In the western-most crumbling halls of a mountain citadel lives a lonely wizard named Urien, a master of his art and a fledgling priest of a primordial goddess of transformation. Though his training is extensive, no training could prepare him for a broken heart. For years he has lived on the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such wounds do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess, Urien's heart reveals itself as a grim warning from the goddess herself, in the shape of a wolf.
In the wake of this unsettling experience, Urien discovers that his most gifted apprentice, a beautiful, wild-tempered woman—and the partner of his erstwhile lover—is in grave danger. A series of swift-moving mishaps including a second warning and a badly backfired protection spell lands Urien into a love triangle that exposes not only his deepest desires but also the black machinations of the priestess who deceived him. When she wields her full power against him, he must reconcile his heart in order to save his lovers and himself from isolation and death.
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Urien of Eyeroth, a Master of the Eye of the Order of Raven, hurried along the winding forest path beneath a sky shrouded in midnight. Restless wind stirred the trees, and the air smelled of rain and moldering leaves. The light from his torch painted the barren forest in shades of his own reflection, black-haired, gray-eyed and pale for want of a touch. He pulled his cloak close, unable to determine which made him more uncomfortable: the dreary woods or the new moon settling onto his heart like a cloud of moths.
Earlier, he had been ensconced in a comfortable chamber high in the citadel of Eyrie, home of the Keepers of the Eye, reading a text on the principles of structure and formlessness. He had not wanted to leave when the sun descended into the mists, and dusk cloaked the land in damp, unpleasant cold. But he had agreed, under the hollow gaze of the high priestess Wilima, to look into the Void.
He had to ignore his unease that something bad would happen if he did not. Indeed, the most compelling thing about the ancient rituals of the Old One was that peculiar anxiety that accompanied any feelings of resistance.
This is not the life Urien pictures for himself, but a failed love affair has left him both bitter and despondent. Nothing much matters as it once did, turning his heart dark. He is a regular magickal Sam Spade in this dark fantasy world reminiscent of J.R. R. Tolkien’s Mordor from Lord of the Rings trilogy.
He finds himself working with his departed lover’s new squeeze, which is more than ironic. Urien finds himself torn between wanting Rosamond’s, his student and lover’s new darling, drowning as ordered by Wilima and rescuing the woman. Everything isn’t as it seems and Urien begins to question Wilima’s intentions.
This short novella is based on the world featured in The Chronicles of Ealiron series published by Double Dragon. While the tale does work on its own, a thorough reading of The Chronicles would help understand the hierarchy, mythology and magick behind the tale. It would be like reading The Two Towers without ever reading The Hobbit. You could understand it, but a thorough reading of the backstory would make it a richer experience.
Water Dark is a tale that should delight both fantasy fans and devoted followers of F.T. McKinstry. It provides an unexpected conclusion keeping the novel rather cryptic and mysterious, which is how it should be.