The man squinted and stepped forward, forcing Toikem to give way. The door closed behind him softly.
“Do you fear an old boy, Gent Toikem?” he asked.
The surprise struck the young man so hard, his face almost let through the emotion. Almost. Toikem remained impassive through most of his life, and his will had less part in it than his nature – a possibly distorted nature. Feelings just did not push through like that of other people.
Is it a test?
“Fear is not the only reason to yield,” Toikem replied calmly.
The old man sighed. “A philosopher, are we?” He crossed his arms. “You yielded, that’s weakness.”
“To yield is not necessarily a proof of weakness.”
“Are you trying to convince me that you are neither fearful, nor weak?” The white-haired man tilted his head. “Or are you trying to correct me? Do I look like you’ve got something to teach me, Gent Toikem?”
Toikem felt embarrassed. Had he acted disrespectfully? He lowered his head in shame. “No, I…”
“Or do you feel that my age makes me vulnerable? Am I the one who is weak? Did you need to move away so I wouldn’t arm myself walking into you?”
Toikem thought he had only reacted in a gentle manner. Respect your elder, he remembered the words. “I moved away out of respect.”
“Oh, respect! Am I better than you, Gent Toikem? Am I of a more noble birth? Did I accomplish some heroic act? Have I done anything that pleased you, or benefited you?”
Toikem failed to find any word to speak. He did not understand why his interlocutor acted the way he did. Who was he? He clearly had enough years and wisdom to be a mage, but Toikem didn’t feel any magic about him. Surely he had some trick to hide it, or… Could he be a domestic? He wore unrefined, loose clothes. He seemed quite healthy and old – which contradicted a lack of money more than any fabric could.
Maybe Toikem had been the one to divert the conversation? “I do not fear all old boys,” he said, “but I’m not unafraid of all of them either.”
The old man flashed a disconcertingly white – and full – smile. “Good. You’ve got some sense into you. Some magic too, don’t you?” He scratched his immaculate beard.
“Who are you?” Toikem eventually dared to ask.
“I’m what happens when you assign a teenager caretaker to a laboratory: a fairly old, incredibly bored, well fed, insanely twisted, gruesomely jaded, overly paid, and adverbly adjectived boy.”
Toikem stood silent and wide-eyed in front of the old man who smiled in return.
“Name’s Zerkon. Go ahead, Gent Toikem, I think I’ve messed with you just enough for today.”
He extended his hand and opened the metal door.