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"Come on, come on!" the man closing the door said impatiently, as he noticed the young man standing there.
"But I just came to look," protested Don.
"Oh?" The man raised his bushy white eyebrows.
"I saw your sign. I was curious. I thought, 'Right here in Hermosa Beach? A wizardry school?' so I had to come and take a look, didn't I?"
"Maybe you'd better come in then. No point in wandering around these hallways. Nope. Better to get first-hand experience, wouldn't you say?" queried the doorkeeper.
"What do you mean?" asked Don suspiciously.
"What I mean is this: I'm proposing that you come in to take part in a little experience. What you might call an aptitude test. You've just told me that curiosity was your reason for coming in here, so I put the question to you: Will you remain in ignorance forever, or would you like to find out what's going on behind these doors?"
"It won't cost me anything, will it?" Don asked doubtfully.
"That's hard to say," answered the old man. "If you don't try it you might go farther down the street and find a gold ring, or you might meet an old friend. If you do give it a try, you'll be giving up all those other things you could possibly do otherwise with you time. Life is a series of opportunities missed and gained. You can't decide to do one thing without deciding not to do another. Yes, that's a tricky question, that is. It'll cost you one way or t'other."
"What about cash down?" asked Don.
"Oh, no! No, no, no! That there isn't. Free of charge. Test's free for the taking if you're free for the giving. In or out?"
"In, I guess," said Don, really only halfway decided.
"In you go, then." The old man gave him a pull and a shove, and shut the doors behind him. He was in.
'But what have I gotten myself in to' Don wondered to himself as he took a look at the lecture hall. It seemed to have been made out of an abandoned movie theater. It was fairly crowded, he thought, estimating that 150 to 200 people were there. Still, he located an empty seat nearby and worked his way toward it. 'At least the seats are comfortable,' he thought as he settled in.
© 1978, 1999 by Christopher M. Albrecht
"I think it's time you saw some of the practical applications of the harmony of number, lad," mused the mage, stroking his straggling beard.
His apprentice looked nervously up from a desk covered with scribbley sheets of mathematical equations and other odd symbology. Somehow, the wizard's practical applications always took unexpected, and sometimes downright frightening, turns.
Krys duly noted Don's nervousness as he lectured: "As well you might be, for I am expecting nothing less than a perfect application of four-dimensional space-time matrices to a hyper-spatial jump!" Don breathed in sharply to support the sudden rush of adrenaline, though his voice belied his agitation. "Are you sure I'm prepared for this?" he queried. "I haven't memorized this stuff with anywhere near the same facility that you've often drilled into me before."
"That's where I erred, in not exposing you to it earlier. It is simple to apply the basic principles, but there is an infinite complexity surrounding it, like a rock thrown into a stream."
"When do we start?"
"Now. Normally, I would take greater precautions, but let's take advantage of your increased theoretical skill. Say, before the throne of Radnarva, king of the golden griffins of Aacha?" suggested Krys with his usual flair for the dramatic.
The footsteps of the pair echoed solidly upon the granite corridors of the wizard's sanctum, Draigsffau, as they trod toward the newly rebuilt south lab. A small green dragon appeared abruptly from around the next corner, bounding along the corridor like a large dog, its tail flailing along behind it. Straight for the wizard it leapt, knocking him flat and dropping a red rubber ball on his chest hopefully.
"Not today, Queel!" Krys scolded, scratching the creature under the chin, at which point it grabbed the ball and scampered on down the hall in search of another victim.
As Don gave him a hand up, his mentor groaned: "They do go through a rather playfully undisciplined stage do they not?"
"At the moment, I wish I was as care-free," he replied uncomfortably, stepping into the lab. An assortment of odd-looking creatures flapped, scuttled, or waddled away at their approach.
Don, as usual became instantly absorbed by yet another piece of technical trivia.
"Does bat's blood really alter its Q-factor from 1.7 to 3.9 when its boiled, but only when exposed to the light of the full moon on alternate Wednesdays?" he asked, fascinated.
"Yes...yes," replied Krys wearily, retrieving the tome from beneath Don's nose and shooing him toward the writing desk. "The matrices!" Krys glared, handing him a quill and pointing a bony finger at the parchment.
"Oh, dear!" muttered Don worriedly. The wizard retrieved another, handier book and set it before his apprentice: A thin, heavily-foxed volume entitled
*** EIGHT-DIMENSIONAL COORDINATE COORDINATOR ***
POINTS OF INTEREST, DISPLACEMENTS THEREFROM,
AND ALL IMPORTANT PERTINENT SYMBOLOGY
"I don't expect anyone to remember random coordinates off the top of their head," stated the wizard matter-of-factly.
Don drew the requisite set of matrices expertly, then began drawing a pentacle on the floor, at which point Krys stopped him.
"No need for that. It's just in there to impress the uninformed."
"Oh...of course, how silly of me!" Don said distractedly as he finished the preparations and retrieved both their staves.
As Don programmed his wizards' staff for the jump, he commented: "I decided to take the math to the last decimal place. You know what a perfectionist I am. Though I'll no doubt start rounding off numbers as you do once I get more familiar with its practice."
The staves hummed in perfect unison as the power rose within them. Then, with calculated timing, their pitches diverged into a complex, strange, but crystalline harmony just as a brilliant bolt of energy leapt between them.
They found themselves suddenly staring at the griffin-king's throne room. Don had done it!
"Congratulations, lad!" beamed the wizard, slapping his apprentice on the back.
"Greetings, O Radnarva, wisest of Griffin-kind. May your feathers never fall!" Krys bowed.
The king, not one to be taken much by surprise by the comings and goings of magicians (though some of his folk glared at this show of irreverence), replied: "Greetings, O Krys, most powerful of wizards. May your spells never get out-of-hand!"
"Where's Robert?" inquired Krys. "I thought he was working here to try and save the Golden Harp of Aacha."
"In sooth," replied the king, "he has done so successfully and is at this moment in the hills with an ancient man with hair of snow-white whom we only know as the harp-mage."
"But pray tell me," he continued. "What brings such dear friends all this way at such a time? Surely not for such an inquiry?"
"Nay," admitted the wizard, doffing his cap, "'twas for the benefit of my apprentice who has this day successfully completed his first dimensional jump."
"That explains the strange headgear," commented Rad with a wink at Don.
The wizard and his apprentice stared in surprise at Krys' cap, whose conical shape was now severely truncated about six inches from the top.
Krys glared at Don, as his apprentice was forcing an ear-to-ear grin, and suggested: "When rounding the last decimal place, lad, always round UP!"
Don bit his lip, saying apologetically: "Oopsie." Then, after a moment's furious thought, continued: "Wait! Wait! I can fix this!" and started a complex series of gestures in the air.
Krys cried "Wait! Wait!" as well, but it was too late. With a pop, Krys' hat was whole again, though the color which before could at best be described as a shade of Limpopo Green, was now a brilliant mossy hue.
"An improvement, I think," said Don critically, inspecting his handiwork.
Krys nodded, somewhat mollified. "The last time you did something like that we spent a week cleaning up the feathers. The townsfolk were none too happy, either."
© 1980, 1999 by Donald Jon Cox.
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