Bonus Story: A Study In Crimson

on May 5, 2008 in Other Tales

As promised, here’s a bit of backstory on Ian’s family. Thanks to all who donated!

After a long day of work which had taken him all over town, Scott Mason arrived at the front door of his decently-sized home. It was a two-story building, of sturdy and thoroughly fireproof stone construction, and it really was—as he was both painfully and proudly aware—of a decent size and in a decent neighborhood.

Could be bigger.

Could be better.

Would be, some day, and in the mean time he could be proud of how far he’d come. His useless father hadn’t given him much to build on, but he’d taken what he’d been given and by Khersis, he’d made something of himself.

“Is that you, Scott?” his wife, Dixie, called from the kitchen as he stepped through the door. Lost in thoughts of a three story stone mansion in the country and attaching no importance to the intrusive noises, he let out a sigh and hung his hat and scarlet-lined cloak on the peg, then kicked off his boots.

Being a wizard of any specialty was a tough business… not the least in the area of personal fashion. More and more men of the wand were trading in their robes for suits, or even casual attire. Scott wondered what the point of honing your powers were if you weren’t going to let people know what you were capable of. To him, a nice set of robes were both a proper wizard’s due and a bit of good advertising.

He had to keep with the times, though, so he compromised: a nice if somewhat brassy pinstripe suit, but with a cloak, riding boots, and a broad-brimmed hat plumed with an honest-to-Khersis phoenix feather. If his clients seemed more at ease dealing with a suit, he could let the secretary take his hat and cloak. If they wanted a bit of pomp and spectacle, he could draw the cloak around himself and remain standing, brooding impressively. It was a versatile combination, and it worked.

At least, it worked for day-to-day business. There were still places he could go where they respected a bit of tradition.

“Scott?” his wife said again.

He said nothing, but went to the hall closet and opened it. He pushed coats aside looking for something that couldn’t have failed to jump out if it had been there at all.

“Where the devil are my robes?” he muttered to himself, ransacking the closet.

“Scott, honey, are you there?” his wife asked, peering cautiously around the corner into the living room.

Scott jumped and slammed the closet shut.

“Khersis Dei, woman, what do you mean sneaking up on me like that?” he asked.

“Didn’t you hear me calling?”

“Obviously not,” Scott said.

“Oh,” she said. “I didn’t know you were home, and I heard…”

“Well, I wasn’t,” Scott said. “What you must have heard was the front door opening, so very obviously I’ve only just gotten home.”

“I wasn’t sure…”

“If you pay close attention, you’ll hear it opening again when I leave,” Scott said.

“You’re going out?” his wife asked, frowning.

“I suppose I have your permission?” Scott asked, giving a shallow bow.

“Well, of course… of course you don’t need it, I mean,” his wife sputtered. “I hope you have a nice time.”

“It’s the Order of the Crimson Tongue, not your ladies’ sewing circle” Scott said, though Dixie had never belonged to any such group. “We have important business to discuss. We don’t have ‘a nice time.'”

“Of course,” Dixie said. “Sorry.”

“Do you know where my ceremonial robes are?”

“Probably where you left them.”

“I left them in the hall closet, where they belong,” Scott said. “And they aren’t there. Try again.”

“I… I think I saw them hanging up in the attic, with your ritual gear,” Dixie said.

“Why would they be up there?” Scott asked. “That’s my work space, Dix, and my working gear. How would my ceremonial robes end up with the things I use for actual work?”

“I don’t know,” Dixie said. “Maybe you just…” She paled, seeing that this was not the right answer. “I guess I wasn’t thinking?”

“Oh, well, nothing new about that,” Scott said. He reached down and ruffled his wife’s hair roughly with his left hand, the one that was permanently ensconced in a black leather glove.

He favored her with a smile, which she returned. He basked in the gratitude and love that he saw on her face.

Could be better, but it was a start.

“I’ll… shall I run up and get them for you?” Dixie asked.

“No, no, I’ll do it,” Scott said. “I’ve told you I don’t like you messing around with my gear. Anyway, I need to pop in and see the boy. Today’s the day the committee meets, you know… well, of course you don’t know, but it is. There won’t be any official word yet, but George Pembrill’s a friend of mine.”

Whistling, he took the steps two at a time up to the second floor landing. He reached up towards the knob which pulled down the attic step ladder and whispered the secret syllables which released it without triggering his explosive fire wards, then ascended into his sanctuary.

It was little more than a storage space beneath the eaves… he could only stand unbowed near the center… but inside his attic laboratory, he could imagine he was working his magic from atop a great tower. Frequently, he did. It might have been safer and more prudent to practice his art within the basement, but he’d added what protective spells and runes he could to the attic space.

And there were his robes, hanging on a nail sticking out of one of the beams. What had that silly woman been thinking? This was exactly why he couldn’t stand the thought of her messing around with his things. He changed into the robes and then descended, taking care to reset the wards on the trapdoor.

It was his own fault if she was able to wander back up there. He shouldn’t take it out on her. It wasn’t as though she could help it.

His head filled up with such generous thoughts, he went down the hall to his son’s room. He swallowed a bit of indignation at finding the door not just closed but locked. Well, he was becoming a man. Thirteen.

“Boy?” he said through the door. “Are you in there, Ian?”

Obviously, he knew this was the case. The door was locked, and he could hear the TV through it.

“What is it?” came the response, a little more sullen than he liked and after a bit of a delay.

“I just wanted to tell you I’m heading to the tower to find out about your application,” Scott said. “I know you’re not ‘officially’ in the youth guild yet, but you could probably come along if you’d like. I know the guys at the desk.”

“I don’t feel like it.”

Scott waited before deciding how he felt about this reply. What kind of boy didn’t feel like getting a sneak peek into the inner workings of the most feared and respected brotherhood of fire mages in the Imperium? Certainly there were more prestigious wizardry organizations, but pyromancy had a tendency to inspire awe out of bounds with any other, less flashy schools of magic.

“Well, maybe for the best,” he said, finally. “We don’t want anybody thinking you’re too cocky, or that you’re getting any special treatment because of whose son you are.” He chuckled. “Not that there won’t be some of that, in due course, but it’s best not to be too blatant about it.”

There was no response, and Scott withdrew. His son was thirteen. That was a sullen and quiet age. What did they call it? Angst. That was it. Angst. Nothing wrong with a little angst. It might even be conducive to him growing into his gifts.

There was no flame without heat, after all. That was part of the creed.

“Dad?” Ian said from his room when Scott was almost out of earshot.

“Yes?” Scott responded, turning back towards the door. He almost hadn’t acknowledged the call, but the possibility that the boy had changed his mind about coming along was too much to ignore.

“Try not to be too mad… if my name’s not on the on the list, I mean,” he said.

Scott chuckled. The boy was nervous. That was almost endearing. He had no idea what blood ran in his veins. He didn’t know what it meant. He’d learn, though.

He headed back downstairs. Dixie, the poor cretinous thing, was still standing right where she’d been when Scott had headed upstairs. Didn’t she have anything to do?

“Have dinner ready when I get home,” he said as he passed, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“What time will you be home?” she asked as he headed out the door.

He didn’t stop to answer. How could he? He had no idea how long business at the tower would take.

He’d sat inside his coach on the way home from work, where he could work on the damned paperwork for the harvest festival. So many of the entertainers wanted pyrotechnics these days. He hated seeing the noblest of elements bent for mere entertainment, but of course people found it impressive. Nobody ever went to see an earthworks display.

On his way to the tower, though, he rode outside on the driver’s seat, letting everybody see him in his crimson robes and his plumed hat as the carriage led him around the outskirts of the city and to the tower where the local branch of the Crimson Tongue was housed.

He enjoyed storming right past the front desk and the sign informing all members that they must stop and be recognized. He was a big, solidly built man with a nicely trimmed fire-red beard (the color was an affectation, but nobody said anything because it was damned impressive)… in an organization with an unfortunate concentration of the weedy and the pencil-necked, he couldn’t help being recognized.

The night’s important business was a cocktail reception up on the seventeenth floor. He loved the tower for its black stone walls with bright red mortar and the ruby-eyed carvings of imps and salamanders everywhere. It was the sort of place that made one feel like a wizard. Aside from his alma mater, the very exclusive Adderfang University, it was the only place that ever really had.

All around the room were men in robes like his… some more splendid, with larger sashes and more flame detailing… but just as many who were relegated to less impressive ornamentation. Scott’s natural gifts and proven aptitude had ensured a rapid rise to his current position, and would take him even farther in the future. Not everybody in the Crimson Tongue was a dedicated pyromancer. Only some ability with fire magic was required to join.

He made his way around the room, taking a different drink from the trays of two passing waitresses and moving on to the buffet when he’d finished one of them. The small finger foods weren’t terribly filling but they were better than whatever awaited him at home. He’d married a pretty girl instead of finding one who could cook. He made small talk with those who seemed interesting, accepting flattery from those beneath him and offering it to those above him. It was a sort of magic he could work almost as well as his specialty.

“So, how about it, George?” Scott asked, grinning devilishly as he spotted the head of the selection committee for the auxiliary youth guild, chatting with two other members. “Did my boy Ian make the cut? That’s Ian Mason,” he added. This was unnecessary, and he winked broadly to show he knew this.

All three of the men blanched and winced at the question. George Pembrill shot the other two an appealing look. They nodded and retreated.

“Well?” Scott asked impatiently. He’d taken in the exchange without grasping its meaning. In cases like this, he chose to ignore what he did not understand while still growing angrier over it.

“The thing is, Scott…” George began.

“You can’t hold that business with my father against him,” Scott said. “I have been a member of this tower in good standing for fifteen years and…”

“For Pyrakh’s sake, we didn’t reject him,” George said. “He didn’t even sign up.”

What?”

“We never got his application, Scott,” George said. “I’m sorry, but…”

“Well, which is it?” Scott said. “He didn’t sign up or you didn’t get his application? I mean, those are two different things, aren’t they? This could be no more than a simple administrative error. By the Dark Herald, if my boy doesn’t make it in this year because one of those know-nothings in the mail room lost his application, heads are going to roll, George.”

George Pembrill looked at his old friend, and repressed the urge to heave a great sigh. He clapped his hand on the agitated man’s shoulder and said, “Look, we’ll get this sorted,” he said. “Just have him fill out another application and we’ll forget about the deadline. I can pretty much guarantee there’s a spot for him, if he wants it, but…”

“The hell with extending the deadline, I’m not asking for any special treatment,” Scott said. “Have somebody rustle up a form and I’ll fill it out myself, right now.”

George shook his head.

“That’s not going to work,” he said. “There’s the personal essay and…”

“Personal essay be damned!” Scott said. “Didn’t you just say that there’s a spot for him?”

“Quiet!” George said. “Don’t go shouting that all over the room.”

For a moment, Scott considered telling George that he’d shout whatever the hell he wanted in any room he chose, but then he reconsidered.

“Quite right,” he said. “Sorry. Just nerves, I guess. This is a big day, for my boy and me. I’ll just go get a form and take it to him to fill out, then.”

“No hurry,” George said. “Stick around. We’re going to watch the match. Jason’s kid’s a battlemage for Overton, did you know?”

“Yes, yes… I mean, no, I didn’t,” Scott said. “Look, I really think I should get this thing taken care of right away. I appreciate your help, but no sense stringing this thing out. I don’t want any special treatment for my boy.”

“No, of course not.”

Scott almost left the carriage at the tower and flew home. It would have left him too drained to do anything the following day, but it would have been faster, and as far as he was concerned, every passing second in which the fruit of his loins was not a member of the Crimson Tongue’s youth guild was a slight against him.

“I’ve got dinner in the oven, ready to come out,” Dixie said, hurrying from the kitchen when he returned home. “Do you want me to set the table?”

“Leave it,” Scott growled, hurrying past her up the stairs and down to Ian’s room. “Ian? Son?” he said through the door. “Open up and let me talk to you.”

There was silence, but he heard the bed shifting and floorboards creaking, and then the doorknob rattled and turned, then the door opened.

As always, Scott had to repress the urge to lecture his son about the state of his room. The walls were covered with posters for rock bands and comic books… fantastic garbage about mechanical constructs and the like. The boy did well enough in his studies, even the special magical theory classes he’d been enrolled in, but he didn’t show nearly enough enthusiasm for wizardry in general, elementalism in particular, and pyromancy in more particular.

Time and place, Scott reminded himself. He’d fight one battle at a time.

“Look, son,” Scott said, holding the rolled-up application out, “I’m sorry to make you do this twice, but those boneheads lost your application. I’ve talked to the head of the committee, though, and…”

“They didn’t lose it,” the boy said.

“What? Well, of course they did,” Scott said. “And don’t worry, heads will roll, but only once you’re safely in. Now, don’t worry too much about the essay or anything. I’ve already been told you’ll make it in. Just, you know, make it look good.”

“Dad, they didn’t lose it,” Ian said again. “I never sent it in. I threw it away.”

“What?”

“I threw it away,” Ian said. He turned away from his father and stomped across the floor. “I don’t want to be in the youth guild.”

“What? Don’t be ridiculous,” Scott said. “Ian, we talked about this.”

You talked about it,” Ian said. “You, you, you! I just sat there.”

“You never said anything about not joining the guild,” he said. “For Khersis’s sake, I thought you wanted this, Ian!”

“You could have asked!” Ian said.

“Well, it’s too late now,” Scott said, holding the scroll out. “I’ve told George Pembrill you’re joining. I’m going to look awfully foolish if you don’t.”

“Whose fault is that?” Ian asked with a snort. He turned away.

“Don’t turn your back on me, you ungrateful little shit!” Scott said.

“Is everything okay up there?” his wife yelled from down below. “I hear shouting…”

Scott stuck his head out the door. “I’m handling it, you stupid cow!” he yelled back. He turned back in the room to see his thirteen-year-old son looking at him with an expression of fiercest, blackest hate.

He took a deep breath. This wasn’t the way to deal with a teenager. They had angst. He’d had angst when he was that age. The worst thing he could do was push his son too hard in a direction he wasn’t inclined to go. He’d learned that lesson from his own father, in a roundabout way.

“Ian,” he said. “Son. Nobody’s saying you have to join the guild this year. You’re your own man, after all,” he said, with a wry chuckle. “Just remember that it’ll grease your path when you seek full investiture later.” Ian started to say something, but Scott held up his hand. “That’s the most we’ll say of it again this year.”

There. That was that. Handled.

Now, onto the next order of business. He’d just amble on down and see if Dixie had dinner ready, like he’d told her.


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5 Responses to “Bonus Story: A Study In Crimson”

  1. Billiomaire says:

    Just like most parents in this universe, this could go under “101 ways to not raise your child”.

    Or spousal abuse, whichever comes first.

    Current score: 8
    • Anonymous says:

      Well despite the fact that “it could be worse” really isn’t an excuse it really could be worse. He is trying to give his son some space and help him on his way even though he doesn’t accept him ending up doing anything else. He is basically trying to let him do what he wants while making sure that he gets into the “proper” line of work.

      The spousal abuse is way worse but at least it isn’t physical and it seems to be more bark and no thought of bite even though he really doesn’t respect her.

      I may not take this as seriously considering last chapter was about Mack accepting the fact that mermaids are all murderous monsters.

      Current score: 2
  2. Lunchbox says:

    I wouldn’t say, “at least it isn’t physical.”

    In my experience, emotional abuse is just as difficult to escape. And most people don’t understand it when you’re saying there is abuse if you have no physical proof.

    Current score: 8
    • Athena says:

      Yes, this. There’s also a lot of gaslighting around the idea that emotional abuse is “not as bad”. Honestly, in a very real way I would have preferred being physically abused… because then, other people are more likely to take you seriously. And it’s a lot easier to take *yourself* seriously, too.

      Not that either of those things are guaranteed even for physical abuse – serial abusers tend to be charismatic and very good at twisting perceptions to get away with what they do, but it’s so, so much easier to do with emotional abuse.

      (also, the cheating pop up coming up when I tried to heart Lunchbox’s comment gave me sads 🙁 Not my fault my stupid mouse is useless and keeps registering single clicks as double clicks… it’s getting worse and games are getting progressively more difficult to play because of it)

      Current score: 3
  3. Jechtael says:

    “Dixie! WHERE is my SUPERSUIT!” I didn’t find the rest of the chapter amusing, but the bit that made me think that gave me a chuckle.

    I wonder if Ian MASON might have more ability with Earth, especially given how his personality is associated with it.

    Current score: 1