Sir Etcher Ryan's feet shuffled softly against the stone floor as he turned the corner. It was an unsettling noise this late at night, and yet he was grateful there were no other sounds to keep it company.
The hallway was pitch black, full of creeping shadows, and he had been forced to rely on memory to find his way. At first he had relished the challenge of moving through darkness, but after several stubbed toes and an embarrassing incident that had briefly introduced his chin to the floor, Etcher was beginning to regret such thoughts. As if reading his mind, an orb of light appeared a mere ten feet away. A short hiss of breath escaped Etcher's lips as he halted his steps. The light merely bobbed to and fro, steadily glowing brighter to illuminate the man who had conjured it.
"It is rather late, Master Etcher, is it not?"
The silhouette of Etcher's tutor grew clearer as he stepped forward, a familiar look of displeasure hanging grimly upon his face. Will's blond hair hung loose about his shoulders, his clothes clean and crisp despite the late hour, and Etcher could not help but wonder if Will was truly upset at finding his young ward out at such a late hour, or perhaps because his own plans had been unexpectedly interrupted.
"Well, Master Etcher?" the man urged again.
"I have business to address," Etcher huffed, thrusting his chin out in a poor imitation of his father's authority. He immediately regretted his words. Was he so like his father that he would order Will about like a servant?
"I will be in the Library. See that I am not disturbed," Etcher continued, his voice cracking. "Please?" he added weakly.
"Of course, Master Etcher," Will agreed, and without another word he turned to walk away.
"Will?" Etcher called after him.
"Mr. Hartford, milord," his tutor corrected.
Embarrassment welled up within him, and Etcher felt his cheeks flame, but he continued.
"Yes, Master Etcher?"
"Promise you will not tell father?"
"As you wish, Master Etcher."
The scent of leather and aged paper filled the room, Etcher's nose pressed firmly to a smudged scroll. His candle flickered a soft gold, illuminating the area around him with its dancing light. Despite his best efforts, it remained the only light in the room.
After his encounter with Will, Etcher had drawn upon the shadows to cloak his travels. They had hardly been necessary, although it had been a small comfort to know that he would remain unnoticed for the remainder of his journey. Now hours later, the shadows lingered despite his best efforts to dismiss them. Magyk could be slippery that way, especially for the untrained. It was for that very reason that those who failed to master it were often driven to madness, or so his tutor claimed. Many like Etcher's father, believed magyk to be nothing more than a figment of the imagination, an ailment of the mind fueled by myth. Lord Erik Ryan was not the only one to believe such things, and as such, Will claimed there were far more counts of madness than success.
Two full cycles had passed since Etcher had come of age. Now in his twelfth summer, Etcher had spent the past two years studying under Will's tutelage, although bits and pieces of the craft had come to him naturally long before he had met Will. Visions had been the first magyk to manifest, a rare talent even for the most practiced of mages. The visions had plagued Etcher's mind, a series of relentless and incoherent images, appearing with little to no warning and vanishing just as quickly, leaving him clinging to the edges of consciousness.
Etcher's parents had scoured the realms, seeking countless advisers and medicine men, yet none were able to offer any insight as to the cause of his affliction. It was not until a foreign woman emerged, a young healer who had urged Lord Erik and his wife, Lady Melana, to seek assistance from her homeland, the Bloome Isles.
A distant territory, unattached to the Seven Realms, the Bloome Isles could be found at the center of every rumor and tale of magyk throughout the realm. Desperate for answers, Lady Melana had sent a small contingent to the Isles. The group returned several months later, bringing with them the young William Hartford, who after some persuasion had agreed to accept a position as Etcher's private tutor.
Lady Melana had been grateful her son would finally receive the proper training to control his new and mysterious ability. Lord Erik, however, maintained that magyk was a foolish waste of the young heir's time, and only offered Will the barest of tolerance. Etcher, ever quick to dismiss the wishes of his father, had accepted his tutor as one of the most gifted, albeit strange people he was likely to meet. Often firm and direct, Will was not one to accept anything short of success. In turn, any frustration Etcher experienced only fueled his drive to meet Will's expectations. Yet, even with the man's warnings, there was little that could curb Etcher's curiosity.
Etcher sighed in exhaustion, lifting his head from the rumpled scroll. He was certain Will would be more than happy to discuss conjuration during one of his future lessons. If Etcher could bring himself to ask, and then repeatedly beg for the next few months, of course. Yet, as he remembered Will's frown of disapproval earlier that evening, Etcher's determination to accomplish it on his own won over.
Closing his eyes, Etcher concentrated on the silence of the room. Beyond the dim light of his candle, beyond the summoned shadows, there was true darkness. It could be overwhelming at times, a lingering tide that could invoke fear in even the strongest of men. And yet, it held no sway over him now. Darkness and shadows were tools, true, yet he had no desire to hide. He sought illumination. Surrendering his thoughts to that simple reality, Etcher opened his eyes and gasped in surprise.
Mere inches from his face, a tiny orb of light flickered. It faded in and out as if mirroring the will that had created it. As doubt crept into Etcher's thoughts, his nerves began to stifle his initial excitement. His focus gone, the orb winked out of existence altogether. He released the breath he had been holding, overwhelmed by exhaustion, and resigned himself to sleep.
"Etcher? Are you in here?"
Startling upright, Etcher scrambled to his feet, sending the scroll fluttering to the floor. He bent to retrieve it, stifling a yawn as he turned to face his mother.
"There you are," she sighed. "Have you been here all night?"
"No," he said quickly, but his mother's expression clearly showed her disbelief. "Not all night." he amended.
"I do not understand why you insist on sneaking about," she chided, pulling the woven cord to open the room's heavy draperies. Sunlight flooded the room, causing Etcher's eyes to water, his cheeks flushing at his mother's admonishment. "You are aware the Library is available during the day?" she continued.
"I am sorry, Mother."
"I have certainly heard that before," Melana laughed at her son, shaking her head.
It was a sound of pure humor, and Etcher allowed himself relax. If his mother could laugh at the situation, then no matter her mood, she had no intention of sharing her disappointment with his father.
While Melana frequently disapproved of her son's actions, Etcher's father, Erik, was much more likely to give voice to his disapproval. Despite his father's best efforts, and countless lectures, Etcher could not bring himself to care for becoming heir to Wynwood Hall or to carry out the behavior that was expected of a young Master. Lord Erik was happy to live in ignorance of his son's talent with magyk, and with it he had come to an uneasy acceptance of Will's presence within his home. In truth, it often seemed as though Lord Erik blamed both for his son's shortcomings.
"What was it this time?"
"I was practicing for my next lesson with Will."
"I may not be a mage, Etcher, but I know a lie when I hear one. You know how dangerous it can be without Mr. Hartford's supervision. You - "
"I am sorry, mother, truly," Etcher interrupted, ducking his head. "I promise it will not happen again."
"No, my son," Melana pulled him into a fierce hug, her tone now serious. "Do not make promises you have no intention of keeping. Whether you are Master or commoner, your word carries weight. It has a value that not even magyk can sway, not in truth. Swear to me that you will remember that."
"I swear, mother," Etcher replied guiltily.
"Oh," Lady Melana sighed. What am I to do you with you, my Etcher, heir to Wynwood Hall?"
Etcher wrinkled his nose in disgust at the title. It was at that moment the visions came. His entire body froze, eyes held wide as his mind was taken over by the magyk.
A young girl ran along a dirt path, her frizzy black curls trailing behind her in the breeze as she turned, a full smile gracing her lips. A man with short cropped silver hair lounged casually in an expensively upholstered chair, fingering the scruff of a beard before lifting his gaze. The expression in his tear filled gaze sent a shiver up Etcher's spine, but the force of the visions held him. Lastly, a familiar sight appeared, the master suite of Wynwood Hall. It was the chamber his parents had shared for years, yet it was different. His parents lay pale and lifeless in a growing pool of red.
Finally the images ceased, and Etcher slumped forward, held up only by his mother's frantic arms. Lady Melana quickly summoned several members of the Hall's staff, giving them hushed orders to see Etcher straight to his room, allowing him to sleep off the aftereffects of the magyk. He would wake later, remembering nothing of the flashes but the sight of blood on his hands.