Skull and Shackles

Interlude: On Magic

Posted by: Jennifer

Genzei was a maze. Feruzi surveyed the narrow, winding streets that fed off the docks with considerable trepidation. In theory, it wasn’t any more foreign to her than any other port in the Shackles, but Genzei felt more than foreign, it felt frenzied, like she wasn’t going shopping but preparing for war in completely unknown territory against an unguessed foe.

“Ah, you go out, fierce hunter? Or stay in ship?” Feruzi jumped and turned around to see Tenchin grinning at her.

“What?” The man spoke Taldane well enough, but even when the words were clear the meaning was rarely so.

“Go or stay, but not block plank.”

“Oh.” Feruzi stepped onto the shore to let the little old man past. He stumped down the gangplank and struck a pose on the dock, leaning back with his hands on his hips. Tenchin took a deep breath and smacked his lips appreciatively.

“Ah, good to visit civilization again. Smell proper air.” To Feruzi, the port smelled much like any other—rotting fish, seaweed, and weird cooking smells. Maybe a little less of the urine and feces here, but the appalling noise more than made up for it. “You visit Tien before? Yesno?”

“No.”

“Ah, you come! You eat real food! Should not miss!” Without waiting for her response, Tenchin latched onto her arm and barreled straight at the crowds. Feruzi found herself bouncing helplessly off a pile of caged chickens, bowling over an elaborately-dressed prostitute, and putting her foot through some kind of drum as she staggered after the tiny old man. There was no point in arguing, so she concentrated on keeping her feet until they fetched up at what appeared to be a combination alchemical shop, tannery, and rubbish heap. There Tenchin engaged in rapid-fire speech with the equally tiny and elderly shopkeeper, who began picking up bits of rubbish and alchemical concoctions and throwing them into a smoking, sizzling pan. He then decanted the result into a bowl and handed it to Feruzi with a sneer. Feruzi stared at the greasy mess in horror.

“You eat! Good! Good!” Tenchin enthused, rubbing his stomach and mugging vigorously.

“This is food?! It looks like someone scraped it off the bottom of a shipwreck.”

“Good food!” The shopkeeper was waving a spoon at Feruzi and chattering like an angry monkey. Feruzi glared at Tenchin, then took the spoon and shoveled some of the glop into her mouth. Instantly, she felt like someone had jabbed red-hot pins into her sinuses. Her throat swelled, her eyes watered, and she burst into a fit of helpless choking. Both Tenchin and the shopkeeper exploded into hysterical laughter.

“Oh, you spring chicken! No fortitude!” Tenchin took the bowl and wolfed down the volcanic mixture with every sign of enjoyment.

“Ha, ha,” Feruzi said weakly.

“We get you food for feeble baby chick!”

“No, no, really, I’m not hungry.”

“No food? Why so many dithering?” Tenchin pantomimed Feruzi’s indecision and the shopkeeper cackled. “You tell wise Uncle. He help you.”

“I wanted to . . . get a book. On magic.”

“Magic? You make love potion maybe?”

“What? No!”

“Ah, of course, you already have man! You use magic make him last longer! Much secret!”

“NO!” The shopkeeper waved an admonishing finger at the outburst. “We don’t have a sorcerer aboard, but we keep running across them. I don’t want us to be undefended. So I thought . . .”

“Ahh. You wise. Very good. You come!” Tenchin latched on to Feruzi’s arm and once again they were bouncing through the crowd, fetching up after a dizzying time at another tiny hole in the wall that was indistinguishable from the first. In fact, Feruzi wasn’t entirely convinced that this was, in fact, a different location, particularly since there was a rather familiar-looking bowl still sitting on the counter.

“Jahei teach you ALL about magic!” Tenchin declared. The shopkeeper reached and grabbed Feruzi’s face in what felt remarkably like gnarled bird claws. There followed a thorough examination of Feruzi’s eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, knees, and elbows, and the shopkeeper burst into outraged shouting and retreated deep into the bowels of the shop. Tenchin’s smile vanished. “Jahei say you no learn.”

“What? Why?”

“Head no smart. No learning. But you have magic in blood. Just need wake.”

“Um . . . so how do I do that?” The shopkeeper reappeared and began throwing things in the smoking pan again, muttering all the while. The bowl was refilled and pressed into Feruzi’s hands.

“You eat.”

“I think once was enough, thank you.”

“No. You eat.” Tenchin was not smiling in the slightest. “Eat all.”

“I think I’ve had enough of this.”

“Eat!” the shopkeeper grabbed Feruzi’s wrists, pinning her to the counter, while Tenchin pinched her nose until she gasped for air and shoveled the bowl of mess into her mouth. He then clamped his bony hand over her face until she had to either swallow or choke to death. “Good. You wake up, you read scroll.”

“Wh-what?” Feruzi muttered. Her eyes would no longer focus. Maybe she’d just lie down for a bit.

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Jennifer

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