Calkan wasn’t afraid of change. It had been a daily part of life. In the Den, his living situation had changed over a dozen times. The children were encouraged to keep a box or bag of their most precious items, and that bag was their only possession. They moved all around to different rooms depending on need, and sometimes they were adopted by a well to do family, and so help the boy who wasn’t ready to go with his sack in ten minutes time. Mother Penny wanted what was best for the boys, and she had taught them how to adapt, as any orphan might have to through the many hardships of life.

But even with all of that embedded in his bones and his swift ability to rise to the occasion, Calkan was afraid. Not of change, but of finality, of the ringing bells that set off violently in his head as he followed his new master, Thomas Prowd, from the market. There was something mysterious and sly about the man. But there was also something powerful and strong that Calkan admired and feared. This was not a man to cross, and there had seemed something so finale in his small speech. Calkan wondered if this man would be the kind to let him free after years of service. Being an adventurer, a treasure hunter, well that wasn’t a trade that Calkan could learn and then market for a better life. He worried that Malla had misled him for greed, because indeed, based off the other prices gotten that day, his was by far a steeper amount.

“We will stay in the inn here for a few days while I consider our next place of interest. It will also give me time to enlighten you to your future duties, and perhaps excite you for the task ahead. I feel you are apprehensive, and I would like you not to be. I would like you to trust me,” Thomas said, turning to slightly acknowledge Calkan without missing a step. “Does that suit you?”

Calkan swallowed, both weary of the words but also a little excited. “You are my master. Whatever you purpose suits me.” Calkan answered as Malla had advised.

Thomas tutted and then laughed. “Yes, hmm, you are well-trained for this role, aren’t you? I don’t believe I have ever met someone so willing before. I think you will find your willings and loyalty rewarded over time. But we shall see.”

They walked with purpose through the dusty streets. It was nearing the hot season and the winds were starting to pick up more sand in their strength as the ground dried out. Hot seasons here were miserable, but it was the sand storms that made them almost unbearable. Calkan hoped their next destination would be far away from the desert sands, though that thought frightened him too.

He had never been beyond Lasala before. His whole existence had been in these poor sands, within the strict control of an unbreakable hierarchy. But he had a strange feeling that things were about to change, and for the first time in a long time, he was excited for the world.

“Master, may I ask you a question?” Calkan dared as they round through the streets in the richer part of the city. Calkan had never been here before. The colors seemed richer to his eyes, and there was a smell that perfumed the air like none he had witnessed before. People were better dressed in vibrant silks with jewels, and the ladies here had long hair down to their knees, intricately done and covered with a thin veil. Men wore bangles across their foreheads as a sign of nobility, and everywhere he looked there were rings and necklaces and glittering jewels.

The market here wasn’t spread out on slated pieces of wood, but rather there were whole shops attached to the front end, crowded with people going in and out. Even the dirt street seemed finer, less rugged with holes and rocks.

It was late afternoon as they approached the inn. The sun was a golden globe low in the sky, casting the streets into overlapping shadows of sunlight and darkness. Calkan soaked in the heat as they crossed over the threshold into the dimness of the inn. Thomas led the way up carpeted steps with extraordinarily papered walls and heavy hanging paintings. It smelled like garlic and chicken, and the smell made his stomach role in apprehension. He hadn’t eaten a real meal in many days.

“I would like to show you the rooms and explain your future situation. Then we will come and have an early supper. After you have had your fill, we can suit you in proper clothing for your future position. Do you have any immediate needs right now, Calkan?” Thomas raised an eyebrow, his face neutral of emotion.

Calkan shook his head and then continued up the stairs. Thomas had rented out a rather large space in the inn, full of luxurious items that drew Calkan’s attention. Everything was beautiful and neat.

Calkan watched Thomas set aside his things, slipping out of his jacket and then seating himself gracefully at a table. He indicated that Calkan should do the same.

“Malla said you were smart. He came to me yesterday and spoke of your desire to serve, your loyalty, and your wit. I have been here in this place for some time, looking for a handful of people such as yourself, but I must say, you are the first that has seemed to meet the standard I hold.”

Calkan swallowed as though to reply, but he had no response for such a statement. Standard for what? What kind of person did he need for a silly treasure hunt?

“Now, I have bought you, and indeed it would seem a bit, well, wasteful, to spend all that money without even being sure your mind is broad enough for such a task as I will give you. But I have a strange feeling about you Calkan, an intrigue you might say.

“Now, will you answer me a question or two, and it will determine how we proceed.”

Calkan nodded, on high alert now.

“Do you, even in the smallest way, believe in magic? Not the kind that is fabricated or sold, but the real intelligence of magic, the real existence?”

Calkan’s first instinct was to laugh, or groan. But he did neither. He stared into the intelligent eyes of the man before him. This man wasn’t a fool, he couldn’t be. He was too careful in his movements, too precise in his details. Even Calkan had not failed to notice the cleanliness of the room, the organization and detail that seemed to flow through the place. This man did nothing by accident; he was no fool. But then why such a question? Why would an intelligent man ask such an absurd and impossible question. “I’m not very sure I know what you mean?” Calkan replied slowly, his mind working through an answer. He was curious what would happen if her were to say yes, but at the same time, Calkan didn’t know the true answer. He had heard stories, everyone knew stories of magic and fairy tales, but that was children’s intrigue, not this.

Thomas nodded, and smiled slightly. “Ah, a good question.” He leaned forward slightly. “I mean when I ask this question, if you believe it might exist. Not that you have ever seen it or ever experienced it. You don’t need to tell me you have crossed paths with such a thing, simply if I were to show you magic was real, would you be able to expand your mind in such a way to believe what you are seeing?”

Calkan narrowed his eyes just slightly, his heart picking up its pace. “You can show me magic?”

Thomas tilted his head just slightly, nodding yes. “But only if you say you will try to believe it. If you trust your eyes, Calkan, there is a world that very few touch, a world that will expand your mind and change everything as you know it.”

Magic. It couldn’t be. It was a story that he had heard, of a magician taking on a boy, a boy he taught and made extraordinarily powerful. We this that story come to life? Was Calkan to be taught magic? Was he to rise above his status to one far more enchanting than he had ever thought to dream? If he said yes, would he become powerful enough to find his sister? Slowly, Calkan nodded yes to the man before him. “I will try to believe what you show me,” he quietly responded.

Thomas clapped once and quickly drew something from his neck. He dangled a gem of sorts in front of Calkan. It twirled, revealing a liquid inside it’s glassy and silver depths. “This, Calkan, is, to the eye, a beautiful necklace, but things are not always as they may seem.” Thomas clicked a small clasp on the necklace and Calkan watched as a sharp tip of sorts sprung from the depths of the pendent. He couldn’t help the gasp that escaped his lips. It wasn’t anything amazing, but he had never seen such a thing in his life.

“Watch, and then I shall explain,” Thomas said. He took the pendant into his hand and wrote the word Heal in his palm. He leaned forward and cupped his hands together, blowing gently into their depths, closing his eyes as he did so.

Calkan felt a weird tingling around his wrists, followed by a coldness that made him shiver. He watched in fright, amazement, real fear, as the bruises and cuts that the woman had made when she snatched him, disappear, seeming to be absorbed into his very skin.

Calkan quickly rose, upsetting the chair as he backed away. What was this? The man could control the world like that just by writing a word? He could control Calkan, he could make him do terrible, terrible things. Calkan kept backing away, never taking his eyes from Thomas.

Thomas sat calmly, watching him. “You are afraid, I thought you might not be. I’m sorry I used the magic on you,” he said.

“What else can you do? Can you control me? Can you do terrible things?” Calkan asked loudly.

“Calkan, please, come back and sit. I will explain it all as I have promised. I don’t want your fear. I want you to understand before you pass judgement.”

Calkan stood still, a war going on silently in his mind. The power drew him, the promise of perhaps using it to get his sister back appealed to him. But he was also beyond frightened of what else could be done with such power. “Alright, but no more magic on me.”

“I swear it,” Thomas replied, standing to right the chair and waiting for Calkan to sit.

Calkan didn’t move to sit though, he remained standing, still unsure.

“I promise, it is a long story, Calkan. You would do better sitting down.”

Calkan slowly made his way back to the chair, holding one wrist in his hand, pinching it over and over again. But the pain was gone. It was completely healed.

“We have a long adventure, of sorts, ahead of us. This is only a tiny piece of a great magic. I wonder if you have even been beyond the borders of Lasala, because if you had, you would have heard of a great evil that plagues the world. For many, many years, the rulers of many different places have prosecuted thousands of woman for possessing a simple charm like this. Their powers frighten them, their ability to do amazing things scares them. And so they kill them. I desire to change this. I desire to ensure that no one else has to die for having these powers. I have a plan, and perhaps you will not see it for all its glory until the right time. But I will tell you it once we have developed a trust. All you need to know for now, is that I require help in hunting down the other witches in this vast world. This is your purpose. Help me find them and for each one you find, I shall reward you, in however you please.”

Calkan swallowed. His hands were shaking. “What do you mean? What do you do with the witches once we have found them?”

Thomas sighed, spreading his hands in a peaceful gesture. “I will help to prevent them from being caught. I will cast a spell. I am one of them, Calkan. I desire them to live on, as I desire to live on. We witches are fantastic and powerful, we can change the course of a humans life, we can heal, we can make good things happen. But my purpose is dual as well. Not all witches are good. We shall find out the good from the bad, and the bad shall lose their powers and the good shall be protected.”

Calkan remained silent. “So my job is to help you find them. But how can I do that?”

Thomas waved his hands. “Too many questions. First, I must explain it all to you, make you understand the magic, where it came from, the violent and deadly history surrounding it. Let me begin my story, Calkan, and then you may decide which path you would like to follow.”

“Which path? You mean I have a choice?”

“One always has a choice. You may join me in this journey and develop your skills and intelligence to a superior standard, or you may go back to slavery. I am capable of finding you another master, one that will teach you a skill as a tradesman, so you may live your simple, uncomplicated life. The reward for helping me though, in the end, is your freedom and many gifts of wealth. It would behoove you to consider your choice carefully.”

Calkan swallowed. He wrung his hands. It was all before him, the life he had always desired, or something far more exciting and intoxicating. He could ask to find his sister. He could earn his freedom and wealth, and then he could live out the remainder of his life without the struggle, without the need for money, food, his only family left. He took a shaky breath. The choice was already made. “Tell me, master. Tell me the story and I will do whatever it takes to help you make those promises come true.”