“My name is Bin Tract, and I’m going to be the greatest mage this world has ever seen.
“Greater than those before the Folly. Greater than those suckers at the Academies dotted across the landscape. Heck, maybe even greater than Camriddeon himself! Everyone will know who I am for miles around. Entire nations will come just to see me work my magic.
“So just let me in!”
The current mage nodded his head. And nodded again. It was two o’clock in the morning, and this boy was trying to get into the get into the Circle of Bel Haven.
Of all the nights to pull door duty.
This…Bin Tract, wasn’t getting in. This wasn’t some public library, or little coven of community witches. It was the Circle of Bel Haven, the greatest conclave of mages, wizards and witches in northern Europa. Hundreds of the finest magic-users had passed through this vaunted building, honing their craft and art before establishing a reputation of their own.
No kid was going to just march in and knock on the door. No matter how hard he yelled.
Bin Tract wasn’t just any boy, though. At least, he didn’t think so. He had trained for years for the honor of studying at the Circle. Long hours, days, weeks of perseverance just for this chance. He had been working for ages just for this moment, this opportunity!
The fact that he was eleven years old didn’t even seem relevant for him.
Granted, Bin was a tall eleven-year-old. Came from being half-ogre. Spindly, with golden skin that was already starting to look weathered. He dyed his hair green in preparation for being a mage, and because it looked awesome. Bin loved being an ogre.
Sadly, he couldn’t help being half-human. Those big blue eyes were proof enough of this. He hoped the Circle would look beyond this.
The mage at the door was a gnome himself, but not prejudiced. What he was, really, was asleep.
Bin sucked in a breath, channeled his magic through and shouted. “WAKE UP!”
His voice shook the building, sending leaves and debris falling from the gutters. The gnome woke up with a start, hand going towards his amulet. “Whazzit, what’s going on? Who’s there?”
“Bin Tract!” The boy said, a little softer. “I’ve come in to apply for the Circle.”
The gnome squinted down. “Come back in the morning. How old are you?”
“Eleven and seven months.” Bin said.
“Don’t come back in the morning,” The gnome said. “Come back in six years.”
Too young, way too young. No one applied for a Circle position at such a young age. The Masters preferred students with more experience. Teenagers were okay, anyone over the age of twenty preferable. Never eleven year olds, nope.
“I’m here now!” Bin said.
“You need more training, kid,” The gnome shouted back. “Come back when you actually have some magic in you.”
“I do have magic in me! I have magic up to here.” Bin’s hand shot up to the sky. He concentrated, and flames shot up into the air. “See?”
“Stop that!” The gnome scolded. “It is way too late in the evening for fireworks. Do you want to wake everyone up?”
“Yes,” Bin said. “I need to apply!”
The gnome groaned. This kid was awake. Probably snuck off away from his parents, no doubt. Some small skills and decided he was good enough for the Circle. He wasn’t going to go anywhere until he knew he wasn’t ready.
That’s it. A test. Something he was sure to fail.
The gnome pointed down at the door.
“This is a solid copper door, kid.” He said. “Reinforced with pine timbers and a magical lock that will set off an alarm if you so much as tamper with it.”
He grinned. “If you can get in the building, I’ll let you in to see the Masters.”
“Get in the building?” Bin asked. “You promise?”
“I’ll even wake up the Masters myself,” The gnome said smugly. That door was copper, and reinforced with pine and a magic lock. But more importantly it was all for show. The hinges were melted into the stone frame. The real entrance was hidden behind several illusions on the other side of the building, to keep the riff raff out. Like a certain kid who couldn’t sleep.
Bin looked at the door. It did seem a mighty fine door. Copper too, and even had some runes etched into it. Not something he would want to break. That wasn’t what his mother taught him to do, no sir.
But he was invited to get in. And Bin never was one for patience.
The ogre mage charged the wall. Flames gathered in front of him, surging towards the stone wall. He slammed into the stones once. The building shuddered.
The gnome was almost thrown from his perch. He looked down, amazed. The stones were scorched, blackened, and even depressed into the wall. But that fool kid must be knocked out cold.
No, he was stepping back. Gathering flames again, and there he went! Running full speed into the wall.
SMACK! Bin tumbled backwards, dazed. The building shook, harder. The wall was definitely the worse for wear. But the kid looked a mess. Blood was crawling down his golden skin.
And yet he got back up, turned around, and set his feet. A third time flames
“Kid, don’t do that again.” The gnome warned. “That’s not exactly…”
The gnome was too used to speaking with grownups. A grownup hits a stone wall and hurts himself, he decides to go around the wall. A boy smacks himself twice on the wall, he only really learns one thing.
He needs to hit harder.
Sparks flew. Sparks, electricity crackled in his steps. No, that couldn’t be true. No kid can harness lightning. It was too chaotic, too unwieldy for some brat.
Bin screamed, and charged again. Lightning flew off his form as he thundered past. He barreled into the wall, and right through it. He kept going down the hall, lightning cracking as he burst into the main auditorium before he tripped over a table. Bin spun head over heels, and came to a rest on the opposite wall, dazed.
The gnome threw up a quick barrier on the hole, and rushed downstairs. That was impossible. The stones were supposed to be reinforced. Not as much as the door, the fake door, but still. This was unprecedented.
Yet there he was, the dumb kid. Giggling, a stupid grin plastered over his face. The gnome opened Bin’s eyes. He watched the pupils dilate, and lose focus. The boy might have broken something.
“Stupid, idiot ogre boy,” The gnome muttered. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
Bin’s giggles erupted into full blown laughter. He rolled on the ground, spinning around.
“What’s so funny?”
Bin wiped the tears from his eyes. “You get to wake up the Masters.”
The Masters of the Circle were not in a good mood. Mages at three in the morning rarely were. And these particular men and women had all gone to bed just a few hours ago, one of the pastimes they all adored. To be awoken by Zibnizik because there was a boy out in the wee hours did not improve the situation.
Zibnizik, the gnome mage, was required to be present at the main hall. A little punishment and reminder of just who had roused the most powerful wizards in Bel Haven. He was currently sitting in a chair that was built for ogres. He was far enough from Bin to dissociate the two, but the Masters could easily take both in their sight lines.
Bin looked around, clearing the haze from his head. The…application, was held in the main hall, where the young boy had just crashed through. It was a splendid room, surrounded by crystal skylights that would sparkle in the daylight hours. Many tables, long round and otherwise, were splayed in some semblance of order, focusing in on the three great fireplaces that were now sparking to life.
The Masters were seated on one side of the long tables. Their backs were to the fire, hoping that the blaze would remind them of the blankets and mattresses they had been denied. Bin and Zibnizik were not allowed tables. They sat in their chairs in the middle of the stone floor, silent and waiting.
One of the women, a dwarf, rubbed her eyes clear. “Bin, is it?” Bin nodded, and she adjusted her seat. “My name is Lady Rune.”
“That’s not a name,” Bin said. Lady Rune smiled, and nodded.
“At the Circle, the Masters have names that are more descriptive than our ones given to us at birth.”
“Oh.” Bin frowned. “That might make sense.”
“Thank you. And you are hoping for an apprenticeship?” Lady Rune was used to working all hours of the night. Rune work often required moonlight, or even total darkness to be particularly effective. Even if she was more blunt than the rest of them, she was the one deemed to be most awake, and so spoke.
“Yes. I want to be part of the Circle,” Bin said.
“And this couldn’t wait till maybe tomorrow…”
“Today,” Mister Eye yawned. Lady Rune checked the stars and indeed, it was today.
“That takes too long,” Bin said. “Besides, you all might have been busy. No one is busy at this time of night.”
Someone had to explain to this boy that sleeping was an extremely busy business, Zibnizik thought. Time consuming, taking up both conscious and subconscious, it really took up everything about a person.
Lady Rune shook her head. “Well, then I’m sorry, but we simply don’t look at applicants until they are at least sixteen years of age.”
“But that’s five years!” Bin protested.
“It is a matter of safety…” Lady Froth muttered. Bin pointed at his head. “I can take it! I can take running through a wall, I can take anything the Circle can throw it.”
He stood up out of his chair. “You don’t know me, but my name is Bin Tract. I am going to be the greatest mage, but I need to study here to do that. And I can’t just wait five years doing nothing while the world just goes on!”
Bin pointed at Zibnizik. “And the little guy said he would get me in to see you all to talk about the Circle. You’re not even going to let me show you what I can do?”
“Zibnizik…” Lady Rune began. The gnome tried to shrink into the chair, and regretted instantly that he hadn’t studied teleportation more thoroughly.
One of the other Masters leaned forward, and frowned. “You ran through a wall?”
“Yeah.” Bin rubbed his head. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea, he was still smarting from that. But he was inside, so it worked.
“The outer wall?” The Master pressed. Bin shrugged. What was the big deal?
“It wasn’t as reinforced as the rest of the building, Mister Book.” Zibnizik began. Book held up a hand, and nodded. “It is still a solid stone wall, with basic protection and enhancements on the wall. Certainly stronger than the…above-average ogre boy. How did you break it?”
“Burned it, shocked it, and ran straight through,” Bin explained.
Book shook his head. “No, what spells did you use? Cappofer’s inferno? Hellenic lightning or Norseman?”
Bin stared blankly ahead.
“An igni spell?” Book asked. “Anything like this even coming close to ringing a bell?”
“You mean Bel Haven?” Bin asked. “Where are the bells here, by the way?”
Lady Hilt looked to Book. “Book, what is your point? He is obviously untrained. Some brute strength and basic spell work is all that was needed.”
“But this boy seems to have the ability to coalesce his thoughts into action,” Book pressed. He stood up, and looked at Bin.
“Bin, what can you do with magic?”
“Finally!” Bin stood up. “Something for me to do. I can work with fire, and lightning. I’m not as good on water, and useless on trees. Wind isn’t as fun, but I think I could manage it.”
“An elementalist,” Hilt muttered. “Mr. Oak would be pleased.”
Oak was not at the meeting. He could not be roused, even when Lady Rune through a bucket of water at him. Not just the water, the whole bucket.
However, everyone started to press questions on the boy. “Can you craft illusions?” “How about alchemy, can you perform transmutations?” “What is your take on low-level necromancy?”
Bin sat back down, bewildered. He hadn’t heard of any of this. He knew of illusions, the traveling circus performers had someone there. It was for pretty lights and nice songs. He had no idea how it was done. What were they talking about?
They must have thought he was so stupid. Saying all these big words just to make the boy feel small. Give him some time, he’d figure it out. He hoped.
Lady Rune stood up, and reached into the fire. She picked up a charred stick, and walked over to Bin. She etched a single rune into the stone floor, the charcoal scraping across the floor.
“Do you know what this means?” She asked.
Bin shook his head. “I can still do this.”
“This is the sign for fire,” Rune said. “Applied to certain amulets it can protect one from heat, or even make fire spells more potent. Is that interesting?”
Bin shrugged. She pointed down at the rune one more time. “Do you have it in your mind?”
Bin nodded. Rune wiped the drawing away. The questions had died down. Everyone looked at the ogre and Master.
Rune handed the burnt stick to Bin. “Give me the rune. No mistakes.”
The ogre thought for a moment, and waved his hand. Fire poured out from his fingers, weaving together in the air. They formed a perfect replica of the rune.
The rest of the Masters stood up, and examined closely. No blemishes, no missed lines, the depth was perfect. If this were placed in an item it would be exactly what anyone could possibly want.
“Quick study,” Froth said.
“I could not do this,” Lady Rune said. “If the boy knows what he wants, he can achieve it. Imagine what he can do with training.”
Bin beamed. It was nothing, really. Just a little bit of fire magic, nothing anybody shouldn’t be able to do.
“He can mimic anything, sure enough.” Lady Hilt said. “But can he actually do something himself besides blunder through?”
“Hey, if you want to say something, come over here and say it!” Bin shouted.
That was a mistake. It had to have been. Anyone in Bel Haven knew not to challenge Lady Hilt. To anything. She would accept anything and anyone. It had honed her skills in battle, and developed her ego beyond anything rational.
Zibnizik shuffled his chair out of the way.
Lady Hilt cracked her hands a few times, and stood up. “I’m operating on just an hour or so of sleep, so I’ll make it fair and duel with only one hand.” She raised one fist up.
“If you can land a blow, I’ll recommend you begin your apprenticeship immediately.”
Zibnizik’s ears perked up. That sounded familiar. “Lady Hilt…”
“Done!” Bin shouted. He stuck his hand out, smiling.
Hilt frowned. She straightened, and bowed to her opponent. No one was going to make a mockery of the Circle. The boy’s intentions may be good, but some simple flash did not make one a Circle mage. It was time to end this foolish indulgence of the eleven-year-old.
It was probably wise that she didn’t take the offered hand. Zibnizik had seen the way this boy’s mind worked. He didn’t look for solutions. He just understood what needed to happen immediately, and then tried to connect the points.
Effective. Most of the time. There was a problem this time. One of the points was Lady Hilt.
Bin called up fire. He flung the flames towards the battle mage. She sidestepped the spell and lashed out with pure force. Bin was hurled backwards. He clipped a table with his toe, and flipped to the floor, landing on his face.
“Be kind, Hilt,” Book said.
Hilt glared at the librarian. He held up his hands. “At least be quick.”
Bin stood up again. Cast fire again, and again. Pour the heat on towards Hilt. Quick, was he? He was never going to be something that could be dismissed. Never again! He’d show them, he would show everyone.
Hilt deflected some of the flames. Outpaced the rest. She seemed to barely dance across the stones. Her feet were never in the same place twice. One movement after another. It was effortless.
She struck Bin once. And again. Light blows, taps really. Move him one way, go another. Show the upstart just how outclassed he was.
Bin’s hands blurred as he tried to keep up. This woman wasn’t even moving that fast. This punch, here! No, dang it. She was like catching smoke. She was cheating, had to be.
Even as he thought it, he didn’t believe it. This was what he wanted to learn. He needed to do it if he wanted to be the best. This Circle at Bel Haven would make him the greatest mage of all time. He just knew it.
The Circle didn’t want him. He could see it in the Lady’s eyes. She was looking at him with contempt. He knew what that look was like, had felt it for years.
The other Masters looked on as Bin struggled and Hilt toyed. Their faces showed no emotion. Either they would betray their comrade, or this poor boy. But it was a pity. A tragedy for this one. He might even turn away from magic.
They pitied him. Why couldn’t they just hate him?
Bin tried one last gamble. Sparks coursed around him. Hilt noticed the buildup for a strike. She disengaged, spun out as she grasped for her weapon. Her sword caught a lightning bolt, soaking in the energies.
Bin screamed, and struck again. Hilt caught the second, let the lightning suck in the energies. Bin collapsed, exhausted.
Hilt stared at her sword. Lightning, true lightning. Twice. That was incredible. Lightning was not simple, like heat, fire or wind. To keep the crackling, inconstant nature intact, required incredible focus. He might actually be worth something after all.
Too bad. She had made a wager.
Book stood up, and looked at the groaning boy. “Bin, why do you want to be here?”
“To be the best,” The half-ogre said.
“And why is it so important it be now?” Book asked. “Why can’t you wait until sixteen?”
“Why is it too long?”
“The tournament will be done by then.”
Hilt stirred. The Crystal Tournament? What could Bin be thinking, trying to get into that?
The tournament was held every seven years, moving around Europa. A competition of the best, brightest, and most promising apprentices. It tested their skills in battle, wisdom, and drive to win. For many, it set the standard for the apprentices.
To even get into the tournament was an honor. No one was even considered unless they had a year of training at an established center of magic. Recommendations were required, demonstrations of skill. But the prize was advancement, prestige, the knowledge that you truly were amongst the elite.
In two years the Crystal Tournament would be staged. Here, in Bel Haven. Was that why Bin was here?
Hilt had already begun considering applicants amongst her own chosen apprentices. Some had merit. Others clearly didn’t. The question was whether or not Bin could earn his way to this.
The other Masters had roused, and even removed themselves from their chairs. “To even consider being worthy of the tournament…” Froth shook her head. “It’s arrogance.”
“Or a strong desire,” another said. “Whether or not it is good is beside the point.”
Lady Rune stood behind Hilt. She looked over the boy. “He has skill. And clarity.” She said. All true.
Lady Hilt bent down over the boy. He looked up at her. Big, blue eyes. Ice-blue, human eyes. What that must have been like, to be half-human. Bin must have had to experience ridicule, bigotry, and more than his fair share of violence. That may have even moved Hilt…
He smirked. Why was he smirking?
Bin reached up and poked her in the nose. “Gotcha,” He whispered. “I win.”
He passed out there.
Lady Rune clapped the stunned Hilt on the back. “Well, that settles that. Bet’s a bet.”
Book nodded. He’d draw up the paperwork. The other masters all left quickly, muttering about their beds. Many left so Hilt could not see the smiles on their faces, or hear the snorts of laughter.
Hilt for her part looked at the boy who had just bested her, and almost laughed. Clarity. He did have that.
Zibnizik made the mistake of trying to leave too.
“You’ll take the boy under your wing,” Hilt said. “He’ll bunk in your quarters until accommodations can be made.”
Zibnizik tried to protest. His rooms had been earned over years. He had the entire abode just settled right. And to gnome size. Where was the ogre boy supposed to sleep?
Hilt didn’t care. She wanted to go to bed. There were plans to be made, training regimens to install. This boy was a long way from even being considered for the Tournament. That was going to change.
Tomorrow. Bed now.
copyright 2017 Jack Holder