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Larry Correia

Spellbound

Prologue

Yesterday, I was told the most marvelous tale. If it had not been repeated by a gentleman of such strict conscience, I would scarcely have believed. Another child with magical capabilities has been discovered, and in Chelmsford of all places. The young lady I witnessed in London could change the weather and they say this Chelmsford youth can heal the sick. Two miraculous beings have appeared in England this year and there are rumors of them appearing in other lands. It seems there are more of these wizards found amongst us every day! Will their numbers continue to grow? Is this the end of days? The mind reels at the possibilities.

— Sir John Fisher, Personal correspondence, 1849

France, 1918

During the day the sky to the east was black, but at night it burned red. For three days straight the thunder had never stopped. At first she had cringed at every distant rumble, and the noise had left her frightened and crying, but now the bombs were just background noise. The constant rattling of their small house had become almost normal. Father had told her the thunder was called artillery, and though it sounded scary, they needed to be brave. The tears did not come so often anymore, and then only at night, when the others couldn’t see her.

Father said that the fighting was still many miles away and that they would be safe here. Mother had wanted to flee but Father insisted there was nowhere else for them to go. They had no money. The government had confiscated all of their crops and most of their animals to feed the army. There was no food in the refugee-packed cities either. They were safer staying on the farm, for at least there, should the Germans break through, they might be overlooked as unimportant and passed by on the soldiers’ push to Paris.

She was the youngest of five children. The older ones could recall a time before the war, but to her, it seemed as if things had always been this way. As long as she could remember, the Germans had been coming to kill them all. Father had gone away for what had seemed like forever to fight, and the older children had tended the farm in his stead. Since she was seven, she had been in charge of gathering eggs from the chickens. Father had been sent home after he had gotten really sick and nearly died from breathing the Germans’ poison gas. His voice was scratchy now and he grew tired very easily, but she was just happy to have him home.

The war had gone on for many years but never before had it been this close. Father had spoken of how the two sides had barely moved, pushing each other back and forth, neither one giving hardly any ground, but once the Kaiser had started sending dead men to fight, things had changed. Father tried not to show it, but he was scared of the things everyone had started calling zombies, and that made her scared of them too. He had explained that there was going to be one last big fight, and whoever won it would probably win the war once and for all.

The rest of the world would come to call these days the Second Battle of the Somme, but to her, it would always be simply the Big Fight.

For weeks leading up to the Big Fight, soldiers had marched east on the road that meandered around their farm. It had seemed like an endless stream of men, horses pulling carts, and even hundreds of modern trucks, while overhead, fantastic airships cast huge shadows. Some of the soldiers were clean and their uniforms looked new. Others were dirty, and they seemed as tired as Father had been when he’d come home. The men wore grey, brown, and green, but their flags were colorful. Father would point at the different flags and the symbols painted on their vehicles as they went past. “Those are our countrymen from the south. Those are British. Those are Canadian. Ahh, that volunteer American brigade. I hear they all have magic,” and he had patted her on the head. “Just like you.”

That had made her very proud. She was the youngest, but she was special, and she had waved at the passing Americans. A giant American boy wearing a metal suit and carrying a huge gun had even seen her and waved back.

Three days after the Big Fight started, the war came to her farm and killed her entire family.

The girl hid in the cupboard. It was all that she could do. Everyone else was gone. All her brothers and sisters, Mother and Father, everyone. Hot tears dripped down her face and her nose was running, but she tried not to make a sound. He would hear her. He would kill her.

The man was in the kitchen. She could hear his boot soles stamping against the floorboards. There was a crash as he pulled open the pantry. Dishes broke and he cursed in a language she did not recognize. Was he looking for her? She pulled her knees up tight to her chest and tried not to breathe. He was searching for her with his terrible grey eyes.

The pump handle was worked and water splashed into the basin. A few seconds passed and then the killer let out a gasp of pain.

The cupboard door was loose. There was a sliver of light leaking around the edge. She put her eye close and found that she could see a narrow slice of the kitchen. A bloody shirt lay discarded on the floor. The man was at the sink, holding one of Motherdishrags to his stomach. The cloth came away red, revealing a ragged gash. Thick rivulets of dark blood were trickling down his bronze skin and splattering about the kitchen. It was a terrible wound.

He must have been injured before he had mysteriously appeared in the middle of the yard, for certainly none of her family had time to defend themselves. When he had appeared, seemingly out of thin air, Father had addressed him first in French and then in German. The stranger had answered by stabbing Father in the heart. Then he had been everywhere. Killing. Her brothers and sisters had run but he had chased them all down. Mother had told her to hide, but as she’d fled, she’d heard Mother screaming on the steps and then it had been quiet.

She was all alone with the monster.

The man’s long white hair was dirty and tangled. There were many other cuts and bleeding holes on his body besides the big one on this stomach, and she prayed that he might hurry and die soon. As she watched him trying to stop the bleeding, she realized that the man’s torso was covered in some strange design, like he’d been crisscrossed in blackened scars. Mother appreciated books, so the girl knew how to read, but she did not recognize any of the strange letters carved into the killer’s chest.

“I know you are there, little girl.”

She gasped and pulled back deeper into the cupboard.

“Hiding does no good, for I can see you in my head.” His French was rough. He was a foreigner. He spoke almost like an Englishman would speak French, but he was certainly no Englishman either. “Do not be afraid. It will be over soon.”

“Why?” she squeaked.

“Why?” The stranger chuckled, and then it turned into a grunt of pain. “My enemies, put a hex on me and I was unable to Travel very far. How did they do that, I wonder? Please come out, girl. I am… better now. I do not like speaking to a door.”

She scrunched back as far as she could. “No.”

There was a long pause. “You have Power. You are far more valuable than the others. They were empty. You… You are what drew me here. I should have taken you first. Such is life.”

Muddy boots struck the floor as he strolled over and ripped the cupboard door from its hinges. The girl screamed. He grabbed a handful of her long dark hair, dragged her out, and hurled her against the floor. She sobbed and begged for her life. She tried to use her own magic, but was too terrified and shaky to make it work.

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