The Tower’s Fall

The Tower fell in the middle of the night.  It was a coordinated attack from Cepheus’ Terrgat.  Though few thought the king’s crusade would reach this far, magic wards protected both the inside and outside of the building.  Somehow, the Terrgat shrugged them off.  The screams of apprentices and the curses of mages filled the night until, one by one, they were silenced.

In his inner chamber, Ice gathered what few things he could carry.  He heard a scream from the outer room as one of his physical traps caught a victim.  He silently thanked the runes for directing him to install such devices when he moved in last year.

His relative youth also gave him a suite of rooms closer to the ground.  Another reason to be thankful, as a series of secret panels led him outside.  Fires were lit at intervals surrounding the Tower.  Several Terrgat attended each one, looking for anyone who might flee.  This evening had been well-planned.

Nearby, the sound of whimpering caught his ear.  He moved carefully to investigate.  One of the apprentices – a younger one – was huddled against a wall.  Ice had yet to take an apprentice and couldn’t remember his name, but the boy recognized him.

“Master Ice!”

“Shh!  Quiet.  You will attract attention.”  Ice kept his own tone hushed.  “Where is your master?”

“The soldiers… She…”

“Never mind.  Get up. We need to leave.  Now.”

The boy nodded and stood.  He must have been an apprentice long enough to know to follow commands.  Ice chose a direction where the woods came closest to the Tower.  From where he stood, he could see three fires.

“Master Ice, magic does not work on them.”

“Yes.  But it still works on fire.”  Destroying heat – and the light it gave off – was one of the first things he learned.  A brief flash from a rune on his arm and all three fires were extinguished.  “Now.  Quickly.”

They ran toward the right, between the two sets of guards in that direction.  Confusion amongst the Terrgat allowed the mage to get past them to the tree line.  There, Ice stopped to catch his breath.

“Now… We must…” He cut himself off.  The boy was not with him.  Looking back, he saw that he had stumbled close to the Terrgat.  Before Ice could react, one of them struck him down with a sword.  There was nothing he could do.  And no time to mourn.  He turned back to the trees and made his way deeper into the woods.

He wished he could remember the boy’s name.


The wind blew along the frozen river driving every living thing away from the banks.  Except for one man.  Wrapped in a heavy brown cloak against the cold, he leaned on a fallen tree trunk to avoid sitting on the ice and snow.  He stayed there, waiting, facing the east.

The sky behind the far bank had just begun to brighten.  A golden reddish hue crept upward and bounced off the few clouds high overhead.  The moon having already set, there was no other light to compete.  As the light in the sky grew, he could feel the moment approaching.

Every magic was at its strongest at particular times of day.  The rhythms of that unseen power mirrored the rhythms of the sun and moon as they chased one another through the sky.  Seasons, too, mattered, as the the day echoed the ebb and flow of the year.  Dawn in the late winter was thus ideal for reading the signs.

He pulled a small pouch from under his cloak and, just as the first sliver of the sun appeared, cast the rune stones onto the snow.  Three runes told the tale.  Where he had been was signified by the rune of initiation.  Secret beginnings were all too clear in his tale.  No judgment was offered, merely an acknowledgment that those beginnings held clues for him now.

Next, where he was.  Disruption.  This seemed obvious as well, but the runes were not known for speaking so clearly.  Disruption in the world was a given.  But like the previous rune, this was a rune signifying the cycle of self-change.  Disruption within, as well as without.  He was still uncertain of his own role, his own path, and that must be resolved, perhaps by considering the source, the beginnings, of all of the disruption: his initiation.

Finally, where he was headed.  Movement.  Another rune of self-change.  Ultimately, his answers lie ahead of him, not behind.  There was no going back.  Whatever trials lay ahead, he must push through them and find some new future, not recreate the past.

As the sun broke free from the horizon, he realized he had tarried here long enough.  He trusted his reading, but the surface meaning of the final rune was also relevant.  It was time to be moving on.  Nodding his respect to the sun, he turned left and followed the river north.

Of Gods and Mages

“Be quiet, or a mage will come for you!”  His eldest stopped fidgeting in his chair and turned pale.

His daughter, though, looked puzzled.  “Papa?  What is a mage?”

“Someone who uses magic against the King’s commands.  They are evil and punish children who misbehave.”  He aimed that last squarely at his eldest.

The girl, on the other hand, looked mystified.  “Why does the King not want them to use magic?”

She looked at him with expectant eyes.  His wife merely shrugged, refusing to participate.  He turned back to his daughter.  “The gods do not want any but their chosen to use magic.  The King enforces their will.”

“How does the King know what the gods want?”

“Because he is the King.”  The girl always asked a lot of questions, but this time was particularly exasperating.  Could she not understand the role of the King?

“Does the King talks to the gods?”

“I suppose so.”

“And they do not like magic?”

“Well, they do not like magic practiced by mages.”

“Why not?”

“Enough!  We do not question the commands of the gods!”  His wife’s disapproving look told him to control his temper.  “I am sorry for yelling.  But it is forbidden to question the will of the gods or their King.  We must accept what they say.  Do you understand?”

She nodded silently, obviously afraid to anger him again.

He sighed.  “Do not be afraid.  Behave, do as you are told, mind the gods, and nothing bad will happen.  Do you understand?”

She nodded again, a little more life in it this time.

“Good.  Now let us finish the meal.”


With his eyes closed, he passed his hand over the stones.  Bits of spark jumped from them back to his fingertips.  None of them felt quite right, however. It was a luxury to have the time to consult the runes.  A luxury he didn’t often have anymore.  Thus, he relished the charges of energy. Finally, one spark did not fade right away, drawing his finger to one stone in particular.  He picked it up and briefly caressed the piece, worn smooth from many years of use.  Then he flipped it over.

Disruption.  Upheaval.  Change.

That is what the rune spoke of, and yet it need not mean something terrible.  A big change was coming.  The rune did not reveal when, or what shape it would take. Whether he should resist or go along with it, the rune had given him the warning; the rest was up to him.  The temptation to draw again, to gain some clarity, was great, but he resisted it.  Another rune would merely reveal what he wanted to believe.  That would not help this time.  The runes were clear.  The murkiness was his own.

He swept up all the stones and replaced them in their pouch.  Change?  He would be ready, whatever it meant.

Not Home

Rian knew they were coming for her.  She had tried, in small ways, to help the village. Avoiding overt displays of magic, she provided salves and poultices that seemed to win her the affection of her new neighbors.

But the Terrgat had her scent.  They were coming for her, and the village would hand her over.  Her assistance was genuinely appreciated, she knew, but the Terrgat were feared.  And so, ultimately, was she.  They had to know she used magic.  Disguised as it was, they villagers were willing to pretend not to notice. But with the Terrgat coming, none of that mattered.

Despite her attempts to avoid being tied down, she had accumulated many things since coming here, and had even become attached to some of them.  Ignoring the danger, she had begun to lay down roots.  Deep enough to make leaving hard, but not deep enough to keep her safe. She only grabbed her book inside its case, a few coins she had on hand, and the pouch she had made for this eventuality.  All her tools would have to be abandoned.

Just before she opened the door to leave, there was a knock.  Her heart skipped a beat before she realized it was at the house next to hers.  It was nearly too late, but she left via the back door.

Unfortunately, one of the Terrgat had circled around behind the row of houses.  He spotted her immediately.

“You, there!”

She began to run.  There was no point in trying to talk her way out of this.


She heard his heavy footsteps behind her.  Ducking between two of the houses, she saw a group of villagers on the street.  As they caught sight of her, one of them pointed.

“There she is!”

And that was it.  The village had turned on her.  She could wait no longer.  Drawing a small gem out of her pouch, she threw it down and stepped on it.  Instantly, a heavy, dense fog enveloped the area.  It would spread over half a mile from this point.  No one could see more than two feet in front of themselves.

She began to run again, thankful she had memorized her path.  Ducking between buildings several more times to confuse her pursuers, she trusted that memory.  However, someone had left a cellar door open that she didn’t see through the fog until it was too late.  Tripping, she landed heavily on the dirt floor of the cellar five feet below.

When she looked up, she saw a girl, maybe ten, in front of her.  Rian recognized her right away.  Her name was Mayn, and she had come to Rian for medicine to help her mother.  One scream from the girl, and the Terrgat would have her.  All of her hopes died here.

But Mayn smiled and placed her fingers against her lips.  The girl would not give her away?  The relief she felt was tempered by the sounds of pursuit getting louder.  It did not matter if the girl did not draw them to her; they would still find her.

Then she remembered her pouch.  She drew out another gem and quickly crushed it between her fingers. Then she threw the pieces out of the door.  An image of her sprang from them and began running away.  Soon, the sounds of pursuit receded after it.

Mayn walked over to Rian and hugged her.

“Thank you for my mother.  Now run.”

Rian squeezed her back and quickly stole away.

First Meeting

“You should pick your targets more carefully.”

Krina spun around, her dagger drawn. Sitting in a chair ten feet from her was an old man in a traveling cloak. His shaggy grey hair and beard made him instantly recognizable as the man whose purse she had cut earlier in the tavern.

Her first instinct was to run. But doing so meant leaving her few possessions behind. Besides, he had not brought the town guard with him. She was intrigued.

“How did you get into my room?”

“Wrong question.” The half smile on his lips did not fade.

“What do you mean?”

“You should know as well as anyone that getting into a room is not that difficult. What you should be asking, instead, is how did I know this was your room.”

He was right. Both times. “Okay, how?”

“Another time. Perhaps. I need you to return the pouch you took from me.”

“I did not…”

He held up a hand to stop her. “No denials. I know it was you. For your sake, please return it. Now.”

She considered her options. She was still closer to the door than he was. And he was old, how quick could he be?

“I am faster than I look.”

Krina wondered how obvious she was. This was the first time she had been caught, but he seemed to know everything. Instead of running, she brought out the pouch.

“Good girl. Give it to me.”

What was so important? Was it just the money, or was there something more? Her curiosity needed to be sated, so she emptied the contents onto the table next to her.

“No…” But he was too late.

Out came several coins, probably enough to keep her comfortable for a month or more. Something else caught her eye, however. It was a larger coin, with emerald and onyx set in the middle. It looked familiar. There was also a blue gem. But the black and green kept her attention. Black within green…

“Give it back.”

She gasped. “The Terrgat! This is one of their medallions. That means you must be one of them…” Her voice trailed off as her blood went cold. Stealing from the Terrgat? What would the punishment be?

Without her noticing, he had stood and closed the distance between them. With one hand, he ripped the medallion from her, and with the other grabbed the blue gem.

“I am not a Terrgat.” She had never heard a denial so firm. “Keep the money. Forget you saw me. Or this.”

“But if you are not Terrgat…?”

“Better that you remain ignorant.”

She stopped him as he began to leave. “Wait. I need to know. Who are you?”

He sighed. “It really is better for you not to know.”

As soon as he was gone, Krina replaced the coins in the pouch and stowed it away in her jerkin. She quietly left the room and followed the old man out into the night.

The Medallion

Kahle pulled his sword from the body of the dead mage.  He wiped it off using the mage’s robe before sheathing it.  Remembering his friend, he hurried over to the pile of ruble that had been parts of the wall and ceiling of the stone room.  The mage had collapsed part of his own house down upon Orond.  The process of moving the pieces of stone was slow and tiring.  The late spring day was cool, but Kahle was soon covered in sweat.

After fifteen minutes, or more, he uncovered an arm.  He scrambled to move more pieces, and soon had Orond’s head and torso uncovered.  Battered and bloody, his friend was nearly unrecognizable.  There could be no doubt about Orond’s death.  A large section of stone had crushed his legs and abdomen.  But Kahle did not want to believe it and struggled to move the piece pinning him.  His efforts were vain, however.  Kahle finally collapsed to the floor, exhausted and grief stricken.

Orond had been his childhood friend.  Both of their fathers had been members of the Terrgat and had hunted mages together.  When Orond became old enough, he inherited his father’s medallion and joined the mage-hunting order himself.  Kahle followed soon after.  This assignment was only their seventh together.  It was supposed to be easy.  A single mage, living alone in the woods.  The mage was dead, but it had cost Orond his life.

And now, he couldn’t even free Orond’s body and bring it back with him.  The sun was moving towards the horizon, and Kahle needed to get back.  The first priority was the medallion, even he knew that.  Carefully, he lifted Orond’s head and slipped the chain off his neck.

The mostly gold disk glinted in the later afternoon light.  The emerald green circle inset surrounding the black onyx flame glowed slightly.  Each medallion had been handed out by King Cepheus personally.  Since the King’s murder at the hands of a mage over a century ago, no new medallions could be made, the secret of them buried with the King in his northern castle.  Several had been lost over the years, so each was now carefully tracked.  Many lives would be spent to retrieve even one if necessary, thus it was essential to get this back safely.

He considered Orond one more time, promising to come back and retrieve him, when he noticed a hole in the floor.  At first, the splintered wood seemed to be just part of the wreckage.  But Orond’s outstretched hand was actually gripping the edge of a trap door.  Had he tried to escape the collapse?  Or had he been about to open it before the mage’s attack?  The battle was a blur in his mind, and he couldn’t be sure what Orond had been doing just before the ceiling fell.

Kahle bent down for a closer look.  At first, the trap door wouldn’t move.  The damage to the floor had shifted the boards so that it was stuck.  After a minute or two, Kahle managed to pry it open.  Past it was a ladder leading down into a cellar.  Some sort of light source was providing a small amount of illumination.

Without another Terrgat, it would be foolish to go down there.  And others would come to completely destroy the place.  But if there was someone down there, they could make off with forbidden materials before that happened.  It was his responsibility, so he climbed down.

The room was very dim, the light coming from around a door set in one wall.  Hand on his hilt, Kahle walked slowly over to the door.  Pushing it open with his foot, he saw a boy, no more than twelve, hastily stuffing items into a pack.  Both froze in surprise at the sight of the other.

Kahle recovered first.  “Who are you?”

The boy’s eyes were red and swollen, and he looked ready to break out in tears again at any moment.  He just stared at Kahle, apparently unwilling or unable to speak.

“Tell me who you are, boy.”

More staring.

A thought occurred to him.  “Are you the mage’s apprentice?”

The boy nodded.

Anger welled up in Kahle’s chest.  A mage had killed his friend.  And another mage – the apprentice of that other – stood before him.  His sword was halfway out of its sheath before he registered the fear in the boy’s eyes.  A frightened face that looked nothing like Orond but reminded him of his friend anyway.  He slammed the sword back home.  Confused, unsure of himself, Kahle sat down on a stool near the door of the room.

The apprentice should be taken back.  If he refused, he would meet the same fate as his master.  Kahle shouldn’t hesitate.  He should be relieved to exact more revenge on the mages.  But the boy seemed so helpless, so lost.  Kahle knew how he felt.  With Orond gone . . .  Orond.  His friend’s death.  Why did he hesitate?

The boy could have said no.  Then he could be let go, no questions.  It would have been careless to let him leave, but few would fault him, and then only if they found out.  Now, though…

The boy continued to stare, unmoving.  His terror, and perhaps sorrow, had gripped him tightly.

“Sit, boy.  Standing and staring like that is doing neither of us any good.  Relax.  We can talk.”

Slowly, the boy sat on a stool next to him, about ten feet from Kahle.  Still he said nothing.

“You understand that your master was violating the wishes of god and king.  He was wrong and needed to be punished.”

The boy gave no indication that he heard, much less understood.

“Your parents wronged you by apprenticing you to him.  Now we must determine how best to undo that wrong.  Is that clear?”

If it was, the boy showed no sign.  Kahle sighed.  The simplest thing to do would be to take him back and let the captain sort the boy out.  But would he come?  Perhaps he was too frightened to put up a struggle.  Or perhaps we has too frightened not to.

The terror on the boy’s face had completely drained away the last of Kahle’s anger.  Sighing once more, he stood.  There was only one thing to do, but he no longer had the heart or the stomach for it.  The boy had been caught up in this world.  Now he had a chance to leave it.

“Your master is dead.  I guess you probably know that.  Others will come.  Do not be here when they do.  Leave this behind.  Leave magic behind.  If you do not, you will share your master’s fate.  This is your chance, boy.  Take it.”  Kahle turned to leave.  He wanted to be gone from here.  To forget this place that had stolen his friend’s life.

“Dayon.”  The voice was unsteady, but it still had an edge of defiance to it.

Kahle turned back.  “What?”

“My name.  Dayon.  And my master’s name was Salvor.  And you killed him.  For what?  For your dead king?  I hope you rot with your friend, Terrgat.”

The boy raised his hand and muttered something.  Flame shot from his hand and struck Kahle right in the chest.  When the fire subsided, he smiled at the look of shock on the boy’s face.  His anger and grief had returned in force.


“Stupid boy.  You could have lived.  For a time, at least.  Your master knew that our medallions protect us from your forbidden magic.  Apparently he neglected to teach you that.  Or perhaps you were a poor student.”  Kahle closed  the distance between them quickly as he drew his sword.  He plunged the blade into the boy’s gut and twisted it.  The boy’s eyes were wide as Kahle shoved him off and wiped the blade on his jerkin.  He gasped for breath, but it was futile.  The wound was slow and fatal.

Orond was still dead.  This did not change that.  But it did quench his own anger a little.  Now he had to get his friend’s medallion back.  He left the boy, still trying to breathe, on the floor.


Today was a bit more hectic than normal, and I didn’t have a chance to write something brand new. So I thought I would share another passage from the novel I’m working on, The Shifter. Looking at this excerpt with the previous one, it would seem Cassie spends the entire novel getting attacked and knocked out. I swear that’s not the case.

Cassie walked into the general store. A bell rang, but there was no one in sight. Looking around, she saw various tools and cooking implements. Perhaps this was merely a store front for the blacksmith. She wandered around a bit and found some sacks of grains and flour: food, but not what she needed.

She was headed to the door when she spied a small rack of dried meats near the counter. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. She was counting out strips when an older woman appeared through a curtained doorway.

“I hope you’re planning on paying for those.” The woman seemed preoccupied and barely gave Cassie a disapproving look.

“Of course.” She hadn’t been planning on stealing the food, but Cassie felt guilty anyway, as though she had been caught somehow. “How much?”

The woman looked at the strips of meat and opened her mouth to answer when she finally really looked at Cassie. “I don’t recognize you.”

“No, ma’am. I’m just traveling and stopped to buy some supplies.”

“Traveling? Alone? A young girl like you? That is… unusual.”

“Well… I… Um…”

“Wait. Were you traveling with a boy? Weren’t you at the inn last night?”

Terror overwhelmed Cassie’s attempt to find a believable lie, and she ran out the door. She couldn’t know how the woman would react, but she didn’t expect it to be good. All she wanted to do now was to get out of the village before anything else went wrong. She was still holding some of the dried meat, so she shoved it into a pocket before running down the path.

A voice shouted after her, “Hey! Wait! Come back!” But she didn’t slow down to look back.

As she neared to the edge of the village, she saw a horse with a rider headed towards her. Immediately, she recognized the man’s colors: Terrgat. Her terror increased, and she ducked behind the nearest building.

Had he seen her? Did he know who she was? There was nothing to be gained in finding out the answers. She started running again, making for the trees behind the building.

Blood pounded through her ears, covering any sound of pursuit. She didn’t dare slow down to look behind her. There was no goal, no destination; she just ran, barely noticing anything around her. The trees might provide cover. It had to be better than running out in the open.

She felt someone behind her. Whether it was paranoia or real didn’t matter; she simply ran faster. And it made her reckless; he first misstep was nearly her undoing. Somehow she managed to keep from falling down. She was not so lucky the second time as her feet flew out from underneath her, and she sprawled out onto the forest floor. Expecting to hear her pursuer or even find herself being grabbed, she scrambled back to her feet and began running again.

Her body ultimately betrayed her. It couldn’t keep up the pace, and she fell again. Still feeling urgency born of fear, she forced herself back up, more slowly this time. The next time she fell, however, she hit her head on a branch. She tried to hang on to consciousness, to keep moving, but this time the blackness took her.

The Lesson

“No. Try it again.” His master scowled.

It was a simple enough technique, but he struggled to get anywhere with it. And his master was growing ever more irritated. Trying to ignore all of that, he focused once more on the candle in front of him. The strands of power were obvious all around, and he pleaded with them to touch the wick, even briefly, just enough to set it alight.

But the glowing threads, normally so responsive to his call, seemed indifferent now. No amount of coaxing moved them. It was useless.


He winced at his master’s tone. The disappointment was obvious. A scolding – or worse – was not far behind.

“It is too painful to watch you fail over and over. Why are you incapable of learning the simplest things?”

It was a rhetorical question. He knew better than to answer. The rant was just beginning.

“I sometimes wonder if you have the gift at all. Starting a fire is the first skill any wizard learns. After a year, you still cannot manage it. Yet you ask me to teach you other things. I have half a mind to send you back to your parents. What use is an apprentice who cannot even light a candle?”

The whole thing was unfair. There was more to magic than starting a fire. He had achieved other effects. The power bent to his will easily. Yet his master was convinced that he would never be a wizard if he could not do this one thing.

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself? Why should I keep you?”

There was no right answer to the question; that much he knew. However, if he did not answer, it would be worse for him. He wanted to take the tinderbox and light the candle with it. But he did not. Clever though it might be, the old wizard did not appreciate cleverness. The lesson was to be performed correctly. And though he did not admit it aloud, he was as frustrated with himself as his master. How could he manage to freeze water and control the cold but not generate a single spark? It didn’t make sense.

Wait, he thought. Maybe that was it. It should not work that way. Cold was supposed to be merely the absence of heat. But what if cold were just as real? Could he…? There was only one way to find out.

Ignoring his master’s expectant glare, he turned again to the candle’s wick. This time, he asked the threads to pull all the cold out of it. The strands of power pulsed. He knew it was an odd request, but they tried to comply this time.

Slowly, they pulled the cold away from the wick. Just as slowly, it began to smolder, and, many seconds later, it finally lit. It did not burst into flame; rather, it begrudgingly gave way to fire.

His master snorted at the result. “That was rather inefficient. But at least you finally accomplished this simple task. Such tricks will not always work, however. You need to learn to do things properly.” He paused to think a moment. “Enough for now. Go clean my laboratory. And do not break anything. We will pick up your lessons again later. Be sure to practice lighting the candle. I want to see improvement.” With that, he walked out, leaving his apprentice to his chores.

It might not have seemed like much, but getting through that without a beating counted as high praise indeed. At least he had finally lit the candle. He hoped it would get easier, but suspected that he would not be so lucky.

Attack in the Woods

I am finally getting back to working on The Shifter, the sequel to The Mage. I don’t want to give too much away, since I left some things hanging at the end of the first novel, but I also want to give people a taste of what I’m working on. I hope this is coherent enough to stand as an engaging excerpt.

The woods were quiet. Only now did it seem unnatural to Cassie. No song birds called out; no insects buzzed. She felt a chill inside as she tried to locate the source of the strange silence.

There. She could sense a kind of emptiness off to her left. Whatever it was, it eluded her senses. There was no smell nor sound. Instead, it was an absence that she noticed, a slippery nothingness that she could not quite locate. She turned to face it directly, but it seemed to slide away from her attention.

Curiosity fought with primal fear, and that froze Cassie in place. She wanted to know what was happening, what was causing this strange occurrence, but she also wanted to flee and find a place to hide. Unable to decide in favor of one impulse or the other, she simply stood transfixed, staring deeper into the woods.

A deep growl behind her broke the spell, and she spun around. A wolf stood several feet away, teeth bared and hate in its eyes. If it was the same wolf she had seen earlier, it had shed all pretense of friendliness. Again she was caught, unable to react. This time it was broken when the wolf’s growl increased and it leaped on her. The force of its body crashing into her knocked her to the ground. The wolf stood, snarling over her. Terror choked her, making it difficult for her to breathe. The world began to fade to black.

Something struck the wolf and knocked it off of her, relieving some of the pressure on her chest. The smell of burnt hair replaced the weight in causing her to choke. She tried to sit up, but she had been too close to losing consciousness. Blackness began to take over her vision once more. She fell back to the ground. There was growling nearby and the sound of running, but it seemed to be away from her. She dared to hope she might be safe just before finally blacking out.