|Thirteen Years Ago
Soft light glows from the sputtering fire, flooding the small room. A tall woman in her late 70’s is slowly rocking in her favorite chair. The contents of a huge black bag are strewn across her feet. An overwhelming smell of herbs and spices are soaking up the air.
Her name is Alyssa Shadowflame. She is soon to die. But she won’t let herself slip away just yet. No, this old lady has things to do.
Behind the battered rocking chair is a rack of frothing, bubbling, simmering vials of potion. Each one has a label on the stopper, but Alyssa knows them all by heart.
Gingerly, cautiously, she lifts the largest bottle out of its iron holder. If she squeezes it a fraction too hard, it could shatter. And that is the last thing she needs.
She sets the potion down on a table next to her. She’ll take care of that later. Now she has a much more important job to do.
Across from the fireplace, in an iron crib, is a baby. Her granddaughter. The only hope left.
Alyssa draws her wand. Pointing it at the smiling, wriggling baby, she begins to mutter in a songlike voice. She is protecting the baby from others’ harm. But the person that could end up killing her granddaughter is her granddaughter herself. Alyssa will not allow what happened to her grandson to happen to her.
A few minutes later, the spell is complete. The baby girl’s magical talent is locked within her forever. Unless she somehow manages to track down the Lightning Rune, she won’t be able to cast any kind of spell.
Alyssa needs to ensure this doesn’t happen. Without hesitation, she takes a small sip of the potion. She focuses on an image of a fierce, loyal animal. The ground broadens and the sky stretches up, quivering through her eyes. A shiver crawls up her spine as she watches her body transform. Her hands shrivel up into her torso until her arms are only a few inches long. She looks down and sees that her feet have spiny claws on the ends. When she turns around, she realizes that she has grown a massive tail.
Alyssa finds it hard to control her thoughts. Her mind drifts away from the important job of protecting her granddaughter to immense stabs of hunger. The words magic, Julia, and rune tumble around aimlessly in her mind, but her yearning for food overcomes them. Her last human thought was that she may have drank too much of the potion.
And then she knew no more.
I wake up surrounded in whiteness.
“Julia?” It’s Alura’s voice, but she sounds like she’s underwater. “Julia, wake up!”
“What happened?” I mumble, sitting up in a bed I’d never seen before. “Where am I?”
“Julia!” Alura rushes over to me, the worried look on her face vanishing. “You’re alive!” She grins and thrusts a bubbling vial in front of my face. “Drink this.”
I look at it skeptically. “But it’s...moving!” I protest. “I’m not drinking that!”
Alura rolls her bright green eyes. “Oh, come on! It’s a healing potion. I got it from Dworgyn... and trust me; I never go to him unless it’s important.”
“Dworgyn?” I ask, confused. “Who’s that?”
“The Death professor,” Alura explains, saying the word “Death” with obvious distaste. “Now drink it!”
I stare into the vial for a few seconds before lifting it to my mouth. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?
I hear a loud crash from behind me and turn around slowly. To my surprise, a panicked-looking boy is standing in the doorway, looking like he’d stuck a fork in the toaster- unruly black hair sticking up every which way and wild eyes. “STOP!” he shouts.
“Sierra’s vase!” wails Alura, kneeling on the ground at the boy’s feet. She picks up a large piece. “Logan, you broke it! She’s gonna kill me!”
Oh. So that’s where the crash came from.
Logan looks down. “Oh...sorry bout that. Anyways, Dworgyn gave you a healing potion, right?”
Alura nods slowly and goes back to cleaning up the shattered vase.
“Well, turns out it wasn’t a healing potion,” he continues. “It was a special mixture for polishing wand stones!”
I drop the vial.
“I told you it looked weird,” I say to Alura. She winces.
Logan looks at me and realizes I’d been holding the potion. “Holy Heckhound.. you didn’t drink that, did you?”
I shake my head. “No, but I was about to. Good thing you showed up!”
“Bad thing you broke my vase,” grumbles Alura. ”I’m gonna go get a bag to put it in before Sierra finds it.” She leaves the room in a huff.
Awkward silence settles in.
“So...” says Logan. “Are you new here? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
“Well, I’m not really a student... I mean, I was about to go enroll in the Fire school, but there were... complications.” Nice job explaining, Julia.
“Oh,” Logan says. “Well, maybe you should pick Death as your secondary school. It’s pretty cool.” Another awkward silence.
“Uh, my name’s Logan Ghosthunter. What’s yours?”
“Julia Shadowflame,” I say, looking around the room. I’m positive I’ve never seen it before.
“Shadowflame?” Logan asks, his dark eyes wide in surprise. “As in, Sestiva Shadowflame?”
“Yeah, she’s my great aunt,” I say, frowning. “Why?”
“She’s, like, the most famous wizard ever! That’s so cool that you’re related to her! Has she taught you a lot?”
Now I’m genuinely confused. “Great Aunt Sestiva hates magic! My whole family hates magic! I’m not even allowed to use it!”
Logan gapes at me. “You’re related to Sestiva Shadowflame and you’ve never used magic?”
The door swings open noisily before I can ask Logan any more questions. Alura enters the room holding a burlap sack and a battered broom. She glares at Logan. “Help me clean this up!”
Logan sighs and takes the broom from Alura. They quickly scoop the remains of the vase into the sack, and Alura shoves it under the bed. “If Sierra finds this, I’m so dead.”
“Um... who is Sierra, anyway?” I ask. “And where am I?”
“Sierra Griffinthorn is my roommate,” Alura explains. “And you’re in my dorm room.”
“And I’m not really allowed to be in here,” mutters Logan, taking a sudden fascination with the floor. “Uh, I gotta go. See you guys around.”
“Bye,” I say, watching Alura grab her wand out of the corner of my eye. “I’ll see you in class- if I chose Death as my secondary.”
Logan smiles. “You should. It’s really-“
“Leave!” hisses Alura. She prods his back with her wand. “Now!”
“Uh, okay,” he says, confused. “Bye...”
As soon as he’s out the door, Alura slams the door shut and glares at me warningly. “Julia Shadowflame, don’t you even consider taking Death as your secondary. And don’t listen to anything that... that Ghosthunter says.”
I frown. “He seemed fine to me!”
Alura sighs. “My family has hated the Ghosthunters since, like, five hundred years ago. My great-great-great-great-great-great—“Alura pauses. “Well, you get the point. Anyways, a few of Logan’s ancestors kidnapped him, drained his magic, and made him fight a bunch of high-level monsters- and, well, it wasn’t pretty.” She shrugs. “My family holds grudges.”
“No kidding,” I mutter. “So what secondary school should I take, then? What’s your school?” I thought it was funny that I’d never asked her what type of wizard she was.
“I’m Balance, secondary Life,” she says. “But I don’t think that would fit you. Maybe you should take Storm as your secondary.”
Part of me still wanted to take Death, but I decided I’d give Storm a try. “Yeah,” I agree. “Sounds fun.”
“And here’s the Fire school.”
I gasp. Braziers of blazing orange flames, on either side of a large tree with fire for leaves, glow intensely to the right of the school. The building itself is decorated with orange and red blazes, and the hole area is tinted in fiery shades. As soon as I see it, I feel right at home.
“Well, that concludes our tour. Enjoy your first day!” says Alura in a mock-tour guide voice. I laugh as she pretends to adjust a headset. She smiles. “I gotta go,” she says. “See you later!”
Still staring at the school, I bid her farewell and, taking a deep breath, step inside.
I’m surprised to see Logan sitting in the front. He waves at me. “Fire’s my secondary.”
I start to reply, but then I realize that the entire class is staring at me. I quickly slide into an empty desk next to him.
I feel a gust of wind as the wide wooden door swings open. Turning around, I see a woman with flaming orange hair and a long, somewhat squid-like dress enter the school. “That’s Professor Falmea,” Logan whispers. “The Fire teacher.” I nod; I recognize her from Merle’s tower.
“Good morning, students,” she says brightly. “Please take your seats. We will begin our lessons shortly, but before we start, I’d like to introduce our newest student.” She smiles down at me. “Julia?”
I stand up, tripping over my chair. “Uh, hi,” I say. “I’m Julia Shadowflame. I’m, uh, new here.” Like they didn’t already know that.
I hear a few snickers and sit back down, blushing. The professor frowns at a few students sitting in the back of the room, but doesn’t say anything.
“Today we will be focusing on damage over time spells. Can anyone name one?”
One of the snickering boys raises his hand. “Fire Dragon,” he announces smugly.
Professor Falmea frowns. “Yes, Duncan, but that’s far beyond your level. You won’t be learning that for quite sometime.” Now it’s my turn to snicker. “Anyone else?” the professor asks.
Logan raises his hand. “Heckhound,” he offers. The professor smiles. “Very good, Logan. Can anyone give me the details of that spell?”
A short girl with wild blue hair starts talking. “It’s a Fire only spell that Fire students receive at level 18. It does 120 damage per pip over 3 rounds, and it has an accuracy of 75%.”
Wait... Fire School only?
I tap Logan on his shoulder. “How do you know that if you’re Death?”
Looking uncomfortable, he coughs. “Hold on- I think the professor is about to tell us something.”
“Correct. Now, please divide into your level groups,”” she instructs. “Nicole will be with levels one through ten; Blaze, you take eleven through twenty; Sierra, twenty-one to thirty; Mason, thirty-one to forty; and Jenna, forty-one to fifty.”
“How do I know what level I am?” I whisper to Logan. “The professor wil test you,” he replies.”
“Julia, you come with me,” Professor Falmea says, motioning towards me. Logan mouths ‘good luck’ and I follow the professor out the doors.
“I’m very glad you decided to come, Julia,” says the professor as she briskly walks past the Ice school. “Follow me; we’re going to test your powers.”
She leads me out of Ravenwood and into the Commons. It’s still in very bad shape, but I notice a few people on ladders working to repair it.
“It’s terrible, what happened,” she says sadly. “The headmaster is so weak, and no one can identify the cause.””
“It’s my fault Christopher got away,” I mutter darkly. “I could have stopped him, I almost did.”
“It’s not your fault, Julia,” Professor Falmea says gently. “Don’t dwell on the past. It’ll just drive you insane.” She pauses. “You did the best you could.” She stops in front of a locked wrought iron gate and grabs her wand out of her pocket. It almost looks like mine, but it has thin red stripes winding up the sides and a fiery orange gemstone at the top. She points her wand at the gate, and in an instant flame shoots out of the end and into the lock, which opens smoothly. She leads me inside and announces, “This is Golem Court.”
The small area is dominated by a massive stone tower smack in the middle. Wizards are scurrying in and out of the building like bees to a hive. Before I can ask what exactly it is, the professor leads me around the side and stops in front of a cave secured by a rusty gate. “This,” she announces, “is Dragon’s Mouth Cave.”
“Uh...okay,” I say, frowning. “So what exactly are we doing here?”
The professor just smiles. “You’ll see. She points her wand at the gate, and in a flash of orange light, the lock splits in half and the gate swings open. She strides into the cave, and I follow, looking around me.
Veins of lava course through the dark stone floor, lighting up the entire cavern. Small pebbles of black rock are strewn across the ground. In the middle of the cave, a pile of rubble is heaped on top what I at first think is a stone pedestal, but watching it more closely, I see infrequent geysers of lava spurting between the rock, and realize it must be trapped under the rubbage.
I turn to Professor Falmea, who looks stricken. She staggers over to the basin and runs her hand along the fiery rock. She closes her eyes and brushes her surprisingly un-singed hands across the wreckage, but nothing happens. When she opens her eyes, they are clouded with intense worry.
“What’s wrong?” I ask. She sighs and steps back from the basin. “This Christopher is much more powerful than any of us realized,” she murmured. “I should be able to restore the cave, but the counter-magic is too strong, even though I am the Fire professor.” She pauses. “What exactly do you know about him?”
I snort. “He’s evil, cruel, has no heart-“
“I meant, about his life, his past, his family... anything could be helpful for us.”
I feel my throat closing up. His family. “Well... Gamma delivered a package to me about a week ago. In it was a spellbook. The Shadowflame family spellbook.” I gulp. “Christopher’s name was written on the front cover.”
The professor frowns. “And you knew of this?”
I shake my head. “I had no idea. I’d ask my mom about it, but she’s away.”
“Away?” she asks. “Away where?”
“Well, my mom and my Great Aunt Sestiva went to the Krokosphinx to get me some salve- I guess because of the whole explosion thing.”
“Julia,” she says gently, “The Spiral Door has been locked for two weeks, since the day you released the magic- less than an hour later, actually. They couldn’t have gone to the Krokosphinx.”
I feel a cold chill run up my spine. “Wha-what do you mean?” I ask tightly.
“The Headmaster sealed the portal for safety reasons,” she explains. “Nobody gets in, and nobody gets out. It’s been that way for a while.”
Suddenly it all makes sense. My mom would never just go off to the Krokosphinx without letting me know face-to-face, and Great Aunt Sestiva would have refused to go with her. And even if she agreed, they would have asked someone to watch me. This meant only one thing.
“Christopher.” I pound my fists against the rock as my voice escalates from a dark mutter to a raging shout. “Christopher kidnapped them!” Still striking the wall, I feel hot tears well up in my eyes. “That- that-” My voice breaks and I start sobbing uncontrollably. When I finally stop and pull back from the wall, my knuckles are bleeding.
And the professor isn’t there.
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