Deep Magic - October 2017
DEEP MAGIC is an electronic magazine that publishes clean short fiction in the fantasy and science fiction genres (epic, paranormal, steampunk, etc). Our issues are also filled with author interviews, art features, book reviews and tips for writers.
In this issue we feature the following:
– A Theft of Words by DK Holmberg
– Moonbody by Scott Hughes
– The Smell of Bread by Michelle Muenzler
– The Novice by Steve Yeager
– Black Lake by Maria Velovich
– Interview with writer Nina Kiriki Hoffman
– Novel excerpt of Pandora's Gun by James Van Pelt
– Novel excerpt of Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Release date: October 2, 2017
Print pages: 176
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Deep Magic - October 2017
THE BLACK LAKEby Maria Velovich
The water was so dark he could see nothing in it. No reflection of the ancient trees stooping over the lake, no glint of the full moon shining, not the slightest sign of any creatures living in that black water. There was only the darkness—bottomless and deep. It was such a bright night, everything was bathed in starlight—everything except the lake. It . . . devoured everything. And gave nothing back. It had secrets hidden in its depths, secrets not meant for mortals. That was why mortals feared looking into that water. Whenever he looked into the lake, he didn’t see his face in it. Only the darkness.
Vlaen sat upright in the boat. It rocked slightly—the rowers shared a worried glance. No one wanted to fall into the black water. There were stories of those who did fall. They disappeared in its depths—and the dark water was silent, as if they had never existed. That must be why no one had tried to find out its secrets, not for a long time. Vlaen had tried. When they were children, he and his brother dared each other to take a plunge. Or rather, it was Raen who dared his elder brother—and Vlaen accepted the challenge. Afterward he remembered nothing—only unclear images, blurred, cold and hot by turn . . . and words . . . words he could not remember however hard he tried. After the sages of the island dragged him from the water, he had spent a week lying delirious in his bed. And he had dreams. The dreams had the answer . . . but when he woke up, he had forgotten everything again. The only thing he remembered was gentle scarred hands putting a wet herb-smelling cloth to his burning forehead. Afterward the Black One told him: “You are the only one who has done it. Been brave enough to enter the darkness.”
And now Vlaen, the Lord of Drakonlae, was sailing those dark waters he had known as a child. It had been a long time since the young son of the Dragon was dragged from the water. Everything had changed. His father was no more, and Vlaen had become the Dragon. His brother, little Raen who had been his playmate on the shores once upon a time . . . he was his enemy. Vlaen himself had seen too much to stay unchanged. Everything else had changed, but not this place. And when Vlaen looked upon the Black Lake’s waters, he felt like the same boy still—frightened, but daring a challenge.
The island grew closer. And so did the ancient high walls of the Dwelling of Darkesnor. Surrounded by thousand-year-old eben trees, the walls were old as time itself—no one in living memory knew who built them or who founded the dwelling. There were some who said that Darkesnor was as ancient as the lake. The elders had always lived there, Drakonlae’s dark sages. They guarded their secrets fiercely—and no outsider was allowed to enter the gates of the dwelling. But naturally, the rule did not apply to the Lord of Drakonlae. Moreover, he was no outsider. He was Vlaen Dragonkin, a hero of numerous battles with the Teyalar, and the Black One’s former pupil. It was the Black One that Vlaen came to see now. The master of the dwelling could have a lot to say to the Lord of Drakonlae. It was especially true in this turbulent time of war and change. When would the Light’s rule over the ancient lands of Darkness ever end, the last invader finally be destroyed? Vlaen wanted to know that. And he already knew the answer the Black One would give him. After all, the elder had been his mentor in those bygone childhood days. His closest friend. Vlaen knew the answer. But he felt he had to look into those wise hooded eyes. And to feel a dry, burned hand touch his shoulder.
* * *
They reached the shore. Two cloaked figures appeared out of the mist as if by magic. They were watching silently, their arms crossed. The boat hit the sandy shallows, and two guards helped to haul it out. Until the boat was on land, no one made an attempt to get out. At last the waters of the lake were safely lapping behind, and Vlaen jumped upon the muddy grass.
He straightened his shoulders. The Lord of Drakonlae was still young. He was not yet twenty-five, this tall man with large hazel-green eyes. But there were signs he had had to grow up early. The first threads of frost in the thick dark hair that fell to his shoulders in waves, a wrinkle between his brows . . . The line of his mouth was hard, even cruel. He would be a very handsome man, no doubt . . . but for something ruthless and frightening in his appearance. All the Dragons had the look—piercing eyes, an aquiline nose, sensual lips. Hard but beautiful features with a hint of viciousness. Yet Vlaen had the look most of all. He and his brother were as different from each other as sky and land. Raen had soft chestnut hair, long eyelashes, and a slim figure; he looked almost feminine in his beauty . . . and Vlaen was strong-built, dark and hard. Their father was always joking that if there were two absolute opposites in the world, they would be his two sons. If the old Dragon had lived to know the terrible truth of his joke, he would not have laughed then. He’d rather have strangled Raen in his cradle, Vlaen thought grimly.
The guards were taking him to Darkesnor. He could find the way himself, even blindfolded . . . he had known the place since his childhood. But surely they were rather an honor escort? The Black One used to trust Vlaen completely . . . if he trusted anyone. Vlaen could understand him—he never trusted anyone himself. Father had relied on his Serpents—and what became of him? The heads of ancient houses sworn to defend their lord murdered the Dragon in his own lair. No, Vlaen was determined the same story would never happen to him. And even if the Black One sent guards to be careful . . . he was being wise as ever. Though his old mentor’s mistrust hurt a little.
The eben trees framed the alley leading up to the dwelling. Their bark was black as coal, and black were the leaves growing on the branches. If one squeezed a leaf, the hand would hold only ashes. No bird nested in the eben trees. The sap was the strongest poison, widely used in Drakonlae. Fighting against the Teyalar, Vlaen had ordered his archers to smear their arrowheads with the eben sap. Afterward the victors had found blackened Teyalar corpses. They had served the Light, but their death was black, and the Light had not helped them. Vlaen had said then the words that became famed: “See the Darkness devour Her enemies.” One of his archers had pricked a hand by accident—the unfortunate man had to have his arm taken off up to the elbow. The blood of the eben trees was deadly. And though the Teyalar had spilled a lot of Drakonlae blood, they had met their death with Vlaen, son of Vlyne, the young Dragon that was now standing in front of the ancient gates of Darkesnor.
The gates were black. As were the walls of the dwelling. As the eben trees. And the waters of the lake. Darkesnor resembled both a castle and a monastery, but in truth was neither. Ancient constructs of black stone were surrounded by a curtain wall. The merlons upon the towers were half ruined, and the black eyeholes of arrow loops gaped out of the crumbling masonry. The weeds and climbing plants had long ago stormed the walls and ruled in abundance. Darkesnor seemed to have succumbed to ruin long ago, and those ancient walls hardly looked a strong defense. But appearances deceive. It was magic that guarded Darkesnor. Powerful dark magic. Despite the outward decrepitude, the stronghold was unassailable. Anyone seeking a forced entry would achieve that easily and without losses. And would find nothing—only the buildings, empty and crumbling. A place long abandoned—a ghost town. It was easy to go in . . . it was impossible to go out. No matter how long a man looked for an exit, he could not find it. Only the black walls, crumbling with time. And so the invaders of the dwelling would search vainly for the smallest way out—until nightfall. And then death would come for all. And the dawn would find only corpses, their faces distorted with horror. Attempts to take Darkesnor had happened before, twice. And both times had ended in death’s quiet breath, and sunlight playing upon faces frozen in a scream. So Darkesnor was thought to be cursed. And people feared even the forest surrounding the lake. Darkesnor sages were known to say: “None shall leave the dwelling against its will.”
Those words were engraved upon the gates. Vlaen glanced at them as was his custom. For a boy who had grown up on the dwelling’s eerie legends instead of old fishwives’ tales, that phrase meant “home.” Sometimes as a child he had not wanted to leave Darkesnor, he had wanted to stay with the sages in their black robes, learning their ancient secrets . . . before his father’s stories inspired a thirst for warrior valor. He had left. But the dwelling had let him leave. And now, entering Darkesnor, Vlaen wondered that nothing had changed. Everything was the same—time itself stopped its course, surrounded by that ancient stone. And the same dear figure mantled in black was descending the tower’s front steps to meet the visitors.
The same eyes looked out from the shadows of a hood. The eyes of a color impossible to define, alight with wisdom.
“Welcome, Vlaen, the Great Dragon of Drakonlae.”
“I am glad to see you, Black One.”
For a moment they were silent, looking upon each other . . . and then the Black One opened his arms for the Lord of Drakonlae. Vlaen embraced his mentor. He could feel the frailty of old bones under the mantle, but there was an inexplicable strength in the master of the dwelling. His magic is his support, Vlaen thought. The sage was the first to break the embrace, and Vlaen gazed into his familiar face engraved with wrinkles. A smile touched the Black One’s lips.
“Let us go, Dragon. You must be road weary.”
Vlaen was tired. He had fought hundreds of the Teyalar to get there. He would have brought their heads as a gift for his mentor, if he had not known better. The Black One had no need for heads. Vlaen offered him a hand, and the old sage led him inside, into the heart of Darkesnor—as he had led the boy Vlaen once had been. The elder was slightly limping as he walked.
Through countless passages, stairs, and hallways, cobwebs hung from the ceiling, and the old tapestries were moth eaten. Vlaen had always remembered the dwelling thus. Darkesnor was one of the wealthiest places in Drakonlae . . . but one would not say so to look on it. Where had all the splendid gifts gone, the ones regularly brought by Vlaen to the dwelling? Mostly to pay for the books. The books were Darkesnor’s greatest treasure. The dwelling’s library was the vastest in Drakonlae. New tomes were a constant addition to the shelves lining the black walls—the sages of Darkesnor loved knowledge above all. Vlaen remembered the underground great library, but his favorite place had always been the Black One’s study. Books, books, and more books . . . on the shelves, upon the carved desk with its griffin-paw legs, sometimes on the floor, and in the little alcove beside the barred window. Such different books, their luxurious bindings of many colors, their pages covered in strange symbols and old engravings. There had been this time when Vlaen had found a peculiar book . . . the language was unknown to him, but as he peered at the pages, it almost seemed as if he was starting to understand it. And there were pictures, wonderful pictures of fire and ice and creatures unknown and unheard of. Those otherworld pictures had stayed forever in the little boy’s memory, long after he was a boy no longer. And there had been a dragon. It covered the whole page—splendidly illuminated in every detail, an enormous dragon, its wings spread to cover the sky. The dragon was the symbol of his house, and that day Vlaen understood what it meant—to call himself a Dragon.
So there they were again, in the Black One’s study. There was no dragon book—Vlaen had never seen it again after that first time. But the desk with the carved griffin paws was still there, cluttered with books and scrolls. The Black One sat down at it, carefully replacing some crumbling manuscript. He gestured Vlaen to take the padded chair opposite the desk.
“They say you have killed all your father’s Serpents.”
“I have, Mentor. They betrayed their lord and had to die.”
“You have also killed their wives and children.”
A moment of silence. The Black One was looking intently at his pupil’s face. There was no condemnation in the elder’s eyes, but there was scrutiny. Vlaen did not look away from those eyes.
“I have done that to stamp out the nest of treachery—or a new treachery would spring.”
“But now you have no Serpents.”
“I shall have new Serpents.”
Vlaen’s voice was resolute and strong . . . even if it rang the tiniest bit, as a youth’s voice trying to prove himself right to a father. The Black One was still watching. And suddenly he smiled. His smile was warm and kind, the smile Vlaen had known since childhood. Vlaen’s new Serpents were the young warriors of Drakonlae, those who had their own score to settle with the Teyalar. They might lack high birth, but they compensated for that with their battle fury. The Black One had known that as well as Darkesnor’s dark passages.
“You have done this right, my son. You are a Dragon indeed.”
What bound them together—a fierce young warrior and a wise old sage? It might have been the lake. It had haunted Vlaen’s dark dreams . . . and the Black One had not chosen to dwell upon its shores by chance. Ancient as the Darkness itself, the Black Lake frightened and lured. Vlaen had often wondered what the Black One saw when he bent over the lake. Because the elder used to sit by the water’s edge for such a long time, watching, watching . . . No one dared to disturb the master of the dwelling in those moments. They all knew the Black One was far away then. It was only the aged feeble body that stayed on that grassy hillock . . . his soul was roaming the unknown. Sometimes, in those young years spent in the dwelling, the old man had let Vlaen stay with him. The son of the Dragon had sat next to him, watching the darkness in the water and listening to the silence . . . and it seemed to him that he heard the clatter of battles fought long ago and far away, the song of the night’s wondrous creatures, and the deep, rhythmic flapping of dragon wings in the air.
“Why am I feeling this, Black One?”
The elder sighed. His shoulders were stooping slightly. In such moments Vlaen feared that someday his mentor’s time would come too, and the old man would die.
“I do not know, Vlaen. These are thoughts, images . . . sometimes they come to one who is in his soul a creature of Darkness. I heard them myself, when . . . when . . .” His eyes flashed anger under bushy eyebrows. “And don’t you fear for me. Fear is what kills. You of all people should know that.”
His burned fingers were playing with the scrolls on the desk. Vlaen knew that they still hurt him. It was inconceivable, but it was so. Once, in his childhood, he had grabbed the old man’s hand roughly, and his mentor had winced in pain. Vlaen had asked the old sage about his injuries only once, and the elder had not told him. So Vlaen preferred to think he got those burns in some brutal battle against the Light. Surely the Black One had been young once? Or . . . had he? Somehow it seemed to him that his mentor was ageless and timeless. Eternal, as these very stones and the lake.
“Tell me, Vlaen.” The quiet voice was a rustling of parchment leaves. “When you stayed with the Teyalar, did you want to come back?”
Vlaen did not know how to answer that. Of course he had wanted to come back. Home, to his father whom he had still thought living then, here to Darkesnor, to the Black One’s wise gaze. He had been banished from his homeland when he was half a child, for a crime he did not commit. He was not to blame for the rulers of Drakonlae who let their land be conquered by the Teyalar hundreds of years ago. For the custom of sending highborn Drakonlae children as hostages to the Teyal. Yes, he had wanted to come back. And exterminate them, destroy them to a man. Until his home belonged to him once more.
“I wanted to come back, Mentor. With all my heart.”
“And so you have.” Was there a hint of bitterness in the Black One’s smile?
“Black One . . . I intend to free Drakonlae. From these days forth, our land will not live under the yoke of Light. Your land and mine.”
The old sage was smiling again.
“You need more than an army to free my land, Vlaen.”
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