Thomas stood among the giant trees of the forest and stared down at the leaf he held in his hands. As usual, Thomas wasn’t able to get it to fold it evenly down the middle. It made a nice crinkly sound when he crumpled it though. He glanced up and saw his master, Zaphat, had wandered off again. Thomas dropped the leaf he was playing with and hurried after.
As Zaphat walked, he pulled his left arm out of his voluminous purple robes, holding a folded piece of paper. His robes never seemed to get dirty, no matter how much they walked around in this forest. Thomas caught up to him and tried to sneak a look at the paper.
“Back off, boy! I’ve told you before, this is not for the likes of an apprentice.” Zaphat pushed Thomas back with the staff he held in his other hand. “Now just where are we… Ah, yes. I’ve got it again. This way.” Zaphat pointed in a seemingly random direction. “At least, I think it’s this way.”
Thomas trotted off after the old wizard, newly crumpled leaves in each hand. When the wind blew between the trees, Thomas could see more leaves falling from high up in the branches. Occasionally he was able to catch one as he walked. The ground underfoot contained little undergrowth, but the dirt underneath the fallen leaves was black with moisture and plant matter.
Zaphat stopped again. This time, he was squinting at the paper, holding it close under his nose. After he had nearly gone cross-eyed, he folded the paper in half and stuffed it back deep into his robes. Thomas couldn’t quite figure out how objects were actually stored within that space, they just seemed to disappear. Zaphat started etching in the dirt with his staff and mumbling words that Thomas couldn’t make out.
Zaphat moved the staff in circles and zigzags and continued his muttering. Thomas picked at a small insect bite on his arm. Suddenly there was a burst of pink smoke from the dirt drawing, and Zaphat’s pointed hat popped a foot into the air. Zaphat grinned wide and promptly strode off in a new direction. Thomas grabbed the hat and handed it back to his master as they walked.
The ground began to slope gently upwards, and Thomas picked up a long, straight stick off the ground. As they walked, the sun reached its apex and slowly descended back down the sky in front of them. At last, Zaphat brought Thomas to a stop and announced it was time for a quick lunch. Without putting down his staff, the wizard reached into his robes and brought out a small wedge of cheese which he handed to Thomas before reaching back in for more. The cheese was full of holes, but to Thomas’ eye they looked chewed rather than natural. Zaphat handed him a chunk of bread and a flask of water. For himself, Zaphat pulled out a loaf of bread, a plum pie, a bottle of wine, an entire glazed ham, and candles.
Zaphat sat down and alternated between consulting his paper and picking at his food, all the while with his staff laying across his lap. Thomas ate quickly and then began stripping the leaves and branches off his stick. After a time, Zaphat took the uneaten food and shoved it back into his robes. With a last glance at the paper, he stuffed that back into his robe as well and set off uphill. Thomas ran and caught up with him, using his new walking stick the way the wizard used his staff.
The walk gradually turned into a climb, and the forest began to thin. Thomas was glad to have made a walking stick. To their left, the forest continued, but to their right, the ground fell away and turned into a steep cliff. After a short while, Thomas was able to look out across the sheer drop, over the tops of the trees, to see the fiery colors of the mountainside far below and the hills beyond.
Zaphat stopped and quickly counted to himself, then pulled out the paper, glanced at it, and turned to walk back away from the cliff. Thomas caught a glance of the paper this time, but it made little sense to him, as it was full of glyphs and squiggles that danced on the page. He could just barely catch sight of the distant hills through the tree trunks behind them when they entered a small clearing. The air was still, and there was a slight smell of decay that seemed to cling to the ground.
Zaphat pondered the clearing for a moment, then threw up his hands and exclaimed “This is it!” He waved his staff, and a shovel appeared stuck in the ground in front of him. “Alright, boy, get to digging!” He motioned with his staff, and a pile of dirt floated up from the middle of the clearing and was tossed to the side.
Thomas yanked the shovel from the earth and did his best to time his scoops between Zaphat’s continued excavations. Soil from the floating dirt piles occasionally sprinkled onto his hair.
When they started to hit a dense mixture of clay and gravel, Zaphat stopped waving his staff and said, “I’m tired. You keep digging.” He plopped down at the edge of the clearing and studied his paper.
When the sun passed below the treetops of the clearing, the wizard conjured a small ball of blue flame that hovered above him. A minute later, he realized Thomas needed light as well and conjured a second one over the hole.
Most of what Thomas encountered was dirt and rocks, but there were also fragments of bones and old roots. At one point, Thomas pulled a boot out of the dirt, but it wasn’t his size. He continued digging until the artificial light disappeared. Thomas poked his head out of the hole to see Zaphat lying on his side, snoring. Somehow his hat still sat perfectly straight upon his head.
In the morning, Thomas woke up to dirt being piled on top of him.
“No sleeping when there is work to be done!” Zaphat scolded. “Now grab that shovel and climb back down there!” He swung the staff in a grand gesture and stairs formed out of the soil leading down into the hole.
Thomas grabbed the shovel and got back to work. He soon tired of climbing up and down the stairs hauling shovelfuls of dirt, but then a sparkle caught his eye.
“Master Zaphat, look what I’ve found!” Thomas exclaimed, lifting a coin up for Zaphat to see.
“I can’t see what you’re holding down there, boy, come on up here.” Thomas hurried up the stairs that now spiraled around the outer perimeter of the hole. When he got to the top, Zaphat snatched the coin for closer study, eyes gleaming. He studied it for a second, then tossed it over his shoulder into the forest, where Thomas chased after it and slipped it into his pocket. Zaphat continued digging with renewed vigor, and Thomas got back to work as well.
Thomas’ shovel clinked against coins more and more often as the hole grew deeper and wider, and once his pocket broke, he began to stack them at the edge of the clearing. At one point, Thomas bent down to find a many-faceted purple gem. When he showed Zaphat the gem, the wizard barely glanced at it.
“Put that down and keep digging! We’re almost there!” Thomas wondered what Zaphat could possibly be looking for.
The hole grew so deep that they needed a light to dig even before the sun left the sky. The excavated dirt rose in piles around the clearing that buried lower tree branches. Soon enough, Thomas and Zaphat exposed an imposing marble coffin. They excavated the bottom of the hole until the sides of the coffin stood untouched by dirt and debris. When they finished, they stood before the coffin, a conjured flame flickering in the hole above them.
“This is it, boy! This is it! This is what was said to be gone and forgotten, but I have found it! The staff of Amadius is mine!” Zaphat pushed up his sleeves, and they slid back down to his hands. He took his staff in both hands in front of him, braced his feet, and then his breath cut short when the lid began to slide open on its own.
The lid grated slowly away from them and fell to the floor with a heavy thud. Thomas and Zaphat both stepped back. An ancient body floated slowly above the lip of the coffin and turned upright, hanging suspended in the air above them. The ancient man’s hat was similar to Zaphat’s, but it lacked a rim and was riddled with holes to the point that its tip was even missing. The stark white beard tapered to a point just below his chest. His arms were hidden within folds of the bug-eaten robes, and the skeletal feet poking out the bottom of the robes hung bare.
Thomas glanced at Zaphat and saw his mouth opening and closing mindlessly. Then Zaphat’s chin dropped even further and stayed there. Thomas turned back to the floating corpse to see that its arms were now outstretched, and in its withered hand it held a staff of pallid wood with a knotted top. Graceful carvings and runes adorned its length.
Suddenly the ancient eyelids snapped open, and when the eyes found Zaphat, the floating spectre smiled. “At last,” he said, “Some fool has finally found me.”
Amadius’ staff twitched, and an explosion flung Zaphat and Thomas back away from the coffin. Thomas hit his head against the side of the hole and lay in a crumpled heap. He watched as streaks of light and sparks flew from one wizard to the other in a dazzling display. Amadius cast bolts of lightning and razor sharp icicles at Zaphat, and the latter returned gouts of flame and waves of scorching heat. Most collided in midair before reaching a combatant. Cracks of thunder sent vibrations through the ground beneath Thomas, and dirt settled on top of him, falling from the walls of the hole. Then Amadius stilled himself, and his staff began to glow. Zaphat continued to fling fireballs at him, but each one fizzled out just before reaching him. Finally Zaphat stopped and stood, panting. Thomas felt his hair stand on end.
Suddenly a huge burst of light and deafening noise forced Thomas to slam shut his eyes and cover his ears. When he opened his eyes again, he barely recognized the other side of the hole. Zaphat was gone, but so was the floor he had stood on and the wall behind him. In its place was the opening to a huge cavern, and through it Thomas could see the hills that sprawled away from the mountain. Amadius floated to the floor and stepped into the cavern. Thomas pulled himself to his elbows in time to see Amadius reach down and pick up Zaphat’s staff. With a barely audible murmur, he touched the tip of his staff to Zaphat’s, and the engravings on his staff glowed near where it touched. Those on Zaphat’s pulsed dimly once and went out. Amadius tried again, and there wasn't even a pulse.
“Useless, just like its owner,” he spat as he cast the staff down in disgust.
Amadius strode to the center of the cavern, then he lifted his own staff into the air and started chanting. He swung his foot around, spun once and brought his staff to the ground, then lifted it back up forcefully, stabbing the air above him. As he held it there and chanted, Thomas felt the ground around him quake. Bones began to slither out of the ground and assemble in front of the ancient wizard.
Thomas crawled quietly into the cavern, moving towards the discarded staff. A bone the size of his leg forced its way out of the ground beneath him as he crawled and sped towards the grisly shape taking form in the center of the cavern.
Desperately, Thomas clambered over rocks and charred clumps of dirt and finally reached Zaphat’s staff. He grabbed it to attempt to swing it at Amadius, but as soon as his he touched it, a searing pain surged through his hand. He tried to let go, but his hand clenched ever tighter around the twisted wood. From deep in its engravings, a red light appeared and traveled up Thomas’ arm. He felt the blistering heat travel through his shoulder and into his torso, down into his belly, through to his legs, his feet and down to his toes, up into his head, his ears, his mouth, his eyes. His vision became a searing white glare, his body felt scorched from the inside. He opened his mouth to scream, but smoke poured out, followed by flickers of red flame. Suddenly the pain died, his skin and vision cleared, and the staff turned into dust in his hand.
The chanting stopped, and Thomas stood to see Amadius float up to the back of a great winged skeletal beast and mount it. The beast stepped towards the opening of the cavern. When it reached the edge of the cliff, it hunkered onto its haunches and leapt into the air, bony wings extended, roaring as it did so. Amadius’ beard and robes trailed behind him as he flew off upon his skeletal monstrosity, and his staff flickered with power and lightning.
“I am Amadius the All Powerful, and I have returned!”
Thomas fell to his knees as the wizard and his mount disappeared into the distance, small sparks and flames dancing across his skin.