On the ninth day of Christmas, glass forms the tower’s crown,
as winged beasts from ages past prepare to bring it down.
The hilltop was a flurry of activity.
Hammers banged nails into place, and a section of frame was being lifted. All day yesterday the area of the driveway had been staked out. Men walked to and fro carrying boards, nails, tools.
Two men walked over the threshold where the front door would eventually stand, walking down the hillside.
“Excuse me,” said Timothy as they walked past. They seemed not to hear or notice him at all.
“We got a great deal,” said the younger man.
Both wore plaid shirts and coveralls, with thick work boots and heavy gloves. The younger man who spoke had a head of wavy blonde hair, slicked back with hair grease.
The older man made a sound like air scraping its way from the back of his throat. “Vy is ut when you say zis I feel ze sinking in ze pit of ze stomach, huh?” He spoke with a thick German dialect.
“Excuse me!” Timothy said to them, a bit louder. “Can you tell me where I am? I was in my…well, I’m not sure where I was.”
As the two men approached an open crate filled with wooden frames, the older man withdrew a pair of round spectacles from his breast pocket and placed them on his head. He peered at the wooden frames through them. He pulled a few from the crate and stacked them up against its side, one after another.
“Oh mein Gott,” he said. He withdrew a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped it across his brow.
“Hello!” Timothy shouted.
“What’s wrong?” the younger man asked. “They look fine. They’re fine! We got a great deal.“
“Great deal, eh?” The older man pulled the last frame he had examined from the box and held it up to the light.
The frame contained a pane of glass. The sunlight shone through it, collecting in a strange mark at its center.
“My window…” Timothy said.
“Does zis look like such a great deal to you?”
“It…well….” the younger man looked down. “One pane out of dozens…”
“Und how do I know zey are not all like zis?”
“They’re not, okay? They’re not.” The younger man put his hands on his hips. “It’s fine, we got a great deal on the whole lot…all of it goes up.”
The older man gently set the frame on the ground, leaning aganst the crate, and again wiped his brow. “Fine, hm? Fine.” He shook his head. “Very well.”
“Look, just…” the younger man rubbed his chin, “just put it up on one of the top floors. Buyers won’t notice it.”
The older man nodded. The younger man clapped him on the back and walked away across the hill. The older man hunkered down, looking into the strange mark of the glass. “First ze horrible armor, now zis,” he said to the glass. “No vun vill buy zis house. Mark my words.”
“My dad would,” Timothy said.
The older man lifted the frame and again looked into the light through the shape etched into the window pane.
“Gott schien,” he whispered. “If I did not know any better, I’d sink some poor soul fell unto ze glassvurks und vas melted into ze glass.” He shuddered, and again set the frame on the ground.
“No vun vill ever buy zis house.”
Timothy looked up and behind him, almost expecting to see the house fully built, and the wizard in his window looking down at him from his bedroom on the third floor. Instead, he found himself again on the roof of the tower, looking up at the glass dome, and above him, wings spread so wide they blocked out the sun, the dragon.
Nichole emerged from the maze to find her father and mother together, sitting on the ground, holding each other. Elliott’s right hand was still trapped in the crushed metal gauntlet, blood trailing down his right arm. Bonnie’s legs were hurt as well, though whether broken or sprained, Nichole couldn’t say. They huddled together on the grass, weeping.
“Mom, Dad,” Nichole said, rushing to them and dropping to the grass beside them. She put her arms around them, and they around her.
“Oh Princess, I was so worried,” Elliott said.
“Where is your sister?” Bonnie asked.
Nichole considered. “She’s with the fairy queen,” she said. She wasn’t sure how to tell them the rest.
“There’s a fairy queen now?” Elliott asked, looking around.
“Yeah,” Nichole said. “Yeah there is.”
A shadow passed over them. Nichole looked up, and suddenly remembered the warning Ariadne had given her. A winged beast passed between the Colliers and the sun above: the stuff of nightmares. It boasted a thick, leathery hide covered in scales, and massive limbs ending in immense, razor-sharp claws. A long, reptilian neck connected its head, where a mouth bristling with fangs as long as tree trunks hung open, revealing a long forked serpent’s tongue. Its eyes, piercing orbs, were searching the tower up and down as it flew on bat wings so wide they blotted out the sky. Its back was dark green, almost black, with ridges of red and yellow running from snout to the tip of its tail, and its belly was a dark yellow, hard and baked in appearance, like spicy mustard left in the sun for too long.
“Oh my gosh,” Elliott said, gazing up at it. “Oh my…”
It dug its claws into the side of the tower and wrapped its wings around the dome, gazing inside.
Timothy froze in place, gazing out the dome at the massive shape of the dragon.
“I HAVE COME FOR YOU, MAGUS!” The beast bellowed. It appeared black through the glass of the dome, black with traces of yellow. Its back claws dug into the stone of the tower and it wrapped its leathery wings around the glass dome, closing it off from the light. Timothy could see one reptilian eye pressed against the dome, gazing down at him. Or, at least, trying to gaze down. Timothy wasn’t sure it could see inside.
“WHERE ARE YOU, MY ANCIENT FOE?” It called in a deep rumble. “WHY DO YOU HIDE?”
Timothy reached back to the obelisk, removing the inner lens. He wasn’t sure why, but he had a feeling this was the most important piece of the Solarium, the lens that focused light to be collected to fuel the wizard’s spells.
Lens in hand, he retreated down the steps back to the top floor of the tower, and back into his bedroom. He knelt before the Magus Liber and began reading the description of the Solarium.
He heard the scraping of the dragon’s hide against the stone, and looking up, saw its long body and neck winding around the tower: searching for the wizard, or in this case, for him. It pressed one eye up against the window, right against the wizard shaped mark.
“COME OUT, DEAR FRIEND, COME OUT. IT’S BEEN SO LONG.”
The iris of its eye tightened, and it looked directly down upon Timothy, book in his hands.
“AND WHO IS YOUR LITTLE FRIEND?” it asked. “WILL YOU NOT INTRODUCE US?”
Timothy picked up the Magus Liber, stood, and slowly backed away from the window.
“OH NO, LITTLE MAGUS,” the dragon breathed, a chuckle in its deep voice. “THERE IS, I AM AFRAID, NOWHERE FOR YOU TO GO.”
Timothy nearly stumbled on the shattered Horologium. He picked it up and fled the room, carrying it as well as the book and lens.
It pulled away from the window and raised its head high on its long, leathery neck.
“MY CHILDREN!” it called. “OUR ENEMY ARRANGES SOME SPORT FOR US.”
Creatures sailed out of the sky on bat wings, smaller than the dragon, but still each as large as a small car. Timothy saw five, maybe six of them, swooping down and around the tower. One opened its jaws to unleash a burst of flame down toward the ground.
Three of the smaller dragons flew around the tower.
“Come on, Dad,” Nichole said. “We have to get mom up and get her into the maze.”
“Into the maze, why?”
The first of them wheeled close to the border of the maze, its eyes searching the ground.
“Just trust me!” Nichole put Bonnie’s left arm over her shoulder. “Come on!”
Elliott used his good hand to pull Bonnie’s right arm over his shoulder and they stood, hauling her up. Bonnie shrieked as she tried to put weight on her right leg.
The three dragonets turned, spotting them. The lead creature emitted a bellow of rage and they dove toward the Colliers.
“Hurry!” Nichole picked up the pace, dragging Bonnie along with her.
The lead dragonet opened its mouth and a cone of fire spewed forth.
At the last moment, Nichole and Elliott dove for the entrance to the maze, rolling on the ground on the other side of the barrier. The flame scorched the ground behind them and the dragonets flew over the maze, looking down.
“They’re just gonna fly down and get us,” Elliott said.
Nichole didn’t think so. The labyrinth was enchanted so that from inside, one could not see anything that might direct one to the exit. She hoped it worked both ways, so that no one from outside could see someone in the labyrinth and direct them.
“Come on,” she whispered to herself. “Please let me be right.”
After a few moments, she heard the sounds of the dragonets flying off.
“They can’t see us from up there,” she said.
“Really?” Bonnie said. “That’s lucky.”
“Yeah but not lucky enough,” Nichole said. “It doesn’t stop them from walking right in here. Come on. We need to move farther in.”
They hauled Bonnie to her feet and trudged deeper into the snow-filled maze.
Timothy fell to his knees just outside his bedroom, dropping the broken remnants of the Horologium. All his magic items were lost, and the most fearsome creature he could imagine perched on the tower outside. What could he do? He looked down at the Magus Liber, riffling through its pages. No, this was useless. All these things were gone. He had no tricks left, except…
He reached the page with the grand gatefold illustration of the dome. “Solarium,” it read. Timothy scanned the description, clutching the Solarium’s lens in his hand. According to the book, the glass of the Solarium was designed to capture sunlight and moonlight, turning their mystical energy into power which the Magus would use to perform spells, and create powerful magic items.
Timothy paused. This sounded awfully familiar. The Solarium’s glass was designed to do exactly the same thing as…
“The window,” he breathed.
Just like that, Timothy knew what he had to do.
He heard the sounds of wood breaking from below. The dragonets, some of them at least, had smashed their way into the tower. He had to hurry. Hauling the Solarium lens and the Magus Liber with him, he made his way to the next window on the outer wall. The sun still appeared to be rushing by outside, and he still got flashes as he moved around of other times or places, strange landscapes and unknown beasts, so he knew what had to be his first priority.
He knelt by the window, placing the Magus Liber on the floor. He turned its pages to the illustration of the Horologium, the hourglass mounted in its silver and gold frame. He held the lens up to the window so that the sunlight would shine through it, and turned it so that the captured light poured down on the broken hourglass.
“Come on, come on…” he pleaded.
The sounds from below, screeches and caws, were getting closer.
Timothy considered. He turned the lens so that the light fell on the illustration in the Magus Liber.
The Horologium began to glow softly. From all around, red sands began to rise. From every corner, every edge of Timothy’s vision, the red grains poured in, mixing and coalescing into the center of the hourglass. Timothy closed his eyes. A wind kicked up, and soon the red sand was pouring in from all sides, rushing over him and collecting in the hourglass.
The glass sealed. The frame mended and unbent itself.
When Timothy reopened his eyes, time moved as it should, in one direction only, and the world made sense again.
The door crashed open and one dragonet burst in, walking on all four legs, its wings folded behind it. It reared back its head and opened its mouth. From deep within its maw there was a spark, and a column of flame rushed out.
Timothy grasped the Horologium’s crank and rolled it counter-clockwise.
Inches from him, the flame halted. He could feel the searing heat on his face. Then, as it had before, time rolled backward. The flame withdrew into the dragonet’s mouth, the dragonet backed into the hall, and the shattered pieces of wood flew back together to form the door. Timothy let time continue to roll backward to the point where he had first sat on the floor here. Then he rolled the Horologium forward again, allowing time to resume its forward motion.
Before, when he had used the power of Tempus Imperium, the Horologium had not unmade itself. A new magic item had appeared under the window. The items made by the window (or as he now understood, the Solarium glass) could not be unmade by anything else. They would persist, even with time itself rewinding around them. Timothy turned the pages of the Magus Liber to the very first illustration, the Anulum. He focused the light through the lens onto the page.
The ring appeared beside him.
Timothy cheered. He picked up the ring and slipped it onto his finger, enjoying the ringing sound he had not heard in far too long.
The door burst open, the dragonet spewed forth its column of flame, and Timothy turned the Horologium’s crank counter-clockwise again.
He could now easily see why Tempus Imperium was considered one of the greatest of magicks. Even the dragon outside, a beast with incalculable strength and power, was helpless before it. Timothy could roll back time again and again and make weapon after weapon with which to defeat it and its spawn, and it could do nothing.
One after another he recreated the items from the drawings of the Magus Liber, turning back time after each one so that the dragonets never got any closer. Chalmydis, Baculum, Armatura, Petasus: the cloak, the wand, the gauntlet, the hat.
He slipped the gauntlet over his own right hand, and the silver armor formed around him, though he willed the helmet to remain off. He placed the cloak over his shoulders and wrapped it around him. He held the wand in his left hand, and placed the pointed cap carefully over the top of his head.
This last produced a rush inside his mind. Timothy’s eyes glowed, and he looked out at the world as if he was seeing it for the first time, or perhaps seeing it with eyes that knew everything about the world around him in a way Timothy never had before. The hat had the power to grant him all the knowledge of spellcraft that the wizard possessed, and it surged into his mind, carrying with it an understanding he had never had before.
From the very beginning, when he first saw the mark etched in his window, Timothy had made an assumption. That assumption had been upheld with every strange event that had occurred, every magic item that had appeared on the windowsill, every trick and transformation he had witnessed. All had centered around the window. He had very naturally thus assumed that the wizard was somehow inside the window, trapped or frozen there, using his power to help them. He had been wrong, understandably of course, but wrong nonetheless.
Now, with his newfound knowledge and understanding, he saw the truth.
The door burst apart and the dragonet screeched. Timothy lifted his left hand, pointing the wand at it, and casually said, “Fragor.”
A single bright point appeared in front of the creature and detonated, throwing the dragonet backward into the hall and smashing it into the opposite wall.
Timothy looked back down at the Magus Liber in his right hand.
“Intus pages,” he said.
A light flared from within the spine of the book, spreading out and enveloping him. When it receded, Timothy was gone, and the Magus Liber fell to the floor and closed itself.
Timothy found himself standing on a cliff, overlooking the ocean. His armor gleamed in the sun, cloak whipping behind him in the breeze. He tucked the wand in a place at his hip which seemed designed for it, though it had not been there when the armor had first spread over him. He could feel the wind whipping against his pointed hat as well, but it was no more in danger of flying off his head than his head was of flying off his shoulders.
He looked out across the vista that spread before him: waves crashing against a white beach below. The cliff stretching away into the distance to the left and right. It was almost preternaturally serene, bringing a peace and calm to his mind the likes of which he had never felt.
And none of it was real.
“Hello?” he called. “I figured it out. I’m here. Where are you?”
“I am here,” a voice said from behind him. A hand touched his shoulder.
“Hello, Timothy,” said the wizard. “And welcome.”
TO BE CONTINUED
©opyright 2013 by J. David Clarke