Chapter 3: The Magician’s Tower
Tir and the others reached Magician’s Isle on the mouth of Tornal Ca.n.a.l on just as the sun entered the southern sky. After circling above the island several times Black landed in a rocky area a little ways away from the Magician’s Tower, which stood in the center of the island.
“Hey, we’re here! Hope that wasn’t too fast for ya. You didn’t pa.s.s out or anything, did you?” Futch asked, jumping down off Black’s back.
“N-not at… all…”
Despite his claim, Tir still had the strangest sensation his body was floating even though his feet were on solid ground. Because Futch was accustomed to riding dragons, he walked normally over in front of Black as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Black nuzzled up to him and Futch stroked his head while the five pa.s.sengers staggered down.
“I’ll wait here until your work is done. Be careful out there!”
“Th-thanks. All right, see ya… later…”
To get to the tower, Tir and his party entered the forest on shaky legs, walking like sailors on land.
They moved forward while making sure the tower where Leknaat was said to reside was visible in between the trees. Just about the time Tir stopped feeling like he was floating, there was an opening in the forest and an austere tower that looked like it belonged to an ancient civilization appeared in front of them. The tower was formed by countless megalithic structures. The stones were crumbling in places, weathered by the pa.s.sage of who knows how many long years. The outer walls were the color of gray ash, but they were splashed with green by the moss and climbing vines growing here and there about the place.
The stones were so tall it seemed a mystery how they had ever been drug up there in the first place. It seemed if you climbed to the top of the tower, you might find yourself above the clouds.
“Well, that was a surprisingly easy mission”, Ted said, perhaps relieved they had found the tower.
Replying to Ted, Tir placed his foot on the stairs leading up to the entrance. “Yeah. Well, let’s go get those astrological predictions, quick.”
A voice suddenly rang out from the dark depths of the entrance.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Imperials.”
Grabbing their weapons, the party of five peered into the entrance.
“Oh my… what in the world are you doing, drawing your weapons?”
A young boy dressed in loose white clothes topped by a green garment appeared in the entrance with a glow of light.
Smirking at the five ready for battle, the boy continued, “you Imperials really are a hopeless lot. Lady Leknaat and I aren’t the only ones who live here, you know.”
“And you are…?”
Charmed somehow by this boy’s eyes, Tir lowered his staff. They resembled Futch’s eyes, but there was something different about them - perhaps the self-confidence lurking there.
“I’m Luc, Lady Leknaat’s number one disciple. You guys are here to take the astral predictions, right?”
“That’s right. Is Lady Leknaat here?”, Tir said, his gaze still fixed on Luc’s eyes.
But Luc didn’t answer Tir’s question. He stared into Tir’s eyes and, smiling, nodded twice, then three times.
“Huh. I see. I see what she meant now.”
“See what who meant now?”
“Oh, nothing. Okay, I’ll show you the way. Follow me.”
Luc turned on his heel and went into the castle. Feeling strange, Tir followed after.
Luc turned to everyone standing below him on the stone staircase and said, “Lady Leknaat is in the first room at the top of these stairs. Well, I’ll go on ahead then.”
No sooner did Tir cry out than Luc was wrapped in a blue light.
Just as flashes of light shot out of Luc’s body, he transformed to a dazzling light.
His eyes automatically shut tight against the light, Tir heard Cleo’s voice. “What the?!”
The flashing ceased. Tir opened his eyes and Luc was gone.
“That was wind magic, right? Teleportation is really high-level magic!” Cleo said with admiration in her voice.
Gremio nodded too and replied, “Just as I’d expect from a disciple of Lady Leknaat’s. I’ve never seen such magic!”
The five talked excitedly about their first experience seeing high level magic for awhile, but as they began the climb, conversation dried up. Leknaat was at the top of this tall castle. The staircase wound on for so long that even the self-proclaimed inexhaustible Pahn gave up.
“We’re still not at the top floor?!”
They climbed and climbed. They knew they had finally arrived at the top floor when they found Luc looking down at them with a cold smile.
Tir raised his head at the sound of Luc’s voice. Behind him, the endless stairs that had been in front of them all this way ended in a heavy door.
“I will go ahead and inform Lady Leknaat. When everyone is accounted for, enter the room.”
Luc disappeared through the doorway, leaving his words hanging in the air. Everyone sat for a moment on the floor in front of the doors they’d struggled so hard to reach.
“Jeez…”, Ted wheezed. “Who said this was an easy mission?!”
“Good heavens, Ted, weren’t you the one who said it?” Gremio helped up Ted, who had collapsed face-up on the floor, chest heaving.
“All right, one more push. After this we’ve just got to get the astral predictions.”
“Right, Ted?” Tir said to Ted, who was still breathing heavily.
“Yeah, you’re right, one more push… gotta do our best.”
Seeing Ted put his hands on his knees and stand up, Tir pushed open the heavy doors. “This is Lady Leknaat’s…” Having entered the room, Tir’s voice trailed off in amazement. Because in complete contrast to the dreary stone staircase they had climbed to get here, this room was filled with countless small crystals. Befitting the room of an astrologer, the crystals embedded in the ceiling and even the walls sparkled beautifully, like the night sky.
“I have been expecting you, messengers of the Empire.”
He sought the source of the quiet voice that carried through the room and found a tall, smiling woman standing by Luc’s side. There was no doubt this beautiful woman, with nearly translucent skin and clad in a white silk robe, was the astrologer Leknaat.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lady Leknaat.”
Leknaat turned her face towards Tir, the first to enter and greet her, and said, “Oh my, they sent a cute messenger this year.”
“Huh?” Tir’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Oh dear, my apologies. You are a splendid Imperial soldier as well. Please excuse me for calling you cute.”
Leknaat stood in front of the door leading to the next room, the hem of her robes swishing.
“The Astral Predictions have been prepared. This way, please.”
Gremio, who had entered the room after him, whispered into Tir’s ear, “Young master, we will wait here.”
Tir handed his staff to Gremio and followed Lady Leknaat into the next room. Blue light streamed into the room through stained gla.s.s set in the ceiling and on the walls.As Leknaat moved beneath the rays of light, for an instant her white robes were dyed a brilliant blue. Lekknaat handed a single doc.u.ment to Tir, who was gazing in turns in fascination at both the beauty of the stained gla.s.s and the changing hues of her robe.
“These are the Astral predictions. Please wait one moment.“
“Thank you very much. Now my mission will be compl-…”
Tir held out his hands but stopped speaking mid-sentence as he felt Leknaat suddenly staring at him intently. Tir raised his head when he accepted the doc.u.ment. For some reason, Leknaat had sunk into silence, still facing him. The gentle smile she had worn until then vanished and she stood before him with a grave expression on her face.
“What is your name?”, asked Leknaat in a solemn voice.
“I am Tir McDohl.”
“Yes, Tir… I see, you’re…”
Whether she knew it or not, Leknaat echoed the words Luc had spoken earlier. Feeling odd once more, Tir had to ask, “Lady Leknaat, have I done something to offend? It’s just that Luc said something similar a while ago…”
“Listen, Tir.” Turning her back on Tir, Leknaat looked up to the tall ceiling. “I am an astrologer. It is my task to watch the flow of the stars and read the future in them. But the future is not predetermined. What I understand is just the general flow of things.”
“Yes ma’am. I know that.”
“This may be difficult for one so young as you, but… Within that vast flow lies a heavy destiny you must carry. You will encounter difficult choices and grief for which there may be no relief.”
“M-me, ma’am?” Tir couldn’t hide his surprise.
Leknaat turned to him. “But please remember this one thing. You hold your future in your own hands. No matter what happens, choose the road you believe is right. And believe in your own choices. Do you understand?”
Unable to hide his confusion, Tir said, “Lady Leknaat… I am grateful for these valuable words you’ve shared, but they were so unexpected, I’m not sure what to make of them…”
“Yes, I see. Forgive me.” The smile returned to Leknaat’s face.
“However, whenever hardship befalls you, please remember my words.”
Tir came out of the stained gla.s.s room following behind Leknaat and looking bewildered. Gremio’s voice called, “How did it go, young master? Young master?” and Tir finally returned to his senses.
“F-fine. I got the astral predictions. See, right here.”
Everyone broke into grins once they saw the doc.u.ment Tir held out.
Leknaat said to the five of them, “Thank you for all your hard work. Please wait just one moment and Luc will escort you out. Luc!”
The dazzling light they had last seen at the bottom of the stairs appeared beside Leknaat. The light was so bright,Tir shut his eyes. He opened them to find Luc standing there.
“Take them back to the rocky area, Luc.”
Luc smiled insincerely and took one step forward.
“Okay everyone, please close your eyes.”
Tir and the rest timidly shut their eyes and were enveloped in a bright flash. The light faded faster than he had thought it would and the smell of salt.w.a.ter tickled Tir’s nose.
Tir opened his eyes at the familiar voice. Futch was staring at them, dumbfounded. The five of them had been transported in an instant by Luc’s wind magic to the rocky area where Futch waited.
After making sure everyone had made it to the rocky area, Cleo looked up at the sky. “The sun’s already setting.”
If we’re going to leave tonight, let’s get back to Gregminster before the sun sets.”
“Yeah, let’s get outta here, young master” Pahn said, rubbing his stomach. “I’m already so hungry I could die!”
Taking their words in, Tir turned to Futch. “Sorry, Futch, but we’ll have to ask you for one more ride.”
“Whew, we can finally go home!” Perhaps tired of waiting, Futch leapt back on Black. “Hurry up and climb on, don’t just stand there staring or I’ll leave you behind!”
The five climbed into the basket. Black carried everyone into the wind with a powerful flap of his wings. The basket was as cramped as ever, but this time everyone was filled with relief at having accomplished the mission and there were smiles all around. Tir, however, silently gazed out beyond the clouds just beginning to be dyed in orange hues.
He couldn’t get Leknaat’s words out of his head.
“Within that vast flow lies a heavy destiny…”
By the time Black swooped down into Gregminster and Tir and the others staggered off on their inevitably wobbly legs beside the barn near the castle, the sun had just sunk behind the Lorimar mountain range.
“What the heck, it took us longer to get back than it did to get there! You slackin’, kid?!”
“Fat lot I could do about how strong the headwind is, jerk! Shoulda shook you off on the way here while I had the chance!”
Listening to Ted and Futch bicker had brought a smile back to Tir’s face, but now a new fear gripped its icy hand around his heart. He had better get this doc.u.ment to Kraze as soon as possible. Tir stepped in, interrupting Ted, and turned to Futch.
“Thanks, Futch. A lot happened, but we’re in your debt. You have my grat.i.tude.”
“Aw, shucks. Just doin’ my job. Even if this was an apprentice gig, I’m just happy nothing went wrong” said Futch, his smile coming back and his eyes sparkling like when they first met.
Suddenly sad to part from Futch when he was like this, Tir forgot all about Kraze and the rest and asked, “Heading back already?”
“Yeah. If I had time I wanted to take a look ‘round the castle, but I’m late as it is. I’ll have to do it next time!”
“Don’t hesitate to call on me if anything happens, since I live here and all.”
Futch returned Tir’s handshake.
“Thanks. I’ll look forward to it. See ya!”
Futch leapt onto Black’s back and they took off into the sky in a flash. Ted made a face.
Tir waved farewell to Futch for a little while longer, but then said to everyone in a cheerful voice: “Okay, we’re nearly done! Let’s go see Commander Kraze!”
Following his orders, everyone left the barn and entered the castle. There were still retainers standing and moving about the castle interior, but the candles flickering here and there gave the place quite a lonely air that only made Tir feel even more uneasy.
“We’re really late… are we gonna be okay?”, Tir muttered as they entered the waiting room. Right on cue, Kraze’s reedy voice came floating out of his office.
“You’re late, brat! Were you planning to keep me waiting ‘til I mummified?”
“N-no sir. My deepest apologies.”
Tir bowed deeply, but Kraze, on the other side of the desk with his feet up, wasn’t appeased.
“The Imperial Guard does not accept apologies! I hope you actually got the astral predictions? Hmm?”
“Yes, sir, here they are.”
Tir timidedly stepped forward and handed over the doc.u.ment he had received from Leknaat.
Kraze broke the seal carelessly and quickly skimmed the doc.u.ment.
“Hm… hmph. These are certainly Lady Leknaat’s astral predictions. Seems you’re not completely useless after all.”
Tir let loose a sigh without realizing it. It was a sigh of relief. Today was finally over…
“Yes…?” Tir looked up in confusion.
“There’s still a mountain of work left to do. The Imperial Guard never sleeps. Let’s see, next is…”
“H-Hold on just a minute, please”, Gremio cut in, unable to stand it any longer. “We’ve only just returned from the Magician’s Tower. It isn’t reasonable to give us our next task so soon; we are still tired from our most recent flight.”
“Yeah! Jeez…” Pahn and Ted muttered under their breath.
Gremio went on insisting to Kraze: “We must review and confirm the results of today’s mission. Only after presenting our findings to the emperor may we then accept our next mission.”
Kraze harrumphed, looking worried. It seemed like Gremio, knowing just how cowardly Kraze was, had pushed him exactly where he wanted him.
They waited in silence for Kraze’s next words.
And, sure enough, he spoke.
“Be that as it may, this is a matter of utmost urgency. I don’t mean you must go right now, but it is the Empire’s wish that you set out in haste.”
Gremio, of course, couldn’t say anything to that.
Tir answered instead. “I understand, sir. What is our next mission?”
Kraze’s expression changed as soon as he heard those words. His trademark disgusting smile crept back onto his face. Kraze had won out over Gremio after all, it seemed.
“Hmph. I’ll only say it once, so listen well, brat. To the east of the capital, there’s a little village called Rockland.”
Gremio groaned. “Rockland?!”
Rockland was the nearest town to Gregminster, but it still took three days to get to even by horse. They all felt exhausted just thinking about the journey.
“What’s the matter? You’re working for the Empire now, boys. How about we see some smiles, huh?” He looked around at everyone’s faces, then cheerfully continued.
“For some reason, Rockland hasn’t sent their tax payment this year. Kanaan, my aide, has already gone to investigate, but we have not been able to contact him. You lot and Kanaan are to meet with the governor and discover why the taxes haven’t been paid. Got it?
"The governor’s name is Grady. Don’t forget it. My aide is Kanaan. He is your superior officer, so obey his orders without question.”
Tir left as soon as possible. Once they were outside the castle, he wanted to sigh again… but Gremio, of course, beat him to it.
Gremio slumped and sighed in defeat.
“Forgive me, young master, I wasn’t able to help at all…”
Tir patted his shoulder in consolation.
“It’s okay, Gremio. Don’t worry about it.”
Behind Tir, Cleo added, “you did the best you could”.
“Leaving that aside, we have to get ready to go to Rockland. There’s so much to do - prepare the food, repair the weapons… we don’t have time to be miserable!
“Whatta pain in the a.s.s…”
The five friends returned to the mansion under a sky already br.i.m.m.i.n.g with stars. Their tired bodies weighed down even more by the task ahead of them.
Leknaat, standing in the star room, greeted Luc as he came into the room carrying a silver tray.
“You did well today, Luc.”
“Oh, I didn’t do anything much.”
Luc crossed the room, placed the tea set on the tray on the table by the window.
While preparing the tea, he said, “However, that boy, Tir. He’s…”
Leknaat murmured, “so you noticed, too. Yes, Tir McDohl…”
She walked to the window and pushed open the shutters separating the room from the outside world. Outside the window, the stars glittered in the broad expanse of the sky just as they had the night before. A sigh escaped her lips as she basked in the gentle glow of the stars.
“For a boy so young to have to shoulder such a destiny… even the stars can be cruel.”
While pouring the tea, Luc asked, “What will he do next? The stars have already begun to move, haven’t they?”
“This involves you, too, Luc”, Leknaat replied, the night wind blowing through her hair.
“Yes, I do believe it appears you will meet again. Lend Tir your strength when you can.”
Done pouring the tea, Luc turned and looked at Leknaat curiously.
“But why? He’s just a boy who’s not even protected by a rune, isn’t he?”
“That, even I don’t know. I read his future through astrology and felt I wanted to watch over and protect that future, but perhaps…”
“It may be that the Gate Rune dwelling in my body is making me feel this way.”
“Your Rune, huh?”
Luc sighed at the unclear conversation and prompted, “your tea is ready”.
Leknaat turned to Luc with a small smile, then turned her face towards the red star shining in the western sky and murmured, “Tir McDohl, you who carry the Stars of Destiny… may you be guided down the right path…”
CHAPTER 03 END