Below is the beginning of my new contemporary fantasy novel, A Lasting Cure for Magic.
These books make up the Contagious Magic series of novels; the first three form a standalone trilogy.
So, without any more needless banter, I’m taking you back to the ongoing adventure:
A Lasting Cure for Magic
Excerpted from Words of Magic, page 1331:
If you want to know about magic, it starts—and ends—with the Druid.
I know little of his beginnings, but I was present for his demise. It makes for a fascinating story, and my role in it is quite significant, if I do say so myself.
It happened on a blazing hot day on a southland beach in 1790: the day of the Great Split.
I remember thinking on that day that perhaps Michael was right in his concerns about the Druid. He feared that the creator of our Words may indeed have gone too far in his research and travels, interfered with too many cultures.
That was what the Druid did, though: he tried to pry the secrets of how each culture manipulated magic from the shamen, wise men, witches, illusionists, healers, seers, and lunatics from around the world. The Druid found them all, and then he took their knowledge, absorbing it, until he became magic, and magic became him.
On the day of the Split, over a decade had passed since we last saw the Druid.
I stood with four other men and women in dark robes on the smooth yellow sand of the beach, gazing out at the turquoise waters of the sea. Behind us, the restless natives of this island continent crowded together at the brush-covered dunes edging the beach, armed with spears and sharpened sticks. My fellow Sorcerers and I formed a human barrier between the Aborigines and the first boat approaching from the tall ship anchored out where the Tasman Sea met the Pacific.
Following Michael’s lead, we threw our hoods back off our faces. Each of us wore our own color: dark green for Michael, maroon for me, gray for my old friend Yishi, and black and brown for the newest apprentices. I tried not to distract myself with thoughts of my old friends who once wore blue and purple.
Yishi stood calm and silent on my left. Instead of feeling reassured by her presence, my sense of fear and dread grew. Pushing the sweat from my forehead in the backward-summer heat of late October, I watched the faces of the men in the launch boats grow angry as they rowed closer. White hands now clutched at black guns.
Ever since we arrived here half a week ago, on a ship with sails filled with steady, constant winds from Yishi and young Tanya’s Words, the harsh, unfamiliar land had fascinated me. I marveled that the island known as New Holland was so far from other lands, and how its people were so fiercely proud and independent. I wanted to help the Aborigines keep their land and prevent the British from unloading their convicts into this wondrous land of bounding kangaroos and brush-tailed rock-wallabies.
“Look at them,” Michael said, nodding at the men in the boats. He pushed his thinning blond hair back into a ponytail and stepped closer to the water. “They see our indigenous friends as trespassers on their land. Keep your wits, and your Words, close at hand.”
Softly, under his breath, Michael added, “If only Maria were here…”
A crisp-looking man with a powdered white wig and carrying an oversized black hat jumped out of the lead boat and marched up to my fellow Sorcerers and me. He wore the red and white uniform of the British Royal Navy, and his face was pinched and angry as he passed Tanya, Yishi, and the new, pale-skinned boy from up north, a boy whose name I’d already forgotten. The British soldier stopped in front of Michael, never once taking his eyes off the Aborigines massed behind us.
“What is the meaning of this?” the man snapped, wiping sweat from his forehead.
He kept his eye on the natives behind us, never meeting Michael’s calm gaze. The rest of the men in the launch boat had disembarked, though the two rowers in their chains and leg irons remained.
“You stand on British soil, and I could have you all arrested for trespassing.” The soldier gave us all a yellowed smile. “Trust me, we do have space in our new penal colonies on this land of savages for the likes of you. I will not be threatened by Warlocks.”
Michael gave him a smile, replacing some of the dread and fear in my stomach with confidence. I’d never faced this many men with guns before. I hated guns.
The soldier pinched up his face further, finally looking Michael in the eye.
He’s scared, I realized. This man with the bright uniform and the guns fears the Aborigines, and wants them removed. Or destroyed. The thought sickened me and made my resolve grow stronger.
Far out in the blue waters of the Tasman Sea came a crack of thunder, though the skies above were a brilliant blue.
“New Holland is a terra nullius,” the British officer said in a tight voice. He sounded as if he were reciting a speech he’d made countless times. “This island belonged to no one when Captain Cook landed in Botany Bay. These so-called Aborigines have no rights, no ownership of the land. If so, where are their houses? Where is their agriculture? For all we know, they are simply passing through this land.” The soldier stepped closer to Michael. “There is nothing to discuss. And do you really want to stand against the British Empire?”
“We are not standing against anyone,” Michael said with an easy smile. Again thunder rumbled out in the sea, closer this time. “We simply want to make sure both parties understand one another. We have Words of Translation that can help in this respect.”
“Oh no,” the British officer said, motioning to his fellow men. A second launch boat had landed, and a third was quickly approaching on the now-choppy waves. “None of your tricks, Warlock.”
The Aborigines had begun murmuring lowly behind us, their tone growing sharper as they inched closer to the beach. I wanted to use a Word of Translation right now so we could talk to them, but I didn’t dare act without Michael’s guidance.
“Woolyarngungh!” one of the bigger Aborigines shouted. He lifted his arm and pointed out at the place where the Pacific Ocean met the sea, but not at the tall ship anchored there. A dozen guns trained on him as he repeated his loud call. His fellow Aborigines immediately picked up the cry.
“What is he saying?” Yishi whispered to me. My smile had melted off my face.
“It sounds like Woolungah,” I said. I rubbed my stubbled cheeks and scratched under my chin as I muttered a soft Word of Translation with a sudden heating of my blood. “Or Woolongong, perhaps. It means ‘The monster comes.'”
The soldiers remained next to their boats, guns raised as if awaiting an attack.
I gazed off in the direction where the Aborigine man had pointed. It was in the same direction as where I’d heard the thunder earlier, to the left of the tall ship. I was shocked to see a tiny shadow above the water.
With my chin, I pointed out over the ocean at the shadow and watched Yishi’s dark eyes grow wide.
“There is nothing to fear,” Michael said, hands raised to try to calm the soldiers, the Sorcerers, and the natives. “It is just a storm approaching. Remain calm.”
I remained less than calm. For the shadow over the ocean was growing. It became more defined, moving at great speed across the ocean. Thunder followed it with a rhythmic rumbling, until it was obvious that it was the flying creature causing the thunder.
“Get the people back,” Michael said to Yishi and me. His voice was filled with the patient calm of a man who has finally gotten what he waited for all his life. “Move them as far from the beach as possible, and tell them to keep running. Then get back here to help us. Move!”
Yishi and I hurried to push back the already-dispersing crowd of Aborigines. I fought the urge to move with them into the cover of the trees farther inland.
“What is this?” I heard the British soldier say from up on the beach.
“Get your people out of here as well,” Michael hissed. “Return to your ship or find refuge far away down the beach. This is a battle beyond your reckoning.”
The soldier was about to say something sharp in response to Michael’s tone of voice, but when he saw the flying creature—only half a mile away now and closing fast, its wings skimming the tips of waves—he fled down the beach along with the rest of his men.
As Yishi and I returned to the beach, I saw that the great green and blue beast had taken shape and form. It had wings and a tail, and it threw water in twenty-foot high plumes in its wake. Thunder filled the sky with each flap of its gray wings.
A shirtless man in brown leggings sat strapped onto the back of the beast, a crooked black staff in his hand. The deeply tanned man was bald, with glowing blue eyes that could be seen even at this distance.
“It is a Dragon,” Yishi whispered, fingering her Hood of Stealth. “The Druid has raised one, after all this time.”
At the mention of the word Dragon, our youngest apprentice could handle it no longer. The boy screamed and bolted after the natives. I was about to give chase when Tanya caught my eye.
“Let him go,” she said in a harsh voice. “He is not worthy of our reprisal. The coward.”
“No,” Michael said. Without looking at the apprentice, he pointed at the fleeing boy. “I will… borrow him for a moment.” The air swirled around Michael’s eyes as he tensed up and said, “Gholt.”
The boy froze in place, eyes wide and mouth open, sand dripping from one upraised foot.
I exchanged a bewildered look with Yishi before bracing myself for the approaching beast. The loud flapping of the Dragon’s wings filled the air, along with the Druid’s triumphant shouts.
Next to us, Michael took a sharp breath, and then the world turned hazy in front of my eyes. Waves of power seemed to run between Michael and his hapless apprentice fifteen feet away. Just as the mighty beating of the Dragon’s wings threw a mix of salt water and sand into my eyes, Michael attacked.
Screaming Words that could barely be heard over the Dragon’s wings and the Druid’s own shouting, Michael launched thin lines of dark blue energy from each finger. The energy somehow came from the young apprentice first, as if Michael was channeling the power through the boy’s blood, not his own.
The ten lines of energy cut into the Dragon like razors. As I watched, the dark blue energy flickered and turned a sickly shade of green.
The Dragon shrieked in pain from the attack, just as the boy apprentice shuddered, and then fell face-first onto the sand.
And then Michael Azure turned his gaze on us.
“Finish it off!” he screamed, gasping for breath. “Can’t you see the Druid has lost his mind? Only a fool would summon a Dragon to this world! Kill the beast!”
I was almost too overwhelmed to do anything but stare at the immense creature rearing back in the sky before us, wings flapping with the roar of thunder. The Dragon was inhaling.
I knew what came next. I found my wits long enough to throw up a defensive shield around myself and the other Sorcerers just before the Dragon’s flames roasted us. The blast of red-orange fire turned the sandy beach in front of my shield into a sheet of black, smoking glass.
“My friend,” Yishi whispered from under the cover of my weakening shield. Her small hand grabbed my shoulder with surprising strength. “Don’t be so easily led. We can’t betray the Druid like this. I think Michael has gone mad.”
“But the Dragon,” I said, rising up from behind the shield. Tanya was already screeching her own Words of Attack at both the Dragon and the Druid from just a few feet away. “The Druid has raised a Dragon,” I shouted at Yishi, “and that cannot be tolerated.”
And so, uttering my first Words of Attack for the day, I entered the battle against the Druid and the Dragon.
By the time Yishi had helped our exhausted fellow apprentice up from the sand, the Dragon was flying with great unsteadiness, and the Druid had grown desperate. The deep voice of the Druid wormed its way into my head.
Would he never lie? the Druid asked inside my mind. Would he never betray you?
I had a sudden urge to turn my powers on Michael, but I was convinced that my old mentor and friend would never mislead me.
With more hair falling from his head as a result of his exertions, Michael suddenly clapped his hands together. There was a long moment of silence as all eyes turned to him. Michael took a deep breath and began to speak Words that I had never heard before. The Words made my ears ache and my skin crawl.
I felt something rip, as if the fabric holding together the world of magic had been torn in two.
I also felt something pulling at my skin, and my blood felt like it was on fire. The Words were harsh and foreign, coming from deep within Michael’s chest. I felt my own exhaustion double as wild energy filled the air.
The energy came not only from the young boy apprentice, but my own body, as well as Yishi’s and Tanya’s.
As the energy was ripped out of me by Michael’s insane Words, I could only stare at my teacher in numb shock.
How could he do this to me? To all of us?
The Dragon and its rider had pulled up, as if hoping for a truce, when Michael Azure released the gathered force of his inhuman Words and stolen energy. He smote the Dragon directly in the chest with a bright green clot of magic. The Dragon gave an ear-splitting scream matched only by the enraged bellowing of the Druid as he tried to control his wounded mount.
The Dragon bucked as hungry green fire covered its body like a second skin. And then it flew straight up at the sun, wings churning madly as it tried to fly away from the fire coating it.
With the air filled with the screaming of the Dragon, Michael turned to the three of us and the unconscious apprentice behind us. His face was triumphant and wild-eyed, but he proved his senses had not left him when he uttered one simple syllable:
As I pushed my drained, exhausted body across the blackened, brittle sand, arms pumping like mad at my side, I risked one final look behind me.
The Dragon was returning to Earth like a falling star, screaming all the way down.
I made myself run faster, lungs burning and eyes watering as branches slapped my face. I wanted to call out to Yishi to make sure she was still with me, but I didn’t have the energy. The shrieking voice of the Dragon blocked all sound and thought.
And then the Druid and his Dragon crashed into the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea with a blast that knocked us all off our feet.
For long moments after that, I was convinced I was dead. My ears were ringing and my sense of balance had been thrown off. When I caught my breath enough to get to my hands and knees, I looked back at the ocean to see yet another impossible sight in a day filled with impossibilities.
A gigantic wave had formed from the exact location where the Dragon had buried itself in the ocean. Smoke and steam plumed up, until it was all swallowed by a growing wave. I had no more than blinked twice before the wave had moved closer, then closer still, growing in height as it reached for the land in front of it.
I looked into the tsunami’s boiling white heart to see a dozen gray-black whales, most likely caught in the middle of their migration, lifted from the salt water like so much flotsam and jetsam.
For an instant of unbelievable clarity, the whales hung suspended in the rising wave.
I could see the large white bumps on the top of their long gray heads, the bumps continuing along the edges of their lower jaws and around their eyes like the tattoos on the Druid’s face. The whales were promised certain death when they hit the unforgiving ground.
I can’t let that happen, I thought. I lifted myself up from the sandy ground, thinking, I can save them.
And I was not alone in that thought, for at that very moment I heard a ticking sound coming from a distant, blackened sand dune.
I looked over, and under the cover of a clump of burnt bushes near the dunes, I saw a familiar figure in a dark blue robe rise to one knee. The sharp glow of magic filled his youthful face with determined blue light.
It was Jonathan, my long-lost, exiled friend.
He’d been here all along, and he was now aiming the loudly ticking contraption in his hand at the oncoming wave. I could just barely hear the Words spilling from his mouth.
He saw me there on the beach and pointed with his clockwork mechanism.
“Moammar!” Jonathan cried. “Bind them with me. We can save them!”
Turning back toward the overflowing ocean, I felt the Words flow through me as well. The Words of Binding. My blood boiled, my head roared with sudden noise, and my mouth filled with the taste of copper as Jonathan and I caught all twelve whales in a net of blue energy. We sent the trapped whales out several miles past the tidal wave, beyond where the Dragon had crashed like a sun into the Sea surrounding the island called Australia. The immense weight of the whales brought me to my knees as soon as we let go of them.
But we saved them.
I turned my heavy head in the direction of my old, exiled friend Jonathan Archibald Masterson Brightwell, but the boy with the over-large name and the undying desire to help those in need had already disappeared. I had lost him, again. And the hundred-foot wave was now falling onto the blackened and smoking beach.
I was able to draw in a single breath before the onrushing wave of the Dragon’s tsunami fell over me, and then I knew no more.
* * * * *
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