The School of Hard Knocks (Schooled In Magic V)–Snippet

17 Apr

Comments welcome.


The Council Chamber was two miles below the desolate wastelands surrounding Mountaintop, hidden from all prying eyes and accessible only through the most powerful magics. Generations of Councillors, even in the glory days of the Empire, had layered spells over the chamber, ensuring that no one could enter, save without the permission of one of their fellows. It was the most secure location in the world.

Aurelius, Administrator of Mountaintop, stepped into the chamber and looked around, his gaze passing over the fourteen men and women who made up the Council. Collectively, they were the most powerful group of magicians in the world, certainly in political terms. A Necromancer or a Lone Power might have access to more raw magic, but the former would lack the skill and the latter the inclination to turn it into political power. And even the greatest Lone Power could not stand against the united Council.

He took his seat at the stone table, etched with runes to discourage hostility and looked up at the map drawn on one wall. A good third of the continent was shaded black, representing territories dominated by Necromancers and lost to the Allied Lands. The remainder were divided into political and magical sections, the kingdoms ruled by monarchs and the cities ruled by local councils and the Great Houses. It was a chilling reminder, he knew, that the Necromancers were slowly winning the war. The average peasant in the fields, even the monarchs on their thrones, could forget, but the magicians never could. They were slowly losing the war against the Necromancers.

Or they had been losing, he reminded himself. Two years ago, something had changed. A new factor had entered the war. And two Necromancers had died at the hands of a single magician. Despite himself, despite the clawing fear that had gnawed at his heart since he’d been brought into the Council, Aurelius had taken heart. The opportunity in front of them could not be ignored any longer.

“The MageMaster is dying,” he said, without preamble. “He has turned most of his official duties over to me.”

“But not the oaths,” Cloak observed. His tone was lightly mocking. “You’re practically a free agent.”

Aurelius kept his face impassive with the ease of long practice. The Councillors were supposed to keep their identities secret, but few secrets lasted long when powerful sorcerers were probing, searching for answers. He knew the identities of thirteen of the fourteen other Councillors – Masters of Great Houses, Guild Leaders – yet it galled him that he had never been able to uncover Cloak’s true identity. Someone so powerful – and power was a given for anyone capable of reaching the chamber – should not be able to remain unidentified.

And yet Cloak was anonymous.

Even his appearance was bland, an illusion of mundane normality that hid his true features under a glamour. It would be rude, Aurelius knew, to try to see through the disguise, yet he had tried more than once. And he had always failed. Cloak was very practiced at keeping his identity to himself.

He looked at the others, putting Cloak out of his mind. “We have an opportunity to bring the Child of Destiny to Mountaintop,” he said. “She would be under our tutelage.”

“It would be risky,” Master Ashworth commented. “Particularly after the events of last year.”

“But necessary,” Master Ashfall snapped. “The Lady Emily is the greatest force for change – for hope – that we have seen since the Fall of the Empire. We need to shape her, to steer her towards our thinking, particularly now she is a Baroness of Zangaria. Mundane power must not be allowed to go to her head.”

“Power has gone to yours,” Master Ashworth said. “Do you not understand the dangers of provoking a confrontation with Whitehall – or Void?”

Aurelius smiled to himself as the two magicians bickered. No one quite knew why House Ashworth had fragmented, allowing some of their number to form House Ashfall, but the two Great Houses had been at daggers drawn ever since. Cooler heads had not been able to dampen the hatred that flared whenever the two families met. Indeed, House Ashworth had sent its children to Whitehall while House Ashfall had sent its children to Mountaintop, just to prevent them from continuing the feud in supposedly neutral territory. And what one Master supported, the other would oppose on principle.

He cleared his throat, catching their attention. “We would not be threatening her life,” he said. “To threaten her life would trifle with destiny itself.”

Cloak snorted. “And do you believe in destiny?”

“I do not disbelieve,” Aurelius said, coolly. “The Lady Emily has killed two Necromancers in single combat. She has turned the Kingdom of Zangaria on its head. The changes caused by her mere presence have rippled out, producing unintended consequences and side effects. But what else does a Child of Destiny do?”

“They upset the balance of power,” Master Zane said. The ancient magician leaned forward, one hand resting on the table. Unlike the others, he wore no glamour, only his lined and wizened face. “We should kill her now.”

Master Ashworth slammed one hand against the table. “Are you mad?”

“There are risks in keeping her alive,” Master Ashfall noted, smoothly.

Aurelius pointed to the map. “Two years ago, we knew we were losing the war,” he said, flatly. “And then the Necromancer Shadye died at Whitehall.”

He knew they understood. They might have their differences with the Grandmaster of Whitehall – and his faction in the White City – but they knew that Whitehall should have been able to remain secure indefinitely. And then Shadye had burst into the school, smashing that old certainty beyond repair. If he hadn’t been killed shortly afterwards, Aurelius knew, the gateway to the Allied Lands would have lain open and Shadye’s army of monsters would have laid the land waste.

“A Child of Destiny must tip the balance against the Necromancers,” he said, quietly. “She would not need to exist if destiny intended them to win.”

“True,” Master Toadstool agreed.

“But what does it profit us,” Master Zane asked, “if she destroys our stability too?”

“Then we teach her how we think,” Aurelius said. “And why we have to be the way we are.”

“A seduction,” Cloak observed. “Or are you planning a conquest?”

No,” Master Ashworth snapped. Magic crackled around his eyes, shimmers of power that tingled through the room before slowly fading away into the wards. “My daughter is of the same age. I will not have that tradition resurrected, not now.”

Aurelius nodded. “I do not believe that would end well,” he said, lightly. “We wish to show her how we live, not push her into a stand against us. We will not hold her for long against her will. If worst comes to worst, we will graciously allow her to leave, armed with knowledge she can use against the Necromancers.”

“You assume she will remain focused on them,” Master Zane observed. “But as a Baroness of Zangaria she would have more … mundane interests.”

“My spy reported that she had little interest in her new responsibilities,” Aurelius said. “We may well be able to convince her to abandon them.”

“Which would cause problems in Zangaria,” Master Ashworth said.

“Which would be none of our concern,” Master Ashfall countered. “I believe the Compact is still in force, is it not?”

“For the nonce,” Aurelius said.

“But we are talking about breaking it,” Master Zane pointed out. “If we succeed she will join us, thus forsaking Zangaria.”

“That is why we have to act now,” Aurelius said. “Before she becomes too involved with mundane interests.”

He looked around the chamber. “It is time to vote,” he said. They had debated the plan endlessly, ever since Shadye’s death. But it hadn’t been until the MageMaster weakened badly enough to pass his duties to Aurelius – and control of the wards running through Mountaintop – that it had become practical. “Do we vote aye or nay?”

Cloak’s illusion never wavered, but there was a definite hint of amusement in his tone. “I believe we are forgetting one tiny detail,” he said. “A Lone Power. How … careless a thing to forget.”

“Void .. will have other issues to keep his attention,” Aurelius said, stiffly. “But I do not believe he would object, provided she was not harmed. And she will not be harmed. Merely … re-educated.”

One by one, they voted.

Aurelius smiled to himself as the votes were tallied. All of them, even Masters Ashworth and Ashfall, had voted in favour, some more enthusiastically than others. Some would have plans to draw advantages from the whole scheme, others because they intended to use it as leverage in later negotiations, but in the end it didn’t matter why they’d agreed. He knew, even if they didn’t, that it didn’t really matter why they’d voted in favour.

All that mattered was that they had.

General Round-Up

17 Apr

Hi, everyone

(Yes, another general round-up email. I’m so ashamed.)

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that I’ve finished the first draft of Necropolis, The Royal Sorceress Book III. I’m actually quite pleased with it, although the characters insisted in going in different directions to the plot <grin>. As always, there will be an endless series of edits, revisions and suchlike before the book is finally ready for publication.

This does, of course, raise problems about where to take the universe next. I’d like to show the First Magical War in great detail, but the format of the previous three books mandates against it. I may end up writing something along the lines of How Few Remain or Red Storm Rising, with Gwen as a bit character rather than the main character. But that’s at least six months off, so I have plenty of time to consider it.

The alternative would be to write out an overview of the war, then set the next book either during the war (Gwen’s War as a title?) or afterwards. Let me know what you think.

I’ve more or less decided to take the next few days – Friday-Tuesday – off, then do a large bunch of editing before Author Con. Then …

As I noted in my previous blog post, the next project will be a revision of The Oncoming Storm. The previous versions can be found online and comments would, as always, be immensely welcome.

After that, I think I have to tackle The School of Hard Knocks (SIM V).

June is actually going to be a problematic month for me for several reasons. We have to go back to Malaysia for a few months – I’m hoping to keep this as short a visit as possible, but there’s no guarantee of anything these days. I may manage to get a start in on TSOHK before I have to head back to Edinburgh, then Malaysia, but we will have a great deal to do in very little time so maybe not. We shall see.

After that, I’ll write Book III of Ark Royal. I’ve actually got more ideas (again) than I can use in the story, but I think Book III will wrap up Ark’s storyline, with the other reserved for later books. Then I think I’ll do TEC9 or ALE2.

Speaking of A Learning Experience, I received an offer to have the formatting for a CreateSpace edition done for free, so I accepted. You can purchase a paper copy of A Learning Experience through Amazon here. Please let me know if this is a good approach, as I will probably use it for other books if it seems profitable.

As always, thank you for your time and keep reading.

And new kindle book here <grin>


New Kindle Book: The Trojan Horse

16 Apr

The aliens say they come in peace…

When the emissaries from the Galactic Federation arrive on Earth, humanity is astonished to learn of the populated universe outside Earth’s atmosphere. A peaceful federation of a thousand alien races, united in peace and harmony, is just waiting for the human race to abandon its warlike impulses and join the Federation. A brave new destiny awaits the human race…

But there are odd points about the Federation, little pieces of evidence that suggest a far darker motive for visiting Earth. As an unlikely band of heroes struggles to form a resistance against the alien threat, Earth’s fate hangs in the balance – and defeat may mean the end of everything.

Like my other self-published Kindle books, The Trojan Horse is DRM-free. You may reformat it as you choose.  Read a large sample here, then download it from Amazon here!


Guest Post: The Virtues of Quiet Heroism

14 Apr

-Barb Caffrey

In some ways, I’m an accidental writer. Especially when it comes to the military science fiction genre, as originally, I had no intentions of writing milSF because that was my late husband Michael’s bailiwick. Not mine, as I wrote fantasy, and mostly humorous fantasy at that.

However, I decided to write milSF after my husband’s sudden death in 2004. My husband had left behind a number of great characters and an excellent universe in the Atlantean Union to play around with, and I just couldn’t abide seeing that universe die out. (Bad enough my husband had passed on, but did his writing have to die, too?)

So I quickly managed to get his novella "A Dark and Stormy Night" published in 2005 at the Written Word Online Magazine, then wrote a frame story around the first chapter of his unfinished novel, MAVERICK, LIEUTENANT, selling that as "Joey Maverick: On Westmount Station" to e-Quill Publishing in Australia in 2011. (Both are now available directly at Amazon as e-books, by the way.)

Now, what was so intriguing about Joey that I couldn’t just let this character die out? Well, it’s simple: Joey is a quiet hero, who reminds me of many of the military guys I’ve known. Most members of the military, be they enlisted or officers, just go and do their jobs quietly. No muss, no fuss.

And Michael’s first story, "A Dark and Story Night," reflected that in abundance. Joey has to take command of a sailing vessel during a low-tech future regatta that may remind many of 20th and 21st Century regattas. There’s a terrible storm coming, and many of the other ships in the regatta have capsized; worse yet, Joey’s original commander, George Shearwell, is too injured to help Joey in any way.

So what does Joey do with his staff of four? He first repairs his ship, then goes and rescues a whole lot of other people, that’s what. And while he does, he meets the love of his life, Belinda Simpson – but he’s actually attracted to her despite himself, as she’s clearly not at her best and mostly spends her time annoying him and everyone else around her.

Michael’s conceit, originally, was that Joey’s rescue mission was going to be Joey’s one and only splashy encounter. (Pardon the pun.) Everything else Joey ever did was going to be something that military members didn’t talk about.

That doesn’t preclude heroism, mind you, but it means that the heroic efforts of Joey and those he works with would be quiet. Things most people take for granted, like disaster relief, scouting new worlds (which is fun, granted, and very enjoyable, but unless you’re another scout, most people probably wouldn’t care – sad but true), and, as in the case with "On Westmount Station," keeping a bomb on a space station from exploding in such a way that no one outside of Joey and his immediate superiors officially finds out about it . . . because that’s what military members do.

The military keeps people safe and secure by doing their jobs. That way, the civilians around them rarely have to worry about their safety.

At any rate, I felt Michael’s premise was realistic, which is why I picked that particular scenario – a bomb made by a most unusual and unexpected eco-terrorist – for Joey’s second adventure. Joey’s original mission when he got to Westmount Royal Naval Station was very simple: he was to get all the people in his draft quietly and competently to their ships. It was a temporary command, but he took it seriously, and he got it done with an ease that impressed his superiors.

Now, why didn’t I leave that alone? Because there’s nothing to help a reader along there, that’s why. And because Michael himself was trying to add action due to the rather querulous advice of Jim Baen, who actually told Michael a long time ago, "Where is your plot, sir?" (That was something that annoyed Michael until the end of his life, and contributed greatly to Michael’s enthusiasm in helping me plot my novel AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE . . . but I digress.)

But it didn’t matter how the advice had been given. Michael took it to heart. And he was trying to figure out exactly how he could add action when his whole premise was that Joey was a quiet hero. We were still trying to game that out when he passed away suddenly of several heart attacks in September of 2004.

So, what does a quiet hero do? He can certainly take part in rescues, though of the type that the powers that be, whatever and whoever they are, don’t want to be known (so the word never gets out). He can help keep a bomb from going off, as that, too, would never be leaked to the civilians as that would worry them too much. He can take part in disaster relief, including famines (which is where Joey’s going to go next, as the planet Bubastis is in a major drought), and all the skullduggery there as people try to get rescue supplies to the worst afflicted without too much of it falling into the hands of the black market . . . and, eventually, Joey will become a space scout, as that’s what Michael had intended all along, but do so in such a way that he’ll never be a household name.

Because most military men and women are not household names. But they’re important, all the same.

That premise of quiet heroism is undervalued in today’s world, but it rings true to anyone who’s ever been a member of the military or a military spouse (as I was, once upon a time). And it’s the main reason why I’ve kept Joey Maverick and his universe alive, because I think Michael’s conception still has life and value . . . and while I’m more natural at writing comic fantasy (take a look at my character Bruno the Elfy from AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE if you don’t believe me), that doesn’t mean I can’t do this.

So I might be an accidental writer of milSF, no lie. But like Joey Maverick, I get the job done. No muss. No fuss.

New Free Books-And A Request

13 Apr

To sum up a long and somewhat complicated story, I’ve been offered a chance to show a particular (unpublished) book to a mainstream publisher, in the hopes of breaking into the mainstream. I’ve decided, after some thought, to rewrite the older version of The Oncoming Storm, which is both stand-alone and intended as the first book in a series. Ideally, I can capitalise on the success of Ark Royal, particularly as the Kat Falcone series has a definite end in sight. (Five-seven books).

I’ve placed the original versions of the books online in RTF format, here. If you have time, please download The Oncoming Storm, read it and let me know any thoughts you might have. I’m honestly not sure how much of Dauntless will make it into the revised version of Angel in the Whirlwind, but any thoughts and comments you have on it will be welcome.

Please don’t point out spelling errors. The books will be rewritten completely.

These books are free, but if you want to tip me, please use the cookie jar on my site.


KISS–And Student Loans

7 Apr

Feeling the urge to rant today …

One of the most fundamentally important principles in life is the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Put crudely, the more complex your plan, the more likely something will go wrong.

For example, if you want to fly from Britain to Malaysia, the simplest way to do it is the direct London-Kuala Lumpur flight from Heathrow. It means 14 hours of suffering in economy class (or a significantly lighter wallet if you fly Business Class) but it is relatively simple. You just have to get to London, get on the plane and Bob’s your uncle.

On the other hand, if you decide to do the trip in a number of smaller hops, you can get into trouble quite easily. If you fly via the Middle East, you might miss your connecting flight … which would make you very late, at best, before you reach KL. This might spark off a series of missed flights, train journeys, taxi rides, etc that would ensure you were very late when you reached your final destination.

I mention all this because I finally feel in a position to pay off my student loan. It wasn’t value for money, but that’s my fault, not theirs. I have an obligation to pay off the loan, so I should pay it off as soon as possible. So I write to them, explain I can pay and would they please send me instructions for how to pay?

Now, the simplest way to do this would be for them to write back and say I should send them a cheque, bank transfer, even a large bag of cash. They want the money. I want to give them the money. There shouldn’t be any problem with this, should there?

What did they send me? Well, a list of hoops I have to jump through to make it clear that I can actually pay. And they don’t even bother to send me instructions for actually jumping through these hoops. In fact, the letter reads as if it were written by at least three different people.

<bangs head on wall>. I’m almost tempted to just send them a cheque with a covering letter, then wash my hands of the whole affair. I’d bet good money that most of the students who graduated with me are in no condition to pay, even now. They should be delighted to hear from me.

Only in Britain is the bureaucracy fighting the guy who’s actually trying to PAY.

A Very Strange Week

4 Apr

It’s been a very weird week, all things considered, and I haven’t really been feeling too good (yesterday I didn’t have the energy to write, which was a major disaster by anyone’s reckoning (or at least mine.)) My current plan is to finish the first draft of The Royal Sorceress III: Necropolis before Easter, as we’re planning to take a few days off to visit my family, have a break and go to Author Con.

The problem with that is that we will probably have to go to the clinic at least twice more over the next couple of weeks, which is going to be a headache. If you have time for it, please pray that everything goes well for us.

After that, I hope to spend May writing the revised version of The Oncoming Storm. I have big ambitions for that book; the success of Ark Royal has interested some people in my work, which I may be able to use to get into mainstream publishing (and even if I can’t, it should kick off a new series.) After that, I think I need to write The School of Hard Knocks, Schooled in Magic V. That then leaves me writing Ark III or TEC9. I know this is slower than I meant, but … at least it’s still fairly quick, isn’t it? I should probably be able to put out an older book on Kindle at that point, depending.

My current concept for Ark Royal is to finish the current plotline with Book III, which I honestly have not been able to determine a title for. Ideally, it should be something relating to the Royal Navy’s history, but I can’t think of one. Sovereign of Space? I think I’ll do The Hardest Day afterwards, which will cover the Battle of Earth. And then … well, there’s plenty of potential settings for post-war stories. Maybe a story following a small frigate rather than a giant carrier.

Actually, I’ve had an idea about a starship from the future jumping back in time to the Ark Royal universe, as a spin-off of sorts. But it will take some careful planning <grin>.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.

I’m actually looking for names for characters for TOS. If you want to be featured, please let me know.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 99 other followers