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Dark Winter
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-388-3
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 336 Pages
Published: September 2006

Total Readers: 1

From inside the flap

When humans first came to Saril, they had only one goal -- to create a new  paradise to rival their lost homeland. But as the centuries passed, they  realized there was something else on their new world. Some thing strange and  wonderful. Their decedents wielded powers the original settlers had never  dreamed of. They could raise cities with their minds... heal with a touch...
But every silver lining has a cloud, and Sarilís was no different. There were  some who twisted those gifts, perverted them to destruction. They were the  necromancers, and few could stand against them. One necromancer rose to such  power that even his own death could not stop him. His name was Srinklock, and  none dared speak it aloud. A generation ago, he defeated an army which had been  raised from childhood to fight him. Now, rumors are stirring that Srinklock  again is on the march, with his army of undead. Now thereís no one left to fight  him. Well, almost no one. But Josh never thought of himself as a hero. He would  rather perform tricks in market squares, or pick pockets in back alleys. He  never planned to fight an army. He never wanted to save the world. Besides, heís  short....

Dark Winter (Excerpt)

The First Book of Saril

Chapter I, Verses 1-6

In the beginning, the World was barren.

Then came the Skyships, bearing the Captain and the First Children.

And He saw the World and did call it Saril.

And the Captain spoke, saying, "Let there be Water." And lo, did the water spring forth from the rocks to cover the surface of the World which was called Saril.

Next, He said, "Let there be Plants in the waters and on the land." And the plants sprang forth from the waters to cover the land and the seas.

Then did the Captain say, "Now let there be Birds and Beasts to live upon this land."

And He did open vials of glass and poured forth all manner of beast and bird, fish and fowl, and they did scatter across the lands and seas of Saril.

Then did the Captain say to the First Children, "Look, I have given to you a World which I have called Saril. It has waters to fish and swim and sail upon; it has plants to nourish and to shelter you and all manner of bird and beast to bear you Company in My Absence.

"Now, go forth upon it, be fruitful, and multiply."

And the Children did.

Chapter One

Joshua crouched in the scant shade offered by the wagon. A dust devil danced across the scorching plain. Low over the horizon, the gas giant Loris was dimly visible. Eclipse was coming, but not soon enough to interfere with this yearís crops. Like any Child of Saril, he knew in his bones that the now-constant presence didn?t present a threat yet. For most of seven thousand years, the Children had huddled in the safety of the Citadel waiting for Saril to be livable, but for the last three thousand, people had been spreading out across the world and things like predicting the periodic, month-long eclipses were life and death.

He tore his attention from the sky and squinted across the open meadow at the group of men and women purposefully picking their way towards the single tree under which Yakov had set up.

"Tough-looking crowd," he offered. He didn?t like these lands they?d recently come to. They seemed emotionally dead, conservative.

"Very," Yakov agreed.

"Should I do a rope walk? That went over well in Krell." He much preferred the forests of the elves. The elves were friendly and open, and less likely to comment on his diminutive stature for all that they themselves tended to be tall.

"Not here." Yakov followed his gaze.

"Should I work the crowd?" Joshua asked doubtfully. In the last seven towns, pickings had been slim and Yakovís always fragile savings were down to practically nothing, as were the food stores.

"Too small. You should know that. A crowd this small is dangerous, and in these parts, you?ll hang for it."

Joshua shrugged. All his conscious life, he?d supplemented their income by picking pockets. He knew, because Yakov had told him, that there?d been a time before show, before pocket-picking, even before Yakov, but he didn?t remember it.

"I like to eat," was all he said.

"You?ll do fine on what we have. Itís not as if you?re still growing."

No, Joshua thought wryly, at twenty, it was unlikely that he would top four feet ten. "No acrobatics, no pocket picking, what do you want me to do?"

"Pathetic orphan boy, I think."

Joshua sighed and crawled into the wagon, reaching for the tight pants and knee-length shirt Yakov had bought him in Krell. The clothes, while more in the local style than that of the elves, accentuated his small size, making it easier to pass for twelve. He felt his face. No time to shave. He reached into the charcoal bin, pulled out a piece and smudged it across his chin and one cheek, rubbing his begrimed hands down his shirt-front for good measure.

Hearing Yakov start his spiel, he tumbled out the far side of the wagon, sticking low to the ground until he reached the tree. He shinnied up it to sit on a branch with a good, but not perfect, view of Yakov. He needed to see the crowd, too.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, today you will witness such wonders as you could never dream of. I, Yakov the Enchanter, command the forces of Magic. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, Magic! Not your simple household spells ... I do not mean spells for croup or fertility in cows ... no, I am talking about Deep Magic, the strongest known on Saril!"

Joshua snorted. This was his cue. "You know no more of magic than I do, charlatan!"

Yakov did a credible job of looking around for the source of the heckling. When he spied Josh, he drew himself up, looking fierce enough to draw a gasp from the audience.

"You? A mere boy? And you dare to suggest that your magics are greater than mine?" Yakov raised his arms and began muttering ominously. It was actually the language of the Northlands spoken backward, but it provided sufficient cover for Joshua to concentrate enough for the light draw on the magicsphere the trick would require. Yakov pointed at him and commanded, "Rise into the air!"

Another gasp rippled through the audience as Joshua floated gently from his perch. He did his best to look terrified.

"Invert!" Yakov commanded with a gesture in his direction.

Obediently, Joshua turned himself upside-down. Looking down at the ground twenty feet below, he screamed.

"Let him down this instant!" a woman in the crowd demanded.

Yakov looked at her lazily. "If I care to, my lady, I shall."

Joshua added another terrified scream.

"You must. This is an abuse of the power the Captain gave you. Heís just a boy!"

"As you wish, Milady. But only for you."

He waved a hand again. "Descend."

Joshua lowered himself, careful to cut his connection to the magicsphere in time to drop just enough to make a painful-sounding thump.

Concerned townspeople surrounded him immediately, and he told his story -- he was an orphan boy whose village had been burned to the ground in a raid and was on his way to Skarik Mar to live with an uncle who ran a shop there. But now he?d run out of money, and he didn?t see how he could make it there before winter set in. Part of the story was true: his family had been killed in the raid that destroyed his village -- almost twenty years ago. As for uncles, Yakov claimed to have a brother somewhere.

As usual, an outpouring of sympathy, and more importantly coppers, followed what he considered one of his better performances. He also received offers of food, the most compelling from his protectress who, it turned out, ran the villageís only inn.

He gave Yakov a discreet glance, received an equally discreet nod, and followed her to her inn, the Dancing Maiden. He didn?t see any maidens, dancing or otherwise, which was just as well, since admiring them wouldn?t have fit the character he was playing. Not that Yakov ever let him near maidens.

The innkeeper was extremely generous, first pressuring him to stay and continue on to his uncleís after winter. "We could always use a boy to help out around the place."

Josh demurred, saying they had nearly a month before the rains and it wouldn?t snow for a month after that, and he thought he could make it before then. Besides, his uncle would have heard the news by now, and he should arrive at the earliest possible time to comfort him.

Seeing he couldn?t be talked out of his plans, she filled a leather backpack with travel provisions and gave it to him with best of wishes.

Cheered by this unprecedented generosity in response to an act fifteen years in the honing, he thanked her sincerely and was whistling as he hit the streets. All song died in his throat as he crossed the meadow and smelled smoke.

Age-old terrors revived by the smell, he broke into a run.

When he reached the wagon, his worst fears were realized. The wagon lay on its side, a smoking ruin. And hanging from the tree in which he?d so recently pulled his antics, a body twisted in the rising wind.

For the second time in his life, raiders had burned him out of his home and murdered his family.