Updated: Jun 11, 2020
By Aislyn Hall
Lucias had been on the road nearly since the sun had risen, and the stars were fast approaching. It had taken another day to reach a path from deep within the Kingswood back to civilization. He was tired, and he was angry.
He had happened upon the discovery of his lifetime. A hidden tome, unspoken of in the Crescent Chronicles. An old way to command the red magic of the Ley, written by a people before the Calbrians. The secrets of thunder. Lightning. Power beyond reckoning. It was to be marvelous, intoxicating, and overwhelming.
And yet, it was stolen from under his very nose. Even as he had rushed to the ancient site spoken of in the riddling Oathstones, it seems a meddler had caught wind of his intent and reached it before him. And there was only one method of travel that could have outsped his frenzied pace. Teleportation.
Teleportation meant blue magic. And blue magic meant wizards.
At last, Astirith, the shining beacon of Calbria, stood before him. White and gold towers ascended high into the blue sky. Flags and banners of heraldry passed down through proud generations flapped in the cool autumn winds above. A glorious pride and sickening revulsion juxtaposed themselves within his heart.
He pulled up his hood and walked to the gate guards with a group of monks. Since the king had spirited away with the Ashen Fyrd on his mad crusade, the townsfolk were especially cautious of outsiders. A pity.
“Halt in the name of King Roderic!” One shouted monotonously at the travelling band. Their leader lifted her hood, identifying herself as a member of the Crescent Pilgrims. The guards eyes widened.
“M-my lady… I apologize.” She nodded, and continued walking. The rest of the knights continued, and Lucias unassumingly followed. Dangerous, but necessary.
The other guard watched Lucias closely. He seemed to notice the differences in their garb, his eyes slimming. Lucias was ragged, his gait uncanny compared to the elegance of the Pilgrims. He held his breath.
After what seemed a fortnight, the silent reverence of the Pilgrims gave way to the hustle of city life. Bakers shouted their wares and priests spoke of the Lady’s grace. Peasants wandered about their business, and bands of knights walked by fully equipped, arrogant smiles plastered on their faces. Just as Lucias remembered.
As soon as Lucias saw cityfolk crowd in behind him, he broke off from his merry band. After silently thanking them, he set off towards his mission—the Astirith Academy. He could feel his stomach rumbling, but he would find no respite here. It was too likely that someone would recognize his face. His packed venison and berries would have to suffice once he had escaped this false paradise.
Well-kept townhouses lined each street, many housing shops of various merchants and craftsmen. The clash of iron against steel rang from a nearby forge, and a fletcher focused on whittling a new bow. Life seemed simple enough here. Lucias could feel himself cooling. The peaceful cobble of horse hooves in the distance. The haggling of peddlers in their stalls. He always loved the city when he was a child—
The Astirith Academy entered his sight. Rage washed over him once more.
Its towers and halls were even more elaborate than that of Astirith itself, as if it were two entities vying for the adoration of their subjects. The poor students of that place unaware of their true purpose, and the abuse they suffer at the hands of their teachers. They were meant for more, much more, and their potential was squandered daily by the wizards. The thought disgusted him.
Cobbled streets gave way to smooth, marble paths. The gardens of the Academy were extensive, and easy to enter unobstructed. When Lucias was a student himself, he used them to leave under the cover of night and his instructors were never the wiser. He was always surprised that they had never caught him, but chalked it up to their blatant incompetence.
Despite his expulsion long ago, he still knew the paths, and which were seldom taken. He winded through the lovely flora magically cultivated by the wizards. The floating arcavines, the bulbous manaweed, the mysterious owl daisies…
But Lucias was never one for botany. And it was time to cause a little chaos.
Fire sprang from his snapped fingers. The Ley was strong here, and it called out to him deep within his mind. The feeling was familiar, and euphoric.
He shot a bolt of flame at a nearby brush as he walked to a unused entrance to the Academy. The flame caught, and the fire began to spread as he pushed open the creaking wooden door. His time was now limited, but Lucias worked best under pressure.
The tome must be somewhere in here. But where would they keep it? Perhaps an instructor had kept it for themselves in their office? Or maybe a wild student had gotten in over their head. Or...
Lucias’ old tutor. The old knave must still be alive. He must have found Lucias and discovered his work.
Aeldred would have stored it in the restricted section of the library. He was always one for structure and rules. Things were to be done by the books, or not at all.
Lucias could feel his cheeks and hands heat with anger. The voice from the Ley nudged him forward, wrapping around him and urging him to unleash it in its entirety. All he must do would be to set it free...
No, not yet. He must focus it on obtaining the tome and escaping. He wasn’t here to kill anyone, not even Aeldred. He could feel his mind clouding, but he wasn’t that person. Not anymore. His years of isolation had rendered him more able to control himself when he practiced his red magic, but his memories at the Academy and the strength of the Ley tugged at him.
Lucias nearly wandered into a hall as students were passing. He clung to the wall, panting. He could feel a drop of sweat running down his forehead. He turned, and looked up. Of course! The dormitory!
It seemed the Lady was on his side. No student could be seen. Everyone must be at their last class of the day, or studying. He held his breath and took his chances. He shot a small jet of flame into the lock of the first dorm he saw. The gold melted, and he opened the door. A spare set of student’s garb lay on the end of the bed within the room. He quickly snatched them up and put them on.
They were a little loose and the hat was too big for his head, but no matter. It would suffice.
He made his way out and down the halls, focused. He could tell the different halls apart, and made his way towards the library. A few students shot him peculiar glances, but more so for his foolish clothes than to believe he may have nefarious purposes. He couldn’t help but smile a bit as he walked past the office of a professor he had once lit aflame during a lecture.
A massive archway gave way to the library, the true jewel of the Academy. All the knowledge and science of Calbria was stored here. The ceiling reached towards the heavens, a projected visage of the starry night above cast upon the ceiling. Tomes alive with conjuration fluttered about, putting themselves back in their rightful places. Students and professors alike crowded around sections, carefully flicking through pages by candlelight as various animal familiars playfully scuttered across the carpeted floors. It was a wondrous sight to behold.
If only they had not hoarded it all for themselves, Calbria would be so much more.
Far across on the other side of the expansive room was the locked, thick iron door to the restricted section. It was guarded by a particularly astute and attentive warden, scribing formulae and theory within a massive tome with a feather pen. Of course, the door would also be warded by the most cutting-edge of magical safeguarding arcanomancy.
There were no other entrances that Lucias could recall. He had no plan, and his mind was blank. After a few brief moments of contemplation, he simply began walking forward through the organized chaos of the Academy library.
Behind him, he could hear some shouting. It sounded like his distraction had started to work.
Before he knew it, he was standing at the warden’s desk.
She didn’t seem to notice him. He coughed.
Without looking from her tome, she continued scribbling. Her familiar, an owl, was perched upon her shoulder. It cocked its head and hooted at Lucias. He frowned.
“Yes?” The warden asked with a sigh. “If you are here, you know the word of power and have the scroll necessary to open the vault. Please, do not let me keep you.”
His heart sank.
“Yes, ah, of course.” He said. She did not respond.
Lucias walked up to the vault. The owl hooted again, flapping its wings. The warden waved her familiar with her hand, focusing on her work.
He felt hot air upon his shoulder, as if a smoldering hand reached out to touch him.
He could hear the whispers of the Ley explode in his mind, like tendrils seeping out from behind the vault’s door. The feeling was excruciating. It was extreme and unchecked as usual, but it did not feel like it was trying to help, or as if it were a force to be controlled. It felt as if it was attempting to use him. He tried to inhale, but could not. He felt as if he were drowning, burning, dying, and truly awakening, all at the same time.
The owl screeched, lifting off from the warden’s shoulder. It fluttered over to Lucias, circling around him, feathers flying. Students turned to look. The warden slammed her fists on her desk and sat up.
“Featherface, what has gotten into you?!” She yelled as quietly as she could. She walked over to Lucias. He could feel his heart pumping adrenaline as he reached out to touch the vault door. He did not remember willing himself to do so.
The warden’s eyes grew wide. Students behind him began to shout. He could hear chairs scrape on the wooden floor as wizards quickly rose to their feet. Some seemed directed at him, while others were focused on the fire he had left behind.
His hand was nearly upon the iron. He tried to stop himself. This isn’t what he wanted. He felt as if his mind was changing, as if he were losing himself. Whispers swirled inside his head, dominating his consciousness. They were always loud, but never… coherent. They never truly spoke.
“Welcome,” it said. The voice was inhuman, as if taken from a nightmare. From the very depths of a hell unrealized, forgotten and damned.
“I’m glad you’ve come.” He could hear the wicked smile on whatever sinister creature whispered such terror within him.
The vault door exploded outward with supernatural force. The blast wave sliced throughout the library, obliterating the magic that existed there. The floating books fell to the floor, and the familiars cried out, some escaping quickly while others turned to ash in the shockwave of fire and fury. The warden disappeared before Lucias’ very eyes. Simply gone.
The secrets and magic stored within shot outward from the vault. Tomes and scrolls, artifacts and relics long forgotten and stored to never be remembered sought exit from the Academy. Lucias felt a surge of power wash over him. His body compulsively radiated flame, crashing outward and licking the edges of the library. Students screamed as they were burned by the force, and most fled. Some attempted to create a barrier around Lucias, but the force fields were quickly dissipated and cut through them instead.
Soon, none were left in the library. All was quiet save for the sounds of shelves flame catching fire upon years of stored knowledge.
Lucias tried to stop his blaze, but to no avail. That thought quickly escaped him. He turned and walked forward. Yes, he could feel the unhindered strength of the Ley course through his veins. It was beginning to take shape and become more identifiable. And the feeling was intoxicating.
He laughed. What a fool he was to try and hold back against the Ley for all these years! The whispers were not dangerous to him. He had become weak, like the teachings of the professors. That listening too closely and treading down the path of red will lead only to self destruction. No. Now, he understood in its entirety what lies they spoke. They were scared of what their students could become. How much more powerful they could be than them. How pathetic.
This Academy would burn to the ash that it had risen from. Lucias would see to that.
“Lucias!” A familiar voice cried.
Another shockwave of energy resounded throughout the library. But this time, it was not centered from him. It came from everywhere, and nowhere. It was Aeldred.
Lucias felt anger set his heart aflame. All those years ago. So much wasted potential. So afraid of what he was meant to be! So blind to the truth of magic!
“Aeldred!” Lucias screamed. Jets of flame crashed through the floor and upward as he spoke. “Come to me, so I may reduce you to cinders!”
The archmage appeared before him in a flash of light. They were always so fond of their entrances.
Aeldred had an immeasurably long, white beard. He wore flowing blue robes, and carried an ornately carved and polished oaken stave. An elaborate orb of pulsating blue power hovered above the tip.
He slammed his stave upon the ground. Another shockwave crashed outward. Lucias could feel it interrupt his unbound power. He sneered.
“I have longed for this day, Aeldred!” Lucias spat. “I had convinced myself otherwise for too long, that you were to be forgiven! But no more!” He could feel tears welling in his eyes.
“You must be stopped so no other students must face the pain that you put me through! That you put those that would wield red magic through every day!”
Aeldred shut his eyes and shook his head. “This is not you, Lucias!” He had to yell over the strength of the swirling vortexes of power within the library.
“The Ley is not as it seems!” He shouted.
“It has overcome you, Lucias! You are not your own!”
Lucias twitched. He would have no more of this madness. It was always the same.
He shot out his hand, a lance of fire screaming out towards the archmage. Aeldred raised his staff, erecting a rebuttal of his own in a deep blue light. His magic was faultless—a brilliant display of arcanomancy perfected over a lifetime.
Lucias roared, and the fire intensified. Aeldred pursed his lips and uttered a prayer to the Lady.
The flames rushed forward with Lucias as he sprinted towards Aeldred. He weaved his hands together in intricate patterns, ones he did not recognize, and yet knew so well. Beautiful conjurations of fire and red power shot out in every direction and turned to slash towards Aeldred.
The archmage waved his staff, shimmering energy washing over the bolts and dissipating them. Lucias continued his assault, unleashing everything at his disposal upon the miserable instructor.
One spell was met with another, an incantation to match every notion of enraged flame. Every failed strike was a blow to Lucias’ confidence, but also another whisper from that which plagued his mind.
“Die,” spoke the whisper given voice.
“Kill.” The voice uncannily changed its pitch.
“Make him suffer.” A thousand demons whispered in offset unison.
Lucias screamed. He could not tell if it was in anger towards Aeldred, or in a vain attempt to cast out the presence that had latched itself to him. He held his head in his hands. His scream turned to one of anguish, and tendrils of flame came from all directions, bursting through the wooden boards. It was as if the library had been transported to another dimension entirely.
Aeldred deftly countered each tendril as it rushed towards him, displaying a control over magic that Lucias had never witnessed in his time at the Academy before. He conjured a massive ball of flame within his hand, and shot it upward to crash down upon Aeldred like a meteor. There was no calculation or tactics in his actions. Simply a primal instinct to end the threat that stood before him.
The archmage inhaled, and slammed his staff into the ground and angled it forward towards the bright streak of magma. A massive, blue barrier manifested over Aeldred. It covered him entirely, and the conflagration poured over it like hot wax. The cataclysmic threat had been entirely averted.
This was impossible. No force could match the unfettered, full potential of an invoker such as Lucias. This would not stand. He could feel the whispers tear at his mind. He knew he would not last long if he could not appease them.
Aeldred attempted to press the offensive, shooting out blasts of energy timed at opportune moments. They were child’s play to Lucias, easily cast aside with magic and even dodged. The man was old, and out of his prime. A smile crossed his lips. Now was his chance.
He slammed his hands together, and slowly pulled them apart. A burning schism of energy and fire manifested in between, growing less containable. It began to lick outwards, encompassing the entire room. Aeldred’s eyes grew wide.
Lucias could feel his advantage growing. This was his power condensed into a single blast of magic beyond comprehension of the petty wizards. His inferno.
“Lucias!” Aeldred cried out. “Please! Strike past this madness and reclaim yourself!” He said. Lucias did not listen. The archmage’s spattering was his opportunity.
“You were my friend, child!” Aeldred yelled, pain in his words.
Lucias nearly lost his concentration. He felt a swirl of emotions. Aeldred had taught him so much. Took him in after his parents had thrown him to the wayside. He was too dangerous, the other professors had said. Calbria had said.
Learning. Camaraderie. Pain. And then regret. The memories of a decade or more. But then again, anger.
Lucias could not contain himself. A part of him wished to end it all. To fall to the floor and cry. To let them do what they would. But those notions had fallen into a black pit, maybe never to be found again. All that was left was a red void.
The spell burst. An explosion of magic engulfed the library, searing everything in its path. Bookshelves were immolated entirely, the desks where research had been conducted simply moments ago bathed in a consuming light. All that progress. All that goodwill towards man, lost in an instant.
But not quite.
Aeldred had erected a barrier to protect the library. It was massive and incredible. It was clear that the old man was pouring his entire self into maintaining it. Lucias fought back with everything he had, pushing against the defense. Neither side seemed willing to give ground. Aeldred clenched his teeth, his pointed hat flying off his head from tumultuous wind.
At last, Aeldred’s expression began to tire. He could not hold on for much longer. His eyes slimmed. A thought seemed to cross his mind. Lucias could not hear him, but he could read the words on his lips.
The barrier flew outward, inverting itself. It crashed upward against the bookshelves, protecting them from the blast of magic. Aeldred was left wide open, while the knowledge of the Academy was preserved by his efforts. In an instant, the fire slammed through towards the archmage, focused entirely on him. His small space within was lit with the light of a thousand stars, fire exploding all around.
In another moment, it was all over.
Lucias fell to the ground, his body smoking with power. His wizard robes had been seared and tattered. He held his head up, and looked around him. The fire was all but gone. The knowledge had been kept safe.
He felt a pain in his neck and winced. He turned his head to Aeldred. Except, there was no Aeldred. There was a smoldering pile of charcoal and cinder on the floorboards where he once stood.
There was a time where nothing happened. Lucias attempted to swallow. He could feel his throat clenching up. A tear fell down his cheek. He spat and shuddered. He felt like he couldn’t breath.
The voice was gone. There were no whispers. Not even the notion that had scratched at the back of his mind since he was a child. He rose to his feet, barely standing.
Moment after moment, his senses returned to him. His head felt more clear than he had ever remembered it feeling. He felt… in control. Had he been living in a haze all this time?
He could hear shouts and screams coming from the gardens. It seemed the students had decided to focus their efforts on the fire there instead of within the library. Most likely a wise decision.
Lucias walked over to the ashes of Aeldred. The realization of his actions began to swirl. He had done this. This was his fault. And to what purpose? Revenge? Power? Those goals seemed almost comical in light of what he saw before him. A life ended. The work of the entire college nearly reduced to nothing in a matter of minutes.
His knees thudded against the wooden floor as he fell near the ashes. Tears flowed down his cheeks. The one man who had shown him such kindness and grace all those years ago was dead. What a monster Lucias was. He was revolted and nearly threw up. He looked down at his blackened hands and screamed. Tears fell upon them. He choked and cried, shaking with shame and fear.
These ponderings quickly became drowned out by the reality of the situation. He would not be spared. There would be no mercy for one such as him. A disgrace to the Academy, and a killer. His disgust with himself turned to self-preservation, and he rose to his feet, one hand upon his knee as he rose. He walked around the ashes, stumbling. He blinked.
Words crossed his mind. He could not keep his eyes open. So many emotions formed an unexplainable menagerie in his head. His lips trembled as he tried to speak.
“No, Aeldred,” he said weakly. “Do not be sorry.” He tried to gulp, and couldn’t. All he could do was finish his sentence, as if the Lady would not grant him respite until he spoke the vow he knew he intended to keep.
“Something changed me. You were right.” He paused again. The words began to enter his mind effortlessly. He knew what he had to do. To find redemption.
Lucias turned to face Aeldred. No, what was left of him. He gulped.
“I vow to discover whatever force works