As Long As You Believe – Chapter 1 – The Apprentice

Planet

Furious swirling mists of toxic yellow and orange gasses form and reform small vortexes everywhere on the surface of the planet Pariah.  The wind howls out in terror in and perilous pain as the planet’s skin is scarred and pitted with the help of passing space debris from past and present civilizations. It is easy to think that  life cannot exist above the inner core of this planet.

Thousands of feet below, however, there lies a small city. High above, it is tainted with the noxious fumes of the atmosphere, but down below it is warmed by tendrils of excruciating heat clawing deep below its surface. It is part of a deep dark secret known only to those whose job it is to enforce the laws of unacceptable behavior and conduct. Within the bloated bowels of Pariah, so they had named it,  the Federation has converted an abandoned relay station into a honeycomb of maximum detention cells for intergalactic criminals as one of its responsibilities to eradicate all criminal behavior throughout each galaxy.

Detained many lifetimes ago in one such cell was a wizard, whose name continues to bring fear into the most courageous of hearts. He is Winchester the Wicked. His sentence on Pariah was life, a very long time for any wizard, but especially unbearable for one as evil as Winchester.

Confined in his tiny cubicle and with plenty of time to think, he has paced impatiently back and forth, wearing a rut in the concrete, unwillingly remembering the events that put him on Pariah. None the less, unrepentant, he is all the more infuriated by each passing day of his imprisonment that can only be terminated by his death.

What is really unusual about this particular prisoner is that he had always been so evil. There had been, in fact, a time many eons ago when all his attempted magic had been quite harmless… Well, almost.

As a young man growing up on Karah, Winchester suffered greatly among his peers, his appearance being what it was. Even way back then, his excessive height had been a problem, not to mention his extreme thinness. A good gust of wind was more than enough to force him to grab on to some nearby objects to keep from being blown over… or just blown away.

He had an oversized nose which came to a distinctive point, very much like the long yellow beak of a crow. His eyes were narrow and dark. They squinted a great deal of the time and not because he needed visual enhancements, commonly known as VE’s. His skin was pale, with a sickly gray tinge and after the slightest exertion, buckets of sweat would stream down his lean body. Greasy strings of coal black hair, when struck by the suns rays, gave off a royal blue aura much like the Northern lights above the Alaskan sky on the old Earth. Time, endurance and the inability to change what he could not, taught him to accept his rather unusual looks. There was only one way for him to gain self-esteem he would focus his attention on becoming a true wizard.

As a wizard’s apprentice, however, he was anything but successful. No matter how much he applied himself, his spells were insipid; they had no fizzle, no sparks, they were actually rather, well, boring. The only thing they ever did accomplish, granted though accidentally, was to change lower grade schoolmates who were constantly taunting him, into strange, or perhaps stranger, beings. Although the changes often turned out to be temporary, there was a rather unpleasant and embarrassing side effect, such as causing them to lose their hair or do strange things until the spell eventually wore off completely.

At the same time, while many people did not know of the existence of the Great Grantook (the wizard to who established the clan to which Winchester aspired to join), he had made it his business to learn more about Winchester and for a very unsavory reason. Those who practice this branch of magic outlawed by the Federation, looked up to Grantook as their dark leader, as their sacred wizard. Grantook had lived for many more years in the planet Karh itself, having teleported there when he was but a young budding terror but even for him ,life as he knew it was coming to an end. He was searching for a successor.

News of Winchester’s inability to perfect or perform spells and other bits and pieces of the Federation endorsed magic had filtered down into the cave’s Grantook inhabited, from his many undercover apprentices who still lived on the surface.

“I wonder if this boy is following the wrong calling. Could it be his potential is misdirected?” Grantook speculated to one of his bidders. “Channel him here at once,” he ordered, “so I can have a look at this, this oh, just bring him here!”

For all that he wasn’t, Winchester had always been rather naïve while someone else might have asked who this Grantook was and why did he live below the surface level of Karah, Winchester merely nodded to the small man and endeavored to keep up with his quick pace, never once questioning his final destination nor its purpose. He displayed a child’s innocence when at last he found himself deep within the Karah’s guts, having been conducted through a maze of dimly lighted passageways and the channeling beam. The messenger paused in a huge cavern punctured with hundreds of long dark tunnels, each one seemingly without end.

The ceiling was high, so high Winchester could not see its top. This cell was well lighted and after he had looked all around, trying not to get dizzy from the immensity of it all, he heard a cough and looked back down. There, astride an antique chaise lounge covered with a spring garden of hand-painted delicate pastel flowers, was a being.

He wore a tall pointed hat, as was the fashion for wizards in most orders. He was dressed in an ornate robe woven from all the colors of the rainbow – – combinations of blues and reds and greens held together by threads of silver and gold, all covering his immenseness.As tall as Winchester was, this being was short. As narrow as Winchester was, this being was wide. But his face was what Winchester finally came to focus upon. It was round. Very round. Except for the usual facial features – – a pug nose, two round eyes and a mouth which disappeared into the folds of several chins, it was difficult to tell the difference between it and one of those Graffi balls his peers tossed back and forth when they were in between courses (Graffi had always been too strenuous for Winchester, who was a rather delicate child, and who had been forced to spend many hours watching others play.) And then the being spoke.

A loud bellow issued from between large purple lips and the huge being wasted no time in quizzing and questioning Winchester. He put him through several apprentice tests until he was quite satisfied with the preliminary results which included the inadvertent blowing up of one of the most modern and newly constructed laboratories ever built below a planet’s surface. The Great Grantook had not intended this to be part of the task, but time was running out.

“I don’t really have a choice now, do I,” he mumbles half heartedly. “I will have to work with this one. All the others have been disposed of, for one reason or another, or have succeeded in disposing of themselves. I don’t have the time to find another candidate. I will just give him as much help as I can until the end and, I will give him the ring.”

Right before Grantook’s demise, Winchester was scheduled to undergo the ultimate test. If he passed, he would receive the official title of Wizard. If he didn’t, well, he would join those before him who had failed.

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