Prologue of a longer narrative I've been working on.
Isaac sat restless in the deep leather chair facing his grandfather's desk. Most wouldn't realize it just by looking at him; everything Isaac did, even sitting, was with an uncanny stillness. When he walked through the halls, he did so with a rigid soldier's march. During lectures, his peers marveled at his penmanship; how he seemed to create each letter the same way, as if he were writing printed text. When he spoke, it was calm, perfectly pronounced, yet backed with an urgency that even the most passionate of his peers and professors found intimidating, to say the least.
Those that were brave enough to ask him for tutoring were astounded by his knowledge, but found his dark, serious face difficult to listen to. Despite being a young man, Isaac already possessed the facial creases of his teachers; the shadows that lurked beneath his slatey eyes, and the lines that wormed their way across his forehead were hard-earned badges of devotion, a product of countless hours of study by fading candlelight. Of course, dedication to one's craft is not without its detractors, though no bullies could ever get under his skin sufficient to be entertaining. So aside from the odd mouth-breather seeking notes, most refrained from speaking to Isaac, and that is exactly how he wanted it.
But now, it seemed, fate had forced his hand. Most educated folk are free to allocate their talents where they see fit, but Isaac and his peers were wizards. Magic is a fickle thing; unstable and dangerous by definition. Prospective students spent years, their whole lives even, poring over dusty books and listening to the old men teach them to pluck at the threads of reality the way an angel strums a harp. Of course, different wizards took to different kinds of spells more easily than others. Conjurers moved things around; producing doves out of hats and horses out of their pockets, or walking in a door and out another in different houses. Diviners could guess the number in your head, or predict coin tosses. Mere parlor tricks, thought Isaac, but he was wise enough to understand their place.
A good wizard was nothing if not versatile in his spells, unless they were abjurers. The blue-clothed abjurers specialized in barriers; shields, wards, guarding circles, banishing harmful effects or cancelling the effects of magic altogether. It was anti-wizardry, thought Isaac. And after nearly eleven years at the school, the day had finally come where he and his peers went before the headmaster and were assigned their profession. Isaac bit down on his finger at the insulting memory of the headmaster handing him the blue robe of an abjurer. It may as well have been the white cone hat of an idiot. So many years of study, of practice, of nights upon nights perfecting the hand gestures and subtle incantations, only to have it be thrown in his face.
Taking a deep breath, Isaac focused on his hand. With but a twitch of his ring finger, his hand was alight with flickering fire. He was so good at it, he no longer needed the words. With a wave of the hand, the whole room could go up in smoke. Such was the talent of evokers, wizards who wielded the elements in their most primal, destructive forms. Fire was only the beginning. Evokers commanded howling wind, bolts of lightning, and freezing cold with which they destroyed all that stood before them. The power was his, Isaac could feel it deep in his bones, and as he felt the anger and embarrassment welling inside him, he heard the chamber door open behind him, and he quickly snuffed the fire.
The man that entered looked like a ghost. The shadows and creases in his face were far deeper than Isaac's, his slow, plodding gait like that of a prisoner bearing heavy chains. His great hat seemed to way heavily on his frail body, and yet there was a vitality and friendliness in his smile that was almost entirely absent from Isaac. He was called Enoch, and Isaac was here on personal business with him. He struggled to remember the words as he caught the faded and long-sought evoker's red of Enoch's robe vanish as he took a heavy seat behind the desk.
Isaac began to speak, but Enoch held his hand up a moment as he aligned himself in the chair, chuckling at the imperceptible irritation he knew he was inflicting on the boy. He rested his withered, wooden hands on the desk and smiled at him as he spoke.
"Now, what can I do for you my boy?"
A simple question, but Isaac would not be fooled by the old man's intent. Not this time.
"Archmage Enoch, I--"
"Bah, quit the formalities, I'm here to help you."
"...Grandfather, I need help."
"Ah, now doesn't that sound better?" The old man chuckled as Isaac nervously straightened a crease in his pants.
"I know you're not one to seek help Isaac, let alone from me, so forgive me if I'm a little excited. I'm very proud of you, you know. You wear that robe well."
"Thanks, grandfather, but that's why I'm here."
Enoch furrowed his brow.
"Hm? Is it too big? They're supposed to be. I could get you another." Isaac drummed impatiently on his lap.
"No, it's not too big. It's the wrong color."
Enoch blinked, the playful curiosity draining from his face. "I'm afraid you're mistaken, my boy. All abjurers wear blue."
The levity was lost from Enoch as he began to thoughtfully stroke his beard, like a wizard in deep thought.
"What color would you rather it be?" He began slowly, as if the words were heavy. Isaac remained silent. The old man knew exactly what he wanted. He spoke again.
"I've told you for years not to get hung up on this, Isaac. I had figured you'd moved beyond such trivialities."
"Trivialities? Grandfather I've spent half my lifetime in these godforsaken walls learning every spell, every glyph, every incantation to become an evoker! It's all I've ever wanted--all I've ever striven toward or worked for!"
Enoch stared dismissively at his grandson, who now rose from his chair and began to speak faster.
"It's just, I don't understand. I've done everything I can to ensure my success, and more. I've spent ten hours a day, each day, listening to the elders. I've spent five hours a night, each night, studying and practicing. Doesn't that mean anything? I'm a model student; your students, grandfather, would sooner come to me than you for advice."
Isaac shrank as Enoch pounded the table and stood up, silencing his grandson. Wizards were a proud bunch, to say the least, and no elder worth his wand would let a student nearly eighty years his junior make such an insult. Isaac instantly regretted what he said, but it was too late.
"Incredible. I'm amazed. How stupid can you be, Isaac?"
"I thought it was in the interest of the academy to award the effort of students."
"Bah! What do you know of effort? You think reading old books makes you a wizard? You think avoiding your peers and spending every waking moment with your nose in the inkwell creates well-rounded people?"
Isaac sat once more, his blood boiling. He fell for Enoch's trap, and now he had to listen to the lecture he'd received so many times before. He put his fist to his chin and tried his best not to stare. But to his surprise, Enoch sat back down, and the anger vanished from his face.
"Isaac, you have talent. Real talent. Unlike any I've seen here in many a year. Which is why it bothers me so to see a bright mind like yourself focusing on the end goal so much, rather than appreciating and enjoying the journey. Tell me, when's the last time you met with friends?"
Isaac would make up a date, but he had no friends to corroborate the story.
"When's the last time, dear god if any, that you spoke to a woman?"
Isaac briefly thought of Andrea, a bright young woman he met a few years ago. The two had a lot in common, and were frequent study partners, until she dropped out and moved back home when the workload was too much. A pity, thought Isaac, but the lifestyle wasn't for everyone.
"But those things aren't why I'm here, Archmage Enoch. I came here to learn evocation and become an evoker!"
Enoch pointed a branchlike finger at his grandson.
"No, you came to learn how to set things on fire and blow carriages apart, like any impish child would fantasize about smashing an anthill. And I have done my damndest to steer you away from that infantility and hope you find something else, something productive, to aspire to. Mark my words, boy, you don't know what you want, and what you think you want, you want for the wrong reasons. And it pains me that you still haven't figured that out."
Isaac leapt from his chair, his stony face cracked with anger, as a faint whisper of smoke rose from his hands. But even though he was in the midst of verbally thrashing him, Enoch sat unphased; Isaac was nothing if not in control, and there's no chance he would do something so out of character, even over this. He stared at Isaac, and Isaac stared back, the anger quickly fading. Isaac placed both hands at his sides and smoothed his robe, but he did not sit back down.
"This is peacetime, Isaac. The world has no need for evokers beyond those that work in a circus. Both I and the headmaster knew that when we decided your placement."
Isaac could scarce believe his ears. His own grandfather, his mentor, had done this to him? Normally Isaac would rationalize a reason why his grandfather would embarrass him so for no reason, but in his confused anger, he attributed the act to nothing more than malice. He was disgusted, and dared not show it. His grandfather stared up at him with wet, pitiful eyes.
"I hope you don't hate me for what I've done, but trust me when I say that this is for your benefit, and the benefit of the world, if you embrace it like I pray you will. You'd make a fine abjurer, Isaac, one of the best I can conceive. There is always need for guardians, those who protect the weak, especially from those who would use magic against their fellow man."
Isaac simply stared at the man as he took off his hat and placed it beside the desk. A black cat hopped onto the chair behind him, where it promptly curled up and fell asleep. This pathetic justification was supposed to comfort him? His efforts insulted, his ambition rejected, and eleven years of work discarded with an offhand apology? Isaac was angrier than he'd been in quite some time, perhaps ever, but this was the final test. His pride was a hard thing to swallow, but he managed.
"Thank you for your wise words, grandfather. I'll meditate on what you said, and hope I soon come to realize its full meaning. More than that, I hope I am wise enough to incorporate it into my own life and that which I will foster in my peers. Now, if you'll excuse me."
He turned to leave. Enoch was amazed, and his eyes hung on Isaac as he marched to the door. Isaac had passed his test. He meant every word of what he said to his grandson, and expected a violent shouting match like so many previous that ended the same way. But this was the first time Isaac had shown such humility, such unwavering acceptance of something so abstract, even if he was only faking it. But Enoch genuinely couldn't tell, and that is what scared him.
As he stroked his beard mulling the issue over, the black cat leapt silently onto the desk, scaring the old man. They peered into each other's faces for a moment before a wizened smile spread across his face. He had an idea.
The moon was absent from the sky that night. The sky was so bright with stars that Isaac could faintly make out the black void of the new moon, trying to hide itself. Or perhaps, it was anxious to show its true radiant face to the world below. He gazed out from his window at the field beyond the walls of the school. Beyond them lie a wood where Isaac used to study, before he found the sounds of nature distracting and alarming to his allergies. On moonlit nights, he could make out the very same grove of trees, but tonight, everything beyond the walls was a void of inky darkness not unlike the moon itself. The world felt very small to him in that moment.
Isaac turned away from the window. He placed his hands in front of him, whispered a spell, and a second pair appeared in their place. The hands closed the window, then moved about the room lighting candles and arranging his study tools for another night of work, while Isaac sat idly on his bed thinking about his grandfather's words. It was an odd thing, to sit idly and think, but Isaac was too distracted to concentrate on study.
Isaac reflected on what his grandfather said. It had been so many years since he entered the academy. How could Enoch possibly know what I wanted then? He thought to himself. But Enoch was much older than Isaac; eleven years was nothing to him, who'd been studying the arcane arts for nearly a hundred. Isaac had always thought himself more mature than his peers; more than that, he knew he was, and that's why he didn't pointlessly fraternize with them. He didn't want friends, he didn't want women, he wanted magic.
Isaac gripped the edge of his bed tight as he felt the hurt from Enoch's words. He simply didn't understand how a mighty wizard, let alone his grandfather who loved him, would berate him so for asking what he only felt was a little respect, due after a lifetime of work. He even told Isaac he would make a great abjurer, so why couldn't he make a fine evoker? Because he could only work in a circus? Grasping at straws, Isaac thought, was an understatement.
The smell of burning wax began to fill the room, pulling Isaac from his thoughts; the flying hands had lit every candle in the room, and were feverishly making their way to his cabinet for the rest. Springing to his feet Isaac called them back with a whisper, whereupon they vanished into his own hands. He went to the window, opened it, and chanted another spell. A quiet breeze conjured from the stillness of the night raced through the room, taking with it the lights of the candles. Isaac stood with his back to the window, now in the same inky blackness as the moon above. He could feel the cool night air lapping gently at his hands.
It was a tranquil moment, and Isaac found himself untouched by the troubles of the day. He smiled. In the dark, where he couldn't see the grotesque blue of his robe, it felt rather comfortable on him. But such moments of true clarity are rare to busy scholars like himself, and closing the window, he removed the robe, and hanging it squarely for the next morning, he readied himself for bed.
No sooner had Isaac climbed into bed than the tumultuous dialogue from earlier slithered back into his ear. Staring into the dark, he grappled with Enoch's accusation: that he didn't know what he wanted, and that what he did want was for the wrong reasons. What could that possibly mean? Magic, plain and simple, is power, thought Isaac. All men aspire to power; it's in their nature. To possess the faculty to pursue magic and not do so, thought Isaac, was simply insane. How could an army of the finest warriors in the world, let alone one of them, stand against a firestorm summoned with but a wave of the hand and a pinch of sulfur cast to the wind?
Isaac sat up in bed and set his hand alight once more. Though they flicked out from the lines of his palms, and licked his fingers as they would dry twigs, it did not burn him. He played with the fire, aroused it until it filled his whole hand. The heat nearly burned his face. This, Isaac said to himself, is evocation. This, he thought, is power. What is the fire if not the destroyer of all it touches, the truest form of destruction? Of uncontrollable, furious energy? And Isaac sat in his bed playing with it as if it were a small dog. He closed his hand, snuffing the fire and the heat like they were never there.
Lying back down, Isaac tried to think some more about how angry he was, but it wasn't working. Just as sleep overtook him, he perceived a minute scratching at the door. It was quiet, not sufficient to open his eyes further. But the scratching persisted. It was as though someone was raking a toenail back and forth across the door. As it began to annoy him, Isaac sat up for the third time that night and faced the door. The scratching had stopped.
Just as he went to lie back down, Isaac nearly broke free from his skin as the black cat leapt onto his bed from the shadows of the floor beneath. It was so sudden that he didn't even yell. The cat proudly strode across the covers, its corpse-green eyes glowing in the darkness. Isaac, clutching his humming heart, considered striking it for a moment, when it stopped right in his lap and stared up at him. Isaac stared back, and listened intently as the cat's spellbinding gaze spun words in his mind.
"Get up. I have an assignment for you. I believe you'll be more than interested."