So here we go.
A Wizard of Wanderhaven
Elaina Emboo sat at the top of Master Marconi’s tower, looking out through leaded-glass windows. Past the bustle of Market Square, she could just make out the sprawl of Wanderhaven’s docks in the distance. The city was alive down there, she knew, but all was quiet at the tower’s apex save for the occasional gust of wind that rattled the heavy wooden window panes. Elaina held a copy of Oittougliae’s Magical Transformations open in her lap, but she wasn’t reading it. Instead, she stared out into the distance, looking at the water. Somewhere out there was a ship called the Argo, and on it was Elaina’s best friend, a tiny sprite-girl named Sneakatara Boatman.
“Miss Emboo. I take it that you’ve finished the reading for the day?”
Elaina colored. She’d not heard Master Marconi come in, and she was forced to turn away from her empty-headed gazing in the most obvious way, painfully aware that she’d no idea to which page her book was even open. “I uh…” she began helplessly, “I’m afraid that I don’t really understand very much of it.”
Marconi’s bushy eyebrows rose. He was an older man, tall and gaunt, and he wore a wizard’s robe that looked more like a librarian’s vestments than the mantle of a renowned master of the arcane arts. No sigils or other arcana adorned the robe; it was a simple—if rich—cloth of red velour, trimmed with ermine fur. Only Marconi’s hair hinted at his profession. It was like a wild upturned mop, dark in color but streaked with white. A beard of similar quality framed his face, but his eyes were hard and black, giving him a no-nonsense look despite his absurd coif. In his right hand, he held a black wooden cane topped with a single silver ball that, despite his age, he appeared not to need. Elaina had certainly never seen him lean on it.
“If one wishes to understand the mystic formulae of the ancients,” he said archly, “one must at least attempt to read all the way through them a time or two, yes? You, my dear, appear to be staring off into space.”
Elaina’s blush deepened. “I’m sorry, Master Marconi. It’s just that—”
“I know what it is, Elaina,” Marconi said, interrupting. “I’d simply hoped that we’d seen the last of it once your little friend departed. But Miss Boatman has been gone for some months now, and yet here you sit, staring down into the harbor as vacant-eyed as ever.”
“I just didn’t think that she’d be gone this long,” Elaina said.
“Indeed. And this has what to do with Master Oittougliae’s Magical Transformations?”
“Nothing, sir,” Elaina replied. She looked down at her hands, which were folded in her lap. “I’m just worried is all. The Argo was supposed to be back awhile ago.”
“That’s her ship, I take it?”
“Yes sir. They were just supposed to be gone three months, but… Well, it’s been almost six now. They left back in autumn, and it’ll be summer soon. I keep thinking that they’ll hit port any day. I mean, surely they must, right?”
“Elaina,” Master Marconi began, “you must understand. Sea travel is an uncertain business, and your friend, well, she fell in with some pretty nasty folk. In truth, there is no knowing what your friend has gotten herself into. You do realize that, don’t you?”
“I do, sir. Believe me, I know it better than most.”
Marconi cocked an eyebrow. “Do you now? And what is it that you think you’ve learned from your friend Sneakatara, Miss Emboo? Anything that I should know about?”
“Oh!” Elaina said. The phrasing of the question caught her off guard. “Uh… No. Not really. You know, this and that.”
Elaina thought furiously. She did not want to go down this particular path with Master Marconi. Marconi might well be tolerant of her extracurricular activities with Sneax—they frequently involved magic, after all—but he would certainly tell Elaina’s father what he learned, and that was something that Elaina could not afford--ever. If her father ever found out what she and Sneax had gotten up to back before Sneax had gone, well, she’d probably never see Sneax again.
“I see,” Marconi muttered. Elaina was afraid that he did. He had a knowing look in his eyes. “What is it that you want, Elaina? Have you ever given it any thought?”
“How old are you?”
“Sixteen, sir. I’ll be seventeen just after High Summer.”
Marconi nodded. “Yes, that is old enough. And it seems clear that the life of an arcane scholar is not in your future—at least not immediately, at any rate. What is it that you wish to do with your life, Elaina? Have youany notion at all?”
Again, the question caught Elaina off guard. “I don’t want to be married!” she blurted. She colored again and turned away. “You must think I’m terrible. But its true. I don’t. Not yet, anyway. Not like a proper lady, all settled and everything. I just don’t think I could stand it.”
Marconi chuckled. “Being married does have its attractions, Miss Emboo. Trust me, I know. But no one is pushing you in that regard, not even your father. That is why you are here. But it does not answer my question. What do you want?”
Elaina shrugged. “If Sneax were here, I mean, we used to work for…” Elaina trailed off, not wanting to divulge some things, even to Master Marconi. But she forced herself to find her voice and look Marconi in the eye. “It wasn’t the best work, sir, but we were making a go of it. Sneax had enough money, and I’m sure that if I started working with her full time—”
Marconi cut her off. “Your friend Sneakatara has made the best of a bad lot. But you are not her, Elaina. You have many more options, options that she’ll never possess.
“Sneax started out with nothing but an empty belly and an old knife that she probably stole from some tavern and sharpened herself,” Marconi continued. “You, however, come from a good family and have a wizard’s training, if not a proper wizard’s sense just yet. Still, you need to think larger. Working for some dockside gangster would be a waste of even your current meager talents, and frankly I’ll not have it.”
“Meager talents?”! Elaina exclaimed. “You’ve never even seen me in action, Master!”
“Oh?” Marconi asked. One eyebrow rose. “Is that a challenge?”
He picked up his cane and held it before him in both hands. With a twist, the pieces separated. He discarded the bottom half, and it rattled on the floor where it fell. It was actually a sheath! That left Marconi himself holding a pencil-thin rapier in his right hand. He fell into a fencer’s stance that looked both casual and well-practiced. He spoke a word of power, and the rapier began to glow an evil-looking crimson.
“Well? Don’t just stand there, apprentice. Defend yourself!”