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Copyright © Ian Irvine,


1. The Death of Magic


Black Crypt

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

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

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

‘Mel’s place.’

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

‘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.’



2. 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

‘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

‘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?’