Quentin’s shoe scuffed against cobblestone. His foot tripped on the damp floor and he was about to fall but the old man gripped the back of his t-shirt and pulled him hard. A chill went up Quentin’s spine which made him notice the thin layer of snow on the road. The crowd of passers-by paid them no mind.
Before Quentin could take in his new surroundings, the old man tugged at his t-shirt and pulled him away from the busy street bustle and under the shade of a tree not too far off the road.
“Put this on,” the man said and threw one of the rags he was wearing at Quentin. Quentin caught it in time and did as he was asked.
“What’s going on? Where are we? How did you do that thing back there?” Quentin unleashed the barrage of questions that had been bubbling in the back of his mind. Then another thought hit him. His mother.
“We’re not in New York anymore, Quentin.”
Quentin was well aware of that fact. “Where are we then?” Quentin studied the busy street once again, certain that he had never been to the place before. He waited for an answer to his inquiry but none came. Instead, the old man pulled a paper out of a huge pocket that he had in his baggy robe and started inspecting it, ignoring Quentin once again. It was getting really frustrating now. Without any information on where they were and why they were there, Quentin felt lost. He never felt lost in New York. He knew the streets, the buildings, the stop lights. He knew what kind of people he could expect. He knew what things to expect. He’s completely blind-sided in this new world.
“Will I get some answers any time soon?” Quentin was growing sick and tired of being dragged around by the obnoxious, not to mention, extremely shady-looking man. He looked like he hadn’t taken a shower in months.
The man kept surveying the document in his hand. Quentin felt his teeth chatter which finally caught the man’s attention.
“We need to get you some clothes,” the man announced, “let’s go.”
Something flipped in Quentin’s head at that moment the man dragged him yet again to his own accord.
“No,” he pulled free of the old man’s grip when he was about to take Quentin by the elbow once more. “No, no, no, no, no, no. NO,” he complained. He felt like a brat as he said that. But he would simply have no more of being pushed around by this man who refused to share anything with him.
His mother rarely forced him to do anything he did not want to. And any time she did force him, she made sure he understood how important it was to her. She made it abundantly clear that it was still his choice to make at the end of the day and if he said no it meant a no. Period. Quentin had been pushed around by this man for long enough. He needed all the answers, and he needed them now.
“What do you mean no, boy?” The man towered over Quentin. His disgruntled tone made Quentin shrivel up a little, but he held his ground, nonetheless. He stood up straight and looked the old man square in the eye.
“How about you answer my questions first?” Quentin’s voice was resolute but the moment his eyes met the old man’s he backed up in surprise.
Blue with a hint of green. “Teal,” his mother would remark sometimes.
The man had the same teal that Quentin was used to seeing in the mirror. His mind suddenly fell silent, all the burning questions evaporating. A sudden burst of emotions washed over him. His mother, the flames, their house. Everything Quentin had known in his lifetime was obliterated right in front of his eyes. In a matter of seconds, far too easily and quickly. Why he was still alive made no sense to him. Tears gushed out of his eyes and he couldn’t control them so he let them flow. What did it matter, anyway?
“Quentin,” the man shouted in his face. He had been calling him for a while, it seemed but, for Quentin, everything was running in the background. The entire understanding of his situation hit him hard and all at once. He didn’t have a mother anymore.
The man jolted Quentin out of the thought spiral and shook him by his shoulders. Then he yelled his name out loud for good measure.
“Did you save me back there?” Quentin screamed in his face loud enough to capture some eyeballs from strangers nearby. “From the fire? You did, didn’t you?”
Unbelievably,y the man felt embarrassed and tried to shush Quentin instead of taking him seriously.
“I asked you a question,” Quentin fired back in rage. His temples were pulsing in fury, and he gritted his teeth in self-control.
“I did. Would you calm down first? I’ll answer whatever you ask. Just calm down for now.” His voice was even. “We could get in a lot of trouble if the wrong people find us,” he whispered. It sounded like a plea.
Quentin did not care about trouble at that moment. “Why didn’t you save her instead of me,” he broke into a cry and fell down to his knees.
Melting snow seeped in through his trousers. Surprisingly, the old man lowered beside him and engulfed him in his arms. Quentin dug his face into the mess of his rags and wept. He sobbed and sniveled but none of it eased the paralyzing hurt in his chest. It refused to leave him. His entire body was shaking in agony, his fingers were numb. His face was covered in tears, phlegm, and saliva and nothing stopped his chest from cracking open.
“Trust me, I would’ve saved her if I could,” the man mumbled to Quentin. It was too late for that now, Quentin thought.
Quentin wiped his tears. For some reason, his mind kept resetting. One second he would realize his mother was gone and then another second his mind would be completely shocked again. Back to square one. The full force of reality kept slapping him in the face, again and again. He kept fluctuating between acceptance and denial. It came like a gush and weakened his knees. The worst part, however, was having to move on.
“What’s your name?” He asked the man. “You already know mine.”
“Names are dangerous, lad. They become you. If you’re asking what you can call me then you can call me Sabin.” He cleared his throat. “I prefer Sabin,” he said lost in thought.
“Over what?” Quentin couldn’t resist asking now that the man was finally giving him some answers.
“Traitor of the realm, demise of the free world, end bringer, and all the bloody rest of them. Take your pick.” He sounded perturbed but his worry didn’t equal the severity of the allegations that the names seemed to capture.
“Did you then?” Quentin urged.
“Did I then what?”
“Betray the realm? Bring the end? Take your pick,” Quentin didn’t mean to sound mean.
“What if I did?” Sabin’s expression grew darker.
Quentin didn’t budge. He knew the man wanted him to cower in fear or something but it barely had any effect on him. Or perhaps, Quentin found it hard to believe that the man standing in front of him could do something that could affect the whole realm. He looked frail and washed up. Even though Quentin had seen him run impossibly fast, he couldn’t fathom the old man ending much of anything, let alone the whole realm.
“We can go buy those clothes now,” Quentin’s body was numb to touch. He couldn’t even get hold of the piece of rag over his shoulders with his tingling fingers.
“Before we do that,” Sabin stretched his body as he spoke, “don’t tell anyone where you’re from. If anyone asks, you’re from around here.”
“Where is here?” Quentin prompted. Then looked back at the crowd of people on the street. All of them in a hurry. It reminded Quentin of Time Square except with no taxis.
“This is Inveniam Viam, the largest flea market in all of Cera Esse. If you can’t find something here it probably doesn’t exist.”
Quentin couldn’t see any of the market shops from their vantage point. He did see the metal forged sign that read INVENIAM VIAM on an arch above the street. The people walking by looked ordinary at a glance but when Quentin gave them another look, he finally noticed how strangely they were dressed. Most of them donned thick rags which, Quentin guessed and could vouch, did beat the cold. Their shoes made prominent clacking sound against the stone. Inveniam Viam looked like any other market Quentin had seen except that it was different. In many tiny ways.
“What kind of a market is this?” Quentin already guessed that they could find some clothes around here.
They entered the market being mostly pushed around by the gathering near the entrance. But once they made their way a little further in, the crowd thinned.
“What are those,” Quentin asked pointing at what appeared to be floating balls of fire hanging in the sky. They ran along the entire length of the market on either side. There must have been hundreds of them. All scattered like stars, lighting up the night sky. They reminded Quentin of Halloween.
“Firelights,” Sabin replied, uninterested. “They’re pretty easy to make.”
“Can you make them?” Quentin asked, catching up to him.
“Almost all of Cera Esse can make them,” he announced, “except for those pesky little Silvian spies.”
“What’s a Silvian — ?”
“They aren’t a what. And you should ask Wren.”
“Your magic tutor.”
A magic tutor, Quentin thought. “So I’ll be learning magic?” He asked as he scanned the galaxy of firelights above his head.
“You’ll be learning a lot more than just magic, boy,” Sabin said and then proceeded to walk down the path.
As the crowd disappeared, Quentin finally got to look around Inveniam Viam. At a glance, the market appeared to be an endless thread of stores and tents and shacks and carts crammed on each side of the cobblestone path. A tiny bookstore on Quentin’s left was lit up by candles that hung from its roof by such fine threads that Quentin was puzzled how they managed to not keep falling and burning the store all the time. The bookstore itself was the tiniest Quentin had ever seen, no more than two meters in any dimension with books stacked on top of each other from floor to ceiling. Quintin walked to the front of the store and when he couldn’t see any shopkeeper he picked a book up from the haphazard pile that lay on the counter.
The Complete History of The Central Kingdom, read the cover of the hardbound book. It said nothing else. Quentin flipped it open, shuffling the final pages and found the very last one. 1,378, the page indicated at the bottom right corner. 1,378 pages including an over hundred pages long appendix.
He held the book in his and felt its heavy weight. It smelled of incense. In fact, the whole store smelled of incense to Quentin.
He eyed the rest of the books in the store, ducking slightly to stay clear of the floating candles. They all had similar titles, many of them were histories of kingdom this and kingdom that, and many proclaimed to improve one’s magic skills. Quentin wanted to pick one up and read but a black cat leaped on the counter from somewhere and quietly sat next to where Quentin was standing. It suddenly hit him.
Going through one crazy event after another, he had completely forgotten about Chip. Then he remembered the explosion and the final look that he saw on his mother’s face. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he would’ve started crying if the cat on the store’s desk had stopped staring at him. She seemed to eye Quentin’s hand which was still clutching the sides of The Complete History of The Central Kingdom. Realizing, Quentin nudged it to its designated spot with careful hands and backed off from the counter.
He strolled past a few more tiny bookstores, most of which claimed to be the best in all of Cera Esse. The path ahead descended a few feet. Quentin followed the road downhill from under a canopy overhead that displayed a banner ad of some magic clothing store tied with a string on either side. The market continued past the canopy but Quentin realized he had lost track of Sabin. The passage turned sharp left ahead, Quentin hurried up the road to find him.
Quentin saw Sabin talking to someone. Upon closer look, he found a man half his size chatting with Sabin as if they were enemies or simply arguing.
“He was just here with me,” he heard Sabin say to the tiny man. Quentin walked up to them.
“There he is,” Sabin said pointing at Quentin. Quentin froze having the other man’s attention on him who for some reason had a look of absolute displeasure on his face. That and a mole the size of an M&M. Quentin tried not to stare at it.
“Do you think you would have it in his size?” Sabin queried, pointing directly at Quentin.
“Have what?” asked Quentin. The tiny man gave a firm nod then both the men progressed onwards, ignoring Quentin’s question. He quietly followed after them, gathering all the information he could about Inveniam Viam, and Cera Esse along the way.
They went past some more bookstores with their own versions of hanging decoration. One had glass balls full of colored mists dangling from the ceiling. Another one looked more European themed and had something like fleur-de-lis covering the overhead. None of the owners of those stores could be found inside them. Quentin wondered if all of them put their cats on guard duty to monitor the shops.
As Sabin, Quentin, and the tiny man continued up the street, some sort of chemical stores started to replace book shops. These parlors contained shelves upon shelves of vials and bottles filled with different liquids some of which Quentin could even smell from meters away. The market transformed into a miasma of fragrances. Many of these vials and bottles had white smoke coming out of them. It reminded Quentin of liquid nitrogen he had once seen on their school trip to the National Science Center.
Most of the places in Inveniam Viam had single windows. More tiny men sat behind some of these counters, others snored on low stools outside the stores and some were talking to customers. Quentin observed a normal sized man arguing over the price of a bottle that contained a pretty pink liquid. Apparently, the two silver the shopkeeper had asked for the bottle was an outrageous amount of money for its low quality. That made Quentin realize he had zero silvers, and he wasn’t sure if Sabin was going to buy him clothes from his own money.
A ruckus between two women in front of a pawn shop caught Quentin’s attention, but he couldn’t stop to follow the entire argument because the two men in his company kept their pace up.
The tiny man had sped up and turned right on the corner coming up ahead. Sabin turned after the man and Quentin followed after him.
The street was much wider after the turn. It was also better lit than the dim alleyways so far. Giant Jack O’lanterns sat on either side of the street in front of stores that were much better spaced than the earlier ones. This side of the market was also less dingy and congested. The pavement was still covered in a thin layer of snow which made Quentin slip from time to time.
Quentin noticed there were shops opened inside of elaborate tree houses overhead. The entire area looked like it was straight out of a children storybook. Wooden shops of all sizes lined up each edge of the street with trees growing behind them which canopied over the street. Upon the trees were more shops and decoration and banners thickening the market. More firelights embellished the place.
Most of the shops in this part of the market seemed to be selling clothes. Magic clothes at that, Quentin figured from the signs. He wondered what was so magical about their clothing, but he had an inkling that he was about to find out very soon.
“Up there. Let’s go” Sabin said pointing at a ladder that went up to a treehouse over a store that sold gemstones. A banner hung on the entrance of the outlet above. “BEST MAGIC COATS IN CERA ESSE AND INVENIAM VIAM”, the sign read. People in Inveniam Viam weren’t very original, Quentin gathered.
He climbed up the ladder after Sabin. The room that they entered looked much bigger on the inside than Quentin had anticipated. It definitely did not look like it could fit on a tree. It had dim lights and all of its shelves were lined up with black woolen coats. Some wooden desks were located in random corners around the place with piles of more black coats. There was a separate corner towards the far end of the shop with brown and beige clothing.
“Is he a real dwarf?” Quentin whispered to Sabin when he thought they were alone.
“Yes, I’m a real dwarf,” a voice came from behind a pile of rags that lay on the floor in a corner.
“And his name is Arthur,” said Sabin giving Quentin the stink eye but Quentin just shrugged. How was he supposed to know?
“I think this should fit,” the voice came again, this time Arthur materialized from behind a row of tall shelves. He held a coat in his hand which looked identical to the hundreds of coats stacked everywhere, Quentin wondered what made this one special other than the fact that it was probably in his size.
“You still have the same kid working for you?” Sabin inquired. In the meantime, Arthur handed the coat to Quentin and waited patiently as he tried it on, helping him with the sleeves. Quentin had to duck to let him help which he politely did.
“No, he went back to Aries last month,” Arthur divulged.
“What’s a kid his age going to do in Aries?” Sabin exclaimed, distressed. “He’s a caster, in the name of Cera Esse. Kids these days,” he sighed.
Arthur had directed Quentin towards a mirror with a silent hand gesture.
“So? Feel good?” Sabin asked with a grin on his face and an expectant glint in his eyes.
Quentin took a look in the mirror. He hadn’t seen his face in a long time. He felt so different that he could hardly reconcile with the face staring back in the mirror. He wriggled his arms to see if they fit. They did. The coat felt pretty comfortable, like a warm hug. It was an extremely soft coat but Quentin wouldn’t have called it magical.
“It fits,” Quentin said tugging at the collar.
“That works,” Sabin declared.
Then as if on queue, Quentin could feel his cold fingers warming up, and he felt the same warmth extending down his legs and into his frozen toes.
“It feels warm,” he exclaimed.
“So it does,” said Sabin.
Quentin hadn’t realized how cold he had been that the sudden warmth felt completely alien to him. Part of the reason for that had to be that it was no ordinary coat. That’s when he realized it.
“It warms you up with magic,” he said out loud, wanting to confirm his hunch.
“So it does,” Sabin repeated, producing a pouch from his waistband that clinked like metal, “how much for this one Arthur?”
Sabin handed him five silver coins and tucked his pouch back onto its place. Quentin wondered if it was real silver. The only time he had seen silver back in the real world was at his grandmother’s. She had a silver tea set that she kept safely behind a glass cupboard in their living room.
“I will need more clothes in his size. Can you find me some?” Sabin asked Arthur who now stood behind a tiny counter that had pieces of cloth stuck on a pointed needle on one of the corners. “Have it delivered to Wren’s, will you?”
They left the store and walked the entire length of the rest of Inveniam Viam. The market trail thinned and then finally ended. They trudged up a dirt road that opened into a major street and had carriages lined up on the left. They weren’t horse carriages as Quentin would’ve suspected. Instead, they had wild dogs the size of real-life horses attached to wooden cabins the same shape as the earth. Round and flattened at the ends. Quentin maintained a healthy distance to the entire parade while Sabin walked up to a crowd of carriage owners that were huddled together under a lamppost, indulging in banter that Quentin couldn’t comprehend.
Sabin returned with a man that seemed to be their driver for the evening. The man led them to their ride three carriages ahead from where they stood. All the carrier dogs were sitting patiently in a cushion of snow. They all had thick gray fur and gray eyes. Quentin had glared right into the iris of one of the dogs, and he was certain that the creature had stared back. They all looked as calm as Buddhist monks meditating, patiently waiting their turn. Quite unlike their drivers who were creating a ruckus back at the street corner.
Quentin and Sabin hopped onto their carriage and the driver made a sound to signal the dog to stand up. Quentin heard him refer to the creature as Dante. Their carriage was drawn by Dante the dog, Quentin thought. He heard the man whistle and the next moment Dante sprinted onto the street. Both Sabin and Quentin jerked in their seats from the inertia. After they had turned a corner, Dante made a long tranquil howl. Quentin heard the din of a pack of dogs howling a moment later and they sped onto the free road, leaving Inveniam Viam behind.
Sabin and Quentin sat across from each other. Sabin was too tall for the carriage and had to hunch a little, he still kept hitting his head when bumps came along the way.
“About your mother — ,” Sabin began after a long time but Quentin told him that he didn’t want to talk about it. Sabin reluctantly complied.
“How am I here?” Quentin asked when he could no longer fathom his current situation.
“We came through the gate that opens in the Central Kingdom,” Sabin replied informatively.
Even though Quentin had read the name “Central Kingdom” on the massive book back at Inveniam Viam, he understood neither of the terms in that sentence. Quentin disliked posing too many questions but Sabin rarely revealed information without being asked for it.
“Can we go back through the gate?” Quentin asked, curious whether he could go back to New York, and that if it were something as simple as a gate, surely they would be able to trace their steps back to his home.
He contemplated the thought himself and came to a sound conclusion. He wouldn’t be able to go back to his apartment, it probably burned down, but he could live at Lindsey’s for a few days then maybe he could go to Vermont and live at his grandparent’s house. He could get a job at a Subway or something and after a few years, he could be on his own.
“Sure, if you find a tier 2 mage to help you with it,” Sabin said but by that time Quentin had completely lost track of the conversation. “Not to mention most of the mages have no idea where the gate is.”
Something about the gate, Quentin realized.
“But you know where it is.”, Quentin did not understand whether Sabin wanted to be helpful or evil the way he sometimes spoke as if he isn’t even present.
Quentin tightened his coat around his chest as the cold breeze from the tiny window in their carriage cooled his face.
“So, I do.”
“Can you take me back?” Quentin asked with a desperation that made Sabin feel bad for him.
“Why do you want to go back?” Sabin asked as if he wanted to say “why would you want to leave this place?”
Sabin seemed to be in deep thought for a while, and he did not answer right away. When he finally spoke his words fogged the air in front of his mouth.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea. You’ll be safer in Cera Esse.”
Quentin didn’t know how to respond to that, to be completely dismissed, to be given no choice. He didn’t know what Cera Esse was nor was he curious to find out.
He didn’t know how to explain that to Sabin. Not that he didn’t have any more questions, but he wondered if he really was safe here with a strange man in a strange world.
He thought about flames eating his mother alive. Panic rushed to his head and his heart pounded against his chest. He put the thought of going back away immediately and hoped whoever Wren was would be okay with teaching a fourteen year old kid about magic.
Sabin too became completely silent afterward. They passed the rest of the ride in absolute silence with only the night breeze howling in through their tiny carriage window.