Get five full novels and a collection of short stories...

Get five full novels and a collection of short stories...

Master of the Tower
a story of witchkind

Three years ago, Daniel Scratch ascended to become Adherent of the Sixth Axis, the primary, magical forces of Endings in the world. Since then, he’s tried to use that power for the betterment of all witchkind—despite the “don’t bother” attitude of the senior adherents of the other four Axes. The other junior adherents, on the other hand, are much more willing to help the rest of witchkind—especially when it comes to curtailing the humans’ use of magic-draining iron.

But a critical misstep tears the Veil, the subtle, delicate magic that conceals witchkind’s true nature from the humans. Human priests begin calling for a resumption of the Hunts, and the death of all witchkind.

To heal the Veil, Daniel must confront his own vulnerabilities, the millennia-old history of his predecessors, and the very nature and reason for his own birth.

Released on November 16, 2020
This book is also available as part of: Adherents of the Axes
Master of the Tower
Book 2

Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1-953645-01-2


You know what became the most monotonous about the Tower? The thing that, after by five years of learning and year of mourning, finally drove me out into the world?

The food.

Don’t get me wrong, the Tower’s driežai, my little shadow-lizard servants, did their best. One of the Tower’s many basement levels was a huge, magically sustained garden, offering a variety of fresh produce. That same level also had still-chambers where meats and other foodstuffs—all of which seemed to appear magically from sources I could only guess at—were kept fresh. And the driežai could seemingly prepare any dish you cared to ask for from all of that abundance.

I just didn’t really know what to ask for.

Abbygail, the leader of the brownies in my old family home, had been forced to work with a much more limited pantry after Mother had been taken, and at that age I doubt I’d have appreciated gourmet cooking even if it had been possible. But her limitations had shaped my culinary world, giving me a fairly stunted food vocabulary and quite a narrow menu of things to ask for: Stews, soups, casseroles, the occasional roast, lots of steamed vegetables—I ate healthily enough, I imagine, but there sure wasn’t much variety.

The Tower’s libraries were also oddly devoid of any books on food, cookery, or anything even closely related.

There had been a brief period—I’m thinking when I was maybe sixteen or so—where I’d decided to simply experiment, making up dishes by poking around the garden and naming various ingredients for the driežai to somehow combine into meals. The results had been… interesting, if not spectacularly successful. After one especially disastrous effort involving spiced bulvi? šaknis, pork shoulder, and unexpectedly sweet citrinžol?, I’d given up and gone back to asking for things I was familiar with.

It just got boring.

Which is why I was out today, in one of my favorite cities for food, Nworlins. The seaside town stood proudly astride a hilly region in the southeastern tip of the continent, giving it access to beautiful warm-water seafood, succulent root vegetables, sweet, silky grains, and some of the most succulent fruits in the world. Today, I knew, would be a difficult one for me, and I wanted to start it on as positive a note as possible.

I browsed the town’s central market, strolling slowly amongst the rows and rows of stalls offering everything from fully cooked meals to raw, bagged ingredients. Some of these I could simply gather from the Tower’s magic-powered gardens deep in its lower levels, but many of the items here could be found only here. And even the more familiar ingredients seemed fresher here—more alive.

I’d spent plenty of time in my Tower feeling less-than-alive, so getting out amongst all of these smells, these textures, these tastes… it helped me tremendously.

It was early morning, the sun still climbing lazily from its slumber beneath the sea, its first orange-yellow rays just beginning to spill over the low buildings of Nworlins’ docks. A human merchant called out, successfully attracting my attention to the neatly arrayed collection of fish he’d brought in just an hour ago. Chips of ice surrounded the produce, and my eyes swept over the rune constructs that were carved into the wooden trays that displayed the day’s catch. I grinned at the precision and detail of these constructs—they’d been carved by hand, lovingly and carefully. Whatever man or woman of witchkind had made them was likely a partner in the fishing business, and they’d taken pains to ensure these trays would keep the ice cold and the seafood fresh. These constructs would need re-empowering at least weekly, I thought, and this human was oblivious to it all. He likely thought that the longevity of his eyes and the bright, clear eyes of his produce was due to the shady spot he’d chosen, or to some other incidental cause.

Witchkind’s contributions to humans’ successes were always subtle, always critical, and always unrecognized by their beneficiaries.

“Freshest sea bass,” the man said as I approached and ran my fingers gently over the scaly sides of a large, black-and-silver specimen. ”J?ros ešeriai, one of the oldest species in the world!” he added proudly.

My eyebrows twitched. “I don’t know that I’ve ever heard that name for it,” I said casually. I had, of course: the True Language of witchkind was our language of history and magic; I’d just never heard it from the lips of a human.

“Ah, my business partner drilled it into me. Says it’s important that we consider the history of the fish, and what it’s meant to everyone for so many centuries. First fish ever cultivated in the world, he says, first one that fed people along this stretch of coast.”

I nodded. “I’ve heard as much from… friends.” Books, I meant. I was an avid reader.

“And so can I interest you—“ he began, but my attention was suddenly stolen by a ringing sound in my ears and an itching at the back of my neck.

A Summons.

My mood darkened as the magic swept over me. I could ignore it, of course: almost any of witchkind could empower the rune that begged for an audience with the Adherent of the Sixth Axis, but they couldn’t compel my cooperation. Still, I’d gotten into the habit of considering these requests. I let the subtle breeze of the magic gently caress me, drawing what information I could have the caster’s intent.

I frowned, stepping away from the display of seafood while the poor man was mid-sentence. This Summons was a simple one, empowered by an individual acting on their own. It carried some sense of… not urgency,exactly, but… resignation? There was certainly need in the call, but it wasn’t dire.

When I’d first ascended to my full power as an adherent, I’d answered every Summons the had come my way. I’d resolved property disputes, political arguments, and more. It had become tiring, especially once I’d realized how many of witchkind were willing to take the easy way out, the lazy way, and simply ask an Axis to make their decisions for them. Summoning me took all the work out of it for them: they could present their case, I could ask a few questions, and I’d impose my Judgement. My Axis enforced my decision, Ending the dispute in a way that no other force in the world could. My petitioners didn’t have to negotiate, try to see each other’s perspective, or anything else.

It got boring.

So not long ago, perhaps a year or so, I’d stopped answering most of the Summons that came my way. I wanted to deal with the big ones, the ones that only an adherent, only the Sixth Axis itself, could handle. Decisions that I’d need to consider carefully, weigh with great deliberation, through which I could change the world into a better place.

What I was feeling now wasn’t one of those Summons… but it was the other type I’d promised myself to always answer.

I pulled the Axis around me, invoking its Form of Travel. The humans bustling around me in the market would imagine that I’d slipped away through the crowd. The merchant I’d approached might even blink a few times, and crane his head to try and spot me in the crowd. That was the action of the Veil, the ancient magic that helped witchkind stay hidden from the humans. Confronted with actual magic, humans would nearly always find another, more reasonable explanation—such as choosing to believe I’d somehow slipped unseen into the crowd, even though in reality I’d simply vanished.

“I hope you don’t mind,” the man said, his voice rough. “I didn’t know what else to do, who else to call.”

I’d let the Axis follow the Summons like a trail, and appeared outside a small wooden cottage deep in the Great Northern Wood. I’d come here only once before, answering a Summons similar to this one. No humans lived in the Wood: the woodwitches who called this vast forest home saw to that. They were a quiet, firm lot, living largely solitary lives as far as I knew. The Wood contained no villages, no towns, not even a small hamlet; rather, the few inhabitants spread themselves out, building tiny cottages like this one and disturbing as little of the surrounding Wood as possible.

The Wood was extremely special to witchkind. I’d never ventured in—nobody did—without an invitation from the Woodwitches who lived there. Some said the Wood was where we had originated, and where magic had first come into the world.

It was still night, here in the Wood, and I’d stepped into the cottage—the obvious source of the Summons—following a low, flickering fire. A real fire, not one fueled by magic, which I found slightly odd. Until I’d seen the man lying in his bed.

“It’s fine,” I assured him quickly. “But…” My voice trailed off. The man before me was clearly of middle age for witchkind. Substantially younger than—

“I’m eighty,” he said gruffly.

Ancient for a human, but still young, for one of us. “Nonetheless, I—“

“Can you see it in me? Feel it?” Now I heard the resignation in his voice, the defeat that had colored his Summons.

I couldn’t see anything, but my Axis could certainly detect something amiss. It sniffed hesitantly about the man as I stood there, dipping toward him and then pulling back suddenly, as if there was a foul odor or sharp taste about him. The man was sick with something.

“I could find an adherent of Sea,” I offered. They and the adherents of Earth were renowned for their healing prowess.

But he shook his head. “Won’t do, I’ve had Meilene to me already and she’s as strong with Sea as any adherent I’ve met.”

Not possible, I knew. “But—“

“It’s magic, this sickness,” he grunted. He grimaced as a wave of pain seemed to stab into him, and gasped slightly as it resided. “Not unheard-of in these Woods. Incurable. Already taken my strength. If Jonotan from down the way wasn’t stopping by to feed me, I’d already have wasted away.” He paused then, and his eyes—clear and intelligent—bored into mine. “I just want to end it.”

My Axis did as well. I could sense it drawing back from the man, satisfied that his End was already near. Would have happened days ago, but for the man’s struggle and his friends’ nurturing.

This was the kind of Summons I swore I’d never refuse. People who were dying, who were brushing up against their own Ending, but who for some reason or another couldn’t pass it on their own. Who were suffering, living nothing like what they’d accept as a true life, and who were sensible and sane enough to make this decision and ask me for help.

My heart tightened and, as it always did, Mother’s face flickered in my mind.

I knelt beside the man’s bed, and his head turned to follow me. “Liepsna teb?na tavo draugas, j?ra švelniai s?puoja, m?nuliai apšvie?ia tavo keli?, kol v?jas tave išlaisvins,” I whispered, offering him a benediction in the True Language. May the Flame be your friend, may the Sea rock you gently, may the moons light your way, until the Wind sets you free.

“My name is Jarrod,” he whispered. A modern name, rather than one taken from the True Language. A name much like my own.

I nodded solemnly. “I’ll remember.” And then in my mind I held the rune for galas, the most fundamental and simple expression of the Sixth Axis’ power:

The Axis slid forward gently, whirling slowly about the man and giving him his End.

I stood for a long moment as his chest settled and fell still. I always felt awkward, standing here with someone who’d just seconds ago been alive. But caring for them after their End wasn’t my lot.

I found myself no longer interested in breakfast, and bade the Axis return me to my Tower.

Mother would have been on my mind regardless today, but my encounter with Jarrod had brought all that roiling emotion foremost in my brain. That, and everything—and everyone—else that I’d lost.

I’d taken myself to the little beach at the foot of my island, rather than to the Tower itself. As an apprentice adherent, I’d run the narrow path between Tower and ocean over and over for exercise, but now I walked it slowly. The hard-packed soil crunched slightly beneath my boots, and the tall, rocky spires the covered the island soared above me, and hard and as sharp as my thoughts.

I lost… well, I guess I should say my father passed away when I was quite young. I believe I was around nine years old, and his passing was very much my fault. He was unkind to Mother and I, and prone to fits of physical rage. He hated his marriage, hated the family he’d married into, and resented the loss of his clan. He’d spent most of his time in his basement workshop, tinkering with strange, half-magical, rune-covered machines of brass and copper—machines that his clan had eventually perfected and used to… well. We’ll come to that.

Mother had gone a bit mad in the head after Father’s passing, and they’d hauled her, screaming epithets the whole while, off to Witchhold, the prison-slash-asylum of our people. I’d been informed that she’d died there, raving until the end.

They lied.

I’d remained in the family home, alone with a handful of brownies and other magical caretakers, and the spirit—or something—of Great-Great-Grandmother. It had never struck me as odd that the same proctors who’d taken Mother had no compunctions about leaving a child alone in the vast, creaking old home, but I’ve since come to suspect—quite strongly—that Great-Great-Grandmother, if not the house itself, had something to do with their negligence and my own blissful acceptance of the situation.

And then I’d lost even my home.

On my thirteenth birthday, Great-Great-Grandmother had summoned me to her attic door and informed me, in her cold and rasping voice, that I was to go into the nearby village to be Tested. The Test was a strange affair, delivered by one of the sisterhood that manages such things across the continent. I’d been Chosen to be the world’s sole Adherent of the Sixth Axis, one of the world’s great magical powers, the embodiment of Endings and Completions.

It turned out that “Endings” was more than just a polite euphemism for death.

I was summarily taken from the house—which, no longer sheltering anyone of the family, promptly vanished—and deposited on this tiny, remote island. It housed the Tower of Endings, the traditional home—or prison—of the Sixth Axis. The island’s enormous rocky spikes were designed to magically catch at the body and soul of the living adherent, should he or she try to leave. You see, when the Axes were Forged, everyone had thought it best if the one in charge of Ending things was kept isolated and contained, and so the island and its Tower were built to hold us in.

But I wasn’t totally alone. I was taught by what turned out to be the ghost of the prior adherent, Kirmin. She appeared and disappeared at random over the next five long, lonely years, teaching me to use the Axis’ Great Forms of Power and imparting little tidbits of experience and wisdom along the way. I actually hadn’t known what Kirmin was at the outset—she’d simply been in the Tower when I arrived, I’d thought. But she never remained with me long, and the drawn-out intervals between her lessons had made those years lonely indeed.

I understood now that she’d been an apparition of the Axis itself, which—unlike the other Axes of power—only ever Chose a single adherent for itself at a time. When I finally grew weary of my post and stepped down, it would eventually Choose someone else, and my own ghost would, I presumed, appear to teach them the same lessons I’d learned.

Ghost or no, I’d grown fond of Kirmin. Her dry wit, the sparkle in her eyes, the hard truths she’d shared with me.

It occurs to me only now that I have spent more time around, and been more educated by, ghosts and spirit of one kind or another than living people.

At the conclusion of my education and on the day of my eighteenth birthday, Kirmin taught me one last trick: how to leave the Tower.

I simply needed to accept the mantle of the Sixth Axis and End myself.

“Death isn’t the only kind of Ending,” she’d reminded me.

And so I did.

I never saw her again—even as the Adherent of Endings, my losses continued to mount.

My own Ending was more metaphorical than anything. I was still alive, sort of. I just wasn’t the same Daniel that had come to the island. I’d moved past that person, Completed my apprenticeship, and accepted my role as adherent. But I was beyond death now—I’d serve until I didn’t want to anymore, just as all my predecessors had. And by being beyond death, I was also beyond life, and therefore beyond the Tower’s ability to contain me.

Mind you, I’d been able to sort-of-leave the Tower for years, using the Axis’ power to send my spirit anywhere in the world I wished. In doing so, I’d discovered that a clan of witchkind, Karal by name, had taken Father’s machinery, added Mother’s unique identity-rune, and created a device capable of siphoning ambient magical energy from humans. For what reason, I’d no idea, but the process weakened, sickened, and even killed its targets, and so I’d made it my business to end the practice.

To End it.

It was the first impactful thing I did in the world, the first bold move intended to save people, to restore some kind of rightness.

And along the way, I managed to reverse one of my losses, in a way.

Mother’s identity-rune was a key to the entire process, and it turned out Karal had kept her alive, imprisoned in iron cages, in order to activate each new machine they produced. As a girl, Mother had always favored the company of humans—who were apparently unaware that she was witchkind—and seemed to draw joy and energy from them. This was apparently her unique gift, something her body did automatically and without thought. It was that ability that Karal had perverted, and it was all tied to her identity-rune.

And there was the twist: I’d regained Mother, but Karal still possessed a rune that I had to End in order to stop their atrocities. Ending a person’s identity-rune Ends the person as well, although by the time I did so, Mother was so sickened, weak, and abused that she welcomed it.

I have still not forgotten the look in her eyes as I lost her a second time.

The crisis averted, I returned to the Tower to lick my mental wounds and try to find a place in the world. I had choices: past adherents of the Sixth had ranged from hermits and recluses to world-moving activists, and I could choose either path or any in between. At first, being a hermit of sorts had seemed easiest, especially since the Tower’s own magic helped blur and smooth the passing of time within. It would have been easy to simply drift through the days, fulfilling my main function of anchoring the Sixth Axis, letting the Tower’s shadow-servants feed me and ignoring the world without.

But I was still young. After a year or so, I decided that I’d already lived alone for too long. Something in me longed for… more. For something different, at the very least.

And of course I wasn’t required to remain in the Tower; now that I was past my own Ending, the magic intended to keep me here had no grip. So I could define my life.

I could do something.

In retrospect, things might have turned out better if I hadn’t. But the invisible hands of Fate pull at all our strings, and so I suppose what eventually happened would have found a way no matter what I’d decided.

I walked the last few feet to the Tower and pushed the enormous door open. I wandered into the entry foyer, letting the door sigh heavily shut behind me as the Tower’s magic illuminated the broad, round room. Still feeling depressed, I shuffled down to the small dining room, intended to have the Tower bring me a piece of toast and a cup of something hot to drink.

A small, brightly decorated cake sat waiting for me, and my heart clenched.

Today was my twenty-first birthday.

Kirmin had begun the tradition of having the Tower present me with a small cake on my birthdays. Now, of course, it was also very near the anniversary of Mother’s Ending, making it a bittersweet holiday.

Just bitter, really.

I should have ended the tradition a year or two ago, but I’d used these festive little cakes as a kind of milestone, and a reminder. A reminder of a very particular birthday tradition that I’d begun two years ago, on the first anniversary of Mother’s final passing.

A tradition that included my one, singular, selfish use of the Axis’ power.

Books in Series