|I stirred in my sleep. What was wrong with my bed? It was cold and hard and rough, and my back was black and blue just from sleeping on it.
Subconsciously, I tried to punch my pillow into a better shape.
It felt as if I had broken my hand. I abruptly sat up, pulled away from my dream, and immediately realized that I was not in my bedroom. Instead, I was in a tiny room with no doors or windows. There was no furniture, just a cold, stone floor and walls.
I was in a dungeon.
And one thing about Malistaire’s dungeon: those who were caught inside never got out. Ever.
I started to panic. How did I get here? Everything had been a blur. And where were my siblings? Would I ever see them again?
No, I thought. Don’t think like that. Don’t panic. I’m going to escape. There’s a way out; there has to be.
But after feeling around the entire perimeter of the wall with my hands, I came up with nothing. I began to weigh my chances. No wand, no deck, no doors, no windows: no chance. Not good.
Okay, keep calm. What would Sierra Winterbreeze do?
I smiled as I thought of the name of my favorite character from Wizard City literature.
After a couple of minutes, a plan began to form in my mind. Someone was sure to come in to bring me food or something. If—no—when that happened, I’d be able to push past them and then escape. Then I’d find my siblings.
Endless minutes ticked by. I sang under my breath, did handstands against the wall, recited the properties of life to myself—I mean, come on. Anything to break the boredom, right?
Finally, I heard footsteps from outside the cell. Then a shimmery, rectangular outline appeared on the wall.
I flattened myself against the stretch of wall next to the new door, prepared to attack whatever was coming. A lock clicked. I had never battled a skeletal soldier physically before. What would it feel like? And how did you defeat one?
The door opened. I lunged sideways and made to shove past whoever was there. But two hands grabbed my wrists. Not skeleton hands, human hands.
And I found myself looking into the face of my best friend.
For a second, I felt like cheering. Chris! He was here! But then I remembered what he did. And more importantly, who he was.
“Surprised?” he chuckled. He shoved me back against the opposite end of the room. Then he turned and stuck a key through an invisible keyhole.
“You,” I managed to get out. The pain of his betrayal still hurt even now. “You tricked me.” Way to state the obvious, Sarah.
He said nothing. He just laughed again. Not the friendly, easy laugh I had known when we were friends. A harsh one.
“I trusted you.” Again, stating the obvious. Tell him something he doesn’t know.
“Are you finished?” he asked mockingly.
“No,” I said defiantly, but not able to hide the hurt in my voice. “How could you? You were my friend. And now you’re with him.” I spat out the last word as if it were dirt I had to get out of my mouth. “And,” I said, just realizing, “you’re not even death! You’re a life wizard! You hate death!”
“Maybe that’s what you though,” he snorted. “But I would’ve thought you’d have realized it now. Of course I’m death. Marcus Deathspear, last in the line of the only pure-death wizard family, greatest servant to Malistaire, life? Ha!
“I tell, you Sarah, it was the easiest job in the world, being a spy. All I had to do was change my clothes, convince that old fool Ambrose that I was a late arrival, and answer the questions that I knew a life wizard would answer. Simple.”
“But why life?” I demanded. “Ambrose trusts death wizards too.”
“Isn’t it obvious?” said Chris. I mean Marcus. “I think, on the whole, that it is easier to trust a life wizard. I didn’t want to do it, but Malistaire insisted. ‘Opposite of death’ he says. ‘Less suspicious.’ Well, let me tell you, it was terrible being stuck in that horrible tower learning all this junk about life and creation.” My cheeks glowed red as he said this. “It was a relief when I could finally throw all those useless spell cards away. I hated it, but I stuck with it. After all, after all I was spreading around about death wizards, there wasn’t a soul who would trust me if I was pretending to be a death student instead.
“You see, Sarah, I was in Ravenwood on a mission; besides getting close to you, I mean. Malistaire was getting tired of his old death students opposing him. He said that he felt betrayed by his own school.”
“I know exactly how he feels.” I spat.
Marcus ignored me. “He knew those unfaithful traitors had to be eliminated. So while at Ravenwood, I spread all the rumors I could about the death students, hoping it would cause the other schools to turn against them.”
“You mean,” I said, my temper rising, “that everything you said about the death school was a lie?”
“Yes,” said Marcus. “I mean, even I was surprised at how well the plan worked. If anyone had at least paid any attention to what was going on, they would’ve known that death wizards have been some of Malistaire’s greatest opponents. But people will believe anything these days. Especially Cyrus Drake. What an idiot. All I had to do was tell him that Darkwind’s parents and Malistaire were old school friends and he sang like a canary. Of course, you don’t know about Cyrus’s history with the death school, do you?”
Only one part of that sentence registered into my brain “But…Nolan…you told me he was a traitor!”
Marcus laughed again. “Like I said, people will believe anything. No, he wasn’t a traitor. But think. Do you really think that I would let someone like that befriend you? Someone whose parents have been fending off Malistaire from the very beginning? I don’t think so.”
“So all those times when you said I shouldn’t be friends with necromancers…” I began.
“Yes,” said Marcus. “Not only was I getting very much in character, I was also preventing you from finding an ally. Clever, wasn’t it? Yes, necromancers are the most powerful wizards out there, so it would really hurt our chances if you happened to befriend one.”
If he was waiting for a response, he would have to wait a while. I stood there silently, unable to make a sound.
“Well, I suppose I’ve had my say.” Marcus pulled something from out of nowhere and thrust it into my arms. It was a water jug. “I wouldn’t bother at all, only Malistaire wants to keep you alive while he plans something creative for your execution. Twenty coins says it’s going to involve a wraith again. It’s his absolute favorite. I mean, between you and me, it’s getting old. It was pretty cool the first time, but he killed it. Oh well.”
Laughing, he stuck his key into an unseen lock and swung the door open.
I looked from the water jug back to Marcus, and that’s when I made a snap decision. Without thinking, I thrust my arms outward, splashing water all over his face. Not to mention the rest of him.
“Hey…what the…” he sputtered, but with a well-placed kick to his stomach, I was off, running down the corridor.
“You won’t get away with this!” I heard him shout. But I didn’t care. As long as I could put as much distance as possible between me and him, I would be fine.
I dashed down corridors and passageways, making a lot of turns along the way so it would be even harder for him to find me. And the more I ran through the castle, the less I liked it. Battle axes adorned the walls, suits of armor turned their helmets to look at me as I ran by, and, call me paranoid, but every shadow on the wall seemed to take the shape of Malistaire himself.
I finally stopped in the middle of a long hallway, gasping for breath. Surely I could rest for a moment. There was no way he’d be able to find me now.
Or maybe there was. My well-practiced ear twitched as I heard footsteps.
I frantically looked around. There were no doors, no rooms I could hide in, but…yes! I squeezed in behind a large desk. The footsteps were getting closer. Then…they stopped directly in front of where I was hiding.
What were the odds?
“And do you know where she went to?” said a horribly silky voice from above me. I froze. It wasn’t Marcus; it was Malistaire. How did he find out that I was gone? Had Marcus told him already?
“No,” said another voice, but this one was gruff. It didn’t sound human. Was it a skeleton?
“Then find her and bring her to me.” There was no mistaking the venom Malistaire had implanted in every syllable. “She will be the first to die.” As he spoke, I heard him lay something on the table. I stifled a gasp. Those sounded like wands!
Two sets of footsteps walked away from where I was hiding. I wanted to jump out right away and grab my wand, but I didn’t dare wait until I was sure they were gone.
I remained behind the desk until I couldn’t hear them anymore. Then I cautiously crawled out.
Three wands were lying on top of the desk. I picked them up. One of them was mine. The two others were Samuel’s and Sadie’s. Savannah’s was missing.
I held mine in my hand and pocketed the other two. I don’t know what happened to Savannah’s, but maybe we’d buy her another one if we ever got out of this place.
Now grabbing the three spell decks also lying on the table, I turned around…
…to find Marcus’s sneering face inches from mine.
I shrieked and took a startled leap back.
“You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?” said Marcus. “I know this castle like the back of my hand.”
I knew if I ran, I’d be toast. Time for Plan B.
“Well, it’s too bad for you,” I shot back. “I have my wand back now.” I twirled it in the air, causing green sparks to shoot out from the tip.
“Are you suggesting that you could actually beat me?” Marcus scoffed.
“Maybe,” I said. I shot sparks up into the air with my wand. A dueling circle formed on the stone floor. “Do you want to test that theory?”
“Not so fast,” Marcus took out his wand and waved it once, causing the dueling circle to disappear. “Dueling circles are for amateurs, don’t you think? Why don’t you and I test our skills in a real duel?”
Whoa, whoa, whoa, this wasn’t part of the plan.
“Doesn’t your boss want to finish me off himself?” I asked, trying to hide the fear from my voice.
Marcus shrugged. “Why? He’ll have the other three. And what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. I can always say that one of your own spells backfired or something. Besides, I like it better this way: just you and me.”
Without warning, he whipped a card from his deck and traced the storm symbol into the air.
Just like that, I was standing on a tiny island suspended in the middle of a magical ocean. But these waters thrummed with electricity. Then I saw a fin in the water. A shark!
I stuffed a hand into my deck and cast the first spell, which turned out to be leprechaun. A tiny figure zoomed down a rainbow just as a shark leaped out of the water, its mouth showing rows and rows of pointy teeth.
A wall of coins suddenly appeared in front of me, blocking the shark, which sank back into the water.
The leprechaun laughed joyfully as the water around me disappeared. He threw fistfuls of coins at Marcus, who, in less time than I could’ve thought possible, was buried.
But not for long. A head popped out of the mound of coins.
“Really? That’s all you got?” Marcus brushed some coins off of himself. “Attack by coins; oh I’m scared now. Well, I should’ve known. Life magic is particularly known for weakness.”
Okay, that did it. I was so red hot mad I could practically feel steam coming out of my ears.
Then I swirling, golden wisp appeared out of nowhere and drifted lazily toward the pile of coins, which started to glow red as if ablaze.
Marcus suddenly leaped up from the pile, howling in pain. He had large, shiny burns all over his arms, and his clothing was also singed in many places.
Despite myself, I grinned.
“Don’t you just love magic?” I said sarcastically, kicking aside a stray coin.
“Of course,” he muttered angrily, “I should’ve known. The magic of the prophecy…”
He grinned evilly at me. “That was just a starter!” he hollered. “I do know other spells; more powerful ones. Do you want to see?”
My first real shock came when Marcus cast vampire. I gasped, but refusing to scream, as inch-long fangs dug into my shoulder. Then a funny draining sensation came over me, as if the vampire were depriving me of energy. What’s more, most of Marcus’s burns had vanished.
Gritting my teeth angrily, I drew a Troll from my deck.
Several minutes into the battle, Marcus and I were both suffering from major injuries. He had a big, bloody lump on the side of his head from where the troll had gotten him, and he looked a little winded from the rock that my tree had hit him with in the stomach. I was still tingling with the electric shock I had gotten from Marcus’s Kraken, and I had bruises all over due to his ghoul’s shovel. I was also a little deaf from his banshee.
Now, happy music filled the air as my imp darted around Marcus’s head, pulling his ears and poking him in the eye. I took advantage of the opportunity to cast satyr, which easily brought me back to full health.
Marcus finally managed to swing his wand at the imp, kind of like a baseball bat. The hit flung it against the wall, where it exploded in a puff of green smoke.
Then Marcus shot me a look of pure contempt. “I admit, Sarah, that I have been going easy on you. But no longer.” He whipped a black card out of his pocket. Then he traced a skull into the air.
In that instant, the temperature seemed to go down ten degrees. I shivered, pulling my shroud tighter around my shoulders. Then I sensed something behind me. I jumped and turned around, but I saw nothing behind me but black mist.
Suddenly, I drew in a breath. A pair of glowing, red eyes had appeared in the mist.
I took a step back. I had heard about this once. This was no ordinary mist; this was a shadow daemon.
“Nice, huh,” Nolan said smugly. “Yes, very special spell. VIPs only, so don’t think you can go casting it or anything.”
The mist advanced. I tried to step back, but my legs felt like jelly; I couldn’t move, much less run.
Then—I was surrounded in thick, black clouds.
I was lost, hopelessly lost. I tried to part through the mist, but it just sifted back into place. Somewhere, I heard Marcus’s laughter, but I couldn’t tell from which direction.
I stifled a shriek. Coming toward me from the depths of the mist was a giant, black hand. I tried to swat at it, but it was apparently solid.
There was nothing I could do. The fingers were reaching for my throat, and nothing seemed to stop them. I squeezed my eyes shut, anticipating their touch.
It didn’t come. I opened my eyes only to find myself in the midst of a thousand flames.
I was confused. Spirit daemons used death magic, not fire. In fact, they were afraid of fire. What was going on?
I heard a terrible roar, and then the last of the black mist vanished. But now I had a new problem: the fire was getting closer.
Then I saw the source of the flames: a sunbird flying overhead. But then who—
As the flames around me died down, I saw a figure behind Marcus. My jaw hit the floor when I realized it was Savannah.
Savannah waved her wand again, and the sunbird changed course and dive-bombed Marcus.
“Savannah!” I had to shout to be heard over the roar of the dying flames, Marcus’s yells, and the sunbird’s screeches. “You escaped!”
“Yeah!” she shouted back. “Maybe next time Malistaire will think twice about sending a skeletal pirate to bring me water! Those things are just so fragile.” She shook her head and made a tsk sound. I laughed. “Now finish off this idiot and let’s get out of here!”
I raised my wand and then hesitated. Part of me didn’t want to kill him. This was Chris, my best friend in Wizard City. I began to have a sort of flashback: Chris and I sharing grades on a test, dueling in the arena, fighting off monsters in dungeons…
The sunbird had now finished its work. Marcus stood up again, looking angrier than ever. He pointed his wand at Savannah.
That brought me back down to earth. “Don’t you dare!” I screamed. Rage flooding from me like fire from a hot furnace, I traced the myth symbol into the air.
A Cyclopes popped out of the ground, its hammer almost as big as it was. It took a ferocious swing at Marcus, who was flung up against the opposite wall just like the imp. And just like that, everything: the Cyclopes, the fire, disappeared.
“Well?” I panted.
Savannah nudged Marcus’s head with the toe of her boot. “He’s dead,” she said harshly.
A terrible feeling rose in my gut. It wasn’t the fact that I had killed my former best friend; I was surprised to find that I felt no pity at all. It was the fact that I had just killed.
But it was the Cyclopes that actually did it, I told myself. That still didn’t convince me.
“So what do we do?” asked Savannah.
I tried to push Marcus’s mangled body from my mind. “We find Sadie and Samuel. Then we’ll blow this joint.”
“Sarah!” Sadie said hoarsely, pressing her face against the bars.
I smiled. “Yeah, it’s me. We’re going to get you out of here. Do you know where Samuel is?” She shook her head.
“I can’t find a key,” came Savannah’s voice. “Malistaire must’ve taken it.”
Darn. “All right,” I said. “Let me think.”
But Savannah beat me to it. “I’ve got an idea,” she said. “Sadie, did anyone come to bring you water or anything?” Sadie nodded, pushing the small water jug through the bars.
Then Savannah held up the lock face up and poured water into the keyhole.
“Um…what are you—” I began, but she silenced me. She waved her wand over the lock and the water froze.
“Here,” she handed me the wand. She twisted the stick sticking out of the hole.
“Brilliant!” I whispered excitedly. Sadie rushed over and gave Savannah a big hug around the waist. “Now let’s go get Samuel.”
“I think not,” said a voice.
I whirled around. There, again, was Malistaire.
“Again, I am impressed that you got this far.” His dark eyes bored holes into mine with little interest. Then he thumped his staff once on the ground. All of our wands and decks flew into his possession, we were flung backward, and the prison door clanged shut.
He scrutinized us. “I see that Marcus wasn’t able to catch you. There will be punishment for him, I think.”
“That will be awfully hard for you then,” I said triumphantly. “He’s dead.”
For a minute, Malistaire looked surprised, even fearful. Then he relaxed. “With your puny life spells? Ha!”
“It wasn’t life,” said Savannah defiantly. “She finished him off with a Cyclopes.
“Ah, myth,” Malistaire sneered. “My dear brother’s field. I am sorry to say that that would not have done much good either. Myth is weak. Just like Cyrus, but I don’t suppose you could’ve heard what he had done, could you?”
“Then why don’t you go and check?” I asked.
“Oh, I will,” he said leaning forward until he was inches from my face. “And don’t even think about trying to escape, either.”
“Maybe we will,” Sadie sassed.
I stared in surprise. That was exactly the kind of thing that I would never imagine Sadie saying. Even she looked momentarily shocked at this sudden moment of boldness.
But she had said the wrong thing. Malistaire’s tunnel-like eyes swiveled around to stare at Sadie. “No you won’t,” he said softly. “At least…you won’t.” Then he pointed his staff directly at Sadie.
“Don’t!” I screamed. But it was too late. The glass ball on his staff was already glowing.
Just then, Savannah sprinted across the room and hurled herself in front of Sadie, just as the magical energy was released from Malistaire’s staff.
I’d like to say that a bright flash of light filled the room, but the energy radiating from Malistaire’s staff was actually black. So even now, I still don’t get how it was able to temporarily blind me.
I opened my eyes to find Malistaire disappear with a whirl of his cloak, laughing. I was afraid to look beside me, but Sadie’s sobs confirmed the worst.
I turned and knelt down. No…it couldn’t be…
“Is s-she d-dead?” Sadie choked. I didn’t answer. Instead, I pressed my palms flat on her chest, listening for a pulse. Then I heard it, however faint, a small, feeble heartbeat. Relief coursed through my body
“She’s not,” I assured her. But even as I said it, her heartbeat continued to grow slower and fainter. “Not yet.”
I felt a deep sense of panic. What was I supposed to do? I was stuck in Malistaire’s dungeon with my two sisters, one of whom was near death. Malistaire would probably come back in minutes. And who knew where Samuel was? Maybe he was dead already.
It’s not as hopeless as you might think.
I froze. I didn’t think those words. “Who’s there?” I called out, causing Sadie to look my way, alarmed.
A tinkling laugh reverberated around my brain. It wasn’t my voice; it was that of a young woman.
You know you can do it, said the woman’s voice. You just can’t remember. Think back to who you are and what you can do.
I thought, but I didn’t come up with anything. Um, lady? How about some clues? Hints?
The laugh sounded again. All right. Look at your hand. I looked and then gasped.
Appearing on my palm, as if drawn by an invisible hand, was a thin, silver line. It curled and looped around until it connected with the other end, forming an undefined shape. Upon closer glance, it appeared to be a leaf intertwined with a heart.
Do you recognize this symbol then?
“Hmm…” I thought back. Suddenly, I knew, having seen it before on a certain drawing. It was the mark of a true healer.
As soon as I thought the words “true healer” I perked up. I had heard about those too. They were wizards who could heal without a wand, charm, or spell!
You know what to do, said the voice.
And somehow, I did. Feeling as though I was being pushed by someone else, I leaned over Savannah’s body and placed a hand on her chest, where it rose and fell along with her breathing.
A golden haze filled the room. My heart leaped for joy in my chest. It was working!
I obeyed without question. Then, out of nowhere, came the music. It was lovely, melodious. And as it grew louder and stronger, Savannah’s heartbeat grew more defined.
I have found myself in the midst of bright light many times during my time at Wizard City, but none had been like this. It was though the sun, in all its glory, had decided to come down from its spot in the atmosphere and shine in Malistaire’s cell room instead, spreading a golden glare throughout the room. I squinted my eyes, and then closed them, but never taking my hand away…
Savannah stirred from underneath my hand.
“Wow!” Sadie exclaimed. “You did it!”
“Savannah,” I said, shaking her gently. “How do you feel?”
“Ugh,” she groaned. She sat up. “Terrible.”
“Well done,” said a voice.
That’s when I discovered that someone had joined us in the room. A beautiful, shining woman with long, blonde hair stood before us. But her figure was distorted and somewhat transparent, as though someone had painted her using watercolors.
She also seemed vaguely familiar, as though I had once met her a long time ago but I had forgotten.
“Who are you?” I asked.
She laughed, and then I realized that she was the same voice that I had been hearing inside my head. “That is not important. What is important is who you are, Sarah Spiritheart.”
I again looked at the mark on my palm. It had turned from silver to gold. “A true healer,” I answered.
“Yes,” said the woman, “but you are even more special than that. All of you, actually. Malistaire is getting powerful, and we fear that with this much power, he would try to rule the Spiral. It is up to you to stop him.”
“But when? How?” Savannah asked desperately.
“Not now,” said the woman. “There is a time for everything, and this is not it. You need to go back to Ravenwood and train.”
“But we need to get out of here first,” I pointed out.
The woman smiled. Then she glided through the bars, which turned into ashes as she passed through. “Come; I will take you to your brother.”
Once again, we set off through the hallways of Malistaire’s castle. But this time, we were feeling less afraid. We felt safer in the maiden’s presence.
“Almost there,” she whispered.
Then I happened to look through one of the doors that adorned the hallways, and I saw, sitting helplessly in the center of the room, a miniature unicorn.
Feeling a wave of pity for the creature, (After all, this was a Life animal.) I opened the door, which was conveniently unlocked, and it looked up in surprise.
“Go!” I whispered. “Get out of here!”
As happy as I was to have been able to help another innocent life escape from Malistaire’s dungeon, I didn’t wait to see if it left. I hurried along to catch up with my sisters, who were now standing with their backs against the wall.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. Savannah pointed around the corner. I followed her finger and saw none other than Ian Ghostbringer and Patrick Nightwalker, two members of Malistaire’s Black Hand. They were holding our wands and decks and Samuel by his wrists. They were talking to each other, and I caught the word “execution”
I pressed myself against the wall too.
“We’re going to have to try and take them.” I paused. “Where is…she?”
No sooner than I said that, I heard Ian and Patrick yell at the same time, “GHOST!!”
First looking at each other in alarm, we all peered around the corner to see what was going on.
The woman, her long hair flapping out behind her, was hovering in the air just below the ceiling. Ian and Patrick literally threw down everything they were holding, including Samuel, and scrambled as fast as they could down the hall.
“Go!” I hissed. We dashed to the corridor and grabbed our wands and decks. Before Samuel even had time to smile, I grabbed his arm and we were off. The woman had vanished.
“Which way?” asked Savannah.
I was just about to answer when a scream of rage came from somewhere behind us. It sounded as though Malistaire had just found out is greatest servant was dead.
“That way!” I pointed in the opposite direction.
“You come back here!”
I dared a look behind me. Malistaire was storming toward us, looking mutinous, absolutely beside himself.
“Look!” Sadie pointed down another hallway coming up. There was the same unicorn that I had set free earlier. It made a sort of motion with its head. “It wants us to follow it!”
“Yes, run!” screeched Malistaire as we chased the unicorn down the hall. “I’ll get you all, like you killed Marcus!”
We were coming up to something: a large door. A spiral door.
I reached into my pouch, pulled out the key to Wizard City, and jammed it in the keyhole. Then I held the door open for my siblings. “Get in!”
I snuck a glance back at Malistaire, who wasn’t far behind.
“You filthy myth wizard!” he bellowed. “You’re a murderer, just like my brother!”
“And what were you going to do, have your wraith invite us to tea?” I shouted back. After shoving our new unicorn friend in, I dashed in myself and closed the door, but not before Malistaire had his last say.
“Cyrus Drake killed my wife!”
And suddenly, I was back in Bartleby’s spiral chamber, facing a bunch of wizards who looked just as confused as I felt.
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