“Me?” Sable cried.
“Yes,” Anaxim said, looking up at her with azure eyes sparkling. “You do know how I hate to leave town, and the trip to Port Arias alone will take two weeks travel. I figure if you can make it to Port with my invitation, then you deserve to attend.”
“But-but… how will I get there?” Sable asked, fearing the answer.
Anaxim smiled. “Why, by walking of course!”
“Couldn’t I take a carriage? Or a horse?” Sable asked as Anaxim began walking across the bridge, Pebbles in tow. “I mean I’ve never even left the village for more than a few hours, how will I fare out in the wilds Master?”
“I don’t know,” Anaxim said with a cheerful tone. “But we shall see. I have a bag here with forty gold coins. That should be enough for you to get ready in the next few days for a journey, don’t you think?”
Sable sputtered. “Forty? Master, I get ten a year! Forty seems a little much, don’t you think?”
“Well, some of it will go to financing a bodyguard while another portion will go towards your dress for the Gala. The rest will be my payment to you for going in my stead, and delivering a scroll to Master Vine.”
“Master Vine?” Sable squeaked, appalled at the idea of approaching one of the Spire’s council members. “Um, are you sure you don’t want to go? I mean… there will probably be wine?”
Anaxim laughed, hopping down the steps of the path one at a time. “I have wine here, thank you. But you should enjoy some while you’re there.”
“Argh!” Sable growled, throwing her hands into the air. “Master, I can’t do this for you… It’s far too important for me to go without you!”
“And why,” Anaxim asked, turning to look at her. “Do you think that? The Gala is held every summer on the Eve of Ember Iris. I would think you would love a chance to attend.”
Sable pouted before heaving a sigh, walking in her Master’s trail. “I just don’t know Master, I’m hardly cut from the same cloth as you. I don’t know how to be in someone’s court like a proper lady. I barely know how to dance, and I certainly don’t have the desire to learn.”
“Sable, you’re almost nineteen now, you must grow up some day.” Anaxim chided as he walked over another small bridge, waving to Lucius Gray, the tailor. “Good day Lucius!”
“Good day to you Master Nixelplex!” The man responded. Lucius was a tall, willowy man with a graying hair at his temples and wrinkles trailing down from his face into his neck. He was dressed in his usual gray shirt with suspenders holding up his black trousers.
“I have need of your work today Lucius, and it must be done as quickly as possible. I’m willing to pay a reasonable amount for your handiwork if you’ll take an old man’s coin?”
Lucius laughed. “I’ll happily take it. What do you need?”
Anaxim twirled his staff deftly in his hands before pointing the knobby end in Sables face. “She needs a dress. Something suitable for a formal occasion in a warm climate, preferably something made from a light material?”
“What?” Sable squawked, looking between the two men. Lucius took her by the hand and spun her around, looking her over while humming. She swatted his hand away, growing dizzy from the spinning.
Lucius nodded before turning and pushing open the door to his shop, built into the rock of the canyon like so many others. “Come on in then, we’ll need to take measurements and see what looks good on her.”
“Pebbles, you wait out here,” Anaxim said, patting the boar on the head as he walked into the store. “Come along Sable!”
“C-coming!” She called out, racing to catch up to her Master, dreading the experience to come.
Several dresses had been tried on, the colors clashing with Sable’s hair or being too tight in the chest or too billowy at her feet. Lucius had taken her measurements with his long fingers, writing each one down on a piece of parchment that he’d scribbled her name atop. When asked why he did so, Lucius merely commented it was for his own filing.
“I often provide clothes for a person numerous times a year. Easier to have their measurements on record than call them in each time,” Lucius had said as he measured her left bicep. “I’ll need you to come in once a year to update the measurements. You understand?”
“Yes sir,” Sable said, folding her hands in front of her. Standing on a footstool in a simple one piece dress, plain in color with bare shoulders, Master Anaxim sat on a stool reading through a small book he’d produced from his robes. He’d told her to obey Lucius’s directives as if they were his own. She was doing her best but it was growing on the third hour and she hadn’t had anything to eat all day. Her stomach growled, causing Lucius to stare at her flat stomach with half-lidded eyes before looking up at her.
She smiled. “Sorry?”
Lucius snorted before turning back to a wide book of fabrics. He was flipping through the pages, feeling the material while muttering to himself, looking back to her every few minutes as if he were thinking of something most profound. Sable merely stood, feeling rather exposed in the plain white dress, her bare shoulders cold and her feet aching from standing on the stool for so long. Master Anaxim would openly glare at her every time she moved to get down, which kept her pinned to the spot easily enough.
“What is the occasion?” Lucius finally asked, turning to Sable’s Master instead of her.
“A summer festival. Breathable cloth would be preferred as it will be rather hot,” Anaxim replied without looking up from his tome.
“Oh, then I suggest the cloud cotton for her dress. It breathes well enough and easily obtained from the higher peaks of the mountains in the region,” Lucius said, flipping in the book of cloth strips to a piece of material that seemed to exude a slightly off-color fog.
“As long as if doesn’t hide her figure,” Anaxim said with a chuckle. “Never hurts to attract suitors.”
“Master!” Sable cried embarrassed by his bold statement.
“What? You’re nineteen and the last of your family. It’s your duty to bear at least one child to continue on your bloodline,” Anaxim said with a simple statement as if discussing the weather. “I didn’t know your parents but I know they left enough gold to ensure you had a place to live. Combine that with being a Magician and you’ll be a prize for any man worth his salt.”
“I still need to complete my Journeymen’s Adventure!” Sable cried out, flushing with embarrassment.
Anaxim snorted. “So find a husband-to-be that can help with that! I met my wife while on my Master’s journey, and we spent a blissful forty years together before she fell to the Darkness.”
Sable winced. The Darkness had been a horrible event that had hit the world in one fell swoop. Everywhere across the globe graveyards and tombs split open, fell energies reviving the long forgotten dead with a feral temperament and a lust for flesh and blood. The fact that an eclipse over the sun had lasted ten days during this period had made come up with the name “The Darkness,” which still plagued the world in a way. Roving bands of undead still traveled the wilds while others holed up in fortresses and castles long abandoned, building up armies of dead to rival surrounding kingdoms.
Sable’s parents had fallen the ninth day of the Darkness when she was merely nine years old. She’d stayed locked up in the cottage while her father took up arms against the invading dead, her mother taking up her bow and arrows to try and combat the more intelligent undead hiding behind the waves of rotting flesh hammering into the village. Master Anaxim had battled several potent undead that day, likely sparing the village a very dreadful fate. Unfortunately, many had passed on and were burned in case they rose as the living dead once again. It’d become standard practice now for anyone who passed, as the Darkness seemed to infect even the purest of heart.
It was Sable’s wort fear, being confronted by one of the horrid ghouls that had claimed her parents. And that fear was becoming a reality as she was being forced to leave the village; there was a chance she could encounter some of the Lurking Dead in the wilds of Terra.
Her thoughts came back to Lucius as he pulled up a roll of fabric, a vibrant red with star patterns sewn into it. The purple bled off into wisps of smoke while the stars rotated in place, golden sparks against the deep violet that resembled the very last moments of dusk. Lucius turned to Anaxim, letting him gaze at the fabric.
He nodded. “Have the dress ready by tomorrow morning and I’ll pay double the usual fee,” he said, hopping down from his stool. “Sable, get changed and allow the man to get to work, we have errands to run.”