Until the End of Time Part 3, Chapter 4

The Caravan on Magic

By Demon-Fighter Ash

March, 1011 AD

"Welcome," the middle-aged man said cheerfully as he stepped out of the wagon, brushing down his dusty old burgundy tuxedo and sweeping his long wavy gray hair over his shoulders, "welcome to Lady Sprigg's Caravan of Wonder. Today you shall see free of fe greatest magicians in El Nido perform for your entertainment and enlightenment, for fe modest donation of ten gils."

He looked around at the grassy plains and lonely dirt road winding through the gently sloping hills, and the small group of travelers watching the speaker while they rested on tree-stumps and boulders. The masked man sat down as well and looked closer at the old weatherworn wagon, attached to two bored-looking horses grazing on the thick grass and bushes, the side painted with bright reds and yellows: "Lady Sprigg's Caravan of Magic."

"They couldn't even keep the name straight," he snickered, then looked up as a older lady with long white hair and shining blue eyes paced between the crowds, wearing a long white robe and carrying a wooden bowl. Donations, he thought to himself, and he dug through his white jacket, dropping a few coins in the bowl as she passed by, not noticing the strange look the woman gave him. He doubted three wizards would ever travel around in a beat-up wagon shilling off strangers, but they'd at least entertain him for awhile, help distract him from the gaping wound in his mind...

"'ello out there," a cackling high-pitched voice called out, pushing aside the red curtains covering the back of the wagon, and a short hunchbacked old woman, far older than the one who was now making her way back to the wagon, stepped out onto makeshift wooden stage they'd set up. A short hunchbacked green-skinned old woman with a sharp pointed nose, he now saw, dressed in a burlap shawl and bright green clothes, topped by a red cap, walking onto the stage with a gnarled stick.

"I am Lady Sprigg and 'ere with me are my two apprentices," she gestured broadly toward the other woman and the buck-toothed man who'd introduced them. He realized now that the man was the youngest of them, merely middle-aged, whereas the human woman was somewhat older and Lady Sprigg was by far the most ancient of the three.

"This," she swept her hand toward the other woman, "is Sybil, mistress of destiny, able to see yer future with naught but the merest glimpse of your face."

"And this," she pointed to the man, "is Sneff, master of the fabled neko-magic and wieldin' a power you'll have to see for yerself to believe!"

"But what do you actually do," the masked man called out with a skeptical look.

"I'm glad ya asked," the little troll-like woman asked with a wink, and suddenly the late-afternoon sunlight seemed almost black against the blinding rays sweeping out from the wagon. He heard people shrieking in surprise and he looked out through his fingers, watching her shadow twisting and wrapping around itself through the orb of light that had engulfed the whole stage. The light slowly began to fade from his eyes and he looked up.

"It is the skeptics," a masked man in a white tuxedo said from the stage, his voice booming, "who are often most willin' to accept the reality of magic, for all they need is to see it."

He stared in disbelief at the man on the stage, at the long braided blue hair, the gold mask covering half of his sharp rugged features, the emerald glint beneath the eyeholes--it was him, it was even his voice. Suddenly his twin began to melt, the suit blending into its body, and the thing's whole body suddenly erupted into a whirlwind of liquid flesh wrapping through the air, twisting back into the snickering green-skinned troll-woman.

"But those who think they believe in magic," she continued, "are usually much 'arder to convince, cause they think they know what it looks like, even when they really don't 'ave the first clue."

"So the question," she concluded, waving her coiled wooden stick at the crowd, "is who do have among us today? 'ow many of you are skeptics, 'ow many of you think you know magic...and 'ow of you many really know?"

"Lady Sprigg," the robed woman said, her voice secretive but still loud enough for the audience to hear, "the man near the back, on your right-hand side, is a skeptic. He's a treasure-seeker who relies upon cunning and skill to gain his wealth. He doubts the power of magic because he has seen too many tricks in his life."

"Really," Sprigg pointed at a shaggy-haired young man in the leather vest and white tunic as he looked up at her in surprise, "come up 'ere, if ya will, young man. Is what she sez true?"

"Yes," he answered as he quickly hopped onto the stage, "but she could've gotten that from anyone. I am Toma the 14th, the great explorer of El Nido. My reputation simply precedes me."

"I see," Sprigg answered, her voice rising for the rest of the audience to hear, "and tell me, why don't ya believe in magic?"

"Because I've been in a lot of old temples and ruins that were said to be cursed," he answered with pride, "and all I ever found were booby-traps, secret passages...nothing a good explorer couldn't explain."

"Ah," she nodded with understanding, "but he's not really a skeptic, Sybil. He believes in magic, but only as he knowz it, only as levers and pulleys. So we'll give 'im a taste of the real thing. Sneff?"

"Yes Lady Sprigg," he stepped forward and the other two discreetly backed off the stage, leaving him alone with the puzzled young explorer, "don't be afraid, it's a harmless trick I call 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.'"

"Bring it on," Toma shrugged, and Sneff nodded.

"One," he said, snapping his fingers with each number, "two, free!"

A small burst of light exploded from the stage and Toma seemed to collapse like an empty balloon onto the stage. The crowd gasped as a small sand-colored lump lifted up from the wooden stage and looked about with wide black eyes at Sneff and the crowd, and the masked man leaned closer to see what'd happened.

A small housecat paced and mewed nervously on the stage, its fur the same color as Toma's hair.

"And now," Sneff said proudly, confirming everyone's suspicion, "I will change him back!"

"One," he began as the cat sat on its haunches and stared at him fearfully, "two, and free!"

The same flash of light burnt his eyes and the masked man glanced back just in time to see the small furry shape expanding and rolling, fur melting into clothing and flesh, until the cat looked like Toma.

"Now what do you fink of magic," Sneff asked his volunteer.

"That was," Toma stammered, backing away from Sneff, "that was really weird. I'll definitely have to...to rethink magic," and he fell off the stage, practically running back to his seat as the audience laughed.

"Can we haff anoffer volunteer," Sneff turned to the crowd, trying to reassure the nervous audience, "but it's completely safe. I effen change myself sometimes when I'm bored..."

"Why not," the masked man said as he rose to his feet, "there's always time for a little fun."

"Ferry good," the clumsy magician nodded as the masked man climbed onto the rickety wooden platform, "now fis won't hurt, fough you may feel a tingling--like taking catnip," he snickered, "get it, catnip?"

"I get it," the man answered with a groan, "now let's try out this magic of yours."

"Okay," Sneff said excitedly, and began snapping, "one, two, free!"

The masked man began to glow with a faint purple light and he looked down at his hands in fear as his skin began to ripple and melt into some other shape. His muscles clenched against the twisting force and the purple glow suddenly rose into a blinding aura of swirling light, engulfing the whole stage for a moment before finally fading into soft golden sunlight. The crowd peered through the fading light at the stage.

The masked man stood panting on the stage, Sneff standing frozen with confusion before him.

"You," Sneff stuttered, "you're not a cat!"

"No," the man gasped, "what were you doing to me?"

"I was just changing your shape," he shook his head, "it's not dangerous."

"Enough," Sprigg answered as she walked back onto the stage and stood by the masked man's shoulder, "this one has closed 'is mind to magic, Sneff, and so magic will have no effect on him!"

"Which, by the way, is a bald-faced lie," she whispered in the man's ear, "come see us after the show."

"Now begone with you, non-believer," she said with a laugh, whacking him lightly with her cane as he made his way down the wooden steps and back into the small group of spectators, "but for those among you with a more open mind and a wish to fly, we'll show ya the art of levitation!"

* * *

Guile glanced up and down the side of the wagon at the red and yellow painted letters that time had worn away into flaking chips across the warped boards. He looked back at the last few travellers gathering their satchels and making their way down the winding trails that alone stretched across the central island of El Nido, the show ended and the three travellers long since retreated back into the closed wagon.

He'd run into con-artists and pranksters who'd tried to take advantage of him, mistaking him for an idiot as soon as they learned about the darkness that shrouded his life beyond El Nido, and he'd long since learned not to even mention it, to let people think of him what they will. This ragged gang of magicians seemed no different; he knew he should just leave and find some shelter before nightfall.

Something told him to stay, though, the same faint whisper within the back of his thoughts that had guided him ever since his arrival in El Nido. He'd long since resigned himself to the fleeting impulses that seemed to emerge from the shadows of his shattered mind, the longing and sadness that cross his thoughts whenever he looked into the ashes of a burnt-out campfire or saw a girl wearing a pendant, the irrational anger that crossed his thoughts whenever he looked at one of the green pyramids the El Nido natives seemed to worship....the random images and feelings had lost all their meaning, but they still overwhelmed him when he thought too deeply about them.

He'd decided months ago that he would instead follow those impulses, let instinct guide him through the islands and down the forgotten trails of his former life. Either they would return him to his lost purpose, or they would simply lead him into madness; neither seemed worse than the mindless wanderings that'd consumed the first year of his life. Whatever else happened, the enigma of his former life and the chaos that his world had since become would be dispelled.

"Hello," the man reluctantly called out as he stepped around the wagon and knocked on the closed rear door. The wooden door creaked open and the human woman, Sybil, appeared, looking at him curiously for a moment, just as she had before, before finally speaking.

"Your mask," she asked, "you hide a great secret behind it, even from yourself. If you removed it, I might tell you that secret, and your future besides."

"Never," he whispered in horror, then shook his head, trying to dispel the sudden panic that always gripped his heart whenever he considered taking off the mask, "this mask is a part of who I've become. I can't take it off yet."

"Besides," Sprigg answered as she bounced out of wagon, Sybil standing to one side to allow the little troll through, "ya might not like what ya see in this one, Sybil. Be careful of matters beyond your experience."

"I could handle it," she answered, smiling "besides, now I simply must know what his mask hides!"

"Perhaps," she answered, "perhaps not. But off ya go, Sneff needs help balancing the profits!"

"As you wish," she sighed and disappeared back into the wagon as Sneff hopped out onto the grass, the fields and hills cast into deepening shadows as the sun sank behind the distant forests.

"I'm sorry if I ruined your act," the man said to her, studying her pointed face intently for any sign of deception or mockery, "but if you'd meant for me to participate in your trick, you should have explained it to me first. Most magicians use plants in their audience."

"That was no trick," she answered, "ya mean ya don't know why Sneff's magic didn't work?"

"I do," he said in a low voice, "it's because it wasn't really magic. Magic is nothing but smoke and light cast to keep people from seeing the truth. Porre conquered these islands and established its colonial government with guns and ships, not with spells. All the so-called magic of its natives were helpless against that."

"Ya really don't believe in magic," she asked, her face puzzled.

"In the year I've spent on these islands, I've never seen it."

"And before that? El Nido doesn't have a monopoly on magic, ya know."

"I...don't know," he answered reluctantly, pausing for a moment before he decided to simply tell her, "all I remember is waking up on Opassa Beach last year, wearing this mask," he then looked up defensively, "but if there were magic, I doubt I would still be here, chasing down the echoes of my old life."

"Why not leave," she asked, leaning on her wooden staff as she looked up at him, "perhaps yer life's to be found on the other side of the ocean."

"Maybe," he nodded, "but I can't leave here. I don't know how to explain it, but I feel like there's something I'm supposed to take care of here and I can't leave until it's done. I just don't know what it is," he sighed and, on a sudden impulse, decided to tell the little old woman what he'd never told anyone, "that happens to me a lot...I feel all sorts of things, but I don't know what they mean anymore. Just instinct, impulses..."

"Yer memories are still there," she answered, nodding slowly as she considered what he'd told her, "ya just can't talk to them. But they still talk to you, tellin' ya what to feel, tellin' ya what you should do. That's probably why ya haven't left these islands yet."

"Listen, if you're going to offer to restore them with some sort of magic," he said, shaking his head, "don't bother. I know better than that."

"Ya really don't have a clue," she snickered, "kid, yer a marlin! Do ya really want to know why Sneff's magic didn't work on you? It's because ya resisted with your own magic, and ya didn't even know it!"

"You told the audience," he said suspiciously, even as a small part of his innermost being trembled at the possibility, "it was because I didn't believe in magic."

"I lied," she shrugged, "I wasn't about to try to convince them that yer a great wizard when ya don't even believe it. By the way, if I weren't so generous I'd charge you for lost revenue--I'm sure that explanation left a lot of people thinkin' we made some goof-up."

"You did," he snarled, "there are no wizards and I'm not a huckster like you."

"Oh really," Sprigg cackled, then spread her hands before her, "IGNIUS DUO!"

The air suddenly burst into flames and the man whirled around in shock as a bubble of liquid fire seemed to close in around him, his skin blistering against the heat, his clothes starting to singe and smoke. He looked back up in panic at the smirking troll-woman, then closed his eyes, a sudden impulse driving him to spread his palms outward against the flames. His thoughts flickered with some obscure purpose and the flames suddenly vanished, leaving him shivering in the cold twilight air. He realized after a moment that the air seemed too cold.

He opened his eyes and found his clothes covered in stiff sheets of glittering ice, the grass around his feet frozen into thin frosted spikes and his breath fogging in front of him. He looked back down at Sprigg, shaking his head in disbelief and sudden fear.

"You d-did that," he said, shivering in the cold, "how?"

"Not me," she shook her head with a grin, "I made the fire, but all the rest was you. Yer memories told ya what to do, they protected you--but ya can't talk to them, ya can't find out what else they know. Somethin' awful musta happened to split them all up like that."

"How," he asked himself as the frost began to melt, realizing that she was right, that he'd somehow known the moment she said it, "how did I know to do that? What did I do, what was I before? What did I used to be?"

"Don't look at me," she shrugged, "yer the one who did it. But let me touch your face and I might be able to get a better idea of what's hidin' in that sneaky head of yours."

"Alright," he answered reluctantly, then bent down as she bounced forward and pressed one cold wrinkled hand to his cheek. She closed her eyes and her green almond-shaped face suddenly began to twitch, her smile fading into a fearful expression. She quickly pulled her hand away and knelt down onto one knee, her eyes wide in panicked reverence before she dropped her head toward the ground, toward his boots.

"Sir Magus," she whispered, her voice cracking, "I didn't know it was you! My parents served ya in the mystic war four centuries ago and I knew you only from their stories...forgive me, my lord!"

"You what," he answered in shock and an inexplicable anger at her mention of the unfamiliar word, "stand up, I'm not a magus!"

"But," she started, then paused, staring at him for several seconds before suddenly laughing, "but a magus without his memory is no magus at all! Yer only yourself now!"

"You know," he said under his breath, his heart stopping as he realized what'd happened, "you saw my past...what did you see, tell me!"

"Maybe I could tell ya," she nodded, "but yer better off without yer memory. If she ever got a whiff of the stuff locked up in yer head, you'd be in a whole world of trouble!"

"Who," he choked, a faint chill running down his spine at her words.

"It's a secret," she said, then laughed, "and if I told ya, then it wouldn't be a secret anymore! Trust me, yer memories know what they're doin'. The more clueless you are, the safer you'll be. But come on, sit down."

"I would say you're not making any sense," he sighed as he sat down on the wooden steps propped against the back of the wagon, his face now level with hers, "but you probably get that a lot, don't you?"

"All the time," she laughed, then grow a little more serious, but still smiling as she looked straight at him, "but don't pout. I can't tell ya that secret, but I will tell ya another one. Your memory's not gone for good."

"It's not," he asked anxiously, feeling a sudden twinge of hope for the first time since he had awakened on Opassa Beach with only a howling darkness for his memory.

"Nope," she shook her head quickly, "yer mind looks like it's gone through a shredder, but it's all in there, and it'll start healin' over time. But it's gonna take awhile."

"How long," he sighed, "it's been a year and I still haven't figured anything out."

"I dunno," she shrugged, "a year, a week, a decade. However long it needs to be. But when ya do get it all back, she's gonna know too, and you'll need a whole lotta power to deal with that. We're talking a lot more than you've ever had before. What's even worse is that now ya 'ave to start all over again."

"I had power before," he asked doubtfully, looking down at his palms.

"You were huge," she nodded eagerly, "but still not big enough. Tell ya what, though. Come travel with me and my band. I'll teach ya about magic, get ya back in touch with all that power you've got in ya, and 'opefully make ya even stronger than ya used to be."

"You can do that?"

"Of course I can," she cackled, "just look at those two. Sybil couldn't even have a decent conversation when I met 'er, and now she reads through people with a glance. And Sneff, is he ever a piece of work! He's one of the more powerful magicians I've ever met, but he's got no confidence in himself! I had to give 'im a magic berry just to get 'im to even try castin' a spell."

"A magic berry," the man asked skeptically.

"Well it's magically delicious," she snickered, "but otherwise powerless. He thinks the berry's given 'im all his magic when he's really been doin' it all himself the whole time."

"So why not tell him the truth?"

"Ever hear of Sir Gawaine and his fifty-first dragon," she asked, then shook her head, "guess not. Let's just say Sneff's not ready for the truth yet, kinda like you."

"I'm taking a lot of this on faith, you know."

"Only way to take anything," she shrugged, "so what do ya say?"

"Alright," he said reluctantly, "but does that mean I have to join your show too?"

"You bet it does," she cried out gleefully, "now we just 'ave to get you a name. We can't introduce you as 'that sharp-dressed guy who wears a mask,' can we? So who do ya wanna be, what name strikes your fancy?"

"I don't know," he answered slowly, thinking back over the past year of wandering from vilage to village, "I've never talked to enough people to need one..."

"I've got it," she shouted, not even listening to him, "ya beguiled Sybil with yer mask, and Sneff with yer magic, and yer memories even beguile you. Since ya beguile so many, why don't ya just be Guile?"

"That," he groaned, "is the worst pun you've given yet."

"Got another name?"

"No," he finally sighed, "I can live with Guile."

"And now ya just need a schtick," she said.

"A what?"

"A role, a character, a gimmick--a schtick. And with that outfit and mask, I know just the thing!"

"What," Guile asked nervously, looking down at his flashy white tuxedo.

"You will be Guile the Mysterious Gambler! Trust me, gamblers are all the rage. Ever heard of Setzer?"


"Bah, ya wouldn't know it if you had," she laughed, "now here's the schedule. We're headin' over to the forest for the night, then we'll grab some dinner and then, after moonrise, we'll start your trainin'. But I gotta warn you, it won't be easy, especially at first."

"But it'll help me learn," he asked, "it'll show me what I used to be?"

"Oh, definitely. You'll be an even greater wizard than ya used to be!"

"I was a wizard," he asked himself, then shrugged, "alright. Let's see what I've got."

* * *

"This," Sprigg said as she tossed a long metal staff to Guile, "is a magic wand. I charged it with some of my own magic, to enhance your power and to provide a focus for your trainin'."

Guile lifted the staff in both hands and looked carefully at it. It was almost as tall as him, a long golden staff capped by two hollow heart-shaped rings and a green gem embedded between them.

"This isn't my version of the magic berry, is it?"

"Maybe," she winked as he turned the staff in his hands and looked at it, her voice almost drowned out by the sound of crickets chirping around them, "but it really does have my power in it. After awhile, though, you'll be so powerful that all my magic wouldn't be worth a berry to ya."

Guile looked around at the grassy forest clearing they'd traveled to after the show, a small bubbling creek twisting between the moss-covered trees and across the glistening, dew-covered fields while the twin moons hung low in the night sky, hidden by thick leaf-strewen branches. He then turned around to the wagon, where Sybil and Sneff sat watching from the rain-warped wooden steps, and looked back to Sprigg.

"So what is magic," he asked.

"It's a power that we have all inherited," she answered, "from a time long before 'uman memory. There are six elements that make up the power of nature, but only four of them also possess the power of magic."

"Which four?"

"Fire, water, light and shadow. Everything's based on the balance of these powers, but they're not always equal. Part of what makes us all different is that we all 'ave different balances. Nobody is perfectly balanced, we all lean toward one element or another. My innate power is actually the power of the wind."

"But that's not one of the magical powers," he asked, confused.

"No, and neither is the power of the earth: those two elements have no magic. Oh, I can still use some magic, I'll just never master its full strength, that's all."

"What about me?"

"You've got it all, kid! Fire, water, light, they're yours to command. But yer true power lies in darkness."

"You mean evil," he said nervously.

"No," she shook her head quickly, "not evil. Just darkness, shadow-magic. The sun only shines for half a day and the rest of it's spent in the shadows. Darkness is a part of nature just like light."

"But what does it do," he asked, his expression lost in thought as he tried to make sense of what she'd said, "fire burns, water freezes, light flashes...what can shadows do?"

"That's up to you," she answered, pointing to a nearby oak, "why don't ya find out?"


"You hate that tree," she said, "it's caused nothing but pain and ya hate it."

"No," Guile said, rubbing the back of his neck, "I'm really okay with that tree."

"Just pretend," she whispered, then raised her voice again, "you have nothing anymore, Guile. They stole your memory, your life, your feelings from you. All the people you ever loved, all the happiness you've ever known, is dead, and there's nothin' left but emptiness in your heart. Focus on that emptiness."

"The hole, the abyss, the darkness," she continued as he closed his eyes and tried to focus, "they consume ya, they devour ya bit by bit. Ya lost everything and nothing you can do will ever bring it back. You don't even have a name anymore, yer just a faceless stranger. No hope, no dreams, no future!"

"No," he muttered, eyes closed tight, fists clenching tight as the wand began to lift into the air in front of him, hovering a few feet of the ground, "that's not true..."

"Yes! Focus all the hate, the anger, the emptiness into the wand. It's a part of ya, reach out into it, make it do what ya want. Focus! Yer not a man, yer nothing but a mask. Ya failed, the people ya love are all dead and all ya can do now is hide behind that mask and wait to die!"

"No," he screamed, her words ripping open some hidden wound in his heart, the same wound that campfires and pendants had only poked at, "NO!!"

The metal wand crackled with black sparks and streams of dark energy, and then the towering oak suddenly exploded, twigs and branches flying outward, broken wood raining through the clearing. He opened his eyes and a deep red glow poured out from beneath the mask as he stared at the tree, arms spread out and the wand floating before him.

"Ya failed," Sprigg screamed at him, "they're dead because of you! Ya didn't protect them!"

The debris suddenly stopped, branches and broken limbs hovering in the air, the shattered pieces of wood suspended around the cracked stump, forming a cloud of twigs and splintered branches. A smooth orb of flickering darkness began to materialize, a crackling humming sphere of solid black energy.

"You are nothing!"

Guile screamed in rage, a primal animal sound, and the floating branches suddenly flew inward, the hanging orb sucking them into itself, swelling like a balloon as a pounding wind swept through the hollow, blowing the three magicians toward the black sphere. Sprigg grabbed onto a nearby sapling and Sneff clutched the wooden steps tightly as Sybil held onto the door handle, the wind howling and shrieking furiously around the hovering shadow-sphere.

Guile stood in untouched front of the orb, his body glowing with a faint purple light, his arms spread straight out as the wand crackled and trembled, the air filled with windswept leaves twisting toward the now-gigantic sphere. A ring of cold white light suddenly exploded outward from the sphere and rushed through the clearing as Sprigg twisted her head away, gesturing for the other two to do the same until the winds finally died away.

The shattered tree and dark orb had both vanished, the branches, limbs and even the tree-trunk completely gone, leaving nothing but a gaping pit in the ground where the roots had been ripped away. The trees all around the clearing had been stripped of their leaves and, as far as Sprigg could see, the branches of the forest had been twisted into a spiral centering on the small round clearing and the uprooted pit in the middle. She turned away from the trees to see Guile fallen to his knees, arms hanging limp, the wand lying on the ground.

"Nuff," Sneff shouted in surprise, "what was fat!?

"Yeah," Guile looked over his shoulder at them, panting quickly, his sudden and inexplicable rage dying away into confusion and exhaustion as he tried to remember what had happened, what had triggered the fury he'd suddenly felt or the vast power that has somehow emerged from it, "what was that...what did I just do?"

"That," Sprigg nodded with pride, "was a black hole, a tear in the fabric of existence that pulls everything around it out into the void. It's a good thing ya closed it quickly, or else we probably wouldn't be here."

"That was horrible," Guile groaned, kneeling on the ground, rubbing his forehead as he tried to push himself onto his feet, "nothing but darkness, emptiness."

"I'm sorry," the little troll said with a sympathetic pat on his head, "but magic lives within the heart, and at first ya need to feel the element to use its magic. Ya had to become the darkness to channel it."

"Is it always like that," he asked himself, shaking his head, terrified of the hatred that had burst through without any warning, that had, for just a moment, threatened to consume him, and the whole forest besides.

"Not at all," she shook her head softly, "right now the magic's a lot stronger than you and the only way for you bring it out is for your heart to reflect its nature. But that'll change with time, as ya grow stronger. Ya just have to learn how to control it, that'z all."

"It was like a nightmare," he staggered to his feet and looked around at the shattered clearing and crumbling pit in the middle of the hollow, "I don't ever want to feel like that again."

"I told ya it would be hard at first," she answered, "but look how far you've come in one night. I've lived for three centuries and have never once created a black hole. But you conjured one in just a few minutes!"

"But if my powers are all like that," he said,"maybe it's better I don't remember..."

"Nonsense," she said sharply, "you don't have your memories, but that doesn't mean ya never were. Yer life's gonna catch up with you someday, whether ya recognize it or not. When that day comes, do ya want to be taken by surprise, or do ya want to be ready for whatever's out there?"

"You're right," he nodded weakly, and he wiped his sweat-drenched hair back, brushing his hands against his white slacks, "it's just...I didn't think it'd be that hard."

"Nobody ever does," she shrugged, "there's a lot more to magic than saying a few words and waving your arms around. Ya gotta be attuned to the power within ya and its connection to the power within everything else, ya have to let yer mind become a bridge between yourself and yer goal."

"But," he shook his head, "you three do it so easily..."

"We just make it look easy," Sprigg snickered with a backward glance at her two pupils, who sat watching silently on the steps, "I'll tell ya what. We'll take a break, let Sneff work on his card tricks a little bit, and then we'll try again after you've caught yer breath."

"Forget it," Guile stood up, shaking his head and fighting to keep his knees steady, "if the three of you can master this, so can I. I want to try to...cast that spell again, now."

"You'd better grab the bungee cords," Sprigg joked to the other two, her black beady eyes sparkling with silent admiration, "'cuz it looks like it's gonna be a windy night!"


Part 3, Chapter 5

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