Books Are Safe Until You Turn The Page
Cornelius Bannister was always fond of books and had found safety in their comforting transportive words. For the young human, settling nicely into his favourite armchair at his home in Springdale, turning a new page provided enough adventure. Inside his family home, he was happily left to climb, swim and dwell in Theldan's most dangerous area, but in comfort and safety. He often dreamt of the mystery and stories in his books, but even the thought of scaling the cliffs in search of the holy city of Silver Keep was enough to scare him. Cornelius enjoyed the safety that reading provided him and his wandering mind. He would dream of flying off into the night atop dragons; magical spells flying from his fingertips burning colourful, beautiful designs into the sky at night; giant animals flying through gaping holes in the ground under his command, his army to destroy the wicked. Cornelius believed nothing bad could come from reading some words on a page, and he believed that up until the very day he was proven wrong.
One fine summer Tuesday morning Cornelius awoke and shuffled into his daily routine of greeting his family before making his way to the large and largely ignored library of the Bannister Estate. As the youngest son of four to the Duke of Springdale, his father, Cordon Bannister, Cornelius found himself free of much attention and free for the majority of his days. Cordon had expectations for all his sons, Cornelius was expected to become a scholar, and as such the majority of his day is spent in the library. Thus being there all day was not out of the ordinary. Cordon, of course, didn’t realise his son was spending most the time reading history books outside the regime of the local scholars. Reading about Theldan's mysterious past intrigued Cornelius highly. Magical Elves and Dragons, now extinct from the land; beings that crafted the land he walked on every day, once crafted in unison, now nothing but a myth to many. Magic itself had been outlawed in Springdale by Cordon himself after he had led an attack to regain Springdale from mages that for a century held it as a home. Cornelius's father's hatred for the arcane mystics was not to be misjudged. Cordon hated nothing more than magical beings, magic users or those that would even sympathise with magical people.
Reading Obstructions in the Advancement of Springdale Vol. 4 was pulling Cornelius towards sleep as he sat in his favourite armchair that afternoon. His head nearly drifted off as it fell to one side and the book slid from his hands, landing with a thud on the wooden floorboards below echoing in the empty library. Cornelius was awakened, quickly shaking away the dizziness, but as he went to reach down to the book below him a strange object off in the distance caught his eye. Standing up, the highly intrigued boy moved to glass window looking out over the hills and pasture surrounding Springdale. There, seemingly behind the hills stood the top of a tower -- which did not belong there. Cornelius had traveled over those hills to local villages as a child, or on adventures with his older brothers only a couple years ago, and he knew, that tower most definitely did not belong.
“How strange…” he muttered under his breath as his heart picked up pace. An adventure was right in front of him, but did he dare reach out to grasp it? Or should he tell his father? He weighed up the options as he bit under his top lip. No, of course, he couldn’t tell his father, he thought. Cordon would burn any mysterious and seemingly magical towers down and ask questions later. Even if he wanted to go investigate the tower, how would he be able to make it out of town without anyone noticing him he wondered? Cornelius let out a sigh and shuffled his feet backwards edging away from the window. As he did he caught a glimpse of the entrance to Springvale, and the many traders wandered through the entrance of the town, making their way towards the centre.
“Trader Tuesday!” he proclaimed. Of course. Cornelius’s way out was simple. Every Tuesday traders set up the market in the centre of Springdale, attracting the majority of the town and leaving the south entrance all but unoccupied. This was his key to getting to that tower unnoticed.
Reaching the bottom of the green hills wasn’t hard, the trip upwards, however, had always caused Cornelius pain. To say the bookworm wasn’t physically up to the performance of someone just sixteen years old was an understatement. Panting, Cornelius reached the peak and starred at the moderately tall and thin tower that stood before him. It was covered in black soot and an open doorway could be seen leading towards a staircase spiralling upwards to the platform above. Cornelius couldn’t see what lay on that platform, but he really wanted to know. His senses told him it may just be a lookout. He wondered if it was simply a freshly erect tower under his Father's supervision that he hadn’t heard about. Cornelius would look a fool if he had brought it up.
“I’ve come this far.” the boy said as he stepped forth heading down the hill and into the tower.
The stairs seemed to go forever, and if Cornelius thought that little hill had proved a physical challenge, he assumed he’d come out born again a knight in peak physical condition after these steps. After several minutes the air seemed to change, it was as if he had entered a completely different room. As he reached the top, Cornelius nearly toppled backwards as he spotted a figure standing overlooking Springvale from the edge of the platform. Gathering himself he slowly peaked upwards again, one foot creeping up the final few steps. The platform was barren, apart from the figure at the edge overlooking his home.
“Cornelius, you’re finally here!” came a loud and eccentric voice within the worn and torn brown cloak. Cornelius fell again, losing his footing hearing the voice and fell several steps backwards before stopping himself. Standing he realised his head was now bleeding, but more importantly, a weird, unknown figure had just said his name.
“Who the,” and Cornelius took a stuttered attempt at sounding tough, “hell are you!” He finished.
“Oh! A friend, a friend,” the voice giggled and laughed as he proclaimed Cornelius his friend over and over again. "Old friend, new friend... best friend! Hehe. Now come back up here my friend, you’ll see I’m no harm, no harm at all!”
Cornelius once again slowly crept up the stairs and peeked out over the platform, this time seeing the figure staring directly at him. It was indeed an old man, his worn cloak flowing in the wind behind him. He had a very wrinkled face, worn, it had history and it was beaming at Cornelius like he was indeed -- a friend returning home.
“Cornelius! No danger, no danger at all, look at me. I’m old!” The old man finished laughing at his own self-deprecating humour.
“Yeah, well, don't mind me if a stranger knowing my name in a strange tower appearing out of nowhere doesn’t startle me.” Cornelius now moved forward and stood on the platform facing the old man.
“My name is Amadeus. And it is my pleasure, of course -- all a pleasure, giant pleasure to meet you.” proclaimed the old man, looking more and more barely holding back from excitement. Looking the man over closely, Cornelius noticed he had nothing on his person but a book in his right hand. It was large, probably thousands of pages and looked very aged.
“What is that?” Cornelius said pointing at the book in Amadeus’s hand. Amadeus now brought the book up to eye level and Cornelius could read the bronze writing etched on the cover that read: The Book of The Grand Magus.
“This?” Amadeus asked pointing at the book with a Cheshire-grin creeping along his face. “Why it’s obviously a book, Cornelius come on,” and once again he stopped to laugh at his own jokes before proclaiming very loudly, “ I’m exchanging it!”
“With you hehe.” And the old man began bouncing on his legs moving forward towards Cornelius. Whether by a sudden intrigue in the book or feeling like the old man posed zero threat to him, Cornelius stood his ground. Amadeus breezily dropped the book into the hands of the boy. Cornelius struggled as the heavy book landed in his hands.
“A favour is all I ask,” Amadeus announced, looking down at Cornelius with that same grin gleaming across his face.
“What kind of favour?”
“Oh, nothing much, nothing too crazy hehe, just a crazy Tuesday isn’t it?” Amadeus finished staring at the ground apparently lost in the realization it was indeed Tuesday for a moment. “Oh! Oh! One day, one day soon, I’ll ask for a simple favour. That’s it, that is how simple it is my friend.” Amadeus now gleaming into Cornelius’s eyes as he considered the offer.
“No, I don’t think I want to owe a favour to a stranger for a book.”
“Oh… but no, wait. I know. I know. This book I think you may desire. Open it up. Go on, go on” Amadeus now motioning his hands in front of Cornelius, fanning him to turn the pages of The Grand Magus. Cornelius looked down at the wearing book and opened its thick brown cover to the first page. The bronze words on the front felt hot, oddly, as his thumb passed over the lettering. What he saw in front of him was something he had always dreamed of seeing. Sprawled across the first page were instructions and incantations for a magical spell. He was holding a book of the arcane arts.
“Is this--” Cornelius began before Amadeus cut him off eagerly.
“--It is,” he answered preemptively giggling as he did. Cornelius was lost in amazement at the pages in front of him as he flicked through the contents to see if every page held as much information as the first, and they did. Amadeus simply stared at him with that same creepy grin.
“A favour then, Cornelius?” The boy had nearly forgotten Amadeus's proclamation beforehand. He closed the book and thought for a moment -- what’s the worst he could ask of him if he even lived long enough to redeem the favour he thought.
“Okay, Amadeus we have a deal.” Amadeus extended a hand and Cornelius met it.
“Cool,” said Cornelius as the handshake lasted longer than he had wished before Amadeus let it fall loose.
“Alright, bye.” Cornelius turned and went to make his exit. As he took his first step downwards though he heard Amadeus for one last time echoing with each step he took.
"The last owner of that book found adventure and glory, hand in hand, with desolation and solitude. See you soon, Cornelius.”
Cornelius exited the tower in the late afternoon and began his slow walk home. Little did he realise, that was the last day he would feel safe, for the rest of his life.
Knowing how his Father would react if he found the book, Cornelius only read the book at night to minimise the chance of getting caught and hid it away in the library during the day. That first night he learnt his first spell and burnt the arm of his favourite armchair. He quickly searched the book for another spell and started to learn how to repair the smouldering chair. Cornelius never thought to question the ease in which he picked up the arcane arts. No one was there to tell him the chances of learning the mystics so late into his life were near impossible.
The following Tuesday, Cornelius once again snuck out to the tower filled with questions about the book and Amadeus. It was a misty day and he could barely see a metre in front of himself wandering towards the hills. When he reached the peak he was left speechless. The tower and Amadeus were nowhere to be seen. He searched the dirt for signs of the tower where it had stood and wandered around aimlessly for an hour in case it had simply moved position, before accepting the truth. The tower and Amadeus were gone.
Over the next year Cornelius continued to learn in private at night, the study consumed him and soon it was all he wanted to learn. His once secondary studies to fulfil his Father's wishes disappeared completely as each waking moment was spent thinking about mastering the arcane arts.
One of the servants of the Bannister Estate was a young boy that had been Cornelius's friend since he was eight years old; that boy's name was Timms. Both had grown up closer than their own brothers and felt like family to each other. He trusted Timms and the week after returning from the deserted ground of the tower Cornelius had let Timms in on the events of that fateful Tuesday, two weeks before; Amadeus, the tower, the Grand Magus -- all of it. Cornelius liked having someone to look out for him. Timms would stand guard in the library when Cornelius was practising to keep an eye out for anyone that may come to seek the young man from the library during the day. The new freedom to study the magic in the light hours of the day allowed Cornelius to grow stronger and more fluent with the contents of the book. Their friendship worked well and Timms helped Cornilous dodge many encounters with Cordon who recently was spending more time checking up on his youngest son as his older brothers left Springdale in the advancement of their careers.
Rain pattered on the rooftop above as Cornelius sat in his favourite armchair. Just another ordinary night as Timms was reading across the room from him close to the door on guard duty. Through the rain came the sound of marching from the north. Cornelius rushed to the window in search of the marching sound.
“What’s going on? Are we being invaded?!” came the sound of Timms timid voice across the room.
“I don’t know…” Cornelius trailed off as he caught the image of hundreds of soldiers marching into Springdale. He recognised their insignia, a sun with a burning pair of wings engraved beautifully across their armoured chests. The Holy Guard had arrived in his town. Cornelius had read about them before, even heard about them from travellers that had passed through town. They were very far from Silver Keep, however, and any religious journey that had brought them to Springdale would not be a good one, not for Cornelius if they found his book anyway. He saw his Father walk out into the rain to meet one of the Holy Guard. They must have been exchanging heated words as Cordon's hands were waving fiercely in the air and then stopped suddenly as the guardsmen raised one finger. Cordon walked with two of the Holy Guard members as they entered the Bannister Estate, just below Cornelius's view.
“-- I think you’ll find this is a huge mistake and a waste of my night.” Cornelius could hear his Father's voice drawing nearer. Why were they coming to the library he wondered?
“The book!” he exasperated quickly spying it on the small table next to his armchair. Timms took quick action, however, running over and hiding it flat behind several dictionaries in one of the bookshelves, just like Cornelius had for the past year. The voices drew very near and suddenly the two-doors leading into the library burst open.
“Father, who are these men?” Coreniouls proclaimed, doing his best to play dumb.
“Members of The Holy Guard, Cornelius.” Cordon stopped for a moment as the two guardsmen moved past him and began circling the room. “And they're here because they believe we are hoarding a magical person or beast. Rubbish I told them, I would never allow such a thing, but for the sake of them leaving faster,” Cordon really empathised the last word, “I have allowed them one quick search.” The two guardsmen then stopped in front of the shelf holding the book hidden behind two thick dictionaries.
“Here, it says.” the one on the left said holding his hand directly toward the books.
“And so it does.” And with that one of the guardsmen reached up to reveal the book hidden behind the two others and pulled it from its hiding. Timms stared at Cornelious for advice, but he had none. How had they just found the book like they were following the treasure map he questioned, it was simply impossible he thought.
“What is that book, Cornelius?” Cordon asked his son.
“I… I’m not sure Father, I’ve never seen it.”
“He lies.” They said in unison, as the guardsmen swung around to stare at Cornelius.
“This book,” began one of the Holy Guard, “is very ancient magic."
“Indeed,” finished the second, “and that boy is the one that has been studying it." Cornelius saw the hurt in his father’s eyes and knew that, if true, his father would no longer protect him. Just as the guards approached Cornelius, Timms moved in between them quickly and snatched the book. The Holy Guard in response drew their blades. Timms tore a page from the book and tossed the rest of it back over his head towards Cornelius as he managed to reach up and catch the heavy object. Timms quickly began to recite words from the page. Apparently, he had learnt more than Cornelius was aware after all this time watching his practice.
"For the light that burns brightly in my heart, erupt forth to protect those I love from the dark. Take my soul as its fuel, to end my soul for the dreams of a fool."
A blazing energy began to consume the young Timms before everyone’s eyes and then began to consume the house around him. Cornelius saw Timms smiling face turn back to him before disappearing into the building vortex, engulfing him in an orange and pink swirling storm. Cornelius turned around and sprinted forward, yelling a spell at the glass window shattering it into a million pieces as he dived outside.
Landing with a thud, pain coursed through Cornelius's body from the broken bones and bruised hip. He managed to fold over onto his back in time to see his home consumed by the power vortex Timms had conducted. Looking to his right he saw the remaining Holy Guard staring at the engulfed mansion, oblivious to Cornelius lying just metres from them. Cornelius, with much pain, crawled to the alleyway across from his home and started wrapping his wounds in some torn tunic.
“What have I done?” he whimpered as he began to cry into the dirt.
Take my soul as its fuel, to end my soul for the dreams of a fool
That was the last time he saw Springdale, his family or his friend Timms. Upon seeing his Father make it out of the house alive he knew it was time for him to leave. Cornelius fled east of Springdale to the town of Ashcroft which was known for hiding those that studied the magical arts. Using all his time to study and learn the remainder of The Book of The Grand Magus, Cornelius was in search of any way to rectify what he had caused. His nineteenth birthday came and went as he fell into a self-enforced hermit life in a small hut near the village. Cornelius remained focused and always prepared for something to go wrong, always ready to run and this is where the youngest son of The Duke of Springdale remains to this day.