A strong gust of wind blew from the mirror’s surface as it spoke, swelling the girl’s robe out behind her. She looked up again at her mother in the ceiling, who was clutching her hands tight to her chest. The girl stepped forward. Placing her right foot through the surface of the mirror, Anna could immediately see the foot protruding out of the back behind it. It seemed covered in thick, gray smoke as she pushed herself through. When she exited the mirror’s backside, her body looked much taller, and completely shrouded in the gray mist. The cloud took the shape of a fully-grown woman, wearing glasses and reading a book.
“She looks like a librarian,” said a boy, sitting behind Anna.
“She belongs to… THE SERVERS’ UNION!” roared the voice from the mirror, and there was a thunderous cheer from the Servers’ table in response. The girl’s brothers came forward in jubilation, running to the platform’s steps on the left. The gray, ghostly mist began to clear away from the figure standing on the platform, revealing the same young girl who had just entered the mirror. Her robe, however, had changed from all black, to black with royal-blue trim. The girl looked down in amazement at her right arm, which now carried the single blue-embroidered hash mark of a first-year student. She smiled, and then gleefully ran to the steps and into the arms of her waiting brothers. Anna looked up and could see the mother happily crying and waving a handkerchief down at them. Before the cheering had subsided, the man called another name.
“Jordan Humphrey!” bellowed Professor Titan.
A small boy to Anna’s right now stood and began to climb the stairs. An older girl from the Searchers’ table also stood as the boy stepped onto the platform, and a man with thick arms and a blackened face, wearing a leather apron, caught everybody’s eye as he straightened to stand high in the ceiling above them.
“Enter… and prepare to be joined,” roared the voice from the mirror again. The boy stepped through. A balloon of gray smoke and mist bellowed out the other side, completely engulfing the boy as he exited. The mist formed itself into that of a huge man, swinging an enormous hammer down upon an anvil. It landed with a loud and deafening BANG. The large figure within the mist looked very much like the man in the ceiling, with huge arms and enormously powerful legs. The first-year students, seated in the front row, recoiled as the figure slammed the hammer down once again upon the anvil. BANG!!
“He belongs to… THE LABORERS’ UNION!” echoed the voice from the mirror, rattling the windows of the Rotunda as the students seated in their green and black robes leaped to their feet, cheering and clapping madly.
The mist cleared, and the small boy remained proudly displayed in his green-trimmed robe as his sister raced to the edge of the steps to hug him. Their wizard father, high above, gave them both a satisfied wave before seating himself once again.
“She belongs to… THE DEFENDERS’ UNION!”
“THE DEFENDERS’ UNION!”
“THE SERVERS’ UNION!”
One by one, the names were read from the Book of Births and each of the students stepped through the Mirror of Enlightenment.
“THE ARTISIANS’ UNION!”
“THE SEACHERS’ UNION!”
“THE LABORERS’ UNION!”
Anna’s heart was pumping so hard, she began to wonder if the people seated around her could hear it. Her face was hot, but her blood felt ice-cold. When would her name be called? Then she noticed something strange about the first-years walking up to the mirror; they seemed to be getting younger and smaller than those called earlier in the evening. Then it dawned on her; something that Captain Dunning had told them earlier. Each student would be called in the order they were listed in the Book of Births. Anna’s heart sank. From what Doctor Pearl had told them at home, her name was the last entry in the book. That meant Anna would be the last person called. The thought of it made her anxiety double on the spot as she sunk painfully into her chair. The wait was going to be torture.
As the students dwindled down to just a few, one small boy stepped out from behind the mirror within a gigantic, swelling cloud of mist. It reached high into the ceiling, taking up all the space on the wooden platform. The mist formed itself into a tall strapping man with a wand in his outstretched hand, pointing at a monstrous figure forming above him.
“It’s a dragon!” somebody yelled from behind them.
Sure enough, towering high into the domed ceiling, looking positively ferocious, stood a huge dragon belching black smoke. Its deafening roar thundered before the future wizard standing bravely at its clawed feet. Tiny Sarah Bell, sitting next to Anna, screamed and covered her face as the beast’s smoky-gray wings spread across the entire room and all of the students in the hall gasped and wowed loudly. The wizard shot a bright beam from his wand, hitting the dragon between the eyes; its roar shook the entire building around them as the smoke began to clear.
“He belongs to… THE DEFENDERS’ UNION!” Everybody in the Rotunda cheered and whooped loudly.
“Wow! He’s going to work with dragons. That’s incredible!” said a fourth-year student at the Searchers’ table. Anna was sinking still lower into her chair. There were only two of them left seated.
“Sarah Bell!” called Titan from the stage, and Sarah slowly stood. She was visibly trembling, and in a state of fearful collapse. The sight of the dragon clearly must have been too much for her. Anna looked around, hoping to see somebody within the Rotunda or in the ceiling moving to stand for the girl, but she was completely alone. Sarah timidly walked toward the steps, staring back at Anna, her face a study of terrified panic. Anna tried to demonstrate a reassuring expression, but it was difficult to give the girl confidence from across the room. There was a growing murmur through the crowd, and Anna could see Professor Thordarson looking about the Rotunda and then high into the ceiling above them. He stood.
“Is there no one here today who would stand for this delightful young lady?” the crowd was quiet. Everybody was looking around for somebody who might know her. “Nobody?” asked the Chancellor. Anna could see Professor Titan now helping Sarah up the steps and escorting her toward the glowing mirror. She was clutching his arm with all her strength. Anna’s stomach was tightening. The scene looked more like the coming of an execution than anything resembling some happy event. The crowd started to murmur as Professor Thordarson reluctantly sat back down again.
“Who is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well… where’s her family?”
“She must come from an all-Muggle family,” whispered the voices in the crowd.
Anna was almost sick watching poor Sarah, scared beyond standing but for Professor Titan’s help, looking into the light of the mirror before her. She held tight to Titan’s arm and then buried her face into his robes. Taken aback, the teacher tried to coax the tiny girl forward.
A small voice began to ring inside Anna’s head; she could hear her father’s words: We honor the memory of those Graysons who came before us when we help and protect those in trouble or who are less fortunate. Anna had seen enough; without thinking, she stood.
“I will stand for Sarah Bell!” Anna said confidently. Everybody in the hall went silent, and all of the teachers began to point down at Anna as Professor Thordarson looked up. Would he tell her to sit down? Would he demand Sarah’s proper family come forward before she was joined? Would he send Sarah home? Would he escort Anna out the door and throw her into the moat?
The old wizard was still for a moment, staring appraisingly at Anna standing alone for the girl. The Chancellor suddenly smiled broadly.
“Thank you, my dear. And I am sure Miss Bell thanks you as well.” Sarah peeked up from Professor Titan’s arm to see Anna smiling back at her.
“Go ahead, Sarah. You can do it,” Anna motioned to her, confidently. Sarah looked up and into the mirror once again.
“Enter… and prepare to be joined,” roared the voice from the mirror. Sarah’s silky blonde hair blew back; her eyes squinted from the mirror’s breath. Professor Titan leaned in and softly whispered something into her ear. She looked at Anna again.
“Go on. You can do it. Just walk straight through. Go on…” Anna said, motioning her forward once more. Sarah finally released the teacher’s arm and Professor Titan cautiously backed away. She stood alone in front of the mirror, while the light from within began to brighten.
“ENTER!” it shouted.
Sarah looked at Anna one last time. She suddenly stiffened, and then, without another moment of hesitation, she stepped through. A wave of smoke accumulated on the other side to show a tall, beautifully slender woman, feeding birds from her hand.
“She belongs to… THE SERVERS’ UNION!”
The entire Rotunda erupted into a loud roar of cheering applause. Muggle family or not, Sarah Bell had done it. As the smoke cleared around her, Sarah looked down to find the royal blue colors of the Servers’ Union embroidered on her sleeve, and even some of the Crimson Guards, standing stiffly against the upper balcony, were clapping for the courage displayed by this tiny young girl. Sarah looked over to see Anna waiting for her at the steps, and she joyfully ran to the side and into Anna’s waiting arms.
“Well done, Sarah!” Anna said, brushing the girl’s blonde hair out of her face. “Very well done, indeed.”
Sarah beamed, and then looked around to find Eric and some of the other students from the Servers’ Union walking up to greet her.
“Anna Grayson!” yelled Professor Titan. Anna looked up in surprise. In all of the excitement, she had completely forgotten it was now her turn to enter the mirror. She walked to the other side of the platform and up the stairs. She could hear several students whispering in the hall around her.
“Look how big she is!”
“She’s a first-year?”
“No way! She looks a lot older than that.”
“She looks like a teenager to me. What’s going on?”
Anna was so nervous her heart seemed to skip several beats as she moved toward the mirror. As Professor Titan escorted her forward, Anna could hear the scrapping of many chairs in the Rotunda below her. She looked over in time to see Eric coming around the corner of the table, and the entire Server Union strained their necks to see whom it was he was standing for with obvious pride. Tencha and Dowla were also standing at the Searcher’s table, and Damon could be seen leisurely, if not reluctantly, getting to his feet among the Defenders. The Grayson name was obviously well known by the academy faculty, and seeing so many Graysons moving to stand immediately gathered their attention. There was movement above her, and Anna could now see her father and Mrs. McConnell standing in the front row of their seats, their images strangely bent against the brick and mortar of the ceiling. Gwen was also standing at the Artisan’s table, and Anna couldn’t help smiling at the strong show of support all around her.
Still, one more person chose to stand. Little Sarah Bell was now standing next to Eric among the other Servers. Smiling brightly, she was motioning Anna forward. “Go ahead,” she mouthed. Anna nodded before turning to look deep into the mirror’s light.
“Enter… and prepare to be joined,” bellowed the voice from the mirror.
Its breath was hot. It swirled Anna’s hair up and around her head, blowing her robes tight against her chest. Anna took a deep breath, lifted up the hem of her robes, and then stepped over the bottom edge of the frame and into the mirror.
Immediately, Anna felt her balance fall away, as if she had missed the landing at the bottom of some darkened staircase. She was spinning and turning around over and over, the hot wind from the mirror blowing wildly all about her. Was this normal? Is this what everybody else experienced while inside the mirror? What was happening? She finally stopped spinning and opened her eyes.
She found herself lying flat upon a bright white floor. Anna tried to stand and then stumbled slightly from a sudden twang of dizziness. Seeking to recover her balance, she immediately reached out for something to lean on, but found nothing and fell to the floor again. She looked up. There were no walls in this strange place. No ceiling above her; just whiteness, a kind of snowy emptiness everywhere.
“Where am I?” she said, pressing her body up from the floor once again to look around.
“Hello? Can anybody hear me?” Nothing. This is really weird, Anna thought, trying to gather her bearings. She stood again and walked forward, trying to center upon anything in her line of sight that might help her to focus. It was void, complete, and total blankness.
“Hello…?” she called again.
Anna wheeled around. Was that a voice? She was sure she heard it. It said… something. It said, “What…?” Anna replied, listening hard.
There it was again. But this time, it was different; another voice, separate from the first.
“I’m sorry?” Anna said, concentrating hard. Then she heard them, softly at first, but growing louder with each passing second. Voices, too numerous to count, began whispering all around her. It sounded like a crowd slowly making their way toward her.
“Polleo” “Can it” “Fortis” “be?” They were growing louder now.
“Excuse me? Where are you? Can you help me?”
“Charmant…” “After all…” “der Begleiter”
There were too many voices, so many languages, whispering and talking to each other, their words mixing and mingling into a nonstop soup of buzzing pressure.
“these years…” “the Dark Lord…” “… a child… friend or foe to the light?”
Suddenly, there was a loud scream, “Kalandomõ!”
“Viscus edo edi essum!”
Anna fell to her knees and put her hands to her ears. The voices were too loud, too many people yelling and screaming at once. She couldn’t hear herself think. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t comprehend what they were saying.
“Stop!” She screamed. Suddenly, it all went quiet.
Finally, a single voice spoke from out of the blankness. “Welcome, Guardian!”
Anna slowly lifted her hands away from her ears and looked around.
“Hello?” she replied, checking her ability to speak.
“Welcome… Anna Grayson,” the voice said, speaking to her like an old friend.
“Thank you… I think…” Anna countered meekly. “What is this place?” she asked the voice. “Where am I?”
“You are among friends, Sentinel. We are part of the community you seek to serve.”
“The what? I don’t understand. Look… I was at Castlewood, walking through the Mirror of Enlightenment, and then something happened and I ended up here instead. I need to get back to the school and to my family. They’ll be worried when they see I’ve disappeared.” Anna could hear the far off whispering starting to rumble forward once again, even before she had finished her sentence.
“It must be worse than we thought… to have such as this. Where has it been?” a voice said somewhere high above her.
“I’m sorry?” Anna started to say. “I can’t hear what you…”
“We are they whom you have been sent to protect,” said the singular voice to Anna once again.
Anna’s frustration was building. It seemed to her the last few days had only created confusion and uncertainty, and now she was lost. She didn’t know where she was or why she was here. She could feel the temples in the sides of her head throbbing as the whispering continued on and on.
“Stop it! I… I don’t understand you. What do you want from me? Tell me who you people are. Tell me what you want!”
“Lejárónyílás” “Comitis” “Avaleur” “…friend to the beasts in the field…”
There was a pause, and then, “Tell us, Guardian. Where you have been?”
“Where have I been? What do you mean? You mean… today? Where would you have me start? I…”
“From your birth,” the voice interrupted.
“From my birth?” Anna repeated in stunned alarm. “Since I was born?” Her aggravation was steadily building. “I’ve been with my father and family, of course.” The whispers began again.
“Listen — I need to get out of here. My family will be…”
“You are not what was intended!”
Anna’s blood suddenly froze. She didn’t like the sound of that remark; it had the ring of something painfully familiar. The words cut like a knife into her heart, because, deep down, she knew it was true. Until only recently, she had never been what anybody intended, not to her father or her family. Anna started to string some of the comments and words from the voices together, thinking carefully about her next question.
How would they, whoever or whatever they were, have anything to do with her life? It was impossible, yet, they were acting as if they had some knowledge of her past. Anna felt like a fish contemplating a hooked worm, but decided to go ahead and bite anyway.
“What were your intentions for me, then?” Anna knew the question was preposterous, but she found herself waiting fearfully, her breathing suddenly put on hold.
“Our intension… was to halt the chaos… the madness to come.”
These words surprised Anna, for she had definitely heard them once before, from the strange visitor in her bedroom. Anna stepped forward warily.
“Are you the ghost that came to visit me twice last week?” She frowned suspiciously, waiting for a reply.
“She is speaking of the ally — the murdered one,” said a whispered voice in the background.
Anna’s eyes widened. “Yes! Yes… the ally. That’s what it called itself. Is the ally among you here?”
Another pause and then, “The ally is not part of what is, child. She is not here.”
“She?” So, the ally was a woman. Did she hear one of them say… she had been murdered? Anna thought again, choosing her questions carefully like a person with a limited number to ask.
“Creatura” “…állat,” the voices continued.
“What is… a Guardian?” Anna asked them.
“She has been altered from what was intended.”
“Háztartási alkalmazott mágikus, szép lány”
Anna thought she heard her father’s voice in the distance. “There has always been something special about you, Anna, when it comes to the creatures and animals around us…”
“Daddy?” Anna called. “Are you there?”
“Touch the child’s memories,” said a whisper from the blankness above.
“Nah! Borzalmas! Kalandomõ leölés támadható!”
“Lejárónyílás szép lány”
The voices seemed to be arguing with one another and, try as she did, Anna couldn’t seem to get anybody’s attention. After several attempts to interrupt their squabbling, Anna sighed ruefully and sat down.
“This could take a while,” she said irritably.
Back in the Rotunda, the scene had become tense. Anna had completely, and it would seem totally unexpectedly, disappeared. While everybody else had walked straight through the Mirror of Enlightenment, it had been more than ten minutes now since Anna had entered the glass. Professor Titan himself had walked through the mirror shortly after Anna, looking to find her without a sound or response from the mirror at all. Since that time, however, the glass had gone completely solid, and looked just as normal as any other mirror that might have hung within the castle. Some of the other teachers had joined Titan on the platform with their wands out, working to get a response from the mirror. Professor Thordarson was surprisingly quiet, still sitting in his chair in the observation box. Captain Dunning was now by his side.
“Chancellor, what are we to make of this?” asked Dunning. “Where has the girl gone?”
“Patience, my good Captain… patience.”
“So… you do expect the girl to return?” Thordarson did not answer. He leaned forward to look up at the ceiling toward Mister Grayson.
In his office back at the estate, Mister Grayson and Mrs. McConnell stood motionless in the dark in front of an emerald green fire. They were watching the events unfolding in the Rotunda within the flames. Although it was difficult for Mister Grayson, he could tell from the calm reaction of the Chancellor below him that it wouldn’t be proper to panic yet. Although he tried to display the same coolness as Thordarson for the benefit of his other children, it didn’t stop Anna’s father from saying a quiet prayer to himself.
“What should we do, Boris?” asked Mrs. McConnell, who was just as confused as everybody else about what was happening. Looking down once more at the Chancellor leaning up to see him, Mister Grayson sat back down in his chair.
“Patience…” he said smoothly. The Chancellor smiled, and then leaned back to settle himself once again.
Unfortunately, patience was not a virtue the other Graysons possessed. Eric, Tencha, Dowla, and Damon were now on the platform talking to the other teachers, and closely inspecting the mirror on all sides. After a while, Gwen and Sarah Bell also joined them.
“Where the hell is she?” Eric demanded. He had his wand out now, his thoughts pondering the possibility that some kind of sneak-attack had been carried out upon his family. Damon was discussing the problem coolly and rather analytically with some of the other teachers around him. The four girls were huddled together, trying to grasp what was happening.
“You… Sarah is it?” asked Dowla, pointing at Sarah Bell. “When you walked through the mirror, did anything strange happen to you?”
Sarah spoke softly. “Well… I was inside for about thirty seconds. There were these voices, but they only asked me one question. They wanted to know if I preferred large or small animals.” Sarah looked worriedly up at the mirror. “I hope I didn’t break it.”
“Don’t be silly, Sarah,” said Gwen, who had already introduced herself to Anna’s new friend. “Nothing you might have done could have caused this.”
As for Eric, panic was now beginning to settle in. It had been nearly twenty minutes since Anna’s disappearance and he was looking for answers. He walked over to the Chancellor’s box.
“Professor Thordarson, I demand to know what’s going on. Where is my sister? Where is Anna?” Thordarson did not answer. He simply leaned forward again to look into the ceiling. Eric turned to look up at his father as well, and saw Mister Grayson calmly holding up a reassuring hand toward him. Eric could see Mrs. McConnell leaning in to speak to their father, but he wasn’t paying any attention to her.
“Have patience, Eric… please. Give it a little more time,” Thordarson’s voice said behind him. The old wizard was settled comfortably back in his chair once more.
“But how long?” Eric said softly, glaring worriedly at the mirror. “How long must we wait before doing something?”
“So, there’s a delay between what actually happens to somebody walking into the mirror and what everybody else sees on the outside?” asked Dowla, responding to Sarah’s comments. “But I don’t remember anything like that when I was joined.”
“I do. The same thing happened to me when I walked through,” Tencha interjected. “It felt like I was inside for about two minutes, answering a bunch of questions. But after I came out, everybody told me later that it looked like I had walked straight through. They didn’t see any delay at all.”
“My God,” Gwen moaned, a frightening thought suddenly passing through her mind. “If your delay was two minutes without any perceivable difference from the outside… then… how long has Anna been in there?”
“About thirty minutes now,” Dowla replied, looking at her watch.
“No! I mean for Anna… inside the mirror?”
“Oh my…” Tencha said, comprehendingly. “To Anna… it must seem like…”
“FOUR DAYS!!!” Anna screamed at the whispering voices around her within the mirror. “I’ve been in here for four days… and I still don’t understand anything more of what you want than when I first arrived! Am I your prisoner? Am I never to leave this horrible place?” Anna was in tears. The same aggravating questions where being asked of her over and over again.
“What changed you, Guardian?”
“Is the rage within the world building? Why were you brought out of hiding?”
“How will you protect us?”
“We are looking for the beast that altered you? Where is it?”
Over and over they asked, and never did they answer any of Anna’s questions. In a fit of rage, Anna decided to stop answering their questions, and started walking into the blank distances around her. She must have walked for miles, but her position never seemed to change, and the voices followed her relentlessly. Eventually she stopped asking anything of her captors, and resorted instead to pleading and begging for her freedom.
Anna slumped to the floor once again, as the whispers continued around her, constantly debating and squabbling between them. Lying on her back, she started dreaming about color, and what it must have been like to see a blue sky and feel the warm sunshine on her face. She longed to see and sleep in darkness again. She slammed her fists into the thick parts of her legs in frustration. At least the self-induced pain shooting through her brain gave her some form of input, something different from the insane blankness surrounding her. She knew if she stayed in this place much longer, she would loose her mind. She had to keep her focus; concentrate on the faces of her family and her distant home.
All at once, Anna started to laugh. For a full minute, she laughed until tears were streaming down her cheeks and face. Finally, she rolled onto her side on the floor to catch her breath, still giggling. Through all of the madness, one funny thought had breached the nearly impenetrable frustration clouding her mind.
“You know…” she said, smiling and sitting up sleepily to look around her. “Eventually, I’m going to need to use the bathroom.”
Anna’s smile turned cold as she stood once again and screamed at the top of her lungs into the void, “And you can just imagine what that’s going to do to your nice — clean — FLOORS!!!”
The situation in the Rotunda was now becoming desperate. It had been nearly an hour, and even Mister Grayson was motioning for a moment of the Chancellor’s time from the ceiling above. The buzzing within the Rotunda now sounded like a school auditorium. Nobody knew what was going to happen next.
“Quiet!!!” bellowed Captain Dunning, and the room instantly fell silent as he walked over to the mirror. “Listen!” he said, and everybody on the platform strained to hear. A low rumble, like rolling thunder in the far off distance, was coming from the surface of the mirror. The sound increased and now everybody could see the tiniest spot of light blooming from the center of the glass. It was growing.
Eric charged forward. “What have you done with my sister?” he demanded. There was no reply as the light continually grew in size and intensity.
Inside the mirror, Anna could now hear the rumble too. It woke her up from the floor, and she looked around in shock to see a billowing storm gathering over her head. The clouds were growing darker, and swirls of mist were dancing all around. Soundless lightning streaked across the blackened sky, burning her eyes.
“What’s happening?” Anna yelled through the now howling wind.
From the dark sky above, a chorus of voices finally spoke in unison. “We have decided to keep you as you are, Guardian. Time will not allow us to start anew. You will continue in the Order of those we sent in centuries past. We are part of the magic all around you, and seek your guidance and protection from the destruction of those who would destroy all in their fight. But you have been altered apart from what we helped to bring about at your birth, and so we have a plan to enlist the assistance of others to help you in your noble cause. Together, you will protect us from the ravages of chaos. But be warned. We have located the beast that altered you from what was intended.”
Anna frowned. She didn’t understand what they were telling her. What did they mean she had been altered? Then an idea swiftly came to her, and her eyes widened with fear.
“Do you mean the Lethifold… the thing living inside of me?” she asked frantically.
“No, Guardian. That creature is merely a manifestation, an understanding, of what you have once come to know through physical contact. The beast that altered you is a terribly evil thing that looks to escape from a prison of its own making. It will surely kill you for its master’s sake if given a chance and learns of your existence.”
“But why? Why would such a thing try to kill me? What is it?” asked Anna in surprise. She could feel her concentration failing her. Fatigue and the lack of sleep were hampering her ability to understand what they were saying. “Who is its master?”
“The Dark Lord is gathering strength, and so are his minions in hiding everywhere. Fear not. We will serve you now in ways like no other since the falcon flew among your kind, and you will serve us with your strength and courage. You will turn what has been done to you against the madness. The beasts, creatures, places, and the things of magic are now part of your family. You are one with us, Anna Grayson. Faith… little one; keep it close to your heart. Good luck, Guardian. Go… and be vigilant!”
And with these final words, Anna saw a flash of yellow light and a small hole opening before her. Anna recognized the swirl, as the same light within the surface of the mirror that had first brought her to the emptiness that had become her prison.
“Exit… and prepare to be joined!” yelled the mirror. Anna could see several teachers back at the school walking on the platform through the hole in front of her.
On the other side, smoke began to swell out the back of the mirror as it had done for the other students. Professor Thordarson and Mister Grayson stood and watched in amazement as the smoke turned purple before their eyes.
“Come on, Anna!” Eric yelled. “Get out of there! Come on!”
Anna stood at the exit ready to step through when a blast of scorching wind suddenly pushed her forward. Eric saw something shoot out from the back of the mirror and onto the floor at his feet. The heat from the body was tremendous, and although he could see it was Anna lying on the floor below him, he was forced to back away from the blistering wave of hot air hitting him full in the face.
Anna was out. Finally, she was free. She stood and looked up. She couldn’t hear anything, but she could see hundreds of students standing and looking up at her in astonished alarm. They were pointing and … there was something else. Anna could now hear them screaming. Loud shrieks of panic were coming in from all around her. Anna heard popping noises, and the sound of several blasts behind her. She turned to see several blurry images, teachers, and Crimson Guards, shooting spells of water at her with their wands. The jets of water transformed into purple clouds of steam five feet in front of her.
What are they doing? Why are they attacking me? Anna heard a familiar voice screaming at her and she turned to find Eric trying to throw his robes over her head. She watched the garment float toward her and then instantly explode into flames. She could see Tencha and Dowla, frozen in shock, their hands covering their mouths in horror. Gwen was clutching Sarah tightly and covering the little girl’s eyes. What was happening?
Anna finally turned and saw her own image standing in the back of the Mirror of Enlightenment. What she saw horrified her . Purple flames engulfed her entire body . She was on fire. The inferno that was her body, shot high into the air above her, and only one thought came into Anna’s mind: She was going to die. After everything she had been through over these last several days - she was going to die here, like this, in front of her family. She closed her eyes and prayed for a quick end, and then she realized… there was no pain. The flames billowing forth from her body did not burn her skin. In fact, it felt no worse than a soft sweater on a warm summer’s day.
The Rotunda was now in complete and screaming chaos. The Chancellor stood and began to fire water spells at Anna from the orb on his staff, but not even the greatest wizard in all the Americas could douse the flames engulfing the girl now.
Mister Grayson was screaming into the fireplace from his home. “Somebody, do something! Save her — oh, my God — save her!”
“She belongs to… US!” boomed the voice from the mirror. With these words, Anna was sucked back into the glass once again and quickly out the other side in front.
“She belongs to… MAGIC!” roared the mirror.
The flames surrounding Anna’s body were gone now. Only the thick, misty smoke remained. It began to twist and turn, forming itself into the image of a tall woman, staring blankly out into the Rotunda. The mist surrounding the image of the future Anna Grayson continued to change and distort, and then a huge beast, a giant leopard, formed, which sat slowly down on her right side. The gigantic cat roared, shaking the windows around the Rotunda. Its breath was that of something rancid and putrid, like death in a freshly opened grave.
“What is that thing?” shouted a seventh year, stumbling backwards at the Defenders’ table.
“A Nundu!” replied a Searcher from the other side. “Its breath is poisonous… do not breathe it!”
More images began to form around Anna. A goblet of fire sat on the floor at her feet with a unicorn standing above it. The icons of several magical places filled the spaces behind her, floating wands, brooms, orbs, crystals, and stars swirled above her head. Anna’s ghostly image wore a tall witches’ hat with the markings of several constellations woven upon it. Finally, an amulet formed around her neck with a crest and coats of arms containing two dragons, one black, and the other white, facing each other with a sword separating them in the middle.
The mirror roared again. “She is… A GUARDIAN! SITHMAITH! Only those willing to sacrifice much may serve under this banner! But she is unprepared… you must… help her.”
With these final words, the mirror’s yellow light went out and the smoke surrounding Anna began to fade. As the purple swirls slowly evaporated, they revealed Anna lying on the floor in a crumbled heap. Eric ran over to her and gently lifted her head up and onto his lap.
“Anna!” He felt for a pulse in her neck and listened closely to her breathing. “She’s breathing, she’s all right! Anna! Wake up… please open your eyes. It’s me; it’s Eric. Can you hear me? Anna!” Eric shook his sister and then cautiously inspected her arms and legs for burns. He was relieved to see there were none. Anna slowly opened her eyes and stared up at Eric and the others standing above her.
“Let’s get her to her feet,” said a warm voice from behind them. It was Professor Thordarson. “I don’t sense any permanent physical damage. She should be all right. Come now… gently.” Eric and Titan helped Anna to stand.
“Are you all right, my dear?” Thordarson asked her tenderly, smoothing Anna’s hair and inspecting her body for injuries.
Anna wobbled a little, coughed, and rubbed her eyes. “I… I think so,” she said, weakly.
Eric wasn’t so sure. “Anna, I can’t believe this. It looked like you were on fire. What the heck happened to you in there? We were about to take that mirror apart!”
“I wish you had. How long was I gone? Did everybody wait all that time for me here?” asked Anna, looking in amazement at the large crowd still standing in the Rotunda.
“Over an hour!” said Dowla, glancing again at her watch.
“An hour?” Anna yelped. “No! That’s impossible. It was days… nearly a week! There were these voices. They wouldn’t let me sleep. They kept asking me these stupid questions about my birth… and…”
“Questions? What kind of questions?” Eric asked, angrily.
“That’s enough for now,” Professor Thordarson pronounced calmingly. “I think we had better get Anna to the hospital floor and have Doctor Pearl take a look at her. No more questions now. Captain Dunning, please make sure she gets a proper escort. And Eric, I think it would be sensible if your family went with her as well.”
The Chancellor then turned and walked to the edge of the platform to speak to the crowd. “She’s all right. She’s going to be fine!” he announced to the students in a high voice. The Rotunda erupted into happy hoots and cheerful clapping. The Chancellor looked up into the ceiling at Mister Grayson and waved merrily back to him, giving Anna’s father the assurance he needed to know that his daughter was unharmed.
Mister Grayson fell back down into his chair at home. “Thank God,” he said in relief.
Professor Thordarson raised his arms to the crowd once again. “Circumstances being what they are, I believe it proper to end the evening here. We will hold off announcing the new Union Knights and the student president until tomorrow night at the start of term banquet. Please make your way back to your Union Halls. I would ask our seniors to pair up with our new first-years, and make sure they get their room assignments and day-one schedules. Good night, everybody. We’ll see you all again tomorrow evening. Sleep tight!” he said, amusingly.
“What’s that?” asked Professor Titan, who was inspecting Anna’s robe. Anna looked down and was surprised to see a single colored hash mark on her right sleeve.
“It’s purple!” said Gwen in amazement.
“Purple? But we don’t have any Union hoisting that color,” said Captain Dunning, admonishingly. “Wait a minute!” He peered in closely at the new coat of arms upon Anna’s chest. “I’ve never seen a crest like that before. What do you make of it, Professor Thordarson?”
The Chancellor stepped in to take a look. The crest carried the same double dragons and sword seen in the clouded amulet around Anna’s neck when she first came out of the mirror.
“Hmmm, yes… I see,” said Thordarson. He inspected the markings on the badge and then lifted Anna’s arm to examine the purple colors embroidered on her robe. “Interesting… very interesting, indeed,” the wizard mumbled evasively.
“What does it mean, sir?” asked Dunning.
“Well, it would mean… we have all just witnessed the founding of a new Hall at Castlewood.”
“What?” several people wowed together.
“Yes,” said the old wizard flippantly. “It would seem there are six unions now among us: The Searchers, the Servers, the Laborers, the Artisans, the Defenders… and now… the Guardians.”