CHAPTERS 1-10 - FOR SECRET SOCIETY MEMBERS ONLY!
Brand new, never-before-seen chapters of book two in the Firecaller series, Royal Mage.
Royal Mage starts where we left our travelers at the end of Fire Mage - at the home of Argus's master, Remus the shrinking mage.
Jena, Nate, Bree and Argus are on a journey to find out more about their destiny. But first, they'll have to battle monsters, overcome evils, and find the truth among the lies being told to the kingdom.
Read on to find out more...
"Argus, you succeeded.” Remus lifted his cup of tea in toast. “I wasn't sure you would.” The shrinking mage smiled and it seemed an unnatural act, his lips stretching uncomfortably across his yellowed teeth.
Nate clenched his hands around the mug he held, struggling to contain the emotions that raged inside him. After all their travels, after almost dying several times and the kernel of hope he’d been nursing about Argus’s master being able to save him... it was a disappointment to finally meet Remus.
He’d known at first glance that the strange deformed mage wasn’t the saviour he’d been looking for. There was something cold and devious about him; it emanated off him, leaving Nate with a greasy feeling whenever Remus came near.
The ghost’s warning was spinning around in his head: Don’t trust the mercenary’s master. He means you harm. He’d been hoping the ghost who’d appeared as Argus fought the hashishin had been wrong or perhaps telling half-truths.
But as soon as he’d seen Remus, he’d known the ghost was right. They couldn’t trust Argus's master, not even the tiniest amount.
He shivered. Despite the warmth of the cheerful fire burning in the grate, he felt cold. They were sitting around the hearth in Remus’s cottage, drinking the tea he’d just made them. Shadows danced on the walls, which were hung with disturbing masks and stuffed animals, plus shelves of books and vials filled with strange liquids. It was like a distorted, unhappy version of his grandfather’s spell room.
And his grandfather’s room hadn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs.
Next to Nate, Argus looked up from contemplating the teacup he was holding in one enormous hand, his expression hard. "You said you could help Nate."
"Yes, I suppose I did." Remus’s eyes bulged in the dim light, the milky disease that affected the eyes of the elderly creeping across their surface. He was sitting on top of three ancient spell books, his need to be taller than everyone else while they sat in front of the fire outweighing the centuries of magic and knowledge they contained.
Nate couldn't help wondering how old the mage actually was. His age was masked by the grotesqueness of his current state. His body was wizened and wrinkled unnaturally, his lopsided face perched precariously on a bird-like neck. It was part of the spell that was causing him to decrease in size; Nate had never seen anything like it before.
He watched Remus with narrowed eyes, trying to see through the disturbing surface to the man beyond. His imagination failed him. “And can you help me? Or is this a deception you've created?" His voice was harsh, and he was expecting an answer he didn't want to hear.
"I can help you, and you can help me. It will be a fair trade." Remus smiled again.
Nate ground his teeth. "How can I help you?" he said. "I don't have any useful powers. I’m sure you’re aware of that. My grandfather let it be widely known that I lack the family talent as a mage." He wasn’t going to trust this shrinking schemer with the secret of his supposed Firecaller talent.
"I have searched for many years to find a way to reverse the spell that was cast on me. I have foreseen that you will be the answer to my problems."
Nate’s heart beat faster. What did the old mage know? “How? What do you want from me?"
"You must use the Book of Spells to save me.” Remus leaned forward, his unsettling eyes focused on Nate. “I know you possess it. It is part of the prophecy."
Across from where he sat, Nate felt rather than saw Jena’s sudden intake of breath. Beside Jena, Bree put her hand on her sister’s arm.
He didn't say anything for a moment, gathering his thoughts. He was determined not to give away Jena’s secrets either. "What makes you so sure I have the Book of Spells?”
"It is written in the prophecies. Do not bother to lie to me.” Remus made a wide gesture with one long, thin arm, the huge spell books rustling as he moved. “I have studied for years to find a way out of this curse. It's in the Book of Spells, I know it is.” His unsteady eyes flickered in the firelight, and Nate’s intuition kicked into full force.
They couldn’t trust this old man with anything. Not one thing.
The full force of their wasted journey hit Nate in the chest, and he struggled to take a breath. Remus wasn’t going to help him, wasn’t going to save him. He wasn’t going to do anything but double cross them if he could possibly manage it. What were they going to do now?
How was he to defeat Lothar?
Across from him, Jena stirred. “How did you come by this particular shrinking curse, Remus? It seems too simple a spell to confound a powerful mage such as yourself." She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes.
Remus's face twisted for a split second, pulling his features into an even more terrible disfigurement. It seemed he might not answer Jena’s question for a moment. Then he gave his chilling smile. "I was caught by a woman. Two women, actually. They were jealous of my powers and connived together. Separately they were weak and pitiful. But one placed a shrinking spell on me, just as the other placed an eternal spell. Combined they were powerful enough to entrap me."
Nate glanced up quickly. "How is it these women were casting spells? And how is it you can't remove a simple shrinking spell?"
Remus shook his head impatiently. "This was a long time ago, and both women were witches, so they had some power of their own. I had taught them a few simple mage spells."
Nate blinked. “Mage spells? Women can't do mage spells.” He forced himself not to glance at Jena.
Remus saw his expression and waved away his breach of the centuries-old mage law with one arrogant flick of his wrist. "It seemed innocent enough, but they used it against me. On that day, I realized the Council was right to uphold the ban on women casting spells and becoming mages. They use their emotions over their logic. It leads to no good."
"What happened to them? Why didn't they relent?" Asked Nate, even thought he thought he knew why they didn't relent. He wouldn't give in to this little monster either.
"Bah," said Remus. "I had cast a spell on them first, and it took affect before I could ask them to change it."
"And you couldn't reverse the spell you cast on them?"
"What use would that have been? They wouldn't have reversed my spell. If I had to be stuck shrinking through the years, they could be stuck in their assigned roles as well. It was a fit punishment."
"Even at the expense of your own health?" He couldn’t believe it. Remus’s pride was phenomenal.
"I was confident back then that I would find a way out of the spell. It has since come to my attention that although the eternal spell is small, it is powerful. It does not detach itself easily."
“What's in the Book of Spells that will stop you shrinking?" Again Nate had to concentrate hard on not looking at Jena.
Remus made an impatient noise. “I don't know what it is; I just know it's there. Something in the Book of Spells can turn back an eternity spell.” He leaned forward again, his strange milky eyes focused on Nate’s face. “You have it, and in return for me saving you from certain death at Lothar’s hands, I want to look through the book.”
A whisper of unease rolled up Nate’s spine. What would the shrinking mage do when he realized that Nate didn't have the Book? Would Remus stand back and let them all die at Lothar’s hands?
Of course he would.
"And if I don't have it?" Nate asked softly.
"The Guardian might be dead, but the Book still exists. I know you have it." Remus’s eyes gleamed in the firelight. Even lopsided, his power was disquieting.
"What makes you so sure?" Nate leaned back in his chair, tapping one finger gently on the arm, and wishing they’d never come to this place.
"Thornal couldn't destroy it. It's just not possible. What good is a Guardian without a Book to protect?" Remus shrugged, his head drooping to one side. "You are the one from the prophecy, and you are intimately connected to the Book in all the old sources. I know you have it."
Remus huffed, sweeping his arm in an impatient arc. "I have studied for the last sixty years, trying to find a way out of this flaming spell. I know that Lothar, the Rose King, is finally moving, and the prophecy is under way."
"What makes you so sure about the prophecies?” Nate finally glanced at Jena, wondering what she wanted him to do.
She just shrugged, as if it was no concern of hers.
Remus nodded his head towards his hearth. "I have a Flame Echo in my fireplace. I hear the news; sometimes more than I should."
Nate glanced at the fire, its rosy flames suddenly taking on a more sinister glow. It took a complicated spell to create an Echo bond. Most of the Flame Echoes that existed had been put in place by the Great Mage, centuries ago. It was a timely reminder that Remus was a very powerful mage. He needed to be careful. “And if I help you undo this spell, what will you do for me?"
"I can help you defeat Lothar. I can lead you to Lothar's weaknesses."
Nate leaned forward. "What are his weaknesses?"
Remus patted the side of his nose. "I keep my secrets until you have given me what I need. Give me the Book, and I will tell you how to defeat Lothar."
Nate paused. "I need some time," he said. "I'll have to go through it to see what might be of use to you. It’s not always a matter of simply reading the Book of Spells."
Annoyance flitted across Remus's face before he could hide it. "It would be easier if you simply gave me the Book to study."
"I gave an oath. It stays with me."
Jena yawned widely.
She’d barely slept all night, despite having a proper bed for the first time since they’d left the Forest of Ghosts. Remus had grudgingly allowed the women to use his spare room, while Nate and Argus had slept in front of the fire.
After a night in the room Jena was pretty certain Nate and Argus got the better end of that deal. The walls were covered in stuffed animal heads of all different sizes, from tiny lava mice to larger wild cats and even a two-headed fire deer. Their glassy eyes had stared out at her all night, infecting her dreams and making her toss and turn wretchedly.
As soon as light had filtered across the sky, Jena had emerged from the room, ready to leave. But Nate and Argus were nowhere to be found. She discovered that Remus had been awake before her, and had already asked Nate and Argus to do some chores for him. Argus hadn’t yet told Remus that the spell had been broken, and the mage didn’t seem to have noticed. Argus and Nate had apparently packed up a bag and headed to the quarry for some rocks to fix Remus’s home.
So now Jena and Bree were sitting on the veranda looking out over the barren landscape, trying not to be too impatient. It was still early morning; steam was rising from several rocky vents in the distance, and small animals occasionally popped their heads out from behind the sporadic underbrush.
“You’d think they’d know to stay well hidden,” said Jena.
“What?” said Bree absently. She’d been staring into the distance in the direction that Nate and Argus had left from.
“The animals. Otherwise they’d end up on our host’s walls.”
Bree shivered delicately. “How does he get their eyes to look so real?” she asked.
Jena shrugged. “Magic.”
Bree didn’t take her gaze away from the narrow track.
“They’ll be back soon. He’s only sent them to get some rocks from the quarry. Argus said it wasn’t far away.”
“I’m just nervous. Around…you know.”
Jena nodded. She knew exactly what Bree was talking about. Remus was a devious old man. He watched them out of the corner of his eyes, when he thought they weren't watching, with a faint sneer on his lips.
Even worse, he was desperate. He'd kept pestering Nate last night about the Book of Spells, and every time he'd asked something new, Jena had been convinced he'd find out their secret. Nate hadn't looked at her and had answered calmly, but Jena's heart had been pounding loud enough to be heard across the kingdom.
When she discovered that he’d asked Nate and Argus to get the rocks, at first Jena had been confused. She’d assumed he would ask to see the book again first thing this morning. She’d been stealing herself for Nate’s reply. But Remus seemed to have changed his mind this morning. Except every instinct inside her was yelling that Remus had some kind of a devious plan. He didn't seem like the kind of person who would take no for an answer.
“They’re both big enough to look after themselves. They’ll be fine,” she said, although she wasn't convinced. Jena crossed her fingers and glanced nervously in the same direction Bree had been focusing.
Bree broke off as Remus came shuffling around the corner of the house. He'd excused himself not long after they'd gotten up, saying he had to pick some herbs for their dinner.
“Having a rest ladies?" he said. His tone and expression implied they were obviously lazy. In the time they’d spent with him, it had become clear Remus really didn’t like women at all.
"We've come a long way," Bree reminded him gently.
Jena glanced over at her sister, her mouth curving in a moment of genuine amusement. Bree was so forgiving. She assumed that perhaps Remus had forgotten their travels. Not that he was just a horrible little man.
"Ah yes, I suppose you have." Remus came to a halt in front of them. His tiny, deformed figure was clothed in an altered traditional mage gown, and his strange wrinkled hands hung from the sleeves like they weren't even joined to the rest of him. Despite looking like an enormous human-colored prune, he still managed to look dangerous. He cast a considering look over their faces. "How much do you wish to help Nate?" he asked. "Do you wish him to succeed against Lothar?"
I tensed, wondering where this was going. Remus's expression was just bland enough to be suspicious, his eyes glittering with an excitement I couldn't easily explain.
"Of course we do," said Bree, frowning. Her hands tightened on the arms of the wooden chair she was sitting in.
"I hesitate to tell you this. I'm not sure you're strong enough. Perhaps it will only upset you to know what you cannot do." He paused again, looking apologetic.
Jena raised her eyebrows, but refused to ask him to elaborate. The more she knew of this small mage, the more manipulative and devious he seemed. She wouldn't trust him if her life depended on it.
When neither of the sisters asked him the question he was waiting for, Remus continued. "You have an opportunity to help Nate defeat Lothar. But it will mean braving something rather frightening."
"What are you talking about?" said Bree, her kind face scrunched up in confusion.
"I could not tell you while the men were here; they would not have let you go."
Jena stood up. She'd had enough. "This is some kind of trick."
Bree pushed herself up from her chair and came to stand beside Jena in a show of solidarity that made Jena's chest tighten.
"My dear, this is no trick. It is within your power to bring Nate a lavaen stone from the core of the volcano. With such a powerful magical object on your side, Nate is certain to be victorious."
Jena's stomach dropped. “A lavaen stone?" Her one experience with a lavaen had been terrifying. She had no desire to repeat it.
"It is a powerful stone that comes from the very core of the beast. It forms like a pearl in an oyster. When it grows too large they heave it up, vomiting a stone of such power and beauty, it is legend among mages. The stone would give Nate the advantage he needs over Lothar."
Jena swayed where she stood as a page of the Book of Spells appeared in her head. She still wasn't used to the powerful mage tome being inside her head. For the thousandth time, she wondered what Thornal had been thinking, putting the ancient book inside her head. It was a guarantee of death for Jena, should any of the mages--for example like Remus--find out what he'd done. The page of the book that had shimmered to the surface showed a picture of a gleaming red stone in the hands of a mage. The writing talked of lavaen stones as if they were a myth. Jena clenched her hand. "And how are we supposed to get it?"
"You must enter the lair of the lavaen on this mountain, and ask her for it."
Jena shuddered, images of fire and death flashing through her head. “We can't just ask a lavaen for a stone. It'll kill us."
"A normal lavaen, perhaps. But this is a special creature. She used to be human, and was turned into a lavaen many years ago. She responds only to women. Males she tears to pieces. If you had the men along, they would only be a hindrance."
“Did you do something to her? Is that why she hates all men?”
Remus waved a hand. “It hardly matters how it came to be. But the stone is there for you, if you are brave enough to take it.”
"How exactly will the stone help Nate?” Jena asked. She knew there was some kind of trick involved in Remus’s suggestion, that he was probably expecting them to fail. But the nasty little mage didn’t know that she could do mage spells, that she had the book of spells inside her head, and that together Bree and Jena were a powerhouse team.
He was assuming he was sending two helpless women to the lavaen’s lair. Horrible little rotter.
It was hard to know how Argus had borne living alongside him all the years he was under his spell—although perhaps it explained the mercenary’s surly demeanor.
"It is a power source for the Firecaller. Lothar is gaining strength every day. Nate has no chance of winning this battle if he simply relies on his own abilities."
Jena thought of the murghah, and the small glowing ruby filled with souls the creature had carried. Lothar was using the souls of his own people to succeed in his terrible quest. What chance did they have against someone like that, unless they had something similar? "Say we believe you. What do we have to do?" Jena asked. She tried to ignore the flash of triumph on Remus's face.
"You must enter the cave, and ask for the pleasure of speech with her. If she roars, you must run immediately," said Remus. "You will have time to escape. If she purrs, she is happy to talk. Go inside, ask for the lavaen stone. Simple."
Jena turned to Bree and spoke in a low voice. "He's telling the truth about the lavaen stone. It's in the Book. If it can be of help to Nate, I need to go. But you should stay here and wait for Nate and Argus, tell them what I'm doing."
"No,” said Bree firmly, her eyes flashing. “If you go, I go. You might need help." Bree glanced over at Remus. "And I'm not staying here alone with him," she added under her breath.
Jena turned back to the shrinking mage. "How long will it take us to get to the lavaen's lair?"
"No more than an hour or two. It's very close."
She gazed up the mountain. In the distance shoots of red lava spurted out from the uppermost volcanoes. "It lives near the volcano?"
"It lives inside the volcano." Remus's eyes glinted, and Jena saw amusement flit across his face. She let out an angry breath. He was a smoky, devious mage and this was a trick of some kind. He thought they wouldn't survive the meeting with the lavaen.
But he didn't know them. He didn’t realize who their parents were, or that her grandfather had taught her to be a mage.
And it was in the Book. They – Nate – needed all the help he could get.
"Tell us how to get there."
Thanks so much for reading Royal Mage! Come back next week for more chapters...
Click this link to purchase Fire Mage, book one in the series!