by Kristi Rathbun-Nimmo
Lord Bostwick approached the dais with hesitation. The Candle Stone cast a humming glow inside the basin. “And you’re certain this will work?”
Abraxis didn’t miss the desperation in Lord Bostwick’s voice, nor the strange pall the Candle Stone cast over his aging face and silver hair. “As I said before, my lord, I will be able to summon it. But whether or not it will impart its knowledge is not for me to say.”
“It will aid me…for her sake, it must.” Lord Bostwick fingered a small golden locket hanging on a delicate chain around his neck.
Abraxis had never seen the tiny portrait inside, but he knew whose likeness it bore. The lord’s young daughter had taken ill with a mysterious sickness, and dozens of healers, herbalists, and soothsayers had all come and gone, none relieving the girl’s pain. In desperation, Lord Bostwick turned to the College in the distant kingdom of Cypinum, having heard of a young mage from Vaiae who had somehow developed remedies for various conditions thought to be incurable. Upon hearing Lord Bostwick’s plea (and receiving promises of lavish payments should he succeed), Abraxis had agreed to make the long journey with him back to his Tallovale estate to do whatever he could to save the girl’s life.
Abraxis had tried every cure, every spell and incantation, and still the girl did not improve. Finally, after several long days of trying and failing, Abraxis admitted to himself that his knowledge was lacking. There was only one path left to him, a dangerous path he had taken only a few times before, and each time had drained him more than the last. But he was certain he would find the answers he sought and was equally certain he could handle the dangers.
Abraxis gripped Lord Bostwick’s shoulder, unsure whether he meant to calm the other man or himself. “It’s time.”
The lord nodded solemnly, then crossed the dusty library floor and opened the doors to find four of his most trusted men waiting. “Bring me my daughter.”
The men made haste and returned promptly with the lord’s daughter on a litter between them. Barely in her twelfth year, the girl appeared to Abraxis’s eyes like a figure of a doll—her skin bereft of all color and her body frail and easily broken. “Set her beneath the dais, then leave us.”
The men, uncertain, looked to their lord who was himself unsure. “Is it really necessary that they leave?”
Abraxis knelt beside the girl, placing a hand on her fevered brow. “Spirits are difficult to control. If we startle it—no, it’s best we greet it on our own.”
“So be it.” Lord Bostwick dismissed his men with a resigned nod. They exited, one by one, each casting a concerned glance at their little lady before closing the door behind them. Abraxis stood beside the dais and gestured for the lord to do the same.
“Remember my instruction,” Abraxis leveled an intense gaze across the dais. “This is no simple ritual. To summon a spirit across the Divide requires a great deal of energy. The Candle Stone can provide some of that energy, but we must help it along. What we are about to do is dangerous. We risk corrupting the spirit if we do not tread carefully, and should that happen—well, best to not let that happen. You must do exactly as I say. Are we clear?”
Lord Bostwick, his mouth a hard line on his pale face, nodded.
“Very well.” Abraxis reached into a satchel at the foot of the dais. He pulled a delicate circlet of silver and azurite from within and placed it upon his head. Then he drew two long, thin silver daggers and, keeping one for himself, he offered the other to Lord Bostwick whose trembling hand accepted. “Concentrate. Be deliberate in your thoughts, cling to the desire for knowledge! Now…begin.”
The two men pushed back their robes and, gripping their daggers tight, drug them across their forearms in a slow, delicate glide. When the blood began to swell out of their skin, they held their arms over the dais, allowing hot rivulets of crimson to bleed onto the shivering, white Candle Stone.
Abraxis closed his eyes and breathed deep. He could feel the Divide on his skin, crackling like champagne. He opened himself to it, feeling the power radiating outward from the dais, and let it envelop him. Deeper and deeper he sank within the energy until he nearly crumbled beneath the weight of it. With a burst of strength, he turned the energy back on itself, focusing fiercely on the spirit he hoped would answer his call.
The world burnt white.
Abraxis opened his eyes and found himself on his back beneath the shimmering form of a woman. She burned so brightly, the light made his eyes water. Lord Bostwick leapt to his side and pulled him to his feet. Both men shuffled back from the Spirit, shielding their eyes.
Abraxis didn’t recall it ever feeling like this. The way the spirit burned, how the air engulfed him, churning and frothing around him in a violent tide—he could feel the Other Side bearing down on the Divide like a mountain. This was not the same spirit he had summoned before—this was raw power.
The Spirit turned her head ever so slightly. It was difficult to make out any features or to simply look at her at all. When she spoke, vibrations thundered along the Divide. “I am Knowledge. Why have I been summoned?”
The warmth fled from Abraxis’s body. Knowledge in its pure form… A memory tugged at his mind, but for a moment, he was too awestruck to see it.
“Please,” Lord Bostwick stumbled forward. “My daughter is sick.”
“What do you expect of me?” The voice of Knowledge resonated through the chamber, a valley echoing a distant storm.
“Many have tried to heal her; all have failed. Please, I ask for the knowledge to cure her.” The old lord bent his knee before the Spirit. “Please… help me.”
The Spirit gazed on him without passion. She observed the girl at her feet quietly for some time, the light of her presence growing and fading like a flickering candle as she walked silently around the litter. After several long moments of tormenting silence, Lord Bostwick had had enough.
“What are you waiting for? Help her!”
The Spirit tilted her head. “Why do you shout in anger?”
“I—I don’t—” The lord leapt to his feet. “I know you can save her!”
“Do you shout because already you know the truth? Because you fear to acknowledge what you may see with your own eyes?”
Lord Bostwick collapsed beside his daughter, taking her fragile hand in his own. Abraxis turned away when he realized the man was sobbing.
“You begin to see. The child’s body wages war against itself, a sickness for which there is no cure. But boil tea with bark of the willow and Milk of Paradise, and her remaining hours shall pass in peace.” She turned to Abraxis. “That is all the knowledge I may proclaim. Unbind me and I shall depart.”
Abraxis steadied his breathing and prepared to open the way back through the Divide. He once again brought the dagger to his arm, now slick with blood, but before he could finish his task Lord Bostwick stopped him.
“No.” He clutched Abraxis’s arm in an iron grip. “She must know more. She has to know more.”
“My lord, we must let her go—”
“No! I will not lose her.” He ripped the dagger from Abraxis’s grasp and turned both daggers on the Spirit. “It was also my blood that brought you here, you are bound to me as well. I command you—”
“My lord, don’t!” Abraxis lunged for the daggers but Lord Bostwick, a man nearly twice his size, was far too strong. He slashed out with both daggers, cutting Abraxis deeply across the face and chest. Blinded by his own blood, he stumbled to the floor in an agonized cry. Lord Bostwick stepped over him and closed on the Spirit.
“I command you, Spirit. Save my daughter.”
Abraxis, through a scarlet haze, watched in horror as Lord Bostwick turned the daggers onto himself. The old man gasped in silent pain as his body curled around the silver blades. With a last effort he pulled them from his body, unstopping a river of blood that burst from his wounds.
Knowledge let loose a feral howl that seared Abraxis to the core. Light more painful than a thousand suns resounded through the room, evaporating in an instant all the air in his lungs. Abraxis choked and writhed and burned and knew he was about to die, when suddenly everything exploded into frigid black.
Silence thrummed in the darkness. Acidic smells assaulted his senses; burnt flesh—his own?—sulphur, and lead. Abraxis touched fingers to his temple where a hot liquid melted down the side of his face. Too dazed to feel any pain, he paid it no mind. Straining his eyes, he searched the room in vain. Placing palms on the floor, he felt shards of stone beneath his hands. In the back of his mind, panic began to take root: The Candle Stone…shattered…and the Spirit?
As if answering his unspoken thought, a feral growl emanated from the smoldering husk of the dais. Then, low and menacing, the sound twisted, becoming a terrible laughter that drowned the entire estate in a suffocating dread. The last thought Abraxis ever had was a memory, a scrap of instruction from one of his ancient tomes:
Take care in the binding of Knowledge, for Knowledge corrupted is Fear, and Fear, insatiable, shall devour the world.
Kristi and her husband Alex.
Q & A with Kristi Rathbun-Nimmo
Luna Review: This story seems squarely set in the realm of fantasy. Do you write exclusively in this genre, or do you write whatever you feel like doing at the moment?
Kristi Rathbun-Nimmo. I tend to write whatever is on my heart in the moment. It just so happens that most of the time, the stories brewing in my mind lean towards the fantastic, magical, or futuristic. There is just something special about genre fiction and its ability to cast light on everyday issues, issues that might be impossible to tackle otherwise. Genre fiction tears down certain barriers and opens the mind to new ideas and worldviews. In my opinion, that’s what good fiction is really all about.
Luna Review: Beyond editing and writing stories, do you have a novel in-the-works, or a finished one you’d like to describe?
KRN: Short stories occupy a large section of my own works, but I am branching into longer pieces. I am currently working on the outline for a fantasy novel; it’s still bare bones thus far, but I’m excited about the process and to see it all start coming together. A novel has been somewhat of a theoretical endeavor for me up to this point, so I’m eager to start putting my ideas into practice!
LR: When did you start writing, and did you have a teacher/family member/friend who encouraged you to continue?
KRN: I started telling stories long before I even knew how to read. My mother was honored with many hastily put together books illustrated with crayon about a daring bunny named BoBo and his magical adventures on the farm. Before I could read, I would pretend with my favorite books, often adding little embellishments of my own. Stories have always been a part of my life and I’ve been fortunate to have had the support of my family and many wonderful teachers throughout the years.
LR: Can you mention five books and authors who inspired you, or warped you, in a good way?
KRN: This is a tough one! Once I start listing them off, it might be hard to stop! The first five who come to mind, in no particular order are: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Brian Jacques, Bernard Cornwell, Leo Tolstoy, and Jane Austen. I also love Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley; every time I read Frankenstein I find something new and mind blowing. I also adore The Book of Flying by Keith Miller. And The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. And this list could go on forever… But the one thing that is common among all of my favorite writers is that, no matter how dark things may be, they don’t ever leave you without hope. Yes, show us the world as it is, hold a mirror up to our humanity (or lack thereof), but don’t leave us without hope.
LR: I’ve noticed a change in your submission guidelines from last year, with Chantwood now being open to a wider variety of stories: literary fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, historical, and romance. Are there any genres or styles you do not wish to see?
KRN: Chantwood has always been about good storytelling and our editing staff has extremely eclectic tastes, so we are open to almost any genre. We do, however, resist certain things. For instance, we are not about gratuitous sex or violence, nor do we like excessive gore or profane language. We also tend to avoid anything that is overly political. Where sex, violence, or swearing does occur, it has to serve the narrative in some way. What we like to tell people when they submit is to think of their grandmother or a younger sibling; if you wouldn’t want either of those people to read your story because it might offend or be too explicit, then we are probably not the right market for your work.
LR: Chantwood does a blind submission process so that no identifying information is on the submitted story. What are the key elements your editorial team looks for? And what are the things that make you turn down a story? Do vigorous debates or votes ensue, or as Editor-in-Chief are you the decider?
KRN: Our entire editorial staff participates in the selection process. We won’t reject or accept a piece until it has had at least three sets of eyes on it, and even then, if opinions vary there will usually be some vigorous debating. If things are too close to call, I will make an executive decision as the Editor-in-Chief. By the time it gets to that point, we usually have a batch of amazing writing on our hands. As for the submissions themselves, there are a few key things we tend to look for. One of the first things we always notice is whether or not our submission guidelines have been followed. We also look for technical skill (spelling, syntax, grammar, etc.), but we understand the occasional typo. As for content, we look for well-structured narratives with interesting protagonists, worlds, or plots. In genre pieces, we like to find those works which avoid cliches or use genre conventions in new or unique ways.
LR: Since the three Chantwood editors are from University of Northern Colorado, did you decide to pursue creating a magazine while in college or afterwards?
KRN: At university, we had all talked about wanting to go into publishing at some point in our lives, but the idea of forming a publication of our own wasn’t something we had discussed at length. It was really more of a seed that was planted when we started looking for jobs in the publishing industry and submitting our own work for publication. Jobs, particularly in our area, seemed few and far between, and finding a home for our work was daunting. We were confident in our abilities, but we weren’t sure how to compete with established writers and MFA holders. We all agreed that the work itself, the words on the page, should be the only thing that mattered. Inspired by my best friend (who is an amazing entrepreneur in her own right), I decided to chase my dream of becoming an editor while providing a market where anyone could submit their work without feeling overshadowed or intimidated by credentials or lack thereof. After graduation, Chantwood Magazine was born.
LR: If you are all still in Colorado, have you considered Chantwood readings at a bookstore in Boulder or Denver as a way to construct a Chantwood community of writers and readers?
KRN: A good friend of mine, Rachel Ann Harding, is part of the Stories with Spirit duo based out of Boulder. We have been thinking of working with her to do some readings around the metro area. So stay tuned! It will be a collaboration of magnificence.
LR: Any exciting plans on the horizon for you and/or Chantwood Magazine?
KRN: We always keep a weather eye on the horizon! One of our most anticipated goals is moving towards print copies of each issue in addition to our digital format. Our first ever Chantwood Anthology is also nearing completion and will be available in print this fall.
LR: That’s great news. As a kid, my first serious reading was sci-fi and mystery/horror anthologies. I wish they were still as prevalent. I can envision a Chantwood Bookstore in the next ten years, with an amazing selection, and comfortable leather chairs for reading.
KRN: On a personal level, I have aspirations of putting together a short story collection and taking the plunge into my first full-length novel. Things are always exciting in our neck of the woods, and I am eager to meet the future and all of the wonderful things life has in store.
To purchase issues, read sample stories, or submit your own writing: https://chantwoodmagazine.com/