The Reign of the Brown Magician is the third and final volume of the Worlds of Shadow trilogy, a story of people from our world caught up in the conflict between two other universes -- the Galactic Empire, in a universe where the laws of physics resemble those of 1930s pulp SF, and the Realm of Shadow, a reality where magic works.
That would imply that the series is science-fantasy, blending two genres, but actually, it's more like horror, because in none of the three worlds do the good guys always win. Rescues don't arrive at the last minute. Heroes are scarce. When real-world rules of behavior apply, spaceships and sorcery are scary stuff.
At the end of the second volume, Pel Brown had become a powerful magician, but his wife and daughter were dead. His magic may be powerful enough to resurrect them -- but their bodies are in the Galactic Empire, and there are those in the Empire who see this as a bargaining chip...
- First published as a Del Rey Books paperback, May 1996, ISBN 0-345-37247-6
- Wildside edition December 2004, ISBN 978-0809589388
- Copyright 1996 by Lawrence Watt Evans
- Del Rey cover art by Nicholas Jainschigg
- Wildside cover art by Dalmazio Frau
The Reign of the Brown Magician
Excerpt from Chapter One
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Her car was gone. Amy Jewell had looked out the front door and seen that the curb was empty, and had stepped back inside and closed the door.
Her car was gone.
That had come as a shock at first, but it shouldn't have. After all, she had left it out front months ago.
It was hard to realize that it had really been months, that it hadn't all been a dream, that they hadn't somehow returned to the moment they had left.
But it had been real, and it had been months ago that she had parked her car out front of Pel and Nancy Brown's house in the expectation of being safely back home and in bed by midnight. She and her lawyer had come here to find out why there was a non-functional spaceship in her back yard; she hadn't planned on anything more than an evening of explanations.
She certainly hadn't planned on spending months going through hell in two other universes.
But then, just to see if the stories she had been told were true, she and the others had stepped through a magical portal in the basement wall into a universe she called Faerie, where Shadow ruled -- and after that she had been caught up, unable to return, until now.
She had fled from Shadow's monsters into the third universe, dominated by the Galactic Empire, where she had been captured by pirates and sold into slavery; she had spent weeks as a slave before the Empire had rescued from her master, Walter, and his helper Beth.
At least she'd survived -- Nancy Brown was killed by the pirates, Nancy's daughter Rachel by her master. Walter had killed a slave once, but he didn't kill Amy.
She was pregnant by that son of a bitch, though. Not that she intended to stay that way. The Empire had hanged Walter and Beth both, and she intended to abort Walter's child, and be rid of it, as well. She'd never managed to have any children when she was married, not even before she had found out what a bastard Stan really was and divorced him, and she wasn't about to start now with Walter's kid.
After the rescue she had spent boring weeks at Base One, the home of the Imperial Fleet, and then she had been sent back into Faerie as part of a raiding party that was meant to assassinate Shadow.
She hadn't intended to really attempt anything that stupid; she'd intended to use the Faerie magic to go home the minute the Empire's troops weren't watching her. But then Elani, the wizard who knew the portal spell, had been killed, and she and the others had been stranded again.
So they'd gone on with the plan to assassinate Shadow, knowing it was suicidal.
And it was suicidal -- most of the party had either died or deserted.
But the most amazing thing in the whole adventure was that they had actually managed it, eventually -- Pel Brown and Prossie Thorpe had killed Shadow. Proserpine Thorpe, Registered Master Telepath, who had rebelled against the Galactic Empire and was now a refugee here on Earth with Amy, had shot a powerless Shadow dead.
And Pellinore Brown, a marketing consultant from Germantown, Maryland, had set it up, and now controlled all the power, the magical matrix, that Shadow had held.
And he had sent Amy, and Prossie, and his lawyer Ted Deranian, safely back through the portal in the Browns' basement, and here they were, but Pel hadn't been able to do anything about all the time that had passed while they were going through hell in those other realities.
So of course the car was gone, after so long.
Amy did wonder what had happened to it, though; had it been towed, or stolen, or repossessed, or what?
She realized then that she didn't have her keys, so she couldn't have started it anyway. She didn't have her driver's license, or any money, or anything else -- her purse, if it still existed at all, was back on Zeta Leo III, where she'd been Walter's household slave, in that other universe where the Galactic Empire ruled all those hundreds of planets.
Ted's car was gone from out front as well.
Pel's and Nancy's were in the garage; Amy checked, and found them both sitting there, somewhat dusty but apparently intact.
That didn't help much, though; even if she hadn't been bothered by the idea of stealing one of them, she didn't know where any keys were. She supposed one set was still in Nancy's stolen purse -- and that was probably on Zeta Leo III, like her own. As for any other set, well, who knew where Pel kept his keys?
She wondered if Ted might know -- or if not, whether he might know how to hotwire an ignition.
Ted, however, was firmly settled in the family room, in front of the TV, watching CNN Headline News, trying to catch up on what he'd missed, and to convince himself...
Well, to convince himself of something, but Amy wasn't sure just what. That he'd imagined the whole adventure? That it was all real? That whatever had happened, everything was normal now? For all she knew, he was checking to see whether this was really Earth, and not some twisted alternate version.
Whatever he was doing, he had ignored her ever since he found out that the TV worked, that the power and TV cable hadn't yet been cut off for non- payment.
Prossie seemed to be wavering between the two of them; she was fascinated by the TV, but she also seemed to consider Amy her lifeline, and whenever Amy stayed out of sight of the family room for more than a few minutes Prossie came looking for her, calling her name quietly into the silent depths of the Browns' house.
It was hardly surprising that Prossie felt out of place -- certainly no more surprising than the car's absence. After all, this wasn't Prossie's native world.
Amy paused in the hallway as Prossie caught up; for a moment both women hesitated, but neither spoke, and at last Amy led the way.
She wasn't really going anywhere in particular, just looking around; she didn't want to settle down the way Ted had, she wanted to keep moving, to get on home to her own house up in Goshen, but her car was gone and she didn't have any money or identification or credit cards, and she was wearing only the filthy, tattered remains of Imperial military-issue pants and T-shirt. She couldn't catch a bus or call a cab.
She might be able to find something she could wear in Pel and Nancy's closet -- she and Nancy hadn't been the same size at all, Nancy had been smaller, but there would surely be something, one of Pel's shirts maybe. She didn't like taking things without permission, but this was an emergency, and she'd only be borrowing it until she could get home.
And besides, it wasn't as if Nancy would ever need her clothes again.
But Amy still didn't have money for a bus or cab.
If the phone still worked she could call a friend for a ride, but she needed to think things through first. Who would she call? What would she say? What had happened all those weeks she was gone? Was the wreck of I.S.S. (for "Imperial Space Ship") Ruthless still lying in her back yard?
She wished that thing had never fallen out of the sky onto her land; that had been what got her involved in all this in the first place. The Empire had been trying to establish contact with Washington, and had suddenly discovered, when Ruthless popped out of a space-warp over Amy's back yard, that their anti-gravity drive didn't work in Earth's universe.
And no one had believed it was real, so the crew had been thrown in jail down in Rockville, and Ted had bailed them out because Pel had been contacted by people from Faerie who wanted to talk to the Imperials, and then they'd all stepped through the portal in Pel's basement for a quick look, just to see if it was real...
Well, they were back now, and Amy wanted to go home, but what about Ted, and Prossie? What would become of them, if Amy left? Prossie had nowhere to go, and Ted seemed so out of touch with reality that Amy wasn't at all sure he could take care of himself.
There were hundreds of questions, and she needed to think, and she thought best when she was moving, when she was looking at things, so she rambled through the Browns' empty house, looking around and trying to think, while Prossie followed along, saying nothing.
Amy thought Prossie probably had at least as many questions of her own, and it was really very thoughtful of her to not ask them yet.
She looked in the master bedroom, but did not explore the closets or dressers -- she wasn't ready for that yet. Going through the Browns' clothes would be a little too intimate.
She would get to it, but first she just wanted to look.
Roaming from room to room with another woman tagging after her seemed so very familiar and comfortable that she wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry; it was just like looking over a prospective client's home with the client a step behind. And the Browns could certainly have used an interior decorator -- or maybe just a good cleaning crew. The house was a mess.
It wasn't just the dust and general air of abandonment, either. Things were out of place, drawers left open, books stacked in front of empty shelves. Amy couldn't be certain, but she thought the house had been searched. She didn't remember any such disarray when she had been here before; true, that had only been for a few hours, months ago, and she hadn't seen most of the house, but she was fairly certain things were different.
The house hadn't been burgled; the TV and stereo and other valuables were all still there.
Someone, she guessed, must have reported the Browns missing. The police had probably gone through the place, looking for clues -- and maybe not just the police, if someone had made the connection to the crashed spaceship. The FAA and the Air Force had been interested in it.
She smiled wryly at the thought as she stood in the door of poor little Rachel's bedroom. Somehow, she doubted the police or the Air Force would ever have figured out that everyone in the house had magically walked through a solid concrete wall in the basement and emerged in another universe, caught up in the conflict between the Galactic Empire and an all-powerful wizard named Shadow.
The smile vanished as she stepped into the bedroom and looked about.
Toys were strewn across the floor; a floppy green-and-red plush alligator lay on the bed, gaping foolishly at her.
Poor little Rachel Brown, six years old, had been sold into slavery and then murdered. There wasn't anything funny about that.
Rachel's mother had been raped and killed by pirates -- not storybook pirates with eyepatches and peglegs, but serious, workmanlike pirates with guns and a spaceship. Rachel's father had survived, but he was back there in Shadow's place, mourning them both, with some crazy idea he could bring them back from the dead.
Six Earthpeople had walked through that basement wall, and only two had come back -- Pel was still in Faerie, and Nancy and Rachel and Susan, Amy's lawyer Susan Nguyen, who she had dragged along, were all dead.
And the Faerie folk who had created the portal were all dead -- Raven of Stormcrack Keep, and the wizards Valadrakul and Elani, and Squire Donald...
No, not quite all, she corrected herself; Stoddard might not be dead -- he'd deserted, and might be safe somewhere in Faerie. He was gone, though, and the others were dead. So were at least a dozen of the Imperials who had been involved.
There wasn't anything funny about any of it.
"I want to go home," Amy said suddenly. "Did you see a phone anywhere?"
Prossie blinked at her.
"What's a phone?" she asked.
Where the Story Came From
How I came to write this novel is explained on the page about the Worlds of Shadow series as a whole; the series was always considered a single story split into three volumes.
Though actually, almost all of my original outline wound up in the first two volumes. This third one -- well, this part of the story was originally intended to be an epilogue, maybe a couple of thousand words.
No, I didn't manage to pad out 2,000 words of story to 120,000 words; back when I first plotted the whole thing I did not include the intrigue within the Galactic Empire, or any failure to cooperate with the Brown Magician, or the transdimensional invasion. All that was added because I needed a third volume to fulfill my contract.
But you know, I think it came out better this way.
That's it; here's your list of handy exits: