OUT NOW – The Lady Heiress (The Zero Enigma VIII) – And FREE BOOK PROMOTION!

17 Sep

In support of The Lady Heiress (blurb and links below), I am giving away free copies of The Zero Blessing (blurb and links below) – the first book in The Zero Enigma series – on Amazon!  Copies can be downloaded between Saturday 19th September to Monday 21st September, US time.  All welcome – if you like, please share and review!

Thank You

The Lady Heiress

House Lamplighter was once amongst the greatest of the Great Houses of Shallot, but now it is a tumbling ruin.  The once-great mansion is decaying, the vast network of clients have broken ties long ago and the remaining family scrabbles over crumbs as the last remnants of their fortune are spent repaying their debts.  The family seems doomed, beyond all hope of salvation.

Lucy Lamplighter, returning to her home after her father’s death, intends to save her family by any means necessary.  Gambling everything she has left, she stakes it all on a desperate bid to rebuild House Lamplighter before the vultures begin to swoop.  But she’s playing with fire …

… And those who play with fire often get burnt.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from Amazon (USUKCANAUS) or Draft2Digital.

The Zero Blessing

Caitlyn Aguirre should have been a magician.  Her family certainly expected her to be a magician.  But by the time she reached her twelfth birthday, Caitlyn hadn’t even managed to cast a single spell!  In desperation, her parents send her – and her magical sisters – to Jude’s Sorcerous Academy, her last best chance to discover her powers.

But as she struggles to survive her classes without a single spell to her name, Caitlyn starts to uncover an ancient mystery that may prove the key to her true powers …

… If she lives long enough to find it.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from Amazon here – USUKAUSCAN

 And check out the rest of the series too!

OUT NOW – The Lady Heiress (The Zero Enigma VII)

14 Sep

House Lamplighter was once amongst the greatest of the Great Houses of Shallot, but now it is a tumbling ruin.  The once-great mansion is decaying, the vast network of clients have broken ties long ago and the remaining family scrabbles over crumbs as the last remnants of their fortune are spent repaying their debts.  The family seems doomed, beyond all hope of salvation.

Lucy Lamplighter, returning to her home after her father’s death, intends to save her family by any means necessary.  Gambling everything she has left, she stakes it all on a desperate bid to rebuild House Lamplighter before the vultures begin to swoop.  But she’s playing with fire …

… And those who play with fire often get burnt.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from Amazon (USUKCANAUS) or Draft2Digital. Comments and Reviews very welcome.

Coming Soon (Like Tomorrow, Hopefully)

13 Sep

Out Tomorrow, all being well …

Book Review: Battle for the Wastelands

12 Sep

Battle for the Wastelands

-Matthew W. Quinn

Battle for the Wastelands is a curious mixture of genres that holds together surprisingly well.  It is set in what is probably a post-nuclear war (or other disaster) America, with flavourings of brutal horror, political intrigue, steampunk, wild west-style action and  a desperate fight against a tyrant.  This has the weakness of being confusing, at least at first; I assumed the story was set on a colony world rather than a post-nuclear Earth. 

There are essentially two threads running through the story.  The first follows Andrew Sutter, a young man from a wild west town, who finds his town being taxed to death by the Flesh-Eating Legion.  Things spread out of control, leading to a doomed battle that destroys the town and leaves Andrew on the run.  For better or worse, he finds himself saved by the rebel forces and winds up fighting for them.  His thread leads to the first major victory against the Flesh-Eaters.

The second thread follows Grendel, the leader of a band of tribes that includes the Flesh-Eaters.  Grendel is a warlord with many other warlords under his thumb, as well as a brood of growing (and eager) children and a harem of ambitious women.  His lands are starting to fracture under the stresses of peace, leading him to plan a war against distant foes in hopes of keeping his realm together; he is unaware, even as he prepares his forces, that he is on the verge of facing a whole uprising.

On a personal level, the two main characters are fascinating.  Andrew is a forthright young man, brave and daring; learning, steadily, how to become a leader of men.  Grendel is a born manipulator, carefully managing his subordinates to keep them from banding together or falling out to the point they clash into civil war.  In many ways, Grendel is the more interesting character.  He’s a genuine empire-builder, planning to leave a united realm to his son … and steering his son’s development so the son is ready to inherit.  It’s easy to lose track of the fact Grendel is also a monster, commanding legions of rapist cannibals who are steadily squeezing the land dry. 

The world building is also fascinating.  Grendel and his troops deploy zeppelins as well as ‘old world’ tech, the latter forbidden to everyone else on pain of complete and total destruction.  It’s a fun little world, although Quinn never loses sight of the price.  There’s a very clear sense that the population is just hanging on, that the latest empire is going to vanish with its leader.  There’s also a sense that, as the kids grow older, the empire might plunge into civil war.  It reminds me of how Henry II built an empire, the greatest the post-Roman world had seen, only to lose it to disputes between his sons Henry the Young King, Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. 

The book’s only real flaw is that it seems a little condensed.  It could have done with more development and more sense of a complete story, even one that didn’t resolve the overall story arc.  But that’s a very minor matter indeed.

Purchase from Amazon: US, UK, AUS, CAN

Snippet – The Halls of Montezuma (The Empire’s Corps 18)

2 Sep

Prologue I

From: The Dying Days: The Death of the Old Order and the Birth of the New.  Professor Leo Caesius.  Avalon.  206PE.

In hindsight, we should have expected more organised competition.

As we saw in previous volumes, the Terrain Marine Corps saw Earthfall coming and took steps to preserve themselves and – hopefully – rebuild the Empire they’d sworn to serve.   Small groups of marines were assigned to isolated worlds at the edge of explored space – including Avalon, a story explored in my earlier volumes – with a mandate to protect and preserve what remnants of civilisation they could.  Others were withdrawn from more populated – and inevitably doomed – worlds to await the final end.  And, when Earthfall finally came – somehow catching us all by surprise despite years of planning and preparations – the corps started liberating and recruiting the trained and experienced workers who would assist the marines to preserve civilisation.

All of this did not take place in a vacuum.  Earthfall led to utter chaos, to wave after wave of destruction sweeping across the Core Worlds.  Planetary governors seized power, only to be consumed by the chaos as uncounted billions were swept out of work and unemployment benefits came to a sudden end.  Imperial Navy officers declared themselves warlords and started building empires of their own, most falling prey to ambitious subordinates or supply shortages within a very short space of time.  Old grudges burst into flame, unleashing a cycle of attacks and revenge attacks that ended with entire planetary systems burning to ashes.  We do not know how many people died in the first few months.  It remains beyond calculation.

It was during a recruitment mission, as detailed in the prior volume, that the marines discovered they had a major rival.  The Onge Corporation, previously ruled by Grand Senator Stephen Onge (who died during Earthfall), had established a major base on an isolated world, Hameau.  This alone would be concerning, but further investigation revealed that Hameau was a corporate paradise, a seemingly-ordered world held in stasis by a combination of extreme surveillance and a cold-blooded willingness to remove and terminate troublemakers before they became a serious threat.  It was clear, to the marines, that Hameau represented the future … as seen by the Onge Family.  The upper classes would have considerable freedom, while the lower classes would be trapped within a social system that would keep them from either rising or rebelling.  If this wasn’t bad enough, the sociologists believed the long-term result would be utterly disastrous.  Hameau would either stagnate to the point it entered a steep decline – not unknown, amongst worlds that refused to permit a degree of social mobility – or eventually be destroyed by a brutal and uncontrolled (and uncontrollable) uprising. 

The marines therefore decided to intervene.  Landing troops on the surface – the planetary defences were strong enough to keep the starships from securing the high orbitals and demanding surrender – the marines carried out a brilliant campaign that ended with the capture of the capital city, the effective destruction of the planetary government and them being firmly in control.  Everything seemed to have gone their way until the enemy reinforcements arrived, too late to save the world … but quickly enough, perhaps, to destroy the marines.

There was no hope of negotiation.  The new arrivals rapidly landed troops themselves, trying to destroy the marines on the ground while skirmishing with starships throughout the solar system.  The marines, unable to retreat and unwilling to surrender, continued the fight, aided by elements of the local population that didn’t want a return to the days of corporate control (or had compromised themselves to the point they couldn’t hope for mercy from their former allies).  The fighting continued for weeks, with severe effects on the local population and infrastructure, until the marines lured the enemy forces into a trap and smashed them in a single decisive blow.

However, it was not the end of the war.  How could it be.  The Onge were now aware of the Marine Corps, just as the Corps was aware of the Onge.  With – still – little hope of a peaceful settlement, the two factions girded themselves to continue the war …

… All too aware that whoever won would determine the fate of the galaxy.

Prologue II

Onge (Inconnu), Shortly After The Invasion of Hameau

“Invasion fleets do not come out of nowhere,” Director Thaddeus Onge said.  He clasped his hands behind his back as he stared out of the window overlooking the gardens of paradise themselves.  “Where did this one come from?”

He turned, keeping his face carefully blank.  The original reports had been unbelievable.  Hameau had been safe.  Should have been safe.  The only force that could have challenged the planet’s defences was the Imperial Navy and the Navy was a fracturing ruin, torn apart by admirals and generals who’d declared themselves warlords and set out to snatch as much military power as they could.  Thaddeus had been confident, as the reports continued to flow in from what remained of the Core Worlds, that it was just a matter of time before the last embers of empire faded and died.  There’d be room for a whole new order when the dust settled, he’d been assured.  This time, the right people would be in charge.

His eyes drifted across the table.  The right people hadn’t been in charge for generations.  The Grand Senate had been dominated by a hereditary aristocracy that had lost track of what was important centuries ago.  They’d been too stupid and inbred to know the truth, that he who paid the piper called the tune.  They’d lashed out at giant corporations, all the while sucking up to them for donations.  Bribes, in truth, except they lacked the fundamental trait of the honest politician.  They didn’t stay bought.  Thaddeus’s family had worked its way into the elite for decades, only to discover the empire was already a rotting corpse.  They hadn’t needed long to start planning for the future.

Thaddeus looked at Vice Director Hayden James McManus, Director of Corporate Security.  “I ask again,” he said.  “Where did this invasion fleet come from?”

“The preliminary reports indicate the fleet belongs to the Marine Corps,” McManus said.  He sounded as if he didn’t believe his own words.  “The naval records we obtained suggest the fleet does not exist.”

“Officially, this planet does not exist,” Thaddeus said, waving a hand towards the window and the gardens beyond.  “Not as a corporate headquarters and haven for a new order, certainly.  The marines probably have as much experience as we do in keeping things off the books.”

He sighed, inwardly.  The corporation had spent decades building the planet into a citadel, all the while doing everything in their power to ensure the Grand Senate and the Imperial Navy never had the faintest idea it existed.  The looters would start levelling taxes the moment they worked out something was up, he’d been warned.  They couldn’t let the bastards know what was happening until it was too late to object.  They’d known Earthfall was coming …

… And yet it had taken them by surprise.

“And they invaded the planet,” Thaddeus said.  “Why?”

“We don’t know,” McManus said.  “But they must have had a sniff of our activities.”

“More than just a sniff, if they’re launching a full-scale planetary invasion,” Vice Director Maryanne Mayan said, sardonically.  “The cost alone must be immense.”

“Yes,” McManus agreed.  He looked at Thaddeus.  “If we predicted Earthfall, sir, they must have predicted it too.  They must have had their own plan to take advantage of the crisis.”

“It isn’t a crisis,” Thaddeus said.  “It’s the new reality.”

He let out a breath.  The corporation had laid it’s plans carefully, yet they’d been overtaken by the sheer violence of events.  Grand Senator Onge, Thaddeus’s father and mentor, had never made it off Earth.  Rumour insisted he’d tried to seize power, only to be killed by … by someone, depending who was telling the story.  The Solar System was a burned-out ruin, hundreds of worlds had fallen into civil war or outright anarchy … the scale of the disaster was beyond human imagination.  Thaddeus knew the plan.  He’d grown up knowing the plan.  He knew he had to collect useful people, bring them to his small cluster of worlds and wait.  He had a nasty feeling the plan had gone spectacularly wrong.

The Corps was always loyal to the Emperor before the Grand Senate, he thought.  The corporation had subverted thousands of army and navy officers, but not a single active-duty marine.  What the hell are they doing?

“Our plan was always to shape the new reality,” Maryanne pointed out.  “Doubtless, the marines have the same idea.”

Thaddeus couldn’t disagree.  There was no hope of putting the empire back together.  The networks of interstellar trade that had once bound thousands of stars into a single entity were smashed beyond repair.  The supply chain was a joke, money was worthless … outside a handful of worlds that had managed to maintain a certain independence from the empire itself.  The marines weren’t fools.  They wouldn’t have attacked and invaded an entire planet for nothing.  No, they had to have their own plans for the post-empire universe.  Thaddeus wondered, sourly, what those plans might be.  He couldn’t imagine them being compatible with his own.

“There’s no point in disputing the facts,” he said.  His father had delighted in pointing out that the Grand Senate had often disputed the facts, right up until the moment they could dispute them no longer.  “We have to take action.  Fast.  General?”

“I’m already putting together a response,” General Jim Gilbert said.  He was corporate royalty, but he’d served in a dozen engagements in the army before returning to the corporation and, eventually, taking control of its military.  “Many of our ships are on recruitment, but we have a small task force that should be able to drive the marines away from the planet and land troops.  If we get there in time, we should be able to reinforce the defences and crush the invaders.  If not, we can boot the invaders off the planet the hard way.”

“Doing immense damage to the planet’s industry and population,” Vice Director Vincent Adamson said.  The Director of Human Resources didn’t look pleased.  “They’re not going to thank us for turning the entire planet into a battleground.”

“With all due respect, sir, the entire planet is already a battleground,” Gilbert countered, bluntly.  He’d always been plain-spoken, something that had kept him out of the very highest levels.  “We have a choice between retaking the planet, whatever the cost, or abandoning it to the enemy.  And it won’t take them long to realise they’ve merely stumbled on the tip of the iceberg.”

Thaddeus nodded.  Hameau was a major investment, and one they’d worked hard to conceal, but it was hardly the only one.  The marines would find references to Onge in the planetary datafiles … if, of course, they hadn’t already deduced its existence.  And then … Thaddeus shook his head.  He couldn’t allow the marines, of all people, to determine the future of the human race.  Their idealism would lead, inevitably, to the wrong people taking power once again, dooming the post-empire universe to yet another series of crashes and disasters.  No, they had to be stopped.  They were committed.  They’d been committed from the moment the marines had first landed on Hameau.

And they don’t know what sort of hornet’s nest they’ve stumbled into, he told himself, firmly.  It was impossible to believe the marines knew the truth, if only because they would have invaded Onge rather than Hameau.  We have a chance to smash them before they recover from the shock.

He looked at Gilbert.  “Are we safe here?”

“It’s impossible to be sure, sir,” Gilbert said.  “But our defences are formidable.  We’ve been bringing newer and better weapons online since Earthfall, when we no longer needed to hide anything from prying eyes.  We’ve also sent out courier boats, recalling the remaining starships from their missions.  And, with your permission, I’ll call out the militia as well.”

“Which will be expensive,” Adamson said.

“And the militia may not be entirely trustworthy,” Maryanne added.

Thaddeus nodded, sourly.  One couldn’t give the common man any power, at least not until he proved himself … and all political power, at base, came out of the barrel of a gun.  Too many planets had been ruined by politicians who pandered to the masses, or cowered in front of mobs, for him to be sanguine about calling out the militia.   Even if they were trustworthy, even if they could be kept under control, they’d be taking experienced men away from their jobs.  The economy would take a tumble.

“We have no choice,” he said.  Hameau had been intended as a military incubator.  That plan, like so many others, had crashed and burnt in the wake of the invasion.  “We have to move, now, to regain control of events.”

“And quickly,” Gilbert said.  “The Corps trains its people to maintain a high operational tempo at all times.”

Adamson scowled.  “And in plain English …?”

“They move fast, trying to keep the enemy off balance long enough for them to come out ahead.”  Gilbert smiled, humourlessly.  “We’re the enemy, in case you were wondering.”

“They picked this fight,” Thaddeus said, before an argument could start.  “And we’re going to end it.”

“Yes, sir,” Gilbert said.  “The task force should be ready to depart within the week.”

Thaddeus nodded.  If they were lucky, it was not already too late …

Chapter One

What went so badly wrong, when it came to interstellar capitalism and the eventual – inevitable – slide into anarchy?

– Professor Leo Caesius.  The Rise and Fall of Interstellar Capitalism.

“Aren’t we done with this fucking planet?”

Captain Haydn Steel hid his amusement at the subvocalised comment as he inched his way through the industrial complex, making sure to keep himself out of sight.  The district had been battered by repeated bouts of fighting, from the thunder runs that had put the marines in charge of Haverford to the corprat invasion that had driven the marines back out again and the local insurgency that had torn the city apart until the fighting finally came to an end.  The latest government had, thankfully, managed to evacuate the refugees to a makeshift camp outside the city, in hopes of bringing the district back to life.  Haydn had to give them points for trying, if nothing else.  They were showing more initiative than the average planetary government.

“I thought we were really done,” Rifleman Jeff Culver said.  “What are we doing here?”

“Sniper hunting,” Command Sergeant Mark Mayberry growled.  “Or weren’t you paying attention at the briefing?”

Haydn ignored the byplay as he scanned the surrounding streets and buildings.  An enemy sniper, perhaps more than one, had opened fire on a pair of surveyors an hour ago, killing one and wounding the other.  The marines had been ordered to find the snipers and catch them – or kill them – before the area could be reopened.  Haydn feared, as the marines moved from shadow to shadow, that they’d have to kill the men.  The vast majority of the enemy soldiers had surrendered, when they’d been promised amnesty.  Those who remained active were either loyalists or war criminals.  Or simply convinced they wouldn’t be allowed to surrender.  It wasn’t uncommon for snipers to be killed out of hand. 

Sweat prickled on his forehead as he peered towards the nearest skyscraper.  It looked dangerously unsafe.  A missile or shell or something had smashed through the building without detonating, smashing a chunk of the concrete and probably damaging the frame.  The windows were shattered, pieces of glass littering the ground beneath his feet.  It would be the perfect place for a sniper to hide.  Haydn had seen snipers hit targets over five kilometres away.  The skyscraper would let the bastard shoot right across the river and into the heart of the city.  Haydn feared what would happen if the bastard started taking pot shots at random civilians …

Most of the poor bastards don’t want to come out of their houses, he thought.  And who can possibly blame them.

He keyed his throatmike, muttering an update to the distant controllers.  There weren’t many marines on the ground, not now.  The former insurgents were trying to maintain order – the new government needed to try to stamp its authority on the planet – but they were neither armed nor trained for crowd control.  It would be a long time, with the best will in the world, before the planet calmed down to the point everyone could relax.  Haydn wished he could call on the rest of the company, if not the entire regiment.  A few thousand marines would be more than enough to flood the entire area and flush out the sniper.

And our snipers are keeping a watch for him, he thought, as he held out his hand to count down the seconds.  They’ll shoot if they catch a glimpse of him.

He cursed under his breath as he slipped out of the shadows and ran across the road.  The marine snipers were good, terrifyingly good – they bragged they could castrate a man with a single shot – but they couldn’t fire unless they had positive identification of the target.  Merely carrying a gun wasn’t enough.  They had to wait until the sniper took aim before they put a bullet in his head.  Haydn understood the political requirements – the local government couldn’t afford to look weak, as if it was allowing the marines to shoot civilians at random – but he wished that whoever had come up with the policy was the one on the front lines.  It was a great deal easier to issue blanket ROE when one wasn’t at risk of being shot.

Glass crunched under his boots as he reached the edge of the lobby and crashed inside, rifle swinging from side to side as he searched for targets.  Nothing moved, not even a mouse.  The signs of looting were all around him.  Paintings had been yanked from walls, drawers pulled out of the receptionist’s desk and dumped on the floor … their contents stolen and probably sold for scraps.  There were no papers … Haydn guessed the office had been completely paperless.  Or the papers had been used for fires.  The locals had had a nice city once.  Two successive invasions and an ongoing insurgency had ruined it.

Probably taught them a few bad habits too, he thought, as the rest of the squad joined him.   How long will it be before they start settling disputes with violence?

He put the thought out of his mind as they finished sweeping the ground floor, then sealed the lifts and headed upstairs.  There was no power, not any longer.  They’d been few, if any, independent power generators on the planet, rendering the entire district largely powerless.  A faint smell hung in the air as they reached the first floor and peered inside.  The office looked looted, stripped of everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor.  Haydn felt a flicker of sympathy for the workers as he swept the chamber, noticing how they didn’t have so much as the illusion of privacy.  Or any real control over their lives.  They couldn’t so much as adjust their desks and chairs.  It struck him as cruel and unusual punishment.  He was in the military and even he knew that complete uniformity was a bad idea.  He’d hate to have to wear BDUs designed for someone smaller than himself.

I suppose it bred good little corprats, he told himself.  The office kitchenette was as bland and boring as the rest of the office.  The powerless freezer stank of rotting food.  He was amused to notice the looters had taken the cleaning supplies, although he knew it wasn’t really funny.  Someone could make a pretty good IED, with a little ingenuity.  And it sure as hell would have kept them in their place.

He tensed as he heard something above him.  A footstep?  A bird?  He hadn’t seen many birds in the city, but urban wildlife might well have started making a comeback now large swathes of the city had been effectively abandoned.  Haydn exchanged signals with Mayberry, then inched towards the stairs.  By his assessment, they were going to be moving up to the damaged part of the building.  The skyscraper didn’t feel as though it was going to collapse at any moment, but the shattered walls and damaged interior would make a good sniper nest.  If nothing else, it would be very hard to pick their way upwards without making some noise.

Haydn considered his options as they studied the stairwell, then started to inch up to the next floor.  The air blew colder, carrying with it the unmistakable scent of unwashed human and human waste.  It didn’t smell like a dead body … Haydn grimaced.  They hadn’t seen many dead bodies since they’d begun their sweep, although he wasn’t sure why.  Perhaps the corprats had collected the corpses and buried them in a mass grave.  It was the sort of thing they would have done, if they’d realised it had to be done.  His lips quirked.  Of course they’d do it.  They’d wanted to bring the city back to life as quickly as possible too.

The sound came again as they reached the top of the stairs.  Rubble lay everywhere, providing all the cover a sniper could possibly want.  Haydn could imagine a skilled sniper setting up a bunch of nests, perhaps even an optical sensor to allow him to track his targets without a spotter … or revealing himself to prying eyes.  There might even be an automated gun … the corps didn’t use them, unless they were in a clear war zone, but the corprats might have different ideas.  Who knew?  The sniper probably already considered himself doomed.

He unhooked a stun grenade from his belt, held it up so his team could see what he had in mind, then hurled it through the door and into the exposed zone.  Blue-white light flared.  The grenades weren’t as effective as the media made them look – Haydn wanted a few moments alone with the producers who made those wretched flicks – but anyone caught in the blast would have a few moments of stunned disorientation, at the very least.  He leapt forward, rifle in hand.  The section was deserted.  There was no sign of a sniper or …

Something moved, above him.  Haydn barely had a moment to notice before another grenade fell from the upper floor.  Haydn shouted a warning and dived for cover, an instant before the grenade exploded.  The floor shook violently.  Haydn breathed a sigh of relief they weren’t in a confined space, then scrambled forward and up the next flight of stairs.  The sniper had to be stopped before he got away.  He heard someone snap off a shot behind him, the bullet cracking through the ceiling.  He couldn’t tell who’d fired, or if they’d hit anything.  Another explosion shook the building a second later.  Haydn felt a flicker of fear.  It was hard to escape the sense the entire building might come tumbling down within seconds.

He crashed into a dark shape.  The sniper bit out a curse as they tumbled to the floor, fists pounding against Haydn’s armour.  Haydn headbutted him, feeling his nose break under the force of the impact.  The sniper had clearly been enhanced, probably illegally.  He almost snorted as the sniper kept hitting him, trying to beat him to death.  The corprats had broken hundreds of laws, just by setting up a colony that was technically off the books.  Why on Earth would they stop breaking laws now?

His fingers found the knife at his belt, drew it and stabbed upwards.  The sniper was wearing body armour too, but it wasn’t designed to cope with knives.  Haydn guessed the sniper’s masters had seen the advantages – the armour was very good at coping with bullets – and chosen to overlook the disadvantages.  The sniper let out a breath as the knife was thrust further into his chest, flailing uselessly as he gasped for breath.  Haydn pushed him over and stared down at him.  The sniper looked … no different from any of the other soldiers he’d fought and killed in the last few months.

“Lie still,” Haydn said, quietly.  If he could take the sniper alive … the spooks would have a field day.  The poor bugger was clearly enhanced to the max.  “We can do something …”

The sniper gurgled, then lay still.  Haydn cursed under his breath as he checked the man’s pulse, just in case he was faking it.  Enhanced or not, a knife to the gut had proven fatal … it looked as though Haydn had punctured the man’s heart.  A team of medics with modern equipment might have been able to save him, but the closest medics were on the other side of the river.  Haydn pulled out the knife, wiped it with a cloth and returned it to his belt, then started to search the body.  The sniper hadn’t been carrying much.  It looked as though he’d abandoned everything that might have identified him, something else that was technically against the law.  Haydn was mildly surprised the corprats had broken that law.  Terrorists and insurgents did it all the time, but the corprat soldiers were supposed to be better.  They, at least, had superiors who could hold them accountable … and be held accountable, in turn, for their subordinates.

A shot cracked past him.  Haydn darted to one side, seeing another sniper standing by the far door.  He cursed and unhooked another grenade from his belt, hurling it towards the enemy soldier.  The soldier dived back, retreating further into the skyscraper.  Haydn called in the contact as he picked himself up and chased the man.  He wanted – he needed – to take this one alive.

“Give up,” he shouted, as he crashed through an open door.  The wooden shape hung off its hinges.  “Give up and we’ll take you alive!”

He jumped into the next room, just in time to see the enemy soldier diving down a garbage chute.  Haydn was tempted to follow him, but it would be a good way to get stuck.  The rest of the corps would never let him forget it.  Instead, he yanked a third stun grenade from his belt and dropped it down the chute.  The sniper might be armoured, but in such close confines it probably didn’t matter.  He heard a curse, followed by a thump.  It dawned on him, a moment too late, that the sniper had probably lost his grip and plunged down.  Hopefully, he’d had enough sense to make sure there was something soft underneath.

“Sergeant, check the rest of the building,” he ordered, as he ran back to the stairs.  The one advantage of a city designed by soulless corprats was that the city was practically uniform.  Learn to navigate around one skyscraper and you’d know how to navigate around all of them.  “I’m going to snatch the prisoner.”

He ran down the stairs and into the basement.  It stunk, a grim reminder that no one had been collecting trash for months.  He could hear someone kicking in the semi-darkness.  The garbage chute opened into a giant metal drum on wheels … Haydn had a sudden horrified vision of someone getting stuck inside, then being driven to the furnace and incinerated with no one being any the wiser.  He had no idea how the sniper intended to get out.  Perhaps he could tip it over from the inside, with a little effort, or scramble up the outside of the chute.

“Marine Corps,” he shouted.  If the sniper wanted to take a final shot at him, now was the chance.  “Surrender and we’ll get you medical attention.  Resist and you’ll go to the grave.”

He listened, but heard nothing beyond a faint whimpering.  He sneaked up on the drum, grabbed hold and yanked it over.  A torrent of rubbish – and a twitching sniper – fell out and landed on the concrete floor.  The sniper had clearly taken the brunt of the blast and fallen hard, breaking at least one of his legs.  Haydn secured his hands with a plastic tie, then searched him roughly.  Getting the sniper to the medics was going to be a pain, but it could be done.  He had no doubt of it.

“Sir, the building is clear,” Mayberry reported.  “There’s no trace of anyone else.”

Haydn nodded, unsurprised.  If there were more enemy holdouts, they’d have scattered over the city.  They wouldn’t run the risk of being trapped, not as a group.  Haydn wouldn’t hesitate to call down fire from the orbiting starships to smash the enemy, rather than risk the lives of his men trying to root them out and take them alive.  The corprats would certainly assume the worst, if they were wise.  There was no way the city could be brought back to life before the corprats were exterminated.

“I’ll meet you in the lobby,” he said.  “Tell the medics I have a patient for them.”

He searched the enemy sniper quickly, finding nothing.  Again.  The enemy had dumped everything, even his weapons.  Haydn guessed there was a cache of supplies somewhere not too far away.  The corprats hadn’t had much time to prepare for an insurgency – another insurgency – but a skilled junior officer with enough guts to take the lead might just lay the groundwork before it was too late.  And his superiors would probably take a dim view of it.  Corprats disliked people showing even a hint of independent thought …

And maybe I’m completely wrong, he thought, as he carefully picked up the twitching body and carried it up to the lobby.  Moving a wounded man was dangerous, but the medics wouldn’t come any further into the building.  The corpsmen were just too valuable to be put at risk.  These two might just have set off on their own.

“Raptor inbound, sir,” Mayberry reported.  “The medics will be here in a moment.”

“And then we can sweep the rest of the area,” Haydn said.  He cursed under his breath.  They needed the entire regiment, not a single understrength company.  He knew the score as well as anyone – they were short of trained marines – but it was worrying.  They were running the risk of being caught out by superior forces and taking a pounding.  “Any word through the grapevine on reinforcements?”

“Nothing, sir,” Mayberry said.  “There’s a vague report we might be heading back up there.”

“You’d think they could make up their minds,” Culver said, as he joined them.  “Where are we going tomorrow?”

“There’s never a dull day in the corps,” Haydn said.  He grinned.  “The only easy day was yesterday.  Who dares wins.  And a bunch of other clichés.”

Culver made a face.  “And no hope of shore leave?”

Haydn shrugged.  “I dare say they’ll try and organise something,” he said.  He hadn’t heard anything, but marine officers understood their men needed leave every so often.  Everyone needed time to decompress, preferably in an environment where no one was trying to kill them.  “But I have no idea when or where.”

“There has to be something to do here,” Culver said.  “Hunting.  Fishing.  Shooting …”

“Yeah,” Haydn said.  He understood the younger man’s feelings.  He just knew they had other problems.  “But our duty comes first.”

SIM: The Leveller Manifesto

31 Aug

A little bit of background for later books <grin>

The Leveller Manifesto

Historian’s Note

The Leveller Manifesto was first delivered as a speech, by ‘Common Man,’ at the First Leveller Conference, held at Heart’s Eye shortly after the Zangarian Civil War.  It was transcribed by ‘Working Girl,’ then printed, bound and distributed right across the Allied Lands.  It was, naturally, immediately banned by every kingdom and the majority of free cities, despite which copies can be found almost everywhere.  Precisely who hides behind the nom de plume of ‘Common Man’ is a mystery, with speculation ranging from Lady Emily herself (despite the claims in the speech) to a wealthy merchant or magician from Cockatrice.  We simply don’t know.

The Speech

Who decreed the order of society?

We are told that the kings and princes were placed above us by the gods, that their power was granted by divine fiat, that they have a divine right to rule.  This is, dare I say, awfully convenient for them.  We are not permitted to question their right to rule. 

But question it we must.  Who decreed that they are set above us?

Some kings and princes tell us they rule by divine right.  Some tell us they rule because their ancestors preserved something of civilisation in the wake of the empire’s fall and therefore they have an inherent right to rule.  Yet this cannot possibly be true.  An inherent right would be unchallengeable, yet history records no shortage of usurpers who have successfully taken thrones and then had themselves retroactively decreed the rightful rulers all along.  We are expected to believe they were the rightful kings and thus they won?  Or is it more reasonable to suggest they won because they had superior force?

Their rule rests on force.  It rests on the ability to deploy superior military force against enemies both inside and outside the kingdom.  When that force is unable to cope with challenges, the kings – despite their claim of divine right – are weakened or overthrown by their enemies.  And it is achingly clear that those who assert the loudest claims to divine right are the least convinced by it.  The aristocracies are forever wearing away at their king’s power. 

They are, at best, parasites.  They take from those they consider to be chattel and give nothing in return.  Not even protection.  Where is the law, when a powerful man’s interests are threatened?  It simply does not exist.  They tell us, those glorious kings, that they are the fathers of their people.  They want us to believe that they are in ignorance of the terrible crimes perpetrated by their nobility, that – if we should bring those crimes to their attention – they will deal with them immediately.  But this is a lie.  They will do nothing for those they claim to rule.

This might be bearable, perhaps, if they were better people, if they were good at ruling.  But they are not.  Those who inherit their power from their fathers are often challenged or overthrown, if only because they don’t understand the limits of power.  Even when they are not, are they good at ruling?  They are not.  They pick fights with other kingdoms, treating war as a game even as the poor folk suffer and die at the hands of opposing armies.  They eat their seed corn and ask themselves, in honest bemusement, why their kingdoms are getting poorer?

And, when someone like me dares to tell them why, they lash out.  They are strangling the lifeblood of their kingdoms and yet refuse to take their hands off their own neck!

Why should we honour them?  Why should we respect them?  Why should we let them lead us?  Who set them above us?

Ah, you say, but what about the magicians? 

They have power.  A magician can kill a man, enslave a woman, blind a child … all with a wave of his hand.  Yes, they have power.  They claim they have a fragment of the divine spark within them.  And yet, are they better people?  They have the same failings as the kings and princes, only worse because they have access to perversions that the mundanes cannot even imagine!  They bathe in the blood of peasants to keep themselves young; they fight endless duels for petty little scraps of power, never heeding the commoners trampled underfoot.  They may have power, but there is nothing divine about them.  They are not gods.

The order of society is not decreed by divine right.  It is decreed by naked force.

Those who rule us are not smarter than us.  They are not more capable than us.  They are born with power, aristocratic or magical, but that does not make them better than us.  They are so decayed that they are unable even to look after their own interests, which makes them dumber than the average parasite.  They build an edifice of lies, resting on priests and bards and soldiers to maintain it.  And yet, for all their fancy words, their arguments boil down to ‘might makes right.’ 

And they’re killing us!  They’re killing themselves!

There is a better way.  I was born in Cockatrice.  I am old enough to remember the Old Baron, the one whose name is now forbidden, and how he ground us into the dirt.  I am young enough to remember Baroness Emily taking the land for herself and how she turned the barony into the richest barony in the kingdom.  She was no parasite.  She only ever took a tiny fraction of what we made for herself.  The rest, we got to keep.  And it made us all the more determined to make more and more and more!  Craftsmen who never bothered to innovate, when the wretched parasites would steal all they made and leave only scraps, became masters of industry, turning their vague ideas into money!  It worked for everyone, even Baroness Emily herself.  She took a tiny piece of the pie, but it was a very large pie indeed. 

We had our freedoms.  We had our rights.  And those who worked hard earned much for themselves. 

We demand the levelling of society.  We demand an end to hereditary privilege, excessive taxes, to monopolies and the never-ending exhortation that kills innovation and wealth.  We demand the rights of man.  And we demand these rights apply to everyone; male or female, magician or mundane, human or demihuman.  For if one person is denied the rights, and it is allowed to stand, the rights of all are lost.

To everyone, the rights of man!  To everyone, the fruits of his labours!

And to those who stand in our way, give us our rights or give us death!

Snippet – Little Witches

29 Aug

I just had this going through my head … (Warning: Minor Oathkeeper spoilers.)

Prologue I

The White City felt … different.

Gordian, Grandmaster of Whitehall, felt a chill run down his spine as he walked down the road leading towards the Imperial Palace.  He’d grown up in the White City, learning to play the political game practically from the moment he could walk, but … everything was different now.  The nexus point – the reawakened nexus point – pulsed in the distance, a constraint frission of raw power that that both awed and terrified him.  The grand mansions, houses and apartment blocks that made up the core of the city felt washed out, once-impregnable wards melting like snow in the first days of spring.  Gordian shivered, helplessly, as he walked past a pair of open gates.  The city had been largely abandoned, it’s citizens choosing to decamp and abandon their property.  Gordian didn’t blame them.  It was impossible to escape the sensation that the city was suddenly very fragile, that the merest cough might send it tumbling into ruin.  The longer he stayed within the city, the more he feared the worst.

He forced himself to keep going, even as the tales he’d been told about the city’s distant past haunted his mind.  The White City had been the seat of the Emperors, the most powerful magicians in the known world.  They’d tamed the nexus point and build their palace amidst its flames.  And their successors had built over their works as shellfish might build their nests within a sunken boat, with no more awareness of what the Emperors had done than the shellfish might have of humanity.  Gordian had heard that some brave souls had ventured into the Imperial Palace, in hopes of laying claim to power beyond the dreams of magicians and necromancers.  They’d gone in.  None had returned.

The sense of looming disaster grew stronger as he reached the park and walked slowly down to the lake.  He had many happy memories of sailing toy boats in the waters, when he’d been a lad, but now strange lights were clearly visible under the waves.  The proud swans he’d fed were gone.  He’d been told the city had been deserted by its animal population, the day the nexus point had come back to life.  Even the zookeepers had been unable to keep their charges from making their escape.  Gordian wondered, sourly, if that made the animals smarter than their human counterparts.  The humans had only decamped when it became clear that their wards were steadily starting to fail.  And who knew what would happen when they died completely?

Master Lucknow was standing at the edge of the lake, staring into the glowing waters.  Gordian coughed, although he was sure the older sorcerer had sensed his presence the moment he’d entered the park.  He wasn’t sure why Master Lucknow had insisted on meeting in the park, within the deserted city, although he had to admit it would be effectively impossible for someone to spy on them.  The finest scryers in the Allied Lands had tried to peer into the city, in hopes of finding out what was going on.  They’d reported that it was like staring into the sun itself.

“Grandmaster.”  Master Lucknow turned to face him, his eyes shadowed and grim.  “Kalians is dead.”

Gordian felt a flicker of cold amusement.  “I remember a time when that would be considered good news.”

“It was how he died that interested me,” Master Lucknow said.  “Would you care to guess how it happened?”

Gordian said nothing for a long moment.  Kalians had been a necromancer, his territories on the very southern edge of the Blighted Lands.  He’d never been considered a serious threat.  He would have had to punch his way through at least two other necromancers before reaching the Craggy Mountains, if the march itself didn’t kill him and his slaves.  The Allied Lands had assumed Kalians would be picked off by one of his rivals, if he didn’t kill himself.  There hadn’t seemed any reason to be particularly worried about him,

“A bunch of young sorcerers teleported south,” Master Lucknow said.  “They took one of Lady Emily’s batteries” – the word was a curse – “with them.  They used a wardcracking spell to break the necromancer’s wards, allowing his own power to consume him.  And then they seized his lands.”

Gordian’s eyes narrowed as he realised where the conversation was going.  “They seized a nexus point.”

“Quite.”  Master Lucknow turned away.  “They have effectively declared independence from the White Council and the Allied Lands.  Given that they own and control a nexus point, wrinkling them out may take some time.”

“If it can be done at all,” Gordian said.  “The precedents are clear.  Whoever seizes a necromancer’s territory has an unchallengeable claim.”

“No,” Master Lucknow said.  “But their willingness to seize the territory and stake a claim bodes ill for the future.”

“They’re not the first,” Gordian said.  “Lord Cat seized control of Kuching Castle.  Jorlem is seriously considering digging its own way through the Craggy Mountains.  Dragora is thinking about sending ships to the southern coastline and establishing military colonies …”

Master Lucknow made an impatient sound.“That isn’t the point.”

Gordian met his eyes, evenly.  “A year ago, we were on the verge of defeat.  These are the problems of victory.”

“Yes, that’s true.”  Master Lucknow waved his hand, dismissively.  “But they are problems.”

He paced as he spoke, ticking off points on his fingers.  “The old conflicts between kingdoms have started to reignite.  There have been border skirmishes between seven or eight kingdoms as monarchs press their claims to disputed territory.  Cities have sought to secure their independence from neighbouring kingdoms.  At least a dozen Vesperian Crisis’s, perhaps more.  Magical and merchant families are even considering ways to make land grabs themselves, or – at the very least – secure their own independence from the rest of the world.  And, working in the shadows, revolutionary movements are threatening to overthrow their monarchs and create a new world.”

Gordian frowned.  “It’s that bad?”

“Yes.”  Master Lucknow made a face.  “And all of these problems can be traced back to one person.”

“Lady Emily,” Gordian said.

“Yes,” Master Lucknow said.  “We only tolerated her because the necromancers feared her.  And now the necromancers are gone.”

“Effectively gone,” Gordian pointed out.

“Effectively gone,” Master Lucknow echoed.  “A year ago, challenging a necromancer in his lair would have been suicide.  Now … it can be done.  We no longer … need … such a disruptive influence.”

His voice hardened.  “The batteries alone, Grandmaster, have changed the world.”

Gordian nodded.  There’d been no way to store magic long-term, not without a nexus point, until Emily had devised the batteries.  Gordian didn’t know how they worked, but it was just a matter of time until someone outside the charmed circle cracked the secret.  Knowing something was possible was half the battle.  And the batteries were, in many ways, the least of it.  The New Learning was spreading rapidly.  He’d heard the stories.  Gunpowder weapons that put the power to kill in the hands of untrained commoners, a written alphabet and printing presses that allowed commoners to write, read and print books, steam engines and railways that raised the promise of binding the Allied Lands closer together … he owed Emily much, he admitted sourly, but he couldn’t avoid admitting she was a disruptive influence.

She’s not a bad person, he conceded, privately.  But that only makes her more dangerous.

“And we are in no state to deal with the crisis,” Master Lucknow said.  He waved a hand towards the distant palace.  “The White Council has been scattered.  There’s no guarantee it will be able to reform, certainly not as anything effective.”

“As if it ever was,” Gordian said.

“It worked, well enough,” Master Lucknow said.  “It kept us from indulging in a self-destructive war.  But now the threat that bound us together is gone.  We no longer need her.”

“We owe her,” Gordian said.

“Gratitude is a luxury we cannot afford,” Master Lucknow said.  “She goes to Whitehall and turns the school upside down.  She does to Mountaintop and turns the school upside down, nearly destroying it in the process before giving the school to a person unsuited for the role.  She plays a major role in sparking a civil war within a powerful kingdom; she plays another role in heading off a civil war within another kingdom.  And she’s unpredictable.  What will she do next?”

His eyes hardened.  “She must be stopped.  Now.  Before it’s too late.”

Gordian let out a breath.  It wouldn’t be easy to stop a person who’d gone toe-to-toe with a small army of necromancers.  Emily might not know it – Gordian had often thought there was something odd about her, a strange lack of awareness of the world – but she had friends and allies who would start a full-scale war if she was harmed.  And, of course, her father could hardly be ignored.  Emily and Void were, perhaps, the two scariest people in the world.

He looked at his companion.  “What do you have in mind?”

“I have a plan,” Master Lucknow said.  “It will require your cooperation.”

Gordian hesitated, then committed himself.  “What do you want from me?”

Master Lucknow told him.

Background Notes: The Heart’s Eye University

28 Aug

What do you think?

The Heart’s Eye University

Motto: “We Stand On The Shoulders Of Giants And Become Giants Ourselves.”

Like most of the schools of magic, the exact origins of Heart’s Eye are lost in the mists of time.  Some stories claim the school was founded by a group of exiles from Whitehall, others that Heart’s Eye is far older and only became part of the network of magical schools after the empire united the continent.  There are hints that both stories may have some truth in them, despite the vast distance between Whitehall and Heart’s Eye.  However, such matters are of academic interest only.  Heart’s Eye is no longer the school it once was.

The modern era began roughly twenty years ago, when Heart’s Eye was attacked by a necromancer.  For reasons that remain unknown, the nexus point was snuffed out, the defences were badly weakened and therefore unable to keep the necromancer from storming the walls.  A handful of students managed to escape before it was too late.  The remainder died, we assume, when the castle fell.  Heart’s Eye became the lair of a necromancer until two years ago, when the Necromancer’s Bane – Lady Emily – reignited the nexus point, killed the necromancer and laid claim to the school.  It has since been reopened as the Heart’s Eye University.  There is so little continuity between the two incarnations that there is no point in dwelling on the school as it once was. 

Heart’s Eye is effectively divided into three sections.  Heart’s Eye itself is the castle, raised from the ground by the unknown founders and – eventually – claimed by Lady Emily.  Heart’s Ease is the town near the former school, also technically under the school’s jurisdiction (although, in practice, run by the city council).  The Foundry, sitting between the town and the school, is a vast collection of workshops, factories and vocational training schools.  It is, in many ways, the beating heart of the growing industrial revolution.  The ideas born within the Foundry will change the world.

The castle houses most of the university’s educational and research departments.  Older magicians shake their heads at how magical and mundane education is blended together, sometimes to great effect.  There are, at least in theory, classes covering everything from alchemical mixtures to animal husbandry and everything in between.  Students are largely free to attend whatever classes they like, as long as they are not disruptive.  There are no overall exams.  Instead, students who wish to obtain a degree in anything from magic to economics are required to apply for and take the exam themselves, when they feel ready to take it.  There is some dispute over how much a degree from Heart’s Eye is actually worth – the other schools are united in their disapproval of the university’s educational model – but they cannot deny the magical exams are set and proctored by the Allied Lands.  Mundane subjects are given certifications, signed by masters.

The admissions process itself is somewhat complicated.  Students are free to apply for a place at the university itself, whereupon they will work towards a certification and/or an apprenticeship.  (One of the university’s biggest draws is the prospect of completing an apprenticeship without a master.)  Fees are minimal, but older students are expected to help younger students without complaint (on the grounds that the best way to understand a subject is to try to teach it) and a handful of other duties.  Apprentice craftsmen from Heart’s Ease or the Foundry are free to attend whatever classes they like, when they’re not working; their masters are encouraged to give them time off to study.  Finally, outside students are free to attend classes too, but there’s a small fee for regular attendance.

Junior students are assigned to single-sex dorms shared between 10-20 other students.  Older students are allowed shared rooms (they can choose their own roommates, male or female) or remain in the dorms if they wish.  There’s no attempt to supervise or bar relationships between students, although there is a strict ban on sexual relationships between teachers and students. 

The blend of magicians and mundanes has both good and bad results.  It has led to discovering ways to combine magic with technology to produce newer and better results, but it has also led to friction and – at times – outright violence.  Unlike Stronghold (which also combines magical and mundane students, but keeps them too tired to worry about it) Heart’s Eye offers time for reflection, which can sometimes lead to resentment.  The school authorities do their best to keep everything relatively peaceful, but there have been a handful of nasty incidents. 

The administration itself is somewhat divided.  Lady Irene, the Administrator, is known for being firmly neutral and even-handed.  The other administrators are somewhat less neutral, with three different factions slowly taking form.  The Old Guard wants a return to the days when Heart’s Eye was just a magic school, the Progressives want the university to be a centre for political reform, the Emilyists want the school to remain nothing more than a research and development centre as well as an educational institute.  It is generally believed there will be trouble when Lady Irene dies or retires, as both the Old Guard and the Progressives are certain to entangle the school in outside affairs (and thus encourage the other two factions to unite against them.)  It doesn’t help that there is no clear structure for electing and/or replacing councillors who overstep their bounds.  Indeed, there is no clear idea of where the bounds actually are.

Heart’s Eye – unlike other magic schools – makes an attempt to treat its students like mature adults.  It expects them to attend lectures and behave themselves, without being reminded.  The rules are relatively simple and enforced firmly.  Disruptive students are often assigned to menial tasks, when they’re not expelled.  The school is also firmly meritocratic.  Heart’s Eye attaches no importance to royal rank or family status.  Students are expected to respect each other for their talents and their talents alone.  It works, sometimes.

Heart’s Ease has grown remarkably in the year since the university opened for business.  The remains of the town was claimed by the school – there were very few survivors and few wanted to return – and sold to businessmen and merchants who were willing to invest in the growing complex.  The network of factories and workshops – separate from the Foundry, although closely linked – has grown rapidly, as has the number of transit barracks, apartment blocks, shops and schools.  There is no registry of residents, leading to estimates that range from understatements to gross overstatements.  People flood into the town to try their luck and either stay or go.  The administration doesn’t care.

The town operates on a form of constitutional democracy.  Everyone over twenty-one has the right to vote, as long as they pay – very limited – taxes.  The city councillors are elected in line with the constitution, then sit in office for a period of six months.  There are provisions for recalling them, if the votes are unhappy, but – so far – they have never been tested.  The council is responsible for maintaining the local infrastructure, such as it is, and operating the police force.  Again, the laws are very basic … but they are enforced. It is generally believed the system will have to be modified as the town continues to expand.

The rights of the citizens, voters and non-voters alike, are laid down in the city constitution and apply equally to all.  They have the right to speak freely, to own and bear arms, to attend schools, to enter into contracts (and marriages) and/or to leave employment and apprenticeships if the relationship isn’t working out.  Craftsmen and magicians alike have the right to profit from their innovations, as long as they register them at the patent office and allow others to build on their work.  The system is a little confusing at times, and credit is sometimes lost, but it boosts progress in matters both magician and mundane.  A dozen average minds working on a problem, and building on each other’s work, can sometimes progress faster than one great mind.  (Or so Lady Emily insists.)

Heart’s Ease is linked to Farrakhan and Lokane City, the capital of Tarsier, through the Heart’s Eye Railway.  The railway itself is crude – the desert is not particularly suitable for permanent railways – but serves as both a promise and a threat of what the future might hold for the Allied Lands.  It isn’t uncommon for runaways from Farrakhan to ride the railway to Heart’s Ease in the hopes of finding work and shelter.

The exact legal status of the university has never been determined.  Heart’s Eye was technically independent before the necromancer crushed the school; the university insists it isn’t part of the Kingdom of Tarsier, but the monarch may have other ideas.  The university’s relationship to the rest of the magic schools is vague too, not least because it presents a challenge to their way of doing things.  The older generation of magicians sees it as a threat, or a fad that will never last; the newer generation sees it as a chance to escape the shackles of the formal educational system and reach for glory. 

Matters are complicated by the simple fact that Heart’s Eye is a refuge for all sorts of political activists, who have their leaflets printed in Heart’s Ease, out of the reach of the local monarchs, and distributed back home.  Wild political ideas, from constitutional democracies to outright socialist and anarchist states, are discussed openly: the famed Leveller Manifesto, a transcript of a speech given by ‘Common Man,’ was printed and bound in Heart’s Ease before being distributed right across the Allied Lands.  The influx of political ideas alone has caused unrest in a dozen kingdoms and cities; the brain drain as young and intelligent people head to Heart’s Ease has made matters worse. 

And now the Necromantic War is effectively over, it remains to be seen how long Heart’s Eye will be allowed to exist …

More Updates …

27 Aug

Sorry, another bunch of updates …

Good news first – you can pre-order the audios of Mirror Image and Favour the Bold.  And you can purchase The Lion and the Unicorn ebook now. 

I’ve also finished the first draft of The Truthful Lie.  I intend to get the beta-edits done in the next few days, then submit it to Elsewhen Press and – hopefully – get it out shortly afterwards.  It wraps up the trilogy, while leaving some room for a third set of books if sales advise it. 

Better – or worse – news, depending on your point of view.

I’ve decided to add a breather book to Schooled in Magic, which will be the real SIM21, and try to write the final four books in a fairly tight stream.  My plan, therefore, is something like:

Sept – The Halls of Montezuma (The Empire’s Corps)

Oct – Little Witches (Schooled in Magic)

Nov – Fighting for the Crown (Ark Royal)

Dec – The Right Side of History (Schooled in Magic)

As always, if you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to let me know.

Chris

Possible SIM Spin-Off/Serial

23 Aug

No promises or timeline on this one, for various reasons, but feel free to tell me what you think.

I’ve had a vague idea going through my head of someone very different from Emily (Schooled in Magic) being dumped into the Nameless World.  No magic, for one thing; a soldier or policeman or something along the same lines.  I might do it as a non-canon story, or – perhaps – have them making fewer changes and generally having a more localised effect on the world.  I might even do it as a monthly serial – an adventurer ends up in the Nameless World and starts building a nest for himself.

Basically, it would be a little more like Lest Darkness Falls … with the hero setting out to create a small kingdom rather than save the empire or civilisation.

There would be little introduction of ‘new’ technology and the whole affair would be very localised, perhaps on the southern continent where Emily is a legend and the vast majority of people don’t believe in her.  The hero wouldn’t be a love interest or anything along those lines.

Obviously, surviving would be difficult.  My vague idea is that the traveller would encounter the Diddakoi first (The travellers I introduced in Work Experience) who would give him a basic background before dropping him off in a city, where he’d become a guard and eventually join the local army or something along those lines.  Maybe something along the line of Yasuke, although with a far happier ending. 

How does that sound?

Chris