In which our heroes meet for the first time and begin their great adventure.
You never know what or when some seemingly insignificant event will have an impact on your life. For me, unfortunately, it occurred on what was supposed to be the most glorious, most important day of my still-young life.
It was time for the rite of bonding. The great wizard Althane had months previous brought me and three other demons/future familiars over, and I was waiting expectantly within the glass sphere where Althane assumed I was a helpless prisoner (in truth I could leave at any time). I usually don’t mind standing and doing nothing for hours-we demons are known for our patience-but not today. Not on the most important day of my life.
My fellow demons and I had been awake since daybreak flitting about impatiently in our glass cages and otherwise biding our time as best we could. The humans, however, would not be rushed. It was nearing noon-although it seemed an eternity-before four young wizards-in-training entered. They wore white wizard’s robes and while they kept their distance, their frequent glances in our direction was proof they were studying us as eagerly as we were studying them. Each, I was certain, was competent to serve as my apprenticeship master; they wouldn’t be here awaiting the ritual binding if they were not. With good reason, I paid no attention to the younger lad who entered after them carrying an iron pot and a goblet. How could I know?
After what seemed like another eternity, a bookcase on the back right wall slid open and Althane entered. He was just what I had been taught a human wizard should be: short and squat, lacking in all facial hair, with purple robes flowing over him like a waterfall. He approached his apprentices, gave each a brief hug-which surprised them greatly-then whispered something. It must have been amusing as two were still laughing as he finished. I could have overheard if I really wanted, but to be honest I was as eager as the magicians-to-be to get on with the next stage of my life. Still Althane appeared content with presenting some general discourse on the state of whatever. The way he droned on, I wondered if he was really as great and all-powerful as I had heard. But he needed no familiar at his side, which could only mean he had indeed attained the ultimate stages of magic. Besides, my own instructors had assured me that he was highly respected in both my world and his. And truthfully, I’ve had a few demon pedagogues who were inordinately fond of their own voice.
So Althane’s acolytes and my demon comrades and I waited impatiently in our respective corners of the room until he was ready to begin. Perhaps he finally sensed our growing unease because he abruptly ceased sermonizing and walked to the middle of the laboratory. He turned and nodded brusquely, and the boy holding the iron pot stumbled forward and placed it on the floor in front of Althane. The servant had already set the goblet on a nearby table. Now that we had to be approaching the actual binding, my interest piqued, and I strained to hear the great one’s words.
"Gentlemen," he began in a deep, dusky voice, "today you are taking the penultimate step in attaining your life’s purpose: to become a full, practicing magician. Each of you has demonstrated the skills necessary for success as you begin your final journey. But before you set out, there is one more stage to be achieved: the binding of you to the other realm. Only then will you enjoy complete mastery over each domain; only then will you truly become a wizard."
That last part, I admit, I thought he overstated a bit. After all, the ceremony really bound the human world to my own and gave me that mastery... or would in time. But I certainly wasn’t in any position to debate Althane had I even cared to. If the wizards wished to maintain their delusions, let them.
Althane reached into the pot and pulled out a silver rod. Although the curve of my glass enclosure distorted my view, I could see the runes on the rod’s surface. He was waving it too vigorously for me to read them, however. "Angonetheus," he began as he stared up at the ceiling, then made a sign with his fingers. "Brynaeus korus intermin neev. Let our worlds unite; let the doors swing open so we may walk the path to eternal enlightenment as one. Forever in our shadow; forever our savior and protector. Forever!" Then, as he spoke another word, he dropped his arms abruptly and pointed at one of the apprentice wizards. Out of the corner of my eyes, I watched one of our glass enclosures collapse, releasing my fellow demon within. It flew directly to the apprentice and perched proudly upon his shoulder.
Althane smiled and nodded. "The decision has been made, the bond forged, the melding complete. Let no man or demon tear asunder what we have joined today." Then he threw back his head and looked anew at the ceiling. "Angonetheus," he began.
I didn’t listen this time. It was only a matter of waiting now. I studied the three remaining wizards-in-waiting, trying to guess which would be mine. The one in the middle was taller, and by their standards at least, prettier. The one on his left, however, was heftier and the shortest of the three. Not that that had much to do with being a competent wizard, but still. He looked far more likely to be able to protect himself from a cutpurse, say, than the other two. Although admittedly that was one of my tasks.
The next to be chosen was indeed the squat one. Now I was truly becoming impatient: not in terms of the binding, but just getting everything over with. I no longer cared that much which of the two would become my partner. I was certain they would prove to be satisfactory companions for the next twenty years of so while I passed my own apprenticeship, learning everything about wizards and their powers before returning in triumph to my own world. Althane, however, maintained his love for the melodramatic as he slowly performed the ritual once again. And the tallest was selected for my remaining demon companion.
Finally. My ears perked forward as I stared eagerly at "my" magician. He was just as curious, and by the way he kept moving his feet, just as anxious to get the ritual over with. Althane, however, had to pause to enjoy a sip of wine before continuing.
Again he raised his silver rod to the heavens. "Angonetheus," he began for the fourth time, "Brynaeus korus intermin neev. Let our worlds unite; let the doors swing open so we may walk the path to eternal enlightenment as one. Forever in our shadow, forever our savior and protector. For... a... a... achoo!"
His arms flew wildly as the paroxysm of the sneeze wracked his body. At the same time, I saw my glass enclosure disappear and felt something like a giant hand seize me and carry me forward. But not in the direction of the remaining acolyte. I could only watch helplessly as I was deposited none too gently on the shoulder of the servant boy.
Who immediately let out a scream when he realized I was sitting there before he collapsed in a dead faint on the floor.
What just happened? I looked to Althane, but he was huddled on the floor as well, sneezing. He still held the silver rod, however, and it was pointed right at me. Or, rather, the servant lad under me.
It took a moment before the remaining wizard acolyte- my wizard acolyte-could recover from his own surprise and approach his master. "Are you well?" he asked and tried to help the old man to his feet.
"The wine," Althane said and sneezed again as he struggled to stand. "There’s pepper in the wine!" Then he turned and glared at me. Or, rather, the boy below me. "The idiot put pepper in the wine! Achoo." Then he waved his pupil away as he took refuge in a nearby chair. "He will pay later." Then he frowned as he looked at the young wizard. "Where is your familiar, Modur?"
"I don’t have it," and he shook his head sadly. "During the ceremony, there was a mistake." Then he turned and pointed.
Althane stared at me with dawning comprehension. "No! That couldn’t be. That can’t happen! You, demon," and he stared at me as if I were lifting his purse. "What have you done?"
I shrugged my wings. "I have done nothing."
"You chose him."
"No! I was taken to him." I looked down at the lad below my feet. "This was not my doing!" I wanted to say more but bit my tongues. As a mere apprentice, I couldn’t show any reaction save penitence to a great magician.
Althane sneezed again, then rubbed his forehead. "Yes, I know. You lack the power and intelligence to counter my spell." Then he kicked the iron pot. "But this cannot be! You are bound to a scullery boy. He cleans plates. He knows no magic!"
That brought a response from Modur. "But what about me? I need my familiar! You promised!"
Althane nodded and tried to calm him with a wave of his hand. "And you shall receive one. Just not," and he glanced at me, "that one. Now go, leave me in peace. I must ponder how to rectify this."
Modur nodded and slunk away.
"What about us?" I asked after the door closed.
"You stay." Althane stood and shook himself. "This is all your fault." This time, however, he was pointing at the lad beneath me. "I hate to do this," he said to himself as he disappeared in an alcove in the back.
Rectify this, yes. But how? I couldn’t be trapped for twenty years as the servant of a... a servant! I looked down at the boy again. It was painfully obvious the lad was what Althane claimed him to be; he wore a simple cotton shirt and jerkin, not magician’s robes. His hands were dirty and his hair unkempt, conditions neither of which true magicians would tolerate. I debated if I should try to rouse him, then decided no. He would only see me, scream and faint again. I did get off his shoulder, though, so my claws wouldn’t dig into him. At least I had deduced what had happened. Althane had concluded the binding, but the sneeze had forced him to point at the scullery lad instead of the wizard in waiting. That knowledge, unfortunately, couldn’t help me. Even if by accident, I was still bound. And that wouldn’t do.
I was still considering how Althane could remedy the situation-and most concerned solutions that jeopardized my continued good health-when he reemerged from the side room.
This time he was not alone. Although I had never seen him, I recognized the lord of all demons just by the ornate golden caps on his horns signifying his station. "Pasquaran!" I cried out and fell to my knees. Now I truly understood Althane’s power... and the severity of the situation. For Pasquaran to appear could only mean the direst of circumstances.
Pasquaran noticed me and shook his head. "Up, demon. Quit cowering like some infant. If I were in the mind to punish you, you would already have been torn asunder."
Swallowing copper, I slowly rose. "Your majesty."
"Enough," and my lord waved me silent. He turned his attention to Althane. "So what happened exactly?"
Althane, although distraught, showed no fear. That spoke volumes about his status as a magician. "I was completing the binding when I lost control and had to sneeze. I can only conclude I released the demon into the thrall of the lad rather than the intended wizard."
"A sneeze you say." Pasquaran scratched one of his chins with the back of one of his great wings. "Is that what you recall?" he asked, now looking at me. "And what is your name, by the way?"
"Babu. Yes, master."
"A mere ’yes’ will suffice. So," he turned to the magician, "we must find some way to undo a binding."
"Can you duplicate the spell?"
"Up until the time I sneezed. After that, no. Which of course is no help."
Pasquaran nodded. "True. Every syllable, every action would have to be performed exactly as it was the first time. Otherwise both parties could be destroyed in the aftermath. Not the best solution to be sure." For the first time he noticed the boy still unconscious on the stone floor of the laboratory. "Is the lad dead?"
I shook my head. "Fainted. I believe I scared him."
"Wake him. We must talk to him. Althane, what’s the boy’s name?"