*This is the new free novel I’m posting here a chapter at a time. This is pre-first-draft, as it comes out. It is a sequel to Witchfinder which will soon be taken down (once edited) and put for sale on Amazon (It’s now done and with editor and we’re getting the cover done. My wretched health this year delayed everything. (Meanwhile, if you donate $6 or more, I’ll get you a copy of Rogue Magic, once finished and edited, in your favored ebook format when it’s done. Of course, if you’re already subscribing to the blog at a level at which you get whichever books come out that year, you don’t need to worry. )*
NOTICE: For those unsure about copyright law and because there was a particularly weird case, just because I’m making the pre-first draft of my novel available to blog readers, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t copyrighted to me. Rogue Magic as all the contents of this blog is © Sarah A. Hoyt 2013. Do not copy, alter, distribute or resell without permission. Exceptions made for ATTRIBUTED quotes as critique or linking to this blog. Credit for the cover image is © Ateliersommerland | Dreamstime.com
Wolfe Merritt, Manufactories and Properties Manager for the Right Honorable Earl of Savage.
After a while it became clear how to outwit the beast. We couldn’t use magic alone, not while fully enveloped in the creature – or at least not unless we laid the spell in an unusual way.
Which is how we found ourselves, with ropes around our waists walking single file along one of those narrow ridges that I believed were the very flesh of the creature in whose gut we were trapped.
We consisted of the king Hanuman and his monkeys, most of them in Monkey form — though Hanuman himself had a disturbing tendency to shift in and out of his ape form – and myself, and Miss Blythe, and Betsy. We brought up the rear, or rather I did, with Betsy walking ahead of Miss Blythe, and Miss Blythe ahead of me. This formation was necessary in case one or the other of the girls should lose their footing on the slippery pink ledge.
When Betsy slipped, miss Blythe would hold her, and likewise if she slipped, I’d hold her. As for me, I took great care not to slip, as we’d been told that the foamy liquid foaming a foot or so beneath us, and filling a cavity the size of a natural lake was – in this part of the beast – pure acid. Hanuman had said one of his monkeys had fallen in it, and they’d not even retrieved the skeleton.
This was born out by the smell which was much like what I’d smelled once at an engraving plant – acrid and acid, seemingly burning the nose as we breathed.
Which was a concern, since, if this didn’t work out, then we would be in the liquid, anyway. Or at least I would be, having made up my mind to that I would be first to try this. My magic, my responsibility, my fate.
“Are you sure this will work?” Miss Helen Blythe asked, leaning back so that I could hear her, and, in the process, almost slipping. I put an arm around her waist and tried to tell myself it was all to keep her from tripping and dissolving. The thought of Miss Blythe dissolving, or indeed suffering any untoward fate was unbearable. I’d come on this adventure to protect her, and I was a full grown man, with full knowledge of the vagaries of the world and its traps. If anyone deserved to pay for any mistakes made it was me. She was little more than a girl out of the schoolroom, and she couldn’t have known how unadvisable this adventure was. She certainly couldn’t have known about the rogue magic plaguing the world and what effect it would have upon her.
I debated whether I should lie to her, but I had a feeling this young woman had already had too many lies in her short life and would be bound to know if I prevaricated. “No,” I said. “I’m not even more than half confident. But there doesn’t seem to be any other choice. So I’ll do it, I’ll be the first to go. And then, if I fail—”
“We’ll be trapped in the beast’s gut forever?” she asked.
“Well, no,” I said. “At least you get to live. And if you or Hanuman don’t come up with another scheme in no time, I’m much mistaken.”
“But then why try it at all?” she asked. “Surely one of us three will come up with another scheme soon.”
“Not that I can think of,” I said. “And Hanuman is impatient. Besides, this scheme has some hope of working. Perhaps not high, but some hope.”
She shivered against me, and I realized I still had an arm around her waist. I let go, but took hold of her upper arm, because she must be guarded against chance slips.
“How horrid,” she said. “Well try one thing after another and each of us will fall into this terrible liquid and be destroyed. Or die some other way, till in the end there is only Hanuman and his monkeys. Perhaps we’re not the first humans he’s recruited?”
I bit my lip. “We shouldn’t think such gloomy thoughts,” I said.
“Why not? If they are true? What are the chances of your succeeding?”
I sighed. “Three in ten, maybe. Not that one can calculate magic chances precisely in these circumstances and under these situations. I don’t have my magical charts.”
She looked back, her little face pale amid the dark curls. “Doesn’t God disapprove of self murder? Don’t you have anything– anyone you’d live for?”
“My son—” I said, before I could stop myself, and thoughts of my child put a heavy weight in my heart. Mom would do the best she could for him, but it might not be much. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I could do much more. Magic children weren’t meant to live in the normal world.
“You have a son? Then you have a wife too?”
“No, his mother—”
We stopped, because Hanuman had stopped suddenly, and there was much shuffling and holding as we grabbed each other to keep from slipping.
Hanuman was in a larger, projecting promontory, if such terms can be used when inside an animal.
We all filed after him into this little projecting platform, standing cheek to jowl in such a way that it barely contained all of us.
“Well, Mr. Wolfe,” he said. “The time has come to try your magic.”
As he spoke, one of his monkeys was clambering up into the dim depths of what looked like a cavern ceiling above us, but must be the upper walls of the creature’s stomach. He affixed a hook to something there, and from the hook there dangled a rope.
The rope was brought to me.
“Climb up, Mr. Merrit, and show us how it’s done.”
“No!” Miss Blythe said. “Let me try it. He’s the greater magician and he—”
“No, indeed, Miss Blythe,” Hanuman said. “His magic it is and he must bank on it.”
I hadn’t climbed a rope since my days in school, but this one had been knotted so I had somewhere to edge my feet. That said it was still hard at my age, to engage in such athletics. Particularly hard when the monkeys stopped holding the rope and it swung vertically, like a pendulum on a clock, with me doing the turn of the weight at the bottom.
The base of the rope disappeared into the liquid and gave off a most strange smell.
You see, the thought was that this was the largest chamber within the creature. And that I must be in it, as far away from the flesh as possible, and then let go even of the rope because that was still attached to the creature, while the spell took effect. If it worked, I’d be transported back to Earth. If it failed…
I’d made little pre-packaged spells for everyone, contained in the powder inside tiny transparent envelopes whose provenance I’d rather not know.
As I climbed the rope, it was hard to avoid the thought of that lake of acid below. But I must climb as high as possible, so I had more room to fall – and perhaps transport – before I hit. The question was, of course, had the magic gone rotten here too?
No use asking.
I was sweating by the time I made it to the top.
Tearing the little envelope – I really didn’t want to know its provenance. It was rather like sausage casings – with my teeth, I released the powder and said the one activating word, “Abras.”
And then I let go of the rope, and fell, tumbling head over heels towards the lake of acid and certain death.