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The Darkest Magic

Mark August



1. Discovery

2. Exploration

3. Curse

4. Cure

Also by Mark August



Cormac leaned his body weight against the door, lifting the handle with both arms to prevent the latch from clicking. He pressed his ear against the thin wood to listen for followers. Confident he was alone, he turned toward his hidden study.

The back storage room stunk of mold, rust, stone, and mortar. A beam of light from the slit of a window filtered through the drifting dust, but Cormac didn't need the light to count six paces to the makeshift table pulled together from discarded parts. Nothing was out of place.

Risking one glance toward the door, the young man removed a carton the size of a hardcover book from behind the desk. Flipping it open, Cormac ran his hands over his precious stores of half-used wax candles. His mother kept impeccable records, and she'd know if candlesticks disappeared from the shop's inventory.

He singled out two small ones and stuck them in wooden holders at the desk corner. Cormac drew in a breath to fill his lungs and let the pressure release out from his nose. One more breath, and he'd be ready.

Opening his eyes, he stared at the first candle. In a puff, light came into being, and his mind danced with delight. Energy pumped through his veins, and his soul rejoiced in the moment. With power already present in his heart, soul, and mind, a fleeting thought was enough to coax the next dancing light to claim the second wick.

Cormac pulled over an armchair from the edge of the room. Even if someone stumbled across his private study, they'd see the space for its purpose, storage. A few old chairs, stuffing poking through holes and material rubbed to the merest threads, piled in one corner. The old table fit the decor, and piles of dried cleaning supplies, broken buckets, and discarded scraps found their final resting place here.

Confident and ready, Cormac placed his prized possession on the desktop. The worn leather covers with dark spots from sweat-stained fingertips protected the aged yellow pages within. Cormac bent down to inhale the old leather, but the pages, with their brittle yellow smell, wafted across his senses. Pulling open the cover, he marveled at the beautiful artwork within. Elaborate script in a fluid, decorative hand graced each page. And the owner spared no expense for the ornate flourishes and illustrations across the page.

Cormac ran his fingers across the text, captivated with an archaic language he struggled to learn. There was so much knowledge within this tome, and he wanted to pry free the secrets lost from another time.

His opportunity to study this work would be limited. Cormac's father would start repairs on the work’s binding within a week. For now, the book rested on a shelf, waiting its turn at his family’s impeccable repair skills. Cormac couldn’t stand the thought of this work of art filled with ancient secrets to lay on a shelf.

Cormac started again on page one, sounding out the words of the forgotten language. He cross-checked his work against other volumes from his research, but it was a slow slog. He paced himself because the journey was worth it.

Banging on the front door to the bookshop interrupted his study. A burst of panic fueled his magic and snuffed the flames. A glance toward the box and the candlesticks flew of their own accord and hid in their resting place. Cormac didn't have time to peel the spillover wax before voices made their way through the shop.

"That's ok, sir. I'm sure Cormac is in the back, hiding the bookshelves again," a young male voice leaked through the door. Cormac's panic dissipated as he recognized Raham's voice.

Two raps on the door and Cormac let his friend inside.

"You were darn close to having your father looking for you, Cormac. Taking risks during the afternoon isn't like you." The young man's dark features lit with his mischievous smile. Wild black hair that hadn't been cut in far too long amplified his easygoing style.

"But look at it." Cormac pointed to the desk at the thick book with the pages still wide open. "There's nothing like it."

Raham ignored his friend and went straight to the table. "Where’s the light?” His hands fumbled through the desk drawers in search of a striker or a match.

Cormac willed the box to open, returned the candlesticks, and coaxed them into flame. “Better?”

“No way. Magic in the house. This better be good.”

Before they could get into the words on the page, a soft knock at the door interrupted them. Cormac and Raham bolted upright and spun toward the exit. The latch raised and clicked.

“Just me.” Maren slipped inside and secured the door behind her, knowing the trick to keep the sounds to a minimum. Her skirts billowed out as she slipped across the distance to peer at the book. “Oh wow, I can’t believe your father is letting you take this work into this dump.”

“That’s a bit of an overstatement, Maren,” Cormac said. He couldn’t suppress a grin spreading across his lips. “He doesn’t know.”

“You boys are awful.” She slid between the pair and peeked down at the pages. Her fingers traced over the words and started whispering the phrases.

“You can read this?” Raham asked.

“Although I’m just a miller’s daughter in the backwaters of the Northern States and not a world traveler like you and your family, that doesn’t make me dumb.”

“Maren, people haven’t used this language in hundreds of years,” Cormac said.

Maren raised an eyebrow and glanced up from the pages. “Do you think I’m making this up?”

“He’s right.” Raham gestured toward the volume. He rested his finger on a lengthy phrase with flourishes across the letters. “What does this say?”

Maren focused her eyes. “The time of the world draws near.” She smirked at the pair. “That’s translated, of course.”

Cormac sensed the tingle of magic in the air, and the revelation made sense.

“You guys going to let me

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