Sevrin Mortimer lay back on the ground and stared up at the night sky. It was a sea full of diamonds, more than anyone would ever know. He wished, not for the first time, that he weren’t alone. He had his horse, loyal beast that it was, but it didn’t make up for the emptiness gnawing at his heart. He missed her, his one true love. He barely dare think her name from the shame of having failed her so thoroughly. Right now, she would be just as alone as he was locked away in a magic tower that he every ounce of his power and skill to create. No time passed on the inside of the tower, protecting her from the illness that was determined to take her life. Sevrin had left, promising that he would find a cure and return to her so that they could live out the rest of their lives together, happy. That was many years ago. Since leaving his love, Sevrin had traveled far and wide. He had gone to every wizard in the country and then had ventured into new and dangerous lands. He was now far away from his love in her magic tower and no closer to finding a cure. More than that, he was old now. If he appeared on her doorstep this instant, his love would not recognize him and she would still be the youthful perfect beauty that she’d been when he left her. He couldn’t just appear on her doorstep, either. He no longer had the strength for such a massive spell. If he set out now, traveling the traditional way, he wasn’t sure that he would live long enough to see his love’s tower. Sevrin heaved sigh that the rest of the world seemed in agreement with and closed his eyes, ready to sleep after another fruitless day. No sooner had he closed his eyes than he heard the sound of people in the woods around the clearing where he’d made camp for the night. Bandits. He may have become the most powerful wizard in the world over the course of his journey, until his health had started failing him, but Sevrin was very short on luck. Deciding it was better to let them go about with their thieving business than to fight back, Sevrin rolled over and pretended to be asleep. He heard them enter his camp and begin rifling through his things. They were quite quiet for bandits, or maybe he was just hard of hearing. They soon grew louder, though, tearing through his things with more and more frustration until one of them finally went to Sevrin and picked him up by his shirt. “Where is it, old man?” he asked. “Where is what?” Sevrin asked back, dazed without needing to pretend. “Your money, your valuables,” the bandit replied, shaking Sevrin as he spoke. “But I don’t have anything,” the poor wizard said. “Useless fool.” The bandit dropped him and reached for his weapon. Though Sevrin could have fought him off with a flick of his wrist and a word or two, he decided not to. What was the point in living if he wouldn’t ever see his love again? He decided to make his last thoughts of her, beautiful and happy, safe in her tower…in her tower where she would wait forever for a cure that would never come as the spell slowly weakened from age and finally broke, allowing time to finally move again and with it her illness which would slowly eat away at her until she died, frightened and alone, wondering, “Why didn’t my Sevrin come to save me?” That was unacceptable. This body may have been finished but Sevrin wasn’t. He couldn’t allow her to die simply because he wasn’t strong enough, because he didn’t live long enough. There was a way to save her, he knew it, and the only way to find it was to look hard enough. Sevrin had nearly forgotten the bandit but, when the bandit’s blade entered his stomach, he let out a strangled cry. This body was well and truly finished now. He didn’t have much time left. Rather than waste his efforts on trying to save an old and half-crippled body, Sevrin chose an older and more powerful spell. The last words on his lips were the incantation to a half-finished spell of rebirth. ***** Nathaniel Mortimer was born with a purpose. He didn’t know what it was but he spent his entire life searching. Each night he dreamed of a beautiful princess locked in a tower. He was obsessed with that tower, even though he never found it. Some days, he thought it was a real, physical tower, others he was convinced it was simply a construction of his mind and the princess was the reward for seeing his research succeed. Nathaniel’s research was alchemy. He was certain it would work. He came close once or twice but he couldn’t quite reach his goal. Still he tried and tried again. He worked himself to the bone until he was infected with the Black Death and died three days later with the name of a woman he’d never met on his lips. ***** Jonathan Mortimer was a genius. It was if he’d had a thousand years of knowledge crammed into his brain at birth and he was only getting smarter. It was a hard decision on the part of his parents but he skipped a large number of years in school and by the time he was twenty-five he was the youngest practicing doctor at his hospital. Despite his brilliance, Jonathan didn’t have dreams. He became a doctor because he was good at it and he thought it would make his parents happy. He chose to specialize in infectious disease because his favorite professor had specialized in infectious disease. He wandered through a life that, to him, was as bland as oatmeal, even as he achieved things others would kill to have. There was no magic in his life. Jonathan had never believed in magic, not even as a young child. Part of it was his incredibly fast intelligence which could figure out a magic trick even before it was finished and part of it was a nebulous feeling that magic had failed him, somehow, somewhere. Whatever it was, it made him unpopular at birthday parties where magicians were involved, not that he was invited to many. Jonathan spent most of his life alone. Generally, people were either too intimidated by his intelligence to want to get close to him or they were too painfully stupid for Jonathan to want to get close to them. He didn’t mind being alone, though. He felt more lonely in a crowd full of people than he did in the middle of nowhere with no one around for miles. His favorite pastime was going for hikes in the woods. He would camp out every chance he had to take time off. He would gaze at the stars and pretend that he was the only person on the face of the planet. That was what Jonathan was doing now, hiking. He’d just moved to a new hospital in a quaint little town that sat on the edge of beautifully dark and deep woods. The townspeople said they were haunted but Jonathan didn’t believe in haunted. It was his first weekend since moving in and he was taking a break from unpacking by backpacking in the woods.