And as promised, here's Chapter Two! If you've missed the first chapter, you can read it here. If you're curious about the (no) marketing experiment I did regarding the book, you can check that out here.
So what have I been up to? Setting up a Goodreads account, for one. I can't believe I've never done that before - what a great site! Fun place, millions of readers talking about books they like. Pretty amazing. I can see it being a horrible time-suck for me if I'm not careful.
And I've been hard at work on the sequel, of course. Ashes Ascendant will pick up shortly after the place where By Darkness Revealed leaves off. Each is a complete story - think of the books as a sequence of episodes, not as one big story sliced up into chunks. Ashes was actually going to be a short story before it sort of exploded into a novella. Then my biggest struggle was figuring out if I wanted "book two" to be a much shorter work, or if I wanted to somehow bring it up to the length of the first one. Adding another 30k words to the outline of a 20k novella was a bit of a struggle, and I had to set the work aside for a while.
But the plot twists I needed finally showed up. And Ashes has a nicely layered complexity to it as a result.
Back to work for me! I hope you enjoy reading By Darkness Revealed!
Oh - and if you like Ryan Blackwell stories, there's a short story about him in the charity anthology ebook, Twelve Worlds. All author proceeds from the book go to RIF, so it's a good cause. And the Ryan story is in the sample of the book. On Amazon, Nook, and Smashwords.
I MADE MY WAY over to the library, the Drill Sergeant's orders weighing heavily on my mind. If I wanted to really be of use to Fletcher, I needed more information. Maybe I could find some references there - some resources, something. I could hit the internet, too. Recruits weren't allowed to have computers in our rooms until second semester, but we had computer and 'net access in the library and labs all over campus.
As I walked, I carefully reached out with my perceptions, trying to get a better feel for the ley nexus. I realized that I'd been avoiding it. Intentionally not Looking, intentionally not exploring the thing. Frankly, it scared the heck out of me. I'd never seen that much raw power in one place before, like a coming together of many great rivers of magic. I'd gotten used to the faint hum in my head, but not to the leys themselves. It was time to see what they were. If anything was the cause of all the extra supernatural activity in the area, it was most likely to be the nexus.
I squinted my eyes a bit, and...there. Right in the middle of the field, smack between all the dorms. Twelve major lines, which I Saw as thick beams of yellow fire. As I walked, I was coming close to one. I'd pass right under it. I'd done so hundreds of times since arriving on campus, but this time, I stretched out my will and curled mental fingers into the stuff that made up the ley.
A tendril of that yellow light broke off from the main ley, writhed vinelike down my projected thought, and before I could even take a breath reached for me like I was a glass of water in the desert.
Yellow fire slipped into me, flowed through me. I gasped. I felt the ley energy as heat, saw it as light, and felt more alive than I ever had before. I turned my hand over, marveling at the traces of yellow dancing within my veins.
Then I realized I was getting uncomfortably hot. I glanced skyward and Looked at the ley. I was still tapped in, and the energy seemed to be pouring down at an increasing pace. I staggered, yellow flashes crossing in front of my vision. With a thrust of will, I cut the link. The tendril roiled back into the ley and vanished. Leaving me with muscles, blood, and bone feeling like they were aflame from the energy it left behind.
Ground and center, I thought. Release the flow into the Earth. But I couldn't focus. The burning was too much. I staggered off the road, came up against one of the buildings. Cool bricks brought me back to myself for a moment.
I laid both hands against the brick, and pushed - with my mind, with my will, I shoved all that liquid fire out of me and into the wall. It roared out with an energy that sent brilliant tracks of light scattering all over the wall to my Sight, but was completely invisible to my normal vision. I could see both views, the magical atop the mundane one like an overlay. I closed my eyes as the last bits of ley fire left me.
I opened them again and stepped back from the wall, bringing my hands down to my sides. And stared blankly at the wall. There were two black, burned looking patches in the brick. Each was about the size of my palm. I blinked, making sure I had shut off my Sight. I had. All I was seeing was what was there. I touched the brick with a finger, found it warm. A little of the black rubbed off on my fingertip. The ley energy had scorched the brick.
That wasn't possible, though! Or, I hadn't thought it was, anyway. I'd seen magical energy in a number of forms, and I'd read about people lighting candles with magic and such. But although I'd tried a bunch of times to perform the feat myself, I'd never managed it. I figured getting magic to really impact a physical object was just a myth, something that couldn't really happen.
I looked at the scorched brick again. And I thought about the water spirits, holding Thomas down in the water this morning.
Maybe I needed to revise that opinion.
At least I didn't seem to have drawn any attention with my little display. No telling what that had looked like to normal vision, but there had to have been something. I looked around. The brick I had used to ground out the ley energy was actually the wall of the library. I was in the right spot. Hopefully I could find some information of value. I needed to learn more, before I managed to hurt myself. Or, it seemed, something or someone else.
I didn't start shaking from reaction to the close call until I was climbing the broad marble steps toward the front door. That's when it hit in earnest: I had almost fried myself out there. I didn't know what would have happened if I hadn't been able to cut off and ground out the power, but it had hurt. A lot. I had a feeling it would have been extremely unpleasant. Somehow, I made it up to the steps anyway, but I was glad someone else was coming out as I arrived. I wasn't sure I had the strength to pull the big old doors open, just then.
The library building was old; one of the oldest buildings still standing on the campus, it had been around for almost a hundred and fifty years. I opened the door and stepped inside. The lighting wasn't so good. Somehow the best the lights seemed to manage was a dim white glow.
I stepped past the old wooden desk where the librarian was checking out books for another student. Moving on into the next room, I slumped into a worn wooden chair in front of one of the computers. My hands still had a little tremor as I reached out to the keyboard.
I popped open a browser window and went to YouTube, looking for HauntHunters video. Searched for "HauntHunters Northshield". And there it was - the episode, broken into three chunks. I clicked the first one and sat back to watch.
And all I got was a black screen warning me that this video had been in violation of copyright, and the copyright owner had asked it to be taken down. The other two segments were the same. Curious, I clicked links for a couple of other episodes, but the rest all seemed to be available. Maybe the college had pushed them to keep it off YouTube. I zipped over to the HauntHunters website, but no luck there either. Just a couple of clips from recent episodes.
An hour later, I hadn't found much more than that. A few old articles mentioned the visit, but nothing substantial. I grimaced. I wasn't really sure what I was looking for, anyway. I doubted that the HauntHunters show was going to give me any good answers even if I could find the episode about the college. I searched for "ley lines", too, but the results were predictably disappointing. Mostly what I found was a collection of fiction references and some New Age articles which all contradicted each other. The Wikipedia article was surprisingly informative, but didn't really tell me anything I hadn't known already, and left out a lot I had already discovered to be true.
I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes for a moment, resting them. It had already been a long day.
Which is when I felt the soft breeze blow across my face. My eyes popped open and I looked around, immediately alert.
The library was an old building, with old ventilation. An odd breeze wasn't that unusual. What was different about this breeze was that I felt the touch of magic in it.
I let my Sight overlay my vision again, and Looked to see if I could spot the source of the breeze, scanning around the room. And just in time, I could see the wisp of the magical breeze flitting through a stairwell door before it slid shut.
Letting out a sigh, I pushed myself up from the chair. I almost felt like I'd had enough weirdness for one day, but my curiosity was roused. Besides, it seemed as if whatever it was had drifted by me to get my attention. Probably best to find out what it wanted now, rather than later.
The door to the stairwell was one of those heavy steel jobs with a small window plate at about eye level. It pulled open with some effort, and I stepped out into the open steel and concrete stairwell. The area was empty, both to normal vision and my Sight, so I proceeded down the steps. Above me, the door rasped shut.
I moved slowly, following the faint trace I could still sense down and down until I reached the bottom, two floors below the main. The steel door at the bottom of the stairwell took some effort to open, creaking and snarling against the concrete floor as I pulled.
I'd been down here, before, but I hadn't really felt comfortable. Old as the building was, the upper floors were frequented by students often enough that they felt pretty "normal". But few enough people came down here that the energy of the place had an old feel to it. Not stale, but an almost brooding quality. I took a few steps out onto the painted concrete floor. My feet banged across a metal plate bolted and padlocked to the floor, a hollow sound echoing back. Those plates were scattered about this floor. Supposedly, they lifted up and led to some sort of lower level. Campus rumors abounded regarding what lay beneath.
As I walked, I Looked around. The whole floor was lit up like a Christmas tree to my Sight. Patterns of energy flowed everywhere, and eddies of old power glistened and sparkled as they drifted about. They reminded me uncomfortably of the small sprites in the river. I sucked in a breath. Exhaled. Then I concentrated, and tried to bring up a shield. To my Sight, it looked like a soap bubble growing around me, glistening with electric blue flashes. The nearest eddy seemed to sense my power, and slipped in closer. It contacted the edge of the bubble gently, almost hesitantly. There was a flash, and I felt a sense pushing there. Then the little eddy backed away much more quickly than it had approached.
I smiled, reassured that the shield was working. Still, no reason to risk a much longer stay down here. Some of these little eddies of power might just be curious. Others might be hungry instead. No way of knowing how long these bits of lost power had been drifting about, but I'd read that some of them could get nasty over time.
I felt that curious breeze again, whispering past me, almost beckoning me onward. I proceeded with care, following the gentle air flow down past tall racks of books, then around a corner of the bookshelves, between two stacks of shelves. I raised an eyebrow, but I had already written off the possibility of this being a normal wind. As I followed around the corner, I kept my shield and my Sight both up.
The stacks on other side of me terminated at a wall directly ahead. The wind which had guided me here whirled gently near the wall for a moment, and then faded from my Sight. I examined the wall. It was cinder block, which meant it was newer than most of the library, but there were bits and pieces of cinder block scattered throughout, repairs or expansions over the years. When I Looked at the wall here though, I got a strong sense of magic from it. Not just the aimless gathering of old energy, this. Someone had put magic into the wall here with intent. From the looks, it seemed like some sort of veil, to turn eyes away and mask whatever the spell had hidden.
I hesitated a moment. Someone might have had a very good reason to enspell this wall. If Northshield was a hotbed for magic, which seemed more and more likely, then any number of things could have been locked in here. But I didn't get a bad feeling from the wall, just a sense of old power. And besides, I was curious. Something had led me here, and I was still wondering what, and why.
I stood directly in front of the blank spot of wall, hoping no one would wander by, although it seemed unlikely. Dust was thick on the books down here, indicating visitors were uncommon. Then I pushed more will into my shield, just in case, and reached out with my hand. A foot shy of touching the wall, I began sketching a series of runes in the air.
One of the few decent books on magic I'd managed to acquire had been all about old Norse runes - symbols, each tied to a magical meaning. They could be used for language, just like any alphabet. But they'd also been used for magic.
To normal eyes, nothing was visible, but in my Sight each rune I traced in the air was lit with a dim, flickering blue flame. I completed the pattern I had in mind, locked the runes together into a script, and willed the energy forward into the wall. Ready for anything.
I didn't even feel a change in the magic present in the wall. If it had so much as flickered in response, I hadn't sensed it. This was going to be harder than I had thought.
The image of a new rune flashed into my mind's eye. No, not a new rune - a bindrune, a single runic shape formed from several runes merged into a single image. Absently, I noticed that the breeze I had felt before twirled gently about my legs again.
I'd crafted a few bindrunes before, but they were more complex than just stringing a few runes together - each connection of one rune to another added implications to the whole. The law of unintended consequences could come into play in a big way. Still, as I examined the rune, it looked solid. Opening, unveiling, unmasking... It should coax the wall to reveal whatever had been veiled there.
I reached up to begin etching the rune in the air, and felt the breeze again, this time with a distinct vibration, almost like a feline purr. I stopped and Looked down. I could See eddies of magic moving about the outside of my shield, stirring the small breeze to life. Almost, I thought I could See a cat formed from the winds there, rolling around the outside of my shield.
"My little helper, are you? Or my little tempter?" I asked.
The kitty-breeze swirled itself upright and drifted a bit away from me, looking for all the world like an offended cat preening itself. It pretended to ignore me.
"Well, thank you," I said, turning back to the wall. The intense desire to see what was hidden here still burned inside me, and that bindrune seemed like my best bet. I began drawing the symbol in the air. This time I put more focus into each line of the sketch, pouring more energy into the rune. Instead of dim lines, I willed enough energy to make the rune blaze with blue fire as I completed it. The effort I poured in was exhausting, but I finished the rune, and with a last push, willed the energy from the bindrune into the spell on the wall.
This time, there was a flash visible to my Sight - and then the energy pattern was gone. I could see the wall plainly now. A large brick had been removed and replaced with an old board. The wood was gray, weathered - old. I wondered briefly how long it had been there. Then I reached out to pull the board away, cautiously keeping my senses alert for any additional magic left behind.
The board came away easily. There was a small recessed space behind it where the missing block had been. Inside was small bundle of waxed paper, tied with a string. I Looked at the bundle, but saw nothing - no magic of note. So I carefully lifted it free from the nook and untied the string. The paper was yellowed and crumbly, but came away easily and revealed a small book inside. It was bound in leather, a thin volume that looked something like a journal. Carefully, I opened the book and looked at the first page.
I have spent ten years studying the leys here. Over that time, I have amassed a decent understanding of them, of their power, and of how they are connected to the magic of our world. But now I sit here, on the eve of what might be my death, and I mourn that my research might be lost for all time. So I compile these notes, brief though they might be, in the hopes that if I fall, someone will follow in my footsteps and carry on my work. And now, more than ever, I understand how important that work has been.
For the leys here are special in more than one way. Like most, they are conduits of magical power. But as I have recently learned, to my sorrow and that of others here, they also seem to form some sort of barrier, a protection or ward placed here some time in the distant past. What they ward, I do not know precisely. I have seen one, though. A hungry darkness, yearning to devour the magic at the heart of life. It is against this that I go to do battle soon, and that is why my words must be brief.
It seems cliche, but I do not intend this book to be found. So if you have found it, I am likely dead, fallen in battle with the thing I go to fight. If I have failed, then perhaps my words will aid you against it, for only one of strength will be able to break the wards I will place over this book. If I have succeeded in defeating the apparition, then may my words warn you about the terrible threat which lurks here.
I shivered and closed the book. It sounded crazy. I had read a copy of the Necronomicon once - a silly mass-published book that read the same way, fiction pretending to be non-fiction. Great wizard about to be eaten by something bad writes down all he knows, and then gets eaten at the end. Made up nonsense. But this book was hand written, scrawled on the pages in ink. And too, it had been hidden behind a strong magical ward. I don't know if I could have gotten through without the bindrune, and was growing more sure that the kitty-breeze had somehow given me that idea.
Clearly, this was something different. Perhaps this book would help me learn to use the leys safely, without hurting myself or someone else.
How I had come to find it still bothered me though. I Looked down for the little wind spirit that had led me here, but it had vanished. I frowned. Coincidences usually weren't, I'd found, especially when magic was involved. I had a hunch I'd see the kitty-breeze again.
The small journal was about the same size as the "recruit manuals" we freshmen were required to always have on our person, tucked into back pockets. So I slipped the book into the pocket behind the manual, hiding it from easy view. Then I replaced the old board, and headed back up the stairs and out of the library, my search for other information forgotten in the moment of discovery. I reached my room and slid the book into the middle of my calculus tome, then put the monster textbook back on the shelf over my desk. The book should be safe enough there. I planned to read the rest as soon as I had a few free moments, but the rest of the day was too full. Night, and Taps, fell before I could get a chance to read it again.