

“I didn’t have much choice, did I?”

“Perhaps not.” Only one of the men had spoken. The other was wandering around the apartment and looking for something. “But we really do just want to talk.”

“Okay, go ahead.”

“We were curious about your luck with the lottery. How did you pick your numbers?”

James shrugged. “Just lucky, I guess.”

“Mr. Steinbeck… Any relation, by the way?”

“None that I know of. Everyone asks, but no one in my family could write worth a damn.”

“Mr. Steinbeck, you cannot really expect to believe it was all just luck.”

“It’s the truth. Believe it or not, that’s up to you.”

“Your wins are too consistent, and you never win more than a couple thousand dollars, as if you are intentionally trying to stay unnoticed. We simply want to know how.”

If they found out about his dreams, James knew that they would never let him go. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You must have some way of predicting the results. This could be a very useful talent for our organization. We need you to tell us.”

“What is your organization?”

“Maybe later. For now, answer my question.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

A nod from the man who had been speaking caused the other suit to grab James from behind.

“If you won’t talk to us here, you will have to come with us. We need to know what you can do and how.”

“I can’t do anything!”

The suit ignored him as he was dragged from his apartment and disappeared into a unmarked black van.