Author’s Note: Completely different. Kind of fun.
A cool evening breeze rolled in off the ocean, rustling the leaves of the few surviving trees and lifting the ash from the charred remains of what once was a beautiful castle. To an observer at sea, broken though it was, the castle was still a formidable sight. Erected on a bluff jutting precariously out to sea, with rooms built literally into the sides of the steep cliffs, the castle walls towered above the small fishing vessels that tossed about on the ocean’s choppy waves. Yet the marble white walls and overflowing greenery that had once drawn sailor’s eyes no longer held such sway over passersby. In fact, those who traveled beneath the castle’s shadow now determinedly turned their eyes away, as though its cursed state was somehow contagious, as though the calamity that had befallen the indomitable structure would somehow pass to them. And a calamity it was, like nothing ever seen before. The very heavens had opened up and poured lightning and fire into the highest tower, while the water had churned and sucked the long winding bridge into the ocean’s depths. They had been trapped, their very world crumbling around them. When they thought it could get no worse, he came—floating over the water, the power of fire, wind, water, and earth literally in his hands. As he grew nearer, the ground began to shake and the wind whipped tiles from the roof, tore branches from the trees. At his command, the walls collapsed, and he smiled as the wind carried the screams to his ears and the smoke to his senses. Yet he continued on, just to be sure. He would leave no survivors, none to carry on the name and the legacy. He would be triumphant; there would be none to oppose him. He had won. He had finally won.
He entered the ruins of the castle, mortar, bricks and fallen beams grating against the marble floor as they slid apart to make a path. A chorus of cries and pained moans rose from the crumbled stone, as he cocked his head, listening intently.
He turned, suddenly, and raised his hand in the direction from which he had entered. Immediately, a piece of heavy stone floated into the air to reveal a large oak table across which a bookcase had fallen. Partially protected beneath the table, yet pinned by the bookcase, a middle-aged man struggled to open his eyes as blood trickled from a cut struck deep into his forehead by the edge of his shining silver crown.
“Rowan,” the voice emanated from the magician, though he moved not his lips, as he addressed the trapped man. With a sneer came the voice again, “King Rowan.”
The King fought the heavy weight of his lids as he dragged his brown eyes to the magician before him. As his gaze fell upon the face of the speaker, a mutual outpouring of pure hatred seemed to shimmer in the air between them. Suddenly, the sky rent in two with a blinding flash of light and flames from the heaven leapt from tree to ivy to cliffside flower until the entire castle was surrounded by a ring of fire. An enormous burst of thunder shook the ground on which they stood, and more bits of the wall crumbled to the ground.
“I have won,” the magician’s words filled the air again. “It is over.”
The King gave a disdainful laugh, though it was followed by a cough and the burst of a bubble of blood upon his lips. It trickled down his chin as he challenged, “You overestimate yourself, Ignatius.”
Fury contorted the magician’s face into something less than human, and he raised a hand to the sky, as though drawing down its angry power. An orange ball of flame began to form in his hand, growing larger and larger until he brought it before him. It pulsated with a life of its own.
“It is done,” he spat, the words coming this time from his own mouth. Suddenly, the orange ball of light burst in his hand, engulfing the entire castle and silencing all noise. The sky, the wind and the sea calmed immediately, and not a single voice could be heard in the quiet.
Ignatius the Magician looked upon his fallen foe with cruel satisfaction. With one last glance at its dead eyes and limp form, the Magician turned on his heel to follow the path through which he had entered. The ring of fire parted to let him pass, and with an imperceptible flick of his wrist, the ring of fire surged up toward the sky and inward toward its center. Its flames burned bright as it devoured the dead.
The only surviving witness to the catastrophe had watched from afar, holed up on the Isle of Roan. The Hermit had seen the walls crumble and the fire rage, had watched the beautiful castle reduced to ash, and had continued to watch, with one eye on the ruins and the other on the sky.
The fall of Avonia had not come as a surprise to him—the stars had foretold its defeat long before the Magician had declared his threat. A death star had risen years before Avonia’s fall, as the Magician gained strength and allies. The star promised fear, hunger and war for many many years. The Hermit watched, waiting to see the tiniest flicker of light, of hope, a hint of the death star’s demise. Each night he searched the heavens, and by day, he studied the ruins, even as nature reclaimed the once wild space.
Then, just the night before, he had seen it. The small burst of light, a small dot in the vast night sky. His very heart had leapt, and he had quickly sent a message to the Forest to report the change and to seek its wisdom. Then, as the sun rose in the morning, he had directed his gaze to the ruins.
A small red wolf scurried out of a small, dark cave on the Cliffside and wound its way up to disappear into the tangle of green that marked the edges of the natural balcony. Though no longer tended, the thick green leaves and vines had produced the usual stunning flowers, flowers with petals of the palest pink that curled open as the stars in the sky. As the Hermit watched, the wolf popped into view behind the flowers and hopped the broken castle wall. Slinking beneath broken rafters and sections of crumbled brick, the fox wormed its way to the center of what was once an outdoor courtyard, arranged as an alter to the Moon. In the center of a charred circle of ornate design, the fox stopped and put his nose to the ground. A moment later, he began to dig frantically at the ground, pushing dirt aside to form a small hole no more than a foot wide and of equal depth.
Abruptly, he stopped and scampered back into the hidden crevices of the cliffs, lost in the summer foliage. As the Hermit continued to watch, an owl soared through the air, just above the ground. As he neared the small depression the fox had created, something shiny slipped from his talons and into the dirt.
The Hermit watched transfixed as the fox rushed out of hiding and to the hole now laden with treasure, and began to fill the depression. Patting down the area to disguise the covert burial, the fox kicked his feet into the air and scampered from the ruins, traveling along the cliffsides to the mainland.