There is no greater shame for a Mage than having your catalyst broken before your eyes. To have your ability to weave Mana stripped away from you. It’s humiliating, and heart wrenching. Imagine that you were once able to use magic, honest to God magic. It’s an amazing feeling. Being able to use magic is one of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced, even though I was horrid. Imagine my surprise when earlier this morning I walked into the Guild only for shackles to be slapped onto my wrists. I never thought it would happen to me, but there I was, shackled, a fourteen year old boy, treated like a serial killer. I hated the stupid glove things that covered my hands. They were heavy, made of a dark, unreflective metal with streaks of glassy black over the surface. I strained to recognize them. I vaguely remembered Archivist John teaching me what it was supposed to be. Something about iron and obsidian…


I lost track of time. I was stripped of everything except the clothes on my back and the shoes on my feet. No watch, no house keys, no phone. I didn’t understand what was going on, and I especially didn’t understand why I was told to sit in the center of the room. I tried shifting on my knees, but I winced. The floor was solid stone or concrete, which was not the most comfortable to sit on. The shackles were heavy, I felt the metal rub my wrists raw. I turned my eyes up to see the old people looking down at me above. And when I say old, I mean old. There were men and women, but they looked older than my great grandma! There were ten of them in total, all with various shades of gray hair and beards. Oh, and the wrinkles. I really don’t like wrinkles so just looking at them made me shudder. Each one wore a different patch sewn onto the shoulder of what they wore, be it a robe or a sweater or anything. The people here in the Guild wore some of the most bizarre outfits I’d ever seen! The first one sitting at the tallest seat looked to be the oldest of the ten, with a beard so long that he had to tuck it into his belt. Big, gray, bushy eyebrows crowned his eyes and almost hid them from view entirely. His face was wrinkled and weathered, like he spent a lot of time out in the sun earlier on in his life. His patch depicted the sun, which I recognized to be the icon used by the Mages in the Circle of Light. The woman to his left wore thick-lensed glasses over her amber eyes. Her lips were pursed as she stared at me in silence. The way she wore her glasses made her look more like an owl than a human. Her graying hair was pulled back into a bun on the back of her head, she reminded me a lot more of my Grandma Ruth. I recognized her to be the head Archivist Bethany, she was the one who taught me a little bit about the Mages. I quickly recognized the other Mages sitting at the council, from Pyromancer Master Kyle, to Saint Lucien of the Circle of the Gods.


I cast a glance around the room to see that the benches to my right and left were filled by other Mages. I recognized the different ones there, mainly the younger ones a little older than I was. There weren’t many of those, something I noticed when I first joined a little over a month prior was that most of the people here were really old. When I looked at everyone there, I saw a reoccurring look in their eyes. It was…fear? I didn’t understand why they were afraid, but I could relate to the fear in a way. My mind flicked back to just a few days before this, fear of my own bubbling in my stomach. I couldn’t stop thinking about what they looked like.


They looked so peaceful. 


As I thought about them, I heard the repeated clacking of wood on wood. It yanked me out of my thoughts, pulling my gaze up. It was your standard-issue courtroom, a podium in the shape of a U wrapping around the large chamber. My conduit rested on the stone floor in front of me, still, unmoving. As if it could move. It was an old, old thing, something I inherited from some grandparent. When the old geezers found me, they said that some dead relative of mine wanted to pass down the conduit to the next Mage in his family. It just so happened to be me. I didn’t even know I had any relatives beyond my parents! But they gave me the conduit. This thing was more like a magical Swiss Army tool than anything. 


Brother Thomas, one of the Mages in the Circle of the Gods, said that my grandfather was the only Mage who wasn’t bound to a single Circle, or school of magic, if you will. And it showed on the conduit before me! The rod was carved of a rich, old wood, I never could figure the type of wood. On the top of the staff was a cluster of feathers from a variety of birds, I could recognize the crow feathers, and the eagle feathers, but there were ones that eluded me. One feather was a rich, vibrant scarlet that was warm to the touch, another was as big as a baseball glove and looked like it was hydrodipped in rainbows. A piece of gold-hemmed silk wrapped around the feathers and tied them to the staff. Where I would hold onto the conduit is a glove that hung by a strap. The glove was made of some sort of leather, but it felt more like cotton. The knuckles were covered in softly glowing gold gems, with reddish copper pins over the fingers. The glove itself was fingerless at the joints, exposing my fingers where they bent, and the rods went from the knuckles to the joints. 


I was told this thing was incredibly special. That I was special. To be honest, I didn’t believe it. How was I more special than the people who have been doing this Mage thing for years? After all, I couldn’t really do anything more than kinetic stuff. I never really felt very special. It made me go back to the first thought I had here, in this situation. I wondered why I was even here in the first place, chained up, on my knees. That was when Mage Thomas spoke. “Todd Isaac Wolfe,” he started. I looked up, flicking my head to get my black hair out of my eyes. “You have been found guilty of first-degree murder.”


There we have it. The reason I was locked up. A boy supposedly killed not one man, but three. I swallowed, my brain slowly wrapping around the claim. Murder? I thought. I felt the color drain from my face as I thought about this. I never murdered anyone! I looked up and went to speak, but I felt my voice crack. “I didn’t!” I finally managed to cough out. The old man, Brother Thomas, so old that he looked shriveled, waved his wand. It was about seven inches long, made of a beautiful white birch with red metal embedded into the wood. White light curled from the tip of it, twisting into the air like clouds. The swirls of light combined into one and grew, forming into a kind of screen of sorts that revealed an image of two dead men and a woman. I felt my stomach churn dangerously as I recognized them. I tried to look away but found I couldn’t. I was transfixed on the mangled bodies.  “Not only as such, you have used the forbidden Coven. You have wielded the Darkness against your fellow man,” Thomas said. I stared at him, my jaw dropping.  “Are you serious?” I asked. “What the heck is a coven? I can’t even figure out kinetic! What makes you think I can do anything more complex than an arrow!” I shouted.


The others cast glances towards the door behind me, as if expecting someone to walk in. Then, one of them glanced over to Thomas as well, I recognized her as Archivist Sarah. “This is true,” she said. “Young Todd has barely been able to master basic kinetic spells. He has not been in the Guild long enough to have even heard of the Forbidden Coven.” Thomas glared daggers at her, his voice grave as he said, “You have been punished before, Sarah. Do not make me do it again.” 


I pulled against the chains, getting angrier and angrier. “There were shadow creatures!” I shouted. The council went silent, the entire room went silent. I heard the sparring matches of the pyromancers three floors down. Brother Timothy slowly stood up, peering down at me. “What do you mean, child?” he asked softly. And so, I recounted what happened.


It was late one Sunday afternoon, last Sunday in fact. The three people that died, a Saint known as Brother Seth, a force Mage named Lady Iris, and a pyromancer known as Duke were working with me privately. The sun beat down on my bare back as I gripped my conduit, the glove on my left hand. They stood next to each other and were giving me tips. “Spread your feet shoulder width,” Brother Seth told me. I grit my teeth in concentration as I slid my bare feet across the dry grass, easing them into position and glancing up. “Like this?” I asked. Brother Seth smiled, the sun shining on his bald head. I never understood why he wore those thick, heavy clothes in the middle of summer. It was well over a hundred degrees in the small town we were in! Duke stepped over and lightly tapped his sandal against my knee. “Bend your legs a bit, bud,” he said. “Not too much, enough to be sort of bouncy. Ready to move.”


I did as told, my legs already burning. “Are we gonna get to the magic part?” I whined. “Or are we gonna spend all afternoon standing around?” Duke laughed and clapped my shoulder.


“Don’t worry, kiddo. We’re teaching you how to be safe. You get a good stance? You’ll cast good magic.” I nodded reluctantly and looked down, studying the ground. I frowned, seeing their shadows almost dance. “Hey, are you doing that?” I asked, gesturing to the ground. They cast their gazes to the earth, their faces shifting into confusion. I almost missed it, how the shadows rose from the ground. Shadowy figures that looked like the three Mages before me surrounded us, when a forth joined them.


My shadow.


I stared as the three gripped their catalysts, their faces morphing into fear, except Duke.


His face reflected the angry fire that he said burned inside of him.


“Iris! Seth!” he shouted, grabbing me and pulling me close. I felt fear bubble in my stomach as I heard Brother Seth swear and grip his talisman, and Iris gripped her conduit. “They lied! Thomas lied! Protect the boy!” shouted Duke. I watched as fire formed in his Mana Fist, curling up his arm before taking the shape of a great scarlet flaming scimitar. He lunged out at his own shadow, slicing smoothly through the figure. Iris whipped her conduit forward, a wand wrapped in copper, and sent a gray dart shooting towards her shadow. Seth knelt down and raised his talisman, chanting, golden light swirling around him, before darting towards us.


While they fought their shadows, I couldn’t help but stare. Unlike the other three shadows, mine didn’t fight. It just…stared back. It was like my shadow just rose up. It didn’t have any features, just a smooth black silhouette with two crimson orbs where its eyes would be. Its hair rested still despite there being a breeze in the dry countryside. “What are you?” I slowly asked it. 


“I’m you,” it replied with an unnerving calm tone.


“What do you want?”


“To send a message.” It raised a hand and pointed, so I turned and watched as Seth’s shadow stabbed him through the heart. He gasped, his bone-white chime falling to the ground. Iris ducked under a swing of a club from her shadow, stabbing her wand into it and shouting, “Chaw!” A great arrow of kinetic Mana shot through it, ripping a hole in her shadow. The shadow stood rigid for a moment, tendrils snapping and lashing from the open wound, before they darted across the wound and the hole closed. A wicked crimson grin appeared on the shadow’s face as an arrow of darkness plunged through Iris’s chest. 


Duke lasted the longest. He sparred and fought his shadow, their blades clanging. His scimitar of fire, the shadow’s rapier of night. Duke spun and fought, slicing through the shadow’s neck. When the shadow fell, he turned. “Todd! Run! Get help!” he shouted, taking a step towards me. I watched the shadow rise behind him, and I reached out. “Duke! Behind you! DUKE!


But it was too late. The shadow plunged the blade of its rapier through Duke’s back, yanking it out. I watched the pyromancer fall to his knees, looking up at my shadow. “Damn you,” he rasped. “Damn you shadows.”


I watched, wide-eyed, as Duke passed away in front of me. I took a step back, terror in my throat. I heard my heartbeat in my ears as I turned back to my shadow. It started to gain features, its face paling and its eyes changing from orbs of solid red to actual eyes. It raised its arms out and smiled, stepping back. “You can’t stop the storm,” it said. “This is the beginning of the new age. The shadows will rise, and swallow the Light. Your silly Architects can’t hear us. They can’t do anything. We destroyed the Gate to our World!”


I screamed in a rage I’ve never felt before, running forwards. The shadow seemed to expect me to use the Mana, but I’ve never been able to cast more than a pathetic dart. But I was taking karate lessons at the time, and pulled my gloved fist back. I smashed it into the shadow’s face, a sharp sizzling sound hissing. My shadow screamed in pain and stumbled back, four glowing marks on his cheek. I looked at my glove, my Mana Fist, to see the golden knuckles pulsing brightly. “Damn you, boy!” my shadow howled, swirling. The sun seared him, as he glared at me. “He broke the veil! We must retreat!” The three shadows sunk back into the earth as my own shadow cast one final glance at me. “This is not the end,” he said. “This is the beginning. I will always find you. Where there is Light, there is shadow. You and I are tied together, always.” With that, he sunk as well, leaving me alone on the hill with the forms of the Mages who tried to teach me.


I blinked the tears out of my eyes and looked down, returning to the present. My eyes stared down, tracing the groves in the conduit’s wood. I watched the feathers bristle in the slight breeze from a fan blowing through an open door down the hall. The glove sat on the stone floor, still, unmoving. I’m scared, I thought, looking at the conduit before me. “I didn’t…I couldn’t…I’m sorry.” The court room was filled with whispers, and when I looked at the members above I saw great looks of distress. I managed to hear a few of the things that were said.


“A boy saw shadows rise?”


“It’s like he said.”


“Alexander warned us.”


“So did he.”


“Yet we ignored both of them.”


Thomas slammed the gavel down and roared. “ENOUGH!” he bellowed. The old man looked around, visibly furious. “These are lies! This has happened twice before! How do we know he’s not in cahoots with Alexander? Or the One Who Betrayed?” Thomas asked. The council went quiet, as they looked down at me. I looked up, unable to wipe the tears from my eyes. “I don’t understand!” I yelled. “I didn’t do anything! Please! Please! I didn’t do anything!” I pleaded. Thomas raised his finger and pointed down at me.


“Destroy his catalysts.”


The courtroom went deadly quiet. The entire facility went quiet. Everyone stared at Thomas, who looked around. He went to speak when a woman, a pyromancer, stood up. She looked at Thomas and said, “Remember the last time you did this. He warned you never to do this again. Otherwise, he will be forced to take action.” Thomas looked at her, raising his weathered conduit. He slammed it into the ground, a bubble growing out and passing over anyone. “Enough. Destroy his conduit, or I shall do it myself,” growled Thomas. I glanced to the left to see a guard in really heavy-looking iron armor step away from the wall, holding some kind of hammer. I didn’t pay attention, just looking at the visor of their helmet. “Please…” I begged. “Just let me go. I didn’t do anything.”


With no response given, I lowered my head and cried. I didn’t know what destroying a catalyst sounded like, and I really didn’t want to know.


But you know what?


I was pretty sure it didn’t sound like a gong.


I looked up to see that my conduit was still…not broken. Everyone stared down at it in confusion. The wood was untouched, the feathers shifted subtly as the breeze increased. “What are you waiting for?” asked Thomas. “Destroy it!”


I’m trying!” the guard replied. He raised the hammer and swung again, only for it to ricochet off. There was a flash of golden light before the hammer bounced off, and I saw a shimmering golden web of energy surrounding the staff, which quickly faded. I almost thought I imagined it, but then I saw the guard swing down at it and the web reappeared again. Thomas growled and stood up, bunching up his wizard robes-the dude looked like he was trying to impersonate Gandalf, but failing miserably-and shoved past the other Mages. He stomped down the stairs and grandpa-shuffled across the room. I followed him with my eyes, silent. Thomas snatched the hammer from the guard and struck the conduit, another flash bursting. Once again, that webbing appeared. “What is this?” he spat, looking at me. I shrugged, just as confused as he was. I bent my neck at a weird angle to wipe my eyes on my sleeve and hiccuped, before saying, “I can barely do kinetic magic, mister. I don’t even know what this is!” Thomas sneered and raised the hammer to strike it again, and again, and again, growing increasingly furious. Each time, that webbing appeared, each strike making a deep gong resonate through the courtroom.


You little bastard!” he bellowed, raising the hammer and swinging it down on me. I squealed and recoiled as much as I could, closing my eyes and bracing for impact…


When there wasn’t one.


I cracked one eyelid open, to see glowing golden shoes standing in front of me. My eyes trailed up to see a transparent golden figure, wearing cotton trousers, suspenders, everything from a Victorian London fellow. His hand held the head of the hammer at bay, as he towered over Thomas. The man was easily six foot four, and slowly, the gold color faded and normal color appeared, giving the golden man actual hues. He had untidy black hair just like I did, and when he cast a glance at me, I saw the same sparkling emerald green eyes as I had. Yet he was transparent, like a ghost. I watched the man slowly turn back to Thomas, who wore a horrified look on his face. “You may strike my conduit,” said the man, ripping the hammer away from Thomas and tossing it down. “You may strike your allies, and your family. But you will not strike my grandson.” My jaw dropped as I stared at him in closer detail. This was the grandfather who everyone talked about? The greatest Mage to ever live?


Thomas seemed just as shocked. “A-alexander!” he squeaked. “You should be dead!”


“Oh ho! Trust me, I am. But my spirit lives on within the conduit that went to the next Mage in my family.” Alexander turned to me and smiled, ruffling my hair and wiping the tears from my cheeks. “So that must be you.” I was speechless, my mind going blank. I watched as Alexander turned and knelt down, peering into Thomas’s face. “What an old, old man you are, Thomas. You never changed, but you continue to age. It must be terrible, counting down your days before you die. To think, I almost let you use my stone.” He rose up and pointed at everyone in the council. “You old, shriveled people don’t realize what’s happening. A war is coming once again, yet you cast out the ones who will keep you safe. When the time comes, I will relish in your ashes, for you have earned nothing but pain. This guild will fall, and the Knights of the Wayward Sun will rise in your place. Your control over the Mage world is loosening, and soon, you will relinquish your hold entirely. And when you do…” I watched as he turned his gaze to the entire council, humming. 


“I will be there to laugh at your failure. For that is what you did to me, all those years ago.”


Thomas scrambled back, and a few of the older Mages looked nervous. But there were more of the younger Mages, and the entirety of the Archivists that stood up and cheered, the opposite of the veterans. Alexander looked around, a smile on his face. “You wish for my conduit to be destroyed?” he asked, looking down at Thomas. “So be it. But that will not stop its magic. In fact,” he said, raising his hand. He snapped his fingers, the conduit before splintering into dust, but rising into the air. “I will do it myself.”


I watched as everyone stared in shock while Alexander flicked his wrist, a felt bag appearing in hand. He opened it, the dust swirling inside. He pulled the strings and shut it, gripping it firmly. “Now, Kindre and I have been waiting for the next Guardian. He will come out to Oregon. You may exile him if you so wish. But things will change. For those of you who truly believe that what I say is true,” he said, turning to me. “Unhand my grandson. And we shall take our leave.”


I saw a scrawny man scramble out and run over, holding his conduit. Thomas watched as the man tapped the shackles on my wrists, popping them open. I rubbed my wrists, standing up and wiping my face with my sleeve. Alexander handed me the bag, smiling warmly. “Come, m’boy. We have no business left here.” He put his hand on my shoulder and guided me out. I cast one last glance over my shoulder, sticking my tongue out at Thomas before following the ghostly man.