The Dreamweaver’s Apprentice
Jenna’s feet raced her faster and faster the way from the academy as her teachers final words reverberated in her ears. “You have embraced the dark path, the path of Jixil, lady of the illusion who sought to destroy the world through her pride. You have no place here at the Academy.”
The words were true. She had betrayed her teachings when she read the forbidden book. It had been the logical conclusion of her research into ancient magic of thousands of years ago. Jenna would never have a cast such a spell, never in the world if Stan hadn’t provoked her. He had cornered her in a classroom one day when she had been taking too long to leave. He was obsessed with her, always following her and leaving her notes where she would be sure to see them. He had crowded close, pressing her against the table in the corner until its sharp edge dug into her back. And there he insisted that she give in to the inevitable and become his partner in both magic and love. When she refused, he became more and more insistent. As he moved even closer, Jenna instinctively lashed out with the first spell that came to mind. Flame leapt from her hands, burning him as he shrieked in horror. And for this act she would be banished forever.
Most of those banished for following Jixil’s road became witches, mages who practiced the most selfish form of magic, exploiting and sacrificing others to accomplish their goals. Jenna had no desire to hurt others, unlike the true followers of Jixil. Could she give up magic forever, and return to her dull little village that she had left behind to follow her dreams? How could one little mistake destroy everything forever?
To the southwest lay her sleepy town. Each day passed there like every other, absent of magic, of imagination, of any of the creativity that made life worth living. Just like the people. Life would pass by there in a gray and brown collage of emptiness, every day a heart-wrenching reminder of how close she had come to succeeding, how much she had lost. Jenna turned her head away. She had come too far to ever go back.
Straight south were the marshes, where many of the witches retreated to. The marshes burned travelers with their damp heat, sickening them with fevers until they were easy prey for the witches. One or two students went there every year, some to settle and others to learn the secrets that the witches had gathered in all their years apart from society. Jenna could go there and become a helpful witch, an outcast who still chose to help others. Did such a thing exist? She had never heard of it.
Ignoring her misgivings, Jenna’s feet carried her south of their own volition. Even though her very own Academy had turned her out, she had to have a choice other then turning to evil. Even expulsion couldn’t change who she was. As her feet carried her closer and closer to domain of the witches, Jenna shook her head in silent protest. She was in exile, not a monster, even if most of these people were both.
Night came, and with it a fierce and chilling rain. Jenna crouched under a cluster of bushes, gripping her knees in her arms and trying to stay warm. Her clothes clung to her body, heavy and dripping. Bright red berries glistened above her, close enough to touch. Their sharp smell reminded Jenna of the deadly poison they contained, mocking her stomach as it growled. Jenna whimpered. Between starving and freezing or joining the evil witches, no possible choices remained for her. Her fingers reached out for the jewellike berries, then slowly drooped. Could she truly do this? It would be more merciful than starving; she knew that much. She gazed at the berries for a long moment and then curled herself away from them. Apparently she lacked even that much courage.
As she slept, nightmarish monsters clawed and screamed at her, all in the voices of her teachers. Banishment, exile, all were too good for a student that had attacked another with forbidden magics. Jenna felt the voices falling away from her, replaced by a calm, human voice.
“Child, what are you doing in there? Come out; let me help you.”
Jenna’s eyes burst open and she shrank back. There, outside of the bushes stood a tall man, robed in dark blue. His thick, black beard shaded a long face with piercing brown eyes. He waited for a moment and then knelt down. “Why are you so far from home? I could hear your nightmares echoing through the hills. You need help.”
Had she heard him correctly? “You heard my nightmares?”
“Of course. I’m the Dreamweaver.”
Jenna sat up. “What’s a Dreamweaver?”
“My task is to shape dreams, for prophecy and for peace, for love and for light. Would you like to see? My home isn’t far.”
“You’re one of the lost souls following Jixil’s path.”
“I certainly am not. I have no dealings with your Academy, light magic or dark. But you…” He studied her for a moment, piercing eyes boring through her flesh to see the trembling heart underneath. “You study the light path.”
“Studied. They banished me.”
“Why would the Academy do such thing?”
“I don’t want to discuss it.”
“As you wish.”
“I broke a rule. It convinced a teacher that I was one of Jixil’s followers.”
“As you accused me of being. You have no family that you could turn to?”
“No one.” Jenna looked away.
“Then you may stay with me.”
“Just like that?”
“I have seen your dreams. I know that you would harm no one. I am offering you a place of safety. At last you will be warmer than you are here.”
“How can I trust you?”
“That you must answer for yourself. I have no further guidance to offer.”
Jenna studied him for a moment. He wasn’t as tall as she had thought, and his eyes seemed to smile. “All right, I’ll come. Thank you.”