Lonesome moonlight descended upon Ravenwood with a silvery smile of sadness. Throughout the school grounds, all was silent. The whisper of the spring wind would pass one way, and then turn another, treacherous to its promise, and the occasional hoot of an owl whisked away in the quiet circle that was supposed to be bubbling with life.
It was a curiosity to see Ravenwood School of Magical Arts so silent as to be dead, but those who attended knew that the School had been shut down, due to the recent events of the Spiral.
Many wizards and witches spiral-wide had celebrated the long-anticipated defeat of Malistaire Drake, whose death had prevented the waking of a terrible Titan in Dragonspyre whose slumber numbered thousands of years.
But to one particular wizard who alone stood in front of the giant sleeping Grandfather Tree in brooding silence, it had not been as big a celebration. This was Cyrus Drake, the head Professor for the School of Myth at Ravenwood, and the twin brother to the man who nearly put the whole Spiral in mortal danger.
Cyrus was a tall man, garbed from shoulder to toe in draping yellow-canary robes lined with pale blue trims. He had a long, solemn face, with such resolve that it rivaled steel, framing two sapphire-blue eyes that drank the light out of a room. His head bore no hair, and had, because of the moon, a crown of silver that winked off it quite brilliantly.
The downcast Cyrus had been waiting for some time in the darkness, under the leafy cover of Bartleby's emerald leaves. The other three were not late, per say, but he always took pride in being early to things, no matter the importance.
It was not until an owl, clad in pearl-white feathers, swooped down underneath the canopy of Bartleby, did he discover he was not alone.
"Headmaster," anticipated the unmoving Myth Professor.
The sudden plume of outstretched stars painted the night in purples and yellows, giving way to a slouching wizard with a hat that corkscrewed upwards, making him look two feet taller than he actually was. Robes dappled with stars and moons clung to him like a drawn shadow, and a fairly large monocle that sheathed his left eye glinted white from the moon.
"Cyrus," the man said, smiling softly. "You are early."
"As always, Headmaster Ambrose," the myth professor, whose face was still unassuming, said. "I assume the two boys are both safe from harm?"
The one named Ambrose shuffled up the cobblestone pathway, raising his arm for his snowy owl, Gamma, to land upon. It hooted with content as it cocked its head towards Professor Drake, watching him with pale, yellow eyes. "They are both safe, for now." Gamma hooted once, flapping his wings, as the Headmaster smiled. "I assumed you would have still been at the Crown of Fire, Cyrus, but my judgement seems to have been wrong."
The Myth Professor, who stiffened at the Headmaster's comment, quietly scoffed. "What's done is done."
"You do understand why it had to be done, Cyrus?" the Headmaster asked.
Cyrus Drake stood there a moment, regarding the wizened headmaster with anxious eyes. "I have theories, each one as ridiculous as the next."
"I am curious," the Headmaster said, scratching his head through the ridiculously tall wizard hat. "You were there with him when Malistaire was at his end, so I find it only fitting to ask if he had asked anything of you. A parting wish, perhaps?"
The Myth Professor paused. A sudden look of fear flushed out his face before he straightened himself, and cleared his throat.
"I see," the Headmaster said, bowing his head slightly. "You need not humor me on what it was. I know you have been taking his death very harshly."
"Do not fret," His lone cerulean eye winked with a light of anticipation as he raised his voice. "Even in the darkest of places, fire still burns brightly." He coughed once, softly, turning to the dark behind them. "As always, you are looking as lovely as ever, Professor Falmea."
And from the darkness, Dalia Falmea, the Professor of the Fire School, popped out from behind the sleeping body of Bartleby. Ruby red robes swathed her hourglass figure, and her hair was let loose, waving in the air like a giant unkempt flame. "Ambrose," she bowed her head to the Headmaster, and then a little more grudgingly to the Myth Professor. "Cyrus."
Cyrus saw the contempt in her eyes as she walked forward; an angry flame in them that kindled when she set sight on him. He could only guess that she did not trust him; not now, not ever.
The Headmaster peered from one professor to the other, and patted both on the shoulders. "Ah, Professors, look how far we have come! Please, be happy, the Spiral is safe for now!"
"For now," Dalia repeated thinly.
"You cannot judge one side of the moon for it's darker half," Ambrose lectured in a tone of finality, though he was still smiling. "As for the protection of the boys," Ambrose continued. "You both are tasked with watching over them."
"Where are they now?" Professor Falmea prompted. She still kept an eye on Cyrus, as if he were to pull a wand out any instant and blow the two of them up.
Headmaster Ambrose shuffled past both professors to approach Bartleby. He extended an arm to touch the Grandfather tree tenderly with a sad look on his face. "One boy I have retrieved from the depths of Celestia; the other from the abandoned academy in Dragonspyre. But they cannot stay here for long. Even the moon casts shadows in the night. That is why we need to move them. Separate them. Make sure they do not know who they are until the time is right."
"How do you propose we do that?" Falmea asked, her hair undulating like moonfire in the night.
His smile seemed to tell it all.
The crack of the staff was all he remembered. He had rushed to her, catching her falling body before it hit the cobblestone floor.
Crack. The staff slammed against the floor. That's all he remembered. And Jon's face. He remembered the Pyromancer's face.
"I'm here Ros… Ros, look at me, look! I'm here, see? There's nothing wrong - JUSTIN SAVE HER!" He remembered Jon wrapping his hands around her stray hand. It had been hanging from her body at an unnatural angle. He didn't want to think she had died by that point.
But he tried anyways. He pressed the point of his yew wand to her chest, and the runic carvings on it kindled an irate emerald. He remembered closing his eyes at that point, thinking of the sweet harmony of life.
His thoughts brought him back to an orchard he had visited often when he was a child. He felt his feet sink into the damp grass, smelt the keen scent of maple and ripe fruit, praised the late summer sun that sifted through the morning fog to tickle his bare back. Deep breaths. Breathing kept a cap on his childhood excitement. Let it go too much and you fizzle, he reminded himself. He was running through the orchard, jumping over the stone pads, making sure not to touch the grass because he imagined it was lava. A child's game, no doubt. Don't let it overflow. The whisper of a song started to play in his head, but it was too soft for him to echo. So he squinted his eyes in concentration, gripping his wand even tighter, and delved further. The stone path wound around a single fountain that spewed water from its top spaded spout. He had skipped halfway around it before casting his head backwards. Don't lose control. The harmony approached with a slight crescendo. A familiar tune swirled from the choir in his head, and caught his thoughts and emotions in a suspension that seemed to prolong time itself.
He began to sing. A warmth opened up in the pit of his stomach, and he was filled with it. The feeling spread, tingling in his fingers and reaching down to his curling toes, swirling about in his head and finally filling his heart. When he simply embraced this feeling he felt only one thing: a calm joy. Yet if he dug deeper and deeper, he could start to distinctly dissect this one broad feeling into a maze of smaller emotions, broken and layered out with every corner he turned.
The tune in his head was forte now, yet kept a legato frame. He mimicked it with his voice, doing his best to transfer the feeling that was thawing his insides to the outside world. Because the outside world needs these feelings shared like man needs water.
Water. The thought caused a small disturbance in the melodic contour of his song. He remembered the fountain spewing water from its spout. He was halfway around the fountain before casting his head backwards. He remembered.
A small boy was following after him, clumsily falling over his feet every few steps. A look of ignorant joy and indistinct awareness was carved into the boy's face. He saw that after every fall into the grass he would pick himself back up, face contorted in determination, and try once again, his face resuming the ignorant bliss that draped him like a cloak.
And then the deepest feeling hit him, like the final blow of a hammer onto an anvil. The boy was approaching, and with it their eyes met. The feeling was screaming in the back confines of his diaphram now, trying to send its message across his body - against the current of warmth that fulfilled him - to his heart. The boy, after succeeding in his trial of error, finally landed on the stone adjacent to his and fell into him with a hug. "I did it! I did it just like you!"
His younger brother looked up to him after having his face buried in his shirt for a few moments. His toothy grin and unbridled giggle somehow forced him to hold him tighter. Keep your mind controlled, he urged to himself. But he didn't want to let go. He could feel himself slipping. Deep breaths, just keep breathing… in and out…
His wand was a bright blur of green, channeling the pulsing spell into her lifeless body. Seconds passed. Nothing happened. Nevertheless he kept himself wrapped around the memory like a snake.
And then it came like a drum, deep and slow.
Bum-bum… bum-bum...bum-bum. He felt the heart of the lifeless girl in his arms start to beat again. She inhaled deeply, drinking air in an exasperated gulp, reaching her fingers for Jon's face. Justin stared dumbfoundedly at her.
"Jon… I'm scared," she managed to breath out. Tears were welling up in her eyes. The look on her face told one that she had seen something that no living creature had ever come to see… that she was somehow more knowledgeable now than she had ever been.
"Don't be scared…" Jon said reassuringly, his voice cracking with emotion. "I'm right here… see? There's nothing to be afraid about! I'm here!" The Pyromancer forced the corners of his mouth to go upward. He kissed her forehead with a passion Justin had not seen from him before.
"Jon…" she muttered, trickling her fingers one-by-one down his face as they gathered together into a fist and pressed gently against his heart. She was panicking, foraging for words. "I love…"
Justin remembered the crack of the staff on the pavement, and his mind shattered. Crack. He winced in pain, and his wand backfired against him, propelling him backwards and breaking the song's touch on her life.
"Ros? No... Ros! Ros... I'm here... hey... look! Roslyn! Wake up! I'm here! Justin... where did she go?! WHAT DID YOU DO? SHE WAS ALIVE!"
But the only thing he heard was the loud crack of the staff on the pavement, the sound of the spell that had ended her life still vibrating against his heart and memory. The voice behind the spell was cold, vengeful, selfish. He still remembered the fulgent flash of violet light across Malistaire's opalescent eyes as it sprang in a jet to hit her straight in the heart. "MORS MORTEM!"
There was a sudden emptiness in his stomach as he was propelled backwards, flying across a void of endless colors. The colors dispersed and then reconnected, stilling around certain shapes he started to recognize. It was soon enough that the Life wizard, Justin Lifeleaf, found himself sitting in the headquarters of the Headmaster's tower, dizzy and dazed beyond belief.
The voice came from the other side of the room. The boy who said it had his face drawn up in a nasty snarl, his eyes a furious green, serpent-like…
The others were all spread out in different places, either crouching down or leaning back against something. In the middle of the room an hourglass sat on a pedestal. This hourglass thrummed every second, as if it were measuring time with a beat, and the white-fire sand within it seemed to liquify and run against its shape, creating distortions whenever Justin looked at - or through - it. A perverse array of light spiraled around the hourglass, spanning the girth of the room. At some points in this spiral the light would congeal into a shard of an image, however small, of a plane of existence, and then continue on its winding path around the room.
Justin was at a loss for words when he finally took a good look around the room. The spiraling light cast dancing images on the others, touching the grim features on their faces as most made sure not to make eye contact with one another.
From the other side of the room, Digby Strongheart pushed himself off the wall. "I think that's enough for one night," he said sternly, looking at Jonathan hesitantly.
"You are done when the Headmaster wills it," a cold voice said from behind Justin. The room full of wizards suddenly cast their eyes to the lone wizard and teacher, Cyrus Drake, who had just entered, wearing a vacant expression.
Destiny Dreampetal was frowning when she responded. "We've done the bloody memory three times, I think we understand the series of events that unfolded after our fight with Malistaire."
"Apparently not," Cyrus said disdainfully, leering over her, "since you, as a team, have not yet been able to survive the memory for its whole duration. The Supreme Seven…" he said in a mock tone, scowling. "The Seven Wizards who were able to kill the Master of Death, not able to finish a simple memory. Pathetic."
"There were eight wizards-" Alex Jaderider started.
"You will be remembered as some of the most renowned spellcasters of the Spiral," Cyrus continued on aggressively. "You cannot be weak. Not now. Not anymore."
"Sometimes we need to be weak in order for ourselves to grow back stronger," Malorn Ashthorn retorted.
"There has been time for weakness," Cyrus said impatiently, "plenty of it. If you still think this is a time for mourning, then none of you understand the point of the exercise. You are all supposed to be Teacher Assistants now for the Ravenwood Academy of Magical Arts. If the Headmaster were to be informed of your progress right now, he'd be outraged…"
"Headmaster Ambrose would not get mad-"
"Do not speak of Headmaster Ambrose as if you know him," Cyrus seethed. "I am one of his closest confidants. I know him better than all of you combined."
"We need more time," pleaded Digby.
"You've had time. The School's been shut down for a year now. We cannot stay closed for another year, otherwise we will lose students to other Academies. The Headmaster needs your eyes and ears now more than ever, especially for the future."
"Speaking of the Headmaster," Cyrus continued, shifting his eyes on Justin, "he would like to see Mr. Lifeleaf in his office at once." With a quick turn on his heels, the Myth Professor exited the tower once more.
Time came like a blur to the young life wizard.
"Come along, Justin."
Light hummed from the tip of Justin Lifeleaf's wand; a feeble emerald that carved out the narrow dimensions of the hall. Like a giant fluorescent orb, its gibbous-shape draped him and his companion as they traversed the maze-like pathway. They walked and it punctured the archaic walls, spilling light into crevices that had not been touched by it for years, glossing over cobwebs that sowed them together, and sifting over spiral designs that had lost their luster over time. A cold damp fog took camp in the air, one that reminded Justin of a gentle morning after a storm. The sharp serenade of crickets was not as loud as it was before. That had only meant they were getting close.
His companion moved slowly; he had to at such an old age. He wore dark violet robes, decorated with astral symbols of yellow and orange. Shuffling with a slight limp, he leaned most of his weight onto his golden-tipped staff. Coiled between its hook-like end was a glistening round crystal, its sheen fluttering against the desperate face of its holder.
Justin Lifeleaf could not describe the man he was treading with in one sentence. When he looked upon the grizzled face of Headmaster Merle Ambrose, he could not help but both smile and feel his stomach drop at the same time. This man was the most powerful wizard in the spiral. That he knew. That he could not forget. And the mere fact that he was with him, on important business - the fact that the Headmaster even chose him - was such a galvanizing stroke to his humility. Yet, at the same time, behind the tangled beard of snow-white and wrinkles of experience and age, the young life wizard could see a certain urgency in the wizened Headmaster's visage. That's what scared him most.
This was all too abrupt for him; the sudden waking in the middle of the night, the mysterious demeanor of the faculty, the strained focus on keeping quiet. He was starting to grow worried, but also excited. Wasn't it all over? Wasn't Malistaire dead? He wanted to ask what was wrong, but something between fear and nervousness lodged itself in his throat, keeping him from speaking.
So instead the sound of soft boots whisking away against the floor echoed throughout the chamber, along with the cadenced beat of an oak staff. It had been that way for some time.
Until they walked into a fork in the tunnel.
"Which way…" the headmaster mumbled to himself, closing his one eye to think. The other was shielded by a monocle that flashed violently against the wandlight. Justin could not see past it. He did not think he wanted to. "Ah, yes." Ambrose turned left, and Justin followed.
"You may be wondering, Justin, why I had Professor Drake fetch you from your training. I must apologize for the inconvenience."
"Oh, it's no problem at all Professor! I mean -" he stuttered after the Headmaster threw him a sidelong glare, "you know what they say: 'A life wizard is always ready to spring into action!'" He nervously laughed, which only caused Ambrose to softly smile. I really am a loser. "I am wondering though, sir," he added a little more seriously, face reddening, "why we are here."
"I would be surprised if you didn't." The Headmaster sighed, turning a corner. Justin stumbled after him. "A long time ago, there used to be an Academy of Magic in a faraway land called Celestia - much like the one here in Ravenwood. This Academy did not teach common magic… the magic that you've grown to know about. It taught a much more cryptic, secretive magic. Only few, apart from the natives, were able to cultivate and master this new magic, and form three separate schools for it.
"Unfortunately, after centuries of its existence, the practitioners of these three schools grew more powerful, and with this newfound power came a great influence for corruption. Wizards and witches alike turned on each other, until, at last, those who practiced this magic destroyed themselves from within, and left Celestia a desolation."
Justin noticed that the Headmaster's steps were quickening, and with each and every step down the dark hall, his wandlight exposed tree roots that curled and snaked about the walls and ceiling. Eventually they were not surrounded by stone or brick anymore, but flanked by great oak branches that were the size of Justin's neck. They wound all about them, tangling within each other and weaving in and out of the remnants of the stone walls. Gulping softly, Justin asked: "What does this have to do with what we're doing?"
"Well, we - I - had thought that there were no longer any who were capable of practicing this magic."
They turned another corner. Oval light pierced through the haze of fog at the end of the tunnel, part of its grace sheltered by stray twigs that had yet to be tended to. They were almost there. Each step became laden with anticipation as Justin climbed the uphill tunnel, helping the Headmaster along the way.
"But I was wrong."