Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thursday's Teaser - End Of Times by Windstar and Zee

End Of Times is a new fantasy story written by Windstar and Zee - 190 pages. Here is an excerpt. The entire story can be found at The Story Lounge or follow us on Twitter

End Of Times Part 1

Jennie Warren was haggling with a grain merchant when her world started to fall apart.

It wasn’t something she realized at the time of course, but looking back she would come to realize that it was the start of the end.

The market was busy that day. It was the first full day of spring, the ground still wet from the nighttime rains and the sun bright in the early morning air. It even felt like spring, and even though she was haggling with a thick-headed mule of a man over the grain he was trying to gouge her over, she was in a good mood.

Behind her a gaggle of children raced through the market, yelling and screaming as they chased one another, causing chaos as they went. The worst they got in return were amused smiles from the adults doing their weekly shopping among the tents and wagons.

“Four copper a bag is highway robbery,” Jennie said, folding her arms over her chest and glaring up at the man.

He glared right back, the frown he wore making his receding hairline look all the worse. “Prices have gone up! Four copper is barely covering what I paid to get them here.”

“Jacobi, you and I both know you barely paid a copper for those!”

“Three copper, but that’s the best you’ll get.”

Highway robbery! Jennie shook her head, gave him three copper pieces with the king’s face stamped on them and took her bag of wheat. Her mother would have been horrified to see her spend so much on a single bag. Jennie knew the next patron would be getting a better deal, two copper at most, maybe a copper and a half if Jacobi was feeling generous.

She couldn’t really blame him though, Jennie thought as she hefted the bag and started towards her next destination. He knew who she was. More importantly he knew who she was apprenticed to and that she could afford four coppers, could afford much more than that if it came down to it. If he hadn’t known her, one look at the tattoos that wound their way across her arms and part of her face would have been enough to clue him in.

There was no mistaking the tattoos of the Magi after all. No one had designs with such precise lines, at such convoluted angles upon them other then the Magi. Jennie wore hers proudly. It had taken a lot of work and study to get them after all. Black ink formed the base of all of the designs, but there was blue and vivid red, with occasional white and yellow mixed in as well. So far her tattoos only covered her arms and her right cheek.

The grand Magi had tattoos over their entire bodies.

Jennie had even heard once, that some of the most powerful Magi tattooed the inside of their eyelids.

She didn’t really begrudge Jacobi his coppers though. For all his scheming ways the grain merchant had cause to try to recover as much money from her as he could. Jennie’s master had just charged ten times that amount from Jacobi for a warding spell to keep insects and rodents from his wares. She’d seen it dangling from the man’s tent pole, a small ivory plaque with thin lines carved upon its surface.

Each line had a purpose, a special meaning and designation to focus and control the magic that it summoned. Her master did good work and Jacobi would have no mice or weevils in his grain this year.

“Jennie!” A man’s voice called and she turned from the vegetables she’d been examining. As much as her master loved his porridge she thought she could get him to eat something else once in a while. “Jennie, good, glad I caught up to you.” The man yelled, nearly tripping over his own feet in his rush to get to her. Jennie hid a sigh, turning back to her shopping.

“What is it Levi?”

He straightened up his vest, flattened down his hair, which immediately sprung back up, and dug around in a pocket.

The stall owner, old Margaret, gave Jennie a look and took her offered copper in exchange for a small container of wild picked berries. Before Levi had realized it, Jennie was moving off to the next stall.

“Wait!” Levi called, frantic as he dashed in front of her, offering her a gold ring.

Jennie sighed, rolled her eyes, and set down the bag of wheat. “Not now Levi, I have to get back to the tower.”

“But I’m going to propose to you!” he cried, his voice cracking halfway through. Jennie put a hand to her head, groaning.

“Jennie Warrne, we’re fated to be husband and wife, so won’t you marry me? I know you’re still an apprentice to old Meriweather, and you said you can’t marry while you’re an apprentice, I know that, but you could wear my ring.”

He spoke with intent and in earnest, even getting down onto one knee.

“Levi,” Jennie hissed, hearing the chuckles of the other market goers as the townsfolk moved around them. No one so much as paused at the proposal. “I told you last week, I’m not marrying you until I’m a full healer, and that goes for wearing your ring too.”

“But you’re promised to me!”

Jennie moved around him, picking up her wheat and walking. “I have to get back to the tower.” The rest of the shopping could wait until tomorrow’s market. “Bye Levi!”

She didn’t even feel bad leaving him kneeling there, one hand outstretched with the gold ring between his fingers. The first time he had done it she’d felt humiliated and embarrassed by the entire thing. Jennie knew she wasn’t a good catch, not with the tattoos or her height, or her black hair. No one else in the village had such dark hair, and only a few of the men were as tall.

An older woman with long dark hair and a sword at her side called, “Hi Jennie! How many times does that make?”

“An even two dozen, Ella.” Jennie sighed, walking faster towards the edge of the market.

“He’s persistent!” Ella laughed and Jennie just waved her free hand, careful not to curse out loud.

The apprentice excuse had held Levi at bay for three years now, ever since she’d started her apprenticeship. She didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to keep that one up, especially since he was right, she was promised to him. If it hadn’t been for old Meriweather she would have already been married and bearing him children by now. Thank the Gods she’d shown some magical talent and old Meriweather hadn’t had an apprentice in longer than Jennie had been alive.

Meriweather had been desperate for someone to clean and do laundry, and she’d just been desperate.

Levi had sworn he’d wait for her.

All of which wouldn’t have been a problem if she’d shown enough talent to become a Magi herself, but compared to even her mostly senile master Jennie’s abilities were limited. She had a knack for healing and some rudimentary illusions. Everything else ended in a complete disaster. Which explained why she was still nothing more than an apprentice, not even one close to being a journeyman, which would have been expected from a woman almost ready to turn her second decade.

Jennie knew there’d already been talk about her becoming an old spinster in town, a fact she did her level-best to forget.

The sight of Meriweather’s keep, known around town as simply the Tower, always helped. She smiled at Seth the sheep herder as she passed him and his flock at the edge of town and caught her first sight of the Tower. For as long as anyone in the town could remember the Tower floated in the sky over pastures to the south of the windmill.

Jennie could remember staring up at it in awe as a child, amazed that an entire tower could float in mid air like that. Hanging as if from some invisible rope. It had been a popular game with her friends to see who would dare run under its shadow, yelling in fear as they went.

Those days were long gone, she lived in the tower now. For someone without the right magic it was a pain in the neck to get up and down from. And Jennie didn’t have the right magic, which meant a long climb up a swaying rope ladder and then even more effort to haul up the weekly purchases.

The entire thing, in Jennie’s mind, was annoying.

At least the flowers were blooming and she found her good mood returning as she walked through the seldom-used pasture. The grass was thick and green, well-watered from the nightly rains, and the spring sun was warm on her face.

It was the flowers that saved her.

Jennie paused halfway to the tower, leaning down to smell a set of delicate looking buttercups, loving how beautiful they looked. It was only because she paused there that she wasn’t in the shadow of the Tower when things changed.

At first she thought she’d been stung by a bee. The sharp pain on the back of her right hand blazed stronger than any bee sting though, and Jennie yelped, pushing up her long sleeves to look. There was no bee, no obvious sting. But as Jennie watched, her eyes widening in disbelief, part of the tattoo on that hand, the part that helped her control the cooling of a fever, twisted in on itself, the ink ripping away from her skin.

Mouth open in complete astonishment she watched the small drops of black ink hang in the air in front of her before vanishing like smoke.

Her hand ached as if she’d bashed it in a door and she lifted it to stare at the blank spot where part of her tattoo had just been.

“Impossible,” she said, not realizing she was talking. “That’s not…”

The groan of stone grinding against stone brought her attention upwards, towards Meriweather’s tower.

Her already wide hazel eyes widened even further as she realized the tower, that had been there for generations, was moving. At first she thought Meriweather had finally decided he wanted a different view, something he’d often joked about.

Only when the top of the tower tilted towards her, stone’s falling free from the walls, did Jennie realize it wasn’t just moving, it was falling.

Falling towards her!

Hiking up the loose skirt she was wearing, Jennie turned and ran, sprinting as fast as she could through the pasture. The shadow of the tower blotted out the sun, growing darker and darker around her as she ran. Small rocks and dirt rained down on her.

With one last desperate lunge she threw herself forward and the tower slammed into the ground behind her. It hit with such force that she’d later find out it shattered windows in almost every building in town and people as far away as Bedford felt the earth shudder beneath there feet.

Coughing on the cloud of dust that rose up around her, Jennie scrambled to her feet. The tower lay in ruin right before her. Two of the massive stones from the wall lay within reaching distance of where she’d fallen and she swallowed, realizing how close she had just come to death.

“Meriweather!” Jennie yelled his name. Coughing she scrambled through the haphazard jumble of stone and wood. Here and there she recognized things from inside the tower.

The shattered kitchen table.

A crushed set of bookshelves.

The keg of water from the kitchen, broken and empty.

Near what had been the base of the tower she found her Master. Meriweather had always been a large man, he hadn’t changed since she’d been a child. A large potbelly and prone to loud laughter whenever something struck him as funny. Only in the last few years had his memory started to fade and he’d begun forgetting things like where he’d put his spectacles.

Still, he’d been as close to a father as she’d ever had and Jennie wept as she spotted the old man, as broken as the furniture and walls among which he lay.

Amazingly he was still alive when she reached him, breathing shallow and fast, eyes wide and staring up at the bright blue sky above them.

“Jennie?” He rasped her name and she nodded, crying too hard to answer as she clutched the one hand she could find. The other was beneath a stone that weighed as much as three horses.

“Jennie, the magic failed.” His voice was so quiet she had to press her ear to his lips to hear him. “The magic…”

Then he wasn’t breathing anymore. She cried over his body.

Only when the villagers came to get her, pulling her away from her dead master did she realize something else had changed. Old Meriweather’s skin was completely unmarked, not a single tattoo remained upon it.


To read the entire story go to the Story Lounge

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