Author: Joseph Rosa

The old enchanter’s body dripped tangerine as black spots floated on his liquid skin like water lilies. The Leopard Warlock had long forgotten why he’d cast this appearance onto himself, morphing his body into a walking neon pond. His arm rippled as he tossed twigs onto the small fire and a goldfish blurped from his cheek, then resubmerged under the surface of his face. He removed his curled leather tophat to pick at the fraying. A tangle of black hair fell out as an ecosystem of crawling critters grumbled over being disturbed. The rare headpiece’s material had been stitched together from the hide of a seabull, complete with one horn tipping the end of its coil. A much scarcer and more aggressive member of the manatee species. The Sorcerer had bartered for it in the very market in which he made camp, only many decades prior. For the fine hat, he’d offered an elixir that caused the desired target to become impervious to embarrassment. Or had it been a knife in the shape of a rose that could sing? He couldn’t recall, it’d been so long ago. Now the market was barren, a collection of rotten wooden framing and tattered banners dangling from the interior. Sporadic sunrays breached parts of the fractured ceiling. The halls of columns still maintained most of the roof, which is why the dead market made for such a fine shelter. He was the only remaining anything, just him and the insects in his hair were gods of the nothing space. Yet the Warlock and his little fire were paled in comparison to the vastness of the empty corridors and abandoned shops.

Spitting sunflower seeds into the fire, he eased into a sitting sleep. For the most part, it had been a good day. He’d found enough food to get him back home. His seacove den called to him and the tide would soon be in. His feline eyes reflected the flames as he secured the brim of his hat, silencing a city of bustling bugs. He listened to the stillness of the deserted market and it stirred his nostalgia, having seen all kinds of magic in this now magicless world. His heart ached for the peak of his adventures in the distant past. The Eye hummed from his satchel and he groaned because he didn’t want to disappoint his mute sidekick anymore. There was nothing to see that it hadn’t already taken it. Yet still, it yelped, beckoning to be let out. He retrieved the glowing black sphere, resting it in the palm of his hand. In the center, a pupil frantically dilated and inflated, observing the somber surroundings. But there was nobody peddling their wares, or lively chatter of negotiation, or toasts made over deals done, or the encompassing sounds of buyers trying their eccentric new purchase, or the stirring and sizzling of the meal hall, or the giggling of children zapping each other with spark spells, or the popping of nightly fireworks, or the melody of courtyard bands. There was only silence and the maddening slow running water of the Leopard Warlock’s tangerine skin draining onto the floor.

Why? he ruminated, endlessly tormenting himself. Why had he banished himself to this purgatory? To this thin phantom realm where everyone else had disappeared, and why couldn’t he find his way back?