|The forceful, ice-cold wind snaps at my face as I run, head down, across the wet and slippery stone street. My long brown hair whips across me, and I pull my warm cloak on tighter. I feel a jolt of excitement as I leave my normal route and plunge into new territory, but my joy is dampened, both literally and figuratively. Trying not to get drenched by the flood of rain sweeping out from the defective gutters while walking a bad-tempered Flamezilla is no easy task, but I’m lucky I even got this far.
My family doesn’t associate with the magical residents of Triton Avenue. In facts, they want as little to do with magic as possible. Our small home is dark and dirty, and so is the mood. We need magic more than anyone. It’s hard not to involve wizardry in your daily life when nearly everyone around you is a spell caster, but somehow we manage to scrape through.
I don’t know why my parents hate magic so much. I may never know. But I do know that I am actually interested in it, though interest is about the limit of any possible expectations. Besides the fact that I just got a brand new pet Flamezilla, my life is utterly un-magical.
But today something is going to happen; I can feel it in the air. It’s already a remarkable day because my Aunt Jenna is in town, and when Aunt Jenna visits, anything can happen. Today my task is to deliver a package to some life mage in the Haunted Cave doing a study on jelly beans. Yes, jelly beans. Apparently Field Guards love them. It’s a long and more than slightly dangerous walk, especially for an untrained mortal like me, but danger has never stopped me from doing anything. Determined, I pick up speed and cross the street again with my head held high. Apparently too high, because a torrent of gutter water sloshes full-force into my eyes. Temporarily blinded, I stagger backwards and into the huddled figure of an old, decrepit potion master (judging by the official robe).
I whip around, stammering my apologies, and am shocked to see that the wizard is slowly beginning to disintegrate, robes and all. I leap back in alarm but still watch with full attention as the form of the wizard becomes transparent and then disappears completely, leaving nothing behind but a gold oval stone with a jagged lightning bolt carved down the center.
Things like this don’t usually happen to me, and here of all places! Triton Avenue fits its description- rainy and dreary. Even with all the young wizards scrambling about zapping haunted minions left and right, it can’t possibly compare to the other worlds of the Spiral. But, because of my oddly paranoid parents, I’m not even allowed into Ravenwood.
Today, though, it seems that an adventure has come to me. My only regret is that Flamey the Flamezilla is in such a sour mood today. As I speak, he’s digesting a gutter.
I’m so absorbed in my own, fascinated thinking that I don’t notice the other disheveled wizard running up to me until it’s too late. At the same moment that she bends down to see if I’m even alive, I jerkily stand up. My head smacks her chin and she recoils in pain as I stare at her odd appearance. Her black, worn robe, slightly grayed over the years, had apparently been worn by many wizards before. In an attempted makeover, thin red strands of gauzy fabric were sewn onto the bone-white waistline. It must have been only recently attached, because the white sash is the only article of clothing not smeared with dirt. The robe is too short, and tall orange boots are revealed. The wizard’s ratty hat, by comparism, is yellow and purple. This strange combination made for an eccentric-looking character on its own, but the person inside them is even odder. Piercing green eyes set ablaze by fiery red hair peer up at me expectantly. I cough in the awkward silence.
The red-haired wizard rubs her chin and stands up, brushing off her robe. “Uh, sorry,” she mumbles.
I laugh nervously. “No, no, it was my fault. I’m sorry. Anyway, my name’s Julia, Julia Shadowflame. What’s yours?”
“Uh. Alura Spiritshard. Nice Flamezilla you have there.”
I scowl at my pet. “Who, Flamey? I wouldn’t say nice. He ate my Great Aunt Sestiva’s prize tapestry, all of the drywall in the bathroom, and half the fireplace. But yeah, he’s pretty cool.”
Alura looks at Flamey, puzzled. “Can’t you just use some kind of calming spell? I’ve done that to a naughty orthrus before.” She reaches down to per Flamey’s head.
I look at my feet and sigh. “Yeah, that sounds great, but I’m not a wizard…” I let my gaze wander to the gold stone. “But first things first, shouldn’t we tell someone that old guy just disintegrated?
Alura gets out an emerald wand that matches her eyes. “I’ll do a Seek and Dust spell on the rock and the surrounding area. You can take this. “
I watch in awe as a huge wooden staff appears in her hands. “I usually keep a spare. You can cast a TimeFlash spell, go back, and take a picture of the wizard walking by. Then-“
‘I’m not a wizard! I don’t know how!” I yell, maybe a bit too loudly. OK, a lot too loudly, but not being a wizard is a sensitive point for me. Alura raises an eyebrow and coughs in an unnatural way, gesturing at something behind me. But before I can respond, I hear a cold voice coming from over my shoulder…
“Yes, Julia, you’re NOT a wizard, and that is why you are coming home RIGHT NOW.”
I turn, but I don’t need to. I’d recognize my Great Aunt Sestiva’s voice anywhere. I shrink down as my elderly relative’s bony hands clamp on my shoulder.
“Oh, er, hello Great Aunt Sestiva. I was just delivering a package for Aunt Jenna…” My voice falters as I look into her deep black eyes.
“You are in colossal trouble, Miss Shadowflame. To the house. NOW.”
I sigh inwardly. The only adventure of my life was beginning, and now Great Aunt Sestiva is ruining it. I’m secretly glad Flamey ate her tapestry.
Great Aunt Sestiva strides off in a huff. I look at Alura, defeated. She shrugs. I tense up. In a sudden impulse I reach forward and snatch up the stone. Hiding it under my robes, I run after Great Aunt Sestiva and dread what will happen next.
The punishment isn’t as bad as I expected. A week confined to my room and no dinner tonight. And we were going to have Ninja Pig pork chops! They’re SO much better than the normal kind. But even though I have to miss this meal, I don’t completely regret it…
My room is a disorganized mess. Hats and robes are heaped onto my bed, with an assortment of pebbles and sticks underneath. Feathers are hung from the ceiling fan, and random junk is piled up on my desk. A cracked mirror hangs lopsided next to the window, and a bronze hat rack with silver vines is perched in a corner. But worst of all, there’s a huge, gaping hole next to the door that Flamey had chewed right through. I’d tried to fill it with clay, but Flamey had eaten that too. (Let me just tell you it is NO FUN cleaning up Flamey’s, er, droppings shall we say. They consist more of drywall than anything else.)
I shove a trunk up against the hole so I have complete privacy. If Great Aunt Sestiva sees what I’m doing, it’s another two weeks in the Bastille for me. I take a deep breath and pull out the gold lightning stone out from my pocket.
I half expect to melt on the spot, but nothing happens. I sigh in relief and examine it more closely. The crude lightning bolt appears to have been etched out, then painted black. The back and sides are perfectly smoothed by a skilled hand. I roll it over in my palm, lost in thought, until I hear a noise coming from my window.
I think twice before opening it. What if it’s my mom or dad or, worse, Great Aunt Sestiva? They’d all confiscate the stone at once. So before I go to the window, I put it back in my pocket.
When I pull back the drapes, I see that it’s not my family at all. I’ve never seen this man before. He’s cloaked in deep black with a hood that nearly covers his whole face. To my even greater shock, he is on the back of a huge red dragon. I step back in fear and start to close the window.
The figure growls in a chilling tone. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Miss Shadowflame.” Great. So there’s a creepy stalker outside my bedroom window and no one around to hear me screaming. If he’s going to kidnap me, I’m bringing Flamey. He’ll be able to eat me out of any tough situation.
The man leans forward and pulls out a suspiciously pointy scepter. “Hand over the rune, Julia,” he hisses, “Or else.”
I step back from the open window slowly. “Uh, rune? W-what rune?”
The dark figure leans closer. “You know what I’m talking about, whelp,” he snarled. “So give it to me NOW.”
I folded my arms. “Why should I? It’s just a rock, but it’s MINE.” Okay, maybe not the smartest thing I ever said…
“Because if you don’t, your friend here dies.”
He gestures to the back of the dragon. I gasp as I see Alura, shakily clinging on to the dragon’s rough scales. But she’s almost smiling. She snaps her fingers quietly and her wand appears. I try to mask my relief as she begins to cast a spell.
But before she can do anything, another dragon, this one blue, swoops beside the first and knocks the wand out of her hand. In the excitement, I manage to grab the rune and conceal it under my robe. Returning to the window, I see that the rider is a blond-haired girl not much older than me. She clears her throat, and the first rider looks at her expectantly.
The girl coughs again before talking. “Sir Christopher, uh, sir, the Headmaster is coming! Mindy says to-‘
A blinding flash of light explodes in the window. I am flung backwards, slammed against the front wall. I struggle to my feet and shield my eyes with my hand. My skin is burning fiercely, and my eyes sting uncontrollably. I scream as white-hot pain sears through my body. The last thing I remember is a deep, dark laughter coming from behind me…
The sky is dark and ominous. Huge dark clouds well up into shadowy masses of blackness. A massive wind yanks up trees all around me, and a lightning bolt flashes through the sky. I fall to the ground and cover my ears as a huge clap of thunder emits from the stormy sky. Another lightning bolt strikes the ground a foot away from me, setting fire to a dry patch of brittle grass. The flame roars up, but just as it is about to engulf me, a hand reaches out…
I’ve had dreams before, but not as vivid- and terrifying- as this one. I open my eyes slowly. I’m in a wood-floored room that I’ve never seen before. The walls are stone, with huge windows on each side. I’m lying in a four-poster bed with a red cover. This room is so unlike my own, polished and tidy, that I wonder for a minute if I’m still dreaming. But when I look down at my hand and realize that I’m holding the lightning rune, I know that I’m wide awake.
I sit up straight as I hear a knock on the door. My skin still burns slightly, but not nearly as bad as it did yesterday. “Come in,” I say in a voice so weak I barely recognize it.
An old, bearded wizard enters the room. He looks almost like the disintegrated potion master, except he’s wearing official Ravenwood robes. Wait. RAVENWOOD robes? Could this be the Headmaster?
“Julia Shadowflame,” says the wizard. “I am Merle Ambrose. I heard about the, er, accident yesterday, and thought I might stop by and ask a few questions, if you feel well enough. Would you mind terribly if I have a talk with you?”
I gape. So this is the Headmaster! “Of course, um, Headmaster Ambrose.”
He waves his hand dismissively. “Please, call me Merle.”
“Uh, okay, Merle,” I correct myself.
“Now, Julia, first I must explain to you the cause of the explosion. A mix of very powerful Fire and Storm magic was unleashed. It is very rare for such an uncontrolled magic to just suddenly occur as it did. You have never been trained in wizardry?”
“Uh, no. I don’t know anything about magic,” I reply nervously.
Merle nods. “But you do possess a magic rune, correct?”
Uh-oh. He knows about the rune. Am I gonna go to wizard Juvi? “Yes,” I mutter.
“May I see it, please?” The old wizard asks.
I give him the rune and watch him as he examines it carefully. “Very powerful; it’s a miracle you weren’t killed upon merely touching it. Where did you find it?”
I think carefully before answering, “It was just laying there on the street across from my house. I live on Triton Avenue.”
“Just laying there?” he asks firmly.
“Uh, yeah. Just laying there. I, uh, tripped over it as I was walking,” I lie.
Merle nods. “Thank you, Julia. I must get going now, but I promise I will talk to the Fire and Storm professors. Your Great Aunt Sestiva left me this note.” He set the note on my bedside table, along with the rune. Then, he was gone.
I open the note and begin to read. “Dear Julia, your parents, aunt, and I have gone off to Krokosphinx to get you a special salve and a protection ward. You have permission to wander about Ravenwood as you wish, but bring Flamey with you and don’t even THINK about enrolling in a school. Especially NOT storm. Sincerely, Sestiva Shadowflame.”
Just then I hear a loud banging on my door. I walk over to answer it, my footsteps echoing in the huge room. When I open the door. I see Alura holding a small package. “It’s for you, Julia. It came in the mail today. Open it!” she pleads cheerfully. I rip open the paper, and am shocked when I see the contents.
Alura peers over my shoulder, “Well? What is it?”
I hold the beautiful wand up to the light. It is carved out of dark brown wood with a thin strand of bronze twined around. On the very top is a shimmering purple jewel held up by a metal flower.
“A wand,” Alura says in awe. “A very, very powerful wand. At least twice as good as mine.”
“Who sent it to me?” I ask excitedly. I turn the wand over in my hand slowly.
Alura shrugs. “I don’t know, I just picked it up. There was no note or anything.”
Before I have time to think about it, I see a white flash hurtling up the corridor. It takes me a few seconds before I realize that it is an owl. Alura bows her head slightly in respect. “Good morning, Gamma.”
“Good morning, Alura Spiritshard.” The owl nods in my direction. “And you as well, Julia Shadowflame.” I smile nervously. It’s one thing to be introduced to a wise and powerful wizard, but Great Aunt Sestiva never taught me lessons on how to properly greet owls.
“I need both of you to come to the Headmaster’s tower at once,” continued Gamma in an anxious voice. “We have some suspects that we need you to identify.”
My heart pounds as I follow Alura and Gamma out of Ravenwood into the Commons. I don’t allow myself to look up. What if Ravenwood is really just an old ruin or the Commons was barren and deserted? No, I’ll save my grand entry for another time.
When we reach the tower, I finally decide to take in my surroundings. The inside is packed with young wizards, and the commotion is incredible- incredibly loud! I cover my ears and follow Gamma into another room.
As we step inside, I welcome the cool darkness and calm down a little. A circle of floating crystal shapes is strung by the air in the middle of the room. The worlds of the Spiral. I feel a desperate urge to reach out and touch them, but Alura pulls me back.
Merle Ambrose appears from behind a pillar. “Ah, I see we meet again, Julia. Thank you for bringing them back, Gamma. The suspects are waiting outside. I’ll show them in after I put protection wards around us all. If these are the wizards who came to your house last night, Julia, then we’re in serious danger.”
Great. That’s what EVERYONE wants to hear.
Merle chants quietly while making a complicated design with his wand. When he stops, a soft humming fills the room. “Allright, Gamma, you can bring in the suspects now.”
Gamma flies over to the door and opens it with her beak. I watch in surprise as a tall woman with tentacles for feet and a frog wearing a purple hat appear in the doorway.
“Uh, Mr. Ambrose sir, I’m pretty sure those weren’t the evil people on the dragons,” I say loudly.
Merle laughs. “No no, those aren’t the suspects. Meet Dalia Falmea and Halston Balestrom, professors of Fire and Storm magic. They came to inspect your rune. The prisoners are, er, coming in a more guarded way.”
I feel my face turn red as I stare at the professors. Dalia Falmea reaches out to shake my hand. I grab it, but my arm is as limp as a noodle.
The well-dressed frog, who must be Professor Balestrom, gestures toward the doorway. “The suspects approach,” he croaks.
Merle points his wand at the ready. It is only then that I realize I’m holding my own. I turn to Alura. “How do I work this thing?” I ask her. Alura whispers back, “I’ll teach you later, Julia.”
I’m about to say that I need to know NOW when a dark figure sweeps into the room, along with a sense of utter doom and fear. I shudder involuntarily. “Th-th-that’s the g-g-guy,” I stammer.
Merle holds his wand inches away from the man. I grip my mine tighter, even though I have no idea how to use it.
“Tell me your name, fiend,” hisses Merle. The man laughs a bone-chilling laugh. “I’m not at liberty to share that information, Ambrose.”
Then I remember the girl on the other dragon saying his name. “Christopher!” I blurt out. “That’s his name!”
The man walks towards me. “You again,” he sneers. ‘Well, that won’t do. I might just have to-“
“Enough!” bellows Merle. “Not one step closer, Christopher. I will not go easy on you with my spells.”
Christopher laughs again. “I am not afraid of you, feeble old man.” He gets out his wand. “This Spiral of yours will be ours in the end. One by one, we will destroy your little professors and then defeat you, Ambrose.”
Christopher begins to chant and in seconds his spell begins to take effect. The beautiful glass worlds in the model Spiral begin to shatter, bursting from the inside. One by one, the delicate pieces of art clatter to the floor in shards. A sliver pierces my arm and I brush it off gingerly. The pain of yesterday’s explosion begins to repeat itself.
Before the headmaster or the professors have time to react, Christopher freezes them solid. It starts at their feet and soon ice crystals have covered their entire bodies. Satisfied that they are rendered useless, he turns to Alura and me.
“We might as well get you two out of the way,” he growls menacingly.
Just then, an image of lightning appears in my head. I see it striking down Christopher and starting a fire that melts the ice imprisoning the professors and Merle. I shake off the vision and return to reality.
Alura laughs excitedly. “Julia, you did it! What did you do?”
Huh? “Uh, I didn’t do anything,” I reply, confused.
“You caused lightning to come down and hit that Christopher guy! You used magic!”
I nod. “So you had the weird vision too?”
But then I look over to where Merle and the Professors had been frozen solid. Had been- now they were back to normal. Merle walks over to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Julia, well done! You have saved us all! But I believe I am entitled to ask you why you lied to me when I asked you if you were a wizard.”
“But I didn’t lie!” I protest. “I’ve never cast a spell in my life!”
“You just did,” says Alura quietly.
Feeling betrayed, I start to walk out the door. The Headmaster stops me gently. “Julia, you have to believe me. You must have extraordinarily powerful magic inside you to be able to cast that strong of a spell without training. And even most trained wizards wouldn’t be able to summon controlled lightning without a well-mastered chant. We need you on our side.”
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. They need me on their side.
Merle clears his throat. “I’ll give you time to think about it, Julia. But right now I have other matters to attend to. Christopher-“
The air itself holds its breath as we all turn to look at where Christopher had been standing.
In his place is a crumpled bundle of papers.
He is gone.
It turns out that Wizard City is in ruins after all. Alura promises me that it’s never been like this before, but I only half-believe her.
There’s a huge gaping hole in the side of Merle’s tower. A crew of builders is busily restoring it back to its normal state, tools in hand. “Why don’t they just have Merle use magic to fix it? They seem to use magic for everything else,” I ask.
Alura sighs. “After Christopher’s attack, the Headmaster was left very weak. We don’t know why, and we can’t get the information out of Gamma. It must be awful to have your powers drained like that.”
I nod. “Yeah, if you had any powers to begin with.” I kick a pebble and it skips across the street and into a puddle.
Alura stops and looks behind her. “Turn left,” she whispers. “We’re being followed.”
I duck into a narrow alley and Alura leads me over a wall and behind the row of houses. I hold my breath, trying to remain unseen. A huge wraith-like creature sweeps past us, looking ahead and not noticing us. I press against the cold stone barricade and close my eyes.
To my horror, a small chip of the wall comes tumbling off from behind my back and hits the ground with a thunk. The wraith backs up, and, seeing both me and Alura, holds up its glowing scythe. It grins evilly, emitting a low cackle. Alura clings to my arm.
Then I have another strange vision. This time, I see a huge tidal wave drown the wraith and then seep back into the ground as the hideous creature is left helpless on the sidewalk, only to be pierced by a lightning strike…
When I look up, the wraith is melting. In seconds, only a black puddle of ooze remains.
Alura gawks at me. “Ok, now THAT was cool! Do you believe me now?”
I frown. “Believe- oh. Alura, I’m telling you I’m not the one doing this! Maybe it was him!”
I point at a teenage boy sprinting across the sidewalk and into the Library. “Or that girl over there! Or the wizard standing by the house on the other side of the street! It could have been anyone!”
Alura shrugs halfheartedly. “Maybe.”
I sigh impatiently. “Well, I guess we should go tell Gamma that we just melted a wraith.” Like that wasn’t obvious.
“Yeah, probably. We wouldn’t want anyone to-“
“Hey, look, Blaze! It’s a puddle of melted licorice! Let’s put it in this jar!” shouts a boy who must have been 5 years old. “LICORICE!” reply his friends, bouncing with joy. Alura grins. “-Eat it,” she finishes.
I rush forward. “No, no, that’s not licorice. It’s an evil, soul-sucking monster in ooze form,” I explain cheerfully.
The boys look at each other, and then back at me. “SWEET!” the smallest one exclaims. They run away with the jar before I can stop them.
I have another vision, but this time it’s much more real. I see the boys running away. But I also see a dark form… Christopher… waiting behind a tree, reaching out to grab them. This time, instead of waiting for the vision to end on its own course, I focus on what I want to happen. I imagine a forcefield between the boys and Christopher. I open my eyes, and the forcefield is there. So is Christopher, fighting against the magical barrier. Then he evaporates in a flash of light.
I take a deep breath. “Okay, so it was me that caused all that stuff to happen. I’m sorry for not believing you.”
“It’s okay,” says Alura, looking down at her feet.
“It’s not okay,” I protest. “I should have trusted you.”
Alura opens her mouth to speak, but I cut her off. “I think I need some proper training.”
And then I run, as fast as my magic-drained body allows, to Ravenwood.
Gamma is waiting for me right by the entrance. In her beak she holds a small package, dirty and coated with dust. I recognize it at once. This is the bundle of papers that was left in the tower when Christopher disappeared
“Julia, since Merle was too weak to deliver this package himself, he entrusted it to me. He said that you were to be the first to open it. Please, do so quickly,” advises the owl.
I nod shakily. “Uh, okay.” I take shallow breaths as my fingers fumble with the wrapping. It’s bound tight, but I manage to cut through it.
Inside the bundle is a beautiful leather book. Its cover is engraved with delicate embellishments, and spidery writing is carved in the middle. I can just barely make out the words: The History of the Shadowflames.
The world stops. My breathing becomes irregular, and then seeps out in a long, hissing puff. This is my family history. And Christopher was reading it.
I open the book. The pages are dry and brittle. My glance wanders over to the inside cover, where the list of owners was inscribed.
‘Ian Shadowflame, Kestrel Shadowflame, John Shadowflame, Mindy Shadowflame, Alyssa Shadowflame, Aaron Shadowflame, Sestiva Shadowflame…’
Great-Aunt Sestiva? What?
I continue reading, this time out loud. “Maria Shadowflame- my mom. Jenna Shadowflame- my aunt. Tatiana Shadowflame- no idea. Christo-“
The final name. His name.
Gamma flies in circles around a bush. “That cannot be! How could it-“
But I don’t listen. I don’t hear. I don’t feel.
I run. I throw the book into the lake behind the Storm school.
And then, the world turns black.
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