Tarod alone knew the nature of the supernatural force locked within his soul—and he knew that it must be thwarted, no matter what the sacrifice. Denounced by his fellow adepts as a demon, betrayed even by those he loved, he had unleashed a power that twisted the fabric of time, to put himself beyond the reach of that monstrous force and avert the pandemonium that threatened the world.
He thought that nothing could break through the barrier he had created.
He was wrong...
Order any print or eBook edition of The Outcast and receive the Time Master short story, Three Tides Or Never, written by Louise Cooper especially for Mundania Press. This tells the story of Cyllan's early life in the Great Eastern Flatlands.
May 29, 1952 -- October 21, 2009
Louise Cooper was born in Hertfordshire in 1952. She began writing stories when she was at school to entertain her friends. She hated school so much, in fact—spending most lessons clandestinely writing stories—that she persuaded her parents to let her abandon her education at the age of fifteen and has never regretted it.
She continued to write and her first full-length novel was published when she was only twenty years old. She moved to London in 1975 and worked in publishing before becoming a full-time writer in 1977. Since then she has become a prolific writer of fantasy, renowned for her bestselling Time Master trilogy. She has published more than eighty fantasy and supernatural novels, both for adults and children. She also wrote occasional short stories for anthologies, and has co-written a comedy play that was produced for her local school.
Louise Cooper lived in Cornwall with her husband, Cas Sandall, and their black cat, Simba. She gained a great deal of writing inspiration from the coast and scenery, and her other interests included music, folklore, cooking, gardening and "messing about on the beach." Just to make sure she keeps busy, she was also treasurer of her local Lifeboat station.
Louise passed away suddenly in October 2009. She was a wonderful and talented lady and will be greatly missed.
No more than fifty paces away, the castle rose out of the ground as though it had grown from the living rock. Black and forbidding, it towered into the night, dominated by four titanic spires which reached skyward like accusing fingers, and it seemed to absorb what little light fell on it, swallowing and crushing it. Above the sharply defined battlements a crimson glow tinged the air, as though within the castle's precincts some vast fire burned sullenly but steadily. And although the monstrous structure seemed changed beyond recognition, Cyllan knew it.
Drachea's hands clawed reflexively at the turf. "What... is that place?" he whispered.
Cyllan felt her pulse pounding, clogging her throat so that speaking was an effort. "You said you wanted to visit the stronghold of the Circle," she whispered harshly. "Your wish has been granted, Drachea. That is the castle of the Star Peninsula!"
Drachea didn't reply. He was staring at the castle, seemingly unable to credit the sight that confronted him. At last he managed to find words.
"I didn't imagine...none of the stories said...that it would be like this!"
Cyllan shivered. "It isn't," she murmured. "Or at least, it wasn't when I saw it. Something's wrong."
'Yes. But if the initiates have shut themselves away, how is it that we've broken through their barrier?"
Unsteadily, Drachea rose to his feet. He still watched the distant castle, as though fearing that if he dared to look away for a moment it would vanish. "We must find out," he said.
Cyllan was suddenly deeply afraid of going near the castle. She looked uneasily to where the causeway should have been, but saw only the mist hanging like a curtain, as though it marked an impassable barrier between the real world and this world of nightmare and illusion. Even if the Maze was open and they crossed the causeway without disaster, they would have the northern mountains to face, and two chilled and exhausted souls couldn't hope to survive the road through the pass in winter.
Drachea glanced at her and perhaps saw something of her doubts reflected in her face. He attempted to smile. "We go forward, or we stay here," he said. "Which is it to be?"
She said reluctantly, "Forward."
Slowly they began to walk, and the castle towered to meet them. In the lee of its walls the wind was stilled, and the silence was eerie. As they approached the massive barbican Cyllan realized that there was no sign of life. The great gates were shut, and the dull crimson radiance from within did not change. The place seemed deserted.
"Drachea." She clutched his arm and pulled, abruptly attacked by an unhealthy doubt. "Drachea, something's terribly amiss." It was a feeble repetition of her old fear, but she could find no clearer way to give voice to her misgivings. Drachea, though, was not to be daunted. He shook her off irritably and began to walk faster, almost running down the final slope of the sward that brought him to the castle entrance. Cyllan followed, and caught up with him as he pushed vainly at the huge gates.
"Locked!" He swung breathlessly round, leaning his back against the gates and pushing again, but to no avail. "Damn them! I've not come through so much to be thwarted now!"
"Drachea, don't!" Cyllan protested, but he had already turned to face the gates once more, and started to hammer ferociously with clenched fists on the wood, shouting in near-hysterical fury.
"Open! Open, damn you all! Let us in!"
For a few moments nothing happened. Then—as much to Drachea's astonishment as to Cyllan's—the massive gates creaked. Something clicked with a hollow, echoing sound, and slowly, smoothly, the gates swung inward, spilling out a gloomy blood-red light that stained the sward.
"Gods!" Drachea stepped back, staring with a mixture of awe and chagrin at the sight which the slowly swinging gates had revealed. Before them, framed by the barbican arch, lay the castle courtyard, and they both took in the scene with disturbed amazement.
The great courtyard was empty, and as silent as the grave. In the center, reflecting the desolation, stood a derelict and dry fountain, its carved statues leering frozenly at them. The crimson light which had shone above the black walls was greatly magnified here, but seemed to have no source; it simply existed, with no visible origin, and when Cyllan glanced uneasily at Drachea she saw that his skin was tinged a bloody hue by the glow.
Softly he whistled between his teeth, and Cyllan shivered again. "It feels dead," she whispered. "Empty. As if there’s no living soul here."
Cautiously Drachea moved forward until he emerged into the courtyard with Cyllan at his heels. He breathed in deeply. "There can be no doubt? This is the castle?"
"Oh, yes. There can be no doubt of it."
"Then the initiates must be here. And whatever their reasons for sealing themselves off from the rest of the world, they surely can't deny us sanctuary now!"
Eagerly he started across the deserted courtyard, but not before Cyllan had seen a flash of feverish anticipation in his eyes. Drachea had forgotten the Warp, the sea, the grueling climb up the castle stack. All that mattered to him now was the fact that fate had brought him to the stronghold of the Circle. Why and how he had come meant nothing—the old, obsessive ambition to be a part of that revered and select few had eclipsed all other thoughts.
He had already outpaced Cyllan, and was heading towards a flight of wide, shallow steps, with a set of open double doors at the top. She hastened after him, afraid of being left alone in this grim and disturbing place, and caught up as he began to climb the flight.
"Drachea, please wait!" she pleaded. "We can't simply walk in; there may be reasons—"
He interrupted her, dismissing her doubts impatiently. "What would you prefer—to stay out here in the courtyard until someone finds us? Don't be a fool. There's nothing to be afraid of."
But there is, an inner voice protested. Still she couldn't shake off the foreboding; it was growing by the minute and she had to fight down a desire to turn and run back towards the gates and the comparative familiarity of the cliff top. Quickly she looked over her shoulder, and with a sinking sensation realized that it was too late to consider any attempt at flight.
Whatever silent, secret force had opened the gates to admit them to the castle had now closed them again. They were trapped, like flies in a spider's web.
Cyllan felt sick. She did not want to venture through the doorway into the castle, but Drachea would not listen to her. He meant to investigate further whether she willed it or not. She could follow him, or remain here with only the dead, grinning gargoyles of the stilled fountain for company.
Turning back, she saw that Drachea had already walked through the open doorway, and was standing in a corridor. The crimson light permeated even here, like a distant hellfire, and its glow made him look unhuman. He glanced back and snapped, "Are you coming? Or must I seek out the initiates alone?"
Cyllan did not answer, but with a pounding heart hastened to join him, feeling as though she were choosing the lesser of two tangible evils. Slowly they advanced into the castle, their footfalls echoing eerily in the profound silence. Still nothing moved, no one emerged to welcome or castigate them. Then Drachea stopped at another heavy door. He touched it and it swung back easily to admit them to a huge and lofty hall. Long, scrubbed tables stretched the length of the great room, and at the far end a vast, empty hearth gaped, fire-irons gleaming bloodily in the strange light. Above the hearth lintel was a balustraded gallery, all but invisible in shadow with curtains hanging motionless to either side. The place was as empty and lifeless as the courtyard.
"This must be where the adepts dine," Drachea said softly, and Cyllan echoed his following, unspoken thought.
"But there's no one here."
"There must be. The Castle of the Star Peninsula abandoned and empty? It isn't possible!"
Cyllan shook her head, and the thought crossed her mind: Do you believe in ghosts?
Drachea's steps seemed obscenely loud as he approached the nearest of the tables and laid his hands on it. "This is real enough," he said quietly. "Unless I'm dreaming or dead, I—"
He stopped as they both heard the unmistakable sound of a footfall in the gallery.
For a moment they stared transfixed at the shadowed platform above the hearth. The curtains did not move, and as the small sound died there was no further sign of life. But Drachea's face was suddenly triumphant.
"There!" he hissed. "We're not alone, and I'm not dreaming! The initiates are here, and they're aware of our presence!" He drew himself up, placing one palm to the opposite shoulder in a formal gesture, and called out loudly, "Greetings to you! I am Drachea Rannak, Heir Margrave of Shu Province! Kindly show yourself!"
Silence answered him. No further footfall, no movement. Cyllan's skin began to crawl and she moved to Drachea's side. The young man was frowning, nonplussed. He cleared his throat.
'I said, kindly reveal yourself! We are wet and exhausted, and we demand the hospitality due to any tired traveler! Damn it, is this the Castle of the Star Peninsula, or—"
"Drachea!" Cyllan cut in, clutching at him.
He saw it a moment after her quicker senses had discerned the first movement. A shadow which detached itself from the deeper darkness in the gallery, moved swiftly to the head of the staircase that spiraled down into the dining-hall, and began to descend.
Drachea stepped back, bravado deserting him. The figure, now discernible as human, reached the hall floor and stopped. Cyllan was horribly aware of its cold, impassive scrutiny, though it was still too deeply immersed in shadow for any feature to be visible. But whoever—whatever—it was, its appearance conjured an uneasy sense of recognition.
A hand, bloodless and thin, flicked impatiently at the darkness surrounding the apparition, and something black shifted and rippled. Cyllan realized that the figure was wearing a dark, high-collared cloak which swept the ground at its feet. Then a voice with an edge to it that made her shiver snapped harshly,
"How in the name of the Seven Hells did you break through the barrier?"
Drachea backed away, shocked by the venom in the figure's tone. But Cyllan stood rooted by a memory that crowded back into her mind; a memory that she had been striving to blot out. Her eyes widened as the tall, dark man moved and for the first time the crimson glow fell on him, illuminating his features.
He had changed—gods, how he had changed! The flesh of his face was cadaverous, the bone-structure jagged and skeletal. But the unruly black hair that cascaded over his shoulders was the same, and the dark-lashed green eyes still held their haunted intensity, though now they glittered with a cruel understanding that was far beyond her comprehension. He seemed more of a demon incarnate than a living man...but she knew him. And the momentary spark of recognition that flared in his look confirmed it.
Cyllan said unsteadily, "Tarod…’