Prestidigitation Jazz

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Tatterdemalion, Dec 26, 2015.

  1. Tatterdemalion

    Tatterdemalion Phantasmal Quasar

    All right. No frills with this one. This is the first little section of a larger story I'm writing set in a fantasy world that's a rough equivalent to the 1920's in the United States. I'm mostly just testing the waters with this little snippet. Please leave some comments and criticisms below, and thanks for taking the time to read it! I might expand this page and update if it proves popular.


    To spot a demon is not a difficult thing. There’s the funny acrid scent of extraplanar interaction, of course. The tendency to be trapped within rings of icy flame and oil-scrawled runes is hard to miss. The general air of wrongness about them is certainly a telltale sign, although this has led to the wrongful disintegration of a number of Fulcrum City’s sleazier travelling salesmen in the past. The sole omnipresent feature present on a demon, however, is its necktie. A demon’s tie is always perfectly tied, proudly resting in immaculate symmetry around its eldritch owner’s neck. The knot is intricate and, many theorize, literally impossible without the usage of several laws of physics not present on our earth. There’s even that little crease that no one can ever get right. As everyone knows, to tie a tie that perfectly requires extraplanar machinations.

    Barnes didn’t need to examine the necktie of the demon in his study to identify it as such. He was, after all, the one who summoned it. He postured dominance at the freshly-summoned demon, completely unaware that he had just made a blunder that would cost him his life. Or most of it, at least. It’s said that the wiser a man becomes, the more he realizes how little he truly knows. It will suffice to say that Barnes considered himself the greatest and most knowledgeable warlock in Fulcrum City.

    The demon stretched its arms and yawned, revealing a row of perfectly-aligned, bone-white teeth. “Ah. It’s good to be back.” He took notice of the skinny, chemical-stained man staring at him amid towers of books and dubious alchemical equipment. The demon practically glided to the edge of the entrapment circle, green flames flaring up as he approached the summoner. “You, I suppose, are Barnes?”

    Barnes had prepared a long-ish and, in his opinion, fairly eloquent speech for the occasion, but his throat suddenly decided that it really didn’t wish to participate, thank you very much. Most people of average sanity and intellect would be frozen in abject terror at the subtle fiend that stood before them. The fact that human senses could only see the equivalent of a sharply-dressed well-to-do, yet some unnamed feeling still set skin to crawl at a single glance only increased the sensation of dread. But, Barnes was a hedger, sorcery’s equivalent to alcohol’s bootlegger in Fulcrum city, only with significantly more risk to life, limb, and relative location in space and time. Below-average sanity and above-average intellect were in the job description for any hedger looking to stay in the business and in one piece. Barnes’ throat had tightened in manic elation.

    “Who? Oh, yeah. I’m Barnes. That’s me. Yep.” Barnes’ tongue suddenly felt the need to compensate for the past several seconds of silence all at once. He caught himself, took a breath, and continued. “So… you’re the one that kept sending the messages?”

    “The messages? Of course. I’ve been away from this plane for so long I’d figured you humans had forgotten how to summon me. I just gave you a… push in the right direction.”

    “Yeah, well, thanks to the Minster and his cronies, magic’s been against the laws for what, six, seven years? Sure, that doesn’t stop most folks from getting magic off-the-books. I mean, hey, you’re talking to a hedger here. Still, lots of information got lost when they took all the books away.”

    “You poor fools put a ban on magic. What will you think of next?”

    “Trust me, it’s not a well-liked decision. Apparently the good old government thinks magic’s too dangerous. It’ll blow up in your face, or some crock like that.” Barnes considered the situation for a moment. “I suppose I should thank you for the notes, then.”

    Barnes’ mind flew back to when he’d found the first note six months ago. He had quickly risen to affluence through the hard work of having a wealthy, recently-deceased great-uncle who possessed no other relations. Barnes’ inheritance from a family member he never knew suddenly left him with a three-story house on Glassdrop Row, a small fortune, and most importantly, his great-uncle’s study. As it turned out, Barnes wasn’t the only warlock in the family. His great-uncle’s study, plastered up behind a wall and long-forgotten, was filled with all manner of tomes, grimoires, and all the equipment a hedger could ever need. It had to have been sealed up before the Prohibition on magic, and nobody’d ever confiscated the highly-illegal goods within. Most of ancient stuff was illegible or unusable, and it was slow going for Barnes to figure out any sort of decent conjuration.

    It was paging through one dust-coated and musty magical tome that a nearly-crestfallen Barnes had found the first note. With a slight puff of sulfur, Barnes found himself thumbing to a bookmark that hadn’t existed the last moment.

    Want to know about real magic, Barnes? I can show you some secrets nobody in Fulcrum knows. How about I help you out a little? I’ve just got to tell you in person...

    That was all the note read. With increasing regularity, though, more notes began appearing in the preceding six months as Barnes searched through the library for arcane secrets. Having more curiosity than common sense, Barnes followed the instructions with reckless enthusiasm until they led to him, face-to-face with a demon in a business suit now.

    The demon smiled like a shark. “I should really be thanking you, Barnes. You’re without a doubt the best warlock Fulcrum has to offer.”

    “That’s not saying much. By the by, what should I call you?”

    “In my plane of origin, I am known merely as Zzyzzk’zx’zzyk.”

    “That’s… a lot of z’s. Zeeze! That’s it! I’ll call you Zeeze!”

    “I would really prefer that you not-”

    “Alright, Zeeze, you’re here. Now for your end of the deal.” Barnes crossed his arms and leaned against a stack of books.

    “Now that I’m here, I can bequeath to you magical secrets long-forgotten on this plane.” Zeeze templed his fingers and leaned forward, his face nearly pressing against the flaming circle holding him in. “What,” he oozed, “do you want to know?”

    Barnes mind buzzed with the possibilities. “Everything. I want to know all the magic that got lost in the Prohibition.”

    Zeeze’s smile morphed into a sneer of one who knew he would always win, but never ceased to find pleasure in others losing. “Very well. Let’s start with this.” With a flick of his wrist, the flaming summoning circle guttered into nothing, plunging the study into the murk of twilight. “This summoning circle is all wrong. The runes were shoddy and all the oils are completely the wrong type. It wouldn’t have held me even if I wasn’t the vastly superior magician.”

    Barnes’ eyes widened as he finally realized that he had made a series of very, very poor decisions in trusting those notes. Zeeze stepped one immaculately-polished shoe over the circle, then the other, as Barnes backed away into a corner, hastily attempting to utter a binding spell into existence. The demon he called Zeeze shrugged it off without a flinch. “Wait, wait- I don’t really need the whole ‘forbidden knowledge’ thing anymore, you know? You can just- you can just go on your way!”

    Zeeze sighed, then laughed. “Barnes, you are without a doubt the worst warlock I have ever had the displeasure of encountering, and you’re an idiot, even for this plane’s standards. You really didn’t see this coming?”

    “I-I did everything right, though! All the bindings, the enchantments on the floor-” Barnes whispered to nobody in particular.

    “I’ve watched you for a while. A sort of morbid curiosity, I suppose. Have you ever once actually succeeded in performing magic without something going wrong? Honestly, I was worried that you were going to blow yourself up before you summoned me here.” Zeeze pulled a hat from nowhere and placed it on his head. Barnes had packed himself so tightly into a corner that he briefly considered attempting to just back through the wall and into the next room. Still, Zeeze continued slowly approaching him. “I suppose you were still useful, after all. I’ll reward you for that. You won’t die just yet, I promise,” the demon smirked. He turned and paced away from Barnes. The warlock eyed the doorway and had already taken the first step in an attempted escape before Zeeze absentmindedly slammed the door shut from across the room. “This world is perfect. This time, everything will go like I planned.” Zeeze paced back towards Barnes in his perfectly-shined shoes, adjusted his perfectly-tied necktie, and smiled with his perfectly-white teeth. “And I’m going to let you watch.” The demon snapped his fingers, and everything went green.


    Last edited: Feb 29, 2016
    Ponamis, nababoo, The Squid and 3 others like this.
  2. AliasPseudonym

    AliasPseudonym Big Damn Hero

    This is great, and I'll definitely follow it. Only problem I can see so far is that there isn't enough. I WANT MORE!
    Gilligan Lanley likes this.
  3. Corraidhín

    Corraidhín Supernova

    I really liked reading this! the writing is immaculate as well! there is a mistake I spotted, but thats hardly important! the story itself is very interesting, and I love how detailed you portray the characters, if perhaps a bit lacking on the surroundings... or the world they live in, I could imagine the city, but not its inhabitants, or the mood the people live in... the times, whats the overall way of living there, you did describe a few of those, but quite quickly!

    Its a great story! I love it and hope you keep on writing c: just a bit to improve on details is all I can think of.

    edit: I forgot to include the "mistake"

    "Barnes whispered to to nobody in particular."
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2016
  4. Tatterdemalion

    Tatterdemalion Phantasmal Quasar

    Thanks for the criticisms. I'll be sure to correct the typo straight away. As this is the beginning of a much larger story, I didn't want to overwhelm readers with exposition in the first three pages. Don't worry, though. Plenty is revealed about Fulcrum City as the story progresses.
    Corraidhín likes this.
  5. Zebe

    Zebe Space Kumquat

    This was a joy to read. A great introduction really, I'm already liking Barnes. Wonder what will he do now. And zzkk...I mean: zyzy'zk-- zk... zzzyx... bleh, the demon is an interesting villain. Also he has a cool name, letter Z always makes a name cool. I'm interested to see how this story and the world develops. I'll definitely be reading if you update!
    Gilligan Lanley and Alkanthe like this.
  6. This is excellent. Try easing up on your use of adjectives.
  7. Lavranzo

    Lavranzo Pangalactic Porcupine

    So.... This still a thing mate?
    Gilligan Lanley and Zebe like this.
  8. Tatterdemalion

    Tatterdemalion Phantasmal Quasar

    I've written some more of it, yes. The thing is, in this story I've been avoiding the use of a chapter-based format, so it doesn't really lend itself to periodic uploads onto a forum. I could try and put something up if you wanted, though.
  9. Alkanthe

    Alkanthe Supernova

    I would like that very much!
    Gilligan Lanley likes this.
  10. Lavranzo

    Lavranzo Pangalactic Porcupine

    While the chapter-based format is more readable on a forum, I'd reckon it might in some way upset the story-format cohesion, you are using now - I personally find that changing format can put off and set askew the writing. But of course, if you think it wouldn't disturb your work in any way, it would by no means disturb the readability :p
    Alkanthe and Gilligan Lanley like this.
  11. Tatterdemalion

    Tatterdemalion Phantasmal Quasar

    Alright, here's another little piece: Link!
    Because at this point the story begins using footnotes, I'll just share the drive link. There's more to the story yet, but I'll just give pieces at a time.

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