Authors: John Daulton
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
THE GALACTIC MAGE
The phrase “The Galactic Mage” is the trademark of John Daulton.
Copyright © 2011 John Daulton
All rights reserved.
ISBN-13: 978-0-9849457-0-2 Nook
ISBN: 1466276843 Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-1466276840 Paperback
Cover art by Cris Ortega
Interior layout by Fernando Soria
For Lori. My Orli.
I’d like to thank the people who helped make this possible. My wife for her patience and unending support; my mother with her lofty visions and tireless cheerleading; Dr. Doug Rice for his wisdom and honesty; my editor, Joyce, whose keen eye put the polish on this (fortunately for you all!); and to the core group of people who have read my blogs and satire over the years, laughing at my jokes and keeping me from thinking I was only writing to myself.
ltin Meade stood staring at the face of Prosperion’s bright pink moon shaking his head. Another night spent casting spells at that elusive luminous disc and still nothing. His temples throbbed. For two years running, he’d spent almost every night up here atop his tower, casting his strongest magic in an attempt to reach her, but every night, like tonight, he got nowhere. Failure was infuriating. Especially since she was right there. A huge round light right above him. Huge. Pink Luria, bright as could be, and yet impossible to find.
He groaned, half sigh and half snarl, and placed his palms upon the parapet, looking away from Luria and out into the expanse of moonlit meadow beyond the castle walls. Failure was exhausting too.
A gentle breeze blew down from the mountain behind him, tumbling over the cliffs and whispering through the courtyard at his back. It stirred leaves that rustled and danced unseen in the courtyard below before wafting up to him with the scent of dew damp stone. He shivered as the gust ruffled the tangle of his dark hair and crept inside his robes. An ivy leaf brushed against his ankle, but he was too tired to scratch.
The breeze moved off, over the parapet wall and down through the ivy leaves, out into the meadow where it rippled the knee-high grass in shimmering waves, dimly green but bloodied some by the light of the reddish moon. Altin watched it move off into the distance until it was lost in the silhouette of Great Forest and the glow of the coming dawn. He groaned again. Morning already.
Closing his eyes hoping, he tried to calm the tempest in his head, but failure seemed to be the morning’s theme. Casting against the principles of magic did not come without a price.
He turned to go downstairs, seeking his bed beneath the battlements, and discovered that in the concentration of casting over the last few hours, he hadn’t noticed the ivy growing around his foot. He pulled on it reflexively. The vine responded by coiling tighter around his leg. “Gods be damned,” he spat, and yanked more vigorously trying to extricate himself. That made it worse. “Lady Synthia’s ghost,” he snarled. “Let go!”
Curses, however vehement, were not going to be enough to tame the residue of the great Lady Synthia’s magic. No ghost, this was raw, lingering power, still active despite Lady Synthia being dead these last hundred years. Altin could swear all he chose, but it would not be enough to disengage the reaching ropes of these old, enchanted vines.
Lady Synthia had been an incredible sorceress in her day, possessing more growth magic from the Healing sphere than anyone living for a century before or since her death. And so it was that, in an incredible feat of herbal-magic, she’d brought forth this enormous growth of animate ivy upon which the enchantment still lingered to present day. It was a truly awesome spell she’d cast. Unfortunately, she’d lost control of the spell almost immediately upon completing the incantation, and the twisting mass strangled her on the spot.
After rending her limb from limb, the clutching tentacles of groping green then snaked about Calico Castle for the better part of a month until the keep’s resident master, Tytamon, had managed, with the help of several Growth wizards from the Healers Guild, to unravel enough of Synthia’s enchantments to make it safe to live at Calico Castle again—so long as they gave the entangled tower a measure of respect. For a decade and a half, no one could get within twenty paces of the tower, but eventually the ivy’s magic began to decline.
Now, a good century since, the vines barely had enough magic left to crawl about at all. Most of the time they slept and groped very little unless compelled to move, and they were even more “normal” the farther from the roots they grew. While still relatively strong near the ground, the magic at the tips was hardly a problem anymore. Except occasionally, like now. And unfortunately, when Altin was in a mood.
He yanked again, furiously trying to wrench his ankle free, but the vine was in rare form this morning and willing to give Altin a tussle for all his worth. Altin, however, had no such inclination. His night of futile casting had made his temper short, and so without thinking, he muttered the words for a fist-sized fireball and conjured it at the vine.
The downside of this idea was that, given the relative weakness of Lady Synthia’s magic this far from the roots, the ends were no longer magically resistant to attack, not from axe and not from fire, and especially fire the likes of which Altin Meade could cast. And so they ignited easily and began to burn furiously.
The upside of the fireball idea, however, was that Altin’s foot was freed by the vine’s reaction to being set alight. He almost had time to sigh in relief before he realized the consequence of his act. Almost.
“Son of a harpy,” he swore as the flames began to spread across the web of ivy on the floor. He panicked briefly then collected himself and ran for the scrying basin filled with water not far from where he stood. He tried to hoist it up, intent on running it to the fire for a dump, but the large container was too heavy for him to lift—too much book time did not come without some negative physical effects.
Grunting and heaving and with thighs that trembled as he hove, he gripped the basin’s bottom edge and tipped it up to pour some water out. The initial wave sloshed over the edge, crashing against the bottom of the parapet and running back towards him where it soaked his bare feet and the hemline of his robes. If he’d thought about it, he might have at least sloshed in the direction of the fire. Nonetheless, when at last it was empty enough to lift, he stood with his watery weapon in hand only to realize that the flames were now much too big to be dealt with so easily as that. In fact, the flames were spreading across the feebly enchanted vines more quickly than he ever would have thought, and apparently with no concern for the puddle he’d made upon the floor. Ironically, he actually wished that a bit more of Lady Synthia’s magic remained. But no such luck. The vines flamed up as if responding to his thoughts, roaring like they’d just found a patch of kindling doused in oil. The heat forced Altin backwards a step.
The crisscross of vines carpeting the flagstones began to writhe more furiously, apparently aware of their impending doom. The little puddle began to steam. Altin, wanting to avoid a pending doom of his own, threw the remaining water at the flame and cast the basin aside. Sparing a moment to lament his lackadaisical attitude about pruning back these vines last month, he turned and made a tactical retreat. Ducking through the low doorway that led down into his rooms, he descended the short stairwell and hurried away from the growing heat. He paused near his bed, his tired mind awhirl. A book. He needed a book to find a spell.
He darted over to the single shelf above his wood-frame bed and began leafing through volumes trying to find a water spell that would put the fire out. He needed to act fast before Tytamon discovered what he had done. The ancient mage would misinterpret this for sure. And Altin’s project was already on defensive ground.
Meanwhile the fire upon the battlements began to rage. By the time Altin found a rain spell that would work, his tower was nothing less than a massive torch, the flames fully engulfing the tower top and now working down the ivy along the outer wall. Fortunately, the lingering herbal magic grew stronger with each foot the fire tried to descend, and so its progress was being slowed, but up top, it was far too late. Altin’s neglectful attitude towards those vines had the battlements fully engulfed in flame. Altin could no longer go up there to fight the fire without serious risk to himself, and so he had to run all the way down three floors of spiraling stairs, across the courtyard, through the castle’s front gates and out into the meadow where he could finally cast his extinguishing Rainstorm spell from the safety of the grass.
He commenced the incantation, and soon small clouds began to gather above the tower, blotting out the moon and the few stars still bold enough to face the rising sun. A few moments later the tiny storm clouds produced a gentle, localized rain that snuffed the conflagration in a sizzling hiss of steam. The clouds dissipated almost as quickly as they had come, and Altin grimaced as he looked upon the scene.
The fire had burnt halfway down the tower all right, and it left the upper half scorched entirely black. Tendrils of steam rose into the sky, dimly visible in the pale light of the approaching dawn and chasing gray smoke into the air in a crooked line smudged by an indecisive breeze. Water ran noisily down the blackened brambles in little rivulets that traced the curves of charred ivy until gravity or the terminal end of a charred thorn sent drops thump-thumping down upon the broad leaves of the uncooked ivy below. What remained of the ivy wound a green scrawl around the tower’s lower half, marking perfectly where Lady Synthia’s lingering magic had resisted and kept the flames at bay.
Altin shook his head. There was little chance Tytamon wouldn’t notice this; it looked like someone had plucked the tower up, tipped it, dipped it halfway into an inkpot and then set it down again. A brain-dead bat couldn’t help but notice such a thing. And Tytamon was neither brain-dead nor bat.
Altin let go a long weary breath as he gazed upon what he had done. It was just such things that had given this weathered old keep its name. The workings of young magicians just like Altin, magicians with access to six of the eight magic schools, had beaten the poor old keep into its present architectural malaise. At least in this instance, however, Altin’s little mishap hadn’t gotten him killed. And the mess up there could be cleaned. That wasn’t historically the case.
No, the truth was that Calico Castle got its name because Sixes always kill themselves. Altin could hear that old saying echoing in his head like a children’s sing-song as he stared at the muddle he had made. Those were the first words his ancient mentor had spoken to him when they’d brought him to the keep eleven years ago. “Calico Castle got its name,” the old man had said, leaning down so close that his wiry old whiskers had brushed against Altin’s nose, “because Sixes always kill themselves. You hear me, boy? You’re a Six. And Calico Castle is
house.” At the time Altin had been properly terrified despite having no idea what any of it meant, but now he understood it far more than he liked.
However, on this day, he had not destroyed a tower, not like so many Sixes before him had, and he let his gaze run from his own tower—easternmost amongst Calico’s five—to the south, nodding as if trying to convince himself. At least he had not done that.
The south tower, as an example of the nature of a Six, was a story involving a pair of Sixes and a pair of centuries not too long past that ended in vastly more destruction than Altin’s little morning fire had wrought.
Calico Castle was originally built a thousand years earlier and entirely from stone taken from the mountains against which the keep was built. The whole compound abutted a sheer cliff face, tucked beneath the massive and looming peak of Mt. Pernolde, with its residents dwelling perpetually in the shadow of that gray granite monolith looming some two thousand paces into the sky above. The whole of Calico Castle started out completely gray, nearly camouflaged against the charcoal hues of Mt. Pernolde, and the whole of the keep was built from stone quarried from the same mountain range. Originally, there was nothing about the old keep that could be considered calico at all. However, the introduction of Tytamon after the Orc Wars were won, and, more to the point, Tytamon’s willingness to take on the mentoring of the nation’s Sixes, is what led to the castle’s inevitable aesthetic decay. Which returns focus to the south tower specifically.
Visually, the south tower still had a large element of Pernolde granite gray making up its bulk, but near the uppermost floor was a large patch of black stone, just a spot really, that marked where Victor the Volatile had blown apart his chamber with a bit too much enthusiasm for conjuring fireballs. In addition, the south tower had at the top, and worn rather like a crown, crenellated ramparts that were made of huge blocks of white marble, a pristine halo of imported elegance brought from the far south as a gift of the Church and meant to appease the gods for what the clergy deemed a “perverse sacrilege of ambitious arrogance” perpetrated by a Six named Finnius Addenpore. Finnius, up until the lightning storm that killed him and subsequently beat upon the south tower for three straight weeks, had promised to be the greatest diviner in all of history. Obviously, that destiny did not work out.
Calico Castle’s other towered corners were hardly better off. The north tower was a total loss, a heap of gravel and broken stone that was cursed and could never be rebuilt. Ponpon Fountainglass, a Six and a master enchanter of historic proportions, had somehow managed to enchant himself out of existence and, in the doing, doomed the northern tower in the process too. Whatever he’d done, and no one knew, he’d made the tower absolutely unapproachable. Not even the Enchanters Guild had been able to figure out what poor Ponpon had done, and after a time, even those devoted fellows had given up.
The western tower was only granite gray at its base, the rest of it having been redone in red clay and capped with a shiny brass dome seven centuries back out of respect for its deceased resident Six, Melane Montclaire, who is secretly credited (or discredited) with the discovery of demon conjuring. Unfortunately, an especially large beast she summoned ate her one evening and then spent the better part of an hour bashing its way out of the tower before Tytamon managed to capture it and eventually send it back. A promising career ended, and another tower down.
Frankly, were it not for Tytamon, there would be no Calico Castle at all. Partly because it was he who found himself in the unenviable position of being the only Eight of Eight in the land and therefore the obvious mentor for any Sixes that might come along, but mostly because he was the only one that stood a chance of undoing whatever mayhem they might, and inevitably did, cause—much like the situation leading to the near-roasting of Altin’s tower could have become.