Prisoners of Fate Prologue Urwick climbed the winding path that led up to the converted lighthouse.

The wind tossed his silvery curls across his dark skinned face, and he could smell sea salt in the air. It was twilight, the time of day Urwick preferred the most. As a dark elf, he found it difficult to tolerate the harshness of the daylight sun, even with his shading spells, but he was not much of a night person either.

He had not been all that surprised when his friend and alumnus apprentice, Ebon had moved into this remote part of the Magic University campus. Since a major controversy had rocked the University five years ago, they had been reworking the University Admission Trials and the lighthouse, one of the old Trial Way Stations, had remained, for the most part, abandoned. Ebon did not want to live in the Main Hall of the University, even after he was made one of the University faculty. The University Officials did not dispute this with him either. Most of the faculty either openly or secretly feared Ebon, a wizard who resembled the dark wispy shadow of a wraith due to a magical accident that had occurred before he had attended the University. He also had heightened and unusual powers because of his multi-dimensional state of being, and because of the unpredictable nature of these powers, the other instructors did not want to wake up one day with Ebon as their new neighbour. Consequently, no one chose to protest Ebon’s request to make the lighthouse his new laboratory, and many even applauded the idea. This location also provided Ebon with the solitude he preferred, not being the social type since his accident. Urwick neared the small red door that led into the main foyer of Ebon’s residence. He had helped the shadowy mage move into the lighthouse four years ago, along with an unusual dwarf by the name of Shetland. Shetland was an experimental subject for Ebon, a dwarf who had a bizarre effect on any magic around him. Shetland had also suffered from his unusual condition as the result of an accident, in Shetland’s case a childhood accident, a fact that gave the dwarf and the wraith mage something in common. Ebon had kept the dwarf with him after meeting him during the University Admission Trials where Ebon had gained his seat as an apprentice with Urwick. Shetland had not been successful at winning a seat with one of the other instructors, but during one of the last trials, Shetland and Ebon had discovered that their conditions had some sort of mutual influence. Ebon had believed that this symbiosis, this synergy, would prove to be a means to free them both from their lives of suffering. While Ebon enjoyed the power that came with his situation, he despised being a shadow of the man he used to be, literally as well as figuratively. In his current form, he was unable to touch, to sleep or to dream. Equally dissatisfied with his own existence, Shetland considered his magical magnetism a curse, one that had caused him to be rejected by others of his kind and one that seemed to lead him from one bizarre mishap to another. Urwick remembered that moving day well, as well as the day that followed three weeks after that, when Ebon was given the opportunity to accept his first apprentice. It hadn’t been a pleasant day, for several reasons. The first was how angry Ebon was over the fact that he did not get first selection from the top three candidates. This privilege had normally been extended to the newest member of the faculty, which Ebon would have been had the divisive debate regarding Reid Locke’s Renegade Academy not resulted in the defection of two of their instructors. Urwick grinned at this thought. The incident had caused such a backlash at the University that no one was allowed to even mention Renegades on campus and the renamed Academy, now the Cerissa June Academy of Blended Magic, was taboo as well. Instead, there were two other new faculty members recruited to replace the defectors, two new members who had an equal claim on the first choice privilege. As an attempt to be fair, the University Board of Directors decided to pick at random who

would get to select first, second and last. Ebon, unfortunately, was relegated to the position of the final selector. He was left with the candidate not chosen by his two peers, and in this instance, not chosen for a reason. Anna, while adept with magic, did not seem to be competent with anything else. She was a scrawny, plain mouse of a girl with hair the colour of wet sand and nervous grey eyes that stared out meekly from behind corrective lenses. Along with being perpetually clumsy, she seemed to lack the kind of good judgement to transform her intentions into reality. Whenever she tried to do something for the right reason, she always seemed to do it the wrong way. From day one, she had proven to be trouble, upsetting a lantern within the converted lighthouse and nearly burning the building down at the moment of her arrival. This had been only the first of many such incidences. Combine her constant bad luck with Shetland’s weirdness magnet and Ebon’s success-atall-cost attitude and Urwick was sure that the University had created a ticking time bomb. The question was not so much if it would go off, but when, and who exactly would be caught in its blast radius. As much as Urwick would prefer to believe otherwise, he was a target by mere association. The young woman puzzled Urwick in more ways than one. She had always seemed extraordinarily pleased to have been “chosen” as Ebon’s apprentice. She fawned over him and never argued with anything he said, no matter how demeaning it was. The other two candidates, that had been chosen by the other two new faculty members, had seemed extremely uncomfortable with the idea of having to apprentice with someone like Ebon, a much more normal reaction, Urwick believed. As well, despite exhibiting a perfect understanding of everything Ebon had taught her, Anna had managed to fail her final examination at the University twice, preventing her from graduating, and forcing her to extend her apprenticeship with Ebon on two separate occasions. While Urwick had been willing to attribute her first failure to her unlucky nature, the second failure had him suspicious. Nobody who was that good could be that bad, two times running. Urwick rapped on the door, waiting for a reply. Ebon and Shetland had been accelerating their experiments lately, another thing that made Urwick nervous. Ebon had been using Shetland as a receptacle for various types of magic at various power levels and recording the results. After more than three years of this type of research, he had recently begun to try combining magic types in order to gauge the effects. Ebon had hinted that he believed he was approaching a breakthrough, and this was not something Urwick was looking forward to. No one could predict what sort of consequences could be expected if Ebon’s experiments proved to be successful, particularly because there were still so many outstanding questions regarding how Ebon had been created in the first place. He had retained little in the way of memories of the day he became trapped between two worlds, and Urwick was unsure if this was the result of trauma from the incident, or from some other cause. Urwick was aware that Ebon claimed the accident’s cause was a dimensional transportation spell gone wrong, on the part of his Renegade mentor, Lietta, but he had been unable to provide Urwick with any details from the occurrence. There had been no change in this respect, even after Urwick, Ebon and Shetland had returned to the place where it had all gone down.

Anna’s freckled and bespectacled face appeared in the doorway, her hair tied back in lop-sided braids. She gave Urwick a slight smile, without exposing any of her teeth, then pushed back her glasses. “Hi, Master Urwick,” she said. She refused to call him just Urwick, no matter how many times he had asked her to do so. “Did you want to see Master Ebon? I can go fetch him for you.” “Hello, Anna,” Urwick greeted her. “I’m actually here to see Shetland today. Do you mind if I come in?” “No, no, come right in. I know you are always welcome here by Master Ebon. I’ll go fetch Shetland instead.” She gestured for him to enter, and then she scuttled off to find the dwarf. Urwick stepped through the doorway and glanced around the room. The décor was stark, exclusively blacks, whites, grays and beiges. Ebon had never bothered to redecorate after moving in. The previous tenant, Moe, who used the lighthouse only during the Admission Trials, was an instructor who had found himself at the centre of the Renegade Academy debate. He had been accused of sending contaminated scrolls to the Academy, in an attempt to infect its students and faculty with disease, in particular the Magic Plague, which targeted spell-users. While his guilt had never been well-enough established for him to be expelled from the faculty, he had few friends left amongst his peers, and those who believed he was not innocent treated him like a leper. While Urwick had been away during the presentation of evidence against Moe and during the deliberation as to his guilt or innocence, he was inclined to believe that Moe was responsible for the outbreak at the Academy. Urwick trusted Burrell, Moe’s primary accuser and one of the two defectors to the Academy, and he had known Moe to be less than honest on more than one occasion. Had Urwick been present during that vote, things might have turned out differently, especially considering the influence Urwick had over several of the other instructors in the faculty. In particular, he was certain he could have had some impact on his wife, Jadira’s decision. Without his influence, however, she was inclined to vote against anything Renegade. As a result, Burrell had not had sufficient support and his bid to have Moe expelled was unsuccessful. Shetland rounded the corner, followed closely by Ebon who floated into the room like a dark cloud. “Urwick,” the wraith mage rasped. “To what do we owe this pleasure? You so rarely come to see us anymore.” “Yeah,” Shetland grunted, “The girl said you wanted to see me?” “I’m here on strictly a social basis,” Urwick assured them. “I’m headed to the campus tavern and I was hoping for some company. Are you interested in joining me, Shetland? The first round will be on me.” The dwarf bore the appearance of a dog that had just spotted a bone, but had been told that he must heel. Shetland’s passion for ale was insatiable. He looked toward the hovering shadow that was Ebon, his desire to accept Urwick’s offer highly evident. Anna crept quietly into the room behind him, trying not to attract anyone’s attention. She succeeded until she knocked over a stack of books, one of which tumbled onto Shetland’s foot. He yelped, grabbing at his toes.

“I’m sorry,” Ebon replied, not allowing the dwarf to speak for himself. “But I’m afraid that we have special plans for the evening. I’ve narrowed down the catalyst elements to three varieties of magic and we were going to try them in several power combinations tonight. I can hardly manage this if Shetland is out boozing it up at the tavern.” “As much as I enjoy listening to you mellifluous rasp, I’d like to hear that from Shetland himself,” Urwick insisted. He did not really need to hear it from the dwarf, but Urwick took some pleasure in irritating the shadow-mage. Shetland fidgeted in place, glancing back and forth between the dark elf and the wraith-mage. The dwarf’s expression soured and he sighed. “Ebon’s right. I have to stay. We got close last time, really close. It felt like somethin’ was trying to pull the magic right out of me. He has all the equipment he needs to take it one step farther. I think this could be it.” Urwick raised an eyebrow and cocked his head at Ebon. “Is this true? How exactly did you get close? Explain it to me.” While Urwick could not see Ebon emoting, he could almost feel Ebon’s discomfort, his reluctance to speak. Ebon did not want to share this information with Urwick, even if Urwick had been his teacher and mentor at one time. Realising that there was little hope that Ebon would succumb to any guilt tactics or psychological pressure, Urwick decided to focus his efforts on a more likely candidate, equally capable of answering his questions. He turned to look at Ebon’s apprentice. “Pop quiz, Anna,” Urwick said, pointing a finger at her. “How exactly did your master determine that he had been more successful during his last experiment?” Anna bit her lip and shuffled her feet. She was aware that Ebon did not want her to answer, but Anna was compelled nonetheless. Her behaviour was particularly governed by anyone in a place of authority, her submissive nature forcing her to yield whether she liked it or not. “He materialized briefly. I-I saw him,” she confessed. “Really? And you were planning on keeping this from me,” Urwick commented, with a hint of laughter. “Have you bothered to confer with Dean Virtua on this one. She has a vested interest in your experiments and would want to be consulted if you are as close as Shetland and Anna would suggest. You should definitely get her permission before proceeding Ebon. You are treading in dangerous territory, dangerous enough to put the entire University at risk.” “I’m not that close,” Ebon growled, his shadowy eyes flashing red. “There will still be a significant amount of ‘tweaking’ required. I have every intention of discussing this with Virtua, when the time is right, but the time is not right yet. I would never want to raise her expectations only to dash them again.” “Ebon…” Urwick said, frowning, his tone somewhat threatening. “I expect to hear tomorrow that you have arranged an appointment with Virtua. If not, I’ll go in and tell her myself what Shetland and Anna have just related to me. If you wish to continue pursuing this, there are precautions that the University can, and should, take. You shouldn’t be going at this alone.” “Aside from you and Shetland, I’ve gone at it alone since I first got here. Why would anything change now? I know that the majority of the faculty believe me responsible for my own fate, because I had originally chosen to train with a Renegade,

and I don’t disagree with them. They don’t want to put themselves at risk for my sake, and why should they?” Ebon rumbled. “As long as you continue doing what you are doing, they’ll be at risk anyway. Anytime you play around with dimensional magic, there is a risk. You, of all people, should know that. Why not let them help you to mitigate that risk?” Urwick did not like to contradict Ebon on these matters, but Ebon was often blinded by circumstance. He did not consider the consequences of his actions without prejudice. “Fine,” Ebon relented. “I’ll arrange to speak with Virtua tomorrow. However, if she decides that she is uncomfortable with what I am doing and orders me to cease my activities, this will not stop me. You know that. I’ve been working towards this for far too long.” Urwick nodded. “I’m not unreasonable, and I do not expect Virtua will be either. She would hardly disallow you your right to restore yourself to your proper form. She would just want to assure the safety of everyone else on campus when you make a serious attempt to do so. With all of the internal conflict we’ve experienced lately, the problems with the Renegades and the Jadorans, this is not that significant an issue. She won’t invest the time and energy required to resist it when there are other concerns that take precedence.” “Well, if you don’t mind, I have preparations to make,” Ebon rasped. “I don’t want to seem pushy, but…” “Ok, ok. I get it. I’m holding you up.” Urwick turned to Shetland. “I you finish early or change your mind, feel free to join me and Jadira at the tavern. Otherwise it will be a quiet evening for everyone. Most of the stiffs at the University don’t know how to have a good time. The tavern hasn’t been the same since Renaldo left.” Shetland watched the dark elf leave mournfully. Urwick waited outside the door for a few moments before heading back down the path. He took several deep breaths of the cool ocean air. He suspected there was much more to Ebon’s plans for the night than the shadow-mage had revealed, but there was little chance Ebon would give him the opportunity to find out exactly what. At least he had secured Ebon’s assurance that he would discuss his progress with Virtua. The last thing the University needed was another cataclysm. Urwick frowned, brushing the hair from his face. It still upset him that he had been away when the prior conflict with the Academy had erupted. Ebon was the only successful candidate from his particular year of the Admission Trials that still remained with the University. One of the candidates, Reeree, had died as a direct result of the incident, and Finch, the third candidate had followed the defectors to the Academy. He missed Burrell, one of the defectors, on occasion, but he missed Renaldo every day. They had been good friends, and Renaldo had never held it against Urwick that the dark elf had come from Renegade stock. That was not the case with the majority of the faculty. They resented his Renegade background and until the rules were instituted with regards to refraining from discussing Renegade magic at the University, they were often quite willing to openly express this opinion. Urwick had a thick skin, necessary for being a dark elf in the surface world, and useful for being a dark horse at an elitist university. It made him capable of tolerating their insensitivity, but he still didn’t like it. Of course, the clash with the Academy was not the first controversy regarding Renegades to rock the University. There had been several, beginning with the first time a

Renegade had been allowed to participate in the Trials, several decades ago. That event had been almost as divisive as the problems involving the Academy. Once it became clear, however, that some of the ex-Renegades were amongst those who spoke out the loudest against Renegade magic, their presence became more accepted. While Jadira, Urwick’s wife would lean towards that direction, towards speaking out against Renegade magic, Urwick held no hard feelings towards the Renegades. He even considered several practicing Renegades as his friends. Urwick had enjoyed his experiences as a Renegade and often missed the freedom that came with that lifestyle. The University was a construct of bureaucracy and nothing was done unless it adhered to the rules. That often meant reams of paperwork, meetings upon meetings to discuss minor details, and a reluctance to make exceptions under any circumstances, even those which clearly merited exception. Despite the original acceptance of converted Renegades at the University, an underground backlash had slowly developed and the year that Urwick had participated in the Admission Trials for his own chance at apprenticeship, a resistance formed within the faculty. They had brought their concerns before the Board of Directors, and from what Urwick had understood, there had been sufficient numbers involved to ban Renegades from further entry to the University. It was said that some special speaker had come in, some VIP that the Board could not deny, and he had put a stop to the vote that would have prevented Urwick from fulfilling his ambitions. Urwick was grateful for the intervention of this unknown benefactor. In addition to the wonderful training he had received, it was by apprenticing to Jadira that Urwick met and later married her. If they had succeeded in banning the Renegades, Ebon also may have possibly been excluded as well, because prior to his transformation, the wraith-mage had been a Renegade-inTraining. Urwick paused at the bottom of the path, glancing back at the lighthouse on the hill. It had gotten dark as he had descended the slope and he could now see the silhouette of Anna in the window, watching him from above. He gave her a final wave, and set off for the tavern. “Is he gone yet?” Ebon hissed. “He’s gone, Master Ebon,” Anna confirmed. Ebon looked at Shetland who still stood wistfully watching the spot where Urwick had last been. The wraith-mage’s red eyes narrowed. “You aren’t going with him, so get over it,” Ebon growled. “What possessed you to tell him we were getting really close? What if he had realized that we were more than just close? If he had figured out that tonight promised our final success, I can guarantee you he would have put a stop to it all. He would have delayed us until Virtua had all the ‘security’ in place she deemed necessary, and that could take months. Do you want to have to wait any longer to be rid of your curse?” “I didn’t know he would have a problem with it,” Shetland grumbled. “If I had figured he’d get all bent out of shape about it, I never woulda’ said nutthin’. I don’t wanna be stuck like this any longer than I hafta, any more than you wanna be stuck like that.” “Good. Keep that in mind in case for some reason we don’t bring our plans to fruition, and we have to repeat the process on another night. He suspects too much as is.

If we give him any more ammunition, he’ll shut us down. He doesn’t care how important this is to us.” Ebon breezed through the room, directing Anna where and how to place each piece of magical equipment he had retrieved for the evening’s events. Shetland was amazed at how precise the girl’s movements were, especially considering her usual lack of dexterity. She seemed to have a natural inclination for magic that allowed her to overcome, temporarily, some of her greater weaknesses. Considering how flawed she was in general, Shetland thought it a shame that she couldn’t extend some of her magical adeptness into other areas of her life. There did not seem to be a moment that passed where she wasn’t bumping into something or tipping something over. Accident-prone was a euphemism in her case. Neither Ebon nor Shetland knew much about Anna’s background before her apprenticeship. Ebon was aware that she had noviced with one of the other instructors, prior to gaining her apprenticeship with him, but she had never mentioned who that instructor was, or how long she had been tutored by him or her prior to her Admission Trials. They didn’t know anything about her family, if she even had a family, about her place of origin, or about her reasons for attending the University in the first place. She never volunteered this kind of information and Ebon did care enough to ask. Shetland didn’t like talking about his family, so he wasn’t about to ask either. Ebon found Anna’s presence extremely annoying and was disgusted with the fact that she had failed her final examination not once, but twice. Ebon knew he had not failed her in his teachings, so he was terribly frustrated with her performance and how bad it made him look. He blamed the black mark that this placed on his reputation as the reason why he had not been able to attract any novices for tutoring, a common practice among his peers. Anyone else would have attributed this problem to Ebon’s alien appearance and foul disposition, something that repelled all but the most daring of souls. This did not explain Anna’s acceptance of Ebon’s strange looks and mean-spirited ways. In every other aspect, the girl was a coward. Another thing that bothered Ebon about Anna was that the girl was far too clingy. She seemed to hang on his every word and jumped to his every command. She had no will of her own, accepting Ebon’s insults as law and never challenging any of his decisions. Ebon would have thought he might like having someone so submissive to serve him hand and foot, but the truth was it made him feel ill. Her behaviour was pathetic, bordering on insane, and her continued presence in the lighthouse disturbed Ebon. He wished for just once she would contradict him, or question him, even if this suggested insubordination. On the other hand, he needed someone to set up the physical components of his spells and experiments, and Shetland was no help at all. Like it or not, Ebon was dependent on Anna and he didn’t expect this to change until he was successful at restoring his original form. When Ebon was sure everything was in place. He had Anna fetch his research notebooks. It was almost time for Ebon and Shetland to make history and neither of the two could bear to wait much longer “Are you ready for something really special?” Ebon asked. “Never been more ready in my life,” Shetland replied, grinning from ear to ear. Anna opened the books and they all got into place. It was time.