The Astral Wanderer Book 1: A New Light
In a moment of desperation, he is able to access his true powers. What does this mean for young Devol's future?
“Devol!” Lilli Alouest called and her white dress flowed behind her as she hurried down the carved stone steps two at a time. “Devol, what did I say about running off?”
She reached the well-maintained path of stones and dirt that ran through Emerald Forest—the wooded area outside the kingdom of Monleans—from one side to the other.
The mother’s gaze darted warily from left to right and she dragged in a nervous breath as she reminded herself of the old wives’ tale. As long as you stay along the path, you are safe.
The Emerald Forest was not home to an abundance of carnivorous creatures, but it was not unusual to encounter animals there now and then, and some of those could be quite fearsome.
“Mother, come and have a look at this!” Her head jerked to the right as a boy’s voice carried between the limbs and through the brush to her ears. “I’ve found an oasis.”
She blew a sharp breath of relief and a little of her tension released. “Those aren’t found in a forest, Devol,” she stated and allowed herself a small giggle, her humor somewhat restored by the fact that she could at least hear her son.
Curious as to what held his attention so completely that he didn’t run to her as he usually did, she followed the direction of his voice and stepped off the path. Ignoring her nervousness, she pushed through the shimmering green leaves that gave the forest its name and into its depths. Finally, she found him walking around a large pond while he stared at his reflection in the glittering waters.
“You think this is on the map?” he asked, retrieved a scroll, and opened it. “We could be the first to mark it.” His eyes narrowed before he flipped it right-side up.
“I’m fairly sure this is Franco’s Pond, Devol,” his mother answered and rested a hand on his shoulder. “You know, one of the original explorers of the forest?”
The young boy’s gaze darted around the map until he tapped the location with a finger and sighed. “Yeah, I see.” He rolled the scroll again and placed it in his back pocket. With a disappointed expression, he looked around at the trees surrounding the pond. “I suppose it is too close to the road for it to be undiscovered.”
“I’m not sure there are many places here that haven’t been explored by now,” she agreed as she glanced at three azure-colored birds that soared skyward. “This forest has stood alongside the city since its founding. Many explorers and hunters have come through here for over a thousand years.”
Devol sighed, removed his jacket, and dropped it beside him as he crossed his legs and sat beside the water. “That’s true,” he said as he eased his arms back and leaned on his hands. “Guess I’ll have to wait a little longer before I can think about finding anything new, huh?”
“Well,” Lilli responded, “this is new to you, isn’t it?” She laughed, hoping to comfort him with a fresh way to look at the experience. “You did not know some of the details I told you so in a way, you are making discoveries.”
He shrugged and grinned wistfully as he stretched on his back on the forest floor with his hands behind his head. “You are technically right, Mother. But you know what I am talking about, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” she replied and moved a small rock out of the way with her foot before she lowered herself to sit beside him. “And that day will come for you, Devol. I know you wish for adventure and despite my requests to your father for him to not hurry your training along so much, you will be more than ready when you apply for the guards.”
The boy’s smile widened. “I’m already better at swordplay than almost any recruit. I’ll probably rank highly during the entrance trials and get to skip the beginner training and start with more advanced swordsmanship.” He looked at his mother. “Father says the survey team could always use more members. I think I may join them when the time comes.”
His mother looked at him with a smile to hide the trace of sadness stirred by the thought of him leaving. “If that is your choice. But that is a couple of years away.” She stroked his auburn hair as she focused on their reflections in the water. “And until then, try to enjoy yourself as much as you can, all right?”
“Of course, Mother.” Devol closed his eyes. “But you don’t need to be anxious about anything. Your son will be one of the best swordsmen in the kingdom. You shouldn’t worry about anything bad happening as long as—”
He was interrupted by the panicked cries of birds and deer behind them. His mother looked over her shoulder and he casually did the same. Animals fled in various directions as something approached them. “What is that?” he asked as a large, dark shape slunk forward.
Lilli turned pale. “Devol, we need to go,” she ordered, scrambled to her feet, and yanked the boy up. “Now!”
The shadow launched forward with a ferocious howl and covered an unbelievable distance in one stride. It landed several yards from them and they gaped in horror at a large wolf with deep black fur and large fangs. The beast's gaze seemed to burrow into theirs with a blank, feral white stare.
“A dire wolf?” Devol gasped and reached for the short sword on his belt. “In the Emerald Forest?”
“Devol!” Lilli whispered, her tone quiet but urgent. “Get behind me.”
By the time the boy glanced at her, he had already drawn his sword. The beast snarled and snapped its teeth together ravenously before it growled and lunged at him. She ran between it and her son and held a hand up.
“Shield!” She shouted the cantrip command and a yellow light sparked from her hand, flared into purple light directly ahead of her, and created the shape of a circular shield made of Mana, the magical energy of the realm. The dire wolf powered into it and hurled her back into her son, and both fell awkwardly.
She pushed quickly to her feet and pointed at the wolf. “Missile!” Three orbs of yellow light streaked away from her and all curved around the wolf. The animal began to run back to evade the attack before it darted quickly to the side. Two of the magical projectiles careened into the base of trees and left large indentations.
The beast skidded to a halt, turned to face the last missile, and ducked quickly as the orb sailed overhead and into the pond where it erupted. Water sprayed in a vertical column, reached an impressive height, and rained on the mother, son, and wolf.
“It is fast,” she noted and prepared another spell. “And intelligent.”
A vicious snarl preceded a loud, ear-piercing howl. The humans covered their ears involuntarily to shield them against the painful noise. The wolf surged toward the mother, whose eyes widened as it attacked.
The onslaught flung her on the forest floor with a painful thud as her attacker uttered another cry, this one of surprise. She looked hastily at her son, who scrambled quickly to his feet and held his blade up, which was now smeared with a splash of blood. She promptly checked him for wounds but found none. The wolf, however, had a long gash along its left side.
“It’s all right, Mother,” he assured her, and although he did look slightly rattled, he wore a confident smirk. “What use is all that boasting if I cannot back it up?”
Lilli knew his confidence was misplaced. The wolf had been feral and hungry before and his strike had now made it angry as well. Dire wolves were known for their ferocity. Even if they now managed to escape, it would pursue them like the relentless hunter it was until it was able to tear them apart.
As it took a few steps closer to the boy, Devol raised his blade to defend himself. Lilli stood hastily and held a hand out. “Flash!”
A bright sphere of white light formed in her hand before it exploded and covered the area around them in a blinding light. The beast snarled as Devol shielded his eyes. She ran to him, caught his arm, and dragged him away.
They sprinted through the dense growth and onto the path and quickly ascended the stone steps that led to the edge of the greenery. She knew they wouldn’t make it before the dire wolf caught up, however, and her mind raced. They would need to find the forest rangers to help them fell the beast.
Her heart sank when she realized they wouldn’t have the chance for even that. Massive paws thudded on the forest floor behind them. Lilli looked over her shoulder and gasped.
The animal was already in pursuit. Its eyes still blinked rapidly, likely from the blaze of light, and it must have followed them using smell and sound. It was only a short distance away from them now, and from the jump she had seen it make earlier, it was an easy distance to cover.
She released her son and shoved him forward into a run as she spun and shouted the incantation to summon another shield. Before it could fully form, the wolf swiped a large, clawed paw at her. The incomplete shield protected her from the attack but was destroyed and released a small blast of Magic that knocked her off her feet but barely disturbed the beast’s fur.
“Mother!” Devol shouted and raced back as the wolf attempted a killing strike. He vaulted high and swung his sword, to slice cleanly into the dire wolf’s face and blind one of its eyes.
It uttered another angry, pained howl and lashed wildly at her with its claws. The boy attempted to pull his mother away but a warning from her made him turn and he attempted to parry or block the uncoordinated strikes from his adversary.
His short sword was eventually knocked out of his hands, and it spun blade over hilt, deep into the forest. The next attack hurled him away and lacerated his chest. Unable to slow his momentum, he collided painfully with a tree.
“Devol!” Lilli shrieked as the wolf regained at least some of its senses. Its front paws thumped into the dirt and it hovered over her. One eye stared relentlessly at her while the other dripped blood from its wound.
The boy forced himself up when he realized their attacker was about to kill his mother. He felt a fear he never had before—that he was about to see the death of a loved one. Desperate, he ran forward and extended his hand with no plan of what to do. He might have been a Magi like his mother and father, but he was a swordsman and not particularly gifted in cantrips like she was. His blade was now lost in the forest and he had no time to search for it. He did not know what he would do, only that he would not let her die.
The dire wolf turned toward him and opened its jaws to bare its fangs. Saliva dripped to the dirt in anticipation of a kill. Lilli’s cry registered vaguely but he could not hear the words. Instead, he lunged forward to attack the beast with whatever he had left.
As the animal left his mother and turned to meet his feeble assault, another blinding flash gave both adversaries pause. Was it his mother’s cantrip again? He could see, even with the bright light, and frowned when he realized it had come from his hand. Something solid settled in his palm—the hilt of a weapon, as impossible as it seemed—and he grasped it instinctively in both hands.
Without looking to see what he held, he arced it to deliver as powerful a blow as he could. The beast was in the middle of its lunge and unable to break away. Devol slid along the dirt, breathing heavily, and grimaced when he felt something warm along his neck, hands, and face. Blood? He felt no pain, though, so he checked himself quickly and looked at his hand. It was indeed blood, but it appeared to not be his.
The dire wolf sprawled in a crumpled heap a few yards away, the front half of its body cut in half. His eyes widened as he checked his other hand, which still clutched the weapon that had appeared so suddenly.
Not unsurprisingly, it proved to be a long, ornate sword, but he could not discern the details as it glowed far too brightly. This was no ordinary blade, he could tell that much, but the way it looked, encased in the celestial light, he couldn’t make out the finer features. Still, it felt right in his hand and although it seemed strange, it filled him with a sense of warmth and comfort.
Devol snapped to his senses and glanced at his mother to check on her. He wondered if he wore a similar shocked expression as she did when she looked at the blade and then at him. Something appeared in her eyes—a similar look of concern bordering on sorrow to the one she’d had when he had discussed his future.
She stood with a grimace, walked closer, and hugged him before she drew back and placed her hands on his shoulders. “Thank you, Devol,” she said and looked at the blade. “We will…need to talk to your father about what is to come.”
I was nervous there for a minute, that could have ended badly. I was surprised by Lilli's reaction. One might think she was happy to see he saved them both with a magic sword. Check back soon to catch the next snippet of The Astral Wander: A New Light. Available for pre-order today and available to all readers on April 2, 2021.