The Clock Tower Guardian Chapter 9
The next few weeks after that outing, Fenor actually taught me... when the fancy struck him. One day he dragged me all over the House, showing me exactly how Cahir worked, how the library was laid out, what things he did to impress a human when one happened to need his help, and other odds and ends about the job of being a Guardian that occurred to him during the day.
Another day, he took me up to the Yellow room and tried to teach me some basics of magic.
It didn’t go very well.
“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!” I shouted, standing above him and the low yellow table.
My Master sat with his head in his hands, elbows propped up on the table. He had given up and was nursing a headache, I guessed. I knew all too well how he felt.
I had spent most of the day frustrated because I couldn’t sense anything he was telling me to sense, which was the most basic of basics according to him, and if I couldn’t sense anything then I couldn’t do any magic. Apparently you had to sense the magic and pull it in as you directed it to do what you wanted it to do.
What was I doing wrong? I couldn’t feel anything different no matter what I did! Breathing techniques, chanting, meditating, and even my Master’s special technique of “more coffee” were all dead ends. What was even more frustrating was that I had no idea what I was supposed to be sensing in the first place. All Fenor could tell me was that I would know when I felt it, which was just so helpful.
I could feel my frustration reaching the boiling point. My blood was pounding in my ears and rushing through my veins far too fast. I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes, and let go of my the anger with an enraged scream. Something else happened while my eyes were closed and when I opened my eyes, panting, I saw my Master starring at me, wide-eyed with either terror or shock I couldn’t tell.
“What?!” I half yelled at him.
He pointed at me, suddenly excited.
“That was it! Do it again! Just like that! Again!”
I looked at him, exhausted and confused.
“Do what again? Scream? Thanks, but I’m done for the day.”
“No, no, no!” he insisted. “You did magic. You called it up. I don’t know how, but you did. The whole room went red.”
My shoulders slumped.
“It did? But I don’t know what I did, other than let my frustration out.”
All the excitement withered in an instant and my Master went back to holding his head in his hands with elbows propped up on the table. He sighed despairingly and muttered accusingly,
“Lousy teacher,” I shot back, my own voice tired and peeved.
“Don’t do that again. Ever again,” he said, voice monotone and tired.
“Weren’t you the one telling me to do it again not ten seconds ago?” I said, still peeved.
“Because I thought you’d finally gotten it. What you did was just straight dangerous. Stupid dangerous. Don’t do it again.”
I sat abruptly, put my arms on the table and lay my head on them.
Fenor nodded, eyes closed as he began rubbing his temples.
There were several days when he reverted to the self study method he’d begun with. The second day he did that, I decided I would try “sensing” the Garden while I read. If nothing else, it would be nice to be outside instead of in the library.
Taking two of the books Fenor had “assigned” to me, I headed up the stairs and out the door to explore the Garden and hopefully find a good spot for reading. I wandered off the path, after a short debate with myself about the dangers of doing so, in the end deciding that whoever or whatever was guarding the Garden would surely give me some sort of warning if I went where I wasn’t supposed to go instead of just killing me on the spot. At least that’s what I hoped.
I found a pretty grove of San-mahar trees and settled in among them, my long purple robe for the day spread out around me. The morning light shown off the silver bark and the purple star leaves rustled in the breeze. All in all, it was a beautiful spot.
Opening the first book, I began to read, but hadn’t gotten more than a page in when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I paused in my reading but didn’t move. There it was again! By now I knew if I looked I wouldn’t see anything, so I didn’t bother, but that did let me know that they were there.
Pursing my lips, I was suddenly struck by a sudden idea. I set the first book aside and picked up the second, which was a book of Fairy Tales, and began reading it out loud. I wasn’t sure what I hoped to accomplish, but my theory was that if they were permanently stuck in the Garden, they probably got pretty bored sometimes. Why not read them a story? It certainly couldn’t hurt anything.
As I read, I began sensing that they were there, listening. There wasn’t much movement, but I think that was because they were all finding places to stay put, whether they were sitting or standing.
Was this the kind of sensing that Fenor had been talking about? I was sure I wasn’t sensing magic like he wanted me to, but this felt like it might be the right track. Then a thought occurred to me. If I could memorize a story and then close my eyes as I told it, wouldn’t that be something like a chant? And if that was true, then perhaps reading stories to the Garden Guardians would be the best way for me to learn about sensing magic. It seemed worth a try anyway.
I was so lost in my thoughts and reading the story that I didn’t notice anyone else around me but the shadowy Guardians. It was about halfway through the Tale of Sir Fusao that a laugh interrupted me. My head whipped around as I glared fiercely at the intruder. I had been onto something important and some total stranger had the nerve to laugh at me and interrupt?
At first glance, it appeared I was glaring at a brick wall. The male must have been at least six and a half feet tall and was very broad. He was wearing a perfectly pressed pinstripe suit, was clean shaven, and had pristinely kept black hair. I guessed he was roughly my age, perhaps a few years older. His black eyes met mine, dancing with laughter as I continued to glare. He flashed me a smile, showing off his too-white teeth, and my glare intensified.
“What’s so funny?” I snapped.
“Who are you reading to?” he asked, voice deep and rumbling, as though he were holding back another laugh.
I closed the book with a snap, glowering.
“The Garden Guardians.”
“Who are they?”
“Who are you?” I shot back with a growl, not liking this stranger one bit.
He stood up a bit straighter and gave me a small, mocking bow, smile still wide.
“MAGI Aaron Baerandor, at your service m’lady.”
A MAGI. The Magically Armed Government Intelligence for NORTH. They were the agents NORTH turned to the most often and trained most extensively. They did the field work and were the muscle of the organization.
I had a feeling we weren’t going to get along.
“What do you want?” I said, not hiding my annoyance at his interruption.
“My senior overseer came to see your Master and I was told to track you down and bring you to the House.”
The MAGI shrugged lightly, still smiling.
“I suppose you’ll find out when we get to the House.”
I starred at him for a moment, the glare never leaving my face, as I debated my next move. After a moment I turned away, opened the book again, and picked up reading where I had left off, completely ignoring his existence.
Apparently the Garden Guardians had stayed to watch the scene unfold because they were still there as I tuned everything else out and read to them. I could sense the MAGI now though, too. He stood for a minute, just watching and listening. Then, when it became apparent I wasn’t going anywhere just yet, he had the gaul to move into the San-mahar grove and sit down a few feet from me to listen.
I continued ignoring him, focused on the Guardians and what I was reading. I fell into an almost meditative place as he stayed quiet and my shadowy audience listened intently. As I finished the story, I looked up to see the MAGI openly starring at me, eyes wide as though he were seeing something absolutely amazing.
I couldn’t help the growl that escaped me at his look.
He shook his head, that annoying smile returning to his face.
“Nothing at all, I’m sure.”
My face took on it’s darkest scowl yet.
“I don’t like you.”
“You don’t know me.”
“Fine. I don’t like your face.”
Scowl still firmly in place, I stood with all the grace I possessed and sailed smoothly past him toward the path. His long legs easily caught up with me and I felt dwarfed by his size as we walked side by side, but I didn’t show it or even look at him.
Quite suddenly he turned to me.
“What’s wrong with my face?”
I gave him a look that clearly said how stupid I thought he was, then I paused, facing him, and he turned to look at me with an expectant expression. I thought a moment and then reached up on my tip toes and messed up his hair before he could stop me. I took a step back, surveying my work thoughtfully.
“Hey!” he protested indignantly as he tried to smooth it back into place.
I shrugged and kept walking. He quickly caught up with me again.
“What did you do that for?” he demanded.
“I thought it might improve your face since I can’t do anything about the rest of it.”
“No such luck.”
He frowned at me and I caught the expression out of the corner of my eye. I smirked.
“That improves it though.”
The frown became confused.
“Are you purposely being a pain?”
“Are you?” I shot back.
He humphed and looked away. I suppressed a laugh.
As we reached the House, I was surprised when the MAGI opened the Door and gesture me in first. I graced him with a smile.
That gave him pause and I moved past him before he could recover. I heard voices in the parlor and headed for them, assuming that’s where my Master would be, which is where I was most likely to get an explanation from.
Fenor was sitting at the table with an older male Dwarf, who I could only assume was the MAGI that Aaron had referred to as his overseer. The Dwarf was wearing a pin stripe suit like Aaron’s and he had snowy white hair and a big white beard that fell to his belt. Standing, he wouldn’t have been much above my elbow, but he was broad, fit, and tough looking. He put me in mind of a snow covered bolder and I suppressed a grin at the thought.
As I came into the room, both looked up and I met the Dwarf’s brown eyes as he took a quick measure of me.
“So you’re the apprentice?” he asked.
“Yes, and you are...?”
“MAGI Prothos Derodon,” he replied, not moving to bow as his younger counterpart had.
“Pleasure to meet you,” I said, with a respectful nod. Then I looked at Fenor. “Did you need me?”
“Yes, where were you?”
“Studying in the Garden.”
“Made any headway?”
“I would have made more if I hadn’t been interrupted,” I said, shooting the young MAGI a look.
Aaron showed no sign that he had even registered the comment.
“What can I do for you?” I continued.
Fenor gestured to the MAGI sitting with him.
“Prothos here wanted to ask you some questions.”
I looked to the Dwarf, waiting. He pulled a picture out of his breast pocket and held it up for me to see. I moved forward to get a better look at it and made sure not to let my face betray anything when I saw what it was.
It was the twins.
I studied the picture for a moment before looking back to the Dwarf.
“Am I supposed to know them?”
“No,” I replied, shaking my head a bit. “Why would I know humans? And what do you need with humans anyway?”
“You’ve been to the human world then?” asked the Dwarf, ignoring my questions.
“Well yes. I’m an apprentice Guardian after all. My Master would have to take me sooner or later.”
Prothos grunted and withdrew the picture, replacing it in his pocket.
“What do you need with them?” I asked again.
“Nothing much,” the Dwarf replied, skirting any real answer. “NORTH just wants them looked after.”
“Oh. Okay,” I said, letting it go.
Clearly he wasn’t going to tell me anything and I wasn’t going to make him think I had any real interest in the matter by pushing it. I looked back to Fenor.
“Was there anything else, Master?”
“No, I think that was all,” he said, glancing at the MAGI to make sure that was all they had wanted. When Prothos nodded, Fenor waved a shooing hand at me. “Go on back to your studies.”
“Yes, Master,” I said quietly, before I turned and left.
“Come on, Fenor,” I heard the Dwarf say as I reached Cahir. “We both know you know more than you’re telling me. Just give me something.”
I would ask Fenor later about it. For now, I headed back out into the Garden, only to find that Aaron was following me. I walked a ways, ignoring him. Finally, when it reached the annoying stage, I stopped and turned on him.
“Did you need something else?”
He shrugged, smiling at me once more.
“Not really. Just have to make sure you don’t go wandering off to alert them or anything.”
“So you did know all along what he wanted with me,” I said accusingly.
“You know, most people don’t find it particularly endearing when you keep things from them.”
“Why would I want to endear myself to you?” he asked.
“I didn’t say you did. It was just a piece of advice for life. Hiding things ends relationships.”
With that, I turned and headed back to the San-mahar grove, ignoring my shadow once again. I sat myself down cross-legged where I had been before, robe spread out around me, and began reading out loud again, picking up where I had left off. This was a tale I knew by heart. When I was younger, my father had often read me Fairy Tales, but his favorite one was the Tale of Solata-Xar, father of all Dragons. He had told it so often I could have repeated it in my sleep.
Slowly, the book lowered to lay in my lap and my eyes closed as I recalled the story, not needing to look at the words on the page. His voice was in my ear, steady and soothing, telling me the beloved tale once more. I told it with him, no longer aware of any listeners around me.
Suddenly, it all clicked into place.
Around me, I could feel something shift. When I stopped thinking so hard and let the story flow, I could sense the tendrils of magic. It surrounded my shadowy listeners and the trees and Aaron. It flowed with the breeze as it danced through the leaves above me. It pulsed through the earth and beat down with the sun’s rays, caressing my skin.
Though I now saw, I didn’t touch. Some sixth sense told me I needed more direction before I went messing with such power, or perhaps I unconsciously recalled the incident in the Yellow Room. So I simply watched them, observing how they played with each other, twisting and dancing through the world.
Drawing near the end, I slowly came back to myself, feeling as though my soul was returning to my body. With the last words, I drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, opening my eyes as I did so.
The grove was completely silent. I couldn’t see the shadows moving at all. Not even the breeze stirred. I turned to look at the MAGI. He was starring at me wide eyed, like he’d never seen anything like me before. I met his gaze for a long moment before he seemed to slowly pull himself back together.
“What are you starring at?” I asked quietly.
He swallowed hard and shook his head, as though trying to find words.
“What?” I prompted, wondering what in Phyre’s name his problem was.
“I’m starring at you,” he said, voice hushed.
“Yes, but why?” I asked.
“Because I’ve never seen anything like that before...,” he trailed off.
I frowned in confusion.
He gestured to me.
“Like what you just did. I’ve never heard a story told like that before.”
He paused a moment to gather his thoughts, still starring at me. After a moment, he took a deep breath.
“It was like... you were telling the story to my soul. I felt it... in here,” he tapped his chest and shook his head. “Never felt anything like it.”
“Telling it to your soul?” I repeated, frowning in confusion.
“Yes. It was like... I could feel the Dragon flying and breathing fire. It was almost like I was living the story as you told it. At one point I don’t even think I was hearing your words anymore.”
We looked at each other for a long moment, he starring in amazement still and myself rolling his words over in my mind.
I knew I had sensed the magic. There were no two ways about that one. And perhaps I had been onto something earlier, when I had thought that chants might just be like memorizing a story and repeating it. What if it wasn’t so much about the words but about the intent behind them? That would be why Aaron had felt the story so powerfully. It also made me wonder what would have happened had I actually used the magic I had sensed. Would we have actually flown? Or breathed fire? Or even turned into Dragons?
I shuddered at bit, terrified at the thought and suddenly very glad I had erred on the side of caution. Most likely something would have gone horribly wrong, since neither of us were meant to be Dragons or have their abilities.
“Interesting...,” I muttered to myself.
“What?” asked the MAGI.
Abruptly, I stood, picked up the books, and headed back to the House.
“Hang on!” I heard Aaron call behind me, but I didn’t slow.
I had to know. Was I onto something? My building excitement and curiosity blocked out Aaron’s existence. I was completely focused on finding out.
“Hold on!” said the MAGI, grabbing my arm as we reached Cahir and bringing me to a halt.
“What?” I demanded impatiently.
“You can’t just go barging in on a private meeting. We’re in the middle of a case here.”
I laughed in his face and he loosened his grip in surprise.
“Are you serious? I live here. You need to check your jurisdiction again.”
I would have continued, but at that moment, I caught movement in the Garden and I knew it wasn’t one of the Guardians. I looked and saw someone coming up the path toward the House. For a moment I thought it was a human, but as he got closer, I realized he most definitely wasn’t. This creature was something magical and very powerful.
Aaron was growling some sort of retort about his jurisdiction.
“Shut up,” I said quietly, not even looking at him anymore. He followed my gaze and fell silent when he spotted who was coming toward us.
As the stranger reached the House, he paused to take in the scene and smiled at us. I met his violet eyes and shuddered involuntarily. Those eyes were full of power, but they weren’t sane. Most definitely not sane.
In that moment I knew exactly who this was and I had to order my feet to stay where they were as I tried desperately to keep my face neutral. This was the one my Master had warned me about. This was the Guardian he feared.
This was the Guardian of the Western Gate.
A/N: Dun dun dun! A nice long chapter for you guys, in thanks for your patience. :) Hope you enjoyed!