“That will not be necessary,” Tristan told the magi. “I can handle it myself.” Only after three days of mucking through the wet, cold woods of Vermont did he realize just how stupid and wrong he was.
It was the sort of thing Aurora would say. Tristan could see her now, lecturing him on the finer points of elemental magic, tilting her head so her copper curls fell to one side like sparks pouring from a forge.
Maybe that’s why he said it. To feel like her. Like all the magi. Even like Indigo who would steal a spell from another magus whenever it suited him.
Tristan rubbed the chill from his arms. He wanted a fire, but only cold cinders remained from last night. If Aurora was here, she could have coaxed what heat remained in the coals into a cheery blaze.
Unfortunately, Tristan’s magic was different. He was a Will, able to draw directly from the Void. That made him a dangerous and powerful magi. Or so those at the Enclave said. In truth, he could barely control Void magic and couldn’t cast the most basic elemental spell.
Tristan opened his hand and imagined a warm fire. With a flicker, a ball of violet flame sprang to life an inch above his hand. It gave off an odd heat but didn’t warm him. With frustration, he willed it away. Then he packed his tent, shuffled into his backpack, and set off.
Munching miserably on a protein bar, Tristan began to wonder if he had gone crazy. What had made him remember the crumbling, Victorian house in the woods he explored as a child? And why did he think it would be here, miles from the nearest village in the backwoods of New England?
The sun was low in the sky, but in the thick pines, it’s light struggled to reach him. Gradually the ground started to slope down, slightly at first, and then in a series of steep ridges. The trees that had been thin and sparse during his descent gave way to a wall of wooly pines at the bottom of the last ridge. A path stretched before him, and he had no choice but to follow it.
Despite their closeness, the trees seemed to part for Tristan as he walked. As they thickened around him, he lost all sense of direction. The air grew heavy and the woods fell quiet. He felt a rising panic and quickened his pace. The trees retreated further as he reached out to steady himself. He saw an opening between two black trunks and, gasping for breath, threw himself between them.
He was free of the crowding trees, but before he could recover, another horror seized him.
There, in the middle of a clearing, stood the house.
It was exactly as Tristan remembered it. Standing before him, the reality filled in the details of his memory. There were the same crumbling steps, the red and brown bricks no more faded then when he saw them some twenty years ago. Even the roof sagged exactly the same way though over a dozen snow and leaf falls had burdened it since he was here last.
Tristan knew he should be cautious, but he was delirious with fatigue and excitement. He leaped up the stairs and entered the house.
No sooner had he crossed the threshold than he realized his mistake. Although he was within the house, he could see the woods around him with no walls to block his view. Fear flashed through him as he sensed Void magic in the air. It felt different this time, cold and vast as if filled with unseen eyes.
He turned to leave but was blocked by an unseen force. Only the outline of the house’s foundation surrounded him. Even the floorboards were gone, replaced by grey dirt. In the middle of the space, a set of worn stone stairs fell into darkness.
Tristan summoned the violet fire to his hand and stepped towards the stairs. With no other option before him, Tristan stepped forward and descended into the unknown.
The stairs wound down through smooth walls of stone, and Tristan lost all sense of time. He could have been descending for minutes or hours. Before he could sort it out, he found himself standing before a door of black stone. In the faint light of the flame, a pattern of symbols crawled across its face. Though he had no memory of this door, it felt somehow familiar. He began tracing and touching the graven marks with a purpose he did not understand. Suddenly, the door blazed with a crimson light and faded from view.
His light illuminated a square stone chamber. Lying on the floor were Aurora and Indigo. As he rushed over to check them, they stirred and sprang to attention as if abruptly awakened.
“What took you so long?” Aurora snapped.
“How did you… How long have you…?”
“We’ve been here three days,” Aurora said shrugging him off as she staggered to her feet.
“That’s when I started looking for this place,” Tristan said.
“We know,” Indigo said. “You’re shitty with directions.” He sat on the floor leaning casually against the wall.
“How did you get through the door?” Tristan asked.
“There was no door,” Aurora said. “At least not until we entered the room. We couldn’t get out no matter what spell we tried.” She looked at him suspiciously. “How did you get through?”
“I don’t know.”
“I believe him,” Indigo said, rising to his feet. “If there’s anyone who knows what to do without knowing what he’s doing, it’s this guy.”
“Did you find anything?” Tristan asked.
“Like what?” Aurora said.
“I don’t know!” Tristan yelled. “I don’t remember this room, or what I did in this house, or anything else. I just hoped if I found this place I’d know something about where I came from.”
“Well, there was something here,” Indigo said. “If I can tell anything, it’s when something has been taken from a place. Dead end, chief.”
Without another word, the three left the room. When they got to the surface, the curtain of Void magic felt lighter. Tristan stepped towards the ruined doorway. A flicker of memory flashed through him. He reached out and traced a symbol in the air. The last of the Void magic broke and the ruins of the house faded. Even the stairs they had descended were gone.
“Why did you come?” Tristan asked. “I said I could handle it.”
“Yeah, but you said it like Aurora, so we knew you were full of it,” Indigo said. “I told you there’s only one place you can find answers, and it’s not here.”
“I hate to admit it, but I think Indigo’s right,” Aurora said. “You know how much I respect them, but someone knows more about you than they’re saying.”
“Okay,” Tristan sighed. “I guess I have no choice. But I’ll need help.”
“Unless you think it will not be necessary,” Indigo said. “Jeez, who talks like that?”
Aurora glared at him, but Tristan couldn’t suppress a smile. “Any chance you could build a fire?” he said. “It’s goddamn freezing!”