Lonzo’s heart raced in his chest as he pressed himself against the stone wall in the alley. His breath came in great heaves from running from the town guard. He reached down and checked his satchel without looking. The book was still safely tucked in the pocket as he heard the clanking of the guards’ armor growing more distant.
“What’re you running from this time?” a familiar voice said from further down the alley.
“Hey, Nate. You know, just outrunning some guards. The usual,” Lonzo replied, pushing himself from the wall and turning to face him.
Nate sat on a crate, eating around the bitten part of an apple that had been discarded. His sand-colored hair askew as always. His shirt and pants were barely more than rags as he bounced one leg on the other, showing the black bottom of his foot.
“What’d you take?” Nate asked as he inspected the apple, found one last bite, and discarded the rest of it in the bin from which he had undoubtedly retrieved it. “Anything good?”
“If you help me get out of here, I’ll show it to you,” Lonzo said, looking over his shoulder. “Suffice to say that the guy it belonged to is going to want it back.”
“First, tell me what it is, and we’ll see if I’ll help you,” Nate replied.
“A book,” Lonzo said, patting his satchel.
“A book? You got yourself in trouble for a book?” Nate asked, raising an eyebrow. “What kind of book?”
“A spellbook,” Lonzo replied. He couldn’t stop the wide grin that spread across his face.
“Alright then,” Nate said, bouncing to his feet. “Let’s get you out of here, and we’ll see what we can learn from it.”
Lonzo hesitated as Nate turned away from him. He didn’t know if he wanted to share the secrets he had worked for months to get, but the sound of clanking armor was beginning to get closer.
“Let’s go,” Nate said, waving Lonzo to him. “Those guards sound like they’re getting closer.”
Lonzo moved forward and was surprised to see how swiftly Nate darted ahead of him. Lonzo had to push himself to keep up as they dashed around corners, into the shadows before guards passed the spot they hid. They sprinted across the street and into another alley that led to another maze of buildings.
“West Vale?” Lonzo asked as they emerged at the center of the district and slowed to a walk. Before them, the massive city park that took up most of the neighborhood. “Why’d we come here?”
“Just follow me,” Nate replied, “There’s a special place I go here, where no guard has ever found me.”
Nate walked between a few shrubs, vanishing into the thicket. Lonzo followed, pushing branches and leaves out of his face. He couldn’t see Nate anymore and wasn’t even sure if he was traveling in the right direction.
“Over here,” Nate whispered on Lonzo’s left.
Lonzo turned and pushed through a few more bushes into a small clearing with a stormwater grate in the center of it.
“You promise you’re not going to tell anyone about this?” Nate said, suddenly suspicious.
“I swear it!” Lonzo replied, crossing his heart. “If everything goes well, we’ll be full wizards and never need to return here.”
“Alright,” Nate said, pulling the grate up and sliding it over. “You go first. Wait for me at the bottom.”
Lonzo looked in and saw a ladder descended down into the dark underbelly of the city. He nodded and climbed down the ladder. The light steadily dimmed until he was moving in total darkness, and the rungs of the ladder became slippery with what felt like moss under his hands.
Above him, he saw the light blocked as Nate began coming down, replacing the grate above him. After nearly five minutes of descent, Lonzo reached the bottom with a tiny splash.
“Aw, man! The water is over the sides of my shoes,” Lonzo complained as he heard Nate splash next to him.
“One second,” Nate said. Lonzo heard him fumbling around for something, and a sudden flash of light revealed the candle he had brought with him. “Follow me.”
“Where are we going?” Lonzo asked.
“My secret hideaway,” Nate replied as he held the candle high and walked down the brick tunnel. Lonzo was surprised to see the full height of it at its center was nearly ten feet. Moss grew along all the walls making it impossibly slippery to walk anywhere but the water in the center.
“Is it dry?” Lonzo asked.
“You’ll see,” Nate said as he pressed on to the end and took a right turn.
They walked through various tunnels, sometimes doubling back to take a different turn. Lonzo quickly lost track of where they had been and scowled at the back of Nate’s head.
“Do you even know where we’re going?” Lonzo finally asked after the third time they had to retrace their steps.
“Yes, it’s just up ahead now,” Nate replied as the candle began to burn low.
“Do you have more candles? I don’t want to try to navigate this in the dark,” Lonzo asked.
“We won’t need one in a minute,” Nate said as he pointed to a door set in the brick wall at the end. “We’re here.”
Nate ran up to the door, splashing water until he reached it. He turned the handle and pushed on the metal surface. The door opened with an obnoxious screech, but instantly flooded the tunnel with blue light.
“See!” Nate said as he stepped inside.
Lonzo stepped in hesitantly. They were standing in a massive cavern lit by bioluminescent fungus bright enough that they could see clearly. To the right of the door, Nate had accumulated a nest of blankets, random foodstuffs, and trinkets that looked like a rat’s nest.
“Amazing, right?” Nate said as he launched himself onto his makeshift home.
“Crazy, this is down here,” Lonzo said. “There’s nothing dangerous here?”
“Not that I’ve seen,” Nate said. “I haven’t been down here for a few weeks, but none of my stuff is ever moved or gone through. I think I’m the only one that knows about this place.”
Lonzo sat next to him and pulled his satchel around to his lap. “You ready?”
“I’ve never seen a wizard’s book before,” Nate said.
Lonzo pulled the leatherbound tome out of the satchel and set it on his knees. The cover had runes etched and embossed all over it. On the front cover, in the center, a small scary face with curled horns stared blankly at them.
Lonzo opened the book to the first page.
“It’s blank?” Nate asked.
“Just wait,” Lonzo said, turning the next one. Each one was just as blank as the last as he turned the pages faster and faster.
“I thought you said it was a spellbook?” Nate said. “It looks like an expensive journal to me.”
“It had writing in it, I swear it,” Lonzo said, starting at the beginning again.
“Way to go,” Nate said. “You stole a journal. I brought you to my special hideaway for nothing.”
“I’m sorry, Nate,” Lonzo said, closing the book. “I looked in it before I nicked it. It did have writing in it. Maybe it’s just magic or something. I’ll figure it out.”
Nate laid down on the pile of blankets and turned to face the wall. “I’ll take you back up in the morning.”
“Don’t be like that, Nate. We’ll figure out how this thing works,” Lonzo said, pushing his shoulder.
“Good night,” Nate muttered.
Lonzo shook his head and sat with his back against the wall. He flipped through the book a few more times, confused that it was empty now. He knew he had seen the spells in it.
“Maybe there’s some kind of spell on it that makes it so I can’t read it,” he whispered as he ran his fingers over the leather, searching for anything that would give it away.
It didn’t take long for the exhaustion to catch up to him, and he drifted to sleep with the book still in his lap.
Hello, Lonzo. A voice said in his dreams. Do you want power? Ultimate power? I can give it to you. All you have to do is give me a drop of your blood.