Centius the Wise had the flu.
The other members of the Council of Wizards were not pleased about this. It was all fine and well to get the flu, there was no helping it happening now and then, but it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. It was time for the Council to name the Chosen One.
Situations popped up every century or so in which a Chosen One was called for. Necromancers, belligerent aliens, evil overlords. Compared to that, the current situation was nothing. A sorcerer on the rise was picking off the Knights, which was a far cry from world domination. But the Council had recently decided to be a little more proactive and name someone early, ever since that business in Germany when they’d waited too long and the whole world had had to go to war.
Centius, the wisest and most senior member of the Council, was supposed to name the Chosen One. Not that there wasn’t a backup plan. Once, three hundred years ago, he’d been on vacation when evil arose. Five hundred years before that, he’d been visiting his mother in the hospital, or what passed for a hospital in those days. In those cases, other wizards had named a Chosen One, and everything had been fine.
But this time around, it was Philostratus’ turn. All the wizards knew what that meant.
Philostratus’ official title was Philostratus the Curious, but he was known around the Council as Philostratus the Kind of Kooky. He was infamous for conducting pointless experiments with magic and science, which, as they all knew, wasn’t the domain of wizards anyway. Who would want to bother with science when you had magic? Philostratus, apparently.
Not that his application of the scientific method to magical experiments wasn’t appreciated, Methodius the Just thought as he took his seat in the council chamber. He glanced at Philostratus’ seat, several rows closer to the floor, and went unrewarded. The violet cushion was empty.
Late as usual. Methodius shifted in his seat, trying to get comfortable. You wouldn’t think purple velvet would be so firm. Probably Philostratus didn’t even remember there was a meeting today.
Maybe someone else would get to choose, in that case.
A gentle murmur swelled as the wizards filled the room and took their seats, but it died away as a portly wizard took the podium. Blathyllos the Orator looked more like a friar than a wizard, but he was the Vice President of the Council and likely to give you a dull and lengthy lecture if you mentioned it, so no one ever did.
“Brothers,” he said grandly. There were no witches on the Council, which had long been a source of contention with the Grand Coven. “The time has come, once again, to name the one destined to defeat the evil that has arisen in the world. It is a long and proud tradition of the council…”
Methodius settled back in his chair. The speech was the same one Blathyllos gave every time some evil or another reared its ugly head and they all met so Centius could name a Chosen One. Methodius was pretty sure virtually all of them had memorized it by now, so he felt one hundred percent comfortable not listening at all. Blah blah blah “long tradition” blah blah blah “a great honor” blah blah blah “Centius the Wise.”
Well, Philostratus the Curious, today, because there’d be that slightest of slight changes to the speech wherein Blathyllos mentioned that, unfortunately, Centius was detained by circumstances beyond our control and therefore it would fall to one of our brethren to…
Et cetera, et cetera.
Methodius was just nodding off when the door of the chamber banged open and a violet-robed blur tumbled in: Philostratus, his robe charred and splattered with ink as usual, dropping scrolls everywhere.
“Sorry, sorry,” he could be heard saying as he struggled toward the front of the room. He plucked up his lost scrolls, tugged the hem of his robe free of someone’s chair, and dropped the scrolls again. They scattered across the floor and rolled along the carpet, bumping into council members’ feet. Disgruntled whispers, punctuated by the odd snort of derision, echoed around the chamber.
“Brothers,” Blathyllos said, his voice not so grand now; he had set himself up for a good long speech and couldn’t stand interruption. “Philostratus the Curious. Will now. Name. The Chosen One. If he is prepared.”
And by Blathyllos’ raised eyebrow, there could be no doubt that he was skeptical of that.
“Yes, yes, completely prepared,” Philostratus said, tripping up the steps. His eyebrows, which looked like nothing so much as two white caterpillars that had decided to grow some hair to make themselves less appealing to predators, were singed. Another experiment, was Methodius’ guess. Few of Philostratus’ experiments involved flame of any kind, yet different bits of him always seemed to be singed.
“Friends!” Philostratus cried, throwing his skinny arms wide so Blathyllos narrowly avoided a punch to the nose. Titters rippled through the chamber, whether because of Blathyllos’ hasty step back or the idea that Philostratus considered the other wizards his friends, Methodius couldn’t have said. “I’ve been experimenting with different methods of Choosing, different types of prophecy and the like—whoops! There goes everything—” as the few scrolls he’d managed to gather up again on his way to the podium crumpled, unrolled, caught on his robe, fell to the floor, got caught underfoot.
“It’s around here somewhere—” He dove to the floor, his rump stuck up in the air as he hunted for a particular scroll. “Ah, Blathyllos, if you wouldn’t mind, I believe the one I want is stuck beneath your shoe—”
Blathyllos looked like he certainly did mind, thank you very much, but he stepped back and allowed Philostratus to grab the scroll in question.
“Yes, yes, this one. I know we’re all used to relying on oracles and prophecies and ancient texts, but have any of you tried the Internet? It’s amazing! There are entire websites dedicated to sifting through piles of candidates for any number of jobs, and you can even view their background checks—”
The muttering renewed at the mention of background checks. What were they, the police? Wizards didn’t need to run background checks when oracles and prophecies had a way of working out so the Chosen One was always some tough-but-good-hearted person who didn’t have anything nasty in their past. Or, you know, nothing criminally nasty. There were dead parents and whatnot, but what did that matter to anyone else?
“Brothers, please!” Philostratus cried, waving his arms to silence the Council. “I know these measures are untraditional, but—”
“But that’s Philostratus for you,” Methodius’ neighbor muttered to him. Methodius nodded vigorously.
“—so I set up a program to run an algorithm to pick out the very best candidates, and from there—”
Outraged hissing and booing now. Philostratus had the honor, the privilege to name the Chosen One in Centius the Wise’s absence, and he set up a computer program to do it for him?
Methodius, however, had had enough. The whole point in naming someone early, before the lowly but ambitious sorcerer had become an evil overlord, was to get a head start on things. Save the world before it needed saving. Which was not going to happen if the wizards spent so much time arguing that Philostratus never got to name the Chosen One. Methodius got to his feet with difficulty. It was no fun being old.
“Brethren,” he called in his clear, ringing voice, and then he waited. Slowly, the chaos died down. That was a favorite trick of his, calling for silence and then waiting until the whole room was listening. Once you had them, you could sit there quietly as long as you wanted and watch them squirm as they waited for your announcement.
“Brethren,” he repeated once everyone was listening. “I realize Philostratus’ methods are…untraditional, to say the least, but as he was the one who pinpointed Redway the Terrible as the next great threat of our age, it’s only fair that we allow him to speak and accept his choice.”
Blathyllos, still looking thoroughly disgruntled, stepped back up to the podium, tugged on his robe to straighten it, and said, “Yes. Brother Philostratus. We care nothing for your methods, so if you would care to name your choice…”
“Oh—yes, I suppose, I could…” Philostratus looked crestfallen. He loved explaining his ideas. “Well—”
He unrolled his scroll with a flourish. White light flashed and then balled together and formed a picture.
It was the portrait of a girl—no, not a girl. A woman. An old woman. She had an old-lady perm and frumpy glasses and wrinkles and everything.
“Brother—Brother Philostratus?” Blathyllos said. The other wizards felt the same.
“Behold, the Chosen One!” Philostratus said proudly. “Edna Fisher.”
“Er…” Blathyllos said. “Er, are you, well, are you quite sure that’s the right picture?”
Philostratus peered up at the orb of light and beamed.
“Oh, yes. Quite sure. That’s her. Edna Fisher.”
“Er…” Blathyllos said again. The other wizards had never heard him speechless before. “Er, exactly how old is she?”
“Eighty-three,” Philostratus said proudly.
The entire room had fallen silent, but after a brief pause in which all the wizards tried to think of what to say first and failed, Methodius finally said, “A teenager is the traditional choice.”
Philostratus gave an indulgent smile and rolled the scroll back up. The image of Edna Fisher, old lady, vanished.
“Teenagers! Pimply sacks of hormones trying to deal with puberty and impending adulthood and the prospect of debilitating student loans. Don’t you think they’ve got quite enough on their minds without also going off on some quest to defeat evil? Oughtn’t we to pick someone a little more emotionally stable? Someone with more life experience? Well, Edna has it!”
“She’s eighty-three,” Blathyllos mumbled, but Philostratus had finally gotten fed up with them all.
“Yes, she’s eighty-three! Good heavens, how old is that to you, Blathyllos the Nine-Hundred-and-Twenty-Seven? We’ve all of us gone and left eighty-three centuries ago. As for it being untraditional, well, what else did you expect from me? Now, I have a very important Scientifick trip to Mars coming up, so accept my choice or don’t, but decide quickly.”
The wizards all suddenly found the floor very interesting. They knew how they’d decide. Never, in the history of the Council, had they voted down a Chosen One.
“All in favor?” Blathyllos said unenthusiastically.
Every wizard in the chamber put his hand up.
The room was still.
“Very well, then,” Blathyllos said, more unenthusiastically than ever. “There’s no time to waste, Philostratus, so if you would alert Miss…Mrs…Ms. Fisher to her new honor first thing tomorrow, that would be—”
“Pegasus feathers!” Philostratus said. “Haven’t I just told you I’m leaving for an expedition? My space shuttle departs in two hours. Someone else will have to do it.”
Blathyllos stiffened. Now that things were decided, the wizards had begun to relax again. Nothing they could do about it now that Edna Fisher had been chosen, except hope she would succeed.
But Blathyllos was still sore about being interrupted, and Methodius could tell by the expression on his face that he wasn’t done speaking. Not that the knowledge did Methodius any good. He didn’t expect what happened next, which was that Blathyllos’ eyes met him, widened, and then crinkled into a cold smile.
“Methodius the Just!” the Orator said over the rising hubbub of the ended meeting. “Since you so generously insisted we hear Philostratus’ choice, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind taking his place in informing her of her new destiny.”
The room fell silent, and Methodius felt like kicking himself. He’d just had to defend Philostratus, hadn’t he? And now he didn’t even agree with the choice. How could she not be a teenager?
But before he could argue, Blathyllos said, “Meeting adjourned!” and there was no argument to be had.
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