Chapter Nine

Okay, so going straight to Balthazar Blake and blandly asking what had happened to Morgana probably hadn't been the best plan, now that he thought about it. But Drake wasn't really the planning sort, so there were bound to be a couple of hiccups along the way. The important thing was that he always had a clear sense of what to do next—and, boy, did he ever! He'd heard a lot about Merlinians, Merlin's apprentices in particular, so he had never expected to walk into a scene straight out of a BDSM porno; admittedly, he'd missed all the action, but it had been all too clear what they'd been up to. Either the two of them liked to play, or that nervous boy was the most reluctant apprentice ever. That last possibility gave Drake exactly what he needed: leverage. He could use Balthazar's apprentice as a hostage no matter what the circumstances were, but if the boy was actively trying to escape his Master then it would be only too easy to make any ally out of him.

The problem was going to be getting to the boy; even if Balthazar decided to play off the conversation he'd had with Drake, he would undoubtedly make sure his apprentice was as protected as possible. There'd been something dark and a little dangerous in Blake's eyes, and it hadn't just been the natural antagonism between Merlinians and Morganians—it had been possession. Balthazar would not let go of his apprentice lightly or, most likely, at all. Drake really had to pause and think about that; not the fact that getting to the boy would be hard but the strange dynamic he'd glimpsed between the two Merlinians. The boy hadn't been pleased, other than in the physical sense, so it was a fair bet that he wasn't there willingly—which went against everything Drake thought he knew about Merlinians. For Balthazar's part, there'd been a darkness weighing on him, an edge of insanity that didn't suit the older man—or perhaps suited him too well. Blake had seemed blinded by some intense desperation when it came to the boy, which was unusual, to say the least; why was he so fixated on one unwilling apprentice? There were plenty of other people to train.

No matter how Drake pondered that question, it always came back to the fact that the boy had to be special in some way. If it were a purely sexual thing, Balthazar would never have called the boy his apprentice, so what was it? The only thing that came to mind was laughable: the boy was the Prime Merlinian, which was impossible. And yet… He had never heard of Balthazar taking an apprentice, and for as long as Blake had lived that was highly unusual. And why else would someone as notably honorable as Balthazar be forcing one specific boy into training? It all made a strange kind of sense—but so did the thought that after a little over a thousand years old, Blake had simply lost all sense of who he was supposed to be. No one was meant to live that long—even in the Morganian world his age was considered unnatural—and, with a few notable exceptions, no one dared to do it. And it wasn't because it was simply unachievable, it was because sorcerers who did tended to go stark raving mad.

Drake shook off his thoughts with a snort—he wasn't really the introspective type. Why get mired in details when it was the big picture, the over all look of the thing, that mattered most? He had a gig tonight, but after that he would have to look into ways of reaching Balthazar's apprentice; with any luck, the boy would be easily charmed, or maybe just that desperate.

Dave walked around the room, pulling furniture away from the walls, tapping at the wooden panels, and running his fingers along the floor. No matter where he looked, he could not find an exit. He'd immediately gone to where he had seen the door earlier, but it was just a section of blank wall, completely undistinguishable from any other panel; there was no knob, no secret switch, not even a little crevasse that he could dig his fingers into. For all intents and purposes, the room was perfectly sealed off from the outside world, aside from the fireplaces, but Dave quickly decided that he wasn't quite brave enough to go climbing up the chimneys.

How had Balthazar done it? Something clicked for Dave as he pondered that question: if he viewed Balthazar's magic like the science he thought it was, then his question had already been answered. "Molecular interaction," he murmured to himself—that's how the older man had done it. Balthazar knew where the door was, so he'd either forced it open in the same manner he'd dragged Dave across the room, or he'd tripped some invisible locking mechanism. And if Balthazar could do it then so could Dave.

He threw out his hand so that the dragon-ring was facing the blank section of wall, and promptly ran into several problems, not the least of which was that he had no idea what he was doing. He didn't know what the lock might look like, or if it was even a lock at all, so he couldn't know what to trip or trigger and, more importantly, he didn't even know if he had the capability. Balthazar had made moving things look easy, but now that Dave really focused on the task he felt like it was next to impossible—there were too many unknown and foreign factors.

He narrowed his eyes and turned back to the stack of books he'd been left with. They were visual tools, something he could see and understand, something that would be easier to affect because he didn't need to guess what was happening to them. He had no vested interests in the books themselves, but they could be teachers, blocks to build a road out of—if he practiced levitating and moving books around enough to master the skill, then the only thing stopping him from using the same trick on the door would be Balthazar himself.

Balthazar pulled the Incantus out of the basement wall, his heart a little heavy at the sight of it. Under normal circumstances, he would have given Dave the massive book at the same time he'd given him the ring, but he knew he couldn't risk it right now. He was too uncertain where Dave was concerned, and while teaching the boy would be a little harder without the Incantus, Balthazar knew he couldn't trust the Dave to have it. It was just another reminder of how twisted their relationship had turned out to be—he couldn't even give the boy something that rightfully belonged to him.

With a shake of his head, Balthazar resealed the basement wall, opened the Incantus and ascended the stairs. He'd found most of what he needed in the previous books he'd checked, but the Incantus would tell him how to use the information he'd gathered. The problem came down to the fact that he'd never expected a situation like this to arise, so when he'd cast the initial spell on his beloved Arcana Cabana he hadn't left any room for future alterations—there'd been no need at the time. But now there was a need, and he found that to do what he wanted, he was going to have to tear down the original spell and replace it with an entirely new one. It would be dangerous, though; he'd spent months researching that first spell to make sure nothing could go wrong, but he'd only spent minutes putting this one together, so there was the very real possibility that the building could end up stuck in its own dimension. Hopefully, if the very worst happened, the damage would be reversible.

Balthazar grabbed the curtain and rod from behind the service counter and threw them against the back wall, once more opening the portal to his garden. He'd created the place eons ago—an exact replica of the courtyard where Merlin had taught him the basics of sorcerer. It was a calm place and he often went there to clear his mind or cast some of his more important spells—like this one.

With a raise of his free arm, the Merlinian circles in the ancient cobbles began to burn, and he entered them quickly, unafraid of the unnatural fires. Once he reached the center, Balthazar flipped open the book and began the incantation. A sweat immediately broke out across his brow as he felt the power swell in and out of him, rapidly building and depleting as the spell worked its magic. The problem was that much of the Arcana Cabana was held together by magic alone—like the courtyard, many of the rooms and places were not physically attached to the building—so undoing even a little bit of the magic surrounding his home was both dangerous and complicated. It would take hours just to get the eccentric place ready for the spell that he really wanted to do.

Dave tried and failed for what felt like hours. At hour one, the books didn't even topple over, much less float; at hour two, they wiggled a little, and one briefly shot into the air to thump heavily against the ceiling; at hour three, he could wobble two or three of the tomes off the stack—and so on, until hour five when he accidentally set a book on fire, and then what was possibly hour seven when he had some kind of epiphany.

From one second to the next, the Universe suddenly made sense: it was all connected, and he was connected to it. Where once the dragon-ring had made him feel no different, it now flooded him with new sensations. He could feel the book, could feel the semi-solid air mass just below it, just as he could feel any other object he turned his attention to. It was startling and new—he could feel the solidness of the furniture, could feel the energy thrown off by the merrily burning twin fireplaces, he could even feel something of the world beyond the large room, like the pervasive sense of spatial distortion that surrounded the Arcana Cabana. He had never felt this in tune, this connected to anything other than his work with the Tesla coils; to say it was overwhelming would be an understatement.

And, just like that, in the midst of hour seven, Dave mastered levitation. It wasn't perfect, like a child his motor skills were a little shaky, but when he focused on a book, or a piece of furniture when he got more enterprising, it sprang to answer his call.

He gazed around in satisfaction when he caught sight of the slightly singed tome that he'd accidentally managed to set ablaze, and it sent his mind whirling with possibilities. Dave knew exactly why it had happened—which is why it had only happened once—he'd put too much energy into the molecules he'd been attempting to move, and they had caused enough friction to set the book on fire. It had been an accident at the time, but now that he thought about it, it was something new to learn. Principally, it wasn't that different from levitation, the only difference was that he didn't need any object to focus on—he could create fire out of the very air if he so chose.

And choose, he did. Like always, once Dave got caught up in his work, he became oblivious to all other things. His desperate need to escape was completely pushed aside as he attempted to create fireballs. In fact, when he did finally open the door, it was not with the intention to go home, but rather to find Balthazar. It was unfortunate because, though he didn't know it, his window of opportunity was rapidly shrinking.

Dave looked around uncertainly; the Arcana Cabana was big and cluttered, and he had no idea where the older man might be, but he needed to talk to him. The problem was that fire wasn't coming nearly as easily as levitation had; he could set things on fire, to be sure, but he couldn't control it and he couldn't draw it out of the air like he knew was possible. The skill was just out of his reach, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn't figure out what he was doing wrong. He needed help.

Balthazar tiredly exited the courtyard, taking the curtain down as he went, and gratefully slumped in the chair behind the service counter. The spell hadn't taken longer than he'd expected, but it had taken a lot more energy; the threads of the initial enchantment had become horrifically tangled over the years, and picking them apart had been tiresome. Still, he'd done it, and the new incantation was slowly taking affect; by the end of the hour, the store would start cycling through a new location every day.

It was just as Balthazar was putting up his aching feet—he'd had to stand for the duration of the casting, which had taken hours—that he was immediately accosted by Dave. To say he was surprised to see the younger man outside of the workroom was an understatement, and he quickly shot to his abused feet in alarm.

But Dave surprised him once more. "I need you to show me something," he demanded, a frustrated gleam in his dark eyes.

"As long as it's not the exit," Balthazar shrugged.

"No," Dave waved the thought away impatiently. "It's," he paused, as though at a loss for words, then gave an irritated sigh. "Let me show you," he said instead, and immediately began to head back to the workroom.

Intrigued, the older man followed him, and nearly laughed when he caught sight of their destination. The room had certainly seen better days, Balthazar thought with a growing grin—there were books and scorch-marks everywhere, and he couldn't quite decide if Dave had just had that much trouble with levitation or if he'd decided to move on to fire without any instruction. It was astounding, in any case; Balthazar had assumed that moving the heavy tomes around would keep Dave occupied for days, seeing as most apprentices could do very little outside of Merlin's circle until they had become somewhat proficient with the skill. It was just another testament to the strength of the Prime Merlinian, he supposed.

"What exactly happened?" he finally asked, oddly noting that while much of the room sported burns and scorches, only one book had sustained any damage.

"Look, I got the levitation down," the boy said impatiently. His had shot out, ring first, and at once a stack of books and several chairs rose smoothly into the air—they wobbled a bit once he tried to hold them there, but the progress was still amazing. "But during that," Dave continued, setting the items down, "I set one of the books on fire, and I thought—"

"That it would be easy to master?" Balthazar interrupted. "That it was similar enough to make the jump on your own?"

Dave nodded. "It is—sort of. See, I can set things on fire," a section of the floor lit ablaze and was just as quickly extinguished, "but that's not what I want to do." He held one of his hands up, and the air in front of him began to smoke, then there was a brief flash—but no fire.

Most people would have been satisfied with breaching the known limitations of humanity, but not Dave—he wanted more; he'd seen something new, something unique, and he wanted to harness it. Was that the nature of the Prime Merlinian, or just Dave? And if that thirst was in his nature, then had they already cleared the highest hurtle? It would be nice to think that now that the training had begun, there would be no more problems between them; it wasn't likely, but it was good to dream.

Balthazar studied him for a protracted moment, long enough that Dave became a little nervous once more. "Hold out your hand like this," the older man finally said, holding out his hand so that his palm was cupped with his fingers curled toward the ceiling. "Fire is a two-fold art," he went on to explain. "Like you've discovered, setting things on fire is fairly easy, but creating a fireball is a different discipline entirely.

Dave held out his hand as instructed. "What am I doing wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing," Balthazar looked surprised. "You aren't doing anything wrong—you're just missing a step." He edged a little closer to the younger man. "You've been vibrating the molecules right above your hand—which is what you're supposed to do. They smoke, they flash, but you don't get any fire."

"Right," Dave nodded, trying once more only to get the same result.

"The flames are being dowsed," Balthazar explained. "Your molecules are vibrating and heating, and the molecules next to them are stealing that heat. By the time you've built up any momentum, the room at large it working to stabilize all that excess energy." He demonstrated, but nothing new happened.

"Great," Dave groaned, "I'm a human radiator."

Balthazar chuckled. "What you need to do is buffet the molecules surrounding your intended fire—create a little vortex around it, if you will." In the center of his palm, a tiny flame leapt to life. "You see, this type of fire has no fuel, nothing to keep it burning other than you and the air around it, so it's up to you to control it completely. By creating the vortex you can control its size," the flame in his palm grew to the size of a grapefruit. "You can control its intensity," the flames bled from orange to blue, and began to throw off a noticeable amount of heat. "And you can control where it goes," now the flame hovered in the air, above their heads, and flew straight into the closest fireplace to be consumed amongst the other flames.

Dave thought for a moment—it all made perfect sense in terms of energy transference, but there was one thing that was bothering him. "What do you mean by vortex?"

"Just vibrate the molecules around the fire, like you did to levitate the books," the older man shrugged. "Those molecules will create a field, a moving boundary for your fire. But you have to be careful that you don't create a vacuum, because the fireball will gutter out if it can't get any air, just like a real fire."

It sounded so much easier than he knew it was. After all, how long had it taken him just to float a measly book? And at least with the book he'd been able to see what he was doing—now he just had to go on faith alone, and hope that he was really doing what he was supposed to be. Still, Balthazar had just done it, so he knew it had to be possible.

Dave took a deep breath and was just about to embark on the hours-long journey ahead of him, when something screeched across his nerves. He was suddenly gripped by what could only be described as a full body brain freeze— it was irritating and paralyzing and, unfortunately, familiar. The very same feeling had gripped him in Balthazar's presence before, what the older man had described as a hypersensitivity to "shifts in perceived reality". He hadn't been entirely sure what that had meant at first, but Dave was beginning to suspect that it meant he would be on edge whenever dimensions brushed against one another. All of which begged one very important question: had the dimensions around them just moved?

"Dave?" Balthazar asked, a frown pulling at his lips.

Realization crashed upon him—he'd taken too long. Dave knew that Balthazar was working on transporting the Arcana Cabana out of the city; the whole reason he'd started working on levitation had been so that he could escape the store before that happened. But he'd gotten caught up in the work and one thing had simply led to another and, before long, he'd become entranced. Curiosity had taken away his one opportunity to escape, unless… unless they hadn't actually moved yet.

Quickly, Dave rushed out of the room, but his dash was short lived, just like his hopes. The minute he found a window, he knew there was no chance to leave—he'd been right to suspect that there had been some sort of dimensional friction. The Arcana Cabana had not only left New York, it had gone somewhere exotic and new… and underwater.

"It's Lake Champlain," Balthazar said from behind him, nonchalantly leaning in the doorway.

Dave suddenly felt like the weight of the world was crushing him. For one brief moment, he'd been sucked into the older man's lunacy, and he had enjoyed it in ways he'd never enjoyed anything, save working with his Tesla coils, so of course it wasn't meant to last. Like a slap in the face, he was now reminded that he'd been kidnapped, that he had little to no say in anything that was going on, and now he had absolutely no hope for escape. "Why?" he asked quietly.

"I could be prosaic and say that's it's as good a place to start as any, but I'll be honest," Balthazar murmured, coming closer. "You're in danger."

A/N: …I've got nothing; this chapter just happened.

Many, many thanks to those who have reviewed the last few chapters—I've noticed a dwindling response, and I can't decide if it's me or the fandom.

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Disclaimer: Sorcerer's Apprentice belongs to Disney.