Coming this August, here is the first chapter of my latest book, Anya and the Power Crystal. Enjoy! (Please note that this platform does not allow the true formatting to display-my apologies.)
CHAPTER ONE: THE SKINWALKER
Azizi walked more quickly than he would have liked down the stone path to his brother’s house. He had no idea how he was going to handle this. The thought of telling the other Royal Wizards had crossed his mind, but he couldn’t bear the thought of that. No, if he wanted to keep his brother alive, his only option was to talk to him alone.
He didn’t want to; no one does. Conversations don’t get much more awkward than this one was going to become. As the door came into view, Azizi’s paced slowed. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he had completely misread his brother’s writing. Wishful thinking, he told himself. He knew he wasn’t wrong. Caezari had always been power hungry. When their classmates refused to pledge him their allegiance, he carried out his revenge over several torturous months. This spanned from casting the contemptuous spell on the star pupil to dusting Jack-in-the-Pulpit over one poor boy’s lunch. (His mouth had become so swollen he couldn’t eat for a week.) But this! Had his hunger for power become so severe as this?
Casting his doubts aside, Azizi forced himself to accept the truth. He took in a deep breath, his hand reaching for the knocker.
The muffled sound of a few footsteps produced a disheveled man. He was nearly the same size as Azizi, but fairer, blonde, and with a round face. “Azizi! What are you doing here?” the man asked.
“I’ve come to stop you, Caezari.”
“Stop me from what?” Caezari asked with perfect innocence.
“From trying to overthrow Queen Doshishi.” Azizi tried to keep his voice low. The last thing he wanted was to involve the neighbors.
Caezari’s panicked face quickly scanned for bystanders before opening the door wider for his brother and letting him in. He then barred the door behind them and asked in a whisper, “What are you talking about?”
“Your journals, Caezari. I read them.”
“You read my journals?!” No longer trying to stay quiet, the younger brother’s eyes flared with indignation.
“Yes, Caezari. I read them.”
Caezari turned away, his face a display of complete bewilderment. “Wow! I-I can’t believe this.” He walked across the room and braced himself on a wooden desk. “My own brother! Reading my diary.”
“It wasn’t by choice, Caezari. Daniel saw them.”
“Daniel. The seer.”
“So, you’re here because of some vision.”
“Not entirely,” said Azizi. “I asked him not to tell the others until I had a chance to confirm it.”
“To confirm what?”
Azizi dropped his guard a little. He held his hands behind his back and paced, stopping at the wall opposite his brother. He planned his words carefully. “He saw me bending over your diary, reading it. But he also saw what it said. And he told me. So, last night, when you asked me to bring you a poultice for your foot, I took it.”
Caezari’s right hand formed a fist. The fingers of his left hand brushed against the wand lying on his desk. His face became timid, frightened.
“I read your plans, Caezari. Though how you intend to become immortal is beyond my understanding.”
The younger brother’s fingers wound around their prize, slowly, and ever so silently.
Azizi continued, “I knew you wanted power, dear brother, but immortality? No man has ever achieved this. Yet your entries sound as if you have found a way! How on earth do you plan to do it?”
Caezari’s hand firmly grasped his wand. His face gradually began to show its true feelings.
“And even if you could,” said Azizi, “why would you want to? Why would you want to overthrow the Queen, disrupt the entire queendom, and force everyone to bow down to you? I just don’t understand why anyone would desire this.”
Caezari smiled at him, but it wasn’t a typical villain’s smile. It was a pure smile, one of actual amusement. Azizi stepped back in alarm.
“Because, dear brother,” Caezari said menacingly, “I like to be in charge.”
Azizi reached his hand behind him, secretly retrieving his own wand. His arm brushed against his brother’s journal that he had hidden under his own robe. “But they will all hate you,” he said. “Is that really what you want?”
Caezari’s smile turned to a look of lust. A lust for blood. Shock could not begin to describe Azizi’s feelings as he was forced to defend himself from his own brother. Azizi conjured a shield just as Caezari’s wand shot out a flaming red bolt. It ricocheted off of his protective spell and set the thatch roof alight.
“What are you doing!?” Azizi maintained his shield; his dark eyes widened with terror.
Caezari bore down on him with slow progression. “But you’ve read my journals, dear brother. You should know what I’m doing!” His face contorted with rage as he drew back his wand. An onslaught of green, white, and yellow bolts shot forth.
Azizi held his magical shield with great skill. “I am not the Queen!” The bouncing spells broke dishes and exploded furniture, causing a cascade of dangerous debris. Some of the wreckage landed on him, drawing blood on his head and neck. “Are you insane!? I’m your brother!”
Caezari’s eyes turned black and grew in size. Azizi crouched behind his wand’s shield, truly aghast. This could not be real. But it was real. And deadly. Caezari advanced on him in a towering state of fury. “And that is why I must kill you.”
“You are insane!” screamed Azizi.
A smile spread across Caezari’s crazed face. Giant silver bolts leapt from his wand, faster than before, again and again, with relentless force. Azizi’s shield diverted the hexes away from him, causing detrimental effects to their surroundings. What didn’t melt or disappear ignited. First the roof, then the bed, soon the whole house was on fire.
“Stop, Caezari! I am not your enemy!” Azizi knew what he was going to have to do, but he couldn’t.
“You have always been above me!” cried Caezari. “But now I shall be above you all, and I shall use you to get there!”
“It isn’t worth it!” Azizi couldn’t let him do this. But the thought of stopping him was too painful to accept. He cowered behind his magical defense, struggling with his reality. The pain was too much. His lungs convulsed, his throat constricted, his sharp face gnarled in response to the sobs.
But Caezari didn’t stop. Smoldering straw fell from above. Azizi could smell the putrid stench of his own burning black hair. He could hold out no longer. Hot tears cascaded down his tormented face as he made the only choice that was left. With an anguish so fierce that it ripped his soul in two, Azizi recanted his shield and produced his own red bolt. It flew through the air, as though time had slowed, and hit its mark, killing his brother.
Azizi stood, ever so slowly, still sobbing, still not quite aware of what had just happened. His brother lay fallen, a giant black mark upon his chest. Unmoving. Unbreathing. Unalive.
But before he could mourn, before he could even realize what he had really been forced to do, it happened.
It started with a burn in his chest. A burn so intense, he couldn’t cry out, for he could not indeed breathe. He thought for sure that his insides must be on fire. A piercing pain ripped through his shoulder blades as wings sprang from his back, felling his Wizard’s robe to the floor. Giant red talons exploded from his shoes. His massive, red scaled hands dropped his wand, and he cried out. But his cry did not produce the agonizing wail of a man who had just killed his brother. Instead, long flames blazed through the roof and into the sky.
He thrashed about. His wings catching on the tables, the windows, the floor. Crying out in frustration, more flames leapt from his mouth, touching the neighbor’s house.
Fear encompassed him. He was a danger to everyone now. He jumped, stretched his wings, and flew awkwardly upward. Hovering over his brother’s home, he saddened. He remembered the spell now, but it had never been witnessed before. This must have been what his brother had wanted. To become a skinwalker. A beast so vile it can only be formed by the most heinous of sins, the murder of your own blood. He was lost forever now. Death would have been kinder.
But his time for lamenting was cut short. White and gold sparks struck him from below. The Royal Wizards. They were attacking him. Acting purely on instinct, he blasted his assailants with his flamed breath. He was relieved to see that their magic protected them, but that protection did not extend to the neighboring houses.
He held his breath to keep from hurting them, the pent-up fuel blistering his throat. The Wizards’ barrage continued with ten, sometimes twenty spells hitting him at once. They felt like pebbles being thrown by children. He saw their terrified looks as they realized that he could not be harmed. With one more wail of agony, Azizi shot a flame fifty feet into the air and then flew away.
Crossing the meadow that stretched between the castle and the southern forests, he searched for a place to land, a place to collect his thoughts and figure out just exactly what type of predicament he was in and how, if possible, to get out of it. What would have taken a man days, took him mere hours. He closed his wings and landed at the foot of a timber covered mountain. It had a cave there, and it was large enough and deep enough to hold a dragon. So he stepped inside.
There wasn’t much to it, a little dust, a little moss, and lots and lots of spiders. A couple of short breaths took care of those. He set up house inside that mountain, or as much of a house as a weredragon in a cave can. He learned how to change back into a man, and how to transform himself into the hideous beast that he now was at will. It wasn’t long afterwards that he tried to go back, to make amends, to tell them all what had really happened that horrible day. But he couldn’t. Whenever he tried to get close to Cupola, he would go blind and have trouble breathing. Time and again he tried to force his way into his home queendom, only to be forced back.
So he gave up, became one of the creatures of the forests, a lost legend; and over the next 200 years, slowly lost himself to his walker form, hoarding gold and roasting elk with his breath. Oh, he kept an ear out, of course, and had heard the rumors, how Queen Doshishi had erected a Field of Protection that forced all of Cupola’s magickind to evacuate. Probably to keep him out, he imagined. Probably for the best, he thought.
And then one day, one boring day while he was out hunting his breakfast, he saw a little brown furball in a clearing. Curious, he stopped to see what it was. It was a monkey. He nudged it with his claw. He tickled it behind its ear. Eventually, he blew hot air on it. (He had learned to control himself quite well over the centuries.) It jumped up and backed away, terrified.
Fortunately, he had also learned to control his strength and was able to gently grasp the monkey before it could run away. The small creature thrashed about in a panic. Afraid it would hurt itself in its fearful actions, Azizi changed into his human form. The monkey stopped and calmed down considerably. Azizi smiled and placed it on the ground. “What is your name, little one?”
“SCREECH!!!” The monkey emitted its apparent last bit of stored energy, and then collapsed. Worried, Azizi took the little creature back to his cave and nursed him into the evening. It awoke, frantically screeching as though it didn’t know where it was, and it probably didn’t; but then it saw Azizi’s calming smile and stopped. Azizi offered the monkey some hot cocoa to soothe it. The monkey sipped the cocoa cautiously.
“Now,” Azizi asked. “What is your name, little one?”
“Mmph ha ha ha hee heee.”
“Alexander … Alexander.” Azizi scratched his chin in thought. “Ah yes! You’re the witch Avaline’s familiar, yes?”
“Hee hee ha ha ha.”
“Has something happened to her?”
Alexander told Azizi the story of Avaline’s demise, about how she was imprisoned in Cupola, and how the Field was shrinking.
Azizi’s eyes widened with that last part. “The Field is shrinking, you say. Perhaps it is time for me to make old wrongs right.”