Horvath closed the Encantus. "Last page," he noted almost wistfully. "We don't need it anymore, not for learning the history of magic. We can see it for ourselves."
Agatha's grandson fixed him with a curious stare. "Why do you keep it, Master Horvath? With all the advances we've made since you founded the academy, nobody uses books anymore. There are a lot of easier ways to get whatever information we need."
The old man shook his head, his face creased with wrinkles and balding pate hoary with age. "It's not the same," he insisted. "These pages have been with me for almost my entire life. When I touch them, they take me back to those times." He tapped his forehead. "Here, in my mind, it's more real than any sensory illusion." Sadly, he returned his successor's gaze. "You'll never understand, I'm afraid. Still, I suppose it's the price that must be paid for progress." He laid the book aside, on the nightstand next to his bed. "Come, let's take a walk," he said.
They went slowly, for the ancient one could move no faster. From Headmaster Horvath's quarters on the ground floor of the academy, they wandered outside, and the winter's chill gave way before their steps. These had been familiar grounds to Horvath for centuries, more than a millennium: Merlin's castle, replaced by an updated replica, which in turn had been converted to the Paraphysics Research Institute and Magic Academy, known to all as PRIMA.
Behind the huge stone building, a slope still ran gently to the shore of a small, frozen lake. Midway down the slope, an island of summer sat encased in a transparent dome. Horvath led the younger man to the dome. With a touch of his withered hand, it granted them entrance, then closed behind them to keep the winter out.
This was a place of memoriam, a private cemetery to honor the founders of the academy. Horvath read the stones: Chandra Kolinsky's first, then one for Balthazar and Veronica Blake, another for Alvar and Maggie Masters, and finally a dragon-shaped one for Dave and Rebecca Stutler. One stone remained, but it had no inscription as yet. Horvath nodded to indicate it. "That one's for me," he informed his companion.
Joshua shifted uncomfortably. "I know," he confessed. "Why are you showing me this?"
"Because I'll be using it soon." He examined the space within their shelter. "Good, good," he said approvingly. "The spell is still holding. We weren't sure it would last with something other than sorcerers."
Outside, snow covered the ground like a blanket to lull the living to sleep. Here, though, the grass was lush and green, the flowers decorating the stones always fresh and vibrant. Merlin's spell to keep his elites from aging had been applied to the space under the dome, to keep their resting place eternally alive. It was a fitting memorial.
Joshua, depressed by this conversation, said nothing as they made their way back up the hill. He felt an imminence like a weight poised to descend upon his shoulders. Horvath's speech was scaring him.
Even from the short distance they'd walked, the elderly headmaster found himself tired to the point of exhaustion. He sat heavily on his bed, panting slightly to catch his breath. Joshua waited. Finally, the old man spoke to him again.
"Joshua," began the master, "as my chosen successor, you'll be the new headmaster here at the academy when I'm gone. You've been preparing, I trust?"
Horvath waved off further response. "Good. Now listen. I've released the spell from myself."
"Oh, don't act so shocked, Joshua. You've seen me aging this past month practically right before your eyes. You knew, all right. I've given you this month to make the necessary preparations, but now that the healers are gone and my age has caught up with me again, it's time for you to take the reins of command."
"But I don't want you to leave! I need you here!"
The old sorcerer raised one hand, open in invitation, and his companion fell forward to his knees. Joshua took the offered hand in both of his, though they shook with emotion, and held it tight upon his elder's knee. "Please, godfather..." he begged with head bowed low.
Horvath smiled. "You'll do just fine, Joshua," he assured the other. "You know, it's one of the privileges of being an elite, or a Prime, that we can choose our own time to let go, barring injury or illness, of course. The highest degree a sorcerer can reach is the power to break the bonds of earth forever; not by killing the body, but by leaving it behind. It's the same principle as the Fusion Spell, but without the need for a host. When the sorcerer soul breaks free, it goes to join others that have already gone ahead."
Joshua looked up despite his sorrow, and Horvath could see again the blue eyes of the young man's grandmother Agatha, and of Agatha's father Balthazar. He hoped that trait would continue through many generations to come. "How?" the inheritor asked. Not everything was taught in school, even in academy.
The old man closed his eyes, remembering. "Veronica showed us the way," he said quietly. "She was the one who figured it out. The world had seen rapid changes, not all of them good, and my friends were growing weary of life. Oh, don't get me wrong; they were happy as a couple could be. They just felt that they'd accomplished everything they wanted in their lives, and they were ready to take the next step. They were actually looking forward to it."
"The next step?"
"Yes." Horvath related the scene he'd been privileged to witness. "It was their fiftieth wedding anniversary, but you'd never know it to look at them. With Alvar and Maggie around to keep us in good health, we all looked decades younger than we really were. Not like now..." He gave a tiny, rueful smile, then continued. "We were all there, gathered round...well, except Chandra- she'd been gone for nearly five decades-to wish them well on their way. They lay in each other's arms. The Final Fusion Spell-they cast it simultaneously-took their souls away. We watched them, those two shining souls, rise together. They made themselves visible for us. It was like watching a pair of angels dancing on their way back up to Heaven." He sighed. "It was beautiful, really: sad for us who were left, but beautiful."
"They were both elites, weren't they?" Joshua himself had shown no sign of possessing his ancestors' extraordinary power. His father Maxim, younger brother of Agatha's firstborn daughter Dierdre, was the only sorcerer among his family generation. When Dierdre's own children similarly lacked the gift, it was assumed that Joshua alone would be the one to carry on the sorcerer line. Only when cousin Elizabeth married a man named Craig Stutler and gave the world a son–Dave had been born twenty-seven years ago–did anyone know that such an assumption was wrong. Now Dave was gone, of course, and Joshua was indeed the only inheritor left. He was a sorcerer, else he wouldn't have been designated to be the next headmaster, but no more elites or Primes had appeared since his grandmother Agatha and her husband's cousin Isaac. Horvath was the only one left.
The last elite nodded. "Yes, they were," he acknowledged. "It was their suggestion, even before they saw their first grandchild, that we build this academy after they were gone, provided their children agreed. Ben and Agatha loved the idea, as you've no doubt already guessed."
Joshua didn't need to guess; he knew. The Kirchers had made the title official when they moved to the United States after the death of her parents, with the stipulation that its purpose and enrollment remain private, and that Agatha's godfather Horvath be made its first headmaster. The man had grown very old by that time, but his mind was as sharp as ever. A renewal of Merlin's Age Suspension spell ensured that he would be able to see the school established and suitably staffed. Isaac had cast the spell this time, but gave its subject sole authority to cast it off at the time he deemed appropriate.
Horvath continued his history lesson. "A few years later, the Masters followed the Blakes' example. Alvar wasn't an elite, strictly speaking, but he'd already been 'there' and back with no aging in between, so he was a special case. As Balthazar used to say, he was the first son of The Rising." He laughed to himself. "Funny. Maggie was a Prime, but the only magic she ever let us teach her was Veronica's spell, and her husband was the only 'ordinary' sorcerer who could do it, that spell that was even more difficult than the Fusion Spell on which it was based. They were a special pair, those two."
"And what about the Stutlers? I know Dr. Stutler used to be the Prime Merlinian, but his wife never had magic, did she? Wasn't she always a non-sorcerer?" Since the end of the sorcerer war, the old Merlinian term "civilian" was no longer used for humans. It wasn't necessary.
The old man nodded. "She was," he confirmed. "Dave missed her terribly when she died, but he still had his duties. It's thanks to him that the academy has a working Historical Observation machine and the documentation to make more if needed. He did a lot of research himself in his last years. Science: he loved that almost as much as he did his family. The academy lost a brilliant mind when he joined his wife and master. Of course, Isaac was a brilliant researcher, too, but he was more interested in perfecting his magic. Academically, he never matched his father."
"You're brilliant, too," Joshua averred. "I don't care about academic credentials. And now you're telling me that we're going to lose you, too."
Horvath smiled. "My time is over. When your grandmother died last month, she took the last remnant of my generation with her. There are no more Primes, and no more elites besides me. We were born for the struggles of our time, but that time is past. Now that the school is flourishing and sorcery is being taught in an atmosphere of peace, there's no further need for me to stay. Tonight, Joshua. I'm going home at last, and I've never felt better about anything."
Balthazar met him at the gate. Horvath stood, a catch in his throat and unexpected tears of joy falling from his eyes. His friend gave him no time to recover. His warm embrace was both enthusiastic and forceful, but it was wholeheartedly returned.
Balthazar pulled back enough to examine the other's face more closely. His smile was dazzling. "Well, old man," he teased, "it's about time you showed up. We're throwing you a homecoming party right now. What took you so long?"
Horvath shook his head, confused. "I thought time didn't exist here," he pointed out. Something wasn't right about this, but he couldn't figure out what it was. He stared past the gate to the mansion on the hilltop just beyond. The land was full of life, lush with grass and flowers, crystal-clear rills bubbling merrily to the side where fruit trees bowed full laden. There was no sign of sun or cloud, only a sky full of light yet not blinding. Music came from the mansion, and the sound of happy laughter.
"It doesn't," Balthazar confirmed. "Not unless we're waiting for something, or someone. Years mean nothing here, only waiting time."
Then it struck the newcomer. "Balthazar," he exclaimed in surprise. "You're not old anymore!"
It was true. Gone were the gray hairs, the wrinkles and slowed movements of age. No, Balthazar was a spry young man again, in the very prime, it seemed, of life. That young man nodded. "Of course," he agreed. "You're not old now, either. Haven't you noticed?" While his earthly elder took stock of his own body and came to that same wonderful conclusion, Balthazar went on. "We've been given new bodies; not totally, so we still recognize each other, but perfected. We're immortal. There's no trace of age or injury now. Even the scars on my back are gone,"
"So we're all...everyone is perfected?" It was still hard to take in.
His friend couldn't stop grinning. "Yep. Veronica's more gorgeous than ever, and wait 'til you get a load of Chandra! She's not your grandmother type anymore."
Horvath tried a step, and found that it was effortless. Delighted, he walked some more with a spring in his step that hadn't been there since his days as a young apprentice. He spun in place, and had no dizziness after. Not a trace of weariness remained in what had been a worn-out body just before this journey. He laughed out loud. "So this is Paradise, is it?" he asked just to hear his own voice grown strong once again. "No wonder nobody wants to leave it." An unwelcome thought came unbidden to his mind. "Balthazar..."
"Is...is everyone here? Everyone who came ahead of me?"
The man before him studied his face. Carefully, he replied, "Everyone in the family is here, yes: Chandra, Master Alvar and Maggie, Dave and Becky, you and I and Veronica... Was there someone else you had in mind?"
The blue eyes sparkled. "All right, I'll tell you, since you're afraid to ask. No, Merlin isn't here at the mansion, and neither are the kids. They are here in this world, but they live in mansions of their own. They'll come by in a bit, but we wanted to get you settled in first, let you look around. You can visit them anytime you want, and vice versa.
'And before you feel forced to ask another awkward question, Merlin left a message for you: all is forgiven. If you want to hear him tell you himself, you'll just have to pay him a visit."
Horvath let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Well, that's a relief," he confessed. "A visit sounds fine, but later, not right now." The last lingering doubt he held had just been nullified.
Balthazar smiled again and held out a welcoming hand. "Come on," he invited. "Let's join the party. It can't really get into full swing until you arrive. It's for you, after all."
This time, Horvath's smile competed with his friend's for sheer brilliance. "I never would have believed that I could ever be this happy."
"Get used to it, my brother. This is only the beginning."
Together, they walked to the mansion on the hill, and the light of love welcomed them in.
First of all, the required disclaimer: I own none of the characters introduced in the movie The Sorcerer's Apprentice. I just think they're fascinating enough to deserve more development.
Second, some thanks are in order for contributions to this and the previous stories, even if those contributions weren't intentional. Thanks to:
- SiriusFan13, for allowing me to use her idea of the lab cot in Exiles.
- Kenobigirlliz, for the hand-me-down hat idea, and for my first feedback and encouragement
- Kaytori, for truly constructive criticism
- All the readers, especially those who took the time to leave a review.
- Most of all, my faithful, longsuffering beta reader Erica Dawn, who's much too nice to me.
Third, an acknowledgment of "fan canon" that I chose to include because it seems plausible, or just because I have no reason to reject it:
- Dave's dad was absentee, abusive, or otherwise not exactly an ideal father. That would explain Dave's lack of self-confidence.
- The Blakes' first child is a girl. Well, why not?
- Dave continues to train even after the end of the movie. Now it can proceed at a "normal" pace, since Morgana's threat has been neutralized.
If anyone would like a timeline for the events in this story, or a partial family tree, feel free to send a PM. Thanks again for reading. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it.