‘Footprints’ – a FREE Shadowmancer spin-off
In Shadowmancer, we meet magickians who misuse their power, and traverse many realms where anything is possible…
This short story takes that theme and rolls with it, telling the tale of the most powerful magickian in all the lands; from his final days, to his first steps into magick and back again.
You can grab your copy with these links, of scroll down past the little ramble about how the story came to be:
If you enjoy it, do please review it on Goodreads. Any feedback is, as always, muchly appreciated.
As you may have noticed by now, I’m a little bit obsessed with parallel dimensions and conversing with alternate versions of ourselves… Whilst writing urban fantasy / magic-themed show ‘The Circle’, which became the novel Shadowmancer, The theme of power corrupting is pretty heavy in the show/book, and I got off track wondering what the characters might be like in an alternate realm where they weren’t so secretive about magick existing.
So this story started coming together, via injecting a little bit of myself in there along the way…
During a vision quest many years ago, I hallucinated that my spirit animal was a reindeer. My partner at the time, who was also responsible for making me go on a vision quest, informed me in an encyclopedic manner that it represented wisdom, knowledge, inventiveness and creativity. All of which are better than my descriptor at the time of “Santa’s spiky-headed chauffeurs”.
That’s probably enough background-that’s-barely-background on this story. On with the show!
A short story spun-off of the novel Shadowmancer
by Lee Isserow
To the world, The Shaman was close to death. His heartbeat had slowed to the point where any layman that might check it would be almost certain that his spirit had passed on. And to a degree, it was true. His consciousness was no longer confined to the shell he used to walk through the mundane world. His body lay in the unfurnished concrete block he called an apartment. He had no use for aesthetics, the ‘comforts’ of modern living. There was no want for furniture or electronics or art. All he required was a space, preferably quiet, with running water and window that faced the sunset.
He lay with his back on the hard, bare floor. No desire for comfort. It was his self-assigned discipline, not part of the Magickal path. Coming from a strong belief deep within himself that he should be able to escape the confines of his body, and commune with his Spirit Guides wherever and whenever. Whether that be in his home or in a desert, a train or a prison cell, he had trained himself to escape the worldly bindings, even when not in the silence of his chosen space. At any point, anywhere, he could step into The Ethereal Forest
As he was told many years ago by one much wiser than he, The Forest was where Magick lives. Where Magick was born. Where for millennia, women and men have walked with Gods of their own creation. Where they learnt the disciplines from their Guides. A world beyond the physical realm, where nature and Magick and humankind live together in harmony, in a way that the inhabitants of the Mundane world could only dream of. But whereas most visitors to The Forest required a gateway, whether that be via drugs or heavy meditation or group rituals, The Shaman was gifted in that he found it second nature to close his eyes in a quiet space and step from the Mundane into the Ethereal. His empty apartment was his space. His temple.
He had left his body behind hours ago and spent the day walking through the undergrowth and the trees, leaning on his walking stick out of habit rather than necessity, nourishing himself on the fruit of the Forest, dining with A’arth, the creature who many years ago identified himself as the Guide who would lead The Shaman to his destiny. A destiny that was only minutes from coming to completion.
The pair stopped by the banks of a stream, for The Shaman saw something that should not be. Something that had no place in this realm. A footprint.
On every journey into The Forest it was as if it were undiscovered. There were never signs that others had been there. Every journey through the undergrowth was as if repainting a canvas anew.
Yet this time, on his final journey through the plants and wild grass, it seemed as though for once he was not alone.
On his first journey into The Forest, which was purely an accidental Magick, the young Shaman found himself in a clearing with creatures lurking in the shadows of the treeline that surrounded him. Terrified, The Shaman-Child picked up a heavy branch and waved it at the inhabitants of The Forest. There were growls and howls and cackles and trumpetings from the shadows. It seemed as though every conceivable animal lived there, no matter if their natural habitat were forest or desert or arctic. They all resided there, in the Forest that lay beyond the imagination of man.
The Shaman-Child shook with fear, aware that his humble stick would be no match for the horde that he could hear beyond the line of trees. Twigs cracked as the monsters amidst the darkness moved about, and he clutched the makeshift weapon in his hands, ready to strike should he be attacked.
The shadows parted and a creature emerged into the light. A wise old reindeer much taller than the boy, its four muscular legs strutting towards him with heavy footsteps. It smiled at the child with teeth larger than any the young Shaman had ever seen, antlers branching out above his head like a crown of boney fingers reaching out towards the sky. Each step the beast took towards him was strong and proud, the sound seemed to echo through the trees like ripples in a lake. Looking back at those that lay in the darkness, the kind old deer huffed at them, signalling that he had chosen the child as his charge, that they were to depart, and they did so, obeying the ancient one.
The adolescent could see that this beast obviously commanded much respect from the others that resided in The Forest, despite the reputation of being a gentle herbivore. He continued to hold to his stick as tightly as he could, but the deer continued to smile at him.
“There is no need to fear, Shaman-Child.” said the animal, with a voice as withered and ancient as the bark of the branch the boy held. “Do you know where you are?”
“I do not.” said the child, attempting to mask his fear with the certainty of his words “But I know that creatures such as yourself should not talk.” he raised his weapon, aware that even if he extended his arm fully, he would barely be able to hit the animal’s nose.
“What kind of place is this, where the animals speak with the words of man?”
The aged deer smiled wider, displaying his bright white teeth fully, each the size of the child’s hand.
“A place of Magick, young Shaman. A place you were not meant to discover for some time.”
The boy’s grip on his weapon faltered and the kindly beast saw that his words were affecting the youth.
“There is no need for you to threaten me. No harm will come of you in this place unless you allow it.”
He did not believe the monster that stood over him, feeling the scratches on his hands from holding the wood. If the deer were speaking the truth then surely he could not be harmed by a mere branch. The kindly animal’s eyes indicated for him to look at his wounds. Unsteadily, he took his eyes off the deer and glanced at the cuts on his fingers. The weapon fell to the ground as he watched his wounds heal.
“I do not understand.” said the future Magickian. “How is this possible?”
The wise deer dropped to his knees and beckoned for the boy to sit upon his back.
“This is a place outside of the mundane. Outside of the world and wars of man. Come, let me show you.”
The child of Magick sat upon the great beast’s back. A’arth rose to his full height, taking the young man off the ground, and together they journeyed deeper into the Forest.
As the Shaman-Child made his way through the dense undergrowth, he saw all the shadows he had feared only moments ago. Lion and snake, penguin and lamb all living side by side. Their human observer was too young to follow their speech, all he could hear was growl and roar, hiss and bleat, but despite his lack of ability to translate, he could tell that whilst they spoke in respective tongues, they understood each and every word of the other’s language.
“How is it that the creatures of this Forest do not obey their nature?” asked the child. “Should the lion not be devouring the animals he lies with?”
“In the world of man, perhaps.” said his steed. “But this is not the world of man. There is no reason for one creature to kill another here. Every fruit of the Forest tastes as we would wish it to taste. If the lion craves meat, he only has to eat of the fruit believing it to be meat, and it is so.”
“But what of the thrill of the hunt?”
“The hunt is but a game, and games can still be played.” the deer stopped. “When did you last eat, child of Magick?”
“Not for a day.” said the boy.
“That will not do!” said the ancient beast, kneeling to the ground to allow the Shaman to dismount.
The youth inspected the fruit of the nearest bush. It was larger than any fruit he had seen in the mundane world.
“What is this fruit?” he said.
“One that will nourish your mind as well as your body.” replied A’arth.
“Why are the body and mind separate?” questioned the astute boy.
“Have you not realised..” said the beast. “… that your body is unable to pass into the realm of the Ethereal?”
The child froze. He had felt something was wrong. That in this place he was not complete, and now it had been explained what was missing. Despite this world seeming so real, everything felt as if he were reaching through a cloud, as though every experience was an internal process rather than a physical experience.
“How do I leave?” he spat at the kindly creature.
“You leave when you are ready to leave.”
“Well, I am ready to leave.” he said.
“Then why are you still here?”
He looked at the creature, who, through kindly eyes seemed to bid him farewell.
The Ethereal Forest melted away, first leaf by leaf, then branch by branch. The fruit vanished, as did the wild grass and weeds that grew underfoot, and soon all that was left was the child and A’arth.
“I shall see you again, young Magickian.” said the elderly creature of the Forest. And then he too melted into the darkness.
The Shaman-Child opened his eyes and found himself in his room in the orphanage, surrounded by worried nurses and his fellow orphans. He sat up, shocking them all, as they had presumed him close to death.
He wept. For he had given up his place in The Ethereal Forest, the very place that Magick began, for a life back in the Mundane world. A world where Magick did not yet live. Where there was only cold and darkness and loneliness.
It would be five years of living in the Mundane before he returned to The Forest.
“Magickians traditionally use knives, wands or staffs to direct their energy.” said The Shaman to his audience. “This is my staff.” he declared, raising his walking stick to the crowd assembled before him. “This is my rod, it holds me up and acts as a channel through which Magick travels.”
The masses had heard it all before, but they were appreciative that he took the time to speak to them. Whether they were old or new followers, his public addresses were so rare, that any words he uttered were taken as a gift.
“My Magick is sourced from nature. The Ethereal Forest was my playground as I matured and now, the physical plane is where I spend my days. Helping those who cannot help themselves. I am a healer. A guide. And as much as it hurts me to admit… a killer.”
This the crowd had not heard before.
He had spoken so often of how man must look after fellow man and that there was no excuse, never an excuse, for taking a life.
“There is no court in any land that can convict me of my crimes. I have made sure of that. But I admit to you, my beloveds, that I have taken lives for the greater good, and only for the greater good. As I have said, there is no reason for the taking of a life, but for saving lives… for saving lives and aiding the evolution of the species, there is more than enough reason to take the lives of those who wish us harm.”
The followers accepted his words as fact. To some degree, even he did. In the past he believed it was never part of his work to end a living being’s existence, but somehow over the years that belief had changed, and if he were to be honest, it was only recently that he truly realised how far he had strayed from the man he once was. His followers agreed that it was acceptable, but the decision was not truly of their own making. His aura overpowered the wills of the weak so easily that they had no chance to rationalize his words before the seeds were planted in their minds, and his words were taken as the voice of God.
No matter how many times he tried to separate his messages from the various religions he had never been a part of, the confusion of his Magick and ‘miracles’ led to him often being seen as a prophet. And something deep and dark in his subconscious liked that equation.
He would never let that take over his message, no matter how many times he was held up as a messianic figure, he would always turn it down. He attempted to cease the spread of the stories from land to land, tried to stop his following from growing. However, a part of him wouldn’t let it happen, for at the drop of a hat he could let his followers forget him if he wished. But he didn’t.
His desire to help people turned into a guardian angel complex, which turned into a messiah complex, which would eventually lead to his own undoing.
And in the back of his mind he knew that this was the beginning of the end.
The Shaman had returned to The Ethereal Forest for the final time. He sat by the Stream of the Subconscious with A’arth and they watched the waters lick along the banks flowing into the River of Muse and eventually rolling over the Cliff of Reverie into the Waterfall of Dreams.
A’arth was not as sturdy and strong as he had been all those years ago. For a creature of The Ethereal, he had aged worse than The Shaman. Although he did not say it, The Magickian was sure that his Guide’s frailty was his own projection of how the sands of time had affected his own body. He hoped upon his passing, the great deer would be young once again.
“My work is truly changing the world, is it not?” The Shaman asked his friend.
“It is. But not necessarily for the better…” replied his Guide, in a withered voice, no longer as dense as bark, more akin to the crackle of autumn leaves.
“I am taking the Mundane world into a bright new age.” he said, proudly.
“You are taking the Mundane world to the brink of destruction.” rasped the ancient beast. “Making a mockery of the Magick that runs through your veins!”
“I can avert any disaster that would come to the world.” said The Shaman.
“And what of the disaster of your ego?” he said. “How will you avert that?”
The Shaman had never heard his Guide speak to him in such a manner.
“Are you not proud of all we have accomplished?” He said.
“I cannot find pride in the deeds of one who would kill his own.”
“Their deaths were necessary!” The old man exclaimed.
“No death is necessary.” insisted the his frail companion.
“There is always a time and a place for these things. If you saw the Mundane world you’d understand!”
“You’re wrong.” said a voice from behind both Magickian and beast. A voice much younger than the two who sat at the banks of the stream.
The Shaman turned and recognized the speaker instantly. The owner of the footprints that had made him question his presence as the sole human occupant of The Forest. The deer had no need to turn, for he had known since the beginning that this moment would come. The Magickian stood and surveyed the child who stood before him. A child of Magick, no older than sixteen, who had the soul of a man much older than his years. Shaman stared at Shaman, and silence reigned over the Forest.
“Your path is over.” said the young Shaman, stunning his elder self.
The aged Shaman clutched at his walking stick and surveyed the boy, remembering how his values – how life – meant something to him at that age.
“Has the end come so soon?” said the older Shaman, his lip quivering.
“We have helped so many… but the ego that grows beneath every good deed, and every drop of praise will destroy us.”
The older Shaman said nothing. He knew this to be true.
And so Shaman young and old bid farewell to the Guide that had been with them since they first stepped into The Forest. They walked along the banks of the stream which ran into the river and as they walked, remembered all they had accomplished in both the Mundane and Ethereal. Soon they came to their journey’s end. Past and Present stood atop the cliff that overlooked the waterfall and clasped hands tightly.
They knew what needed to be done.
And so The Shaman returned to The Source.
The body that once contained the spirit of The Shaman was found by his followers in his Temple. They vowed to continue his work, to help people as he had helped them, and for a time, it was good.
As the years went on, a false prophet arose amongst them, taking The Shaman’s message and using it for his own ends, feeding off the ego that was his predecessor’s undoing.
It was not to last for long. As The Shaman died, somewhere a child was born who would one day discover the Ethereal Forest and take those first steps with a creature who walked out from the shadows. One day further they would take on the mantle of Shaman. And soon, the world would be back on the right path.
Shadowmancer is out on January 6th 2017 – preorder now, and get it for only 99c!
Merry tidings for the new year, and I look forward to throwing more words into your eyes in 2017!