Short Story – The Impossible Task
A chill blew through Annetta, Jason, Link and Sarina as they walked home from school. Leaves danced around their feet, a sure reminder that winter would soon be upon them. It was something that neither Annetta nor Jason were looking forward to, having endured their fair share of cold weather due to living in Canada their whole lives.
“What I wouldn’t do for an extended summer,” huffed Annetta as she pulled her jean jacket tighter around herself, passing through their shortcut among the townhouses.
“I don’t quite comprehend how it is that after having endured a lifetime in these conditions you are still not used to them,” Sarina observed with curiosity.
Ploughing ahead of her friends and stopping herself before the street, Annetta whipped her head around, receiving a fistful of reddish-brown hair in her eyes. Narrowing the blue orbs, she gazed in the direction of the other girl. Had Annetta not known any better and was told by a stranger that Sarina was not of this world, she would have laughed. She looked no different than herself, a human girl. Large almond-shaped brown eyes looked back at Annetta and a cascade of thick auburn hair framed her petite face. She was currently wearing a thick woollen coat and from her right hand hung a thick book she had checked out from the library at school.
“It’s not that we’re not used to it,” she replied. “We just don’t like it, that’s all.”
“Why would human bodies not adapt to being comfortable in all seasons?” Sarina asked. “I mean… as natives of the planet.”
“No idea,” Jason interjected as he caught up to them with Link. “Sounds like a Puc thing to know if you ask me.”
“Whose lessons we probably shouldn’t be late to,” Link reminded them.
Hearing her legitimate question fall on deaf ears, Sarina silenced herself for the rest of the journey. At times, it was difficult for her to participate in the conversations of her companions. Where they would horse around and laugh, she would be curious and question. In private, Jason had assured her that there was nothing wrong with this, but she still felt a little bit like an outcast. While Link was also not of Earth, he’d been allowed to grow up with having friendships and even a father who had cared about him. She had not been so lucky, her only companion ever having been Matthias, who was currently on a mission to find Amarok. She was still new to the whole friendship thing and it seemed she had a lifetime of catching up to do. Letting out a shallow breath, she continued with the others to their destination.
Once they’d reached the training arena in Q-16, everyone dispersed. Annetta, Jason and Link rid themselves of their outer layers and retrieved their sparring weapons. Meanwhile, Sarina sat quietly on one of the benches off to the side with the book she had borrowed earlier sprawled open across her lap. She usually watched part of the fighting, but often she grew bored and resorted to reading instead.
Soon after they arrived, the slow and steady thudding of a wooden staff could be heard from the door. In strode Puc Thanestorm, his navy-coloured robes piped in gold flowing behind him like smoke. The feral blue Water Elf’s eyes caused all of the youth to hush down awaiting his instructions. He came to a stop beside the benches, some of his black hair falling into his face, forcing him to push it back in order to fully regard his charges.
Seeing no one so much as move a muscle when he came in, the mage spoke. “You know the drill by now. There is no need for me to instruct you on this matter. Warm up first and we shall proceed.”
The group nodded and began their routine. Sarina was amazed at the discipline Puc had been able to instil in the trio in such a short amount of time. While they would occasionally retort or shoot a snide comment here and there, for the most part Annetta, Jason and Link all obeyed him. It was a different kind of obedience than she had witnessed with the war masters of Valdhar, however, for it was not driven by fear but by respect. The more she thought on it, the more fascinated she became with the whole scene.
“How do you manage to keep them in line?” she blurted out.
“I do not think I quite understand your question or to what it pertains,” Puc replied, his eyes not leaving the teenagers.
“I meant Annetta, Jason and Link,” she clarified. “How do you manage to get them to come down here almost every day and train without having to strike fear into them?”
“The answer to that is quite simple.” The mage glanced sideways at her. “They have seen firsthand what your father’s army was able to do, so they know what the purpose of training every day is. The only thing I truly do is to provide instruction and help them improve. There is no keeping them in line required. Either they wish to develop their skill or they do not.”
“I see,” Sarina muttered under her breath and fixed her gaze back upon the arena.
The sparring exercises went on for awhile. Partners were swapped multiple times, but always one of the trio remained on the ring. By the end of the third hour, all of them were a huffing and puffing mess, drenched in sweat.
Puc addressed them, seeing their state. “That will be enough for today. You are free to go.”
Sarina watched as all three of them put their weapons away. Saying their goodbyes, Annetta and Link left, while Jason walked in her direction.
“Hey,” he gave her a small smile once he got closer. “I’m gonna go shower and change. I’ll be back soon.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you in the lake biosphere,” she replied.
Giving a final bob of the head, Jason took off in the direction of the exit to catch up to his other two friends.
Sarina then turned around to find that she was completely alone, or at least she thought so.
“Well, I’m not going to leave you alone in here now am I?” Puc’s voice rang from the other entrance on the farther side. “That is, unless you wish to be. Then I cannot account for what could happen should you stumble upon anything unusual.”
Sarina had been present in the Lab when the news of the wyvern having taken Brakkus had occurred, a memory she could not purge. There had been no incidents involving rogue creature for a long time now, but the inhabitance of Q-16 were still cautious and travelled in pairs whenever possible, or at least armed.
Grabbing her book, she caught up to him in a quickened pace. “Thank you.”
Puc gave no answer and began walking. His face was void of any emotion as far as Sarina could tell and there was a deep focus within his eyes as if he were absent from the task he was performing.
“I could fight with them, you know,” Sarina said, feeling the silence weigh in on her.
“Aside from the battle against your father, I’ve never seen you handle a blade.” Puc scoffed.
“I train in the evenings when everyone is gone,” she retorted, “I was trained by the war masters on Valdhar in all manner of weaponry as well as hand-to-shand combat.”
“Somehow I fail to believe a small girl like you has that much fighting experience,” he stated.
“I was the daughter of Mislantus,” she reminded him. “Despite being locked up all day, things were expected of me.”
“I’m sure they were,” the mage acknowledged.
Turning the corridor, they reached their destination, the doors of the biosphere. Sunlight beamed through the frosted glass doors, warming the metal where it hit through the dense foray of trees and tall grass on the other side. It was always warm in the biospheres, as if time had stopped. For this reason it had become a favourite for the teenagers to be in. Tucking the book under her arm and walking over to the glass, Sarina pressed her hands against it, allowing the heat to flood her fingers. It was a feeling she had only learned to appreciate in her time on Earth.
“I trust you will be alright from this point on,” Puc’s voice came from behind.
Losing her train of thought, the girl turned around. “I’ll manage. Thanks.”
Giving a short nod, Puc then turned heel and continued on to his quarters, giving no second look back as he left Sarina to her own devices.
The routine the next day went much the same. The trio trained and Sarina watched from the side with Puc. Their time coming to an end, they wrapped up and went their separate ways once more. Sarina huffed after having finished the final page in her book and shut it. It had been a text on modern Canadian history, but after having studied every page on it, she was no closer to really understanding the people she was going to school with. Placing it under her arm again, she rose to leave with the others.
“If you’re in need of reading material, perhaps I can assist,” Puc called after her.
Pivoting on her heel, the girl glanced at him. “I doubt you can, at least one with the answers I’m looking for.”
“This may be the case,” he spoke, “But how will you ever know if you do not try looking in all places? A narrowed search can omit valuable resolutions.”
Sarina regarded the narrow face of the elf that despite his words, seemed to be scowling at her.
“Hey Sarina! Are you coming?” Jason shouted from the other end of the room.
“I’ll be along a little later!” She turned her head to him and then looked back at Puc. “Alright.”
His mane of black hair falling slightly into his face, the mage nodded and led the way once more.
Sarina had only ever been inside Puc’s quarters in the company of Jason or Matthias. As such, she had never gotten a good look around, always focused on the conversation at hand or what task needed to be done next. The room, unlike the rest of the Lab, was filled almost wall-to-wall with wooden shelves, upon which sat rows of old books. The smell of musty paper filled her nostrils, along with the smoke from the candles that dotted the entire area. In the centre of the room, was a vast desk upon which were sprawled various books, parchment with half written notes and a large green quill that rested in its inkwell. Puc walked past these and reaching into the further crevices of the shelves, he produced a large tome. Running his hand over the heavy leather-bound brown cover, he confirmed it was what he was looking for before turning back to her.
“I trust some of the answers you seek will lie in here,” he said and pressed the tome into Sarina’s hands.
Confused, Sarina looked down to read the cover. “A chronicle of the life of Arieus Severio and Arcanthur Kinsman years fourteen through seventeen… But I know about their lives. What does this have to do with anything?”
Puc seemed oblivious to the question as he eased himself into his chair at the desk. Picking up the quill, he began writing something on the parchment before him. “It is not their lives the tome contains. Not in the conventional means at least. It is their story as youth who found themselves living in between worlds, the one we know and the one Earth believes in, the very one you are trying to understand.”
Sarina’s hand ran over the worn leather, admiring the makings of it. Not matter how many she read, each one seemed to have a character of its own. She then looked over at the elf that was busy with his work. “Thank you.”
“It is a struggle I understand better than most,” he spoke again, never looking up from the page. “My apprentice Darius would come often to me for guidance due to it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she nodded curtly again. “Thanks.”
Sarina then began to walk out without saying anything else, noticing in the corner of her eye the table with potions that sat in disarray with a variety of dust-covered jars. It was still recently that she remembered them to be clean and organized. The more she looked, the more she realized the room the mage lived in was a chaotic mess of parchment and open books. It seemed this way to her, but perhaps to Puc it made some sense. Her eyes lingering a moment longer on everything she remembered herself and left.
The tome the mage had provided did help to fill part of the void for Sarina. It was all written in the perspective of the two boys and proved to be an enjoyable read. By the end, she felt as though she knew both in person, the youth who would one day grow up to be the fathers of her friends, and the men that would stand against her grandfather. It took her a little under four days to finish the book, and she soon found herself returning it onto Puc’s desk.
“And?” the mage inquired from his chair.
“You were right,” she admitted. “It answered a few of my questions, there are still a lot left.”
“Such as?” he asked calmly.
Sarina froze, being placed on the spot. She needed a moment to compose her thoughts into words, but the feral eyes of the mage prevented this from happening.
“I…” She paused, “Why the need to exist in both worlds? Why keep this one a secret from humans? Why are there four seasons and why have humans not evolved to be comfortable in all of them without the need for technology? Why did my grandfather think it was his divine right to rule all worlds? Why do cars drive on the sides of the road they do? Why the endless squabbling of human countries with one another when there are bigger things out there they should be worried about? Why does everyone love pizza so much and why do some insist on using a microwave for everything? Why-”
As the questions spewed out in no order in particular, Puc raised his hand to quiet her. “Questions can be answered, but some can only be learned through experience. It is an impossible task to know all things at once. To know the answers to all things would put you in league with the Unknown itself, and there is no such being in existence.”
Sarina felt her jaw clench upon hearing this as she straightened her posture and looked down at her feet, feeling slightly embarrassed.
“Now, if there is nothing else, you may borrow another book and leave me be,” the mage said. “I’ve got work to do.”
Moving swiftly, Sarina selected another tome from the shelf, this one about plants native to Earth. Getting ready to go, she turned slightly to the mage once more. “Just… what do you do when you’re in here, anyways?”
“The mind can only comprehend so many spells at one time,” he explained absentmindedly. “A mage’s magic requires the memorization of spells in order to be able to use them. I must therefore continuously rewrite and rememorize spells that I find useful in order to not forget them as well as to purge my memory of ones that were learned for particular instances.”
“I see,” she replied quietly. “That seems like a lot of work.”
“Yes. Now if that is everything, you are dismissed,” the mage spoke once again devoid of emotion, his mind already back at work.
Not wishing to disturb him further, the girl slipped out without another word.
A few more days passed, and Sarina found herself wandering the corridors alone on a Saturday morning. She carried a plain short sword at her side for protection that she’d taken from the armoury. It was still early and none of the others were up and about. Annetta and Jason would not arrive until after noon, since they spent the morning sleeping in after a week of rushing to and from school. She could not blame them, but it did not help the fact that she herself was already awake and needed to find a way to occupy her time.
She passed both the arena and the lake biosphere down the winding steel corridors, lost in thought about her previous encounter with Puc. In all the time she had known the mage, she’d had no idea his constant scribbling was a form of memorizing spells. She’d suspected it had something to do with finding them and learning, but not continuous repeating. It made her look at and appreciate what the mage did in a very different light. Every spell he’d ever cast, every incantation was hours of work and rewriting, repeating again and again the same words, words that had helped her and her friends many times. It was no wonder Puc had neglected his potions and organizing his office. The more she thought on it, the more the concept boggled her mind and so she had to stop herself entirely.
It was not until she came to a stop at another slightly ajar door that any thoughts came to her. The door itself was made to blend with the wall, so the fact that it had been left open made her uneasy.
Hand on the hilt of her sword, she pressed her free hand against it. Further opening the entrance, she peered inside to see the room was darkened, except for a low ruby glow. Frowning, she glanced around the walls until she found a switch and pressed it. The halogen lights springing to life above, Sarina knew instantly where she had found herself. To the left of her were shelves up to the ceiling filled with various labeled jars and to the right, a sterilized metal sink and counter, along with burners and an oven. It was a room she had only visited once or twice, but it was hard to forget the room where potions were brewed and prepared.
Relaxing some, she walked further inside to explore. It was far bigger than she had first anticipated, and she soon found herself lost in an array of shelves filled with jarred oddities. For the most part, everything in them seemed to be herbs of some form or another, but the odd time there were things like congealed beta dragon blood that made Sarina cringe upon reading the label. Coming back out into the main area, Sarina noticed that in this room too it seemed like all of the jars by the counter had been left in disarray, unlike the ones in the back of the room that were neatly stored under their labels. Picking up a stray container that she identified as pickled stinging nettle, she frowned at the mess before an idea came to her.
Puc went about his usual routine in the morning as he always did without any concerns. It was not until he entered the arena in the afternoon that he noticed Sarina was not present in her usual spot. He was not particularly fond of the girl, her having been the daughter of his enemy, but he still felt a measure of responsibility for her despite this.
“Have any of you been in contact with Sarina?” he questioned the assembled trio.
“She said she was busy,” Jason confirmed.
His mind put at ease, the mage gave a small nod to acknowledge before changing the subject. “Today you will all be fighting at once. The last one that is not disarmed shall be the victor. Begin when ready.”
The lesson having concluded, Puc found himself wandering the halls of the Lab once more. The sound of halogen lights buzzing overhead mixed in with his breathing and the wooden thudding of the staff against the floor being his only companions, he turned the corner of the following hallways and stopped. Something did not seem right, and he could not tell what it was, until his eye noted the indentation in the wall. Coming closer, he saw the open door. Frowning, the mage called forth a spell and proceeded inside.
Entering the darkened room, the muscles in his fingers coiled around the staff, preparing to fire. Whatever it was, a quick end would be made of it. Hearing glass clink together, Puc whirled his form around with staff out before him. His posture relaxed however when he saw that it was Sarina, who ran for a stray jar.
“Oh, hey.” The girl seemed flustered as she stood up after getting it. “I took the time to organize some of the stores. I hope you don’t mind.”
Confused, the mage straightened his robes. “I’m sorry, you what?”
“Well, I saw how everything was out of place and I know how busy you are, so I decided to help,” she stated. “You had a bunch of herbs you would rarely use on the shelves near the front, which didn’t really make sense, along with ones that when exposed over time could mix bad with others there, and…”
As Sarina continued to explain why she had done the things she had, Puc observed her. The passion with which she spoke was not something he had witnessed in many. There was a genuine fascination in everything she talked about, a refreshing tone from the droning one he had gotten used to from the other youth in the Lab.
“Perhaps. I was wrong in my assumptions,” he spoke once she had finished her piece. “How much do you currently know about the processes involved in potion brewing and the upkeep of herbs?”
“I’m afraid what I know is very basic,” Sarina admitted.
“It won’t be for long,” the mage stated. “I want you to report to my office tomorrow after your classes. I will compile you a reading list as well as other materials of study.”
The girl furrowed her eyebrows, not understanding the meaning of anything he had just said to her. Puc simply exhaled upon seeing this reaction.
“You’ve got a talent for this, and I will not see it squandered,” he stated. “I said it was an impossible task to know all things, not many.”
Sarina felt a smile form at the corner of her lips when he said this. It was the closest she had ever gotten to praise from the mage. She turned to face him, but when she did, he was already out the door and down the corridor, his memory chasing another spell.