An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

An Apprentice’s Beginning Dian

Dian was certain that he looked like a complete fool. How could he not? His mouth hung wide and his eyes felt as though they were about to pop out of his head. Still, he found that he could do nothing to change his expression. Jaspar’s unexpected pronouncement had caught him like a hammer blow to the face, leaving him dumb and staring in shocked bewilderment. He reached out to Azental and found her in the back of his mind. She remained silent, however, seemingly as confused as he was.

Surely it had to be some sort of cruel joke. Apprenticeship to the Order of Magi was reserved for those few exceptional individuals who stood out from the League’s other Orders. They were selected on the basis of their talents and leadership, the very thought of which left Dian feeling weak in the knees.

As far as talent went, he was poor enough in that area too. He was not an eloquent speaker or a skilled writer. He was not even a particularly strong reader. As a boy, he had occasionally enjoyed drawing and sketching, but he had never been all that good at it. Any musical instrument that had been unfortunate to find its way into his hands had only ever responded with discordant sounds that bore no melody whatsoever.

The only talent that Dian could even think of was his memory, but he had not done anything to reveal that to the Magi.

“Seems you can still turn a boy to stone,” laughed the brightly clad stranger. “Come, boy, what say you?”

“I…” stammered Dian. “There must be some sort of mistake.”

“I think not,” replied the stranger. “While the dear Magi may not be as infallible as they would like us all to believe, they don’t generally go around handing out apprenticeships by mistake.”

“But, why me? I’m nobody.”

“Nonsense. Everybody is somebody. Isn’t that what you always told me, old timer?”

“Yes,” replied Jaspar. “Every life has value. Every person has the potential to do great things. No, there is no mistake, Obsidian. I have chosen you.”

“But why?”

“My reasons are my own. In time, I will share them with you. For now, suffice it to know that you have been my apprentice. We’ll see to the initial stages of your training along the way. Fair enough?”

“Yes, of course.” Dian’s head was spinning even faster than it had been during the ride through the city. All at one, his entire existence was crashing down around him. Everything he knew, everything he had become comfortable with, was being flipped on its head. Although he had had little choice in the matter, he had trained for years to become a Watcher. Now, that was gone, taken away without his choosing. He wondered if the entire course of his life had already been laid out and was simply dragging him along for the ride.

“Does he not even get a say in the matter?” asked Sheeva, as though reading Dian’s thoughts. Her cheeks were flushed and her blue eyes flashed with icy anger.

“Of course,” replied Jaspar graciously. “I will work with Obsidian for the duration of the journey. If, upon our return to Zayen, he wishes to terminate his apprenticeship, that remains his right. He may then be reinstated to his former role, or perhaps even take on a new one, if that is his wish. However, I do not believe that will be an issue.”

“But what about all of the expenses?” asked Dian, still unable to fully accept what seemed to happening. Apprentices to the Magi were always raised from other Orders. Druids and Clerks were among the most common, but apprentices had come from each of the other orders as well. However, because they spent the majority of their time in study, rather than performing useful tasks for the League, there was always a certain cost to be borne. They liked to call it tuition.

To add to Dian’s rapidly growing surprise, it was the colourfully clad stranger who responded to his question. “It’s all taken care of,” he said.

“I don’t understand. Taken care of how?”

“The tuition has been paid,” said Jaspar. “In advance and in full.”

“But, who would do such a thing?” It was true that some apprentices could earn sponsors. Traditionally, these came from within their own families, though they could also occasionally be won from wealthy patrons. On rare occasions, the Citadel itself had even been known to offer monetary gifts in reward for some remarkable or valiant service rendered to the League of the Stone. As an orphan with no known blood ties, Dian had none of these things.

“Why me, of course,” laughed the stranger again, flashing his charming smile. A mischievous twinkle filled his eyes.

“You?” stammered Dian. “But, I don’t even know you!”

“Nor I you. I’ll admit that it is a terrible shame, but one that is easily rectified. My name, dear boy, is Kwynn.”

“And you’d do well to guard yourself around him,” growled Alstor. “He’s as slippery as a damned eel.”

The man named Kwynn gasped. “Such words! They’re like an arrow to my heart!”

“I wasn’t aware that you had a heart.”

“You wrong me, First Watcher.”

“You really are an obnoxious cur. It’s no bloody wonder they kicked you out of the Citadel.”

“Now that’s just cruel!”

“Wait,” interrupted Sheeva. “What do you mean, kicked him out of the Citadel?”

“It was all just a big misunderstanding,” insisted Kwynn.

“Of course it was,” retorted Alstor. “You misunderstood your own responsibilities. You misunderstood your supposed loyalties. And you most certainly misunderstood how the League would react when they discovered that you were using your position as a Runner to turn a profit and grow your own private enterprises.”

“What can I say?” replied Kwynn. Although he kept the light and jovial tone in his voice, there was a steely edge to his words and his eyes flashed dangerously. “My father was a merchant. As his only son, I naturally inherited both his operations and his knack for business. What was I to do when the old man died? Just leave my poor mother to fend for herself?”

“Of course not. But it’s a far cry between looking out for your parents’ interests and using the Citadel’s resources to make yourself into one of the richest men in Tarvayes.”

“Enough,” said Jaspar. “We’re not here to bicker over past grievances. What’s done is done. And I believe that this meeting has nearly come to its conclusion, as well. I would like to thank you, Alstor, for being here on such short notice.”

“Like I had a choice,” replied the First Watcher with one his customary grunts.

“Still, it is appreciated. Since I’m sure you’ll be keeping an eye us along the way, have your Watchers identify themselves to Kinsa and I will do my best to keep you up to date.”

“Of course. I will take my leave now. But,” he said, turning toward Dian, “I would like to express my personal thanks to you, young man. While others might not admit it due to the… peculiarity of your totem, you have performed your duties admirably. I’ve no doubt that you will do equally well in whatever new tasks are appointed to you. When that time comes, I ask that you remember us. There are few Watchers appointed to the Order of the Magi.”

“I will,” Dian promised. “Thank you.” With that, the First Watcher rose and lumbered silently from the room.

“Well that was sweet,” said Kwynn after a moment of awkward silence. “Who knew that the big lummox could be so sentimental? Regardless, if we have no further business here, I’d say it’s about time to be on the road, wouldn’t you old timer?”

“Yes,” agreed Jaspar. “We still have a great distance to cover before nightfall.”

“We?” asked Dian.

“Of course,” said Kwynn with a wolfish grin. “If I’m going to go to all the trouble of financing this little expedition, I’m certainly not about to let everyone else have all the fun. I’m coming with you.”

Stay Up to Date

There are all kinds of ways to keep up with the latest instalments of An Unfolding Tale. Subscribe to the newsletter for exclusive content, or follow the Tale through RSS or social media!