Posts Tagged ‘magic’

Wands, Kittens, and Pages

Posted: August 12, 2014 by writingsprint in Fantasy
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kitten

Today’s Daily Post: A literary-minded witch gives you a choice: with a flick of the wand, you can become either an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades, or a popular paperback author whose books give pleasure to millions. Which do you choose?

Yvonne waved the wand like her dancing imagination. The pentagram made of twigs that hung around her neck brushed over her shirt. “Let’s play ‘would you rather.’ Would you rather have critical fame, or popular fame?”

If I hadn’t just watched her turn two wood statues of cats into little kittens, I would have thought she was only playing a game. The kittens—one black, one white—nibbled on my fingertips. My allergies even started acting up. They were real all right.

“What’s the catch?”

“No catch. You just won the lottery. What’s it going to be?”

A family came over and asked to play with the kittens. Yvonne gave them away as gifts. My mind ran in dozen different directions at a thousand miles an hour as they talked about it. A little boy giggled as the kitten nuzzled his cheek. He looked like he’d just gotten everything he ever wanted.

Yvonne smiled as she watched the family leave. She looked at me. “Oh. Sorry. Well?”

“Well… sure I want everyone to love it…”

“Ahhh…” She lifted the wand. She started to make tiny circles with the end. I imagined I saw glitter falling out.

“…but I want it to be great, too!”

Yvonne slammed the withered old stick down on the table. “Oh, stop being a wuss and just tell me!”

I was surprised it didn’t shatter. “All right! All right! Neither.” Yvonne’s head snapped back as if I’d just pulled her braids. She didn’t say anything.

I could hear the sound of the outdoor mall around us more clearly. Yvonne’s silence grew larger and larger in the space of our conversation. I had to fill up the void. “Thank you, but I’ll just pass. I have to earn it.”

“You’re serious.”

“Yeah. Sure I am. What’s it worth if you didn’t earn it?”

Yvonne nibbled on the end of her wand. “Hmm. I never thought of that.”

“You’re not going to blow your face off with that thing, are you?”

“What? Oh… no. It’s a wand, not a gun. All right. Have it your way.” Yvonne spun the wand.

“Whoa! Wait!”

She said something in a language that I’d never heard before, that every cell in my body recognized. The universe went “pop.”

I blinked. I looked at my hands. They were the same. Past them, I could see Yvonne smiling. She put the wand back in her purse.

I touched my face. I felt the same. “What did you change? What’s different?”

“Everything will unfold how it’s supposed to,” she said. As my mother would say, she looked like she’d swallowed a bird. She wouldn’t stop smiling.

“How’s that different from how it was?”

“I asked for the highest good. I think the universe said yes.” She got up. “I have to go. I’ve got class.”

“Wait. You think it said yes? You don’t know?”

“Well, come on. It’s a big universe. Even I have to take a few things on faith.” Yvonne touched my cheek. “Keep writing. We’ll see what the answer was.”

Photo credit: “Comfy Cat” by Daniel Lee at Flickr

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Shared under Creative Commons license

PS: That’s my answer, too. A big part of the fun is the work it takes to get there. I take the rest on faith, that the universe is unfolding as it should. If you forced me to pick one of those two options, I would say that I want to be an author whose books give pleasure to millions. It’s not up to me whether they’re remembered fifty years from now. To know that I helped millions of people smile? Wow. Entertaining someone, touching their heart, making them think… that’s the greatest honor I can think of.

Painted in Shades of Blood

Posted: June 8, 2014 by writingsprint in Fantasy
Tags: , , , , , , ,
See the face in the fire?

See the face in the fire?

Before today’s sample from Shadow and Shade, I wanted to remind everyone that it’s available as a free download for Kindle as a special promotion ending today. Over a hundred people have gotten a copy in the past 24 hours!

I hope you love it. If you do, leave a cool review, and spread the word! THANK YOU!


He crisscrossed his hands over the fire, slowly, moving them back and forth through the wisps of flame. A feathery tickle ran over his palms. Logan sucked in the heated air. He drifted his thoughts in pools of heat, washing out from the fire. Almost without thinking, he began to whisper a stream of verses that spoke of sunset and resting. With every move back and forth the flames retreated into the pile of twigs and leaves.

By the fifth time he repeated the gesture, the flames had swallowed themselves into the wood. No smoke rose from the pile. It still would have felt warm if they touched it, but not enough to start burning again. His eyes opened. Just a touch, on the corners of his mouth, he allowed himself a smile. By the gentle moonlight he could see the expectation in Laik’s eyes, the wonder in Marissa’s.

“Not bad,” she breathed.

“It’s not done yet,” he heard Laik say.

Logan passed his hand over the pile again. He drew his fingers across the twigs, and a low fire followed them like trails in sand. He opened and closed his fingers to spread the fire and light it fully.

He breathed in relief as he finally let go. There was a dull ache in the base of his neck. He felt cold. He smiled and dropped back against the tree again to give himself a rest. He looked at Laik. “Now, I’m tired,” he said. As the fire grew their faces became distinct in the glow. Laik was nodding mute but beaming approval. Marissa looked breathless.

“What were those words you were saying?” Marissa asked.

Logan wiped his forehead with the heel of his palm. “Uh,” he managed, embarrassingly. “It helps me think. Sort of a prayer, but you’re not praying to anyone. It helps me to think the right way, so that I can do it.” He shrugged amiably to finish answering Marissa’s question. It really was the best answer he could give.

Laik leaned over the rising fire. He shook back his hair to let the heat wash into his face. The dim light from the fire cast his face in bloody shades of crimson and scarlet. Something about it bothered Logan. He pulled his knees closer to his chest, then put them back the way they were. He became conscious of the tight pull of the strap that bound his hunting knife to his leg, and the pressing of its grip against the top of his thigh. The whirring sound of the crickets and the sour, harsh popping of the flames haunted the clearing. Marissa asked Laik for the wine. Laik handed it to her and moved back from the fire. His face was thrown back into softer shades of red, but the bad feeling didn’t go away.

Logan tilted his head back until it rested against the tree behind him. He closed his eyes, feigning a little wine-induced restfulness, and let himself feel what was happening more deeply. He wandered through memories of bad feelings, the ones that people would rather forget: being lost, a scolding from his mother, fights with other children.

When he was little, there had been nights when he would lay in bed on his stomach. He had been afraid to turn over because he thought there would be something standing there. On some of those nights he forced himself to turn over anyway. Then he would lay there, staring at the entrance to the burrow, afraid that it was really outside. He would gather up his blankets over his neck so that it couldn’t strangle him after he fell asleep.

A new thought melted into the forefront of his mind. He could almost see another face painted in shades of blood. Close. Near. He could almost hear a hissing, sweating voice. Real blood stained the ground. Logan’s breath began to catch in his throat.

Photo credit: “Face in the Flames” by randeeryan at Flickr
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Shared under Creative Commons license

Dark Sight

Posted: June 6, 2014 by writingsprint in Fantasy
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dark forestBefore tonight’s sample from Shadow and Shade, I wanted to remind everyone that it’ll be available as a free download for Kindle as a special promotion tomorrow and Sunday only!

Here’s the promo text from Amazon:

Logan doesn’t just hunt with wolves. He talks with them. He can also see in the dark, heal, and feel the emotions of the forest itself. If only dating were so easy.

Marissa, the missionary’s stepdaughter, captivates him with her fiery spirit. Logan’s taste for trouble and strange ways fascinate her. Marissa’s stepfather fears that Logan will drag her into darkness with his heathen ways. Logan’s mother is outraged because she thinks Logan is abandoning the blood of their people.

Angry words turn to vengeful deeds. Logan and Marissa become ensnared in a web of bitterness that was spun hundreds of years before they were born. Blood demands blood, and it refuses to be denied.


The air felt much less oppressive outside, and he took a good, long breath as he replaced the skin. This was home territory. The night mist had already risen to thin, waist-deep tendrils of clutching gray fog. He walked down the hill, sinking into his steps and breathing deeply, to settling into the ground the way he had settled into the floor in the main room.

Logan reached into a pouch at his belt and took out a greasy, colorless ball about the size of his thumbnail. He broke it in half, put the rest back and got a good layer of it on his fingertips. He smeared it into his eyes. It burned at first, then cooled away as it mixed with his tears. Logan blinked until he could see again. He whispered a different set of verses now, ones that spoke of owls, the moon, and hunters of the night. Drinking in as much light as they could from the waning moon overhead, his eyes began to pick up the dim outlines of tree trunks. He walked towards the forest. The outlines grew more crisp. He could discern the texture of the bark. Logan shuddered as he whispered the words a fourth time. An uncomfortable swelling sensation pressed against his temples. He would feel it less once he started running. He could see the trees clearly now. The incantation made them look like they were covered with a skin of bluish ice.

Logan began to run through the forest. The darting shrubs and trunks blurred into a rugged, shiny tunnel of woods closing in on his sides, with dirt under his feet and the mottled darkness of the leaves clustering overhead. The seeing verse was a handy little thing that worked better when you were under a full moon or walking through light woods than charging down a path. It was better than nothing. Logan repeated the verse as he ran, whenever the path grew dense with foliage or he had to step more carefully. The shapes of the trees twisted when he turned his head to look one way or another, and more distant boles seemed to shimmer and fade out.

Without thinking about it, Logan took a trio of sharper, pronounced steps and kicked himself into the air. He saw a blur of foam pass underneath him, and heard the distinctive rush of the creek that he had bathed in earlier. He gasped in midair, stumbled as he landed, and clipped a tiny splash of water against his shins as he came down. The shock of landing bolted up through his ankles. Logan bit back swear words as his concentration began to unravel. The image before his eyes flickered like a reflection in water. Things that his concentration helped him to ignore came to the front of his mind: he noticed sweat running down his body, and the jostling around had shifted the knife so that it jabbed him in the leg. Logan jerked it back into a more comfortable spot.

He grit his teeth. His feet had only thumped the bank of the creek, but it might as well have been falling pottery if his parents had been listening. He waited for the voices that would call him back to the house. Part of him was breathing amazed gasps at how he had jumped the creek. Though he’d crossed it often enough over the years, the ethereal way he was trying to see left him a little disoriented. It felt as if his body had known when to jump and acted on its own.

Nothing happened. The muscles in Logan’s legs felt bunched and taut as he stood up. He must have heard. Logan looked back down the path, and finally decided that if he was going, he might as well be a man and get on with it. He began to jog down the path, letting himself come back to speed as he was ready.

A Hundred Teeth

Posted: March 4, 2014 by writingsprint in Fantasy
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magic swordChaos reigned in the throne room. Prince Derric clashed blades with men in armor he had sworn to protect with his life. His men fought brothers and sisters they had trained with. Priceless works of art were thrown down to use as cover against shell fire and sizzling bursts of magic.

“The kingdom is mine!” the Blood Prince cried. “The kingdom is mine!”

“No more, demon child!” Derric replied.

The two of them charged each other. Blood Prince Karuss threw aside his guards to get to Derric. Derric’s guards attacked the Blood Guards so that they wouldn’t intervene.

Their blades clashed. “You’ve been practicing, Derric,” Karuss said.

Cut. Slash. Dodge. Parry.

“You know me, brother. Always learning.”

Slash. Stab. Punch. Parry.

“We’ll see how many books you read after crows have pecked out your eyes.”

Stab. Parry. Parry. Slash.

“Your eyes burn, brother. That demon will eat you from the inside out.”

Karuss’ eyes widened as Derric’s blessed blade finally cut his skin. It was barely a scratch. The touch of the ancient spring made it enough.

Karuss growled, sprouting fangs and scales. The shrunken heads of his enemies dangled from his armor. Troops on both sides fell back as his accursed nature was revealed.

“Not if I drink your blood first!” Karuss said, with two voices.

“Oh, brother… what have you done?” Derric asked.

Karuss roared, swinging down his blade at Derric’s head. Derric rolled to the side. Karuss’s blow cracked the floor, rending a hole two feet long. Derric came to his feet and skewered Karuss’s leg. The demon shrieked. He swung at Derric with the back of his hand. The blow took him in the side of the helmet. Derric’s sword twisted on the way out. Steaming dark blood sprayed on the floor. Karuss dropped to one knee.

A brave knight charged the demon. It grabbed him, smashing him flat, and drank his blood. Others who had thought to help him stayed back. The Blood Guards weren’t fighting, either.

Karuss saw the way fortunes had begun turning. He spun his sword in a circle, daring anyone to come at him. “Remember your oaths, Blood Guard. You serve the crown, not the man. Serve your prince,” it hissed.

Derric shouted, “You serve the kingdom, not the crown!” Easy to say when he was the one with the magic sword.

He raised the weapon to the sky. When moonlight touched it, every blade in the room glowed with the same blessed edge. His own blade’s blessing receded. He would have to rely on his strong heart if it came to that.

“For the kingdom!” Derric shouted.

Karuss looked desperately around the room as the knights charged. He was surrounded by a hundred teeth.

This post was inspired by the prompt “the kingdom is mine” from Inspiration Monday at Be Kind Rewrite.

The Wizard and the Demon

Posted: February 14, 2014 by writingsprint in Fantasy
Tags: , , , , ,

wizard and demon

Dragon Magazine #115, cover by Denis Beauvais

Sorry for the left turn from Lost Angel, but the rewrite I’m doing is — gloriously, wonderfully — taking up all my time. I felt bad that I haven’t been posting more so I dug up an old bit that I wrote for fun, inspired by this cover of Dragonmagazine. Instead of a pegasus, our hero is riding a dragon of his own.

Logan aimed the bow directly at the demon lord’s heart. The thing hesitated, the twin beasts circling one another over the swirling fight beneath them. Any normal archer would have had difficulty keeping the bow level, let alone nocked. A wizard was another one entirely.

“Throw the bolt,” Logan cried, “and I promise you you’ll strike the ground before it does!”

Merah shook his head roughly. “Just skewer him.”

Then Korrok swung his dragon off their pitch and shot straight towards them.

“DIVE, MERAH!”

In the flurry of scales, wings, and magic that surrounded both of them Logan lost his sighting and let the arrow fly.

At the same instant Korrok threw the bolt not at the tower but at Merah’s left wing.
But when the dragon had dived, he’d rolled that way, leaving Logan in place of where the target had been. The arrow shot Korrok’s bolt and detonated it only a few feet away from him.

Col shun shimara,” Logan said as the arrow shot away. Another arrow appeared.

But no scales? No demon sword?

In the same instant Logan heard a crack like a lightning bolt had broken next to his ear. Blaze’s high-pitched scream drowned out the ringing in his ears and nearly shocked him into loosing the arrow into Merah’s back.

“What is it?” Merah cried. “What happened?” He was too busy concentrating on where he was going to look.

Logan saw a thin stream of black smoke twisting like a dried shoelace towards the ground. Logan squinted; he could see that a good slice of Blaze’s neck, upper back, and right wing were the source of teh smoke. The glitter he saw must have been fire, because it was too bright to be his scales. Logan wondered if even a fall of such height could kill Korrok, or Blaze. “Blaze caught fire! I don’t know how!” Logan yelled.

“Where’s Korrok?”

Logan’s eyes widened. Through the smoke and the fire, he saw only Korrok’s saddle.

He heard a hiss like a cottonmouthed snake and smelled sulfur. Logan swung around, then fell back against Merah’s spiny ridge as the copper-black blur dove towards him.
Logan’s shot passed Korrok’s left shoulder, then the bow broke under Korrok’s evil sword.
Barely enough. Logan screamed as Korrok’s black sword sliced through his armor as he passed. A fiery glow of red shone off the blade as the point barely nicked his skin.

“Are you all right? Logan!” Merah yelled.

“I’m here,” he gurgled, from deep inside his belly. Logan’s vision fogged, and he nearly passed out as Merah roared and climbed around to face the demon lord. *Magic in the blade. I’m barely cut, but it’s killing me.*

The demon lord sang an awful, dirgelike battle song but sang it gleefully.

“No human who’s faced me has ever had the privilege to know they were beaten,” he cried. “They died too quickly! Congratulate yourself, wizard!”

The poison was spreading. He didn’t have time. Logan shook his head. On reflex, his mind was focusing all the magic in his body to fight the accursed contagion that spread from the cut across his chest. He lost all sense of magic, but the disorientation cleared.

“Hang on.” Merah flapped once, twice, and tucked his wings. “I want to make a pass to keep him off balance.”

Logan did, wondering if, from here on, it would be better for both of them if he cut away his harness. Merah wouldn’t have to worry about bruising him, and at least by falling to death he could save his soul if not his life.

Logan hugged the dragon’s back and pressed his head against his shoulder. Merah understood and gyrated over as he barrelled toward the demon.

Logan coughed. “He nicked me, but the blade was enchanted. I can’t use my spells.” He drew the sword that the paladin had pointed to before she died.

The metal gleamed as he drew it, and then the sword vibrated in his hand! Gentle, not enough to weaken his grip. It tickled when he loosened his fingers. Korrok stopped singing. The vibration gave the blade a musical sound, like a flute.

“The singing sword! You have it!”

He did? A flute — singing!

*Can I use its power if I’m fighting the curse?*

The blade sang across the space between them. In a spray of black blood and carcass-smelling steam the demon lord’s hand became a chunk of aerial flotsam.

“It tickles, doesn’t it!” Logan cried.

The demon lord circled away, but barely kept distance from Merah. The dragon could smell the kill. Logan had first learned to recognize the smell from living among dragons. He couldn’t smell it yet.

Korrok held up the stump of his wrist for them to see. It burst in an explosion of blood and demon flesh that made even Merah shudder. A new hand seemed to be forcing its way out.

“Fuck me,” Logan breathed. He readied the sword and prayed that the thing couldn’t do that forever.

story generatorSheila landed hard on the ground. At first she thought she fell out of bed, but the ground felt flat, polished, and kind of warm, like the hardwood in the main part of the house.

“Ow,” she said, rubbing her head. She blinked. She was in a room with light. Not a room, a hallway. One that she recognized.

She heard a buzzing sound getting closer to her. Sheila blinked sleep out of her eyes, hard. A little robot about the size of a football rolled toward her. It stopped about three feet away. She sat up, using her arms to protect herself. She felt weak and vulnerable in her pink and blue pajamas. Two electronic eyes on black stalks extended toward her. A little tube about the size of a nail pointed at her.

“You point that thing somewhere else!” Sheila said.

It chittered and chirped at her. She heard buzzing and another one came up behind her.

Sheila slapped herself in the face. “Wake up. Wake up.” She slapped herself again, harder. “Wake up. This isn’t real.”

The deck plate below her seemed to pulse and throb. The metallic, reddish walls had the scaly texture of leather. She heard blooping sounds that reminded her of the sounds her stomach made when she ate too much refried beans and sour cream in her tacos.

The witch at the magic shop had said her wish was granted. Sheila wanted an acting gig, not to be thrown into the show.

A third robot – they were called DRDs, short for Diagnostic Repair Drone – rolled up to her. Sheila had enough. She took off running. They could shoot her if they wanted to.

“Let me out of here! I want to go home!” she screamed.

The sounds made by the ship churned and growled. The ship was getting upset.

Sheila came around a corner. A door closed behind her. She spun, about to push it open – but it might be worse than what was in front of her anyway.

The door at the opposite end of the hall opened. A woman with long, jet black hair dressed in black leather stepped through, holding a rifle about the size of Montana. Behind her was a man the size of Alaska, holding a gun the size of Texas. Tentacles drooped from his head, and a hooked beak formed his nose.

“No!” Sheila screamed.

The woman yelled at her in a sharp, clipped voice. Sheila couldn’t understand her, but she guessed it was something like, “Freeze!” and “Hands in the air!”

Sheila put her hands in the air. “Okay. Don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot.”

The woman walked over to about five feet away from her. The gun barrel was pointed between Sheila’s eyes. It looked like a long, dark tunnel to death from where Sheila could see.

The woman said something. Sheila shook her head and opened her hands. “I don’t understand.”

The man raised his rifle to point at the ceiling. With his free hand, he pointed at Sheila, then at the ground. Sheila lay down. The man muttered something that sounded like he was glad she’d done it.

Someone else came through the door at the end of the hall. Sheila saw a man, dressed in black leather and a red jacket. He had sandy brown hair and clear blue eyes. Sheila’s heart dropped. Normally, she would be swooning right now, but living the dream was much less fun than she thought it would be.

The man said, “D’Argo, chill out. She’s wearing Hello Kitty.” The deep-voiced man with the falcon nose asked him something. “My niece had pajamas just like that. She’s from Earth, D’Argo!”

Sheila dropped her head on the floor. And she was on the far side of the universe, in a TV show, for real, in nothing but her pajamas.

Farscape

I have to say I jumped on this one when it came up from the Story Generator. Sure, it’s goofy, but it was a chance to just have fun and play with the idea. Farscape may not have been popular to everyone but it was to me ;), so that’s what I’m going with. I considered Sleepy Hollow, but then I’d have to do research on police procedures, folklore and eighteenth century mannerisms, and it’s already 8:30 at night. Maybe next time.

broken lanternKit sat down and wept. Crying, two days in a row, for very different reasons. Kit had never been so sad and so afraid in such a short period of time. He hoped the rest of his life would be easier.

Lady came over and hugged him. Kit didn’t know how long they sat there like that, but a long while later, Morgrim came upstairs. He had never been allowed to go upstairs higher than Kit’s room, but his curiosity got the better of him. Awkwardly, he hugged the two of them, too.

Finally, Kit said, “Thank you. Morgrim, please clean the room. Lady, would you help me find the tool box?” Kit looked around the room. He didn’t see it. “I think it got knocked around from its spot.”

It took them a while. The room looked like a giant, angry child had turned it upside down and shaken it. Everyone stayed away from the jar except Kit. He was the only one who seemed confident that Vrajitor wouldn’t smash his way out. At one point, from across the room, Lady reached toward the jar, then pulled her hand back. She didn’t even want to imagine touching it. Inside, the fairy-sized Vrajitor raged at her.

“How long will that hold him?” Lady asked.

“Forever. I used his own magic to make the jar. As long as he’s alive, it’ll hold its shape. The more magic he throws at it, the stronger it’ll get.”

“Are you sure?”

Kit tapped his chest. “I’ve been checking. It’s already twice as strong as it was an hour ago.”

“If I may, young master, how will we feed him?” Morgrim asked.

“Magic honey. The same as we feed the fairies.” It was dropped into his mouth from the top of the jar. With the fairies, Kit had been bitten getting them into the lanterns in the first place.

“Here it is,” Lady said. She found the box laying on its side against the far wall, under a stack of books. They were a set of tools for delicate work, and a small hammer. Fine carvings decorated the sides. Kit took the hammer. “Come on. I know what I want to do first,” he said.

He started downstairs. Lady turned back toward the jar. “Is it safe to leave him here alone?”

“It is. Would you feel better to watch him, while I do this?” She nodded. “Okay. I’ll be back soon.”

Kit went into the staircase. He pulled open the curtains of the nearest window. It was a beautiful, sunlit day outside.

Kit walked up to the first lantern. Inside, a fairy stood with its hands on the lantern glass. It had watched him come down from the laboratory. Kit held up the hammer. The fairy looked at him. Its wings flicked intently. Even with eyes the size of pinheads, Kit could tell it was sizing him up. It wasn’t time for food, and the only time he’d walked up to the lanterns other than feeding time, Vrajitor or lady had been with him.

Kit held pointed at it, and made a gently waving gesture with his hand. He mimed hitting the lantern glass. He pointed at the fairy again, then pointed at the window. The fairy stared at him. Kit repeated his gestures. The fairy moved back.

With just the right touch, Kit rapped the glass and shattered it. Kit stood back. The fairy buzzed up to about Kit’s height, wings beating fast enough to buzz like a bee. Kit gave it plenty of room, and stayed ready. Fairies were like squirrels. He could kill it easily, but they could be nasty buggers if they wanted.

It flew out the window. Kit went to the next lantern, and repeated the process. By the time Kit broke the third lantern, the fairies were cheering. The fourth one sat on his shoulder to watch. The fifth sat on his head. “You’re welcome to stay,” Kit said for them all to hear. “There’s plenty of honey.” And plenty of room in the tower, for his new, adopted family.

angry wizard“I’ve had enough of this charade. You’re nothing but a wellspring to me, child. I’ll show you true—”

He was going to say “mastery” but Kit didn’t give him the chance. He reached out his hand, clenched his fist, and thrust his hand upward. Like a god had grabbed him, Vrajitor flew straight up into the ceiling. He hit it hard enough to crack the stone. Pebbles and chunks landed with him as he hit the ground.

Lady covered her mouth. She was so shocked all her glamour disappeared. Kit saw her as she really appeared. From the waist up, she was a young girl, dressed in delicate black cloth that faded to vapor on the edges. Her pure white skin was covered in tiny scales. Little horns peeked through her hair on her forehead. She faded into smoke from the waist down. She was some kind of demon.

“What have you done?” she asked.

Kit felt Vrajitor’s rage. He knew it wouldn’t be this easy. Kit crossed his arms in front of himself. Vrajitor roared. A shockwave that came out of his body blew everything that wasn’t nailed down across the room. Kit staggered. He’d been trying to protect himself and Lady, and hadn’t been able to keep either of them safe.

Vrajitor lifted his hand up. Streams of darkness flew out of his eyes and surrounded Kit. They wrapped around his eyes, arms and legs. Kit felt afraid, like being afraid of the dark. He felt like he was falling.

Lady slashed her hands backwards. She spun like a dancer. The streams pulled off Kit and wrapped around her, layering the cloth of her dress. Kit flung his arms out. Every window in the room opened. Some of the bricks flew out of the wall. Light poured into the room. The darkness melted away from Vrajitor’s eyes.

Kit clapped his hands. A boom of thunder went off with Vrajitor at its center. He covered his ears but laughed as he did so. “Is that all? You have much to learn, boy!” he cried. Kit tried to grab him again but Vrajitor swept it aside with a wave of his hand.

Pustules and growths sprouted all over Kit’s body. He screamed, then the sound choked under his swollen lips and tongue. He was turning into a bent creature of diseased flesh.

Instinct saved him. With the stubbornness of a child, a part of him shouted, “No!” and banished the enchantment. Pieces of rot splattered the room, then sizzled and disappeared into foul-smelling smoke. Vrajitor looked dazed.

“Today’s lesson is judgment,” Master said. He walked over to Kit. He wore the red robe today, threaded with shadows and fear. Kit trembled. Master knelt down so that he was eye to eye with Kit. His eyes felt like they looked into Kit’s soul. “You’re old enough to leave the tower. I believe you’re also old enough to pass judgment on someone who’s wronged you.” He gestured at the changeling. “Were it not for this creature, you could have spoken to your family last night. Told them you were safe. Lady, what happens when we do something wrong?”

“We’re punished,” Lady said.

Master nodded. He continued, “That’s right. Kit, you have the power within you. Judgment is issued from the powerful against those who do wrong.”

Kit’s magic swirled. Master wasn’t lying. Still, this didn’t feel right.

Lady started to say something. Master held up his hand and she quieted. He continued, “The changeling is a thief. It stole your reunion with your family. Punish him.”

The changeling and Kit stared at each other. “I don’t know how. What would I do?”

“Did you know, some punish thieves by cutting off their hands?”

Kit’s heart screamed. That felt wrong, in the worst possible way. “I don’t want to cut off his hand!”

The changeling couldn’t hear what was happening, but it could sense that something awful was happening. It started screaming. It pounded on the glass like the fairies in the hall.

Master looked at Lady. Lady asked, “What do you do to spiders?”

“I kill them.” This wasn’t right.

Kit grabbed fistfuls of his hair. He squinted his eyes shut. He had walked upstairs wanting to do something that felt normal. Now it felt like his life was going out of control again.

“Leave him alone,” he heard Lady whisper. The words died at the end. Kit opened his eyes. The scene hadn’t changed, except Master was giving her a look far less gentle than the one he’d given Kit this morning.

He let go of his hair. Kit knew exactly what he had to do. He reached toward the jar, closed a fist, and broke the glass. It rained to the floor in bits the size of sand grains.

“What is this?” Vrajitor roared.

“Mastery,” Kit said. He waved his hands. The changeling vanished. Kit had imagined, “Somewhere far away,” and “back where you came from.” He didn’t know what that looked like, but magic would know.

fireflies-in-a-jarKit ran closer. As he got neared the cabin, he could smell the musty smell of their thatched roof. Crickets sang all around him. He saw fireflies hovering around the woods. Kit saw wood spirits and fairies watching him, made visible by the moon beams and his own power. Magic filled these woods. He wondered if his parents were wizards, too.

He slowed down as he got close to the cabin. He didn’t even know his parents. What were they like? How would they react to him?

Lady caught up. Kit looked up at her. “Master needed an apprentice,” she said. “We searched a hundred villages looking for a boy like you. Someone who was strong in the power. A baby… someone young.”

“Why young?”

“The power’s stronger in the young. A child’s imagination is boundless. You can reach out your arms and touch the edges of the universe. You can click your heels three times and fly to the moon. Isn’t that right?”

Kit nodded. He felt like he could do anything if he just wished hard enough for it.

“It was a night like tonight. I saw you in the moon beams, a light shining up out of the forest. It was like a star had fallen. You were new born.”

Kit walked towards the cabin, slowly. He tried to hear the conversation inside. “Who are they?” he asked.

“A trapper and his wife.”

“I can’t wait to meet them!”

“Kit—”

The front door opened. A child ran outside holding a glass jar. He ran to the first firefly he could see. He tried to catch it. It flew away at the last second. He laughed, and chased it again. He chased it again and finally caught it. “That’s one!” the child said. It was a boy. Kit heard a deep voice from inside the cabin laughing, and a sweeter voice call, “Be careful! Watch the stones and roots!”

The boy watched his first firefly light up. Kit and Lady stood in shadows under a maple tree, and he didn’t see them yet. He laughed and ran after another firefly. Kit stared at him. The boy looked like he was about ten years old. He had wavy, chestnut-brown hair, dimples when he smiled, and a round face with high cheek bones, just like his.

Kit’s heart pounded. He trembled. “He looks just like…”

Sadly, Lady said, “Yes, he does.”

From inside the house, they heard the father call, “Kit, don’t be gone too long!”