The editing for Outcast Shadows is done, as is a sketch of the front cover! Next comes formatting the text, setting up the ISBNs, and coloring the cover. I’m hoping to have this all finished by the end of December so people can pre-order the book. The book will be out in March, but in the meantime, here is a sneak peak of the prologue (under the break)!
260 Years Ago
The full moon rose in the eastern sky, visible above the outer walls of Melieh’s Academy of Magic. Professor Leech had finally given up his nightly watch to go stop a fight between two students just indoors, which was a set-up, of course. Now sure that they would not be interrupted, Alistair called the rest of the students to the center of the courtyard.
Since the end of the day’s classes, they had been surreptitiously gathering out there, some pretending to study while others conversed about seemingly carefree subjects whenever a teacher passed. Two had even brought a picnic blanket and food to have the excuse of staying out late to enjoy the romantic evening. Now they formed a small ring of eleven around the pale, dark-haired boy who stood next to the statue of a Styx goblin, not saying a word. One by one, the oil lamps in the academy windows were extinguished, until only the light of the moon above lit the square, etching the statue’s shadow deep onto the pavement.
“Well,” Alistair said heavily, “let’s begin.”
A petite girl with copper-colored skin and short, boyish hair stepped forward, spun gracefully around, and faced the group.
“Alistair and I will do this first one,” Inez explained. “If it works, we’ll go on from there. If it doesn’t, well, we’ll just have to try something new.”
“Wait,” one of the students said. “I want to know why we’re doing this in the first place.”
Inez raised an annoyed eyebrow, but the student continued.
“I mean, I’m here—and I’ll bet I’m in the majority—but I’m here because, let’s face it, I’m not so great at magic, and this seems like the next biggest thing, and I intend to ride its coattails to the top.”
“Your point, Olivia?”
“My point is, I've been led to believe that we’re doing some groundbreaking new magic tonight that will make us all famous, and yet we’re scurrying around like criminals. We even sent Professor Leech away, when he could have witnessed and approved of the event.”
“He wouldn’t have approved it,” Alistair said solemnly, and looked at the ground beneath him. “What we are about to do is groundbreaking. No one, human or goblin, has ever done what we’re about to do: create an immortal beast.”
“About that,” Olivia continued, unimpressed by this speech. “Why an immortal beast? They’re just legends, right?”
“Which is why we need to make our own,” Inez said.
“But why? I mean, we can conjure birds and flowers out of nothing. What’s so special about bringing something else to life?”
“Birds and flowers aren't out of 'nothing'; When we conjure a bird, it comes from the potential existence of any real bird. Professor Hollyhock explained that in year one.”
“It’s been a while,” Olivia mumbled, smoothing down the purple underskirt that signified she was in her final year of school.
“And anyway,” Alistair said. “birds and flowers die.”
“Don’t tell me you’re seeking some secret to immortality,” a tall, serious-looking student named Jurek asked.
“No,” Alistair said. “I'm almost certain that immortality is linked to a creature’s form. The legends about immortal beasts suggest that their immortality, as well as their shape-shifting ability, is due to their fluid, changing form. Humans have always had a mortal form. The only way to be immortal would be to start out that way.
“Which brings us here tonight. I think, if we could create an immortal beast, we could at least learn more about healing magic. As it stands now, we have to stick with healing people inside of boxes, which is not only unreliable under the best conditions, but completely impractical in real-world emergencies. If we could find a new way of healing, think of the lives we would save.”
Most of the students nodded, but Olivia looked up at the statue, its cavalier grin seeming out of place in the dark courtyard.
“So…” Olivia said, “why do we need to do this… shadow thing?”
“Since we can’t take something that’s mortal and make it immortal, we have to make something immortal from scratch, specifically, from starting with nothing.”
“How exactly is this ‘something from nothing’? A shadow is still something, isn’t it?”
“No,” Inez said, sounding offended by the suggestion.
“Then what is it, exactly?”
“A privation. An absence. Nothingness.”
Olivia continued to sneer, so Inez continued.
“It’s like if you have dirt, and then you have a place without dirt, you call it a hole, right? We all know what a hole is. We can identify it or draw it or even make one, but technically speaking, a hole doesn’t exist. It’s just a place where there isn’t any earth. But a hole is too abstract a thing to cast a spell on, so we chose a different privation, namely this shadow,” she said, pointing to the pavement at their feet. “A shadow is an absence of light. It exists, to use the term loosely, as a nothingness. So, to test our theory, we’re going to try to bring it to life.”
“And this living shadow will be immortal because…?”
“Because a shadow is on the edge of existence and nonexistence, I believe it will have a similar form to that of the mythical immortal beasts.”
“If you say so,” Olivia muttered, sounding unconvinced.
“If there are no more questions,” Alistair said, “then let’s begin.”
He and Inez knelt on either side of the shadow.
“Now remember,” Inez said, “magic is an act of the will. We really have to mean it. Ready?”
They placed their hands on the shadow and began to speak together in low voices.
“Empty shadow, nothingness,
a hole in the light in which we stand,
listen with the mind which is absent,
obey my will’s command.”
“Why are they reciting poetry?” Olivia whispered.
“I’ve heard that the K’nic-k’nack goblins say their spells out loud to aid in concentration,” Jurek answered, then muttered, “but this spell sounds… dark.”
Inez silenced them with a stare while Alistair continued, unperturbed.
“Take on shape and substance,
like dew forms from a mist.
Like breath brought forth from a corpse,
Defy your form: exist!”
The courtyard became utterly silent. Not a single student dared to breathe. Only the faint fluttering of birds on the academy roof could be heard, and some footsteps out on the street. Each student waited, and willed, for something to happen.
Then, the shadow began to move.