MidReal Story

Lich's Last Stand: Mage Hunter Showdown

Scenario: You are a lich who retired from villainy long ago and took up teaching at a magical school. Today someone made the mistake of threatening your students. "Given the understood properties of the bounded system, or Old Magic, it's critical to recognize when you should be utilizing these traditional methods as opposed to adhering to modern institutions." Venizier punctuated the last words with a double tap on the chalkboard, letting the chalk splinter and create a splattering period. They turned back to the class. "That is why you are here in this classroom, with me. To understand a system of magic that has largely been eschewed by our contemporaries and what it can offer us as mages." There were critical looks from the students, but Venizier almost appreciated them at this point. When he'd first given up his titles and joined the school, he'd gotten looks of hatred from the students. Now? The students were critical of his proposal, and considering whether this course was going to be too dry. He was being judged, but he was being judge as a teacher, not anything else. "And before anyone asks. Yes I was alive when Old Magic was simply referred to as 'Magic.' I have probably forgotten more about the Runic Method than any of you know about New Magics over the years." He delivered is as a joke, but Venizier never laughed at it. He had forgotten many of the spells and incantations that had brought him fame, but it had been intentional. Venizier was a Lich, an immortal being lashed to life by magic itself. In his first years, he'd been a skeleton, a shell of his former self. These days he was simply a simulacrum of one, Iron bones and a steel mask wrapped in enchanted robes. The spells he'd forgotten in a dozen lifetimes? Those were the spells that had given him this life. The spells that had earned him a soul tithe. The spells that, given a dozen lifetimes to consider his mistakes, he should have never cast in the first place. He could have given up. He could have broken his phylactery and vanished from this plane but... His death never would have repaid the debt of his lives. Instead, he'd chosen to repent, to give back, to raise the next generations. Even if they snickered at the back of the classroom and called him a old fart behind his back. You could sculpt minds faster than you could win hearts. "Now, after teaching this class many times I have found that it is best to begin with a demonstration. Some of you might have had this class recommended by peers. Some of you might have been volunteers by your schedule, but that isn't enough. Old Magic requires respect, in fact, it demands it. New magic, by comparison, is flippant, casual and accepting. But, like all instances of magic, this is transactional. Old Magic asks for more but--" Someone pounded on the door. Venizier had locked it at the beginning of class to avoid stragglers interrupting his practiced introduction, but this wasn't that. He sighed and waved a hand. The bolt slid out of the way and a woman tumbled onto the classroom's marble floor. Her robe was torn and splayed across the ground. It took Venizier a moment, but he found the name. "Penelope," -she'd taken his class last year- "what's gotten into you?" "I--" the woman went to get up and caught Venizier's hand on the way. The rest of the students were murmuring amongst themselves, but quieted with a wave of the teachers hand. "Are you alirght?" "I think so," she managed once she was mostly on her feet. "Professor Matherson has sent for you, you're needed on the grounds." Venizier almost protested. If another Professor had asked, the Lich would have pointed out that he was teaching a class, but if anyone in this place held themselves to an academic standard, it was Matherson. "Any reason?" "He said something about--" She caught her tongue, considering what she'd heard for a moment. "Mage hunters. I haven't gotten a good look at them." The students bustled again. Venizier looked but didn't bother quieting them again. "On the grounds?" "Approaching." Venizier took a deep breath. Every time he broken his oath he made a new one. He took another vow that he would never.... It didn't matter did it? It didn't matter if he promised the powers above that he was done? He would be needed. He really needed to start adding caveats about using his powers for the right reasons. Still, it hurt breaking an oath after so many years. "Penelope," he began, "being our students here to the West Tower with a view of the Courtyard. They still need their demonstration for this lecture. Prepare warding countermeasures." "For the Mage Hunters?" "No. You might be in the splash zone." "Professor?" "Now." Venizier said. Once Penelope started moving the Lich held out one of his iron skeletal hands. Old Magic had rules, but it also had feeling the way that New Magic didn't. Over lifetimes, Venizier could call upon Old Magic like a friend, summoning spells from memory and getting gifted the results. There was no rune of spell for what he was doing, but you rarely needed proper grammar for a friend to understand the intention. Around the classroom, marble pillars splintered and cracked as shards of gold a sapphire ripped themselves from their stone prison. Lanterns shattered as their magical cores flew to the middle of the room. A frigid wave crashed over the students as light ran from Old Magic's domain. Venizier held out their hand, and grabbed the shards of precious stone and metal as they swirled around them, using magic to twist them into a summoned shape. From his palm, a spiraling staff crafted itself. Reassembling piece by piece after being shattered for his vow. Marble dust from the pillars fell to the floor as the shards cleaned themselves, falling into perfect place. With a final forced, lungless breath, one somehow heard through the entire castle, Venizier finished the spell and the door to his classroom shattered as the knob pulled free from the wood. The silver and ruby knob, the one that students used to exit class every day, took its place at the head of Venizier's staff. Well, not this Venizier, but the one that'd struck fear in the hearts of Living Kingdoms for generations. Venizier looked at the staff for a moment, and then tapped it on the floor, sparks ran up the cracks, fixing the last marks of a broken oath and forming the conduit of his power. For the first time in years, he felt the staff's focus in his palm, still warm from students use. "Well then now students," he said to the classroom that was recovering from that example. "Let's proceed with our demonstration." At at earlier time Venizier's arrival on the edge of school grounds would have stopped the armies of heaven themselves, but generations were forgetful. When scribes committed history to the page, the embellished some stories and softened others. Venizier hadn't bothered reading history books, after all, he'd lived through those ages, but it was clear that the scribes had been softening his wrath for far too long. Whatever reputation he'd had, it was gone now, or at least so bastardized it might as well have been. On the edge of the grounds, having stopped for a moment to wait for an answer to their threat, were mage hunters. Part of the other side of history Venizier had left behind when he'd abandoned his names and purpose. His actions back then had left scars on the land, stories of mad mages and horrific magic. Over time, it'd set some to hunting down those with mage blood. Riots and lynching had become an order. That order had become an ancient order. A bunch of young upstarts was what they were today. On the way over, Venizier had seen the hunters and some of the other professors having a conversation. He couldn't hear them, but he'd understood what it was. The mage hunters were, essentially, offering the students a quick death if they surrendered. The professors would have been making the same argument that Venizier would, he was just hoping that it was more convincing coming from him. The leader of the mage hunters was a middle aged woman covered in scars from past hunts. Her sharp expression was only matched by the manabane dagger on her hip, a weapon carved from black, mageblood soaked cold iron. By the time Venizier made it to the edge of the courtyard, the battle lines as they were currently drawn, she was already in the middle of an impatient pace. "Finally coming to surrender?" the woman asked. Her voice was softer than Venizier had expected. Then again, he'd heard that comment about himself a thousand times before. Voices didn't always match their hosts. "I've come to insist that you leave the premises." One of the mage hunters that was flanking the woman, a hulking man with a manabane maul and red tainted armor, snickered, the woman herself didn't seem to consider it a joke. "You're testing my patience," she finally spat. "We are a college under protection of the new sectioned mage circles under the Thelrarian Peace Treaty," Venizier explained as he motioned back toward the school grounds, "I can assure you that we are an accredited and legit--" The woman's blade was at Venizier's throat. She was fast. Frighteningly so to anyone with skin. "Do you think I give a damn about a treaty from a traitor king?" Sometimes Venizier considered adding expressions to his golden mask, but then the woman would have seen him roll his eyes. One of those. "I have my political opinions as well. But the divine mandate of the King should be..." The woman hadn't lowered her weapon, only pressed it closer and closer to where Venizier's throat would have been. "You're making a mistake, young woman." "Only mistake here is your kind!" She snapped. Despite the flared anger, her hand was steady. That was the self control that had gotten her scars instead of dead. "Accept your fate and you die quick or don't and I'll make sure you think about your choice when you're in the Depths with Jolevask." "You're making a mistake." "It's not a mistake to fix this damned kingdom while we can still save--" The woman's eyes went wide as her manabane dagger clattered to the ground several feet away from them. She was fast, but Venizier had conquered speed a thousand times in the form of the best assassins. "Kill 'em." she hissed. It was met with cheers. "You misunderstand," Venizier said as the sapphires in his staff began to glow, "you're not making a mistake in disobeying the King. You're making a mistake because this school is under my protection." "Just another arrogant fucking Mage." The woman had a second dagger hidden in her coat, and she'd drawn it during Venizier's last attempt to stop the violence. The manabane blade pierced Venizier's golden mask, and it seethed with power, drawing out the magic in his soul to charge its arcane denial. Venizier spoke, but the voice didn't seem to be coming from him. "Kazlan's forever marred." The manabane dagger started to shake in the woman's hands. "Kazlan remembers the scars." The dagger flared angrily, cracks spiderwebbing across the blade. "Kazlan will bow," the voice took a breath, "to the butcher of Gods." Once the cracking sound of the dagger stopped echoing around the courtyard, Venizier bent down and grabbed the mask. The new hole revealed his glowing arcane gaze, brilliant and bloody in all its glory. "Need we continue?" "What are you waiting for?" the woman asked from the ground. "I said kill h-" She didn't get to finished the sentence as Venizier cracked her jaw with the bottom of his arcane staff, sending arcane sparks spiraling across the campus. On the recoil, he drew a line on the grounds. He understood what it meant. They didn't. The hulking man with the maul charged forward, heaving the massive weapon over his head. Venezier was under his guard before the man could think about abandoning his wild attack. The tradition of mages being easy targets came from New Magic, from improvised and unprepared spellcasting. That wasn't how things had worked in Venezier's day. As the Lich slipped in close to the man, he tapped the runes on his staff in an impossible sequence, the skeletal fingers of his right hand twisting into impossible shapes as his left grabbed the chin strap of the man's helmet. Venezier used the momentum of the man to pull him close before whispering words in the old tongue. The old tongue was understood by all. The hulking man heard, "Mine." "Mind control! Be careful!" The woman was back on her feet, having picked up her weapon. "Mind control is inefficient at removing targets from the battlefield," Venizier explained. His arcane voice was still projected across the campus. If he was going to waste his afternoon on this, he could at least get a lesson in. "This is more absolute" Venizier shoved the man to the side, letting him stumble past so he could turn his attention to the leading lady. "Barbaro, are you okay?" "I'll show you! Don't turn your back on me Mag--" Barbaro cut himself off with screams before blood poured out of his mouth, turning words into churning gurgles and sputtering cries. The man writhed, but didn't fall. "What the fuck?!" "Skeletal possession," Venezier announced. As he did, the man's limbs twisted and snapped into all the wrong directions before the right arm went limp, then blood-soaked ivory fingers erupted out of the man's mouth as his face went slack. His skeleton clawing its way out of its host to get to its new master. "Need I continue?" The woman was gone for a moment and back the next, behind Venezier with her remaining dagger plunging toward his neck. Before it found his spine, Venizier's staff shot from his hands and blocked the dagger in place. The Lich sighed. "Apparently I need to."
Create my version of this story
You are a lich who retired from villainy long ago and took up teaching at a magical school. Today someone made the mistake of threatening your students. "Given the understood properties of the bounded system, or Old Magic, it's critical to recognize when you should be utilizing these traditional methods as opposed to adhering to modern institutions." Venizier punctuated the last words with a double tap on the chalkboard, letting the chalk splinter and create a splattering period. They turned back to the class. "That is why you are here in this classroom, with me. To understand a system of magic that has largely been eschewed by our contemporaries and what it can offer us as mages." There were critical looks from the students, but Venizier almost appreciated them at this point. When he'd first given up his titles and joined the school, he'd gotten looks of hatred from the students. Now? The students were critical of his proposal, and considering whether this course was going to be too dry. He was being judged, but he was being judge as a teacher, not anything else. "And before anyone asks. Yes I was alive when Old Magic was simply referred to as 'Magic.' I have probably forgotten more about the Runic Method than any of you know about New Magics over the years." He delivered is as a joke, but Venizier never laughed at it. He had forgotten many of the spells and incantations that had brought him fame, but it had been intentional. Venizier was a Lich, an immortal being lashed to life by magic itself. In his first years, he'd been a skeleton, a shell of his former self. These days he was simply a simulacrum of one, Iron bones and a steel mask wrapped in enchanted robes. The spells he'd forgotten in a dozen lifetimes? Those were the spells that had given him this life. The spells that had earned him a soul tithe. The spells that, given a dozen lifetimes to consider his mistakes, he should have never cast in the first place. He could have given up. He could have broken his phylactery and vanished from this plane but... His death never would have repaid the debt of his lives. Instead, he'd chosen to repent, to give back, to raise the next generations. Even if they snickered at the back of the classroom and called him a old fart behind his back. You could sculpt minds faster than you could win hearts. "Now, after teaching this class many times I have found that it is best to begin with a demonstration. Some of you might have had this class recommended by peers. Some of you might have been volunteers by your schedule, but that isn't enough. Old Magic requires respect, in fact, it demands it. New magic, by comparison, is flippant, casual and accepting. But, like all instances of magic, this is transactional. Old Magic asks for more but--" Someone pounded on the door. Venizier had locked it at the beginning of class to avoid stragglers interrupting his practiced introduction, but this wasn't that. He sighed and waved a hand. The bolt slid out of the way and a woman tumbled onto the classroom's marble floor. Her robe was torn and splayed across the ground. It took Venizier a moment, but he found the name. "Penelope," -she'd taken his class last year- "what's gotten into you?" "I--" the woman went to get up and caught Venizier's hand on the way. The rest of the students were murmuring amongst themselves, but quieted with a wave of the teachers hand. "Are you alirght?" "I think so," she managed once she was mostly on her feet. "Professor Matherson has sent for you, you're needed on the grounds." Venizier almost protested. If another Professor had asked, the Lich would have pointed out that he was teaching a class, but if anyone in this place held themselves to an academic standard, it was Matherson. "Any reason?" "He said something about--" She caught her tongue, considering what she'd heard for a moment. "Mage hunters. I haven't gotten a good look at them." The students bustled again. Venizier looked but didn't bother quieting them again. "On the grounds?" "Approaching." Venizier took a deep breath. Every time he broken his oath he made a new one. He took another vow that he would never.... It didn't matter did it? It didn't matter if he promised the powers above that he was done? He would be needed. He really needed to start adding caveats about using his powers for the right reasons. Still, it hurt breaking an oath after so many years. "Penelope," he began, "being our students here to the West Tower with a view of the Courtyard. They still need their demonstration for this lecture. Prepare warding countermeasures." "For the Mage Hunters?" "No. You might be in the splash zone." "Professor?" "Now." Venizier said. Once Penelope started moving the Lich held out one of his iron skeletal hands. Old Magic had rules, but it also had feeling the way that New Magic didn't. Over lifetimes, Venizier could call upon Old Magic like a friend, summoning spells from memory and getting gifted the results. There was no rune of spell for what he was doing, but you rarely needed proper grammar for a friend to understand the intention. Around the classroom, marble pillars splintered and cracked as shards of gold a sapphire ripped themselves from their stone prison. Lanterns shattered as their magical cores flew to the middle of the room. A frigid wave crashed over the students as light ran from Old Magic's domain. Venizier held out their hand, and grabbed the shards of precious stone and metal as they swirled around them, using magic to twist them into a summoned shape. From his palm, a spiraling staff crafted itself. Reassembling piece by piece after being shattered for his vow. Marble dust from the pillars fell to the floor as the shards cleaned themselves, falling into perfect place. With a final forced, lungless breath, one somehow heard through the entire castle, Venizier finished the spell and the door to his classroom shattered as the knob pulled free from the wood. The silver and ruby knob, the one that students used to exit class every day, took its place at the head of Venizier's staff. Well, not this Venizier, but the one that'd struck fear in the hearts of Living Kingdoms for generations. Venizier looked at the staff for a moment, and then tapped it on the floor, sparks ran up the cracks, fixing the last marks of a broken oath and forming the conduit of his power. For the first time in years, he felt the staff's focus in his palm, still warm from students use. "Well then now students," he said to the classroom that was recovering from that example. "Let's proceed with our demonstration." At at earlier time Venizier's arrival on the edge of school grounds would have stopped the armies of heaven themselves, but generations were forgetful. When scribes committed history to the page, the embellished some stories and softened others. Venizier hadn't bothered reading history books, after all, he'd lived through those ages, but it was clear that the scribes had been softening his wrath for far too long. Whatever reputation he'd had, it was gone now, or at least so bastardized it might as well have been. On the edge of the grounds, having stopped for a moment to wait for an answer to their threat, were mage hunters. Part of the other side of history Venizier had left behind when he'd abandoned his names and purpose. His actions back then had left scars on the land, stories of mad mages and horrific magic. Over time, it'd set some to hunting down those with mage blood. Riots and lynching had become an order. That order had become an ancient order. A bunch of young upstarts was what they were today. On the way over, Venizier had seen the hunters and some of the other professors having a conversation. He couldn't hear them, but he'd understood what it was. The mage hunters were, essentially, offering the students a quick death if they surrendered. The professors would have been making the same argument that Venizier would, he was just hoping that it was more convincing coming from him. The leader of the mage hunters was a middle aged woman covered in scars from past hunts. Her sharp expression was only matched by the manabane dagger on her hip, a weapon carved from black, mageblood soaked cold iron. By the time Venizier made it to the edge of the courtyard, the battle lines as they were currently drawn, she was already in the middle of an impatient pace. "Finally coming to surrender?" the woman asked. Her voice was softer than Venizier had expected. Then again, he'd heard that comment about himself a thousand times before. Voices didn't always match their hosts. "I've come to insist that you leave the premises." One of the mage hunters that was flanking the woman, a hulking man with a manabane maul and red tainted armor, snickered, the woman herself didn't seem to consider it a joke. "You're testing my patience," she finally spat. "We are a college under protection of the new sectioned mage circles under the Thelrarian Peace Treaty," Venizier explained as he motioned back toward the school grounds, "I can assure you that we are an accredited and legit--" The woman's blade was at Venizier's throat. She was fast. Frighteningly so to anyone with skin. "Do you think I give a damn about a treaty from a traitor king?" Sometimes Venizier considered adding expressions to his golden mask, but then the woman would have seen him roll his eyes. One of those. "I have my political opinions as well. But the divine mandate of the King should be..." The woman hadn't lowered her weapon, only pressed it closer and closer to where Venizier's throat would have been. "You're making a mistake, young woman." "Only mistake here is your kind!" She snapped. Despite the flared anger, her hand was steady. That was the self control that had gotten her scars instead of dead. "Accept your fate and you die quick or don't and I'll make sure you think about your choice when you're in the Depths with Jolevask." "You're making a mistake." "It's not a mistake to fix this damned kingdom while we can still save--" The woman's eyes went wide as her manabane dagger clattered to the ground several feet away from them. She was fast, but Venizier had conquered speed a thousand times in the form of the best assassins. "Kill 'em." she hissed. It was met with cheers. "You misunderstand," Venizier said as the sapphires in his staff began to glow, "you're not making a mistake in disobeying the King. You're making a mistake because this school is under my protection." "Just another arrogant fucking Mage." The woman had a second dagger hidden in her coat, and she'd drawn it during Venizier's last attempt to stop the violence. The manabane blade pierced Venizier's golden mask, and it seethed with power, drawing out the magic in his soul to charge its arcane denial. Venizier spoke, but the voice didn't seem to be coming from him. "Kazlan's forever marred." The manabane dagger started to shake in the woman's hands. "Kazlan remembers the scars." The dagger flared angrily, cracks spiderwebbing across the blade. "Kazlan will bow," the voice took a breath, "to the butcher of Gods." Once the cracking sound of the dagger stopped echoing around the courtyard, Venizier bent down and grabbed the mask. The new hole revealed his glowing arcane gaze, brilliant and bloody in all its glory. "Need we continue?" "What are you waiting for?" the woman asked from the ground. "I said kill h-" She didn't get to finished the sentence as Venizier cracked her jaw with the bottom of his arcane staff, sending arcane sparks spiraling across the campus. On the recoil, he drew a line on the grounds. He understood what it meant. They didn't. The hulking man with the maul charged forward, heaving the massive weapon over his head. Venezier was under his guard before the man could think about abandoning his wild attack. The tradition of mages being easy targets came from New Magic, from improvised and unprepared spellcasting. That wasn't how things had worked in Venezier's day. As the Lich slipped in close to the man, he tapped the runes on his staff in an impossible sequence, the skeletal fingers of his right hand twisting into impossible shapes as his left grabbed the chin strap of the man's helmet. Venezier used the momentum of the man to pull him close before whispering words in the old tongue. The old tongue was understood by all. The hulking man heard, "Mine." "Mind control! Be careful!" The woman was back on her feet, having picked up her weapon. "Mind control is inefficient at removing targets from the battlefield," Venizier explained. His arcane voice was still projected across the campus. If he was going to waste his afternoon on this, he could at least get a lesson in. "This is more absolute" Venizier shoved the man to the side, letting him stumble past so he could turn his attention to the leading lady. "Barbaro, are you okay?" "I'll show you! Don't turn your back on me Mag--" Barbaro cut himself off with screams before blood poured out of his mouth, turning words into churning gurgles and sputtering cries. The man writhed, but didn't fall. "What the fuck?!" "Skeletal possession," Venezier announced. As he did, the man's limbs twisted and snapped into all the wrong directions before the right arm went limp, then blood-soaked ivory fingers erupted out of the man's mouth as his face went slack. His skeleton clawing its way out of its host to get to its new master. "Need I continue?" The woman was gone for a moment and back the next, behind Venezier with her remaining dagger plunging toward his neck. Before it found his spine, Venizier's staff shot from his hands and blocked the dagger in place. The Lich sighed. "Apparently I need to."
I was in the middle of teaching Old Magic when Penelope burst into the classroom.
“Professor Venizier, sir,” she said, panting.
“Mage hunters are coming, and they’re not far away.”
I stood up from my desk and looked out the window.
The sky was still dark, but I could see a group of torches in the distance.
Penelope was right.
They weren’t far away at all.
“Thank you for letting me know,” I said.
“You should go to the cellar with the other students.”
Penelope hesitated for a moment, then nodded and ran off to join her classmates.
I turned to the rest of the class and said, “I’m afraid I’ll have to cut this lesson short today.”
There were groans from some of the students, but most of them got up from their desks and followed Penelope out of the classroom.
I waited until they were all gone before I left as well, making sure to lock the door behind me.
And yet, somehow, the mage hunters had still managed to find us.
But however they had come, they wouldn’t be leaving.
I took one last look at the torches on the horizon and then went to prepare for the coming battle.
I was in the middle of a fascinating lecture on the nature of Old Magic when Penelope, one of my most promising pupils, burst into the classroom.
Her robes were torn, her hair was disheveled, and her expression was one of pure terror.
“Professor Venizier,” she gasped, “sir, I’m so sorry to interrupt, but it’s urgent.”
Her announcement brought the lesson to an abrupt halt, and all eyes turned to me expectantly.
“What is it?”
I asked, already knowing the answer.
My heart skipped a beat at those words, and I felt a chill run down my spine.
Mage hunters were nothing new to me.
I had faced them many times before during my long and sordid career as a villain.
They were relentless and efficient killers who hunted down and eliminated mages for profit or religious zealotry.
And they were coming for us.
“Thank you, Penelope,” I said.
“You’ve done well to bring us this warning.”
Penelope nodded, her face pale with fear.
“I’ll go warn the others as well,” she said.
“Good,” I replied.
“Tell them to go to the cellar and stay there until I give the all-clear.”
Penelope nodded again and hurried from the room.
I waited until she was gone before I turned back to my students.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to cut this lesson short today,” I said with a sigh.
But I promise we’ll pick up right where we left off as soon as this unpleasantness is behind us.”
The students looked at me with wide eyes, fear mingling with determination in their young faces.
Some of them had only been studying here for a few years; others had been under my tutelage for much longer.
The school was my sanctuary, a place where I could pass on the knowledge I had accumulated over centuries without fear of persecution.
But now that sanctuary was threatened, and I was determined to defend it at all costs, even if it meant facing down the mage hunters who had come to destroy it.
The students filed out of the classroom, and I followed them into the hallway, where I paused to address them one last time.
“I don’t know how many mage hunters are out there,” I said, “but I do know this: they won’t succeed in their mission.”
There were cheers and applause from the students, and I held up a hand to silence them.
“Mage hunters can be dangerous,” I said gravely, “but they are not invincible.”
I was hoping that I would never have to face another group of mage hunters again, but it seems that fate has other plans.”
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The students had grown restless during my absence, and the normally well-behaved group was now chattering and fidgeting with impatience as they waited for me to return.
I tried to ignore their rudeness as I stepped back into the classroom and took my place at the front of the room.
The blackboard was still covered with the complex arcane symbols I had written there before I left, and I quickly erased them so that we could continue with my lesson.
But even as I did so, my thoughts were elsewhere, dwelling on Penelope’s news and what it could mean for us all.
I knew that I should be paying more attention to my students, but my heart wasn’t in it, and they could sense my distraction as well.
They squirmed in their seats, their eyes darting to the door as if they expected something to burst through it at any moment.
I knew that they were eager to know more about Old Magic, to delve deeper into its mysteries, but my mind kept drifting away, and I struggled to keep my focus on the task at hand.
If Penelope’s news was true, then the future was looking grim.
Mage hunters were not to be taken lightly.
Though they were only human, they were well-organized, well-trained, and well-equipped, and they had a long history of successfully wiping out mages wherever they could be found.
And now they had come to our doorstep.
For the first few centuries of my existence, I was a villain, a terror who struck fear into the hearts of the innocent.
But then I saw the error of my ways and decided to become a teacher instead.
It wasn't easy to make that transition, but I have never regretted it.
Until now, perhaps.
Because if we are in danger from the mage hunters, then I must be prepared to fight against them.
If I must be a monster once again in order to save my students, then so be it.
This was the life I chose, and I will never allow anyone to harm my students.
But as I stood before my young apprentices, my heart heavy with dread, a thought struck me that made me feel ashamed.
After all these years, after everything I have seen and done, how could I have been so foolish?
After all of my encouraging and cajoling, after pushing these young mages to study and learn and master their magic, how could I have ever thought that they would be safe?
How could I have ever believed that the mage hunters wouldn’t eventually find us?
If I had known this day would come, would I still have become a teacher?
Would I have abandoned my life as a villain for good and stayed hidden in the shadows forever?
I didn't know the answer to that question any more than I knew the answers to the others that plagued me.
But as I gazed out at the eager faces of my students, lives full of promise and potential that would be cut short if the mage hunters came for them, one thing became clear:
It didn't matter if I had known or not.
I couldn't change the past any more than I could predict the future.
And I couldn't keep these students safe forever.
Someday, they would have to leave the safety of our island and face the world beyond its shores.
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So instead, I focused on what I could do: prepare them for whatever might come next and promise myself that I would do everything in my power to keep them safe from harm.
As soon as the last student left, I dismissed them early for the first time ever.
My students glanced at each other with puzzled expressions, but they gathered their materials and filed out of the classroom without asking any questions.
I needed to focus on preparing for the mage hunters and didn’t have the time or energy to deal with their confusion.
With a few quick gestures, I cast wards over the school, reinforcing the ancient protections that had shielded it from unwelcome intruders for hundreds of years.
I had no doubt that the mage hunters would find a way through them, but it would at least buy us some time.
When I was finished, I hurried to my chambers and retrieved my staff and the enchanted amulet that concealed my true nature.
The amulet was a thing of beauty, a golden tree with delicate leaves and tiny sapphires for fruit.
If anyone looked closely, they could see the glint of my iron bones beneath the flesh, but I had never met anyone who could see through the illusion.
Leaving my chambers, I hurried through the deserted halls of the school and climbed to the top of the tower to survey our surroundings.
It was a clear night, with a bright moon illuminating the surrounding forest and casting long shadows across the land.
In the distance, I could see torches flickering in the night, coming closer by the minute.
The mage hunters were on their way, and there were more of them than I had expected.
I cursed under my breath as I wondered how they had found us.
We had taken great care to shield against scrying, but apparently it hadn’t been enough.
The hunters knew we were here, and it was only a matter of time before they arrived.
There was no point in trying to run; the mage hunters were relentless in their pursuit, and they would track us down eventually.
The only thing we could do was stay and fight.
I just hoped that I could protect my students long enough for help to arrive.
As I watched, the torches came closer, and I could make out the forms of the hunters themselves.
There were a dozen or so of them, walking in a tight group with their weapons drawn and ready for battle.
They were still too far away for me to see them clearly, but I knew what they looked like: hulking men with muscles like boulders and grim expressions that never seemed to change.
They were like statues come to life, implacable in their determination to wipe out all mages from the face of the earth.
And if I didn't do something soon, that would include my students as well.
Closing my eyes for a moment, I took a deep breath and steeled myself for what was to come.
There was no avoiding this fight; the only question was when it would happen and how many would die before it was over.
This wasn't how I wanted things to go, but fate had other ideas.
And if this was what fate had in store for me, then so be it.
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