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Yuki: Everything okay on that end?
Assistant: Yup, we’re clear! I think that’s every square inch of the property settled.
Yuki: Excellent! Alright. Welcome back everyone! Apologies for the last excursion. This week, for real, everything is back to normal.
Assistant: We had a bit of a “bug” infestation. Not the typical kind either. Massive pain in the ass.
Yuki: Electronic bugs are nothing. However, when they’re organic and on a slightly different plane of existence…that presents a healthy challenge. We’re now basically in an impenetrable bubble and our visitor from a few weeks ago cannot hear or see us.
Assistant: And it’ll take at least a few weeks for him to figure out what’s happened.
Yuki: Now, we’ll all take a step into the Void. We’ve found another far-off world for you. A pair of young mages discover something terrifying going down at their school. Tonight’s tale is:
Lightning flickered in the distance. The blue light from the windows lit up the whole of the great study, overtaking the soft warm glow of the fireplace and the candelabras. A few seconds later, the quiet rumble of thunder suggested that the incoming storm was still a ways off. But with the way the winds were whipping up, the storm would be there within minutes.
The mages only turned their attention from their books when a high-pitched gust whistled between the stone towers.
K’len Kanagangya, a third-year apprentice, pulled down the hood of his cloak to better hear his surroundings. The cold air of the room stung his long, pointed ears and crawled down the back of his neck. They were uncomfortable at best within the fabric, but compared to being constantly exposed to the frigid air of the winter, it was a much-welcomed part of his ensemble. He listened to the thunder, the winds, down to the sizzle of the lightning, and everything between.
Peculiar, he thought, saving his page and setting the tome aside. What is that? He rose from the comfort of his chair next to the fire and crossed the room to the nearest window. The dark clouds were closing in; torrents of rain spilt from them and bolts of lightning discharged from within. He stuffed the strands of blond hair that escaped the confines of the cloak back into place and pulled the hood back up. Briskly, he made way for the exit.
Standing near the fireplace, doing nothing more than trying to keep warm, first-year apprentice mage Elora Shalehari watched as her senior wrenched open the thick wooden doors to the stairway and closed it behind him. Several mages groaned in discontent as the breeze from the stairwell invaded the room. More complaints came as she made the same stride to the door.
‘Oh, go sit by the fire if you’re so cold,’ she chided them as she left.
Her body instantly hated her the moment she was engulfed in the freezing air. She wrapped her arms around herself and followed the footsteps above her on the spiral staircase. Elora jogged up and reached the entrance to the viaduct.
‘Hey! Hold on, what are you up to?’ She called out to the upperclassman.
‘Oh, Elora…not much. I think. Probably nothing. But I thought I heard something weird.’
‘No, not that,’ the elder mage said, opening the door. He stood aside and allowed Elora to cross the threshold first. ‘The storm itself is normal, but it sounds like something else is coming along with it.’
Elora took to his side as they walked along the lengthy bridge to the observation tower. It was one of the many reasons she enjoyed his company, he didn’t tell her to shove off and hang out with her own year group. ‘Any idea what?’
‘No,’ he said flatly and turned his head in the direction of the storm, ‘that’s what’s bothering me.’
‘And no one else is hearing it?’
‘That’s another thing that’s bugging me,’ he said as they neared the entrance to the adjoining turret. ‘I doubt I’m the only one, even with these ears. And anyone on the Watch tonight would already be looking into the matter.’ He turned to face Elora. ‘Don’t worry, this is one of the safest places on the continent.’
K’len turned the doorknob and the wind threatened to pull it from his grip. He and Elora stepped inside. The room was dark and frigid. No candles were lit and no fire was going; nor was there the scent of recently extinguished flames. ‘Shit…’
‘No one’s been here for hours.’
‘Is that bad?’
‘Yes. There should be at least one person up here at all times—the only exception being dire circumstances on the grounds,’ K’len explained, walking toward the spyglasses.
‘How do you know that?’
K’len turned to face Elora and grinned. ‘Second year apprentices get to take turns doing stayovers with the Watch and the Guard. None of the second-years spoil that for you yet?’
Elora shook her head. ‘I don’t really have any friends outside my group.’
‘Hmm. Well, after the new term, you might have some mixed classes,’ K’len offered while taking a look with the spyglass, aiming it toward the dense storm clouds. ‘Oh, fuck,’ he whispered.
‘What is it?’
‘Witches…thousands of them.’
Elora moved in and put her face up to the eyepiece. ‘Oh crap! We should sound the alarm!’
‘No…they’re too close; they’ll hear. We can’t risk them attacking first. Go back to the study and hit all the dorms, find somewhere safe. I’ll find the administrators and warn any guard I can find.’
They both ran from the observatory and back down the spiral staircase, splitting up at the entrance to the study.
Elora stopped before exiting. ‘Stay safe!’
‘You too!’ K’len shouted up without looking back.
The heavy door clacked shut overhead and K’len concentrated on the steps in front of him—now was not an ideal time for him to trip and break his neck. Door after door passed him by. None of the doors were labeled, but once you stayed at the school long enough, you learned the correct ways by marks on the wooden planks or around the the frames. The door K’len kept an eye out for had a large sliver ripped out from the upper left corner.
He spotted it from around the bend and burst through. Torches kept the corridor well-lit for his benefit. No other student or faculty member roamed the hall.
As he raced towards the admin offices, K’len slammed his hand down on the classroom doors, hoping to gain the attention of those inside. Both of his hands ached before he even reached the halfway point. He continued his actions, paying no mind to the people calling out his name from behind and forced himself into administration to find…
The lobby was empty as were the offices in the back. The cloaks draped over the chairs and the half-eaten pastries on the desks suggested that the typical daily routine had been interrupted. K’len was still assessing the state of the room when a large hand gripped the back of his collar and lifted him off his feet like a dog that had just shat on the floor.
‘What is the meaning of this?’ came the familiar gruff voice of professor Marodara. ‘Not enough for you to disturb the classes you’re in, now you’ve got to throw everyone’s day off?’
‘Geez, put me down, will ‘ya, Marodara? I can’t breathe!’
‘How I wish that wasn’t my problem.’ The oversized culinary instructor sighed as he released his former student.
K’len stole a quick glance down the long hall; several students and teachers had populated it and looked confused as all hell. ‘All the admins are one,’ he said in a hushed voice.
Professor Marodara studied the room. ‘And?’
‘There’s no one in the watch tower.’
With this, the professor’s demeanor changed. The leering gaze softened. ‘Go on…’
‘Me and Elora checked the spyglasses up there. That storm that’s blowing in now—witches. Thousands of them.’
‘Saw them with my own eyes.’
The darkness came back to the professor’s eyes and voice. ‘And you’re not screwing with me?’
‘Thousands of them. No Watch or Guards in sight. Same with the admins here. It’s an invasion.’
‘And you realise what you’re saying and how crazy that sounds?’
‘No. Watch. In. The. Watch. Tower. Is it worth risking the safety of the students?’
‘…Alright. C’mon, I’ll get us all down to the cellar.’
‘The cellar!? We’ll be sitting ducks down there.’
‘There are service entrances that students and apprentices don’t know about.’
K’len nodded. ‘Okay, I’ll meet you all down there.’
‘Woah, wait, where do you think you’re going?’
‘I sent Elora to the dorms to warn everyone. I’ve got to let them all know.’
Professor Marodara considered this and for a moment K’len was sure he was going to deny his departure. But the older man ultimately relented. ‘Go. But you get them and you get your asses down there.’
‘Gotcha. See you down there soon.’
And with that, Marodara rounded up the students and teachers. K’len broke away from the scene and tore off for the dorms. Every person he saw and every classroom he passed, he took the time to warn them and steer them in the direction of the cellar. More than a few were skeptical considering K’len’s part-time gig over the years as class clown.
K’len’s ears perked up. He listened intently and heard students gathering near the study. A couple minutes later, he was up in the spiral staircase again and in the cosy student quarters. He burst through the doors to find dozens of students and apprentices alike gathered around Elora. For the most part, everyone was calm; there were a few panicked faces and voices, but that was to be expected.
Elora’s eyes locked with his. ‘K’len!’ She bounded for him, fighting against the crowd before they started parting for her. She brought her voice down. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Everyone’s gathering in the cellar. Holing up for now, if things go pear-shaped there’s at least a way out.’
‘What? No there isn’t.’
K’len shrugged. ‘I thought so, too, but here we are. Take them with you and try to warn as many people as you can on the way down.’
‘And what are you going to do?’
‘I’m going to see what the hell’s goign on.’
‘A freaking army of witches, that’s what’s happening.’
‘I dunno…doesn’t feel right.’
Elora held her finger up to K’len and stopped him with that thought. ‘Hang on a sec.’ She turned back and found her way back to the centre of the group of students and apprentices. They held on to her every word, some nodding along. K’len couldn’t hear what she was saying, but the crowd dispersed. It was just the two of them left in the study. She turned to him and smiled. ‘Lead the way.’
K’len rolled his eyes and hurried back to the stairs. The two ran back up to the observatory.
‘All of ‘em had to have known something was going on,’ K’len said, crossing the bridge. There would never be a lack of Watch or Guard.’
‘Then why not warn us and send us home?’
K’len scowled. ‘Maybe we were bait.’
‘I can’t think of anything else it could be. Other than them running off.’
‘I can’t see that happening either.’
‘Not too many options available there.’
‘Are you this much fun at parties, too?’
‘Much more fun when shit isn’t going down. Promise.’
They came to the centre of the bridge. K’len looked to the storm clouds—now very close to being directly overhead. He looked down to the main grounds, where students normally wandered around and congregated between classes.
‘Look!’ Elora exclaimed, pointing down.
The Guard and the Watch stood in a big block formation. In front of them, a line of silver and gold robes that K’len knew anywhere: the administrators.
Elora looked up. ‘All of ‘em are coming down!’
Dozens of witches descended from the security of the generated storm clouds. Dozens became hundreds. Hundreds became thousands.
With no prompt, K’len threw himself off the viaduct. Elora cried out for him and jumped after. She stretched out her hand to grab him, but he was too far out and the ground was coming up too fast to fill the gap. K’len had his palms down; his hands disappeared in a bright orange glow. Flames erupted toward the grasses and slowed his fall to a gentle drift. Elora, upon seeing this, conjured an upward gale that caught her cloak, pushed her up a little, and let her touch down without any drama.
Elora looked at K’len, who stood between two circular scorch marks, and chastised him as quietly as she could manage. ‘Black magic! You’re using black magic!?’
‘Well, I gotta be able to cook my food and keep warm when I go camping, don’t I?’
Elora looked at him incredulously. ‘You learned that type of magic for the sake of convenience?’
‘I mean, it’s good for offence as well. Given our current situation, I mean.’
‘It still makes me feel so uneasy.’
K’len sighed. ‘Gotta be able to fight back, not just heal and put up barriers. Shit happens.’ He reignited the flames and aimed at the legion of of witches. He rounded the corner of the castle with Elora in tow. She maneuvered her hands in such a way that a fuzzy warmth built up in K’len’s gut and spread outward.
‘Protection?’ he asked without looking back.
He reached the rear of the guard, aim still true on the outsiders.
‘What in the name of the Goddess is that!?’ a voice called out from the side of the witches.
K’len froze as the Watch, Guard, and administrators turned in his direction. His heart leapt as his worst fears were starting to play out before him. He held up both palms, one toward the witches and one toward those from his own school.
Headmaster Onicaasias removed himself from the front of the group and stepped toward K’len and Elora. ‘What is the meaning of this Master Kanagangya!?’ The older man’s gravelly voice boomed over the landscape.
‘Witches…invasion…I heard them coming—’
‘He heard us coming?’ a witch from the front questioned. ‘How? Is he not just a student?’
‘An apprentice,’ the headmaster clarified. ‘A rather gifted one.’ He spoke over his shoulder and never broke contact with K’len. ‘Troublesome, but gifted.’ The headmaster raised his hands non-threateningly. ‘Calm yourself. There is no invasion. You are all safe.
‘Those from the witches guild have been invited here as a safety precaution. All of them are refugees, young Kanagangya.’
Elora stepped forward. ‘What happened?’
Headmaster Onicaasias looked at her and back to K’len, ‘You got her involved, too?’ He shook his head and turned his attention back to Elora. ‘We were going to make an announcement shortly to the students and faculty. Things are happening faster than we anticipated. The capitol of Ylyndar was attacked. A rogue army of sorcerers and wizards advanced in the night. Hundreds have already died. We only received word about this late last night and offered our assistance.’
Elora spoke softly to the headmaster, not wanting to further upset the refugees. ‘Everyone’s gathered in the cellar for safet.’
‘Hmm,’ Onicaasias nodded. ‘Elora, would you go down to the cellar and advise everyone to gather in the assembly hall. Make it clear that there is nothing to worry about and all will be explained in a matter of minutes.
‘While I admire your dedication to keep this place safe,’ he continued, turning back to K’len, ‘it is clear that the anti-witch propaganda of years’ past is still having a prominent impact even today.
‘K’len, you will accompany me. The great fields will be utilised as a village area for our guests to stay and rest. The Guard and Watch will start the setup process. We’ll all pitch in after the assembly.’
‘Yes, sir,’ K’len said. ‘See you in a bit Elora.’
‘That fire,’ the headmaster said, studying the apprentice’s hands, ‘self taught?’
‘Yes, sir. During the summer holidays. Not on campus.’
‘I see. You did not hear this from me, but with the upcoming holidays, the library may have some important books for your reading leisure. On hold for your, personally, of course.’
‘I’ll look into it.’
‘This institution will remain one that emphasises and practises white magic…but I would be a fool to think that there would not be a need for…other shades of the spectrum.
‘You’d be suited quite well for the Guard or the Watch, my boy.’
‘Yeah, but they don’t practise…you know? Do they?’
‘They have very high levels of restraint and have not even had to use a single offensive spell in the sixty years I’ve been at this academy. You will learn all you need to know. Leave your application with administration before the week’s end and I will see that it is approved.’
K’len and Headmaster Onicaasias walked side-by-side in silence for the remainder of the walk to the back end of the campus. The tarps and tents were already being set up. Planks of wood and carpentry materials were piled up, ready for building more permanent shelter. It was mainly curiosity that brought K’len to learn more of the darker arts, but it was the outside world that made it a necessity for him to practice it regularly.
Assistant: Did we bookmark that one?
Yuki: Yes, of course. Like always. Why?
Assistant: I think I want to follow up on that sometime.
Yuki: Ooooh? I know…you’ve got a thing for Elora, don’t you?
Assistant: What!? No! I just—
Yuki: I saw the way you were looking at her throughout our time with them.
Yuki: Well, now that I’ve broken my assistant, I think this is a perfect time to call it a night. Take care everyone and we’ll see you next time! Now I just gotta figure out how to fix him…