~ excerpt ~
by Cindy Davis

Narle's insides did a backflip and the pit of his stomach tried to squeeze into his feet. Weak and disoriented, he rolled on his back. His body was trying to tell him something and he wasn't listening. What he did hear was Laan screaming and cursing. Narle covered his ears against this tirade. That's when he realized his natural store of magic was being drained!

Narle curled up and tried to draw in his magic, as if preparing to cast a spell. Something resisted, pulling, prodding, tugging at the corners of his power. Clear-headed now, though not knowing his adversary, Narle shouted, "It's mine!" and yanked back, struggling to shut down the flow. After a short eternity, he succeeded.

He sat up and tried to make sense of what had happened. Laan was on the ground beside him, red-faced, pounding fists in the sand and churning out a steady stream of curses and threats. These slowly subsided into low grunts and finally, silence.

Storm snorted; her ears lay flat on her head and her lips were curled in a snarl. Her gaze was fixed on the broken wagon.

A flicker of movement caught Narle's attention and he turned toward the smoldering wagon where a curl of fog, much lighter in color than the dark smoke, was forming. The wind took the smoke up and away, but the fog, if anything, had started to drift toward him. A wispy shape, kind of like a hand, pushed its way out of the mist. Another followed, and a head-like blob came next. What could it be? A delusion caused by the knock on his head? Narle pinched his eyes together and looked again.

A whole body was now scrabbling out of the wagon. It looked wrong, somehow, even beyond the fact that Narle could see through it. The thing stood and peered at him; the only part that looked alive was its eyes, two pinpricks of fire. It knew him, though, and he knew it—the shadow was composed of his magic. The energy sang out, but the evil held it tight and Narle knew of no way to take it back. The thing darkened almost to solidity, took one step and fell, catching itself by flailing at the ground with way too many arms. Its face, if you could call the misshapen lump a face, was a sick parody of Laan's: cheeks puffed out, brows creased into a scowl, fat lips sneering. Narle suddenly understood what it was and who it was after. "Laan, run!" he shouted.

The boy gave him a hostile look before glancing at the rising figure. Laan stood for a second, pale faced and frozen, before turning and sprinting away. Narle leaped on Storm and followed. When he caught up, Laan had stopped, doubled over, huffing and wheezing. "What. Is. That. Thing?"