Shades of Glory, Book 3 in The Hidden Magic Chronicles
By Justin Sloan and Michael Anderle
Rhona strode forward, always pressing on, refusing to be the one to slow down the group. What had been a small group consisting of her brother and their companions plus the survivors they had found on Sair Talem had now grown to nearly one hundred.
They had the clan folk who had made it back to the main group, along with Laird Summers and his warriors. Plus, more warriors and clansfolk were likely out there still and just hadn’t found the main group…at least she hoped so.
Donnon walked beside her and his daughter Kia kept close to them. He still had that wild look in his eyes that he got every time his daughter was in danger. It didn’t matter that the girl was probably more powerful than he was, at least as far as her magic was concerned. Rhona had never had a child of her own, so she knew she couldn’t fully understand. The best she could do was think back to a small kitten that had wandered into the castle once when she was in her early teens. She had insisted it was hers, thought of it like another member of her family since her brother was always too busy training.
The day had come when Sir Gildon found out and made her give up the kitten.
“Let me keep her until she’s grown, at least,” she had pleaded, but to no avail.
Now that she thought about it, it was a wonder she hadn’t seen him as evil back then. Who makes a little girl give up a kitten or dumps a kitten out into the world, anyway?
She gave Kia a smile, thinking how she was going to search all of Roneland when this was over to find Kia a kitten.
Kia saw her staring and gave her a weird look, then started wiping at her mouth.
“You don’t have anything on your face,” Rhona said. “I was just, you know, lost in thought.”
“I kinda wish I just had something on my face.” Mia shrugged. “You’re wonderful, but it’s creepy when you stare at me like that.”
Rhona laughed. “Sorry. I’ll keep that in mind for next time, maybe make some weird faces at you to creep you out even more.”
Kia rolled her eyes but grinned. “Shut up.”
“I’m glad you two can smile at a time like this,” Donnon interrupted, clearly trying to smile but doing a horrible job of it. “Whatever it takes to keep you sane.”
“We’re alive, aren’t we?” Rhona gestured to the others marching around them. “More of us than we could’ve hoped, I’d say.”
While he didn’t argue, Donnon gave her a skeptical glance.
“We’ll be back for them,” Rhona said. “You can be damn sure of that.”
“That’s why I like you,” Kia said. “You’re always ready to kick some arses, even if you are a bit creepy.”
Rhona laughed again and ruffled her hair, which made even Donnon smile.
Soon they had gone far enough, and Laird Summers called for a rest. The various groups gathered to make camp, Lars and his group sticking together close to Alastar and his.
“Uncle,” Estair called as she approached Laird Summers, after the others had finished settling down. “You being senior among us, I trust you have a plan?”
“Aside from doing everything in my power to take back my manor and exact revenge on those sons of bitches?”
“Aye, that part’s a given.”
Laird Summers stared into the sky at a shooting star and sighed. “You’ve heard about the fall of the Fortress of Stirling, I take it?”
She nodded. “I have.”
“Perhaps with all this, they’ve regrouped. Maybe left a small contingent behind. If we could retake the fortress, we’d have a good chance of holding them off if they came that way again.”
“It fell once before,” Rhona interjected. “What would be different this time?”
Laird Summers gestured to the people around them. “Their old defense was mostly wind mages, which was all find and dandy, but we have wind, fire, and water mages. We’re talking my warriors and other clansmen and women as well. It would be a force to be reckoned with, if we had walls between us and their spells.”
Rhona nodded, not knowing enough about it to really have an opinion, and looked at Estair.
“It would be a rallying point,” Estair said thoughtfully. “If we can take it, others may flock to our side to join in the defense.”
“It’s settled then.” Laird Summers stood tall with his arms folded. He watched one of his men get a fire started with a spark of flint and a wave of his hands for magic.
Rhona glanced at Kia, who she could tell was squirming at the idea of not letting on that she could do magic without the element present.
Just like the sorcerers, Rhona realized.
A thought hit her, so she went over to the girl and knelt, asking in a whisper, “Your mother, could she do magic?”
Kia’s eyes went wide, then shifted to her father. She hesitated, and that was all the answer Rhona needed.
“Please, I have to know… Where was she from?”
Kia blinked in confusion, but leaned forward and whispered, “North… far north.”
“Is it possible?” Rhona turned, running her hands through her hair, then spun back, feeling the excitement about to burst forth. “Those sorcerers. They were just a clan. A clan that learned how to explore magic beyond the limitations the rest of Roneland assumed.”
Kia’s eyes flickered over Rhona’s shoulder and Donnon stepped into view.
“She didn’t speak much of her life before us,” he said. “Only that she had fled her past and was never going back.”
“These were her people,” Rhona stated, sure of it. “Clans north of the Great River, clans of people who have been perfecting their magic just for this purpose. For their invasion of, well, everywhere.”
Donnon scratched his head, a skeptical look in his eyes. “Sure, fine. But how does that help us?”
Rhona shook her head, unsure how to answer that. “Maybe it doesn’t, but it’s interesting. It means there might be something we can learn up there. If we were to find their origin… I don’t know. Maybe you’re right, it’s stupid.”
“He didn’t say that,” Kia interjected.
Donnon nodded. “All I’m saying is that it’s a bit of a risk to go off, if it means diverting any of our forces from the main fight.”
“Is it a fight we can even win?” she asked. “I mean, we were just pushed back, right? I’d love to go in with my shadow magic and say I could end it all by myself, but I’m not sure that’s realistic. We don’t even know what they’re capable of, especially that goddess lady. We need more.”
“More forces,” Donnon said.
She shrugged. “Maybe, though numbers aren’t always the deciding factor. Leverage is. Power is. And as the old saying goes…”
“Knowledge is power,” Kia finished for her. “I’m with Rhona, actually.”
“Well, then it’s settled.” Donnon laughed, giving them a look that made it clear he wasn’t taking this seriously. “Sorry, but the two of you want to go north in search of…what? Information? Not going to happen.”
Rhona frowned. She didn’t like how he was stating what would or wouldn’t happen, but had to admit that he had a point. Maybe they could get horses from Leila so the journey wouldn’t be as hopeless. But even then, where would they start?
“Let’s all get some rest and think it over,” Donnon muttered, gesturing to the forest floor nearby where he had set up their bedding.
Rhona agreed, but found herself unable to sleep. She laid there listening to the fire crackle not far away. While some had argued that having a fire would draw attention, maybe lead the sorcerers right to them, the fire mages in the group held that having a fire at the ready would give them a strong defense. They had won the argument on that point.
Plus, they figured they had covered enough ground that being followed wasn’t a huge concern. Most felt that the enemy army had pulled back to regroup, and was likely going to focus more on overthrowing cities on their way south versus pursuing this ragtag bunch.
No matter what happened in the days to follow, Rhona wanted to be better prepared the next time around. She had been giving some thought to the idea of her magic and how using it had drained her, to the point that when she had used it again to a lesser degree, it had drained her even more.
Maybe it was like a muscle that hadn’t had time to recover? If one were to train with a sword not knowing what they were doing, injury could follow. Likewise with this magic—she was throwing it around like a heavy sword, possibly opening herself up to injured muscles, as the metaphor went.
She needed to train, to figure out how to properly wield the magic. And since no one she knew had the slightest comprehension of how her magic worked, she would have to figure it out for herself.
Nobody around her moved as she pushed herself up and tiptoed to the edge of the tree line, away from the group. It was night, but that didn’t bother her. Some people might have been worried about the darkness, but it was her friend. The more darkness around her there was, the more she had to pull on and the more directions her attacks could come from.
The night air carried with it the scent of burning wood from the fire mages’ flames, along with heaviness from a fog that had crept down from the hills to the east. She imagined this meant they weren’t far from the coast now, though the two didn’t always go hand-in-hand.
Ahead she spotted an area that at first glance seemed closed off, but as she approached, it turned out to be a secluded clearing.
This spot was far enough away from her group that the others wouldn’t likely see or hear her, so she stepped into the clearing, ready to see what she was capable of.
She closed her eyes, focusing on the darkness around her and the darkness within, and pushing out all distractions.
A tree rustled and Rhona spun, hands up and ready to cast magic. She imagined a remnant leaping out at her, or maybe Taland with his groping hands and lustful eyes.
Instead, she was quite relieved to see Donnon stumble toward her, hands held out to show he was unarmed—as if that was necessary.
“I was about to…well, I don’t know, but it would’ve hurt you,” Rhona said. “Maybe I’d have had the trees’ shadows suck you up so that you’d be stuck in the ground.”
“You can do that?” He approached, taking her hands in his and moving in to kiss her on the forehead.
She leaned into him, glad for the comfort. With everything going on they hadn’t had the chance to catch up, much less be intimate. For now, a quick hug and a kiss would have to do.
“I honestly don’t know,” she finally replied. “What I’m capable of, I mean. That’s…kind of why I’m out here away from everyone.”
“You should be resting.” He pulled back, frowning. “Not…what? Practicing?”
She nodded. “The things I’ve done, it’s like… Are there no bounds? The shadow seems to have its own free will, though, part of me feels like it’s doing what I subconsciously want it to do.”
“So you’re thinking there’s a way to control it.”
“Or at least guide it,” she replied with a shrug.
“Aye, actually, that makes sense.” He glanced around, then pointed to a rock the size of a fist that was leaning against a tree root. “There—maybe start small. Can you move the rock?”
“I carried your daughter and myself a pretty damn far. I don’t think a rock will be a problem.”
“But like you said, that was your subconscious taking over.”
She rolled her eyes, hating being reminded of her own words. Although, starting small probably wasn’t the worst idea.
With a deep breath she lifted her hands, not sure what to do at this point, and stared at the rock.
Donnon bit his lip, glanced her way, then back to the rock. “Here, let me help.” He moved to her and took her hands, then maneuvered them for her in a circular pattern. “None of us are really sure why the hand motions help, and it’s not like we’re really drawing a specific pattern. It’s about helping you visualize the spell, I think. So if you want to open a door to the realm of magic or whatever it is, start with a circle. If you want to push with that magic, push. If you want to lift, lift. If you want to—”
“I get it,” she interrupted, and then did the circle on her own and lifted with both hands.
“Ahhh!” she shouted, louder than she had meant to considering that she didn’t want the others to know she was doing this, especially Alastar. In that moment of frustration, she pushed the rock, and was both aware that her eyes had turned black and that the rock had rolled a few times.
“Interesting,” Donnon muttered, rubbing his chin. “How often would you say you’ve been…what’s the word…emotional? When casting a spell, I mean.”
“Does freaked the hell out count for being emotional?”
He laughed. “Let’s say it does.”
She thought back, trying to remember. “As far as I can recall, every time.”
He nodded. “So far your magic has been attached to your emotions, then. But that might just be another facet of your subconscious, something we could change if you are able to control it better, harness it.”
“Like focus on what I’m feeling when I’m emotional, frustrated, scared, whatever, and then ‘abra-ca-zoom’?”
“Skip the catch phrase, but…” He nodded.
“Right, that was just as an example.”
He smiled the way she loved for him to when he looked at her, then gestured to the rock.
This time she did as they had discussed, focusing on the feelings of being scared and frustrated. At first it didn’t happen, but then she put all her focus on a memory—one she hadn’t even realized she had until just then: a woman and a man arguing, shouting, and then light and dark exploding around them, encircling them, and then…it was gone, their bodies dropping to the ground as little Rhona watched.
With a wave of her hands, the shadow around the rock surged onto it like water through a floodgate, and suddenly the rock exploded. Fragments lodged in the tree, and one would have hit Donnon if he hadn’t been so quick to dodge.
She stared, confused, and then fell to her knees.
“What…was that?” he asked.
“I think I just saw my parents’ death.” She wrapped her arms around herself, rocking. “Or I remembered seeing it. I was there and…there was magic. I think magicians killed my parents.”
“Rhona…” He came over to her and wrapped an arm around her. “I’m so sorry.”
She stared at the exploded rock. “Part of me wants to scream at everything, to say I won’t touch magic after what it did to them.”
“And the other part of you?”
“That part is winning, and it says I have to master this so I don’t die the way they did. So I can impart justice if the opportunity presents itself.”
“Light and dark…”
The two made eye contact, both thinking it. “Even back then, the light…the paladins.”
“They took you two in, not out of the kindness of their hearts but because they had something to do with your parents’ death.”
Rhona nodded, agreeing. It made her brain hurt, but it made sense in a twisted way.
This time she turned to the tree and remembered all the emotions she had just experienced, along with the feeling that had gone through her when she had used the shadows to claw the remnant. With a surge of emotions, she reached out and pulled one hand through the air, as if ripping it to shreds with her fingernails. The effect was shocking as the shadows followed her command. As her hand passed the point of the tree she could see the shadows moving, followed by splintering wood.
She cringed with her eyes closed as chunks of wood flew. When she looked again, there were four wide gouge marks in the tree. It was as if a mighty bear had come through and torn into the tree, only this would have had to be the largest bear ever to live.
Without hesitating she did the same again, but this time she lifted her hand and plunged it down.
The shadows surged from the sky, hitting the ground ten feet in front of her so that earth flew out of what became a hole.
She looked at Donnon. He was staring at her in a mixture of shock and awe.
“How…how are you feeling?” he finally asked.
She tilted her head, then moved it in the other direction and saw the surrounding trees blur slightly.
He blinked, then smiled. “You feel drunk?”
“Aye. Like, I could go on, but…I might stumble and fall over if I kept on for too long.”
“Let’s take a break then.” He motioned to the edge of the clearing where several large stones could serve as seats, but she shook her head.
“Just…a couple more.”
She looked at him, considering the question, then nodded. Without waiting to see what he would say, she turned, moved her hands in a circle, and then pushed out. The shadow moved like a wall that slammed into the tree, causing it to groan as if it were about to fall over.
A deep breath and she spun again, this time focusing on the other side of the clearing, and then she was there, pulled along by the shadows as if she were one of them. The movement left her staggering, then she collapsed to her knees.
Donnon was there a moment later, holding her by the shoulder with his other arm wrapped around her.
“That’s enough for one day.” He helped her to stand.
For a moment she considered arguing, but instead she just laughed. “I did it! Did you see that?”
He beamed. “It was…amazing.”
As Rhona’s head spun she leaned into him, closed her eyes, and said, “Let’s get me back to…rest. For now. But I can’t wait to get at this again tomorrow.”
FROM JUSTIN >>> Holy cow, have you seen all the amazing Age of Magic and KGU books coming out lately? It’s an honor to be among such a great crowd! And yes, bringing you the third book in my series makes my heart warm. As you might have noticed, I gave some time between book 2 and 3. This was for various reasons, including that my books tie into PT Hylton’s to a degree, so we’re releasing them as they should be read, pretty much. You don’t have to read either series to know what’s going on / follow the stories, but it makes for a richer experience (more so in this book and his fourth). I also have some easter eggs hidden in my Reclaiming Honor book 7 that tie into his books, and you’ll see something she up in his 4th in that regard.
Is anyone reading this who has NO IDEA what I’m talking about? This is the third book in my Hidden Magic Chronicles, which ties into a larger Age of Magic series (which also… loosely for now, ties into the Kurtherian Gambit Universe). I know – intense, right? It really is, and the readers seem to love that fact. There is so much to this world, and you get all these different angles. Imagine – you hear about some other race/ culture / time period, and oh, you can go read an entire series based on that. Crazy! And a lot of fun for us writers, let me tell you.