Monday, April 20, 2015

"Gods on the Mountain" Sample Chapter

The following is Chapter 1 from my upcoming fantasy novel Gods on the Mountain, set to be released on April 29, 2015.



One would have thought that there was a small village down there in the valley. There were several long buildings alongside many more smaller buildings, most of them made of stone and covered with tiled roofs. In the midst of them, rising high above them all, was a thick stone tower, which widened a bit at the end and was topped with a jutting turret. The structure was an amazing sight, with old stone that seemed to have been plastered together with a strange substance which sparkled and shined in the sunlight. The turret was gold, and likewise dazzled with great brilliance.

This was Wystan's Tower, the home of the Order of the Magi. These were the descendents of the famous Nathanael the Great, who had, the stories told, been given knowledge from the Almighty himself to wield power through nature in order to assist humankind. The tower received its name from the one who had commissioned its construction: the Great Wizard Wystan.

Out of this tower came a young page, dressed in simple green robes. He made his way through the buildings, and out into the open plains, where hundreds of other men were walking about. Most of them were likewise dressed in green robes, some of them wearing around their waist a dark green belt. These young men were not Magi proper, but Disciples. This rank referred to those of adult age who were training to become Magi, but had not yet completed their studies. At this hour, lessons were over, and they were traveling to the training fields for fun, or going to their quarters for independent study.

Either way, this page was not concerned with them – he been asked to go look for a very specific individual: a teacher of the Acolytes. Acolytes were the young boys entrusted to the Order to be trained from childhood to become Magi. They continued to be trained until their late teenage years, when they were ordained Disciples. When a Disciple was finally knowledgeable enough to be ordained a Magi proper, his skills determined which classification he would receive, and there were three: Battlers, or those who excelled in combative tactics; Healers, or those who, fitting to their name, excelled in healing tactics; and Enchanters, or those who were sufficiently proficient in both skills. The man sought by the page was specifically an Enchanter, and had heard that he was with the Acolytes out in the woods not too far from the training grounds.

After some time walking past the wood's great number of trees, the page finally came to a clearing. By this time of day it was noon, and the sun was shining down through the branches above, causing little strands to shoot downward towards the ground. Because of the gentle breeze, this made the light appear to dance, and cause shapes and patterns to animate on the dirt and grass. The occasional leaf fell, curling and twisting about in the air before it finally landed. In the middle of this clearing were five young boys, seated in a line just before an adult male who was facing away from the page. The children all wore simple gray robes, with gray caps upon their heads, and none of them could have been any older than ten. The man was wearing the standard clothing of the Magi, with green robes covered by a golden tabard and a dark green belt tied around his waist. Though the man's face could not be seen, the page noticed he had long, brown curly hair that went down to his shoulders. His shoulders were broad and his waist slim, which could be discerned even with the size of the robes.

Every single one of the boys seemed to have their eyes fixated on the older man, and were listening intently as he spoke. They did not even notice the page as he walked to the edge of the clearing. The man seemed to be in the middle of a lesson, and his head seemed to turn this way and that, suggesting that he was looking at each boy individually as he spoke.

“ Nathanael the Great gave up his life to keep evil men from using his power. But it wasn't in vain. His disciples went on and trained others, and formed the Order of the Magi. That is where we came from. And though we call you Acolytes, you are in a way disciples, just as they were under Nathanael the Great!”

Some of the boys exchanged smiles with one another. One of them asked:

“Are you like Nathanael the Great, Master Edmund?”

At that question, the man gave a laugh, though not in a mocking way, “No, no. No one is like Nathanael the Great. That's why they call him The Great! In fact, I was once where all of you were, sitting in a glen as a young boy listening about our history.” The man glanced up towards the branches, then turned his attention back down to the boys, “Alright, the sun fingers are pointing down, which means it's time for you all to return to your studies. However, before you go, let's test your memories one more time. The Three Principles are...” He began to point a finger down the row, cuing each child to give him one of the principles.




“Good memory! And the Two Laws?” The man repeated the motion, pointing to each of the next two children.



The second child seemed a bit confused. As the other children turned to look at him, his cheeks turned red, and his eyes looked down in despair. However, the man leaned forward and whispered:

“Rhymes with 'bariance'...”

The boy's eyes immediately lit up. “Oh! Variance!”

“Very good!”

The boys all chuckled. The man stood up, waving his hands and dismissing them, telling them to return when the sun was two hand's lengths from the horizon. As they began to scatter away, the man turned around, and at last his eyes met the page's. He was a handsome young man, with a good jaw and defined cheekbones, as well as two indigo eyes. Most notable about him, however, was the emblem that grew out of his flesh and could be seen around his left eye. It started at two separate points in the middle, just above and below his eye, then moved outward towards his ears, curling inwards around the shape of his eye, then – just before the two lines met – moved out towards the ears again for a short distance, ending in two separate points. All Magi had such emblems (always over the left eye), which showed not only that they were Magi, but what was their level of expertise. This man had received his first one when he became a Disciple, and this specific one when he had been selected to become an Enchanter.

“Edmund?” the page asked.

The man nodded, “That's who I am. What is it?”

“You are needed, in Wystan's Tower. The Wizards have summoned you.”

Edmund pursed his lips, looking to the side as he nodded. In his mind, there were a few reasons he could be summoned by the Wizards: he either was in deep trouble, or something of great importance had to be told to him. He was not aware of anything he had done to warrant resentment and hate from the leaders of the orders...but he was not entirely perfect when it came to keeping all his peers happy with him. There had been verbal scuffles in the past, and a few hard hearts that became harder when fought against – perhaps one of those incidents had come back to haunt him?

As he walked by the page, he could hear the man remark, “Bariance is not a word, you know.”

Edmund just shrugged, “But it rhymes with variance, doesn't it?”

As he made his way through the forest and towards the tower, Edmund continued to ponder on just why the Wizards would summon him. As he thought, Edmund glanced over and caught sight of a particular group of Disciples. He knew they were disciples because, even from a distance, they all wore plain green robes and had a crescent moon shape beside their eye. It was the emblem of a Disciple, representing an “unfinished” moon to signify their unfinished studies. About twenty of them were gathered together at the ranging yard, with two walking up to a long white line on the ground. This line signified how close individual casters could stand to their targets. Edmund took several more steps to get a better view, and studied the two Disciples who had apparently begun a small competition. One was a shorter, stouter lad, with a slightly worried look on his round face, while the other was a taller, leaner young man who seemed far more confident. Behind both of them was a large brazier burning a sizable flame. At the end of the range were two target sheets: thin pieces of cloth fastened between two long sticks stuck in the ground; three circles, each smaller than the other, were painted on the cloth, with the smallest circle being red.

The taller Disciple went first. He took a deep breath, held his hands close to his body, and then began to throw his arms out towards the targets at the end of the range. As he did, small balls of flame shot out, from one hand and then the other, flying down the range and hitting their targets one by one. With the impact and velocity, each ball of fire left a small, round mark on the target. The young man was fairly good for his level, but not amazing by any means: most of his strikes hit on target, but the last few missed.

The shorter, stouter Disciple went next. He took a deep breath and made a look that showed he was attempting to concentrate with all his might. Then, just like his taller peer, he began to throw his arms out, and small bits of flame shot out. This Disciple, Edmund could see, was hitting on target nearly every time. He got one out, but the next one after that hit home. Then, just as he was about to land his next few hits, the taller Disciple beside casually leaned over and bumped his hip. This sent the Disciple off balance, causing his last few shots to completely miss their mark.

Laughter rose up from the crowd. The taller Disciple looked to the stouter one and shrugged, giving a cocky grin full of dismissal. The stouter Disciple, seeing that his peers were all beginning to turn against him, lowered his eyes, his lips tightening as he began to back away a little bit.

It was then that Edmund knew he needed to act. He took off his belt, laying it gently on the ground, then took off his tabard and folded it neatly over the belt. He reached into his pouch, pulled out a handkerchief, and tied it around his eyes, making certain his Enchanter emblem was absolutely hidden. With that done, he appeared, based on his age and dress, to be just another Disciple. He began to walk forward, right for the group, and (when he was certain he was close) said in a loud voice:

“I'd like to have a go.”

He could hear the voice of the taller Disciple. “Blindfolded?”

Edmund nodded, “I watched that competition. You're not that good. I wager I can beat you – blindfolded.”

Several in the group were laughing now, but the taller Disciple continued being the spokesperson, “Alright then. Need help getting to the line?” The mocking tone in his voice hinted at bitterness – no doubt he did not take kindly to Edmund saying flat out that he was “not that good.”

“Oh yes, please,” Edmund replied, “where do I stand?”

In truth, he was feigning helplessness. He knew exactly where to stand from memory, but he did not want these boys to know just what they were in for. One of the group took him by the arm and led him to the line, facing the target. He heard the taller Disciple step up to his spot and ask if Edmund wanted to go first. He waved the offer off.

The fire was cast out, bit by bit. Edmund took this moment to reach up with one hand, lifting up the blindfold enough that his left eye could see. It was the same as last time: every target hit, except for the last few, which landed just outside the bulls eye. Edmund dropped the blindfold back down when the last shot was fired.

“Your chance now,” the Disciple said, “do you need me to hold your arms for you to aim?”

“No that's quite alright,” said Edmund, “now, watch and learn.”

Edmund took in a deep breath, just as the Disciples had during their competition – only this was for a different purpose. He was taking in the sensory in the ground, learning how far exactly the target was from him, and how it was positioned. From there, he could figure out the location of the bulls eye in relation to him. It was half the use of elements, half mathematical calculations. His spiritual father had taught him as much, when he was a young Acolyte: one could only rely on the elements as far as they could guide them; after that, it was all calculation. There was the variance, of course, but before that came the calculations.

And with those calculations made, Edmund began to throw his arms out and cast from the flame behind him. He could feel the heat of the element moving through him, being transferred through his body, re-forming before his palms and shooting out as he directed them, all of it happening in a split second. In his mind, he had no other thought than: Target, target, target. He was focused. He had to collect, he had to aim true, and he had to shoot. He could sense the stunned silence behind him, and knew it meant that every single strike was hitting right on target.

Suddenly, he paused. “Should I stop? Am I doing alright?” When he lifted his arms to aim again, he heard the rustle of clothes, and knew that the taller Disciple was preparing to do exactly what he had done before with the stouter one.

Here comes the variance, Edmund thought.

Just as the Disciple threw himself at Edmund, Edmund suddenly turned, latched one arm around the Disciple's neck, got him into a tight hold, finished his turn a full 360-degrees, and threw his free arm up, firing the rest of his shots. When he was finally done, he let go, hearing a satisfying noise as the bewildered and choking Disciple fell to the ground.

Edmund took off his blindfold, casting it aside. Down the range, he could see the bulls eye was completely charred, with no marks anywhere outside the center circle. The Disciples, however, were no longer interested in his score – they had all noticed the marking around his left eye.

“H-hey!” cried the tall Disciple below him. “Y-you're Enchanter!”

Edmund gave the Disciple a knowing smirk. “That I am. So you know your eye emblems? There's still hope for you, I guess.”

He turned and began to walk away from the stunned group. He could hear some of them saying to one another “No, he's too young,”, but he paid them no mind. The stouter Disciple was not too far away from the Enchanter, staring wide-eyed at the burned target. Edmund paused when he reached the Disciple's side, and gave him a warm smile. With a pat on the shoulder, Edmund said:

“You have wonderful aim – just try not to over think your shots, and you should be alright.”

After putting his belt and tabard back on, he continued on towards Wystan's Tower. It was like a second home to him, really; he had spent his life since childhood with the Order, and matured in its halls. Most first time visitors to the Order would stare in utter amazement at the height and design of the tower, but for Edmund and many of the residents, it was simply another piece of architecture. In their minds, it was made of stone and could be destroyed (Almighty forbid) like any structure. What was more important was what was inside these walls, and what knowledge was contained by those who resided here. To Edmund, the minds here held more precious jewels than any of the mines in all of Calambria.

He entered through the large double doors, asking one of the pages where the Wizards were. He was pointed towards the large, spiraling staircase, and all the way up, to the very top. I should have expected as much, Edmund thought as he made his way to the stairs. The living quarters of the Wizards were at the very top of the tower, just under the turret. They lived in garrets underneath, in very humble living that mirrored the lower ranking Magi. Most of them were very old, having lived nearly a hundred years, but were still fit enough (emphasis on the word enough) to hold their position. They were the highest ranking members of the Order: they had achieved a higher knowledge of the elements that few ever obtained in their lifetime. As such, the height of their living quarters didn't bother them; most had ways of going down quickly, and some were rumored to even be able to transport their bodies across open space. However, dear Edmund, even after all his years of study, was still just an Enchanter, and he did not yet have the knowledge or capabilities to use such tricks. Therefore, he was stuck using the stairs, like everyone else.

The wood of the wide steps creaked just a bit every time he put a foot on them. Visitors sometimes felt nervous when they heard it, but it came from the age of the wood rather than any unreliability. The tower's stairway was built with two thick planks of wood for each step, and a complicated support system kept the whole thing sturdy and stable. Metal plates were fastened against areas where the wood met, keeping everything together. According to legend, the architect of the stairway encountered hesitancy by the tower's occupants, and so he danced madly down the steps, bouncing and prancing on each one, to try to convince them that it would hold. When they still refused to climb up, he took a bull and led it up the steps, showing that it could take the weight. Edmund felt more secure walking up the steps than he often did on solid ground.

The stairway went along the interior of the tower, sometimes going in a straight line up instead of a curve, depending on which doorway it was leading to next as you went up. The library itself was at the very bottom of the tower, and was perhaps the most spacious room in terms of size. As Edmund moved up, he passed by the receiving hall, and then the storage chamber after that. He continued moving up, passing by the page quarters and various other rooms and chambers used for this purpose and that. When he finally neared the Wizard's quarters, he saw the meeting chamber door ajar, and heard familiar voices inside. According to protocol, he stopped just outside the door, but not in front of it, and knocked.

“Come in,” came a resounding, but calm voice.

Edmund opened the door and walked in. He had only a few times been in the meeting chamber, but he still remembered every detail. There were large, oval windows against the curved wall of the tower, providing glimpses of the countryside. Before the windows was a large, stone chair which the Grand Wizard sat in during official meetings. There was a large, square table in the middle of the room, usually covered with books, scrolls, and maps. Along the walls were paintings and mementos of previous Grand Wizards. Above the stone chair of the Grand Wizard itself was a large metal rendition of the crest of the Order: a simple, green triangle.

Inside, Edmund found that not all the Wizards were present, but only three. There was Grand Wizard Nigellus, the head of the Order, who was not sitting in the stone chair, but standing off to the side. He had a long white beard, bushy eyebrows that curled about from his forehead like great white wings, and long white hair that went down his back and over his ears. He stood tall, perhaps just over six feet, and wore the same robes that Edmund and other Magi wore, though he had a large red and gold miter upon his head, bearing the same crest of the Order. With him were Wizards Sperling and Alfredus. Both of them were about as old as Nigellus was, though whereas Alfredus was short and stocky with fish lips and beady eyes, Sperling was of average height, boney, and had a hooked nose that grew over his medium-length beard and shot out from his balding head.

One of the few things that distinguished these men from the other members of the Order, aside from their age and Nigellus' hat, was their eye emblem. Each one of them had an emblem which started at the end of their left eye, curved down and under it, then stopped in a smaller curve under the middle of the eye, almost like a fanciful S-shape. In addition to this, oval shapes would grow under the emblem, signifying the expertise and rank of the Wizard. Nigellus had a full set of four ovals under his emblem, while Sperling and Alfredus had three. These ovals grew and added themselves as the Wizard advanced in skill...and so it was very, very hard for a Wizard to lie about how much he knew.

When Edmund saw Sperling and Alfredus, he couldn't help but smirk to himself. The two men were some of the most skilled Wizards in the Order, but they were infamous for driving one another crazy. Even now, they were apparently fighting over something regarding Alfredus' robe. Sperling was tugging on a spot and complaining about him not taking proper care of his clothes, while Alfredus was batting the wizard's hands away with his own fleshy fingers, barking at Sperling to leave him be.

“Thank you for coming, brother Edmund,” said Grand Wizard Nigellus. He noticed Edmund's eyes wander to Sperling and Alfredus, saw Edmund's smirk, and silently reacted by rolling his eyes and shaking his head slightly. “If the two of you would be good enough not to worry about the concerns of dress...Edmund is here.”

“Oh! Edmund, yes, the Enchanter teacher fellow, yes!” Sperling said. He turned to Edmund and grinned, rubbing his hands together as he walked over. “I'm glad you came. You are being sent east to investigate the dwarfs.”

Edmund tilted his head, “What?”

“Perhaps you could be a little less direct,” came Alfredus' voice, dripping with sarcasm. “Remind me not to let you handle death notifications.”

“I'll handle your death notification!” spat Sperling, glaring towards Alfredus. “It will be to a jovial song and dance number!”

“Explain to young Edmund what you meant,” Nigellus said, speaking over the two of them. His tone of voice reminded Edmund of mothers who had to get their children back in line.

“Oh, yes, here is what I meant. Come, come.” Sperling put a hand on Edmund's back, gently guiding him towards the table in the middle of the room. “We were asked by the International Guilds Commission to send someone to investigate the dwarfs. There are concerns in...uh...” Sperling picked up a rolled up parchment, unraveled it, shook his head, and tossed it back. He picked up another one, and gave a similar reaction. He picked up yet another scroll, looking and shaking his head.

“You picked that one up already!” Alfredus remarked.

“Too bad no one can pick you up. Now where was I...oh yes, dwarfs and commissions. You are being put on assignment, my dear Edmund. A very special one!”

Edmund blinked. “Forgive me, masters, but it is currently the year of lessons. I am teaching the Acolytes.”

“They will be taken care of,” Nigellus said, smiling towards Edmund with a slight nod, “do not worry. You may finish your lessons today, but expect to be ready to travel on the morrow.”

“Found it!” came a cry. Sperling was now unraveling a large map over one of the few open sections of the table. It was not a map of all of Calambria, but the mountain regions which made up the center. Sperling motioned for Edmund to come over beside him, and began to point along the southwestern parts of the mountains.

“The southwestern section of the mountains is where most of the gem and precious jewel supplies come from,” he began. “You know, shiny objects. That's where they come from...or did come from. Turns out recently, the number of shiny objects from here have begun to dwindle. Seems that merchants have been turned away at certain sections, especially along this here Koniwa's Valley.” Sperling waved in an up and down motion with his boney finger, showing Edmund the labeled section. “Now, there's been no dwarf contact for weeks. Elf border scouts or something have even made searches, and they claim that in some places, entire tribes have disappeared!”

“Strange,” Edmund murmured. “Dwarfs can be reclusive, but they're not known to hide themselves.”

Sperling nodded. “Quite so, m'boy. But, I must be honest with one who's contacted us is really concerned so much about the dwarfs. They're concerned about what the dwarfs have. The merchants are concerned that they've lost their supply of shiny stones – that's what's making them mad. You can't sell fine jewels or wear the shiniest armor if you don't have what they have up in those mountains. But they've come to us nonetheless.”

That last part made sense to Edmund. Due to the apolitical nature of the Order of Magi, most human powers trusted them to handle negotiations or investigate claims without bias. Entire wars had been avoided because Magi had been employed to settle disputes.

“But then comes the rubbing part,” Sperling added.

“No, the phrase is 'there's the rub',” remarked Alfredus, “you're using it wrong, you old fool!”

“I'll use it any way I like!” Sperling threw his hand out towards Alfredus, as if hoping it would spring off his arm and hit the source of his annoyance. No such luck, though. “Any way, Edmund...the one I was talking to...there's the rub. Or something. Point is, you won't be working alone. You see uh...elves didn't really like the idea of a human alone handling the affairs.”

Edmund rolled his eyes, and had to fight against the inclination to let out a loud sigh. As noble and intelligent a race as they were, the pride of the elves was an infamous thing, and one which often led to headaches for their human peers. One of the biggest examples of this was an entire debate over the dating of history. The humans had picked up using BC and AS, referring to Before Chaos (or rather, before the Wars of Chaos) and After Sacrifice (referring to the sacrifice of Nathanael the Great). When a conference of human and elfin scholars met to discuss both races adopting similar dating for the sake of scholarly unity, the elves objected to the human usage on the basis that it placed too much emphasis on human history. What elf, they argued, would want to date their years in accordance with the death of a human holy man? After much heated debate, the apex of history was moved from Nathanael's sacrifice to the end of the Wars of Chaos, in which the elves had played a part. Hence history came to be dated with BP (Before Peace) and AP (After Peace). Many human dignitaries had objected to the change, especially within the Order of the Magi, but eventually it had to be accepted as a necessary compromise.

So it was that, in this matter, the elfin merchants didn't want a human alone handling this affair. Who else did they intend to send? Sperling answered that question for the Enchanter:

“And as it so happens, they've decided to send one of their Dagger Maidens.”

Edmund blinked. A Dagger Maiden?

“I know you are quite studious, Edmund,” Nigellus remarked. “Are you familiar with the Dagger Maidens at all?”

“Yes, I've read of them a little,” Edmund replied. “They came about in the Wars of Chaos, after the Chaotians started raiding elfin lands. They were trained to protect elf women, but they serve a mostly ceremonial function now, protecting the family members of politicians and the like.”

“Well, they're still around, and the elves still trust them, I suppose,” Sperling said, “and you'll be expected to meet one, in the town of...uh...” Sperling glanced at the map in confusion.

“It ain't on that map, you old fool!” Alfredus said.

“You ain't on the map, you old fool!” Sperling made the same hand motion he had before. Alfredus didn't even react. Given he was several feet away, he didn't really have to.

“Settle down, you two!” Nigellus had raised his voice much louder than before, causing the two wizards to silence themselves and look at him with innocent expressions. Edmund could see a look of guilt come over the Grand Wizard, like a parent reluctant to punish disobedient children. With a soft sigh, Nigellus said to Edmund, “In the town of Paskatong is what Wizard Sperling was referring to. I am certain you are capable enough to find it on the map, Edmund.”

“Yes, your grace,” Edmund said, covering his heart and bowing slightly.

“We also have a name for the Dagger Maiden,” Nigellus continued. “Diane is her name.”

Diane the Dagger Maiden, Edmund thought, well, that's easy enough to remember.

Alfredus let out a little snort. “Paskatong is in the humanlands. Just look for the only elf girl in the whole city, you'll probably find her.”

Edmund turned towards Alfredus and bowed slightly, bringing his hand to his chest. “All the same, master, it is proper etiquette to know a person's name.”

Nigellus grinned at that, and began to walk towards Edmund. “Very good, Edmund. I will see you out. Walk with me a moment.”

The two men made for the door, leaving Sperling and Alfredus to begin another argument over one thing or another. Nigellus had to lower his head to get through the doorway, and held his hand to his miter to keep it from falling. After he gently closed the door behind him, muffling the debate that had erupted between the two Wizards, he put a gentle hand on Edmund's back and said:

“You have excelled well, Edmund. That is why you were chosen. I want you to know that.”

“Thank you, your grace,” Edmund said, lowering his eyes as the two men began to descend the staircase. “You are too kind.”

Nigellus waved his hand. “You may temporarily dispense with formalities, Edmund. Even someone in my position tires of them after a while.” He took off his miter, scratching the balding spot in the back of his head, “And these hats do terrible things for your scalp...”

Edmund smiled, standing a little taller and looking Nigellus in the face now. “Are you certain the Acolytes will be taken well care of while I'm gone?”

“Yes, yes,” Nigellus replied, still scratching his head, “As I said, I've already looked into a replacement for you. I know you care very much about their education.”

“It was my tutor who matured me when I was an Acolyte,” Edmund said, glancing away for a moment.

Nigellus nodded solemnly. “It was a terrible, terrible thing when Wizard Hugo passed away, Edmund. I knew him for a long time...there was no Wizard like him.” A clang was heard upstairs, followed by Sperling's shouts. “Yes, indeed, no Wizard like him...”

Edmund's thoughts trailed back to his childhood tutor, though he had tried to suppress them. Hugo had been an old man by the time Edmund was sent to Wystan's Tower as a seven-year old Acolyte. The Wizard was always hunched over, could barely walk, and would close one eye so he could see out of the other – which was the only one that worked. He had been a hard tutor, grilling his students to make them achieve their full potential. Edmund had suffered and stalled behind the class, so that Hugo took him out one night and forced him to train until, suddenly, Edmund was exceeding his peers. After Edmund continued to maintain his level of growth, Hugo suddenly became very warm and proud of him, and began to encourage the young boy more and more. That was, until about a decade ago, when Hugo passed away from old age. It had been the hardest moment for Edmund to comprehend, and for a spell he was in a depression he never thought possible. It was Nigellus who led him out of the depression, and convinced him to continue his studies.

And at the moment, Nigellus seemed to be catching on that the depression was coming back to Edmund, and attempted to change the subject. “Do you know what you will bring with you?”

“I hadn't had time to think of that yet,” Edmund replied, turning his head back to the Grand Wizard. “I suppose some changes of clothes, and a few books, to study and prepare myself mentally. Is there anything I should take from the library?”

“Take a book on the culture of dwarfs.” Nigellus began to absentmindedly pat his miter. “I do not doubt your knowledge of their culture, but best to keep it as a refresher. Also, perhaps something about the mountains and what is available there. I mean the minerals, of course. I have a feeling there is something the guilds are not telling us.”

“And how will I get to Paskatong?”

“We have commissioned a carriage to take you there. After you meet with the Dagger Maiden, it will take the two of you towards the mountains, from there you will have to traverse on foot, I'm afraid.”

“Very well. Anything else I should be aware of, sir?”

Nigellus waved his hand again. “Do not even call me sir, that is too formal! And not that I am aware of. Only be very careful. I fear there is something else going on with this mission.”

Edmund nodded, having thought of that himself earlier. Dwarf tribes suddenly disappearing or becoming reclusive...that was not normal. Dwarfs liked to keep to themselves on the mountains, and rarely left to mingle with what they called the “Low Landers”, yet they could be very welcoming to guests who respected them. Why would foreign merchants suddenly be pushed away, and why would dwarf tribes suddenly leave and move up towards the higher ranges of the mountains?

“Well, I shall stop here,” said Nigellus suddenly, as they came to where the pages were quartered. “I shall let you continue your day, and prepare for tomorrow. The carriage leaves at daybreak, so get some rest.”

Edmund nodded. “Thank you, your grace. I shall perform to the utmost of my ability.”

Nigellus placed his miter back on his head. “Oh yes, I'm sure you will. Pray to the Almighty that he gives you a good Dagger Maiden as a partner.”


  1. Looks interesting, Ben. Just caught a glimpse of this from the email notification. I haven't read it, but will do when I have time later in the week. I did find, however, from a cursory glance the following:

    "...shined in the sunlight."

    Shouldn't that actually be 'shone in the sunlight'?

    1. Whoops. Thanks for pointing that out. Apparently both words can be legitimate, albeit shone is usually used when there is no object.

      However, I'll run it by my wife (my resident editor) and see what she thinks. Thanks again for pointing that out.

  2. Finally made time to have a read. There were one or two phrases that made me pause, but that is likely just the difference between British and American English.

    In any case, good luck with your book, Ben.