I live in a town that hates magic. In truth, I may live in a world that hates magic. You could be thinking “It’s not the magic you hate, but rather the fear of what it can do.” Well, you would be partially correct in making that distinction. We hate the casters of magic. We hate that they use their magic to terrify and enslave us, but it is law that we never say so.

My name is Lawrence and I am what you might call mana-deficient. That is to say, like all humans, I have no ability to use magic whatsoever. Oh we certainly know of its existence and many of us have felt the effects of it first hand, but we remain incapable of creating or controlling spells. However, there are others in this world who live, learn, and breathe magically. We call them mages, and they are decidedly inhuman. Humankind’s history, as it has been passed down in the village where I live, does not tell us how the two races evolved and grew alongside one another. Some popular theories are that mages simply appeared when the world became so filled with war and rancor that the only things that could be born were monstrous, evil magic-wielders. On the other side of the spectrum are people who think that mages are immortal and created humans as a slave race to perform labor, construction, all of the menial, laborious tasks they are too proud or lazy to perform. It is a popular debate in any alehouse or place where humans are allowed to congregate.

The mages themselves aren’t so dissimilar from us, I suppose, if only in appearance. They all seem to be very tall, I have never seen a short one. They stand seven feet high or more. Their skin is usually unnaturally light, most often a light grey or even white, like the color of slush mixed with ice in winter. I have even seen some of the older mages with skin as white as chalk, white as the face of death. Their hair is similar, always light colors normally associated with advanced age. They wear long flowing robes, sometimes hats and scarves or cowls. The one attribute that takes the most getting used to are their eyes. They glow. It might remind you of steam rising. It’s very unnerving… unnatural. The pupils aren’t so different from ours but if you were to meet a mage on a dark street some night you would see those eyes and feel nothing but dread in the pit of your stomach.

Each town or city is ruled by a mage as they see fit. They are mayor, king, emperor, whatever they wish to be called by their human subjects. Subjects is a more apt word than I even care to admit. Humans for the most part go about their daily lives: working, eating, being social, making little humans. But all of that could be changed in a heartbeat if the mage decides to have a bit of fun that day and rain fire over a healer’s dwelling or turn half of the humans into lions and the rest into pigs. We’ve all heard the stories, though I haven’t seen spells like this for myself before. This towns has an enormous, bronze-colored wall extending all the way around. The mages would have us believe that the walls exist for our own protection, but we aren’t quite as naive as they might think. We live in cages, and if we try to leave, the mages will execute us. The wall encircles our entire life and tiny world and is much too high to see over. The wall extends just far enough outward in my village that we have fields, a few forests and a small lake so we can still grow crops, harvest trees for building, hunt game, fish, and farm. I have lived here my whole life of thirty years. I’ve never been outside my enclosure and I’ve never seen more than the same couple hundred human faces. If I could escape, I would. I hate being forced to live like a pet.

The only thing that we can see beyond the extensive barrier is actually directly above, sitting on top of the wall at its highest point. We are told to call it the magedom. It’s where the mage who rules over us resides. He calls himself August, if you can believe that, and from what I’ve heard, all mages have similarly odd names. I have been told of one named Void and another called Bringer. We rarely see him, perhaps once or twice in a month but his presence is still felt nearly every day. Sometimes there will be terrible lightning storms that suddenly appear above our town and begin to scorch the ground as they strike. It is disturbingly common to have snow flurries at any time during the year, along with rain, mudslides, droughts… think of a disaster and trust that we’ve endured them all. Even during times when we aren’t being visited by unnatural disasters, we are always braced, ever wary of an impending attack.

August even has a monster under his control that heralds his arrival to us. It is a hideous creature called Sarthis. it is part lion, part bat, and something else I don’t know. It is quite large, with a wide, black wingspan and some sort of long, prehensile tail with a cruel-looking stinger at the tip. It will land in the town square, usually an hour before August appears to ensure that we all gather to hear what announcements the old sorcerer might make.

Today started off like any other. The sun rose and we began to wake up and head out to our jobs and lives, such as they were. I began the day happy, for I got fishing duty today. It was likely one of the easier assignments, but it was being out on the lake on a warm day like this one that was most enjoyable to me. In our small, enclosed world it proved to be one of the few places where I could really be alone with my thoughts. Despite being by myself, it also proved to be one of the few times I wasn’t consumed with boredom.

I sank my feet into the cool waters and leaned forward to look myself over. At just over thirty years of age I consider myself a good-looking fellow. I have a strong build, well, I’m no adonis, but years of some amount of physical labor have helped. My hair is dirty blond, a bit shaggy and comes down just over my ears. I have a short yellow goatee and decent jawline. If I’m being honest, I haven’t really seen my jawline or chin very well as I’ve kept some amount of facial hair since it began to take shape over my face some years back. My eyes are blue as the sky. I’m quite tall, at a few inches over six feet. It’s likely not terribly important what I look like, but in case you were curious, these are the facts.

Unfortunately for me on this particular day, I had only been sitting at the end of the dock, my fishing line and bare feet dangling in the water, for an hour or so, catching nothing, when I was interrupted by my friend Thomas. He was nearly out of breath as he ran to the end of the dock and doubled over behind me, catching his breath. Thomas was slight in build with reddish brown hair covering much of his face. He could be painfully shy though had always been comfortable with me.

“What’s going on, Thomas?” I inquired.

Thomas stood back up and finished catching his breath. Presently he said, “Sarthis landed a little while ago, Law. Everyone needs to gather, August will be here within the hour!”

“Dammit.” I spat. “I swear if he doesn’t only visit on days when I sit down to fish.”

“You know he doesn’t.” Mumbled Thomas.

“Last two times.” I responded. “At least! Now let’s go see what the old lunatic wants.”

Thomas gave me a frown and said, “Please don’t say things like that. You know he could be listening, he could be anywhere.”

I waved his suggestion away with my hand. “That’s nonsense. He’s up in his tower, devising new ways to torture us, just like he always is, and today, we get to hear what they are!” I said bitingly.

“Jenna says he can turn invisible, that’s all I’m saying.” Thomas remarked in his defense.

“Well Jenna says a lot of things and I’d be amazed if half of them turned out to be the truth.” I said.

I put away the bait and pole I had been using in the small shed near the docks, then Thomas and I made our way back into town.

He seemed nervous, which was probably just the right way to feel. Thomas was a nice enough fellow, several years younger than myself and one of only a few in the town I’d consider a close friend. He looked up to me, maybe even idolized me a little too. I had saved him during a mudslide many years before. I was in just the right place at the right time as he was being pulled under a house as it sank into deep mud to pull him to safety.

“What do you think he’ll have to say?” Asked Thomas in an anxious voice.

“I have no idea.” I answered, as I always did when he would ask this same question.

“Last time he said we needed to build a mine remember?” Thomas asked.

I nodded. “I remember.”

But the clay and granite under the town is proving really hard to dig through…” Thomas trailed off, lost in thought. “Do you think he’ll be mad?”

“I honestly don’t know. Probably. It’s not like any of us have ever been miners before, he can’t really expect us to pick it up immediately.” I tried to sound reasonable.

“Okay, maybe it’s okay.” Said Thomas. He seemed to perk up a little, and then we reached the crowd in the center of town. Thomas and I appeared to be about the last to arrive.

Anders, a tall man in his forties, well-liked, was standing in the center of the town square, answering questions and doing his best to keep people calm. He had a strong chin and an easy way about him. While we were forbidden from having an appointed leader, he was about the closest thing we did have. While many of the villagers moaned and fretted, he rubbed his thick black moustache thoughtfully and kept their concerns to a minimum. I liked Anders very much myself. He was another friend I considered close.

Most folks continued to shift about, wearing frightened looks on their faces. They crowded around Anders, as if he could somehow alleviate all of their anxiety. Fortunately for them, they wouldn’t have long to worry and wring their hands.

The harsh sound of leathery wings cut through the air high above our heads and we looked upwards in unison. Sarthis, the black-winged demon was descending rapidly from above, appearing suddenly through low-hanging clouds. The townspeople directly under him quickly covered their heads with their hands and scattered out of the way. One man let out a surprised yelp.

Sarthis hit the ground with a loud thump on all fours and a low, terrible snarl hissed out of him, pushing the crowd back further still. Sitting atop his black mane, between his enormous wings was the mage himself. He sat upright, holding a long gnarled wooden staff. His grey hair and beard swirled about his head as Sarthis beat his wings a few final times. His eyes glowed hotly and reminded me of tales of demons my mother would tell me as a child, when she was still alive. August slid over the side of the great beast and landed nimbly on his feet. He stepped toward the group of huddled humans in front of him and cast a slow glance around, meeting each of us in the eyes. His severe expression was enough to quiet even the bravest among us. Anders held out his arms in front of the villagers, ushering them back.

The old mage never minced words, but his directness never failed to catch us off-guard.

“My last servant has died.” August said in a loud, dispassionate voice for us all to hear. “I shall be requiring another.”

Some murmurs swiftly moved through the townsfolk. “How did they die? Who was it? I can’t remember either.” Were some of the brief whispers I could overhear.

“I need someone who can clean, cook and perform various tasks about my home.” August continued, silencing the group again. “The remainder of your days will be in my tower, or until you become useless, which amounts to the same.” He finished coldly.

He looked around again, perhaps gauging our expressions.

He let out a short huff before saying, “Volunteers! Step lively! If no one comes forward I shall pick for myself!”

Again there were murmurs, frightened people talking quickly amongst themselves. It became abundantly clear in short order that no one would willingly play the role of sacrifice.

August began pacing in front of the crowd, clearly agitated, his long dark robes billowing out behind him as he moved. He began by pointing a long finger into the crowd.

“You, there, girl!” He darted to another huddled pack of humans and pointed again. “You, boy, come up here!” He snapped.

He continued in this way and singled out a handful of other candidates until at last his baleful gaze met mine. “You, the tall one, up here.”

My heart sank. It felt like I had just been punched in the stomach as the breath left me and I walked unconsciously to stand in front of the mage where six other selected individuals had formed a line. I glanced down to my right. Among the others unfortunate enough to have been chosen were my friends Thomas and Jenna. I could see that Jenna was shaking and had become an unnatural shade of white, almost the color of a mage herself.

Wasting no time, August started at the opposite end of the line with his interrogation.

“Boy, you look strong enough, Can you cook?” He inquired with a gruff tone.

The boy shook his head, keeping his eyes on the ground.

“And why not?” Snapped the mage.

“My-my mum does all the cooking.” The boy nearly whimpered.

The mage sneered, “Get out of line.” He spat.

Jenna was next. She looked like her knees might give way underneath her at any moment.

“Girl, can you clean? Can you cook?” He moved his face close to hers. “I can tell if you lie to me.”

“I-I can.” She stammered. “But I have a sickness.”

August recoiled suddenly. “What?” He snarled.

“Sometimes I am laid up for weeks at a time. We don’t know why it happens. My whole family has to dote on me. I’m afraid I might not be much use to you.”

I gritted my teeth. It was a lie, but a believable one. Even in her terrified state she had given the mage a reasonable doubt.

“Bah!” Exclaimed the mage. He impatiently waved her out of line.

I allowed myself a grim smile. Good girl, Jenna, I thought. Apparently the mage couldn’t actually tell when we lowly humans deceived him. It was something worth remembering.

The magic-wielder continued down the line, bellowing at and threatening the next two in line, a young man and woman who both were able to cleverly con their way out of slavery. Only three of us remained and it was clear that August’s patience was quickly nearing its limit. Up next was Thomas who was visibly shaking. He was bright, but useless under pressure. He would not be able to lie his way out of this.

August stood before him, towering over Thomas. “Boy, can you keep a clean home? Cook? Take care of my daily affairs?” Barked the tall, pale man.

Thomas nodded his head, refusing to look at the mage.

I could see August relax somewhat. “You’re not going to try to lie to me?” He asked suspiciously.

Thomas shook his head, eyes still glued to the ground.

What the hell was Thomas doing? Say something! Do something! The idea of Thomas spending the rest of his days as a slave to this monster lit a fire in my belly. He was my dearest friend and too scared to last a week up there in that tower.

My mouth was speaking for me before I fully grasped what I was saying. “He can’t cook for shit.” I said, just loud enough for the old mage to hear.

August whirled his head around to look at me. He took two long paces and was standing directly in front of me. He loomed over me, his eyebrows knit together in a deep scowl. He stood a full head taller than me.

“What did you say?” He asked in a disquieting voice.

I lifted my head so I could look into his cold, glowing grey eyes. “I’ve had his cooking and it tastes like pig shit covered in mud.” I said defiantly.

From the corner of my eye I could see Thomas shaking his head at me. He mouthed the word “Don’t!”

August leaned over me until his face was quite near to mine. I could feel my sudden surge of courage begin to drain away.

“But you can cook? Well enough to save your friend?” The mage asked. He stared at me, unblinking.

I still refused to look away. If this was the last time my friends and family would see me, let me appear tall, unyielding. Let them remember how I stared the bastard in the eye.

“Obviously I can.” I replied and then, to everyone’s surprise, including my own added, “Now if we’re done here, let’s allow these people to get back to their lives.”

“Aren’t we brave.” August said, narrowing his gaze at me.

“You look fit, in good health.” He muttered to himself, prodding me with the end of his staff in my chest and shoulder.

He then touched the staff to the stone under our feet and sent a shower of sparks and smoke sputtering over the crowd.

“I have what I came for. We’re done here.” He said, turning away.

The crowd yelled and ran for cover. Moments later the square was completely empty except for the mage, the beast, and the new servant.


August pushed me atop the great winged monster, Sarthis, who let out a menacing snarl as I finally sat straddling his impressive shoulders and mane. The hair under my hands was long and coarse and black as pitch. I recoiled slightly at the feel and had to force myself to breathe normally. August climbed up behind me and I was revolted to feel him lean his body against mine. He tucked his staff into his robes behind him.

“Don’t lean against me.” I managed, trying to sound threatening.

The mage gave a low chuckle. “I have the reins, and this is the only place to sit while riding a manticore. If you’d like to try riding anywhere else, that’s your decision. Just know it’s little bother to me. I could replace you with one of your friends before you even splatter the ground.”

My mouth went dry. I decided I wouldn’t say anything else for the duration of the journey.

August jerked back on the reins and cried, “Sarthis, home!”

As the beast leapt into the air I instinctively flattened myself against the monster’s broad neck and gripped the creature’s mane for all I was worth. Sarthis bellowed a loud, guttural, awful noise as he left the ground. Part of me wanted to shut my eyes tightly but another part needed to see clearly. Up we rose, little by little with each leathery flap of the enormous black bat wings. I looked out over my small town as we made our way skyward. There was nowhere in or around the village where one could view the entirety of it like this. I swallowed hard as I became flooded with emotion. I had no great love for my home, it was a mage’s dollhouse after all, but I would miss Thomas, and Jenna, and Anders. I would miss the occasional lazy day of fishing, helping to build additions to homes where they had just welcomed a new baby, telling stories at the pub over drinks…

As I gazed longingly out over my tiny town, I became aware of August watching me carefully. I quickly gulped down my despair and glanced over my shoulder, giving the old mage a scowl. He said nothing, and looked away from me.

The village faded from sight into clouds as we continued our flight toward the sorcerer’s home, the magedom. As we neared it I was overcome with awe. Though we could see the great tower above the wall from the village, I had never fully realized its sheer size and presence. Now as we approached I was agape. To look at it up close like this it was clear it had not been constructed by human hands. Indeed, it almost appeared to be alive, the architecture was full of strange designs and textures, almost akin to a wasp’s nest. It loomed ahead of us now. I guessed it to be over a thousand feet tall, and that was already built onto a wall which was several hundred feet in height. My body began to tremble all over. This hideous nightmarish place was where I would spend the rest of my days, according to the mage. Any good times I may have experienced in my life before this were over. I felt real fear begin to settle into my stomach.