“For the record, I hate running,”
Marshall Blackmoore huffed, his shaggy brown mop of hair stuck to his forehead
with sweat, covering part of his eyes. “Especially after creepy monsters.”
Despite his tall, skinny Ichabod
physique, my friend wheezed away like he was a three–hundred–pound fat–camp
escapee chasing down an ice–cream truck. “There’s a reason I opened a game
store, you know. Lots . . . more . . . sitting.”
I didn’t have the energy to think
about whatever my dear, nerdy friend was saying about Roll for Initiative. For
me, running actually helped me concentrate, and in my newfound arcane life,
focus was indeed a handy skill to have. Like now.
“I actually enjoy this,” I said.
“The running part.”
“How do you feel about the
chasing a rampaging golem part of it?” my other friend Aurora Torres called
over her shoulder as she ran by. Her short blue hair and black horn–rimmed
glasses flew past me, her dancer’s legs pumping hard as she easily pulled much
farther ahead of Marshall and me. As she took the lead, her lean frame
disappeared into the distance, the bounce of an artist’s tube strapped across
her back almost comical.
“Not so crazy about the
rampaging,” I said. “Especially given that it’s my fault.”
“Don’t beat yourself up too bad,”
she called back. “Occupational hazard of being the one and only existing
Up ahead in the distance, the
lumbering but still–speedy creature I had empowered continued on through the
night, thankfully charging down one of the quieter side avenues near
Manhattan’s South Street Seaport.
The oversized human
shape—comprised entirely of animated red bricks—moved gracelessly, crunching
into anything and everything in its path: parked cars, tree trunks, low–hanging
branches, hydrants—all of them coming away worse from their encounter.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Marshall repeated, pointing at it. “You’ve got that thing to beat you up.”
“Just be glad I chose to run
these experiments late at night,” I said. “We only have to deal with property
damage and not, you know . . .”
“People damage . . . ?” Rory
I nodded. “Exactly.”
Rory turned back forward,
pointing to a dark area up ahead that lay between two streetlamps. “It’s heading
for that alley!” she called out.
Not wanting to lose sight of it,
I pushed myself harder, both physically and mentally. I pressed the power of my
will out to it, fighting to regain the control I had lost over its form. I
pulled at its spirit, but there was a resistance in the animated creature.
“No luck,” I said, and the
connection snapped shut as the brick monster vanished down the alley.
“I’ll try to head it off,” Rory
called back, and sprinted farther off down the block, one hand already unscrewing
the top of the art tube strapped across her back. By the time she had gone half
the block, Rory had pulled two wooden shaft pieces free from it, coupling them
together before affixing a third, longer, bladed piece to it.
“Not the most subtle weapon to
cart around the city,” I called back to Marshall, who I was steadily outpacing
“Says the woman who had a magical
gargoyle as her weapon of choice,” he said. “At least Rory can break her glaive guisarme down. Besides, there’s
no talking Ms. Torres out of something once she gets it in her head. She loves
“She does make it dance,” I
“Surprising for a dancer!”
Marshall added with a wheeze.
I didn’t respond. The sheer act
of talking winded me, so I shut my mouth as I headed into the alleyway after
the creature. The darkness was worse here, and given the overturned cans and
dented Dumpsters along the way, I slowed as I negotiated a path through it all.
Rory came into the alley farther
up ahead of me from the side somewhere, and true to her calling in life, danced
her way deftly after the creature, leaving me to feel all the more clumsy an
oaf for slamming into everything as I went.
Cans rolled, and empty delivery
pallets flew back and forth in the wake of the lumbering creature as it made
its destructive way, but Rory managed to dodge them all with her natural grace
and speed. Not wanting to leave my best friend since childhood to face the
golem all alone, I secretly wished I had half her agility. When wishing didn’t
make me any more graceful—evidenced by the sudden sound of tearing fabric from
my jeans as a stray pallet nail caught on them—I instead opted for focusing
more on my immediate environment. I needed
to pay attention. I wasn’t going to be any use if I bled out right here.
Being more cautious slowed me,
but it was a small comfort that I was still
farther ahead than Marshall, whose every bump and crash behind me fell farther
and farther away as I pushed myself harder down the alley.
“You doing okay back there,
Marsh?” I asked, keeping my eyes glued to my path.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said.
“Again, my bad for living the gamer’s life. Just keep on them!”
I chanced a glance up. The alley
turned left farther ahead, and Rory and the creature were no longer in sight. I
pushed on, rounding the corner in time to catch the two of them roughly thirty
feet straight ahead, where the alley dead–ended.
Trapped, the creature reached out
to the brick wall in front of it, as if sensing that the wall was comprised of
the same material it was made from. When it found no means of escape, though,
it spun, its tall figure, menacing Rory as I arrived by her side.
Despite the clear danger and its
towering size, Rory didn’t back down from it, extending her pole arm in front
“Can you control it?” she asked.
“You know, like you did for about, oh, twenty seconds back in Gramercy?”
“Shut it,” I spat out. “You know
that Hendrix didn’t learn guitar in a day.”
“True,” Rory said, “but then
again, a guitar doesn’t threaten to kill you or crush you in quite the same way
an animated pile of bricks does.”
Fantasy author Anton Strout was born in the Berkshire Hills mere miles from writing heavyweights Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville and currently lives in the haunted corn maze that is New Jersey (where nothing paranormal ever really happens, he assures you).
He is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series and Alchemystic, book one of the upcoming Spellmason Chronicles for Ace Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA). Anton is also the author of many short tales published in anthologies by DAW Books.
The Once & Future Podcast is his latest project, where he endeavors as Curator of Content to bring authors and readers together through a weekly news show format.
He has been a featured author guest of honor, speaker and workshop leader at San Diego Comic-Con, Gencon, New York Comic-Con, the Brooklyn Book Festival and many other conventions.
In his scant spare time, his is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the worlds most casual and controller smashing video gamer. He currently works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds.
Alexandra Belarus was an artist stuck working in her New York family’s business…until she discovered her true legacy—a deep and ancient magic. Lexi became the last practicing Spellmason, with the power to breathe life into stone. And as her powers awoke, so did her family’s most faithful protector: a gargoyle named Stanis. But when a centuries-old evil threatened her family and her city, Stanis sacrificed himself to save everything Lexi held dear.
With Stanis gone, Lexi’s efforts to master Spellmasonry—even with the help of her dedicated friends—are faltering. Hidden forces both watch her and threaten her, and she finds herself suddenly under the mysterious wing of a secret religious society determined to keep magic hidden from the world.
But the question of Stanis’s fate haunts her—and as the storm around her grows, so does the fear that she won’t be able to save him in her turn.