|“Adele, hurry!” the woman shouted frantically, “There’s no time.”|
The girl ran after her mother down the alleyway, her heart pounding. The village was in flames; everywhere there was thick, dark smoke that filled the eyes and lungs. The girl choked for breath as she ran.
“Mother, wait,” she gasped.
The woman grabbed her arm. “Quickly, Adele.”
They struggled to find a way out through the smoky darkness. All around they heard the screams of other villagers running about in a panic, and the ruthless snarls and roars of their aggressors as they slaughtered, plundered, and destroyed. They were terrifying beasts, with thick impenetrable skin like stone, dark leathery wings, and long, sharp teeth and claws. Their eyes gleamed like liquid gold, and in their breath was the stench of death and decay. They had descended on the village at nightfall without warning, and seemed bent on razing it to the ground.
The woman and child ran on through the chaos, seeking a way out, when one of the beasts leapt into their path with a savage roar. Immediately the woman drew a wand from her robe and brandished it at the beast. A flash of blue light sprang from the tip, materializing into a frost beetle that attacked the monster. The creature bellowed in rage.
“Run!” the woman ordered, “Get help!”
The girl turned and ran. The beast turned as if to chase her, but the woman hurled another spell that caught it in the face. With a snarl of fury it spun and fixed its attention back on her.
On the girl ran, through the carnage and destruction, and slipped into the woods beyond. Help, where could she find help? The next village was at least forty miles away. Then she remembered the old legends her grandfather used to tell her. She doubted their reality, but there was no other choice. She was desperate.
A nearby beast suddenly caught her scent and tracked her into the woods. It caught sight of her as she leaned against a tree, panting and gasping for breath, and lunged at her with a growl. She darted back just in time, as its gleaming claws caught the edge of her robe, tearing long gashes in the fabric. Quickly she pulled back and sprinted away for her life, deeper into the woods, not caring how the sharp rocks and twigs on the ground cut into her bare feet. The beast loped after her; she heard the steady thumps of its heavy footfalls and its hoarse grunts as it thrashed aside branches to pursue her. The cave, she needed to find the cave.
But the night was dark, making it impossible to know where to go. And she was tiring. Soon the beast would overtake her. It seemed her mother had defended her in vain.
Then, miraculously, the clouds parted slightly, and she caught a glimpse of an enormous stone. As she approached, she recognized the familiar ancient markings on it in the dim moonlight. She scrambled around it on every side, searching for the entrance, as the beast came closer and closer. She whipped out her wand as it sprang at her and pointed it, silently imploring it to work.
There was a flash of light, and the beast collapsed on the ground, paralyzed. With a short breath of relief, the girl continued to fumble hurriedly around the rock. The Stun Charm wouldn’t last forever.
Finally she found it: a tightly curled spiral carved into the rock, no bigger than her fist. She pressed her palm against it and muttered the words the legend had indicated. The rock face rumbled softly and slid open. Then she heard an angry growl behind her; the charm had worn off. She tried to stun the beast again, but the wand fizzled. In desperation she grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it into the creature’s eyes. As it roared in fury and pain, thrashing its head from side, the girl crept quickly into the cave.
Inside, the place had a damp, musty smell, as though it had not been used for a long time. By the faint moonlight that trickled through the entrance, the girl saw a torch that hung by a brass ring in the wall. She lit it with a flick of her wand and looked around. The cave was made up of a single large, circular room, with a high ceiling and a round dais in the center.
Outside the beast roared again. It leered inside the cave and struggled to fit its massive body through the opening. The girl ran to the center of the room and jumped on the dais. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. Wizard City…Wizard City…I need to get to Wizard City… She didn’t actually believe there was such a place, but hoped with all her might that this one time she would be wrong and her grandfather right.
Somehow the beast wedged its way through into the cave. It gave a snarl of triumph. There was no escape. WIZARD CITY! The girl thought feverishly, please, please, please…
But nothing happened. Again she tried to stun the beast. Again she fizzled. In frustration and despair, she threw her wand at the creature as hard as she could. It hit it squarely between the eyes, and the beast roared once more. It grabbed the wand and snapped it between its teeth.
Bright white light blasted out of the shattered wand, sweeping through the cave. The beast dropped the pieces in bewilderment. A strong gust of wind whipped the girl’s long dark hair and tattered robe. Without thinking, she said the words in her head again. Wizard City.
Instantly the world began to swim before her eyes. It was spinning, faster and faster, until it became a blur of colors, then a blur of shadows. She felt as though she were being squeezed and pulled in all directions at the same time. She thought she would throw up…
And then it all went dark.
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