byLady Aurian

Chapter 4


"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us."

* * * * *

Ariana slowly paced up and down the hall outside of Dragan's chambers, hands clasped nervously behind her back. She had received a missive earlier that morning that said that the Archmage wanted to see her as soon as possible. No doubt Avery had told him about the discovery of the Dark book.

She bit her lip, thinking about him. Avery had been more bothersome lately. Usually he simply played harmless pranks on her or threatened to tell the Archmage on her if she planned to make trouble. It had been that way since they were children. And now Avery was as antagonistic as Dragan, Ariana was more impetuous than ever, and Tarnal was completely indifferent to anything.

But they still hated each other.

That's one thing that won't ever change, Ariana thought, staring down at her satin slippers.

Ariana blinked sleepily. It was way too early to be thinking about this, she decided. For she had had that odd dream again, the one where she was standing on the grassy knoll, and that voice. . .

Ariana lifted her head with a sigh and glanced back at the door to Dragan's chambers. Better to get it over with quickly, she decided. Then she would have the rest of the day with Bracken. Today she was to go and investigate what happened in Florin. The whole day out of the castle! Ariana could hardly wait.

Slowly, she walked to the large door and knocked softly. From within she heard a voice.

"Come in, Lady."

Lady. He always called her Lady. So did Avery, for that matter. Why did that make her so nervous?

Ariana pushed open the door and, stepping carefully inside, closed it behind her.

The Archmage was sitting at his desk, scrawling something on a piece of parchment. Without looking away, he gestured with his free hand for her to sit down in one of the chairs before him.

Ariana, deciding to forget about curtsying, reluctantly sat, drumming her fingernails on the arm of the chair. It was made of a strange fabric which was as slippery and smooth as satin. Several times she almost slipped off, coming to the conclusion that Dragan put the chairs in there on purpose just to annoy people. It worked pretty well.

The Archmage suddenly looked up and cleared his throat. "Good morning," he greeted. "I would offer you something to drink, but that wouldn't really be appropriate, as it's only about half past nine."

Ariana was just about to tell him that she didn't drink when he abruptly continued.

"I spoke to my nephew last evening," he said. "He mentioned an interesting piece of information about you, Lady."

Ariana put on her most innocent expression. "Why, what would that be, milord?"

Dragan gazed at her. "He said that he saw you reading a Dark book by the name of the Book of Adorum."

Ariana stared back. "I was not reading that book, milord. I was simply sorting it and others like it. I didn't know where to put it because it was completely blank."

"Interesting," came the Archmage's reply. Then he was silent, his sharp eyes burning into hers.

Ariana swore inwardly. How could she have let that slip out? She was sure he would ask her the same question Rowan had asked. How had she known it was blank?

But Dragan said nothing. He stared into space instead, his eyes taking on an odd, glazed look.

Ariana wanted to get out of there. "Milord?"

The Archmage blinked. "Well. Yes. Good thing it was blank, who knows what could have been in there." He chuckled suddenly. "Why, the other day Rowan informed me that he had in his possession a book that could burn out the reader's eyes!"

Ariana wasn't sure if she found that funny. "Indeed, milord."

"Anyway, child, do you know what Rowan did with that book? The Book of Adorum?" Dragan continued.

She shrugged. "I'm sorry, milord, I do not. I assume Rowan hid it safely away in his vault."

"In his vault," the Archmage repeated. "Hopefully, it will be safe there."

"Yes," Ariana agreed, not knowing what else to say.

"In the meanwhile, what are your plans for this afternoon?"

"I am going to Florin, milord, to help the knights find the identity of the raiders," Ariana answered. "They believe that they are taking shelter in the Black Forest."

Dragan's expression didn't change. "Why, what would you need to go do that for?"

Ariana blinked. "Well, milord, I . . .they're a menace to the people."

"Hmm. Actually, I think there are more constructive things you could be doing with your time, don't you?"

"But the Prince said that I should--" Ariana tried.

"Never mind what the Prince says, my dear," Dragan said. "You need to stay here and study, not run around the forests of Catalia. If those raiders do show up, you might be hurt."

"I can take care of myself," Ariana said, a note of defiance in her voice.

Dragan smiled, looking amused. "Of course you can. However, if your parents were still with us, I'm sure that they would agree with me. It's in your best interest."

Ariana's cheeks burned. He was right. If Meiriel and Carmine were alive, they'd never allow her to venture off without any of the others. She was going to have to stay, as she couldn't go against the Archmage's wishes. But it was worth one more try. "Please, milord, can't you reconsider--"

"I'm sorry, child, I cannot. It is a dangerous excursion, and we cannot afford to lose you. You are, as you know, the youngest female Mage left. If something happened to you, our entire race would be lost." Dragan's voice was condescendingly firm. "Besides, we need you here in Opela tonight. It's Winter Solstice Eve. And with Aspen and Adrian gone--"

"They're gone?"

"Yes, they left this morning for Hyrule," Dragan said pleasantly. "Who knows what could possibly happen without our shadow-magic."

"So I'm to be caged like a bird, now, is that it?" The words were out of her mouth before Ariana realized they were her own.

"My dear, you're forever breaking the rules. We cannot reward such behavior."

"It's not right to punish me by keeping me here forever," Ariana said coldly. She knew she was being disrespectful, but Dragan had no right to do this. Prince Adrian had given her permission himself.

Dragan sighed. "Why do you always reject authority?"

"I want to know why authority always rejects me!" Ariana shot back.

Ariana glared at him, knowing she had crossed the line. There was no way he would let her go to Florin now. But it had been worth it. She had wanted to say those words for a long time now. She waited in silence to see what he would say next.

To her surprise, Dragan smiled. "Such spirit!" he said. "Just like your father. You know, you look--and sound--a lot like him, Lady."

Ariana was speechless.

"Yes, he was just like you," Dragan continued, "He was always overstepping the boundaries, forever wanting justice. A brave heart, he was." His voice turned bitter. "No wonder Meiriel married him."

Ariana continued to stare. "If you don't mind me asking, milord, what does this have to do with anything?"

Dragan gazed back at her. "Everything," he said. He was silent for a moment, letting the statement sink in. Then, turning back to his papers, he muttered, "You are dismissed."

Ariana, finding that there was nothing more that she could say, slipped off the chair and left the room as quickly as she could, forgetting to curtsy.

* * * * *

"Rowan!" Stomping down the hall, Ariana threw open the door to the Fire-Mage's chambers without knocking. "You won't believe what's happened this time--"

Rowan was meditating. His eyes were shut tightly and he was floating, cross-legged, four feet in the air. His hands lay on top of his knees, palms up. Every so often his fingers would twitch as if he were trying to grasp something that was constantly eluding his grasp. It was obvious that he hadn't heard a word Ariana had just said.

Annoyed, Ariana flung herself into one of Rowan's big, comfortable chairs. It was an enchanted type of chair that adjusted perfectly to fit each person who sat in it. Whenever Ariana used it, she felt like she was sitting in a big cloud. She had always meant to have one made for her, but for some reason she had never gotten around to it. She never spent much time in her chambers anyway.

How could I have been so stupid? she wondered.

Avery was definitely going to get it now, Ariana would see to it. This whole situation was all his fault. Now Ariana had lost the event she had been looking forward to all week and to top it all off, she had been especially rude to the Archmage. He had deserved it, in Ariana's opinion.

She had never done anything horrible to him. He was probably just jealous. That must be it, Ariana decided. He was jealous because she had powers he would never have. Well, it was time to put those powers to good use.

Ariana set to work devising the perfect revenge. Just a harmless prank would do. She could turn him into a moblin or some other undesirable creature. Or she could set a flock of moby birds loose in his room. And then there was a curse she had always wanted to try. She giggled out loud just thinking about it. And it wouldn't matter if she did get in trouble with the Archmage. It would be worth all the rupees in the world if she could just see his expression. What would Dragan say if his young nephew starting breathing fire like a dragon?

Yes, a curse would be the ideal way to go. And Ariana knew Rowan had a book full of curses and other spells hidden away somewhere. She glanced at the books that cluttered the walls. The book might be difficult to find. It would take ages to find one book amongst all these. And there were thousands more in the library. And she was so comfortable. . .

Ariana got another brilliant idea. The Book of Wisdom! Chiding herself for not thinking of it before, she hopped out of the chair and crossed the room, careful not to make any sudden noise that might disturb Rowan. The old Fire-Mage usually kept his special books hidden in a secret room behind the wall. Rowan had always thought no one knew about the room, but Ariana stumbled upon it easily when she was six years old.

Running her finger along the line of dusty books, Ariana spotted one entitled Chronicles of Courage. She set her finger on top of the book's binding and pulled it out gently, then whispered the words, "Emases nepo."

Ariana jumped back as the bookshelf swung silently open to reveal a tiny room covered completely with books. They were all in alphabetical order from Adventures in Aeolis to Zeal in Zazen. The books were all considered to be dangerous. Ariana knew that Rowan had one hidden that caused the reader to speak in limericks for the rest of their lives. There was also one that was so funny that it made the reader laugh themselves to death. And surely, the book that could burn a reader's eyes out. . .

It only took her a moment to find the Book of Wisdom. Rowan liked to call it that because it was basically an index of all the books in the library. The book itself never approved of the name. It preferred to be called Nimbus, in honor of some famous book about cloud formations. Ariana had secretly been calling it the Twittering Tome for some time now.

The Book of Wisdom was large and encrusted here and there with glowing, blood-red rubies. Because of its lovely, expensive exterior, it tended to have a high opinion of itself. Rowan kept it with his secret books because whenever any of the Mages used it, they usually lost their tempers and ended up threatening it.

The second Ariana settled back in her chair, she realized that the book hadn't been opened in a long time and therefore would probably be grumpy. Even so, the thought of getting revenge on Avery was enough for her to open it right then and there. She cautiously turned to the first page.

The book made a yawning sound, then made a noise that reminded Ariana of someone smacking their lips very loudly. "Who disturbs my slumber?" it asked sleepily.

"Lady Ariana of the Magi," Ariana answered sweetly, hoping the book had a short-term memory.

"Oh, no, anyone but you!" the book groaned. "Don't think I don't remember what you were about to do to me last time, you little menace. If I hadn't screamed for Rowan, why, you would've burned me up in a moment's notice!"

Ariana sighed. "I'm sorry I didn't," she said ruefully.

"Hmmph," came the reply. "You would be."

"I need your help," Ariana said, "I need a spell and quickly, if you please."

"Give me one reason why I should help you," the book retorted.

"Look, I've had a really bad day so far. And the last thing I need is to get into an argument with a book."

"So?" the book snapped. "I've had a bad last couple of centuries, but you're not making an effort to be nice to me."

"Fine," Ariana said, eager to get her spell. "I'll be civil to you if you are to me."

The book was quiet for a moment, seeming to think it over. "You swear on the book of Din?" it finally asked.

"Yes," Ariana said impatiently.

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, Nimbus," Ariana said, making no effort to mask the sarcasm in her voice.

"Good enough," the book said cheerfully. "So, what do you need?"

"I need a curse. Preferably a really annoying one."

"Hmm. . ." Nimbus said thoughtfully. "I've got heaps of those. Anything specific?"

"Not really," Ariana replied. "I just need something that will really bother Avery."

If the book had a face, Ariana imagined that it would be grinning. "Avery, eh? That little scamp! The last time he talked to me, he wanted a spell that would turn a teacup into a rat. Wanted to scare you, he said. He was all of ten years old."

Ariana rolled her eyes, not believing that Avery was ever that innocent. "He's not such a little scamp anymore," she informed the book. "Now he's the big, important Water-Mage."

"Time goes by so quickly for us books," Nimbus said, somewhat dejectedly. "We just sit around with no one to read us."

"So many books, so little time," Ariana muttered.

"What was that?" Nimbus questioned suspiciously.

"Nothing," Ariana said innocently.

"Well now, what did Avery do to you?" Nimbus wanted to know.

Ariana quickly filled the book in on what had happened the night before.

"So now I can't go to Florin because of him," Ariana said sadly. "And I was really looking forward to it."

"Tsk, tsk, you shouldn't have been looking at that Dark book," Nimbus scolded.

"I wasn't!" Ariana insisted. "He was the one who came in and made trouble."

"Why can't you two just get along?" Nimbus asked.

"Why does everyone keep asking me that?!" Ariana exclaimed.

"It's wise to have friends in high places," the book warned.

"And I'm sure you've got heaps of buddies on the top of the bookshelf," Ariana said, unable to resist.

"There you go again!" the book shrieked. "What an attitude! Why do you insist on mocking me?"

Rowan, who was now floating six feet in the air, sighed loudly.

"Hush!" Ariana hissed, clutching the book. "Rowan's meditating."

"Sorry," Nimbus mumbled. "I didn't know he was there. It's not like I've got eyes, ya know."

Ariana was getting frustrated. "Look, I'm sorry too. Just find me a good spell, and then I'll leave."

"Fine," Nimbus grumbled. "Let me see. . .ah! Here's a very good one."

The book flipped to a page towards the beginning that was covered with spidery handwriting. It read:

The Bondage Spell

"It says, 'see domination spell' " Ariana said.

"Oops, sorry!" Nimbus chirped.

The pages flipped magically to a page near the middle. It read:

The Domination Spell

This spell causes the victim to do whatever is ordered of them.

"Excellent!" Ariana grinned wickedly. "A day or two of servitude ought to--"

Suddenly, Rowan shot up in the air, bumping his head on the ceiling and trailing sparks like a giant firecracker. His head fell toward his chest limply.

"My!" Nimbus exclaimed. "In the name of the goddesses, what was that awful noise?"

"It was only Rowan," Ariana explained. "He just--"

Rowan's eyes opened wide. Ariana gasped, shocked, at what she saw. His eyes had rolled back and now they glowed with a silvery, unearthly light. His body was floating up to the ceiling, then down to the floor. Up to the ceiling, down to the floor. . .over and over again. He looked as if he were having some sort of seizure.

"Rowan. . .?" Ariana managed to say, the movement making her dizzy.

"Tonight is the night."

The voice was loud and harsh. Ariana looked around for the speaker, but quickly realized that it was Rowan who had spoken the words.

"Tonight is the night that it will happen. The Darkness lies alone and undisturbed, remembered by few but forgotten by all. Tonight, the Darkness will return and plague those who unleashed its anger. Tonight. . .the prophecy will be fulfilled. . .at. . .last. . ."

Rowan's head fell forward again and he landed on the floor again with a soft thump. Ariana sat frozen in the chair when a new horrible sound filled her delicate ears. It was a high-pitched screech. It was Nimbus.

"Be quiet, you wretched book!" Ariana yelled, but Nimbus didn't seem to hear her over the racket it was making. She set it on Rowan's desk but the book wouldn't stop making that horrible noise. Finally Ariana slammed the book shut and covered it with a bowl of fruit to keep it closed. Nimbus began rattling the table furiously in retaliation.

Ariana herself was strangely calm. What had just happened? She turned to stare at Rowan, who was sitting on the floor, cross-legged. He didn't move.

Suddenly his head snapped up, his eyes and face perfectly normal, acting like nothing had happened. "Well, hello!" he said cheerfully, getting to his feet. "It's a lovely morning, isn't it?"

Ariana just stared at him.

"What are you looking at, Ariana? You look like you've seen a ghost!"

* * * * *

The arrow soared straight through the air before it finally stopped in the center of the target fifty paces away. Sir Bracken, a member of the elite Royal Knights of Catalia and Ariana's trainer, approached it with a critical eye.

"Admit it, Bracken, it's perfect," said Ariana, coming up behind him. She swung her special longbow in one hand and pushed back a stray strand of dark hair with the other. There was a triumphant spring in her step as she walked. "You owe me ten rupees."

"I do not," Bracken declared. His eyes danced as he turned to look at his protegee. "It's exactly two millimeters off."

Ariana leaned on her longbow casually and frowned. "It is not either. Come on, we had a bet."

Bracken sighed, knowing it was useless arguing. Ariana always won in the end. "No way," he argued. "Your stance wasn't right. I bet you used wind-magic or something to control it. I can tell about these things."

"What?! It's way too windy out here already!" Ariana contended. "Caspian was right, that storm spell really messed up the weather patterns."

It did seem colder and windier than usual. Catalia basically had a cool, rainy climate, but the drought had really taken its toll on the lands. All Caspian's spells had done was produce a couple of ominous-looking clouds to the west. Other than that, nothing had changed.

"Hmm, I'll give you that," Bracken replied. "But your stance was still all wrong."

"Come off it already!" Ariana wheedled. "It's perfectly fine."

Bracken rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah? What if the Archmage decides to pop up just in time to see me let you slack off?" He lowered his voice. "He'll have another strike against me. I'll probably get fired or something, and then Avery will have to train you."

"He seems to have enough time on his hands," Ariana grumbled. "He just follows me around, waiting for me to cause trouble so he'll look good." She was still angry about what had happened that morning.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Bracken said, reaching to pull the arrow out of the target. His tone turned serious. "The drought should be keeping him busy. You know, today I heard that if the river gets any lower, there's a serious risk of disease."

The Fire-Mage bit her lip. "I hope it doesn't get too bad."

"It won't," Bracken assured her. "Lady Evelyn won't let it."

"I wouldn't put too much faith in her," Ariana answered, taking the arrow from him. "She's awfully. . .capricious. One never knows what she'll do." A gust of wind blew the hood of her cloak back.

"Since when did you get so worried about the affairs of the kingdom?" Bracken scolded lightly. "You never used to worry about this kind of thing."

Ariana shook her head. "I--I don't know. I just have a weird feeling about the things that are happening lately, that's all." What with strange raiders, enigmatic dreams, and Rowan's bizarre prediction, she definitely had something to lose sleep over.

"It's nothing to worry about." Bracken shielded his eyes from another gust of wind. "Gods, I hope it doesn't rain tonight of all nights," he remarked.

"What's going on tonight?" Ariana asked curiously, pushing a lock of hair out of her eyes.

The knight grinned. "How could you have forgotten? Today's Winter Solstice Eve!"

Ariana made a face. "Oh, what fun," she said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice. "We get to stay at the palace and party with the Mages."

Every year at the Winter Solstice, there was a huge private banquet at the palace that only the Mages, the Royal Knights, and the nobles were allowed to attend. Ariana thought it was dreadfully boring, listening to all those people gush about how much money they had. She would much rather go to the street festival in the plaza of Opela. Bracken always said it was the only thing that got people through the year. The festival was always the talk of the town for months afterward.

Bracken rolled his eyes. "Hey, what do you mean, 'we'? There's no way I'm going that banquet this year."

"Now how did you manage to get out of going?" Ariana questioned.

"I have my ways," the knight said proudly.

"It's going to be horrible this year, especially since the Prince isn't here."

"What? Where is he?" Bracken wanted to know.

Ariana sighed. "He left for Hyrule this morning to spend the holidays with their royal family. That Aspen gets to do everything. . ."

"Maybe you could come to the street festival with Heather and me," Bracken offered.

Heather was Bracken's younger sister. She and Ariana had never met, as Dragan did not approve of too much Mortal contact. He only let Bracken train Ariana because the other Mages did not have time or the patience, for that matter.

"Dragan won't let me get out of this stupid banquet," Ariana muttered. "I hate being a Mage. I really envy you, Bracken."

Bracken frowned. "Don't say that," he said. "You have rare powers. Not many Hylians can boast about that."

Ariana ignored him. "Maybe I could sneak out of the palace after the banquet. . ."

"What about Avery?"

"What about Avery?" Ariana repeated, still lost in her daydream.

"You said he was following you around a lot."

"Oh. Yeah. Well, I'll just have to think of something," the Mage decided.

After Rowan had come out of that trance, Nimbus had refused to stop screaming. Eventually he just left the book alone. "Books are sensitive to this sort of thing," he had said. He went on to explain that when he meditated, he was actually leaving his body. Rowan thought that while he was gone some spirit had borrowed his body and talked through him. Ariana, on the other hand, wasn't so sure what had really happened. All she knew was that Nimbus had gone crazy and now she would never figure out how to work that spell.

"If you did sneak out," Bracken said thoughtfully, "you'd have to be really careful. You don't know the city like I do. There's a lot of bad blood between you Mages and us Hylians. If anyone should see you. . .well, it might take all of your defense training to escape."

"You're right," Ariana lamented. "It would probably be too dangerous."

While they had been talking, the clouds had come closer and closer. A flash of lightning streaked across the sky, illuminating the dark clouds.

"We'd better go," Bracken continued. "Looks like it will rain after all."

After gathering up their gear, the two fell into step beside one another. Eventually the conversation faded away and was replaced by a comfortable silence as they made their way from the training area toward the palace.

The palace was the oldest, most elegant, and most distinguished building in all of Catalia. It had housed Magefolk and the members of the Royal Family for as long as anyone could remember. The inside of the palace was covered in elegant tapestries and stained-glass windows, depicting scenes from Catalian legends and Magefolklore. The palace itself was made of an mysterious, compact white stone with the smooth texture of ivory. Some of the towers were so tall that the turrets were usually covered with clouds. The surrounding palace grounds were made up of a large training area for physical activities, a separate area for practicing fire-magic in safety, and a large maze of beautiful gardens for Tarnal's earth-magic. The gardens happened to be one of Ariana's favorite places, filled with sparkling fountains and gilded cages full of colorful birds. Unfortunately, Avery was usually out there, practicing water-magic in the fountains.

Despite the beautiful surroundings, Ariana found herself feeling depressed. To her, the palace was a like a big, elaborate cage. She sighed.

"Why the long face?" Bracken questioned.

"I guess I'm just kind of depressed that we're still no closer to finding out the identities of those raiders," the Mage responded.

Bracken glanced at her. "Actually, one of our knights sighted one last night. They were spotted near the Black Forest."


"I think they know that you Magefolk are searching for them. You know, they're keeping a low profile for a while."

"Maybe," Ariana said softly.

They entered one of the larger gardens and walked into one of the covered walkways that connected each one. The wind picked up, blowing Ariana's long dark hair back.

"Still," the young Mage continued, "I'm sick of staying in the palace, Bracken. You've no idea how boring it is here. Everyone's so serious. I wish the Archmage had let me go to Florin with you and the others today. Maybe we could've discovered where the raiders are hiding. They can't hide from us forever."

Bracken pulled open the heavy oak door for Ariana. "You're right," he said thoughtfully. "But I have a feeling that it'll only get worse before it gets better."

The two walked into the main hall where servants were already scurrying around, getting things ready for the banquet that was to take place there that evening.

"I'm sick of talking about this," Bracken said.

"Me too," Ariana changed the subject. "Have fun at the festival tonight."

"Oh, yeah," the knight grinned just thinking about it. "Heather's so excited, you should see her. . ."

As Ariana pretended to listen, she couldn't help but notice that most of the servants were giving her a wide berth. Some of them were whispering and a few of the braver ones were shooting her cold looks.

What are they looking at? the Mage thought irritably. They seemed to be looking at her feet. Ariana looked at the floor of the main hall, which was usually so shiny that she could see her reflection. "By Din's Fire. . ." she groaned.

Looking behind her, Ariana saw that she had left a trail of muddy footprints from outside on the newly-polished floor.

"Great, this is just what we need," Bracken muttered.

"Well, well, if it isn't our little Ariana, causing more trouble," came a voice.

Ariana and Bracken turned around to see Avery, standing behind them, a smug look on his handsome face.

"It's nice to see you gallivanting about with that Mortal again," Avery said, his voice dripping sarcasm.

Ariana glared at him. "You know, Avery, it's not wise to waste your whole vocabulary on one sentence," she said sweetly.

The Water-Mage frowned. "Well, I'm certainly not going to engage in a battle of wits with someone so obviously unarmed."

Ariana was about to throw another insult at him, but she remembered she had promised Rowan that she would stay away from the pugnacious Water-Mage. "Go away, Avery," she snapped. "Can't you see I'm busy?"

"Yes, you certainly are going to be busy cleaning that up," Avery grinned.

"Why are you always following me around?" Ariana questioned, counting the number of footprints on the floor and estimating the amount of time it would take to apport the mess from the floor to Avery's face.

Avery's grin widened. "It's so much fun to watch you get yourself into trouble," he responded.

"I'm glad you find this whole situation amusing," Ariana snapped.

Bracken spoke up. "It wasn't her fault. It was an accident. I was distracting her."

The Water-Mage's smile faded and he gave the knight a condescending look. "I'm sure you were," he said coldly.

Bracken said nothing, but glowered at him viciously as Ariana began to chant the apport spell. The servants all stopped what they were doing to watch.

"You're not going to clean it up yourself, are you?" Avery interrupted..

"Who else is going to do it?" Ariana muttered. "Now shut up, you're ruining my concentration."

"My dear Lady, surely you should save your energy for something more substantial."

"You've got a good idea, there, Avery. You know, I should save my energy. I really practice my transmuting spells. I've always wanted to know what you'd look like with a pig's tail," Ariana grinned.

"You misunderstand me. I'm just trying to save you from another bad situation. What if you mess up the spell and this mud appears in another chamber? You'll have quite a bit of explaining to do," Avery said frostily.

"It's going to end up in your bed if you don't shut your mouth!" Ariana muttered. She squeezed her eyes shut and quickly chanted the spell before Avery had a chance to say another word. Instantly the mud disappeared, leaving no trace it had ever been there. Even the mud on Ariana's skirt was gone. The servants, needless to say, looked relieved.

The Fire-Mage gave Avery a triumphant look. "Oh, I'm sorry, Avery, what were you saying a moment ago? Something about messing up the spell?" she said sarcastically.

Avery was about to tell her off, but he was interrupted by a nervous-looking page.

"Please--if you would--I mean--excuse me, milord," the page practically whispered.

"Oh, what is it?!" Avery exclaimed, his irritation evident.

"Uh--the Archmage--he wants--he wishes to see you at once, milord," the page stuttered. He held out a small envelope made of green parchment, Dragan's crest stamped on one side.

Avery snatched it away angrily and turned back to Ariana. "As I was saying, before I was interrupted--" he shot a cold look at the page, who shrank back. "Apport spells are easy. I mastered those a long time ago." He peeled off the wax seal and ripped open the letter before Ariana could reply.

Just as Ariana had thought up a good comeback, Avery's green eyes took on a glazed look, as if he heard something that no one else could hear.

"If you'd excuse me, I am needed elsewhere," he said. He turned on his heel and headed out of the main hall without another word.

Bracken stared after him. "He sure is a strange fellow," he commented.

Ariana rolled her eyes, annoyed that she didn't get the last word. "You don't know the half of it," she said curtly.

End of Chapter Four

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