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About the Author

Trent lives with his wife and muse Diana in Brisbane, Australia. His work has been published in Future Orbits, Agog, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Nowa Fantastyka, Aurealis, Eidolon, and Altair. He is fiction editor of Redsine(www.redsine.com). He is also a member of the Brisbane science fiction writers' Group VISION.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Outside In: Review by A.L. Sirois

Bounty

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The horses' hooves clattered ...(and crunched) loudly on the stony bird-littered road, but not as loudly as the spell roaring in his mind. A deep whispering of magic that had become vast and crushing. The staff burned his fingers, but he gripped it as though all life depended on it. Well, a little life, part of which was his own.

Sendle rode with him, quiet as a shadow.

Sunlight spilled over the green hills to the east.

Then the circuit was done. And the spell had grown to a quickening ocean in his mind: tides and waves crashing on the shore of his consciousness.

And then...

...time and motion stilled. A grim and hungry expectation that lasted, perhaps, a heartbeat but felt like an eternity.

Pin raised the glass staff above his head and let it do what it would.

The last words of his spell tumbled from him, drawn on by the engine of his magic, the vast inertial pull of this casting. Those last words, key words, binding words grew, just as they had grown in his mind, a whispering, then a shouting, then a booming; a raging storm that was word and magic and power.

And they consumed all.

The glass staff burned in his grip, as though it would swallow him, too.

Pin sensed movement, or, perhaps, some malevolent intent, behind him. He spun in his saddle and saw Sendle's eyes widen, saw shock and hate flower there, saw the soldier reach for his sword, then the callused fingers fall away to swing up and cover his eyes. Pin followed his gaze.

Beyond Pin's magical boundary the world collapsed. No that wasn't right. It simply evaporated. Colour, form, and movement; hazing; shrinking; fading, drawn into the staff.

The last days of a whole world used to feed a single city.

Kingdoms old as humanity itself fall today, he thought.

The glass staff roared at its intaking of power, and flared with a cold light as bright as the sun. Pin's body was on fire; his skin prickled. A washed-out greyness rushed towards the horizon, then beyond.

Pin looked down at his hands—colour had bled from them—then glanced at Sendle, colourless in nature now in truth.

"My eyes were brown," Pin said. "I must not forget that."

Sendle grunted and patted Pin's back companionably.

"We are alive, wizard."

*

That damned scraping. Why oh, why? Knife against fork. Scrape. Scrape.

He hadn't eaten in fifteen years.

Nor had anyone else in the city drowned in the sea of grey which he had created. And what was worse, fifteen years and he hadn't felt like eating.

There was no need.

The plates and cutlery were set in the name of tradition only. A few of the duller knights still thought it high wit to scrape their knives and forks across the vacant crockery.

He scowled at them; they ignored him. And because he found it hard to sustain passion or anger he let it pass, let it subside to a point where in perhaps another month or two it might drive him to momentary distraction.

"Fifteen years," Sendle said, somehow echoing his thoughts.

"Age does not weary us."

"Aye, it does not. Nothing changes." Sendle raised an empty goblet in toast, thick grey fingers clutching the goblet's gold stem—now the colour of slate. Pin's eyes narrowed.

"This place suits you doesn't it?"

"Wizard, I am alive."

"Indeed."

Courtiers carried the kaleidoscope out on a pillow of silk and the hall hushed. Here alone was hunger. A page placed it by the king, who peered a while into the tube then passed it on.

Pin half made up his mind not to look, after all he had cast the thing and its sisters; tubes of spell negating silver and a spiralling interweave of glass and coloured beads.

But when it came to his turn he gazed at it as hungrily as the rest.

Only Sendle passed it on with not even a glance.

"The townsfolk will be getting their glimpse of colour tonight. Keeps them quiet, but what choice do they have?

"You have made a perfect system, dear wizard. Without colour, without taste, without hunger or age, what is there but control?"

Pin shook his head.

"I destroyed a world, Sendle."

"No, you saved a world." He raised his goblet high. "Not just saved. You created an even better one."

Pin grimaced and excused himself from the table.

*

The walk into town cleared his head, not much, but a little for everywhere was warm and still and grey. Evening had shadowed the streets, though it was barely perceptible. Like daylight, night's darkness had become subdued. He could hear the town's festivities in the distance when another sound caught his attention—the low murmuring of voices in a nearby alley.

He followed the susurration to its source, and gasped at what he saw.

A child lay on his back; children were crouching round, poking and prodding with thin wooden rods at a hole in his skull.

"What are you doing?" Pin demanded.

The children took fright and ran.

The wizard crouched down and touched the boy's hand.

"Are you all right, child?"

The boy smiled.

"I am no more a child than you, Mr Pin. I am twenty-five years old, though my body is that of a ten year old. Stop treating us as children, stop giving us the kaleidoscope last. Do you know if you prod certain parts of the brain you can see colours?"

"Yes, but one wrong stab..."

The boy smiled.

"Wizard, I would welcome oblivion." He shoved the rod even deeper into his head.

"Yellow." He whispered as the seizures began, then bit off his tongue.

Pin carried the child to his parents.

"He will not die. But this is something worse. Your child's mental damage is beyond repair."

The parents seemed more disturbed that they had missed their chance at the colour.

"The kaleidoscope will be brought out next month," Pin said. "This is forever."

"So are we," the boy's father said. "So are we. Can you not make more colour, Lord Pin? Can you not give us that?"

Pin stared at his slate hands.

"No, I cannot."

Like the colour, and his hunger, his powers were gone. Seven kaleidoscopes he'd made and he had no strength for more.

"Then perhaps he is the lucky one. I suppose we are sad, but, perhaps where he lives inside his head is a place of colours."

"I doubt it."

"But you do not know."

Pin turned from the man and ran.

(continued)

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