Another Wizard Story

Capricorn42

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Hi All

This is another wizard story featuring Philias, the ancient wizard who is growing on me, I must admit. I do like the idea of a hero who uses brains rather than brawn to win the day - maybe that's just me. Maybe I've watched too many Agatha Christie murder-mysteries. Anyway, I would love to know what you think of this one.

Philias and Markan​


The two wizards met, as wizards often do, on neutral ground.

The family who owned this house, perched on a sun-baked Mediterranean hillside, slumbered in their bedrooms, oblivious to the time of day and to the strangers who had taken over their kitchen.

Philias and Markan gazed at each other across the kitchen table.

“How did you get here?” Markan asked.

“Taxi. From the village.”

“Hmm.”

“You?”

“I drove.”

“I don’t see a car. I didn’t hear one either.”

Both of them had water and salt before them, neither of them touched either.

“It’s hidden. And protected.”

“Ah. Well, Markan, you don’t need to worry about that. I’m not interested in trapping you.”

Markan smiled sardonically. “Indeed. But why here, Philias? This village has nothing in its bones to attract a man like you. I don’t see you as a tourist. You belong in a dusty library. Or even better, in a glass case in a dusty library.” She sniggered.

“I like the weather here,” Philias said. “It’s good for my health. I admit, today it is hotter than usual. An old man like me needs to be careful, in this heat.”

Now Markan laughed out loud. She sat back and gazed at the old wizard. “You asked me here for a reason and it wasn’t to complain about the heat.”

“No. It was to complain about her.” Philias looked to his right, through the open door, to the young woman soaking up the sun in the yard.

“Elseth? You asked me to bring her.” Markan lent closer. “I assumed you wanted to borrow her.”

“I certainly do not.”

“What is she to you?”

“An abomination.”

The two wizards, on either side of the rough table, stared awhile at each other.

“You haven’t touched the offerings,” Philias said, nodding at the water and the salt. “I put them out in good faith. You owe me the courtesy of tasting them.”

“I will not. I’ll take nothing from you.”

“Your suspicion clouds your judgement.” Philias, with a deliberate movement, took a pinch of salt to his tongue. He washed it down with a sip of water.

“I’m not impressed by this pantomime,” Markan said.

“Perhaps, but now you owe me a favour.”

Markan smiled. “I get it. You do want to borrow Elseth. Abomination or not. You just don’t want to pay for her. You old devil. Fine, I’ll humour your ancient protocols. She’s yours for the next hour, do with her what you will. She’s nothing but parchment and blood to me.”

Philias shook his head. “I don’t want your succubus. I want her gone.”

“You have morals? Please.”

“I know a demon when I see one.” Philias touched the locket at his throat. “Tell me her real name,” he said.

“What? Don’t be ridiculous.” Markan smiled at Philias. “Perhaps the heat has gone to your poor, raddled old head, eh? Perhaps you ought to stagger off and take a nap? You can snuggle up to the peasants who own this hovel, they would probably enjoy that. All of you, all in one bed. Mum, Dad, a wizened old man with a face like a cracked mirror.” She got to her feet. “I’m leaving. I clearly wasted my time coming here. You have a reputation, Philias, for being clever. I assumed you might be hungry as well, but no, instead you just wanted to whine about my succubus. Go search for demons somewhere else, Philias.”

By way of an answer, Philias reached out to the pile of salt before him. “You’re leaving, the salt is untouched. I claim a forfeit. Tell me her real name.” He touched his locket one more time.

Markan stared at him, then flicked her eyes towards Elseth.

“Ah,” Philias said. “I believe her real name is Shamon.”

“No.”

“Your forfeit was a second’s glance into your mind. Thank you.”

Both wizards turned towards the door as a thin and creaking wail split the air.

Markan started towards Philias, her face red with rage. “You lied to me!”

“I did not.”

Markan hesitated, despite her rage. “I could cut you down,” she snarled.

“Like the way you used that thing to cut down foolish men? No, Markan. You won’t touch me because I’m too old to be worth the effort.”

“Is that so.”

They stared into each other’s eyes. Philias put out a finger towards his locket.

“Too old, you say.” Markan drew back. “Not too old, I hope, to peer over your shoulder for the rest of your miserable life.” She turned and left the house.

The wailing continued for a minute before finally fading. A faint scent of burning flesh drifted into the house.

Philias sat back and closed his eyes, touched the locket once more and the scent was gone. Sweat ran down his face.

A few minutes later the mother of the house found him there, at her kitchen table. She was sleepy and bewildered but she remembered her manners. The old man, who said he was travelling and had stopped to ask for a moment away from the heat, took some water gratefully before asking if, perhaps, he might telephone for a taxi back to the village.

The End
 

alexvss

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It's a good opening line. It has a genre marker for fantasy and it also does some worldbuilding. Overall, it's a good piece. It has tension all the way through, so it doesn't bore the reader; and the humor works well. I just longed for descriptions that would help me understand the wizards, because when I hear the word "wizard" I think of pointy hats and purple robes and magical wooden staffs, but your wizards are modern. I think two or three sentences of description would help the reader to picture the scene better, thus helping the piece a lot.

PS: Is this somehow based on Phineas and Ferb?
 

tinkerdan

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It's an interesting short,
Perhaps too short or perhaps too much emphasis in the wrong places.
Plenty of dialogue that unfortunately reads like a badminton match on a windless day. Too much leisurely batting back and forth.
No real engagement of the reader.
The POV looks to be the starkest of Omniscient objective. Too objective.
Mostly like a camera that zooms into the two characters most of the way through so close that you should see the pores in the skin; but then so hazy that the reader barely makes out the general features of the face.
Then there is the microphone for the dialogue which is mostly obtuse and not very informative.

There seems to be some sort of code concerning the water and the salt and it proves important to Philias and his plan and for some reason Markan seems oblivious to it, yet it is so important that the fate of the succubus seems to be determined by what Maran does or does not do. It would seem as though there should be enough at stake here that Markan would know these things and have to have some reason for refusing to partake.

The reader doesn't know any of this and can only guess--there is no way to measure how great a thinker Philias is from this piece because it simply happens with no clues--clues that might be delivered if there was a closer look at the characters and how they express themselves with their bodies to help the reader understand that there might be something at stake and that by their actions their decisions were of great importance.

We really don't see any of this until Philias sweats at the end.

By then I've no idea what that's all about because there are no clues that there is anything at stake for these characters.

In fact a close third POV might work better to delve into Philias' senses and thoughts a bit to cue the reader and engage them in the writing.
 
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Capricorn42

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Thanks @alexvss : Nothing to do with Phineas and Ferb. I can see that more description would help.
Hi @tinkerdan . I'm no expert on occult lore but salt (because it was so valuable) was given as a valued gift, usually requiring respect and a suitable response. Markan knows that; she is arrogant enough to ignore it, hence she falls into Philias' trap. Ursula Le Guin used the device of true names, where knowing the true name of an object or person gave you power over it/them. And so Phiias is able to destroy the succubus.
 

Wayne Mack

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I felt confusion upon reading this story. I didn't understand the significance of any of the points raised: why did the two need to meet on neutral ground, why were their modes of transportation important, what were the importance of water and salt? I presume someone died at the end, but was it Markan or the succubus? Was the woman at the end supposed to the succubus? Was she cleansed of the succubus, still unaware that she was a succubus, or an innocent who had been misidentified as a succubus?

Perhaps this might work in the context of a larger story, but not as an apparently stand alone tale. The details seemed arbitrary and unrelated to the story and I did not see Philias using "brains rather than brawn to win the day." He simply seemed to kill someone for not complying to his wishes.
 

emrosenagel

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It kept my attention, but I did find things confusing, as if I were missing vital information. What was with the salt and water, and what exactly caused the demon to die ( if she did die)? And I think my biggest question was why did Philias want to get rid of her? I would have liked a better reasoning than “she’s an abomination.”

I did like your style, and I was interested enough in your characters to want to learn more about them. Keep it up!
 

paranoid marvin

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It's definitely an interesting premise. One of the key things about the story - the water and salt - could do with a little more explaining as to their significance; there is also a substantial part at the start of your tale regarding their travel arrangements that seemingly has none. I would suggest starting your story with Philias setting out the table in preparation for the meeting and describing the purpose of them and leaving out the discussion about their travel arrangements (although leave in the request for a taxi at the end).
 

Capricorn42

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Thanks everyone for the comments. I have to mention the travel arrangements (although in the context of a fantasy story that is a strange thing to write down...) Anyway, I had in mind a chess game. Two players who know each other, but don't like or trust each other. The first few moves are quick and cold, they're testing and prodding. Here it's Markan who makes the first big move by asking why here, what's going on. It's here that the 'game' proper begins.
Also I personally liked adding this line, where Markan talks about her car:

“It’s hidden. And protected.”

She's warning him not to mess with her. She really doesn't trust him, or probably anyone, and it's that suspicion and even contempt that allow Philias to trick her.

NB the salt thing is a nod to other fantasy stories where 'offerings' as part of a ritual (as i mentioned above briefly) were very important in the old days, especially salt, hence the phrase 'high above the salt'. From the free dictionary:

Of or in a position of high standing, rank, regard, or repute. The term is derived from the social hierarchy of nobility in medieval times, in which salt, a precious commodity then, was set in the middle of the dining table. Those of high noble rank were seated "above the salt," that is, closer to the lord and lady of the house
 

tinkerdan

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Did they have telephones and Taxies and automobiles back then?

Thanks @alexvss : Nothing to do with Phineas and Ferb. I can see that more description would help.
Hi @tinkerdan . I'm no expert on occult lore but salt (because it was so valuable) was given as a valued gift, usually requiring respect and a suitable response. Markan knows that; she is arrogant enough to ignore it, hence she falls into Philias' trap. Ursula Le Guin used the device of true names, where knowing the true name of an object or person gave you power over it/them. And so Phiias is able to destroy the succubus.
Either way it is not clear what era you are in and witchcraft uses bowls of water, salt, and sand for many different things. And There is no clarity on why refusal of even the offer of something valuable would give him special access to her mind to find the name of the creature.

Le Guin at the very least established the value of a name right away so the power aspect was clear.

You need to establish both the power of a name in this case and the purpose of the bowls or you have something far worse than Deus ex machina.
Calling something clever because you leave the important information out seems more than just risky.
 

Capricorn42

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Thanks @tinkerdan you're right. There is a lot of obscure stuff in the story and I should have explained these elements rather than just introduce them, assuming that everyone knows what they're about. The setting is modern day, BTW. I wanted to explore the idea of wizards and magic in the modern day which I felt would be (for me anyway) more interesting than the usual dark ages/Conan setting.
 

Bowler1

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I'm sorry to say that I found it confusing and I wasn't sure why the wisards were having their meeting, or the point to the interaction. Too disjointed for me.

Yet the characters did shine and you are showing flare that I liked with good dialogue, which I like to do too.

Take time to set a scene, and feed into a storyline that promises more to come. You set a scene, but I really wasn't sure where you were taking me as a reader. Why salt, why be offended, why in a kitchen, mystery yes, but too much murky mystery and it is unkind to your readers who may struggle to keep up with you.

You do the hard work of polish by editing and developing the whole scene. When you've done this right, I won't notice, I simply disappear into your story. But not quite today mate, it felt like you held too much back to create mystery, and I was left lost instead.

I don't drive or do taxis, not when Scotty can beam me up, so la..t...e.....r
 

RJM Corbet

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Really good. As a short story the point needs to come through more clearly about the importance of knowing the real name. It's clear when you explain it, but it's not clear enough in the story, imo. Good writing: it caught me from the beginning and kept me reading
 

Chris 1978

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I liked it. Its true, wizards often meet on neutral ground (don't they?) Well powerful people do, like gangsters... ah yes gangster wizards on the Costa del Crime escaping the 'heat' of Essex. I liked this line a lot it made me smile, great start!

A question, did knowing the name of the demon destroy her hence the smell of flesh? if this is the case perhaps some confirmation of her demise is necessary (for us dimwits) Actually scrap that - it would be too obvious.

I'm also not sure that the explanation of Philias's use of the forfeit is required. Marken would know its purpose and realize her mistaken fall into his trap.

After reading all of the comments, your replies and the short story again I began to understand some of the aspects that I was unsure of, fans of the genre and with a strong knowledge of certain Wizarding practices might have understood it more clearly. I didn't mind however not knowing certain things, but there is a limit and it could detract from the nice little scene thats been set up. Balance I suppose, that's the trick!

Are there more Philias escapades?
 

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