A MEDDLE OF WIZARDS by Alexandra Rushe
Genre: Fantasy Pub Date: 1/9/2018
Welcome to Tandara, where gods are fickle, nightmares are real, and trolls make excellent bakers . . .
Raine Stewart is convinced she’ll die young and alone in Alabama, the victim of a chronic, mysterious illness. Until a man in a shabby cloak steps out of her mirror and demands her help to defeat a bloodthirsty wizard.
Raine shrugs it off as a hallucination—just one more insult from her failing body—and orders her intruder to take a hike. But the handsome figment of her imagination won’t take no for an answer, and kidnaps her anyway, launching her into a world of utmost danger—and urgent purpose.
Ruled by unpredictable gods and unstable nations, Tandara is a land of shapeshifters and weather-workers, queens and legends. Ravenous monsters and greedy bounty hunters patrol unforgiving mountains. Riverboats pulled by sea-cattle trade down broad waterways. And creatures of nightmare stalk Raine herself, vicious in the pursuit of her blood.
But Raine isn’t helpless or alone. She’s part of a band as resourceful as it is odd: a mage-shy warrior, a tattered wizard, a tenderhearted giant, and a prickly troll sorceress. Her new friends swear she has powers of her own. If she can stay under their protection, she might just live long enough to find out . . .
“Raine? Get back here. You need to see this.” What now? Raine thought, closing the door. Hurrying into the library, she found Mimsie standing by the window, her slim form shining in the dim light. The ghost raised her arm and pointed to the mirror over the mantel. The glass rippled like wind-tossed water.
Raine gasped in shock as the billowing folds of the mirror parted and a man with shoulder-length auburn hair stepped out. He held a brilliant jewel in one hand and he was dressed in some sort of costume—a tattered brown cloak, a knee-length rumpled brown tunic worn over loose leggings of the same color, and scruffy brown boots. He was handsome, Raine’s stunned brain realized, but he was not the man on the ship. Oh, no. This was an entirely different apparition. She stumbled back, tripped on the hem of her pajamas, and crashed to the floor with the grace of a hippo . Ignoring her aching rump, she gaped at the stranger.
“Do you see what I see?” Raine asked Mimsie, her gaze on her brain’s latest manifestation. Boy, when she had a meltdown, she had a doozy.
“If you’re talking about the man in the funny getup, absolutely,” the ghost said. “Call the police.”
“And tell them what? ʼScuse me, officer, could you send someone over? A man just broke into my house through the library mirror? They’ll lock me up and throw away the key.”
The man gave Raine a quizzical look and said something in a strange language. He waved the jewel at her and took a tentative step closer.
“Forget the police,” Mimsie said with a hiss. “Run. I’ll create a diversion.”
Raine scrambled to her feet and backed toward the door, her gaze on the stranger. He spoke again and the jewel in his hand flared, bleaching the library walls white. Raine’s muscles went stiff and hard as rock. She froze, unable to move, pinned to the floor like a bug.
“Let her go,” Mimsie screeched.
She flew at the man, passed through him, and came out the other side, but if the intruder noticed, he gave no sign. With a despairing wail, Mimsie disappeared, leaving Raine alone with him. Closing the space between them, he lifted Raine’s arm and examined the splotch on the underside of her left wrist. She stared at him, dizzy and disoriented. His hands were strong and uncallused, and his palms were hot against her skin.
He felt awfully real for a dream. No matter, she told herself. Tomorrow morning when I wake, he’ll be gone.
The stranger regarded her, his gaze troubled. “There must be some mistake.”
English, the man had spoken English, though his accent was peculiar. He released her and stepped back. “You are not what I expected, but you have the mark.” He stroked his chin. “Still, best to be sure.”
He waved the stone again. Raine’s petrified muscles relaxed without warning, and she crumpled to the floor.
“Allow me to introduce myself.” The man bowed. “I am Archimedes Brefreton, a wizard of the order prime. You may call me Brefreton, Bree, or Red—anything but Archie, which I detest. What is your name?”
Wizard? The guy was a total nutter. Correction: she was the nutter. She’d had a complete brain melt.
“There’s a good girl.” Brain Tumor Boy gave her an encouraging smile. “Tell me your name.”
Raine struggled to her feet and straightened her pajamas. This was ridiculous. She would not be controlled by a lump on her brain.
But, to her fury, the words tumbled out of their own accord.
“Mary Raine Stewart, but that’s my adopted name,” she heard herself say. “No idea who my birth parents were. They left me on the steps of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church when I was a baby. My father’s aunt raised me after my parents died.”
She stamped her foot and glared at this latest fancy of her beleaguered brain. “Stop that. You’re making me talk and I don’t like it.”
“Then I suggest you stop fighting me and cooperate.” He looked her up and down, taking in her ashen complexion, frizzy locks, and gaunt frame. “You are unwell?”
“Wow, someone give Captain Observant a free T-shirt.”
“What ails you?”
“Ding, ding, ding. That’s the fifty-million-dollar question. The only thing the doctors know for sure is that I’m dying.”
“Dying? Inconvenient, to be sure, but hardly insurmountable.” He brandished the gemstone at her. “Do you know what this is?”
“You got a shiny rock. Yay.”
“It is not a rock. It is a god stone and very powerful. With it, your vitality can be restored.”
Talk about denial. She was so desperate to be well that her psyche had cooked up this garbage. Pathetic.
“Come with me.” He held out his hand. “Help me save my homeland and you will be made healthy and whole.”
“Mister, I wouldn’t go to the corner store with you, even if you were real. Which you are so not.”
His handsome features hardened. Grabbing her by the arm, he pulled her close. “You are under a misapprehension. You have no choice. One way or another, you will accompany me. There are more lives at stake than your own.”
Lifting the jewel, he began to murmur in that strange language, and the mirror over the mantel shimmered and pulsed in response.
Something clattered outside the window, and he turned with a start. “What the–”
Good old Mimsie. She’d promised to create a diversion and she had, rattling the garbage cans around and making one hell of a racket.
Raine jerked free of the man’s hold and punched him in the nose. Hard.
“Ouch.” She shook her throbbing hand and glared at him in outrage. “What gives? Dreams aren’t supposed to hurt.”
He winced and prodded the bridge of his nose. “Now, see here, young lady,” he said as she drew back her fist. “Do not—”
Raine took another swing at the man. He cursed and made a defensive move, and her fist glanced off his upraised arm and slammed into the jewel. It blazed bright as a miniature sun and flew into the air.
A tremendous wind howled through the library. Books tumbled off the shelves. Vases and bric-a-brac crashed to the floor. The couch skidded across the room and Mimsie’s favorite Queen Anne chair smashed into the wall. Raine was lifted off her feet like a papier-mâche doll and tossed toward the mantel mirror. She screamed in helpless terror as the glistening surface of the glass parted like a pair of grotesque lips and swallowed her whole. She tumbled, head over heel, through darkness.
Stars melted around her. Down, down she plummeted, toward a distant shard of light. The splinter of brightness widened, and she caught a fleeting glimpse of mountains and an ocean of trees. Then something slammed into her head and Raine knew no more.
Alexandra Rushe was born in South Alabama, and grew up climbing trees, searching for sprites and fairies in the nearby woods, and dreaming of other worlds. The daughter of an English teacher and a small-town judge, Rushe developed a love of reading early on, and haunted the school and local libraries, devouring fairy tales, myths, and tales of adventure. In the seventh grade, she stumbled across a worn copy of The Hobbit, and was forever changed. She loves fantasy and paranormal, but only between the pages of a book—the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz give her the creeps, and she eschews horror movies. A psychic friend once proclaimed the linen closet in Rushe’s bedroom a portal to another dimension, and she hasn’t slept well since. Rushe is a world-class chicken.