THE WIZARD

Around midday, winds from the sea rolled dark and heavy clouds inland, blanketing the blue sky in thick grey. The valley quieted, filled with the wet and grassy smell of an impending thunderstorm. Even inside his tower, Rasmodius could feel the imminent rain – the air brimmed with electricity and anticipation.

The wizard would usually use the changing weather to his advantage. Rainwater was useful in many potions, and the pure energy of thunderbolts charged depleted magical objects much faster than human hands ever could. Yet, Rasmodius was not swayed from his self-appointed vigil. Seated on a well-worn cushioned stool, he watched his cauldron bubble even as his candles failed to fight back the room's quickly darkening gloom and his eyes strained against the low light.

Eventually, there came a knock at the door. Two knocks. Three knocks.

A moment passed. Rasmodius did not move. Thunder roared in the distance.

"Rasmodius," a familiar voice behind the door called out, deep and raspy. Another knock. "I know you're in there."

The doorknob rattled. Attention still trained on the contents of his cauldron, Rasmodius unceremoniously waved a hand in the direction of the entrance. There was a pop, and door swung open with a loud creak.

A man stepped through the doorway. Tall and broad-shouldered with wild white hair, he cut an imposing figure against the flickering candlelight even in his old age. The giant of a man shut the door behind him with surprising gentleness, before turning his attention to the purple-haired wizard.

"Greetings, Marlon," Rasmodius spoke plainly into the dark. The wizard paused and hummed thoughtfully to himself, reaching to grab a small leather bag that sat on a messy table beside him. The contents of the pouch – a dark and grainy soot that reeked of coal and burnt tallow - was gingerly poured into the cauldron. Rasmodius stared until the viscous mixture that boiled within turned a dark, muddy brown. He hummed in approval, before finally flicking his eyes to a patiently waiting Marlon. "Thank you for coming on such short notice."

"Of course," Marlon answered. In a few large steps, slowed significantly by a notable limp, the older man made his way to a nearby table and lowered himself into a wooden chair with a loud groan of pain. "It's the weather," he explained when Rasmodius looked at him with a raised eyebrow and an expression of mild concern. "The bad leg hurts whenever rain's coming."

"I may be able to help with your leg, if you'd like. Though impossible to heal, there are ways to ease the pain. Though the issue with your eye is, of course, permanent."

Marlon waved his hand in the air, dismissing the notion. "It's alright, Rasmodius. You don't have to offer every time you see me. Besides, it's magic that caused this in the first place," he gently tapped his left leg with one hand and gestured to his eyepatch with another. "I'm a bit like a walking cautionary tale on not messing with forces beyond my understanding."

"As you wish," Rasmodius said plainly. "Though I hope I may be able to convince you to involve yourself in the esoteric once more, if only in some small capacity. I am in need of… assistance." Marlon's stiffened, shadows catching on the wrinkles in his face. "Are you aware of the… changes in the valley?"

"I am." His voice dripped with deadly seriousness. Reaching up behind his head, Marlon gently untied his eyepatch and removed it. In the left socket was not a human eye, but a fairy stone – a deep and endless purple, the stone was smoothed to perfection and glittered slightly in the candlelight. An unusually large iris, gleaming and white as the moon, darted back and forth wildly across the surface of the stone. All the while, Marlon's human eye stayed trained on Rasmodius. "The Fairy Eye sees the valley as decayed. I was going to meet with you about it, but the monsters in the mine have become… agitated, as of late. I've been monitoring them. Since JojaMart began their business in the mountain, many have attempted to… leave."

"Have any succeeded?"

"No. The runes have held out, despite JojaMart's meddling. I'm no wizard, though... I don't know how much longer they'll last."

A moment of silence between the two men. Rasmodius stroked his beard as his eyebrows knitted together. Marlon rubbed his thumb against the soft fabric of the eyepatch. Outside the tower, thunder roared. The storm was getting closer.

Marlon broke the silence. "Is this about the new farmer?"

"Yes."

"Is she… malevolent?"
"I do not know. She agreed to the contract, so her behavior will be restricted either way." A loud gurgle came from the cauldron, prompting Rasmodius to dip a stone spoon into the mixture. Marlon's purple eye flicked over to him, staring intensely as the wizard stirred his concoction. After a few moments, Rasmodius pulled the spoon out and set it aside and the purple eye went back to looking wildly around the tower. "As you can see, she has not performed the binding ritual yet, as I have not completed the potion. I am close, however. Nevertheless, the valley should have improved simply for her presence. Something is very wrong. I… find myself in need a favor."

"What do you need me to do?"

"There should be a letter on the table next to you. Please, open it."

Marlon held the envelope to the light of a nearby candle. "From someone named… Dodona? Ah, the fortune teller from the Stardew Valley Fair."

"Indeed. She is the most talented diviner I know."

Marlon opened the envelope. The paper was cool to the touch, and perfumed with a cinnamon and woody incense. Inside was a short letter written in delicate cursive. Marlon read it aloud. "She will need a sword, it says." He gave a bitter, breathy laugh. "She certainly will, with the mine the way it is."

"I am willing to pay for her sword, if needed."

"No need. Consider it a gift."

The wizard nodded. "You have my gratitude, Marlon. I admit I am… hesitant to give the woman a weapon, but Dodona has never been wrong before. I would much appreciate it if you are able to give her the weapon as soon as-"

Rasmodius froze. Suddenly, his body filled with a strange and uncomfortable sensation – he was numb, too warm, and trembling profusely.

"Rasmodius?"

"Something is wrong."

"I see nothing."

"There is nothing wrong here." A pause. "Please, leave me. I must concentrate."

Without a word, Marlon tied his eyepatch on and slowly made his way to the entrance. He opened and shut the door with the same gentleness as before.

Rasmodius was once again alone.

The wizard closed his eyes, grinding his teeth and concentrating on the strange magic. It was familiar – the same as from the farmer's contract.

His protective sigils had failed again, then. This was certainly not his magic.

A sharp inhale, a deep exhale. The wizard willed the magic to explain itself, pushing and prodding at the foreign energy that filled and embraced him. He tugged at the magic, demanding answers, searching for the strings that connected it to the woman it belonged to.

And there he sat, on his worn cushion, his eyes shut. Searching.

Eventually, heavy rain poured from the sky and besieged the valley bellow with thick droplets and lightening. Thunder roared from above the tower.

Still, Rasmodius sat, unmoving.