Deep Magic - Summer 2018
DEEP MAGIC is an electronic magazine that publishes clean short fiction in the fantasy and science fiction genres (epic, paranormal, steampunk, etc).
We're pleased to announce this season's line-up of authors for our Summer 2018 issue! We have five stellar short stories PLUS bonus stories from the board because it's our 2-year anniversary issue.
"An Empty Cup" by Jeremy A. TeGrotenhuis
"The Frontier" by Kyle Malone
"The Pawnshop of Intangible Things" by Margery Bayne
"Timepiece" by Aimee Ogden
"Poison Maiden, Open Skies" by Laurie Tom
Bonus original stories by our Deep Magic Board Members, based on prompts by our readers, have been written by: Jeff Wheeler, Charlie N. Holmberg, Steve R. Yeager, Brendon Taylor, Dan Hilton & Kristin J. Dawson
Extended Sample Chapters of Novels:
"Storm Glass" by WSJ bestseller Jeff Wheeler
"Tree of Ages" by Sara C. Roethle
Release date: June 5, 2018
Print pages: 249
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Deep Magic - Summer 2018
The Frontier by Kyle Malone
The night winds tore across the empty plains, hunting. They came from far out in the desert, growing bolder as they reached the Frontier. Their blowing sound was a kind of music.
Neladi lay awake and listened to the song, its chorus rising against the walls of the house, each note straining the sand-weary timber. Where the winds found a gap, they pressed tight, forcing themselves inside. That was when the noise changed to a lullaby, or a hum, as if the winds were worshipping the bare room while they crossed it. In truth, it was Neladi who was busy with prayer. So busy that it took her some time to realise the knocking sound wasn’t the protests of her house, but the gate outside in the yard.
The gate that led from the desert.
Perhaps it’s just the voice of the storm, she thought, but she slipped out of bed all the same. She eased into a nightgown and padded to the door.
As she began to descend, something gurgled behind her. Neladi froze, heard only the step groaning beneath her weight. The house fell into a different sort of silence.
Even in the darkness, she felt the gaze of the three ghosts against her skin. They followed her, watched each move from the far-off reaches of the gloom. She’d never seen them, but she knew the bubbling noise wasn’t them. The ghosts of her house never made any sound. When Neladi turned, she found a half-pale face staring back at her.
“Why are you awake, Mama?” the little girl said. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
Neladi sighed. “Emmi, what have I told you about questions?”
Her daughter made a slow circle on the floor with her foot. “What you ask of others you should ask first of yourself,” she mumbled.
Neladi folded her arms and waited.
“I thought I heard a noise,” Emmi said. Her eyes drifted to the floor. “I thought maybe . . .”
Neladi shook her head. “It was the wind, my sweet. Nobody spoke but the wind. Now go, get some rest.”
Emmi mouthed a goodnight, and Neladi watched her pale face disappear behind the bedroom door.
At the end of the stairs, Neladi found the altar. It was a small thing, nothing more than a candle and a hooded cover. In some houses, it could have even been mistaken for cheap decoration. But this wasn’t another knickknack or piece of furniture. This was the Heart of the Wind, a place where her people worshipped God. She removed the dark shroud with care and dropped to her knees.
“We all return to ash, ash returns to wind . . .” she whispered, bowing her head in prayer.
The words belonged to her father, and to his father before him. A priest had once told her if they traced the mantra back far enough, they’d find the voice of the wind itself. He had preached the same message all over town. In time, it even crossed the Frontier. In fact, he had talked about it so much, that the words were still on his lips when the red-robed Aelia priests escorted him away. A year later, Neladi had helped to build the man’s funeral pyre. She’d heard few sermons since.
“. . . we wish the wind to hear our prayer . . .”
Those faithful to the wind people didn’t have churches anymore. The buildings were all gone, torn down or boarded shut. Sometimes when Neladi sat at her altar, she tried to picture its ancestors. She’d last seen one of the great church altars when she was a child. It had been the day the soldiers came to extinguish its flames, and the people had gathered one last time to pray.
“Why are they taking away our flames?” she’d asked her father, as the smoke trailed past them out the door.
“The king needs them somewhere else, Neladi.”
She still remembered the pain on his face, and the way he had limped out into the street, as if to try to disguise the wound as something else.
Three decades later, Neladi shredded leaves and flowers in her hands. She’d ripped them from the plant out back that morning, sliding her fingers between thorns to get at them. The tree’s branches, even darker than her skin, hadn’t tried to stop her. They’d just watched, as they did every season, as Neladi stole their growth away. Perhaps they’d consider the fruit more precious were they harder to come by.
She cupped the garden’s sacrifice to her mouth and inhaled. Moist earth, spice, the sweet blood of flowers. The scent felt alive, even if the leaves were wrinkled with thirst. Neladi threw them to the flame.
Instead of snuffing out, the candlelight bulged, swelled against the shadows of the room. A plume of green smoke rose up, circled to the roof. It vanished the moment it hit the ceiling. Neladi frowned and swept the perfumed cloud out of her face.
“Night of the High Winds must be a time away yet,” she said, rising.
As if to challenge her, another gale blasted the house. The candle flame, bouncing on its wick, trembled. Neladi lowered the cloth hood back into place, watched the little orange teardrop start to shiver. She ignored its plight, crossed the dining room, and forced the backdoor open. Scarf wrapped across her mouth, she stepped into the yard.
Neladi kicked through the dust towards the desert. It was midnight—the time when the world dared go no darker. The time when the thing people feared most was to be brave.
When she reached the gate, Neladi pushed hard against it, guiding it through the wind until it clattered shut. The damn knocking sound ended abruptly, and there was peace. But rather than turn for the house, she leaned against the timber, stared out onto the plains.
Vast, barren, featureless. At the Frontier, the desert still cast the longest shadow.
“Frontier,” she said, tasting the word as though it were new.
That was what they’d decided to call it—the five or six no-name towns that made up the empire’s edge. Some scholar who sat behind a desk every day a hundred miles away probably thought it was clever. He might have imagined the place was just one great adventure, where the fighting was easy and the women easier still.
But it wasn’t.
At the Frontier, if the tools weren’t too blunt, the rain was too scarce, or the earth lay too shallow. The people planted without fail each spring, but not even the wind held its breath come harvest. Nobody blamed it either. After all, most things eventually withered.
On either end of the fence, Neladi had erected torches. Her father had first put them there decades before, as if to rob back the fire the king had taken from him. A few years later, the empire responded with a wall, a great ring of stone that circled the town. Their home, pinched on both sides, became an honorary tower in the defences. She still wondered why the king hadn’t built around it. Her father said nothing, though, while her mother only joked that one half of the house had gone to the desert. The rest was still stuck at the Frontier.
That same winter, Neladi’s father died, so the torches and responsibility passed to her. He’d never asked her to keep them burning, but the act had almost become ritual. She’d kept the tradition ever since. Even on the night her mother faded from the world, Neladi found a moment to go there—to the border beyond the border—to light the two ever-candles against the darkness. In the king’s religion, they would have called that a vigil. In Neladi’s home, they called it work to be done. Her mother had found the strength to say thanks before she went to sleep.
Now the flames struggled in the storm, flickering as though they were coughing, or choking. Their light was a soft glow, an empty threat to the desert’s shifting shadows. Still, it was another pair of eyes at the Frontier. Another set of watchfires that illuminated nothing.
Neladi waited for the thunder of hooves, for the cry of a guard somewhere on the wall overhead. But as usual, nothing stirred. The whole scene remained frozen in time.
“I should have brought my sword,” she said, reminding herself of its place in the house. “I could have cut the silence open myself.”
The blade had been a gift from her brother. He’d given it to her the day he rode off for the desert. She’d fawned over it as he swung into the saddle.
“And it’s really for me?” she said, watching the light dance along the steel.
“I tried to find one as sharp as you,” her brother said. “But even metal has its limits.” He grinned. “I’ll teach you how to use it when I come home.”
But you never did. Not really.
Now Neladi found herself at the same fence, wearing away the coarse wood beneath her fingers. Her eyes scanned the horizon. She waited. Thirty nights later, she would tell herself why.
The man who did teach me how to wield a sword is still out there. Her husband. Emmi’s father.
“Baylian,” she whispered, loud enough for the desert to hear. She wondered if Emmi was still awake in the house.
Neladi couldn’t blame her daughter for hoping every second sound was Baylian’s return—not when she hoped the same even in silence. At least, in the silence found at the Frontier. Tonight there was such a quiet, because while the storm raged hard, not a single soul would hear their heart beating. They’d hear only the yawning of the wind.
Neladi saw the guard approach from the wall. She decided not to linger.
“He’ll be home soon,” she said, as she wandered back to the house. “He’ll tell me he killed a dozen saptors.” She smiled. “Maybe this time I’ll be kind enough to believe him.”
It took twice as long to open the door. The lock argued with her wrist, but Neladi had been raised better than to negotiate. She jerked the handle with intent, and the house allowed her inside. Were she not so tired, she’d have forced surrender.
But Neladi needed her rest. So, too, did Emmi, and the three ghosts, and the candle still burning downstairs. They all needed to be ready.
Because tomorrow they would come.
Neladi watched the horsemen approach from the upstairs window. There were five of them in all, and this time they were armed. The steel was white-hot beneath the red Varen sun. One of their bright banners cracked in the wind.
“Never send a pawn to do a knight’s job,” she said, and sighed.
At the front of the column, as expected, came Sir Kelvin. The dust in the street blurred his face, but she knew it was him all right. Nobody else would dare come to her door with an army like that.
“Mama, someone’s coming.”
The voice sounded from the room below, creaking like the old floorboard that needed fixing. Neladi rushed down the stairs to answer it.
“Emmi, you come away from that door,” she said, as her daughter stretched up to reach the handle. The girl’s small hand darted back to her side, as if the door itself had burned her. Neladi sank to her knees.
“You go upstairs now,” she said, fixing the little girl’s dress. “Go upstairs and sweep the landing.”
Emmi stared into nothing, gave a weak nod.
“Can I bring Bunchy?” she asked, and for a moment there was something of the old Emmi in her words, a thrill of excitement that didn’t know what to do with itself.
Neladi glanced down at the doll dangling from her daughter’s fingers. The toy knight’s helmet was hanging to one side, and his face was starting to fade underneath. Another thing she meant to fix.
“Of course you can. You’re gonna need him; dust is feeling a little braver than usual.”
Emmi grinned, but Neladi only half noticed. She had already turned to the door.
“Who’s out there, Mama?”
Neladi thought it best not to give her daughter an answer. But Emmi waited, her face scrunched up mean, as though Neladi’s next words better be to her liking. It was an act, of course, but she damned her husband for ever teaching Emmi that look all the same. That man had given them both too many things to remember him by.
“Wolves, Emmi. There are wolves outside.”
The bravery fled from her daughter’s face. “Are they hungry?” she whispered.
Neladi shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Didn’t I ever tell you not to feed those wild dogs?”
She hadn’t. Her husband had, and his daughter realised it too. They both smiled, and then Emmi skipped her way up the stairs.
Neladi hesitated, took a shaky breath in the shadows, then tugged the door open fast. A cloud of sand and light swept past her. Some of the dust caught in her throat, and she nearly coughed. But she didn’t. This wasn’t a day for clearing throats. This was a day for the stubborn.
Sir Kelvin was already on the doorstep, his hand raised as if to knock. He lowered the mailed fist back to his side at nobody’s speed. His grin told her it was a threat.
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