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

17 Apr

Comments welcome.

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet Cloak was anonymous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“True,” Master Toadstool agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For the nonce,” Aurelius said.

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

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

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

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

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

One by one, they voted.

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

All that mattered was that they had.

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45 Responses to “The School of Hard Knocks (Schooled In Magic V)–Snippet”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 18, 2014 at 12:00 am #

    It would be very humorous if Cloak is Void. [Very Big Grin]

    • Mike G. April 18, 2014 at 12:06 am #

      That’s just what I was thinking.

      Of course, posting snippets from Book V before Book II is out is a bit evil… Need… Next… Book…. 🙂

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 18, 2014 at 12:12 am #

        Well, I’ve read earlier versions of Books 2-4. [Wink]

        If you haven’t found Baen’s Bar, look for it.

        Chris posts (for feedback) his books in the Slush Pile conference.

      • Mike G. April 18, 2014 at 1:10 am #

        Thanks Paul (I’m not sure I’m answering the right post – the UI is a bit odd).

        Found the slush pile, and on Chapter 2 of book 2 already 🙂

      • chrishanger April 18, 2014 at 9:35 am #

        Just remember that those are the completely unedited versions. Chris Date: Fri, 18 Apr 2014 00:10:51 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

      • Gene Evans April 18, 2014 at 7:11 am #

        I haven’t been there in years, thanks for the pointer.

      • chrishanger April 18, 2014 at 9:39 am #

        They have to wait in the editing/cover design/publication q. Chris Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2014 23:06:51 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

  2. lamparty April 18, 2014 at 12:54 am #

    I think Aurelius is planning something underhanded, and is probably going to get his ass handed to him!

  3. mark møllegaard April 18, 2014 at 1:19 am #

    I think that cloak a the grandmarster

  4. Gene Evans April 18, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    ‘save without the permission of one of their fellows.’

    Shouldn’t this be ‘save with the permission’?

  5. Korwin April 18, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    More!

  6. Chris Manno April 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Just a question or two as I savor my way through The Nelson Touch: is it traditional British Navy terminology to use “barracks” to denote living spaces on a ship? In the USN, only enlisted troops (not officers, like Starfighter pilots) live in “barracks,” and then only on land. On ships, living areas are called “quarters” and the commissioned officers live in “officers country” on the ship. The enlisted personnel have berths. The captain and the admiral would have a stateroom.

    Have you considered giving the aliens a name, maybe some dark, foreboding name derived from some aspect of the ship or captives taken so far?

    Definitely enjoying book two and looking forward to book three!

    • chrishanger April 20, 2014 at 12:25 am #

      I think ‘barracks’ in this case denotes accommodation for the Royal Marines. If not, it’s a glitch.

      Chris

      Sent from my iPad

      >

      • Chris Manno April 20, 2014 at 4:02 am #

        I believe Augustus gets dressed down by the captain for fighting in barracks. Minor point though. Very nicely woven characters, plots and complications.

      • chrishanger April 20, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

        Doh, thank you!

        Chris

        Sent from my iPad

        >

  7. George Phillies April 19, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    She’s only killed two necromancers in 1-on-1 combat. Why should anyone think that she might not be perfectly harmless if kidnapped?

    • chrishanger April 20, 2014 at 12:24 am #

      A terrible oversight on their part (grin)

      Chris

      Sent from my iPad

      >

  8. Mark Anderson April 19, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    I would gladly pay for an ARC like I just did for “The Rods and the Axe” by Tom Kratman @ baen.com……

    • chrishanger April 20, 2014 at 12:24 am #

      I can suggest it to the editor, but no promises (grin)

      Chris

      Sent from my iPad

      >

  9. mark møllegaard April 19, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    how is this Council

    • chrishanger April 20, 2014 at 12:12 am #

      It’s an association of magicians charged with fighting the necromancers.

      Chris

      Sent from my iPad

      >

      • George Phillies April 20, 2014 at 1:47 am #

        They seem to have a losing record. And they know it.

      • chrishanger April 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

        That’s true. The necromancers were winning until Emily came along.

        Chris

        Sent from my iPad

        >

  10. George Phillies April 20, 2014 at 4:21 am #

    They also appear to have no idea what Emily is trying to do in her Barony. “run everything’ is sort of the opposite of what she thinks is needed.

    • chrishanger April 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

      That too ( grin)

      Chris

      Sent from my iPad

      >

  11. George Phillies April 21, 2014 at 3:05 am #

    I can imagine a conversation between one of these people, and one of their slightly more junior counselors, one of the more junior people with a positive IQ, asking what Mountaintop thought it was doing, and outlining the defects in the plan.

    • chrishanger April 21, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

      That would be fun to write, but they’re fairly sure they can contain her or point her at the necromancers.

      Chris

      Sent from my iPad

      >

  12. Damian Stawiński April 22, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    Very interesting.

  13. Qanelin April 23, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

    I have to wonder why they think someone whose mind they violated, then robbed, then tried to assassinate would listen to them?

    Really why they think that she wouldn’t simply attempt to put them into a grave much less side with them.

    • chrishanger April 23, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

      Industrial espionage is rife among magic-users. They wouldn’t expect her to take it TOO personally. (Which is probably a mistake ) Chris Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2014 21:22:16 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

      • Qanelin April 23, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

        Ok, but even so wouldn’t high end power brokers like these at least be concerned when confronting someone whose whole reputation is based on the ability and will to react with extreme and very effective violence when threatened?

        It seems even if a few of them were unconcerned, all 14 of them wouldn’t have gotten to that level of political power without being at least cunning enough to know enough to anticipate a dangerous person reacting violently when threatened.

        Yet none of them even mention any scenarios or plans to defend themselves at all, much less the possibility that kidnapping someone they know killed two necromancers (which they are frightened of and losing a war too) might go badly.

        Just seems a bit of a plot hole is all

        Sorry just a bit of a pet peeve when it is said how skilled and smart (or at least skilled in the art of manipulation that is politics) someone is then shows them reacting with little to no skills in that area

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 23, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

        IMO it can be a matter of they know they can’t “fight her directly” but believe that they can manipulate her. After all, she’s “just a child” compared to them. IE surely us master manipulators with years of experience can manipulate this child. [Evil Grin]

      • chrishanger April 24, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

        Good point. I’ve edited to include that. Chris Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2014 22:46:15 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

      • chrishanger April 24, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

        Good point. Fixed. Chris Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2014 21:46:03 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

  14. Leslie Anne Buyco November 3, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    Gosh! I really Love this series! When I first read the first book I was intrigued with the book description and then when I finished it, I was wishing for more!! In my mind then I keep saying ‘Please continue with the story! Please!’. When I saw there is a second book I was very very happy! I almost dance with joy~ (>.<)

    Now this 'The School of Hard Knocks' story, just reading the prologue makes me excited on when it will be published! Hope there is more magical action here and as always more mysteries or intrigues~ 😀

  15. John Stodd November 16, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    Just don’t write a novel where everything goes wrong until the last page. That is a real turn off. Good writers with a decent plot, don’t feel obliged to use it
    With regard to windows 8,1 I suggest that you download and install Classic Shell from a .org This will give you a windows 7 desktop
    With regard to Microsoft and their attempts like apple to force you to a cloud, I suggest that you try Open Office It has much the same functionality,is backward compatible with Microsoft ,it will en old files BUT MAKE SURE YOU SAVE in .doc and not old format.
    Regards
    John

  16. John Stodd November 16, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    En should be open
    Old should be odt
    My damn ipad thinks it an editor I forgot to turn that function off

  17. Miyu (Swiftkill.Resident) December 11, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    “Just don’t write a novel where everything goes wrong until the last page.” Book about installation of Windows? heh
    When V5thbook will be out, I wonder.. already had read first four?

    • chrishanger December 11, 2014 at 10:19 pm #

      Maybe a revenge fic against the guy who thought Win 8 was a good idea. Book V should be out in Jan or Feb. I’ve done the first set of edits, but no cover art yet. Chris Date: Thu, 11 Dec 2014 19:36:50 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

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