Susan, Chosen One per defaultum, looked up at the White Warlock. If there was one thing this whole experience had taught her, just one, one single critical understanding of her place in the Universe, it was that she was even more tired of looking up at people than she thought. She resolved she would become six inches taller if it killed her. Or if it killed someone taller whose blood might possibly be made into a Potion of Enheightenment; but Chosen Ones probably didn’t think that way.
Or did they? She wouldn’t quite know, after all. She was entirely self-taught, which had its own set of problems.
But no more! She had tracked down the White Warlock, whose search for the Chosen One had begun her quest.
True, he’d never confirmed her. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, he’d never confirmed anyone, as far as she’d heard. In fact, last anyone had seen anyone fitting his description, he’d been riding a broomstick, backwards, over what was said to be a Witch’s Sabbat.
(Nobody would tell Susan what that was, which was exceptionally frustrating. Not for the first time, she regretted not being ten years older and full of muscles. But the Keeper of Tomes of the Forbidden Library had taught her a trick for that:
‘Exercise hard, every day, for a decade,” she had said, “and you will magically become older and stronger.”
Susan was going to kill the Keeper of Tomes someday.
(Of course, she had a spell for that, too.)
“Train hard along with your exercise, every day, for two decades,” she replied, “and hope like Hell that I die of old age, because you’re never going to take me out.”
Having a mother figure was basically everything Susan had ever expected.
So there Susan was, making her way towards the ruins of a very ancient tower. Based on her limited exposure, she wasn’t sure if it would be infested with venomous serpents, venomous spiders, or venomous wolves. As far as Susan know, venomous wolves weren’t a thing, but she might possibly be becoming a pessimist.
And standing in front of it was the White Warlock.
He was an imposing figure. I mean, even more imposing than most figures are when you’re 4’5”. He stood there, with something on his face that would really, really look like a smile if one hadn’t just spent half a year trying to decipher the microexpressions of a Dragon.
“Sherman!” boomed the Warlock.
“Susan,” corrected Susan.
“Yes! Exactly! I stand before you, I, the White Warlock, now Grey, for I have undergone things few would understand or survive!”
“Are you sure haven’t just failed to wash for an extended period of time?
The White Warlock looked pained. This was actually a pretty normal way for people to look around Susan, so she paid it little mind.
“I imagine you have come here about your great and glorious quest!”
A half-dozen strange, scaly ravens burst from the clouds. They spun towards the spellcrafter, described a few lazy circles around his head, then sped straight upwards, not even pausing to look in that direction, just headed rapidly towards the atmosphere without the flapping of a single wing.
“I have, yes. I’ve learned a lot, but as far as anyone can tell, it fell to you and the wisdom of your Council to find and teach the Chosen One. There’ve been some rough patches, but…here’s the Chosen One! Let’s DO this, shall we?”
“Ah,” intoned the Warlock, “But the time is not right, for the Influences turn from us, the Gods see not our minds and hear not our exhortations, the Stars have not aligned, the Winds blow an unseasonal, chilly blast, sausages are currently on sale at my local House of Pain, and I definitely need to get a new cloak, and I am very proud, pleased as punch, to see such enthusiasm, but politics is the Art of the Possible, and right now, it ain’t terribly possible to defeat the Dark Lord, so if you’d see fit to let me go and not tackle me again….”
“I think you’re lying,” said Susan.
The Warlock’s slightly unfocused eyes seemed, for a moment, to gain clarity of Sight and Vision. He lifted his staff and sent a blast of arcane energy at her, one which struck her in the chest and knocked her down the side of the mountain…
….well, she was struck by the arcane energy, true, but she’d been knitting a sweater full of runes and the names of forbidden gods since she left the Keeper of the Tomes. She was no Mage, but she was not unprepared.
The White Warlock clearly was not prepared at all; he evidently expected that to work, and to work with some rapidity. He began a hasty spell of lightning, beautifully voiced, evoking elementals of lightning and fire. Susan said a few words under hear breath, moved her walking stave just so, and a bolt of lightning interrupted itself between then.
Susan quickly fell into one of the roles she most hated in this world: that of ‘susan’. But it still fit her. “Goodness, that lightning!” she said, as if she’d been unable to dispatch it with ease. The White Warlock stared at her, and then remembered his dignity. “Yes,” he said, “Keeper of the sacred flame, doncha know, awfully impressive, very powerful, FWWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH, that’s what I say, and it means business.”
And then the Warlock was close, in-her-face close, grapping-distance close. He was not smiling.
“You ha’penny half-talented hedge wizard!” he hissed. “All I wanted was a chance to have someone fulfill that damn prophecy, a point you’ve utterly chosen to ignore.”
Susan’s blood did not boil, because that was the kind of improper thermoregulation which got you killed. But her blood pressure hit numbers that would have made most predators say, “I’m sorry, miss; can we help you?”
She grabbed the White Warlock by his lapels.
“You came into my village!” she shouted. “The Cataclysm followed you!”
He shoved her away with an iron strength. “I came to save you! You had all been duped…you, in particular!”
“And then you ran! My parents were eaten by Dragons!”
She looked up (would she always be looking up, dammit?) and said simply, “How shall I defeat the Dark Lord?”
The Warlock responded immediately. “Go forth, back to the Deathly Forest, defeat the arachnids and the strange pales creatures who will accost you. Find the Dark Heart of the Woods and leap in to know powers hitherto unimaginable. Then will you be ready to face the Dark One.”
Susan regarded him. She had learned a lot—too much?—in the last several months. “Why do I have the feeling that you made all of that up?”
The White Warlock had been scattered, afraid, unsure; he was not at his best. But here, he straightened.
“Not a bit of it. Go there, and you will find the answers you seek.”
“Only, the Dark Heart of the Woods is not usually a desirable place for those of us who seek some kind of light. It’s implied in the name – “Dark Heart”. It’s where some of the strangest and most mutant plants are. It’s a good place to get eaten, more than anything else.”
The Warlock threw his brawny arms in the air. “What is it you want of me?”
Susan looked the older mage in the eye. “I want you to teach me. To train me. To help me defeat the Dark Lord.”
The White Warlock smiled. “Why, of course. I’ll be glad to do that. That’s my purpose in life, you know, bum bum bum!”
Susan said, “I think you’re mad.”
The Warlock smiled. He raised his staff high, shouted a syllable that seemed to stutter in town, and she was struck by a lightning bolt out of a clear sky, and died.
The Warlock danced around, to a song only he could hear, and to which he (sometimes) sang along. And then he began walking back up the mountain.
This was not a good place for a mage of delicate sensibilities to see Susan.
“Leather boots with steel soles,” she said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve angered the Gods, or someone who represented them.”
They were on a slim mountain path. This was to Susan’s advantage; she was much smaller, and any sudden moves raised the possibility that the bigger man would fall to either his death, or at least his multiple contusionment.
Susan got in close. Real close.
The Warlock tried again. “I can show you the Dark!” he said. “I have found it, and oh! It is everything we would dream!”
Susan looked at him with a level of contempt not normally found in those who could not, in our world, ride the Cyclone at a county fair due to height restrictions.
“You can,” she said, “and I think you want me to join it.”
“YES!” cried the Warlock. “Yes! I fought the good fight my whole life, and enough is enough is enough.
Susan pushed him off the side of the mountain.
This would have been more dramatic, but he caught the ledge, and then his cloak began—slowly pulling him level with her. He did not look happy.
“What the HELL is wrong with you?” he asked. “The Dark is powerful, pervasive, and growing. I offer it to you, and you throw me off the ledge like an amateur who hasn’t seen the failings of the light.”
“That’s just it,” said Susan softly. “I’ve seen the failures of all the sides I’ve looked at.”
“So join us!” boomed the Warlock. “Join the rebels! They call us ‘evil, but let’s show them they don’t know the true meaning of the term. I’ll teach you! Stay by my side, and you can be the true Chosen One!”
Susan had learned much in the library. Shift your weight like this, move your shoulders here, and the force which blasts the Warlock off the mountain is purely physical, but it’s also beautiful: so rough, so forceful, so thorough that he’s still falling when he drops out of site.
“I think, if there’s one thing I’ve learned,” said Susan, Chosen One (possibly)—it’s that I don’t trust anyone else’s judgement about light or dark or shades of grey. This decision is mine; I’ll make it and, if necessary, screw up completely—on my own. I’m not compelled by the Dark or the Light. I just want to figure out a job, do it well, and then go to sleep on a heady bed of gold coins.”
She spared a moment for the Warlock, who was still falling (this was a VERY large mountain)—and she went on with her life.