Authors: Sam Bowring
‘I agree,’ said Losara. ‘So, I must cut them?’
‘Snip, snip,’ she said, ‘and all my years fall down upon me.’
The butterfly landed on Losara’s knee, seeming to look up at him.
Magic without denomination
, he thought,
not shadow, not light
Impossible to affect.
The butterfly waved its antennae.
The object created by a legacy spell only appears to be imbued with the attributes of its physical appearance. Hence a butterfly tries to drink from a cup of sugary juice, even though it is not really a butterfly, and cannot really drink.
He leaned against Refectu, and something prodded him in the back. Absently he turned, to see whatever it was slowly erupting out of the stone. A lizard, smooth and sleek, with deep-set eyes and a mouth of tiny fangs. He recognised it as a shadowmander – those strange reptiles that lived along the border, where they could dart out and grab things born of light. The last time he had seen one, it had killed a beetle even though it was no longer hungry.
An idea began to form.
‘Heron,’ he said, ‘I will release you, of course . . . but I wonder if you would attempt to do Tyrellan and me a favour on your way out?’
Heron eased her aching body into the armchair, well worn to fit the bent shape of her spine. She was glad they had brought her here, to her small living quarters, to end her life in privacy. What the boy wanted to try did not bother her – whether it worked or not, she would still be dead.
Losara sat opposite, calmly alert, and by him was Tyrellan with the butterfly on his shoulder.
‘I thank you,’ said Losara, ‘for teaching me. And being the closest thing I had to a mother.’
Heron was touched by his sincerity. They had never been quite like that, she thought, not mother and son – she’d been too sad, and he too strange – but he had said the
thing, and perhaps that was true.
‘It has been an honour,’ she said.
Losara smiled. ‘An honour you never chose for yourself.’
It was a surprise when Tyrellan spoke. ‘You have my respect,’ he said, ‘for a long life led in service to the shadow. And my thanks for what you are about to attempt.’
Such rare words of praise from Tyrellan almost moved her, but she could not entirely forget that it was he who had brought her back to Skygrip after she had supposedly retired. In the years since then they had become allies of sorts, protecting the boy from Battu, and she did not despise him as she once had, but there was not much fondness there either.
‘You are lucky to have Losara as your advocate,’ she told him.
The goblin looked as if he was about to say something else, but instead gave a brief nod.
‘Are you ready?’ said Losara.
She took a deep breath. ‘Yes.’
He looked up to the shadowy threads that kept her alive. She did not know if he cast a spell or simply commanded the castle to
, but the threads detached and disappeared into the roof, and she felt the support they had given her fade. It did not take long for an unmistakable numbness to wash through her. Her eyes closed, and she died.
Somewhere in the distance, behind the veil of the world, a great darkness called her home. She knew it was Assedrynn’s Well, whence her soul had come as a tiny seed, now grown. As she floated her aches left her, and she knew a moment of pure happiness. Almost, she forgot her promise. The pull of the Well was great, and she was light, lighter than air. But then she saw the room she was leaving, grey as if frozen in time, her frail corpse bent over in the armchair, Losara watching and Tyrellan tense. And she saw the butterfly.
Magic without denomination,
Losara had said,
can perhaps be affected only by other magic without denomination?
As the butterfly had been cast on Tyrellan, so Heron cast her legacy spell on the butterfly. She could not destroy it, for the purpose of the legacy spell was to create something by which a departing soul would be remembered in the world, but she could build her own legacy
it. She diverted a tiny part of her life force from that which flowed into the afterlife, feeling an odd tweak as it went. As she left it behind in the world, it was cut off from the Well and became magic that was neither shadow nor light – just like the butterfly.
The pull became too great to ignore. Not pausing to see if her final spell had taken, Heron’s soul departed.
Losara could tell that Tyrellan was anxious, though the goblin gave no outward sign beyond staring fixedly at the butterfly. He hoped he would not be proven cruel to give Tyrellan this hope – there was no precedent for what they attempted. In fact the more he thought about it, the more it seemed a wild notion.
‘How long will it take?’ said Tyrellan, a seam of tension in his usual flat tone.
‘I don’t know. Right away, I think – if it works.’
No sooner had he spoken than a slender trace of shadow dropped from the air like a falling ribbon. Losara sensed magic, but as it twirled down to the butterfly, it vanished entirely from his perception. Then, along the butterfly’s wings, grey sparks shimmered. As they spread, eclipsing all colour, the wings curled back to perfectly wrap around the body. Lines ran down the front and back legs, thickening them. The antennae and middle set of legs flattened against the body as it elongated, the head lengthened into a snout, and the skin turned deep scarlet as the sparks faded. The transformation was complete.
‘Well,’ said Losara, somewhat surprised that his idea had worked, but pleased nonetheless, ‘there we go.’
The shadowmander cocked its head at them, its tongue darting in and out. It was larger than the butterfly, for Heron had encased the original spell in her own.
Tyrellan stared at it in amazement, a long-held breath slowly escaping his mouth. ‘Assedrynn be praised.’ Then he looked upon Losara with great reverence. ‘And you, my master . . . my humble thanks to you for this amelioration.’
Losara nodded to him warmly.
The mander, apparently finding them of little interest, sniffed the ground and rippled to a wall. It skirted the room and disappeared under the bed.
‘Hunting?’ said Losara. ‘Like a real shadowmander?’ He paused, almost not daring to have the thought. ‘If it is, it seeks out creatures of the light.’
Tyrellan’s eyes glinted. ‘An invincible light-hating creature? A shame we cannot turn it loose.’ A new hope struck him. ‘Assuming it’s still bound to me.’
He went to the door and passed through into the corridor beyond. Losara waited, watching. A few moments later, the mander emerged and ran out of the room after the goblin. Losara nodded to himself, then turned to look upon Heron one last time. ‘Goodbye, old crone. I’ll have someone see to you shortly. Thank you.’
He left the room and found Tyrellan inspecting his scaly new companion as it crawled across the wall.
‘It follows me still,’ Tyrellan said, ‘but at least it is now a creature befitting the First Slave.’
‘Come,’ said Losara, sweeping past him, suddenly excited. ‘I want to test something.’
The shadowmander trailed behind as they moved through Skygrip. It was far less obvious than the butterfly, for it favoured the dark and would whisk quick and soundless from hiding spot to spot. It also seemed to be able to travel further from Tyrellan than the butterfly had.
Due to its increase in size?
‘Where are we heading, lord?’ said Tyrellan.
‘The aviary. I believe they have a cage or two of birds from Kainordas.’
They came to a portal door and stepped through a thin veil of shadow to emerge higher up in the castle. A tunnel sloped off ahead, and from it they could hear bird calls and the occasional booming of a whelkling. Tyrellan glanced back to make sure the mander had found its way through after them – sure enough, it came skulking behind.
Up the tunnel they went, till they entered a large cavern.
‘Welcome, my lord,’ a voice quavered. It was Vindo, head of the castle aviary, who shot several nervous glances at Tyrellan – during their last encounter, Tyrellan had delivered the Graka a vicious blow, which it seemed had not been forgotten.
‘What can I do for you?’ said Vindo.
‘You have some birds from Kainordas here?’ asked Losara.
Vindo bobbed his head. ‘Yes, lord.’
‘Please fetch them.’
Vindo bowed and backed away between cages. He did not notice the shadowmander, which darted across the floor and slipped into a whelkling’s pen. The whelkling, chained to a pole, gave its wings a flap, but otherwise remained disinterested as the lizard slithered around its enclosure.
Vindo returned, carrying a cage in which two sundarts huddled together. Their golden plumage, which would have shone in the light of Kainordas, was faded and fraying.
‘Are these sufficient?’ he asked, setting down the cage. ‘I have others as well.’
Neither Tyrellan nor Losara paid him any attention, but concentrated instead on the mander. At a forlorn cheep from one of the birds, it left the pen and crept towards the cage. Coming to a halt near Vindo’s leg, it eyed the birds intently.
‘Er . . .’ said Vindo. ‘What are you . . .’ He followed their stares down to his feet and ‘Erk!’ he exclaimed, jumping in fear. The mander burst from between his legs, wriggled into the cage, and leaped to grab one of the birds in its claws. Together they sprawled on the cage floor, a blur of activity . . . and quickly also of bloody feathers. The second bird chirped in terror and beat its wings uselessly against the bars as the mander lifted its dripping head from the first.
get in here?’ said Vindo, moving towards the cage. ‘Apologies, masters!’
‘Halt!’ said Tyrellan, and Vindo cringed.
The mander sprang for the second bird. Losara marvelled at how driven to destroy it was, charged with a ferocity he struggled to understand. He knew he needed to be like the mander, just as vicious and merciless. Yet instead he thought,
Poor bird. Like so many dumb beasts affected by this conflict, it never made any conscious decision about what ‘side’ it’s on. Will sundarts live if the Cloud covers all Kainordas? And what if it is blown away, will the birds of Fenvarrow survive?
‘Interesting,’ he said. ‘The mander does not swallow. It cannot, for there is no throat or stomach, only mouth and teeth. Yet that does not stop the legacy spell from behaving like the creature in whose image it was created.’
Tyrellan nodded, but Losara did not think the goblin had followed his train of thought.
‘Additionally,’ Losara said, ‘thanks to Heron building her legacy on top of the first, it is larger and has a further reach than the butterfly.’
‘Yes,’ said Tyrellan, watching the mander spitting out tiny skull chips.
‘So what if,’ said Losara slowly, ‘we could convince more mages to cast their spells on top of it
Now Tyrellan’s eyes did leave the lizard, to focus wholly on Losara.
‘The shadowmander could be made even bigger?’ he ventured, and ran his tongue thoughtfully over his fangs. ‘But that would require sacrificing many of our mages at a time when we can ill afford it.’
‘Hundreds, I expect,’ said Losara, ‘to reach the size I envisage.’ He glanced down upon the ruined remains of the birds. Did he really intend to put such a murderous idea into effect?
, he thought.
‘But, First Slave, it is not
mages I intend to lose in the making.’
The Search Begins
The Search Begins
The Search Begins
As a wide road stretched out over green hills before
him, Bel felt a surge of elation. He had left the Halls once before, but not to travel such a distance, and not with such freedom to pursue his goals as he saw fit. Cadmir was many leagues away – who knew what they would experience on the way, or where they would go from there? His blue curls moved freely in the wind as they galloped, and he laughed with delight.
Hiza, at his side, glanced over and grinned. Bel’s peacekeeper partner and childhood friend was an obvious choice for companion. With his posting in Kadass simply to keep Bel company, Hiza had also led a fairly insular existence, and deserved some adventure. Bel suspected that his friend was yet to adjust fully to his newly revealed importance . . . Hiza had been amazed, of course, but there was also a hint of something like hurt, perhaps because Bel had kept such a secret from him all these years. Still, he seemed happy enough this morning, and Bel knew he could count on Hiza as he always had.
They passed a wagonload of farmhands, almost causing the driver to fall out of his seat. The men stared wide-eyed and, as they passed, a couple of them whooped. News of his existence had spread, right from the moment he’d walked out of Tomeo’s house with his blue hair unhidden – but how long until all of Kainordas knew?
‘Bel,’ came a reptilian voice from his other side, and he looked over at M’Meska. The Saurian had been another easy choice for this expedition – despite a rocky start when Bel had first met her, the two had since bonded, and of course it helped that she was an excellent warrior.
‘What is it, my friend?’
‘Always I wondering,’ said the Saurian, ‘how this man does outmatch me with bow and arrow. Such scrawny Varenkai arms he got!’
Bel chuckled. ‘And what conclusion have you drawn?’
‘Champion of the gods,’ she replied, waving a claw at his head. ‘Explains it all about. Now I know why I only a tiny bit not good as you.’
‘A tiny bit?’
‘Yes,’ said M’Meska. ‘Tiny.’
She dropped the reins and held herself to the horse with her powerful legs while pulling the bow from her back. She sent an arrow flying off ahead, where it plunged through an apple hanging from a roadside tree and carried it away.
‘Was that the one you meant to hit?’ said Bel, feigning concern.
‘I only hit what hit I mean to hit!’
‘It’s just that there are lots of apples on that tree – are you sure you weren’t aiming for the one beside it?’
The Saurian growled with indignation and sent another arrow flying. This one hit the apple that hung next to where the first had been. As it was knocked from the tree, she unleashed a third arrow, spearing the apple again before it hit the ground.
‘What excellent shooting!’ said Jaya, riding up beside the Saurian.
‘Yes,’ agreed M’Meska gravely. ‘’Tis.’
‘Bel was lucky indeed to have you in Drel to save him,’ Jaya added, shooting Bel a wink.
‘Yes!’ said M’Meska and pointed a claw at Bel. ‘I save
. Champion of gods, and I save
‘With your shooting that is only a tiny bit not good as mine,’ laughed Bel, and M’Meska grumbled an affirmative.
At the end of the first day they camped by the roadside. Jaya set about making a fire, at which she proved adept – Bel guessed that her time spent as a thief on the roads had made sure of that. As the others saw to food preparation, he went to his pack and drew out the magical messenger bird, which gave a chirp. Already?
Moving a short distance away, he touched the scroll on the bird’s leg. Its beak dropped open and steam issued out, more plentifully than when he’d first seen it demonstrated.
‘Hello, Bel,’ came Fahren’s voice.
‘And to you,’ said Bel, though he knew Fahren could not hear him.
‘We’ve had news from Fenvarrow that you should hear,’ continued Fahren. Was his tone hesitant? ‘It seems Losara has supplanted the Shadowdreamer and now rules the south. It is nothing of immediate concern, but I thought you should know. Good luck, dear boy.’
That was all. The steam ceased and Bel slipped the bird into his pocket, troubled. Losara had taken charge? And yet he, when given the choice, had not. What did that mean? Was he now somehow disadvantaged? Why hadn’t he seized power as his
had done, when he’d had the chance . . . did that make him weak? It had seemed much easier to go jaunting off on some mission than to step up to such huge responsibility. Yet he was supposed to be a leader, wasn’t he?
, he thought.
Mine is a task of serious consequence. Let Losara play ruler if he likes, it matters not to me.
A hand slipped around his waist and startled him.
‘Whoa there,’ chuckled Jaya. ‘I’m no night haunt.’
‘Sorry, I was just . . . thinking. I didn’t hear you.’
‘I heard a voice,’ she said. ‘Was there a message from Fahren?’
‘Yes. Losara has become Shadowdreamer.’
‘Oh,’ she said, and frowned. He knew she was still a little confused over what exactly Losara was. He didn’t blame her – he was uncertain himself.
‘And this worries you?’
‘It makes me wonder if I am following the right path,’ he said. ‘Should I have taken the Throneship, to face him as an equal?’
‘Equal?’ she said. ‘I thought he was . . . lacking.’
‘Yes,’ said Bel, and then more strongly, ‘Yes. A sliver of shadow that wormed away, of little substance.’
‘Then you’re different from him in many ways,’ said Jaya. ‘He seizes power because he’s a dark, greedy creature. You are not so greedy, and look to the greater good instead of your own aggrandisement, you lofty bastard.’
Bel laughed, and pulled her closer. ‘Indeed,’ he said. ‘That’s what it must be.’ As he stared into her green–gold eyes, he found his worry melting.
She grinned at him. ‘Now, shall we slip away a while?’
‘Why yes,’ said Bel, brightening even more. ‘We should give Hiza and M’Meska some time together – respect their privacy and all that.’
She screwed up her face at the mental image he’d conjured – and together they went into the trees.
The days that followed were, in a way, a peaceful time. They travelled at a steady pace, and kept one another good company. They stuck mostly to the roads, and whenever they passed people, Bel received stares, or was greeted with questions and well wishes. Occasionally they were delayed by people intent on having as much to do with the blue-haired man as they possibly could. There were signs of the war to come, of soldiers on the move, or heralds crying out for all to do their duty and join the effort. Sometimes it was simply an absence – an almost-empty barracks or town walls devoid of guards.
Bel felt uneasy to be heading away from it all, not yet able to join the army that gathered because of him. What if something happened, what if fighting started before he could return? It seemed that all knew the prophecy, knew the description of the blue-haired man holding his sword aloft as the last blows fell, and if they didn’t there were plenty of minstrels who did. Bel had a sense that everyone was rushing towards this end as though afraid it would escape them, yet
was not ready. He needed time – already he was impatient with his task and they had barely started. Maybe this was just what fate intended – that he would find the Stone and rejoin the army on the very eve of battle?
When they were able to they stayed in towns, where innkeepers could be counted on to insist that Bel and his friends did not pay for a single thing. There was no further news from Fahren, though one night Bel sent him a message to let him know they neared the Great Rass. They avoided the bustling city of Ismore on the river’s edge, for while Bel did not mind the idolatry of the masses, a city might slow them down too much. Circling wide of Ismore’s walls, they rejoined the road where it left the city, heading down towards the Great Rass. Here the ground was well trodden, and the volume of traffic ensured that much attention was paid to Bel’s passing.
true!’ came a call. ‘Our deliverance is at hand!’
‘Praise be to the child of power!’ was another.
‘Why he’s nothing but a boy, fresh to stubble,’ someone else muttered.
To the east towered the great Arkus Heights, looming and spectacular. Their rocky peaks rose dry and red out of vegetated lower reaches, from which also emerged the cascading Rass. Bel marvelled at the river’s width – the trees on the other side as small as pinheads. Ropes were stretched over the foaming, noisy water, along which fishermen pulled sturdy boats and tended to their nets. The stone bridge across ran low to the water, wide and strong. Bel wondered how it had ever been built against such a powerful flow. Magic, maybe.
As they made their way onto the bridge, with the horses’ hooves clopping crisply on the cobblestones, they came across two peacekeepers.
‘Hello, fellow blades,’ Bel greeted the shocked men. ‘How goes the morning?’
‘It goes well, sir,’ stammered one.
The other, an older fellow with a red nose, sounded as if he may have already taken his fair share of drink, though it was only early.
‘By Arkus’s great orange balls! In all my days, I never thought I’d see the prophecy come to life. ’Scuse the cursing, lord.’ He put a hand over his mouth to stifle a hiccup, and glanced around self-consciously as people crowded the bridge to witness the exchange.
Bel leaned forward in his saddle and gave a lazy smile. ‘I’m no lord, friend. I’m just a blade with a chore to do, and I’ve heard cursing worse than that, by piss and fire!’
The sodden blade guffawed briefly, then moved to stand in front of Bel’s horse, blocking his way.
‘But . . .’ he frowned, ‘are you in need of any assistance, sir?’
‘Not us,’ said Bel. ‘We must simply continue on.’
‘But the blue-haired man will save us from the south,’ cried the blade, suddenly seizing the reins of Bel’s horse, making the beast shuffle backwards. ‘He needs the aid of able men!’
‘Excuse him, please,’ said the other blade, who set about half-steering, half-pulling his partner away. ‘He’s had a difficult time of late.’
‘What can we do?’ called the older blade. ‘You need us, sir, you can’t do it alone!’
‘There will be need of anyone willing to fight,’ said Bel, loud enough for all to hear. ‘Our army gathers in Kahlay. Any man or woman who can lift a sword is welcome to join. Spread the word, and together we shall put an end to the darkness of Fenvarrow!’
People cheered, and Bel wondered if he’d just added a few more to the army.
‘Now,’ Bel said, giving Hiza a glance, ‘we must be on our way.’
Hiza nodded. ‘Make way!’ he called, urging his horse ahead. ‘Make way for the blue-haired man!’
As Hiza cleared a path, the others were able to follow more easily. Nodding and waving as they passed, they crossed the bridge into the state of Centrus and set out on a less-populated road eastwards, towards Cadmir.
Soon they were hugging the wooded foothills of the Arkus Heights, travelling through a lush and marshy land. The road was raised above a mire of ferns and long grasses, cut through with oozing streams that moistened the air. Several leagues on, the woods spilled from the foothills onto the flatter lands, and the road curved to avoid them. A little further, and in fading light, they spied a collection of brown dwellings that had to be Cadmir, standing amongst fields some distance from the wood.
As they cantered up the path to the village, they came to a guardhouse on the outskirts. A watching figure held up a lantern, and they heard a sharp intake of breath. The figure approached, and turned out to be a man of middle age, stout and with a neatly trimmed beard.
‘By Arkus,’ he said. ‘If Gellan hadn’t warned me you’d be coming, I don’t know I’d believe my eyes.’ He paused. ‘Forgive me, Blade Bel – my name is Burfurd, and I’m the head peacekeeper here in Cadmir. Welcome to our humble village.’
‘Greetings,’ said Bel, ‘and thanks.’ He slid from his horse and went to shake Burfurd’s hand. Somewhat stunned, the peacekeeper took it limply.
‘I’m glad to hear we’re expected,’ continued Bel. ‘If you would take us to Gellan?’
‘Of course,’ said Burfurd. Behind Bel, the others got down from their horses to stretch their legs, then took the reins to lead them on. Burfurd stared for a moment at M’Meska, and M’Meska cocked her head at him.
‘Apologies,’ said Burfurd, lowering his gaze. ‘My goodness – more than one strange arrival tonight. Please, everyone, follow me.’
Cadmir was a small, ramshackle place, with a smell of wet wood about it. As they made their way along a dirt road, it did not take long for people to emerge from houses.
‘I thought that mage was full of nonsense,’ remarked one shadowy figure on a porch to another. ‘Looks like I may have to buy him that drink after all.’
A dozen houses later, they came to the village square. On the other side lay an inn built like a crate, with windows bright and the sound of merriness within. It seemed this was the place to be once the sun went down in Cadmir. The door banged open and a fat man staggered out onto the porch holding a mug. He leaned on the rail, squinted at the approaching strangers, and gave an unintelligible exclamation.
‘What’s wrong, Derry?’ came a shout from inside. ‘Piss your trousers again?’
‘This way,’ said Burfurd. ‘Gellan is staying at the inn. You can tie your horses up outside – I’ll have them seen to.’
Following him up the steps to the inn door, they passed the glassy-eyed man called Derry who stood clutching his mug tightly to his chest. With his other hand, he reached up to tip a hat that wasn’t there. ‘Er . . . welcome,’ he mumbled awkwardly.
Bel smiled. ‘Thank you.’
‘I think that man was actually blushing,’ whispered Jaya in his ear.
They entered a high-ceilinged room packed with tables full of carousers, with a fire burning heartily in one corner. As the door banged shut behind them, the room fell silent, save for chairs squeaking as some rose slowly from their seats.