"Honey, I'm home," he called.
"Dinner isn't ready yet," his wife, Maggie, yelled back from the kitchen. "It'll be another twenty minutes."
He sat down in his comfortable reclining chair and propped up his feet, unrolling the newspaper. It was no Daily Seeker, to be sure. That paper was amusing, but it stopped circulating after the Tempest faction invaded and burnt down their news headquarters. It was just a simple mensch paper, written by mensch, for mensch.
Bob was a middle-aged balding man. Nobody particularly important or remarkable. He was a mensch. What the Elkandu wizards called somebody without any inherent magic. It wasn't a particularly nice term, but with the wizards running rampant these days, it had become fairly commonplace.
As he skimmed over the headlines, his teenage son, Jack, bounded down the stairs into the living room. "Hey, Dad! I found this nifty website on how to become a demon! Can I be a demon? Please?"
With a sigh, Bob lowered his paper to look at the boy. "Son, you know only wizards can be demons."
Jack looked crestfallen. "Oh. Okay." He returned upstairs rather dejectedly.
Bob sighed. Bad enough his boss was a demon. He didn't need one running around the house, too. Raising his newspaper again, he tried to read a bit. The headlines proclaimed more bizarre happenings, and blamed the Elkandu, as usual. Nothing new there.
Suddenly, Bob found himself sitting on the floor with a grunt. Glancing around in surprise, he realized that his recliner had disappeared. Emitting a long string of swear words, Bob stood up, folding up his paper forcefully and brushing himself off.
"Blasted wizards. Can't leave anything alone."
"Dinner's ready," called Maggie. Bob grumbled a bit and headed out to the kitchen, almost getting run over by his son and daughter.
Maggie scooped up mashed potatoes and peas onto their plates next to their roast beef. "Remember to eat your vegetables, kids."
Jack crinkled his nose over the pile of peas. "Aw, Mom."
Bob sighed inwardly and picked up his knife and fork, going to cut his roast. In the blink of an eye, it was gone before he could even touch it. His entire plate along with it. He stared at the empty spot on the table for a moment before starting to shake his knife and fork over his head at whoever had done that.
"Bloody good-for-nothing wizards!"
"Calm down, dear, I'll get you another plate," said Maggie reassuringly.
Bob sighed and put down his knife and fork. There was no use getting angry about it. It's not like there was anything he, a mere mensch, could do to stop the wizards. Maggie loaded up another plate for him and sat it before him. He wasn't particularly hungry now, but he ate regardless, paranoidly making sure that his food didn't disappear every few seconds.
Once they finished eating, Maggie suggested, "How about some nice ice cream for dessert? That'll cheer you up."
Grumbling a bit, Bob nodded and went to get it out of the freezer while Maggie did the dishes. Jack was going on about how cool demons were again.
His twelve-year-old daughter, Jill, pouted and said, "Demons are bad. I wanna be an angel when I grow up! With pretty white wings. And I'll fly around and like, help people!"
Bob didn't bother to shatter her hopes. At least an angel was a halfway respectable thing to be. Even if they were wizards, too. He brought the ice cream over to the table and pulled out the scoop from a drawer.
Jack said, "Strawberry? I hate strawberry."
"Then you don't get any," Bob told him in exasperation.
"Fine." Jack hopped down from the table and scrambled back upstairs in a huff.
Bob set four bowls out in front of him and moved to start scooping the ice cream into them. Again, the ice cream vanished before his eyes. Bob growled and shook his ice cream scoop at the sky, and barely restrained himself from swearing in front of his daughter. Then, abruptly, his ice cream scoop disappeared as well.
"Calm down, honey," Maggie said. "There's some chocolate in there still, isn't there?"
Bob clenched his fist and looked at his empty hand. "Right. I'll get the chocolate." He sighed loudly.
He went to the freezer and got out the chocolate, and scooped it out for them. They managed to eat it without further incident, at least. It didn't particularly succeed in cheering him up, however. Women always think eating will solve everything, Bob thought in annoyance.
"I'm going to take a shower," he declared. Bob turned and went upstairs, hoping that the wizards wouldn't find some way to steal the faucets, too.
The shower was hot and refreshing, and afterward, he put on his favorite smiley-face boxers. He wouldn't let those pesky wizards get him down. Draping a robe about himself loosely, he went back downstairs.
"Ah, I feel much better now," he announced with a smile.
"I'm glad, honey," Maggie said, giving him a peck on the cheek.
Bob went back to the living room. As he went to pick up the paper and finish reading it, his boxers disappeared. With a howl of rage that could be heard a block away, Bob stormed back into the kitchen.
"That does it!" Bob roared. "They've gone too far this time! Those bastards stole my favorite boxers! I'm going to do something about this."
Maggie stared at him. "But what could you possibly do?"
"I don't know," Bob snapped. "But I'll find something. Somehow."
Wrapping his robe tightly about him, he stomped upstairs and into his room, and got dressed again. Bob then went back downstairs and out to the garage.
"Where are you going, dear?" Maggie wondered.
"Going to find a solution to the wizard problem," Bob replied, grabbing his car keys.
"But..." Maggie trailed off. "When will you be back?"
"I don't know. Take care of the kids, honey." He gave her a kiss. "Love you."
Bob hopped into the blue car and drove off. He had no idea where he was going to go, or where he might find some way to deal with the wizards. But he'd had enough, and knew it was time to put his foot down. They'd crossed the line this time.
After driving for several days, stopping at cheap hotels along the way, a piece of paper flew in through the open window and pressed itself to his face. Clawing it away from his eyes, he barely managed to avoid a collision with a large garbage truck.
"Why don't the wizards make the garbage disappear, instead?" he muttered. "Then they'd be useful, at least."
He stopped at the drive-through for Happy Burger and finally took a glance at the piece of paper. "Mika's University of Magic," he snorted, reading it. "No prior magical knowledge necessary? Hmm. Maybe..." He shoved it into the glove compartment and ordered a cheeseburger and fries. It was worth a shot, at least. If nothing else, he might find some wizards nice enough to put a stop to this random teleportation. Fat chance of that, but the only one he had.
At the next window, a smiling girl wearing a smiling hat handed him a smiling bag with his food. "Have a nice day!"
As he munched on his fries, he started wondering just how he was going to get to this University to begin with. "The Plane of Water," he read. "Where is that?"
There was a travel agency in Amberton run by wizards, according to some other signs he had seen. Perhaps they'd help him get there. He hoped they took credit cards. Finishing up his meal, he got more gas and drove off in that direction.
The place wasn't particularly hard to find, for all the advertisements. He parked outside and headed in through the revolving glass doors. It was a fancier place than he'd anticipated, but wasn't particularly busy at the moment.
"Good afternoon, sir," said the man at the desk. "How can I help you?" His nametag read, "Hello, my name is Steve."
"I'd like to plan a ... rather immediate vacation," Bob told him.
"Certainly," Steve said. "Would that be the 'Avoiding The Law' package, or the 'Trouble With Wife' deal?"
"Erm," Bob hesitated. "Are there any other options?"
Steve leaned over and murmured, "My advice, take the wife package. It's cheaper." He winked.
"Right," Bob muttered. "I'll take it."
Steve took his credit card and swiped it through something, then handed it back. "Head over to that room over there to work out the details." He pointed.
Bob said, "Alright." He pocketed his credit card again and wandered over to the indicated room.
Inside, there was a well-dressed elf at the desk. "Have a seat," the elf said, gesturing to a very familiar-looking reclining chair.
"That's my chair!" Bob cried.
"Of course, that's where you should sit," the elf smiled.
Bob stared at him for a moment, then gave up, sitting down heavily with a sigh. Stupid annoying thieving wizards. He fervently hoped they couldn't read his mind, too. Not that he could do much about it even if they could.
"So," began the elf. "You're interested in the Immediate Vacation plan?"
"That's right," Bob said.
"Where would you like? A skiing trip to Sasherey? Dragon-watching on Hasaris?"
"I want to go to the Plane of Water," Bob answered.
"Ah, excellent choice," commented the elf. "Nice beaches, swimming, good opportunities for surfing, water-skiing, sailing, and such."
The travel agent pressed a button on the desk, and an illusionary map of the Plane of Water shimmered into existance over the left wall. Bob peered at the numerous islands depicted, little names floating over them. He tried to remember the name of the island mentioned on the flier.
"I'd personally recommend the resort on Kalimai, myeslf," the elf said, indicating an island. It lighted up, glowing faintly.
Bob found it. Uma'ie, that was it. But he didn't want to give away to this thieving wizard where he was going. He picked an island near it, instead. "How about Luiki, there? That looks good. I don't want anywhere heavily populated."
"Luiki, yes." The island lit up. "Nice place, quite remote, nobody will bother you there. How long would you like to stay for?"
Bob considered. He didn't want to be yanked away when he was in the middle of something, but neither did he want to be stuck there waiting to be able to go back. Well, it didn't look like a particularly bad place to be stuck, at least, but he didn't want to leave his wife and kids alone for too long if at all possible.
"Two weeks," Bob replied. That should give him enough time to get to Uma'ie and contact this University, he hoped.
"Very well, a two week vacation to Luiki on the Plane of Water," the elf murmured as he scribbled something down. "Go get your bags and come back in."
"Erm," he frowned. He hadn't thought to bring any baggage. "I have everything I need on me."
"As you wish. Have a nice trip." The elf waved his hand, and Bob's surroundings shifted and changed.
He was standing on a tropical island under a palm tree, the warm sun beaming down overhead. Nearby, the foamy ocean lapped at the sandy beach. Bob suddenly wished that he'd brought proper attire for this, and hoped they took cash or credit card here.
Bob turned and walked off down the beach, looking for some sign of civilization. Maybe he should have picked a more populated island. There had to be some sort of natives here, at least. The sun beat down as it climbed higher overhead. He wiped the sweat from his brow and took off his vest, tying it around his head to keep it from getting sunburnt. There wasn't anyone around to see how ridiculous he looked, anyway.
Down a long hike along the beach, he spotted some primitive grass huts standing on poles, with natives moving around them. Excellent, finally some semblance of life around here. Bob walked up toward the village.
The natives spotted him and a few of them broke off and clustered around him, babbling in some unintelligible dialect.
"Me Bob," he said slowly, making dramatic gestures. "Me no speak you language. Me want boat." They all looked at him like he was insane. Bob sighed. "Me want go Uma'ie."
At that name, several of them gasped. "Elkandu! Elkandu!" they cried, and began to scramble around. Bob didn't bother to correct them, if they'd even understand him anyway.
Bob sighed again and walked over toward the water, where they had several boats of various sizes tied up or sitting on the beach. "Boat? Go Uma'ie?" Bob said, pointing in the general direction he thought Uma'ie was from here.
They babbled something again, and one of them went over to the boats. He was a young lad wearing nothing but a loincloth. Bob wondered that they didn't get skin cancer from so much exposure to the sun. The boy gestured to him to approach, and Bob went over and got on the small boat. Without further ado, the lad untied the boat and had them sailing out to sea.
"Well, that wasn't so hard," Bob commented as the island faded into the distance. He wondered just how far it was to Uma'ie from here. "Me Bob," he said to the boy, pointing at himself. "What you name?" He pointed to the lad.
The young man stared oddly at him for several minutes. Bob repeated himself. The boy muttered, "Paka."
"Paka? That's your name?"
The lad grinned and giggled, as if at some joke Bob did not get. Bob grunted and consigned himself to riding along in silence. He wished he'd brought some dramamine, too.
After a few days of unpleasant sailing, the boy pointed off in the distance, "Uma'ie! Uma'ie!" he cried.
Bob turned to look. In the shadows of the evening sky, there were lights clearly visible on the horizon. Thousands of lights, as of an enormous city. Civilization at last! Bob was relieved that this nightmare voyage was almost over. The boy dropped him off at the shores of the island the next morning and left promptly. Bob shrugged and headed inside.
When he finally made it past the crowds to the receptionist, the a girl with blue wings behind the desk said to him, "You want to sign up for the Cruces course, also?"
Cruces. That was a word that was mentioned on that flier. He had no idea what it meant. "No, I just want to--"
"We have a number of other courses available, on both conventional and experimental magic types," the woman went on, showing him a list. "Although Cruces are, by far, our most popular choice at the moment."
"I don't want to sign up for any classes," Bob grated. He didn't have time for that. He wasn't even really sure why he was here, or if this would work.
"Oh," she said. "Then what would you like?"
"I'd just like to... discuss some things with somebody. If it wouldn't be too much trouble."
The winged woman looked at him oddly for a moment. "Very well. Who do you wish to speak to?"
"I don't care. Somebody good at magic," Bob muttered.
"Ah, perhaps you wish to speak to Edminster and Sidan, then?"
"Fine. I'll talk to them. If they're not busy."
She gave him directions to the lounge where he was likely to find them, and then turned to speak to the next person in line, leaving Bob to wander off on his own. After a bit of searching, he did manage to find the place. It was a quiet faculty lounge, with some chairs, tables, and some food. Glancing over across the room, he saw a female gnome and a... four foot tall brown rabbit wearing a nice business suit.
"Am I interrupting anything?" Bob asked nervously.
"Not at all, my dear humanoid," spoke the rabbit. "Please, enter and state that which you require."
"Er, I was, uh, looking for Edminster and Sidan. Would you know where I could find them?"
"You've found us," the gnome piped cheerfully. "What do you need?"
"Oh," Bob said, sitting down and grabbing a donut hesitantly. This couldn't be any stranger than working for a demon at a law firm, he told himself. It didn't help much.
"Do you require assistance with your studies?" the bunny asked.
"No, no, I'm not a student," Bob said, waving his hand. He took a deep breath. "I was more hoping to find some way to stop some wizards that have been causing problems in my life recently."
"Ah. I dig you, man," the rabbit said. Bob blinked and stared at it. "What sort of assistance do you require?"
"They keep stealing my possessions," Bob answered. A talking rabbit was strange enough, but a talking rabbit that occasionally spouted random slang? He wondered which one was Edminster and which was Sidan.
"You want us to go beat them up for you, or do you want to learn warding?" the gnome woman asked.
Bob finally asked, "Which of you is Edminster, and which is Sidan, anyway?"
The rabbit said, "I am Edminster Bartholomew Bun, and this is Sidan Donttouchthatyoumoronargh."
"Right," Bob muttered. "My name is Bob Smith. I'm only on a two week vacation here, I don't have time to--"
"We can go bust them up and retrieve your possessions," Edminster said with a rabbitish grin.
"Do you know who did it?" Sidan asked.
"I'm not certain, but I have my suspicions." Bob thought back to the travel agency. He wondered obliquely why anyone would want his smiley face boxers.
"You really should sign up for the Cruces courses," Ed said. "I was a mere mibi when I started here, and now I'm one of the most powerful omnimancers in the universe."
"What's a mibi?" Bob asked.
"Somebody with almost no magic," Sidan supplied. "Like you, I guess."
"But I'm not--"
"Latent Talents often do not appear in a person's aura immediately," the rabbit interrupted. "Although I have hypothezised that this is primarily because the Cruces does not work directly off Talents."
Bob leaned back in his chair and listened to the two of them go into a lengthy discussion about magic. He didn't manage to follow much of it, as it was extremely technical. He resolved himself to eat his donut and pretend to be listening.
After finishing his donut, Bob said, "Do you really think I could do it?"
"Never know unless you try," Ed said encouragingly.
"But I have a wife and kids back at home."
"Lots of people do," Sidan said. "Some people teleport back to their homes after class."
"But I can't teleport!"
"Oh, it's not that hard," said Ed. "Although it'd be easier to Recall to the Nexus and use the portal from there, for a beginner at least."
Bob protested, "I don't know how to do whatever that is either."
"Right, here, I'll show you," the rabbit said eagerly. "Try that."
Bob didn't understand what he meant at first, until he felt something tickle in his mind that wasn't there before. He frowned a bit and brought it to mind, and realized that it was some sort of arcane knowledge. Hell with it, he thought. Throwing caution to the wind, he tried it, concentrating deeply upon it.
After a moment of what felt like reaching out to something, he felt something grab a hold of him and pull him. His surroundings warped for a moment and mist clouded his vision. He fell on his bottom when the chair disappeared from under him. When the haze cleared, he was sitting in a sunlit circle, surrounded by a ring of runed obelisks.
Bob gaped, and stood up slowly. Had he really done it? Or did somebody else actually do it for him? He was quite tired from the effort. That certainly felt like he had done something.
As he stood there musing, a centaur with eight legs, a pink mohawk, a leather jacket, and a tattoo of a rose on its rear, handed him a pamphlet and trotted off. Bob blinked and glanced at it. The pamphlet read, "Join Tempest!" in fiery letters, and then went on to describe Tempest's elite musical academy, which had trained the famous Elkandu power metal band, Pyroluminescence.
"Where do you want to go today?" spoke a leprechaun to his right.
"Oh," Bob said. "Can you send me to the travel agency in Amberton, on Devenia?"
"Certainly." Without further ado, his vision fogged again and he found himself standing in the lobby of the travel agency again.
Bob went up to the desk and said, "Can you cancel my return trip? I don't need help getting back here at the moment, apparently."
"As you wish," said the man at the desk.
Bob went back outside into the parking lot again. He was quite pleased that his car was still there and intact. Thinking about the strange "vacation" he'd just had, he got inside and started driving home. Maybe he really could learn magic, after all. He'd definitely done something to get to that Nexus or whatever they called it. It was a little unbelievable to actually be considering it seriously. Bob was a mere mensch, a person of no consequence, not a mage. And yet he had done magic. He didn't know how he'd managed to do it, but he could not deny that he had really done it. Unless this was all just some crazy hallucination, in which case he'd not presently have a sunburnt nose. And he did have that Tempest pamphlet as evidence that he had really been there. It was real, tangible. He shoved it in the glove box and drove home.
Several days later, he drove up to the garage of his nice, suburban home, and walked in the door. "Honey, I'm home."
"Oh, there you are, dear!" Maggie exclaimed. "I was worried sick about you. Where did you go? What did you find?"
"I think," Bob told her, "I'm going back to school."