Apprentice No More

by Chip Dunning

Anita had been Master Krishnan’s assistant for ten years and he still treated her worse than the apprentices of other masters that occasionally stopped by on errands. Each time she voiced her concern about this he would wave his hand dismissively and remark that he had no right to crack the whip on another master’s apprentice. He assured her that she was progressing well and soon would earn her journeyman’s rank. It was that last comment that always rankled her — Master Krishnan had promised to name her a journeyman for the past three years. Each time she mentioned it he had simply listed off some perceived shortcomings that she must work through.

It was the end of spring on the twelfth year of her apprenticeship that Anita had finally reached her breaking point. One of the other apprentices came by to announce that his master had just named him a journeymen and he was eager to call on Master Krishnan — and of course rub his new status in Anita’s face. That night Anita cried herself to sleep and vowed to put an end to this whole disaster. She was going to leave Master Krishnan and make her own way in the world.

To stoke her own courage, Anita kept telling herself that any other master would have raised her years ago, but Master Krishnan only dangled the promise when Anita was showing signs of leaving. During one such moment last year he was actually worried enough about her leaving to assist her in the creation of her own Wizard’s staff. It was a thing of beauty, crafted from an ash tree that grew on her parent’s farm and adorned with tiny gemstones and a bronze headpiece shaped like intertwining sheafs of wheat. However, instead of becoming a source of joy it sat in the corner gathering dust. Master Krishnan refused to allow her to use it until she became a journeyman, so he put enough wards around it to dissuade Anitia from even trying to touch it.

Well tonight she was going to do far more than touch it. She was going to take what belonged to her and make her own way in the world without the help of Master Krishnan.

She pulled her clothes out of the wardrobe and stuffed them hastily into a burlap sack, along with the few spellbooks that she herself had penned. She would not steal any of Master Krishnan’s books, but she would not leave him any of the one that she wrote during her studies. After stomping into her well-worn shoes, throwing the sack over her shoulder, and tying her money pouch to her belt she turned and faced her staff. An object of beauty and wonder became an object of obsession for Anita. It haunted her dreams, called in her nightmares, and occupied nearly her every waking moment since the day it was finished. She would claim it before she left this house.

Anita had studied the barrier wards that shielded the staff from her and bound it to this place. Taking three candles from her table she set them out in the prescribed pattern about herself. Incanting the words of binding she opened her spirit to the powers of the shadow world and plunged into its icy depths. The shivers of a thousand needles ran down her back as more of the shadows power rushed into her body. She pushed herself beyond the boundaries Master Krishnan set for her, smashing through them as a young bull through a picket gate.

As she struggled to master the shadow before it consumed her a newfound confidence flowed through her and snapped her mind back into place before she succumbed to the siren’s call. Invoking the words of power her voice echoed around the room gaining strength with each passing seconds. Shadowy hands reached out and struck at the barrier around her staff, they clawed at the ward and howled in frustration. Sparks of fire and shards of ice flew from the battle between the barrier and her attack, but Anita paid little heed as she concentrated on finding the flaws that she could exploit. Finally she noticed a weakness and threw herself into the crack.

With a scream of victory her magic flowed into the crack and attempted to tear the ward asunder. With the magic pounding in her ears she noticed the trap just in time to avoid it. This weakness was not actually the lock that held the ward, but a clever trap to ensnare the foolish. As Master Krishnan’s cage of light began to close about her Anita adjusted her attack accordingly. Instead of pushing against he cage, which would only strengthen it, she move with the natural flow of the ward and thereby avoid the cage completely. Still this was a case of out of the cookpot and into the fire as she was not trapped inside of the ward.

Fighting down a rising sense of panic, Anita turned her attention to again studying the ward. This was far more complicated than she first envisioned and wished to avoid any other traps. For what seemed like hours she probed the ward with gentle pushed instead of rage and fury. The call of the shadow realm was still in the back of her mind, but it no longer had any hold on her. With gentle shove here and a few tugs there the locks of the ward fell into place and disappeared instantly.

Anita immediately closed herself to the magic as her spirit returned to her body. The first thing she noticed was that her body was covered in sweat and her lungs working hard to get more air into her pain-wracked body. It wasn’t for a few seconds that she finally realized that she was lying on the wood floor her hand outstretched and touching her staff. It was warm and inviting, but she ignored the desire to simply caress the wood. Instead she took the staff and made her way to the door.

On her way out she dropped a note for Master Krishnan explaining what she was doing and why. Although he never gave her what she wanted — he was also never cruel and deserved an accounting of her actions. With that last step done she re-latched the door and began her journey south. She had heard that Selcaria was a good place for wizards to make their mark and she was determined to earn her place in the world.

As Anita disappeared into the distance, Krishnan cracked open the shutters from his upstairs room and watched her disappear into the darkness. The day had finally come when Anita no longer needed him to teach her. She had shattered his barrier spell and claimed her own staff by right of power, just as he had done with his master before he set off on his own. It was the last test of her skill and will that all apprentices of his order must overcome. They must decide for themselves, based upon all they know and understand, that now is the time for them to leave and spread their wings. Krishnan wished her well on her journey of exploration before muttering a slight curse to Uhl about the dampness of the weather before he finally settled into bed for his first restful sleep in three years.

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