There were twelve broad steps leading up to an ancient grey door. Upon reaching it, Senta rested for a moment before knocking. Switching her bag momentarily to her other hand and resting the baby on her hip, she reached up into the air above her and picked one of the sparkling magic jewels that orbited her head. Like the magic residue on the building, they were something that only she could see. After crushing it between her fingers, she returned her handbag to her right hand and hefted little Senta a bit higher on her hip.
“You’re too heavy to carry around,” she told the baby. “Perhaps we should have brought the pram with us.”
The door opened with a groan, revealing a man in a worn tweed jacket. He had a heavy grey beard, bushy grey eyebrows, and a monocle in his right eye. About five feet seven, he looked up into Senta’s grey eyes.
“I’m looking for Peter Sallow,” she said with a smile.
“Did I ask who you were looking for?” he said in a wheezy voice. “I don’t care who you’re looking for. Go away.”
“Get out of the way, old man. I’ll find him myself.”
The man raised both hands dramatically. “Uuthanum!”
“How very disappointing,” said Senta. “I wasted one of my best protective spells and all you had was four syllables. Uuthanum pestor uusteros jonai.”
The bearded man gave a squeak and then he seemed to turn inside out. A long tail shot out behind him as his neck stretched up and his head grew thinner, his eyes becoming wider, his mouth and nose forming into a parrot-like beak. He bent over at the waist. His clothes turned to feathers. In three seconds he had completely transformed into one of the strange Birmisian birds—a conchoraptor. Before she had left Port Dechantagne, Senta had seen a group of the six-foot long beasts eating pinecones at the edge of her garden. The creature gave a squawk and raced off down the steps and up the street. The sorceress could hear the shrieks of startled Brech citizens as she bent down to pick up the monocle, which was the only thing that remained where the man had been.
Stepping inside, she closed the door behind her and walked down a long hallway to a study. The walls were covered with bookcases, filled with books, making the room smell of moldy paper, old glue, and leather. A cast iron stove made it uncomfortably warm. In the corner, hunched over a small writing desk was a young man of eighteen. It had been six years since she had seen him, but Senta recognized him.
He looked up, squinting. “You!”
“Well spotted,” said Senta, plopping the baby in a plush but dusty armchair. “What are you working so hard on over there?”
“I’m copying Master Hollingberry’s mathematics text.”
“Is he the old fool with the monocle?” she asked, casually flipping the eyeglass toward him like a coin. He caught it and nodded, as he stared at it in his hand. “I’m not very impressed.”
“I’m still an apprentice. I can’t advance without a teacher,” said the young man with a frown. “Master Hollingberry isn’t… wasn’t?” He looked up at her.
“He’s still alive.”
“He isn’t the great wizard that Master Bassington was, but I needed someone. I was all on my own.”