Tiran's fingers caught hold of the slimy rock above the water's edge as he carefully pulled himself out of the icy moat. Slow movements, like he had made crossing the water. He did nothing to wake the dragon, which was used to things trying to race across to reach the wizard's tower. Tiran had moved with the languid twists of a fish, hardly creating a ripple.
He would succeed at something none had accomplished in his lifetime. He held his breath, though, as he pulled himself across the rough stone surface until he was at least a body's length from the water. Here he could rest.
Not safe, of course. However, he had been at the work of getting here since sunset, and dawn now neared. He had to be up the tower wall before the sun came fully over the horizon or he wouldn't survive. The rocky walls awoke at dawn and he'd seen them eat birds on occasion. Not a pleasant way to go. And the gargoyle on the roof kept anyone from flying in, too.
Tiran started upward again using subtle magic he'd learned -- very careful magic, and nothing showy like he used to love. He'd trained for this day for years. He'd planned it from the day Wizard Muna had told him he was not going to study in the tower. Tiran, sixteen, hurt and angry, had not gone home to his mother. He'd taken to the road, found work with the petty magics he already knew and started learning other magics as well. He learned other things from thieves he met along the way who taught him all he needed to know to do what Wizard Muna claimed was impossible -- break into the Wizard Tower.
The climb was easier than the swim. He had practiced on stone walls with far less purchase for his fingers and toes, training himself for the six-story climb. He'd scaled other towers for the practice. He'd borrowed books of magic from a couple dangerous places -- and returned the books before they were missed. He learned everything he needed, and more.
He used a whisper of magic to feel out the obvious traps most people would miss, but did not use magic itself to make the climb. The tower would have sensed the power and thrown him off. Or ate him. Or the gargoyle would pluck him off. And eat him.
Tiran waved away birds, saving their miserable feathery lives, though they complained. The sun was almost a line on the horizon. A bit of fog, but no clouds, of course. That would have given him a little more time. Oh, no. Don't make this easy.
Up and up. His arms ached. There was no going back. If he didn't get up to the window before the light did, the tower would eat him. If he dropped back into the water, the dragon would eat him. The gargoyle wouldn't save him, for all they'd known each other well. Just his job, he'd say.
Why was this so important again? Oh yes, prove himself. Right. Maybe he should have proven himself by becoming a very rich and powerful thief. Or learned more magic elsewhere and used it to pull this damned tower down. Or --
The last seven years of his life had been dedicated to figuring out how to get into the Wizard's Tower. He had to prove this to himself and there was no going back down and rethinking it anyway.
His father had always told him he was stubborn.
The window was only an arm's length away. He started to reach and then thought better of it. Too easy. A slight whisper of magic -- almost too much; he thought the rocks started to stir beneath his fingers and toes -- but he found what he feared. The window would have snapped shut on him, crushing hands at the least and probably head if he had been scrambling inside.
Damn! How could you get inside? No one could hold the position of Wizard without having figured out a way to get in this window. No other window would do. He couldn't pull himself up on the ledge and he was running out of time.
Then he remembered something Wizard Muna had taught him -- one of the earliest lessons. If you can't find an answer straight on, come at it from a different angle.
Trap on ledge -- not on window itself.
He scrambled up to the top of the window, felt quickly for magic, glanced to see the sun starting to peek over the horizon -- and threw himself around the upper edge and into the room.
Did it! Damn! He'd done it!
Wizard Muna looked up from his desk.
"Well, there you are. I expected you last year. I trust you are ready to get back to work? Learned all you could out there, did you?"
Tiran stood and brushed off his clothing. "You expected me back."
"Yes, of course. And you owe your mother an apology, young man. A few notes saying you were fine was hardly polite, though she did love the glass cat. Well? Well? Did you learn more magic out there or not?"
"Yes, actually, I did."
"Good, because that's the real test. No one can be a Wizard here if all they do is lock themselves up and think they can learn it all reading some books and staring at the walls. Now go on and tell your mother you're back. I'll expect you here at noon. We have a great deal to discuss."
Tiran stared at him for a moment. Then he nodded and headed for the stairwell.
"It's good to have you back, son. You did well."
He grinned. "Thanks dad. I'll see you later."
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