Deep Magic - Second Collection
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This collection represents the short stories featured in Deep Magic e-zine: June 2017, August 2017, October 2017, December 2017, Spring 2018, and Summer 2018. It includes stories by authors such as: Jeff Wheeler, Terry Brooks, Tony Pi, Stephen Kotowych, Maria V Snyder, Aimee Ogden, DK Holmberg, Rysa Walker, and Ken Liu (just to name a few).
This rich collection of short fiction would be a great addition to any fan of excellent fantasy and science fiction.
Release date: January 1, 2019
Print pages: 637
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Deep Magic - Second Collection
Metamorphistry by Jeff Wheeler
The sun pierced brightly overhead, and the cobblestone streets were choked with dust and noise from the crowd of street hawkers and citizenry pressing to get into the giant arena in the heart of the city of Vaud.
Brandis noticed that his shadow had compressed beneath the soles of his boots and he paused and craned his neck, shielding his face as he squinted up at the sun. It was noontide and cheering had started up within the huge stone walls of the coliseum.
His valet, Roshaun, turned back and gestured at him to keep moving. “You can’t stop in the streets, Brandis. You’ll get trampled this close to the walls. I think I see the seventh arch over that way. Hurry, or you’ll miss seeing her because of the crowd.”
Sweat tickled the back of his neck beneath his mane of long hair. “I think she’ll wait for me, Roshaun. She was more than a little interested, I think.”
“Your title means nothing in this city,” the valet said, laughing. “The Black Forest is hundreds of leagues away. Your father’s castle is smaller than that inn.” Another roar of cheers swelled from within. “The gladiators have started already? I don’t want to miss all the fighting! Can we hurry?”
Brandis put his hand on the hilt of his sword as he walked. His tight white jacket was stained from the ever-present dust, and its epaulets bounced as he followed Roshaun up the steps. He stroked his goatee, having spent sufficient time grooming it earlier that day. He wanted to look his best for her. He had made sure Roshaun had polished the family crest on his sword hilt.
The two approached the tall archway and found the gate beneath it was closed and locked with guards standing there. Roshaun held up his hands to Brandis to show he would take care of things, and he quickly walked ahead and spoke to the sentries posted. Brandis fumed with frustration. He had tried taking a carriage there, but the streets were so thick with people they could hardly move, and so the two had abandoned the driver to cross the rest of the distance on foot.
A groan from the crowd meant that someone had been struck down. Roshaun gesticulated to the sentry, speaking quickly and urgently. The sentry got the attention of his captain, who was watching the match in the heart of the coliseum, who then nodded vigorously and came to the gate with his keys.
“You have not missed much, Lord Brandis,” the captain said. “Estenna informed us you were coming. She’s waiting in her brother’s box. It is one of the best views in the coliseum.”
“I know,” Roshaun said eagerly, clenching his fists. “Are there truly werewolfs in the arena, Captain? It’s not just a tale?”
The captain snorted and laughed, which could have meant anything. “You foreigners are all the same, inventing foolish names—garwalfs, ulfhennin, weriuuolfs. They’re lycanthropes. I work below the arena and have seen them transform. You won’t believe what I tell you until you see it with your eyes. Well, satisfy your eyes, then. See for yourself. Meecham—take them to the Keltin box first.”
The sentry bowed swiftly and brought them around the corner to a wide stairwell that zigzagged up the coliseum. The crowds gathered were cheering and waving kerchiefs. There were people of every fashion, every dominion throughout the lands who assembled at the lake city of Vaud. Brandis was nervous as they climbed the private stairwell, picturing her rust-colored hair and intriguing smile in his mind, trying to still the buzzing giddiness that threatened to make him grin like a fool when he saw her. Roshaun hastily climbed the stairwell, intent on aiding his master.
“This way,” the sentry said, leading them up even higher. How many levels were inside the coliseum? Four? Five? Brandis’s heart was pounding from more than emotion now. His legs were aching at the climb, but he was healthy and had the stamina to endure such an ascent. They reached the top ring of the stadium where he was impressed by the statuary waiting for them.
“By the arts,” Roshaun said in awe, staring at the different poses of horror-stricken figures.
“Those aren’t statues. They were all transformed by a medusa,” said the sentry, gesturing. “Before she was caught and killed.”
“Are you toying with us, man?” Brandis asked with a quirked smile, narrowing his gaze.
“Of course he is,” Roshaun said. “It’s fine work, but these were carved.”
The sentry looked at them with contempt. “Think what you will. There is a reason that Vaud has the University of Metamorphistry. For a thousand years its sorcerers have studied that particular art. Are you a prince? From where?”
“The Black Forest,” Brandis replied stiffly. “In Hennland.”
The sentry sniffed and grunted. “Vaud stood here when your kingdom was nothing but twiggy saplings. And the Keltin family is one of the oldest.” He stopped at a curtained door and bowed, gesturing for them to enter.
Brandis, feeling overwhelmed at the grandeur and the spectacle, mustered his dignity, straightened his posture, and waited as Roshaun brushed dust from his shoulders and back. Then his valet pulled aside the curtain and Brandis, gripping his sword hilt again, strode into the box where he saw Estenna and her brother.
“You came!” the girl said with enthusiasm, her blue eyes flashing with eagerness. He adored her eyes. “I was afraid you might have been stranded in the crowd.” She wore a beautiful gown the color of dappled peaches, clasped at the shoulders with intricate brooches, that exposed her skin and the slope of her neck, where he saw a glimmering series of necklaces and medallions. Her long arms were bedecked with bracelets and her beautiful auburn hair was pinned on one side. She was a vision, and he felt his throat tighten with involuntary thirst.
“The crowds were eager to enter as well,” Brandis said, giving her a little bow. “If you hadn’t shared the secret entrance, we would have been lost in the throng.”
“I know, which is why I told you. Gervase, he’s here. The one I told you about who attended the lecture yesterday.”
Her brother was of the same height. He had dark brown hair instead of red, and it was spiked and askew. He hadn’t shaved in days and a scrappy beard covered his cheeks and chin. His doublet was unbuttoned, revealing a lean chest beaded with sweat. He had a silk shirt and leather bracers that sparkled with inset gems the size of walnuts. Brandis felt his own attire paled next to both of theirs.
“He’s the one I told you about,” Estenna said coaxingly. “The prince from Hennland. I wanted you to meet him.”
“I don’t recall you asking,” Gervase said, shrugging. He gave Brandis a dispassionate look. “So, you’ve come to see the wolf baiting?” He waved his hand to the balcony rail. “See it, then. Watch the populace gorge their senses in blood.”
As if to bolster his words, another roaring cheer went up from the audience. Roshaun hurried to the edge of the balcony to witness the spectacle.
Estenna took Brandis by the arm to escort him. “It can be gruesome. Up this high, the details are difficult to see. The lower seats are the most popular ones. The closest to the fighting.” Her touch, even gentle, sent a thrill through him.
He was hesitant to look, afraid of what he might see—the sight of blood had always made him a little squeamish, although he’d faced his disgust and had learned to master his reactions. Roshaun’s eyes were bulging already, a look of euphoria on his face.
Brandis gazed down at the sandy bit of the arena floor. There were twelve gladiators battling fiercely below. Three had already gone down. One was dragging himself away with a spear stuck in his shoulder.
The gladiators were of various sizes and strengths. Some had whips. Some had axes. One hefted an enormous halberd. They wore armor on their shoulders and ragged loincloths that appeared to be wolf hide. Brandis squinted as one of the warriors struck down another from behind, earning a loud “Booo!” from the crowd.
“Those are the lycanthropes?” Brandis asked her, squinting in confusion. “I thought . . . I thought they’d be wolf men.”
She laughed richly. “It’s high noon, Prince Brandis,” she said. “This is when their power is the weakest. This is when they are allowed to fight. When it is safest for them and for us. Can you imagine a full moon? They would all go mad with bloodlust. The walls are too tall to scale, but imagine if one did! The devastation they’d wreak in the crowd!”
Brandis was confused. “But how do you . . . what I’m saying is, how do you know they are really wer—lycanthropes. Have you seen them change?”
Gervase had wandered up and stood next to his sister. “You only believe that which you see?” he asked sternly. “How limited.”
“It’s not that. Where I am from, this disease is considered quite rare. No one has actually seen a transformation. We’ve only seen the evidence of it.”
“The claw marks, the drool, the torn clothing,” Gervase said dismissively. “It’s not a disease, good sir. It is a magical curse. It is within the domain of Metamorphistry. Do you know what this means?”
Brandis bristled but he did not want to offend. “It is the art of transubstantiation. Turning one thing into something else. Like a caterpillar into a butterfly.”
“Or a worm into a beetle,” Estenna said approvingly. She squeezed his arm. “My brother is the expert of this art. He knows more than the chancellor at the university.”
Gervase shrugged, but Brandis could see in his laconic smile that her praise pleased him.
“So you have seen the transformation yourself?” Brandis pressed, looking away from the battle raging below.
“Hundreds of times,” Gervase answered flippantly. “I study it closely every moon cycle. I’ve documented the patterns starting from initiation to weakness that occurs after the regression. I know how long it lasts until madness, and I’ve measured its effects in ways you cannot possibly imagine.”
Brandis’s interest was more than piqued. “What have you written on your findings? I would very much wish to learn more.”
Gervase turned to him, arching one brow. “It doesn’t interest me to write it down.”
“Why not? Such a work would be invaluable. Every university from here to Sangrall would want to know it, surely!”
Gervase scratched the corner of his mouth. “I care nothing for that.”
Estenna’s eyes gleamed. “He is trying to discover the cure, Prince Brandis. Would that not be of more use to your people in the Black Forest? Would that not be of greater use to the world?”
From the moment Brandis had met her, he had been entranced by her passion, by her determination. He had attended a lecture discussing the slavery conditions among the gladiators of the arena. She felt it was unfair that people inflicted with such a condition, lycanthropy, should be arrested and confined for the remainder of their lives to fight the blood sport of the city. She had believed that with treatment and precautions, those inflicted with the . . . the magical curse could live freely, despite the mass prejudice against those who suffered from it.
At the time of the speech, he was not certain whether the malady was one of the mind—a sign of insanity. He had come to Vaud at his father’s behest to learn more.
“Do you think it is even possible to cure it?” Brandis asked. “The legends say that once one is bitten, the doom is eternal.”
“That’s just a myth. If anyone can discover the cure,” Estenna said proudly, “Gervase will find a way.”
Brandis looked at the brother who smiled at his sister. Then Gervase turned his gaze on him. “You still don’t believe.”
He held up his hands. “It won’t take much to convince me. The stories about the arena are that the gladiators use fake blood. The deaths are staged and then the warriors are brought back in different costumes or disguises. It’s to entertain the masses.”
Estenna’s expression darkened. “I hate the gladiator trade,” she said. “What they do to these victims defies conscience. They were people once, and now they’ve turned them savage.”
“Or was it their savagery that made them transmute, Sister?” Gervase said, tapping his temple.
“I don’t know what causes it,” she said, turning back to Brandis. “But it is wrong to pen up these people and make them fight each other. Lycanthropes can be wounded, but they cannot die from their wounds unless the injury was inflicted with silver. They suffer, poor creatures, every time they perform in the arena.”
“Surely you don’t condone their execution?” Brandis asked.
“No! Of course not! For many it was no fault of their own. They were bitten. For some reason, a lycanthrope chooses a victim to carry on the curse. They are not killed as others are. We don’t know why. No one does. My brother is closer to the truth than anyone has ever dared become because they have been afraid of being infected.”
“Aren’t you afraid?” Brandis asked Gervase.
The sorcerer shrugged. “I experience mild discomfort, but have hardened to the effects over time. A suitable series of precautions, in my view, has made it perfectly safe to work with lycanthropes. I’m not here for the sport, Prince Brandis. When the battle is done, I inspect the wounded and study the regeneration of their health. I assure you—the blood in the arena is not fake. So did you invite this prince to join us, Sister?”
Brandis glanced at Roshaun, who was still enthralled by the spectacle happening below. Brandis’s ears were ringing with the sustained excitement. “May I?” he asked with growing interest.
Estenna beamed. “I did, Brother. He’s come all this way from Hennland. You will see for yourself, then, Prince Brandis. These are pitiable creatures. We should help them, not fear them.”
Gervase snorted. “But they represent our darkest fears,” he said. “They embody it. So you do wish to join us? Do you dare it?”
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