Then Luca and Devin learn the terrible secret behind the High Council’s smiling public face. The magical dimensions are in the final stages of an ancient curse. Supplies of magic are disappearing. Everyone could die. And the only clue points to Light Mages.
As Luca’s training progresses, some members of the High Council become convinced he is mixed up in the curse. Loyalties are pushed to the limit. And when Luca and Devin finally uncover the truth behind the history of their world, everything they thought they knew about Light Mages is turned upside down.
The price for breaking the curse is a deadly one. But which of them will pay it?
Prologue: Marius (A Century Ago)
It was time to give the pendant to another Light Mage.
Marius knew he would not live much longer. He was old by Light Mage standards. Most
of his contemporaries were already dead. Being in prison did not suit magicians
whose magical cores thrived on positivity. Yet it was well known across the dimensions
that Light Mages were dangerous. Their magic was different. Unpredictable. Reduced
life expectancy was considered a fair price in exchange for keeping everyone
Marius pressed his fingers to the silver disc around
his neck, hidden beneath his threadbare shirt. He could not remember wearing
any clothes but these in all the years he’d been trapped behind magical bars. He’d
cleaned and repaired them as best he could, but the inhibitors built into the
cell prevented all but the most basic spellwork.
The wardens had never noticed the pendant, an outcome
that should have been impossible given the complete lack of privacy in the cell
and the rules forbidding personal possessions. Marius considered it to be
reassuring proof that he had not lost his mind, even if his memories were
fragmented and contradictory. The pendant really was a powerful magical object,
capable of saving the dimensions from the curse inexorably draining their magic.
It was time. He had played his part. He hoped he had
1 A New Life Or Two (Luca)
to pick up the newspaper, thrown haphazardly onto the front porch like always.
My bones creaked. I should try that yoga class Haylie mentioned. My granddaughter
was always telling me seventy was the new fifty. I smiled. I was so proud of
her. She was good to her parents and much smarter than I’d ever been.
folding the black-and-white pages, I tucked them under my arm. Had it been up
to me, I’d have cancelled the subscription. Everything was available online these
days. But Albert liked the paper with his morning coffee. He’d never agree to
swap it for a screen. He didn’t even have his own email account. “Someone has
to keep the mailman in a job,” he would say. I’d given up trying to change his mind.
hesitated before closing the front door. The new paperboy was smiling at me
again. Every day this week, he’d made a point of it. I considered asking him why
he hadn’t brought the paper to the door if he had so much time to spare. He touched
his tongue to his lower lip and winked. My eyes widened behind their glasses.
Cheeky devil. Looking at an old woman that way.
there was something familiar about him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. His
olive skin gleamed in the sunshine. I stared back. His eyes sparkled. It was a little
distracting. Oh, Good Lord, he’s coming up to the house. I backed away.
One of my slippers caught on the doorstep, and despite some frantic tugging on
my part, it refused to come free.
The boy jumped
easily onto the porch, taking all three steps at once. I opened my mouth to yell
for Albert, inhaling sharply and—
voice brooked no argument. The cry for help died on my lips, and my legs
trembled. My voice flat out refused to work. Not even a croak. The boy was too
old to be delivering the paper. A senior, maybe. My mouth opened and shut a
couple of times. I couldn’t even ask him what he wanted. I would have told him
we had nothing worth stealing.
Albert was just down the hall in the kitchen, probably
grumbling that his coffee would be stone cold by the time I returned with the
paper. The boy’s expression was unsympathetic. Impatient, even. “C’mon,” he
said. “Think. It’s past time you remembered. This is the last one. Then we’re
what? He was talking as if we knew each other, yet I was quite certain I’d never
seen him before he took over the paper route this week. Almost certain. At
least seventy percent certain. His eyes held my gaze. They were mesmerizing. Holy
cow. I think I do know him. But where from?
of images spilled into my head. I raised my hand to the collar of my housecoat,
horrified, while a hot blush rose up my neck. The boy relaxed, his expression softening
into a smile.
remember that stuff first,” he said. “God knows why. I suppose I should be flattered.”
repeated my impression of a landed fish, still unable to speak.
sorry,” said the boy. No… Devin. That was his name. Devin. “Remove,” he added.
young man, I don’t know what you think you mean by coming here and making me… me…”
My rush of
indignant words trailed off as more images—memories—appeared.
fight it,” said Devin. “The binding spell releases easier if you don’t fight it.”
pushed my earthbound life to one side, assuming an authenticity that left
little room for Mrs. Carrie Bennett, retired store clerk with arthritic knees
and a fondness for hot buttered teacakes.
“There you are.”
that was quite a life,” I said.
been so old before. You… you were Mary, weren’t you? Carrie’s second daughter.”
My Light Mage ability to recognize energy signatures alongside physical coverings
had reasserted itself. “She, I mean Carrie, was devastated when you died. Well,
I guess you know that. Presumably you were watching.”
and waiting,” he agreed. “I wasn’t allowed to jog your memory until this life’s
been a long five years.”
his head. “Four weeks isn’t so long, and it’s not like we didn’t sign up to it.”
passed more quickly in the earthbound dimension. A lifetime here equated to
approximately one year in the magical dimensions. It was only possible because here
was a magical creation, an illusion. Designed to appear vast, chaotic, and
overpopulated, when in fact it was meticulously controlled and monitored.
society believed that our true selves were only revealed once all magical ability
had been taken away. In order to qualify for a profession, each magician, from
the lowliest Spell Mason to the most exalted Spell Master, had to follow an
earthbound life path, reincarnating their way along a series of predetermined
choices and challenges.
ever thought to go earthbound again after I’d graduated and become a guardian
all those years ago. Yet here Devin and I were, training to be Master Mages. If
we succeeded, we’d become members of the High Council. Part of me was excited.
Part of me was terrified.
she…?” I looked down at Carrie’s hands. Knotted veins showed through the age-spotted
skin. I’d scrubbed floors with those hands. Knitted scarves for my children.
Held my husband. Packed groceries for thousands of customers. It had been a
long life, unremarkable yet at the same time unique.
have to stay for that part,” said Devin. “You already know about dying. Getting
old was the thing this time.”
his hand on my arm. “High Council Headquarters,” he said, and our surroundings
flickered, turning into shadows. It was like standing at the center of a fast-moving
carousel. I closed my eyes. Everything worked on a higher vibration in the
magical dimensions, and a long time had passed since my magical form had been free
from an earthbound covering. The crystal-clear precision of it was startling.
arrived in an empty evaluation room. It was simply furnished, and standard Healer
supplies were visible through the glass door of the spell cabinet. Three out of
the four walls were decorated to resemble a sunset over water, while the fourth
was translucent, made from magic, waiting for a magician to personalize it.
as the flickering came to a complete stop, Devin grabbed my other arm and
pulled me into a hug. I lifted my hands to his shoulders, turning my face into his
neck and breathing him in. Our magical connection reasserted itself so fast
that we both froze in place, the rush of emotion overwhelming.
your hair,” I murmured.
I’d make my magical form more like my regular earthbound covering.”
it.” Before I could help myself, I planted a kiss just below Devin’s jawline.
Then another. My teeth grazed his skin. It had been so long. He gave a shaky
laugh, and his hands gripped my waist. “Our Healer will be here any minute to
check you over,” he warned.
fine,” I said, moving even closer.
you sure do,” he replied. Across the connection, I could feel his self-control
wavering, and regretfully I took a step backward. I wasn’t being fair to either
out a hand and the wall of magic shimmered. A mountain appeared. A snowdragon
could be seen flying in the distance, wings extended to create a silhouette that
was both graceful and menacing. Devin obviously missed her.
some effort, I pulled away from the connection and walked a few steps toward
the other wall, tipping my head back.
It takes a bit of getting used to—being seventeen instead of seventy. Nothing
hurts, for a start.”
we’re talking about earthbound pain, old age isn’t the half of it,” said Devin.
“Childbirth without magic shouldn’t be allowed.”
“Of course. You had kids this time.”
He made a
face. “Anatomy-wise, the process is fundamentally flawed.”
the gaps in our experience, we’d borrowed from a selection of historic life paths
and lived parts of them for ourselves firsthand. It had been tough.
Intimidating. We’d tried different genders, nationalities, and centuries,
facing the extremes that only the earthbound dimension could offer. Poverty and
wealth. Love and hate. No magic. No memory of who we really were.
Luca. Good. You’re back,” came a voice from the doorway. It was Mixin, the Healer
assigned to watch over us while we completed this part of our training. Her hair,
tunic, and Healer’s pin were all shades of gray and silver, creating a backdrop
against which her dark eyes appeared quite fierce. She was carrying a folder of
mage-paper ready to capture my results.
disorientation?” she asked. “Heightened emotions? Unexpected impulses?”
to stifle a laugh and failed.
“No,” I said,
your magic? How does that feel?”
“OK. I think.
But I won’t know until I use it.”
seat,” said Mixin, “and I’ll run the diagnosis spell first. Do you want a shot?”
Her hand was halfway to the cabinet in anticipation of my answer, but I shook
my head. “I’ll be
fine. It’s no worse than being audited.”
enough,” said Devin. “I’d take one for audits if I could.”
wouldn’t risk it,” I said. “Neither of us would.”
not.” He lowered his gaze. You can’t run from a Spell Master if you’re too spaced
out to think.
were tiny bottles of concentrated magic. Magicians didn’t eat or sleep, but our
magical cores couldn’t sustain themselves without regular supplements of energy.
Spell shots were a two-for-one. Magic and a spell. The diagnosis shots used by
Healers were like bottled bliss. Most magicians didn’t hesitate to take one.
my head against the back of the chair and stared at the view of the mountain while
Mixin got to work. Ouch. This is worse than I remember. I guess I’m out of
practice. Like Devin, I was a Light Mage. Uncommon. Distinctive. My magical
core was next to my heart rather than inside of my head and allied with my emotions
instead of my intellect. Gradually, I adjusted to the sting of Mixin’s spell,
and I was able to enjoy the snowdragon’s acrobatics.
In the replica
of Dellarior Mountain from Devin’s memory, Lyssa swooped toward us before
rising again, her wings beating with enough power to lift her almost vertically.
I caught a glimpse of white fur, glittering talons and teeth, and yellow eyes half
closed against the icy air. “She’s grown so much while I was away,” I said.
And that’s not all,” said Devin. “Look again.”
see anything.” At that moment, Lyssa turned sideways, revealing the fur on her
belly. It was gold. I was so surprised my shoulders lifted away from the chair.
me back. “Stay where you are. I’m not a Spell Master, remember?” Her mouth lifted
as if she’d made a joke. “I can’t do this without your cooperation.”
“Sorry,” I said, keeping still with difficulty.
“Devin? She’s pregnant?”
I felt the
diagnosis spell slide across my core in a sudden burn that had me wincing.
Devin walked into my eyeline so I could see his face without having to move. He
grinned, and his brown eyes lit up. “She is.”
widened. “Well… when a girl dragon meets a boy dragon—”
I said, cutting him off. “You know that’s not what I meant. There hasn’t been a
viable snowdragon egg for years.”
I have been trying a new spell combination. It’s early days, but we’re
done,” said Mixin. She turned to Devin. “How exciting! I know the High Council prefers
to keep it quiet, but the reducing snowdragon population is becoming a major concern.”
hesitated. “The High Council does keep it quiet. With good reason. How come you
know about it?”
opened the folder of mage-paper and pressed her hand to the top page to record my
results. A series of charts and diagrams appeared, and I tried to look, but the
page was at the wrong angle for me to read it properly. She smoothed her hair,
tucking it neatly behind her ears, and met Devin’s gaze. “I’ve been your Healer
for quite a while, and it’s my job to notice things. It’s also my job to maintain
patient confidentiality, so you have nothing to worry about.”
he said. He bit his lip. “All the same, I should probably be more careful.”
that?” I asked, pointing to the red indicator on the mage-paper.
baseline magical strength,” said Mixin. “The percentage change is outside of normal
“Oh. I suppose
they did warn us it might happen.”
up too,” said Devin, giving my upper arm a brief squeeze. “No big deal. But it does
mean another audit, unfortunately.”
hand was already raised. A glow appeared between her fingers as her magic activated
the connection between her Healer’s pin and the mage-net.
deal?” I repeated. “How much has it increased that I need an audit?”
down. It’s not the first time our magic has gotten stronger,” said Devin.
different,” I pointed out. “Very different. The time before was an accidental benefit
from a spell we used deliberately.”
I got up
from the chair, too on edge to remain seated. I didn’t like unexplained changes
to my magic. The last time it happened I’d almost been executed.
said Devin. “That accidental benefit you mentioned was the start of this, and it’s
fine. It’s expected. I promise mine was the same.”
to reestablish the connection, and I felt the pull against my magic like a magnetic
field. Had it always been so intense? At first I resisted, wanting to prove to myself
I still could. Then I allowed his emotions to mix with mine. The tightness in
my chest eased off. He’s telling the truth this time.
his eyes. “Of course I’m telling the truth. And you can drop the ‘this time’
shit if you don’t mind. Hampton Court was ages ago.”
before replying. “I… Wait, did I say that out loud?”
glanced from Devin to me, and her lips thinned. She spoke slowly. “You didn’t
say anything, Luca.”
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