“Um, excuse me? Mr. Driver sir?” a small voice piped up.
The driver, a man named Crenshaw, turned toward the owner of the voice, a young woman that called herself Jana. Most everyone else called her Mouse, and she supposed that that was fair, she did tend to make herself rather small, keep herself rather quiet, and if she was being honest with herself had a few physical characteristics in common with the tiny rodents: ears just slightly too big, teeth just slightly too large, sad mousey brown hair. She wasn’t terribly happy about the situation, someone had just made the connection long ago and she hadn’t seen any real reason to argue, and over time she had taken it to heart.
“I don’t mean to be a bother, really.” She continued. “But I was just wondering why we were stopping, and maybe if you knew how long we would be?” She could hardly stand it, she’d only been talking to the burly fellow for a moment and already she was starting to shrink under his stare. She had barely gotten the question out.
Crenshaw continued to just glower at her for a moment before one of the other workers came up to them. “Sorry Dale, it’s busted.” he said. “Axle splintered down the whole length and just split. And apparently our last spare is too warped to do the job.”
“Dangit Pete, what did I tell you about setting out without spares? Proper working ones.”
“We tried to pick some up at our last stop, but there wasn’t a decent woodshop anywhere around. The boys say they can rig something up to get us moving again, but it’s going to take a while. We're best off having everyone set up camp for the night, we’ll start moving again in the morning.”
Crenshaw turned to Jana, “Answer your question, Miss? Broken axle on the supply carriage. Without that shipment this caravan isn’t going to Portanul or anywhere else, so we aren’t moving on till morning.”
She barely had time to stammer out a quiet “Thanks” before Crenshaw had wandered off, presumably to yell at the repair crew to get to work.
She hated everything about this. She had hated the caravan trip to the country in the first place, an entire day in the company of complete strangers. She had hated her week in the country, with only her boisterous cousin for company. Her uncle had said it would be good for her to get out of the house for a change, to get away from the city sprawl of Portanul, her happy quiet life of tending the flower gardens and reading her books and generally just getting left alone. She had expected to hate the trip home only slightly less, and then only because it was a trip home, when it would all be over. But instead of a single day with the strangers it was now a day and a night, with that night spent sleeping outside on a rough blanket on the ground. She just wanted to be home. She hated that she didn’t feel she had the right to complain about it.
The fountain was nice at least. Some of the other caravan passengers had found it not far from the road while looking for a good camping spot. It seemed like a good location since the land around it was fairly flat, even covered in cool smooth stone in parts, with the rest of the area covered in soft grass. The fountain itself looked ancient, a statue of a water nymph surrounded with waves. Water poured off of the stone waves and flowed off of her fingers into the pool, and it was fresh and cool but there was no way to tell if it was fed by magic or an underground spring. The group from the caravan gathered around it and prepared for night, upset with the delay but happy to be off the road for a while. Jana just sat in front of the fountain, idly looking at the nymph, keeping to herself.
When the light began to fail she noticed something strange. If she turned her head just so the statue seemed to shimmer, and the waves seemed to move. She started to notice that as she moved she could see the faint outlines of bricks, floating in the air, mortar made of stardust holding together an invisible stone wall. And if she stared at the pattern on the waves just right, letting her eyes pass through them, focusing on a point she couldn’t see in the heart of the stone... yes, it looked like a doorway. She began to get the feeling that if she could only hold her eyes just like this, and if she moved slowly, slowly forward, through the water she could reach out and open the door.
She was shocked when she realized what she had done. She’d just entered an impossible door and found herself in an impossible place. The courtyard around the fountain was gone, so was the fountain itself, though her dress was still wet from having passed through it. She had no idea where she could be, but wherever it was, she thought it was amazing. Everywhere she looked there were bookshelves stacked to the ceiling with old tomes, tables strewn about with all manner of strange devices, bubbling flasks and bottles of undefinable liquids, jars of unknown herbs and unnamed specimens, even random piles of jewels and gemstones.
She had only just begun to soak it all in when she heard an astonished voice say “What?” She glanced curiously at the old man that suddenly poked his head out from behind a particularly precarious stack of books. “Who?” he asked, bewildered. “How?” he continued, drawing himself out further. She wasn’t really sure what to make of the man that seemed to own this strange home. He was short, heavy set, and apparently quite old, at least according to the gray hair and spectacles, and she suspected that he was balding under his large floppy hat. That combined with an oversized robe and ink stained hands made him a comical sight, but his face showed a mixture of anger and curiosity, and the eyes behind the half moon glasses seemed to hold years of wisdom and power.
“Young lady,” he said, “what is the meaning of this?”
Her inner mouse finally won out over her curiosity and she squealed out “I’m sorry! I was watching the fountain and then I saw the wall and the door and I had to try it and then I was here and I really didn’t mean to trespass I’ll just be going now.” She turned to head back to the door, but where it had been there was now an old cracked cauldron, covered in dust and cobwebs. She squeaked and turned back to the old man.
“Please, take a breath.” he said. “We wouldn’t want you passing out. You might land on something. Do you mean to tell me that you just happened to be sitting outside and also just happened to see my door?”
“Yes sir.” she replied, quietly.
“And you were able to reach out and open it?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“And you had no idea what you were doing?”
“I still don’t, actually.” she said, worry washing over her face.
“Well,” he said, “that’s all right then. Come on in then.”
“I’m sorry?” she asked.
“You heard me young lady. Make yourself at home.”
“Sir, I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“Quite all right, young lady. I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t quite catch your name.”
“Ja.. Jana” she stammered.
“Well, simply put Jajana, you have stumbled upon the tower home of the Mystic Marcellinus, Mage Master magnificent. And as long as you have not come from Haven you are welcome here. My tower, you see, and I see that you do, can only be seen by those with mystical sight, those blessed with magic, or at least those that can be trained to it. I’m guessing from your reactions that you have not. Been trained that is. Am I right?”
“Trained in magic?” she asked. “Me? Oh no.”
“No, no. I thought not. But you saw it all the same. To be able to enter here with no training at all, well, you must be very special indeed.”
She wanted to hide, to run back out the door and back to the caravan. She wasn’t special at all, she never had been. But he was smiling at her, practically beaming. She had no idea what to say, or do. All she could think to ask was “Why do you live in a fountain?” She immediately regretted it, but Marcellinus took it in stride.
“Jajana, I don’t live in a fountain. Like I said, it’s a tower. I just stop at the fountain.”
“Yes, I like to keep on the move. The tower exists ever so slightly outside of the world, which is why you can’t really see it from outside. Normal people can’t see it at all, and won’t even notice it’s there, they’ll just walk right on through. Mages though, they can see it just like you did, so it’s best to keep moving. Besides, my research requires a bit of travel. I pop around to this place and that. It keeps that fusspot council over in Haven from bothering me with all of their questions about when I’m coming back or what I’m doing for the magic community as a whole or when I’m going to publish my next paper. Really, they are such a bother. That’s why I wanted to make sure you weren’t just sent here as one of their lapdogs to keep tabs on me.”
“We aren’t moving now, are we?” she asked in a slight panic. “I mean, we’re still at the fountain?”
“On the Portanul road, yes yes. We won’t be moving on for at least a few hours yet.”
“We? Are there others here?”
“Right now, just the two of us I’m afraid. It’s been rather some time since my last assistant set off on his own. Don’t worry, though, he just wanted to spend more time in the cities. I assure you I am fantastic company, you won’t regret having decided to come along at all.”
“Come along? Me?” She stared at him. “I couldn’t possibly... I mean, I really should be getting back home, my uncle would worry and really I don’t think you would want someone like me getting in the way of all of this wonderful... whatever it is that you are doing here.”
“Research, my dear. Magical research. And pish posh, I don’t see why not. You obviously have the talent for it. I’m sure that I could have you trained up as a marvelous mage in mere moments, relativistically speaking of course.”
“You want me to me your assistant and to learn magic?” she gasped.
“Of course dear. Really, one thing we will need to teach you is how to properly listen.”
“I don’t know, sir, that’s really, I mean this is all really amazing. Do you really think I can learn to do magic?”
“You already did, child. You are standing on the shore, with a vast ocean in front of you, you just need to get your feet wet. You are shying away, making yourself smaller when you could be making so much more of yourself. It is time to ask yourself Jajana: are you a mouse, or are you a mage?”
“I’m a mouse.” She replied, hanging her head low. She looked around at all of the wonderful things around her, and thought about all of the amazing things she could learn. “But I think that just maybe this mouse could learn to be a mage.”
Young Jana wants nothing more than to be home alone with her books, but sometimes bumps in the road can lead to unimagined detours.
This is a rough draft of an upcoming Taloria flash fiction story, submitted here for feedback.
This is a rough draft of an upcoming Taloria flash fiction story, submitted here for feedback.