You may remember that my fantasy short story “Sorcery’s Preschool” was published last fall in Wisecraft Publishing’s anthology Fantastic Schools, Volume 2. It’s the tale of a four-year-old girl and the day her grandmother takes her to a very unusual pre-school, one for gifted and very young (and potentially dangerous) magicians.
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Not long ago, I reviewed the first book in the “Expanse” series Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). Almost always when I read and review the first book in some series, I tend to wander off in a different direction afterward. I did that for N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo award winning The Fifth Season, for David Weber’s On Basilisk Station, for Martha Wells’ All Systems Red, and in fact, for just about every book I’ve reviewed, regardless of how well I did (or didn’t) like them.
However, “Leviathan” really hooked me, so much so, that I immediately checked book two out of the public library. I just finished reading Caliban’s War and absolutely loved it. The quality was just as high as for “Leviathan.” I was reintroduced to familiar characters such as Holden, Naomi, Alex, and Amos as well as new characters such as Prax, Bobbie, and Avasarala.
It begins on the Jovian moon Ganymede, the “bread basket of the belt,” which is the best location to grow the food needed for the colonized asteroids. It’s the best place for pregnant women to gestate to term. It’s also, apparently, the best place to spawn protomolecule monsters.
Richard Paolinelli’s novel Galen’s Way: A Starquest 4th Age Adventure attempts to re-capture the bygone era of space operas and makes a good run at it, but the cost is encountering more than a few space opera stereotypes.
Galen, a mercenary and smuggler, formerly an elite soldier, is covertly hired by a royal emissary to retrieve a kidnapped Princess from a fortress planet. The job, although sounding difficult, is almost too easily accomplished. However, what he finds is not one Princess, but four, plus a dark plot that spans an interstellar kingdom. In the course of this small saga, Galen alternates between encountering almost helpless and buffoonish bad guys to allowing himself to be captured and violently tortured just (seemingly) to get information.
On the run with the beautiful Princess Rhiannon and his spaceship’s (typically) sarcastic AI Cassandra, they must outwit bounty hunters and professional assassins to unravel a twisted conspiracy and restore justice to the galaxy.
I’ve been honored to have my stories “The Recall” and “The Colonists” published in the 2019 and 2020 editions respectively. It’s a tremendous joy to me that the editing team over at “Cloaked” think so well of my writing.
However “Wayback” has another special significance. It’s the very first story representing a “steampunk” universe that has already seen the light of day in other anthologies. You can find the continuation of “Wayback” featured in my short stories “The Mechanical Dragon” (which also explains how steam-cold fusion technology is possible) in the Zombie Pirate Publishing anthology Clockwork Dragons and “The Deseret War” which can be found in the Immortal Works anthology A Mighty Fortress.
But before all that, there is “Wayback.”
Chapter 9: “The trouble with being legendary is that it is very difficult for me to remain anonymous, at least for very long.” The infamous vampire, King of the Undead, Dracula stood before the seventeen-year-old wizard with a smirk on his face, just faintly revealing his twin, elongated fangs.
“So what happens now?” Landon had faced foes as powerful as the vampire liege before, but never without allies, especially his mentor and friend, the golden dragon. Now, on this half of a mysterious world forever in night, he was alone.
“Why whatever you want, my young magician.” Dracula clapped his hands twice and then sat back on his obsidian throne. Presently, a score of servants, all appearing as human as the teen, came out from behind curtains left and right, quickly supplying a table and chair in front of the sorcerer, and then producing platters of beef, chicken, assorted vegetables, and a flagon of ale.
“Having not partaken in a meal such as this in so long, it was difficult for me to decide how to serve you, so I selected a variety of food stuffs.”
Chapter 8: The temperature on this “night world” had suddenly become sub-zero, but that wasn’t the reason for Landon’s paralyzed muscles as the vampire Estaban lunged for his throat. The seventeen-year-old wizard was still holding tightly to his staff, and in a panic, he released a wave of light from the iron covered top, now shaped to resemble an eagle.
The disfigured undead being shrieked in horror as the simulated Sun’s rays raked across his melted face, the result of being engulfed in a dragon’s breath, as he reeled backward. Brilliant illumination continued to shine forth from the head of the staff, engulfing a three meter in diameter area around the two of them, the only sanctuary from the otherwise arctic winter that had possessed the wooded landscape. The snow was streaming down all around them, driven by high winds, but inside the mystic bubble, everything was warm and calm, except that the screams of the vampire had now been reduced to a helpless mewing.
“Talk. What happened to you? Who’s behind all this?” The experience was far too close to his recurring nightmare to be mere coincidence, but Landon still didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle put together yet.
“The Master,” Estaban gasped, agony coursing through him like poison in this veins. “You can’t stop him. You’re dead already, just like me.”
Chapter 7: He was seven years old, alone in the dark, and he could hear breathing.
“Who’s there?” His voice quavered and he was shivering with cold and fright. “Daddy, is that you?” He felt like he were in a large room somewhere, but when he breathed out, he could see frigid mist as if he were in a gigantic freezer.
“Grandpa?” How did he get here? The last thing he remembered was…then he realized that he shouldn’t be seven anymore.
“This has got to be a dream. I need to wake up. Wake up.”
Then there was more than one something breathing in the darkness, a lot more somethings, and they were all around him.
“No. Get away from me. I won’t let you hurt me.” He tried to think of a spell, any spell that might get him out of here. The light spell. It was the first one he’d learned a long time ago when he was…seven. How could he be seven again?
The doorbell rang again.
“Just a minute.”
The seventeen-year-old boy went to the front door, and looking through the peep-hole, saw a mail carrier holding a package. Turning the deadbolt, he opened the door, and then, in a breathtaking fashion, his world ceased to exist.
“Landon.” His master’s voice came from behind him. He turned, and the full ten-meter length of the great golden dragon’s spectral image rushed through the house like a frigid wind, chilling the boy’s flesh as the serpent passed through his body and into the brilliant void outside the front door.
“Buddy!” He had to scream now to be heard above the sudden gale which carried him away after the dragon, who was already receding into the distance.
“Help me, Landon.” The dragon’s voice was a soft, still whisper he could barely hear within the roar of an arctic-cold hurricane, and then it was gone.
Chapter 6: Thus did the great golden dragon Xendrizdelian Nygardia Chyz, Shadow Master, Lord of Abibligon, of the Order of Zin become unmade, being swiftly ushered down the vortex of icy white mist at an impossible velocity. As he helplessly fell into an unknown distance, his body shrank, not in the manner of merely becoming smaller, but becoming younger, less developed, adolescent, and then younger still. And while his form regressed, so did his mind, his memories, his emotions, his spirit.
Then he was alone in the darkness, in the space between spaces and he was terrified. He was after him, a mighty ruler, a relentless king. Xian, King of the Shadow Dragons. The tiny Xen was exhausted, defenseless. One more strike by the King and he would be dead. Only one thing left to do. It was forbidden, but his only haven now was the human world. If he could open a portal in time.
The diminutive dragon, now about the size of a small collie, was just crossing the threshold into the realm of the one reality no dragon was ever to witness, when a bolt of blood-red energy smashed into him. He cried out in fiery anguish as his right wing was shattered, and he passed out while plummeting downward into the night sky.
Chapter 5: Estaban’s finger poised over the trigger as he pointed the handgun at the little boy and his baby sister. His back was to the paralyzed Landon and Steve, but the wizards could imagine the wicked grin on the villain’s face as he was just seconds away from killing the teenage sorcerer’s childhood self.
“Landon?” It was Grandpa’s voice coming from inside the house. He was about to open the screen door to see what his grandchildren were up to.
Then Estaban wheeled around, pointed the pistol at Steve and fired. In that instant, the temporal field holding the older Landon in place vanished and he tumbled to his left. He could see the bullet crossing the space between the two twins, the expression on Estaban’s face was one of sorrow, not evil.
His blind right eye couldn’t see the shield collapse around Steve just an instant before the bullet was to strike, nor the rage twisting his face. He barely had time to raise an elemental air shield between the combatants and his family. As the .45 caliber projectile struck Steve, he suddenly wasn’t there anymore.
Chapter 4: “We’re ready.” Steve was another member of the resistance, and like Landon, not only was his control collar inoperable, but he could use elemental magic. Steve looked human, a lot of the other soldiers didn’t, not quite, but the seventeen-year-old had never been aware of him back on Earth. Landon had been able to sense a lot of magic users by the time he was sixteen, but somehow, Steve had managed to elude him.
“When do we strike?” They were walking on the parade grounds. Landon’s limp was almost gone and Dr. Swanson, also a member of the rebellion, would have to declare him fit for duty in another few days. It was the same with Steve whose arm had been broken in a medieval combat simulation. He was slightly taller than Landon and a few years older, dark hair and eyes, medium complexion. He said his Mom was from Mexico and his Dad was from “someplace else,” which probably meant another dimension.
“Tomorrow at dawn. All of the magic users have been alerted. We’ll be the first wave, taking out the Master and the top echelon. Once we disable the control mechanisms, the rest will be easy. We must outnumber them a hundred to one.”
“Dawn.” Landon and Steve stopped at the flagpole and saluted. On the flag was a representation of the ancient Roman god Janus, the two-faced god who represented beginnings, gates, transitions, passages, and time. It was a curious symbol for a group of extra-dimensional players, who used intelligent life forms as pieces in their bloody war games. “What about the people in play? There will still be thousands in the different simulations.”