To all my followers, just letting you know that I’m moving this blog to my website, and hopefully all subscriptions will move as well, though you can, of course, unsubscribe at any time. I’ve already imported all my old posts.
To all my followers, just letting you know that I’m moving this blog to my website, and hopefully all subscriptions will move as well, though you can, of course, unsubscribe at any time. I’ve already imported all my old posts.
My lovely publishers for the past 16 years, Orbit Books, are giving away five full sets of the print edition of The View from the Mirror quartet. The competition is open to anyone aged 16 or over in the UK, US, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. To enter, go to my Facebook page, comment under the competition (April 2) with why you enjoy reading my books and tag the person you would want to share this series with. Good luck!
The competition closes on April 15th! Don’t forget to read the full t&cs before entering.
Stories in my first Three Worlds anthology
A Wizard’s War
The Price of Freedom. This 30-page story is from the Distant Past, more than 3,900 years before the events told in The View from the Mirror. It portrays one of the most important moments in the Histories of the Three Worlds – the first meeting of Rulke, the greatest of all the Charon, and the young, brilliant but troubled Tensor. The outcome of that meeting will echo down the ages.
The Harrows. A little story (8 pages) from Ancient Times. It is set between the Forbidding (3,000 years before the time of The View from the Mirror) and the beginning of the Clysm (~1,500 years before). Thanks very much to Lisa Leigh for the seed from which this story grew.
A Wizard’s War. Perhaps the greatest, unquestionably the most influential, and certainly one of the longest-lived old human mancers has always been an enigma, not least because he made sure that all the records of his early life were erased. But late in his final life Mendark must have regretted it, and took care to set some parts of the record straight. Here, for the first time and in his own words, is the story of the worst deed of his life, and the deed that made him. The young Yggur also makes an appearance.
This 35-page story is set late in the Clysm, the 500-year war between the Aachim and the Charon that devastated Santhenar and almost wiped old humans out. The time is around 1100 years before the events of The View from the Mirror.
The Professional Liar. A 20-page story about Llian, the hero (along with Karan) of The View from the Mirror. It is set five years after the ending of The Way Between the Worlds and shows Llian struggling to deal with a problem arising from his past reckless choices.
The Seventh Sister. This novella of about 65 pages is set seven years after the end of my epic fantasy quartet The View from the Mirror, and features two favourite characters from that series, Shand and Tallia, plus two new characters – the incredibly unlucky but gifted seventh sister, Aviel, and her friend, the brave but gawky Wilm – who will become important characters in my new epic fantasy, The Summon Stone, out in May 2016. There is no need to have read The View from the Mirror first, however this story does reveal one detail from the ending.
One Throw of the Die. This long novella of about 110 pages begins immediately after the end of The Well of Echoes 4: Chimaera, and tells the adventures of some of the main characters of that series, the Scrutator Xervish Flydd, the dwarf Klarm, Yggur, Flangers and others, as they flee for their lives, hunted relentlessly by the God-Emperor Jal-Nish. Two minor characters from that series also appear here, the young twin girls Liliwen and Meriwen. Spoiler alert – it necessarily gives away the ending to Chimaera.
A Wizard’s War also contains a timeline of the key historical events on Santhenar. The ebook is available from Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, GooglePlay, Smashwords and other retailers.
Why is Our Ice Breaking Up?
It sounded like gunshots in the still night – but a thousand times louder. Then the ice at the North Pole shook so violently that Vixen dropped her snow-moss ice cream cone.
‘Dasher,’ she cried, ‘what’s happening?’ She was the smallest of Santa’s reindeer, but quick and graceful. Her golden eyes had black, secret centres and her silky fur rippled in the wind as though she was flying.
‘I don’t know,’ said her friend, Dasher, a tall, handsome but worried-looking reindeer.
The ice split in two at Vixen’s feet and jerked apart. Within seconds the gap was ten feet wide. Then twelve feet. Then fifteen, and the moving ice carried her ice cream away with it.
‘I’ll get it!’ said Dasher.
‘No,’ Vixen yelled. ‘It’s too far!’
Dasher, who was both reckless and clumsy, tried to leap the gap but landed hard on the edge of the ice. It cracked under him and he fell backwards into the freezing sea. Huge lumps of ice broke off all around him; one just missed his head.
Vixen gasped. ‘Are you all right?’
The ear-piercing screech of splitting ice suddenly stopped. For a few seconds there was silence, broken only by Dasher’s heavy breathing. Then she heard a terrifying smashing sound. The crack in the polar ice, which ran as far as she could see, was starting to close.
Dasher swam back and forth, looking for a way out, but the sides were like cliffs and sharp pieces of ice kept crashing into him.
‘Ow, ow!’ he yelled. ‘Vixen, where are you?’
‘Over here!’ She leaned down as far as she could. ‘Grab my antlers.’
‘I’m too heavy; I’d pull you in.’
Crunch, crunch. The ice jerked wildly and she started to panic. ‘Dasher, you’ve got to get out.’
‘I – can’t!’
He tried to scramble onto a piece of floating ice but it rolled over and dumped him head-first into the water.
Vixen ran along the split for thirty yards, then stopped. ‘Over here! The ice is broken into steps.’
Dasher’s teeth were chattering. The split was only a yard wide now and his antlers were touching both sides. He reached the steps but could not climb out; the wet ice was too slippery. Vixen was afraid of falling in too, but she started down.
‘Aaahh!’ Dasher yelled; the ice was squeezing his antlers. ‘No, Vixen! You’ll be trapped.’
He twisted his head around and up, freeing his antlers. But the split in the ice kept shrinking, crunch, crunch. If she couldn’t get him out quickly he would be squashed flat.
The ice above her crumbled, forcing her down toward the water’s edge. She cried out in terror.
‘Go back!’ said Dasher.
Vixen fought her fear; she had to save him. She skidded to the bottom of the steps and leaned out. ‘Hook your antlers through mine.’
‘It’s too risky.’
‘Just do it! Hurry!’
He locked his antlers into hers and she heaved. Dasher was really heavy; her hooves were sliding on the ice. He thrashed his legs, trying to get out, then fell back, pulling her into the water. It rose past her knees and she was slipping deeper, deeper …
Crunch, crunch, crrrrr-unch!
Her heart was thumping painfully. ‘Dasher,’ she screamed. ‘We’ve got to get out now!’
She pulled with all her strength. Dasher tried again and fell again. He gave a desperate kick and got his front feet onto the lowest step. Vixen tried to drag him out of the water but her knees were so wobbly she could barely stand up. He kicked again, she heaved, and he was onto the ice.
‘Go up!’ he shouted.
Vixen lurched up the steps. Dasher staggered after her.
The split in the ice slammed shut. He shuddered. ‘Thank – you. You – saved – my life.’
Vixen nudged him away from the crack. ‘Why is our ice breaking up?’
He did not answer for a minute; he had no breath left. ‘Comet says – the North Pole – is melting.’
‘I don’t know,’ he said grimly.
‘I’m scared, Dasher. What’s going to happen to us?’
‘We’ve got to tell Santa. Come on.’
High in the sky the northern lights twisted and swirled, making a gigantic green question mark above the North Pole. They raced back to the village, which was as neat and pretty as a fairy tale.
There was no wood or stone here, so the elves had carved every house and building from different kinds of coloured ice. Outside the blue and white railway station, the cranky station master, Old Buffer, was muttering to himself as he polished his railway lines. A cunning-eyed elf, he looked more than half goblin.
The front veranda of the post office was piled with bulging sacks of letters to Santa. Next door was Santa and Matilda’s big yellow house with its five tall chimneys and a yard full of her hideous stone gnomes.
On the other side of the street, the village elves’ gingerbread cottages had gardens of carved icicles. They grew and blossomed like real flowers, and in the autumn the plants were heavy with strawberry ices, chocolate gelato and other delicious magical fruit. All except Old Buffer’s ice garden outside the railway station. The only fruit it produced looked like blood-red leeches and black, slimy slugs.
Vixen and Dasher hurried down the main street, past the shops. Little Twiggie Twitchin, the village’s fixit elf, was sitting outside her repair shop, frowning at Santa’s magic wand. She had been trying to repair it for weeks, without success. She pointed it at her cup of coffee and said, ‘Heat it!’
The coffee froze solid and the cup split in two, the pieces skidding out across the street. It was a bad sign.
Vixen looked around for Dasher. He was gazing in the window of the cake shop, and drooling. ‘Not now, Dasher!’
She ran towards the toy workshop, then stopped. Though she had seen it every day of her life, the workshop was so marvellous that it never failed to raise her spirits.
A thousand years ago, Santa’s elves had carved a gigantic iceberg, inside and out, to form the workshop. The elves loved carving and over the centuries they had turned the iceberg into a glittering palace.
On the outside, a glorious staircase curved up the right-hand side to Santa’s office, then up onto the roof. A matching staircase swept up on the left side to the elves’ sleeping quarters. Their apartments had pretty little balconies with curved black rails, round green windows, and pointy roofs like witches’ hats.
Animals were carved all over the outside: fierce polar bears, laughing whales, yellow-tusked walruses, wrestling seals, pure white Arctic foxes and – Vixen’s greatest terror – deadly wolves. She shivered and turned away.
The elves had also carved images of their old foes from the ancient elven world: leering goblins and disgusting old trolls, and their eternal enemies – the dark elves of the underground.
Vixen and Dasher looked in through the front doors. At the back of the workshop an enormous wall clock, shaped like a black, scaly dragon, breathed white fire to mark each passing hour, and blue flame on holidays. Santa sometimes made toast in the fiery blast, which explained the scorch marks on his red hat. Once, at midnight, an extra long burst of fire had caught him unawares and burnt his eyebrows off.
Ten tall columns, each thirty feet high, supported the silver ice ceiling. Myriads of twinkling fairy lights – red and orange, purple and green – hung from it, casting coloured light over the elves’ work benches.
Vixen froze. ‘Why aren’t the elves working?’
All four hundred and twelve elves should have been tap-tapping away at their benches, making the toys Santa would deliver on Christmas Eve. But the elves were staring at one another, fearfully.
All except Lord Telver, a withered old elf with bulging eyes as yellow as mustard. He was glaring at Santa and his wife, Matilda, who had just tiptoed out a side door. Telver crushed a handful of ice in one fist, then stalked after them. He was furious.
‘Where are they going?’ said Dasher.
‘We’d better find out,’ said Vixen.
Santa and Matilda were hurrying up the outside stairs to Santa’s office, which was directly above the workshop. Santa opened the door and ushered Matilda inside. Rafe, the leader of the reindeer, was close behind. Then came Comet, limping, and finally Telver. Santa looked sick, Matilda afraid. Telver slammed the door behind him.
‘Let’s spy on them through the office skylight,’ said Dasher.
They galloped up the stairs, past Santa’s office and onto the roof. A long skylight of polished ice ran between a pair of tall orange chimneys. A rusty old satellite dish was fixed to the left-hand chimney. Puffs of coloured smoke rose from the chimney pots and floated into the sky like Christmas tree decorations. Vixen put her front hooves on the skylight, very carefully, and peered in.
Santa’s huge fireplace was made of magical blue ice. A fire burned there all year round but the ice never melted.
In front of the fire, separated by a black beanbag, were two armchairs. Santa had a battered red leather armchair with a half-eaten box of chocolates on one arm and a foot-high stack of children’s letters on the other. Matilda’s armchair was small and covered in green velvet. A shiny ice bucket stood in the centre of a long wooden table.
On a bench in the far corner sat an old-fashioned brass laptop with a typewriter keyboard and a winding key sticking up in the middle. No one at the North Pole had any money, so all their equipment had to be made out of bits and pieces.
‘I can’t see them,’ said Vixen. ‘Can you?’
Dasher stretched out his long neck. ‘Oh, no!’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Santa and Telver are having a furious argument. Santa’s gone red in the face and Telver is waving his wand.’ A series of crimson flashes lit the office. Dasher gasped. ‘He’s exploded half the light bulbs.’
But Santa and Telver had been friends forever. Something was terribly wrong.
‘What are they arguing about?’ She crept a bit further onto the skylight but still could not see.
‘I’ll find out!’ Dasher strode out onto the middle of the skylight.
‘No, Dasher, it won’t hold your weight!’
Suddenly, from beneath his hooves, cracks zigzagged out.
‘Dasher, look out!’
The skylight broke and they fell through in a storm of snow and ice. Vixen landed on the beanbag, oof! Dasher crashed into Santa’s armchair, snapping its legs off, squashing the chocolates and scattering the letters across the office.
‘What the –?’ yelled Santa.
Telver shrieked like a cat caught in a door and his silver wand, which was shaped like a sword, fired crimson blasts in all directions. One struck the fire and it flared halfway across the room like an attacking dragon. Vixen yelped as flames sizzled her nose.
Rafe, a huge old reindeer with grey fur and gold-rimmed glasses, drew himself up until he seemed twice his normal size. His majestic antlers were more than a yard across and his eyes were brown crystals covered in frost.
‘How dare you spy on Santa?’ he thundered.
Dasher scrambled out of the ruined chair. He was almost as tall as Rafe, but lighter and his antlers were smaller.
‘Sorry, sorry!’ Dasher backed away, treading on the letters and crumpling them.
Vixen’s knees were knocking but she stood her ground. ‘Our ice is cracking up, and we want to help.’
Steam gushed from Rafe’s nostrils. ‘Out, now!’
Matilda laid a small hand on Rafe’s shoulder. ‘Dasher is supposed to be our next leader and Vixen’s a good thinker. I’d like them to stay.’
Rafe politely bowed his head. ‘Of course, Mrs Claus.’
Matilda gathered the letters and put them in Santa’s lap. He slumped into the broken armchair, picking at the squashed chocolates and staring into the fire. Whatever he was worried about, Vixen knew it was really bad.
At the far end of the room, Comet, who had twisted antlers, a scarred face, a long, tangled mane and a wooden front leg, began winding the key of his laptop, whirr-click, whirr-click.
Suddenly Telver leapt onto the ice bucket and crouched there like a gargoyle, glaring at everyone. Long ago he had been a great elf warrior, strong and brave and afraid of no one, but age had shrunk him. His legs were bowed, his back bent and his nose, enormous.
‘We’re in deep trouble,’ he said furiously to Santa. ‘What are you going to do about it?’
Santa held up the stack of children’s letters, then put them down again. ‘Telver, my magic is fading and we’re weeks behind with the Christmas toys.’ He sounded exhausted. ‘Can we talk about this in the New Year?’
‘It can’t wait!’ snapped Telver.
‘Comet,’ said Matilda, ‘It’s time.’
Comet limped forwards, his wooden leg thumping, and turned on a projector shaped like a walrus. He scratched his back on its yellow tusks then put on a pair of bright green glasses. With his magnified eyes and unbrushed fur sticking out in all directions, he looked like a mad magician.
‘Please make it simple,’ said Matilda.
‘But I’ve got a hundred pages of data to show you,’ said Comet.
‘We won’t understand it. We’re not scientists.’
‘Morons!’ Comet muttered. ‘Why do I bother?’
Matilda drew herself up to her full height, only four-foot eleven. ‘You’d better not be talking about Santa,’ she said furiously.
Though Comet towered over her, he took a step backwards. ‘I – I meant Rafe,’ he said hastily.
Vixen choked. Comet had always been rude and cranky, but insulting their great leader, Rafe, was too much.
‘All right!’ Comet snapped. ‘I’ll give you the primary school version.’ He turned to a roll of maps, like a window blind, mounted on the wall. ‘The world is getting hotter. Global warming is melting our ice, and now it’s breaking up.’
‘Rubbish!’ said Telver. ‘The ice goes for hundreds of miles.’
Comet pulled the map cord and the roll unwound to show the first map. ‘This is what the North Pole looked like in 1980.’ Ice covered most of the Arctic Ocean. He pulled the cord down to reveal a second map. ‘And this is what it was like ten years ago.’
The area of ice was only half as big! In the silence, Vixen could hear her heart pounding. This was scary.
‘And this – this is what it’ll be like next year.’ Comet revealed the third map. There was only a tiny speck of ice left at the North Pole, and it was cracked to pieces. ‘Our ice is melting from underneath. The workshop could roll over and break apart at any time.’
Vixen shivered. ‘But … that would be a disaster. How come we didn’t know?’
‘I’ve been talking about it for years,’ said Comet. ‘Why doesn’t anyone ever listen?’
‘Because you’re a rude, annoying old bore,’ Dasher said softly.
Rafe butted Dasher with his antlers, knocking him sideways. ‘Must you always act like an idiot calf?’
Dasher went as red as Santa’s armchair.
Then Comet yanked the cord right down to reveal a heart-breaking picture – a terrified polar bear and her two cubs, trapped on an ice floe the size of a tablecloth. They were surrounded by hungry killer whales.
‘Next summer,’ said Comet. ‘No cute cubs. And no North Pole.’
‘But … what’s going to happen to us?’ whispered Vixen.
‘What’s going to happen to Christmas?’ said Santa grimly.
To learn more or to order the book, please go to http://www.thelastchristmasbook.com
I’m really excited about my new book for younger readers. It arose from an idea Roland Kulen and I had three years ago. We did 17 drafts of the outline before I even started writing, and we’ve been working on it ever since, me as the writer and Roland as the principal editor. We’ve done so much work on it that it’s rather overwhelming to finally have it as an almost finished book. It will be published as an ebook on November 8, worldwide and is on pre-order now.
The story – The North Pole is melting, and Santa’s elves are terrified that the dark is rising again. An evil toymaker, Kroolio Snear, attacks the village, trying to steal Christmas. Santa can’t do anything because something is robbing him of his magic.
Will this be the last Christmas? Only Vixen, the littlest reindeer, can stop Snear, but can she find everyone a new home in time to save The Last Christmas?
To read more, at our special now website, or to pre-order, head to http://www.thelastchristmasbook.com
Here is Chapter One of The Summon-Stone, Book 1 of the THE GATES OF GOOD AND EVIL, the sequel to The View from the Mirror quartet, first published back in 1998-1999.
1: THE EVIL MAN SAW ME
‘Don’t!’ a little girl was sobbing. ‘Look out! Run, run!’
Karan threw herself out of her bed, a high box of black-stained timber that occupied half the bedroom, landed awkwardly, and pain splintered through the left leg she had broken ten years ago. She clung to the side of the bed, trying not to cry out, then dragged a cloak around herself and careered through the dark to her daughter’s room at the other end of the oval keep. Fear was an iron spike through her heart. What was the matter? Had someone broken in? What were they doing to her?
The wedge-shaped room, lit by a rectangle of moonlight coming through the narrow window, was empty apart from Sulien, who lay with her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, rocking from side to side. Her eyes were tightly closed, as if she could not bear to look, and she was moaning, ‘No, no, no!’
Karan touched Sulien on the shoulder and her eyes sprang open. She threw her arms around Karan’s waist, clinging desperately.
‘Mummy, the evil man saw me. He saw me!’
Karan let out her breath. Just a nightmare, though a bad one. She put her hands around Sulien’s head and, with a psychic wrench that she would pay for later, lifted the nightmare from her. But she was safe; it was all that mattered. Karan’s knees shook; she sat down hard on the bed. It’s all right!
Sulien gave a little sigh, wriggled around in the bed, and shivered. ‘Thanks, Mummy.’
Karan kissed her on the forehead. ‘Go to sleep now.’
‘I can’t; my mind’s gone all squirmy. Can you tell me a story?’
‘Why don’t you tell me one, for a change?’
‘All right.’ Sulien thought for a moment. ‘I’ll tell you my favourite – the story of Karan and Llian, and the Mirror of Aachan.’
‘I hope it has a happy ending,’ said Karan, going along with her.
‘You’ll have to wait and see,’ Sulien said, mock-sternly. ‘This is how it begins.’ She recited –
‘Once there were three worlds, Aachan, Tallallame and Santhenar, each with its own human species: Aachim, Faellem and us, old humans. Then, fleeing out of the terrible void between the worlds came a fourth people, the Charon, led by the mightiest hero in all the Histories, Rulke. The Charon were just a handful; they were desperate and on the edge of extinction, but Rulke saw a weakness in the Aachim. He took Aachan from them … and forever changed the balance between the Three Worlds.’
‘I’m sure I’ve heard that before, somewhere,’ said Karan, smiling at the memories.
‘Of course you have, silly. All the Great Tales begin that way – it’s the key to the Histories.
‘In ancient times the master goldsmith, Shuthdar, was paid by Rulke to make a gate-opening device in the form of a golden flute. But when Shuthdar stole the flute, and opened a gate and fled to Santhenar, he accidentally broke open the Way between the Worlds, exposing the Three Worlds to the deadly void.
‘It shocked Aachan, a world of sulphur-coloured snow, oily bogs and black, luminous flowers, to its core. Rulke raced after Shuthdar, taking with him a host of Aachim servants, including the mighty Tensor.
‘The rain-drenched world of Tallallame was also threatened by the opening. The Faellem, a small, forest-dwelling people, sent a troop led by Faelamor to close the Way again. But they failed too.
‘They all hunted Shuthdar across the world as he fled through gate after gate, but finally he was driven into a trap. Unable to give the flute up, he destroyed it – and brought down the Forbidding that sealed the Three Worlds off from each other and trapped everyone on Santhenar.’
‘Until ten years ago,’ said Karan.
‘When you and Daddy helped to reopen the Way between the Worlds … but how come Rulke was still alive after all that time?’
‘The Aachim, Faellem and Charon all lived practically forever.’
Sulien gave another little shiver, her eyelids fluttered, and she slept.
Karan pulled the covers up and stroked her daughter’s hair, which was as wild as her own, though a lighter shade of red. On the table next to the bed, moonbeams touched a vase of yellow and brown bumblebee blossoms, and the half-done wall-hanging of Sulien’s floppy-eared puppy, Piffle.
Karan stroked Sulien’s cheek and shed a tear, and sat on the bed for a minute or two, gazing at her nine-year-old daughter, her small miracle, the only child she could ever have and the most perfect thing in her life.
She was limping back to bed when the import of Sulien’s words struck her. Mummy, the evil man saw me. What a disturbing thing to say. Should she wake Llian? No, he had enough to worry about.
Karan’s leg was really painful now. She went down the steep stairs of the old keep in the dark, holding onto the rail and wincing, but the pain grew with every step and so did her need for the one thing that could take it away – hrux!
She fought it. Hrux was for emergencies, for those times when the pain was utterly unbearable. In the round chamber she called her thinking room, lit only by five winking embers in the fireplace, she sat in a worn-out armchair, pulled the cloak tightly around her and closed her eyes.
What had Sulien meant by, the evil man saw me? And what had she seen?
Being a sensitive, Karan knew how to replay the nightmare, though she was reluctant to try; using her gift always came at a cost, the headaches and nausea of aftersickness. But she had to know what Sulien had seen. Very carefully, she lifted the lid on the beginning of the nightmare –
A pair of moons, one small and yellow spattered with black, the other huge and jade green, lit a barren landscape. The green moon stood above a remarkable city, unlike any place Karan had ever seen – a crisp white metropolis where the buildings were shaped like dishes, arches, globes and tall spikes, enclosed in a silvery, oval dome. Where could it be? None of the Three Worlds had a green moon; the city must be on some little planet in the void.
In the darkness outside the dome, silhouetted against it, a great army had gathered. Goose pimples crept down her arms. A lean, hard man wearing spiked armour ran up a mound, raised his right fist and shook it at the city.
‘Now!’ he cried.
Crimson flames burst from the lower side of the dome and there came a cracking, a crashing, and a shrieking whistle. A long, ragged hole, the shape of a spiny caterpillar, had been blasted through the dome.
‘Are – you – ready?’ he roared.
‘Yes,’ yelled his captains.
It was too dark for Karan to see any faces, but there was a troubling familiarity about the way the soldiers stood and moved and spoke. What was it?
‘Avenge our ancestors’ betrayal!’ bellowed the man in the spiked armour. ‘Put every man, woman, child, dog and cat to the sword. Go!’
Karan’s stomach churned. This seemed far too real to be a nightmare.
The troops stormed towards the hole in the dome, all except a cohort of eleven, led by a round-faced woman whose yellow plaits were knotted into a loop on top of her head.
‘Lord Gergrig?’ she said timidly. ‘I thought this attack was a dress rehearsal.’
‘You need practice in killing,’ he said chillingly.
‘But the people of Cinnabar have done nothing to us.’
‘Our betrayal was a stain on all humanity.’ Gergrig’s voice vibrated with pain and torment. ‘All humanity must pay until the stain is gone.’
‘Even so –’
‘Soon we will face the greatest battle of all time, against the greatest foe – that’s why we’ve practiced war for the past ten millennia.’
‘Then why do we –?’
‘To stay in practice, you fool! If fifteen thousand Merdrun can’t clean out this small city, how can we hope to escape the awful void?’ His voice ached with longing. ‘How can we capture the jewel of worlds that is Santhenar?’
Karan’s hands flew to her chest. This was no nightmare; it had to be a true seeing, but why had it come to Sulien? She was a gifted child, though Karan had never understood what Sulien’s gift was.
Abruptly, Gergrig swung around, staring. The left edge of his face, a series of hard angles, was outlined by light from a blazing tower. Like an echo, Karan heard Sulien’s cry, ‘Mummy, the evil man saw me. He saw me!’
Momentarily, Gergrig seemed afraid. He looked down at a green glass box. Lights flickered inside it, then his jaw hardened. ‘Uzzey,’ he said to the blonde warrior, ‘we’ve been seen.’
He bent his shaven head for a few seconds, peering into the glass box, then made a swirling movement with his left hand. ‘A little red-haired girl. On Santhenar!’
Karan slid off the chair onto her knees, struggling to breathe. This was real; this bloodthirsty brute, whose troops need practice in killing, had seen her beautiful, gentle daughter. Ice crystallised all around her; there was no warmth left in the world. Her breath rushed in, in, in. She was going to scream. She fought to hold it back. Don’t make a sound; don’t do anything that could alert him.
‘How can this be?’ said Uzzey.
‘I don’t know,’ said Gergrig. ‘Where’s the magiz?’
‘Setting another blasting charge.’
‘Fetch her. She’s got to locate this girl, urgently.’
‘What harm can a child do?’
‘She can betray the invasion; she can reveal our plans and our numbers.’
Pain speared up Karan’s left leg and it was getting worse. Black fog swirled in her head. She rocked forwards and back, her teeth chattering.
‘Who would listen to a little kid?’ said Uzzey.
‘I can’t take the risk,’ said Gergrig. ‘Run!’
Uzzey raced off, bounding high with each stride under the low gravity.
Karan’s heart was thundering but her blood did not seem to be circulating; she felt faint, freezing, and so breathless that she was suffocating. She wanted to scoop Sulien up in her arms and run, but where could she go? How could Sulien see people on barren little Cinnabar, somewhere in the void, anyway? And how could Gergrig have seen her? Karan would not have thought it possible.
Shortly the magiz, who was tall and thin, with sparse white hair and colourless eyes bulging out of soot-black sockets, loped up. ‘What’s this about a girl seeing us?’
Gergrig explained, then said, ‘I’m bringing the invasion forward. I’ll have to wake the summon-stone right away.’
‘So soon? The cost in power will be … extreme.’
‘We’ll have to pay it; it isn’t easy to prepare the way. The summon-stone must be ready by syzygy – the night the triple moons line up – or we’ll never open the gate.’
The magiz licked her grey lips. ‘To get more power, I’ll need more deaths.’
‘Then see to it!’
‘Ah, to drink a life,’ sighed the magiz. ‘Especially the powerful lives of the gifted. This child’s life will be nectar.’
Gergrig took a step backwards. He looked repulsed.
To drink a life! Karan doubled over, gasping. In an awful flash of foreboding she saw three bloody bodies – Sulien, Llian and herself – flung like rubbish into a corner of her burning manor.
‘What do you want me to do first?’ said the magiz.
‘Find the red-haired brat and put her down. And everyone in her household.’
A murderous fury overwhelmed her. No one threatened her daughter! Whatever it took, she would do it to protect her own.
The magiz, evidently untroubled by Gergrig’s order, nodded. ‘I’ll look for the brat.’
Gergrig turned to Uzzey and her cohort, who were all staring at him. ‘What are you waiting for? Get to the killing field!’
Ah, to drink a life! It was the end of Sulien’s nightmare, and the beginning of Karan’s.
If you’re interested in fantasy maps, tabletop roleplaying games and world-building, check out Worldspinner (currently in the last stages of crowd-funding). They’ve raised over $60,000 so far, way more than the minimum, so the good news is it’ll soon be all go.They’re starting up an online worldbuilding tool that will allow people to design and map unique fantasy worlds in minutes.
I’m not associated with Worldspinner, however I am writing some Three Worlds stories and associated material for their site. I’ll also be creating some new Three Worlds maps which subscribers will be able to print out at home, or order large, full colour maps.