An Encounter with No Werewolves
It wasn’t that Jinx didn’t like people. It was just that sometimes he had to get away from them.
He was no sooner out of earshot of the campfire, breathing in the deep, green strength of the forest, than he heard a single tree’s voice.
Stuck. Trapped. All is lost.
Jinx hurried through the underbrush, weaving around great moss-covered trees and stumbling over roots.
The cries came from a beech sapling. A mighty pine had fallen, crushing the beech to the ground.
Jinx grabbed the sapling and yanked, but couldn’t free it. He could hear it murmuring its despair. You waited and waited for a chance like this, for a big tree to fall so that you could grow toward the sunlight, and then this happened. It was hard to be young in the Urwald.
Jinx wrapped his arms around the rough, pitch-splattered pine trunk and tried to move it. He couldn’t shift it an inch.
Oh. Right. He was a magician.
Jinx drew the Urwald’s lifeforce power up through his feet. He levitated the fallen pine a few inches.
Free! Free! said the sapling. Sunlight!
It swept upward, its leaves brushing Jinx’s face.
Jinx was feeling a sense of accomplishment—the tree might someday grow as tall and stout as the giants around it, thanks to him—when he suddenly sensed a deep golden hunger nearby. He turned his head slightly to the left . . . and was eye to eye with a werewolf.
Jinx froze, terrified. It was no good doing a concealment spell—the werewolf had already seen him. There was no time to scream for help—the werewolf was only a few yards away.
It was wearing spectacles.
As Jinx stared, the werewolf licked the end of a pencil and wrote something in a small notebook.
“Why did you do that?” said the werewolf, in growly but perfectly good Urwish.
“D-do what?” said Jinx. He hadn’t known werewolves could talk. He’d been stalked by werewolves, clawed by werewolves, and very nearly eaten by werewolves, but they’d never exchanged pleasantries.
“Levitate the tree.” The werewolf’s pencil was poised over the notebook. “Do you consider yourself a magician?” Was it good, or bad, to be a magician, as far as werewolves were concerned? Probably bad. Jinx tried to calm down. The werewolf licked its lips hungrily, which did not help Jinx calm down.
“Er,” said Jinx. “H-how do you feel about magicians?”
“I am very fond of them,” said the werewolf.
“Oh,” said Jinx. “Well I—”
“As long as they’re young and tender. Stringy old witches and wizards disagree with me.” The werewolf touched his midriff and winced.
There was chattering overhead. Jinx looked up. A chipmunk sat on a branch, tail upright, and watched Jinx and the werewolf with interest.
“It’s, er, late in the year for chipmunks,” said Jinx, in what he hoped was a light conversational tone.
The hackles on the werewolf’s neck rose. “Unsympathetic magic approaches. Excuse me.”
He tucked his notebook away—Jinx didn’t see where— and slunk off.
Jinx felt relieved . . . for half a second. Then he became aware of a cold blue hole piercing the great green lifeforce of the Urwald.
He turned around. Two elves stared at him. They were blue, with silver-white hair, and they glowed slightly. Jinx had seen elves before, but never up close. The feeling that came from them was cold, not like winter or ice, but cold like a dark, faraway place that has never seen either.
At least the werewolf had been alive. The elves were . . . something else. Not dead, because “dead” has something to do with “alive,” and Jinx had a feeling that elves did not.
One of the elves opened its mouth, and a sound came out like a cat being dragged backward through a drain.
The other elf, who Jinx guessed was a lady, answered— a snarly, hairball-hacking sound. Jinx was ordinarily good at languages, but he wasn’t even sure this was a language.
“What?” said Jinx.
“Doesn’t listen very well,” said the female elf, switching to Urwish. “Not as well as he’s supposed to.”
“I do too,” said Jinx, annoyed.
“Aren’t you supposed to be the Listener?” said the male elf. His voice rang like iron dropped on ice.
“I don’t know about ‘supposed to,’ but yeah,” said Jinx. “He has no idea what that means, Dearth,” said the lady. “Are you telling me our brilliant Bonemaster couldn’t kill that ?”
“He did kill him,” said Dearth. “More or less. But it didn’t take. Bottle spell, you know.”
“And now look at it. What a poor excuse for a flame.” “The Bonemaster hasn’t come into his power yet,” said Dearth. “Not really. More than this one has, of course. But he isn’t yet strong.”
“They’re a curious pair,” said the lady. “Why choose an old man and a boy?”
“Choose, choose,” said Dearth scornfully. “No one is chosen. The wicks choose themselves. It’s always been that way.”
“Who chooses themselves for what?” Jinx demanded.
“Should we kill him?” said the lady.
Now this was going too far. Jinx tried to summon the Urwald’s lifeforce . . . and found that he couldn’t. He was trapped inside the cold blue hole the elves had brought with them. The lifeforce was outside it.
“It’s completely unnecessary, Neza,” said Dearth. “And our Bonemaster can’t become truly strong without him. There have to be two wicks. It was ever thus.”
“But if the Bonemaster kills him, we reign supreme,” said Neza.
“Reigning supreme can be a great deal more trouble than it’s worth,” said Dearth irritably.
“Well, this one doesn’t know who he is. That’s all we need to know,” said Neza. She made a dismissive little gesture at Jinx with her nose. “You won’t remember this, Flame.”
She waved her fingers, and Jinx was engulfed in a maelstrom of silver-blue sparks. The sparks filled his eyes and got up his nose. He batted at them, trying to clear them away—
“Jinx!” Someone was calling his name. That was his name, wasn’t it? He felt confused. His nose itched. And there was a girl in a red cape coming through the woods.
Oh. Of course. Elfwyn. And how could he have forgotten his own name?
“What are you doing up here?” she asked.
“I was just . . .” Jinx looked back at where there had been—something, hadn’t there? A chipmunk? Yes, he was pretty sure there had been a chipmunk.
“I was just thinking,” he said.
“I thought I heard you talking to someone.”
“The trees probably,” said Jinx. He didn’t talk to the trees aloud, but he was too embarrassed to say he’d been talking to a chipmunk. Had he? He didn’t remember.
“I was worried,” she said. “You shouldn’t go off by yourself. There could be werewolves, you know.”
Something tugged at Jinx’s memory, but he couldn’t think what.
“Nah, I’m fine,” he said. “There are no werewolves around here.”
An Ill Wind
They were traveling the Path—Jinx, Elfwyn, Reven, and the wizard Simon Magus. Jinx was fond of all of his companions, at least in theory. Elfwyn was a sensible girl who suffered from a terrible curse that forced her to answer any question truthfully. Other than that she was good company. Reven was—well, Reven was probably a king, and certainly dangerous.
He was also good at stuff Jinx was not so good at, like fighting, and talking to girls. Jinx sort of admired Reven for these things, but not aloud.
Then there was Simon . . . who had said he’d let Jinx go to the edge of the Urwald without him. The problem was (and Jinx only knew this because he could see other people’s feelings) that Simon didn’t want to let Jinx out of his sight. And this was because a few months ago Jinx had fallen off a hundred-foot cliff and gotten, if you wanted to be perfectly accurate, killed. It was only good luck on Jinx’s part and good spell work on Simon’s that had kept the situation from becoming permanent.
Ever since then Simon had tended to hover, and to watch Jinx more closely than people really need to be watched when they’re almost thirteen.
It was a warm day in late fall, and a strong wind sent brown leaves scuttering along the path. Jinx walked a little behind his companions, and the trees spoke to him.
The Terror, they said. That was what they called Reven.
The Terror is still here. Why is the Terror still here, Listener?
Because of Simon, said Jinx. I’m trying to take Reven out of the Urwald, but Simon keeps taking us to visit all these witches and wizards, asking them all—
Tell the wizard Simon you must go. To the forest edge. Yes, very soon, Listener. Tell him.
Right, because he really listens to me. Jinx didn’t bother to say this, because trees seldom understood sarcasm. I’ll try.
Suddenly a ripple of alarm ran through the trees, then surged to a torrent of terror.
The trees cried out a warning.
Danger. Death. Destruction. Flee, Listener!
Jinx hurried to warn his friends. “Run!”
“From what?” said Simon. “If there are monsters, we’ll do a concealment spell.”
“We can’t hide!” said Jinx. “There’s a clearing near here—we can make it if—”
Simon stopped in the middle of the path and scowled. “There is not a clearing near here.”
“Yes, there is,” said Jinx. “Will you listen to me for once?”
Jinx could see the clouds around the wizard’s head— Simon was afraid. That surprised Jinx so much that for a second he could only stare.
Then the fear slipped away behind the blank white wall that hid some of Simon’s thoughts. In the same instant the forest darkened. A blast of wind tore through the trees, sending the branches creaking and groaning overhead.
“Told you,” said Jinx. “Told me what?”
“It feels like there’s a storm coming,” said Elfwyn. “It’s a huge storm!” said Jinx. “Like a thousand dragons. Only wetter.”
“A storm? All this fuss is about a storm?”
Jinx could’ve shaken Simon with frustration. “It’s a killer storm. It’ll be here in a few minutes.” “Then I expect we’ll get wet,” said Simon.
“We’ll get dead,” said Jinx. “The clearing’s half a mile north of here. We can make it if we run. This is a really monstrous storm. It can tear your limbs off!”
Reven looked up anxiously at the creaking branches. “Perhaps we should listen to Jinx, good wizard.”
“I’m not taking orders from my apprentice,” said Simon. “If I change my mind about that, I’ll let you know.”
“There is another path up here,” said Elfwyn. “How did you know there was a clearing, Jinx?”
The sky had turned steely gray. The wind roared like thunder, and then rushed overhead. A branch snapped and hit the path just behind them. Elfwyn grabbed Simon’s arm and hauled at him. Reven stared at the branches thrashing all around them.
“Come on!” Jinx grabbed Simon’s other arm. “Move!” “Let go of me,” said Simon.
Suddenly Jinx felt the hairs on his neck stand on end. A thick bolt of lightning ran from the ground to the sky and back, pink and crackling, and a tree beside the path lit up, shooting sparks. There was a loud BANG. Jinx heard screaming—the others wouldn’t, of course—and the tree snapped, halfway down the trunk. For a moment the fractured tree stood wavering atop its stump.
“RUN!” Jinx yelled.
They ran. The tree came crashing to the path behind them, so close that they stumbled forward from the force of the impact. They turned up the new path and kept running. The rain arrived, sheets and blankets of rain, barrels and cauldrons and lakes of rain.
The houses in the clearing were dim gray shapes through the downpour. Elfwyn ran to the nearest house.
“Not that one!” Simon cried.
A branch came crashing out of the forest and knocked Simon sprawling. Jinx and Reven struggled back to help him—Elfwyn was pounding on the door.
“I’m fine,” said Simon, getting to his feet. “Get into the flippin’ house, why don’t you.”
A mighty burst of wind whipped into the clearing and swept them all smack into the side of the house. Jinx tried to move, but the wind crushed him right back against the wall, flat as a leaf. Simon grabbed him and dragged him to the open door.
Then they were inside, the door was safely closed and barred, and there was firelight and the smell of things cooking. Outside, the wind howled like a thousand werewolves. Things crashed against the outer walls, but the house barely trembled.
A sharp-nosed old man sat at a table, dunking bread into a bowl of stew. Jinx was suddenly hungry.
“You’re dripping water all over the floor,” said the old man.
“We can’t help that. It’s raining,” said Elfwyn.
“Why are you wearing a dress?”
“Because it’s what I have, of course,” said Elfwyn. “Why wouldn’t I—”
“Not you.” The old man waved a bread crust at Simon. “Him.”
“It’s not a dress,” said Simon. “It’s a robe. Is that all you have to say? Jinx, all of you, go stand by the fire and dry off.”
“What do you need a robe for?”
“Robes are what wizards wear,” Simon said between clenched teeth. “You three, hang your coats on the chairs.” “They’ll drip all over the floor,” said the old man.
“Here, what are you doing in my cupboard, boy?”
Jinx felt a jolt of real horror when he realized that it was Simon being called “boy.” He half expected the old man to be set aflame or turned into a toad, but Simon just got some wooden bowls and spoons out of the cupboard and clunked them down on the table.
“Where’s the bread?” said Simon.
“In the breadbox, of course, where it always was.” The old man had gone back to eating. “Take it all, don’t worry about me. It’s not like it matters whether I starve in my old age.”
“Whatever finally carries you off, it won’t be starvation.” Simon ladled stew from the pot hanging over the fire. “Here, you three, sit down and eat.”
“My stew’s not good enough for you?” the old man demanded of Simon.
“It’s got meat in it.”
“Of course it’s got meat in it, that’s the point.”
It was goat stew, with peas and lumps of potato. Jinx tried it. It was pretty good. There was nothing rotten or nasty—quite unlike the food you usually got in clearings.
“Still playing wizard, are you?” said the old man. “Yup.” Simon had taken off his sopping robe—he had regular clothes on underneath—and was wringing it onto the hearth.
“I tell people you died of plague.”
“That’s thoughtful of you,” said Simon. “I expect they wonder where the wagonloads of potatoes come from in thin winters, then.”
“These yours?” The old man gestured with his bread again.
“No.” Simon gave Jinx, Reven, and Elfwyn a thoughtful look. “Well, yes, the younger boy’s mine.”
The old man hitched his chair around and looked hard at Jinx. Jinx looked back. He could see the cloud of gray-white, smug satisfaction that surrounded the man like a second skin. Whatever happened, Jinx suspected, this man would only see it through that cloud, through what it meant to him and what he could get out of it. Now he was sizing Jinx up through the cloud, and Jinx hated it.
“Hmph. Well, at least he’s not wearing a dress.”
“I left it home,” said Jinx.
The old man ignored him, but Simon glared. Apparently it was all right for Simon to be sarcastic, but not Jinx. Figured.
“The mother must’ve been pretty dark,” said the old man.
“Must’ve been,” said Simon. “Do you have any cheese?” “Why don’t you just look around till you find it? Is she dead?”
“Yes,” said Simon. “Is this all the cheese you have?” “If I’d known you were coming I’d’ve baked a cheesecake. What’d she die of?” “Elves,” said Simon.
At the word “elves” something stirred in Jinx’s memory. He wondered if he should say something to correct the colossal misconception that was being formed here. A glance at Simon told him he should not. Simon’s thoughts were a box of whisper-thin light green glass that might shatter at any second, which would lead to flames and toads and all sorts of horrible things.
Simon whipped a knife out of his pocket and stabbed the cheese viciously.
Outside, the storm raged. The window shutters rattled and shook. Elfwyn and Reven exchanged nervous glances and went on eating.
“Some storm,” said Reven, in the overcheerful tone of someone trying to pretend everything was normal. “It’s even worse than that one that blew us to the Bonemaster.”
“I wonder if the Bonemaster has anything to do with this storm,” Elfwyn murmured.
“He can’t,” said Jinx. “We destroyed most of his power.”
“Unless he’s escaped,” said Elfwyn. “And found a way to get more power.”
“Storms just happen,” said Jinx.
“That lightning was amazing,” said Reven. “That bolt that almost hit us—I never knew lightning was pink.”
“Some of it’s blue,” said Jinx. “Like the flash right before it that stretched across the sky, and there were eight branches of lightning coming down to the treetops from it—”
He stopped, confused. Reven and Elfwyn were staring at him.
“We didn’t see that,” said Elfwyn. “Because we were under the trees, not on top of them. And so were you.”
“Maybe I just looked up and saw it,” said Jinx. But no, he knew he had seen the sea of swaying treetops, and lightning rippling and dancing across it.
“I think you’re turning into a tree,” said Reven. “Forsooth, you see what the trees see. You’ll be sprouting leaves next.”
Simon and the old man were still arguing.
“If you’d stayed here and married Friddelotta—”
“Don’t start that.” Simon hacked at the cheese as if he was decapitating an enemy. “Just don’t.”
Reven coughed. “I’m sorry, sir, we haven’t been introduced. I’m Reven, and do I have the honor of addressing Simon the Wizard’s esteemed father?”
“Esteemed? The brat hasn’t visited me in fifteen years.” “Twenty. His name is Egon,” said Simon.
Jinx was surprised. He’d always assumed that Simon, like Jinx and almost every other Urwalder old enough to tie their own shoes, was an orphan.
Reven bowed and said all the polite things that you probably had to say if you’d been raised at King Rufus’s court and didn’t know any better. Jinx went back to eating.
“What’s it like?” Elfwyn asked him, very quietly. “What’s what like?”
“Being able to”—she dropped her voice even quieter— “talk to the trees like that.”
“Strange,” said Jinx. “It’s started happening when I don’t expect it. And I mean it’s not always really talking. Sometimes it’s just sort of being there.”
“Like a tree,” said Elfwyn.
“You could’ve done real well out of Friddelotta,” said Egon. “Her father was cooked by a dragon, you know. She inherited nineteen goats.”
“Lucky her.” Simon turned to the door. “Is the wind letting up a little?”
“No,” said Elfwyn.
“You could’ve been a big man in goats by now, is what I’m saying,” said Egon. “But instead—all this hocus-pocus nonsense. Wearing purple dresses. Dancing around in the dark with witches.”
“I have never—”
“Is that why you never get lost anymore?” Elfwyn asked Jinx.
“Yeah,” said Jinx. “But I didn’t get lost all that much before.” Well, okay, maybe he had once last summer, in a situation that had perhaps involved an uncomfortable amount of troll. But nowadays . . . it was something about the root network. He always knew where he was.
“This all changed since you, um, fell off the cliff?” said Elfwyn.
“Yeah. I guess.” They were still talking very quietly, though it wasn’t really necessary because Simon and Egon had started shouting at each other.
“Come on, all of you,” Simon snapped. “We’re leaving.” He went to the door and unbarred it. The wind smashed into the room, tearing the door out of his hands. Reven grabbed the old man out of the way as the table and chairs flew across the room and hit the far wall. The flames in the fireplace shot up and out, licking the ceiling beams. Jinx, struggling not to be blown into the wall himself, quickly sucked the fire out of existence with a thought.
“Will you help me get this flippin’ door closed!” Simon yelled.
Jinx, Elfwyn, and Reven fought their way across the room, climbing the floor. It took all four of them to wrestle the door back into place and bar it.
“You’re a disaster, boy,” said Egon. “I’ve always said that.”
“It’s true you’ve always said that,” said Simon. “All right. I suppose we’re staying the night. Put the fire back, Jinx.”
Excerpted from Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood. Copyright © 2014 by Karen Schwabach.
First published in 2014 by HarperCollins Children’s Books US, 10 East 53rd St, New York, NY10022. First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Quercus Editions Ltd, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block, London, W1U 8EW. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.