THE FINAL HEIR
As Professor Edgar escorted her to his office, Willow was taken aback. Never in her memory had she seen such a hard, almost fierce expression on his usually open and kind face. His mouth was grim, and he was unusually silent as they walked across the lawn toward the marble stairs.
“What’s going on?” Willow asked.
“We’ll talk in my office, dear,” he said.
Fear and confusion flooded through Willow’s veins. Was this all because she somehow might have found magic at last? She could not seem to make sense of that. Why would that be so wrong?
She realized that Rohan was walking behind them with his family. His father was whispering something in his ear. Rohan stopped in his tracks.
“Rohan?” she called.
His face had turned stoic, and for the first time ever he refused to meet her eye.
Rohan asked when they reached the office, “May I come in with her?”
Professor Edgar nodded. He directed Willow to the two red leather chairs across the desk from his, closed the door, and sat down in his wingback chair.
Willow took in her surroundings. Professor Edgar’s office was humble but bright with large arched windows facing out to the east and west. He kept his office extremely tidy, not a single scrap of parchment on his immaculate desk out of place. A large map spanning the wall behind his desk depicted the world of Tutis. Thousands of pins represented the current locations of various Council members.
The silence ticked on.
“Professor?” Willow said hesitantly.
His gaze finally met hers, but still he did not speak.
“Ms. Payton,” the professor said finally breaking his silence.
Ms. Payton, Willow thought -- that was a bad sign. He only addressed her in that way in front of other students and faculty -- and Rohan had never counted before. She sat on the edge of her seat, as if poised to make a run for it if need be.
“We need to talk. About your parents,” Professor Edgar continued.
“My parents? I thought this was about what happened at the bonfire.”
“It is–” Rubbing his fingers in small circles on his temples, as if suffering from a terrible migraine, he leaned forward on his whitewashed desk. “The two are connected,” the professor sighed.
She turned to Rohan, and he finally met her eyes. Tears had welled in his eyes but had not yet fallen. Willow, lost for words, returned to stare at the professor.
“Your parents have left us,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Left the Council? Why?”
“No, not the Council. Left us. They have gone on to live with the Lord Protector.”
“But. . .but. . .you can’t live with Him until you’ve di-ed,” her voice broke on the final word.
She looked to Rohan, willing him to tell her that it was all some perverse jest. His tears were streaming now. Her parents’ smiling faces swam before her eyes, as she remembered their last reunion.
They had spent the day frolicking on a foothill of the northern mountains, enjoying a picnic lunch by a glassy lake, and drinking in the warm sunshine. She and her father spent an unsuccessful afternoon fishing -- not that either of them cared. To be together again was all that mattered. Her mother sat on the bank firing an arsenal of questions, expressing her desire to be filled in on every last detail of their separation. How were things with Rohan? Were any boys catching her interest? She wanted to know it all, in hopes that reliving it with her daughter would discount her absence. How long ago had that been? A year? Longer?
Their last reunion. It just could not be. Everything became unfocused as she let numbness consume her.
She struggled to find her voice.
“Willow?” he asked again.
“Professor?” Raw with emotion, the word caught in her throat.
He simply nodded.
“You said that there is a connection between what happened at the bonfire and my parents’...my parents’...” She trailed off.
She could not bring herself to say the word. A dragon roaring inside her heart threatened to devour her from the inside out. But it had to wait. Right now, she needed answers.
“I think it is best to start at the beginning,” Professor Edgar said, settling deep into his wingback chair. “You are aware of the history of the Black Angel correct?”
Willow’s thoughts drifted to the first lesson she ever received here at Credo. The Black Angel was the name Abaddon Ravana had created for himself. He was once the most beautiful and celebrated royal official in the Lord Protector’s realm; the kingdom beyond the very edge of the world of Tutis.
Over time he was consumed by the insatiable desire for endless power. He became obsessed with greed and sought to promote himself to the position of Lord Protector; the created striving to surpass the Creator.
The Lord Protector saw that Abaddon’s soul had turned black and cast him from His realm. Abaddon did not go quietly, and with promises of limitless power, he corrupted a third of the Lord Protector’s royal court. This third, taking the name Angels Grim joined Abaddon in his banishment.
Abaddon and his followers made their way to Tutis and had sought total domination ever since, stealing, killing, and destroying¹ anything that dared stand in their way.
“Yes, sir. As aware as any of the students are, I suppose,” Willow answered.
“Very good. The history that is taught in class is a bit incomplete.”
“Precisely. When the world of Tutis was created, an elite race of protectors was created as well, The Fellowship of Torchbearers. They have integrated into our world, silently fighting corruption and shielding us from evil. These protectors are a separate entity, sharing characteristics of man and Angel.”
“Amazing,” Rohan said, intrigued.
Ignoring Rohan Willow asked, “Angels? You mean beings with wings and haloes and the like?”
“No. No, of course not. What you are thinking of are the characters of myth. These protectors have the ability to levitate, to teleport, and to persuade the Elements.”
“The Elements?” Willow interrupted.
“Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The Torchbearers possess the power to manipulate them.”
“I would love to have those powers,” Rohan said.
“Yes Rohan, but you must remember that though the Torchbearers are superhuman, and therefore are able to survive the seemingly un-survivable, they are still human enough to fail, to die.”
Rohan and the professor’s eyes met for just a second. He realized where the conversation was leading.
“Oh,” Rohan said.
“As I was saying,” the professor continued, “when the Black Angel found his way to Tutis, the Lord Protector gifted the Torchbearers with an enchanted suit of armor. This armor was accompanied by a written oracle: “Limited power is bequeathed with promise; unlimited power is bequeathed with fulfillment.”
“What does that mean?” asked Willow.
“After much debate, the Council came to the conclusion that the full power of the armor’s protection can be accessed only after a particular event takes place. We believe that event to be a corporeal reign of the Lord Protector here on Tutis lead by no other than his only son, ending once and for all Abaddon’s hold on us.
“There were six Torchbearers at the time the armor was given. They believed that the best way to safeguard the armor from falling into the wrong hands until its full power could be unveiled was to hide each piece separately. They divided it up between themselves, and each chose a hiding place individually without disclosing it to each other. They chose locations that they believed only a true Torchbearer would be able to find, with the proper instructions to overcome certain obstacles, of course. Then they had six wizards, sworn to secrecy, cast protective spells over the general area.
“The idea was to pass on the information to their heirs only, preserving the secrecy. However, after several generations of bloody war between the Torchbearers and the Angels Grim, for no explainable reason it appeared as if Abaddon had disappeared. With the loss of any immediate threat and the fulfillment of the promise no nearer, the Torchbearers became lax in their protection. As a result, the world of Tutis fell into the hands of the Black Angel without even knowing it and became quickly corrupted; the secrets of the armor long forgotten.”
“What happened then?” asked Willow, interested but still not seeing any connection.
“A new generation of Torchbearers realized the mistakes of their elders and fulfilled their calling once again, restoring Tutis to its former glory. However the location of the armor remained a mystery still. Each generation since has made it their priority to attempt to find the lost secrets. Some have come closer than others.”
“Professor, I don’t mean to be rude, but what does all this have to do with my parents?”
“Willow, have you ever noticed the torches in my office?” the professor asked, motioning to a row of torches mounted a foot below the ceiling spanning the perimeter of the office, until the last met the first.
She shook her head. Thinking back to the countless times she had been in that office, she remembered seeing them but never really taking stock of what they were. In that moment she looked carefully. They all seemed to be unlit with tiny black writing burnt into the wood.
“Take a close look at the ones behind you, over the doorway.”
Willow left her seat and walked to the exit, straining her neck to look up at the torches there. She noticed the one in the very corner was lit with a bright blue-white flame. In miniscule gold lettering the name Willow Payton was carved. To the left of her torch were two more names she recognized, but this time they were written in charred black like the rest of the unlit torches. Will Payton and Lindsay Payton -- her parents.
Her mind was racing and she turned to Professor Edgar, “My parents were Torchbearers? I’m a Torchbearer?”
The professor nodded, a slight smile playing at the corners of his lips. “The last Torchbearer actually; the final heir.”
“What?” Willow and Rohan said together.
“Your parents were the last of their generation to survive, and they were the only ones to bear a child, a fact that they strenuously strived to keep secret from Abaddon. The consequences of the Black Angel obtaining that knowledge was more than your parents could bear to consider.”
“But if I am a Torchbearer, how come I’ve never been able to perform magic until now?”
“The blessing of a Torchbearer can only be passed with...death,” Professor Edgar said solemnly.
Willow cringed at the word, the dragon inside her rearing to get out, but she persisted, her need for answers still driving her.
“Your strength revealed itself tonight.” He paused a moment before continuing, “Before your parents’ torches went out, a message was captured in the embers. Their last words to you, as it were. Their voices rang out of your mother’s torch. They said, “We love you, Willow. We are so very sorry. Be strong and of good courage, for you are never alone.”
Tears poured down Willow’s face as she heard their farewell. She pushed back the tears, sniffling and asked “Professor, how did it happen?”
“I don’t know the details but I know enough of Abaddon’s tactics to make a guess. Your parents were on the same mission as their elders, and they were close, very close to finding the location of the six pieces of armor. In fact they may have solved the mystery before...” he trailed off.
Taking a deep breath the professor continued, “Knowing their daughter was the final heir, made finding the armor critical. They wanted so much to spare you of this burden. Your parents were; you are the only hope Tutis has of recovering the protection the Lord Protector bestowed.
“The Black Angel has been hunting Torchbearers since he first learned of their existence. We, the Council, believe he has come to find out about the armor as well. He has learned to use fire, one of the very elements the Torchbearers control, against them. He has created a weapon, a flaming sword that does the job instantaneously.”
Willow did not want to hear more. “Where are they, my parents?” she asked.
Willow noticed Professor Edgar hesitate for a fraction of a second. “Torchbearers die an unusual death. They turn to ashes when they pass on.”
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, how poetic,” Willow said, her tone heavy with sarcasm.
“Actually, it is,” the professor said, taking Willow by surprise. “The ashes of the Torchbearer combine with the elements and as a result the elements become more attuned to the “voice” of the Torchbearers. So the preceding Torchbearers are always slightly stronger than the ones before them. By all accounts you, Willow, are the strongest Torchbearer their ever was, and ever will be.”
Willow caught Rohan’s eye and shied away from the awe she met there. Not wanting to comment on this new enlightenment, Willow asked another question. “So I assume all this means I must go and find the armor?”
“Not must. You have a choice, Willow. It is your cross to bear only if you chose to take it up.”
“It doesn’t feel like I have a choice.”
“There is always a choice in life, but you were created for this calling Willow, it lives in your heart.”
Willow doubted the professor’s words; she did not have a choice. The fate of the world rested on her shoulders.