Justin laided helpless on the ground, not able to move a muscle as the dark figure came over
him. The sinister being paused a moment, raised it's arms toward the boy and then as the demon's face
glowed, radiant energy shot from it's hands. Justin could feel his body being enveloped
in the painful rays and could feel his soul going numb. As his brain fought the torturous
pain, his mind went back to the events of the last week that brought him to this agony.
In a small part of his mind he could see himself sitting safely in his home reviewing his
school books and, for a brief moment, re-lived it.|
"What are you doing, Cheek?" inquired Justin of his furry friend.
Cheek, a tiny white mouse, looked up from the even tinier piece of paper that he held in his paws and said in a deep voice, "I was studying this note left for me by Edan. It is a new riddle that he sent to challenge me with."
Justin set aside the book he was reading, slid out of the chair and approached the shelf where the red-eyed creature sat engrossed in the piece of parchment. Justin tried to look over the non-existent shoulder of the mouse but could not read the minuscule writing.
"May I hear what it has to say?" asked Justin, always interested in the battle of wits between Cheek and Edan, the wisest elder of the Myrah Clan.
Cheek looked up at his life long companion and shook his head. "Justin, my friend, I have always desired the need for mental stimulation, and between yourself and Edan I have had enough to last many lives. This puzzle has me wondering if Edan may be getting senile." Cheek studied the paper once more and read out loud:
"It's glass but it's not, it's water, it's air,
Cheek once again looked toward Justin and sighed, "Maybe I've played this game once too often to be interested in racking my brain on them anymore." He placed the paper in the pocket of his vest and got down off the thread spool he used as a chair.
"It sounds more like a statement, or a warning, than a riddle to me." ventured Justin.
"Whatever it may be," yawned Cheek "it is not going to be solved by me tonight. I desire sleep now and you have lessons in the morning. Extinguish the candles and don't forget to lock the doors."
Justin smiled "I may take a brief walk in the garden before I retire. Sleep well my old friend. I'll be back shortly."
Cheek mumbled something unintelligible and waddled off into the dark of the shelf. Justin quietly slipped out the door and headed toward the center of town.
The evening air was still, yet there seemed to be a small amount of movement in the trees that lined the path to the garden at the center of the town. Justin approached the entrance and turned toward his favorite thinking spot. He laid down on the freshly trimmed grass and wondered who had gardening duty this week. It was the law that every able bodied person shall take turns maintaining the garden and Justin had always enjoyed working around the flowers and trees.
As Justin relaxed, he thought back to when he first met Cheek. Edan, the Elder of the clan, had just returned from a long and perilous journey to a place that he would not reveal and he had brought back many amazing souvenirs to give to his friends. When it came time to present the five year old Justin his present, Edan took the youth aside and handed him a small hole-filled box. Justin opened the box to find a small white mouse inside which Edan explained was a magical mouse that could be taught to speak. Justin smiled as he remembered the long and tedious hours that he spent coaxing the mouse to speak. There were times that he wished he hadn't, for Cheek had became an adopted father to Justin when his real father was killed in the Malvan colonial wars and Cheek took the task too seriously. With Cheek's encouragement, Justin grew into a well educated youth and now at twenty five years old, Justin mentally thanked Edan for his little friend.
A Heram moth flew past Justin's head on it's way toward the hugh lamp lighting the garden, waking him from his thoughts. Justin had no dislike for the large ugly creature but would have preferred that it would go elsewhere. As he watched the bat-like beast circling the flames of the lamp he suddenly felt a shiver run through his body.
The leaves of the trees were turning upwards towards the rising moon in the North as they always had, but as the moon rose higher, Justin noticed that the familiar blue color had turned to a deep red. This startled Justin as he had never seen this color before. It seemed as though the light were coming from another source, reflecting off the huge orb. As he watched in fascination, the red hue flickered between yellow and orange reminding Justin of a camp fire.
Justin could not move as he watched the moon now overhead. He imagined that he was seeing the reflection of a huge Northworld fire reflecting off the face of the moon, but since he had heard stories that the Northworld was nothing more than ice and many dead stone-cold trees, a fire would be out of the question.
Justin was alone in the garden and he wondered if anyone in town was still awake to witness this phenomenon that surely could not be natural. The moon rose higher in the sky and as it did, the flames faded from it's face. Shortly the dancing colors were gone and Justin scolded himself for not waking someone to verify what he had witnessed.
Rising from the grass, he suddenly felt as though someone were watching him from behind. He turned toward the darkness at the outer border of the garden but could not see anyone there. Justin felt that his normally peaceful existence was being touched by unknown forces and he was now feeling quite uneasy.
A night owl screeched from above causing Justin to jump. He decided that it would be a good idea to go home, so he started for the exit, but as he turned the last hedge he stopped, for before him was a cloaked figure. The two stood for an awkward moment before the dark form spoke.
"Are you Justin?" came an unusually squeaky voice from the large, sinister hooded person.
"I am." replied Justin mustering up bravely.
"Mandara wishes to see you." the hood spoke.
Justin had heard of the great magician but had never seen him and now for some reason Mandara was requesting his presence.
"Why does Mandara want to see me?"
"Follow me and find out."
Isn't it a little late for a visit?"
"Mandara never sleeps."
Holding back an urge to laugh at the hooded figure's high pitched voice, Justin had an image in his mind of a very wide eyed man in need of rest, and asked again, "Why me?"
The hood paused and finally, "You have seen the blood on the moon?"
Justin stiffened, "Does Mandara know the significance of this oddity?"
"You'll have your answer shortly. Follow me."
With that the figure turned to leave, but stumbled off the step and crashed to the ground in a heap. Justin stood there in amazement as the person in the cloak seemed to be fighting to get out. After a few seconds of rolling on the ground, a boy of about sixteen years pulled his frail body out from under the crumpled cloak. Attached to his legs were a makeshift pair of stilts. He just sat there looking rather embarrassed and annoyed at his blunder.
"All right I'm short, go ahead and laugh," whimpered the boy "everyone else does."
"Why would I do that?" replied Justin kindly "I was quite impressed by your masquerade. You aren't also by chance the great Mandara?"
"At great risk to my life, I would never admit to that."
Justin reached out his hand to the boy and helped him to his feet, which with the stilts brought them both face to face.
"My name is Pectin. I am Mandara's apprentice."
"Honored to meet you Pectin, you already know my name, is there anything else you that know?"
"I know that there is something powerfully wrong. I have never seen Mandara so worried since this afternoon and when the moon went red, so did his face. I was told to come to the garden to find you. He knew that you'd be here."
Pectin leaned against the tree and unstrapped a stilt, which left him unbalanced and so he came crashing down around the tree.
Justin went to his aid and asked, "Have you used these things much?"
Pectin ignored the comment and continued "Justin, I think that there is trouble coming. Mandara has been pouring over his books and consulting with Fog, the smoke spirit, all day. He sat by the window from sundown till moon rise, then he went hysterical. Please Justin, come quickly now or I'll lose my job. I wasted enough time trying to get here in this costume."
"Well Pectin, lead the way to Mandara so we shall get this mystery solved."
Pectin gathered the cloak and stilts and hurried down the path leaving the garden, while Justin followed as fast as he could behind the energetic boy. They left the eastern edge of the city and traveled out the Kayber Road toward the forbidden forest surrounding the Tarro Mountains where the magician was reported to have lived. Once into the forest Justin had no idea where he was going as no one in the Myra Clan was allowed to venture this far in. He could see the mountain face above the trees and a chill ran through him as they drew closer to the huge grey edifice.
After a while they came to a mountain wall of stone so smooth that it looked to have been made that way. There was no entrance to be seen and Justin wondered why Pectin stood staring at the wall.
From behind the wall came a low rumbling and slowly the stone slid upward revealing a hallway leading up into the hill. The two young men entered the opening and made their way up. Occasionally the path turned to the left or right and every so often it forked into other hallways, but Pectin seemed to know the right one to take. After what seemed hours of walking, Justin noticed a light ahead.
As they came up through the last pathway Justin could smell a strange musty odor that reminded him of old books. His eyes adjusted to the new lighting conditions in the room and he was surprised to find that he was in a rather large cavern. The furniture and other personal items were set up in the middle of the huge area as though it were a permanent camp site. In the middle of the organized mess was a tall bearded man reading a book held in his shaky hands.
The man paid no attention to the two young men as he paced back and forth. Pectin set his clothing aside and walked toward the man carefully and quietly. Standing just outside the circle of tables holding chemist tubes and bottles, Pectin gave a low cough, but the man did not respond. Pectin moved around the tables trying to get in sight of the pacing magician, but the man turned every tine Pectin stood in front of him. Pectin coughed louder but still no response. Wearily, Pectin leaned against a table to rest and tilted the top causing the glass bottles to crash to the ground. Mandara slowly looked up from his book toward the noise, and studied the situation before speaking.
"Pectin, I an not a rich man. If you insist on constantly destroying my equipment, you will need to get a real job to pay for it." Mandara looked over toward Justin, smiled a look of relief and spoke, "Welcome little savior, I have been awaiting your arrival."
The term 'savior' puzzled Justin and he stepped forward toward the magician.
"I am here at your request, Mandara. I am quite puzzled by the events of the night. My quiet world has been shaken tonight and I feel that I am in for more rattling."
Mandara chuckled to himself, then his face went serious. "I am afraid that you are underestimating your fate. Soon you will be embarking on a long and perilous journey to a land far away. You'll be required to perform feats of courage and daring equal to the great heroes of legend."
He placed the book on a table, came to Justin and led him to a large cauldron bubbling in the middle of the area. A strange glow emitted from the huge pot and Justin stifled from the foul odor. Mandara passed his hands over the surface of the pot and the glowing brew brightened as a strange green smoke formed over the pot.
"Justin, I want you to look deep into Fog, the smoke spirit, and you will learn the reason for your quest."
Justin leaned toward the mist hovering above the pot anticipating a vision of evil and danger but what he saw was not expected. In the wisps he could clearly see a young beautiful girl dressed in a gleaming yellow gown.
He turned to Mandara and asked, "This is my fate? A girl? Not too bad looking, I must say. Is she in danger?"
Mandara smiled, "Justin, my brave friend, she is the reason for your dangerous journey to the land of Kyr."
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