Derek Hexflame and the Thirteenth Key – Part 1
– Part 1 –
Derek Hexflame sat on his front porch wearing a threadbare robe and an old pair of boots, looking out into the million glittering stars that made up The Spiral. His house wasn’t huge or fancy, but it was quiet, and the view was spectacular. He sipped warm Mooshu tea and watched the gentle breeze rustle the leaves of his snap dragons and fly traps, while his newly planted boom shrooms were quietly popping in the background.
Derek didn’t even turn when he heard the telltale snap of someone teleporting into his front yard. He had plenty of enemies, sure, but in addition to the view, his house also afforded him a significant level of protection. In fact, with the enchantments and wards that surrounded his small property, he knew there were only two wizards in the entire spiral powerful enough to teleport in un-announced… and Derek had already defeated one of them.
“Hello Merle” Derek said, not looking up from his tea. “To what do I owe the honor?”
“Hello Derek, you look well.” Headmaster Ambrose said in a calm voice, sitting quietly beside him. At least he hadn’t brought his owl this time. Derek had always disliked that smug bird.
“Well enough, I suppose.” Derek said conversationally, finally turning to look at his old headmaster. Somehow, after all these years, the man hadn’t changed a hair. Another of the mighty Merle Ambrose’s impossible tricks, he supposed. He’d have to ask him about that some day.
“Your Snap Dragons are coming in nicely, Derek. Yes, they seem very lively indeed.” Merle said warmly, yet his tone made the hairs on the back of Derek’s neck stand on end.
“Merle, we both know you didn’t come here to talk about Snap Dragons, and the way you’re trying NOT to wring your hands together is far more telling than actually wringing them together, so why don’t you just say your piece.”
Merle Ambrose did something then that Derek had never seen. He sighed. Sighed a deep, almost mournful sigh, his proud shoulders visibly slumped, and he suddenly looked every bit as old and burdened as Derek knew he must be. The wizened old man shook his head.
“Derek, I’m afraid I have yet another task for you, a task best suited to your talents and abilities.” he said, and Derek knew all too well when he meant.
“The last time you had a task for me-” Derek said slowly “It cost me six years of my life. Heck, it almost cost me my life, and you know it.”
“I do know it, Derek, and I know that what I ask of you is, once again, too much, but I must.”
“I came to you as an innocent, I was so young, so…”
“And you were one of the most capable natural pyromancers I have ever known. Yes you were young, you were innocent, but you were also powerful, even untrained, and you were so very clever. You came to us when you were needed most. You saved us, Derek, you saved us all. I know what it cost you, I know the toll it took on you, and yes, I know you deserve rest, you of all people deserve a life of quiet calm, tending to your snap dragons. But Derek…” The old man looked him in the eyes, and Derek saw the need, saw the fear in them. “I think you know that I would not be here if the situation were not dire.”
Derek just nodded. He, of all people, understood what it was costing Headmaster Ambrose to be here, to ask him for his help once again.
“The choice is yours, of course, Mister Hexflame, but – “
“Merle, did you really think I would turn you down, my old friend?”
Headmaster Ambrose smiled. “I had expected you would take the job, Derek, because you are a good and honorable man, and you know what is at stake better than most. I had not expected, however, to once again be greeted as an old friend.”
“You did what you had to do, Merle. It took me a long time to understand that, I’ll admit – I was pretty young, I didn’t understand what was going on around me. I was angry, I know that, and I know I said some things… Things I’ll probably always regret. But I considered you a mentor and a friend through all of it. A friend with an agenda most of the time, yes, but a friend just the same.”
“Thank you, Derek. For all you have done, and all you must do, I thank you.” Merle said with a short bow.
“So what’s the job?” Derek asked, finishing his tea and standing. “I assume you’re not here asking me to play substitute teacher in Falmea’s class again..” he said with a chuckle.
“No, certainly not. It took us weeks to rebuild her classroom after the last time…” Headmaster Ambrose stood with a smile as if he was remembering the horrified look on Professor Falmea’s face.
“Yeah, well, I thought the class would like my spin on the Fire Shark spell… it had saved me a number of times out in… “ Derek trailed off, not wanting to open the floodgates to the memories that were threatening to stream through. “So, you were saying, Headmaster?”
“I’ve… misplaced something, Derek, and I need to get it back. It is of the utmost importance that I get it back, and that it does not fall into certain hands.”
“A Lost and Found? Merle, you can do a lost and found spell in your sleep, why don’t you just – “
“A lost an found spell won’t work on this particular object, it’s… enchanted.”
“My socks are enchanted, Merle, everything around here is enchanted, you can still…”
All the color drained out of Dereks’ face. He shook his head. He desperately did not want it to be true.
“Merle, you can’t mean the key. You said it was well protected, you said it was in the most secure place in all the spiral, that no one could possibly get to it, that for all intents and purposes – “
“It did not exist in our plane of existence, that is true.” The ancient wizard sighed again. “We are fools who believe that we are masters of magic, Derek. As much as we learn and control, it is still always the true master, and even I sometimes need a reminder of that fact.”
“What happened?” Derek asked, trying to keep his hands from shaking.
“I have protected many dangerous items in my lifetime, of course. The Krokonomicon, The Crystal Staff, The Sword of The D’Jinn. All dangerous, all needing as much protection as I could give them. The key, though… The key was different, the key was something so profoundly dangerous, because it was so innocent, and because it’s terrible power did not need a malevolent force or complex rituals to activate it – it could be activated by innocence, it could even be activated… accidentally.”
“I know, Merle, believe me. I remember.” Derek said, massaging the bridge of his nose. “Which is why the protection around it had to be so complete, so extreme.”
“And it was. For years the key was protected by the most advanced magic I have ever used, encased in an impregnable vault, a pocket of altered space that existed outside the spiral itself. I believed it would be impossible for anyone to take it.”
“I sense a unfortunate ‘but’ coming, Headmaster…”
“A miscalculation was made, it is true. All the focus was on keeping someone from getting into the vault, but not from someone – or some thing – getting out of it.”
“So someone got the key?” Derek was tense, he didn’t like where this was going.
“Not necessarily.” Merle said, his fingers steepled together in thought. “There is no indication that the wards or protections were broken, but yet the key is certainly gone. I”m not sure how it happened, but we need to find that key, at all costs.”
“I understand, Headmaster.” Derek said, running a hand through his firey red hair. “ I won’t let you down.”
“I know you’ll do your best, Pyromancer.” Merle Ambrose said as he waved his hand and vanished with a pop.
“You’re welcome, Merle…” Derek said to no-one in particular.