Found Part Thirty-Eight
Read parts One through Thirty Seven here.
“Today, you will learn an important lesson,” Maynard said as a guard opened my cell door. “Guard, bring him to the courtyard.” His steps echoed in the dank hallway as he clomped away.
“Come on,” the guard coaxed. “You know he will just come back if you don’t get up.” This particular guard was kinder than the others. He never harmed me and often gave me extra food. But I had learned. I never reciprocated his kindness. People who were kind to me paid the price.
“Make me,” I answered.
“Nox, don’t do this.” He stepped towards me, and I flinched against the clanging of his armor. “I’m not going to hurt you. Just get up.”
He sighed and grabbed my arm, and hoisted me up. Any other guard would have wrenched me from the floor and thrown me across the cell for sport. This guard’s hold was gentler but still firm.
“Walk,” he snapped and pushed me along the hallway. “I’ll never understand why you do this.”
“Do what?” I asked.
“Your life is difficult enough. One would believe you’d want to drink up any bit of light you could get. I’m not your friend, but you could be nicer.”
“What does he have planned for me?” We were getting closer to the courtyard, and my bravado was fading.
“A small village was found to be harboring a troupe of traveling Mages. They will meet the King’s judgement,” he said with a tone of anger.
“Do you hate them? Magical people and beings?”
“I am loyal to my King and will serve as he commands.” He ceased our conversation after that and continued to push me along.
Maynard awaited us in the Courtyard. It was bathed in golden sunlight, a rare treat for me. We rode for half a day to a tiny village on the edge of the forest. The sun sat low in the sky, and night loomed close. The village people were paralyzed as Maynard addressed them.
“The people of this village have committed a vile crime, and today, you shall face judgement. Bring forward the criminals!”
Two guards herded over three Mages and the family that was hiding them. Another pulled a cart filled with more Magical items and artifacts than I had ever seen. I longed to touch them, to know them. I hated the Magic in me as it was responsible for all my torment, but I also ached to explore it. Magic would save me. It had to.
“Nox!” he called. “Welcome to your first Enchanted Bonfire! Set flame to these cursed relics! Any Magic that does not serve me must be destroyed.”
My eyes were wide with shock. Destroy them?
“My… my King. Might I not be able to… to have them?”
“Have them?” Maynard asked with a laugh in his voice. “Have them? Of course, you mean to amuse me with such an inane request. Have them?” he roared. “Destroy them!”
“I… don’t know how.”
I hadn’t learned how to conjure or control Fire. He knew that. He came at me, and I shrank away from his sudden movement. He grabbed me by the arm and threw me at the feet of the captured family.
“You had better learn. For every minute that goes by and these items aren’t destroyed, one of them will die. I have seen the fire in your soul. It burns every time you defy me. Either find a way to wield it, or watch as I extinguish this family.”
Embers floated down from a somber gray sky. They settled in soft piles of ash and dust strewn about the ground. Blurred silhouettes of trees bounced in my vision.
What happened? I tried to ask, but my throat and chest seared with pain. My mind and body felt shattered. A great weight seemed to be draped over me. As I tried to move, it pressed itself tighter against me. No. Icy panic shot through me. My breaths came in short bursts as my heart tried to leap from my body.
“I think he’s waking up!” The bouncing came to a sudden stop. Leaves crunched from somewhere beneath me, and rapid footsteps rushed towards me.
“Set him down.”
“We need to keep going.”
“Set him down!”
“Cyrus? Dasha? What happened?” I croaked.
“Try to not speak. Cyrus, put him down!” Cyrus sat me on the cold earth with my back against a sturdy tree.
“What happened? Did we escape? Was anyone captured?” My eyesight began to focus, and I could make out their expressions of concern and confusion.
“Nox, you don’t remember?” Dasha asked.
“What is the last thing you can recall?” I set my gaze on Cyrus. The answer he wanted was somewhere in his eyes. What was the last thing I remembered? I searched my mind for what they could be referring to. Images of fiery pandemonium invaded my memory. I saw Arion’s Tree overcome with flames, and a voice calling for everyone to run.
“There was fire, I think it came from the tree. And someone yelled for everyone to run.”
“Most everyone was able to escape. Some people attempted to go back and get their things. I’m not sure what happened to them. They were either captured or—” Cyrus trailed off.
“Or they escaped. We aren’t sure,” Dasha jumped in. “You were too close to the source of the flames, and I think the smoke became too much for you.”
Maynard outlined in flames flashed in my mind. His hand around my throat. Those sinister eyes boring into mine. That voice slinking into my soul like a venomous snake.
“That’s not all that was too much for me,” I whispered. There was something they weren’t telling me. Something else happened. But I was too weak to press them. “Where is Wilbur?”
“Papa was able to escape, but we lost each other in the mayhem.”
“Where is everyone that was able to escape?” No one was with us, and there weren’t any signs of any others with us or even around. Why were we alone?
“We were separated from them. Everyone sort of scattered in different directions,” Cyrus answered without looking at me. “For now, we have to keep moving.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“I’ll carry you.”
“Wait!” Sudden dread stopped my blood in my veins. “Where is my staff?”
“I have it,” Dasha answered. She motioned to it lying on the ground beside her. The top was missing its signature amber glow. It was no different than a large stick. I tried to summon it, but it would not respond.
“Why can’t I feel its presence?”
Cyrus and Dasha exchanged more uncomfortable glances. An unspoken argument crossed between them. The ghost of a discussion lingered there. A breeze picked up at that moment, and a familiar scent rolled over us. Memories of Enchanted Bonfires assaulted me. The raining embers, the piles of ash, the darkened sky.
“He burned down Haven’s End, didn’t he?” I asked.
They looked at each other again, and a decision had been reached.
“No, Nox.” Cyrus said, his eyes down cast. “You did.”
Featured image by Hans Braxmeier, courtesy of Pixabay