The mischievous Russian Blue hunched on the shelf, taunting me with her purrs and deceitfully sunny personality. She shook my wand in her jaws, her saliva flying everywhere.
"Zinta! You drop that right now," I ordered.
The cat flicked her tail at my face and jumped to a higher shelf. She landed next to Master Magnus's potion ingredients, the glass bottles clattering toward the edge of the shelf. My heart dropped into my stomach as the one on the end fell. I lunged to catch it, and my fingers closed around the neck of the bottle just before it hit the wooden floor. Releasing a sigh of relief, I set it on the table, only to be smacked in the head by another bottle. It shattered at my feet and released a putrid odor like rotting eggs. The feline knocked over a series of candles, and sparks danced around me as the flammable potion started to ignite. I smothered the flames with my robes, the odor growing worse. Just as the fire died, I felt a shard of glass slice my hand. I reeled back, clutching my wrist as blood oozed from my palm.
Zinta jumped down from the shelf and sat in front of me, my wand still in her jaws. She flicked her tail, and I glared at her.
“What did I ever do to you?” I asked. I lunged for my wand, but Zinta scampered out of reach. I chased her around the cottage, jumping over chairs and sliding on loose papers. “Zinta, I don’t have time for this! Master Magnus is going to be back any minute.”
I made another grab for her tail, but Zinta leaped onto the master wizard’s desk where his largest spell book lay open. Zinta sat on the pages, dropping my wand onto the desk. She proceeded to lick her paw as if she hadn’t just been playing her newest version of Keep-Away. As I reached for the wand, Zinta swatted it off the desk and ran after it. She grabbed it again with her teeth and bounded across the cottage. I pursued, knocking over a bookcase, two chairs, and a hat stand. Books thudded to the floor, and the broken glass from the potion bottles scattered everywhere. Just as I was lunging for my wand again, the front door burst open.
Master Magnus stepped into the cottage, surveying the chaos in silence. Zinta scampered to her master, rubbing her head on his boot. But the wizard paid her no attention. He nudged her aside with his foot and grabbed the wand from her. The Russian Blue sat at his feet, curling her tail over her paws as the wizard turned his attention to me.
“Prentice.” He sighed. “I guess I should congratulate you. You managed to destroy half the cottage in less than fifteen minutes.”
He brushed past me, flicking his wand. The bookshelf righted itself, and the books flew back onto the shelves. The loose papers fluttered to the desk, landing in a neat pile next to the wizard’s spell book. All that remained was the broken glass. He went to the corner of the cottage, returning with a broom and dustpan. He handed them to me.
“Clean up the glass, my boy. We can’t have Zinta getting hurt,” he instructed, picking Zinta up. The feline cuddled against his chest, her claws tangling in his long silver beard. He stroked her ears a couple times and set her down. As soon as Master Magnus turned away, I stuck my tongue out at Zinta. The feline stretched, flicking her tail at me as she followed the wizard to his desk. I turned my attention to the broken glass. The cut on my hand was still bleeding, and sharp pain made sweeping difficult. Once the glass was dumped in a trash bin, I set the broom back in its corner and went over to Master Magnus. He was hunched over his desk, a quill in hand. I waited to speak until he was done writing.
“May I have my wand back?”
The master wizard set down his quill and studied my face as he replied.
“Not just yet, Prentice. There are many more things you must learn before you may have your wand back.”
He didn’t shout, but his tone commanded silence. I shrank back as if struck. Master Magnus stood from his chair and beckoned me to follow. We walked to the back of the cottage and stopped outside an old door. Master Magnus produced a key from his pocket and turned it into the lock. The door swung open, and the wizard motioned me inside. I was greeted by a cloud of thick dust and the musty scent of old sheets. The storage room was large, filled with furniture draped with stained white sheets. Crates and trunks were stacked sporadically throughout the room, all covered in a thick layer of dust. Master Magnus stopped in the doorway, and I turned to face him.
“This room must be completely organized and cleaned before you may have your wand back.”
“But that’ll take forever!” I protested. “Wouldn’t this get done faster if I could use my wand?”
“Speed is not what you need to learn,” the old wizard replied sternly. “If you use magic for everything, you learn nothing. You accomplish nothing. Too many wizards have faced challenges without their wands and failed because they can’t perform the simplest task without one.”
“That’s enough, Prentice. Or you’ll clean the stables as well.”
Master Magnus left the room, his blue robe swishing as he vanished around the corner. Zinta sat in the doorway and licked her paw. I glared at her again.
“This is all your fault,” I muttered. “Stupid cat.”
I glanced around the room, wondering where to start. I pulled the sheet off the closest piece of furniture, revealing a half-eaten sofa. I jumped back as small silver insects scurried away. Zinta hissed as three came toward her. I sprang onto the insects, smashing them into the floor. Once flattened, the roaches exploded, leaving behind a small cloud of silver dust. Zinta leaped onto my shoulders and almost threw me off balance. I grabbed the cat and held her close as the rest of the roaches disappeared.
“You hate aphramites too, huh?”
I set her down on a covered table despite her attempts to claw her way back onto my shoulders.
“Fraidy cat,” I jested. Zinta hissed, pacing on the tabletop. I shook my head and went to the next piece of furniture. I yanked the sheet off, revealing a free-standing golden-rimmed mirror. The white sheet billowed onto the floor, stirring up a large cloud of dust. I sneezed twice while more aphramites appeared. One ran across my foot, and I kicked it off. It arched through the air and landed onto the table next to Zinta. She batted the insect off the table with her paw but jumped at me when another one crawled across the table. She rammed into my chest, and I fell backward into the mirror. I braced myself for the impact and sound of shattering glass, but there wasn’t any. I fell onto a hard surface, but everything around me had changed. I pushed Zinta off my chest and stood up.
Instead of cloth-covered furniture, there was a shimmering mist that swirled in the empty black space.
“Hello? Master Magnus?”
My voice echoed around me while Zinta pressed her side into my leg.
“Where are we, Zinta?”
“Where indeed,” a sudden voice repeated.
Zinta cowered between my legs as I whipped around. I still saw nothing but the rolling mist.
“Who are you?”
“Silly boy. You should know who I am.”
A cold chill ran down my spine as a man morphed from the mist. His crimson robes billowed around him while his dark eyes searched my own. He floated toward me. I stepped back but was met with a wall. Or what I thought was a wall. I whipped around, the sudden realization of where I was hitting me like a sack of bricks. The storage room lay on the other side of a foggy gold-rimmed window. We were in the mirror.
“Ah, Prentice. I’d been wondering when you would visit,” the man said. I turned to see him only a few feet from me.
“Should I know you?”
The man’s smile faltered for a moment.
“That old wizard must have done something to your memory. He was always a strange man. Never trusted anyone but himself.”
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t know you,” I said, pressing my back against the mirror. “But how exactly do I get back? The storeroom needs to be cleaned, and Master Magnus said—”
“Forget about him. He’s not even a master.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. The man came closer and threw his arm around my shoulders. He gestured to the mirror.
“See for yourself.”
I turned as a mist swirled across the glass. The storage room vanished, and the main living room in the cottage took its place. I saw Master Magnus, but he looked much younger. His beard was short and black instead of dull gray. He stood before an old man who had long snow-white hair and wore deep purple robes. His vexed expression looked all too familiar to me.
“Magnus, you have failed for the last time. I want you out of here before nightfall.”
“But Professor Alaric, I did exactly what you said!”
“I told you no magic! You directly disobeyed me. For the last time, pack your things. You are no longer my student.”
“But I can’t go home. I’m not a master wizard yet!”
“And I’ll see to it that you never will be.”
Young Magnus wilted under the professor’s hard gaze and reluctantly disappeared into his room. I strained to see more, but the scene vanished in swirling silver mist.
“He was really dismissed?” I asked. My friend tightened his grip on my shoulders.
“Precisely, Prentice. Your teacher is not a master wizard. He left that night and spent the next several years working in taverns in large port villages. He has no right to boss you around like a common slave.”
I glanced at him, not knowing what to think. He seemed genuine and understanding, but I’d never really thought of myself as a slave. Was that really what I was? I couldn’t deny what I just witnessed, but something felt wrong. My friend must have noticed my hesitation because he snapped his fingers. The mist swirled around the mirror again, and another scene appeared. A young Master Magnus dressed in a black tunic and apron materialized as the storage room changed into a tavern. He faced the mirror, holding a mop with raw hands and a shattered spirit. I pressed my hand against the glass as a monstrous man approached young Magnus.
“Make sure you get every inch of the floor, boy. I don’t want the messy job you did yesterday. My patrons slipped on the puddles you left behind.”
“But I didn’t leave any puddles,” Magnus retorted. The man towered over the young wizard and struck him across the face with the back of his hand. Magnus fell to the floor at the man’s feet.
“Don’t talk back to me, urchin. You’ll be lucky if I don’t throw you out. Now get back to work.”
He left the room, and Magnus stood shakily. The mist closed over the mirror again as the tavern vanished.
“Magnus ran away that night with the gold from the safe in his pockets. He spent three years on the run.”
“No, that can’t be right,” I whispered. Zinta pawed my leg, and I stooped to pick her up. She cuddled against my chest while I searched my memory of Magnus’s stories. “He studied under Professor Alaric and then Master Haytham. And you were with him, Zinta. He told me so himself.”
“Who are you going to believe, Prentice? Me or that old weasel?”
I frowned and shrugged the man’s arm off my shoulders. Zinta tensed in my arms, hissing at him.
“Even the villain’s cat is evil. Face it, Prentice. Your mentor has been lying to you. And this cat is just as bad as her master. Let go of her and stay here with me. I can teach you more than Magnus. I have more power than you could ever dream of. And I can teach it to you. No rules. No messes to clean up. Just hand over that cat, and my home is yours.”
He smiled, but his grin wasn’t comforting. I couldn’t help but shudder.
He moved toward Zinta, but the Russian Blue swatted at him with her claws and another hiss.
“But I don’t even know who you are,” I protested. “How can I trust you when I don’t even know your name?”
He glared at me and reached for Zinta again. I held her out of reach as I pressed myself into the glass again.
“How dare you deny me! I can give you power. Freedom!” the man roared. He tried grabbing my shoulders, but I wrenched myself out of reach.
“You’re lying!” I shouted. The black chasm around us glowed a sinister crimson as the mist swirled around us. The man morphed into a shadow that cast over me and Zinta. He dove toward us, and I rammed into the glass again. This time it gave way, and Zinta and I fell out of the mirror and onto the storage room floor. Deep crimson mist swirled in the mirror and vanished as a scream pierced the air. I huddled with Zinta on the floor as thick silence settled. I looked up at the mirror, all traces of the mist and shadow gone.
Master Magnus appeared at the doorway, and Zinta scampered over to him. She trembled in his arms, but he soothed her with calming whispers.
“Are you all right, Prentice? What happened?”
“I’m not sure. One moment we were trapped in the mirror, and the next moment we weren’t.”
Master Magnus sighed, running his hand over the gold frame.
“I never should have left you alone back here with this,” he admitted as I got off the floor.
“What is it?”
“A prison,” the wizard said softly. “It’s a miracle you escaped.”
“You mean I could have been trapped in there forever?” I paled, suddenly feeling faint. I braced myself against the mirror, but Master Magnus’s firm hand on my back kept me centered.
“Prentice, walk with me.”
I swallowed hard, following my mentor out of the storage room. The door closed behind us and locked itself, the key flying back into the wizard’s pocket. We stopped in the main living space of the cottage and sat down on two chairs.
“That mirror contains one of the most dangerous beings in Antalya. Dolion was an evil wizard that fed his power through lying to people. The more they believed him, the greater his power grew. So, four great wizards devised a plan to end his reign of terror. My mentor was one of them. Once Dolion had been trapped, he was entrusted with the mirror and instructed to hide it so no other person would suffer under Dolion’s lies.”
“So everything Dolion told me wasn’t true.”
“I don’t know about that. The most powerful lies often have some truth to them that make them believable.”
“But you didn’t steal gold from a tavern, right? And Professor Alaric didn’t send you away. He couldn’t have, right?” I asked. Master Magnus looked at the floor but soon met my eyes with his.
“I was young once too, Prentice. I still made mistakes. But I learned from them as you must do. Just promise me you won’t go near that mirror again.”
“As long as Zinta gets over her fear of aphramites,” I jested. Zinta hissed at me and darted out of the room. “Fraidy cat.”
Master Magnus and I shared a laugh. The old wizard pulled his wand and mine from his sleeve.
“I think we’ve had enough magic for one day,” he said. He stood and went to his desk. He put the wands in the top drawer and turned to me with a smile. “What do you say about going for an afternoon ride? Scarlett and Artemis could use a little exercise.”
I smiled as I bolted out of my chair. I ran out the front door and to the stables with Master Magnus on my heels. He was surprisingly spry for his age—not that I knew how old he was. We both climbed onto our horses and rode bareback into the forest.
Back in the storage room, the mirror glowed faint red as its prisoner slammed against the glass. Strong blue sparks drifted around the mirror, but the prison remained firm. Dolion yelled in rage for a third time, knowing his efforts to escape were pointless. He’d been beaten again by a wizard—one with a stronger heart than most. One with the respect for his mentor that Dolion could never understand.