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by SC King

 

 


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Prologue

 

Magic. It’s the most wonderful discovery in the history of man. And over the years, some have used it to create and some have used it to destroy, but everyone who uses magic has the power to change their destiny.

Magic is all about tapping into the extra energy in the universe. With this energy, you can change something existing or create something new. It’s a trade-off with the very fabric of existence itself. If you give something then you can get something back in return.

Depending on where you’re born, you might not even be aware of magic. We are taught at a young age that there are some worlds out there where people don’t know about it, but I was born here on Terranu. A world where magic is life. I step outside my home every day and can see the proof, shimmering on the horizon. Forty miles to the south is Kells, the Golden City of the Bodian Kingdom. A city of magic. A city of mages. They have schools in Kells where people train their entire lives to learn magic. Then they’re sent out to make the world a better place. At least that’s what we’re taught in school.

Kells is the wealthiest and most advanced city on Terranu. Its complete mastery of magic has made it the world’s leader in technology and medicine. Their scientists created a machine that harnesses gyro energy, which is the energy of the universe you need to perform magic. That machine powers the entire city, as well as the energy cells we use for basically everything in Pich.

Kells is overseen by Chris McLy, the Arch Wizard. They say he’s hundreds of years old, and nobody ever sees him because he stays in the High Tower constantly meditating and connected to the universe. His will is carried out by Ramon, the Grand Wizard. They say Ramon mastered every spell known to man by the age of twenty. He’s the youngest grand wizard in the history of Kells.

That knowledge makes me feel like anything is possible. That could be me someday. There’s only one problem. I wasn’t born in Kells. I was born one hundred miles north in the Province of Pich. We aren’t a golden city. We don’t have an Arch Wizard or a school of magic. We can’t even practice magic here. Pich is a farming province. We’re a boring place with a boring mayor, who gives speeches about boring crop yields in our boring town square.

I go to school every day just to hear about how interesting and great everywhere else is. And then, the year that I turned twelve, I discovered that I didn’t want anything to do with the options available to me in Pich. I didn’t want to be a farmer. I didn’t want to be a banker like my dad. I didn’t want to be a public speaker or a historian, I didn’t want to be a teacher or run a little shop. I wanted to be a Wizard.

 

Chapter 1

 

My name is Arturo Garcia Razz, but my friends all call me Art. I live with my mother, father, and my two little sisters. We’re not rich, we’re not poor. We’re fine. And looking back, things might have been a lot different if I could have just been okay with fine. Everything was so much simpler back then before I visited Kells.

That day, everything changed. That was the year our school took us on a daytrip to Kells. It was our first time ever getting to go. They wanted us to learn firsthand about the immeasurable power of magic and its positive effect on the world. Magic powered the energy cells we used in Pich, but that was pretty much the extent of our contact with gyro energy. I still remember my heart racing as we got closer to the Golden City. We’d never even been within fifty miles of Kells because there was never a need to be. Entry was very restricted because knowledge and use of magic was restricted. It wasn’t a vacation spot. If you weren’t somebody working to move humanity forward in the fields of magic, science or health, there was no reason for you to be there. The only way in was by invitation, having political status, or if you were a returning resident. But all schools in the Bodian Kingdom sent Twelfth Year students there for a day, and this was one day that didn’t feel like school. And even though I’d seen pictures of Kells in books before and projected footage, none of that did the real thing justice. Every brick on the immense stone walls dazzled in the sunlight, and once the gates opened to let us in, it was like walking into a completely different world. Buildings so tall, they seemed to merge with the clouds overhead. Sparkling waterfalls that cascaded down enormous crystal-like stones. More people darting from one place to another than I’d ever seen in Pich’s capitol. They all dressed differently, smelled differently, even spoke differently than we did in Pich. And even though Pich wasn’t a dirty province, Kells was the cleanest place I’d ever seen. Not a speck of dirt or piece of discarded trash in sight.  

I’d never felt so small, yet so full of wonder and hope for the future. This place was so foreign; yet simultaneously I knew this is where I belonged. I remember my friend Patra laughing at me because my mouth had been hanging open since the moment we entered the gates.

They took us to a winding, glass building called Kells Prime. It was the school for magic, where they escorted us to different  classrooms where kids my age where practicing the use of gyro energy. Our guide walked us through each floor, explaining to us how the training for all wizards began when they were children as early as three or four.

I remember feeling unbearably jealous. I felt like my life had been wasted thus far and it wasn’t fair that I had the misfortune of simply being born in the wrong place. Why should I be kept from learning magic simply because of where I was born? I asked the guide if there was a way for children like those of us in my class to become mages, and he told us that unfortunately we were already too old for the program, but not to feel bad because only one out of every one thousand people practiced magic. That only a quarter of those in Kells used magic. 

It was a life changing day, and all I could think about that night was the lie I’d been fed by adults my entire life. They tell you that you can be anything you want if you put your mind to it. But that wasn’t true. You can be a lot of things, but only a select few get to be wizards. I got out of my bed, walked over to my window, and looked up at the moons. I made a promise to myself that night. A promise on our twin moons that even if Kells wouldn’t let me in, I’d find another way to be a wizard. I’d show them all. The only thing I needed was to find a wizard to study.

But Pich was just a small non-magical province. It paled in comparison to Kells, the largest city in the Bodian Kingdom, the largest kingdom on Terranu. We didn’t have any wizards. There were mages in Bodia’s Crown Capitol, an impressive city floating hundreds of feet off the ground, one hundred miles to the north. It’s a place for Royals and people of high status, but people like me didn’t get to visit the capitol, so it might as well be another Kells.

Looking over my options in Pich, it wasn’t going to be easy. They talk about witches and warlocks who live far out in the sticks outside of the Bodian Kingdom, so that was also out of the question. The next option was the Church of Uhara. I’ve heard that the priests and priestesses who live in the temple in the eastern mountains learn a holy magic. But to become one of them means dedicating your life to the church, and I can barely stand going to our church once a week.

In the end, all of these options were hundreds of miles away, and I was twelve with no mode of transportation. Not to mention my mother was so over-protective that she’d tear the province apart if I was even a minute late for dinner. It definitely didn’t help that neither she nor anyone else in my family were very supportive of my newfound interest in Wizardry.

My little sisters never showed interest in anything I cared about, but they were three and five, so that wasn’t very surprising. My father was a banker, and money had to be the furthest thing from magic. He told me that my enthusiasm was a phase. 

Over dinner, my mom surprised me. She told me that my great-great-great uncle was the wizard of our province. That he had been specially chosen as a baby under special circumstances. This was all news to me.

“Wait! We have Wizards in Pich?” I asked, nearly spitting out my food. “Do we have one here right now? Since when?” 

“Every province in Bodia has a mage dispatched by the capitol. They advise the Mayor and the elders from time to time, keeping us current with necessary advancements and such. The current Mage is Axel Elrod. He’s a quiet, very polite older man, though he mostly keeps to himself.  But I’ve seen him at city council gatherings every once in a while.”

“We’ve had a wizard, all this time?” I asked in bewildered delight. “Nobody ever said anything in school!”

“Maybe you’ve never asked, silly boy.” My mother laughed. “I know you have this idea that wizards live some sort of charmed existence, but this isn’t the Age of the Ox. Magic has rules and regulations, just like anything else, and wizards have jobs, just like the rest of us.”

“Can I talk to him?” I asked, already going over possible conversations with Elrod in my mind.

“You don’t need to bother him,” she replied. “He lives alone near the east border of the province. I’m sure he likes to be left alone, living way out there. But if we see him in town, you can approach him and ask all the questions you have if he has time for them. Deal?” 

“Deal…”

 

Chapter 2

 

After I finished dinner, I rushed to my room to make a private call my friend Patra and make plans. We didn’t have school the next day, so this was my chance to sneak over to Axel Elrod’s place. 

Patra was my oldest friend. She was always getting into trouble with me, though my mom liked to joke that she only came along to try and keep me out of trouble. At least as much as she could anyway.  Her parents worked at same bank as my father, so we grew up spending a lot of time together. To be honest, I often wonder why she hangs out with me. I was always trying to dig something up that shouldn’t be dug, climb to somewhere that I had no business climbing, exploring places that were off limits. And those things didn’t seem to interest her at all. The adventures were always my idea. Still, she was my willing accomplice, if only as an attempt to talk me out of it. Sure enough, she agreed to join me on a trip to Elrod’s. 

The next day, I scarfed down breakfast and told my mom that I was heading over to Patra’s to play some games. She gave suspecting smirk, before telling me to be home in time for dinner.

I met up with Patra at Capel Park, our favorite meeting spot. All the playground equipment was old and broken down. Most kids never went there, which made it the best spot in town to brainstorm without being bothered by others. I was drawing trees in the sandbox with a stick, when Patra pulled up on her hover scooter. She always got all the cool stuff because she was an only child. I hopped on the back, and we made our way through the forest back trails towards the east border.

“So what are you going to say when we get there?” Patra asked.

“I’m gonna get him to train me of course,” I said confidently

“That’s your plan?” she said with exasperation. “And why would he teach you?”

“Because I’m smart, obviously. I’m top of our class. I learn quick, and I read that all wizards are able to take on one apprentice of their choosing.”

“I see you’ve been doing your wizard homework. Ever since we left Kells, you’ve been obsessed. Why the wizard thing all of a sudden?”

“What’s not to like?” I said, picturing myself in a robe from Kells Prime, waving a staff. “Are you saying you wouldn’t want to open doors between dimensions, cast spells, hurl fireballs?”

“Nobody in Kells throws fireballs!” she laughed. “That stuff only happens in books. But I think I know why.  Why you really want it.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said as she took a sharp right turn. “I think you started wanting it once you found out that people like us aren’t allowed to do it. It’s against the rules, and if there’s one thing you hate, it’s the rules. “

“I don’t hate all the rules. Just the dumb ones,” I replied.

“One of these days, it’s gonna get you in trouble. I won’t always be around to keep you from doing anything too stupid.”

“Oh please. You’d get so bored without me,” I said, leaning back and throwing up my arms to brush against the leaves of the trees that drooped over our path.

Thirty minutes later, we saw the silver mountains that marked the east border. At the base of one of the smaller mountains sat a little windowless, white house surrounded by red hollowtail trees. There was no fence or gate, just two large stones that stood about ten feet tall erected on either side of the front porch. I thought the house looked surprisingly plain for someone as impressive as a wizard. We parked the hover scooter and began walking towards the front door. As we got closer, I saw that the stones had strange writing engraved all over them, but it was in some language I couldn’t read.

“What are you going to do if he’s not home?” Patra asked.

I stopped for a second. I hadn’t considered that.

“You didn’t even know he existed until a day ago,” she continued. “What if you’re not the first smug kid to just show up on his doorstep demanding training?”

“Thanks for waiting until we got here to throw out all these doubts,” I joked. “Obviously if he’s not here, we’ll just wait. Plus I hear he doesn’t get out often.”

“Just don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t want to teach you, Art,” Patra said with sincerity.

“Why are you so negative, right now?” I said with a sigh. She always did that. Trying to break my fall before I even had a chance to jump.

“Because you don’t ever think anything all the way through. Remember when you tried to raise that wild baby Lither in secret?” she reminded me.

“He was so cute when he was little though!” I said, remembering all the blood gushing from my leg after it bit me. My mother was furious. So furious that I wasn’t allowed to go outside for two months, except for school.

“You always get so disappointed when things don’t go your way in the end. I just wanna prepare you… We don’t always get everything we want. That’s part of life, Art.”

“Yeah thanks, mom.” I teased. ”And what do you know about not getting everything you want? You have a hover scooter.”

“Hey!” she started, but I interrupted her by knocking on Elrod’s door.

We stepped back and waited. I wouldn’t admit it to Patra, but she was right. In my mind Elrod would be so quickly impressed with me that he’d immediately take me as an apprentice. Then, I’d become a wizard. Anything else was just too mundane for me now. I was leagues ahead of the rest of my class in school and tested high above average for my age. I wanted a real challenge. If given the chance, I was confident I could do this.

But then… nothing.

We waited about thirty seconds, before I knocked again. Still nothing. And then, even though I knew it was a terrible idea, I put my hand on the door knob.

“Art, what are you doing?!” Patra whispered aggressively.

“I just want to check—“ I started but stopped when to my surprise, I felt a click. I took a deep breath, turned the knob the rest of the way, and gently pushed forward.

“Art!” Patra tried but it was too late. I was already peeking into the crack I’d made.

“Hello?” I said, slowly pushing forward and widening the crack. “Mr. Elrod? My name is Arturo Garcia Razz. I just had a few questions I was hoping you could help me with.” 

There was no answer. Patra grabbed my left hand with both of hers. I inched forward, and she crept behind me. Stepping over the threshold, I was taken aback by how different the inside was from the plain exterior. The upper part of walls and ceiling were painted like the cosmos, only the images of stars and planets were shifting very slowly from right to left down the hallway. Beneath the stars, numerous shelves stuffed with books covered a large portion of the walls. The bookshelves also stretched on either side down the hallway. There were no windows, and the place was very dimly lit. Tiny orbs of light swayed from side to side at each corner of the ceiling above.

“Art, we should go. We could get in so much trouble,” Patra pleaded again. I could feel her hands trembling, and even though almost everything inside me agreed with her. I couldn’t shake my curiosity. I kept moving forward with Patra in tow.

We reached the living area and found it littered with strange devices and contraptions the likes of which I’d never seen. Oddest of them all was a large, pitch black box placed in the center of the floor. These walls were also covered with bookshelves, leading to a small dining area in the right corner. In that dark corner sat a small table, and next to the table sat a small chair, and sitting in that small chair was Axel Elrod.

We stopped in our tracks. Frozen, we said nothing. We just stared, waiting for him to react. But he still sat there at the table, with his hands crossed in his lap and his head drooped.

He was a very elderly looking man who was very bald and had a very white beard that trailed down into his lap.

I licked my dry lips. “Mr. Elrod?” I muttered sheepishly. Still no reply. “Mr. Elrod, my name is Arturo. I know we shouldn’t have let ourselves in, but I had some questions… Mr. Elrod?” He didn’t move or speak.

As we reached him I realized that he wasn’t making any noises either. No snoring. No breathing. The house was silent. I reached out and tapped his shoulder. His body shifted, then fell over on the floor. Patra screamed and leapt back, pulling me with her. I lost my footing and fell to the floor.

Mr. Elrod returned to absolute stillness. I hopped up and put my ear to his chest. There was no beat. I looked to Patra in horror.

“He’s dead! Holy, holy, he’s dead!” I said, jumping up and staggering backwards.

“Art, we have to go,” Patra cried shakily, an expression of disbelief on her face. “We’re going to be in so much trouble!” 

“Trouble for what?” I said, trying and failing to keep my cool. “We didn’t do anything. We just found him here.” 

“Yes we found him… after breaking into his house!”

“Pat, we can’t just leave him.” I protested. “Who knows how long he’s been like this?”

“Art, don’t dead animals smell? I don’t smell anything! Maybe he hasn’t been dead for that long. Let’s just go and get the guard! We can tell them we thought we heard a noise inside or something, but we shouldn’t be here.”

“I don’t want to just leave him like this though.” I said. “You stay here, and I’ll run and get the guard, okay?”

“I am not staying alone with a dead body!” she shouted hysterically.

“Fine, I’ll stay.”

“Art!”

“Just go, and I’ll stay here,” I said, looking down at Elrod. An overwhelming sense of gloom washed over me. “He must have had a family, Pat. He was someone to somebody, and right now, that somebody is somewhere, thinking he’s perfectly fine. I can’t just leave him alone. It doesn’t feel right.”

Patra let out a long frustrated sigh and ran out the house. I heard the hum of her hover scooter fade as she headed toward town. Once she left, I sat down on the floor beside Elrod’s chair and let my heart settle. I was shaking a bit. I’d never seen a dead body before. It was more than a little scary.

He looked pretty old. Did he pass of old age peacefully in his sleep? Even though he had a calm look on his face, I felt uneasy, so I got up and pulled the tablecloth off to cover him. Ten minutes passed since Patra left, and I started pacing around the living room nervously. That’s when I found my gaze drawn back to the black box. It stood about two feet tall and two feet wide on all sides. The color confused my eyes. It didn’t reflect light. It was just pure, perfect blackness.

I walked over and touched it. A strange sensation came over me, as light vibrations buzzed through my arm. I kneeled down and put my hands on either side of the top. I wanted to see if it opened. To my surprise, my fingers sunk in and disappeared. My eyes widened, and I quickly yanked my fingers out. When I looked them over, everything appeared fine. I took a deep breath and shoved my whole hand into the darkness. A moment later, my entire arm disappeared into the void. Then, my fingers touched what seemed to be a bottom. I felt around and brushed across something small, cold, and round. I pulled it out. It looked like some sort of blue marble. Just like the box, it didn’t reflect light. Unimpressed, I dropped it back inside. 

The box itself was more of a mystery. I wrapped my arms around it and tried to pick it up. The pressure of my hands made the box start to cave in on itself, and it began to shrink. Astonished, I stood up and circled it. Each side was now a few inches smaller. I don’t know why I was so surprised to find a magical artifact in the home of a wizard. I stooped back down and pressed against the box again. It kept shrinking. I squeezed until it was only an inch tall. Taking the tiny box into my palm, I was even more surprised to find that it weighed less than the marble I’d dropped inside. Curious, I set it back on the ground and pried at the corners. It began to grow. I kept pulling until it was as tall and wide as my arms could reach. 

It was incredible. I remember thinking to myself, This would make cleaning my room so easy, and I shouldn’t have thought that thought, because that thought led to another, much worse thought. 

I shrunk the box back down to its original size and rushed over to one of the bookcases. I pulled out a book, which read The New Age Guide to Elemental Manipulation: Vol. 7. In other words, Magic. I ran to another shelf and pulled out another book: Psychic Structure Analysis. All these books had to do with magic mastery, and there were hundreds of them. Some of it must have been pretty advanced stuff. Journals from magicians long dead, firsthand accounts of the creations of new spells, stories of legendary witches by the mages who battled them, experimental theories—it was all here. There was no way I’d ever have access to something like this ever again.

Then, I looked over at Mr. Elrod, his body still sprawled on the floor. The only thing covering him was a tablecloth. He wasn’t even in his grave, and I was standing in his home, thinking about how to steal from him. I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t ashamed enough. I walked over to his body and said a small prayer over him, wishing his soul peace and hoping he would understand what I was about to do.

“I promise that once I’m done, I’ll give it all back,” I whispered. 

And with that, I began robbing a dead man. My mother would have smacked me senseless with her shoe if she knew. I could hardly believe what I was doing. I tossed a few books inside the box and picked it up, preparing to shrink it down to pocket-size, but I noticed the weight hadn’t changed at all. Putting it back down, I reached inside. I could feel the books at the bottom, but somehow they seemed far away, as if they weren’t taking up any space inside the box. I thought about this for a second, then grabbed another handful of books and deposited them inside the box.  I reached in, and they felt as far away as the last time. I took a moment to try and wrap my mind around what had happened. Just how much space was inside this box? Was it infinite? 

I decided to put the theory to the test as I dashed from bookshelf to bookshelf, snatching books and flinging them into the box. But no matter how many I threw inside, the box never filled. My hands and feet seemed to move on their own, while my brain busily justified the thievery. It took me only six minutes to get every book inside. Then, I shrunk it down to the size of an acorn and shoved it in my pocket. 

I’d done it. I stared at the empty bookshelves. What had I done? I tried to talk myself into putting it all back, but I couldn’t bring myself to. This was my chance. I walked over to the chair by Mr. Elrod’s body and waited.

The next few hours were a blur. The province guard returned with Patra. They told me to join her outside while they took the body. Then, they questioned us, and we told them we happened to be walking by when we heard a noise from inside the house. The guard took us home. Next thing I knew, I was at the dinner table with my family, like any other night.

My mom was giving me a suspicious look. “So you two just happened to be strolling by Axel Elrod’s home today?” she asked with a look that showed she doubted the coincidence. 

“Yeah,” I lied. 

“Well that’s a real shame,” my father said. “I only met him a couple of times. Didn’t say much, but he seemed like a really decent man. I suppose he’s at peace now.”

With that we continued dinner as normal, except I spent the entire meal avoiding my mother’s gaze. She always knew how to stare straight into my soul, and though I knew she didn’t think we had anything to do with Mr. Elrod’s death, I knew she suspected there might be something I wasn’t telling her. Of course, she had no idea about the black box, but I still wolfed down my meal and excused myself quickly to my room.

I immediately locked the door. Breathing heavily, I checked my pocket and felt it. The box was still there. I set it on the floor, quickly enlarged it and reached through the lid. I lined a couple books up on the floor. I really got away with it. A big smile came over my face. My feelings of triumph overpowered any feelings of guilt.

After all, Elrod was dead now. And on this of all days, I just so happened to visit him. Me of all people. It was almost as if he had spiritually passed his knowledge down to me. That’s what I told myself anyway, and over the next few days I categorized and cataloged all the books. 

Magic was no joke. His library had contained many different types of books, and only about a quarter of them had to do with schooling or anything resembling the basic principles of magic. Old man Elrod wasn’t holding onto beginners’ course materials. Still, at least a handful of texts appeared to be from Kells Prime’s accelerated curriculums.

As I examined the pages, I found that most had writing on them by Mr. Elrod himself. Personal notes had been scribbled into the blank margins and spaces in-between printed information. As I read these scattered comments, I felt like I was getting to know him, if only a little.

I was able to see his private thoughts on magic. The things he thought were efficient or wasteful, brilliant or stupid. Some of it seemed to deal with politics and other adult problems that went a bit over my head, but a lot of what I could understand really helped break down more complex magical concepts. It was like having a translator, or personal teacher, right beside me.

Some notes were pretty funny. Sometimes he would write long rants spread out over several pages whenever something made him cross. Other times, he seemed a bit scatterbrained.  He would jot down recipes for meals he wanted to cook later. There were times and dates of appointments he had coming up, as well as people’s names and detailed opinions about them. These little additions popped up in almost every book and seemed to have been written over most of his life, which made sense. It must have taken a lifetime to assemble this collection. A collection that now belonged to me.

 

Chapter 3

 

Days passed like mere moments, and before I knew it, several months had gone by. The first couple of weeks, I kept expecting the Province Guard to come knocking on our door because they’d discovered what I’d done, but nobody ever came, so I decided to stop worrying about it.

I still hadn’t told Patra. I was waiting for the right opportunity. I needed to treat a reveal like this with delicacy. For a while, we would just do typical things when we hung out. I owed her that much.  And it made her happy. After our last big upsetting adventure, the last thing she needed was to freak out and scold me for stealing Elrod’s things. I figured that if I gave us a few months of normalcy, she’d be much more likely to come around, especially if I had something spectacular and magical to show for all our trouble.

But I also couldn’t fall behind in school, or that might give me away. So every night, after finishing my homework, I buried myself into the mysteries within the black box. Even though I had no formal teacher and this wasn’t exactly a school curriculum, I was still a quick study. With Elrod’s notes to guide me, I was able to bridge a lot of the gaps myself. It meant hours of extra reading each night, leaving just enough time to get just enough sleep. Reciting and repeating incantations over and over again while meditating. Learning about the wide spectrum of energy types that existing between all living things and how to tap into them. The basic principal of magic is to combine a bit of the gyro energy within yourself with a little gyro energy from the world and issue a command that creates something new. 

Apparently, a lot of mages used an enchanted object, such as a wand or a staff, to help them cast spells. The enchanted object had gyro energy stored inside of it, which the user could substitute for their own, leading to some kind of enhanced spell casting. I didn’t have one of these objects so I had to use my own energy for anything I casted. It was very draining. Unlike other magic students, I hadn’t been learning to gather energy my whole life, so my reserves were very weak.

But I’ll never forget when I cast my first spell. I was able to make the water in a glass spin in a mini vortex. I was so excited. It was such a small thing but it made me feel like a master of the art. But it also took everything out of me. I almost passed out over it, breathless but overjoyed. Most of my first attempts were equally sloppy. I didn’t have any books on rationing or provisioning my energy, so I had to learn the hard way. But slowly I began to learn the basics of conjuring energy, light manipulation, and even levitation. 

Still, I had barely scratched the surface. Despite my best efforts, casting all these spells left me noticeably tired. I was still ahead of the rest of my class, but I’d started to doze off during lessons. My mom also noticed my low energy. Then, there was the fact that I couldn’t wait to rush off to my room after dinner every night. I was beginning to run out of believable excuses, and she knew I wasn’t going out very much anymore.

So did Patra. She called often. Sometimes I would go hang out, but I was making up excuses half the time, so I could stay in and study magic. After about half a year had passed, I decided one night that I would tell her after school the next day. It was the dead of winter now. I’d been staring at the clock after finishing a test on Bodian war history early. I was going over the conversation I’d have with Patra in my mind when Professor Guild told everyone to pause for a moment, because he had a special surprise for us.

“I’m sure all of you remember several months ago the big ceremony we had honoring our late Province Wizard, Axel Elrod. I was surprised to hear that many of you were unaware that we even had a wizard for our province. It’s true, he wasn’t a very social person, but he looked after us, and he’ll be deeply missed. That being said, I don’t want you lot to be as unaware as you were before. The Crown has designated a new mage for our province, and I asked her to come by and say a few words. Everybody say hello to Miss Ye!” 

He pointed to the door, and a woman walked in. She was dressed in bright red, wore stylized glasses, and had puffy yellow hair that reached out in multiple directions. She looked around the classroom with a big smile on her face.

“Greetings, everyone. I’m Miss Ye, your new Province Mage. I wanted to personally come out and meet all of you. I hear old man Elrod never really came out, and I wanted to start things differently. I know the old bean wasn’t the most social person, but he was a good man, a great mentor. and an even better friend. I’m proud to take his place. So if any of you ever want to talk, you’re always welcome to come see me. I love kids, I really do.  I promise I won’t cook you.” 

She gave an obnoxious laugh. “I’m just kidding. Of course, I’ll cook you!” She snorted, very amused with her own joke. “Obviously I’m joking. Please come on by any time.” Then, with an awkward wave, she exited the room. 

Patra and I exchanged puzzled looks and then giggled.  Miss Ye wasn’t what any of us expected when we thought of a wizard, but she seemed nice enough.

I decided that I would have to visit her this weekend, but first it was time to show Patra what I had learned. I told her to meet me at our special spot after school: Capel Park. When she arrived, I did my best to hide my nervousness. I’d been mentally preparing myself for the possibility that she might be mad. I had to win her over with my newfound skills.

“So are you going to finally tell me why you’ve been avoiding me lately?” she asked.

“Yes. Wait no,” I replied, reaching into my pocket. “I haven’t been avoiding you. I’ve been busy, but yes.  That’s why I brought you here.”

“Good,” she said, pulling her collar up. “Well, make it quick. It’s freezing out here.” 

“Okay, here goes.” I pulled the box out and held it up to her. “Do you know what this is?” I asked mysteriously.

Patra made an annoyed face. “You know I don’t. ”

“Well, check this out!” I said with an exaggerated wave of my arms for added dramatic flair. Then, I enlarged the box and put it on the ground.

“Well that’s new,” Patra said, wide-eyed. The look of awe only lasted for a moment, and then her eyes narrowed. “Wait a minute. This looks familiar. What is it?”

I reached in and pulled out one of the books, which she yanked out of my hand before reading the cover aloud.

Quantum Dimensional Vessel Theory? Art, tell me this isn’t what I think it is!”

“That all depends on what you think it is,” I said, my smile trailing into a wince.

“I think I remember seeing a black box like this at old man Elrod’s place, and this is a book about magic,” she said with a growing intensity. “So what I think this is, what I think this means, is that you robbed a dead man when I went into town to alert the guard that day!” 

“No! Well yes but hold on—“ I started, but she cut me off.

“I can’t believe you, Art!” she shouted in disgust. “Is that why you asked me to leave the house? So you could rob him?”

“No, it’s not like that! It’s not like I planned this!”

“Yeah, but you did it!” she barked, throwing the book back at me.

“Remember how I tried to get you to stay first? You didn’t want to stay, so when you left, I just started looking around and the next thing I knew…”

“You were stealing. Stealing!”

“I didn’t steal it like that!”

“Oh didn’t you?” she raged. “What other way is there to steal something? Did you take something that didn’t belong to you? Something that was the property of someone else? Did you take it in secret and hide it?”

“Well, by that definition I…“ I began.

“There’s only one definition, Art! Just multiple excuses for doing it. I swear this is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done! Books on magic are government authorized. Regular people aren’t even allowed to touch them, and you took one home with you!”

She paced back and forth for a moment, muttering under her breath. I just stood there quietly. Admittedly, this had gone much worse than I’d anticipated. After she stomped a small trench in the snow between us, she stopped and let out a sigh.

“I’m sorry for shouting. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to you, Art. This is serious. That box is a magic artifact, and that book might be cataloged somewhere. How long before you think somebody figures out?”

“Books,” I muttered.

“Excuse me?” she said slowly.

“I may… have taken more than one book.”

“How many books did you take, Art?”

I hesitated. “Six hundred thirty-seven.”

Patra threw her arms up and dragged her fingers down her face in frustration.

“But wait, wait!” I said, moving the box aside. “Just look at this!” I held out my hand and meditated on a simple matter-collection incantation. I gathered the snow from around our feet and began to collect it in a large mass between us. Then, I used a replication spell to have it take on Patra’s shape. In moments, I had formed a lifelike snow-replica of Patra.

I took a deep breath, feeling the drain on my body. This was the biggest construct I’d made to date. Patra stood there, eyes wide and mouth ajar, her snow replica staring back at her.

“Like it?” I said with a self-satisfied smile. “Pretty good likeness, huh? Though I did add the smile. Nobody likes a frowning snowman, er, woman.”

“You really did it,” she whispered, touching the sculpture’s cheek. “You did magic. Art, this is amazing.”

“Yeah, and it took me a long time to even get this far,” I said, walking around the sculpture, looking it over, quite impressed with my own work.

“So all those days when you fell asleep in class?” she asked.

“It’s because I was at home learning this,” I said. “I don’t have everything they have in the schools, so I had to fill in the blanks myself. Elrod had some really advanced books, so I had my work cut out for me.”

“Art, this really is impressive. There, I said it. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong to steal the books. There’s a consequence for everything, even if you don’t see it yet. Just because you were able to learn all this doesn’t change the fact that it’s still illegal to practice magic without a permit by the Crown. That was the first thing they taught us in Kells. So what are you going to do, become a secret wizard? Always looking over your shoulder? What good is this power if you have to hide it?”

“I hadn’t really thought that far ahead,” I admitted.

“That’s a big surprise,” she said, rolling her eyes.

Then, a sharp pain shot through my left leg. It was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. I yelled, falling over, and grabbed my leg.

“What’s wrong?” Patra darted to my side.

I pulled my pant leg up to look at my leg. The pain faded quickly as I rubbed from my knee to my calf. I didn’t see any cut or bruise. I moved my foot around to see if it might trigger any unusual feeling, but the pain was gone.

“I must have pulled something running over here,” I said, standing back up. “It’s nothing… But please don’t tell anybody else about the magic. You’re the only person I’ve told. I just didn’t want to lie to you anymore.”

Even though she let me have it moments earlier, I still felt relieved. It never felt right to leave Patra out of something so important to me. She smiled. I could tell that, even though she was disappointed in me, she was pleased that I had confided in her.

“You didn’t even tell your family?” she asked.

I laughed. “Especially not my family. If my mom found out, she’d make me disappear like magic.”

We both laughed and began our walk back home. Patra told me she would keep trying to talk me out of using magic, but she would also keep my secret. 

That day’s spell took so much out of me that I fell fast asleep right after dinner. I had the strangest dream. I found myself in a forest in the dead of night. The trees, so tall they blocked out the sky, spread out in every direction. In the distance I could see a faint blue light, but no matter how I ran toward it, I never got any closer. A faint voice called out from the direction of the light, but it was too far to make out the words. I woke up the next morning, puzzled over the dream, but shortly put it in the back of my mind. I needed to prepare for a trip to see Miss Ye.

After some begging and the promise of returning it without a scratch, Patra let me borrow her hover scooter. With that, I sped to the mage house. My anticipation was so great that the cold wind whipping across my face barely bothered me. 

All this changed when I pulled up to the house. A sudden uneasy feeling gripped me as I dismounted the scooter outside the house. The last time I was here, both terrible and wonderful things happened. Today, everything was covered in snow. Still, the trees, engraved stones, and house all looked the same. Here I was, back again to try and find a master to take me under their wing. Miss Ye seemed to be an energetic and positive person. I had a much better chance of becoming her apprentice than with Axel Elrod.

I walked up and readied to knock on the door when I heard a sing-song voice from behind me.

“There’s nobody in there.”

I turned to see Miss Ye, her hair braided down and her body wrapped in a thick, red fur coat. She still had the same big smile stretched across her face.

“There’s nobody in there because I’m out here.” She chuckled to herself. “How may I help you, young man?”

I started to reply but she cut me off, snapping as her eyes widened. “I remember you! You were at the school yesterday. Twelfth-year class, right?” she asked.

“Yeah, you stopped by my class,” I said a bit nervously. “I figured I’d come by to say hello.” 

“You came all the way out here just to say hello?” she said suspiciously, stepping towards me.

“Um, yeah” I replied, unsure of how to answer her question.

“Well, hello there,” she said cheerfully, before walking past me, opening the door, entering the house, and closing it behind her.

I stood there confused for a moment, staring at the door, when she opened it again and giggled.

“I’m just fooling around. Come on in out of the cold,” she said, seeming very amused with herself before disappearing down the hallway. I followed her and shut the door.  I was surprised to see that the inside was now completely redecorated. All the bookshelves that used to line the walls were nowhere to be seen, and the paintings of the stars and planets had been replaced with some very colorful and exotic patterns. Interweaving reds and yellows stretched out up the walls and onto the ceiling where they dissipated into another moving painting. This one depicted a winged woman, wrapped in white sheets, soaring through a sky filled with thick, grandiose clouds. Numerous, bright orbs rotated around the ceiling, illuminating everything.  Her style was so far removed from Axel Elrod’s, they could have been from two different planets.

“Would you like some green leaf tea, Arturo?” Miss Ye called from the living room. Once I entered, I saw there was a large stone in the center of the floor where the black box had once sat. It looked like a smaller version of the large stones that stood in front of the house. There was similar mysterious writing carved into its surface.

“I’ve actually never had it before” I said, gawking at the changed decor. “But I like tea, so I’ll try some. Thank you.”

Then, my attention wavered when I realized she had called me by name. I hadn’t to introduce myself yet.

“Wait, how did you know my name?” I asked.

“I know who you are, Arturo Garcia Razz,” she started, her gaze still on the tea she was pouring. “I confess, I knew who you were before I even entered the classroom yesterday. After all, this isn’t your first time here, correct?”

My heart skipped a beat. Did she know about the books? Was this the end of my magical secret? I forced myself to answer as casually as possible, giving a truthful, slightly stuttering reply.

“Yes—I mean no… I was the one who found Axel Elrod. My friend, Patra, and I were passing by that day.”

“Yes, we know,” Miss Ye continued, stirring the tea. She still hadn’t looked up. “The stones outside are enchanted. They capture everything outside that happens within a five-mile radius and sends that information back to Kells, where it’s monitored. All mages are requested to have a stone inside the house as well, to monitor us in case something unfortunate should ever happen. But old Axel was adamant about not being monitored throughout the day. He said it made him uneasy. Because he had a deep relationship with Chris McKly, he was granted special permission to operate without an indoor stone.” She finished stirring, picked up the two cups, headed in my direction. 

“As you can see, I’m not allotted such privileges.” She nodded towards the stone on the floor.

In my head I was screaming. Patra was right. I was so stupid. If that stone had been inside here, I would have been caught. Who knows what would have happened to me afterwards? Even though my face was burning red, I tried my best to keep my cool and stay straight-faced when she handed me the tea.

“But you found him,” she continued, giving me a soft smile. “I want to thank you for that. He didn’t get out much as a young man, let alone as an elderly one. And he didn’t check in with Kells very often, so it could have been weeks before anyone found him. I’m glad you came when you did. You even stayed with him while your friend went to get the guard. You didn’t have to look after him like that.”

“Yeah,” I said in a small voice, feeling pretty low when I thought about what I ended up doing. “I just didn’t think he should be left alone.”

Miss Ye burst into a fit of laughter, throwing her head back and scaring me just a bit.

“I’m sorry, Arturo. I probably shouldn’t be laughing. It’s not funny, but at the same time it is. The irony is that Axel actually preferred to be left alone. I don’t feel too bad for laughing, knowing if he were here, he’d sarcastically make the same observation. He found true peace in solitude. Sometimes I felt like a nuisance the way I bugged him as a child, but he was patient and always humored me. You see I was his apprentice, and I know I drove him wild. Some days, I simply couldn’t fathom why he chose me of all people.” 

There was a look of contentment in her eyes as she reminisced. She was quiet for a second before she seemed to blink away the past. Her attention returned to me. “But I’m going on and on. Please sit. I know you came here for a reason.”

She motioned towards two chairs near the stone. I planted myself in one, and she sat opposite me.

“So what’s on your mind?” she asked before taking a sip of tea.

“I heard that any wizard can take an apprentice of their choosing. I was wondering if I might study under you,” I asked.

She raised an eyebrow before taking another sip of tea. “Well I’m flattered, Arturo. You do know that wizards are generally trained from a very young age, right? It’s quite the life-consuming process. And unless you’re someone like the Arch or Grand Mage, it’s not as simple as just taking on any random person as an apprentice. There are a grueling string of tests and proceedings that must take place before one is even eligible for an apprenticeship. Not to mention your age. I’m not saying it’s impossible. It’s just extremely rare for someone to start learning magic at your age.”

“But there’s still a chance?” I asked, holding onto every smidge of hope I could.

“Never say never,” she answered. “But in this case, I have to say never. You see, I already have an apprentice. She’s back at Kells for a year on a special assignment.

My hearts sank and my head dropped.  I stared into the tea. My pitiful looking reflection looked back at me from the lightly steaming liquid.

“What brought this on though?” Ye asked. “Why do you want to be a wizard of all things?”

“Is there anything you’d rather be?” I said, scraping my finger on the side of the cup and slouching. This disappointment weighed on me as I tried to sink into the chair.

“Fair enough,” Ye replied. “Yes, I love my life as a mage, but this is all I’ve ever known. I was bred to be a wizard, Arturo.”

“So you’re saying it wasn’t your choice?” I asked.

“Everyone in Kells learns the basic principles of magic in primary school. Once we reach a certain age, we’re given the choice to continue our magic studies or to pursue other academic ventures. So yes, I was given a choice, but magic has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. But I’m glad to be a wizard. It’s led me here to be with all of you. Everyone in Pich has been so nice so far.”

“Yeah they’re great.” I muttered dismissively. “But the world is so much bigger than Pich. I don’t want to grow up just to be stuck here working a job in Pich my whole life.”

“And you don’t have to, Arturo,” she reassured me. “You have your whole life ahead of you. You aren’t limited to just the place you grew up. You can be anything.”

“Anything except a wizard,” I said.

“Hey, look at me,” she said seriously. I looked up from the tea. She gave me a melancholy but sincere smile. “Don’t give up on life just because one door out of thousands is closed to you. Chin up, ok?”

I gave her as much of a smile as I could muster. I realized it wasn’t her fault, and she was just trying to make me feel better. She wasn’t the enemy here.

  We finished our tea and she told me some stories about Kells and her apprenticeship to Axel Elrod. We talked for several hours before I made my way home. Once I got back, I once again became overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness. I stared at the box with a scowl on my face. It wasn’t fair. I had everything I needed to be a wizard. Only, nobody was willing to give me a chance. I couldn’t show anyone what I’d learned without getting in trouble. My entire world was full of people who just didn’t understand my potential and had no idea how great I could be if given the opportunity. But these feelings of anger only fueled my resolve. I decided then that I would study twice as hard. This way, I would be ready when I finally found the means to become a wizard. Everyone else thought I wasn’t capable based on the failures of others. I’d find a way to prove them all wrong. 

 

Chapter 4

 

In the blink of an eye, a whole year had passed by since I’d visited Kells.

By this point, my skills had improved quite a bit, but it wasn’t without cost. My body was feeling sore all over, especially in recent months. My leg hurt most of all. It would go from being completely numb to feeling like pins and needles were pricking at it. I’d been training myself nonstop, so I took this as the growing pains of learning magic. 

The dream of the forest and the blue light had also started becoming more frequent. Only now it seemed like, with each dream, I actually found myself getting closer and closer to the light. The voice was also becoming more audible every other dream. I could almost make out what it was saying. I’d kept these dreams to myself, same as I did my training. As curious as it made me, I didn’t know if it was related to me learning magic or not, and it seemed harmless enough. Magic had turned into such a big obsession that I was no longer paying attention to my own wellbeing.  This did not go unnoticed by my mother.

Keeping quiet could only work for so long. The skin of my face had started to grow unusually pale, and I’d been walking with a slight limp. When my mom asked about it, I told her that I bumped into something. I thought the pain would fade, but on the third day, it got even worse. She kept me from school and took me to the doctor.

I remember sitting in a room with my mother after the doctors had run some tests. This visit was taking longer than any I’d ever had before. I wasn’t too worried though. I figured the doctor would give me some terrible-tasting drink and tell me to get some extra sleep.  I remember tapping my foot impatiently. All I could think about was returning home and finishing the incantation I’d been working on, when the doctor returned. He had a very serious look on his face.

“I have some very serious news for you, Arturo. I’m very glad you came in when you did. Even a month later, and we could be having an entirely different conversation.” He held up a scan of my body that had several different points highlighted. “We did some charting, and we found tumors in your brain, and they’ve spread to your leg, your liver, lungs, heart, and spine.”

My mother gasped and dropped her bag. I just stared back at the doctor, confused.

“What’s a tumor?” I asked. I’d never heard of something like this.

“It’s a cancerous growth. A mass growing inside your body. These ones shouldn’t be there, and they’re very dangerous. I’ll be honest with you. Though I know of cancer, it’s extremely rare in Bodia. I’ve seen a couple of minor cases over the years, but I’ve never seen this many tumors. Still, I was unaware that it could be this accelerated, especially for someone so young. At the rate that the tumors growing… Well, like I said, I’m glad you came when you did, so we can seek out treatment.” 

“What treatment? Is he going to need surgery?” In spite of trying to keep her composure, my mother was starting to shake.

“Surgery might be an option, but at this stage, it could be too dangerous.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small clip. “We have a treatment we’re going to give you for now. We attach this clip to the nose, and it releases micro-parasites that enter the body. These parasites seek out and attack foreign bodies. This is, by no means, a cure, but our hope is that it can keep the tumors from spreading. In the meantime, we will schedule an appointment for you at the Kells Health and Research Center first thing in the morning.”

He positioned the clip around one of my nostrils and secured it painlessly. Then, he instructed my mother to put me to bed immediately.  After she rushed me home, she left to get my father and sisters. I sent a message to Patra, letting her know to come by after school because I had some important news. Then, I just stared at the ceiling in confusion. 

Cancer? I was a wizard now. Who ever heard of a sick wizard? My only comfort was the thought of going to Kells in the morning. If anyone could fix me, the wizards of Kells could. I was so confident in this that I actually stopped worrying about it. Even so, the parasite clip began to take effect, and it was extremely unpleasant. An extreme queasy feeling overcame my body. It made me throw up twice before my family returned.

Once they came back, it was a bit of a mad house. My dad didn’t know how to react. He brought a chair in and tried his best to make conversation about nothing in particular. He kept asking how I was feeling and rubbing my shoulders and telling me he was sure I’d be alright. He must have been trying to comfort himself as much as he was trying to comfort me, because I could feel him shaking. My dad never seemed worried about anything, so I felt very uneasy seeing him like that. Meanwhile, my sisters could only gather that I was sick, so they kept bringing cups filled with different juices, telling me to drink up and feel better.  It was pretty cute and made me laugh.

After school hours ended, I received a message from Patra. Her parents were taking her on a family trip, and she wouldn’t be back till next week. I told her not to worry, that I’d most likely be all better by then.

Due to the overall discomfort of the clip, it took me several hours to finally fall asleep. Eventually, I drifted away from consciousness. That night, the woods dream returned, only this time it was much different. The guiding light was no longer faint, but now much closer and very pronounced. The light glowed around what looked like the outline of a small castle. The voice that emitted from it was very clear. Deep and gruff, it boomed from the castle: “Find me boy!”

 

Chapter 5

 

I opened my eyes the next morning and was greeted by an assembly of aches. I cringed and hobbled my way out of bed, reminding myself that the pain was only temporary. After getting dressed, my mother cooked breakfast, but I just couldn’t stomach any food. I drank two glasses of juice instead. Then, we made our way to our doctor’s office. They had an express shuttle waiting for us and we immediately set out for the Kells Health and Research Center. I’d gotten so little sleep the night before that I slept the whole way there.

Upon arriving in Kells, I was excited to see the colossal Tower of Elders, connected to the research center in the city center. They were taking us to the gathering place for all the high mages. Chris McKly lived there. Still, it was bittersweet. I’d read up on this place in great detail. To go was a dream come true, only I wouldn’t get to do any exploring. I finally had a chance to be near true legends, but I wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of it.

The doctors led me to a room full of screens that displayed a lot of numbers and terms that I couldn’t understand. They had me strip to my underwear and lie in a large tub of warm green gel. The gel was actually very soothing to my muscles. I would have appreciated it more if I wasn’t surrounded by a bunch of adults. They shuffled around me, muttering to each other. The whole event made me very nervous, and it went on for about 3 hours. I couldn’t do anything but just lie there quietly.

Then, they dressed me in a hospital gown and moved me to a small room by myself. I was told to wait until someone came for me. After half an hour I started shifting around restlessly. Why hadn’t they sent my mom with me? 

All this time I’d assumed I would go to Kells and someone would chant the words of an ancient spell over me and get rid of tumors. There were no books on healing in Axel Elrod’s library, so I was in the dark on this subject. Why all the fuss? This was the Tower of Elders. These were master mages.

A couple more minutes passed, and the door finally opened. When I saw who walked through, I sat straight up. It was Ramon, the Grand Wizard. I was a bit star-struck. We grew up reading about him whenever we discussed historical figures in school. He’d become the Grand Mage at twenty years old—ten years younger than the previous youngest Grand Wizard. He took orders directly from Chris McKly himself. Id’ seen pictures of him, but he looked different in person. He was shorter than I expected, and his fancy black and grey robe stood out from the lighter toned clothing that everyone else in Kells wore. He was holding a tall black staff crowned by some sort of glowing, green gem. A creature unlike anything I’d ever seen before perched at the top of the staff. It looked like a cross between a rabbit, a cat and a monkey. Short, snow-white hair covered its lanky body, which stood about two feet tall. Footlong ears pointed erectly from its head, and a lengthy, thin tail with a pointed tip trailed down the staff in a snake-like motion. The creature stared at me with eyes that glowed the same green as the gem in the staff.

“Hi there. I’m Ramon,” Ramon said in a drab monotone. His face seemed almost annoyed.

“I, er, know who you are.” I stuttered over myself, patting down my gown. I couldn’t help but feel a bit embarrassed to be meeting him like this.

“Yes, of course” he replied, his voice still dull. He pulled up a chair and sat down next to me. “This is my cohort, Happy D.” He pointed to the creature, which crawled from the staff to sit on his shoulder. “They tell me that you have a very advanced form of cancer. So advanced in fact that it doesn’t make sense for someone your age. I’m very sorry to hear that you’re sick. I can only imagine how difficult it is for you. I’m here because I want to help you. Still, it’s very important that you know magic isn’t some sort of cure all. We can’t snap our fingers and make you better. That’s not how healing magic works. All healing requires certain conditions, and much of it depends on the illness. Your cancer is very special.”

I started rubbing my hands together nervously as Ramon gave me this information. All my previous expectations shattered with this grim new reality. I kept waiting for the part where he comforted me, for some good news, but the inflection in his voice and expression on his face never changed.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m the one telling you all this?” he asked, leaning back in his chair. Happy D crawled down his arm, across his leg, and onto the bed.

“A little bit, yeah” I said nervously, shifting around as Happy D sniffed his my legs and up my side. “You’re the most important person in all of Kells, right?” I gave an uncomfortable laugh.

“That’s debatable, but I am a very busy man. I’m here because of your connection to Axel Elrod. We believe the circumstances of his death might have something to do with your current condition.” Ramon leaned in close and the look on his face became more serious. “I’m going to tell you some things that need to stay between you and me. It’s very sensitive information. Then, I’m going to ask you some questions, and it’s very important that you answer me truthfully, because your life may depend on it. Do you understand?”

Ramon’s eye contact never faltered, and I couldn’t seem to look away, like he was locked into my soul. I swallowed, trying to hide my nervousness “Yeah, of course,” I said.

“Good. We believe Axel Elrod was murdered,” Ramon said bluntly.

I felt my heart grow heavy and speed up. Visions of Mr. Elrod’s lifeless body, spread out on the floor, began to flash through my mind.

“Arturo, I’ve been chasing a very bad man for a very long time. We have reason to believe this man may have visited Axel Elrod shortly before you arrived and taken something very rare and dangerous from him. We believe he may have killed him for it. You were the one who found Axel. I need to know if there’s anything else you saw. Is there something that you didn’t inform the guard, perhaps because you were afraid? If so, you can tell me now. You won’t get in trouble. We just want to help you, and we also want to catch this man.”

My heart slowed down. I wouldn’t have to lie to Ramon. I hadn’t seen anything like that.

“No, I’m sorry,” I replied. “I didn’t see anything like that. He was dead when we got there. I just waited with him while Patra went to tell the guard. But what did the bad man take?” I asked, thinking about the box. When changing clothes, I’d shrunk it and managed stow it away. Now, it currently sat underneath my hospital bed.

“It manifests itself as a blue flame,” he explained. “While this flame wouldn’t cause cancer, we believe exposure to it might have accelerated your condition.”

I tried to picture this blue flame in my mind, but it didn’t really matter. I hadn’t seen anything like that. I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I wish I was more help.”

“Nothing to be sorry for,” Ramon said, grabbing his staff before standing up. Happy D leapt from the bed and scurried to Ramon’s shoulder. “I simply wanted to come and ask you in person. “

He walked over to the door, but stopped before opening it. “There was also a large catalog of books,” he said without turning to face me, “and a micro-dimensional containment box missing from Axel Elrod’s. Though we’ve hypothesized that the man I mentioned stole these items, the theory never sat well with me. You see, the man in question is a master of magic. His knowledge eclipses many wizards twice his age. He’d have no use for those books.”

Finally, he turned and looked me dead in the eyes. “Were those bookshelves empty when you found Axel?”

It took everything in me to return his gaze and lie. “Yes,” I said.

Ramon looked at the marble floor for a moment before replying. “You know it would be extremely difficult to be a wizard with your condition, Arturo. Right now, your body is fighting itself for its own energies. Trying to use magic would undoubtedly make things worse.”

He gave me a look that resembled regret and opened the door. “Small blessings, I suppose. I’ll send your mother up.” Then, he exited the room.

My chest tightened. My vision glazed over as the gravity of the situation weighed down on me. I thought about Axel Elrod and the box. I thought about my family and Patra. I thought about magic and the pain all over my body, and I thought about the last thing Ramon said. Had I been making myself worse all this time? I closed my eyes and tears spilled down my cheeks. Learning magic over the past year, I’d tried to make my life amazing. Was I, all the while, all the time, worsening my cancer? Staying up late nights, ignoring my best friend, lying to my family, had I pushed myself toward an early grave? 

Was I going to die?

I gritted my teeth, breathing hard. I pulled the pillow from behind my head, shoved it against my face, and screamed. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair at all.

 

Chapter 6

 

In the end, the doctors gave me an upgraded version of the clip that sent a more powerful strain of parasites through my body. They arranged for me to remain in the Kells Health and Research Center for the next few weeks. I needed to be closely monitored in order to gauge the parasites’ progress. Hopefully, all would go well, and they wouldn’t have to seek alternative methods of treatment.

The weeks passed by miserably. My mother and father took turns staying with me at the Tower of Elders. Different doctors, scientists, and mages came and went, making new charts and observing the status of the tumors.  They never told me any good news and always spoke in hushed tones with my parents.

I wasn’t allowed to leave my room, not that I would have felt up to it. I felt faint and sore all the time, and my right leg grew number each day. I never would have dreamed that I’d feel worse in the Golden City than at home. They gave me a small wayview that could pick up signals all the way from the Capitol—much better than the one our family had. This one displayed playbacks of expensive Capitol shows and a handful of games I could play. We didn’t have impressive devices like this in Pich, but the fancy wayview could only distract me for a few hours each day. 

After quite a bit of nagging from my parents, the doctors allowed Patra to come see me, even though she wasn’t a family member. When she walked into the room, I’d been busy staring at nothing and feeling sorry for myself. She ran over and lunged toward me, knocking me over with a hug. Then, she started sobbing, and I started sobbing. We both blubbered loudly, trying to talk over each other in emotional relief. Finally, we started laughing through our tears.

“I was so worried you, you jerk!” Patra giggled, shuddering while wiping back an onslaught of tears. “Don’t laugh at me.”

I brushed my sleeve across my face in a failed attempt to stop the tears. Patra’s arrival gave me a surge of energy that I hadn’t felt in weeks. “I kept asking for you, but the doctors told me you couldn’t come. What happened to make them change their minds? It’s so strict around here.”

“It was Ramon,” Patra said, standing back up. “He visited me yesterday. He asked me about that day at Elrod’s, and don’t worry,” her voice turned to a whisper, “I didn’t tell him about the box or the books. But before he left, he gave me special permission to come see you today.”

“Wow,” I said in surprise. “He seemed so cold when I met him, but I guess he’s not heartless. I owe him one.”

Then, I explained everything about my condition to Patra. A sour look splashed across her face when I mentioned what Ramon had said about magic use worsening my cancer. 

“So do you think it was magic that made you sick?” she asked.

“Not exactly. The sickness was already there, but using magic made it grow really fast. This thing,” I said, pointing to the clip, “keeps the tumors from growing, but makes my body feel like garbage.”

“Does this mean you’re gonna stop using magic altogether?”

“I don’t think I have much of a choice,” I said, throwing my head back onto my pillow.

“Good,” Patra sighed. She rested her head on the bed next to my chest and looked up at me earnestly. “I don’t want you to die, Art. The world is a better place with you in it.”  She grabbed my hand and squeezed it, closing her eyes. “ So you’re gonna get better, right?”

“Yeah, no doubt.” I smiled, forgetting about magic and feeling hopeful for the first time in weeks. It hit me that even though I loved my family, Patra had always been there with me during my craziest adventures. There was nobody else I could talk to about this situation. I’d been holding the truth inside all this time. Looking at her, I felt so selfish that I’d been lying in bed for so long, feeling sorry for myself, when I had so many reasons to fight to get better.

“I’m not going to let cancer beat me like this.” I said. “I’ll be back home and driving you crazy in no time! I just figured I’d take some time to give the rest of the class a chance to catch up.” I laughed.

Patra was able to stay the entire day and we made use of every second chatting and laughing as she caught me up on school and everything that had been going on in Pich while I’d been away. Once the sun went down my mother came in and told us it was time to take her back home.  When she left, I pulled myself out of bed and used all my strength to walk around the room a few times. It was fairly draining and my left leg wasn’t cooperating very well but I still had newfound drive, which kept me in much better spirits until I fell asleep that night.

Once I finally dozed off, I had the most vivid dream of all. I now stood directly in front of the castle, which was fully illuminated in a bright blue glow. The voice boomed at me, coming at me from all angles.

“Find me, boy!” it called out. “Find me!”

I remember waking up, soaking in sweat, panting. The dreams were starting to frighten me with their intensity. Did they actually mean something? I decided it was time to tell someone about these nightmares, but I didn’t know who to talk to. I didn’t really know any of the doctors too well. I wasn’t sure if the dreams would make sense to my parents. I considered Ramon for a second. He had spoken of a blue flame, and in my dreams, I saw a blue light. Maybe there was a connection, but Ramon already seemed suspicious of my magic use. Not to mention, he probably wasn’t someone who could just be summoned by request, and he had yet to visit me again. 

Then, I remembered Miss Ye. She was really nice and had said she’d talk anytime. When my mother came to see me that morning, I asked if it was possible for Miss Ye to come visit and keep me company for a day, since she was from Kells, My mother said she would pass the request along when she headed home later that afternoon. Apparently a visit was no issue at all, because several hours later Miss Ye burst through the door, holding a giant wreath of flowers.

“Greetings, Young man,” Ye said, dancing over to my bed and tossing the flowers at me.

 The wreath fell softly across my body, covering my face with petals. It was as tall as me and took up most of the bed.

“Do you like them? I have a good friend with a flower shop down the street. She makes the most breathtaking arrangements, and when I passed by I knew that your room was probably hideously dull. Doctors don’t know decoration or art. It’s a crime. Look at these bland walls. Are they trying to drive you into a deep depression?”

I couldn’t help smiling. She was just so odd.

“They smell great,” I said in a voice muffled through the wall of flowers. Then, I lifted the wreath up and leaned it against the wall.

“I was hoping they’d lift your spirits,” she said with a smile, sitting on the edge of the bed.  “I was so sorry to hear about your condition. How are you feeling today?” 

“I’d feel a lot better if I could make sense of these dreams I’ve been having,” I said.

“Dreams?” she asked. “And what separates these dreams from others you’ve had?”

“Well, at first I didn’t think too much about them. I’ve had recurring dreams every once in a while when I was little, but this is different. In the past few months these new dreams have become much more clear… much more real.”

“You know I used to have a reccurring dream where I fell off the same cliff every night,” Ye said. “It gave me an irrational fear of falling from cliffs.” 

She gave a goofy smile. I couldn’t tell if she was serious or joking, but it made me laugh.

“Well, my dream isn’t about falling, but it is a little scary” I admitted.

“Why don’t you show me?” she asked.

“You mean like draw it out?” 

“No, silly.” Ye giggled, holding out her hands. “Give me your hands. This was one of my specialties back in school.”

I placed my hands into her outstretched palms, and as I did, little glowing red lights began to appear. They took the shape butterflies and fluttered all around us.

“Now, don’t be afraid of my gals,” Ye said. “I use them for everything, and currently they’re linking our minds so that we can revisit your dreamscape. Just shut your eyes, and try to relax.”

I closed my eyes and began to concentrate on the dream, remembering the forest and the castle. I heard a light humming noise and then a loud crack. My eyes shot open at the loud noise. I gasped to see that we were no longer in the room. We were sitting on the forest floor, surrounded by tall trees. It was the forest of my dream.

 

Chapter 7

 

I reached down and grabbed a handful of dead leaves, sticks, and soil. I could actually feel it all against my skin.

“This is amazing!” I exclaimed in awe. “I can feel everything. It’s even more real than the dream.”

Miss Ye stood up and looked around anxiously before saying, “Arturo, this isn’t me,” she whispered, looking in every direction.

“What?” I asked, confused. I summoned the energy to push myself to me feet. “What’s not you?”

“None of this is my magic. You shouldn’t be able to feel anything. We also shouldn’t have physical manifestations. To dive into the dreamscape is strictly a visual-sensory manipulation. We join together to look through your unconscious eye. This is something else entirely. I didn’t do this.”

Ye snapped her fingers. All the butterflies gathered together and began to fuse into one giant butterfly, which hovered between us.

“Hop on,” she said, motioning to its back.

I crawled onto the butterfly. Its body was incredibly warm, but it didn’t burn. As Ye climbed on behind me, I instinctually grabbed onto the creature’s antenna.

“Hang on tight,” she said, as the butterfly lifted us off the ground. With just a few flaps of its wings, we rose high above the canopy. I was dizzy for a moment, still trying to wrap my mind around what Ye had said moments earlier about not being here by choice. 

We flew high enough that we could see all around us for miles. There were trees and mountains, but I didn’t recognize any of it. A heavy, uneasy feeling came over me as I realized the shape of the floating Capital was nowhere to be seen. I could always find its tiny silhouette in the sky from Pich. 

“Where are we?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Ye said. This was the first time I’d ever heard her sound so serious. “But don’t worry. We’ll be fine,” she added.

She held out her hand, and a smaller butterfly appeared above her palm.  She pulled it to her lips and spoke to it.

“To the sky at frequency zero,” she murmured to the butterfly. It began to vibrate violently and glowed a white so hot that I had to squint and cover my eyes with one hand. Suddenly, it shot up into the sky and disappeared into the dark clouds above.

“It will send a distress signal to Kells. Someone will come for us. All we need to do for now is—” She was cut off by a loud pop from under us. The butterfly we rode exploded, sending us flying into the air.

The wind knocked out of me so hard that I didn’t register the burning feeling on my face and chest. I was spinning and falling to the ground. The treetops rotated towards me rapidly. I screamed, frantically waving my arms, trying to reach for anything to save me. Right before I collided with a tree branch, I felt two arms wrap around my mid-section and pull me close. As Ye wrapped herself around me protectively, she flipped me over so that her back met the canopy first. We crashed through the treetops and plummeted to the ground. Ye let out an ear-shattering bellow. A strange crackle sounded from behind her. Then, warmth surrounded us as our descent slowed. We touched down gently on the forest floor. I looked around to see the butterfly she had created to catch our fall.

Ye groaned as she sat up, scanning all around us.  Even so, she continued to hold me close.

“What happened?” I asked, wide-eyed.  I’d never been so frightened.

“Someone is out here,” she said quietly. “They fired a projectile at us. It caught me off guard. My butterfly can move us, but out here, it just makes us a giant glowing target. Can you run?”

I gasped when I saw blood trickle down her head. She must have hit it against one of the trees when we fell through.

“Arturo, can you run?” she repeated.

“I-I can try.” She took my shaking hand, as I dismounted the butterfly. Ye dismissed the creature, which disappeared into thin ar. Still holding hands, we began moving quickly. I ran as fast as I could, but my body didn’t cooperate long. My cancer left me far too weak to run, and my leg gave out within moments.

“I’m sorry,” I whimpered. “It hurts.”

“It’s okay,” Ye said, turning around and kneeling. “Get on my back.”

I clambered onto her back, and as I did, I heard a familiar voice echo through the forrest.

“This way, boy!” it cried out in the same gravelly voice I’d heard in my dreams.

“Did you hear that?” I asked, squinting in the voice’s direction.

“Hear what?” she whispered.

“We need to go this way,” I said, pointing towards the darkness to our right.

“What is it?”

“Just trust me,” I answered confidently “We’ll be okay.”

Ye turned and began running as I guided. The voice continued to call and steadily grew louder with each step forward. The anticipation of finally meeting this voice that had been calling me overpowered the fear of the attack we’d just survived. We brushed past some thick bushes to find ourselves in a small clearing. There, a hundred feet in front of us, was the castle I’d seen in my dreams. The tall trees had completely shielded it from the sky. 

I’d seen pictures of castles in school books, but this wasn’t like any of those. This castle looked long abandoned. Untended bushes overtook the courtyard. Long vines crept up the weathered black stone walls and wrapped around the towers.

I observed all this in a mere second. Ye asked no questions before bolting through the courtyard to the front door. With a wave of her hand it swung open to let us in and promptly shut itself behind us. Once inside, she moved to the center of the room and put me down. With another wave of her hand, the glowing butterflies returned to light up the area. We looked around to see a grand hall, covered in dust.

Clearly, no one had lived here for many years. The enormous paintings on the walls had deteriorated so that the images were too garbled to make out. Curtains hanging from pillars were torn and faded. There were piles of statues in a corner near the front door. Every sculpture was missing limbs or faces.

“Arturo, what is this place?” Ye asked. “How did you know it would be here?”

“It’s the castle from my dream. I would hear a voice calling me in the forest, telling me to come find it.” 

There were three hallways that lead to areas too dark to see. I could no longer hear the voice, which had gone curiously quiet the moment we entered the castle.

“Do you think it was the voice that brought us here?” I asked. Squinting, I tried to inch towards one of the hallways. I wanted to see what lay beyond, but Ye grabbed my wrist and pulled me back.

“I don’t know, but we’re going to wait right here,” she said very seriously. “To move someone, let alone two people, from the hospital to this forest is very powerful magic. Dark magic. Forbidden magic. Whoever did this used my link with you to pull us here. I have no idea where we are, Arturo. We’re just going to wait until Kells sends help. Everything will be all—”

She was interrupted by a click of the front door handle. Ye shoved me behind her as she turned to face the door.

In walked a thin man. He was well dressed in a tailed vest and a tall hat with two buttons, like eyes, sewn into the front. Underneath the buttons sat a crude stitch that resembled a mouth. The man had dark skin and thick brows that reminded me of Patra. His gold-colored eyes seemed to flicker. He closed the door behind him and smirked as he looked us over. The grin made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and I found myself gripping Miss Ye’s arm. Everything about him gave me a worrisome feeling. Was this the man that shot at us?

“I must say,” he started quietly, “this is quite the unexpected visit.  If I’d known, I would have tidied up a bit. You’ll have to forgive the overall disheveled demeanor. Tell me, to whom do I owe the pleasure of hosting this evening?” He was still planted in front of the door, and the smirk on his face was planted just as firmly as his feet. He stared at us, unblinking.

“Were you the one who fired at us outside?” Ye asked. Though her voice was calm, I could feel her arm trembling lightly.

“Oh, that was just a bit of fun,” he replied. “It seemed like you were trying to contact Kells, and we can’t very well have that, now can we. This place is hidden, and we need to keep it that way.” 

“If you leave now, you might be able to escape,” Ye said. “By now, Kells has received my distress signal, and they’ll be sending the Kellsian Guard. I don’t want to fight you. We don’t want any trouble.”

“I hope you’re not referring to your little butterfly friend you sent flyin’ up. Nah, we took care of that once you went for a dive in the trees. Don’t worry. We’ve got the night all to ourselves.”

 

Chapter 8

 

The man looked me straight in the eye. “Your boy there don’t look too good. You eat yourself a bad turnip, lad?” he asked jokingly.

“You don’t talk to him,” Ye commanded. “You talk to me. He’s just a boy. You think you’re doing something bold by scaring a child?”

“Hey, c’mon now,” the man said, holding up his hands in mock surrender. “Children love me. I’m known as a pretty reputable magician in my circles.” He removed his hat from his head with one hand and reached into it with the other.  He pulled out what looked like some sort of playing card, only it was about eight inches long.

“Want to see a trick?” he said, flipping the card between his fingers. “This one’s very popular.” As the card moved across his hand, it seemed to multiply into two. He placed his hat back atop his head and shuffled the two cards. With every cycle, the thin stack of cards grew thicker. He stopped and held up one card.

“Hey, kid, wanna see something wild?” he said, throwing the card at the floor.

When the card hit the floor, the tiles beneath us started to shift and break apart from one another, pulling Ye and me in different directions. The abrupt movement caused me to lose balance and fall over. Ye reached for me, but she was already halfway across the room. As I tried to get to my feet, I noticed the man was heading toward me. He stepped on the sliding tiles with ease, never losing his footing.

“You like that one, kid? Here’s another. Don’t blink.” His sickening grin grew as his eyes flickered a brighter gold.

“Get away from him!” Ye shouted. She raised an arm, and one of her butterflies shot forward, buzzing loudly, and threw itself at the man’s legs. He leapt backwards, evading the butterfly, which collided with the floor. A small explosion erupted at its impact. Still midair, the man threw another card that zoomed past Ye and into one of the long curtains that hung from the pillars. 

He touched back down to the ground, crouching, and whispered, “Wait for it.”

Two curtains jumped from the pillars and slithered swiftly across the floor like enormous snakes . One of them wrapped itself around Ye like a cocoon. As it covered her mouth, her butterflies fizzled away. The room fell dark again. In the dimness, I could feel the other curtain wrapping around my legs. I let out a yell as I tried to get away, but I slipped on the still-shifting floor. The curtain continued to wrap me up while tying its other end to one of the glass chandeliers that hung over head.

“Tada!” the man exclaimed, standing up and throwing out his hands. 

Just then, the floor stopped moving. Still, the man continued in my direction. I was hanging upside down, a few feet off the ground. I tried to shake myself free, but it was no use.  I looked over at Ye, who was currently wrapped up and hanging from another chandelier opposite me. While my head was exposed, her face was completely covered. She tried shouting something through the curtain, but no words were making it through. 

“Don’t worry about her,” the man said, as he finally met me at eye level. “She’s just in a little time out. So let’s have a little chat, just us boy, alright?”

Even though my body began to shake, I suddenly felt more angry than scared. Ye was in trouble, and it was all my fault. We were brought here because of my dream. I’d had enough of this man and his crooked smile.

“What do you want?” I barked loudly, surprising even myself. “We haven’t done anything to you!” 

Surprised by my outburst, the man took a wide-eyed step back before laughing.

“Well, look at you go,” he chuckled. “As impassioned as that little outburst was, you couldn’t be more wrong. You found me, and therein lies the problem. I can’t very well let you run off and tell others, now can I? And then there remains the question of how you found this place, and the even more important question of who else knows you’re here?”

He flicked his wrist, and another card appeared between his fingers. A powerful light emitted from the card. He held it up to my face and looked me over.

“Now, I know who she is. I keep track of every wizard that travels to and from Kells, but I do admit to baffling befuddlement as to who you are and how you fit into this puzzle. So please, feel free to satisfy my curiosity.”

I thought for a second and realized that my anonymity might be my only advantage. He didn’t know that I knew magic. If I could distract him and find a way to get Ye free, she might be able to get us out of here. Using magic would make me even weaker, but I had no choice. I’d had so much experience with telling lies this past year, this should be easy.

“I ran away from home.” I told him, looking him in the eye. “She’s the wizard of our province, and they sent her to come find me.”

“Is that so?” the man said, narrowing his eyes. “Elidina Ye. If I recall correctly, she’s stationed in the province of Pich. If that’s the case, then you’re a long, long way from home. Even so, that still doesn’t answer the most pressing question of all: Who you are?”

“Well, who are you? Are you the bad man that Ramon talked about? Did you kill Mr. Elrod?”

“You heard about that, did you?” the man asked in an amused tone. “Though, I guess that makes sense with him being the previous Pich mage.”

“Did you kill him?” I asked again.

“Yeah, unfortunate business, that,” he replied, his smile falling for the first time. “You know, in all honesty, I liked the old man. I really did, but his very life posed a problem, and the only way to rectify said problem was to end his life. But I am nothing if not a gentleman.” He held up another card. “You see, he was already an elderly man, close to death. So I simply gave his age a little nudge. Just a tap, and I was able to move his clock forward a couple years. It was painless. He died peacefully in his sleep. The rest of us could only hope for so much.”

His words terrified me as the image of Elrods body flashed through my mind.

“You act like you did him a favor,” I said in disgust.

“Well here you are, still alive,” he said, the sickening smile returning to his face. “Perhaps I’m doing you a favor.”

Ever since our conversation had started, I’d been concentrating on the curtain that held Ye captive. I was able to look at the man while still keeping her in my line of site. Using my mind, I began casting an incantation to freeze the curtain in the very threads of its fabric. As the man kept talking, the curtain became brittle and breakable as it froze. 

There was a crashing sound when the curtain shattered and Ye burst free. The man turned, startled as Ye flipped to the ground. A giant butterfly of light appeared in front of us. With a heavy flap of its wings, it sent the man flying back towards the front door. Ye waved her hand, and several butterflies flew into the curtain that held me. It crackled and burned away quickly. I fell, but the large butterfly caught me before I hit the ground. Ye ran over to me

“Arturo, are you alright?” she asked as I gathered my bearings.

I had feared that using magic would make me even weaker, and I was right. Even if I discounted how weak my body was, that spell was pretty powerful for me. Now, I couldn’t feel my left leg, and my right arm was numb.

The man chuckled as he stood up and dusted himself off. “So you’re a wizard? I’ll admit I didn’t see that one coming. Well, maybe ‘wizard’ is too grand a term, but you’ve learned a thing or two. Consider me impressed. But I’ve also run out of patience.” The man frowned as he pulled out six more cards.

“Arturo, I need you to run and find a back way out of here,” she said as a small army of butterflies materialized around her. “Don’t wait for me, and don’t look back.” 

“But I—” I started.

“I said go!” Ye yelled, as she flicked her wrist. The butterfly I sat on shot down one of the dark corridors. I held on with my good arm as I heard the clashing sounds of battle fade behind me. I couldn’t help but glance back at the flashing lights and shadows. Ye and the man vanished in a cloud of dust.

The butterfly took me several hundred feet down the hallway before it sputtered out of existence. As I dropped to the floor, I wondered if something bad had happened to Ye. I started to tear up thinking about it but remembered her command to find an escape. I tried to stand up. It was no good. My left leg wouldn’t budge. My right arm was barely functioning. Everything was so dark. I could barely see anything, much less figure out where I was. I let out a frustrated cry and slammed my fist onto the floor. As if to answer my call, I saw a faint blue light appear. It came from a room several feet away. 

Then, I heard the voice.

“It took you long enough, boy!” the voice said.

Using my elbow and working leg to scoot myself across the dusty floor, I summoned my last reserves of strength to edge towards the room. What was that light? Who had been calling me all this time? I had to know. I grabbed onto the doorway and painfully pulled myself into the room. 

The room was empty, except for a black orb that floated in the center, and a few inches above the orb floated a blue flame, about the size of a small melon. Lying there on my side, I recalled what Ramon had told me. Old man Elrod had been killed for something that Ramon said manifested itself as a blue flame.

“Was it you?” I panted, feeling dizzy. “Was it you who called me?”

The flame began to burn brighter as a very sinister looking face appeared in its center. The face smiled at me.

“You know it was me, boy.” The flame sounded amused as it spoke in a deep, gravelly tone. “Are you really going to use your final breaths to ask me that question?”

“Why?” I asked. “Why’d you choose me?”

“Choose you? What a fanciful idea, child. I didn’t choose you at all. Donovan killed Axel Elrod to obtain me. You see, powerful as I am, I cannot move on my own.  But before he took me, I left something behind. A way to communicate with the wizards from Kells. Only they never found it because you took it, hiding at the bottom of the black box where I had previously been held.”

I thought back and remembered the small marble I’d found. I’d been so preoccupied with the books all this time, I’d forgotten all about it until now.

“That little blue marble?” I asked. “You left that?” 

“Indeed. Unfortunately, you held onto it for only a moment. I wasn’t able to establish a clear connection, so I was forced to take my time and slowly build one through your dreams. All this time, Donovan has kept me here, using my power as a battery to fuel who knows what. I was beginning to wonder if you’d ever reply, and then you linked with that woman. Tapping into her power as a medium, I was able to bring you here. A bit rusty, I suppose, but nobody is perfect.” The flame chuckled to itself.

“It’s not funny!” I sobbed, as I tried inching myself towards the flame. “Because of you, that man attacked us. Ye was only trying to help me understand the dreams you were giving me, and she could be dead now!”

“There is no part of me that can feel remorse for the loss of a human life. Your momentary existence is just a blink of an eye in the eternity of the cosmos. Still I don’t think you’re angry at me, child. The question is, what will you do now that you’re here? Can you make right all that you’ve done? Can you ease your own guilt?”

I punched the ground again. The flame was right. If I’d never stolen the books, then Kells would have found the box and the marble. Ramon would have probably found the man in the hat long ago. Then I wouldn’t have used magic to make my condition worse, and Ye wouldn’t have been hurt, paying for my mistakes.

“I was wrong,” I said aloud. I didn’t know why I confessing to this flame, but grew weaker and weaker, I felt like I should tell somebody. “I was wrong to take the books from Elrod. I didn’t think I would hurt anybody. I just wanted… It doesn’t matter what I wanted anymore. It’s not fair that Ye has to pay for my mistakes. She’s might be dead now… and I’m going to die too.” I cried into my sleeve.

“Everyone dies, boy,” said the flame. “I’m more interested in what you’re going to do with the life you have left.” 

“I can’t fight him,” I said. “Even if I had the energy to use magic, I’m not strong enough.” 

“You can use my power, boy. All you have to do is bond with me. Just a touch, and we’ll be bonded until the end of your tragically short life, but with my power we can defeat Donovan and save your friend. Perhaps we could even eliminate those tumors I see within your body.”

“You can do all that?” I asked in disbelief.

“I’m the forbidden power of the sun, young one. With a host, my power is more than you can imagine. But you must be willing. Will you make the pact?”

I thought for a second. Ramon told me that the flame was poisonous, but what else could I do? There was no choice. I had to save Ye. If this thing could give me the power, then I’d use it to fight back.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then touch the flame, boy!” it commanded.

I used my good arm and leg to muster all the strength I had left. I felt pain in every muscle in my body as I pushed myself up and hobbled with one leg towards the flame. My hand reached for its center.

A flash of light struck the room, and the flame vanished. The moment it disappeared, my body began to give off a blue glow. I couldn’t breathe. My body lifted into the air. Gritting my teeth, I tried to comprehend this confusing new sensation. It definitely didn’t feel good. 

I exhaled and abruptly fell towards the floor. I winced and shut my eyes. Once I realized I wasn’t going to hit the floor, I peeked through squinted eyelids to see that I was hovering an inch off the ground. I placed my hand on the floor. Even this small touch felt odd, like prickly ice coursing through my veins. All my muscles went stiff, my head felt on fire. I reached up and touched my temples, rubbing them in an attempt to ease the burning feeling. But as I massaged my head, my hair began falling to the ground. I watched in horror as it not only fell in a single clump, but the strands were blue. My fingers found a bald spot on my head. As I brushed my hand across my scalp, more blue hair tumbled to the floor, until nothing remained but a small tuft near the front. I gave it a yank, but this tuft stayed put. I then rubbed my face to see if I could feel any other changes. As I did, tiny blue hairs that used to be my eyebrows and eyelashes fluttered across my cheeks. 

And then, I finally fell to the ground. A rush of adrenaline came over me, and I jumped to my feet. I hadn’t felt this lively in my entire life. My heart was beating so fast it hurt. I tried walking forward but tripped when my left leg didn’t move as commanded. I realized that I still couldn’t feel my right arm.

“What happened?” I asked, looking for the flame. “My leg still isn’t working.”

“That leg is dead boy,” the voice said as the flame materialized next to my head.  “You’re going to have to let it go if you want to make it out of this alive. That arm too.”

“What do you mean let it go?” I asked in a panic, grabbing my leg.

“Why hold onto it?” the flame said as it circled me, hovering around my head. The leg is only holding you back. We’ll make you a new one. It might not be flesh and bone, but together we can command it and wield immense power. But as it is, its dead weight. You said you wanted to save your friend? Is that wish only valid under if you have all your original limbs? Only moments ago you were at death’s door. Is the loss of a leg or arm all it takes to crush your resolve? How disappointing.” 

I looked at my leg and thought about Miss Ye. I was wasting precious time, but I trembled at the thought of losing my arm and leg.

“You said we can make a new one?”

“A much better one,” the flame replied with a devilish grin.

“All right, let’s do it!” I said, preparing myself for the pain. 

“Just hold your hand over your leg and concentrate. Close your eyes, and think with me.”

As I shut my eyes, I felt my mind being pulled into his. I saw a vision of the universe as he spoke:

“One hundred million light years from this place there is world where I witnessed the creation of a precious metal. Its composition would be impossible for mankind to replicate, but I know it. Remember it with me, boy. We will use this to craft your new body.”

I felt a slight stinging in my left leg and right arm. I opened my eyes to look. I shuddered at first when I saw my hand. It looked black and metallic. I rolled up my sleeve to find that the metal went all the way to my elbow. Past that, there was only normal skin. To my surprise, I was able to move the arm and fingers even though I couldn’t feel them. Next, I pulled up my pants. The same black metal had replaced my leg. I used my mind to move it and still didn’t feel a thing. 

But there was no time to be astonished. I had to help Ye.

 

Chapter 9

 

I stood up from the floor and gathered myself. I felt so energetic, yet everything stung in entirely new ways. I’d have to get used to it later. I took a deep breath and looked to the flame.

“I’m Arturo. Do you have a name?”

“You can call me Blue,” the flame said, sounding almost gentle for the first time.

“Together then?” I asked, searching for reassurance that we were a team.

Blue smiled a wide, unsettling smile. “Until death do us part.” 

I ran back towards the grand hall as fast as my legs would take me. With Blue’s power, my legs had new strength, and I hurried back down the corridor faster than I’d ever moved before. I was amazed by my speed. Even so, I couldn’t enjoy this newfound power, because it came with an overall queasy feeling and a sharp pain in my temple.

A pile of fallen stones and debris blocked the entrance to the grand hall. I could hear movement coming from the other side. I stood back, preparing myself to push the rubble out of the way. I’d only ever levitated small objects before, like small pebbles or even my shoes once, but never anything as heavy and large as what was stacked in front of me. I held up my hand and concentrated. With Blue’s power, I could probably do it.

I barely had to think before a cold wave rippled through my body. All the pieces of debris went flying forward in every direction, colliding with the wall at the front of the grand hall. All went silent. As the dust settled, I saw the man, Donavan, relatively unscathed and crouched on the floor. He gazed at me with wide-eyed disbelief. A few feet in front of him lay Ye. She was bruised, with a black eye and her clothes were tattered, but she was alive and giving me the same look of amazement.

“Miss Ye!” I shouted and rushed to her side.

She tried to push herself to her knees. “What are you doing, Arturo?” she sputtered rubbing my bald head and looking at Blue. “I thought I told you to run. What have you done?”

“I did what I had to do to get us out of here,” I said, helping her to her feet.

“I am so happy for your little reunion here,” Donavan said, regaining his own footing. He was no longer smiling. “But you’re not going anywhere.”

Taking a step forward, he continued, “Well I see you found Blue. Even worse, you went an’ did the one thing that ensure that I have to kill you now. I need that flame, boy. Playtime is over.” 

“You’ve got that right!” I yelled. I threw my hands up, ready to show off my new magical abilities. The roof of the castle ripped off and exploded into a million pieces, revealing the towering trees above. A howling wind echoed through the exposed castle. 

I stared, mouth open for a moment, stunned by what I’d just accomplished. As did Ye and Donavan. It was as I suspected. With Blue’s power, my magic had enhanced more than tenfold. Even so, I immediately felt my body grow too heavy to hold up. I fell flat on the floor.

“What happened?” I groaned to Blue, as Ye kneeled down beside me.

“You’re a fool—that’s what happened!” Blue scolded. “You’re untrained with no practice. You thought you could forcefully squeeze power the size of a mountain through a straw? Only a child would have such hubris.”

Donavan laughed loudly. “You know, I’m actually impressed with how quickly you destroyed any and all chances of getting out of here alive.  I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom to ponder in the afterlife: Never underestimate the payoff of patience, kid.” He winked and continued toward us. No sooner had he taken one step, we heard a loud crack come from the sky. An enormous white blur came smashing through the trees and landed upon the floor, separating us from Donovan.

Before us crouched a white dragon, and on its back rode a familiar figure: Ramon.

The dragon rose to fours, hissing at Donovan while sprawling its wings wide. Its wingspan clashed against the walls of the grand hall. Ramon stood on the dragons shoulders, looking down at us.

“Are you two all right?” he asked.

Ye smiled in relief. “Well, we’re doing better now.” 

Ramon turned his attention to Donavan, who now had a very sour look on his face.

“Ramon, old friend. You’re looking well. Is that a new robe?” He snickered.

“I’m taking you back, Donavan,” Ramon said. “It’s time to stop running.”

“I don’t know if they agree with you.” Donovan replied, tossing a card behind him into the pile of statues. One of the sculptures sprang to life. It grabbed one of the paintings off the wall and crashed it face down on top of Donovan.

“No!” Ramon shouted, bounding forward. But Donavan vanished into thin air as the painting fell flat on the floor.

Ramon jabbed his staff into the statue, which instantly turned to dust. He grabbed the painting and lifted it, but there was no sign of Donavan.

And then, my vision began to blur. I tried speaking but could no longer feel my tongue. Ye called out my name, and Ramon’s silhouette rushed toward me as I slipped out of consciousness.

 

Chapter 10

 

The next thing I knew, I woke up, tucked into bed in the same hospital room I’d been staying in for the past few weeks. I was back in Kells. I tried sitting up and felt the immediate strain return to my body.

“Slowly now, child. Your body still hasn’t recovered from your poorly attempted heroic stunt.” It was Blue. I turned to find him floating next to my head. Everything came crashing back to me. I looked at my metallic hand and then raised it the top of my head. Sure enough, just a small tuft of hair sat on my otherwise hairless scalp.

“What happened after I passed out?” I asked.

“Donovan escaped. Ramon brought us back here. I presume your friend was taken to an area for healing, if you’re wondering. I’ve been here with you the past six days, keeping you alive.”

“You killed the tumors?” I exclaimed.

“Don’t be absurd, welp. If I used my full power to eliminate the tumors inside you, the raw exposure to my power would poison you so quickly that you’d die in seconds. No, I’ve been slowly burning them away, ever since we bonded. Make no mistake, it’s still poisoning you, but you don’t seem to be dead just yet. Perhaps you’ll make it through this after all.”

“Blue, what are you?” I asked, leaning myself up against the headboard.

“I was born the moment a star died, eons ago. I am raw power incarnate. And though I can do a great many wondrous things, I am unable to move on my own. After my birth, I floated in the dead of space for centuries until I was picked up by a creature traveling the stars. I made a bond with the creature so that I might travel with it. We were together until its death. It’s been that way for hundreds of thousands of years, traveling the galaxy with countless hosts. I lost count ages ago. Until, once again I found myself abandoned in the emptiness of space. Then, I was discovered by Axel Elrod, the man who watched the stars. He bonded with me on one condition: I tell him of the many worlds I had visited so he could chart this information and send it back to Kells for analysis. But he kept me in that horrid black box most of the time. I prefer the arrangement between you and I much more,” he finished, sounding satisfied.

“But when I found Axel, his hair wasn’t blue. Why is mine?”

“Our bond is entirely different,” he explained. “I’ve connected myself to the very tissues inside you and made alterations to your dying body to keep you alive. It’s a far more intimate a connection than a simple linking of the minds. This is actually a first for me. Apparently my power is a bit much for your fragile human shell.”

The door opened, and Ramon entered. He had the same look on his face as before and greeted me in the same monotone voice. “I see you’re awake”

“Yeah,” I said, looking down. I knew my lie had surfaced. I couldn’t hide the truth anymore, especially after Ye saw me use magic.

“If you’re wondering how we found you, there was a tracking device installed in your clip. We installed it in case you tried wandering around Kells. Once you vanished, it wasn’t difficult to locate you, but you were halfway across the planet. Even at top speed, it took Happy D and I a decent while to get there.”

“That dragon was Happy D?” I asked, astonished, barely comprehending that the colossal dragon back at the castle had anything to do with the squirmy, small creature I’d seen before.

“D is a creature of many talents,” Ramon said. “He’s got much more in common with Blue here than you might imagine at first glance. He’s not a pet. He’s a partner. He’s also resting now, but you’ll be able to thank him later. For now, we have a much more pressing conversation. You see, there’s the matter of you using magic.” 

I exhaled deeply, not knowing what to say.

“Ye told us you lifted the roof off of the castle. Impressive. Even more, you bonded with a starborn entity and didn’t immediately die. That’s also impressive. But as impressed as I am, I’m disappointed to know that you obviously took Axel Elrod’s library and taught yourself to manipulate gyro energy.” He paused. “Which, admittedly, is also impressive.”

“I just thought I could do it if I tried,” I said

“And try you did. Even though you knew it was prohibited.”

“Does it make me a criminal? I asked nervously.

“Does stealing and acting against the Crown make you a criminal? Yes. But doing so and connecting yourself to an entity like this,” he pointed to Blue, “makes you dangerous. We have laws for a reason. They’re set in place to protect us, to protect our people. Doing what you did put others in jeopardy. What about your family and friends? What makes you think Donavan won’t come after them in order to get to you, if he so chooses? He already killed Axel Elrod to obtain this entity. Not to mention that Ye was unknowingly put in danger because of your connection to it. There is a consequence for every situation we make, Arturo. The selfish decisions you make today can affect hundreds or thousands of people tomorrow. Life isn’t about the gratification of getting what we want through distrustfulness, secrets, and shortcuts.”

By this time, I was wiping tears out of my eyes. I wanted to look him in the eye and take the punishment I knew was coming. His words cut deep because they were true. Knowing that terrible things might happen to my family or Patra terrified me.

“There were several people, very high up in status, that have had many meetings in order to decide what to do with you,” Ramon continued. “Make no mistake, I believe you should be punished, but that’s not enough. You’re going to have to take responsibility.”

I nodded, preparing myself for the consequences.

“That’s why I decided to make you my apprentice,” he said.

I shook my head in confusion. “You want… You want me as your apprentice? Why?” I asked, bewildered.

“Because you aren’t a bad person, Arturo. You’ve done some bad things and created some messes that I’m going to make sure you clean up, and believe me, they will be cleaned up. But you’ve done something that no one else has done. I’d rather not see those talents wasted or have you become an unchecked weapon of some other malevolent force. You say you want to learn magic, then I’m going to teach you, the right way.”

I sniffled. “I won’t let you down. I know I can do this.” Despite all that had happened, a smile tugged at my lips.

“That’s good,” Ramon said, standing up. “We’ll be leaving tomorrow. You’ll have tonight to say goodbye.”

“Say goodbye? Where are we going?” I asked, my smile dropping.

“You can’t stay here in Kells, and you certainly can’t return to Pich. I told you, you’re dangerous. We’re going far away to a hidden place where you can be instructed and protected by wizards who are trained to do so.” 

“For how long?” I said, fearing the answer.

“This is all new ground we’re treading, Arturo. It could be months or years. Until you’re no longer a danger to yourself or others, there isn’t a place for you here. This is all because you had a choice and chose the wrong path. Now you no longer have a choice. Sometimes, everything we think we want turns out to be the opposite. But if you’re as strong tomorrow as you’ve been over this past year, if you have that kind of resolve and pull-through, I know you’ll make it through this.

 “I’ll retrieve your family” he said with a stern look and left.

I closed my eyes and held myself, trying to halt my trembling.

“I’m gonna beat this,” I choked.

“Will you now?” asked Blue without remorse.

“I’ll do it,” I said, pounding my fist repeatedly into a pillow. “I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do it”

All this time I thought that becoming a wizard would be a fun-filled journey, but the beginnings of my own journey were far from ideal. This was the price to pay for what I’d done. I walked over to the window and looked out at the city, which glittered in the light of the twin moons. I made a promise, much like the promise I’d made to myself a year ago—the promise to become a wizard. Now, I swore that night that I would beat this cancer, I would protect my family, and I would pay the price for my wrongs. One day, I would find Donavan and get justice for old man Elrod.

 

Chapter 11

 

My family arrived a couple of hours later, and I told them everything. There were many tears as we came to terms with what had to happen next, but my mother and father understood that our separation was the only way we would all be safe. I told them I would get stronger and return one day. Blue was now attached to me permanently, always floating a few inches away from my head. It took everyone a bit to get used to him. He was much less talkative with the family there. I joked about him being shy in groups, to which he muttered something about being older than time itself, so it was foolish to insinuate he would be suffering from such a thing as shyness. Everyone marveled at my blue hair. They also surprised me by informing me that I now had blue eyes. I had yet to look in a mirror, so this took me by surprise. 

My sisters laughed at my lack of eyebrows. They still didn’t completely understand what I meant by going away. They promised to save all of my meals for me until I got back. It made us all laugh. 

My family couldn’t stay in the same room as me for too long because the doctors still weren’t sure about the effects of long-term exposure to Blue. After all, he’d spent most of his time contained in the box since his discovery. 

I didn’t sleep at all that night. I could shake the uneasy thought of leaving. And Patra still hadn’t arrived. What if I never got to say goodbye? 

The following morning, Ye came for my final farewell before leaving Kells. She looked good, no bruises or cuts on her. She was smiling and holding a small package.

“Hello there, junior mage. I brought you one more gift. Just a little goodbye thing to remember me by.” 

She handed it to me, and I unwrapped it. Inside was a cloak for junior mages. I’d seen some of the kids wear it when we took our tour of Kells Prime the year before.

“I almost feel like a real wizard now,” I said with a genuine smile

“Well, I’m sure you’ve already been scolded enough by everyone else,” she replied with a wink. “Let’s just make sure you turn out to be a good wizard.”

“Miss Ye, I’m really sorry. I’m sorry you got hurt because of me. I know I was dumb—” I was interrupted when she walked over and embraced me, smashing my face into her chest.

“You’re a good boy, Arturo. We all know that. You’re better than one bad mistake. So just promise me that from now on you’ll do better, alright?” She let me go and ruffled my patch of hair.

“Right,” I said. 

It was time for me to go. Miss Ye took me down to the tower’s entrance. There, my family waited with Ramon. To my relief, Patra was with them, looking very anxious. When we got close, she ran up to give me a hug. 

“I’ll give you two a moment.” Ye winked and walked over to wait with Ramon and my family.

Patra and I just stood there for a moment as both of us tried to find words.

“They told me your hair was blue now,” Patra started, “but they didn’t tell me about your eyes.” Blinking back tears, she mustered a smile.

“Yeah, it’s different.” I grinned back, choking on the few words I could manage.

“Who’s this little guy?” she said, looking at Blue.

“Just your average cosmic vagabond,” Blue said. “Young woman, I’ve seen you in this boy’s mind. Know that of all the creatures on this miserable dying world, he prizes you the most.”

Patra looked at the ground and beamed bashfully.

“Yeah, he can look into my mind,” I said, embarrassed, “and he talks too much.”

“It’s still nice to hear though,” Patra said, her eyes still down. “Sometimes… Sometimes, over the past year when you seemed worlds away,” she added, stumbling over her thoughts, “I just wondered if, maybe, I was too boring for you. I was never a match for wizards and magic, and I never cared about the magic. I just didn’t want to lose my best friend. I missed having someone to talk to about all the regular, boring stuff. The regular boring stuff was always fine for me because I had someone to share it with.” She started crying and stood there, head down, weeping onto the floor.

My heart broke to see her like this, to know that she’d been holding in for so long. I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her, placing my head on her shoulder.

“I know I can’t take it back,” I said “But I promise that I’ll never let you lose me, if you promise to never let me lose you—even when I’m far away. You were never boring. You’re the only fun person in our boring town.” 

We both laughed through our tears. Then, I pulled myself back to look her in the eyes.

“And we’ll have so many more adventures when I get back, right?” I added, smiling again, for her benefit or mine—I couldn’t tell. “After all this excitement, when I’m done, I’ll choose boring for the rest of my life.”

“I don’t believe that for a second,” she giggled.

We hugged again and walked to the others, where I gave a round of long hugs and said my final teary goodbyes. When we got out to the street, Happy D looked at me and spoke, which was so startling I jumped back.

“You ready to go, Blue Boy?” he said in a high-pitched voice.

“Whoa, you could talk all this time?”

“Don’t be too impressed,” Ramon said with something that almost looked like a smirk. “He never has anything worthwhile to say.” 

Happy D grunted and leapt out into the street where began twirling in a circle and transformed into the dragon I’d seen at the castle.

“Now, let’s go see about making you a wizard,” Ramon said as he hopped onto D’s back and held out his hand.

 

Epilogue

 

I remember looking back to my family and Patra. Miss Ye stood next to them smiling.  Just six people to see me off, but at that time, they were my whole world. To me they were home. At that time, I didn’t know if I’d be able to see any of them again, but I would try my hardest to return. That hope kept me from breaking down. After all, I knew so little back then.

I took in a deep breath as Ramon took my hand and pulled me up. “I love you guys,” I tried to say, waving and wiping my eyes one last time. But Happy D rose into the sky and the wind carried my voice away. I hoped my words made it to them: “Just you wait. I’ll make you proud!”

I kept my eyes on them and peered over my shoulder even after they and Kells were far out of view. I looked back the whole way. So I’d always remember my way back home

 

The End