Abby cast an arm around my shoulders as we moved, limply I clung to her as much as I could, my feet hardly seemed able to move of their own accord and I allowed her to guide me forwards into the dark of the garden beyond. It was still raining slightly and it felt cool and refreshing after the stifling heat of the inferno within the house.
"Lily, are you all right?" Abby spoke more to reassure herself than anything and I couldn't answer her anyway.
I stared mutely around me; the flickering flames of the house fire behind me cast long dancing shadows onto the neat grass of the garden. In the middle of the lawn the stranger was moving around, clearing all of the fallen leaves from a patch of grass.
"Who is he?" I found my voice enough to croak slightly to Abby.
"I don't know, just stay away from him." Abby moved slightly in front of me so she stood between the two of us and blocking my view. She reached into her pocket to pull out her mobile, I saw the screen flicker a couple of times before fading completely to a solid blue hue.
"I wouldn't bother; nothing electronic will work after all of the magic that has been thrown around here." He didn't look back from his work as he spoke, just continued to move around the lawn as if his statement was perfectly normal.
"Magic? But magic isn't real.." I muttered quietly, my nerves slowly coming under control as I began to realise this boy wasn't going to hurt us. I could see him more clearly now that we were outside, and he was moving more steadily. He looked perhaps four or five years older than me and yet he carried himself with a maturity that I had never seen in a teenager.
He cast a shrewd look over his shoulder at this, his deep green eyes sparkling in the reflection of the fire. "You saw him, saw what he could do. Do you still not believe in magic?"
"I don't know, it just doesn't seem right."
"Don't talk to him Lily, keep away." Abby moved us backwards once more. I could feel the heat of the fire as we got closer to the house. Already the entire ground floor was engulfed in flames and it was billowing thick black smoke into the night sky, the cool night rain erupting into steam as it came into contact with the fire.
"Perhaps you should listen to her Lily, stay away from me."
I thought about this for a moment, "Can anyone perform magic?"
"No not anyone. You have to be special and there are very few of us left anymore. It takes a long time to learn to control your abilities."
Abby gave up trying to stop me, instead staring forlornly at the house behind me as it burnt down. Already faint sirens could be heard coming from the distance, obviously one of the neighbours had called for assistance.
"What are you doing?" the fear was fading from me; I could feel the interest bubbling inside. I had dreamt of being different for so long and now this chance to escape the mundane stood before me and I would take it if I could.
He cast another look over his shoulder as he crouched down to the grass where he had drawn a rough circle with some sort of paint from his coat. Eventually he seemed to come to a decision of some sort and started to explain. "I'm creating a circle. Magic always needs two things: a focus of some sort to direct the flow of energies and a source of power to draw upon. The circle acts as a means to direct the flow more precisely. It means a wizard can project his power over much greater distances. In this case I am trying to form a link with another wizard who should be able to help me."
"So it's like a phone?" I asked.
He chuckled slightly at the thought, "Yes it's something like that and equally nothing like that."
Before I could really think about what he had said he touched one finger to the paint and a small, inaudible pop rippled out from the circle. I could feel the power reverberating from the area as an invisible shield snapped up. Where the rain fell, it met a solid barrier and ran down to the ground as if falling off a glass dome approximately the size of a man.
I gasped loudly as a figure began to appear in the centre of the circle. The figure seemed to be made of nothing more than smoke, its limbs fluttering and weaving as if a small breeze fluttered the material it was made from. I couldn't tell whether it was male or female, nor even make out any distinguishing features. It was a dark grey figure and that was all I could see, but a voice emerged from the circle regardless.
"Harry, what's happened? The mundane authorities have been called; there is talk of a house fire. Have any of the mundanes been hurt?"
"I tracked him down but he escaped. I had to chase him into a house where the fight sort of got away from me slightly."
"Harry! Tell me you haven't hurt anybody."
"Relax, nobody is hurt. The house is on fire a little, but other than that everyone is fine."
"Warden Akers, I can tell when you are holding back the truth from me."
The man who I assumed was called Harry, rubbed one hand over the back of his neck as he flinched from the statement, "Well..uh...maybe the house is more than a little on fire.."
As if to reinforce his point a tremendous crash sounded from the building behind me, one of the upstairs windows exploded outwards from the pressure and great flickering flames reached out into the night like a huge arm trying to claw its way free.
"The mundanes are fine though," he added with a small smile.
The voice from the circle suddenly sounded very tired, "Harry we have reports that one of the laws was broken tonight in that house. You know how serious the council takes any reports of Black Magic, especially at the present time. They are sending the grey cloaks to investigate Harry, don't do anything stupid, please?"
"When do I ever do anything stupid?"
I had no idea what they were talking about, wardens, grey cloaks and mundanes. They spoke to each other as if these terms were common place. Before I could ask any further questions a rip emerged in mid-air. There was no other way for me to describe it. A tear simply cut across the darkness beside me and it slowly spread to become a hole floating a fraction above the smooth grass. I could see light flowing from the tear, illuminating the grass and casting long shadows to compete with the light from the flames at my back. I took a tentative step to one side in an attempt to view the hole more clearly but moved sharply in alarm as three figures stepped clean through. They moved quickly as they spread out on the grass, heavy boots leaving thick imprints. Dressed head to toe in thick grey cloaks I could not make out many details about them, their eyes cast into shadow by the heavy folds of their hoods. Each carried a large staff that glowed with runes etched into the surface of the wood.
"Just what I need," Harry muttered under his breath, low enough to only be heard by myself as I stood closest to him. "Stand over here Lily, and let them do their work. You," he clicked his fingers towards Abby to snap her attention away from wherever she had retreated over the last five minutes, "come as well. It's best to let them get on with it."
"Don't let the mundanes go far Akers, I will want to question them shortly." The voice was brisk and snapped with undisguised hostility. I couldn't tell which hood it emanated from but instead moved away from them all equally, immediately wary of these newcomers.
"Mundanes, why do you keep using that word?" I was in shock, my whole world had been shaken and I was simply asking questions as they occurred to me, attempting to rationalise anything about this night.
"It's what we call people without any magic. Mundane, normal, nothing special." Harry seemed to speak in an absent minded fashion, his eyes locked on the tallest of the grey cloaks.
I followed his eyes as well, to observe what had him so distracted. As I watched them I gave an involuntary shudder, they moved with a swift assurance around the area, muttering gradually under their breath as they did. Every so often one would stop and crouch low to the ground, his staff planted deep into the grass and emitting faint sparks of light. Suddenly, their leader snapped his head up from the ground and looked over to the three of us. I couldn't see his eyes but somehow knew they were locked onto mine. I was trapped by that stare, unable to move, my eyes widening to their fullest extent and my mouth void of any moisture as I struggled to swallow.
He took a step closer, his hood moving in strange twitches. Left to right, left to right. Over and over again, swaying like some snake as it sniffed at the air.
"The Warlock is one of you three." his voice was barely above a whisper, rasping out from beneath that hood. It seemed to be filled with some malicious glee at the prospect and he took another step forwards. As if by some unspoken command the other two hoods swivelled towards us, sightless eyes locked onto our small group.
"What does he mean Warlock?" Abby found her voice at last, I couldn't take my eyes from the nearest hooded figure but I could feel her hand shaking as it gripped my shoulder.
"A Warlock is an untrained wizard, or one who breaks the law. Wardens are sent out to track them down," Harry muttered the explanation under his breath, "Morgan, you have got to be kidding me. These two are mundanes. So unless you are accusing me of breaking the laws you had better back down."
"There is no mistake Warden, the third law has been broken, Its vestigia is still present for those skilled enough to see it." His voice dripped with arrogance.
I felt it again, for the second time that night the fear inside me began to rise, all the while mixing with every other emotion and focused towards the figure that spoke.
As I reached the point of overflowing he took a step back, his voice ringing out. All the arrogance vanished, instead replaced with a slight panic. "She is no mundane! Seize her!"
The three Grey Cloaks instantly had their staffs pointing at me, the tips glowing with a dull orange fire. With a snarl, three streams of fire poured towards us, the orange light interspersed with yellow and red. Harry's hand snapped up in an instant, his voice ringing out into the night. "Protego!"
A pale blue dome erupted between him and the streams. I flinched backwards from the strike, but as the streams hit the dome they stopped as if obstructed by a solid wall.
"Drop your shield Warden, this is council business!"
"The council cannot execute anyone without a trial, even a Warlock Morgan. Lower your weapons and we can talk about this."
"Hand over the Warlock, there is nothing else to talk about."
The dome began to flicker, its edges fading and slowly shrinking towards the centre. I looked at Harry, and although his voice remained level I could see the thin layer of sweat that was beading across his forehead. Clearly the effort to maintain the shield was more than he could keep up for long.
"Don't do anything stupid Warden, just hand her over." The streams of fire suddenly, shifted in colour, a core of blue-white could now be seen as their owners took another step closer and the shield grew ever smaller.
I looked wildly around me, desperate for any other route of escape as the only thing between myself and a fiery death slowly faded. There was nothing. I was utterly powerless to do anything to alter the course of my own death and I knew despair like nothing I had ever known before. I glanced at Harry and saw a grim determination in his eyes, accepting of the situation and still resolute to continue the course he had chosen. I had never met him before and yet he seemed content to die trying to protect me. Magic had been real for a little over an hour now and in that time it had been used to try and kill me more times than I could count. I wanted nothing to do with magic, nothing to do with Wizards, Warlocks and Wardens. I just wanted everything to be back to how it had been before. I wanted nothing more than to be normal.
I saw the moment coming, I could almost sense the shield as it began to reach the point where it would collapse and we would be engulfed in that blue flame. Time seemed to slow once more, each detail etched into my memory forever. My last moments. They say that your life flashes before your eyes as you are about to die. In my case I only saw the darkness of those hoods, they seemed to block all light from entering their folds and yet I thought I could make out a malicious glint reflecting from Morgan's fire as he took another, final step forwards.
I closed my eyes tightly, taking a deep breath as I gripped as hard as I could to Abby's side. A voice, echoed around the garden, ringing clear and snapping through the tension like a knife. My eyes snapped open to seek the source of such a voice. "Morgan, lower your weapons this instant."
He stood as if he had just emerged from the tear that floated in thin air and dominated the area with an aura of pure power and command. Morgan flicked a quick glance over his shoulder before following the command. His hand gripped his staff tightly for a moment, his knuckles shining white but that was the only sign of annoyance that seemed through his mask. As he spoke his voice was calm and level. "As you command councillor. The Warlock attempted to attack us and we merely defended ourselves."
"Be silent!" The councillor’s eyes burned with intensity, his anger flaring in an instant as he moved into the space between us.
Harry suddenly collapsed to one knee, the shield vanished. His head was bowed to the ground as he took great gulps of air, his lungs rising and falling as if he had ran a great distance.
The councillor’s eyes snapped in our direction, the anger fleeing his face in an instant. He took two great strides as placed a hand under Harry's arm lifting him to his feet once more. Now that the man stood no more than a foot from me I could see him clearly. His face was weathered but kind, deep lines of age were gouged into his skin, especially around his eyes and mouth. In fact, as I spent more time observing him I thought that of all the strangers I had seen he best described 'Wizard', his hair was white and long with a beard to match. He was wearing robes of deep blue that flowed as he moved.
Despite the appearance of age he held the younger man firmly and at last his eyes turned towards me. All the warmth I had expected simply wasn't present. Instead he regarded me with a clear gaze that penetrated to my very soul, I felt that he could see more than even I knew. I held the gaze for less than a second before that icy blue stare forced me to look away. The voice that spoke a moment later was just as cold.
"Morgan bring her, we need to convince the council to decide her fate."
My mouth fell open in horror. I thought this man had saved us; instead it seemed he had only extended my life for a little longer. Before I could really register the meaning of his words I felt something hit me high upon my chest. The entire world seemed to tilt sideways as the night rushed forth to take me. I fell into blackness as I heard a scream pierce the air. My last thought was the realisation that the sound had escaped my own throat before I lost consciousness and knew nothing more.