Read The Magickers Online

Authors: Emily Drake

The Magickers

BOOK: The Magickers
Table of Contents
Halfway across, from out of the darkness . . .
Jason saw a glint of moon reflected in green eyes. A large form moved through the shrubbery, leaves crackling. Something large and hot and wild growled. He froze.
He could see it slink past the wall of the mess hall, pause, and then trot his way.
Furred. It snarled, and Jason caught a flash of white teeth. Coyote? No. It crept forward a step at a time, eyes fixed on him, glowing green in the night. It looked like an immense jackal, ivory fangs dripping. His yell of disbelief stuck in his throat. He could smell the creature's hot breath as it growled menacingly.
Then it sprang. Jason fell back, the thing covered him, and he felt a sharp pain in his hand. Its weight forced him down into the soft dirt, and he did two things instinctively. He kicked hard at the underbelly. His hand, caught in the beast's jaws, tore open as he shoved it, punching deep into the mouth.
The beast gave a strangled, surprised snarl as Jason forced his hand deeper into its throat. It let go abruptly, leaping aside, and Jason struggled to his feet. He could feel the hot spit sting as it rolled down his torn hand. With a growl it circled, and Jason knew it would leap again.
White light floated across the ground. FireAnn stood in the mess hall doorway. “Who goes there?” she called out.
The creature sank back on its haunches in the shadows. With a low growl, it said, “You're mine!” and then disappeared into the deep shadows by the lakeside. . . .
Jason stood stock-still in shock. He shuddered after a moment. “It . . . it's just me.”
The Magickers
The Curse of Arkady
Copyright © 2001 by Rhondi Vilott Salsitz.
All characters in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
First paperback printing, June
eISBN : 978-1-101-15747-3

Dedicated to Michael Gilbert: Remembered for his artistic talent, dry wit, and keen sensibilities, and missed by many friends. He won the battle, but lost the war. . . .
Once Upon a Midnight
HE moon hung like a silver lantern in the midnight sky; white sand below his feet made a soft shushing sound as he moved. His sneakers sank with every step, and he pulled his T-shirt closer around him as the sea mist fell like a cold, cold rain. The sea looked like black glass, except where the tide broke on the shore in glowing foam and hissed into silence.
The castle stood before him on broken stone, as though the sea had pulled most of the shore from under it, wearing away the land. It looked more like a ruin than a castle; the dark jagged tears into the walls and towers were like shadowy breaches of despair. Jason stood for a moment, staring at it. A cold wind pressed around him. He'd gotten this far before. . . .
He walked widdershins three times around the castle, a long walk for his eleven-year-old stride although he stretched his legs as far as he could. Then, and only then, did he approach it. He could feel the stone sense him, awakening.
Putting his hand out to the great gate surrounding the castle, unlike a moat or drawbridge, he passed his palm over the immense brass door knocker and the lock sculpted as a dragon's head and tail. He snatched his hand back from the metal, knowing what would happen, and even then he almost wasn't in time! Flames sprouted from the opening jaws and flared nostrils. The air smelled hot and brassy.
“Sssssssson of wizardssssss passsssss . . .” the door knocker hissed.
The gate creaked open with a howling screech.
Jason dashed through the opening gate before the knocker could do anything else. He tripped on rubble immediately and fell to his knees with a cry, his yelp echoing harshly back at him. He rose quickly, dusting himself off, and cast a look around. A broken roof overhead still blocked out most of the sky, but moonlight came through in razor rays, looking sharp enough to cut. As it illuminated the area, he saw where he stood. A fallen tombstone lay in front of him, half in moonlight, half in shadow, with another one tilted not too far ahead of him. Jason whirled around.
Out of the shadow, something grabbed at him. He spun to face it . . . a cold marble angel with her hand outstretched, a pleading look on her face, and her wings folded at her back. He took a deep breath and stepped away. This was no castle . . . it was an immense tomb. Stone walls built around a decaying burial ground. He took a deep breath to steady himself. Although he knew what he sought, he'd never been this far before.
“Don't stop me now,” he beseeched quietly. His voice echoed back in a mutter he could not understand. Jason edged around a chunk of granite. As he passed by, the moonlight struck the letters RIP, engraved in a Gothic style.
The gate clattered and shuddered behind him as the wind shivered through harder and faster. He could feel it cutting through his clothes as though it came out of the dead of winter. Moonlight skipped across row after row of headstones and beyond them, a shadow-dark doorway into the castle wall . . . if indeed it was a castle at all. Perhaps a crypt! At the far side of the graveyard, a blackened stick of a tree twisted out of the ground, its gnarled branches and twigs like grasping arms with contorted hands reaching out to him.
He had to get to that doorway—had to. What he needed to know, what he had to find must lie beyond there. Jason steadied himself as he walked between the rows of headstones, many blank, some with their carvings worn away except for a letter here and there, others fallen to unreadable rubble. The wind tugged at the dead tree's branches and its stiff twigs pounded at a tombstone like skeletal fingers. Tap . . . tap . . . tap.
A yellow-eyed crow sat on the top branches, watching him. The immense bird seemed to soak up all the shadows of the graveyard and grow larger with every movement it made. It ruffled its wings.
Jason hurried past, his sneakers sending up puffs of ashy dust. He pinched his nose to stifle a sneeze, not wanting to wake whatever might sleep here . . . if anything did. The shuffle of his steps and the tap-tap of the tree branch were more than enough noise for him! Not everything here was dead, he thought . . . he hoped! And he had to hurry to find out if he was right.
A single splinter of moonlight pointed a way through the door. He stepped through it.
Inside, moonlight danced almost as if it were sunlight coming through a window. He stood in . . . a room. It was nearly bare, but there was a rocking chair and a window and a small writing desk up against the wall, and Jason thought his heart would stop because he
this place! Oh, it wasn't the same, but he knew it and he hurried farther inside, because someone sat in the rocking chair. Could it be the person he'd hoped to find? The someone he could barely remember no matter how hard he tried?
“Mom?” called Jason softly as he drew near. Warped wooden floorboards creaked ominously under his weight. His heart thudded in his chest like a great drum beating. His hand went out to the shadowy woman's shoulder. He could just see the back of her head, her body as she sat resting in the chair. Only in a dream could he get this close—
Ker-ACK! He plunged downward as the floor gave way, tumbling him into total darkness. When he hit, it was on cold stone, and he lay for a moment, breathing hard, his pulse skipping erratically. The moonlight had followed him down, pooling around him like a puddle of spilled milk, sour spilled milk, and he stood up slowly.
Cold, icy stone was all around him, pressing close. At the other end of the narrow passageway, he could see a solid, long, yet tablelike object. He rubbed his eyes and took a cautious step forward, no longer sure what was solid and what was not. As he moved toward the object, he could see what it was. A stone sarcophagus, a coffin, like the ancient Egyptians had used. He turned around to go back, but the passage had narrowed to a mere slit behind him, and he had nowhere to go!
“I'm all right,” he said to himself. “I'm fine.” Like a chant, he repeated it over and over as he was forced toward the coffin step by step. He'd gone as far as he wanted to. Enough was enough; memory or dream, he didn't care, he did not want to go any closer.
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