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Shadow Magic
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-298-2
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 197 Pages
Published: April 2016

From inside the flap

Shadow Magic is an ancient magic. A magic passed down from those ancestors who lived long ago and who are long dead. Ancestors who now live in the shadow world between life and death. Ancestors who whisper to those living of a prophecy. Taiara must learn to believe in and trust in it all before she can make right her life and help save her people.

Shadow Magic (Excerpt)

Chapter One

The magicians and medicine men stood together in a tight circle and began to softly sing. Their voices were little more than whispers through the wind. Theirs was a chant made rich by the varied combination of tone and inflection. It was a song sung during the ancient times by those who walked the earth long before anyone in the village could remember. Each generation sang it to the next, until the words became as old as time itself. Few could remember who first put together the lyrics. Their meaning long lost. The refrain was easy enough to understand, "Shadow Magic," it echoed through the hollow spots in her body like a pulse. It rode the wind and arrived within her on each and every breath.

Taiara inhaled it. The rhythmic beat began to match the beating of her heart, steady and sure. The sound of unadorned human voice, meshed with others in a perfect harmony was unlike any other sound. Here, beneath a blue cloudless sky, among the people she could truly call family, nothing felt holier. Something in the sound, in the quality of voice untouched by instrument, moved her more than any symphony. This was where she belonged.

The magicians then moved out of their circle, replaced by a smaller group of singers, who began to sing with even greater earnest than those before them. The healers were being sung away, for illness had come to the valley. Whole villages were sick. The magicians and healers were going to tend those afflicted. It was a sickness brought by the Outsiders, those new to their land. A sickness only once before seen, and only powerful magic could tame it. It had first visited the people of Memaste when the newcomers arrived little over a generation ago. But it had only touched a few back then. This time the numbers of ill were many, too many to count. The song of farewell held a melancholy tone. No one was certain if the magicians and healers could save those who were ill. But they would try. So many lives had been lost in the wars, that every life was counted as sacred. The chanted song grew in intensity.

The warriors then joined in. Their dark tattooed bodies gleamed muscular in the sun. These were Iroam's greatest warriors. In all of Memaste there were none better. Their voices added to the harmony, made it resonate through the hollows of her body. If love could sing. She had the proof. Taiara dared a smile, but when the song came to an end, the noon day sun seemed to cool. The wind began to moan as if in mourning. The magicians and healers were gone. She hadn't seen their leaving, it was as if they melted away into the shadowed trees that edged the clearing where she sat. Only the dim refrain, "Shadow Magic," lingered.

Taiara shifted. The ground beneath her was hard and lumpy. Each stone felt as if it pressed a bruise right into the bone. Both legs, tucked beneath her in exactly the same way as her aunt's, tingled with cramps and throbbed towards numbness. Rustic seating at best. But in time she would get used to it. If her aunt, Allona could endure sitting upon the earth, then she could endure it as well. Besides, there was no other place in all of Memaste that she'd rather be. No other person she'd rather be seated next to. As for the magician's unseen departure, well her attention had been drawn to the warriors near them, so she understood how easily it had been for them to leave and not be noticed.

Taiara covertly glanced at her her aunt. She chewed gently upon her lower lip as she studied the woman's expressive face. Was this a good time to pose her many questions? The going away ceremony had come to an end. Or so it seemed. Her aunt looked relaxed. The niceties had been observed, the good byes given, the rituals followed. Yet so many things remained unsaid. Taiara had so many questions fluttering through her thoughts. Her visits though infrequent had given rise to many. The Iroam culture was so different from the one she had been raised with. Some questions she would eventually ask, others she dared not, for they were about beliefs and things Iroams held sacred. Some questions were best kept trapped in the dim of one's mind, perhaps never to be set free. Taiara's flesh puckered to a shiver though the day was warm. She rubbed her palms briskly over each arm. Yes, questions could lead to answers. Answers could be painful. Questions could be risky, for they often led to the truth. Truth could be a stark gift. And if she didn't believe in the replies given her, would she then remain acceptable to her aunt and new friends? Taiara shivered, probably not. Beliefs were such powerful things, and could differ starkly from one culture to the next.

Now and then, when Taiara caught her aunt in an unguarded moment, she could see something in the woman's eyes. Something that spoke of how much the woman knew, and didn't want to reveal. Hesitation perhaps. But she didn't know her aunt well enough to make a true measure. Today had been only the fourth time she had dared visit. This time she had come on account of the sickness. Perhaps she could help.

A few years prior to her birth Outsiders had started arriving. They came in massive ships, loaded with livestock and possessions. They arrived unexpectedly and without warning and encroached into villages, valleys and the best places to grow and graze. In less than ten years, most villages had been assimilated or moved. Many Iroams had married into the outsiders ranks. Some had resisted and now wandered the plains in small mobile nomadic groups. Allona's village was one such group. A rag tag assembly of displaced people who could trace their linage to the land for eons, displaced by those but a generation on the land. Outsiders were either loved or loathed. And now they had brought something new to the Iroam peoples, sickness.

"Allona, what can the healers do?" Taiara took the elder woman's hand into hers. Their fingers were so alike, the skin nearly the same tawny hue. One only slighter lighter than the other. Allona's skin had calluses in many places. Her fingers were long and fine, and would have been elegant had it not been for the red and work worn flesh.

"They will use their their healing skills to try and save lives."

"But the doctors have already tried, and failed." Taiara had seen for herself how futile their efforts had been. No medicine stayed the disease. Fever and a rash of red itchy spots would prove benign for some, but deadly for many.

"Our people have skills far greater than any of those the Outsiders posses." Allona glanced Taiara's way. Her sister's daughter may have the blood of a foreigner running through her veins, but she had the true heart of an Iroam.

"You mean magic do you not?"Taiara asked. Allona sighed. How well the girl kept her questions. They were hidden behind a smile, yet sparkled in the eyes.

"Tell me of this magic, please? I want to understand." Allona smiled her way. Bless all innocent questions, ban all others. And it was wonderful how eagerness so easily brought a tinge of excitement to a voice normally sedate and hushed. Her shy niece was learning to be bold. Soon other questions would find their way to expression. Soon. Not surprising really, for Iroam blood flowed through her veins. The Iroam were a bold people. The child was as much Iroam as she was Outsider. Half of her flesh, half of her bone, and most of her blood flowed strong with her Iroam heritage. She learned quickly, almost as if absorbing the traditions and habits of a people so recently met. Already the girl knew many things Iroam. Ah yes, the heart, mind and the blood were all Iroam, even if the body was not. Though the child did have the midnight black hair, the large stature and tawny skin of her race, she also possessed the finer features of the Outsiders. The combination wrought an attractive, exotic result. Taiara was stunningly beautiful, more beautiful than any maiden in the village. Yet she did not behave as a woman who worshipped her own beauty. Taiara saw beauty in everything but herself. Found value in everything and everyone else. The child was precious. Though she did not know it yet. Plenty of time to teach a shy, reclusive, niece just how precious she truly was. Precious in many ways. The elder woman cleared her throat of emotion. The lessons could begin. What better way to begin than by sharing a story. In a clear, gentle voice Allona began the tale.

"My mother told me this story. Her mother told her, and before that each mother imparted the tale, daughter to mother, back to the beginning of time. You heard the song, noticed the refrain. Shadow Magic is that which belongs both in the world of the living, and the world of those gone." Allona winked at the group of dancers standing but yards away. The tallest warrior winked back. They were listening intently.

"Our ancestors guide and help us with this magic, and those still living draw upon that help. Thus we call it Shadow Magic. A magic forged between the living and the dead, a dead who live in the places of shadow."

Taiara had ears for only one sound. The sound of her aunt's pleasant, whispered voice. The gentleness there, the hushed caress of breath against ear, banked a welcome warmth into her soul, even though the content shivered her flesh. The last time she'd felt this close to anyone was years ago, when her mother still lived. Taiara turned and studied the woman beside her. Dressed in skin skirt and hemp cloth blouse, her aunt looked like any other woman in the village. Yet she was not. For her aunt was Allona the wise one, the keeper of the stories. When someone was ill, Allona knew which herbs to use. When someone needed advice, Allona alone knew how to contact the ancestors, and use their collective wisdom for the good of the tribe. The old ways were surrendering to the new, being changed daily by the Outsiders. But Allona knew which traditions to keep, and which to set free. Everyone in the village loved Allona, Taiara most of all. She adored everything about her aunt, except for this talk about magic. And if she had heard right, her aunt believed the ancestors still practised this magic too, in conjunction with the living. She gathered up her wandering thoughts and refocused her attention back upon her aunt.

"You don't mean ghosts do you?" She tried to keep the incredulity out of her voice, but suspected she failed. Her aunt crinkled her brow.

"No child not ghosts, ancestors, there is a difference. Shadow Magic is not to be feared child, but it must be respected."

Allona glanced her aunt's way. Was there truly any differences? If ones ancestors were dead...and they were, then Allona was speaking of ghosts.

"Ghosts are an Outsider's concept," Allona quietly said.

Taiara glanced at her aunt. She had such understanding and gentle eyes. Eyes full of wisdom, fathomless in how dark they were, yet at the same time full of light. Eyes warm with love. Yet the woman still clung to old beliefs. She would have to gently lead her aunt away from such nonsense.

"Our healers and medicine men know how to draw on Shadow Magic to heal, to help, to protect." Allona's hand curved in a gentle arc taking in all the small stick sided huts and the varied assortment of canvas tents that surrounded the camp fire. Their village was a temporary one. The people were on the move. Once again they'd been driven off their land, by the Outsiders. Allona smiled at her aunt. She would keep her scepticism to herself for now. Her aunt's people had so little of the old ways to cling too. They didn't even have a place to call home. Memaste was a vast continent island, and yet the land seemed far too insignificant in size for both the Outsiders and Iroam people to share. The Outsiders wanted it all.

But for now, the Iroam people called this small clearing home, until they could find a new one. It was a place chosen for many reasons Taiara decided. The small clearing was on public lands, near a clear stream, and edged by verdant bush. Water and game would be close at hand. Did Allona know how close they lived to grandfather's domain? Probably not.

The tangy scent of roast marsh bird lingered in the air. Smoke from the fire pit lazily curled along a gentle breeze, undulating like a lacy sprite, a playful sprite. No need to dampen a beautiful day with worry. Grandfather knew nothing of the camp, she was sure of it. The same hands that carried Allona's messages worked even harder to keep the village a secret. The smoke would alert no one. For at present many fires burned in the region. Land was being cleared and readied for new homes. For the moment she would call this little camp home too. Taiara inhaled a deep satisfied breath.

"I so hope your healers and magicians have greater success than the doctors." Taiara wistfully stared into the distance. So many had perished from the illness. She had suffered from it herself when young, but had recovered easily. For those of pure Iroam blood, the recovery was rare. Many recent burials attested to the fact.

"Ah, child, our prophets have told us that we will heal our people. We will go on just as day follows night. Even now, the darkness seeks its light, its beloved. Just as night seeks the day. Ask me some time soon to tell you about the prophecy of dark and light." Sometimes her aunt made little sense. Sometimes her eyes would glaze over and she would mutter strange warnings and predictions. Taiara shivered. Magic and prophecies were forbidden in the households, villages and towns of the Outsiders. Practitioners could be killed for daring to draw upon magic. Allona could easily be considered one. Why did they do it she wondered? Why was magic even part of their culture? They lived off the land, close to nature and the natural, so why believe in the supernatural? Her mother hadn't and she was Iroam. She was certain her aunt had a vivid imagination, fuelled by a culture of superstition. Something she hoped, that in time would change.

"Aunt?" The woman shook for a moment. Then her eyes cleared.

"What did I say?" For the first time since she had met her aunt, she heard fear on her voice.

"You spoke of a prophecy of dark and light." Taiara didn't believe in prophecies either.

"Yes...the prophecy." Fear gleamed in the elder woman's eyes as well.

"Tell me about it," Taiara prompted. She so adored the ancient myths and stories of her people. Adored them, but didn't believe a single word. They were akin to the fairy tales her mother had read her when she was young. Object lessons for little children, nothing more.

"I could, but the story is long, and the moment is not right. I will tell you next time."