The Nexus of Nowhere

Submitted into Contest #209 in response to: Write a story about someone going on a life-changing journey.... view prompt

37 comments

Adventure Fantasy Fiction

Ardle Henbrook tugged the sleeves of his faded blue ceremonial robe, hoping to entice the aged fabric to cover his wrists. Decades had passed since he last donned the damned thing and too many pies, ale, and ale pies were making it impossible to tie. Grunting, he slumped into the jostling carriage's padded seats and wrapped his arms about himself. Little good it did against the chill, but if there was one thing Ardle hated more than carriage rides to Nowhere, it was the cold. 


“You ok sir? You haven't sat still since we left Somewhere, anything I can do? A cleansing tonic perhaps? I just picked up some fresh sheepwort an…” Ardle was really starting to despise the chipper tone of his latest assistant, Jestinia. Too helpful by half and pretty too. Prettiness was always a trait he deemed suspicious in a Mage, even a mere apprentice. Especially when he couldn't tell if she was truly beautiful or just enchanted that way. Embarrassment tightened his throat, there had been a time when he could have spotted an enchantment like that from fifty paces. 


“No,” he snapped.


“Perhaps another ballad?" Jestinia’s hand moved to the lute sat next to her.


“One note girl and I'll cast that thing into the Never Realm, and you’ll be walking home to boot. Just sit in bloody silence will you. You think I haven't gotten enough on my plate.”


“Nervous sir?”


“Excuse me, but am I suddenly speaking in the tongue of the Elsewherians? Because I really can't understand how the word silence could be misconstrued when your blasted ears are but three feet away!”


“Ah, so you are.”


Ardle’s jaw ached as he fingered the dull runic gemstone hanging about his neck, as he did habitually when worried. But he wasn't about to admit that to this whelp. Not so subtly ignoring her too big, too bright, pleading green eyes he withdrew the summons from his inner pocket once more. Already tatty from unscrolling and rewrapping, few could have guessed a raven had only delivered it the previous day.


Dear Magus Henbrook, Ninth of Nine,

A time of great sadness and opportunity is upon us. Magus Maximus, First of All, is finally succumbing to time’s wicked game. We fear he will leave this plane without revealing the secrets of the Order to his anointed successor. We must all gather at once. Please make haste to Castle Nexus. 


Yours Wizardly,

Magus Arkas, Second of Nine.


“More like Magus Arse-Kiss!” Ardle growled and stuffed the missive away.


“What was that sir? Has the letter changed on the eighty seventh read sir?”


“Changed? Tell me truly, are you a simpleton?”


“I was second least simpleton-iest in the academy sir, but even at—”


“Oh shut up and play your bloody lute then!”


**** 


The thing Ardle hated most about Nowhere was its lack of anything that could be described as something. One solitary mountain in a vast desert, as if the creator was trying out crease free countryside. Atop the rough slopes, hewn by magic and the sweat of others, and immeasurable piles of gold, stood the magnificent Castle Nexus. 


Fourteen arduous verses of ‘The Wolf and the Raven’ later and the carriage juddered to a stop. Ardle gazed up at the huge doors, smirking as Jestinia whistled in wonderment.


“Is that a battle between the Gods carved into–”


“You don't recognise the depictions?” Ardle tutted, “We don't have time for your dilly-dallying down memory lane girl, now move it.”


With a flick of his wrist the gem about his neck tingled, glowed, then vibrated, and the doors swung open, crashing against the inner walls with an ungodly rumble.


Ardle despaired in recognition of the figures within.


“What are you playing at Henbrook?”


“Of course it's you Disast-Ardle!”


“Trying to bring down the mountain are you?”


Seven familiar faces surrounded him, once brothers and sisters, friends even. So long had passed he didn't know what they were anymore.


“I…Ah, sorry about that.” He offered, lacing his fingers contritely.


Arkas stepped forward, black beard, black hair, blacker eyes. “Good to see some things never change. Did you simply forget why it's called Castle Nexus, hmmmm?” Ardle stared at his feet as Arkas draped an arm around his shoulders to muffled giggles. “Ok, Ok, let's move along. Everyone is here now, time to get to it.”


“So how are we doing this?” Ardle asked, looking up through his bushy brows like he was a shy teenager all over again.


“Well a good huddle around the death bed should do it.”


***

Jestinia knew things. Seven years at the academy, yet she was careful not to garner notice for aptitude or merit. Those kinds of attributes only drew attention, or worse: responsibility. Feigned ignorance bestowed her the freedom to fade into the background, metaphorically of course. 


So when ushered into a large nine sided wooden paneled room by the castle's butler, and she found herself offering the apprentices goblets of wine from a tray, she simply let them assume whom and what she was.


"More wine?" She asked Faustus leaning back in an oversized leather chair. By way of answer, his goblet shot outwards and he continued rambling.


"...it is true. Arkas defeated the six headed beast of Caltarra, but he didn't use the Traxis spell, Felicity." He smirked, drank, wiped his mouth then looked at Jestinia, one eyebrow raised.


"More wine, sir?"


"Wait, are you the serving girl or the entertainment, I could've sworn you had a lute."


"Yes, indeed. A bard I am. But also a deliverer of fermented grape juices when required. And I'll tell you this, it was actually Fuego strengthened by Traxis."


Jestinia knew that to be balderdash, but apprentices couldn’t resist correcting each other. The secretive nature of older Mages was wrought only by years spent reviling sentences starting with “Actually…”. Apprentices however, braggarts the bunch of them.


"Phah, Fuego strengthened by… Are you stupid?"


Jestinia had been called worse. "Right you are good sir, how did it go … Second raised his fist and swore, to the stars that all shall see, in fire and ice he cast, a blast so large, the beast breathed its last…."


"Fire and ice?" balked Faustus.


"That's what the bard who witnessed it sang."


"There was no bard!"


"You were there sir?"


"Of course."


"And yet you don't know, do you sir?"


"It was Villisus enhanced by Doro," he spat, brow furrowed, blanching as the words passed his lips.


Jestinia bowed, hiding her smirk, "Very well sir." Turning heel, she strode to a tall blonde woman propped against a crackling fireplace.


"Evening milady, wine?"


She leaned close, daintily lifted a brass goblet by the stem and whispered in an almost seductive tone, "What has Faustus so worked up?"


"I don't really understand it, milady, something about Traxis and Doro being used against the beast of Caltarra. Means little to me."


Returning to her solitary posing, the woman's eyes creased locking that nugget of lies away for later use.


Jestinia moved onwards, her step light with giddiness, this was going to be easier and more fun than she had thought.



***


In a grand mahogany bed lay the stick-like man that had been Ardle’s master and aloof father-figure for decades. Lost in an ocean of blankets, more beard than body, more eyebrows than face, his voice little more than a whisper.


"My Order of Nine, it’s great to see you together again," a wracking cough bent him double and Arkas leapt to catch the phlegmy discharge as though it were gold spewing from the mountain itself.


The First sunk slowly back into the mattress, "I sense I have very little time remaining. One of you shall take my place, but first…"


Everyone leaned in a little closer.


"... a test."


Ardle’s eyes rolled so hard he almost lost his balance. A test meant only one thing, Arkas would win, as he always did. Enchanting, Conjuring, Healing, Divination, that arrogant twit excelled at every discipline. Scanning the candlelit chamber it seemed the thought resonated with everyone, even Arkas grinned victorious.


"But first," Magus Maximus continued, " your amulets." Waving his trembling skeletal hand, nine arcanic lights flickered into existence around the room's edge, above nine stone busts, highlighting the nine gathered quizzical faces.


"A test without amulets? But–" Arkas didn't get to finish.


"I already know your magical strength, Second. The role of First requires more than power, someone who will be the Emperor's advisor, head of the academy, and more. Today I test your character, your mind, not your brawn."


A wave of raised eyebrows washed over all.


"How master?"


"Through those who know your flaws better than anyone….your apprentices."


***


"You're sure?"


"Well that one over there," Jestinia nodded towards three apprentices squeezed around a circular table. "Valeras is it? She said Thistle flower is best for eradicating crotch itch." 


"Did she say anything else?"


Jestinia opened her mouth to deliver more misinformation when the doors opened blowing in an urgent gust of silence.


A funeral procession of dejected Mages ambled forward, Jestinia squinted, something seemed different about them. Then she realised.


"Sir," she whispered as Ardle drew close, "where is your amulet?"


Fingers twitching, he searched his chest for the phantom jewelry. "The First has taken them back. There is going to be a reshuffle."


"A reshuffle?"


"Yes, whoever becomes First will reassign positions, you know what that means don't you girl?"


"A possible promotion, sir?"


"Demotion more like. Two of these younglings will be elevated to fill the gaps."


"Never sir, why would they get rid of you?"


"The better question is, why keep me?"


A bell rang. Everyone turned to the butler looming in the doorway. "Magus Maximus shall see each apprentice in his chamber, beginning with you Faustus."


Jestinia's smile widened, "He wants to speak with me?"


Ardle nodded, face a pale shade of sad-berry.


***


Slowly the chamber emptied until only Ardle and Jestinia remained. He paced the tile floor whilst she rocked on her heels, arms behind her back, admiring the leering faces of lost mages cast in canvas and oil.


"Jestinia," Ardle began softer than she had ever heard him speak. "You know I'd never actually cast your lute, or anything for that matter, into the Never Realm."


"I know, sir. No need to worry."


"But, I just–"


"No need to worry, sir. Best we just wait in silence."


Fifteen minutes later, the doors squeaked open and the lanky butler beckoned them to follow. Up the spiral stairs, past countless rooms filled with books and sheet covered furniture until the Magus Maximus' chamber loomed before them.


The butler waved Ardle to a seat and Jestinia entered as though it was any normal day or task.


"Hello First, do I bow?"


"If you'd like."


"I don't."


The wizened face almost cracked a smile under all that facial hair.


"What can I do for you, your wizardiness?"


"Ardle, it’s been decades since I spent time with him, I wish to know what you make of him?"


"A grump sir, with a temper, but he never acts on it. He has restraint."


"Hmmm, and as a teacher?"


"Oh he's quite good sir, knows very well what he doesn't know."


"Ha, he always did. But he tries?"


"Very muchly sir, he’s always sending me to the archives or the king's library with some knowledge seeking task." She pointed to the gems on their pedestals, "May I sir."


"As you wish."


Leaning over each, she hummed and hawed, like a gentleman hunting down the perfect gift for a scorned lover. 


"You ever imagine yourself wearing one Jestinia?"


"Don't like jewelry sir, my neck's too narrow, I'd look like a giraffe pulling a plough."


"But what of the responsibilities, the power?"


"Don't make my toes curl. Power's too easily lost to be worthwhile running after."


"Haha, the first real wisdom I've heard all evening. You know what, I like the cut of your jib, Jestinia."


"Strangely sir, so do I."



***


"They've been hours, something must be wrong, can't you go see?" Ardle asked the stoney-faced butler, partly to check if he had ossified completely.


"Master is not to be disturbed."


Ardle huffed, balled his fist and continued to wear a track in the floral rugs.


Moments later, laughter stopped him in his path. Turning, brows racing towards his decreasing hairline he gasped as Jestinia came forth helping the First on wobbling legs.


“Master, you should not be out of bed you’ll be–”


“Dead soon, ha. That is the point of all this is it not?” Maximus leaned into Jestinia, whispered, nodded and she hastened down the stairs.


“Everything ok sir?” Ardle asked, moving to support the arm Jestinia had vacated.


“Just splendid, the girl is away to tell them the news.”


“You've made a decision sir? May I ask who?”


“Isn't it obvious?” He shrugged off Ardle’s support and dug trembling fingers beneath his night shirt. “Here, this is yours now.”


Ardle gawked at the fist sized iridescent gem dominating the old mages hand.


“Mine, but why?”


“Well hurry up and take it, bloody heavy, can't you see I'm old and dying.”


Tentatively, Ardle took the gem and draped it about his neck. The surge of power made him giddy, as well as wanting to pee. The latter he couldn't explain.


“Sir, what about Arkas?”


“A strong second should you wish it. But there is something you need to decide first, this position's burden.”


“Sir, I don't deserve this.”


“Do you not? Every apprentice I spoke with blew smoke about how great their master was, spouted nonsense about knowing secrets of other disciplines, all damnable lies. So eager to please and elevate themselves they all but lost their senses. 


“But Jestinia, she says you're a bad tempered grump. You’ll need that when dealing with the Emperor, trust me he needs to be roared at every once in a while. But you have restraint, so you will control yourself. I can't give power to someone who will just go off on a whim. 


“And when faced with something you don't know, you research. You don't force a square peg into a dodecahedron-shaped hole. The others think themselves well-versed in everything. Most of all, though, Jestinia. Not the brightest, nor powerful, but you gave her a chance. You’re a good man Ardle and you don't want power. Those that don't want it, usually do the most with it. ”


The old mage turned and shuffled back into his room, “Come Ardle, we have little time to reveal our secrets or the creator will never get this published on time.”


Standing before the nine plinths Ardle disbelievingly caressed the hefty gem about his neck.


“Do I decide who gets what position now?”


“Not right now, but yes. That is, if you wish to give any at all.”


Ardles raised an inquisitive brow.


“Ever wondered why the land around here is unnaturally smooth?”


Ardle shrugged, knowing he would only add stupidity to an otherwise climatic moment.


“This mountain is no mountain. Castle Nexus, where all energy flows to, but also flows out of. Its ebb and flow is like a carpenter planing wood, our magic is gradually wearing away at the world around us. Killing it. The vast plains of Nowhere are spreading, consuming nature so we can do unnatural acts. In time, everywhere will be Nowhere.”


Ardle gulped.


“Exactly boy, sorry First, ha.”


“If it's not a mountain then what is it?”


“I'm not really sure, truth be told. It's a game of whispers, each First tells the next, all we know for sure is it crashed from the heavens and when the first men found it they waged war over it. Some called them star-travelers, others gods, some even said they were from Stoke-on-trent.


"But what really mattered lay in its core, a gem shattered into nine pieces that could enhance magical abilities. And so the Nine were born."


"They are receivers of some kind?" Ardle asked.


"Indeed. The decision is yours now, continue as we have.. slowly destroying the world, or…" Maximus shrugged.


"I don't, I don't know…" Ardle pinched the bridge of his nose squeezing his eyes shut.


When he opened them again he was alone, Maximus’ robes lay in a pile next him as if he had just vanished.


"So old and full of magic he has returned to the Aether." Ardle looked skyward, words mournful.


"No, I'm over here, ha." Ardle spun to the naked prune-like figure giggling in the corner. "Couldn't help myself hehe. But I am off now." He began phasing out of existence, his voice growing distant. "Don't forget to feed Daryl."


"Who the heck is Daryl?"


"The dragon that lives inside the mountain of course. He prefers custard creams but gets an extra-crispy peasant every second Tuesday as a little treat."


Ardle stared into the rafters, beyond baffled. Was he really the new First?


***


Ardle Henbrook, First of the Magus folded the sleeves of his gleaming blue ceremonial robe with gold and silver embroidery and smiled. Jestinia gently brushed the shoulders of lint and unseeable hairs.


"It's a good fit sir."


He turned, posing in the full length mirror, "It really is."


"Yes sir, are you nervous for today?"


"Terribly, if the Emperor is as all say I'll need all my wits."


"I have some sheepwort tonic if you wish."


"That would be great." Swallowing the tonic he winced at the bitterness. "You sure you won't consider being Ninth?"


"Definitely not sir, content and of more use here"


"Perhaps, someday you will tell me what exactly you and Maximus spoke of."


"Probably not sir..."


Ardle laughed, far too helpful by half and pretty to boot. But damn he trusted no one more.


"Shall we sir," she held open the door to the Emperors court and a fanfare of music erupted. She swung the lute from her back, "May I sir?"


"Nothing would make me happier dear."


August 02, 2023 14:08

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

37 comments

Lily Finch
02:13 Aug 09, 2023

Thank goodness the creator did his part and got it published on time, Kevin. You certainly packed this story with fun! I enjoyed this a great deal. Thanks for sharing. LF6

Reply

Kevin Logue
05:45 Aug 09, 2023

Haha, yes the creator did his part indeed! Thanks for checking it out Lily, I had a lot of fun with it, glad others are enjoying it too ☺️

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Corrie McCue
02:19 Aug 16, 2023

Delightful! Love the tone!

Reply

Kevin Logue
10:57 Aug 16, 2023

Thanks Corrie 😀

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jessie Laverton
13:06 Aug 13, 2023

Such a sweet ending, and really fun story

Reply

Kevin Logue
13:16 Aug 13, 2023

Thanks very much Jessie. I'm actually playing about with the same characters for something else 😁 glad you enjoyed.

Reply

Jessie Laverton
13:23 Aug 13, 2023

well the characters are definitely very rich here. I can see you've spent some time getting to know them.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Heather Eldridge
07:03 Aug 11, 2023

Awesome story- great world building, and your writing style, conversations between characters, and little instances of humor drew me in right from the start. I would love to know more- feels like this could be turned into an entire novel!

Reply

Kevin Logue
07:38 Aug 11, 2023

I've been reading that a lot this week, to the point were I've been mulling over where I could take it. I'm thinking it may be time for a novella haha So glad you liked it Heather, and thank you for gracious comments.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Angela Govender
13:31 Aug 10, 2023

I loved absolutely every bit of this submission! Your writing shows sophistication and the kind of grammar and composition techniques you used is indispensable. Kudos on the great work!

Reply

Kevin Logue
13:50 Aug 10, 2023

Oh wow, what a wonderful thing to say Angela, you're making me blush. It's always delight to hear such things, thanks for reading and commenting, it means a lot.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kristin Johnson
01:23 Aug 09, 2023

It felt like an entire novel wrapped up in one story. Great job. i too like Jestinia. And what IS the Nexus?

Reply

Kevin Logue
05:51 Aug 09, 2023

Cheers for the feedback Kristin! I too felt that way, it was originally close to 4000 words and I was considering lengthening as opposed to shortening but here we are. Although I like the characters and tone so much I've spent the last week considering expanding to answer such questions as to what the nexus is, or what would happen if the world discovered the nines powers could be had by anyone if I only they had a gem 🫣😉 Thanks for reading and commenting, it is much appreciated

Reply

Kristin Johnson
18:18 Aug 10, 2023

I hope you do this! You have my vote.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Dee Logue
21:44 Aug 08, 2023

Brilliant. I was hooked from the start as to where it was going. I could almost hear the characters talkinv. Id nade their accents in my head lol . Really enjoyed this. Well done.

Reply

Kevin Logue
05:59 Aug 09, 2023

Glad you like it. Out of curiosity, what kind of accents did they have?

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Marty Logue
15:31 Aug 08, 2023

Another excellent tale. Loved it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Arthur McNamee
22:04 Aug 07, 2023

I really liked this tale. The imagery is superb and the story is very engaging to say the least. You sir, have a very good command of the English language. I can't wait to read your next story. Thanks.

Reply

Kevin Logue
06:49 Aug 08, 2023

Thank you very much for such kind words Arthur.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Nina H
20:34 Aug 07, 2023

I’m out of my comfort genre here, but I couldn’t help but think of Rincewind while reading Ardle’s antics 😂 I just love these characters you’ve created, and Jestinia is great with her misinformations!! Great story, Kevin! I enjoyed this!

Reply

Kevin Logue
20:44 Aug 07, 2023

I didn't intend it, but Nina you have hit the nail on the head, when I do a draft me and my partner do a read through and an edit, and my first question to her was... Is it too Rincewindy? Haha. Thank you for reading and commenting, it is much appreciated 👍

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
John Werner
16:35 Aug 06, 2023

Jestinia is a great character. Wouldn't mind reading more with her. Not at all! Fun read, Kevin!

Reply

Kevin Logue
16:41 Aug 06, 2023

Thanks John! She was a lot of fun to write. After posting here and getting some great feedback, I am actually considering continuing this. Ken Cartisano has even offered to add commas to the next in the series for me, how can I turn down such an offer haha 😆 Cheers for reading and commenting John, It's alway appreciated

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
10:03 Aug 05, 2023

Love it Kevin. Huge amount of world building and history in a small amount of space , impressive. Loved the gags throughout particularly "no lm over here" ,😂 got a bit of a Capaldi Dr Who vibe off Ardle. And love Jestinia to bits. (Jestinia... because she jests?) Thanks!

Reply

Kevin Logue
10:16 Aug 05, 2023

Cheers Derrick. I had a lot of fun with this piece, needed a breather week to just let the silly out and it seems to have worked! Capaldi's Doctor, that's an interesting one, I tend not to overly describe any of my characters so the reader can decide who they are. I guess the grumpy man with a chirpy companion resonated Capaldi for you. I was always a Tennant fan. Jestinia came about subconsciously, just put down a name then looked it up after. It's the female Welsh for Justin. Was only after the fact I realised the Jest reference myself....

Reply

Show 0 replies
Ela Mikh
17:33 Aug 07, 2023

I had the same vibe! This is very impressive, fun, and complex at the same time! really nicely done Thank you

Reply

Kevin Logue
18:03 Aug 07, 2023

Cheers Ela, glad you enjoyed it 😁

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Michał Przywara
20:36 Aug 04, 2023

Ha! A funny piece, which nevertheless has a dark history under the hood. Taking advantage of useful power at the expense of the world is familiar. Justinia's manipulations of the others were amusing, and the fact they mistook her for a servant paralleled the First's decision. It was about the difference of being a wizard - of acting like one - vs trying to appear to be one. Truth vs perception, perhaps. "We fear he will leave this plain" - this works fine, if it's "plain" like a prairie, but I was wondering if it was meant to be "plane" ...

Reply

Kevin Logue
20:59 Aug 04, 2023

Ah good catches Michal, I always mix up plane and plain I should have double checked that. Glad you enjoyed!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Ken Cartisano
07:13 Aug 04, 2023

This is a hilarious, zesty, rambunctious prologue, for the first of our many collaborations. (We Volatilarians are presumptuous as hell.) You will write the entire book, and I will provide the commas. (That’s my first offer. Feel free to negotiate.) Now that I’ve gotten a few jokes out of the way, I can be serious. (He wasn’t kidding.) It takes a lot to get me to laugh out loud, a lot. (Like, firecrackers in the glove compartment.) but this story did it, several times. And where it wasn’t funny, it was outrageous, or intriguing. Lot’s of ac...

Reply

Kevin Logue
08:23 Aug 04, 2023

This makes me smile a lot, I had a lot of fun writing this just to let loose and get silly. Hadn't considered it being a starting point but yourself and Chris Miller have pointed out something's that are making me rethink this. I could probably do with a comma partner, so I'll have the agreement drawn up by my daughter, it may be in crayon and consist of scribbles but I'm sure it will be legally binding.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Chris Miller
23:00 Aug 02, 2023

I liked "...as if the creator was trying out crease-free countryside." Nice meta idea and description in one, but it gets more interesting when you talk about it being flattened out by the energy flowing to and from the Nexus, like the waves of energy are eroding it. A really nice fantasy geography idea. Thanks for sharing, Kevin.

Reply

Kevin Logue
05:25 Aug 03, 2023

Cheers Chris, was aiming for something more quirky, dare I say Prachett like, this week. Just for a bit of fun. All the serious, twisty stuff can get a little mentally exhausting. I like that geographical feature too, perhaps I've accidentally started some world building for a novella 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
16:02 Aug 02, 2023

Glad to see the creator got this published in time. It is a gem, or nine.💎📿📿📿📿📿📿📿📿📿

Reply

Kevin Logue
16:10 Aug 02, 2023

Haha, thanks Mary, I decided to try a little more light hearted and quirky than my usual affair.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Unknown User
01:11 Aug 09, 2023

<removed by user>

Reply

Kevin Logue
05:58 Aug 09, 2023

Well I never thought my words would be considered Shakespearean, your honourifics beseech my soul to the paramount of vexation lol. Good old soul selling Faust in hope of gaining knowledge beyond human capabilities, a great medieval character. If I ever continue this world that trope may return 😉 Thanks for the feedback Joe.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply