Without the essence of evil, there can be no light.
* * * * *
The last of the fading sunlight filtered through the stained glass window, casting a fantastic array of colors onto the polished floor that almost reached the marble table that Ariana was sitting at. She had been watching the movement of the sunlight for an hour now, as she always did when she tired of listening to Rowan's incessant droning.
Every evening Ariana had a history lecture in the library with the elderly Fire-Mage. And she hated every minute of it. The young Mage preferred doing magic rather than hearing about it.
Right now Rowan was jabbering on about a race of female warriors called the Gerudo. It was a particularly dull lesson and Ariana was having a difficult time staying awake. The only person listening to Rowan was his personal servant, Gevan, who was sitting next to Ariana. His job was to fetch anything that the Fire-Mage requested, from frog's eyes to a caldron from the forbidden catacombs that ran under the palace.
Ariana glanced about her surroundings, searching for something more interesting to look at. The library was one of the largest rooms in the palace. It was lit by hundreds of white candles that were placed at intervals on the shelves along with a roaring fire in the huge fireplace, giving the room a cozy atmosphere. Thousands of books that contained information and history of all types of magic covered the walls. The walls themselves were so tall that there were about thirty flights of stairs with balconies that led hundreds of feet up. It was quite difficult to find anything in there unless you knew what you were doing.
". . .and everyone knows the Gerudo were all made up of women, of course. And there was some legend about having one male king every one hundred years, but I have concluded that was just a bit of folklore. . ." Rowan's monotonous voice echoed off the cavernous walls.
Ariana shifted uncomfortably and tipped her chair back slightly to stare at the ceiling. Some long-gone Mage had once bewitched the ceiling to look like the sky outside. It was going to be a clear night, and the sky was already velvety blue, dotted here and there with twinkling stars, making it look as if the ceiling were covered with white fairies. It was a breathtaking sight.
". . .by the year 2534, the Gerudo became restless nomads. Eventually they settled down in Hyrule where they occupied the desert area to the west. . ." Rowan glanced at the young Mage over the rim of his spectacles. ". . Ariana, are you paying attention?"
"Yes, Rowan," Ariana answered automatically.
Gevan shot her a disapproving look before turning back to the Fire-Mage. Ariana rolled her eyes at his back and slouched down in her chair. For a couple of moments she actually listened before turning back to the huge glass window.
Beyond the window a dark storm clouds were forming, totally obscuring the skies to the east. She could see the wind sending sparkling waves of purple and blue swirling through the air. Ariana watched this with interest, as it was obviously the work of the old Wind-Mage, Caspian. Because of the drought the reluctant Mage had been ordered by Dragan to bring a storm, putting up a big fuss about it as he did so. He spent a full twenty minutes complaining about ruining the weather patterns before finally giving in.
Caspian was not known for his patience with the Catalians. "Blasted Mortals," he had mumbled. "Wretched good-for-nothings. Always disturbing me with something or other. . ." The Wind-Mage was rather reclusive and quite obsessive about his work. Everyone knew that he hated Mortals and every time he entered a room the servants scrambled from view. Devoting most of his four hundred years to the study of wind-magic, Caspian was by far the oldest Mage left.
Magefolk, like Mortals, could be killed by illness or by accident, but otherwise they lived as long as they pleased, preserving their physical forms at whatever age they wished. Not much was known of Magefolk ancestry except that they were thought to be descended from Hylians, as they had the same delicate pointed ears.
Years ago the king of Catalia had ordered a war in which many Mages had been killed. Since then their numbers had dwindled dramatically, and now there were only eight left: the last of the Mages' Council. These days the small band of Magefolk was staggering under the pressures of the kingdom, and the people of Catalia were not happy about it. In spite of their powers, no Mage dared to leave the castle except for very important reasons, as the common people had taken to attacking them. To walk the streets of Opela at night was a very foolish decision. Ariana, being the youngest, hated being stuck in the palace all day, but the situation couldn't be helped.
Unfortunately for her, the Magefolk were rather distinctive. Most had dark hair and they were the only people in Catalia who had green eyes, making them easy to pick out. Various tribes of Hylians made up a good number of the tribal population, and only those of pure blood had blond hair and blue eyes.
". . .and years later, about the year 2537, the Dark Age ended, and to this day no one knows what happened to the Gerudo. Of course, some of my manuscripts reveal that this had something to do with the disappearance of their leader. . ."
Ariana tuned out the flat voice and sat back in her chair, closing her eyes. She wondered what her friend Sir Bracken was doing now. Tomorrow she would be allowed to accompany him to Florin, where they would investigate the latest attack from the raiders. Rowan had warned her about the dangers, but Ariana couldn't wait to get out of the palace. . .
". . .but Lord Tiercel said--you remember him, don't you? You know, the old Archivist. He passed on not long after your mother. Anyway, he once told me that their leader was imprisoned in a realm of some sort. . . Ariana? Are you listening?"
"Yes, Rowan," Ariana replied sleepily.
"Good. Then tell me, what is the name of the Archivist I just told you about?"
"Yes, Rowan," Ariana mumbled. She was already drifting away into oblivion. . .
"Without the essence of evil, there can be no light."
Startled, Ariana's eyes flew open. That voice again! She had totally forgotten about it. . .
"Ariana!" The voice was so sharp that it cut right through her thoughts, bringing her back to earth. Ariana blinked rapidly, clearing the last cobwebs from her mind and focusing on the little old man who was standing impatiently before her. He was a kind, elderly Mage with a long white beard and twinkling green eyes partially hidden by gold spectacles. But at the moment, the Fire-Mage Rowan was obviously not too happy.
For the time being Rowan was Ariana's main teacher, and he had very high hopes for her. Under his guidance, she was learning the art of fire-magic. Ariana had already mastered the other elements, but fire-magic was the most difficult of all of them. It required intense concentration and discipline. Ironically, it was also the element that Ariana disliked the most.
"I-I'm sorry," Ariana gasped, struggling to remember what he had been talking about. "I must've--"
Despite his frown, Rowan's eyes were kind. "That's all right," he said. He sat down in the chair across from Ariana, a small scroll in his hand. "I have just received a missive that the Archmage wishes to speak with me for a few minutes. While I'm gone, I would like you to practice lighting this candle." Rowan gestured at a candle that had been placed atop a nearby stack of leather-bound books. Instantly the candle was in his hand.
"Just lighting the candle? That's it?" Ariana questioned. Until she turned twenty, Ariana would not be allowed to practice magic unless under supervision. She frequently practiced fire-magic on her own, even though she wasn't supposed to. The things she could do greatly exceeded lighting a mere candle.
"That's it," the old Mage replied.
Ariana scowled. "That's so boring," she said, glancing toward the fireplace. "Can't I re-light the fire or something?"
Rowan shrugged. "Later we can do some fireballs if you wish," he answered. "It's too dangerous for you to do that unsupervised, especially here." He gestured at the walls of books that towered around them.
"Can't I go outside, then?"
"Not now. Caspian is working on his weather-spell, and he won't be pleased if you distract him," he reminded her.
"I could do it in my room," Ariana ventured.
Rowan peered at her through his spectacles. "Don't you remember the tapestry incident?"
Ariana's face flushed. "I didn't mean to set it on fire," she protested. "It just happened. The window was open. Those stupid crosswinds--"
"Never mind that, child," Rowan responded. "We discovered you have a talent for fire-magic."
"That's the only good that came out of that experience," Ariana groaned, putting her head in her hands. "Dragan almost threw me out of the palace, he was so mad. He said I could have burned the whole palace down. . ."
Rowan smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, my child," he admonished. "Secretly he was impressed. Not even the Archmage possessed such power at your age, believe me."
Ariana sighed. "Yeah, well, Tarnal is still laughing at me."
"Oh, really?" Rowan questioned. "Well, let me just say that you're not the only one who's made a mistake like that. I have plenty of tales about Tarnal's antics."
Ariana's green eyes sparkled with mischief. "You wouldn't mind telling me some of those, would you?" she asked.
"After I come back," Rowan told her. "In the meantime, let me remind you how to do this properly. You must start small, as fire is a dangerous thing." He reached out with his right hand over the candle. Wiggling his fingers, a tiny flame appeared. "And with the left hand, we extinguish it," Rowan continued. He stretched out his left hand and doused the flame in a small, glittering wave of sparks.
"All right," Ariana agreed, biting her lips. She positioned her right hand out toward the candle, centering her inner energies on the wick.
"Concentrate," Rowan reminded her.
Ariana nodded. With a quick flick of her wrist, the wick of the candle burst into a bright orange-yellow flame. It was so hot that the white wax quickly melted and began to dribble down the sides of the candle.
Rowan beamed happily. "Very good. Now, you must extinguish it. And remember to concentrate," he added. "Use your left hand."
Ariana obediently reached out with her left hand. Concentrating as hard as she could, she flicked her wrist toward the candle. The flame immediately disappeared. Unfortunately, the aftermath of the spell sent the dribblings of wax flying across the table where they splattered onto Rowan's face.
Ariana looked guilty. "Oops. Sorry, Rowan," she said hastily.
Rowan wiped his spectacles on his sleeve. "Very good," he said, positioning them back on his nose. "Well, the Archmage is expecting me." He made his way to the door, Gevan on his heels. When he reached the door, he turned around. "Oh, he added as an afterthought. "You might want to practice the douse spell while I'm gone."
The second the door closed Ariana couldn't help but giggle. The look on Rowan's face had been absolutely priceless. He had been too shocked to even yell. It was undoubtedly the most interesting thing that had occurred all day.
Sometimes Ariana wondered where Rowan's patience came from. She was sure it had something to do with her father, Lord Carmine. His special talent had also been fire-magic, and he and Rowan had been close. Carmine had perished in an experiment gone wrong a couple years after Ariana was born. Ariana's mother, Lady Meiriel, had soon followed her husband after falling into a state of depression. Rowan had been pleased to take their young daughter under his wing.
Calming herself, Ariana sighed and folded her arms, giving the candle a chagrined look. She really had not meant to do that. Lately she had been having some trouble controlling her powers. And thinking about that dream was not helping matters. What could it all possibly mean?
Ariana set herself to the task of lighting and extinguishing the candle over and over. Her stubborn nature wouldn't let her fail at anything, that was for sure. Once the young Mage found a way to control the douse spell, she found her thoughts drifting back to the dream.
"Without the essence of evil, there can be no light."
Ariana jumped a mile, her knee banging one of the legs of the table. The candle clattered to the smooth polished floor along with a couple of heavy books that had been stacked alongside it. Cursing, the Mage glanced around her. There was no one there. Yet someone. . .or something. . . had just whispered in her ear. . . Or had she only imagined it?
Ariana shivered. For the first time she noticed that the air in the library had suddenly grown colder.
* * * * *
"How are Ariana's studies going, Rowan?" With his silvery hair, burning dark eyes, and arrogant demeanor, the Archmage Dragan looked the epitome of the most powerful Mage in the universe. His chambers were spacious and elegant, and his gold-stitched robes brushed against the lush carpet as he crossed the room to pour Rowan a goblet of wine.
As the elderly Fire-Mage took a seat, he spotted Aspen standing in the shadows near the window, and he frowned. Rowan neither liked nor trusted the scheming Shadow-Mage. "I thought this was to be a private meeting," he said coldly.
"Oh, nonsense," Dragan chided, handing Rowan a goblet. "We were only discussing the severe predicaments of Catalia. Those raiders have struck again, I'm afraid. Now," he said, settling back in his own overstuffed chair. "I requested your presence to ask your opinion on the Prince. I simply think that Adrian needs more guidance than even I can give him. All these uncertain affairs are taking quite a toll on the boy already. That's why I've decided to send him to visit as a suitor with the Hyruleans for a while. King Sirach will be sure to show him exactly how a proper kingdom should run. Besides," he added, "a possible union with that Princess of his would be just what this country needs."
"Who's going to accompany him?" Rowan asked carefully. "We can hardly spare the powers of the Magefolk at this point. And we certainly cannot risk him going off without one of us."
"Hyrule is one of the safest, most peaceful countries in Demiari. I doubt the Prince will find any opposition there," the Archmage explained. "While he is staying there, I will take care of matters here. The Gods know, maybe we can convince him that the Magefolk can take care of Catalia's problems ourselves."
"Is that what this is about? I know what you're thinking, Dragan, and it's not going to work. The Mages' Pledge absolutely forbids us from usurping the Royal Family," Rowan said firmly.
"I said nothing about usurping the Royal Family," Dragan replied.
"Really." Rowan's fingers clenched the arms of his chair. "Do explain what you were referring to."
"The country is in peril, Rowan. It needs our magic and guidance to overcome the obstacles blocking the way. One of those obstacles is the Prince."
"Obstacle, my eye!" the Fire-Mage said crisply. "The Royal Family has ruled this kingdom very well for centuries without our interference. I'm sure that Adrian has the same abilities of his forefathers."
Dragan frowned. "I'm surprised to discover where your loyalty lies, Rowan. The Hylians enslaved us and forced us to bow to their will all these years. And now you say you'd rather follow a naive Mortal than your own people."
"This is not an issue of loyalty. Even I know what's best for the kingdom, and a revolt is not a wise move. In such troubled times, the Mortals might not side with us anyway," Rowan reasoned. "They're obsessed with their own tribal customs and afraid of change. You're the one who has been oppressing them all these years, after all. Because of you, the people resent us for our interference. The Mages' Council has become a joke. We gave our word in the Pledge that we would protect the Prince from such corruption."
The Archmage entwined his long fingers, his elbows on the arms of his chair. "Very well," he answered, his face expressionless. "I have your opinion on this subject, Rowan, and I will take this into consideration when I make future decisions. You are excused."
Rowan slowly rose from his chair, knowing it was best not to argue. However, an obstinate look lingered in his eyes.
The moment the heavy door clicked shut, Aspen could not keep his thoughts to himself any longer. "He's an old fool, Dragan! You know he's always been loyal to the Royal Family! He influences all of the other Mages. How can you expect him to change his ways now, of all times?!" he exploded.
Dragan calmly poured himself some more wine. "Indeed he is a fool," he replied. "However, if we are going to take over Catalia, we will need his fire-magic."
Aspen glared at him. "I don't see what good it will do--"
"Obviously you haven't been paying proper attention, Aspen," the Archmage interrupted. "If you'd look closer you'd see that Rowan looks to Lady Ariana to be his successor as the Fire-Mage."
Aspen narrowed his eyes in annoyance. "I still fail to see why you express such an interest in her," he said, his tone circumspect. "She's practically a child still."
Dragan sipped his drink. "Ah, but she won't be forever. According to Rowan, Carmine's daughter has talents that I can put to very good use."
Aspen's jaw was set in a firm line. "Indeed."
The Archmage's face was blank. "This decision requires careful consideration. Granted, we will not attempt any rash moves, Aspen. I assumed you would already know that."
"I do," Aspen snapped. "I'm just saying that it may be more difficult to control Ariana than you realize. The girl has quite a mind of her own, and knowing her, she won't like going back on her word. It certainly doesn't help that she's been heavily influenced by Rowan."
"Children change, Aspen."
Aspen sighed. "True," he admitted. "Ariana's magic could be very powerful if she learns to control it. She could be one of our best."
"With the proper guidance, of course," the Archmage added. "With her on our side, we Magefolk could restore the honor and respect of the glorious days of the past. If only we could just get the throne back to where it belongs. . ."
"That girl could make us a bad enemy. What if she won't listen? Have you thought of that?" the Shadow-Mage challenged.
There was a strange glint in the Archmage's eyes. "Then I shall have to use other means of persuasion."
End of Chapter Two.
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