HE CAVERN WALLS became visible
before fading back into the darkness. A surge of power flooded through Traphis'
fifteen year old limbs and then vanished. He wrenched forward, dropped to his
knees, and gasped for air. Breaths echoed throughout the cavern as sweat
trickled down his cheeks. When he regained his composure, he leaned against his
father's staff and wiped the dampness from his brow.
At this rate, I'll never become
a wizard. Traphis tensed at the thought.
He always made it look so easy. Why his father had
prevented him from learning magic, Traphis never understood. It only seemed natural for a wizard to pass down his secrets to
his son, but that no longer mattered; it was too late
for answers. He bit his lip. This was not the time for
sorrow—he would take his father's place and become the
greatest wizard of all time.
A soft breeze ran through his dark
brown hair. He tightened his grip on the wooden staff and stubbornly pulled
himself upright. Despite the pain and fatigue, he would try again. He had come
too far to give up now.
Traphis breathed deeply of the cool
cavern air. He sat down, shifted on his makeshift wooden chair, and then closed
his eyes once again. Deep in his mind he pictured a three-dimensional realm, a
fathomless, empty void. A moment later his father's face
surfaced, which exhibited a variety of expressions;
some happy, some sad. For just a moment, Traphis fixed his gaze on his father, cherishing
every smile, smirk, sneer, and grin. And then his father was replaced by a field of flowers,
which withered and died. New images formed and came at him in a flood of confusion like wasps attacking their prey. He
tried to push them aside, but as soon as he averted one, two more took its
"No more!" Without opening his
eyes, a sensation of foolishness fell over him, but he knew no one would be
within earshot. His cave was too far away, or at least he hoped so.
Regardless of what the images showed, they were blocking his path, and he knew he would have to push
past them in order to move forward. A furrow appeared on his
brow as he ventured back into his mind. Like before, the images came at him,
but this time he pushed them away. His awareness
strengthened and the images faded into the background like mere shadows. In
less than the count of three breaths, his vision had cleared and the images
were nowhere to be seen.
Only empty white space remained. No
objects, no images, no hints of anything at all.
What now? he thought. Then, as if in answer to his question, a dark cloud
materialized. The massive bulk towered over him like a twisted, gnarled tree.
He stared up at it. Goosebumps ran across his arms and he gripped his father's
staff more tightly. It wasn't the lurid appearance of
the smoky, overshadowing surface that bothered him;
it was the feeling of a presence, one that felt threatening, sinister, and cruel. It seemed as if the cloud was a
living entity. And if that were true, what did it want from him? The dark
object stared down with faceless eyes, mocking him, challenging him to move forward.
And then, just as he thought it was
going to attack, another presence made itself known over the menacing aura of
the cloud. It was faint, but enduring. As if it was the
polar opposite of its rival: warm and kind.
Traphis wondered whether the cloud
was guarding something, whether it was keeping this other presence a prisoner,
or merely blocking the path. Whatever it was, he had to find out. There was no
good to be had by remaining where he was.
His thoughts traced along the edges
of the mass, outlining its shape one section at a time. He imagined the cloud moving, but it
didn't budge. With renewed effort, he tried again, focusing
on the object in his mind, but still nothing changed.
And then another idea occurred to
him. You don't have to move it, just move through it.
Traphis pushed his thoughts
forward. He sensed himself moving closer. A flash of light emitted as he
submerged into the cloud's fathomless depths. Lightning? He couldn't tell. The darkness was
like smoke all around him. Then another flash and he saw something blue. A
clearing? Energy surged through his body and then
he heard a snap!
His attention lurched back into the
physical world. The walls of the cave appeared before him, and warmth rested against
He could see? He could feel warmth?
With a glance at a small fire pit,
to his amazement, he noticed that the pile of twigs was burning. The small
flames danced before his eyes like welcoming friends.
"I did it!" Traphis jumped to his
feet so fast that he hit his head on the low ceiling. He winced at the bump and
brushed loose dirt from his hair. Was it possible? Had he actually started a fire using magic? He looked again,
worried that the flames had been an illusion, but to his relief they continued
Even though a true wizard might not
have regarded this accomplishment as any great feat, excitement washed over
him; it was a magnificent breakthrough. He couldn't imagine anyone forgetting
his first use of magic, and he knew he never would.
Traphis sat back down and gazed at
the fire's hypnotic beauty. The hungry flames crackled and snapped before him,
casting shadows along the stony walls. Reaching down, he picked up a dry twig
and tossed it atop the burning pile. Orange sparks flew into the air. Traphis
wished his father could see him now, though he didn't know whether he would be angry
or proud. It didn't matter. He would have given just about anything to hear his
Bending down, Traphis picked up one
of the many books scattered on the ground. He shook it and blew the remaining
bits of sand from the cover. The cool, moist air of the cavern didn't help the
drying process any, but at least the precious books were safely hidden from his
He held the text in his youthful
hands. Some of the words were smeared, but legible enough to read. His mind
absorbed the letters, driving them further into the recesses of his memory.
Time passed. Motionless, he sat on
his wooden chair until at last he put the book down. He stood and stretched his
stiff legs. The fire had faded to glowing embers and his eyes ached from the
dullness of light. Next time he would bring more wood, even if it was a
nuisance to carry it up the side of the cliff.
Traphis pushed a pile of sand over
the top of the glowing embers, which smothered the coals. It was better not to
risk catching something on fire, particularly the books he rescued from the creek just a few days ago.
The cave became pitch black once
again, but he didn't have far to go. He sprinted through the cavern, hopping
over protruding rocks and gliding his hand along the wall—with as many times as
he had been there, he could have easily found his way in his sleep.
He reached the entrance and gazed
down into the forest below. The setting sun made the trees dark and eerie. It
was later than he thought—his mother was sure to be angry.
The grooves in the rocks guided him
safely to the ground. When he stood against the dirt, he peered up at the cave
and tried not to feel as if he was abandoning a friend. The small hole in the
cliff's surface was deceiving. No one would guess at the sizable cavern inside,
and he hoped it would remain his secret for years to come.
A woblock hooted its deep and
chanting melody, sending a chill down Traphis' spine.
It's only a harmless bird, he thought to himself. It won't hurt you. Just then, he
noticed a fresh pile of dung only a few steps away. His heart skipped a beat when
he realized what type of beast had left it. A learcat.
The wing-like ears, long tail, and narrow face had left a distinct impression in
his memory the last time he saw one. But that was at a distance; having one nearby was a far greater danger.
Branches lightly brushed against
his brown weathered sleeves. With each step, his feet softly compressed the
dirt and sticks beneath him. Traphis knew these woods; their twisting paths and
strong trunks had been his playmates for as long as he could remember.
Traveling through the forest at great speed was usually easy, but he wasn't
about to take any chances at giving away his position. The terrible feeling
that a learcat was watching him, following him, persisted in his mind.
Cool night air nipped at his lungs
while he continued his steady pace. The woblock resumed its haunting call over
the chirping of various bugs. Small creatures darted
under logs and bushes as soon as he approached. The occasional glowing of eyes
from unknown beasts intensified his alertness until at last a sound of
trickling water came within earshot. It wasn't much farther now.
Traphis made his way across a tree
that had fallen over the creek. The thick trunk and bark made it easy to
balance on. A fish jumped and splashed, producing a ripple in the water, which
not long ago was filled with his father's books. Traphis was thankful that
he had seen his mother hurling them into the creek; otherwise
he would not have been able to rescue them in time.
Safely hidden behind a bush, he had waited. Once she
left, he had leaped into the water, pulled them out,
and brought them to dry out in his cave. Once again, Traphis wondered why his
parents wished to keep him from learning magic.
After crossing the log, he passed
by several more trees. A welcoming light beckoned from the windows of a small, two-story cottage. He sighed with relief.
A whinny filled the night air as he
approached the barn. He opened the doors and walked to Neha's stall. She bobbed
her head both in welcome and seemingly in hopes of receiving a pat on the nose.
To her obvious pleasure, he did just that. She sighed
in ecstasy, blowing through her nostrils as he gently rubbed her brow.
"It's okay girl," he said. "I'm
"And about time too," a voice said from
the doorway. Traphis' mother looked at him with steady brown eyes, the same
color as his own, but a frown of displeasure pulled down the corners of her
"Sorry, I didn't mean to stay out
"You need to be more responsible
Traphis. You know what type of creatures and beasts come out at night. What if
something happened to you out there? I don't know what I'd do if I lost you too
. . ." Her firm mouth trembled a moment, but she turned to look at something in
a nearby stall and when she looked back, her face was steady again. "Well, at
least you're home now. I'll heat up your dinner for you. You'll need your
energy to finish harvesting tomorrow. How you can go
so long without eating is a mystery to me."
"Thanks," Traphis said, knowing better than to argue with
She turned and left him to finish
saying goodnight to Neha.
He patted his horse lightly on the
nose one last time before making his way to the house. After locking the doors
behind him, a smile crept across his face.
I used magic today!
* * *
The sound of a tara bird's call
woke Traphis early the next morning. "Karooooouk!"
He wanted to kill it. Morning was
his least favorite time of day.
"Karoo, karoo, karoooooooooouk!"
"I'm up, I'm up," he said, rubbing
the sleep from his eyes. He forced himself onto his feet and then stumbled over
to the sunlit window. Staring out at the piles of potaras in the fields below, a
moan escaped his lips. How many more potaras did they have to dig up already?
All he wanted to do was go back to his cave and study his books, but that would
have to wait. If only his father was still with them, then Traphis wouldn't have to work so hard. But there was no use in wishing for
Sitting back down on his bed,
Traphis lifted his feet off the cold wooden floor. He knew that if he were to
lie back down, it would be detrimental. Sleep would surely take hold of him
again, and so he resisted the temptation; there was just too much to do.
After tying his sandals, he
staggered down the stairs that led from his cozy room. The sound of eggs
sizzling and snapping on the stove met him at the bottom as his mother, Anjetta,
busily worked in the kitchen.
He plopped down on a chair at the
"Traphis," she said. "Please set
He sighed, not wanting to have to
get up again, but did as his mother asked. Once everything was in place he sat
"Here you go," his mother said while
scraping a tara bird egg from the pan onto his plate. Next she took out a
potara that was cooking in the fire; poking it first with a wooden stick to be
sure it was done.
"Aww, not again," he complained.
"When are we going to eat more than potaras and eggs?" Of course, he knew the
answer to that question, but it felt good to propose it all the same.
"Be thankful we have what we do," Anjetta
said. "If there's a good turnout this festival we'll have plenty more to eat."
Anjetta sat down at the table.
"Traphis, will you say our appreciation?"
He hated to be asked, but he knew
better than to protest. Complaining never worked on her in the past and
wouldn't likely do so now.
"Thank you for this food," he said,
"and for watching over us." Then he threw in, "And please provide us with something
new to eat."
When Traphis opened his eyes, he
thought he saw a smile pull back from his mother's mouth.
"After breakfast don't forget to
feed Neha and gather eggs from the tara birds."
"I know. I won't forget."
After inhaling his food, he asked to
be excused from the table. She nodded, still chewing with a mouth full of eggs.
Traphis pushed back the chair and sprinted through the door, slamming it behind
* * *
Traphis entered the barn. Neha look
thrilled to see him. He heard her hooves impatiently stomping while he climbed
the ladder to the upper level. Gathering an arm full of dried grass, he tossed
it over the edge of the loft. It stirred up a haze of dirt when it hit the
ground. Then, as was his routine, he took a few steps backward, ran to the
edge, and jumped over.
"Umph!" Traphis landed hard on the
ground. He stood and rubbed the soreness out of
his elbow. "I've still got to perfect my landing," he said,
looking at Neha. Her brown coat shimmered from the light in the doorway. Was
that a smile on her face? Couldn't be; she was just a horse after all.
Traphis gathered up the grass and
placed it in her trough. "Looks like we have something in common girl, you and
I are both stuck eating the same old stuff." She didn't seem to mind; her lips
happily caressed the bottom of the trough as if enjoying every bite.
Traphis brushed her coat and pulled
burs out of her long black tail. "How do you find these things?" he asked, not
expecting an answer.
A sneeze shot out of his nose. I'll
never get used to the smell of this place, he thought, sniffing and rubbing
his sore eyes. Something in the barn always seemed to trigger his allergies.
"Waaaaa, waaabula, waaaaa,
waaabula," chanted the tara birds when Traphis entered their coop. He reached
under a bird and grabbed two green, blue-spotted eggs. He went from nest to
nest, finding some empty and some with one or two eggs. For some reason, one
hen in particular didn't like him. Leaving the unpleasant one for last, he
finally reached under the bird, and as expected, it pecked his hand. "Ouch!
Come on. This isn't fun for me either," he said,
scolding it. "Stop trying to be the queen. No one likes you anyway." She stared
at him, head bobbing front to back.
"Waaabula," she scolded as he
pushed under her again only to find there were no eggs. "No wonder you're
always crabby," he said to the bad-tempered fowl while rubbing his sore hand.
"You hardly ever lay anything." He was met by her beady eyes and bobbing head.
After leaving the barn he walked into
the kitchen and handed Anjetta the basket of eggs. "Can I
please go for a walk before we start?"
Her expression told him that she
didn't want to tell him yes, but she also had a sympathetic gleam to her eyes. "Okay, but don't be long."
"Thanks!" The door slammed shut
Traphis ran past the potara patch,
and then he entered the woods. Glad it was daytime, Traphis never got over how
different the forest looked. Night predators were out of sight, sleeping,
allowing smaller creatures to emerge from hiding. He could have wandered
forever, losing himself amongst the trees and solitude, but there was only one
thing on his mind now: the cave. He might be able to read a few chapters before
going back to work. Dodging branches, jumping over logs, and running as fast as
he could, Traphis couldn't get there soon enough.
A little skimpit darted across a
branch, stopped and blinked its reptilian eyes at Traphis. He paused for a
moment as they looked at each other. Then suddenly the creature cocked its
head, as if sensing something for the first time, and then dashed away.
Traphis' heart skipped a beat as
soon as he smelled smoke. Where there was smoke, there was sure to be a fire.
He looked around in all directions, but saw nothing unusual. With a hint of caution, he followed the smell of smoke until at last he came
to a cliff.
To his horror he discovered where
the smoke was coming from: his cave.