As Aulus finished his enchantment, he stared in shock at the portal opening up in front of him. Instead of the small, pink portal that he had been assigned to create and bring in a little white rabbit, instead a large, black, malevolent doorway appeared, all sorts of sinister sounds emanating from its depths. He backed away, and out of the portal stepped a huge, monstrous creature, eight feet high, and rippling in red and black. Its eyes narrowed and its jaw twisted into a grin as it spotted Aulus, who immediately ran, slamming the door behind him.
While he ran through corridors and up stairs, he cursed himself for his mistake. Reminiscing, he thought he knew where he had messed up, but he was always so worried about getting the enchantments right that even his guess about his mistake was wrong – often because there had been two or three compounded on it. So had it been he had put the wrong accent on one of the words, or that he had swapped it with another?
The whole tower shook as he ran, not from his movement, but rather that of the monster lumbering slowly after him. Aulus burst through a door on the top floor where, in the center of a spacious room, surrounded by all manner of chemicals and potions, stood Aulus’s master, Numa.
“What is it now?” Numa demanded, not looking up from his position over a cauldron. “I’m rather busy at the moment.”
“Master, I’d been practicing my summoning. However, I must have got the incantation wrong, and I summoned some kind of demon.”
“So that’s what that infernal shaking was all about.” Numa sighed. “You’ve never been good at summoning. In fact, you’ve been utterly terrible. I don’t know why you keep trying to do it at all, when there are plenty of other magics you don’t completely fail at performing.”
Aulus hung his head. It was true. He was no good at it. He just had no confidence when it came to reciting the enchantments, which were often long and complex. He was much better at potions and runes anyway. But he ought at least be able to summon a simple rabbit.
“So why is the tower still shaking?” Numa continued. “There wasn’t any recoil from the portal, was there?”
“No…. I didn’t feel confident enough to send the creature back, so I thought you, being so much more competent, could do that.”
“Then you’re sorely mistaken. You brought that thing into his world, you take it out. It’s your responsibility.” He waved his hand, dismissing his apprentice.
Aulus took a deep breath, steeling himself. He then left the room and went down the stairs, where, at the far end of the corridor, he saw the red and black monster appearing at the other stairs. He had to do this now. He remembered the enchantment to send back creatures – he thought. Beginning, he spoke slowly, trying to make sure each word was perfect. But as he went, more words than those for the enchantment floated through his mind – specifically, those uttered by Numa. His master was right, he was no good at this branch of magics. He was just going to get it wrong, and probably summon a twin for this creature lumbering toward him, now almost halfway toward him. Wait, had it been reveno or reveneo? Too late, he had to keep going, the monster was getting closer, its grin wider.
Just as the monster stood before him, he finished.
The red mouth laughed and an ashen claw thrust into Aulus’s chest.
* * *
The door to Numa’s chamber opened as the monster stepped inside, carrying Aulus’s body on its shoulder.
“Your apprentice,” it hissed, depositing the body on the ground. Numa looked from it to the monster with surprise.
“How dare you!” Numa exclaimed. He stood, gesturing angrily as he recited a spell. A bolt of light flew from his finger and hit the monster in the chest, disintegrating it entirely into a pile of ash on the ground.
He walked over to his dead apprentice. In vain, he checked Aulus’s pulse. A single tear fell from the master’s eye.
“Why couldn’t you do it properly…?” Numa muttered.