After many adventures Jane and her companions just want a relaxing vacation at one of the long beeches in the east. Unfortunately, fate has other plans in store for them as they meet an unusual boy on their way to the quaint seaside village.
The boy is more than meets the eye, and they're not the only ones interested in him. Their old lumina companion Alex reappears and brings with him some unwelcome and demanding company. An opposing faction crawls out of the shadows and also tries to convince the gifted lad to go with them, leading to confrontations where Jane and her friends are stuck in the middle.
To complicate matters, rumors exist of a witch of black magic who lives in a nearby cave. She is said to have a unique ability not unlike that possessed by Jane. They go in search of the mysterious hag, and Jane hopes that finally, after so long, she might find the answers she's looking for in finding her place in this strange new world.
I once saw a cheesy inspirational card that read: life sets you on a path, but you're the one who walks it. I remember shrugging it off as just another silly old saying, but sometimes life reminds you that age-old wisdom never dies. It just gets a meme. In the case of the Shifting World, it gets us into an adventure.
I took a deep, long breath. A fresh ocean breeze wafted over me. It smelled like freedom.
Caius pulled me closer against his chest and leaned over my head to grin down at me. "Trying to breathe in the ocean?" he teased.
I smiled. "I'm just enjoying our freedom. It's been a long time since we didn't need to run from Blue Binds or crazy High Librarians."
Sage took in a deep breath himself. "If I were to ever retire, the ocean would be where I would choose to live out my days."
Bee gave his waist a squeeze. "Don't you dare think about retiring just yet, Storm Sage. You promised to take me to Belaria."
He chuckled. "
I would not miss that return for any world."
"Belaria?" I repeated.
"The capital of the Feronia Empire," Sage reminded me.
"And we're in the Sylvidia Empire?" I asked him.
"Quite," he confirmed as we passed one farm after another.
The narrow dirt road we traveled on our unicorns was surrounded on both sides by low stone walls, and within those walls were agnus, a sheep-like creature with soft brown wool and a long, narrow snout. Their front hooves were split like sheep, but they were longer like spades. The animals grazed contendly in the fields, but there were a few exceptions. Some of the short beasts dug furiously at the ground with their hooves. After a few furious digs with their hooves they stuck their long snout into the holes. Some of them came away with a round root while others kept digging.
"What's the plant they're digging for?" I wondered.
"A relative of the garlic that grows deep underground," Sage informed me. "The agnus consider it a delicacy, and the herb gives their meat a rather unique flavor so the local farmers grow fields of them for the beasts to consume."
A heavy scent of garlic invaded my nostrils. I looked to our left and saw a small field with tall green stalks sticking out of neat rows. "So I smell."
"All I care about is hitting the waves for some nice flying," Caius spoke up as he nodded at the distance.
The road led down into a quaint town., and beyond that the blue line of the ocean stretched across the horizon. The hamlet was filled with gray wood-clapped houses topped with long reeds. The reeds had been harvested from the beach that ran along the whole length of the town. Docks stretched out into the ocean, and dozens of boats tied to the posts bobbed up and down along the gentle waves. The houses were picturesquely placed in uneven rows up and down the gentle slope. Some were hardly more than shacks, and others have full terraces stretching out toward the beach. Many of them, however, had fish traps and nets outside, some in need of mend and others not in need.
A large shadow flew over us. I squinted up at the sunny sky and saw a young boy of ten. He had a pair of white wings that allowed him to glide over the fields and cottages. "So do bird shifters live everywhere?" I asked my companions.
"They are very prominent along the coast where they are expert fishermen," Sage told me.
I felt Caius tense and looked up at him. His brow was furrowed as he studied the flier. "Something wrong?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. There's just something not quite right about their wings. They're-" He squinted a little harder. "They look like they're glowing."
That made all of us look again. The boy's wings did indeed give off an unusual and yet familiar shine.
"Is he an angel-I mean lumina?" I asked my companions.
"Let's go see," Caius suggested as he spurred our unicorn onward.
We galloped down the road keeping an even pace with the young boy. A crowd came into view along a road to our left. They were attired in various store-bought garbs with fine stitching and cloth. We turned off and dismounted to join them. They all gawked at the fellow, and some jotted down their thoughts in small journals with the use of lily-white pens. The boy soared over the sky doing sharp turns and tumbles, and even a few barrel rolls.
"He's pretty good for his age," Caius mused.
"Aren't you guys born with wings?" I asked him.
He nodded. "Yeah, but it takes a few years to really get used to them. Some people don't even start flying until they're twenty."
The boy sailed high into the sky and spread out his wings. I saw him close his eyes and stretch out his arms on either side. Light burst outward and spread in all directions in long threads. The animals stopped their eating and looked up in awe as we did.
The light faded and the crowd erupted in applause. The boy floated down with a grin on his face, and I got my first good look. He wore a rough brown short-sleeved shirt and tan shorts. His feet were bare, but he sported a small cap atop his head. He gave a flourishing bow to the onlookers. "And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my show. " He whipped off his cap and held it out. "An eld for your amusement?"
The amused crowd eagerly dropped a few coins into the hat. They dispersed, leaving us alone with the young man and his well-deserved rewards.
Sage stepped forward. "That was an interesting show, my lad."
The boy stopped his counting and looked up at us with suspicion. "Who's asking?"
"Fellow travelers who have seen much, but your show was quite unusual," Sage mused.
The boy pocketed his wealth and plopped the cap back on his head. "Yeah, well, the show's over, so get lost."
"We were wondering how you did that light," Caius told him
I headed off the worsening suspicion on the young boy's face. "We've seen it before. At least, we think we have. You're not a lumina, are you?"
The boy wrinkled his nose. "Why would I be-"
"Matthew!" a voice shouted. We turned to see a woman of thirty hurry up. She hurried around us and grasped the young boy's shoulders. "Matthew, what have you been doing?"
He hung his head and a few muffled words came out. "Nothing, Mom. . ."
"Don't lie. Mrs. Bundon told me what happened," she scolded him.
Sage cleared his throat. "Ma'am, if we might have a word with you?"
She whipped her head to us and there was fear in the depths of her wide eyes. The woman gripped her son tighter and looked at each of us. "Why? Who are you?"
Sage smiled and bowed his head to her. "We are travelers, ma'am. I am Storm Sage, and this is my wife, Bee, and our other companions, Jane and Caius."
Matthew's eyes widened. "The Storm Sage?"
My grandfather chuckled. "The original."
Matthew jumped up and down in his mom's tight grip. "I've read all the books about you! You're the greatest adventurer who ever lived!"
Sage turned his head to one side and frowned. "I must have a talk with this writer some day. . ."
"I'm sorry, but we really must be going," Matthew's mom insisted as she tried to skirt around us.
She froze and clutched her chest over her heart. Her legs buckled and she fell to her knees onto the ground.
"Mom!" Matthew yelled as he grabbed her quaking shoulders. "Mom! What's wrong?"
"It's. . .it's just one of my attacks," she managed to whisper through gritted teeth.
Sage looked to Caius who stooped and scooped her into his arms. She leaned against him and shut her eyes against her pain. "Where do you live?" Caius asked her.
"This way!" Matthew shouted as he pointed toward the sea. "Hurry! We have to give Mom her medicine!"