Copyright © Ian Irvine 2008
- The Death of Magic
The town had its magical red stone back and, because they’d nearly lost it for good, the townsfolk were using magic all the time – even Tamly’s stern great-uncle, Rafe. Every lunchtime this week he had gone flying around his broom workshop, pretending to dust the rafters but, when he thought no one could see him, whooping like a ten-year-old boy.
Tamly watched Rafe whizzing above his head. ‘Everyone can use magic except me!’ he muttered as he swept up with his boring, non-magical broom. He spent hours sweeping every day, and half the night trying to learn magic, but it never worked for him.
His brilliant friend, Kym, knew a hundred spells, but she couldn’t teach him a thing. Neither could Mel, the blacksmith’s son, who was learning metal-magic. Tamly was so frustrated that he got a sick, dizzy feeling whenever he thought about magic, and the pressure built up until he was afraid his head would explode.
Tamly’s Birth Foretelling had said that he would be a great danger to magic, so the town council had ordered his talent be taken from him. Instead, his parents had worked a Charm of Forgetfulness over baby Tamly so he’d never know he had a talent, but the charm had backfired and killed them. His one tiny gift was that he could sense when strong magic was being done nearby.
He swept so furiously that he couldn’t see his flying great-uncle for dust, then suddenly Tamly’s skin prickled and the hair stood up on his head – someone was doing magic! A yelp echoed down, a shadow flashed past him and Rafe crashed to the floor, groaning and holding his wrist. The town’s magic had gone dead, just like that.
‘It was working perfectly this morning,’ said Kym’s father, Van, the Town Conjuror, that afternoon. ‘Then I tried to cast a Cloaking Spell so the tax man would bypass Meadowhythe, and pfft! Our magic was gone.’
Van and Rafe were sitting in a quiet corner of the broom workshop, drinking tea. Tamly was sweeping quietly so he could hear what they were saying.
‘The tax man cost me a fortune,’ Rafe snapped. ‘You might have given us some warning.’
‘I didn’t get any – the red stone just burst apart, and it can’t be mended. We’ll have to find another source of magic. What happened to your arm, anyway?’
Rafe rubbed the bandage on his sprained wrist. ‘Slipped,’ he muttered. Looking up at Tamly, he scowled as if to say, ‘Don’t mention my flying or I’ll tan your hide.’
Tamly smiled to himself; he knew Rafe didn’t mean it. As he swept the other way, near the front door he saw the small figure of Kym outside, waving. He slipped out into the misty rain. Her dark hair, cut as short as a pixie’s, was netted with raindrops like little diamonds.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Tamly.
‘Come on. This is big!’
‘If I sneak away without finishing the sweeping I’ll be in trouble.’
‘There’s always sweeping to do.’ Kym put her hand on her hip and stared him down.
Tamly buckled. ‘Oh, all right. Where are we going?’
They splashed down the muddy path beside the broom workshop, around the back then along a track through the wet grass towards the river and the blacksmith’s shop, where their friend Mel worked with his father.
White smoke puffed from the brick chimneys of the smithy and the pile of ash around the side was steaming in the rain. Mel, a big, quiet boy, was inside, stripped to the waist as he worked the huge bellows. His face was covered in soot with sweat streaks down it.
‘Mel!’ Kym yelled, over the whoomph-whoomph of the bellows blasting air into the forge.
He looked over his shoulder and smiled. ‘Can’t stop. Father has lost his smith’s magic, so there’s ten times as much work to be done.’
‘I can imagine.’ Kym looked around the black, filthy workshop and wrinkled her nose. She seemed quite out of place in it, being so neat and pretty.
‘I’m glad you’re here,’ said Mel. ‘I’ve got news.’
‘About the red stone bursting,’ said Tamly. ‘We heard.’
Mel shook his head. ‘No, not that. Worse!’
‘Do you think it’s Harshax and Krushax, up to their old tricks?’ said Tamly.
‘It’s bound to be,’ said Kym. ‘They won’t give up until they raise the Sorcerer’s Tower again. They want Shardax’s black magic too much.’
Shardax, a sorcerer who had lain waste to the land for a century, had died four hundred years ago. His terrible magic had died with him but the magician Lords Harshax and Krushax, who were descended from Shardax, were determined to get it back.
‘Only the adults have lost their magic,’ Kym said. ‘We’ve still got ours.’ She gave Tamly one of her famous, reckless looks.
A chill settled over him, like putting on a wet overcoat. ‘What are you saying?’
Kym blew into her cupped hands, then held them out, palms upwards. A little bubble of light sat there, swelling until it became the size of a football. She blew gently on it and it drifted up to the ceiling, shimmering with the rainbows of light that only Kym could make. It hung there, lighting up the gloomy workshop as brightly as daylight.
‘Since we’re the only ones in Meadowhythe who have any magic, we’ve got to fight the magician brothers again.’
- More Bad News
Mel began to work the bellows so hard he went red in the face. Air hissed into the forge; the coals brightened; sparks whirled up the blackened iron hood into the brick chimney.
‘Mel?’ said Tamly. ‘When we were talking about the stone going dead, you said, you had worse news. What was it?’
‘Oh, yes.’ Mel stopped pumping and wiped his sweaty face, smearing soot across his nose. ‘We need coal for the forge, lots of it, but the mine tunnel collapsed and we can’t get any more out.’
Mel was a slow, roundabout kid who took a while to get to the point. He pumped furiously, then added, ‘Father and I were down in The Ghastly Gorges looking for another coal seam yesterday –’
‘The Ghastly Gorges!’ Kym shuddered. ‘What were you doing down there?’
‘That’s where the coal is. But we had to go further this time –’
‘Did you find any?’ said Tamly.
‘I’ll tell you if you’ll stop interrupting! We found a good seam but, on the way back, we came around a bend in the creek and a stream of red water was flowing in. Fish were leaping out of the water and walking on their fins across dry land, to get away.’
‘Fish walking on their fins!’ cried Kym, her eyes wide. ‘That’s a very bad omen. Where was the red water coming from?
‘There was a hole in the rock –’
‘A cave?’ said Tamly. He wasn’t overly fond of caves, especially after their adventure in Horace the giant’s cave last winter.
‘No, a mine tunnel. It was really old, and everything was covered in black moss.’
‘Black moss?’ That was even more ominous, for black moss only grew where dead sorcerers had been buried.
‘Did you go in?’
‘No way!’ said Mel, pumping again. ‘Even Father looked scared. Thick red water was running down into the creek, though it had been perfectly clear when he went by a week ago.’
‘That’s horrible,’ said Kym, ‘though I don’t see why it’s important news.’
‘I haven’t finished yet. My father reckons the tunnel leads to the underground nec-necropolis – that’s like a cemetery –’
‘I know,’ Kym shuddered and her eyes went wide. ‘A city of the dead.’
‘Anyway, it goes to the place where Shardax the sorcerer buried his enemies, back in the dark days. And he had thousands of enemies.’
‘I’ll bet Harshax and Krushax are involved,’ said Kym.
‘Why?’ Tamly didn’t even want to think about a city of the dead.
‘Fish walking on their fins on dry land, red water suddenly appearing out of unused mines, black moss … doesn’t that sound like evil at work?’
‘And,’ Mel added, ‘as we climbed up the hill out of The Ghastly Gorges, a flock of birds flew over, then half of them fell dead out of the sky.’
Kym pulled her coat tightly about her shoulders and moved closer to the heat of the forge. ‘The sorcerers must have found a way to draw the power from our red stone into theirs – that’s why ours broke. Now they’re going ahead with their plan to rebuild the Tower of Sorcery.’
‘But the tower wasn’t near the Ghastly Gorges,’ said Mel. ‘It was miles away.’
‘They must need something from the necropolis.’
‘Maybe,’ Tamly said dubiously. ‘But it’s not our problem.’
‘We’ve got to stop them from getting it,’ said Kym.
‘No, Kym! This time we have to tell the grown-ups. Mel, you’re always sensible.’ Tamly avoided looking at Kym as he said it. ‘Tell her.’
‘I – I think Tam’s right, Kym.’
‘We’re the only ones who still have magic,’ said Kym, breathing heavily. ‘We don’t have any choice.’
‘Kym,’ Tamly reminded her, ‘you’re terrified of dead things. How can you possibly go into a necropolis?
She forced herself to breathe normally. ‘I’ll have to get over it, won’t I?’