Another Visit to Nantes, France

I’ve been holding onto this photo for a while, wondering what sort of post to put together. It dates back to December of last year, and the class of high school students in Nantes, France who read the first two chapters of Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud and then wrote what they thought would come next. While I enjoyed all of their efforts, I allowed readers to vote for their favorites. You can check out the whole project here. The whole class received some stuff relating to my book, and the groups chosen as winners received paperback copies of my book.

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Right now Amazon is selling the paperback copy of Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud for $3.66, and I just found out the sequel, The Squire and the Slave Master, should be available in paperback in September (the eBook is available now), so I thought this a good time to share this class photo and re-post the winning stories.

Group 3 Chapter Three

The Forest of Doom

“Cedric, I have never been this far.” Owen said. “Have you already travelled to the Land of Fire?”

Cedric grinned “Haven’t any of your books recounted the story of the wizards?” Cedric asked.

“No, you of all wizards should know these stories have been forbidden since the Wizard Rebellion.”

“Indeed Owen, they have been banned. We are bred within the Land of Fire. Wizards have always been linked to dragons and witchcraft. But each of you forgets, wizards are the descendants of fire”

Owen then remembered himself at a younger age, trying to understand the origin of wizards by entering Old Master Dennison’s chamber. One day he had managed to get inside and the sight before him was beyond imagination. He had seen shelves of ancient writings dating back to the Age of Light! At that moment Master Dennison had rushed in and pulled him out of that room. From that day on the room had always been locked…

“Owen, I am returning to my ancestral land” Cedric said.

As they were silently moving forward, they suddenly heard something rustle in the branches. Was it an animal or a human being?

“Owen! Ride as quickly as you can! Someone has been following us!” shouted Cedric. He rode as quickly as he could, not daring to look behind. He knew Cedric was right behind him but he saw none of their foes.

Owen had never fully trusted Cedric. His mother had been killed by non-traditional magic. And the king’s bastard would never forget such a thing.

“Owen! We can stop now,” called Cedric.

Owen awaited the arrival of the wizard to ask him: “What was that?”

“Dark Magic, Owen” answered Cedric with no further explanation.

“But what was it, an animal?”

“I do not know. But trust me, running was the only solution. Dark Magic is very dangerous. However this means we are followed.” Who could possibly be following them? Nobody knew they had left the castle. Except… maybe…

“Riders approaching!” shouted Cedric.

Strangely enough they seemed to be soldiers from Wittentun. As they approached, Owen recognized them.

“Friends, how come you are so far from the castle?” inquired the young prince.

“Queen Andrea sent us. We have come to help you. Since your departure things have changed. There have been more and more occurrences of witchcraft within the realm.” answered Ansfrid, one of the most fierce and truthful soldiers to be found in Wittentun.

The bastard started asking himself questions. Could he really trust Queen Andrea? What was she doing during his absence? He did not like the feeling of his father being left alone with her.

“Ansfrid, you may escort us to the Land of Fire but no further. Send the two other riders back to Wittentun, and make sure they inform us of our Queen’s next actions.” ordered Cedric.

“I do not trust my mother-in-law,” Owen whispered to him.

“A good thing” he answered.

“Tomorrow, we shall reach the Forest of Doom, it will be the first step of our adventure,” Cedric announced.

“Good, the faster we get out of that place, the better” Ansfrid pointed out. “The forest of Doom is the legendary culprit of darkness. It is said dark forces and evil wizards live there, awaiting doomsday.”

The small group settled in the forest as the moon appeared even brighter in the sky. During the night Ansfrid woke Owen and Cedric.

“There was something over there, it was coming our way!”

“Cedric, look out!” hollered Ansfrid.

A black arrow missed Cedric’s throat “Everyone under cover!” shouted the soldier. Once again they had not seen the person behind this treachery. The sun was rising, peeking faintly through the trees, so the three companions decided to set out.

They finally arrived at the forest of Doom. Here the forest was so dense they could not see any ray of sunlight. It was the most ominous place Owen had seen until now, and this was not his normal life being a bastard prince.

After a few seconds of hesitation our three saviors entered the Forest of Doom. The first thing they saw was a sign. It said “Beware!!” with blood and the placard was mounted on a dead person’s body. Cedric took no notice of it, however, the others looked at each other in a strange manner.

“Come on you scaredy-cats. This is nothing compared to what you are going to see in the Land of Fire.” sniggered Cedric…

And of course he was right. The quartet had a perilous journey ahead of them. Owen, Ansfrid and the soldier followed Cedric and passed the hanged man disgustedly. Even though it was the morning and the sun was shining, they lit up torches. The canopy eclipsed the daylight completely and the obscure woods showed no sign of friendly life.

“Are you sure passing through this forest is the only way?” questioned Owen with an unsteady voice. He was of a brave kind but this place seemed so hostile that he was becoming more afraid as they were carrying on.

“Stop casting doubts on my decisions. There is no better way of reaching the Land of Fire fast. We may encounter some undesired and aggressive creatures but do not worry, we will survive.” answered Cedric in a calm and confident voice. Owen looked at him with shocked eyes but tried not to show his fear; the thought of dying had never been so realistic.

They walked for hours and hours without stopping and luckily did not meet any attacking creatures or evil wizards. In fact, they had not seen any living being since they had entered the forest. At the end of what seemed a day they decided to stop and sleep for a few hours.

“Getting rest is very important. If we are tired and stop at irregular times we will lose track of the days. The wizards who live in this forest use dark magic to confuse the rare people who enter it. Legends say that some travelers get so lost and mentally disoriented because of dark magic that they never get out and haunt the place forever.” warned Cedric.

Now Owen was in a constant state of anxiety which exhausted him even more. He fell asleep in no time knowing that Cedric was staying up as watchman. But the three men had walked a very long distance and Cedric’s level of attention was unusually low.

The area was plunged into the dark except for the petty fire they had lit. The red flames projected worrying shadows on the surrounding trees. The air and the very flat ground were humid and cold. Cedric estimated the sky to be now dark and the moonlight lighting the landscape, but he could not be sure because of the trees concealing the firmament. He had done his job well, Owen and Ansfrid were fast asleep and it would be harder for dark magic to affect them. He knew well enough that this was the time wizards or creatures came out and looked for easy victims.

At first he heard nothing. A complete silence fell on the gigantic forest. Anybody would become crazy with such a deep and unsettling stillness and absence of sound. But Cedric had already experienced it and knew it would not stay this way for very long. Strangely it did. For too long… The quietness was paralyzing, Cedric had never seen such an unusual blackout in the Forest of Doom and it kept him from moving. His heart started beating faster and his breath was the only thing he could hear. His fellow travelers were still sleeping but he could not even detect their breathing. Suddenly the very few remaining flames of the fire disappeared in a split second. Cedric shivered it was now very cold and the night was pitchblack. A thought came across his mind. Maybe they were lucky and had stopped in an area where there was no dark magic to be found. Maybe it was just a very cold night and wizards and creatures did not come out of their hideouts. With this cheering reasoning, Cedric decided to close his eyes for a few minutes. He was drained and would not be able to stay up until Ansfrid’s watch turn. The silence was still complete and about half an hour went by before Cedric opened his eyes again. His heart stopped for a couple of seconds. All around their campsite about a hundred grey spectres floated in mid-air. They were terrifying. They were all different but had the same empty look, there were no eyes in their sockets just black holes. Cedric then understood they were the lost travelers he had mentioned earlier. It was not a legend! He knew they would not waste their time on him, he knew how to protect himself. But they were going to try to take control of the three other men when they woke up. A single look in their eye sockets and they would start to be confused and lose their memory. Cedric had to find a way to warn his sleeping companions without them looking first at the phantoms. If he moved or tried to protect them, the ghosts would come closer towards them and attack the three other men straight away. But something else saved them from the threatening ghosts…

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a blast blew up all the shades. At first Cedric did not know what it was but then he remembered: it was a dark magic spell. So the person behind the spell was not actually trying to save them but to attack them without being interrupted by the specters. Owen and Ansfrid woke up with a start. Cedric said they were in danger so without further thought the four men jumped on their horses and fled without even looking behind them.

However, they had forgotten dark magic always attracts ancient creatures…

When they finally stopped, Owen instantly asked: “Cedric, what happened?”

After a few moments, he answered: “Dark magic, Owen, dark magic… A wizard was going to assault us with obscure enchantments…” he answered as if in a trance.

As he finished his sentence, a very strange creature of some kind appeared between the trees. Under his breath Cedric whispered “Oh my God, it cannot be! It is the legendary Cacus!”

Cacus was supposed to have been killed during the battle of the Eagles. The legendary creature standing before them was a fire-breathing giant and the only way to kill it would be to shoot directly at its neck, where its heart was supposed to be. “Damn, I completely forgot. Legendary creatures are attracted by dark magic.” Whispered Cedric.

Cacus ran straight at them with his gigantic hammer. Owen tried to break the creature’s weapon with all his strength. Cacus saw him coming and swung its hammer at Owen’s head. The prince fell to the ground, his armour scattered to pieces. Ansfrid with all his courage, charged the giant but had to draw back because of the fire which blazed out of its nostrils. Cacus was going to unleash its final blow, when suddenly a black arrow the size of a spear appeared from nowhere, piercing the creature’s nape. The legendary beast fell abruptly to the ground. “Owen, are you alright?” shouted both of his companions.

“Yes, I am” he said “Thanks to her!” Owen was pointing in the direction of Yara who was running towards him to help him up.

“What are you doing here?!” asked the young man in surprise.

Group 15 Chapter Three

After one straight day of walking, Yara, Owen and Cedric found an inn in Goblinshire, where they could sleep, eat and have a drink. After drinking a little too much, Cedric, Yara and Owen had become the best friends in the world.

“I don’t know how I could sleep with the awful smell”, said Cedric unconsciously.

“Yes, I won’t feel safe knowing that those thieves are hanging around”, Owen replied.

A few goblins at a neighboring table were looking at the three friends in an offensive way.

Cedric decided it was the best thing to do to insult Indicus, brother of Sativarius, King of goblins. After one minute, the tavern was a real wrestling ring. The strength of Owen, the intelligence of Yara and the magic of Cedric, allowed them to win the battle in no time. But only one goblin escaped: Jack Horror. He told king Sativarius, who decided to form a small army of thousands of the best creatures of Goblinshire. Aware of nothing, the three friends continued their route to the great wizard through the arid desert of Kussland. But the journey was long and the weather was hot and it was now at three days of walking when they arrived at the magical city of Frisianton. They were running short on provisions and the goblins were close to arriving in the town. That was when things started to be bad.

“Oh!” Cedric said.

“What is the problem?” replied Owen

“Goblings are heading to Frisianton from the east and will be there in a few days, we have to move faster. What’s the problem with a few goblins when we have beaten a hundred!” said Yara, joking. And what if there are thousands of trolls, ogres, orcs, goblins and a Sonarian dragon?”

In a second, their material was packed and the friends moved to Frisianton as fast as possible to form their own army and fight fiercely the vicious goblins. After walking for two and a half days they finally arrived at a billboard indicating that they were close to the city, creating a release for the three young adventurers, but it was nothing compared to what they were about to discover…

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Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud: Chapter Three

While you decide which student versions of Chapter Three have earned your votes, here’s the version I wrote as it appeared in the book. Enjoy!

If you like what you’ve seen and what to read the rest of Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, Muse It Up Publishing and Amazon both have it on sale for $2.75 (USD). It’s $5.50 everywhere else.

Here are the links to the other posts involving this project:

Intro and Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud: Chapter One:
Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud: Chapter Two:

Student Versions of Chapter Three

Group 1
Group 2
Group 3
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7
Group 8
Group 9
Group 10
Group 11
Group 12
Group 13
Group 14
Group 15

Voting open from September 18-24

Winning submission(s) announced September 25 (Link will go live on the 25th)

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Chapter Three
Wizards

The thick forest surrounding Innes Village blocked out any moonlight. An owl screeched in the distance, as if it were mocking the inevitable use of magic. A wolf howled again, much farther away than the last time.

“Listen here, wizard!” Owen snapped. “I will not be learning any magic.”

Cedric walked on. “Of course not. That’s why I had you bring your sword. Diversity—the key to many of life’s challenges.” Cedric turned his head, his brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed leaving slits as black as the surrounding woods. “But I’m not a wizard, and I would appreciate you not calling me one. I have denounced them and their ways. The Wizard Rebellion tainted the word for all those using magic for good purposes.”

“Diversity may be key, but magic has caused me more pain and hardship than it will ever aid me.”

What good could come of magic? Owen didn’t like the idea of depending on magic to survive the desert, regardless of who cast the spells.

Cedric’s voice called out from deeper within the woods, “The hour draws late, and I can scarcely see in this forest. If my memory holds true, a clearing lies just ahead. We can set camp and build a fire there.”

When Owen caught up, Cedric had already started gathering firewood. Owen helped, happy to end the conversation about magic. The trees parted above the clearing, and the sky shown bright with stars and the waxing gibbous moon. The huge star that had shown through the window in the dining hall, much brighter than all other heavenly bodies save the moon, now twinkled just over the tall peaks of the western tree line.

They piled the wood, and Owen went in search of food. He returned with three frogs from a nearby stream, their backs speared by his blade. Another trip to the stream resulted in a full lambskin canteen. He came back to find the fire roaring.

Cedric spun the frogs on a skewer made from a small branch. He removed the meat from the fire and distributed portions. “I know you hold magic responsible for what happened to your mother. You’ve made no effort to hide your hatred of magicians. It’s no secret you blame me. I can tell you what really happened the night your mother died, if you’ll listen.”

Owen almost swallowed the frog’s leg bone from which he sucked the meat. “No! I’m not talking about that with you. If not for you, she would have never learned magic. If not for you, the Wizard Rebellion would have never shown up at Innes Castle. If not for you, my mother would still be alive!”

“The Wizard Rebellion would have attacked Innes Castle had I been there or not.” Cedric pressed his palms against his eyes. He shook his head, and hair fell over his fingers. “Owen, there’s so much you don’t understand. Magic is neither good nor evil. Evil people using magic, and their intentions, are what instill magic with evil. If you won’t let me tell you what happened when your mother died, at least let me explain the Wizard Rebellion. You need to know how they began.”

Owen thought about Cedric’s offer for a moment. Without knowing where they needed to go or how long it would take to get there, he guessed several days constituted a conservative estimate. He may as well let the crazy old man tell his story. The magician wouldn’t likely let it rest until he did. He took the last piece of frog meat from the skewer and poked the fire with a long branch before adding it to the fire. Embers sparked and floated away in the zephyr, burning out one by one.

“All right,” Owen said. “Tell me about the Wizard Rebellion.”

Cedric leaned back on a tree stump and talked. Owen listened with rapt attention to the story of how the Wizard Rebellion really started.

* * * *

The pitch black of the starless night sky violently erupted with lightning. The humid air had felt electric all day with the pending storm on the horizon. Now, nature would release all of her fury in a matter of hours. Trees would fall, and lands would flood. A gust of wind blew in through the cracked cabin window, snuffing out the lantern for the third time.

Tired of relighting it, as well as struggling to keep his newly acquired fire magic under control—a singed wall and scorched cuff on his robe accompanied the first two relights—Cedric fell back on easier magic. He took up a staff with a small sphere at the end, and he made the sphere glow a brilliant white-blue twice as lustrous as the lantern.

The light gave a purple hue to the face of the man sitting at the table reading a letter. Shadows formed in his sunken cheeks. He was lean but not unhealthy. The trick of the light made him resemble a skeleton. He ran a hand through his short hair.

“Thank you, Cedric,” Argnam said. “I think I’ll soon retire for the evening. Follum says the Western Domain passed a law restricting magic users to practice only within the confines of their own homes. He says he will journey to their land to discuss the foolishness of the law.”

Cedric moved around the table to better see the note over Argnam’s shoulder. Over a year ago, he had suggested they try establishing communication with those fearful of magic, but his mentor hadn’t thought they would listen. “Have you changed your mind about reaching out to non-magic users?”

“Nay, Follum believes fear spawns from ignorance, and he thinks people can learn to trust magic. I don’t share that optimistic world view. I’ve used my magic to heal fatal wounds, just to have the recovered person spit in my face for using magic on them.” Argnam finished reading the letter. “Follum is right about one thing, we have to do something to stop the persecution of wizards. I’ve thought about organizing a rebellion. Give me another night to think on it, and we can discuss some ideas I’ve developed tomorrow.”

That night, Cedric dreamed of a great battle. Older, and now a true magician, he fought for his life. Others fought in the battle as well; some of whom he knew well, others he didn’t. Yet in the surreal world of the dream, he knew everyone. And he understood where his loyalties lay.

A blue flash of light hurled toward Cedric. He jumped aside just in time. The magic slammed into the interior castle wall, causing it to crumble. In mid-dive, he charged his staff with strange magic he didn’t yet understand. He rolled to his feet and propelled his staff like a spear at the familiar wizard who stood before him. The spear landed home and pierced the center of his former mentor’s chest. Argnam had time to look down at the staff embedded in his chest before the staff exploded, killing him.

The next day, Cedric told Argnam of the dream.

Argnam fixed Cedric with a gaze that seemed to penetrate his inner spirit. “You know some wizards are dreamers. They can see the future in their dreams, but you’ve never had a seeing dream before, have you?”

“No.”

“Then I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ve never heard of a dreamer gaining the power as late in life as you.”

“I’m only twenty-four,” Cedric said.

“Yes, but you’re almost ten years older than the typical age. Only once have I heard of a seer gaining the gift as late in life as sixteen. It just doesn’t happen.”

“I started my training in magic later than most. Do you think that could affect the onset?”

Argnam placed his hands on Cedric’s shoulders. “Listen, I’m not going to worry about it, and neither should you.”

Cedric closed his eyes and shook his head. “I’ll try, but the dream seemed so real.”

Argnam released the young man and took a seat. He gestured for Cedric to sit as well. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Now I’d like to tell you about my plan.”

They discussed forming a band of wizards with the purpose of traveling the world, seeking more wizards to join their ranks and attempting to convince non-magical people not to fear those who could wield magic.

As he thought over the plan, Cedric scratched at the stubble of the beard he had decided to grow a week ago. It itched so much. He didn’t know how long he’d be able to keep at it. “And how do you suppose this…what should we call it, this Wizard Rebellion, should convince those who fear magic to trust it? I know you don’t believe in talking sense into them like Follum does.”

“We could hold demonstrations, public displays of magic. We could hold mass healing ceremonies. Anything to show people what good can come from magic.”

Cedric shook his head. “When people hear wizards are banning together, they will pass laws to make our congregations illegal.”

Argnam stretched his hands behind his head. A smug arrogance washed over his face, making it look more rigid than normal. “I’ve thought of that. We’ll have to organize the wizards in secret. Keep our presence as quiet as possible. When we emerge in numbers, they won’t have time to make laws.”

A vision of Cedric’s dream flashed in his head. He blinked to shake off the memory. “Some people may become violent. Fear is a great motivator.”

Argnam rose and walked to a window. “If anyone raises a hand against us, we can use our magic to defend ourselves. Of course, a non-magic user couldn’t do much to defend against one wizard, let alone many. So we’d have to be careful. Use our defensive spells sparingly. If anyone were to get hurt, it would set our cause back a great deal.”

Thus the Wizard Rebellion started. The next day, Cedric made the first recruit when Necrose came to see if they, too, had received the letter from Follum.

A year passed. Many wizards in the Western Domain and Southern Domain joined the Rebellion. Argnam wanted to gain an alliance in the Eastern Domain before moving into the Northern Domain, due to the Northern Domain’s geographical isolation. He intended to leave the political juggernaut of the Central Domain for last.

“Cedric,” Argnam said, “the time has come for your Endeavor.”

Cedric’s mouth fell agape, and he dropped the goblet of water he carried. He had hoped to take on his Endeavor soon, but the mentor always determined the time, place, and event.

“I have received another letter from Follum. Remember a year ago when he went to the Eastern Domain to convince them their laws had to change? Well, it appears they prosecuted him, and he has spent most of the last year in prison. Your Endeavor is to rescue him, and, of course, find new recruits for the Wizard Rebellion while you’re in the east.”

Cedric made haste from the swamplands of the south to Echion, the capital city of the Eastern Domain. Once there, he bypassed the barracks and headed for the rocky cliffs of the seashore. One of the wizards he met along the way, and successfully recruited for the Rebellion, informed him the prison stood on a plateau that hung over the ocean.

Looking at the fortress, Cedric thought escape was too easy for a wizard. The rocky cliff and the ocean would deter a normal person from breaking out and leave them incapable of breaking in. With magic, he scaled the rock wall and made his way to the top of the prison, only to find it completely unguarded.

Inside, he didn’t know where to start looking, but he didn’t have to wander long. He held out his hand, and a fireball ignited and floated just above his fingers. The illumination showed an elderly man on a bunk in the cell straight ahead. Follum. Cedric extinguished the fire and charged the end of his staff. The faint glow it gave off reminded him of a dream he had forgotten long ago. What had the dream been about? Had he used his staff to kill someone? He snapped back from his memory and used the staff to pass the energy to the bars of the cell. They each gave off the same glow. He stepped back, and the bars exploded.

Follum sprang from the bed much faster than seemed possible for a man of his age. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Rescuing you,” Cedric said.

Follum didn’t act old at all as his tongue tore into Cedric. “You can’t be serious. I am a master wizard. You are an apprentice. Do you think me incapable of breaking out of here if I so desired.”

Cedric stood confounded.

Follum approached him with anger in his eyes. “I’ve remained to show the people of this land that I respect them and their laws. I hoped in time they would come to understand that I intend them no harm. Did you even face any guards getting in here? I bet not. And they moved me to this cell earlier today. Someone set you up. Let’s go. We have to leave now!”

Cedric stared dumbfounded as Follum walked away. How could he have fallen for such an obvious trick? He followed Follum, and the two men hurried down the cliff wall and back toward the village.

“We’ll follow this path toward Echion and hide in the forest.”

Cedric still pondered who could have set him up. “Argnam sent me to rescue you as my Endeavor. No one else knew the plan.”

“Congratulations! You’re one of the craft now. You saved me.” Follum turned on Cedric. “You’re also a fool. He must have sent word of your coming. Let’s take this path and hide in the forest.”

Cedric felt like a fool. He thought he needed to explain himself. “We formed a rebellion to fight the injustices wizards face. We want to show people that magic can help them. I had hoped you would join us after I rescued you.”

“Peaceful demonstrations have been tried before. They never work. At some point, they get out of control. The peace turns to violence, and the original cause looks worse than it did before the demonstrations. No, I will not join you. Argnam should have known I would refuse. I think your whole Endeavor is a test of your loyalty to Argnam.”

Could Argnam have set me up to test my convictions?

Just before they reached the canopy of trees, countless soldiers emerged from the forest.

Follum made no effort to take a defensive stance. “An hour of judgment has come. Decisions made now will determine not only our fate, but the fate of all magic users in the eyes of the people of the Eastern Domain. I am prepared to wait out my days in prison. Yet we have come this far, and I will aid you in escape if you so desire.”

Cedric considered his options. He could stand down with Follum. But he’d have to spend time in prison. He didn’t share all of Follum’s beliefs. While a fight could set back what little progress had been made over the past few years. “As long as we don’t kill any soldiers, I say we fight. I don’t believe rotting in prison will convince anyone to trust magic.”

Cedric waved his staff, and the front line of soldiers flew back, knocking over the next two rows. Follum joined in the attack, and the two wizards worked their way into the forest and out of the Eastern Domain.

* * * *

By the time Cedric finished, the large, bright star in the west had progressed east to light the night sky directly overhead. He claimed exhaustion and settled down to sleep.

Owen lay awake pondering the tale. The information confounded him. This fool just told him he started the Rebellion, yet the rebellion from the story didn’t seem at all like the one he remembered. Cedric even gave the Rebellion its name. And helped recruit new members. I wonder how many of the members he recruited were involved with the bombardment of Innes Castle?

To clear his thoughts, he reminisced about his mother while he watched shooting stars burn across the clear night sky. Before long, his eyes grew heavy. Sleep overtook him.

****

Want more of Owen, Cedric and the rest of the characters from Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud? Find the link to your favorite retailer here.