The world of Everbeen is divided into three great lands. Magic and creatures of lore abound in the kingdom of Cornhol, where man and beast do battle with sword, spear, and arcane arts. Technology rules the day in Elderbrin. Incredible mechanical contraptions and science has usurped and destroyed any trace of magic. In the pious nation of Sanctimonia, the church has decreed magic as heresy, and those who practice it are kept under close scrutiny and barred from performing their mystic ways on pain of death.
Our first story takes place in Arkala, Cornhol’s glorious capital. Once the epicenter of adventure and excitement, even this magical land is not immune to the inevitable march of progress, its booted feet slowly trampling the city’s glory days into the hard-packed earth of mundanity. There were of course a few holdouts desperately clinging to the past. Foremost was the adventures’ guild that did far more drinking and lying about how good the old days were than any actual adventuring. The dragons were all but slayed, and any dungeon worth delving into had long ago been plundered of its riches. The advent of banks and the stock market (there were plenty of people being sent to the stocks these days since they abolished the death penalty, and business was booming) gave people much better options for investing and securing their wealth than hiding it in dungeons where it gained neither interest nor paid dividends. Profit sharing through public misery, that’s where the smart man invested his riches.
There were those who feared that magic was dying in Cornhol, and that technology would hasten its decline. However, a few saw a merging the two as the key to the future—a future of wealth, importance, and respect. People like Job Stevens. Job was a wizard, or at least he fancied himself one. Anyone skilled in the craft considered him a charlatan and snake oil salesman, which insulted actual snake oil salesmen to no end as snake oil was a valuable commodity, and its extraction was a rather laborious endeavor, especially for the snake. Cornhol practically ran on snake oil. It lubed wagon axles, was crucial in the best cosmetics, and fine chefs refused to cook with anything other than snake oil. Bad hair day? Tame that mop with Medusa brand snake oil for a rock-hard hold that will never quit!
Andrew Fortney was one of those dreamers who desired to keep magic alive. He majored in it at Morgram Wizardry University with a minor in fine arts just in case the magic business did not pan out. “Always have another option,” is what his father told him. Sadly, exercising such options played a role in his untimely demise. His father had been walking on a narrow bridge when a runaway carriage barreled toward him. Faced with the option of hoping the carriage would narrowly miss him or jump into the river, he had chosen the latter. Now flailing in the water, he had a choice of trying to swim to shore or grab onto a nearby log. Not being a strong swimmer, he once again chose the second of the two. Sadly, the log turned out to be an alligator, which was very peculiar as alligators were not indigenous to Cornhol. Crocodiles, on the other hand, were everywhere.
The young wizard in training prayed that he could make his way as a wizard, because, historically, being forced to choose the second option did not work out well in his family. His grandfather died in nearly the same way, only he met his demise at the sharp teeth of several angry beavers. In the beavers’ defense, pawpaw had a wooden leg, but the beavers became irate upon discovering that his other limbs were of the disgustingly fleshy variety and flew into a murderous rage.
Andrew was in his fourth year of wizarding school, and his degree required a semester of internship with a full wizard in good standing. The days of apprenticeship were gone. Even Cornhol had to give way to modernity despite its great efforts at keeping it at bay. He paused as he came to a narrow bridge—that narrow bridge—and looked both ways to ensure that no carriage (or alligators or beavers) were in sight before lowering his head and charging across it at full speed.
Folks nearby turned to look at him as he cried out his triumph at having defeated the perilous span once again. The tally thus far was bridge: 2, Fortney family: 7, and he could not help but feel like a winner. His elation only soared higher as he raised his fist and knocked on the adventuring guild’s sturdy door. His heart pounded in his chest as the door creaked open on rusty hinges.
The man standing before him wore a butler’s uniform that appeared (and smelled) to have been recovered from a man who had died of acute alcohol poisoning and lay in a ditch for several days before being found. Or perhaps a local necromancer had simply reanimated the corpse and employed him. Looking into his jaundiced, blood-shot eyes, Andrew thought that the more likely scenario.
“Yeah?” the butler belched out.
Andrew drew himself up and took a deep breath to introduce himself—and immediately regretted it. The stench of stale alcohol and abject failure made his eyes water and threw him into a coughing fit. Andrew raised a hand as if to ward off a physical blow, took a step back, and turned his head away in an attempt to regain control.
“Good—ugh—good day, sir. My name is Andrew Fortney. The university sent me here to intern with Wizard Willard.”
The short, wide, filthy man turned and began walking down the hall. He looked over his shoulder at Andrew still standing in the doorway. “Are you coming, or are you just going to stand there?”
“Yes, I’ll follow along just as soon as I am able to see through the vapor trail you leave in your passing.”
The butler grunted and resumed his trek. Andrew trailed after him, slowly inuring his senses to the man’s caustic aroma as he gazed at the weapons, armor, trophies, and artwork depicting many of the guildsmen’s most heroic battles. A rousing discussion drew his attention to a group of people gathered around a large man who held his audience in rapt attention.
Andrew’s heart leapt at seeing all of his heroes gathered in one place. Bodhi the barbarian stood in the center of the room boisterously telling a story while Red Rhonda, wearing her trademark crimson leathers and ginger hair, and Weasel, the hawk-faced thief with lightning-quick hands, sat listening. However, seeing his boyhood idols in person was much different than depicted in his favorite books. Bodhi, while still an enormous man, lacked the rock-hard, chiseled look shown in the pictures. Rhonda’s bust was not nearly as voluptuous and had yielded its war with gravity, and the images never showed the mole on her chin with two long, black hairs jutting out. Weasel came the closest to what Andrew pictured, but his eyes darted nervously around the room, and he continuously scratched at his arms and face. The intern paused to listen as it sounded like Bodhi was nearing the end of his story.
“So there I was, surrounded by a score of furious orcs with nothing between us but air and my dagger. I turned a slow circle, piercing each of them with my steely gaze and said, ‘Now which one of you filthy bastards has got my trousers?’” The room erupted with laughter.
“Was it even female?” Weasel asked between guffaws.
Bodhi shrugged. “When you’re drunk enough to engage in intra-species shagging, gender gets pretty low on the list of lines you won’t cross!”
Andrew shook his head as he walked away. He had gazed upon social gods and found them deeply disappointing. He only prayed that Wizard Willard lived up to his expectations, and those were dropping with every step he took.
Next time: The Scryphone