The wizard sat with his hands folded in his lap, gazing up at the crystalline skylight of his tower; he had been sitting like that for some hours, unblinking, until his apprentice, seated at a small table over near the window, grew a bit nervous.
"You're going to get a crick in your neck," she at last dared to remark; there was no response.
"Lord Rhaphimon? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Zothique," the wry voice of her master echoed softly in the topmost chamber of the sorcerer's tower; Rhaphimon blinked, frowned, and turned the unnerving gaze of his topaz eyes upon his young apprentice, who grinned and waved cheekily at him.
"Are you finished with your studies, impudent girl?"
"No! I'm bored," replied Zothique, a startlingly attractive lass of seventeen with gleaming skin like melted chocolate and silvery-blue hair worked into shoulder-length braids. "And so are you, if you would only admit it! Can't we cast a spell, or something? It's been AGES!"
Rhaphimon tugged at his elegant ebon goatee and tried to look severe--his glare had caused Kings and Emperors to wet themselves, but Zothique was completely unfazed: "Please? I said please," she cooed, skipping across the chamber and sitting pertly on his knees.
"I suppose I MUST," the wizard sighed, "if only to prevent you from trying something on your own again! You've learned your lesson from the last incident, I hope?"
Zothique bit her lip to keep from laughing; "Of course I have! It took me days to clean up the Conjuring Room!"
Rhaphimon gave her braids an affectionate tug, and shooed her off his lap.
"Very well! I must confess, I too am bored...we must stir the blood, lest we become dull-witted! I shall teach you the Ritual of Al'Gnoth-Fthagn, which has not been performed since The Lost Times!"
Zothique clapped her hands and floated up to the skylight, whooping joyously.
It took Rhaphimon and Zothique a night and a day to prepare for the Ritual of Al'Gnoth-Fthagn; the Conjuring Room had to be cleansed of all magical residue from previous experiments, and Zothique was put in charge of weaving the sacred garments which alone could be worn by those who performed the Ritual. Both the wizard and his acolyte had to fast, eating no more than a small loaf of oat bread and a boiled egg, washed down with water from the spring which babbled and splashed down the mountainside past the sorcerer's tower. Then the nine crimson candles had to be rubbed with rare spices prescribed by the Ancients, and chanted over according to the preliminary rites before being set at the points of the huge nine-pointed star inlaid in cunning mosaics of chalcedony and colored quartz on the polished marble floor of the Conjuring Room. Only after all this was done did Rhaphimon and his apprentice, after anointing each other with sacred oil distilled from the ambergris of the great Sea Beast, solemnly enter the Conjuring Room and light the candles before taking their place in the center of the star.
Wrapping the sacred silken headband around his lofty brow, Rhaphimon nodded to Zothique, who unrolled the precious scroll whereon the Ritual of Al'Gnoth-Fthagn had been inscribed nine centuries ago by the great and terrible Malygris himself; her hands trembling ever so slightly, the beautiful apprentice held up the scroll so that her master could read aloud from it. The sorcerer took a deep breath, said a silent prayer to whatever gods might be watching, and began:
"KALDOVAAR, ZHUUM-RYNOLTH XACCARISSIS, OMIGON-YPNYARWWAAGNOL..."
"Meow?" cried the sorcerer's hungry cat, walking into the Conjuring Room.
"Oops!---I forgot to close the door!" Zothique winced, as the pampered feline rubbed against one of the nine crimson candles, knocking it over.
The resulting explosion took the conical roof of Rhaphimon's tower clean off; to this day, no one knows where it came down, although that same day, one thousand miles away, the Sultan of Khazidoor's pleasure barge, containing His Supremacy, the Vizier, and threescore notables of the Court, sank off the coast of Khazidoor when it was struck by some immense object that fell from the sky.
Rhaphimon opened his eyes to find himself up in the boughs of a titanic cypress tree which stood about three miles from his tower; in no mood to utter even the simplest levitating spell, he slowly climbed down to the ground and limped back to his half-ruined home, where he saw Zothique humbly sweeping debris out the door; the cat was on the patio, contentedly eating a dish of tuna.
The girl looked up and gave him a sheepish grin: "So! When do we try again?"