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Literature / Looming Shadow

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You are young, you are a student of magic, you live in the shadow of previous mages, and you have The Trickster's attention...Yes, I'd say you are very much like Dengel.

Looming Shadow by Brian Wilkerson is the second book in the Journey To Chaos series. It picks up where book one left off, with protagonist Eric Watley desperate to return to Tariatla, a land where using magic is as common as learning to ride a bicycle. The life of a humble mercenary is no longer available to Eric after his previous adventures in this foreign land, and a whole new adventure filled with monsters, magic and darkness awaits him now. Despite the danger and the looming return of the villainous Dengel, Eric’s enthusiasm for magic will help him see through all the trickery and deception that stands in his way.

Looming Shadow is the sequel to A Mage's Power and the second book in the Journey to Chaos series. It follows the fallout of the conclusion of the previous book while continuing to build the Constructed World of Tariatla.

The next book in the series is Mana Mutation Menace.

Looming Shadow contains the following tropes:

  • Airborne Aircraft Carrier: Prowling the skies of Tariatla is Flying Whale, an airship big enough to be a self-contained community. Captain Raguc can order it to swallow smaller ships or scramble ships of his own from its hangar.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: There are all kinds of monstrous creatures in a Chaotic Zone. Kallen once faced a giant lizard thing when a much bigger monster came out of the Fog and ate it. She ran away to make sure she wasn't next on the menu.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Mr.15 threatens Eric's entire social circle during their battle at Mount Heios. He states that will use Tiza for breeding stock, Nolien as raw materials, and Basilard as a punching bag as well as detailing the "invasive and demeaning experiments he had planned for a certain elf girl". After seeing the horrific things Mr.15 had already done to his protégé, Zettai, Eric resolved to kill him dead. Even after Mr.15 mana mutates, and thus no longer has any idea who he is or what threats he's made, Eric says that he can't risk Mr.15 ever coming back.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Sathel's Cruel Mercy punishment to the guy who kidnapped her daughter is the following: "years of nightmarish hallucinations, random memory loss, and itchy spider bites". Although, having several constant itches that don't go away for years may or may not be worse than the other two.
  • Beast and Beauty: After Eric mana mutates into a grendel, Kallen fills in the role of the gentle and understanding Beauty. She does this in her combat suit, due to the circumstances, but she had previously been dolled up in a kimono and make up, and Tasio laments the missed opportunity to snap "Beauty and the Beast" photos.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Tiza suffers a Power-Strain Blackout during a mission and so Nolien carries her into an ally's airship to rest. He tucks her into bed and strokes her hair, coaxing a rare smile from her sleeping face. He delays rejoining the others and this prompts Kallen to ask how long they've been dating.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Hasina arrives Just in Time to save Eric from death and Annala slavery at the hands of Nulso. Then Tasio has to save her when Nulso ups the ante.
  • Big "NO!": Tiza releases a short and sharp "No!" when she realizes she's about to relive the event that lead to her amnesia by the same guy who kidnapped her when she was younger.
  • Boss Subtitles: Tasio the Trickster invokes this trope. After warning Eric that the final boss of a dungeon always has more than one form, the Evil Sorcerer that Eric just defeated returns for round two. At that point, Tasio plays a brief tune on an ocarina and says: "The Crimson Killer: Kierdos!"
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: One of the four kinds of Ceihan Citizens who travel to Mount Heios are those who want to know why it is forbidden.
  • Death Seeker: One of the four kinds of Ceihan Citizens who travel to Mount Heios are those who want a quick and merciful way to die. A monster would kill them cleaner than any sapient on the island.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Zettai has one such moment when she mouths off to the local Grim Reaper. "You’re not a god; you’re a worm on a power trip". This gets her soul ripped from her body. Fortunately, she's a Bladi by this point so she's still conscious enough to put it back in, after an assist from Kallen and her Campione Cannon.
  • Doom Magnet: Anyone who becomes Tasio's "bestest friend" becomes one of these because he likes playing with/pranking them.
  • Enlightenment Superpower:
    • In Chaotic Philosophy there exists levels of enlightenment. The first is plain old magecraft which can be learned out of a book by anyone that can read, or anyone with a teacher.
    • Any mortal spirit can become a Razor Spirit with "spritual forging", which is basically long periods of meditation based on an ideal. This grants certain abilities and can make ones that the user already possesses stronger.
    • A vision quest inside Dengel's Cehian Lair grants Eric great wisdom and understanding about the immediate underlayer of reality and the true nature of magic.
  • Evil Laugh: Invoked by Eric to scare a trainee soldier. The kid is sneaking into the royal mage's tower and Eric sneaks up behind him. When close enough, Eric belts out a maniacal laugh.
  • Evil Plan: There's a case of Playing with a Trope. While there are a couple of evil sorcerer type villains looking for revenge, prestige, or forbidden knowledge, the central villain scheme belongs to Shadow Dengel. He's basically Eric's Imaginary Friend and his plan is to push Eric into despair over the fact that Eric will never escape the real Dengel's legacy. Working against this "plan" is Eric's motivation throughout the book.
  • Fantastic Drug: Mana can cause quite a high in sufficient concentrations. The vapor form known as "Fog" is the most common form. In the words of Basilard, " It goes straight to the soul. Even for mages like us it can be a heady experience. For Ceihans, I imagine it would be closer to ‘divine bliss.’" One of the villains operates a den of this stuff and charges kon instead of gold from his customers. They pay it, repeatedly, until they die, go insane, or mutate into a monster.
  • Final Boss Preview: Eric confronts Nulos Xialin, The Heavy of this book, shortly after he returns to Roalt. He gets his ass handed to him in about ten seconds. He has to be rescued by Tasio.
  • Freudian Slip: Nolien is casting a status buff on his teammate/not-girlfriend and makes a minor modification to the incantation...
    "As I am Chaos, you are Order divine. As the sun to the moon, you shall shine. Take my power and me mine...I mean like a ley line! MANA TRANSFER!”
  • Hero Secret Service: Trickster gods in general play this role to Tasio's "bestest friend", Eric Watley. In this book, Tasio reveals that he and his siblings kept the worst dangers from even reaching him in the previous book. This is after one of said siblings, Poi, randomly appeared on a ship that Eric was traveling on, engaged in a cyrptic conversation with Eric's mentor about how important the boy was to their plans, and then saved him from enforcer possessed monsters.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Eric successfully breaks into Dengel's final lair because its owner endlessly bragged about how and why it was absolutely impregnable. Eric gleefully notes this as he avoids every trap and disarms every defense.
    • The fate of Mr.15 is to be dunked into a vat of his own Psycho Serum and mutate into a mindless monster.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Grey Dengel says that he is not as crude as Eric's other mentor and that is why he refrains from smacking the boy for interrupting a lecture in order to poke fun at him. A second interruption prompts a smack.
  • I Know What You Fear: Dengel protected his final lair with a "Fear Field", an array of magic runes that encompass anyone who approaches with an illusion of their worst fear. During Looming Shadow, all the members of Team Four are subjected to it as they climb Mt. Daci. Basilard sees his students dying and joining his previous students in blaming him for their death while his Evil Uncle kills him with his own sword. Nolien sees his younger brother become an Evil Overlord as First Duke of Heleti, abandon their parents, and abuse Tiza. Tiza sees herself back in the place that caused her amnesia, her friends and mentors dead, and Nolien brainwashed into hating her. Guest star party member Zettai sees her abusive parents come back from the dead and kill her new friends. Eric sees Nulso take over Ataidar and turn Annala into a Sex Slave.
  • In Harm's Way: One of the four kinds of Ceihan Citizens who travel to Mount Heios are those who seek excitement.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: A Downplayed Trope. Eric asks if he can eat another human but since he is technically a grendel at that point (albeit one in human form) it's technically not cannibalism. However, he still identifies as a human (at first) and so the idea repluses him.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: One of the reasons Dengel is looked upon so favorably by humans is that he became a powerful mage despite possessing a magical disorder called Low Mana Inhibition, which makes controlling mana substantially harder. Eric, who knows him to be an arrogant jerkass, is not at all inspired.
  • Internal Reveal: It is made clear to both the readers and Tiza's teammates that her biological parents are Sathel and Retina, but she herself doesn't learn until late in this book. They were hoping she would remember on her own.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: Eric and Tasio discuss this trope. Tasio said he expected Eric to find him earlier when he was at a wedding helping the bride and groom get over mutual cold feet. Eric sarcastically asks if he did this trope but oriented towards the future (if they backed out of the wedding). Tasio replies negatively, "that would be ridiculous".
  • Kirk Summation: Basilard hands out one of these when Professor Haburt is trying to rationalize his crimes. He says that Basilard went to similar extremes as himself to revive someone and so has no right to judge him. Basilard replies that he understands the professor's pain but there is a crucial difference between them: "I didn't steal a girl from her mother's lap!"
  • Lamarck Was Right: Tiza inherited her Third Eye ability from her father, Retina. He had to undergo mana mutation (or something like it) that imparted this special power unto him; she used it instinctively, like a child learning to walk. Haburt, an academic mage acquainted with both of them, assumes that Retina's mana mutation fundamentally changed him biologically.
  • Maniac Monkeys: A monkey beastfolk who becomes a Life Drinker with necrocraft and goes on a screeching and insane rant about how he has become a god.
  • Motive Rant: The Crimson Killer explains his justifications for his actions to Eric. He's waiting for Eric's teammates to show up so he can arrange an exchange of Eric for the sword BloodDrinker. He's just killing time.
  • My Sensors Indicate You Want to Tap That: One of the abilities that Eric picked up during his vision quest in Ceiha was the ability to see love between two people reflected in their spirits. When Tiza talks about her two best friends, Eric assumes she's referring to himself and Raki; "you couldn't possibly refer to Nolien because your soul shines too bright around him for mere friendship".
  • Not Quite Back to Normal: Eric mana mutates into a grendel and tries to kill Basilard in mindless hunger. Then Kallen takes him in for treatment and makes him not only human again but also sapient again. He has a pleasant talk with his teammates and it seems like he has come away from this experience no worse for the wear. Then his eyes shift into something feral and he asks with a monstrous voice if he can eat a human. The change reverts back just as quickly but it's clear that Eric is not the same as he used to be.
  • No, You: Seeing that Caffour has developed a god complex, Basilard stops trying to reason with him because "He's too far gone." The villain retorts "You're too far gone!" and then tries to kill him.
  • Of Corset Hurts: There is a scene where Zettai is undergoing a Painful Transformation and the surges of magical energy are said to more painful, and give her greater trouble breathing, than the corset she was forced to wear.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Dengel literally wrote the book on magecraft and so modern mages like Eric find it hard to stand out in comparison. Eric's character arc has him grappling with this and trying to prove himself better.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Dengel guarded the final door to his final lair with a password that had to be entered with mana. It is the only secret that he didn't tell Eric, but he made it so plainly obvious that Eric could guess, D-E-N-G-E-L.
  • Puff of Logic: Eric has a Vision Quest and goes for over a week without eating or drinking anything. Once reunited with his team, The Medic says that he should have died by now. Eric pretends to keel over as a joke, leading to dope slapes and shouts of invoked Dude, Not Funny!.
  • The Quest: Team Four is hired to travel to the island nation of Ceiha to investigate a castle that may or may not be Dengel's final lair. If it is, then they are to raid it for things that are magically, historically or economically valuable.
  • Rage Against the Mentor: The overarching plot is Eric raging against Dengel and the immense shadow he casts over all mages, himself included, because he literally wrote the book on magecraft but was a horrible person.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Henry Pupil looks like he's eighty years old but he's much older. How old is not specified but he was old enough to speak with Dengel when Dengel was Eric's age; two thousand years at minimum.
  • Rebuilt Pedestal: After meeting "Grey Dengel", which is a ghost of the real Dengel representing his scholarly aspect, Eric begins to admire Dengel once more. He still doesn't like the real Dengel but after learning more about him, he also doesn't hate him. It is "Grey Dengel" who becomes his new role model.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Annala finds herself in the crosshairs of someone with a grudge against her mother and Honorary Aunt, Hasina. Nulso Xialin seeks to enslave her because he can't attack his true targets directly.
  • Ring-Ring-CRUNCH!: Eric is having a pleasant dream about how he has returned to Tariatla only to be woken up by his alarm clock, so he stabs it with his Tariatlan mage spear. Then he twists the crystal blade to make sure it's dead.
  • Running Gag: At several points in the story, a dragon will fly over Ceiha and laugh at the earthbound humans.
  • The Scape Goat: If you are The Trickster's Choice then you are blamed for any disaster in the area, because it's believed that The Trickster made them happen to you. Whether or not this is the truth is irrelevant.
  • Seiza Squirm: Kallen Selios, arrogant mana mutation field agent, demonstrates Hidden Depths in this fashion. She has to take part in a formal tea ceremony with the lightning goddess, Ligol, while in this position. Failure to do so is punished by lightning strike. She passes effortlessly, while her sidekick, Emily, is less naturally composed.
  • Sinister Surveillance: There is a downplayed example in Ataidar. Its national government keeps detailed logs of the activities of Otherworlders (people that came to them from another dimension) such as Eric. Instead of surveillance cameras, they have agents tailing him on his walks through the city and on his out-of-country missions. When the Royal Archivist, Henry Pupil, shows Eric his own log, Eric finds it to be "creepy". Henry replies that it is "careful" because otherworlders are often the The Chosen One of local Trickster God and thus a magnet for trouble. The last one that came tried to take over the world.
  • Soul Fragment: Eric is badgered by a phantom of Dengel Tymh known as "Shadow Dengel" after spending the first book as Dengel's Heroic Host. Later on he absorbs the scholarly aspect of Dengel known as "Grey Dengel" after raiding Dengel's lair in Ceiha. It is left ambiguous how much of either of them are genuine soul fragments and how much is Eric's memory of him. Either way, the latter certainly provides him with great magical knowledge and ability that formerly belonged to Dengel.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Surpassed the Teacher: In A Mage's Power, Eric is taught magecraft by Basilard Bladi and Dengel Tymh. Then he has a falling out with the later and spends Looming Shadow attempting to fulfill this trope so he can smear Dengel's fame. As his brush with the trope With Great Power Comes Great Insanity demonstrates, he still has a ways to go before he can say "I am a better mage than Dengel".
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Mad Scientist Hasina didn't arrive earlier to help Annala because she had to "close up her work first". When Annala asks if that means she was engaged in lawful surgery on a client, Hasina grins and recites the trope.
  • Thank Your Prey: In a desperate situation, Zettai uses her new Bladi powers to reach into a creature's chest and remove their heart. She thanks them and then eats it.
  • Tough Leader Façade: Eric notes this sort of change in Kasile. When she was a princess she affected a cutesy and friendly persona. Now that she is The High Queen she is cold and regal. When in private with him, she drops the act.
  • 20 Bear Asses: The only reason that Eric meets Kallen in Mambi is that she's collecting one hundred monsters for mana mutation research. The drop rate for the elemental ice energy that she needs is frustratingly low.
  • Undead Tax Exemption: Vaya is an Artificial Human created by a fugitive in hiding. Thus, when Professor Haburt wants to adopt her, he has to make up a cover story about finding her on the street because she was abandoned by her parents due to the country's regular food shortages. There's no Ceihan paperwork to support this but the scenarnio is plausible enough for Ataidaran paperwork to be created. Since she's a clone of his real daughter, he also has to change her name as well as her hair and eye color so no one suspects a link between them.
  • Was Once a Man: There are all manner of creepy, dangerous, and/or scary monsters roaming Tariatla, and a good many of them used to be sapient. Perfectly civil and friendly, until they were mana mutated. Kallen encounters a monster and is about to kill it, when she realizes that it hasn't finished transforming yet, and that its threatening roars were actually screams of pain.
  • With Due Respect: Because Nolien was raised to be Gentleman and a Scholar, he always has to be polite, even when disagreeing with the leader of his mercenary team.
    "With all due respect, Daylra, we can’t obey such an order."
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: Greater Mage Haburt Kloac has chronic health issues because Sathel Aranid inflicted them via poison in retribution for him kidnapping her daughter. Neither magic nor medicine can cure him.
  • Your Make Up Is Running: After her tearful reuinon with Eric, Kasile's make up is a mess. Eric has a laugh at her expense.