Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Poor Wealthy Merchant

The days are getting longer and the weather is heating up once again in the Spiral. I stopped in a Wizard City tavern for an ice-cold drink and overheard this story. According to the narrator of this tale, it has been circulating the city for decades, inevitably taking on different shapes and variations over the years. This is the version they were most familiar with and claimed was closest to the truth.

Do you know the story of the mysterious house in Wizard City? You've probably seen it- the building with the lights that come on and off occasionally. It's hard to miss. Take a left in the Shopping District, go past the fountain and it's across the street from Aubert Quickhammer's shop.

Some wizards report the lights are on, clear as day. Others can't see any lights. If one tries to look through the windows, they would find the windows are too dirty to really see anything. It's as if the glow of light emanates from the window itself. Neither cunning nor brute force will open the door or pierce the windows, so the house remains completely untouched. There are many rumors, but only one true story...

Many years ago, though how many exactly no one can be sure, a wealthy merchant lived all alone in a house in the Shopping District. It was a large house, filled with numerous rooms and staircases. The house was commissioned by the merchant and he gave the master builder a blueprint that he had designed himself to house his worldly possessions for all to see. There were grand parlors and dining tables to host many guests, and rooms made just for displaying trophies.

"Aren't you going to pay me for my hard work?" the master builder said as the merchant was carrying a load of golden goblets into his new house. "I have laid one million bricks to make the walls, used five hundred pounds of sand to make the windows and chopped down one dozen trees to make the doors. You have only paid me for a small part of my work."

The merchant simply laughed. "You should be thankful I gave you any money at all! I am the richest merchant in the Spiral and you should be honored that I gave the job to someone as lowly as you." The merchant brushed past the builder and continued moving his things.

"I'll give you one more chance to repay me for my work," said the builder in a calm, quiet voice. The merchant stared for a moment and laughed again, continuing on with his moving without another word. The builder left penniless and the merchant was glad to see him go.

The merchant lived happily for the next year in his new house, hosting parties every Friday evening and spending long hours gazing at his priceless belongings. On the day he had lived there for exactly one year, he held a party to celebrate one year of living in this extravagant house. Only the richest merchants from Grizzleheim to Krokotopia were invited, and the lot of them drank imported Yum, ate only the finest MooShu cheese and listened to the best musicians Avalon could offer. It was a fine night and the music and laughter carried across all of Wizard City.

The merchant was giving a tour of his house to his guests when he came across a bedroom door that would not open. No matter how far he turned he brass handle and pushed against the solid oak door, it would not budge. The guests looked at one another, their faces unamused.

"I say, what sort of trick is this? Is this house not the most splendid of its kind in Wizard City?" the Marleybonian merchant said. Suspicious murmurs ran through the group.

"It's only a stuck door," the merchant protested. "I shall take it up with the builder and make him fix his own mistake!"

"Oh for heavens' sake," cried another merchant. He stepped forward and pushed the merchant's hand away. The door opened without so much as a creak The merchant could only look nervously on as his guests dispersed, muttering about how his joke was in poor taste.

The evening wore on, though with less vigor than before. Soon, all the guests trickled out and went home. The merchant felt humiliated by not being able to open his own door, and worse yet his guests thought he was trying to pull a prank on them. He made his way back up the stairs and gazed sideways at the door, still standing open from when the guest had opened it. He took the handle and saw it was swinging effortlessly on its hinges. He closed it again and tried to open it. The door was stuck. He pushed and pulled and threw all his weight against it, but it did not budge.

Early the next morning the merchant summoned the builder to his home.

"What is the meaning of this?" the merchant cried as he demonstrated his inability to open the bedroom door. "I have been humiliated in front of my peers and I demand that you fix this!"

"Whatever are you talking about?" the builder asked smoothly. He strode forward and opened the door. "There is nothing to be fixed."

The merchant angrily closed the door and demonstrated once again that he couldn't open it. The builder stood watching the merchant try to open the door. When the merchant had lost his breath and collapsed next to the door panting and sweating, the builder spoke.

"There is nothing to be fixed. You are simply paying your debt."

The merchant looked up at the builder. A confused look crossed his face, then he burst out laughing. "You really believe that one stuck bedroom door is going to repay whatever debt I owe you? I owe you nothing!"

The builder opened the door once more and went downstairs to leave. As he walked outside, he called over his shoulder in a singsong voice. "I have chopped down one dozen trees to make the doors. It has been one dozen months and I have not been paid for my work." The merchant roared and slammed the front door behind the builder.

Over the next few months, more and more doors became stuck. They were all doors to parlors, bedrooms and other rooms that weren't of great necessity, so the merchant laughed at the idea that this could possibly be payback for a debt he did not owe to such an annoying builder. He continued to live in his house and host large parties, although he didn't take his guests on any more tours.

About halfway through the fourth month of his second year in the house, the merchant was cleaning a window when he realized the dirt on the window was not coming off. He looked closer and saw that the dirt was inside the pane of glass. He called the builder back and showed the window to him.

The builder took one look at the window and began to leave. As he did, he said in the same singsong voice: "I have used five hundred pounds of sand to make the windows. It has been five hundred days and I have not been paid for my work."

The merchant continued to live in his house and ignored the builder. More doors became stuck and more windows became foggy, until the merchant was afraid the front door would become stuck and he would never get out. He kept the door open at all hours, sleeping in the doorframe to ensure no one would try to walk inside and steal his belongings during the night. None of the windows were clear anymore, and only faint, yellow light was able to stream into the house.

Multiple times others, who simply assumed the man's mind was deteriorating and pitied him, offered to open the doors in the merchant's house for him, and he gladly accepted. But the doors, which had previously seemed to be set evenly on their hinges, would slowly swing closed again. Even when the merchant placed a brick doorstop in front of the doors, he would come back later to see the doorstop had been pushed aside or was gone completely and the door was closed. Finally, everyone thought the merchant was playing tricks on them and they were no longer willing to help. He even tried removing the doors, but no saw, hammer or other implement could disassemble or break the doors.

One day, the builder happened to walk by the house and saw the merchant in the frame of his front door. The merchant was weathered, grizzled and could barely keep his eyes open.

"Are you willing to repay the remainder of your debt to me?" the builder asked casually. The merchant looked up at him and glared. "You have brought nothing but misery upon me, and after I so graciously let you take on the task of building my home," the merchant spat. "I even gave you some money, yet you still want more?" He tried to grab at the builder's legs but did not have the strength.

The builder clucked his tongue and shook his head. "I only ask for what is due- nothing more, nothing less. I have now given you three chances to redeem yourself and pay what you owe me for building such an extravagant house. The builder winked a sparkling eye, and the merchant's blood ran cold. He realized the grave mistake he had made, for everyone knows that wizards are capable of settling debts to them through means other than brute force; Never once has there been a creature whose debt to a wizard went unpaid.
The merchant had angered one of Wizard City's magic folk.

The merchant begged and pleaded, but the damage had already been done. He was so weak from jealously guarding his worldly possessions that it took no more than a push with the builder's foot to shove him inside his house. The builder closed the door before the merchant could muster the energy to get up, and the builder walked away, humming a tune and quietly saying "I have chopped down one dozen trees to make the doors, and so the doors for which you did not pay after one dozen months will forever be closed. I used five hundred pounds of sand to make the windows, and so the windows for which you did not pay after five hundred days will forever keep you hidden from sight. I laid one million bricks to make the walls, and so the walls for which you have not paid will keep you contained for one million years."

Some say the builder's heart was pure, and he later took pity on the poor merchant, let him out and the merchant immediately paid his debt but was forced to swear he or anyone else could never set foot in the house again. Others say the builder had settled his debt and washed his hands of the matter, leaving the merchant's spirit trapped in the house for one million years. Whatever the outcome, if you happen to pass by the old house across the street from the furniture shop, stop and take a look. Perhaps you, too, will see lights inside streaming forth as someone- or something- inhabits the house.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Elik the Thief

After the breaking of the First World, when chaos finally rested once again and normal folk resumed their daily lives as best they could, Ravenwood School was founded on a world fragment that became known as Wizard City. It was a time of tentative peace, when conflict was still fresh in the minds of all creatures and unity was fragile.

Young Elik was a student of Fire at the newly founded Ravenwood. He was cunning, sly and generally very unpleasant. Among these unfavorable qualities, Elik had a fondness for preying upon Ice wizards. Since learning about Ice's weakness against Fire in his studies, he set out to make the lives of the thaumaturges as miserable as possible. Sometimes Elik would summon hordes of firecats to overrun the ice classroom while class was in session, making an escape before anyone knew who the culprit was. Other times he would melt ice sculpture assignments and snow-making homework while students weren't looking.

One day, word began to spread that merchants who moved to the shopping district in Wizard City would be robbed blind, and merchants were moving away with nobody new to replace them. The city's wealth was in a terrible state and students had very few places to buy items for school or shop on weekends. The residents called upon the wisest wizards from the school to investigate this distressing turn of events.

The stolen objects were artifacts kept from the First World: a world whose remnants were slowly disappearing. They reminded families of their old lives in the days when they would look up and see the Grandfather Tree's children fighting. It was a frightening time, but the people put their trust in their Grandfather to keep them safe. When the world broke apart and Grandmother and Grandfather wove the Spiral, the people took it as proof of their Grandparents' desire to protect their grandchildren- thus the artifacts served as symbols of resilience through catastrophe.

Under the light of the wild moon, Headmaster Ambrose led a band of the most experienced wizards to apprehend the thief and return whatever the thief planned to steal that night. The group waited nearly half the night before a rustling in the undergrowth caught their attention. There, in the shadows, a figure carrying a bag clinking with stolen loot was sneaking across a lawn in an attempt to get away. Ambrose approached first, speaking in his normal, gentle voice as he urged the thief to stop now and return the stolen goods. The figure threw back its head in laughter. "Do you not know who I am, Headmaster? I am the student whose power you constantly undermine, always keeping my fellow students and me in check. It's foolish, really. You ought to know that one school stands above the rest, and I'm going to show you the error of your ways."

Fire whipped around the thief, illuminating his face: Elik. Ambrose sidestepped the strike easily and bounded forward to grab the bag from the wayward student. The moon flashed in Elik's eye as he gave a savage smile and turned running through the streets, his plan set firmly in his mind.

From a stolen book in the library Elik had learned the words of power necessary to summon the Giants' aid from the skies surrounding Wizard City. Nobody in recent memory had spoken these words, so Elik would be the first. He would conquer the Giants and finally prove Fire's dominance over Ice once and for all in front of the elder wizards and the headmaster, and he would spend the rest of his days a wealthy and powerful wizard. He ran faster and faster, the cliff looming near. With a bold leap he flew into the air, the wizards behind him scrambling to a halt and shouting with dismay.

Klaatu, Verata, Nictu

The words echoed throughout the city... followed by silence. Elik began to fall, and repeated the words more loudly, panic rising in his voice. He looked down and saw an icy cloud shining in the moonlight and he breathed a sigh of relief, relaxing as he fell towards the cloud. Suddenly, the cloud twisted and convulsed angrily. A huge serpent of crystalline ice and snow leapt up, hissing and screeching. Before he knew what had happened, the creature swallowed Elik whole and burst into a spray of ice shards, leaving Elik and the artifacts utterly gone.

The wizards above watched in horrified silence before turning away and going home without another word.

Headmaster Ambrose declared that his city would have an official guard to prevent rampant theft and provide safety to the citizens. Thus the Wizard City Guard you see today was born. The cliff was also to be named after the mysterious student as a reminder of the equality of magic schools. Few still know the tale of Elik's Edge, but since that night all initiate Ice students have made their journey to the cliff to give an offering of pure ice and say the words of power to prove their worthiness to command the powerful forces that lie in the void below.

Special Note: This story was told to me by Headmaster Ambrose long ago when I first began my adventures as a traveling storyteller. The story's details were pieced together based on the headmaster's summary.