Siobhan woke up once more, sometime early in the morning. She wondered what time, but couldn’t see a clock anywhere. She dug into her trouser pocket, finding her mobile phone. 5:47.
She was starving. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday. She couldn’t see any food out, and didn’t really know where to begin looking.
She squinted at the things on the books shelves. There were a few randomly scattered bags of stuff, and some odd looking jars and containers, and a few knick-knacks. But most of the shelf space was taken up by books. She couldn’t make out any of the titles on the spines from here.
She got up, sliding into the cloak. It was cold this time of morning. She looked vaguely around the room, and then found a cupboard hidden away behind a bookcase. She opened it, finding a jar of something.
She took a sniff. It smelled vaguely of fruit, so she dipped her fingers into the jar and tasted it. Not bad. She didn’t want to root around for cutlery, so she tipped back her head and drank the rest of it.
Siobhan stood up, still hungry and not liking the aftertaste of whatever she’d just consumed. She decided to go outside and get a proper look at everything. The sleeves of the cloak were unbelievably baggy, and she couldn’t get used to them. On her way out of the house she caught one of them on a nail sticking out of the door. She pulled it off, trying not to tear the fabric.
Now that the sun was starting to rise, she could see further out into the trees. There were hundred here – tall ones, woolly ones, wide ones. Ones with pink leaves, ones with blue leaves, ones with yellowish-gold leaves. Ones with no leaves. One or two that seemed to have some sort of netting hanging down from the branches. And in between the trees were more stony buildings, just like Warloc’s home.
It was interesting looking, but Siobhan stuck her tongue out at it. There was no point, she told herself, in building a relationship with the place. She wasn’t going to be here long, not if she could help it.
Warloc didn’t come downstairs for another two hours. When he did, he looked very tired indeed. Siobhan was browsing through his books.
‘You don’t look very well,’ Siobhan commented.
Warloc didn’t reply to this. ‘What are you doing? I didn’t say you could look through my things.’
‘I didn’t say you could bring me here,’ Siobhan responded. She found a book entitled ‘Pursuing Magic – A Guide’, and took it from the shelf. ‘Can I have a look at this?’
‘No,’ Warloc said. He took his staff, walked over to the fireplace, and re-lit the fire. New flames licked over the ashes. Siobhan watched him throwing more wood onto the fire. She shrugged and sat herself back in the chair, still holding the book.
‘You’re wearing my cloak,’ Warloc said. ‘Take it off.’
‘It’s my cloak! I wish you’d leave my things alone.’
Warloc took a seat in the other chair, holding his staff and twirling it in his hand. He sat back, his eyes closed. Siobhan pulled at the cloak, making herself comfortable.
‘I’m hungry, can I have something to eat?’
‘In a minute,’ Warloc said, not moving.
‘Are you going to look for the portal today?’
She sighed and flicked through it. The first chapter was some sort of introduction. It didn’t particularly grab her, so she looked at the second chapter. She started reading aloud.
Mage and Wizard training has been going on for more than 2000 years. In Augura, Mages and Wizards have always been a valuable asset to the community, providing magical solutions to the problems of the people of Augura whenever it is required.
‘That’s not exactly how it works nowadays,’ Warloc said without thinking.
‘Why not?’ Siobhan asked curiously.
‘Well... our community used to be very mixed. Everyone – Mages, Wizards, peaceable folk, giants, fairies and elves all lived together.’
‘You mean you have elves, giants and fairies?’ Siobhan asked incredulously.
‘Yes, we do. Don’t you?’
‘They don’t exist where we come from. Except in stories.’
Warloc pressed on. ‘But in recent years, we have acquired a new Emperor, and he’s split everyone up. Nowadays if anyone wants magical solutions and advice from us, they have to walk a very long way.’
‘Why are you all split up?’
‘I don’t know.’
Siobhan shrugged. ‘So this place is called Augura?’
‘That’s a weird name.’
‘Where do you live then?’ Warloc asked.
‘That’s even weirder.’
‘And what planet is this?’
‘Earth,’ Warloc replied.
‘Oh.’ Siobhan lowered her head and carried on reading in her head.
Mage or Wizard training is often conducted with a tutor, but many prefer to undergo it alone. Magical training often comes from books, but at all stages of training, some form of judgement is required. If a Mage or Wizards wishes to proceed to the next stage, he or she must visit the Oracle, who will judge their talents.
‘The Oracle?’ she asked. ‘Who’s he?’
Warloc sighed. ‘The Oracle is a very powerful Wizard. He was the last Emperor’s advisor, but Emperor Quelch has no need for him. Now he lives on Mount Jaleb, giving solutions to especially difficult problems, and judging us magic people.’
‘Is he a young guy or an old guy?’
‘He’s about 300 years old.’
‘That’s quite old. Hey, how old are you?’
These are the three stages of Mage training
Pass a potions and balms test
Make, empower and use a wand or staff
Summon a familiar
And here are the five stages of Wizard training
Lift or break a magical curse
Craft an object out of magic
Control, summon or banish a storm
Defeat a monster from the Forbidden Woodland
Open a gate between realities
‘How many of these have you done?’ Siobhan asked, holding up the book.
Warloc put his head in his hands. ‘Do you ever stop asking questions?’
‘What did you expect? I’m in an entirely different world. I need answers.’
He sighed again and stood up. ‘Just let me get my glasses.’
Warloc crossed over to another bookcase, picking up a pair of spectacles, and put them on. They made his eyes, which she now saw were grey-blue, look larger than they were. He peered at the book.
‘I’ve completed the first three stages, so I’m a Class 3 Mage.’
‘Is that what those gold badges are for?’
‘Yes. When I start completing the other five stages, I’ll start receiving silver badges. That’s if I manage to complete them.’
‘Do you want to?’
‘Of course. But they’re very difficult.’
Siobhan tucked her legs up under her. ‘And do you have to do them in order?’
‘No. But they get more and more difficult the further down you go, so...’
Siobhan looked glumly at the five stages of Wizard training. Number Five was ‘Open a gate between realities’ – right at the bottom of the list. Great.
‘And what sort of things are in the Forbidden Woodland?’ she asked.
‘Monsters, most of which haven’t even been discovered yet. Nobody goes in there if they can help it. They are unpredictable and dangerous. Some of them aren’t even affected by magic.’
‘Wow. OK, just one more question.’
‘OK,’ Warloc said, clearly getting irritated.
‘OK, right. What is a familiar? Is it like a pet type thing for Wizards?’
‘Yes, it is.’
‘I might have read about it before.’
‘They’re usually animals taken from the Enchanted Forest. Once a Mage summons one, a familiar’s eyes are taken to ensure they remain loyal.’
‘But they also usually receive some form of compensation. In return for aiding their master, they are sometimes given a small amount of magic, or the power of speech, or something like that.’
‘Right. Do you have one?’
‘Yes. He’s called Hurley.’
‘Cool.’ Siobhan put the book down. She gazed around the room, swinging her legs. ‘Erm, Warloc?’
Warloc made an exasperated noise. ‘What?’
‘What am I supposed to do as long as I’m here? I mean, until you find out how to get me back home?’
He sat up. He was never going to get a chance to relax now. ‘Read some more. Maybe if you’re good and stop asking so many questions, I’ll take you for a walk. OK?’
Siobhan nodded. ‘I suppose that’ll have to do.’
Warloc stood up. ‘You’re a very rude little girl.’
‘I’m not rude!’ Siobhan protested. ‘And I’m not little either. I’m fourteen!’
‘A fourteen year old girl who asks questions all day like a toddler and whinges about being homesick.’
Siobhan stood up as well. ‘Well, if you want my opinion -’
‘You are very annoying, you’ve treated me like some mangy dog the whole time I’ve been here... and your dress is stupid.’
Warloc’s brow furrowed. ‘It’s better than what you’ve got on.’
Siobhan looked down. She was still wearing her school uniform – that stupid, bottle green jumper, dark grey trousers and green tie. She was going to be stuck here in full Phalscam Arts School uniform.
‘Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr!’ she growled. ‘Just shut up, you,’ she warned, sitting back down again in a huff. Warloc smiled a tight smile and left the room.
Later that day, there was a knock at the front door. Siobhan was still sitting downstairs, bored to tears. She wondered if she should answer the door herself or get Warloc.
‘WARLOC!’ she bellowed up the stairs. ‘DOOR!’
A grumbling, bespectacled Warloc came stomping down the stairs, making them creak, and pulled open the front door. Outside was an old woman with surprisingly dark hair and long pointy ears. Her dress was stitched together with golden thread, and was made of some material Siobhan didn’t recognise.
‘Afternoon, Dahlia,’ Warloc said, tucking his glasses away. ‘I was just doing some studying.’
‘I’m glad to hear it,’ the woman called Dahlia responded. She saw Siobhan sitting on the chair and, after a moment, smiled warmly at her.
‘Siobhan,’ Warloc said, gesturing at her to get up, ‘this is her majesty Dahlia Alexander. Dahlia, this is Siobhan...’
‘...O’Leary,’ Siobhan finished, shaking Dahlia’s hand uncertainly. ‘Are you an elf?’
The woman laughed. ‘Yes, I am. What gave it away?’
Warloc spoke before Siobhan could answer. ‘Dahlia Alexander is Queen of the Elves. She helped me through my mage training – before I decided to work on my own.’
‘Oh,’ Siobhan said, surprised. ‘I thought you were the Emperor.’
Dahlia laughed again. ‘A good guess, but no, unfortunately not. You have a charming voice, Siobhan.’
‘Where are you from exactly?’
Siobhan turned to Warloc, who shrugged. She took this to mean she could answer truthfully. ‘Well I live in England, but my Mum is from Ireland, so I kind of picked up the accent.’
Dahlia nodded like she understood. ‘Well, it sounds just lovely.’ She turned to Warloc. ‘I came to see how you’re feeling. You seemed very weary yesterday, and I was concerned.’
‘Thank you for thinking of me,’ Warloc said graciously, ‘but I’m fine.’
Siobhan’s stomach rumbled, not for the first time that day. She still hadn’t eaten anything since morning and she really hoped she’d get to eat something else soon.
Dahlia bowed her head, and then turned to Siobhan again. ‘It was lovely meeting you,’ she said. ‘Good luck.’
And she left.