lonely figure walks through the corridor and stops in front of a door that is almost, but not quite closed. The light of lamps comes through the small crack left open, and laughter can be heard from beyond the door. The figure hesitates for a moment, listening to the words coming from inside, the jokes, mock accusations and playful quips. Then it opens the door and enters. Several young faces turn in its direction, ready to give a boisterous greeting. But as soon as they recognize the figure, their expressions change; not unhappy to see it, but it is obvious it has to be treated differently from everyone else already present.
One of the students rises and gives the figure a slight bow. "Master Belmos, we didn't expect you tonight! How good of you to come! Please have a seat!" Belmos takes the offered seat, nodding at the student. A plate with sweets is handed over and the master gracefully takes one of them. "We are always glad when you come!" One of the students says, a young girl holding a direwolf hatchling in her lap and trying to keep it from nuzzling her fingers. "Will you be doing a quiz again today? I love your quizzes!" Two of the other students give their agreement, but then another one puts in: "No, I want to hear a story! Tell us a story, Master Belmos!" and the whole room erupts in shouting and begging for a story. Belmos doesn't say a word, only looking at the students, until one after the other grows silent, looking at him expectantly. Then he addresses them: "It so happens," he begins, "that I indeed have come tonight with a small story prepared." One of the students cries out happily, but is quickly hushed by the rest. "Pray continue, dear Master," one of the older students says. "We are eager to hear it!" Belmos reaches into one of the pockets of his robe and draws forth a pipe. Lighting it, he puffs on it twice, then starts to speak again.
"You might have wondered," Belmos starts, "why the Ibex, for all intents and purposes a mammal, hatches from eggs. There is an old story, that attempts to explain this mystery. Whether it is true or not, I cannot say.
A long time ago, it was custom that a Magi and his apprentice would go to travel together for a few years. It was thought that studying only at the Keep would make the apprentice ill-prepared to make his life outside, and so he would be shown the world by his master.
This one apprentice I am to tell you about was named Alver, a young man who unfortunately was boastful and tended to act arrogant towards those he felt superior towards. He was studying under Master Kolwyn, and wise and gentle man, who had already trained a number of great magi. Alver, however, was impatient and would often complain that the master was holding him back; that he could learn so much faster if only he was allowed to. So in secret, the young man would look at the master's books, trying to memorize spells the Kolwyn had not yet deemed him fit to learn.
When the time of the journey neared, Alver was displeased. He did not care for the world outside, it was magic he wanted to learn. But he was the student, and so he had to do what his master demanded of him. So grudgingly, he packed his things and followed Kolwyn into the world outside the Keep.
The two traveled to the north first, crossing the plains that separated the Keep from the great city of Synara. It was Kolwyn's hope to teach his student what people not versed in magic could accomplish, by showing him the largest and most beautiful city these lands have to offer. While the apprentice still did not approve of this break in his normal studies, he kept those misgivings to himself; little did he know that the master had long realized that his apprentice did not care for this journey.
When they arrived, the master arranged for lodgings for himself and his apprentice in an inn of his knowing. But Kolwyn could not proceed to educate his apprentice; a fellow magi, a friend of the master, had noticed his arrival and approached him to ask for his help. An enemy of the Keep one of the surviving dark magi, had been seen in the vicinity; it was of utmost importance to hunt him down soon, for there was no telling what havoc he would wreak if left unchecked. However, the dark magi was known to be powerful, and so Kolwyn was asked to accompany the party, his prowess in the magical arts well known.
The master was torn; he couldn't risk taking his apprentice with him; he was far from ready to face someone that posed such a danger. Yet, it wasn't a good idea to leave Alver alone in the city either. He pondered for some time, but finally he decided he could not forsake the other magi and let them walk into danger, and so he agreed to aid his friend. Calling on Alver, he told him of what had happened; the apprentice was angry at not being allowed to accompany his master on this endeavor, but Kolwyn was unbending. He commanded Alver to stay at the inn, and made arrangements with the landlord to have his apprentice provided with what he needed. Finally, he promised to return in only a few days.
And so was Alver, the apprentice, left alone, while his master went out on a dangerous mission. Angry with Kolwyn that he thought him unfit for such a task, the student lamented his fate to himself in his room at the inn. In the evening, he decided to descend to the general room, where he found a seat and ordered a pitcher of the landlord's finest beer. After all, if the master would not take him on this journey, he might as well savour what this place had to offer.
He did not stop after the first pitcher, and soon, the alcohol loosing his tongue, he began to complain loudly about the unfairness of life and his master. The other guests, not unfamiliar with the rantings of the drunk, did not pay him much heed, but after another pitcher, the apprentice would start to insult them, declaring them inferior to his great skills as a wizard. Finally, after a few of the regular guests had complained, the innkeep walked toward the table and told Alver it might be better if he retired to his room now.
"Do not tell me what to do!" the student shouted, in a slurred voice. "These peasants should all be grateful they are allowed to be in the presence of a great master of magic, like myself! Yet they laugh behind my back and point fingers at me! Look at that guy yonder, with a face like a goat," and he pointed at the person he meant. "Drunk, by the looks of it, and he sneers at me like I was not worth anything! I will show him! With my powers, I will turn him into the goat he resembles, with one of the spells, I learned on my own, that my master would not let me have!" And before anyone could stop him, he sent the spell against the accused. However, the magic rebounded from the mirror it was directed at and fell on the apprentice himself; and when the landlord, who had involuntarily closed his eyes, opened them again, the apprentice had vanished. Instead, a brown and white egg had appeared in his place, with a tiny horn spiralling out of the shell.
Laughter erupts among the assembled students, and Belmos takes a sip from the glass a thoughtful student has put in front of him. After the laughter subsides, he takes another draw from his pipe, then continues.
When Master Kolwyn returned from the hunt, the landlord told him about what had transpired, and with some trepidation presented him with the egg. But the master just thanked him for keeping it and absolved him from any fault in what happened. He then wrapped the egg in a soft cloth and carefully stored it in his satchel.
He then left, journeying to the west. He cared for the egg, as he would for the other eggs he had raised in his life; and each night, he would take it out of the satchel and tell it of the things he had seen that day. By the time he reached the Alasre Mountains, the egg had hatched and a small, goatlike creature with spiralling horns had emerged. Knowing that similar creatures lived in these mountains, Kolwyn searched for a herd of them and then released the young Ibex into their custody. "It is tradition that the journey of master and apprentice takes five years." He told it. "You have brought this form upon yourself, and so you will spend these years in these mountains, living as what you have made of yourself. When it is time, I will return here and turn you back into what you once were." With that, the master left and did not look back.
As promised, Kolwyn returned five years later, to find a Ibex buck awaiting him on the spot where he had left the hatchling. Recognizing him as Alver, he spoke the magic words and turned the Ibex back into a human. The apprentice was much relieved to finally be turned back into a human, and he promised Master Kolwyn from the bottom of his heart that from now on he would always listen to what he was told. The master nodded and smiled, and the two made their journey back to the Keep. Alver from now on studied diligently, and he proceeded to become a great magi in his own right. But from this day onward, magi would sometimes find brown and white eggs, with a single spiral horn when travelling through the Alasre Mountains, and in time, the Ibex became valued and trusted companions to us."
His story finished, Belmos leans back contentedly. "That was a great story, master!" one of the student says excitedly; "It was hilarious how he thought his image was another guy!" The other students start to shout, each trying to tell his or her favorite part.
"Now, students,"Belmos interrupts, and the room grows silent again. "What is it we can learn from this story?" For a moment, the silence continues, then one girl starts to speak: "Ibex are people!" she declares, nodding self-importantly, then squeals when the student next to her, the girl with the direwolf, gives her a smack on the head. "Ow! What was that for?" – "For being stupid! Ibex are not people!" Before a real fight breaks out, one of the older students raises her voice: "We learn that pride can lead to your downfall!" and Belmos nods at her. "Also that you shouldn't drink too much beer!" another student yells out excitedly, causing some laughter around the room. "And that the teachers know what is to our best," a third student puts in slowly.
"Yes, I see you have understood the lesson of that story," Belmos says, smiling. Giving his pipe a last puff, he rises. "Now I have to leave you, young ones! There is a lot of work waiting for me in the Nursery, and I have tarried too long already." Cries of disappointment rise among the assembled students, but it is clear to them the master won't be persuaded to stay. "Goodbye, Master Belmos!" they call after him as he reaches the door; and one adds "Come back soon! We want to hear more of your stories!"