“So, tell me about your findings,” the Curator says.
We are standing on the top of the ruins of the Old Town wall. On one side the silent ruins of Old Ankhar lay in the silence of centuries, keeping the memories of times when demons roared beneath the surface and people died terrible deaths. This portion of the wall, that surrounded the ancient Ankhar, is still standing, thanks to the prevention efforts of the Curatorium. The demolished buildings, destroyed homes, shattered stones of the old streets are still in their ruined form to remind the people that humans are fragile. It serves as a monument of horrible ancient powers, as well.
On the other side of the wall, Ankhar City buzzes with energy. The sun makes the White Towers so bright it pains to look at them. I hear the constant buzz of cars and people from the Malachi avenue near to us. I watch an airplane climbing higher and higher on the other side of the city, towards the white streaks that other flights left in the sky.
“The book might be original,” I say.
The Curator lifts one eyebrow. “Might be? It either is or isn’t.”
I quickly add, “I mean, the chemical tests proved that the paper and the ink are several centuries old.”
“We knew that already. Tell me about your trip.” The Curator turns and watches the ruins, as if waiting for an ancient demon to emerge to confirm his theory.
I hesitate. In the pub, with a bear in my hand, I would tell my story without hesitation. But the Curator isn’t a half-drunk buddy who would believe anything for another round. He is the head of the Institute of Archeology.
“Don’t tell me you have spent the considerable amount we provided you with, for nothing.” His voice is calm, but I hear the menace between the lines.
I clear my throat. “I found evidence.”
The Curator turns back to me, lifting both eyebrows.
“We started,” I continue, “in the ancient city under Old Ankhar. We found all kinds of artefacts that other archaeologists discovered already. Wooden cutlery, clay bowls and drinking cups, furniture and such. Everyday items. But we looked into places no one did before.”
I swallow. Now comes the hard part.
“And?” The Curator’s voice is urging.
“We found a skeleton of a goblin.”
“A goblin? How do you know?”
“If you saw it, you wouldn’t question it. It was much smaller than a human skeleton, but not like a child’s, rather deformed, in places bent unnaturally, other parts were bigger than they should have been. And the skeleton. Believe me, it wasn’t human.”
“Tell me more.”
“We went deeper, down to the belly of the mountain, even down to the roots of the mountain. We found an entire city. Houses, smitheries, workshops, dining halls, remains of clothes. Every kind of everyday artefacts. They were small, as if made for children, but at the same time thick and strong and robust. The people that once lived there must have had been short ones, this high.”
I put my open palm at the height of my stomach.
“Dwarves,” the Curator says, I cannot miss the excitement in his voice.
“Dwarves,” I confirm. “We have found remains of other creatures too. They had wings, and they resembled bats.”
“Like in the book of Malachi,” says the Curator. He starts to pace, deep in thoughts. He motions with his hands urging me, “Tell me more.”
“We went even deeper. So deep we thought we would never see the sun again. And we have found the lake. And the throne.”
The Curator stops in front of me and grabs my shoulders. “THE Throne?”
“Tell me you have brought evidence!”
“As many artefacts as we could carry. And we filmed everything.”
“I want to see them!”
“Or course. We left them with the guards in the House of Malachi.”
He paces again, excited.
“You realize what it means?”
I do. And I say so. “The book is accurate. Which means magic existed.”
I always believed that the Book of Malachi was a fairy tale. I mean, come on. Magic? Even when a lucky digger found the Wayward Magicians under an ancient ruin, everyone thought it was fiction. An adventure story to entertain yourself in your spare time. But when more and more archeological artefacts were discovered that matched the book, archeologists raised serious questions. And then they found the entrance to the underground city. It changed what we thought we knew about our ancestors.
“I trust you have received your payment?” the Curator asks.
Indeed, the Institute paid me handsomely. Because I did what earlier expeditions failed to do: to push forward, to reach the deepest depths. The belly of the earth.
But I don’t tell him about my biggest reward. I’m not ready yet. Best to keep it as a secret until I master it.
“My detailed report will be in your inbox within a few days,” I say.
“Well then,” the Curator says. “I let you rest after your hard journey.”
I get the message, and I say my respectful goodbye. He leaves with long, energetic steps, and I’m sure his way leads to the House of Malachi to see the artefacts with his own eyes.
I lean to the remains of an ancient wall and pretend to watch the ruins of Old Ankhar. When I’m sure I’m alone, I take out the Wayward Magicians from my satchel. I start to read, and it sucks me in again. The characters of the story are so different from us modern people it fascinates me. I drink in the parts about strange magic. I cannot have enough. This is not a normal adventure book I’m used to. Each chapter is told from another characters’ perspective, which feels strange at first, but it’s interesting at the same time. When reading a story, I always wondered how a minor character would perceive the story. This book gives me a taste. The perspective of the small lizard seems odd, but it’s funny if you think about it.
The sun sets on the horizon, painting the ruins with yellowish red and making the shadows stretch longer and longer. In the twilight, before full dark comes, I put away the Wayward Magicians, and grab another book from my bag. A copy of the Book of Malachi.
I look around to be sure that no one is around, and then I open it to the page that I chose carefully. I read the instructions. I know them by heart by now, but I read them again.
Then I brace myself before I say the words and do the proper gesture. Then, with a pumping heart, scared but determined, I do what I always dreamed of. I perform my first magic.
Visit Joseph Robert Lewis’ website for the Wayward Magicians.