I just wanted to share this first chapter from author Jeffrey Bardwell and his book, “Rotten Magic (The Artifice Mage Saga Book 1)” where you can find on Amazon. Jeffrey has been kind enough to give us a first chapter and I hope you find it interesting and intriguing to read!
Sometimes a dragon is just a state of mind . . .
Chapter 1: Drusilla, Year 490
Nobody else appreciated the dark, subtle change as the light traveled east to west over a tall brass box, pulling it slowly into the shadows. The box sat on a high, lonely shelf in a small room waiting for someone to notice it.
Entering the box’s tiny space with a clean rag and an oil-stained smock, I too was beneath notice. I closed the door behind me. The clamor of hammers and gears overlaid by an even louder clamor of tongues and boots fell silent as soon as the latch clicked. Just like that, I was alone with it. I chewed my bottom lip and craned my neck while the box glistened at me.
“What are you?” I whispered at the dusty relic as I laid a fresh-inked quill and blank parchment on an empty metal table. Then I reached up to take the large brass box off the shelf. I braced my thighs and squared my shoulders as the thing was half my height and almost as wide. It was supposedly packed with strange machinery from a lost age.
If I should find myself examining the inside as well as dusting the outside . . . uncovering a few ancient mysterious . . . what’s the harm?
I flexed my fingers, rolled up my sleeves, wrapped my arms around the massive device, and heaved. My knees buckled, but not from the weight. The thing was light as a feather. So the guildmaster had warned me, but I had not believed him. I grinned and tilted my head to wipe off my sweaty brow with my forearm. I set the curious device next to my quill and parchment and bent down to examine the marvel.
At first glance, it looked like a clock would look underwater, skewed and wavering and not quite clock-like, but almost recognizable behind the distortion. The frame was sound, the little peaked roof was there, and it even had a dial. From a distance, the box looked normal, like any other large brass clock. But the closer you got, the deeper you plunged beneath the water trying to reach it, the more those subtle little differences jabbed at the back of your mind. Oh, with a few modifications and a wrench, I could start turning the outer casing into a nice timepiece, but that wasn’t what the thing was.
Generations of vain and curious folk had fallen into the chasm between the shiny face the box presented to the world and the true nature it kept hidden beneath a brass shell. I was not fool enough to leap across that gulf. My life had enough strange puzzles already.
“I’ve got a friend just like you,” I murmured, dusting the roof of the thing. I wrapped the rag around one finger to clean the edges of each delicate, hammered shingle. “He’s an artificer, too, yeah? He isn’t quite what he seems to be either.”
The room was eerily silent. The clock didn’t tick. I don’t mean I had to wind it or reset the weights on the end of their little chains or anything like that. The box was an elegant brass brick. Had been for years. There was no ticker. Scores of curious apprentices and quite a few journeymen who should have known better had smacked their heads against those thick, brass sidewalls. They all begged and pleaded with those intricate gears, tugging at their hair and a few of the more solid mechanicals, but to no avail. The puzzle box swallowed their prayers and their pleas with indifference.
I had vague plans to diagram a few of the stranger mechanisms inside the device to show my friend, but I knew my limits. I patted the box ruefully as it teased me with its blatant mysteries. “I’m good, but I’m no grand innovator. My friend, now . . . I bet he could make you sing.”
The apprentices all told ourselves stories of the box singing. It was one of our favorite pastimes. We fantasized about conquering this ancient, mighty puzzle and coaxing a pure, sweet sound from the depths of the machine. Some had even conducted experiments trying to replicate the convoluted system of trumpets and chimes nestled within the puzzle box. But there was no mechanism to power all the wonderful machinery inside it or turn the lonely dial mounted on its face.
And that dial! It was shaped like a backwards spiral. But the arrow on the tip of that bizarre dial had nothing at which to point. The face of the not-clock was blank and smooth and very easy to clean. I hummed as I pushed my rag in tight little circular motions to polish the sides of the box.
I chuckled as I cleaned. The more I thought about it, the more my friend Devin seemed just like a human puzzle box. Brilliant, but often left alone. Flashy on the outside, but a mystery on the inside. What makes you fellows tick? How do you work?
I went to polish the dial and withdrew my hand, blushing. I flicked the latch on the side panel instead, angling the device into the path of the setting sun to peer inside. The wondrous mystery of pulleys and gears beckoned, practically begging me to solve them. Humming a quiet little tune, I set the box down, grabbed my quill and parchment, and began sketching.
Would that young male artificers opened up this easily, I snorted.
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