It’s been a bit since the last snippet, but there’s a good reason for that. We have been working on a new and even more awesome cover. Check it out!
Now that we have the cover squared away, let’s get onto the story. In this meaty section, we meet our secondary lead character, Dustin. He’s a storm magic user with something to prove, and he’s just about to take his initiation test when we meet him. Let’s get to it!
“This is a day you’ll long remember, boy.” The old man gripped the staff lodged into the notch in the fore section of the small boat.
Dustin muttered a semi-polite response that he hoped wouldn’t encourage any more conversation. In truth, looking at this man made him sad. Maybe the old guy had been a Master Storm Caller once, but those days were long past. Now, his eyes were dyed a permanent pale blue-green, and he barely seemed able to conjure enough wind to fill this pathetic craft’s tiny sail. Once, he’d conjured fog, and storms, and lightning to battle Barskall Warriors. Now, he was consigned to ferrying young apprentices out to Testing Rock.
Dustin looked away from the old man. He couldn’t afford to be distracted right now.
In a few short hours, he’d be a full-fledged Storm Caller. He’d trade in his skinny little apprentice’s staff for a thick, twisted staff carved from old wood. He’d earn his place on a stormship. If all went well, he’d soon be going into battle, defending the world from the Barskall. But first, he had to pass the test.
“Ah, there she is.” The old man pointed a crooked finger at a rock jutting from the sea a few hundred years ahead. “Many men have been made on that rock. Many have been broken, too.”
“It’ll take more than a rock and a few waves to break me.” Dustin figured if the old man wasn’t going to shut up, he might as well talk to him. Maybe it would help quell his unexpected nerves. “The rock’s what? Half a mile from shore? I’ve been swimming farther than that since before I was ten.”
The old man shot him a stern look over his shoulder. “Underestimate the sea at your peril. She’s a fickle mistress.”
Dustin stifled a laugh. Despite the nerves, he was confident in his chances. He’d stand on the Testing Rock while a Storm Caller brought on choppy waves. All he had to do was calm the sea and swim to shore. If he made it back alive, he’d pass the test.
He was twenty years old and had been training for this for the last twelve.
From his first day as a Storm Caller’s apprentice, he’d performed better than his peers. He had a natural connection with the sea. He always had ever since his father—a fisherman—had taken him on a two-day voyage when he was barely old enough to walk. His friends struggled for years to conjure even a bit of light fog; a task Dustin accomplished in his first three months. He didn’t understand why it was so difficult for them. He simply touched his staff to seawater, asked, and the sea answered.
Not that it had all been easy. He’d struggled mightily with dispersing weather after he’d conjured it, but he was getting better at that, too. Now, even before he was officially named a Storm Caller, his eyes were already taking on the vibrant blue-green hue of the sea.
Some of his fellow apprentices had already passed this test, and if they could make it, he was confident he would, too.
Dustin wasn’t one to downplay his natural abilities, but he wasn’t one to flaunt them, either. Most days, he enjoyed using his skills to help the other apprentices grow theirs. But today he had to flaunt his skills. That was the whole point of the Testing.
The old man glanced back at him again, as if reading his thoughts. “Would you like a bit of advice from one who’s passed the test?”
Dustin glared at the man, his patience finally at the breaking point. “I highly doubt there’s anything you could say that would help at this stage. I’ve been training for this for twelve years. I don’t want anything else in my head messing me up right now. I need to focus.”
The old man turned back to the sea ahead of them. “Fine. Suit yourself.”
“I meant no offense. But the tests were different in your day. Storm Callers weren’t as powerful.” His master, Harald, had told him all about the old days when Storm Callers were still learning how to commune with the sea effectively to call forth storms. Today’s Storm Caller was a different breed. The best of them were able to call down lightning that could hit a ship a quarter mile away.
The old man sighed. “It’s true. We had much to learn in my day. Perhaps that’s why I kept an open mind, unlike some in this boat. I always kept learning and never thought I was too good to listen to the advice of my betters.”
Dustin didn’t dignify that with a response. If this old man thought he was Dustin’s better just because he’d been a Storm Caller once, he was dumber than Dustin thought. Dustin would be Master Storm Caller of the fleet one day. The old man should have spent the trip befriending him instead of berating him. “Can we just go the rest of the way in silence? I need to concentrate.”
“Of course,” the old man said.
They reached the rock a few minutes later. It was smaller than Dustin had expected. Two full grown men couldn’t have stood side-by-side on it. Dustin was going to have trouble staying up there all by himself.
The skiff pulled alongside the rock, and Dustin hauled himself onto it. He stood up and held out his hand. The old man passed him the apprentice’s staff. Whatever the result of the Testing, this would be the last time Dustin would use it. He was to leave it on Testing Rock when he swam for shore. When high tide came in, it would be carried out to sea.
Dustin stared back at the shore. He knew it was only half a mile, but it looked much farther. “Do you know who my Storm Caller is?”
An apprentice wasn’t allowed to know what Storm Caller they’d be facing in their Testing. Dustin assumed the old man wouldn’t know, but it was worth a try.
The old man smiled up at him, revealing a large gap where his front teeth had once been. “I certainly do. It’s me.”
Dustin blinked hard, confused.
The old man appeared to be standing a bit straighter now. “You have until I return to shore to prepare yourself. I suggest you spend the time wisely.” He closed his eyes for just a moment, and a strong wind filled his sail, sending his skiff gliding back the way they’d come.
The old man turned back and yelled over his shoulder as he sped away. “If you’d been nice to me, I might have gone easy on you. Since you weren’t… Well, I hope you’re a good swimmer.”
Dustin swallowed hard as the skiff raced toward shore.
Dustin gripped his staff and jammed it down into the hole in the rock, so it touched seawater. Full Storm Caller staffs were longer, many nearly eight feet tall so they could be placed in the notch in the bow of stormships that exposed them to the exterior of the ship and the spray of seawater. His current apprentice staff was shorter—only about six feet, slightly shorter than he was. Sunk into the hole in Testing Rock, it only reached his waist.
He could see in the distance that the old man was almost back to shore now. It would begin soon.
He gripped his staff and moved into a wide stance that would allow him to keep his balance once the waves started crashing against him. He talked to himself quietly while he waited. “Come on; you can do this. You were made for this. He’s just an old man. You’re a Storm Caller of the future. Okay, so maybe he’s faced Barskall Warriors, and maybe he’s led troops into battle. Big deal. He’s old.”
The words seemed hollow even as he spoke them. The man was a Storm Caller, and Dustin had foolishly mouthed off to him. Now, he was going to pay the price.
There was nothing he could do about that now. The only thing he could do was prepare. He closed his eyes and centered himself.
“The sea is my ally.”
He reached out, not with his hands or even his mind, but with something deeper. With his spirit. He gently touched the sea and began the wordless conversation that was storm magic.
The old man was right about one thing: the sea was a fickle mistress. She couldn’t be forced to do anything. Even asking outright was often fruitless. She had to be coaxed. Dustin needed to take the energy flowing through the sea for its own purposes, ask to borrow just a little of it, and then gently reshape it. It was a bit like riding a wild horse—it took a combination of gentleness, firmness, and the wisdom to know when to use each of them.
He felt the power of the sea thrumming up through his staff and into his hands now. He was connected. He was ready.
On the shore, he saw the old man appear on the wall that overlooked the sea. The top of the wall had a trough filled with seawater, Dustin knew, so Storm Callers could touch their staff to the water, thus allowing them access to storm magic for defense of the city. The old man stood still for a long moment, both hands on his staff, and then the sky began to darken.
Waves started to crash against the rock as the previously gentle swells around Dustin grew into angry waves. He felt a momentary surge of panic but quickly pushed it away. What he needed was a calm mind and spirit.
The waves were crashing over the rock now, slamming into him with a cold, wet force. It was all he could do keep his grip on his staff. He risked a look up at the wall and saw the old man was walking away. Dustin breathed a sigh of relief. It was bad, but since the old man was leaving, it wouldn’t get any worse. He’d conjured the storm, and it was up to Dustin to dispel it so he could swim safely back to shore.
He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. It was so chaotic. The noise, the way his body shivered as the wind whistled past him, the slippery feel of his staff. He tried to get hold of the sea’s energy as he had so many times before, but that felt chaotic, too. He silently asked the sea—begged it, really—to give him control, but it seemed to be listening to a louder voice.
He worked for over an hour, struggling in vain to get the sea under control. Every time he thought he was starting to get it under control, it slipped away from him, and the waves seemed to slam against his rock with renewed fury.
His master, Harald, talked about how the great Storm Callers had a breakthrough during their Testing. How they left Testing Rock with a strengthened connection to the sea. Dustin kept waiting for the moment, but it wasn’t happening. Worse still, the tide was beginning to rise. If he didn’t figure out something soon, Testing Rock would be underwater.
He had to act now.
Taking a deep breath, he concentrated on emptying himself of ego and conscious thought. He put everything he had left into one more attempt. Reaching out with his spirit, pleading with the sea to let him shape it.
To his utter surprise, this time there was a response. The familiar power of the sea flowed through him, and he went to work. He shaped the energy in his mind, smoothing it, dispersing it to calm the waves.
A gust of wind hit him, and he momentarily lost his grip on his staff. It was only his left hand that slipped, but it was enough. His concentration was broken, and the power he’d felt a moment ago was gone.
“Damn it all to hell!” he yelled into the wind. But as he opened his eyes, he saw the sea was much calmer than it had been only a few minutes ago. He hadn’t calmed it completely, but he’d certainly improved his situation.
He watched the swelling waves as he considered what to do. It was beyond idiotic to attempt swimming a half mile in this choppy sea, but what choice did he have? If he waited much longer, the rock would be under water anyway.
He carefully removed his staff from the water hole and placed it on the rock. It had been with him for twelve years, but he couldn’t use it anymore. If he made it back to land alive, he’d be a Storm Caller. If he didn’t… Well, there probably wasn’t much use for a staff in the afterlife.
He took a deep breath and dove into the water to begin the swim to Holdgate.
There we have it. In our final snippet, we’ll get back to Abbey, and she’ll finally cross paths with Dustin. Click here to read it.