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The Shadeback

By Artemis the Rebel All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Fantasy

Prologue

The full moon hung high in the sky, like a huge pearl set on inky black velvet. Far beneath it and bathed in its silver glow slept the town of Irkhenbauk, nestled between the rolling hills on either side of its little valley.

On the shadowy cobblestone streets a flash of darkness darted: a figure adorned in an ebony cloak. It paused at the doorstep of a shabby cottage and stooped, face hidden by a hood, to place a strange object on the steps. In the winking of an eye the mysterious individual had gone.

The door of the cottage opened, and yellow light pooled out over the item (which was a black oval that reflected anything bright or close by in its smooth, glossy surface). Two figures stood in the doorway: a very old man and a curious youth. The man, who looked to be of the grumpy sort, barged past the little boy, who made no move to intercept or follow him; he simply stayed put and obediently watched.

The man bent over and snatched up the object. He inspected it, gasped, and then hurried back inside.

The boy whirled, slammed the door shut in his excitement, and ran after him, nearly tripping over their cat (who hissed and hid behind a pair of boots in the hallway) as he did. When the youngster caught up to him, the old man was sitting in one of two chairs (the one nearest to the hearth), turning the object over and over on the table.

The youth plopped down in an identical chair across from the man and leaned in closer with his elbows on the tabletop. “What is it, Master?” he whispered curiously.

The old man didn’t look at him or even blink. His gaze was cemented to the object. “I believe – unless it is a fake – that it is a dragon’s egg.”

The boy gasped in awe and wonder, staring at the shiny black egg. Excitement sparked in his bright green eyes. “Will it hatch, Zenatheus? Will you teach me to care for a dragon?”

Zenatheus finally lifted his head to give him a hard look. One hand kept the ellipse egg from wobbling or rolling away whilst the other gently cuffed the boy, and then playfully ruffled his unusual, wild silver hair. “Most sorcerers never encounter a dragon, let alone raise one. And that’s Master, to you,” he quickly added.

The boy looked terribly disappointed and equally guilty all at once.

“But I think we may have gotten lucky tonight, Thomas.”

Thomas Baker made as if to cry out in excitement. His cheeks reddened with the effort to suppress such an outburst.

“Breathe, Thomas,” Zenatheus sighed. “Breathe.”

Thomas exhaled.

Zenatheus was bald except for a crown of white hair circling his head. Matching bushy eyebrows arched low (or, more often, high) over beetle-black eyes, which were either stern or glittering mischievously, depending. A wispy beard clung to his chin, and he had a habit of stroking it. “Good,” he praised half-heartedly, then resumed staring at the flawless, reflective surface of the egg, as ebony as the vast night sky.

“How did the egg get on our front step, Master?” Thomas asked suddenly. “Did someone put it there, and if so, then who?”

The sorcerer looked deeply troubled. “Just my thoughts, my boy,” he muttered. “Just my thoughts…”


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