Lorica, a juvenile delinquent, and Jamison, an ex-sorcerer stripped of his magic, team up to find the Brumal Star, a giant crystal rumored to have mystical powers. Their bat sidekick Scout is just trying to keep them from killing each other on the way.
Can the Brumal Star help fix their messed up lives, or will vengeful wizard Broderick, with an agenda of his own, interfere with their plans?
© 2016 T.Q. Walton. All rights reserved.
Cover design by T.Q. Walton
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This work was originally published through Amazon KDP, but I have decided to offer this updated version here in its entirety.
Jamison Undrand awaited his death. A binding curse flowed through his bloodstream like hot poison. Every beat of his heart pulled and thickened its dark magic inside of him as he swayed within the circle of his old comrades, the Ablete Calare of Reathe.
The Calare had found him guilty of murdering his wife. His joke of a trial had been a month ago. The Lawgivers had used his words against him, then threw him into a prison cell until they were ready for him to face his doom.
That was today.
His accusers dragged him here like a disobedient dog to carry out the most severe punishment of magic users' society: the Darkening Ritual, where they would put a convicted magic user through torments of the mind and body to purge them of their magic.
The Calare stayed bowed in deference to their leader, Broderick Cordale, as he finished preparing the ritual. He gave the signal to Durriken, a thuggish young man he'd chosen to tie Jamison's blindfold.
A razor wire of alarm stung Durriken's gut as his reptilian eyes locked with Jamison's, catching a desperate flash of anger and fear in them.
He grasped Jamison's shoulders and shoved him into position, slipping the black cloth over his eyes and yanking it with expert savageness.
Jamison's sight blotted to darkness. The rough sackcloth fabric of the ceremonial death robes scratched and stung his infected skin sores. He sweated under them in spite of the late autumn chill. The back of his head began to ache from the blindfold's knot pressing into it.
What are those bastards waiting for? Why can't they just get this over with?
"The Ablete Calare of Reathe is gathered on this day to carry out punishment as decided by our Lawgivers. If anyone wishes to speak on behalf of the condemned, he'll do it now," said Broderick.
No words would save Jamison. His breath had been wasted during the trial, and his strength was gone from the journey here. He could only guess what was to come.
Somebody say something! They won't. No, they won't. They could, but they wouldn't dare. Bunch of cowards, every single one of them.
"To undergo the Darkening Ritual is a fate worse than death, because a magus without magic is nothing. Let it begin," Broderick said.
The Calare raised their arms above them like conductors of a malevolent orchestra. Streams of gray light emanated from their fingers and formed a gelatinous, writhing mass. It was alive, animated by their magic.
They aimed it above Jamison.
The blood pulse in his ears muted their chanted words and jumbled them together in his mind. Heaviness closed out his thoughts. He teetered and sunk on the flat, dead grass.
Cold slime spattered onto his neck. It smelled like something fetid they had dredged up from a sewer. Sticky tendrils stretched from the orb and trailed, fingerlike, along his exposed skin. They left a burn like frostbite across his cheek. He tried to shrink away from their touch, but his body would not obey.
His bowels clenched as it crawled over his lips and slipped inside his mouth. He tried to spit it back out, but every part of his physical body had been made docile by their enchantments.
The blindfold was a small mercy; it blocked the sight of it, but it allowed the rest of his senses to become engorged with overmastering fear.
It bubbled in a thickened glob and inched down his throat. His coughing and retching spread it further inside of him. He struggled to breathe through his nose in short, stifling breaths that didn't fill his lungs up all the way while the nameless horror slid all the way down and pooled at the bottom of his stomach.
A watery churning spread through his guts, along with searing jolts of pain. It stung him now from within, hot and sharp.
More oozed under his robes and wrapped around his skin like a freezing wet sheet. The cold sank into every cell and nerve and went beyond physical. It invaded his mind and soul.
Chattering teeth rattled his skull like machinery, making him bite his tongue, as blood and drool leaked out the side of his mouth.
Gods, make it end. Make it end. I don't care who answers.
The gods, if they existed, had forgotten to concern themselves with the day-to-day happenings on Ransara and were unmoved by his pleas.
The sorcerers' chanting swelled. A pressure settled on his chest, as if someone was sitting on him.
Conjured-up images of his wife filled his mind. They seemed even more vivid than reality.
Her light fingers stroked his hair and whispered his name.
"Taryn!" he went to say, but his mouth would not form the words.
"Speak to me through your thoughts," she said.
In his mind, he saw her kneeling in front of him, her golden hair cascading over her shoulders.
Taryn, help me. Help me!
"I can't," she said.
Oh gods, please help. Make it stop.
The stink of decay surrounded her. "You never believed in any of the gods. What makes you think they would deliver you from this?"
No, no, don't do this—
He gagged on the stench and tried to pull away, but he was still immobilized by their magic.
No Taryn, not you. It's a lie!
"I thought we'd grow old together." Her nails dug into his wrists, her hands sticky and clammy against his skin. "This is for your own good, Jamison. It's your purification."
She vanished, but she appeared again and again as a tainted version of herself, as indifferent to his agony as everyone else.
Jamison couldn't guess how long it went on for. It might have been minutes or hours—a waking dream of grotesque imagery and pain until he vomited up the globby mass, now marbled with black. It spurted out of him onto the ground, where it twisted and coiled into thick, ropey strands and crumbled away to soot.
Broderick's hands sliced the air in a quick slashing movement. The chanting stopped.
Jamison lay upon the frost-heaved ground, his broken body mended and free from the enchantments.
Broderick towered over him. "This was less than you deserved, swine!"
He slammed his boot into Jamison's ribs and strode away.
The sorcerers slunk back to the forest. Unknown to them, a silent watcher bore witness from within the safety of the pines along the edge of the field.
The watcher's name was Elira Kennt, though some from the older generation called her the Witch of the Larches. She was a physician who had made her home on the edge of the wilderness for decades.
It was peaceful here on the outskirts, placid in its desolation of soft rolling hills and wide forests, which was why the Calare had chosen this spot for their ritual.
She waited until the sorcerers had left, though they wouldn't have given her, in her bird-form as a lone red cardinal perched above their heads, a second thought.
They probably would not care what she did on his behalf, or if he'd even survived. If she left him there, he'd be a welcome change from deer and elk for the carrion birds.
She flew home and returned in human form with two ponies pulling a reed sledge.
The first few raindrops spilled out of the sky as she rolled his limp body onto the sledge and started back to her farmhouse.
Lorica Warde thundered down the hallway stairs. She made sure to land extra hard on the bottom landing. Her double-footed boot stomp shook the floorboards and shivered the bannister under her splintering death grip.
"Come back here!" Fiene shouted down to her stepdaughter. "Get that filthy little demon out of here immediately!"
Fiene had just opened the closet door in Lorica's bedroom and gotten a nasty shock when she discovered the demon roosting on a clothes rack. He stretched his leathery wings and yawned, revealing two gleaming rows of sharp teeth.
It might as well have been the gaping, murderous jaws of a hell beast from the netherworld to Lorica's stepmother. She whipped a shoe at him, and he barely escaped out the window without a concussion.
Lorica shook her head, already sick of this conversation. "Scout is a bat, and he isn't filthy. Anyways, he wouldn't even be here if it weren't for one of your pukes breaking his wing with a rock."
Fiene stopped on the upstairs landing and held her belly. She couldn't keep up with Lorica on a good day, let alone right now. She was only four months along and barely looked pregnant, but from the dramatic way she heaved herself around, Lorica thought the baby might drop out at any moment just to escape.
"It doesn't belong in my house, and you watch what you say about my boys. Get back up here and start helping me with the baby's room!"
"I won't throw my friend out like a piece of garbage. Why don't you go toss yourself on a dung heap? It'd be a good place for you. Besides, it's my room, and I don't appreciate getting kicked out of it," Lorica said.
Fiene smacked the wall with her palm, though Lorica knew her stepmother wished it were her face. "You aren't 'friends' with vermin. Wait until your father comes home. I'll have him beat some respect into your ungrateful hide."
"You try it," Lorica said. "I was here before you were, so we'll see who you can get to beat me, you heifer."
Her stepmother swept a black curl of hair away from her face. "Such a display of immature behavior. At your age, you should be thinking about your future and finding yourself a husband instead of bringing home dirty little beasts and other ridiculous, childish nonsense."
"The day I go and chase down a husband to become someone's property is the day I grow donkey ears." Lorica said. "Or worse...get myself knocked up to trap one!"
She flew out the front door and slammed it so hard that a family portrait of them fell off the wall and cracked the frame, but it didn't matter because Lorica's mother wasn't in it. They didn't have those around anymore. Her father had put them all away a long time ago.
Lorica kicked gravel and fallen autumn leaves as she stormed down the pathway to search for Scout.
At least Nate and Theodore, her six-year-old twin half brothers, were nowhere in sight. They often threw acorns at her from within the sprawling branches of the giant oak tree in their front yard. They imagined they were cleverly hidden, but were as obvious as a huge red pimple on the tip of a nose.
That bitch! Who is she to call me immature? She's the one who drives me to it. Let's see how much she likes finding bat dung under her pillow.
Planning revenge so consumed Lorica that she didn't notice her father heading right towards her.
Edmund Warde was Captain of Reathe Guard, their province's law enforcement, which required him to have no sense of humor, at least in Lorica's opinion. The men in his command called him "Captain" or "Sir," but to Lorica, he was Edmund. She'd been calling him that forever.
"Hold up!" Edmund said.
She froze in her tracks. His drawn face told her everything she needed to know. He needed to catch up on sleep after his exhausting hours at the barracks or else the household would feel the brunt of it.
"Lorica! How's the baby's room coming?"
"It's coming." She glared at his scuffed boots. He'll make me shine those later on.
Edmund raised her chin with his leather gloved hand. It stank like dirt and sweat. "Where are you rushing off to? Stand up straight and look at me when you speak to me."
"A walk." She took a step, but his firm hand on her shoulder stopped her.
"Don't walk away from me, Lorica. I won't tolerate disrespect from you."
She swerved out of his grip. "I'm not one of your guard subordinates, Edmund. And why am I being kicked out of my room for the second time? The twins get to keep theirs."
Her father stiffened. "Who the hell do you think you are? You're very much one of my subordinates, and if you were smart, you'd hold your tongue. Your attitude is worse than ever."
She ground pebbles under her boot heel. "I wouldn't have an attitude if you didn't treat me like one of your barracks underlings and if I wasn't being forced out of my room."
Puffs of white breath accentuated Edmund's short, cruel laugh. "Come to work with me for a day, and you'll be glad to know your place in my household. You know we need to make room for the baby, so be grateful you still have a place to live."
She sighed. "Why can't you just put the baby in Meree's old—"
Meree was Lorica's nickname for her mother, Lisette, until the bad times came and took her away from them forever.
"Don't you even say it, Lorica! Your mother's old bedroom isn't an option."
Her foot swiped at the gravel. "I don't see that it makes a difference. That room is just going to waste."
Fiene shuffled up the path like a winded ox.
"Edmund, you're home! Your daughter ran out on me as she was supposed to be helping me inside the house. The mouth on her too. Did you know she's been keeping a bat for a pet in her closet? In our house!"
"Is that so?" he said to Lorica. He grabbed her by the back of her coat and marched her up the path. "You're too old to be acting like such a disobedient brat. My home isn't a dump for pathetic strays. Get your sorry ass inside, get rid of that creature, and get on with what you're supposed to be doing!"
"Donkey ears would be an improvement on you," Fiene said. "The baby's room has to wait for now, since it's time to get dinner ready. That is, if you aren't above doing even that for your father."
Lorica ground her teeth and resigned herself to peel and cut up carrots and potatoes for the mutton stew that she hated because it stunk up the whole house.
Giving me a sharp knife isn't the brightest idea. They're lucky I have some self-control. I have better things to do than be treated like a servant.
Lorica cleaved the vegetables into submission and pelted the cut up bits into the pot to join the greasy, gray slab of mutton. She imagined Fiene's head in the pot instead of the meat and smiled at her maliciously. Her stepmother glowered with the usual disapproval.
When she finished, Lorica went upstairs to gather and move some of her things like Edmund had ordered, but she set them aside as another plan came to her.
The sound of weeping drew Broderick Cordale out of bed. It came from beyond his house's front gate, which seemed to pull further away as he moved down the brick walkway.
A fog appeared, drifting in low and wraithlike. He needed to cross it to reach the gate. Each time he looked towards it, the mist grew and spread along the grass.
A raven sidled in front of him on the walkway, croaking and gurgling. It peered at him with black, beady eyes. The weeping grew louder.
Broderick kicked at the raven. The bird vanished, but he still heard its calls.
He waded inside the fog. Darkness engulfed him like a void punched into their world. It seemed to be filled with writhing, agonized figures, yet empty, as if the air had been sucked from it. He fought against the sensation that he was becoming part of the fog itself.
In the darkness, the weeping grew distant, then closer. Then there was a voice, distorted and strained in the chaotic vacuum.
No. Please, don't let it be her.
Nausea and dread welled up inside him. "Taryn?"
"Is someone there?" Her voice tugged at Broderick's consciousness.
Broderick's heart plunged. "It's your father, Taryn. I'm here, where are you?"
"It's so dark," she said, her voice choked with terror. "I don't know where I am. I can't find the way out!"
"Don't move! Let me come to you." He edged his way along in the darkness. Unseen things brushed past his face, touched his hair, and pulled at his clothes. He swatted them away, but his hands pushed away at nothing.
Gray light penetrated the darkness. Broderick caught a flicking movement in the pallid light.
"Taryn?" he said, then froze mid-step.
A giant, slug-like creature lay coiled in a cesspool, surrounded by drifting fog.
The creature's front had misshapen faces with the appearance of having melted together. Sets of serrated teeth joined its segmented body together.
Its shriveled, gray-red skin resembled a slab of raw meat that had begun to dry out. Knobby outcroppings lined its back in pairs.
Broderick realized they were all human-like heads.
"She can't hear you, wizard. But I'm pleased you came," said the Canthaelag.
Shudders rampaged through him. "It's you." Realization came to him. "I'm asleep. This is a dream."
An amused smile lurched across the Canthaelag's many mouths. "Perhaps to your perception, but not to mine."
Broderick frowned in confusion. Fog drifted and curled around his feet.
"You're here in some form or another," said the creature. "But I'm not here to discuss human consciousness and the dreaming mind."
The raven perched above Broderick's head on the damp, craggy wall. It bobbed its head and snapped its beak.
"It's a trick," Broderick said.
"If you insist," the Canthaelag said. "I can't convince you if you're unwilling to believe. Go back where you came from."
Broderick turned and saw the unlatched front gate and the brick path beyond it.
"I can't find it," Taryn said, her voice heavy and detached. "There's nothing."
"She's searching for a way out," the Canthaelag said. "If you leave, you won't be able to help her."
He clutched at his hair, a flash of anger tempering his fear. "Then it's true. You have her. A monstrosity. That's what you are."
"Of course it's true," said the Canthaelag.
Broderick's face distorted in anguish. "You took her from me!"
The creature rolled his shoulders, unconcerned. "I didn't want the other one."
"Who? What are you talking about?" He hugged himself to fight the chill seeping into him.
The Canthaelag tilted his head. "You know who I'm talking about. The one that you were trying to help."
"Jamison?" he spat.
"That's the one," the Canthaelag said. "Jamison."
"But why? Why did you take my daughter?"
"She gave me the kind of sustenance I needed. For a little while, at least, while I'm stuck here hiding."
"What does that mean?"
The creature tucked its spindly arms underneath its withered girth. "What do you think it means? There are many kinds of sustenance."
"You're lying," he said.
"Maybe," said the Canthaelag. "She's just a spirit, after all. They can't give much."
"You took her," Broderick said. The words hung limp.
"I didn't. You don't understand how this works as well as you think you do," said the creature in grating voices. He sat up and ran his dehydrated tongues over rows of craggy teeth.
"I understand enough." Convulsive chills ran though him. "You're a deceiver."
The creature laughed and slithered out of the cesspool. "You say that as though you expect me to play fair, but that's a reflection of your own naivety. You've been deceived only by yourself. Here's a parcel of truth. You won't get her without giving me what I desire: a way out."
Broderick made a choking sound. "A w-way out? Why do you need a way out? What are you going to do out here?"
"This is an in-between place for me," the Canthaelag said. "You think that I'm a monstrosity, but there are those on this side that want me for their own purposes. I've been hiding here for a long time...four thousand years of hiding from them."
"Them? I don't care how long you've been here or why. You took Taryn."
The weeping began again. "Taryn!" Broderick searched the impenetrable darkness. Her voice seemed to come from behind the air itself. "Where is she?"
The raven hopped off the wall and clung to his shirt. He swatted at the bird as it clawed and pecked his throat and face.
It tumbled to the ground and disappeared. Broderick wiped where he'd been attacked, but his hand came away clean and unbloodied.
"You'll care when you realize you have no choice but to cooperate with me," the Canthaelag said.
"Wake up, wake up." He stood paralyzed in the shadow of the Canthaelag. The shadow grew larger and darker around him, like a shroud.
The Canthaelag brought his whip tail down with lightning speed, but Broderick felt nothing.
He awoke slick with sweat, tangled in the sheets. The pale fingernail of the waning moon stared in through the slits of the wood blinds.
Rain lashed against the bedroom window. Everything Jamison looked at was drab, like the weather had come inside and washed it all out.
Elira put down a tray bearing oat bread and ginger tea. "Something light."
Jamison huddled in a lump under the covers, just like the day before and the day before that, and so on, wearing a rut in the mattress. He stared at the wall, which he did so often he could pick out faces in the floral pattern of the wallpaper.
"You should've left me there." The raindrops plonked from the gables onto the glass pane as if to agree with him.
She drew the curtains back. "You would've died."
He pulled the blankets over his head. "Maybe that's what I wanted. They should've killed me and been done with it."
"They must have thought this a worse punishment. I'm glad you're speaking, at least." She left him alone again with the late afternoon shadows creeping around his room.
Jamison had woken up at Elira's, confused, nauseous, and aching. He knew in his gut that the power was gone. The connection had been severed like scissors snipping a thread.
Losing his magic was nothing compared to losing Taryn. But the loss of his magical gift was a second death.
The power came to him on an afternoon in late summer when he was six years old. He and his nine-year-old sister, Nathalie, were in the garden picking pole beans.
Jamison closed his eyes against the sun's agonies. It blasted through him in waves, scorching his eyelids. An uncomfortable buzzing hummed under his skin. It knotted in his stomach and spread to his fingers.
"Lazy!" Nathalie said, poking his side. "Get back to work."
He glared at her and threw the beans clutched in his sweaty hands into the bucket.
A stray calico cat slunk by through the tall grass, trying to avoid the attention of the Undrand siblings. She was leery of people now that she had a litter of kittens to protect.
"There she is again," Nathalie said. "I wish we could see her babies."
"Watch," Jamison said to his sister. "She's going to come over this time."
The baked earth radiated heat through his knees where he knelt. He made slow, rhythmic movements with his hands and used strange words that Nathalie had never heard before to call out to the cat.
The cat froze in place, tail out like an arrow, her eyes like green glass marbles. Not even her whiskers quivered.
Nathalie's eyebrows furrowed. "What are you doing? What did you just say?"
"Shh! This is what they said to do." He beckoned to the cat again and repeated the words.
"What who said to do?"
"Them," said Jamison. "The people who talk to me. You can't hear them. Just watch."
The cat blinked, as if she were waking up from a nap, and strolled over to the shed. She grasped each of her three kittens by the scruff of their necks, and carried them out into the blazing sunlight.
Jamison and Nathalie looked at each other in surprise and excitement.
The calico and her kittens toddled up to them. The kittens kneaded their tiny claws as they scrambled over the children, head butting and purring.
"I told you she'd come over," he said. "I made her do it."
Nathalie rolled her eyes. "Maybe she just felt like being friendly this time. I doubt you had anything to do with it."
Scratching and meowing on the fence bordering their yard caught the children's attention.
Cats in every size and color—a scrappy little black one with a single, yellow eye, a litter of four tabbies and their mother, a scrawny gray one with bent whiskers, a double-pawed marmalade, an elegant, fluffy white one, an impish-looking tortoiseshell, a black and white fighter with half a tail and chewed-up ears, and dozens more—crowded themselves along the top of the fence rails.
More cats stalked through the grass to the fence, their tails raised in question marks.
"Look!" Nathalie pointed. "Where did they all come from?"
Jamison stood up, his heart skipping. "I don't know."
The mob of cats began yowling and shrieking. Starlings and kooras birds screeched from every tree branch in the neighborhood.
Then, just as suddenly as they'd begun, they fell silent.
An oppressive, eerie hush smothered every sound.
Berinon, the Undrands' large hound, vaulted across the yard, barking in a frenzy. The cats scrambled over the fence, up trees, and anywhere else they could hide. The birds flashed from the trees in a flurry of wings and screams. Berinon pressed his shaggy body against Jamison and gazed up at him with deep brown eyes.
Jamison stroked the hound's floppy ears.
No, I did it.
The tingling ebbed, but a part of himself had been awakened. It had been asleep, but now it remembered itself, as if it had always known.
Nathalie fled inside the house to tell their mother.
"I don't have time for your stories," said Mrs. Undrand. She was a hard, sensible woman with striking looks and dark hair that fell past her waist. "Get back outside and finish up with the pole beans!"
The next week, he changed a skein of yarn into a tangle of worms. He couldn't explain how it had happened, other than his skin crawling and the voices telling him how, and it made perfect sense to try.
He heard his mother coming, so in his panic, he left the basket sitting in the hallway. He ran to the kitchen and plunked into a chair at the table next to Nathalie. Mrs. Undrand's disgusted scream told him she'd found it.
She appeared in the doorway. "Who put worms into my knitting basket?"
Nathalie pointed at her brother.
Their mother steered him out to the yard. She flung the worms over the garden fence and thrashed him on the back with the basket.
Days later, he sat cross-legged in his tiny bedroom closet, scratching at the scabbed-over welts on his back. He wiped his runny nose and tried to figure out what to do about the scorch marks on his bedroom floor from his mostly-successful fire spell. The odor of smoke hung in the air.
His mother would kill him.
She'd probably hit him with more than just the knitting basket. This time, it might be his father's straight razor strop, like when he forgot to bring in some gardening tools and they rusted from the rain.
Or worse, like when she'd chased him to Mr. Undrand's blacksmith forge. She snatched an unfinished fireplace poker handle from her husband's hand and pressed its red-hot end to the back of Jamison's neck like a brand. That was for breaking a porcelain figurine of a woman holding her baby.
The decorative braided design would be forever imprinted on his nape, but at least it was in a place where he couldn't see it and be reminded of their intolerance.
Jamison didn't want to cause trouble. But this new, faint glow that began the day of the cats had grown into an ember burning a hole in his stomach. His blood simmered until he felt his veins and skin would erupt. It invaded his dreams and jolted him awake at night.
It told him things. It gave him strange ideas and urges.
He had to do something, and the only way to soothe his prickly skin and cool the hotness in his belly was to obey the voices tugging at his head.
Make the fire, the voices told him. You can control it. Hold out your hands...
Jamison didn't hear his father stomping up the stairs until it was too late.
Mr. Undrand kicked open the bedroom door and threw aside the blanket Jamison used to cover the scorch marks. He pulled him out of the closet by his shirt.
"What have you done? Playing with fire; are you trying to get us all killed?"
He backhanded his son before he could answer.
Jamison left small, sooty handprints along the walls and all over his father's clothes as his father dragged him down the stairs.
"No Da, I can't help it! It hurts. It's too hot inside me. It's the magic; it's them. They make me do it. Please don't put me down here, Da!"
Mr. Undrand shoved his son into the cellar with bared teeth. "You are a very sick child, and you won't be able to do much fire damage if you're surrounded by damp stone!"
Jamison squeezed himself into a ball on the chilly stone steps, sobbing and hiccupping. "Please Da, let me out! I promise I won't do it again. I'm sorry!" He wailed and pounded his tiny fists on the door.
The sun dropped lower and lower in the sky through the cellar's tiny, cobwebbed window until he was plunged into darkness. His stomach gnawed in hunger.
He sat sniffling and shivering with his knees drawn up tight against his chest, his face sticky with dried tears. His family hated him. They probably meant to leave him down here forever.
Voices came from the kitchen on the other side of the door: his parents' and one other, a man's who sounded unfamiliar, yet melodic. Jamison pressed his ear into the door to listen.
"Where is the boy?" asked the melodic-sounding man.
"Locked in the cellar," said Jamison's father.
"Why did you put him down there?" asked the man, his voice rising like angry chimes.
"Because he could have burnt the house down with that last trick he played!" said Mr. Undrand. "I was trying to keep the rest of my family safe."
The door swung open. Jamison squinted into the lantern-lit brightness. At the threshold stood a man with silver hair that draped over his shoulders. His piercing eyes caught Jamison's like a snake with its prey.
The stranger flashed a pearly smile at him. "Come here, child. My name is Jarin Crewe. I've been watching you."
Jamison sat frozen with fear.
Jarin grinned. "Don't be afraid. You're quite a talent. You aren't in trouble, but we have some things to talk about."
Jarin took him to the Araskolsa, or mage school. It was in Reathe, which was closest to Jamison's home province of Caunlie. There he would study under him until he could prove he was worthy and capable of possessing his power.
Tears dampened Jamison's pillow every night for the first week, crying for his parents who had allowed the strange man with midnight blue robes to take him away, though they gave him no reason to love them, with the abuse they inflicted on him.
Emeline, the stout, graying sorceress who was a den mother to the children in Cildra-khus, or House for Children, sat beside his bed to explain again why he was here and why he couldn't go home.
"Because you were becoming dangerous, Jamison. You need to be taught how to use your power safely. You're very young for it to have found you," she said, smoothing her hand in circles on his back.
Jamison described the urgent, insistent voices and the terrible, painful sensations, wondering if they would ever go away.
Emeline told him the voices and those painful feelings were normal. They came from the part of himself that is connected to the magic, but that they would fade as he grew stronger.
The power sprang from a part of Jamison's mind that would need to be molded, exercised, and developed until the skill became second nature. Nobody else in his family carried such ability, not that he was aware of.
In time, he got used to life at the Araskolsa. He discovered the powers he was most adept at were transmutation and communicating with nature. The discomfort faded, just as Emeline said it would, and he learned how to control his magic.
He never expected it could be snatched away so easily.
Rain turned to snow, which piled up in drifts around the farm.Days went by, and Jamison still picked at his food and didn't move from his bed.
He spent hours immersing himself in memories of Taryn. The sadness couldn't sneak up on him if he was thinking about it all the time.
His thoughts lingered on the red clapboard house they'd shared and the lazy mornings they spent drinking sweet coffee from the southern country of Chetain in their kitchen.
Whenever he was leaving for a job, Taryn clung to him, planted kisses on his neck, and made him promise to be "triple careful and come home to me, Jamie."
Sometimes he'd fall asleep reading in the old leather chair in the sunroom. She'd scare him awake by sneaking in and pinching him on the sides or by making farting noises on his belly. He didn't know what was worse, the pinches or her cackling with laughter after he yelped. She could be such a mischievous pain in the ass sometimes.
Jamison swallowed the knot in his throat and punched the pillow. He didn't dare punch the wall again, after Elira came running the last time.
He could never go back and live there again, even if he wanted to. The Calare had seized it along with all the rest of his assets. They'd even prevented him from attending her funerary rites. He mourned her alone in the darkness of the tiny bedroom.