Deep Magic - Summer 2019
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 new line-up of authors for our Summer 2019 issue!
"Hall of the Diamond Queen", by NYT bestselling author Anthony Ryan
"His Lady's Favor", by KD Julicher
"Expectation of Privacy", by LB Spillers
"The Greatest Knife Wielder", by Django Mathijsen
"Lutwidge Ranch", by Daniel Welker
Extended Sample Chapters of Novels:
"The Lilac Plague", by Kristin J. Dawson
"Voice of Power", by Melanie Cellier
Release date: June 4, 2019
Print pages: 191
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Deep Magic - Summer 2019
The fighting-pit crowd erupted with cheers for the pair of wrestlers down on the sands. Rina fought her way through the screaming crowd, watching her footing and not the match. She clutched the cloth-wrapped gauntlet to her chest with both hands like a protective amulet. If she turned back, she’d never find the courage to beg Edrick to be her champion. Rina threaded her way between two large packs of raucous drunkards, the shadowed floor sticky under her thin-soled boots. How could he have ended up in a place like this?
Edrick was her last hope. Two years ago he’d abandoned everything. Tournaments, armor, and her. Since she’d been cast out of Master Mourial’s rune forge, she had nowhere else to turn. Edrick was a slim hope but her only chance to land a new position as a runesmith.
Rina reached the far side of the crowded platform. Below, in a sectioned-off corner, the upcoming fighters and the pit team waited for the end of the match. She ducked right under the ropes and leaned over the edge. Some of the pit men were dashing water over an unconscious man. His mouth hung open. He drooled blood from the place where he’d lost two teeth. Rina cleared her throat.
Six pit men and four fighters looked up at her, all blinking back surprise.
“Get back,” one of the crew snarled up at her. “No spectators allowed past the ropes.”
“I’m looking for your bouncer,” she said.
“Keep this up, and you’ll find him, chit,” the man said.
Rina hadn’t come all this way to be turned aside by pit men. The pit floor was eight feet down. Tucking her gauntlet under one arm, Rina crouched, then let herself drop. She hit the ground, knees bent, and straightened up. “Your bouncer,” Rina said, in her best imitation of Lord Norill’s manner. “Now.”
The pit boss stared at her. Rina’s cloak had slipped from her shoulders. He eyed her dark hair, pulled back neatly in a tight braid and pinned behind her head, glanced at her sturdy leather-and-wool work clothes, then down at her hands. His brow furrowed. “What are you, girl?” he asked. No doubt they didn’t get many women down there, and no journeyman runesmiths at all.
Rina smiled tightly. “Not your problem once you’ve called your bouncer,” she said, and marveled at the calmness of her voice. Nothing about this afternoon had felt real, not since Owen’s injury and her dismissal.
“Better fetch him, boss,” one of the pit men whispered. “Look at her. Chance she’s some nob’s stray daughter, the way she talks.”
“Looks more like a merchant girl to me,” another of the crew said.
“I can hear you, you know,” Rina pointed out.
“Get him,” the pit boss said, and one of the men ran. “Send Huber and his man out there before the crowd start eating each other!” he added as a chant went up from the crowd—“Blood! Blood! Blood!”
“In here, girl,” said the nearest pit man, a balding man past his prime. He opened the wooden door beside him. Rina stared into a long, white-washed stone room. Long wooden benches ran down the length of the room, while tall wooden cabinets, some locked, lined one wall. Her heart raced as she crossed the threshold. The thought of seeing Edrick again, after all this time, made her as nervous as an apprentice on her first day of runing.
“He’ll be along.” The pit man closed the door behind her.
Rina unwrapped the gauntlet she’d been carrying all this time. She let the linen fall away.
The gauntlet itself had been crafted by one of Lord Norill’s armorsmiths. Steel, lined with wool to protect the wearer’s hand, and with a leather strap and buckle to secure it, it shone even in the flickering light. She knew every inch of this gauntlet, from the tiny dent on the index finger to a thickening of the metal in the wrist. She had spent weeks working it, etching runes into every surface. This piece had convinced Master Mourial to allow her ambitious project, the suit of armor that could have won the Crucible of Armor.
She hadn’t heard the far door open. Rina started at the chill in that once dear voice. Her heart felt like a runaway horse galloping in her chest. Her mouth dry, Rina turned.
Edrick stood in the doorway, looking at her, face closed off from her. More than a head taller than Rina, clothed in black close-weave fabrics, his sleeves were rolled up to his shoulders. Well-fitted boots came halfway up his calves. He wore an unfamiliar beard, lighter brown than his hair. He seemed fit, at least, so maybe he had kept up his training. His hands flexed as he stared at her. “Why are you here?” he demanded.
Words poured out of Rina, rushing forth in a surge of anger. How could he have just . . . moved on, made a new life for himself, without her? What sort of a life was this, anyway? “Why are you?” she asked. “A bouncer, in a pit club? When you could beat any of these . . . these fighting dogs, with one arm in a sling?”
“I only have to break the heads of the deserving this way,” he said, his tone flat. “Besides, like you said, it wouldn’t be fair sport.”
“You walked away from”—from me—“from the tournament ring for this?” she demanded. “You were the greatest, Edrick! Nobody could stand before you in armor. You would have earned your knighthood by the end of the season! Lord Norill would have given you a place in his household. Position, and armor, and the keeping for a family,” she said, tears leaping to her eyes.
Edrick hesitated. She thought there was regret in his face. “The cost was too high,” he said at last.
“Instead you just walked away without even a word? Even to me?” she said.
“You know why I did,” he said.
“Nobody blamed you for the accident,” she said. “You tried to save him after you knocked him from the saddle. He didn’t know how to use the armor, Edrick. It was his fault, not yours.”
“That’s what everyone said.” Edrick’s voice echoed hollowly around the room. “I killed a half-trained squire who had stolen his brother’s armor and entered the lists because I couldn’t tell a stripling from a knight. And no one blamed me. Not one damned soul in the whole place. That’s when I knew I was done, Rina.” He hooked a thumb toward the fighting pits, where the crowd shouted their lust for blood. “The pits are honest. We pay men for their blood and, aye, for their lives. The crowds at the tournament ground dress it up with pageantry and manners and nobility, and they’re just as vicious, just as bloodthirsty. He wasn’t the first boy to have his lifeblood drain onto the tournament grounds, and he won’t be the last.”
Rina looked away. “That’s no reason to throw yourself away on this,” she said.
“If you’re just here to tell me my failings, I’m done,” Edrick said, turning toward the door.
“No!” Rina ran to him, her soft boots nearly silent on the rush-strewn floor. She grabbed his sleeve with her free hand and tugged. Edrick turned back toward her. They were inches apart, Edrick looming over, his dark eyes intent, peering into her.
Rina caught her breath, staring up, her plea forgotten. Edrick licked his lips. “Rina,” he said huskily, “you shouldn’t . . . you belong in that world, not down here.”
“Not anymore,” she said fiercely. “I’ve known where you were for a year, Edrick, and I left you alone because I . . . I had no claim on you.” He started to protest, and she raised a hand. “No, belov—that is, plans made in the darkness may never see dawn. They aren’t . . . aren’t promises,” she said hurriedly. “You were free to leave.” She inhaled sharply. “But the Crucible is starting in two days. Lord Norill sponsored a suit of armor, and my master, all of us, have been working for months now. We have a revolutionary design. I had the breakthrough—never mind. Owen was our runewielder. You remember him.”
“He’s the best you could get?” Edrick asked, his eyebrows furrowing. “With Lord Norill’s backing?”
“The thing is, Master Mourial is old, and he let me do most of the design, and well, Owen was the only one willing to try. I know what I’m doing!” she added quickly. “Imagine, Edrick, if the wielder could fight twice as long before the runesense leaves him? How that would change tournaments! Or battles? And we were there . . . nearly. I just needed to tweak it a little.”
Edrick smiled, and Rina caught her breath. His whole face changed. For a moment he was the man she’d known since girlhood, the one she’d worked alongside to reach their dreams—landless squire and girl from a merchant family together against peers from wealthy or noble backgrounds. A hundred fragmented memories swirled around her. He was going to be the greatest tournament knight of all time, and she would design his armor, and together they would rise above their humble origins. Their names would become legend. So many whispered hopes, so many stolen moments together. All burned to ash in a single summer afternoon when Edrick’s lance had found too soft a target.
And this day had been almost as bad. She remembered suddenly where she was, was aware of Edrick’s eyes on her. “Owen was badly injured today in practice. The rest of Norill’s men said it’s my armor. Norill cast me out.” Her eyes blurred with hot tears of shame. “But it’s not, I swear. Owen smoked haze. I caught him a week ago, and he swore he’d never touch it again if I didn’t tell. So I didn’t. But his eyes today were red, and his breath stank of tar.”
Edrick swore. “Idiot!” he said. “With that stuff in his lungs, he’d have gotten hurt with training splints, let alone whatever madness you’ve come up with this time.” But his tone was fond, and he reached out toward her cheek with one hand before catching himself and letting his hand drop.
The door behind them opened. A wall of sound, the crowd cheering, hit them, and Rina turned to see two of the pit men helping a limping, shirtless man off the field. “Last fight!” one of the men called. “It’s the new fellow, the one with the scars, up next. Boss said to have you standing near, Thumper.”
“I will,” Edrick said. He made to move past Rina, but she tugged his sleeve once more.
“I need you,” she said. “I’ve been turned off. Norill is going to blackball me. I’ll never find another post. Best I can hope is to sell splints and hope the duke’s inquisitors don’t catch me working magic without sponsorship. But if I can just show off my armor at the Crucible, it won’t matter what Lord Norill says. The duke himself would be my patron! Or anyone rich enough to have me.”
“I can’t,” Edrick said, pulling free.
“I need you,” she insisted. “By now the story’s all over town. No runewielder would have me, even assuming there’s one who isn’t already engaged this close to the Crucible.”
The pit men left the loser moaning on a bench and went out again. Edrick glanced after them, as though looking for escape. “I swore I wouldn’t set foot in the tournament ring again,” he said softly, but Rina thought she heard reluctance in his tone.
“You swore you’d make me the greatest runesmith in the world too,” Rina said, raising her chin and trying for a glare but fearing she fell short. Then her bravado crumpled. “Please, Edrick. I need you. If ever . . . if you once—”
Edrick enveloped her hand in his. “Rina, don’t.”
“I brought this,” she said. She held up the gauntlet. “Take it, Edrick. It’s useless without a runewielder. But look at it, feel it, wear it. You’ll see what I mean. I’ve found a whole new way to scribe the runes. Most of them are too stupid to see it, but you’re the most gifted runewielder I’ve ever known.”
Edrick stared down at it. “I can’t,” he said again, but his eyes were hungry as he followed the runes engraved in its surface.
The door banged open, and the old pit man ran in. Blood poured from a cut over his eye. Rina started. The crowd was screaming again, but in fear and dismay, not appreciation. “New man!” he shouted. “He’s something—don’t know what—battle magic! Took Goldilocks apart, and he’s ripping the place asunder!”
Edrick didn’t hesitate. He sprinted toward the door, shouting over his shoulder, “Rina! Get out of here!”
Her heart pounding, Rina followed. The pit man intercepted her, pulling her away from the door to the pit. “No, girl!” he said. “Not that way!”
“I have to see him,” Rina said, shaking free of his hands, still clutching her gauntlet.
* * *
Edrick burst through the door into the fighting pit, sizing the scene up as fast as he could. His boots kicked up a spray of sand as he hurtled past the pit men. Two were down, with the others standing over them holding staffs. Across the sand, a snarling fighter was trying to climb the wall, scrabbling for a handhold on the lip at the edge of the pit.
Goldilocks was down too. The man had been king of the pits for months, staining the sand with his opponents’ blood in half a dozen different pits across the city. But he lay ominously still, his arm twisted in an unnatural angle, long blond hair limp against the sand.
The crowd was in chaos. Men jostled and fought their way toward the narrow steps leading out of the spectator ring, pushing each other down. A couple of women, faces white under their scarlet paint, huddled near the railing where they’d been forced by the scrum. The upper crew would handle the patrons. Edrick’s job was the madman.
The new man was half a head shorter than him, and probably forty pounds less. He was wiry, with short dark hair and scars on his back, scrabbling at the wooden walls of the fighting pit. He wore the standard skimpy fighting wrap, too small and tight to hide even the most basic runed splint. But the way he was hanging by one hand off the wide ledge that overhung the pit, eight feet up, said he was more than a mere man. Which could be bad, very bad. Few battle magics could be safely used even by a trained man. Runed splints or mail from an expert mage. Methlan skinwards. The Aradori bear spirits, and one or two other magics Edrick had heard about, but none of those left a man howling in anger, blood rage leaving him blind to his surroundings.
The man looked down at him, still hanging from the ledge. Oh, hells. His eyes were wide and staring, yellow with long pupils like a cat’s, and small horns protruded from his head. Demon-touched. Edrick had feared as much. Some poor fool who’d gotten hold of a hedge witch or a cheap potion to make him invulnerable in the ring, and suddenly he had demon hooks in his soul. What made a man risk his life and sanity for an edge in a fight?
“Send for the duke’s inquisitors!” Edrick shouted over his shoulder to the pit men, knowing it would be long over before the inquisitors could arrive. They stayed out of the lower levels.
Rina’s heart-piercing cry jerked him around. She’d disobeyed him. Unfamiliar fear plucked at him. He started to shout at her, to tell her to get out where she would be safe.
She’d cast off her cloak, and her eyes shone. For one moment everything was just right. He was about to fight his heart out, and Rina was there to watch him. No—that was long ago, in another life.
Orran pulled at Rina, whose eyes were wide with fear. She held up the shining metal gauntlet. “Here!”
She tossed the gauntlet toward Edrick. He leaped for it, grabbing it from the air. One gauntlet wasn’t much, but it was better than facing a madman in the throes of possession completely unaided. Edrick thrust his right hand into the gauntlet. “Hey!” he shouted at the crazed man. “You want me, not them!”
The demon-tainted man smiled. His lips curled back, back, back, and long pointed teeth gleamed ice blue in his too-large mouth. His shoulder flexed—Edrick’s only warning—and he leaped.
Edrick darted back. He had a short truncheon at his belt, the only tool he usually needed to serve as bouncer for the fighting pit. The demon-tainted man was unarmed, but that didn’t make a fair fight.
He opened his runesense as the man circled him, feeling out the bracer Rina had given him. It had been two years since he’d used runes at all, eschewing even splints since he’d left the ring, but as he opened himself, it came rushing back like a flood. The runes on the bracer leaped up to surround him. He caught his breath under the torrent. How had Rina fit so many intricate runes into a single piece of armor? Strength, speed, stamina, they were all there, worked together in a pattern he’d never seen before. Almost too many. He needed to—
The demon-infested man threw himself at Edrick, his whirlwind rush catching Edrick off guard. His shoulder drove into Edrick’s stomach and pushed him back. Edrick slammed his gauntleted fist into the exposed neck, but the man didn’t flinch. Snarling, he bore Edrick back, into the wooden wall of the fighting pit. They crashed together against the boards, which flexed under Edrick’s back.
Edrick dropped to one knee. His enemy’s weight shifted off balance. Edrick threw him aside, then scrambled up. He hadn’t felt this alive in two years. His blood sang in his ears. Keeping his back against the wall, he caught his breath, watched his foe, and returned to his runesense.
The shimmering runes surrounded him again, too thick a forest for him to embrace them. Ordinarily he would have put on a whole suit of armor and, with help from one or more mages and a couple of squires, assimilated the magic into his consciousness, making it part of him. Using a single gauntlet, during a fight, with no instruction . . . he didn’t even have the breastplate, where the heartrune would be writ large, offering the key to tuning the whole symphony to himself.
Edrick shifted farther from the demon man, still writhing on the sand, as he struggled with his long-dormant runesense.
No, wait. The shapes swam more into focus. There was a heartrune there after all. Edrick turned the gauntlet over and looked down into the palm. The unmistakable lines of a heartrune shimmered in both sights. Graceful curves marked the metal of the gauntlet; shining golden magic traced a heartrune through the whole spiderweb of spells.
He couldn’t help grinning despite himself, even as his opponent shook himself and got to his feet. Rina had always been a genius with runesmithing. What was she up to?
But having a heartrune was only part of the puzzle. He had to tune it to himself, and that could take time. Edrick reached out with his runesense and absorbed the heartrune.
Like a sudden gust of wind, the runes rushed toward him. He blinked, and there was almost a popping sensation. His skin tingled. The hairs on his bare arms stood up. He blinked again as his senses sharpened. The roar of the crowd was in his ears like an ocean. Sweat and blood assaulted his nostrils, and underneath was the sweet-sick scent of demon. He didn’t need to tune this at all; it was perfect already.
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