It was a cool, dark night, and wolves were howling at the moon, barely visible through the trees. It was on nights like this that Joseph Daedalus most loved living in the middle of the woods. In a city he wouldn’t have been able to build a tower higher than the tallest trees, and in a city he certainly wouldn’t have been able to sit on the top of that tower, his clockwork butler serving him tea, listening to nothing but the howling of the wolves, the whispers of the ghosts, and the soft tick-tock of his butler beside him.
This, Joseph thought, was paradise.
And then there was an abrupt halt to the paradise in the form of a loud horn going off – the door. Who would be outside, in the middle of a haunted forest, at this time of night? Joseph hurried down to the door, to beat the butler. He pulled opened the door to reveal a young boy. “My name is Tobias Priestly, sir, and I want to learn your trade,” the boy said.
“What trade? Do you want to be a blacksmith?” Joseph asked, “A clock-maker?”
Tobias shook his head innocently, eyes wide as if there could be no mistaking Joseph’s trade. “No, sir,” he said seriously. “I want to be a sorcerer.”
Joseph laughed. “No,” he said, and made to close the door. Tobias yelped and caught his hand, though, crying, “Please, sir! I can already do some spells! I won’t be troublesome, I promise! And there are wolves outside, and ghosts, don’t send me away at night, please, sir!”
“No,” Joseph repeated. “If you can do some spells already, why don’t you use them to keep the wolves and the ghosts away?” He shook his head to Tobias’ pleading expression. “I will not teach you any magic.”
“But why not?” Tobias whined.
“Because…” Joseph sighed in frustration, looking at the too-big eyes tearing up on Tobias’ young face. It was altogether too pitiful. “Look. I’m not a magician. I’m an engineer, a blacksmith, a mechanic, a clock-maker. I build machines, I don’t cast spells. I can’t teach you to be a sorcerer because I don’t know the first thing about magic. Now why don’t you go find some crazy old wizard living in those haunted woods and study under him like normal magicians do.”
Tobias frowned in confusion. “But if you aren’t a magician, how did you kill all those dark sorcerers?”
Joseph sighed. “I don’t want to go into it.” Tobias didn’t look away, didn’t shrug and leave, just stood there stalwartly waiting for an answer, and finally Joseph caved. “I made devices, clever devices. Ones that maybe you have never seen before. I used them to kill the dark sorcerers.”
Tobias grinned. “Well, then, even if you aren’t a magician I still want to learn from you.” He laughed and stepped inside the door, casually sneaking in beside a dumbfounded Joseph.
“What?” Joseph asked. “Why?”
“If you aren’t a magician, then you must be something better!”
Joseph smiled, his reserve melting away with the boy’s gleeful expression. Not that he had much choice, since Tobias was already examining the clockwork butler, which had come rolling along its track towards its default station next to the door. “Well, then, come in,” Joseph said as he closed and locked the door behind him.
Tobias was a runaway and only twelve years old, but he was clever and a good worker. He paid careful attention to everything Joseph taught him, and was even prompter in his response to orders than the clockwork butler. Joseph taught him how to assemble finely tuned clocks, devious locks, music boxes, and tiny automata. Tobias loved all of them. When he grew big enough, Tobias learned how to make the finely cut gears for his machines, as well as swords and sheilds and mail. Joseph taught him how to make magnets by pounding iron, how to harness steam power to run a machine. For his journeyman project, Tobias built a little riverboat with a turbine that could use steam to power its way upstream.
And all the while, a shadow grew.
See, it never was long before a new dark sorcerer came about and decided that he would avenge the deaths of his compatriots at the hands of Joseph Daedalus. Joseph averaged one magical duel every two or three years, and so by the time Tobias was a journeyman and eighteen years old he was long overdue. And so, it happened.
The advance guard, a smoke-dragon, came from the west as the sun set. Joseph saw a dark spot in the sky, moving quickly although the day was calm, and leaned over to Tobias. “Do you see that?” he whispered.
Tobias nodded. “It’s not natural; moving too fast for that.”
“Go get the steam-powered fan, and set the butler to follow you with the iron net with lead weights and the crossbow, with adaptor. I’d say a few of the one-hundred pound sets should do the trick.” Joseph grinned. “We’re about to have a storm.”
Tobias nodded, grinned back, and hurried downstairs. Joseph finished his tea, watching the dark clouds slowly spiralling towards his tower. After this would be a zombie horde, or an orc army, or something. And then the final battle with the dark sorcerer himself. Or maybe this would be much more direct, and the dark sorcerer would be riding the smoke dragon? Joseph cleared his throat, and studied the sky. He didn’t ask for fights with these people, they searched him out. It was the least he could do to defend himself.
The clockwork butler came back first, and Joseph took the crossbow from him and set it on the floor, arming it quickly and setting the rest of the nets beside it. He then set the butler to bring back ammunition, in case he missed or the weight was too small to do anything but slow down the smoke dragon. The butler whirred and clicked for a moment and then turned around and left. Tobias was up shortly and dropped the heavy fan to the floor, filled the base of it with coal to start the steam, and lit it. It would take a full twenty minutes for the coal to get hot enough to start pushing the steam through the turbines and rotating the fan, but the smoke dragon was still barely more than a speck on the horizon. Tobias returned downstairs for more coal, just in case, but soon the two men were standing on the top of the tower, ready for battle.
“Is it always like this?” Tobias asked, “You can see it for miles?”
Joseph shook his head. “No, sometimes they try to appear in the middle of a workshop, and that prooves more difficult. But by and large, I think that these sorcerer types like the showmanship of a huge apparition. So we usually have warning.”
Tobias yawned. “It almost seems like he’s taking his time,” he commented. The fan began to spin, and Tobias laughed. “We’ll be ready long before he gets here.”
Joseph looked over at his pupil and smiled. “Just wait,” he said. “Don’t underestimate them, no matter how foolish they appear,” and he turned back to the considerably larger smoke dragon. “Be ready when I say,” he cautioned, and Tobias positioned himself to rotate the fan as needed.The dragon put on a final burst of speed, and Joseph shouted “Now!” and Tobias turned the fan, now at full power, towards the apparition.
The man on the back of the dragon just laughed, as he hovered in the middle of the cloud of smoke. “You think that will destroy my dragon? You are even more foolish than I thought, Daedalus!”
Joseph coughed and Tobias could barely breathe, but the smoke was swirling around them, disorganized, and underneath the sorcerer, a broomstick appeared. Tobias laughed until he couldn’t breathe at all, and fell into a coughing fit, but Joseph restrained himself and instead took careful aim and shot a one-hundred pound iron weight into the back of the broomstick. The sorcerer and his “dragon” careened out of control, only to be reeled in by another shot from the crossbow, this time a net of iron-chains. The power left in the broomstick fought the weight of the iron chains, and slowly sunk to the ground. Trapped in iron, the spell ended, and the smoke began to disappear. Joseph walked over to the wizard who had seemed so confident just a moment earlier.
“I had thought you would have known better,” Joseph said. “Word does get around. They all said you were very clever.”
The sorcerer, huddling under the weight of the iron chains, reached his hand out form beneath the net. “You have bested me…” he said, and trailed off.
Joseph was about to laugh, but suddenly he couldn’t breathe. He felt an invisible hand clenching around his throat, and struggled to look toward Tobias, signal for help, but couldn’t even move. He was suffocating. He looked down at the sorcerer, who was laughing maliciously. Clever. This one was clever.
And then, just as suddenly, it stopped. Tobias shouted something, and the sorcerer screamed, and Joseph fell to the ground. “You… you do use magic,” was all Joseph heard before he blacked out.
Joseph woke in his own bed, Tobias playing the part of dutiful doctor and the clockwork butler serving as nurse. “You’re awake!” Tobias chirped, and the butler asked, “Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please,” Joseph answered before he properly realized that it wasn’t Tobias asking, it was the butler, and that the clockwork butler had never spoken before, so he was fairly certain that the clockwork butler was not supposed to speak. “You can talk,” Joseph said.
“Would you like some tea?” the butler replied.
Joseph blinked. “How can it talk?”
Tobias smiled. “Just a small improvement, sir. I gave him a voice.”
“You made him sentient,” Joseph corrected.
“Would you like some tea?” the butler asked again.
“Yes, please, now get it!”
Tobias laughed and set the butler to procure tea. “No, I didn’t make him sentient. Sometimes he does a better impression of it than then. You still need to physically set him to do each task. I just gave him a voice; he is as much an automaton as ever.”
“You used magic.”
“Yes, I did. How else would I have given him a voice?”
Joseph shook his head, and covered his eyes as he remembered the fight with the sorcerer. “Undo it!” he shouted.
“Why? I really don’t see what the big deal is! I used a harmless spell that will allow him to speak. I didn’t summon a spirit to inhabit his body! And if this is about magic in general, well, my magic saved your life and helped defeat that sorcerer, so you aren’t in a position to be complaining about it!”
Joseph tried to push himself up in the bed so as to look more imposing. This was unacceptable, he wouldn’t take this kind of outright insubordination from his pupil. “You are here as my pupil, on my whim. If you don’t follow my orders, I can and will kick you out! I was clear from the beginning – no magic! Now, you are going to remove that spell and then you are dismissed.”
Tobias sighed. “Fine. I’ll take off the spell, and then I’ll leave. But I still don’t see why you’re so afraid of magic.”
The butler rolled in on its track, silent but holding tea, and Tobias put his hand on its steel forehead. “Goodbye,” it said, and then nothing.
“It’s done,” Tobias said, resigned. “Everything is back to normal. And I know that you don’t owe me an answer, but I would appreciate to know why you’re so afraid of magic before I leave.”
Joseph rubbed his eyes. He wondered how long he had been asleep. “Magic changes you,” he said. “You start out young and happy, independent, ready to take on the world, and in a year of studying magic you turn into a wraith, skin like paper, prematurely hunched, a servant to the power as much as anything else. The more you use it, the worse it gets. I’ve seen it happen. It happened to my brother, it’s happened to friends. You can’t control power like that, it controls you. I uderstand that an occasional spell doesn’t turn you into a dark sorcerer, but it’s a slippery slope and one you can’t climb back up. Better, in my mind, to just never use magic.”
Tobias nodded, and started to leave, but then turned and said, “I’ve been studying magic these six years, while I’ve been in your tutelage. I was as powerful as that sorcerer who tried to kill you, and I am in control of my powers – healthy and happy, just like you said. I think that they can be controlled, if you keep an eye on your humanity. I think they can be tempered by cleverness and engineering, the things I learned from you. I warn you, I am going to continue to learn magic.” And with that, he turned and left.
Joseph just shook his head sadly. It was impossible that Tobias could control it, wasn’t it? Although, he had never heard of someone lasting even five years, and he had also never heard of someone gaining enough power to defeat a sorcerer – even in the simplest, most extenuating cases – without forfeiting their humanity. And Tobias was an unusually determined boy, as he had proved when he was twelve. Maybe, just maybe. Maybe it was enough that Joseph could allow himself to hope.