The seven gods of Order had ruled unchallenged for centuries, served by the adepts of the Circle in their bleak northern castle on the Star Peninsula. But for Tarod—the most enigmatic and formidable sorcerer in Circle’s ranks—a darker affinity had begun to call. Threatening his beliefs, even his sanity, it rose unbidden from beyond time; an ancient and deadly adversary that could plunge the world into madness and chaos—and whose power might rival that of the gods themselves.
And though Tarod’s mind and heart were pledged to Order, his soul was another matter...
Order any print or eBook edition of The Initiate and receive the Time Master short story, A Partner In The Dance, written by Louise Cooper especially for Mundania Press.
May 29, 1952 -- October 21, 2009
Louise Cooper was born in Hertfordshire in 1952. She began writing stories when she was at school to entertain her friends. She hated school so much, in fact—spending most lessons clandestinely writing stories—that she persuaded her parents to let her abandon her education at the age of fifteen and has never regretted it.
She continued to write and her first full-length novel was published when she was only twenty years old. She moved to London in 1975 and worked in publishing before becoming a full-time writer in 1977. Since then she has become a prolific writer of fantasy, renowned for her bestselling Time Master trilogy. She has published more than eighty fantasy and supernatural novels, both for adults and children. She also wrote occasional short stories for anthologies, and has co-written a comedy play that was produced for her local school.
Louise Cooper lived in Cornwall with her husband, Cas Sandall, and their black cat, Simba. She gained a great deal of writing inspiration from the coast and scenery, and her other interests included music, folklore, cooking, gardening and "messing about on the beach." Just to make sure she keeps busy, she was also treasurer of her local Lifeboat station.
Louise passed away suddenly in October 2009. She was a wonderful and talented lady and will be greatly missed.
THE INITIATE -EXCERPT
The outer door of his rooms slammed echoingly behind Tarod as he strode through to his bedchamber. Another crash—the inner door this time—and he hurled his cloak aside before savagely pulling the velvet curtain across the window and throwing himself at full length on the bed.
He couldn't have stayed in the castle's great hall a moment longer. The pressure had been building up in his mind all day without release, and finally his self-control had snapped. That in itself was a bad sign, for where self-discipline lapsed, willpower was sure to follow. And if he didn't resolve the conundrum of the dream that had been haunting him for the past eleven nights, Tarod was beginning to wonder if he might not also lose his sanity.
Every night it began in the same way. He opened his eyes to the darkness and silence of his room and for a moment thought himself awake, until a tell-tale edge of unreality told his mind that he was asleep and dreaming. Always there was a sound in the room, a muffled, half-heard humming that impinged on his consciousness and, irrationally, worried him. In the dream he slid from his bed and padded across to the window. A new sensation was rising within him; some forgotten feeling that dragged at the deepest levels of his mind and called, incessantly called.
Come… Come back… Remember…
It was as insidious as the rustle of grass in the wind that heralded a Warp storm. There were no words.
No, he told his dreaming mind, there were no words!
Tarod was a sorcerer with a will and control matched by no man in the Circle, but as the dream grew more nightmarish, he was frightened. Despite his efforts he couldn't wake himself, but instead pulled back the curtain and looked down into the courtyard, which was bathed in the chilly light of the smaller of the two moons. Its thin crescent threw sharp contrasts of silver and shadow across the empty square, yet Tarod couldn't see clearly; a faint haze seemed to cloud his vision. Then, by the colonnaded walkway, something moved.
It was no more than a shadow, and it glided between the sculptured pillars of the colonnades. Human or something beyond, he couldn't tell, but he felt drawn to it as a moth to a candle-flame. Involuntarily, the fingers of his right hand touched his silver ring, and suddenly the voice was back in his mind, whispering a sibilant, insidious lure.
Remember… Come back…
Back to what? Tarod's mind asked in silent desperation.
Then, shockingly, he was awake in the darkness of his room, and the voice had gone.
Tarod closed his eyes, shutting out the memory of the dream. After the third recurrence he had called on the resources of his considerable will to banish it, but to his alarm the efforts had failed. Throughout his waking hours the dream was haunting him, for it rang disturbing bells in the depths of his mind, raising questions that might be better left unasked.
Why did he seem to possess an innate talent for sorcery that was unheard of in the Circle's history? He had known it since he began his studies here; now it was acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, by even the highest adepts. His command of Circle ritual was unsurpassed, yet unlike his peers he had no true need of ritual; he could, if he chose, kill with nothing more than a single thought. Twice in his life he had killed in such a way—and that, as perhaps he had always known, set him apart. Lately he had begun to grow more and more impatient with the Circle's accepted doctrines and practices, as tonight he had tried to explain to Themila; and he was conscious of a growing sense of disappointment that harked back to his earliest days here. His belief that the initiates were all-powerful had soon crumbled as they proved instead to be very fallible human beings. And now that he was privy to powers which the rest of the world held in awe, he found those powers lacking.
Yet however hard he strove to look into the deep recesses of his consciousness and his motivations, he was no nearer to answering the all-important question: why. It was as if something was calling to him, something which had always been a part of him yet which he couldn't comprehend, and the recurring dream was bringing it into focus.
Suddenly goaded by a wave of frustration, Tarod rose from his bed and paced across the room to where a pile of musty and yellowed books lay on a small table. In his efforts to find the elusive answers he needed he had spent a good deal of time in the castle's extensive library. Here were all the records of known history, some written so many centuries ago that the script was faded and all but illegible. The castle was the world's sole repository for such knowledge, the Circle its sole guardians; and to a scholar from beyond the castle's boundaries, the privilege of being granted access to these volumes for study was beyond price. Until recently Tarod had barely ever troubled to make use of the library himself, but now, fascinated in spite of his preoccupations, he had found accounts of the earliest days of the Circle's existence, when the world was newly emerged from the dark age of the Old Ones after Aeoris himself had vanquished the tyranny of Chaos and restored the lords of Order to rule in its stead. So little was known about the ancients and their skills; many of the strange properties of this castle were still hidden territory to the Circle which had inhabited it now for so many generations. Tarod would have given much to unravel some of those old mysteries. But old mysteries provided no answers to the thoughts that troubled him now. And the one thing no book had been able to tell him was the nature of the force that was calling to him out of the depths of the night.
He stared down at the books, and came to a decision. Tonight, he was sure, the dream would seek him out again. He would be ready for it. Tonight he wouldn't sleep, but instead would keep watch on the astral plane. He needed little preparation beyond a quiet mind, and with an hour or more to go before the castle's inhabitants began to retire for the night there was time enough.
He bolted the outer door to his rooms, then lit a brazier that stood near his bed. When the charcoal was glowing like a small, feral eye in the curtained gloom he sprinkled a few grains of a faintly narcotic incense on to its red heart, and lay down without bothering to undress. Whatever unknown denizen came to haunt him tonight, he would be ready.
The brief summer darkness had finally fallen, and the first of the two moons had risen to cast a sickly glow through the window when Tarod sensed that he was not alone in his room. For almost three hours he had lain motionless, watching the faint glare of the brazier, but suddenly, although there was no sound and no movement, he felt an uninvited presence. His pulse quickened. Like most adepts he took basic precautions to ensure that no stray influences from other planes could invade his territory, yet this—whatever it was—had breached the defenses with disturbing ease.
Then the murmuring began,
Come back… Back…
It seemed to emanate from some dark corridor of his own mind, and he sent a silent message in reply.
Back to what?
Tarod concentrated his will and shifted his consciousness onto the astral. His surroundings appeared as before, but now all the contours of the room glimmered with a faint, unstable aura. That alarmed him, for it suggested a similar instability in his own control. Each of the seven known astral planes—of which only five, according to Circle doctrine, were accessible to any mortal—had its own distinctive characteristics; this fluctuation told Tarod that he was not established on any one, but hovering in an unnerving limbo.
Trying to rally his concentration he looked down at his own body on the bed. The disturbing call was throbbing in his consciousness now, as if by throwing off the shackles of the physical plane he had made himself more vulnerable to the source of the message. Tarod had never been averse to playing with fire and had always come through unscathed. But on all previous occasions he had been in sole control. Now, the position had twisted a little; other powers were pulling him and it seemed his will wasn't strong enough to counteract them. Nor, yet, could he even begin to speculate as to what they might want of him.
For a time—it might have been minutes or hours, he had no way of knowing—Tarod kept watch. Then, at last, a knocking sounded at the door.
His instant reaction was that the knocking had emanated from the physical plane; that someone had unwittingly come to disturb him. Angry, he tried to return to his physical body: but something held him back. It dragged him away from his goal, pulled his mind into a black vortex that closed round him. The room disintegrated into chaos then just as swiftly righted itself again. But now its aura had stabilized, pulsing with light and power.
He was on a far higher plane; perhaps the fourth or even the fifth. But he hadn't willed it to happen.
Without warning the knocking at the door sounded again, and at once Tarod knew that his first assumption had been wrong. The outer door to his rooms was bolted, yet the unknown visitor was at the inner door, immediately before him. Aware that the atmosphere was too silent, too cold, Tarod moved to the side of the room, as far from the door as was possible, before allowing his mind to form a single, stern word.
Almost before the command took shape the door smashed back on its hinges, and framed in the gaping doorway Tarod saw his own double.
He recoiled in shock. The face was unmistakable, and the hair—but this motionless image was swathed in a black shroud. Then his first, stunned impression disintegrated, for the figure was altering. The so-familiar face remained, but the hair became gold, the eyes constantly changed color, and he could no longer see the apparition's body, for it was suddenly wreathed in light that shifted through the range of the spectrum like an approaching Warp.
Who are you? Tarod tried to keep fear from coloring the silent question. For answer the vision smiled, and it was a smile of exquisite pride and disdain. Tarod felt himself drawn helplessly towards the being, and as their minds approached, an overwhelming sensation of power struck him and swamped him. Here was the knowledge he had been craving—
He shuddered violently as an invisible barrier sprang up between himself and the brilliant vision. Stubbornly, desperately he attacked it, but his efforts were useless; and the moment came when he realized that the being had gone, leaving the room lifeless and empty.
The intangible forces no longer held him. Conscious of a sense of failure, Tarod returned to his body and opened his eyes. He was shivering convulsively, and so cold that his limbs were numb. Unsteadily he rose and stumbled to the hearth, where a fire had been laid but not lit. But his hands shook and the tinder refused to catch properly; after five minutes he gave up the attempt and returned to his bed, leaving the fire sullenly smoldering.
Despite the bed's heavy coverings Tarod was still shivering. Part of his mind wanted to think about the implications of his bizarre experience; but another, stronger part reacted violently against the idea. What he really needed now, he told himself as he closed his eyes, was sleep; and sleep without dreams.