Chronicles of Winland Underwood Book 1: One if By Land
They came to this abandoned town to start a new life without Magic. So why is Winland feeling hints of magic all around the city?
Winland 01 snippet –
Winland Underwood’s boots crunched across the loose pebbles and uneven dirt surrounding the town limits of East Calico Rock, Arkansas. Most people would have thought a perimeter check around a ghost town in the Ozarks was a waste of time. Then again, most people didn’t know that East Calico Rock was no longer a ghost town.
Her job was to ensure the town stayed isolated from the outside world.
She passed the old oaks and hawthorns that cast much-needed shade over the northwestern edge of the town’s perimeter and took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air. So far, so good. That doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods just yet.
A strong wind kicked up as she continued on the route she’d taken every day since leading the Oriceran refugees into the Midwest. Even after almost two months of the group calling the town home and doing their best to make it feel that way, Winland still refused to hand off the perimeter checks to anyone else. The way she saw it, the refugees were her responsibility. Until she could be absolutely sure that the magicals hunting the descendants of Rhazdon’s followers on Earth would never find them, the entire town would remain her responsibility.
Winland stopped dead in her tracks when a prickle of residual magic raced across her skin at the town’s northwestern edge.
Weird. Two months of walking past this every day, and I’m just feeling it now?
Winland reached into the pocket of her long overcoat and pulled out her wand. A witch never went anywhere without her wand, but since Winland was only half-witch, the wand was only for emergencies.
Still, the smooth rod of pecan wood, which fit perfectly in her hand, made her feel much more prepared for the unexpected tingle of magic washing over her.
Where is this coming from?
Winland stood perfectly still and scanned the woods that circled the town. Here, just north of the main road leading into East Calico Rock, the trees grew especially thick.
Another light wind rustled the branches of the trees and filled the air with the whisper of nature Winland had grown used to over the last few months. Two blackbirds fluttered at the edge of the woods, tweeting at each other before they disappeared into the thick foliage again. Nothing else moved. Even Winland’s enhanced hearing, courtesy of her Light Elf half, didn’t pick up any sounds that were out of the ordinary.
She turned her attention to the traces of old magic that had made her stop.
With her wand at the ready, she took another step toward the tree line, letting her body do the searching for her. Another wave of tingling energy coursed up from the ground beneath her boots into her legs, and she stopped again to close her eyes.
This magic was left here years ago. It’s barely even there, but there’s something else…
She frowned and loosened her grip on the wand. The smooth wood swayed in her loose fingers, and when she opened her eyes to see where the tip was pointing, her suspicions were confirmed.
There wasn’t any visible trace of the leftover magic, but when she took her next step toward the trees, the tingle grew stronger.
“Hmm.” Winland squatted and placed her palm on the sun-warmed dirt. Another faint tingle of magical energy buzzed beneath her fingertips, but it didn’t do anything else. When she scanned the woods one more time, there was still no sign that anything was wrong or had changed. The ground, however, seemed to have collected an unseen pool of residual magic that was just concentrated enough to have caught her attention.
It must just be because I’ve grown used to the place. Two months in, and I’m noticing the little things with a fresh perspective. It’s probably nothing.
Still, when she turned away from the area where the magic was at its strongest, she did another brief sweep of this space around the town’s perimeter. That was all she needed to reassure herself. She slipped her wand back into her pocket and returned to the path that she knew like the back of her hand.
If anything did give her cause for concern, she could handle it on her own. It wasn’t like she’d had no idea what she was getting into when she’d led the refugees to this ghost town to carve out new lives for themselves.
She hadn’t been the only one, either.
Her father had done a little investigation of his own before Winland had left him in his DC mansion to head west.
“I felt a certain responsibility to make sure you checked off all the boxes,” Turner had told her. “I was pleasantly surprised to see that you had.”
I’ve done this on my own, for the most part. If Dad didn’t think there was anything to worry about here, there probably isn’t. And if there is, I have everything I need to take care of it. Perks of being personally trained by the old Fixer.
Winland straightened her shoulders and continued another half-mile south toward the main road that was the only entrance to East Calico Rock. That road hadn’t been used for sixty years, and before that, it hadn’t been updated since this early-1900s boomtown had lost its citizenry to a bad reputation for rough townspeople, even rougher trade, and the wild lifestyle that came with hosting ranchers, miners, and unruly frontiersmen.
Now the town was home to a different kind of weary traveler. It would have had a different reputation, too, if keeping the location of the refugees’ new abode a secret hadn’t been priority number one.
The sounds of the once-more-booming town came toward her on the wind, and Winland’s heart swelled with pride as she approached the edge of the town. It was lined with old buildings that had stood the test of time—for the most part, anyway.
That was the first thing the group of Oriceran refugees had poured their focus into when they’d arrived. After everyone had gotten as settled as possible, they’d ensured the abandoned town hidden in the Ozarks was, in fact, abandoned. Then they’d restored as many of the rundown buildings as they needed to use immediately.
Some of those buildings had proven difficult to clean out and repair without fear of the slanted, semi-rotted beams caving in on them or the floorboards giving way beneath their feet. Of all the edifices that had been left for them by the last of the frontier-era residents, only two had maintained enough of their integrity to be quickly repaired.
On the west side of the main street, what had once been a large saloon was now the town’s most populated apartment building. Most of the refugees had moved into it. In addition to the rooms available upstairs, they’d sectioned off the saloon’s main area into another dozen private spaces just large enough to hold a bedroll and a few personal belongings.
Those who hadn’t found a new home in the saloon received help from the rest of the refugees to gut, rebuild, and repurpose the sturdiest spaces available—the old tack shop, the butcher’s, and the jail. Some had cobbled together one-room huts, but those were few and far between, built only in parts of the town where the other buildings weren’t as well-preserved.
The courthouse halfway down the main street on the east side had been the first building to show real signs of life within this budding new community. It had been rebuilt faster and with more enthusiasm than any of the refugees’ other accomplishments. It was now a rustic-looking co-op and market with a front door and shutters that were left open wide during the day to let in fresh air and sunlight.
It also served as the perfect place to showcase the products of the garden they’d farmed as a community. A Wood Elf named Elaine had a surprisingly well-rounded knowledge of urban farming, and she had quickly become the ad-hoc manager of the market and the produce garden.
Winland smiled at the first sprouts of green herbs finally growing in the window-box planters hanging from every open window of the courthouse’s second story.
The place was busy today, as it was every day when there were so many mouths to feed. Much like everything else the refugees had had to build or grow for themselves, the market kept them going. Those who knew what to do worked in the garden. Others stopped by to browse what had been harvested and trade their few belongings or skilled labor for some apples or beans. Elaine was doing an excellent job of making sure every resident had the appropriate amount of daily rations.
As Winland passed the courthouse, two half-Kilomeas stepped out the front door with cloth bags filled with their daily rations. Elaine followed them out, laughing at their comments, and leaned against the doorframe. Her light-brown eyes landed on Winland, and the Wood Elf raised a hand in greeting. “Everything looking good out there?”
Winland flashed a brilliant smile. “Another day, another night’s sleep. You know what’s really looking good? Those sprouts up there in the window boxes. They’re growing fast.”
Elaine peered at one of the planters. “Thanks. You know, they’d grow a lot faster if I could work a few quick spells…”
“I know, I know.” The Wood Elf chuckled. “If it has even a small chance of sending out a signal, no magic. Don’t worry, Winland. Those sprouts are doing everything all on their own. Promise.”
“I wouldn’t say all on their own. You’re doing just as much work as they are.” Winland gave Elaine a goodbye wave as she passed the courthouse. The Wood Elf was already distracted by a shifter couple walking up the front steps with their three-year-old daughter.
This isn’t even remotely the best place to raise a family, but it might be, eventually. As long as we all do our part and keep working together like this.
Winland had no doubt the community would continue to build East Calico Rock into something they could all be proud of and that would allow for more regular R&R. Everyone here understood how important it was to keep their new home hidden and safe. Turner Underwood had taken them all in to provide shelter and protection after they’d fled Oriceran, and he’d made sure they knew how critical secrecy was.
That was now his oldest daughter’s job.
At the end of the main street was the old playhouse. Until two weeks ago, the building had been boarded up by the last round of townspeople, who’d converted it into a movie theater before they left. The refugees assigned to rebuilding the town had voted to convert it into a storehouse before winter.
Of course, since Winland was their leader—she had been appointed by Turner and had accepted the job without hesitation—approving the vote and allowing work to start on the building was also her job. It only made sense that they would need a place to store the overflow of produce, firewood, and other rare commodities they would have to ration during the coldest months of the year. She’d approved the project almost as soon as she heard about it.
A gnome named Monty had asked to carve out a small space at the back of the storeroom to use as a tailor’s shop. He’d had one on Oriceran.
“I been patchin’ holes and sewin’ on buttons since I could hold a needle and thread, Miss Winland,” he’d told her, holding up his crooked but capable hands. “Can’t do much in the way of bespoke suits and party dresses, but I can make us what we need from day to day s’long as I have some private space to do it.”
She’d agreed to let him work out of what had been the projection room. Monty knew the importance of not using more than minor spells to power his tricks of the trade. The gnome’s eyes had lit up like a child’s when she’d told him the town would be grateful to have his skills, and he’d volunteered to join the crew that would work on the playhouse’s renovations.
That was where Winland was headed now. The boards had been removed from the glassless windows of the playhouse, and the work crew had cut a few tall, thin trees to use as support beams and scaffolding along the exterior walls to keep the more precarious structures from buckling the whole thing while they worked.
The sound of hammers, nails, and saws and the buzz of a few minor spells spilled out of the playhouse’s front entrance, the doors to which had been removed due to being rotted. Shouted remarks and laughter followed. Winland headed through the doorless entrance to take a look at their progress.
After she stepped through the doorway, she stopped.
A hum of magical energy flickered across the back of her neck, raising goosebumps on her arms. Her fingers twitched toward her coat pocket, but she didn’t draw her wand. If the others saw her waving it, they’d know something was up. Then she’d have to deal with questions she had no idea how to answer. Not yet, anyway.
That feels like the leftover magic I found by the woods. Old, yeah. Not nearly as strong as if someone had left it here last month or even before we arrived. But it’s not quite…
None of the work crew seemed to feel like anything was out of place. If they had, they would have alerted her.
With the sunlight spilling through the open windows and illuminating the storm of dust coming down from the rafters and off the walls, the lobby was well-lit despite the lack of reliable electricity in the town. The system worked most of the time, but a good storm could knock it out for hours.
She couldn’t put her finger on what was wrong with the magic she’d felt as soon as she’d stepped inside the building. She stayed where she was and scanned the small, narrow lobby of the playhouse again.
She cocked her head when two strange dark lines on the right-hand wall caught her eye. The sunlight streaming through the doorway made them obvious, and she found more hidden in the shadowy corner between the end of the lobby and the exterior wall of the theater.
That was not part of the original wallpaper.
Winland squinted and raised her hand as she approached the dark corner. For most magicals, conjuring a light took extra effort. For a half-Light Elf, it was a simple spell requiring very little magic, which was the only reason she was using magic inside the theater. Otherwise, she would have been breaking her own rule against casting spells that might draw attention.
A soft white light bloomed at her fingertips and illuminated the dark corner. It wasn’t bright, but it was more than she needed.
She took a step back and frowned at the collections of black lines. They had clearly been spray-painted on the walls. The paint was cracked and peeling, so whoever had decided to tag the defunct movie theater had done it some time ago. They also understood dark magic.
Winland did too; she recognized the shape from one of her father’s Oriceran books. Anyone who’d seen dark-magic symbols would have known this for what it was. It only took her another five seconds of studying the symbol before she realized something was different.
The jagged lines and concentric circles had one additional element that hadn’t been in Turner Underwood’s books—a short diagonal line cutting through two of the circles with thick dots at each end.
Not that I’m an expert on symbols and wards, but I do know that anything added or taken away changes the intention and the result. She leaned toward the wall again, searching for other elements that shouldn’t be there if the magical who’d painted the symbol had been going for dark-magic channeling. Besides the diagonal line and two additional dots, nothing was different.
It might not even be dark magic. All magic came from the same source on the same planet. Makes sense that there would be some overlap between ancient Oriceran symbols meant for the light and the dark.
As the thought flickered through her mind, magical energy leaped from the symbol to Winland’s outstretched fingers. The surge of energy was only strong enough to make her gasp and retract her hand, though the light on her fingertips winked out. It had been the strongest zap of magical energy she’d felt that day.
Three times today. Once by the woods, two here. What’s going on?
It seems very hopeful in the streets of this new town. Hopefully, this magic looming isn’t here to ruin it all. Find out what is lurking in the shadow, on June 20, 2022, when Chronicles of Winland Underwood Book 1: One if By Land is released. Head over to Amazon and pre-order it today.