Asphorela strolled through the enchanted woodland surrounding the temple of Cirruleaus. Her long dark hair swooshed softly against her back with each step. She kicked at the vines that crossed the dirt path so that others who might pass would not trip. Clearing the path did not distract Asphorela as she practiced her spells, preparing for her coming of age ceremony. Once a novice sorceress or sorcerer reached the age of eighteen, a panel of elders held an exclusive ceremony in which they tested each pupil. The novices were expected to showcase advanced spells to prove they were ready to practice magic unsupervised. The test also served as an initiation into becoming an active adult member of their mystical community. Asphorela was ecstatic about the idea of becoming a fully-fledged sorceress. Just thinking about it made waves of joy crash through her core. She paused to savor the welcomed tides before continuing her journey through the magical forest. Even though she found it difficult to wait for her initiation ceremony, Asphorela was not nervous. She had, after all, surpassed the expectations of not only her classmates and the elders, but also Amaryllis, the Temple’s High Priestess. Asphorela had made such an impression, in fact, that on Asphorela’s fifteenth birthday, Amaryllis awarded her with the title “Apprentice to the High Priestess.” This was the first time anyone had ever received such accolades at such an early age. Despite her achievements, the elders still insisted that she undergo the rite-of-passage.

Asphorela kicked at a particularly stubborn vine and paused. She suddenly felt as though she needed to be somewhere . . . but where? A tugging sensation took hold of her solar plexus and squeezed. The sensation reminded her of similar feelings she would briefly experience when she woke up from her many escapades of sleepwalking. It was as if an unseen force grabbed hold of her core and led her where it wanted her to go. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, she found herself wandering off the path and toward the forbidden forest of Gatheron. The closer she traveled toward the intimidating and dangerous forest, the more she somehow understood; Asphorela was being led to the initiation ceremonial grounds.

She clutched her stomach and halted her progression. Her breath came out hurried despite her slow pace. Why might she be guided toward that particular location? The rules clearly stated that a novice could not have seen or set foot in the initiation site before the ceremony. Although she could recite the decree by heart, Asphorela couldn’t fight the tug of the invisible hand clenched around that part of her that she never understood. As if by their own accord, her shaky legs carried her toward the entrance leading into the frightening forest.

Tangled branches, looming trees, dark shadows, and an eerie silence made Asphorela long to turn back. She pleaded with her body to cooperate with her intentions, but it continued forward until she heard a man’s silky voice snake, like probing tendrils, through the dead branches. She gasped as her body relinquished itself to her curiosity. Like a moth drawn to a flame, she continued her journey into the creepy forest. This time, her progression was voluntary. Asphorela was careful not to step on any twigs, dead leaves, or brush up against anything that would alert the man to her presence. Upon reaching a clearing, she could clearly see one of the elders, Father Neldoroth, holding the Eyes of Azul over a blue flame. The Eyes of Azul were small wooden bowls filled with water that came from a magical spring named Azul. Sorcerers and sorceresses could chant as they held the bowls to strengthen whichever spell they recited. As Father Neldoroth swished the waters in a circular motion, he spoke a spell in an ancient tongue and then repeated the spell in the common language.

“At the appointed hour after her coming of age ceremony, the young novice, Asphorela will assassinate her fellow novices with the Knife of Dragoonslayer and then turn the dagger upon herself, thereby destroying the young order,” he spoke in a powerful, yet monotone voice that sent chills up Asphorela’s spine.

Asphorela shook her head and blinked as her knees threatened to give way. What was he saying? Confusion set in. It seemed as though her mind would not allow her to believe what she was hearing. Father Neldoroth was one of the strictest and most respected teachers she had ever known. How could he, of all people, plan such a betrayal? Her hand slipped from the tree that supported her, and she crashed to her knees. Father Neldoroth paused and looked over his shoulder in her direction. Screams erupted inside her chest, yet her mouth made no sounds. She forced herself not to move. Even her breathing halted. At least she had enough wits about her to know that it was imperative to remain hidden.

As soon as Father Neldoroth turned back toward his work, Asphorela silently pushed herself to her feet and crept out of the forbidden forest. She didn’t dare perform a silencing spell for fear that Father Neldoroth might detect her magic. Conflicting thoughts and emotions raced through her mind. Why would he betray her? Were other elders involved? Who could she tell? What should she do now?

Tune in next week for the continuation of this story.

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