Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

“Showtime”

ONE

Over the next week, Anna and Gwen visited Sarah Bell every day on the hospital floor during lunch and again after dinner. Everybody’s favorite Guardian was improving faster than most would have thought, including Doctor Pearl who set aside most of her duties to care for Sarah exclusively. By the end of the week, Sarah was released with orders to return to the floor each morning for a quick examination.

Sarah’s ability to talk to Anna had also improved over the next few days and through her coughing fits and lingering pain, she was able to tell Anna and Gwen what had happened the night she was forced to leave the castle. Although she couldn’t tell them much about the person who had hexed her, Sarah did remember the last instructions given to her the night she was seen jumping into the moat. She was commanded to steal something that specifically belonged to Anna from their dorm room, take it into the city, and deliver it to the one enslaving her. Sarah said she remembered entering their room that night to find Anna’s belongings scattered about and the Scope of Verosapt in pieces on the floor.

Anna fought back tears as her roommate retold the story about how she tried to fight off the curse forcing her to steal. She was eventually forced to grab a handful of the gems from the floor and head out to deliver them to her attacker. When Sarah got to the drawbridge, however, she quietly divulged how she tried to fight the power of the Imperious Curse once again and, in the end, decided on the most desperate of acts to keep from betraying Anna. From that moment on, Sarah could not remember anything until she saw Professor Thordarson waving his wand over her body on the hospital floor.

To Anna, Sarah’s story was heart wrenching and, together with Gwen, she found herself completely taken with her roommate’s bravery and strength. Anna remembered the Chancellor’s words he used to describe Sarah that first night in the hospital. “She is, indeed, immensely stronger than any of us really know. She will make a formidable Guardian in time; she has proven that fully tonight.”

Anna smiled remorsefully as she watched her friend struggling to tell them all she knew about the wizard who would risk a lifetime sentence in Azkaban just to steal something from Anna’s room. After Sarah finished her story, Anna was left with several lingering questions. Who had enslaved Sarah’s will and why? And who had broken into their dorm room before Sarah’s arrival that night and nearly destroyed her kaleidoscope? Where was the Ruby of Yu now? And without it, how would she find the vessel holding Leola Grayson a prisoner?

TWO

The Seer – November 11th

The Ministry of Magic today was forced to acknowledge its disappointment that the criminal Reginald Carter is still at large. Carter, who escaped from Drogo prison last June, is still considered armed and very dangerous and currently remains on the Ministry Authority’s Top Ten most wanted list.

“We are all doing everything possible to find and recapture this prisoner,” said Lieutenant Doyle of the Ministry Law Enforcement Authority today. “We have evidence the man is still hiding in a remote part of the world away from both Wizard and Muggle population centers and very near the immediate grounds surrounding the prison-hospital.”

These statements came as little comfort to many who remain concerned about the lack of information given to the public regarding the steps already taken to recapture Carter or the actual areas being searched.

“As I said in my previous statements,” Doyle said early this morning, “the Ministry cannot divulge the areas in which we are searching without also disclosing Drogo’s secret location.”

Asked why it was taking so long to find the man if, as the Ministry believed, Carter was presently thought to be near the prison, Doyle had no further comment.

“It’s very obvious to me that the Ministry has no idea where this madman is hiding,” commented Ms. Lisa Bondolt of Larney Massachusetts, the city where Carter was born. “We’re all very frightened that he’s going to return to our area, but nobody from the Ministry will tell us anything. We’re still worried about the escape of SiriusBlack and now this? We haven’t seen anybody from the Wizard Authority searching around here, and nobody from the Minister’s office has responded to our requests that the Aurors be sent here to protect us.”

As the authorities continue their search for this dangerous man, they have requested the public remain calm. Unfortunately, after nearly six months of searching, the Law Enforcement Authority has failed to recapture this murderer and the issue is fast becoming something of an embarrassment to the Ministry of Magic.

THREE

“And the Searchers score again!”

Anna leapt to her feet and cheered along with several Searchers sitting around her while the Defenders in the stands booed and hissed miserably.

“I never realized Quidditch was so exciting,” Anna yelled to Gwen over the screaming throng within the stadium.

Gwen leaned in while she whooped loudly. “Oh — it’s really popular in Europe. All the world’s best teams come from overseas. They really love their Quiddich over there.”

Anna watched the Defenders and Searcher teams streaking back and forth in their brooms, passing and catching an odd-shaped ball they were working to get through the hoops at each end of the field.

“It’s like soccer on brooms!” Anna yelled.

“Searchers score!” yelled the announcer and the stands erupted in screams of happy delight again.

“What the heck is soccer?” Gwen shouted back as she clapped.

Anna smiled as she looked into the iron gray sky and stuck out her tongue to catch some of the falling snow slowly floating down. As the chilly days of November fell into December, the city of Spellsburg was beginning its holiday push to Christmas with the start of its annual winter carnival. The residents, looking to coax some of the students into an early shopping spree, magically persuaded the newly fallen snow covering the surrounding mountains to waft into the city.

The school’s Vollucross teams cheered as well, but were still despondent about the cancellation of their Opening Day. With the attack of dragons still fresh in the Chancellor’s mind, there was little hope their season could be salvaged. To make up for the city’s disappointment, the mayor of Spellsburg had persuaded Professor Thordarson to allow a Quidditch and Swift Slalom match during the winter carnival. As such, several Crimson Guards where perched on top of the stadium walls, looking for any approaching dragons in the mist surrounding the Shadowed Forest.

Anna whooped as the Searcher team scored yet again to the despondent groans from the adjoining crowd of Defenders. Soon the girls were celebrating the Searchers’ win as they headed across the plateau toward Slalom stadium.

“I’ll try to get over there as fast as I can,” Gwen said, in a grumbling tone of voice.

“Where are you going?”

Gwen rolled her eyes. “I have to help Sarah prepare for her skiing demonstration this afternoon. It was part of the bet I lost on the Alleghany Pride.”

Anna laughed at Gwen’s continuing cynicism. “I can’t wait to see the reaction of a wizarding school watching Sarah ski down the mountain,” Anna told her.

Gwen rolled her eyes again. “Lunacy… that’s what it is… pure lunacy.” She wrapped her robes tight around her body against the cold and then trudged off, mumbling sardonically toward the city gates and the cable cars.

Anna was still giggling as she thought of Gwen carrying Sarah’s ski boots up the mountainside. She found Eric and Damon waiting for her at the slalom stadium entrance gate.

“There you are,” Eric replied happily, now sporting a fully formed beard. Anna frowned as she reached up to yank on the thick brush of hair under her brother’s chin.

“What? You think I’d miss my first slalom race, old man?” Anna quipped.

“Ouch!” Eric complained, jerking back. “Easy on the whiskers there, sis.”

“Knock it off, Anna,” Damon scolded her, looking around them angrily. “Eric is a teacher now and you will show him a proper level of respect, or I’ll dock the Guardians some more points.”

Anna glared back at him. “Yeah, I heard you took ten points from TJ for… what was it? Talking too loud during lunch? It must have pleased you to flex your power again. I don’t know who’s worse in that Defender union of yours — you or Debbie Dunning.”

“Mind your mouth!” Damon snapped back angrily.

Eric stepped between them. “Okay — okay — knock it off, you two. Let’s try and keep our arguments civil while in public, all right?”

“Then tell him to quit trying to hurt the Guardians every chance he gets!” Anna shot back. “He’s looking for any excuse he can to dock us points.” Damon sneered as Eric leaned in.

“Anna, you have to understand, Damon is a Knight and a sixth-year now. You must mind your manners around him and it isn’t your place to question his motives.” Anna looked appalled. She moved to response, but Eric cut her off. “If you believe you have a legitimate complaint, then you should take it to your Union Knight and she’ll talk to Damon or bring the matter to the Student President.”

Anna glared back at Damon who looked overly satisfied with Eric’s support.

“Yeah… whatever.”

Eric smiled. “Good, so when’s your first race? We don’t want to miss it.”

Thirty minutes later, Slalom Stadium was full of cheering students watching the racers circling the field between them. The fliers were chasing a tiny, blue-winged pixie around colored gates called portas that were floating in the air in an ever-changing pattern. Anna watched the other racers following the pixie through the gates as the morning rays of sunshine tried to burn their way through the graying clouds. Suddenly, a flash of light caused the crowd to groan as one of the riders missed his gate and was teleported to a stop in the center of the field. Stomping his door in frustration, the racer rose again to the first gate to begin the chase once more. After a number of laps, a horn sounded and another crate from the stack of pixie houses flew itself open. A streak of blue shot from out of the box and a fresh pixie moved in to replace the first while the racers continued to give chase.

The riders bumped and banged into each other around the turns, looking to gain the advantage behind the pixie leading the way. A rider was unexpectedly knocked from his board and his momentum threw him sideways toward the seated crowd. The audience screamed and covered their heads as another white flash engulfed the rider and his door. A few seconds later, they could see him rising again from the center to rejoin the race.

Finally, one of the older riders passed the pixie to the delight of the cheering crowd watching them and then streaked to the finish line. The horn sounded, signifying the end of the race and the crowd was on their feet clapping madly.

After a long pause, Professor Bots stood and then raised his wand to his throat. “Congratulations Mr. Haviland on a marvelous win and ten points for the Artisan Union. Before our next race begins, I’d like to gather your attention to the mountains north of the city of Spellsburg. At this time, one of our second-year students, Miss Sarah Bell of the Guardian Union, will be demonstrating the Muggle sport of… skiing.” He raised his wand into the air and bellowed, “Projectius Visum!”

Immediately, the sky above them began to darken and was soon replaced with a mountain scene north of the city. The picture zoomed in and began to climb higher up the mountain’s treacherous cliffs and ridges, along a steep and formidable looking face and overhanging peaks covered in thick ice and snow. The picture finally stopped at a small tent perched on the very top of the mountain where two Crimson Guards were seen pulling the canvas doors back. One of the guards motioned to somebody inside and then Sarah Bell slid through the opening and stopped at the crest of the cliff’s edge. She was wearing a tight fitting racing suit and a helmet that delivered one very distinct message to the stunned crowd watching her from the stadium below: Whatever this young girl was about to do, it was obviously going to be extremely fast.

The stadium oohed and wowed excitedly as the projection pulled back to show Sarah as a tiny speck on the immense mountaintop. Anna’s jaw dropped as she looked at the scene above them and then over to another slalom racer standing next to her.

“She isn’t going down that mountain from there, is she?” Anna gulped in surprise.

The boy shook his head before looking over at her in disbelief. “Did Bots say this was a Muggle sport? Does that mean she won’t be using any magic or a wand to help her get down?” the boy asked her in astonishment.

Anna knew the answer, of course, but disbelief kept her from responding. The projection zoomed in again and now Anna could see Gwen and TJ reluctantly stepping out of the tent to take up a position behind Sarah. Gwen was now leaning in to whisper something to Sarah and TJ looked too petrified to get any closer to the cliff’s rocky edge. The crowd began to mumble their worried concerns as Bots magically spoke through the long distance between them.

“Whenever you’re ready, Miss Bell.”

On the top of the mountain, TJ was imploring her fellow Guardian. “Sarah, this is crazy! You can’t be doin’ this, girl! We’re too high; it’s too steep. Yer gonna break yer fool neck. Be sensible and git back in the tent — please!”

Gwen carefully inched forward to stand next to Sarah on the edge. She looked down.

“Oh… my… God! No way! You can’t be serious!” She said fearfully to her friend. She could see Sarah Bell smiling through the red and yellow flames painted on her helmet.

“I’ll be fine — don’t worry. I’ve studied the route and most of it isn’t nearly as bad as some of the black-level runs at home.”

“I… don’t even know what that means!” Gwen said, looking down the cliff again. She stepped back. “There’s no way a reasonable person without the ambition of killing themselves would do this. Come on… let’s go back to the tent and I’ll make you some more hot chocolate; your brain must be frozen!”

“Never too late to change your mind, Guardian,” said one of the guards looking worriedly behind them. Suddenly there came a loud voice booming up from below.

“Whenever you’re ready, Miss Bell.”

Sarah looked up and gasped at the sight before her. She could see the image of hundreds of spectators on both sides of the valley in front of her. They were magically floating in the mid-air on her left and right. Sarah looked back and smiled at Gwen and TJ standing behind her.

“I love magic,” she said eagerly.

She gave Bots two enthusiastic thumbs up before lowering a dark shield over her face and began sliding her skis back and forth in the snow below her.

“Showtime!” she whispered softly.

“I don’t believe it,” TJ said worriedly. “She’s gonna do it. She’s gonna kill herself in’ we ain’t gonna find her body ‘til spring thaw!”

Sarah banged her metal poles together and then leaned forward excitedly.

“At least take your wand with you, Sarah,” Gwen blurted out. “That way you can send up red sparks if you get into — OH MY GOD!!”

In an instant, Sarah Bell had pushed forward and was gone.

Anna gasped as did the entire crowd within the now standing stadium. She looked over to see Professor Bots lowering his wand as the teachers and even Professor Thordarson rose from their seats to watch Sarah flying down the mountain’s face. To their astonishment, Sarah was immediately able to show her total control as she zigged and zagged left and right, back and forth, and down the steep face, gaining more speed as she fell.

The projection zoomed in and they all watched in marveled wonder as Sarah hit a flat area, tucked her poles under her arms, and then leaned down to gain more speed again. The crowd began to cheer and whoop excitedly as Sarah came to a rocky edge and then leaped forward into the air. Her body remained in a tight ball as she flew a hundred feet down the hill.

Despite their fear of heights, both Gwen and TJ were watching from the top of the hill in astonished wonder.

“She’s absolutely insane!” Gwen quipped.

“Yeah… but ya’gotta admit… she’s pretty darn good. Who’da thought the girl had the guts.”

Seconds later, Sarah was already halfway down the mountain while two Crimson Guards flying on doors overhead struggled to keep up with her. She came to another dip and the crowd suddenly screamed as one of Sarah’s skis left the snow and wavered for a second through the air, but before anybody could say she was in trouble, she slammed the ski back down in time to leap over another jump. Her body straightened vertically as she slowly turned to helicopter twice through the air before smashing into the snow with her skis pointing downhill again. The crowd cheered loudly again, as Sarah tucked into a crouch once more, her eyes barely peaking up to watch the steep drop coming into view over her clinched fists. Her legs were bouncing up and down violently like pistons while her body remained rock steady in perfect form and control.

She leaned over again, spraying ice into the projection as she rose to hold her line through the thickening snow. She tucked again, leaped again, and landed perfectly in line with the final stretch down the mountain. The crowd was standing and cheering loudly, pumping their fists as Sarah finally reached the bottom and then turned to slide sideways through a billowing curtain of snow shooting up from her skis. She finally stopped and everybody in the stadium, including Anna, was screaming and whooping loudly. Everybody was very impressed with Sarah’s uncoiled abilities, and Anna was struck with the idea that she didn’t even know the person who had been her roommate for more than a year.

“Absolutely amazing,” Bots bellowed over the crowd. “What did you think of the demonstration, Chancellor?” He leaned over to put his wand under Professor Thordarson’s chin.

The Chancellor, still clapping happily with the crowd, was beaming with pride. “Full marks for Miss Bell’s courage and amazing skill… absolutely wonderful!”

Bots agreed. “Let’s give another cheer to Miss Bell for her amazing demonstration. Marvelous… well done. Twenty-five points to the Guardian Union!”

The crowd cheered again as Sarah reached down to release her boots with the points of her poles. The guards who had been following her lightly touched down and quickly moved in to shake her hand. They were sill shaking their heads in obvious disbelief. Sarah raised her skis over her shoulder and waved merrily to the projected crowds surrounding her. The scene above Slalom Stadium began to fade, as the beautiful blue sky burned through the imagines overhead.

“Will the second slalom racers please report to the starting line,” Bots announced over the yelling crowd.

FOUR

Still smiling at Sarah’s skill, Anna strapped on her helmet, adjusted her wrist pads, and picked up her door. She followed the other racers to the starting line where their flying instructor Mr. Barclay was already waiting for them.

“Step up!” he barked. “Doctor Pearl is in a foul mood this morning, so let’s try and avoid spilling any blood today, alright? Watch your spacing and your elbows up there. At the sound of the horn, the pixie will be released and you’ll be off. The first to cross the finish line after you’ve completed three laps and passed the pixie will be declared the winner.” He started to raise his horn into the air, but then stopped.

“Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Be on your guard up there. If you get as far as the sixth lap, Mowgawk is scheduled to be released.” The racers groaned and Barclay smiled. “Yeah — yeah, I know, but he’s waited for his turn just like the rest. Just be careful if you try and pass him. He doesn’t take kindly to that.”

They all looked toward the stacked cages next to the bleachers and saw the pixie they called Mowgawk smiling back at them through a set of very sharp teeth. He started ranting angrily through the bars of his cage.

“Moo-gak, Moo-gak, Moo-gak… kilw da-wizzids,” the creature barked, crossing his eyes and laughing mischievously. “Ahh-hah-hah-hah…heh-heh-yeah! Kilw da-wizids.”

Anna looked around at the others and heard one boy whisper to the next, “Foul-cursed, little thing, ain’t he? And he doesn’t like to be crowded around the gates either. The little demon’s been known to take a bite out of more than one racer.” Some of the girls gasped when Mowgawk started throwing his water dish at his bars.

“Yes, well… get ready then,” Barley replied, raising his horn again and checking his stopwatch. “Five, four, three, two, one —” The horn blasted and one of the cages flew itself open. There was a blur of something blue streaking out from one of the boxes and toward the first gate floating more than twenty feet in the air. As the pixie passed the first gate, the racers watched as the creature reach out to slap the pole, changing the color immediately from red to blue. The racers rose to give chase and they were off.

Anna was bumped and pushed aside as the bigger riders used their weight and muscle to move the slower, less experienced racers out of the way. Soon they were in a line, following the pixie at an incredible rate of speed through the gates, left around the red gates, right around the blue, over the green gates and then under the yellow. Anna couldn’t help smiling as she tested the speed of her new board to dip and weave around the gates. Mr. Porchdow would be pleased, she thought proudly.

The leaders were desperately trying to get around the tiny pixie, which was looking back over its shoulder as they moved in to pass. They were closing in and the pixie reached out to stab at one of the gates. Immediately, the color of the gate was changed and the racers behind started to jockey about in response. Two of the riders didn’t make it and flew themselves around the pole the wrong way, causing them to Disapparate from view. There was another flash in the center of the field where the racers appeared again before flying up to begin the race once more at the end of the line.

After completing a third lap, another horn sounded and the crowd cheered as another cage flew open. A second pixie darted into the race to replace the first and the lead racers began to surge forward, thinking to take advantage of the exchange. Soon the riders were chasing the second pixie through the turns and looking for an opening to pass. Padded elbows and knees bumped and jostled each other as the riders crowded through the turns. One of the racers lost his balance and Anna watched him scream in frustration before disappearing below them in a flash of blue light. Like the others, he appeared once again in the center on his door where he bolted forward once more to rejoin the back of the pack and the crowd cheered as the boy fell in line.

Anna was slowly making her way through the course, using the speed and maneuverability of her wonderful new door to pass some of the slower riders. Soon, she found herself in third place and being bumped and knocked about by a burly seventh-year Laborer to her left. He pushed Anna wide and then abruptly flew left to make his turn around one of the red poles. Anna missed the gate, there was a flash, and then a second, and she found herself at a dead stop in the center of the field. Grumbling angrily, Anna raced forward to rejoin the line.

After six laps, the horn sounded once more and another cage flew open. There was a groan from the crowd as a third pixie shot forward to replace the second. As the new pixie passed his exhausted cousin, the crowd began to boo angrily. Anna looked up to see the new pixie maliciously beating on the other as two of the racers passed them. Finally, the second pixie sped away as the third increased his speed to chase after the riders in front of him.

“Mowgawk!” Anna shouted to another rider next to her. She pointed to the front and the boy looking over at her nodded worriedly.

As the two leading riders zoomed around the gates, Mowgawk began chasing after them, matching their every move with angry precision and Anna was surprised at the level of aggressiveness being displayed by the tiny creature. The riders were glancing back, looking for Mowgawk’s expected ruthlessness, while speeding forward toward the finish line. Anna could see them zipping around the gates while looking fearfully over their shoulder.

“Mind your space with that pixie,” Professor Bots announced. “He’s well known for his mischief!”

Anna frowned. There was much more going on here than even Bots’ knew or understood. She concentrated on the blued wings whirring just ahead of her and the Guardian could feel its murderous intentions for the leading riders. And then she watched in horror as Mowgawk suddenly zoomed forward to latch himself onto the ankle of one of the racers. The boy let out a yelp of pain and looked down to find Mowgawk biting with insane viciousness. Anna could already smell the small traces of blood in the air as she flew under one of the gates.

“See here, now,” Bots yelled out over the booing crowd. “That there is well outside the rules. Somebody get that pixie under control!”

Another cage immediately flew open and a fourth pixie bolted forward to replace Mowgawk while the Defender he was attacking tried desperately to shake the creature off. The boy was screaming and kicking in a frantic attempt to unhook the creature’s teeth from his flesh. Mowgawk finally released him only to fly into the other ankle. The boy screamed again, he fell, and both he and Mowgawk disappeared in a flash of blue light. The new pixie finally arrived to replace Mowgawk and immediately began changing the color of the gates for the riders behind him, paying no attention to the remaining racer ahead.

“A half a lap to go,” Bots announced, “and it looks like Mr. Anderson is going win this race. He’s completed more than three laps and is the only racer ahead of the pixie. It’s going to be a winning mark for… hold on! Somebody get that rouge pixie out of there!”

Anna looked up again and gasped. Mowgawk was back, but this time the creature was attacking the other pixie trying to replace him. He began pounding the other’s head and biting his wings as he rode his back. The two creatures screamed and buzzed angrily at each other before the smaller one was brutally sent crashing into the bleachers below. The crowd was on their feet and booing angrily as Mowgawk took off after the leading rider in a streak of blue paint across the sky. Soon Mowgawk was gnawing on the back of the leader’s door.

“Moo-gak, Moo-gak, Moo-gak!” the creature snarled, kicking and biting at the wood.

Anna was surprised to find herself in the front again just behind the leader, but was soon pushed aside by Mr. Barclay who was pointing a wand at the attacking pixie ahead of them.

“Back to your cage, you little vicious little fiend!” the trainer yelled. “Stupefy!”

A hex shot passed the little creature, just missing him. Mowgawk rudely kicked Anderson’s door to the side and the boy yelped and then began to fall until a flash of light enveloped him.

“Stupefy!” “Stupefy!”

Barclay was firing stunning spells at the creature until Mowgawk finally turned to face the slalom instructor head on and launched himself recklessly at the wizard’s wand. The man yelped as the pixie began to bite his wrist and fingers. There was a loud crack as the wand he was holding snapped in two between the creature’s sharp teeth. As Barclay retreated, Anna immediately moved in to take his place behind Mowgawk who had returned to changing the position and color of the gates in front of them.

Anna narrowed her focus upon the creature as he zipped around the gates. She could feel both his anger and immense satisfaction at causing so much havoc to the other racers.

Anna scoffed. The little devil is quite pleased with himself.

She could see the creature looking back at her and a bloody smile began to form on his gnarled, old face. Anna crouched down and then pressed forward, looking for an opening to pass.

As Anna closed in, the pixie started changing every gate as he weaved and darted through the course. He looked back and snarled and Anna could feel his frustration building at seeing her getting closer.

For her part, Anna was in deep concentration. Reaching out with her mind to sense his intentions, she noticed every time he reached out to touch a gate she could feel an abrupt spike of purpose. She closed in still nearer, trusting her instincts to tell her in which direction she should take each of the gates.

The crowd watching Anna closing in on the pixie was suddenly aware of her boldness. To them, it seemed as though Anna was guessing amazingly well at what gates were going to change. Left, right, up, down, she was now nearly on top of the creature and still she didn’t waiver at how she took each gate in turn.

Professor Thordarson was rising to his feet as he watched. Although it seemed he was just as amazed as everybody else at the Guardian’s ability to know where and how the gates would change, there was a far more ominous fear he was seeing in Anna’s ability now in full display before the stadium crowd.

Over the last year, the Chancellor of Castlewood thought he understood what the coming of the next Sithmaith meant and what it would mean for the wizarding world. There would be years of strife, conflict, and chaos… and the terrible possibility of war. The old wizard wasn’t sure when this war might begin, and was reluctant to think it might happen soon given the youth and inexperience of magic’s future protector, but two things were now emerging to reset his expectations: First, of course, was Harry Potter’s eye witness account of Voldemort’s rising just a few months ago, and second… was the astonishing increase in Anna Grayson’s abilities. The Chancellor had been watching Anna closely during her time at Castlewood and working with her father to insure her role and abilities were kept in strictest secret to all but a chosen and trusted few. They felt it important to downplay anything hinting at some futuristic clash of good and evil and the deaths that come from a world thrown into anarchy.

Magic’s Sithmaith still needed time; time enough to study both here at Castlewood and within the enchanted mists of evolution that only magic itself could bring to her lessons. She would need as much time as possible if she was going to become what was intended, if she was going to succeed in protecting the magical world. The secrecy of her existence and limits to her visibility were important to insure the completion of the girl’s training.

As Thordarson watched Anna chasing the pixie with deliberate shrewdness around the gates above them, it was now obvious to him these limits were not in place in effective proportion to keep the inescapable questions from rising. The old wizard frowned as he watched the crowd cheering enthusiastically for the young Guardian around him. The girl’s inadvertent presentation of skill… was indeed reckless.

Anna was nearly on top of Mowgawk now and despite the creature’s attempts to cause her failure, she was looking to pass him. The pixie looked back over his shoulder and could see Anna’s angry stare bearing down upon him. The blackened eyes, the hint of fangs… what was this thing chasing after him?

Left, right, right, left, over, under — Mowgawk kept changing the gates in an angry attempt to cause the girl chasing after him to falter. There were flashes of light behind them as several other racers failed to keep up with the changes, but still the witch with hair like fire was now bumping him in the back with the point of her door.

Mowgawk finally whipped about angrily to face his pursuer. He screeched and then kicked down hard on the nose of Anna’s door and she was suddenly launched over the top and into the air. The creature giggled his delight and victory as Anna fell, but his smile turned to fear as he watched her twist around in midair to point her wand back at him.

“Stupefy!

There was a purple flash and Mowgawk was hit with a hex that blasted the creature completely out of the stadium like a streaking comet. There was a simultaneous flash of blue as Anna disappeared and then reappeared on her door for a second time in the center of the field. Frustrated, she turned to join the other riders and finished dead last for all her trouble. The Laborer Union won the race, but the crowd was on their feet and cheering the loudest for the last place racer crossing the finish line.

FIVE

“What a display, you two!” yelled Gabriel over the cheering Guardians. “Wonderful!”

Anna and Sarah Bell were joyously applauded and pounded on the back by their classmates as they entered a very full Tower Room.

“But I came in last,” Anna protested. “Sarah here was the true showman.” She turned to her roommate who looked both surprised and embarrassed at the roar her skiing demonstration had delivered to the school. “See? I told you they were impressed. You were amazing!”

“Great show — well done!” said another Guardian over the clapping throng of Servers and Artisans who had come to join the gathering.

The crowd quickly fell silent however as somebody tapped the back of Anna’s shoulder. She turned to find a small contingent of Crimson Guards looking down at her.

Anna’s face fell. “Yes?” she said, nervously. She could tell from the leader’s hard expression that something was wrong.

“Are you Anna Grayson?” the guard asked her.

Anna gulped. “Why? What’s happened? Is my family all right?” she blurted out worriedly.

The guard’s expression remained stern. “Your family is fine.”

“Then… what?”

“I would rather not explain in public. You will accompany us into the city immediately. This is not a request.”

“Am… I… in trouble?”

The guard turned and pointed with his sword. “This way, please.”

Gabriel stepped forward. “What’s happening here? Why does Anna have to leave the school with you?”

The guard turned. “Guardian Knight, this is a matter of city security. It does not involve the school, but you may accompany Miss Grayson if you wish. In fact… I think it best you do.”

“I’m going too,” Gwen answered, stepping in next to Anna.

“That would be inappropriate to the investigation currently underway.” He turned back to Anna again. “This way, Miss Grayson.”

“What’s going on?” Gwen whispered to Anna. Anna shrugged apprehensively as she handed her slalom door to Sarah and then turned to follow the guards out of the tower.

As they headed out the entranceway, Gabriel leaned over. “You have any idea what this might be about?”

“Not a clue,” Anna replied nervously.

“You sure? Anything at all come to mind?”

“No — really. I have no idea.”

They headed across the drawbridge and there, standing on the city sidewalk, was another group of Crimson Guards waiting for them.

“Grayson and her Union Knight,” the guard escorting them said to the other leader.

“Can you tell me what this is about?” Anna asked.

“You will follow us into the city please,” said the other guard.

Anna nodded and they were quickly off again. Several of the townspeople were watching them curiously as Anna and Gabriel, surrounded by their Crimson escort, made their way down several city blocks and alleyways before finally arriving at their destination.

There was a larger group of guards gathered in a small ally where several reporters and their cameras were trying desperately to steal some pictures of the scene. Everybody turned when they saw Anna.

“Miss Grayson,” shouted one of the reporters, “what can you tell us about this crime?”

Anna was surprised. “Crime? What crime?”

Lieutenant Mantos came forward quickly. “Miss Grayson. Thank you for coming. Follow me, please.” The guards parted to allow the two of them into the alleyway, followed closely by Gabriel. They finally stopped next to a pile of litter and toppled trashcans and Anna froze.

“Oh, my God,” Gabriel whispered and Anna clasped her hands over her mouth in horror. A body was lying in the alleyway partially covered by a crimson cloak.

Anna quickly stepped forward. “Oh no.” She looked at Mantos. “Who… is it; please God, not my family? Please!”

Mantos tried to steady her. “Your family is fine, Miss Grayson. We checked on them after we sent for you. This man was found dead here this morning and we are hoping you could help us identify him. We believe he’s somebody you might know.”

Anna was surprised. “Okay… I’ll do what I can, but… I don’t understand… why would you think…?” She suddenly halted when she saw the man’s shoes sticking out from the bottom of the red cloak. She recognized them immediately.

“Oh… no… please, God… it can’t be…” Anna quickly came forward and then carefully knelt down next to the body. She reached out and fearfully pulled down the cover on the man’s face. Anna fell back and screamed. Sidney Heidelbach’s eyes were still open in apparent shock and his throat was torn open. He was dead.

Anna covered her face and wailed. She knew from that moment forward, and for the rest of her life, she would see Sidney’s blank stare in all of her future nightmares. She slowly came forward to fall over Sidney’s chest and sobbed miserably.


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