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Cursed Magic

Epic fantasy novella

by Steve Pantazis

Cursed Magic - Steve Pantazis
Editions:Kindle: $ 2.99
ISBN: B09FXDM6SC
Pages: 88
Paperback - First Edition: $ 5.99
ISBN: 978-1-7354242-0-0
Size: 5.50 x 8.50 in
Pages: 102

Only one magician remains to defend the kingdom. And he’s cursed. What could go wrong?

Ellis is cursed. Not a little cursed.

Completely cursed, as in cursed as cursed can be!

Only the poor can afford an arcanist of Ellis’ questionable magic abilities. Yet the queen has asked for his help.

What does she want with the likes of him?

Turns out, an assassin has been dispatching the arcanists of the kingdom. Ellis is the only one left. The queen suspects her rival, King Anders, as the culprit.

With the king set to arrive in a few days, the queen orders Ellis to hunt down the murderer. It’s a matter of urgency. If he fails, her majesty might be next.

Can Ellis find the killer in time?

Or will the bumbling arcanist screw up yet again?

Excerpt:

Curses and more curses!

When the mayor of Saplinger asked for an arcanist to handle a “small lizard problem” in his town, I assumed it would be a spitster, wyvernette or one of those pesky horned minidrakes. But a basilisk? A great hulking, winged beast with the foulest inclination and claws the size of barn nails?

Heavens no!

Yet here I am, drenched by the rain and muddied below the waist, standing in a tavern stinking of sodden hay, listening as the mayor goes on and on about the disappearance of his livestock while the frightened townsfolk bob their heads in agreement.

Of course, I have to ask the mayor the obvious question.

“How can you be sure it’s a basilisk? It very well could be something else. A pack of wolves maybe, or raiders from the Gray Hills, or—”

“Haven’t you been listening to me, mage? It’s a basilisk. I’d stake my life on it. Angus, show him.”

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A weepy old man brings a tattered book to me with a page open showing a hand-drawn sketch of a creature with large wings, a barbed, coiled tail, and, I daresay, a smirk on its face.

“It’s him,” he says. “I’ve seen him with my own eyes. Took my goats and my chickens, too. He had a great big head, lots of scales, shaggy wings. And teeth. Those teeth!”

“I’ve seen him, too,” an aged woman says. “He stole my only cow, my poor Bertha. Snatched her up in the early morn.”

“And my ma’s pigs,” ventures a sturdy young lad.

“And our donkey,” someone else says.

“And my sheep.”

“He’ll come for the children next! What will we do then?”

The room fills with anxious commotion. The aroma of meat stew from the kitchen reminds me that I haven’t eaten a hot meal in weeks while on the road with my tired horse and rickety cart.

The mayor quiets down his people. Then he asks, “Do you believe us now, mage?”

The taproom’s a field of blinking eyes and uncertain faces, everyone looking at me. What can I say but yes? “I do.”

“We don’t have much coin, but we’ve scraped together what we can.” The mayor opens the drawstrings of a purse and shakes the coins inside so I can see them. They jingle their lovely tune. Thirty silver marks, as promised in the urgent letter I’d received. Enough to keep me and my trusty steed fed for a couple of months. Hardly anything by arcanist standards, and certainly not a prize worthy of such risk.

Which is why the mayor chose me.

You don’t pay so little for a quality arcanist; you pay it when you’re desperate, when you wipe the pig slop away and see what’s left at the bottom of the trough. That slimy residue is where I dwell.

“Slay the beast and the purse is yours,” he says.

Hearty nods all around. They believe I’m suited for the job. How wrong they are. But for thirty marks . . .

“What do you say, mage? Will you use your great magic to help us?”

This is the point where my peers would fall to the ground laughing. Great magic? Me? Never have the two been spoken in the same breath.

Faulty magic? Yes. Terrible magic? Absolutely! But great magic?

Never!

Why, Ellis, do you doubt your abilities, you might ask?

A most excellent question.

I’m cursed, you see.

Imagine a young boy . . . a bright child with a gleam in his eye and hope in his heart. His father is a merchant, his mother a seamstress for a duchess, his older brother a knight in the Queen’s Guard. This young lad is fed, clothed, schooled, and given the opportunity to attend the prestigious Arcanist University in the capital city of Ravenmore, the most sought-after opportunity for aspiring magic casters. It’s during his first quarter that a miscalculation in Spell Weaving results in shattering the stained-glass window of the University chapel. Then a blunder in Alchemy that causes a violent explosion. Then a Potion Making accident. Wand Crafting incident. Elemental Divination disaster. Spirit Mediation catastrophe. And then an error in Pyrotechnics that sets fire to the main library, salvaged by a quick-thinking professor.

And finally . . .

Expulsion.

Only after paying a soothsayer to uncover the mystery of his disastrous quandary does he uncover the truth:

He’s cursed.

Not a little cursed. Not marginally cursed.

Completely cursed!

As in cursed so deeply that it can never be undone. Born that way, the soothsayer had said, and destined to live out his days that way.

You’ve heard correctly: the lad’s as cursed as cursed can be.

Want to apply a magical solution to deal with nasty vermin? Good luck. An invocation to reverse the jinx laid upon you by a spiteful witch? Keep your fingers crossed. A spell to protect your land and her people against a violent and ruthless horde of berserkers? Don’t even think about it!

Thus life takes young Ellis on a shameful path as an uncertified arcanist only the poor can afford and the despondent dare consider, even now at the ripe old age of sixty-two.

People like the good townsfolk of Saplinger.

“I have a couple of conditions,” I say to the mayor, realizing he isn’t a very friendly fellow by the way his lip curls like a rabid dog frothing at the mouth. “One, a hot bath. Two, a hot meal. Three, a room to sleep. And four, a guide to accompany me into the forest. Someone who knows their way and someone who won’t get us killed.”

The mayor shrivels his nose. “That’s four conditions, not two.” Then he says, “I’ll agree to the first three. As for the fourth, you’re on your own. I’ll not send my people into that anathema of a forest, unless someone wants to volunteer.”

It’s as if the entire tavern shrinks back.

I can’t blame them. Who would be foolish enough to go with me? They’re afraid, scared for their lives, and especially for the lives of their children. Perhaps they’re cowards, and rightfully so. Cowards live, after all. But volunteers? Best of luck to the poor sap that joins the cursed arcanist. Good luck to him indeed! It reminds me of the time—

“I’ll do it.”

We all look to the back of the tavern, following the sound of a young lady’s voice. There’s a teenage girl standing along the wall. She’s maybe sixteen or seventeen, a skinny urchin with smudged cheeks and threadbare clothes. I’m not the only one who doubts my ears. It’s as if the words were conjured from thin air, not her.

“I’ll do it,” she says again, putting to rest any doubts.

I’m happy to accept this most unlikely volunteer, but the mayor seems to disagree. He wags a finger at the girl. “Absolutely not. I forbid it.” Then to me, he says, “Forgive my niece, Sera. She’s, how should we say, enthusiastic at times.”

“It’s not enthusiasm, Uncle. It’s called courage.” Sera’s voice matches her fire-red hair. The townsfolk part to allow her through. “I know the forest better than anyone. I can follow the trails and track that horrid beast to his lair. Who else here would do it? You, Uncle? Any of you?” She points at the others, who shrink back even farther.

“Sera, please—”

“I said I’ll take him, and that’s that.”

The room falls silent. The air is so still, I could slice it with a farmer’s scythe.

I like Sera’s indomitable spirit. It reminds me of myself at her age, believing I could achieve anything. Of course, courage has its downside, but I keep that to myself.

I speak up, as her uncle seems to have lost his tongue. “Then it’s settled. We head out at first light.”

COLLAPSE

About the Author

STEVE PANTAZIS is an award-winning author who won the prestigious Writers of the Future award in 2015 and has gone on to publish a number of short stories in leading anthologies and magazines, including Nature, Galaxy’s Edge and IGMS. When not writing (a rare occasion!), Steve creates extraordinary cuisine, exercises with vigor, and shares marvelous adventures with the love of his life. Originally from the Big Apple, he now calls Southern California home. You can learn more about him at www.StevePantazis.com.