The sun beat down on Caden as he made his way through the narrow, winding alleys, its harsh light baking the paved streets enough that he could feel it through the soles of his boots. He wrapped his cloak more tightly about his shoulders, its drooping hood casting a dark shadow over his face. There were few who would brave the streets these days, he only encountered a handful of people who were going about their business, all of them sticking to the shadows of the buildings as they skirted the glare. The white and beige facades of the timber-framed structures seemed to glow such that he found himself averting his eyes, their narrow windows protected by wooden shutters in the vain hope of keeping out the pervasive heat, their towering brick chimneys long idle. He could see the heat haze coming off their sloping, tiled roofs, making the air above them shimmer like a mirage. They had been fashioned to ward off rain and snow, not to endure these temperatures.

Where once the city had been overflowing with greenery, now the patches of grass were yellow and sickly, the once-proud trees wilting. Caden remembered a time when each and every home had sported window boxes that overflowed with lush flowers, their bright colors, and their wonderful scents raising the spirits of the townsfolk. Now, they lay empty, the gardens left untended. There were no bees buzzing from blossom to blossom anymore, no butterflies fluttering on the breeze.

It was noon, but that term was slowly losing its meaning. The days grew ever longer, the sun lingering in the heavens, the cloudless sky as deep a blue as he had ever seen it. How long had it been since he had felt the rain on his face? When exactly had the seasons ground to a halt, plunging the world into an unending summer? He had become accustomed to this such that it was starting to feel normal, and that thought worried him. To adapt was also to forget, to become complacent.

He crossed a small bridge, the burbling stream that used to course beneath its stone arches long dry. He leaned over the side, seeing its parched, cracked bed. It wasn’t too long ago that a chorus of croaking frogs would have greeted him here, the cool night air rustling the reeds on the shores, but he found that he could scarcely recall the sound.

His destination loomed ahead of him, the twisted tower rising above the city’s slanted rooftops. It was a far older edifice than the buildings that surrounded it, the aging stonework held together more by the creeping plant life that had woven between the bricks than by its own ancient mortar. At its base were several gnarled trees, their stout trunks sprouting from the structure’s foundations, their winding branches serving to brace it. They had also suffered as of late, but they still retained some green leaves here and there, kept alive by the arcane power that resided within the crumbling walls. At its peak was a thatched roof that framed a large clock, its bronze hands slowly ticking away in spite of the fact that the twenty-four-hour day no longer held much meaning for the people who lived beneath it.

Caden walked up a snaking path that was lined with old cobblestone, the grass to either side of it slowly growing healthier as it neared the base of the structure, leeching off the aura that it exuded. Caden was attuned to its magic. He could feel it on his skin, in his very bones, an entirely different kind of warmth washing over him. If he strained, he could almost hear it on the air, a kind of musical hum with no obvious source. As he reached the old oaken door and turned the handle, the oppressive heat seemed to fade, as though a bubble of cool air had settled around the tower. It was relieving, but it did little to put him at ease.

It swung open on creaking hinges, and he stepped over the threshold, emerging into a grand library. From the outside, no one would have guessed that such a wealth of knowledge could have been contained within, shelves packed with dusty tomes extending high into the air as they spiraled up the center of the tower. A winding staircase led up to the top level, corkscrewing its way up the length of the structure, its banister carved with flowing floral patterns. No matter how many times Caden set foot inside, the disconnect between its outward appearance and its interior always made him do a double-take. The space within was somehow larger than the structure should allow, a powerful spell that had been cast long ago bending reality like a bowed branch, keeping it from springing back into shape.

In the center was a large wooden table, its surface strewn with yellowed manuscripts and leather-bound books. The Master was hunched over it, poring over a scroll, holding up an eyeglass as he scanned the faded text. He looked up from his work as he heard the door close behind Caden, his bushy brows furrowing. He was wearing a long robe that was fastened about his waist with an ornate belt, the fabric a slate grey in color, patterned with arcane runes woven from threads of shining gold. His bushy, grey beard was almost long enough to reach his stomach, his face wrinkled by age. As old as he was, he remained spry, his blue eyes bright and alert.

“Oh, it’s you, Caden. Come, come,” he said as he waved him over with a liver-spotted hand.

“You summoned me, Master?” Caden asked as he walked around the table. “If this is about the books on cryomancy, I’m still sorting through them.”

He stopped beside the old man, eyeing the scroll that he had been examining. The yellow parchment was stretched taut between two wooden rollers, each one topped by ornate finials cast from sterling silver. There were notes strewn around it haphazardly, it seemed that the Master was in the process of translating the rows of odd pictograms. It was no language that Caden recognized, nor did he see any common runes or symbols. Whatever it was, it was obviously very old.

“I knew that it was somewhere in the library,” the Master began, picking up his eyeglass again. “There was some…vague recollection in the back of my mind, a feeling of deja-vu, as if I had lived this moment before. When one reaches such an advanced age as I, one’s memory tends to get…patchy.”

“What is it?” Caden asked, pulling back his hood and shaking out his mop of brown hair.

“This has all happened before,” the Master replied, sifting through his stacks of notes with a frantic urgency. “It is cyclical, at least…that’s what these accounts have led me to believe. I must have read this scroll in passing long ago, or perhaps it was referenced by another scholar, but it tells of a great calamity that befell a long-dead civilization.”

“Read it in passing?” Caden asked, cocking his head. “It looks like you’re translating it to me.”

“I can hardly be expected to memorize every damned language that has ever passed beneath my nose, boy,” the Master grumbled. “There are thousands of them, and my memory is finite. I’m sure there must be a book of old notes hidden somewhere in the tower, but I found this first, and time is not our ally.”

He snatched one of the pieces of paper, his eyes scanning the looping handwriting that he had scrawled upon it with his quill.

“It was five thousand years ago that an identical event took place, though this scroll is not nearly that old. It is simply a record of an account passed down to a historian during the fourth age. Thank the Gods he saw fit to make a record of it, or we might never have come across this crucial piece of information.”

“Are you going to tell me what it is?” Caden asked, the Master grumbling under his breath.

“Would that I had been granted an apprentice with some measure of patience,” he complained, rolling the scroll across the table to expose more of the parchment. “The account tells of an age when the days grew ever longer, and the people began to pine for winter’s release. The sun lingered in the sky, scorching the land, bringing drought and famine. The rivers dried up, the crops failed, and hope that the calamity would pass began to fade. I have been able to find myths and oral histories from other cultures that corroborate this. The sorcerers of the time, known as the Magi, devised a plan. They found a way to correct the celestial imbalance that they saw as the source of the problem.”

“Who were these people?” Caden asked, leaning on the table as he glanced over the faded pictograms.

“Their name has been lost to the ages, none still live who remember what they called themselves, but they constructed great monuments and temples in the far East. Those edifices still stand to this day, if the reports of explorers and traders are to be believed. Their kingdom spanned the shores of an ocean in a land that was once green, but has long since given way to barren desert. It appears that they were very knowledgeable in the ways of magic, because whatever secrets they used to perform this feat are not known to the sorcerers of our age. The scroll speaks of an object that they created, an artifact that shone with dark light, though I cannot discern what the author meant by that. I know of no such devices.”

“I don’t suppose they made a record of a recipe or a blueprint?” Caden muttered, already knowing the answer.

“Caden,” the Master began, turning to glance up at him. “You know as well as I do that there will be no end to this summer unless we make it so. How long has it been since the last winter, since the last rainfall? Five years? More? The King has sought my council in private, and he has spoken of how the stores of grain are diminishing by the day, how rivers that once overflowed with fish are now little more than mud puddles. I explained to him that controlling the weather and directing the movements of the planets was beyond the power of any living sorcerer, there are none among our number who possess such knowledge. At this rate, our people will face starvation. This may be our only chance to save the kingdom, to save the world, but this scroll alone is not enough. I need someone to travel East, to find the ancient city spoken of in this text, and to uncover the relic hidden within.”

“Hang on a minute,” Caden stammered, taking a step away from the table as he raised his hands defensively. “Are you suggesting that I make this journey? Why not go to the King, have him hire an army of mercenaries and explorers to go there in my stead? What about sorcerers from other lands? I’m just an apprentice, little more than a scribe. You have taught me some magic, yes, but my time is spent stacking books and dusting shelves. What makes you think that I could do this?”

“It is precisely because you are my apprentice that I wish for you to go,” the Master insisted. “If the Magi who helped build that city were worth their salt, then they will have protected their treasures. There will be ancient curses put upon its ruins that will have endured long after their deaths, and those without knowledge of the mystic arts will stand no chance of surviving them.”


“This artifact holds an arcane power, Caden,” the Master warned. “Each kingdom has its Master, and each Master has their apprentices and students, this is true. But what might a Kingdom that obtains this power do with it once the task is complete? No, we must not let it fall into the wrong hands, I cannot even trust my fellow Masters with such a temptation. You are my protege, Caden, and there is no greed in your heart. You devote yourself to study and practice, you are honest, loyal. I place my trust in you alone.”

“I’ve never even ventured beyond the borders of the kingdom,” Caden protested, “and my knowledge pales in comparison to yours.”

“I cannot leave this tower, I am far too old,” the Master lamented. “You know that well, Caden. I have accrued a debt to the Universe that will be collected the moment I set foot outside, and all my hundreds of years will catch up with me in an instant. Only the beating heart of this building sustains me, prolonging my existence, keeping me isolated from the stream of time. Even if I wanted it, I could not go.”

“This is madness,” Caden replied, shaking his head.

“You must also go alone,” the Master added, giving his confused apprentice a solemn glance. “None can know of your quest. You cannot travel with an entourage, nor can you employ a guide. This power is too great a temptation, the wealth that it represents may drive your companions to murder and treachery. You must trust nobody but yourself.”

“You expect me to travel across the world, and brave the dangers of this cursed city, entirely alone? Master, you know that I have the greatest respect for you, but what you ask cannot be done! I won’t make it ten steps outside the city walls! What about bandits on the roads? The dangerous beasts that haunt the wilds? Would you have me take up a sword, too?”

“No,” the Master replied, shaking his head. “It is time to accelerate your training, Caden.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow as the Master stepped away from the table. He gripped the winding banister and began to climb the spiral staircase, Caden following behind him, the aged steps creaking underfoot. They made their way up past hundreds of shelves that were piled high with dusty old books and rolls of parchment, the height of the tower extending far above what physics should have allowed. At its peak was another level, the staircase emerging onto a round floor made from crooked planks, the pointed spire of the tower rising above their heads. This was where the Master kept all of his magical artifacts. The room was packed with glass display cabinets, racks of staffs and rusted weapons, tables that were strewn with all manner of items. Everything was coated in a fine layer of dust, as many of these objects hadn’t been touched in decades, maybe hundreds of years. There were four narrow windows, one for each cardinal direction, bright beams of sunlight bleeding through the grimy glass to illuminate the floating motes of dust. One of them was open, a large telescope that was standing on a tripod pointing through it.

The Master waded through the clutter, making his way over to one of the racks, beginning to sift through the many staffs that occupied it. They looked like walking canes to Caden, some more elaborately carved than others. Some were encrusted with jewels, or overlaid with precious metals, while the rest were little more than polished branches.

“Ideally, I would have waited far longer before introducing you to this kind of magic,” the Master began. He stroked his long beard pensively, running his bony fingers across the staffs as though somehow testing them. “It is our custom to first instill a great respect for magic in our apprentices, to teach them to be studious and patient before ever allowing them access to something with such a great potential for…destruction.”

“Master?” Caden asked warily.

“You have studied our history, you know that sorcerers once fought wars, wielded terrible power against their fellow man. Long ago, we put a stop to that. We decided that only the most senior and trusted among our ranks would be taught these skills. I was a hundred and ten years old before my Master saw fit to entrust me with my own staff.”

He pulled one of the staffs from the rack, balancing it in his hand, weighing it as he scrutinized it.

“I don’t understand,” Caden said, the Master turning to face him. “Are staffs and wands not merely conduits? A way to better direct and focus magical energy? I have studied runes and incantations, simple enchantments, my duties have mostly been academic in nature thus far. What would I do with a staff such as this?”

The Master blew some off the dust from the stave, then thrust it into Caden’s hands. As his fingers wrapped around it, he felt an energy coursing through him, a tingling sensation assailing his skin. His eyes wandered up its length, lingering on the precious ruby that sat at its tip, held in place by a spiral that had been hewn from the dark wood.

“What do you feel?” the Master demanded, watching him intently.

“I feel…pins in my fingertips,” Caden replied, grimacing with discomfort.

“Don’t feel with your fingers, fool,” the Master snapped. “You know better than that.”

Caden closed his eyes and exhaled, beginning to concentrate on the staff. In his mind’s eye, with a sense beyond sight or touch, he saw magic coursing into it. Like the winding streams of a river delta, he watched the glowing energy making its way down his arms and through his fingers, as bright and as brilliant as starlight. It poured into the stave, focusing there, roiling within its confines.

“It feels…wrong,” he grumbled.

“How so?” the Master demanded.


“Good,” the Master replied, snatching the staff from his hands. Caden’s eyes jolted open, the connection that he had felt to the object interrupted in a way that felt oddly jarring. “Then this one is not for you.”

“What are we doing?” Caden demanded.

“Stop asking so many questions, and use a little deductive reasoning,” the Master muttered. “You will not be able to rely on my knowledge for much longer, you will have to make your own way.” He picked out another stave and handed it off to Caden. “Your magic is like music, and your staff is a tuning fork. You must match the tone, the frequency, the two must resonate harmoniously.”

This one was even more ornate, the pale birchwood overlaid with silver and gold, intricate reliefs spiraling their way up towards a pointed crown at its tip. Its handle was wrapped with fine, tightly-bound leather, its weight far greater than that of its predecessor.

“This one looks a little expensive for the likes of me,” he grumbled, but the Master’s only response was a dismissive wave of his hand. He closed his eyes again, concentrating on the feeling of the leather against his skin, the blazing image of the staff seeming to burn itself into his retinas. He felt it siphoning the energy from his very body, drawing on it with a palpable thirst, his arms starting to tremble.

It was snatched from his grasp just like the last, jolting him out of his trance. He blinked at the Master as he returned the staff to its place on the rack, the old man shaking his head as he muttered to himself.

“Not that one, not that one…” Once more, he lifted another stave, this one far more modest than the prior two. Its design was simple enough that it could have been mistaken for a mere walking stick, an unimpressive rod of polished rosewood that was topped with a bronze hook in the shape of a falcon’s beak. As soon as his fingers touched it, he felt the air around it begin to vibrate, as if a low hum was emanating from it. His energy poured into it, the staff becoming an extension of his own body, as though he was being reunited with a lost limb. Where the other staffs had leeched away the magic that coursed through his body, this one circulated it, amplified it. What he gave was returned fivefold. It was intoxicating, he could feel its strength welling within him.

“What do you feel, Caden?”

“It’s…powerful,” he gasped, unable to stop himself from grinning.

“Be wary, apprentice,” the Master warned as he watched him turn the staff over in his hands. “This is a power that corrupts. It can make you brash, overconfident, it will seduce you into using it for unnecessary purposes.”

“Does it possess a will of its own?” Caden asked.

“No,” he replied with a shake of his head. “It is no more conscious than a rock or a tree, but the power that it bestows upon its wielder preys upon many human failings. Greed, ambition, vanity. It can be used to accrue wealth, to take that which does not belong to you, to elevate you beyond the station of common folk. But it must never be abused in such ways, Caden. Promise me.”