“Where the hell have you been?” screeched Xanthipi, ruler of the Dark City of Khazban and soon- to-be-ruler of the Wold. The evil Xanthipi, the only wizard of the 9th Level, though no one knew but her. Now, with the arrival of her skilled tyro, she could begin the last stages to mastering an unheard of 10th Level.
“I apologize for the late arrival…,” replied Kahi through gritted teeth. This was not the greeting she had anticipated; after all, she was a wizard of the 7th Level. But she had come here to serve and to learn and become a wizard of the 8th Level, equal to Xanthipi. Just as powerful, but kinder. And when that day came, she would take Khazban for her own. She planned how to do it as she made the trek to the Dark City. This inexcusably insulting greeting confirmed in her mind the unsuitability of Xanthipi to rule.
“Well, whatever, Igor will show you to your rooms. Now, what’s this thing?” she asked pointing at Gherkin, who peeked through his wings at her. “Gherkin,” he said smiling.
“Of course,” she sniffed. “Go get some rest and cleaned up. Dinner is at 6, I expect you to be prompt.” She disappeared down a hallway.
Igor, a tall, emaciated woman took them up a hallway and down two flights of stairs, then down another hallway. Left, then right down another hallway to another staircase and a short walk down a narrow unadorned hallway. Igor stopped in front of a pair of elaborately carved double doors. She open them and led Kahi to a beautiful suite of dusty rooms. Igor crossed the room and pulled open the curtains with a cloud of dust. Sunlight filtered into the room through filthy windows.
“If madam would like, I can bring in her belongings.”
“Madam would not,” Kahi said as she dragged a finger across the dusty vanity, and pulled open a musty wardrobe.
“Perhaps madam would like water for a bath. The mistress has provided a beautiful tub for your use,” she said opening a curtain to a small alcove where sat a wooden tub next to a large fire place.
“Madam would not like. Now be gone.”
Igor bowed her head and quickly left the rooms closing the doors behind her. Alone, she wanted to examine her rooms, make a few adjustments and then sleep. It seemed only moments before Igor returned for her and Gherkin to take them to dinner. Kahi had rested briefly, but used spells to change her clothes and fix her long black hair. Gherkin of course required nothing for the moment but sleep and slept the sleep of the dead until Kahi called him.
Kahi left Gherkin to his rest and left for her dinner with Xanthipi. She tried to maintain her sense of direction, but the corridors were long and winding, and she lost track of the several staircases between her rooms and the dreary dining hall.
It was dark and damp. The tapestries that hung against the walls to keep out the cold and wet were threadbare and full of holes. What natural light there was came in from three long windows on either side of the room. High enough to let in some light in the afternoon, but not a bit of warmth.
“Ah, there you are at last, well rested I trust?” she continued without waiting for an answer. “Dinner is generally a simple affair. Though for your arrival I had planned a celebration feast. Unfortunately, you did not arrive timely and plans had to be altered. I hope you understand.”
Her new mistress spoke as servants brought in their meager meal. “Now as to your duties, they will be varied, but mainly you are to be my assistant, and at my beck and call. I keep rather irregular hours, but you’ll get used to that….”
Kahi sipped the thin tepid soup, and drank the sour wine she was served. The main course was some type of meat cooked beyond all recognition and taste, and the rest, well, it all disagreed with her more refined palate. She managed to smile politely using all her strength just to chew and swallow. On and on Xanthipi nattered. Kahi had had no idea she was such a chatty wizard. In fact, it seemed as if the woman never took a breath or really expected any one to answer her, as she rarely paused long enough for Kahi to say anything.
Kahi wondered if she’d made a bad decision. But the chance to study under the tutelage of a wizard of the 8th Level was unheard of. If only Xanthipi hadn’t fallen from grace 100 years ago, the entire Wizard’s Council would have benefited from her knowledge. As it was, only Kahi stood to gain, as long as she could put up with the wizard’s habits, in order to learn more of the arcane arts of magic and necromancy. She was determined to become an 8th Level herself before leaving her Mistress’s employ.
“Excuse me, your Grace,” Kahi interrupted at last.
Xanthipi looked at her through slitted eyes. “You have something to say?”
“I only want to again offer my sincerest apologies for the lateness of my arrival, as I mentioned, it was not of my own choice.
“Yes, yes, I know all that.”
“You do?” Kahi was shocked. If she knew where I was, why didn’t she help me? She wondered angrily.
“Of course, little of what goes on in the Wold is unknown to me. Only one new thing has, well, two new things have come to my attention; your aide is one, and the other is your sister’s new tyro.”
“So Bru found someone?”
“It appears so.”
“But she will need years to train him.”
“Yes, but this one seems special. Bru retrieved him from the 7th World and I am unfamiliar with it. One of your duties shall be to discover more about this world and the people in it. What sort of wizards do they have? Does everyone have magic? If so, how much magic? I understand it is a world vastly different from others. Full of strange metal creatures which carry people upon streets wider than our widest river.”
“I will make it my duty to learn all I can.”
“See that you do. I want to know what her tyro knows and how fast he learns, and how the rest of the Wold is faring.”
“I note that the darkness is expanding, your magnificence,” Kahi said appreciatively. “I look forward to assisting you in the continued advances of your magic.”
“Yes, yes, perhaps you shall help me advance magic, but that will not be your primary duty. You are to attend to me and assist me in my spells and studies. I need documents translated from the ancient languages, and potions mixed, and concoctions blended. These are the things of a tyro to accomplish.”
“I have proved myself to be a wizard of the 7th Level. Do you doubt my abilities?” Kahi tried to keep the anger out of her voice.
“If you were not a capable Wizard of the 7th Level you would not be here. What I do not know is if you are a suitable tyro for a wizard of the 9th Level.”
9th Level? Kahi wondered. No one had ever achieved that level, well, amost no one. The only one who came close was Arngrim the Awful who achieved the 8th Level and went mad trying to master the 9th Level. How could it be? How could she test her abilities? Xanthipi rose slowly to her feet and gripped her stick with both hands. “Now you will attend me at my bath and read to me while I fall sleep. Gemma is a good girl, but her reading is quite terrible.”
With no choice, Kahi followed her mistress as if she was a tyro of the first 1st Level, and trie...