Awakening Arthur (Print) - A Wizard's Quest #2

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400 pages | Trade Paperback | 6x9"
Date of publication: 04/24/2015
  • ISBN: 978-1-941984-82-6
  • Model: 110999 words

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Heat Rating: 1 Flame

After his victory in the desert, Aidan must figure out his feelings for Eallair before a desperate break-in at the heart of the country. He fears one of them will die before he finds out what love really is.

With the horrors of the desert left behind and the terrible weight of Aidan's victory pressing down on him, he continues to follow Eallair on his journey to find King Arthur. Learning how to safely use his newfound magic, Aidan also has to figure out what it means to have the secretive sorcerer's love, and whether or not he can ever return those feelings. The only thing Aidan knows about love is everyone he's ever cared for abandons or betrays him. He has to solve the mystery of how he feels before Eallair's patience and understanding finally run out. But...it isn't the only problem they have, and it's definitely not the most dangerous.

Unexpected magic brings unexpected abilities, ones that give them the location of Excalibur, the one object they need to wake the Once and Future King. With little time to plan, and a hunter close behind, they embark on the dangerous detour to break into the most secure building in the country. It's almost guaranteed to be a suicide mission, but a living, breathing Arthur is too important for the future. Even if one of them might not make it back alive.

CONTENT ADVISORY: This story is the second in a serial trilogy. As such, it should be read after book one in the serial (Awakening Aidan). It also contains a "to be continued ending".

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Aidan watched the wheels of the carriage bounce as they drove over the rough desert terrain. It was so strange, seeing them shudder so violently and yet barely feeling it. Suspension, the People called it. It was a way of putting some kind of springs on the wheels to absorb most of the impact of driving on anything that wasn't a road. They'd also added new tires, ridged to grip the ground and thicker to avoid damage. It had been fascinating, watching them work.

He also had to fight the sudden, unreasonable urge to yell at Eallair. It was completely unfair that someone who had never driven before was doing it so well, keeping straight even over the sandy 'road' and deftly avoiding sudden dips and large, half-buried rocks.

That had been the last thing they'd done to his carriage; 'unrestricted' it. Aidan still had trouble believing it was possible, even with the proof sitting silently next to him driving his carriage. Apparently unrestricting a carriage involved ripping out the engine--and he'd almost had a heart attack when they explained that bit--and replacing it with one they'd built from scratch, without the spells and mechanical sensors that tied a carriage to a single driver. It was a better engine, too. Supposedly faster and more efficient in the way it used processed magic, but they couldn't really test out the speed until they left the desert. And probably not even then, unless they wanted to attract attention.

It had been a little over two hours since leaving the village that morning, and they'd barely spoken to each other. Most of it was Aidan's fault. Eallair had tried several times to start up a conversation, but Aidan had shut them all down with grunts or quick one word answers. Eallair probably wondered what was wrong, but like always, he seemed to know when not to press and left Aidan alone to sort out his own thoughts.

Eallair's instinctual insight made it very hard not to like him. Which was very confusing, because Aidan was also pretty sure he hated Eallair just a little bit, too.

How dare he put that kind of responsibility on me?

It was the thought of the day, the thing Aidan couldn't stop thinking about no matter how hard he tried. At some point, he would be responsible for sending the People to their deaths. People who, even as he and Eallair had left, were looking at him with clear, alcohol free eyes, and a reverence all the more disturbing in the sunlight.

After all his crap about choice and free will, does he even try to give me a choice? Of course not! He just goes and turns me into some kind of desert savior while I'm passed out, half naked, in his shirt.

Aidan had never signed up for so much responsibility.

A tiny, calm voice in the back of his head said, Except, it's kind of exactly what you signed up for.

He hated that voice. Because he suspected it was right. He knew what war meant when he'd agreed to come with Eallair. He might not have thought of this specific thing, but he knew what was expected in a war. People would die. And he might have something to do with their deaths. He tried not to think about it, but he knew. He just didn't want to admit it, because then he couldn't blame the terrible guilt he already felt, for people who hadn't even died yet, on anybody but himself.

If he was being honest though, it wasn't just what Eallair did last night that bothered Aidan. It was also the conversation he'd had with the Shaman just before they left.

Eallair had been packing up the carriage with some food and water skins the People had given them, filled with actual water this time and not alcohol, and Aidan was alone in the village. With a small, sad smile, he'd been watching Two Rivers talk with a few boys his own age and hated the invisible but still very real distance between them. Even among other People his own age, it seemed Two Rivers still wasn't allowed to just be a kid. Aidan had the uncomfortable thought of whether the Shaman-to-be was ever allowed to be anything else, when the Shaman appeared at his shoulder, seemingly out of nowhere. Aidan had looked at him with curiosity, but when the man just stood there watching Two Rivers, Aidan turned back and watched as well. He wished he knew what the Shaman saw when he looked at his protégé. If he could see how hard it was for the boy to always be so alone, the way Aidan could.

"Do you know how Two Rivers got his name?"

Aidan had started, surprised by the Shaman speaking and the question itself.

"Um, his parents gave it to him?" he asked.

The Shaman shook his head, his eyes never leaving Two Rivers. Aidan wondered again if the Shaman, behind his stony face, was feeling any of the sadness Aidan was.

"Children among the People are not named at birth. Names are powerful things, and to have someone give you a name gives them a power over you that very few ever truly escape from. To have your path shaped by another in such a way is anathema to us. Our children choose their own names when they come into their magic."

"Doesn't that get confusing?" Aidan asked when it became clear the Shaman wasn't going to go on. "I mean, how do you, you know, call them or tell them apart?"

The Shaman slowly turned his expressionless face towards Aidan. "Do outsiders have a problem telling their children from the children of others?"

Aidan let out a breath and decided to just shut up.

"Are you not going to ask why he chose the name of Two Rivers?" the Shaman asked after a long silence.

"Am I supposed to?" Aidan asked, irritation lacing his voice. He was getting so tired of people who didn't just say what they wanted to say. A memory of Eallair sitting by the fire telling his story flashed through his mind. Of course, sometimes that wasn't such a good thing either...

"On the day he turned thirteen summers, the boy who would name himself Two Rivers had a vision."

Another pause. This time, though, Aidan's curiosity got the better of him. "A vision?"

"A vision of prophecy."

Aidan blinked. "Prophecy?" he asked, somewhat skeptically.

Prophecy was one of those things that was never talked about. While it wasn't exactly illegal, most people who claimed to have prophetic visions were basically crazy. And the ones who weren't would probably have been better off if they were. Prophecy wasn't exact, but that never stopped people from assuming someone with the ability should have be able to stop anything bad from happening, or using it to better everyone else's lives. There was even a few times where people known to have the ability, were arrested for 'silent terrorism' because they didn't warn the government about a natural disaster or accident or some other kind of tragedy. As a result, prophetic people tended to keep quiet about the talent and as a result, no one really knew how common the ability was. It was thought to be rare though. And it never showed up in wizards. At least not any Aidan had ever heard about.

Although it had become painfully obvious what he actually knew about wizards was barely enough to fill an ink well.

"Yes." The Shaman nodded. "A powerful vision of the future. Would you like me to tell you what it was?" The blank expression shifted as he asked.

He stared intently at Aidan, as if his answer was important somehow. It made Aidan uneasy for reasons he didn't understand, and he wondered if this was possibly related to what happened the night before. Was the vision something the Shaman could use to destroy the image Eallair had built up of Aidan? If it was, the Shaman was an idiot for not just coming right out and telling him. If there was anything Aidan could say or do to keep from having the awful responsibility hanging over his head, he'd do it gladly.

"All right," he said slowly. "Tell me."

The intent look never wavered as the Shaman spoke. "His vision started in a desolate world, stark and ravaged, barely able to support life. Yet life there was. Here and there: tiny rustlings of grass; eyes in the darkness; furtive, scurrying footsteps. Two rivers ran, clear as glass, through this world, side by side, never touching, never meeting, stretching back as far as the eye could see, hurtling towards black nothingness. One river was strong, but flowed slowly, without purpose. The other was old, yet still vital and quick, eagerly racing ahead towards its destination. Always together, yet always separate. Until they met.

"The two rivers came together, became one, and where they met, life sprang from lifelessness. Small life: saplings, downy grass, small animals blinking up at a sun that, until that moment, hadn't existed. Where there had been nothing, there was now hope. The two rivers were one, and yet when someone looked at them, he could still see each individual river. One fast and sure: the other strong but hesitant. One, yet still two, bringing hope where none existed. Flowing as one towards an uncertain, yet brighter future."

The Shaman's voice was quiet as he spoke, but the intensity in his eyes only seemed to get stronger. He was studying Aidan, watching his every reaction to the Shaman's words. Aidan shifted uncomfortably under the intense scrutiny, but by the time the Shaman was finished there was no doubt in his mind why he was telling him this.

"Two who were separate," the Shaman said with that same forcefully quiet voice, "yet are now together. Fighting for a brighter future."

Aidan took several steps back, but whether it was from denial or the need to put some distance between him and those uncomfortably knowing eyes, he didn't know. "You think his vision's about me and Lee, don't you?"

The Shaman's face immediately slipped back into its previous blankness, but not before Aidan thought he caught a flicker of satisfaction in his eyes. "I think it is a powerful vision. One worth taking a name from."

"Bullshit," Aidan said, shaking his head.

"Yes," the Shaman agreed, "and no."

"That doesn't mean anything!"

"Visions rarely do."

"Then why even tell me?" Aidan asked in frustration.

"Because rarely does not mean never. When I first saw you I knew you were the rivers from the vision."

"Bullshit," Aidan said again. "When you saw us you thought we were necromancers."

The Shaman nodded. "Yes, I did. I did not understand how two necromancers could be the rivers of hope, yet I knew you were. It was the only reason you left my yurt alive."

Despite himself, Aidan shivered at the surety in the man's tone. "The only reason we left it alive was because you didn't want Lee killing all your People."

The Shaman's voice hardened. "The lives of my People are a small price to pay to stop necromancers."

Aidan swallowed. He believed the leader; which meant, if Eallair was wrong about his chances in a fight against the whole village, they might owe their lives to the Shaman's decision to believe some vision a thirteen-year-old boy had four years ago.

"How did you 'know'?" he asked. "That Lee and I were the...rivers?"

The Shaman's lips quirked, softening his features briefly. "The way Two Rivers reacted to you."

Aidan blinked. "What?"

"He once had a vision of a cat."

Aidan blinked again. "What?"

"In his vision, a demonic cat scratched Two Rivers' eyes out and ate them. Two Rivers always had a fondness for cats, until one day a cat he hated on sight, wandered into the village. He yelled at it, threw rocks at it, ran away from it if it came near him. A week later, while he was sleeping, the cat attacked him and scratched his eyes out."

"It...scratched his eyes out?"

The Shaman nodded. "We healed him, of course."

"You...you didn't try to kill us because your trainee got attacked by a cat?"

"Yes. Not every vision is ambiguous, or important to anyone other than the one having the vision. But all visions are remembered. Even when they are not understood, they are never forgotten."

Aidan just stared at the Shaman. "You're full of shit."

"I am not." He actually managed to sound insulted Aidan would think so.

Aidan shook his head, half in denial and half in disbelief. "Then you're fucking crazy."

"I am not that either."

Aidan shook his head again. "You know what? I think I'm totally done with this conversation."

He walked away, angry and annoyed and just plain sick of everything. If this was the Shaman using some stupid People belief to get back at him for what Eallair did--

"Companion Aidan!"

The Shaman's voice snapped across Aidan's back like the crack of a whip and he froze automatically. Footsteps approached from behind. "Turn around."

Despite himself, Aidan couldn't help obeying the imperious voice. The Shaman's face wasn't blank now. Or amused.

"I have not lied to you," he said gravely. "About anything. Two Rivers has the gift of prophecy and you are one of the rivers in his vision. I am as sure of this as I am of my own existence."

Aidan licked his lips. "Why?"

"Because it has to be somebody," the Shaman said, answering the question Aidan didn't fully voice. Why him? Why Aidan? Why in the ancient hells did important things have to depend on him?

He tried very hard to ignore the voice telling him that was exactly what he'd wanted.

Aidan swallowed heavily, then looked away. "Right," he said.

"You are still unsure of yourself?"

Aidan nodded, not even really sure why he bothered to answer instead of just walking away.

"Do you wish me to give you advice?"

Aidan's eyes snapped back to the Shaman. "Why would you give me advice? I'm gonna get all your People--" He cut himself off, not wanting to say it out loud.

The Shaman's expression hardened, but he only said, "It does not matter. You are going to save the entire world. What is one village compared to that?"

Aidan shook his head. "No, that's not--" He groaned. "Why am I even arguing, I don't believe any of this crap."

"Your belief is not necessary. Truth does not need to be believed to be truth."

"You're infuriating," Aidan growled.

"No. I am certain. I am so certain, that I have already told my People you and your companion are the rivers of prophecy."

The bottom dropped out of Aidan's stomach. "What? Why? That's just going to make them even more--"

"Eager to follow you?"

Aidan's jaw clenched. "Eager to die because I have no idea what I'm doing!"

The Shaman's implacable gaze never wavered in its conviction, even though Aidan wasn't imagining the pain behind it. The Shaman loved his people. Yet he was still willing to get them all killed.

"If they die, then that is what is meant to be. We are in the times of prophecy now. The vision is unfolding all around us. You will save the world. There is no price too high to pay for that."

"That's bullshit!" Aidan snapped. "There's always a price that's too high. What the fuck is the point of saving the world if everyone you're saving it for is dead?"

"You were willing to sacrifice your life to save our village," the Shaman pointed out.

"But that was my choice!"

"And this will be theirs."

"But they're making it because of some bullshit vision that could mean anything and a story they heard when most of them were drunk. It's not a real choice."

The Shaman studied Aidan. "It bothers you, then?"

"Of course it bothers me!"

"It would hurt you to have my People die for you, even though they do it willingly?"

"What kind of fucking question is that? Yes it would fucking bother me!"

The Shaman did something truly horrifying then.

He smiled.

"That is why it is you."

Aidan opened his mouth to argue, but the words died before he could form them. The Shaman was so sure of what he was saying. His certainty reminded Aidan of the stories of how religious people used to behave back in the days of Arthur, before magic killed that kind of belief. Such unwavering faith was kind of terrifying, but it also gave the Shaman strength, a shield Aidan couldn't dent with words or logic. The Shaman believed in this vision, believed it was about Aidan and Eallair. He believed it so much he was willing to let his people die.

In the face of so much raw, unfiltered surety, it was hard to stay skeptical.

Could the Shaman actually be right?

Merlin, I hope not. I don't want that responsibility.

Maybe not, but, responsibility or not, you still want to help Lee, don't you? You still need to do something to make life better for those kids.

He really, really hated his inner voice.

"Do you want my advice now?" the Shaman asked. His face was back to its normal stoniness, but the ghost of a smile still hovered around his lips.

Aidan sighed, then nodded. If he was one of those rivers, he'd take any lifeline he could get.

"Do not trust your companion."

"Wh-what?" Aidan stepped back as if he'd been slapped. Whatever he'd been expecting, it definitely wasn't an attack against Eallair "What the hell are you talking about? You don't know Lee at all! I trust him with--"

"He lies and manipulates as though born to it. He threatens violence with the ease of one to whom death no longer holds meaning. He is..." Here the Shaman seemed frustrated he couldn't find the right word. "Different. There is something about him. Something I have never felt from another person before. Something...old: yet not old. Something...unnatural."

Aidan started to protest, to say Eallair had reasons for all the things he did, to say if he was a river then the Shaman should trust him the way he seemed to trust Aidan, but a sudden memory made the words catch in his throat.

"The magic in you is powerful and old and if you won't use it then we will!"

"We have never...sensed anything...like you before."

The necromancer had said almost the exact same things the Shaman was saying, word for word.

"I understand the need to defend the one you care for, but you must not let your feelings blind you."

"I don't need to blindly believe you, either," Aidan said. There wasn't much force behind it, however, and he knew the Shaman picked up on it.

"I do not need you to believe me," he said. He sounded slightly exasperated and Aidan felt a flash of childish, vindictive satisfaction. "Just listen. In Two Rivers' vision, the rivers are distinguishable, but not separate. It is impossible for two things to become one without one losing itself in the other. Sometimes the joining is a boon, and the thing thrives. Other times it is swallowed and whatever is left is almost unrecognizable as the thing it once was. Visions have many meanings, all layered within themselves, intertwined but separate. I believe you are not only one of the rivers that will save this desolate world, but that you are the one who will be consumed by your companion until there is nothing left of the person named Aidan."

A Wizard's Quest
About the series: In an alternate history where the stories of King Arthur are recorded historical fact, all humans can use magic. They are separated into two distinct groups. Sorcerers are able to cast spells with minimal effort, and Wizards are those that cannot control their own magic and are restricted by law from practicing magical arts. All wizards must register with the government and renew their license every year to ensure they do not ever attempt magic use of their own. But what if everything they've been told isn't true? What if nothing is what it seems?

Authors:

About Dan Wingreen:
Fireborn Publishing Main Page

Dan lives in Ohio (as people do) with his boyfriend, parents and two rapidly aging dogs. His favorite thing is Star Wars, and his least favorite thing is pizza. He dreams of one day owning two Netherland Dwarf Bunnies that frolic about his house.

Twitter: @Captain_Cy_kun

Reader eMail: danwritesthings(at)gmail(dot)com

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This book was added to our catalog on Thursday 02 April, 2015.

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