Mirrors. That’s all memory is. A mirror into what’s been. Reflections of the past.

Not a fan of them myself.

Matea Fleet-footed, Grand Warlock

 

Sarea sat against the ocean wall, legs curled under her on the cold tiles. Ionas paced on the other side of the temple.

He stopped, turning to her. “What do you want to know?” he said.

“Everything,” she said.

“There’s nowhere near enough time for that. Specifics.”

She would’ve frowned at him, but he seemed serious enough. “Who are you? What do you do? What are you doing here? Why don’t you know -”

“Well, that is everything,” Ionas said, managing a smile. “I’m Grand Warlock Ionas Pachin.” He paused.

She stared at him blankly.

“Stars above, what do children these days get taught?” he muttered, running his hand through his hair. “I was the king’s own wizard to Juniper the First. I formed an order to regulate magic users.”

She nodded like she understood.

He looked at her. “Have you even heard of Juniper?” he said incredulously. “The fiend war?”

“No,” she said.

He shook his head and went back to pacing.

“What I do is guard the Wall,” he said. “Fight back against the demons outside. When I was young, I -”

He stopped, sagging back against the wall of hills, head against a deer. “It’s been so long, I don’t know where to start.”

“At the beginning,” she said.

“Which beginning?” he said tiredly, and slid down the painted greenery. He sat with his knees tight against his chest. “What do you know about the Wall?”

She shrugged. “It was raised to protect us from the darkness.”

“No. It was raised to protect humanity from the demons. The darkness – ” he laughed, but it wasn’t a joyful sound. “The darkness is safe. It’s the things in it that aren’t.”

He curled his fingers around his legs. “The demons came from the sky,” he said. “From the shadow between-worlds and through the cracks of civilisation. They came and they destroyed. Humanity was held in the darkness, every country fallen, every refuge lost. Except one. Before the Wall, two dozen wizards held a perimeter here, a beacon to every human being who could make it. They meant to raise the Wall a lot later than they did. But they did. There was one final attack, one that could get through their defences, so they gave their lives to raise the Wall. That was a thousand years ago.”

He smiled again, a twisted thing. “They’re called the Order of the Warlock.”

“They died,” she said. “How can they be…?”

“They’re in the Wall,” he said.

Then, after a dozen steady breaths, “I told you I visited the Wall five times. The first time was when I was seven. An accident, really. A distant cousin raised me after my parents died, and if he got called to go somewhere, I had to follow. A determined seven year old faced with the mythical thing in his stories is hard to keep under control.” His smile faded. “I was seven, and I touched the Wall.

“And it welcomed me.”

Silence. Nameless emotions crossed his face. He barked a laugh, a real laugh. “Then I spent the next twenty years being kidnapped by the fey folk or wandering paths best left untravelled. All running away from my memory of that moment, of so many voices crying out in -” He looked up at her. “Joy,” he said. “True joy.”

“But I went back, in the end,” he added. “Stupid kid, stupid bravado. Too old to be that stupid. I walked right up to it, touched it, and demanded to know what they wanted.”

“And?” she said.

“Have you ever been in a room with twenty four people all wanting to talk to you at once?” He snorted. “Fried my brain for months, just trying to sort through it all. When I finally got back to being myself, there was a boy in danger – and the boy turned out to be the crown prince – and then the fiend war…” Ionas shook his head.

“I’m the Wall Guardian,” he said finally. “I couldn’t be Grand Warlock too. So I left. Went back to the shadow paths. Fought demons and their influence wherever I found it, wherever it slipped through the cracks. Every now and then, it built up into a major battle. I thought I’d found someone who could help me defeat them once and for all, but then they failed and I lost. Again and again and again. I have to get back up, every time. Live. Move. Keep fighting. I’m the only one…”

His voice had become small and tired.

“Then why are you here?” Sarea said.

“For you,” he said, then stronger, “You burn, Sarea Sahar Durasoona. Burn with fire, potential, all the power you could have if anyone had bothered to show you how to see it -” He swallowed, eyes glittering like he’d cry. “The demons are patient, Sarea. They’ve waited this long. The Wall isn’t going to last very much longer, and over the years they’ve wiped out the defences from the outside. A whisper here. A gift of dark power there. A fire to wipe out precious knowledge. A war to lead their enemies to their deaths. Humans are fragile. So easily broken. The Wall is going to fall, soon, and I need you. The only people who can stand against the demons are right here.”

She just stared at him. Said, “I don’t -” and stopped, speechless. What was there to say?

“Please,” he said. “Please.”

She opened her mouth and said, “I need tea.”

 

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