Archive | December, 2012

Happy New Year!

31 Dec

Dear Readers

Happy New Year!

2012 has been a thoroughly strange year. I lost my grandmother – one of the early influences on my writing career – in late 2011, then endured what was effectively a mental breakdown for several months. Writing helped to keep me sane. So did my wife, Aisha, who encouraged me to move to Kota Kinabalu to live with her. And since I had lost my job, I took her advice.

And I am very glad that I did. Living here has made me feel a new man.

There have been several pieces of good news in the latter half of this year. First, I have signed contracts with Elsewhen Press for four of my novels. The Royal Sorceress is already out in Kindle form (free samples on my site) and will be out in paperback in February. It will be followed by Bookworm, Sufficiently Advanced Technology and Dizzy Spells. Bookworm, ideally, will be out in Kindle with the paperback of The Royal Sorceress, with the paperback in May. No details on the latter two release dates yet – watch this space.

The second piece of good news is that Kindle has been doing very well – thanks to everyone who bought my books and particularly those who left reviews. (And a very big THANK YOU to everyone who emailed me with spelling corrections. I have been updating the later books as I go along.) I had a wonderful moment on Christmas Day of discovering that I was at 35 in the Kindle books – and David Weber was at 34. It didn’t last, but it was a thrill.

My current plans are to finish Lessons in Etiquette, which is the sequel to Schooled in Magic, and then take a break – we’re travelling to Korea for two weeks in January. After that, I’m not sure if I want to write the concluding part of Outside Context Problem or When the Bough Breaks, which is effectively Book 3 in The Empire’s Corps series. In some ways, it may seem a side-show, but it is actually quite important to the overall arc as it marks the complete collapse of the Empire – after that, it is every planet for itself.

Let me know what you want, ok? <grin>

After that … well, I’m not quite sure. I have an idea set in 1940 where WW2 becomes magical – well, there are magicians helping both sides in the war. After that … well, I don’t really know. I do want to rewrite the When the Empire Falls trilogy at some point, but it might well become confused with The Empire’s Corps. And there are a couple of other older ideas I want to play with.

Several people – you know who you are <grin> – have asked about signed books. Right now, I’m not going to be visiting the UK for several months, but I will try to organise signing and mailing a number of books. Watch my blog and facebook page – it will be announced there.

But leave that for the moment. We’d like to wish all of my readers a happy new year.

Christopher and Aisha Nuttall

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Christmas Freebies!

19 Dec

Hi everyone

To celebrate Christmas 2012, I have decided to run a book promotion. Between 24th December and 26th December 2012 (pacific standard time), the following books will be available for free download for the Kindle. Check out my website for free samples before downloading. And if you want to thank me, why not write a review?

Invasion

Guardian Glass

The Cross-Time Road Trip

Alone (All-New Novella, which may become a full story)

And I have many more Kindle Books, Free Samples and suchlike on my website.

Merry Christmas!

Chris

PS – please share this. The more, the merrier.

No Worse Enemy is finally Here!

14 Dec

Hi, everyone!

It gives me very great pleasure (grin) to announce that No Worse Enemy, the sequel to The Empire’s Corps, is now available for download from Amazon Kindle. (You can download a free sample from here.) As always, my self-published books are DRM-free, so feel free to convert them into whatever format you like. Or print them out and read them in the bath. I don’t mind.

Six months ago, Colonel Edward Stalker and his Marines were abandoned on Avalon, left to fend for themselves as the Empire withdrew from the Rim. Since then, Avalon has been isolated from the settled universe…until now.

 

As a mysterious pirate organisation attempts to take over Avalon, the Marines find themselves struggling against a shadowy figure with dreams of power, while a young civilian is kidnapped and press-ganged into a pirate crew. They’re fighting to preserve something of the Empire’s order in the wake of its departure, but the pirates appear to have far greater resources and a plan that seems unstoppable.

 

The Empire is gone. What will take its place?

If you enjoyed the first two books and want to see a third, please leave a review. I have several books planned, if I think that people will read them.

On other news, The Empire’s Corps came fourth in the Underground Book Reviews competition. And it is now available from my Smashwords store.

And you can check out the remainder of my Kindle books, and free samples, here.

Have fun!  And please share this post as widely as possible <grin>.

Chris

The Next Big Thing

13 Dec

I hadn’t heard of The Next Big Thing blog chain until Barb Caffrey (a fellow writer, extremely good editor and friend) tagged me on her blog. Barb has written ELFY, a coming of age story set in an urban fantasy universe which puts a new slant on elves and other magical creatures. It’s well worth a read.

Anyway, here are the rules:

1.Give credit to the person who tagged you (see above).

2.Post the rules for this blog hop,

3.Answer these 10 questions about your current work,

4.Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can go over and meet them.

The first writer I’d like to mention (and advertise) is Philip Richards, a British Army Sergeant who has written a Kindle book called CROW. If you liked Starship Troopers, you’ll like CROW, even though it lacks the philosophical sections of Heinlein’s famous novel. (This isn’t a bad thing; I first tried to read ST at 9 and I was put off by the philosophy.) CROW follows a young infantry recruit as he is assigned to a new unit and takes part in a planetary invasion. The book is tightly focused on the poor bloody infantry , with a military based on the British Army, rather than the USMC. That alone makes it worth a read.

The second is Joshua Wachter (some of you may recognise the name from my work, as I named a handful of characters after him.) Joshua’s Kindle book – Admiral Who – is set in the far future, following a determined, but utterly unprepared character as he struggles to maintain some form of civilisation. He makes mistakes – including one that accidentally lands him a wife – as he grows into his role.

The third is George Phillies, who has several books on Kindle, including The One World and Mistress of the Waves. Both of them are set in very different worlds – world-building is one of the author’s skills – but the characters are also very human.

The fourth is really a combination; Richard Evens and Adam Gaffan. They were granted permission to write in one of John Ringo’s universes and have produced The KIldarian, a worthy successor to the original books. If you like John Ringo – or James Bond – you’ll love their addition to the series, although it probably shouldn’t be read without knowing the earlier books.

The fifth is Dale Cozort, who is familiar to everyone in the Alternate History world. Dale is known for his detailed timelines; now, he has moved into the writing world too, with Exchange. If you’re interested in interdimensional travel – and the implications of such – Dale’s book is well worth a read. He also has a small selection of timelines based on the Native Americans – a rarity in alternate history – in book form.

 

What is the working title of your book?

Schooled in Magic.

 

Where did the idea come from for your book?

Now that is a hard question to answer.

I suppose that part of it grew out of my brainstorming for The Royal Sorceress, including a number of pieces I discarded because they wouldn’t fit into the world background. The Royal Sorceress takes place in a steampunk world, while the idea that became Schooled in Magic had to take place in a more traditional fantasy world. And then what became the Allied Lands started to take shape.

And bits of it grew out of my frustration with Harry Potter. <grin>

What genre does your book fall under?

Light fantasy, I think. It might also fit under YA.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie version?

That’s another hard question, simply because I don’t watch many movies.

Emily herself might be played by Francis Amey, the actress who played Dinah Hunter in The Demon Headmaster. She does (did) a very shy, yet very intelligent girl who was something of a social misfit. But it’s been a long time since I watched the show and my memories are probably rose-tinted.

Void – Emily’s mentor, who may be more than he seems – could be played by Tom Hiddleston, who played Loki in The Avengers. He has an intensity that can move from civil to sardonic in seconds.

Professor Thande was directly based on David Tenant, a fact Emily lampshades in the text.

That’s enough dreaming, I think.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Transported into a magical world, with her life threatened by powerful enemies, Emily must learn how to survive before it is too late.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Well, I hope to have it published. If not, it will join my other books on Kindle.

How long did it take you to write your book?

 

Around 2-3 weeks for the first draft, then Barb edited it over the next two months and then I inserted most of her changes, which took about 20hours. Horrors!

 

What other books would you compare this to within your genre?

I suppose Harry Potter is the classic example, but a closer match would be The Magicians Guild. There are other books where someone from our society is displaced, with Lest Darkness Fall being the prime example.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s fun?

It’s a story about modern perceptions entering a skewed magical world. Emily’s great strength is that she can apply modern ideas, giving her concepts that the locals simply don’t have.

It’s a story of what happens when those concepts are introduced.

And it’s a coming of age story, for Emily and some of her friends.

When the Bough Breaks (The Empire’s Corps III)–Snippet

7 Dec

Comments?

Chapter One

“It looks so safe and tranquil.”

Major General Jeremy Damiani, Commandant of the Terran Marine Corps, nodded in understanding. Imperial City stretched out below them, a shining network of towers surrounding the pyramid shapes of the Grand Senate and the Imperial Palace. From so high up, even enhanced eyesight had trouble picked out individuals swarming the roads below, or seeing the subtle signs of decay that the population chose to ignore. It would have been easy to believe that Earth, the heart of an empire that spanned a third of the galaxy, was as strong and powerful as it had been in the days after the Unification Wars. But Jeremy could not permit himself the luxury of self-deception.

“Yeah,” he grunted, finally. “And so does a dead body.”

Hiram Green, Surgeon-General of the Terran Marine Corps, tossed him a sharp look. Unlike the senior officers in almost every branch of the Empire’s military, he was an experienced soldier as well as a combat medic, earning his promotions on the battlefield. And, unlike Jeremy, he would go back to the battlefield when his term as Surgeon-General came to an end. He’d seen far too many dead bodies in his career.

“I have completed the assessment,” Green said, finally. One of the advantages on insisting on combat experience for senior officers as a precondition for promotion was that senior officers could actually do work without needing juniors and NCOs to help them. “Do you want the basic report or a complete outline?”

Jeremy shrugged, looking back down towards the distant towers. Green was right; Imperial City did look safe and tranquil. Successive Emperors and Grand Senators had lavished vast resources on the city, boosting their popularity as well as showing off their power. The population was certainly devoted to the Empire in response, more so than almost anywhere else. But it was an illusion.

Earth was dying.

It had taken thousands of years of mismanagement, but humanity’s homeworld was no longer truly capable of supporting life. The great megacities were effectively space stations in their own right, providing everything from food to atmosphere for their vast populations; they’d expanded until they covered the entire planet. Cropland, often poisoned or overworked by its owners, had been destroyed, leaving the population dependent upon the algae-based foodstuffs that were produced in the megacities. But few people truly liked the ration bars and soups produced by the automated systems. Earth drew on the production of hundreds of worlds to keep its citizens reasonably content.

But it wouldn’t last much longer, Jeremy knew. Earth’s infrastructure, easily the most complex life support system in the galaxy, was falling apart piece by piece. Every day, there were more and more failures, while the repair terms were utterly unable to keep up with the decay. The Empire’s educational programs had been focused more on keeping the citizens quiet rather than teaching them anything practical, like how to fix a broken air processor or replace a simple illuminator. Sooner or later, Earth would suffer a series of catastrophic failures that would kill most of the population.

Or perhaps civil unrest. As the infrastructure weakened, the undercity – the vast warren of untamed regions under the megacities – would expand. Imperial City was rich, but so much of Earth was desperately poor. The population below were sitting on a powder keg and most of them didn’t even begin to realise it. But how could they be blamed when the Empire’s media kept telling them that everything was fine?

There were times when Jeremy wondered if the population didn’t know, at least subconsciously. Some failures were easily noticeable to those who cared to look, as was the seeming inability of the repair crews to deal with the problems. And then there was the shortage of police officers…Earth had suffered hundreds of increasingly savage terrorist attacks over the last five years, each one threatening to set off the explosion. Earth was no longer safe. In truth, the whole planet was a disaster waiting to happen.

He pushed the thought aside as he turned to face Green. “Is she cleared for close-protection duty?”

“I would be reluctant to clear her completely for anything,” Green admitted. “Right now, she is physically healthy, but in some ways she’s lost the will to carry on. Even Marines break, Jeremy, and she went through hell. I just don’t know if she’s been broken permanently.”

He passed Jeremy a datapad. “You know as well as I do how difficult it is to get anything from a Pathfinder,” he added. “My honest advice would be to find someone else.”

Jeremy grimaced. The Terran Marine Corps was limited to one million active-duty personnel, which seemed a vast number until it was compared to the trillions of humans in the settled galaxy. He could play around with that figure to some extent – auxiliaries weren’t counted as full Marines – but the Grand Senate would hardly have let him unilaterally expand the corps. They were scared of the Marines, fearing that their oaths to the Emperor would one day outweigh their oaths to the Empire. Besides, it was growing harder to find people with the inner strength and determination to become Marines.

He looked up at Hiram. “Is she stable?”

“She knows how to fool the tests,” Green pointed out, sharply. “I honestly do not know if anything I have from her can be considered reliable.”

“And if you’re unsure,” Jeremy asked dryly, “what will the civilians make of it?”

He looked down at the datapad, skimming through the biographical details. Belinda Lawson, born twenty-five years ago on Balboa, a planet on the edge of the Inner Worlds. She’d shown remarkable promise from a very early age, mastering the basic skills very quickly and then going on to learn as much as she could. On Earth, she would probably have been broken by the educational system; on Balboa, she’d been allowed to rocket ahead. At sixteen, she’d gone to Boot Camp, graduating fifth in the class that would go to the Slaughterhouse. And she’d come first in her class at the Slaughterhouse.

That was a remarkable achievement. Despite enhancement, despite implants, men still had an advantage over women in military training. Anyone who graduated from the Slaughterhouse was a top-notch soldier, but Jeremy could count on the fingers of one hand the number of women who had come first in their class. She’d shown no sign of slowing down, either; once she’d earned her Rifleman’s Tab, she’d served in two different wars and had been earmarked for promotion to Lieutenant and a probably Captaincy. Instead, she’d gone back to the Slaughterhouse and qualified as a Pathfinder.

The Marines were elite – and the Pathfinders were the elite of the elite. Belinda had made it through the training program and had been assigned to a specialist team, carrying out missions that even regular Marines would have thought impossible. And then, on Han, their shuttle had been blown out of the sky and her teammates had been killed. Pathfinder teams were close, closer than even standard platoons. Losing them had to hurt.

“I think they’d be impressed by what parts of her file they were allowed to read,” Green said, flatly. “But I think they’d be a little scared of her.”

“Good,” Jeremy said, equally flatly. “Scared is good.”

He looked back towards the looming shape of the Imperial Palace. The Childe Roland lived there, climbing towards his majority – and the moment he could assume the throne. Jeremy knew that those in the know were laying bets that the prince wouldn’t live long enough to be crowned, not least because a new Emperor would upset everyone’s calculations. On the other hand, the Childe Roland had been allowed to indulge himself ever since his father had been assassinated, when he’d been a child. He had been the very model of a spoilt brat and none of the reports Jeremy had seen had suggested that he’d improved since then.

It was possible that the Childe Roland would keep indulging himself until the day the sky fell in, even after he was crowned Emperor. Or he might seek to assert himself, forcing the Grand Senators to push back. Or…it might have been kinder, Jeremy knew, to take the prince elsewhere and hide him from his heritage. But that wasn’t really an option. He was all the Empire had.

And it was the duty of the Terran Marine Corps to protect him.

“I think it’s time I talked to her,” he said. “Thank you for your time, doctor.”

After Green had left, Jeremy looked over at the small display of medals on the wall. None of them had simply been given to him; they’d all been awarded for bravery under fire. One reminded him of his first company command, when they’d been ambushed by insurgents and had to fight their way out of a killing zone; another was a memento of the savage fighting the Terran Marines had endured on Farnham’s Freehold. There were no medals in the Marine Corps for sitting at a desk, pushing paperwork around, or for dealing with politicians.

Shaking his head, Jeremy called for his car. There should be a medal for dealing with politicians, he told himself. He would have preferred to be back in the field.

But there was no choice. Someone had to fight for the corps.

***

Belinda Lawson lay on her bed, looking up at the ceiling. It was hard, so hard, to summon up the motivation to actually do anything, even to pick up a datapad and read a book. Once, she would have rebelled against being trapped in bed, or used it as a chance to catch up on her reading and learn more about the universe. Now, she couldn’t even muster the energy to climb out of bed and get dressed. The doctors hadn’t been quite sure what to make of her.

Physically, she was unharmed; the wounds she’d suffered on Han had been quickly repaired. Mentally…that was the question, wasn’t it? She was skilled at reading people and the uncertainty that lurked in their eyes when they questioned her was obvious. Marines going rogue was the stock background of a thousand lousy movies – most of them intended as anti-military propaganda – but it did happen, if rarely. And pulling the very expensive implants out of her body would almost certainly kill her in the process. There were times when she wondered if that wouldn’t be a mercy.

There was a tap at the door. Belinda seriously considered refusing to answer, before the door opened anyway, revealing that the doctors had her under constant observation. They had little choice. Belinda had been trained to react instinctively and someone entering her room at night, while she was trying to sleep, was unlikely to survive the experience. A civilian would probably have been horrified at the thought of being constantly watched, but Belinda was used to it. The Slaughterhouse didn’t encourage body modesty.

She felt her eyes widening as she recognised the Commandant. They had never met, but every Marine knew his name and face. He looked shorter than she had expected, his eyes shadowed by a worry that wouldn’t be immediately apparent to anyone else. Belinda felt her body jerking into life automatically, snapping off a salute. He returned it and then sat down beside her bed, studying her thoughtfully.

“There is a job to do,” he said, without preamble. “Have you had enough time in bed?”

Belinda scowled at him, feeling an odd flash of shame at her appearance. Normally, she kept her hair shaved close to her scalp, but six months in bed had allowed it to grow out to the point where it almost reached her ass. It looked thoroughly unprofessional, even though part of a Pathfinder’s career might include looking unprofessional. She’d enjoyed her life until her four brothers had been killed in the war.

There were five operatives in any Pathfinder team, pushed together by the Drill Instructors after careful tests designed to see who could form a successful team. They’d been close, living in each other’s pockets, sharing everything, a relationship that had been – in some ways – closer than husband and wife. She had depended on them and they had depended on her, right up until the day she’d lived when they’d died. It would have been understandable if they’d been killed in a firefight, but a single HVM…

“I don’t know,” she admitted, finally. The regular Marines had restrained her once they’d realised who and what she was, either out of fear that she would turn on them or that she’d throw her life away in a suicidal attack on the rebels. After that, the doctors had watched her carefully, unsure of her stability. “What do you want me to do?”

The Commandant looked rather irked by her response, although it would have been impossible for most people to read it. “The Childe Roland needs a bodyguard,” he said, calmly. “You would be a good candidate.”

Belinda felt surprise washing though her system, pushing aside the listlessness that had gripped her since Han. “Me? Why me?”

“It’s complicated,” the Commandant admitted. “Originally, we were meant to provide the layers of security around the Emperor, but the Grand Senate managed to put some of those layers into the hands of Senate Security and others into the hands of the Civil Guard. But we still get to nominate his close-protection officers…”

Belinda stared at him. She’d served in combat, after all, and she’d seen what could happen, even with the best will in the world, when there were several different branches of the military involved with running the same operation. At the very least, there was always an argument over who was in overall command. Three different forces guarding the Childe Roland was just asking for someone to exploit that weakness and slip through the protection…

A nasty thought struck her. “They want him dead, don’t they?”

“Suffice it to say that certain factions would be happier without the prospect of a new Emperor,” the Commandant said. “It hasn’t been that long since the Tyrant Emperor.”

He shook his head. “I have tried to convince the Grand Senate to allow us to resume sole responsibility, but they didn’t agree,” he added. “In fact, there’s a strong sense that other parties should be allowed to join the protective force. We’re looking at a disaster in the making, Specialist.”

“I see,” Belinda said. Specialist was a rare rank within the Marines, although it was very common in the Imperial Navy and the regular army. A Marine who heard her rank would know what she was; an outsider would probably let it slip past would realising the significance. “It’s been a long time since I did any close-protection duties, sir.”

“I know,” the Commandant said. “And there are considerations here that are simply not covered in Slaughterhouse drills. The politics, for one thing.”

Belinda nodded. “What is he like? The Childe Roland, I mean. What is he like?”

“He’s grown up with everyone indulging his every wish, apart from actual power,” the Commandant admitted. “Food, drink, fantastic vacations, sexual partners…a remarkable collection of toys and games. A spoilt brat, in every sense; he certainly isn’t another Roger the Terrible. He was supposed to be taught how to rule, but the Grand Senate vetoed every suggestion put forward by the Protocol Office. They want someone to rubber-stamp their decisions rather than anyone who might actually think for himself.”

“Right,” Belinda said. “Because that would be disastrous for them, right?”

She hadn’t spent much time studying politics, but she understood why the Grand Senate might have wanted to keep the Childe Roland from learning anything useful. In theory, power in the Empire was supposed to be balanced between the Emperor, the Grand Senate and the Civil Service. After three thousand years of political infighting, the Grand Senate had reached a position of absolute mastery, as long as they remained united. The last thing they wanted was an Emperor who might be able to break up their coalition.

But that was probably what they needed. Belinda had spent most of her career fighting rebels – and most of those rebels had rebelled because they literally had nothing more to lose. The Grand Senate was passing laws for its own advantage, and the advantage of its corporate allies, with no concern for the long-term impact of its legislation. Belinda had seen entire planets turned into paupers because of new laws, small businesses wiped out as the giant interstellar corporations moved in. Why should they not rebel?

“I need an answer soon,” the Commandant said. “If you’re unwilling to take on this job, I’ll have to find someone else.” He looked into her eyes. “I understand what it means to lose someone close to you, but you have to pick up the pieces and move on.”

Belinda pulled herself to her feet and stared into the mirror. Her body was as muscular as ever – the genetic enhancements spliced into her DNA had seen to that, even when she wasn’t taking care of herself – but she looked oddly gaunt, almost wasted. Or maybe a civilian would have noticed nothing odd about her at all. Absently, she wondered just how the Childe Roland would respond to her. Would he take a young-looking girl seriously, or would he make an unsubtle pass at her? The close-protection drills they’d run through at the Slaughterhouse had included both scenarios.

And was she really up to it?

She’d never really doubted herself before. As a child, she had been smarter and more capable than anyone else. Boot Camp had been a breeze. The Slaughterhouse had been the first time she’d really been tested, yet she’d graduated with flying colours. And they’d trained so hard that the combat seemed easy. But now she was questioning herself. How far had she fallen?”

“I’ll do it,” she said, suddenly. Her brothers would not have forgiven her for simply surrendering to listlessness forever. They were probably waiting for her to die just so they could kick her ass for giving up. “When do I start?”

“As soon as possible,” the Commandant said. “And I’m afraid that there will be briefings. Lots and lots of briefings.”

“Oh,” Belinda said. Briefings were always tedious, but usually worthwhile. “I’ll get dressed and then we can start.”

Under Foot (OCP2)–Available Now

5 Dec

Hi, everyone

Under Foot, Book Two in the Outside Context Problem Trilogy, has been released on Amazon Kindle. Please click here for a free sample and then download the full version from Amazon here. And if you like it, please review.

Earth has fallen…the United States and the Middle East have been occupied by alien forces, while the rest of the world is collapsing into chaos. And yet humanity is still fighting; the underground resistance fights a bitter insurgency against the aliens, with the population forced to choose between resistance and collaboration. The fight seems hopeless, yet humanity dares not lose. If the aliens win, resistance will not only be futile, but inconceivable.

Earth has fallen, but the battle is far from over.

If you haven’t read the first novel, a free sample of it is available here and you can download it from Amazon here.  Book Three should be online in March, perhaps sooner.

I’ve also uploaded a new article to my site, examining the historical issues between Europe and America. Please read and comment, either on my Facebook page or through email. I enjoy receiving comments.

There are also a number of other books of mine on Kindle, which you can see on my Amazon Author Page. Free samples – and a number of free books – are available on my site.

No Worse Enemy should be uploaded in a couple of weeks; I’m just waiting for the beta-read and the cover. There may be a couple of other uploads, as well as a special Christmas officer. Watch this space.

Chris

Lessons in Etiquette (Schooled in Magic II) – Snippet

5 Dec

Comments would be very welcome.

Chapter One

The bookshelves stretched as far as the eye could see.

Emily pushed the makeshift trolley between the shelves, peering down at the handful of books students had returned to the library. In many ways, Whitehall – although an academy of magic – was very much like a school from her own world, the world she thought about as little as possible. Magical students still returned books late, despite threats of punishment, or returned them to the wrong places. Now that the exam season was drawing to a close, the number of students in the school was dropping sharply, allowing the librarians a chance to resort the books properly. It was a vast project that would be completed just in time for the students to start disordering the books again.

But she had to admit that she rather enjoyed working as a librarian, even though she was really nothing more than a student helper. Whitehall’s vast collection of books was not well ordered, certainly not by the standards of the libraries she’d used as a child. It was impossible to say what gem would be uncovered by sorting through a shelf or two; Emily had developed a habit of putting books aside for her to borrow and read later, even though part of her insisted that it was unfair to the other students. Not that she was the worst offender. Every time she moved a stack of heavy books, she discovered a handful of other books hidden behind them, placed there by a student who wanted exclusive access to them. It was forbidden, naturally, but it never stopped. The spells guarding the library only reacted if books were taken out of the library without permission.

She took a book off the trolley and glanced at the title, A Guide to Simultaneous Magic, before carefully placing it on the shelf. The whole system was badly flawed, she’d long since come to realise, if only because there was no single unifying system. She’d grappled with the Dewey Decimal and the Library of Congress cataloguing systems as a younger girl, but they’d made it very hard to put a book out of place without it becoming noticeable. In Whitehall, each librarian had their own ideas about where the different books should go. A book on ancient battles might be filed under history, or under military studies. It was impossibly confusing. She’d promised herself that she would work out a system for cataloguing books, but there was just too much else to do. Recreating the Dewey Decimal System was incredibly tricky.

Carefully, she finished returning the books and wheeled the trolley back to the desk. The original librarian had left Whitehall, seemingly at the behest of the Librarians Guild, allowing his assistant to take his place. Lady Aylia was tall and elegant, with long brown hair that reached all the way down to her knees. Emily rather liked her, even if she did have the same attitude as most of the other librarians she’d met in her life. They could have kept the bookshelves in perfect order if it wasn’t for those pesky users mucking up the shelves.

“One of the books you requested has been returned,” Aylia said, nodding to a table inside the office. There were no computers to run catalogues in Whitehall; librarians had to have good memories as well as a great deal of patience. “And I can clear you to take it out of the building, if you wish.”

Emily nodded as she stepped around the desk and into the office, picking up the book from the table. She’d been invited to visit Zangaria by both of her friends, once the exam season was over for good, and – naturally – she’d looked for books on the country. One of them promised to be a complete history of Zangaria, although it was remarkably slim. But then, Zangaria had been part of the old Empire until 170 years ago. It hadn’t really existed until its founding monarch staked his claim to rule.

“Thank you,” she said. There were dire punishments for anyone who tried to take a library book back home without permission. A handful of students had run afoul of the charms already and Emily had had to help sort them out. They’d all claimed to have taken the books by accident, but the spells protecting them weren’t bright enough to know the difference. “I’ll read it tonight and then let you know.”

There was one advantage in locally-produced books; in the absence of a printing press, every word had to be important. The writers had often written their books by hand, relying on clerks to copy them word for word; they couldn’t allow themselves to pontificate too far or they might discover that their book was just too big to be easily copied. They tended to focus on the essentials, rather than trivial details, at least when they weren’t talking about dark magic. Those books tended to be full of evasions, as if the writers had been too scared to say what they actually meant clearly.

Aylia smiled as Emily marked the book out to herself and placed it in her handbag. “And I think that young man is looking for you,” she added. “Should I start preparing the winter feast?”

Emily looked up and saw Jade, waiting for her near the exit. She waved at him, using her hands to signal that she wouldn’t be long, and then scowled back down at Aylia, who seemed remarkably untroubled by her expression. It had taken Emily months to learn about the traditions in the Allied Lands; winter feasts were held to celebrate engagements, while the weddings themselves were carried out in the spring. Or at least that was the ideal. In reality, there were weddings all the year round.

But the thought was absurd. Emily had been sixteen when she’d come to Whitehall; by now, she was fairly sure that she was seventeen, although it was hard to be sure. The local system for measuring days and months seemed to be slightly off-kilter. Jade, on the other hand, was twenty-two in local years, certainly at least four years older than Emily. And he was a senior to boot, one of the stars of the school. He wouldn’t even be in Whitehall next year.

And yet they were friends. They’d been forced to work together in Martial Magic, fought together to escape Orcs and Goblins near the Dark City and survived the assault on Whitehall by Shadye, the Necromancer who had brought Emily to his world. Jade wasn’t scared of her, unlike many of the students who knew she had killed one of the all-powerful necromancers, and he wasn’t trying to suck up to her. Back home, part of her had always envied the social queens. It hadn’t been until she’d found herself simultaneously feared and courted that she realised just how empty a life they’d led.

“Go now,” Aylia said. “There won’t be any more books returned until after the final exams.”

Emily nodded in agreement. In Whitehall, exams were actually important – and meaningful. Students had taken out thousands of books and were actually reading them, although a handful were trying to use spells to make the knowledge sink into their heads without actually cracking open the tomes. Emily had experimented with one of those spells and wound up with a savage headache that had convinced her not to try it again. There was no substitute, it seemed, for actually opening a book.

She picked up her handbag and pulled it over her shoulder, before walking out from behind the desk and over to Jade, who grinned at her. He was handsome, in a rugged sort of way, despite the nasty bruise marking the side of his face. He’d taken a fall in a Martial Magic class two days ago and Sergeant Miles had refused to let him go to the healers, pointing out rather sardonically that the bruise might teach him to watch where he was going in future. In a world where dark wizards could hide the magical counterparts of landmines just about anywhere, Emily suspected that he had a point.

“I was wondering if you’d like to hike up Mount Sunset,” Jade said, as they walked out of the door. Outside, the corridors seemed less crowded than normal. Most of the student body had either gone home for the holidays or were currently sitting their exams. “It’s been a while since we had a proper walk.”

Emily had to smile. Sergeant Miles might have been a combat sorcerer, but he was also a firm believer in physical fitness. His students ran five miles twice a week and performed hundreds of push-ups and other exercises every weekday. Once, she would have blanched at the thought of so much exercise. Now, she was stronger and fitter than she’d ever thought possible.

But Jade was right. It had been months since she’d walked for pleasure.

“Just let me put the book in my room and change,” she said. “And then I’ll meet you down at the side door.”

Her room was empty when she entered it, unsurprisingly. One of her roommates had already headed back home to Alexis City, the other was currently sitting an exam. Emily dropped the handbag in her trunk, pulled off her robe and changed into a shirt and heavy pants, charmed to keep the wearer cool even in the hottest of summers. She stuck a compressed coat in her pocket, after checking that the spells binding it were firmly in place. Whitehall’s weather was somewhat variable, thanks to the vast field of magic surrounding the building, and it was well to be prepared for anything.

The walk to the side door was uncomfortable, but she was growing used to it. Everyone knew that she had defeated a necromancer – and no one knew how, leaving a void they tried to fill with rumours and innuendo. Emily was a necromancer herself. Emily was a freakish rogue talent, with powers naturally superior to a necromancer. Emily had somehow created a spell that cut its way through the toughest of defences. Emily had poisoned Shadye…

But there would have been no point in keeping that a secret, Emily knew. She wouldn’t have been the first person to poison a necromancer; it was the simplest way of dealing with the supremely powerful and completely insane magicians. Why keep that a secret?

She did her best to ignore the glances thrown in her direction as she walked down the stairs, feeling – again – isolated in a vast crowd. If it hadn’t been for Jade and her other friends, she might have despaired, as she had back on Earth. Instead, she just carried on, knowing that she did have people who cared about her. She smiled as she saw Jade standing by the side door, one hand carrying a combat staff he’d been given by the Sergeants. Maybe he didn’t expect to run into trouble, but they’d been taught to be prepared. Trouble could appear at any moment.

“I packed a handful of combat rations,” Jade said, as they walked out of the door. “If we can’t get back in time for dinner…”

Emily had to laugh. It seemed to be a universal law that combat rations tasted awful, even the ration bars produced by Whitehall and the rest of the Allied Lands. The bars were small, no bigger than a bar of chocolate from Earth, and they were filling, but the best of them tasted like cardboard. Sergeant Harkin had remarked that they were meant to encourage soldiers to forage and live off the land, rather than draining the army’s resources by eating the bars. One of the students had asked if the bars served as an excuse for mutiny and earned himself five hundred push-ups for cheek. The Sergeant had never actually answered the question.

She shook her head. “Do you want to walk all the way to the peak?”

“We can try,” Jade said. “Or maybe we can just walk up to the lake instead.”

The air surrounding Whitehall was pure, clear of anything that might signify the presence of a technologically-advanced society. Emily knew enough to appreciate the wonders of technology, particularly after having to live without it for several months, but there were times when she wondered if she was doing the right thing by trying to jumpstart the industrial revolution on her new world. Inhaling the air argued against it…but the sheer depth of human suffering argued for it. Those living without magic had lives that were nasty, brutal and short. Even the aristocracy, with access to magicians if they couldn’t work magic themselves, lived in squalor, at least when compared to Earth.

They chatted about nothing in particular as they walked out of the school’s grounds and up towards Mount Sunset. It was a strange place, even by the standards of her new world, but it was reasonably safe as long as you didn’t stay there after dark. Strange flickers of magic darted through the air, seemingly hovering right on the very edge of perception. It wasn’t unknown for climbers to discover that they couldn’t reach the peak, or that their path twisted on itself so that they found themselves starting up the mountain and then realising that they’d reached the bottom of the path. There were even stranger tales, but none that had been verified. And if the staff had believed that it wasn’t reasonably safe, they would never have allowed the students to go near the mountain.

“I’ve been offered a chance to stay at the school as an assistant,” Jade said, suddenly. “I did well enough in alchemy that Professor Thande thinks I have potential.

Emily made a face. Alchemy required talents she didn’t have, which was at least partly why she was burning her caldron every second lesson. Thande wasn’t a bad teacher, but his lessons clashed with Emily’s upbringing, where precisely counting the number of times one stirred a caldron didn’t matter. She was still puzzling over the fact that it did seem to matter to Alchemy. A numbing potion worked perfectly if you mixed the ingredients over a low heat and stirred fifty-seven times. It failed if you stirred fifty-six or fifty-eight times.

“There are a few other tutors that want a teaching assistant too, at least for a year,” Jade added. He looked down at her. “Do you think I should stay?”

“I’d miss you if you left,” Emily admitted, honestly. She didn’t have enough friends to casually accept the chance of losing touch with one of them. But on the other hand… “What do you actually want?”

“I want to be a combat sorcerer,” Jade admitted. “Helping to tutor at the school might be a step backwards. I just don’t know.”

Emily didn’t know either. The Allied Lands seemed to consider a person’s ability to do the job rather than their qualifications, something she found rather more sensible than the focus on qualifications back home. She could see tutoring serving as useful experience for a combat sorcerer, but in truth she simply didn’t know. But she knew who might be able to offer proper advice.

“You could ask the Sergeant,” she suggested. Miles was a trained and experienced combat sorcerer, one of the best. He had to be to be trusted to teach potential sorcerers. “He would know what you should do.”

Jade frowned. “But what if he sees it as a lack of confidence?”

“I don’t see why he should,” Emily pointed out. Not that she could blame him for being cautious, even a little paranoid. The Sergeant tested them constantly, in ways that were sometimes obvious and sometimes very subtle. “You need advice and the Sergeant is the best person to answer your questions.”

She shrugged. “What would you do if you refused the tutoring position?”

“Apprenticeship to a combat sorcerer,” Jade explained. “He’d tutor me, supervise me…and finally put me in front of the White Council for final exams. If I passed, I’d be a qualified sorcerer in my own right.”

And if you failed, you might end up dead, Emily thought.

Jade turned away from her, looking down towards Whitehall where it sat in the valley below, pressing his hands together as if he was nervous. “Have you given any thought to what you will be doing in the next few years?”

Emily had to smile. “There are five more years of schooling to go,” she reminded him, rather dryly. “After that…I don’t know. There are just too many things that need to be done.”

“I know,” Jade said. He seemed almost hesitant, unwilling to continue. That was strange and rather out of character; Emily had never seen Jade actually scared. He’d once casually worked his way through an obstacle course that had terrified Emily when she’d first seen it, without showing the slightest sign of fear. “Emily…have you given any thought to marriage?”

“Marriage?” Emily repeated, astonished. She’d never given any real thought to marriage, in either world. “I…”

Jade turned to look at her, his face flushed red. “There is interest,” he admitted. A dozen possible scenarios flashed through Emily’s mind, all rather comparable to a bad romance novel. “You’re the most powerful sorceress of your generation – the most potentially powerful sorcerers, I should say. There is no shortage of interest in you.”

“People I don’t know have been discussing my marriage prospects?” Emily spluttered. The very thought was outrageous, too shocking for words. “Why?”

“Because your children will be powerful too,” Jade explained, blushing slightly. “If you had children with a powerful magician, they might be extremely powerful. And you’re the Necromancer’s Bane, as well as a Child of Destiny. There are ballads sung about you.”

Emily groaned. Years ago, back when her teachers had been trying to spark some interest in music in their charges, they’d been made to sing songs written by the Beatles. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t had to sing Michelle – when one of her classmates had been called Michelle. Her classmates had teased the poor girl mercilessly for weeks. Maybe it was karma, but there were at least seventeen songs about Emily herself running through the Allied Lands, each one more embarrassing than the last. Emily couldn’t remember who had claimed that medieval society was genteel; he’d obviously been completely wrong. One of the songs was crude enough to make a punk rocker blush.

She collected herself as much as she could. “They just want me for my fame?”

“Yes,” Jade said. His blush grew darker. “It’s forbidden to approach someone in her first year, no matter how…famous they are. And no one is quite sure how to approach your Guardian. But that will change.”

“Oh,” Emily said. The thought of hundreds of people she’d never met proposing marriage to her was nightmarish. She’d never even had a boyfriend! “Maybe I should just change my face and hide.”

Jade looked away, clearly embarrassed. “Emily,” he said, slowly, “would you consider marrying me?”

A second later, his form flashed with blue-white light and he froze solid, suspended in time. Emily stared, wondering if her shock and embarrassment had made her work magic by accident, before she sensed the presence behind her. Only one person would have approached them in such a manner – and frozen Jade with absolutely no regard for his feelings.

“Hello, Void,” she said, without looking around. “What are you doing here?”