Magic Astray (The Llandra Saga)

MAGIC ASTRAY

GREGORY L. MAHAN

 

Copyright © 2013 Gregory L. Mahan

Cover Illustration by Alexander Nanitchkov

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

This book is dedicated to my mother, Sandra. She always encouraged my love of reading and writing fantastical tales, and taught me to work hard to achieve my dreams.

 

Thank you to my wife and children for all of the support they have given me as this book was coming to life. Most of that work happened during nights, weekends, and at other times inconvenient for them.

 

Thanks also to Alexander Nanitchkov. Once again, he came through with cover artwork, capturing the drama of the moment wonderfully.

 

I would also like to give a special acknowledgement to Kirsti Jespersen and Paulette Watson. Without their generous help, the cover art might never have been completed on time.

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

About the Author

 

Chapter 1

Randall stared at the clouds, lying on his back and chewing on a long stem of grass. He rolled over to look at the imp that had become his constant traveling companion. The diminutive brown man was squatting in the tall grass, his long pointed ears perked up like a cat’s as he watched a caterpillar creep along the turf.
Poor bug doesn’t know that he’s about to be lunch,
Randall thought to himself with a grin, distracting him for a few moments until the nagging feeling returned.

“Berry, I’m bored,” Randall complained with a sigh.

“Do a thing,” Berry chided in his chittering native tongue without looking up from his impending meal.

Randall flopped back over and stared at the sky with another bored sigh.
Do something. That’s the problem, now isn’t it? There’s nothing to do out here.

He had left home with plenty of ambition and had been eager to make his fortune on the open road. That was a little over a year ago. The last time Randall had left home, the fear of King Priess’ secret police, the Rooks, had driven him through a harrowing series of adventures from one side of Tallia to another. But with King Priess dead and his organization of Mage-hunters gone with him, Randall felt no great drive to do much of anything, really.

He hadn’t gone very far from his home town of Geldorn at all, in fact, though he had whiled away the time pleasantly enough. The countryside between Geldorn and Paranol was mostly grassland, and small game was plentiful. Randall had done little more than wander aimlessly, keeping himself fed and enjoying Berry’s company.

He had spent so much time around the little sprite that he had started to learn bits and pieces of the creature’s chittering tongue. He was far from fluent, and there was no way he could make his vocal chords wrap themselves around Berry’s convoluted language. Thankfully, the donnan seemed to understand Randall often enough when he spoke that each managed to get their point across.

‘Donnan’—that’s what Mages had named Berry’s kind. Berry was one of the fae, a creature from the realm of Llandra. While elves and dwarves were looked upon with a certain measure of distrust, they had immigrated from Llandra hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. They were grudgingly accepted as a fact of life. Creatures like Berry, on the other hand, lived and bred in that other realm and they only made an appearance here when a Mage practiced the forbidden art of Summoning. All such creatures were feared, and rightly so. To hear a trained Mage tell the story, anyone who practiced Summoning and made a deal with such unsavory creatures would eventually be corrupted beyond all redemption.

Randall watched his friend stalk his meal for a few more minutes before he sat up with a smirk. Berry was not some great evil beast. If he intended to wreak havoc, he wouldn’t be chasing caterpillars with a eighteen year old boy who had lost the ability to do magic. After all, with his power gone, what could Randall do to change the world?

With that thought, a pang of Randall’s old ambitions gnawed at his insides. He stood up with a sigh. “I suppose you’re right,” he admitted. “It’s time we went and did something. C’mon buddy, let’s get moving.”

It seemed the donnan grinned at Randall as he plucked the caterpillar from the blade of grass where it had been climbing and popped it into his mouth. It was hard to tell for sure, though, as the imp’s mouth always seemed to be turned up in a perpetual smile. Berry quickly scampered up Randall’s leg to take his accustomed spot on the boy’s shoulder.

“We go,” the imp chittered excitedly as Randall began breaking camp.

* * *

It was nightfall when Randall reached the outskirts of Erliand’s property. The property had remained empty after his old mentor’s death, and had fallen into disrepair. Tall weeds had overtaken the lawn and the tiny plot of land where he had once meticulously cultivated broccoli. Randall looked over the scene with a heavy heart.

“I don’t know why I never came here sooner,” Randall said, as much to himself as to his companion. “Never was really too far away. Too many memories, I guess.”

Berry chittered noncommittally but offered no solace.

Except for negligence, the house appeared intact. It was far enough off the beaten path that it would have made it difficult for the Rooks to find.
And they were too busy chasing me at the time,
Randall thought bitterly.

“Well, let’s go in,” Randall said, as he stepped onto the porch and up to the front door.

It felt odd going through the house. Though Randall had spent the better part of a year studying here under Master Erliand’s tutelage, he never really had a chance to investigate much of the home. Erliand had simply kept him too busy to do much other than study and work. Now that he had run of the place, he felt like an interloper as he explored each room.

Erliand’s bedroom was much more sparsely furnished than Randall expected it to be. There was a simple cot along one wall, and a chest of drawers that contained enough clothes for perhaps four or five complete outfits. Against the opposite wall was a small mirror, with a washing bowl on a shelf directly underneath. In the corner sat a thankfully empty chamber-pot. Randall had a hard time imagining the old Mage groggily getting up each morning, washing his face, and then performing his morning business. When Randall had lived here, Erliand had seemed so mysterious and enigmatic that it was hard to imagine him as a regular person going about such mundane tasks as deciding what to wear for the day. The realization made the old Mage more human in Randall’s mind, and made his master’s sacrifice weigh that much more heavily on Randall’s heart.

Randall explored the study next. He had spent countless hours in this room with Master Erliand, but he had never really felt at home here. This was Erliand’s space, and Randall was only welcome when his master was giving a lecture. There were numerous books and parchments lined up on shelves around the room, but Randall had never been permitted to open any of them. Perhaps he might have been allowed later in his studies, but his training had ended long before that day could come.

Randall pulled a book at random from a shelf near Erliand’s desk. Flipping it open, he saw row after row of Erliand’s neat penmanship scrawled across the pages. As he sat down to read, Berry leapt from Randall’s shoulder and began poking around the knick-knacks and odds and ends that were lying around the study.

“A treatise on Heig,” Randall read aloud, slowly sounding out the unfamiliar word. Underneath the title was a neatly scribed rune. “Dwarvish, if I had to guess,” he speculated, taking note of the rune’s angular features. Randall flipped idly to another page. “A discussion on the mathematical relationship of the intersecting angles,” he read, with growing incredulity. He flipped to another page which detailed various pen nib sizes and their effect on the potency of the rune.

“It’s all about the same rune!” he cried in disbelief. “How can you write an entire book about one rune? Bah! Not that it does me any good anyway,” he grumbled as he snapped the book shut in frustration.

Reading Erliand’s notes was a painful reminder of Randall’s own inability to perform magic. At one time, he had entertained hopes of becoming a powerful Mage. He’d even shown considerable talent at using spoken magic—Edwin of Ninove had called him a “prodigy”. But even though Erliand’s talisman had long-since healed both him and Berry of the wounds left from final their battle with the head of King Priess’ secret police, Aidan, that one scar still remained. Randall could not open himself to Llandra and attempt to draw forth even the tiniest amount of magic without intense, searing pain. Magecraft was forever closed to him, tantalizingly just out of reach.

Randall glanced around the room. “Berry? Where are you?” he called out when he didn’t spot his friend.

Berry chittered a response that came from just in front of the desk where Randall sat. Peering over, he saw Berry bent over a large piece of vellum spread out on the floor, his face peering at it intently from only inches away. The imp continued to chitter excitedly as he scanned the surface.

“What do you have there, Berry?” Randall asked. “Is that a map? It
is
a map!” Randall exclaimed as he got up to move the document to the study desk.

Randall had never seen a map of Tallia before, but the document’s purpose was obvious at first glance. It appeared that all the towns and cities of Tallia were represented, including his home town of Geldorn! Waverly and Mons were marked nearby, even though those two barely even qualified as hamlets. Randall traced the map with his finger, from Geldorn to Paranol, and from Paranol to Varna on the Lake. If only he’d had this map when he had been on the run! It would have made his life so much simpler.

His eye was drawn to a notation drawn within Shaderest forest. Randall recognized Dyffryn as the elven city that Brody had mentioned in the short time that Randall had travelled with the greedy caravan master. He and his two partners were dead now, having been ambushed by bandits shortly after they had kidnapped Randall themselves—which meant that there was nobody left to trade with the elves! Reminded of his earlier ambitions to make his fortune as a caravan driver, Randall quickly began estimating the time it would take to journey from Erliand’s house to the forest.

“What do you think, Berry? Think we would have any luck selling elven artifacts?” Randall asked excitedly, warming to the idea.

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