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Fantasy

What in the world had I been thinking? Why did I accept Naru and Ashanti’s dare? I swallowed, trying to keep my panic from overtaking me. Suppose one of the teachers caught me inside of Zatrix’s tower? There had to be a reason it was off-limits. It could be dangerous, maybe booby-trapped with forgotten magic. It was the home of one of the first mages; after all, there could be anything waiting for the first person to enter in hundreds of years. But I had accepted the dare my friends had given me, so the last thing I wanted to do was to chicken out. My stubbornness will be the death of me, just like Guardian Lain had warned me time and time again. 

My hand fell on one of the daggers I had sheathed at my waist, their presence reassuring me I had a means of defense. Even if I found myself outmatched by a better-trained mage or surprised by a well-placed trap, I would have a chance to survive this insane venture.

Before I could think better of my actions, I drew one of my daggers and pried open the window above me. I had crouched so long that my legs protested as I stood and pulled myself through the window and onto the bottom floor of the tower. I landed with a puff of dust, and my resulting sneeze echoed in the small room. From what little remained in the room, I guessed that it was some sort of storage area.

I had to be quick. I just had to find something that used to be Zatrix’s. Then I would win the dare and show my friends that there was no reason to doubt my abilities. Being one of the smaller initiates, I had been training for a long time to be able to sneak around unnoticed.  I opened the door to the rest of the tower and was thankful that it opened silently. The area I found myself in was bare other than some more thick dust. A spiral staircase was on the far side of the room, leading towards the top of the tower. 

Taking a deep breath that resulted in another sneeze, I headed up the stairs. At the top stood a large door; I could feel the magic radiating from it even before it came into sight. 

I let out a string of swears that would have gotten me smacked by any guardian who had heard me. Of course, the door was warded. Now how am I going to prove that I had actually entered the tower? I half leaned on the railing of the stairs while I pondered the impassable barrier that stood in my way. 

As soon as my weight hit the railing, it crumbled, and I pitched forward with a yelp in an attempt to regain my balance. I was so focused on not faceplanting that I was shocked when my hands collided with the warded door. I could feel the power coming off the door. But it did not shock me or toss me away like most warded doors that I’ve come across. After a long moment, the door shimmered, and the protective barrier fell came down with a flash.

My heart was pounding. Part of me wants to run, just flee, and pretend I had never come into this tower. The other part wanted to know what just happened. Why had this powerful ward fallen when I had encountered it? I was dead last in my warding class; there was no way my magic was strong enough to bring it down. It is not like I had even tried to dispel the ward with any of my magic.

When I finally reached out for the door handle, my hand was trembling. The door opened before my hand even hit the handle. The revealed room was a cluttered mess, but the thing that struck me as weird was the fact that it had none of the dust that had been making my nose itch.

As soon as I was entirely into the room, the door slammed shut, and I jumped back with surprise. I rushed over to the door, yanking on it with all my might, but the door would not open.

“Who are you?” The sudden male voice from behind me made me spin around the other way. The man who stood in the middle of the room had his arms crossed and was glaring at me, his bushy eyebrows furrowed together. He hadn’t been there when I entered; I would have for sure notice the tall man standing in the middle of the small area. 

“I am so sorry, Guardian.” I fell to my knees, “Please forgive me. I know this tower is forbidden to enter. It was a dare and..and”

His eyebrows somehow got even more furrowed, and he cut me off. “Guardian? Whatever are you rambling on about?” 

The question caught me so off guard that I just looked at the man. 

He let out a humph and looked up at the door. “How did you get past my ward? I set it so only my descendants could get in here.” 

“Y... your ward?” 

“What are they teaching you initiates?” He rolled his eyes, “Don’t you know who I am?”

The answer and its impossibility occurred to me at the same time. “Za...Zatrix?”

“Ah, she does have a brain!” Zatrix threw up his hands.

“But you are dead.”

“Why yes, I am.” His gray eyes were like stone. “Don’t make me ask again, child. Who are you?”

“Annika.”

“And how did you get in here, Annika? Who unlocked the door?”

“No one.” I slowly got back to my feet, he didn’t seem inclined to punish first and ask questions later, so it seemed safe enough. “I tripped on the stairs and fell against the door. Then it just...opened.”

His bushy brows shot up, and he looked me up and down, all five foot nothing of me and ending on the bright blue mohawk that I mainly had to annoy Guardian Lain. “You! You are the descendant that finally got past Kazimir and his minions to get into my tower?” 

His rant meant nothing to me, “Who is Kazimir?”

For what felt like a very long time, he just stared at me. “Why are you here?” he said, breaking the silence. 

I felt my face flush red, “My friends dared me to enter the tower.” It felt like such a stupid answer when faced with one of the first mages. Of all things that I thought might happen from entering this place, encountering this man was not even on the list. 

“How...How are you here? You’ve been dead for...hundreds of years.”

“That long?” He moved to a lounge chair that was on the side of the room and settled into it. He pointed at a small green stone sitting on a small table at the center of the room. “Do you know what that is?” 

I moved closer to see better. It was a smaller stone and seemed to be giving off a slight green glow. “A memory stone of some sort?”

“Close,” He gave me a smile. “It is more of a....consciousness stone, for lack of a better name. The day I left here to confront Kazimir, I made a copy of myself as a backup plan. So that the future could have a chance even if I failed. Tell me, child, what do you know about the past? Of my time?”

Why didn’t I pay closer attention in history class? “You were one of the first mages. You and the other fathers of magic started this institute so that any blessed with magic could be safe. There had been a time of war. The different nations were using the mages to cause major destruction. The world was nearly in ruins when the first mages stepped in and ended the war. It was declared that no longer would the first mages allow magic to be used in wars. Volaris- the institute of the arcane was started as a safe place for mages to live.”

His burrow furrowed again, but he gestured for me to continue.

“The nations tried to hide their mages from the institute so they could retain power. The protectors were formed to keep an eye on the nations and to watch children who were blessed with magic to be born. When a baby is born with magic, one of the guardians is sent out to recover the child. We are raised and trained here at Volaris for our own safety and the safety of the world.”

“You are taken from your families?” The shock was plain in his voice. 

“Yeah? We are mages. Our family is here.”

Zatrix let out a stream of swears, and when he finally seems to have run out of different profanities, he looked back up at me, “and when you finish your training?” 

“We become Guardians. Some are assigned here to the institute to take care of the young ones. Some are dispatched to the different nations as advisors and watchers. The really lucky ones are assigned to the castle to attend to the Protectors.”

“Who are these “Protectors’? Do any of the ones sent to attend them ever come back?”

“I...I don’t remember the names of the protectors.” I thought hard, “I have never met anyone who has returned from the castle, but surely they must come back at some point.”

“That bastard.” He crossed his arms and sat back in his chair. He sat scowling at the floor. After a moment, he let out a long sigh and looked back up at me. “That is all propaganda and lies.”

I just stared at him, not sure what to think of his outburst. 

“Sure, there was a war, but it was mage against mage. The nations had nothing to do with it. Another of the first mages, Kazimir, decided that we had the power so we should rule the people. Well, I should say that he thought he should rule. My associates and I attempted to stop his grab for power, but…we obviously failed.” He leaned forward, eyes locked on mine. “Shortly before my…death… I discovered that Kazimir had been experimenting on the mages he had captured in battle. He found a way to extract their life force and give it to himself and the rest of the mages he had on his side. “

My mouth dropped open in shock. 

“I would hazard the assumption that any mages sent to ‘attend’ these protectors met that fate. He has been using them to further extend his unnatural life.” Zatrix continued, “Kazimir has been ruling this world from the shadows for hundreds of years, and there has been no one to stand in his way.”

“That can’t be true!” I felt my hands tighten into fists, “The protectors are there to be the last defense for the continued existence of the mages. Not too…kill the mages!”

“Oh, it is true, my dear child. Tell me, have you actually met anyone who is from the nations? Someone who is not a mage?”

“Well…no… but they are not to be trusted! They only want to use us for our powers.”

“Do you really think the woman who bore you would have wanted to use her daughter to claim power?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that. I had always wanted to know about my mother. Sometimes late at night, I tried to picture what she had looked like. Tried to imagine what her embrace would have felt like. 

“Kazimir and these protectors have isolated you and all the mages so that they have total control over you. “

“It’s been hundreds of years. How can you know for sure that this is all true? Maybe you had actually won, and this is the society you built?”

He snorted at my words. “If that had happened, you would still be living at home with your parents, and you would not be fearful of those who do not have magic.” 

“But..but…”

“Child, I know this is hard for you to understand, but it is just the truth. Kazimir rules this world from the shadows. Who knows how many mages he has killed over the years to retain his power and life.” 

“You…you are here now!” I exclaimed, “You can stop him!”

Zatrix threw his head back and let out a bitter laugh. “Me? I am a poor copy of the real Zatrix. I have no power. I was put here for the day Zatrix’s heir came for me so I could teach that person potent magic. But instead, I am discovered by a mouse with blue hair.”

“But I am Zatrix’s heir…aren’t I?”

“You may have the blood, but my attempt to hide my lineage obviously failed. You have been raised by these thrice blasted ‘Guardians.’ You are a mouse, and I need a dragon.”

“So, teach me.” My heart was pounding. “The other initiates here don’t know the truth about this place anymore than I. I was raised here, so they are the only family I have ever known. You are telling me that the people I’ve trusted my whole life have been murdering my family. I may be a mouse, but I can’t just stand by and let that happen.”

“Even if I thought you had the magical ability, what would be the point? You would need to up against nearly everyone and everything you have ever known. You would have to beat the mages that had defeated me at my prime. A little mouse has no chance of doing that.

Anger shot through me, and I stood up straight, “Do not tell me what I can and can not do; I don’t see how you have any choice. I am Zatrix’s heir, and you were left here to train me. So, do as you are commanded and teach me how to stand against the protectors and save my family.” 

A small smile had appeared on his face as I spoke. “ok, little mouse. Your training begins now.”

July 14, 2021 23:18

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