~ excerpt ~
by Cindy Davis

Narle jumped as a surge of green energy flared unbidden from the Bracelet, charring his sleeve as it escaped. The emerald wave rocketed toward Eklet. Then Narle realized the bracelet's target was not the man; its magic flowed instead at the shiny yellow goblet stuck upside down atop Eklet's staff. Was it? Could it really be? Yes—the Talisman of Kaen!

The Talisman, a magic storehouse which Eklet had stolen from Worlton some years ago, responded with energy of its own. An orange beam leaped out, colliding with the Bracelet's green. The intermingled magics formed a brown cloud, a mist with more shades of brown than the mind could comprehend. The powers simultaneously fought and consumed each other. Bursts of green, then orange flared up before the roiling mass of energy sucked them back in. The Library's front windows blew out with a boom; shards of glass disappeared into the gale. Boralan's sign, announcing his healing services, tore from the storefront and bounced down the street.

A backlash of power slammed Narle into the healer's adobe wall. He grunted at the impact and stumbled away, barely managing to keep his footing. He grabbed hold of a hitching post and held on against the artificial wind pummeling him. As he recovered his breath Narle noticed Eklet pressed against the Library's door, eyes wide, hair flying about his face, looking as confused as Narle.

Eklet had jabbed the base of his staff into the ground. He gripped it with both hands and dug in his heels to prevent it from dragging him into the magic storm. He glared at Narle. "Insolent pup! You dare you assault me? I'll—" The last of Eklet's words vanished as the mage ducked to avoid a flying rock.

The gaudy display of magic gradually subsided, diminishing into a muddy whirlwind before vanishing altogether. Evidently the Talisman and Bracelet sought only each other, and were evenly matched, else, Narle suspected, Worlton might have lost more than a few pieces of wood and glass during the incomprehensible battle.

Narle rubbed his wrist. His whole arm throbbed, but the bracelet now felt like a piece of ordinary jewelry, totally without magic. Confusion swept over him. When the Bracelet of Dorea had chosen him, Narle had used its powers to supplement his own, notably to keep Eklet from destroying him during their battle in Black Valley. But until now he had no idea the thing could act on its own initiative.

Across the way, Eklet squinted into the chalice atop his staff, now dull and colorless. He moaned a long "nooo," drawing the sound out for many seconds. As his voice faltered, he lifted his gaze to Narle. His eyes narrowed. "This is all your fault. You have destroyed my Talisman. And possibly also that bracelet you stole from me." He waggled a talon-like finger at Narle. "But I need no talisman to dispose of such a puny boy. You will never interfere with me again." He stamped his staff on the ground and pointed its end at Narle. "DISINTEGRATE," he screeched.

A rift formed in the air. An arrow of emptiness flew, popping and crackling, at Narle. The teen raised his arms in front of his face, sucked in a breath, and drew magic into himself from the Node, the source of Worlton's magic power and the reason the town existed. Picturing a giant mirrored ball bouncing off the wall behind him, Narle spread his arms wide and shouted, "REVERSE." The fracture wavered and rebounded as if from an iron shield several feet in front of Narle, putting Eklet on the receiving end of his own spell. Flecks of white spotted Narle's vision, his knees buckled, and he slid to a sitting position against the wall.

Eklet stood open-mouthed for a second, croaked out a panicked, "Ack," and flung himself to the ground. The crevasse took a wobbly path just over his head and thundered against the Library's door. The entryway shattered. Splinters of wood flaked off, vanishing in tiny explosions within inches of the space they had just occupied. The remains of the spell bumped against the permanent wards protecting the Library from magical interference, and caromed away.

Narle and Eklet held their positions and watched in trepidation as the remains of the errant spell whizzed randomly between them. Narle pulled his knife from his belt and debated throwing it at Eklet, but decided he had little chance of hitting the man through the disturbed air that separated them.

The magic expanded into a lopsided bubble of vacuum, lifted a dozen feet in the air, reversed course, and plunged into the street. The road buckled once, twice, three times, before its center collapsed in a booming rumble and an eruption of sand and snow.

Narle knuckled dust from his eyes and gaped at the dark cavern beneath what had been Worlton's main street. He watched clumps of dirt and sand avalanche into the sinkhole before realizing his danger.

The ground he stood on was rapidly disappearing!